“You don’t have to be in a classroom to have a bad learning experience, you can access one from anywhere on your iPhone!”
Last weekend I installed Dropbox. I won’t use it to store any sensitive files, because of the privacy concerns surrounding the system, but so far I have found it very useful for keeping my general academic files in sync between a few computers.
Then I ran into a PICNIC error. Yesterday, during a Skype call with a colleague, I made some notes in a simple text file on my home computer. I am now in the office and have just gone to open the file on my laptop. Which would be fine if I had saved it in my Dropbox folder and not on the desktop. Problem code ID-10-T diagnosed.
My first thought was the obvious one in the post title but it also made me think about the importance of users integrating a technology into their computing practices so that it becomes instinctive.
Having read David’s post about Dwarf Fortress (I keep wanting to call it Gnome Fortress for some reason) I had a “quick” play. Admittedly my interest in computer games peaked when I owned a SNES (a D-pad and six buttons really should be enough for anything) and since then my tolerance of computer game complexity just about stretches to Command and Conquer style offerings.
But there was something strangely compelling about
Gnome Dwarf Fortress. ASCII graphics: check. Near-vertical learning curve: check. Certain defeat: check. It doesn’t sound like a winning combination, but I was compelled to delete it before addiction set in.
Afterwards I kept thinking about the link between a product’s learning curve and the willingness of the end user to invest time and energy in learning how to use the product sufficiently well to obtain what they consider to be a successful outcome.
Picture yourself in the following scenario if you will.
You are a teacher in a primary special school for children with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD). All pupils have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and will most likely have been excluded or have been under the threat of exclusion from their mainstream school. In this school your maximum class size is six pupils and you are assisted by a Teaching Assistant. Your pupils are from a mixed age range, have mixed academic abilities and tend to be grouped by their requirements and specific needs.
Pupils have an initial assessment upon entry to the school. This involves judging the child’s capabilities against a wide range of statements (for example “Knows that multiplying by four is the same as doubling and doubling again”). This information is stored in target monitoring software which then produces a printed list of an individual child’s targets for reading, writing and maths. There are strict progression targets for teachers to meet with their pupils.
In a nutshell you have six pupils with individual targets, specific needs and, in the majority of cases, very short tempers and classmates who know just the right buttons to press to illicit a response. There is the continual risk of verbal and physical abuse from pupils ranging from being spat to being kicked or punched.
Now try to imagine what your priorities would be if you were this teacher.
Having spent the best part of 18 months working with teachers in such an environment it became very clear that they were always pushed for time. Time to plan individually for six pupils whose targets didn’t conform to “the norm” and changed on a frequent basis. Time in class to cajole often reluctant pupils through the activities they had planned.
One of my roles was to evaluate and purchase curriculum software. It didn’t surprise me that the most popular teaching resources were those that could be copied on to an activity sheet or dropped into a demonstration on the interactive whiteboard. Teachers had very little time (and inclination as a result) to learn new technologies, especially if those technologies would be difficult to explain to and therefore frustrating for the pupils.
I couldn’t help but think that this situation is perhaps the polar opposite of the usage scenario envisaged for IMS Learning Design (LD) to produce reusable Units of Learning for online teaching environments. It also made me think that if you could “sell” the benefits of LD (or any other technology) to teachers in the unforgiving environment described above then you could persuade anyone to use it.
How do you allow teachers to see the benefits of a technology for themselves? How do you make a technology accessible enough to encourage teachers to firstly explore it (and produce something useful with a minimal investment of time and effort) and then be compelled enough to spend the time improving their knowledge and familiarity with the product in order to make it a part of their planning and teaching? How do you strike the balance between simplicity (for the quick fix) and feature richness (for more complex scenarios)? What do teachers want? How do you find out what teachers want? Do teachers have time to think about (from a technology point of view) what they might want or do they, through necessity or some other reason, stick to tried and tested technologies and methods?