Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Mobile application: iCount

One of the more interesting outcomes from the trip to Thailand was the use and testing of a very simple tool called iCount. The iCount tool is designed to do just what it says, count things. When students undertake field trips they are often required to create frequency graphs of a variety of objects. For example, on this particular field trip students were required to count pedestrians, different kinds of vehicles, and/or the variety and nature of signage in the business district. Traditionally this is done with a notepad and pen or pencil, a list of things to be counted and some kind of frequency counting method involving simple strokes on paper. However, it is not this activity that is specifically valued. What is important is what the students can do with the data, the interpretations they make and the conclusions formed. The iCount tool is intended to make the first part very easy, data collection, while simultaneously putting the data into a format that can be analysed using Excel, for example. The figure on the right shows a screen captured from a PDA during the data collection process undertaken by the students on the field trip.

The iCount tool is simple in the extreme. Once the data has been captured the saved file is in the form of a .CVS file. When students download the file to their PCs and click on it, it opens automatically in Excel. The issues of transferring data from paper to electronic form for analysis disappear. Students are better able to focus on the key requirements of analysis, graphing and interpretation of the data. In discussions with students this particular tool was valued because of its:
  • ease-of-use; and
  • ability to create a file ready for analysis using Excel.
The students were very pragmatic in their use of the PDAs for data collection and analysis purposes. Implicitly, they subscribed to the KIS principle, keep it simple! They did not value any tools that were complex or difficult to use, thus requiring a steep learning curve.

Creating a file that the iCount tool uses as its source file is relatively simple also. The source file is an XML file. One of the students modified the original demonstration file in order to count different types of signage -- one of the prescribed tasks. This was about five minutes after being shown how the source files could be created. The text from a typical source file is shown below.
The XML file is of the form:

The iCount tool would seem to be one of the success stories of data collection and analysis on this particular field trip using a PDA. I have received inquires expressing considerable interest from others who have heard of the tool and want to use it in a similar way with their students. If you would like to use the tool, you are free to download it from my personal web site (http://people.cite.hku.hk/dkennedy/DMK/dmk7.html). I am interested in working with people to develop the tool futher and make it even more useful and user-friendly. Please send me an e-mail if you are interested in collaborating.