November 2011 Archives

Back from Sloan-C

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Sloan-C is a huge conference and I got a chance to view presentations on a number of topics. I did find a few recurring themes though.

Mobile Tech in Education

I went to several report outs on different mobile projects including one from University of Minnesota and one from Penn State World Campus. A few common themes did emerge.

  1. Students still find mobile a check in and passive viewing device rather than a production device. Having had to check e-mail and take notes all week with just mobile, I would have to agree here. I am able to use mobile to take initial camera shots and jot impressionistic notes, but I end up editing them later on my laptop.

  2. World Campus experimented with delivering a lot a materials such as the syllabus, flashcards, readings via Mobile, but one thing students requested was a Calendar synch function. a function much used on actual mobile users.

  3. Students are happy to participate in iPad loaner projects, but resent having to return it.Unlike laptops and cameras, most mobile devices are deeply tied into a person's profile and data is hard to transfer elsewhere. One person suggested that a mobile device requirement might be better than a loaner project.
  4. Students generally liked mobile, but many actually observed that games like Angry Birds were awfully distracting. I agree again, but I would ask if we can take better advantage of that feature? Can we include clicker integration, Twitter integration? In the same vein, can we design small games which can tie in to specific objectives? Flash cards are nice, but it would be nice to move beyond that also.

OER Movement

There was a lot of discussion about the implications of Open Education Resources and how we should move forward. A keynote from Cable Green suggests mandating lower prices from textbook publishers since many purchases of K-12 textbooks are subsidized by tax dollars (and even many higher ed textbooks are brought with federal loan money). I understand his point, but with a policy mandate that large, I always feel we need to review overall implications. Some laws with great intentions have had some very bad unexpected consequences.

Another issue that recurs is how to actually work with OERs. Making syllabi, lecture notes and even recorded lectures is one issue, but how do students access instructional support? A missing piece is mentoring. A few people noted that mentoring networks could be added to this puzzle, but again who trains the mentors in what the content means? Without this piece, even a learning community could feel isolated.

I think making content open is a valuable piece of the puzzle, but I hope we don't think it will replace what happens on campus. For the past 10 years, a variety of educators have predicted that the "traditional campus" will disappear, but I am more doubtful. The "traditional" environment has provided a number of social advantages not afforded in an online environment from spring dances to drinking beer with your advisor in grad school.

For better or worse, getting a Cisco certification or reading a Yale syllabus isn't the same as actually attending a 4 year college, and I think we need to remember that.I think this is where proper use of social communication tools will help, but that will be much more than just posting a syllabus in Facebook also.

Rasslin' with Accessifying a "Dreamweaver" Site

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You may have heard recommendations that a site in Dreamweaver is 1) more prone to being inaccessible and 2) difficulty to accessify. There are some nice accessibility benefits to using a CMS like Plone, Drupal or Movable Type. BUT if you are tied to a Dreamweaver-based environment DON'T PANIC.

Under the right conditions, a Dreamweaver site can be made to be 100% accessible...because at the end of the day its the code being created, not the tool that really counts.

Accessibility Advantages of a CMS

With a good CMS, you can get two huge advantages.

  1. The templates out of the box often generate accessible code. For instance an accessible CMS includes an accessible search box and properly tags site navigation with appropriate list/header tags and often uses CSS to boot. That is a lot less work for a Web developer.
  2. A good CMS also include a good WYSIWYG editor that supports accessibility in content from people who do NOT know HTML. It should be easy to insert sub headers, lists and ALT tags on images. A killer CMS will even give you good tables. That means accessibility can be accomplished without looking under the hood - yeah!

So...Why Dreamweaver?

With all the advantages listed above - why would anyone remain in Dreamweaver. One answer is the ability to customize code and CSS. A CMS can be customized, but a user has to investigate the CSS closely. Dremweaver is essentially a blank canvas.

If your scenario is one experienced Web person maintaining a relatively small set of pages, Dreamweaver can work.

The other advantage is the accessibility tools. To this day, I have not seen a better tool for generating accessible tables and forms quickly and cleanly. Dreamweaver also does a good job at CSS maintenance and other important tasks.

I'm on a lot of CMS platforms, and as crazy as it sounds to some, I use Dreamweaver to edit more complex content portions than cut and paste. Sure, I could use Notepad, but I've killed a lot of data tables that way. Dreamweaver has nice dual views that help keep track of WYSIWYG and code.

Static Site Tricks

if you are a Webmaster ready to migrate to a CMS (yet), you can manage to get some accessibility implemented with a few of these tricks.

  1. Remember Global Search & Replace - Dreamweaver will let you replace one snippet of code with a more accessible one on multiple pages in one shot.
  2. Consider Server Side Includes (SSI) - You can get some of the benefits of a CMS by using server side includes to insert template headers, footers and so forth on multiple pages.
  3. Master your CSS - Dreamweaver will readily allow you to use CSS, but you have to follow through with it. CSS mastery is equally important if you want to tweak a CMS theme. Whenever possible, replace an inline formatting command with a link to a style sheet and you will go a long way towards a cleaner and more accessible site.
  4. Use the Dreamweaver accessibility tools they gave you - Include an ALT tag when you insert an image, a caption and headers when inserting tables and all those IDs and LABELs if you are designing a form. It will never get any easier than at that time.

Why I Keep Advocating Dreamweaver

Far from being an accessibility barrier, Dreamweaver has the potential to be a powerful tool for a lot of Web developers semi-familiar with HTML but not quite comfortable with Notepad or BBEdit.

In fact, Dreamweaver is the platform of choice for the Lynda.com seminar on accessibility as well as is a platform for a WebAIM accessibility plugin. I'm glad I'm not totally alone on this one.