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Saturday
Dec082007

How many 'puters should your library have?

These sorts of e-mails are always interesting and challenging:

Our [high] school is in the process of redesigning the library and I was hoping you could help us out. As we look at our plans for the new space, we want to make sure we have enough computers.  However, through researching this topic, I haven't found an exact answer.  Is there an exact answer?

Our population is 1740 and as of now, we will have 125 computers (a mix of laptops and desktops) in the new space.  Is this enough?  What does best practice say? 

westlab5.jpgI responded: 

I don't know that there is a hard and fast rule about how many computers ought to go in a library. It depends a great deal on your school program/philosophy (project-based teaching needs more), other computer resources available (do you have computer laptop carts, other labs, classroom computers), the media center staffing (don't put in more computers than you can supervise), size of your student population, class size, etc. Do you plan to begin a 1:1 laptop program in the near future? Do allow/encourage students to use their personal computing devices?

I believe for schools not in a 1:1 program, a 1:4 ratio of computers to students is now about standard. I am not aware of any national standards that are sufficiently quantitative to refer you to. Have you checked to see if your state has standards for this?

I would strongly recommend having two separate computer "areas" - one dedicated to library research resources/catalog access for general library users, and a second or additional areas for whole class use/instruction. We tend to set these off with windows so the area is a part of the library, but there is noise containment.
Might you also need a separate production lab for high-end computing needs like video rendering?

Whatever you decide, make sure it is JOINT decision reached by teachers, administrators and parents (even students), not a recommendation made only by the library staff.


I am not very pleased with my suggestions. Blue Skunk readers, your advice on how many computers should a library contain?

 

Tuesday
Dec042007

Technology as a separate species

DOFT_small.jpg

From the International Herald Tribune (Nov 4, 2007) article on how GPS devices are causing problems in small English villages that can't handle the giant trucks their satnavs systems route them through:

...signs seem to be less and less effective as people increasingly rely more on GPS systems and less on maps, common sense, and their own eyes. ... 'Like if the satnav says, "drive into this muddy field," they think, "that 's weird," but they do it anyway." 
This story (and my own experiences with GPS devices) illustrates nicely the basic premise of Donald A. Norman's new book, The Design of Future Things: It's best to leery and cautious when we start letting our machines do our thinking for us. (Or as I like to say, we need to remember that the operative word in artificial intelligence is artificial.)
 
I am always delighted when Norman publishes a new book. I've been a fan since he wrote Things That Make Us Smart. His Design of Everyday Things always makes my list as one of the most influential books I've ever read.
 
In this book, Norman tackles how we should best design ways to communicate with "smart" machines - cars and houses and appliances especially. (There is little said about computer interfaces, per se.) What happens when cars "help" us drive by not letting us get too close to the car ahead of us or not pull in front of another car? Will we be able move traffic more efficiently or might we be forever be trapped in traffic roundabouts by an overly cautious driving program? Do we really want our refrigerators nagging us about our food intake or our houses selecting music according to our perceived mood? He observes:

If machines can be said to have a "voice," theirs is certainly condescending..." and

"...our products are getting smarter, more intelligent, and more demanding, or if you like, bossy."

Norman cautions that we and machines ".. are two different species," each with its own values, outlooks and objectives. If we recognize this, we have a better chance at communicating effectively. He also suggests we confine machine's task to those that are "augmentative" rather than "autonomous" - helping us make good decisions, not making the decisions for us.

He suggests these "design" rules 

Design Rules for Human Designers of "Smart" Machines

  1. Provide rich, complex, and natural signals.
  2. Be predictable.
  3. Provide good conceptual models.
  4. Make the output understandable.
  5. Provide continual awareness without annoyance.
  6. Exploit natural mappings.

Design Rules Developed by Machines to Improve Their Interactions with People

  1. Keep things simple.
  2. Give people a conceptual model. 
  3. Give reasons.
  4. Make people think they are in control.
  5. Continually reassure.
  6. Never label human behavior as "error."

The writing iis readable and thought-provoking as are all of Norman's books. A good holiday gift for the geek who reads in your house.

P.S. I was delighted that Mr. Norman himself responded to a Blue Skunk blog entry where I stated that I could not get his book in Kindle format. (His comment is about 4th from the last.)  Pretty cool that he took the time to comment. It was like hearning from the Elvis of technology! 

Saturday
Dec012007

Boys Adrift - audio cast on MPR

boysadrift.jpgFamily physician and psychologist Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift, was interviewed on a recent Mid-Morning show on Minnesota Public radio. The audio is worth a listen.

One comment he made was that when asked about being a "gentleman," today's boys will respond with "that's who goes to gentlemen's clubs (strip clubs)."

Neil Postman predicted this in his One Big Room theory

Some of the callers - game addicts - were pretty scary. Maybe my daughter's veto of getting the grandson a handheld video game at age 6 was a very good move.