Feast or Famine Posting Style

I’m one of those people who at parties is content to listen to people discuss issues, nod my head in agreement or perhaps scrunch up my face at something I don’t necessarily agree with. I don’t typically say much, because I have learned about myself that I should take time to compose answers (and questions) and try to be as thoughtful about how these statements will be received. That’s not to say I can’t engage in a conversation or state my opinion about an issue when pressed, but I prefer to have time to think about it.

So it’s of great interest when I read that good bloggers should post everyday. Mostly these are social media experts (a whole other name for best bullshitter of the bunch) who claim that your expertise and audience require frequent posts to keep your name in the backs of their heads when they think of the subject you write about. While that may be true, that sort of gaming of impression management or whatever cloyingly cute term people use for what people think of you, seems dishonest.

Other articles say you should write everyday because you are a better writer when you do so. My response is that only because you get feedback and can see where you communicate, but so many bloggers operate in a vacuum, with scarcely commented on blog posts. How do these people improve their writing?

I suggest that instead of quantity, that maybe one should focus on quality. Much like the economic woes we are currently experiencing being easily tied to greed and avarice, bloggers should not be gluttons, but fine diners. Picking and choosing the best ingredients and making a fine, unique piece of culinary dining. Or, rather, mental dining. If that doesn’t bring me any more comments, or notoriety that’s fine with me.

Happy Holidays, I don’t expect I’ll be posting much in the break.

Aesthetics, AV and User Experiences

I’ve been reading a fair bit about UX (User Experience) and it’s role in website design, and by proxy, online learning spaces. I’ve been thinking about how aesthetics have been important in this relationship and recently I’ve come to re-think my definition of aesthetics. Previously, aesthetics online only meant the visual: the look and feel of the website in question. Now, I’m thinking that motion and sound will become increasingly more important as we move from a static web to the motion web. YouTube is great for allowing people to share videos, but really, the skin that they wrap their videos in is horrible. Ugly. Vimeo, on the other hand has a much better looking (and in my opinion designed) interface.

Does that mean that design is an indicator of popularity? No, but eventually either YouTube will allow you to change the default skin (and they already allow some minimal customization) as a feature for it’s users or a competitor who allows more customization will begin to eat away at the dominance. If only YouTube allowed an easy migration path to switch between hosts? The real killer for YouTube is when it can no longer support the bandwidth required and people have videos interrupted or become basically unplayable. At that point, if it comes, people will switch to the better looking alternative.

To the same end, audio will need to be presented in a good looking player. Not only that, but it needs to be clear and audible. A lot of the problems I’ve encountered with poor audio have been with two aspects, the first is in the production of the audio (generally characterized by a flat AM radio sound) and the second being choppy intermittent transmission. Both do things that disrupt the user, by either being a distraction or an interruption to the processing of the core information. Ugly interfaces are often accepted as long as it works. When it doesn’t work… well things get bypassed entirely.

New Journalism

I am not a sports fan per se, but I do follow the local(ish) Toronto teams. I started following the Raptors (the Toronto NBA franchise) after reading the work of the Toronto Star’s reporter Doug Smith, and moreso his blog. Each week  he’d take questions from his readers, he now does in game live blogging, and in general does a great job of using the blog for the best of what it can do. This weekend’s mailbag brought an interesting question about the journalism side of his job (the first one in the list this week). What surprised me was that there’s two separate editorial desks, one for web and one for print – that the Star is consolidating. I always thought the two mediums were distinct enough to require specialization, but I guess not. The second thing that surprised me was that Doug makes mention of the tidbits that used to be left out, are now web-bits for the blog.

Campaign for “Real” Education

What a crock. The name of the group itself galls me. Campaign for Real Education. Real education? As if the rest of it is fake?

This UK group popped it’s head up (perhaps out of the sand) at the end of the Telegraph’s article about a group of students who were given iPhones for educational purposes. While the article does a good job of outlining the benefits of using iPhones in the class, and the co-operative nature of the experiment – it ends on this sour note.

Katie Ivens from the Campaign for Real Education said: “Mobile phones have quite rightly been banned from many classrooms as they prove to be a distraction.

“The case for learning by computer has not been proved at all.”

I guess Ms. Ivens has never used Word, PowerPoint, the Internet or been involved with an LMS. Or viewed a how-to video on YouTube. Or did any research using any number of newspapers available online. I guess the Campaign hasn’t read any studies about the widespread use of computers to train millions of workers worldwide.

Sure, mobile phones can be distracting, only if there are no ground rules set out by an instructor, and the instructor is boring or even worse, incompetent. The authoritarian nature preferred by the Campaign though will only allow more instructors to get away with this sort of boring transfer of knowledge, which has been debunked seemingly a billion times over. Looking at the battles the Campaign has fought, including such deal-breakers as uniforms in school, trendy teaching methods and nursery rhymes. Talk about wasted money… if they’re so concerned about not coddling children, perhaps boot camp should be for everyone?

