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Designing Educational Software, part 6

Desired Design Features

Having imagined our possible users, we decided that particular design features should appear in the program. The interface would be organized in such a way that users could filter the content in either linear or non-linear ways — by traditional chapter, by type of resource, or by some other organizing principle. Our interface’s homepage should have structural and navigation features allowing users to access functional divisions in the program as well as “popular” individual widgets.

We wanted the product in general to have the following features:

  • a search engine that searches content
  • quick loading of program and pages
  • interactive open-ended questions that allow the student to type in a longer answer
  • hyperlinks both internally to other content within the program (including a hyperlinked table of contents for each chapter) as well as externally to curated web resources
  • an internal link in a chapter that can to to a resource associated with another chapter
  • enabled scroll button on mouse
  • scalable, high resolution, high quality art and photographic images
  • pictures in with overview text (that can be clicked to enlarge)
  • an individual analysis and score report widget for tracking progress
  • multimedia tutorials incorporating sound, images, and text with a way to save and grade the student’s answers to open-ended questions in the essays, reference documents, etc.
  • the ability to re-size frames and windows freely

Some features that we plan to add in the future were more activity-based, and may be provided by partners such as Edmodo. These include audio/visual activities or features; mapping and graphing activities so kids can create their own, from a series of layered options, such as demographic and economic activity data; a “chat” function for within-class interactivity (such as group projects), moderated by teacher/administrator; and an online teaching ability with the content and teaching supplied seamlessly for the user, not separate like most textbook publishers, or like most course management platforms (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.).

Our goal has been to construct a flexible, rich, and diverse selection of materials for the social studies curriculum that could be used in the different learning environments that we envisioned. We already had the contents for chapters, documents, art images, maps, and graphs, as in a traditional textbook. By designing a navigation filter in combination with a structure of discrete widgets, we created a program that was extremely customizable. Using the different content filters, the software can be used as a linear textbook; as an encyclopedic resource; or as an exploratory tool. We also wanted to include both formative and summative assessments, because no teacher should rely solely on multiple-choice testing, but should also incorporate short-answer questions, essays, and research skill-building projects. By the end of the course, students should have built a rich and diversified portfolio.

BulbgraphOnOffInternet Projects can be a great in-class exercise — ask students if they can figure out the principles by which the links were curated.

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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