Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 18th Century and Participation Media

As our students explore the 18th century and the concept of participation (as in digital culture and Web 2.0), I'd like to connect the two areas in a couple of ways.

In the 18th century, a new sense of "the public" emerged. There were many reasons for this, but high among them was the emergence of mass media. Sure, printing had been around since the mid-15th century, but it was in the 1700s that printing was both frequent and cheap enough for literally hundreds of thousands of people to be regularly consuming the same content tied closely to current events. This is the time when periodicals emerged and when newspapers began to take off.

London coffee houses were
vital social centers in the 18th century
We've taken for granted this sort of thing for centuries, but think about how much that changed the way people thought and acted.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why Cloud Computing is a Big Deal

Another day at RootsTech, and today I want to focus on cloud computing and how it is fundamentally changing the Internet. So what is cloud computing? It is the ability to store information in a large collection of servers on the Internet, so it is always available whenever you need it. Josh Coates gave a great definition of what this means for a developer in his keynote address yesterday:

  • the illusion of infinite resources,
  • no up front commitment, and
  • pay as you go.
You use cloud computing when you create a Google document, access your genealogy at, or backup your data with Mozy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can an Apple addict be an advocate for openness?

Can an Apple addict be an advocate for openness?

That's the sobering question I ask myself today. This comes in the wake of challenging students in our Digital Civilization class to be more critical about the open movement (we have been studying openness in its many exciting varieties this week).

I have found students too easily agreeing with open science, open government, open source software -- as though openness were a self-evident truth that the founding fathers overlooked in the Constitution; as though openness were a techno-utopian condition that only morons or devils would disagree with.

Frankly, some of the advocates for openness play the devil rather well. (I get uneasy when I find myself on the same side as that Anonymous group, even just a little.) When openness becomes a kind of irresponsible liberalism or the toy of anarchists, it starts to lose its shine. And despite my own strong statements in its favor, I must admit that openness can't just be about rapacious publishers too benighted to understand the virtues of open access, or about venal congressmen and MPAA lawyers coming down on life-as-we-know-it-online with ham-fisted censorship legislation. SOPA was wrong; does that make all openness right?

Time for some soul searching. "Okay, Gideon," I asked myself, "where are you truly committed to a closed or restricted system? Where is it that you are most hypocritical when trumpeting openness?"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gamification: Using Games to Change Behavior

At RootsTech today, I attended a session on gamification, the process of using game mechanics and game dynamics to engage users and keep them visiting your site.  The session was taught by Dave McCallister, of Adobe, who has clearly thought a lot about this issue.

Here's a quick sense of how gamification works:

These stairs were created as part of The Fun Theory, an initiative by Volkswagen to show that making something fun is the easiest way to change people's behavior.  After the stairs were installed, 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator.  Once the stairs were removed, half kept taking the stairs anyway!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Making Killer Presentations

Too often when students give slideshow presentations they waste everyone's time. 

There, I said it.

Now, this is partly due to poor presentation techniques ("death by PowerPoint"), but mostly due to our changing information environment and evolving learning methods. So, even a very good presentation by past standards may not be good anymore.

In short, when we can all access a wealth of information on any topic, why would we put up with it being rehashed (often less adequately) in class? When we know that active and participatory learning beats more passive modes, why would we tolerate any format that is essentially an info monologue?

I want to do three things in this post: evaluate the relative evil of the slide show presentation format; introduce a great resource for avoiding "death by PowerPoint"; and finally, recommend four components for a killer presentation.

Let me quickly add that a killer presentation may not in fact be the best vehicle for the teaching or learning that is needed. But if we do use them, then let's use them well.