Online Instruction Tools: Instructables Reviewed
The Education Techie writes about tech tools that can help students and teachers. This week, the Techie is taking a look at online instruction tools. Today, we'll talk about Instructables.
What Is It?
Founded by a graduate of MIT, Instructables is an online source for user-generated instructions. The site has a truly impressive scope, with instructions on how to do or make just about anything. The site is divided into six main categories: food, living, outside, play, technology and workshop. Within each of these main categories are subcategories like breakfast, pie, camping, kites, furniture, woodworking, electronics, software, magic tricks, rockets, craft and kids. This is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find information on everything from growing a fern from spores to modifying your Xbox 360 to look like R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Each set of instructions is created by an Instructables user. You don't have to create an account to see the instructions, but if you do create an account, you can save certain instructions to your favorites, comment on instructions (to ask for further details, for instance) or upload your own Instructable. Basic instructions are available for free. If you think you'll be using the site a lot, you can pay for a pro membership. A quarterly membership is $3.95 per month, yearly memberships are $1.95 per month and a 2-year membership is available for a one-time payment of $39.95.
The pro membership has some distinct perks, like the ability to print PDFs and see more images of the instructions. It's not totally necessary to upgrade - you'll still be able to follow the instructions with a free membership. However, there are some little annoyances with the free membership. For instance, features that are only available to pro members, such as photos or other options, are displayed on the screen, and if you try to click on one, you'll get a popup telling you to upgrade. I found that pretty annoying, but it wouldn't necessarily impede my ability to follow the instructions. Even so, for some more complicated tutorials, having extra photos of the steps would definitely be helpful.
Who Will Find It Most Useful?
I think this is a great site, and there's bound to be something on it for everyone. I've used this site a lot in the past while doing things like helping a friend plan her DIY wedding, and there are tons of kid-friendly, tech-intensive, inspiring and helpful tutorials in just about every category. Anyone who can use a computer can access the site, and if you can follow instructions, you're probably good to go.
I would encourage parents to make sure their younger kids use the site with supervision, though, since some of the instructions are for complicated projects requiring tools that might be dangerous. There are plenty of projects that kids can do on their own, but there are also plenty of projects that might end with a gigantic mess being made, or something being broken, and the Techie doesn't want to be responsible for that.
Similar advice would apply to using Instructables in the classroom. I think there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to use the site as a resource for hands-on activities. Teachers could even make their own Instructables. This might be a fun way to assign some extra credit, or to help students come up with ideas for science fair projects. Overall, this is a great online resource for anyone who wants to learn how to do new stuff. Instructions run the gamut from fun and frivolous to genuinely enlightening. Whether you're looking for step-by-step instructions on baking lemon bars, or wanting to create a realistic star map using LEDs, Instructables has got you covered.
This is the first article in the Education Techie's series about online instruction tools. Stay tuned for more this week!