Category Archives: Design

The Tao of Posts

injured books and ribbons

I’ve been having quite a few conversations around student portfolios eportfolios online representations of their learning over time. These conversations have mostly centered on using WordPress and, almost inevitably, the first instinct is to create a series of pages that are aligned to either courses or assignments. Those pages usually contain a number of different pieces of content. That structure makes the most sense to people who are used to building websites in the Dreamweaver/static paradigm. I don’t think this is the right path in most cases. It’s easy in the short term but starts to limit you (absent lots of work) in the long run.

Strange that I don't really know what a web page is anymore. Individual tweet? Blog post? Flickr image? #vcuols

— Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) May 14, 2014

At the heart of this is the issue that “page” is hard to define. In the broadest sense anything I can address with a URL is a webpage. That’s a big bucket. WordPress makes things more complex by including a way to create pieces of content called “pages.” Pages are usually contrasted to posts. I usually described1 the page/post difference was that posts were pieces of content that flowed with the timeline (more ephemeral but archived) and pages were pieces of content you wanted to be more permanent/static. People also usually consider the post content to be “blog”2 related.

To complicate things (at least in my head), if I click on a category or tag I end up on a page (although not a WP defined page) and that page is composed of posts. Additionally, some themes have page templates that present posts. The more I think about it, the more potential for confusion I see. I can’t find it but there’s a twitter (page) out there somewhere with Alan saying blogs and posts are the same thing in the WordPress database.

It may appear that this is one of those irritating discussions that while true are only of interest to nerds and have little practical value.

Nothing3 could be further from the truth. The tao of posts is a way of life and the way you think about constructing a portfolio-ish thing matters quite a bit in terms of what you want to do and what you can do.

To begin with the “page” is much like the desktop folder of old, or old school browser bookmarks- it is directly hierarchical and content can only exist in one place at a time. This sucks. It is especially bad when you consider that the purpose of many portfolio-thingees is to try to get students to understand (and reflect on) the interrelationship of concepts and courses. Their content might be completed as part of a specific course but it’s also tied to a particular skill/understanding or many skills/understandings. That’s a good thing. It’s a blurry world. We want interdisciplinary, vertically aligned, transmedia, multi-whatever but when you build with pages you’re almost certainly making that kind of consideration antithetical to the way you’re organizing the content.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you are giving up the ability to tie content to particular courses (or any other concrete categories for that matter). You can still do that, you just do it through categories and/or tags. That’s going to allow the “learning artifact”4 to be associated with whatever concrete things you need. It is often handy to be able to associate content with courses but that association tends to be functional. It’ll help with grading or with creating lenses of focus etc. The aspirational/philosophical elements tend to evolve and overlap in ways that extend between and beyond courses. Now that assignment/work/product can be found via UNIV200, via “critical thinking”, and via “integrative thinking”. If you tried to do something similar with that piece of work in a page things would get ugly very quickly.

None of my thoughts are unique or groundbreaking but they’re often absent from these conversations. The very same forces that have driven users to adopt tagging in social bookmarking, smart/virtual folders, and search as an interface could provide not just solutions but actual advantages in considering presenting and interacting with student curated content. These dynamic aggregation opportunities have distinct advantages if they’re considered in light of learning goals and the way you’re going to encourage students to think and interact with their own work. It’d be difficult to say the same thing for the static presentation considerations forced through the typical page based construction.


1 Past tense

2 Cue the useless-Internet musical equivalent of Dueling Banjos- maybe the Nyan cat song. Pages are for the serious work. Posts are for your cat videos.

3 Well. Somethings could be. Probably many things.

4 It hurts to write that.

Movie Monster Pet Guide

After my dad sent me a link to this dinosaur pet guide, I thought it’d be nice to have one for movie monsters. I’m using it as an opportunity to practice drawing more in Illustrator and once I get it finished up it’ll make for a decent #ds106 assignment. I was thinking horror movie characters, cartoons, famous people1 Anyway, round one is below as sleep is needed.

I think most of them are pretty self explanatory. The triskaphobia2 Jaws one was a reach. It’s mocking Jaws 3-D which was a total flop and the shark should fear that number being brought up.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Minor Workflow Tip for Apple’s Preview

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.44.08 PM

I have a beautiful new laptop but I have yet to transfer over my actual drawing programs (Omnigraffle, Photoshop, Illustrator).

