Friday, August 30, 2013

Mixed Content: What Instructors and Instructional Designers Need to Know

The Big Three Block Mixed Content: Update Your HTML

by Alan Regan

In August, Mozilla released Firefox 23. Firefox is a major web browser and it created a serious ripple, especially throughout higher education. With the release of Firefox 23, the browser now blocks "mixed content." This means that some information on web pages will not be displayed, such as embedded media or linked CSS formatting that points to unsecured sources.

However, Firefox is not the only browser that does this. Internet Explorer has blocked mixed content since IE 8 (2009) and Chrome started blocking mixed content in version 21 (2012).

What is "mixed content"?

Mixed content refers to a web page that contains a mix of both secure content and open or unsecured content. Basically, you're visiting a secure web page (the address begins with HTTPS and has a current and valid security certificate installed). On that secure web page, there is content that draws from an open or unsecured source.

Example pages

For the following examples, please use one of the following web browsers: Firefox 23+, Google Chrome 21+, or Internet Explorer 8+. Do not use Apple's Safari web browser, since as of the writing of this blog, it does not block mixed content. Not yet, at least.
  • Secure Content Example. See this example web page that is hosted on a secure website and only refers to secured content. All references point to content with valid HTTPS addresses.  You should see an embedded YouTube video as well as a dynamic countdown counter.
  • Mixed Content Example. See this example web page that is hosted on a secure website but refers to media and code with unsecure references. The references point to content with HTTP addresses. The same objects as above are included, but you will likely not see the objects due to mixed content blocking.

What You Need to Verify or Change in Your Code

If you are embedding content on our learning management system or any secured website, check your code. You want to be sure that all LINK, SCRIPT, SRC, and VALUE references point to HTTPS sites. You also want to be sure that the target websites have valid SSL certificates installed.

If your code contains value=""

... you would change the code to value=""

Another technique to explore is to remove the "scheme" from the address altogether. The scheme is http: or https:.  An example would be like this: value="//"

Finally, you can also consider relative references. "Absolute" references include the complete address for a given resource. "Relative" references provide the path to the resource based on the source web site address.
  • Absolute reference: <img src="" /> 
  • Relative reference: <img src="/images/home/vista-3.jpg" />

Be sure to check:
  • Media embed code
  • Image references
  • Linked Javascript or other script files
  • Links within Javascript or other script files
  • Linked stylesheets (CSS)
  • Links within stylesheets (CSS)

Embed Site to Avoid:

As of this writing, the website does not offer HTTPS references for its videos. If you would like to embed TED Talk content, find the same video on YouTube and use YouTube's embed code which supports HTTPS.

The Tempting-But-Not-Advised Approach

While I can understand the motivation, I would discourage you from simply asking your site participants to use the Safari web browser. Granted, Safari seems to display mixed content right now, but that can easily change. An equally bad practice is to ask your visitors to permanently set their web browsers to "allow" mixed mode content. These two approaches seem like easy fixes because you don't need to do anything to your content. However, the reason that your content isn't displaying in other web browsers is because you are not following the best practices to help protect your audience. Please put in the time to review your code and update your references as needed. This way, your participants can easily view your content and feel secure doing so!


Related Posts:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Learn How to Use the "Web Content" Tool in Sakai 2.9

Adding and Editing Website Links with the Web Content Tool

by Alan Regan

On August 13, 2013, Pepperdine University upgraded its learning management system, Courses (powered by Sakai), to the latest release.  Version 2.9 offers many enhancements, including a revision to the Web Content tool.

What is the Web Content tool?  With this feature, you can easily add website addresses into your class site's left menu. If there are select websites or web pages you want students to access regularly, placing them in the left menu can make it very obvious and convenient for them.  (You can also add web links into the Resources tool or use the rich text editor in several tools to add links, too.)

To help you understand how to add a website using Web Content and how to force the link to open in a new window, we created the following video:

Video link:

TIP: If a website does not appear after you've added it, this may be because your web browser is blocking the content. Check the address you used. Does the address begin with HTTP?  If yes, then the web page will likely be blocked by Firefox 23+ and Internet Explorer 10+.  Consider editing the link to HTTPS or check the box to force the content to open in a new window. Watch the video above for more details.

