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.

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 2

Well, it seems Thursday was my big day for sessions as I managed to fit in 5 today. Hooray! On one hand, there was a ton of great content today. On the other hand, all the live tweeting has made my right arm HATE me. Ah well... it was worth it.

1) General Session 2
Speaker: Amy Jo Martin
The day started with a talk on how to humanize our social media brands. The spin was on doing this to monetize our social media presence, which, to be honest, made me feel like this specific talk didn't quite fit in with the overall conference. Martin was an enjoyable speaker though, so there was a lot to be gained from her session even though the angle she took on the topic wasn't ideal.

She started by referencing a Simon Sinek quote: "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" (I highly recommend this TED talk in which he elaborates on this idea). This is a core component of building a compelling brand, both from a company perspective as well as from a personal one. It's even more important when you're dealing with social media. Social media isn't a one-way media... it's collaborative. Because of this, your presence on social media needs to have a real personality and presence in order for people to want to follow and interact with you.

Unfortunately a lot of companies and people new to social media don't get this. They just push out content, are confused when that doesn't seem to lead to any results, and then write off social media as a fad. This is why, Martin suggested, social media education is so important these days. Really "getting" a social media tool is like trying to learn a new language... and just because you've mastered one tool doesn't mean you're a master of all of them. To make her point Martin shared this video from Jimmy Fallon where he and Justin Timberlake hilariously speak in hashtags. Sure, it's funny, but it also points out how drastically different the way communication on social media can be from real speech.

Social media education can help a person or company learn to communicate in the "language" of different social media tools. It can also reduce social media mistakes, help employees become brand ambassadors, be a professional development tool, save companies money, and make social media seem less scary (and more valuable too).

2) Transmedia Storytelling: A Hero's Journey Through New Media
Speaker: Anders Gronstedt
Gronstedt started off by immediately sharing the link for the Prezi presentation he was sharing in the session (you can check it out here). Hooray for showing your work! I'd recommend checking out the full presentation if you get a chance, but here's the high level summary for now.

Transmedia storytelling is simply using multiple types of media to tell a single story. Each media channel should contribute to the overall story, but also be able to stand on its own. Want to see a fantastic example of a deep and effective transmedia story? Check out The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice told using YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr (my love for this series is epic).

While transmedia storytelling comes from the entertainment industry, there's no reason this technique can't also be leveraged for L&D as well. But why use stories to teach information? Because our memory is itself so story based. Stories are exceptionally memorable and persuasive because of this. That means you can make training that's both easy to follow AND easy to remember.

But how do you structure telling a story this way. Gronstedt suggested a tried-but-true structure that humans have been using for ages: the hero's journey. Thanks to a recommendation from @oxala75 (hooray for Twitter!), you can learn more about this story structure with this fun (and short) video. Another great video introduction (also from @oxala75) that will appeal to my fellow gamers is this intro from Extra Credits.

Once you've figured out your compelling story, what media is appropriate to use with transmedia storytelling? Why, any and all of it... from paper posters to videos to podcasts to written stories and so on. Just make sure each story component plays to the strengths of the media you're choosing to create it in.

3) Apply the Skills of TV Directing to Your Learning Video
Speaker: Jonathan Halls
Halls opened with a rather grand statement: "The future training professional will be a media producer." Essentially, he feels that video is going to become even more important in L&D in the upcoming years, so if you don't get how to produce it (and produce content with it that's actually useful) now, you're going to get left behind.

Hall was yet another speaker who made his slide deck and resources available online (and for that I'm grateful), so rather than retell the whole session I'm going to recommend you check out his site for all the details and I'll just fill you in on the highlights.

First off, not all media is great for all situations. Because of this, you need to know the strengths (and weaknesses) of video to help you decide if it's the right fit for what you're trying to teach or show. Second, video is primarily a visual medium, so take advantage of that to make the story you tell with it is both easy to understand and compelling. Use techniques like camera angles, shot types, and framing appropriately in order to help your audience's comprehension and keep things interesting (related note: for an example of how making mistakes with basic framing can completely derail the story you're trying to tell, check out this scathing review of Les Miserables from Film Crit Hulk). Third, create visual tension to keep your audience's attention, for example through the Rule of Thirds.

Hall emphasized how important it is to pre-plan both your individual shots as well as your sequences of shots. Doing this assures that you get all the shots you actually require, and also keeps you from filming more than you need or recording less effective versions of shots because you didn't quite know what you wanted beforehand.

But all these tips are useless if you don't get one thing straight right at the beginning: don't start creating videos until you actually have a learning objective. This helps you know exactly what story to tell.

4) Making Time Lapse and Stop Motion Video
Speaker: Stephen Haskin
While this session was supposed to be about making both time lapse and stop motion videos, we spent nearly all the time on time lapse techniques. Fair enough... I'm not really sure how you could tackle both effectively in only an hour and 15 minutes.

