Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Target Web Accessibility Case in National Law Review

The case against Target Corporation alledging the company's website is inaccessible to the blind has received press coverage in a National Law Review's September 28th article.

At this stage, the federal judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, has ruled that the case cannot be dismissed on the basis that the site is not a physical location of public accomodation. In the judge's ruling, she stated, "to limit the ADA to discrimination in the provision of services occurring on the premises of a public accommodation would contradict the plain language of that statute."

The National Federation for the Blind (NFB) estimates that it would cast Target $20,000 - $40,000 to update the online site Target.Com to meet accessibility standards to work with screen-reader software. If instead those design components had been included in the original design, the NFB considers the cost to be "negligible."

Further information on this story can be found at the link:

Monday, October 30, 2006

Template for Online Modules

The following is a template that can be used for online learning modules.

The start of the template is an adaptation to the audience and an introduction to the materials. In this section the instructor has the opportunity to inspire students, including providing a frame of reference for how the content fits into the course and into the broader context of the degree program. Faculty also have the opportunity to state why the topic is personally important, such as,

"while providing my consulting services, I find the most important part of the exchange is the clear documentation of the scope and expectations of both parties in the contract. Learning from having been 'burned', my contracts are now several pages long to help clarify expectations and provide a clear process to help ensure that the consultation can be successful. This module introduces basic contract law, so that when you are creating your own contracts with vendors or customers, you will better understand the sections that should be included in the contracts as well as the extent of liabilities you could face if performance is lacking."

Next, students should be provided with a clear and comprehensive checklist of the specific activities they are responsible to complete during this module. This helps students focus there attention and studies as well as alleviates the concern about "unwelcome surprises."

Next, students should be given specific learning objectives / goals and the measures that will be used to determine the accomplishment of those objectives / goals. Learning objectives should be very specific and measureable, and assessments need to be designed as a means of measuring progress toward the learning objectives.

Instructors must guide the learning. If the course textbooks are well produced, the instructor content is facilitation toward the best use of the materials. If the content in the textbook is poor, then faculty need to develop new content that clearly presents the topics to students in the online format.

After the content is delivered, students with further interests should be referred to other sources of information for follow-up. These might be websites, professional organizations/societies, journals & databases, authors and books in the field, and conferences / exhibits / conventions related to the topics in the module.

Title - Module Name

Introduction to Module (adaptation to the audience)

  • As the instructor, I feel this content is important because ....
  • The reasons you should be interested in this content are ....
  • This content will allow you to ....
  • Skills you will learn include ...
  • Of particular interest ...

Checklist To Complete the Module

  • Required Readings:
  • Supplementary Readings:
  • Required Research:
  • Quizzes:
  • Homework:
  • Discussions:
  • Other Participation Activities:

Learning Objectives and Assessments

By the completion of this module, the student should be able to do the following:

  • Properly identify the terms ..., concepts of ..., and theories of ... presented in the chapter. You will demonstrate meeting this objective by successfully completing the online quiz found under the QUIZZES tool.
  • Apply the key concepts of ... and processes of ... detailed in the chapter to new work problems. You will demonstrate meeting this objective by properly identifying the issues, the boundaries, and the alternatives within the case study and then defend your recommended course of action.
  • Demonstrate the proper process and choice of tools ... and formulas ... . You will demonstrate your competency in this objective by completed the assigned homework problems on ... and providing discussion responses on ... in a clear and organized format including citing processes and resources as appropriate.

Special instructions on completing these assignments will be listed in this document at ....

Additional Instructor-Provided Content

The content you are giving students would appear here.

Resources and Further Exploration

Campus Links

External Links

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What we lose in salary...


should be kept clean and should be replaced every three years with something new.

Corner of laptop computer keyboard

As educators, what we lose in salary, we make up in educational discounts on software! (grin)

If you need to toss some outdated software, you can receive an educational discount on many popular software packages.

Here are a few sources that offer academic-discounts. I have no financial ties to any of these companies - I simply "like them" as good sources of information and products.

http://www.campustech.com/ - CampusTech currently has the best site that I've found. They have prices slightly lower than other vendors, and they have finally updated their website design to offer much more detailed product descriptions and hardware requirements.

http://www.academicsuperstore.com/ - Academic Superstore used to be my favorite site, and it is now #2 only because prices seem to be a few dollars higher than my #1 pick. This site has a long history of making fabulous efforts to provide full product descriptions and hardware requirements. The site also sells some specific hardware items too (such as digitizing tablets - for photographers and graphic artists to use a pen/stylus rather than mouse). I've personally shopped this site many times, and I have always been pleased with the transactions and speed of delivery.

http://www.studentdiscounts.com/ - This site has a very useful home page, providing current pricing for the most popular software packages used by faculty and students.

If you consult or use software in your business (in addition to teaching), make sure to carefully read the license agreements, as many times commercial use is prohibited under academically priced products (Adobe is GREAT! Currently, they allow commercial use along with academic use on their products.) Visit the software publisher sites directly for more information on any limitations of the academic licenses if this applies to you.

News and Views Podcasts

One of the best methods for incorporating media into an online course is to add audio content; audio is compact - so that users even with dial-up internet service can gain access to the media materials.

If you are interested in creating your own audio content, it is inexpensive and fairly easy to do (view some of my materials on MERLOT at
http://www.merlot.org/merlot/viewMember.htm?id=18564 ).

Although you can create your own audio content, you might also consider linking to the "News and Views" content available through National Public Radio
(http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_directory.php ) or your local public radio affiliates, such as Minnesota Public Radio (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/podcasts/ ). in addition to "subscriptions" (to your iTunes or other podcast listening software), many sites provide links to specific broadcasts that you can share with your students. The secret is to check your favorite sites frequently in order to find the direct link while it is still posted (and then sharing this immediately with your students).
Future Tense with Jon Gordon is one of my favorite programs, so I listen religiously. As an example, (http://www.publicradio.org/columns/futuretense/
) is an interview with Microsoft's Kristin Johnson that talks about the security of the new Vista Windows operating system (first broadcast 10/23/2006).

If you are interested in more information about what a podcast is, you can read more at WikiPedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast ).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Conference Call for Proposals - Due 11/15/06

The MnSCU Center for Teaching and Learning is currently having a Call For Proposals to its Realizing Student Potential / ITeach conference (to be held March 1-3, 2007).
The deadline for proposal submissions is November 15th, 2006, and the focus for this year is addressing issues that concern adjunct and part-time instructors.

More information is at the site:

Referral to another blog: Desire2Blog

Barry Dahl - image linked from Lake Superior College websiteI would like to just pass out a quick referral to the blogging site of Barry Dahl, current co-chair of the MnOnline Council.

His "Desire2Blog" site addresses issues in eLearning, the Desire2Learn instructional management system, and other issues in higher education.
Barry incorporates audio podcasts in his blog using a service called ODEO.
His blog has excellent content that users of D2L should find interesting.

The site can be accessed at:


Catching the JumpDrive Flu

USB Flash Memory drives are extremely popular, essentially making 3-1/2 inch floppy disks obsolete.

Some newer devices combine MP3 players, FM radios, and voice recorders into a "one tool rules" device.

However, with the increased use of jump drives, there are even more risks that computer worms and viruses might "jump" to you.

USB Flash Memory Drive

Jump drives have much larger capacities and run much more quickly than floppy diskettes. This makes them ideal for carrying and transferring viruses among computers. Also, these characteristics (and their appearance as a new "drive" to your computer) is a likely target for viruses, which may attempt to make replicas onto your USB device.

Another worry is spyware that can capture your usernames, passwords, and other confidential information. Spyware is very easy to copy onto your computer by a "friend" interested in learning more about you or having access to your computer when you're not around.

It is also very easy for someone with a jump-drive to copy sensitive and private information from your computer quickly and easily. Be cautious about allowing others to plug their flash-drives into your computer while you are logged in under your network account. Make sure that all anti-virus software is up-to-date, and "take the driver's seat" when any files are being copied to and from your computer.

