What lessons can teachers offer to designers of software for the classroom?
Software designers need to know these eight things if they are going to create a program for the classroom:
- Teachers and students must be able to access the program within the school, so designers need to understand the various filters and how they operate. If students can’t access the program in school, it’s unlikely that they will use it at home, which means teachers won’t invest their time or the school’s money in it. An added bonus will be if the program has a way to keep the learning environment safe for students–with or without the filter.
- The program needs to be simple and use similar key strokes as other programs. There’s definitely a place for creativity, but creative commands and key strokes in a program that’s supposed to simplify a process or improve education just creates frustration.
- The program needs to be compatible with other programs. Remember when Apple first came out with their innovative computers and programs? None of us could use them because everything in our school was PC. If my students had a Mac, they couldn’t submit their essays electronically because our school’s program was not compatible with the Mac. Thankfully, both systems are more compatible with each other now, but designers should learn from that debacle. Unless the designer is another Steve Jobs (or has a boss like Steve Jobs), it is unlikely that the computer world will change everything for the new program. Besides, an educational tool needs to be tried and true before it gets to the classroom. The proper venue for true innovation is not the school system.
- Students are savvier than most teachers are, so the program should be easy to start and teach, but it should have depth so that students can explore the program and stay engaged with it. Also, if the program isn’t fluid enough to allow students to express their own creativity, they will get bored with it.
- Students are not impressed with cheesy gimmicks or things that try to imitate what they like but in an “educational” way. They are sophisticated consumers and should be treated as such (especially high school students).
- If the program is confusing, doesn’t work most of the time (or has too many glitches), and students can’t use other established programs with it, teachers and the school will stop using it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great educational tool.
- Programs need to make use of the internet, music, videos, and pictures. Students want to show their teachers and classmates who they are with their projects and presentations. If students can only use inferior simulations of their favorite music, videos, and pictures, they will hate it instantly.
- Students learn at different rates, so a program that adjusts to different levels easily is helpful. My son used a math program that increased the complexity of the math problems as he improved. Until he showed mastery of addition, he didn’t move on to subtraction or multiplication. The program created an individual learning plan (ILP) for every student. Now that’s a program that’s worth investing in.