Warning: This is an archived course website that is part of my teaching portfolio, so some links may no longer work. Please contact me with any questions about this site.

English 313 Header Image

Weeks 16 and 17: Wrapping Things Up

This post will be my final update to the class website, and it will be short and sweet:

On Tuesday, I’ll be meeting with each team to review your Final Project website. When you come to your conference, be prepared to show me your entire site and discuss how the site has changed since we last met. You can use our class time on Tuesday to meet with your team and continue working on the Final Project.

On Thursday, we will complete course evaluations and conduct a short peer-review session. Before you come to class, please upload a full draft of your Final Project website to one of your team member’s websites. (Full draft means that all of the pages should be there and all of the links should work; some content may still be in rough draft format.)

Your Final Project website, memo, and all accompanying materials are due in my office (or in my email inbox) during our class’s scheduled final: Tuesday, December 16, from 12:00-2:00 p.m. Please review the Final Project assignment sheet for specific details about submitting your work.

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know. It’s been a wonderful semester, and I’m excited to see your Final Projects coming together. I can’t wait to see these sites go live!

Week 15: Promoting Your Work and Lifestreaming

Welcome back from Thanksgiving break! I hope everyone had a nice week off. I spent most of the week sick in bed, but I did manage to finish grading your usability projects (if you haven’t received my feedback via email, please let me know) and your second exams (you’ll get these back in class on Tuesday). I hope to have your Final Project Proposals graded before class on Tuesday, too, though I may not get to all of them until Thursday.

We’re in the home stretch — just two weeks to go. At this point, you should be in frequent contact with your team members and your clients, developing your Final Project websites. We’ll spend some in-class time in workshop mode this week, but the majority of your work on these sites will happen outside of class. Please find a way to keep the channels of communication within your team open so each member of your team contributes equally to the final project. If you’re having difficulty working with your client, please come see me and we’ll talk about strategies for getting nonresponsive clients to respond.

In class tomorrow, we will talk about strategies for getting your websites noticed. Please read pages 353-373 in Castro before class. On Thursday, we will conclude our exploration of online genres by looking at lifestreaming and data capturing. Before you come to class on Thursday, please sign up for an account at Mycrocosm, explore the site, and create a dataset of your choosing.

Week 13: Second Exam and Team Conferences

By now you should have received feedback from me on your Final Project Proposal draft. (If you haven’t, please let me know!) The final version of your proposal is due next Thursday, November 20th, at the beginning of class. Please refer to the assignment sheet for submission instructions.

On Tuesday, we will have our second (and last) exam of the semester. This exam will be quite different from our first exam; it will focus on usability and design, and it will be “open book.” To prepare for the exam, please review the resources listed under Tuesday’s date on the course calendar. If you finish the exam early, you’ll have the rest of the class period to work with your final project team.

On either Wednesday or Thursday, I would like to meet with each team for approximately 30 minutes. We will review your design prototypes (remember to have more than one design option ready to show your client) and talk about information architecture, working with your client, and what your team needs to do next. I am available to meet with teams on Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and on Thursday from 1-5 p.m. Please confer with the members of your team and email me with a proposed meeting time.

Because I’ll be holding conferences during our class period on Thursday, you’ll be able to hold a team work session in the lab. I won’t be there to monitor your work session, but I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this time to develop your final project site.

Week 12: YouTube and Twitter — You Call This Writing?

I apologize for the late update this week. I’ve been busy planning and running a conference that our department hosted on Friday and Saturday, and I’m just now (late Sunday night) catching up on the long list of things I should have been doing over the past few days.

Because of my tardiness, I have decided to postpone our exam from this Tuesday to next Tuesday (November 18), which will give you more time to prepare for the exam and more time to work on your final project proposals this week. Drafts of your proposals are due on Thursday — each team needs to bring a printed copy of your proposal for Quinn (I’ll read through them and give you feedback over the weekend) and an electronic copy of your proposal for workshopping in class.

Aside from work on your final projects, I’d like to spend this week exploring some new directions that “writing” on the web has been taking in the past few years. (Notice the quotation marks around “writing” in that last sentence.) On Tuesday we’ll spend some time immersed in the culture of YouTube, and on Thursday we’ll look at Twitter and the phenomenon of microblogging. You don’t need to do anything in preparation for Tuesday’s class, but there are three articles linked on the calendar for Thursday’s class — please read these and be ready to discuss them in class. Oh, and if you don’t have a Twitter account already, you might want to sign up for one before Thursday.

