Teaching Examples

Soundslides explained, by Joe himself
December 21, 2006, 5:14 pm
Filed under: photojournalism, slideshows, tools

Joe Weiss, creator of Soundslides, was interviewed for a podcast at PopPhoto (see the writeup by Jack Howard or hear the MP3). There’s ALSO an illustrated tutorial! Not that you will need one — but if you’re curious about what “ridiculously simple” really means … (Found via Richard, in my del.icio.us network.)

I will be taking a few days off from blogging, so I will leave you with a list o’ links to past posts that provide examples of, and other information about, Soundslides. The demo version is free. Why not try it this weekend?

See you next year!

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5 things you didn’t know about me
December 21, 2006, 2:44 pm
Filed under: blogging, blogs

Thanks to Bryan Murley, I’m obligated (what obligates me, I’m not sure) to tell you these things:

  1. I took two computer science courses in the days before the Web: A 1-credit course in FORTRAN (1978), and a 3-credit course in (hold your breath) microprocessor architectures (1984). I learned to write assembly language in the latter. I have kept my notebook to prove it (I certainly cannot write it anymore). However, that is the extent of my computer science training. People seem to assume I came from a computer science background. Wrong!
  2. I studied Japanese for two years in New York. I thought I might go and live in Japan. So far, I have not. Can I speak or read Japanese? No. My efforts gave me the greatest appreciation for all Japanese who are able to speak English.
  3. However, I can play Go. Not well, by any measure. But I can play. Better yet, I can kibitz like a master!
  4. When I was in high school, my career goal was to train Seeing Eye dogs. I had never even had a pet dog. I remind myself of this when my students express odd ideas about their future plans.
  5. Also in high school, I regularly drew a comic strip for the photocopied underground newspaper started by my friend John. All of us who worked on the newspaper were threatened with suspension, and possibly even expulsion, several times by the administration. Thanks to this experience, I learned about the ACLU — they promised to go to bat for us if we were suspended (we didn’t know about the Student Press Law Center). We were never suspended, and the newspaper continued publication for about a year. We spent a lot of time in the principal’s office!

Now I am obligated to “tag” five other bloggers, and many people whom I read have already received this dubious honor. However, I think I can safely tag Andy Dickinson, Adrian Holovaty, Mathew Ingram, Melissa Lyttle and Rebecca MacKinnon.

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My university in the Times
December 20, 2006, 7:14 pm
Filed under: education

The Foundation for the Gator Nation (thanks, Sue!) —

If there is any goal that the University of Florida has pursued as fervently as a national football championship for the Gators, it is a place among the nation’s highest-ranked public universities …

To upgrade the university, Dr. Machen is seeking a $1,000 tuition surcharge that would be used mostly to hire more professors and lower the student-faculty ratio, not coincidentally one of the factors in the much-watched college rankings published annually by U.S. News & World Report. This year, that list ranked Florida 13th among public universities in the United States.

Source: Public Universities Chase Excellence, at a Price, by Tamar Lewin, The New York Times, Dec. 20, 2006

I know, I’m off-topic again. But I just had to let you all know that we are more (much more) than a football school!

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Happy anniversary, blog
December 20, 2006, 1:36 pm
Filed under: blogging, blogs

A year ago today, I started this blog. It’s been really interesting. We all learn best by doing, and I have certainly learned a lot through this experience.

First post, Dec. 20, 2005
One of the more interesting things I have learned: About 26 percent of the blog’s visitors each day find it via a Google search for a few keywords. Site Meter allows me to see what these keywords are — they are quite wide ranging! Of course, folks find this blog by searching for multimedia, Flash, teaching, journalism or newspapers. Some people actually search for tojou ; yesterday one person found it via a search for sewer wireless!

I wish I had a better idea of how long people stay on each post. The average time spent per site visit is 2 min. 28 sec., and it’s clear that a lot of people pop in for a glance and then click out. About 1 person in 20 spends more than 10 minutes on the blog. (The average time people in general spend on a Web page is 43 seconds, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.)

