More Photo Stuff

Last night I was exploring Flickr a bit and started to look at some really cool tilt-shift photos that make scenes look like models. I’m no Photoshop pro so my results really don’t compare, but I have been having more fun playing around with pictures lately than in a long time. I’ve been doing some fake lomos that I’ve enjoyed, so I decided to give it a shot. I was able to easily find several good tutorials to follow … the best (and simplest one) is what I ended up following. It might be fun to do shots like this from all over campus and put them into a group on Flickr. As a matter of fact I started one if anyone is interested in adding some, please feel free.

Model View

Model View

Kicking the Gmail Tires

I have to say that I am falling deeper and deeper into the google universe these days. Not sure if it is the right thing to do, but the combination of all the Docs features and their overall simplicity has me spending more and more time using them for everything. One of their tools that I’ve always admired but didn’t use too much is Gmail. My wife lives in it — she constantly has it open on her MacBook. It is her only email client and she swears by its functionality. Between that and a conversation I had today I decided to take another step into the cloud and forward my work email into Gmail. I know it may sound crazy, but I am really digging it — so far.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple before too long. But so far I am finding a few things that I really like. The first is the overall customization of the platform itself. I can do lots of interesting things to make the space look and react the way I want it to. I have it set up with multiple inboxes so messages from certain people get their own little space … they still flow into my inbox, but this gives me the ability to highlight certain people more easily. When I combine that with the filters and labels I get a nice way to keep certain messages well organized.

Multiple Inboxes

Multiple Inboxes

I am also already finding that the mobile access simply kicks ass. The gmail interface on the iPhone is killer … I can do all the same stuff I can on my iPhone and then some. It reformats for iPhone on the fly and it is speedy over the 3G connection. I haven’t tried it on Edge yet, but I do know at least one other gmail user on edge and he seems very happy with it. The search is available and that is one thing the on the iPhone cannot do. I can also create a simple button that points right to my inbox and replace the standard Apple button on my iPhone menu. I do lose notifications, but without push email here at PSU it isn’t a big deal.

Speaking of notifications, the ability to install something as simple as gmail notifier is a major bonus. Without having my browser open I can see what is new and I even get a little heads up display (a lot like a growl notification) that gives me a peek into what is new in my inbox. I’m already finding I am less distracted by not having my client open all the time.


Finally, I have it set to send with the return address being my psu email address so it looks like it is actually coming from me at PSU when appropriate — and if I want to send it from my gmail address there is a little drop down menu that lets me do that. Easy. All in all I am digging it for now. I’ll keep trying it out and see where it leads me. Anyone else gone this route?

Connecting Alumni Communities

This morning I talked to a large group of Alumni Association staff about ideas related to connecting communities. The talk was titled, Emerging Trends for Connecting Communities, and focused on the emergent opportunities within social environments, content creation spaces, and the rise of mobility. It is always quite a bit of fun getting to talk to people outside my specific area of focus and I always discover that we have far more in common than I expect going in.

Another nice thing was that I got to give the talk in my old stomping ground at the IST Building … in the IST Cybertorium no less. That space has a lot of memories for me — I spent several years working on planning the building with colleagues and then several more spending nearly all of my work time walking the halls. Each summer I got to teach my PA Governor School scholars in the Cybertorium and loved every minute of it.


Nothing too earth shattering with today’s talk other than it served as an amazing reminder of how interesting all of what we do is to people in general. The ideas related to connecting communities move effortlessly from teaching and learning to alumni relations. I think one of the things it means to me is that the work we are doing in promoting digital expression and engaging via mediated platforms is in the sweet spot. I really don’t think it has anything to do with the technology per se, but instead in what the technology provides. I received a good question about how to get alumni service groups to break out and embrace the new environments (he was asking specifically about Facebook, Twitter, etc). I responded in a way that I think surprised him a bit — I asked him to ignore the technology and instead start to press on what it enables. Alumni Associations are all about staying connected with their communities … so if his administration is balking at Twitter, why not ask if being able to stay ultra connected to a very active network of people is important? Coming at it from that perspective it gives you a wedge to then introduce a solution that fits that scenario.

It was a fun and very thoughtful group of people. It is honestly a real honor to get to talk to people outside my domain and have it be received in such a positive way. I especially liked getting to tell someone what ROFLMAO meant when it came up in a Twitter search. This is powerful stuff and it is relevant in so many ways … if one stops and investigates the affordances and not just the tools.

Damn It!

I got my new MacBook Pro yesterday morning. I was thrilled … it combined the keyboard I’ve loved from the Air with the speed and screen size of the 15″ MacBook Pro. I couldn’t have been happier. And then I felt the crushing blow that was the WWDC Keynote. I fully expected a speed bump — I went and pushed the speed of my new laptop to a custom level because of it. I did not expect such an aggresive update so soon after the announcement of the uni-body machines not too long ago. The battery life is the thing, I travel and sit in meetings without a power outlet — a lot. The extra few hours is a real difference. I also really like the SD slot … one less cable to carry. All in all it is a shame.

The other thing this means is that my love affair with my Air is waning. I still love the form factor, but it has gotten to the point where my expectations of performance has outpaced the affordances of a very small machine. I thought long and hard about a 13″ MacBook, but that was before it became part of the Pro lineup and at the time it didn’t seem to add up. It doesn’t mean however that my “year in the cloud” hasn’t fundamentally changed my computing habits … I am still working really hard to keep my machine lean and mean. I did break down and install Word although I doubt I’ll use it much given how much I rely on Google Docs.

I spent at least half of this past year living mostly on a MacBook Air and I have been very happy with my transition to a mostly cloud based portable experience. I don’t have Office, Adobe PhotoShop, or many other large apps running on it — and I don’t miss them one bit. I have adopted Google Docs, learned how to use Apple’s built in Preview App and iPhoto to do image editing, taken lots of notes in Evernote, listened to my music online at La La, and have used this space and my PSU blog as an outboard brain with much success. I’ve found relying on local storage as being a limiting factor — and I am betting that more and more students will move in this direction this year.

So while I am moving back into the land of a bigger laptop, I am still committed to using less client based software and to keep things floating out there. I just wish that I would have waited another couple of hours to open the damn box for my old MacBook Pro.

Chrome is Fast

Last night I spent some time with “the not ready for prime time” version of Google Chrome for Mac OSX. I didn’t think I’d like it on any level, but have heard that it is really fast using the Google tools. I can say that it is fast, really fast when using the Google suite — Reader, Docs, Calendar, and iGoogle. All were noticeably faster than what I am used to with Safari. After playing with this early build I am already convinced Google is on to something with a browser that is optimized for web applications. I know for a fact that I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Chrome once it when it gets a bit more stable.

Better than Expected

Better than Expected

I’ve never been much of a Firefox fan, so the idea of using a non-Safari browser hasn’t really been high on my list. But if Chrome continues to progress and if the features continue to develop I’ll use it quite a bit. I’ve stepped away from using Office except for very rare occasions so having a faster and more feature rich browser to live in Docs is very appealing to me. This could essentially be the space a good portion of my productivity and collaboration happens — especially after Google Wave comes along.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute there is one thing the notion of a browser built for specific purposes reminds me of … an idea I had over ten years ago — a browser built to support education. It seems insane now that we’d need such a thing, but back in 1998 bandwidth was scarce and the level of interactivity was very low (unless you embedded a bunch of shockwave pieces). What I was thinking about was a client application that had all sorts of standard functionality built in that a simple text file could unlock. If you needed to do complex in-browser activities, the browser itself had the functionality and the text file would simply provide the content and the context to let it happen. All the tracking would have happened on the client side and be pushed to the server when a network connection was available. Seems hilarious now, but it seemed to make so much sense at the time. I know it is funny, but lots of ideas look silly after progress … I wonder if all the stuff we are hyped about now will look insane in 10 years?

