Sep 172014

While we’re on the topic of sharing what you create, let me ask the question: Why do you create? What was the point of all that work you’ve done? What is your goal?

I’ve spent a lot of my free time over the last several years hanging out around various writing and video production communities, where there’s a healthy mix of those who are looking to share what they’ve made and those who pale at the thought of having another person see their work. I grew up in the performing arts, which is attention seeking by nature (although I know, and have been, people who are perfectly content never having an audience). I’ve seen creatives have a vision and execute it. I’ve seen them have a vision, and then alter it with audience feedback. I’ve even seen them threaten to not make anything else until they get a specific form of validation.

And it got me thinking. I wondered how I truly view the relationship between what I do and what other people think of it. As I’ve noted, I’ve been known to give in to my introvert tendencies and keep work to myself, preferring to be comfortable with the knowledge I was making something. But I’ve also had a vision and worked it all the way through, sharing the results. I’ve started projects intended to explore a specific skill, technique, or topic, and just smiled politely at feedback that insisted I had to do things their way. I’ve started projects with no clear destination, and let feedback inspire development. I haven’t threatened to take my ball and go home yet, and I don’t think that’s likely to happen based on how I respond to analytics data.

I look at those who create according to audience feedback, and I’ll admit it – I pale at the thought of working like that. Yes, I do periodically ask for suggestions or prompts, but if I’m asking, you can bet I’m experiencing some kind of creative block. People who can go with the feedback flow, though, are interesting. From what I’ve observed, they create a skeleton or spine and a starting point for their project, and then develop along that spine according to what the audience suggests or how they react to what’s come before. If the audience offers a better idea, the creative breaks the spine to explore that idea. There’s a flexibility there that’s downright admirable (even if it completely scares me).

There are even creatives who put something out there, and then say, “Tell me what happens next”, to the audience. Those people are truly crazy. ;) But the results can be spectacular when done well.

As for me, I create to get things out of my system, or to play with ideas, or to learn and practice a new skill. I don’t necessarily need an audience for that, but it’s nice when one shows up. That’s my answer to the above questions. How about you? How would you answer those questions?

Sep 152014

The average person spends right around seventeen years or so of their life in a formal classroom. That really shouldn’t come as much surprise, but it often ends up being the hang-up as we talk about sharing and putting ourselves into a position to receive feedback. Of course, when you think about performance evaluations in a corporate setting, we really do put ourselves in a position to receive feedback throughout more of our life than we realize.

Beyond the classroom, projects come from one of a handful of places: our boss/workplace, our friends and family, and ourselves. Work needs a solution to a problem, so you create something and you’re given a pass/fail rating on it once your solution is implemented. Friends and family say, “OMG, you’d be great at this,” and so you do the thing…again to a pass/fail rating, and maybe some deriding if you fail. You pick up a side interest or a pet project, and you work on it until it’s where you want it. Then you display it in your home, in your workspace, or maybe you wear it around. And again, you get feedback that tends to be of a pass/fail variety.

The point here is that in both our professional and personal lives, we’re constantly doing things, bringing things into existence. And when we choose to put them somewhere they can be seen (be it offline in our professional and personal spaces or online in our professional and personal spaces), we’re saying, “This is something I did. These are skills I can use to do something productive (or destructive, depending on what you’ve created).”

When we style our living room, we know it will be presented to visitors to our home. When we make a wearable object, we know it will be presented to those who pass us in real space. When we write, be it a blog post or a book of some format, we may expect it to be seen by someone, even if it’s just a close friend. (I am excluding here those who create with no desire to show their work. Seriously, people, let us see your awesomeness!) We’re leaving ourselves open to feedback.

We live in a time where what we do is constantly on display, with or without our being able to provide some context. Professionals and amateurs can show off their work side by side, and connect through seeing each other’s work. Fans and fellow producers comment on the same work. We never really stop being in a position to receive feedback.

Sep 102014

There’s a lot of talk around creative industries about the need to build a social media platform to help build your fan base and keep them informed about what you’re working on and what you’ve recently released. It’s not bad advice, and sometimes creators and companies even manage to put that advice to work without making things worse. But it’s something we should be encouraging students to embrace and think about as they start testing the online waters for themselves.

For all of us, social media really is a running Demonstration Phase. Everything we say, do, share…all of it ends up in front of an audience of one sort or another. And we post a lot without really thinking about it beyond a sense of, “OMG, you have to check this out!”…when really…we probably didn’t need to check it out. If you’re primarily using social media to share things with friends, then it’s not as big a deal. And for many students, this is exactly how they use social media, without any thought to future impact or what constitutes “public” and “private”. But that’s a discussion for another time.

