Summative Statement

Having never blogged before it took me a while to get my head around the process of how blogging could inform my practical design work. My initial blogs were quite short and disjointed – then I got into the hang of things and I believe that the complexity and relevancy of my blogs improved. I am aware of the fact that my blogs do not necessarily follow a logical continuance, but I feel that there are so many varied tangents within and around my research subject that it would actually stunt my research to limit myself to a singular mindset of the path of my research journey. I have allowed new findings to lead my next piece of research.

My approach to this research task as a whole was to start by further investigating some of the key themes that arose from compiling my annotated bibliography. My initial method was to aim to collate all of the relevant data that I could find and then assess the whole for the purpose of practical implementation once this was done – rather than researching, then undertaking practical work, researching again and then practical work again etc. My logic for this working method was that, having been a full-time Graphic Designer for eight years now, I am used to working from a brief and asking outlying questions so that I have the whole picture before embarking upon a design. I saw this task in the same way – with the blog effectively becoming my (somewhat abstract) brief. I also want to create something new in my practical design work, so I need to understand everything that is currently out there in order to be original (as much is physically possible anyway). I generally like to feel fully informed before undertaking design tasks or projects.

In reference to source material for my blog, my research method was always going to be internet-centric from the outset, as my research theme is very academic and conceptual, and not necessarily something that is easily inspired within the public domain. Having said this, as my blog developed I could see this as being a limitation in my research methodology and I made efforts to change my approach and step away from my computer and seek real-world examples by viewing hardware for e-reading or e-learning in retail electrical shops and also reviewing the education section of book shops. In addition my current employment within an academic course-and-publishing company has supported my research. I have a unique role that affords me access to classrooms where I can observe real-world educational contexts and apply learning from them to my own practice.

Another observation that I would make of my research methodology is that I would reguarly find myself going off on a research tangent by following up interesting sub-articles and links within the original research piece that I found. The authors would discuss in brief a supporting or relevant additional concept that then sparked enthusiasm in me and led me to read the discussed content further. The benefit found in this method was that I found some of the most useful and interesting research of this task within the bibliographies and related links to content within the original research that I undertook. The downside to this method was that it would take me some time to come back to the original article that I was reading. Perhaps going forward I would be better off noting the interesting sub-articles or themes and returning to them after I have finished reviewing the original reference source.

The theme of my research has also changed in the course of creating this blog. Initially I focused on a medium on which to impose my research learning (e-textbooks). Having now created the blog I see the opposite approach being necessary; I see the theme as now being the central focus of my research and I will apply the findings to an appropriate medium once I have evolved my research to the point where I feel I am informed enough to effectively design in order to problem-solve, or at least to design for what I see as a problem within currently available electronic learning resources.

Some of the concepts discussed in my blog were already known to me, and the research I found simply solidified and justified my thoughts. There were though, a number of new concepts that I came across that surprised and interested me. These also turned out to be the key themes within this subject area at present. ‘Gamification’, ‘Deep Learning Design’ and ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ emerged as key themes that to some extent surprised me and also excited me as they all held significant relevance to my field of research and were, in part, abstract concepts that evolved upon previous thinking in the field. Gamification in particular came to me later into the research path and is something that I definitely need to research deeper than I have done in order to better inform my design work. Ubiquitous Computing is also fascinating and, whilst somewhat scary in its capabilities, offers up a whole new world of supporting technological advancements that could benefit e-learning, in particular mobile learning. I will be spending a large part of my remaining research time as part of my practical work investigating the pragmatic implications of these areas.

To conclude, in creating my blog I have been inspired and motivated to apply research to practical application. To blend different e-learning technologies and concepts from related fields (such as psychology). I am now keen to embark upon some highly conceptual designs and I am also much clearer as to how I would like my practical work to evolve. I have seen a gap in the market for an eLearning course that really embodies all of the research findings surrounding deep learning. It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience discovering how I can convert theory into practice. Going forward I see my blog site as a means by which to store and refer to research and additional relevant links to content that I can refer back to when undertaking my practical work.

Here are some final thoughts that I have had regarding my practical work after assessing the content of my blog so far:

  • I would like to look into how support content that is available through hyperlinks in e-textbooks or amongst e-learning courses could open within the book or program itself. I feel that this would better facilitate learning through users being able to better navigate between key and supporting content. In addition it would enable learners to compare points made in support content with that seen in the key text directly, side by side. Note-making as a third simultaneous activity would be a step further again to facilitating deep-learning.
  • Gamification is a huge subject in the field at the moment and one that I would like to investigate further. I am keen to develop a short e-learning program that functions as a game.
  • Younger audiences learn quicker and adapt to new technologies quicker than older audiences. I need to be mindful of always evolving my designs so that the avant garde doesn’t become the status quo.
  • Templates for deep-learning are open to abuse – as could be seen in the Cengage Music example. This is something to really consider going forward. Designer as actor or pre-constructor?
  • Human emotions are key – could a piece of software be developed within ubiquitous computing fields whereby an in-device camera could record a user’s clothing colour and then customise the colour scheme of the learning program to match?
  • My practical design work needs to incorporate a blend of working memory aides, emotional stimulants and schema assessment along with strong layouts.
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Working designs

So I have started to experiment with designs towards my Practice 1 work. I thought i’d start with some designs for an e-textbook as this was my original brief. Going forward I will look to work on some e-learning platform designs as well because I am greatly interested in this area and I feel that there is work to be done on designing for deep learning in both digital publications and e-learning programs. I am also interested in making comparisons between printed textbooks and e-textbooks.

