Category Archives: Imported

{Year 2} [Session 10] The Chrysalids are bursting from the Walled e-Garden (reflection)

This lecture served as a return to the important issues of e-safety and responsible use of the Internet; topics we visited last year. This year we reviewed the topic with an accent on social learning, related Web 2.0 resources – and the issues raised by children’s use of them: bullying, privacy, e-safety, appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

Many parents are worried about e-safety (some are not). Many are worried about legitimate dangers; others are overreacting to media fear-mongering. But there are limits to the protections afforded by the watchful eyes of parents and practitioners.

What remains to be said about e-safety, walled gardens and cyber-bullying? In this short little reflective blog, I would simply like to refer to a classic British science fiction novel written by John Wyndham, author of Day of the Triffids.

In The Chrysalids – a book my younger brother studied at GCE (and therefore well-established in the UK educational bibliosphere) – a generation of young children in the far future discover that they are an evolutionary quantum leap ahead of their parents. I don’t want to spoil the story, but it involves the children making tough decisions about how to create their own future in a world their parents don’t understand. Sound familiar?

The future belongs to the children: they are making it, not just with the web; but the web and the technology that powers it will be a huge part of their constructed world, whether we like it or not.

Parents can’t be expected to enjoy or even understand their children’s bizarre interaction with this technological behemoth. They can only try to learn and work with their children, teaching them to behave kindly and responsibly in that world, just as they would when playing football or crossing the street.

When I read the Chrysalids as a child, I did not look too deeply for metaphors; but rereading it in a time of intense technological change, I realise how little we can do to stop children from creating the future they want to see.

 

 

{Year 2} [Session 9] IT’s all about the BETT (reflection)

Machines, marketing, ministers … and scantily clad models dressed as bees (for real; ask Jason).

BETT was incredibly weird and exciting – and very tiring. I slept like a baby last night. I couldn’t do four days in a row of schmoozing. These people must be on something.

 

The Apex Affair

Following my pre-launch briefing from Mr. Buckingham: my mission, should I have chosen to accept it, would have been to invest my (fictional) IT budget of £50,000 (it’s a prep school) on hardware and perhaps a little bit of software. My day began at the top, at the strategic level, in the Apex Suite, listening to Mr. Gove’s speech. I must say it was very important and informative: many fun factoids (more tech in a smartphone than the moon mission), philosophical musings (AI winter and Plato’s “akademia” in a shady olive grove) and some important remarks.

Some Levs™ from the speech

Government is taking a step back: it will not tell us what to do; the ICT curriculum is being scrapped (subject to consultation) and the web has everything we need to make IT rigorous and challenging from primary onwards.

Games (while still in a behaviouristic paradigm) are Good: we can use them; we are allowed to! YES! WIN!

Computer Science is going to be very in, this decade: we cannot doubt the importance of computer science in the future economy: this means that kids must become more awesome at maths, physics, engineering, and all the tough Star Trek stuff. It’s our job to boost them into the physics paradigm and no more namby pamby studies. Authentic (Jonassen) science and geek rule. Problem solvers needed. Apply now.

Open Source Curriculum: it’s not some stone tablet. It’s a wiki, it’s alive and it’s in our hands. This is only the beginning of our journey.

 

The main mission parameters

Armed with a fresh mindset, I enjoyed exploring BETT, but I was not serious about my £50,000 capex mission parameters. Even if I had been, I found that suppliers are reluctant to get down to the question of money. They tend to be evasive and want to ‘build a relationship’ with the school, they want to visit and schmooze. They want to scan me and capture me into the CRM system. No doubt I will soon receive a lot of (ecologically unsound) booklets, catalogues, leaflets, other marketing nonsense very soon. Hardware suppliers from outside the UK (China) showed me some rather decent interactive whiteboards, cheaper than the big boys… and why not? I was tempted, and they obliged me with some no-nonsense pricing. I honestly regretted the fact that I had led them on slightly.

 

Some attractions

I liked mobile pupil progress tracker Incerts. Android version coming soon.

I liked the cheap and cheerful BCY IWB hardware. Lack of support and market penetration a possible problem.

