Software will eat education Part 2 – Or what I actually really want from an online education platform

So I already said what I don’t want. But i’m still having a hard time articulating what I actually want from an online learning and teaching platform. It’s easier to define it in terms of the negatives.

It’s much harder to come up with a feature list because I don’t really know the full extent of what’s possible. I don’t have 60 million dollars and two faculties of computer scientists so I have to work with what I know, what I can imagine, and what I can find lying around the interwebs that will allow me to do some of this.

I mean, some kind of robot that can read and grade assignments according to criteria that I set would be ideal. Probably, that’s not too far off from what I’ve been reading. But I need a solution now.
In any case, here’s my preliminary list of wants:
  1. A clean and minimal user interface that I can customize with my brand. Presets are Ok, and I don’t necessarily need some extensive complicated process, but I want to use my own images and assets and work with my rock star graphic designer independently of the platform. I’ve also just switched to a Mac and I want to embrace the Steve Jobs zen aesthetic. Don’t give me clutter. Less is more please.
  2. Minimal time lost on learning how to use the tools. If I have to learn a whole new skill set just to get my content up I’ll lose interest pretty fast. In fact this has already happened to me with several platforms that I now can’t really be bothered learning the ins and outs of. I’m already pretty good on the Mac and I can find my way around the internet. I’m not a graphic designer so I don’t have those skills. Just make it easy to use.
  3. Interactions. I really want interactions. The iBooks authoring tool, which is kind of pushing it for me in terms of learning new software, has what I would consider a good minimal viable set of interactions. This includes multiple choice questions, but is flexible in that I can set it to have more than one correct answer in any particular question. I can also do drag to target interactions in iBooks and I’d want this online as well with the ability to put an image in the background.
  4. Custom code. I’m not a coder and I never will be one but being able to work with third-party developers to create specific chunks of code to customize the course that I’m creating could also be really helpful. Actually what I want is to not work with 3rd party coders but for someone to provide me with a smorgasbord of little codelets that I can paste in to do what I want. I’d pay, but they better be cheap and they have to work or they get junked.
  5. Checklists. I’m a big fan of checklists for myself and my students. I want my learners to be able to tick off todo lists online, have the lists saved, and for them to be able to return to the lists at later stages to update them. I use 37 Signals Basecamp and Backpack so I have very particular expectations here. Too much to ask?
  6. iPad ready. I want to be able to edit my course on my iPad and I expect it to run on my iPad when finished or for demo purposes. I’m expecting my learners to have iPads and want to do my training on their devices. This means no flash or other lame applications that stop video from playing on iOS devices. To be honest, I don’t really know about Android as a platform. And at this stage I don’t care. Sorry.
  7. Video. I want to be able to create video content on my iPhone or iPad using simple apps that I like to use and then upload this and use it. I don’t care too much about super high quality here. But I have bought a good mic so I’m working on the theory high quality audio is probably more important. I want to use GarageBand and Keynote. And I want to use them on my iPad as well as on my Mac. I might consider using a video capture application like Screenflow 3.0 but that’s also another thing to learn to use. So it’s another barrier to me getting my stuff online. Make it easy for me… Is it too much to ask? I still think of myself as an education business, not a video production company (although this is probably what I need to become).
  8. Attach and submit documents. I want my students to be able to download documents from relevant parts of their online experience. And I also want them to be able to submit documents, e.g. as completed assessment tasks. Here’s a scenario. I have pre formatted templates that I want my learners to use. They are MS Word documents. All they have to do is download the document and fill in the right bits. And then give them to me. I want to do this online through the learning and teaching sequences.
  9. Live streaming. This would be just awesome. I’d love to be able to set up live Skype-style VoIP or FaceTime calling in the middle of courses as required. This would allow me to customize training in a way I can’t at the moment. The video content would allow for Khan Academy style flipped classroom learning and the live streaming could be “opt in” for those that need it when they need it. Even better if I could monetarize this if required as well. For example, three free video meetings and then you pay per event.
  10. Easy editing. I don’t want clumsy editing tools. I need to be able to play with content or question item design, quickly preview the results of changes, and then update my work quickly and without frustration. For example, the WordPress user interface has a sidebar with preview and publish. This is great and I can quickly update my content. I want this kind of usability in my chosen online learning platform.
  11. Threaded discussions for learners. This is pretty standard stuff but it needs to work. Also it needs to take into account the fact that learning takes place in a sequence of steps and discussions make take place over time. Learners need to be able check back and see the answers to questions. As a learner I’d want to be able to check all of this I’m one place and not click through all the learning steps again to get to the answers I need.
  12. Instant messaging. This should be possible. I want a Campfire type option where not only can I post a discussion question, but perhaps if I could see who was online at the same time (e.g. students and teacher) I’d want to be able to message people and ask a question on the spot. This would mean teachers could keep office hours. Discussion forums could take care of the more considered asynchronous (not dependent on time) communications and the messaging would deal with those who want synchronous (time based).

There you have it. Impress me…

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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