Full Circle

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"Okay everybody, good job, thanks for all your work this semester," were the final words I will remember as the last spoken from a professor in a college class. I am a senior now. Three and a half solid years in, one semester of student teaching to go. And Friday, I participated in my last class at Seton Hill, Writing for the Internet with Dr. Jerz. It's funny though, that nastalgic experience forced me to remember my first ever class at Seton Hill.

Sitting there, my fingers firmly gripping the mechanical pencil, I stared at fifteen strangers in the small square classroom, my first college class ever. I made small talk with a few of the unsure faces around me, not realizing that these would soon become my best friends and I would be sharing the next four years with them in and out of the classroom. Then Dr. Jerz walked into the class, my first professor. He began giving a monologue, and I honestly can't remember what it was, but I do remember what I was thinking. "Oh my God, I can't do this."

I was so overwhelmed that first semester. I had to write papers I'd never written in my life, do difficult research, critically analyze works of literature, write newspaper articles, and many other things. And I honestly don't think I would have made it, if it weren't for those strangers sitting in that scary classroom with me. We made it together. We lost a few along the way, some changed majors, some transferred schools, but we all shared that first college experience together (except for the Katies, they were seniors). And when someday, we are sitting at our child's high school graduation party, and he walks up to us and says, "Dad, what was it like to start college?," we will all be able to look back on that first class with Dr. Jerz, and a group of frightened freshmen and say, "you'll be just fine."

I'm glad I stuck it out. I've gone four years as an English major. I began with Dr. Jerz, and ended with Dr. Jerz, and couldn't be more proud of what I've accomplished. I feel fulfilled as I hope the other fifteen members of that Drama as Literature course do. It's been a journey, a long journey, with some rough spots. I've made relationships that no doubt will last my lifetime. I thank those professors, especially the ones I was close enough for form relationships with, for pushing me from my nest and stretching me beyond my comfort zone to transform me into the person I could potentially become. I thank my classmates, especially the ones that made it to the end with me. We've helped each other, we've complained together, we've pulled all nighters, and we made it. I'm really excited to begin the next phase of my life but I wanted to take a moment and reflect on these years I won't forget. It was a blast.

Bringing Things Together

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When I heard about this project, at the beginning of the semester, I had that same feeling inside that you get when you know there's something overwhelming ahead in your future. However, during the semester, we completed a progression of work that empowered us with important skills and when we reached the term project, it no longer seemed impossible. However, I can truly say that after work on The Write Direction, I have never felt so accomplished. In three months, I went from an individual that disliked computers and the internet, and couldn't do anything but instant message, check his email, and blog (because I had to), and was able to create an entire website, about an interesting subject that I think will help people, on my own. It is an amazing feeling and I honestly have gotten more satisfaction from this project than any final I have ever taken.

We began this journey on Nov. 12 with our term proposals, and I am now finally bringing things together. Initially I had a few ideas: a coaching website, a website that would combine aspects of coaching and academics, specifically writing, and a website for writing. I finally decided on the third and refined the idea to be a website with basic, easy-to-find information about writing for those who need to access it for a quick question. I went to Kim Pennesi and received permission to use many of SHU's Writing Center handouts and information, which, I believe, gives my site more credit. I've been working with writing now for four years and found it enjoyable to have somewhere to share my knowledge for those who may need it.

Creating the site was the most fun aspect of the project for me. I took my idea, and basically jumped right into it, pulling things I've learned and applied from Krug, Castro, and Dr. Jerz. It's really interesting to think back to what my site looked like in the first few stages of development. It was bland, unfocused, and dry. Now, after working on it bit by bit, I'm proud of what it has turned into and excited moreso that I was able to accomplish this project.

