Sunday, 17 July 2011

Learning and Teaching Conference

Friday's Learning and Teaching Conference gave us a great opportunity to tell colleagues from the rest of the University about the CloudBank concept: we tried out the app by adding some new words and definitions. Even better, we were able to gather their ideas about using student-sourced material in their own disciplines. Here are the abstracts of all the presentations: 

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Foreign nurses learning English euphemisms

While the CloudBank project was targeted at international students concerned with improving their facility in the English language, it is obvious that the system is equally suitable for other user groups trying to improve their language skills or learning a specialist language in-situ.

A recent article in the Guardian about foreign nurses at Norfolk's Queen Elizabeth hospital grappling with everyday expressions and euphemisms read like a textbook example of a situation where CloudBank could make a real difference:

I want to spend a penny, not go to the shop: nurses to be taught euphemisms

Norfolk hospital organises lessons for foreign nurses to avoid cultural misunderstandings with patients

Foreign nurses are receiving a crash course in euphemism after bewildered patients expressing the wish to "spend a penny" found themselves being escorted to a hospital shop. Norfolk's Queen Elizabeth hospital has organised special "adapting to life in Norfolk" sessions for Portuguese staff whose otherwise excellent English results in too-literal translations of everyday expressions. Patients, particularly the elderly, face being met with incomprehension when complaining of "feeling under the weather", suffering "pin and needles" or experiencing problems with their "back passage".

Local expressions such as "blar", meaning to cry, and "mawther", meaning "young woman", are also likely to see mystified nurses flicking in vain through conventional phrasebooks. The distinct Norfolk brogue provides another linguistic obstacle for the recruits hired by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn NHS trust. "One of the things people from overseas had difficulty with was our euphemisms such as 'spend a penny'," said a hospital spokesman. "In the past some of the new recruits from abroad, when patients used the expression, were taking people to the hospital shop."

"They all speak exceptional English, but that doesn't necessarily cover the type of English spoken in Norfolk. We have many different phrases and sayings in this part of the world. A lot of patients are elderly and use what can only be described as quaint phrases and descriptions, especially for body parts and common illnesses." The hospital has organised two-hour induction courses in dialect, idiom and colloquialism, covering phrases such as "spick and span", "higgledy-piggledy", "la-di-dah" and "tickled pink". Other useful terms on the agenda are "jim jams", "a cuppa" and "elbow grease". Nurses are being asked to write down any confusing phrases they hear on the wards so they can be discussed in follow-up meetings.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, said the training would ensure "safe service" in hospitals. "Anyone working for the NHS - nurse, doctor, other healthcare professional, healthcare assistant - must be able to be understood by the patient and must demonstrate that they are safe to treat patients," she said. But Fiona McEvoy, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, resorting to idiom herself, said it was "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut". It made more financial sense for foreign nurses to pick up local phrases "from hearing them used and being advised by peers", she said.


As pointed out in the article, good communication between NHS staff and patients is essential to uphold quality of service, but running regular language courses in these cases might be over the top and too costly.

There is real need for light-weight solutions that can be used in-situ and leverage peer learning to accelerate and scaffold the learning process. CloudBank could fill this gap and potentially save the NHS a lot of money!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Android fragmentation

In a recent blog post titled Android: write once, debug on every handset thats out there Hartmut Seichter complains about incompatibilities in the Android Camera API. As we found out last Monday when handing out our new T-Mobile Pulse phones to students taking part in the CloudBank evaluation, these issues are not limited to low-level APIs but even occur at the highest levels: the behaviour of Intents (re-usable software components in Android).

The CloudBank app uses a standard Android Intent to record audio. As this is part of the core Android API and behaves consistently on all HTC phones and SDK emulators across different Android versions, we did not even think of testing audio recording on our T-Mobile Pulse phones. Our students however jumped straight into it and found that there was no way to use a recording and go back to the CloudBank app.

Behaviour after recording: left Android standard, right T-Mobile Pulse

It turns out that either T-Mobile or Huawei, the manufacturer of the phone, have customised this Intent: Instead of showing "Use this recording" and "Discard" buttons after recording, the Pulse does not show any buttons at all but instead has options like "Share" and "Set as Ringtone" hidden in the menu. Congratulations T-Mobile/Huawei, you just have broken every app out there using the sound recorder intent on your phone!

On a technical level, the return values of the Intent were screwed up accordingly and it took us two whole days to find a work-around for Pulse phones that mimicked the standard behaviour and made sense to users! (Well, at least half of that was spent on getting the Pulse to work with the Android Debugger Bridge, but that's another story...)

Let the games begin

Last Monday we got the phones out to students at the ISC taking part in the CloudBank evaluation. Our introduction, which was meant to introduce the CloudBank project and explain the mobile app, somehow fizzled out among the excitement about the new phones and students exploring the kit. However, we still managed to get the main points across and then delved into user support as students started straighaway to add new content to the Cloudbank repository. Check out the CloudBank RSS feed to see the latest uploads!

One small fly in the ointment was that audio recording did not work as expected on the new phones. I'll describe this problem in another post (grrr), however, on the day students did not seem to mind and were happy to use the system without audio recording.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Future Learningscapes

Yesterday we had another CloudBank presentation at the Future Learningscapes: a 21st Century Challenge e-learning conference at the University of Greenwich. Lyn did the talking this time, pointing out that like other technology trends before (e.g. multimedia) mobiles must find their niche in the larger learning landscape through applications that play to their specific strengths as personal, ubiquitous and mobile devices that are used in context.
As always attendees seemed to love the CloudBank concept and offered great feedback, which was even more appreciated as much of it came from language teachers and language learners.

Content monitoring and moderation

Once the application is released and user numbers pick up, some users will inevitably post spam or otherwise inappropriate content. While screening every single contribution can be a full-time job, most user-generated content systems adopt a more lightweight approach where monitoring and moderation is delegated to the community. Following this approach, the CloudBank app now has functionality for users to flag content:

1) Someone might find this entry inappropriate

2) Click in the Menu button to bring up menu options

3) Hit the Flag entry menu option and tick a reason

4) The item is now flagged for everyone to see (red flag top right corner)

5) The flagged item is easy enough to spot for an administrator...

6) ...who then can look at the entry, edit it, reset the flag or delete it from the system.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Updated application and support docs

Please update CloudBank on your mobile phone to version 1.1 as we made some changes to the public API that break the prototype you might have currently installed.

The mobile user guide, API specification and RSS feed have also changed:

CloudBank app v1.1

Mobile user guide v1.1

CloudBank Public API v1.1

New CloudBank RSS feed