Learn more:

Help! Firefox Ate TED! Why videos and websites may not appear in some browsers

My Video Disappeared!

Learn why Firefox 23 or IE 10 may be blocking your content

by Alan Regan

Not seeing an embedded video, image, or web page?  If you're using Firefox 23+ or Internet Explorer 10+, then this is because you're suffering from the "mixed content" blues.

Released in early August, Firefox 23 has a new security feature. It's called "mixed content blocking." The short description: if you are on a secure website (like Courses/Sakai, WaveNet, Digication, and almost every website that requires a login) and the page tries to load content from an outside website that is not a secure website, then the browser will block that content from appearing.  Another way to look at it is if you are on a website and the address begins with HTTPS and you're embedding content and the code references website addresses that begin with HTTP and not HTTPS, then you need to put in some fixes so that your audience sees the content.

So, what can you do?  First, you need to look at your class sites and see if any of your content is being blocked.  Open up your class site or website in Firefox 23 and see if the material loads.  If the page is blank -- then you need to correct the code or re-embed the content for a secure address.

Thankfully, YouTube makes it pretty easy now.  The latest embed code takes out the guesswork and helps professors, students, and everyday users embed with ease. Of course, this new YouTube code started mid-June 2013. So, if you embedded a YouTube video before that time, you need to go back, remove the old YouTube code, and embed the new code.

A ray of sunshine is that our new Sakai 2.9 service now supports the shorter "iframe" embed code! It's currently supported in Forums, Syllabus, and Lessons. (The Home tool does not support iframe yet, but we hope to correct this soon!) This should make the process of re-embedding videos a little easier than in the past. Also, with the new iframe code, mobile participants should be able to play the video.

  1. Visit
  2. Find your video.
  3. Below the video, click Share and then click Embed.
  4. We recommend that you uncheck the box "Show suggested videos when the video finishes." This will prevent potentially unwanted or inappropriate video recommendations from displaying at the end.
  5. Copy the code.
  6. Go to your class site on
  7. Go to a supported tool like Forums, Lessons, or Syllabus (if a tool is not in the menu, use Site Info > Edit Tools to add it).
  8. In the rich text editor, click Source at the top left.
  9. Paste the YouTube embed code.
  10. Click Source again and then finish the posting.
  11. Your embedded video should display fine in all browsers and also on most tablets and smart phones.
NOTE: On the Home tool you will still need to check the box "Use old embed code" when copying code from YouTube. Again, you can use the newer iframe code with Forums, Lessons, and Syllabus.

There is a known issue with videos from the website, though.  This isn't an issue with the web browser or Sakai, WaveNet, etc.  The issue is squarely on the website.  As of this moment, the website is not a secure website.  If you link to a video, it only supports an HTTP connection and not an HTTPS connection.  The solution?  For the most part, almost every video can be found on YouTube.  Embed the video located on YouTube and you should be fine.

You may be asking, "Well, what if I don't use Firefox or Internet Explorer?" That's fine, but know that this security setting may soon be coming to your other web browsers like Chrome and Safari.  Web security is important, so don't rely on "use another web browser" as a fix.  Best practice is to embed content from a secure source when you're on a secure website.

So, now you know why some content may appear for some visitors, but not for others.  The likely culprit is "mixed content" blocking on some web browsers.  You also know the fix: update your web links or embed code to secure versions. We hope this helps you create better online experiences for your audiences!

Learn more:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "Save Yourself the Heartache" Guide to Blended-Learning

Tips for Students Starting an Online or Blended-Learning Program

By Varun Khanna

Less than a decade ago, a student could walk into her college class and expect the professor to hand out a printed syllabus and spend the entire first class going over a laundry list of textbook requirements, expectations, do's and don'ts, important dates, ice breaker activities, and end the class by answering student questions.

Those days are almost a thing of the past.

With technology life cycles getting shorter and shorter, academia much like any other industry is rapidly responding and adapting to the needs of the marketplace. Technology is one of the main drivers of productivity. Deploying the right technology, in and out of the classroom, can help students convert knowledge to real world intelligence.

