Summer/Fall Update 2020

Will Reppun
October 30, 2020
Note: What a wild year.  Balancing the world craziness with getting-a-new-company-off-the-ground craziness hasn't been simple, but what is simple these days?

But, anyway, hello!  This is our first Unrulr feature writeup!  It only took us 22 months to get something out that we were planning on doing monthly.  Quarterly is probably a more realistic goal, although, who knows?  Maybe this writeup will get the momentum going.  I decided that I would try to cover most of the features we've worked on since the end of last school year.  I considered going back to the start of the year, but that seemed a little ambitious (and that probably would've ended up with me putting this off even longer).  And I considered doing just October, but for some reason that felt unfair to September and August.  

Hopefully this will be more of a regular occurrence.  On to the writeup...

Things have been busy since last school year wrapped in June.  We spent the first half of the summer working on our admin interface (that's a whole post of its own). Once we got that to a stable place, we switched back to working on the Unrulr app in mid-August.  And we've made a few improvements since then.

TL;DR;

  • Suggested Goals
  • Recorded Post History (and adding/removing/re-ordering images/videos)
  • Improved image/video pickers
  • Links in captions and comments
  • Scanning (iOS only)

Suggested Goals

The broad spectrum of learning happening daily is truly humbling, running the gamut from quarantine gardens to guitar practice. And learners have been generally pretty good at recognizing which goals/skills apply to their work.  Planting ‘uala (sweet potato)? That's clearly Shelter-in-place: Nature.  Practicing the A-minor pentatonic scale?  Technique: Left-Hand.

But sometimes teachers see connections that learners miss.  That quarantine garden?  The learner talked to two local farmers to learn about planting in raised rows vs. regular spacing.  That could also be Communication: Collaboration.

Previously, the teacher could leave a comment on the post, suggesting that the learner add the additional skill.  And the learner could read the teacher comment, click on the post header menu, tap on 'Edit Goals' and update the post.  But this use case happens so frequently that we thought it would be helpful to streamline it.  So we added a button next to the post goals/skills.

Winning design: a simple '+' button.

Now teachers can quickly add appropriate goals/skills to a learner's posts.  And those suggested goals/skills (gills?  skoals?  golls?) will start with the teacher check mark.  The design is simple, and doesn't add a lot of complexity to the post, which is nice, but it took us a little while to get there.  I tried a whole bunch of layouts and variations before settling on a simple plus button.  If you want to see some of my failed attempts, you can check out this Unrulr post.

Recording a Post's History (and adding/removing/re-ordering videos/images)

Since early, early, early in our existence, we've been having both internal and external conversations about the permanence of posts.  Are they snapshots of what's happening at a given moment?  Are they living documents which describe the evolution of learning or work?  The answer, which is the same answer we find ourselves coming up with more and more often: It Depends.

In many ways it would be nice if posts (the images/videos/pdfs + the caption) were unchanging.  We could look back at a post and know exactly what that learner was demonstrating and when they were demonstrating it.  That's especially useful when trying to figure out how much they've grown!

But in real life, that's not particularly practical. Typos happen. All. The. Time.  And so captions need to be edited.  And sometimes you remember, right after you hit post, "Oh, what about that other picture I had -- I should add that too!"  So it would be nice if images/videos were editable too.

The typos part was immediately annoying -- nobody likes to post something with easily correctable mistakes in it. So we added caption-editing right after we launched.

We added caption/comment editing in early 2019

However, we were a little hesitant about allowing the editing of images/videos/pdfs.  Part of our concern was that if too much editing happened, it could really confuse the context of the post.  If a teacher asks a learner, "Hey, I don't quite understand why you picked `Habits of Mind: Persisting`?", and the learner goes back and adds, in addition to their finished product, pictures of the two failed versions, that's great!  But any future reader of the post might be confused by the teacher's comment: "Of course they chose persisting.  Look how they kept going even though they failed. Twice!"

So, we spent a while hunting for a middle ground which both

  1. Let users update the images/videos 
  2. Kept the historical context of the post

And we think we finally have something that works.  Users can now update the images/videos/pdfs on a post, as well as the caption.  In order to avoid confusion, we now record all the changes that happen (which we think is pretty cool).  By browsing through the history of a post, you get a step-by-step look at its evolution.  

Update images/videos (evidence) and view the post history through the post menu.
All caption/comment changes and all image/video changes

Many learners are super expert at this already and get their caption and their images spot-on when they post, but I, at least, find this useful because:

  1. I tend to take a few tries to get my caption right.
  2. Now that I know I can add an image/video later, it's easier to post -- I'm much less worried about making sure I have everything lined up and ready to go _before_ I start a post.

If you’re interested in the visual development of the history screen, I made another short Unrulr post.

Minor Tweaks

Updated image and video pickers

For the first 18 months of our existence, we survived with the stock iOS and android media pickers.  They worked, and were battle tested, but they also had a few limitations:

  1. The default allowed you to select only one picture or one video at a time.
  2. You could browse images, or you could browse videos, but you couldn't browse both at the same time.
  3. Discovery of media in other locations (downloads, scans, etc.) was difficult.

Two months ago we switched to a media picker modeled after the we-chat app.  It handles the above three cases much better than the stock apps.  It shows all videos and images in a grid, and you can pick up to nine at a time.

Links in captions and comments

If you put a link in a comment and caption (any web address ending with one of the domains found here), we will now automatically make it clickable.  Depending on what type of device you're using (Android, iOS or a browser), it'll either open in the default browser or a new tab.  

Scanning (iOS only)

The iOS dev kit (iPhones and iPads) offers a nice library for scanning (since the fall of 2019: iOS 13.0).  We hooked that up.  So if you click on the 'More' button when you're creating the post, the scan option will add the scanned images right in.

On iPhones and iPads only :(

What about Android?  Well, unfortunately, Android doesn't offer a scanner integration, at least right now.  But there's a not-terrible way to do it on Android, because of some other features.  You can:

  • Open the Google Drive app on Android, and choose the scan option under their '+' menu.
  • Scan one (or several) documents, and hit 'Save' to save them to Google Drive.
  • Find the scans in Google Drive, hit the '...' menu on the scans, and choose 'Send copy'.
  • Choose Unrulr from the options!

In fact, on Android, you can send images, videos, or pdfs to Unrulr from any app which has a share/send-a-copy option.  We don't have that yet on iOS.  Android wins some; iOS wins some.

What's Next?

That's a great question.  We're currently building out our roadmap for the next six months.  Fred is writing up a few of the possible paths we could take, and then we're going to reach out for feedback.  If you're interested in that roadmap, shoot me an email (will@our.website.name), and I'll make sure you're looped in.

And many thanks, as always, to the Unrulr community for all the feedback already given.  We're a small team of two, and we couldn't do it without the reciprocal support of the learners and educators we work with.