Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I have been working in secondary education for 20 years as a lead practitioner is Design and Technology. I have taught from Key stage 3 to Key stage 5 with numerous other responsibilities such as exams officer, teacher coach and design/ICT coursework advisor. I am also working as a freelance graphic designer and educational app advisor for The Educational App store.
What led you the development of Exam Pal?
The idea came from having run the exams in my school for five years. Exam boards release dates for exams months in advance but schools only tend to issue dates and personal exam timetables weeks prior to the exams. When I asked my Year 11 GSCE students when their exams were last summer they all held up a piece of paper with exam details, duration, venue and seat number (all of which can be stored in the app). I thought at the time this should be something scheduled in an app. Students will often lose their exam timetable but rarely lose their phones. Having also mentored students for many years I was constantly being asked by them: ‘When should I start revising, what are the best methods and how do I create a revision plan?’ ExamPal was really born out of experience and a need I saw in my students. Once we had created the app I sent an email to Tim Cook and Phil Schiller at Apple and tried to get their attention by sending them £2 via PayPal to download the app. Neither Tim nor Phil responded (and I’m not too sure where my £2 is) but I was sent an encouraging email from Mary Jane Beth at Apple Education UK & Europe. She loved the app and passed the details onto her iTunes team and sales staff.
How long was the development period for the app?
From initial sketched conception to App store debut the process took 12 months. I quickly discovered that although I was a computer geek, app programming was beyond me. After several quotes from the ridiculous to reasonable, I designed and developed the app with a UK company 4fx Design & Multi Media. The process was truly inspirational and I have thoroughly enjoyed the designing and coding aspects of the app.
What are the key features that make it a useful tool for the modern student?
The app works on many levels. It integrates exam dates for students, provides exam date countdowns, stores previous exam results and it syncs to iCalendar and Google calendar. The app provides dates for official exam dates with all major examination boards in the UK, US and worldwide, some 4,000 UK exams this summer alone. It also enables students to put in their timetable, log and track homework and has access to key revision tips. The calendar function is pretty useful as anyone with an iCal or Google calendar can sync – which means parents can have full access to their children’s exam timetables, revision timetables and homework alerts too. The key aspect for us is to enable students to revise better and organise themselves more efficiently during exam time. The ability to access your official exam date months in advance of your school giving it to you on a piece of paper is priceless.
What about when exam time is over? Or for the students in years where formal exams don't take place?
The app not only allows access to official exam date data but it also works on a daily basis. Students can enter exam dates manually such as mock exams, oral exams or even a driving test. The app also has the ability to log and schedule homework. The student timetable is a great feature too allowing students to add a one week or two week timetable. The home page even tells you your next lesson. Our app is truly an all-rounder that can be used throughout the academic year.
Have you been pleased with the response to the app so far?
The response has been fabulous. I am very proud that thousands of students are using the app and improving their organisation and revision skills leading to better results. Our feature on BBC Click was wonderful and our extensive feature in the Times Education really raised awareness. We have been awarded 5 star certification by the Educational App Store and have not moved out of the top 200 apps in the Educational App store since conception. Exam Pal has sold in over 15 different countries.
In general, how important do you feel the use of mobile technology is in education today?
I am myself considered an old school teacher having taught for 20 years. Fortunately, my subject is geared towards technology. I watch The Gadget Show, Dragons’ Den, etc. so I know what is new and exciting. We need new technology to inspire our students when teaching. Teaching has changed so much in the last six to seven years. No longer can we teach didactically, but we have to tune into the students interests and engage them. I read recently that a student’s attention is their age plus nine minutes! We all know that for most access and funding is still the main issue but as prices for smartphone technology and tablets come down it will not be long before every student will be using mobile technology in the classroom on a daily basis.
With the change in the economy of information and greater importance being put on information retrieval rather than memorisation, can you see a time when the student is actually allowed to keep their device in the exams?
I am not sure about this one. Regulation of this would be very difficult. I do believe students have lost the art of information retrieval and research as everything is at the touch of a button and seconds away. When I was a student there was a thrill about researching something out for myself and knowing that someone else may not find the information. Social media has shown me that exam revision methods haven’t changed much in terms of trying to remember information for an exam it is just hampered by the vast amount of distractions that student have and they fall into the trap of procrastination rather than intense revision.
What's next for you? Do you have any other projects in development that you could tell us about?
The app now sits proudly on both platforms, android and iOS. My real goal is to spread the word about Exam Pal and have it on every student’s smartphone in the country. I will be adding further content to the revision tip and techniques and enhancing the performance of the app as well as giving students further early access to their exam dates. We are currently working with a major player in mobile technology to hopefully get the app pre-installed on their tablets for schools. A standalone US version of the app will be our next development as well as trying to reach Asian markets.
Thanks for speaking with us Andrew and we wish you continued success with your great app.
Download Exam Pal here: https://itunes.apple.com/ae/app/exam-pal/id569573636?mt=8