Q&A with Julia Webb, Revision Buddies
How did Revision buddies come about?
It was clear that with generation Smartphone, where Facebook was shifted from your computer to a mobile device and with hot shots like Angry Birds, young people were dedicating a serious amount of time to their mobile phones. However, whilst more and more people were staring at these screens wherever they went, we couldn’t help but think that there was something lacking: education. With the news increasingly noting the failings in the education system, it seemed clear to us that apps could be used to transform people’s learning experience. Wouldn’t it be great if kids could get as immersed in a GCSE revision app as they did in apps where the sole purpose is to sling shot wingless birds at pigs positioned around the screen?! And so we decided to make it our mission to build this.
The advantages of interactive learning on mobile phones were clear, it allowed for self-directed learning, thus fitting in with the popular flipped classroom approach and it made learning so much more accessible and fun. Interactive learning is a subject that fascinated us both and we often found ourselves talking about the many different avenues that we could pursue to help people retain the facts they needed for their exams. After much research and consideration, we felt that testing knowledge was key to retaining it – hence the multiple choice questions. We also wanted to build something that could be used independently from a teacher, but that remained a complementary tool for revision rather than a replacement. This is why, whilst these apps are not “revision guides”, we do provide explanations for every single question. Students and teachers are also able to monitor progress automatically – providing quick and easy feedback as to which areas need more attention.
Having previously written software for a selection of educational and gaming companies, my brother George had the perfect skill set to start writing educational software for mobile devices. He would lead the technical side of things and I (with a history masters and experience in communications) would be in charge of resourcing and managing a team of GCSE subject teachers who were employed to write the content.
After about a year of development and content editorial our first app was finally released in September 2012. We now have eight subjects, with a ninth on its way and the popularity of the apps has been fantastic. With technology moving so fast, we always strive to continue to develop the way the apps are used to be most effective and we’re thrilled that a whole class of students can now use our apps together via Clevertouch Screens in the classroom, as well as independently at home.
What was the inspiration behind your first app?
History was our first app. It seemed like the obvious subject choice as I had studied History at University so it was something that I felt I could have real input in in terms of the content and proofreading. George had previously been making apps for smart TVs and set-top boxes so he was very familiar with the constraints of making engaging content for relatively low spec devices. We employed an old friend and colleague of George’s to do the designs. We asked her to create something clear and appealing to students, nothing too dull! We were very pleased with what she came up with and the designs have served us well. George came up with the idea for our app icon. It involves an ipad being positioned on an easel, replacing the traditional blackboard – it gives an indication that we’re very much in the game of modernising the way people learn. We have recently launched our teacher dashboards, which allow teachers to monitor the progress of a class that is using our apps so that no one is left falling behind, it also allows the whole class to play against each other in real time. The idea of fun collaborative learning is where we were always aiming to go when we thought of the name Revision Buddies.
How were the apps developed?
George is the Technical Director. His skills have been integral to the development of the apps. It is crucial to have someone with these skills in-house as it allows us to respond quickly to user feedback and constantly evolve the app to match the latest technological advancements or to the demands of our suppliers. This is one of the real strengths of Revision Buddies – we are small, yet extremely versatile. Originally Revision Buddies apps were locked in portrait mode. However when we were approached by Clevertouch we didn’t let that get in our way, instead we did a major rewrite of the user interface making it instantly adaptable to any screen size in both portrait and landscape mode. For the app to still look great whether it’s being viewed on a tiny iphone 3 or whether it’s presented at the size and resolution of a Clevertouch Plus was a significant achievement.
You work with a family member – does this make the development process more fluid?
The interesting thing we’ve found about working together as a brother and sister team is that we’re always determined not to let each other down, which is a great thing really as it’s excellent for both the productivity and the quality of our work. Of course it does raise the stakes too, but we’re good under pressure!
How long has it taken to develop the entire range?
One thing that we were determined not to do was rush out a whole load of reasonably good apps. We are perfectionists – each app has hours of editorial work written into the syllabus aligned content, with an equal amount of precision and testing going in to development. We started the content for these apps in 2011, releasing them one at a time. We finalised our most recent app, Chemistry, at the end of January 2015.
What does the future hold for Revision Buddies?
Where do we start?!
Bringing technology to the classroom and students’ revision is proving to be revolutionary. Our goal is to make revision a less lonely occupation, to create a more interactive and engaging learning environment so that we can help students and teachers work together throughout the school year to get better results in their exams.
We have so many things in the pipeline, it really is very exciting! One of the best things about being so close to our apps is that we can see how they are used and get direct user feedback. From what we’ve been building we have seen that there really is the opportunity to bring revision to life and we’re looking to build on this in several ways.
Firstly: We’re building a community, where all classes and users of our apps can come together to discuss all things GCSE. This creates a virtual space for people to help each other and to voice concerns in an unintimidating environment. We’ll gradually look to add to this as it unfolds.
