In the words of ‘old blue eyes’, “And now, the end is here and so I face the final curtain” but in my situation there is no final curtain. My M.A study may be reaching its conclusion but my investigation is still ongoing and it will probably be in progress for the foreseeable future.
Way back in October 2011, I started my M.A study at Hull School of Art & Design. In an early blog post I summarised my investigation’s intentions:
“In short I propose to research learning theories in order to see how they fit into the world of Interactive or e-learning, to establish whether new media technologies are being used effectively, or if they could be used to provide greater educational benefits to the chosen target audiences. I will then produce an educational application that could be used as a kiosk or installation in a museum/heritage site or as a tool for classroom based education. The subject matter for my application will be ‘The Vikings’.” Shakesby (2011) https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/hello-world/
In another blog post, I recently defined my M.A study:
“Through my Masters investigation, I have been looking at the effective communication of educational information through new media digital devices and as an example of my investigation I am creating an Interactive App for the iPad, to provide educational information about the Vikings.”
Over the past twenty-two months, I have investigated a wide range of subjects and learned a vast amount of knowledge, whilst reaffirming previously acquired understandings within my professional practice. I have learned new practical skills and improved upon pre-existing skills which in my opinion has improved my proficiency as an interactive designer. Over the period of my investigation I have in no particular order:
- Learning theory
- The digital generation
- Drawing and digital image making techniques
- Aesthetics of use
- The Vikings
- Visual communication
- iPad app user interface guidelines
- My practice of interactive media design.
- The current use of new media in the education and heritage sectors.
- Attended life drawing classes.
- Visited museums and Art galleries.
- Created an educational iPad app about the Vikings.
- Presented information to my peers both formally and informally.
- Invested in new software and hardware for my practice.
- Created two websites.
- Kept this blog.
After twenty-two months of study I can draw some conclusions.
With knowledge of both learning theories and technological possibilities, it becomes possible to design digital learning experiences that can meet the needs of the “Digital Natives”, offering them experiences that improve upon the simple digitalisation of traditional media. The combined knowledge needs to be brought together through a well designed user experience process, suitable for specific chosen platforms and through these combined considerations we now have a process that is more appropriate for designing digital learning.
Fig 1: Phillip Shakesby, A Process for Designing Digital Learning, (2012), Digital Illustration
This is a conclusion that I still agree with but I believe that there is another element that can be added to this process and that is engaging content. Engaging content can help users enter a state of “flow”[i], this deep sense of interest or engagement can help people with the learning process.
Engagement can be realised in many ways; interesting, entertaining, and informative well produced text, imagery and interactives can all be engaging and digital multimedia devices afford us the ability to have combinations of engaging content, suitable for a wider audience of learners.
Although I can draw conclusions from my M.A study, my investigation is still in progress and it will almost certainly be in progress for the foreseeable future.
The lessons I have learnt during my study have been compiled within my Vikings application for the iPad, Which will hopefully be ready and on display for our MA exhibition (subject to apple fixing the development centre after a recent hacking) and also available for download via iTunes in the near future.
Although my research has been fruitful it has raised more questions than answers. My user testing has shown me that those who tested my application were engaged by the interactive nature of the content. Different users were able to draw information from all of the various ways in which I intended but I believe further research is needed into the true value of the experience. Users of my application claimed to enjoy using it and they seemed to be engaged but could this be due to the novelty of the platform within the setting where testing was conducted? I also think further enquiry is required into the effectiveness of information delivery, in comparison to traditional methods.
There was content that I would have liked to have delivered, including high quality animation, video, 3D workarounds and interactive (Google style) maps. I could not incorporate these things for various reasons, including cost, inability to provide high production values and software limitations. I would still like to know how these features would have been received by users and how effective they would have been in my goal of information delivery.
My M.A study has not been without its fair share of problems. There has been an over arching theme that has consistently been present during my enquiry and it was an issue that was also present for the duration of my B.A study. Since I started on my new quest to become a new media designer in 2008, I have struggled to comprehend where I fit into my new practice and where my new practice fits into the wider world both professionally and academically, especially in the art school environment. This prompted explorations that resulted in the blog posts below:
These investigations have shown me that art and design are not the same, nor should they be treated the same.
Not only have I questioned my practice and my place within it, questions have been raised within my academic environment that prompted further enquiry in order reassure myself and validate my enquiry and professional approach to it. Some of these enquiries can be read below:
As regards to my application, I cannot say that is finished either; I intend to make updates in order to add further information, improve upon any areas of the application that may be received negatively by users and fix any issues that may arise. The ability to update my application is afforded by the platform and thus, this will be an ongoing process as long as my app is available to the public.
The lessons I have learnt during my study have been used to develop my Vikings application but the application of this knowledge extends further beyond this one application on this solitary platform. The appliance of my learned understanding of the communication of educational information via new media devices will be useful in the design of all the applications and websites I create in the future, for all current potential future platforms, in all educational environments including schools, colleges, universities, work places, museums, art galleries and the home.
This is the end of my M.A segment of my professional investigation into this area of my practice and as I have previously stated I intend to continue my exploration of this area. One possible academic route for me to continue my investigation would be an undertaking of a PHD study, which is an avenue I would very much like to use in order to progress my research but there are external factors involved that may impede that dream. I believe that trying to find new ways to communicate educational information using emerging technologies is very important and I want to be part of the process that hopefully improves, engages, enables and informs people via new media in the future.
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank my wife, my children, my parents, my fellow M.A peers, the Hull School of Art and Design Lecturers, Holy Name R.C Primary School, Paull Primary School and everybody else who has helped me or had to put up with me over the past twenty-two months, without your support my M.A study would not have been possible, so thank you.
[i] Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the hypothesis of Flow (psychology).
Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that people get a great sense of deep happiness, satisfaction, or fulfilment when they are in a state of great concentration or complete absorption with the activity that they are immersed in and it is this feeling that he calls “flow”; popular culture often describes the psychological state as “being in the zone”. The ‘flow’ state causes game players to be utterly engrossed in the undertaking or challenge at hand, this happens when there is a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the player, if the task is too easy or difficult the flow state cannot occur. To read more see here: https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/gamification/