Revisiting iPhoto

For all of my heavy duty photography needs I use Apple’s Aperture. I don’t necessarily use it to adjust photos, I use it as a giant digital shoebox. I made the switch earlier this year when my photo count went up over 30,000 digital pictures … iPhoto just seemed to slow to a crawl. I’ve been happy, but have missed the ease and simplicity of iPhoto.

Then about a month or so ago I started to tinker with my pictures, looking to get more out of them. Honestly inspired by some of the things I was seeing Brad Kozlek doing on the post-production side has gotten me really interested in trying (and I stress trying) to make my pictures a bit more visually interesting. With this in mind I have been tweaking things in Aperture and then working to achieve some Lomo like effects using Photoshop. Its been fun and I’ve learned a little bit about the tools.

effectsLast weekend I was in Chautauqua, NY and found myself without Photoshop or Aperture and only had iPhoto. I took a little down time to experiment with a couple of my shots and really was impressed with what could be done without even touching a slider and instead just layering the built in effects. I had no idea I could apply multiple levels of the effects to make pictures more interesting … I sort of figured all I could do was change a picture to black and white and move on. Not that the simple effects will do it for seasoned professionals, but I think they do a fair job for the newbies out there.

I thought I’d share this given how simple it is and that iPhoto is a very nice free alternative to much more expensive (and complex) tools available for the Mac. Below you can take a look at the iPhoto version with the simple settings in the screen cap above. Granted I don’t like it as much as the fake lomo version I did in Photoshop, but with some practice I am guessing I could get close right out of iPhoto … Also, I bet if I went back through my 10 year digital photo collection and actually paid attention to what I kept I could still be living in iPhoto. I doubt I’ll go back, but I also know I won’t need to install Aperture on my new laptop … iPhoto should be a solid mobile solution.

Not Bad for Free

Not Bad for Free

More on Horizontal Contributions as Conversations

I should know better than to post more about this concept given the lack of interest (perhaps my lack of clarity) in my previous piece on it, but I am really interested in generating conversations about it. My friend and colleague, Brad Kozlek, has been working with Intense Debate on his blog showing what it looks like from an end user perspective … Brad does an excellent job of discussing the affordances of this specific tool offers. I think the idea that it is a service unto itself allows it to do so much more than simply handle standard text comments … to me that is exciting in light of at least two of our faculty fellows this summer. If you are interested in what a third party commenting engine can provide jump over and take a look at it in action at my PSU blog.

One of our Fellows, Chris Long, is exploring the notion of “digital dialogues” to start to understand if the platforms of the web 2.0 world can support ongoing dialogue with deeper meaning. From Chris’ post at the TLT Faculty Fellow site describing his investigations …

In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates claims to be one of the only Athenians to practice the true art of politics. As is well known, Socrates haunted the public places in Athens looking for young people with whom he could converse. During these discussions, Socrates was intent on turning the attention of those he encountered toward the question of the good and the just. It is difficult to understate the lasting political power these dialogues have had over the course of time. Yet the emergence of social Web 2.0 technologies opens new possibilities for this ancient practice of politics, which Socrates fittingly called in the Gorgias, a “techne,” or art.

When we started exploring the notion of using an external commenting engine to support some of the work Carla Zembaul-Saul wanted to think about this summer, we instantly saw these new affordances giving Chris new ways to explore his thinking — commenting inline via video is a huge step forward in our minds to relate to his work.

While this interesting itself, the thing I was really interested in was not what you saw when you arrived at a given blog, it was what it looked like from a personal administrative side … I was interested in being able to think about how what my (or students’) contributions look like across the social web. We post and comment traditionally in a vertical fashion, while what we need is an easy way to track those contributions once we leave the vertical. So if lots of people, perhaps across the PSU blog service, could use a a service that keeps track of our horizontal conversations something really exciting could emerge. Something that would let us look at all of these horizontal contributions with ties to the original context. Since it is a service on its own, it has a set of dashboard tools that pulls it all together — people you are following, certain keywords emerge, your own comments, links to the original posts, and more. This is the side of it that makes me really hopeful.

