Videos! – not. How to Handle the Fickle Availability of Free Material on the Internet

4 Jan

Since September 4th, I’ve had the following video up on this blog.

But don’t bother looking as it not longer works. It was removed for copyright violation (at least that was the reason the pop up message gave when I clicked on it yesterday). Not that I’m upset, I’m too busy still feeling grateful that I can even access such material. After all, I remember a time when video was available in only two places – the TV and the movies. Getting mad at the fact that a free, readily available resource is no longer available on YouTube (it’s probably up Fox, Hulu and a number of other sites) is like throwing a fit because your uncle gave you a check for Christmas instead of cash, thus requiring the effort to make a trip to the bank to make it spendable.

I marvel at the availability of professionally produced videos – and that’s a problem. I’m inclined to take as much as I can and horde it. Educators have the same desire and it’s no wonder. The vast availability of streaming videos has made hundreds of previously bland, text-heavy online course pages become dynamic with colorful links to TED Talks, university lectures, nursing simulations, YouTube videos, etc. Ho-hum black and white pages with blocks of imposing tiny type are cleared to make room for gorgeous squares of videos. Text that once caused the scroll of death for course pages is re-dispensed in dynamic, easily digested moving pictures. And videos mean less time spent planning lessons. Instead of creating additional activities or lectures to cover content, a teacher can merely preview a video for relevancy and appropriateness and link (or embed if you’re a bit more tech-savvy) straight into the page.

It’s great until the video is suddenly and inexplicably no longer available. Gone. And with it, your activity, lesson, or course. I remember a series of lectures disappearing from our online business program when the university that produced them moved them to a new web site, breaking every last link. One minute our pages were richly populated with hours of lectures by esteemed financial, marketing and commerce authorities, the next they were white pages with columns of blank, black screens and a few lines of unrelated text.

And unreliable availability of content isn’t limited to videos. I have seen journal articles, web sites, simulations, and many other online resources disappear, with and without accompanying explanations or redirects. What is an educator, trainer, or instructional designer to do when using online resources becomes as risky as building property on permafrost in Alaska?

Personally, I opt to keep using them as they’re rich and dynamic resources. However, I won’t be the one providing the resources. My solution prevents the risk of precious videos/articles/websites disappearing, saves the instructor hours of work and is a far better teaching method. Instead of the instructor or teacher providing the content to teach a concept, simply teach the concept and assign students the task of finding the resources that best explain or exemplify the content. For example, in a beginning statistics class, an instructor wants students to fully understand the difference between mean (average), median and mode and show real life examples of each concept. By assessing the relevancy and accuracy of the chosen resources to the taught concept, the instructor can evaluate how well the students grasped the lesson. Instead of giving a test, the instructor measures student understanding by assessing the quality of examples students bring in.

And should the amazing video on median home prices in Phoenix, AZ suddenly disappear, it’s the student’s problem, not the instructor’s.

Check out my first published article as an eLearning Pro

21 Dec


I started this blog not for a burning desire to enlighten the masses or share my words of wisdom.

I did it for a job. That is, the offer of a job that required experience with WordPress. So I created this blog – instant WordPress experience! I LOVE the internet! Yesterday a bumbling luddite, today, WordPress expert!

And it worked – kind of. I got an interview, but not the job. During that whole process I posted a couple of articles, remembered that I love writing and kept the blog.

But writing your own blog can get a bit boring. After all, when the writer and editor are the same person, there is no second set of eyes to find the flaws or offer improvements. And exposure suffers as my audience was limited to whoever can view my Facebook feed.

So I wrote another article – one more in line with what I do for money, which is in the field of instructional design. And here is is.

How to Handle Broken Links in Online Courses

Let me know what you think!

In Celebration of the Entrenched Impractical

20 Jan

Preparedness or the state of anticipating an event, issue or question and being ready with an appropriate response has never been my strong point. At least in being ready for the things that most folks would consider practical.

