Week 2 Reflections 6/7/10

The school year has finally ended and, despite a slight setback in week one, I have caught up. Through our first two assignments, we have created a web policy as well as a project charter in planning the launch of a new website. My charter (and included policy) can be found here . I was unable to embed a table showing my critical tasks and schedule into this document, due to the limitations of Google Docs, but have made it available separately here . So far, this course has taught me a lot about what it takes to launch a website, whether for the first time or as a redesign. It takes a lot of planning and a lot of consideration. For example, you can't just rush in and start coding. How will you know if your audience will even be able to read the code you're using? If you jump in and start utilizing state-of-the-art technologies in your webpage, there is a good likelihood that there will be a number of users that will be unable to utilize your page. Additionally, you need to consider all the different types of people that will be using your page and be sensitive to each of them. If you create a site with harsh color combinations (such as red on black or vice versa) there will be a population that will be completely unable to read your page. If you fail to add in other accessibility features, you will find more and more people alienated rather than attracted to your page. In the book "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard," authors Dan and Chip Heath point out that part of success includes scripting the critical moves (2010). This is very true for planning the launch of a webpage as well. You must have critical tasks identified as well as know exactly who is doing what. If you plan ahead and know which people are working on which projects, you will find that everything will run significantly more smoothly. Additionally, you will need to develop contingency plans for just about every scenario that you can think of. What happens if you go over budget? What happens if you hit a wall in your coding and a key deliverable is no longer available? What happens if a developer (or the stakeholder) needs to make a critical change in the site? What process will you use to make that change? How will you track those changes? How will you know where you are in the overall scope of the project? What tasks will be specifically included in your project and what tasks will specifically be beyond the scope of your project? There are many things to think about and the readings and assignments for this course are helping us to realize just how arduous it is to launch a website, even if it is only a redesign!


Week 3 Reflections 6/13/10
I most certainly do not have a background in programming. The extent of my programming knowledge is the 8th grade course I took where I learned basic HTML code structure. Therefore, the extent of my knowledge of programming is that it exists. This course overall was something I was very interested in at the outset. Now that we are half-way through with it, I realize that the readings aren't very valuable since I have no idea what it means. When part of your reading reads as a "do this, not that," and it gives you sample code structure, I smile, nod, and scroll down (Kaiser, 2006). Obviously, I understand the need to have professionals that understand this code and can work fluently with it, the problem lies in the fact that programming languages are changing and developing so fast, unless programming is all that you do for a living, you will be best served by simply understanding that it exists and there are people you can hire who spend 60 hours per week with nothing but code.
As such, the second half of this question is really hard to understand. How long would it take me to learn? Considering the two extenuating circumstances 1) code is constantly changing, evolving, reinventing, etc and 2) Moore's law, it is fairly difficult for me to answer the question. I suppose I could give the pat answer of, "well I'm sure if I spent a year studying, I could learn it" but in reality, one year from now, whatever I will have learned will be so grossly out of date, I would have been better off not learning it at all. For you skeptics, let me give you an example. My dad was a computer programmer several years back. He primarily worked with Visual Basic and C++. About the same time that he was leaving programming and going into front-end software development (much less coding required), Java was the new up-and-coming language. Now he's a project manager who oversees developers who wouldn't dream of using such archaic languages. For several years, people pointed to Flash as a standard that would be extremely useful in website programming. For anyone keeping up with tech news lately, you know that Flash is on the verge of extinction (or at least embroiled in a heated debate as to its utility). HTML5 is rolling out and with it are many new developments. Just this week, a new mobile operating system was announced and it's no secret that Cocoa and Cocoa Touch have been driving forces behind the success of mobile applications (think: iPhone). So, frankly, if I wanted to be a website developer and actually do the coding, I would need to be continually studying and learning and perhaps after a year, I would be able to create something that would look like a modern-day Geocities. With the development of different suites and CMS's, the need to actually know the code is rapidly diminishing. Even FrontPage 2003 (which doesn't even understand CSS although it is what our district requires us to use for our teacher webpages) utilized WYSIWYG and as technology and programming improve, so will user-friendly suites like Squarespace.com (Kaiser, 2006).
To summarize: I basically don't know anything about programming/coding and even if I wanted to, it would require the effort equal to or greater than a full-time job for well over a year or two before any semblance of a "modern" page would be produced. Ultimately, rather than being a "nuts-and-bolts guy," and actually creating the code structure, I will seek to be the person who recruits, hires, manages, directs, and works with the "nuts-and-bolts person." The idea that every technology leader needs to be well-versed in code/programming? Pish-posh.
http://www.tylerisd.org/schools/moore/teachers/garner/site%20inventory.htm
http://newschoolspaces.net/node/576

TO: Monty Burger, Chief Technology Officer, NewSchoolSpaces.net


FROM: Greg Garner, Technology Applications Teacher, Tyler ISD


DATE: June 13, 2010


SUBJECT: ADDITION OF FEATURES



I am writing you in regards to a proposal to add certain features including but not limited to:
  • Collaborative editing tools
  • Uploading HTML, image, and video files without the explicit use of FTP
  • Posting to a blog
  • Uploading audio files (including podcasts)
  • Establishing RSS feeds directly from my school's website
For use of these features, I am requesting Drupal-based services that will allow my team members to fully reap the benefits of a great open source CMS platform. Our team strongly believes in open source not just in that it is a customizable resource that can be tailored to our specific needs, but also in our efforts to continue promoting open source in hopes of expanding its overall reach.


