H2O: Changes, updates and new features

We’ve been hard at work on H2O, focusing on improving site performance and user experience. Here are some of the improvements we’ve unveiled this summer!

1. Advanced Search
General search, playlist creation and dashboard all now have advanced search capability: results can be filtered by item type, creator, or keyword.
Adv Search screenshot

2. Dashboard
In addition to advanced search sorting, the user dashboard allows users to set their Print Defaults through My Settings. New playlists can also be tagged with “Primary” to further assist sorting.
Workshop screenshot

3. Annotator
The annotator tool, used for selecting text to edit (hide, highlight etc.) has been significantly simplified: instead of clicking the first & last word of the section you want to modify, you can now click-and-drag to select the desired text. In addition, item owners (and viewers) now have the option to hide paragraph numbers.

4. Performance improvements & bug fixes
We’ve implemented quite a few improvements and fixes, including deactivating the karma bar & heat map which have given H2O a significant performance boost.

Note: with the annotator change, the way text was layered changed from word-to-word to a full text selection -this allows the click-and-drag that’s now possible.
When this change was implemented, it retained all collages’ layers but toggled the state of any that were “on” (i.e., hidden or highlighted) to off. If you have collages from before this summer’s annotator improvement, this may necessitate re-hiding portions of your collages.

We’re pleased with progress so far and are excited for what’s in store! We appreciate any suggestions as we continue to work on hard enhancing and improving H2O -reach out to us at  h2o at cyber.law.harvard.edu !

Rotisserie and Question Tool

H2O is a suite of online classroom tools. In addition to providing a platform to create and distribute digital casebooks, textbooks, and modules [link], H2O also includes a Rotisserie [link] and a Question Tool [link]. The Rotisserie (which we recently moved under its new directory, as part of our efforts to centralize H2O) and the Question Tool are active and being used by teachers and students—and we welcome more users. The Berkman Center plans to continue supporting both into the future, and we would be keen to hear from potential partners interested in these tools. We may also update the tools, and potentially incorporate them (or at least the Rotisserie) into the current H2O theme and suite (which underwent a design overhaul late last spring).

 

New Show/Hide Button

New Features

To help streamline the process of viewing and interacting with collages on H2O, today we deployed a new feature — the “Show/Hide” button, which replaces the two separate “Text” and “Layers” buttons that used to exist for collages. The “Show/Hide” button is located at the top of each collage. It allows you to decide what text and annotations to view, what layers to highlight, and whether — if you have remixed a preexisting collage with at least one layer — to delete all of the inherited layers. Alongside of this new button, we have also, based on strong user feedback, added a “Required” layer for all collages, so that professors can even more easily and quickly start selecting the text that they want to designate as required.

A sample view of the new Show/Hide button

Here are the different parts of the “Show/Hide” button:

Text

— Select not only if you want to show all of the text of the collage, or just some or all of the layers in the collage, but also whether you want to default to the author’s version of the collage.

Annotations

— Decide whether you want all annotations to be automatically shown, or contracted.

Highlights

— Select if you want to turn the highlight on or off for each layer in the collage. (Note: if you turn a highlight on, and then print the collage by clicking on the printer icon, then H2O automatically maintains the shown highlights in the print with an underline.)

Actions

— If you remixed a preexisting collage that already had at least one layer, then you will have the option of deleting all inheriting layers in one fell swoop.

Short Video Guide

Erika Wayne — the Deputy Director of the Robert Crown Law Library and a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School — has developed a helpful short video guide to using H2O. The video is a great jumping off point for students looking for useful information about how to navigate some of H2O’s basic functionalities.

The video is available online here.

The most recent H2O User Guide, for reference, is available online here.

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.

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.

Showing and (temporarily) hiding parts of a case

Learning American law requires reading a lot of cases. And cases can be long — sometimes really long.

Traditional casebooks typically include only excerpts of most of their cases. A casebook’s editors decide what parts of each case should be included in the book and, as a consequence, they also decide which parts of each case will not be shown. Students interested in reading the whole case have to track down a full version elsewhere.

One of the tools H2O provides professors is the ability to show or hide portions of a text while maintaining the ability to read the hidden parts of the text by clicking on an elision box.

For instance, in Professor Zittrain’s edited version of Carroll Towing, students automatically see only the required portions of the text.

Clicking on any of the elision boxes allows students to see those non-required portions of the text.

To revert back to see just the required portion, students can just click on either of the wedges that mark the beginning and end of the non-required text.

Convergence Workshop on Annotations@Harvard, March 28th

We plan to present H2O during the lightning talks at the Annotations@Harvard Convergence Workshop in the Radcliffe Gymnasium on March 28th. The event’s organizers have lined up a great collection of projects involving annotations.

H2O allows users to provide in-line annotations in collages. Professor Zittrain, for instance, added a few explanatory notes and definitions in U.S. v. Carroll Towing Co. in his spring 2013 Torts playlist.