April 2006 Archives

milken conference: media moguls on parade

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This last panel--"The New Media Age: Surviving and Thriving in a World of Changing Technology"--is moderated by the very entertaining Dennis Kneale, the managing editor of Forbes. Speakers are:

  • Peter Chernin, President and COO, News Corp.; Chairman and CEO, Fox Group
  • Robert Iger, President and CEO, The Walt Disney Co.
  • Jonathan Miller, Chairman and CEO, AOL

Moderator: Are we really at the digital revolution now, or are we still a decade away?
Chernin: There's been unbelievable change over the past ten years, but that the pace of change will only accelerate from this point. People are still desperate to see stories, to see content, to consume information. They want to be entertained, be informed. (Wow. Amazingly passive view of the audience.)

Moderator: Is Disney catching up to online piracy, or are they still trying to stop it the way Disney tried to stop the VCR?
Iger: We're not playing a game of catchup, but we do need to get on board the train, so to speak. Otherwise the consumer will simply pass us by. Technology to media companies is what refrigeration was to Coca Cola.
Miller: The old projections were that the new media would replace the old media. But that's not what happens. The new doesn't replace the old, but things rebalance. What's going on now is real convergence. People are being convergent--they are multimedia, multidimensional, in ways they haven't been before.

Moderator: Is the video industry doing a better job than the music industry?
Miller: We're not stupid. We see what happened to the music industry!
Iger: WE've got to get with the program--the barriers we've perceived are dissolving, and we have to occupy this space.
Chernin: We as an industry were better positioned to deal with piracy. You get piracy when price points and access aren't acceptable to the market. The video industry has a long history of tailoring products to different needs and different markets (PPV, DVD, theatres, HBO, etc). They understand that different platforms require different price points.

Moderator: Have any of you visited YouTube? 40 million viewings a day of tiny little web-based videos. All from users. The revolution is happening from the bottom up--how do you deal with that?
Chernin: The incredible pent-up demand for video is amazing to see. Most of the favorites on YouTube are copyrighted material. There's a huge demand for our video product.
Iger: User-generated content, as ridiculous as it is (he's talking about America's Funniest Home Videos, which he first started at ABC), is endlessly fascinating to people. It won't put us out of business. We're living in a world where people are spending more time consuming media of all kinds--for companies int he business of creating media, that's a good thing.
Miller: Amazon didn't replace WalMart. YouTube won't replace current content creators. The big question is how do you find the things you want? Your social network becomes important as well as formal guides.

Moderator: Are the movie studios the ones who will create this content? Or will other, younger people need to do it?
Miller: The history of the media world says that the great broadcasting companies didn't create the great cable companies, and neither of those created the great internet companies. New companies tend to arise, while they may well later combine.
Chernin: MySpace cost 540 million, and was probably the best deal they ever made. He asks the moderator why the edge he seems to have about MySpace--is his profile not attracting the kinds of people he wants?

Moderator: The decision to put Disney/ABC shows on iTunes was stunning. How many conversations did they have with affiliates over this?
Iger: None.
Moderator: Excellent!
Iger: Of course new delivery puts a strain on existing channels. But asking permission would have resulted in it never getting done. We create a lot of value for the stations when we create these shows, and the stations still get to show them first. What the music industry ignored is that the customer had a lot more power over how they got and used music in a digital age, and ignoring that power shift was their biggest problem. Disney's not going to ignore that power shift. We're going to continue to make moves for the big screen, but they'll move onto new media more quickly.
Chernin: Fox is trying to do a 60-day post-theatrical high-def release. That's a better direction than trying to have the two compete with each other. "My job is not to protect the existing business, it's to maximize the current business and find ways to grow the new business." You have grow more than you erode, or someone else will be sitting in your chair. We won't replace the billions in revenue from theatrical releases until we've got something that will generate more revenue.

