Posts in Category "General"

February 15, 2011

WHAT DO EDUCATORS WANT?

The ideas for this article came out of my reviewing the whole Rome process and the resulting software. What I could not stop thinking about was the question, what exactly do educators want… in software, in the digital world in general, in any way?

I was immediately struck by the huge assumption, and therefore the huge error, built into the whole question right from the get go – “educators” are not a homogeneous group. You can ask what we want any way you wish, but, unless you are prepared to understand just how diverse and downright different we are, your question will never really be answered. That is why any good designer / engineer / problem solver will start by asking, who are we… not, what do we want. There are dozens of books out now that discuss the value of the design process and design thinking which places the target or audience of a product ahead of the product itself. First understand your clientele, then build the product.

Let’s start by looking at a typical high school. Our school has approximately 1500 students and 100 teachers. Of those 100 teachers we have about 20 teachers who are already immersed in various aspects of digital technology, another 15-ish who are wading into the waters in varying degrees and the rest. The “rest “ represent widely varying perspectives. At one end there are those who would venture forth with lots of support and mentoring (hand holding is required). At the opposite end are those who are angry and or afraid… it really doesn’t matter which because the end result is the dismissal of digital technology and all that is has to offer. I cannot give you numbers or percentages for these two groups at this point. I can only tell you they definitely exist and that those against are vehement about their anti-technology point of view. I strongly suspect, based on the war stories I hear from other schools, that we are pretty typical of most high schools. To put this into perspective – if you are building software that appeals to somewhat experienced users then you are building for about 35% of our teachers. That means you are not appealing to 65% of them. It is that simple, and these figures may be overly optimistic.

I offer this insight into our mix of teachers because what the most involved would want in their software is quite different from what the others would prefer. And you are going to tell me you are going to create one software product that appeals to everyone equally? And serves them equally? Interesting…  (I am told it’s good to have dreams. )

I suggest we start with the most basic aspect of any technology – the names of the tools themselves. As I saw with Rome, applying very technical names to these tools may be perfectly logical for the engineers and for those who are very well versed in the technology but even those of us who consider ourselves immersed in this digital world do not know all of these terms. How, then, will new users ever figure them out? More to the point, don’t you want to make every aspect of the technology inviting, easy to access and use? Calling a tool by a technical name is a quick way to push a new user away, while using a term from common language makes the tool more accessible and appealing. Oh – one more note – do not make the names cute. That is worse than technical – at least technical assumes we will figure it out (rightly or wrongly). Cute is just insulting. Straightforward works well, it assumes normal intelligence and is accessible to most folks.

When planning the software, think like a new user. Keep the operations simple, the result clear and the process direct and easy to use. For example – explaining how to adjust, add or subtract keyframes will not make a new user happy – too many concepts at work here, and way too much to know right from the get go. Instead, think…   the story opens with ______; then this happens_____, then this ______. Finally, it ends when this happens ______________. End of story. The sounds will be _____, and so on until its built. Make it simple. All of that will work wonders for the teachers and for any users in fact, that want as close to drag-and –drop story telling as possible. Now – to add an underlying power to this software, you would need to make the resulting timeline fully accessible to those of us who play with such things… but not up front. Tell us how to lift the hood, so to speak, so we can access these details. I liken the whole thing to operating a car. Most folks do not want to know the details. They want the car to start, go and stop easily with simple instructions, not complex technical explanations and controls. Assume that the new users know virtually nothing and want to know only a bit more in order to make it work, at least in the beginning.

Now – if you are able to create software that works like this, go one step further – make it so it runs on old and new systems equally. Our school is running Windows XP on a variety of machines. The old machines have slow processors and about 512 Mb of RAM. The new machines also run XP and have 1 Gb of RAM. Our best machines in the school have fairly fast processors and 2 Gb of RAM… and nowhere are there any signs that point to better machines running Windows 7. Having said that, I know there are schools running brand new computers with tons of RAM and Windows 7… makes it quite a challenge, doesn’t it? We are never on the same page digitally, and you must assume the worst scenario possible. That is our reality and since there are no programs anywhere that are stepping forward with the billions of dollars necessary to not only equip schools with better computers but to also maintain those labs at that level indefinitely, this situation is not about to improve. I suppose you could go one step further and add that certain governments have education budgets on their radar screens – they consider them excellent sources of revenue. How they manage to also sleep at night is quite beyond my comprehension. I always thought that it was society’s job to invest in its own future, but apparently I was wrong on that point.

So – building new software for touch-pad technology? Great – schools may have that by 2020… if all goes well. Schools, which should be so much closer to the cutting edge of technology, are still fighting the belief that buying good computers is a luxury, not a necessity. And you want to create software that serves all educators equally? As is said at the outset, it’s good to dream. Therein lies all of our hopes for the future.

The picture shows us looking down – is that where we are headed, or is that where we have come from? I prefer the latter – you?

2:29 PM Permalink
December 22, 2010

Finding the Voices Amongst the Noise

Welcome to my grade ten communications technology class. They are pure energy, talking and thinking and creating like a hive of loud, busy, bees. While grade nines may have invented “sociable” it took the grade tens to evolve it into a higher art form and they are continually polishing the concept. If you were to be a fly on the wall on any given day then you’d say, there is so much noise. And that is how it felt to me for the longest time, until they taught me otherwise.
Their project was a digital poster to be created in Photoshop Elements 8.0, to appear on our classroom TV’s (every class in our school has a 25” TV hung from the ceiling – we use them for our daily announcements and for school broadcasts). Our school was supporting the Toys for Tots campaign and it needed more publicity so I thought these posters would work well as a purposeful and quick end-of-term project. What I did not expect was how different their responses would be.
One created a design that was so simple and yet, so articulate and I was not prepared for that. Her design was in stark contrast to the other works that used every Christmas colour and seasonal font imaginable. It turns out she is also a wonderful singer, but that only came up because she suddenly, quietly, started singing in class. I would have never otherwise known. Another wanted more powerful colours – we explored the possibilities of layer blends together and she was delighted – that poster is still in progress but looking very promising (so much for deadlines!). Yet another was taken by the idea that there were students whose parents could not even afford food, let alone gifts and treats. How, in our school, could this happen? Very easily, as it happens, because we are a diverse community with many people in every demographic, including poverty. I am not sure she will ever finish her poster. I think her “poster” is still being formed inside her mind – a newly expanded and more aware mind than the one she had before. These are all voices being formed amidst the noise.
At our end of term Christmas concert I got to see that some of my grade 11 students are also well practiced musicians. Some may be struggling with Flash but when they are playing their instruments they sound fabulous and proud. I am so glad I got to see this other side of them. Their work in Flash made me think of a musician still learning the fingering for an instrument – initially very mechanical and not at all musical but later – fluid and intuitive. First we learn the basics – their voices will follow soon after and their “music” will flow from there. Once again, individual voices appear from amongst the noise of my classes.
It was meet-the-creature night (parent teacher interview night) and my interviews were done. I was chatting with another teacher when a couple came in and asked if anyone knew where they could find – me. It turned out they were the parents of a girl I was helping with her photography, and they wanted to express their appreciation for everything I had done. But – there was more. Mom was very concerned about how her daughter was going to earn a living as a freelance photographer. Her daughter has already found her voice – it is photography. We all know how important it is to her and while mom does not want to get in the way of her daughter’s dreams she also wants to be sure her daughter will be safe and secure. We talked about the realities of life as a photographer and faced the reality that there were no guarantees. At the end of the conversation she seemed better with it all. We’ll talk again. I will talk and work with her daughter and her daughter’s voice will continue to grow. Another voice will emerge from the din and the noise.
It is the end of the day and I am sitting alone in my lab surrounded by 30 very quiet, very peaceful computers. Everyone has gone for the Christmas break. The silence is wonderful, but strangely out of place. I miss their noise. As we pause for Christmas I hope you love the silence but also love the noise and all of the voices it contains. May they grow and learn and prosper.

3:01 AM Permalink
June 29, 2010

Introducing the Adobe Education Exchange

The new Adobe Education Exchange is a web-based community that allows people to collaborate, share resources, network, and generate ideas and discussions around using Adobe solutions in and around the classroom.
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Members of the Adobe education team, along with input from a group of Adobe Education Leaders, have been working on this project for months and are thrilled to announce that the project has now been officially launched and is available for anyone to access and use!
This is a resource for all facets of education: K-12, Higher Education, Colleges, Universities… admins, faculty, staff… whoever is working with Adobe technologies in education.
You can see a small subset of materials and resources available by visiting http://edexchange.adobe.com/, but to truly get the most out of this resource, you will want to sign up with your Adobe ID and fill out your personal profile.

3:00 PM Permalink
May 4, 2010

Does Data Based Decision making ignore Qualitative Research?

There is a strong push in educational administration to use data driven decision making. On the surface, it looks to be a very sound concept. What are the test scores, what subsections are strongest, what needs to be improved? In the test driven educational environment, it is difficult to argue with those priorities.
Yet as educators, we know there are always two faces to tests. There are the hard scores, ideally (But not always – see Texas ) based on non-politicized, well researched questions, and there is the story of the individual students, some of whom make heroic gains while struggling against incredibly difficult home lives to make substantial gains.
We have always known about this in education, and consequently, research has branched into two widely respected fields, quantitative research, (by the numbers) and qualitative research (by the case, or individual). My concern and the concern of many is that we have gone too far to the side of numerical analysis, and over reliance on test scores, and have ignored the qualitative aspects.
So why write about this in an Adobe blog? Because Adobe provides a tremendous amount of qualitative support options for education. Acrobat’s ePortfolio capabilities provide educators a chance to look in-depth at what students are doing, how they are doing it, and how they reflect upon that process. While it is not the only tool around for doing this, it is certainly an effective one.
When looking at the Adobe product line, there are many, many tools that assist in the achievement of higher order thinking skills, and 21st century skills and few that contribute to quantitative analysis. This is because it is harder to measure higher order thinking quantitatively, not because of any lack in the toolset. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the new digital divide emerging, one where rich kids go to school to learn how to tell the computer what to do, and to create, and one where poor kids go to school, and learn how to take orders from the computer, and how to do worksheets in a computer.
What experiences would you like your child to have? What products have they produced this school year?

8:09 AM Permalink
April 19, 2010

About Those iPads…

Apple vs. Everyone

“It’s a dumbed-down, sealed-shut device designed to make its owners into passive consumers.”
- Cory Doctorow

So I was recently asked something to the effect of
I am trying to decide if I need an iPad and have been reading mixed reviews with regards to the ability to use them at various Universities. I’m personally pretty Mac-resistant, but I don’t have a terribly good reason for it. Other than that they’re expensive and want to kill Flash and have some of the most irritating marketing EVER!
I believe that I gave a fair and reasoned response to the question and present it here for anyone else that may be in need of an opinion around this subject.

So while on the surface, a lot of people are thinking that students will be able to have all their textbooks on the device, you need buy-in from all the assorted publishers and I do not see that happening.
The largest downer though, as you implied, is that there is no support for Flash or even AIR… rendering educational tools like VoiceThread (and our own CourseMedia system) useless on the device. A lot of educational tools are built in whole or in part upon the Flash Platform and Apple is blocking them as well as anything authored in Java, Lua, Mono, Unity, et cetera…
On the other hand, we see a slew of Windows 7 and Android tablets being readied for launch with the additional promise of Chrome OS tablets. Microsoft is being a lot more open lately, and Google/Android is a no brainer in that regard. In fact, Google recently announced that Flash will be integrated into their Chrome browser and (one would assume) all Chromium projects, while Google, Mozilla, and Adobe are working together on a new plugin architecture that will elevate content such as Flash to the level of HTML and JavaScript in the browser.
On one hand we see a bunch of great tech minds working together to open up platforms and make the computing experience better for everyone (and this will translate onto the upcoming tablets based on Android, Chrome, and the like) – on the other hand we have closed off, expensive, limiting Apple products.
Part of the university experience should be about exploring and studying the world around us- being open to different technologies in such an environment should be no different.

I’m sure there are plenty that would disagree with several of my points in this opinion piece. I’m open to that.

5:20 PM Permalink
February 5, 2010

Current RIA Job Trends

With all the nonsense being put out in some circles placing HTML5 and Flash content at odds with one another atop highly exaggerated claims that HTML would “replace” or “phase-out” Flash within the next few years (what?), it might be heartening for those students looking to work in the field of RIA to know exactly where they stand with current job trends.
I was alerted to a recent study of indeed.com data made by Jonathan Campos that I believe should give future graduates a more solid outlook if they’ve been at all rattled by the recent debates.
Some of the highlights are revealed in the following charts (keep in mind that July 2009 is probably the height of the current global recession):
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We can see from the graph above that Flex is still the leading RIA technology. Sure, Dojo (representing the HTML/JavaScript area of RIA) is doing nicely as well- but HTML/JavaScript and Flash are complementary technologies and in no way supplant one another aside from their specific strengths and weaknesses.

