Undertaking this project was an exhilarating experience for all of us. The purpose of this introduction is to give you a brief glimpse at some of the things that happened behind the scenes while developing this site and share with you a thing or two that we learned from this international collaboration.
It all started with Mr. P (well, that’s how we address our coach!). He coached a previous ThinkQuest winning team, Coffee: All Ground Up and found that experience to be one of the most rewarding experiences in his entire teaching career. He was so pumped up following his return from San Francisco, that he knew he had to do it again.
And one of by one he slowly roped in Tina, our assistant coach, and the other team members (Amelia, Chloe, Chris, Kishore, Laura and Patrick) to form an international team of students spanning four continents. Amelia, Chris and Patrick are Americans, while Tina and Chloe are Australians. Kishore is Indian, and Laura is Columbian.
Hunt for the topic
Our quest began with a search for just the right topic. Believing in the power and spirit of the democratic process, we decided to pole each team member and select the topic of choice through majority rule. Dozens of ideas came in and were placed on the table. We discussed the pros and cons of each topic. Once we narrowed the list down to a handful, we conducted the final voting.
We asked each team member to assign a number to each topic, 1 being their most favorite, 2 being their second most favorite, and so on. Then we added up the numbers assigned to each topic by each team member and chose the topic with the least sum.
Artificial Intelligence turned out to be the run away favorite. Having now decided on the topic, we tried to work out how best to present the topic of AI. We discussed, among other things, our potential audience, the tone which we wanted to set for the site, as well as the site’s scope and sequence.
The Vision we collectively bought into
Right from the start, we were aware that no single website, or even a book for that matter, can encompass everything that can be said on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. Even as you are reading this, plenty of new research is being carried out which will no doubt lead to new knowledge and a greater understanding of Artificial Intelligence. Having said that, we thought our best chance for success was to leverage the power of the web to reach users and give visitors to our site both a gentle, light-hearted, and upbeat introduction to AI while at the same time make sure it was educationally sound as well. It is said that quality rather than quantity is what matters, and that indeed was our mantra from day one. We did not believe that a site with pages and pages of monotonous text lent itself well to our purpose or the power of the internet. We wanted to present a varied yet limited amount of content, and do it in a way that the visitor would enjoy learning about the topic and not be intimidated by it.
That was the vision that we had in mind when we came up with the idea of creating a mascot for our site. In hindsight, we think that our mascot’s original design probably stemmed from the multitude of robots and humanoids that we come across all the time in science fiction movies like Star Wars. We decided that such a mascot would provide our site with a unique identity.
Enter Chris. As soon as Kishore found out about Chris’ exceptional drawing ability, Chris was assigned the task of coming up with initial sketches of MM-19 (initially we simply called our mascot err... just “mascot”). Chris worked on a few different sketches and the team finally decided on one of them. Chris scanned his sketch and sent it to Kishore who digitized it and uploaded it to the site for further review.
After some tinkering, the mascot design was finalized and we voted on his name. MM-19 was born. (MM stood for Manufactured Minds and the 19 was meant to reflect we were in the 19 and under division.)
Good morning, afternoon and evening !
Since we lived in different time zones, communication was quite an issue. Right from the start, we recognized the importance of timely communication so we set up multiple channels of communication: Email, weekly text based chats, voice chat (oh, the power of Internet telephony!), and our general purpose forum.
Our chat sessions typically started with the greeting: “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening everybody!”. We had weekly chat sessions, with each team member taking turns to be the one having to chat at the more unpleasant times (like midnight or 5 AM). The normal 24 hours were not enough for us to find a comfortable time for all of us!
We encouraged honest and open communication between all members at all times. We stressed the need to check the forum for updates and read and answer our emails on a daily basis.
We put great emphasis on planning. We set up deadlines weeks in advance for all tasks assigned to each team member, and tried to keep revamping and updating the deadlines when things didn’t quite go as planned. Each article written by our writers, Amelia and Chloe, were sent to Mr. P and Tina, for review before being sent to Kishore and Laura for posting to our site and for Spanish translation respectively.
We also sought help from friends and acquaintances when we needed advice or had some troubleshooting to do on problems that had us stumped. When we reached out like this, we sometimes asked them to join us in our weekly chat session and we took careful note of their ideas and suggestions.