New toys for my mind

[this article is unedited but released for its links and their usefulness to learners]

This has been an amazing week for discovering new things for my PLE (personal learning environment), and a new stage of developing my PLN (personal learning network) by joining the etmooc which started up this week thanks to Alex Couros who began the idea for its creation. I am a late starter for the global event, an open online course with 1647 people registered! More on this event later, but it is a a great opportunity to connect with other educational technology leaders all offering insight into new forms of teaching and learning.

I also got very involved in the topic of design thinking as well as content curation and discovered some new resources and a lot of new tools to explore. Re-designing the IMD Fundamentals course has been challenging and exciting, as there are so many new tools and resources to work with.

Design thinking brought me back to an early influence in my studies when I learned about Empathic Instructional Design in an article by Maish Nichani, published back in 2002. I was struggling with instructional design theories such as the traditional ADDIE concept [Analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate]. Basically this style of designing learning is formulamatic and based on ancient times before the digital explosion. Elliott Masie in reference to early, boring e-learning, commented that “Whenever there is a new technology, early usage is often modeled after something that is familiar. ‘Right now, [2001] we see many of the classroom or textbook metaphors shining through.” The point of this is that ADDIE represents detached design, whereas Empathic design is user-centered, where each problem could have and usually does have, unique solutions. So, “in order to innovate, we have to learn to empathize with our learners [or users] and then base our designs on resultant observations and reflections. This trait is essential for all designers.”

This was my wonderful introduction to what we now refer to as Design Thinking, and perhaps a related form – Service Design, which is becoming significant in the world of web Design, graphic design, architectural design, and other design disciplines. For more about design thinking go to ideo.com, fastcodesign.com, and numerous other resources. One special resource is Service Design Magazine, edited by Jari Koskinen, and published by Lahti University of Applied Sciences Series C in Estonia. The publication is the work of cooperating universities in Finland and Estonia and present original thinking and unique perspectives about Service Design and Design Thinking. It is beautiful chaos and I loved the bluesy/browns. Reading it is more important, but very impactful.

A series of articles in websites I discovered about social media in business, SocialMedia.biz, socialbrite.com, as well as Mashable.com which I have followed for years, leads to a number of new tools related to content creation and content curation. The following articles are very informative and an overwhelming group of tools are discussed:

Authors or curators: Who will be the more valuable in the future“, Mashable.com

7 Smart Techniques for content curation“, at Socialbrite.org

Take charge of the curation wave with these slick tools“, by socialmedia.biz

These articles lead you to a mecca of possibilities for your PLE!

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Unique Ways to Learn…

Dan  Cederholm has been one of my favorite web designers to follow for a long time. There is something about the simplicity of his words – not simple words, but clear and concise when he describes a coding process, that I found in the first book of his that I read and used for my classes (Web Standards Solutions).

Reading his Simplebits website this morning, I read about his recent WordPress theme Pears. I have read the brief article before, but this time I went to the link for Pears [pear.rs] and discovered an amazing idea – to create a website to “collect, test, and experiment with interface pattern pairings of CSS and HTML”. The design is mainly for the user to create a collection of their own such patterns with the unique features of the theme’s structure. The left column is where you define a pattern you want to build and collect. When you select the pattern, the top half of the page becomes the pattern – a coded demonstration. The bottom half is a split window with the code used to create the pattern with the HTML on one side and the CSS on the other. What a great tool for learning and for storing snippets of code!

I highly recommend visiting pear.rs if you are just learning to code html and css, and to try the theme when you have your own hosting service as a tool for developing your own “patterns”. It is a great tool to add to my personal learning environment too!

Somehow, while on Simplebits my iPad jumped to Instagram.com/simplebits. Dan has collected a series of images to share – which probably are places and people where he lives. I have not bothered with Instagram before now, but I realized I have many images of my community that would be fun to share in this type of “biographical story”. Another project, but it looks like a fun way to share the community I am so attracted to and involved with.

