Interactive Academy, in partnership with the minds behind Inanimate Alice, is setting out to explore how education can be delivered on the digital frontier. How can a textbook be fun, engaging, and interactive while still providing the knowledge necessary for students to learn and grow? To this end, Interactive Academy is focusing on a highly interactive experience for middle school students that sparks interest in STEAM subjects. Combining this approach while leveraging lessons from the educators on the Inanimate Alice team, Interactive Academy aims to create a prototype for developers and educators that utilizes digital media to enhance educational experiences while also delivering a development journal that can also be used by said groups.
Our client relationship was one of the major strengths of this project. Despite the remote nature of development, we were able to be in near-constant communication with the Inanimate Alice Research Group to keep them abreast of progress and discuss educational aspects we were not subject-matter experts on. This strength appears to be reflective as our client explicitly expressed how impressed they were in working with them in this online environment; so much so that one of the educators is reevaluating how she will teach a class next semester based on our interactions during this project. Our discussions with our client lead to the team peeling away their shell to discover the kinds of learning objectives they wanted us to focus on while also attempting to match the tone and voice of their existing IP. Being able to successfully weave in as many of these learning objects as possible while also wrapping it in a narrative that ties into previous Inanimate Alice episodes was a big win for us as a team as well as our client.
Playtesting with our target demographic of middle-schoolers as much as we were able to do this semester was a major win (and all thanks to John Balash for his work in that front). We were able to get much-needed feedback from these playtesters and iterate on usability accordingly. While some of our designs were clearly better on paper than in execution, being able to identify where we went wrong and how was an aspect the team did very well.
However, not everything was positive and easy. The first couple of weeks into the semester was a rocky start to say the least. Many of us have not worked together before and were learning about each other’s work habits as well as personally. Coupled with working remotely, this led to everyone working independently as if siloed during this time. With some effort and active attention paid to the matter, we were able to not only come together and work in the interdisciplinary style which we should have from the start, but also come together as people and open up to each other on numerous occasions. In the end, our time management and work distribution hummed with very few conflicts or blocks.
Being able to communicate our goals and intentions to others outside of the project was also something we could have done a bit better. With so many variables involved such as educator’s learning objectives, usage of the Inanimate Alice intellectual property, and overarching goal of sparking interest in STEAM subjects rather than teaching them, there were a lot of ingredients to our project that may not have been expressed properly in talks or presentations. While we ended up being able to distill the core of our project in our project description, those who were unaware of Inanimate Alice still had a disadvantage in gaining the full picture for our project. Perhaps giving more background or showcasing their work a bit more as examples of our “starting point” would have been beneficial.
Once we locked in our 2D design, there were both pros and cons to this decision. While it arguably aided the team in terms of scope, it could also be argued that it restricted us in terms of design. Coming to grips with the repercussions of this decision was something we learned in the long-term. While members of the team do not necessarily regret the choice that was made, perhaps if the aforementioned rocky start went differently our prototyping and concept design phase could have produced something even better.
On top of all of the above lessons learned, there were quite a few professional ones we took away from this project. For many of us, for instance, this was our first foray into the world of educational technology, educational games, or working with educators in this way. For a few of us, our eyes were open to the process as well as the possibilities of the field. While Interactive Academy’s semester might be over, our project will live on with the Inanimate Alice team. They have already used footage from our experience in grant proposals, and plan to use the build for future fundraising. They see our experience as a case study in one method in which the Inanimate Alice series can branch-off and potentially evolve into. In addition, to our build, code-based, design documents, and art assets, the team will also be delivering a development journal which not only outlines what we did to create each chapter of content but also a deeper dive into why and how we chose the decisions we did.