People click on fewer links than I had expected. Learning that has caused me to pay closer attention to my own Web surfing behavior. I have noticed that I actually don’t click a lot of links either — I Google, I go, I glance, and I click the Back button. Probably only 1 click in 10 leads me, personally, to go on clicking further into a site or to follow the proffered external links. My online behavior is a lot like that of a hummingbird on the quest for nectar. Like the hummingbird’s behavior, mine is both deliberate and rewarding, even if I don’t spend a long time at any one flower.

I have also learned these things:

  1. Link to others, and often, they will link back.
  2. My readers send me great tips and links.
  3. I can take a few days off and it does not hurt the blog.
  4. Blogging can be like an addiction.
  5. Site Meter can be like an addiction.
  6. Some days I really do feel like I must “feed the blog.”
  7. Just because I don’t get a lot of comments does not mean people are not reading.
  8. Reader growth is slow but steady.
  9. Post headlines count tremendously toward Google’s ranking of blog posts.
  10. Some bloggers copy shamelessly and never link; some link but copy your entire post; either way, it’s not worth worrying about (but it bugs me anyway).

Feedburner stats, Dec. 19, 2006
Feedburner tells me that 298 people are subscribed via RSS; 104 of them have done so through Bloglines. The others are using Rojo (19 percent), Firefox Live Bookmarks (11 percent), and a variety of other services.

The site met its 10,000th visitor on Aug. 21 and its 20,000th visitor on Nov. 16, according to Site Meter. At the current rate of site visits, No. 30,000 will probably arrive in mid-January.

About 40 to 45 percent of the visitors are people who’ve come here before, according to Google Analytics. That number has been consistent for at least three months.

I’d like to send out a big THANK YOU to all of you who are reading, commenting and sending me those great tips. I guess I’ll keep on doing this for the time being!

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The Year in Pictures
December 19, 2006, 6:49 pm
Filed under: multimedia, photojournalism

MSNBC.com’s annual collection is always one of my favorite, favorite things in online journalism. This year, there’s a new design. The photos are nice and big, and there’s no bifurcation — no “Editors’ Picks” and “Readers’ Picks”! Exceptional picture editing. Stunning presentation. Brilliant pacing.

I laughed, I cried, I said “Oh my gosh!” out loud (at least twice).

Now, that’s photojournalism!

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Open your eyes, see what works
December 19, 2006, 3:06 pm
Filed under: business, future, journalism, newspapers, participation

The days of “throw it at the wall and see whether it sticks” must come to an end in the newspaper business.

What works on the Web? YouTube, Craigslist, MySpace, etc. Why? Because we get to do stuff. We can play. We can contribute. Never mind that only 1 percent actually do contribute — that’s okay if you have enough people in there. The ones who are just lurking like the idea that they could contribute if they really felt like doing so.

With few exceptions, the media businesses thriving on the Web either are low-cost blog-like efforts or follow a many-to-many model, in which communities create, share, and consume content. Publishing an article on the Web gets you one click; getting your users to write the article for you gets you a thousand clicks, and costs less to boot. In other words, turning your users into contributors increases their engagement with your site — each click is, after all, also an “ad impression” — while simultaneously generating more content that you in turn can sell to advertisers.

That, I’d venture, is how you start rethinking the newspaper business.

That’s from Michael Hirschorn, an executive vice president at VH1, writing in The Atlantic this month (via Jacob Sloan).

The first page of Hirschorn’s essay is all about EPIC 2015, which all of my readers have probably enjoyed many times since Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson first launched it into the mediaverse in 2004. So skip straight to page 2, where Hirschorn really starts talking.

Erasing the boundaries between “us” and “them”

Many of the so-called citizen journalism efforts by established news organizations are actually pathetic little ghettos on the outskirts of the “real” newspaper. A true revitalization (or transformation) of this business requires more:

… the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization [than it] has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Some information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties and even competitors. Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web.

