“Numerous manufacturers have tried to overcome the sameness of their product offerings by allowing customers to customize them. What this usually means is that the purchaser can choose the color or select from a list of accessories and extra-cost features” (Norman, p. 219).

“Numerous manufacturers have tried to overcome the sameness of their product offerings by allowing customers to 'customize' them. What this usually means is that the purchaser can choose the color or select from a list of accessories and extra-cost features” (Norman, p. 219).

We live in an age of mass production. Our cell phone that we bought last year doesn’t have the same features as the one available today. Our digital music player only holds half as much music as our friends. Our computer just doesn’t play that video game quite as smoothly as you’d like. The result is that our individual collection of gadgets has begun to look exactly the same as that of our friends. Manufacturers have begun to offer customizations such as coloured face plates and accessories. Norman questions whether this personalization is truly personal. “Are these customizations emotionally compelling? Not really. Yes cloths might fit better, and the furniture might better suit some needs, but neither guarantees emotional attachment” (Norman, p. 220).

There are however mass marketed products that have successfully appealed to the user on the reflective layer. These products extend the personalization far beyond simply selecting from a series of add-ons, and provide an opportunity for true personalization. One very successful example of this is the Ganz Webkinz. These collectible stuffed animals originally marketed towards children have become popular for both children and adults. They achieve this not by requiring the purchase of add-ons, although these are certainly available, but instead by providing a means for the owner to express themselves. Each Webkinz comes with a secret code that you can use to login to their very well designed web space. Upon entering the space you find yourself in a virtual world with the stuffed animal as an animated avatar. Each “pet” is given a room that you can decorate any way you like. Play money, earned through playing games, can be used to purchase furniture, decorations, appliances, games, and more for your pet’s room. As you purchase other pets, rooms are added for them in what becomes your virtual house. Most importantly you have the ability to visit shared spaces with other participants anywhere in the world. Communications are limited to predefined phrases ensuring anonymity and safety. “No, proper customization comes about through combining multiple simple pieces. Invariably, if something is so complex that it requires the addition of multiple “preferences” or customization choices, it is probably too complex to use, to complex to be saved. I don’t customize my pen; I do customize how I use it. I don’t customize my furniture; I do customize through my choice of which piece to buy in the first place, where I put it, when I use it, and how” (Norman, p. 222).

Webkinz World

Webkinz World

The magic and success of the Webkins phenomenon is a perfect example of both Human-tech and Emotional design. The soft and friendly looking pets appeal on the visceral level, as does the virtual environment these pets play in. At a behavioural level, the web space is designed for the use of young children. At the reflective level, the entire environment is built around emotional attachment. Users don’t just interact, they create. The Webkinz world becomes an extension of the user’s real world. As Vicente (p. 284) points out “high tech is not the same as Human-tech.” Interaction within Webkins World is so natural that one doesn’t tend to notice the massive database engine that must drive it.

Both Vicente and Norman note the importance of a holistic view of technology and would argue that engineering is simply about strong analytical and problem solving skills. They also need to be skilled in Human Tech. “They’re leaders. They want to learn about history, psychology, politics, sociology and other courses that don’t currently have a place in the rigid and overly prescriptive engineering curricula. These students – ones that we’re currently losing to other disciplines – would make outstanding engineers and precious leaders in society. They’re born Human-tech thinkers. Many of them are women”(Vicente, p. 304).

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"It is difficult to believe that Kismet is all emotion, with no understanding. But walk up to it, speak excitedly, show it your brand-new watch, and Kismet responds appropriately: it looks at your face, then at the watch, then back at your face again, all the time showing interest by raising its eyelids and ears, and exhibiting perky, lively behavior" (Norman, p.193). Click on Kismet for a demonstration video.

The two hour delay meant that he could never have a synchronous discussion with his friends at home. Restricted by the speed of light, it took this long for a message to reach this far out into the solar system. Still, he was quite comfortable working alone.   After his morning routine of cleaning up and recharging, he would set to his work. The mission was important to him and his work reflected it. He checked the instruments and although the equipment was well within mission parameters, he still made the minute adjustments required to get the readings as close to perfect as possible; after all, it was his ship and this was a matter of pride.