Happily, we see here that practitioners of RIA technologies still get paid nicely for their work.
Students- you have nothing to worry about. Don’t let the trolls frighten you!

12:42 AM Permalink
January 25, 2010

Adobe WorkflowLab

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Adobe recently released a new Air application that “provides an easy way to learn about, track and share workflow best practices.” WorkFlowLab provides a collaborative environment that will allow designers, developers, and project managers to communicate and share workflows.
I imagine that students could use WorkflowLab to help manage their classroom multimedia projects (think an interactive Gantt chart) …and heck, it’s free!

http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/workflowlab/

6:58 AM Permalink
January 7, 2010

Flash Player on Mobile Devices

Walk down any high school or junior high hall and you will notice how popular mobile devices are. It seems that just about every kid has access to a “smart phone.” However, students have been unable to access engaging and rich web content delivered in the Flash format. This is starting to change.
Recent releases of certain mobile devices are realizing how much content is delivered via the Flash format (over 80% of web video is distributed as Flash video) and will, in the near future, support Flash Player 10.1. Students that carry smart phones that include Flash Player 10.1 will be able to visit sites like National Geographic and Brain Pop (just to name a few) and teachers will gain an exciting instructional delivery tool!
Read more…

6:21 AM Permalink
December 1, 2009

Educational Sites Worth a Peek

WatchKnow
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Dr. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, has created a website that sifts through the fluff and delivers only educational videos. Dr. Sanger says, ” think of it as YouTube meets Wikipedia, filtering out everything but quality educational videos.”
All the videos on WatchKnow are hosted by external websites (National Geographic, YouTube, etc.) which may cause issues with filtering software, but so far, I’ve found it easy to use and loaded with lots of great content.
Visit www.watchknow.org
WolframAlpha
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WolframAlpha is a “computational knowledge engine.” A normal search engine returns links based on search parameters. WolframAlpha returns answers.
For example, I typed in “December 25″ and Wolfram returned:

  • Christmas Day
  • Birth of Hal Scardino (actor)
  • Gorbachev resigns as president of Soviet Union
  • Cyclone hits Australia (1974)
  • Coronation Stone is stolen (1950)
  • Daylight information
  • …etc.


http://www.wolframalpha.com

12:35 PM Permalink
November 17, 2009

Adobe BrowserLab

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Testing your web sites in multiple browsers is a drag.
I typically test web pages in Safari, Firefox, and the latest release of Internet Explorer. However, I have found it necessary to test in older versions as well. This can prove difficult because I don’t have older browser versions installed on my computer(s).
Adobe BrowserLab comes to the rescue!

“Adobe® BrowserLab is an online hosted service that lets you test the pages of your web site across a variety of web browsers and operating systems. The service works by taking screen shots of your web pages in different browsers, and then displaying them in the BrowserLab application window.
You can use BrowserLab as a standalone service, or integrated with Dreamweaver CS4. The standalone service lets you test pages that you’ve posted to a server within the context of a web browser. If you use BrowserLab as an integrated service with Dreamweaver, you can test your pages from within Dreamweaver without publishing your pages to a server.”

The following browsers are supported:

  • Firefox 2.0 – Windows XP
  • Firefox 3.0 – Windows XP
  • Firefox 3.5 – Windows XP
  • Chrome 3.0 – Windows XP
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 – Windows XP
  • Internet Explorer 7.0 – Windows XP
  • Internet Explorer 8.0 – Windows XP
  • Safari 3.0 – Macintosh OS X
  • Safari 4.0 – Macintosh OS X
  • Firefox 2.0 – Macintosh OS X
  • Firefox 3.0 – Macintosh OS X
  • Firefox 3.5 – Macintosh OS X

BrowserLab also gives you the ability to view your page in “2-up” view and the very cool “Onion Skin View.” Two-up view allows you to scope-out a web page in two different browsers in a side-by-side layout. Onion Skin View overlays the pages so that you can quickly spot any major layout problems.
Visit Adobe Browserlab
2-up View
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Onion Skin View
onionskin.jpg
Scott Trudeau
www.tutorialstop.com

8:14 AM Permalink