Happy Holidays!

13 Dec

Hi Everyone!

Well, it’s been quite a year – politically and emotionally.

First, the good news – Ian started high school this year and he loves it. He’s involved in a number of clubs including Interact, the Travel Club, the Art Club, and Circles of Strength. He is also on the indoor track team and plans to be on the track team in the spring. He loves his teachers and his grades are terrific. We really couldn’t ask for more from him, well, except to pick up his room without Martha nagging.

Tom left middle school teaching last year and this year started as a writing tutor for Corning Community College (CCC). He is working about 25 hours a week and using the additional time to tackle the growing list of projects around the house, which given its age (more than 100 years old) are desperately needed. He loves the new schedule and the shorter commute.

And Martha is still the instructional technologist at CCC, but she’s also taken on a few other roles including being the school’s coordinator of its international endeavors. It’s new and exciting and she loves being more involved with the students.

Finally, there are the pets. April the dog at nearly eight years old is still just as lovely and energetic as usual. And Figgy the cat at 10 is slowing down a little bit, but he still loves going outside for our walks and catching the occasional mole. And we still have a lot of fish (15 altogether) and they provide hours of entertainment.

On a more somber note, Martha’s dad, William A. Gold, died late last year in December. He was 95 and had suffered a mild heart attack about six weeks before passing (the day after the election) but it was still hard to bear and we all miss him very, very much.

Personally, it’s been a pretty good year – we just wish the politics of the country were different. Truth be told, we’re horrified at what Trump and the Republican congress is doing. And while this year’s election was an improvement, we realize we have a long way to go. To propel things in the correct direction, Martha has joined the local Democratic committee. We’re hoping it pays off in 2018, especially in our own congressional race. If it doesn’t, next year’s letter will come with big black lines drawn through most of it.

Onward to 2018! Looking forward to more time with great friends and family.


Martha, Tom and Ian


New article in elearning industry!

9 Sep

Hi Folks!

Check out my latest article in elearning industry! You can link directly to it right here.

Ah, what is elearningindustry.com? It’s a great resource for anyone involved with online instructional design as well as plain old instructional design. It includes articles about blended elearning, corporate elearning, even elearning for kids. Check out the list!


A goodly number of practitioners, like me, contribute articles to bolster our profile. And since prepackaged or half-hearted content does terrible things to a reputation, the articles are pretty useful.

Best of all, it’s free.


Looks do make a difference

22 Aug

I’ve been thinking a lot about appearance lately. No, it hasn’t led me to purchase a new wardrobe or start wearing makeup (sorry!) but it has made me think a lot about the way I put together my course pages. As a result, I’ve made some small changes to my course pages. One of those changes was to the font.

I started thinking seriously about fonts as a graduate student in education. As I was getting my degree in elementary education, the conversation was limited to fonts that fell into the sans serif category where the lower-case “a” did not have a “hat” on top, thus making it more recognizable for beginning readers. To my knowledge, only two fonts fit this description, Comic Sans and Classroom. These fonts are great for young, beginning readers and elementary teachers should definitely use them. Once I started teaching high school, however, even though my first job was in special education and my students’ reading levels were not much higher than those in my third grade classroom, I used Arial.

Why? Because using Comic Sans in a class of 15-18-year-olds is like breaking out the floaties in an adult swim class. Those topless a’s, careful curves and ever-so-slightly rounded but perfectly consistent lines, like the arm floaties, scream, “I think you’re incompetent and I am patronizing you!” The real reason teachers use such childish tools to teach remedial skills is because they’re too stupid to consider their audience and use equally useful but more adult tools, such as Arial font or, in the case of swim class, kick boards instead of floaties.

Something as simple as font makes a big difference. And while it’s important to avoid patronizing students, it’s also important to keep course design as clear and appealing as possible. I try to make my course pages readable, clear and appealing. I’ve been trying to keep most things, especially fonts, very consistent (I use Trebuchet predominantly in the course pages) and change font size rather than the actual font for organizing purposes, such as to make specific areas stand out. I also work hard to keep bolding consistent and at a minimum. Finally, I almost never use all caps. Yes, it is shouting in print.

For as much care as I put into my course pages, I am consistently surprised at the number of teachers who do not seem to care about appearance. Or focus a lot on appearance, but in ways that break a lot of the design rules I’ve learned. One instructor, for example, loves using green, red, and yellow … font. Granted, she uses the colors consistently as a way of “color coding” different components of her classes, but I still find the yellow and green as unreadable as ever. I did manage to convince her to stop using “hyperlink” blue in her syllabi, but only to switch to green. And not green with black outlines, but simply green, bright, bright green. Now students take the energy they used to use clicking on the unlinked blue script and expend it on trying to read the lime green text.

As a lowly instructional designer, I must defer to faculty’s wishes. However, in my own web page I can do what I want! As a result, I stick to boring, but readable black text. Also, I’ve changed this website a bit, added a main page, rearranged some of the secondary pages and relinked to actual published examples of my work rather than my saved Word versions. I’d love to know what you think of my changes and will take all serious suggestions, seriously!

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.