Reaching Out With Your Conference

Web 2.0 Expo Outreach Box
Outreach Box on Web 2.0 EXPO in San Francisco April 22-25
I was browsing through my aggregator yesterday, and found reference to this web site for for the web2.0 EXPO in San Franciscos, April 22-25.  The site is cool, colorful, and decorated with a wide assortment of Web 2.0 company logos.  But what really caught my eye was the little box that I’ve captured out and posted here in this blog.  It says, “Stay Connected,” and it provides links to a number of ways that the conference is reaching out (tentacle mode) through it’s own social network (running on CrowdVine), a group in Facebook, a conference RSS feed, all bloggers posting from O’Reilly, a tag link for, and a link to sign up for an e-mailed newsletter.

I would love to see more education technology conferences adopt this sort of out-reach.  Conferences have never been an integral part of the job for most classroom teachers — and with budget cuts already starting to snip their way across the fabric of our education institutions, fewer educators will likely be packing up and driving or flying to the city convention hotel for three days of shared learning and energy-generating friction.

It’s all the more reason why education conferences need to shine more, to radiate ideas rather than rattle them in a box.  Here are some ideas:

  • Consider a social network for your conference.  Although I remain skeptical about social networks, social networking is essential, and a few conferences have made brilliant use of them.
  • Give presenters a wiki page to spread out their session descriptions, post presentation commercials, and generate discussion through the commenting feature.
  • Give exhibitors a wiki page to spread out their description and to add special offers, schedules of booth presentations, and codes for door prizes.
  • Establish and CLEARLY advertise conference tags for bloggers and photographers.
  • Either aggregate photos and blog entries, or set up a conference page on Hitchhikr and link to that. (I’m considering doing a major rebuild of Hitchhikr.)

  • Generate a tag cloud that represents the conversation that is the conference.
  • If you have a social network or are connecting to profiles in some other way, ask attendees (physical & virtual) what’s on their radar, and post that, perhaps as a tag cloud.
  • Keep the conference web site going.  Continue to maintain it.  Post videos and audio podcasts of sessions.  It’s good for your community, and good advertising for your conference.

Any other suggestions?

A Week on the Road

I haven’t been very active here lately — with good reason. Thursday, I completed a huge writing project that I will describe later. As though of you who follow me on Twitter know, I’ve been sucking down espressos at Starbucks, and writing, writing, writing, which had me way to focused to enjoy the scattered frame of mind that my brain usually inhabits, and which spawns my blog postings.

One issue has continued to spring up, though, as I continue to get invitations to join this or that social network, and as people have contacted me wanting to show me their new social networking software. It is all very interesting, potentially useful/valuable, and the sort of tool that we need to solve our problems together. But it is all leaving me a bit bewildered. The reason-why is starting to form in my head, but I’ll share that when it has taken some degree of shape.

MD 80 diagram from SeatGuru
My seat on today's MacDonald Douglas (MadDog) 80 (S80) Aircraft -- with Electric Outlet for my LapTop. I love it!
Today (Sunday), I hit the road again, flying to Colorado Springs to keynote a staff development institute for a large school district. After the keynote, I will hold roundtable discussions with four groups of educators. That should be fun and educational for me.

Then I fly on to Vancouver for the Virtual School Society’s Learning: Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere conference. Ian Jukes will be the opening keynote speaker, and I am looking forward to spending some time with that avalanche of creative energy. My only involvement with the conference will be the closing keynote, so this will be a wonderful opportunity to sit, listen, learn, and maybe blog a bit — and hopefully adapt my keynote to ride respectably behind Ian’s.

So stay tuned!

Best Reading in Days — a Contract

Logo for Learning 2.0 ConferenceMy head’s been elsewhere lately, working toward an insane deadline — which ended yesterday — and I’m still a good two days from finished. I’m upset, but thousands of times more excited about what I’m writing. More about that later.

As I say, my head’s been elsewhere and I have not been able to do any reading for days. That might well be the reason why I got so excited this morning with reading and signing a contract. It’s official — I’ll be speaking at the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai in September. I am so excited. But, what’s peculiar is that reading the contract has filled me with more anticipation of energy, conversation, discovery and intensity than most conference programs.

It is no surprise that this is a different kind of conference. It’s not the first one, and many of us witnessed the first Learning 2.0 conference, where they pulled in the first string of ed thinkers like Alan November, Will Richardson, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Jamie McKenzie, Gary Stager, Wes Fryer, and Chris Smith. This year, it’s the second string. Well that’s not nearly true — with David Jakes, Sheryl (again), Clarence Fisher, Ewan McIntosh, George Siemens, Marco Torres, and a dog! No, that’s Alan Levine — the Cog Dog himself.

