Tool 23: Working With a Programmer or Digital Curriculum Specialist

Technology or digital-based media are frequently requested media for developing and delivering educational content, especially for youth audiences. This medium often proves intimidating for authors and curriculum development teams with minimal experience in using digital mediums for educational delivery. The key to embarking on digital curriculum development is to keep focused on exactly what you want your audiences to experience, learn and gain from their online or digital educational interface.

  • Defining Digital Curriculum – Before meeting with a programmer, you must first know in what digital medium you are most interested in creating your curriculum (refer to Selecting Educational Formats, Media and Key Curriculum Component). Current technology offers a host of options for managing the way that each helps you educate or inform your audiences. Digital media allow the inclusion of a variety of different media - print, video, audio, photography - as part of the educational interface all in one medium. There are also a variety of functions these media may employ or make possible, including commerce, dynamic information storage and retrieval, live updating of curriculum, and dynamic demonstration and training.

Think Audience, First!

  • You’ve seen this advice a lot throughout the different tools provided in this site, but again, regardless of the medium, it’s important to be clear on who the educational experience or information is designed for and what you hope that audience will gain from the experience. If your audience is adults, the interface that would work best for them may not be the best and most appropriate interface for the kids they work with. Use the information gathered in your needs assessment (see Identifying the Need for Your Material and Defining Your Audience) to help you best determine who your audience is and what’s the best medium for delivering your content to them.
  • What is the technological capacity of your intended audience? Does the majority of your audience have access to the hardware needed to use your products? Digital development can be costly, so it’s important to know that the people you intend to use the work have access to it.
  • If you go into your curriculum project knowing that there will be a digital piece – Web, DVD or other - consider including a programmer as part of your design team. This will enable you to keep focused on the special needs of this medium while developing the project. This early involvement will keep your digital curriculum specialist aware of the outcomes and better informed to help the team reach its goals for the intended audience.

What Your Programmer Will Want to Know

  • Keep in mind that, depending on the degree of interactivity desired, you may need to involve a team of experts, including an interface designer, a programmer and people with expertise in video, photography or illustration. Because these folks provide costly services, it’s important to have a clear outline of your content before meeting with them. You’ll also want to look at examples of their work and get some idea of what the work will cost.
  • If you hire a programmer after your design team has created a vision and developed the content, then in your initial meeting with the programmer you will want to provide information on audience and intended outcomes for that audience. This will include answers to such questions as what do you want the audience to do with the curriculum, what kinds of activities you want them to experience, and what kind of feedback or information do you want them to get in that interface?
  • Provide the programmer with the organizational philosophies and needs that will have an impact on the digital interface. Do they need to include security for users of the curriculum? Does there need to be parental or adult permissions or involvement before a child can use the curriculum? Is there a need to gather or keep information on the user for educational and documentation purposes? Does access to the site need to be passworded in some way? Does the interface need to be more group focused instead of individually driven? These are just a few of the organizational issues that you may want to discuss with the programmer before development begins.
  • The programmer will also need to know how you plan to maintain the Web site or digital curriculum after it has been created. Questions to consider here are will you or your staff maintain and update the Web site? Will the Web site have multiple people with update capabilities? How often will the digital curriculum disk or format need to be updated and who will manage that process after the initial creation? Will the disc contain links to a Web site that is kept up-to-date with the most current information available on the subject? Answers to these questions all determine how the curriculum is formatted initially.
  • What are the hardware or software requirements, limitations or options that will or can drive how your digital curriculum is created and ultimately used? What server will your Web site be housed on and what are the capacities of that server to meet your educational needs? The designer or programmer will need to find out the capabilities and restrictions of the server that will house a new Web site. This needs to be discussed in advance with the server administrator.
  • Consider looking at and researching Web sites or digital formats that do what you want your curriculum to do. Share these models or samples with your programmer so that he or she can see in action what kinds of interfaces you want to have happen within your curriculum.
  • Before you start the programming or creation process, be absolutely certain you are in the final stages of creating your educational vision and outcomes and developing and gathering content. The worst thing you can do - from the standpoint of both time and money efficiency - is to change the direction and focus of your digital curriculum project midstream. Here is where some early piloting may be beneficial before committing development time to an interface that you are not sure will actually work with and for your intended audience.
  • Share your budget restrictions up front. That will help your programmer be able to tell you up front what is and is not possible given those constraints.
  • And finally, and most importantly, provide your programmer with CONTENT! Don’t expect the programmer to create an engaging interface for you without content to engage the user. This is content that is developed in a way to maximize the benefits of digital mediums.

Last Updated: July 29, 2009; Last Reviewed: April, 2009
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