Test on Android Tablet

It WORKS!

I was very worried that calling in Google Images and YouTube videos would be blocked on mobile devices for security reasons or whatever, but turns out there’s no such thing. I emailed my APK to Vern and she very helpfully installed it on her tablet. There is a slight resolution issue, which is weird because I though Android tablets were 800px wide, but it’s close enough for a test. Here are a couple screenshots taken directly from her tablet:

New Artistic Direction

I have been working on a new artistic direction that would give The Novus Textbook some real character. It may seem odd at first, but I want you to look at it for a while and imagine how cool it could be! I was thinking Bioshock, vintage, textured, experimental, and adventurous. Take a look:

Programming Complete

It’s been a long time since the last blog update, but there really hasn’t been much of note aside from standard progress and programming.

It’s not 100% complete scripting, but all major features have been implemented and are functional. Of the features I have created are:

  • Content boxes that call in videos from YouTube and images from Google Images based on a keyword
  • Structuring of pages through an external XML file
  • Changing chapters and pages from section to section based on the XML file
  • Questions sourced from the XML integrated into pages that give points and track progress
  • Achievements being earned and saved to local storage
  • Dropdown chapter information sourced from the XML
  • and of course functional navigation throughout the application

Only minor scripting remains and a couple features which should not be a problem:

  • Time trial quizzes that become available after completing a chapter and add to your progress
  • Local storage and online hosting of the XML file which updates if it doesn’t match

Although those features are important, they aren’t crucial to the functionality of the overall application. Now for the last difficult step, to update the graphics and aesthetic to give it some real personality and appeal. I don’t like the formality and boringness of the current look. I will be giving it a lot of character, what might seem uncharacteristic of a textbook, but what I think will make it more appealing to the user.

Halfpoint Development Update

Today is the end of the world.

Lol no. It’s the last class before the 2 week mid sem break and I should document my progress here. Currently I am still on schedule based on my Gantt chart. The content box that loads in photos and videos from Google Images and YouTube based on a keyword is complete. Loading the content and page format in from an external XML document is also complete. Progress is good.

We are now at v0.2. For v0.3 there are 2 key points. Gamification, including dynamic quizzes, challenges, and progress, and navigation of the pages and content needs to be refined and made functional. Those should be done by the end of January, leaving February for refinement and most importantly, visual improvements and animations.

MMDP Begins and Refinement of Visuals

As the first week of the new semester begins, a big focus has been put on finalising the visual design and layout of the interactive textbook. Although I think that minor changes will be made as the project development goes into full swing, I can at least bring the designs close to what they should be and to look half decent.

After presenting this in class, it became apparent that the content page was just not up to scratch. Overall, the other pages were basically okay, and could be tweaked as the functionality was implemented, but the actual content page looked horrendous. So here is a change in layout that seems more acceptable, and as with the other pages, can be slightly fixed as needs come and go.


Click this image to see the full view.

As you can see, I changed it from a 2 column layout to a single one as to make the text bigger and to keep clutter to a minimum. Dynamic loading of 3rd party content is also more specified. What was pointed out during the presentation was that if I want to have content loaded in dynamically, I need to have fixed positions of specific dimensions that can easily load in the element and have it fit seamlessly with the layout regardless of what it is.

These layouts are finalised for now, but again, I expect them to be somewhat improved as functionality and user testing comes into play.

Degree Essay

I have received my grade for my Degree Essay entitled, ‘Exploring interactive digital media‚Äôs ability to enhance the learning experience of secondary level students in Malaysia today’. My research and writings here closely relate to my final project and provide insight and basis into The Interactive Textbook. You can read the full writing by clicking here.

Feedback & Response

Some weeks have passed since the submission of the prospectus and pitch presentation and results and feedback have arrived from Sweii. I will make it clear at this point that I have little regard for actual grade and percentages, but more focus on the project itself and bettering it in any way based on personal discovery and external opinions.

Here I would like to address concerns and criticisms of my prospectus and identify what I did wrong, what was not clear, and solutions to these problems.

I was unclear on the level of academic basis of the prospectus and pitch presentation
Prior to submission, I asked around to try to clarify how academic the document and presentation had to be. I concluded from what I sourced that these requirements were based more on convincing clients rather than building academic arguments. This was a misjudging on my part. If I were to redo it today I think I would be much more academic in my content, not only because of the feedback, but because my experiences over the past few weeks have made me prefer academic arguments over wow factor.

