Today’s announcement of Google’s ebookstore of over 3 million titles that can be accessed on a wide range of platforms and devices appears to counter recent trends of device-specific content delivery systems.
Will this, in turn, lead to greater openness, accessibility, and compatibility? Or just more traffic in Google streams that can be captured for advertising dollars?
Whatever the case, hooray for the continuing interest in reading.
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.
After being on a phone call last week with 11,554 other people, I’ll never think of telephones as POTS –Plain Old Telephones–again.
Our exposure to an innovative way to use telephones arose through an e-learning project called “Mastery of Aging Well” produced in collaboration with AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). In our discussions on how to move this information out to the world—specifically the AARP world—we were informed about a process AARP called TeleTown Hall. Simply put, the technique turns the phone system into a radio talk show, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of people (or more!) with targeted information.
For us, that targeted information was the variety of ways people can “master aging”, and how they can learn more about the topic online and through other available educational materials—and take action in their own lives and in the lives of their aging family members.
On the day of the program, we assembled our team. Our two hosts, Dr. Sharon Johnson from OSU (the author of Mastery of Aging Well) and Allen Douma, M.D. were joined by an AARP moderator, and three off-site screeners. Using a provider (TeleForum by Broadnet) we were able to simultaneously dial up 99,500 Oregon and Utah AARP members using information from an AARP database.
After a brief countdown, the 99,500 phone calls were launched. People who answered were welcomed with a brief pre-recorded invitation to stay on the phone to listen in and participate in the live discussion.
The screener’s job (of which I was one) was to connect to listeners who are calling in with questions for our hosts. Caller information displayed real-time in a web browser page, with their call status indicated. I simply clicked on a waiting caller’s name, welcomed them, and entered brief summary of their question. I could also tag them for follow-up if they just wanted additional information. The hosts/moderator read our screener comments, and chose which callers to connect “live” to the show–I mean phone call.
Of the 99,500 calls placed, 11,544 people joined the call, and another 50,000+ received the pre-recorded message. During the one-hour call, 51 people were screened, and the hosts were able to take 12 questions live.
And it doesn’t end with the phone calls. Three thousand people will receive a follow up letter from AARP including a copy of our Mastery of Aging Well brochure. This technology isn’t cheap: we invested $5,000 of grant money to make it happen for a footprint covering just two states. But for us it was worth it. It gave us a powerful way to have a conversation with our target audience, provide an interactive educational experience, elicit feedback, and market our e-learning materials. Obviously, it could be used for lots more. As TeleForum put it, “All you need to know is what you want to say and the people you want to say it to.”
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.
When do mobile devices serve as temporary replacements for tethered devices, and when do mobile devices become primary devices? What is lost and what is gained in the migration to mobile devices? When do mobile devices help us do the things we did before in a new way, and when do they help us do new things? How do you rate the status of mobile technology?
As I was thinking about these questions, two aspects of mobility kept coming to mind: convenience and quality. By convenience, I mean portability, compactness, wirelessness, all-in-one-ness. By quality, I mean functionality, richness, usefulness, outstandingness, comparative completeness. Mobile devices clearly have the edge in convenience, but where have they succeeded in quality and where do they still have little or lots of room for improvement?
In many ways, mobile devices demonstrate the areas where convenience trumps quality. That is, mobile devices proliferate where convenience is king—despite imperfections.
For example, mobile devices have succeeded as devices for storing and playing music, despite some loss of quality and the positive aspects of having physical artifacts. Mp3 files do not hold the richest sound recordings, but they can be easily downloaded and are “good enough” for most ears on the go. The convenience of bringing an entire music collection with you appears to outweigh the value of tangible album artwork and packaging.
Likewise, mobile phones are generally not as “comfortable” to talk on as full-sized phones and can have issues with audibility and reception, but most people would probably agree that the convenience of mobility has won out in the phone wars. Just a few years ago, the expectation in American society was for people to have an “official” landline number in addition to a cell phone number. The numbers of people living without landlines seems to be rising fairly rapidly.
Mobile phone cameras might also be considered in this category. They are widely used because of their convenience, even though the quality and features are usually pale in comparison to a dedicated, full-feature camera.
But there is another category—those mobile device functions that exceed in both quality and convenience. In the category, I include such functions as GPS/mapping, checking weather reports, sending and receiving text messages, clocks/ calendars, calculators, and a wide range of gaming and social network applications. In these cases, mobile devices often perform the functions at equal quality as the alternatives with the added benefit of mobility.
On your list, where have mobile devices already achieved perfection, where do they still have some improvements to make, where is a compromise simply necessary, and where have they not even begun to make progress?
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?
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?
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.
Galloping down the beach, Charlton Heston suddenly stops his horse and dismounts, staring up in disbelief at an object just coming into view. He begins approaching the object before descending into a fit of rage and screaming: “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. Damn you all to hell!” Zoom out to reveal the charred remnants of the World Wide Web, half-submerged in the shoreline, revealing that the website he was on was actually an application the whole time, and that the paradise that became The Forbidden Zone was once New York City.
A disjarring image, but one that the techno-pundits are beginning to warn us might appear around the next corner. “The Web is Dead,” says September’s issue of Wired Magazine, “Long Live the Internet.”
Increasingly we turn to applications, whether for communication on Skype, or IM, listening to podcasts, tuning your favorite music on Pandora, or watching TV shows on Netflix. Need the weather forecast? Another app. In their Wired article, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff blame us, the consumer for this massive shift. We are picking apps because they are just better and offer a more comfortable fit to our lives. It is, as Wired observes, becoming “less about browsing and more about getting.”
The Apple iPad led the way, with dozens of new pads and tablets arriving on the market in the months ahead, boosting the clamor for applications even further into the stratosphere. What does this mean for those of us who design, build and deliver e-learning? Are we looking at abandoning the web and embracing the cloud of single-purpose apps? But apps are currently tethered to industrial giants; if we lose the Web will we lose our noncommercial, free-wheeling access to the learning marketplace?
Hard questions, but one thing we can be sure of on the Planet of the Apps: there will be sequels.
The Fate of the Book
The Chronicle Review, October 1, 2010
Essays by William Germano, Jeffrey R. Di Leo, and Diane Wachtell
In the most recent issue of the Chronicle Review, several authors ask: Is the printed book dead? Three cogent essays survey the vast landscape that is publishing and weigh in on the current health and future possibilities of how we will distill our ideas and craft narrative using the ever-evolving suite of authoring and distribution tools.
Some quotes from these essays:
The overarching goals of publishing have been “universal access to knowledge and building knowledge as a self-correcting, collective exercise.”
“The real reason that academe has been slow to embrace digitization—is cultural, not material: an attitude rooted in the belief that the printed book is intrinsic to scholarship.”
“The story of electronic literature and scholarship has yet to be written in full, but before long the growth in digital scholarship will put an end to the myth of the book in higher education.”
Today, there is a symbiotic relationship between the book and the digital publication: “The way the electronic triumvirate engages with the publishing industry is by selling old-media products via new media.” Hence, discussions about revenue structures abound.
Is the printed book truly on its way out—residual collateral of cost efficiencies and technological advancement? Has the tipping point already occurred or, as one author suggests, will new publication approaches evolve to a point where the book will be relegated to furniture? What discipline or disciplines will champion the story of digital scholarship? What are your thoughts?