The Twit-xperiment: OUCC

May 28th, 2009

Some OUCC tweets
A sample of the OUCC Tweets

I’ve already shamefully admitted that I’m late to the Twitter game, and like grade school, I’m the last to be picked for a team.

This week presented me with an opportunity to experiment with a task that other Twits have been doing for a while now – Tweeting an event.

I had already found some good examples — I recently went to a music festival, and searched Twitter after the fact for Tweets from the attendees. What I found was a collection of Tweets that journalled the entire event. People posted before the event, letting others know they’d be there, and trying to arrange a meet-up. People posted when they got there, about Montreal, about the places they stayed and the things they ate. Of course, people posted from the event – about the bands, the venue, the vendors and the “Industrial Burgers”.

After seeing this, I thought I might give it a go with OUCC. I managed to find someone on Twitter who was planning to go, and as it turns out we were really the only people Tweeting OUCC!! Hahaha… That said, you don’t need lots of people to successfully Tweet an event. There were people who couldn’t make the event watching the Tweets and sometimes even commenting back. We covered the essential points, and concisely as possible. I thought the end result was pretty interesting.

http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23oucc

OK, now to the specifics. I started by using an iPod Touch to Tweet on the first morning. It has a pretty decent Twitter application (TwitterFon), and it uses a WIFI connection. This worked well in the actual sessions (the Keynotes in AMC, the sessions in TRSM all use the Ryerson WIFI). This didn’t work out AT ALL at the dinners, or in the movie. It would have worked with an iPhone or Blackberry, however. I also found that the iPod touch was a little tricky to type on, so my tweets took a long time and had to be kept pretty short. That meant that I wasn’t putting the speaker’s name in a quote… just took too long, and I’d be missing the next thing they said. I also ran out of battery power half-way through the day.

After lunch on the first day, I switched to a laptop. I found it to be MUCH easier to use for entering text, and add to that the ability to copy & paste, and my tweets suddenly had more context. This also meant that I could quickly find websites that were mentioned in some of the sessions and include them in my tweets, for later reference. The downside of a laptop? They’re bigger to lug around (I didn’t have a NetBook, so…), they’re more distracting to other attendees, and they can get pretty hot on your lap.

I think a small “NetBook” style computer might be a good option for this kind of thing. I don’t know how great they are for battery life, but they’re smaller yet still full-featured.

One of the best experiences I had during this was a request from “the other OUCC Twit” to ask a question of a panel that I was attending. He chose to go to another session, but was still able to get info about the session I attended. Sure – you can do the same thing with instant messaging – but this way, the information is given to ANYONE who may be following us.

This is the essence of Twitter, I think. You don’t need to join a specific discussion forum or topic-based website to find a community discussing certain things. You just need to be smart about your searches. If you’re Tweeting an event, or something that may have a specific topic, add a pound sign to a string and try to get people to include it in their Tweets.

It’s not just about broadcasting your every move – although that’s how some people use it. It’s about finding connections with other users through topics, creating your own little community through the people and topics  you follow, and creating a context on a system that appears to have none. Pretty interesting.

Yikes – that was a long post. I definitely went over my 140 character limit.

OUCC 2009 – Day 2

May 26th, 2009

Day 2 of OUCC 2009 is now "over"…

Today was a short, but full, day that ended in lunch and the dispersion of all of the folks I’ve gotten used to seeing over the last two days. We’ve learned, laughed, broken bread together, and have taken "biological breaks" together (rather, at the same time…). I’ve met people that do some of the same things I do, but at different schools. I’ve made questionable jokes and shared thoughtful insights with people I only just met.

It was a successful conference for me, from every angle.

Day 2 was full of speakers. Again, these speakers had differing topics, but all ended up sharing something or other. I don’t just mean ‘technology’. There’s *supposed* to be a technology spin to everything in this conference, so that’s far too easy!!

For me, the common thread for all of the speakers today was Strategies, Projects and Resources.

The first session was a panel discussion with the CIOs of  Windsor, York, McMaster, OCAD, Laurier and Ryerson. I’ll have to admit that quite a bit of this discussion, as well as that of James Norrie (which followed) was above me, in that I understood the topics but that the actual discussion was meant for my bosses and not for me (much talk of ‘governance’). That said, I came away with some interesting insights. Probably the most interesting series of points had to do with offering students systems (like email), vs. having them sign up for one of the many full-featured and free online systems of their choice. This was a conceptual discussion, not a practical one – so things like the Patriot act were not addressed at length. As highlighted above, it’s a discussion of strategy (whose needs, and how are they served and implemented?) and resources (do we really save much $$ by not offering the services?).

