Tuesday, 15 March 2011

PPP - Scenario with timeline

Project background

Lead SME’s comment, “I wish we had as much interaction in the Secondary product as we do in the Primary one”.

The Primary Pedagogy Pack (3P) was the successful younger sister product to the Secondary Pedagogy Pack (2P). Both required extracting and modifying volumes of legacy printed materials (the ‘Ped Pack’) into cohesive eLearning and web-based materials for teachers graded by OFSTED as Satisfactory where their target is Good. The content combined basic pedagogy with phase-specific methods of enhancing their planning and teaching including modules on group work, questioning technique, and individual tuition.

Vaishali owned the Secondary product while I owned the Primary, which was to follow the Secondary design and themes. This required my input to the Secondary product to defend the Primary range and some tenacity to inject new interactions with which to lift the Primary product to better suit its audience.

Story telling

The product risked presenting all of its eLearning as simple text-and-graphic after the SMEs rejected almost any hint of interaction, simulation, or activity at initial and subsequent scoping meetings. Something needed done to win back their confidence after we'd shocked them into their bunkers with the word, "game".

I looked to story telling and to sequencing information as cartoons do. 'Cartoon', I found quickly, is a dirty word among the more mature eLearning professionals so Vaishali, Mark, and I agreed to term my cartoons as 'illustrations' - and sequences of 'illustrations' as 'animations'. We made great mileage out of this in-joke :)

In any case, to be sure Kathryn and SMEs would buy in to the strategy I mocked up some PowerPoint slides to convey the idea of sequencing characters and their dialogue; changing 'tell'-mode explanations into more engaging and provocative conversations between teachers with whom learners could empathise.

Evolution of the scenario screen where selecting a speech bubble prompts the nest bubble or change of scene, etc.

The concept grew and was developed by Ian Parkins, one of our developers who picked up on my plan to give learners the ability to easily navigate through the scenarios with a timeline and added, "we could add a scrubber". You could have heard a pin-drop if it wasn't for me getting very excited and interrogating the feasibility with Ian, who exchanged pained expressions of apology with the lead developer on the project, Chris Burgess.

Early scenario timeline using tabs as navigation for review and visualisation of the scope of the screen.

The timeline scrubber just added to the convenience of the timeline, which was intended in my mind to offer the learner what most carousels do, only turbo-charged:

  • Depth of content in a restricted screen real estate

  • Visualisation of the scope of the interaction - how much is coming

  • An alternative navigation to more usual carousel direction arrow controls

  • A breadcrumb

  • A navigation device for review / 'instant replay'

  • And in the case of the scrubber and cartoon - er, building animation - a rapid 'play' device that might be useful if the sequences are planned to be seen quickly to build frame by frame into a animated sequence

Ian quickly threw in a low fidelity Flash prototype of the scrubber device. It was genius in my eyes, and opened a whole can of worms about how much content should be put in a single screen!

Is a screen a discrete learning container or a part of a sequence of screens that form an outcome? Is a screen with a carousel or 'more' click-to-reveals not just a way to put more content in a screen than can fit at once to maintain its relevance within the screen before implying completion of an outcome by selecting, 'Next'?

My argument was that a screen could now be as deep as one wanted as there was the scrubber and timeline to navigate by - on-hover tooltips or other label devices signifying what's where, just like a sub-menu: that multi-media and learning strategies could be combined almost infinitely offering a voyage of discovery through a topic without the false sense of clumping information that oughtn't or ought to be clumped. Perhaps I was a little naive.

Anyway, it seemed each new 'page' or 'scene' in the scenario would count as a single screen's development time. (The argument was never fully closed, by the way).

The upshot was that the scenarios could be of any length but once Mark had scoped out how many thumbnails (acting at visual navigation points) could fit across a screen this pretty much limited their march into infinity.

Using speech bubble 'stubs' as primary navigation, which initiated dialogue or media slides / scenes, breadcrumbed by the secondary navigation in the thumbnails (PowerPoint P3 prototype so thumbnails don't 'develop' here.)

Now we had:
  • The story / scenario strategy

  • The rescripting of texts into dialogues

  • The primary navigation device (speech bubble stubs)

  • The secondary navigation device in the timeline thumbnails

  • A breadcrumb (highlighted thumbnails)

  • Teaser text for each scene as a roll-over tooltip on hovering over each thumbnail

  • An automated event handler to initiate further activity hints on the screen (such as the learning log hint).

All that was missing was the 'scrubber' / slide control. Where'd it gone? Well, I'd been on leave and during my time away there was no one to argue for it except Ian and he was out-gunned by schedule and sceptics alike. Shame. I missed the sucker - but I still have great designs on it in the future!

Here's a video of how the scenario-with-timeline eventually looked.

The scenario with timeline presenting a dialogic story and completing with the automated expansion of the learning log activity hint.

Of course, it didn't stop there. It developed further to tell stories that had been presented as text-based dialogues. Here, the magnet characters came to the fore to allow quite abstract series of scenes unfold to illustrate otherwise bland scenarios.

Developing the story telling capability (cartoon?)


The scenario with timeline is a development of the click-to-reveal or carousel screen type that enhances usability and the learners' access to its information at their control, decreasing their need to remember, enabling review, and potentially delivering powerful formative interactions, media, and summative assessment. Their's great potential here. It demands exploring further - and it demands the scrubber! (Sorry guys - still banging on that drum :)

Find the products at:

Course details

Course materials Crown Copyright 2010, produced by The National Strategies for the Department for Education.
Objective: To improve 'satisfactory' Secondary and Primary teachers' pedagogical practice to 'good' or better.

Production team

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