Friday, January 24, 2014

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 3

The final day! It's kind of a relief that the last day of the conference is only a half day, since everyone is so tired at this point. Of course, it's also a bit sad that it's just a half day because the creative wheels in my head where only just getting spinning this morning and then the conference was over.

Well, now's the time to take advantage of the last of the free conference wi-fi and get some blogging about today done.  :)

1) We’re All in This Together: Team Collaboration Tools
Speaker: Koreen Olbrish Pagano
Pagano did something really fun in this session: she gave us a bunch of recommendations for free team collaboration tools to check out and then basically let us all poke at the links with a stick together to see what they all did. It was a morning of guided play through a curated list of tools and I can't think of a more perfect way to start off the last, exhausting morning of the conference.

So what specific tools did we play with today? Here's the list (compiled into three handy, dandy categories):

Project collaboration
  1. Producteev  
  2. Podio
  3. Redbooth
  4. Trello
  5. Wiggio  
Design collaboration
  1. Red Pen
  2. Marqueed
Real-time collaboration
  1. Scribblar
We also got a list of great (but not so free) tools to check out as well: 

Project collaboration
- Basecamp, BinFire, Projecturf, Zoho, Google Apps, Apollo
Design collaboration - Cage, Mindmeister
Real-time collaboration - Flow, Conceptboard, GroupZap

These products are all so different, so it's hard for me to make a grand declaration that one is better than another. However, there are definitely a few that I suspect will be worming their way into my heart (and workflow). For projects, Redbooth's user interface made me pretty happy, so I think I'll take it out for a proper test drive when I get back to work. For serious design work I'll likely end up using the mood board-like features of For making joking annotations on pictures, though, Red Pen is a clear winner (here's the delightfully riduclous thing the group put together in the session). As for real-time collaboration, might just be the thing for times when my brainstorming buddies and I can't all be in the same place.

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend that, if you're curious about these tools, you go and click on every single one of those links and see which might work best for you.

2) How to Engage Learners With Digital Stories Using Free Tools
Speaker: Kenneth Hubbell
In this session Hubbell talked about a number of free tools you can use to put together an animated story. While we briefly touched on software like Audacity (sound recording/editing), MovieMaker (video editing), and Celtx (script writing), the vast majority of the presentation centered on an animation tool called Muvizu. This tool uses a suite of pre-created set pieces, characters, and settings that you can arrange, tweak, and light to your own preferences to create animated scenes. Add in voice over work (Muvizu does the hard work of syncing character mouth movement to your audio), stitch a bunch of these animated scenes together in sequence, and you've got an animated movie.

So what does the finished product look like? Well, here's a super slick example that Muvizu linked to on their website. So you can do that with a lot of work, but you can also make stuff that's a lot clumsier (and, sadly, visually dull as dirt) too. There seem to be two secrets to using this tool in a way that doesn't look crummy. Obviously you need to figure out all the ins and outs of the camera/lighting/animation features so you can incorporate them in to your work as needed. But even if you get all that mastered, your animation will still look lousy and boring if you don't understand the basics of film making before you begin even scripting your story.

What I'd suggest you do is get up-to-speed on film making techniques first (perhaps through some of the resources I talked about from the Day 2 sessions) and only try out a tool like Muvizu once you've gotten a good hold your film making basics.

Let's say, though, that you know your stuff when it comes to cinematography, script writing, and directing. Is Muvizu a tool you might want to try? Well, I'm not sure. To my gamer eyes the characters and set pieces looked a bit dated. Plus, the user interface (particularly for moving your design elements and camera around the stage) was terrifyingly odd. I've never played a video game that controlled as awkwardly as this. I think it's something that you'd vaguely get used to though, so don't let the initial uncomfortableness of control completely stop your from trying out this tool.

At the end of the day I might play around with this tool for fun, but don't think it's the right fit for the audience I'm designing content for. The look and feel of the final product has a rough and cartoony aesthetic that I didn't love. However, you might be in a situation where that will still work for you, so check out a few example videos and decide for yourself.

3) General Session 3
Speaker: Kate Hartman
As far as I'm concerned, if a conference opening session should get you excited, then an ending session should make you ponder new ideas that you'll need to mentally chew on during your journey home. By this standard, Hartman's talk about wearable technology, particularly from the angle of using it as "social prosthetics", was a perfect fit.

Hartman has spent years experimenting with how technology can communicate with people. An early project she worked on was Botanicalls: a device that monitored the water levels in a potted plant's soil and actually phoned you, posing as the voice of your plant, to tell you if the plant was thirsty or overwatered. Cute, right? Well, the project morphed from phone calls to giving your plant its own Twitter account and enabling it to tweet its status to you and any of its other followers. Yes, your plant can have Twitter followers. *laugh*

Since then Hartman has continued exploring alternative ways in which we can use technology to alter the ways we communicate. And through this exploration she's been focusing on communicating through wearable technology, in particular with her work as a professor of Wearable and Mobile Technology at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and as a member of their Social Body Lab research group.

Her projects have included getting her students to push the boundaries of wearable technology (check out some fun examples of past student projects here. The telepathic motion-sensitive cat vest is a personal favourite). She's also experimented with new ways to let people communicate using wearable tech, particularly through simple and cheap components like Arduino and LED lights. She shared an amusing project called Nudgeables which was designed to create a subtle way for people to communicate in a tactile way with someone else in the same room (check it out here). The challenge with this project wasn't just designing the mechanical aspect of this tool, but also to shape the design of it so it would be something people would actually want to wear too (fancy that... people don't want to walk around looking like awkward cyborgs?! *laugh*).

So what does this mean to us in L&D? Well, wearable technology is likely something that's becoming a reality in our world... and not just with obvious examples like Google Glass. For instance, think about how many people you know who regularly wear a Fitbit or Nike FuelBand nowadays? I don't know about you, but I know a lot (all of which took to these devices in the last year or so). So why not stretch your brain to think not just of how to use the existing wearable tech that's out there for learning, but also contemplate the possibilities of wearable tech that could become a reality in the future?

So that's it for the sessions I attended at ASTD TechKnowledge this year. Right now I'm going to track down some well-deserved lunch before I have to scamper back to Toronto on the red eye, but definitely expect a final conference post in the next few days where I'll review the conference on a whole and talk about the "joys" of staying off-site at the Flamingo.

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