I may have just failed at usability.

I thought I’d come write a blog post reflecting on the semester I’ve just finished. I just went, earlier today, to check my grades (which haven’t been posted yet) on Onestart. Because I’d previously had some issues loading the Student Center that I hadn’t yet resolved, I had to clear my cache and cookies and restart Firefox before I could get in to do that. One of the things I also do as routine maintenance whenever I need to clear my cache and cookies is clear my browsing history as well.

So when I came to log-in to the site, I started by relying on my browsing history to take me to the login page (a link to which does not appear anywhere on the actual site). Nothing was there. I tried a search on the site; nothing. Google was similarly useless to me in finding the login page; I had to dredge through my ACTUAL memory to figure out what the address was. I accomplished that within just a few seconds and arrived here to post about it.

When I excluded the log-in form from my site, I did it as a very conscious choice. I did not wish for anyone other than me to be able to log in to the site. Perhaps that might be discouraging return commenters, but my personal preference is not to have responsibility for even as much information as a standard username and password belonging to the people who comment here. The news has been constantly talking about the PSN breach that occurred recently; I feel that it would be in best conscience to just not have that information on my site. I hope the confirmation process for comments isn’t discouraging people from joining in the discussion.

Now, to make things easier for myself I could include a link to the login somewhere on the page, or I could have a login box placed in a sidebar somewhere for me and me alone. I choose not to employ either of these methods because the inconvenience of remembering where to log in to my WordPress site is far less than it would have to be for it to be worth inconveniencing 99% of the people who use the site.

So I suppose I shall have to rely upon bookmarks from now on. There are worse things that could happen.

In other news, I recently fixed that annoying “extra space between paragraphs” issue with the styling on the site, and everything looks a good deal cleaner now.

R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 3 (The Experience)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the third of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on the experience I had carrying out the experiment. You can view the entirety of the series here.

The Experience

Working entirely with my smart phone for a week was an interesting experience. There were many things that were frustrating, not the least of which were the myriad of ridiculous typographical errors that had made their way into my swype dictionary. I’d used my phone to access reddit on april fool’s day, and a couple of well-intentioned “gifts” from friends and coworkers meant I couldn’t use the letters e or x. I thought up some rather clever ways around those restrictions, but I wrecked the dictionary in the process. Even now, almost a month later, I’m still removing words every other day or so.

swype is also imperfect at figuring out which word I want when there are similar input paths. I frequently had to stop and reenter words, slowing me down considerably. Additionally, I found that my recall on the smart phone is not nearly what it is when I’m reading in other media, which meant that I had to resort to taking notes while I was reading for the first time in my life. In that respect, it actually forced me to develop a new skill as a student.

While I did enjoy the ability to participate in class from just about anywhere at any time, i found that each activity I completed took me much longer than it otherwise might have. This blog post is a good example: it’s taken me as long to write less than 200 words, one paragraph of which was copy-pasted, as some of my thousand-plus word posts I’ve done. I feel like designing for m-learning probably requires a much smaller task granularity if it’s to be done effectively.

I will say that I’m glad I tried this, but I definitely wouldn’t want to try it again. How’s that for a privilege check?

As I mentioned, I’ve written the entirety of this blog post on my smartphone. While I’ve made every effort to correct misspellings when I’ve caught them, I’m sure a few have escaped. Please be gentle with me!

R685 – Final Project Reflection + link

Busy days for me! I’ve been working like crazy all week to get caught up – since life happened so many, many times over the course of the semester. I’ve been feeling like I’m behind basically the entire semester, but thankfully we didn’t have to turn in our blog reflections until the 25th.

This post is about the project I chose for the R685 final project. I decided to go with a student-suggested option: creating a resource for use with the class. In discussing this with Dr. Bonk, he suggested I create a web site with four to ten video resources per topic.

The link to the site I created is here – check it out!

Behind the cut is my full reflection, which I turned in with this project.

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R685: Week Seven

During week 7 we discussed Connectivism and Participatory learning. I’ve decided, however, to replace this week’s blog post with a discussion on my Midterm Assignment Reality Check (MARC) assignment instead, because good LORD knows I can’t resist the opportunity to devote an entire post for Week 8 to The Wikipedia Rant (more on that later).

For the MARC assignment I chose to assemble articles, write abstracts, and reflect on the process. Behind the jump you can find the text of my reflection on the project; I have also attached a .docx file with my citations and abstracts here, if you’re interested.

