Do Dashboards Make Any Sense?

Over the Summer we had a student intern working with us in ETS. She was a very talented artist working to build her digital skills. In addition to all of the Adobe tools she was working with, we asked her to help us build some new styles for the Blogs at Penn State. We wanted her to make some things that would better appeal to students in some very specific contexts and disciplines. A couple of examples included something that would be more generally representative of a digital portfolio and a note taking blog. She could easily do the design work, but a larger, perhaps more important conversation emerged from her work with us. Blogs are too hard.

For quite some time Brad Kozlek and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to reduce the friction in using any old school blogging platform. For this post, I am calling any platform that generally separates the content creation from the content presentation as old school. I know it is hard for those of us used to blogging that the notion of the Blog Dashboard is confusing as hell, but it is. When you add to it that the URLs are sometimes so wildly different between where you go to write and where you go to read and things get even crazier. Our platform requires me to not only remember that to create content you need to go to, log in, navigate a content management system, find the right menu that allows you to create a new post, create the post, and publish it but also to view that content I then have to point my browser at to view it! When you step back it is bordering on crazy town. I then have to go back through that process to edit a post. I think that is out-moded and may be keeping people from getting it.


It honestly reminds me of the gripes I have had with tools like ANGEL and Blackboard for so long. Why force people into interfaces to accomplish tasks that should be so much more fluid and straightforward?

Clearly it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine a platform that still gives power users the ability to manage from the Dashboard, but one that also eliminates the need to ever see or travel to the Dashboard. In the World of the One Button Web it is easy to never really have to see the Dashboard to publish once a bookmarklet is setup … but again, that is a concept that is lost on most. Furthermore, the emergence of Twitter and Facebook as a place that allows users to both create and consume their own content at once has created a pattern of interaction that is 100% different than that of the Dashboard to Blog paradigm. New bloggers aren’t raised on Dashboards, they are raised on simple boxes within the flow of the content that allow them to publish.

To that end, we are embarking on a project that could eliminate the need to use or see the dashboard. A personal publishing space that allows its owner(s) to instantly create from the context of the site without ever moving away from the content itself. I’m sure people think this is crazy, but what we are moving towards is something that we feel could get us over the hump of people really embracing the blog as a real platform for personal content management. What we are thinking about is below.


Simple, but really different. All you do is remember where your website is and once you have logged in most of what the Dashboard is used for (composing, editing, and deleting) is available from a Quick Compose right on your blog. If it is a class blog, any member of the class can instantly publish to the space without the overhead of the Dashboard. Simple but very different.

Long term the vision is to offer this as really a one button solution. Students would arrive at their personal space for the first time and with a single click they have a blog space sitting there that they can instantly start publishing to. After they get comfortable with the notion, they may decide to dive into the Dashboard to mess with styles, templates, and all the power that a content management system like MoveableType has to offer. But then again, they may just enjoy the ability to type, read, and share instantly. Anyone have any thoughts?

My New Course Design … Come on In

So I’ve been writing about designing a course in the open over the last few weeks … well, I have actually been designing a new residentcourse that I hope to next Fall. I didn’t do it in a wiki, but did use Drupal 5 to post the initial design. It isn’t 100% complete, but the schedule is well rounded and there are a handful of solid assignments that are both new and from the IST 110 days. I would love to get your feedback on the whole thing … it is over at the Course Design Site. I did a quick podcast today explaining a little of the philosophy behind the whole thing, so that is available to listen to as well. I am still trying to figure out the login and account stuff in Drupal 5, so that may be a little flaky for the moment — I am basically terrified of spam and have it locked down until I have some time in the next few days to really work with that.

The real idea is to expose the course in this format for the community to comment on and help shape … I will then use the same site to teach the course from, give students blogs there, and continue to build on this foundation over time. If you have ideas, thoughts, or anything else just leave a comment here, or there. Thanks!

