Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Few of My Favorite (Digital) Things

As a little Christmas present - I offer a few of my favorite digital things for 2013. I chose these things because they represent an interesting approach to digital literacies and composing for the brave new digital world in which we live. Or maybe just because I thought they were cool. Anyway - enjoy!

  • The best new interactive web thingy is Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" multi-channel music video. Oh, yeah they did that - and it's pretty cool. It's the coolest provocation to digital creativity since Arcade Fire's interactive "Wilderness Downtown," (which I still use in my intro to Digital Literacies class.)
  • My favorite (though sometimes frustrating) socially-connected app is WAZE. You probably heard about it this year when Google bought the app from its developer for about a billion dollars. It's like Google Maps meets Twitter - a free navigation app that allows users (er, uh, their passengers,) to share info with other travelers such as traffic jams, accidents, weather, and, ahem - location of police. (Admittedly, I started using this last year I think.)
  • For me, and I suspect millions of others, TripAdvisor has stolen time and attention from my other travel and dining apps like Yelp and UrbanSpoon. It's desktop website and smartphone apps work well together to provide friendly, useful and comprehensive collection of user-reviews on dining spots, hotels, attractions, etc.
  • Did you know you can use video backgrounds for PowerPoint? I just started using this really cool feature this year. Formerly, you'd have to shell out big bucks to get this effect - or use hinky 3rd-party apps that never failed to, uh... fail.
  • And, though it is hardware, I just gotta say - I love the Jambox by Jawbone. I use it around the house for the worlds most portable best music, but its easy-synching with my smartphone and laptop means I can have awesome sound for any presentation, regardless of the available equipment at the venue.
What will 2014 bring? I don't know - but I figure that, whatever it is, it will be delivered by my Amazon Prime drone.

Monday, November 11, 2013

History is Not Kind, Doesn't Rewind: Blockbuster's Gone

Every major media outlet ran the headlines we all knew were inevitable:
Blockbuster stores are closing. All of them. Forever.
The New York Times might have had the best Pop Culture Headline about the story: "Internet Kills the Video Store." (Props to the Buggles.) and Quartz has an illustrated timeline of the video store's ;life and death. And, with its death I come to speak to you in this blog. I come not to praise video stores, but to bury them... OK, and maybe to reflect on what this change symbolizes for communicators and educators.

This video, by BuzzFeedYellow, takes older folks down memory lane - and uncovers hidden secrets of our video-screen past for younger viewers:

Goodbye, Blockbuster
Marshall McLuhan pointed out that each new medium contains the old medium as content. And I might add that the terms we use with old media (which we know) help us frame our interactions with new media (which we are learning.) For example, we still have skeuomorphic ideas, imagery and language associated with our "Blockbuster past."
  • When we return to a previous point in a YouTube video, or in a film we are viewing on Amazon or Netflix, we might still say we are "rewinding." But of course, there is never anything to "wind" to begin with. 
  • And when students shoot video , they may get extra "footage" - even though there is nothing to measure in linear dimensions.
  • We even call the "footage" (which is not footage at all) "B-roll," though there is nothing that we can roll up - or out.
I keep a collection of media devices from across the ages to show students what "footage" really is, what TV announcers meant by "don't touch that dial!" and how some songs became famous even though they were on "the flip/B side." But now - it is evident that the video cassette will become even more important in the Smartphone Museum exhibits.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

ThingLink: Connecting Internet Materials Visually!

Below is a photo of me.
Not a particularly flattering photo.
Not a particularly interesting photo.
Not a particularly useful photo.

But... with a little application called ThingLink, it can become a gateway to a plethora of resources! For example - look at the photo and see the difference an app can make. Notice how clicking on the 35mm camera takes you to a world of legal-use, free photography you can utilize in your classes? See how clicking on the video camera links you to digital video clips you can incorporate in your video editing projects? Observe how clicking on the headphones leads you to lots of usable audio, including music, sound effects, etc.? (Even clicking on the goofy-looking guy will reveal his website.) And clicking the bulletin board will take you to the program that makes this visual connectivity possible: ThingLink!

Try out this free app to spice up your blog or enhance your web site with a fresh new way to link students to web materials visually. You can find it at https://www.thinglink.com/

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ain't Nobody Got Time For That!

