The long slow process of building a SOLE collaboration app

17 months ago, the idea of SOLE Online began with 3 teachers in Japan running collaborative sessions. (SOLE is an abbreviation for Self Organized Learning Environment, an innovative contemporary approach to collaborative learning.) My partner Hiroaki Kato (SOLE Sagamihara), our friend Jon Mizuno (Happy Clover English Club), and I (SOLE Japan) decided to connect our 3 schools using Skype, and run a test SOLE session together. We had no idea at first whether the activity would work online: but we were pleased with the results and continued to run online SOLE experiments for several months.

Hiroaki Kato, Jon Mizuno, Mike Lyons
The meeting where we first hashed out ideas for SOLE Online

Most of our sessions featured just our three schools, but sometimes we ran live multinational SOLEs with students and educators in other countries, notably India, Canada and Mexico. Those live multinational sessions were a lot of work to organize, but they were all surprising and extremely rewarding. We believe that multinational SOLE sessions will generally benefit students, who learn from the cultural interaction as much, if not more, than they do from the session content. Educators should give global SOLEs a try.

Several months were spent discussing what the app would look like. At first we were focused on creating a virtual classroom specifically designed with SOLEs in mind. We considered a variety of options, weighed the costs, and decided that, at least for now, a virtual classroom is unnecessary. Other ideas were discussed and thrown out, or discussed and shelved for later. By July 2019, we had a pretty clear idea about what our app would look like.

Then we started searching for a developer who could make our vision a reality. We have been entirely self-funded, so we need to be economical. We looked on Upwork for an affordable Freelancer. That was no problem; sites like Upwork are loaded with great programmers. The problem, however, lies in communication. We needed to find a developer who would consider our vision, consider what we need, and support us with innovative ideas. It’s hard to predict the intuitiveness of a programmer before getting started, and although our initial developer seemed to be good at programming, we wasted several months dealing with issues that arose from miscommunication. So we found another developer and are happier with the results. There isn’t far to go now.

In the near future, SOLE Online’s web app will be bug-free and ready for you to enjoy. It will feature an interactive calendar, database, and supporting forms. Educators will find partners easily, and collaboration can start after filling in a few simple form fields. After sessions, they will be able to give feedback to their students online. (And students will be able to give feedback to educators too.) The system will track students’ participation and will tabulate feedback, letting educators know which Big Questions work best with which age groups.

Regrettably, we cannot tell you exactly when the service will go live. We are nearing completion of the application, and that is to be followed by a few weeks of beta testing and edits. Stay tuned to this blog, or follow SOLE Online on Facebook, to stay updated.

The system is set up to be multilingual in 11 of the World’s most common languages: English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, and Bengali. There are 200-300 phrases necessary for calendar searching and forms that have to be translated. English and Japanese are taken care of: but we are seeking volunteer translators in the other languages. If you would like to help us out, please leave a comment below, or PM us on Facebook.

I look forward to connecting with you.






2 responses to “The long slow process of building a SOLE collaboration app”

  1. Leonardo Ruvituso Avatar
    Leonardo Ruvituso

    I’m a young engineer and potential educator! I applied SOLE in Medellin, Colombia, in a school for 4 months and now I set up a no profit association called EnjoyEDU to bring SOLE in the italian school..
    We have been awarded an Erasmus+ grant to bring SOLE in a school in sicily, for a week, involving 36 participants, 6 different countries, 100+ local students..
    Please let me know if I can help you in any sense or how my association can get more involved with or supported by other SOLE projects.

    Best regards,

    Leonardo Ruvituso,
    President of EnjoyEDU.

    1. Mike Lyons Avatar

      Thank you Leonardo.
      Multinational collaboration in education is what we’re all about. Your work in Sicily sounds amazing.
      It would be great to work with you. As I wrote in the blog, our web app is nearing completion. (But it’s a slow process!) When it’s ready, setting up multinational live sessions will be a lot easier.
      If you would like to help us out, the best way for now would be translation of 2-300 phrases from English to Italian or Spanish.

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