Our native ECTS evaluation app: A win-win for universities and students
Quinn is a native ECTS evaluation app we first developed for the Vienna University of Technology to improve ECTS equity and studyability.
We developed and designed Quinn for iOS and Android. Particular emphasis was placed on ease of use and providing genuine value for students.
Quinn is currently used at several universities in the DACH region and has over 300,000 tracked hours in 14,000 courses.
Technology for people
Universities are dancing the difficult balancing act of digitizing their existing systems while maintaining everyday academic life and meeting new political or societal demands. Therefore, it is wise to prepare for upcoming changes early on so that unforeseen events can be better mitigated. In line with its slogan, "Technology for People," the Vienna University of Technology was looking for a way to streamline its ECTS evaluation by digitizing it to comply with anticipated legislative changes.
We weren't Dotbite back then, but our first product, timebite, a learning platform with user-created tips for classes and exams, was very successful at the Vienna University of Technology, and three of our four founders were enrolled at the TU. So the step to ask us as an "in-house" option to work on the new ECTS evaluation project wasn't a big one, as we have already proven our expertise in statistics and big data.
The "UG-Novelle 2021" and ECTS Equity
The changes in the law mentioned at the beginning actually came in 2021 in the form of the amendment to the Universities Act (UG Novelle). In addition to numerous changes, this includes the mandatory mandate for universities to ensure studyability and ECTS equity.
Studyability means that studies must be designed so that students can actually complete them in the stipulated time. To this end, universities must create the appropriate structural framework conditions, such as offering sufficient courses or scheduling examinations so that they can be completed within a certain period of time.
ECTS equity means that the amount of work that has to be done for a course or examination must also be indicated accordingly. Therefore, each ECTS credit needs to correspond to the same amount of work.
"The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a standard means for comparing academic credits, i.e., the "volume of learning based on the defined learning outcomes and their associated workload" for higher education across the European Union and other collaborating European countries. One ECTS credit point corresponds to 25 hours of work."
- Genuine added value for students.
- Simple UI and easy data entry
- Data protection and absolute anonymity of the inputs
- Conclusive data for the universities
- Complete replacement of any manual ECTS evaluation
The development of Quinn built on many dualities. The app had to both serve the universities and have real added value for the students. Its data must be meaningful and valid yet completely anonymized and compliant with data protection laws. To achieve the highest possible usage rate, Quinn also had to work on both iOS and Android and have low technical requirements.
Initially, we wanted to use Swift for the development of the app. However, at WeAreDevelopers 2019, we came across the then brand new Flutter, which allowed us to simultaneously program the app for Android and iOS. This saved us a lot of time and development hours, which we could put into functionality and design instead. Designing the app in accordance with all the specific requirements of the TU Vienna, but simultaneously keeping it adaptable for other universities, was a major challenge. That's why we structured the app in a modular way (see the modular units below) and it works almost like a website: Initially, the meta-info is loaded from the specific university and then stored in a singleton. These pieces of information are types of teaching load, dropout reasons, options that are asked before tracking or after completion, and so on. They are unique for each university and according to their evaluation needs. The frontend is built on Flutter, while the backend is based on Laravel. The backend is a REST API that provides the user with data of the respective university, and the frontend displays the respective sliders and courses. The values are saved accordingly when interacting with the app (tracking workload, scheduling courses, canceling classes, changing options). Later on the university gets this data completely anonymized within the dashboard.
The focus of the app is to always emphasize the added value for students, to make entering effort fast and straightforward, and to communicate the reasons and goals of the survey as transparent and trustworthy as possible. Quinn is for its users a whole different app than for the university: A learning diary that is completely adapted to the respective university and its program.
From the onset, we promised to design such a positive user experience that material recompense would not be necessary as a motivation for evaluation. The app's success so far proves that for students the opportunity to monitor individual learning successes and support the further development of their own university weighs much more than financial or material reward systems for evaluating ECTS. We held our promise.
Users can quickly and easily determine which days they would like to invest time in their various courses. As a result, the app automatically creates a semester schedule. The semester plan clearly displays the entire semester at a glance, and new courses can be added at any time. Students are also reminded daily of upcoming lectures via local notifications.
The statistics of the students' own performance and efforts, which can be viewed at any time, enable them to self-monitor and analyze their studies to reflect on and optimize their own learning behavior. Furthermore, the data can be evaluated weekly and monthly and divided into categories.
The most essential aspect for universities is, of course, to obtain very accurate and reliable data on the courses they offer. Since the incoming data are collected over the semester and during the courses, they are actual hours and not improvised numbers that students try to recall from memory at the end of the semester. This is because users do not only use the app to evaluate ECTS but also utilize Quinn as a learning diary that has a real benefit for them in their everyday student life. The accumulated workloads are aggregated and analyzed to obtain a valid statement about the average time required per course. Here, discrepancies between the curriculum and reality can be uncovered.
The coronavirus pandemic made life incredibly difficult for students, which is why the demands on Quinn also grew. Especially distance learning as the new form of studying and thus one of the options to implement in the app was of great importance for the universities and students plagued by uncertainty.
The latest development of Quinn is the dashboard, which allows a semester-long evaluation of all incoming data. It clearly presents tracked data from the Quinn app, so universities can see at a glance where action may be needed. Data tracked by students on their learning effort is collected anonymously in the dashboard and turned into understandable graphs. Appropriate graphs such as line graphs, bar graphs, or scatter plots were chosen for a clear presentation of the data. An overview page displays the entire data for each university, which can be filtered by course and period so that courses can also be evaluated individually. An admin of the university can authorize persons for specific courses or curricula and manage these rights.
The following modular units are available to universities:
- Tracking categories of the sliders (e.g., On-site attendance, distance learning, preparation, exam preparation)
- Optional personal details (e.g., occupation, German language skills, parental responsibility, gender)
- Reasons for students dropping out (e.g., time reasons, getting too far behind in the subject matter, overlaps in the curriculum)
Connecting the dots
Quinn is a win-win situation for students and universities. Thanks to its excellent UI, the app is very intuitive to use, and workloads can be entered within seconds. The statistics and self-tracking options are embraced by students, particularly because they know it makes their studies fairer. On the other hand, universities receive accurate and verifiable figures on course workloads and can compare them with the respective ECTS at a glance. The data is collected centrally and anonymized throughout the year and clearly visualized in the dashboard. Consequently, any necessary adjustment in terms of ECTS fairness is easy.
All data is collected at the time of the actual workload, not at the end of the semester.
The data received is presented clearly in the dashboard and allows insightful comparisons.
Value for students
Students use Quinn because it adds real value to them, not because they must due to the evaluation.
Uncomplicated user experience
Workloads can be entered into the beautifully straightforward app in a matter of seconds.
"Quinn provides the foundation: time expenditures are aggregated and analyzed to provide a valid statement of the average time required. The results provide the basis for strategic decisions by university management to identify necessary changes to the curricula."
Ao.Univ.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Kurt Mayas - Vice-Rector Studies & Teaching Vienna University of Technology
We love contract work
Quinn was our first project in collaboration with a client that required us to meet specific requirements. We learned that we can do it and, more importantly, that we really enjoy it.
We learned from the Vienna University of Technology how important it is to face upcoming changes early on and proactively approach new circumstances. All changes to ECTS Fairness specified in the UG Novelle 2021 are already being met with Quinn.
EdTech goes both ways
A good product for students and universities must meet the needs of both. Added value for students and a positive user experience make much more sense than financial or material incentives.
You have a great idea. We have the means to make it real. Let's talk about it: no pitch, no nonsense, no strings attached.