Spectracular Project


As we begin our work on the Spectracular! paper card game and mobile app organic chemistry learning and assessment project, we’ve outlined the first phase of work, including a description of all the deliverables we’re going to achieve with the first five months of funding raised through the Indiegogo campaign.  The major categories of work and deliverables are as follows:

  • Paper Card Game
  • Mobile App Prototype
  • Web System Dashboards Prototype
  • Interactive Explanatory Animations (IEAs)
  • Learning and Assessment Systems Design
  • Research Implementation Plan
  • Development-Ready Design Documentation Package

We’ll work through each of these categories in order, explaining the types of deliverables to expect during this phase of the project, as well as a brief explanation about why we’re working on these sets of deliverables.

Paper Card Game

To improve the handmade prototype card game initially designed and used in the classroom by Dr. Ferguson, we’re upgrading the design of the card graphics and size for ergonomic fit as well as scalability and extensibility for sharing with other institutions.  Basically we’re going to make a base card set that is commercially printable, with a viable and cost-effective number of cards in the initial deck, with an eye for expansion packs containing a set number of what is essentially an infinite number of structure cards.  We’re also going to polish, clarify, and expand the game documentation delivered along with the base card set, including instructions for implementation (teacher guides), and rules of gameplay.

We’re designing a data system for card contents variable values to help us streamline the process of building QR codes to embed on each paper card.  Every card will have a unique QR code.  The variable value data to be included in the QR codes (for processing in the mobile app) are things such as structure types, spectra, and relationships between structures and spectra like match quality.

We’re going to print commercial-grade versions of the base card deck we design, using a service such as ShuffleInk or PrintNinja.  We’re going to design and test a sharable PDF “print at home” version of the base card set (and instructions, etc.) as a budget-friendly option for implementation in a chemistry classroom (or out of class collaborative study session).

Finally, we’re going to test thoroughly to ensure that embedded QR codes work properly as printed across both types of card deck sets (the commercial-grade and PDF versions).

We’re upgrading the card game to make it “bulletproof”, which just means we want it to be ready for use in any undergraduate organic chemistry classroom, with minimal hassle to teachers or students.  We’re building a model for extending the deck with expansion packs because it makes the most sense to position ourselves to “future proof” the card game for a variety of use scenarios.  And, one of the main reasons we’re excited about the QR functionality, other than the fact that we don’t think it’s been done in any way similar to this before, is that we can apply the same model to the hybridization of any card game.

Mobile App Prototype

We’re building a mobile app prototype for tablets and smartphones for use by students inside and outside the chemistry classroom.  As part of this prototype, we’re building a fully digital version of the card game.  We’re also going to conceptualize how the mobile app could be used by a teacher, live in the classroom, to help manage the process of extending his or her expertise across multiple card games happening at once.

In the classroom, the student-facing prototype will help us test how the app can serve as a learning support and management tool for the paper card game (via QR code scanning).  Outside the classroom, the prototype will help us test how a student manages his or her individual study and practice of spectroscopy skills and abilities, including the ways he or she reviews the paper card game matches scanned and recorded from previous experiences.  Our plan with the digital card game is to offer students the option to play against each other over a network, and individually against AI players of increasing difficulty.

Web System Dashboards Prototype

Keeping the big picture “systems” perspective in mind, we’re also prototyping a web platform with student- and teacher-facing dashboards.  We’ll be testing teacher tools for managing classes and individual students’ progress through the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with using spectroscopy in organic chemistry. We’ll be testing student tools for self-assessment of their own progress through the same knowledge, skills, and abilities. We’re also going to model and test the pragmatics of xAPI Learning Record Store (database) and media server functionality inherent in the operation of the entire interactive learning and assessment system.

We’re designing these dashboards to give students and teachers a chance to manage their learning and teaching in a larger format with varied input modalities.  Surely you’ve had your own experiences where you’re happy to have a large screen and keyboard and mouse/trackpad to accomplish tasks that would be way too tedious (or nearly impossible) on your smartphone!  Concerning assessment, our understanding of the ways students and teachers use these dashboards will give us one more mechanism for triangulating data we can collect about how people are teaching and learning spectroscopy skills.

