Some developing thoughts and ideas on technology and globalisation on my LiveJournal Blog - tonypickford.livejournal.com
I remember many years ago (and I mean many) having a conversation with a student, which ranged over the old Mac v PC debate. At the time (and its still true), I preferred Macs to PCs because they seemed so much easier to use. The student though preferred PCs. Why? Because he liked the challenge of using command lines and such. 'Computers shouldn't be easy to use,' he said, 'Macs are just too simple.' (or words to that effect). He felt that Macs were a bit of a cheat, because you could get them to do stuff without knowing anything about programming.
Meerkat from Stock Xchang
Understandably, the conversation has stuck with me. The concept of computers as tools for an elite of techies, who want to be challenged, was memorable. And though a long time ago, the conversation has resonances for now and the current re-emergence of programming as being central to the ICT curriculum. But, I don't intend to get into that issue now (or ever?). The reason this conversation came back to me was because my recent trawls of online (and desktop) tools has yielded some good examples of tools which do what, I think, good technology should always do - make life simpler and/or do things in a simple, straightforward way. I've also come across a couple of tools, which might please my student friend - they are a bit of a challenge!
Taking the simple ones first, the following are all tools, which have the potential for making teachers' professional (and personal) lives a little simpler.
If you are a fan of online file storage and sharing facilities like me, then you will no doubt have tried several different services and have accounts (and files) scattered across sites, such as DropBox or SugarSync or MobileMe or (for images) Picasa Web Albums. Wouldn't it be good if there was a service which allowed you to access all of these sites together and move files between them - maybe rationalise a bit? There is - Otixo has a simple sign-up process and offers a free basic service which gives access to these sites and more. The interface is straightforward and it seems easy to transfer files between, say, SugarSync and DropBox or download files to your computer. There is a desktop application in development. As most of these services have relatively limited capacities for free storage and sharing, Otixo also seems to offer the possibility of increasing your cloud storage capacity by spreading your online files across several platforms.
If you are a Twitter user, then you will be very aware that, as you follow more people, your timeline will become increasingly full of disparate tweets. Twitter Lists are a way of managing all these tweets, by grouping the people and organisations that you follow under headings and themes, e.g. tweets from local schools, tweets from those interested in educational technology, comedians, etc. The trouble is I haven't found a Twitter client yet that makes managing these lists an easy (or simple) task. TwitBird on iOS does a reasonable job, but is still quite convoluted. TwitlistManager looks promising, however. It give a spreadsheet-style view of all the 'tweeps' you are following and you can assign them to lists by checking boxes. Doesn't seem glitch-free just yet, but there is the potential there to make Twitter much simpler to use and more manageable.
Returning readers of this blog will know that I am enthusiastic about the learning potential of making and editing images. Although its demise is not far away now, despite it terrible interface, I am a fan of Picnik and have been looking for alternatives for personal use and for use in teaching and learning activities. Ideally, an alternative which is simple and easy to use. Tuxpi seems to fit the bill very well. Simply upload an image and click one or more of the Photo Effects buttons below it - each showing a preview of the effect. Results are very professional in appearance and the interface could be used with key stage one upwards.
Photoshop Express Editor from Adobe is available across all mobile platforms and as an online editor. Although it doesn't quite have the simplicity of Tuxpi or the range of effects, it offers basic editing features and some entirely frivolous effects.
Splashup is at the other end of the scale in terms of simplicity and is the first of my 'challenging' tools. It provides a fully featured image editor online should you want one, though I can see little point when desktop applications, such as Paint.NET or PhotoFiltre, are free and much easier to use. Aviary Image Editor would also fall into this category, though you might find it easier to use than I did.
When it comes to tools for teaching and learning, especially for young children, then simplicity and straightforwardness would appear to be a key attribute. The British Council's Learn English site exemplifies this very well. Although intended for learners of English as an Additional Language, it illustrates the point that good practice for EAL is good practice for all learners. Many of the games and activities on the site would be appropriate for developing literacy knowledge and skills for all children. I especially like Storymaker, which motivates writing (and reading) by creating a story from elements chosen by the user. Good stuff.
Tony Pickford is a tutor and writer on primary education.