Sunday, September 9, 2012

Feeding a Tablet

Presenting Department news, photos, videos as a dynamic glossy online magazine turned out to be easy.

This has been one of the advantages of integrating the new DoE website with selected social media channels that can be displayed through free apps such as Flipboard on tablet computers.

For this to work the end user with a tablet computer needs either the URLs of these channels or to have subscribed to (or 'liked') them. We currently use the following services:

  • Blogger for:
    • Ministerial Media Releases
    • Department of Education Media Releases
    • Department of Education News
  • YouTube for:
    • Department of Education videos
    • Partner or student videos
  • FlickR for:
    • Department of Education photos
    • Project photos
  • Twitter for
    • News feeds

They look great on Flipboard as an interactive one-stop-shop e-zine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Facing Up to New Possibilities

The Tasmanian Department of Education has created a Facebook page.


Marketing Services have been approached by a number of staff over the last few months asking about using Facebook for community projects, collaboration with partners, schools and classrooms. In many cases good news stories and useful resources were being shared in vibrant online Facebook communities without any formal involvement of DoE staff.

Marketing and Communication Services were missing out on opportunities to promote great stories of engaged learning, active citizenship and global connections. So a Facebook Page has been set up that will link to ('like') existing Facebook pages related to learning and hopefully build an audience to share these stories both online and through traditional media.

We believe the creation of a DoE Facebook page will also
  • Provide a strategic DoE presence and official voice in Facebook
  • Model and promote good use of social media
  • Facilitate the sourcing of good news stories from school communities
  • Engage students and parents with their school communities
  • Connect the DoE with its numerous partners and supporters who use Facebook
  • Make the DoE visible to schools, colleges and business units with Facebook pages
  • Build organisational capacity in the effective use of social media to achieve desired goals
  • Encourage schools to engage with social media according to DoE policy and guidelines
  • Promote participation through online polls and advertising events
  • Provide opportunities to promote staff expertise
Our planning and implementation has been informed by a number of pilot projects in the use of social media in education and other government agencies as well as the work done in other states. eg the NSW Education & Training Social Media Guidelines. Initially posts will be hidden by default and only published after moderation using response processes such as those in this EDINA flowchart. We hope this delay will not frustrate frequent users of social media who expect reasonably quick responses. Comments will be monitored and hidden if deemed inappropriate. 

Through an Online Safety link we have provided users with easy access to quality national information and support on the use of online media and online spaces. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Internet-Intranet Project Updates

We are now about 6 weeks away from launching the new Internet. The staff Intranet will go live at the end of the year. I've narrated some presentation slides that were used in project updates this week.

The first video (4 mins) summarises the history and thinking behind the project while the second (2mins) introduces some new features being developed such as eForms and a live sync of documents to a tablet computer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Policy Delivered on Tablets

The rapid uptake and use of tablet computers, particularly the iPad, across schools and in the wider community has prompted an investigation into how they might be used with the new Internet. Initial testing has indicated that Internet browser access on the iPad should work well. But tablet (iPad/iOS and Android) computers offer other interesting possibilities.

New documents being access through the Bookshelves App.
Reading for the Vision Impaired: On the iPad any PDF link in a browser can be opened in the iBooks App. The advantage of this is that the iPad's VoiceOver accessibility option will read the document very clearly.

Live Sync with DropBox: The Bookshelves App will synchronise with a number of online services including DropBox. When new or updated documents are placed in the linked DropBox folder they will automatically appear in the Bookshelves App when the iPad next goes online through wireless or 3G.

PDF Reader Functionality: A number of PDF reader apps are available that provide a number of functions in addition to those available in iBooks or Bookshelves. For example the Adobe Reader App allows:
  • document annotation
  • completion of eForms
  • navigation through PDF bookmarks
  • electronic ink signature
There are some exciting opportunities here that warrant further exploration.

Friday, July 20, 2012

In Good Form

One of the document types being considered are forms. Both staff and the public now have an expectation of being able to complete a from online or print it. Current forms vary in quality and functionality so I've been learning how to design eforms.

