NYT: Soundscape Ecology

NYT: Soundscape Ecology

We get the Sunday New York Times here at home because we are former newspaper reporters wanting to support the newspaper world in the Age of Trump and media-bashing, and because the Times often has deep dives into interesting topics. We like the voice of the Editorial Board, too. It pushes back on the president.

Anyway, the Times often does special sections for Sundays and this weekend, I noticed a large magazine called Voyages. I figured it was another one of their travel-themed magazines, which I will barely glance at. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. Same with Home sections. We’re not remodeling. But as I flipped through the Voyages magazine, I saw it was all just photos. Beautiful, fascinating, inspiring shots. And a note came with it, saying there is an audio component that you need to access online.

I dove in, headphones ready with my phone, and I was transported to places in the world through my ears and eyes. I listened to a lava flow, to the crackling of salt deserts in Chile, to the movement of a single tree with thousands of trunks in Utah, to creatures under the ocean, and more. It was a wonderful immersive experience, which one of the folks being interviewed on one of the tracks called “Soundscape Ecology.” I like that term.

It is a reminder of how much we forget about sound when telling a story, and how important it can be. It’s also about remembering that the world’s animals, plants and weather is talking, if we only take the time to listen.

Visit if you can. These Voyages are worth it. (There’s even an audio Crossword Puzzle “that you can hear.”)

Peace (eyes closed),
Kevin

Equity Unbound: Advocating for Accessibility

Alt text considerationsAn interesting discussion unfolded into the Equity Unbound hashtag the last few days as some of the organizers — who are university professors — launched a Twitter scavenger hunt, where people tweet mystery images and others tweet guesses as to what the image is.

The issue of accessibility to images and information for disabled participants, particularly those who use screen readers, sparked a discussion about the use of “alt-text” on images. If you don’t know what that is, alt-text is an option that allows you to layer some informational text along with an image, so that a screen reader for a blind participant, for example, can understand that an image has been shown and get some understanding of what the image is. (This is not to say screen readers are perfect, either).

On Twitter, you have to go into your profile on the web version and find the setting, and turn it on. It’s way at the bottom of the options. Once on, every image you post will give you a prompt on adding text to the image. But, the default for the setting is “off,” which seems rather strange. Maybe there is a technical reason. But I doubt it. (Mastodon, for example, has the default “on” for all users.) It’s also odd that the setting on Twitter for this is at the very bottom of the options, as if were a throw-away issue.

twitter alt text

I tweeted out an idea off the top of my head yesterday morning as I was thinking about accessibility — what if the Equity Unbound community wrote a crowd-sourced letter to Twitter, asking for it to make the alt-text option to be default as “on” as a way to make the platform for more accessible. After a day of teaching in the classroom, I found that a bunch of folks had taken up the idea, and a letter was already underway.

See the draft of the letter and consider signing it

Our friend, Greg, has been helpful in starting to share some online resources about this topic, and one of the links breaks down the types of images that might need alt-text for screen readers (such as informational images, photos with text in it, maps, etc.) and those that may not (decorative images). I also found a neat flowchart for making a decision about alt-text. There are also tips and tricks, and Alan even shared out a link about his suggestions for how one might write alt-text in a way to adds to the conversations.

Will Twitter listen to such a letter? Who knows. At times, it has seemed to ignore complaints and suggestions from its users. At other times, it seems like it has listened and made changes. If nothing else, it has all of us in theEquity Unbound network thinking about accessibility issues with digital platforms, and how to make the barriers of entry as low as possible for as many voices as possible.

Peace (write it for all spaces),
Kevin

 

Changing IOS Changed My RSS Reading Habits

RSS

(Note: this post was sitting in my draft bin for some time. I have only slightly updated it. My reading habits remain changed.)

Like many, when an operating software update comes along, I wait a bit for the bugs to get squished and then download and install it, figuring newer is better (not always the case). For the most part, the IOS11 update on my iPad had been OK.

Except … Apple has decided to sever many of the ties between apps and social sharing spaces like Twitter and Google (and, I guess Facebook, too, but I don’t give a darn about FB). I likely would not have really noticed or been bothered about it …

Except .. I still use RSS readers to automatically snag posts from a boatload of sites and sources, and then regularly read through what others are thinking, writing, reflecting upon in education and the arts and more. I use Mr. Reader app, which I recently found out was discontinued and no longer available (too bad .. it rocks!) and will no longer be updated (sad).

