Be Nice to Mobile

I’ve been a web developer for many years. Web design has gone through many phases, but by now it seems quite obvious that sites need to be optimized for mobile. Like many people — students included! — I use my phone for intense web browsing and reading.

My current pet peeve is websites that make you click from page to page to read an article. It’s fine for a browser, but NOT for mobile. I don’t understand why these sites don’t have a mobile optimized version.

Screenshot of on an iPhone browser. How to design a site to be unfriendly to mobile!

Screenshot of on an iPhone browser. How to design a site to be unfriendly to mobile!

In one, there are so many ads and extraneous information, besides having to tab from page to page — at least NINE pages — it’s nearly impossible to read the article.

While this doesn’t directly relate to education and technology, it is definitely is something content providers — whether they focus on education or not — need to consider. Any site with content needs to be mobile friendly. It’s just better customer service!

Using the Tool

I’m reading the digital version of a monthly education technology publication. As I’m turning “pages” that are basically the print magazine design, just online, I wonder when, finally, these publications will produce content delivery designs that are built for the technology, rather than just print pieces put online. I’m hoping these tech publications, of all things, will lead the way!

It reminds me of the early days of the web when all people wanted to post was their print brochure. We worked hard to get people to understand that content could -and should – be different online. You write differently, you structure the content differently, you choose different words and visuals. Content should be designed from the very beginning for digital delivery, not transforming content written for and designed to be delivered in print.

I’m reading the magazine in iBooks on an iPad. It’s not a bad reading experience, but is constrained, limited. It’s linear, even more so than a print piece. I have to zoom in on most of the pages because to fit both pages in a spread on the iPad, the text is a little small for my late-40s eyes. I started reading the magazine in a browser. Again, not a horrible experience, but far, far from ideal. I know I wouldn’t read the whole thing is I had to read it in that long, linear fashion.

What would a digital native “magazine” look like? I’m not sure, but can see some possibilities. Flipboard, for example, gives some ideas of what a digital native publication could be. Let me choose the articles I not to read without making me scroll. Don’t present two spread pages. Take advantage of the medium: embed video, use more visuals in slideshows, open links in separate windows. Let me share a single article on Twitter or Facebook.

Crash Course

Ok, how have I not seen these Crash Course in World History videos before? These are truly magnificent. I think I learned more about the Industrial Revolution in this 10 minute video than I ever learned in a college class…. or at least this video made it more memorable!

These videos are a brilliant example of how to engage 21st century learners:

  • The videos are obviously very visual, relying on sophisticated graphics and historical imagery.
  • They are short, only 10 minutes. (They sure pack a punch in 10 minutes!)
  • They relate the past to the present, creating a real world learning situation.
  • The videos ask critical thinking questions that could lead to class discussion and more.

I could so easily see how these could be incorporated into history classes. The content is delivered very rapidly, and is actually a pretty good level. You could use these with middle school with support, and easily with high school.

World History Textbook

Does this look enticing for a 21st century visual learner?

Remember when I posted pictures of the textbook my daughter is going to use in her World History this year?

I’m not saying these videos should be the sole curriculum of the class, but geez, which method of learning do you think most students would engage with more? I certainly hope that I hear that her AP World History class is using other media BESIDES the photo at right.

Students prefer Print?

Great post by Technology in Music Education today about a study that shows that college students prefer print books to e-textbooks. I attended a session at the MN e-Learning Summit in July presented by the folks at the U of M that shared the same impressions – that students didn’t use the interactive features, they preferred print, etc.

I have two main comments:

  1. What was not shared in the Chronicle article (and another summary article I saw about this but can’t find at the moment) is that the folks at the U has similar thoughts to what Chris expressed in his post: students and professors haven’t been exposed to these tools, and need to learn how to use them. I was happy to hear the U folks saying this, because it’s SO totally true.
  2. The U of M folks also expressed that the e-textbooks they used were not, perhaps, quite ready for primetime. There were some issues with the reader and it sounded like the e-texts were pretty much pdfs online, with minimal interactivity.


As Chris said, students and professors tend to stay with the familiar. These college students were trained in school to learn with certain tools. They know these tools, that’s their comfort zone. I saw this in an experience I had with an undergrad class last year. In a group of about 40 students, not a single student used a device to take notes. They actively expressed skepticism about e-texts — until they did more research and watched 6th grade students using our iPad app!

I also see this with my kids and their friends – both the 7th grader and the 10th grader. Kids stick with what they know and how they’ve been taught. I’ve asked high school kids if they want digital curriculum, and they have all the same reasons we hear that they don’t: not everyone has a device, they prefer print, etc. We can’t always rely on the students to lead. Sometimes, they need to be taught – shown – different ways of learning. In my cynical state, it’s just a sign of how they are trained in our current educational system.


I totally concur that the e-text industry isn’t ready for prime time. I’ve done a great deal of looking at digital textbooks and curriculum. I have yet to see tools that really take advantage of the medium and aren’t basically moving print to digital. Fortunately, not all are just pdfs online, but they still have a ways to go.

Visual History

Ran across this great tumblr site, “Branding the Presidents.”

This is brilliant. What a excellent way to learn the presidents. Even as a text-based learner, I can see how this would help me to remember characteristics about a president. For visual learners, I would think this would be incredibly helpful.

What about a class assignment? I could easily see students “branding” presidents, or other historical figures. A great deal of research and background must go into a brand.

Check out the site. It’s a work in progress, so you’ll see more presidents coming soon.

Font Size. It Matters!

Awesome article in Smashing Magazine by D. Bnonn Tennant, “16 Pixels for Body Copy. Anything Less is a Costly Mistake”

As the title suggests, the whole point of this article is that websites should be at 16 pixels and above. The default for most browsers is 16 pixels, or about 12 point font or 1 em. Anything less is way too small – take a look at the examples. If you write your CSS to specify a font size, you run the risk of your text being too small for people to read.

But people can change their settings, right? Well, Tennannt says:

The users who will most need to adjust their settings usually don’t know how.


He makes some interesting points about reading online:

  • at age 40, we take in about half the light we did at 20
  • comfortable reading distance from the computer is 28 inches; from a book is only a few inches. That’s why books can be set at 10 or 12 point font.
  • 9% of Americans have a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses.
I admit I don’t particularly like the Smashing layout – I despise red as a link color (it SCREAMS at me) and I’m not fond of the font they use. But that’s their brand, and I don’t have to agree with it.
This does have an impact on educational technology design in two ways:
  1. In my post about the Parent’s Perspective on Standardized Tests, I talk about one companies test that, at the time I reviewed it, did not allow the student to change font sizes. Why would that matter? those kids are all under 20, so they get lots of light to their retina! That may be, but still, each kid is different and might prefer a larger font. The font on the test I reviewed was quite small, and as kids hopefully are 20+ inches from the screen, rather than the few inches from a printed page, the font should be bigger.
  2. Font size also changes with grade level. In my focus groups with teachers, when I asked what makes a website/webpage work well with kids, all teachers — even high school teachers — responded that font size makes a difference. Teachers in younger grades want quite large font with a great deal of white space. Even high school teachers want larger font. Some of them mentioned that when showing a website on their projectors, it is very hard to read blocks of font.
So you web designers and instructional designers. Remember your font size!