February 2007 Archives

Research Article on Simulations in Education

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This is an online version of Lloyd Rieber's chapter on reviewing research on educational animations and simulations from the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning.

Although it shows that physics animations can be effective, there are some interesting caveats to consider:

  1. Simulations need to be combined with structured explanation (even a short text was better). That is students, especially at beginning stages, may not be able to use discover learning alone.
  2. The more advanced students became in one physics came, the LESS they preferred graphical feedback, preferring text instead. In this case, text may have been more "precise" than graphics.
  3. It also seems likely that graphics with text together was preferable to placing them in separate locations.

ESL Blog

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There are a lot of great applications for language learning with new technologies coming out these days, and this instructor is determined to explore them all.

From Second Life to YouTube, you will fun something fun to do on this "English as a Second Language" Blog.


Birth Blog

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Sometimes the Penn State faculty are ahead of us. Here's an interesting blog from Natalie Jolly on media perception of birth issues.


Between TomKitten, Brangelina, and Brittney, she has no shortage of stories to comment on.

Beware CSS for Superscript/Subcript

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Superscripts/Subscripts as “Presentation”

Both HTML and XHTML include the SUP tag for superscripts and the SUB tag for subscripts. However, if you’ve been involved in the standards communities, you may be “warned” against using the SUP and SUB tags and told to use CSS instead.

"Now sup and sub are presentational tags and should be avoided because the presentation should be in the CSS." http://brunogirin.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_brunogirin_archive.html

"Since SUP is inherently presentational, it should not be relied upon to express a given meaning."

So why are SUP and SUB even listed within the XHTML standard if they are only presentational? My answer is that they are sometimes NOT presentational. That is, the position of the character is meant to convey additional information which would be lost otherwise. For many academic purposes, the use of CSS only could actually cause additional accessibility issues because a user could ignore your stylesheet.

Disabling Stylesheets

Paragraph D of Section 508 specifically states

“Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.”

That means that if a user decides to disable your stylesheet (some low vision or color blind users do exactly this), then all CSS formatting information will be lost. If your user can parse your content without the superscript/subscript then all CSS is acceptable. An instance of this is trademark “TM” placement on a word. Your page is “prettier” if the “TM” sign is superscripted, but it’s not essential.

SupermanTM (superscript) = SupermanTM (no superscript)

If you use CSS positioning, but a user ignores your stylesheet, he or she will be able to parse the text in most cases. Although it would be even better to use the entity code ™ (as in Superman™ = Superman™)

Academic Superscripts/Subscripts

In the academic world, superscripts and subscripts are usually there to indicate additional meaning, not just for the sake of typographical aesthetics. For example as style-sheets.com points outs, in math, 2 superscript 4 means 2 to the fourth power, but “2-4” is the number 24. Now if you use CSS positioning and your user ignores your stylesheet, they may not be able to understand the content.

24 ≠ 24


Some users suggest options like “2^4” but that may not work in every case. For instance. in linguistics, gw ≠ gw. The first letter with the superscript w means rounded g; the second is a true consonant cluster. Again if you use CSS, and the user ignores your stylesheet, the reader will lose the information. Even better, you can add aural styles to SUB and SUP tags if necessary for screen reader supper.

Entity Codes

You can avoid the SUP/SUB tag, in these cases but not with CSS. What you would do is find the entity code for superscript 4 (⁴) or superscript w (ʷ) and use them instead...and hope you’ve specified the right font for everyone. The lesson is - you didn’t replace SUP and SUB with CSS but with more meaningful content (i.e. entity codes). See links below for a list

By the way, entity codes may be the wave of the future, but have their own problems. Not all common fonts may support the special characters (while the SUP version will almost always work) and screen readers may not understand the entity code and may spell out “unknown”. At least with the SUP/SUB tag the chances are higher that the user will hear the content of the tag.


If your superscripts/subscripts are adding meaning and not just there to be “pretty”, consider using the SUB/SUP tags or the more modern entity code (assuming it exists for your character)...but the most dangerous path would be CSS only.

My Favorite Web 2.0 Services (For the Introvert)

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As a dedicated introvert, I sometime find a lot of Web 2.0 tools overwhelming (i.e. a low signal to noise ratio). I have to confess I’ve yet to bond with del.icio.us, Twitter or Flickr.

For one thing, I’ve gotten bored in del.icio.us watching one new person a day bookmark the same Unicode resource over and over. Similarly, the Flickr corgi tag is no better the image search on Google! I have reverted to Google which seems to work just as well.

The other problem is that effective free tagging requires you to pre-plan your tags with someone else. Thus introverts are required to communicate, taking the fun out of the entire enterprise. And I have privacy issues, I just do.

BUT...I can say I’ve found some Web 2.0 services even I like (Yee-ha!).

  1. RSS News Readers - I can scan headlines from multiple blogs/wikis/news sites and read the ones I feel are important. More importantly, I can preview a blogs/wikis/news site pretty quickly and decide if I want to subscribe in the future. I really wish all news sites supported RSS or ATOM.
  2. Wikipedia - Because you can quickly search for obscure topics. Sometimes I do want to know what the states of Mexico are. The resulting text is also more coherent because it’s been edited down to one page by the “social forces of Wikipedia.” And sometimes...I’ve been known to correct a typos or error, and all without having to go through an editorial board.
  3. You Tube - This is surprising to me, but the interface seems to be both introvert and extrovert friendly. The search tends to be as effective as Google when I want specific videos, yet browsing for popular videos brings up some very entertaining choices. Apparently other people out there have as strange a sense of humor as I do and have enough time on their hands to make a video.
  4. Pandora.com - It’s a personalized music channel...just for me which selects songs based on songs I already like. You can pick what on your own channel. It’s so personalized, I don’t have to think anyone else is out there (how soothing). The only problem is that you have to rate every song every five minutes which can get distracting. But, I bet someone out there is wanting to share their music channels...
  5. Blogs - One of the mysteries of the universe is that some introverts enjoy writing, especially if they don’t have to answer too many questions at once. Maybe it’s because writing allows you more time to really edit and ponder your message (I take at least 15 minutes per public blog post). Anyway, I enjoy having a platform where I can post my thoughts for the world (on narrow topics). Also, blogs honor the spirit of Web 1.0 of “If you like my site...bookmark it. Otherwise, thank you for visiting and have a pleasant day.”

12 Byzantine Rulers Podcast

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This is a 12-part podcast about Byzantine history from Lars Brownworth as structured through the lives of 12 Byzantine rulers.

I've only listened to part one, but I liked the discussion of the historiography of Byzantine studies and how it developed in the West. One important insight was that "Constantinopolitan Empire" was too much of a mouthful, so the older city name "Byzantine" was used instead. Such is the stuff historiography is made of sometimes.

This is also a great example of a niche topic being able to get a larger audience through the Internet.

Is Dreamweaver Dead?

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I would say yes and no.

Right now, it is possible for a casual user to go to certain blog sites or "friending" sites (i.e. My Space/Facebook) and create and edit a robust site. This is a good development for allowing more people access to their Web space.

But...for the Web professional I think the need to use and understand HTML markup will remain and Dreamweaver is still one of the better tools for quickly setting up and previewing a page, but not creating "garbage code" that makes Standards professionals (including me) get the twitch.

Ironically, I find I'm addicted to markup. I want to see it. I want to control it. Dreamweaver lets me do this. I actually compose HTML content for other tools within Dreamweaver then cut and paste the raw HTML into other tools like ANGEL.

So...although most blog entries will be within Movable Type, don't be surprised if a longer entry goes through Dreamweaver first!