Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snap Judgements

I love the kinds of conclusions people make on Twitter.

"Which looks more like a 21st century classroom?"

Neither. They're booths at a conference. I understand that the snap judgement goes against the top booth because the 21st century classroom isn't supposed to be about one person "lecturing" and 30 students quietly absorbing new information without "collaboration"; it's also missing a lot of misunderstood 21st Century Learning New-Age Idealistic Pedagogical

But I digress.

In the Upper portion of the composite photo, we see a booth set up to present a lot of information. The people are encouraged by the layout to be seated, which means that they can all see because they out of each others way; no one is standing in front of the screen.

Think about this for a second. TI has a mission: sell calculators, at $150 each, with crappy screens and SLOOOOOOOW processors. They need to get you in a seat and show you the WOW factor. They need to get you past the basics fast and sell you on the tech because that $4500 classroom start-up fee is huge.  "Those regression functions don't come cheap, and aren't in any other package."

This is crying out for exactly what they've got here: a booth with a presenter who knows the machine inside and out, delivering information to as many people as they can, as efficiently as they can, in as little time as possible.

You put them in a seat where they can set down their stuff, see the big screen, write something down if they want to, hold the Inspire, swap out the faceplate, photograph it with their phones, set it down and tweet about it ... tables and chairs arranged in an efficient pattern, making best use of the space. Additionally, once seated, it's tough to leave politely before the end of the spiel and it's easy to control the technology and prevent theft.

Over on the side, some tall tables (which don't force you to lean over) for people who are browsing and don't want the whole presentation, or who want to stand and watch from the side.

BOOTH SCORE: 8 out of 10. Great for information transfer and for sales promotion. This booth is designed to have you linger and explore, try out and figure out, and to convince to you agitate for a major purchase back at your school.
CLASSROOM SCORE:  7 out of 10. "Boring" if you are looking for new-age learning styles, but effective as an organized setting for 30.

In the lower one, there is a guy on the left, holding a laptop in an awkward stance. One of the people he's talking to can see the screen. The other one can see the keyboard and be part of the conversation but unless he leans in and gets in the way of the other listener, he can't see much.

In the lower right, three people are crowded around a computer that desperately needs to be on a higher platform because all the people who want to look at it are standing -- it should be at eye height or, if not eye height, at least not "lean over and peer through the top part of your bifocals and then crane your neck back so you can see through the lower half of your bifocals" height - as the guy in white shorts is being forced to do.

In summary, a badly designed booth for this function, unless that function was "quick information shot and move on." This booth is designed to NOT allow you to linger and deeply explore the product.

There is no marketing director here trying to maximize anything, because there doesn't need to be. They only need to let you convince yourself that Desmos is cool - it is its own selling point. The website is free and doesn't have a large initial classroom purchase required, as TI does.

As a classroom, this booth is crap, too. There's nowhere for people to get comfortable. There's a giant graphic with some expression art. The displays / workstations are placed too low without any chairs so students have to type at weird angles. If the intent was for people standing, there should be some podiums so they can set down their devices and use both hands. If the intent was for people to sit, then the tables are at the right height, but there are no chairs.

This would be a horrible "classroom" for teacher/guide or for students.

BOOTH SCORE: 3 out of 10. (or 8 out of 10, depending on intent)
CLASSROOM SCORE:  1 out of 10.

But I guess I don't see things in the same way as other people do.


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  2. A lot to unpack here. I want to weigh in here with a few thoughts. First, there were a ton of big booths and Texas Instrument's seemed, by far, to be the most trafficked. Texas Instruments is the foil that people see when they look at Desmos for one main reason: it has been *extremely* successful -- at sales, at marketing, at partnerships, and even at pedagogy, design, and technology. I learned to program on my TI-83 and loved it. Much as it's fun to denigrate a large faceless company that in many ways is holding onto the past, I think all of us at Desmos recognize how much we have to learn from them still.

    But to push back -- we had neither a big budget nor a sales agenda. Our goal at NCTM was to have as many conversations with teachers as we could. We wanted to answer questions, to ask our own, to get feedback on our new work, and to chat with the folks who have been supporting us over the last couple of years.

    I wouldn't want a classroom to look like our booth. But I'd sure love if more exhibitors treated the exhibit floor as a place to learn rather than to sell. I'd love if teachers felt comfortable coming over to TI, Casio, or Pearson to complain to the CEO/CTO about frustrations, or to chat about implicit graphing with the engineer who built it. I'd rather live in that world. Not just because the exhibit floor wouldn't feel like a soul-sucking shark-tank of sales pitches, but because every organization would put out better products as a result.

    1. I love what you do at Desmos, because it's undeniably obvious that all you want to do is connect with educators and make math education better. No company can "sell" that. (I think Simon Sinek had a famous book onthat idea...)
      As a dedicated, thoughtful, reflective teacher, it's frustrating to me to see TI run a booth like this. I have a background in accounting, so I took a look at their 10-K. 4% of their revenue in 2013 came from calculators.. Their statements to their investors explicitly says that their "investments [in the calculator segment] are minimal and growth expectations are much lower." It's like they have this strangle-hold on a market that they their corporation cares very little about. Most people know them for calculators, so they can use that name recognition to extend their outdated, expensive handhelds. Here's a good example of this: They haven't updated the TI-83 in maybe a decade. They did a decent update to the TI-84 and came out with a color version. The calculators don't function differently overall, but the 84 has many more features now (fractions, superscript, log base changing, stats wizards and so on). Yet they keep selling it next to the 84, for $20 less. When you are talking about a $100 calculator, $20 is a big chunk of change making it more attractive to students and parents. Maybe I'm wrong, but do other companies continue to sell their (more) obsolete products right along side their current line?
      As far as the CEO is concerned, I'm sure if a concerned teacher went to him to complain about frustrations, his response would be, "We still sell calculators?"
      Again, love everything Desmos comes out with. You've made a great product and connected a lot of educators to one another. Thank you for all you do to help us.

  3. This is a great post. At the heart of what you're getting at, as I interpret it, is that "21st century education" hasn't shifted, it has expanded. In the old days, transmissive classroom style learning was the only way to it's just one of many options available. Unfortunately, many want to ascribe some sort of inherent evilness to that particular style, rather than deciding educational design based on situation.

  4. Trade fairs are so vieux jeu. These are both horse & buggy presentations compared to your average YouTube presentation.