What I Learned at my CHIFOO Talk

chifooThis past Wednesday I had the opportunity to give a talk at the Computer-Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO). CHIFOO is a really interesting group. They are a local chapter of SIGCHI, the premier international society for professionals, academics and students who are interested in human-technology & human-computer interaction. The CHIFOO group has a lot of User Experience (UX) folks, User Interaction (UI) people, web developers, software engineers, app developers and other people interested in computer-human interactions.

I was asked to give a talk about finding and measuring the AWESOME in educational apps. It was a really exciting opportunity for me. I give a lot of talks to educators and ed tech groups, but it’s pretty rare for me to get in front of a whole room full of tech folks. And it’s fun because it stretches my brain in a whole different way. Plus, who can say no to a trip to Portland?

In my talk I focused on what I defined as the AWESOME in educational apps…the intersection point of effectiveness, ease-of-use and fun. I talked about each of the three areas, defined them each with measurable criteria (to read more about them, click here) and showed videos of some apps that met those criteria and some that did not. I handed out red and green index cards to the audience and asked them to vote (by raising one card) whether or not they thought the video clip showed an app that met a given criterion or not. (As an aside, colored index cards are a great, low-tech way to build audience interactivity into any talk.)

We had a lot of fun, the audience and I. Many of the audience members hadn’t seen a ton of educational apps, so they were pretty shocked (and appalled) at some of the examples I showed. It was a blast for me to see (and hear) their reactions…groans, laughs, even some swearing. I gave them a healthy dose of poor examples so that by the time I gave them a really high quality app I heard lots of oohs and ahs (better than fireworks!).

So what did I learn?

I’ve been getting some flack in the edtech industry for the Balefire Labs criteria being so rigorous. Some feel that the apps that receive negative reviews on our site are being “slammed” unfairly. But what I learned from the CHIFOO group is that there are much tougher critics than I am out there. The CHIFOO audience and I talked about how much more thinly the Balefire Labs review criteria could be sliced; how much tighter the evaluations could be; how much higher the standards could be. Then again, if we built a set of criteria according to my conversation with the CHIFOO group, a tiny, tiny percentage of apps would get an A or B grade (likely a much smaller percentage than the 7% or so that get an A or B from Balefire Labs now).

So here’s my takeaway: We’re on the right track with what we’re doing at Balefire Labs. Our criteria are tough, but there’s still room to make them tougher. As we work to help developers improve their apps, we will hopefully reach a point where we can make our criteria tougher because the quality of the field will support that.

So thank you, CHIFOO folks, for helping me remember why I’m doing this and that we should make no apologies for having the most rigorous review criteria in the market. This is about our kids. Don’t they deserve the highest standards?

Now who’s with us??

To learn more about CHIFOO and how to join, click here.


About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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