College was my biggest mistake:
$44,000 might as well have been a million dollars, because in my mind they were equally unfathomable- with only $300 in my checking account, I had to make a decision whether or not to borrow $176,000. Makes sense.
I remember facing a similar decision at 18. I withdrew the $6,000 from my savings account and wrote a $5,000 check to Whitman.
The other grand bought me a MacBook. On that MacBook I taught myself basic HTML, CSS, PHP, and eventually discovered WordPress.
I wouldn’t say my time at college was a mistake. Too much good came out of it to say that. But, I do know what the more productive use of my time and money was.
Professors without borders. Interesting overview of mass, distributed, web-based teaching tools. Things like Coursera and Udacity are neat but they’re really just an alpha. They take the same model of education as traditional colleges and shift it online. The revolution will come when someone sets the goal of building a web-native tool for learning. Then it will get interesting.
BadgeStack Project. Interesting badge-based learning software built on top of WordPress. Looks like there’s a hosted side of it as well. (via Matt Pearson)
At August’s WordCamp San Francisco I helped organize and run a new user workshop on the Friday and Saturday of the 3-day conference. The next month I did the same thing for Portland’s WordCamp. There’s a lot that we can learn as creators of software by doing events like these. I think we need to do more of them.
New user workshops teach us so much about how users actually approach software. There’s not a more honest way to know how difficult or easy your software is to use than to try and walk a roomful of people through how to use it.
With a maturing project like WordPress this becomes even more true. It’s at a point where it can do so much that it is overwhelming to many people. They don’t know where to start. Somebody with no prior experience using your software is remarkably effective at finding the areas that are not easily understood. They are not shy about telling you what’s broken.
These workshops taught me that things need to be simpler. There are so many options to click on after loading the Dashboard. It’s too much. The first Dashboard load in these workshops was greeted, in many cases, with a look of overwhelmed confusion. Many people were lost and they hadn’t even started.
One thing that held true through the workshops was that the easiest features to explain were those most closely aligned to concrete actions on the site. Screens like the discussion settings and custom menus were almost impossible to comprehend. Others, like the Typekit font preview on WordPress.com, were immediately grokked and loved. Too many things in the Dashboard are abstracted from what they actually do on a site. Publishing shouldn’t be done in a control panel.
By gathering dozens of new users into one place you can also learn how people use software on various devices. We had people at the workshops using everything from a netbook, to MacBook Pros, iPads, and more. It was actually amazing how much of the workshop people could follow on nothing more than an iPad and an external keyboard.
Not only can we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of software, but we also learn how invigorating it is to have people using the tool we work on. At Automattic, I spend all of my day working on user support. Helping people publish on the web is what I do. To that end these workshops were refreshing. I had the opportunity to help everyone. From eleven-years old to a seventy they all walked away with a great looking blog.
I’m cleaning up the outline we used for each workshop into a curriculum of sorts that could be used by anyone to run their own new user workshop. The more events like these we can hold the better WordPress will become.
Treehouse. A fascinating new startup from Ryan Carson. It seeks to teach the basics of web design, development, or iOS programming to anyone. The videos look really well done and there’s quizzes at the end of each session. I plan on signing up this weekend and seeing how things go.
Learning management systems, authoring tools, and personal learning environments don’t quite get the “it’s the platform, stupid” aspect of the internet. Most of the tools we have available today in education allow us to create content within a system. What a platform enables is very different; it enables the extension of a system.
George Siemens – The race to platform education