(Sounds like what I’m doing in this post!) That’s from a blog post by Paul Gillin, a consultant based in Massachusetts (thanks, Chris!). He goes on to describe a practice that I know full well would horrify a large number of journalists:

Reporters will file copy directly to the Web, often without a review by an editor. Readers will be a central part of the process, correcting and comment[ing] upon articles as they are taking shape. Reporting will become, in effect, a community process.

As Tank said to Neo on his first day of training, “Damn! It’s a very exciting time!”

Rather than quote further from Hirschorn and Gillin, I’m going to treat you to something I read Sunday night in one of the all-time great works of media theory, a slender book of essays by the late James W. Carey. This is not to impress you with my scholarly chops but rather to try to provide a useful thinking tool.

Talking “at” vs. talking “with”

Carey draws a neat distinction between the “transmission” view of communication and the “ritual” view of communication. The transmission view is what we spend most of our time assuming communication is — we send messages back and forth to each other. We transmit signals. We send data, information, facts and maybe, sometimes, knowledge (but in fact knowledge probably cannot be transmitted). “We” might mean two humans, a newspaper and its audience, a teacher and a roomful of dozing students, or four friends in Starbucks.

The ritual view is different, but not hard to understand. A group of people praying or chanting (or even singing) together in a religious practice can illustrate this view of communication. They might be “sending a signal” to God, but then ask yourself, why are they doing it together, and out loud?

And after you wrap your mind around that, you can re-examine your mental picture of the two humans, a newspaper and its audience, a teacher and a roomful of dozing students, or four friends in Starbucks. You can apply a ritual view to them too.

A ritual view of communication, Carey wrote, is:

… directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs (1988 [1992], p. 18).

Before you argue that the newspaper business has no connections to a ritual view of communication, please read one more pearl from Professor Carey:

News reading, and writing, is a ritual act and moreover a dramatic one. What is arrayed before the reader is not pure information but a portrayal of the contending forces in the world…. The model here is not that of information acquisition, though such acquisition occurs, but of dramatic action in which the reader joins a world of contending forces … (pp. 20-21; emphasis mine).

I would like to echo and reinforce Michael Hirschorn now: That is how you start rethinking the newspaper business.

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Size matters for multimedia
December 18, 2006, 9:39 pm
Filed under: accessibility, design, graphics, online, usability

I have my main work computer’s screen resolution set at 1024 x 768. That’s a measurement in pixels, for all the non-designers in the crowd. But don’t run away. This is important.

Take a look at the two screenshots below. They are both captures of the same page in an excellent package from the St. Pete Times in Florida, and the designer is one of the best. But you can see, can’t you, that the image does not fit on my screen. Compare the top and bottom edges in each image, please, and then we can continue.

Vanishing Wetlands (top)
Vanishing Wetlands (bottom)
While I appreciate a very high resolution screen as much as anyone, the text gets smaller as your res goes higher, and I am nearsighted.

Monitor Resolutions
I’d like to emphasize that I am not some weirdo using an unusual screen resolution. Please look at the chart at left, which I captured from this very blog (via Site Meter) earlier today. These are the monitor resolutions of people who had come to this blog by about 4 p.m. Eastern Time. While no resolution setting has a share of 50 percent or more, the setting I use (1024 x 768) is at the top of the list.

So, 34 percent of the visitors to this blog will see the same messed up cover screen (shown above) for the beautiful wetlands package.

I can make this easy for all you designers out there with the crazy 1600 x 1200 screens, okay? The viewable space in my Firefox browser when it is fully maximized is 1008 x 591.

That is with the scrollbar showing. There would be more than 1008 pixels in width if you did not have a scrollbar. But hey. You do.

I used the useful Firefox add-on MeasureIt to get the exact width and height.

The wetlands package is built in a SWF that is 1000 x 720.

That means there are always 129 pixels (vertically) in the package that I can’t see.

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