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This major project will be aimed at developing an e-learning application in conjunction with a local primary school in order to aid the teaching of the solar system to children in the age range 9 - 10 years.
The project idea initiated after studying Virtual Environments at University and developing an interest into the technology. The interest led me to conduct additional research into the potential uses for virtual reality systems and how they could be used in the modern world. Today there are a wide range of e-learning applications used to teach employees and students alike, after using many such applications, I identified the potential for such an application to be improved by using a Virtual Reality to immerse the user in to the learning environment. The implementation of a Virtual Learning Environment could be particularly useful in teaching younger children because they have been found to have short attention spans. After approaching a head teacher at a local primary school through a close contact of mine who teaches there the head mistress showed a great deal of interest in the project and asked if I could meet with her to discuss the requirements for teaching.
This project will utilise my understanding of Multimedia Computing to date and also require development of new skills and understandings. The use of software packages such as the Adobe Creative suite will be necessary to create the major part of the system. The application will largely be created in Adobe Flash; however this will incorporate other objects that will require 3D modelling and Graphic design skills to create. The skills learned from the Advanced Computer Graphics and Virtual Environments module at University will be paramount in creating the majority of the project.
The product of this project will be intended to be used by teachers and children in year 5 aged 9-10 years old at Laygate primary school. The intention is that the children will be able to use the application to learn about the solar system. They will be able to interact with the planets in the solar system and will be able to find out more information about the solar system in line with the teaching curriculum.
The teachers at the school will be the clients for the application and it is them that I will be presenting with the application for their analyses of its usability in a teaching environment.
2. Research and Investigation
This section will provide a background into the concerned topic areas and present an understanding of what will be needed in order to develop the requirements and design the application.
To start the research this section will being by explaining what an e-learning application is and where and why it is commonly used.
The research will then look at learning theories that can be utilised when developing the learning environment in order to deliver the best results. There are two main learning theories that have been identified as important for creating this application, Constructivist learning theory and problem based learning.
Research into current learning systems and design for children will also be conducted. This is to look at similar applications and identify trends in design for children. Interaction for children is also looked at and will provide a good understanding of what is required when developing an application to be used by a child.
2.1 What is e-learning?
E-Learning is a term used to describe applications used for electronic learning. It can be used to implement various learning techniques through developing a learning environment in which the user is immersed.
E-learning applications can be developed by powerful development such as the Adobe Creative Suite and Macromedia Director. These software packages offer the developer the ability to create a vastly flexible environment. This flexibility offers the ability to develop an E-learning environment which can utilise almost any design philosophy and learning theory we want to use.
E-learning provides the opportunity to implement a constructivist learning environment through student centred interactive learning. (Dongsong Zhang, 2004). A constructivist learning environment can be implemented by using these tool and creating an environment that puts the user at the centre of attention, the whole application is designed to meet their needs and
2.2 Learning Theory
There are different methods of delivering a learning environment which can be adapted to both electronic and 'real world' learning. This section will look at popular theories and identify the best use for developing the learning environment of the application.
Learning theories have been developed to look at unconventional methods of teaching. It is these unconventional methods that will be examined for the possible benefits. These ideas can then be used in designing the application which will provide an improved learning environment.
2.2.1 Constructivist Learning Theory
The constructivist learning theory assumes that the learner individually and socially constructs their own knowledge and is allowed to develop their own understanding of the subject area (George E. Hein, 19991). Students learning in a constructivist environment would be encouraged to take ownership of their own learning and draw upon a range of existing knowledge and experiences and apply these to solve the problem (Maureen Tam, 2000).
By contrast, in objectivist learning theories the process of learning is more focused upon transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student. Objectivist theories believe fundamentally that knowledge and truth exist outside of the learners mind, and they can be taught this through instruction and replication of its content and structure in the learners thinking (Mahnaz Moallem, 2001).
Constructivist classrooms according to (Brooks and Brooks, 1993) utilize five main principles in the teaching process;
Teachers seek and value their student's points of view.
Classroom activities challenge their student's suppositions.
Teachers pose problems of emerging relevance.
Teachers build lessons around primary concepts.
Teachers build lessons around primary concepts and big ideas.
We can draw from these criteria for constructivist learning that the engagement of the student is at the centre of learning. In order to create a successful constructivist learning environment the teacher must constantly adapt the lesson in relation to the questions and ideas being put forward. The student's participation in the lesson is at the heart of developing a constructivist teaching environment and they must be encouraged to develop their own understanding through engagement in activities and participation in the learning.
2.2.2 Problem Based Learning
Problem based learning provides a vehicle for putting into place constructivist learning theories when developing a learning environment. In Savery and Duffys terms, "Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned." (Savery and Duffy, 2001). Presenting the learner with problems during the learning process allows the learner to solve the problem for themselves and in turn the learner constructs their own understanding of the subject area and is able to apply the knowledge they have learned to solve future problems.