User-testing changes:

  1. Appearance: I've changed a lot with the appearance of my site. I knew I wanted a basic site with easy access to internal pages so I had the idea of a basic navigation bar to the left with links on the homepage to all the internal pages. I started out with a plain yellow background and maroon letters and a strange font. I gradually changed it to an interesting background that I found online and black letters in a more easy-to-read font. These were the easiest changes I made because they were simply about style and I got the most feedback on issues like these.
  2. Formatting: Also from feedback given by my classmates, I saw that the text on my site needed to be formatted into a more easily-readable way. Since it is a site about writing, it's difficult to explain the information without using a lot of words. However, some techniques that my peers discussed with me were
    • using bold keywords, making the margins larger, and using bulleted lists. I combined all these techniques and think it much improved the set up of the information on my site.
    • indenting was another key. I learned how to use and play with "div" tags in order to make information more presentable. Before, it was all in the same column, flushed left, which made it difficult to read. But different margins help readers easily decipher information.

Post beta-testing changes:

  1. Image detail: I wanted to include a quote and image from Bob Costas on my site. Initally, I had a large picture and quote on the homepage, but with the help and feedback from Dr. Jerz, I saw that the picture was actually too large and made the site look as if it was "by Bob Costas." So I worked on making it "less noticable" with some techniques such as relocating the picture in relationship of the quote and putting a box around it.
  2. Content issues: There were a few classmates who gave me some important feedback regarding the content of my site.
    • All said it was good content, but Alex helped me use a more direct voice in the writing of my site. I think I was overexplaining things to a degree and she pointed out that it gets confusing. She said to let the information speak for itself and simply introduce it.
    • Also, Dani had a great idea that I should include some examples of MLA and APA styles instead of simply linking to PDF handouts.
    • Jackie helped me cut out needless words such as "Includes..." at the beginning of my bulleted lists. This was redundant and simply took away from the information of the site.
  3. Other appearance issues: Aja pointed out a few problems I didn't catch, like there weren't spaces between the bold headings and sentences on my getting started page. All of these helped me refine my site into a more readable and interesting site and I am very appreciative of all of your suggestions. Also she noticed that when you scrolled over my links they turned to bold print. However, this didn't take place when the text was already bold. This was annoying to me so I made sure I changed that as well. 

I really appreciate this class pushing me from the nest in a sense, and making me step out from my comfort zone because I was able to reach satisfaction in an area I never thought I would. It's been an awesome journey and I feel that I've learned much about writing for the internet. 

As it comes to a close: Portfolio 4

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As this semester comes to a close I've taken a minute to step back, take a breath from EL 236, and look at exactly how much my relationship with online writing has grown. I'd like to say I was okay when I started, but to be completely honest, I didn't know html from if and couldn't have guessed as to what each included. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I actually like online writing. I'm going to be honest, I wanted to get through this class, because my computer skills were lacking, yet, through this course I feel confident in my knowledge about the internet, and comfortable with my abilities to form a basic webpage, create an interactive fiction game, and complete usability testing on my own website or others.

The last phase of this semester, from the last blogging portfolio till now, has mostly consisted of our relationship with and development of our term projects. I chose to create a writing website entitled The Write Direction. I'll admit it, at first I thought this was going to be the most difficult, uniteresting thing I'd have to do this semester, however, it was quite the contrary. I've had a great and enjoyable time developing my website. One of the reasons is that I was able to apply much of what I learned throughout the semester. For that reason I think it was the most rewarding final I was involved with. But also, because I have found a certain interest for designing web pages, especially ones that deal with what I'm interested in, such as writing. I've had a great time with this project and am including my final batch of blog entries since they are all related to the development of this website.

Writing and the internet, who would have thought? was the beginning of a long journey. This was my first blog entry introducing my idea and a rough outline of what I wanted to accomplish. The feedback I received on this entry helped me develop my first draft of my site.

First Viewing was an entry that introduced my site in the very early stages. It was very rough and needed a lot of touch up, and it's evident how much it has developed since this time.

Getting There was the latest look at my site. This was the entry for the beta testing and it proved to me the most helpful entry for me because of the feedback I received from my classmates. In my head the site was close to complete, but my peers helped me see some things that weren't quite finished yet and needed elaborated on.

