2015 was a rockin’ year

2015 was a rockin’ year. Here are some of the high points.

Teaching – It was an extreme privilege to teach the latest iteration of Disruptive Technology along with Scott McDonald and Michael M. Rook. Thrilling to work with the faculty and students on this course for the semester. The high point so far of my swimming in the ed tech stew.

Gutterballs – My co-host Adam and I recorded and released 44 episodes of this Big Lebowski deepcast. Just four left. How about that?

TLT Studio – April 2015 was the second anniversary of my assuming the role of director of the Teaching and Learning with Technology Studio. This past year was amazing to watch the group grow into a true team and release a new badging platform to support faculty research, along with support for a university wide publishing platformvarious other partnerships with faculty on research projects and academic committees.

Photography – I tried to get more serious about my photography this year. Moved to shooting medium format film. However, didn’t quite make the progress on my book I hoped for. I had to save something for 2016.

My Health – first half of 2015 marked my best ever progress on getting healthy through exercise and diet, second half was worse ever slide. Go figure. Dust myself off and try again.

I am digging tumblr’s new app

IMG_8677 IMG_8678IMG_8676

I love the way the new tumblr app lets you customize the the way your blog looks inside the tumblr app. It plays with our expectations of what an app is, giving this kind of customization that is generally associated with something on the web. I know it is somewhat designing on the rails tumblr lays down for you, but I feel like we will see some people very cleverly subvert this tool soon. There are also some neat design experiments in there like this:

Picking an accent color also changes the interface surrounding your blog for anyone who visits it. When I tapped Save after editing my blog’s appearance, the app’s Compose button turned pink and its navigation bar turned white to match my chosen Accent Color and background. The effect is particularly stark on iPad, where tapping into a blog dresses up the entire app in a new color.

That quote is from the story on The Verge profiling tumblr’s ethos that led to the new this new feature. Some more quotes:

“In the early 2000s, [the web] started to take a pretty sharp turn towards vanilla, white profile pages,” says Karp. To him, Facebook’s stark white pages weren’t refreshing like they were to MySpace refugees — they were restrictive. “The draw to the internet for me was this idea that it was a space where you could really create an expression of yourself — an identity that you’re really, truly proud of.” Karp saw sites like LiveJournal, Blogger, and GeoCities disappearing by the day. “Social networking” sites, where every username was printed in the exact same font, were winning out.

Tumblr’s vision for social profiles stands largely at odds with the design philosophies of many tech startups, which create products and profiles that look the same to every user on every platform. Their interfaces are designed to be highly accessible and legible over all else, but Tumblr thinks there’s more room for personalization than you might think. “People confuse consistency with customization,” says Derek Gottfrid, Tumblr’s vice president of product. Karp is more precise with the finger-pointing. “I think that right now, the Valley is very tuned for communication, social, and very utilitarian tools, and I think a lot of that is built around their ‘engineers will show us the way’ mindset,” he says, “where something we’ve always tried to instill here, and always tried to hire for, is that the creators are going to show us the way. We’re here to empower them.”

This line between something that is controlled, engineered to match some standard of aesthetics and usability and something that is highly customizable yet chaotic is a line I find myself exploring every day in my job as director of the TLT Studio. So, it is with much interest that I take note on what tumblr is doing to balance (or non-balance) these ideas.

If you are an educator, do you work in tech?

One of my pastimes is looking at articles about how journalism and media companies are becoming tech companies then trying to extrapolate their experience out to what higher education might experience in the coming years. Of course I can acknowledge that journalism and higher education are different in some ways, but at their roots both are fundamentally about communication, and communication as practiced has been in a state of upheaval in the last few decades. Journalism is more dependent on technologies to enable the practice to exist and as such journalists feel the consequence of changes in communication technology much more directly and quickly. So when I saw this piece from Cindy Royal at the Nieman Journalism Lab I pricked up my ears:

If you are a journalism educator or media professional, I have news for you: We work in tech.

in tech, not with tech. I believe Royal is arguing we are moving beyond an era where technology was merely an enabler of the practice of journalism, but actually intrinsically part of what defines those practices.

