Eight years is a long time—especially in the world of educational technology. When Associate Director of Technology Jordan Bach joined the studio eight years ago, FableVision was using Adobe Flash as our primary development tool for interactive media, and we were delivering that media online in web browsers. These days we use a variety of different tools, from Unity and HTML5 to Augmented Reality, to make interactive experiences. Jordan is one of the driving forces behind keeping us on top of tech trends, helping choose tools that best serve the educational goals of each and every project in our portfolio.
“Here’s what hasn’t changed, even after eight years—the technology is transparent to the learner. FableVision works hard to keep it invisible so that the learning is what’s happening,” shares Jordan. “We don’t use new technology because it’s new, but because of its potential to tell stories and aid learning.”
The technical solutions available to us have evolved and Jordan has evolved too. By working closely with our creative team and clients, Jordan utilizes his own, and everyone else's talents, to create the best projects possible. Learn more about how he approaches his work in making games, apps, and interactives for the web, tablets, phones, and beyond!
Edtech has made great strides in the past few years as new technologies continue to emerge. What are some trends that you think will have a big impact in the years to come?
It’s exciting to think about how augmented reality (AR) apps can be used effectively in teaching and learning. With our partners at Reading Is Fundamental and EDC, we’re exploring how AR can help struggling readers engage with books in a new way, and ultimately help them improve their reading skills as part of our Phase I SBIR project. I’m excited to participate in such a meaningful exploration of a new technology.
From UX|UI designers, to artists, to animators, our developers have to work with an entire team of people and ensure that everything we create works in tandem with each other. How do you help maintain this well-oiled machine?
A big piece of my job is communication, and helping everyone on the team to communicate clearly about technology. At the beginning of a new project, I make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re building and the tech we’re using. During a project I help with the pipeline from artist and animator to developer, sometimes even making tools to help manipulate and set up files. And when a project is complete, I help take what we’ve learned and apply it to our process for the next one. Because the technology we use is always changing, the entire team is always learning and improving our process.
Tell us about a challenge you encountered with a project and the creative problem solving it took to get the job done?
After we finished the relaunch of the classic Zoombinis game with TERC a few years ago, we switched gears and helped EdGE at TERC create a special research version of the game. This version, used in participating classrooms, tracks a ton of data about how kids solve the puzzles. So that researchers could better understand the data, we created another version of the game that, when given the test data, simulates the original gameplay at different speeds. One of the more tricky tasks I’ve done at FableVision, it couldn’t have been accomplished without working closely with the researchers at EdGE and their other development partners. It’s a great example of how working together allows you to create something better and more complex than you could have done on your own.
What does it take to be a developer at FableVision?
In addition to being skilled at the craft of coding games and interactives, developers at FableVision need to understand what’s going on outside of the developer box. They need to understand user experience, implementation of learning theories, and what makes a compelling story. They care about learning, and demonstrate it every day by learning themselves.
How does your formal training in music influence your work as a developer?
In so many ways! Here’s one: While performing, a musician puts a lot of energy into giving the audience a certain experience. While preparing for the performance, you practice all of the details needed to create that experience. As a developer, my number one priority is not to program in certain ways or to use certain techniques, but rather to create specific learning experiences. I’m interested in identifying and focusing on all of the details that are most key to the overall experience.
One more: when you’re on a stage, you have to have done all the hard work to get there. You can’t let the audience and your fellow performers down. It’s the same as a developer: you work hard to support the team and the kids using what you made.
As a computer science wizard, you spend a lot of time making magic on the screen, how do you find ways to take a break from your computer?
I absolutely need a break sometimes. Here’s one way: I’ve decided not to look at any screens on my commute. I take the subway and bus and it’s a lot of time every day. I’ve read so many great books over the past eight years on my FableVision commute!
As we’ve seen at our annual Creative Juices art show, you work with a lot of different mediums for creativity outside of work. What special non-tech related project are you currently working on?
I’m making a quilt for my nephew! It’s still a secret, but here’s a pic of one I made for my niece.
More about Jordan:
Delicious tea to drink and relax with: I love Keemun. And I have Earl Gray every afternoon in the office.
Best gardening secret you’re willing to share: If you choose plants native to where you live, they’ll be easier to take care of. And as a bonus, they’ll support the native fauna that has coevolved to live with your plants, so you’ll see more birds and other critters. Have shade? Plant a spicebush and get this caterpillar.
Three works of literature we should have read yesterday: Whatever interests you the most! Books have to come to you at the right time in your life. I read a lot of contemporary books, but lately I’ve been fascinated by stories from and about the past. Middlemarch is often cited as a long, challenging book to get through. It’s actually really engaging, and insightful about relationships. I’m working my way through the Palliser chronicles by Trollope, mostly because it’s entertaining but also because it’s fascinating to read about the political struggles of another time. I also like Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth because the characters are fantastic.
Your go-to recipe for making new friends: Join groups related to your hobbies! Everyone is there because they love the same thing you love and want to make new friends. Chances are it’ll work out.
Current favorite hand-made thing you’ve created: A stuffed bunny and cat for my two nieces. Making stuffed animals is how I originally got into crafting!
An inviting library or bookstore you love: The Montague Book Mill is an old water mill in western Massachusetts that’s been repurposed as a used book store, a performance space, a couple of restaurants, and an art gallery. It overlooks a waterfall.
Most addicting game you’ve played recently: Hollow Knight. It’s a little old fashioned, beautiful, and fun.