Some people call me tech-savvy. Some call me digitally-connected. (No one calls me Maurice.)

But some make the mistake that I engage in technology for technology's sake. I don't. I can't. As the eminent 21st-century philosopher, Sweet Brown says, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

I do invest time in learning about technology, true. And not all technology I research will be useful to me, also true. But the technologies I consistently engage are those which bear some usefulness to me - aside from being cool gadgetry. (Even if sometimes the purpose is entertainment.)

For example, blogs like this one. I don't blog just to be blogging. I blog to record ideas for teaching or research to which I can return later. I blog to share ideas with my colleagues. I blog to provide resources for students' projects and assignments. In fact, the main audience for my blogging is me. I don't have the illusion that millions of people are waiting to see what I might write. (And if I had such and illusion, I could just look at the blogger stats and be disabused of such notions.) But if I DO become famous for my blog, then so be it.

So, let me share a few ways I use technology for my own benefit - and to share ideas with others. These are not all the tech tools I use, but a sample to show that your tech usage can actually be a time-saver rather than a time waster.

First, I use Delicious to archive all my bookmarks. I categorize my bookmarks with "tags" so I can retrieve internet resources easily for my own research, or to share with students or colleagues. For example, if my students ask where they can find "legal use" images for their presentations, I just send them a link to the Delicious Links I tagged "Images for Multimodal Composition" and voila! they have access to thousands upon thousands of copyright-free images! Do you have an unruly set of bookmarks? Try Delicious.com.

Second, I use ScoopIt! to help me handle all the articles that I have read, and need to read again - or use in class or research. Someone recently asked me how I knew about a certain digital tool, and I said, "Well, I read a lot." And I try - but reading in my field can be overwhelming - so i use ScoopIt! to help me handle all the articles from magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. I save articles related to Digital technology in a "topic" category called "From Chalkboards to Smartphones." Then, all those articles are in one place for me when I want to return to them for research. Maybe this tool will be helpful to you as well.

Lastly, I let an "aggregation app" called Pulse organize my news for me so I can quickly skim articles so I can stay current in various topics (like news, tech, sports, travel, etc.) from selected publications (like the NY Times, Smithsonian , The Atlantic, ESPN, WIRED, CNET, Gizmodo, Boing boing, or the Food Network.)  And, because I have the app on my phone, I can skim the day's news while having a cup of coffee or eating lunch. Here's what my Pulse feed - for tech sources I selected - looks like on my desktop:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Resumes, Digital Footprints, and Ethos

Though it sounds preachy - it is  true that your resume (or c.v.) is NOT the document you meticulously design, craft, revise and format. In an increasingly "connected" digital world, your resume is the ethos you have established in every area of your life. (Ethos here refers to your credibility, your standing, your relationship with others, your reputation, etc.)

A recent article in Digital Trends, titled "People Still Don't Understand Their Online Lives Can Cost Them Their Real Jobs," discusses new research that reveals "one in 10 young people have been rejected from a job because of the content of their social media profiles."

The most surprising part of the article is not that people lose jobs because of their online behaviors, but rather that they are clueless that it is happening!

People have been getting fired for their activity on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for a while, but this report is noteworthy because it underlines how common it is to have negative real-life repercussions from fooling around on the Internet. You’d think that this widespread rejection would make young people more cautious when posting online, but the On Device study noted that two thirds of the respondents are not concerned that their social media will damage their careers. That means there’s some kind of disconnect happening between what people think is acceptable to employers online and what’s actually acceptable. -Digital Trends, June 3, 2013
from AVG Digital Diaries

When we consider that our c.v. - which stands for "the course of my life" - is just that: everything you write, say, do, etc., then it is clear that it would be a disservice to students to teach them proper formatting and grammar, and not to address the core issue of professionalism we call ethos! With every project, relationship, and deed, we write our c.v. - digitally, visually, relationally, figuratively and literally.

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. -Proverbs 22:1

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Summer Reading for Educators

The Smithsonian's "Educating Americans for the 21st Century" project is available online. Just when teachers thought they could forget about school and kick back with a cold diet cola, Smithsonian brings together a collection of articles sure to make you ponder, poke, prod, postulate, predict and plan for your continuing work in an ever-changing educational environment.

