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
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).
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.
“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….
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.”
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.
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!
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:
You can find related information on a previous EP post Ten Tips to Produce More Professional Online Video Interviews.
Gardening is one of our most popular topics within Cooperative Extension. In the spirit of form following function, we set out to capture some short vignettes from an expert gardener and convey the most important elements of these discussions in video, podcast, and caption-enhanced photo slide shows in a simple and easy to access format. We videotaped the interviews, worked on trimming down content and created an attractive and easy-to-use webpage that organizes the resources into appropriate categories. Before I discuss some of the lessons learned and design tips, feel free to look over the site.
Admittedly, it’s on the lower side of the complexity scale, but as mentioned, it’s mainly a collection of short stories that are formatted for online video. A few brief tips:
1. As always, think about your audience. This goes without saying and is built into any ID model. In our case, we imagined our online gardening enthusiasts swimming in an ocean of PDF files and knew they would welcome visual content that highlighted the experience of an expert in her own backyard.
2. Catchy headers, intros and titles are important. Eye tracking research on newsletter usability points out the dire need to capture reader attention in the first two words of titles and headers. A recent Jacob Nielson Alertbox provides other tips.
3. Modularize video content to ensure clips are short and compelling. Most of our video clips are under one minute and speak to a single topic. Although branded with our university logo, the style is conversational and to the point.
4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good when you’re shooting video. Case in point, Kahn Academy…. Bill Gate’s favorite online teacher cobbled together a few hundred dollars worth of video equipment and single-handedly crafted almost 2,000 online video mini courses that are viewed upwards of 70,000 times a day. His 20 million page view count suggests he might be reaching as many “non-credit” students as several large universities.
5. Tools? We used video editing software (Final Cut Pro), Slideshow Pro (for the photos and captions), and a basic video camera with a wireless microphone.
Analytics show these online resources are popular and our low bounce rate (8%) suggests users are being pulled deeper into the site after landing on the home page. Our next step in this project is to build a virtual tour of our expert’s garden and allow users to drill down on key characteristics of the garden (water usage, light, native or non-native) based on a seasonal view.
The Pew Research Center just released some statistics around mobile device location service usage. If you’re unfamiliar with “location service,” the basic idea is “I’m at this specific location, so show me information or allow me to do something on my smart phone relevant to this place.” According to the study, the percentage of online adults (18-29 years old) using “geosocial” or location-based services is still relatively low. About 7% of this group use location service sporadically, with about 4% using apps like Foursquare or Gowalla. The study seems to suggest daily usage of location service apps at about 1%. Interestingly, location service usage among Hispanics (10%) is higher than online whites (3%). 6% of online men use location-based services compared to 3% of online women.
The upshot of the study? These findings suggest place-based apps or services are still very much in their infancy. Case in point, look more closely at Tim Kring’s (creator of the Heroes TV show) recent Conspiracy for Good Project. It’s essentially a large place-based multimedia experience that leverages mobile phones location service and builds an emerging, interactive narrative around physical locations in London. Say again? In his own words,
We told a lot of story online and through mobile, publishing, and merchandising. Everywhere you could connect to an audience with the narrative, we were telling stories. This is taking that same idea and rolling it out, literally, into the streets. The exciting part is that the narrative lives all around you — on your mobile phone, on the internet, and starting on July 17, literally on the streets of London for three weeks.
In a slightly less ambitious nod to place-based service apps, many universities are exploiting students’ penchant for this type of “geosocial” activity (young, social, mobile). A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article shares a compelling example from Boston University.
Boston University’s Dean of Students Office designed a trek around a freshman-orientation fair in August that sent students to campus hangouts, libraries, and various academic-department booths. Students earned points by sending along pictures of themselves taking a dip in a college fountain, talking with counselors at the Career Development Office booth, and making tie-dyed T-shirts out on BU Beach, among other things. All pictures and completed tasks were posted on the event Web site, and the student with the highest number of points took home an iPad.
Foursquare and Gowalla have already won some followers and other “geosocial” or place-based apps are popping up. SCVNGR is notable in their attempt to blend place-based “check in” with challenges, user contribution and marketing (how about Oregami in a burrito shop with a virtual coupon tied to challenges?). The NY Times summarizes the approach as follows, “…location-based gaming platforms that allow visitors to explore the institutions in a gamelike fashion. The company was founded with the idea that mobile games could blur a line between digital interactivity and real-world interaction.”
Although in its infancy, the potential for educational and marketing organizations is promising. Pedagogically speaking, educational approaches like place-based learning provide helpful framework for imagining how this technology can support key objectives like promoting civic responsibility, awareness of environment, and maximally contextualized asynchronous learning. As the technology improves, I can imagine dollars being shuffled rapidly into this domain as more providers determine how to integrate place-based features into their marketing, app, game, or in some cases, large-scale interactive multimedia narrative. For those of us in the educational market, the opportunities are limitless.
As a communicator whose occupational focus is educational, I often find the social media landscape both exhilarating and downright annoying. Truth be told, the never-ending stream of articles, presentations, and books that focus on social media more often than not fall into the “annoying” category. Too many of these resources lack real-world examples that include an instructional or educational component and yet they often purport to convey methods or approaches that work outside of their specific domain.
