At some point in every project, there comes a surprise or a twist. These are usually positive. They involve some new learning. Or there may be some travel or a jaunt to a local restaurant. Or there may be an opportunity to reach a unique group of learners. Or most recently, there was an inspired suggestion to build a web-based mystery around a set of public health issues. The concept was dazzling—a character-filled interactive scenario-driven mystery that makes the study “fun.”
The premise then was that a “you” is a student who works at a public health clinic. This clinic has a way of being the go-to place for reports of health anomalies. This individual (who has to be gender-neutral to be as inclusive as possible) is supported by people who work in public health: an epidemiologist, a food scientist, a nutritionist, and a crisis management individual. A public health persona will “debrief” the mystery at the end.
The science would have to be accurate and non-negotiable, but participants in the mystery would not be asked to decide on issues of science per se but on “lesser” judgments and decisions, such as which lines of inquiry to pursue. The idea is to not encourage “negative learning” or unintended mistaken ideas.
There’s something to be said about doing a quick brainstorm and going to build, especially when the intermediary technologies are so straightforward and easy-to-use that the execution isn’t tough. We brainstormed a list of possible public health topics, and I set about doing a cursory review of the literature for each of the topics.
I built “decision-trees” or decision-flows to show the trajectory of each mystery and where the junctures were for each of the decisions. These trees included where the various “experts” might have a comment. These also involved ideas of settings…or locations…where the “you would experience different visuals, information and decisions. The idea was to keep the stories simple and focused but “fun.”
Find “art” for the prototype was difficult because we didn’t have an artist on staff for this part of the project. This is where cool image-editing technologies could be helpful for spooky color inversions and water-color effects to create a drizzly look from basic images. These effects also mask the basic underlying image and contribute to a certain mood or look-and-feel. Best of all, these are quick-and-dirty images that may be created from public domain imagery, open-source images, or those released by photographers for this project. This also helped show that the case was fictional and not totally or purely scientific. The debriefing would offer real-world information and imagery, but so as not to break the make-believe of the case, it seemed wiser to use the more artificial imagery.
As with any project, any build, the technology limits what may be done. These introduce affordances (enablements) and constraints (limitations).
What inspired the faculty member to have a mystery was a visit to the “Two Forks” site that focuses on food safety. Their work is more complex and was built by a team. While it was created some 8 years ago and updated three years after its publishing, the learning was still engaging and valid. The imagery created a fine sense of tone. This case had complexity and a variety of characters. They also integrated some basic diversity.
So armed with the concepts and the plans, some grabbed open-source imagery, and the thinnest mandate, I went ahead and began scripting out the story…replete with characters, images, and some interactivity. I ended up with an image map of a cow that wasn’t very high functioning, and some of the interactivity had such artifice (in part due to the technological limitations)!
Not surprisingly, the hardest part was making this mystery fun and mysterious. It was hard to try to design complexity and still maintain clarity. If this goes live, it'll be interesting to see what responses we get. Meanwhile, this is in development...