Good little capitalists, and only one person graduates a year – that way it’s really showing those little brats what life’s really about! Only one out of the lot of you will make more money than the rest of you combined!

Portfolio Based Learning

Just finished some ePortfolio training with the fine folks at Desire2Learn. One of the interesting things that came out of the discussion around their product was the use for using ePortfolio as evidence of learning. An extrapolation of this idea might be to replace marks with skills – which would map closer to our learning outcomes and fit nicely with the institution’s skills-based focus for the workplace.

For instance, a mechanical engineer can share his drawings and the feedback from the content expert (teacher/trainer, or in a distributed environment, an external panel of experts) and this can be assessed as a measure of skill. Seeing as that’s what employers want (from a skills-based College), it seems like a natural fit for the College system in Ontario. It would set us apart from Universities now that OAC’s are gone. OAC was the old-old Grade 13, which was a post-graduate year in high school, for people who wished to enter University – you’d get 6 extra credits of High School and take advanced courses that would prepare you for the academic rigor.

I know McMaster University is approaching their medical program with Problem Based Learning which is a similar demonstration of skills that a Portfolio Based Learning program might have.

Anyone out there use a portfolio as a final assessment?

Content “Curation”

From a list of CNN’s 10 Web Trends To Watch in 2010, we see the traditional augmented reality and geolocation trends – the further blending of online and offline life – but the one that really popped off the page for me was the idea of content curation – the sort of expert opinion sorting information for you that traditional education has done. The fact that crowdsourcing isn’t even an option in this brief article is interesting, seeing as crowdsourcing was among the trends of years past. It seems that there’s shaping up to be two ways to think about content curation – by experts and by common thought.

Content curation by experts mimics the “sage on the stage”, teacher at the front of the class, behaviorist. Content curation by common thought (where we agree to the meaning of something by a majority rule) is more constructivist, or connectivist in approach.

Show Me

Just finished reading It’s A Visual Thing: Audio-Visual Technology in Education which is about the unexpected sophisticated visual literacy of young children and how this can be leveraged for better learning environments. One quote really stuck with me:

To his surprise, he found that their search engine of choice was not Google, but YouTube, because it provided them with a clear, visual set of results rather than a series of short paragraphs.

I guess this explains why Google got into the video sharing business in the first place… A counterpoint to this might be that students choose YouTube rather than Google as a simple usability problem – there’s less clicks to get to the information and on a mobile platform such as the iPod Touch, which was used in the assignment, clicks are a painful process.

Google understands this and Google Goggles is an attempt to begin to organize visual data to likeness – acting somewhat like Wolfram Alpha but in a much more visual way. Expanded, Goggles seems to be a computational way to act like the human brain – see something and grab some information about it.

What I get from this is that we can’t bury educational content deep if the users are going to access this from mobile devices. We shouldn’t ask that they click two or more times, and that in and of itself might be damning evidence against a LMS, which can bury content deep under a mass of links.

What I Learned This Week (Part 6)

Google DNS: This can be taken a couple of ways – if you believe the “Do No Harm” mantra of Google, then this is simply a way for you to take a personal control of the Domain Name System, and out of the hands of your ISP. This can be seen as a good thing, especially with ISPs under a lot of pressure to track users to get rid of file sharing.

On the other hand, it could be used for Google’s main money maker, demographic information. In fact, it seems that Google’s pretty transparent about this as they say in the blog post:

As people begin to use Google Public DNS, we plan to share what we learn with the broader web community and other DNS providers, to improve the browsing experience for Internet users globally.

That’s fine, but lets be frank. Once Google shares this information, how can they be sure that the recipient of the information will actually take this and act accordingly? Unless there’s a contract or some sort of binding terms of agreement, perhaps a Creative Commons one, it’s unlikely that a third party will not be tempted to use this data.

In a previous life I was an audio engineer. After discovering that poverty was in my future should I not work a billion hours a week listening to abominations… I went into web design and later teaching to some extent. Clearly, money is not a motivating factor for me. Anyways, this blog post by 10,000 Words brought me back to my previous life – 10 great interactive audio experiences.

To add to their list I would add Hobnox – a good Flash based tool to create anything from atmospheric beats to raging noise. I usually end up at the latter due to adding a chain of 800 distortions filtered through high and low passes. Good fun for a while, but you have to have a decent widescreen monitor to take full benefit of the interface.

I’ve also talked about Aviary Myna Audio Editor before and how it’s a fun, multitrack audio creator/editor in the vein of Garage Band.

Finally They Get It

“Our kids live in a world where they are immersed in content through things like Twitter and Google, so we don’t want them memorizing facts they can access easily, but we want them to think about how to apply that knowledge, and how it affects how they live as citizens and workers,” said Grose.

This is a quote from an article linked from the Toronto Star’s website, written to inform how the Toronto School board is adapting curriculum to reflect our new information gathering abilities. Finally, they get it. We can gather the facts, we need to teach new media skills to critically assess the information we’ve found.