For many, the sweet spot of social media is marketing. I don’t necessarily disagree. Marketing is extremely important to any organization, but social media need not always be constrained or driven by a marketing objective. How often have you run across this basic social media message: “Product X or Group Y is über cool and you need to act in some way if you want to join the campaign or affiliate”? Or, “I wasn’t generating a lot of revenue using traditional marketing, but with social media I turned my ‘Whuffie’ into serious waffles.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach and social media can indeed be a powerful marketing tool that helps individuals feel connected with a brand, organization or other individuals. What’s more, brand management and connection with educational consumers is particularly big business and the likes of the Gates’ Foundation, Cisco and many other big players have been parked on this block for some time; looking to grow market share, influence policy, and improve the educational experience in a more equitable fashion.
But utilizing social media for educational outreach or research activities in state-funded organizations? Over the last few years, I’ve seen numerous examples of social media working well within learning contexts here at our university (and others), but have not come across a cohesive vision that informs the practice. Is Cooperative Extension too rooted in face-to-face outreach to augment their communication efforts with social media? In fact, Extension groups are perfectly primed to leverage this form of communication based on their core goals and focus on meeting community-based needs.
A recent eXtension talk by Lee Rainey of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project unpacks this notion in brilliant detail. While the practices driving social media usage are still emerging in tandem with the evolution of the tools themselves, Rainie’s talk helped me envision a time when social media will indeed become a part of the university’s research and outreach effort and a crucial part of how it does educational business. Paired with Harold Jarche’s discussion on the historical psychology of communication (and its predictable shifts), I can only say that I was inspired. I’ve been following Harold Jarche’s blog for a few years now and have found his dialog around managing information (TMI—too much information) and network participation crucial to understanding the theory behind social media practice. Those working in large organizations where technology adoption occurs more slowly would benefit from these two presentations.
A university is in many ways an independent and relatively manageable entity, but what about an entire country that seems to push back on the use of social media, or a government?
GCN or Government Computer News provided numerous recent examples of how the U.S. Federal Government is using social media to build more transparency and efficiency into its communication practices while a Harvard Business Review article tackles the issue of social media adoption in France. Both resources document real-world examples of how social media can be used in a “blended” environment where a sizable portion of end users are still entrenched in traditional communication modes.
Treasure maps, letterboxing, scavenger hunts and geocaching all leverage environmental markers to guide a participant from one location to another. Just as geocaching enhanced earlier forms of interpretive tours or location-based hunts to a wider audience, smart phones are pushing the potential of place-based learning into uncharted territory.
Some of the recent examples of this are most apparent with augmented reality. Utilizing the smart phone’s camera, GPS and real-time connection to a database allow any number of possibilities for a user to walk, point, and interpret. Much of the initial apps in this space have been tied to marketing, but educational examples are emerging.
Here are a few examples that highlight location-specific interpretation of pests, soil, and grass.
Cooperative Extension has a unique foothold in this domain as its organizational typology (county-based offices) and locale-specific topics lend themselves to this combination of technology and instructional approach. Learning is simply too broad (and too important) and technology has become too powerful for education to be constrained within traditional containers. Sugata Matra’s recent TED talk about building Internet-ready PCs into the walls of poor neighborhoods in India might be the extreme version of “kids grow knowledge” while in their neighborhood, but other organizations in New York that are looking more closely at place-based learning echo this need for in situ learning. Katie Salem at Quest to Learn drives this notion home, “We have to move beyond this notion of school as a container for learning,” adding that kids pass through many different learning contexts every day.
Here at Oregon State University, we recently finished a place-based tree tour iPhone application and many of these instructional issues helped us define our design and development process. I’ll share more about this in the next post. In the meantime, do you have some other examples of place-based learning?
For those developing E-learning deliverables, this is THE question. Essentially, it’s all about project scope and assuming that your most conservative estimate is still probably too low—there’s always something else that will need to be added, modified or enhanced. However, you need to size the project using hours, so you reference past projects relative to the requirements of this new deliverable. But are there any industry standards or benchmarks you can point to?
Chapman Alliance recently released their data-heavy survey results that provide benchmarks for E-learning development. Their executive summary of the survey states, “Research Participants: 249 companies organizations, representing 3,947 learning development professionals, who have created content consumed by 19,875,946 learners.” Their results?
In short, e-learning still takes a considerable investment of time to create. The most basic content, which might be thought of as “PowerPoint plus” is listed at 49:1. That means 49 hours of work for every one hour of e-learning product. The other side of the scale is highly complex e-learning output listed at 716:1—think instructional video game for this category.
Industry-defined benchmarks remind us that e-learning involves multiple layers of production and iteration. Integrating text, navigation, usability, functionality, learning objectives, and multimedia into an e-learning project, and doing so in a systematic way, takes time. Ultimately, both the process and the output remind us that in most cases e-learning is categorized more readily as instructional software compared to other forms of web-based communication.
As the report suggests, interactivity is perhaps the most determinant characteristic of complexity and consequently has the largest impact defining benchmarks. What do you think; do these numbers seem accurate to you?