DIAGRAM Center Provides Guidance on Accessible Images

April 11, 2017

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DIAGRAM Center Provides Guidance on Accessible Images

Here at ProfHacker we’ve written several posts over the years about accessibility of digital resources for all people, including people with disabilities. Right now, my campus is engaged in a 3-year plan to get all of our digital pedagogical resources to adhere to federal regulations regarding accessibility. One issue that has been the subject of many conversations is the use of images and how best to make them accessible while still fulfilling their function in teaching.

I’m a big fan of WebAIM’s user-friendly explanation of using alternative text with images. However, while searching online for additional information or examples related to this topic, I came across a new-to-me resource: the DIAGRAM Center website, an initiative of the non-profit Benetech and other partners. The DIAGRAM (Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) Center site has a number of substantial sections:

  • Making Images Accessible: “[R]esources developed by the DIAGRAM Center to help content creators provide image descriptions.”

  • 3D Printing, Tactiles and Haptics: “New technologies for creating tactiles and tactile experiences [to convey] spatial information”

  • Accessible Math: “[M]ultiple ways for students to interact with math content, including equations, graphs, and other notation.”

  • Born Accessible Publishing: “[R]esources to help publishers and the myriad of other new, digital content creators understand the basics of how to make content born accessible”

  • Research projects: Descriptions of several different DIAGRAM Center research projects with links to examples, demos, and further information.

I strongly recommend the information and tools available in the “Making Images Accessible” section of the site if you’re want to better understand how to make accessible the images you use in your teaching (and / or share electronically with your students). In particular, the “Poet image description tool” can walk you through a series of questions to help you determine what you need to do to make a particular image accessible, and it can — so they say — facilitate crowd sourcing the description of images. And if you’re looking for detailed guidelines about a variety of different kinds of images — Venn diagrams, flow charts, bar graphs, scatter plots, maps, etc. — then you’ll want to consult these “Image Description Guidelines.”

All in all, this site is a very impressive project.

How about you? What are your favorite resources that help you make your materials accessible? Please share in the comments.

[“bokeh” by katinalynn is licensed under CC BY]

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The Role Of The University In Our World

I had come across Your College Degree is Worthless as part of my regular monitoring of the API space, which is a story I see regularly from the startup community, partly due to my relative position to my partner in crime Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) and her Hack Education work. It is a story startup like to tell when they are selling technology fueled solutions they see as a replacement to the college degree, in this case, the author is developing a startup based on selling apprenticeships with other startups. I’m linking to the story and startup not because I support them, but because it provides a great example of the corrosive effects that startup culture has become.

Shortly after reading this story I went to Oxford in the UK to speak with the Oxford Dictionaries API, and while in Oxford I walked around several of the schools there. While experiencing Christ Church and Magdalen colleges this story came to mind, and I spent time thinking deeply of the hubris and delusion of tech culture. Imagine believing that an internship at a startup is more valuable than a college degree and that higher educational institutions should be dismantled and replaced with startup culture–we have created quite a magical echo chamber.

I get it, you think the startup experience is amazing, and everyone should do it. You see academia as an exclusive group. A party maybe you were never fully invited to. Also, you smell opportunity, selling folks what you see as an alternative. But, you are missing so much. How can an apprenticeship at a startup every replace studying literature at a university, and immersing yourself in, well, learning? What a hollow, empty world to live in where running a business would ever replace literature, philosophy, art, and other meaningful aspects of being human.

While in the UK I had the pleasure of taking my 16-year-old daughter with me, and I took her with me to Oxford that day. It isn’t a school she’d be applying to, but we also visited Edinburgh University on the trip, which might actually make it on her list of schools she’ll be applying to in a year or so. I think about the experience my daughter would have at startups vs the experience she would have in a university environment. I want my daughter to be successful, but this doesn’t just mean making money, it also involves be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted in her life. Something that a university environment would contribute to, but I shudder to think about in the volatile, male-dominated, "meritocracy" of startup culture.

I do not have a university degree. Hell, I do not even have a high school diploma. I have no allegiance to any academic institution, but I completely respect what they do, and refuse to take for granted what they have done for our world. Sure, higher educational institutions have their problems, but so does startup culture. It troubles me that so many would be willing to support the concept of a university degree being worthless, willfully dismissing what a university degree has done for so many on the planet. It leaves me seeing startup culture as some sort of virus being unleashed on almost every sector of our society today.

