Doghouse by Jean Claire Dy
October marked the launch of this website as it morphed almost daily in terms of look or theme, organization and navigation, and from a free Weebly site to my own domain name.
I started off with this theme, placing the cover of my online book on the front page. But when a colleague asked why the photo, I realized that a change was necessary. I experimented with several themes, but nothing really seemed right.
Finally, I realized it wasn't the choice of theme but the navigation scheme itself. And after some brainstorming, it was back to my original theme but now with photos to mark the different pages/blogs that make up the site. (Thanks to Claire for the photos.)
The rest of the site is still under construction, but expect the "Courses" pages to be filled out next week.
Of course, the major change I did was the decision to get my own domain name. When I save up enough money again, I'll get the Pro package so I can put up my favicon for instance. After all, the website is the new resume.
I have to practice what I preach. And because I teach media arts and communication arts courses, aside from Literature and Creative Writing subjects, my website should serve as an example of what I continuously harp on inside the classroom -- that learning is not what you just read because it's assigned, and it is not just writing an essay or accomplishing an exercise for a grade.
Learning is really a neverending quest to find out how and why stuff happens, how and why things work, why this and not that. Etcetera.
Learning doesn't stop just because now I am a licensed professional and people pay me lots of money to fix things for them. And it doesn't stop just because now I'm a teacher, and here's the syllabus for the class I'll teach.
Learning from where I stand is also finding out how best to transmit knowledge (and perhaps wisdom) to students. It is finding out what tools would work to facilitate the exchange of ideas.
And I should emphasize the word "exchange" because learning is not just a one-way street (leading from teacher to student, sometimes ending up in cul-de-sacs). Learning is really a conversation among the students and the teacher.
The teacher usually sets the tone and facilitates the flow of ideas. And one way for the teacher to do this is to provide examples, sometimes drawing from his/her own experiences and work.
And when a teacher like me draws from my own work, then I had better show something I would also "demand" from my students. I have to walk my talk.
And so this "renovation" of my website.
Yes, that's what's this post is really about -- a rationale for my most recent redesign.
Do we let machines work for us, or do we work for machines?
I asked myself this, sitting there in a meeting to iron out kinks in our computerized registration process. The way everyone was talking, including myself, I began to wonder -- how were we adjusting to the shift from a manual enrollment system to one using computers?
As I listened to the others voice their concerns, my first realization was how everybody wanted the machines to ease their workload. So there was talk about how long queues at the cashier could be avoided by ensuring that printing of receipts be made faster. And so on.
But as the conversation progressed, I soon realized that we were doing something wrong. We were transposing an "analog" way of thinking into a "digital" system, or a linear way of doing things using a nonlinear delivery system. And we were congratulating ourselves for the ease by which we were processing registrants. (Image is from George Dillon's Writing in Images).
But were we really maximizing the tools we had at hand? Or were we looking at new technology from a "rearview mirror," as Marshall McLuhan would say. This kind of thinking, according to McLuhan, is exemplified in how we gave the name "horseless carriage" for the then new contraption that we now call a car.
So were we using our network of computers and our database as state-of-the-art typewriters and electronic filing cabinets? Apparently we are.
We'll catch up with the 21st century somehow.
You might wonder, where exactly am I going with this blog? And that's precisely my point (I think). Why does everything have to lead to something?
Perhaps blogging doesn't have to have an obvious narrative, or what you'd call an "and-then" structure. Blogs can wander off, meander (but then again, that last word usually implies an ultimate destination), and in some cases (like my other blogs) vanish into an always already virtual void.
SEM micrograph from Wikimedia
Because what have I written here so far? I posted entries on:
And readers (virtual or actual) can be certain I'll write more entries on other sundry topics, though they might wish a pattern to emerge -- a pattern (like the previous seven entries on blogging) that would somehow cohere and resemble a narrative however tangential.
Because the human brain always looks for some order out of the chaos, right. And that may really be why blogging is our current mode of figuring out what all this means.
Where to place a photo in your blog post? Definitely, a photo will help draw your reader to read down to the end of your post. So what image to use, and where to put? Remember the F-shape pattern I mentioned in my last post? Well the stem of the F seems to be the best place to position your photo.
Here are a few tricks I've picked up from some blogs:
Try it out. See if it works for you. If the reader continues to scroll down the page, and scan more of the items there -- then your image has done its job.
USERS DON'T READ BUT SCAN ITEMS ON WEBSITES.
And they scan following an F-shape pattern: left to right across a page, then another but shorter left to right scan a few lines down, and then a vertical sweep down to the lower part of the page. What does this mean for my website? It means a different kind of writing, and a different way of formatting text.
Which means I have to:
It helps too if I follow the rest of Jakob Neilsen's advice (from his website, where I got these practical ideas):
Hmmm. Useful advice indeed. Let's see how users ('cause they definitely aren't "readers") will scan this post.
I had my first, sort of, user's test today. Showed my initial design to Tess, and the first thing she asked was what the picture of a rubber ducky on the home page was about.
Which got me to thinking. If it were somebody else who gave that comment, perhaps I would go defensive if not ballistic. Yes, that's how close this project is to me. It's a personal website, after all. ;-)
But Tess teaches Visual Communication and Applied Media Aesthetics, so I seriously pondered what her reaction meant. (Which I should actually do every time a user -- including those who aren't adept with this technology -- becomes puzzled by something in this site.)
What could Tess's reaction mean? And that's when I realized that the homepage didn't really provide a function. It only served as some sort of a cover, like that in a book or a magazine, for the website. That was me still working in print media mode.
So I took it down and decided to have the website open with this blog. But without that homepage, I realized the layout theme didn't quite fit. And so now here is the new look.
Coorough and Shuman are right again. The second thing to consider in designing one's site is to consider how users will access it, and how they will use it.
I hope to have got it right this time. Let's see how the next user reacts to it.
After reading Coorough and Shuman's discussion on planning your website, and getting stuck right there at the first question they pose -- what's your site for? -- I finally have it. I think.
Because it is my personal site, it should focus on the person. So it will be about what I do, what I have done, what I hope to contribute to readers who will access my site.
So what I have been doing while experimenting with how to construct this site were steps in the right direction, after all. Expect to see more of what I do in the menu bar to your left. There'll be a link there to my classes (starting with what I'll be teaching starting November), my other writing pieces, my photographs, and hopefully, some artwork.
See you around here more often, then. :-D
This book I got over a year ago can finally be put into good use. I wasn't able to make much use of it in building my blogs in other sites because I couldn't really get around the formats they offered for their free services. And because I'm not that great in tweaking html or css, I couldn't really do much. So I just had to construct my blogs according to the given templates.
But I think Calleen Coorough and Jim Shuman's Multimedia for the Web Revealed: Creating Digital Excitement (Boston: Thomson Course Technology, 2006) will come in handy as I try out the more versatile features weebly.com offers.
Coorough and Shuman says building a website "is 80% planning and 20% production" (32). They suggest going through several steps in planning, developing, and implementing the website. First is to determine the site's purpose.
So let me put on my thinking cap as I ponder this ...
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