February 2010 Archives

A Multitude of "Here" Links

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Thought I would share a good example of "here" links gone extreme. A minor accessibility & usability recommendation which is often violated is to avoid link text using "Go here", or "Follow this link" and replace it with meaningful text. For instance, instead of saying "Windows Instructions Here" and "Macintosh Instructions Here", it's much better to say Windows Instructions & Macintosh instructions.

I could explain why this is a guideline, but I think the following example captured from a political blog will show it even better

Text says: for still more see Obama Foodarama followed by 4 links saying here then and + 5th here

So first, you will see that there's a great element of mystery about all these 5 destinations called "here". If you're on a screen reader and listing out links, "here" is always a mystery. I'm guessing they're external blogs/Web sites, but which ones? Are any of them from the Federal Government, CNN, another blogger? You can only tell by going there...if you dare.

The other objection to "here" links is that they're relatively small. If it's buried within a sea of text it can be easy to miss visually and harder to aim for, especially if you have motion impairment issues in the hands. The image below shows the peril of a buried "here" link.

Text:The service has been tested and supports the following email clients and configurations are available here (link). Nonlink List of clients follows

I don't know about you, but my first instinct was to click the text for my particular e-mail client and go directly to that page. When I couldn't, I panicked until I finally found that tiny piece of "here". However, a link saying "Configuration Instructions" would have stood out more resulting in a little less panic and frustration.

Wisdom from Our Graduate Students

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One of the more interesting side projects I've been involved with Kim Winck has been interviewing some of the students who have gone through the TWT Certificate program. Of course, they've had some nice things to say about the program, but I've been impressed with some of the comments as well, so I thought I would share them.

Their comments was not always what I expect, but they are thoughtful. And that's just what we hope the portfolio process can do - help instructors really reflect on how and why they should use technology.

Benefits of Technology

Well, I think the benefits are about as limitless as the creativity of the person using the technology. I really see that as you're using it in a pedagogically sound way, that the technology can't hurt in the classroom, especially as people become more and more reliant on technology.

Jason Brooks, Comparative Literature

I use the Internet and videos to bring authentic materials right into the classroom from Spanish-speaking countries....As far as using a PowerPoint or something to organize d the classroom, that's also a benefit. It's very neat, instead of writing on the board. Everyone can read my writing.

Aroline Seibert, Spanish

The benefits definitely include just the ability to show things in an effective and quick way. A lot of the time in the classroom, you spend writing out ideas that can be displayed in a much quicker way. Certainly in math, three-dimensional graphics are beautiful when done on the computer, but when I get up to the board, they look terrible.

Serge Bailiff, Mathematics

Perils of Technology

A lot of the classrooms don't have technology enabled. So your hands are kind of tied there. So you have the option of bringing in your own material and projectors but that's also a lot of work.

Serge Bailiff, Mathematics

If an instructor is just using technology because they're being told by the dean or the department or the students say, "We want want more technology," I think it really quickly becomes a gimmick, and then it just doesn't work.

Jason Brooks, Comparative Literature

Some the cons may be that people rely on it too much. It can become a crutch. It can definitely fail at times when you're least expecting it.

Aroline Seibert, Spanish

About Learning the Technology

For the most part, I have found it to be a worthwhile experience. I've also wasted plenty of hours chasing down techniques that didn't pan out, but it's so nice to have them in place. And then, the next time you teach the course, it's so much easier.

Serge Bailiff, Mathematics

The key is just to say OK, how can I make, what I want to communicate...how can I communicate it better? And is there technology that would make that more effective? And then make sure that it actually works before you just decide to start using it. Because I think otherwise students get frustrated. You don't want to be the high-school teacher who can't figure out the VCR. You know what I mean?

Jason Brooks, Comparative Literature

Benefits of the Portfolio

Yes definitely I would recommend this for other graduate students. First of all, you can put it on your resume. [And] It was kind of neat to see once I completed it to see it up online and I could send the link to my parents, to my friends and they could all check out my Web site.

Aroline Seibert, Spanish

I found it to be really worthwhile writing out a teaching statement of statement of teaching philosophy and just looking at what other people had done helped me to get a few ideas of what I could try to do in the classroom. So, overall it was a great learning experience. A fair amount of work as well, but work that I probably should have been doing anyway. It was just a matter of putting it all together.

Serge Bailiff, Mathematics

Well I think that it actually was a really valuable thing for me to go through. Um I mean I sort of had all the ideas that I put down inthe portfolio already in my head, but just from the standpoint of organizing those ideas in my brain a little bit into a more cohesive, I think it helped work through some of those things and I think it also made me realize things I was doing well, the things that maybe I should really improve.

Now it's great because I can present this on a job interview. I can say I also have this certificate and if you'd like to see theportfolio, you know here's the Web site. And then it's way to sort of advertise myself that I'm up to date...I think it helps to have sort of some kind of formal recognition the way you do things, and this [certificate] does that. This says alright, this person uses technology in the classroom in a an effective way and Penn State approves.

Jason Brooks, Comparative Literature

Word Text in Movable Type (DON'T DO IT)

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Pasting text from Word into Movable Type can be tricky. Take this innocuous looking

I am a simple sentence with no formatting (pasted from Word).

