A Little Social

I noticed something a little different the other day as I was browsing my feeds in Google Reader — a new “X people liked this” icon and link.


The thing that is interesting is that the link then exposes you to the usernames of those who liked the post. It is easy to add yourself to the “I like” list too … just click the “Like” link under the post text. This is a lot like the simple functionality one sees in the activity stream on Facebook.


The other thing that Google Reader is doing is let you follow people. I am assuming this is less like Twitter and more like being in a Delicious network. Instead of overtly broadcasting that I like something to the whole Internet I can review the things people I am following are marking as interesting to them. This is an important step into building some strong link relationships between smart people and the content they consume. By following people in your network I think it will be easier to build a personal recommendation engine of sorts. If I trust someone enough to follow them then I am guessing I find their conversations interesting — and in this context the conversation starter is the fact they’ve shared something they appreciate.

Since I mentioned Delicious in this context I wonder if people will latch onto the idea the Reader environment could be a better place to pass along content? I don’t yet have a sense, but I am betting if Google added a “bookmarklet” type thing that would post content into the reader environment this could be successful. I don’t use Google Bookmarks much, but if they integrated more easily with the networks I am bound to establish in Reader I might.

I Feel Like I Should Have This Figured Out

With all the drama around claims that blogging is dead I find myself more confused than ever about content production, sharing, and everything in between. As someone who embraces the whole idea of sharing stuff, you’d think I wouldn’t be at such odds with myself over a few basics. I find myself constantly struggling with the notion that this blog can be the home for nearly all of my stuff … yet I go out and start a photo blog, start pumping content into Tumblr, and ignore posting to the one place that is under my control.

photo_blogI’ve been really trying to figure out why I find it so difficult to use my own space right here to post one liners, links to interesting things, pictures I really want to share, and these longer posts. Blogging is not dead in my mind as there should always be a place to track ideas and share thoughts. But as I engage in more and more online communities I wonder why I can’t just settle on something instead of continuing to fracture my online identity across Facebook, wordpres.com, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and on and on.

I understand the value of the embedded community, but at the end of the day everything I post here automatically finds its way to Twitter and everything that finds its way to Twitter finds its way into my Facebook profile. Those are probably my two largest sources of visitors and consist of the people I am looking to share stuff with (other than the handful of people who either show up here every now and then or subscribe via RSS). So, I ask myself again and again why can’t I see this space as a place to just drop pictures, videos, links, and random short thoughts? I just can’t seem to figure this one out. Anyone else in that boat?

Organizational Reflection

For the last few weeks we’ve been working on our ETS Annual Report … the final draft is due today and I’ve spent all day getting it into shape — the dreaded last mile if you will. There are many more eyes that will need to review all this, but after sitting down and reading over the 28 page report I am left with an overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation for all the people who have contributed to the content of this report. I’m not really talking about the document itself, but the work that this report describes. What I am struck by as I read it is that so much of the work and activities that have occurred over the last year have been the result of not just the nearly 40 people in ETS, but the community we work to support. So many of the activities were quite literally the result of crowd sourced efforts. It is humbling and I only hope others out there have the opportunity to work with such passionate, intelligent, and motivated people. My colleagues here at Penn State are amazing. I can’t thank them enough.

The other thing that is striking to me is how much of the strategy behind all of the accomplishments are shaped by our connections to people outside our Institution. Many of the ideas for what we do come from those of you across education, the blogosphere, and beyond. Your energy and amplification of your own work is both inspiring and motivating. If this platform didn’t exist and if people weren’t sharing their work like they are we’d all be trapped in some far away place that looks nothing like where we are.

With all that said, I thought I’d share the introduction to the report — without any real editing, so excuse any typos (they’ll get caught and fixed). If you have thoughts or comment, please feel free to share them. And thank you to everyone once again!

The theme for 2008-2009 in ETS has been one related to the utilization of existing platforms to impact the broadest audience possible. Over the last several years we have worked hard to help people across the Penn State community integrate technology into their teaching, learning, and research. Our focus on establishing platforms for digital expression is proving to be an effective starting point for us to work to incorporate technology in new and interesting ways.

During this year we continued the trend to focus primary energy on projects with potential to influence Institutional change. In addition to maintaining the trend of increased participation in the TLT Symposium, we grew faculty and student adoption of the use of the Blogs at Penn State, enhanced remote collaboration through Adobe Connect, changed the way Penn State manages and distributes rich media via the Podcasts at Penn State Project, completed installation at all Campus locations of the Digital Commons, hosted and implemented a successful Faculty Fellows program, participated on grant projects, and integrated our digital expression platforms into large enrollment resident education courses.

