Any teacher that has taught a face-to-face class understands the preciousness of that first class meeting. So much rides on those first impressions.  As educators, we too can reflect on our own experiences as students and recall how a first class meeting formed impressions about what a class would be like — I can remember thinking all of these thoughts in college on day one:

  • “This instructor is so disorganized!” 
  • “I can tell this class is going to be really interesting!” 
  • “That was the most boring 50 minutes of my life.”
  • “This instructor totally inspires me.”

When you teach online, there is no “first session” in which all students are together at the first same moment with you.  Students come to the online course at different times and interact with the content you have prepared for them.  What is important to consider about that content? How do you ensure it is effectively communicating what you want them to take away?

While there are many elements that influence an online students first encounters in an online class (ease of navigation, overall color choice and design aesthetics), their target is “The Syllabus.”  College students want to get to the meat and bones of a class, understand what it consists of, and how it stacks up against other classes.  For this reason, I put a lot of time and energy into my syllabi. 

 

Populr – a simple micropublishing tool (free for educators) with some nifty features!

I have been wanting to find a way to develop a living, breathing syllabus that is mobile friendly and conveys more about who I am — my personality, my style of teaching, as well as communicate how my class is different from other online classes.  This month I learned about a tool called Populr. Populr is a startup company based in Nashville that launched last January 2013. Their product is a which is a micropublishing tool, similar to Smore.  Micropublishing enables the creation and publication of single page websites, which is perfectly suited for creating a course syllabus!  If you’ve found yourself creating Google Sites or Google Docs to share with presentation or webinar audiences (I often use BagTheWeb), that is a perfect example of a purpose that a micropublishing tool could fill for you. Micropublishing is an upcoming industry and what’s great about these new tools are the slick analytics and beautiful layouts and design features that enable a person with little to no design sense to create a really beautiful product. 

While Populr is like Smore, it does not yet feature the ability to print to a PDF (although that feature is supposed to be available very soon) and embedding of “Pops” is not yet available yet (both features that are available through Smore).  What I like about Populr, however, are these very cool features that make it stand out from Smore:

  • A free, robust account for educators. Click here to generate the Education Coupon. Read more about Populr’s support for education here.
  • The ability to password protect sites.
  • The option to make sites collaborative or allow others to make a copy of them.
  • A rich collection of beautiful designs and layouts to start with! 
  • The ability to record video directly into a page using your webcam.
  • The option to add up to three custom domains to an account.
  • Deep analytics that allow you to track how many times each link inside each of your “Pops” has been clicked.

So, here is a link to my humanized syllabus created with Populr — what do you think?
http://page.teachingwithoutwalls.com/SyllabusHOSP

 

Accessibility

While I really like Populr and plan to use it, there are some areas that need to be improved. First, like most startups Populr does not have its arms around the essentials of web accessibility.  For example, there is no way to add alt-tags to the images, recording a video from my webcam was super easy but there was no way to add captions (so I chose to record into YouTube, caption there, and embed it in Populr instead). This is a typical gap between the standards of higher education and business.  While it’s not ideal, I opted to post a text version of my syllabus at the bottom of the Populr version to provide a screenreader accessible version for any learner who may need it.

I reached out to Nicholas Holland, CEO of Populr, to share some of my concerns about the accessibility gaps and he responded with appreciation and interest.  I believe if educators partner with startups to communicate our interests and needs, the existing gaps in our technological infrastructure will, over time, begin to decrease.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you might use Populr — for a syllabus or any other instructional content or learning activity! It’s a great way to promote events on campus, develop newsletters, create rich media book or media reports, or an ePortfolio as a capstone for a course even!

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