Microsoft was impressive. Lovely phones, a rather decent update of Sharepoint (enough for me to forget my Sharepoint nightmares of the early 2000s). And most importantly: a project to provide cheap PCs for low-income pupils: school meal PCs at £99 which you don’t have to apply for. As a teacher, your word is bond. You can buy as many as you like for your pupils who need a home Pc but can’t afford one. I liked that very much.

Ideapaint is a lovely product. It’s paint that acts a whiteboard, turning any wall(s) in your classroom into a (dry-erasable) blank canvas for art, mindmaps… anything. No more classroom displays! Ideapaint!

Constellations furniture. Beautiful.

 

Some annoyances

Fronter is being re-branded as Imagine, a suite of bloatware that includes, you guessed it, Fronter. No sign of Mr. Sannier and the much-lauded OpenClass (Why? No money to be made).

I boycotted any booths that promoted software that used Comic Sans. That included Espresso Primary (do primary schoolchildren even need to know the word, espresso?) No explanation needed.

Some weird smartboard add-ons that cost more that the actual smartboard. I won’t mention any names. Do we really need JBL speakers and widget that zooms in and out in an ‘egronomic’ (sic) style?

 

Some disappointments

What happened to Google? The stand was really quite boring. Google: You Can Do Better. Need To Try Harder.

Casio is stuck in the past. I love Casio but the beast needs to wake up.

Where was Sony? Did anyone find Sony? I stumbled upon some consultants who had a nice little booth for using the Playstation in the classroom as a media server and Little Big Planet constructionist environment, but no explicit Sony presence. Sony also needs to improve; much potential but seemingly little effort.

 

Conclusions

I agree with Buckingham's interpretations of BETT. There was something a little disorienting about it all. I love gadgets and tech, but that's what it was. I was trying to find the education side, and had to come back down to Earth to achieve that.

I am looking forward to going back once I have qualified and I have a job. And money to spend. It won't have to be £50,000, but what ever it is, I will try to keep an open, but sceptical, mind.

{Year 2} [Session 8] Buckingham’s Educational-Technological Complex at BETT (2007)

David Buckingham (2007) opens his book on children’s learning in the age of digital culture with an account of the thrills and spills of BETT, the world’s biggest event for what he calls the ‘educational-technological complex’ (2007:12), a knowing allusion to the nemesis of all conspiracy theorists, the military-industrial complex.

While he admits that the edtech-complex is not as ‘conspiratorial’ as the other one, it is an apt metaphor, given the enormity of the industry, its influence on educators, and its ethical/moral shades. In a Futurelab article on technology-based assessment for learning, it was claimed, without specific reference – as it is now generally accepted – that the UK leads the world in educational technology; but not – as The Importance of Teaching regrets – in education, having fallen far behind its original OECD PISA placing. Ten years have seen South Korea and Finland apparently blow the UK out of the water. Does this mean that UK edtech has more power and influence than UK education? Is the tail wagging the dog?

I always felt that there was a philosophical conflict between the genuine authenticity of the educator and the mercantile self-interest of the edtech suppliers, and this opinion seems to be supported by Buckingham. This dichotomy is very much in evidence when you go to BETT, get scanned and get hustled. He also points out that the much of the repackaged educational methodolgies, given a high-tech gloss, are not particularly innovative, for the most part. He raises interesting questions about what edtech is achieving: accountability or surveillance? Innovation or gimmickry? Hyperactive evangelism or informed choice?

I will post about my experience at BETT after this. Reading Buckingham as a preface to the day was a useful experience: it was my pre-mission manual. It allowed me to mentally prepare for the hustle and keep my backpack light.

 

 

Buckingham, D. (2007) Beyond technology: children's learning in the age of digital culture. Oxford: Wiley

{Year 2} [Session 8] The Ninjitsu of Professional Networks (reflection)

It was appropriate that the Professional Networks session… the conference, the seminar, the tutorial… was hosted online and became the teleconference, the webinar, the mooc.

