Appatella is developed in partnership with teams from MMU, UCLAN and Edge Hill University.
It’s a mobile and tablet app, which shows videos and takes surveys. It’s a really simple premise, which leads to a great number of applications.
The way that Appatella is designed means it’s very good as a tool for running courses of activities as individualised studies, for research.
How does it work?
Individualised studies monitor the progress of participants, as they go through a course of activities; so ‘participants’ do courses, ‘practitioners’ prescribe courses, ‘researchers’ build courses.
A course is a set of instructional videos, describing activities which participants must follow. The real benefit, though, is the surveys which participants take, feeding data on their progress back to practitioners and researchers.
If you’re a participant in a research project…
… you’ll be following a course.
You’ll use the Appatella app on your own phone or tablet. Installation is as easy as clicking a link in an invitation email, or scanning a QR code.
It’s simple to use, and puts your privacy and your well-being above everything.
Try it out!
If you’d like to take Appatella out for a test drive, Download the Android App ‘Appatella’ from the Google Play Store (iOS here soon). You will need a QR code to scan, to give you a course. Appatella recently went on tour with Jim Richards of UCLAN – you can find the demonstration courses he took with him on our post, here.
Kicking off the app, you’ll scan a QR code, and then see a set of activity sessions prescribed for you to do today. Each session has a set of activities to do. The effect of each activity is described for you, so you know why you’re doing it, and each activity has comprehensive instructions, so you know what to do before it starts. The activity is demonstrated for you in multimedia so you can follow along if you need to.
Before you do a session, you’ll need to answer a couple of questions, and then again afterwards. This is so that the researchers can understand the effect the session has had, and make a tweak if necessary – especially if you decide to bail halfway through!
Once you’ve finished, you can see the answers you’ve given to all questions, right from the beginning of the course, so you can keep tabs on how you’re doing.
Your privacy, your data
Before you get started, Appatella is up-front with what happens to the data which is collected from you as an individual. It enforces your protection at all times.
The app is there to collect data about how you respond to a course of activities set by your project research team.
You can choose NOT to sync your data! If you do this, the research team can’t see it, but you’ll still get the benefit of the course they have prescribed. It’s not ideal, but we aim to please!
If you DO choose to sync your data, it’s stored on a cloud service backed by Amazon, providing the best available security. Access to the data is available only to those specifically authorised by an approved ethics statement, which will have been submitted by the research team to the Univeristy when the project was set-up. Appatella enforces this statement, giving peace-of-mind to you and to the research team.
If you’re a practitioner
… you’ll be looking after the participants of the study. (If you’re a small team, you may also be the researcher)
You’ll use the Appatella deployment tool to select the right activity plan for each individual of the study, from a pallet of activity plans that the researchers have cooked up for you.
You create a course for each individual, drag and drop a plan onto it, and then deploy it, to create a QR code. Send the code to a participant, and it will install once only on their Appatella app. Need another device? No problem! Simply deploy again and make another code! – but make sure that participants turn on data synching, and then they can see their full course history, what ever device they use. Why do this? Each course and its data is focussed on an individual. We need to minimise the chances of someone else re-using the course and feeding back the wrong information. This would invalidate the data on that individual.
If you’re the researcher…
… you’re building courses to implement your study.
(If you’re a small team, you may also be the practitioner)
You’ll use the Appatella Builder Tool to create activities for participants in your study. Add reassuring descriptions, comprehensive instructions and the all-important surveys for them to answer. Add multimedia from your favourite provider and combine them all together in a flexible schedule.
The tool creates template plans which are published into a palette. These are then available to prescribe a course of activities for a participant.
Once participants are using your courses, you’ll be able to see their answers to questions, tied to the specific activity they’ve been following. You’ll be able to see the sessions they completed, and how far they got through those they didn’t.
Data protection law
Appatella stores data on individual participants, in an EU jurisdiction. Appatella, DigitalLabs, and your research project must be compliant to data protection law.
The GDPR is a European Union directive, enforceable from 25th May, 2018.
Where a project utilising Appatella is concerned, the research project head would be defined as the Data Controller. DigitalLabs as the constructor of the Appatella infrastructure would be identified as the Data Processor.
Appatella protects you as a researcher and your course participants by enforcing best practice data gathering.
- By ensuring only numeric or multiple-choice answers, Appatella minimises the risk of participants’ self-identification.
- Participants are identified only by an individual course-id, which looks something like this: 4bc5d921-7327-482a-b576-5ffd1a60938f.
This is one-way linkage: the system has no idea who this individual data relates to, and is very safe.
However, one of the foundations of data protection law is that a participant can at all times see the data which is being held on them, and have it removed on their request.
Although Participants are able to erase and re-instate their data on the cloud service at-will from their app, this is a convenience for their peace of mind.
It’s left to you as the researcher to provide some way of linking further identifying information (such as name and address) to a participant, so that any data you hold on them can be removed from the dataset at a later date, or if they remove the course from their device. This means simply storing the extra data on another service.
Access to your data
Appatella has been built from the ground-up to be a tool for researchers. You are granted full access to the data you have gathered, within the bounds of your ethics statement and data protection law.
Our server infrastructure ensures that we can guarantee a single named individual with responsibility for data ownership.
Depending upon the restrictions and limitations of your ethics statement, we can encapsulate your data behind a bespoke aggregating service, so you never have to handle an individual’s data.
Our team at DigitalLabs will write custom auditable code, which will implement your choice of analysis. We can provide a simple, authenticated website which you can use to update your analysis at will.
What happens at the end of the study?
At the end of the study, the data captured is analysed and used to create your research findings. At this point the Appatella facility and its storage will be closed down, and the data destroyed effectively ending data protection obligations.
If necessary for research audit purposes, the raw individual data can be exported.
If exported, individual data identifiers are changed, removing any link with other identifying data. The database is dumped and encrypted. The file is entrusted to a nominated Data Owner of your choice.
The data exported is a completely stand-alone database dump, and can be imported into any Postgres Database, past version 9.1. Any server used to perform bespoke analysis will be shut down – but its source code remains the property of MMU, unless otherwise negotiated, and can be bound to the database dump, creating a fully re-creatable, auditable package.
How much does this cost?
Where possible, Appatella utilises cloud-based service providers: Amazon (database), Heroku(infrastructure), Auth0 (authentication), Vimeo (Video hosting) and Flikr (photo / picture hosting). These services provide unprecendented levels of quality, security and trust, and their size means that they are able to offer their services for small projects, free of charge.
All services used by the Appatella systems are free-tier, with limits : a data-row limit of 10,000 on the database, an ‘uptime’ limitation on the servers, and visibility of video source material, all of which are surmountable at reasonable cost. We have found that a light service of 20 participants incurs no cost at all, but please take a look at the terms of service of our service providers for more detail.
Our consultacy service is charged at MMU charge-out rates:
- Infrastructure can be set-up by a specialist Grade 9 in a day.
- A workshop on how to design and build a course is run over 5 days and is run by a specialist Grade 9 .
- Use of the course builder service is currently a specialist grade 9 activity, although this will change as our tool is developed. Implementing a course using the tool is dependent on course and survey complexity, but should take less than a week.
- Bespoke data tooling is a Grade 9 specialist activity, and requires set-up of an authenticated server, with access to the project’s database. Given the importance of auditable analysis, bespoke tooling is run as a mini project, with requirements capture, design and development phases, although these are relatively short.
- Currently, a small project set-up, with bespoke data tooling runs at 20 days, of Grade 9 specialist.