Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Purposeful Information Design

Prezis often let style and motion overwhelm content. In an exceptional case from Clint Stephens, below, a familiar and relevant image unifies title, content, visual design, and it makes content accessible thanks to spikey chunking; makes content manageable by enabling procedural narrative.
Content categories make hour scannable by quadrant. Radiating minutes divide quadrants by topic while conquering disorientation via topic continuity along the horizontal dimension—a design that exploits the left/right orientation of nav arrows on the Prezi interface.

Equal attention to verbal concision would reduce syllable count by 40% or more—a step that would make text as scannable as the rest of the design.

Original (See “Tap Forms Online” at 10 o’clock): 58 words. 88 syllables.
“Tap forms is an incredible tool for classroom projects and data collection. Not only will it replace the old clipboard, but it will also capture locations and photos – no need for a separate GPS or camera! Once the data is captured, it’s simple to export it out on a CSV file (a zipped archive if you have photos).”

Revised: 31 words (46% savings). 49 syllables (45% savings)
For classroom projects and data collection
Replaces old clipboard
Captures locations and photos
No GPS or camera required
Export data via CSV
Zip photo archives

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thinking of Page 48 in the Second Edition of Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think

I'm reading Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think: A common sense approach to web usability, which is a good resource for anyone thinking about course design, chunking, and a minimalist approach to content development. For one, in its own design it provides several good examples of chunking and minimalist content. It's one of those books that models what it preaches, so when you read it you're also experiencing its principles in use.

 The idea behind the title is that people go to the web to find information that helps them perform tasks, and the best sites help users find what they need with the least possible effort. According to Krug, one way to chunk effectively is to get rid of half of the words on each page and then get rid of half of what's left. He's only half kidding about the second round of cuts, and his point is that people skim Web content, check out what seems close to what they're looking for, and don't read word for word until they find what they need.

When it comes to finding what users are looking for, most words just get in their way. From the content-development point of view, it's easier to chunk less content than more content. Therefore, he says cut all welcome messages and self-promoting "happy talk" as he calls it. Also, and this is the more vital concern for instructional designers, Krug says: "instructions must die."
"Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to is as possible. When instructions are absolutely necessary, cut them back to the bare minimum." 
Then Krug provides an example of instructions that he prunes from 103 words to 41, one benefit of which is to illustrate how much happy talk and how many instructions we tend to write without realizing how pointless they are. The example is on page 48 of the second edition, and if you only have time to read 1 page of the book, that's a good one. Krug is writing about Web usability, not instructional design, but the advice is as important to instructional design as it is to Web usability. Instructors have to give instructions, so getting into the habit of cutting instructions back to the bare minimum is a worthy goal, and page 48 shows you how to reach it.

Nice page.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Traceability Helps Business and Development Understand Each Other

Traceability came up several times in a recent tech-writing seminar I led, although we never called it traceability. The problem under discussion was communication across disciplines, or how to get the people on the Business side and the people on the Development side to understand each other.

The situation

Business Systems Analysts (BSAs) are often in the middle between Business and Development and charged with creating a business requirements doc (BRD) reflecting Business interests and a functional spec (FS) that Development can use to turn the B requirements into D functions on a web site or in software. Traceability is the BSA's best friend.

According to "Never 'Without a trace': Practical advice on implementing traceability," a piece on IBM's developerWorks site, traceability is "...the ability to trace a project element to other related project elements, especially those related to requirements." In other words, traceability shows relationships among functions and requirements (reqs), making it easier for readers with different backgrounds to understand how reqs map to features.

In your undergraduate days, if you were in a non-technical major, you learned about the importance of audience analysis, or the process of figuring out how much readers already understand about your topic so you can decide how much to spell out and how much to imply. Well, the principle of traceability says, just spell it out because audiences are so far apart that when it comes to common knowledge there's little common ground to stand on. Traceability provides common ground.

Traceability comes from information BSAs include in the functional spec that has the specific purpose of validating and verifying requirements and functions and addressing the basic questions--according to author Thomas Behrens--"Are we building the right product and are we building the product right?" Bs care about the first half of that question; Ds care about the second.

What does traceability look like?

It looks like words or grids/tables/illustrations that show a specific req, feature, and use case in relationship to each other. Here's an example.

