Though I have some concerns about the funschool.com website, my overall decision about the site is that it could be considered a good educational tool for a classroom.
I found the funschool.com website's origin to be clearly indicated to the site's visitors. I liked to see that the designers have made available a biography page. Though I feel that not only the biographies of the highly placed members of the company should appear in this section. If this is all of the company's staff, I would like to know who their educational consultant is and whether or not they have one. The appearing biographies all include impressive backgrounds in technology, but no references are made to their backgrounds in education. I am sure the designers do consult someone and I have no objection to them not personally having backgrounds in education. This way, the designers are not the only participants in the creation of the site -they are not the only ones with the knowledge. I feel this type of information should be made available to visitors.
Additional information about the company itself is also indicated within the site. It allows the user to view a helpful "frequently asked questions" section and communicate with the designers if need be. The site's creators have also given a brief overview of what the funschool.com site is, where it is located, and how it began.
I found the website's overall design very pleasing. The designers were thoughtful in their choice of colours. I found the text they chose to be easily legible on the yellow background. I also found their graphics to be extremely appealing for their intented audience -children. They are original and fun. As for the pages' general layout, I do have a pet peeve for the use of frames, especially for advertising. Moreover, I did not find the advertising to reflect educational issues -personal credit checks, shopping, cellular phones. I also question whether or not advertising has a place on a website intended for children. Unfortunately, the web is not spared from the world of advertising and one must expect to find it all through their travels across its vast networks. After all, someone does have to pay for the creators' salaries and their bright ideas!
In terms of usability, I did not find the navigation to be sufficiently intuitive for younger children. I found it to be a little too text heavy for these children to understand. The site did not seem to promote the independence of the learner. In choosing an activity, the user must click on an image in order to begin. This image is not always representative of the actual activity. Moreover, the activities themselves, though some, the designers say, are aimed at pre-school age children, are often repeated in the activity choices for older children. One could argue that this deals with the issue of developmental appropriateness, but the designers did not make any changes to the activities -level of explanations, activity navigation bars, and help features.
The funschool site is highly interactive -that is the basis for this website. Funschool is accomplishing activities that could never be duplicated in text-based format. Each activity is a small program, like the ones found on CD ROM's. Though these activities are rich in animation, interactivity and educational value, I found them to take too long to load. Though fractals are displayed while the activity itself is loading, I did not find this to be sufficiently entertaining to keep a child's interest high. Though this technology will become more appropriate as Internet connections speed up, regular modem connections -33.6 bps and 56.6bps- are still too slow to fully appreciate this complex form of web-based programming.
Due to funschool's high level of interactivity, I found the site to be overall high in educational value. As I have mentioned, I found the activities to be somewhat repetitive throughout the various age levels. Certain activities were better then others in terms of their educational value. One could wonder about the designers' objectives in building each activity. For example, the recycling activity fulfilled more of a math objective -categorising- rather than an actuall environmental issue. If this is an attempt at creating a cross-curricular activity, I have to say that I do not feel this answers to the true definition of a cross-curricular activity. I believe such an activity to take on a more project based learning approach. The recycling activity found on funschool.com only used a different subject matter to teach a particular skill -there is still only one concept being taught. For example, using planets to teach math -instead of calculating their weight and size which I would consider to be cross-curricular, children are encouraged to add planets to one another. 1 planet + 1 planet= 2 planets is not a cross-curricular activity -it is a random math activity! (Personal communication Bielec, S., 1999) In other words, like any technological medium, I found these activities to be great follow-ups/support to in-class lessons. Though I think that they would have a hard time standing alone as concrete lessons.
The funschool.com title is indicative of the site's company goal -to make school fun! This does not explicitly indicate what will be found in the site, but, considering its content, I think funschool is a great name for the site. It will also capture a younger users' attention and draw them to the website.
This brings me to discussing whether or not funschool.com is appropriate for the site's targeted users. I feel that certain aspects of the site, namely the navigation and explanations, are more appropriate for older children. I don't think that the younger students will be able to navigate with understanding through the site and within each activity. I feel that these students will be choosing activities only in terms of their icons and not necessarily what is of interest to them.
I feel I must add that though I am finding negative aspects to the funschool.com website, it is one of the best interactive children's site I have encountered on the World Wide Web.
Funschool.com's accessibility is easy for the majority of users. The site does require a special plug-in to access its activities, but the creators have made it such that the first time you visit the site, this plug-in is loaded onto your computer. Though this plug-in allows any user to access activities, the users browser must also be capable of supporting Java applications. Browsers older than 3.0 versions will not be able to access the site's activities. Its creators have made this very clear and have supplied links to download sites where more advanced browsers that do support Java can be found and downloaded for free. This does allow for any user to have complete access to the entire site.
Browser compatibility is only one aspect of the site's general accessibility, so is the site's loading speed. As I have mentioned, I was viewing the site via a 33.6 bps modem connection. I found the site's loading time to be very acceptable when opening new pages, but when accessing specific activities, loading time was fairly long. The activities took between one and two minutes to load depending on the speed of my connection and the amount of users accessing funschool.com at the same time as me. This is not too much of a concern, considering connections are only getting faster and less expensive. I feel the funschool.com site is a year or two before its time. Most likely, Internet and Web technology will soon catch up to the complexity of the site.
The site does have a "conditions of use" section. This section reflects general copyright laws and explains them to users. This type of page is regularly found on websites and should not concern regular users.
I found this site to be adequately current, but only because I frequently visit it in search of new activities. There is a statement at the bottom of the homepage pledging to frequent updates, but no where is the last update date explicitly stated. In conjunction with the fact that new information is not all highlighted -none of the new activities- this can be frustrating for frequent visitors. I remember the activities and quickly spot the new ones, but I do not always remember which activities I have already tried. I then have to revisit old activities and become frustrated after investing one or two minutes of loading time to realise I had already seen a particular activity. I feel new activities and updated files should be indicated more clearly to users. In retrospect, I think funschool.com changes activities with the seasons. They follow themes like winter, spring and so on. This would mean that activities are changing at particular times in the year and this might be only indicated at those times.
In conclusion, I feel that funschool.com is a wonderful website. It utilises the web's interactive possibilities, it captures user interest, it invites frequent visit and it can be great fun for its targeted audience.
I feel this site would be nice to use in a classroom. In using funschool.com with younger students teachers will need to make certain changes to the way it is implemented in the classroom. Until connections speed up, I feel the teacher would be better off having a different activity on each computer in the lab. The teacher then could invite the children to rotate from one computer to the next. Therefore, this would avoid always having to load a new activity and avoid the possibility of "loosing" the students.
Once again, I feel funschool.com to be a fantastic educational website. With the advances in web technologies, accessing the site will become easier and therefore more enjoyable. Students and teachers will certainly gain a lot from visiting this website.
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