Too Many Links.

Design Shack recently revealed their list “Best and Worst: 50 U.S. State Websites”

Official state websites often have terrible design and are not user friendly.  This is true of a lot of .gov websites, I suppose.  However, there are quite a few well designed websites on the list.

Some common features of the top 10 websites:

  • large, engaging photos
  • a prominently-featured search box
  • simple, clean menus

I’m not surprised that Texas, Washington and Wisconsin were ranked among the worst.  These sites are frustrating to use and quite cluttered.

Of course, thinking about the course design of any state, county or municipality website reminds me of this clip from Portlandia, where the Mayor of Portland proclaims that Portland’s website is the best official city website out there and “Seattle’s is the worst…Too many links.”


The Oracle of Wikipedia

Found out about this neat little site, the Oracle of Wikipedia, via Mental Floss.Oracle of Wikipedia

It’s a sort of game where you see the linked connections between 2 seemingly random Wikipedia entries.  This draws on the rich interconnected body of links among Wikipedia entries.

Here’s my example, connecting Cuidad Juarez with anthroponosis via just 5 clicks!

Reminds me of wikiracing, which I posted about earlier.  This website refers to it as Wikipedia Golf. 

P.S. The story of how Tom Nysetvold created this site is pretty interesting too, for those who are interested in Python.

Designing User-Centered Buttons

launch buttonUXmatters has a useful article, 7 Best Practices for Buttons, which offers some simple tips for creating buttons.  Admittedly, many of these seem like common sense, but it’s surprising how many poorly designed buttons are out there!

Here are a few of the best practices:

  • put buttons where users can find them.
  • make the most important button look like it’s the most important one.
  • label buttons with what they do.
Like many articles from UXmatters, the author provides plenty of visual examples to illustrate her points.

As a librarian, I work to create user-centered spaces, whether that is in the physical library  or on the library website.  Unfortunately, library websites can be notorious offenders of best practices for user experience design.

While I don’t have many opportunities to create and customize buttons in my current job, I do design forms and menus and have some input in how they are developed by my college’s web team.  I’m glad that I’m already doing some of these best practices, but I hope to incorporate more of them in my button design in the future.

Photo cred: stevendepolo via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

New to Me: technosociology

Two of my colleagues in the Business & Social Science division turned me on to this blog, by Zeynep Tufekci, a professor with the Information School and Sociology department at UNC Chapel Hill.

Wonderful, thoughtful posts exploring the intersections of technology and sociology.  I’m teaching a library session for an English composition course focused on technology and society, and I’m hoping to use some of these posts as an example of what a substantive, academic web source looks like.

Found this one fascinating: Is the Social Web Less Surprising? The Internet of People and Social Flâneurism.  The students are reading Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble, so it seems like a nice fit.

Useful Guide to Web 2.0 Tools

An eLearning leader at a nearby community college shared a page on this wonderful site, the Learning 2.0 Module Archive.

This quick, handy reference gives straightforward information, tips, and activities for getting started with different Web 2.0 tools.  The site seems to be aimed at public libraries or librarians-to-be, which is not surprising considering it was created by a Transformative Technologies class at San Jose State University’s School of Library & Information Science.

Although this site doesn’t quite approach the tools from an educational technology perspective, I’ll probably be using this as a starting point for future technology training and faculty development events.  I especially like the suggested exercises for each tool.  Here’s an example page covering one of my desert island tech tools, Screencast-O-Matic:

Best of all, the site is licensed under a Creative Commons license 🙂

I hope this site lives on in some form after the class ends.  During my MSIS program I put a lot of hours and effort into class blogs and wikis that languished after the semester ended.  This site is too good to suffer a similar fate!

American Community Survey on the chopping block

Earlier this week the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut funding for the American Community Survey, as reported in Bloomberg Businessweek.  Cutting the ACS has far-reaching negative implications for urban planners, the public service sector, and businesses.  Cutting off a yearly flow of detailed statistics for neighborhoods and ZIP codes makes it hard to effectively plan future development.  This is especially true in areas that are experiencing a significant shift in demographics that might not be captured between the decennial U.S Census.

Most immediately, it impacts how I work with the Business and Business Management students at my community college, who need access to local and regional demographic statistics for market research reports and business proposals.  ACS offers them “fresher” data on our local social, economic and housing conditions.

In the classroom and at the reference desk, I’ve helped teams of business students access this information and think critically about what the numbers mean or how they can use it in their projects.  Should our restaurant be a fine dining establishment or a take-out/delivery burger joint?  Does our hair salon need to be located next to a bus stop, or should we invest in a larger parking lot?  These are actual questions from previous students that ACS helped answer.

I really wish I had stumbled upon this great 3 minute video sooner, which I hope to use to introduce ACS in my upcoming business library workshops

For a much more eloquent appeal on the value of ACS, read this post from a real, live statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau, found via FlowingData.