I know. I know. Not all startups. Yes. Just like not all men. Just like not all white men. But have you ever taken the time to actually step back from your startup aspirations, let the effects of the kool-aid fade, and thought about life beyond technology and making money? There are so many other aspects of life that make it worth living, something that universities have played a significant role in. Maybe we could spend more time thinking about the positive role startups should play, and not the dismantling of good things, simply so you can profit frsellinging their replacement.

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Towards Open: Counter (Data) Surveillance

I had an amazing two weeks in the UK and Ireland, and this post is one of many that will try t0 chronicle and make sense of my time. I am not necessarily going chronologically. Rather, I will be picking several vignettes of my experience to try and capture my time there because the idea of a comprehensive wrap-up post is way too daunting. I’m still processing all the goodness, but I do now know how happy I am to be working in the European context these days. My trip to Cork and Galway (more on that in future posts) as well as OER17 in London (a workshop from which will be the basis for this post) made me really appreciate the European* ed-tech community.† There’s a lot of excitement here about what’s possible in the wake of the MOOC-inspired VC bubble, and the fact that most of the money has dried up means the conversations are not being driven by start-ups and vendors, or grantors and foundations, but rather the people who still have real skin in the game. OER17 reminded me of a couple of my favorite conferences over the years, namely Northern Voice 2007 and OpenEd 2009—and that’s no faint praise.  There was some seriously good energy, and I think that is evidenced by the growing number of posts from those attending. I have a few posts to add to that growing list, so let’s get on with it.

Running a good workshop is an art form.  I know simply because I failed at it so many times. So, my first post on OER17 will be to give major kudos to Kate Green, Christian Friedrich, and Markus Deimann on their workshop “Towards Openness – Safety in Open Online Learning?” The approach was simple and effective: they showed four short provocations about the state of security and online learning, and asked the participants to break up into groups of four or five and try and design a response. The response should be an intervention of some kind that can be applied directly (or that’s how I remember the charge, I may be wrong). You can see the design of the workshop as well as all four videos at the Towards Openness site, but the one that sparked the discussion that led to our groups intervention was Chris Gilliard’s video framing “surveillance capitalism”:

The provocation frames educational technology as a means of surveillance and appropriation of personal data as part of the inexorable appetite of late capital. Our challenge was to think about how can we counteract the fact that just about everything we do online is collected, monetized, and sold by various actors. I have to come clean and say our group was pretty stacked: Rob Farrow recorded one of the four provocations (he was our ringer!), Brian Lamb invented the internet, Bryan Mathers illustrated it, which leaves me—the only real weak link. That said, our group also had its obvious limitations given it was fairly homogenous when it came to gender, race, and class.

Once we got started, we discussed possible ways of allowing individuals to visualize what personal data sites and services had access to and were collecting. I showed off the prototype above that Tom Woodward created while we were in Sweden in February. The idea there being what would it look like if you could easily see and control the information various apps could access. This led to a conversation about a personal data dashbaord of sorts where you could explore what providing access to certain data (or not) would cost you.  For example, if you do choose to prevent Twitter or Google from tracking your location, what do you give up?  In many ways, the dashboard would be a space where you could make informed decisions about what you decide to share.  We noted that something like this would have to be run by a third-party independent of the major social media silos in order to ensure that when Facebook or Google say they have locked down access to your information, that can be independently verified. As Brian Lamb noted, we are relying on these companies good word, which is not necessarily comforting nor much of a social contract.

From there the question of algorithmic citizenship came up, which visualizes how much information we get and share online is effectively nationalized. Which led to discussions about how we can be understand how privacy works through accessing similar searches and information about us online through various IP address around the world using VPNs and IP proxies. This would be one way to start demonstrating the way our realities are always contextualized by where we are and what we are looking for. What emerged was the idea of this imagined dashboard acting like a personalized “data score” in which the individual can monitor, tweak, and take back some control over their personal data online. This could be a browser or a service, and ultimately it would revolve around regular notifications detailing what services are accessing your personal information, and how it’s being used. Rob Farrow nailed it when he noted the only way to challenge surveillance is through counter-surveillance, hence the “Counter (Data) Surveillance Dashboard” visualized by the seemingly endless genius of Bryan Mathers:

It was a fun group that was set off on a fun mission thanks to an awesome workshop. This is just one example of the many amazing moments I had at OER17. I’ll try and chronicle as many as possible, but I will be recycling this one into my talk in New Zealand next month because I feel like it is completely inline with re-thinking how we manage our online lives. Below is a video wherein we all frame the project, it’s probably much more cogent and succinct than this blog post.  But a blogger gotta blog.


