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Category Archives: Published Articles

Wikis to books worth experimenting

I often make the point that we spend too much time clicking on links, rather than spending time on the meaning of what we read.

So I thought of experimenting with PediaPress, a service that lets you convert Wikipedia pages into a book.

The book? On Clark University – for my son’s graduation today.

Knowing fully well that information on the university will change, did not bother me. In fact, that’s precisely why I wanted to do it. After all, Wikipedia content is not exactly writ in stone, could be considered as relevant for a moment in time.

(If you’ve been watching how pages get edited, and the edit wars that ensue over single words or phrases, you’ll know that this ‘moment’ sometimes changes several times an hour as a result of furious edit wars!) I want the book to be a sort of  time capsule that he could one day look back on.

PediaPress is basically offering a print on demand (POD) service, but the beauty of this is how simple they have made the steps. There’s very limited customization (the cover and title, plus a preface), but the layout of pages and sections are very clean.

I would have liked a bit more customization, such as:

  • The ability to move photographs and charts into separate pages
  • Uploading my own photograph for the cover, and a few others for other pages
  • An acknowledgment or title page
  • Adding text to back cover

But as this was an experiment, I was willing to take the risk.

Other risks. For a different project, say trying to compile a short compendium of knowledge on a breaking news event, or a current topic, using Wikipedia as the source of content is more risky. While the Creative Commons license gives anyone permission to use and re-purpose content, one has to me meticulous about accuracy.

I began to wonder of there are other similar services that let you blend knowledge from multiple sources, and let you add chapters to the book. I’ve looked at Blurb, which offers a Blog-to-Book option. Lulu also has a great service. a cookbook/ A book of poetry/ Wikipedia has a rich selection.

Give it a try!

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Messing around in class

Where is the classroom headed?

Having spent the past 20 some years around practitioners of the Montessori method (my wife runs a school) it has been interesting to observe how the ‘revolutionary’ advances in education today borrow heavily from the principles established by Maria Montessori.

So when I approached the topic for a long feature on how progressive educational institutions are planning to better engage students, I had this at the back of my mind. Moves to increase student engagement, and attempts to nudge the ‘sage off the stage,’ and student directed teaching appear to fit well with how Maria Montessori envisioned education. It’s also why some colleges and schools are quietly incorporating social media.

According to a 2010 survey from the Educause Center for Applied Research, 40 percent of undergraduates report updating wikis, and 25 percent use social bookmarking.

The article, titled “Messing around in class”  was published in Communication World magazine. I am truly grateful to three people I interviewed.

You can find a PDF of the article here. http://bit.ly/AFedu1

 

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Tablets, digital media coming to a school near you

I have been covering the intersection of technology and education recently, and have interviewed some amazing people at the forefront of the changing classroom.

One of them was Hans Aagard, senior technologist at Purdue University, Indiana. I was intrigued by that university’s approach –plunging in with a social networking application called Hot Seat. It is being used not just on campus, but in the classroom, while the lecture is in progress.

But yes, we are running into mixed signals.

  • While some teachers get their students to create content for topics that have been poorly covered or badly written in Wikipedia, many schools ban on students using Wikipedia.
  • A 2010 survey found that 62.7 percent of US undergraduates surveyed say they owned an Internet-capable handheld device, but many universities have signs posted outside lecture halls about turning off cell phones and electronic devices.
  • Faculty worry that too many screens in class could be distracting to the student and to others, while some high schools have made tablets and laptops integral to the learning experience.

More on this soon. My article was just published in a Sept-Oct issue of Communication World magazine.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see the subject “What Will School Look Like in 10 Years?” taken up in the New York Times  last week. I was particularly interested in the comment by David Silvernail, dir. at the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Education. He would rather schools invest in small amounts of technology …to teach students process skills, not just plunking shiny objects in their backpack and expecting them to automatically become smarter. Is he swimming upstream?

I have to admit I have mixed feelings on this.

I teach a robotics class in elementary school. For the past few classes I have been driving  home the importance of research. Finding solutions to problems they never knew existed.  I send them off to encyclopedias, dictionaries and other print material -on purpose. I could easily get them to log on to computers and search –there are more than 20 PCs in the room! But that would be too easy. I don’t want to hold up a think-outside-the-box mantra for problem solving and stick them in front of a… box!

