The Wonderful World of Seymour Papert

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After reading Seymour Papert’s 2001 piece,  Project Based LearningI was hungry for more. Luckily, there are numerous papers and clips available to learn more about his vision for learning.

I’m sharing some of my favorite quotes below.


It is usually considered good practice to give people instruction in their occupational activities. Now, the occupational activities of children are learning, thinking, playing and the like. Yet, we tell them nothing about those things. Instead, we tell them about numbers, grammar, and the French revolution; somehow hoping that from this disorder the really important things will emerge all by themselves.” —  Seymour Papert  in Teaching Children Thinking.

“It is possible to maintain a vision of a technologically oriented educational system which is grander than the current one in which new gadgets are used to teach the old material in a thinly disguised old way.”  —  Seymour Papert in Teaching Children Thinking.

“Papert coins the term cyberostriches to refer to parents who’d rather not deal with the sweeping changes in communication technologies: “I am worried about the psychological and spiritual consequences of children becoming more independent of their parents in their exploration of the world and it will be far more likely to happen for the worse if parents act like cyberostriches, putting their heads in the sand in denial of the changes in the learning environment.” — Robin Raskin in Computing’s Idealist, Family PC. (HT: Daily Papert).

“Liberating Mathematics from Math! … consider the opinion of Steve Pinker about why language is easier to learn learn than mathematics:

On evolutionary grounds it would be surprising if children were mentally equipped for school mathematics. These tools were invented recently in history and in only a few cultures, too late and too local to stamp the human genome.

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Stated simplistically, Pinker’s Chomskian position is that language learning has become innate because language is old enough to influence the emergence of genes that support it, whereas algebra has not been around long enough. I propose an alternative theory which allows a more constructive role for learning sciences: Language did not stamp the genome, the genome stamped language. Language molded itself, as it developed, to genetic tools already there. The reason algebra is less well aligned with genetic tools is that it was not allowed to align itself: it was made by mathematicians for their own purposes while language developed without the intervention of linguists.” — Seymour Papert in Afterword: After How Comes What.

“So I imagine the learning environment of the future as we’ve given up the idea of there being curriculum that says you have to learn this at the seventh of May in your eighth year. We’ve given up the age segregation which is just as, I think, wrong and harmful as any other kind of segregation. It’s just as bad to segregate the seven-year-olds from the eight-year-olds, the eight-year-olds from the nine-year-olds, as it was to segregate people by color, religion, or whatever. That will go away. Kids will work in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas. — Seymour Papert in Project-Based Learning.

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“Across the globe there is a love affair between children and the digital technologies. They love the computers, they love the phones, they love the game machines, and – most relevantly here – their love translates into a willingness to do a prodigious quantity of learning. The idea that this love might be mobilized in the service of the goals of educators has escaped no one. Unfortunately, it is so tempting that great energy and money has been poured into doing it in superficial and self-defeating ways – such as trying to trick children into learning what they have rejected by embedding it in a game. Nobody is fooled. The goal should not be to sugar coat the math they hate but offer them a math they can love.” — Seymour Papert in Afterword: After How Comes What.

“… one of my favorite little analogies: If I wanted to become a better carpenter, I’d go find a good carpenter, and I’ll work with this carpenter on doing carpentry or making things. And that’s how I’ll get to be a better carpenter. So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning. But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools. We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.” — Seymour Papert in Project-Based Learning.

Photo Credit: katybird via Compfight cc

Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’ But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting bugs … The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition we might all be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong.’” — Seymour Papert in  Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. (HT: Daily Papert).


What inspires you from Seymour Papert’s ideas and work?

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together

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CC Some rights reserved by jurvetson via Flicker

A dolphin’s school size increases with water depth and changes over the course of each day. — Michael D. Scott, et al. 

For a while we lived in an old brick house on a street named Rome. At least once a day we would walk a few blocks to see the water in Hillsborough Bay.

Sometimes we would see dolphins. Usually they stuck together — playing, fishing, swimming.