That contract was so unique because it very plainly described a conference that is not being planned by a committee so much as it is being planted, cultivated, and grown, as much by the attendees as by the top-notch planners. This is sure to be something that will be watched for a long time. [Enlarged Photo ((Fryer, Wesley. “Linda Sills Shares Opening Comments.” Wesley Fryer’s Photostream. 14 Sep 2007. 16 Apr 2008 <>.))]

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Testing a Little Image Hack

I’m up way to early in the morning.  Not sure why I couldn’t sleep, though I am pretty stressed out right now with a writing deadline that seems almost impossible (yep it’s impossible), three-hour workshop tomorrow to prepare for, handouts for a virtual presentation due Tuesday, a podcast that’s resting in my portable recorder that’s clambering to get out, and then all of this really interesting stuff coming into my aggregator.  I love what I do 😉

Photo of Sea GullAnyway, here’s a little hack that I downloaded from Cabel Maxfield Sassers blog site called Fancy Zoom.  He has pretty clear instructions on the page, but the affect is this.  If you post a thumbnail sized version of a photo in your blog post, but hyperlink the photo to a larger version of the photo, or some other photo if you’re just playing with folks then clicking the thumbnail causes the larger version to zoom out.

Click this photo I took in Saint Ives, Cornwall a few weeks ago to see the effect — I hope.

Wow!  It worked!

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Interneting New Source for Primary Source Content

Image of Digital Vault Related to this morning’s post about Content as Raw Material, my friend, Glenn Wiebe, posted a link and description this morning for Digital Vaults, a new service of the National Archives.  It’s  an incredibly useful, visually appealing, and addictive collection of photos and documents from the archive, organized by tags and navigated using  Ajax (I assume). 

Read Glenn’s post (Digital Vaults: Social Networking for Primary Sources) to get a social studies educator’s perspective. I especially like how you can build your own collection and then mix the documents together into a video.  Very Cool!

As I commented on Glenn’s article, what is most intriguing to me about these tags-based collections is when we, the audience, starts to contribute our own tags, which I think is the way of the new partnership between The Library of Congress and Flickr.

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Content as Raw Material

One of the many distinctions that I frequently make in my presentations is a comparison between how my generation views information and my children’s generation.  For us (oldsters), information is a product to be consumed.  We purchase a book so that we can read it, a CD so that we can listen to it, a DVD so that we can watch it.  As I watch my son and daughter in their information experiences, I see that at least part of the value of the content that they use is in what they can do with it — text, video, audio, images, that can be mixed and remixed together to make something new, valuable, or interesting.  For them, information is a raw material.

Tag clouds of Roosevelt and Chruchill speeches
So what story does this comparison tell?
I’m currently preparing for a virtual presentation (10 minutes) that I will be doing with a specific and non-techie audience, about online databases and primary-source content.  My angle will be using the information as a raw material.  I have to confess that anticipating preparations for this presentation have not had me on the edge of my seat.  I continue to dread virtual events.  I’m an eye-contact guy.  But as I have gotten into it, I am starting to get kind of excited about it. 

Think about taking Roosevelt’s Day in Infamy speach and running it through a tagcloud generator, and then laying that next to Churchill’s Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat speech.  Or annotating paragraphs of The Federalist Papers using Diigo, and then inviting students to turn those paragraphs into meeting places to discuss their import.  Or taking a painting of a famous American Civil War battle, and then zooming in to specific spots, moving around, and telling a story about the battle, the war, the times — ala Ken Burns.  Or creating collages of Civil War era portrait photographs, and asking students to look into the eyes of history — and tell their story.

Not just learning the information —

But working it!

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Web-based Charter…

Picture of GraphA while back, I wrote about Google’s charting API, which enables us to create basic graphic visualizations of data and then generate a URL that will display the graph in our blogs, wikis, or web pages.  I’d had to post a warning at the top of the article stating that, “This post rates pretty high on the geek index.”

This morning, I ran across some work by software developer Jon Winstanley.  Jon has taken the rather dense coding involved in the Google API and wrapped a fairly intuitive form around it, enabling us to generate graphs by filling in the inputs.  He calls it, Google Chart Generator.

You’ll have to play with it a bit to get the hang of the form elements, and you will definitely want to spend some more time with the color selections — than I did.

The tool then generates the editable Google code, that, when pasted into your web page (wiki or blog), will generate the graph, and an uneditable code link to the image, for display in your web page.

Another, similar service, which I found a little more friendly, was Bernie Thompson’s (LeanCode) CHARTPART Google Chart API and Chart Generator Tool.

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Who’s Responsible for my Info Agent?

We’ve heard about software agents for years, programs that are designed or design themselves based on observing your digital behaviors to act on our behalf, conducting ongoing research, answering the phone for us, etc. See Apple’s Knowledge Navigator video, which Shaun McElroy reminded us of in U Tech Tips on April 1.

