Friday, May 30, 2014

Don't be rude

Adam Grant shared via LinkedIn his advice about writing good emails that don't turn off your audience. If you do this, you might be rude. Unfortunately, I sometimes see these types of emails in my inbox. They are usually from sales at various companies, usually doing a "cold call" after a conference. Especially whey they try to "push" a specific time for an introduction, it's a red flag for me.

Here are Grant's 9 points of advice for polite outreach. Don't ask strangers to:
  1. Acknowledge that they received your email
  2. Share your content on social media
  3. Provide feedback on something you’ve created
  4. Jump on a call today or tomorrow
  5. Name some times for a meeting
  6. Introduce you to specific people in their networks
  7. Email them every day—or even every week
  8. Immediately introduce them to someone else
  9. Invite them to collaborate

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Campus Codefest 2014

Registration is now open for Campus Codefest 2014!

Already Know What Campus Codefest Is?
Register and/or post project ideas at the CCF website.
Wondering what is a “Campus Codefest”?
Campus Codefest is an event that allows IT staff from across the University to organize and work together based on common interests and skills rather than upon organizational structures and reporting lines. Primarily, it is about professional development and strengthening relationships within our community. Secondarily, it is an opportunity to explore solutions to cross-organizational problems. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!

So, mark your calendars, Campus Codefest 2014 will take place on August 7-8 at the Science Teaching and Student Services (STSS) building, on the Twin Cities campus. Based on experience from last year, CCF have also added a “Workstation Setup Day” on August 6 to provide participants an opportunity to get help from their colleagues with readying their machines for the event (e.g. installing Git).

Register and/or post project ideas at the CCF website.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact one of the CCF committee members:
  • Michael Berkowski <mjb@umn…>
  • Paul Rubenis <paulr@umn…>
  • Kemal Badur <kemal@umn…>
  • David Peterson <pete2786@umn…>
  • Chad Fennell <fenne035@umn…>
Or, you can contact the new CCF hotline: <ccf@umn…>
CCF 2014 - When and Where
Pre-Camp Workstation Setup Day (Optional)
  • Wednesday, August 6, 9:00am–4:00pm STSS 330
Campus Codefest
  • Thursday, August 7, 8:00am–4:30pm STSS 312
  • Friday, August 8, 8:00am–4:30pm STSS 312
CCF has booked STSS 312 until 8:00pm on 8/7/14 if there are groups who want to continue into the evening.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Students learn better when they write notes by hand

I was delighted to discover this article a few weeks ago, about how students learn better when they write notes by hand. Those of us who work in technology sometimes develop a kind of tunnel vision with technology in the classroom. But we need to remember that it's okay for academic technology to be old school: paper and pen.

From the article:
A new study—conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer—finds that people remember lectures better when they’ve taken handwritten notes, rather than typed ones.

“We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” Mueller told me. “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.”

She thinks this might be the key to their findings: Take notes by hand, and you have to process information as well as write it down. That initial selectivity leads to long-term comprehension.
The original study is published at Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
photo: Tony Hall

Friday, May 23, 2014

CIO: challenge accepted

EDUCAUSE Review has a great article about the modern role of the CIO in higher ed, and five new CIOs who accepted the challenge. It's a very inspirational piece. I also enjoyed seeing two colleagues interviewed for this article.

I found this quote neatly summarized why I am excited to work in higher ed IT leadership:
As CIOs, we get fired up about setting direction, creating strategy, and solving issues and problems for our campus communities. The CIO should not be “the” problem solver, however; we are enablers who create an environment in which the IT staff feel (and are) empowered to solve problems. As CIO Kyle Johnson explained: “Many CIOs have heard the job called the CI ‘no,’ and I’ve gotten personal satisfaction in turning that perception around. Some at my current institution call me for help even if it isn’t directly related to the IT area. I’m more like a CI ‘go’ now.”
photo: EDUCAUSE Review

Monday, May 19, 2014

Are MOOCs performing to par?