†Although, to be fair, OER17 was quite international, the conference had folks from all over the world: Australia, Egypt, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada, and the US—and those are just the sessions I went to.

*For the sake of this post, as well as the fine people who attended OER17 from the England, Wales, and Scotland, the UK is still part of Europe. Update: I’m just gonna leave Josie Fraser’s corrective to my ignorance here:

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I Don’t Need Permission to be Open

I made the mistake of mentioning I was a bit struck by David Wiley’s recent post “How is Open Pedagogy Different?” on Twitter. I should have gone right to the blog because the tweet onslaught from David and Mike Caulfield was a bit off-putting. What started off as a concern, quickly turned into a one-sided tweetstorm that felt like a DdOS attack on my brain. Also, part of what I couldn’t capture on Twitter was the fact I had just come off a day at the OER17 conference in London. In fact, for almost two weeks I was traveling around the UK and Ireland talking about a variety of work happening with domains. Now, I would agree if someone said my work tends towards open: I try and openly blog much of my work, I try and share resources (mostly human), and teach with an eye towards the open web. So, when I read Wiley’s post I referred to above, I was fairly struck (and not in a good way) by this bit:

Open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions. Or, to operationalize, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you are using OER.

My simple concern is, when did open become boiled down to a strict set of permissions? Seems to me the conflation of David’s vision of OERs, and a broader communities use of open in less orthodox ways has come to heads—but I’m not sure it needed to. Seems the idea of OERs sat comfortably within open as a broader series of relations and approaches in the field of ed-tech. To be clear, I have no doubt Mike and David can (and have) argued circles around me when it comes to the technicalities of what makes something open, but I do have to wonder about the spirit of such a message. In a moment when fences and lines are being drawn all around the world according to ideologies that other and petty definitions that exclude, why would this seem a good time to start drawing lines around open? Frankly, it seems a bit more like fear mongering. I am not afraid to re-use copyrighted work, in fact I enjoyed it deeply during #ds106, and I have been very clear again and again as to why. I don’t feel like I need permission to intervene with or critique the mediated culture being shoved down my throat. That was one of the pillars (a 106 bullet if you will 🙂 ) of #ds106. I never really thought of ds106 as a subtle struggle for permissions, but an outright attack on the copyright regime. In fact, in the various forms we taught it—all of which where abusing copyrighted material—we never heard a peep about copyright save the occasional YouTube takedown. Which if anything, was a good reminder of how little permission we do have when it comes to remixing our culture. And if we did get an onslaught of takedowns across the various blogs, I would be far more interested in talking about Fair Use with our students as a defense than becoming the arbiter of permissions. Or even worse, retreating to a textbook.

In the end, I am not too concerned if #ds106 is understood as open pedagogy or not, because as soon as it is a choice between awesome and open, I will choose awesome every time. I am not interested in the strict rules that define open; open is not the ends, it is one means amongst many. But, I do wonder at the push to consolidate the definition beyond OERs into Open Educational Practices. Seems to me there is an attempt to define it in order to start controlling it, and that is often related to resources, grants, etc. Again, I’m not all that concerned personally given I have never depended on grants for my work, but many people do—and strict definitions of open could be perceived as threat to new approaches and ideas.

I think the locking down of open is dangerous. I think it draws lines where they need not be, and it reconsolidates power for those who define it. More than that, the power around open has been pretty focused on a few people for too long, and I count myself amongst them. More and more on this trip in conversations with others, I think we as a field need to do a better job of bringing the next generation of ed-tech folks to the fore, stepping back, and letting them frame what’s next. Even this post shows my harkening back to work I did 6 years ago, I don’t want to have a corner on open or ed-tech, I want something that gets me excited and passionate. OER17 certainly did that, and I crave more. What I see as hardline definitions of what is and is not OER or open need not police the discussion. I would hate for an edict about what is and is not open pedagogy to get in the way of people “coloring outside the lines” of the 5Rs, to appropriate Brian Lamb’s gorgeous turn of phrase from one of this 3 tweets in response to the avalanche.

