Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Choosing the Right Typeface.

A nice guide on the often difficult task of choosing the appropriate font. It covers the different styles of typefaces and helps establish the important distinctions between them. The article also provides links to where you can find some cheap but nice looking typefaces. Be sure to check it out!

Learning Objectives Generator–An Android App

A new app has recently appeared in the Google Play Store called “Learning Objectives Generator”. This app is not affiliated with WVU or the iDesign office in any way. However, it is a tool aimed at helping educators properly construct measurable learning objectives/outcomes, based on good educational foundations. The app has options to choose the domain and knowledge level of learning for your objective, as well as help choosing an action word/verb that is measurable by your assessments. At $1.65 as of this writing, it is a handy tool you may want to consider adding to your bag of tricks.

Learning Objectives Generator, by Bloom Training, in the Google Play Store.
app screenshot

Color Palette Generator

A very cool site that generates a 2 color paltete options for you from the image URL you provide. This could be a great tool for you if you want to use a particular image as the focus/inspiration for a website or any other theme. There also many other fun and helpful sites at the creator's main page...

Engineer VS. Designer

A great illustration of two different instructional approaches. Infographic designers recommend a 1:1 ratio of graphics to text and follow the adage of "show don't tell.". Maybe a blend of the two would be the best. Something like this?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Most Detailed (and very illegal) Picture of the Internet

Wow. I found this article to be very interesting. Over 420,000 computers all over the world were hacked to make this neat but very illegal picture of the internet. Europe is a heavy user from the photo and the US comes close behind.

Click here for the pictures and full article

Startups, This is How Design Works

This is a witty, simple, visual explanation of how design works for those who aren't designers.

"Startups, this is wow design works is a great guide for non-designers, by Wells Riley. It offers information on what design is, what makes "good design", and even includes Dieter Rams' ten principles of "Good Design". It's a fantastic resource to share with clients or others who aren't designers by trade but should have a basic working knowledge of what design is and how it works."

Web Colour Data

Web Colour Data is a site that lets you grab any colors from any URL. Simply put in the URL of a website and it grabs the color scheme, hexcodes, hue distribution chart, where the colors appear on the color wheel and shows sites with similar color schemes. It is very neat. I put in a URL from a favorite site to try it out, and it showed everything mentioned above.

Click here to visit Web Colour Data



This is a neat site. Chineasy is a visual based learning system that lets you understand the symbols of the Chinese language with simple stories and phrases. When you get to the site, the 8 symbols are click-able. If you click on the "fire" symbol, you get other symbols and phrases that are similar. To exit the other symbols, just simply click on the image again to go back.

Most of the visuals have little animations as well.

New Disney Story App

Story is a new app from Disney. It lets you take photos from your Apple devices and lets you create a story from the photos. You can add video as well. Try the app for free at the iTunes store. Its from the Disney crew so, its got to be a keeper!

Click here to go to the iTunes Store (Story App)

"Story is a storytelling app that pays attention to the moments in your phone and compiles them into events you can then go in and curate into your own shareable story. Story allows you to add text, zoom, crop, rearrange and even add video. When your story is arranged perfectly you can either email it, share it on facebook or simply keep it on your phone to share with strangers on the airplane."

Click here for the full article: "Story: The New Storytelling App From Disney"

Color Theory 101

Everything that you design should take color into serious and careful consideration. The color choices that you make can create a drastic effect on the mood of your work. The right combination can gain attention and convey the right message visually, further driving the message into your viewers’ minds.
A straight-forward breakdown of color and it's effect on the viewer's mood, feelings, and memories.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pulverizing Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty that involves taking another person's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. This type of cheating can represent a significant challenge for educators to mitigate. Listed below is a sampling of websites that will (for a fee) search the internet to determine if a person is misrepresenting someone else's work.
Billed as "The most advanced online plagiarism detection service," Catch It First checks submitted documents against billions of web pages and generates what it calls an "originality report."
The Essay Verification Engine (EVE) Plagiarism Detection System generates reports that include the percentage of the paper that has been plagiarized along with an annotated copy that has all violations highlighted in red.
iThenticate claims to be the "leading provider of professional plagiarism detection and prevention technology." It compares written documents against a database of over 32 billion web pages and 125 million content items. iThenticate is actually developed by Turn It In.
Hosted by Blackboard and offered to its clients is the plagiarism prevention service called SafeAssign. In addition to checking for instances of copying, this service has features designed to educate students about plagiarism and the significance of proper citation of any borrowed content.
Using a proprietary algorithm, Turn It In compares documents submitted to several databases that consist of over 24 billion web pages, 250 million student papers, and leading library databases and publications. This service is very popular among educators and includes features such as OriginalityCheck, GradeMark, and PeerMark.

