A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Prof Hacker

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Asking for Help is a Productivity Tool

I know some people see asking questions as a sign of weakness or insecurity (and believe others will view them that way), and that asking questions can produce answers we don’t want to hear. Both of those possible results pale in comparison to the potential good that just sitting down and asking questions can produce.

Meloni, Julie. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Collaboration>Help>Project Management


Basic Technology Advice for Students

The more frequently I teach in a computer classroom, the more frequently I identify things that students do (or don’t do) that can make using a computer a slower or more frustrating process than it needs to be. One example is the use of the keyboard instead of the mouse. I was somewhat surprised that most students don’t use keyboard shortcuts for commons tasks like copy, cut, paste, and save (clicking, instead, on the application menus at the top of the screen). But I was really surprised that few of them knew to use ALT-TAB to quickly switch between applications in Windows. It’s not that using keyboard commands represents some kind of super-seekrit expertise; rather, it’s that tasks can take so much longer when you rely on the mouse (over and over and over again) instead of relying on keyboard shortcuts.

Williams, George H. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Education>Technology


A Beginner's Guide to HTML, Part 1

If you don’t already understand the markup language known as HTML, there’s not necessarily a compelling reason for you to learn. However, if you’d like a better idea of how web pages work, then it’s worth taking some time to understand the underlying concepts. In today’s post, and the ones that follow in this series, I’m going to introduce the basics of how to create HTML documents.

Williams, George H. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Web Design>HTML


Review: Challenging the Presentation Paradigm: Prezi

Coming from a little start-up in Hungary, Prezi is a web app (Flas/Flex based) that lets you author and deliver what they call “zooming presentations.” The description is apt, as Prezi presentations aren’t actually based on a the traditional linear slide model. Instead, Prezi embraces a zooming user interface model in which blocks of content are arranged contextually in relation to other blocks of content – and the user can zoom in and out of the content, alternating between a “big picture” view and a “detail” view.

Watrall, Ethan. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Reviews>Presentations>Software


Do You Share Teaching Materials Online with Students?

Much of the material we generate for teaching is digital, perhaps most obviously lecture notes and presentation slides. Some instructors put this material online as part of the course materials available to students. For most of us, I think, this kind of material is not consciously designed to be used by students in this way, but that doesn’t mean that it would be impossible to do so.

Williams, George H. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Education>Collaboration>Online


Easy Timelines with Timeline JS

Using Timeline JS to set up a timeline is incredibly easy. Data for the timeline are stored in a Google spreadsheet (it’s possible to use other data sources—see their FAQ—but a Google spreadsheet is probably easiest for most users), and there’s even a handy template provided. Once the data’s been entered, all that’s necessary is to publish the spreadsheet, copy its URL into the Embed Generator linked on the tool’s home page, and set any desired options. An embed code gets generated, and users need only copy and paste that code wherever they want to put the timeline.

Cavender, Amy. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>JavaScript


Five Easy Steps (and One Completely Crazy Step) for Surviving a Grant Proposal

Successful grants are as much about organizing and managing the actual process as they are about the proposal itself. You can have the most incredible idea in the world, but if you don’t jump through the granting agency required hoops (providing all of the required materials in the form and format in which they are required), you aren’t going to be successful.

Watrall, Ethan. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Grants>Proposals>Writing


How to Find Free, Online Content that You’re Allowed to Re-Use

A couple of weeks ago, Jason explained how ProfHacker finds most of the images that we use on this site: we search the photo-sharing site Flickr for pictures that have a particular kind of Creative Commons license. There are several different permutations of these licenses, which are designed to provide a creator with more flexibility than copyright provides without requiring the creator to give up copyright. They’re also a pretty convenient bit of information for people looking to “remix” materials originally created by someone else and then shared online with a license that allows remixing.

Williams, George H. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Intellectual Property>Copyright>Graphic Design


How to Make a Student Internship Successful

Working in an internship position provides an opportunity for a student to recognize that what they’re learning how to do in the classroom has great value beyond the college campus. In my experience, however, in order for the internship to be successful there are a few things to keep in mind.

Williams, George H. Prof Hacker (2010). Academic>Internships>Education>Advice


Keeping Up Online: an Intro to RSS

A website that supports syndication publishes something called a “feed”; that feed can either be collected by a program called a feedreader or news aggregator, or it can be combined (“mashed up”) with another feed. In what follows, I’ll introduce you to some resources to help you get started, and discuss some best practices for managing your feeds.

Jones, Jason B. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Information Design>XML>RSS


LaTeX in the Cloud

LaTeX is a powerful text markup language that allows for document preparation. For some academic fields and subfields, it is the accepted means by which to prepare documents for publication. Like most computing languages, it takes a little time to learn — Bryn Lutes wrote about getting started with LaTeX for us in 2010 — but the effort pays off in beautifully constructed documents.

Whitney, Heather M. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Document Design>Cloud Computing>LaTeX


Learn R with Twotorials

If you want to learn methods, techniques, or technologies that are outside your usual scholarly ambit, then you often have to learn them in small sections as you find time. That’s why I was glad to learn about R Twotorials. R, according to the R Project’s website, “is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics.” It’s a programming language useful for analyzing data and creating graphics, especially if you’re using statistical methods.* It’s also the language that Matthew Jockers suggests you learn if you’re interested in digital humanities.

