Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: So What is a Guy To Do?

Author:Chris Ashley
Posted:9/29/2000; 12:33:50 PM
Topic:So What is a Guy To Do?
Msg #:21843 (In response to 21841)
Prev/Next:21842 / 21844

Dave answered by writing:
"I think Manila is pretty easy to set up. I set a server up a couple of weeks ago and it's running perfectly. I actually eat the dogfood, so set me straight, what is needed to make it work for you?"

But what I pick up on is this that Randal wrote
" is hard to turn loose on teachers and kids, no real manual, no real tech is a hacker tool"

I'm a (recently) former teacher now still working with K-12 projects the Interactive University at UC Berkeley. (BTW, see a little of how we're using Manila:;;; that's just for starters. We recently presented on campus about blogs and Manila: So my take on this is not about the technical aspects, but about usability.

Part of what Randal asks about is tech stuff, and Dave answers as a techie. In a school district some IT person setting up a server isn't that big a deal. Sure, that person needs an easy installer, as anyone else would like to have. I installed Frontier on my workstation all by myself and it was easy. I haven't always found it easy, though to install plugins. I still don't have Surveys working, and the installation documentation was not helpful, minimal to the point of being unclear. It takes time to figure that out, and most K-12 folks don't have much extra time. So I'm a little ticked, as a customer, that something that could be easy seems directed at techs rather than someone like me, who is merely a somewhat tech-saavy consumer.

The big deal about K-12 use is time, ease, and payoff. Manila is too hard for a typical teacher to take on. It takes a hacker attitude to learn how to set it up, get used to the feel of it, go into the guts of it, turn features on, etc. Many of the new occasional users we work with complain about the learning curve and how the interface is kind of confusing. I get the feeling that if any user testing has been done with Manila it's been done with users experienced enough to compensate, for example, for how difficult it can sometimes be to remember just exactly which preference in the list of choices is the one under which you'll find what you're looking for.

Now, I'm not talking about the computer teacher. The value of weblogging to a language arts teacher and his students, or a classroom of physics students working collaboratively in small groups, could be pretty powerful. I could point out some terrific examples of weblog use here at Berkeley with high school students this past summer. Weblogs are not an easy concept to get across. A typical teacher doesn't have time to experiment and figure all this stuff. Lots of experimentation is a luxury most teachers can't afford. It has to be easy to use, and the value needs to be apparent, the payoff big enough, because if it isn't a teacher won't do it, can't do it, and has no time to do it.

Students will have an easier time learning to use new tools, and there's a variety of reasons for this that we all know about young users. But if the teacher isn't part of the tool's use, then the tool's value to K-12 is severely minimized. And I see enormous potential there. We've looked at a lot of tools here, you know, the great variety of collaborative tools like Blackboard, WebCT, etc., but there is nothing as fast, trim, and focused as Manila. Manila is unique in that it's text-based, puts the tool in any author's hand, supports a kind of "distributed" publishing, and is non-hierarchical. By non-hierarchical I mean that unlike other collaborative tools that are built on a classroom model, in Manila one site has potentially the same value as the other, and one doesn't submit to a teacher or authority in order to participate.

So the question for me is, how serious is Userland about aiming Manila's usability towards less-hackerish consumers, and possibly the K-12 market? If you want some good examples of edu use of Manila we can show you some. Randal probably can, too.



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