Saturday, October 24, 2015

Adding Variety to Discussion Boards

Week 1 in the Human Element MOOC that I am currently taking focuses on Instructor Presence. One of the things that came up in the Module Overview video was a question about how to add variety to the typical Discussion Board question/response.
One of the things that I have found, while taking my Masters via distance ed as well as developing distance education courses, is that providing students with the opportunity to lead a discussion can be extremely beneficial and often surprising. This is obviously much easier for courses with smaller enrollment, but can be done effectively in larger courses given enough forethought, planning, and the use of facilitators.

Setting up the DB

Rather than creating a “discussion board question” each week. A topic is designated for certain weeks and students are asked to sign up to lead a discussion. The Instructor/Facilitator establishes the list after this initial sign up. If there are more students than weeks, you simply have them “team up” to lead a discussion. This is often more successful in advanced courses, after students have established an understanding of how a typical discussion board runs and the different ways that they can be used.

Scaffolding for Success

This can often be difficult, especially for those of us who design courses systematically, but this is essential for success and to encourage student engagement. Now that I have given you the courage, don’t just throw the students into the deep end! It is often a good idea to have one or two discussion boards that you lead the first 1-2 weeks to set an example of expectation. Even better, is to show some variety by including a case study or some other creative type of DB, not just the typically question. These initial experiences, as well as their previous online course experiences with DBs, will begin scaffolding them to successfully lead their own DB.
The second thing that I strongly encourage is to provide them with the rubric that you plan to use for grading their lofty assignment. When do you expect them to get things posted/rolling in the DB? Are you expecting them to reply to each students’ post, or simply to lead the conversation in the right direction? If there are two leaders, will they be on different sides of the topic to stimulate discussion, or will they be partners in crime fighting for what they deem is correct? All of this should be laid out in a nice rubric with points associated to each step. This will keep the “What do I have to do?” or “I didn’t realize I was supposed to comment AFTER the initial post!” down to a minimum… or at least provide you with a nice safe landing to say AHA!

Turning over the Reins

Now that they have some prior knowledge for success with this activity, they have their topic/group assignment, you should touch base with them. Once again try to bring in that human element by reaching out to them individually, or as a team, to get their ideas for what they plan on doing. You can build this into the assignment by having them contact you a week prior to their assigned DB, or if you are extremely on top of things, you can simply set up a Skype or Google Hangout at a convenient time for everyone to check in. However you do it, make sure to follow-up with feedback in some way. If they seem to be struggling, provide some resources for them to look at online, or even ideas of what they could do. This will show them that you not only want them to succeed, but that they will not be penalized for struggling with a little creativity.

Overlooking the Favicon

Many people have never even heard of a favicon. In fact, if you type it ABC spell check will try to convince you that no such thing exists. Even for the few seconds that you see a favicon, it slips through your mind without a thought. The only time it becomes obvious is when one isn’t there. Favicons subconsciously distinguish a professional website from a haphazardly created website. I imagine at this point, those of you who don’t know what a favicon is, are either Googling it or skimming ahead to find out.
A favicon, short for “favorite icon” is the small icon (16×16 pixels) that appears in the tab of your web browser for a website. Ideally, each website has their own identifying favicon. I recently updated mine to go with my new color scheme. I typically keep it simple with my first initial “M”. Maybe one day I’ll get fancy and have an actual logo/icon for my favicon.
Go ahead and open up some new tabs with common websites you go to. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, you get the idea. See how distinctive each tab is? Sure you can read the text, but you can also know by simply looking at the favicon. So here I am going to pick on a couple of websites… hate to do it, but you need some “non-examples” to get the idea of what happens when you don’t take the extra step to add a favicon. Check out, also take a look at I hope they spend more time and effort making your “Website Design” than they did on theirs should you decide to pay for their design services.
Now that you understand the importance of the favicon, how do you include it? WordPress has some fantastic instructions for adding a favicon to your wordpress hosted website. The process is similar for other websites. You simply create your 16×16 .ico image and then place it in the root directory as “favicon.ico”. If you don’t see it appearing in the tab, then you may have to add some code to the <head> section of your website.
<link rel="icon" type="image/ico" href=""/>
Most default image creation programs don’t save as .ico. I believe Gimp is one of the exceptions. However, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of figuring out how to install a plugin for this, check out these websites that will convert png and other files to ico.
I hope this helped all of the fledgling WordPress users and Website Designers out there. As always, feel free to send me a message if you run into any problems.

Customizing the Color Scheme of WordPress

There are several ways to customize a WordPress Theme just like there are several ways to slice a pizza. The two easiest ways to change the color scheme if you are hosting a WordPress site is to 1) Create a child theme 2) Use the Edit CSS feature available to those who activate Jetpack.

How Do I Create a Child Theme?

If you are interested in creating a WordPress Child Theme, the information at Codex will help. I created one previously based on the Twenty Twelve theme. After hours pouring over the Codex and multiple blog posts I can up with a fairly decent finished product. I even went so far as to create custom post types for my Portfolio section. The page you will want to focus on for changing the color scheme is the style.css file. You basically will be copying this file into your child theme and manipulating it as you wish. The child theme details will override the details of the parent theme.
Needless to say I found myself spending more time figuring out different details than I spent actually blogging. The Twenty Twelve theme was a little underwhelming for my taste so along with defining a color scheme I also created a personal header. However, the Twenty Thirteen theme is a dynamic base theme that displays across devices nicely and simply needs some color changes to personalize it. You can create a header if you desire, but keep in mind that it will not be as dynamic as the rest of the blog for displaying on mobile devices and smaller screens.
I say all of this not to scare you off from creating your own extensive child theme, but to provide some insight for those who are simply toying with the idea for their personal blog. If you have any questions about creating a child theme, feel free to comment here or send me a message on my Contact page.

What CSS Do I Edit?

Once you have decided if you will be creating a child theme, or simply using the Edit CSS feature, you will need to decide what color scheme you would like your blog to have. I have always been a fan of the color purple… ok maybe it is more of an obsession with the color purple… so my choice was easy. For those who are unsure what color they would like, a few websites might help. Color Scheme Designer 3 is a great way to quickly pick colors using the color wheel. Color is fantastic on its own or with others. Not only can you pick your colors and have the hex code provided, but you can select several colors that you would like to use for your CSS.
So now that you can choose you colors and get a hex code, as well as have access to the CSS, you will need to define what colors to change in the CSS code. If you use the Google Chrome browser the Inspect Element feature will be a fantastic help in identifying which codes/colors will need changed. The most difficult and contrary thing to change was the arrow for pagination, which I was looking for in the footer but ended up finding it as .paging-navigation. The code is below. If you would like my full CSS, just send me a message and I will happily share. Good luck to you as you begin customizing your WordPress Twenty Thirteen theme!
.paging-navigation {
background-color: #79718F;
padding: 40px 0;

.navigation a {
color: #433E52;

.paging-navigation .meta-nav {
background-color: #BFAB9D;
border-radius: 50%;
color: #fff;

.paging-navigation a:hover .meta-nav {
background-color: #433E52;
text-decoration: none;