Category Archives: Education

HighEdWeb 2018

HighEdWeb 2018 was fantastic. I had a markedly different experience than my first HighEdWebin 2017. The lineup of discussions this year were more forward thinking and highly relevant. The conference team did a great job putting together an exciting lineup and great activities.

This year the conference was on the west coast in the beautiful city of Sacramento in California. The pace of sessions, breaks, and time outside of the conference center was well balanced. I was fortunate enough to again be selected to speak to attendees. I presented this year on protecting and promoting your brand by leveraging design systems. I am grateful for the positive response and feedback shared by attendees.

Following are my personal notes from the sessions I attended.

Putting Atom Design to work

  • Lean on your pattern library, it will get stronger the more you do.
  • An actual plug for Adobe XD from a user. Another plug for Sketch too.
  • is a newer player in the atomic design world

Give Content Contributors the AX

  • AX = the relationship your content authors have with their authoring tools
  • We take personnel problems, systems problems, and make them a training issue.
  • You can innovate by making unicorns.
  • Kurzweil – test websites with this too –
  • The AX should prevent authors from making inaccessible content or at least guide them into making it accessible.
  • Resource:

Diversity on websites

  • Information architecture as a tool of oppression
  • Put Diversity at a high level on the global nav
  • Often there is a microsite with its own URL (it needs to be found and in other high level navs, say admissions)
  • Landing page is another strategy (link to from top level)
  • Look at pages and be critical of objectification. Make sure silencing does not occur.
  • Stats page should not show male/female. Instead talk about pronouns, make sure imagery does not bucket females with skirts for example.
  • Diversity as interest convergence.
  • You have to be all about balance.
  • Research shows limited content addressing black interests of concern, no messaging around Ferguson, Charlottesville
  • The best of the research
    • University of San Francisco
    • Loyola Chicago
  • Top Tips
    • Build a diversity landing page
    • Link to the page across your sites and make it near the top level
    • Balance authentic and aspirational diversity content, acknowledge shortcomings, be careful of the word “Strive”, a bit spineless
    • Create a small number of high quality pages, then expand
    • Tell real stories and real Information
  •   Short term
    • Images, candids and profile photos with captions and names
    • unify, elevate, promote content
    • do a focus group with non-majority groups and have web team participate

A hat of many hats – becoming the web product owner

  • Product Stewardship – not just product management.
  • “Focus on continuous delivery of valuable … user experience …”
  • Sometimes the product owner is termed Business Analyst
  • The Questions
    • What problem are we solving?
    • Who are we solving it for?
    • How are we going to measure success?
  • I like the idea of a website roadmap.
  • is a new Drupal higher ed site.
  • Change our homepage meeting to web product team meeting.
  • Trying to be a project manager and a product owner means being terrible at both.

Beautifully Accessible

  • figma is a design tool for the web
  • Change thinking from user experience to human experience
  • In 2016 census 12.5% of all americans reported living with a permanent disability, 40 million people
  • Mentioned :focus-visible, a handy newer pseudo property
  • shows issues with modals



Gettin’ Griddy With It – CSS Grids

  • flex is a straight line, row or column, if it looks like a grid, then flexwrap has been enabled
  • There is a flex cross axis which determines where content is lined up
  • flex: 0 0 auto makes things stay the size they are, no growing or shrinking
  • grid-gap: #px; This is cool, it lets the grid determine the spacing between each grid box automatically
  • To position items within the grid you can use grid-column and grid-row shorthand properties.
  • grid-column and -row also support span (e.g. grid-column 2 /span 2);
  • grid-row(1/-1); will make content span the entire height of the grid.
  • grid just continues to be awesome
  • grid template areas allow you to build out named grids to plop elements into which is great for easily seeing what is going on later. It also allows very rapid prototyping.
  • minmax value is versatile way to ensure responsive grids. You can do something like repeat:(auto-fill, minmax(200px, 1fr);

