Under the hood: H2O application performance

A quick update on what’s happening under the H2O hood:

As the H2O community continues to expand — and now encompasses instructors at nearly a dozen universities — our team is working to enhance the speed and performance of the application. In particular, we’re working to improve the speed of page loads, including for the home page, search results, remixing a collage or playlist, and users’ dashboards. If you come across bugs or identify features you’d like us to develop, please send us an e-mail to <  h2o at cyber.law.harvard.edu >.

By the way, we recommend that H2O is accessed through the most up-to-date versions of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

H2O in DC

**Updated July 8, 2013 with more specific logistical details**

On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 10th, Professor Zittrain and I will be presenting and demo-ing H2O at the George Washington University Law School Library. Interested faculty, law librarians, academic technologists, and others from around the area are welcome to join us, as we discuss the platform, its use to date at Harvard Law School, and the various faculty from around the country who are developing digital casebooks on H2O. The H2O team is grateful to Professor and Director of the Law Library Scott B. Pagel of George Washington University Law School for hosting us.

The 2:00 – 3:00 pm session will be primarily addressed to faculty, and the 3:00 – 4:00 pm session will be primarily addressed to librarians, academic technologists, and others.  Both sessions will take place at:

The George Washington University
The Steven A. and Barbara Tasher Great Room
Jacob Burns Law Library
716 20th Street NW, Washington, DC
(Between G & H Streets)

Please e-mail us <  h2o at cyber.law.harvard.edu > to RSVP.

HLS students: Expand H2O to become the norm

Last month, we were thrilled that H2O received a mention in a Bloomberg article by HLS students Raja Bobbili and Daniel Doktori titled “Harvard Law School Can Learn from MOOCs.” After noting that the H2O initiative “has reinvented the legal textbook by creating an open-source platform that allows students and professors to read collaboratively, sharing questions, edits and annotations,” Bobbili and Doktori conclude that “this effort should expand to become the norm.”

While continuing to develop free digital casebooks with HLS professors, our team is also working with professors from a growing list of law schools across the country. If you’re interested — as a teacher, students, librarian, or academic technologist — in helping H2O expand to become the norm, please let us know!

Today: Deploying the design overhaul

The H2O team is excited to announce that, as we’ve been foregrounding at the blog for a while, today our developers are deploying our design overhaul to < http://h2odev.law.harvard.edu >. You may notice that the site is a bit slower than usual, or that visual elements are in certain respects quite different than before. Please bare with us while we resolve any issues that may arise — and, indeed, please tell us if there are things that we need to fix by e-mailing us at <  h2o at cyber.law.harvard.edu >. All of the functionality should remain intact — and, as we’ll explain in the coming days and weeks, there will be quite a few improvements to the platform, in terms of new features, bug fixes, and the like. Stay tuned.

Design Overhaul: Making it easier to edit collages

One of the central features of H2O is the ability to edit collages. Collages, for those new to H2O, are what we call edited cases or other texts. In H2O, users can layer, highlight, and/or annotate portions of a case or other text. Layering, in particular, allows users to decide what part of a text will be displayed by default and, conversely, which parts will be hidden by default—though even hidden text can be read by clicking the ellipses indicating what part of the text has been layered.

A key part of the design overhaul of H2O is our attempt to make it easier and more seamless to edit collages. In the current version of H2O, users have to click the beginning and end of the portion of the text they want to edit, and then click through a series of pop-up windows to make their edits. The process is not as intuitive as it could be.

To make it easier for users to edit their cases and other texts, the design overhaul will now allow users to layer, annotate, and highlight their collages with a persistent right side bar. Teachers will no longer have to click through a series of pop-up windows. Instead, they will be able to make multiple its in the side bar without the page needing to reload each edit.

H2O Design Overhaul

The H2O team is in the process of overhauling the site’s look and feel. We want to make it easier for professors and students to use the platform to develop, distribute, and consume course content. We plan to start rolling out the design overhaul in about two weeks, and we will continue to deploy updates throughout the summer. We plan to blog about updates to keep users up to speed on the new functionalities and features.

Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, we have received significant feedback on the current beta version of the platform, including from students and faculty who have used H2O at Harvard Law School and from discussions with faculty, librarians, academic technologists, and students at Yale, Columbia, Boston University, and Boston College. Based on this feedback, we focused on six objectives for the overhaul. Below, we provide some information about these six objectives. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send us an e-mail to h2o (at) cyber.law.harvard.edu.

1. Making it easier to create, curate, and share playlists.

Playlists—which are re-mixable collections of texts, links, images, audio, video, PDFs, and other playlists—form the backbone of H2O. A professor can add another professor’s playlist to her own course content, or re-mix and adapt that same set of content.