Now, with the IOS update, I no longer can share anything directly from my RSS reader into my Twitter and Google streams. It used to be a simple click of the button. Good piece? Bang. Shared. At first, I thought the loss of access was a setting that I had to reset with the new IOS. I searched and searched for a way to reset it. It’s not a setting. It’s the IOS itself.

Look, it’s not the end of the world, but I noticed something interesting … I am reading RSS different now.


RSS-Audio-Flag flickr photo by troutcolor shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I used to consume the news updates from blogs with both an eye towards my own interests as artist and teacher, AND with an eye towards sharing out any interesting tidbits and projects with my friends. Now, I am mostly just reading for myself. I’ve lost the sharing element, and I’d like to say that makes me a stronger reader for an audience of One (that’d be me) but that doesn’t seem true.

It’s as if someone cut the power wire on my amplifier, and now I am playing an electric guitar with only the tinny sound of metal strings. I miss the filter through which I actively read my RSS feeds — knowing that I was curating things of interest for others was part of my desire to dive into RSS on a regular basis. It feels presumptuous to think that people enjoyed and depended on my sharing of what I was reading, and makes me a little unsettled to imagine that such sharing might be valuable to others.

Chances are, no one will even notice the shift.

I still read my RSS, but I am bit slower to get to it, a little more likely to zoom through headlines that don’t quite interest me. Sometimes, I can use the “share” button on the raw post in my RSS but not always. I can’t tell if this withdrawal feeling is a good thing (less easy one-button sharing means more quality sharing?) or a bad thing (why was I so dependent on the concept of an audience to read what I was sharing?)

I’ll adjust. I’ll adapt. I’ll still read. It just feels different now.

(And this reflection on RSS and change reminds me that Apple itself as a company seems intent on making its closed garden of apps, IOS and more, and its influence, more and more closed off to the world, shutting doors left and right to outside influences. It gives them more control over what we are doing on its machines. That’s not necessarily a good thing, from the user standpoint, is it?)

Peace (it’s the RSS, baby),
Kevin

What Clocks Do to Us: Only Time Will Tell


Martinskirchen: strange clock at the church tower. flickr photo by fchmksfkcb shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

My friend, Charlene, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some “unintended consequences” of our digital lives. Her story has to do with helping young students in the first days of school, and her observation that some students struggle with alphabetization perhaps because they never spent time exploring the dictionary, and its sequential patterns.

She writes:

This disconcerting realization caused me to consider the ramifications of a generation(s) of students who haven’t learned and practiced alphabetization skills. The literature is rife with studies where memory system capacities, especially working memory, are measured and analyzed using span tasks which appraise the subjects’ ability to recall and sequence information.

Read Charlene’s piece here.

Her post connects to another activity a handful of us did last week, in which we were annotating an article from The Guardian about how digital reading was impacting the comprehension skills of young readers, and how brain scientists are studying the impact of screens on how we interpret text.

Check out the annotation activity for Skim Reading is the New Normal by Maryanne Wolf

And I was reminded about something else, too, along Charlene’s observational lines, in my first days with my new sixth graders when some students had to sign out to use the bathroom. Many stare at the huge analog clock on the wall, sometimes for extended moments (I guess the bathroom break is never all that critical), trying to figure out the time. Some even turn and ask me for help. Others give up, and either scan the projector screen for the digital time or ask someone else.

This is not a new observation. I’ve noticed it for years now. And wondered about it. We’ve talked about it as teachers, too. You should see students when I give them some “clock” math work to do, using the hands and face of clocks to calculate basic math skills. It’s like a foreign object.


Stereo clock flickr photo by cbcastro shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It occurs to me that something might be lost with this shift of how we tell time. It’s true that a digital clock is quick and accurate. But being able to see the movement of the seconds hand, and then the movement of the minutes and hour hands … these things give you a “sense” of time’s movement in a given day. You “see” the rhythm of your experiences.

I’m not suggesting all clocks in our lives need be digital. But like Charlene, who wonders about what gets lost when we don’t use the physical dictionary, I sometimes wonder what gets lost when we don’t teach basic analog clock skills. What are the unintended consequences?

Ever step forward seems to leave something behind — for good and for ill.