James Norrie’s talk highlighted the way our approach to projects is backwards. The focus tends to be on  Capacity (referring to $$ primarily), then on the projects, then the strategy. It’s important to consider the strategy first, then work out the details of the projects and capacity. He made an interesting analogy that went something along the lines of "If you get the recipe right, you can always play with how you bake the goods."

Our final speaker of the morning, Ann Medina, spoke of being prepared for the future by expecting surprises. She talked of her experiences in the field of journalism, and connected them to her love for video games and how both of these things taught her to be prepared for unexpected changes. Specifically, she discussed how video games can teach you how to strategize and allocate resources, which can be applied to real life.

All of these things certainly apply to anyone working with technology – the changes are so constant, and sometimes unexpected. We need to be prepared to accept the changes, take on the new challenges, and rethink how we do things. It’s part of what we do – and for many of us, part of who we are.

I’ll end this post here… I will be posting a bit of a rundown of my Twitter experience during the conference, which was really very positive.

 Cheers!
S

 

OUCC 2009 – Day 1

May 25th, 2009

This is me, at the OUCC conference at Ryerson 2009.

Last night was a good intro – fun dinner and movie night (Star Trek was supercool!).

Today started with a bang! I got a dragon engraved on my cell phone at the Rogers booth! Ahahahaha… but seriously, this morning was packed with great stuff. I should also mention that I’m taking the opportunity to learn about the use of Twitter for events, by Tweeting during this conference. There are sadly only a couple of us tweeting about it, and you can find our posts by searching by oucc or #oucc on Twitter. I’ll post a recap of this part of the experience later.

We’ve had two great speakers today: Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario; and our keynote speaker David Suzuki. On paper, their talks were different – hers on the protection of our personal information, and his on the environment. When it came down to it, they talked about some very common things. Take into consideration that we are at a technology conference, where nearly everyone has gadgets – mostly used for communication, and accounts, and take in gads of information in this advanced culture of ours. Now consider that when you get to the very core of it, both of our speakers spoke of the roles and needs of individuals, as a part of a community. They both spoke of "the economy" as a construct that puts up roadblocks to the work that they do (which affects us all), and of the difficulties people have dividing facts from opinions. 

I won’t go into detail about each of their talks… please look them both up. Both are interesting, engaging, experts in their fields and I was pleased to attend both talks.

I’m now in the afternoon sessions, and have been Tweeting all along. The sessions have been interesting, the Twitter exercise has been fun, and I’m pretty sure dinner will be great! (Hahaha… you know where my mind is. Don’t take it to mean that I’m bored – I’m ALWAYS thinking about food). 

IF you are at OUCC and want to contribute to our information gathering on Twitter, please do! All you need is a wireless Internet device ( computer, smart phone, iPod touch — and Ryerson provided the wireless info in your registration badge), a Twitter account, and some thoughts!! Simply add #oucc to your updates (TWEETS!) and they’ll be aggregated with ours in the search! We would love to have more voices tweeting along with us.

🙂
S

My Opinio About Charts

May 22nd, 2009

Yesterday, I stuck with most of the defaults in my test of Opinio polls, and I had some success. I did run into a few problems, which I will describe below. I’m not sure how savvy my readers are (are you out there?), but I’m always left wondering how software designers come up with some of their management interfaces. I’m used to digging through new software and figuring things out — and even I get lost. (This isn’t a stab at Opinio – I find this with just about EVERY piece of software I use. Baffling, baffling UI sometimes.)

Onto my follow-up with polls…

Changing the Chart

This one stumped me for a while, and the help really didn’t help me here. Some background: the poll results can be set to display in chart format. The default is a horizontal bar chart, but you can also pick from a vertical bar chart and a pie chart. My problem was that the default settings were not sufficient — one of my questions got sort of cut off in the results (couldn’t see the whole answer text, and couldn’t see ANY results). I thought maybe a different chart would help (which it did – I’ll get into that later).

I was in the "Set Poll Behaviour" screen, where you set the Result type to be "Chart" or "Thank you note". I also wanted to see the options for the chart, but didn’t see them on this screen. I clicked the cute little green question mark bubble. Here, I find reference to "Quick Chart Edit" – sounds promising! Click on that link, which shows me what I’m looking for… but… wait… how do I get there? I look in the menu, no reference to "Quick Chart Edit". No description in the help page for how to find this elusive tool. Commence hair pulling.

