March 2008 Archives

Behold the "Punch" Meeting

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Instructional designer Stevie Rocco invented a great term for the perfect meeting - the short (but frequent) "punch meeting". I try to squeeze these in to most projects (like Blended Learning Courses).

It should be noted that the initial meetings on a project are as long as the other "lengthy" meetings we may not be so fond of, but, believe it or not, they rapidly shorten in only a few weeks. Sometimes you can skip to phone meetings, e-mail and canceling meetings. Like a miracle of nature - you will begin to "gain" time for "real work".

To me the key is frequency. If you put them off too long (e.g. once a month), issues tend to build up and people forget things - it's not nearly as productive.

It also leads to the other dreaded type of meeting - the emergency "pop-up" meeting. These are the ones where your serene work flow is interrupted by yet another crisis requiring your immediate attention. You can't avoid all of these, but maybe the punch meetings can knock these down to a more manageable number.

Squeezing in Blogging

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Another blog how-to article from the New York Times caught my eye, and I thought I would follow its advice and post to my blog.

like this article because it addresses a complaint I hear from my busy colleagues - namely that they are too busy to blog. This is the article that actually realizes that bloggers have a day job and may not have as much time. But maybe this article can help you think of blogging as a mini work break or "destresser".

Actually, I would say that once you get started, you may not be able to stop...

P.S. You can skip the part that mentions you probably won't make money. I think most of us knew that already.

Book Review: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts

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We're selecting books to recommend for the upcoming TLT Symposium, and we thought we would blog about some of them. One of our likely selections will be Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom by Will Richardson.

Should you buy?

This book is written for the instructor who is completely new to the Web 2.0 world. If you've heard of "blogs" and "wikis" only as buzzwords, but want to know more, this is for you. I should mention that it's aimed for a K-12 instructor audience, but I think most of the principles apply to higher education. It starts out with definitions of the terms, adds educationally sound examples then shows you some tools to get you started. It also covers issues important to instructors such as making sure students understand the rules of blogging in your course. It also has great coverage of one of the most important "hidden" technologies - RSS.

Another great feature is that it's short and to the point, and for busy instructors, this could be the tipping point of whether the book gets read or not. But short does not mean incomplete - far from it. Richardson manages to touch on blogs, wikis, podcasting, RSS, tagging, mashups, social bookmarking (aka del.icio.us) and image galleries (aka "Flickr"). I think this is a book that will help you "get" Web 2.0.

The other good news is that even if you've become "Web 2.0" savvy, you'll still find great examples and new tools to consider. Even now, I'm looking at Flickr in a new way.

Sumamry

This is great for the Web 2.0 newbie who needs it all explained and helpful for Web 2.0 veterans who can always a few more new ideas.

Does Course Content Matter for Instructional Design?

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I used to be involved in a project which created Flash animations and graphics for different courses. One question I was asked was how applicable it was across disciplines.

For instance, do I really expect a philosophy instructor be interested in an animation of supercritical fluids? Actually I don't...But would a philosophy course focusing on Greco-Roman schools of philosophies be interested in a set of historical maps, like the one we did for a Jewish history course? Maybe they would.

This leads to the larger question of whether academic discipline matters when considering tools. On the one hand, it doesn't matter. All courses have target learning outcomes (changes in skills/attitudes you want to see in your students), and the process for mapping objectives and tools should be the same no matter which course you are designing.

But here's a caveat - courses vary widely in their objectives. Even in the philosophy department, a course that focuses on ancient philosophy may share objectives with a history course as well as a course in modern policy, while a formal logic course may have goals similar to an algebra course.

I think that to expect the same courses to use tools in the same ways is doing them a disservice. So instructors naturally benchmark themselves with similar to theirs (i.e. a logic instructor is probably interested inother logic courses).

There are many tools like blogs, images and audio that can be applied in many disciplines, but the uses may have different nuances. Podcasting is a great way for students to create their own interviews (journalism), but is also a great way to capture the sounds of a natural environment (biology) or compare dialect samples (linguistics).

I can truly see three different courses in which students are creating audio, but it's not the same audio. I can also see courses where students aren't necessarily creating audio (maybe blogging is better because you need to learn the craft of writing concrete poetry, include phonetic symbols or explain still photos).

As an instructional designer, I like to look at examples from different disciplines because I do learn more about the capabilities and possibilities of a new tool. And maybe I will find that a technique from math can also work in a philosophy course like logic.

Pixel Stick, my new BFF

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One of the niftier freeware Mac apps I've downloaded is "Pixel Stick" which as the Web site describes

PixelStick is a tool for measuring distances and angles on the screen. Excellent for designers or anyone who wants to measure a distance on their screen in any window or application.

In other words you can estimate image or window sizes without opening another application. Even though I'm hardly a graphics specialist, I have found this tool incredibly handy in the past six months.

Today, I'm designing a handout in Illustrator which uses some PNG screencaptures. I need to shrink them down, but Illustrator does not shrink PNGs very prettily, so I will probably have to do the shrinking in Photoshop. But with Pixel Stick, I can give a target estimate of sizes in Photoshop.

Another time, I had to capture a representation of a Mac cursor, and that is very difficult with the default screen capture option. Fortunately I was establish a size parameter with Pixel Stick. It's also good for estimating smaller window widths on a larger monitor.

But actually, my first use had to do with the Blogs at Penn State templates. As some of you have noticed, the widths of the different areas of a blog page are fixed and photos which are too wide get cut off. How wide is too wide? I didn't want to dig around the CSS, but with Pixel Stick, I was able to get some reasonable estimates and include them in the documentation. Definitely much easier.

I downloaded this on a lark and wasn't sure if I would actually use it - surprise.