I recently attended the Webvisions conference in Portland, Oregon. Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Douglas Rushkoff were a few of the well-known speakers. Many of the sessions were led by developers who were working with cutting-edge web technologies. Some of the main themes I heard at the conference were as follows:

HTML5, CS3, and JQuery

Dave McFarland from PSU framed this discussion well. Our own group at OSU has been leveraging jQuery more with every new project. jQuery is essentially a library of Javascript functions that can be called with simplified code. jQuery is frequently updated and is much more cross-browser compatible than using Javscript in the past. We’ve been using it in our e-learning course development and also with mobile projects—jQuery mobile and the new Dreamweaver CS5.5 with PhoneGap and jQuery mobile support. CS3 and HTML5 sessions were to a large extent focused on future web features, potential web TV usage, and multimedia presentation examples.

Digital ethnography, especially as it relates to user interface (UX) and mobility

Many of the sessions, including Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ talk focused on user interface and understanding user preference and technology usage on a contextualized level. Kelly Goto and Rachel Hinman were all-star UX proponents and offered numerous ideas for moving beyond analytics and demographics to how individuals use technology at various times of the day. It appears many companies have moved beyond seeking a “sticky” site to one that is addictive. And so, branding and product design were related to sensory activity (especially tacticle) and emotional connection. Hinman’s discussion about the new ecology of untethered mobile devices and how mobile devices can “unlock” place was inspiring.

Vision for future (the ecology of new devices)

Rachel Hinman and Douglas Rushkoff covered a large swathe of ideas related to future technology trends. Much of Rushkoff’s talk focused on corporate interests versus individual interests and how technology is being used to subvert individuality and free thinking by corporate interests. One of his more memorable claims was that Facebook’s product was not the software, but the child—more specifically, the child’s social graph that can be monetized. He suggested Portland was “our last hope”–whatever that meant…and, he believed technology is most effective in the hands of the youth and “stoners”–not sure he was trying to directly correlate a location with this claim…but, the two were said at various points of his talk. While some of this was tongue in cheek banter, his main goal was to encourage the individual user of technology to be more efficacious and aware of the underlying technologies enabling our daily usage of software and devices. Without such awareness and discretion, he believed that we would be beholden to corporate interests and those who would use technology to slowly devalue individual rights. He said so much more, but the core of his talk reminded me of some of Sherry Turkle’s writings.

When Rushkoff heard one of my colleagues worked with Blackboard, he seemed a bit disappointed, but then signed his book with the following, “Blackboard is intentional”—great sense of humor.

Hinman recommended several articles. I found the following very enlightening (The Coming Zombie Apocalypse).

Media queries, prototyping (Check out Axure), and WebM versus h.264.

Understanding technological literacy, or the lack thereof, is a crucial issue not just for small scale instructional technology projects, but also for qualifying some of the social or environmental drivers that influence and shape our audience’s behavior and preferences. Serif or sans serif font? Sharing or bookmarking digital text and the conventions to support this activity? As we’re working on a statewide online course for the Master Naturalist program, we’ve been reminded of how important these issues are for our audience as we’ve collected data from a recent pilot class.

Below are a few recent articles on the topic of digital literacy. The first article suggests that e-learning technologies still have some ground to cover until they replace the bound book while the second article captures Sherry Turkle’s thoughts about how many technology consumers use technology with little awareness or concern for how technology functions below the interface (or application layer). Turkle believes this has adverse effects on both the individual and society.

E-Readers Fail At Education

“A recent University of Washington study interviewed 39 first-year graduate students in the university’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, which participated in a pilot study of Amazon’s Kindle DX (a large-screen e-reader). By seven months into the study, fewer than 40% of the students did their schoolwork on the Kindle. The problem: the Kindle has poor note-taking support, doesn’t allow for easy skimming, and makes it difficult for students to look up references (in comparison with computers and textbooks).”

“Perhaps the solution–for textbooks, at least–is to bolster conventional text and images with more interactive and multimedia content.”

Read the article….

Rethinking Technological Literacy

Sherry Turkle is a “professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, and the founder and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self, Turkle has invested years thinking about and publishing her work on these problems….She has also made extensive observations of the generation of students appearing on college and university campuses now. Broadly, she concludes that these students really do not possess the technological literacy they need to understand the technology environments they are engaging with–and she is concerned.”

