“reflective summary”

December 4, 2006

This semester I have worked with Susan Smith, Head of Information Technology, and Kevin Gilbertson, Webmaster, of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, to create learning objects to support our LIB100, Accessing Information in the 21st Century, course.

This class is worth one credit hour and is an elective for Wake Forest University students. Our goal was to create quick and fun modules that could be used to illustrate simple library research concepts. 

The three we chose to focus on were broadening and narrowing a topic, truncation, and Boolean searching.  We chose to do this by making a game where one could move cards around from broadest to narrowest, use a “Family Feud” style game to illustrate truncation, and make a slot machine to demonstrate varying attributes of different Boolean terms.

Along the way, we planned for me to meet several objectives.  These were:

  1. Spend time reading articles, books, and appropriate websites dealing with online pedagogy and distance education.
  2. Learn to use specfific software that will incorporate proper online pedagogy.  Software may include: Camptasia, Demobuilder, and/or Captivate.
  3. Output up to 5 learning objects to enhance the Z. Smith Reynolds LIB100 information literacy program.
  4. Work with Z. Smith Reynolds reference librarians and LIB100 course instructors to ensure the learning objects are appropriate for their use.
  5. Hold a small focus group to test Learning Objects.

I did read Susan’s book, Web-Based Instruction: A Guide for Librarians, as well as a number of articles and websites.  Though I don’t have the grasp of the subject that I would if I had taken coursework in the topic I did learn many principles that were useful in designing our learning objects.   

I was already familiar with Camptasia and Demobuilder, so I focused on learning Captivate for the first half of the practicum.  I feel fairly comfortable working in Captivate and am amazed at the power the program offers.  It is clearly designed to develop online learning experiences, and I particularly appreciate the branching and feedback options.

As powerful as Captivate is, though, there are some drawbacks.  Boolean Slots (the game I made using Captivate) grew to over 100 slides which impacts loading speed of the game as well as de-bugging time for me.  Every time I had to make a single change I’d have to go through the program, slide by slide, to make the change universally.  Around this time Kevin gave me a copy of Flash.

I used Flash to make Truncation Feud and the Narrowing and Broadening Your Topic games.  From the beginning I was impressed with the power Flash offers and I am now considering buying a student copy for myself.  I would not say that I became as familiar with Flash as I did with Captivate because Flash is much more complex.  I was able to get Flash to interact with the user’s mouse behavior and with the user’s text, but it was a battle each time I had to learn something new.  I am not a programmer, so I had to find information in the “help” section of the program, discussion boards, and Z. Smith Reynolds library books.  This being said, I picked up what I learned fairly quickly, and if I could devote a week or two to learning it, I think I would feel comfortable with the software.  

I was able to complete three learning objects (described below) for this practicum.  These were the original five that Susan, Kevin, and I discussed and they all ended up fairly close to what we originally described. 

The two goals that I don’t feel I met in the spirit of the objectives were to work with reference librarians and to hold focus groups.  We never had an opportunity to set up a meeting with the reference librarians.  By the time a learning object was in form enough to show people, it was too late in the semester.  I did, however, show a few of them to a few librarians when I was able to chat with them for a few minutes.  The feedback was mostly positive, but I did get the feeling that we would need to really market the learning objects to them.  We would also need to explain exactly how they could fit into their classes. 

I didn’t get to hold focus groups in the spirit of the objectives, either, for the same reasons.  However, along the way I would show the games to anyone who would look at them.  I got some very good feedback from a Wake Forest University Faculty member as well as from friends and family.

I am hoping to be able to work on these two objectives in the way we originally intended in the time between semesters.  It’s much quieter in the library then, so we can get time with librarians more easily and the students who are working are often happy to do something rather than just sit at a quiet desk. 

This practicum was extremely useful for me.  Though technology is one of my hobbies, I haven’t officially participated in this aspect of technology in a library before.  I have learned that I’m a pretty quick learner when it comes to simple code, but that I do need to devote blocks of time to researching.  I’ve learned that I really like pedagogy and would like to have spent more time focusing on that.  

last hours of the practicum

December 4, 2006

Tonight I put in two hours to look over drafts and improve timing for all three learning objects (now online).  They all work on my machine, and the timing is much better than it was yesterday.

