Category Archives: Best Practices

No phones allowed at White House Cabinet Meetings

No live blogging, no checking your email, no tweeting during meetings.That’s a White House rule at cabinet meetings.

  • What does that tell you about how grown-ups behave at meetings?
  • What might it suggest about decision-making and technology distraction?


I’ve read somewhere that many businesses are asking people not to bring their Blackberries and iPhones to the meeting. I’m interested to know if you have seen or heard of an official policy on this anywhere.

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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Best Practices, Social Media


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Sochi’s ‘Teaching Moments’ through social filters

How to teach social media, without actually calling it social media?

That’s one of the challenges I run into, now and then. To many young students –and I am talking those elementary school to whom “hash tag” means something else entirely–, there is no big distinction between media variants. Newspapers, photo albums, television, encyclopedias etc all belong to one blurry category.

You will probably hear this often – schools are really anxious about (social) media behaviors and the flood of tools that enable them. I take what might seem a contrarian approach: It’s better to prepare students for responsible use of digital media, than ask them to check them at the door.

Yesterday Feb 5th was Digital Learning Day, so it was a good day, as any to address some of these topics. Since this week also happens to be the opening week of the Olympics, I tried to pull these two strands together. As always there was a lucky collusion of opportunities.

  • Padlet - OlympicsTo bring this all together in a classroom experience I began experimenting with a website another teacher referred me to: Padlet. It lets a student import content into a page in a variety of ways – from PDF to QR code, to an embed link – as you could see here. or via this QR Code it generates.

Some of these open the door to what we educators like to call Teaching Moments. To deal with topics such as:

Copyright. What does that mean in a link economy, where someone could embed a video or link to something without violating intellectual property rights? Even the International Olympic committee has had to spell out its SM Policy about blogging and tweeting. Even grown ups need to abide by an event or site’s rules – such as this, below that says one cannot ‘assume’ a reporter’s persona!


Collaboration: The connectivity students take for granted (the always-on wi-fi) makes it possible to have a close conversation with a total stranger, and learn from him/her, but at the same time, sharing personal information with someone on a public channel could be dangerous.

Old media that was decidedly one-way, locked down, or expensive didn’t allow some of these opportunities, but it also protected us from the torrent of meaningless discussions, and TMI. Maybe there’s a lesson in that too.

If you’re curious about Padlet, here’s what the page looks like:

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Best Practices, Social Media


Technology with a sense of humor (and humanity)

So much of tech in our lives is about inanimate objects that deliver some convenience.

Maybe they animate our lives a bit: Typewriters helped us write better reports. Levers helped us move large rocks. Microphones and memory devices) helped us record and preserve important  moments.

I’m becoming more steeped in the four S-T-E-M areas, because (a) that’s where all education is headed, and (b) I run a computer and tech lab for a school where students from Kindergarten to 6th grade come to experience computers in education.

So it’s always refreshing to be able to focus on technology that is not a computer, or at least one that NOT rectangle-with-screen. I have robots, of course (a big ‘Aha’ for third graders): rectangle with wheels and sensors, and a few other objects.

But where could you take (or hide) a computer, to make our lives more interesting?

I found a great example of a ‘technologist’ who comes from an a non-tech space, and adds a layer of humanity to objects. She’s not from Silicon Valley, and I don’t believe she’s been featured in Fast Company. Bangalore-born Aparna Rao infuses technology with a sense of humor and humanity, letting us find our own meaning in inanimate objects such as a phone, a typewriter etc. The one on the left, for instance, was designed so that her uncle could send email, making him feel he was typing a normal letter on a piece of paper. But it gets funnier, and, deeper, such as when she uses a camera to make people disappear — the reverse of what we do now in our desire to put ourselves into every conceivable screen-captured image of life.

This is probably one of the best reasons why the arts –and the capital ‘A’– cannot ever reside outside the S-T-E-M areas everyone is so focused on.

This is the best example I’ve come across for encouraging schools to add some S-T-E-A-M!


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Unrehearsed Conversations, often most poignant

I just got off a Google Hangout with a group of dynamic new media folk, who interviewed me about Chat Republic.

It’s odd, and so appropriate to have these well moderated chats about a book that makes a big case for  inviting the unscripted, un-fettered conversations.  We had to pause  whenever we ran into a glitch – technical issue, human error etc — but as the moderator, Adnan, told me at the end, he leaves the glitches and silly mistakes.