We are a real community, but we also have to contend with the technological realities of the virtual community. The slightly chaotic verisimilitude of community by telepresence is a disadvantage of modern life, but a necessity. I only get to talk to most of my family via Skype. It’s weird and not as nice as a normal conversation, but it’s ‘free’ and it works. It is also much easier than asking the operator to place a trunk call. Of course, it is unlikely that we will communicate remotely with our classroom of pupils… but who knows? Maybe the future of teaching is that of Sugata Mitra's English Grannies (grannycloud).

Professional networks of like-minded people have semiotics and codes of their own. Gee refers to Semiotic domains. People who use Skype to talk about their French homework belong to a learning community. The Frenchy Skype chat is a semiotic domain, especially if they share jokes, language and ideas that are not immediately accessible to non-fans.

It was interesting that Andy Hoang was able to tune in, help out, understand and contribute, demonstrating how a network ninja can embrace a community of practice.

The ancient art of Ninjitsu, the Japanese military science of stealth warfare, espionage and assassination, needed the professionalism and semiotic domain principles of a strong network. Ninjas would find ways of covertly communicating to their masters, their colleagues and their allies using special codes, languages, and environmental signs, such as markings on trees, city walls and other stealth network tools.

Teachers who participate in online communities of practice are not that different from the ancient ninja. They may not recognise each other in a crowded city square, but know the common language of participation, assistance, collaboration, and convenient messaging using the environment. They are communication experts in a large, diverse professional network.

{Year 2} [Session 7] VLEspace in a Western School: Fronter into the Gauntlet (reflection)

User Experience Advice: for Fronter hyperlinks to link properly, Fronter should be already logged in – just another little Fronter idiosyncrasy!

Come back County Prep School! All is forgiven!

Earlier this year, I completed my first placement with mixed feelings about facing the gauntlet of IT leadership in an unreceptive environment: I loved the school, and the children were about as perfect as they could be: somewhere on a dusty shelf somewhere is an Asimov story about cloned schoolchildren who are just too good to be true. Those children were the ones. I loved many things about the school: the art and the music provision, the wonderful specialist teachers, the delicious food. However, I did not love The State of The IT Union at that school. I complained about many things in a reflective post. In retrospect, I think I was being a bit harsh.

After spending four weeks on my second placement in Dorset, I can only say:

"Come back County Prep School! All is forgiven!"

 

The New Gauntlet: The Noose

I should be clear about the purpose of this post. I would like to reflect on my use of the virtual learning environment, Fronter, general adventures in VLEspace, the receptiveness of the children, the limitations of implementing a VLE, and observations about my teaching and learning both in and out of VLEspace.

 

The Western Fronter

I experienced early issues with Fronter. Not Fronter’s fault; my own, for bringing unrealistic expectations of what I could achieve with the design and user experience. Others in our RoeLE group have remarked on design issues, navigation issues, page load problems, Java problems, pages not saving. I (luckily) did not experience any major hiccups, but I kept waiting for my room to look awesome… I kept trying to tweak and tinker (moving this container here; deleting that one, cut and paste into this new container, reformat… again. Repeat…). After a slow start, I realised (with some advice from lecturers and peers) that I should work within Fronter’s limitations, stop whining, and get on with it. And so I tried to be happy with something I could work with.

I liked Emma’s Olympic design (in spite of the Sans). I liked her decision to use images on a white background that blend well with the canvas, and the ordered layout that works with the container structure. I used this policy for my own design, but with a view to keeping Van Allsburg’s beautiful graphic style (which does lend itself well to rectangular containers): black, orange and monochrome shadings.

 

Sparking the Mysteries of Harris Burdick

I also made an important structural decision at this stage. Since the room was intended as a supporting tool for a visual literacy project, part of the English syllabus focusing on the picture book as a starting point for compositional writing in mystery and suspense, I did not want to pepper my site with games, gimmicks and exits. I wanted them to stay inside and focus on the book. I could have embedded some exciting multimedia and other e-tivities; but I decided to maintain the essential e-tivities that could be completed within Fronter, allowing my pupils to learn how to use Fronter’s navigation and inputs rather than focusing on imported material. Salmon is quite clear on this: ‘the web or other resources may be involved but this is usually to provide a stimulus or a start (the ‘spark’) to the interaction rather than as the focus of the activity’ (Salmon, 2002:4).