For example, I once started a cross country move with my sub compact car packed to the gills – leaving no room to look out my back or side windows. It was almost impossible to turn or change lanes safely. But with my two basses and a gigantic amp handy, I was totally prepared in case I stumbled across people looking to form a band. The week before my wedding I labored for hours on appetizers (which I should have just left to catering) while almost completely neglecting decorations, my dress and veil and shoes. Thankfully, my relatives pitched in the day before and the event went off without a hitch.

Being responsible for other people, namely my son and husband, has made me somewhat more responsible, but I still have lapses. Like right now. I should be cleaning the house in anticipation of guests who are arriving in a couple of hours instead of writing this blog. What can I say? Writing is more fun. More than once my son has eaten hot dogs for dinner (which he loves) because I spent hours preparing a delicious dish containing at least one ingredient he despised and neglected to whip up anything for him.

Being an entrenched impractical has its advantages as it often leaves one in the position to come up with alternate solutions quickly. What an entrenched impractical lacks in planning skills s/he possesses in rapid decision making. Neglecting to buy batteries in anticipation of a power outage can force one to come up with some pretty creative lighting sources such as candles, lanterns and back issues of This Old House and Automobiles Monthly stuffed into a metal wastebasket and lit on fire.

Lack of preparedness also makes one less rattled when carefully laid out plans go array. Store ran out of pizza dough on Superbowl Sunday? Your favorite impractical is already whipping up the crust in a homemade way. Kids smash a window with a wayward baseball because they weren’t warned to play far away from the house? Your favorite impractical, after a minute of recovery, will compel the kids to help clean up with his/her (eventual) buoyant, breezy reaction.

But even the entrenched practical has to come back to earth sometimes. In this writer’s case, the guests are arriving in an hour and the house is a complete wreck. Time to get to work.



Lost and Found

26 Sep

Four days out of the week I drag my sorry carcass out the door before dawn and trudge over to a tiny gym. There I try to get a decent workout before work.

I love this little gym, which I get to use for free because I open it up twice a week. It has a few machines, a water cooler and no showers. Very low key. I have a set of friends there who are all at least 10 years older than me. They are also funny and wise. One such member, another volunteer who comes in a twice a week after me, once said, “Theft is the crime of opportunity.” He was talking about a rash of nonmembers who were sneaking in during the early hours coming in without paying because there was no one monitoring the desk (that problem has since been fixed).

If theft is merely a crime of opportunity, it’s a wonder more unlocked cars aren’t depleted of their contents, more wallets in back pockets aren’t picked and the church coffers aren’t emptied on a regular basis because my small town presents many of these opportunities. I’d love to think that in my small town folks are simply nicer and more considerate. Two recent incidents tell me that something less altruistic and more self-conscious is what keeps our fingers less sticky.

In both incidents, treasured objects were taken. The first incident took place at my gym where I accidentally left a new running shirt in the locker room over a 24-hour period. It was fluorescent green and very visible, something I had wanted for the last few months, having successfully dodged far too many cars that barely missed me on my morning runs or rides. Most things left in the locker room stay there for a number of months. No such luck with my shirt. When I returned the next day at 5:30 a.m., it was gone.

A few weeks later, a co-worker of mine left an expensive hiking backpack and a camera in his car. Someone wrenched open the locked doors and stole these items.

Miraculously, in both cases, the items were returned.

What happened? I’d love to think the thieves had a change of heart and, gripped in a fit of remorse, sought to undo their misdeeds. More likely, the thieves feared discovery and recrimination. I created a poster with a crude drawing of the shirt, my number and a plea for its return. “No questions asked!” I said in the poster. Seriously, I just wanted the darn thing back. My co-worker, known in his small town, told a few people who managed to spread the word at the local café and throughout the town. Three days after he was robbed, he found all the stolen objects on his porch early in the morning.

Theft is not only a crime of opportunity, but also a crime of anonymity. It’s a lot easier to steal from strangers. I don’t know what drove the thieves to return the stolen goods. Maybe it was finding out that their victims really did care about those items, even if their actions, which presented the opportunity, indicated otherwise. Maybe it was fear of recrimination from our friends and acquaintances. Maybe it was guilt. While I am glad to have my shirt back and glad my coworker has his items back, I’m sad the thieves didn’t first think of their victims, who were faceless but also human, and stick their sticky fingers back down into their pockets.

