WordPress V. Dreamweaver

We have decided to use wordpress to develop our site instead of dreamweaver. this is based on one team members really positive experience with using wordpress to build a website.

I have not used wordpress for this, nor have I really gone beyond lab sheets on Dreamweaver as yet. So, I wonder which is better?

Of course, WordPress is a Content Management System whereas Dreamweaver is a WYSIWYG Website Development Tool, but does that make a real difference for the purposes of this project?

With wordpress you have to write your own code but Dreamweaver does this for you.
Wordpress seems a lot easier to grasp from a beginners point of view and has so many plug-ins readily available (though you would be limited creatively in terms of going outside the realm of what these would allow).
Dreamweaver certainly would allow for more creativity in this way, but is that necessary for this project??

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Visual Aesthetics In User Interface-How Important Is It?

Now that our team has had a couple of meetings, we are really getting down to the specifics of our website design concept. As per the assignment brief and project specifications, the website clearly must have a high level of usability and accessibility from the users perspective and key aims centre on encouraging user participation and interaction. Clearly then , when attempting to garner interest and motivation within the average citizen of which diverse demographics are a given, visual appeal and accessibility are two extremely important factors.

While accessibility in content can be achieved through writing style and language, what about visual appeal? In my opinion, the average person (particularly the younger population) are not going to be generally interested unless the content is presented in the most visually dynamic and interesting way possible.

In an article on Visual Decision Making, “research shows that website users are powerfully influenced by aesthetics, and that positive perceptions of order, beauty, novelty, and creativity increase the user’s confidence in a site’s trustworthiness and usability. Recent design writing and interface research illustrate how visual design and user research can work together to create better user experiences on the web: experiences that balance the practicalities of navigation with aesthetic interfaces that delight the eye and brain. In short: there’s lots of evidence that beauty enhances usability” (Lynch 2009).

I think that for this particular project visual aesthetics are a vital element.

For full article see: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/visual-decision-making/visual%20appeal

Group Website Assignment – Getting Started

Our group assignment for the ‘design and development of the Ennis Hub Plan sub-site’ is quite a challenging one in my opinion. Not only do we have to propose, design and develop a website from scratch (first time for a lot of us even using Dreamweaver), but we have to also collaborate to do this, which can cause problems within itself.

From my Virtual Team experience, I will be taking what I learned from that in order to help me through this project. (see previous blog post-what I gained from the virtual team project).

Since we have 2 part-time students on our team, face-to-face meetings where all are present will be difficult if not impossible. After our first meeting today, or just 3 of us, we immediately discussed our strengths, weaknesses and preferred areas of work in relation to the project, something we had not done on my virtual team though i now know this is essential.

So, in order to facilitate team communication and cohesiveness and to maintain some sort of structural plan for everyone to follow, I am investigating design and developmental models that we could possibly adapt to our project and follow. I have come across one already that is quite basic and can be applied really to any sort of decision-making process. Though it is pretty obvious and not specific to web development, I think may work as an effective mental checklist which we could follow and would easily adapt into our team.

The model is DODAR, which stands for DIAGNOSE, OPTIONS, DECIDE, ASSIGN, REVIEW (see fhttp://www.elsterama.com/decision-making-models-web-development for a brief guide to this and other web design decision-making models). It captures the 5 key areas of any decision-making process. By using every stage of this process in sequence to confirm evaluations, assumptions and decisions team members before moving onto the next stage, everyone is kept on the same page.

In relation to this specific project, the DODAR model could be adapted as follows;

1. DIAGNOSE  What needs to be done and why? What are the needs and purposes of the Ennis Hub Plan sub-site? What are the requirements of the client (practicum team)?

2. OPTIONS What are the available options to us to meet these needs? Dreamweaver is a requirement here, but what other applications or plugins are available to us?

3. DECIDE Make decisions that the group has agreed upon, about all the available options.

4. ASSIGN Breakdown of team roles and assigning tasks. Who will write the content? Who will source images? Who will design the interface? etc etc

5. REVIEW An immediate analysis of the process so far. Is everyone happy with the decisions and tasks laid out? Is everyone of the same understanding? After this, deadlines and regualr reviews for ongoing targets must be set up. For example, deadline for finalising proposal, deadline for writing content, arrange a time for another group meeting to discuss progression and address unforseen problems.