So what exactly are these video styles? Well, time lapse is a type of video that's created by using still shots taken over time with an interval between them (for instance, one image for every 4 seconds of time) that are then stitched together as a video to show a sped-up version of events. You've probably seen this kind of video used in science and nature documentaries (here's a great example from YouTube). Stop motion, on the other hand, is created from shots taken over time with a deliberate movement between shots that creates an animation of sorts. The most likely place you've seen stop motion is in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline (my favourite example of stop motion animation is this music video for the Kenna song Hell Bent).

So how do you create these types of videos? Well, we only got in to time lapse because of the short amount of time we had, but here are the details on that...

This is the math you can use for figuring out how many shots you need to take for the time lapse project you want to make:

Start by determining the total number of frames you need: (time in seconds) x (your frame rate)
Then calculate your frames per minute: (total frames)/(# of minutes)
Finally, use all this to calculate your length of time between shots: (frames per minute)/60

Here's the example we got in the session: to make a 30 sec time lapse of a 1 hour event, you would take 900 frames over the 1 hour event. This equals 15 frames per minute, which will mean you need 4 seconds between each frame.

So that's the math for the timing and number of shots. But how do you go about taking the shots? Haskin recommended using the Interval Timing settings on a DSLR. This makes it easy to set up the camera to take just the right number of shots of the right length of time without you having to monitor it the whole time. Also important: keep your camera stable for the whole shooting period by using a simple tripod.

Once you have your shots, keep the file names as the camera has created them (the camera will thankfully number them in chronological order for you), and move them all into a single folder. From this folder you can use Photoshop or Premiere Pro to compile them into a video. Here's the process you can use for each tool:
  • Photoshop: Open Photoshop and use it to open your image folder. Select the 1st image. Check the Image Sequence box. Click Open. Set your frame rate. Click OK. You now have your time lapse video set up. To publish your video click File, then Export, and then Render Video. Choose your settings and you're good to go. Cool bonus: you can use Photoshop filters to add visual effects to your video. Obnoxious downside: Photoshop takes a long time to render video. 
  • Premiere Pro: Open Premier Pro and press Ctrl+N to create a new project. Set the preset to Digital SLR and choose either 720p or 1080p. Click Import, navigate to your image folder, click the 1st image, click the Image Sequence box, and then click Open. You've now got your time lapse video. When you're done, just publish as you would any regular Premiere Pro project. Plus side of this tool: it has a MUCH faster render speed than Photoshop. Minus side: it doesn't have filters like Photoshop does.
5) Keepin' It Legal: Free Stuff to Spice Up Your Training
Speaker: Michelle Lentz

Surprise, surprise... this was my third session of the day where the presenter, much to my delight, decided to share their full slide deck online. You can check out Lentz's excellent presentation here. It's definitely worth spending some time with if you want to find out more about Creative Commons licensing and/or are looking for a large number of useful links to free media resources. Because you can see the whole deck yourself, once again I'm going to go with the key points review for this blog post.

To start, in order to use something legally you need to understand copyright. But when is something copyrighted? Why, when the idea is committed to paper/screen (not when the idea comes to your mind, but when it's actually created in a physical or digital form). A term you might have heard regarding copyright is fair use. Fair use is the idea that you can use something within copyright if you're parody it or critiquing it (this is the legal way, for instance, that shows like SNL can get away with their spoofs).

When it comes to free resources you can legally use without violating copyright, there are two groups of media you'll want to be keenly aware of. First is public domain. This refers to both old media where the copyright has expired as well as some government materials as well. You can use anything in the public domain for free.

The other group is the kind of licensing this session focused on leveraging: Creative Commons. What exactly is Creative Commons? It's a type of license creators can release their creations under if they want to allow it to be used for free (but possibly with some limitations). If you want a simple overview, I recommend checking out this comic explanation. This type of licensing structure was created by a group of people who were passionate about sharing information and content for free, but also wanted to give content authors a simple way to have some say over how that free content was used by others.

There are currently 6 easy-to-understand types of Creative Commons licenses a content creator can choose to use for their creations. The licenses are all in plain English and the differences pretty much centralize around whether the author needs to be attributed, if the content can be altered, if it can/can't be used for commercial work, and if the content user has to also share their work under a Creative Commons license too.

So, long story short, this means that there are a ton of people online who are making and sharing content that you can use for free (as long as you respect the easy-to-follow license they're sharing their stuff under). If you want to find Creative Commons media to use yourself, there are thankfully a bunch of services that can help you locate this type of content easily, and Lentz cataloged many of them in her slide deck. I've used quite a few of her website suggestions in the past and can vouch for the fact that they're a great resource to have at your disposal.