Sometimes we’d see a lone dolphin foraging along the wall.

If we were really lucky he’d look up at us.

Like humans, dolphins live in community groups with shared genetic ties. Most of the time they swim and eat together. Occasionally, one may go off and return later to the group.

In healthy organizations, collaboration and shared learning are a valued practices.  At the same time, independent voices and innovative practices are also supported. This polarity requires careful and thoughtful leadership.

Over the past few months I have been thinking about connectivism and the power of personal learning networks. Both are essential in our quest to support educators at various stages of professional growth and innovation.

The basic principles of connectivism include:

  • The capacity to know is more critical that what is currently known.
  • Knowing where to find information is more important than knowing information.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate learning.
  • Connection-making provides far greater returns on effort than simply seeking to understand a single concept.
  • Our knowledge resides in our networks and in the connections we create, make and nurture with our contacts, colleagues, and our friends.

Will Richardson suggests that networked learners have the following qualities:

  • Passion
  • Self-direction
  • Willingness to share
  • Comfort with transparency
  • Willingness to engage
  • Online and offline connections

To explore these theories in further detail, I reached out to a couple of educators to learn about their learning communities.

Tom Johnson (Now on his way to Nanjing) and Brycen Davis worked together at the Istanbul International Community School. I had met them at different technology conferences and reached out to learn about LTEN (Learning and Technology Exchange Network), which they founded several years ago.

  • LTEN happens several times each year and is a day where teachers, educators, the technology-minded, and others gather to hear, view, and partake in presentations, guided tours, and free user-generated discussions.

I have attended two LTEN gatherings and found both to be great for connecting and extending my thinking about student learning.

I have a particular appreciation for Tom’s beliefs about shared knowledge. He aims to structure the days to support an exchange of ideas rather than with one expert and a few learners. When we spoke he stressed:

“It’s about the conversation.” 

I also had an opportunity to connect with Vivian (Chez Vivian) of  COETAIL. Our hangout was like meeting an old friend for tea. I am quite certain I stumbled on her via Twitter and from there learned of COETAIL. (!)

With her coding expertise and COETAIL coaching, she’s a rock star.

But she’s also down to earth and real and easy to connect with. We talked about positive deviance and blogging. She mentioned a quote that captured the essence of our conversation and emailed it shortly after:

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb



What about you? Have you connected face to face with anyone in your personal learning network? Are you at your best when you fly solo or are you one who thrives with collaboration?


What exactly does “Tech Integration” mean?


Photo Credit: Cut To Pieces via Compfight cc

For this Course 4 post I’m going back to the basics. There’s some confusion at my school about what tech integration means and I suspect each person is imagining something different.

Below are the big ideas I’ve pulled out to help understand general technology integration.

First the why:

Why integrate technology in the first place?

  • The nimble use of technology as a learning tool is essential for students’ future success
  • With technology, students can access the most recent information
  • Students can access primary source material and connect directly with researchers and experts
  • Technology provides strong tools for collaboration and feedback
  • The use of technology provides students with an authentic audience for their work
  • The use of technology provides a pathway for global collaboration and connection
  • Students become well versed in sharing their knowledge via multi-media and on-line publishing platforms and tools

And how to get it right: 

For technology integration to be successful the technology must be:

  • Routine and transparent
  • Accessible and readily available
  • A seamless part of the classroom landscape

For technology integration to be successful the use of the technology must:

  • Support curricular goals
  • help students to reach their own goals

Excellent Resource for Technology Integration:

The Technology Integration Matrix from USF. 

This matrix is fabulous for many reasons, including the detailed examples of how to successfully integrate technology across all subjects, K-12.

If you are learning about technology integration but haven’t visited this site, I’d encourage you to bookmark it ASAP.

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Framework for Technology Integration: SAMR

I really appreciate good models and I particularly like the SAMR model for technology integration.

