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.

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.

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.


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.

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

Technical Specifications

Before moving on to my prospectus, I think it’s a good idea to outline all the technological needs for the interactive textbook.

The interactive textbook is meant to run on multiple platforms including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Displaying its flexibility would be beneficial to my eventual presentation at the end of my final semester, so I plan to utilise a Windows PC, an Apple iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to demonstrate the application.

Being an AIR application, it is primarily scripted in ActionScript 3.0 and developed in Flash, which I am proficient and should have no major issues executing.

As the application is meant to run on multiple platforms, the interface design needs to be reactive, so positioning of UI elements needs to be done through script based on the stage width and height.

Also, most of the content for the interactive textbook will be hosted online in a single XML document. This makes it easy to update the content as you just have to change the XML document which is downloaded every time the application is launched and has an Internet connection. The content is then saved locally on the device being used. If there is no Internet connection, the application will display the last saved version of the content.

3rd Party Content
Including extra content is essential to the concept of my project. YouTube, Google Images, and social media need to be integrated directly into the application, utilising their APIs, through my AS3 scripting. As these are features I’m not currently adept with, below are tutorials demonstrating how to achieve these results:

Technological Specifications Function Model (to be refined)

Response to Guest Critique

After refining the direction and specifics of the interactive textbook, a critique session with a guest brought up a number of issues and perspectives that should be considered.

Primary Concern
The primary concern for my project is its extensive scope. Scaling down or removing certain features would make the project more viable and allow for more focus on the individual elements. The current tools that need to be developed are:

  • Dynamic loading from server
  • Saving / highlighting
  • YouTube / Google / Wikipedia
  • Exploration / assessment instruction
  • Achievements / milestones / secrets
  • Social media integration
  • Electronic medium

Some of these are essential to reaching certain objectives and others do not require much effort to include. The most difficult feature is the integration of 3rd party content from YouTube, Google, and Wikipedia. The least important feature is the saving and highlighting ability to customise content presentation. Removing the customisation feature would neglect its purpose as a personalised teaching tool for educators, but maybe that isn’t really the main focus of my project anyway? I should probably remove it from the main project outline until the project is complete. If there is ample time during the development phase I will return to it.

Perspectives & Considerations
A point of view encompassing the entire project relates to the sense of authority of a book. Would students respect the dynamic and digital medium enough to consider it a serious source of academic learning? It’s no question that books are stable; they represent confirmed information and practiced knowledge. However, in more recent times, with the amount of information being doubled faster each day, books often become inaccurate or obsolete. Modern generations are becoming wary of books, especially when using one as a single source of information, what with all the propaganda and biased views being published in Malaysia. Information from the Internet isn’t very reliable either, but I personally find that with good critical thinking skills and the right amount of skepticism, learning from the Internet can be far more accurate, recent, and varied.

On the issue of too much knowledge causing depression in individuals, although this is true in extreme cases such as mathematical geniuses, it is no excuse for limiting knowledge acquisition. Ignorance is bliss, true but still no virtue.

Finally, in the cases where I bring my opinions into my reasoning, I am very careful not to be biased. It is important to not allow opinions affect results, but questions and thoughts are what lead to new information. The scientific method requires opinion. It begins with an observation, such as mine of the lacking education system in Malaysia and the rise of digital media as a learning tool. Then we hypothesise, or rather, guess, which is where my opinion that incorporating digital media in schools will be a benefit to education, these are my opinions. Then we deduce the implications of the hypothesis, such as access to digital media and the Internet widening the scope of topics, developing cognitive abilities and critical thinking, etc. Finally, we test or research existing tests, and if the results differ from the hypothesis, we change the hypothesis to fit the results, not the other way round.

Relation of Elements

After receiving feedback for project 1 (the Statement of Intent and this Study Blog), it appears that a number of things aren’t clear with the direction and concept of my project. This post will clarify these elements and their relation to each other.


Creator side
There are a number of concepts and points of the project that are based solely on the side of the creator and educators. These guide the direction and objective of the project but are not directly accessible from the user’s perspective.

  • Changing core of education, RRR -> reading comprehension, information search and retrieval (self-learning), and critical thinking (cognitive development)
  • Problems with current education, static, outdated, inaccurate, and not environmental
  • 3 theories

User side
From the user’s perspective, the experience is key. These elements are guided by the creator side elements but have been translated into a consumable format.

  • The interactive textbook will be a multi-platform application that will run on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices running Android and IOS. This is possible because it will be an Adobe AIR application that is easily translated onto multiple platforms. It will be used by teachers and students in different ways and have a number of very specific functions to solve specific problems as listed below.
  • These functions were defined due to them solving certain problems and also based on the concept of changing the core of education and the 3 theories guiding the project.
    • dynamic loading of content for easy updating
    • saving/highlighting (REMOVED) of content to personalise learning experiences
    • integrated YouTube, Google, Wikipedia videos and information based on chapter topics
    • content exploration & information accuracy assessment methods
    • milestones & secrets based on fun theory to encourage learning
    • social integration with Facebook and Twitter.

Function model
This function model demonstrate the relation of all the defined elements of the project.

Brief User Experience

Sweii asked me to briefly describe what the user experience of my interactive textbook will be in 3 words and then to describe it in a single sentence which I will assume is within tweet length (140 characters).

3 Words

  • Fun – To motivate and interest.
  • Convenient – Effort is not attractive.
  • Useful – Automatically helps and improves.

1 Sentence

  • An interactive, dynamic content presenter that improves the learning experience, encouraging self learning and expands the scope of topics.

Additionally, key features of the interactive textbook were listed in the ‘Form’ section of the statement of intent. They have been slightly modified, so I will list them again here.

  • dynamic loading of content for easy updating
  • saving/highlighting of content to personalise learning experiences
  • integrated YouTube, Google, Wikipedia videos and information based on chapter topics
  • content exploration & information accuracy assessment methods
  • milestones & secrets based on fun theory to encourage learning
  • social integration with Facebook and Twitter.

Objective of the Project

The education system of today was forged by the economic and political environment of the industrial revolution. For 200 years, this method has barely changed, but the world has reached a point where the incompatibility is apparent.

Traditional education is founded on the 3 Rs:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmatic

Though as society, technology, and industry progress, certain skills become obsolete. I propose a refocusing of the purpose of education for the current and coming generation:

  • Reading comprehension – For a generation that will read off of screens.
  • Information search & retrieval – For independent learning and collaborative research.
  • Critical thinking – To learn what and how to trust and question information.

Current theories (more to come) that I have discovered that directly relate to the reformation of education are:

  • Fun Theory – The problem with education is that it is undesirable. Children can play a video game for hours, why can’t they for learning?
  • Distributed Cognition – Enhancing education techniques requires new methods. Tools, devices, and software that assist in learning processes and cognitive development will benefit students.

The outcome of my final project should cater to the objectives of future learning and be possible with the technology available today. I have decided to improve upon the standard government secondary school classroom and 3 major points of interest are:

  • The textbook – is static, outdated, inaccurate, and not environmental. A dynamic interactive digital textbook that encourages discovery and self learning.
  • The blackboard – is limited, slow, and not engaging. An interactive interface that allows for greater levels of demonstration and presentation.
  • The network – is non-existent. A communication network that allows better relationships between students, teachers, and parents.

Here’s a video that expresses my dreams of Future Learning:

I would love to be able to execute all 3 projects and present them as an exhibition at the end, but I’m not sure if it’s possible with the time given. In the coming weeks I will clearly define each project and produce realistic timelines to see if I can pull it off by myself.