• CUE Review Published 2007-02-20 under

    At every conference I attend, I wonder what can be done to extend the conversations begun during the sessions, keynotes, and social gatherings. Today, it is not uncommon to find several conference attendees blogging or podcasting on their experiences. The CUE Conference has always impressed me with their interest in being innovators in this area. In addition to the basics - conference correspondents, specific tags for all posts, and wireless Internet access - CUE gives each presenter the opportunity to submit an audio promo for their session which they make available in their SmartGuide.

    In the spirit of extending the conversation, I have setup a "group" on Evoca called CUE 2007 where members can post audio recording of their thoughts, comments, and reactions after attending a conference event. Evoca allows members to create their recording directly from a cell phone. My vision is for attendees to leave a session and call in their comments while their ideas are fresh. Folks can listen to these audio recording and then post their own comments (similar to the way you can comment on a blog post). I am looking forward to some great discussions.

    If you are interested in participating in this project, sign-up with Evoca (a free membership gives you 60 minutes of recording time) and then send me an email (rob AT digiwalks DOT org) with your Evoca username and I will add you to the group.

    Even if you do not want to submit posts from the conference, I encourage you to listen to the comments of others.

    NOTE: CUE Conference is March 1-3 this year.

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  • So You Think You're a Digital Native? Published 2007-02-15 under ,

    I have decades of experience working with computers. In college, I tossed out my typewriter after my freshman year in favor of hacking out my papers in the school's computer lab at a time when Word Processing was a relatively unknown term and no one had a personal computer. While studying in Edinburgh, I used a line editor to write term papers which were then printed on that green lined paper for data printouts. I have developed applications and websites, ran computer labs and networks, wired classrooms and offices, trained technology experts and support staff, and even worked at NASA's JPL in their web systems group. But last week, I came to the realization that I am no digital native!

    Last week was the Connectivism Online Conference featuring a variety of speakers taking about a fascinating learning model - connectivism. I encourage you to visit Vicki Davis's blog, CoolCatTeacher, as she was a context filter for the conference. The best part of the conference were the many opportunities to discuss the topics presented in each day's session. During the live presentation, the messages flew in the chat window. Afterwards, the conversations moved to the conference's Moodle forum and on various bloggers' sites. And one topic that kept popping up was Second Life and its potential in education. Like many, I had heard of SL, but never been in that world. I, apparently, was not the only one new to SL. There were many of us, so a tour of SL was organized. Before the tour, we were told to get a SL account and setup our avatar. Being the diligent soldier, I signed up with SL, configured my avatar and launched the application. Like all first timers, I was teleported to the welcome zone in SL where I was left to fend for myself. This is when the realization began. I was immediately nervous because there were others around me and I was afraid that I might run into them knocking them down. I was concerned that I might go some place that I shouldn't, fall off a cliff and die before I even got to the tour. I was afraid that I might say or do something that against the edicit of SL and I would be kicked out. Then my two-year old daughter walked in to see what I was doing. She immediately started telling me where to go. "Down beach, Daddy!" I was so focused on trying to figure out what to do, I had not even noticed the water. Then my thoughts turned to safety. If I went "down beach" would I drown? Silly I know, but I could not let go of my terrestrial ideals. The next morning, as I went it to get my daughter, she grabbed my hand and told me "down beach!" pointing at the computer. I realized that I was just an immigrant in this truly digital world.


    This is a good example of a successful product user interface for the true digital native:

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  • Future of Film Published 2007-02-05 under

    Last Friday, American Public Media's Marketplace, did a story titled "Long Wait for Video Download Profits" talking about Wal-Mart's movie download service now in beta and Amazon's partnership with TiVo to provide movie downloads to the TV set. This story offers a general introduction to the movie distribution discussion. Certainly, the Internet will play a bigger and bigger role in how we access our entertainment. Take CD's for example; you remember CD's, those little silver disks that you can hold in your hand. With the likes of iTunes, Kazaa, podcasts, and GarageBand.com why do I need a CD? Folks like Blockbuster and NetFlix have been thinking about the same thing.

    But the real story for me is not so much in the distribution of the Blockbuster type of movies, but those like the shorts WindowBreaker and t.o.m. or features like Expired and Protagonist. Also, is our current definition of a movie going to change? The Internet is all about the Long Tail, something for everyone. As mentioned in the MarketPlace piece, current distribution strategies require a movie to appeal to a mass market and a market like TiVo's 1.3 million subscribers is too small in which to operate. Or is it?

    At the Sundance Film Festival, I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel discussion "The Business of Web 2.0: Media and the Net Now" with representatives from MySpace, YouTube, Revver, Brightcove, Popcurrent, and Battlestar Galactica moderated by Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal. Each contributed their thoughts on how the Internet is transforming the entertainment industry. Whether it is a musician promoting herself on MySpace or the ever so popular "Evolution of Dance" on YouTube, we have access to more entertainment content than ever in history. The quality of this content can be debated, but as was pointed out at the discussion, this will only get better (the first films made were not all that great). The point is, technology is at a place now so that the barriers to entry in creating media are so very low to be non-existent. Anyone can create a film and get distribution.