We developed an online CMS training and look what happened

  • Staff don’t have to travel to train.
  • Drupal Training is then how we can tie in accessibility training too
  • Training videos, request access to sandbox, reviewed by staff, then access to live website. Takes about 1.5 hours of time.
  • Average about ~100 new users a year
  • Quality of help ticket requests are vastly improved since starting training
  • Know your primary audience
  • Break your training into small series, 5 minutes or less.
  • Make it like a conversation in the video.
  • We should use some improved equipment as well, not just built-in system stuff.
  • Another plug for
  • In the documentation to go with your video use screenshots as needed, provide the steps needed assuming the user did not watch the video
  • Could we have students build this out?
  • Beta test the videos a lot and listen to the feedback, look for patterns of things consistently missed
  • We could include a page about how to request help and what a good support request looks like
  • Maybe add an optional module on “writing for the web”

Don’t call it an intranet

  • Internal communications was not a focus at the school, hence email overuse, paper flyers, and external websites. Tons of paper is not a sustainable practice.
  • Refocus external sites for external audiences, reduce email overload to students
  • Helps build an intentional community culture
  • Evaluated packaged intranet solutions, met with campus stakeholders
  • Make the case: articulate the benefits of building on top of a system you already understand, develop a design, build a prototype
  • Plan the project: scope out needs vs. wants, do a content audit, IA development.
  • Big effort to collect all of the external content that really should have been in the intranet
  • Overcoming the perceptions of the existing intranet
  •  ** Name it something that does not include intranet
  • The login greets by their name, shows date and time, and shows the weather in their location
  • The landing page sort of personalizes for the role you have
  • Identify power users (those that send lots of emails or make lots of posters), and train them on how to use the system. Also tried to align with new internal communication strategy.
  • Measured success in increased traffic and pageviews. It has reduced email use and refocused external sites to be for prospective students.
  • Search behavior has changed on external sites, they were able to retire and consolidate legacy sites, got rid of internal use forms from external sites
  • Have created a place where institutional knowledge can reside rather than only in people
  • Search has been a pitfall, users still search for external resources inside of the intranet and the other way around. Need an elegant way to show separate resources.
  • They have 3 people doing this, definitely a product owner exists whose main goal is to increase internal communication practices and nurture the intranet
  • Continue to review the data and use it to support adoption of moving content into the intranet

How do we know how we are doing? – Analytics strategy

  • Understand your user goals and needs – set up interviews with as many stakeholders as possible.
  • Keep conversations high level, you don’t have to focus on Analytics
  • Are there key events throughout the year that they work toward every year
  • Ask students how they use the site
  • Talk to your own team
  • Content plan and strategy also drives analytics
  • Questions they wanted to answer
    • Demographics
    • Audience breakdown
    • popular content, most shared content, normal top pages, sessions, etc…
    • Downloads
    • nav patterns
    • top screen sizes and devices
    • sources

Google behavior report gives a lot of great starting data

  • Behavior flow is a good starting point to see other entry pages into your site
  • She sets up individual segments based on what pages people view – gives more personal data
  • Coordinated campaign UTM tags between alumni and marcomm so we can see what campaigns are driving content to websites
  • Hojar is used by Stanford Law as well
  • They craft custom analytics measurements based on the campaigns they choose to run
  • Match your content calendar with analytics visits to see if people click on the content when it is distributed

Can you do it in the dark? Making your social media more accessible.

