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An attempt at design

We begin with our overarching ambition for the project and go through the following thought process to arrive at a specific implementation that realises this ambition.

      Overarching ambition
               |
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       Concrete sub-goals
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        |                \
Requisite content  Desired behaviour
        |             /     |
        |            /      |
Information architecture    |
  |              |          |
  |              |          |
  |      UX and visual front-end design
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Back-end functionality      |
        |                   |
        |                   |
       Specific implementation

Overarching ambition

Mechanics Academy aims to be a comprehensive resource for anyone interested in learning modern applied mechanics (which is an exciting blend of applied mathematics, mechanics theory, material science and scientific computing). It is in particular aimed at university level students and industry professionals.

Concrete sub-goals (SGs)

  1. Increase awareness about and grow the resource
  2. Attract learners to these rich and useful topics
  3. Act as a catalogue of high-quality learning resources for these topics
  4. Offer help and support to learners
  5. Provide mechanisms to test their learning and gauge competency
  6. Serve as a conduit between a community with mechanics-related competency and the industry
  7. Provide scientific computing services "on the cloud" for easy access to powerful computational mechanics tools

Requisite content and related information architecture

Fun and engaging open-access motivating material (SG 1)

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Content
  1. Demonstration videos (including portions of complete lectures)
  2. Videos and pictures of thought-provoking observations in nature
  3. Popular science articles
  4. Hands-on, application-relevant simulation that demonstrate the usefulness of scientific computing
Presentation
  1. Links to/embeds of (possibly portions of) content
  2. Complete lists of motivating material?
Metadata
  1. Source/author information
  2. Description
  3. License
Examples
  1. Numerous demonstration videos on MIT Tech TV
  2. Mechanical energy conservation
  3. Projectile and orbital motion simulations
Ideas
  1. Use the About TedEd-style of marking up an embed to illustrate points
  2. Ask a thought-provoking question as in exercises on TedEd
  3. Emphasise motivation on home page like MIT OCW does

Original content to motivate learners (SG 1)

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Content
  1. Hands on, application-relevant simulation demos to play with
  2. Animations and pictures of simulation results related to realistic application
  3. Popular science versions of computational science articles
    • Invite contributions from domain experts
  4. Documented---primarily video---user stories emphasising the importance of the material, e.g.
    • Interviews with rock-star scientists
    • Showing off tough research-level questions labs are trying to answer
Presentation
  1. Embeds of (possibly teasers of) content
  2. Complete lists of motivating material?
Metadata
  1. Description (e.g. motivating questions)
Ideas
  1. Have a prominent interactive demo right on the home page like Codecademy has

Curated catalogue of best existing Open Educational Resources pertinent to mechanics (SG 2, 4)

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Content
  1. Complete courses, including
    • Lecture videos
    • Lecture notes
    • Assignments/solutions
    • Exams/solutions
  2. Independent external resources, such as
    • Interesting demo media
    • Instructional videos
    • Related notes
    • Tutorials
    • Practice (including simulation-based) exercises
  3. Original tests and exercises to augment existing courses
Presentation
  1. List of links to complete courses and external resources
  2. Embeds of complete courses and related external resources
  3. Embeds of complete courses along with related original exercises
Metadata
  1. Source/instructor information
  2. Syllabus
  3. Description
  4. License
  5. Links to related external resources
  6. Topics covered
  7. Difficulty level
  8. Prerequisites
  9. Crowd-sourced ratings?
  10. Review?
Examples
  1. MIT OCW's Classical Mechanics course
  2. Oxford Podcasts' Quantum Mechanics course
  3. Reading list on MIT OCW's History and Philosophy of Mechanics course
  4. Yale OCW's mechanics lectures as part of introductory physics courses
  5. MATLAB exercises on numerical computation for mechanical engineers
  6. Continuum mechanics article on Wikipedia
Ideas
  1. All the embeds above should be served in a way that offers some value over the original source, e.g. rich metadata search, better visual presentation, augmented original exercises. They should do more than Academic Earth's embeds.
  2. Recent/featured courses in the catalogue can be featured on the home page like Udacity and OEDb do
  3. Course listings can be classified in various ways: topic, difficulty level, kinds of media, visually, goal oriented
  4. Consider simple JS exercises like Khan Academy. e.g., what would it take for the pendulum to hit Lewin?
  5. Allow for easily jumping to different sections of a long lecture based on concepts or topics like they do at OYC
  6. Full, persistent keyboard control of pauses, skip forward/backwards 30 s or so.
  7. Ability to mark areas of interesting content (videos/other), and collect all these highlights into one place, such as the dashboard
  8. Exercises should be well-integrated with the rest of the content, but students who want to should be able to skip them
  9. Some advanced exercises should prompt students to explore further
  10. Related external material should be accessible right there and then alongside the lectures, as on OYC

