"Designing New Software That Better Meets the Needs of All Users" - Susan Schilling

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Editors Note: We are grateful to a former colleague of Susan, Bob Pearlman, for his introductory comments on her career at the New Technology Foundation. Bob has been a key leader in the design, development, and implementation of 21st century schools. He is currently a consultant on 21st century school and district development, and hosts a website,http://www.bobpearlman.org, dedicated to advancing Project-Based Learning.

Here’s Bob!

 “Susan Schilling blogs here about a highly productive period of educational software development by the team at MECC in the 1980s and 1990s. This is when I first knew her and her good works. In 1996 we both went west, Susan from Minneapolis and me from Boston, to Marin County, CA, Susan to lead Lucas Learning and me to head the Autodesk Foundation. In 2001 Susan became the leader of the fledgling New Technology Foundation (NTF) in Napa, CA, a school development organization that helped communities across the country replicate the 21st century learning model of New Technology High School. Susan recruited me to work with her and together from 2001-2009 we and our great team at NTF helped communities start 50 New Tech High Schools in ten states. Today there are more than 150 New Tech High Schools of the New Tech Network in twenty-five states. I and my former colleagues at NTF concur that we never worked for a better leader than Susan Schilling.”

Thanks, Bob! We hope to have you back as a Guest Blogger RE@L soon!

===== And here’s Susan!

SusanSchilling2Early on, technology-based products for K-12 did not focus on gender-specific play patterns. Content was content; textbooks were textbooks. Schools didn’t have textbooks for girls and textbooks for boys.  Many of the K12 curriculum decisions made had less to do with recognized differences between boys and girls than with how we chose to frame those differences.  To quote one of my favorite authors, Siri Hustvedt, “Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology and its ideological biology…”  In the K-12 environment, we initially chose to embrace sameness rather than difference.  In the 1980s you could still do that.

In the 1980s and 1990s the challenge for us in the K-12 market was to decide how to design for the platform and be true to the curricular standards. Later, we learned how better to integrate the basic ideas from the engaging and motivational aspects of game play into educational delivery –using it solely, however, to enhance the learning experience. We used high score lists, we gave points for right answers, we created hierarchies of difficulty where the student could aspire to learn more and be challenged but not frustrated. No “biggie” these days but back then, it made our products more than just “drill and kill” digitized worksheets. We avoided integrating reward structures that idealized money, power, mayhem and destruction. But we did let them pop balloons.

Classroom!As personal computers found their way into K-12, we found the computers segregated into computer labs, mainly populated by boys. The girls largely stayed away.  Now, why would that be, we asked ourselves?  No solutions emerged. We knew many boys had Play Stations and Game Boys with Pac-Man, The Mario Brothers at home. Sisters watched their brothers and  friends play, and sometimes  they got a chance, too. Boys had no fear of the technology and it had provided them with challenge and fun at home.  Why not also at school? Follows a natural segue!

ARgroupComputer Science as a university course lived in the Engineering wing of campuses with few women pursuing engineering/computer careers. The K-12 school computer labs were run by-and-large by male teachers.  Electives or after school clubs focused on robotics, or programming.  All of this made boys feel more comfortable in and around technology. (Given the recent statistics from Silicon Valley on the preponderance of men in the tech industry, the magic bullet is yet to be found. Our cultural ‘ideological biology’ has altered very little!)

But back then, we kept trying to figure it out. When you brought interactive technology to content development, the challenge was to use the platform to its maximum. When the industry shifted and a market for home products emerged, the challenge was to understand the way in which gender differences manifested themselves in the culture norms – especially related to play patterns.

American Girls

In the school environment, we integrated girls into our products and into our characters and story lines. We created some of our products with heavy emphasis on literacy, communications and creativity (Opening Night, Storybook Weaver, Tessellations). We did deals with great companies like American Girls™ to bring interactive story telling to the physical world of dolls and books. We predated the era a social media but recognized the research that said middle school girls generally preferred socializing to isolating independent activities.

 We kept trying to bring the most engaging, educationally rich experiences to all kids, everywhere.



And we, here at RE@L, have kept up the same effort: “Bringing engaging, educationally rich experiences to all kids, everywhere.

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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