Secondly: We’re adding Teacher Dashboards to help teachers identify where their students are achieving or falling down. In addition to classroom use or homework assignments, if we can provide teachers with instant updates and analysis on their students’ subject knowledge they will be able to adjust their teaching accordingly and make their teaching more effective.
Thirdly: We’re bringing in a host of competitive and social additions to the apps, which we plan on releasing during the course of 2016.
On top of this we’ll also be looking to branch out our subjects, integrating additional learning methods into the apps and then (breathe!) we’ll look to take it one step further – to other key stage learning levels and alternative curriculums worldwide.
Do you plan on launching A-Level apps?
Ultimately, yes. However, we are keen to perfect the content and functionality of the apps at GCSE level before diluting our efforts with a new exam range and target audience.
How have the apps been received by schools?
Very well. We’ve been extremely encouraged by the feedback from students, teachers and parents alike who have consistently voiced that Revision Buddies apps have improved knowledge, furthered understanding and boosted confidence in the lead up to exams. We look forward to working with many more schools in the future and are excited that so many schools will have instant class access to Revision Buddies apps through the CleverStore.
How do the Revision Buddies GCSE apps compliment learning?
What makes Revision Buddies work so well is that the concept is very simple. It is about helping students to learn the facts that they need for their exams. Once these facts, theories, concepts, or equations have been learnt, teachers have more time to teach their students how to apply them. For example with history, we ensure that students know why, when and how Stalin implemented the 5 year plans, which means that the teacher can help them to use this knowledge to answer essay questions appropriately. Without the basic fact set, the implementation cannot be effectively taught, and our goal is to bridge this gap. As previously mentioned, the apps allow for self-directed learning and they also make learning really accessible. We aim to make learning engaging, collaborative and fun.
Can students use Revision Buddies apps independently at home?
Most definitely. Revision Buddies apps, once downloaded, work anywhere. In the classroom they can be used as collective class quizzes or as team games, and equally teachers can set the use of the app as homework assignments. We have integrated a ‘share’ option, which means that students can share their results back with their teacher by email, Firefly, Dropbox or even through Facebook and Twitter.
They can also use the apps for their own revision, where it will intuitively record their results so that they can monitor their progress and see where they need more practice. The apps encourage students when they are struggling and congratulate them when they are doing well.
Tell me about your relationship with the Cleverstore on the Clevertouch Plus?
We received an email from Clevertouch at the end of last year and were really interested in what they were doing. To us, what they were developing was a complete no brainer and would revolutionise a teacher’s ability to use technology in the classroom. A major part of this was their educational app store, which no one had yet developed, and has been a major stumbling block for working with schools and their VLE systems, which are all still web based. Being able to bring Revision Buddies to life in the classroom in this way can only be a good thing and we’re really excited to be working with the forward thinking team at Clevertouch.
What challenges and changes did you face developing the GCSE Revision Buddies apps for front-of-class interactive screens?
Our apps were initially developed for small mobile phone devices. The work that went into redesigning and developing all of the apps so that they could seamlessly adapt to landscape, at such scale and resolution, was substantial. However, we’re thrilled with the result and pleased that students can now orientate the app to fit the shape of their device. We now want to focus on adding more class based play modes to the apps.
How can teachers direct lessons using Revision Buddies apps with their Clevertouch Plus?
We love the ways that the Clevertouch Plus opens the app to a whole class of students. For example, teachers can play quiz master using our apps with fun interactive class activities, which will allow students to competitively show off their knowledge. The teacher can get the class to vote on the answers and encourage individuals to justify their responses before revealing the detailed explanation to the class and further discussing the themes raised by the question. Students can be given limited amount of lives and the teacher can see who is still in by the end of the class, like a game of killer (if that’s familiar to you?) Teachers can use the apps to test their students’ knowledge before, during, and after their teaching so that they can plan their lessons to the appropriate level, or go over anything that has not been understood by their students.
Finally, What should teachers/students look for in a good revision app?
We believe that the following is crucial to making a decision about educational appps:
- Content is king – It has to be professionally authored, accurate, relevant and to the point. This is something that we have paid particular attention to and we have worked extremely hard with our authors, all of whom are qualified teachers, to develop the content that fits the syllabus and captures the attention of students.
- Customisation – If subject content differs from one exam board to another or one level to another the app needs to be customisable to match the requirements of the user.
- Design and UX – Creating something that is engaging and exciting to interact with is crucial. We wanted to make something that looks light and fun, but that underneath is extremely comprehensive and detailed. By mixing beautiful design with a cleverly thought out user experience you can be sure that you are on track to creating an engaging educational app.
- Progress reports and encouragement – The app has to be able to provide some form of feedback so that the user knows whether they are improving and what level they are attaining. There are many ways to do this but we chart students’ progress using graphs and also allow teachers to track student progress through the teacher dashboards. When we give students feedback on the results screens we try to make it as encouraging as possible.