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Masters in Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science (METALS)

Carnegie Mellon University has a new Masters program in edtech with an emphasis on learning science. Seems like a great way to train for a growing field:

The Professional Masters in Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science (METALS) is a one-year interdisciplinary masters, jointly taught by the Human Computer Interaction Institute and the Psychology Department. The program trains students to design, develop and evaluate evidenced-based programs for learning in settings that range from schools to homes, workplaces to museums, and online to offline learning environments. Graduates will be prepared to take key positions in corporations, universities and schools as designers, developers, and evaluators of educational technologies as well as learning engineers, curriculum developers, learning technology policy-makers, and even chief learning officers.

Students with backgrounds in psychology, education, computer science, design, information technology, or business are encouraged to apply.

How to make the ideal conference badge

Academics and professionals go to a lot of conferences. I recently returned from iSLC 2010, which like all conferences had badges and like all conferences the badges could be frustrating. Unlike most conferences, this one is run by graduate students such as myself and I figure that by posting these notes I can make a difference for iSLC 2011 and beyond. (For what it’s worth, other than the badges, I thought this was the best run iSLC conference yet. Practice makes perfect.)

This isn’t the first post on designing conference badges but I’ll try to make it one of the most succinct. Here is the main principle to bear in mind when designing a badge: The purpose of the badge is to help people connect. To that end, here are some graphic design tips (with help from my friend and colleague Ruth Wylie):

  • Participant’s names should be largest on the badge and then affiliation.
  • First names above and bigger than last names.
  • Duplicate front on back for when it flips. (Can print one-sided and fold.)

That’s it. Notice there’s nothing about the conference itself, since that’s the least important part of the badge. Everyone knows where they are. In general, anything that sets people apart should be larger than anything that is the same.

Matt Cutts’s ideal conference badge is a great example of the guidelines above. Mike Davidson shares a more detailed analysis, along with a sample Illustrator file to make it super easy.

If you’re also running the registration system, these are more improvements:

  • On the registration form ask both for name and what they prefer to be called. (e.g. William and Bill)
  • Have a field for people to enter keywords about their research/interests for others to ask about.
  • If the number of affiliations is few, code them by color.
  • Make all extra material (e.g. banquet ticket) sized so that it fits within the badge holder.

Zaki Warfel adds some more considerations to the matter.

Usability testing gets easier and easier

Your product is useless if no one can use it.  But how do you know how usable it is?  You can try it yourself, but you are not the user. (“You are not the user” is practically a mantra here at HCII.)  One set of methods, usability inspection, provides a framework to systematically evaluate a system yourself or with the help of others versed in the methods.  But really, you want to know how actual users experience the system.

Usability testing is a systematic way to see how real users get along with your design.  There is much literature around usability testing, which you may want to read.  Or you can just dive in using some of the easy tools that are available these days.

If you have access to users and can put them in front of your computer, there is software that can record both the screen and a webcam at the same time so that you can go back later to watch and listen to the user while they’re using your software. The best is Silverback, which is pretty slick but only for Mac.  (For Windows, keep looking.)   Because it’s recorded, you can skip over boring stuff and replay interesting stuff over and over.  You don’t even need to be there to record it, if other people are helping you.

Then there’s remote testing. If you’re testing a web application, your users don’t even have to leave their computer.  Today I came across these remote testing services and they’re pretty great:

userfly is impressive and also the cheapest.  You add a Javascript string to your page and the everything the user does on the page is recorded.  Then they play it back for you, showing the mouse move around, clicks and keypresses.  It has some difficulties updating with results of AJAX calls, but they’re working on that.  They offer 10 recordings per month free, so it’s worth trying. is like a mix of Silverback and userfly.  For $29, they provide the user for you and record a video of their screen, with an audio track of them thinking aloud using your website.  Apparently the user also provides a written summary of the problems they found.  I haven’t tried it since it costs money, but I wonder who the users are.  I expect they’re experienced evaluators, which helps in some ways, but can also be detrimental.  If you’re targeting a special population, then you probably want to find the users yourself.

Chalkmark has a very specific purpose, seeing where people click on an image when given an instruction. E.g. you upload an image of your web site and tell them “click on the link to update your settings”.  Wherever they click gets recorded, along with everyone else’s clicks on the task, to create a heat map on the image.  I guess it’s useful if you’re carefully testing out the layout of a site across a large population, but usually a small sample suffices and you would get better data with the other tools.

Remember, you are not the user and your assessments of the usability of what you made are likely way off.  Test with real users.  These tools make it easy.

5th-grader keynote speaker for the Dallas Independent School District

Dalton Sherman, the 5th-grader keynote speaker for the Dallas Independent School District’s 2008 Back to School pep rally, gave this speech in front of 20,000 teachers. Watch their reactions, excitement and standing ovation over his powerful message: "Do YOU believe in me?"

Dallas ISD hosts the WMV file here but someone uploaded it to YouTube, which is what I’ve embedded here to reduce the load on Dallas ISD’s servers.  The summary above is from another upload of the video to a less popular service.

Welcome to ITS 2008 people

I just gave my talk today on Putting the World to Work for ITS and I included a link to this blog, which I intend to write in regularly about research in building scalable systems for intelligent tutoring and education technology in general. (You might also be interested in the paper on which the talk is based.)

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