Read the article….

Netflix surpassed yet another milestone this week: It now has more subscribers than the largest cable TV operator in the U.S. You heard right…that’s 23.6 million users to be exact… an awful lot of subscribers. Their subscription base grew over 70% last year and that means that more than 7% of Americans now subscribe to Netflix. So, how did they do it?


I’m not a business analyst, but as someone who worked at Netflix a few years ago, I’m intrigued by this company’s unstoppable growth and what we can learn by what they’ve done right. I’m also interested with those companies that fail and are left in the wake of the stronger business model, product, or service. Many of the top selling books over the last decade have focused on management principles, leadership development, and developing a culture of innovation. Interestingly, these resources weren’t enough to save the myriad of businesses that have gone under the last decade due to a problem with their business model (Hollywood video, GM), customer base (Crispy Cream Doughnuts, TiVo), or management effectiveness (Enron). In short, their boat took on too much water for any one person, strategy, or “tiger” team to bail out the water fast enough. So, how does a company like Netflix start strong and leave so many able competitors in its wake? And how might these principles or values be transferred to your business environment? Here are a few thoughts.

1. Core business. Netflix is about delivering movies to customers in the most efficient and convenient manner possible. Yes, they’ve added Hulu, Pandora, and Vimeo integration—and videos can be streamed via some Blu-Ray players and video game systems, but, don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for Netflix to ship toys with their movies or start selling hardware. They’ve dipped their toe into these peripheral areas a few times (Roku box), but think of the In and Out Burger menu as their nearest of kin when it comes to business models—they provide a singular service and do it better than anyone else.

2. It’s about the software. Sure, they ship movies and answer customer calls and emails, but they’re primarily a small group of highly educated programmers focused on instantiating a customer-focused service. Their algorithms crunch numbers and predict movie preferences while their queues organize user choices and ensure your time spent “on site” is maximized and translates to a steady stream of movies. Their primary strength is the competency of their cadre of programmers from the CEO down. Ironically, I heard many times while at Netflix that Reed Hastings runs his company similar to how a coder writes code.

3. Their price is hard to beat. While Blockbuster kiosks seem to be exercising a “bait and switch” tactic by raising newer movie rentals to $2.99 from 99 cents, Netflix has largely kept their subscription prices fixed—with one nominal increase several months back.

4. Their main asset is their employee base. This is obviously tied to item number two and reflected in their attempt to pay employees above everyone else’s cap. Where else will you find an “open” vacation policy where you simply take time off when you need it? I also remember rolling into the office and arguing with their IT person that I didn’t need the most expensive equipment. There is rarely an expense spared when the implementation of a project is in focus.  In all honesty, working at Netflix wasn’t my favorite job by any stretch of the imagination, but their focus on pay, vacation, and equipment spoke to their commitment to the employee as an asset.

While technology is often about manipulating physical matter to achieve some kind of efficiency or product, it is also very much about perspective and thinking about doing old things in new ways. And so, it hasn’t surprised me that my own thinking of technology has been heavily influenced by watching how my 10- and 6-year old boys interact with computers, mobile devices, and new media. Perhaps the most relevant part of this discussion stems from one important observation–the issue of technology adoption is largely moot for the young in many contexts.

Past habits, preconceptions, and preferences rarely factor in for kids as they pick up a new technology and I am often left wondering whether or not the lessons I learned as a linguist (in my past academic life) about how kids acquire language resembles their uptake of technology. Some of the more well-known linguists, like Pinker or Chomsky, have referred to this as the “language instinct” and I must admit I see a very similar latent competency in my own children. This kind of in-born fluency with technology acquisition is also discussed in one of my favorite TED talks by Sugata Mitra. The “Hole in the Wall” talk asserts that very poor children in the slums of India are predisposed to acquire technology skills when Internet-ready computers mysteriously show up embedded in neighborhood walls. It’s a fascinating study and Sugata is relying heavily on the belief that kids are hard-wired to learn technology. A little closer to home…here are some observations about how my own kids’ interface with technology has informed some of my thinking in this area.

