Goals, audience, context, content
As I left off in last week’s thesis group meeting, my thesis audience, context and content were all too broad and not clearly defined. I needed to narrow down at least one of those categories (preferably two) in order to move forward and begin listing features that my Contextus (still a working title) app would require. For this to happen, I needed to step back and remind myself of the high-level goals I originally stated as well as list some new goals of mine. In fact, I sketched a quick diagram outlining my thesis structure:
Looking at my purpose statement from January, in terms of clarity and relevance, it feels like it was written a year ago compared to my revised pitch. I feel I’m finally able to better articulate my goals and purpose as well as get feedback from classmates and faculty to make this project more special and unique. Its been made clear to me that I need to stop evolving the big ideas and goals and instead focus on more specific ideas and actions that work in service of those high-level goals. Without further ado, my (hopefully) final list of goals for thesis:
- Allow people to become better informed and more engaged citizens.
- Make learning geography and all it encompasses more interesting, more fun and more intuitive.
- Combine the functionality of Google Maps and Wikipedia in order to bridge the gap between text-based and visual-based learning.
- Teach basic geographic concepts of juxtaposition, correlation, scale, etc. by showing the connections between subject, place and time (what, where and when).
- Demonstrate that geography isn’t just points on a map, it encompasses history, politics, economics, demographics, etc.
- Give people the tools to find answers for themselves, thereby creating a more active role for learning.
- Create a framework of presenting information to help people retain knowledge better.
- Present geography as an evolving, often unresolved ‘soft science’ that can be subjective and open to interpretation.
I then listed out audience attributes whether it was demographics (young—old) or psychographics (academic—instinctual) as opposites on a spectrum. While I believe that my audience is generally educated, curious and visual, I realize that keeping this category relatively broad should not have a negative impact on developing this product. However, I will most likely whittle these options down a little further as I start designing the features and UI of Contextus.
Context was a difficult category to narrow down. Should it be more specific in a physical context (home, office, an event, etc.) or in a functional context (browsing, researching, casual learning, etc.)? The beauty of making an iPad app as my advisor Shawn pointed out is that, in the physical sense, it is context-agnostic. An iPad works just as well in bed at home as it does on the subway or the office. Functionally, Contextus is all about learning geography in the broad sense of the term.
Content proved to be equally difficult to better define. Ideally, it should be populated with any subject that has a geo-spatial element to it—a subject that can be associated with a particular (or more than one) place and time. While this may eliminate particle physics from my thesis, it still includes an overwhelming amount of subjects which can be visualized on a map or globe. By treating geography as a soft science that often introduces new, radical concepts (Guns, Germs and Steel and Freakonomics are two examples that come to mind), the content can be introduced as puzzle pieces for the users to assemble, analyze and develop theories of why something happened or didn’t happen.
The user interface will play a big role not only in how people would navigate through the content but in showing how the content is organized and classified. My hope is that the act of using the UI will be a learning experience in itself. The data cube model can illustrate that the content can be defined as informationally spatial—organized by time, place or subject. By their very nature, time and place can be organized in logical manners (chronologically and spatially); its the subjects that will require much more thought to as effectively and will most likely need to be organized in a case-by-case manner. By treating the information itself as a place one can navigate to, people can hopefully start to see relationships and patterns that are integral to geography (as well as information science).
In conjunction in determining audience, context, content and basic UI principles, first I listed the drawbacks of current learning tools and how they’re insufficient…
- out of geo-spatial context
…to which I then listed the benefits adjacent to my thesis…
- can view spatial relationships
- can view people’s relationship with their physical environment (and vice-versa)
- explains behavior
- gives insight into history
- framework for studying human activity
- ties disparate subjects together
- its the visual representation and language of geography
- conveys abstract or complex theories
- can be updated/adapted/customized
- its a tool, active in nature when one uses it in search of an answer
- can be open-ended: no one, direct path to an answer
- can be fun
- can have multiple outcomes
- they’re social by nature
- they’re dynamic in execution
- provide incentives to achieve goals
- skills and knowledge acquired build on top of one another
Although Contextus is not a game per se, I would like it to be an entertaining way to learn. As much as I want to refrain from using the term gamification, it does open up some interesting possibilities. However, I don’t plan to address those possibilities in great detail as time is running out and that is an entire research path I have not explored.
Lastly, I listed some analogies to help guide the functionality, interface, content strategy and visual design of Contextus:
Next steps: report on the insights gained from Prototype 2 and start developing use cases, features and detailed UI for Contextus. I will make sure to compare every action and design decision I make from this point to the goals that I set for my thesis.