So I am struggling to create and upload a video in time for this project submission that shows the interactivity that my design offers so for now I will simply describe it and upload a video later. The design will also have evolved by then.

Below you can see the sample pages that I have created:

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I have created a design using real-life content that exists in a commercially available textbook (Note: This is not a live design project and is a mock-up for personal use only). I felt it important to use real-world content as I could manipulate imagined content to fit my purposes of conveying
design ease for deep learning. In this context I have to make real-life content fit a cognitively friendly layout.

In response to my research in this blog post on colour, I have not used too much colour throughout – just enough to differentiate between types of information and to either bring diagrams to life or act as a tool by which to ease the eye through multiple blocks of similar content (see figure D below).  I have reserved the use of orange as discussed in this blog post for an area of the book where content could be monotonous and difficult to maintain the readers attention. I may add more orange throughout this design going forward.

Figures A and B below show my use of different colours and also icons to help readers identify content types quickly on a page. I will look at using icons further going forward and seek research as to their effectiveness in guiding users through content. The web link is of course clickable in the etextbook and opens content in a new tab.

Additional info close-up
Figure A: Coloured ‘Additional research’ box
Supporting info close-up
Figure B: Coloured ‘Supporting info’ box

A feature that I added in response to some thoughts I had whilst researching the subject seen in this blog post regarding the Prototype O System is that of a notes feature. Although not a tool to facilitate context-enabled web searches, I am keen on designing content that allows users to make their own comments. Within my sample design, a user can add typed notes in the left margin. Going forward I will look at changing this to a handwritten note function (e.g. with a stylus) to ease note taking and make the process of annotation more intuitive and less clunky. See my blog post here regarding my research on using devices that emulate the paper-metaphor (the latter part of the post).

Make notes here close-up
Figure C: Interactive note area to the side of the content

A final area to highlight within this initial design is that of the timeline feature. The original text for this content was a couple of pages of bullet points. I became bored of reading the content very quickly and also lost my point within the bullet point hierarchy very quickly. Within my design I used alternating colour to aide navigation and the text block on the right on appear once you click on a year – helping learners to consume data at their own pace (a theme that has arisen in much research that I have undertaken).

Chronolgy close-up
Figure D: Timeline of data that expands as you click on the dates

Tablets v.s. eBook readers – a personal reflection

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I walked into a popular high street electronics store this afternoon and had a good look at the wide range of tablets and eBook readers on offer. A few things occurred to me as looked through them that I thought worthy of mentioning in the course of my research.

There appears to be a somewhat unneccesary discontinuity between tablet devices and eBook readers. It would appear that eBook readers have a huge advantage over tablets in one particular area, that of screen-glare. Which, as I highlighted in my recent post on the health concerns over backlit screens, is a highly important quality for any screen to demonstrate.

I wonder if the future could see a change in direction where tablets have two screen modes, one for book reading/web browsing and another for videos/games etc? Negating the need for a separate dedicated book reader. As technology evolves and the human race becomes more dependant on screen technology, I feel that health concerns over using e-devices will have to come to the forefront.

Additionally, when thinking about the paper-metaphor during my studies (see my blog), I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab with a 4.7″ screen and it felt so natural to hold. I could very comfortably hold the device in one hand which left my other hand free for searching and annotating content etc. Many of the larger tablets would not enable this as they are too large to hold one handed – so if sat on a bus or train without a table seat you couldn’t comfortably use the device unless you rested it upon your lap. The Galaxy also felt like a traditional paper notepad whilst holding it – I wanted to get stylus and start annotating research papers on it which made it feel very mobile-learning friendly. Another final point to note is that the device was white – when thinking about the paper metaphor it almost felt like I was holding a piece of paper – the same device with a black screen surround didn’t have the same feeling of ease of use.

Some things to bear in mind when considering target devices my e-learning practical design work …

 

 

The Paper Book Metaphor, Part I

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One of the key areas that I am keen to investigate further is that of the paper book metaphor. Described in short as the dilemma surrounding the translation of content from traditional print mediums into digital platforms. Does the designer of such translations adhere to the paper format as closely as possible and indeed seek to emulate the paper book experience for the user. Or does he/she seek to deliberately avoid the paper metaphor and design with no reference to the paper-based experience that users are so inherently used to working with? Additionally, are there some aspects of the paper metaphor that should be kept in digital content and others that we can afford to lose? Can I pick and mix my paper metaphor elements to achieve more successful digital content?

