More than just a floor cleaner

After many hours of online tutorials, frantic emails to friends and colleagues, I finally produced a short, interactive clip using sound,  navigation buttons, external links and images.

In order to avoid any copyright problems, I used images that I personally created on a field trip to Fota Wildlife Gardens.   I also created my own sound files.

The target audience is young children.  Initially, the user simply sees an image ; when the user clicks the animal, text will scroll across the screen giving the name of the animal and an audio can be heard providing the name of the animal also.  The link button at the bottom middle of the screen links to an external web page where the user can find out more.    The user can navigate backward and forward through the images.

The aim of the clip is to educate a user regarding a small group of animals.   The user has the opportunity to guess the name of the animal and articulate some facts prior to clicking the link to find out more or clicking the image itself which will reveal the name by text and audio.

There is scope for expansion by adding in further animals or images using the same principles of text and audio.  I adhered to the Fleming Vark pedagogical principles.

Flash is interesting software with enormous potential – sometimes it is easier to begin with the end in mind.  In order to achieve this, I downloaded some editable templates to see what was possible and attempted to breakdown the layers and code behind them.

I had trouble importing sounds until I discovered that I had to convert to mp3 from wav and then I was able to import to the library.

My initial plan was to have a screen with four or five image of animals and a user would have to match text to the image.  I had difficulties with the animation and scripting behind this so my plan evolved into a more linear clip that can only be viewed in predefined order.

I am keen to explore Flash in the future.  I would like to explore its use as a tool for interactive quizzes and to create short animation clips for marketing and media promotions.

I found the online tutorials very useful as long as I worked through them in a systematic manner and remained focused on the task at hand.  Flash encompasses several new concepts including scripting, animation, layering and timelines – all of which are new to me.  Unlike Second Life, this is an area that I would be keen to continue exploring.

I used CodeAcademy, YouTube & Adobe online tutorials.   This was an exercise in constructionist learning.  The only way to learn this type of skill is to learn by doing, making the mistakes and learning the solutions.  It is often a painful and frustrating path but it allows a user to take ownership of the learning path.


Welcome to our world

The hardest part was actually getting started.  I was struggling to come up with a “cool” concept.  Not having any parameters or boundaries can be slightly agoraphobic.  There is always a fear of “am I doing it right?”

For inspiration, I went to a local toy shop and looked at the lego section.  I was slightly unclear if the entire assignment had to be built and designed using Slurtles or if we could decorate and enhance the environment/learning experience using objects built in Second Life.
The jury is still out on Second Life as a tool for learning.  My personal experience was somewhat frustrating and so much time was spent just getting Second Life to run that by the time I got sorted, I had run out of steam.  For someone unfamiliar with augmented realities, there is steep learning curve.  There is an element of novelty value in the beginning learning what the avatar can do and not do which I feel might be distracting for a  new learner.    I found the group sessions, hosted by a PhD student, very useful.  They provided an open forum to experiment and ask questions.
The only way to deliver this type of training is using Papert’s constructionist approach and learn by actually doing and being engaged with the software and the experience.   Using Kolb’s learning cycle, we started with an abstract theory, and then began to experiment to see what was actually possible before implementing a modification of our original concept.  Once the scripting was in place, we reflected on what we had built and made sure it actually worked and made any necessary changes.
Working together was vital and working with a more able other.  Although neither of us had much experience in programming, we had been given a brief introduction to the tools necessary to complete the task.
In order to design the coding in Scratch, I wrote out in logical steps using pseudo code, of what I intended to do.  In some cases, what I wanted to do transpired not to be feasible as the commands did not exist, the functionality was overly complex or I simply did not have the expertise to devise a solution.  The ongoing adaptation of a concept is part of its inherent life cycle.  I used my son as my test environment asking him for feedback and comments.  I was conscious that the learner needed to kept interested, engaged and stimulated.
I also wanted to demonstrate my technical ability by using different types of scripts including random variables, inputs and outputs.
We wanted to design a game that would build on previous knowledge .  Initially the game will impart information and then it tests the users knowledge by asking questions and prompting for answers.
I made a decision not to explore the other environments as I found that this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.  Although many times I was in the same physical environment as my fellow students and often shouted out a question, I found it easier to remain in my own virtual space and concentrate on getting the functionality of the game right before exploring how to enhance the environment.
Collaboration presents its own set of challenges, scheduling being the biggest one.  There is also an onus to support your colleague as much as possible and share any burdens.  I would hate to think I was letting my team down by not being able to contribute adequately. In the end we used a mixture of co-operation and collaboration.  We collaborated by physically sitting beside each other and using the one computer so that we could both see the same things from the same physical perspective.  We experienced problems sharing scripts and objects in Second Life although I had the permissions set correctly according to the instructions.
In the future, I am not sure if I would use Second Life again as a learning experience for students.  I would need to be absolutely sure that the technology and internet speed would not let me down.  I have not spent any time exploring Second Life.  On one occasion our learning space was closed for maintenance and my avatar ended up in a nearby night club surrounded by unfamiliar users.  I did not connect with my avatar.  There was a problem with her hair which I had to remove but felt no desire to change her appearance or clothing.  I found it interesting to note that other students made quite significant changes to their avatars.
I feel my experience was somewhat damped by the stress of completing an assignment and also technological obstacles, however, I am certain that Second Life is here to stay.


It would appear that I am now studying an MSc in Testing Eternal Limits and I am close to reaching mine.

I have spent the last 3 days repairing my computer.  If there were marks for persistence, troubleshooting, stress management and finding ingenious work arounds, I would get a straight A.  However, there are not and the work still needs to get done.

S4SL is like Vegas, no clocks, no concept of time, incredibly frustrating when things do not go to plan and amazingly rewarding when things go well.