Moderator: What's happening with new development in content?
Miller: New kinds of music content--downloadable music videos and concerts. You can't put music on TV and get good ratings, but you can put it online and "cum" (as in "accumulate") an audience over time. A big question is how do you find content? They want to make video search as good as text-based search.

Moderator: If I can download a show without commercials for $2, aren't you undervaluing commercials?
Iger: We're selling a few things. Convenience is critical (mobile, time-shifted). The experience is good, but not nearly as good as what you'll get on a big HD TV. Their experience has been very positive. They put a $9.99 movie called "High School Musical" on iTunes, and it was incredibly popular.
Moderator: What more are you doing with properties like High School Musical?
Iger: It's out on DVD this week--you can buy it at WalMart. :) We're also looking to turn the company into a more global company--we have great brand depth but not as much breadth as we'd like. They're releasing it in other languages, they're releasing materials for schools to be able to do it as a school play. The soundtrack album went double platinum in 7 weeks.
Miller: Disney has always set a standard of multiple platforms for products. These things are additive, not subtractive. They grow the reach of the property. The fact that something's been viewed 30 million times on YouTube doesn't mean they won't watch more of it on TV. It may make them more likely to watch it on TV.
Chernin: We're thinking a lot about different media for delivery. We're thinking a lot about interactive aspects of delivery. We invented "Mobisodes" for wireless. That's about as exciting a platform as exists. There are twice as many cellphones as televisions in the world, and probably 3-4x as many as there are computers. Our new affiliate deal lets us run shows not just after they run on the network, but also run it before it's on the network for a higher fee. Are there people desperate to see the finale of a show, and willing to pay $4 for it. In return, they give the network affiliates a 12% share of that first year's revenue.

Moderator: Bob Iger, are you cutting a share of your extra revenues to your local affiliates?
Iger: Not from our iTunes downloads. We have a very different relationship with our affiliates than Fox has. ABC pays compensation to their stations already, whereas Fox gets paid by their affiliates.
Miller: If you think about what Google did, they cut everybody in on the action. Because of that, everyone put that box up there and it kept spreading. The web model says figure out how to cut everybody in on the action and they'll be your distribution path.

Moderator: Is Google a distribution rival?
Iger: We don't see them as a rival--perhaps that's a mistake. They're a tool that consumers can use to find our content. Google is both distribution and content; search results are a kind of content. They have become a real force in the advertising world, for good reason. Advertisers are paying extra to advertise in the Internet-based distribution. They won't be able to charge for shows that force you to watch ads. But other choices for download may well be for pay (downloadable, archivable versions, for instance).
Miller: Internet advertising is becoming as expensive in CPM terms is comparable to many cable channels. Search fragments things--it sends people in lots of different places. In a world that fragments, the people who have things that are truly unique stand out the most.
Iger: In a world with much more choice and fragmentation, the value of brands will increase. Most of our investment is in brand.
Chernin: Traditionally, CPM have tracked audience size. Advertisers are so desperate to get video advertising on the web, they're willing to now pay a premium for getting those ads online.

Moderator: Most of the time our ads don't hit people when they most need them. Google does this perfectly--you see the ad when you're engaged in the shopping behavior. It's more targeted, shouldn't it be more expensive?
Miller: If someone visits a car site, they're 10-30% more likely to click on a car ad the next time they see it.
Chernin: That's a very simplistic view of advertising. Ads aren't just to sell things. Some are there to build brands, some are intended to generate interest, others to sell a specific product.
Iger: I agree completely.
Miller: Google ads can't, be definition, be underpriced--they're offered in a marketplace, and you pay what the market thinks it's worth.

Moderator: Why the $2 price for television shows? Why not higher?
Iger: Well, these were things that were already available for free the night before. You're going to watch this on a much smaller and lower quality screen than your television. They felt they should be reasonable in their pricing.
Miller: The scarier thing would be will anybody buy it? Will they buy something they could get for free on their TV?

