Assignment 5: Artifact Redesign (Game Play & Interaction)
Due Date: Thursday, April 13, 2006
Well, Chatham has finally graduated so Paula is back for one final engagement to demonstrate our redesign of Student Central. Paula continues to represent the wide spectrum of backgrounds, needs and desires of the student population.
Here is a list of ideas we came up with to enable new forms of game-play and interaction within Student Central. Each idea is followed by whether or not we decided to pursue it, defer it for a later assignment, or reject it, and the reason why.
Our Selected Idea
For Assignment 5, we were given the task of redesigning our artifact to enable new forms of interaction / game play. After brainstorming quite a few ideas, it was clear that none of the best ones involved "game play" but several of them did support new forms of interaction. Our chosen idea is actually two-part. The first is to make virtually everything within SC interactive and clickable. The second is to build into SC a collaborative workspace.
During our Assignment 2 interviews, one recurring response was that SC was poorly designed and not user-friendly at all. It did not provide the students with the full information that they desired and the info it did provide was formatted neither well nor consistently. It is for this reason that we have, in past assignments, suggested that the entire user-interface of SC should be redesigned with clarity, consistency, and ease of use in mind, with heavy use of drag-and-drop elements--for adding classes to course-carts, ordering course-carts within TARA, etc (this would be an ideal use for AJAX, as described and demonstrated in class!) The first part of our redesign for Assignment 5 is a continuation of this idea: "Everything should be interactive". What we envision is turning SC into a very information-rich tool. Virtually everything within SC would be clickable and give the student more information. For example, just as is the case today, a student could retrieve his or her schedule within SC, however clicking on any of the courses would retrieve another page with additional information about the course: not only day and time, but also links to new pages with more course information, instructor's information, building information, etc.
Clicking on the course information link will reveal another page with links to past and present course homepages, syllabi, show a list of prerequisites, and, if the student is presently enrolled, a course roster of classmates (and these would be tied into the social-networking tool introduced in Assignment 4!), etc. Similarly, clicking on the instructor's name would reveal a page with his or her information: photo, educational background, research interests, courses taught in the past (which are themselves course-links as described above), student evaluation averages from past courses, and any other information useful both to students currently enrolled in the instructor's courses as well as those that are comparing instructors between course sections.
The building information links would be very useful to new students. It could be used to build maps of the student's courses and meetings over the course of the day. Information about each building could also be provided including seating style per classroom, whether the building is air-conditioned, and whether the building is handicap-accessible.
The second part of our idea is potentially the most exciting! We have decided that SC could be an ideal place to build a collaborative workspace. This active webspace would of course tie into the social networking functionality introduced in Assignment 4 and would extend it. By providing an adaptable, highly-customizable, framework, each student could mold this space into exactly the form that suits his or her needs. Per-user and per-area access control lists would enable this space to be used as a secure file transfer mechanism, an archive for academic files and papers, a space for working on group projects (with a form of concurrent versioning control), group calendaring and scheduling, and other academic needs, but would also be flexible enough that it could provide a very user-friendly interface to build public spaces such as the student's primary webpage, provide blog functionality, etc. Other technically possible features we think this space should include are a shared-whiteboard java client, integration with the social-network lists introduced in Assignment 4, and of course, integration with the campus calendar.
It should be clear from this description that this tool, once properly implemented, could very easily be used by ITS administrators to provide all of the functionality that is currently provided by blackboard.unc.edu, but in a friendly and more customizable form, and it is expected that blackboard would be eliminated once this collaborative workspace functionality is implemented.
Paula is spending the summer in Chapel Hill. She'd like to go home for the summer but needs to make extra money for the fall. Besides, she's heard from her friends that UNC during the summer months, while academically intense, has a much more small-college flavor than it does during the regular semesters. She hopes it will be more like some of the smaller colleges she passed up to attend UNC.
She plans to live on-campus, and logs onto SC to renew her housing contract. Unfortunately has to change dorms and doesn't know anyone she'll be sharing her new suite with. No problem, SC has automatically added her new roommate and new suitemates to her social networks so they can get acquainted. While she's not looking forward to moving, she reads her new suitemates' blogs and is comforted by the fact that one of her new suitemates shares her love of volleyball and another is going to be in one of her elective classes this summer. She quickly drops each of them a note introducing herself and leaving her email address and cell phone number.
While she's logged into SC, she notices that the biology course she previously registered for, Bio 104, now has an instructor. Previously only "staff" had been listed, but now she sees that professor Albert Harris will be teaching it. She clicks on his name and sees the photo of a middle-aged man. He looks familiar; perhaps she's passed him in the halls of Wilson Hall before? She notices that he attended Swarthmore and Yale and is an embryologist. Very interesting. She goes back and clicks on her section of Bio 104 to see what information is available. The syllabus from last semester is available and the course looks interesting, but also very challenging. The text is A Photographic Atlas of Developmental Biology, by Shirley Wright, and the course is taught in 104 Peabody Hall. Paula's never had a course in Peabody before... she clicks on the link and Peabody is instantly highlighted on a campus map and sees that room 104 seats 28 students. Wow! Her introductory biology courses had hundreds of students. Paula is more convinced than ever that staying at UNC for the summer was the right choice for her!
Imagine that going to college is a game. You move your pawn along the bricked paths of the campus board, and, in the process, end up drinking many pitchers of beer, meeting many interesting people, having lots of fun, occasionally going to class, and, alas, learning a few things as well, until one day you cross the finish line and earn your diploma. Just like a game, there are all kinds of rules, regulations, codes, and well-meaning suggestions. Just like a game, there is competition among students for both resources (classes, instructors, dorms, etc.) and prizes. Just like a game, there are perks. And just like a game, there are many strategies and almost as many ways to play the game of college as there are students. StudentCentral (SC) is one of the main components of the college game, almost like a console that students use to participate in the game and determine their next move. In redesigning SC for new forms of game-play, our goal was two-fold:
For the first part, game-play takes the form of greatly expanded interactivity within SC, such that users are provided with not only more information choices, but the information is current and dynamic. For example, during registration periods, any field within a course search or registration page can be clicked for up-to-date information about that field. The field can be a subject, a course or section number, a building or classroom, the instructor or TA’s name, etc. For example, while many students just pass over four-letter subject types (ISCI) they are not familiar with, they may be much more likely to take a class in something unfamiliar if they can just click on it and quickly see a brief description of the topic, rendered dynamically by AJAX. Clicking on a building or classroom may show the student a color-coded, interactive map of the class within the building within campus, perhaps in relation to other buildings pertinent to the student, or pointing out features of the building like elevators, wheel-chair access, A/V equipment, etc. Clicking on instructor names may provide both canned information about the instructor (CV, etc.) and also feedback and sample comments provided by students from previous classes that the instructor has taught.
While SC has made great strides during the last few years, it is still not a very intelligent application—it still does not reliably provide students with the information they need to be better gamers—or students. Whether it’s picking instructors, classes, sections, locations, or even subjects, many students just roll the dice and take a chance. Expanding the information provided to students within SC in this regard would serve to enhance their gaming experience, and improve their chances of academic and scholastic success by allowing them to make better decisions. Such improvements would help turn SC from a game of Pong, at best, and Russian roulette, at worst, to something far more intelligent, meaningful and interactive that serves to enhance the students’ lives and academic careers.
While such added functionality may serve to greatly enhance students’ collegiate lives, it may also have some drawbacks. Lack of information may level the playing field for subjects, classes and instructors that may otherwise not have a chance of attracting students beyond those who need a particular course as a prerequisite. Currently, students pick instructors or recital sections either randomly, or based on schedule alone, since there is rarely any more information available. This way, students have as much a chance of getting a great instructor or TA as they do a less than stellar one, and conversely, less than stellar instructors have as much chance as the great instructors of having their classes filled to capacity. Making dynamic information available to students (the information could come from the end-of-course evaluation forms) may have adverse effects on enrollment with students filling popular instructors’ classes, but not willing to take a chance with those who don’t receive favorable reviews. But just as recommendation agents can be valuable tools, we think the benefits of making this information available would outweigh any negative impact, and may in fact, eventually improve the quality of instruction across the board, with more instructors striving to meet student needs.
The second part of our game-play redesign has to do with collaboration and interactivity between players, or students. Just as we felt that some of the conversational tools of MMPRPG’s provided gamers with a more socially interactive experience, we wanted to allow for both conversation and interaction within SC to allow students to not only collaborate with each other, but to use the collaborative space as a workspace that they could share with others. Currently, all students have a web space by default based on their ONYEN (www.unc.edu/~[onyen]) but most students don’t use this, and the web space does not allow for any of the forms of communications of mediums of Web 2.0 such as blogging or wiki’ing, or interactivity—it is old-fashioned web space to which users must upload static content. We wanted to modernize the personal web space of each student and bring it up to the Web 2.0 standard, or at least to this century, by allowing much greater flexibility in not only content, but medium and access.
The web space we envisioned is highly customizable to fit the changing needs of each student, and is intuitive and easy to use, to allow even novices to make use of the technology. This space can serve as a personal page (like we designed in Assignment 4) but also serve as a blog, a wiki, a file repository with both public and private areas, and a collaborative tool with whiteboard, discussion and chat capability. Users can create and delete various collaborative sections, and grant or deny access to space based on need, class, project, etc.
For example, a student may use this space to post his/her persona page, with links to friends pages, use it as a blog, and also post both a public and private calendar so that others (even parents) can see when the student is available to meet, etc. Additionally, students can form ad-hoc groups and work on a wiki-like interface on group projects where each student builds on the content. If such a function existed, we could have used it for this project and collaborated on not only building the content of the various pieces of the assignment, but also in scheduling our meetings, discussion of various proposed ideas, etc. all through a single interface. Carried one step further, the functionality could be used in lieu of BlackBoard since instructors can setup the same type of collaborative space for a class or section.
Timely and accurate information is paramount to any venture. Going to college is no exception—students require a wide variety of information to not only be successful, but to have an enjoyable college experience. Our gaming/interaction redesigns of SC would allow students to be more successful by giving them the information they need, when they need it, and by giving them their own customizable web space which they could use for a variety of functions to include blogging, wikiing, persona pages, document storage, calendar and collaborative space. Let the games begin :-)