Creating an SMS Learning System with Askii

Making / Learning / Work was an adult learning innovation project hosted at the MIT Media Lab from September 2014 to May 2016. This site is an archive of the project documentation.

Askii began first as a mobile application called “XpressMe”, which originated from one of the ideas at the IdeaShop in May 2014.

Initial Prototyping

In January 2015, we created a first prototype of XpressMe, which was a mobile app that would deliver basic numeracy content in small chunks of time that a learner could utilize on their commute.

Re-Thinking the Concept

However, in February, we decided to re-think the idea after hearing from experts in the field that we might want to focus on a system that delivers certification content, not basic numeracy content, as it is more natural to read on the go than do math (makes logical sense).

When re-thinking “XpressMe”, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Alison from Cell-Ed, where we talked about some of the technological barriers that learners may have to using an application such as “XpressMe”. Alison explained Cell-Ed’s rationale for using an SMS-based system, and gave me inspiration to think through what “XpressMe” would look like as a system that blended SMS and mobile website content.

Some of the advantages for creating an SMS-based system:

  • It would not limit the user group to only adult learners with smart phones, but would allow learners with feature phones to interact with the application as well.
  • Learners may feel like they are interacting with a real person

Fleshing out the Idea

I began to think about how we could deliver certification content on-the-go, and honed in on creating a combined SMS and web-based system for helping learners study for exams such as the CPT Exam while on their commutes. As initial test material, I chose the US Naturalization Exam because it is an exam with publicly available study guides.

My initial thought processes for what the system would behave like is shown below, with lots of arrows indicating a learner’s discussion with the service via SMS and web.

Prototyping Again

From these system flow charts, I then translated them into a first prototype, which we have named “Askii”. Askii is built on Twilio, which gives it the ability to interact via a mobile phone number. The logic of the application, which is running in the background as a external API that interfaces with a Twilio app, is written in Node.js with a Mongoose database of questions, answers, and content.

The prototype is up and running, and very soon there will be a demo video of the system on our site.

For now, here is a screen shot as a placeholder.

In the coming months, we will be fleshing out this prototype and focusing on improving the algorithms behind what the learner sees, with the hopes of beginning user testing this summer to better understand how learners could study certification content on-the-go.

Askii is meant to be a system that can be used for all sorts of certification content, so if you have more suggestions for content you would like to see put in the system or thoughts on potential collaborations, please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us by email.