The Apple User Experience

user design



September is not only the start of a new academic year, but also the time for Apple announcements. Apple has an odd connection to its users. They are devoted, often called "fan boys," who used to line up at stores for new products. I doubt the lines will be very long for their newest announcements. But they have famously been known - especially in the Jobs days - to not listen to users but to tell user what they want and need.

The new iPhones, called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, aren't very new. The most attention has gone to the new iPhones lacking a headphone jack. This helps make them more water-resistant, but it will require Bluetooth earbuds or phones. That is a significant additional cost and it will sap more power from that precious battery. Some of us also plug other external devices using that plug (I do that in my car.) This is the kind of deletion that recalls the removal of floppy disk drives, additional USB ports and CD/DVD drives which force users to move on and trash older media and devices. Is that good user design and a good user experience?

A colleague said to me that Apple's approach is like many teachers: tell the users what they need, rather than base your design on what they want. If you believe that Apple (or teachers) know better what their users need, then it is good design. But anyone who studies or works in user design would say that in both cases not spending more time in assessing what your users want is a flaw.

As an iPhone user, I was not looking for a revised home button with force sensitivity which will vibrate to give feedback - and I'm not sure that I need it. The iPhones are more water-resistant, but we all know that "resistant" is not "waterproof." Don't drop it in the toilet and expect no problems.

The Plus model of the new iPhone includes a dual-lens camera to take more professional-grade photos. But Android phones have had much better cameras without two lenses for a few years.

I don't see the Apple Watch as a hit, but the Apple Watch Series 2 will appear. It has GPS and Pokémon Go is available for it. Does that make you want to run out and buy one?

After the death of Steve Jobs, the cry went up that Apple would stop innovating and some of those who said that feel that they were correct in their prediction. Whatever happened to that Apple TV that Jobs was saying was on its way? The biggest change in smartphones the past few years is that users are using them less and less as phones and more and more as a computer. Your "phone company" contract is really a data contract.

I'm not sure that much more can be done with smartphones as hardware. the more important changes may be in the operating systems, battery life, more AI and new business models for data.


Has Your Degree Expired?

diploma



Does a degree ever expire? That is not a question I had ever asked myself, but an article by Kristi Depaul on nextgenlearning.org/blog/ did ask that question and got me thinking about it.

There is probably strong agreement with students and employers that you can't summarize a learning experience very well with a list of courses and grades. What would anyone know about my undergraduate degree from many years ago from a transcript? Not much. My work experiences since then have certainly made some of those academic experiences much stronger. But some of those courses are pretty much gone from my memory at this point.

Depaul is mostly concerned with the evolution of the transcript (which is also a recent ELI 7 Things You Should Know About brief). Part of that evolution might mean including activities, accomplishments and experiences beyond those that occur within the traditional academic environment. 

Have my degrees expired in the way that licenses and certifications expire? Should there be a way to update the degree to show professional development and other work done since it was awarded? 

The article notes that four institutions are looking at a new kind of "learner record" and thinking about questions such as: Who should be able to control the information displayed within it? What are the implications for teaching and learning? These records might contain a learner’s entire academic history from multiple institutions. A new kind of transcript could include "information from credentialing organizations, research, service learning, internships, study abroad, badges, co-curricular achievements, and other evidence of knowledge."

Would a reimagined student record make a degree less likely to "expire?"


An Online Cheating Economy

A very disturbing, but not really shocking, article titled "The New Cheating Economy" by Brad Wolverton this week on chronicle.com.  



"...On any given day, thousands of students go online seeking academic relief. They are first-years and transfers overwhelmed by the curriculum, international students with poor English skills, lazy undergrads with easy access to a credit card. They are nurses, teachers, and government workers too busy to pursue the advanced degrees they’ve decided they need. The Chronicle spoke with people who run cheating companies and those who do the cheating. The demand has been around for decades. But the industry is in rapid transition. Just as higher education is changing, embracing a revolution in online learning, the cheating business is transforming as well, finding new and more insidious ways to undermine academic integrity...


There has always been cheating on assignments, papers and tests. There are industries on both sides to help someone cheat and ones to stop students from cheating or to catch them when they do cheat. A student who copies a paper from a source online can be caught by software (turnitin.com and others) but it is much more difficult to catch someone who submits an original paper written and researched correctly by another student. That is what the article is talking about for the online learning environment, but the trend is far beyond buying a paper. 



"But in recent years, a new underground economy has emerged, offering any academic service a student could want. Now it’s not just a paper or one-off assignment. It’s the quiz next week, the assignment after that, the answers served up on the final. Increasingly, it’s the whole class. And if students are paying someone to take one course, what’s stopping them from buying their entire degree?"


There were stories decades ago about students paying another student to take an exam and even to take an entire class, but it was unusual and much harder to accomplish in a small, face-to-face class. Large lecture hall courses and online learning have made it easier, and companies have seen opportunity for profit.

I have seen a good number of companies and products over the past 16 years designed to verify the identity of online students. None seemed very easy to implement or foolproof. I imagine that side of the cheating industry will become more visible in this new academic year.


