March 16, 2012

Dead to Me: Avoiding the teaching resource “death sentence” in my classroom

Filed under: edtech,iPads,TeachersFirst,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:30 am

I read a great post from Rian van der Merwe, a tech designer/dad in South Africa. He shares four essential guidelines for folks designing iPad apps for his young daughter. His requests make perfect sense, not only for young children on iPads, but for our students using both apps and web resources. I especially like  this one:

If You Try To Trick My Kid Into Buying Stuff, You’re Dead To Me.…The screen is a landmine of carefully placed icons that lead to accidental purchases — not to mention the random animated banner ads that are designed to draw attention away from the app itself….if you try to use persuasive design on my young daughter, all bets are off. Your app will be deleted, and we’ll never do business again.

Does that remind you of experiences you have had with web sites in your classroom? How many have you declared “Dead to Me”?

Rounding out  Mr. van der Merwe’s top four usability guidelines for little fingers and young minds using iPads are these points (paraphrased):

  • use visual cues to indicate which things are interactive
  • make pagination using arrows: obvious and easy to navigate (even for little fingers)
  • make menus secondary: something we seek out and will not open accidentally

While some teachers may not be fortunate to own an iPad or even use them at school, we have parallel expertise on what drives us crazy about web sites OR apps we use with students in our classrooms. I offer my top four guidelines for web resources AND apps to avoid a “Dead to Me” sentence:

1. Bikinis are islands, nothing else.

If you must have ads to keep your app/site free, at least moderate them so there are no scantily clad women. My students are not here for human anatomy visuals or lessons on eating disorders. The same goes for guys with sixpacks in Speedos. Puberty begins earlier and earlier these days, even without your help.

2. Your energetic music is my insanity.

Engaging, perhaps. But your “engaging” music means I have to hand out headphones (lice?) or give the same directions for muting speakers and/or finding the “sound off” icon at least three times EVERY time we open the app/site. Set your music default to OFF.

3. I am not a student, so don’t force me to act like one.

I like to sample every activity/game/app, but I don’t have time to navigate through the whole thing just to know which terms are used or what we will learn. Give me Teacher Information. If your site/app is not intended for school, you can still tell us a bit about it. Call this area  “behind the scenes” if you don’t want to doom your app/site as “educational.” I’ll find the site/app anyway, if it is good. While you are at it, please tell me how long it typically takes to navigate a game and other practical tips. I promise not to send kids into your app/site without previewing and deciding how it fits our curriculum, but I need your help.

4. Remember Josh and Julie in the back row.

I love Josh and Julie. Josh is so bright he makes me laugh when I shouldn’t. He also knows how to break any game or web activity. He shows Julie (or she shows him), as they set their own “learning objectives” for the day. For Josh, the objective usually involves showing the game that he knows more or sleuthing out incorrect information or exceptions he can argue about. Josh needs a way to skip ahead by demonstrating competence and something open ended to intrigue him into productive and extended thinking. Julie has a learning disability. It does not prevent her recalling how to escape learning the terms or avoid thinking about anything that was “too hard” or open ended. Give more than a fleeting thought to Josh and Julie, and be honest in sharing what I may need to do to adapt for them … in the Teacher Info (see #3).

I personally thank any app/web developer who can adhere to at least these four. You’ll be alive and well with me. I am certain every teacher has at least two or three or ten death sentence avoidance guidelines to add. Each Thinking Teacher who writes for TeachersFirst has his/her own. We carry these with us as we write reviews for TeachersFirst, and we always welcome the thoughts and “guidelines” of others. Comment here or on any TeachersFirst resource review.




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