Mullen, Lincoln. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Statistics>Software


Learn Your Keyboard Shortcuts

If you’ve been reading ProfHacker for a while, you probably know that one of our primary goals is to talk about those things in academia that people simply don’t talk about. If you’re here–so the logic goes–you must already understand , and so we won’t bother to teach you these things. But these things are important; it turns out that knowing the hidden information of the university is a really powerful way to make yourself more effective in your career.

Croxall, Brian. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Technology>User Interface


Lesson Planning for the University Classroom

Teaching in a university classroom requires preparation and a redirection of focus. The teaching is not about us; it’s about the students. One way to focus teaching on student learning is to create and work from lesson plans, plans that keep student learning at the forefront of class sessions.

Hara, Billie. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Education>Instructional Design>Planning


Making Digital Collaboration Visible

As digital scholarship postdocs, we are seen as both technical support and scholarly collaborators, but when we enter the job market, much of our work becomes invisible. For example, here at Occidental I am being given the opportunity to work with a Chopin scholar and several people from our Scholarship Technology group on a large project. Together, we are bringing this scholar’s vision of indexing and cross-referencing the expressive terms of Chopin’s music to the Online Chopin Variorum Edition so that scholars and performers can see the variety of ways Chopin used markings such as piano.

Wadewitz, Adrianne. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Collaboration>Online


Markdown Slideshow Example: Pandoc

In my last two postings, I introduced a way to create slide presentations by writing them in a simple text file, with Markdown formatting, and add some of the “infinite canvas” features of Impress.js. The resulting presentation (simple example) can be viewed in modern browsers without any special software.

Lawson, Konrad. Prof Hacker (2013). Articles>Presentations>Software>Markdown


On Writing for the Web

These guidelines are well over a decade old at the moment, but unlike some other technology-related information, the age of these tips should not preclude you from using them. In other words, they still hold true.

Meloni, Julie. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Web Design>Writing


A Pleasant Little Chat about XML

XML [EXtensible Markup Language] is what its name suggests: a markup language, much like HTML. In fact, XML and HTML are siblings (if you want to think of it that way) in that they are both derivatives of SGML, or “Standard Generalized Markup Language”. XML is not a programming language (neither is HTML for that matter).

Meloni, Julie. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Information Design>XML


Podcasting Your Lectures 101: Editing

One of the most important aspects of editing is file management. Editing is a “destructive” process that often can’t be undone if you’ve made a mistake. As a result, you want to keep an original, unedited version of your audio file backed up and untouched.

Watrall, Ethan. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Education>Audio>Podcasting


Podcasting Your Lectures 101: Recording

There are lots of reasons why you might want to podcast your lectures. You might be teaching an online class or providing supplementary lecture material for students in one of your regular (face-to-face) classes. Or, even better, maybe you are embracing the open courseware movement, and making your course material available to people both inside and outside of your university – regardless of whether they are actually enrolled in the class.

Watrall, Ethan. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Education>Audio>Podcasting


Policies and Time

A new study suggests that many IT security practices are really just so much security theater. Jason asks about other moments in university life when the cost of complying with a policy exceeds its benefits.

Jones, Jason B. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Information Design>Security>Assessment


Reflexive Pedagogy

Self-reflexivity can help students and educators identify the “what” and the “why” of student learning. Reflexivity is not to be confused with reflection. We often reflect on our teaching, and we ask students to reflect on their learning. Reflection is a wonderful tool. It is, though, a tool for “after the fact.” We reflect at the end of an assignment or at the end of a course. We identify what we learned and how we can possibly do differently next time.

Hara, Billie. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Education>Instructional Design>Theory


Screencasting 101: the Definitive Guide!

Screencasts can be a great way of showing people with basic computer skills how to accomplish more-than-basic tasks on their computers. When done well, screencasts illustrate a technical and otherwise potentially confusing process in a way that’s easier to understand than text alone. You create a screencast by recording and narrating your on-screen computer activity as you accomplish any number of tasks.

Bohon, Cory. Prof Hacker (2009). Articles>Documentation>Multimedia>Screencasting


Teaching Document Design, Not Formatting Requirements

Any academic practice that rests largely on inertia is one that’s ripe for hacking. One such opportunity is hiding in plain sight: Even as word processing software has highlighted design elements, even as design programs have become more accessible and user-friendly, even as my home discipline, rhetoric and composition, has dedicated much more attention to visual literacy, many faculty members continue to specify detailed formatting requirements for student writing.

Snider, Evan. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Education>Document Design


Tips and Tricks for Effective Lecturecasting

Lecturecasting is all the rage these days. And whether you are lecturecasting specifically for a class (either online, face-to-face, or any combination thereof), or are putting your lectures out to the wider public on a platform such as iTunes U, it takes a lot of work to get your lecturecasts to the point where they are effective vehicles for your content.

Watrall, Ethan. Prof Hacker (2010). Articles>Education>Video>Podcasting



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