1. Adoption of new technology is primarily schema changing for adults and schema acquisition for youth.

This has various implications and I’m leaning hard on a specific model of learning theory. I’ve seen the same issue in play when learning and teaching foreign language as an adult. Adults are oftentimes scaffolding new information around already acquired schema whereas children (with their reduced experience and improved mental “plasticity”) are establishing new neuronal connections with little “extra” mental processing, hence, children tend to learn language more with greater potential to reach native speaker pronunciation.

Example: My children see very little difference between an Apple, Windows and iOS mobile platform. They have not established opinions and been exposed to marketing, peer value statements and prolonged exposure to earlier iterations. They therefore move quickly and seamlessly between devices. Locating user preferences, cameras, games, video editing—no problem for them and no real preference (if you ask them) about which platform is better. It just is.

2. Children “get” technology as soon as they find a relevant purpose.

On some level, this holds true for adults as well, but we’re often forced to prioritize our technology usage and can quickly relegate new technologies to the recycling bin.

Example: When augmented reality (AR) came out, I found it interesting, but could not find any practical uses in my own life. The same might be true (so far) of RFID and most iPhone apps. My youngest quickly found that the lego.com website allows him to print different Lego vehicle pages with AR markers placed in the middle. He now holds up the AR printouts in front of the computer so that he can see the 3-D AR lego ship appear on the monitor. He was also pointed to the iPhone game for the site, which encouraged him to use my phone to scan the box of a certain Lego box to receive more points. Admittedly, there is some unneeded advertising here, but he was more than excited to join me on my recent trip to the store where he opened the app, accessed my mobile device camera, scanned the box, and jumped right back into the game. To some degree, I’ve already ruled out AR, RFID, and some of the scanning technologies. He has no such opinion and will most likely continue using it, even if he has months of non-usage in between. It felt a little bit like a glimpse of the future for me.

3. The curiosity children exhibit towards technology is often unusually strong.

Example: Chase bank recently announced that their iPhone app allows customers to take a photo of their check and make this deposit remotely—no ATM needed. While other smaller banks have moved in this direction, Chase is the first mainstream bank to do this. When I shared this with my wife, she immediately wanted to know about the security issues and constraints. She was not very excited. I know that if my children get a hold of this, they will move quickly to use the technology without a single neuron slowing down the adoption process. Sounds like the perfect experiment!

While these are obviously anecdotal stories couched in my own set of quasi-scientific opinions, each example reminds me that technology just “is” for children. As adults, we obviously have a responsibility to bring discretion to the larger issue of how and when technology is used, but I think that we are well served by acknowledging that we have an awful lot to learn from our kids in this domain and we are surely looking at the future as we watch children use technology to seamlessly connect the private, public, consumer, and personal domains of our cultural terrain.

Mar
04

Vimeo

Vimeo is optimized for HD video (default playback setting) and gives the user numerous ways to share and distribute video. However, Vimeo, like YouTube, works best when your video is exported and optimized for the compression settings Vimeo prefers. Keep in mind that these settings change sporadically, so it’s best to check the Vimeo website for the latest information if you are working on a high profile project. Vimeo is especially well suited for embedding higher quality video as there are numerous playback options and Vimeo sets their default values somewhat higher for video playback. This can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on your audience.

Vimeo compression website:

http://www.vimeo.com/help/compression

If you are using Final Cut Pro to export your video, here are some helpful tips related to settings. Again, it’s wise to check the most current settings on the Vimeo site before moving into a large export project.

(1) Export Type
You can export your videos using File->Export-> Quicktime Conversion or File->Send To->Compressor. The compressor provides more settings and also allows you to save a profile such as “Vimeo Export Settings.”

(2) Format and User Type
Format: MP4
User: LAN/Intranet

(3) Specifications
Click on the Options Button->
Video format: H.264
Data rate: 4500-5000 kbits/sec (may need to drop this to 3000 if you expect “slower” systems playing this content
Image size: 1280×720
Frame rate: current / key frame = 30 fps

(4) Audio
Click on the Audio Button (on top)->
AAC-LC, 320 kbps, channels=stereo, output sample rate=44.100khz, encoding quality=better

YouTube
Technical requirements for uploading video to YouTube

http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=165543|

You’ll notice that the recommended export settings are very similar to Vimeo although the data rate is “automatic,” which could drop your intended image and audio quality below desired thresholds.

