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Yesterday I shared some visual design considerations I take for my talks. Today I focus on interaction design.

My latest effort is a step down from what I normally do. I am designing for lower grade interaction by leaving out a backchannel throughout the session and one-minute paper at the end.

I am doing this because I understand my overseas audience. It is a place I have been invited to every year since 2013 and the mobile connection is unpredictable. It is not that they are unresponsive; they just cannot reliably connect to the Internet.

That said, I am still relying on two online tools that require low bandwidth from the participants.

My go-to presentation platform is Google Slides because it is free, flexible, and online. I can edit the content up to the last minute and share the slides with my audience.

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In terms of interaction, I intend to try Google Slide’s “new” Q&A tool since I am not relying on my preferred tool, TodaysMeet. The audience can participate by suggesting and ranking questions.

I will also use Google Form’s quiz and auto-grading feature (similar to Flubaroo). I will create this experience for my participant as an introduction to being information literate and to establish the themes of my session.

Mobile access to online quiz and themes of my session.

I anticipate that most participants will be armed with their own phones and this will also be message about leveraging on BYOD and personal forms of learning.

Most talks seem to focus on the talk. I plan mine with lessons from educational psychology and visual design principles. I try to focus on listening as I talk in order to change minds. This is effort that often goes unappreciated, but I know that it matters.

Most technology companies that manufacture computers and phones typically focus on hardware and have little or no say on software development.

There are exceptions like Apple that create and control both, i.e., Macs and macOS, iPhones and iOS.

Google used to only be in the online software business. Then it partnered hardware companies to create Chromebooks, and Nexus (and now Pixel) phones.

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So I was not surprised to read about Google’s new TV-sized interactive whiteboard (IWB) called the Jamboard. This device is designed for blended and creative boardroom meetings. It takes advantage of G Suite and Google tools to connect, share, and store artefacts.

I was disappointed actually. Or rather, I am going to be disappointed because this might be another round of IWB snake oil vendors selling to schools and education institutions.

I hope that schools and other education institutions have learnt the painful lesson that IWB means Irrelevant White-Elephant Board because it is largely a teacher’s tool.

If tools like IWBs allow teachers to just teach the way they were taught, the teachers do not get pushed out of their comfort zones.

If the technology is not in the hands, minds, and hearts of the learners, it will do little to change teaching. When this happens, the technology ceases to be mere tools and become instruments instead. When this happens, the rhetoric of paradigm shifts, 21st century learning, and empowered students becomes real.

I have heard this uttered in speeches in years past and will hear it in years to come. It is that we live in an age where information is at our fingertips and that we need to change how we school our children.

If my eyes were like bowling balls, you would hear them roll slowly down the lane. I strike with these questions:

  • How often to those speakers practice what they preach?
  • How much has teaching changed to take advantage of this?
  • How relevant is “teaching” if this is the case?

The “you can Google anything” rhetoric needs to be challenged with these unGoogleable questions.

I might have spoken in riddles when I first compared Google’s latest offering, Spaces, with its stalwart Sites. So here is one plain conclusion: Their use can be socially negotiated, but they are very different tools.

Let me be more specific with two of my most recent examples.

Example: Google Space.

Google Spaces is a reverse-vertical tool. If its users are familiar with the reverse chronology of Google+ and Twitter, then Google Spaces is a no-brainer.

The latest posts rise to the top and demand attention. However, important conversations and content can sink to the bottom with neglect because there is no pinning function.

This is an inevitable consequence of vertical chat-like tools. Only the fresh and foremost gets attention and this might be good for dynamic and informal contexts.

Example: Google Sites navigation.

Google Sites, on the other hand, can be a forward-horizontal tool. Its content can be laid out like book chapter sequences or branching options for users to take.

Such a structure might place a lower cognitive load on users more accustomed to an LMS. As Google Sites is less constrained than LMS platforms, a skilled designer and facilitator can make the navigation shallow but broad, the sequence logical, and the content more meaningful.

The horizontal menu serves as an advance organiser. This provides learners with an overview, helps establish expectations and goals, and provides quick access to components of a module or workshop.

This does not mean that Sites cannot be social. The tool has comment threads on every page. However, the designer must ensure that these are enabled and users must be logged into the Google system.

Sites is also open enough so that any chat or collaboration tool is embeddable. My favourite embeds include:

Every one of those tools can also be linked or embedded in Google Spaces. However, their use must seem organic or emergent from a conversation. This might be done in a team teaching context, e.g., one main facilitator, one techie, and a few tutors. This is how a few medical schools might run team-based learning sessions.

However, a facilitator flying solo in a blended learning environment needs to prepare and organise resources in advance. Since this is a more likely scenario because human talent comes at a premium, the better tool is more likely the more open and flexible Google Sites.

If you asked me to put the new kid on the block, Google Spaces, against the grizzled veteran that is Google Sites, I would cite this humorous adage:

Old age and treachery will always overcome youthfulness and skill.

