Smart Documentation Tools

Overview

Helped develop ideas for and prototype a set of documentation tools to better integrate technology, space, and education.

 

These tools would connect students with their creative processes to strengthen and deepen learning. This was part of a research project to help us develop hypotheses for how documentation as a mediating process productively supports learning.

To learn more about the research and my work visit the Smart Making Tools.

Created for the teaching program, Startable in Pittsburgh.

Timeline

February to May 2020 

TBC

Tools Used

Laser cutter, cardboard, chipboard, plastic film, Arduino components (including dials, buttons, bluetooth...)

Skills

Physical prototyping, storyboarding, 3D modeling, sketching

The Challenge
How can we develop tools that can help students connect with their own learning process more?

Documenting the process of creating a final product is something that many recognize as valuable to the overall learning experience because it allows someone to reflect on their decisions and evaluate how they achieved their outcome. This will allow one to learn and improve quicker. 

We understand that documentation is important, however, it is not always easy to be consistent with our documentation. We may forget to document and result to gaps in our stories. Thus, in this project, I sought to discover how could I design interactive tools to support students in their documentation but also engage them in using interesting products

Process
What troubles may students be facing in the documentation process?

Problem Scenerios 

Camera

1. When soldering and you don't have the hands to document your work, using the cameras in this documentation tool set would help 

Button

2. Students may have completed a major milestone realizing that they did not take any process photos. The nudge button acts as a reminder in this case

I would have wanted to do more research in this area by interviewing people in the Maker Spaces at CMU and asking about what are the different aspects that might be preventing them from easily documenting their work and what they think of documentation. However, due to COVID-19, I did not have enough time to do so. 

Instead, I had conducted more autoethnographic research. Based on my own experiences, observations, and asking friends on their opinions, I came to these conclusions for what students may be having trouble with and brainstormed different tools that could help students in those scenarios. 

The Button

The Button acts as a reminder for students to take progress photos and also can act as check-in points for important deadlines or tasks. 

It can also connect with other devices via Bluetooth to capture long distance images with a Camera and more.

The Dial

The Dial acts as a poll taker and mood logger for teachers and students. Teachers can get the mood of the room with this device and students are able to use the Dial as a way to measure their mood along with their process.

The importance of the self-reflection logger function for the dial is so that when students log their emotions at each step of the progress, they can look back and determine the pinnacle moments of their making progress from the intensity of their emotions. Memories are not always the most reliable pieces of evidence, but the Dial will be able to accurately tell the user at which parts of the process was the most meaningful.

This not only adds another layer of depths into the reflection of one's work but also makes the documentation work very enjoyable being able to easily get personal insight on how you felt throughout a project. 

The Overhead Camera &

Close-Proximity Camera

The two types of cameras help students capture their work when their hands are full. ​ Then the Camera can connect and transfer the data from that session to one's personal device.

The Overhead Camera will be attached to the ceiling with clips.

The Close-Proximity Camera uses a flexible camera tripod (such as GorillaPod) to attach to a stand for closer image shots. 

The Printer

This tools can act as a medium to make sure all students wrote feedback for their peers and receive feedback from others as well. 

The Printer can also connect to other of the smart tools or personal devices via Bluetooth for more functions. For example, by connecting to your phone you can quickly print out any images that you need for more convenient documentation (to glue in your sketchbook or journal). 

With these concepts formed for how the tools would be functioned, I made physical prototypes from cardboard and chipboard. The form and size would depend on how much the space the inner components needed as well as how comfortable it would be to hold for users. 

How to create a versatile and friendly packaging?

Starting with the Button and Dial

I took inspiration from the Google AIY tools and wanted to keep the packaging for these documentation tools simple and friendly looking. Cardboard was a good medium for this because it create a more low-fidelity appearance in order to show that these tools could be used during a making process and not necessarily for a polished product. 

Research and concept sketches of how the package unfolds

I wanted the touchpoint that unfolded the one-piece packaging to be at the bottom to preserve the cleanliness of the exterior.

Sketches on how to lodge comportments inside

I started with paper and cardboard to prototype the sizes for the first physical forms based on how the interior components would be placed. Then from this, I cut the one-piece packaging with a laser cutter to create a more refined finish.

Getting the measurements of the comportments

Difficult to align individual LEDs on the light ring to the laser cut holes

Laser cutting the Dial

Having the physical form of the Dial in front of me, I realized it was very difficult to place a LED light ring exactly aligned with the small holes I cut around the dial. Trial and error was a major factor that helped develop the form.