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I appreciate this framework; however, there is something about the upward momentum that I disagree with. I see it as more of a spiral or circle and educators move through the stages based on a variety of factors including available tools, their experience and comfort level as well as the purpose and goal of the lesson.

The article What is Successful Technology Integration? states that “the ultimate goal of technology integration is to completely redefine how we teach and learn, and to do things that we never could before the technology was in our hands.” While I also appreciate this idea, I worry that it presumes that every single lesson and unit should be transformed via technology. I’m not sure I agree with that, either. 

Choose wisely

The boy below couldn’t be more engaged. Would his learning to read be somehow made more efficient or deepened if he were reading on an iPad with sounds and highlights and bells and whistles? I’m not so sure.

Photo Credit: John-Morgan via Compfight cc

Don’t use technology for the sake of using it. The goal is to use it when it transforms, improves, or allows students to engage at deeper level. It must be purposeful. 


What do you think about technology integration? Can every lesson be made better with technology?

Learn. Unlearn. Relearn.

How can we nurture and support the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn in ourselves, our students, and our school community?

Photo Credit: forayinto35mm via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: forayinto35mm via Compfight cc

Nothing endures but change. – Heraclitus

What is it about change that is so difficult?

Maybe it’s a loss of identity. When we know how things work we feel competent. Life appears predictable.

Living and working in international settings and schools requires a great deal of flexibility and an openness to learning, unlearning and relearning. Each school and culture operate differently, even when they share similar standards, curriculum or frameworks.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve met anyone for whom the process of unlearning and relearning is really easy, at least not for anything significant. We may develop a resiliency with the ever evolving technology around us, but major shifts and transitions take time.

Photo Credit: steve_steady64 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: steve_steady64 via Compfight cc

Everything flows. Nothing stands still.  – Heraclitus

At a conference a while back, I heard the following quote:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  Herbert Gerjuo

So how can we nurture and support the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn in ourselves, our students, and our school community?

I’ve been thinking about this for some time and I’ve identified four steps to guide this process:

1. Know that it takes time.

Be brave enough to talk about the time it takes to engage in the cycle of unlearning, letting go and relearning. There is loss in this. Acknowledge it. 

2. Empathize.

Don’t defend. Don’t deflect. Listen and Care.

3. Model Struggle and Focus on Learning. 

We’ve all been there. Model a growth mindset.  Make your own learning visible and share it open-heartedly. 

4. Build trust. 

At a workshop one of the presenters–a retired veteran school leader–said the one thing he would do differently if he could do it all over again was to spend more time building trust.

Trust is essential in facilitating a community that embraces learning, unlearning, and relearning. 



What ideas do you have for helping yourself, your students, and your school community engage in the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning?


Course 3 Final Project ~ Communication ReDesign


Image by flickr user MorBCN, via Creative Commons

It’s time for another confession: I’ve begun to really dislike email. 

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE email. For letters. And when there’s not a better way to communicate.

But for work, email has reached a new low.  Most of the time there are more effective ways for us to communicate, including good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.

During the Visual Literacy Coetail course I began analyzing the way we use email at work. The most important emails I send have to do with curriculum resources and professional learning for our school community.

“Be honest,” I said to one of the teams I work with. “Have you ever seen this?”

My team looked at the Google Document and shook their heads. I had shared it at least twice hyper-linked within an email.


Like many organizations, we have a lot of initiatives happening at our school. People are well-intentioned, but busy. If my purpose for sharing resources is to help colleagues and ultimately students, I clearly need a better way.

Good Company 

Many organizations and individuals have begun grappling with the soul-sucking nature of email. I began researching other strategies and tools I might be able to use.

Justin Rosenstein co-founded Asana, an application designed to help organizations work without email.  In the clip below, he reflects on his prior work at Google and Facebook. “We felt … stymied … slowed down … by the friction and overhead of the coordination of our own teamwork,” he says.

He goes on to say that spending time doing ‘work about work’ such as reading and writing email takes energy and time away from what we really want to be working on.

No doubt this applies to many fields.