So, should you use Vimeo or YouTube?

This is a difficult question. Ideally, you should use both. The platforms have become very similar in terms of technical features, but YouTube is still the preferred platform for reaching a larger audience. Vimeo plays video by default in HD (YouTube plays HD only when the user selects this option—assuming the video is available in HD format) and still seems to use slightly higher quality settings for playback. So, if you are sure your end users have slower connectivity speeds, i.e. dial up, or are primarily rural–YouTube is often the preferred choice to ensure quicker download. Both platforms allow videos to be embedded on remote websites and allow keywords, channel/album association, customized shells, etc.

Another visible difference concerns advertisements. Currently, even when using a Vimeo Plus account, your Vimeo videos will playback on webpages that contain advertisements—normally at the bottom of the page. YouTube does not push advertising alongside of video playback, but you must be careful when directing users outside of your dedicated channel or embedded pages as videos played outside of this can sometimes associate with “unsavory” or inappropriate videos that show up on the heels of your screen in the form of thumbnails.

I’ve had several recent discussions with colleagues about whether one’s blogging actually influences others in meaningful ways. And we’re not just talking about page views, comments, and pingbacks. Over the last several years of blogging, I’ve searched for articles or studies that examine blogging from a more rigorous social science perspective and have found very little. A group of us presented on the topic a year ago at a conference and shared some lessons learned.

There is of course a sizable amount of advice, like the Slideshare presentation referenced above, that covers blogging guidelines, how to convert readers into customers (marketing), understanding analytics (number of visitors, length of visit, etc.); but in terms of a more traditional longitudinal study that captures a group’s changed behavior over time, very little. I’ve been asking myself why this is the case while sporadically scanning the web for something new on the topic. My primary goal for this post is to generate some discussion. I don’t pretend to have the answers yet, just informed questions.

(1) Should blogging be viewed as a discrete activity with predictable input and output?

The most obvious challenge presents itself when simply trying to define blogging. For example, does micro-blogging justify inclusion (Twitter, etc.)? What is the difference between a webpage and a blog? How often does a blog require update for it to be a blog and do academic requirements apply if the hoped for output is scholarship? Even if we agree on a definition today, technology advances will quickly unravel our current conventions and approach.

There are some other challenges related to definition. While a sizable scholarship discusses the physiological and cognitive processes underlying the act of reading and writing, blogging is a different animal. Blogging is physiological and cognitive, but occurs within a more complex cultural web of competing influences. In many ways, blogging demonstrates some of the original objectives of the printing press in exaggerated fashion: mass distribution and democratization of knowledge creation.  Consequently, some of the more interesting discussions about blogging situate blogging against the larger and interconnected world of social media and personal knowledge creation and management (see Harold Jarche’s blog). While there are some interesting domain-specific discussions on how blogging impacts a discipline or industry (or more recently a country’s form of government), the social dimension of blogging must also explain how blogging contributes to the individual’s connection to the online community network that is the Internet. And that’s just for starters.

So, even the most informed current descriptive framework is at best a crude working model when applied to tomorrow’s usage. As mentioned, blogging in its current form happens across a spectrum of cognitive processes (reading, writing, scanning, categorizing), media, cultures, and conventions. Studying something this broad in scope is an obvious challenge.

(2) Is blogging really “epiphenomenal”?

Lawrence Solum wrote an interesting article entitled “Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship” (2006). It’s dense and the conclusions reached are based on anecdote and personal impression. However, Solum makes some important points. First, he suggests that blogging is “epiphenomenal,” or basically several layers removed from the more important underlying influences.  He also suggests that the value of blogging can be reduced to three main transitions or paradigm shifts:  the long form to short form, exclusive rights to open access, and mediation to disintermediation. Some of his rationale is specific to legal scholarship, but I find much of his reasoning applies to all forms of blogging, especially academic blogging.

