Using Live Video Conferencing

I remember the first time I did a live Skype call with someone. I was acquainted with him, but didn’t know him well—only through the Internet. I had no camera on me because my computer was old, but I still felt very awkward looking at the live video feed of him. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of doing live video conferences because it was new and strange to me.

Actually, the idea isn’t new at all. AT&T invented a video telephone in the 1960s. They market tested it, and it was a failure. People didn’t like it and I get it. But today, I’m a believer in the video conference. It is so easy to do with the technology we have.

Things are shifting today, actually in the opposite direction I think. In the 1960s, people were quite comfortable with having both telephone conversations and face to face conversations. I’ve noticed that young people today are having less and less of either type of real-time conversation. They are mediating their conversations, so they can consider, parse and edit every word that is said. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but I think it imposes unnecessary limitations on their life and workplace skills to do it this way.

That is why I am always experimenting with different techniques to engage with students. I think it is good for all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, to learn new skills and bring them to bear on solving the problems that life presents us with.

This semester in my DIGME406 online class on Social Media, we are experimenting with using Flipgrid. The little bit that we’ve tried it seems to have worked pretty well. We all have different schedules and I think it is difficult to try to do live conversations. Flipgrid seems a nice compromise in that regard. It mediates the conversation, so you can record a video and try again if you don’t like it before you commit it. You can also upload a video that has been edited if you wish. And it is asynchronous so it works with anyone’s schedule. So I’m excited to see how that works out.

Me with a telepresence robot

The previous time I taught the online version of this class, I gave an assignment of visiting with me in real time using a telepresence robot. A few students tried it and liked it, but ultimately, I gave up on that one because I had a really hard time with the tech working for everyone, and also some people simply didn’t want to try it I think. We ended up using Skype or Facetime, and even a POTS (plain old telephone system) phone call. But I still like the idea of having a live chat with each of my online students. Distance education is so isolated for everyone involved.

 

Industry Experience Helps in the Classroom

One thing that I think is really important about the school where I work, K-State Polytechnic, is the fact that we value industry experience for the faculty. In fact, having industry experience is often one of the required criteria when hiring a new faculty member.

I think sometimes teachers have forgotten what it is like to be a student or a non-expert. I also think that some teachers have no real experience outside of an academic environment. They’ve spent their whole lives in school, either as a student or later as a teacher.

Industry experience is one way that we at K-State Polytechnic address both of these concerns. Before you can teach in one of our specialty areas like computing or aviation, you have to have had some work experience in the field of that particular area. You are also encouraged and expected to keep that knowledge fresh, which puts you squarely in the world of the lifelong learner.

Before I worked as a college professor, before I even went to college, I worked as a professional in the field of computing. I joined the US Navy right after high school where I was trained to repair and operate the automated computer systems that control the weapons of my country’s fighting warships. I had two years of computer and electronics training followed by four years of sea service in the fleet.

After getting out of the Navy, I returned home to Kansas where I found a job working as a graphic designer in a screen printing shop. I was able to secure that position, because my ship was one of the first in the fleet to install an “off-the-shelf” civilian local area network of PCs and Macintosh computers. At that time, there was no Navy specialty training for office information technology, so anyone with an interest in building and supporting a computer network could assist with that effort, so I did. There I learned about computer networking and about making computer graphics, two skills I still use today as a professor.

I had no knowledge of screenprinting when I took that job, but was able to demonstrate in my interview that I was very comfortable using a computer and its graphics programs. So I worked for several years making designs for what was essentially an advertising specialty company that made custom imprinted apparel. I created the artwork and prepared the screens for printing but other workers did the garment printing. I did a little bit of the printing early on so I would understand the process, but really I didn’t actually print enough to develop real expertise. But I learned the basics and have always kept it back of my mind.

We did a final project in one of my digital media courses with screen printing. In a future post, I will outline the process we used.