Furthermore, ETS has created strategic relationships with several Colleges, provided opportunities to create awareness in new areas of the University, and continued to establish itself as an organization that focuses energy on innovation in the teaching and learning space. Through our Hot Team process we have brought several new technologies to light and have shared outcomes of our projects through white papers, the new TLT website, and via reports of our assessment activities.

The establishment of our Faculty Fellow program is a bold step that allows us to not only address the needs of the Institution in general, but also expand our thinking by engaging in more formal research activities. In its first year, our Faculty Fellow program produced tangible outcomes that have informed our University wide ePortfolio activities. These Fellowships will provide the basis for ongoing activities across domains and initiatives.

ETS has fully embraced the notion that an open organization is more powerful. Through blogging and podcasting, ETS staff have helped mold the reputation of the unit and to create new opportunities for themselves. The Community Hub and PSU Voices projects continue to bring the power of the community across Penn State to light. The first annual Learning Design Summer Camp had 110 registered attendees and 18 organizational volunteers from across Penn State. The monthly All Instructional Designer meeting brings together instructional and learning designers from across PSU to discuss relevant pedagogical and technological issues, and has grown to an average of 25 participants per session. The first annual Digital Commons Tailgate was just one example of the impact that initiative is having on the rapid adoption of digital media throughout the University.

This, like each of the past several years, has been full of change as well. New faces have joined ETS to help us push initiatives forward. We have once again reorganized the structure of the group to better take advantage of our resources in the face of several new projects. We also made a big change to help address the large portfolio of activities in the form of adding an Assistant Director. ETS has accepted these changes and collectively we have worked hard to embrace new directions and challenges.

It has been a year of adapting to the ever-changing landscape that is teaching and learning with technology. Within the pages that follow we hope to share highlights from the past year.

A Month with Gmail

Last month I decided to really kick the Gmail tires and see what it could do for me as a more enterprise like email client. I was able to easily make changes in the settings to make it appear as though I was sending mail from my regular PSU account and not from gmail … it was also really simple to have my PSU email forwarded into gmail. I used several of the Google Labs features to make the environment work even better for me — the ability to easily integrate Docs and Tasks has been the real winner and has changed my workflow. On top of it, the whole notion of Labels and Stars you can turn your inbox into a very powerful solution. The other thing I absolutely loved was the easy integration with google talk. I very rarely open an IM client but did find it really useful within the gmail context.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple Mail.app before too long.

With all that said, I think I am heading back to Apple Mail on my laptop and on my iPhone. Why the change of heart? This weekend I traveled to visit my sister in Easton, PA and my parents in Bloomsburg, PA and decided not to take my laptop along, instead relying solely on my iPhone. I can honestly say I didn’t think I could get it done with just the iPhone, but for 95% of what I needed to do the iPhone was terrific. Its that last 5% of my work life where it falls down.

For the first time in close to a month I found myself missing the client like feel of Mail app as I struggled with sending and receiving from the mobile gmail site. I do have my gmail coming into the iPhone Mail app, but when you do that you miss out on some of hte easy things the web client gives you and it doesn’t handle the return address correctly. I also found that the web client was flaky at critical times and the controls are a little close together. Just this morning I typed a long email in the web client on the iPhone and thought I tapped send, only to notice I tapped another link that pushed me out to the other google services. I just can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

So, at the end of the day I’ll be heading back to the client based life in Mail app and will probably not be using gmail for work any time soon.

Looking for Stories

I’ve noticed that Twitter has been replacing my daily RSS feed reader activities. I’m not at my desk enough to keep Twitter open all day, but do find moments to jump in and review the last couple hours worth of conversations. When I do this I am always prompted to click on things people I care about find interesting. I don’t need to use digg or something like stumble upon as I have what I think is the most powerful (and targeted) recommendation engine available in my Twitter network.

This morning was no different. I jumped into Twitter to find a link to one of my media heros, Ira Glass, discussing storytelling. Hearing Ira talk about storytelling is about as compelling of a professional development opportunity that I can get my hands on. His stories on This American Life are engaging, moving, and just downright amazing to me. I listed every single week and can say it is honestly the only media piece that I work hard not to miss. In the short clip I’ve embedded below, Ira is discussing how hard it is to go out and find good stories to tell … I love this quote because it is so true on so many levels …

Between a half to a third of everything that we try, we’ll go out, we’ll get the tape, and then we kill it.