Horizontal Memory

Horizontal Memory

If we can make this happen the way we are thinking about it we can empower some new uses for our platform. Chris gets his ability to engage people where they are in multiple mediums and Carla gets a way to use comments as measurable artifacts. I gain the ability to introduce this to my friend, Keith Bailey, in the College of Arts and Architecture as a viable platform to teach art appreciation — in that world, the idea of the critique is as important as the original contribution. So having an easy way for a faculty member to track contributions across many posts as a way to review and reflect on a given student’s growth in the critique space is now very easy. If we can work to understand how to capture and pack up a single person’s comments across lots of posts I think we are moving towards giving them more to reflect on and faculty a better set of evidence to base assessment on. At least I think so … any thoughts?

Big Impact Stuff

We’ve been working to strategiclly align the things we do in ETS to those of the University for quite some time. One of the things we shifted attention to about a year ago was getting reengaged with academic units around large impact opportunities as they relate to curricular design. My first two years in ETS I worked hard to help establish a vision for the creation of platforms to support digital expression and in most cases these were infrastructure moves — Podcasts at Penn State, iTunes U, Adobe Connect, and the Blogs at Penn State are examples. In a few cases they were physical environments … the Digital Commons is the best example of that … but the Educational Gaming Commons is also an emergent example. Ultimately the goal with these platforms was to move our culture into a place where we had new infrastructure to help us think critically about new forms of scholarship and pedagogy.

The platforms allowed us to explore the ideas around Community Hubs and other group publishing platforms … these are places where the community could find new ways to connect, share, and support new thinking. The Community Hubs also helped us identify new participants and helped us rethink how we went about deploying our physical events like the Innovator Speaker Series, the Learning Design Summer Camps, Digital Commons Tailgates, and the TLT Symposium. These face to face events have become a new kind of infrastructure designed to coalesce community at a much larger level. This has paid big dividends.

Additionally we spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for new kinds of faculty investments — we created the Hot Team process, Engagement Projects, and the TLT Faculty Fellows. At this level is where we are now seeing our ability to move emerging ideas into real concrete services that can transform large scale teaching and learning challenges into new opportunities. In almost every way, these approaches live on top of the infrastructure stack we took so long to build. In other words, we invested time and energy into people, processes, tools, technology, events, and facilities so we could find new ways to engage faculty around emergent conversations.

At the end of the day when I look around I see us engaged in quite a few big impact projects. A couple of examples include a redesign of an English course that impacts thousands, a Communications course that has 350 students in a single section, a Biology Lab designed, developed, and deployed openly in our Blog platform, and even an Economics course that most of our students in the College of Business take. Each one of these examples leans on the infrastructure we’ve built — regardless of if that infrastructure is physical or virtual.

My point is that as we go forward we can attack new opportunities in the teaching and learning space because we’ve taken our time to get the infrastructure in place. It doesn’t mean that while we were getting it all in place that we stopped working with faculty, it means that we spent less time doing big impact things and worked hard to show demonstrations of the ultimate potential. This requires a very patient and visionary administration and a powerful set of foundational technologies to build on (I am thinking about web space, authentication, a University wide CMS, help desk, etc). We’d never worry about building those things … we lean on them to empower new opportunities. In lots of ways the tangible outcomes we are seeing in the teaching and learning space have everything to do with every single piece of the stack. What is ultimately exciting to me is that we not only have the physical and virtual infrastructure to solve lots of cool problems, but we have a culture that is willing to explore its potential. The success of our large scale projects is really built on the foundations lots of people have built over the years. For that I am thankful and can feel confident that our current team is adding to that infrastructure so things we can’t even imagine can be implemented with speed and agility.