Now, this may mean we have to move away from the term open because it has effectively been trademarked, and if that’s the case I am fine with that. EDUPUNK was long overdue for a resurgence 🙂

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A WordPress Authoring Continuum


Image from page 60 of “Birds of La Plata” (1920) flickr photo by Internet Archive Book Images shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

I often feel much of my life has been spent arguing against binary judgements related to technology.1 I’d like to have neater boundaries and simpler discussions but they always seem to get in the way of what I perceive as reality.

I’ve certainly tried to articulate options for content in creation in WordPress before. I tried really hard to have a nice list here that would move you from full-constrained incrementally towards the normal backend editor but the lines kept blurring on me so . . . you get what we have here today . . . which is a failure to delineate, crisply.2

The idea that WordPress authoring is super-easy or needlessly complex is one of those arguments I have repeatedly.

I believe, with varying degrees of effort/skills, WordPress authoring is simply what you want it to be.

It can be tightly constrained, without even the need for an account or even a visit to the backend of WordPress. It can also be fully open with all the options and complexities you could want. They’re both choices with a fair amount of room in the middle for variations. I’ve found a few plugins and/or design patterns that support these choices fairly well.

The Most Structure (fewest options)

Why pursue this?

  • you want very standardized template-driven content3
  • you want author technology support to be minimal/non-existent

I’ve got a few examples of when form-to-posts has worked for us. In this case, I can move from simpler to more complex.

  • BNFO 300 Documents – Biology Course – Simply allowing students to submit documents of various types as an embed so they can comment on them using WP’s comment feature. Really simple but effective enough to bring the faculty member back.
  • Student Sociology Article Submissions – Sociology Course – A very, very early model for this kind of thing.
  • Gestalt Theory – Art Course – a more visually focused model
  • Bicycle Safety Survey – Urban Planning Course – This was a phone focused form to allow for GPS plotted map entries regarding bike safety. It fills in some hidden form fields with GPS data as part of the process. The GPS data is held in a custom field.
  • Dichotomous Key – Biology Course – This is a visually driven form that fills in form fields via URL parameters. If you bounce through the leaf choices,
    you’ll end up at a page to submit your image. Look at that URL and you’ll see a bunch of stuff in the URL based on what you selected. This is, again, an early model but it does show that you can create some neat experiences for users that structure things but that also feel pleasant.
  • Text Sets – EDUC Course – the goal here was to allow students to create units with a very particular structure and then populate those units with particular books (again with a very particular structure). I made this in the early days when I was still fighting programing so it’s pure Gravity Forms and a bit awkward. It does show high levels of structure being possible although we left some holes and you can see that people found ways to do other things or not do things. There’s a mixture of custom fields, tags, and categories driving this.

Lately, I’ve also gone with some front-end editor options. These enable degrees of constraint (you can require elements, set default categories etc) but you can go a bit farther than with Gravity Forms and enable the full WordPress editor options on the front end. You can set these to require a user to be logged in or allow anyone to submit.

I’ve used USP Pro and the Buddypress User Blog. Both enable front-end editing and have options to restrict what people can do. The words used to describe plugins like this are kind of messy though which makes finding and comparing them somewhat difficult. In the scenarios I’ve used these plugins, we wanted to keep users on the front-end and add some minimal restrictions on the metadata/category side of things but give them full access to building multimedia posts (multiple images/videos, WYSIWYG editor etc.).

Gravity Forms

I’ve talked lots of times about using Gravity Forms4 to create posts. With post body content templates you can make this as structured as you want. Every option could be from a dropdown, checkbox, or radio button. Those elements can be woven together to create a single structured post or different elements broken out as categories, tags, or custom fields . . . or you could use the form to do all of that.

I tend to recommend the Gravity Forms route because it’s the easiest path I’ve seen for people who might not have technical skills or technical support and the plugin is handy for lots of things outside the form-to-post pattern. Gravity Forms also keeps things on the front end and you can enable WYSIWYG editing. I have not enabled a fully functional WP editor with file uploads5 in this scenario nor have I seen it done. I’m sure it’s possible but it’s not plug and play.

USP Pro

I’m becoming more of a fan of this option but it’s still a new plugin for me and one of the rare paid plugins I use.6 I can pretty much do anything I could do in the Gravity-Forms-to-post model (except conditional logic and some of the more form dependent elements) but it lets me offer the full editor/file upload interface.

Custom Post Types

Another fairly major option for changing how people create content in WP is creating custom post types and associated custom metadata.