Peace (in the new school year),
Kevin

Book Review: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now

Jaron Lanier is a well-known name in Silicon Valley, and I’ve enjoyed some of his books in the past. His latest — Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now — is not as strong as some of his other books, and he gets too cute with his explanatory acronyms at times, but the book has merit for informed reading.

I won’t go through all his arguments, but it boils down to this observation from a technology evangelist from inside the technology industry (with a decidedly humanistic approach to technology):

Companies like Facebook and Google that have created algorithms that sell user personal data to third party companies (See Cambridge Analytica controversy) have created a toxic atmosphere that feeds on negativity because the powerful emotions of negativity — anger, sadness, frustration, isolation — fuels interaction, and interaction with the technology leads to profit for companies.

The only way companies will get the message to change their course is for users to stop using the technology. In fact, Lanier argues that this current business model is unsustainable in the long run, and that if Facebook and Google don’t consider other models of profit, they will be doomed. Until then, though, the degradation of experience will continue.

Unless you make a choice to stop.

Lanier argues that we make that choice, and quit. Not the Internet itself. Not the connections we make. But quit the social networking systems that don’t value users as people, and whose algorithms (now set in motion and running rather autonomously) nurture dissent and friction. He cites examples from Black Lives Matter to the revolution in the Middle East and more, as examples of how the use of social media begins positively and then quickly turns negative when the algorithms amplify negativity for engagement.

He also acknowledges that everyone’s situation is different, and quitting for one person might be easier than for another. His final message is, be informed and make an informed choice.

Interestingly, Lanier is not entirely pessimistic. He believes there is still time to change things for the better. He offers up some different solutions, including the idea of users paying a small fee to use social networks, but also, the idea of social networks paying users for any content that engages people on the same network. So, you would pay (creating a new financial system for companies) and they would pay you to write and create interesting content.

Would it work? I don’t know.

Will people really quit in numbers enough to effect change? I don’t know.

Is the current system sustainable? I don’t know but I don’t think so.

Peace (through networks),
Kevin

Beyond the Single Button World: Technology Interaction


Blue vivid image of globe and space tin can flickr photo by Patrick Bombaert shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“The switch is either on or off.” — Jonathan Josephson

In another video from an intriguing collection around transformation of storytelling, Jonathan Josephson explores the ways we interact with our technology, reminding us that the binary basis — the ones and zeros that make up the backbone of our technology — is both limited and non-intuitive for telling stories.

Josephson is part of a company doing work around technology interaction, so there is a commercial thread to this work. Even so, his observations of the tension between technology and people is worth a look and a consideratoin.

Jonathan Josephson – The Future of Interaction from Future Of StoryTelling on Vimeo.

Peace (interact always),
Kevin

Writing Scripts to Film Stories

Lessons from the Screenplay

This might be helpful for those of us, and our students, who want to go deeper into the movie-making medium. Lessons from the Screenplay is a YouTube channel with tons of videos on how to write for the screen. All free. Cool.

Thanks, Terry, for the mention in your newsletter on this one.

Peace (filming it forever),
Kevin

NCTE Journal Review: What’s Next with Digital Tools and Social Media

The May 2018 edition of the NCTE journal – Voices from the Middle — arrived in the mail and immediately caught my attention. It’s part of a series of “What’s Next” themed editions of the journal (an edition about what’s next in reading was intriguing), and this one is entitled “What’s Next? Digital Tools and Social Media” and, if you know me at all, you know that is something I am interested in as a teacher and a writer (and a parent).

I was not surprised to Troy Hicks writing an introduction of sorts, as he framed the way technology is shaping our writing practices, and how our writing practices is shaping our use of technology. Yes, it goes both ways, and Troy has been writing and sharing and teaching us strategies about digital writing for many years now. (And Troy, thanks for the shout-out in your piece.) I was interested in the way Troy ended each section with an insight about digital writing, and what it means as we look ahead to teaching and writing.

In other articles in the journal, I appreciated the exploration of digital imagery as a connection to understanding and uncovering the inner lives of our students, the strategies for battling the fake news phenomenon, how infographics might extend writing practices and the use of argument, and the way technology might open more doors for students of color to have a voice in the world. There are solid classroom examples, and lots of resources, to explore in these pieces.