More from Cindy Royal:

Internet and web technologies don’t just represent a new medium where print and multimedia can live in harmony. The ways we communicate both personally and professionally have been profoundly altered. Communication is technology, and technology is communication. That’s the true convergence.

A big mistake was thinking that the internet was just a more efficient way to carry out the same old workflows. Consider this recent piece from NY Times:

Ask Ezra Klein what prompted him to leave a high-profile position at The Washington Post to start a new website, and the answer is a little wonkish, even for the founder of the newspaper’s Wonkblog, a mix of politics, economics and domestic policy that had become must reading in the Beltway.

It was, in essence, about content management systems, Mr. Klein said.

“We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism,”

It is interesting to read this as we are starting to discuss issues related to content management systems at Penn State. These things actually matter. It is not a question of picking a commodity tech system from a list of vendors. Your organization can be defined by what your technological systems allow or don’t allow. What it enables and discourages. Does the system professionalize or de-professionalize your creators (journalists or faculty)? Where is it on the spectrum of rigid to flexible?

I started by saying that I have been looking at the dialogue around the transformation of journalism and media companies and using it as somewhat of a signpost to help predict where the dialogue around higher education institutions will be in a few years. Several years ago I catalogued a bunch of dialogue on the subject. Both those items and the pieces I linked to in this post point to a world where technology is a required core competency of a journalism or other media company. I don’t believe many higher ed institutions see technology as a core competency. Does that need to change?

Rebuilding The Ship As We Sail It – Penn State Gen Ed Reform

Our partnership with the TLT Studio has gone some distance in modeling a way of using digital media to cultivate community around an important education reform issue. Because Penn State is a single university geographically dispersed, the GenEd Matters site has become a kind of marketplace of ideas and information about the GenEd reform process. We have sought to include a wide public in these conversations and, as a result, we have received an enormous amount of very helpful feedback on the process and suggestions for the emerging curriculum.

The site is continually being updated, its functionality improved even as we use it to engage in conversation. It’s a little like rebuilding the ship of Theseus as we sail it. Still, it is an intensely collaborative endeavor as we think about how design impacts discussion and how transformative reform can be undertaken in and with a thoughtful public.

via General Education Reform at Penn State | Christopher P. Long.

It has been so thrilling to work with The Gen Ed Task Force on building this platform to promote both the transparency of the Task Force and the participation of the entire Penn State community. I feel it is serving as a model for the way Penn State can communicate on the web, a multi-directional large-scale dialogue around core issues to the institution.

I especially love the adventure of rebuilding the ship as we sail it, as Chris puts it. Partly this was born from the necessity to start the communications as soon as possible. We were forced to embrace an ongoing, iterative, highly collaborative approach to this project, which just further underscores the fact that the site is exposing in-process thinking, not a tidy final nugget of a recommendation around Gen Ed. It also is a demonstration of the approach we embrace at the TLT Studio: learning by doing, iterating quickly, and adjusting as we go.

Sound Is The Past and The Future

I read this post from Craig Eley about the influence of sound technologies on computer technologies. Eley quotes Steve Jobs talking about the Mac:

[The telephone] was a breakthrough, because people already knew how to use it. It performed the same basic function [as the telegraph], but with radical ease of use. And in addition to just letting you type in the words or click in the words, it let you sing. It let you intone your sentences to really get your meaning across.

This  led me to immediately think of this article: Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report. I have been somewhat obbessing over the movie ever since I saw it last week. The movie is not really about technology. It is a very human story, and I realize the depictions of technology in the film are designed to serve the film, not to be some sort of deep treatise on how technology will operate in the future. However in making a movie where technology was there to serve the very human story at the heart of the film, they created a vision of technology that is so pure in its ability to be a human-centered.

