Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Simple tools--removing technology from the picture

I read a post this evening from a blog I follow. The post simply marked a 3-yr blogging milestone for the author (Cole Camplese). I thought that was in itself fairly impressive to me since I've only been blogging more seriously for a few months. Upon reviewing my first post, I was surprised to see, however, that this month will mark my 2nd year blogging...where I stopped deleting my old test posts or posts I felt were dumb (I set up my Blogger account over 4 years ago on Feb 22, 2003)

Cole made a point about how blogging (setting up an account and publishing a thought) was so beautifully simple--a three step process. It made me think back to when I started. I recall vividly feeling some of the same thoughts! No html, no ftp, no transferring a web page, no hassle, no need to make it pretty (nice starter templates provided)--just type and publish! Simplicity isn't enough, and it wasn't until this year that I felt I had something to say and actually started blogging more regularly. I continue to seek this simplicity when designing tools, consulting with faculty and in teaching my students. I'm delighted to see more and more tools (many of the web 2.0 variety) that reflect the same simplicity (and then I got a movable type blogging account...grrrr).

A recent favorite of mine is Viddler (http://www.viddler.com/) . Since 1996, I've been building, designing or just dreaming about such tools--think YouTube with rich media annotation and commenting tie-able to specific frames within the video. I teach video classes, so this has been a long-desired tool--a cross-platform way to share and talk about instructional video...in an uncomplicated way. The pieces have existed for years, but have been tied to Quicktime or another format only, or to a mac or PC only--I can go on and on about the limitations for end-users. Viddler has succeeded in taking the technology out of the picture for most users, allowing us to concentrate on communication around and with the media. I can't wait to use the tool the next time I teach my class (of course, RSS and tagging come standard).

Yet as simple as tools are (seem to be), I was starkly reminded this week of a parallel reality for too many. A colleague (teacher) was trying to learn how to podcast this week (on a PC). Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) was downloaded and installed easily enough for her, but then getting the necessary Lame mp3 codec (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LAME) turned out to be quite a bear. Similarly, so many (non-mp3) podcasts fail to open on PCs even with iTunes installed. There are (no good!) reasons and work-arounds, but it can be so frustrating for the un-initiated who are trying so hard to learn new skills, and or those of us trying to support their initiation them and help them have a sucessful experience.

Despite these lingering challenges, I remain encouraged and optimistic about the simplicity of many new tools. The underlying technology for creating, sharing and communicating around content is, to my great pleasure, being removed from the picture...now if they'd just remain free, stay in business, and not be so successful in attracting the basest of what humanity can produce. I know, I ask too much.
-Joel G.


Cole Camplese said...

Creating content can be such a simple and elegant experience theses days ... it hasn't always been that way! I remember struggling with tools just to help faculty get the simplest of concepts posted online -- and we all forget about this world before the Internet, remember Authorware, Director, and HyperCard?

Congrats on the two year milestone ... blogging is a powerful way to do so much and I think the ease of use has changed the way I write forever. As for the MT account, hang in there -- we've only just begun. Compromises are everywhere when you set out to deliver a toolset in an environment like ours.

I'd love to hear more about how you are fairing with moving your faculty into the self-publishing world. I wonder, have these tools helped you focus more on design and less on technology?

Joel Galbraith said...

I dare say that the tools have NOT helped me "focus more on design and less on technology"...and without having given this a bunch of thought yet, here's why...maybe.

In some respects, I certainly do agree that I focus less on the technology (server names, ip numbers, scripting, compression settings) when one considers the tools you mentioned (and I'll throw in Toolbook and Flash as well).

In those days:
Yes, the technology needed more attention, but often on the part of technologists, designers, programmers media developers--not Joe Schmoe instructor.

The technology is (being thrust?)in my hands as an instructor. I do my own Angel, I do my own blogging, I manage my own discussion boards and wikis, I create and share my own media, as do many of our instructors that are putting their old powerpoint slides (or yellowed overheads) to rest in favor of newer media and more collaborative learning activities.

So, do I focus on on technology less and design more? No. In fact the opposite is true! As an instructor (vs. a developer) who is trying to engineer mediated learning experiences for my students, technology is now much more closely married to design. As such, technology must necessarily be a much more integral part of my design work than it used to be when the tools were more difficult--and left for developers to help me with.

This is by no means an un-welcome change of events, as I enjoy the new technology-infused design process. But I must still watch myself to ensure that I help collegues along in the process. Easebof use is all relative and weve till got no shortage of folks who are still struggling with the "easy" or "simple" tools...and with what on earth they are ever supposed to do with them in a class (online or f2f).
-Joel G.

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