Project Evaluation

Typical of my experience of computers, the main problems that I have encountered in trying to work through the ideas for this project have been technical. I have spent a lot of time attempting to get technologies working. This is inevitably ‘hidden’ time which prevented me from getting as far as I would have liked.

The task that I set myself was too complex, the initial planning not as clear as it might have been. I might have spent more time sorting problems theoretically, letting go of the technical challenges, spending more time on the ideas, and less on the acquiring of skills.

This said, I have a working prototype that has been tested, and it worked very pleasingly, I have a clear direction in which I can take this project, I have overcome a number of technical challenges on route, and I have done a lot of learning myself.

The prototype itself suffers from an imbalance, leaning greatly to the method at the expense of content. This is perhaps simply a time issue. To get the model working and tested was a priority. I do wonder however if the project as a whole can work on anything more than a superficial level. But neither am I sure that this matters.


My aim was to produce a fun device that would make students take time over the writing of original scripts for animated storybooks. Given the two successful lessons when students have used the working prototype, I fell that this aim has been achieved.

A secondary aim was to develop the structures for communicating with students via web technology. This aim too has been achieved.

Although though the prototype project itself I have not pursued the ideas of spacial montage to the extent that I had planned, I feel that I have opened up a rich set of possibilities for future research. My research into both folk tale structure and silhouette have been relatively shallow as I have concentrated on the technical construction of the piece. Neither have I had time to pursue the possibilities presented by the random creation of stories, using blocks of text as raw material. There is a great deal of surrealistic potential both in the random juxtaposition of text, and in the far from random patterns that might be created to match blocks of text or fragments of imagery into database driven conglomerates.

The premise of the project itself, the story teller’s apprentice, started with a flaw. I based the process on Christopher Vogler’s 12 stages of the Hero’s journey, rather than Vladimir Propp’s 31 functions. Even the 12 stages are too complex for the students that I am aiming the project at, without a great deal of further explanation and exploration. But the main fault is that the prototype remains very linear, with each of the stages in a set order. Both Propp’s functions and Vogler’s stages need not be sequential, and are not all present in every tale. So the structure that I have chosen acts as a skeleton around which the students are hanging their own creativity rather than a serious device for teaching the concepts of fairy tale structure.

I discovered a project in some ways similar to the ideas that I had in mind - the ‘digital propp’ which is some ways shows what I was not attempting to do. This site is designed as a tool for the creators themselves to study the ideas of Propp, and the content is very carefully engineered to achieve the end result. With my project the structure is to an extent incidental to the aim of generating original work from students. Although I have not given time to populating my creation with traditional tales, I was in fact surprised at how well the few examples that I have entered fitted Vogler’s stages. Some of the stages where more difficult than others, some shoe horning was needed. If I where to use the device to study structure, it would get students to do this populating of the database.


With time I am sure that I could find better technical solutions than those that I pursued. Runtime Revolution, Flash, HTML, PHP and MySQL, all may have been better than my Filemaker Pro and web portal solution. I was not expecting to follow the web 2.0 route to the extent that I did.

An initial stumbling block was the constrain that Filemaker places on their software, which can only be accessed over the web by five consecutive users unless one buys and runs a server version. I spent the best part of a week attempting and failing to run a trial version of this. A work round was to hire server space, which I have done. Currently the web based experiment is running on this. with time I would pursue the web based solution, as this would give me a much better chance of creating an enduring and stable solution.

In subscribing to and making use of the on line avatar and AI engine, my choices were limited. But to have created this independently would not have been possible given constraints of time and technical skill.

The AI engine would need a great deal more programming in order to answer questions with more apparent intelligence. With time I could collect and respond to the questions that my students are asking the avatar. As with the rest of the content, I have concentrated on getting the structure up and running, exploring but not yet exploiting the potential that has been created.

The use of an on line drawing programme and screen capture software is very unsatisfactory, although I include it as an indicator of the way I would like the project to develop. I am hoping that I can develop and customise the creation and saving of images to go along with the text that students are writing.

The direction that I have taken has been dictated to an extent by technical constraints. I was very keen to get a prototype working in the classroom, so that I could begin to evaluate the work that I have done. This testing process is vital to the development of the project.


I might have developed either the ‘trompe-l'œil’ of a virtual book, with all the problems inherent in maintaining this illusion both on screen, and on multiple platforms over the web. Or I might have developed more of a screen based design. The latter has potential for the development of this project, although as the project is aimed at 13 year old’s, the book interface is understood and enjoyed.

The story teller himself did not really work as well as I would have liked. He is difficult to understand. I might have pre-recorded a human voice for him, but chose to retain the continuity of the text to speech engine though to the AI version of the avatar. I could perhaps have made him less human.

Given time I would have extended the potential of the text to speech function of the avatar to read back the work that the students were typing in.

My original ‘santa’ experiment created some interesting feedback on the way in which people react to avatars. Masahiro Mori's theory of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ is perhaps relevant, although the effect that I was aiming at was far from human. The reaction is perhaps relevant to the whole concept of creating a cohesive mimetic though elements of both design and content. In attempting to create the piece in the form of a virtual book, I was setting myself a hard task. By then including an avatar the task became more difficult to achieve.

There is still a great deal of work that I could do to improve and extend the ideas that this project has generated, and much that I can do to learn and implement the technical solutions to the problems that I have set myself. I did not get on to the drawing tools that I had planned to create. This will be my next step. The web is a particularly frustrating tool to make use of, with the restriction of basic fonts, with elements displaying differently depending on a myriad of variables beyond control. I feel a little bit like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia.
But despite a rather ill defined structure, to an extent the story teller’s apprentice achieved it’s aim in that the students to whom I presented it were fully engaged and produced some wonderfully creative stories. Several of them even came back in the lunch break after the lesson to continue with their work. And I have learned about the practicalities and possibilities of getting database technology on line.