There are many other basic models available and all fall under different categories such as;

What I Have Gained from the Virtual Team Assignment

I am so glad that this assignment is over. I learned a lot from it and am glad to have had the experience for that reason, but the sheer amount of time and effort that went into it was really surprising and frustrating at times. Writing my own individual section was fine. Once it became a matter of editing and unifying it with everyone elses and matters of overall report sections, then the real hardship began. I took on the section ‘conclusions and recommendations’ and literally spent DAYS writing it and rewriting it, trying to establish what peoples main points were, what they thought, and asking for specific recommendations, all while trying to write it to a specific template which would incorporate everything and cohesively bring together the entire report. Phew.

This is what I personally have learned from the experience;

1. Blogs are great communication tools for reflection. I researched blogs, had never encountered them before, but from using this one and setting up one for the team (though ineffective for teamwork) and have come to really enjoy them. They really warrant a reflection and thought on what you think, how you feel, and what other peoples’ opinions are.

2. Virtual teams require several modes of communicative technologies. One is not enough. For the various needs of any virtual team, at least 3 are needed (see previous blog post on ‘combinations of tools’).

3. Assigning team roles is important when forming a team. Team leader, timekeeper etc..Clearly defined roles enhace the progression of the team and decrease confusion and slack.

4. Being accountable to others can change the way you work. I had never worked as part of a team in this way before, and having to be accountable definately added another dimension to my work processes. For example, I can easily skimp on deadlines I set for myself, but in a team, this is not so easy. In general, I think it makes for increased incentives and can push you that bit further but only if…….

5. Everone on the team puts in equal amounts of work. It is frustrating to be a part of a team where others may be working less or supplying work to a lower standard. This, I think, is where assigning team roles can be of benefit.

And finally, its really hit home for me the possibilities and potential that technology has for communcation and collaborative work. To think that we successfully collaborated with a team in Florida becasue of these technologies is something that can easily be taken for granted but it is quite amazing and I can’t imagine what will develop in the future….

On another note, Our main Editor spent days upon days trying to unify and edit our overall document. I came across this interview with a documnet design expert on how to ‘effectively design documents without fuss’ http://johnnyholland.org/2011/02/17/effective-design-documentation-without-a-fuss-an-interview-with-dan-brown/

Heutagogy, not Pedagogy

Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning and is a reinterpretation or expansion of andgragogy. Heutagogy places specific emphasis on ‘learning how to learn, double-loop learning, universal learning opportunities, a non-linear process and true learner self-firection’. For this reason, I find it a very effective word to describe the changing nature of E-learning courses and its emphasis on learner-centred approaches, and the potentional in ICTs to create new learning cultures.  I think that in particular it is a suitable term to describe an ‘inclusive’ approach to learning, where those new to learning or those reluctant to engage in conventional learning and  have preconceived (undesirable) notions of what learning usually entails, are included in a very humanistic sense.

In countries such as Australia, who have traditionally been more engaged with flexible learning than others, research is underway as to how “young learners can engage with new technologies, and how technology can act as an enabler for youth disengaged from traditional learning approaches” http://kt.flexiblelearning.net.au/tkt2010/?page_id=499.

This article is part of the E-Journal ‘the knowledge tree’ (see blogroll for link), which is a great source of articles on e-learning and innovative educational technologies. I recommmend.

The Most Effective Combination of Tools for Collaboration

As a direct result of my experience with this Virtual Team project, I would suggest that a combination of a discussion forum, wiki and one single form of synchronous communication (chat tool, skype etc) is the most effective for team collaboration, whatever the nature of the collaboration may be. I believe that the aspects of this combination fulfills almost all communicative and interactivity needs; (I won’t go into the obvious advantages of each in terms of general synchronous and asynchronous communication tools)