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R685: Week Three Reflection

Keeping it short this time, as the readings were a bit sparse this week. E-book and e-reader technology has been something of an area of interest to me for awhile (I think I find myself saying that every week), and I’ve used digital books and papers in every facet of my life: personal, for pleasure reading; professional, for reference (I find it much more convenient to have a searchable database of searchable text than an entire library of manually-indexed paper books); and academic, for classes. I still haven’t made the switch entirely, for a number of reasons.

First, my professors have yet to unilaterally adopt a policy of entirely-online textbooks. I’m very fortunate, however, in that many of my faculty have. This is my fourth semester in graduate school and I have collected a grand total of seven books – or eight, if you count the one that I had previously purchased for an undergraduate class and then kept. Another of those eight textbooks is a book that I purchased a paper copy of for an undergraduate class, then sold back, and then ended up needing again as a graduate student (though there WAS an updated edition). I’ve noticed that even many of my faculty who prefer to grade hard-copies of assignments are switching to electronic materials, freely available via one of IU’s many systems (eReserves, the Oncourse Resources section, etc.). As an IT professional and student at IU I also have access to Books 24×7, a database of technical textbooks, and that has been immensely useful in preventing my cubicle shelves from being clogged down with reference books (I prefer to use that space for tchotchkes instead).

And I’m all for that. I don’t feel sanguine, by contrast, about the idea that I might at some point have to purchase access to an e-textbook. Amazon and other companies have repeatedly proven that they are not of the opinion that you “own” digital copies of their media. One example of this: Amazon recently deleted copies of 1984 and Animal House at the request of the copyright holder. The irony of copies of 1984 disappearing down the “memory hole” is a subject for another post entirely – but it illustrates an important reason, I believe, why academia hasn’t more widely adopted digital textbooks. In addition, the lack of a widely available, standard, open format for ebooks is another huge issue. I once purchased a digital copy of a book for a platform not supporting my iPhone, which is the device on which I do most of my e-book reading. I never ended up reading it in that format – instead, I purchased a redundant, analog copy, which I was able to read unfettered by required software and hardware.

Another thing that I don’t think digital reading will ever be able to reproduce is the sheer sensory experience one has when reading a physical, paper book. There’s a smell, a texture, a sound the pages make when you turn them. My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice – I have a beautiful, leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of it that I take out and read about once a year, and for me the aesthetics of the book add to the experience. It even has one of those little sewn-into-the-binding ribbon bookmarks. While I could, theoretically, get an iPad (or whatever device) case that replicates some of these qualities, it’s just not the same: the weight, the thickness, the sounds are all off.

So for now, I stick to only purchasing (which we will define as “paying a set of US dollars for”) physical copies of the books I want to keep. If I’m not paying for it, as I do with a number of e-books (pro-tip: search for amazon free kindle titles. Discover new authors you might not otherwise), I treat it as a library book – something I have borrowed, but do not own. If I might be upset over losing it, I purchase a physical copy. Amazon hasn’t yet perfected the art of invading people’s homes to steal their books back.

….Okay, now go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think it’s time to admit I have a problem! And that’s my reflection for this week: I start out intending to write these clean, concise blog posts topical to the class sessions, and then I get off on tangents upon tangents.

R685: Week Two Tids (no vids!)

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains – Carr

Money Quote: “The evidence suggested, then, that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Internet use.”

Reaction: This article makes two points. The first is that frequent internet users have a different neural pathway than inexperienced ones. The study cited suggests that only a few hours of searching was enough to rewire the users’ brains. I guess that’s one way to “alter one’s consciousness.

The second point is that hypertext and mixed-media are making it more difficult for us to move information into long term memory by causing us to switch cognitive tasks at such a high rate. I say: there’s an xkcd for that. I still don’t think the internet is making us dumber, though, as this article seems to suggest.

What I Read – Shirky

Money quote: “In general, there’s no real breaking news that matters to me. I don’t have any alerts or notifications on any piece of software I use. My phone is on silent ring, nothing alerts me when I get a Tweet and my e-mail doesn’t tell me when messages arrive.”