If you’re using it to show off work, to share information, or to do anything that reflects on you or your skills, then you might want to take a slightly different approach. One that not only shows you off, but also leaves visitors with a better understanding of who you are and where you’re coming from. And isn’t that the point of the Demonstration Phase?

When setting up your platform, though, it’s not particularly helpful to just plaster everything across every social media platform you have access to, or to make them all the same. Each platform has a different etiquette, a different set of expectations, and may provide you with a different audience looking for something different. So, it’s best to keep to the platforms you enjoy using, or where the audience you most want to connect with is hanging out, and then to really tailor that platform toward that audience. You also have to interact with that audience so they’ll really get a chance to know who you are and what you haven’t already told them.

Working to build a social media platform that reflects you and your work can be time-consuming initially, but the more you work on it, the less time it can consume. It’s an opportunity to paint your own portrait of who you are, how you want people to view your work, and encourage people to feel comfortable about approaching you about your work.

Sep 082014

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly along this journey through the PLE, the practical classroom example is the class project, regardless of what form it takes. Class projects are a double-edged sword for teachers. On the one hand, many teachers spend years developing and refining project assignments to reflect the material they’re teaching, and the products they want to see result from the project. On the other, we’ve mistaken schools for factories, turning out perfect little drones. Granted, schools are fighting back and trying to create a space for practical, relevant projects, but they’re fighting against a growing sea of constraints in terms of standards, time, and available resources.

That’s a problem.

Class projects are great because they often not only show off what a student has learned about the specific topic being studied, but what the student has carried over from other subjects, from previous years, and even from their outside activities. (Teachers can forget this sometimes in trying to get through everything on their plate.) And in a classroom situation, the project is one very visible means of assessment. Students are typically judged on the content in their project, how they present the project (as in display or associated talk), and how well-done their project appears to be visually.

That’s all well and good, and when done correctly can give a teacher a really good idea of what knowledge the student utilized while working on the project.

But class projects aren’t the only way for students to demonstrate what they know. There is there other fallback – presentations, where a student completes research, develops a paper, diorama, poster, or slide deck. Peer teaching in small groups or one-on-one is a fantastic way to see where students are in their development. Engaging students in open discussions can also be enlightening as it shows off not only how familiar with the material a student is, but how they’re processing and connecting with it.

As we prepare students to take their place in this digitally-enriched world, blogs, social media, and the various creative platforms can also be incorporated into the assessment system. As students write and produce, as they interact and engage with each other and the wider online world, they show off their skills, their understanding of their skills, and their ability to express their knowledge about what they know.

The fact is, we have many tools at our disposal, many of which are really more authentic and more revealing than quizzes and tests. We just have to find the right ways to incorporate them into our teaching processes (especially since our students are already using them as part of their learning process).

Sep 032014

As I said in the previous post, the Demonstration Phase is where you show off the results of your research, brainstorming, play, and work. You know, all those things you’ve been doing in the previous four phases.

Depending on the material you’ve been working with, there are many ways to accomplish this. You can present the actual product that has resulted from your work, be it a new app, a presentation or performance, or a physical object. You can write blog posts, white papers, books, or even social media posts to educate others about what you’ve learned. (Remember, peer teaching is a completely viable way of demonstrating what you know and how well you know it.) You can curate others’ content and media, highlighting your ability to not only understand the material but also recognize outside sources that would be beneficial to others learning and working with the material. You can engage with online and offline groups interested in the same material and become an active mentor or advocate within those communities. The possibilities are endless and constantly changing as avenues available to us for presentation and conversation change.

As you’re thinking about what you want to demonstrate and how you want to demonstrate it, you need to keep these questions in mind (because you knew there would be related questions):

  1. What skills and knowledge do I have to offer?
  2. Who are my colleagues and mentors? (Because this will change what you present and how you present it.)
  3. Who is my audience? (This will also change what and how you present.)

Once you have a handle on the answers to these questions, figuring out how to determine what and how to demonstrate becomes much simpler. Each group you present yourself to is going to want different things from you, and you will need to tailor your presentation appropriately to connect with that group.

Over the next few posts, we’ll look at demonstration both inside and outside the classroom, and I’ll try to have some examples for you to think about. But for now, take that project you’ve been working on all year, and look at it in light of these three questions.

