Educational Infographics Using Gestural Hand Interactions

(2017) My capstone project for my undergraduate degree in New Media at The University of Maine.

This project was a two semester long endeavor in which I spent time researching learning habits and teaching techniques, conceptualizing an engaging lesson, designing and creating that lesson, deploying it in a classroom, and documenting the results. The goal of the project was to test if learner engagement and information retention increase when multiple different modes of learning are integrated into one lesson. Because so many students learn better in a more “hands-on” environment, my hypothesis was that a video lesson which requires physical engagement would increase the potential for education. Ideally, appealing to visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners would make lessons more suitable to all kinds of students.

I deployed this project in a 5th grade classroom with a pool of 38 students. I split the group evenly into two groups (I had the help of their teacher who made sure the groups were of equal academic ability). Group 1 used my lesson, and Group 2 learned the same material through a traditional worksheet (I created the worksheet, but the teacher edited it down to make sure it was at a 5th grade reading level). Both groups learned the same material, and took the same assessment. According to my hypothesis, Group 1 should have had higher scores. However, both groups scored an average of 66% on the quiz. Group 1 scored exactly .001% better than Group 2, and by that result, I was unable to confidently proclaim that my lesson increased retention of information. Regardless, since all of the students did get a chance to test my lesson, I can at least assert that there was an increased enthusiasm for learning (compared to the enthusiasm for the worksheet). The only criticism I got from the students was that there weren’t enough explosions for their taste.

This project runs on Processing (Java) and uses a Microsoft Kinect to trace hand movements. Coding was done in collaboration with Oliver Adams.

Dance Visualizer

(2016) An immersive three wall projection which captures the image of the user and plants it within animations that are synchronized to the music playing (D.A.N.C.E. by Justice).

This project uses Millumin to execute the projection mapping onto multiple surfaces.

Character Admiration

My hero is a fictional character in the book The Stand by Stephen King. Nick Andros is a 22-year-old deaf and dumb drifter who has a tremendous character arc through the apocalyptic events of the novel. He is a tremendous leader despite his obvious shortcomings. It is perhaps his shortcomings that make him so strong and empathetic. I am so drawn to Andros because of his empathy which he never gets to express vocally, but through actions. Because he is one of the narrators of the book, the reader gets to understand how he interprets the people around him.

Nick has so many challenges throughout the story. The first of which is watching those who befriended him die of the plague while he remains healthy (being immune). He also gets taken advantage of during society’s collapse- being mugged and beaten by thugs.

He also has to take on leadership roles despite being unprepared- when the sheriff of the town he was residing in dies of the plague, he had to take the position to maintain order. Throughout the book, he constantly takes on new leadership roles. He is particularly understanding of one character: Tom Cullen, who is mentally handicapped. Since Tom couldn’t read and Nick couldn’t speak, the two couldn’t even properly communicate, yet they became close friends due to Nick’s compassion in taking care of Tom and leading him to safety. Tom Cullen became a purpose for Nick to keep soldiering through the apocalypse.

Andros’s death in the novel is even heroic- as he takes the brunt of an assassination attempt. Even after his death, he continues to play a role in helping people as he visits his friend Tom in spirit instructing him on what medication will save another badly wounded character’s life.

Spirit of The Stillwater

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If you have ever seen the film Spirited Away by Hiyao Miyazaki then you are aware of its mystical life-changing effects. I’d been living with my close friend Collin for a few short weeks when he was sifting through my thoroughly curated collection of DVDs and inquired about it.

“What’s this one?” he asked, seeming a little confused. The film is an anime—a Japanese style animated film by Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s animation company.

“Are you serious? You’ve never seen that movie? Collin, we need to watch it. Now.” Collin and I have very similar tastes in just about everything: music, entertainment, girls, fashion, and values. I pitied him for having never seen it before but was also jealous that he was about to see it for the first time. I had had this conversation with other friends before, and consequently have seen Spirited Away dozens of times. Sharing movies I love with friends has always been an intimate experience for me, especially this one. Collin has an amazing talent of expressing his feelings towards things, so I was eagerly awaiting his opinions once it ended.

“Let’s go for a walk down to the river,” he announced as soon as it was over.

“I have homework, and it’s past ten,” I objected. He insisted, and I joined him.

If you’ve never seen the movie, it is important to note that however well dubbed in English it is, it still has a massive cultural disconnect between its Japanese writers and the American portion of its audience. The whole film is not grounded in reality, and most of it takes place in a realm inhabited by spirits. We watch a young girl undergo trauma while growing and maturing as a person which is a theme common in coming-of-age films, but the surreal nature and cultural implications this spirit world has is what makes the film so interesting—aside from the visual intricacies. One such abnormality is in one of the main characters who literally is the benevolent spirit of a river in the form of a young man.

This notion of a piece of nature having a spirit was nothing new to Collin as Collin has always been particularly spiritual and philosophical—especially about things greater than himself. This film excited him, and his immediate reaction was to seek out nature and visit the spirit of the Stillwater River which is conveniently located in our back yard.