Today however, he was worried. Every morning at the same time a message would have arrived from home with mission updates. Today, there was no such message. Following procedure, he poured through the system error logs without avail. Telemetry showed that he was still on the correct course, so Earth should be in the right place in the sky. Finally, he checked the status of the radio antenna itself.

He typed some keys asking the computer to identify the status of the antenna. The  screen went blank. This didn’t concern him since sometimes a diagnostic test could take several minutes so he waited. For 10 minutes he waited. Becoming frustrated, he decided to change his approach.  If the diagnostics weren’t working, the only other way to find out what was wrong would be to go outside.

As he opened the hatch, he could feel fear begin to grip him. He knew how dangerous it was outside, but his pride pushed him on. Hand over hand he worked his way along the hand rail to the top of the ship. There at the top was a huge radio antenna pointed directly at Earth. At its base he could see sparks shooting wildly into space. They must have collided with a stray meteoroid. With a sense of relief and a clear purpose he set to work fixing the antenna.  Another crisis had been averted.

Throughout recording his update for transmission to Earth his face and voice betrayed the emotional roller coaster he had just experienced; he was exhausted.  So he washed up and got ready for bed. Then NORM-N, the emotional robot in charge of the extra-planetary research mission, switched off for the night.

For autonomous robots emotions can provide a great deal of flexibility around unexpected events. Algorithms and procedures can provide rules of behaviour only in response to known challenges. A robot that is to be left alone for a long period of time to complete a task is bound to run into an unexpected event. Even today, interplanetary robots have a rudimentary sense of panic. If an event occurs that is unexpected, many of these vehicles will immediately switch into a safe mode. This gives the engineers and researchers the time to understand and correct the problem. “Surprise means that a situation is not as anticipated, and that planned or current behaviour is probably no longer appropriate – hence, the need to stop and reassess” (Norman, p. 181).

“Animals and humans have developed sophisticated mechanisms for surviving in an unpredictable, dynamic world, coupling the appraisals and evaluations of affect to methods for modulating the overall system. The result is increased robustness and error tolerance. Our artificial systems would do well to learn from their example” (Norman, p. 169).

Community by Choconancy1

"Community" by Choconancy1

The same trend that Vicente discusses in “Management Matters: Building Learning Organizations” very strongly reflects a current shift in teacher professional development. Instead of working in isolation and solving problems of pedagogy and curriculum on an individual basis, teachers are asked to work as collaborative teams around improving student learning. The purpose of this work is to learn together and to analyse the successes and failures of the students. “The goal is to find out what’s to blame, not who’s to blame” (Vicente, p.201).

Teacher growth towards current best practice can be a difficult process. Under the guise of accountability and the provision of of meaningful data, media outlets and certain academic think tanks provide school rankings based on standardized provincial data. Even though teachers know that there are many indicators of student performance that are more useful , the public nature of these results can impede a teacher’s willingness to grow and change.   “Blaming and shaming aren’t irrelevant; they’re worse than irrelevant because they can contribute to errors. Looking for an individual to blame when something goes wrong, regardless of the conditions that person is working under, is tantamount to creating a gigantic “invisible hand” that’s ready at all times to point an accusing finger at anyone who makes a mistake” (Vicente, p. 215).

Learning communities are one way to address this issue. “Each team can be doing an excellent job of coordinating its internal activities and each individual within the team can be doing an outstanding job of performing the mental and physical tasks for which he or she is responsible, yet the organization as a whole can flounder miserably if the various teams pursue conflicting objectives” (Vicente, p.189). In a professional learning community, teachers recognize that they don’t individually have “all of the answers.” Student performance data is analysed by the team and collaborative decisions are made about developing common instruction and assessments. Individual teachers no longer fear the data, rather they use the data to inform future practice. “Fear isn’t an effective way to combat error. A punitive system only makes people try to cover up their mistakes, removing important opportunities for improving the health care system” (Vicente, p. 223).

