Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Welcome Scott!

Scott Moore is blogging! Scott is the wise Community Manager at Schwab Learning, a community for parents with kids with learning difficulties. This article caught my eye: Phoom!: Community doesn't sell.

[via Lee LeFever]

(And yes, I'm home and will start blogging again. 16 days overseas does set one back a bit!)

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Home Plate--Paper Plate Education

I'm trying to catch up with a few links I saved a week ago. Why does it seem like forever? I think many of these are via Stephen Downes, but I'll confess, under a cold, I'm much less consistent in my habits.

This site grabbed me like a bar of dark chocolate...Home Plate--Paper Plate Education. Simple, doable, useful. Well spread via the webpage.

There is something so satisfying about practical and imaginative ideas!

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eRulemaking Research

Steven Clift points to a recent report from University of Pittsburgh's eRulemaking Research group. (The damn .pdf is here and no, I'm not fond of the .pdf format.) The gist of the report is around the potential downsides of mass email advocacy campaigns. It is an interesting conundrum that the internet potentially makes a more direct input channel for citizen participation yet can reduce the viability and usability of the input because of volume that may be, or may be perceived as unhelpful.

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Na silencio da Madrugada

Funny about intent. I had hoped to be blogging while on the road for business here in Portugal but there hasn't been enough brain to go around. I started the trip with the mid/end of a cold. Then ::::shoomp::: into the work. Sleep has to come into the picture somewhere, even with the irregularities of jet lag. Then working in Portuguese (which rarely gets exercised since learned 30 years ago) seems to create a brain tiredness like no other.

So, no blogging.

I logged on to blogger and realized I had also half-edited about 10 things before I left, but never finished them.

In the quiet of the predawn (a madrugada) I contemplate the fickle finger of fate and the pull of realtity against intent.

Bom dia!

(p.s. My timestamp is set to my home timezone. I'm 8 hours ahead!)

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

E-Learning Queen & a Touch of Vanity

Ok, I have to admit this. Perhaps by admiting it I am getting past my own particular hang-ups about being OK with praise and admitting that public blogging has an ego element. I blog to be in service. Yes. But I really REALLY get a kick out of it when someone notices. E-Learning Queen:
"The E-Learning Queen takes a look at a few e-learning blogs that have caught her eye, and prepares to brief her instructionally designing cats (if she can find them)."
It is lovely to be in such wonderful company as well.

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Blog Africa

On an international roll today. Another thing I have been thinking/wondering about is blog aggregations and what role they might play in creating and sustaining positive change. Just pondering out loud here. For example: Blog Africa: BlogAfrica Catalog
The BlogAfrica project is a loose collaboration between individuals at Geekcorps,, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and other friends across the web. AllAfrica is providing web tools, Geekcorps is providing support for our first workshops in Ghana, and Berkman is providing organizational and media help.
What is the power here? The training? The relationships that might be facilitated by working on a group project? The information that goes out? All?

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Online Focus Groups

No synthesis or good "tracking down" of sources here, but I wanted to capture this post of danah's via Dina (that has a nice ring to it) as I think there are implications far beyond online focus groups. Alas, I'm running too fast for my own good to do the synthesis.

Conversations with Dina:
"danah shares her experiences of participating in a digital focus group, where she misses the nuances, the colour, the tone and gestures ....

'We were all assigned random logins. This meant that no one took the time to personalize them and thus, there were a lot of little AIM men talking. Because i was using iChat, i couldn't differentiate the AIM men and i found this consistently confusing. Nothing was known of the participants, although aspects of their interests and values emerged through conversation. Of course, the problem was that i couldn't differentiate the speakers so i'd learn something about one AIM man and not know how to connect it back to that AIM man when the s/he spoke again. Very confusing. Thus, i tried not to model gender or other attributes in my head and just stick to text, line by line. This made it feel very un-focus group-y."
Dina also points to these (old?) sites:

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Google AdWords and the Suffering of the World

As I am soon headed to Accra, I have been cruising blogs and sites that mention Ghana. I cam across Ethan Zuckerman's Weblog : Ethan's Weblog - My blog is in Cambridge, but my heart's in Accra and found his fascinating analysis of country names in Google's AdWords program.
"So why does the free market think these nations are worth so much per click? Some are obvious: St. Lucia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Italy and others are expensive vacation destinations - a user clicking on the ad might be prepared to pay thousands for tickets or a hotel. Others - Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Lebanon - have large expatriate populations who search for flights home, discount phone cards or financial remittance services.

Sudan's the really weird one. (Angola baffled me for a moment, before I followed a few links and discovered that advertisers were encouraging me to travel to Angola, Indiana.) Search for Sudan on Google. You'll get a results page with eight ads, the maximum Google puts on a page. Every ad is from a nonprofit organization. Save the Children, Care USA, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and Mercy Corps are running straightforward 'We work in Sudan - support our work' ads; American Progress Action Fund and National Public Radio are running ads for their Sudan information sites. The top bidder is 'Global Nomads Group', an NGO which aims to connect children around the world through videoconferencing - they're also the leading bidder for 'Rwanda'.

The rank/price relationship for 'Sudan' implies that one or more advertisers either are receiving an excellent clickthrough rate, or are paying well over a dollar per click for their ads, likely both. This reveals an uncomfortable truth about the relief business - on those rare occasions a humanitarian crisis gets global attention, aid agencies have to take advantage of the situation to raise money.