If your final project team runs into any problems working with your client or creating your proposal, please come see me during office hours — I’m happy to help you work through these issues.

Week 11: Goodbye Usability Testing, Hello Final Project

I’m headed to the airport in a few hours and I still haven’t packed my suitcase, so this update will be short and sweet. Next week we will finish up the Usability Report assignment, which is due on Thursday. Bring a rough draft of your report to class on Tuesday (in HTML format) so we can conduct a brief peer-review session. We will also be talking about the Final Project, so you and your team should hold your first meeting (and your first client meeting) before you come to class on Tuesday. In class we’ll talk about project management, assigning roles in a group project, and working with clients.

On Thursday, we’ll debate the merits of starting a new site from scratch or using an open-source template. Please visit the sites listed on the Calendar before you come to class and be prepared to talk about what you like (or don’t like) about this approach to web design.

I will be out of town until Saturday night, and I’m not sure how much email access I’ll have. If you encounter problems with your usability report or your final project, feel free to email me — just be patient waiting for a response.

See you next week!

Week 10: The Beginning of the End

Based on our class discussions in Week 9, I gather that most of you are on track with your Usability Report projects. By Tuesday of Week 10, you should have completed all of your usability tests; this will allow you to spend the following week writing up your results and creating protoypes to include in your final report. I have changed the due date for the Usability Report from November 4th to November 6th, as we discussed in class.

In Week 10, we will begin working on the Final Project — a major site design (or redesign). In order to complete this project, you will need to work with a real client on a real site that will “go live” by the end of the semester (or shortly thereafter). For Tuesday’s class, please come ready to discuss your idea for the final project. You may need to contact your potential client to discuss the size and scope of the project they have in mind. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, think locally: you might want to work on a site for a small business in town, a campus club, a community organization, or a nonprofit group. If you contact a potential client before class, please don’t commit yourself to the project, since you might decide to work on someone else’s idea. All of you will be working in small groups (at least two people, no more than four) on the final project. In class, we will share our ideas and “choose teams” for the Final Project.

On Thursday, I’ll be out of town at a conference, so we won’t meet as a class. However, before the end of the week, you should meet with your group to plan for the Final Project, then meet with your client to get started. We’ll talk more about these meetings in class on Tuesday.

If you have any questions about your Usability Report, the Final Project, or anything else, just let me know.

Week 9: WYSIWYG, Dreamweaver, and Problem Solving

A few quick notes about wrapping up Week 8: By now, you should have submitted your final usability testing plan to me. If you haven’t, please do so as quickly as possible. I will review your plan and give you approval to begin conducting your usability tests with Real Live Humans (TM). Between now and Tuesday, October 28, you should conduct all of your usability tests; this will give you a full week to analyze your results and write your report.

Since your usability tests must be completed outside of class, we will have time in class to turn our attention to Dreamweaver. On Tuesday we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of using WYSIWYG interfaces to create websites, and on Thursday we will conduct a Dreamweaver workshop. Before you come to class on Tuesday, please familiarize yourself with Dreamweaver’s interface. If you are already comfortable with Dreamweaver, great! If not, please review the videos in the first three sections of the CD I gave you last week.

As you work on your usability testing project, make note of the things that aren’t going well. On Thursday we’ll take some time to discuss these issues as a class and brainstorm solutions or workarounds to your problems.

As always, if you have any questions about what we’ll be doing next week, or about your usability project, please let me know.

Week 8: Usability, Usability, Usability

Week 7 was incredibly busy and stressful for all of us. Somehow, you managed to submit your Zen Garden projects and study for our first exam. I’m sure it must feel good to have both of these hurdles behind you. As I said in class after the midterm, I found it incredibly invigorating to watch all of you working on the coding portion of your exams. In the short span of seven weeks, you have come an incredibly long way. I hope you can take some pleasure in knowing that you have learned something very few people know how to do. As the semester progresses, your coding skills will continue to improve, but at this point, you have a solid foundation for anything that comes your way in the world of web design.

In Week 8, we will slow things down a bit and focus solely on usability. By now, each of you should have received an email from me with some feedback about your proposed site for the Usability Report. If you haven’t submitted a proposal, or if you haven’t heard back from me already, please get in touch with me ASAP.