After a little back & forth, I decided to move on… and magically found the option. See, you need to be in the "Customize Look & Feel", or simply "Look & Feel" menu group in order to see the "Quick poll chart edit" option. Yikes. Seriously?

Quick Recap: Customize look and feel > Quick poll chart edit will allow you to make some simple, but useful changes to your results chart.

Chart Layout (or, how to actually see all of your stuff)

OK, so now that I’ve found it… why did I need it in the first place? Ah, yes… because things weren’t displaying properly. At first I thought it had something to do with the system I posted it on (which happened to be this blog, in what is currently Roller blog software). I soon realized that the same behaviour was happening in the preview right in Opinio.

In my example, I have two questions. The first is a multiple choice with three possible answers, one of which is rather long ("I have an account, but rarely/never use it."). Both questions appear on the first screen (don’t love the layout or spacing of the questions, but at least it works). Select your answers, and click ‘Vote’. The results, by default, appear in a "Horizontal Bar Chart". My second question results display as expected — but not the first. To start, the text for answer option 3 (the long one) gets cut off. Even worse, no results appear for this question. Frustrating!! Let’s start with the bigger problem…

a) Getting all results to display – widen both the table & the chart

I actually started by changing the chart type – first to vertical bar, then to pie. The vertical bar was the only one that showed the results to both questions without any further editing. The pie chart seemed to suffer from the same affliction as the horizontal bar chart. I realized that the wee box displaying the poll was simply not wide enough to accommodate my results.

click Customize Look & Feel to widen the poll table

Here, you can pick other box styles (and Advanced will allow you to play with the CSS… I’ll definitely be exploring this soon!). You can also change the  "Form Width", which is what I did. You may have to play with this a little to get the right width for your poll & the page you are delivering it on.

From inside the Customize Look & Feel menu, click Quick poll chart edit to widen the poll results chart itself

Here is where you can choose from the various chart options – I’d do this before playing with the width of the chart – and set the "Chart Width".

Click ‘Preview poll’ in the left-hand menu bar at any time to view your poll.

Where Do I Use this?

After you go through all of the steps in preparing your poll, click "Publish Poll" to get the couple of lines of code needed to add the poll to a web page. We’re still testing the deployment out in different systems, but have had success in adding them to Serena Collage sites and Roller blogs. A quick test of our test WordPress site did not give us good results, but there are a few factors which we can control that we’ll play with to see if we can get it working. We’ve also had some trouble adding polls to Blackboard courses. Basically, any system that relies heavily on Javascript may not allow you to add things like these polls. Some sites prevent users from posting Javascript for security reasons. These are all things that you need to take into account when deciding to use these tools.

OK, so that was a pretty dry post for today. Sorry, but I thought I’d post something useful for once. I hope to bring the song & dance back soon!

What's Your Opinio?

May 21st, 2009

Venturing into new territory… poll/survey software.

Granted, this isn’t the most "Web 2.0" stuff… but I’m learning about it. Today, I’m going to look specifically at the polling features. I took a quick peek a week or so ago, and found it pretty easy to set up a default poll – but some of the options were worded pretty strangely. I’m going to use this blog entry to demystify some of them.

First: Remember to look in the left-hand toolbar to figure out what to do next. I managed to create a new poll, but started scratching my head about what to do next. Left-hand bar "Guide" section has a link to "Create Questions".

Label Position: I had to read this a couple of times before I had it figured out. When making web pages, a ‘label’ might refer to a piece of text that goes along with a text field or something. In this case, things seem to be confused. The option is called "Label Position", but the options all refer to "button left", "button right", etc. The "button" in this case is the radio button (in the case of a multiple choice question). I want the radio button to appear to the left of the text (label?), so I chose "button left". (If you pick the position of the button, rather than that of the label, shouldn’t the option be called Button Position?)

Answer Rotation: I’m pretty sure this refers to randomizing the answers, so they don’t appear in the same order for every person taking the poll.

Help!: OK, so I just noticed the little green questionmark icon guy. It’s meant to give you some contextual help for whichever screen you happen to be on. You can probably disregard most of this post, since it’s probably all answered in The Emerald City.

May 26 Update: a few points that you may need to know

  • Firefox/Roller Bug? – If you embed a poll in a Roller blog post, you won’t be able to edit the post in Firefox. You’ll need to use Internet Explorer. (Weird, I know…). I would actually recommend putting the poll in its own post, and put other next in a second post (so you can edit the text part on its own and not worry about it too much)
  • IF YOU CAN’T GET THE POLL TO WORK: i.e. you embed the code, but you only see the last screen, it may mean that your poll has past the specified ‘end date’. By default, Opinio sets it as a week – be sure to set it to something appropriate for your project. After the fact This is can be changed by going to "Poll Home", and clicking on the "Stop Date" to change it. (See the next point for the next step.)
  • Your poll may be locked – go to "Poll Home" if the traffic light is red, your poll is locked."Click to unlock poll". This will happen if your poll end date has passed – even after changing the date, you will have to unlock the poll in order to have people take it again. 