 

Resolution 800

I used a 3 x 3 = 9 layout. I think it worked well, but depending on the browser and the screen resolution default (at the school it was set to 800 x 600… don’t ask!) the boxes would sometime misalign or vanish into the edge of the visible area while the annoying huge blue Fronter overhead banner and left navigation pane dominated the screen. It was at this point that I decided that Fronter, from a personalisation/customisation layout option perspective, is too archaic to survive.

Nevertheless, I had three modules in the room that were ready for guests: The Conversation (a forum about the book), The Vocabulary (a brainstorm of Harris Burdick words, which Fronter has displayed in customary graphic eloquence) and The Story (the key activity for the lesson sequence). Other modules were left as “mysteries” for subsequent episodes created either by myself or, as I was hoping, the children. I had not realised that only Ihad build-access, but I thought when the time came that I could get around that somehow.

 

Engaging the learners and sustaining momentum

The children, when I ran the first elicitation activity around the book and the VLE (in the library, not the computer lab), were excited about the idea of creating a podcast about the disappearance of the enigmatic author in which they would play the parts of experts and specialists exploring his fate and his artistic legacy. I may return to this next term. The interesting part is that the children saw the standby modules, Another Mystery… but not yet, as an opportunity for them to take control of the VLE room and build their own modules, which I also hope to revisit next time.

I was privileged to work with eight amazing children on this project: they taught me more than I could have taught them. They were allocated to me by the class teacher who described their abilities as “varied” but from their work on the forums and especially in “The Story”, I can only describe their input as outstanding and inspiring, especially T’s cosmological, astronautical twist on the final Burdick mystery, which I only wish I could reproduce here.

In retrospect I am satisfied that of nine planned modules in the room, I created and delivered three modules over five lessons, since I was not afforded the opportunity to do as much teaching as I would have liked. There were too many other important things for the children to do, such as rehearsing for the play or making pom-pons.

I will explain the operational issues of teaching the subject in the next section.

 

“I felt like a real astronaut! But a failed one”

The was an impassably huge gap between my ambitions and hopes for the pupils working in VLEspace and creating their ‘e-portfolios’ (Gillespie et al, 2007:50), and the operational realities of daily teaching, existing curricular obligations, nativity plays and actual ‘ICT teaching’ which was considered separately to my VLEspace programme. I will return to this topic in a future post. Meanwhile, attached below is a sample of what supposedly constitutes a suitable IT-related lesson worksheet.

As we have read elsewhere in Blogfolio, piloting Fronter presented a complexity of problems depending on firewalls, LGfL e-safety policy, and computer health – but in some cases, we have seen that Fronter was in constant use at the particular school and this allows for smooth operation of new Fronter projects. Even in those cases there could be logistical problems of when and where, how many, space, noise, disruption and forgotten passwords.

My main issue was getting access to teaching time for my eight pupils. I felt, at times, that my teaching requirements were not being taken seriously and had to lobby for teaching opportunities. Effectively, it was rational to have taken a gradual approach to the room development because we did not reach the point of using multimedia (podcasting) in the room, which I very much wanted to do. Since learning is a gradual process, I had to be satisfied with the literacy aspects of the Harris Burdick lessons and the slow build-up to The Story module.

The Story was a simple conversation forum but the children and I got a lot out of it. They also worked on it at home, which I was able to monitor by viewing their access timestamps. This was very rewarding for me. I had not explicitly set homework, but they were happy to work informally on the VLE. This reinforces what Futurelab tells us about informal learning. I made sure to provide feedback in the “summarise” option (it’s not really “summarise”, is it?) and fulfil my formative assessment (AFL) requirements. This was so easy to do, and I enjoyed it very much. I would like to have responded more quickly to their work. Fronter does not have the facility to alert you when something is updated (Blogfolio, PBworks, and many other social tools do this); I think this is the one thing about Fronter I really cannot forgive. Why should it not be possible for Fronter to ping you when your pupil does something? Pedagogic design negligence, in my opinion.