Sep 012014

Here we are at the last phase of the personal learning environment: the Demonstration Phase. As the name would suggest, this is where you publicly demonstrate what you know through some means. (Publicly, depending on the situation, can mean in front of the person or people responsible for assessing you rather than the whole world.) How and what you demonstrate is dictated entirely by the material and the situation.

The Demonstration Phase is where the personal learning environment shifts from facing the learner to facing the communities the learner interacts with. It can be something as simple as a blog or well-maintained social media space, where the learner can not only show off what they’re learned and what they’re doing but also interact with others. It can be a more closed off space like a members-only forum, an email list, or a meeting space (online or offline) where the learner can demonstrate their knowledge and skills by contributing productively to the conversation.

During the next month, we’ll look at this phase through what should now be familiar lenses, and explore how the Demonstration Phase can be used by the learner to demonstrate knowledge and thinking, and by teachers and mentors to assess a learner’s development.

Aug 272014

Now that you’ve spent a month thinking about and hopefully planning your information and digital asset management strategies, it’s time to implement them (if you haven’t already). Think about what kind of storage structure will best suit your content: hierarchical, serial, or set. Think about how the use of tags will facilitate the use of your material. Be deliberate and consistent as you design your asset management system.

Remember, the whole point for putting yourself through this is to create a storage system that supports your work by making information and content easy to find and work with. It then strengthens your work by creating opportunities to make connections between the pieces of content and between yourself and others interested in the same topics or crafts you’re working with. It’s worth sitting down and taking the time to sort out a system that works best for your projects.

Next month, we will look at the last phase of the personal learning environment. And then after that, we may go back to a random blogging schedule.

This year, I was experimenting with having themes each month, but it hasn’t necessarily impacted my blogging or my social media the way I wanted it to and you guys have proven that this hasn’t been your cup of tea, either. There are some other changes that need to happen around here, and they may very well start happening in October. But I thank you for indulging me these last several months. As always, if there’s something you’d like me to blog about, something you’d like to hear more about, just drop me a line in the comments or use any of the tools in the social media box in the sidebar to let me know.

Aug 252014

In addition to managing information, you might need to manage digital assets, be they chapters, images, video, audio, multimedia, etc. So, let’s talk about asset management, which is just as important. Digital asset management is the system by which you organize files you will need to find later to continue working on a project. Depending on your project, this system may need to accommodate different types of files and those files may need to be accessed by members of a team. So, the system has to be designed to drive findability as well as minimize confusion and (more importantly) duplication.

A digital asset management system really relies on two things, regardless of the storage system being used – the location of what’s being stored and the name of the stored files. When I think of location where storage is concerned, I think about file folders. It’s a metaphor that’s been extended across many storage systems, so we’re all familiar with it. Designing a useful file folder system really relies on a comfortable knowledge of information architecture. How are these files best grouped? What sort of drill down do we need, if we need one at all? When I was working on the Dead Bunny videos, my file folder system started with the topics. In each topic’s folder there were folders for the slides, the audio tracks, and the graphics. That was it because that was all that was needed.

Within this file folder structure, you then have all these files. Naming these files usefully is an art. A very necessary art. When I started working on Dead Bunny, I didn’t fully appreciate this. I hadn’t worked with projects that had so many little pieces before, so I had never thought about file naming. It took a couple of game writing books to straighten me out (and save Dead Bunny from becoming a massive headache).  When you have a project with a bunch of little pieces, how you name them is just as important as how you file them. The naming convention helps provide another layer of organization to your content, and therefore should really be uniform. In Dead Bunny, this manifested as adopting a uniform name that incorporated both the topic and file’s number. For the slides, this number was the slide’s number in the deck. For the audio tracks (and this made my life a million times simpler when someone showed me this), this number was the slide that the audio matched up to. (I did start out just numbering them, but switching to align with the slides cut down my work time significantly.)

And if you’re in a team situation, having everyone know the file naming convention makes sure files will be where they belong, regardless of who created it. Some software makes it very difficult for you to rename a file once it’s been created, so having this in place at the beginning is a serious time saver. Also, when everyone knows what the structure and naming convention is, everyone is able to find the assets they need quickly without having to chase down the original creator. (You’d think this would be obvious, but I’ve been in painful situations where it wasn’t.)