When you show relationships, it's easier to measure specific impacts on process. Who is the source of most changes? Who provides the clearest, least ambiguous requirements? Whose are vague? Who's reqs are implemented? Whose are not?

Including traceability in your information-design process provides a way to measure your productivity as technical writers and the value added to the project by the tasks you perform. Behrens cites three specific benefits:

Traceability enables you to measure

1. the percentage of requirements actually implemented
2. the percentage of reqs that test successfully
3. the number of tests that have to be rerun due to changes

No doubt dozens of additional metrics can be derived from traceability efforts, and the more you measure, the more concrete, targeted ways you can improve the information-development process.

Monday, May 13, 2013

GPACW13 at the University of Minnesota

The Department of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota is hosting the 17th annual Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing, Friday, November 8, 2013 at the Continuing Education Conference Center on St. Paul campus. The CFP is here:https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/gpacw13/cfp.
We look forward to seeing you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Crowdsourced Definition #1

Participants in ETMOOC created this crowdsourced definition of connected learning, demonstrating the limitations of dictionary definitions. Dictionaries can be definitive and interpretive. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Nonprofit Technology and Communications Conference in Minneapolis includes our presentation, "Tapping the Power of Networked Learning for Professional Development"

Tomorrow's Nonprofit Technology and Communications Conference in Minneapolis includes our presentation, "Tapping the power of Networked Learning for Professional Development," based on findings from our collaborative, cross-disciplinary research project. You can preview it in advance here: http://www.slideshare.net/adanders/networked-learning-for-nonprofits

Participants in this session will learn about and experience two new tools for professional development and training: personal learning networks (PLNs) and massive online open courses (MOOCs). During the fall of 2012, a team of scholars from the University of Minnesota system studied strategies and tools for developing PLNs by taking an international MOOC on the future of higher education. In this session, the collaborators will share what they learned about the power of networked learning for both individual development and organizational innovation. The open, collaborative and interactive learning spaces of the future have important implications for nonprofit leaders, managers and program directors in the years ahead. The session will explore how you can adapt and implement the lessons of networked learning for your own professional development or for the advancement of your organization’s staff.

Abram Anders, assistant professor, Labovitz School of Business and Economics, University of Minnesota - Duluth and Joe Moses, senior lecturer, Department of Writing Studies, University of Minnesota

Monday, January 28, 2013

What should a connectivist Web site look like?

The Google site template discussed in the following video is designed to support honors thesis writers throughout the 18 months they conduct a research project in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

We've asked for suggestions from students over the last year and the template in the video is the latest iteration of the Web content and functionality for the site based on their responses. I'm hoping participants in #etmooc and other interested viewers will weigh in with suggestions for making such site more truly connectivist in design and content. https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/odyssey2/

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mural.ly turns minutes into seconds

As a participant in #etmooc I was introduced to the writing tool on BlackBoard Collaborate that enables dozens of participants to type responses to questions on a virtual white board. It's fun to watch the page populate with ideas (silently). 

I was hoping to find something similar to use without having to use BB and now I find Mural.ly, referenced in The Cultivating Change blog

I’ll use Mural.ly to give more students a chance to make their ideas visible. Instead of taking minutes to learn what a few students think about a topic, I can take seconds to find out what they all think.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to plan eventually

While building a Google sites template for 18 honors thesis writers, I was careful to ensure all the Web content was in order before I started making copies from the template. Once all 18 sites were created from the template, errors or omissions from the template would have to be corrected on all 18 sites.

Why create a customizable web site for each student in an honors thesis-writing course? I and colleague Colleen Manchester are using Google docs and charts to track her students' progress on their honors theses and on the Genius Points they've earned along the way. We're using gamification (Genius Points) as an incentive for students to complete steps in the thesis-writing process on time.

My institution uses Google Apps for email, G+ social networking, and Moodle for CMS; making them work together has been worth the effort. Moodle users know what a swamp of administrative detail it demands while being seductively powerful at the same time. Google has sooooooo many great tools that it's a waste to focus only on Moodle when Google is right there.

