Wednesday, October 21, 2020

User Experience Design: Card Sorting

 Today I learned a new user experience (UIX) design technique. It's for organizing different topics into a few top level menus.  In the simplest form, there's closed card sorting. 

It starts by creating a card for each topic that the site is going to cover.  

With closed card sorting, a set of cards are given to different potential users along with a few pieces of papers with a topic on them, and the users are asked to sort the cards onto the pages based on the topic where it best fits. This gives guidance to site designers as to where to put topics in terms of where the users expect to find them.

Surprise! The Visitors Think About
Topics Differently Than the Professionals.
So Whose View to Use?

Open Card Sorting. To get more pure user feedback on how they visualize topics and categories, the cards can be given to users who put them in piles based on the categories that they imagine they should be organized along. This can reveal a more genuine sense of the mental maps with which users approach the relevant topics. It can also be overwhelming to users and in many cases, produces haphazard sets of logic that users turn to when they get frustrated and just want the exercise to end.  

A purer sort might be to give the users a blank set of cards and a few pieces of paper, tell them what the site is about, and ask them to put a major topic on each of a few pieces of paper, and then name and organize the cards. This system does not have a name that I am aware of.

It's easy for these techniques to get out of hand. It's important to remember that they are techniques to reveal the mental maps that people approach a topic with.  But the site designer, through careful wording, should be creating navigation and topics that steers users down paths that support the goal of the website.  Websites are not libraries or wikis where users are expected to freely browse and learn. Websites usually have a purpose and while knowing the mental maps with which users might first approach the site is useful, it does not necessarily dictate how the site should present its experience. 

Stay tuned or an example which illustrates these choices...

Friday, October 02, 2020

Patent to Build Reading Skills by hearing and seeing the sounds

Even as we rolled out SpellingCity, teachers and literacy coaches asked us to do more with helping students with sounds. They asked us to convert the games to focus not just on spelling practice but on practice activities for recognizing and working with sounds.  They wanted help not just with the spelling of words but with learning phonics and building phonological skills.  So we focused  on building the tools needed for games to help students with the sounds and the letter combinations that represent them.  The goal was to give students audio visual practice with the sounds that create words helping them connect the sounds that they hear and the letter combinations that they see.  

The idea was simple: We wanted to treat words like “tooth” as three blocks of letters which correspond with the three sounds: T, OO, and TH. But, as we searched, we could NOT find a system which mapped the sounds in words to the way the words are spelled. At first, this seemed unbelievable. Surely, in some university or research center, somebody had created a mapping which connected all the common English words into their sounds and mapped those sounds to the letters used to spell the words.

We spoke to a lot of people which  confirmed our initial findings. This mapping did not exist. Dictionaries, for instance, routinely have a phonetic spelling of words using various systems for writing phonics. But none of the dictionaries mapped the sounds back to the actual spelling of the words. Nobody had ever done this. Our vision came from watching endless tutors, teachers, and parents help students by pointing at a few letters in a word and having the student say the sounds that those letters created. We watched teachers help students read the sounds to decode the word and then blend them together to write them.

So, we decided to create the VocabularySpellingCity Phonics system, a novel contribution to literacy. The phonics system can be used for building a variety of prereading phonics-related skills including phonological skills, phonemic awareness, and spelling skills. Since we knew we had created something original and valuable, we started talking to lawyers. We decided in 2015 to file for a patent on our original system.  We started with two provisional patent filings. Our permanent patent is number 10,387,543, issued on August 20th, 2019. It’s called a “Phoneme-to-Graphemes Mapping Patent”. It’s a utility patent covering our original method for algorithmically mapping the sounds in English words to the letters. The patent grant is both a recognition of novelty, a recognition of usefulness, and a grant of intellectual property ownership. What is Phoneme to Grapheme Mapping? Phonemes are the basic sounds of the English language.  Examples of phonemes from the word “cheek”, would be: CH, EE, K.

 Graphemes are the use of letters to express these sounds.  In English, here are three example of patterns of how sounds (phonemes) are expressed by letters (graphemes): 

  1. Some sounds are created by a single letter which almost always makes the exact same sound. For example, the T is “ten”.  T almost always sounds the same (except when it’s in a combination with another letter like H). 
  2. Some sounds such as the long E sound can be spelled a number of ways including a "ee", or "ea", or an E followed by a consonant followed by an E at the end of a word, a y at the end of the word, and an "ey" at the end of the word.
  3. Some letters, like the S, can make different sounds. S usually sounds one way, like in sound, and sometimes sounds quite different, like in sugar (where it makes the SH sound)
 So how can this technology help?

 Students can hear and see the sounds by mousing over the sounds in each box of VocabularySpellingCity’s Interactive Phonics Boxes. Many classrooms have students first work on recognizing the initial sounds where the Sounds Boxes are used with images to match initial sounds. 
For commercial purposes, the patent belongs to VocabularySpellingCity. Patent 10,387,543 Holders of Patent 10,387,543 (current employees) 
The patent holders who are current VocabularySpellingCity employees are John Edelson, Obiora Obinyeluaku. and Kris Craig. The two xemployees are Jose Perez-Diaz and Harold Milenkovic.


Activities with Interactive Sound Boxes (that use this technology): Sound It Out,  Initial Sound SpellerFinal Sound Speller,  FlashCardsWord Study (available for logged-in students) and TeachMe More.

Sound-Based Activities for Phonological  and Phonics Skill Development:  Which Initial Sound?, Which Final Sound?, Initial Sound SpellerFinal Sound Speller,  SillyBullsSound It OutFlashCardsWord Studyand TeachMe More




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