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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Oct
05
Filed Under (e-learning, New Media, Video) by Mark A.-W. on 05-10-2010

Educational models usually stress the importance of clearly defining learning objectives at the outset. How can e-learning balance this doctrine with the great untapped potential of unplanned learning?Alternatives to learning by travel

Can we get any insights to help answer this question from the recent rise in popularity of random online video chatting? After all, with a few clicks, people can now “meet other people from around the world” (Hey-people.com).

When you go to a random video chat site like JabberCam!, Google ads appear for a variety of online learning programs. Are people who are eager to meet new people online also eager to learn something new online? Well, of course. Isn’t the desire to grow into a bigger self intrinsic to the pursuit of learning?

If, as Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” can random video chatting be an alternative cure for those unable to travel the world?

The Omegle random video chat brand invites users to “talk to strangers!” Embedded in the multitude of reasons why people would want to do this is the human interest in learning from one another.

In our first video blog, EP Blogger Jeff Hino offers some tips for creating ear-friendly podcasts.