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Homeless? Starving? Cheer up! These Great Depression billboards told poor Americans how lucky they were

TwitterFacebook

1937

African-Americans displaced by the Great Ohio River Flood line up at a relief station in Louisville, Kentucky.

Image: Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

In January 1937, while covering the disastrous flooding of the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky for LIFE Magazine, Margaret Bourke-White captured an image that quickly became famous and eventually rose to become an icon of the Great Depression.

The photo features a simple but sharply ironic juxtaposition: African-American flood victims line up for relief below a billboard with a beaming white family proclaiming WORLD’S HIGHEST STANDARD OF LIVING. Read more…

More about Great Depression, Propaganda, Advertising, History, and Retronaut

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The slow professor can dish out a more nutritious education

The academy has moved to the fast lane. Corporatisation has sped up the clock, compromising teaching, scholarship and collegiality. The ‘slow movement’ – originating in slow food – challenges the frantic pace and homogenisation of contemporary culture. We believe that adopting the principles of slow into the professional practice of academia is an effective way to alleviate time poverty, preserve humanistic education, and resist the destructive effects of the corporate university. 

‘Slow’, Carlo Petrini makes clear in Slow Food Nation (2007), is not really about speed. It’s about the difference ‘between attention and distraction; slowness, in fact, is not so much a question of duration as of an ability to distinguish and evaluate, with the propensity to cultivate pleasure, knowledge, and quality.’

Being a professor is a privilege. We are not advocating slacking off, letting junior faculty do the heavy lifting, taking the summers off, missing deadlines, or doing less in class. Our view, advocated in our book The Slow Professor (2016), is rather about protecting the work that matters. Due to expanding workloads, the casualisation of labour, the rise of technology, the consumer model of education, and increasing managerialism, the nature of the academy has changed dramatically in the past generation. Universities are now businesses. Teaching and learning are increasingly standardised, emphasising the transfer of skills and time to completion. Both are now assessed in quantitative rather than qualitative terms. Research now is about winning grants and generating output – all as quickly as possible. Collegiality now is about useful networking.  

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Distractedness and fragmentation characterise contemporary life. In order to protect the intellectual and pedagogic life of the university, we need to create opportunities to think and to shift our sense of time. This might mean getting away from having everything scheduled down to the minute. We can’t do our best work if we are frantic. 

It is also crucial to be aware of the structural changes in the university so we don’t blame ourselves for not keeping up. And we should not forget the joy that is possible in teaching and scholarship. We are drawn to the slow movement because its critique of contemporary culture insists on the importance of pleasure and conviviality. Talking about individual stress and trying to find ways to foster wellbeing have political implications. If we are stressed, we feel powerless to change the larger context. In the corporate university, aggressive individualism and the familiar bottom line dominate at the expense of community and social critique.   

Slow teaching is not about lowering standards. Rather, it is about reducing our distractedness so that we can focus on our students and our subjects. We need to be able to concentrate on creating a convivial classroom in which our students can meet the challenges – and we can foster the joys – of learning a discipline.  

Slow scholarship is about resisting the pressure to reduce thinking to the imperative of immediate usefulness, marketability and grant generation. It’s about preserving the idea of scholarship as open-ended enquiry. It will improve the quality of teaching and learning. 

In the current climate, most of us simply don’t have time for genuine collegiality. As academics become more isolated from each other, we are also becoming more compliant, more likely to see structural problems, including those of general working conditions, as individual failings. When that happens, resistance to corporatisation seems futile. Collegiality, properly understood as a community practice, is about mutual support rather than works-in-progress, about sharing our failures as well as our successes, and about collaboration as well as competition. It offers solidarity.  

We acknowledge the systemic inequities in the university, but we believe that a slow approach is potentially relevant across the spectrum of academic positions. Slow time is inimical to the corporate university. Scholars in tenured positions, given the protection that we enjoy, have an obligation to try to improve in the working climate for all of us. We are concerned that the bar is being continually raised for faculty and for graduate students. We need to reflect on what we are modelling for each other and the next generation of academics. 

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Micro.blog Project Surges Past $65K on Kickstarter, Gains Backing from DreamHost

With one week remaining on its Kickstarter campaign, the Micro.blog indie microblogging project has surged past its original $10K funding goal with $66,710 pledged by 2,381 backers. This puts project creator Manton Reece closer to his stretch goal of $80K, which would enable him to develop a Safe Replies feature to preemptively combat abuse on the platform and hire a part-time community manager.