Author Scott Berkun spent time working at WordPress and wrote about his experiences in the book The Year Without Pants. WordPress does not rely on email as a form of organizational communication.

In this Fast Company piece, Berkun says:

“Email empowers the sender. They can put in your inbox whatever they like and as many times as they like (many receivers use filters and rules as countermeasures).

Email is a closed channel. There’s no way to see an e-mail if you are not on the ‘‘to’’ list, forcing work groups to err on the side of carpet bombing entire project teams, or companies. We all feel only a fraction of email has direct relevance to us as individuals. Email tends to bury people in FYI communication, messages unworthy of inboxes.

Email decays over time. If someone writes a great e-mail, an employee has to do something to preserve it. Otherwise it sits in an inbox, hidden from new employees. Over time, that organizational knowledge fades away.”

Instead of email, WordPress uses blogs. (Of course they do!)

Berkun writes that at WordPress information normally sent in email is simply posted on community blogs.

“If you care about that project, you follow the blog. If you don’t, you don’t,” says Berkun.

Next Step: Move ‘Great Resources’ to Public Blog Format. 

So I decided to experiment. If my emails are clogging up inboxes or being relegated unread into an email curriculum file, they aren’t doing anyone any good. In fact, they may have the unintended consequence of adding stress.

I’ve learned a blog’s power of categories and tags. When used well, categories serve as a blog’s table of contents and tags are the index. When I analyzed my emails, several categories emerged to provide the initial table of contents for a school resources blog.

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I tried to envision a place where colleagues might go not only when they needed something, but a site with the potential to inspire and entice.

Designing another blog felt both overwhelming and exciting. I tried numerous WordPress templates until settling on one called the Motif theme. It seemed the best match for my purposes and a good place to “break down … raw information into delicious little chunks of visually relevant information that are easy on the eyes.”

Being aware of the way people read online also means keeping the site well organized with the just the right amount of text and white space. (No large blocks of words!)

During Coetail, I’ve gotten quite comfortable using Compfight for Creative Commons photos. I decided to take my learning further and follow Kim‘s recommendations regarding Creative Commons and Flicker, paying close attention to the interesting category.

While I love Compfight, this new path seems to greatly increase photo options.

You can see the new ‘work in progress’ blog here. I’ve populated it with several quick posts to play with tags and visuals and I’ll officially roll it out next week.

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Now instead of emailing new resources or linking them to documents in Google Drive for teams, I’ll take a cue from Dan Pink: consolidate, and send weekly email teasers with highlights of new posts.

Here’s an example of an emailed newsletter from Dan Pink:

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Colleagues can read them if they wish or simply delete the email. The blog will still be there and they can search it any time.

Of course, there will still be times when face-to-face communication isn’t an option and email is the most efficient path. However, it won’t be to share resources or professional learning options.

My hope is that by shifting these to a blog format I contribute in a some small way to a reduction in organizational email noise and clutter.

The new blog, of course, will still include the occasional cat video, especially if it’s in French and very clever.

Google Glass is Coming. Are We Ready?

I must admit, when I first heard the term, “Google Glass,” I kind of ignored it. It sounded like another Google Buzz that would be here today and gone tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Max Braun via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Max Braun via Compfight cc

How wrong I was!

Wearable technology is coming and for many of us, it will be here very soon. Some schools already have a student or teacher with Google Glass, and they have begun tweaking their policies and grappling with the educational potential of these devices.

With great interest, I have been following Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog where she has been writing about Google Glass at Graded – The American School of Sao Paulo.

You can read about her first days here, reflections and reactions two weeks later here, and using it to document learning and reflections here. I am finding her journey fascinating and inspiring!

Blair Peterson, high school principal at Silvia’s school recently had a student show up with Glass. In his post, How is your school handling Google Glass he notes similarities to the concerns schools had several years ago when cell phones became ubiquitous.

