So I haven't posted in a while, and thought I'd better do that in case anyone is actually reading this journal right now and might be wondering where I am.
In my last journal entry I wrote about Strategically Shaping Projects. It was inspired by Basecamps 'Shaping Up' book, and I talked about being less ad hoc in my coding and starting to take mini strategies. So in the entry I gave myself a five-day code challenge, a sub challenge of the #100DaysOfCoding, to create a time tracker for my website. The idea being that whenever I engage in any coding or journaling or related activity for the development of my business, I can track that time.
I'm pleased to say that that challenge worked out really well. I've been using it for about a week now. Aside from not fully being in the habit of using it, so sometimes forgetting to start or stop tracking an activity, it's been really useful. I now have a much better sense of how long I am spending on activities, and also when. The tracker records start time, finish time and duration for an activity, so I can easily see exactly what I was doing and when. Right now my interface just tells me the grand total of all time on each activity type, but it will be easy to implement a chart that shows when I typically work, change in time from one week to the next, a heatmap of my most/least busy times etc. It should be really cool to dive into the data and share new insights with myself about my work.
In addition to my time tracker, I've also been doing quite a lot of work on my current pro bono project. This project is a web app that allows a team from an organisation in Mumbai to track their interactions with the students they work with, and their parents and teachers. It also allows them to track each of the children's changes in learning over time. And as with anything, that is all being stored in such a way that we can, later on, draw out insights about what's working well and what's not.
This project hasn't been without its challenges. Creating something that is easy for the team to use, who aren't all particularly tech people, has been a challenge for me, someone that is better working on the logic back end than the user front end. I've also needed to work on some snags for them, a couple of which are still in place, which is preventing them from really getting going with the app. However, I'm working with the team and I'm pretty sure we can get it all sorted really soon.
One thing that I have found particularly useful in helping the team is to make mini videos about the features and store them in a 'help centre'. The help centre is accessible from the bottom of any page. Whenever they ask me 'how do you do such and such' on the app, it's actually really easy for me to do a screen record of the action on my phone, upload that to YouTube, and add a link to that with a short explanation in the help centre. Seeing the videos makes it super easy to then understand the add. Having videos means I only need to explain it once then anyone in the future can come back to them. And shooting videos in response to the team's needs means that I can build it up slowly over time, so it is a nicely developing resource.
I'm particularly excited about this project because bringing better data management to support quality education in India is something that is really close to my heart. There are some big challenges that India faces in providing good education across the nation, and there are even concerns that the already low learning outcomes are getting worse in places. I have always felt, from my 12 years running a school in rural India, that it's the teachers that really need more support. Right now, across so many schools, much data handling is done in hand-written ledgers; great heavy books that look like spell books out of Harry Potter.
At the same time, smartphones are becoming increasingly ubiquitous across even the most rural areas of India, and many teachers have them. If we could offer them something that they can use on their personal smartphone to capture data more easily, and then give them insights into that (for example, what exactly kind of correlation is there between number of school days missed for a child and their learning outcomes), then we'd start to be giving them the information that they need to know how to make their schools better places.
Other ideas I have for such a service is daily tips and insights into how children learn best, teaching activity ideas, and celebrating local and regional best practice to help link together teachers that might not be able to physically meet one another but could support each other online. So a kind of teachers' social network, you like, but with school, child, and parent data all in there somehow so they can track what's important. A Mumsnet-cum-Salesforce?!
It's cool because this week I found out about the first such kind of service that is vaguely similar to this. It's this thing called Class Saathi. As it's core concept, Class Saathi is a way for teachers to track attendance and record quiz results live. The first part I think is useful, the second part I am less sure about but could be useful in some contexts. It's great to see people looking at these ideas and getting something out there. I hope that we can create a healthy ecosystem of useful tools that all inspire each other to create great products for teachers and schools to minimise their data admin work and maximise their potential in becoming great places for children to learn.
So that's a bit of an update. I'm planning on writing my posts a bit more thoughtfully to up the quality, but this one I'm just writing and posting in one as I'm going to call on a more fundamental principle - done is better than perfect. I want to get something out there today and share all this news - so here it is, raw and ready!