  • The unemployment and underemployment for disability is something like 70%, I want to look into that
  • Twitter and FB have pretty good support. For instagram, put in alt description in the caption unless the caption clarifies it. Example: [Image Description: …]
  • Facebook supports SRT file uploads
  • Instagram/Twitter – you need to burn the captions into the video
  • Add audio description for videos and broadcasts – social media currently does not support audio description
  • Avoid jargon and technical talk where possible
  • Be clear, concise, make it stick
  • Champion accessibility through the entire content creation process
  • Social media is now embedded into the website content, we need to be clear to make that link and keep our content accessible
  • There is a facebook accessibility team to follow on facebook and twitter accessibility twitter account
  • Involve people with disabilities.
  • Look for a guide on accessible snaps (SnapChat)
  • Use camel case in your hashtags
  • Buffer is a great accessible platform, it is part of their culture
  • Hootsuite has it on their roadmap and they believe are close to tieing in accessible posts
  • Build in accessible content creation time into the editorial calendar


Homepage – What does it mean?

Homepage. Home page. Home Page. In every variant of the spelling it is a singular noun. If one must go to the homepage of a corporation or institution you visit the homepage. However, for those of us that work day to day with websites, we often say something along the lines of, “that content is on the homepage.” The thing is, we don’t mean that it is literally on the homepage. We mean it is within the site that has a front door at ***.com.

There must be a better phrase, but those I’ve tried don’t seem to have traction. Home site, the collection of pages and posts, the company site. I believe that homepage is an anachronism of the early web and a better term is needed.

Now, I realize this position is rather thin, especially for small websites. However, as sites grow more complex or there are sites within sites within sites, this becomes important. I work at a university and if a department has a website, they refer to their homepage. That gets confusing as the department site is usually within a college site and homepage which is within the university homepage.

This has certainly been kicking around in my head for several months. Surprisingly, even Wikipedia has a lightweight discussion around the term. I don’t know what the answer is, maybe I just need to accept that homepage can mean many things but I am grasping for a concrete word or phrase that captures the idea of a main web property that exists for a brand.

Grace Hopper portrait photo

Grace Hopper and the invention of the information age.

Grace Hopper and the invention of the information age. Kurt Beyer. The MIT Press. Cambridge Massachusetts. 2009.

Growing up around computers in the early 1990s I never heard of Grace Hopper. Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bjorn Strossoup. I heard of those guys but the story of Grace Hopper is incredible and at least at the time was not talked about.

This book should be part of every computer science 101 course in colleges or high schools. At the same time the Eniac, arguably one of the most famous computers ever, was calculating ballistic firing tables Grace Hopper and her commander Howard Aiken with his machine the Mark I, during the war helped calculate solutions for the first atomic bomb. Beyond that they did many other tasks, all the Eniac could do was calculate firing tables. Not only is the story of Grace Hopper important for the history of computing, other females who kicked serious computing butt are highlighted throughout the book. Jean Bartik , Betty Snyder, and Kay McNulty. These women revolutionized programming.

  • If/then blocks
  • Debugger
  • Problem oriented languages
  • Compiler

Reading the book leaves one in awe of what was done in the early years of computers from the Eniac and Mark I being enormous in size and almost being entirely mechanical. The early technical feats of using magnetic tape storage, mercury delay lines as a type of memory, magnetic disk arrays, and the first RAM. The mental hurdle to go from paper punch cards to a system written on tape is hard to wrap your head around.

Beyer I believe does a really good job of looking not only at the technical accomplishments but the social innovations too. Grace Hopper he points out was not just brilliant as a mathematician but pushed new ways of distributed collaboration in the business world. She worked across industry and between companies bringing in new ideas from others, distributing that new version to others and iterating until a great product arrived. Her first compiler the A-0 was written by herself and then the A-1 by her team at Remmington-Rand. The A-1 then was built by the collective, it was open source before free software was a thing.

For one not familiar with the early programming and hardware evolution Kurt Beyer writes illustratively allowing the reader to place her/himself in the 40’s and 50’s while this all occurred.

Thank you Kurt for writing an awesome introduction to not only the career of Grace Hopper but the beginnings of a new dawn for computing.

Book Cover: An African American holding books jogging in front of school lockers.