During this time, I was also not able to use the laser cutters anymore due to the COVID-19 quarantine period. Instead, I decided to use chipboard because it was cleaner to hand cut and continue to prototype with that. 

LED light ring

The cutout to show the changes from turning the dial made the top face weak to break.

Attempting to use a circular design to show the LED rings

Physical prototypes of Button and Dial

Concept sketches

I decided to test out another design to solve the issue of alignment with the LED lights. I used a circular shape cutout around the dial to show the LED light inside (showing the changes when turning the dial). However, I realized the dial was quite heavy and with the cutout around the dial, the exterior would break easily. 

I decided that the dial indicator would be located on the side. This way it would  match the style of the of the other devices with a screen in the front. 

Next iteration of Dial

By creating the actual form and using it myself, I realized that the dial indicator bar would be difficult to see as I turned the dial. Therefore, for my final iteration, I made the bar angled for the user to see as they adjusted the dial. 

Final iteration of Dial

The Button would have a larger screen in the front to be able to have enough area to present to students key reminders (around the length of a sentence). 

Final iteration of Button

Continuing with the Printer and Camera

I kept the motif of having the screen on a frontal side of a rectangular form for the rest of the documentation tools I used, keeping the dimensions consistent and responsive to each other. 

The Button would have a larger screen in the front to be able to have enough area to present to students key reminders (around the length of a sentence). 

Printer prototype

The prototype I made for the Overhead Camera has a hole in the center for the camera lens and a circular cutout around the hole for the LED light ring to shine through. 

 

This was first a simple rectangular form. However, I noticed that the circular design for the LED light ring  cutout created a stark contrast with its exterior and was a little jarring. Thus, in my 3D rendering of the modified form, I decided to use an hexagonal shape to bridge between a rounded and geometric form.  

Overhead Camera prototype

Exploring methods of communication between the devices

After examining each unique device's value for students and teachers, I wanted to look at the different ways I could combine devices and allow them to communicate with each other to expand the utility of the tools. 

I took into consideration multiple methods to join devices such as through banana plugs, velcro, and magnets. I decided not to pursue the banana plugs to connect with each other because I recognize that too many wires will only cause confusion. I prototyped what velcro could look like on the external of the packaging. The hook side (rough side) of the velcro would be attached to what could be considered the "transmitter" device where information would be sent to another tool. The "receiver" device has the loop side of the velcro (soft side). To connect more than two devices together, I imagine they could use headers to attach to a mini-breadboard.

Experimenting with physical connections

Recreating this I noticed that it could be very inconvenient assembling the tools to get to a function that you need right away. Therefore, that is why I decided to use Bluetooth to connect the devices using Particle boards. This way, students can simply use their own devices to connect the tools they want to use and upload/download information from their own devices into these tools (e.g. a photo to the printer to print). 

Bringing it all together?

The Hub Projector

The Hub Projector allows the tools that are being used personally to be integrated into a public space. The Hub Projector is able to connect to all of the other devices and project each individual device's functions onto a screen for everyone to observe. 

Projector prototype

The form of the projector takes a complementary shape as the camera tools in this series. The back of the projector is smaller to the front face in order to establish the tilt of the body to be able to project an image onto a wall. 

This is valuable to students where documentation does not only become a process that is solely for themselves, but also something that can be publicized and shared with others. The projector acts as a platform that allows students to use these tools as part of their documentation, in presentations, and as a way of language to communicate their ideas to others

Final Product

Sketch of all the Smart Documentation Tools

Prototyping to help me discover how their form will support the interaction

How the tools could look like when in use

Future Steps

1) I would like to further expand on interaction amongst all the the tools and how they can connect to the Hub Projector. For example, how exactly should a user navigate the digital interface when transferring data amongst the tools, and how do the different functionalities the tools when "collaborating" with each other emerge. To do this, I will be creating mockups for the UI/UX of these tools on an app.

 

2) I want to also experiment how I could completely eliminate the presence of personal phones in the context of these tools to allow a complete immersion of a "work space". This was a concept discussed with the teachers at Startable and the idea of creating almost a new "language" with just these documentation tools was agreed to be a very interesting and unique path for this project.

There may also be an external device that students can wear that replaces the function of the phone, so when students enter a physical computing room, they place their phones in a stowaway area and replace them with a tool that will allow them to focus on their work. This could make the physical computing room seem like walking into a complete different space from the rest of the campus space and give students a new experience. 

 

3) With working prototypes, I would want to do more user testing research to help me determine what other tools students may want and need in their making processes. Talking with experts of the physical computing lab would also help gather insightful information that would make these tools more valuable to student usage. 

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