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.

Visual Delivery of Information should be the new 5 Paragraph Essay

In a recent post, I lamented my pathetic design skills. It is sad, and I truly wish I had a better sense of design, an ability to turn information into a visualization. I see many places where this would be an incredibly useful skill, both  in my job and in my volunteer work. Even in low-key meetings, using visuals can be far more powerful than a bunch of words  or a long talk. Yet, my presentation skills are amateurish at best. It’s rather embarrassing.

Our society has shifted tremendously to using visuals, and students need to know how to interpret them and create them. It’s going to be at least as important, if not more important, that writing the ubiquitous 5-paragraph essay.

Of course, content is king – it always will be – but presentation is becoming more and more essential. There are many other ways besides the written word to communicate ideas. Video, photography, art, infographics.

The tools are there, we just need to let the kids use them.  I have powerful photo and video editing software on my iPhone. Tools like iBooks Author, Keynote, Prezi and more are there to make polished looking presentations. Here’s a great post by Larry Ferrlazo about resources for creating infographics. Teach kids about the basic principals of design. Hire more art teachers to help. Let kids practice, experiment, fail, and succeed.

Make sure you show design-inept kids, like me, how to be successful. I was incredibly good at those 5-paragraph essays. I could whip them up in a heartbeat, probably never getting less than an A-.  In a world based on visual delivery of information, I’d have been a C student at best. Huh. Guess intelligence sometimes depends more on perspective than reality.

Open Internet Tests

When I was in high school, we lived in fear of open book tests. They were  much harder than “regular” multiple choice tests. The teachers that gave them were also well known for asking us to really think and analyze.

Now, there are open internet tests! Seriously – what a great idea. This post by Jonathan Martin shows exactly why. A theater history teacher did an open internet test with great results. See the post for student comments – seems they all thought it was harder — and better.

…taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students

The teacher’s rationale for doing this test:

did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?


It’s a great idea. It’s more closely aligned to what will be expected of them — yes, in college, and ultimately, in the working world. It’s teaching critical thinking, analysis, digital literacy, writing. The list gets long…. much better test of what students know and how they think than picking a letter on a multiple choice test.


Current Events Part 2

Follow up to my recent post about a current events class…  I ran across a post from Free Tech for Teachers about a tool called Hubii. Hubii integrates newspapers from around the world, a virtual one-stop-shop for a worldwide newstand.

10 x 10 Screen Shot, December 11 2011

A previous post from Richard Byrne had suggested four other tools to visualize the news. All are worth checking out:

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!