If anyone hadn’t gathered from my multiple cartographically-themed posts in the last couple weeks, I’m taking a course on History and Cartography this semester.
I want to take this opportunity to praise two of the websites we visited this week– TypeBrewer and ColorBrewer. Both of these projects quite successfully combine several elements that seem to be essential to good use of new media for pedagogical ends.
For one thing, they’re quite well-designed– they’re easy to use, the interface is straightforward and easy to use, and there’s not much of a learning curve. Similarly, they do what new media does best– they take something quite nuanced and complex and make it simple. The lessons you get experientially from toying with typography or colors in mapping, if you had to do this by trial-and-error, or even worse by hand, would be quite time-consuming and difficult, and you’d risk losing the forest to the trees.
The phrase I just used, "lessons you get experientially," leads me to the next thing I really liked about the sites. Neither was didactic or painfully "educational." I grew up with teachers for parents in the eighties, and I was exposed to my fair share of "educational toys." The ones that I learned the most from were the ones that put the emphasis on "toys" rather than "educational." The interface of these sites is quite pleasing, the "work" you do is quite entertaining… You PLAY with these websites, rather than being instructed by them. And even the most nose-to-the-grindstone, masochistic grad student would rather PLAY than WORK. The element of play encourages continued, protracted use, and thus a more nuanced understanding than a site that simply tells you that A is more effective than B but less successful than C. Moreover, these are somewhat intuitive, aesthetic "lessons," not simple right/wrong issues. The protracted play gives a better SENSE of best methods– and sensibility is more important than dualistic right/wrong treatment of the issues.
Finally, by keeping the options limited and embracing the KISS principle, these projects could be put on the web as free flash tools. If the creators had made them too cumbersomely complex, or if they had been created in 1997, they probably would have ended up as expensive CD-ROMs that would have had less impact on fewer people…
Both pages are doing some of the most important things right when it comes to online pedagogy, and I was just blown away, honestly.