Responding to the presidential debate, Zeynep Tufekci draws on the work of William Fielding Ogburn to discuss the mismatch between a past we hope we can return to and the actual reality that has moved on. Debates worked in an era with little choice, however with so many other means of communicating it does not make sense.

We could, instead, have panels of journalists interrogate the candidates in separate hours, where the candidates have time to speak. The panel could consist of journalists chosen by the candidate and his opponent, with questions alternating between the friendly questions and those less friendly. The questions could be negotiated so that some of the same questions are asked of both candidates. They could be a mix of questions submitted in a town hall and questions polled among the public. The follow-ups could also alternate. And so on. Something else. Anything else.

Although different from the debates, this notion of mismatch is something that has been called out by the current crisis.

As students return to classes, there is a lot of discussion about what has changed and the dangers of snapping back into an old sense of normal. For Steven Kolber, the move to offsite learning has highlighted the opportunity for asynchronous learning.

A ‘build back better’ move would be to allow a portion of students’ load to be delivered remotely, giving teachers and students some space for variety in their schedule, and freedom from the byzantine and industrial timetable of schools.

I think that this opportunity is something pertinent both inside and outside of the classroom.

In my work in supporting schools, the move offsite has forced a rethink for how schools and staff are supported. Where in the past, there was a focus on in-person workshops, structured around particular topics. In their place we have been forced to explore other approaches. One of the consequences of this is that it has broken up sessions into support that is done at the point of need.

One of the things I have been doing for a while is following up support calls with a summary of how I saw things. Many take their own notes, but having my own set allows for cross-checking. Associated with words, I have been exploring a number of other ways to communicate and explain various points.

Annotations

The simplest way to supplement a written explanation is with an annotated image. Although it is possible to provide clear descriptions, this presumes we all share the same language. For example, here is my online course associated with Global2 which is regularly broken up with annotated images. Although in the past I used Google Drawings to create such images. These days I use SnagIt to quickly capture and create images, especially when connecting remotely using BOMGAR.

Gifs

I have taken to using GIFs to capture more complex workflows which cannot be presented in a static annotation. This was in part inspired by Jake Miller’s EduGIFs. It involves turning short screen-casts into GIFs. I have found if short enough, they can be sent by email or uploaded into a Google Doc. As with annotations, I have been using SnagIt to create these GIFs. Although I like Miller’s combination of text and image, this is not possible with SnagIt. I therefore still provide these with written instructions.

Video

One of the limitations to both images and GIFs is that often they only capture a particular part of a longer processes. Therefore, I have taken to using Captivate to record video demos this year in something of a flipped model. This has involved:

  1. Recording the video. Although research suggests that showing your face is important, I find it impedes the ability to edit the video unless you keep your face really still. If I make a mistake or am unhappy with a particular instruction, I usually just do it again while recording, knowing I can then just cut this out later.
  2. Fixing up the audio. Opening the narration in Audition, I normalise the volume and silence any unwanted noises, such as coughs, umms and words I inadvertently repeat, like ‘now’. In the past I have used Levelator and Audacity for this, however Captivate has a direct integration with Audition, which makes it easier.
  3. Trimming the video of parts not needed. This includes pauses and moments where I may be completing a task that does not need to be demonstrated. Ideally, it would be good to keep such moments in and speed them up, but I have not found a simple way of doing that with my current setup.
  4. Editing the narrative. Using the Zoom and Highlight Box functions I guide the viewer’s attention to match my instructions. This includes updating the default Highlight Box so that the background is basically blacked out.
  5. Publishing the video. Once complete, I upload the videos into Google Drive to be shared. I have been thinking about whether it would be better to load these into YouTube as unlisted to provide access to transcripts, as Mike Caulfield does with his instructional material. However, for now Google Drive works.

Much of this is captured in this video from Paul Wilson and this guide:

It needs to be noted that another influence in regards to asynchronous videos has been Ben Collins. I have written about presentations before, focusing on the importance of content, delivery and supporting materials. Lately though I have been inspired by Collins’ courses and the way in which he carves out succinct narratives and breaks-up the whole into its parts. I am sure that hours of effort have gone to getting this stage.

