Communication through Cookbooks
My final project can be found here
To review my project, I asked three of my roommates to take a look at my project. I explained to them the background and aim of my project and the way the media platform was supposed to work. At this point, I had largely finished the project, but I wanted to know if there were any glaring mistakes in my analysis or difficulties with the platform that I had overlooked.
I asked my roommates the following questions:
1) Do you feel that the narrative flows well from one section to the next?
2) Does the layout allow the user to understand the ways in which the different examples of symbolism often overlapped?
3) Do you feel that my argument or presentation are lacking in any way? If yes, how so?
4) Have I included enough primary source examples to craft a convincing analysis?
I included the background, aim and media description with these questions and a link to the project in a word document, and I sent each roommate the document. I asked them all to look over the project and answer the questions, then send the document back to me.
The first question received positive responses. Each critic reported that the analysis flowed well, though one claimed to have some trouble navigating Scalar.
The second question also received positive responses. They each reported that the analysis clearly explained notes that employed multiple types of imagery. I was pleased with this response, but I had wanted to take it further. The Scalar Path Map should have shown the ways in which these images were interconnected by connecting them on the same path, but I ran into trouble getting the software to do cooperate. Instead, it would duplicate the page on the Path Map. I explained this struggle to the reviews, and I plan to work to correct the problem.
My roommates gave me some criticism with the third questions. One complained that the interface was not user-friendly, and he suggested including images on the Path Map. Another, reminded me to emphasize that the analysis was my interpretation of the notes to avoid any confusion for readers.
The fourth question also received positive responses. Each reviewer felt that I adequately supported my argument.
The peer-review did not prove all that useful for (I think) two reasons. One, I used a working draft of the project for the peer review, so a lot of the questions were issues that I had already thought about in creating the draft. Two, the questions were a bit too pointed. I found that my only open-ended question received the most varied responses, so I should consider asking for suggestions instead of asking for an evaluation the next time I need to ask for friendly criticism.
To review my project, I enlisted the expertise of three peers. Before showing them my project, I explained that it is still in its preliminary stages and has a long way to go before completion. Mainly, I wanted to glean whether or not my project would be taken seriously as a way of presenting a historical argument, and whether my portrayal of multiple voices would be irritating or amusing–and how distracting it would be to audiences. Therefore, the three questions I asked of my peer reviewers were:
To present my project to my reviewers, I read the portion of the script that I have already prepared. Then, I asked them to respond to the questions.
The first question received unexpected responses. While I was reading my script, I was particularly conscious of the unconventional elements of my project, and I was worried the audience would not take my argument seriously, or that it would be overshadowed by the dramatic flair. However, my peers responded, “I think you’re good” and “I don’t think so,” and didn’t elaborate any further.
The second question evoked more detailed responses. One peer reviewer said that she appreciated the voice acting because it facilitated differentiation between the interviewer (me) and my guest (Mary Hooker Cornelius), but that Cornelius’s character became annoying after a while. Another peer praised the acting element because it was funny, but admitted that it can be kind of distracting. The third peer concurred with this observation. She recommended that I include the acting, but use a voice that is different enough from my own to allow differentiation, but not make Cornelius’s character as much of a caricature.
In response the third question, one peer (Yiyao Xie, a native Chinese speaker), confessed that she had trouble understanding the podcast. However, she thinks this is due to difficulties understanding fast-paced, complex English about an unfamiliar subject. Another peer simply recommended my removal of a part that she found “kind of unnecessary.” The third peer advised that I make a clear thesis. I will take this advice into consideration; however, I want to work on making my argument clear without explicitly declaring it to be my thesis. Overall, they found the podcast to be enjoyable and do not suggest any major changes.
It’s finally here: my final project submission, and my peer review!
My final project can be visited here. My peer review follows:
I presented my project to three peers, who, on the whole, found the project really interesting. These are the questions I asked them:
Did the web application…
… illustrate the uniqueness of railroad companies’ narratives?
… demonstrate the varying challenges that early railroads faced?
… make learning about railroad development more accessible and fun?
Did the following user interface components compliment or detract from your experience?
The first reviewer contrasted my application to a book, saying, while a book progresses in a single direction, my application was able to extend in many different directions at once. Consider the expression, “train of thought,” which implies that the human mind processes thoughts linearly. I am neither a neurologist nor a psychologist, but can reason, in the manner of a philosopher, that the human mind does not operate in this way. Rather, thoughts explode outwards in every direction upon receiving a stimulus, like ripples in water. My application is largely effective because it appeals to the non-linear thought process. It starts with a pebble, and then spreads outwards in every direction, pursuing the narratives of many railroads at once.
A less complimentary reviewer noted that my application, in fact, was not so different from books, because it required a lot of reading. The information modules associated with each railroad line contained relatively bland background information, and (this hurt) relied on novelty to engage users, rather than compelling arguments. In response, I resolved to eliminate as much text from the application as possible, because the whole point of the project was to convey a historical point using digital tools, not language.
To evaluate the user interface and experience (UI, UX), I made a point of not demonstrating the application, hoping to observe how they naturally interacted with it. From watching their behaviors, I was able to determine what elements of the interface were intuitive, and what elements felt confusing. It quickly became clear that the lengthy introduction that appears on the front page negatively impacted users’ experiences. Having to read so much tested their patience, and significantly increased the interval between loading the page and interacting with the dynamic map, which is, of course, the most important part of the application.
