Peg Legg and Sal A. Mander

Often you may find the need to populate a course with sample users so your students can log onto a course and experiment around.

Having sample users is also a great solution for demo courses when you want to allow students to experience hands-on a specific technique.

I discovered a fun list of names at Many of them are very inappropriate for a lab situation, but I was able to cull about 25 very safe ones from the list.

Here are a few examples: Missy Sippy, Peg Legg, Marshall Law, Mary Christmas, and Sal A. Mander.

Course Design Philosophy

Externsteine rock formation in Horn-Bad Meinberg, GermanyAs I develop more and more online courses I’m starting to fine-tune my design philosophy. How do these bullet points fit with your own experience?


  • Have a clear path for the learner to follow.
  • Strive for deeper learning.
  • Focus on the learning, not the technology.
  • Be platform independent whenever possible.
  • Utilize open source frameworks
  • Create adaptable content for both mobile and desktop devices.
  • Pluralize your content. Present the same information in multiple formats for maximum learning.
  • Always nudge your students’ learning up to the next level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Presentation of Material

  • Incorporate short video (3-4 minutes) with sound and closed-captioning.
  • Written materials must be presented in an interesting manner.
  • Create succinct checklists for future fast reference and re-learning.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Be Hemingway by removing all extra words, phrases, and explanations.

Utilize the Writer’s Craft

  • Create suspense
  • Be clear and organized
  • Use scenarios, creating memorable and personable “characters” that the learner can identify with.
  • Overlap information in a kind and gentle manner.
  • Follow the Hero’s Journey pattern  established by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and incorporated by George Lucas, director of Star Wars.

Listen Closely to Your Students

  • Their questions tell you where you need clarity.
  • Their observations or ideas can be used to enhance the content.
  • Ask for their feedback near the end of the course.  What worked? What didn’t. What should I change? Take notes!
  • Throughout the course, highlight changes you’ve made to the course as a result of previous student input.

6 Success Tips from a Student

I recently received a letter from Chad Peterson, one of my Information Systems students who will be graduating this spring. He graciously took the time to write, giving me feedback on some of the things he appreciated about my courses.

In addition, he also listed several things he has learned about becoming a successful student. With his permission, I thought I’d pass these on to you.

Chad’s Tips
To current and future students, as a student who has many ups and downs with these courses there are a few things that will help you out as you go through the [Computer Careers] program:

  • The first thing is to do the tutorials! From start to finish! It does seem like a lot of work at first, but I’m being honest in that it truly does not take a lot of time if you give yourself enough time.
  • Being organized is the number one key and Peter emphasizes that very appropriately.
  • Do the self-quizzes as well! The trick is to keep doing the self -quiz as you finish each section of the tutorials.
  • Coming to class with questions about the material is a huge advantage because otherwise I have personally found that I lose focus because I am not caught up, and when it comes time to ask questions, I either ask very dumb, out of place questions.
  • Asking a lot of questions and being involved in the class discussion is also another big way to stay focused and excited about what you are learning.

  • Another great piece of advice is to use the old- fashioned pencil and paper. Sketching/drawing/writing your ideas down before you start with the code will help you tremendously. It is much easier to write code and view it when you already have something to look at. This comes in very handy when starting out with a project.

Thanks for the kind words Chad and the excellent advice for other students.

Noodling and Hunkering

One of my favorite technical words is “noodling”. I have my students noodle around with code to see how it works – have them break it and then fix it again to get control.

I often noodle around with code when working on a project, trying to stretch things a little more, trying to find out “What happens if I do this?”. This is especially useful when working with CSS and a new website design.

At South by Southwest I heard Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering talk about design and user interfaces. I’m on their mailing list now and today he introduced me to another technical term: hunkering.

Here’s an excerpt from his article:
The behavior of hunkering was the same [for all types of people]:

  1. They lay out whatever physical pieces they have — raw materials,
    sketches, and images they’d collected.
  2. They work to put things close to where they’d be in their final
    form, relative to the other pieces.
  3. Then they step back and ponder it for a while.
  4. In some cases, they walk around to view it from a different
    angle, to see what it looked like from another perspective.
  5. Then they start back up to work.