Original course material of high quality (SG 2, 4)

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Content
  1. Complete courses, including
    • Lecture videos
    • Lecture slides/notes
    • Interactive simulation demos
    • Exercises, especially simulation-based
    • Knowledge-bases/Wikis related to the course
  2. Short tutorials focusing on technical topics, including
    • Interactive simulation demos with simple step-by-step exercises
    • Instructional videos
    • Related notes
  3. Other independent resources, including
    • Interesting simulation demos
    • Instructional (e.g. how-to) videos
    • Related notes (e.g primers)
    • Interactive exercises to augment existing courses
Presentation
  1. Course listings linking to individual courses
  2. Tutorial listings linking to individual tutorials
  3. Resources embedded into courses/tutorials
  4. Standalone resource listings linking to individual resources
Metadata
  1. Instructor information
  2. Syllabus
  3. Description
  4. Links to related external resources
  5. Topics covered
  6. Difficulty level
  7. Prerequisites
  8. Crowd-sourced ratings?
Examples
  1. Continuum mechanics course
  2. FEniCS tutorial
  3. Computational biomechanics course
Ideas
  1. The original material on the site will be modular and
    • Fills obvious gaps in existing content
    • Meets the competency needs of industry
  2. This material can be classified into theory, programming and application, as in the examples above
  3. Course overview pages should clearly indicate what is being covered in them, as well as what their prerequisites are
  4. Logged in students should have an overview of progress through the material
  5. Homework exercises can be worked on by students locally, and tested server-side through a sequence of automated tests
  6. Interactive exercises can be tied to a lesson or served standalone
  7. Try Ruby is a beautiful example of a short, interactive tutorial
  8. Course wikis can help collect information related to the course, and kept up-to-date by students
  9. Not all content needs to revolve around video
  10. edX has a particularly clean way to move through lectures and interspersed exercises as one progresses through a course. So does Udacity.
  11. Having a discussion thread tied to a lecture video allows students to ask questions immediately as they're having them
  12. Resources relevant to a lecture video should be linked to directly beside the video

Engaged community of co-learners, mechanics experts and potential employers (SG 3, 5)

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Content
  1. Curated discussion forum
  2. Presence on social media
  3. Blog covering topics of interest to the community and meta news about Mechanics Academy
  4. Invite contributions from domain experts?
  5. Allow people to have beautiful visual profiles (about->codecademy)
Ideas

Other mechanisms to get help and support (SG 3)

  1. Web conferencing and other forms of direct communication (direct messaging) between multiple people. e.g. The instructor and a few learners on Google+
  2. Ticketing system (which is linked to e-mail)
  3. Easily searchable, meta-data rich knowledge base/FAQ
  4. Other technology that fosters collaborative learning (???)

In browser exercises, including those based on simulation (SG 4)

  1. Original short quizzes or exercises to test initial competence
  2. Original short quizzes or exercises on external material
  3. Quizzes or exercises as part of OER catalogue
  4. Short quizzes or exercises in between video lectures
  5. Final exams or exercises

Market tools potentially useful to the community (SG 5)


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"In-person" proctored examinations (SG 4)

  1. As part of a university course with ID verification
  2. "Serious," large projects submitted for personal evaluation
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Connect strong students who opt-in with interested employers (SG 5)

  1. Act as a means to demonstrate student capabilities, e.g. published code samples and hosting a cool visual CV with results.
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Beautiful web-based interface for select software (SG 6)

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Heroku-style interface for handling generic research code (SG 6)

  1. Act as a means for reproducible research through the sharing of code in a systematic way
  2. People can share big data across calculations