Thursday, July 28, 2011

Web Conferencing Tools - High & Low End

If you've been following me you will know that I think a lot about design, user interface and usability. In looking for other web conferencing apps I was happy to finally find a graphic oriented conference program, Sococo. About 8 years ago when I first got involved in eLearning and was doing a lot of investigating, I wanted what I couldn't find. Sococo has it. A total rethinking of the way web conferencing / remote business should be conducted.
  • Everyone gets an avatar that displays connectivity and spatial information.
  • There are offices and meeting rooms that look like offices and meeting rooms.
$50/month gets you 1000 participants and you can set up multiple spaces. There are a slew of other features that make this app something to consider including multiple teamscreens/app sharing with a built in browser for surfing the net together while in a conference rather than relying on an external browser and an app share for the moderator.

I hope that other companies follow this model because it makes so much more sense than what everyone else has and does. Look-See-Understand.

On the other end of the web conferencing spectrum is Big Blue Button, an open source web conferencing app. Those interested in open source and have the ability to deploy apps from their own servers should look at this one. Though it is not graphically oriented but follows the same layout as all the rest, it looks like a promising alternative to commercial products. It integrates with a few eLearning platforms such as Moodle and Sakai as well as some CMS such as Drupal and Wordpress. It does not yet have the full feature set of others but I'm sure it will if there is continued support and development.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's on the Web?

I've thought for while now the same thing as Tom March, that there is a short supply of actual learning activities on the web. Yes there are quite a few that actually guide students through the process but sometimes I get so frustrated when I frequently end up on purported educational sites that are full of: ads, links to print a black and white outline of a cartoon character or anything else, games that test knowledge instead of teach it.

Children's educational websites need to be focused on one thing. Learning. There should be no other distractions on the site and if absolutely necessary, links to things not related to the learning part should be unobtrusive and hidden in a corner. Even PBS Kids has a prominent print button on almost every activity and when I turn on my printer I find that there is a cue of 10 things to be printed from my kids, most were probably by accident by my 2 1/2 year old while her big brother helps her with Elmo.

Scouring through the web there are lots of wonderful things you could use if it happens to fit into what you are or could be doing. The problem arises when you are looking for something specific and only manage to find a printable word search or a hangman game.

Searching for information appropriate for younger audiences is also very tricky. The advanced searches and the dedicated searches and the hidden searches we tried out are great for doing hard core research. Third graders on the other hand need something they can read and understand. Google advanced search has a reading level filter for basic, intermediate and advance but I don't think it's always very accurate. I was happy to find SweetSearch, a dedicated search engine for students from Dulcinea Media. Check out their search and services.

Speaking of younger audiences, I was pretty disappointed with Google forms and even Zoho Creator and their inability to have any decent layout and design. Vertical block layout and no ability to put a graphic right where you need it. The form tools are very limited. Younger audiences should be presented with forms one question or idea at a time with a next button to go to continue. The design of the form/questions needs to allow for graphics to aid in understanding. I wish I had time to show you an example of what I'm thinking. Maybe down the road.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Web 2.0 and Design

    I had a bit more than a brief comment about What is Web 2.0? from for our “What are Internet Learning “Resources?” post, so I’ll talk about it here. They make a statement that a lot of the technology for Web 2.0 has been around for a long time and that perhaps a lot of the hype about the “new” Web 2.0 is unfounded because there is nothing new about a lot of the technology itself. This brings me to think that it’s not what the technology can do, but what you can do with the technology.

    As for web design (I am not a web designer but like to tinker), I occasionally check up on a few things to find out what is current and what are good practices just so I know a little more and it has helped me in my own criteria for deciding what are good websites and resources or not.

    Every one in a while I visit Jakob Neilson’s Alertbox, dedicated to promoting good usability in web design. There are some very good pointers in there for evaluating websites. Another I go to for fun is Stu Nichols CSSPlay, having examples of the latest in good CSS design, tips, tricks and mostly sharable code. He does some amazing things with pure CSS without any Javascript.

    I’m part designer inside of me and when designing a database in MS-Access, I start with the forms first, thinking about what information the user wants and how they will interact with it. Then I create the database tables and queries to populate the forms and reports. I’ve never been trained in database or user interface design but building this way just seemed right to me.

    Thus, I was was happy to find this from Bret Victor at Worrydream a very good read on web graphic design among other things. In the article Magic Ink, he shows much improved examples of how data and information can be presented in a different graphical style that makes information much easier to see and understand. He also starts his projects from a graphical design point of view, thinking about what is really important that the user to wants to know and should be able to find easily and intuitively. Scroll down the page of Magic Ink and find the section “Demonstration: Arraigning the Data” about how to reformat a typical movie listing section on a web site. His example of the BART subway timetable app is excellent too.

    Web 2.0 will not be only about the advanced tools we have to make it, but more importantly, it will be about how we use the tools we have to create excellence. Good Internet learning resources of any type in the future will have to be designed well in order to be most effective and useful.

    An example of what I think is a well designed and excellent learning resource is for learning ABCs, 123s, colors and shapes. The only gripe I have about it is that the activities open in a new window and the 3-6 year old target audience gets confused when they want to go back and try a different activity. Otherwise it is designed purely for learning. There are no quizzes or puzzles or stupid games or any other distractions. It is a 100% success website. There is nothing you can do wrong. Just learn. My other favorite for the same audience is Poisson Rouge, which I mentioned in my bio page for CEDO 520.