New features!

We’ve been getting great feedback from educators demoing the very first iteration of the Lingt editor and are working quickly to incorporate those improvements that you want most. Along with a handful of bug fixes and optimizations that should make the site load a bit faster, we’ve added the following:

  • An FAQ to the Help section. Check it out for answers to questions we are hearing repeatedly.
  • Send feedback to your students. When students submit their responses, we now ask them for an email address in addition to their name. When reviewing responses, you’ll notice a new “Send feedback” button that will allow you to type a message delivered direct to the student’s email address.
  • View responses inline with the assignment. We discovered that teaching styles differ greatly. To accommodate as many of these as possible, we now display all student responses organized by order, as well as by student. So, you can now view all the responses to a particular prompt without examining each student’s individual list of responses.
  • Technical warnings are now on your main login page. If you don’t meet any of our site’s technical requirements (nearly everyone has met them without having to do anything), we now list this information on the first page you see when you log in.
  • Late tags. We now add a small “LATE” marker next to any student responses submitted after your due date.

Keep the great feedback coming!

Banish Internet Explorer 6 from your school

I managed to connect with the tech coordinator of an area school district recently to chat about the procedures by which education technology is approved, purchased, and incorporated on the district level. I had plenty to learn, but amongst the many questions I had scrawled on my notepad, there was one I was dying to ask more than any other.

“Why,” I asked, “have you chosen Internet Explorer version 6 as your district-wide browser?” In fact, I had discovered this only a week ago, just days before I was to demo Lingt to a group of language teachers for the first time. Morbidly curious, I downloaded IE6 and opened the Lingt Editor only to find our carefully-crafted user interface carved and rearranged on the screen like a Picasso.

Allow me to describe a web developer’s frustration with Internet Explorer 6 in a way that I think is intuitive to everyone. Imagine you are a painter and you spend countless hours painstakingly perfecting your masterpiece:

Nice work. Looks good.
Nice work. Looks good.

Now, imagine you want to admire your work through the lenses of various pairs of glasses. You put on the first pair and see:

Through the Firefox glasses. . .

You remove those and try on a second pair. You gaze upon your painting again:

Second glasses

Perfect. We put on a dusty third pair expecting to delight in our masterpiece a final time. But, to our horror, we gaze through the lenses to find this:

Terrible

What happened!? Oh well – we’ll bury these glasses in the backyard and never speak of them again. They were five years old anyway. Except 20% of art lovers out there are still walking around with these stuck to their face.

If you haven’t guessed, the third pair of glasses represent Internet Explorer 6, with little hyperbole. (The first two pairs represent virtually any modern browser available today.) It takes considerable effort by the developer community to accommodate IE6’s lack of compliance to web standards. Basically, the code that generates the look and function of a website is read, interpreted, and ultimately displayed differently by various browsers (IE, Safari, Firefox). Fortunately, there’s a published and widely accepted spec for how this should be done so that there is consistency between them all. Internet Explorer apparently did not get that memo.  The faster people abandon this antiquated browser, the faster developers can create great web applications that work well for everyone. Besides, it takes just minutes to upgrade to Internet Explorer 7. Even better, just use Firefox.

So, how did the district’s tech coordinator reply? Why in the world hadn’t the district upgraded from a five-year-old browser that has haunted us ever since we wrote our first webpage? I expected something to do with compatibility with existing network software, but it wasn’t even that. Quite simply:

“Nobody has ever recommended or required an upgrade.”

Well, consider this my recommendation. We continue to attempt support for Internet Explorer 6 since we are likely to encounter other districts still using the old beast, but it does add a substantial burden to development time we could otherwise spend building awesome new features.

This post was meant as a light-hearted and playful glimpse into a small part of the tension created when MIT geeks develop technology for institutions that have much higher priorities than upgrading their browsers. Nonetheless, we think the benefit of keeping browser technology up to date is mutual and real. Support educational web developers – just say no to Internet Explorer 6.

Our first pilot

We’ve finally finished our first iteration of the Lingt Editor and couldn’t be more excited to put it in the hands of students and teachers.

The great teachers and administrators at North Kansas City High School (my very own alma mater) have been working closely with us to prepare to pilot at the beginning of next semester with their French classes. It’s been a pleasure to work with such a dedicated and innovative group.