Visit the Smithsonian Project here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialreports/educating-americans-for-the-21st-century/ 

I don't have a particular article to recommend here - but the survey of issues os bound to provoke your critical thinking in an area or two. Maybe something sticks out to you as important or interesting? Feel free to respond with your comments as you get around to some "light" work-related reading during your summer break.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grammar Police Reinforcements!

If you teach English or Writing, (or any subject that requires students to communicate in any way that should be comprehended by other human beings,) you can use this video.

After you've written helpful comments, after you've referred students to the Writing Center for LOC help, after you've diagrammed sentences, after you've shown students how to bookmark the dictionary in their browsers, after you've gone on a tirade and preached from "The Elements of Style" for an entire class... (OK, that last one might be just me,) you can use something like this to reinforce your efforts and give you a moment to regroup.

Enjoy your summer, knowing this video is now in your arsenal for next term!

Now.. if we can just find a similar video on APA or MLA formatting...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scam-Mail, Bad Grammar and Audience

Every now and then I check my spam filter and find the usual junk mail: ads for foreign pharmaceuticals, phishing scams, solicitations to buy products to make my hair (or other things) grow, and the many variations on the Nigerian inheritance scam.

Here is an example of one such email:

Good day my dear,
In confidence,i have to introduce myself, i am Miss. Christy Watars,24 years old,I am the only child of late Mr & Mrs.Richard Watars.
I prayed before contacting you, please for God sake do not see my mail as embrassment as we do not know each other before.  I wish to request for your assistance in my efforts to procure the transfer of my inherited fund from my late parents for investment ventures under your care and directive,while i continue my education in NewZealand.
I inherited Three Million,Four Hundred Thousand US-Dollars ($3,400,000.00)I wish to require your assistance in receiving the transfer of my inherited fund in your account for investment purposes only, it is my wish to come over to Newzealand to further my education while you take care of the investment on my behalf.
i need your urgent assistance to transfer my inherited fund to Newzealand and also your assistance to secure my future in NZ where I will continue my education
Please I am waiting to hear from you soonest,God Bless You.
Yours sincerely,
Christy Watars
If you are a teacher of English, you feel almost compelled to correct the grammar, punctuation, syntax and formating and return it to the user, don't you? C'mon - don't you? Yeah - me too. And even though we don't proofread and edit the document, we all must wonder, "Why do scammers send out email with such horrendous writing? Don't they know that no one is going to buy the message with such glaring mistakes?"

Well, there is a method to the madness, and a mistaken assumption on our part. ALMOST no one will buy the error-riddled pitch. But the ones who do not recognize the mutilation of the Queen's English are exactly the ones who the scammers want to reach.  If you can correct the grammar and spelling, you are probably too smart for the scammers. They aren't trying to reach you. You are not their audience. People with lower intelligence are their audience.

So - if you want ONLY people with lower intelligence to give your message a fair hearing, then, for goodness sake, do not pay attention to spelling or grammar or punctuation!

Most of our students - and we ourselves - do not hope for such a limited audience. Whether it is teachers teaching, preachers preaching, advertisers advertising, or students studying, we hope to reach more than just the dumbest people around. In those cases, good grammar and correct spelling and proper punctuation insure you include the widest possible audience - including potential employers, potential publishers, colleagues, and leaders of the community. Everyone is included when good writing takes place. (I've never heard anyone say, "I ain't going back to that restaurant - they spell everything 'right' on their menu. Smarty-pants know-it-alls!" or "I don't think we should consider this candidate; his writing is just too perfect.")

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Elements of Speech & the Superbowl Pre-game Talk

This week, the Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. One of these teams boasts the player who has what may be the most emotional pre-game speech/dance combination in NFL history. I'm speaking of the Ravens' Ray Lewis. Ray's  pre-game activities could be a valid artifact for communications and speech classes - it seems to be perfect for talking about occasion and the place of emotion in speech-making.