Hey, Maybe Your Blog Could Be a Book

blog to bookIt's a dream/fantasy of many bloggers: that their blog can become a book - or maybe even a movie. I've thought about it, and I wrote a post about the idea on another blog of mine this month. Here is a version of that post:

When I started blogging in early 2006, blogging was already becoming pretty common. I started blogging as something to use both in my teaching at NJIT and as a way to get my ideas out there. I had been doing workshops and presentations on the still-new blogs, wikis and podcasts for a while and I was trying to get faculty at the university to incorporate them into their courses.

Then I was asked to do a presentation for business people on those topics. Though I was doing podcasts and had created a few wikis, I was not a blogger. One of my colleagues at NJIT, Tim Kellers, was my tech guru and he created a blogging platform for us to use in our presentation using software called Serendipity. Thus, Serendipity35, this blog about learning and technology, was born. And it's still going.

In 2004, the New Yorker had said that books by bloggers would become a cultural phenomenon, but I never gave that a thought in those days. Since that first blog, I have added 8 other blogs to my weekly writing. As a few friends like to remind me, "if you only channeled all that writing, you would have a few books by now."

Then came stories like that of Julie Powell and her blog about trying to cook the entire Julia Child cookbook in her New York apartment. PostSecret and Stuff White People Like are other blogs that became multiple incarnations of books, but Julie was the star student.  

Her original blog on Salon.com is gone, but is archived on the great Web.Archive.org site. The blog began in 2002 as she cooked her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." In 2005, it became a book, Julie and Julia:365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. In 2007, a film version was announced - the first major motion picture that started off as a blog.

Say what you will about the writing of Powell, she had an established readership and that is why a publisher knew that readership could translate to book sales. This is not new to publishing, TV or film - choose things (comic books, hit plays etc.) that have a built-in following and are a surer bet.

The film adaptation, directed by Nora Ephron, also titled Julie & Julia, was released in 2009. The film was actually based on both Powell's book and Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France. This was not a small, independent film. Amy Adams starred as Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Julia's husband Paul was played by Stanley Tucci.

But that is one blogger who got great deals out of many millions of bloggers. It is tough to find a number for how many blogs exist (active and archived) currently but just Tumblr.com's cumulative total blogs in July 2016 surpassed 305.9 million blog accounts. That makes the odds about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Yes, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody got a book deal out of her blog (not the one that led to her best known screenplay for Juno though).

Another success story is Tim Ferriss, whose blog, the Four Hour Work Week, was listed at number one on the top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs.

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton started a project to create a photographic census of New York City and his blog version (and Facebook page) of Humans of New York became the book Humans of New York: Stories and was a bestseller.

All of these are why you can find lots of blog posts about turning your blog into a book. For example, look at thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/making-the-leap-from-blogger-to-book-author/ and authorunlimited.com/turn-your-blog-into-a-book-effectively.

I still haven't moved any of my blogs to the print (or film!) world. I could see my poetry project at Writing the Day as a poetry collection. I'd like to think that Weekends in Paradelle and One-Page Schoolhouse have enough posts to produce a collection of essays. The same might be true of the several thousands post on Serendipity35, but I realize that many of my posts are "dated" in the time they were written. Editing would be a major part of turning a blog into a book. I believe that, despite tales of the death of print, an actual book still holds a special, higher place in our culture than a website.

Publishers: contact me.

 


Degree-Planning Tools and Learning Advisors

road signOnly about half of all students who start college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. It doesn't help that completion rate that the path to degrees is less linear than ever. More than a third of students transfer at least once during their college years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Of those, nearly half change institutions more than once.
EDUCAUSE ELI published a new brief in its "7 Things" series on "Degree-Planning Tools" which discusses how some colleges are allowing students to design their own college experience. Working with advisors and based on their own research into academic, professional, personal and financial aspects of their career goal, they design a curriculum path.

I view this as a kind of adaptive learning on a larger scale, not just within a course.

Technology is playing a role. Tools can help guide students to move based on their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and circumstances. I'm seeing these tools built into learning management systems. For example, Blackboard has MyEdu, Civitas Learning uses Degree Map, and Ellucian offers MyDegree. A newer player to me is Degree Compass which was acquired by Desire2Learn.

These tools fall under the category of predictive analytics, but I'm a believer that merely acquiring data won't make any positive changes without an intelligent way to apply it. I think this requires software paired with old-fashioned advising so that a student's goal and her academic career align. This is more than choosing the right courses and sequence. It is also about getting complementary experiences in internships, work experiences and professional networking. Those things probably won't come from software. 

A more human approach to this is perhaps the old-fashioned idea of having guidance counselors. They may come with new names. I have seen the title "learner advocate" used and most recently the odd "education sherpa" label used. "Sherpa" is Tibetan for "eastern people", and is an ethnic group from Nepal, high in the Himalayas. We know them as guides to explorers of the Himalayan region and expeditions to climb Mount Everest. In some cases, those guides do most of the serious work for inexperienced climbers. I wouldn't want to think that our educational guides would do much of the difficult work for students. 
The comparison has also been made to professional patient advocates who help people navigate the often-confusing medical system. This may be particularly important for students who are the first in their families to attend college and don't have natural access to people who can act as resources for academic decisions and guidance towards careers.