Monday, March 24, 2008

You Are There: The Sense of Presence Offered by Digital Tools

Disclaimer: This post was written last Friday and then forgot to do a final revision and post. I think it is still timely, though, because it is about more than the event that I describe. The event is just one example of the sense of presence that we can experience with today's digital communication tools.

I am sitting in my comfy chair in Huntsville, Texas, on March 20, 2008. I am watching a TV feed while Barack Obama speaks in Portland Oregon, having just received the endorsement of Gov. Bill Richardson. My daughter, who lives in Portland, is in the audience. She is texting me. I just phoned a friend and told her what was going on. Now I am writing, watching, and listening. How cool is that? One of the amazing things about this is that I, a digital immigrant, find all this tremendously exciting, but at the same time am not surprised by the ability to do all these great things at once. After all, I went looking for a live feed expecting to find one, and Emily and I text all the time. I know it is a cliche, but seeing the live video and knowing that she and I are experiences it simultaneously despite hundreds of miles and two time zones, makes me feel almost if I was there. This is the sense of presence that we enjoy today via the Internet.

Back in the late 1990's I first started thinking about this quality, this attribute of our digital lives. I was at the time immersed in doctoral studies, and one of my professors, Dr. Doug Rogers, Baylor University College of Education, kept talking about it. He was quite prescient, because even at that time, before anyone was talking about real time or digital streaming, he was stressing the sense of "being there" as a major transformative element of the emerging digital world. The power of this sense is one major hook that technology has for users, and a big factor in capturing students' attention.

My first experience with this phenomenon was during the time I was learning about instructional technology from Dr. Rogers. One day a very excellent teacher of ESL brought a class to the library. They were looking up their home countries and towns and putting together reports. One girl had just entered that week, and was from a town in Mexico that was so small we could not locate it on any of our printed maps. At this time the only way I could get Internet was to bring my own 1440 baud modem from home and dial out using a direct line that I shared with the shop teacher so we could send and receive faxes. We sat down and searched for her town, and there was indeed a web site about it. I will never forget the look on that young girls' face as she exclaimed "That's it!" There was a picture of a town square with the inevitable church, and a park with some benches. She pointed and said, "I used to sit there every day with my grandmother!" No doubt about it...her sense of presence at that moment was palpable. I have never forgotten the lesson I learned that day, that giving youngsters a sense of presence can open them up to us, and also get them excited about learning. She visited that site many times after our discovery, and I like to think it eased the homesickness that virtually all immigrant children feel when thinking of the homes left behind.

Whe we are confronted with heavily filtered school environments where students' access to the many great social networking Web 2.0 resources available, we are keeping them from having some experiences that offer the sense of presence. It's time to speak up for greater access.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Dog Can Read!

He did this while I was gone to Florida. He does not like it when I leave him. I am not sure where he found the book but think it was in a basket in guest bedroom. I try to put all books out of reach when I travel because I know he consumes them when I am gone and he is lonely and frustrated. But really...what was he supposed to think when he found this one? Incidentally it IS a good book, a younger readers' version of Fast Food America.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Name Game: Do you name your gizmos?

I have a new MacBookPro! Oops, think I mentioned that already. After years as a PC-only person, I have reverted to my more natural state, that of being dual platform. Just now as I was bending over to pick up my new magic box, a name popped into my head: Maxine. Of course! What else could I name my new computer? She joins Idella, my iPhone, as my two newest and presently favorite digital companions. My CRV is Yolanda Dos Honda (Yolanda Uno selflessly saved my life in a rollover) and my mechanical heart valve is named Fido because he is so faithful. I come by this habit naturally--my family always named our cars. There was Easter Egg, a yellow and green two-tone Chevy, and Harriett the Chariot, a long-suffering '38 Plymouth. For a while I named my house plants after people I loved, thinking that might prompt me to take better care of them. Instead it just made me feel more guilty when they died, so I have sworn off that.

I know I am not alone. Back in my undergrad days at Baylor University, somebody put up signs in the dorm bathroom naming the toilets I John, II John, III John, Jude and Revelation (yes, church schools have special Christian grafitti). Many librarians mention that they name their computers in labs and libraries. It helps keep them identified as in..."Mrs. Bell! Jack London is frozen up again!" I remember having a contest to name all our library computers after literary figures.

I just finished reading Counting on Grace, by Elizabeth Winthrop and may blog again about this wonderful book. Grace names the frames she must tend in the textile factory where she works. The easy-to-work-with frames get girl's names and the cranky ones are given boy's names. Albert and Edwin, for instance, are always acting up, just like some of the boys she knew at school before being forced to leave to work in the mill.