Keep Your Head in the (Word) Clouds with Wordle

A few days ago, a co-worker of mine introduced me to Wordle, and I was immediately intrigued by its potential. Wordle is a quick, easy, and free tool designed to help anyone create word clouds without the need for additional software. You provide the text that will make up the word cloud, and then Wordle outputs the resulting image. One can either copy and paste text into the tool or enter the URL of any blog, blog feed, or any other web page that has an Atom or RSS feed. After generating your word cloud, you have the option of changing the color, layout, fonts, and language.

As an instructional designer, I find that word clouds are often useful as an ideal way of positioning text to represent certain concepts visually. Wordle will benefit those interested in utilizing the educational value of word clouds without necessitating the acquisition and operation of expensive image manipulation software. Try it out today at

Students with Asperger's Syndrome

I recently had the priviledge to take an online course, "Students with Asperger's Syndrome" offered by the Learning Resources Network (LERN). The course was facilitated by Julie Coates, author of Generational Learning Styles, co-author of The Pedagogy of the 21st Century, and mother of a child with AS.

Teaching students with Asperger's Syndrome can be challenging under any circumstances, but I wondered how, in an online course, you could accomodate the unique needs of a student with AS if you didn't know the the student had AS. So, I asked in one of our online discussions and got this great reponse from Coates that she said I could share with anyone I wanted.

In online higher education, our disabilities services folks will let the instructor know what accommodation must be made for a particular student (mostly extra time on tests). But the nature of the disability is never revealed. I'm curious... how would an online instructor even know if a student had Asperger's. Might they have a language idiosyncracy in an online course that would indicate that?
What an insightful question. It might have been in this course that I made the comment, "When you have met one student with Asperger's you have met one student with Asperger's." There is a very broad range of behaviors that one experiences in any human interaction. With AS, it is not different. What is important to understand is that there are certain behaviors that are common with AS that you might be aware of in an online course:
  1. Sophisticated use of language. Many with AS are use very sophisticated and formal speech. This is apparent in written communication as well as verbal communication. Often, the advanced vocabulary gives the impression that the student is very knowledgeable, when, in fact, there may be a big disconnect between the words used and understanding what they really mean. If you encounter a student who seems very articulate but who does not seem to grasp content, you may be dealing with and AS student. The literalness with which AS students interpret language may create problems with comprehension. This often shows up when students are asked to do analysis of information they have read.
    In addition, any question dealing with affect may solicit a non-respnse or a confused response. Talking about emotions, feelings, etc. or being asked "How to you feel about X," or "How do you think Huck felt when he realized that Jim might be put to death for taking him on the raft?," can present an impossible situation for an AS student. Articulating how they feel or describing how they think someone else feels may be beyond their ability to express.
  2. Literal interpretation of information or instructions. Many with AS are very literal in their interpretation of language. My son, for example, was once disciplined by a teacher who asked students to turn in their notes. He ripped the notes out of his spiral bound notebook and turned them in. All the other students turned in their notebooks. My son was very upset because he had done exactly what was asked and could not understand why he was in trouble. Online you might find that a student answerers a question very literally or interprets an instruction very literally and thus fails to answer in the way you expected or fails to follow the instruction as you had intended.
  3. Confusion with simple instructions. Often, instructions that seem very straightforward or simple to most of us are absolutely baffling to those with AS. They may ask for clarification on things that you cannot imagine are confusing. Many students have encountered instructors who have misinterpreted this legitimate confusion with laziness or oppositional behavior, and are very reluctant to ask questions.
  4. Not meeting deadlines. Many AS student need extra time for tests or for processing information. They can become easily overwhelmed, and with this comes an increase in anxiety. This can cause them to fall behind. When this happens, many are reluctant to try to explain or ask for accommodation because their efforts in the past may not have been successful.
  5. Withdrawal form participation. Many with AS are very sensitive. That, in combination with their tendency to misinterpret language, can lead to withdrawal behavior. If you find a student who stops participating, efforts to encourge him or her might be helpful to get them back on track.
  6. Anxiety. Anxiety disorders are frequently co-morbid with AS. If you have a student who exhibits undue anxiety in communications with you, and who has been identified as a student with special needs, efforts to help resolve the anxiety and find a resolution to the problem confronting the student may be valuable.
  7. If you are given information about accommodations needed, you might be especially attentive and take the initiative in asking students who seem to be having problems like those mentioned above about how you might help. This will often give them the confidence they need and the support they need to ask for help and thus be more successful.
Bottom line: Every student has unique needs. Meet each student where he or she is, with whatever challenges that present themselves, and don't assume that what you might consider "bad behavior" is intended to personally harass you, the instructor.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Quotes and Accents

