[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #19: Observation 4 - Frustration

NB: This is the nineteenth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children. These 5 posts detail an ethnographic observation my class carried out at Toys “R” Us.

Observation 4 at Toys “R” Us

Frustration was a common theme I observed during my time at Toys “R” Us. One of the most common scenarios I encountered was when a child couldn’t find his/her parent immediately. The child would look up, not see an adult figure within two seconds, and then become incredibly flustered. The parent usually found the child within a few more seconds, but for those few moments, the child would be very worried. I think that this notion highlights how important it is to create user experiences that are as frictionless and frustration-free as possible.

Another common scenario which resulted in frustration was when a child wanted to get a toy, but his/her parent said “no”. This would often result in the child being upset, arguing, or even crying. Sometimes the parent would “bargain” with the child, offering a less expensive toy as a replacement for the one the child wanted.

Another source of frustration was discussed in my post #17 about feedback: when children touched a toy and no immediate physical response was given by the toy, children would often get upset. They would try other ways of touching the toy to get some feedback, but if the toy provided none, they would give up, frustrated.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #15: Opportunity - Using Technology to Teach Computer Literacy

NB: This is the fifteenth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

Young children are incredible at understanding technology. Some babies are now more used to using iPads than magazines and are confused when the magazines don’t react to touch (see this video). And children in Ethiopia, who are completely illiterate, were able to figure out how to hack OLPCs in 5 months with no instruction. These children had never seen a written word, and yet when given two boxes filled with custom Android Motorola Zoom tablets and no human or ant instructions, they were able to teach themselves not only how to turn on the devices but how to use apps, and even figure out how to re-enable the disabled camera. They had also taught themselves some English using the included software. This example shows just how much children can teach themselves when given the right opportunities. The technological devices we allow children to use can themselves shape how and what kids learn.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #14: Challenge - Pace of Technical Innovation

NB: This is the fourteenth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

The past 40 years has shown us some incredible advancements in computing: from the rise of the mainframe to the PC to the mobile phone. It’s hard to imagine that the iPhone was only announced in 2007 and now there are over a billion smart phones lining people’s pockets. But the pace of innovation is hard to keep up with. New iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones are released every year, and technologies such as Bluetooth low energy, iBeacons, and ARM chips are changing the way mobile devices work. All of this innovation can make it tough to keep up though. Especially when schools are strapped for cash already, having to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies can get very expensive. Creators of mobile learning technologies must appreciate this and work toward creating devices and experiences that can last multiple upgrade cycles. This may mean creating tech that can be updated and improved as new innovations come out.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #13: Opportunity - Pace

NB: This is the thirteenth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

One advantage to educational technologies that allow a single user to progress through a curriculum is often that it allows the student to choose their own pace. In an ideal world, every student would spend all school day with one teacher who would expertly tailor the curriculum to that specific student’s needs. Instead, we put children in large classrooms and force them all to go at the same pace while being taught by one teacher. The reason for this is obviously cost and convenience: it’s just not feasible to have a 1-1 student-to-teacher ratio. With educational technologies though, students can go at their own pace. For example, when watching a video lecture on Khan Academy, students can rewind or speed-up the video to suit their needs. An even better edTech program would then tailor its curriculum to specifically fit the student’s needs.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #12: Opportunity - Data & Imporvements

NB: This is the twelfth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

As more and more learning happens online and on connected devices, more data about learning patterns can be logged and analyzed. In the same way that Google, Facebook, and other major tech companies aggressively use user data to optimize and improve their services, educational technologies should improve based on the data that they can collect. One example of this already happening is in the MOOC arena: companies like Coursera and Udacity collect tons of anonymized user data from students taking online courses: from login times and locations to minutes of video watched to quiz and assignment completion to dropout rates. This post from a Udacity Data Scientist shows how complicated the analysis can get when working with these incredibly rich datasets. I hope therefore that more edTech companies follow suit in ruthlessly trying to improve the student experience by using data.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #11: Opportunity/Challenge - Ubiquity

NB: This is the eleventh in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

The case of ubiquity presents both challenges and opportunities. Mobile technologies can be brought everywhere. 83 percent of millennials now sleep with their phone within reach and more than 50 percent of phone owners have their phone always within reach. Mobile phones (and therefore smart phones, with penetration rates in Singapore reaching more than 70 percent) are now becoming truly ubiquitous.