One of the things I like most about the class is the out-of-class interaction that also leads into peer learning. I feel that I learned much about my own work from my peers. It's different than coming from a teacher or a professor that's on a different level than you. Our natural instinct is to impress our peers, so during the construction of my site, I wanted my classmates to see the best product possible. Because of this I was also able to take their suggestions to heart and really apply them to my site. Along with numerous comments and suggestions during in class workshops, I really appreciated the comments from my peers on my blogs during my reflection of my progress toward the term project. Jed, Meghan, Chelsea, and David helped out at the beginning of my process and near the end I received helpful comments from Dani, Jackie, Aja, and Dena. I feel like I learned the most from this because these students were doing the same things as me. We were all learning together.

Interaction with other's projects: Here are a few examples of my comments for my peers...
Comments about Chelsea's site
Helpful comment on David's blog
Comment on Jackie's blog
Helpful tip for Aja

Hopefully I've helped my peers as much as they've helped me. I really enjoyed this final part of the course and believe that it is a result of working with people instead of working alone on a final exam or something of that nature. I feel like I've learned so much more this way, granted, this is a different type of information. I feel very accomplished and thank everyone for their help.

Getting There

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I am in the final stages of refinement for my website. I've worked out a lot of the rough edges that appeared in the beginning and am now focusing on the final big picture issues that may need some altering.

Here is my Beta Release.

I've worked on creating an easier-to-read format for text. Instead of long paragraphs that can be boring to the reader, I've tried my best to use bold key words and throw in a bulleted list every once in a while. Since my website is about writing, it's sometimes hard to condense a lot of information into a small amount, but I feel I did a fairly good job at that.

I've also made some significant changes in the appearance of the site including the background I used and the color of the links. However, I've noticed that there is a difference in the links when using internet explorer and firefox that I'm not quite sure how to fix yet. So if anyone has any insights on that issue, feel free to share.

What I'm mainly asking for is feedback dealing with the information. Sometimes, when you're close to something for a long time you tend to look over things. Also, since I work in the writing center and deal with issues of writing all day, I may be forgetting to explain things or leaving important info out. If you see any of this please let me know.

Thanks for the help and here are some others' beta releases.

First Viewing

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So I've made some progress on my term project: a website dealing about Writing information. I basically ran with some of the ideas I had about including info about MLA and APA styles, writing thesis sentences, getting started with brainstorming ideas, and ESL tips. I entitled it The Write Direction. You can preview the progress I've made.

Before releasing it for public review I had a few ideas in mind. First I wanted to make sure I didn't have too much information on each page so that it's not overwhelming to the viewer. Having large blocks of text that stretch out across the screen is difficult for anyone to skim and focus on. Also, I was thinking of creating links to handouts and pages that will appear on the internal pages of my site. This will give the users printable access to information about writing that can be helpful.

Anne took a look at my website and gave me a few useful comments. She said that the text did indeed stretch out far across the page. She suggested that I should somehow created a margin on the right side as well as the left so that it condenses the text in the middle. She also suggested to make seperate pages for the MLA and the APA sections of the Incorporating Sources page. This was a great idea because having all on the same page is simply too much information for one person to have to sort through to get a quick answer.

I'm going to continue working on creating a easier-to-follow site with tips and informtion that is easier to read and skim. I'm basically taking one step at a time

Well I started this process with two general directions to send my website: coaching and writing. I'd like to design a site that I'd be able to use when applying for teaching and coaching jobs after graduation. I want it to prove that I'd be an effective coach and English teacher. I had also talked to Kim Pennesi about creating a website for SHU's writing center. This would include information about writing for anyone to access.

* * *

So what I've narrowed it down to so far is a web site for writing information and tips that is geared toward specific groups on campus. For example I could have a page for commuter students, athletes, adult students, high school students, freshmen, etc. I haven't come up with the exact groups I want to use but any suggestions would be very helpful. I also think I'll include aspects of the Writing Center which would include handouts for users to print out, tips for writing, and perhaps some excercises. I think a FAQ page would be appropriate as well.

So for a basic outline I was considering the following:

I really don't want to be cheesy but what can I say, I want to have fun with it. What do you think about "Heading in the Write Direction" or "The Write Direction"? The Writing Center's online forum is called "Write On!" so I wanted to steer clear from that. Any other suggestions you can think of?

