I have been following the Teacher App (just one part of the whole SIMS App) development programme since June 2013 – as this is, in my opinion, a game changer. The aim of the first stage in the project is quite simple really, as put by Duncan Hield, Product Manager.
“Make everyday classroom tasks simple”
This, in part, is partly based on the change in use of the SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG) platform. As I have discussed in previous articles – SLG was originally intended as a parental engagement tool. However, numerous Schools and Colleges used this as a SIMS “Lite” for quick access and entry of registers and behaviour. The quicker responsiveness of internet technologies has made us “impatient” and efficiencies which can be gained in the classroom by reducing time overheads of administration will be welcome. There was also a growth in use for trips and visits, as well as Schools who exchanged students as part of a group.
“The ideal tool for teachers to manage their class and student information”
So what exactly is the “Teacher App”, for those that are coming to this cold? The SIMS Teacher App was showcased for the first time, publicly, at the BETT Show in January 2014.
The pilot for the project started for real in June time, with an initial cohort of schools. This was primarily to allow trailing of functionality, as well as the on-boarding process. Usability and performance were key focus areas; also moving into the whole user experience.
From the Autumn, early adopters will be able to join. These will be SLG schools; as the App project is part of the SLG solution. There will also be Local Authority engagement to enable support; and support for the on-boarding process. Introduced at this time will be the SIMS Service Manager. This is designed to simplify and streamline the installation of SIMS Server Components; as well as consolidate running SIMS processes and services on a SIMS Server. One benefit of the App project development and implementation model is that updates will be able to be streamed to devices though the various “AppStores” – and these don’t have to be in step with the usual SIMS update processes.
So, lets have a look at the App itself – many thanks to Duncan and his team for sharing these images with me. We start with the idea of stepping into the classroom – your tablet knows which lesson you’re taking and shows the name and picture of all pupils in that class. Mark a pupil late and it shows by how many minutes, because it knows the lesson you are taking (including cover) – and knows how far into the session you are.
You can view your full timetable, by swiping down (as you current timetable is shown across the top). The current day is highlighted, and all days will then zoom/animate to the class view for that day. Individual classes are also touch links to the specific lesson. Possible future integration could be to the OS reminder and noticications system – perhaps for things like cover or specific lesson alerts – with an indicator on the session.
Tapping any student, will show you the current details for the student. This view is one of the future development areas – to show emergency contact details, perhaps a behaviour/achievement summary as well.
Swiping in from the left brings up the options menu – allowing access to the Register, Behaviour and Achievement choices.
In all cases, you can multi-select. In the case of registers, much like in SLG, you can choose those that are not present – and on saving – others will be marked as present. When you choose an attendance mark for a student, the screen will reorganise into groups by attendance code.
Behaviour and achievement work in a similar way – and is a much quicker process than the full client. Streamlined, efficient and simple…
One of the questions Ive been asked a lot is about the tie in with SLG. I have been able to have a long discussion with both Ben Jones and Duncan about this – and here is the low down. Hopefully – this will “put the issue to bed” for good!
The “reliance” on having SLG is a semantics/product alignment relationship not technology one. The App Project fits with the engagement agenda of SLG, Agora and InTouch. The user base of SLG is best placed to give feedback on the product initially, which is why there is a focus on supporting them first. Schools with SLG have already significantly invested, and including the TeacherApp in this suite is giving something back.
However, as Ive said, the reliance is not a technology one – and it is planned that all customers will be able to purchase in January 2015. Costs have not yet been disclosed.
In terms of features and development – registration, timetables, student details and search, group browsing and cover are all embedded now. Autumn developments include achievement and behaviour integration; as well as ad-hoc cover as well as adding further information to the student details view.
“The current focus now and continuing through the coming year is also on providing further functionality from SIMS to help provide easier access to the key tools teachers use day-to-day in the classroom”
For January, the plan is to add assessment and dinner money and a “mobile teacher – access on the go” feature. At this point, it is hoped to extend the supported platform from just iOS to include Windows tablets/Phones running 8.1. This is possible because the project is based on one source code bulk, individualized by platform. This allows the Apps to take advantage of the features of the OS – such as utilising the swipes and on screen button/menu locations.
Beyond January, and though 2015 – greater integration from the SIMS suite is just one of the ideas on the table. Alerts, from SIMS (messages), or InTouch and Behaviour tracking features are being discussed. Collaboration options for Teachers, sharing content and seating planer are also under development.
“An exciting area of integration for us and we believe will be of great benefit to schools”
The development news doesn’t stop there either. I was told that there is also a focus on the identity authentication support. This is key, and what sets this App project apart. As I have covered in previous articles – you are able to use your exisiting details to login to the app (after a one time device registration). Many will be familiar with this from Online Banking Apps and others.
The developers have acknowledged the mixed economy with schools we are working with in terms of the way they manage and authenticate their teachers. This means there is an ongoing constant review of how to best support the mix of Microsoft, Google and Office 365 user identity integration with the Teacher App.
For more information, or to register for updates regarding availability – please see the following link: http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/sims-teacher-app