 Here is my sample poll:

Blog Forward!

May 21st, 2009

Investigation time.

Looking at blog tools is pretty fun. Over the years, I think I’ve tested most of the popular brands of blog — although I forget what some of them looked like. 

Right now, I’m having a good look at WordPress. I have a personal WordPress blog, set one up for the DH’s band, and now I’m looking at the moster of all WordPresses (WPMU – WordPress Multi-User) for work. Yes, we already have Roller (the blog software that I’m currently authoring this post on — but not necessarily the software you are reading it on!!!!), but it seems time to move forward.

In general, WordPress is a top-notch blog system, with sooo many theme and plugin options, and is used by pros and amateurs alike. In general, it can be easy to use, can look professional, and can be customized to some extent. There’s also a pretty large community of users and developers that are on top of problems, developing new tools, etc.

Let’s ditch the traditional ‘Pros & Cons’ list and instead post a list of things we have already found in WPMY, thing we need to have in order to go forward, and things that are nice to have… (I may use ‘WPMU’ instead of typing out ‘WordPress’ from here on out)

Got it!

  •  LDAP Authentication –  This is required so that users don’t have to have a different login & password to access the system. They can use their usual my.ryerson login. There’s a plugin to provide this, seems to work pretty well so far.
  • Great Looking Themes – There are many many many themes for WordPress. It’s up to us to track down the ones that work well with WPMU, that offer different layout and style options for our users – and possibly some customization at the user-level. I’m working on this…
  • Ability to easily add RSS from other sources – Users can use the Widgets in WPMU to add feeds from their Twitter, Flicker and other blog accounts. There are actually quite a few really useful widgets.
  • Simple Podcasting! – Users need to be able to generate a podcast without having to do too much legwork. By default, WP podcasts any appropriate media files that are added to a post. I’m working on extending this by adding a plugin that also embeds the audio/video in a blog post without the author having to do anything else (see below).

… There are lots of things that I like about WordPress, but I think I’ll leave you with those few items.

 Need to Have

  • Post Aggregation – Basically, we need to be able to aggregate posts from various blogs (different from having many users contribute to a single blog). We have tried a number of plugins, but none of them provide exactly what we are looking for.
  • User-level Theme Customization – WPMU does not give the users access to customize the themes, as the changes would affect the themes for EVERYONE. That leaves the responsibility on the theme designers to code in some customization ability. Most of them don’t offer any — and some offer customization, but the interface is confusing. Le sigh.
  • A Decent Site Homepage – We either have to code this ourselves, or buy a premium theme to get what we want. I haven’t found a really good free theme for this.

Nice to Have

  • Group Creation – Admin should be able to group users and give group-level access to resources. The aggregation should tie into this.
  • Podcasting w Embedded Player – We’re pretty close to having this. There are a few bugs with the plugin we’re testing, but it works well for the most part.

Any Ryerson folks reading this blog post — what features are you looking for in a blog? What are the  most important things that you would need to have to run a successful blog? Your suggestions don’t even have to be reasonable — this is a "blue sky" wishlist.

Me, the Twit – Day 1 ends

May 20th, 2009

Ahh, a mass of posts all in one day, after not posting for a year or so. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

Me, the Twit – Day 1 has now just about come to an end. I’ve done some digging, found some info on how it makes sense as a social tool, how it can be used academically, and why it isn’t as stupid as it looks. (Ha!)

My own limited experience with it started with "following" a bald guy I know, and evolved to:

  • finding comments from people all over the world who attended a music festival I went to this weekend
  • finding comments from people who mention Ryerson (but not always the U)
  • finding comments from people who mention a band I like (listening to, excited to see upcoming concert by, just bought CD of, here’s a new video clip of…)
  • finding people who are following people who are following people I know
  • finding supposed celebrity Twitterers, but still not feeling like following them

I now have 2 followers, one of which is probably some spammer (since I have NO idea who this person is). I still have to wrap my head around a bunch of it, though, because it’s evolving into something I didn’t expect. Although I suspected that may be the case. (double HA!)

Below are a few collected resources and articles that I found compelling, in my search for the twit-truth. Enjoy!