With the emergence of virtual worlds such as SecondLife, will will likely be seeing (if not already) virtual personages, who are not being driven by a human, but instead by intelligent software that is designed to accomplish some goal, either benign or malevolent. It’s going to happen (if not already)!

Picture of BookAnd so, here are some more future questions for your students.

  • Who’s responsible?
  • What are the legal ramifications of non-human virtual identities or agents that are not human driven?
  • In what ways might current law cross over into the virtual world?
  • Where do evil programs go to mend their ways?

Jacob van Kokswijk seeks to explore these and other questions related to non-human virtual identities in his new book, Digital Ego, available through University of Chicago Press. ((Visser, Gerrit. “Social and Legal Consequences of Virtual Identities.” [Weblog SmartMobs: The Next Social Revolution] 10 Apr 2008. 10 Apr 2008 social-and-legal-consequences-of-virtual-identities/.))

Non-human virtual identities have an increasing impact on our society. A virtual identity is not just an online identity of a person, but a new technical and social phenomenon. What if software agents, powered by artificial intelligence, start acting on your behalf in a digital marketplace? What are the legal consequences of decisions made by…
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A “Viewfinder” for the Planet or “how to seamlessly ‘flickrize’ Google Earth”

Consider Google Earth, as described by the University of Southern California’s Viewfinder project:

There is something almost cosmic about flying around in Google Earth. It allows world travel at lightning speed. It cultivates a sense of global awareness on a visceral level. And it places you in a reference frame akin to astral projection, ultimately altering your perception of the planet, and of yourself.
Image of YouTube video on Viewfinder
Click to view YouTube Video
Then think for a minute about Flickr:

There is something equally significant about Yahoo Flickr, albeit on a folksier, more grounded plane. Simply providing people with a means to share their photographs has resulted in a library of over 2 billion images. These photos are tagged and organized in an organic, ad hoc, bottom-up manner, often referred to as a “folksonomy.” Community-based tagging allows new and often idiosyncratic cross-cuts through the database – through tags such as “cats in sinks,” “scattered images,” and “blue,” for example – and while these may seem trivial to outsiders, the tags are pertinent and highly significant to the communities from which they emerge.

Viewfinder is trying to put it all together (vision).  Watch the video (linked image on right) and let your teacher’s imagination sour!

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Why PLNs are Important?

Image of Steve Presenting through USTREAM
Steve Dembo presenting through USTREAM
Yesterday, I got to sit by the fire in Starbucks, in the enviable position of being close to the warmth and the electricity. With my new USBConnect card from AT&T, I no longer have to sit by the drafty east door to sip from Panera Bread’s free WiFi.

My word processor was up, capturing my nearly sequential stream of thoughts, when up pops Twitter, from Steve Dembo. He’s getting ready to present a session at a regional conference in Pennsylvania. Against my better judgment, I click the link and find myself watching his last minute preparations, along with five or six other Twitterphiles, then seven, then eight. I login and settle for the long run, Steve talking about Digital Natives, digital immigrants, and a new leveling information environment. Not much that was new to me, but Dembo’s style was a joy to watch. Not relaxing, but a joy!

Somewhere between 22 and 59 virtual attendees, the chat conversation became more of a focus point for me, as lurkers were commenting less about where they were from (PA, TX, SC, Perth, Shanghai) and more about the topics of Steve’s presentation, each shining a slightly different light on the idea, each giving me a different way of looking at it. A sudden small and fragile network was becoming a temporary branch of my Personal Learning Network.

PLN Experience Diagram
This is the kind of cycle that makes me a bit dizzy
Then it occurred to me that Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) was exactly what I was writing about at that moment. What a coincidence. So I started writing down, into my current writing project, the real time experience of learning from this sudden PLN. So I commented into the USTREAM chat that I was writing about PLNs and asked some questions about their network learning habits. Makes me dizzy to think about it.

So why is this important? Is there really anything new here? Well, of course We’ve been engaged in personal learning networks — for ages. It consisted of our family, friends, colleagues, preachers, teachers, librarians, public libraries, personal libraries, our various subscriptions, and visits, meetings, and conferences. It’s what we’ve grown up with, so there was little reason to diagram it.

So is it technolust — want-a-be wizards celebrating their newest incantations? I do not know about others, but I’d have to admit a certain amount of this in myself. Part of my impressions about all of this come from my clear memories of laying in the evening autumn grass, watching the earliest satellites pass over the sky, when I was a young boy. Today’s new avenues of communication do amaze me.

What is new are an array of information and communication technologies that are vastly expanding our range of contact and facilitating logical threads of connection between people, connecting them, not because of geography and culture, but because of their ideas. We talk about Personal Learning Networks so that we can draw this expanding suite of applications together into a context that makes sense to other educators.

Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of tools.

OK, going to watch a stream of Gourmet Geeks… fried potatoes with pepper and garlic, dumplings, an omelet, and tomatoes and pancakes! I may have misheard the tomatoes part!

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