And in this vision, what is the main interface? It is sound. So, yes, I am right there with Eley about the influence of sound technology on digital computer technology, and I think we might be finding the future of computing to be much more directly sound-based than it is currently. In Jobs quote above he talks about the ability for the telephone to convey a humanness –  singing, intoning, etc. Once our computers are able to do those same things, we move away from the idiosyncrasies that have plagued Human-Computer Interaction to something more akin to Human-Human interaction.

In fact, the best comparison for a Chromebook is not a Windows PC, but an iPad. Both are appliance-like devices that are easy-to-use, impossible-to-break, and designed first and foremost for the experience, not the feature list.

via Chromebook Followup.

Came across some more writing on the whole Chrome OS and less is more philosophy.

don’t swim upstream through media

When you are trying to encourage learners to engage with various media, such as a social networking systems or other forms of participation, don’t try to twist the tools to act and behave exactly as you think they should work. Don’t fight the native way they are already being used. Focus on what you want students to learn, and how various media refract the potential lessons differently. At some point you should be able to float downstream and see where it takes you

Instead of trying to force a platform to be conform to the pre-conceived notion you have in your head, open yourself to how communication, expression, interaction, conversation happens in that medium, and embrace it. This could be for something general like “blogging”, or something very specific such as a using a particular service that is a media onto itself, such as instagram. If you are using tumblr, see what happens when students on tumblr start reblogging and making image posts.

It is great that these platforms tend be based on flexibility, but there is also a breaking a point where you can’t flex it anymore. I guess knowing where that is partly an art. There is something to be said of letting new media inform how learning can be experienced versus trying to approach it the other way around.

Credit to Sam Richards and his crew. Our conversation this  morning about evolving the use of social media in his large enrollment sociology class led me to this place. 

rambling on about Chrome OS

Word on the street is that Chromebook sales are taking up a big chunk of the pie, putting the squeeze on Microsoft.

The Acer chromebook mentioned in the above link entered our household this holiday season and it is not a bad little machine, especially considering the price. The fact that it is basically just a web browser can feel limiting sometimes, but with chrome’s native client and the filesystem api, developers can make very appy things for chrome and chrome OS. Try this text editor to see what I am talking about. Some of these apps access your google drive space the way a native app would access your local filesystem. Very convenient. There are SSH clients for chrome OS, so it works for me when I am doing some web dev or other types of hacking. I still can’t use chrome for the production of my podcast or to manage my 700+ GB photo library and photo editing. Although I would love for a cloud based, machine independent, photo workflow.

Of course there are ways that less is more. I feel like when I am buying a chrome OS device, I am not getting ensnared in all the stuff that goes along with a new device – Do I need to back it up? create accounts for my various family members? how do I transfer my settings and data from my old machine to this new one?  With a chromebook all you do is log in with your google account and go. It is one thing to manage a computer (OS X or Windows) for yourself, but with a family of four and me being the IT support for the household, being able to outsource that to google isn’t so bad. You can imagine the significance and effort-saving when you apply this model to businesses, schools, governments.

I see potential in Chrome OS.

Frank Chimero:

I’m pretty good at juggling, but I feel split and overwhelmed, because these networks are sorted by what things are (a photo, video, snarky quip, etc.), rather than who made them. My brain works in the opposite way.

So, I’m doubling down on my personal site in 2014. In light of the noisy, fragmented internet, I want a unified place for myself—the internet version of a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country.

Penn State Is Revisiting General Education On The Open Web

A screenshot of the Gen Ed At PSU web site

I’ve been watching the discussion about revising general education at Penn State and marveling at how the task force is using the web and social media to engage the Penn State community. Last Thursday there was a day long conference on the topic, there is a twitter feed,  a web site, and posts on individual blogs. If you are wondering why my colleagues and I work to provide an easy, low-barrier web publishing solution to Penn State, just look at the use this task force is making of the web as one of the 100,000 reasons to provide such a system to a University community. I have to give props to Penn State and the Gen Ed task force for the way this process is playing out as a conversation on the web. I am not sure you could find the same thing everywhere.