This post is the first in a series we’re calling Hacking Tangerine. Tangerine, RTI’s open source data collection platform, came on the scene in 2012 responding to the critical need for an offline mobile data collection system that could support large scale Early Grade Reading Assessments and Early Grade Math Assessments in low-resource environments. It has since grown into a full-featured platform with applications in student assessment, classroom observation, professional coaching and feedback, survey research, project operations (including consultant timekeeping and asset management), and clinical research (including case management modules, two-way and peer-to-peer data sync, and data inquiry functions, among others). We will fully unpack those features in subsequent posts; for now, we want to focus on one specific use you may not have known it could support.
The coronavirus pandemic has come at a tremendous human cost. We grieve both the deaths of so many and the pain experienced by the loved ones who survive them. For many in our community, the core elements of our shared labor – data collection, training delivery, a focus on metrics and contractual outcomes – could hardly seem less important at this time. We honor those feelings and experiences; we also recognize that for some others being able to focus on work brings a sense of normalcy and continuity in an extremely confusing, stressful, and challenging time. Please receive this blog post in the full knowledge that each of those experiences is wholly legitimate, and we offer this information not out of a desire to denigrate the former, but rather out of a desire to support the latter.
Tangerine for rapid content bundling and delivery
Tangerine allows you the flexibility to embed multimedia content of many kinds. We use GIFs as part of our training for users who are new to using tablets and smartphones. Whenever you install Tangerine – whether on a smartphone, a tablet, or your laptop’s browser – all the resources needed to display it appropriately are bundled together. Because Tangerine supports embedding multimedia in your instruments – including videos, audio files, images, and GIFs, in addition to text formats like PDF – all those assets come along for the ride. It’s a simple idea, but the practical implications are powerful: you can easily create a customized learning path for your users that will work offline, wherever they are. (And if you happen to include assessment items as mastery checks, they can upload those results whenever they next go online.) If you want to see how it works, click through this link – we have often used ‘instruments’ like this one to enable new users to self-train on the Tangerine platform. (Training Tangerine on Tangerine! There’s an Xzibit meme here just waiting to be created.)
In essence, Tangerine becomes a content management system… only it’s easy to deploy, requiring minimal technical knowledge and no additional infrastructure. If you have your idea in place and your assets (videos, audio files, PDFs, etc.) at the ready, you could produce your training package in fewer than 15 minutes.
Okay, but what about updates? And data consumption?
Because Tangerine was designed as an offline-first product for use in lower and middle-income country contexts, we have thought carefully about connectivity issues. Downloading a minimal Tangerine installation will consume 4.7 megabytes of data. That’s a one-time cost. As you begin to add multimedia content, the file size will increase. However, Tangerine supports both updates that are both over the air and incremental. This is a key feature, with two major implications for field use.
First, users don’t need to return to HQ or an office to get an update – the new instrument or content can be pushed to them, wherever they happen to be, as long as they can temporarily connect to the internet. (Or if they meet someone who has the bundle on a laptop, it can be sideloaded – no internet required!)
Second, only the changes between the existing installation and the update are pushed. Let’s say version 1 of my instrument contains 7 mb of content and I decide to upgrade it with an additional 2 mb of audio files and PDFs. I don’t want my users to have to re-download the full 7 mb – which hasn’t changed! – just to get the additional 2 mb of content. I only want them to have to download 2 mb of new stuff.And indeed, that’s how it works!
As a content designer thinking carefully about my users, this is extremely powerful. It means I can create multiple versions of the same instrument, with varying amounts of multimedia content embedded. I could create a text-only version for my users in rural areas with poor connectivity, a slightly richer experience for those in places where 3G or 4G coverage exists, and an extremely engaging experience for those who have access to Wi-Fi. And my users can elect to upgrade at their convenience, based on their needs and preferences.
Great! What’s next?
We hope this has been an interesting tour of a lesser-known application of Tangerine. Over the next weeks and months, we’ll continue to share posts about how the community is ‘hacking’ Tangerine to keep supporting training delivery, research, data collection, and operational functions.
We would love to hear from you! Have a story to share about how you are using Tangerine? Contact us, and we’ll help you write it up and get it published. Want a hands-on demonstration of Tangerine, whether focusing on its core features or some of the lesser-known uses? Great! Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.