But what about all those weeks when Ray was injured? Did you ever wonder who did the pre-game speeches during his absence? Well Sports Friends offers a humorous take on that situation. In this (fictional?) situation Ray Rice approaches Joe Flacco to give the speech, and the results are a sort of Communications/Speech Class workshop on what NOT to do. I played this clip for my class and asked them to respond with comments on what went wrong with Joe's attempts - and to suggest fixes.

Watch the clip and see what you think.

Some student responses were:
  • " Joe shouldn't have shown that he was nervous and that he wasn't happy about giving the speech."
  • "To make his speech more effective, Joe should have used more passionate words that male sports men can relate to and that trigger the right emotions. Sentences like, 'You only have this one moment to show that you are powerful, that you have worked, sweated and bled to achieve success.'"
  • "He started quoting a movie that no one would know. He should consider his audience and what they would watch."
  • "Joe was referencing things his audience couldn't relate with. To be more effective he should have related more to his audience by referencing things he knew they were familiar with..."
  • "Joe was not enthusiastic enough to boost the morale of his teammates..."
  • "He didn't need to introduce himself to people who already knew him."
 You might build on these and other comments to talk about ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, audience, culturally-sensitive speech (the last remarks crossed the anti-semitic line, ouch.)

And, depending on the outcome of the game, you might let the students guess whether Joe or Ray Lewis gave the pre-game talk.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Buddy the Elf, Internet Free Candy, and Plagiarism

If saw "Elf" over the holidays, then you will remember this scene - Buddy the Elf is preparing to go to New York City to find his father when Santa offers him some advice, including the following:

"Well, there are some things you should know.
First off, you see gum on The street,
Leave it there. It's not free candy."

Of course, when Buddy arrives in NYC, he can't resist the "free candy" on the streets, the handrails, etc...Funny!
If you've taught a class that involves research, you will remember this scene - Students are preparing to complete a class to earn their degrees, and we offer them advice, including the following:

"To do good research, you should know some things.
First off, just because you can cut and paste something,
that doesn't mean it is good information.
Find reputable sources and cite them."

Of course, when your students actually get to writing the paper, they sometimes find random "free candy" on the internet to be irresistible. Not so funny.

I ran across an informative, if less-than-encouraging, article titled "The Top 10 Internet Sources College Students Us May Discourage You."  Oh, yeah, it does discourage us - especially after we've introduced them to the wealth of scholarly online resources that are available through our college or university libraries. I mean - millions of dollars worth of resources at their finger tips, peer-reviewed articles from the most erudite experts in every subject, ground-breaking studies in every field, and they "Google" for info on "steroids?"

(Thankfully, there are no sharp objects nearby as I write this. Anyway - take deep breaths and remain calm, Randy...)

So, I remind myself - and if it helps, you can remind yourself, too - our students are sort of like Buddy - this is their first trip to the big academic city. I will try to help them understand research and intellectual integrity from a broad view that deals with credibility, critical thinking, ethos, and what it means to be a "collegial" member of their new academic community. I will use a variety of approaches ranging from our official plagiarism statements to the story of Buddy the Elf. And I will keep telling myself that it's a process, and that it is my job to help my students (and colleagues) to develop an integrated approach to 21st-century digital literacy.

And I may or may not pass along this tidbit shared with me on Facebook recently:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

ESPN, Culture and Speaking "English" Slang

At some point in the term, when teaching rhetorics, critical thinking, cultural literacies, speech, composition, or other topics - I find it important to discuss how language is a culturally/socially constructed semiotic system. (I usually work from a broader intro that looks at how ontology, epistemology and semiology treat a "thing," but that's another story.)

I am planning to incorporate these ESPN commercials to help students think about how language (in this case, English) is a living, growing set of signifiers and signifieds. Maybe some of my colleagues in related fields would be able to make creative instructional use of these artifacts as well...

Video one is the commercial I saw first - and though I had no idea what these guys were "saying" - I got the idea: the speakers seem to be exactly alike from a first-blush broad-brush categorizing of the individuals as being from the UK - but each views the other as a polar opposite.

A Second video (now disappeared from the web) slows the action down and adds definitions to the "slang" English from across the pond.

So, don't be a right divvy - spice up your sessions with these discussion starters/illustrations. And remember which video is which, or you'll look like a proper digital plonker.