On Tuesday, we will review the Usability.gov website, which you should explore in-depth before you come to class. In particular, you should carefully read through the Step-by-Step Usability Guide. Begin drafting your testing protocols and bring what you’ve got to class on Tuesday. By Thursday, you should have a final draft of your usability protocol, ready to test on one of your classmates. We’ll spend most of the day on Thursday working out the kinks in your tests. After class on Thursday, you’ll be free to begin testing real subjects.

One last administrative note: Friday of Week 8 marks the midpoint of the semester, and midterm grades are due that day. You midterm grade will be based primarily on the first two assignments and the midterm test, but your participation in class, your contributions to the class website, and your personal blog will also influence your grade. If you haven’t been submitting sites for the Links page or posting regular entries to your blog, now would be a great time to start.

I’ll see you in class on Tuesday. If you have any questions before then, just let me know.

Week 7: Usability Tests (and English 313 Tests)

As I’ve watched you create and debug (and sometimes scrap and re-create) your CSS Zen Garden designs, I’ve been impressed with the variety of visual styles you’re using. Just think–five weeks ago, most of you had never used cascading style sheets, and now you’ve created entirely original designs using only CSS and images. I can’t wait to see your final designs!

As you put the finishing touches on your designs, remember what we talked about in class on Thursday: typography. When you’re done positioning the elements on your page, make sure you spend some time styling the text so it matches the colors and images you’ve chosen.

Before you come to class on Tuesday, you should upload your finished CSS Zen Garden Redesign project. Here’s a quick list of what should be included:

  • Your project should be in a folder called “zengarden,” located in your “homepage” directory. (For example, mine would be here: warnick.public.iastate.edu/zengarden/ ). Your finished design should load automatically, which means that it needs to be named “index.html.”
  • In that same directory, there should be a file called “report.html,” which contains your 400-500 word design report. To the extent that it’s possible, you should style your report.html file using the same CSS you created for your Zen Garden design.
  • Also in that directory, there should be a file called “allfiles.zip,” which contains (you guessed it) ALL of the files you’ve used for this project, including original Photoshop files, downloaded images, etc…

Please review the assignment sheet before you submit your project to make sure you’ve followed the specific instructions for creating your design, uploading your files, and writing your report. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Once we have put the Zen Garden project behind us, we will move on to our next unit, which is focused on usability and user-centered design. Before you come to class on Tuesday, please read the pages in Krug, as well as the three short pieces linked on the calendar under Week 7.

On Thursday, we will have the first of two exams. The exam will take the entire period and will have three sections: 1) multiple choice, 2) definitions and short answer, and 3) a coding exercise. The first two sections of the exam will be on paper; the final section will be done in Text Wrangler. For the final section, you will create an HTML file with an internal style sheet. Last night, I emailed everyone a list of topics that may appear on the exam. (If you didn’t receive this list, check your iastate.edu email address.) I encourage you to form study groups before the exam to review the topics on this list. If you’ve been keeping up with the reading assignments and paying attention in class, you’ll do well on the exam. That said, it never hurts to study for a test.

Week 6: Don’t Fear Your Peers, Plus a Taste of Tables

Next week we’ll be in the home stretch for the CSS Zen Garden Redesign assignment. By Tuesday you should have a solid draft of your design that you are willing to share with your peers in class. Before you come to class on Tuesday, upload your design to a directory named “zengarden” on your public Iowa State website. We will project your designs onto the big screen and spend a few minutes critiquing them as a class.

I realize that this exercise may make some of you terribly uncomfortable, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to get this kind of feedback when you’re working on a new website design. Don’t worry–no one will be 100% happy with what they’ve done, and everyone will be at least a bit nervous about displaying their work in class. Do not be tempted to bail out on us! Regardless of how far along your design is, please show up on Tuesday ready to explain your visual motif and ask for feedback on a few specific aspects of your design.

Since we’ve been neck-deep in CSS for the past few weeks, I thought it only fair to spend some time with our greatly neglected friend: the table. Tables have fallen out of vogue in recent years, but you shouldn’t leave this class without understanding why they’re used less than they once were and, more importantly, how to use them effectively for displaying tabular data. Please read the chapter in Castro’s book, as well as the three articles linked on the course calendar, before you come to class on Thursday.

As you can see, both of our class sessions will be packed next week, so your work on the CSS Zen Garden project will need to take place primarily on your own. If you would like me to give you some one-on-one feedback on your project, I am available to meet with you during my office hours, or at another time that’s convenient for both of us. Just drop me a line if you’d like to meet.