Micro.blog also picked up support from DreamHost this week, pushing the project past the $50K mark. The hosting company pledged $5,000 towards the campaign.

“What ever happened to the vision of the open web as a distributed network of websites that were owned by their creators?” said Jonathan LaCour, SVP of Product and Technology at DreamHost. “We’d like to make it as easy as possible to launch a WordPress-powered microblog on DreamHost that integrates well with Manton’s upcoming Micro.blog service.”

DreamHost (and all other hosting companies) obviously have a vested interest in getting people to see the need to have their own digital presence. However, the biggest obstacle for WordPress customers is making it convenient to join the IndieWeb. DreamHost is planning to take its support of Micro.blog one step further and create an easy way for customers to get started with independent microblogs.

“As a followup to our contribution to Manton’s Kickstarter campaign, we’re planning on working on making a streamlined, pre-configured Indie microblog with WordPress at DreamHost,” LaCour said in the #indieweb channel on IRC yesterday. “I tend to agree that a simplified, pre-packaged WordPress setup would go a long way to driving Indieweb adoption.”

When asked whether the company would be utilizing Micro.blog or some other service, LaCour said it has not been decided yet. He said the idea is that people could create an independent microblog hosted at DreamHost that is compatible with Micro.blog and other indie microblogs.

“Our major focus at the moment is getting people excited about owning their own website (and entire digital identity),” LaCour said.

Micro.blog is Aiming for Incremental Webmention Support

Webmention is a protocol similar to pingback for notifying a URL when a website links to it and also for requesting notifications when another site mentions one of your URLs. It is an important part of facilitating decentralized communication across the web. On January 12, 2017, the Social Web Working Group published a W3C Recommendation of Webmention with the specification contributed by the IndieWeb community.

WordPress doesn’t natively offer Webmention support and the core trac ticket for adding the feature has had little discussion.

During a preliminary discussion on Slack last year, WordPress lead developer Dion Hulse said he thought Webmentions would be a great feature plugin and that there are a few people interested in it. There hasn’t been much movement on this front in core, but a Webmention plugin is available in the directory.

Reece is working on incorporating IndieWeb protocols into Micro.blog but said it will likely launch with incremental support for Webmention.

“It might take a little while to get everything IndieWeb in there, but that’s the eventual goal,” Reece said. “I’m committed to Micropub and microformats and still exploring how best to support Webmention. (It might be partial support with more later.)”

Micro.blog doesn’t currently handle mentions and replies using Webmention but Reece said his eventual goal is to include it.

“The first step to me is getting more people their own microblog so that the infrastructure for cross-site replies is even possible,” Reece said.

Micro.blog Puts the Focus on Indie Microblogging, Instead of Replacing Twitter

Reece also launched a Slack community where the project’s backers can discuss Micro.blog and other microblogging topics. He said he initially had reservations with starting something on Slack but was surprised to see the community has already grown to more than 300 members.

“I didn’t want to distract from any posts that should happen in the open on blogs,” Reece said. “Some discussion just fits better in chat, though. There’s an emerging community of indie microbloggers. Having a place to share tips, tools, and ask questions about Micro.blog just makes sense.”

Many of the project’s backers are eager to create a community of their own and are interested in using Micro.blog as a Twitter replacement. Other services have attempted to provide alternatives to posting directly on Twitter but none have caught on enough to significantly push IndieWeb adoption forward. App.net, one of the most promising ad-free, microblogging networks, went into maintenance mode in 2014 and will be shutting down March 15, 2017.

Reece, who was an early fan of App.net, published a thank you note to the service’s creators for trying something risky and creating a community around their ideas. He believes it’s the right time for another open platform to emerge.

“We don’t need just another Twitter or Facebook clone,” Reece said. “We need a new platform that encourages blogging on the open web.”

Nevertheless, Reece is preparing Micro.blog from the outset to be capable of replacing Twitter’s functionality, which is one of the reasons he is focusing so heavily on ensuring the platform doesn’t get overrun with abuse. Reece wants to avoid the pitfalls that have contributed to some of the more negative aspects of Twitter, but his focus is on encouraging people to blog from their own space.

“Micro.blog is a success if more people blog,” Reece said. “To provide value it doesn’t need to replace Twitter, but it can.”

The project’s mobile app is key to making it convenient for users to read other people’s posts and post directly to their own websites from the same interface. Reece shared another preview of the iPhone and iPad app that will be ready at launch and said he hopes there will be other apps developed by the community.

