Technology and Education: Kaplan Ad

January 19, 2009

This terrific new Kaplan spot beautifully captures the deep changes technology is bringing to higher education.

AxisPortals Aphorism Question:  Is it time?

Tech History and Nostalgia

January 19, 2009

AxisPortals has been collecting computer history artifacts on YouTube, this morning, and has run that playlist into a widget on the AxisPortals site.   The nostalgic aspect is fun, but this is also a good reminder of how rapidly things evolve in this sphere, and of how important it is to be comfortable and confident enough about technology to go with the flow of change.  Now more than ever, it’s crucial to have general technological aptitude and understading as opposed to narrow expertise.

 AxisPortals Axiom:  Aptitude determines altitude.

Reclaiming the Power of PowerPoint

January 16, 2009

PowerPoint abuse has been so widely commited, suffered, and documented by now that it’s amazing that anyone dares to create a single .ppt slide, anymore, but after experimenting with Prezi’s wonderfully fresh take on presentation software, it occurred to AxisPortals to take a moment to champion the power of PowerPoint by reviewing some best practices:

  1. Keep the number of slides to the absolute minimum.  AxisPortals has lately seen far too many presentations involving well upwards of 50-60 slides for speaking slots of of only an hour or two.  Not good!  The more slides, the greater the likelihood of a presenter simply reading from them, which is the cardinal sin because it means that the speaker is engaging neither with the audience nor with the material. 
  2. If you intend to distribute print copies of the presentation, do so only after it is over, especially if the document is lengthy (which it shouldn’t be if you’re exercising good .ppt self-discipline and keeping the overall number of slides to a minimum).  If people have the whole presentation in hand, there’s little reason to listen.  They can and will flip ahead.  They can and will simply grab the handout and leave.
  3. Conversely, if you’re using your slides truly as prompts, illustrations, and attention getting overviews, a handout with a space for notes about the real meat of the presentation–the part not captured on the slides–can be truly useful to the audience. 
  4. Approach slides creatively.  Sometimes, an embedded image or video is the best illustration of or backdrop for the point you wish to make or the argument you’re advancing.  Envisioning a slide as a counterpoint to what you will be discussing in a given portion of your presentation can also be very effective.  Resisting the urge to record every single thing you intend to say is the key, here.  Better to make a surprising list that isn’t self explanatory, and then let the presentation itself demonstrate how these are connected.  For instance, you might include a bare bones and intriguingly puzzling list such as “Airplanes, Fences, Boxers, Pom Poms, Stripes, Fossil Fuels,” and let your presentation itself make the connection apparent.  If you make the connection compellingly, then your audience will forever associate these terms with your argument.
  5. Keep priorities and directionality properly sorted out when using any slide show tool.  Remember, the slides are there to underscore your presentation in a memorable way.  You aren’t there to present the slides.  The slides are there to illustrate and support a presentation that should always transcend them.
  6. One of the most well-received presentations AxisPortals has ever delivered proceeded entirely without the carefully prepared and timed slide show meant to illustrate it.  The act of preparing the slide-show was key because it entailed rehearsing, tightening, clarifying, and polishing the whole.  The slides weren’t missed, and there’s a lesson in that.
  7. Always focus on your audience, not your slide-show.  If your slides give you another way to connect to your audience, then you’re doing it right.  You don’t need the slides, but they’ll enhance your effort.  If you’re facing your slides, reading from them, and spending most of your time reading from the projected image, then you’d be far better off ditching the PowerPoint show.
  8. PowerPoint is at its most powerful when you control it.  If it controls you, then the power is in the wrong spot.

That’s a good presentation.  In deliberately doing everything wrong, this speaker does everything right, and his point–powerfully made via PowerPoint–isn’t easily forgotten.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Claim your power as a speaker.  Never let it slide.


January 15, 2009

As a fan of mind mapping tools–and as one of the many who appreciate that presentation tools can be used really well but are predominantly abused–AxisPortals has been having an especially good time experimenting with Prezi.

