Quick Key started with a conversation between entrepreneur Isaac van Wesep and his friend, teacher Walter Duncan. Duncan has long been a believer in testing students’ knowledge with very regular – even daily – quizzes. The grading process, however, was becoming arduous. Wouldn’t it be great, Duncan said, if he didn’t have to hand-grade these quizzes or use pricey scanning machines? If there were a way for his phone to quickly scan and grade answer sheets?
The more they talked, the more they liked the idea. The tool they imagined would be affordable to all teachers, allowing regular testing to be integrated into lower-income and affluent schools alike. If used widely enough, they reasoned, it could be used to help bridge the educational divide between rich and poor.
“A lot of education technology is wonderful and useful and available only to the 1 percent of students and teachers who happen to work and learn in well-funded schools,” van Wessep said.
So the pair decided to turn their vision into reality.
To bring their concept to life they turned to Rocket Farm Studios. They chose Rocket Farm for the company’s quick and thorough RFP response, impressive and prompt creative portfolio, and responsive discovery process, van Wesep said.
They brought their idea, but,van Wesep admits, they didn’t have many specifications to offer developers. So Rocket Farm’s team stepped in, helping van Wesep and Duncan translate their concept into technical requirements and a simple, intuitive user experience.
After the details were in place, there were two major obstacles for developers to overcome.
First, they had to figure out how to make a smartphone camera function as an optical scanner. Taking a picture of a completed bubble sheet was easy, but lighting conditions, shadows, and the position of the phone all complicate the process of analyzing the photo, explained developer Seth Lipkin.
“Depending on the lighting, the empty bubbles on one part of the page can be darker than the filled-in one on another portion,” he said.
To make sure this approach yielded an app with enough nuance to successfully read even the trickiest of input, Lipkin got creative. During the testing phase, he collected a library of answer sheets images that initially caused errors, he explained. He used these images to test any subsequent changes to the program, until he had an app that could handle any image with equal ease.
“Once I got the test cases going, I had this strong guarantee that when I sent it out into the field that things would work,” he said. “It turned out I got this extremely accurate and extremely fast scanning.”
The second major hurdle was equally central to van Wesep and Duncan’s concept for the app. To live up to the dream of serving teachers in all circumstances, it was essential that the app be usable in remote, rural environments as well as in highly connected ones. Therefore, the program would have to sync data so the program could be used offline as well as online. A careful process of trial and error led to a solution: The app would hold most of the data, then share it with the servers when an internet connection was available.
It is so necessary for teachers who are working in schools with poor internet and sometimes even no internet,” van Wesep said. “That was another thing that Rocket Farm’s engineers were particularly good at.”
The launch date van Wesep and Duncan were aiming for was September 1, 2013; Quick Key Mobile was uploaded to the app store in the third week of August. Since then, the app has been hugely successful.
“The users love Quick Key – we have a big cult following,” van Wesep said.
Teachers use Quick Key in nearly 40 countries, he said, including Egypt, China, South Africa, Morocco, United Kingdom, and Brazil, Mexico. To date, more than 270,000 quizzes have been scanned on the app.
Working with Rocket Farm to get to this point “was one of the easiest things we’ve done in the entire history of this company,” van Wesep said.
Next, van Wesep and Duncan plan to expand into additional apps that will enable teachers around the world to harness the power of regular student testing. They plan to release an app that will house a library of teacher-generated test questions that users can select to build their own quizzes. Teachers will be able to rate questions, so future users will be able to choose the best ones for their evaluations.