Wiki writing: To tweak or not to tweak

May 9th, 2010

Our final project for my digital tools class included publishing a report to our wiki.  Because I’d had some previous difficulties with wikis and imported formatting, I decided to compose directly to the wiki.

This was great!  I was able to steal moments before work (and sometimes even during work –with my supervisor’s permission) to add bits and pieces to my report.  No lugging my laptop here, there, and yonder.

The problem I’ve run into — and am still confronting — is when is enough, enough?  To be honest, I can’t really tell.  I’m beginning to feel like the George Lucas of wikiland in that I keep going back over what should be a finished product and adding special effects here and there.

I also look at my classmates’ pages and, being fairly competitive by nature, think, “Wow, maybe I should do that, too!”  So I change a font, a type size, a link, and so on.  Remastering can be an addiction.

I realize some would argue that this is the very strength of writing to a wiki.  I say it’s a double-edged sword!  Maybe my strategy should be to impose a waiting period for myself, a sort of cyber-timeout.  The project is due May 12th.  I can justify tweaking it until then.  After that date, I plan to refrain from all changes for at least a period of one month.  Surely I won’t unearth any additional resources before then?

But, you know, resources aren’t the only temptation.  There are accessibility issues as well.  What if I included a transcript of my video interview . . .?

Virtual ability

April 26th, 2010

Two weeks ago, I attended an educational seminar in Second Life.  I’d done this before, but this time there was a twist:  we were goig to visit Virtual Ability Island.  The Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) has a robust SL group who organized this “field trip.”  We all met at VSTE Island and then teleported to Virtual Ability Island.

I should have figured it out ahead of time, but I just didn’t.  This island was built with real-life people with disabilities in mind.  All walkways were flat or ramped to meet ADA requirements and had railings to keep people (i.e., avatars) from falling off.  The session opened at a beautiful outdoor amphitheater with a short presentation by two volunteers who regularly give orientation tours to new SL members.  The tours are open to anyone, with or without disabilities.

You might think that part of the allure of SL for someone with disabilities is that they don’t have to worry about getting around — after all, avatars do fly!  But the guides pointed out that many accessibility issues still exist.  For example, the visually impaired use screen readers that need to have some way of marking space, even in Second Life.  So, on Virtual Ability Island, all seats in the amphitheater are numbered so that the screen reader can direct the user to a seat.  Also, for people with fine motor difficulties, the creators of Virtual Ability Island put all signs at a certain tilt so that visitors would not have to manipulate the camera controls to see the entire message. 

As a person without disabilities, I still found the orientation session helpful.  I got to fly and land on a target.  I also learned how to open treasure chests and receive gifts.  Everywhere along the paths on Virtual Ability Island were informational signs and links to help desks.  I highly recommend you visit, if you live in Second Life!

The wonderful world of AT

March 7th, 2010

I’m in the middle of writing a paper about assistive technology (AT) and decided to take a break to, well, write about it.  Clearly, I need the break.

Assistive technology is any device that helps a person with a disability do something s/he couldn’t otherwise do.  The trend seems to be movement on two fronts: one toward simpler, more cost-effective  tools and the other toward software-driven, fairly high-tech options.  The interesting thing is that, as technology ages, it gets cheaper.  So, in a way, the two trends can not only coexist – they may eventually merge.

Of course, I can’t exactly put things that way in a scholarly paper.  But here, we are much more tolerant of conjecture.  The question I have for anyone reading this is: what have you seen with regard to technology for students with learning disabilities?  What digital tools, especially web-based ones, could be useful to them?  What are the implications for students who are planning to enter postsecondary education?

I look forward to your reply!