 Because this new mind mapping and presentation tool is not at all driven by division into slides, anyone who is very familiar with a more typical slide show tool  will probably need to create several experimental Prezi-tations before its distinctive flow starts to feel really natural, but it’s well worth the effort.  Watching the demo videos on the site and interacting with the sample presentations there is also helpful.

Definitely worth the effort.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Think Outside of the Slide


The Knowledgeable vs. The Knowledge-Able

January 8, 2009

Michael Wesch’s new essay in Academic Commons should be read far beyond the realms of academia. 

AxisPortals fully expects to be quoting from “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able:  Learning in New Media Environments” for a long while.  Indeed, the piece is so darned quotable that it might just be faster to throw quotation marks around the whole thing and leave it at that.   “Yeah, what he said,” isn’t one of AxisPortals’ most frequently invoked phrases, but that’s the reaction that this essay prompted.  Wesch understands the phenomenon collectively (not to mention ubiquitously and often unthoughtfully) known as Web 2.0 far better than the vast majority of human beings do.  Better yet, he’s able to share that understanding in sharp but approachable prose. 

Here’s one favorite section of the essay:

 Wikis, blogs, tagging, social networking and other developments that fall under the “Web 2.0” buzz are especially promising in this regard because they are inspired by a spirit of interactivity, participation, and collaboration. It is this “spirit” of Web 2.0 which is important to education. The technology is secondary. This is a social revolution, not a technological one, and its most revolutionary aspect may be the ways in which it empowers us to rethink education and the teacher-student relationship in an almost limitless variety of ways.

That’s smart on so many levels that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin praising it, but “the technology is secondary”  and “it is this ‘spirit’of Web 2.0 which is  important” are particularly striking turns of phrase,  and their wisdom is utterly applicable in  the business world.   Again and again, this is the very thing I wish I could magically and permanently impress on IT decision makers, especially in the SMB.  Which specific technology you have access to is in many respects much less important than knowing something about how to use it.  And “knowing how to use it” is increasingly less a matter of technical training and know how than it is a matter of understanding how communication is different, now, and how our goals and our measures of success must also shift.   Stasis is simply gone.  Emergence is the order of the day.  Sounds simple, but envisioning communication as a constant back and forth flow still requires a major shift in world view for many business leaders.

Not long ago, I watched a CEO type painstakingly set up a folder hierarchy for a new document storage solution (not quite a CMS, even–more a matter of shared FTP folders).  Now, I”m not entirely against organization.  After all, without some sense of structure, people feel lost and frustrated.  On the other hand, I know that forcing users into rigid, predetermined folder hierarchies often defeats the very purpose of any document sharing and storage tool. 

It’s tough to know ahead of time exactly which documents an organization will produce, and documents themselves are fluid.  Where was the possibility for users to tag their information, I wondered?  Where was the possibility for them to work on projects simultaneously?  Where was the possibility for them to create the organic and emerging structures that would best suit their ongoing projects, and their new or developing ideas?  Where, for gosh sakes, was the possibility for users even to accomplish something so elemental as adding  a new folder? 

This was definitely a case of the specific technology entirely trumping and possibly even ultimately squelching the spirit of the thing. 

Why is the cardboard folder still our model of the ideal information container and transporter, anyway?  I’ve always hated real world folders.  They get dog eared, people fail to alphabetize them correctly, stuff gets taken out of them without being put back into them, and they accumulate in  a most frightening fashion. They’re really quite the pain.  So why is the kind of manilla folder that a 50’s era secretary was forever fussing with  still our overarching metaphor for how information should be managed?  Maybe it’s time to change that.  Oh, we don’t have to get rid of them entirely–AxisPortals would never (well, seldom) suggest igniting a folder bonfire–but we really do need to think beyond those rectangular containers, and to understand that even information that is visibly sorted into a folder does and should exceed the boundaries of that folder, and should be easy to locate in other ways (keyword, tag, title, text search), and easy to mix and remix with far flung documents from all sorts of exotic elsewheres (including other folders, of course).  We need to understand that every document is a multiplicity of flows.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Information doesn’t have to be captured in flat little alphabetized containers any more.  If you free it, it will flow. (Try clicking on some of the tags and categories even in this fledgling blog, and you will soon see exactly what AxisPortals means.)