If you find a flash drive, don't give into the temptation of keeping it or trying to "peek" into its contents. The "forgotten" jump drive might be a trick to install some nasty software onto your computer.

Some corporations are now "locking down" their computers so that USB devices cannot be added to the system. It is pretty easy to "play it safe" with your computer and your data.

Here are a few quick guidelines.

  • Update daily your anti-virus software definition file, and make sure that you pay your subscription renewal BEFORE it goes out of date.
  • Every week, schedule your computer to run a full system virus scan (which might catch additional files not found in "on-the-fly" virus checking).
  • When your computer does its weekly scan, also scan your USB jump drives.
  • Only allow USB drives from trusted sources to be connected to your computer (i.e. people who also are running up-to-date anti-virus software). Discourage others from using your computer in your absence.
  • If you do get a virus warning, remove the flash drive immediately (it may still be trying to download other viruses to your system), and then run a full system virus scan.
  • For flash drives that only contain data, routinely format them to erase any old file remnants.

Writing done Right!

Cool Site

Purdue's Online Writing Lab serves as an excellent model of what an online writing lab could be.
Check it out at:

Included in the site are the topics:

  • Teaching Writing
  • The Writing Process
  • Research and Citation
  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
  • Profession, Technical, and Scientific Writing
  • Job Search Writing
  • Literary Analysis and Criticism
  • Writing in the Social Sciences
  • Creative Writing
  • General Academic Writing
  • Grammar and Mechanics
  • English as a Second Language

Excited Student
There are restrictions on the use of their materials, so please read the site's "Fair Use Policy."

Very cool site! Check it out!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reinflate the Wheel

You've heard it hundreds of times... "Don't reinvent the wheel."
Agreed! Reinflate it!

A great strategy for incorporating media into your course sites is to locate and link to existing media and learning objects already available.

I would suggest starting at Merlot.

http://www.merlot.org/ - Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) is a "search engine" for finding learning objects (which can be used at little or no cost). The site offers peer reviews and opportunities to network with colleagues.

Other very useful sites to "reinflate" are:
http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html - MIT Open Courseware
http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/ - PBS Teacher Source
http://www.learner.org/ - Annenberg Foundation (K-12 programming through Satellite and Video On Demand)

More sites for learning objects to check out:
http://ideas.wisconsin.edu/videoideas.cfm - includes library of videos

Index of Learning Object Collections

Reviewing what others are using and creating not only provides you with a ready source of content, but it also helps you design better materials from scratch.

There are some really great resources, some "okay" resources, and some that are not very well produced. Investigate and thoroughly "test" before offering anyone else's work to your students.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Here is my Studio

James' studio in Minneapolis

Earning my living for over a decade creating photographs for weddings, family portraits, public relations pieces, and commercial products has made me realize that owning a photography studio is very handy - even when my livelihood now comes from education. Here is an image of the building where my studio is located. Most people don't remember that Hennepin runs west and EAST, and therefore, they end up on the wrong end of Minneapolis when trying to get to their appointments. (grin)
My studio space allows me to create professional images and video for use in my teaching materials.

Building a Course without Major Remodeling

Planning Your Course Design

Q: If you were planning to build a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house, would you start off building a one-room cabin?

Whether you are building a house or a course site, remodeling will become a major pain, especially if the original design is inflexible and requires a large amount of maintenance. In the same manner that the pain and expense of remodeling a house causes many homeowners to abandon their plans, a course site that needs major remodeling might be left as "good enough" far longer than it should.

Starting with a Blueprint

Q: On any journey, isn't knowing where you are going important in getting there efficiently?