Problem based learning was developed as a general model in the early 1970's within medical schools. The model was used to educate medical students who would aim to solve patient's problems through matching facts with knowledge, or where the knowledge was lacking they would draw upon library resources and information form consultants to construct their own analyses of the patient's illness. (Savery and Duffy, 2001).
Problem based learning however, assumes that learners already have general knowledge and the intuition to seek out knowledge in order to support the solution of problems they are presented with. When using the PBL method to educate younger children it is important to consider their lack of knowledge and experience which will further obstruct their abilities to solve the problem.
Where problem based learning is implemented in the classroom, teachers rely less on text books and use them rather more as a source of reliable information rather than to simply repeat information to students. Instead the teacher promotes active learning and students talk with each other to develop their own creativity and independence, providing help and direction as necessary but not directly. The students are encouraged to "read and write research and analyze and think and calculate." (Delisle, 1997).
The teacher's role in problem based learning is to be the creator of problems. The teacher must decide when problem based learning would be useful and when it should be used. The teachers create problems for the students to solve and aims to educate the students in line with the teaching curriculum.
2.3 Interaction for Children
When developing an application we need to consider how the user will interact with it. We all know how frustrating it can be to try and use an application when the interface is counter intuitive and poorly laid out. It is also important that we design the application with children in mind rather than designing with traditional intuition that is often used for applications used by adults.
Designing an application for children must appeal to the child and retain their attention. The attention of a child is retained by their appeal toward an interactive colour scheme. (Clemente, 2009.) Clemente also states that children are stimulated by bright colours, vector graphics and bold drawings. This design philosophy can also be seen repeated on many children's websites and applications and can further be seen in advertising and branding aimed at children
The interface of the application must also be considered when designing for the young person. Children in the age range 9 - 12 prefer point and click operation over drag and drop. (Inkpen, 2001.) This is an important factor to be considered in designing the application as the intended audience lies in the 9 - 12 age range.
Compared to adults, children interact with technology mostly in relation to two activities; education and play. (Markopoulos and Bekker, 2003.) We can say that a task orientated environment is no seen as play for the children as they are being required to do something. An environment where the child is doing what they want based upon what is stimulating them is seen as play for the child. Creating an environment where the child us not aware that they are completing certain tasks, and instead thinks they are playing will result in the child being more engaged in the learning environment. Such an approach could be used to deliver the intended constructivist learning environment intended by this application.
As we have seen in current learning systems there is a tendency towards bright stimulating colours and vector graphics in design for children. We can also see this design philosophy repeated with popular children's websites.
CBBC's website (as shown below) directly uses these design philosophies; it uses simple vector graphics, bright colours and un-uniformed layout. This design immediately catches the user's attention which makes you want to look more. The website also uses audio and video effects alongside animations to grab attention. There is an audio track playing in the background and each action the user does with the mouse stimulates an audio response, there is also a video right in the centre of the screen which attention it immediately drawn to when loading the page. This website appears to be set up for the entertainment of children with little focus on education.
(CBBC website, 2010).
Whilst the National Geographic's kid's website also uses a similar design (as shown below) it does not immediately grab the user's attention as being a fun entertainment based website. The design is more uniform, it uses straight edges with each section clear and simple. Video and audio are still present and there is some audio feedback when clicking certain links. Bright colours are still used throughout the website and there are some fun looking graphics to keep the user entertained but the overall focus of this website appears to be educational.nationalgeographic.png
(National Geographic Kids website, 2010).
2.4 Current learning systems
At the local primary school that the application is being developed for there is currently no interactive e-learning systems. Traditional learning methods are used, usually the teacher will explain to the class a particular topic and the children will do a paper based exercise afterwards to reinforce their knowledge and test what they have learned. The aim of this application is to provide an interactive learning environment for the children so it is important to consider other similar applications that are available.
This section will look at some of the current learning systems in my chosen topic and will provide an analysis of the learning environments, design and interactivity for each system.
BBC bite size key stage 2 revision online has an e-learning application for teaching the solar system. However after playing this game it seems rather simple and does not provide a constructivist learning environment to engage the learner.
(BBC Bitesize Revision, 2010).
In this screen shot we can see the simple interface, designed using bright colours and simple fun graphics. However the design seems a little too simple and not very stimulating. I also found it difficult to see the point of some parts of the application until moving on much further, it would be better to see instructions before the user starts a particular section. There is also a lack of feedback which does not provide an engaging interactive environment.
E-Learning for kids, provides a similar application which aims to teach children about the solar system. However this follows a simple narrator path where the children are presented with information and are then tested on it later. This method does not provide a constructivist learning environment as it is largely similar to the children reading from a sheet of paper or listening to somebody talk.