Exposing the image on the screen emulsion  Flooding the screen with ink

 

 

 

 

Early Childhood Education

This The Atlantic post about the New PreSchool Education has me rehashing some old concerns. I remember when I was worried about how much “seat time” Kindergarteners were expected to complete when my own kids were that age. Now it seems it is being pushed into Pre-K. It’s lunacy. It is time for parents to push back. It doesn’t work. Of course I want kids to be learning in school, but let’s balance academics with just experiencing and learning about the world. Let kids romp and play. Play is so important to a child’s development, but it is hardly even encouraged at school anymore. I think that’s sad.

My Most Recent Facebook Fail

 

Some Playboy Playmate

My annoyance with Facebook continues to grow. Quite a few years ago people were getting frustrated with the fact that Facebook loosened default privacy settings without warning. This was well documented by Matt McKeon’s Evolution of Facebook Privacy graphic back in 2010. It showed how restrictions were relaxed between 2005 and 2010, without any notice to user. Facebook regularly changes its terms of service, and users opt in by continuing to use the service. Many people started leaving the service even back then, but most people stayed, and even more people joined.

I understood even back then that Facebook’s true customers are the companies that purchase data sets and advertising, not the end users who utilize the platform to communicate with each other. This is a simple part of media literacy.

Anyway, I recently received a friend request from the beautiful woman in the picture above. When this happens and I don’t happen to know the beautiful woman, I always am skeptical. So before I clicked the “heck yeah!” button, I did an image search on Google with her profile image. Did you know you can do that? Just go to https://images.google.com and upload an image you want Google to search for. Anyway, I did with this image above and found thousands of copies of this image. It didn’t take me long to learn the actual woman pictured is a former Playboy model.

The name didn’t match the name on the profile of the friend request. Instead of simply ignoring the request like I normally do, I reported it to Facebook as a spam account. A few days later I received a reply that my report couldn’t be verified!

Umm, Facebook. I took the time to look into it for you. I told you what the problem was. You ignored me. I am very weary of your tone-deaf attitude on privacy and security. Even when your long-time members are doing the work you should be doing, you shoot it down!

Now you are spending millions of dollars on television advertisements telling us how you are getting it right? Lame.

Facebook, I use you. But I no longer love you, and that’s not likely to ever change. I’d love to replace you, but so far I haven’t found the thing that can take your place. Give me time.

 

Ready Player One – Movie Review

The Stacks
The Stacks

This weekend my son, his friend and I went to see Ready Player One. Now my son and I have been anticipating this movie ever since they announced the book would be made into a movie. I first read the book as a part of the K-State Book Network (KSBN) common read program, in which a book is selected by committee and read university wide by incoming freshmen. Ready Player One was the book chosen for 2013, and our campus where I work in Salina had a lot of activities related to the book. So I passed it on to my son who read it around age 12 and he loved it. The book does contain some harsh language and themes, so parents looking for a book for kids to read be advised about that.

However, the movie felt like it cleaned a lot of that up as compared to the book. It is still PG-13, and there are a few questionable moments for really small kids, but nothing more than in any other Steven Spielberg show you might have seen.

The Clan
The Clan

We’ve been anxiously waiting for this movie to come out, and we finally got to go see it last weekend. One thing to consider when you are a fan of a given book and heading to see a film based on a book is that books and films are two different forms of media. Both forms have strengths and shortcomings, so it is unfair to directly compare the two. My friend, K-State Librarian and KSBN guru Tara Coleman says:

I think you have to judge movie adaptations of books on a different scale. - Tara Coleman

So I kept an open mind at the film, and tried to see it without nit-picking too much that this detail or that was left out of the picture. I think it helps when you approach it using that mindset.

I do think it is fair to expect the film to keep with the spirit of the book and not change the overall story in that light. The main ideas need to be preserved, and I think that the Ready Player One film succeeds in this regard. Also, I appreciate that some large plot details were changed, in that it allowed me to see a new story unfold without knowing exactly what to expect next. I won’t spoil the film for you in disclosing any of them here, other than to let you know that you can expect a few surprises that are fulfilling and enjoyable. I found myself laughing out loud at some of them, and at the end I wanted to cheer and applaud. I wonder if attendees at larger screenings that actually happened?