Perfect … Not.

1 Sep

I read gossip magazines while waiting in line at the grocery store. I let annoying relatives and friends get under my skin.

I eat the candy out of the basket at work moments after vowing not to touch it.

I’ve become a bit possessed with the Scrabble game on my husband’s iPod. Several times, while cooking dinner, the rice bubbled over the edge and into the burner while I mulled over possibilities for a five-letter word that had the letter “Z” situated over the triple letter block.

I avoid sleeveless shirts because my arms look like Samantha Stosur’s. Sadly, they don’t work like Stosur’s on the tennis court.

I misspelled a word in a cover letter recently. What’s worse, the word was in a sentence where I bragged about my proofreading prowess.

I could go on about my imperfections, but then I’d have to add something about obsessing over my flaws and being too judgmental. If I sound self-critical, don’t worry. According to a stranger I encountered recently, I’m way too lax, at least when it comes to imaginative ways to redirect my child.

A week ago, while waiting to board a plane, I took a step forward only to discover my son was a few feet behind me, immersed in a video game. I reached over, tapped him on the shoulder and said sotto voce, “Could you put your iPod away so you can pay better attention? I don’t want us to get separated.”

The woman in front of me turned around, gave me a slight knowing smirk, and launched into a story about how she and her husband NEVER had to remind their son to pay attention in airports because they had him read the boarding passes, determine the gate for their plane and ensure that the family boarded their flight on time when he was even younger than my son.

“This year he traveled by himself and he had no problems,” she said with a pleased sigh before turning back around.

I stared at the woman for a bit, quelling the urge to say in my best Church Lady voice, “Well, isn’t that special?” or “Blow Me” or something equally pithy. After years of enduring unsolicited advice from relatives, friends and strangers, I learned it is best to stay calm and move away quickly. Like rabid animals and people with mental illness, dispersers of unsolicited advice (DoUA) are not particularly rational. DoUAs believe their wisdom must be heard, even if no one asks for it. DoUAs chalk up advisees’ mumbled replies and hasty retreats to their astonishment of their informed insight.

On the plane, I told my husband about the woman. “But our son already reads the boarding pass, looks for the gate and starts waiting at the gate when they announce boarding,” said my husband. “Did you tell her that?”

How could I? She turned around as soon as she was finished talking. She did not want to exchange ideas, reconsider opinions or acknowledge another person’s expertise. Besides, neither my husband nor I can be credited with my son’s ability to navigate successful around airports. My son simply read the boarding pass over our shoulders, took the initiative to check the departure boards, and listened attentively to announcements. All my husband and I did was stand back, allow him to find his own way, and utter a quick word of gratitude for his initiative.

In short, we let our son be himself. In turn, he’s taught me to let others be themselves too. While a DoUA like that woman sometimes has wise things to say, it goes unnoticed because the DoUA’s audience is too busy silently calling the DoUA a know-it-all busybody. So, if you really want to know my opinion, you have to ask.


19 Aug

My father with some very strange hat in 1989.

As the daughter of a journalist/English teacher and editor, I somehow managed to grow up with almost no appreciation for the magic of words. I blame my mother, who took all of us to the library regularly and read to us nearly every night. My father, an English teacher with an extensive library in his office and a great fondness for writing, didn’t help either. He frequently talked about what he was teaching and engaged us in conversations about books regularly.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents did all the right things when it came to raising highly literate children. The problem was that having been submerged in words from day one, I never realized that anyone could exist without words. For me, being moved by a great book, a pithy article or a funny comic strip was part of life. A world without books was as impossible as a world without air or water.

So, my initial exposure to literature made me an excellent reader, but not a self-aware reader. Until I started writing for a living and experiencing my readers’ reactions to my stories, I took the power of words for granted. It was not until one of my first newspaper stories, a feature on the dwindling market for humanitarian trips to Nicaragua in the wake of the country’s first post-Contra elections, elicited a slew of indignant protests that I realized the effect of written words.

I have worked with words for all of my professional life, first as a journalist, then as a teacher. This blog features some of my writing published in print and on the web. Feel free to add comments and enjoy.


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