Interactive Explanatory Animations (IEAs)

We’re building IEAs, which are animated stepwise diagrammatic explanations, done in a “whiteboard” style with narration instead of a talking head on camera.  Starting with the live capture of several exemplar whiteboard sketch demonstration explanations by Dr. Ferguson, we’ll be storyboarding, producing, and testing as many IEAs as possible during this initial phase of the project.  We’re designing the IEA system for delivery and precision tracking of learner interactions, with the IEAs hosted on the media server for integration with a just-in-time delivery system implemented in both the mobile app and web dashboard.

We think the most important aspect of this part of the project is the fact that we’re designing it as an extensible model for streamlined creation and delivery of any number of IEAs for this just-in-time delivery across devices or modalities.  Also, the increased precision in tracking means increased quality of feedback to learners, especially as we are able to gather more and more patterns of interactions with IEAs over time.

Learning and Assessment Systems Design

There are lots of “invisible deliverables” in the learning and assessment department.  We’re building one or more SOLO taxonomies (Biggs & Collis, 1982) for the spectroscopy and organic chemistry learning objectives we’ve established for this phase of the project.  Each of these learning outcomes/objectives is being mapped to Bloom’s revised taxonomy for learning (Krathwohl, 2002).  To better understand the patterns of interactions we see as learners use the paper game and the mobile app, we’re using four-space models of simulation-based assessment (i.e., problem, tool, solution, response – Behrens, DiCerbo, & Ferrara, 2012, May) as well as a four-process model (Almond, Steinberg, & Mislevy, 2002) for evidence-centered assessment delivery.  In support of this assessment system, we are also developing an xAPI data framework for assessing patterns of human-machine-information interactions, including a data infrastructure map for capture and processing of these data in service of data-driven pattern feedback protocols described in the assessment model.

A less invisible aspect of learning systems design is the instructor guides and user help files and job aids we’ll need to build as we continue to flesh out this system for implementation.

At The Wolfbird, we believe that, regardless of one’s goals, assessment design can never be done too early or too often in any interactive media project, especially anything involving teaching and learning.  So, our standard procedure is to start early and do a lot of learning and assessment design.  In the case of Spectracular!, SOLO taxonomies (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) help us prioritize where each of the learning outcomes we’re establishing falls within the progression of knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with spectroscopy and organic chemistry.  We’re taking a novel approach on this project and treating each of the learning objectives/outcomes as a “problem” to be solved, allowing us to frame any learner’s engagement with all aspects of the hybrid simulation as a demonstration of problem-solving, using the four-space model of assessment to understand HOW a student is learning about spectroscopy and how to use it for organic chemistry.

Research Implementation Plan

We’re treating the entire hybrid system of the paper card game, mobile app, and web platform (dashboards) as an ongoing opportunity for a wide range of approaches to research (such as experimental lab studies and mixed-methods or “multimethodology”) concerning a variety of teaching and learning constructs and contexts associated with spectroscopy, organic chemistry, and the transdisciplinary career concept of STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  We’re designing the whole Spectracular! experience as a mechanism for conducting research in “hybrid” simulation-based teaching and learning and assessment across physical and virtual environments.  

So, we’re designing the app infrastructure to allow for experimental controls management through the supporting data capture platform.  During this phase of work, we will begin building a replicable experimental design and multimethodological plan, including a map of variables that can be manipulated to influence interactive features within the “ecosystem” of the hybrid elements of the experience.  In other words, we’re going to map out all possible game feature control variable manipulations.  We’re planning to generate a set of exemplar manipulations and associated hypotheses for experimental and multimethodology research.

We’re also framing out an iterative timeline for scalable research across target populations of teachers and learners, including hypothesis development and data capture/analysis plans.

Why?  We don’t see the point of building a learning system like this unless it is designed from the ground up to be used as an ever iterating tool for educational research, especially one that can be used to improve STEM for future generations.

Development-Ready Design Documentation Package

To complete the first phase of this project, we’re assembling a design documentation package including more traditional design documents associated with learning systems design and other types of educational technology projects.  In addition to a suggested roadmap for development, we’ll translate and articulate our findings, and many of the deliverables described above, into elements of this package that are readily digestible for understanding and decision making by software development studios. 

With such a package assembled, we’ll be well-positioned to request proposals from leading software development firms.  Once we can send an RFP, we can have much more information at our disposal (beyond the evidence we gather in this phase of design and research) to amplify our opportunities for securing additional funding for design, development, implementation, and research of the Spectracular! experience.


Stay tuned for continuous updates as we complete the initial crowdfunding campaign and begin conducting the work inherent in this phase of the project.

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