Moderator: What are the obstacles? Does anybody really want to watch Gary Coleman in a rerun on their cell phone?
Chernin: None of these models work at all if there's rampant piracy. [missed some here]
Miller: The biggest obstacle is making great experiences. People want what they want when they want it...moving media across platforms is not fluid and easy now. What Jobs and Apple did was they made it great, they made the experience great. Great experiences lead to adoption, and then the money follows.
Iger: Conflict and competition among channels and retailers. We want to create more value for our shareholders, and we're not sure we can grow these new channels without damaging existing ones. We need to stay in touch with the consumer in this ever-changing world. It's not an obstacle, but it is a challenge.

Moderator: Was their internal opposition at Disney to these changes?
Iger: Of course. Change results in fear, but you have to overcome that. That's why I'm charged to do, really, more than anything else in my role as CEO. You can't ask all the questions and get all the answers before you make these decisions...you have to take some risks and get things out there. We have to give people what they want often before they know they want it.
Chernin: The most positive thing happening right now is all this experimentation. There's very little first mover advantage now, we can steal ideas that work from each other. (laughter) The growth of the distribution model benefits the content creators.

Moderator: I'm fascinated with "sellavision", the 24 promotion. How did that work?
Chernin: I thought it was both a brilliant idea, and a dopey idea. Cell phones aren't great platforms for narrative content. But it allowed them to learn a lot about how to deliver short-form content. This is a rush hour medium--people are watching on trains and in airports.
Moderator: what wins? Cell phones or ipods?
Iger: They all win. They're all important. And cell phones are enormously important in helping them to enter global markets with branded content.
Miller: We still don't know if cell phones are a derivative medium (a tiny TV), or a truly new medium. We're focused on mobile search right now more than mobile content. (Wow, search is a big theme for AOL in today's presentations. Fascinating.)

Moderator: So, if this new distribution takes off, who loses? Does Comcast lose?
Iger: Not if they migrate off their traditional approach and start to deliver to multiple platforms--they could be fine. But he's not focused on who loses, he's focused on who wins. Content companies are well positioned to win.
Chernin: The losers are those who are trying to protect rather than grow their businesses.
Iger: "You'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone, the times they are a changin'..."
Miller: Is geography now a limiting factor or an enabling factor for companies? That's shifting.

There's some brief Q&A at the end, but I'm all typed out.

milken conference: "internet from 10 feet away"


I'm not quite sure what the title of this panel has to do with the description they've provided, but the lineup of speakers was interesting enough that I wanted to check it out.

  • Mark Burnett, President and Founder, Mark Burnett Productions Inc.
  • Kevin Conroy, Executive Vice President and COO, AOL Media Networks
  • Kevin Corbett, Vice President, Digital Home Group, and General Manager, Content Services Group, Intel Corp.
  • Blair Westlake, Corporate Vice President, Media, Content and Partner Strategy Group, Microsoft Corp.
  • Moderator: Ken Rutkowski, Host, President, KenRadio Broadcasting

Westlake talks about the NAB conference--notes that HD was a huge focus, but the conference seemed light in terms of people.

(The moderator is extraordinarily annoying. I suspect he may have been a used car salesman before he became a radio announcer.)

Programming, search, playback, monetization--these are the important aspects of video that the AOL guy identifies. He leaves out things like "creation," of course, because this panel is clearly about the Internet as a broadcast tool. (The description begins with the outrageous line "The Internet is finally emerging as a true entertainment medium.") The world is divided up into "content owners" and "consumers."

Burnett says the "new primetime" is 9-to-5, because so many people in offices have broadband access and use it constantly to access content for personal reasons (chat, email, shopping). But there's "nothing to watch or do," he says, which is what he sees as his job to remedy.

(Must. Not. Speak.)

Am looking around the room...once again, I seem to be the only person with an open computer. The free wifi has disappeared, much to my chagrin, but I'm using Ecto to write this so.

Moderator raises the "user generated content" flag--"what about YouTube? Will it make you more accountable?" