Simplicity by Design

Steve Jobs famously pioneered three key elements that make up the foundation of all of Apple's products today. We wholeheartedly subscribe to his thought leadership in everything that we do. This article, in honor of this great thinker, will go through those three key elements as far as they relate to technology in the classroom. We believe that combined, they will make for a huge shift for both teachers and students towards an efficient technology-enabled learning path.

#1 - Calligraphy ...

Steves Jobs famously said in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, "If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."

Case in point, take a look at the fonts in your Safari or Chrome browser and compare to Internet Explorer. Big difference in legibility! While Apple famously paid fortunes to license the fonts it uses (such as the now omnipresent Helvetica Neue and the Myriad Pro from its past websites), Microsoft didn't invest much with the Arial font it included in (older versions of) Windows.

The end result is that Apple devices were designed to be both beautiful and functional. The entire science / art of UI/UX (User Interface Design) was born. In fact, Jobs even patented some of the fingers pinch and swipe actions used on their devices to refresh and navigate.

#2 - Single Button

Ever wonder how come that 5-year old can use your iPad as if s/he was born with it? Try comparing that same experience with other devices. One of the reasons Apple remains unique in that space is their early patents.

Technology is about people, not bits. One button is really all you need.

We expect (and demand) the tools we use in our classroom to be super simple, following the single-button approach. No more of the learning management systems with 10 pages of settings. It has to work out of the box.

The design has to be functional for your use, i.e. designed around your experience, rather than the technology. Most of our uses are very common, and we are conditioned to expect things to work in a certain way. When done right, technology can improve our efficiency many folds.

#3 - Quality Ecosystem

This is a fancy word to say that all what you need is already integrated. Jobs famously launched the App Store along with an expectation of a consistent quality experience.

To illustrate, here are some famous excerpts from the App Store guidelines for developers:

  • We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps. -- One of our favorites! This one never gets old.

  • We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls don't work unless the parents set them up (many don't). So know that we're keeping an eye out for the kids. -- i.e. never blame the users for not using your tools right.

  • We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour. -- A poignant point, even expensive applications often look amateurish.

  • If it sounds like we're control freaks, well, maybe it's because we're so committed to our users and making sure they have a quality experience with our products. -- Quality, quality and even more quality.

  • If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected. -- What good is a great tool that is not usable.

#4 - Wizards

Right, we did say three. This one is from us (hey, we can't just blindly copy, we need some innovation too!).

We'll have a more detailed article about this topic, but suffice to put it like this.

The application must:

  1. Hold your hands when completing tasks; simple steps, clear directions, consistent colors and so on.
  2. Become its own tutor with built-in interactive, engaging and focused tutorials.

With their busy schedules and daily challenges, most teachers won't bother calling to ask for help. So it has to just work. And do so out of the box.

When was the last time a teacher stopped his / her classroom with 25 students waiting to call your helpline.

Conclusion

Sadly, most of what we see in Ed-Tech today do not follow those simple guidelines. Resistance to technology in the classroom is rooted in disappointments and failures. Steve Jobs will be immortalized for bringing useful and beautiful technology to our live and homes (while making a good buck in the process).

Our goal is to do the same for our classrooms, teachers and students. Don't believe us? We are fighting very hard to keep ZeSchool without Settings page(s). Let's see how long we hold out for.

Shameless plug: If you haven't already launched your digital classroom, give ZeSchool's FREE pilot a shot! Once you use it in your classroom, you'll never look back.
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