Overall, the theme from this wide range of writers and teachers is to remember that technology is a tool, not the thing. Students need to remain at the center of the learning and the writing, and educators — from the veteran teachers (like Chris Lehman’s piece about the imperative of pre-service teachers getting experience with digital literacies and Linda Rief’s piece about long-time teachers relying on students to teach us) — and the key to the work we all do to adapt to the changing world is, as the Cathy Fleischer notes, is “making this work sustainable” by connecting and sharing with other educators.

You can access a few of the pieces for free at the NCTE site, but many of the pieces are in the journal that comes with being a NCTE member. Since Troy’s piece is open and free, how about joining me in using Hypothesis to annotate his column?

Read and react to The Next Decade of Digital Writing by Troy Hicks

See you in the margins.

Peace (exploring what’s ahead),
Kevin

 

 

What Pew Found: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018

We were just having a conversation about YouTube and television use in my sixth grade class two days ago. They are writing arguments about whether schools should allow cell phones or not, and we were reading a magazine piece about kids and technology that clearly has some outdated statistics about television use and Youtube … in fact, we agreed that the numbers should be flip-flopped, as my students admit to watching almost no television and many hours of YouTube on a regular basis.

If you pay attention to kids, the latest survey of youth about technology from the Pew Research Center will hardly be surprising. Still, it makes visible what many of us teachers know through anecdotal discussions: more and more of our students are highly connected, often through expensive smart phones, and they mostly shun Facebook and instead, lean towards Snapchat and Instagram, and they use YouTube for just about everything: entertainment, music, learning, etc.

All social networks face a natural decline over time, although Facebook has held on longer than I would have suspected, perhaps because the loss of young users has been balanced out by the addition of older users. Still, when a space is losing huge amounts of young people, trouble is surely ahead (see:MySpace, Friendster, etc.). I am not suggesting that is a bad thing, by the way.

It’s been clear for the last few years, in surveys I do with my sixth graders during our Digital Life unit, that Facebook holds almost no appeal to young technology users. Some of that is that the network is now mostly adults, and what kid wants to hang out there? Another is the design of the site. And of course, privacy issues have become front and center.

It’s worth noting how the use of technology has become an obsessive component for many young people, and whether that is good or bad is not yet clear. We don’t know if this connectedness will open up new ways of thinking and spark innovation, or if it is just doing strange stuff to their brains via screens. As a father and as a teacher, it is worrisome, this amount of screen time, even as I teach how to use technology for meaningful projects and learning.

I think the chart about the positive and negative elements of using technology is intriguing.

We educators should use this information from Pew and others to think about how to build on the positive while finding ways to help our young people battle the negative. Clearly, our young people are insightful and seeking positive venues, and they are having experiences that are shaping how they interact with each other and the world through technology.

Let’s harness that possibility.

Peace (in tech),
Kevin

 

A DS106 Thing: GifMeme Creative Workflow

via GIPHY

I haven’t often written about my daily creative wanderings for the #DS106 Daily Creates (or at least, not in some time) but this morning’s call to make a meme out of a music video got me thinking, I should at least explain my process.

First, check out the Daily Create prompt.

This had me sipping my coffee, thinking of music videos. The thing is, I don’t watch as many music videos as I used to, you know? I thought about Peter Gabriel (Sledgehammer, anyone?), but then wondered if that would be too obvious for strangeness. Then, I remembered The Cars video for You Might Think, and although the peeping tom element is a bit unsettling, I remembered a clock face.

In my Chrome browser, I have an add-on called Gif It, which is integrated into YouTube, and this makes grabbing gifs from videos a breeze. It’s so simple to do. Just feed in the time of sequence and you get a gif in seconds.

But the prompt was for a meme, not just a gif.

I took that gif from the video and moved it into Giphy (along with a link attribution back to the original video), where I could then play around with its gif meme maker (where you can add text and stickers and drawings). Giphy allows you to download and also to embed in sites (like here).

Then, I shared that music video gif meme out to the DS106 hashtag on Twitter, and wrote the post you are now reading.

I also tried the process out with Genesis’ I Can’t Dance.

via GIPHY

Not to be stuck in the DinoRock Era, I also dug into some Courtney Barnett songs from her recent album, and found this neat image of her rocking out while standing on a planet for her song Need a Little Time.

via GIPHY

Peace (in the flow),
Kevin