Thursday, December 22, 2011

User Friendly Educators

Image found at http://blog.mmiworks.net/2007/05/lgm-gimp-project-overview.html  
Last July, I published a post in which I defined the various components of what I called the "Open House Culture" in schools.  Since writing that post, the Open House Culture concept has become the subject of one of my eBook projects as well as an upcoming faculty presentation.  As such, I have been reflecting on the concept of an Open House Culture and refining/expanding some of my initial thoughts.
In that post, I suggested a brief definition for all five components.  One of those five is "Friendly," which was described as:
If you genuinely like being an educator, let everyone know from the first impression (if you do not, find another line of work).  Smile.  Produce more “happy endorphins.”  Dress professionally and/or appropriately.  Greet everyone with an implied invitation to engage rather than to “get this over with.”
While I am happy with my initial idea of Friendly, I want to expand the idea somewhat to include a different type of Friendly that educators should work towards - "user friendly."

Ease of use is such a powerful characteristic today that almost all of use make multiple decisions each day mainly based on how user friendly the choices are.  Sure, once in a while we choose a less friendly choice, but this usually only happens when we notice either an immediate or significant benefit to NOT choosing the user friendly option.

For example, you may choose to take a longer route to work (assuming you are not running late) because the view is outstanding and puts you in a much calmer state of mind than navigating the highway.

I often wonder if educators spend enough time examining their practices to determine if those practices are as user friendly as they should be.  In other words, are you inadvertently making the use of your class much harder than it needs to be and if so, is there a immediate and recognizable benefit to doing so?

I am NOT talking about lowering standards or making the course "easy."  I AM, however, talking about the interface, the instructions, the feedback loop, etc.

Have you examined these for ease of use?

  • How "hard" is it for a student to receive clarification on an assignment?
  • How available are you to help outside of class?
  • Do your instructions come in multiple forms and include visual prompts?
  • Do you use technology to aid in ease of use (post assignments online, accept papers electronically, maintain communication with parents and students about progress and grades, etc.)?

Here's the hard part.

What we often view as user friendly changes when something easier is introduced.  In other words, what was once "user friendly" may not be user friendly any more.

Using a copy machine was easier than printing multiple copies and collating myself.  Now the idea of user a copy machine for almost any function is one of the most unfriendly tasks I can think of in my school.

Why?

Because creating and sharing a Google Doc is easier (not to mention quicker, more accessible, and better with which to collaborate).

Being friendly is important for creating an Open House Culture, but do not forget to include user friendly into your thinking.
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