MPR reports that the "MOOC" movement sputters as students underperform and drop out. The article paints a somewhat dismal outlook for MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, commenting that "It has been quite a comedown." That's a very discouraging perspective, considering MOOCs were the rising star of higher ed only a few years ago.

MOOCs offer courses to those who want to learn new subjects in a different, non-traditional way for free. The idea of "distance learning" is not new; versions of correspondence courses have been around since Sir Isaac Pitman taught shorthand by mail in 1840. E-learning has been around for years, and MOOCs extend e-learning to vast audiences. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education's "Brainstorm" blog reported that in Fall 2011, Stanford University launched three MOOCs, "letting over 100,000 students around the world take their courses, online, for free."

Yet according to the MPR article, "University studies have shown dismal results: MOOCs suffered from high dropout rates - often above 90 percent. A majority of those who took the classes already had bachelor's or master's degrees. And participants didn't perform as well as students who'd taken the same course in a traditional classroom on campus."

Even Udacity founder and former Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun seems daunted, reflecting "We [Udacity] were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished."

So what happened? Are MOOCs on the way out? I don't think so. What we are seeing is a natural progression along the "hype cycle" where emerging ideas initially seem awesome, then fizzle a bit as reality sets in. Concepts that are interesting enough make it out of that depression and get adopted.

Gartner Hype Cycle (Kemp)

MOOCs quickly progressed from the "trigger" stage to the "peak of inflated expectation." That was the point at which everyone talked about MOOCs as the future of education. But at the same time, we need to be careful. Online courses such as MOOCs are not a panacea for education. Having recognized the strategic significance of MOOCs as a disruptive technology, higher education must now find ways to cultivate MOOCs to its benefit. The next step is to determine an initial market. This will require institutions to experiment rapidly, iteratively, and inexpensively to explore new education models. Locating this experiment in a separate unit or college will provide necessary flexibility to take a solid step forward in the quest to discover what customers really want.

The MPR article seems to agree in its conclusion. Citing University of Minnesota computer science professor Joseph Konstan, there's more potential for MOOCS, but "we're not quite there as to understanding how to exercise that yet." That would move MOOCs along the "slope of enlightenment" towards the "plateau of productivity," at which point we will finally see more students and faculty adopting and engaging with MOOCs in higher education.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The art of interviewing

We celebrated commencement of our senior graduating class last weekend, but many universities are still going through graduation. So it seems a good time to pass on this article from Recruiter.com about the art of interviewing.

In career counseling, universities provide advice and coaching to students about interviews, resumes, and cover letters. But coaching on the job interview process mostly focuses on how to "sell" yourself in an interview. In contrast Terry Mulligan's article shares different advice when not to elaborate in answering a question.

From the article: There are certain interview questions that cannot win you the interview, but can lose you the interview. Preparation in the true “art” of interviewing will help you recognize these peripheral questions, such as:
  • Why did you leave your last company?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Tell me about an issue you had with a boss?

Mulligan recommends preparing "brief, rock-solid" answers to these questions, and he expands with advice on when to elaborate in an interview response (discussing skills and experience, leadership competencies) and when to keep it short (why you left a previous job, weaknesses, personal beliefs, or past decisions).

While I agree that it's important to recognize when to explore an answer and really get into things, versus when to hold back and not over-share, I advise students to consider a "journey" of their past experiences. Map out your personal journey, distilled to just those events that hold the greatest meaning. These moments can be either "negative" or "positive". I find that my leadership journey has the most to say when I focus just on the peaks and valleys: what went really right (peaks) and where did things go wrong (valleys).

You don't need to share all the details of your journey in the interview, but having done this exercise allows you to put your mind in order so that you are ready to tell short, compelling stories during your interview. And you can leverage the journeys to discuss your personal growth. For example, rather than talking about what went wrong, you can emphasize what you learned in those instances. And that is a great response in an interview.
photo: Flazingo

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why it's important to keep systems updated

If you've been paying attention to technology news, no doubt you saw the recent item that a five-year old bug was recently discovered and fixed in the Linux kernel. This should be a reminder about why it's important to keep all of our systems updated. For example, the University of Minnesota requires that all systems are patched within 30 days.

Sometimes, a system may become out of date, too old to receive patches from the operating system vendor. It may be tempting to blame the vendor and say "they stopped supporting the system." Instead, you need to create a migration plan to upgrade your system to a newer, supported platform.

If you support servers, in higher ed or elsewhere in industry, be sure to follow good security practices and keep your systems up-to-date. Don't let your system become the weak link in the security chain. We all need to remain ever vigilant.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Top-Ten IT Issues, 2014: Be the Change You See

There's a great article on EDUCAUSE Review about the top ten IT issues facing campuses today. It's a compelling read, and I encourage anyone working in higher ed technology to read it.

As the article points out, many of these issues are not new. Early adopters and "trailblazers" in higher ed have been tackling these items for the last several years, but they have now reached a tipping point that the rest of higher ed needs to get on board.
  1. Improve student outcomes through strategic use of technology
  2. Establish partnerships between IT and the institution
  3. Assist faculty to leverage instructional technology
  4. Develop organizations that accommodate changing technology
  5. Apply analytics in institutional decision making
  6. Change IT funding sustain core services, support innovation, and facilitate growth
  7. Balance demand and need, especially with wireless
  8. Combine purchases to reduce costs
  9. Understand and support online learning
  10. Implement risk management and information security practices
  11. Design enterprise IT to adapt and adjust to changing needs and opportunities

(those last two are tied for #10)

Where is your organization? How do you compare to your peers? Are you behind the curve, or running ahead? You can rank yourself by comparing your institution's technology to others via the expanded EDUCAUSE list, broken down by Carnegie class (PDF).

At Morris, we leverage much of our "large scale" technology from the enterprise at the Office of Information Technology. Unlike others in a similar position, I'm unafraid to "outsource" my large IT to the enterprise. But admittedly, that might be because I previously worked in OIT as a senior manager, and led the development and deployment of many enterprise systems that I now consume as a campus customer. But it never hurts to look at other similarly sized, comparable institutions to see how we fare on the top 10 IT issues from a small campus perspective.

Friday, May 9, 2014

If you get a PhD, leave academia

In a recent discussion with a friend, comparing the pros and cons of getting a PhD versus a Master's degree, several competing articles happened to came to mind. From Allison Schrager at Quartz, "Get a PhD—but leave academia as soon as you graduate" argues that "Enrolling in a PhD program is, from an economic perspective, a terrible decision." It may sound controversial, but Schrager's main point is how difficult it can be to find academic employment that can help you pay off all those student bills from earning your PhD.

Schrager was personally invested in earning her PhD, reminding us that she'd "have earned more money if I did an MBA, but going to graduate school was the best thing I ever did. I went in ambivalent about a career in academia, but I wanted a PhD simply because I loved economics and wanted to learn everything about it." But at the same time, it's awfully hard for newly minted PhD's to find employment in academia.

Schrager also discusses what you get out of a PhD. From Schrager's perspective, getting your PhD prepares you for academia, and PhD students may lose perspective from the norm outside academia:
But nothing about the PhD process educates you on how to find a non-academic job, apply your skills, or sell yourself to employers. The PhD process involves a long, intense, and often fraught, mentorship with your adviser. At the end, the adviser places you in your first job (or abandons you entirely), her opinion of you determines the course of your career. Enduring this dynamic for half a dozen years leaves many PhD students an emotional wreck, convinced they can’t do anything without their advisers’ approval and help. It also leaves them totally ignorant of how the mainstream job market works.
So in her conclusion, Schrager advises that "If you don’t graduate with a solid academic job or compelling post-doc," you should leave academia as soon as possible.

It's not a unique point; Rebecca Schuman shared a similar statement in her Slate article, "Thesis Hatement." Schuman makes a very grim comparison when discussing the likelihood of getting a tenured academic position after your PhD:
Well, someone also has to not die from small-cell lung cancer to give the disease its 6 percent survival rate, but would you smoke four packs a day with the specific intention of being in that 6 percent? No, because that’s stupid. Well, tenure-track positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that 0.6 percent chance of getting any given job by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have about that same 6 percent chance of “success.” If you wouldn’t bet your life on such ludicrous odds, then why would you bet your livelihood?
It's a point of view that reminded me of a 2011 blog post from Gwen Pearson, aka "Bug Girl." Pearson compares the PhD and the Master’s degree in this way:

A Master’s degree is intended to do two things: to prepare you to be a professional in a disciplinary field, and to learn how the tools of that field are used to solve problems. Master’s come in lots of different sizes and flavors; they may or may not complete a research thesis, and sometimes complete a practicum. A Master’s does not always have to lead to a PhD; in the past it was viewed as a terminal degree in its own right.

A PhD is a long research apprenticeship in which a student is expected to create new knowledge, including creating new tools and techniques and broadening the knowledge base of a field. PhD students are expected to perform original research with minimal supervision. It is not meant to be vocational or career-related training.
And in parallel with Schrager, Pearson says "Academia is a world where your research is your identity (and your value)." Pearson's view is that earning a PhD prepares you to do research, while the Master's degree prepares you for a job.

You may understand why these articles came to mind recently. In my Master's program, the Master's capstone is intended to be a professional practice, where we exercise what we have learned throughout our program towards the completion of a project. In the first few weeks of the capstone, we discussed the importance of the capstone being a reciprocal relationship between academia and practice. On my other blog about open source software and usability, I shared insights from Andersen (2013), that academia and practice need to develop a reciprocal relationship. It's a cycle; academia needs to provide accessible, actionable research that is published in places visited by practice. That allows the practice to advance, which provides future research opportunity for academia. The cycle continues, and both academia and practice benefit.
photo: PerfectZero

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Introducing Moodle 2.6

I wanted to share this brief announcement from our academic technology partners in the Office of Information Technology:

The newest version of Moodle, 2.6, is now available for fall 2014 courses (and summer 2014 pilot courses).

Key changes in Moodle 2.6
  • Responsive design: Moodle works and looks better across all devices, including desktops, tablets, and phones.
  • Maximize content button: Enables you to display only content on your screen (hiding other course page features such as headers and blocks).
  • Gradebook enhancements: Includes a Grade Breakdown report which shows very specific statistics for the overall course grades, as well as for individual grade items. Learn more about Moodle 2.6 gradebook.
  • Further differences between Moodle 2.4 and 2.6: Highlights are available in the Moodle 2.6 Differences document.
Learning Opportunities
  • The UMN Moodle YouTube video channel has a collection of instructional videos available to help you get acclimated to Moodle 2.6.
  • Face-to-face training is available the two weeks after finals for:
    1. Creating Basic Course Websites with Moodle
    2. Orientation to Teaching Online with Moodle
    3. Managing a Gradebook with Moodle
  • Updated self-help guides will be available by mid-May.
Request a Course Site
  • To request a Moodle 2.6 course site, log in and fill out the request form. You can continue to access your current courses by visiting moodle.umn.edu.  
  • If you have questions, please contact moodle@umn.edu.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Five tips to get a job

As our seniors prepare to graduate on Saturday, I find it appropriate to offer advice on the job-search process. Rick Newman Yahoo Finance shares insights to why nobody calls when you apply for a job. This is a good article for anyone currently entering the job market. Newman's advice is simple:

1. Be specific and informative when reaching out
From the article: Trisha Zulic, a hiring recruiter based in San Diego, got an email from a job applicant recently with a single word in the subject line: “Management.” The email itself included only four words: “Attached is my resume.” Zulic was trying to fill management jobs at four different companies, so she emailed back and asked which position the applicant was applying for. The response she got: “Any company. Management.”
2. Apply for what you’re qualified for
From a job-seeker's perspective, it's rational to apply for every job available. “Applicants are actually causing the problem by applying for everything,” says Zulic, director of human relations for outsourcing firm Efficient Edge.
3. Make it easier for the person hiring you
Avoid this common mistake, highlighted from the article: Some people apply by email with a resume attached but no message in the email, hoping that will force the recruiter to open the attachment. Bad idea: That just adds to the recruiter’s workload, making a blowoff more likely. A crisp, four- or five-sentence email explaining what you’re looking for, by contrast, will make it easier for the recruiter to know what you're after.
4. Watch what you say in the interview
With competition for jobs still fierce, finding a way to stand out from other job-seekers is more important than ever. But be careful not to stand out in the wrong way: Many applicants also reveal the stress they’re under after months or years of job-hunting, which can promptly turn off a potential employer.
5. Make a connection
With so many applications arriving online, a human touch can be another way to gain an advantage. Paul Belliveau, managing director at Avance HCM Advisors, suggests doing phone work or other sleuthing to get in touch with at least one person involved in hiring at the target company, then persuading that “initial plant” to give you a few more contacts who might provide info on the status of your application or other openings.
photo: thetaxhaven

Monday, May 5, 2014

The changing face of the desktop

We've been talking about Bring your own device or BYOD for years now. The concept of the "work desktop" is changing quickly. It doesn't seem all that long ago that IT organizations deployed standardized desktops and laptops.

Actually, we still do that at my location, for those who don't have a preference for what they get; most of our users ask for "a Mac laptop" or "a Windows computer" so we just pick from our standard list. But for those who need specialization that the standard list doesn't provide, we work with those users to spec out a machine that works well for them, and provides some balance for support.

IT shops prefer to use standard models because that's always been the best practice for lowering our Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO. The TCO is more than just the purchase cost of the machine; it also includes the staff time to install software, provide patches, maintain configuration, repair hardware, and generally support the device and the software that runs on it. By providing a small set of standard machines, IT organizations can limit the variety of hardware - and it's easier (and thus less expensive) to support only a few models than if we have to support every "unique snowflake" on the network.

But the face of the "desktop" has changed. BYOD pushes the "standard" model out the door, and IT shops now need to support these varied devices. We may not provide the same "deep" support that IT organizations give to "corporate" deployments, but the users don't want that anyway. They just want IT to let them put their device on the network, and access printers, and they prefer to take care of the rest. So our TCO still goes down on the organization's side, even though we now support more systems.

With the predominance of "web" or "cloud" systems, what about users who just need to get online with a web browser to do their work? BYOD may work for them, but maybe they prefer to have work buy their office computer. Along with BYOD, we need to accept the changing face of the desktop. The Return on Investment (ROI) for purchasing a desktop or laptop computer doesn't make sense anymore. Installing Windows or MacOS, connecting it to Active Directory, installing all the standard office software licenses, etc. just so the user can launch Firefox or Chrome or Safari to access cloud systems - that's not a good return.

This changing face of desktop means finding new ways to provide access to web or cloud systems. For myself, I enjoy using my Chromebook. It started out as a good "travel" laptop that I would take to conferences or to off-campus meetings - and if it got broken or lost, no big deal, it's only $250. And no data is stored on the Chromebook - if it's lost or stolen, I only need to change my web passwords, and no one can use my stolen laptop to access cloud data.

This spring, I'm excited to try the desktop version, the Chromebox. ASUS has a pretty interesting model, very inexpensive at about $200. The concept is similar to a Mac Mini: you provide the keyboard, mouse, and display. You can even use wired networking. Display options include HDMI and DP. The user experience is about the same as using a standard desktop, except that printing may be different. Specifically, you'll need a Cloudprint-enabled printer, or set up a separate system to do Cloudprint for you. (At the office, I've done this with a Raspberry Pi desktop system.)

Chromebox is another option that organizations might use to support the needs of their users. As you plan your organization's IT future, consider if the "classic" Windows or Mac desktop is really what you need. And if you aren't ready to fully embrace BYOD, maybe it's time to take next steps with a web-enabled device.

Update: (June 17, 2014) See also IT Pro Portal for a similar Asus Chromebox M031U review: "The first Chromebox from Asus is a solid, compact, quiet and most of all inexpensive desktop PC. As long as you play to Chrome OS's strengths and are aware of its limitations, it's a steal." For a desktop system that doesn't need to print (conference rooms, etc) or where you can use a Cloudprint solution, there's no need for a traditional Windows desktop.
photo: ASUS Chromebox

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy May the Fourth!

It's May 4, or "May the Fourth" (as in "May the Fourth[Force] be with you"). It's a day where science fiction fans everywhere celebrate the movie series Star Wars. I've been a huge Star Wars fan since I was wee, and saw the original Star Wars (where Han shot first!) in the movie theater. I even had all the toys.

If you aren't familiar with Star Wars, it's a sci-fi story about the Rebellion versus the Empire, set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But if you have seen Star Wars, here's an obligatory Star Wars joke:

If you don't "get" it, then read it in Yoda's voice you did not.

But I've already written about leadership lessons from Star Wars, so today I'll write about leadership lessons from Klingons. It's not Star Wars, but it's still sci-fi.

Klingons are a race of warriors, motivated by honor and glory. But in a good way. Think Samurai mixed with a bit of Viking - or maybe that's Viking mixed with a bit of Samurai. The point is that Klingons enjoy battle, but only with honor. They like to sing about it, too. Here's a catchy ditty that Klingons might sing as they fly off to battle:



You can glean leadership lessons from anywhere, even from Klingons. Here are three lessons:

Don't hold back.
When Klingons decide on a course of action, they commit to it. Even if that means dying horribly. Because hey, why do something if you're not going "all in"?
Make a decision.
One of my pet peeves is when someone can't seem to make a decision. They waffle about their options, and never seem able to make a decision. If you find yourself in this situation, think like a Klingon: make a decision, and go with it. If it's wrong, at least you made the best decision you could, with the best facts at hand.
Don't assign blame.
There's nothing to gain by assigning blame. We need to work together to reach our goals. If one of your warrior clan makes the wrong decision, don't assign blame; instead, work around it, find a way to turn that upset into success. Or you can die with honor and join your ancestors in the Black Fleet, where you do battle for ever and ever. That works too.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Master of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication

Today, I graduate with my Master of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication. I've been working on this degree program for the last two and a half years from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. It's been a great program! And a lot of work, to be sure - especially on those days when I had to make the three hour drive from Morris to the Twin Cities. But I really learned a lot, and I enjoyed my classes. At the same time, it's nice to be done.

As I reflect on my Master's program, I wanted to comment on a few classes that really stuck with me. If you are interested in the MS-STC program, and want to know what some of the classes are like, this is for you.

Information Design: Theory and Practice (5112)
This was my first course in the MS-STC program. In this class, we studied how to organize information to make it easier to understand. Very dense information can be made simpler through good information design. Sometimes that's a matter of good formatting: headings, indents, font, etc. At other times, information design means breaking apart an information product so you can display it in another form.