I’m finding that increasingly, when I sit down at the computer, notifications are bothering me more and more. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve switched to a Mac or because I use the Mac specifically for work- and class-related tasks, but I’ve found myself turning off increasing numbers of notifications on this machine. I leave them all enabled on my home computer, a Windows machine, because in general when I am using that computer I am either doing non-urgent work, or “play” type activities like games and instant messaging. I still keep e-mail, IM, and Twitter open, but I find myself referring to them less now, and only at natural stopping points in my daily tasks. I also seem to be getting things done faster than I normally would. I think that’s probably important.

R685: Week Two Reflection

This week’s readings, or at least the three I chose, were very much about fluencies and skills employees entering the workforce need to have, and all about how the current generation is, in many cases, failing to be even adequate at those things straight out of high school – and in some cases, straight out of a four-year degree program. This includes things like “reading and writing in English” – these studies dealt specifically with the United States workforce – and paints something of a grim picture of today’s youth. It doesn’t seem surprising to me, then, that anytime the topic of teaching digital fluency comes up, teachers protest, “But students need real world skills too!”

First of all, there’s that “digital world / real world” thing again. I still hate that thing. Operating a word processing program is every bit as “real” a skill as reading, math, or critical thinking. In fact, I speak from personal experience that increasing my level of digital fluency has made me better at reading comprehension (by way of giving me a lot of interesting text and not very much time to get through it), math (which is super important in a lot of the games I play in a number of different ways – budgeting, timing, spacial relations, etc.), and critical thinking (learning to write in a programming language helped me to think much more logically about problems I need to solve).

Second of all, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say, “We need to teach our kids less geography and more Facebook,” or, “Euclidean geometry? Nah, let’s teach them wiki markdown instead.” Technology is an opportunity and a potentially very powerful tool, not a threat. I have difficulty understanding why anyone would think of it that way, though. While I may not be a die-hard transhumanist, chasing after the Singularity, I am a typical millennial (just barely, and I make up for it by being a tech geek like you would not believe) in that I put a lot of trust in technology and I get a lot of value out of it. I don’t, however, think of technology as the be-all, end-all panacea. Curriculum has to be in place first; then, you find ways for the technology to support the curriculum. Then, as a bonus on top of a better-delivered learning experience with the core curriculum, students gain a new bit of digital literacy. This seems like a cut-and-dry win to me.

This week I’d like to reflect on how I use Twitter as an effective tool. I post a lot of content – though I’ve only had my account since 2009, rather late for jumping on the bandwagon, I’ve racked up 5,730 tweets posted. I follow as well as post; I’ve managed to connect with a wide variety of people varying from professional comic book bloggers to a bunch of fascinating academic folks in the city of Bloomington to some of my favorite authors (and of course, a smattering of people I’ve actually met in person before having followed them). Using Twitter I’ve managed to connect with a lot of incredibly smart, interesting folks studying things very similar to my interests, or things I just think are neat. Also using Twitter, I’ve found a lot of incredible opportunities for cool projects to participate in, and a venue for discussing just about any of my interests (it’s as simple as including an appropriate #hashtag). In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a short conversation, via Twitter, with one of my favorite authors about LARP costuming. How cool is that? I’m a sucker for personal, genuine communication, and you’d better believe I am incredibly good at spotting the difference between genuine and fake. Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how many great deals local businesses like the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse (warning: sound!) or Pizza X (warning: even more obnoxious sound!) are posting on Twitter. Plus, being able to get information about those businesses via their Twitter accounts means I never have to accidentally forget to mute my computer before I visit their site and then have a ringing in my ears for several minutes.

End-of-the-semester wrap-up!

I blog… well, infrequently is putting it mildly. I’m busy, and I realize that’s not an excuse, but it’s true. I’ve barely had time to sleep the last month or so!

So here’s a little bit of wrap-up on what I did this semester:

  • Completed, successfully, courses in Organizational Informatics, Human-Computer Interaction, and Computer-Mediated Communication. I’ve got grades back for two, but while I haven’t received the third I am absolutely beyond a doubt confident that I did just as well in it as I did in the other two.
  • Accepted a new position as a web developer for the office of UITS Research Technologies and ended two and a half years at the UITS Support Center. Not only am I doing something I love, but I have an amazing group of co-workers. That change of position made a huge impact on my quality of life this semester. Not only am I learning new things again (as I hadn’t been at the Support Center for over a year), but I’m in a position that I have great faith could one day turn into a full-time position. And honestly? I think I’d be perfectly happy to spend the next 40 years of my life working for this department, even if such a thing IS unusual in the IT field.
  • In Human-Computer Interaction, I learned a lot about usability testing. For one project, we prototyped a pair of really neat clocks for geeks and people who hit the snooze button too many times. For the final project, we “designed” and tested a mobile application that takes a location-aware social networking approach to Personal Health Record management. I plan on blogging about both of these over the break.
  • In Computer-Mediated Communication, I learned a lot about the world I spend much of my time on (namely, the Internet). I also identified a topic I wanted to know more about, online safe spaces, and then discovered that there was almost nothing written on the topic. Even for offline applications, I found a grand total of ONE paper that actually defined what a safe space was. This is something I have a great deal of personal interest in and I think it might be fruitful and important enough to consider as an eventual dissertation topic.
  • Organizational Informatics was without a doubt the most frustrating class I have taken as a graduate student, and it’s one of my top three most frustrating post-secondary classes (actually, it’s probably top three of ALL TIME). That said, I learned a lot, and I grew a lot, and I can’t say that I considered the class to be a negative experience. I definitely improved more as a writer than I have in years and years.
  • I went to Canada. It was cold, but Toronto was amazing to experience. I should post some of those pictures, too, now that I think of it.
  • I participated in an online gift exchange with over 17,000 other users! The Reddit community never ceases to amaze me.
  • I have learned and continue to learn at least one new thing every day at my new position. I simply cannot rant and rave enough about how much I love my working environment right now. Did I mention they gave me my own cubicle? This is the first time I’ve ever had a space that was mine, rather than shared, at any job I’ve ever worked.
  • I attended an Indie Game Developer night at SproutBox, a really cool local company with an innovative approach to venture capital, and I attended regrettably few Geek Dinners
  • I made great strides toward completing my work as a Master’s student and transitioning to a PhD program. I discussed it with my advisor, Howard Rosenbaum, and he gave me a great deal of insight. As a result, during the upcoming semester I will not only be completing my core coursework next semester, but taking a pair of education classes – one with Noriko Hara in SLIS and another with Joshua Danish in Learning Sciences. I plan on taking a class in an upcoming semester with someone in the Instructional Systems Technology department; once I’ve achieved that and the Learning Sciences class, I will re-examine my plans for a PhD and begin looking at programs.
    1. That’s most of the big stuff. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m a tad burned out at the moment and also excited because I have, for the first time in about a month, discretionary time this evening! I will be attending a benefit for the Progressive Librarians Guild at the Bluebird nightclub here in Bloomington, where the Bloomington Burlesque Brigade will be performing.

      My life is amazing!

All kinds of stuff going on this summer!

As we hit mid-summer, I’m excited to announce a couple of new professional developments.

One, I’m getting my start in educational technology. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work with Sarah Robbins, also known as Intellagirl, on a really neat project that I think is going to be an incredible learning opportunity for me. I only wish I could talk about it – I sat through training basically completely riveted by how interesting the subject matter was! I’ve never been excited about a job the way I’m excited about this.

What does that mean for my position at UITS? Simply put, I’ll be scaling back my hours and switching to a more documentation-based focus. Instead of taking phone calls, e-mails, and support chats, I’ll be working with supervisory staff and on occasion the Knowledge Management team to update and create documentation for the IU Knowledge Base, which is an incredible resource if you have technical questions.

Additionally, on deck for this summer, I have a few websites I’ll be working on. One of them will be a professional development style site, portfolio, and CV for my good friend Jeana Jorgensen (she’s a PhD student in Folklore at IU, and she’s one of the smartest people I know). Once that’s all put together to a point where Jeana can manage it herself (I’m all about implementing technology that empowers the user regardless of tech skills!) I’m going to be working with my former teacher Troy Brownfield to bring back his site, Shotgun Reviews.

Once all of that is completed, it will be time to update my own web site again. With all these exciting projects, I’m thinking more and more that I ought to have a portfolio available online to showcase the types of projects I’m working on as I am able to do so.

And finally, at the end of the summer, I’ll be starting classes again. My fall schedule is full – thankfully my work schedule is looking like it’s actually going to allow me to do classes full time again – and I’ll be taking classes focused on organizational informatics, human-computer interaction, and computer-mediated communication (that’s nine credits, for those of you counting).

It’s awesome being a geek!