It would be a fun digression from more serious tasks to hear from others who name their gizmos. Let's see if I get some responses.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Flip Cam/RCA Small Wonder

These products have been discussed recently on LM_NET, and I have shied away from even reading them. The reason for this is that I have already requested several Flip Cams for our department. I felt like I looked at them closely, actually handled one last fall at the Internet@School Conference, and read up on them on Internet sites. BUT somehow I missed out on the fact that there was a similar competing product, the RCA Small Wonder camera. I do not particularly like being wrong, and this is especially true when it comes to spending money. Coupled with that was the fact that, as I always do, I just finished a class day with my Instructional Design class for MLS students at Sam Houston State University. I had a nagging fear that I had been too hasty selecting the Flip Cam, due to my eagerness to get my hands on one of these nifty tools. To my credit, I did not ask for one to be ordered for each department member, as we sometimes do with equipment, but rather asked for 2-3 to try them out.

Anyway, I finally gathered my courage and went to a delightful review/comparison of the two products. This great discussion and actual video comparison is offered by the inimitable Jeff Hastings, well known to LM_Netters and EDTECH listserv members. I am so glad that I did take the time to view the short disucssion. Jeff gave a bit of history of both cameras, showed them both to viewers up close and personal, and then showed clips filmed with both cameras under similar circumstances. The results were...not much difference at all! Both cameras performed reasonably well, though I thought the Flip actually did a little better. Of course I was predisposed to like its footage since this was the camera I had already selected. I feel much better! I can breathe a sigh of relief that the cameras I requested will serve us well. In the back of my mind as well, though, is the thought of ordering a RCA also to further compare the two.

Also there was an additional bonus. Jeff Hastings is someone whose postings I have followed for several years, and with whom I have corresponded personally on more than one occasion, is now a real person to me! It was interesting seeing him, hearing his voice, and seeing his snow-covered campus.

Bottom line: If you have ordered or already have either camera, you are using a great little gadget that can see you through any number of Web 2.0 projects. If you are wavering or considering additional camera purchases, If you have neither camera, you should look into these two inexpensive gizmos, both priced under $200. I strongly recommend Jeff's review/video. You can find it here:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Across the Great Divide

Isn't there a song by that name? Anyway, I am striking out into new/old territory. I am re-entering the world of the MAC! Was it the commercials? Nah, I think they are cute and funny but do not think they were more than maybe a gentle nudge. Was it unhappiness with Microsoft and the PC World? Not really. I certainly do not intend to stop using PCs, in fact know I will find my PC laptop indispensible for daily use. What were some factors then?
* Back in November I got an iPhone. I loved it from the start. It is a combination of the features and the style. I like both. It is so friendly and engaging...made me remember how much I used to like MACs for the same reasons.
*My daughter recently gave me her almost-new Compaq. She is a MAC person but got the Compaq for use on the road when she travels since we got a good price on it. She hated it and bought herself a refurbished MAC instead. That means I now have a perfectly good PC laptop and can branch out with my university-provided machine. The more I used her little MacBook, the more I liked it, even though it is several years old. It runs the music software she needs, which is not available for PC.
* I noticed more and more people at conferences I have recently attended were using MACs. Made me wonder why they, who tend to be such great computer users, preferred MACs.
* I also started to notice how many of my Tweets via Twitter are MAC fans. What do they know that I need to know

Anyway, I took the plunge. Even unpacking it was a joy. Those Mac folks KNOW HOW TO PACKAGE. My new friend came in a lovely little suitcase type box, snuggled down in special Mac styrofoam and swaddled in soft cuddly plastic sheets. I withdrew it reverently from its happy little home. Initial setup was done by the university before they sent it out to me. Getting online took a few minutes but not an unduly hard process. I now consider myself well becoming what I used to be...happily BI (platform that is). I am using my new MacBookPro right now, and enjoying the lovely smooth keys and the general feel of it. I am excited about having a built in mike and camera. I know I will be using PC's for a lot of work now and always, but am eager to rejoin the MAC world again!

Incidentally, it occurred to me that the MAC vs PC preference discussion is somewhat analogous to today's political conundrum. Is it just me or does Obama seem like a Mac and Hillary more like a PC? Playing around with this idea I came up with several reasons:

* Very nicely packaged
* Stylish
* Engaging and appealing
* Easy to like

* Businesslike
* Long history of getting things done
* Practical
* Hardworking

McCain? There my analogy breaks down. I am not sure what to compare him to! And as to my previous comments, I don't know which to pick between the two. The ideal might be, in my mind, the choice I am making for my future computer use...BOTH! Wouldn't be fun to have both those candidates on a ticket as well...

PS Yeah of course it is a song...originally by The Band, I think...