    But the age old problem of making a profit remains. Ultra-low budget films like WindowBreaker can make a little money (or at least recoup its costs) through a distribution deal with the likes of iTunes. Blockbusters have access to both traditional and beta methods of distribution. But what about the low-budget (e.g. $10k to $100k) movie? As one writer/director put it, "I have tried to make a living using services like Revver [which monetizes videos through ads], but the revenue generated is just too small. How can someone like me monetize my films?" In this age of the Long Tail, there must be some way for quality films to get noticed.

    The Web has also created a new phenomenon - "cultural snacking". We buy our songs as singles, we browse Garageband sampling new sounds, and we watch short videos (< 20min) that transcend the traditional movie script. As one of the panel participants put it, we are a "clip culture".

    I get Rocketboom delivered to my TiVo box nightly and these 3-8 minute snacks are great. The BBC offers "Telling Lives", a wonderful digital storytelling space. I love the 15min TED Talks videos. All of these represent video snacks - a new form of entertainment well suited to the fast pace of our "modern" lives. My friend and I were just talking about how we under-utilize our NetFlix subscriptions mainly because we can not find 90 minutes to watch a traditional movie without falling asleep (we both have youngsters to chase). But video snacks are well suited to our lifestyles.

    The Web is much more than just a marketing platform for films. It is going to fundamentally change distribution and even re-define what we mean by film. When a high school student can produce and distribute a digital story that will captivate my attention over spending a day's wages to take the family to the movies, the pros in Hollywood are advised to take notice.

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  • Are your middle school boys bothering you? Published 2007-02-02 under

    I spent a wonderful week at the Sundance Film Festival this year. I have written about some of my experiences while in Park City, but I failed to mention one of my funniest encounters.

    I was attending a reception after a panel discussion. The event was limited to those in attendance at the discussion, but I saw a group of teenage boys (middle school age) wondering about the entrance to the room where we were mingling. While I could tell that they were looking for something or someone, I gave them little notice.

    Later, as I was leaving, I ran into the same group in the foyer. While I was putting on my jacket, I overheard them asking the ladies at the front desk, "Where can we see someone famous?". This comment made me laugh. They could careless who they saw as long as it was a star.

    The boys had been running around for a while and pestering (in an innocent way) the staff at the event, so I was surprised to see the boys run out upon hearing the response to their question. Too curious, I had to ask the ladies what they said. I was expecting that they made up a lie and told them that Jennifer Lopez was up the street. Instead, the ladies had simply said "... I haven't seen any stars lately, but their is a gay and lesbian party upstairs". They then told me "after we told them of the party, a sense of discomfort came over their face and they ran out."

    So now you know how to disperse a group of middle school boys.

  • Sundance Review (What I learned while in Park City) Published 2007-02-01 under ,

    I have been extremely fortunate to get to attend the Sundance Film Festival. (Thanks Cari, Rob and Linda!) This year's was #5 for me and each year when I return, my friends ask which movies did I see and which were worth paying $10 to see in the theater. (They used to ask me which stars I had seen, but they now know how pathetic I am when it comes to names of celebrities so they no longer ask.) This year I have decided to list some of the events that I attended with a short personal observation. I don't feel qualified to call this a review, but more just my personal thoughts.

    What does this have to do with education? Well wait and see...

    Very cute movie about a meter maid who asks the question "Is something better than nothing?" as she struggles to find love. Her love interest is completely socially inept, learning how to speak with women from the porno movies he watches online. He is a fantastic character who really makes you cringe as he says (and does) the most stupid things. I really enjoyed the film but feel that it could have done without showing us images from the online porno flick. We got the point without the filmmakers being explicit.

    Rocket Science
    A well done and enjoyable film about a high school boy who stutters and is asked to join the debate team. This was the second time in a month that the subject of debate has come up for me. The director of New York Doll is working on a documentary on high school debate showing a fascinating world of fast talking youngsters. As must be apparent, how can a boy who struggles to even order a slice a pizza be effective on a debate team. Will love concur his problem? Reece Daniel Thompson does an outstanding job playing the troubled kid.

    Grace is Gone
    I went to Sundance this year with the explicit idea not to watch any documentaries about the Iraqi war. It is not that I was concerned that I would not agree with the filmmakers' perspective nor do I deny it is an important event worthy of being a part of a documentary. I just needed a break from all of the death. Having said that, I did attend the premier of Grace is Gone, a story about a husband who looses his wife, a casualty of the war. The story was not so much about war but about loss, love, and the innate desire to protect our children from the bad things in his world. John Cusack does an outstanding job playing the father. This was a side of Cusack that I had not seen in film and one worthy of praise.

    This documentary is about four men and their individual struggles. What is unique about this film is the filmmaker's ability to interweave these very diverse experiences into a classic story structure. It uses some fantastic puppetry to play out the more general storyline. Each of the four men's story is compelling on its own, but what I really liked was how they were used to demonstrate how to tell a story. In essence, this film acts as a great class in storytelling complete with the theory (from the ancient Greek) and useful examples. You may have trouble finding this film in your neighborhood cinemax, but hopefully it will get a distribution deal and you can get it on Netflix.