This can be done in any type of business from web design,  to programming, to cabinet making, to dress designing.

Hunkering also ties in with a book I’m reading, A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink. Daniel talks about using both sides of the brain, both the analytic left side as well as the more artistic, free-flowing right-side in order to deal with challenges we face in today’s world. No longer can we just be analytical thinkers working a problem in a straight line. Instead, we have to become more artistic thinkers, looking at things as a whole and getting ideas from other disciplines. Jared’s term “hunkering” describes how to do this process in a very real manner.

So, next time you are starting a project, before you start writing code or hammering nails, do some noodling around and hunkering to kick your right brain into gear.

Here’s Jared’s article: Hunkering: Putting Disorientation in the Design Process.

Tutorial videos from my courses

I’ve been creating some demo movies as part of my on-line classes and have posted them out on

I thought you might like to look at the series. I’ll be adding new ones on a regular basis.

Here’s a link showing all the videos available out on

I’m using ScreenFlow to create my onscreen videos. This is an amazing program that allows me to capture video and sound and edit using scrolling and panning. Mac only. What is displayed here is only the video portion of the more complete tutorials I offer as part of my online and face2face courses.

The videos shots of my whiteboard talks are taken using a very inexpensive ($150) Aiptek HD1080P pocket-size video. Chad Peterson, one of my students is working on the editing. These resulted from one of my online students asking me to record my entire class. That is very difficult, getting good sound, but I thought I’d try some simple videos that focused on specific concepts to see how enhance the learning activities for each module.

I’d be interested in your comments on how useful these would be to you as a student. Thanks!

Problem Solving

Every semester I get frustrated emails from students containing the phrase, “I just spent ____ hours on this and couldn’t figure it out.” Here’s a short excerpt that I usually include with my reply:

I can sure understand how frustrating it is to do something without success for so many hours. But, next time something like this happens, and after the first half hour, stop and ask for help, do something different, or find another resource. It depends on the problem but, normally if you are spending more than a half hour trying to solve a problem than your problem-solving skills need some work.

Here’s a checklist that will help you build up your problem-solving skills and hopefully speed your way to solutions:

  1. Stay focused. Don’t try to multi-task. Behavioral scientistists have proven that trying to do multiple things at once makes all of the tasks suffer.
  2. Simplify the problem. Web page not changing? Try typing in some odd letters (XYZ) in the middle of the page to see if they display. If they don’t you might have been spending the last hour typing in one file and looking at another!
  3. Keep track of what you have tried. Write it down so you aren’t repeating the same thing over and over and over. Be organized and consistent on how you look for a solution. Don’t just shotgun things over and over and over.
  4. After each failure try something different. If one combination doesn’t work think of something different to do. (Use number keys instead of number pad, check caps lock, type out the password in a simple editor to see the results…)
  5. Google is your friend Do a web search with the error message or a short phrase so you can see if others have had a similar problem.
  6. Think about the problem differently. Maybe what is broken is something completely separate from what you are focused on! Think of what else might be causing the problem.
  7. Go do something else or take a short nap After a set period of time, stop what you are doing and do something else. I usually give myself 1/2 hour to an hour depending on the problem.) Go take a shower, or sit down with a cup of tea, coffee, or pop and sit quietly, go take a 15 minute nap. Let other alternative solutions come to mind and then jot them down. Don’t force them, they will run away like minnows in a clear pool. Set a time limit for this activity. You should have 3 or 4 alternative things to do in 15 minutes of sitting quietly.

    No, playing video games does not count here. That just focuses you on other problems that may be more interesting (at the moment) to solve.

  8. Imagine what the solution or success looks like. If you don’t believe something will work, it probably won’t.

Photo from I tell my Java students that this is what the Java compiler looks like 🙂

Asking the Big Questions – The TED Conference

TED Conference LogoEvery once in awhile the power of the Web still surprises me. Recently, reading David Pogue’s blog from the New York Times,  I discovered a real gold mine: The TED Conference. Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

Every year some of the brightest people in the world meet in Monterey, CA for a few days to talk about what they are doing. It costs $4,400 to attend a conference and the 2008 conference is already sold out. Speakers are not paid but get to attend the conference for free. (You can also request an invitation from their website based on your enthusiasm, ideas, and success in your field.)