The pressure is mounting, the computer is behaving somewhat but no internet connection on campus which makes it impossible to work on projects, however, between home and McDonalds, I can keep going.

I have come to love clouds.  Thank heavens for Dropbox, my saviour.  I did not care about having to rebuild the computer, all my data was safe and sound in the cloud.  It was just tedious having to reinstall all my programmes and countless utilities and battle with proxy settings but almost there and I am still smiling!  There is a lesson in all that we do.



Indecent proposal

I had to submit a proposal for my end of term project on the day as my literature review.  What a juggling act!  When I finally relaxed my mind and realised that a proposal is just that.  It is not the end game, it is not my thesis.

We have all been assigned our supervisors and made contact.  My supervisor afforded me a plethora of suggestions, directions and guidelines.  Is the antithesis of a decent proposal an indecent one?

I had become focused on the tool rather than the pedagogy and the research question.   To formulate a question, one must first know the answer.

On the menu this evening is a starter of Scratch for Second Life, followed by Abode Flash as main course with a side order of some work on my ethics application followed by a cup of tea and pajamas for dessert.

I walked through campus early morning last weekend.  It really is a world within a world of chaos.  I consider myself so privileged to be part of something so historic.   Perhaps when I graduate, I’ll take the time to really explore what I should be enjoying now.

Ode to a four hole button

There you sit in your four hole grace, and along comes someone to sew up your face.

The first hurdle was to actually finding some software that worked.  A mystery problem with Mac is that the text editor does not work when trying to code html pages.  The code runs perfectly through a validator but refuses to display in a web browser.  It took me ages to figure this out until eventually one of the students mentioned it to me.

I then attempted to use Articulate, as suggested by one of the tutors, to discover that it does not run on a Mac platform.  I installed it on a Windows platform but my poor old PC could not cope and began to protest.

In despair, I decided to use MovieMaker and WordPress.  The code in WordPress came up with a large volume of errors when I ran it through a validator and I had some problems getting it to do what I wanted it to do.  I had some trouble with the alignment of the text and the images, even when I inserted hard returns manually into the page.  In WordPress, it is possible to switch between browser view and HTML view.

I had to shoot the video several times.  I sent the first draft out to some trusted friends who would give honest feedback.  The main theme was that the button was too small and it was too hard to see what I was doing.  I also received feedback that the music should be removed.  I added the music as I felt the clip sounded a bit hollow and empty.

The music was a headache to add in the first place.  I could not find the song I wanted (The Sewing Machine) as an MP3 however, I found it as a YouTube clip so I had to find, download and install software that extracts MP3 from video.  It also raised copyright problems using music that I had not composed myself or paid a royalty for.  There was other more suitable music that I could have used but it was being held hostage in iTunes and I could not work how to extract it.

I reshot the video from different angles and used a large cardboard model as a button with ribbon and a darning needle.  It proved an interesting point; just because you know how to do something does not mean you can impart the information clearly.

Having sewn on the same button about 10 times now, I think I am fairly expert!  My son is getting exasperated having to hold the camera yet again.  All is fair in love and war.  I help him with all his assignments.

Another obstacle with this assignment was that it was very similar to another group-based assignment and I managed to get the deadlines muddled.  A few late nights and very early mornings sorted that out – I hope!

I viewed a video by another student that had no dialogue or music but instead the student had inserted slides to indicate each step.  This caused me to really doubt myself and wondered if I was talking too much in my task or had I just chosen a task with too many components.   My own natural style is slightly cynical with tongue in cheek humour, it is hard to know if this is always appropriate.

I also wasted a lot of time trying to convert from one platform or file type to another.  The digital camera ran out of charge half way through one session and I had to switch to iPhone which creates .MOV files and not .AVI files.  Movie Maker cannot interpret .MOV files.  Most of the conversion software only runs on a Windows platform.  I found some conversion software but it would not convert the file – for reasons only known to the developers.  In the end, I had to switch from Movie Maker to iMovie and start again.

The learning

  • Wear clothes that make your arms stand out so that you don’t look like Marcel Marceau.
  • Speak SLOWLY – one of the shoots was completely unusable as I spoken so quickly I could not understand what I was saying.
  • Avoid distractions such as the leg of the table or the curtain flapping in the background.
  • Be clear on what you are trying to achieve beforehand.
  • Use images or props that are clear and easy to see.
  • Choose one software platform and stick to it.

What I would do differently next time

  • Use a surface that does not clatter when something is placed upon it.
  • Use strong and contrasting colours – the yellow ribbon against the cardboard did not stand out enough.
  • Script what I want to say and leave long pauses to allow titles to be added or simply for the learner to process the information.
  • Turn off the telephone!  The iPhone rang a few times during the filming.
  • Get more feedback early on and allow for edits and reviews.

Making a simple thing complicated

Finally, I have reached a solution.  After spending hours installing and installing software, driving myself bonkers, trying to code from scratch, wailing and gnashing my teeth, I realised that the solution was under my nose.   Still good to be able to recognise and understand the code, troubleshoot problems and be able to perform manual edits as necessary.

I can use WordPress to create my assignment, I can now simply concentrate on the project at hand rather than the complexity of trying to make the software work.  It must have been my decision to move to the other side of the room.  The best bit is that I finally feel I have contributed to the class by being able to help some of the other students.  My work here is done.

I was making the fatal mistake of putting the technology before the learning.

No more excuses, my tutors will no doubt have high expectations, at least we are not being marked on design.  Roll on reading week…………

Change the way you look at things

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

It is strange that most people tend to sit in the same place for each class.  They have consciously or unconsciously assigned themselves a “place”, almost like school.

I decided to sit on the other side of the room today and found myself talking to different people and remaining more alert.

Step out of your comfort zone, do something different, change your routine, shake it up a bit.