The end is near

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.”

Shakesby (2013) https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/jack-of-all-trades/

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:

  • Researched:
    • Learning theory
    • The digital generation
    • Drawing and digital image making techniques
    • Gamification
    • Illustration
    • Aesthetics
    • Aesthetics of use
    • The Vikings
    • Visual communication
    • HTML5
    • iPad app user interface guidelines
    • Phenomenology
    • 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.

 Conclusions

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.

Capture

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:

https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/an-investigation-of-aesthetic-theory-in-art-design-and-its-role-in-my-personal-practice/https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/does-interactive-media-fit-into-academic-art-school-education/

https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/jack-of-all-trades/

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/

The Cogs of my MA

To accompany my application and other promotional materials that I intend to exhibit at our Masters exhibition, I have created a piece I have titled “The Cogs of my MA”.  This piece is a chance for me to show and look back at a lot of the things that have informed my MA projects and a lot of the things that I have created.

Although this is a very busy piece with lots of information within it, it still does not encompass my entire Masters study but it is a good visual interpretation of the many things, including considerations, acquired information, productions and conclusions that have been moving like cogs in my head throughout the past twenty two months.

I hope it shows the breadth and depth of my inquiry, whilst also showing how a design is influenced by many considerations that all are important.  The version below is a small low quality piece, to gain a proper consideration for the piece you will have to attend our exhibition.

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 21.50.40

Applessons

Okay so thus far, I have researched many areas in order to create my app and I have done just that.  I have created an application, so what’s next?  Academically as Masters Students, we have to produce an exhibition of our work, you can find out more about that process here.

The next stage for my app professionally is to promote and distribute my application.  The distribution process is currently on hold due to a recent hacking of Apple’s development centre but I have been able to work on the promotion.

It is my intention to build a brand of educational applications under the name ‘applessons’.  The Vikings app will hopefully be the first of many educational apps that I will release.  The ‘applessons’ name is an idea I had whilst brainstorming names that either related to the term app (which is a shortening of the word application) or educational terms, as the overriding purpose of my application will be to educate people.  I feel that by branding my range of applications with this name, it will hopefully be obvious to people what applessons is and does.  A joint branding for all my apps will hopefully be beneficial in the future, as I hope that users of one app may decide to choose further apps based upon a hopefully engaging, informative experience from other apps within the range.

I have designed a logo for ‘applessons’ which you can see below:

applessons-logo

I have also built a website to promote my app.  In his article “20 WAYS TO PROMOTE YOUR APP FOR FREE” Bobby Gill say’s “Create a web site for your app!” Jonathan Saragossi also believes this is a good idea “Again, another major element that I’ve seen many developers overlook. Build a home for your app, a place where you can freely describe why it’s so great without the limitations of the app market description page.”  To see the website that I have created, click here.

My website also features links to various aspects of social media, which I intend to use as promotional tools in order to spread the word and build my brand.  Gill (2013) mentions a number of social media brands in his article, for example “Facebook – It goes without saying: create a Facebook page!”  Social media will be an important tool in the branding and publication of my website.

On my website I will also be promoting a bespoke design service for others who may be looking for an app designer to produce apps for all types of new media, see here.

Gill, B. (2013) Ways to Promote Your App For Free! [online] Available at: http://www.ideatoappster.com/20-ways-to-promote-your-app-for-free/, [accessed 6th July 2013]

Saragossi, J. (2013) 9 Insider Tips for Promoting Your App [online] Available at: http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2013/07/20/9-insider-tips-for-promoting-your-app/, [accessed 6th July 2013]

Apple development problems.

Despite numerous emails directly to apple and posts on their forum, I am still along with thousands of other s in a position where I am unable to access my certificates and thus I cannot get my app onto the uni iPad.  There has been some movement though, I eventually received an email saying:

“We sincerely appreciate your patience as we work to bring our developer program services back online, and we want to give you an update on our progress. The majority of our developer services are currently online, including Certificates, Identifiers & Profiles, Dev Centers, software downloads, Videos, Apple Developer Forums, iTunes Connect, Bug Reporter, App Store Resource Center, and access to pre-release documentation.

We plan to reinstate most of the remaining services this week: Xcode automatic configuration as well as access to license agreements, TSIs, program enrollments, and renewals in Member Center. You can check the availability of these systems on our status page. ”

This indicates that I might be able to get my app ready for our exhibition on time but I am not getting my hopes up, as they previously announced that everything was working when in fact that was not the case. Fingers crossed!