An eForm being completed on an iPad
I've discovered that Adobe Acrobat Pro X has a form wizard - and it's magic! It will
  • create a form from an existing Word document
  • fields can be customised
  • simple calculations can be automated
  • a signature can be added
The resultant form can be completed on an iPad (or other tablet) using the Adobe Reader app - and then submitted via email or printed.

I've also discovered that several form management options are available in Acrobat Pro X and at Adobe Form Central. Something to consider in strategic planning down the track.

A recent delay of a few weeks in the launch of the new DoE Internet caused by the need to upgrade server performance to meet anticipated user demand will allow some additional time for this to be further investigated.

In the meantime a 'light' eform solution that provides forms that can be completed fully or partly online looks like a possible option.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's in a Name?

Spaces? Dashes? Underscores? Caps? Who would have-thought-that-naming_a_document_would%20be%20SuchAnIssue.pdf?

The DoE already has a document naming convention but it wasn't designed for today's systems or devices. Over the years document names have lengthened in order to be more meaningful and also to distinguish them from other similar documents. Our current content management system is not accessible through the Internet and so it allows spaces. The new Document Centre for the new Internet website will show document names in a URL and spaces will be replaced by %20 which is messy.

It's common to replace the spaces with a dash (hyphen) or an underscore - although opinions are mixed as to which is the better option.

SharePoint 2010 allows for each document to have a title which can be displayed in web parts making them easy to read. SharePoint also has provision for customisable document IDs which means
  • the URL has no spaces
  • a document can be searched for using its ID
  • the ID doesn't change if the document name, version, title or location changes
  • the ID can appear on printed documents making it easier to check for updates online
This might be a neat solution allowing us to use spaces in the document name.
The advantage of this is that when documents (which are mostly PDFs) are viewed in Explorer or on tablet computers their names look nice. Most applications handle spaces in file names very well.

So... do we need to convert spaces to dashes or underscores? Perhaps it depends on how often the end-user sees the URL.

SharePoint Document IDs are worth a closer look.

Document IDs could be included in the footer

They could be included in the document footer making it easy to locate the online version. Although the IDs are 11 characters some test searching showed that documents can often be located by searching for just the last 3 or 4 characters.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's On the Menu?

Usability testing with the general public occurred early in this project and provided a useful foundation on which to design and build menus and meta-data tags. Not surprisingly a large proportion of those interviewed  said that they used external search engines (mostly Google) to locate information and services. Others would browse menu options IF they made sense to them and only a few clicks were required to locate desired information.
Screenshot of the top menu for new DoE public Internet site
A great deal of consultation has taken place to develop the menu that will appear at the top of pages. 'Mega-menu' tags reflect different public audiences and about 50 sub-menu tags provide internally consistent browsing options. The menus are not built around organisational units and this is a radical departure from past practice which has challenged teams to rethink why and what they publish online for public access. 

Brief accessibility testing with the popular JAWS screen reader indicates that the menus can be read.

A left hand SharePoint generated menu also exists and this will be discussed in a later post.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Launching into Video

Embedded 'Launching into Learning' Video

Several staff are interested in displaying video so this is a check that a video can be displayed from a YouTube channel. As it turned out a quick CSS edit had to be made because the top menus dropped down behind the video - not a good look  :-)

The intention now is to showcase a number of videos that will be uploaded to a YouTube channel.

Pictures from a recent photo-shoot in schools and colleges across the state makes me wonder also about displaying a FlickR badge. Something to take to the Project's Advisory Group.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's in a Cover?

Designing templates for documents to upload to the new Internet site is a very long process... Draft templates have already been through many versions and we aren't there yet - although we are getting closer...
Policy Template (updated 19th July)
Templates are being designed for master documents which will be in Word (.docx). When approved documents will be saved in PDF format for upload to the new Document Centre (SharePoint 2010) and then linked to the new Internet site (another instance of SharePoint).