One final word based on some of the questions asked in the session. Creative Commons licensing works on a lot of trust, particularly in the case of attributing the content you're using to the original author. While you could usually easily get away with not attributing content, I think it's important to keep to the spirit of Creative Commons when thinking about attribution. Remember, someone was nice enough to share that content for free. The very LEAST you can do is credit them as a thank you.

That was one full and productive conference day filled with a bunch of content on learning media! I had a lot of takeaways from today, but none more than this: I am so glad more and more presenters are sharing their slide decks and resources online. It makes it so much easier to review the content and share it with others, which is what many of us come to conferences like this for.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

ASTD TechKnowledge - Day 1

The first day of TechKnowledge is officially over. I'm completely exhausted, but also delightfully full of knowledge. I also reek of smoke, but this is Vegas. I suppose such things are expected.

As usual, here are my thoughts and feelings about the sessions I attended (for even more detailed notes, definitely check out the live tweeting I did earlier today).

1) General Session 1
Speaker: Jeff Dyer
Typically what I look for in an opening general session is a speaker and topic that get people thinking in a new way. Dyer's session on how to be a better innovator definitely fit the bill nicely.

He opened with a discussion on whether creativity comes more from nature or nurture. People typically think of creativity as an inborn talent, but research says it's not. It's something you build. And yes, as a former art teacher I'd most thoroughly agree (my rants about the perception that creativity comes from some sort of stroke of luck rather than years and years of hard work will have to be saved for another full blog post some time in the future). This rest of this session was designed to give people ideas for how they could actually go about the process of building their own creative abilities.

To do the talk a bit of a disservice and give you guys the Cliffs Notes version, Dyer feels that there are several skills that are vital for being a creative innovator:
  • Associating: The ability to connect ideas in new ways. Dyer recommended two ways to build this skill. First, he suggested a thought exercise where you brainstorm ways to combine two seemingly unrelated products, which forces you to think about things in a flexible, innovative way. Second, he talked about ways to use questions to help groups think differently. Depending on the situation, asking questions that impose constraints, completely eliminate constraints, or create substantially more questions can be incredibly useful for helping a group to innovate together.
  • Observing: The name really sums up the task here. Too often people go about creating things based on assumptions or because it's the way it's always been done. True innovators do lots of observations and look for things that surprise them. What can help you think about solving a problem in a new way is to do these observations from the perspective of focusing on the task, not the tool used to accomplish the task. On a related note, Dyer also suggested that doing observations outside of your typical work environment can be incredibly helpful. Your newbie eyes may see issues those close to the task would miss.
  • Networking: Most of us have an informal list of people we tend to go to when we want ideas for how to solve a problem. However, for many people that list is filled with individuals who are just like them: the same industry (maybe even with the same job title), the same age, the same work experience, the same socioeconomic group. The thing is, when you're always bouncing ideas off of people with the same experiences as you, you're probably always going to get the same answers. That's why you need to build a network that also includes people with substantially different experiences from you too. To do this, Dyer recommends tapping in to experts who have solved problems like yours before, attending networking events, and joining a networking group. I'll also add that Twitter is an amazing place to meet fantastic people with a wide range of experiences and interests, but all of which share the love of simply sharing knowledge. Seriously: getting hooked up with Twitter was one of the best things I ever did for my own creativity.
  • Experimenting: Test ideas, seek new experiences, and take things apart. Challenge yourself to learn skills that, at the surface, seem unrelated to your work because you never know what these new skills might be able to inspire in your work, now or in the future. Try prototyping to test out your ideas and see if they actually work (and if some work better than others). Don't be afraid to make a mistake, particularly if that failure means you learned something important that helps you do better later or gives you new insight. I also recommend doing the mental equivalent of going around and poking new things/ideas with a stick to see what happens. It's a fun way to learn.
Overall this session did a great job at framing exactly why no one can get away with saying "I'm not a creative person" anymore. It also was pretty much exactly the energy booster I think a first session should be.

2) The Special Sauce of Social Learning
Speaker: Marc Rosenberg
The premise of this session was simple: social learning isn't anything new. It's something we've actually doing for ages. What is new, though, is the technology that we're using for it and the way we're trying to integrate it into learning situations. L&D is, as a group, quite behind the curve on both social learning and social media and we need to catch up to how society on a whole has already started using it. Now, this doesn't just mean we should shove everything into a social media tool and call the job done (no surprises: this doesn't work at all). It means we need to really grasp social learning as a strategy and then understand how to leverage things like social media to enable this kind of learning.