Our students are each someone’s child. As a parent, the thought that your child is being disadvantaged by the class they have been placed in is unconscionable. “We all feel that if wrong has been done, those responsible must be held to account. From this perspective, the prosecution is clearly justifiable. In fact the argument is so compelling that there doesn’t seem to be any room for an alternative. What else can we do: let the culprits off scot-free”(Vicente, p.211)? By ensuring that poor performance can be a source of rich data for school improvement and by enabling teachers to collaborate about how best to address the learning needs of their students,  “schools that are truly committed to the concept of learning for each student will stop subjecting struggling students to a haphazard education lottery” (DuFour,  2004, p. 6).

Teamwork - RAAF Roulettes by naemick

"Teamwork - RAAF Roulettes" by naemick

“The definition of ‘technology’ that I’ve adopted includes the ‘softer,’ non-physical kinds of system design, and crew training, which is one such ‘soft’ aspect, has a direct bearing on aviation safety” (Vicente, p.162).

When one considers training in the context of computer technologies, including those used in safety critical industries, the training often centres around the technology itself. If, however, this technology needs to be used by a team, “key factors such as communication, authority, responsibility and priority-setting must all be taken care of, otherwise the team members won’t be able to coordinate their respective actions” (Vicente, p. 156).

As we begin to develop our inquiry learning system, it is important to consider the fact that at a fundamental level this is a social learning system. The lesson study model will require teachers from a variety of locations to interact, collaborate and learn from each other. This will require a common language and interaction protocol. For this tool to be most effective, users must be trained not only in the technical components, but in the concept of lesson study and the protocols for interaction. “[I]t’s not only legitimate but necessary to think about the creation of a training program as an equally important part of the overall design of the system, one that has a bearing on the ultimate impact of the technical components themselves” (Vicente, p. 163).

Vicente advocates the use of simulated learning experiences to allow participants to understand their own contributions to an interaction. Participants are videotaped engaging in the interaction and are given the opportunity to reflect. “The entire session is videotaped, and after the simulated flight, a debriefing session is held, during which the crew watches and critiques their own performance with the help of an expert facilitator” (Vicente, p. 166). This reflective practice mirrors the video lesson study proposed by L.O.R.I. Teacher participants are asked to reflect upon their interactions with students rather than with teams. It is however in the shared, reflective analysis of this interaction that growth and learning occur.

Video study, even in the context of a simulation can be powerful and often very realistic. By watching one’s own interactions, areas for growth can be quickly identified and corrected. During one medical simulation, Vicente observed “I’ll never forget the look on his face as he reconstructed for us the sequence of thoughts and emotions that went through his mind as he desperately searched for ways to save the patient’s life” (Vicente, p. 178).

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

JOSHUA by D. Stevens - Based on "Old OCLC Terminal" by Travelin' Librarian

JOSHUA by D. Stevens - Based on "Old OCLC Terminal" By Travellin' Librarian

In 1983 a military computer by the name of JOSHUA asked a young Matthew Broderick, “Would you like to play a game?” In the film War Games a computer accessed through a text console in the main character’s bedroom became far more than a piece of technology; it was a character.  Although the level of sophistication and semi sentience isn’t possible even today, this film and others of its day marked the beginning of the conceptualization of computers as social entities.

Computers by their nature are interactive. For a computer to perform any task, a user must provide it with information, request a process, and respond to the output. “Basically, if something interacts with us, we interpret that interaction; the more responsive it is to us through its body actions, its language, its taking of turns, and its general responsiveness, the more we treat it like a social actor.” (Norman, 137). Furthermore, unlike any other technologies, computer processors are uniquely anthropomorphic in their apparent ability to think.

User experience goals become uniquely critical in this context. Novice users can easily be discouraged when the conceptual model does not agree with the user model. “We get angry because that’s how our mind works. As far as we are concerned, we have done everything right, so the inappropriate behaviour is therefore the fault of the computer” (Norman, 139). With each negative experience, the novice user begins to distrust the technology. They respond as one would respond to a personal conflict. “Most of our rich, deepest emotions are ones where we have attributed a cause to an occurrence. These emotions originate from reflection” (Norman, 139).

Fortunately, this reflective social response can work in our favour. Just as a negative user experience invoke responses of anger and frustration, positive experiences can evoke emotions such as friendship and nostalgia. In some cases these experiences can even become part of the vernacular as the proper nouns associated with the technologies start appearing as verbs.

