At the start of August, a small TaLS project team was assembled to refresh and revitalise the design and delivery of the Academic Skills Office Fact Sheets. These 89 Fact Sheets are PDF resources available on the ASO site that typically have over 7,000 downloads a month during a trimester. They are an invaluable reference point for our students covering core skills such as referencing, academic writing and assignment preparation.
The ultimate aim of this initiative is to move beyond PDFs to provide a suite of resources to test, remediate and extend UNE undergraduate student skills in, knowledge of and attitudes towards academic work across all disciplines. But where to start with (essentially) just the four of us and less than two months to complete! The 89 Fact Sheets collectively represent over 320 A4 pages of text and illustrations, so it was a bit like converting a text book to a website!
Collectively we decided that the first step was to move from PDF (essentially a print orientation) to HTML (a web orientation). The analytics to hand gave no clue as to how many downloads are actually being printed to A4 paper, but we suspect that with almost ubiquitous access to the Internet today, perhaps fewer will be saved to a local device or printed than in the past. On the other hand, publishing as HTML provides key benefits, including:
- making the content responsive to mobile devices
- greater accessibility
- more easily updated
More importantly, HTML enables us to include greater multimedia and interactivity, providing students with the opportunity to review and apply key concepts, as well as self-diagnose, reflect on and manipulate ‘hard-to-see’ concepts.
So, stage one involved establishing a website to house the content as HTML. The site was built and in the transfer process, a light edit was applied to make the style and layout web-orientated, taking advantage of hyperlinking content. We prioritised pages by hit rate, which meant most of the effort went into content related to referencing, academic writing and assignment preparation. The Maths section remains largely undeveloped at this stage.
WordPress was chosen as a site authoring tool due to its sustainability and scalability. Ease of updating by non-technical editors and persistent links for individual topic areas makes the site sustainable. The wide range of specialist plugins available (everything from glossary and quiz-building tools to mathematical equation editors) makes the site highly scalable – the ability to add features to the site as new needs are identified or new content is developed.
With a fresh hierarchy and structure in place, and most pages rendered in HTML, we used what time and resources remained to start exploiting the affordances of the online environment.
Intro videos for each section and the site overall were scripted before asking Dr Alex Dunn (Lecturer, ASO) to present to camera. Steve DiLuzio (Video Technician, TALS) and Raph Roberts (Graphic Designer, TALS) worked creatively with a green screen to turn them into something professional yet fun and relaxed to introduce students to each area:
Trish Donald developed a range of icons as graphical ‘sign-posts’ and characters to add colour to some of those pages which seemed a little text heavy:
Example text was annotated using hover-over ‘Tooltip’ popups (can’t do that with a printed page!):
A glossary of over 160 terms was built, focusing largely on the meta-language of spelling, punctuation and grammar. This glossary works very much like the Moodle glossary tool, lightly underlining glossary words when they appear in-text and displaying hover-over definitions that can be clicked through to fuller definitions, examples and links to further information.
A number of ‘Check your understanding’ interactive objects were developed, including reveals, cloze exercises and drag & drop activities. We used a free and open source WordPress plugin called H5P to create these. For example:
Even though each page represents all the content of the corresponding ‘Fact Sheet’, the original PDFs themselves have been retained at the bottom of each page so that students who really prefer a PDF (either for reference offline or to be printed) do not miss out on anything.
With the site established, it is currently being reviewed by ASO staff for feedback before further modifications and a roll-out plan is established in cooperation with UNE Schools and unit coordinators. Timelines and unit-level implications for integration with existing online sites will be communicated soon, but with the core platform in place, there is virtually unlimited potential now for achieving our longer-term vision of a suite of resources to test, remediate and extend student skills in these important content areas.
The development team to end of September consisted of Georgie Avard (Project Manager), Peter Holford & Ray Smith (Learning Design), Trish Donald & Raph Roberts (Learning Media Specialists) and Dr Alex Dunn (SME & ASO representative).