I'd like to have a title, something like Jackie had for our online resumes. Also a navigation bar that would easily let you navigate to any one page quicker than scrolling. For the meat of the page I was thinking of having some famous people quoting why writing is important. Perhaps pictures or some other sort of visual art. Also, some brief information about writing: maybe different kinds of papers, different areas of writing (i.e. journaism or different genres). Things like that.

Internal pages:
Like I said I'd like to have internal pages that are geared toward specific groups. Here are a few groups I had in mind:

  • commuter students

  • athletes

  • adult students

  • grad students

  • high school students

  • freshmen

  • non-writing majors

  • international or ESL students

  • I'd like to gear each page toward that specific group including common problems that the group may face. Perhaps FAQs for each group or handouts that would be specifically geared for those individuals.

    * * *

    So that's basically where I stand with it now. It's neat cause I'm actually excited to do this. It's something that I want to do and I feel that I'm good at. I'm also looking at this to use in the future and not just to get a good grade in class so if anyone has any suggestions or ideas and would like to eventually be a part of this, you're more than welcome to.

    Let me know what you think.

    Others' ideas.

    The Road to Successful Webwriting

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    I have a very positive opinion of the last text we read in EL 236. Don't Make me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug was a creative and interesting book that helped me focus on issues of web writing and web designing that I didn't previously think about. What I liked about Krug's spin on the web writing world was that he had a way of stating information that I would disagree with at first but he would prove it to me in a way I hadn't realized before.

    I think the strength of the book is Krug's ability to relate his reasoning to the user. He mainly focuses on what the user would want and how the user would like the web site to be. The title is in the user's point of view. Krug gives us things to think about not thinking, from the user's perspective. This especially comes into play when he talked about usability testing and provided ideas such as focus groups. The other thing I liked about the book is his practical application of what he discussed. Krug gave bulleted lists that made concepts clear such as "here's where to start." Things like, when in doubt cut it out, are able to help me and other web site designers create the best possible product. The book was extremely helpful and it would be great to see another edition, perhaps one geared more toward

    I take what Krug says about the application putting ourselves in the user's head and use it to support my argument in Things to think about not thinking.
    Another example of where I take Krug's words and elaborate on his concept is When in doubt cut it out.
    I chose not to supply a list of all the entries I've written during this portfolio period. If you want to see them you can go the the Archives section of my blog where you will find all of my entries.

    I gave my peers a chance to comment on Don't make me think... and When in doubt cut it out by publishing them enough time in advance.

    An example of an entry that encaptures how Krug successfully wrapped up the book is Don't make me think... He discusses issues where designers sometimes use too much "pizzaz" in on their sites or beg for too much unnecessary information and I site Dani's blog in my argument.
    I bring up some ideas about Krug's suggestions for focus groups in usability testing and relate them to the writing process.Usability Testing, Writing, and Hatred resulted in some comments from Dani, Kevin, and Dena.

    Not to get away from Krug's text, but an entry where I went into depth about the subject of Interactive Fiction, including links and a supported argument isStory or Game? Hmmm... This was my first experience with the genre of Interactive Fiction so I was intrigued and interested in the new concepts I encountered.
    As a class we were to play the IF game Slouching Toward Bedlam and comment on our experiences. I went into depth about my experience with the game and the creativity I supplied to my interaction with it producing an interesting insight into the game. In Slouching Bedlam Hidden Dragon I include both Dena's and Aja's ideas.

    As a response to Dena's entry, I loathe Interactive Fiction Games, I contributed to a large conversation where I add my creative thoughts for a version of Photopia.
    On Kevin's blog, Trying to Reinvent the Wheel, I referenced an in-class experience where that contributed to the conversation Jed and Kevin were having about web site designing.
    And bringing it full circle back to Krug's book I wrote on Blindfolding the Farmer and Cowman, Chelsea's blog, commenting on what I like about Krug's book. I talk about how sometimes revising websites will lead to hard decisions. The choices will be hard to make, but with Krug's guidance and our constant push to continue learning about web designing, we will have a great chance to help ourselves create the best product possible.

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