A little pricey you say? But wait, they’ve put some of the presentations on line. You can watch the videos of some very amazing presentations . Each is about 20 minutes (although there are a few three minute specials), and you will be thinking about them for days. The TED videos are especially effective if you watch two or three in one setting. I usually catch a couple before I go to sleep at night, just to give my brain something to think about in my dreams.

Here’s a quote for the upcoming 2008 conference, The Big Questions:

"Many people come to TED seeking something out of the ordinary. A chance to mentally recharge. A chance to step back and consider the really big stuff that’s happening. A chance to understand life in a richer way. "

Check out these videos and you’ll see what they mean.

What Lanaguage(s) To Learn?

top10.gifBeing a one-language programmer isn’t good enough any more. In today’s world you need to have the right “product mix” to stay in the job market. Here is a story from highlighting the ten most popular languages along with how many jobs are available for each based on the current jobs out on, one of the more popular tech job sites.

Java and C# rate the highest with a total of over 19,500 jobs. Keep in mind that C# is the “Java” as part of Microsoft Visual Studio. If you learn Java and you’ll be able to easily write code in either language. Another hot language to know right now is VB.NET with 2,090 jobs.

What the article doesn’t cover is the future… In the next 10 years 30-50% of the COBOL programmers in the USA are going to retire. When I first heard these numbers, several years ago, I thought that the mainframe companies would convert over to the languages that are now common on the PC platforms, but this is not proving to be the case. According to the IT people at Wells Fargo Bank, COBOL be around for a long time to come.

Chad Fowler, the author of “My Job Went to India – 52 Ways to Save Your Job” adds to this discussion. He points out that “Java and .NET programmers are a dime a dozen in India. As a .NET programmer, you may find yourself competing with tens of thousands of more people in the market than you would if you were, for example, a Python [or Ruby On Rails} programmer.” He points out that, “You don’t find mainstream Indian offshoring companies jumping on unconventional technologies. They aren’t first-movers. They generally don’t take chances.”

He recommends competing in the job market in which there is actually lower demand globally and focusing on niche technologies such as COBOL in the banking industry or Ruby-On-Rails, which is the cutting edge (right now) in web programming.

Does this mean you shouldn’t take Java or VB.NET? Not really. These languages are considered the base knowledge for today’s programmers. And, once you understand how Java and VB.NET works you can pick up other languages like Ruby On Rails much more quickly.

The key is not to focus on any particular language but to learn the concepts that are common to all programming languages. Once you have that base you can adapt quickly and easily to the changing needs of the job market, now, and in the future.

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TechNow Summer Programming Camp

techNowLogo.jpgLast July, fifteen high school students participated in the first annual TechNow Programming Camp. For three days they learned how to program using a language called Alice– creating 3-D games and animated movies. Each day, during lunch, employees from the corporate sponsors, Wells Fargo Bank, James Tower, Inc., and Carlson Craft Business Solutions, joined the students and talked about career possibilities. The instructors during the summer camp were Peter Johnson, Tom Edwards from the Computer Careers department here at South Central College, North Mankato campus, and Jeff Seehafer, from GFW High School in Winthrop. The students represented several area high schools including Waseca, GFW, East, St. Clair, and Loyola.

The programming camp was a resounding success and there are plans to expand the camp so more students from different grade levels can participate. If you are interested in next year’s camp contact Peter Johnson Here’s more information about the TechNow initiative.

Here are some shots showing the students during the session and a view of the program named Alice.



The SCC Administration visits the Programming Camp (left to right: Larry Wall, Steve Sletcha, President Keith Stover, W.C. Sanders, Nancy Genelin. )


Rebecca Bohm from Wells Fargo Bank, Minneapolis and Alex Clemons a student at Waseca High School talk about his Alice program.


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