I try to respond to the famous questions about ‘over use’ or ‘dangers’ of new media by saying that this thing called social media is not one thing, with a handbook. To expect it to have a set of rules is like expecting there to be a set of rules for how to use the telephone or how to speak to your neighbor.

There’s a good column in the New York Times today on the downside of email, and how in interrupting us all day, it interferes with thinking time. It ends with a line that echoes something I touched on a few days ago, when speaking of Content Curation and TMI.

“And let’s never forget the value of face-to-face, or voice-to-voice, communication. An actual un-rehearsed conversation — requiring sustained attention and spontaneous reactions — may be old-fashioned, but it just might turn up something new.”


In a time when we could bypass human interaction with a messaging device, an app, or a process, let’s not forget that it’s the spontaneity of being ‘social’ that makes it such good ‘media.’


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On camera, or on Mic, don’t over-produce your subjects

I am never comfortable whenever someone freezes that smile or his head angle for a picture I am about to take. It’s become the done thing to strike a pose. Not sure where this comes from, but I get the feeling it’s got something to do with a celebrity culture –and perhaps the media uproar when someone is caught looking less photo-ready.

I’ve also worked with PR people and know there is a solid reason to make sure the room is set up well so that the Big Guy (or Gal) acts natural. Controlling clothing, lighting, messing with hands or tapping on a table etc. There’s a good post about this by Paula Lovell, with a related discussion worth following at a LinkedIn group.

Gerard Braud is a pro at this and I’ve even sat in one of his media training workshops some years back at an IABC conference. He knows what he’s talking, so if you do have a client or am planing to put someone on camera, this is a great place to start.

But I have some comments about looking too ‘produced’. It’s not what the pros may say, but think about this:

  • Why should a CEO or thought leader always look like he/she never makes mistakes, and is flawless? Given the big push for transparency in communications in general, business and government in particular, wouldn’t the target audience prefer to see someone who looks slightly more human than studio settings permit?
  • A videographer or photographer could over-prepare a subject. Isaac Pigott makes a good point that the confidence from being who you are trumps all other external factors. That’s why teleprompters are scorned so much, today.

I my new profession, Education, I also teach children to present ideas and ignore the technology as much as they could. Yes I use cameras – video and DSL. I also put them in front of a microphone –corded and a ZoomH4N. It is possible to train them too much; it is also possible to let them come up with the most amazing things, unscripted, warts and all. I know what you may be thinking. They don’t have stakeholders to convince.

It’s a long shot from a CEO interview or podcast that I used to do until recently, but I’ve found some striking similarities in making them come off ‘as they are’ not as we want them to be.

If you are an educator, I write about these education issues at


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Searching for context, more than keyword dumpster diving

It’s frustrating to hear people say “I researched that” when they simply mean “I looked it up on Google.”

I believe we have diluted the word ‘research’ by equating it to a one-click action. I’m not trying to say that every topic under the sun needs a deep dive. I’m not suggesting that we turn fact-finding into some geeky task. I’m suggesting that we ought to train our brains to think that knowing something is contextual. There is no pat answer.

Google must know this. It stepped up to the late with the release of what it calls the ‘knowledge graph.’ (I am not a big fan of the term. It has a hint of Zuckerberg;s ‘social graph,’ doesn’t it?) Nevertheless, if you haven’t noticed the contextual info showing up on Google, take a look.

If you’re into the deep dive thing, Google does have a few tricks it tends to hide from the general public.  But there are more. Try these:

Google Scholar
It provides pages from books, PDFs, scholarly literature, peer-reviewed journals, material found via Google books, and even court opinions. Duke University encourages students to use it!

Patent Search -

Lexis Nexis -
This is not a free service, but it combines information from legal, academic, and corporate knowledge databases.


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Healthcare, now a social, not private affair!

Time was when someone would keep his/her healthcare concerns under the hood, so to speak. A health complication would be kept within the family; the unwritten doctor-patient privacy act was upheld.

Now? We seem to be ready to blab more about it. or, to put it another way, patients are more than ready to take to social media to discuss health-related issues in the open. Some examples

This latest report by PwC recognizes this, and gives you a more granular look at how the private concerns of those seeking healthcare have become closely intertwined with their social media behavior.

For example:

  • Nearly a quarter of people in the US (24%) post something about their healthcare experience.
  • 16 % share health-related videos and images!

It gets more interesting, in the face of concerns about invasion of privacy and health information.

