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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.

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.

    I am Wikipedia

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    For the third section of our Wikipedia study we were to go into two pages that we were interested in and make changes to the pages. I chose, once again, the page for the Pittsburgh Steelers and I also chose the page for Westmoreland County, PA.

    On the Westmoreland County page I decided to make some changes. Under the heading Municipalities, I changed the capital letters of Cities and Boroughs to cities and buroughs. I let it sit over night and when I returned to see it remained as I had changed it. I think the main idea is that small changes that don't effect meaning aren't the issue. Who cares about capitalization. But if the information is incorrect, or biased, or opinionated in some other way, it will have to be dealt with.

    On the Steelers' page I made some changes that I noticed were changed back the next day. I looked into the history and someone had posted something regarding Vandelism but I wasn't sure if it was because of me or because of another's edit on the text. My change wasn't a huge deal but it did change the meaning of the text. It was the placement of an apostrophe changing something's possession. This goes to show me that there are people out there that monitor this stuff and I like how everyone is looking out for Wikipedia's best. They want it to be accessible and reliable.

    Overall, I feel much more trustworthy of Wikipedia now that I understand what all goes on behind the scenes. Yes, I realize that there are cases that the information may be tampered with when I view an article, or it may not be the most reliable source out there, but I wouldn't discourage my students from using it as a reference point to gain information. In the question of using it as a source, I'm still not sure what my stance is on that and I think I'm leaning away from it for the simple reason that it's just not that reliable. But I would and do encourage students that have a quick question about something or need a starting point to generate ideas to refer to Wikipedia. I think it's a great place for info and since it is a consensus of information, it may actually be more beneficial, due to a variety of outlooks on a particular subject, than something else.

    In Krug's final chapter, where he discusses the two main points of requesting too much personal information and using too much unecessary pizazz, I feel that he successfully wrapped up this interesting and helpful book.

    Throughout the book, Krug gives us practical reasons for doing things the way he describes, and most of them deal with making it easier for the user. This chapter hits home on the same ideas. And althought I try to stay away from personalizing and venting in my blog entries, I think this issue would get anyone fired up and talking about it. That's why I like Krug, he brings up simple issues that we may look over, and instead of simply raising the point, he offers solutions and tells us how we should stay away from them.

    I basically talked about this in a comment I left on Dani's blog which inspired this portion of my entry. What really gets me going is when people, whether it be some type of service or web site designing, ask you for information that isn't really necessary but they act like it is. For example, I was a part of an organization this past summer (I am going to keep everything very general in order to not expose anyone, or get in trouble myself). For this organization we were required to have certain individuals take surveys. No problem right? Wrong. I totally respect what the surveys were for and the reasons behind why they were given, but quite frankly, some of the questions sucked. It was unbelievable the kinds of information they were asking for. Information that had nothing to do with the reasons for being surveyed. As a person who was required to fill one out, it is extremely frustrating to have to sit there and think about information that I don't really know about myself. Like, how many relatives in my family have had knee problems (just an example I made up?).

    People don't want to have to sit there and deal with questions that they don't feel are helping them get to where they want to be. When I'm going through an ATM machine, I don't want to think about how many transactions I made in the last two weeks... I want cash! And when I'm at the grocery store I don't want to sign my signature 50 times before I can get my milk... I'm thirsty! The same principle holds true for people on the web. They want to be able to do what they came for. So keep it simple, keep it smooth, and don't make them think about things they don't want to think about right now. Pretty simple don't you think?

    Usability Testing, Writing, and Hatred

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    Krug 9-11

    I never thought that a focus group and a usability test would have that much of a difference. But chapter 10 points out that a focus group is something that you want to do before you begin designing the site and usability testing should be applied during the revisions of the site. The focus group deals more with abstract things and the usability testing is more for practical issues. It kind of reminds me of the difference between a brainstorming session and a critiquing workshop.

    The brainstorming session (and believe me, I've had to have many in order to survive English classes) does more things with getting ideas flowing and determining what the paper should be about, what needs to be in it, and whether or not your topic is sufficient. And the critique session is where you really find out if the paper works or not. Someone else reads it without the writer hovering over the critic's shoulder and decides what needs changed and whether or not it does it's job.


    I'd have to say that my "reservoir of goodwill" is not as full as most people's. Basically, I'm impatient when it comes to the Internet. However, reading through Krug's list of "things that diminish goodwill," I picked the one that bothers me the most: Asking me for information you don't really need.

    "Most users are very skeptical of requests for personal information, and find it annoying if a site asks for more than what's needed for the task at hand."

    Am I the only one on this? I hate when I have to fill out information before I can sign up for an account of some sort and they force you to answer all of these meaningless questions that aren't of importance to the situation. I hate that. It really made me think about what I would do if I were the web designer. How would I make my site the least annoying for my user?

    Slouching Bedlam Hidden Dragon

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    Slouching Toward Bedlam was an interesting experience for me. I previously chose to use this IF game for an earlier excercise in the class so this wasn't my first experience with it. However, I really struggled with working my way through the game because I hit a wall. No, I literally hit a wall.

    I wasn't able to get past the initial scanning of the rooms. I tried to take things like the phonograph machine. I tried to examine things like the computer console in the circular room and the archives, james and his desk, the outsdie courtyard, etc. However I wasn't able to find any logical "next step" in the game. So I went to the blogs and saw that Aja had found a "rod key" somewhere to which she opened Panopticon. So I went on the search for the rod key but wasn't able to find it. I then read Dena's blog and heard there was a time machine. A TIME MACHINE. I like this story even more. But I couldn't find it. I spent over an hour trying things, searching things, and also trying to figure out the plot of the story and why my character seemed ill. But I wasn't able to get to anywhere logical and hope that the class discussion will put some closure on the game for me.

    So, I decided to take every action I could. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I killed James. Yes, innocent James. I did this before on my first experience with the game but decided that it was my last and did it again. James dropped and "the cold creeped in" so I searched for the next person in the game. My frustration was mounting and someone had to pay for it! So went out to the courtyard and killed the cab driver. I strangled him but it wasn't until he turned down a dark alley somewhere in the city. "The cold" began to spread, as the literature said. As did the cold, so did my anger for the game. No where to turn. I was in a dark alley, just me, the cab, and the horse. The cab blocked the alley north, and there were walls I could not pass in all three other directions. So I was stuck. Now I couldn't even get back to the hospital. So, take a guess at what I did next. Kill the horse! So I killed him and that's where the game ended for me. It said I was put on trial for murders and found guilty and admitted to the hospital in which I started. I'd like to hear how the game was supposed to be played because I didn't get very far on my own.

    EL 236

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