Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media: An Opinionated Digest by George Siemens

People Centered Design in new technologies ...

"In this weekly digest, George really opens up lots of important doors for thinking more and better about the changes happening all around you. If you are student of new media or someone wanting to better understand how the dots of this new technological universe all connect together, I sincerely think that his reflections and comments on a small but carefully picked story selection can help you understand a great deal more. Of course you have to take his pointers and go dig for more. But having already such a skilled and qualified guide makes the whole path a lot easier.

Designing around people, making your organization understand what the "2.0" organizational revolution is all about, are some of the other fascinating topics he brings to this making-sense round-up this week.

When we look back, decisions we made/should have made seem obvious. When we look forward, everything is viewed through a lens of conflicting and competing information and ultimately converges on uncertainty.

Think back 10-15 years to what now seems very obvious, but at the time may have been a bit loony: the teacher eager to use this thing called the internet for teaching, the librarian wanting to put information online, the person in the office cubicle next to you wanting to register the company's domain name.

Or more recently: Google's IPO, Apple stock three years ago, the iPod.

In retrospect, things look very clear. But for every iPod, iPhone, or Google, there are many Newton's, Webvan's, also-ran search engines, and other products.

AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy, after all, sought initially to lock down their service to subscribers.

History often provides clear winners and precise insights. When lived forward, life fails to offer such clear demarcations between what we ought to do and what we ought not to do.

Hence, uncertainty still exists around SecondLife, Facebook, and to a lessor degree, blogs and wikis. The facebook issue currently rests on suitability for enterprise-wide use.

... People-driven Design

Design - whether software, physical items such as a classroom, or something as nebulous as learning and knowledge - has many entry points.

For example, if an organization decides to design an online course, numerous approaches exist: determine content required, determine outcomes or skills needed, design for tools to be used, etc.

David Armano emphasizes a people-driven design approach: "People-driven design starts with real people in mind. What they do, how they think, what their pain points are, why they like and dislike things and how they'll use what you create for them."

This approach is not suited as a sole approach (content, software, and other aspects need to be considered), but it is an important starting point and thread that should run through the entire design approach, and in the case of learning, right through to the end of the course.

The problem in asking people what they want is that we then have to sacrifice our own assumptions.

I had an experience of this nature in a recent course I taught. We (Peter Tittenberger and I) asked students to blog and user wikis for interaction and reflection. We discovered rather quickly that students didn't share our affinity for blogging.

They were uncomfortable with the experience of writing publicly. One group - due to the nature of their discussions (government employees) asked if they could hold their discussion in WebCT.

What then is the role of user-based design?

Do we "force" learners to continue with our approach because we know (so we think) that what we are asking them to do will be important in the long run?

Or do we acquiesce when they provide resistance to the design we have imposed on their learning?"    (Continued via Robin Good, George Siemens)    [Usability Resources]

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