When one considers the ten user experience goals outlined by Rogers, Sharp, and Preece (see concept map below), is it any wonder that the most successful web tools available are those that facilitate social interaction?  As Norman points out, “even if exact prediction of successful products is not possible, we can be certain of one category that almost always guarantees success: social interaction”(Norman, 148). As social interaction begins to move onto the electronic stage, even novice users are beginning to participate. The  fear and anger felt by those who traditionally have had negative experiences with technology is overshadowed by the social pressure of being part of a group.

Interaction Design

Interaction Design - Click for full size

Badly Designed Parking Meter by nedrichards

Badly Designed Parking Meter by nedrichards

The influence of Norman and Viscente is strongly evident in the “Research-based web design and usability guidelines” as is evidenced in the attached concept map. It is easy to find examples of where the absence of these principles has caused a website or software application to become cumbersome and difficult to use.

One trait that information technology has given the human race is an unlimited capacity for impatience. This can be annoying or dangerous depending on the application. Managers of registration systems are familiar with this problem. Users waiting too long without feedback often press the submit button multiple times requiring the software or registrar to proofread the electronic registrations. This is even more critical for systems that require the use of a credit card. Many people will wait however if given appropriate feedback. “If computer processing will take over one minute, indicate this to the user” (p. 16). Often a moving progress bar helps the user to believe that the computer is in fact processing.

As Norman comments, “attractive things just work better” (Norman, 17). To this end, it is important to design systems that produce positive affective states. With the proliferation of high speed internet, we often forget to take into consideration all users. Users with dialup internet access or one of the “lite” services can very quickly become annoyed by pages with large graphics or flash animation. Sites that require special client software can also be problematic as the user must wait for the client to download and install before they can interact with the content. Security restrictions within many workplaces also contribute to this problem and often prevent the user from downloading or installing the appropriate client.

As we begin to build “L.O.R.I. 2.0” we need to take these principles into account. This application will require the ability to upload, download, index and display video data. Long download times mean that we will need to stream video. This in turn will require the user to download client software. By using common clients such as Adobe Flash™, we can prevent the need for such downloads.

Although good web design is becoming more and more common, mechanism largely pervades. Often we browse to a commercial web site looking for a specific piece of information. Unfortunately, “somehow we have to dance uncertainly to get the machine to do what we want” (Vicente, 2004, p. 119). As with any design, websites require both a Human-tech and emotional design approach. All of the principles in this chapter amount to one important idea: remember the user.

Click for a larger version

Click for a larger version


Garden Drops by "Steve took it"

“I suspect that part of the answer will come from their study of those things that do stand the test of time, such as some music, literature, and art. In all these cases, the works are rich and deep, so that there is something different to be perceived on each experience” (Norman, 2004, p. 110).

The picture above is intriguing. At first glance it is a picture of beads of dew on a stem. As one looks closer at each bead, a bouquet of colour is realized. Looking even closer individual flowers are seen within each drop. Standing back and looking at the  entire photograph the colour, framing, and composition become visible. Quality art is often defined in this context. Each time a work is examined a different image, quality or meaning is observed. Is it fair to have this expectation of our technologies? Is it  possible in the context of a teacher learning tool to expect that the user be provided with a rich, new experience every time? “Great design – like great literature, music, or art – can be appreciated even after continual use, continued presence” (Norman, 2004, p. 107).

One way to achieve this in a teacher learning tool is to take a page from the developers of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). “(M)ore and more, these games are involving groups, sometimes scattered across the world,  communicating through computer networks… some are environments, simulated worlds with people, families, households and communities. In all of these, life goes on even when you, the player, are not present” (Norman, 2004, p. 133). By placing the
learner in a larger community you provide a constantly changing landscape where the “world” is different with each interaction. The actions required by the environment are driven by the needs of the user and his or her collaborators.

If learning is to occur however, these interactions need to be natural. “The conditions required for flow to occur include lack of distractions and an activity paced precisely to match your skills, pushing you slightly above your capabilities” (Norman, 2004, p. 125). A “benevolent invisible hand” (Vicente, p. 75) is required that seamlessly directs the interaction focusing the user’s consciousness on the rich collaboration and interaction.

Concept map of Chapter 3 Vicente and Chapter 4 Norman