I also realized that by including directions, I was essentially admitting that the controls were not self-explanatory. My peers were not immediately aware that the project was essentially an interactive timeline, for if they had been, the concept of moving to the “next” or “previous” date would have been much more clear. Perhaps making the year a more central part of the display, rather than putting it off to the side, would help users identify the application as a timeline.
Finally, it was not entirely obvious that the railroad lines were clickable. A better visual indicator would solve this problem. For example, they could illuminate when users hover over them.
Ultimately, despite these critiques, my application was well received among users. Their grasp of the content seemed to suggest I had achieved my goal of undermining the “macroscopic, monolithic and opaque” history of railroads in the United States. However, an improved user interface would make their learning experience even more immersive, natural and fun.
The questions I posed to my peers were as follows:
1.Was a historical argument present or clear in my script?
2. Do the different characters represent the biases accurately?
3.Does the style aspect (parody influences, etc.) distract from the message?
Generally speaking, my peers found my rough draft of my script to be quite confusing. Without even saying anything, this made it clear that my project would have to consist of something more than just the script and video and would have to include an accompanying explanation. Even in showing the peers my outline of the scenes and the back story and explaining what I was trying to accomplish aided in their understanding. This was extremely telling to me, and this, with Dr. Shrout’s comments, added to my confidence in creating a wordpress aid to the video that includes the links to the other parts of the project and an explanation of my vision. With this in mind, the historical argument was also not particularly clear but other than the advice to present an explanation along with the video, there were not very many comments given by those I showed the script to alleviate this problem. However, I believe that with explanation, this should not be an issue. Overall, in answer to the second question, some thought the characters were fine while others believed that they could potentially be polarized slightly more in order to showcase the newspapers better, rather than just the two sides of the revolutionary conflict. In regards to the third question, the peers I showed the script to seemed to enjoy the stylistic choices I made such as the use of The Godfather. Overall, I think I’m in a good place with my script as what was suggested to me to fix I had already been planning on ameliorating.
By Kurt Vidmer
The three people that I chose to peer review my project were my friend Tyler, my mom, and my grandfather.
The three questions that I chose to ask them about my project are as follows:
Is the content organized a clear way to all users?
Is the Neatline exhibit easy to understand and navigate?
What information, if any is noticeably missing or could be improved upon?
The answers that I received from all of them varied quite a bit. Tyler, a computer savvy math major found the program very simple to use and easy to follow. He thought the information was organized in a unique and interesting way. Given his experience in the math fields, it is hard for him to wrap his head around a project with no empirical data or evidence, so he suggested making an attempt to try to fit that in somewhere.
My mom on the other hand found the program completely non user friendly and confusing. Given her lack of computer skills, along with her lack of patience, she was quick to give up on trying to review the project and quickly became frustrated with the program. Although, when I walked her through the steps and showed her my write ups and concepts behind the technology, she thought it to be interesting, yet still confusing for people unfamiliar to the software and programs. She thought anything I could do to make it more easily navigable would help the project.
My Grandpa on the other hand loved the project. Although he was unfamiliar with Neatline, I was able to walk him through it. He has a love for geography, so the mapping of points and posts was very interesting for him. He thought it to formatted clearly, and navigation easy enough for most. His main suggestion was to keep pushing for more information, specifically about the transportation means for these projects.
I asked my three critics the following questions:
1. In terms of visual appeal, what “works”? What needs improvement?
2. In terms of functionality, what “works”? What needs improvement?
3. Think of a website that has excellent web design. What makes this site enjoyable to use, and what could I adopt from it?
First, some context: my website is up and running, but only just. The only pages I have working are one showing off a map I whipped up in CartoDB (link) and the visualization I made with TextPlot (link). That’s it.
With that qualifier in mind, it isn’t surprising that the most common critique I got was that the site is pretty barren. For example, I had to provide all background information about the project in person, since I don’t have a “Project Description” page up yet. All three of my peers made some variation on the comment that if I hadn’t been there to explain the graph and map to them, they would have had a hard time understanding them.
The TextPlot graph proved to be the more confusing of the two pages for my peers, which I expected. One friend recommended that I overlay some sort of info box atop the graph, while another suggested that I make a tutorial. I’m wondering if the best solution might be to use Neatline, since we’ve already seen that it works well even for non-geographical texts. In any case, I definitely want to come up with a way to explain the graph in a way that isn’t too text-heavy, since personally I get turned off by sites that throw huge walls of text at me.
As for positive feedback, all three of my peers said that my map is “really cool.” That isn’t terribly helpful on its own, but when pressed, they gave more concrete feedback: one liked the way the black and red colors matched up with the rest of the site, while another said that the experience of zooming in and around the map is very natural. One pointed out some typos and visual glitches that I probably wouldn’t have caught on my own, like how the map’s title can obscure the description. Overall, though, the map seemed to be a real crowd-pleaser. Really cool.
Somewhat disappointingly, I only got a ‘real’ answer for the last question out of one of my peers. The other two had a hard time thinking of a website whose design they enjoy, and ended up just settling on sites they use frequently, like Facebook or Tumblr. One friend, however, offered the Bonnaro site (link) as an example. She said that the simple structure with all relevant information at the top of the page makes it easy to use, but also that the site is just pleasing to the eye in general, what with all the vibrant colors and images. She then compared this visual style to the red and black color scheme I currently have going on my site, and encouraged me to maintain that I as I add more features. This balance between form and function is definitely something I personally value in sites, and hope to achieve in the final product of my project.