The challenge I have with my work is two fold: to build the capacity of users, as well as develop a sustainable support processes. In addition to using images, GIFs and video, I endeavour to use de-identified data in the images that I share, this means that if somebody else has the same request that I can easily just send them the same message and image.


So that is my new normal beyond the classroom. What has it been like for you? As always appreciate any thoughts and feedback.


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A colleague recently said to me, “You just go and do your magic.” It was intended as a compliment, however it left me wondering about what it means for people to think about work as ‘magic’.

Wikipedia defines magical thinking as follows:

Magical thinking, or superstitious thinking. is the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them, particularly as a result of supernatural effects.


Growing up, I remember being wowed watching magicians on television. However, what interested me more were the shows that unpacked the various tricks and illusions. More than slight of hand, I was interested in the steps that made such acts possible.

I guess it is often easier to wed yourself with the mystery, rather than do the heavy lifting. This is something Cory Doctorow captures in discussion of Kirby’s film Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic:

In a world of great crisis – pandemic, climate inequality – it’s not crazy to want to feel better. For all that magical thinkers cloak themselves in “skepticism” their beliefs are grounded in feelings. Evidence is tedious and ambiguous, emotions are quick and satisfying.

For many, technology is full of magic and wonder. However, often such perceptions are produced by our willingness to give ourselves over to the narrative. As Doctorow explains in his response to Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:

Surveillance capitalists are like stage mentalists who claim that their extraordinary insights into human behavior let them guess the word that you wrote down and folded up in your pocket but who really use shills, hidden cameras, sleight of hand, and brute-force memorization to amaze you.

Rather than handing myself over to a world of magic and mentalists, I am more interested in trying to be more informed. For me this come by asking questions, learning with others and continuing to challenge myself.  As Clive Thompson touches on in regards to coding, this often involves repetitive work done over time.

You should try to do some coding every day—at least, say, a half hour.

Why? Because this is just like learning Spanish or French: Fluency comes from constant use. To code is to speak to a computer, so you should be speaking often. Newbies often try to do big, deep dives on the weekends, but that’s too infrequent.

This repetition is not only about understanding simple processes, but also building on this to join the pieces together to how they maybe interconnected. One way of appreciating this is using the SOLO Taxonomy, a learning model that focuses on quality over quantity. It involves a  progression of understanding from the task at hand to more generalised leanings.

The model consists of five levels of understanding:

  • Pre-structural – The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it.
  • Uni-structural – The student’s response only focuses on one relevant aspect.
  • Multi-structural – The student’s response focuses on several relevant aspects but they are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative.
  • Relational – The different aspects have become integrated into a coherent whole. This level is what is normally meant by an adequate understanding of some topic.
  • Extended abstract – The previous integrated whole may be conceptualised at a higher level of abstraction and generalised to a new topic or area.

Doug Belshaw talks about levels of understanding in regards to moving from competencies to literacies.

In a similar vein to the SOLO taxonomy I believe there’s a continuum from skills through competencies to literacies. As individuals can abstract from specific contexts they become more literate. So, in the digital domain, being able to navigate a menu system when it’s presented to you — even if you haven’t come across that exact example before — is a part of digital literacy.

This is something I tried to get capture in my presentation at K-12 Digital Classroom Practice Conference a few years ago where I explored ways in which different Google Apps can be combined in different way to create a customised ongoing reporting solution. It was not just about Docs or Classroom, but about the activity of curating, creating, distributing and publishing.

John Philpin approaches this problem from a different angle. Responding to the question as to whether we should all learn to code, he suggests that appreciating how technology works is actually an important part of any business. This does not mean you need to have written all the code, but it does mean you have an awareness of how things work.

You wouldn’t think about running a business if you didn’t have the fundamental understanding of law and accounting, why would you assume that it is ok not to understand technology.

This touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s point about programming or being programmed.

Coming back to my work, I feel appreciating these pieces is not only helpful in understanding the ways in which technology is a system, but also the way strategic risks can be taken when approaching something new. In Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about measured risks:

It is much more sound to take risks you can measure than to measure the risks you are taking.


For me this means taking risks based on prior learnings and experience. I may not have all the answers, but I think I am good at capturing particular problems at hand and with that drawing on past practice to come up with possible solutions. I am going to assume this is why people come to me with such diverse questions and quandaries.

I am not saying all this because I feel that I know and understand everything. However, I cannot help but feel that references to ‘magic’ are often attempts to cover up the hard work, sacrifice and opportunity that produce such moments. As always, comments welcome.


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I have used Google Music for the last few years, however it is going away. This has been on the books for awhile. As the lights are slowly turned off on another Google product, here is my reflection on the options and my choice moving forward.

YouTube Music

The most obvious choice is to simply move over to YouTube Music. As Ron Amadeo shared, the demise of Google Music is about YouTube as anything else.

Google’s decision to kill Google Play Music is mostly about YouTube. For a while, it was negotiating two separate music licenses with the record labels—one for YouTube music videos and another for Google Music radio—so combining them makes some amount of sense. In a Google Play Music versus YouTube fight, the service that pulls in $15 billion a year (YouTube) is going to win. YouTube Music pulls songs from YouTube, and Google can consolidate into a single license.

Therefore, a few months ago, I transferred my data over to YouTube Music to try it out.

The one thing I initially noticed was that there is some confusion between ‘YouTube’ and ‘YouTube Music’. I had some pre-exisiting music related playlists in YouTube. These too were available in YouTube Music, often meaning that I could listen to live performances without also watching them. I think this would sort itself out in the long run as my playlists become a bit more consolidated. However, it was an initial point of confusion.

Another observation was the way in which YouTube Music organises artists. For those without a channel, YouTube automatically generates a channel. This means without an official channel, YouTube Music incidentally mashes together different bands/artists with the same name. Look at the Canadian synthpop band DIANA for example, their collection is combined with other random DIANA’s which I am pretty sure are not the real DIANA band. This is a problem also carried over from Google Music.

Bandcamp

Damon Krukowski recently explored the question as to whether Bandcamp is a streaming platform. The reality is that it is not. Although it provides such features, of being to access music across devices, the focus seems to be on creating a marketplace for people to purchase music, as well as merchandise. Although I have stepped up my purchases on the platform, not every band is on Bandcamp, therefore this is still primarily about supporting artists.

Own Your Own Music

I have read about people setting up their own personal music servers. I imagine I could probably do this with Reclaim Cloud. The other alternative is to go complete old school and scrap streaming altogether and just load purchases to my devices as I used to do. To be honest, it just isn’t a priority for me right now. I guess I have become far too wedded to the cloud, even with all the hidden costs.

Spotify

My last stop was Spotify. In regards to user experience, YouTube Music and Spotify seem very similar.

One point of difference between the two platforms is the ability for children to tune in. Although my daughter was able to create her own account to connect with the family subscription associated with Google Music, this was not possible with YouTube Music. I would assume this relates to the fact that YouTube accounts are restricted to 13+, but am not completely sure. Alternatively, Spotify has created a separate app for children. Although this does not allow access to all artists and songs, it does mean at least allow my daughter to have full control without needing to create an account.

There’s a library of 8,000 tracks, judged by Spotify staff to be age-appropriate to children and teens, with more songs to be added over the app’s lifespan.

In addition to this, there are still some artists and albums available on Spotify that are not necessarily available on YouTube Music.


In the end, I ended up going with Spotify. This included using Tune My Music to bring across some of my playlists from Google Music. Maybe in the future I will resurrect my music files and create my own server? As I am apprehensive about the data mined and the move into DNA. Or maybe I will join the (re)turn to vinyl in a search for an optimal experience. I guess we will see.

As always, comments welcome.


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