He has much more to say, but he summarizes his paper with the following thoughts:

I have argued for the proposition that blogs are symptoms of the larger forces at work in the world of legal scholarship. The importance of blogs, if any, is as the medium (or technology) through which the incentives and institutional forces that are pushing legal scholarship toward the short form, open access, and disintermediation are doing their work. If it had not been blogs, it would have been something else. If someone invents a medium that provides a more effective or less costly mechanism through which the forces can operate, then blogs will recede and that medium will take their place. It’s not about the blogging…. But I do have an opinion: blogs will play only a modest supporting role in the future of legal scholarship. Scholarship is about ‘papers,’ not ‘posts.’

Imagine the early beneficiaries of the printing press holding their Gutenberg Bible in one hand and a list of printing press 2.0 features in the other. Our culture today participates in defining new technologies in ways that are unimaginable several hundred years ago but the inclusion of rapidly changing technologies make these waters both deep and opaque, especially if we are looking for predictive models that cut across industries, blog objectives, and fluctuating cultural influences.

(3) Is the “Long Tail” better than no tail?

The concept of the long tail is an important concept in understanding how blog impact can be measured relative to other communication approaches. Truth be told, I only find a tiny fraction of existing blogs worth following—perhaps 5-10 total. Sure, I peruse a longer list sporadically, but time is precious and I’m very picky about my syndicated reading activities. Thankfully, many online micro-communities are much larger than the local “macro” communities I rub shoulders with in my locale. So, even though my online audience may seem small compared to the total online community, I’m usually reaching a much larger audience (albeit more superficially) using blogging technology than I could ever reach using most other communication technologies—and, with a minimal ongoing effort. The “ROI” equation generally comes down favorably from this perspective and as mentioned, the Internet is filled with these types of testimonials.

(4) Is blogging truly equitable? Blogging nobility and the techno-peasants

While blogging is often described as a “leveling” communication technology, I’m convinced that there are clearly the “haves” and “have-nots” in terms of audience size. So, is it fair to say that the blogging nobility generally attract tremendous traffic and the rest of us find our place on the long tail? If so, how does one push through the strata and become blogging nobility? More importantly, is this even advisable? I’ve read books like “Crush It” by  Gary Vaynerchuk, but they often strike me as 8 parts reality TV and 2 parts substance. No disrespect to Gary as his efforts are laudable, but I struggle with leaning on examples that sell the process along with the product and rely primarily on personal branding. This approach excludes a vast number of bloggers in various institutional contexts who must be very careful about pushing their own personal brand alongside their university, company, or organizational branding.

While there are indeed some helpful tips in books like “Crush It,” I’ve found that common to all of these stories is that blogging superstars spend a tremendous amount of time “feeding the machine.” At some point, they have become “full-time” bloggers who build personal brand through a practiced Zen-like coordination of relationship building activity (much of which has nothing to do with a blog per se): conferences, guest writing, coalition building, workshop hosting, etc. There also seems to be a certain quelque chose that is often captured in their online persona and commitment to, or knowledge of a topic that attracts others. Blogging simply makes their voice more accessible to an already interested population.  Nevertheless, how do they keep an audience’s interest over time and grow that audience?

In the same way that an alumni office or insurance company depends on the health of their personal network, blogging heavyweights who outlast a single post of viral interest seem to have found the balance between the high time commitment their social media channels demand and their business or financial requirements. In short, they figure out how to make the commitment work for them. For the already famous, blogging is an extension of already established reputation (think of following Bill Gates via Twitter), but for the handful of bloggers who have made blogging their living or have entered the rarified air of the blogging elite, it would be fascinating to know whether any common principles can be derived between different domains, i.e. academic, business, political.

So, in the spirit of a level playing field that pulls in diverse viewpoints, I would like to hear your thoughts on these topics. I will also welcome some guest writers to the blog over the next month and ask for their opinions, especially around the questions asked in my post.

What would the ideal study or article examine if it were to adequately define this question of “do blogs change lives” and how can we measure our impact beyond statistics and comments?

How often and by how much does the “long tail” exceed the reach of our local audience? Is this justification enough for our blogging effort?

What principles or common approaches jettison some into the blogging nobility? Like Jim Collin’s profile study of successful CEOs, “Good to Great,” or the recent case study of the New York Times Interactive News Technology department, what do blogging superstars have in common and how do we measure our ROI relative to our career objectives?