Ha! That's what you think. You've actually pasted the code below. It looks good now in a blog entry, but I did discover a "feature" that in some of the widgets, the MS code is the one displayed. At least it's Unicode ;)

<meta name="Title" content="">
<meta name="Keywords" content="">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<meta name="ProgId" content="Word.Document">
<meta name="Generator" content="Microsoft Word 2008">
<meta name="Originator" content="Microsoft Word 2008">
<link rel="File-List" href="file://localhost/Users/ejp10/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/msoclip/0/clip_filelist.xml">
<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
</xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
  <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>
  <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>
</xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
 <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276">
 /* Font Definitions */
    panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4;
    mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}
 /* Style Definitions */
p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal
    font-family:"Times New Roman";
    mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
@page Section1
    {size:8.5in 11.0in;
    margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in;
<!--[if gte mso 10]>
 /* Style Definitions */
    {mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
    mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
    font-family:"Times New Roman";
    mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";


<p class="MsoNormal">I am a simple sentence with no formatting (pasted from Word). <span style="font-family: &quot;Times New Roman&quot;;"><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<!--EndFragment--><br />
<br />

Brad Kozlek from Blogs at Penn State contacted me to let me know that they have fixed the system so that Word Code is no longer displayed in the widgets, but it only applies to blogs created after Jan 2010 or those with refreshed templates.

Getting Visitor Interaction...The Hard Way

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A concern in recent years here at ETS has been how to encourage interaction with the online community. I've stumbled on to one way to increase interaction - typos and broken links.

A depressing yet heartening fact is that I will receive about 1-2 comments per month about a broken link or typo appearing somewhere in a site I am maintaining. It's depressing because no one likes to have stupid typos on the Web (although I am very suspectibe prone to them). But heartening in that people care enough about the content to fire off an e-mail to point out the error.

I don't recommend seeding content with typos as a way to increase interaction but I can tell which sites people really care about from the error notes that come my way. There are times when higher level discussions would be nice, but truthfully, there's only so much discussion an ALT code for á can engender. It's either the right number that works, or one that doesn't.

Not sure about iPad, but that's OK

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We were having a discussion about the upcoming iPad and what it might mean for education. I admit to being very excited by it (to the point that I might actually BUY one).

Reviewing the specs, I can see that it might be very good for travel. As much as I love my laptop, it can be a hassle to lug around. I wouldn't mind a lighter option just for note taking - as long as I can synch it somewhere. And the larger screen size is much handier for reading Web pages and watching videos. I really can see this being very valuable both for a demo to faculty and for watching the latest video download from iTunes. The larger screen might make it easier to groups to collaborate via drag and drop.

I'm also curious about what kinds of Apps will be available. There are actually some very cool apps for the iPhone now including dictionaries, periodic tables. and other refs (including a 3D molecular reference). There also calculators & instant unit converters, levels (the kind for putting up a shelf), light sticks, GPS utilities and word games. I haven't even mentioned the apps that work with your cloud computing services.

I think this will be a lifesaver for some people, but I am really not sure how it will play out. Will some iPhone apps work better or worse in the iPad? What gaps will we find? IWill we be able to connect to the projector? Will phonetic characters and math symbols be supported? Is that really a keyboard port I'm seeing or are they toying with us?

The truth is that we won't know what impact there will be for a while. I am not sure we've really been able to leverage smart phone tech yet either. But I am looking forward to seeing what people come up with. The first wave may seem a little lightweight, but I bet we will see something interesting very soon.

P.S. I am excited that Apple is considering accessibility, at least for the visually impaired, since it comes with voicing capabillities. I think the low vision and mobility impaired users will be happy with a larger screen. A separate keyboard would be sweet too!

Any Writing Games?

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Last week the Educational Gaming Commons hosted a brownbag on the Typo! game being used at Schuylkill in sections of English 15 being taught by Bim Angst.

This tool is designed to test your proofing ability - a very key skill for any working copywriter. But of course, writing is more than just proofing. Stuart Selber in the English department wondered if there was more, so I thought I would look around.

Interestingly, most "educational" writing or language games are targeted for younger students and are fairly low-level. So time to think creatively.

One possibility that occurred to me are some "parlor" games like Taboo. In Taboo, you are given a word like "chess" and five words you CANNOT use to describe the game (e.g. game, pieces, chessboard, checkmate, pawn). Eliminating "cliche" words forces you to think of some other way to describe something - an interesting writing exercise, I think.

Another interesting class are exercises like Five Card Nancy or many other creative writing exercises. One that inspired terror in me was the one where adjectives were eliminated - Yikes.

From a gaming perspective, I find these interesting. If you follow Ruben Puentedura's definition of a game which assume that there are both rules and a way to keep score (and to win), these exercises may not be exactly games. Although there are rules, and solutions, it may not clear who has the best solution. Then again, writing is one of the most open-ended activities out there along art and music. Why should their games be any different?

A Final Gaming Challenge for Writers and Educators

When conceptualizing a game for education, one of the hardest issues for me to consider is how to develop a compelling narrative or interaction that still delivers the learning objectives we want.

The point of the game should be that we're so involved with it that we enter flow and "forget" that we're learning (or forget that we're learning something for school). Unfortunately, a fault of many educational games is that they are so educational, that the fun has been lost.

Is this something an understanding of writing could help with?