I had the need for a few icons for a website I’m working on and Keynote 6 is on this machine so I gave it a shot. I was very pleasantly surprised by the vector drawing tool. It’s different in a way that’s hard to articulate but I think people who are not familiar with vector drawing will really like it (and it probably won’t make the others too angry either).

One minor trick worth knowing is that if you copy items, vector items in this case, in Keynote (and other programs) and flip over to Preview, you can create a new image with just that selection by choosing File>New From Clipboard. That saves you a few steps and in this case gives you a nice PNG file with alpha transparencies with no effort.
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.46.41 PM

The results look something like this. No muss, no fuss. The icons are on Flickr if there of any interest and if you choose the original size you’ll get the PNG files with transparency.
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.46.54 PM

A Non-Definition of OER

THe following two photographs of slides are from David Wiley’s presentation on open education (which was awesome). I am playing against his definition for a variety of reasons which may become clear as I progress.

IMG_9373

(1) Any kind of teaching materials- textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, videos, readings, exams

“Teaching materials” are in the eye of the beholder but leading with this phrase puts people in a certain mindset around content and one that is actually harmful. People make fun of “educational” resources for good reason. A large part of what needs to be opened is our ideas around what content might be educational and how we might use that content.

IMG_9374

(2) Free and unfettered access, and
(3) Free permission to engage in the “4R activities

I won’t argue much with #2, although I do realize I “pay” for access to some of this content when a 3rd party tracks me.

While I recognize the importance and goodness of #3, I hate to exclude all the content that falls outside that definition. I’d rather have a larger “house” of content and a few rooms that help people decide what they can do with it. I think it’s actually good that content might be ephemeral and might eventually go away. I am ok that I can’t remix certain things. I still find the content worth using. My goal is to first get people to open their eyes to the wealth of really engaging content around us and then the idea of remixing and making that content becomes both more likely and more interesting.

See Food!
I tend to see this as representative of most “teaching materials” only less exciting. The content is pre-chewed and equally unappetizing.

I’ll start with fairly normal media sources and drift outward towards stranger places and tools.

[Invitation to attend the execution of Tiburcio Vasquez]
The Flickr Commons has many good things (and a decent search interface), including this invitation to an execution that I found randomly as a result of subscribing to this RSS feed of the Commons’ photos. Since I knew Jim Groom was teaching a course on crime I passed it on and Jim did the rest. It’s also a decent example of the value of working in the open. If people know what you’re doing they may come bearing gifts. My favorites in Flickr are full of items waiting for uses.

This disturbing film records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Director: D.I. Yashin.

I found this very disturbing video on Archive.org- specifically wandering around the Prelinger archives which are full of all sorts of odd things. All this content is remixable and the potential is limited only by time and imagination.

XKCD's What if?
There is a cartoonist who specializes in romance, sarcasm, math, language and happens to answer hypothetical physics questions on a weekly basis. I find this interesting in a variety of ways- not the least of which is that there is an audience for this. There is even a Twitter account that documents all the interesting numbers found in the pursuit of these answers.

Backstory
There are so many beautiful podcasts out there. This one is amazingly well done and a model for how we might teach history- 18th, 19th, and 20th century lenses on the same topic. They interview experts and provide resources that allow people to delve even deeper. This kind of thing starts to get at the idea of transmedia- different media paths with different depths driven, to some degree, by a narrative. The timely nature of the content is also quite useful- this Columbus episode for instance which would go nicely with this Oatmeal comic.1

There are so many things out there, it helps to have other people tell you about them. Eric Hoefler let me know about this one.

I do think it’s worth noting that I’m ok with degrees of “truth” from these sources. I want all information to be suspect.

There’s an endless additional supply of media but from here I’ll start to branch out into the idea that tools have as much or more value. A few of my favorites are below. I like them because they start with plenty of content and plenty of options but they also offer you the ability to fill them with your own data.

GapMinder
(Not sure why Gapminder doesn’t generate a screenshot via the WordPress Snap feature. . . it is a real place. You can click on the 404 image and go there.)

Google Earth/Google Maps- Short version – It’s full of stars.


