Category Archives: New Media

One Perk of Commuting

I spent nine years doing a long commute back and forth to my middle school. Two hours in the car each day. I didn’t mind too much: I loved the job and I had discovered what, in those days, were literally books on tape. (CDs arrived sometime during those years as well.) I checked them out from the library, and with 10 hours a week to devote to listening, I moved through them pretty quickly.

Now, I work from home. I don’t miss commuting, but I do miss those two hours a day devoted to listening. I will still cue up a podcast or two at home, but it’s not the same as I’m usually doing something else while I’m listening so don’t always get the full story. So, I sort of look forward to days like today: I’m heading to Fredericksburg for a meeting. I’ll have three hours in the car. I’ve downloaded more than that many hours of podcasts. There’s a Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me episode, two hours of tomorrow’s Science Friday, an interview with John O’Donohue from On Being, a Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk Concert, and two Fresh Air sessions about Lily Tomlin and David Foster Wallace.

So MUCH content! So LITTLE time! Now the only decision is what to listen to first.

Lots of (Virtual) Learning Going On

Much of my time in the last three days have been spent in synchronous virtual learning experiences including a webinar and two day long virtual conferences. These events took advantage of two different platforms: Adobe Connect and Avaya Live Engage. Adobe Connect is a high end video conferencing tool while Avaya is a 3D virtual environment. Both events were put on by experienced users of the platforms who had taken care to train presenters and do the necessary audio and video testing. There were still a few glitches. I lost audio during my presentation using Engage, probably because I had to move the laptop during the session in order to plug in. Warning: Engage EATS your battery seemingly to the tune of 1% per minute, and about half way through I had more minutes left than battery life. It was easy enough to log out and back in but there were a few frustrating minutes where they couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t hear them. Similar things happened during the virtual conference in Adobe. We got off the script in one session and sharing a YouTube video dealt a death blow to the presenter’s audio. Having a presenter back channel helps to get messages to the presenter when things are going wrong. But, the presenter has to be aware of that back channel and be checking it.

For presenters, the interfaces can be challenging. In a face to face environment, you use audience cues for questions or interaction. A hand waving in the air is a little more attention getting than a hand icon beside a name in a presenter list. Keeping track of both audience text chat and back challenge chat adds to the stress.

Engage more closely replicated a live, face to face session. Our avatars were together and, if I was more experienced with the interface, I could have punctuated remarks with hand gestures. Audience members could raise their hands to ask questions or make comments. Even though I knew we were all sitting behind screens, I had a much better sense of presence than with Adobe Connect. Certainly presenters in Adobe Connect can turn their webcams on but that just heightens the sense of being in different places and I find myself wondering about the environments behind them: are they in their offices? their homes? What books are on the shelf? Avatars offer the sense of being in the same “physical” space.

I don’t think I have a preference for either system. I am much more familiar and comfortable with Adobe Connect having served as a host for many webinars. I like the interface that allows for multiple windows so I can be following the text chat along with the presentation. Because the text chat in Engage was more buried, it wasn’t used as much. But, the audio was fairly simple to use, and the room was set up with audience mics so everyone could easily hear the conversation between the presenter and attendees.

The same was true for Adobe as well. Having been with the platform for a long time, I’ve seen audio evolve to the point where almost anyone can easily grab the microphone and talk once they’ve been given the appropriate rights. No more tin cans or ugly feedback.

Maybe computer mics are just generally easier to use as well. In the Adobe sessions, we could easily hold conversations as part of the networking sessions. Some people were still more comfortable just typing and that was OK, too. Multiple ways to communicate open up the learning for audience participation. The presenters who had the most success with chat were those who invited the participants to type something specific in the chat room, such as where they were from or their experiences with a particular technology.

That last thought starts getting at my next blog entry: tips for making virtual sessions more engaging. The sessions in both environments tended to be typical lecture-style presentations with attention focused on the presenter. There are ways to include interactivity that can help pull the audience into the subject matter more effectively so they aren’t, as I was in some cases, simply listening while multitasking in another window.

Why “Teach” Social Media

This post is in response to Maryam Kaymanesh in the VCU thoughtvectors MOOC who is thinking about why high school students should be taught how to use social media for a future job. I wouldn’t have seen the post but Tom Woodward tagged me in his reply to her and I got a ping to alert me to the reference. Why mention this? Because it gets at the heart of why we need to “teach” social media: it IS the way we communicate these days, and we have always taught students how to use contemporary media.

When I started teaching high school English in the late 1980s, my curriculum included formal letter writing and research skills using paper databases like the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. I think we understand better why we need to teach students the research skills, but it’s 21st century writing that we grapple with as teachers roll their eyes when kids use emoticons or Internet slang in their research papers. Case in point: check out the Wikipedia entry on LOL. The authors spend a lot of time quoting the critics of the use of these abbreviations as inappropriate in formal writing. But they certainly have a place in the fast-paced, shortened world of Twitter and texting. So, lesson one for all 21st century writers is how to distinguish between the wide variety of writing outlets and the kind of writing they demand.