Dasein Website

In order to publicise our MA Exhibition, I have volunteered to create a website as this fits with my skill-set. 
Using a slightly tweaked version of the logo we agreed upon in a previous post, I have created a site that is currently still a work in progress but depending on when you read this post it may actually be finished. The site includes portrait photography by Chris McDonnell and hopefully will soon feature content provided by all of the MA students involved. See the site via the link below:
http://daseinexhibition.com/

The Great Map Problem

Since quite early on in this project, I have had the desire to add an interactive map i.e. Google maps into my application, to be used in two different specific ways.  The first of which was to be a map which allows users to attempt to locate places with Viking names (i.e. ending in ‘by’, ‘thorpe’ or ‘thwaite’) near the city of York, which was an area of England that was densely populated by Vikings during the Viking age.

The second was a map showing the location of museums related to Viking heritage.  So users could then take their knowledge of the Vikings and any interest in the subject, from the application outwards into the wider world to investigate further.

My original plan was to incorporate Google maps, as I have prior experience of working with the Google maps API in my Hull History Viewer application.  Unfortunately a potential problem arose when it was announced that the Google maps API for Adobe Flash was been depreciated.

After searching for alternative map options, I noticed that a lot of people where recommending MapQuest as potential solution to the loss of Google maps for Flash.  I had a quick look at the MapQuest website and it seemed ideal; it said it had a Flash maps API and it uses the term Flash maps repeatedly across the website , so rather stupidly I bookmarked the site to come back to at a later time when I was ready to develop the section where the maps would be featured.  Recently that time arrived and I revisited the site in question, only to find out that all was not as it seemed.  On closer inspection, MapQuest is designed to be used within a piece of software called Adobe Flash Builder (formally Flex builder) and this is not the same software that I am using for my project, I am using Adobe Flash Professional which may sound like it does the same but that is not the case.

So what is the difference between Adobe Flash and Adobe Flash builder?

A good description has been provided by an individual going by the name of “heavilyinvolved” in answer to this question on the Stack Overflow website:

“Flash Professional doesn’t “do” what Flash Builder “does” (or vice versa)… however, there is some minor crossover in that they are both tools that enable designers/developers to compile swf’s.”

Both pieces of software have advantages in differing scenarios but the problem is that they are not really compatible, so ultimately the possibility of using a MapQuest map in my application was looking increasingly unlikely.  I contacted MapQuest directly to ask if there was an appropriate option that I could use within their product range.  In reply I was informed that “Most of our sample code for the MapQuest Platform is for flex” but I was directed towards the link below:

http://developer.mapquest.com/content/as/v/mq/samples/samplesexplorer/index.html#

Unfortunately, despite there been a basic source code available on the MapQuest website for a “Flash map”, it is not the mobile version that incorporates the mobile functionality that people are used to using and expect to use on mobile devices.  This makes it not ideal for my app but with little other choice I decided to give it a go but unfortunately I have been unable to get it to work.  There are lots of tutorials and information available for the Adobe Flash Builder version but not for the Adobe Flash Professional version and I cannot find a solution to my problems, despite posting on forums and contacting MapQuest directly.

With the option of using MapQuest maps within my application now not looking like a feasible possibility, I decided to turn my attention back to Google Maps.  This once again was not a long term solution due to its deprecation but as a short term possibility for my hand-in and exhibition I though this may be the answer but alas again my progress was halted due to a difference between Adobe Air for Android and Adobe Air for ios.  Most functionality crosses both platforms but there is a problem with displaying Google Maps for ios

I have been unable to resolve this problem as well and unfortunately I have decided that this is now not a practical resolution to my map problems.

I have been searching for another solution to the “The Great Map Problem” but unfortunately I have reached a point where I need to concentrate on other things, in order to have a presentable application for my hand-in and exhibition.  I have not given up hope of adding these features to my application and this is beauty of the medium I am working in; my app can be released without these features, with the potential to be added at a later date via an automatic update, should I find a solution.  The updateable nature of the medium means that all aspects of my app can be changed in various ways, to incorporate new content, fix possible problems and improve aesthetics and functionality, in the event of new or improved skills, knowledge and ideas.

One issue that does concern me is the wave of momentum to move away from flash based technologies in favour of a move towards technologies such as HTML5 and Javascript, although I have a knowledge of these technologies, my preferred medium is Adobe Flash and Actionscript 3. I like the visual nature of the interface and the animation functionality, it suits me and the way I like to work and although I am relatively new to my practice I am in danger of becoming outdated in the near future, if recent developments are indications of the future.

As a new media practitioner there is a requirement for me to evolve and keep up with current technologies and one of my priorities upon the completion of my master’s study is to investigate, learn and re-enforce other methods of development such as HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.  Due to my recent iMac purchase, I can now also attempt ios native development using Apples Xcode software, in order to have more ways to be creative in my future endeavours.

Although it is extremely frustrating and disappointing to not be able to incorporate all the features that I have desired within my application as yet; there is still a possibility that they will be incorporated at some point in the future and I will do my best to try and make sure that my creative visions become a reality.