May 2007 Archives

Planning my LING 404 Syllabus

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I'm teaching again, and so I'm in the midst of the first chore - planning the syllabus.

I’m sure every instructor at Penn States goes through some version of the process I describe below, but it’s worth noting how much administrivia may be involved, especially if you are not a full time instructor.

1. I do actually plan the learning objectives first, although I suspect most instructors think in terms of topics.

2. Now, I check with the Registrar academic calendar to see how many weeks I have alloted to me and when Thanksgiving comes. I enter dates into a spreadsheet. This year, I will lose a week at Thanksgiving (actually I had always canceled that Tuesday class anyway).

3. Now I determine which topics I teach, balancing breadth vs. depth. Every semester I go out of town for some reason, so I have to work around that. One time I assigned a field research assignment. This time it will be a "study period" for the midterm.

4. Final assignment? For phonology, I've settled on the take home exam. For other classes, it may be research papers, but now I'm requiring bibliographies in advance.

5. Percentages? Attendance = 10% always, but the others vary depending on the structure. I prefer to emphasize weekly assignments so that students have an incentive to keep up and not cram. Weekly assignments are about 40-50% and Final assignments are about 20-30%.

6. How many weekly assignments? The Penn State tradition tends to be to allow students to drop one, so I usually do 11 assignments with one drop (10 total). But that 11th assignment usually comes right before a paper is due, so you have to be a little generous there.

7. Grading - I do a 1000 points scale so I can cope with Excel. So point values for each assignment correspond with total percentages (this helps with grading weekly assignments). It gets a little weird for papers, so then I have to do a rubric and convert the letter grade points.

8. Adding boilerplate statements for academic dishonesty and access to disability services. Fortunately, I've gooten mine from the College of Liberal Arts and can cut and paste.

I usually get this done in early August. After that, I only have to develop lecture notes and assignments....

Adding a Frame to all Images Within CSS

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I write a lot of documentation with screen captures, but many times the images have white backgrounds and don't like without a border.

You can add borders in Photoshop, but if you have access to the CSS, it may be easer to write a style to add borders around an image.

A simple example is

CSS - img.border {border: 1px solid black; margin: 7px}
HTML - <img src="" alt="" class="border" />

Adding the margin also ensures there is a nice cushion around each graphic.

Strange Reality in Second Life

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Sometimes you find the oddest examples of real life detail in your Second Life fantasy. One is the black & white avatar self portrait found in an high-end jewelry store.


The other is the semi-ubiquitous soda machine found at both the Spaceport Bravo Spaceflight Musuem and the glamorous beach side shopping district Barcelona del Oeste. Granted, this would exist in real life, but drinking is still quite different in Second Life.


Actually .... this may be a case be old fashioned viral marketing. The Coca Cola company is actually sponsoring a Second Life Coke Machine Contest. I don't think I'm ready to ponder the implications of that one.

Of course, if the Penn State virtual campus gets a soda will have to be blue.

"The Season of Cheating"

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Our senior director John Harwood pointed out that three top schools have had to expel multiple students for cheating on their final exams. He called this spring "the season of cheating".

The scandals at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business and the U.S. Air Force Academy are straightforward cases of sharing exam answers, but the case at the Indiana University Dental School involved students breaking into secure areas to view image files for the exam (it's interesting to see what students come up with...).

Of course, I always know when the end of the semester is coming - this is when more Penn State faculty visit the Penn State Turnitin site and Penn State Cyberplagiarism site.

The good news is that instructors apparently send students to the Penn State Statement on Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty in January and September. Hopefully the beginning of the semester is the "season to snip cheating in the bud."

Can there be Accesibility 2.0?

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We all have our favorite Web 2.0 apps (even cynical old me), but it cannot be denied that any new Internet technology must inevitably be followed by accessibility issues. That's just part of the new Internet cycle.

Fortunately, this is often followed by accessibility tools and recommendations.

Some Web 2.0 Pitfalls

  1. Where's the ALT Tag? - If you upload an image via a Web form and you don't have a chance to give it a title or've probably uploaded an image with no ALT tag.
  2. Where's the Podcast transcript? - Just because it has a cool name, doesn't mean it's not an audio file which needs to be accessible to hearing impaired audiences.
  3. What did AJAX do the screen? - When an AJAX app like Basecamp puts a new message on the screen, your eyes will catch it. The screen reader, on the other hand, might miss it...
  4. How good is that code? - Some WSYWIG editors generate better structured code than others. You want to avoid ad hoc styles and breaks and go for headers and paragraph breaks. And if you're persnickety like me, you probably want access to the RAW code so you can fix it!
  5. Same Link Text - Some apps include multiple links with the same text (e.g. multiple "Read More" links which is not recommended). It's preferable for links to have unique text if possible...but it is more difficult to implement in the backend.
  6. Web 2.0 = scripts! - Scripted pages can be made accessible, but you do have to work at it

Some Good Examples

Some Web 2.0 developers HAVE thought about this already. For instance:

  • The Web editor for Wikipedia does convert its Wiki syntax to well-structured XHTML.
  • Both Movable Type and Drupal uses CSS to make Headers appear to be hot-looking page titles and sidebar widgets.
  • Movable Type will also put in an ALT Tag for any uploaded image...but it will match the title of the image unless the saavy blog writer changes it. Drupal will also allow to edit in ALT tags...but have to be on the saavy side for this one also.

At the same time, there are new standards being developed...such as WAI-ARIA.

The gotcha for these is that you may implement them, but an old screen reader might still miss them...

Monitoring Faculty Listservs

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As an instructional designer, I find it's a good idea to figure out what "civilian" faculty are thinking (the ones who haven't heard of "learning objective congruence" yet).

One of my favorites is to monitor various discipline specific Listservs for instructors. I still prefer the Listserv because they do come into my e-mail, plus I can usually put them into Digest mode to scan for hot topics.

Some good one include

* H-TEACH@H-NET.MSU.EDU (excellent discussions of different history teaching issues)
* (this one goes all over the place!)
* Tomorrow's Professor (advice for the busy faculty member)

For foreign language there's also
* SEELANGS (Russian, Slavic)
* Arabic-L

What I appreciate about these lists is that I get to hear about real teaching issues that I probably would miss out on in my isolated cube. And sometimes you hear some great tips on how to navigate the Transsiberian railway!

Second Life - On Mars

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If you visit the Spaceport Alpha (International Spaceflight Museum island and take the rocket to space, you can take a walking tour of the solar system.

Here I am on Mars. I assume that the developers used NASA photos to create textured walls for the Martian landscape. Thank goodness I don't have to worry about sensible shoes.

Standing in Martian Crater

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Second Life Saturn V

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My latest "hobby" has been to visit different parts of Second Life and take pictures. In this one I went to the space museum at the Spaceport Bravo island and flew to the top of the Saturn V rocket platform (the one used to get the men to the moon).
As you will see it's a LONG way up.

View of other small rocket and planes from platform

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