Introducing Scholr!

I am retrospectively sharing the project I’ve been working on relentlessly since the start of the year. At the end of December (2016) I applied for, and was awarded a development grant to develop a digital tool to improve the student teaching & learning experience at the University where I work.

My application was focussed on improving the tutorial process and experience for final year students working on graduation projects. However, this project also provided me with an opportunity to start developing an aspect of a much larger project I’ve been working on for a few years now. In order to set the context for the tool I have created, there now follows a brief history of the Scholr project:

2014 – Government Learning Technology Bid

During the summer of 2014 the digital media team at my University created a bid for a large government project to develop innovative solutions to improve or incorporate technology in teaching and learning. The majority of the ideas were based on my longstanding desire to improve learning CMS systems (such as Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). My role in the development of the bid was to create visualisations of the concepts that the proposed provision would support. I was also in charge of the branding and the creation of a supporting document that housed all the supporting information.

The branding was rather simple (as most branding should be). The name is, perhaps unsurprisingly, derived from the world ‘Scholar’. However, Google kinda’ have a claim to that word in the context of digital education with their digital academic book service. A slight misspelling of the word seems to work however there is risk of the irony that misspelled words are generally not acceptable in academic circles! My response to this would be that this is a contemporary student centred tool that is attempting to play its part in democratising learning. The branding is simply the product name with a subtle but recognisable “bookmark” motif:

The majority of the proposed functionality was then visually summarised in the supporting document to the bid:

Sadly, our project wasn’t selected to progress and despite some useful feedback, the project was mainly abandoned.

2015 – Revisiting Scholr

During the summer of 2015, fulled by my continuing disappointment of Blackboard and alternatives, I decided to visualise what I think a good user experience of these essential tools might look like. In particular I chose to focus on how tutorials and workshops could be supported by an appropriate digital provision:

These designs were considerate of the key demands from students based on my anecdotal evidence collated throughout the years.

With regard to tutorials; students wanted a more persistent and accessible tutorial record system that was conversational not just prescriptive. The lack of follow-through with tasks set one week against them being checked the next was also a concern and a task system connected to tutorials records could help with student time management.

Current LMS’s have limited or no support flipped or self-paced/assessed learning. The new design would clearly categorise tasks into pre-workshop, physical workshop and reflection (or post-workshop). There is also the possibility that the task/completion aspect would also be tied into the tutorial system (or kept separate).

I actually went to the trouble of creating these templates as actual HTML pages which were responsive to demonstrate a decent mobile experience too. But, once again, the project was abandoned so I could focus on developing and delivering new content for our programme.

2016 Funding Received

In December of 2016 I speculatively applied for  a Teaching & Learning Development grant outlining just the tutorial aspect of Scholr as a small, self-contained and achievable development within the 6 month timeframe of the fund. This was welcome news but actually it put a great deal of pressure on me because in order to evaluate my development appropriately I would need at least a semester’s worth of data! The challenge was on to develop the web-app in 3 months…

2017 Scholr Goes Live!

We now arrive at today and after many years of ideation, consulting students, general procrastination (given I started planning this in 2014) and hard work, I can finally present Scholr:

Note that all the content is random placeholder text for the sake of privacy. The last image is also a demonstration of how the responsive design works on a mobile device.

Where Next?

From the feedback obtained at the end of the development phase from students and staff, I am going to make some changes to ensure it can be a useful tool for the whole school and roll it out ready to support level 3 projects in the 2017/18 academic year. This will be a mild stress test of the service to see how it copes under moderate load. Anyway, a summary of new features I hope to develop over the summer (as a free update) are:

  • Students have the ability to add their own tasks – this will provide more ownership to the students and allow them to demonstrate more self-directed project management
  • Support for groups – the ability for a tutor to link 2 or more accounts together so any tutorial is disseminated to all group members but tasks can be assigned to individuals and individuals can add their own tasks

There are a load more features I could implement but I’m inclined to do too much because a) it’s my summer and I need some downtime, b) anything greater would require more user testing so I would need more funding and c) I am going to be working (when not resting) on the newly proposed Games & VFX Production programme due to start at my University in 2019!