 

The media are changing. And you?

In 1999 (before we many of us began thinking deeply about the role of the Internet on the media as we know it), USAID foresaw a trend, or rather a need for citizens to be able to “make informed decisions and counter state-controlled media.”

They talked of nurturing ‘alternative media,’ which at that time made many people uncomfortable. Mainstream media journalists, especially, thought that this would be lead to erosion in standards.

USAID may have never dreamt that something called social media would sow up and deliver this ‘alternative’ into our laps. Later, in 2005, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which tracks newspaper reading habits, recorded a curious shift. They observed that people were turning away from traditional news outlets, particularly those “with their decorous, just-the-facts aspirations to objectivity.” And what were they gravitating toward? They were turning toward “noisier hybrid formats that aggressively fuse news with opinion or entertainment, or both.”

News infused with opinion? That sounded like heresy!

Not anymore! Dozens of news organizations have begun using a combination of social networking, citizen journalism and traditional reporting to do just that.

I mentioned Internews. It may not be ‘noisy,’ but it is definitely a hybrid format. Internews is an international ‘media development organization’ that empowers local media worldwide. Meaning it not only becomes a distribution channel for global voices, but it gives people the tools to connect, and thereby be heard.

A similar organization, Global Voices, is a nonprofit foundation comprising an international team of volunteer authors, and others who are active in the blogosphere. In fact, one of its divisions, Lingua plays a sort of the amplifier role. Lingua, it says, “amplifies Global Voices stories in languages other than English with the help of volunteer translators.” They translate content into more than 15 languages.

Pew’s recent State of The News Media Report talks of how media consumption in a world of increasing mobile devices  forces news companies to follow some messy rules (of device makers, for instance) to deliver their content. The news ecology is getting uneven, it says.

This is where hybrid, alternative media has taken root. Let’s get used to it!

A longer version of this is published in LMD magazine.

 

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Dealing with downtime in an always-on world

This is my column in LMD Magazine, published in March.

LMD Magazine - Blog Buzz - Angelo FernandoConsidering all the time we spend online trying to be productive, it maybe a good idea to think about what we might do with our downtime when we are offline – off the grid, so to speak. I come across plenty of discussion on this, where people – especially in HR divisions – wrestle with the concept of that work-life balance.

Some make a case for there not being a work-life balance as such, because work and life have collided and the two aspects of life can’t be easily pried apart. In other words, a work-life imbalance is more the norm!

And if you buy this, you will most likely agree too that there is no difference between online and offline.

You are in a nice quiet restaurant with your family, but pull your Blackberry out every few minutes to check on the incoming stream of emails and texts. Your kid may ask to play with the iPhone… and before you know it, you’re forwarding a YouTube video to a friend.

Or you are relaxing on a towel on the beach, but feel compelled to snap into citizen-journalist mode and take a picture of some dude and upload it on to Facebook. Or if you’re into status updates, you ‘check in’ to a location using Foursquare, even if there’s no apparent benefit.

Faced with this magnetic pull, and the urge to be online while you are offline every moment of the day, where do you find that elusive downtime?

While driving? Forget it! They may have been one of the few insulated spaces in which you could happily be off the grid in the days gone by, but cars are now coming with smart dashboards to help us stay connected.

One company, Hughes Telematics, is working on ‘in-dash applications’ that will keep drivers updated on a slew of communications or travel-related news and issues. These include Twitter integration, iPhone controls for passengers who want to change the music, check the pollution index outside or cite emissions data… and so on!

Another company, Visteon, has the ultimate iPad in-car device. It’s a docking station with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that turns your iPad into a second dashboard to help you interact with the vehicle’s electronic controls. This could include engine information, GPS directions or the ability to pull in external information such as web radio… and even make phone calls!

This so-called ‘embedded connectivity’ could make for smart driving… or make it highly distracting for the man or woman at the wheel, depending on your perspective.

BRAIN POWER.
Few like to venture into this area for fear of being branded as Luddites. But sometimes it’s good to hit that ‘pause’ button, and wonder just where we are going with so much technology in our lives.

A recent study on downtime by the University of California points to how brains function better when they break away from constant activity. “Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” says Loren Frank, Assistant Professor at the university’s Department of Physiology.