Creating individual sites for students gives us a way to embed Google docs and charts in iframes on student pages and then publish an aggregate of everyone's scores in an iframe on the class's Moodle course site (students compete to be among the top five Genius-Point earners) .

The Moodle site and Google template were ready to go, so I created all 18 Google sites and asked Colleen to test them to death. She obliged. The site design was fine. Navigation--no problems. Just a few notes:

  1. The Moodle site is still a developmental site. Needs to be an academic site. 
  2. Right. That's 18 links to change.
  3. A formula in the project tracking spreadsheet is wrong: 
  4. Right. That's 180 spreadsheet cells to update.
  5. Can students share pages with their thesis supervisors? 
  6. Sure. That's 18 sharing settings to change.
You get the idea. 

I'm not complaining. I'm saying the first time you do any ed tech project, keep notes about the dozens of things you didn't (couldn't possibly) think of the first time. The notes will help make the extra hours of work worth the cost and contribute to an impressive planning document the next time around. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ways to connect with others via Twitter

#etmooc Intro to Twitter

In addition to delivering a helpful intro, Michelle Franz asks, "How do your build your networks via Twitter?"

Answers from the group:

  • By following people I'm likely to meet face to face at conferences.
  • By following people who are in my area of expertise. 
    • And some people who are outside of that area but within my zone of proximal development
  • As a participant, by sharing ideas via posts...try to give people a reasons to pay attention to me. 
    • Being involved in conversations
  • Follow people your friends/colleagues are following.

I especially found the last idea helpful. I'm now following 24 additional people, including several thought leaders in ed tech.

Class participation redefined

Yesterday's BB session changed my expectations for discussions--in class or online. When the BB screen was populated with dozens of responses to Alec's questions, it was clear how little I learn about what my students think when conversations take place one at a time. Dyads aren't useless, but there's no need to be limited by them.

In the following example Alec asked about what digital literacy means to us (65 or so participants in the session).

62% participation
Over 40 responses, posted within seconds of each other, disclose to individual viewers a range of perspectives, anonymously. We can draw from a group of students to similarly make visible this variety of perspectives but not in so little time. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wonder what happens in a MOOC?

Here's an outline.

Alec Couros introduces the cMOOC called etMOOC in a BB session with about 65 of the 1500 participants worldwide, raising the question of what we do now that we have connected.

We step forward first thinking about that most fragile of human currency--trust.  Let's work to maintain it by making contributions and responding thoughtfully to them.

Then choice. Participate as you see fit.
Recognition: Earn badges if you want.
Co-creation: create knowledge.
What can we do with our digital citizenship:
These are our topics: (visit the mooc to see the schedule)
Topics are two weeks long.

We're all sharing a whiteboard. Alec asks a question and dozens of replies appear. Ever asked a question in class and get nothing but stares? This whiteboard technology kills that problem.

We'll be working on digital storytelling---by creating digital stories.

What's digital literacy: the responses pop up on the whiteboard. Writer writes, "I can't keep up." A recurring theme in any MOOC.

Seeing all these responses on the whiteboard changes what I think about classroom discussion. Traditional discussion is sooooo limited. Only a few people talk in class and we all hear just a few short comments. On the whiteboard dozens of ideas appear simultaneously. In traditional class, what's going on in students' minds is mostly withheld, invisible, unheard.

What does the open movement mean to you?
PLNs enable longer-term, ongoing learning as opposed to abrupt end of access to tools, people, content once CMS course is over.

Value of participant-controlled space. Building a personal cyber infrastructure.
Where can people connect? #etmooc

Google+ etmooc community
Three Twitter lists--go to the etmooc site.

1. How are you making your learning visible? [key to digital literacy]
2. How are you contributing to the learning of others?

Makes sense that if we believe connecting is valuable we would ask questions about contributions and visibility. These sessions are also discursive so we're not limited to the visual.

He stresses the value of giving the gift of knowledge--we're engaged in a knowledge exchange.

Interesting that he says not to worry about redundancy with so many people posting. But we all have our own filters and don't see the same redundancies that others see. I suppose that's true--and it's easy to skip remarks in which we're not interested.

Couros offers this metaphor for the class (I just returned from a trip to NYC where every Broadway show is billed as a triumph. This video shows a real one):

Joe Moses etMOOC introduction