When he talks about this I not only reflect on the art of storytelling, but also in a lot of ways about the things we do in our work. We do Hot Teams to try things out we think might be interesting only to find that, while marginally useful, they aren’t worth the effort going forward. I think too many times we get bullied or pressed into making something happen when there aren’t compelling reasons to do so. In our work, creativity is just as important as anything else — I firmly believe that there is an art to innovative practice, that it isn’t all science. And with any sort of great creative art, you have to be bold enough to say no a hell of a lot more than you say yes. I think Ira says it best when he mentions,

Not enough gets said about the abandoning of crap.

What he is saying and what I am trying to say is that for things to be really, really good we have to be tough. In storytelling, as in our work, we have to cut to the “so what” moment and focus energy on making things great. I’m always amazed at how much crap gets amplified because someone wasn’t willing to demand more. With where we are in education, that can’t continue to happen. We have to honestly say that if something isn’t worth the time, energy, money, or whatever to move it forward we kill it. We have to be willing to not only abandon the crap, but be willing to push as hard as we can towards superior outcomes. Maybe I’m pulling things together that don’t belong, but the video clip below and the other ones from the series really spoke to me.

Mobile Video

Being an iPhone user puts you into a strange place — on one hand it is one of the more advanced devices available here in the States, but lacks some of the core features found on other devices that have been available here for quite some time. The feature I am referring to is the ability to record video. I just played with Brad Kozlek’s 3GS and was so impressed with the camera and the video options that is causing me to get really itchy for one. The video quality sort of blows my mind in general, but the ability to instantly post it to YouTube or email it is a real game changer. Posting of video to YouTube has been on a tear lately, but the 3GS adoption will just blow that up. Here’s a quote from a post at the YouTube Blog that lays it out …

In the last six months, we’ve seen uploads from mobile phones to YouTube jump 1700%; just since last Friday, when the iPhone 3GS came out, uploads increased by 400% a day.

I’ll add a little link to something else YouTube is going to kill at — citizen journalism. If you take a look at this post, Helping You Report the News, you’ll see they are clearly going after the “in the moment” style reporting that Twitter is dominating. The combination of mass adoption of devices, services, and the emergent ease of interoperability is a game changer. I find it really amazing to watch as hyper-connected social networks are fueling personalized text accounts of events and will now promote easy video as a basis for mass communication. To me it is stunning.

What I am struck by is how unprepared a site like Vimeo looks to me given all these recent moves … clearly video recording and editing was not much of a surprise to developers and while Apple chose to directly integrate posting to YouTube there doesn’t seem to be much of an excuse not to have a native video app ready to go. A quick search of the App Store reveals nothing. All I’m saying is that lots of people are buying these new devices and a properly designed application can provide huge opportunities to extend your brand and participation.

More and more this is what I am seeing with the whole iPhone ecosystem — apps drive traffic and can really make or break an existing service. There are a dozen or so Twitter clients all vying for our love, Apple has helped YouTube extend its reach, WordPress is making it happen with a native app, as are so many others. Being prepared to pounce in the mobile space seems more and more critical even if it is to drive traffic to existing services. Now, can I wait until October when AT&T will let me update for a reduced price? Perhaps.

Camp is Coming

Last year we did something radical with our annual all instructional design meeting — we blew it up. We decided really at the last minute what we really wanted was a by the community, for the community event aimed at the entire learning design community. What we got was an event that I would have to say blew the doors off the place — The Learning Design Summer Camp notion was born. Over 100 people showed up, with probably about half of them working in the wiki in the days and weeks prior to the event helping to shape it. Our goal was to raise the level of the conversation and I think we accomplished that.


This year is only different in that the event looks even more interesting. If you jump over to the ETS Wiki you’ll see what I mean. What is important to remember here is that there isn’t really a formally charged planning committee — it is organic and that what makes it work. Today my friend and colleague, Allan Gyorke sent me a link the LDSC09 store where you can buy all your LDSC stuff … it is all very impressive and very cool. One last think I’ll mention is that the event is free and since we’re moving to a larger venue we are entertaining the idea of opening it up to the World. Before I go through the effort on that one, I’m wondering if people would come from other places to take part in some killer conversations over a two day period? Let me know what you think … I’ll have much more to say about this as the time grows closer.

Tapping Out

I thought I’d be able to keep the daily posts going while on vacation but reality has set in. To be honest I know I haven’t been posting anything of relative value during this month’s challenge, so I’m not all that disappointed with having to tap out. Perhaps I’ll get it together in the coming days but I’m walking away from the challenge to focus on being away.