Workflow with Tablets – NVQ Observations & Assessments.

As with doing reviews the first challenge is one of paperwork.  We’ve tweaked the word processed forms to make them work a bit more slickly on the pads but there’s still this nagging feeling that there ought to be a more efficient way – we’ve added bookmarks to jump between units which saves a certain amount of scrolling (and replaces the performance of constant page flicking when doing it on paper!) but it’s still a bit of a cludge – perhaps NVQ observations are inherently paperwork heavy?  Or inherently a bit chaotic because you (rightly) are always trying to gather evidence for more than one unit at once.

Adding media has been the main advantage of using the tablets, particularly for capturing hardware tasks and errors at device level for the troubleshooting units we cover.  (Rather neatly on one software installation task we had a learner upgrading Android on one of the tablets while snap-shotting it with the other!)

After some initial doubts about the mic pickups I’ve since used them to record questions and answers and discussions, albeit still using the same recording forms.

There’s a small time saving and an improvement in neatness of the recording docs but no major changes to the workflow.

We haven’t had them lent out to learners yet, concerns about the user profile issues and physical security of the tablets, given the warranty issues having got in the way but we’ve had in house learners using them a lot for their Application of Number project (on paper aeroplanes!)  They’ve been making videos and taking photos of their experiments then storyboarding, subtitling and narrating them to put in a presentation about the project.  They also create a shared document on Google which they can all edit simultaneously to compare their findings and reflect on what they’ve learned.  For proving their written work we’ve snapshotted it and uploaded directly to their portfolios rather than scan it and transfer it them.

That’s probably were I’ve seen the biggest difference so far – both in terms of time taken for delivery of the work and the motivation of the learners.  Instant results and the opportunity to get up and about!


Upgrading to enable M-Learning

During our research into mobile Apps – The Wanted List we discovered we needed to upgrade Moodle and Mahara.

The much awaited official Moodle Android App is due for release any moment and requires Moodle 2.1 or higher.  Additionally Moodle 2.2 onwards has the MyMobile theme especially designed for mobile devices.  The bad news was our Moodle was lagging behind on version 2.0.4.  At the time of our last upgrade Moodle 2.1.1 was available but would not work on our webserver because it requires PHP 5.3.2 and we were restricted to PHP 5.2.

Fortunately, our web host, United Hosting had announced they were due to upgrade the servers from 5.2 to 5.3 on 10th January, so we upgraded to the latest Moodle 2.2.1 on 16th January.

Twitter announcement - Upgrading Moodle

Mobile Moodle

Everything went smoothly with the upgrade 🙂  With a little bit of configuring the MyMobile theme also works very well – though we needed to adjust the fixed width of the Google Calender and will also need to redesign graphical navigation so all elements adapt well to various screen widths.

We also upgraded to the latest Mahara 1.4.1 which supports the MaharaDroid app. MaharaDroid enables Android phones to share or upload content to Mahara and requires a minimum of Mahara 1.4.

Unfortunately we are experiencing a few browser and operational inconsistencies with the latest version of Mahara, particularly with regard to editing uploaded files in Portfolio Pages.  We are investigating:

  • Firefox 9.0.1: On some PCs the edit buttons not working on File uploads (but inconsistency between alike versions)
  • Chrome 16.0.912.75: Edit and Select buttons not working in the File uploads
These 2 issues also trigger a set of PHP errors:
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] [WAR] 8d (lib/errors.php:464) An exception was thrown of class PieformException.
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] [WAR] 8d (lib/errors.php:464) THIS IS BAD and should be changed to something extending MaharaException,
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] [WAR] 8d (lib/errors.php:464) unless the exception is from a third party library.
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] [WAR] 8d (lib/errors.php:464) Original trace follows
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] [WAR] 8d (lib/pieforms/pieform.php:528) No function registered to handle form submission for form "files"
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] Call stack (most recent first):
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] * Pieform->__construct(array(size 12)) at /home/administrator2/public_html/mahara/lib/pieforms/pieform.php:161
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] * Pieform::process(array(size 12)) at /home/administrator2/public_html/mahara/lib/pieforms/pieform.php:71
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53] * pieform(array(size 12)) at /home/administrator2/public_html/mahara/artefact/file/index.php:38
[18-Jan-2012 14:26:53]