Over the coming weeks, we plan to deploy the following updates to this central facet of H2O:

  • Drag-and-drop playlist additions. No longer will users have to add items to their playlists through a pop-up window. Rather, they will be able to search for cases and other items they want to add in a search module on a right side bar in the window, and then drag and drop the item into the desired place in their playlist on the left side of the window.
  • Deep clones. Currently, users can remix a playlist but not that playlist’s underlying playlists. Put more technically, the current version of H2O allows users to create a shallow clone of a playlist such that the user can then modify that top-level playlist, but not the elements within the playlist. Professors have told us, however, that it would be very useful to automatically remix the whole playlist, including its underlying elements. So our developers are creating the ability to automatically make what we’re calling a deep clone of a playlist, such that a professor will be able to modify not only the top-level playlist but all of its underlying elements as well.
  • Template for creating a playlist. In the coming months, we plan to deploy an easy-to-use, guided process for professors to create playlists from scratch or by adapting another user’s playlist.
  • Systematizing subjects, categories, course locations, and course time frames. We are also developing the ability for users to identify and search for other playlists not only by key words and dates but also by what subjects and categories pertain to the playlist, as well as where (at what school), when, and by whom a playlist was used in a course.

2. Providing more systematic and visually interesting ways to capture the influence of a user and her content over time.

H2O automatically captures when a playlist or collage is remixed, bookmarked, or added to a playlist. The current version of the platform displays some of this information in the “stats” section of the playlist or collage, indicating who did what to the item at what time. We wanted to go beyond this basic display of information to capture information in more systematic and visually interesting ways—in short, we wanted to create a lightweight way to display the relative influence of a playlist and a collage over time.

With thoughtful suggestions from Jeff Goldenson—one of our downstairs neighbors in the Harvard Library Innovation Lab—we have developed the prototype of an influence bar code system. H2O will generate a bar code for each playlist, collage, and user. The bar code will display the influence each item and user has had within the H2O ecosystem. The bar codes will be color-coded, with each color tied to a specific influence marker—for instance, a red bar will indicate when a playlist was re-mixed. Bars will be skinnier or wider based on the relative score we have assigned to each influence marker. A relatively more influential indicator, such as when a playlist is added to another playlist, will be proportionally wider than a less influential marker, such as when a playlist is bookmarked. Users will be able to scroll through each item’s and user’s bar code to see what types of influence that item or user has had over time.

3. Continuing to promote and enhance accessibility, including for users with visual and other impairments.

The design overhaul of the H2O platform was undertaken with a view toward continuing to promote and enhance accessibility. Over the past two years, the H2O team has consulted with representatives from the Perkins School for the Blind and with the Dean of Students Office at Harvard Law School to identify key concerns and ways to enhance accessibility. Cases, for instance, are ingested into H2O in a way that helps to facilitate the use of a screen-reading program called JAWS. H2O’s developers continue to explore ways to incorporate accessibility principles and guidelines into the platform.

4. Making it easier to create, edit, and share edited texts (aka “collages”).

A central feature of H2O is the ability to edit text, such as cases. Professors can show or hide, annotate, and highlight word-by-word portions of texts. To make the editing process more seamless, users will soon be able to edit text within the window instead of having to do so one edit at a time through a series of pop-up windows. This enhancement should make it easier and faster for professors to mold their cases and other texts into what they want for their courses. In addition, a new collapsible right sidebar on collages will show information about the collage, including about its history, stats, and author.

5. Giving professors and students more options to customize their experience.  

With H2O, we have tried to build a lightweight platform with features and functionalities aimed at spurring new approaches to course content development and classroom learning. While maintaining H2O’s lightweight concept, we have also tried to build in a few ways for professors and students to customize their experience of the platform. In the coming weeks, we will deploy a new user dashboard with a “Settings” tab. There, users will be able to select what size of fonts they want to use on the site, as well as which fonts, drawn from a carefully selected collection. In addition, users will be able to fine-tune what types of information and settings they want to print, such as author information, paragraph numbers, titles, and the like.

6. Optimizing H2O for use on multiple devices.   

We have built H2O so that it can be accessed on any Web-enabled device, such as a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. As part of the design overhaul, our developers have used “responsive” design, including building more modularity into the platform, so that users will be able to seamlessly access content across devices and across various window widths.

H2O @ Northwestern, May 6th

Prof. Jonathan Zittrain, Kendra Albert, and I are slated to present H2O at Northwestern University School of Law on the afternoon of Monday, May 6th. Professors, law librarians, academic technologists, and others from Chicago-area law schools will be joining us to learn more about the platform. While space is limited, if you are interested in attending, please send an e-mail to <  h2o at cyber.law.harvard.edu >.

H2O @ Yale, April 16th

**Updated on 4/11 with more details re locations**

I am greatly looking forward to the opportunity to discuss H2O at Yale University on Tuesday, April 16th. As part of the SCOPA Forum, I will be presenting H2O as an online platform for textbook development and distribution from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm in the International Room at the Sterling Memorial Library. And, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm at 40 Ashmun Street, Fourth Floor, at the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School, I will informally discuss some of the technological, policy, and community practice-related issues associated with H2O. I’m keen to hear — before and after the presentations — from faculty, students, librarians, technologists, and others who may be interested in the platform.