One element of the module that confused not only myself but also a number of my classmates was the first half that included Jason’s lessons. These lessons were meant to improve our presentation skills and to prepare us for the expectations of external and industry guests. Unfortunately, I find that it did not steer us in the direction intended. Jason often references Steve Jobs, who occasionally, but not often, brought up statistical data or academic justifications. This gave the majority of us in the class the impression that the presentation and supporting document should have more focus on aesthetic, user experience, and wow factor, neglecting the importance of academic and factual reasonings.

Despite my efforts to remain logical, I couldn’t help but feel a little peeved at the line from the feedback, “the content lack (sic) knowledge of real referencing and academic study”. The case was not that I lacked knowledge of it, but that I was under somewhat of a false impression as to the purpose and intended methodology of the prospectus and pitch presentation. I realise the problem and what went wrong; the fault lies on my shoulders too, so in future, this should not be the case.

The desire for local examples and studies
This was part of the feedback elaborated with this line, “there would be plenty of local examples of e-learning studies published to create awareness and identify content gap to find opportunity for innovative solution.” Considering the desire for academic justifications, and the line, “it sound (sic) like speculation of a problem from His (sic) opinion and own personal experience”, this request lacks the understanding of how badly the Ministry of Education understands modern learning processes.

I spent the entire semester looking for local studies published on the topic but all that I found were severely outdated compared to international studies. The new education blueprint from the Ministry of Education that prioritises technology in education was only released 1 week ago, and there is still minimal understanding presented by the Ministry on the topic. You will find in chapter 6, page 20-24, of the preliminary blueprint, that the improvements they have planned cover 4G Internet access, low-end computers, smartphones and tablet devices with no specified software, and training of teachers in ICT. The document proceeds to talk about international research. All local studies are pending the future, made clear with lines such as:
“the Ministry will review the current procurement process…”
“the Ministry will study additional opportunities to transform ICT usage in the classroom…”
“The review will be conducted…”

In the future, there may be more accurate and substantial local studies on the effects of interactive digital media on the education of Malaysian highschoolers, but as of today, there is little worth mentioning. The state of Malaysian education is deteriorating for a reason, and it is deteriorating, demonstrated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2007. At the eighth grade level of the TIMSS evaluation, Malaysia plunged from No. 10 placing in mathematics in TIMSS 2003 to No. 20 placing in TIMSS 2007, dropping a hefty 45 score points from 519 points in 1999, 508 in 2003 to 474 in 2007 (500 is the TIMSS mathematics scale average), putting us behind countries such as Lithuania (10), Czech Republic (11), Slovenia (12), and Armenia (13).

Lacking content specifications
Also, I notice the issue of content coming up many times.
“Also, Methods (sic) and content matter used to test this app needs to be identified further”
“Lacking of materials to show the scope and structure of the content used in the proposed demo application – how much content are (sic) there for 2 chapters?”
“…content flow chart or structure.”
I thought it was clear that my project has nothing to do with the creation of content and I will be reproducing content directly based on a form 5 textbook. I covered this in my pitch presentation, but I admit, it was not 100% clear in my prospectus. Looking over my documentation, I never conclusively defined what the content of The Interactive Textbook was going to be, though I thought I had, as it was so clear in my mind. This will be something I will be defining soon, as I don’t want to make this mistake again.

Visual demonstration of application
“Actual visual interface and step-by-step walk through could have been used to fully and clearly demonstrate how the proposed approach…”
Although I did not do a step-by-step walkthrough, I did display and explain each of the actual visual interface designs that I created. The interfaces I designed covered all features intended for implementation and I described them and pointed them out. What I did was not as detailed or clear as it should have been, but I feel like it counts for more than what was mentioned as I did present ‘actual visual interface’. This is something I intend to work on in future presentations. The example of Kickstarter is a good one, and I hope in future projects, my demonstrations would be more impressive and convincing.

Why AIR, not web?

A big dilemma I faced when choosing the platform for the interactive textbook were the pros and cons between a Flash AIR application and a HTML5/Javascript website.

Features that can be implemented on both are many; both can:

  • have user account and local storage
  • animate visuals
  • link to 3rd party APIs from YouTube and Google Images
  • present dynamic content from an online database
  • integrate social networking Facebook and Twitter

Creating the project on a web host and taking advantage of WordPress plugins admittedly is easier and is a more established method of carrying out many of these features. Though a critical point where a web project falls short is that it needs Internet. There are various offline modes being worked on in terms of HTML5 and browser specific local storage modes, but these are either conceptual or experimental, and in no way stable enough to support a full blown application.

