What I used to think I knew isn't helping: adventures in higher ed open source

Archive for December 2009

At Play with 3akai

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Enough with the angst and muddied conceptualizations. Some playgrounds I find encouraging. Little snippets and scraps from some demos and experiments that may not last long, and so links may break and I’ll have to take them down, but still. A few snapshots of activity:

Oszkar spent a day working up an illustration of an idea.

Sam found a tool that lets him create click-throughs as easily as wireframes.

Christian creates some click-throughs in a 3akai context. (Log in as admin/admin)

And of course, Lance’s demo of hybrid mode.

Written by khomotso

December 15, 2009 at 1:00 am

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Despairing of Language

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I’m trying to work my way toward a structured communication of the design work, and the words are killing me. I think it comes down to the fact that the words need some particularity in order to connote anything worth saying, but our ambitions for Sakai and education in general involves an eroding of boundaries and a fluidity of purpose.

Killing me.

Take an exercise of developing action words for our various user populations. You start to rattle off —

  • Creating
  • Reviewing
  • Communicating
  • Questioning
  • Critiquing
  • Reflecting
  • Collecting

… and so forth. Who is doing these things and when? Well, everyone and all the time. So what’s the point in even laying these out?

A designer needs to be able to frame out who is doing what, when and why, and we come up with aspirational statements like (as one commenter put it) “Learners are teachers; both are researchers.” Everyone is somebody and no one’s anybody. Perfectly right. Perfectly killing me. Somebody throw me a lifeline of myopia.

Written by khomotso

December 14, 2009 at 12:16 am

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UX Principles

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In the midst of trying to shape a conceptual structure for communicating the Sakai 3 Design work, I’m riffing on an idea from the Drupal UX Project. At the top of all their pages they put:

Our UX Principles: 1. Make the most frequent tasks easy and less frequent tasks achievable. 2. Design for the 80% 3. Privilege the Content Creator 4. Make the default settings smart

I’m playing around with what they might be for Sakai. Here’s what I have right now:

  1. Make Good things easy, and the Best thing achievable.
  2. Design for user journeys, not institutional boundaries.
  3. Collaboration is core; administration is superficial.
  4. Make the user look and feel smart.

Update: Feel like I want to add a #5:

Learners are Researchers.

Written by khomotso

December 11, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Sakai

Cautionary Drupal Tales

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I was aware of Drupal’s recent user experience project, but in a recent exchange John Norman brought it to my attention again with a link to Leisa Reichelt’s post-mortem reflections.

It is all to [sic] easy to make excuses for why designing in an open source community can be tough. Certainly there are lots of communication challenges and we don’t necessarily have the right tools. Some people focus on the relationship between designers (minority) and developers (majority) in these communities – I think to do so is to focus on a symptom  of the problem and not the cause.

Sam later told me he had mixed feelings about coming across Leisa’s reflections, in that she seemed to leave with more frustration than accomplishment, and perhaps there is something irreducibly hard about doing design work in these communities. The usual rules about why open source is a good thing don’t seem to translate well to design activities.

The tension between openness and effectiveness is a particular one worrying me these days.  I’m well acquainted with the voices that see this as a false dilemma, but recent experience leaves me not so sure. I’m skeptical about analogizing coding and design.

The way that we are currently engaging with the community is very different to the way the community currently gathers to discuss and resolve issues – which is very much consensus driven. I cannot say often or loudly enough how much we crave communication with the Drupal community on this project, but in order for us to do our job well, we need to engage in a somewhat different way.

I think that’s right. All the same, I think I’m working – in awkward, halting ways – to find out how and where consensus-driven approaches can be effective in this design-led effort. It’s clear I’ve put some stock into the idea of using our functional experts to come to some consensus on fundamental capabilities. I think there is also a lot of promise in distributed user research and testing. But many eyes do not seem to make design problems shallow.

Written by khomotso

December 11, 2009 at 1:19 am

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The Input of Pedagogists

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I was on a call with the Teaching and Learning (T&L) Sakai community yesterday, and was happy to find the focussed energy around articulating basic user needs picking up steam. It’s true that the mechanism in view is this spreadsheet, but I think the larger point, as I’ve said before, is that our pedagogists can best influence the product by turning their accumulated practical wisdom into the sorts of insights that can guide design.

The caveat is that it can take a fair bit of effort to reign in our technological assumptions, since so many of us are also technologists. It takes work to walk back from our ideas for good software features, built upon a decade or more of experimentation with web tools, and then trace them back to the originating point of the user need. It’s hard to shake free of the temptation to simply lay out feature requests or requirements and ask that they be developed literally, as opposed to expressing the need and trusting to experienced design talent to see that need met in a way that fits well with everything else, and probably didn’t follow the picture you had in your head.

It’s hard, but it’s work that needs to be done. The next stage, I think we’re all agreed, is trying to take the raw material in that spreadsheet and bring to it some consistency of interpretation, even some organization.

I have great hopes for this exercise, so much in fact that I feel I need to restrain my naive enthusiasms. I see in it the potential for not only informing current design work, but also for laying out a framework for a community roadmap, as we come to a shared picture of what the fundamental building blocks are, how we can build upon and refine them, and ultimately how we expect Sakai can make a difference for those we’re trying to serve.

Like I said, naive enthusiasms.

Written by khomotso

December 3, 2009 at 6:47 pm

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