 

Thank you, Mr. Van Allsburg

I was observed by my SET during one of  The Story lessons. I should share some of her observations. She thought I spent too much time describing the activity and too much talk time in general, which is a fair assessment. After all, the children were able to work by themselves at home, so in future I will take a detached approach to VLEspace teaching. Show, don’t tell! The SET was impressed with the quality of the pupils’ work and said that they were inspired by the material. I think this validated my choice of material for the VLE.

I originally had doubts about using a picture book as a basis for a VLE room. I thought it would not be "edutechy" enough. I seriously thought about restarting with a science-related project, which might have worked well with interactive science games, quizzes, videos and other fun things. I am glad I stuck to my original idea. I think it worked quite well and I would like to reopen the VLE in May for a new exploration of Harris Burdick.

Chris Van Allsburg is a children’s author and illustrator of many beautiful books. Like Eric Carle, our inspiration for last year’s scratch game, he is a legend, and I enjoyed teaching English and ICT based on his work.

 

 

Asimov, I. (1951) The Fun they had. The magazine of fantasy & science fiction (February) ??-??

Gillespie et al (2007) Learning and teaching with virtual learning environments. Exeter: Learning Matters

Merchant, G. (2007) Writing the future in the digital age. Literacy, 41 (3) 118-128

Pritchard, A. (2005) Ways of learning. London: David Fulton

Richardson, W. (2009) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities. London: Kogan

 

 

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{Year 2} Session 7] VLEspace in a Western School: Fronter into the Gauntlet (reflection)

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{Year 2} [Session 7] The E-tivity Grail: Gilly Salmon’s “Spark” (2002)

For the successful Salmon e-tivity (the framework for active, mindful, e-learning through text-based interaction), the holy grail is the spark. What Salmon calls the “spark” is the source of energy that fuels the community’s engagement, enjoyment and participation. In Session 7, PBworks definitely played the part of the spark. It is a very lovely piece of software. Henry Jenkins was also a spark.

Gilly Salmon’s ideas about asynchronous e-tivities, ‘sparked’ by the e-moderator, definitely have a parallel in our own use of Blogfolio and hopefully, PBworks. I would say that the interactive aspects of Fronter, the forum being the best example, are “sparky” because there is an enthusiasm about checking for news on the forum (my pupils enjoyed this). This is undoubtedly a ‘motivating, engaging and purposeful’ (Salmon, 2002:18) process that is very good for pupil motivation.

What I like about the purity of Salmon’s ‘spark’ and e-tivity characteristics is that they are timeless. Having read Salmon in conjunction with other, more prescriptive, texts, I would celebrate Salmon’s contribution as a pure zen-like approach to the essential rules of learning community management. E-tivities was written in 2002, but does not delve into the specificities of educational technology to the extent of, say, Lachs (2000) or Gillespie et al (2007). Because of this, Salmon’s book seems more like general pedagogic theory than specific a ICT manual, and feels more academic than practical – but this does not mean that e-tivities are not practicable. Some of the ‘spark’ examples she lists (2002:116) are relevant for any type of audience at any age, and they are still relevant today (ten years later), even though we are beyond bulletin boards and internet relay chat.

In February, I will undertake an additional placement at the National Gallery, hopefully before the end of the Leonardo Da Vinci Show! I will experiment with the spark of a particular painting or sketch, or an excerpt from a notebook, and use the spark as a basis for a webquest.

 

 

SALMON, G. (2002) E-tivities. London: Kogan

{Year 2} [Session 7 ] The Dawn of a New Wiki (reflection)

Peanut Butter!

Does anyone want to know what the PB stands for? Peanut Butter! In 2005 they were meant to be as easy as peanut butter, the new, the original PBwikis!

I read about them in Lifehacker and remember being amazed at how quickly the writer claimed to have set up his own wiki. This was after a frustrating episode when I was trying to make a wiki for a company that wanted to “wiki-fy” its institutional knowledge. What they wanted was their own private Wikipedia. It was very difficult to do (for me) at the time. Finally an IT guy with some Linux knowledge came over to help us – so we had solved the problem when PBwiki hit the market, but it was so much easier. I remember thinking, why couldn’t you guys release this six months ago?

