Blog


The App That I Never Finished at NAIT

I got the idea for a study aid application after meeting with NAIT's Academic Strategist. I had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and thought it would be a good idea to learn some good study habits to help me in my classes. I learned of a study technique called SQ3R which has been around since the 40's and I also learned about Bloom's Taxonomy which has been round since the 50's. SQ3R mostly focuses on reading comprehension and is a five-step process for reviewing chapters from textbooks. The second step, 'Q', is to write questions based on the topics covered in a chapter. Bloom's Taxonomy of knowledge is about classifying the level at which you understand a concept. Bloom recommended certain lines of questioning to help deepen students learning.

The goal of my application was to create an SQ3R walkthrough that would take user input and inject terms and concepts into question stems designed to make use of Bloom's research. Then in the later stages of the walkthrough the user would be given pop quizzes made from their store of questions. When I first came up with this app idea I had just finished an Introduction to Programming classes and really only knew how to make console apps in C#. But over the course of my education at NAIT I rehashed the idea in several other classes.

The first version of the app I built was called Study Buddy and used ASP.NET wich I learned in Introduction to Application Development. The app worked in browsers but I had madea lot of poor UI choices and found that the webforms were far too long and just made the studying process more complicated and time consuming then it had to be. I ended up being stumped when I tried to make a database that would allow for sections of a textbook to be nested inside of other sections. I found myself repeating code and didn't know how to break out of that trap because I still had a great deal to learn about DRY and SOLID principles.

The next attempt I made at the app came in an Advanced Communications class where we were asked to draft and present a project proposal. I changed the name of the idea to Studious and began researching education apps in the marketplace. I found plenty of flash card apps that allowed users to share study notes but no app that actually guided a user through a textbook or helped them to apply Bloom's Taxonomy to their own study questions. Unfortunately I alos learned that education apps for high school and university students only earned a sliver of the mobile app market. It was clear that even if I did follow through on the app that it would have a dismal future as a business.

In another class I was able to make a smaller version of the app in iOS7. This version was the most successful to date but in testing I soon found that typing study notes on a touch screen was uncomfortable and that holding a device in my hand while studying was incredibly distracting. Why would a user keep studying a long chapter of a textbook when Angry Birds was only a couple of touches away?

The latest version of the app today actually took a return to C# and the console. I was teaching Supplemental Learning classes at NAIT for students new to programming and had to come up with a project that the students could build upon over the course of a semester. Since string concatenation was one of the first topics they learned Studious was an obvious choice.

In the end I never actually completed my whole idea for the app, but I still managed to use the app as a way of studying the languages and platforms I was using in class. In a roundabout way failing to finish Studious actually helped me become a better student. If I hadn't attempted the same project from so many different angles I would never have gotten to experiment with so many different techniques for doing similar tasks. If I were ever to attempt Studious again I think I would choose to use Backbone.js and to release it as an open source project.

Version 1 - ASP.NET

Study Buddy 1.0

Project Proposal

Studious Market Gap

Version 2 - iOS7

Query - Create Question
Query - Update Question
Query - Update Question

Version 3 - C# Console

Query - Update Question

Keeping an Idea Journal

At the Alberta College of Art and Design I was lucky enough to take a course in sculpture taught by Dave Casey. Dave was the first person to ever teach me about creativity and what he taught me changed my attitude forever. I had grown up with the idea that creativity was an inborn talent that you either had or didn't have but Dave's attitude was that creativity is a skill that can be taught, learned, practiced, and developed. Much of what Dave taught about creativity came from Roger von Oech's book A Whack on the Side of the Head which described 10 mental locks that often prevent people from being creative. Another core idea of Dave's was that doing is better than thinking. He often told a story about two ceramics classes; one where students were taught endless theory, and another where students were just told to work with the clay non-stop. Those who worked the clay made better pots.

It was with the hopes of making better pots that I decided to keep a journal of every silly idea that popped into my head. My idea journal has notes, sketches, and clippings for art projects, mobile apps, short stories, life goals, and so on. The goal of the book isn't to fill the book with good ideas but just to fill it with ideas. If I have an idea I don't stop to wonder if it is a good idea or a bad one, I just grab a pen and jot it down. Since ideas can strike at any time I tend to keep the book on my person as much as possible, but even if I don't have it handy I'll go and find some other scrap of paper and just tape the note into my journal once I get home. The book itself is in rough shape and now needs a thick rubber band to hold it together, but over the past couple of years I have grown quite fond of the habit. Keeping an idea journal has increased the volume of ideas that I have, but more importantly it has helped me to identify recurring themes and changes in the way I think.

When I graduated from Guru Digital Arts College I was very much interested in art, illustration, design, and music. Over the next year you can see through my journal entries how my ideas started shifting toward more digital ambitions. First it was apps and websites, but eventually I started thinking about improving business processes and wanting to develop APIs. It was seeing how my ideas changed that convinced me to take my education a step further by enrolling at NAIT. I may not be an authority like Roger von Oech, and I'm not as experienced a teacher as Dave Casey, but if there is one thing I wish I could teach everybody, it would be to keep an idea journal and use it daily.

Idea Journal
Idea Journal
Idea Journal

Hand Made Colour Filters with Adobe Illustrator CS4

Start by using the Blob tool to draw out closed shapes on a layer separate from your source image. Once all the shapes are drawn Select All and use the colour palette to select a colour for your outlines. Using the Eye Dropper tool select colours from around the photo and build a colour palette. Select All then go to Object > Expand and expand both the fill and the stroke. Then use the Live Paint tool to start filling in the drawing using the colours we made earlier. Once finished colouring Object > Expand to expand our shapes again. Start a new layer for our filters. Copy all of the shapes from the previous layer onto the new one and use the Pathfinder tool (Add Shapes) to make one single shape to cover the entire drawing. The shape we see now is a compound shape and will behave differently than a basic shape so once again we use Object > Expand. Now that we have a shape to use over our drawing we can use the Gradient tool with magenta and cyan to create a simple hot/cool filter. Once you fill the filter's shape with colour use Blending Mode > Multiply and change the opacity let some of the original colours show through.