Showing History in other contexts

Pandora screen

One of the things that I really like about the Pandora music service is that, in addition to having a really simple interface, they also display a history of the songs that you played. With so many other streaming music services (Rhapsody comes to mind), what you played is lost as soon as it’s over. (Pandora streams music to you based on “stations’ you define. They then use data from the Music Genome project to find other similar music.)

Browsers have made the idea of having a history relatively common-place and it’s hard to imagine doing any kind of surfing without it. But history is still relatively rare in other applications (Photoshop, a few word processing applications and version control software come to mind). Mostly history is used as a means to undo some action.

HistoryGIS history

But in a lot of educational software, especially inquiry software, you need the history to see what you were thinking or trying previously. You don’t necessarily want to undo the action, you just need to see what you did. For example, if you’re setting up a simulation of planetary orbits, it’s important for you to be able to know what you’ve tried and what’s worked because you might have to try a lot of different approaches before you get something that works.

We’re currently trying to build in some kind of useful history with our historical GIS map application so that you can revisit maps and queries that you’ve generated previously. This is very rough still, but the idea is provide some kind of time stamp so that you (and the teacher) can see when you hit certain pages, the “Layer” shows the active data layer that you’re retrieving data from, and the “Selected Data” shows the data that you clicked on.

One of the interesting design challenges with implementing history is: do you auto-capture everything, or do you let the user decide what to capture? If you automatically capture everything, you run the risk of having too much information and not being able to find what you need. If you let the user decide what to capture, then the user may forget to capture important events, either because they forgot (being too caught up in the investigation), or they didn’t recognize it as being important at the time. We used user-triggered capture with the Progress Portfolio because we felt that it was important for students to learn to recognize what was valuable and to consciously grab it. With the historical GIS application, the jury’s still out. I think it’s going to be important to be able to see the complete history of what you’ve selected, especially if you’re grabbing a lot of data points (e.g. checking total population in 3 or 4 counties). You don’t necessarily want to be bogged down with clicking “Save this data” every time.

posted February 10, 2006 by ben

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