We wanted to report on a topic which would interest anybody, and felt that the most important thing we can learn about is ourselves: how we learn and how we can learn better. Researchers in a field called cognitive science try to understand how the human mind works by offering simpler and more concrete explanations than have previously been given through psychology or philosophy.
These new theories, while far from complete, are worth the consideration of those of us who want to better understand learning and ourselves. This site is different than most websites that try to teach, because we wanted to make our design and presentation consistent with the ideas we were presenting, so we took the following positions.
Functionality and Aesthetic Minimalism.
Layout should be easy on the eyes, fonts and text placement should help transmit the message as efficiently as possible, graphics should be used only when they enhance comprehension rather than distract from it.
Some designers seem to feel that because they can use certain tools (animation and frames, cluttered, complex backgrounds) they must use them. We know virtually no one will stumble into our site who does not have at least some interest in its topics, and we believe the strength of our content is sufficient to hold their attention. If people want to be entertained rather than to make their own entertainment through learning then there are an infinite number of things they will do before reading an educational website.
The logo, frontpage, templates, and overall color scheme for "Three of a Mind" were all planned and created very deliberately. An effort was made to ensure optimum viewing quality for users of all systems and browsers.
The arrangement of text is meant to replicate some of the more comfortable aspects of reading a book, placed upon a table with a soothing yet meaningful background color.
Functionality and Writing Style
Three approaches we wanted to avoid are the popular, the technical, and the classical. Popular science books name explanations for things but can do a poor job explaining the explanationsm and so are sometimes misleading. Scientific (or technical) journals and papers, due to the interests of their professional audience, must use highly-specific and non-obvious terminology and presume a lot of pre-existing knowledge from their readers. A classical approach to cognitive science would proceed paper by paper, researcher by researcher, rather than through an overall topic by topic discussion of what is generally accepted or debated today. For someone who does not plan to be a researcher in cognitive science the latter approach is more helpful.
When attempting a full discussion of the mind, there is a wide range of issues, (from biology and neurology all the way to philosophy and ethics) that should be included. The reader is encouraged to navigate from section to section, starting and continuing with topics that interest her. Though the linear progression of the site is arranged according to a logical plan of development, any subsection could also be read alone with equal benefit.
We believe that the optimal organization of topics and pages into processible chunks is the best way to exploit the educational power of hypertext. This also makes it easier to be printed out and read in a pleasant place at your leisure. Printable versions in English and Spanish are special features of our site.
From the beginning it was highly important to us that the Spanish version of the site be equal in quality. Sites which provide many translations usually rely on machine-translation software, with disappointing and confusing results. Our Spanish translation was done by a native speaker.
Awareness of the Limitations of the Internet as Key to Foster an Community on the Internet and an Internet Style of Learning
The last third of "Three of a Mind," is foundation of its interactive approach. In so much as it encourages continuos introspection by the reader, and offers questions, puzzles, and activities for the reader to attempt, the entire site can be considered interactive. Also, the reader is strongly encouraged to make their own cognitive text of the site, recording briefly what he still remembers from his reading some time later.
The final section, however, is entirely interactive, as it is written by visitors to the site. Rather than one, general, free-for-all guestbook, we provide several forums for discussion of broad yet structured themes. They serve several purposes: Readers may offer corrections or improvements to material presented in the first two sections. They may share techniques for learning, along with especially challenging or engaging math, logic, word or science type problems and puzzles. Finally, their responses will be of interest on a purely theoretical level as well, as their answers to "deep" questions will allow us to create a cognitive text of the postulated, "collecitve consciousness," an experiment of equal value to researcher and participant.
The best way to understand how what makes the site different also makes it better, is to spend some time exploring it on your own. We hope you enjoy.