I’m not a film critic, and I don’t get really hung up on details that the pros might. I just expect to be entertained with a good story when I see a movie. I am so tired of attending films that have weak stories, I am to the point where I’m very skeptical and very choosy about what I will pay money to go see or not see.

I came away from this one feeling satisfied, even rewarded. The thing moves along nicely. Typically, in many if not most films I can sense when I’m getting bored and things aren’t moving along as quickly as they should. Often times it is because they are showing me details that I really don’t care that much about. (I’m looking at you War for the Planet of the Apes and The Last Jedi ). If I notice myself getting bored and feeling the “willing suspension of disbelief” dissipating, there’s a good chance I won’t feel good about recommending the show to my friends. That was never really the case with Ready Player One.

Some of the battle scenes, some of the CGI stuff I felt were a bit overdone. But I feel that way about a lot of the comic book based movies that are being made. In fact, the trailers that I saw before seeing the movie all felt that way, so I was a little leery going in. But I’m willing to forgive a bit of that so long as the story is reasonably good, and in this case it was.

Wade & Halliday
Wade & Halliday

Overall, it was a good story, reasonably faithful to the spirit of the book, presented some new ideas and surprises, and I walked out of it feeling satisfied. I give it two thumbs up. It is one movie of a very small list that I might actually consider watching again.

Tin Can Titans Audio Book

Book cover of Tin Can Titans

I resubscribed to Audible audio book service and have been listening to books during my hour long commute to and from work. Last week I finished Tin Can Titans by John Wukovits.

The book captured my imagination immediately by introducing the scene of American ships entering into Tokyo Bay just before the Japanese surrender in WWII. I spent two years aboard the US Navy destroyer USS Cochrane (DDG-21), that was forward deployed at the Yokosuka naval base in Tokyo Bay. The hills around that  base and city were pockmarked with tunnels and caves that had been dug during WWII and sealed up after the war. After that hitch, I spent two more years aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) so I’ve always been a Pacific fleet guy and interested in things that happened there in WWII. Here is part of the book’s opening:

Admiral William F. Halsey had not been this satisfied since before the war. As he looked across the waters of Tokyo Bay on August 29, 1945, from the bridge of his flagship, the USS Missouri–the battleship nicknamed “Mighty Mo”–a conglomeration of battleships and cruisers steamed behind in a long line stretching to the horizon…

Halsey might justifiably place his Missouri in the first spot, giving his battleship the honor of taking the victorious United States into Tokyo Bay as conquering heroes come to lay claim on a defeated foe. He instead handed that honor to a trio of destroyers, O’Bannon (DD-450), Nicholas (DD-449), and Taylor (DD-468), smaller vessels dwarfed in size by “Mighty Mo,” which followed them in line.

I could tell this would be my kind of book. Destroyers and Mighty Mo. I smiled at the thought. This introduction had three things I knew, destroyers, Tokyo Bay, and the battleship Missouri. Here is a photo of me recently shared on social media by a shipmate on the USS Missouri (BB-63)

Genereux at quarters
Genereux at morning quarters on the Mighty Mo. Photo credit – Zane Watts

I frequently wondered about the war and the history of what happened. As I walked around the Yokosuka base and the decks of the Missouri, it was hard not to wonder about all of the history that had happened right there where I stood.

I read a couple of history books back then, but little about the role of destroyers in winning WWII. One book I do remember reading back then was called Retaking the Philippinesso I was familiar with MacArthur’s campaign in that country. I spent a lot of time time at Subic Bay and used that book to learn more about the last stand at Corregidor and the Bataan Death March, as well as MacArthur’s return to Leyte Gulf.

Tin Can Titans was especially fascinating to me given the places I have seen and been. Of course I had heard of Guadalcanal, but never had full appreciation of the importance of winning there. According to Tin Can Titans, Guadalcanal was the key to turning the tide of the war. Lose Guadalcanal and chances were good that the entire Pacific could be lost, including Australia. Destroyers played a vital role in securing that victory.

