Reflections on ETC 2010

So here’s a few ideas that I got out of the ETC 2010 conference. Digital literacies aren’t even on the road map for a lot of people at this conference, which is a shame but also an opportunity. Anytime I brought up in conversation that there needs to be a digital literacies course for students (and faculty as well) that looks at evaluating information online, as well as developing skills for creating media in this new paradigm, people thought it was a good idea, but weren’t sure how to proceed beyond that.

Adobe is seriously making a play to solidify their position in education in a smart way – from the student’s perspective. They’ve given away their software to students at several institutions, presumably as a loss-leader, pitching it as an enrollment perk to attract students. The other thing is Adobe’s really good at analyzing a market and identifying gaps, which their new ePortfolio tool somewhat addresses. ePortfolio is part of the Acrobat product, and allows you to grab a folder of stuff (really, they claim any file will work) and import it into ePortfolio, and it will export it as a PDF. So your SWF? Plays in PDF. Your 3D drawing from AutoCAD? Imports and acts as a 3D object in the PDF. First thing I thought was that this was a way around the Flash issue on the iPhone, but after asking a few questions it seemed like it wasn’t the goal. It’s a neat side effect though, if it works.

There was a lot of talk about time management, filtering, how to manage information and information overload (or filter failure as Will Richardson said). Both keynotes made mention of it, but neither talked about tools to help you aggregate information in any depth. A missed opportunity in my presentation, would have been to pick up that thread and go with that angle. I did see a presentation that did the opposite of that, which was about search engines that were not Google and video sites that aren’t YouTube.  I’m not sure if people want more information, that’s why they stay with Google or YouTube, those are the trusted sources. It’s going to be very very hard to fight against those properties because of the entrenched nature of those two sites.

Something that I overheard, which was “we’ve been told that Wikipedia is a bad source for years!” That statement seemed a bit odd, seeing as we’ve seen a study saying that half of the people who edit wikipedia have a Master’s degree or better. We’ve also seen that corporate entities have sanitized their pages as well. I think Wikipedia is fine as a starting point, but really the interesting discussion to have is about what it means when everyone is a consumer and a producer, and even more importantly, what happens to what is good in this new paradigm.

ETC 2010

I’ll be doing a dog-and-pony show tomorrow about Web 2.0 tools and Desire2Learn, at ETC 2010 (Twitter feed here), although it’s not that specific – I’ll be using the LMS as a homebase rather than leveraging the benefits of D2L, keeping it LMS agnostic as my co-worker suggested.

The keynote for the conference is Will Richardson, which no doubt will talk about a lot of the same issues that I’m talking about – mainly because he’s been an influence on my thinking as a classroom educator and this Web 2.0 tools.  In looking around at his approach, and what his likely keynote will cover, I want to be able to add to what I’ve learned from the classroom experiments I’ve run. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of the same things he’s learned. So I’m struggling with how I’ll be able to add value or build on his keynote, other than my natural grace and charm. And great moustache. I’ve got a couple hours on the train/subway/bus tomorrow morning to think about it, so maybe I’ll have a moment of brilliance? I suspect I’ll trim my theory portion of the show and get more hands-on with the different tools and what I’ve found from using them.

The hashtag will be #etc2010conf – so follow it for more information.

Search Is…

“Search is among the biggest, baddest, most disruptive innovations around.” – Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender, Search Patterns

This is the quote I’ve been looking for for years. Search is disruptive. That’s a perfect way to describe it, and by proxy, informal learning. Search Patterns has been a good book so far, a book that tackles not only the hard stuff but the entry level stuff about search as well.

Mobile Operating Systems and Mobile Browsers

Over at O’Reilly Radar, they published an overview of the mobile operating systems, and I pulled a couple of interesting things from it. Last year, the iPhone had only 15% of the mobile market, primarily on one device. To me that’s huge numbers for one device… which speaks to the cult-like fervor of the iPhone and apps themselves. Certainly Android based phones will give the iPhone a run for their money, but I suspect that it will be #2, unless Apple pulls a Facebook and does a stupid privacy policy change. The bolded statement that “there will be more fragmentation within the operating system scene” is not surprising. With a myriad of devices, all from different manufacturers, we’re going to see that for a while. Not until we start seeing some convergence from manufacturers, will we see some convergence with things like operating systems or browsers.

Speaking of which, the second half of the article talks about the implementation of mobile browsers, and how ready they are for HTML 5. The quick answer is, they are ready for it, except Internet Explorer. With that said, most of the mobile web (upwards of 85%) use a browser based on WebKit. Of course, there’s a lot of different flavors of WebKit, which is almost more problematic than having many different browser bases.

Hit The Ground Running

This week is going to be hellish. I’m helping some faculty put some language assessment test online in Desire2Learn, which has lead me to really rethink how to use some of the tools that the LMS provides. Their needs are such that they do language assessments and aren’t testing recall – so they want to play a video and have students take the quiz. Not a problem, you’d think. Of course, it is. The solution I came up with is to use an image information field, without inserting a picture, but using the comments section, which has full use of the HTML Editor, to insert the video at the top of the screen. The downside to this workaround is that if you have more questions than the screen holds, you have to scroll the video off the page.

I’ve also got to start refreshing my presentation from a couple weeks ago for a new audience, this one more receptive to web 2.0 and online stuff in general. Also it needs a piece that talks about how easy (and the potential drawbacks of integrating it into a LMS) it is to put into D2L.