I would particularly welcome a guest post from someone outside of academia. Please let me know if you’re interested.

We released Oregon State University’s first official iPhone application recently. Three of us worked on the application for many months and also helped define the licensing requirements that would allow us to release this application via the Apple Standard licensing type. This basically allows anyone to download the application using iTunes. It was a wild (and mostly enjoyable) ride with several twists and turns. First, a little about the application:

The OSU Campus Tree Tour iPhone/iPad application is the first official iPhone application released by Oregon State University. The application uses photos, GPS, maps, and research-based tree information to learn about the different trees on and around campus while “on the go.” The iPhone application provides information about tree leaf type, tree bloom, whether a tree is native to Oregon, and a page number reference to the OSU Extension Trees to Know handbook.

The application uses a place-based approach to learning and is extensible. This is important as we plan on adding more themed tree tours as the weather improves here on campus. Here’s a link to the iTunes description and download. We look forward to your input.

I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the key players in the app development. Nick Piatt did a wonderful job as our lead programmer, Aaron Senecal provided graphical support and Dave King, our Associate Provost really provided the initial vision for an iPhone application and provided us with the resources and backing we needed to see the project through. Jos Accapadi from Central Web Services partnered with us to define licensing and a path to sustain the application. David Baker from University Advancement also partnered with licensing efforts and marketing. Shayne Huddleston from CWS also deserves mention for his assistance with Red Mine and software archival process. Lastly, Pat Breen, Professor Emeritus in Horticulture was our subject matter expert and kept the project enjoyable.

Hope you’ll download the app!

Jan
12
Filed Under (Lifestyle, Social Networking) by Chris LaBelle on 12-01-2011 and tagged , , ,

I enjoyed Mark’s last post “The Art of Disconnecting” about moderating technology usage. The timing couldn’t have been better. I recently added a 3rd arrow to my quiver and have been enjoying watching my baby girl discover her fingers, cheeks, and anything else in reaching distance. During my initial time with her, I can only say that I’ve never been more unproductive as we spent hour after hour being in the moment and getting to know each other.

And so, Mark’s last post about the need to disconnect resonated with me deeply. I enjoyed watching Mark in my mind’s eye being broadsided  by some kind of elevated machinery as he was simultaneously struck by a thought: “That it is worthwhile to try to figure out the appropriate balance between being connected and being disconnected, that there is power and integrity in being able to personally manage the fine line between too much online life and too little.”  And so the machinery in my mind spun a bit as I thought about my colleague spending time with family, disconnecting, and being struck by some kind of swinging metal as he attempted to remove himself from the grid that is our new world.

Over the holiday period, I read several autobiographies. Tony Dungy is a man of great integrity who maintained balance and focus on family in the pursuit of excellence—while winning a super bowl as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I ventured over to Abraham Lincoln and dabbled in some Mother Theresa. Each one reminded me that life is a gift to be lived in the moment and that our values need to define the rhythm that is our identity and ultimately bring balance to how we use technology in both the workplace and at home.  Perhaps a little deep for a technology blog, but technology at its core is about life improvement and it’s important every now and then to step back, duck,  and see the trees and the forest.

While Mark found focus in William Power’s book, I kept thinking about wisdom literature I read often and the term “discretion.” Merriam-Webster offers the following definition:

The quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment.

In short, it describes one’s ability to exercise common sense without external pressure or influence. And so, perhaps the antidote to the hyper-connected zeitgeist of our time is “discretion”—knowing how and when to use technology without having someone define this for you. Although it is perhaps a term that has fallen out of our vernacular, the concept is more important now than ever as we upgrade our latest smartphones, leverage the latest productivity software, and plug in to the newest must-have authoring tools.

From my small corner of the world, I can only say that there are numerous activities that will always remain analog and organic—skiing on fresh powder, watching morning light bounce off nearby hills, and of course, holding a baby in one’s arms.

Dec
24
Filed Under (mobile devices, smartphones, Social Media, Social Networking) by Mark A.-W. on 24-12-2010 and tagged

Do you have the impulse to check your email or social network updates when you get up, throughout the day, between tasks, as an interruption in the middle of a task, in the evening, in the middle of the night, anytime? There might be a message you are interested in or something you “need” to respond to …

Not everyone suffers from the same intensity of message-checking addiction, but it is not hard to see it in our culture—look at the people staring and poking at their devices as they walk down the sidewalk or sit in a meeting.

