17 March 2013

h817 activity 3

The OU's MOOC Open education asked us for our first task to create a visual representation of some of the themes in open and online learning.

My submission is this picture, which I call "data density".

What does it represent?

Quite simply, it's an edited screengrab of the webpage on which the task was set.

I blanked out everything that was a repeated element, leaving only items unique to this page — specifically a copy of the unit number and name in fairly small type.  Everything else — everything else — was part of the Moodle template and is repeated on every single page of the course.  You land on a page, and you see no new content until you scroll down.  Several times I've found myself thinking I'd not gone to the right page.

This breaks a fundamental law of web design that has been known and understood for over 15 years: if you want to keep someone's attention, show them something new on the first page.

The problem in the OU's case is exacerbated by being on an environment within an environment within an environment.

At the core, we are in the course environment, and we're bundled up with info on the course and course navigation tools.  Then we're in the OpenLearn environment, and bundled up with all the cruft for navigating to other parts of OpenLearn.  Finally, OpenLearn sits within the wider OU environment, so we have that cluttering up the screen as well.

The OU's not the only place to do this.  One of my current favourite blogs on online education also suffers from having a title and banner image so big that every page looks identical until you scroll down.  (I'm not going to name the blog, but I hope she's reading!)

So here's the thing: all this theoretical talk about theoretical pedagogy is all well and good, but until the teachers are capable of using the tools, online education is going to be pretty rubbish.

Edit: and before anyone says it, yes, I know you can click "hide summary" on the OpenLearn site to bring some more relevant information onto the front page, but why should I have to?  I'm enrolled on the course, and the system knows this — it should automatically present me with the information I need rather than the sales blurb.  If I subscribe to a website, it usually stops pestering me with "the benefits of subscription" etc!

1 comment:

Nick Hood said...

Niall, that's funny - and scathing. I've been designing and creating web pages and other derivatives of hypertext formats since about 1987 and decluttering is a seriously important part of making them effective. There is an argument that familiar context is helpful for users in an unfamiliar environment but I agree that this course suffers from overdoing that. I've tried moodle on a number of occasions and rejected it on every one partly because of this "feature". KISS - keep it simple, stupid - has to be a rule of thumb for me.

Thanks for posting this.