Designing Educational Software, part 4

Product Scenarios

First, we developed some product scenarios. These were case studies envisioning how the program would be used. We developed four in particular as being representative of different types of user: students in a classroom, the adult or ESL learner, the student in a school-based credit-recovery setting, and the homeschooled student. The first three scenarios assume that the teacher has access to an answer key (provided with their account).

Case #1: The eighth-grade civics course

Most secondary education takes place in schools, and indeed, most WorldView Software is used in this setting. For this initial case, therefore, we imagined students using the program in a typical teacher-supervised classroom setting.

The teacher starts a unit by assigning the overview for homework reading the night before. The next class, s/he begins by discussing the overview, and segues into a class discussion of the in-depth topics covered by the map, graph, or art gallery images associated with the overview. Having the product available makes it easy to call up additional information during the course of the discussion from the glossary, chronology, and notable people sections. This class period ends with the teacher assigning a glossary activity (or worksheet) for homework. Slower students can be assigned the factual and/or conceptual questions instead, as a reinforcement for the information in the overview, while others can be assigned the open-ended questions from the case studies as an enrichment. At the end of the unit, students take an assessment test of multiple choice questions.

This scenario assumes that the product is available to the students after school hours on a laptop, on the web, or as a printout, as well as on an overhead projector-type setup for the teacher. It assumes a content-area specialist doing the teaching, and students who are not otherwise highly motivated.

Case #2: The new immigrant

Citizenship classes are offered in more diverse settings. While they usually take place in a classroom, the room itself is more likely to be in a local library or community center than in a school. Also, the participants are more likely to have difficulty with written English. In this scenario, we imagined an adult whose first language may not be English using our Civics e-textbook in order to prepare for the naturalization test in a classroom.

The teacher of the citizenship class uses the overhead to introduce the overview, using the paragraph headings as scaffolding to introduce the main concepts, including any vocabulary that is new or difficult. Students would then have time to read the overview, and to begin the assessment test. Once finished, they could reconvene as a group to go over the overview, paying close attention to areas where they still have problems. There would be more experiential-based discussion, less instruction per se — these are adults, and more time would be spent on comparing their home systems to the U.S. (relative to the eighth-graders). The program would be available in the computer lab before and after class so that students could go through the ancillaries (such as tutorials on the questions on the naturalization test) and self-testing sessions.

This scenario assumes that the product is not available to students outside of the learning center, that the students are adults, and that they are more motivated than the average student in a public school.

[On a personal note, the feature image is of a citizenship class in Allentown, PA in 1918, and the man in the front row corner desk closest to the photographer may be my great-grandfather — we don’t know for sure, but the timing is right and he looks just like him.]

BulbgraphOnOffUse the Practice Test before a lesson for formative assessment; use it after for summative assessment.

Designing Educational Software, part 3

Principles of Web-based Software Design

There are principles of design for all sorts of things: landscapes, buildings, building interiors, as well as fine and commercial art, just to name a few. For good web design, the Webby Awards have been developed by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). The Webby Awards have been awarded since 1996 based on the following criteria for selection: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. (More information about their definitions is located at Judging Criteria.)

Content Content is the information provided on the site. It is not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video — anything that communicates a site’s body of knowledge.
Structure and Navigation Structure and navigation refers to the framework of a site, the organization of content, the prioritization of information, and the method in which you move through the site.
Visual Design Visual design is the appearance of the site.
Functionality Functionality is the use of technology on the site. Good functionality means the site works well. It loads quickly, has live links, and any new technology used is functional and relevant for the intended audience. The site should work cross-platform and be browser independent.
Interactivity Interactivity is the way that a site allows you to do something. Good interactivity is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive.
Overall Experience Demonstrating that sites are frequently more — or less than the sum of their parts, the overall experience encompasses content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity, but it also includes the intangibles that make one stay or leave.

These are the principles we followed to make our web-based programs engaging — a must in educational software, where the audience is largely captive. In order to assure our new design would be marketable, we used these principles and had our team pick examples of best usage from past Webby Award nominees and winners as the anchor point for a process of re-design. This process took us from imagining how our programs would be used, through imagining specific design features we wanted to incorporate, to mockups of how the program would look and act and the writing of technical specifications for the programmers.