I haven’t done focus groups with students or librarians.  I’ll talk with Susan about that.  However, I have booked all 90 hours, and feel good about what I’ve learned in the process.  The “reflective summary” will follow this post.

It’s nice to do a practicum at my place of work.  Even though I’m finished with the UNCG part of the project, I can keep working on them if we feel they’ll be useful to support the LIB100 program.  Hopefully we can do some follow up after this semester is over (we’re all quite busy right now grading papers, doing an environmental scan, and still doing our “day” jobs).

Truncation Feud

December 4, 2006

Today I finished learning what I needed about text, and put together a skeleton of the Truncation Feud game.  I spent a few hours trying to figure out how to get an image (big, red, “X”s) to show up if the player gets an answer wrong, but no matter what strategy I tried, I couldn’t get the image to display.  I eventually settled on small, red, “X”s to show up on the screen permanently throughout a player’s game.

The timing isn’t finalized–by any means–but it’s a skeleton.  At this point all three Learning Objects (Boolean Slots, Broadening & Narrowing, and Truncation Feud) are in draft phase.  I’m also at almost 90 hours.  My plan is to get up early tomorrow to do a dry run-through of each of the games.  Hopefully the corrections won’t take too much time.  I’m a little worried about getting feedback from students and library staff by the end of the practicum, but I know I can get it after the fact if I need to.

I’ll check in again after making updates.

working with text

December 4, 2006

I didn’t invest as much time in the practicum on Saturday as I had planned.  Part of this was that it was somewhat of an ordeal to even get the powercord back from my office.  I didn’t realize that WFU would be hosting a triathlon that morning!  It wasn’t a big deal, though, I was able to find parking out of the way of the athletes, and I took the quick walk to the library to reclaim the missing equipment.

I spent most of the time working in Flash to learn how to work with text (static, dynamic, and input).  It’s okay working with static text, or even user entered text that just sits on the screen.  Making the text interactive is another thing.  Luckily, I was able to find out how to take user-entered text and have it output depending on what the user said.

The discussion boards found on Friday were helpful.  It was also helpful to talk with John about programming principles.

The goal was to create an environment where the user could enter in an answer; if it’s wrong, they could get feedback, and if it’s right, the  correct block shows the text they entered.  Once I figured out the principles associated with text, it was easy to apply them to the game.

December 4, 2006

I didn’t invest as much time in the practicum on Saturday as I had planned.  Part of this was that it was somewhat of an ordeal to even get the powercord back from my office.  I didn’t realize that WFU would be hosting a triathlon that morning!  It wasn’t a big deal, though, I was able to find parking out of the way of the athletes, and I took the quick walk to the library to reclaim the missing equipment.

I spent most of the time working in Flash to learn how to work with text (static, dynamic, and input).  It’s okay working with static text, or even user entered text that just sits on the screen.  Making the text interactive is another thing.  Luckily, I was able to find out how to take user-entered text and have it output depending on what the user said.

The goal was to create an environment where the user could enter in an answer; if it’s wrong, they could get feedback, and if it’s right, the  correct block shows the text they entered.  Once I figured out the principles associated with text, it was easy to apply them to the game.

Friday was a pretty hectic day, and I forgot to bring my powercord home for the ThinkPad!  It was nice, though, to have one evening where I wasn’t totally devoted to Learning Objects.  I spent about 45 minutes working on the ThinkPad until I didn’t feel safe running on such low batteries, then I used my personal laptop to read a little about how to use ActionScript 2 to work with user-entered text.

I suspected, at the time, that this would be challenging.  I had no idea that the “Truncation Feud” game would be as challenging as it was.  Luckily, I found several discussion boards that discussed different problems and solutions people had for various text issues, and it was very good research to have for working in Flash once I had power again.

If I were to do Friday over again, though, I would have brought home the powercord!

truncation feud

December 1, 2006

So, I have rough drafts of the first two games ready, but not much feedback.  I figured it’d be good to look at them with “fresh” eyes, so I took the night to set up the framework for the Truncation Feud game.  I haven’t actually finished that, but I have worked in Flash to include everything up to the first game (this is where I’ll need to know how to do some fancier programming).

It was a good review of some of the more basic features in Flash, and I’m getting much more comfortable with it.  I can definitely see the power in the software and the potential for some really cool applications.

