Planning your digital project: Finding the right tool for the job

As educators, it’s tempting to see an unfamiliar, yet “sparkly” new technology and to want to use it for the sake of doing something “cutting edge.”

This is a normal reaction (much preferred over hiding from new technologies and hoping they’ll go away), and one that can be and should be harnessed to expand our educational toolboxes. Like with any tool, however, we must learn when to use it and how. Would you use a bulldozer for your garden when a shovel will do?

Here are some questions to think about when planning a digital project.

  1. As with any project, a digital project should have a defined goal. Is the goal to convey information? To engage? To inspire action?
  2. Decide how you will measure your success in reaching your goal. Size of audience? Recommendations and comments of audience? Improved test scores?
  3. Next, define your audience. What age group do you want to reach? What education level? How comfortable are they with new technology? Do they have the downloads and plugins necessary to view your material?
  4. Will the project need to be maintained after launch? If so, how will this happen?
  5. How will your project meet W3C accessibility guidelines? This is an especially important question to ask if your institution receives public funding (though really everyone benefits from accessibility principles). Public universities such as the University of Washington are required by law to make their information accessible. (Good accessibility improves the user experience for everyone – consider how some web sites are so much easier to navigate on an iPhone than others.) Examples of accessibility guidelines include:
  • Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
  • Don’t rely on color alone
  • Design for device-independence (such as screen readers, non-mouse users, etc.)

With these things in mind, it’s possible to start sorting through that digital toolkit for the best tool for the job.

Is there a chronology that could be more easily depicted using a graphic or Flash? Are there images that could tell the story using a slideshow? Would a video collage give the best representation of your work?

If you are working on a web site and you want to reach a broad audience, you will want to limit the amount of high-bandwidth material, such as images and video, on the home page. Put users in control and only make them download information when they choose to.

Is there a way for blind or deaf users to get the content that is in your video? Or the person who isn’t allowed to watch video at work? Or the dial-up connection user who has disabled images and javascript?

What medium best illustrates your project? Photos, video, audio, the written word? Don’t force your project into a mold. Each project is different and should be treated as such.

When working on the web, don’t forget about the power of linking. Can you link to complementary resources? (Bonus: This also improves search engine optimization.)


Digital journalism class examines changing news industry

Communication professor Kathy Gill’s digital journalism class explored the future of news and created multimedia stories during the spring. Check out their insightful blog, The Future of News.

Here are links to their individual projects:

Adam: UW Student Serves As Translator in Ecuador

Andrew: Duncan’s Glorious Summer

Jeff: Raiders Softball

Michelle: Interview With Potential Communication Student

Paul: – Crowdfunded Journalism

Reisha: Twitter As PR Tool

Ryan: Magical Heroine

Sarah: New Technologies in the 13th Coast Guard District

Scott: Where’s my paycheck? Thoughts on the future of journalism

Five free video converters

Lifehacker has a list of the five best media converters voted on by readers of the popular blog. The favorites?

1. Super (Windows)

2. Format Factory (Windows)

3. Media Coder (all platforms)

4. Handbrake (all platforms)

5. FFmpeg (all platforms)

Remember that the Media Lab in 302 has Premiere CS4, which will convert most formats as well.

Free online slideshow creators

10,000 Words published a list of four free online slideshow creators. They don’t look as flexible as SoundSlides, but if you don’t want to pay the $40 for SoundSlides or don’t have access to a media lab with the software, it’s an option. I haven’t tried them yet, so if you do, let me know what you think.

Environmental Journalism class launches Sound News

What’s happening to Puget Sound? Find out at Sound News, the new place for news affecting Puget Sound and the communities around it.

Created by reporters in the University of Washington Environmental Journalism class taught by Warren Cornwall of The Seattle Times, Sound News features incisive, original news stories and blogs about the Puget Sound environment, as well as headlines from other news sources around the Sound updated daily.

Among the stories coming your way: What do locals think about removal of the Elwha River dams? How to kill invasive blackberry bushes. A look behind the battle over Maury Island. What toxic PCBs are doing to our orcas. What rubber sports fields have to do with Puget Sound.

Online alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite

The Innovation in College Media blog has a great post on some free or inexpensive alternatives to Adobe’s Creative Suite. While Adobe’s CS4 offers the compatibility between programs and power and quality that most professionals would prefer, these alternatives can help college students get through a class assignment or decide whether they need the costlier program.

Web magazine investigates media and peace

Volume 3, Issue 1 of a web magazine written by University of Washington students in COM495/SIS490 has hit the newsstands. Media and Peace investigates complex relationships among the media, journalistic practice, and public understanding and pursuit of peace. This first issue explores the current situation, including topics such as media coverage of peace activism, the growing peace journalism movement, and organizations that utilize media as tools for peace.

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