The design of a new course is easiest if you start with a clear plan. The foundation of this plan needs to be the learning objectives that you have for your students. These learning objectives, created at various scopes from course level through module level to specific activity level, will create the scaffolding to which all other course activities and content will attach. On any journey, knowing where you are going and the waypoints inbetween are vital in getting to your destination. Whether by car or through learning process, having a clear map makes the process less stressful.
The "course plan" is not just for the benefit of the designer of the course, but it also serves any other instructors teaching from the course materials (with permission of the creator, of course), as well as students within the course. Clear objectives will focus student efforts in their studies and clarify expectations in assignments and assessments.

Making It Modular and Granular

Q: Do you pick out the floor tile before determining what style of house you want to build?

One of the greatest benefits of the web is that documents can link to other documents. This allows you to break up your content into small, granular pieces, and it supports the learning process of "drilling down" from the "big picture" theory, through understanding of applications, to analysis and use within a specific context (case study, for instance). If you think about your design as letting students "zoom into" the details, your content will naturally become more modular and granular. When any specific document goes out of date, then just that document needs to be edited. If a new textbook presents content in a different order or introduces a few new theories to replace existing ones, your course content will be easy to "shuffle" into the position to parallel the text.

Start with an outline of the course materials. At Level 1 (top level), determine what are the major theories, concepts, and processes that students need to learn? Level 2 will list the components, sub-processes, and applications of the Level 1 ideas. Level 3 will add very specific terminology, examples, visuals, and questions that provide the details. Using an analogy of constructing a house, Level 1 is the foundation and framing (base structure and boundaries), Level 2 is the interior layouts and infrastructures (plumbing, electrical, wall boundaries, room functions), and Level 3 is the furniture and fixtures (creating real-world usability).

Just as with furniture in a home, you wouldn't nail and glue chairs and tables into the flooring, so therefore, keep the lower-level details separate and flexible within your content design. This allows you greater freedoms to change your design and layout as well as make quick substitutions.

It Takes Practice!

Learning can be fun, but it also takes effort. In the same manner that you cannot learn to play concert piano or to ride a bike by watching someone else (or reading their instructions), designing a course in a flexible, modular, and well-planned manner may cause some mental "bruises and scraped knees." However, the more practice you get, the more instinctive the process will become.

Best wishes in your designs. Coming soon... my Content Freshness model.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

8 Free Technologies

Portrait image of JamesWelcome to the new blog site!
I'm hoping to do weekly updates on how to use technology in online education; however, I will use the disclaimer that this will be published "when you least suspect it!"

The nature of this site will be to share strategies and observations for using technology in the support of online and hybrid courses. The site will discuss pedagogy, instructional design, technology management, and assessment design. It will also showcase some super-cool, or super-cheap (eh... FREE!) technologies that students and faculty can use for creating and posting content.

Eight FREE technologies

What price is better than free? Here are eight technologies that you and your students might explore.

  • www.blogger.com - this site. Create and manage your own blog.
  • www.youtube.com - Upload and view videos online. Recently purchased by GOOGLE (Oct. 06), and utilizes a very simple interface for new users.
  • www.google.com/intl/en/options/ - Google provides FREE online document and spreadsheet applications; these are great for group projects in which all users can edit the same source material (and there are saved revisions, in case a poorly made edit deletes important content).
  • www.sourceforge.net - Look for AUDACITY (multi-track audio editing to create your own music) and GIMP (PhotoShop clone). Sourceforge.net is a site featuring OPEN SOURCE software - which is software that is free and editable. Some is junk, some is great, but Audacity and Gimp are AWESOME!
  • www.skype.com - free voice over IP and voice-conferencing software. Modest expense if you wish to dial to land-lines.
  • www.openoffice.org - free business productivity suite that is a virtual clone of Microsoft Office (even allows you to read/save in Microsoft file formats).
  • www.mozilla.org - free, open source Internet browser FIREFOX allows "extensions" that greatly enhance the abilities of the browser. Extensions include programming and testing, calculators and utilities, page editing, RSS feeds, etc. Too many categories to mention here. Also check out SeaMonkey - which is a new browser, email client, and web page editor suite.
  • www.flickr.com - Allows you to upload and edit photos plus link to them from other pages (like your blog).