Make a list

I’m reading the Checklist Manifesto right now, and you might accuse me of confirmation bias, but I’m totally right.

  1. Write a list
  2. with clear deliverables
  3. in the order they need to be done.

Every month I have to send out a newsletter for our organization, and it’s one of those routine things that I know I have to do. About a year ago, I was busy with other emergency tasks, and this one nearly fell off the radar, and I had to rush myself and my colleagues to get it out (nearly) on time. And that was silly, avoidable stress.

Every month I start with the deadline (when to send the newsletter), and work backwards. So simple, and entirely supported by the Checklist Manifesto, which calls checklists “quick and simple tools aimed to buttress the skills of expert professionals” (page 128).

Now I can spend more of my time with work-related puzzles like how to maximize our use of Google Adwords (AND explain it to my colleagues).

Monthly Newsletter list

Following the Google Analytics Flow

We’re collecting website stats for our Quarterly Report, and I’ll report on the usual stats: our registrations, where our visitors come from (email/search engine/direct link, etc) and so forth. But I can’t help but start looking through Google Analytics. I have only lightly scratched the surface, and was getting frustrated with the bounce rate, exit and entrance pages. There are multiple ways that people arrive at and use our site and I was getting frustrated drawing conclusions based on an entire site of activity. Our site has many, many pages (too many?) which clouds our understanding of what people are doing and perhaps dilutes our objectives?

So I explored some more, and right now I’m enamored with the Visitors Flow: at a glance it’s telling me where most of my visitors are landing, and most importantly where they go next. I’m also learning that our site is organized in such a way that Google Analytics (GA) sometimes has trouble following. Due to our odd information infrastructure, it’s not making connections that a human makes, and I either can’t or haven’t figured out how change how pages are categorized in GA. Due to the sheer number of pages on our side, GA has categorized most of them as “misc”, it seems. I’m not sure how much of this is due to the fact that our site is built on Joomla, which creates specific nesting of sites and how much of it is our IA. Both, either, that and more?

Regardless, lots of happy browsing ahead. Any advice or suggested readings?

Following the pathways: our flow 

Data in your site

The web developer in our office installed Google Analytics on our site last month. I like the pretty graphs and numbers, but wasn’t sure how it might inform my job. So I spent a half hour with my colleague, and we clicked and scrolled around.

First of all we looked up what the term Bounce Rate means. Generally speaking is means the number of people who landed on a specific page, and then left the site entirely, without having visited any other pages on the site. In the Google documentation, a high bounce rate is described as undesirable, and if people are landing on the main page and then immediately leaving again, I’d mostly agree. If, however, people are using effective use of keywords to land on a page on our site with more specialized content, then I”m okay with a high bounce rate – that route means the keywords are efficient. We also determined that the bounce rate for our online registration page is low. We’d been having some difficulties with the online registration system, and so this seems like validation that it’s working for plenty of people.

Traffic Sources was an unexpected sources of information. People are getting to our site mostly though google searches, and uses variations on the name of our organization. A healthy percentage come through direct links or our email newsletter. So people know how to search for us, and they read our newsletter, which is good news! We can also see which websites are linking to our site. We can see where on the government website we’re linked, that the BC Teachers Federation uploads information that we send out, and that we’re getting increasing traffic from our facebook site. So these outreach programs are working out for us.

My other preferred section of google analytics was the Top Content section. I can see which pages get the most hits. There are initially no surprises there, but digging deeper there are some interesting details. I can see how long people spend on each page (do they find what they are looking for quickly on the main page? Do spend time on the content heavy pages?), and I can see on which page they exit the site and extrapolate where they found the information they were seeking.

I’m looking forward to comparing last months statistics to this months statistics. We’re implementing changes, such as an online registration system and an online community, and tracking statistics over several months will tell us if our changes are taking hold and changing how are users interact with our site.

Map making

I follow many people on twitter: people in the field of educational technology, user design and more. And someone posted a link to a shared map in Google Spaces, asking people to add their location to the map. First of all, hooray for this medium allowing people over the world to quickly play with a new toy in a low-stake environment.

User generated maps are pretty interesting – if you were teaching an international class, either online or face to face, you could ask students to add their birthplace or last vacation to jump start a conversation, and get that community started. You could use it to track the incidents of mass deaths of birds, track the geographic location of oil spills, annotate the historical immigration of Europeans to North America or track epidemics at a local or international level.

Creating the map results in a visual representation of what may have been a series of abstract numbers, locations or dates. It can heighten awareness (increasing affective learning), develop technological skills (psychomotor) and create new connections between the data and how it’s represented or how we interpret it (cognitive).

On a personal note, as an avid reader of novels, I geek out when a novel has a map in it. I enjoy plotting the quest, or noting the geographic locations of rival factions (Lord of the Rings and it’s map of Middle Earth is probably the most well-known example). I’ve also searched out (and contributed to) a google map of Harry Bosch’s Los Angeles (Harry Bosch is the detective in a series written by Micheal Connelly and a map of the Central Valley Greenway bike route in Vancouver.

There is also Google maps available for map-making, and I’m sure others that I have not explored. There must also be ways of automatically feeding GPS data in to maps as well? Many more opportunities out there.

Graphic Syllabus

I am reading a book right now called “The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course” (by Linda Nilson). The authors objective is to demonstrate how a syllabus drawn like a concept map (for example) can show how a semester long course discusses the similarities and differences between two theories, or how initial background information is the building blocks for later units. It’s a very interesting book, and I’ve started looking at museum introductions, workshop outlines, and even correspondence as graphics, not paragraphs of text.

One of the observations that the author makes is that her students were using her graphic syllabus’ as a reference point during the semester (instead of immediately ignoring it). They were tracing their route, and checking their learning against this document. Fun stuff.

Google Earth maps stories

Google Earth has new layers documenting the genocide in Darfur. If you are trying to get a subject to resonate with your students or colleagues, making something big and incomprehensible something more personable.

I still don’t entirely understand how to create or navigate Google Earth (I’ve downloaded it in the past, but it slows down this beast of a computer too much), but I’ll continue to watch for updates.