A CLASSROOM OF UNIFORM STUDENTS is given a chapter in a
textbook to read and comprehend by the following week's test.
Given that we know that as many as 13% of American students have a diagnosed learning disability, and that 79% of Americans adults understand that children learn in different ways, why are text-heavy educational materials still the only access point in most of our schools? Why do we applaud the 54% of schools who proudly offer e-books on iPads yet fail to realize their district-wide electronic math books are nothing more than a series of read-only interactive PDFs with the word "interactive" being an ironic nod to the occasional button or animation shoehorned into a platform originally designed for a physical page and not a $500 retina display.
Yet, traditional text-heavy curriculum continues to define the experience of classrooms – filled with students that are anything but uniform. Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia are only a few examples from a growing list of learning disabilities we are only now beginning to understand. These variabilities in fundamental cognitive function challenge the existing input/output mentality of the everyday learning experience. Give students text, students will understand the information, students will retain the information. It's a grossly simplified interpretation of today's education system, but one that needs to be made if we are to understand and critique the dynamics of the classroom.
In its simplest form, I began illustrating what education might look like in a similar way I'd visualize a website or any other piece of interactive design. It's a practice used by UI designers to wrap their heads around complicated systems and all of their parts. Immediately, I found myself asking fundamental questions about how the traditional classroom works.
For example, how do I visually represent a classroom as a component in a system? Do I represent each individual student and recognize each student as a separate being, or depict the classroom as a singular, homogenous unit. Even for this simple question, an entire shift in interaction takes place. How do we then design curriculum? Does the curriculum adapt to each student's unique needs? Or does the curriculum interact with the classroom as if everyone is the same?
The everyday classroom is not too far off from a piece of interactive design. Scanning through of Usability.org's Interaction Design Basics provides a framework for user interaction that is surprisingly applicable to the classroom learning experience. For example: the first principle of interaction design is "defining how users can interact with the interface". If we replace interface with curriculum, how does this effect the dynamics of the classroom? Do we then allow for multiple channels of interaction with the curriculum, whether it is text based, multimedia driven, or a completely audio lecture experience. Another example is that Interaction designers understand the importance of anticipating user errors. Could this principle be used to alleviate the stark isolation that occurs when some students simply do not understand the material and are left behind?
If the dynamics of a classroom match up with basic principles of interaction design, what would happen if we attempted to design a classroom in accordance to these principles?