January 8, 2009

Today, AxisPortals has spent some time growing familiar with and fond of a new tool/toy. (All of the best tools are also toys, and vice versa–just ask any iPhone owner!)

The Bamboo Tablet  definitely counts as both an absorbing toy and truly useful tool.   Anyone who has ever tried to draw or to retouch photos with a clunky and uncooperative mouse will immediately appreciate how nimble this digital pen and pad are by comparison.  Plus, Bamboo makes it easy to capture handwriting in a variety of programs, so quick and personal handwritten comments, annotations, illustrations, and highlights can be incoporated into all sorts of documents, from slide shows to email posts.

AxisPortals will continue to explore the exciting possibilities.  Meanwhile, here’s a quick taste of the kind of custom illustration that this powerful little tool (which doubles as a  nifty little toy) turns into a breeze to make.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Children tend to learn with joyful abandon.  Their classrooms tend to be filled with toys.  Coincidence?  AxisPortals thinks not.

Taking it to the Street

January 6, 2009

AxisPortals has spent many happy moments–and a few  bittersweet ones– using Google Maps’  “Street View” to stroll down memory lane. 

The irony of using high tech to indulge in flights of nostalgia isn’t lost on AxisPortals, but the plain fact of the matter is that the internet offers nostalgic satisfactions at every turn:  you can watch favorite television programs from  your youth, track down vintage toy ads, collect all of your old Halco and Collegeville costumes on eBay, and find images of all sorts of places, things, and people that have long since disappeared from your life. 

Street view offers one such trip into the past–a virtual visit to the far flung hometown that the viewer hasn’t set foot in for many years, for instance; conversely, it delivers a fairly up to date look at the place in question.  This is why the experience can be so bittersweet.  Places once much loved might be painfully changed, crumbling, abandoned, or simply gone.

AxisPortals uses street view  fairly innocently–to capture, for instance, images of a fondly remembered but long defunct neighborhood grocery store’s still striking architecture.

Street view  is also great for viewing parts of the world you’ve never visited, previewing a vacation spot, seeing what the building you’ll soon be navigating to in a strange city looks like and so forth.

Unfortunately, a stroll through street view is never entirely innocent, for it inherently involves big brotherish surveillance that has some folks concerned about their privacy.  After all, it’s not really possible to offer a copy of the whole world (eventually!) in virtual 3-D without occasionally recording a few things people don’t want seen (cars parked in forbidden places,  moments of unguarded back yard sunbathing, etc.) .  Even those with nothing in particular to hide might start to feel invaded if they spend much time pondering the idea that it’s brilliantly, terribly easy for anyone–anyone at all sitting at any computer at all located anywhere in the world at all–to walk down their streets, turning and gazing down driveways  or into  yards at will as the neighborhood dogs sleep on, oblivious and barkless.

So far, this technology involves only still images, so this isn’t quite like having a video camera constantly trained on your home or business so that a virtual walkthrough would always be in real time, but it’s not hard to imagine the next step, is it?

AxisPortals doesn’t intend to stop using the street view feature of Google Maps anytime soon. However, there’s significant tension here. 

Technology is a blessing; privacy is sacred.

Privacy is sacred; technology is a curse.

Can we preserve and protect the best of  both our technology and our privacy?  Can we honor them simultaneously? 

AxisPortals suggests taking a virtual stroll down the sidewalks of your neighborhood while you think about it.

AxisPortals Aphorism One:  Technological advances often outstrip our ability to deal with their ethical implications.