February 27, 2005

Beyond Usability

Great Lettuce Head offers an exceptionally thoughtful observation on educational technology. Often, people think that inviting, easy-for-novices software is essential for teaching -- software that tells you what to do, software that shows you what's next. Steve (?Ersinghaus -- another of those blogs where it's not clear who is who) disagrees:

The question for educational technology is not color, ease of use, or usability; the question is how does the system augment practice? How does it make the job more interesting, flexible, creative, and meaningful?
When you open up Flash or Storyspace, you're met with an empty stage. Both environments wait for you to do something. Both programs want you to think big and rough them up a little. Eportfolio presents a series of fields for plug in, like an old style workbook, at once dull, and employs very little planning archicture, no agents, or search capability. It's not really a development software package that ask for much work other than to plug in and respond in fields to questions that will become redundant very soon....This is the key. Storyspace, Feedemon and Premier act as brilliant case studies in tools oriented for human use.

This distinction, between software that tells you what to do, and software that waits for you to do something, represents a very important divide -- a divide that's in the end more important than that related religious quarrel, Windows vs. Macintosh.

A brilliant little trick of Apple's new Pages is the way it opens with a blank page that's already filled with placeholder images and greeked text -- a blank page that's not blank. Brilliant.