March 10, 2016

Tangerine workshop highlights tool’s power to improve data collection and support instruction

Written by Brad Goehner, Senior Communications Specialist, RTI International

Illustration of a tangerine slice

By the end of this week in Vancouver, an attendee of the CIES conference will be juggling a collection of business cards, session handouts, brochures, and other pieces of paper that he or she picked up along the way. For the most organized, this information will be digested, shared, and acted on. Others will be more apt to lose it, spill coffee on it, or forget about it for weeks under a growing “to do” pile.

By the end of this week in Nairobi and across the developing world, individual teachers, principals, and administrators will have gathered a new batch of data telling them what their students are learning and not learning. Collected and analyzed correctly, this information can provide useful insights for improving education practices and program design. Obviously the challenges—and the stakes—are much greater in Nairobi. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

About 25 CIES attendees participated in a conference workshop on Sunday to learn more about a suite of popular electronic data collection software—Tangerine, Tangerine: Class, and Tangerine: Tutor—and how it can help education practitioners throughout the developing world collect data and put it into action. Specific uses include learning assessments, education sector research, and project monitoring. Developed by RTI International, Tangerine is an open-source mobile application that facilitates the recording of student responses on early grade reading and mathematics assessments, as well as interviews with students, teachers, and principals. It also facilitates analysis of the results.

Tangerine got its name from the Latin verb “tangere,” which means “to touch.” It’s an apt name for a tool designed not only for hand-held, touch-screen devices, but also to be molded by its users.

“If you didn’t come here today with a specific project in mind, you can probably think of one where electronic data collection can be helpful. You can help build this tool to meet your specific needs and make it better,” said Sarah Pouezevara, research education specialist and senior eLearning analyst at RTI and one of the workshop’s facilitators, referring to the open-source nature of the tool allowing anyone to contribute new features to the source code. Participants were able to try their hand at downloading Tangerine on personal Android devices and building their own test instruments, just as actual users do.

“Tangerine puts the project team in the driver’s seat,” said Carmen Strigel, director, ICT for education in RTI’s International Development Group. “It allows practitioners to design the exact instrument that they need, and also simplifies collection logistics, reduces errors, and gets results in a more timely way.” Once a project team identifies the instrument it needs, the Tangerine instrument builder is used to build, review, and test it. The instrument is then installed on an Android tablet, which is used in the field to collect data. The data is sent to Tangerine’s online database where a CSV results file can be reviewed and analyzed. This process is demonstrated in a new video by the Tangerine team.

Tangerine comes in three “flavors.” The original program is used as a general student assessment and mobile survey tool. Tangerine: Class supports continuous assessment for teachers in classrooms and helps teachers make data-informed instructional decisions. Tangerine: Tutor facilitates electronic collection of classroom and school visit observation data, as well as results from pupil assessments. This version instantly combines results for a rich feedback report to facilitate reflections between tutors, coaches, and the observed teachers.

Developed with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) Kenya office, Tangerine: Tutor is able to support large scale instructional improvement. It is utilized in the Tusome Early Grade Reading Activity in Kenya, a nationwide literacy program working in 23,800 schools and supporting 2.5 million children each year. Data generated from Tangerine: Tutor informs Tusome’s methodology for improving teaching and learning. For instance, it allows the Ministry of Education, Science & Technology to hold local education officers accountable for providing instructional support, has a structured method for providing classroom-based feedback to teachers, and facilitates monthly progress reports for county and national directors. Based on demand from Kenya, the system has been recently expanded to all of the sub-county education officers and quality assurance and standards officers.

All three products of the Tangerine family are designed for mobile computers, including tablets, and smartphones. Assessments may be conducted through these tablets in remote areas without an internet connection, as the data may be saved and uploaded later. “It has made my life a lot easier,” said Lisa Zook Sorensen, research monitoring & evaluation senior specialist at World Vision, who attended the workshop.

Along with its partner Save the Children, World Vision implements Literacy Boost, a program that strengthens the reading skills of primary grade students. The program uses Tangerine to conduct assessments of children’s reading levels in order to identify learning needs, tailor programming to meet those needs and estimate impact. Tangerine has eliminated the headaches, errors and time-consuming steps associated with paper assessments, and also keeps assessment enumerators excited and engaged, Sorensen said. And while typically associated with early grade reading and math assessments, it can be used in any sector. Sorensen noted that in-country World Vision staff using Tangerine for Literacy Boost have found uses for it in health programs as well. “You can put any kind of survey you want on there. It can be used for general M&E work or anything else,” said Matt Finholt-Daniel, mobile and web application developer at RTI, during the workshop.

Some workshop participants wondered about cost-effectiveness, given the upfront investment needed to procure tablets. According to Strigel, RTI internal calculations indicated that data collections involving more than 700 pupils and conducted two or more times would be more cost-effective to administer via Tangerine than paper-based assessments due to reduced paper cost and less demand on staff time for data entry. While calculations may differ from country to country, the increase in the number of complete results obtained from Tangerine-supported data collection fieldwork may be the more significant consideration.

The software itself is free to use and may be hosted and modified on private servers, with the one requirement that modified source code be shared with the larger community. RTI will soon be offering a subscription service for organizations seeking additional support and storage on Tangerine’s servers. This week, an online forum was launched for users to share best practices and lessons learned.

Overall, in a world where just attending a conference can cause information overload, it’s easy to see the value—even necessity—of a tool like Tangerine. By making the collection and analysis of data more efficient and reliable, it is opening up new doors for development practitioners to measure their work, and make it even more effective.

To learn more about Tangerine or to use the software, please visit and follow @TangerineTool on Twitter.