The plan for tomorrow: try to figure out how to do the programming for dynamic text!

miscellaneous tasks

November 30, 2006

There have been a number of tasks that have been piling up that are unrelated to the actual design and creation of the Learning Objects. I have a little bit of time, so I’m finding a few of the answers now:

  1. Is it okay to use Microsoft clipart?
    1. According to the Microsoft copyright site, it looks like it’s fine for me to use clipart for my class and practicum, but it’s unclear if it’s okay for us to use the clipart for LIB100 use. It distinctly says you can’t use clipart for your business or to make a profit, but it doesn’t say academic institutions are able to use it. I think that if we really want to use the games for classes, we might want to take a few hours to design original artwork.
  2. What quality assurance standards are there for shared Learning Objects?
    1. The Merlot website has a short list of things that their peer reviewers are supposed to look for. However, they’re pretty general and appear to lack objective standards by which to measure a given Learning Object.
    2. All other sites I found were even less general, though, so I’m not sure there are any community-defined objective standards.

Tonight I finished a draft of the narrowing game!  With a little help learning some JavaScript principles from John, I was finally able to get Flash to cooperate enough to make the game work.

It’s not finished by any means, but the elements are in place, and I made my first (baby) program in Flash!

Tomorrow I’ll need to try to see what I can do for the Family Feud game.  I think it will be really hard to get it to interact with text the user inputs, but we’ll have to see once I get started.

On a related note, but not part of the practicum, Kaeley and I are attempting to use an extra credit quiz with our class this semester.  If it goes well, we might substitute well-designed standardized & open-ended quiz questions for some (most?!) of the homework assignments.  Anything to save time on grading (as long as we can still assess learning).  At a minimum, something like this can save the two of us ten hours of work time.  If five sections of LIB100 decided to implement quizzing instead of one assignment, it would save a minimum of 50 hours of time—giving the library back a week and a half of work time.   Anyway, I know it’s not a Learning Object in a traditional sense, but it certainly would have some LO-elements, and may make the class easier and more desirable to teach.  Another thing I’m thinking about in the context of this practicum.

two workdays in one!

November 29, 2006

I literally spent all day working on learning Flash.  14 hours.  I took the day off of work to spend some quality time with Flash Professional 8.

It was fun and potentially very useful, which is why I was able to stick with it.

There was a time when I thought I might want to be a programmer.  I had some less than stellar computer science classes along the way, and decided to focus on the humanities and social sciences instead.  Now I play in HTML and extremely surface level code. That background, combined with my background in philosophy (logic), made it much easier to teach myself some basic Flash than I thought possible.

Here’s what I learned about Flash:

  1. Flash is easy!
  2. Interactive Flash is hard (if you’re not a programmer)!
  3. Getting Flash and Captivate to communicate is impossible!

Learning a new computer language or skill is very game-like in itself.  There’s a lot of guessing and experimenting with variables to find out just why the image won’t do what you think you’re telling it to do.  I don’t let myself have that type of time much anymore because I have so much on my schedule.  Taking a day off to see what I could learn really helped me re-realize the value in playing and experimenting.  It’s something I think I need to make more time for.  For example, taking the time to learn how to do some things in Flash will really save me time when it comes to putting the games together.  Captivate is just so tedious and time-consuming, where Flash seems to be much faster.

I also realized the value of e-books.  I found out that ZSR has an online book completely devoted to Flash game programming (Macromedia Flash MX 2004 : Game Programming by Murray and Everett-Church).  This was far more useful than most tutorials for the basics of Flash (but quickly got too complicated for what I need to do).  After the Murray/Everett-Church book helped me get acquainted with Flash, the built-in help guides were the most useful resource I could find.  Once John got home from work I could ask about JavaScript and coding in general, which helped me with the bigger picture of what I was doing.

So, the tangibles for today are a number of experiments.  My first “working” Flash
game was running a “book” into a “master’s thesis,” and the “book” falls off the page.  By the end, I was able to make two versions of a rearranging game, where in the end the program “knows” if the topics or types of text are in the right order.   I also made a beginning sequence (extremely rough) for the rearranging game.  Now I just have to figure out how to put them all together.  I thought I might in Captivate, but after two hours of trying, I figure that’s not going to happen easily.

I also heard from Susan today about Boolean Slots, so I made several updates there.

New materials are on Library 2!

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