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Reaching out to Developers

May 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

One of the things I am working on in the Learning layers project is user engagement.

Learning Layers is based on user centred design model, involving end users and organisations in developing solutions to promote both formal and informal learning using technology in clusters consisting of:

  • Small and Medium Enterprises.
  • Regional Education and research institutions; typically upper secondary level and tertiary level)
  • regional authorities, national and European – policymakers responsible for incentive systems for regional growth and innovation, and for developing policies and initiatives for initial and continuing vocational education and training
  • Investors, banks, investment funds, business angels, public bodies- funding and supporting innovation.

Engaging with users and involving them in design of new solutions is also part of the research strategy. Layers researchers obtain research data from the interaction with users in the design based research model.

I am basing the strategy on a model of open innovation and will publish more about our ideas on this over the next few days. One of the things is to move away from the traditional project approach of dissemination of the end results to potential users and stakeholders to a model based on active participation – and on an architecture of participation. We have produced a table of different stakeholders in the project and are trying to understand from what direction their interest might come, what they want to get out of the project and what active contribution they might make.

Based on this we are putting forward a number of concrete initiatives the project can take over the next three and a half years.

One such idea is Layers PBL, standing for Layers Problem Based Learning, Practice Based Learning or Project Based learning depending in your way of looking at it (I see it as all three). This involves connecting outwards to engage with student groups, who in computing or business ICT are often required to undertake a one semester programme undertaking a real project in conjunction with companies.

We have piloted this approach with a team of students from HsKA, the Technical University of Karlsruhe. They are working on an idea for an app based on talks we had with a doctor at a Layers meeting held in Bradford earlier this year. The idea is that in their limited free time (in the car between appointments and meetings) users can reply to a series of questions on their phone. They can move between questions through a voice command and the app will communicate with a webs interface to produce a transcript of their answers which can then be edited and downloaded. The web interface also allows people to build their own (scaffolded) sequence of questions – which we call a stack – and to share them with other users if they wish. They can also rate different stacks.

So far it is going pretty well. The web interface is pretty much finished and they are now developing the mobile interface. The students are using SCRUM programming with weekly sprints. We usually meet online for about 20 minutes a week for them to present their progress and for us to provide feedback.

Last week I talked with Chris Whitehead who ia programmer with Tribal, another partner in the Layers project. Chris has helped develop m-learning. a content development tool for mobiles. And he suggested that we could link the app being developed by the Karlsruhe students (code named Reflect) to the m-learning application. I talked about this to Andreas Vratny, one of the Karlsruhe lead developers, on Friday. And hey presto, by Sunday we had an API and an OAuth system to allow single log in to the two systems.

The present version of the app is being developed for the Android operating system. We will release it on the Pontydysgu site as soon as it is ready, as well as on the Android store. If it catches on we will try to port it to iOS. And we are thinking about extending our development activities to further universities with a the development of a Layers Design Library to support developers. If anyone is interested please get in touch.


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