On one hand, ubiquity can be a good thing. Children waiting in line or at the bus stop can take out their smartphones and use educational apps (like these: Top 10 Education Apps of 2013) to pass the time while supporting their learning. On the other hand, mobile phone ubiquity means that once children have a mobile phone, it may almost never leave their side. Children may miss out on the experience of “unplugging”. Never unplugging can mean missing out on outdoor experiences or even losing sleep (the article states that children who use social networking before bedtime report sleeping nearly an hour less than their peers).

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #10: Challenge - Language Barriers & Internationalization

NB: This is the tenth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

In the United States at least, many primary school students come to the classroom with little or no English language skills. A growing number of teachers are tasked with teaching English language learners (or ELLs) who come to schools in the United States without being able to communicate in English fluently. The National Center for Education Statistics stated that the number of children with difficulty speaking English increased by a factor of more than 2 between 1979 and 1995. And in 2010, the number of English language learners had increased to 4.7 million students (or 10 percent).

With that in mind, it is interesting to note that most technological systems are created with one language in mind at first, and then other language options are added later if deemed necessary. This process is known as internationalization and localization and is often a momentous task for software creators. Imagine Facebook being translated from English into German, where each word is often much longer: buttons have to be enlarged and text does not necessarily fit in the same space it did before. In the same way, mobile learning technologies for children will have to be adapted for learners who speak other languages. And because mobile devices have even smaller screens, this process may be even harder. Creators of mobile learning technologies must be especially mindful of this, because rolling out an English-only product to a school with a 10 percent non-English-fluent population may have detrimental effects on adoption.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #9: Challenge - Collecting User Feedback

NB: This is the ninth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

An important part of developing any new technology for use by humans is user research and testing. One issue specific to rolling out new technology to children is that it can be more difficult to collect feedback. To illustrate, here is what a typical feedback form given to adults looks like: 

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Of course, giving these types of multiple choice evaluation forms to young children is not feasible. It is therefore imperative that technology creators envision a way to get users’ (i.e. children’s) feedback somehow. One possible way to do this is to watch children interact with the system in a fashion similar to usability testing. In any case, doing user testing on children will come with its own set of challenges that must be specifically addressed.

[NM3204 E-Learning] #3: Apple’s Virtual University

NB: This post is for NM3204, the E-Learning course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS.

Prompt: Consider Apple’s virtual university patent and discuss its role and application for learning.

The application described in this patent is extremely similar to what Coursera has now built: a large library of scheduled and self-paced courses from some of the world’s top universities and a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that allows for the viewing of lectures, notes, and discussions. A screenshot of Coursera’s homepage is below.

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Apple’s virtual university patent can be compared to their current E-Learning platform, iTunesU, which has only a small subset of the features laid out in the virtual university patent. iTunesU offers the ability to simply download video lectures and notes and then view those at your own pace. It does not offer graded assignments, communication with peers or instructors, or any “real-time” features. It is interesting to note that this patent was filed in October 2011, suggesting that even tho Apple thought about creating a full VLE, it has yet to do so and continues to support the barebones iTunesU. I think this is because a full virtual university would be a distraction to Apple’s core business of selling hardware and software. And with this new outcropping of MOOC providers, Apple probably does not need or want to compete with them. Instead, Apple is happy to be a platform on which Coursera et al. can build learning applications such as Coursera’s iPhone app and Codecademy’s iPhone app.

[NM3221 Mobile Interaction Design] #8: Challenge - “Hacking”

NB: This is the eighth in a series of posts for the course I am taking while studying abroad at NUS called “NM3221: Mobile Interaction Design”, which focuses on mobile learning technologies for children.

One of the issues with introducing new mobile learning technologies into the classroom is that these technologies are often not fully tested and proven. For example, the Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD, from my hometown) has stopped its US$1billion iPad program because students had been “hacking” into the tablets. In reality, no “hacking” had taken place; students had just figured out a way to access Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites that LAUSD had planned to be blocked. In essence, students had figured out how to bypass the parental controls. Some solutions for school districts are to either figure out how to create more sophisticated blockers, or understand that it is human nature to try to access things that are off-limits and figure out how to integrate tablets into the classroom with this knowledge that students may use them for social networking.