by Derwen College ‘industry champion’ and project manager Neil Bevan, owner of design and app development business Hunter Bevan Ltd
Hunter Bevan Ltd is working in partnership with Derwen College on a three-year project to support young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to gain supported work placements as part of their learning journey. For some students this may ultimately lead to paid employment, the added independence and sense of achievement that brings. Our involvement in the project is in the development of a suite of iOS and Android-compatible apps to support training through an accessible, understandable platform.
As Project Manager, it is interesting to interface between the needs of the educational sector and the technical delivery of desired outcomes from the apps. The challenges include how we deliver those outcomes through the use of technology and mobile devices for training which are understandable, easy to use and accessible to students, using simple design and specific content such as Makaton symbols, which will be of benefit to staff and students as a teaching and learning aid.
In ‘mainstream’ commercial training apps we might take a totally different approach to that of working in a specialist college setting. Some of the things we are learning through working with the college are shaping the future development of apps in this sector – such as the example of fingerprint recognition patterns being different in students with Down syndrome to those of the wider community, meaning that using that method of recognising an individual may be difficult using current technology. These subtle differences are informing future accessibility to the apps we are developing in relation to security and safeguarding issues. We are also exploring the use of different learning methods – using video and spoken word, Makaton and written words, and a series of pictures and written words, to learn which approach different types of students prefer for their own personal learning. One thing that is definite is that the use of technology is being welcomed by the students and they enjoy using the apps in their learning. This is demonstrated by students requesting to continue to use the apps on their personal devices after leaving the college!
We have worked with the college to systemise the approach to determining the desired learning outcomes, producing easy-to-understand flowcharts of how the apps will work so that the specification can be agreed at an early stage. User interface designs are then created and presented to college staff so that we can discuss accessibility and user-friendliness appropriate to the students’ needs, learning from their specialist knowledge, before coding begins. We then share beta test versions of the apps with the college during the build process for evaluation, and continue to improve the ‘user journey’ through staff and student feedback. This ensures ongoing quality control and agility in being able to modify functionality and usability as we proceed to build the apps. The software behind the apps is the Laravel Nova admin panel, Cordova and React Native. We are partnering with Amazon Web Servers (AWS) to deliver server-side functionality where required, and the college is in the process of accessing grant funding from Amazon to support development on AWS. These state-of-the art development tools will enable further development of the apps in the future.
Current apps include:
- Housekeeping training developed in conjunction with Premier Inn – working with Derwen College to convert Premier Inn’s training manual into a pictorial, Makaton and simple sentence version on paper – and then into a fully functioning app with the choice of using video and spoken word, Makaton and written words, and a series of pictures and written words.
- ‘Working in a Café’ – a step-by-step guide to common tasks when working in a café, using pictures, Makaton and words, which can be customised to an individual café’s own processes and ways of undertaking different tasks (e.g. multiple ways of making a cup of coffee using different equipment.
- Digital CV builder, which enables a student to select descriptive words about themselves, upload pictures and personal data, and to incorporate videos and documents as evidence of their skills and work experience. As well as choosing from options, students can further personalise their CV using text, or voice recognition. The app also allows for schools and colleges attended, qualifications, work experience, references and a mock interview to be uploaded. An online or pdf CV is then generated which can be accessed by a potential employer who has been granted a secure access code.
- Early-stage development of a ‘Getting ready for work’ calendar-based app to support being ‘work-ready’ and the use of public transport to travel to work.
As the apps are currently for internal use within the college and a limited user-base outside the college, they are distributed to users as .apk files for Android and via TestFlight for iOS. Hunter Bevan Ltd are approved Apple Developers for iOS.
We are delighted to be working on this project as it presents us with design and development challenges in building effective tools to benefit people with learning difficulties and disabilities which are really making a difference to the students’ lives and employment opportunities. The project has forged stronger links with Hunter Bevan and Derwen College and I have taken on a voluntary role as an Industry Champion for the Retail Pathway with the College – promoting their work, and supporting the staff and students with ‘real life’ business experience. The project has also proven to be an effective platform to introduce and present the work of the college to the wider business community.
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