Another place where having strong digital asset management skills is handy is voiceover work, and this is because I’m regularly shifting between working on personal and outside projects. It should be rather simple, I suppose. I’m only managing audio files, after all. But it’s amazing just how diverse the world of voiceover is. In my file folder structure, I have folders for auditions, hitRECord, and then my voiceover genres. Within those folders are folders for production groups (except hitRECord, which jumps straight to the projects folder level). And then within the production group folders are the project folders. It may sound like too much, but you’d be amazed how quickly I can retrieve a file when I need it.

For audiobooks, each book gets its own folder, and then each chapter gets its own folder. (I’m apparently flying in the face of audiobook production best practices here.) It lets me see where I am in my work and keep on top of things. I keep notes on the preferred technical specs for each group I publish with so I can make sure everything including the file names is correct when I upload them. Following those file naming conventions then allows the publisher to organize and upload my audiobook quickly and accurately.

For audio dramas, I’m one remote cog in the machine, so following the established storage system rules is especially important. In my own system, each production group has its own folder, filled with project folders, filled with character folders. But when it comes time to prepare my work to go back, I make sure my files are organized the way the production group want them. Some prefer files to be grouped by character. Others prefer by episode or scene. Some have very specific file naming conventions designed to make all of the lines fall into order when added to the production group’s folder. Others just need an episode name and a character name, if they even want that much information. It doesn’t matter that each group wants something different and that none of them organize the way I do; what does matter is that my work will be locatable in their system once it gets there.

Anyway, there it is. Managing digital assets from an information management frame of mind. As always, remember the goals are findability and usability, and you’ll be fine.

Aug 202014

Continuing our discussion from the other day, let’s look at another specialized, specific organization method: set management. Set management, for our purposes, refers to metadata designed to keep related nonlinear material related and findable.  Set management is a bit more difficult to nail down because it can be a bit nebulous.

Set management can be a hybrid of organization structures. For example,  hierarchical structure could dictate the shape of the broadest organization levels, but within each level the components could take on a sequential order (Dead Bunny’s playlists). Or they could be sequential at the broadest level, with a hierarchical organization within each step in the sequence. (Some curriculum is designed this way so deeper exploration of topics are possible where time and resources permit.)

I personally use set management to keep my research and writing materials organized. I use broad topical structures, and then organize material by type, or by sequence as the material calls for it. Character and setting sheets are organized by type and proximity to other characters and settings. Stories are organized by where and when they take place in the story world’s history. If I tried to implement a single organization type, I’d go insane. (I also implement this organization pattern across all the components of my digital workspace, so keeping the same tags and patterns all the way across makes my work run more smoothly.)

So, when is set management useful? If the material doesn’t fit easily into a hierarchical system because the components are at about the same organizational level, you should consider a set management pattern. If the material can be accessed in any order (making it unsuitable for a serial pattern), then you’re probably better off using a set management pattern. If the material is spread out across different platforms and storage solutions, a consistently implemented set management pattern can go a long way toward making that work.

The most important thing I want you to take away, not only from this post, but from this month, is that you need to choose an information management pattern that best serves the content being stored and that allows you to work with minimal disruption.

Aug 182014

As part of this discussion on information management, I thought it might be interesting to look at a couple of special, specific types of organization. And we’re going to start with a scheme that will be fairly familiar: series management.

Series management is a method for keeping linear, serialized content related and in order while allowing each component of the series to remain individually findable. We accomplish this by linking the content clearly to the piece that comes immediately before it as well as the piece that comes immediately after it.

When I was first writing online, we accomplished this by handcoding links to the previous and next pieces of content in the series. Those who had the time would also handcode a link to a self-created table of contents. It was something akin to a one-track branched story. These days, it’s much simpler. Most blogging and content management platforms offer some way of linking serial pieces either natively or through plugins. The notable exception is YouTube, where you still have to handcode connections between videos (through the annotation tool) in many cases.

Some systems also allow for the easy construction of a table of contents so visitors can see how many pieces are involved in the series and what topics the series will cover, making it easy for visitors to find the exact part of the series they’re really looking for. This is the exception where YouTube gets serialization right. Add the videos in the series to a playlist, order them, and your series becomes easy for viewers to handle.

When should you be using the series management method? Any time you have content you expect the visitor to experience in a specific order. This might be blog posts on a given topic broken up across multiple posts (like my initial series on the personal learning environment, accomplished with a plugin), scaffolded material (like Dead Bunny’s topical playlists, accomplished through YouTube’s native playlist management tools), or maybe you have a timeline presenting your material and each piece needs to be experienced in order to put everything in context.

It’s something to play around with as you’re deciding how to best fit your content together.

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