Collaboration saves $, refines Ooka Island Adventure
A collaborative effort between an Acadia University professor and a Prince Edward Island-based company has turned out to be more than just child’s play. It saved the small business money by expertly defining their software requirements for an online reading tool.
Dr. John Read, an Assistant Professor in Acadia’s Jodrey School of Computer Science, worked as a consultant with Jim Barber and his team at Ooka Island Inc., to build a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document for the company’s Ooka Island Adventure, an online, downloadable reading instructional program. It’s a fun and interactive game that allows kids to develop their reading skills while rescuing Ooka Elves from flying pigs called Fliggs.
Ooka Island also provides parents, teachers and administrators with reports on the real-time progress of children playing. The Adventure is intended for three-to-seven-year-olds. Ooka Island CEO, Creative Director and co-founder Jim Barber says, “the game uses Dr. Kay MacPhee’s scientifically proven methodology and 85 carefully leveled and sequenced books written specifically for the Ooka Island Adventure.” The goal, Barber adds, is to teach children to read fluently and well through reading instruction that is fun and compelling
Began in 2008
The concept for an online game to facilitate reading and literacy began in 2008 when Barber and MacPhee, an expert in reading instruction who developed the highly-regarded SpellRead program, discussed ideas to create nine innovative reading instructional activities that included the five key areas of reading instruction: phonics; phonemic awareness; fluency; vocabulary; and comprehension.
Barber wrote the books for the game and an educational game design document about a magical island where the child is the hero. The virtual island is populated with kind-hearted elves, a good-natured robot, flying pigs and a literacy superhero named Auntie Kay.
Illustrations were produced and graphic representations of Ooka Island were rendered by designer Andrew Conlon in 2008. In 2009, Jim and Executive Vice President Cammy Barber showcased a comprehensive and illustrated game design document throughout North America at research and game conferences.
The pair worked closely with National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) representative David Fletcher, and he connected them in March 2010 with Acadia and Dr. Read to build an SRS document for the Ooka Island Adventure.
Read, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics is highly skilled as a software developer, says the Ooka Island team “was shopping for a consulting company that could build an online learning game”.
“The quotes they got back seemed a little high to the representative doing their grant and he contacted the Computer Science department here at Acadia and then me. I spent a week going through their requirements with them. I helped them to structure things, get a clear idea of the process and what goes into software development.” When he was done, a new proposal was submitted and, based on the better set of specifications, the price of the original bid came down substantially.
“My role,” Read says, “was to refine their bid so they had a tighter set of requirements and could get a better quote.”
Jim Barber says that the collaboration was extremely beneficial. “Working closely with Dr. Read saved our company money in that he helped us focus our attention exactly where it was needed. Dr. Read was patient, informative and accessible as we built the SRS document with him. Many questions concerning the project came up and were addressed during the construction of the SRS, and researching and answering those questions helped better prepare us for the development of the Ooka Island Adventure.”
ICE acted as broker
Acadia’s Office of Industry and Community Engagement (ICE), under the direction of Leigh Huestis, helped to broker the relationship through a Network Member Agreement that allows the IRAP group to fund projects such as this and secure people on campus that have expertise in a particular area.
Huestis says the IRAP program works quickly and meets the needs of small business owners. “The idea is a very fast turnaround,” she says. “It funds a faculty member for a short consulting project and it’s really in keeping with the needs of small business. Sometimes small businesses require specific expertise and our professors can see real world applications of their research.” It is, Read adds, a win-win-win situation.
Read enjoyed working with the team at Ooka Island and was happy to take an advocacy role, advising them on the process of software development and saving the company money in the bargain.
Jim Barber said the experience helped Ooka Island move forward with confidence in developing the online game. “Having access to an expert like Dr. Read and being able to have in-depth discussions with him enhanced the quality of the project."
When asked if he would partner again with ICE and Acadia, Barber said, “most definitely. Ooka Island Inc. appreciates the foresight and willingness of ICE and Acadia to get involved with a small business like Ooka Island.”
“Acadia,” Read notes, “has a fairly deep brain trust and I think it’s good to have another person out there saying that someone at Acadia has helped them out. That’s important.”