Designing for the ebb & flow…

The Web is finally actualizing into its own thing. The transition from print design and human tendency to “hang on to the old” is about gone. We are entering another new phase of web design. We are now at the threshold perhaps, of really inventing what will be the web of the future. John Allsopp wrote about “A Dao of Web Design” in A List Apart back in 2000. In that article he referenced a number of excerpts from the Tao Te Ching. One of those related to the designer’s need to control web pages, whereas The Sage “…accepts the ebb and flow of things, Nurtures them, but does not own them,” Tao Te Ching; 2 Abstraction.

We are in that state with the new tools and technologies arriving daily, and it is our responsibility to nurture them, but not own them. As web designers we are faced with a multitude of devices we are designing for – including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, game consoles, and soon most likely, the display in my Honda! There are more people connected using mobile phones today than those using desktops/laptops. This could be a really big hassle for web design, but instead we have arrived at a time when the tools and the technologies are available to solve these problems and allow a more holistic approach to design. Responsive Web Design guru, Ethan Marcotte, suggests in a recent interview in .NET, that “we can finally design for the “ebb and flow of things,” referencing the Allsopp article stated above.

Responsive Web Design represents a transition from fixed styles to flexible design that includes fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries layered together to create a responsive design. Responsive in the sense that we can design sites that are responsive to the devices out there rather than remaining stuck in a single device mentality. Obviously we need more design focused on Mobile computing, as well as the rapidly growing tablet products. Responsive web design allows us to address all of these devices in one website.

So we will evolve our teaching with Responsive Web Design, learning the various techniques available, and the rapidly growing bank of frameworks and new technologies that address the issues we face. But one site for all devices is not a simpler solution in that we are designing for different users – a user may be on his/her laptop in the morning, using their tablet during the lunch hour, and then their mobile as they head to a meeting. Same user, different devices, and different needs! It will require thinking skills, paying attention to how these different devices involve different needs. It is challenging but exciting. Web design is becoming more important in the global landscape, and from where I view it all, it’s getting to be much more fun and meaningful!

There will be more about Responsive Web Design in the near future. In the mean time, here are some of the articles, books, websites, frameworks, etc. that I have been reading, and pondering. Please share the resources you find that inform you about this important era and responsive design.

Ethan Marcotte’s article on A List Apart: http://alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design (started the conversation)

His book published by A Book Apart: http://www.abookapart.com/products/responsive-web-design

Dan Cederholm’s new book: Bulletproof Web Design, third edition; http://simplebits.com

Examples of Responsive Web Design:

http://paravelinc.com

http://trentwalton.com/2011/05/10/fit-to-scale

http://thedolectures.co.uk

http://atxwebshow.com

http://netmagazine.com/features/ethan-marcottes-20-favorite-responsive-sites (these are pretty special)

http://mediaqueri.es/ – Media Queries

http://www.netmagazine.com/features/21-top-tools-responsive-web-design

And one of the interesting new frameworks related to Responsive Design: http://lessframework.com/

Articles about Web Design

I have just posted a link to a Word document that contains direct links to a group of articles available from the Peachpit.com/articles website. These articles are by authors of recent books related to web design or they are actual chapters from books. I listed these to suggest that this is a way of keeping up with the latest resources as well as get in touch with authors you may not have read before. There is a wealth of material about progressive enhancement, html5, css3, designing with grids, and other interesting design issues. To get to the list go to my ftp site and the resources at the bottom of the page, Articles & Books. Look for the “alistofarticles.doc” link to download the linked titles. I will add a list of relevant books in a short time. If you go to the peachpit site, articles section, and select the “web design & development” topic from the left side menu,  you’ll find many more articles on other topics of interest for your reading.

How I manage information

I manage digital information differently according to what I am doing and the context of the process. I generally browse from my Netvibes RSS listings, or from more detailed subscriptions from NetNewsWire which is a high-end Mac content aggregator that automatically synchronizes with Google Reader. (I like the security of having my desktop aggregator duplicated with a cloud based system). NetVibes contains the frequently accessed subscribed sites, while NetNewsWire is a more extensive collection of subscriptions.

