The Dream

The 'Life' project is the humble manifestation of a dream that I have been dreaming for a long time.
The multimedia internet has a huge potential for improving the opportunities of children and adult learners throughout the world through freely available, high-quality educational material.

The Problems

What's the problem? Isn't a wealth of good educational material already there at the click of a mouse?
The reality is that whatever educational material is available -
  • It is not high-profile (not like Wikipedia, for example).
  • It is not always of high-quality.
  • It is scattered and too diverse in its presentation.
  • It is unlikely to be free.
  • It may require a high degree of supervision by adults.

The Proposal

How to produce a resource that answers these problems?
Looking at the Wiki model, there are a number of issues -
  • Security. A fully free-for-all-editors wiki would be open to abuse.
  • Features. Wikis are not specially designed for presenting material to young children. They lack the degree of control required to make the most of interactive content, particularly valuable for teaching children where supervision is minimal.
  • Direction. Not to denigrate free-for-all wikis, but they can become diverted from their core aims. Wikijunior for example, has been subsumed under Wikibooks for adults and children. It is not an easily accessible online resource designed for children. See the discussion on this topic at A Case for an Online Wiki for Children.

I'm still attracted by the wiki model, and I can see ways in which it could be adapted.
  • Triple mode access would enable the following
    • Read-only access for learners, limiting the number of control features to those required for learning from the material. No account required.
    • Probationary editing access for new contributors. Work may be quarantined until approval. Account required.
    • Full editing access and rights to approve or delete probationary work and promote or exclude probationers. Account required.
  • Features to enable normal wiki functionality plus the ability to create pages using any standard web technologies.
  • A steering group to maintain control and direction for the project.

Design Features

For an educational site aimed at young children, the following features are very desirable.
  • Pages should be uncomplicated, with as few controls as possible.
    • Each page should present a bite-sized piece of information or concept.
    • There should not be too much material on a page. Too much is too daunting.
    • It is unnecessary to expect children to scroll down pages that are larger than a single screen.
    • A sequence of pages is better for presenting a unit that requires more space than a single window.
    • Navigation between pages should be as simple as possible.
    • Image links are more usable than text ones.
    • It should be possible to line break between sentences or phrases for ease of reading.
    • Support for audio rendering would be very desirable.
  • Navigation and stucture. I've attempted, in the 'Life' pages, to work out a suitable navigation style. See Navigation for Kids. The material is organized into short sequences of pages navigable with the 'Next' and 'Back' controls. The 'Down' links are links within the topic plan, taking you to prescribed sub-topics. The 'Up' link returns you to the point where you entered a sub-topic. Normal links within the page, linking to other sub-topic sequences enable the development of stand-alone sub-topics that can be linked to from a range of contexts. This stimulates and assists wiki-style collaborative development. In the diagram below, Topic 1 is selected and presents a series of pages or sub-page screens, 1-3. On 'page' 2 there is a link to a supplementary topic, topic 2, with 2 'pages'. If the sub-topic is selected, the reader may return to topic 1 at any point. Sub-topics may be nested to multiple levels, and authors may use one-another's sub-topics by simply linking to them.
  • Individualizing. Given a read-only account, there are many possibilities for individual learners. Skins, a point system for rewards and motivation, interactive tests and quizzes, adaptive content, certificates of merit and achievement.