As a tin can sailor myself, I understood the role of these ships as one of expendibility. We were there to be on the front lines, to run picket keeping the enemy far from more important assets like carriers and such. On a tin can, you can hear the ocean sloshing against the hull right where you sleep.  More than once, I imagined how little it would take for something to come right through that bulkhead and have ocean come pouring in on us as we slept.

The Tin Can Titans book does a nice job of explaining what it was like for the destroyer men of WWII. They spent many long hours in battle. Sometimes having no rest from the previous engagement before the fighting resumed. It wasn’t overly difficult to sink these ships. Some were struck by gunfire or devastated by kamikazes.

I was moved by the fact that the Fletcher-class destroyers lead the way into Tokyo bay at the conclusion of the war. I think Halsey made a right choice in doing that. Many of these ships had been heavily damaged or sunk, and they all were the work horses of the fleet, taking it on the chin to protect the bigger “more valuable” capital ships.

If you enjoy WWII history, particularly Pacific war history or naval history, you will really enjoy Tin Can Titans.

 

 

 

 

Amateur Night

Image source: xkcd.com/386/

I was recently thumbing through the book The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki & Peg Fitzpatrick and I came across a gem of a suggestion for handling heated topics and comments online. If you’re like me, you sometimes post something that is controversial and then the subsequent commentary quickly spirals out of control. I don’t mind getting into an online discussion and sharing my opinions as well as seeing the opinions of others, but over the years it has become painfully obvious to me that it is impossible to win an argument on the Internet.

That’s why I really like Mr. Kawasaki’s suggestion of going three rounds:

My suggestion is that you embrace the rules of amateur boxing and fight for only three rounds. The opening bell is you share a post. Ding-ding. Round 1: Commenter comments. Round 2: You respond. Round 3: Commenter responds to the response. End of fight.

How simple is that? You share something. You make your position known. Your guests get to have their voice heard. They even get the final word. I like it. Now if I can only remember to use it.

 

A Student’s Suggestion for My Online Course

This semester I’m teaching online for the first time in many years, and it is a course that I’ve never taught online before, Social Media. Now if there was ever a course that makes sense to do online, I think it would be a Social Media class. (If you’re interested in seeing us in action, check the #digme406 hashtag on Twitter.)

One of the things I did was require my students to video chat with me. Some opted to use telepresence robot. Some just used Skype or Facetime.

This week, I had a video chat with a student who gave me a suggestion I hadn’t thought about. I mentioned that I noticed there is a flurry of activity on Sunday night when all of the week’s assignments are due. This student is a 100% online student, so her perspective was really helpful. She said some classes have a number of small assignments due through out the week to encourage regular participation. In other words, I’m shooting myself in the foot by making everything due once a week on Sunday night.

It was a great suggestion. I think these one on one conversations are great for improving the course. I think they are important for feeling connected to the students, and for them to feel connected as well.

One thing I did that seems to be working well is the Study Buddy assignment. I required everyone to make contact with three others in the class in the first week. These contacts seem to be sticking, as several have reported having regular contact with their study buddies. That makes me feel good, because it is not unusual to go an entire week without hearing from any student. I think the suggestion of staggering assignments is the way to go, to make sure everyone is regularly checking in.

Creative Attendance Taking

After coming across the Near-Sighted Monkey’s post on using a drawing exercise for taking attendance, I had to share it here. This is absolutely the most creative way I’ve ever seen for taking attendance in a class. Starting with an original drawing, each student was to copy the drawing exactly except substituting the face with a drawing of their own face.

I love the idea of giving a creative assignment like this for taking attendance. I’m going to think about similar creative ways to take attendance in my classes. Well done!

Higher Education Podcasts

Podcasts. I love ’em. I listen to a number of podcasts on a variety of topics. I’ve listened to design podcasts, storytelling podcasts (This American Life is my favorite), podcasts about faith and spirituality, history podcasts, science podcasts and of course podcasts about education.

I recently heard about the Higher Education Podcast Project  Right now there are over 100 podcasts listed related to teaching/learning/professional development in higher education. I’ve only listened to one so far, and it is excellent. It is the The Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. You can be sure I will be looking through the list and giving some more a listen. Podcasts are a great way to turn your car into a rolling classroom of learning!