PostedFebruary 2008

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New PostFebruary 29 - Techno Kid

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It's very intriguing to watch a pre-schooler use the web. See we who develop for the web know what the expectations are from you the end user, even if you are not aware of it yourself.

It's interesting for me to watch turbo-tot use kid sites, and to observe him use sites that are intuitive and those that could use help in the 'usability' department.

To see what he gravitates to on his own, to watch him figure things out without guidance. Small fry or at least this one, can navigate and explore and figure out very well by themselves that you very much.

Let me say how well turbo-tot at the age of three and a half is doing on the PC. He uses his kid programs like a little pro, can type his name by himself in Word, and is pretty good with Photoshop, and uses the web as if he were born doing it. (Heh....maybe he'll be writing PHP or Ajax, or Perl by the time he's thirteen...who knows...)

He knows how to turn if off correctly. Knows that we don't 'log off' we 'turn off'. Knows which button on the Start Menu is the one we use to shut down, knows that it's the red button that gets clicked when the shutdown dialog box appears. Shuts 'Doze down and turns off the monitor with ease. Knows the Windows print box...knows that 'print' or 'OK' is on the left and 'Cancel' is on the right. (Also knows that there is damn well a limit to kidlet printing.)

What is not allowed - Turning the PC on without an adult present. No touching the keyboard while the machine is booting. No navigating YouTube....a big person WILL have click control there. No printing without permission. No plugging in the Fisher Price Dgital Art Studio alone...a big person has to do that...if USB pins get bent 'Dahtie' would get really mad and the PC would then be off limits for a very long time. No loading discs into the CD or DVD drives. No opening those drives period. (Hey I have seen drives stuffed with change and crayons and whatnot in the past. Drives that lived in houses with little kids...that's why that stuff is off limits at this young age. Never underestimate what a small person will do or how quickly they can carry out what they decide they are going to attempt to do...they are quick little buggers.)

Teaching responsibility with using the technology from a young age with these kids who were born into it I think is important. Setting usage limits and teaching respect for the machine, and limits on what can be viewed on the web, and limits on when the pen can be in his hand online and when it cannot. There are boundaries in cyperspace....little cyber lines that cannot be crossed by a little tot armed with a Wacom pen.

From my experience with teachers and technology, the kid will enter school knowing more than the educators. Maybe things have changed since my own was in school since this wasn't around from his birth and entered his life later in his childhood. But from my experience many educators are intimidated by it.

The thing is he hasn't seen a whole lot of other people using a PC. I check my e-mail maybe once while he is here. Three days out of five I don't check until he leaves. His mother barely has time at home...she checks e-mail maybe once a week, does billing twice a month, and occasionally orders off the web. So seeing an adult use a PC or the web is not a constant. (Trust me you just can't with this kid. I literally have a monkey on my back...he's on the chair behind me with his arms around my neck or standing on the chair behind me mussing my hair whilst I try to check e-mail...and I don't do that through the browser, I use an e-mail client)

Here is what happened today:

My own icons on my desktop...just one column because I hate desktop clutter, and I have my own custom made icons, made my me. The same camera that you see as my site icon up there in the address bar at the top of this page...I have replaced program icons with my own. They are all exactly the same. (That said...I am going to have some clutter because I am going to put his own software icons on the desktop...ugh..now I'll have two columns)

Turbo-tot knows that the third icon down launches Firefox. In Firefox I have bookmarks organized in folders..there are 14 folders containing massive lists of bookmarks.

Today turbo-tot exited the Jump Start Advanced Preschool program, launched Firefox, found *his* bookmark folder and was playing a game on NickJr whilst I was rinsing some dishes in the kitchen. The best I can figure is he knows the location of Bookmarks up there in the menu bar in the browser, knows that his folder is the last one in the dropdown menu and knows the little NickJr icon.

Damn, they are so observant even when you don't think they are noticing.

Anyway...IMO the PBS kid site is very kid user friendly. The NickJr site is not. That one needs a lot of help in the usability department.

First of all there are too many ads that take them offsite. Secondly all of the games open in popup windows that don't open maximized automatically, so as they are playing if they slip they end up clicking on a freakin' advertisement.

The site is way too busy with too much going on. Now bear in mind that NickJr is for toddlers and pre-schoolers, yet a lot of the online games there require the use of the keyboard arrows and spacebar.

It seems that NickJr is more interested in getting parents to notice things than providing an intuitive site for ones so young to use. While turbo-tot enjoys playing on the site it is often frustrating due to the lack of attention paid to the 'usability' expectations of their target user group.

They really should do a demographic study and observe the tiny tots that are their end users actually trying to use the site, and fix that which needs fixing. It's about way more than eye candy folks.

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