I’m also doing my normal work routine stuff, helping train some faculty, creating media, working with video and text. By 9:30 this morning I hit most of my targets and was already drowning again in more work. Semester start-up indeed.

Usability in LMS Pages

Inspired by this post from the UT Web Developers outlining a usability checklist developed by Abhilash Thekkel, I thought that there should be a similar thing for LMS pages as well. Of course, some of the usability issues you need to do for a webpage aren’t necessary for a page managed in an LMS.  For instance, #28 Did you include a link to all your main pages on your homepage? doesn’t require any checking because navigation in the LMS is limited and usually controlled by the system and a link to the course home page is usually included. So here’s a list of items to look for when developing a usable course in an LMS.


  1. Did you validate your (X)HTML using W3C Markup Validation Service?
  2. Did you validate your CSS using W3C CSS Validation Service?
  3. Did you check your website in at least IE, FF, Opera and Safari?


  1. Did you add the ALT attributes to all your images that are non-decorative?
  2. Did you make the size of your pages less then 50KB?
  3. Did you choose the appropriate filetype for your images?
  4. Did you add a description to images that support your content?
  5. Did you use plain text instead of images for important content?


  1. Did you use a sans-serif typeface with at least a 10 point font size for your body text?
  2. Did you adjusted the leading and tracking, if necessary, to increase readability?
  3. Did you align your body text to the left? (depends on language)
  4. Did you make sure that whole sentences  are not entirely in uppercase?
  5. Did you use less then 78 characters, including spaces, per line?
  6. Did you make brief and precise paragraphs with explanatory titles?
  7. Did you use lists to sum things up?
  8. Did you create enough contrast between the text and the background?
  9. Did you make your website also accessible for text-only browsers?
  10. Did you make sure that there are no ‘under construction’ pages, or links to content that do not work?
  11. Did you replace all special characters with the ISO Latin-1 codes?
  12. Did you spell check your content and did you proofread for grammar errors?
  13. Did you make a high contrast version of crucial information?


  1. Did you use no more then 8 items in your main navigation?
  2. Did you use describe the  link text instead of ‘click here’?
  3. Did you use self explanatory link text instead of business or jargon terms?
  4. Did you make a distinction between links and plain text?
  5. Did you make it possible to browse your website using SHIFT-TAB and RETURN?
  6. Did you make sure you didn’t use any javascript links?


  1. Did you make a consistent page structure from page to page and tool to tool?
  2. Did you place important content above the fold/scroll?
  3. Did you make your page design on a grid system?
  4. Did you make your website also viewable on low resolutions?


  1. Did you make sure that music and videoclips don’t start playing automatically?
  2. Did you make sure that music and videoclips can be turned off at any time?
  3. Did you inform the user about the size and length of your music and videoclips?
  4. Did you select or use  music and videoclips with subtitles or descriptions?

Many of the items in the original article are still useful, but they are at the whim of the administrators of the LMS or the LMS vendor itself. If your LMS is not respecting usability guidelines, maybe you shouldn’t be using it. If you are stuck using it, maybe you should advocate through whatever channels you think appropriate, that they adapt to allow learning for everyone.

Digital Divides

Stephen Downes posted over at the OLDaily list the article about worst uses for ICT in the classroom – which lead me to another article at the same blog called The Second Digital Divide. That article basically says that there’s not only an issue with those who have access to digital technology (and those who have not) but the haves and have-nots of skills to use the digital technology. There’s also a third digital divide, those who have the proper mindset of the affective domain towards technology. The first two divides can be lessened by throwing money and time at it, but the third divide, requires a shift in attitude. That requires an approach like the Elaboration Likelihood Model to persuade those who think technology is useless, or not for them, away from that model.

At times you get students, often second career students, who have no use for e-learning, no real concept of using the computer for anything other than word processing. Most of the time these students are open to new challenges. Then, there are the few who are stubborn in their refusal to learn anything related to the computer. Then there’s people who are in the middle, scared of identity theft, trying to make sense of old-world media that are often no more reliable than the current offering on Twitter and blogs. They’ve been partially left behind by the changing media landscape, not quite in the background, not in the foreground – but in the middle (just out of focus).

Suck Suck

I’ve been reflecting about how much politics are involved in the decision making process. And transparency is a buzzword talked about. And every time I think about that stuff, I think of the first song (Suck Suck) off the album Aspirations by the Australian band X (not to be confused with the X from Los Angeles, who are all sorts of good as well). Yeah, I’m not into the political process of making decisions.

Extending Your Reach

Extending Your Reach: Using Web 2.0 Tools in Your Classroom is a presentation I gave earlier today about integrating some Web 2.0 tools into the Desire2Learn LMS. I put up the presentation on SlideShare, although I don’t know how much sense it will make without me talking with it. Let me know what you think of it without the context. Thanks to Barry Dahl (specifically for the help with the wiki, but  also the excellent Desire2Blog) and Kyle Mackie for the source material, and Alan Levine for Feed2JS, without your work it would not be possible to have done this.

I hate that I spent half a day picking out the right font (Communist, if you must know) and at least that amount of time laying out the presentation in PowerPoint, which has to be among the worst product for design, and Slideshare screws it all up via the upload. Here’s a preview, mind the odd formatting of my boxes, font, and at times incongruent fonts. There must be a way to get it right?

If you download it, you’ll get it with the proper layout; you’ll also get the notes, which has the sources of the photographs (all licensed by Creative Commons, labelled for reuse, except the one taken by my wife, who allowed me to use it in exchange for the $20 Tim Horton’s gift card I got at work).