Design in a Wiki

I have been thinking lately about how we use wikis for all sorts of document and collaborative design. Back in the day when I was regularly involved in first designing and then managing the design of eLearning courses we used our own custom solutions for storing content and managing teamwork. The big tool we used at IST to build and manage the Online IST courses was the Digital Design Document (D3) … it was a FileMaker Pro application that allowed teams of people to easily create and manage course content, team communication, work-flow, storyboards, and more in one easy to use collaborative environment. It worked well for how we used it and it saved us tons of time when it came to actually delivering a course. One of the nice things about D3 was its ability to publish a 600 screen course in seconds so that it could be coupled with ANGEL or whatever other course management system we were using.

The thing that made it perfect was the collaborative capabilities. What we never attempted to do with D3 was just open the tool to the learners and the faculty — in other words, the design team managed the tool and the content in it. What the learner and ultimately the instructor saw was the output … they only interacted with the static pages. No way to edit, no way to update, and certainly no way to contribute to the knowledge on the page. Today we have come to expect collaborative tools as part of the work flow — wikis, books in Drupal, multi user blogs, Google Docs, and so on have become the norm. What I wondering is if you could use a wiki to not only design your course, but then deliver it in that environment as well. If you have a team of people designing the instruction, would it be prudent to allow students to not only interact with the desired content on screen but also see the design team’s notes on the same pages? Would that lead to great learning opportunities?

I am designing a new course and will be attempting to do just that. I will be putting all of the readings that I create, all the assignments for the students, and everything else in the course (from the syllabus to the final assessment) into a wiki and letting my students edit, tweak, adjust, and add to the course along the way. If I ask them to respond to a reading, I will want them to do it in the wiki so that every student’s response becomes another learning opportunity for the next set of students who take the course. In the back of my head it is almost like creating an Intranet for the course that the whole world can see.

I am wondering who out there has done this and what I need to watch out for? Are there things anyone would recommend? Final question … if I do this would people outside the course contribute content? Sort of a social experiment in course design … if there is a topic in the course I am weak in, could I count on others to come in and contribute to the course design? Am I crazy (don’t answer that one)?

Bud Tribble at the Apple Digital Campus Institute at Harvard

I am sitting in a nice classroom at Harvard Unviersity at the Apple Digital Campus Leadership Institute in Science Education listening to Bud Tribble. The focus of the event as you can guess is science education … not exactly my space, but still very interesting. I am here with Kyle Peck as we attempt to plan our own symposium in the ADC mode. Bud Tribble is a smart guy … he has both a Ph.D. and M.D. from the University of Washington and has been all over the computer industry for the last 20 some years — from the original Macintosh team, to NeXT, to SUN, and now back at Apple, Bud has been a real leader in the industry.

I was actually lucky enough to spend an hour with Bud about a year ago as I was working on a paper related to digital expression in the higer education space — really looking at how the Mac OS could play much better in existing infrstructure on our campuses. I was pushing Apple on the idea that students at places like Penn State shouldn’t have to have a .Mac account to play nicely with iLife. The conversation quickly moved into his areas of interest and it was a relatively terrifying experience. Did I mention the guy is smart? We ended up talking quite a bit about identity management and it was just a great hour.

Here he is going over the Apple advantage in science education … as with all things Apple in education at the moment, there is a lot of podcasting talk. The best point so far has been something in passing — that it isn’t important to focus on high production value, the point is to think about the pedagogical soundness of the approach … his example is the Electric Pickle video podcast. Talking iTunes U and how it all works … makes it sound so easy … not a person blinked at the “we host it for you” comment. Had a nice slide titled, “Click. Sync. Learn.” Interesting concept … I wonder if we could use something along the lines of “Create. Sync. Teach.” to get faculty engaged … does that work?  If the response I got to my podcasting talk the other day at the Web 2006 conference is any indication, we won’t need it.

Lots of product overviews, but the good thing is the comment that Apple delivers a complete solution — all the UNIX tools as well as the standard tools we need — like Office.  But as time when on, we returned to podcasting and how it can connect people to concepts that are difficult to teach.  All in all an interesting discussion.  Bud is a smart guy and I enjoy hearing him talk.