In regards to collaborative editing tools, we are wanting a solution that is going to be a better and more robust user experience than services such as typewith.me and more secure than services such as Google Docs, particularly because we are operating in a school environment that must comply with CIPA and COPPA regulations. The ability to post to a blog and establishing an RSS feed directly from the site is a basic tenet of Web 2.0 and something our students need to be extremely familiar with, not only from a content consumption aspect, but increasingly a content creation one. As our students create more and more, they will begin exploring new technologies and new ways to produce content. Blogs are a gateway to this. Blogging will then lead to the use and manipulation of image, video, and audio files. For this reason, we request the ability to upload these types of files without requiring the explicit knowledge of or need to learn FTP. Advanced students may be able to understand such complicated methods, but younger children need to be able to create and publish their work without needing to have an adult walk them step-by-step through the involved process of using FTP. With this feature set in place, student will then have the ability to record, edit, and publish podcasts or other audio recordings. With the combination of all of these file types and the ability to upload them very easily, the implementation of creating an RSS feed directly from the site becomes a valuable tool in updating parents and community stakeholders, as well as students. Additionally, it allows students to begin understanding the concepts of aggregation and could lead to a great discussion (in advanced classes) about embedding and creating portals.


I look forward to your prompt reply. In addition to these services, please provide a detailed Service Level Agreement that our team can review and discuss as we are on a very tight timeframe as well. If possible, we would like these services to be available in their entirety by the end of calendar year 2010.


Greg Garner
Technology Applications
gsgarner@my.lamar.edu
lamar_student@me.com



Week 4 6/20/10

Blogging is currently not used (officially) in our school for any reason. Our district does not allow Web 2.0 technologies (according to the technology department). Essentially, the reason I believe it is not utilized is because our director of technology does not have an education background and does not know what blogging or Web 2.0 even is, they only hear about it through various filters, usually in regards to security breaches. Additionally, I would guess they think it's a passing fad rather than a fundamental shift in thinking. For example, our librarian had a website where she would post reviews of different books, video book trailers, and discussion questions for kids to think about before deciding on a book. It was, at its very essence, a blog. However, she made the mistake of calling it that while speaking with our director of technology and he summarily blocked it. She then told him that she had redone her website and removed the blog feature (in actuality she did not) saying instead she just had book reviews and material for the children to learn from and her site has not only been unblocked, but used as an example for how other libraries in our district could engage the children. Ironically, our director of technology has supported her website (a blog) while adamantly refusing to acknowledge that there is educational value in blogging. Interestingly enough, our principal requires all teachers to send a weekly email to parents to let them know what is taking place in our classroom, any projects coming up, etc. This is, again, a blog. The main difference, of course, is that it's via email rather than a web page. When I asked if I could post it as a web page as a blog that parents would subscribe to via email (as in, they would get the posts in their inbox just like everyone else with the added feature of it being available online) I was reminded that this would not be allowed because our district does not support blogging. Incidentally, I found out later they do not support or allow the use of RSS either, so I would have been out on two counts.
http://newschoolspaces.net/tracker/364 (directory of postings)
http://newschoolspaces.net/node/1923 (image and podcast found here)
http://newschoolspaces.net/node/1915 (blog posting)
http://newschoolspaces.net/node/576 (Memo to CTO)
http://newschoolspaces.net/node/1946/ (CMS procedures)


Week 5 6/27/10


Google's site search and analytics tools can be extremely valuable. Having a site-specific search feature would enable the user to query the entire site and only receive relevant results. For example, let's say a parent wants to know what our TAKS results were for 2009. With a site-specific search, they could simply type into the search box "TAKS 2009" or "TAKS 2009 results" or even "AEIS" (among other search terms) and find what they were looking for. This would be incredible useful for those pieces of information that aren't readily accessible from the front page and are instead buried a couple of pages in. My students would appreciate this when I'm having them search for teacher emails (a 5-click process IF you know where to click...) but by just typing in the teacher's name, you could quickly find their email and home page. Analytics would be a great tool to find out how many and how often visitors are showing up. Paired with the site-specific search, you can even track what they are searching for which could be extremely useful if you are wanting to redesign your site. This would help you create the most user-friendly experience. If one particular link/resource on your homepage is getting 1-2 clicks per month but users were searching for "teacher web page" 200 times per month, it might be a good idea to move a link to teacher web pages into a place that's a little more prominent, perhaps replacing the low-volume resource. Another thing you could begin tracking is mobile usage. Do you have many mobile users? As we see more and more people (including students) accessing pages on their mobile devices, we need to become increasingly attuned to the limitations of various mobile devices, perhaps even launching a mobile version of the website. These two tools can completely transform the way you understand (and thus design) your web site.

References:

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: how to change things when change is hard. New York, NY: Crown Publishing

Kaiser, S. (2006). Deliver first class websites: 101 essential checklists (PDF download), doi: 0-9758419-0-4