Templates have been designed with the following in mind:
  • A simple and recognisable cover that complies with the Tasmanian Government Style Guide
  • Standard headings and structure for policy, procedures and guideline documents that are designed for easy readability for a public audience
  • Designing for accessibility in Word and the exported PDF. PDF Accessibility for Everyone presentations usefully summarise the workflow required from Word to PDF to ensure readers for the vision impaired can smoothly process the documents.
A decision must be made soon about providing alternative formats for online documents. Should we provide one or more alternative formats?
  • PDF
  • Word
  • HTML
National Web Accessibility Guidelines state that "Agencies are reminded that it is still a requirement to publish an alternative to all PDF documents (preferably in HTML)". The guidelines also state that "any technology may be used, but where it cannot prove its accessibility support, agencies must provide multiple accessible formats". SharePoint 2012 does claim accessibility support. 

Vision Australia have a 2012 report that includes an assessment of SharePoint 2010 conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

We have more planning to do here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Turning the Pages

The current DoE public website has well over 1,200 pages - and so far different organisational units have agreed to archive or move to the staff Intranet over 500 pages.

I've discovered that archives exist of the Department of Education website going back to 1999.
LINC Archive of Tasmanian Education Department Website

It's interesting to reflect on changes in web design over the years and to plan forward. I built my first website in 1992 and although it's been updated it still fundamentally reflects old design principles. 
Apart from the cute animated gifs one can see a shift from very long web pages in the 90s as documents were 'dumped' online to much shorter 'screen size' pages over the last decade. 

But some believe the pendulum may have swung too far and that is better to have an informed balance of small web pages and longer downloadable documents that is driven by user need and purpose. Currently some documents are broken down to so many web pages that editing and navigation have become very challenging.

National web design guidelines point to accepted best practice - and mandatory requirements. Tasmania also has a Government framework for web design and publishing. Accessibility and usability are key national issues with WCAG 2.0 compliance high on the agenda. There is also recent advice on the accessibility of PDFs.

Much to consider...  :-)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Managing Change

I have a new job - a 6 month Project Management position implementing a new Internet and Intranet for the Tasmanian Department of Education. My previous role in state-wide strategic planning and implementation of eLearning came to an end as new priorities were set due to budget constraints.

Current DoE Website

The Internet-Intranet project has already been running for 9 months and has implementation deadlines of 31st July for the Internet and mid-December 2012 for the Intranet.

Why are we building a new Internet-Intranet? Two key issues are:
  • Difficulty locating information and services through searching or browsing
  • Lack of information currency and expectations for faster online publishing
What are the features of the new Internet?
  • Navigation, content and access to services will reflect the needs of our principal user groups of parents and carers, students, community partnerships, government and business, and the general public.
  • Content management, access rights and web services will be delivered on SharePoint 2010 rather than the current MySource Matrix.
What are the current challenges?
  • 100s of documents and web pages that no longer meet the needs of intended audiences or organisational priorities - and too many dead links. The current website has over 1,200 web pages and several hundred documents.
  • A web structure and publishing culture that strongly mirrors the products and services of organisational units rather than being driven by end-user needs.
  • National web accessibility guidelines, the rapid increase in mobile device access and the rise of social media.
Having been an end-user of the DoE website for over 15 years I'm looking forward to working with various teams to help shape its next incarnation. As an admin user of SharePoint 2003 and 2007 I'm also interested to see what SharePoint 2010 has to offer.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The LMS in a 2012 DLE

Where does the LMS sit in 2012? The need to consider post WebCT options, cuts to budget and IT support, student and teacher preferences, changes in learning and 'delivery', new national VET eLearning agenda... has led us to explore a more organic and distributed learning environment.

Yesterday Joyce Seitzinger in her post The LMS as a mixing panel for social learning touched on other drivers that have also contributed to the development of a new project that will provide an integrated range of online learning services for staff and students in 2012.

The following 6 min video describes the stage 1 implementation of this project that has just begun.

Will this model give us the agility we need to continuously co-create the online learning services that are required to 2015 and beyond?
Will this model be effective and sustainable?