Good interfaces for teaching the joy of exploring interfaces?
August 21, 2015 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I am going to lead a class for a group of public-school teachers about teaching technology. Specifically, I want to demonstrate how you can better learn to use technology by exploring interfaces and collecting your discoveries, rather than following step-by-step instructions (which is how many teachers teach their students). What are some rewarding interfaces to explore?

I want to provide this class with an interface in which they learn by doing -- sliding sliders, clicking buttons, directing with the mouse, and so on. It would be wonderful if the explorations unfolded secrets, unlocked new capabilities, made new things possible.

The point I want to make is: The interface is trying to tell you what to do. Use the interface to learn rather than your own written cheat sheet. So an interface that opens a really rich, responsive dialog with the user is ideal. Bonus points for a sense of wonder or delight. And online is ideal.

Thanks in advance.
posted by argybarg to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Facebook might be a good example. This is the type of interface you're talking about - there is no book, it's just trying to tell you what to do. There's a lot you can do on Facebook when you poke around, but I bet many of your students never have. Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, stuff like that.

Another thing this made me think of is a game called Monument Valley on iOS that really demands that you interact with it and figure it out by trying things.
posted by bleep at 7:18 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Euclid the game is fun and might give them a sense of how a nice interface can help with teaching things. You work your way through a series of geometric proofs and each one you solve allows you to use that result in the next level, like adding a new item to your inventory or adding a new power in a video game.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:22 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something like photoshop maybe? For example, you can learn a lot about what the various filters do by tweaking sliders and looking at the preview/results.
posted by juv3nal at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2015

to add: photoshop, as an example, also supports that kind of exploration as it offers multiple levels of undo whereas something like a disk repartioning utility maybe not so much.
posted by juv3nal at 7:41 PM on August 21, 2015 for finding flights. Also sliders and a bunch of helpful (and not too invasive) reminders and ways things work. Show it along with almost any airline company's website and have them compare/contrast. I think Trove is pretty good for a "We have a huge amount of stuff that you want to drill down into" site. Not super sophisticated, but stays out of your way. IFTTT can teach you how to make little scripts and everything is big and friendly. Show them sites that will solve problems for them, so it's worth it to try to poke and learn to use them, something like Retailmenot (hey, save money!)

I have a larger set of feels about technology teaching that are not about interfaces which I'd be happy to share somewhere other than here (as someone who has taught a lot of voc tech teachers for the past few years) feel free to ping me if you'd like to discuss that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 PM on August 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Photoshop. It's a very deep interface, and most of what you do with it has immediately visible results. And the only thing you're going to mess up is an image file. Some of it is unfathomable without documentation, but most of it responds in a very satisfying way to poking and prodding.
posted by bricoleur at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I strongly disagree with Photoshop; they will need some kind of tutorial to get started and it will probably defeat the purpose.
posted by bleep at 8:17 PM on August 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Google Maps, maybe?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:18 PM on August 21, 2015

KeePass has a lot of goodies packed in fairly tidily, and is also a good teaching case for the idea of using multiple applications at the same time. This last is something I've seen a lot of teachers struggle to come to grips with (I netadmin a school).

And I absolutely applaud the approach you're taking here. So much computing incompetence is learned incompetence, and the step-by-step recipe method used by every training program I've ever seen people attend is exactly how it's learned.

Computing interfaces are being constructed with less and less attention paid to discoverability as time goes by, and I think it's important to keep the desire for it alive.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 PM on August 21, 2015

I'm a high school teacher who teaches Coding to my kids AND tech stuff to other teachers who would prefer to never, ever touch a computer.

I think you want WEEBLY and let them build websites. Do a super basic tutorial of what it can do on a big screen while they follow along on their own computers, then give them assignments to design websites, ideally designing their own websites, with specific criteria and let them run wild. Weebly is super intuitive and easy to use and you can mess with stuff and BANG your results are right there.
posted by kinetic at 4:00 AM on August 22, 2015

Something like Scratch might be decent for this. I've seen 9 and 10 year olds figure out the basics and explore to interesting effect with little to no direct instruction.
posted by brennen at 12:00 PM on August 22, 2015

Also, VIM Adventures is a pretty impressive exploratory tutorial mechanism - a graphical game - for a text editor interface that's usually considered to have a steep learning curve, but reveals new combinatory and expressive possibilities at many steps along the way.
posted by brennen at 12:04 PM on August 22, 2015

Maybe what you want for this is a game with a novel interface that is also about exploration!

Parser-based interactive fiction, where you have to learn commands, explore the world, talk to characters, and solve puzzles: Emily Short's work, especially Counterfeit Monkey and Galatea.

Choice-based interactive fiction: Bee by Emily Short

An interactive story with cool letter mechanics: First Draft of the Revolution, by Emily Short and Liza Daly.

eyezmaze's games, which are wordless and about cleverly combining primitives from interfaces.
posted by glass origami robot at 6:28 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

These days interaction designers collect examples on Pinterest. For instance, here's a board of data visualizations, one of digital work broadly, digital layouts, and there are plenty more.

Do a search on Pinterest for a specific element of interfaces, as a way to inspire curiosity. From there, Bob's your uncle.
posted by nadise at 10:30 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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