As I left work for this holiday break, I thought to myself, I should turn off the automatic email notifications on my smart phone. This is a time when I don’t need to know there is a new message. I need a break. So as I walked down the sidewalk away from the office, I pulled out my phone and began to change the settings. This will help me be in the present, be aware of my surroundings, I thought. Then all of a sudden I experienced a crack to my head and I fell to the ground. I looked up and saw that I had walked straight into a piece of construction machinery.

This experience followed a number of conversations I had over the past few weeks that seemed to indicate a growing awareness among my colleagues that one can be “too connected,” that it is worthwhile to try to figure out the appropriate balance between being connected and being disconnected, that there is power and integrity in being able to personally manage the fine line between too much online life and too little.

By serendipity, on my holiday travels I read a book I’d been meaning to read, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers, a former Washington Post reporter. Powers is not a luddite or reactionary to technology. Instead, he offers a rich, long-term perspective on how humans have benefited both by connecting using technology and by disconnecting in a variety of ways throughout history.

The book is a helpful guide in the search for a deep, meaningful life. Powers intelligently questions the current zeitgeist of “the more you connect, the better.”

He asks, why are we all so busy and yet spend so much time responding to electronic messages and tasks that don’t enrich our lives or add up to anything very important. He explores the seductive nature of “the screen” and offers ways to balance connected time with screen-free time. He provides examples from Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan in a context that is very relevant and helpful to our contemporary situation.

And with that I’ll get back to disconnecting so I can immerse in my own experience of the here and now. Or at least not walk into a piece of construction machinery. Happy holidays.

Dec
13
Filed Under (instructional design, New Media, Video) by Jeff Hino on 13-12-2010

Video continues it’s meteoric rise in the world of online learning, with no end in sight. However, we all know there can be a wide variation in production quality. I offer the following guidelines to help anticipate issues that can make or break a video. But I do so fully realizing that dancing cat YouTubes can command millions of viewers: we should only be so lucky with instructional videos going that viral. So, knowing that rules are made to be broken, here we go:

  1. Is video an appropriate medium for delivery of this content?
  2. Are the learning objectives built into the video?
  3. Is this video educational? Will the learner learn something of value?
  4. Is this video unique? Is there another product or resource already available?
  5. Does the camera work demonstrate good composition?
  6. Are camera moves (tilts, pans, zooms) employed appropriately, effectively, and smoothly?
  7. Are scenes stable and free from distracting camera movement?
  8. Does the video employ the effective use of close-ups, medium, and wide shots?
  9. Do subjects/scenes demonstrate proper exposure?
  10. Are interior subjects/scenes well lit?
  11. Is the audio clear and free from distortion?
  12. Is the audio mixed with proper levels for narration, interviews, music, and wild sound?
  13. Is the script well written, provide an effective narrative, and exhibit elements of good storytelling?
  14. Are interviews used effectively?
  15. Is the overall program design appropriate for the intended audience?
  16. Is the program appropriate in length?
  17. Does the video demonstrate good editing, with smooth flow of content, ideas, and storyline?
  18. Are video transitions used appropriately and effectively?
  19. If used, is font size, color, and the amount of text appropriate, and “video safe” (text doesn’t bleed off the edges of the screen)?
  20. If used, are graphics video safe and used effectively?
  21. Does the video encoding demonstrate sufficient quality for distribution?
  22. Are all video images, stills, and music copyright approved?
  23. If appropriate, have model releases been obtained?
  24. Is there any content in this deliverable that should not be accessible to a mass audience due to intellectual ownership issues or safety issues? (For example, showing a worker on a construction site who is not wearing a hardhat.)
  25. Is the content accessible to vulnerable populations if this is an audience need? If the video is federally funded, is it compliant with any specific accessibility requirements (i.e. video captioning)?
  26. Are credits included for all relevant contributors?
  27. Are appropriate and approved logos for partner agencies employed?

You can find related information on a previous EP post Ten Tips to Produce More Professional Online Video Interviews.