Week 5: Visual Motifs, Finding Images, and Information Architecture

I think our in-class workshop on Thursday showed us two things: 1) The CSS Zen Garden Redesign assignment has the potential to yield some incredibly creative website designs. 2) It’s going to take a lot of work to create compelling designs from scratch. I hope week 5 will provide you with the tools and the time to develop a solid draft of your Zen Garden project.

On Tuesday, we will discuss the process of turning a vague theme into a concrete visual motif, then we’ll start hunting for free, public-domain, and/or Creative Commons-licensed images to use in your new designs. Before you come to class, you should select a theme for your Zen Garden project, then email Quinn with a short proposal/description of what you plan to do. You should also read the four articles linked under the “Design Report” section on the CSS Zen Garden Redesign assignment page.

On Thursday we will take a slight detour and begin exploring the art and science of information architecture. You’ll need to read a few pages from Krug and the two articles linked on the Calendar. Although we won’t be working on the Zen Garden assignment in class on Thursday, you should continue working on your individual designs outside of class throughout Week 5. By Tuesday of Week 6, you will need to have a complete draft of your design to share with your classmates during our in-class critique exercise.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me, add a comment to this post, or stop by my office during office hours (T/Th 11-noon and 1-2 in 435 Ross Hall).

Week 4: Images, Color, and More Zen Bliss

Week 4 will mark the end of our first assignment and the start of our next big project: the CSS Zen Garden Redesign. In addition, we will learn how color works on the web, how to optimize graphics for the web, and how to use Photoshop to accomplish these tasks.

Before you come to class on Tuesday you should submit your Online Résumé assignment via email. Your email should include your memo of transmittal and the URL for your new homepage on your ISU public webspace. Your homepage should link to your online résumé. Remember, your homepage doesn’t need to be fancy at this point (you’ll add to it as the semester progresses), but it should share some of the styles you’ve created for your résumé page. Please bring a paper copy of your memo to class on Tuesday.

We will spend both class sessions next week working with color and images, with the hope that you can apply what we discuss to your CSS Zen Garden Redesign. There are short reading assignments for both Tuesday and Thursday (check the calendar for links), as well as a mini-assignment for Thursday related to the Zen Garden project. What the calendar doesn’t reflect is the fact that you should be thinking about what type of visual theme or motif you want to use for your CSS Zen Garden Redesign. Please read the assignment sheet before class on Tuesday so we can discuss your questions about the assignment and start moving forward.

I think we had a productive week in terms of reviewing basic (X)HTML and CSS principles, and I’m excited to see how you have applied these principles to your online résumés. Having said that, we’ll be moving from the kiddie pool to the high dive next week, so if you aren’t caught up on our past reading assignments, now is the time to do so. The learning curve for CSS positioning will feel unbearably steep if you don’t have the basics mastered, so buckle down and master the basics.

Finally, two quick reminders: First, I enjoyed reading your blog entries this past week. Try to add at least one new post each week to your blog and start thinking about how you can promote your blog to friends, family, and others who might be interested in your topic. Second, I haven’t received any emails from you with resources for the Links page. Each of you needs to submit five links over the course of the semester, and now would be a great time to start finding and sharing helpful CSS, color, and image tutorials.

Have a great weekend, and if you have any questions about Week 4, feel free to post them in the comments section of this entry.

Week 3: CSS Layout, Debugging Code, and Zen Enlightenment

During Week 3, we will continue to work on the Online Résumé assignment, move from CSS styling to CSS positioning, and introduce our next assignment: the CSS Zen Garden Redesign.

On Tuesday, we will briefly review the reading assignments for the day (see the calendar for details), then spend most of the class period in workshop mode. I want to give you plenty of time to ask specific questions about your résumés and work through some common problems that you may be encountering with this assignment. In order for this workshop to be successful, you need to come to class with an almost-finished draft of your résumé page, which means that you’ll need to spend time this weekend creating a new style sheet for your résumé and begin thinking about what you want your homepage to look like.

On Thursday, we will wrap up our in-class work on the Online Résumé assignment and begin discussing the CSS Zen Garden Redesign assignment. Before you come to class, be sure to spend some time exploring the CSS Zen Garden and come to class ready to show us a few of your favorite designs and explain why you like them.