I typically browse RSS feeds beginning in Netvibes. I quickly tag anything I want to capture with a bookmarklet icon that takes me directly to delicious.com. In Delicious tag with a generic tag (css), a more specific tag (css3_tutorial), and sometimes added specificity (css3_queries_tutorial). When I am short on time I create a “READ” tag, which takes me back to articles I want to read in the very near future.

I also carry a Moleskine pocket notebook to Collect other types of information. It goes everywhere I go, and collects anything I want to collect. I also have a Moleskine for books/authors/publisher data in which I keep a lengthy list of new books that I think are important.

If I am going to post several articles, I use Marsedit, a Mac app that is a great outside editor which can add images, links, etc. and then automatically post to whatever blog I wanted to post to. I have multiple blogs so this is a handy and quick tool for getting a lot of posting done. It is also easy to create drafts, then go back and add to them and edit.

I am not a friendly FaceBook user, but do check it occasionally and get more links reminding me to than I choose to pay attention to. I also use Linkedin, with about the same amount of enthusiasm! I prefer searching subscribed resources and constantly updating my storage of articles and files that I can then find instantly.

More to come. Your process and any interesting tools you use to learn with, would be welcome comments.

Managing information

George Siemens stated that “The most critical skill that individuals need to master today is how to manage information.” Skills such as critical thinking, detecting information that is not accurate, creating personal learning networks, and similar 21st century skills are all based on how we manage information. This is the focus of our Fundamentals Of IMD course, that involves experiencing social networking tools that can become an extension of how we learn in a digital world. Hopefully, you continue to build your personal learning environment that began in Fundamentals.

It is important to learn the topics of our domains of study such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PhP, Flash, image manipulation, and planning processes. But these languages and tools are constantly changing as are the types of problems potential clients will ask us to solve.

We will only be as successful as the way we manage the overwhelming maze of information that is available to us. We are only as “smart” as the way we choose to manage the information that is the basis of our domains.

How do you manage information? What tools and processes have you developed and customized to support your design creativity? What networks or communities have your found that support your domain of learning?

If you only do your assignments, you may not develop the real skills necessary to become a successful designer. If you only create what teachers ask you to create in classes, you may never find out how to solve real problems that will confront you when you graduate.

I will add another article here about how I manage information, and I encourage you to share your methods and practices as a comment to this blog, or in discussions with your peers and instructors.

Is the web design market changing?

Have you ever considered that new technologies may in fact be shrinking our market for “web design”? And what of the rise of frameworks and libraries and a growing use of content management systems such as WordPress by professional developers? Robert Capps “The Good enuf rvlutn” in Wired’s September ’09 issue is a must read that may find us discussing these types of issues on the forefront of the information and communication technologies challenge.

I have personally felt for some time now that we needed to bring mobile design into our program, and as I researched it I found a rich and exciting new type of opportunity. While mobile applications – the sophisticated games and location aware apps and all the unique tools that you can’t live without get all the attention, there is also a world of integration between standard web sites and mobile websites. There is much that can be developed with XHTML/CSS/Javascript given the outstanding tools that Apple provides for the iPhone development process. These development tools are now available to our students through our Developer status with Apple. But I also realize that if we eventually are primarily designing for mobile sites rather than desktops, what will that mean for our industry? What effect will “good enough” have in the process?

The Capps article describes how “entire markets have been transformed by products that trade power or fidelity for low price, flexibility, and convenience”. Pure Digital, makers of the Flip video camera, made the discovery that good enough tech that is cheap, fast, and simple works every time. (The Flip just got challenged with Apple’s new Nano, as another example). And everyone knows that mp3 recordings are poor quality compared to CD’s, but the added advantage of take it with you everywhere cheaply and conveniently has become more important than fidelity.

Clay Shirkey, quoted in the article, sums up with “there comes a point at which improving upon the thing that was important in the past is a bad move”. Other examples of this concept in the article bring the point home and causes one to stop and ponder. What is the real purpose of our projects and where is web/mobile based communication heading? Or we may see these changes and discover the new types of opportunities that we will be privileged to develop!

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