Three Sourcebits Clients Revolutionizing Education Via Mobile

Students on staircase using mobiles for education purposes.

We have recently been doing a significant amount of interesting work in mobile application development for educational software developers and institutions. Several organizations have recently asked us if we could share some of our experiences to help them better understand the scope of mobile initiatives in education. We’ve picked three projects where we’re helping clients do everything from enabling mobile learning and student collaboration, to helping manage the admissions process on tablets.

1. Helping Autistic Students Improve Their Quality of Life: One of our clients has a 30-year track record of producing high-quality assessment, educational and training software for autistic children, but its product line was designed only for desktop computers. The client decided to create mobile versions of five products.

The original desktop software required huge amounts of storage and data processing, since the company had created each product’s content and flow over many years. The main challenge was to import this content from the desktop applications and “generalize” it, so the import process could be automated. Another challenge was how to display content optimized for accessed by visually challenged users. The client asked us to display all of the information in the form of traversable slideshows, with each slide comprising a number of multimedia entities (audio, video, images). Though this amount of data would normally take too long to download, it was essential that users not encounter delays as they moved from one slide to the next. We converted the slides to a simple format and restructured the data so the multimedia content could be quickly and automatically imported into the new databases. To display slides, a JavaScript engine was created so that each one could be rendered as users moved from one to the next.

Within 18 months, the client launched all five apps which do everything from teaching basic life and functional planning skills to helping users experience higher achievement in their chosen professions. The new apps have helped the company reach a much larger target audience and they’re helping more autistic students than ever to learn how to improve their lives.

2. Enabling Mobile Learning: We are working extensively with a large developer of education software, in particular, learning management systems. The client needed to have two mobile products developed: Mobile Learn and Mobile Central.

The applications were designed to be personalized for each university that used the client’s system, so we developed the application as a template that can be customized for multiple universities as needed. Integration with the universities’ student management systems was the other major challenge, as every university had different authentication and security protocols and in some case even the communication protocols were very different. The application also need to provide real time news and updates through the application and sync with the built-in calendar. We architected and built the application such that it could be configured for another university by changing parameters in a single file. We also generalized the complete authentication and security protocols to ensure that multiple universities were supported and that the applications would be scalable in long run. To solve the news and update / calendar integration challenge, we pulled information and news entries in real time from their server and synchronized to the built-in calendar. Since in calendar support was available only with licenses, we developed a calendar GUI and saved all the entries within the application.

Today, the Mobile Learn application extends education beyond the physical confines of the classroom and school library, allowing students to access content from home, communicate with teachers, and communicate with each other via online collaboration tools. Users can view grades, access documents in multiple formats, view and post in discussion forums, comment on blogs and journals, see the course roster, and post announcements. The advent of affordable smartphones and applications like Mobile Learn are helping ensure all students have access to educational resources 24/7.

3. Managing the Student Admissions Process: We helped a major university manage their student admission process by building an innovative iPad application. The concept began in the office of the university’s Director of Admissions. The need arose out of the necessity to simplify what had become an increasingly convoluted admissions process, with multiple people reviewing each candidate’s application. The school decided to create an iPad application to simplify the admission review process. The goal was to help the university accelerate and improve their entire recruitment process, by providing software built specifically for admissions professionals and inspired by admissions professionals. The main challenges were connecting securely and ensuring proper data sync data and data security between the application and the university servers. We also needed to provide offline access to data with complete confidentiality through layered security.

More than 5000 prospective students apply to this prestigious program each year, and the application needed to handle all of them seamlessly. The client wanted to be able to use methods to annotate each candidate’s PDF application that were similar to the way they’d done it with paper and pencil, but needed to bring the same experience to a digital platform. Making the PDF annotation work was the most challenging task to achieve as there was no built-in iOS support. We custom built a text engine to identify and locate the font and coordinates of the selected data and then dynamically applied the highlights as overlays. While the type of data being protected is different, the stakes for data security are just as high in a project like this as they are in business-focused enterprise applications. To ensure data security, the application was built so that the device was only able to connect to the university servers through the school’s VPN network. All communications with the servers featured 128-bit SSL encryption, we integrated Kerberos Authentication with the schools server.

Summary:“Mobile” education is a term being used in a variety of different contexts, and these are just a few examples of how we’re helping our clients across a broad range of mobile initiatives. Next week we’ll take a look at two new emerging technology companies that recently released mobile education apps that we helped build.