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Re: Major interview

----- Original Message -----
From: Ray Olszewski <ray@comarre.com>
To: <seul-edu@seul.org>; <seul-edu@seul.org>
Sent: samedi 4 septembre 1999 21:32
Subject: Re: Major interview

> How common these behaviors are, I don't know -- that they exist, I do know
> (from my own work experience). But while the maker of a product that has
> other markets (a word processor or spreadsheet, say) can let schools use
> cheap or for free, a commercial maker of software designed for use in
> schools has no other market to recover its costs from. Consider how many
> the child-oriented products schools have found useful (at least here in
> US), such as KidPix, the Learning Company games, Carmen Sandiego, etc.,
> the home market as their main target. I wonder, for example, how much
> revenue Topologika derives from schools and how much from home users --
> perhaps Roman can say something about this.
I have no specific information about Topologika's sales or any other people
I work with for that matter. What I can say is that these companies tend to
have negligible sales with home users since they don't have the resources to
advertise to them. Any home user sales are often due to parents buying what
they know their children use at school.
> Someone mentioned the role of grants here. Might we (or the Linux
> want to find a way of encouraging some of the foundations that
> support education technology -- can't think of names right now, but I'd
> at who supports the classroom-oriented stuff that turns up on PBS -- to
> development of Open Source programs that support acquisition of specific,
> non-computer skills?

One of the companies I work for has done products for grants before. It's a
good model since they've written niche software without worrying about
breaking even. I'm all for grants if anyone knows where to get them from.

If schools in the US are spending so much money licensing software then
perhaps they could spend some of that money developing software instead.
I've worked for consortiums of schools in England before where districts
setup a technology consortium centre and each school pays just a little to
it. They then provide resources, expertise and software development which is
passed back either free or for negligible cost. These centres trade with
other districts also. It works quite well but you need a local government
which is supportive of the idea for it to work.

There were a lot of these in England at one time but the Conservative
government cut back on local government spending too much so they had to
turn into independant companies or be shut down. Usually they were shut down
because the people involved weren't business people.

But it was really great to work with these people - sit in development and
design meetings where the only real concern was producing something good for
the kids and teachers and not marketing constraints to inhibit the ideas. A
lot of the designers were technology passionate teachers who volunteered
their time for petrol money and were really happy and nice people to work
with. After a while, it's more like a family deciding how to dress the
christmas tree than making business product. "Oh they'd like that - let's do
it!", a bit like the free software community but internet wasn't really
around then.

> Also, what about the role of university-level education programs? Open
> Source projects generally reflect the interests of computer-science types
> largely, I think, because CS graduate students play a major role in Open
> Source development (look at the history of GIMP, apache, Mosaic, for
> examples - there are no doubt many more, but these I can name off the top
> my head). What if students pursuing Ph.D and Ed.D degrees (and their
> equivalents) were mobilized to develop ed software based on good
> approaches? What would it take to create an interest comparable to that of
> graduate CS students in other types of software?
This is interesting. Whenever I've spoken to ed students they usually have
plenty of ideas for using technology in schools. Perhaps it's a combination
of youthful energy and  not having been ground down by the system yet.

> >We think that much of the software available, both for Linux and for
> >OSs, is more difficult to use than is necessary and that this is keeping
> >many from trying Linux.  That's one of the reasons we want to see
> >programs designed for children on Linux--because a user interface simple
> >obvious enough for children should also be very good for other end users
> >would help advance SEUL's goals.
> Would it? Why? If I take this thought outside computing for a moment, I
> can't think of another example where I would say that adults would benefit
> from using a product designed for (say) 10 year olds. In this respect,
> "children" is too broad a term -- a UI good for a pre-literate 6 year old
> would be maddening for the typical high school student. To take your own
> example -- I've used KidPix, and I use Photoshop (closest I can get to
> -- I would find the limited, cutesy interface approach of KidPix a
> irritant as I tried to do sophisticated image manipulation.
> There's a sigline I see that quotes Einstein as saying something like:
> "Theories should be as simple as possible, but not simpler than that." The
> same is true for UIs -- and I think generally that kid-level UIs are too
> simple for adults.
Personally I'd say that software should have progressive user interfaces.
Then people can start out with something, learn the concepts and progress to
the more complex interface level. Perhaps this is the point Doug and I were
trying to make. The difference here being that Adults would become irritated
by the kids interface very quickly - but they'd also progress to the "full
thing" very quickly. Children would be right at home of course.