The interactive textbook needs to function offline so users can continue their work if Internet becomes unstable or if one doesn’t exist at all. An AIR application can be downloaded to the users choice of device and only requires a connection for 3rd party interaction and on the first startup to download the most recent version of data from the online database.

For these reasons, I have decided to remain on a Flash development platform. In the future however, perhaps in 5-10 years, a web version running on native HTML script could be more efficient and accessible.

Fun Theory & Gamification

Gamification is a bad word to use because it implies taking ordinary tasks and making it a pseudo-game by adding things like score counters. Like making sharpening a pencil into a game, sharpen 10 in a minute and you win. Although it’s a ‘game’, it’s void of any actual game design and mechanics. Gamification with fun theory in mind helps guide me to implement certain game-like features that add to the experience rather than act as a score counter. The interactive textbook requires a sense of progression.

Progress Bar
Taking a note from the recent game GuildWars 2 from ArenaNet, a progress bar is much more encouraging than a specific numbered requirement. A problem they found in previous games where missions had a set goal, such as collecting 5 of something, is that it was so predictable and measurable it became a chore. With a progress bar, the exact progress is obscured and less focus is put on counting your score and more on your overall progress.

Leveling
To add to the sense of progression, and to record level of difficulty, each chapter in the book will count as a level. Each chapter will have it’s own progress bar that adds to the overall main progress bar. Tasks laid out that appear while reading the chapter will challenge the user, and if successful, add to the chapter’s progress.

Chapter Questions
While present on a chapter, questions will appear to challenge the user and measure progress. These questions could be from the current chapter, or from a previous completed chapter. Each subtitle in the section will have at least 1 question and will appear at the end of the section.

Time Trial Challenge
Once a chapter’s progress bar has been filled, it will unlock a time trial for that chapter. The time trials will have a fixed time limit and questions will be presented one after another. The user can set personal records of how many questions can be answered in time and the results, if desired, can be shared through their social networks. There will also be a final time trial that will unlock after scoring a minimum amount on each previous time trial and would include questions from all chapters.

Rewards & Incentives
Personal progress and bragging rights are inherent to the gamification and challenge system. As the user reaches certain milestones, achievements will be rewarded to their account. Further rewards could be the unlocking of certain features and abilities in the software.

Aesthetics

One more thing to develop before constructing my prospectus would be the visual experience and atmosphere of the interactive textbook. These elements need to be thoroughly tested for appeal, legibility, and personal preferences, but as of right now I will work with this.

Colour Palette
Colours for this project need to be clean and clear, but also appealing to a gender neutral youth. They should enhance the presentation of the content without distracting the user from it, suiting any topic. Keeping the colours minimal with a few contrasts should be an effective design. The colours chosen should also be ‘lifestyle-esque’, such as bright and natural tones, to make it more approachable and relaxing. The last thing we want is to have garish or eye-straining colours distracting from the content, but we don’t want them to be dull and boring either.

Colour Options

Pure white (#ffffff) and dark grey (#0e0e0e) will be the primary colours for text and UI elements. The highlight colour will be used sparingly, but present on every page, to highlight features, sections, buttons, active elements, notifications, and the like. The colours need to stand out on white and dark grey clearly so there should be no issues of difficult to see elements.

For the highlight colour, it will be customisable from a preset list of colours that work with the interface. That will allow students to feel a level of personalisation and cater to their personal preference, much like smartphone interfaces as seen in Windows Phone 7 tiles.

Font
Fonts used will be strong and minimal to remain neutral and preserve clarity. For this reason, I will be keeping the font choices to a maximum of 2, one for titles and one for body copy. For cost and licensing reasons, only free fonts will be used.

Bebas & Lato Font
Click for a clearer view

Bebas Neue is a very strong and clear font which solved the kerning problems with the original Bebas. Bebas Neue is also an all caps font, so using it for anything other than titles is unwise.

As for the body copy, I will use Lato v1.104. A comfortable body copy is rare in the world of free fonts but Lato, in my opinion, is the most legible san-serif font in terms of kerning, letterform, and bold and italic styles. Styles for Lato range from ultra-light 100 to ultra-bold 900, making it versatile and adaptable. Lato is also available on Google Web Fonts so it’s easily usable on webpages too.

Design Mocks
PageMock