Rosenberg then went on to talk about what he sees as the next generation of learners: impatient, multi-tasking, more purposeful, not "clock-bound", tech savvy, and social. And here's where I'm going to disagree a bit and say that's not a set of learners that's coming in the future... that's many of the learners we have now. Heck, it's me, and I'm by no means super young. So maybe what's more realistic to say is that these are the preferences of more and more of our learners now.

So if these are the learner needs we need to get better at responding to, and social learning can better help us address those needs, what should we do to incorporate legitimately good social learning in the work we do? Well, here are the suggestions Rosenberg had:
  • Make your social tools and technology extremely easy to use. That way the user sees the tools as a natural way of doing things (Apple, we're looking at you here).
  • Nurture authorship. Let people contribute. You'll need to walk a fine line between not putting too many barriers in their way but also acknowledging that not everyone who creates content creates good (or even accurate) content.
  • Support mobility. Sharing shouldn't only happen in restricted situations (like only when you're at your work laptop... AND it's connected to the corporate intranet). It should happen anywhere.
  • Identify clear, meaningful goals for your social learning that are actually important (both to the company and to the learners).
  • Make membership in your social learning meaningful. Give people an answer for the question "Why do I want to participate?"
  • Put effort into facilitation. Sometimes social learning needs the help of certain people who work to guide the conversation or push it in new directions. This doesn't mean this role has to be be filled by specially trained official facilitators, though. You can even ask one or more of the learners themselves to take on this task.
  • Get leadership on board. A great way to do this is to talk about social learning from the perspective of how it benefits the business (rather than fussing about the tools you'll use). Also, start small with easy to implement tiny pilot projects rather than massive, full scale ones.
  • Remember that management can't be all "Big Brother" about social learning. People need to know that they have a safe place to share or else they won't share at all. Keep management at bay and remind them that this isn't the appropriate place to monitor employees closely.
  • Align your social learning with more formal learning. This is a good way to ease people into social learning habits and techniques.
  • Develop a knowledge-sharing culture. People need to see the benefit of sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it (and the business culture needs to reflect this change in mindset too).
  • Make sure your learners know how to learn. Many people have gotten into the habit of expecting learning to be a passive experience where all the content is pushed out to them. Social learning requires them to become more comfortable with the idea of seeking out and sharing information themselves, which can take some adjusting to (depending on your audience).
Using these tips you can begin to build a work environment that fully utilizes social learning. That said, I do wish Rosenberg had spent more time directly addressing the problems corporate culture can create when trying to integrate social learning into a workplace. I personally see this as one of the biggest hurdles most L&D folks will encounter when trying to increase their use of social learning. Because of this, I would have liked to have gotten more of his perspective on how you can reshape corporate culture in a way that's more friendly to the habits you need to have to make social learning work

3) Choose Your Own Sim-venture: Branched Simulation Basics
Speaker: Bianca Woods
Oh look! It's my own session!

Okay, obviously I'm not going to review my own content. However, because I always share my full slide deck, presenter notes, and resource links, you yourself can review this content on your own. Yeah, it's more fun when it's actually me presenting it, but it's the next best thing.  ;)

Here's the link to my full session materials.

4) Leveraging Devices to Create Amazing Mobile Learning
Speaker: Chad Udell

This was my last session of the day and, while I quite enjoyed it, it's nearly impossible to capture with a blog posting. Basically what happened was Udell talked about how we need to become better at designing for the specific affordances of mobile devices. And what exactly is an "affordance"? It's a quality or feature of an environment or object that allows you to perform a a task. For example, three of the affordances of binoculars include magnification, a dial to adjust focus, and an adjustable size.

Mobile devices have their own unique affordances (an overview is captured in this blog posting from Float Learning), but when we design mobile content many of us don't fully take advantage of these fantastically useful features. So what the rest of this session was designed to do was to help us become more aware of what these affordances of mobile devices are and what sort of ways we can consider using them for learning. Udell took advantage of a tool called Poll Everywhere to let the entire audience text and message our thoughts about the learning application of specific mobile device affordances (like a camera, device sensors, and geolocation) into one big brainstorm. Udell is planning on collecting all the ideas from this session later in the week, and I'll post that link here and on Twitter as soon as I have it (Edit: here's the link). Suffice it to say, there were a lot of creative and useful ideas proposed.

So, this session was all about pushing people to see mobile in a more accurate and broad way. For those of us who routinely push the boundaries of what our mobile devices can do, this didn't really shock us. That said, I still really enjoyed the exercise of it. For others, though, that had previously thought of mobile in a more limited fashion, this was a great way to see mobile in a new way. I thought Dan Steer did a fantastic job of summing up the session from that perspective on his blog.

So, overall, a good first day. I'm still looking for that session that completely shakes up my own thoughts about some L&D-related topic. While today I found a number of sessions that reinforced my own beliefs, I haven't seen one yet that makes me question them. Crossing my fingers that I come across that in the next two days.