The Mahara Bugtracker does not list these issues – the closest bug being Bug #891436 which mentions the same PHP errors.  I have made small customised changes to the Resume artefact as documented here, but I do not think it is at all related, so I will submit our own bug report.

Out of interest the demo Mahara site does not have the same issue using the same browsers, but I am not unable to confirm if the Mahara version is exactly the same version 1.4.1.

Also identified this bug:

  • Internet Explorer 7 to 9: Hyperlinks to uploaded content on portfolio pages only click-able on baseline of text.

And this is replicable on the demo Mahara website – this bug also needs submitting to Mahara Bugtracker.


Reported to Bugtracker 🙂

Summary Importance Status Heat
918262 Clicking links to uploaded files in Page view using Internet Explorer Undecided New 0 out of 4 heat flames
918259 Select and Edit files in Chrome and sometimes Firefox – different to Bug #819102? Undecided New 0 out of 4 heat flames

Further Troubleshooting

I updated Bug #918259 to reflect the fact that it wasn’t a bug after all.  The problem was caused by missing or corrupt files in the folder mahara/lib/pieforms.  🙂

Shopping for tablets at BETT

Yesterday will had our semi-regular trip to the BETT Show, this year with a fairly clearer than normal aim in mind – we wanted Android tablets…

The selection being offered was a bit smaller than expected, and of the three stands we mainly looked at (Samsung, Toshiba, and Lenovo) everyone seemed to have wheeled out the big guns for demonstration rather than their entry level offerings.

We were fairly tempted to change tack slightly and admired an exceptionally large smartphone from Samsung, a 5″ Galaxy Note – small enough to use onehanded but big enough for fairly easy reading, web browsing, and form filling. The Galaxy Tab devices at 10″ were lovely but unfortunately they wouldn’t be drawn on price, they work entirely through resellers and I suspect it might be well outside the planned budget unless they do a smaller version.

Toshiba offered a software management tool with the tablets to enable distribution of sets of apps and management and lockdown of access to web, marketplace etc which looked potentially useful as a time saving in getting set up.  The AT100 was around the £290 mark – a little higher than we’d planned but a bigger formed factor than we’d expected in the budget.  Fairly tempting.

Lenovo had a lovely handwriting interface integrated with Docs To Go which had very good recognition and a very slick looking setup but topped out the budget as the most expensive we looked at.

All of them ‘beeped up’ with the barcode badges to send more information, so a bit more browsing over the current week should bring us to a decision.

Choosing apps – The Experiments…

The current Work in Progress list of apps we’re going to put on and try out.  We’ve compiled the list in a collaborative Google doc, as well as tweeting and blogging out requests for suggestions from learners and our various connections.  (Feel free to tell us your favourites too!)

QRDroid – QR code scanner.  I use Google Goggle for this myself, but this one scores very well in the marketplace and seems to have a bit more functionality – Reference for learners, and will do voice input so hopefully can be a spelling aid as well.  The voice input works better with some staff and produces the occasional bizarre output like “manhunt this month” for “assessment”!

MindMap Memo and Mindjet for Android – Several of us here at ITeC are hooked on mindmapping, using and Mind42 mainly, neither of which have an app so I looked for alternatives.  There are hundreds so these choices are a bit pot luck, but on there because I liked the ease of creation of new links with MindMap Memo (just swish your finger from an existing node) and the fact the Mindjet will export in a heirachical text format – something I use a lot.  Would be particularly interested to hear what others have found useful here

DroidScanLite – Integrates with the camera to turn snaps of documents etc into PDFs or images and share them to various services.

