Planning your digital project: Finding the right tool for the job

As educators, it’s tempting to see an unfamiliar, yet “sparkly” new technology and to want to use it for the sake of doing something “cutting edge.”

This is a normal reaction (much preferred over hiding from new technologies and hoping they’ll go away), and one that can be and should be harnessed to expand our educational toolboxes. Like with any tool, however, we must learn when to use it and how. Would you use a bulldozer for your garden when a shovel will do?

Here are some questions to think about when planning a digital project.

  1. As with any project, a digital project should have a defined goal. Is the goal to convey information? To engage? To inspire action?
  2. Decide how you will measure your success in reaching your goal. Size of audience? Recommendations and comments of audience? Improved test scores?
  3. Next, define your audience. What age group do you want to reach? What education level? How comfortable are they with new technology? Do they have the downloads and plugins necessary to view your material?
  4. Will the project need to be maintained after launch? If so, how will this happen?
  5. How will your project meet W3C accessibility guidelines? This is an especially important question to ask if your institution receives public funding (though really everyone benefits from accessibility principles). Public universities such as the University of Washington are required by law to make their information accessible. (Good accessibility improves the user experience for everyone – consider how some web sites are so much easier to navigate on an iPhone than others.) Examples of accessibility guidelines include:
  • Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
  • Don’t rely on color alone
  • Design for device-independence (such as screen readers, non-mouse users, etc.)

With these things in mind, it’s possible to start sorting through that digital toolkit for the best tool for the job.

Is there a chronology that could be more easily depicted using a graphic or Flash? Are there images that could tell the story using a slideshow? Would a video collage give the best representation of your work?

If you are working on a web site and you want to reach a broad audience, you will want to limit the amount of high-bandwidth material, such as images and video, on the home page. Put users in control and only make them download information when they choose to.

Is there a way for blind or deaf users to get the content that is in your video? Or the person who isn’t allowed to watch video at work? Or the dial-up connection user who has disabled images and javascript?

What medium best illustrates your project? Photos, video, audio, the written word? Don’t force your project into a mold. Each project is different and should be treated as such.

When working on the web, don’t forget about the power of linking. Can you link to complementary resources? (Bonus: This also improves search engine optimization.)