Navigating the New Learning Ecosystem

I get sooo excited everytime I see a new ELI “7 Things You Should Know About…” posted on Educause.  This one, focused on “Navigating the New Learning Ecosystem” seems especially relevant, since my school will be transitioning to a new LMS in the near future.  I hope this transition can serve as a catalyst for faculty and administrators at my school to think about how the LMS interacts with other student tools and apps (students at my school all have student email via Google Apps for Education.  I’m jealous, since I’m still stuck with MS Outlook for work email!).  When the focus is solely on the LMS, there are a lot of opportunities for learning spaces and interactions that are excluded or not captured.

One of the examples from the factsheet is University of Mary Washington, which offers UMW Blogs to faculty and students for classes, organizations, personal learning portfolios, etc.  Last November at a local “Leading from the Classroom” workshop devoted to open learning, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Jim Groom who was instrumental in implementing UMW Blogs.  This man is brilliant and that project is truly innovative in its approach to learner engagement.  I hope my institution can think outside of the LMS box, but it might take some time to get there.

“Gesture” is the word of the day at Google

The Google Research site usually has some fascinating updates.  I like to scan the recent publications and guess where Google is headed next.

From the last few publications listed, it seems there is an intense interest in gesture technology and capabilities.

Here are some of their most recent publications, taken from their website:

  • “Gesture Coder: A Tool for Programming Multi-Touch Gestures by Demonstration”, Hao Lü, Yang LiCHI 2012: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
    [pdf] [search]
  • “Bootstrapping Personal Gesture Shortcuts with the Wisdom of the Crowd and Handwriting Recognition”, Tom Ouyang, Yang LiCHI 2012: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
    [pdf] [search]
  • “Tap, Swipe, or Move: Attentional Demands for Distracted Smartphone Input”, Matei Negulescu, Jaime Ruiz,Yang Li, Edward Lank, AVI 2012: International Working Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces.
    [pdf] [search]
  • “Understanding information preview in mobile email processing”, Kimberly A. Weaver, Huahai Yang, Shumin ZhaiMobile HCI, 2011, pp. 303-312.
    [abstract] [] [pdf] [search]
  • “A Comparative Evaluation of Finger and Pen Stroke Gestures”, Huawei Tu, Xiangshi Ren, Shumin ZhaiACM CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (to appear).
    [abstract] [pdf] [search]

Looks lke that Gmail Motion Beta April Fools Day joke from 2011 has quite a bit of truth to it.

asking (and answering) the “why?” reference question

Yesterday at the reference desk I had a great deal of students coming with great research questions, which was really exciting this early in the quarter.  The first wave of big assignment due dates is approaching.

2 student questions in particular gave me pause:  1 who needed to find clinical research articles on drug treatments for hypertension and 1 who needed a variety of sources on controversial topics in PK-5 education.   It wasn’t the “where?” or “how?” questions that made me think.  It was the “why?” question — particularly “why is my professor making me do this?”

The first student had actually gotten started and found some related articles in Academic Search Complete, but they weren’t long enough for the prof, who required the articles to be 6+ pages.  “Why can I only use articles that are at least 6 pages?”

Why?  The prof probably wanted them to be 6+ pages because she wanted articles reporting clinical research in scholarly journals, not just short review or summary articles from magazines.  Once I suggested this she seemed more willing to search again.

The second student needed opinion articles from web, newspaper and journal sources on controversial topics in early education.  In the assignment she would review each source then give her opinion on the topic or “debate” the article author.  Her “why” question:  “Why does my prof want me to write my opinion?”

Knowing she was in a pro-tech (Early Childhood Education) program and that she was there as part of a Worker Retraining initiative I gave her a scenario to consider:

Imagine that you are in a job interview at a preschool and they ask for your professional opinion about inclusive education [her topic].  What would you say?  How will you show them that you’ve thought about it and are intelligently expressing your opinion?

Once she saw that the paper was an exercise to help her research, form and articulate her opinion, she changed her topic to something that she cared more about.

One of my favorite parts about being a community college librarian is reviewing assignments with students and showing them how to understand what’s expected of them from an assignment.  This means answering the “why?” question.

Maybe the professor explained why, maybe s/he didn’t.  Maybe it got lost in translation, or the explanation was divorced from the requirements.  Many students here are very literal — they zero in on the particular requirements of an assignment, sometimes at the hazard of missing the big picture.  Who can blame them?  They pull out the quantifiable parts of the assignment and check those off first before asking how this assignment might help them in the long run.

It’s always nice, though, to have a prof tell you why he is assigning this project, and what you’ll get out of it — the outcomes.  When I see that’s not happening smoothly with my colleagues, I reflect on my own instruction.  Often I’ll ask students to collaboratively brainstorm keywords for their topics, and after they’ve generated some terms I show how they help searching in databases.  But more often I should make it clear up front why they need to come up with different keywords and how this will help them move forward with their searches.

“Why?” needs to come before “How?”