Freeing our hands from cell phones was part of the inspiration for Google GlassSergey Brin, co-founder of Google and part of the Glass team speaks about the creation and evolution of Google Glass in this TED talk:


For those of us who haven’t had an opportunity to try Glass yet, this early clip certainly makes it look amazing.


Another primary school educator, Margaret A. Powers,  has been documenting her work with Google Glass in her blog, 365 Days of Glass inspired by #IfKidsHadGlass.

You can read about Margaret and her project here.

So how does this tiny computer on a frame work?

Check out the infographic below created by artist Martin Missfeldt:


What about you? Have you had an opportunity to try Google Glass? Has your school begun talking about tweaking Acceptable Use Policies? What opportunities do you see for Glass in helping to transform and shape your school?


Updated addition August 12, 2014

Thanks Titus Dalisay for bringing this great infographic to my attention!

Click here to use the interactive element.


How Google Glass might be used in Education – An infographic by the team at Open Colleges

Getting Organized with Diigo & IFTTT, part 1




How do you keep track of all the great things you find on the web?

Got a messy pile of bookmarks and email folders? Me too!

Here’s part 1 of my journey, which, dear reader, you must know is still underway.


When I began COETAIL last September, I decided it was time to begin using the social bookmarking site Diigo, which allows users to bookmark and tag web-pages. I’d signed up after a keynote by Alan November but hadn’t gotten around to really using it.

According to Diigo’s About Me page, it’s pronounced Dee’go, and is an acronym for Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.

Diigo allows you to highlight bookmarked web pages as well as comment via sticky notes. Each bookmark can be noted as private or it can be shared with a specific group. They can also be left completely open to the world.

If you are interested in getting started with Diigo, this ten-minute clip by Joe Willmann will walk you through step-by-step.



For advanced Diigo users there are recommended groups to join and excellent ways to use Diigo in the classroom.

IFTTT (If This Then That)

One of the issues I hadn’t resolved with Diigo was how to bookmark my tweets, many of which I do want to be able to come back to again.

At some point in passing, a colleague mentioned If This Then That and I wrote it on a sticky note. A real sticky note. It came up again at the Prague Summit last fall. It turns out that IFTTT is an amazing app that allows me to connect Twitter to Diigo and bookmark items that I want to save.

In fact IFTTT will enable you to connect many different web applications through simple commands called recipes.

While I’m an active Twitter user, I hadn’t developed a good system for keeping track of tweets I wanted to keep. So I created a recipe that looked like this:

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 Now anything I tweet automatically goes to Diigo.

I haven’t used IFTTT for other recipes yet, but there are dozens of different ones to connect applications to help you stay organized or be more productive.

If you are interested in learning more about IFTTT, I recommend Automate All The Things: How to Get Started with IFTTT by Taylor Hatmaker.

Next Up

Now I’ve got the best of the web saved in Diigo, which is great. It’s much better than what I had before.

However, that drawer is a mess.

So my next task is to create two systems. One for categorizing and tagging my Diigo bookmarks correctly and the other for weekly housekeeping to clean up bookmarks regularly.

Stay tuned for Getting Organized with Diigo and IFTTT, part 2. (Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long!)

Do you have a good system for organizing your bookmarks? I’d love to hear about it!

Presentation Upgrade

Photo Credit: Neal. via Compfight cc

Here are some thoughts on how my presentation skills have evolved.

Being a geeky Coetailer, I noticed the presentation zen links last fall when another cohort was blogging through this visual literacy course.

I was riveted. I traveled down the various links bookmarking and thinking about the ways in which my own presentations needed work.

Before Coetail, I had been experimenting with Prezi, but more for the sheer challenge and zooming wow factor rather than for the effectiveness of getting my message across.

Here’s an example of a presentation I did a year ago.

After reading about presentation zen, I began dabbling in more images and less text for my Google Search presentation for our Google Summit last December.

In this course I’ve continued to push my presentation design through stronger and carefully selected visuals, a black background, and clearer goals up front.