I first used PBwiki for myself in 2007 as a project management tool but switched to Basecamp because it was less like a wiki (collaborative knowledge base) and more like a project management tool (milestones, to-dos, timelines, hurry-up messages).

Nevertheless, PBworks is beautiful, easy to use and incredibly well-designed. A new dawn for a new platform for us! Having seen how we have started to pepper it with our knowledge following the lecture on participatory learning, I am very much looking forward to working on this software.

At the moment, I am still getting to grips with navigation and page management. The Sidebar, Navigator, and Recent Activity windows are useful and designed to be dynamic, with in-page loading. This is so refreshing after the pain of Fronter’s page-reloads! When PBwiki reloads a page, it’s lightning-fast!

That’s enough marketing for PBworks.

I have two questions which I am considering now.

1. The potential of a PBworks in the primary classroom

It has the benefit of simplicity, ease-of use, speed, and administrative smoothness that makes it a valid choice. But, like Fronter, the question becomes: we have the tool, but what do we use it for? We don’t want the tail to wag the dog.

Perhaps, if we are studying the earth, moon and beyond, we might create our own AstroWiki, for example.

I think the appeal of wikis for older children is that if they are already using their own wikis on Wikia, which hosts just about every fan wiki out there, including Thomas the Tank Engine,  they will jump at the chance to make their own classroom wiki, which is the tail wagging the dog slightly, but allows for some good IT lessons.

Children will want to experiment with every wiki from the Yu-Gi-Oh wiki to the pets diabetes to the bacon wiki. There’s a wiki for everyone out there. I love the Oolite wiki. It is beautiful. Children will be enthused by the possibilities of so many wikis. Also, the word wiki seems to imbue collaborative work with the stamp of legitimacy. The word wiki seems to have become synonymous with knowledge: a good discipline for pupils to aspire to.

2. How to organise our own wiki: web2forprimary?

When I think wiki, have the image of the Wikipedia design in my mind. Title on the left, summary below, image and quick reference facts on the right. Is this a suitable design for our purposes? Possibly. The strength of the wiki is its simplicity of use: it is not intended as a design masterpiece, so perhaps we should avoid over designing our pages?

I am still unclear about PBworks’ built-in templates. What is their purpose? Should we use them?

I will look at Oolite for inspiration.

{Year 2} [Session 6] Henry Jenkins on Participatory (sub) Cultures (2010)

Henry Jenkins is now a USC film school professor, an interesting culmination of a career trajectory that has encompassed journalism, education, comic books and video game culture among many other cool things. Jenkins is an expert on the subcultures of young people, especially geeky or nerdy subcultures which have come of age and are now in control of (at least) the web, if not the world (see Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others). The fact that he chooses Peter Parker as his metaphor for the young cybernaut is interesting: Spider-Man is of course, one of the most successful franchises of all time, a story that came from outside the electronic world: the grungy, underground world of Marvel Comics, before they went mainstream and opened a film studio. Peter Parker is not a normal teenager. He will always be seen as a nerd, no matter how many times Spider-Man is rebooted, rebranded, and rediscovered.

This analogy translates to every super-nerd from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg. Interestingly, although Jenkins portrays today’s youth as evolutionary offshoots of science fiction geeks, underground zine publishers, indie filmmakers and punk musicians, these creative forces have often been described as uncommunicative and socially inept, rather than socially engaged, enterprising and participatory communicators, changing their communities and worlds through their grassroots virtual activism.

He offers a highly amusing but persuasive example of the Latin American politician who sees World of Warcraft as a breeding ground for change agents.

As a self-confessed geek (science fiction, comics, video games) I do feel enthused by the surfacing of geek culture into the mainstream and the vigour with which Jenkins and other mavens of convergence would apply the conventions of fan-based subcultures to the greater context of Web 2.0. However, I am not sure I am convinced by (a) the extent to which true participation actually happens online, especially among disenfranchised youth, and (b) the idea that media creation, remixing, fan cultures and other online worlds actual translate to the real world economic change beyond protest and activism.

