Mimi & Co (the Language App)

Hackney Learning Trust in partnership with global children’s charity, Save the Children, were interested in developing an innovative digital solution that would help young disadvantaged children learn crucial language skills and thereby overcome early barriers to educational progress arising from limited or delayed vocabulary and comprehension.

In 2016 I was tasked with project managing the development of a prototype mobile application, Mimi and Co, aimed at engaging children in fun, interactive, multi-media games designed to improve their early language development and increase parents’ language stimulation in the home learning environment.

The intention was for this prototype app to be independently evaluated to capture information about vocabulary gains as a consequence of continued gameplay, and also to explore how it might be used in both educational settings and the home.

Critical success factors for the project were defined as:

Delivery of a prototype app developed in a cross platform/browser development environment enabling efficient output for use by mobile browsers and as native applications for iOS and Android;

Delivery of a prototype app which incorporated four core educational methodologies: verb recognition; semantic categorisation; creating and responding to narrative; and phonological awareness; and 

Delivery of a prototype app that was sufficient to be used to evaluate educational benefit.

In the event, the prototype app did not incorporate specific activities relating to phonological awareness, but all other critical factors were fully achieved and Mimi & Co was independently evaluated by the University of Edinburgh. The app was found to be a promising tool to support early years’ language learning that has the potential to achieve its educational aims.

The full programme of work was as follows:

Establishment of robust project governance through dedicated Project Board and multi-disciplinary Solution Development Team

Creation of Outline Plan and Business Foundations document

Management of full OJEU tender process from initial draft of ITT documents through to award of contract

Negotiation and drafting of supplier and partnership agreements

Supplier management throughout design, build & test

Oversight of Agile project planning process and set-up of pre-production (designs, detailed schedule, documentation, test plan) and alpha, beta and gold master development phases

Facilitation of sprint review meetings and co-ordination of internal and external UAT

Final review and sign-off of prototype app

Liaison with key stakeholders to organise prototype evaluation exercise

In view of the positive nature of the research findings and the likely benefits to be gained from releasing Mimi & Co as a playable game it was recommended that Hackney Learning Trust move forward with this development, and in July 2020 Mimi & Co was released as a web-based mini game for distribution to parents of younger children through preschools, nurseries and children’s centres as a shared activity to encourage parent child bonding whilst improving language skills at the same time.

 Copyright John Pitman 2020