Apr 23

If I could do any other job I would love to be an industrial designer. Lego was my labyrinth as a boy and the space shuttle was designed in my bedroom circa 1978. Yes, upstairs in a town house in Scotland mid-Thatcherism I landed a space-shuttle on an amazing car-park my Dad had made me out of plywood. I always had things in mind that might be of interest to others - useful designs as well as the whimsical. It is always pleasure to learn about the work of other designers, but even more interesting is what motivates them.

A fella I have a great deal of respect for, Bryn Jones has an eye for design too. He understands the ICT design elements at play in the world around him. Observing the appearance of ultraportables and touch-screen interfaces he predicted the new MacBook would look like Yves Behar’s design for the X02 back in December at a meeting of WUGWA. The elements of this sort of technology are becoming available all the time and cheaper at that. These designs need software though. There may be other moves towards similar designs in the IT industry. Examples are the widespread use of Ajax in web interfaces and revision of iMovie ‘08 which pre-empts for me the move to a touch screen interface with multi-media. The skim features fit nicely with the pinch features of a multi-touch interface. Exciting times to love design.

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My concerns with these pictures of the new X02 design are that the students aren’t shown to be creating content and that they are mostly passive receptors of content. And where is the built in camera, scanner and green-screen like the iSight? These X02’s need to be able to be used to create music, movies, 3D design and graphics. Extending students to help them develop higher-order thinking skills is not an easy task. Historically, teachers have looked to Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) for assistance but this has proven to need rejigging for our times.

More recently, Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) have adapted Bloom’s model to fit the needs of today’s classroom by employing more outcome-oriented language, workable objectives, and changing nouns to active verbs (see this page).

Most notably, knowledge has been converted to remember. In addition, the highest level of development is create rather than evaluate.

In assessing effective contribution to learning, the design of these devices need to be seriously analysed for their ability to help students become content and knowledge creators rather than empty vestibules waiting to be filled. Let’s also not forget the most important part of the redisgn: OLPC has sacrificed its commitment to free software and is installing Windows.

The price tag of the Asus eePC, for example, is clearly attractive at first glance, but a closer look reveals it is a device that cannot even run that dog of a program Windows MovieMaker (see the flip-side here). Unless the kids can tell their story effectively and be given a stage for their creative ideas these devices will lose their novelty within a month. Still there is hope! When asked in an ideal world, “what is your single greatest hope for this project?”, Nicholas Negroponte founder of the OLPC Project replied:

A three-step hope: World peace through the elimination of poverty through education through learning. Education is the goal; learning is the means. A lot of learning can happen without teaching. We’re banking on that.

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Mar 10

As interactive white boards gain more traction in the educational technology market is this where we are heading? Jeff Han demonstrates the possibilities in the video below via here - great to see that Google Earth and Wikipedia are included - some logevity in those tools perhaps. The multi-touch display is remarkably like a giant iPhone interface and will keep teachers very fit as they move around. Will students be able to interact from their seats with a Wii like interface communicator?

Jeff Han's demo

Appendix: Tongue was firmly in cheek as I wrote this post.

Update: Thanks go out to my colleague Tanya for putting me onto this more detailed video of the interface as shown by it’s creator Jeff Tan at the TED Conference.

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Oct 12

While attending the Knowledge Bank 2006 Online Conference I listened to a presentation on a teacher developed website in a Year 1/Prep class at
Clevy Keyboard
Wheelers Hill Primary School. The website is centred on developing the metacognitive abilities of the Year 1/Prep students through the use of thinking and goal setting tasks, student self and peer assessments and rubrics. Additionally, it contains samples of student work and also planning documents. One thing raised was the difficulty students had in using traditional keyboards, specifically the ability to recognise capital letters. This is a problem I have experienced too. Adding stickers to the keys can help, but they tend not to last very long! Another solution may be a keyboard designed for these young learners. I have heard there are plastic covers available but can’t find a link. A couple of keyboards I have come across are Big Keys and Clevy Keyboard which has Australian distribution. BNC Distribution claims the Clevy Keyboard:

…. essential in the education of writing and computer skills in primary schools. It anticipates on the growing interest for the development of the motor system connected to the education of handwriting. Moreover, this attractively designed keyboard stimulates young children to get acquainted with computers in an educational way.

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