Wunderlist – Shared task scheduling.  The plan it to have a list per learners that both they and the assessor can add targets, tasks and comments too. Thing recently marked as completed show up in a special section so can be viewed by the assessor and checked (and marked as not complete after all if needed!).  Has both web and app interface and will integrate with a Facebook account if wanted saving a bit of setup.

Evernote – I seem to be behind the game on this one, I know loads of people who swear by it and it gets loads of coverage but I’ve never used it.  It might prove to do some of the things we’ve looked at other apps for.

The First Apps

Identify a set of appropriate apps for assessment and learning with a focus on:

  • Free
  • Capable of being integrated with common standards within the organisation e.g. Google Docs, Moodle, Mahara
  • Literacy support and facility for alternatives to writing for theory elements
  • Visual learning – e.g. mindmapping tools
  • Time management and progress tracking

Task Two on our plan…

Step one was to have a look at which apps I already find myself using the most on my phone.  In fact, as we haven’t got the tablets yet I’ve set up one of the homescreens to have the collection of apps on it for reference and to quickly try out.

Google formed something of a core with the Search widget, and the GMail interface being essential.  We use Docs heavily so that goes on too, as well as the QR reader Googles.  (I also use Translate a lot in my Welsh learning) and Maps will be useful for assessors – finding the way to new work placements for visits is hugely simpler with it!

My phone arrived with ThinkFree Office Mobile on it which is useful as a quick tool for working with Microsoft Office compatible files which is useful as they always crop up even when trying to work more with cloud and open source resources.  There’s a free viewer, a mobile editor and a tablet specific version which I haven’t investigated yet – the mobile editor is the version on the phone, but about a fiver to buy.

We use WordPress a lot at ITeC (this site for one!) including our trainees Learning Reflections Blog, our main Trainee News site (hosted) and when learners do online projects they often use a WordPress blog and several apprentices are now doing the Collaborative Software unit of the ITQ qualification  Happily the WordPress App has an outstandingly well presented interface which is very well optimised for mobile.

As part of our assessment of what used to be called NVQs and are now called diplomas, we make use of ‘professional discussions’ – learners talking about what they know which is a much faster and easier way of gathering theory evidence. We have an MP3 recorder we use for this and various learners and assessors have already used their phones to do the same job.  Android generally arrives with a built in sound recorder in any case but the one I’ve been using on my phone for both work and Welsh is Rehearsal Assistant which is a little bit slicker, has good quality recording and allows instant sharing of recordings to various services or via email.  It also lets you create ‘projects and sessions’ – a bit like folders for storing recordings, so you could have a ‘project’ for each learner for example.  Sessions also allow you to add comments directly onto the audio at any point – something which we hope will speed up the assessment process as up until now ‘faster and easier’ has mainly meant ‘faster and easier for the learner‘ – assessing sound recordings, writing them up with timestamps and portfolios references and unit standards takes quite a while – it hopefully will be considerably quicker to do them inline – we’ll see!

SoundCloud has similar functionality to Rehearsal assistant with the difference that its online – recordings can be shared publicly or privately, and commented on by others.  It needs and account and some of the privacy and grouping settings are subscription only.  We intend to get an account as part of the grant to try it out in full.  (I use the free version for Welsh – the little pictures of people on the waveform are the comments).  It also will link to a Facebook account if desired saving one layer of setup.  It also embeds nicely in webpages, Moodle, blogs etc.

Also on the assessment front, screenshots and photos tend to feature highly so Skitch (an ultraquick markup tool similar to one of our favourites, Aviary Falcon) and Photoshop Express are also on the intro list.

Rounding out the list is DropBox for file sharing between different sites and Diigo Power Note, a web bookmarking, highlighting and commenting tool we use a lot for project work (as discussed in an RSC Wales newsletter (PDF) a while back)

Next up…  Apps which have been selected with by recommendation or because we were looking for something to do a specific job.