  • Discussion Forums
    Literally, if we had not used them to communicate, I dont think we would have communicated as effectively. The categorization of topical ‘threads’, the display of the postings in chronological order (within each topic), the archiving, and the general structure lends itself so well to team organisation in terms of efficiency. We have opened up so many topical threads, I shudder to think how effectively we would have received and identified relevant information/discussions, without this categorization and structure.
  • Wiki
    The characteristic of the Wiki as a tool in which everyone on the team can edit a document, is a unique and essential tool for any online team. Though we have not used the Wiki much, as there was no need to collaboratively edit a document, I did engage with it and cannot fault its potential in terms of group editing of a single unit of documentation.
  • Synchronous Tool eg: VOIP such as Skype
    While the other tools fulfill most of the (important) needs of the virtual team, in my opinion, they obviously lack the social and personal elements of team bonding and familiarity. Tools such as Skype or videoconferencing entirely changes the dynamic of team communication from textual to both verbal and visual which can enhance the teams general comfort and familiarity with each other by adding personal elements. It also has the obvious advantage on picking up non-verbal cues and factors such as tone, which is impossible in written form.

I came across a really interesting research study recently, to do with the building of ‘trust’ in virtual teams, specifically those geographically dispersed. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol3/issue4/jarvenpaa.html It found that there is a ‘swift’ trust at the beginning of a virtual team collaboration, this trust quickly diminishes as time goes on. The study experiments within this framework and identifies behaviours which can help to maintain the intitial trust within the team. From my experience, I trusted my team members from the get go, which really doesn’t make any sense. I think there is maybe an (even unconscious)assumption at the start of a project that everyone shares your expectancies? After time, individual differences come out and maybe results in a lessoning of trust within the team.

Blogs

The New York Times recently printed an article http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/technology/internet/21blog.html?_r=3&src=busln claiming that blogs are becoming increasingly unpopular in favour of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, particularly for the younger generation. Blogging numbers have dropped amoung this demographic, with claims that social networking sites do ‘just as good a job’ as blogs, and that most target audiences are not as  reachable by blogs alone.

While this may be true, I think it is a question of semantics. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook do incorporate many of the elements of blogging – posting in reverse chronological order, comments and dated entries. It could be said that blogging (in popular use), instead of waning, is actually evolving towards being a ‘component’ of  multi-purpose social networking sites, which incorporate almost everything one could imagine needing, rather than ‘blogging’ alone. Though, it does have to be said that for in-depth discussion, blogs have the upper-hand as typical entries on facebook etc. usually compose of no more than a few words or lines.

The advantages of blogs for opining on topics of interest, recording daily thoughts and activities or as a public forum for social discussion are numerous. These advantages however, are not necessarily as advantageous when it comes to team blogs created to facilitate group collaboration. As part of research for the virtual team assignment, I have developed a strong opinion that they should NOT be used as the primary mode of communication within a team. Here’s why;

1. Reverse-chronological order hinders team communication
This fundamental characteristic of blogs, while reasonable and beneficial for individual blogging, becomes a burden of sifting through a mass of entries and feedback, as the ‘author’ is not one but several people all contributing their input and ideas. While the option of categorization and archiving certainly exists, it relies on the effort (and memory) of each team member to catalogue their entries accordingly, which can be a tedious task for all involved, and easily forgotten.

2. Blogging Language can skew from professionalism
As the language and traditional culture of blogging (similar to any technically-written language like text) is relatively informal, it may be difficult to be stringently professional while communicating within a team blog. Unless strict standards of conduct are explicitly given, blogs have the potential to veer into more friendly or personal topics/communications. While this could be said to promote the social aspect of the group, promoting team bonding, it has obvious implications for the progress of the blog as a productive tool within a professional setting.

3. Blogging masks non-verbal cues
For team collaboration, like most asynchronous communcative tools
blogs do not allow for the communicative value of non-verbal cues. Whereas VOIP software such as Skype or videoconferencing have the obvious disadvantages of time, effort and technology required, they have an advantage over blogs in that the commincative dimensions are deeper (visual) than that of purely textual commication.

Those are just my personal opinions as a result of my research. From my own experience, I have found that chat tols and discussion forums serve the interest of the team quite sufficiently without the need for blogs. When I began a team blog on our Sulis Site, I had to explicity rquest that tam members use it in some form, as no-one had engaged with it whatsoever. It was unnessesary for the purposes of our team, an extra information/communication vehicle that confused matters to an extent.

Has anyone else researched blogs for this project?

Katrina

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