The choice is not just a personal preference. My verdict is based on using both for ICT modules I conducted recently.

Google Spaces is decidedly mobile, light on features, and chatty. I could have designed experiences for my adult learners to suit the tool, but that would have been a mistake.

My learners spanned what many label Millenials to Baby Boomers. The range of expectations was far too wide to bridge with Spaces.

However, the time they were born into was not that important. Like most learners, they had grown used to lectures and LMSes. Passive content delivery in person, on paper, or via woefully awkward online systems was comforting.

My modus operandi is never to give in to such low expectations. However, I recognise the need to provide structure and scaffolding. This is where the design-your-own-web-pages orientation of Sites was more powerful.

Both Spaces and Sites allowed me to embed a variety of URLs, videos, photos, Padlets, Dotstorms, Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Spreadsheets, Google Slides, etc.

Spaces made it fast and easy on mobile, but you had to play by its rules. Sites was mostly desktop-bound and comparatively slower, but it was also more forgiving and flexible.

In the end, both produced online experiences that were mobile-friendly. However, when you factor context, content, pedagogy, and technical affordances all at once, the more generic Sites beat the more specific Spaces with one arthritic hand tied behind its back.

I have been using Google Sites since its inception and have way too many course, module, and workshop sites hosted there than I can count. This open tool is like an old person that Google retired to an old folks home and almost forgot. There it remains spritely and strong.

As long as Google does not pull the plug, Google Sites remains the gold standard and reminds me not to fall into the cool tool trap.

Yesterday I outlined one way I end a series of modules in a course. I take group photos not just as a souvenir of our time together, but also as a symbol of the design and pedagogy of the experience.

Today I describe one way I start the ball rolling. Instead of introducing myself conventionally, I ask my learners to Google me [example].

I provide a shared online space, e.g., Padlet, where they state what they find out about me. As the task and tool are simple, the activity typically takes less than five minutes from the time I provide instructions to the time my learners complete the task.

Then I ask them why we do this. Here are a few typical responses and my rationales for this icebreaker.

A few will invariably suggest that I am providing practice for a tool that we will use later for learning tasks. They are correct.

It is a tinkering exercise to start learning a skill. The task is non-threatening because there is no course content and it is driven by curiosity or novelty. Once mastered, that skill and the technology become transparent and my learners can focus on what they need to share or learn.

But this technical practice is furthest from my mind.

My learners invariably find out quite a lot about me online. Almost all of it is relevant and correct, and occasionally some of it is not.

I use this experience to point out that:

  • there is power in learner-centred discovery about something new
  • their search behaviours are often superficial, e.g., they find this blog and copy information from it
  • not everything they find online about me is right
  • Padlet is one way to collect their findings

I use this shared experience to set expectations that:

  • they are responsible for problem-seeking and problem-solving
  • some search strategies are better than others
  • my role as facilitator is to guide their learning by offering wisdoms on their strategies and choices
  • it is important to externalise or visualise their thinking

I actually look forward to my learners finding wrong information about me. In one module, a participant found a female Ashley, and despite the clear gender difference, copied and pasted information about that Ashley into Padlet.

An authentic mistake like this is an opportunity for me to remind my learners to be more critical of what they find online and how they think. It is easy to search superficially, but it is harder and more important to think deeply.

As fun and as interesting as this activity might be, old habits die hard. Since most learners do not seem to be taught critical thinking skills with search tools, they rarely use other tools or strategies, or go beyond the first page of results. This is why the introductory Googling activity is not standalone. It is the start of my battle to change and win mindsets. It is my attempt to create more independent and critical learners.

I messed about with the recently announced Google Space tool last night.

The tool was intuitive because I use Google’s suite of tools on both desktop and mobile platforms. If you need a primer, this video by @rmbyrne should help.

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I decided to recreate a simpler version of a Google Docs-based notes page that I made for a conference and a remote mentoring session. This is my Google Space for some notes on flipped learning.

My Google Space for flipped learning.

The items appear in reverse chronological order (most recent item at the top). This could be useful for communicating and collaborating while planning remotely or asynchronously. However, at the moment Google Spaces does not offer any text formatting and items for discussion cannot be moved to customised positions.

I created the Google Space with the desktop tool. As of last night, the iOS version was not yet available in the Singapore App Store. (3pm update: The app is available now.) However, the Android version was ready for download.

I did not test the Chrome extension that allows you to add web resources to your Google Spaces at the click on a button. This is similar to adding items to Diigo or from a browser-based extension or bookmarklet.

I am certain that some educators have already thought of ways to use Google Spaces in class. I wonder how they might take advantage of this simple tool in their personal learning networks.

At the moment, Google Spaces is a bit of an odd duck. It is simple to use and seems to overlap with a few platforms in the Google ecosystem (apps suite, Photos, YouTube). But it seems to be a solution seeking a problem.

I am not sure what that problem might be. Perhaps it is an early response to Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp. More user tinkering will clarify its role in the ecosystem.

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