The skills Jenkins describes in his white paper, have – by his own admission – existed throughout history – the modern difference is the speed and permeation of participatory culture in both underground and mainstream culture: a tweet travels faster than a letter, but revolutions were started before printing presses.

I believe these skills are a portfolio of tools that children are growing up with: digital natives. As an educator, my hope and dream is to help children develop these skills beyond the virtual and toward solving the pressing issues of our collapsing economy and natural world; skills which Tim Jackson hopes our young children will muster and master… they are urgently needed.

 

 

{Year 2} [Session 6] The Web Design of Everyday Things (reflection)

It is not surprising that the best websites are like the things we use every day: door handles, stairs and toilets. They may not be the most beautiful things – but they are well designed because the builders have accounted for the user’s experience. In the case of Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, BBC, and other well-designed services, the web-design is simply an extension of general design philosophies: simplicity, openness, warmth, hospitality, clarity, functionality, and personalisation: the best-designed websites are, simply, common tools, products or services of everyday life. They work because they must work. They have to "feel right": like a fork and knife or a steering wheel.

We are aware of the aesthetically intelligent and economical design of the best websites, but what is Wikipedia but a white page with black text and a some pictures? Successful designers understand the golden ratio, the rule of thirds, the rational model, the rule of thumb, and all the other design rules.

When I started this programme, I began reading the Psychology of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman. It was recommended by John Lodge. Published in pre-web 1988, it was reissued some time ago as the Design of Everyday Things. I enjoyed the first few chapters, then got bogged down with pedagogy textbooks, so I returned it and promised myself to buy it and finish it at some point. At the time, I wondered why John had recommended a book that seemingly had little to do with IT or the computing and creativity material that Miles would be teaching. Of course, Norman is an alumnus of MIT, he has undoubtedly rubbed shoulders with Papert and other greats (the book is published in New York by Basic Books, which released early editions of Mindstorms), but it is not explicitly about computing, the web or education.

However, when we consider the big picture, anchored by the idea that, as more knowledgeable others, we are guiding children through their interactions with the world, physical and virtual, the book is highly relevant. The first chapter, as I remember, deals with door handles at some length. If I were to plan a design and technology lesson around doors and door handles, I would be confident in my choice of material – thanks to Donald Norman.

It is not just web design we like in the web but also the design of interaction, whether 2-D, virtual, and clickable, or truly interactive.

If design is so simple, why is there so much bad design across the web? One of my New Year’s mini-resolutions was to stop getting angry with Comic Sans. After all, Comic Sans is not as dangerous as, for example, Napalm – and certainly not worth getting angry about – unlike, say, land mines. During my school placement, the school's entire medium term plan for all subjects was set in Comic Sans and printed. The ENTIRE document. How can something innocuous cause such offence? (and I will let my contributions to the Comic Sans Thread end here). Why does a font inspire so much venom? For that matter, why do we find Fronter’s gaping design flaws so frustrating?

I have spent a lot of time ruminating over the constraints, complaints, restrictions, and frictions of Fronter. I think that the issue with a widely-accepted platform – a platform that has cost schools time and freedom, local government resources and money, for my part a good deal of piece of mind – is that we know it belongs in the past and there is something unwholesome about the way it has been foisted upon teachers. Even Fronter’s owners have left it behind. When Adrian Sannier seduces us with Pearson’s new Google-inspired platform, OpenClass, which, no doubt will be an important attraction at BETT, and talks about the ‘ineffective, clunky (Fronter) LMS as we know it’ being dead and the ‘walls impeding modern education’ crashing down, he means the walls of Fronter’s schoolhouse metaphor. Even Pearson has given up on Fronter. The horse has bolted from the stable with all the money.

Designing in Fronter is, a pointed out elsewhere, a challenge to work within constraints, which can often be creatively rewarding. If you accede with the aesthetic of Fronter’s containers and do nothing and go nowhere navigation crypto-geography then you can just about achieve a pleasant user experience. Never mind if your pupils can’t find the save button.

 

 

 

Norman, D. A. (2002) The design of everyday things. New York: Basic Books