The other challenge for contemporary media users is how to use social media to portray yourself publicly. The Washington Post article When Young Teachers Go Wild on the Web is one I still share with the adults I work with as it asks the hard questions about sharing on social media. In the six years since that article was published, stories continue to come out of grownups, including veteran teachers, doing dumb things in public using Twitter or Facebook. This incredibly kind interview demonstrates clearly that it isn’t just high school students who need a lesson or two:

But, despite the possible pitfalls, social media is also where we go to connect with others. Whatever your passion or area of study, social media can help you connect with others in the field. I require the students in my educational administration course to get involved in social media professionally by discovering the important voices and publications in education. Who are the bloggers and tweeters and googlers that you should be reading regularly? And, how can you become one of those voices? What can you contribute to the conversation?

There are also important questions for businesses to ask as they move into this hyper connected world. As someone who runs an organization that uses social media to both communicate and connect, I think about how to use it all the time. What do we want to do with it beyond just simple marketing? How can we become a portal to help curate the web for our followers? It is very much a similar kind of question to that for individuals: just how do we portray our company in social media? I can pretty much guarantee that unless your future job is hermit, you will, either as an employee or employer, ask these kinds of questions. 

And, while I can craft a persona for myself and my business, I can’t control the message completely since everyone has a voice. Reactions to a story are part of the story. The Today Show had a clip about getting good customer service and spent a good bit of time offering consumers tips for how to get noticed by a company by using Twitter or Facebook. Companies must be monitoring these outlets to be able to respond and react quickly before something goes viral. 

I’ll end with a recent example from my field of the complexities of being part of this new world. A brutally honest blog post about terrible experiences at a conference in 2013 appeared just as folks were gearing up for the 2014 version. The post, which has been removed by the author but is easy enough to find in an archive, was prompted by the #YesAllWomen campaign. It garnered a strong response from some in the field but others pushed back suggesting that this is a complex issue that requires more than a visceral, black and white response. Some spent time just trying to figure out who she was talking about. A second bog post tried to sort out the writer’s reactions to these different responses while the organization in question crafted its own response.

There are lots of lessons in this one event, not the least of which is that deleting stuff on the web doesn’t always mean it goes away. I’m not sure we can “teach” our students or ourselves exactly how to live in this social mediated world, but these kinds of case studies can help us grapple with the issues in powerful ways. If schools choose instead to ban and ignore, they miss the opportunity to truly prepare their students to live empowered lives in this world.


More On Moby Dick

Joyce Valenza posted a link to Jen Hunter’s insightful review of Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick for the English Classroom. Hunter is a student in Joyce’s social media course at Rutgers and the review is part of a larger website related to the reading of the book. Go read it now and be prepared to buy the book when you’re done. I did.

I am looking forward to reading the book even though I can’t imagine reading Moby Dick with any students, much less the challenging population described in the book. It almost makes me want to head back to the high school classroom, a place I haven’t been since the beginning of my career in the ice age before digital media:

Edited by new media literacy scholar, Henry Jenkins, and Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, the book describes how the two came to collaborate with Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, who had been teaching young men in a juvenile detention center not only to read Moby-Dick, but also to care about it and make sense of it in the context of their own lives through a stage production called Moby-Dick: Then and Now. This collaboration sparked a study in which NML strategies were applied in English classrooms to teach Moby-Dick, and more importantly, to empower students to claim ownership of their authority and participate in the wider conversations happening around them.

The section of the review that struck me was the notion that incorporating popular culture to help students grapple with traditional literature is somehow a lowering of expectations for those students:

Without ever saying it explicitly, the text seems to imply that while students can learn to read, find relevancy in, and enjoy Moby-Dick, educators need to reframe their expectations of their students, which might be interpreted as lower expectations as opposed to simply different expectations.

Hunter goes on to discuss how Jenkins’ addresses this concern:

Jenkins defends the use of popular culture in the classroom when he says, “It should not be seen as a means of entertaining students or holding their attention, but rather as a means of respecting their existing expertise and helping them to acquire core skills they will need to meaningfully participate in this new and emerging media landscape” (location 1071). While all of the authors advocate for the development of the kinds of skills that educators may associate with traditional literacy and scholarly inquiry, they suggest that there needs to be a gradual building to that level, particularly for at-risk youth.

Respect for our students’ experiences when they are different from our own is a powerful concept. I am, in no way, lowering expectations for contemporary students when I suggest that not every child needs to grapple with Shakespeare in the original. Or, as Jenkins and his colleagues demonstrate, plunge into Moby Dick without some kind of preparation. I may question if getting through Melville is a good use of time but if it really does provide the students with a confidence and sense of authority, then the time will be well spent.

The book is one my Kindle and may rise to the top of the TBR list. I’ll let you know how it goes.