 

A Bunch of Twits…

 … and before this gets lost in the mess below, there is actually a way to create a private group Twitter, via http://grouptweet.com/

This sounds perfect for course use! Any Rye faculty out there want to try it out with one of their classes?

Twitter for Academia

While I obviously spend a great deal of time online and thinking about the potential of these new networked digital communication structures, I also worry about the way that they too easily lead to increasingly short space and time for conversation, cutting off nuance and conversation, and what is often worse how these conversations often reduce to self-centered statements.

 

How Twitter Creates a Social 6th Sense

Critics sneer at Twitter and Dodgeball as hipster narcissism, but the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.

We Travel in Tribes

My tribe is not your tribe because you’re not using Twitter how I do. You wrote an Academy Award-winning screenplay, only follow a few people, but have thousands following you. You sell shoes and follow each of the thousands of people who follow you. You are a major airline, but sound surprisingly human.

Twitter’s value has nothing to do with the technology.

 

Contribute to: Twitter for Teachers

 

Private Members Only

I also feel that I have to make mention of the privacy issue here… I know, it feels like the biggest ball & chain on the leg of creativity, but it’s important to keep it in mind. Twitter is a public service, and probably has servers housed in the U.S. Due to the Patriot Act, your information (user info, what you say, when you said it, who you communicate with – EVERYTHING) can be accessed by the U.S. gov’t. This is against Canadian policy, and certainly against the policies that we try to adhere to at Ryerson. I’m no expert in such privacy and legal matters, but it’s important that any users (faculty, students, TAs) being asked to use these systems for class work have some understanding before signing up.

Me, the Twit

May 20th, 2009

There it is, I am now a twit.

 Today is Day 1 of me on Twitter. Not sure how often I’ll update it, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least give it a try.

Not all social networking is suited to everyone. I believe that very strongly – actually, I believe that about ALL technology – especially when it comes to using it academically.

Twitter wasn’t something that appealed to me initially, and then a few folks I knew signed up and I started peeking at it. I resisted signing up for an account — isn’t that always the way it works? Today, I smacked myself in the forehead and said "girl, you can’t ignore this tool and hope to be able to explain what it is and isn’t good for".

In case this blog doesn’t make it obvious, I explore various technologies for other people to use. I learn how to use tools, and then try to put myself into the shoes of others — educators, researchers, students, etc. and come up with ways different people will use the tools.

It’s really part of my job to sign  up for every social networking tool that has gained any sort of popularity and try it out for myself…

So here I am on Day 1, a newly crowned Twit. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Captioning the world, two formats at a time?

May 20th, 2009

Back to looking at captioning of video content…

Originally, we did Quicktime video captioning, since our tutorials were all Quicktime files (for podcasting). Then, we opted to switch them all over to Flash for the new website (which has yet to be completed). It was almost like having to do it all twice!! The process was incredibly painful, and you constantly have to tweak to get it right. This really isn’t something that most people would be willing to do…

The first problem we face is the transcribing of the video — luckily, I usually work on short (5 minute), scripted videos. That means I basically have a transcript to work with at the get-go. How would this work when dealing with a lecture, or other kinds of live, unscripted and often lengthy types of presentations??

The next consideration is format — do you want to podcast, stream, embed flash in a webpage… or even put on a DVD to be viewed on a television? For those of us working manually, this needs to be decided before you start — and you pray you don’t change your mind later, or need to offer it in various formats.

This brings me to the focus of this post… captioning software. This is my first real look into the features available in software, and the costs involved. The two that keep coming up in my searches are both available at http://www.cpcweb.com – CaptionMaker for Windows, and MacCaption for Mac. Neither one will do audio-to-text, so you need to have a transcript to start. Basically, both are tools that will make the captioning (placing text on the appropriate screen, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate format) a little simpler for the person doing it, AND can export to various formats. Sounds like a great idea to someone like me, who has spent far too much time taking my caption info from Quicktime and trying to master the art of "find & replace" in order to get it in the right format for Flash.

The problem? These come with an incredibly high price tag. I find it baffling that the cost of the software for making a video would be less than the software for doing the captioning. This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be worth it — actually, that’s something that needs to be assessed. How often will it be used? By how many people?

In any case, this blog will serve as a reminder that I need to find a better solution than the fully manual process I use now…

S

Podcasting, Commoncraft Style

April 24th, 2008

If you have never seen a Commoncraft "Explanations in Plain English" video, you’ve been in some kind of fluorescent, dungeony basement office or something (oh… wait).

Here’s what Podcasting means to them…