Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mobile & BYOD in the Computer Lab

First, Design Matters Part 2 is on the way in one week! For now, some other stuff I've been thinking about: Mobile and BYOD... To remain consistent, I'll focus on the visual design unit I do with my students to show how it can apply on the mobile environment.

I’ve been devoting serious thought this summer to the ways in which I will include mobile in my classroom this coming school year. We have a new BYOD policy, a few sets of iTouch Devices and a set of iPads (with more ordered). I started by asking myself why I would want to integrate mobile in my class. After all, I teach in a computer lab and have a wealth of technology. The thing is, I can’t ignore this quote from Michael Soskil

If we are preparing our students for life after school, we should allow them to use the tools they will be using when they get there.  How many jobs can you think of right now where a smart phone is not beneficial?  Mechanics order parts on their phone, engineers view blueprints, doctors calculate dosages, and grocers check inventory.  The list is endless.

Clearly, the data is in favor of more mobile integration. So far, I’ve found ways to brilliantly introduce mobile into game design and video production, but I’m struggling in other areas, particularly visual design. There’s nothing as robust as Adobe’s Creative Suite for mobile, and Avairy’s online tools (that are disappearing in September by the way) don’t work in mobile browsers. If you want to create anything beautiful on a mobile device, you’re going to pay for it. Even moodboarding apps cost a lot of money.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Design Matters 1: Visual Literacy & the 21st Century

It's the big day. Your students have been working on these projects for weeks. Some groups, going the traditional route have prepared a Power Point presentation. Some have made a VoiceThread or Animoto. A few brave groups have used Weebly, Blogger, or Wix to create a whole web site. Rubrics in hand, the day begins. Your hard work has paid off... mostly. Your students are proud of their work. The content has unusual depth. The students have met the expectations outlined on your rubric.

Still... something is wrong. The projects are... well... they're ugly. You have this sick feeling knowing that they're out there on the web, pointing back at your class. This feeling makes you feel a little guilty. After all, "ugly" is very subjective, and they're only kids, kids who have worked very hard. What a shallow and superficial person you must be! Maybe you're just out of touch. Maybe cobalt blue text (in Jokerman font) on a black background with red and neon green highlights is all the rage right now. Maybe it is no longer considered distracting to put 12 flaming and exploding animated GIFs on a single Power Point slide.

It's okay... You are not being superficial. The projects probably aren't as visually appealing (professional looking) as they could be, and it's not because they're just kids. Kids are creative and they take pride in what they do. It's also not superficial and merely subjective. What it is, is a lack of Visual Literacy.

Design matters... It really does. Here's why I believe it's an important 21st century skill and why we need to teach it and expect it.

Literacy in the Digital Age 

This is a topic I've been thinking about for some time, but my disparate musings coalesced recently, when I saw Kathy Schrock at, a local education and technology conference. There, she talked about Literacy in the Digital Age being comprised of 13 distinct categories. One of those was Visual Literacy. According to ACRL,
The importance of images and visual media in contemporary culture is changing what it means to be literate in the 21st century. Today's society is highly visual, and visual imagery is no longer supplemental to other forms of information. New digital technologies have made it possible for almost anyone to create and share visual media.  (ACRL's standards for visual literacy)
Kathy gave those of us in the room a brief survey on the literacies covered in her address. Only 4.35% of the teachers felt they covered Visual Literacy well in the classroom. In my experience, this is about right. Further, Those that do, typically deal with the consumption of visuals, like reading pictures as text. After all, much of the the skills related to producing visually appealing (well designed) work seems to be a matter of taste or totally subjective. Still, if "Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media" (ACRL's standards for visual literacy), then it can be learned.

It can and should be learned. It is important, and it goes way beyond the idea of "taste". Design matters... It's a skill that is in demand for everyone.