Posts Tagged 'webDesign'

Another read/write web testimonial

I have Dr. Jay Pfaffman at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to thank for helping me draw the distinction between conventional web publishing and the new “push-button” publishing of the read/write web.

And I have the teachers who responded to my embarrassingly self-conscious post, Confessions of a blog disciple, to thank for inspiring this post. Their comments reminded me of Dr. Pfaffman’s lesson.

At the beginning of the spring 2007 semester, Dr. Pfaffman required those enrolled in IT 521, Introduction to Computer Applications in Education, to publish a web page and describe in detail how we did it. We were allowed, though not required, to use the university’s Volspace server, if we could figure out how to upload web files to it. (Every UT-Knoxville student is guaranteed 50 MB of file storage there.)

Well, at that point in January 2007, I had exactly one semester of instructional technology graduate work under my belt and still hadn’t learned the mysterious protocols of Volspace, which completely stumped me. Had it not been for the helpful staff at my college’s digital media lab, I wouldn’t have been able to post any projects from the previous semester’s introductory course in multimedia.

So on one sleepless night in January, fueled by an endless stream of coffee and trail mix, I bumbled through Dr. Pfaffman’s web assignment, without crying, as he promised some of us would. And, thus, I published my first-ever web page.

Because I am an instructional technology student, I felt compelled, by hook or by crook, to master the university’s server. Other students in the class from different majors and disciplines were not so inclined, as I discovered the next day when we were required to report back on our fledgling attempts to produce a web page. And that is how I first became aware of the numerous easy and free publishing opportunities currently available on the web.

And then came blogs. A few weeks after our first assignment, Dr. Pfaffman asked us to choose any service and create a blog. I think the assignment would have had more impact had he required us to do it at the same time we attempted the more conventional method of web publishing.

All I can say is after less than 30 minutes on Blogger, I was up and running with a functional, interactive, highly customizable publishing space to call my own. No specialized training, no expensive software, and no frantic calls to tech support.

Clearly, this has been one of the most transformative moments in my journey as a teacher/learner. My experiences in the last 9 months leave me with questions, similar to what Ms. Whatsit asks:

What good does spending any money on technology do if students are treated as if it’s too dangerous for them, teachers are considered too naïve to use it wisely, and district officials are too far behind and out of touch to plan for its implementation in practical educational contexts today?

Should we use the tools simply because they are cheap, highly intuitive, and easily accessible? No. We should use them based on proof they enhance self-directed learning and facilitate student, parent, and community engagement. The proof will come through the combined aggregate of our stories, our “testimonials,” if you will. So I will keep sharing tidbits as I scale that learning curve, and I hope you will, too.

That’s what I think.

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Awesome hubby wins big award

I want to send a big shout-out to my husband, Ron, who traveled to the 11th Annual Webby Awards in New York last week to collect a trophy for diynetwork.com, the website he directs. The New York Times calls the Webby Awards “the Oscars of the Internet,” and when you consider the billions of web pages out there, the old cliche “it’s an honor just to be nominated” really rings true. Ron and his group won The People’s Voice Award in the Lifestyle category, which means out of a field of five nominees, diynetwork.com received the most votes from the online community.

In keeping with World Wide Web language conventions, winners’ acceptance speeches are limited to just five words. (A convention I tried to follow when titling this post.) The group had weeks to collaborate on a five-word sentence and ultimately arrived at this gem, which incorporates a clever plug for a new DIY network series on the art of demolition: “Now, let’s get hammered.” As site director, Ron went on stage to accept the award and deliver the “speech,” which he says received the loudest applause of the evening, a fact I am sure had nothing to do with Absolut Vodka being one of the program sponsors.

Visit the official Webby home page to learn more about the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and to see a complete list of winners and nominees. If you have some time to kill, browse the cool, interactive Flash gallery of winners. It’s a fun way to discover some hidden treasure on the Internet. In addition to diynetwork.com, two winning web sites worth visiting are SaveTheInternet.com and PoetryFoundation.org.

End-of-semester reflection on web design

According to the syllabus today marks the last formal class meeting for IT 578, which is an introductory course in web design and Dreamweaver. Our project sites are due exactly one week from today. My site, a publishing portal for teen writers, is no where near complete and neither is my understanding of the complexities of web design and web site development.

One thing I am certain of is this is an intensely visual medium. I may be stating the obvious to some people, but I don’t think the casual Internet audience can really appreciate this fact until they juggle the myriad choices and decisions that go into the creation of the user interface and navigational matrix. (Now, that sounds just plain geeky!)

These last six weeks, I have been completely consumed with aesthetics, leaving myself very little time for the development of actual content. The last four days alone I have obsessed over the appearance of my hyperlinks, for gosh sakes! How the color and format of the links actually contribute to the instructional value of my site, . . . well, it is just too ridiculous. Yet, here I have been since Sunday night, changing and re-changing their color and behavior until finally deciding to go back to the original default settings!

The authors of the style guide used in IT 578, Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton, begin each chapter in their text with quotes from some surprisingly literary sources – even Henry David Thoreau, who famously admonished Americans to “Simplify, simplify!” and who questioned the value of telegraph lines and transatlantic cable. (Relax, it’s just Cliffs Notes! If you want to read the original, see “Economy” from Walden.) I don’t know if Lynch and Horton are going for a sense of irony, or what, but Chapter 6 on editorial style begins with this quote from the Hitchhiker author, Douglas Adams:

First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII – and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we’ve realized it’s a brochure.

I have thought about how I would teach a course in web design to high school students. I don’t have the artistic sensibility to do it justice. Ideally, I would like to teach the development portion, in which I help young people compose the editorial content with consideration to style, brevity, and some journalistic principles thrown in for good measure. Another teacher could work with the students on the technical side of things, including graphics and visual presentation. It would be cool if a course was taught in tandem like that. I wonder if it’s done that way anywhere?

In true web fashion, I will conclude this reflection with a Top 10 list. This list is composed of facts as well as general impressions and observations about web design that I hope to remember should I ever again have the opportunity to construct a site from the ground up. So, here are the Analog Girl’s Top 10 Principles of Web Design, in no particular order:

  • You can never give the audience too many ways to navigate your site.
  • Throughout the development process, check your site frequently on different machines and in different browsers.
  • Every web page should include these five elements: title; creation/revision date; link to homepage; homepage URL in footer; and the site administrator’s contact info.
  • Make your page titles into “pearls of clarity.” Each page must be able to stand alone, apart from the context of the site.
  • Use white space for emphasis. Pure, subtle, elegant.
  • Make links descriptive so the reader knows exactly what he or she is going to get. In other words, avoid “click here” and other empty phrases.
  • Pay attention to factors that will make your site more accessible and readable. To that end, the World Wide Web Consortium provides 10 quick tips for web designers.
  • Animated gifs suck. And there is a word to describe over-use of multimedia — “Flashturbation.” Love that one!
  • Remember, it’s the WORLD Wide Web! OK, while I like the elegance of the international date stamp, I don’t know how I feel about completely purging idiomatic expression and regional language from the web. Where’s the color and humanity in that?
  • Know and respect your audience. It is the quintessential rule of good writing, and it’s no less true for the web.

These last two items on my list of observations about web design may seem mutually exclusive, but I think it’s the tension between the two that makes it all so exciting! Here is a great conversation about the problem of language in digital learning environments on Julie Lindsay’s e-Learning blog. The comments that follow her post are quite illuminating.


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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

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These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy

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