For those who use Macs, here is a handy site that shows you how to type special characters, quotes and accents simply using the option, alt and shift buttons on your keyboard.

From Webdesigner Depot Newsletter -

A graphic Representation of the Passage of Time

"If you're fascinated by the passage of time and how different units of measure time relate to one another, then Here is Today is a great way to visualize just that. It starts out showing you today, before moving into the week, month, year, century, millennium, and more. It's beautifully designed and fully animated, and lets you easily move backward and forward through time."
From Webdesigner Depot Newsletter -

This is a great visual example of an animated infographic. Just simply click "okay" or "-back" to go through the passage of time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cool Tools for Your Online/Blended Learning Course

For both face to face and online lectures, variety is important. In part, this is what chunking is about - breaking up the text with paragraphs, headings and even graphics. Nevertheless, you can take it a step further by presenting your material differently altogether. This may include using video, interactive scenarios, PowerPoint, or a combination of all three.

However, you can use some neat online tools for the alternative info-dump lecture. Best of all they are free! Here are a few of my favorite:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Three Steps to Better Content

Good content for training is always important, but sometimes hard to find.  And yet, we often try to dress up the content using nice graphics, flash or some animation.  But regardless of how nice the content looks, if the content itself is bad, your end product will be bad.

Case in point.  The IRS spent $60,000 on a video  for their leadership training conference in 2010.  The video was made public last week and many are upset for two primary reasons.  First, this video was made with $60,000 of tax payer dollars and secondly, doesn't teach anything.  Take a look.


Good content for training (either online or face to face) needs to be well organized.  What could have been done to make this video better?  What makes good content?

Three Steps to Better Content

Making content easy to understand isn't always easy.  Here are three steps that anyone can apply to their course content to make it better. 

Step 1: Ask yourself what you want them to do.

The bottom line is that you want your learners to do something.  What is it?  How will you know when they have done it correctly?  In other words, have some measurable objectives.  Sometimes this is easier said than done.  Avoid the pitfall of "I want my students to understand (fill in the blank here)".  This is sometimes difficult but not impossible to overcome. 

Once you have a measurable objective, keep in mind your audience.  Ask yourself if the objectives are attainable for your students.  If they are not, then you can revise your objectives, or plan out some activities that will help get your students up to speed.  This should be the start of your presentation content.

Step 2: Ask yourself what you want them to "know" in order to "do".

When you have your measurable objective(what you want them to do), ask yourself: "what do my students need to know in order to accomplish the objective?" One way to do this is to list your objectives, and then list knowledge acquisition activities that relate to those objectives. Knowledge acquisition activities usually consist of the following:
  1. textbook reading
  2. your lecture

  Most instructors and trainers believe that they can easily map the course readings and lectures to the objectives.   That may be true, but the key is to do it ahead of time, and plan it out. Writing down your objectives and mapping the your content to it is vital. Those who don't do this end up with something like the Star Trek video as seen above.


Step 3: Chunk Your Presentation into Palatable Pieces.

In a previous post, my colleague Lydia Mong wrote about creating memorable content.  I consider Lydia a master when it comes to online message design. One thing I have learned from her is about the process of "chunking".

Chunking refers to breaking down your message into bite size pieces that enable the user to "digest" what you are giving them without information overload.   This is important because our working memory can only hold so much information.

Using pull quotes and headings also are great for letting your students scan the content.  Scanning is an important activity that can and should be promoted by chunking.

Overall, there are a variety of ways to present your content. What is important is that your content isn't like the Star Trek spoof above.  That doesn't mean that a video is off limits.  Videos can be very helpful if they are done right. If you create a video make sure it has direction and purpose. Hopefully the steps above will help.