So, why does an eclipsed moon appear red?
Alien Worlds is series of seven animations which explain various celestial phenomena, from solar and lunar eclipses to retrograde orbits of planets and the structure of the Sun, helping us to understand our universe and our place in it.
The animations were the result of collaborations with science educators Martin Griffiths, Toby Murcott and Mark Brake and editor Sue Burnett; supplemented with my own detailed research into each phenomenon. At the outset of most eLearning projects I have little or no detailed knowledge of the subject. In order to produce effective eLearning solutions though, it is vital that I develop an in depth understanding of the material; if I don’t understand it, then I will not be able to communicate the subject to the learner. Therefore, I spend a lot of time talking with the academics, and reading around the subject. The academics were consulted regularly as each animation progressed from sketched storyboard, through full artwork to final animation. At every stage they were consulted to ensure the accuracy of the work.
In 2008 the Structure of the Sun animation received second place in the Intrallect Learning Object Competition at the Association for Learning Technology conference. This was particularly satisfying as this was the most ambitious of the seven animations. Although there is plenty of information online about the Sun, most of it is text based, with illustrations tending to be crude, simple diagrams of limited benefit to learners. In addition, to obtain a full understanding of the Sun learners must trawl multiple websites. In contrast the Structure of the Sun provides a comprehensive, and highly visual, explanation of the Sun from the core through to the surface and atmosphere. This made the comments of competition judges particuarly pleasing:
Extremely visually attractive, it succeeds in conveying a great deal of complex information in a very user friendly way.
I feel that this is an effective and appropriate way of teaching this complex subject, and I found it extremely engaging and enjoyable to use.
I found myself reflecting on its content long after I’d completed working through the object.
To iTunes U, and beyond!
Originally, the animations were designed in Illustrator and Photoshop and animated Flash for the alienworlds.southwales.ac.uk website. In 2010 they were re-worked, with a voiceover replacing the text, and released as movies for free download on the University of South Wales’ iTunes U site. Immediately they were featured by Apple on the UK iTunes U store homepage, and occupied the top 100 UK downloads for weeks.