With great pleasure we introduce to you a product developed by Railsware recently launched in the United States – Interstellar.
Interstellar is a web application that features live, online academic competition – appropriate for any grade, subject, or skill level. With it, an educator can create a virtual team composed of his/her students and then arrange competitions for that team by dividing it into multiple teams that compete with each other; inviting another team in the Interstellar Network to a match; or entering the team into a league of seasonal competition. On game day, students experience an exciting internet arena complete with stimulating test item display area, pace-setting time clock, live action, scoreboard and more.
By taking the motivational characteristics of team-based athletic sport and applying them to the academic setting, our client Timothy Kelley hopes to drive performance gains across all student classifications:
“The whole idea of Interstellar is to make academics more athletic – to take what kids love about sports and inject it into their everyday scholastic experience.”
Moreover, he is convinced (and we are too) that the likely social benefits of the application may eventually rival those found in even the most popular social websites. Students of the same school, district or city – eventually from across the country and around the world – will be introduced to each other in a secure forum where unique friendships can begin and develop. Not only will teachers have the opportunity to establish new contacts, the application conveniently allows for the sharing of content between them, making the creation of these competition events, amongst other desirable functions, almost effortless.
By creating 3 competition formats (discussed above), our client’s intent was to provide a series of competition solutions that would help school administrators overcome any logistical constraint they might face in using the application, especially during the early stages of its adoption. For example, an educator teaching a rare class like oceanography might not be able to find other teams in the Interstellar Network to challenge, especially if his/her team’s availability were limited. Allowing the educator to divide his/her team into multiple teams which would then compete against each other solved this problem. The challenge inherent in developing these 3 separate competition formats was that each required a separate flow – one could not easily be used as the foundation of the other. Thus, we needed to move quite slowly, step by step, continuously backing ourselves up with unit and acceptance tests. It was such a difficult process that we even needed to improve/fix Ruby on Rails itself.
The groundbreaking innovation of Interstellar is that it allows teams of students to compete against each other, live. For the action to be live, the student must be immediately notified about his opponent’s actions during the test. This requirement was satisfied by utilizing APE (Ajax Push Engine) as a comet server. Whenever the student answers a question, right or wrong, his/her opponent receives a server push notification. The good old long-polling technique was used to produce that magic.
Another challenge was to create a dynamic cross-browser match page scoreboard. We utilized Raphael to construct the various features of the scoreboard displayed above, including the moving clock-hands, triangles and circle segments. And YES, it works under IE7+ too!
Look for more about tech stuff, application screens and client interview on project description page.