By Elvis R. Sverko
When I took my Engineering classes in college (or university, for those who prefer that term), I took some classes that were labs, where you got to learn “hands-on”. Of course they came with a workbook and a lecture so you at least knew the process of the experiment, and the outcome of what you were trying to learn. I loved those labs. Not only am I a “visual” person, but I’m also a “hands-on” person. Labs are my favorite way to learn.
Many of today’s top software companies share the same thought when it comes to some of their potentially new software. They launch a “Labs” site. These “Labs” sites are great. You get to play with actual new powerful software, and it isn’t a trial version (well, in some ways it is a Trial, but because there’s not an official (or “paid” version) yet, I guess we won’t call it a trial, but it does kind of the same thing, where it gets you used to and excited about their software).
Anyway, it’s new software, with new features, new commands, new possibilities. Many of the new things you find on the “Labs” sites, actually do make it as real launched products. Check out Autodesk Labs for some really cool new CAD stuff. I also love Google Labs for some of their prototype and experimental applications.
As great as these Labs are, most don’t come with any type of workbook or lecture or help, to teach you how to use it. Sure some do, but not all do, and those that do, might be limited in content or poor in quality. If you don’t have a “lecture” to teach it to you, will you be able to use it properly? And, if you can’t properly use the software, might you get irritated at it and think that it sucks?
So, are these “Labs” good ideas? And if so, should we look at making some really good curriculum for them, or is it better to learn them on your own, blindfolded? Or will these “Labs” sites go to the wayside?
If Google’s notice that they will be shuttering their Labs site is an indication that they are bad ideas, then I’m wearing black. Because I love them, and I wouldn’t want to see them go away. I would love to write their curriculum too, just to see them survive! ;) And of course it would include some exercises for “Lab” time, because learning by proper lecture and then by doing, is probably the best way to learn.
"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." – Aristotle