BulbgraphOnOffHelp ELL students acquire vocabulary by using the glossary’s audio files. Definitions + pronunciation = oral and textual word recognition.

Designing Educational Software, part 2

Advantages of Software

There are many advantages of using software in education, in particular web-based software: accessibility, cloud-based storage, and the ability to update; flexibility; standards-based writing; and assessment. Let’s look at each one in turn. First, the program is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, and stores responses in the cloud, offering the best features of traditional textbooks in addition to the advantage that comes from full web integration. Second, software can be continually updated: each title can be refreshed to include current events such as national election results, major Supreme Court decisions, and other major developments. Third, software allows for flexibility in teaching — it can be used as enrichment, as well as differentiated instruction according to an individual student’s level. And it can be used in an interdisciplinary setting, requiring students to apply math and writing skills. Fourth, software content can be correlated with both state and national standards. Because it is almost infinitely expandable, it can cover the full spectrum of the curriculum. Finally, software allows teachers to conduct assessments of students’ retention and capabilities. The disadvantages are of course well-known to anyone who has ever experienced equipment failure, power failure, or user-expertise failure.

Our task was different from that of most educational publishers: we already had truly interactive software with award-winning content; our problem was that the interface had become old-fashioned: pull-down menus were no longer in style.  old product screen captureAs the internet became part of the educational arena, WorldView needed to bring its CD-ROM-based software into the 21st century — to make it web-based.  Our goal with this new product design was to utilize the vast wealth of content already available in our programs in a product with a modern look and feel, as well as the most recent improvements in usability and pedagogical techniques. After some consideration of the alternatives, we decided to develop a Web-based program. This was decided for two primary reasons: ease of installation and multi-platform functionality. With that decision in hand, we then turned toward the re-design of the user interface.

BulbgraphOnOffGuided essays lead students step-by-step through the essay writing process, from selecting the main idea to writing the conclusion.

Designing Educational Software, part 1

The design process for educational software is fairly lengthy. Not only does the program need to be functional and visually appealing for the end user, but there are other issues involved in the design of the management system and the account administrator “dashboard,” such as how to keep accounts secure, which reports will be run on the data generated by students, and how they should be interpreted.  This is the first in a series of blog posts that reports the process we followed in creating, developing, and producing these social studies programs for a new web-based delivery system.

A Little History

Our company, WorldView Software, Inc. is a publisher of educational software products for middle and high school social studies students. The goal of our programs is to offer an inexpensive way to provide for student instruction without a printed textbook. They are not a “teacher replacement.”

In November 1990, American History was released and WorldView Software was born. Over the next 21 years, WorldView released over two dozen programs, covering the entire curriculum in social studies for middle school and high school. In 1996, WorldView began an association with Plato Learning. This deepened in 2004 when, in conjunction with Plato Learning, WorldView Software released its first Web-based product. WorldView products constitute 18 of Plato’s course models, and have been used by tens of thousands of students nationwide.

For years, educational publishers continued to design and produce textbooks and student workbooks as usual, regardless of the flexibility that software could impart. The situation became even more extreme once internet use became truly ubiquitous. Stephanie Simon and Madeline Will note in a July 23, 2013 article on that in essence publishers contented themselves with slapping a .pdf file of their printed textbooks up on the web, slinging in a few links to web resources and calling it a day.

As an interactive electronic textbook, learners’ responses should be stored “in the cloud” and accessible at home or in school. WorldView’s intent was to combine the extensive award-winning content of a textbook and the versatility of a workbook with all the advantages of a computer. Designing a new user interface for our programs meant moving beyond the arena of content and delving into the worlds of html/css/javascript and pedagogical research.


BulbgraphOnOffUse the answers to the “Questions for Thought” in the overview as a note-taking guided exercise.

How to Make Teaching Social Studies Easier

Make your life easier by finding out all the ways that software can be used to teach social studies: use it like a book, as a resource workbook, or let your students explore the tremendous amount of content in each title.  Because it’s more than just a pdf on the web, with truly interactive software the sky’s the limit!

Take a virtual tour through WorldView software here: WorldView Demonstration Video

Continue reading How to Make Teaching Social Studies Easier

Welcome to WorldView Software’s Blog

Coming soon on this blog: posts on how to use our products in the classroom, educational technology in general, about our company, and stuff we just find interesting!  We hope you’ll join us.


Please Be Patient

This site is under construction.