As we discussed in class on Thursday, your ongoing blogging assignment begins this week. Your blog can focus on any topic, allowing you to pursue one or more of your “focused obsessions.” There are no hard and fast rules about how often you need to post or how long your posts need to be–I just want to see you exploring the world of blogging to find out if it holds any interest for you. To get started, select a new theme/design for your WordPress.com blog and add your first post to the blog before Tuesday. In a few weeks, we’ll revisit the blogging assignment to see how it’s going and make some revisions, if needed.

After class on Thursday, a few of you mentioned that I was going a bit too fast with my in-class tutorials. I’ll try to slow things down a bit next week. If you’re falling behind during our in-class coding sessions, please jump in and ask me to slow down or review something you missed. At the same time, please remember that many of our in-class sessions are reviews of material covered in the Castro book. If you aren’t keeping up with the readings in the book, now is the time to get back on track. In a few weeks, it will be too late to catch up on the fundamentals, and your ability to succeed on the major assignments (and the exams) will be greatly diminished.

Last but not least, if you get stuck working on your résumé this weekend, or if you’re completing the readings but still feel like the concepts we’ve discussed up to this point aren’t “clicking,” please come see me during my office hours on Tuesday or Thursday.

Enjoy your weekend!

Week 2: Styles, Typography, and Résumés

Next week in class we will begin exploring cascading style sheets, web typography, and the ever-evolving “personal website.” Please review the class calendar for specific reading assignments. Here are the highlights:

On Tuesday, we’ll talk about using inline styles to change fonts, spacing, colors, etc., on your homepages. We will also work on converting Word files to HTML without using Word’s “Save as HTML” function (which you should avoid like the plague). Make sure you complete the reading assignments in Castro’s book and in the Web Style Guide. Also, you will need to have an electronic copy of your résumé in class on Tuesday. Most of you already have a résumé in Microsoft Word format, and that will do fine. If your résumé is in another program (e.g., InDesign or WordPerfect), just make sure that you can access it in the computer lab. Whatever format you choose, be sure that the résumé you bring is up to date. Some of you may need to spend some time this weekend updating an old version of your résumé. For more information about this first project, please read the Online Résumé assignment page.

On Thursday, we’ll move from inline styles to external style sheets and discuss web typography in greater detail. We’ll also talk about fine-tuning lists and settle the details of our semester-long blogging project. Again, be sure to complete the reading assignments before you come to class, and be thinking about how you want to use your personal WordPress blog.

Finally, complete this mini-assignment over the weekend: Find at least two online résumés or homepages that really impress you. Post links to them in the comments section of this post and tell us why you like them. I’ll kick things off with a first comment to get things going.

If you have any questions about Week 2, drop me a line via email.

Welcome to English 313

Welcome to English 313: Computers in the Study of English. This introductory post will help you get your bearings on the class website and find the resources you’ll need to succeed in this course.

Course Overview

The primary objective of this course is to teach you to build effective professional websites using standards compliant XHTML and CSS code. It’s OK if you have no idea what the phrase “standards compliant” means, or if acronyms like XHTML and CSS intimidate you–the syllabus for this course assumes that you have never created a website before. On the other hand, if you eat, sleep, and breathe code, this course has something to offer you, too–we’ll be spending a significant amount of time writing, both for the web and about the web. In addition to creating websites with code, you’ll create a lot of documents: proposals, usability reports, blog entries, abstracts, and so on. Along the way, we’ll take a close look at the way writing on the web has changed in the last ten years, giving you the opportunity to decide what type of online identity you want to craft for yourself.

Getting Started

We will hit the ground running during the first week of class, so you’ll need to complete the following tasks before Thursday:

  • Purchase your textbooks. If you don’t have them already, you need to buy the following two books: HTML, XHTML, and CSS: Visual Quickstart Guide (6th Edition, ISBN: 0321430840), by Elizabeth Castro, and Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd Edition, ISBN: 0321344758), by Steve Krug.
  • Get a flash drive. You will need a reliable flash drive (preferably 4 GB or larger) to store your projects for this course. If you want to use the drive for other things, that’s fine, but the drive needs to be formatted to work on both Mac and PC platforms.
  • Create an account on the class website.
  • Create a blog at WordPress.com. It doesn’t matter what you title your blog or what email address you use to create it; you just need a place to start writing. (Note: you will be sharing your blog with everyone in this class, so make sure you are comfortable with what you do there.) When you have set up your WordPress blog, add a comment to this blog entry with the URL of your new site.

If you have any questions about any of these items, don’t hesitate to contact me.