Learning, he contends, diminishes as a result of non-stop stimulation. About two decades ago, many spoke of ubiquitous computing as a good thing. Computer devices would become so embedded in human environments that we would not need to enter ‘machine environments’ to engage with them.

CONVERSATIONS
It is very easy to make fun of teenagers who can’t stop texting, even while they are spending time ‘alone’ with a certain someone. But the truth is, adults are getting far more addicted to digital tools, to the point that it’s impossible to get them to pay attention to the real – as opposed to the virtual – situation.

Sometimes, this even distracts us from large physical objects that are in front of us. A hilarious example of this is captured on video, where a girl fell into a fountain at a shopping mall while she was busy texting (if you want to watch this, just Google the words in the previous sentence!).

Texting in church used to be disallowed, since mobile phones were supposed to be turned off anyway. Today, some progressive churches in the US are experimenting with it, asking young people to text a question after the sermon – they’re just trying to be more interactive, I suppose! But whatever happened to asking the congregation to raise their hands?

In our zeal to be interactive, are we going too far by trying to promote conversations and interaction as full-time activities, leaving little room in our lives for offline thinking? At the end of last year, in JWT’s annual list of ‘100 things to watch for in 2011’, the ad agency pointed to digital downtime as being a big trend. This was somewhat related to another trend it called ‘digital interventions’. This refers to friends and family members staging interventions to take a person offline, because they sense it is necessary to help the person log off!

REALITY CHECK
Maybe it’s time for a reality check – even in a column like this, that by definition covers digital communications! I meet with organisations that are looking to find ways to be more digital, and I have to admit that I have advised and coached people on how to be more (and I put this word within quotes for good reason) ‘productive’ by using digital strategies.

But I am acutely aware that there is a downside to all of this, especially if we go headlong into all things digital and ignore the rich analogue, traditional communications opportunities swirling around us. Becoming digital just because we can, and turning everything into a relentless social-media stream is not the answer to our communication problems.

In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. The answer to a particular communications problem might be to get off our digital high horses and tune into the analogue world around us. The customer-service person could assume that there are no complaints this week because no one has emailed a complaint or posted a rant via Twitter.

The truth is that there might be an ugly customer problem out there being passed around word-of-mouth channels in taxi cabs and trains that no one is paying attention to (but you wouldn’t hear it, would you, if you’re in the cab or train with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones?)

Spending a portion of our day offline might be a habit we soon need acquire – or require – our employees to cultivate. Being plugged-in doesn’t mean shutting out the rest of the world. It’s so basic that HR people don’t even think it’s necessary to instruct new recruits to do. But at the rate at which our offline lives are being infiltrated with online tools, digital downtime may be one of the most productive issues today.

 

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Are you surfing the web or swimming in print?

My recent column in CW (Communication World) magazine is the beginning of what has become an introspective view of where we are headed with all this digital content seeping out of every pore. I borrowed the headline from a campaign for the magazine industry that uses the word ‘swimming’ (in print) to compare it to what they suggest is a less engaging online experience of surfing.

The point I suggest is that we are creatures (and should be connoisseurs) of both worlds.

Download the article here.

The follow up to it will take it further – dealing with ‘Content Snacking!’

If you think that’s a fascinating phrase, consider the phrase ‘Micro Boredom.’ I had not heard of it before. Apparently it had been used by Motorola a few years back. 

 

Wanted: A new formula for PR!

FT Online, Angelo Fernando writes a Bi-weekly column

FT Online | Bi-weekly column

I don’t think there’s a single waterer-proof formula for PR.

No matter how much we love the Social media Press Release, (basically an enhanced press release, with some great links and embedded media to create a richer story), it seems like too much work for companies to build these.

Then there is the quest for that secret sauce of Public Relations that might involve a more integrated strategy. Translated: the PR agency works with the ad agency which works with the promotions company. Good luck with that!

So in a bid to stir up things I came up with my own formula for PR. Here it is in a nutshell. C + C + E = Tn.

Got it?

You need a decoder ring for this one, so here it is. Context plus Content plus Engagement equals Trust to the nth degree.

Continue reading…

This was the subject of a newspaper column, in a series I have been writing on, published in FT Online. Until the web site has been updated, this is a link to a PDF.

 
 

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