3. Developing the Requirements
This section will be used to pull together the research and produce requirements that the system must meet. These requirements will outline what is necessary for the application to fulfil its purpose and enable the design and interaction to be suited to the intended audience.
In order to do build the application correctly, this section will produce requirements that the application must meet relating to learning theory, interaction for children and teaching requirements (syllabus).
The application must also be compatible with the hardware used in the school, in order to achieve this I will draw up a list of requirements based up on what the school has available to them. I will then test the application to ensure it can run as intended with the schools hardware.
3.1 Client Requirements
3.1.1 Teaching Requirements
The client for the E-Learning application has set out a number or requirements in relation to the teaching curriculum that need to be included. To comply with these requirements the application must aim to educate the following;
- All planet names and location in order from the Sun.
- Size of the planets in terms of which planets are smallest and largest and in relation to the Earth.
- Composition of each planet, is it mainly gas, rock or liquid.
- How many moons a planet has, if any.
- How long a planet takes to orbit the Sun.
- Planet Earth should be in more detail and include more figures and facts relating to its diameter composition and orbit.
- The Earth moon should be included in more detail and incorporate the Phases of the moon.
- A brief history of human space knowledge and detailing the first landing on the moon.
These are minimum requirements as set out in the teaching curriculum, however they are not exhaustive and the teacher has stated I am free to add in any other information that might be of use to the children without creating an information overload.
3.1.2 Hardware compatibility
At the school the client uses a laptop computer running Windows XP; this laptop is then connected to an interactive white board and projector.
The application will be designed to run smoothly on a computer or laptop with the minimum specification of;
Intel Pentium 2.0GHz+ processor.
512 MB RAM.
< 1GB hard disc space.
Integrated video card with at least 64MB of RAM available.
Windows XP or newer operating system.
No greater than 1024 x 768 resolution.
3.2 Functional Requirements
The system must perform the following functional requirements in order to provide simple and intuitive interactive interface.
Colourful and appealing interface.
This is necessary to get the users interested in using the application
Linear navigational path, with ability to pause and/or exit the application at any time.
4. Application Design
This section will outline the important factors which need to be considered when developing the application. It will draw on information from research and requirements section and provide the foundations for developing the application.
4.1 Navigation Overview
To keep a simple navigational path as outlined by the requirements the application will follow a linear navigational path from start to finish. The linear navigation will allow the delivery of the constructivist learning environment focussing the children's attention on learning and being a part of the process. The user will be able to re-do each part of the application in case they missed it the first time.
At any time during the application the user will be able to pause the application and will also be able return to the home page screen or directly exit the application. This functionality will be provided via an auto-hiding menu in the top of the screen which will only appear when the user moves the cursor to the top. This method allows for the functionality to be present but not to interfere with the learning environment. This navigational method is present true for all screens in the application bar the home page screen which has the same navigation layout but it does not auto hide. This helps to show the user where the buttons will be and should make it easier for them to navigate later.
The application will consist of the following main screens;
Solar System Overview and interaction
Questions on solar system layout
Navigation path layout - See Appendix.
4.1.2 Splash Design
This section of the application is designed to be introductory to the application and is non interactive. The splash screen will briefly showcase the application with a continuous animation, after the animation has completed once the user can begin the application by clicking a button. If they do not click the animation will loop.
Splash designs - See Appendix
4.1.3 Home Page Design
The home page will be simplistic in design; its main function is to provide the user with information about what is going to happen once they begin the journey the application will take them on. It will use fun and energetic styling to grab and keep the attention of the young user.
There will be three button choices on this screen;
Start Journey - This button will lead the user to the first in a series of pages which will provide interaction with the solar system.
Volume - This button will allow the volume of the application to be altered.
Exit - This button will close the application.
The user will be presented with information on this screen through an animation, after this animation has completed they will be asked if they are ready to begin their mission to the solar system. The user will then have the option to replay the animation or begin the journey.
An ambient audio track will play in the background and will add to the feeling of being in space.
Home Page Design - See Appendix
4.1.4 Solar system overview
This section of the application will be an interactive animated sequence. The animation will consist of all of the planets orbiting the sun.
When the user moves over a planet the animation will pause whilst a popup box appears and provides information about the planet. Each planet will have brief information as set out in the teaching requirements relating to the syllabus which the children have to learn.
The user will be able to click the planet and this will take them to a specific page for that planet which contains more detailed information. A simple back button will then take the user back to the solar system overview where they can continue to interact with the rest of the solar system.
When the user has finished interacting with all of the planets they can then click next in order to continue to the question section.
Solar System Overview Design - See Appendix
4.1.5 Solar system questions
The question section will provide simple testing for the information provided in the previous section. The user will be required to choose a planet based upon questions about its specific details.
The user will choose each planet by clicking and dragging the planet into the blank spot.