Monthly Archives: February 2012

Camera Chiara

Thinking about how visual imagery can support curricular content… I love having a projector on the wall of my classroom connected to a laptop. It’s great. I love showing pictures and movies and text on it. What isn’t so great is that the world is now deprived of my whiteboard cartooning skills (for once I’m not being sarcastic, I honestly think I’m pretty good at whiteboard cartooning). I probably show 10-20 images or movies related peripherally to whatever we’re doing during any given class period. As an example, in G6 Humanities class the students are working on describing the archaeological excavation of ancient cities. Sometime this week we will probably be talking about how an ancient city could have been buried under ash like Pompeii. Then we will very probably start talking about what happened to the people in Pompeii on that day. I would then almost certainly whip this guy out after a quick image search:

…then we’d probably look at more remains from the area, where Pompeii is on Google Earth, what ash looks like spewing out of other volcanoes, etc. etc., and go on from there… I really enjoy being able to throw up arresting or discussion-starting images like this to share with the students after just a few seconds’ searching. I guess I see my role during times like this as sort of creating a National Geographic-type viewing experience for the students – images like this can be vivid, perplexing, scary, but they get your attention, bring things to life and make you want to learn more. I think it’s one of the ways that having a shared screen or board at the front of the room still makes sense in spite of everyone having a laptop. What’s the point of even being in the same room as a class any more? One of the reasons I’d argue that there’s still something special about taking everyone through shared visual experiences like this and discussing them from time to time, in looking at and making sense of something together with other people.


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Online Aesthetics

The pinnacle of web design (source:

The pinnacle of web design (source:

I’m almost positive I don’t have anything coherent to say on the subject of aesthetic design of web tools, but as usual I’ll just ignore that and start writing.

What I’d mostly like to talk about is the interesting way that our ideas about computer application design aesthetics are changing because navigation is shifting and evolving based on the need for mobile sites which work well with touchscreen hardware like the iPhone and iPad. The idea of having the viewing surface be the user interface at the same time is really causing some exciting things to happen.

It’s been interesting for me to see how, for example, Apple has been evolving the navigation of its Pages program to fit the iPad format. (Pages isn’t primarily an online tool, but I think many of my points apply to browser-based navigation as well).

In the past, word processor programmers seem to have mainly thought about encrusting a central window with as many navigation buttons, bars and panels as they could cram around the increasingly-obscured typing area. Designers must have imagined they were in a sort of features arms race, where the more commands that could be clicked on at any time meant that their product was the more advanced.

In the heyday of the mouse, this was an irritating but understandable navigation layout strategy. In the touchscreen milieu it’s obviously the last thing you want. Designers still have to attempt to minimize the number of “clicks” (gestures, whatever) it takes to get to any individual command, but I think this consideration has been superseded by the more important idea of keeping the screen as clear as possible as often as possible.

Navigation in Pages for iPad. Note that it's invisible. source:

I think this shift toward mobile / touchscreen considerations has been a very healthy and interesting process to watch. I think it’s generally led to an increased clarity of navigation on any one visible “page”, and then the mobile site clarifications often lead to more clear design of the non-mobile site – look at Google’s complete recent redesign of all of its services like Calendar in order to present a cleaner and more uniform appearance. Calendar wasn’t *ugly*, but it’s much cleaner and easier on the eyes now. I’m not sure how much of this redesign was done specifically with the thought of mobile / touchscreen sites, but I think it played a big part:


I really like the new look. It seems restrained, mature and simple. The weird thing is that Google is constantly trying to be simple, and they probably used to think the old look was clear and calm, but I think the world of mobile / touchscreen navigation spurred them to new heights of clarity and restraint. Long story short, I think we’re soon going to be living in a mini golden age of invisible or extremely clear onscreen navigation, if we aren’t already, and I think it’s interesting to watch as changes in the way we use our tools change the way our tools look. And thinking about this trend from an educator’s perspective, I think it’s a positive one which will encourage more interaction and experimentation with our tools. If navigation is invisible until we perform the right swipes and taps, isn’t that better than just being handed everything on one cluttered screen or page? I think iPad babies are going to be more creative and take more risks than babies who just had to use old-fashioned magazines or watch TV. What do you think?


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