Blended-learning is one example of how technology is forcing both teachers and students to change their habits in order to harness the maximum benefit out of this new relationship.

It is important to note that a lot of professors will front-load a blended-learning class. This means that before you get to that first face-to-face class, which could very well be the fourth week of the semester, you may already have had three online sessions that include reading assigned material, writing a blog, and turning in an assignment online via also known as Sakai.

In this blog I want to focus on the student asking herself some important questions prior to an online or blended-learning class.

Do I know my technology tools?
Prior to commencing an online course or a blended-learning program get to know the learning tools endorsed by Pepperdine University. Send your professors an email prior to the semester commencement and request the names of the online tools they intend to use. Examples: Courses (powered by Sakai) may include Forums, Drop Box, Assignments, Blogs etc. Other examples would be Bb Collaborate, Google Hangouts, Google Drive etc.

Do I know my audience?
Get to know your professor and fellow-students. Look out for the first announcement email from your professor. It may include email addresses of your peers. Use or other professional social media websites as a source to find out more about your classmate’s professional affiliations. Visit the Pepperdine website to find out more about your professor.

Is my computer in good health?
It's critical that your computer is working well. The last thing you want is the hardware on your computer to fail during an online test or a virus to wipe out your hard drive. You may visit your local computer repair store or schedule an appointment with Pepperdine University’s Technology Support department for
a health check.

Do I have the latest software updates?
You are attempting a Bb Collaborate session and find the clock clicking as the class charges forward because you don’t have the latest Java update. Regularly visit and the system will perform an automatic scan to see if you have the latest updates. Not only will the system know whether you are behind on the latest update but, will display a button so you can Fix It.

Is my internet connection fast enough?
You are at your home office attending a Pepperdine online class. The kids are in the their respective rooms. One is watching Netflix on the iPad and the other is watching HBOGo on Apple TV, while your spouse is in the living room busy watching a YouTube channel on how to buy penny stocks. Use to test your internet connectivity speed. Talking to your family about limiting use of the internet during your online class time may prove beneficial.

Did I just blow my budget?
Instead of buying books, many students save money by renting expensive text books from online sites like or or If you wish to go green use digital downloads. However, professors may also want you to also download case study papers. You should always first check with Pepperdine Libraries. The university subscribes to many databases for articles, research materials, and other sources. Don't pay for something when it's free for you as a student! Also, your professor may recommend that you use an outside resource like where you can purchase an entire bundle of required case studies or published papers. Digital download signatures on your download may include your IP address and name (as it appears on your credit card) to validate a purchase. Bundle digital download sites like allow the professor to see which student has bought the case study articles as well as ensure publishers that their company and writers get paid for their intellectual property. A final appeal, though -- check with the library!

Communication is hard. Online communication is even harder. It makes even more room for misinterpretation. Just because you are at home taking an online class does not mean you are not "in" class. Be mindful of your presentation online. Pay attention to your language and grammar (e.g. CAPS may be interpreted as shouting). Also, be sure to respond in a timely or courteous manner.  These behaviors may not only affect your grade but your professional relationship with your peers.

Do my online assignments come with due dates?
Just like any offline assignment has a due date, an online assignment comes with an expiration date, too. Be fastidious about sharing due dates with your cohort or peers. Sync your calendar with your phone and don’t forget to set up several alerts for every assignment.

How can I work in groups for an online class?
There are free, easy-to-use, intuitive, online video tools like Google Hangouts that allow you to share Google Drive (Google docs, spreadsheet, presentation etc), video and audio for virtually "face-to-face" meetings.  Many tools offer the ability to share your computer screen or other features.

How do I back up my files?
You can purchase a flash drive, an external hard drive or subscribe to an online back up service like which will auto backup your files to the cloud. Another option would be to use Google Drive that offers Pepperdine Google Apps users up to 30 GB of free online storage. Use to sign up for free. Whatever tool you choose, it's critical to back up your documents. After spending hours writing a research paper, you don't want a hardware problem or a coffee spill to force you to write it again from memory! Frequent backups are a necessity for all students.

We hope that these questions will help you prepare and succeed in your online or blended/hybrid program.