This summer, I am going to start to learn coding, specifically Processing. This is a development platform that allows you to write software to make images, animations and interactions. It was originally developed to make programming graphics easier than using other languages such as C++ and Java.
Now you might be asking my I am learning this language and what benefit it might have for the students I worked with. I have previously written about different natural user interfaces like the Microsoft Kinect and the software I have used with them – Visikord and Po-motion. These programmes are really good and I have seen some great engagement by students whilst using these. What is clear is the students love to explore the different aspects of the applications and the natural user interfaces allow the students to do things they simply could not do or access before. From discussions with colleagues at school, on Twitter (@trinityfieldsit) and looking at what Ceri Williams (@cerirwilliams) has been working on, this has prompted me to start learning to code so that I can develop different programmes that users can interact with using the Kinect. I am also interested in how different program's work and hope that by learning to code simple interactive graphics programmes, I will be able to gain a better understanding of how developers create apps and software.
By being able to develop our own applications, the hope is that we will be better placed to respond to the needs of our students and create exciting and engaging applications. It going to be a long process but if you are interested I would recommend the following books –
'Getting Started with Processing' – Casey Reas and Ben Fry – gives you a introduction to the Processing language and gives you practical examples to work with.
'Making Things See' – Greg Borenstein – a hands-on guide that takes you through the steps to create applications that uses the Microsoft Kinect in the Processing language.
I will post on the blog the progress I make on this project but in the meantime if you are interested in using the Kinect with SEN check out the Kinect in the Classroom page of my blog or look at the Kinect in SEN wiki which represents the work of the Personal Learning Community of @trinityfieldsit, @LittleAngelsSch, @cerirwilliams and myself. The idea of the wiki is to showcase the excellent work being done by those using the kinect in SEN.
This post will focus how we have used some software called Po-Motion to create an interactive wall display in our Sensory Room. Po-Motion is a piece of software that was available for free, however they have stopped this and there is a small charge around £20 to purchase the software ( though you can trial the software for 30 days). It allows you to create an interactive wall or floor display by just using a web-cam, projector and computer.
The plus points for us was the cost – many items for the sensory room cost hundreds even thousands of pounds and companies are able to charge these amounts of money because it is classed as specialist equipment (though many of these items are actually a fraction of the cost to make and provide students with Profound and Multiple Learning difficulties to engage with sensory stimulations, which I find a little frustrating but enough said on that). In addition, it allowed us to install an excellent sensory tool which many could access without having to redesign our sensory room.
Anyway rather than me write about it I have made a video showing how we have set up Po-Motion and some of the scenes you can use with this.
When we first installed the system, we thought it would be a standalone tool, but have since found that it interacts with what else is going on in the room. For instance, when changing the colour of the lights, this has an effect on what was shown on the wall. So we have now got a bit of equipment that not only works well on its own but also in conjunction with other pieces of equipment.
Areas for thought –
- Positioning of camera – From installing the system, we found the positioning of the camera was very important in getting the best reaction from the display. Rather than pointing the camera at the wall, it needs to be positioned where the student will be standing or sitting so that it can detect the movement. Also in our setup we have the camera facing the display – another setup would be to have the camera facing the student. This is something we might change after we have gone through testing with the students.
- Lighting – for the camera to pick up movement there needs to be a little bit of light. In the dark, it is very difficult to pick up movement unless using an infra-red camera. (Po-Motion also do a version of the software that works with IR cameras)
- Web camera vs Kinect – something which we are thinking about is getting a Microsoft Kinect for the sensory room. The Kinect is more sophisticated camera and would allow us to have different pieces of software running for one bit of equipment. Also in the dark environment of a sensory room it would pick up movement far better especially when using the IR version of the software. This is something we are looking to set in the near future so will keep you posted on this.
Anyway now we have the system installed it will be interesting to see how the students react to it. Also I would be very interested to hear from others who have installed the system themselves and what scenes they felt worked particularly well.