    Girl 27
    Let me start by relating a pet peeve that I have; I don't like documentaries where subject is merely a platform to enhance the filmmaker's celebrity. I loved Roger & Me, but as time went by, it became more about the "Me" [aka Michael Moore] show and with Bowling for Columbine (and Mr. Moore's related public appearances), I have given up on self-promoting films in the guise of documentary. Don't get me wrong. I believe in the principles expounded in Mr. Moore's films, it is the way he does it that bothers me.

    With that in mind, Girl 27's director, David Stenn, makes his presence in the story all too important. The film is an interesting look at Hollywood history and I truly enjoyed that aspect of the tale, but the story telling reminded of those shows on the Biography Channel that could have been told in about ten minutes. Instead of the story being about the poor and even criminal treatment women were subject to in early Hollywood, it became about Mr. Stenn's journey to find Girl 27, a chorus girl who pressed charges of rape against MGM and one of its sales reps.

    Other movies I saw at Sundance...

    • Four Sheets to the Wind: good acting but the story did not interest me
    • The Good Life: great acting and a good story. We discussed the story quite a bit after the movie though my friend did not enjoy it as much as I.
    • A Very British Gangster: I really enjoyed this look into gangster life in Manchester, England. The filmmaker met an ex-member of the gang featured in the film in Park City and this ex-gangster told us some of his stories during the Q&A after the screening.
    • Bajo Juarez, The City Devouring its Daughters: an interesting look into the tragedy of a city in northern Mexico. The film does a good job letting us feel the frustration of the family and friends of the numerous women molested and murdered in this city and the crimes go unsolved.
    • Black Snake Moan: excellent acting by Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. While the explicit nature of the film is not suitable for the young, I felt the writer/director, Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), did an good job not exploiting the sex and nudity, but rather used it as part of the story. It was exciting to hear from the cast and crew at the screening ... well all but Justin Timberlake who made an ass out of himself.

    What does this have to do with education...

    One way to be a good educator is to be a good story teller. While at Sundance, one has a lot of opportunities to speak with other film buffs, standing in line, ordering your coffee at Starbucks, mingling at a reception, or just waiting for the movie to start. I made a point to find screenwriters and talk to them about what makes a good writer. Here are some of their observations:

    • To be a good writer, "you must write... and write... and write". This really isn't news to educators, but we all know the consequences of assigning too many writing assignments - we have to read them :-( When asked about this, one aspiring screenwriter shared a strategy used by one of his teachers - students were expected to write one story a week in their journal. Then at the end of the semester, they were asked to pick their best work and their worst and write about their choices. The teacher read these descriptions as well as the two selected stories while skimming the other entries in the journal.
    • To be a good writer, "you need to get all kinds of feedback". Almost every writer offered me the opportunity to read one of his/her scripts (the one that didn't, referred me to her publicist). They wanted to hear my thoughts on their work. As one writer put it, "don't write in a vacuum". I initially warned them that I am not a great writer myself and don't know how my comments can help them. But the point, as was explained to me, was to hear a variety of perspectives and to take them for what they are, just thoughts of individuals.
    • To be a good writer, "you need experiences". I was shocked at how many of even the young writers that I met mentioned how important the role of personal experiences played in their writing. It is my guess that everything is relative. Although the youngsters did not have as many life lessons as their more mature (chronologically speaking) counterparts, they saw the value in those experiences that they did have. One writer in particular compared his writing to that in high school and said "I am much more mature now and have seen so much more." Though he was only 23 (I guess), he recognized the importance of those few years on the content of his writing.

    One of my goals was to have these writers that I met to reflect on their high school days and offer any recommendations to help educators in producing writers. To my surprise, most offered very little. The occasional "write more" was about the most I got from them. I will admit to being disappointed. I had envisioned a post where I was going to reveal the secret to creating great writers.

    Upon reflection, most of these folks were individualists who felt that it was through their own hard work (and talent) that produced the writer in them. I don't think that they saw their development as a product of the educational system, but more from their own drive. Doesn't this sound a bit consistent with a constructionist view of education? A good teacher need not be the one who is remembered as "the one who taught me how to ..." but instead can be remembered as "the teacher in whose class I learned how to ...".

    I am not arguing that all of these writers had fantastic teachers (though I am sure most did). Instead, I am suggesting that a successful teacher need not be perceived as the one who taught me how to ... While viewing all of the films and listening to the stories, I came away smarter. I still think about the question raised in Expired, "Is something better than nothing?". Rocket Science reminded me that just because a person cannot express it, does not mean he does not have good ideas. Grace is Gone had me reflect on my role as my child's protector. Protagonist both educated me on story structure. Girl 27 blustered my perception of history and how it is full of buried events that can change our precept ion of the past. All of these stories really made me think, challenged some my values or beliefs, and reinforced my notation that we are always learning - even at the cinema.

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