During a recent faculty meeting, we wanted to showcase many of the excellent technology literacy practices happening in our school. We framed the session through the lens of preparing our students for a future we do not yet know, noting that our best 21st Century practices keep students working at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

(Note: Internal-only slides have been deleted.) 

We set it up to be able to quickly link right into the showcased items, and teachers spoke about their learning and their projects. Our K-12 faculty doesn’t get together often and it was wonderful to be able to share our learning and experiences across our school.

While my comfort with presentation design continues to grow, there is still much to learn. I really appreciated Kim’s sharing of this great clip of Ira Glass speaking about the time it takes go reach our goals.


Top 5 Favorite Visual Literacy Tips & Ideas

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Playing with Rule of Thirds ~ iPhone photography ~ Velingrad, Bulgaria

There’s something about the readings in this visual literacy course that intrigue me on a visceral level.

Perhaps it comes down to communication and my desire to do it well. Or maybe it has to do with the fascination of a good image. A picture really can be worth 1,000 words, can’t it?

To clarify my thinking, I’ve created my Top 5 Favorite Visual Literacy Tips & Ideas.

1. Having visual literacy skills helps us write stuff that gets read.

How many times have you been confronted with an email, newsletter, or other written item jam-packed with blocks of text?

According to How We Read On-Line via Slate, “Eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to skip large blocks of text.”

Of course we do! Blah blah blah. Boring.

All that legal jargon scrambled in dense text? Zip.

Grooveshark recently included quick-to-read translations for users about their new terms of agreement. Groovy.

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2. Less is more.


An Argument for Visual Literacy from Gavin McMahon

3. Show Something. 

Dan Heath, co-author of Made to Stick speaks about how to make presentations sticky in this Fast Company post and clip. One of his suggestions: Show something.

Don’t think of visuals as decoration.

Their purpose is to communicate.

The lion’s share of your time may be spent finding the right images to support and represent your ideas rather than creating slides.

This clip by Column Five, explains why having fewer words on the screen makes it easier for your readers or audience to remember what you said.


4. Design goes soul deep.

I love this Dan Pink quote in Garr Reynold’s  blog, “One thing is for sure, design is not something that’s merely on the surface, superficial and lacking depth. Rather it is something which goes “soul deep.”

To go soul deep, one suggestion is to think through your presentation (or idea, memo, etc.) away from your device.

Once you know more precisely what you want to say with a deep level of clarity, then you can begin creating on your laptop or iPad.

5. Whether it’s an award winning photo or a doodle, visuals matter.

“Most people are inherently visual thinkers, not data processors.” Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design by Brandon Jones.

One way to process information (instead of old-school outlining) is to reconceptualize it using doodles and sketches.

This process is called visual note-taking; there are a variety of resources for this, including the Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde.

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A student’s first sketchnote

Visuals help create a deeper understanding. In the following TED Talk, The Beauty of Data Visualization, David McCandless takes complex data and presents it to show patterns and connections.

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats is another great example of the way in which visuals help us better understand patterns and trends.

Got a favorite visual literacy tip or idea? I’d love to hear about it!


Pondering: Should Links Open in New Tabs?

Photo Credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits via Compfight cc

I’ve been thinking about web design and links.

As a reader I prefer to open links in new windows. I’ve assumed designing this way was preferable, but I’ve begun to question this assumption.

A quick look at a few sites I use or read often:

Google links do not take readers to new windows.


The New York Times keeps readers in the same window.

The Guardian’s links are also set up to keep readers within the same tab.

Interestingly, the New York Times’ and the Guardian’s sites just underwent major redesigns. 

The advantage to this “no new tab” approach seems to be the back button. It’s easy to get back to where you were.

Blogs and Readers

Blogs seemed mixed with some links taking readers to new pages and others opening in the same window. Digg Reader seems to always open links in new windows.

A look at some research also seems to indicate that not using new windows is preferable.

Consistency seems important here. It may be frustrating for readers if a site is mixed with some links going to new pages and others not.

What are you thoughts?

Do you set your links to open in new windows? 

What are your preferences as a reader?