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!

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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.