Rac(e)ing to Class ~ A Review

I have had the pleasure of reading Milner’s latest book on education, Rac(e)ing to Class, Confronting poverty and race in schools and classrooms. It is not an intimidating looking book but it is packed with content. I first heard of the book on NPR and was able to get a copy from our local University library.

The best part of how Milner writes is that he is honest. He doesn’t have all of the answers but he had done his research and presents what he thinks is a pretty good answer. As a young teacher it is refreshing to hear that it is not always about the teacher, but that leadership needs to lead on issues of poverty and race.

“Shifting the ethos of a district to one that centers its care around those who are most vulnerable requires leaders to embrace principles that reverberate throughout the entire district, not only through what they say but also what they do and expect of others.” p. 31

Now, working at a university and not as a teacher it is with pleasure that I try to assist in those transformational shifts. These discussions can be uncomfortable but the more you talk about it, I find allows for a deeper unpacking of the complexity. Just a few pages after the quote above Milner quotes W.G. Secada on what is meant by equity.

“The essence of equity lies in our ability to acknowledge that even though our actions are in accord with a set of rules, the results of those actions may still be unjust. Equity goes beyond following the rules…equity gauges the results of actions directly against the standards of justice.” p. 34 (I added the emphasis).

I love how that chosen quote frames the book. We all try our best to do the right thing, throughout those efforts, check back in to see how it stacks up against the standards of justice. A thread of optimism weaves through the writing, everything is a challenge, but a challenge with opportunity. Milner writes for the first seventy or so pages about the systemic deficiencies of  schools, districts, and instructional methods. I believe he does so accurately while recognizing the standards based testing drum decrescendo into a soft bass line. There are nice nuggets of insight in this first half, the second part is even better. The second part comprises the case studies and a dissection of teacher education programs.

The NPR story I link to above does a good job of hooking the listener on these case studies. I like the way Milner talks the reader through the situation and delivers an improved lesson for students and the school community in each one. It is masterful. Go borrow or buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Purchase directly from Harvard Education Press.

Milner IV, Richard. H. Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Data and Goliath – Book Review

Data and Goliath is the newest book by Bruce Schneier. I have been following Mr. Schneier ever since reading Neal Stepheson’s Cryptonomicon. I have subscribed to his newsletter and seen him speak. With that stated, his new book is very accessible to a wide audience, much more so than his last book Liars and Outliers. It is not a book on cryptography as Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C, is either. It is uniquely positioned to open societies eyes and a short list of actions society as a whole needs to take to reign in corporations and governments to allow us to take back control of our privacy.

The book is broken into three parts and ties a lot of what was revealed by Edward Snowden and the NSA PRISM project into a nice package of what is happening now and what will continue to happen if we don’t stand up and take action. Snowden revelations are sprinkled throughout the book. If the outrage most of the world expressed didn’t make sense to you after hearing about what the NSA, GHCQ, and other government organizations have been doing this book should make it clear. He also makes it clear that not just governments need the data, but the business model of the web is personalized data as well. The Lightbeam plugin is mentioned in the book, it makes browsing the web an adventure again, seeing just who is tracking you every time you go to a website.

Again and again Mr. Schneier presses the reader into thinking this is all doom and gloom but then pulls us back to show how good things can come of data and tracking, if we are allowed to be the ones who choose what to share. He points out early on that Angry Birds tracks our location, not because it is used in the game, but because they can then sell that data to a broker, who will then resell it to a buyer. I was not aware that Europe had stronger laws already on the books than the US that help citizens protect their privacy.

You will be hard pressed to find a more concise book on a defining issue of our internet generation. There are 121 pages of notes in the back of the hard copy as well allowing you to dig deeper into each topic. Many of the suggestions are high level policy changes that need to be made and citizens can have a big impact on that. The jacket reviews would lead on to think that if they read the book and follow some steps they can hide all of their data, that is not going to happen. It is a good book and well worth a few afternoons of reading.

Go buy it our get it at your local library.