  • Some 30% of people are willing to share their health-elated information with other patients, using social channels.
  • Also, 80% of 18-24 year-olds are likely to share health information through social media. 80 percent! You could find out more here at the PwC site.

This ought to have huge implications for healthcare companies, and even medical practitioners who have been concerned that their connecting with patients could run afoul with health information privacy, or HIPAA, laws. Physicians have been behind the curve. Sermo, their online community, has just 130,000 users, but one study found that while 87% of physicians use at least one social media site at a personal level, only 67% are using at least one site for professional reasons.


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Why Journalists go for your blog

There are some studies that compare a company’s Twitter profile to a blog.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer study, which I’ve always found to be a fascinating read on where we are in social media practice, had some equally strong indicators as to where traditional and digital media sit on the trust scale.

For instance, trust in company’s web sites are (hold your breath!) up!

So this infographic, which summaries a survey by UK-based Text 100 is a good sidebar to the study. It speaks of engaging journalists using social media.



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Learning through customization and personalization

Would you be ok to have your child interviewed to be admitted to Kindergarten?

I know  of parents who have prepped their children for that face-to-face admission evaluation process widely used today by Charter schools. Hard to argue with this if we really want a revolution in education.

So, what if students are required to qualify to be admitted to school? Many schools resort to a lottery system, since there are a few hundred openings but a few thousand applications! But in addition to this, there’s the student interview. It’s a bit like applying for a job. One Pennsylvania charter school, Tacony Academy, has this requirement:

“each student must complete an Independent Research Presentation and present the results to a panel of teachers and administrators.

 The Independent Research Presentation should be science related and either follows Scientific Method, the Question-Answer model, or the Problem-Solution model.”

This kind of motivation tells a school how to better customize a program to the student.

Speaking of which, Ken Robinson makes a great observation as to why education should not be served like fast food.


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Graphics, info-graphics and flat-out dubious statistics

I thought I loved info-graphics, until they were run over my marketing people.

Seriously. I used to find the art of info-graphics irresistible long before we they grew like weeds, online. The people who wee good at it were illustrators who worked for newspapers. Some complex heist, or a catastrophic event would be nicely compressed into an info-graphic in a newspaper.

Now there are so many info-graphics, I found this infographc about infographics!

But what exactly is an info-graphic?

It is usually used as a synonym of Data Visualization. But is it? The simple definition of DV is that it tells a story using data points. But it need not be a ‘graphic’ per se. It could be a dynamic time line, such as the Time Line produced by the Guardian, London. They created what seems like a nice graphic of the incidents of rioting in London in August. But it contains a slider that allows the reader to move through the days from 6th August onward, as towns from Tottenham to Ealing to… Liverpool reported incidents.

Here’s what it looks like. Click on image to launch visualization.

Contrast this to an Info-graphic, Big Brothers, about satellites that countries from Mexico to Pakistan to Iran have sent up.

To me the best info-graphic does these five things:

  • It summarizes a large volume of data in a snapshot.
  • It tells a story by helping our eye navigate complexity, and move between icons or illustrations that represent events, people, trends, hierarchies.
  • It is great at providing supplemental information on a page, when the publisher does not want to lose the reader who might turn the page, and jump to something else.
  • It provides a sense of scale, through visual tweaks, to explain something that might be difficult to comprehend, even with traditional data we cram into presentations (tables, lists, quotes, price points…) The orbiting satellites info-graphic above does a great job of this.
  • It provides direction, and relationships of where that direction might take you. The simplest info-graphic for me is the compass. I do not need to know the ‘degree’ of the direction, as long as I have the four data points. The best known inf-graphic in this category is the London Underground map.
So what then, is an info-graphic? To Alberto Cairo, an info-graphic specialist, and author of Infographia,  who teaches this stuff,
 “Infographics are difficult to define precisely because of their multiple and flexible nature….an information graphic is an aid to thinking and understanding.
He goes on to say that an info-graphic makes patterns arise, helps readers stumble upon trends, and it does this in a very small space. Because an info-graphic is so easy grab attention, especially in a world where few people have tolerance for long-form content (such as this post; sorry folks!) an info-graphic can be completely distorted and not get too mush scrutiny.

I am working on an article on just this topic. So if you have some examples -the good, the bad, the completely distorted– please leave a comment here or send me a tweet.

I will leave you with a great resource by Aaron Weyenberg. His post, “How to distort data” looks at the dangers that lie here.

Be warned. This is not a short form content, but it does have some cool graphics!

Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Best Practices, Communications, Journalism


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