All About the New User Interface

New Interface for Applications

We’ve been working hard on a new user interface for all of our applications.  Often referred to as the “WebGL” upgrade, it’s actually a lot more than that.  We’ll go over new features and requirements below.


WebGL vs. Unity Web Player

What’s the difference?  

The Unity Web Player is a browser plugin.  A plugin is software you install on the computer to add features to the browser.  Some common plugins are Flash, Unity Web Player, and the QuickTime player.  In contrast, WebGL is a relatively new built-in feature of modern web browsers that provides a way to render 3D graphics natively, without the use of a plugin.  If you can use WebGL, there is no need to install the Unity Web Player plugin at all!

Which should I use?

Our new user interface can use either WebGL or the plugin, and will try to determine the best available option unless you’ve set a preference.  There are several factors that determine if WebGL is available or not.  The main requirement is the browser.  Google Chrome (including Chromebook!), Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Edge (new browser in Windows 10) all support WebGL.  Internet Explorer 11 technically supports WebGL, but it doesn’t seem to be quite good enough for acceptable use, so it uses the plugin instead.   Firefox and Safari can use either the plugin or WebGL.  Chrome cannot use the plugin since Chrome has removed support for all plugins as of Fall 2015.  By default, the new interface will use WebGL if it is available and use the plugin as a fallback.  If you happen to have support for both, you can select your preference in the lower left corner of the home screen.  This is a per-computer setting and will be remembered even after you close the browser.

In most cases, we recommend you let the application decide whether to use WebGL or the plugin.


New File Manager

The biggest change in the file manager is with saving.  In the old file manager, a backup copy was saved for each unique file name, but otherwise saving over a design resulted in your changes being permanent.  This results in students saving with a naming convention like “John’s Car 1”, “John’s Car 2”, etc., or worse, something completely random that made it difficult to see progress from one design to the next.  It also resulted in a very crowded list of competitors in the Simulation screen.

In the new file manager, we want students to focus on a “design concept” and save incremental revisions to this design.  For this reason, once a name for a concept is chosen, the name cannot be changed.  Instead, saving automatically increments the revision.  In our earlier example, this would be “John’s Car”, revision 1, “John’s Car”, revision 2, and so on.  Each time the design is saved to enter the competition the revision is saved, and that revision can be opened at any point in the future.  For example, if revision 4 was a good design, but revisions 5, 6, and 7 were not working out so well, the student could open revision 4 and start from there.   The next save would result in revision 8.  If the student wants to start over with an entirely new design, she can start a new “design concept” and give it a new name.

Other improvements to the file manager include:

  • Auto-save:  Once the file has been saved for the first time, the auto-save feature will save changes to a working copy every minute or two.  We recommend that students save for the first time as soon as they get started so the auto-save feature can do it's job.
  • Notes and Change Log: When saving a new revision, the change log is automatically generated based on changes to the design since the last save.  This can get quite detailed depending on the number of changes.  In addition, students can optionally enter notes about what they are hoping to achieve with these changes.  
  • Performance Graph: Much like the performance graph in the Teacher Control Center, the graph is also displayed in the student’s file manager so he can see progress and easily point out significant changes in performance from one revision to the next.  
  • Revision Details: After selecting a design name from the design concept list, or by selecting a revision from the graph, the details about that particular revision are displayed.  Information includes the change log, notes, and some metrics about the design that vary by application.  This allows the student to know a fair amount of information about any revision without having to open it first. 


Competition Setup

The competition setup screen has several improvements.  

Students can filter designs to show competitors from the entire district (if your school is set up to compete with other schools), the entire group, only those in the same classroom, or even just the student’s own designs.  

Students can search for a design by name by typing the beginning of the name in the search box.  The list will filter as you type, so finding a design should be quick and easy.  

The Staged, Qualifiers, and Out of Spec lists can be sorted by name or student.  The top ten list can be altered to show the top 25, 50, or 100 designs.  New to the top ten list: a single student can only have up to two designs in the top ten list.  This is to prevent students from “hogging” the top ten list with very similar or even identical designs that have different names.


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