Appearance counts. You just cannot get around it. Most students, like most adults, respond to enticing visual stimuli with a more positive attitude than the way we respond to bland, uninteresting stimuli that does not stimulate. Of course, too much can cause an overstimulation that shuts down productivity. Like decorating a room, the developer should carefully choose and blend color and images to invite the person in and try to get her to investigate the subject in more depth. On some of the course assignments I viewed I thought that on all of the PDF’s of print, just one image would break the monotony of letters.
Speaking of print, thus fonts, thus font size, I was shocked at how many schools have very small fonts on their Home page, as well as their course pages. Parents are probably examining the online Home pages of these virtual schools first. In fact, I would not be surprised if the potential students spend little to no time looking at and reading that page. I am especially sensitive to the issue of small font because my eyesight. I can see and read without my glasses, but I often have to boost up the size of the print on my screen. Thank heavens for the MacBook’s “command plus sign.” I am always immediately turned off when encountering a screen full of tiny print. If it is important to me, I’ll boost it up to read it. I believe that many people who do not have 20/20 vision do not put on their distance or even reading glasses when they go to the computer. Of course I have no hard data, but I think that adults are put off when they encounter a screen of very small font and a great deal of text. If the parents are going to be the first ones to view a school’s Home page, more attention should be given to the size and amount of print on the screen that is their first contact with a school.
Believing that I am still a student, I want my courses to have some color to set a tone, some excellent images and text that is well-arranged and of an legible size. Give me some slideshows and some video. Be careful about giving me too many white sheets of paper with no images, just pages filled with text. This is worse than textbooks. At least most textbooks have an interesting image or two per page. We have the opportunity to be infinitely more engaging than a textbook with slideshows, videos, audio files, comic strips, animation…and the list goes on.
Five schools with all the elements of an engaging and pleasing appearance.
K-12: American History is an interesting layout. Color, images and slideshows invite the learner in. The resources are well-arranged and noted.
GAVS : French 1, La Rentrée scolaire is a colorful module, with color, audio and engaging images. The module is very eye catching.
FLVS: The Anatomy module is attention-grabbing and lively. The is a narrated slideshow that shows like a video. The images are of excellent quality. They use virtual microscopes for lab segments.
Arizona Connections Academy: has a colorful and well-arranged website. In the Music course there are numerous visuals, interesting assignments with assignments opening immediately from buttons. The course is visually pleasing.
Five schools who lack the integrity of visuals, colors, images and easy transitions from one part of the lesson to the next:
Mountain Heights Academy: has some interesting visuals, but their courses would benefit from more color and more images. All of the text is aligned left, which leaves a large area of empty white screen to the right.
Henryco: has interesting tools when you click on them, but the screen is crowded and not appealing. There are no visuals on the initial page of the Polynomials unit, but it is bordered in a lively purple.
Alaska Virtual Academy: states that it uses some of the K12 curriculum, but the sample lesson on Biology 1 was not very attractive past the opening slideshow. When I clicked on the Synchronous session link all that came up was a screen of HTML.
Arkansas Virtual Academy: also uses some of the k12 curriculum. I looked at Modern American History. There are some images and colors, but the same issues stated with Alaska VA are here.
Blue Sky Online: has a demo course about weather. The course page has one image, no other color and a rather small font for all of the information listed down the left side of the screen.
I’ll close with this. Wouldn’t it be fun to be the Virtual Decorator who is hired by online schools to pull their sites and courses together into more cohesive and attractive courses. It would be like playing decorator in your own home with some else’s money. I wonder if someone has already created that job for himself or herself.