Doctors Without Borders' website lists projects in 85 countries that they've worked on in the past few years. It's pretty rare that the ongoing strife in Burundi gets international attention - the money that comes in from donors concerned about Darfur supports a program for rape survivors in Bujumbura, HIV prevention efforts in Malawi and anti-malarial efforts in Nigeria. The situation is analagous to the controversy over the Red Cross's 'Liberty Fund', where the organization announced an intention to use some of the money donated to support the victims of 9/11 to support Red Cross projects around the country - Red Cross CEO Bernadine Healy ended up resigning over the public outcry. Jim Moore has raised concerns about Bono's DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa) project buying Sudan impressions, advertising a site that had little to do with Sudan. (DATA no longer appears to be buying the 'Sudan' keyword.)

While it's interesting (and soul-crushingly depressing) to discover bidding wars over keywords associated with human suffering, I'm focused on the idea that I can pull data about web users' interest in different subjects out of this data. My data collection holy grail would be an algorithm that allowed me to estimate how much money is spent on each keyword based on click availability and predicted rank at different maximum click levels. Unfortunately, the math is way beyond my capabilities - any game theory/auction economists out there want to give me some pointers?"
I had to put in a longer quote, but in truth, go read the article. There are various strands of interest: Zuckerman's observations on the state of the world, the methodology and the data he hopes to extract. Zuckerman, by the way, founded

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Using mobiles to track HIV treatment

I often wonder how we can extend our imaginations about how a tool can be used. I see mobile phone applications in Africa and other places as leading examples. I wonder, in the US do we lack the imagination or do we lack the need that drives our imaginations? Check this out: Using mobiles to track HIV treatment.
The researchers in South Africa have developed a unique application for mobile phone technology that helps health workers monitor HIV patients cheaply and efficiently. The Cell-Life project, backed by local mobile phone giant Vodacom, has developed software and data management systems that let clinic workers use their mobile phones to monitor patients' treatment and spot health problems before they become life-threatening.

The phones are equipped with a special menu that enables the HIV counsellors to record data on a patient's symptoms and whether they are sticking to drug regimes. Other factors that might affect their health, such as a lack of money to pay for transport to the clinic, or shortage of food, are also monitored. The information collected is instantly relayed over Vodacom's network to a central database, which can be accessed by the clinic staff through a secure Internet connection. "

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Notes on Learning Architecture Solutions

Janine Bowes reports on a presentation by Stephen Downes, currently flitting all about Australia. I wanted to capture these points as they are important and relevant to other forms of online interaction beyond e-learning: "Some key points made by Stephen.
  • incremental development and roll out is important because end users are rarely ready to adopt multiple changes simultaneously
  • software that needs training should be regarded as 'broken'
  • care is needed when consultation with users re software development as sometimes the requirements they articulate can tend to be whatever entrenches the status quo
  • it is important to be conscious of the affordances offered by a system - good systems will not lock you in"

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Improv Education

I have been imersing myself in improv as both a learning, teaming and facilitation perspective. Last June, John Smith, Alasdair Honeyman and I did a presentation at the Virtual Communities conference in The Hague and most of the crowd looked at us as if we had totally lost our minds. So, it is always a relief to see others have lost their mind as well. Good company. Take a look at Jay Cross' article on Improv Education
Today’s workers perform without a script. Everything’s impromptu. Stage cues come from the audience in real time. Costumes? The dress code may be pajamas if you work from home. Rewards go to innovators who deviate from the expected. Success is measured by the take at the box office instead of seniority or past performances.

Training was appropriate when actors memorized their lines. Today, it’s OK to read from cue cards—you can’t know everything. Good props help make a show great. As Gloria Gery pointed out long ago, it’s time to “give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation.”

The Improv home page reports that the most popular form of improv today “is ‘spot’ improv, in which performers get suggestions from their audience and use them to create short, entertaining scenes. No matter where or how it’s performed, the essential ingredient in any improvisational performance is that the audience and the actors are working together to create theatre.”
[via Stephen Downes]

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Friday, October 01, 2004

The Misapplied Data on NonVerbal Communication

I've been myth-busting over the years on the Mehrabian data on non verbal cues for a number of years now. I'm always happy to see others doing the same. I don't see it quite as an urban legend as Teten's article, An urban legend: face-to-face communication is the best vehicle for communication, does. But it is a classic case of misapplication of data that has permeated assumptions for decades.
Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor, completed research in 1967 showing the significance of non-verbal cues in communications. He concluded, in part, “The combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects — with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively.” (Albert Mehrabian and Susan R. Ferris, "Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels." Journal of Consulting Psychology 31 (1967): 248-252. ) Out of context, this implies that in face-to-face conversation, 38% of communication is inflection and tone of voice, 55% is facial expression, and only 7% is based on what you actually say.

This statistic has grown into a very widely quoted and oft-misunderstood urban legend. Many communication skills teachers and image consultants misuse this data to indicate that your intonation, speaking style, body language, and other non-verbal methods of communication overpower your actual words. As a result, many people are concerned that online communication is much more difficult because body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions cannot today be effectively conveyed over the internet.

Not true. Mehrabian’s study only addressed the very narrow situation in which a listener is analyzing a speaker's general attitude towards that listener (positive, negative, or neutral). Also, in his experiments the parties had no prior acquaintance; they had no context for their discussion. As Mehrabian himself has said explicitly, these statistics are not relevant except in the very narrow confines of a similar situation.
I'm currently part of an online/f2f/online workshop on communities of practice in education with about 45 folks from Portugal. Most of the dialog is in Portuguese, a language I spoke fluently 30 years ago, but which is mostly buried someplace in my brain. So I work through each post (upwards of 75 a day) painstakingly with my dictionary. I was mesmerized by a thread that emerged about online body language, where we started punctuating our thoughts with text versions of our body language. One of the group said "this is becoming addictive."

The point is we can enrich our text in ways that deepens and enriches our text communition. She says, leaning in with intensity towards her new 19 inch flat panel monitor. Gee, it's nice!

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