Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Focus Trap

As an adult, it's easy to fall into a pattern. 


We all do it. Wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, go to work, drink coffee, ...


As a data nerd,
I have an irrational
craving for patterns


Patterns are fine. They're comfortable. Reassuring. We know what to expect. But there comes with patterns a hidden danger. It's easy to focus on procedures, which can take many forms. Take the same route to work every morning. Deliver the same learning in the same way. Assess understanding in the same way.

But that's dangerous. What if my pattern of assessment doesn't match my students' pattern of learning? Am I getting accurate assessment information, or am I missing something? Would I see different things if I looked at the situation in a new way?

Don't focus on one specific outcome.


Or, more accurately, don't focus solely on outcomes. Focus on the learning. How will students navigate new problems?

Are you assessing their problem-solving strategies, or are you measuring their ability to memorize?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Your Tech Says About Your Personality

I've been thinking lately about the technology with which I choose to surround myself. If you're curious, it's an awful lot: no fewer than 4 computers, 4 tablets, 2 phones (one of which I no longer use), and various assorted gadgets. I didn't purchase these (or receive them as a gifts) to make a statement about my own personality, but it turns out that they do.

Image via PixaBay
Let me set some context: my girlfriend has an iPhone, while I have an Android. My parents are similarly divided between Android and iOS. I have both Android tablets and an iPad, both a Mac and PCs. I use a ChromeCast and Nexus Player for my TVs, but Airport Expresses to stream audio to my stereos. As a contributing author of some helpful tools for educators, I need to understand both app design and user experience, and this led me to thinking deeply about the topic.

What started this line of inquiry was a debate between my parents, using voice recognition to get information from their phones. My father uses an almost-robotic voice, and dictates the exact phrase he would use were he typing it into a search engine. My step-mother, on the other hand, has a more conversational tone with her phone, almost chatting to it and asking a question as you would to another person.

This, in my opinion, is a definitive line between two design philosophies: outcome-oriented, or experience-oriented. It took me quite a while to define those terms, so let me explain.

Outcome-experience focus

gets you what you want

as efficiently as possible.


Outcome-experience focus is design with a goal of getting a user to the exact outcome they seek. User experience is certainly not ignored, but the user is expected to behave in a certain way. A user is anticipated to understand the tool, and to be able to navigate the interface quickly. No muss, no fuss, just results.

User-experience focus

gets you what you want

as comfortably as possible.


User-experience focus is less about destination, and more about journey. Sure, it may take a little longer to get you what you want, but you'll enjoy the process. A user is anticipated to be less comfortable with the interface, but to pick it up quickly.


There is no right or wrong approach here. One philosophy is not superior to another. Rather, one philosophy is superior to another on a per-person basis. I'm very much someone who likes to get into things, fiddle around, break stuff, fix it, break it again, and eventually develop an understanding of how it works. This is especially true for me in regards to technology, where I'm not content to accept things as they are, but instead I want to mess around with making things as good as they can be.

For me, the journey is not navigating through a user interface. Nor is the journey the quick access to results. My journey is different - I enjoy exploration, confusion, and the experience of discovery. This would also explain the odd mixture of hardware devices that adhere to either of the above philosophies - I'm more interested in working with these devices to see what they can do.

Understanding the design philosophy behind technology helps make better choices about purchasing and using the right device to meet your needs. So, while your tech might say something about your personality, does your personality say something about your technology?