There is actually very little original research that focuses exclusively on the paper book metaphor. There is a gap in the research here that I could perhaps fill going forward.

An interesting comment on the subject is that made by Frank Chimero, acclaimed Designer and Writer:

“You give a user something to grasp onto when you make a metaphor solid. In the case of software on a screen, the metaphors visually explain the functions of an interface, and provide a bridge from a familiar place to a less known area by suggesting a tool’s function and its relationship to others. For instance, if I say “This is a Trash Bin,” you may not know a computer’s file management system or directory structures, but you’ve got a pretty good idea of how trash bins work, so you can deduce that the unwanted files go in the trash bin, and you’ll be able to retrieve them until the bin is emptied.”

Frank Chimero (frankchimero.com)

So here we see that Chimero’s experienced opinion is that users need a gentle transition into e-content. After all books have been around for centuries, computers, not so long. Certainly from a visual stance, recognisable icons and features, such as a peeling corner graphic as a tool to turn the page makes sense to nurture in e-books in order to make users feel at ease.

Another question I have is why? Why should students use e-content instead of printed books. More to the point, what can e-content designers do to enhance printed content to the extent that students see increased benefit from using it?

Zheng, C. et al. discuss the topic in relation to how users search, browse and highlight content in traditional paper formats and how this can be enhanced through technology, in particular the new Prototype O System that Zheng, C. et al. and his team are working on with Microsoft.

“Users hold the device as if it were a piece of paper and circle or highlight webpage content with their finger. The system then searches the Web for information about the marked object, using context to improve search results.”

(Zheng, C. et al.)

As the video above shows, the O system adds something to traditional print books by recognising bi-manual gestures to facilitate searches; you place a finger to the outer edges of the screen to activate the context-aware search system and then circle or strike-through words or pictures that you would like more information on. The O System software is also context-aware, so if you are on a page that is talking about electronic tablet devices, the search function will return results focused on electronic tablets – as opposed to if you were on a website talking about tablet medicines or vitamins etc., which would then return results based on medicine and well-being. This really does enhance the paper book experience whilst also taking its lead from the traditional format.

Zheng, C. et al. state that retrieval of search results using the O-system is ‘five times faster than for traditional cut-and-paste search’. Plus of course you get much more relevant results than with traditional keyword-based input.

The O-system is not entirely new though, as it builds upon concepts developed in the XLibris eReader. Although XLIbris did not have the context-aware search functionality which further enhances e-content offerings.

Besacier et al. also write on the subject in the context of creating digital content for tabletop systems:

“Participants … intuitively perceive the interactions they can perform with a sheet of paper, a file, or a filing cabinet. In order to facilitate the transition to tabletop systems we have to offer the same intuitiveness.

… the correspondence between sheet of paper and windows is fundamental. We think this metaphor must be extended to the way users interact with the system.”

Whilst this is discussing a different format to that of which I will be designing content for (at present at least), it is interesting to see the paper metaphor in action across varied mediums. Tabletop systems are a device that I should like to research further into in the future.

In focusing on the benefits v.s the drawbacks of print books, UX Magazine published a great article on the subject of the book metaphor which can be read here. As per the comments made above, the article focuses on the fact that readers expect certain inherently-learnt characteristics to be present in eBooks, but also goes on to discuss that print books have their flaws that we should not try to mimic, such as the fixed font size which could be a problem for those with poor eyesight and the fixed page sizes which limit the ability to contain complex formula or calculations which then have to be spread over more than one page and so segmented, complicating comprehension ability.

In conclusion, It appears that the answer to my original question is yes, I can pick and mix paper-book metaphor elements, but carefully. I need to consider in my practice work how I maximise visual elements based upon the paper-book metaphor to better facilitate transition to e-content and also consider what technological advancements will help users to read and absorb content and facilitate deep learning.

For additional research in this area, see part II .

 

References

Besacier, G., Rey, G., Najm, M., Buisine, S. and Vernier, F. (2007). Paper Metaphor for Tabletop Interaction Design. Part II, Human Computer Interaction: Interaction Platforms and Techniques. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 4,551, p.758-767.

Zheng C., Sun, J.T. and Huang, X. Microsoft (2014) Web Information at Your Fingertips: Paper as an Interaction Metaphor. Computer. 47,3 p.62-66.

http://www.ercim.eu/publication/Ercim_News/enw55/shamaie.html
(Accessed 29.12.15)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DiamondTouch
(Accessed 29.12.15)

UX Magazine, Article No: 1,229, April 29, 2014, by Adrian Zumbrunnen