Many Eyes

Under the tools category also falls all sorts of javascript libraries – Timeline JS, Simile Widgets, Dojo etc. etc.

And then there are people, so many people focused on finding interesting things in various areas of focus. A few content focused examples include2

Shorpy Fresh Photons It's OK to be Smart Literary Tattoos Literally Unbelievable

And what’s better than people? Communities. Legions of people working towards your goals is handy.

Like this reddit focused on colorizing historical photos.
Colorized History


1 and some fava beans

2 I would note that content focused blogs should be rounded out. It’s important to look outside education.

There are four photoshopped images from various ads.

Is it a lie?

So I actually taught a 55 minute class Monday. I’d give myself a C- but I think the underlying concept and the examples are decent and worth sharing.

Here’s the idea. Essentially it’s easier and easier to tell convincing lies in a digital environment.

I’m stealing from Dan Meyer here. I asked the kids to tell me one thing they knew was true and then one thing they knew was false.  The next request was for a statement that was sort of true or sort of false.

Augmenting Reality

There are four photoshopped images from various ads.

 

So I start with the question “Are these pictures lies?” and then try to drill down to the various pieces and apply the idea of context, intent, and manipulation.

Essentially, maybe it doesn’t matter so much if Dana Carvey is airbrushed up.  He’s a comedian.  I don’t think anyone cares too much what he looks like.  He’s not selling anything to do with looks.

Does it matter more that they’re changing Beyonce’s skin color dramatically?  Why would they do that? Does it matter? Interestingly, the students seemed to feel that this was done with lighting and wasn’t a big deal.

With Demi Moore, I tried to add complication.  Would this be a lie if this picture was used to sell a beauty product?  That seemed to trigger something for the students and they stated that manipulation of the audience was what made these “augmentations” of reality acceptable or unacceptable.

A worker at Foxconn died after working a 34 hour shift image of Daisey speaking

 

Now I brought in Mike Daisey and his comments about Foxconn.  What was interesting to me was that most of his lies were simply adding himself into the story.  Matthew Baldwin illustrated that really well in this post. I tried to illustrate that by starting with the entry statement above (which is true) and then adding the lie portion in red (below). “It’s a lie but the important part is true. Does it matter?” The students seemed to feel that if he’d add himself to manipulate you that stripped him of any credibility.

It’s important to emphasize that he’s an entertainer.  That’s his excuse. It’s entertainment but the important parts are true.

Contrasting OJ Simpson covers on Newsweek and TimeSo now we have “real” news and they’re certainly altering things to make a more compelling story.  I didn’t seem to convince them that this mattered. The observation that the Newsweek title ought to have been on the Time magazine. The feeling was that the Time magazine looked like a movie poster.  I should have drilled down more on why the image was darkened. What is the purpose?

NYT's graph of the housing crash

 

Only the bottom $100,000 measure is showing initially.  I then ask them to guess how much the house would cost at the peak.  The red money markers appear sequentially and then we talk about how you might manipulate the axises to make graphs more dramatic and why you might want to do so.  I’ll stress again that this is accurate.  The question is then “Is this a lie?”

masterpiece quote

 

 

Now we get into quote mining or decontextualizing phrases. This was a quote used to promote the movie Se7en.1  The more complete quote is below and it turns out Owen was not very impressed by the movie.

So we got most2 of that done semi-decently in about 25 minutes.

I wrapped up with the idea that we were going to impugn the reputation of a historical or fictional hero.  The goal was to come up with two images- one that uses a partial quote from the character/person and then one that uses actual data in some way to discredit them.  My examples were from Star Wars.

Hero?

I originally had Hitler stats in the chart. I replaced them with the Khmer Rouge. It is strange that one mass murderer feels more acceptable than another but it seems that’s the case.

Place I got media or information

Dana Carvey
Beyonce
Demi Moore
Ralph Lauren
Daisey quote
Daisey image
Foxconn death
OJ Simpson covers
NY Times graph
Comparison for the NYT graph
Se7en quote excerpt
Yoda image
Deathstar population
Civil War
Khmer Rouge
Cultural Revolution and Mao
Democide
Skywalker image


1 That’s for you Alan!

2 I skipped a few slides that I used but I’ll put all of the links to stuff below.