“Most RSS traditional readers can’t post,” Reece said. “I think this makes for a more complete experience, and because it’s just a blog I can still use other apps and platforms to post.” He plans to give Micro.blog a 280 character limit before truncating the post.

Keeping the timeline fast and making posting convenient will be critical to the platform’s success as an alternative to the dominant social media silos. Polling blogs for new content is not very aggressive in the current prototype but Reece is tuning this to provide a better experience. The platform uses rssCloud and WebSub (formerly PubSubHubbub) to provide a more Twitter-like, real-time experience.

Micro.blog seems to be landing at the right time, as the idea has already resonated with more than 2,300 people willing to back the project. The service hasn’t even launched but the concept behind it is already attracting a supportive community eager to explore better ways of powering microblogging on the web.

“You don’t replace Twitter overnight, or even try to,” Reece said. “But step by step, we’re going to end up with a better web, and I think independent microblogging is part of that.”

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Collecting Student Work with Google Forms

File folders organized in a file boxA good number of us here at ProfHacker prefer to avoid paper whenever possible. When I teach my writing course each fall, I have my students use Google Documents so that it’s easy to see an essay’s development over time.

For classes where it’s not essential that I see a student’s revisions, I prefer that essays be submitted in PDF format, so that I can comment on essays using my iPad. (My current favorite app for this purpose is PDFExpert; Jason and Erin have both made use of iAnnotate.)

What I’ve always found a bit of a bother, though, is organizing those PDFs. I’d looked around a bit, but I hadn’t found a good way to streamline the process.

Until recently, that is. Not long ago, I was checking something for a colleague in Google Forms, and I discovered a feature that apparently rolled out back in October: the ability to upload files.

This feature provides the kind of streamlined organization process I was looking for. For assignment submission, I can provide students with a link to a Google Form that contains a file upload question:

A file upload question in Google Forms

If I want to ensure that students submit their essays in PDF format, I can set the question to allow only that file type:

Restricting allowed file upload types in Google Forms

The results spreadsheet will contain links to files that students upload.

What makes this feature so useful to me, though, is that Google Forms creates a folder corresponding to the form. Within that folder, it creates one folder for each question of the “file upload” type. That folder, as one might expect, contains all files uploaded in response to the question.

Because PDFExpert allows me to sync particular Google Drive folders with the app, there’s nothing I need to do to organize my students’ essays once I’ve collected them via the form. I can open essays in PDFExpert and mark them up as appropriate; all of my annotations will sync with the relevant Google Drive folder. I can then return students’ work by sending each student a link to her marked essay (alternatively, I could send it to her as an attachment).

The only drawbacks I’ve discovered so far are (1) that the feature is only available to G Suite users and (2) that only users within one’s own organization can upload files. So the feature’s not available for personal accounts, or for those who have a grandfathered Google Apps for Your Domain setup. Anyone working at a campus already using Google apps, though, should be able to take advantage of the new(-ish) feature.

What about you? If you have favorite tools or methods for collecting and organizing student work, let us know in the comments.

[Lead image CC-licensed by Flickr user Becky Wetherington]

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2016 Flickring By Too

Just one more under the wire blog post for 2017, and yes it’s about photos. I had to wait until I posted photo number 366 for this year…

2016/366/366 Staying Grounded
2016/366/366 Staying Grounded flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Public Domain Dedication Creative Commons ( CC0 ) license

… so I could try John Johnston’s “wee little” script he posted that generates a rapid montage of a series of flickr photos. There was a now extinct site called “pummelvision” that did this automatically (I made one in 2011).

John is among the people I admire for his reclaiming ingenuity, and his script worked perfectly (I took out the datesince parameter John since mine were all tagged). It chugged about 5 minutes downloading all the images, and then the command line thing he provided just churned and out popped a movie.

This is way better than fully automated site that disappears on you.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/197658605

I also ran his “averaging” script, no idea what it means, there is a pale orange blob in the middle. It’s probably felix shaped

The average of all my daily photos.

Thanks for the present, John!


Top / Featured Image: The ImageMagick generated montage of all my flickr daily photos generated with John Johnston’s script – since they are all licensed CCO so is the montage. Because I can.

The post "2016 Flickring By Too" was originally pulled like taffy through a needle’s eye at CogDogBlog (http://ift.tt/2j5cf0d) on December 31, 2016.

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