The Stillwater River has existed longer than our very civilization here in Old Town, Maine. It is older than anything I can name except for maybe mountains and other creations of nature, however, it is never made up of the same content. It is constantly changing what it’s made of- water molecules come and go constantly. There is no mass of water that can be identified as the Stillwater. It has to be held together by something more than a geographical place. It is much like the human body. Every few years we cycle through new cells- a decade from now not a single part of me will still be part of me—so what keeps me Jack? It must be some kind of spirit, so what is different about a river?

Collin and I walked down to the river and sat on the edge of a long since destroyed dam, our legs dangling over the stone structure. We looked down at the river admiring how still it looked, suddenly realizing its namesake. Only when I examined the reflection of the moon did I notice that there were countless lives occupying the water in the form of water bugs dancing on the surface causing thousands of tiny ripples.

“Close your eyes,” Collin suggested, “Let your other senses do the observing.” I could hear the peepers calling out for mates, the rustling of rodents behind us, and the distant hum of I-95. I could smell the crisp smell of green nature. Then suddenly there was a startling splash and we both opened our eyes to see a lone beaver in the water slapping its tail. It looked up at us quickly, and slapped its tail again before swimming away. The river greeted us, it said hello. The spirit of the Stillwater acknowledged our presence and maybe even admired it. We had come down to the river to feel its energy, and the river thanked us in the form of a curious beaver. At that moment, I realized all that was connected to that little stretch of river- all of the lives that were so closely tied to it. That beaver’s life was so centered around this 11 mile stretch of running water that he might as well be the Stillwater. All the organic matter that hid below that dark surface on which we could only see the night sky was astounding: the countless lives and deaths—fish eating fish, things decaying and giving new life, cycles of life and cycles of season. Everything was part of an invisible energy, the spirt of the Stillwater.

Still Not Indiana Jones

In 2007 I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I was twelve years old, and starting to wonder what I wanted to do with my life—for real this time—not like when I was four and wanted to be that guy on the back of the dump truck that got to jump off and toss the garbage bags into the back of the truck. It wasn’t like when I was six and wanted to work pumping gas because I loved the smell of petrol. I was old enough to know that aiming to become a sanitary worker or a gas station attendant wasn’t exactly setting my sights very high, but I wasn’t quite old enough to understand that the study of archeology was a far cry from what Spielberg portrayed in the Indiana Jones trilogy. So I adored Indiana Jones, and I loved to build things—specifically Legos. I swear my Lego collection combined with that of my older brothers’ created a literal hoard of multi colored toe-breaking plastic bricks.
December of 2007 was the month in which the Indiana Jones Lego series was released. I had to have every Lego set featuring the second plastic reincarnation of my favorite action star ever. I already had Harrison Ford as little plastic Han Solo, and was shaking in my boots for December 25th- when I’d surely have little plastic Doctor Jones to add to my collection. (On a side note, I swear I will buy my first Lego set after my long brick building hiatus if they ever release Harrison Ford as little plastic Deckard from Blade Runner). Christmas came around, and sure enough I was gifted two new Lego sets both of which were Indiana Jones themed.
The rest of this story comes together with another fateful Christmas gift. My dad bought my mom a brand new digital camera that same Christmas, and this meant that she didn’t need her old one anymore. Being the youngest in the family, I was no stranger to hand-me-downs; I had my first camera. A few days later I was playing around with my new toys and introduced photography to my Lego collection. What followed was something that I thought was some kind of momentous breakthrough in the world of photography. I would later learn that it was something called “Stop-Motion”. I realized that if I took a picture, moved a Lego figure, took another picture, moved them again, and repeated this process, I could recreate the iconic chase scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Being a resourceful young millennial, I used the internet to figure the rest of this whole stop-motion thing out, made myself a YouTube channel, and posted it for the world to see. I felt something foreign to me when I made this retrospectively shoddy 1-frame-per-second animation. I felt like I was doing something—well, for a lack of a better term—really freaking cool.
A few years later I found myself abandoning my Lego figures in favor of my friends who I had gotten hooked on this time based media train. I had a little production team- a camera man wielding my trusty used digital SLR I bought when I got tired of my mom’s old camcorder. All I had to do was post on Twitter that I needed actors, and my high school classmates would come to my aid. By the time I had finished the twelfth grade I had assembled a number of personal productions including a 26-minute-long Quentin Tarantino parody titled “Back Water Cats”, a surreal and frankly silly crime drama directed by and starring yours truly as Waldo from the Where’s Waldo book series (in which Waldo was a particularly hard to find serial murderer) called “Come Find Me”, and a mortifyingly amateur found footage horror flick I’d prefer not to talk about.
I think I know what I want to do with my life, and I owe that to little plastic Indiana Jones. That may be a little bold, as it may be more fitting to announce that I know the general field I want to pursue. I am eternally grateful I spent these four years at college acquiring invaluable guidance, proficiency in film software and hardware, and an eye for filling a frame. I am surely a shoe-in for that position as a gas station attendant.