I continue to use information design in everything that I do. It influences how I write, how I design web pages, and how I display data. For example, when I wrote about a usability test on GNOME, I needed to display the test results in a way that helped the audience understand what worked well and what needed improvement. So I used information design to create a heat map of the results.
Editing and Style for Technical Communicators (5561)
Another one that I apply every day. You could say this course is about the mechanics of writing style: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. There's also a little bit of information design in there, too. After this course, my writing style improved dramatically.
Usability
I replaced the standard course with an independent study of "Usability in Open Source Software," under the guidance of my adviser. For those of you thinking that an independent study is going to be easy: it's not. When you do a regular course, the instructor has already laid out the coursework. You work according to a curriculum with a set schedule. You know in advance what you will be working on, what chapters or articles you'll need to read.

But in an independent study, you don't have that kind of direction. My adviser guided me throughout the course, we had a set of objectives to meet, but there was no curriculum. I had to explore materials about usability, and usability in open source software. I was reading everything, which meant that sometimes I would read something that I couldn't apply towards my independent study project. Everything I read was interesting, but maybe half of it was actually applicable to my project. So think of a directed study as doing about twice the actual work.

This independent study awoke in me an unknown passion for usability. I have a long history of working in and with Free software and Open source software. (A few examples: The FreeDOS Project, GNU Robots, Cats/Kitten, SimpleSenet, … GNU Emacs, Freemacs, Atomic Tanks, GTKpod, … as both author and contributor.) But as I juggled life and work, and stepped into a "project coordinator" role in Free/Open source software projects, I found less time to write code. Working on this independent study helped me find another way to contribute to Free/Open source software: helping projects improve usability. Very few projects (almost none, in fact) pay much attention to usability.

I later expanded on this independent study when I worked on my capstone project: "Usability Themes in Open Source Software."
Visual Rhetoric
Another course that replaced the standard course. This was a directed study under one of our Communication, Media, and Rhetoric faculty at the University of Minnesota Morris. Throughout this directed study, I learned not just about rhetoric but about how rhetoric is applied to visual media. Specifically, we examined the visual rhetoric of comics, and our work will form the basis of a new visual rhetoric course at the Morris campus.

Again, if you think that a directed study is going to be easier than a standard course: it's not. Just as in my independent study, it seems I read everything about rhetoric and visual rhetoric. Rhetoric as argument. Rhetoric in advertising. Ethos, pathos, and logos. (And I would argue based on some advertising: eros. Think Axe Body Spray ads.)

After building an understanding of rhetoric, we used that to examine the visual rhetoric of comics. Yes, comics. Visual media spans a range from the artistic to the rhetoric. Many comics tend towards the "artistic" end of the spectrum. But some comics are at the "rhetoric" end. And those are the ones we explored. For my final paper, I performed a rhetorical analysis of a PHD comic: The Evolution of Intellectual Freedom. For my final project, I created a 16-panel rhetorical comic for our local animal humane society about why you should adopt special-needs cats (they still use this comic today).
I can't list all of the courses from MS-STC that touched me in a special way. I think I could find something remarkable and memorable about every one of my classes, both inside and outside the program (as an MS-STC student, you need to take a certain number of credits outside STC). But these are the ones that stand out the most.

So, what's next for me?

As I mentioned, my Master's capstone project was "Usability Themes in Open Source Software." I feel very passionate about this topic, and I plan to continue working with usability in open source software. As a start, I will keep writing in my Open Source Software & Usability blog, so keep an eye on that. (But don't worry; Coaching Buttons isn't going away.)

I'm going to submit a version of my capstone project to the Journal of Usability Studies. I think I can get three good JUS articles out of it: the usability study & results, using a heat map to display usability results, and a lit review of usability in open source software.

Both Linux Journal and Linux Voice said they would like to run a version of my article, so I'll write separate versions for them. And the Sourceforge.net blog has asked me to write an ongoing series of articles about usability in open source software. And I will be submitting proposals at open source software conferences like GUADEC, O'Reilly OSCON, Penguicon, and FOSDEM. I hope to see you there!

And the GNOME folks have asked if I can help them with future usability tests of new versions of GNOME. That would be a great continuation of this work!