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Deborah Littlejohn wins a 2020 Design Incubation Award

The GD303 course brings textbooks to life with its AR technology.
Deborah Littlejohn

Deborah Littlejohn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Graphic Design & Industrial Design and affiliated faculty with the College of Design’s PhD in Design program. She teaches masters and undergraduate courses in the areas of history, theory, and research methods, as well as studios that focus on the cognitive-cultural aspects of design.

Deborah won the teaching award for her work with her GD303 course. Read Deborah’s abstract below.

Reposted from DesignIncubation.com.

If This is Theory, Why Isn’t It Boring? Connecting traditional text[book]s to real-life contexts with Augmented Reality

Although it pains me to say so, I find that many undergraduate students think “theory” is a difficult, if not an irrelevant, even “boring” subject. In the case of my sophomore-level online course, “GD303 Graphic Design Theory + Practice,” students access course content asynchronously, oftentimes when they are alone, perhaps in the privacy of their own homes. In other words, their learning does not take place in a space where “real” people sit together as a “real” instructor moves around the lecture hall (who, incidentally, is able to observe facial expressions of confused or enlightened students). GD303 satisfies university “General Education” course requirements — consequently, at least half the students enrolled each semester are not Graphic Design majors.

The project I am pleased to submit to the 2020 Design Incubation Award is an Augmented Reality (AR) application, designed for my GD303 course and supported through a NCSU Course Innovation Grant from DELTA that I received in 2018. AR learning experiences, in the form of digital overlays that appear in the physical world, render abstract theoretical topics more concrete, no matter the student’s major, and in ways that motivate them to study and engage with course content (especially the textbook). Target images printed in the textbook trigger twelve different AR multimedia learning experiences that designed to “make visible” key theoretical concepts by animating them in a way that demonstrates and illustrates these concepts. The app is available to anyone, whether they own the textbook or not, and they do not need to be enrolled in the course. It is downloadable for free on Apple Store or Google Play (tablet or smart phone). The design of the app also meets usability and accessibility criteria for learners with vision disabilities.

While the physical world where we live and learn is a 3-dimensional spatial world, it is paradoxical that the materials for delivering online curricula are mostly 2-dimensional, flat media. The choice of AR is about exploring innovative solutions to the design of course content beyond typical textbooks, study guides, and Powerpoint lectures. The AR-enhanced reading experiences are designed to be immersive, colorful, surprising, interactive, and energetic to get students to delve deeper into and reflect upon the theoretical topics we cover. AR technology brings a “boring” textbook to life by connecting reading assignments (accessed as static pages) to real-world digital examples from different perspectives — examples that students prefer, i.e., dynamic media. It functions like an interactive “pocket study guide” that students can use while they read their assignments. It is designed to “perform” like a teacher in a live class by pointing out main concepts — and their locations — in the textually dense readings. As a “virtual instructor,” the application poses “pop-up pop-questions” to help students prepare for exams — a feature that helps students grasp one of Graphic Design’s main visual theories, “Gestalt”. The AR tools are designed to help students visualize other difficult-to-understand concepts, such as “objective reality,” “three-point perspective,” and “vectors,” as well as “see” how a designer uses a grid to layout a design. Furthermore, the AR experiences provide multiple means of representation (two dimensional, three-dimensional, audio, video, animated media) so that students can approach information in more than one way. Examples include: digital storytelling by a virtual agent who explains theories used in a seminal Postmodern design poster; the ability to see how form communicates meaning in the design of an architectural feature; or a virtual magnifying glass that lets users zoom into an image to read small type that otherwise could not be read in a print reproduction.

The move from an inert medium, such as a static drawing or photograph printed in a book, to dynamic interactive representations that visually demonstrate conceptual frameworks is positively changing how students think about theory in this course (see “Evidence of Outcome”). I considered how images already published in the textbook could incorporate new visual representations in the form of three-dimensional models and time-based animations— e.g., how static printed images become dynamic media that delves further into topics for those students who may want or need more in-depth explanations.

Early evaluations of the tool found that students (even non-majors) were not only enthusiastic about learning complex subjects, but they had made significant conceptual developments and improved exam scores (see “Evidence of Outcome”). Furthermore, the menu-driven, collapsible interface is designed for easy expansion — more experiences are planned in the future.

Each type of media I have incorporated in my GD303 course (the textbook, the lecture slides, the online Moodle platform, and now, the augmented reality application) are designed with a consistent “look and feel” across the different media. Graphic Design majors, especially, want to see the learning materials they engage with in their design courses as being informed by the design principles of good form, design consistency, and engaging visual vocabularies that they are learning about in their educations — it is my way of putting theory into practice.

All contributors affiliation is:
North Carolina State University
Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA)

Rich Gurnsey, Lead Multimedia Designer
Laurie Gyalog, Lead Project Manager
Stephen Waddell, Immersive Media Developer
Matthew Casto, 2D/3D Artist

This post was originally published in College of Design Blog.

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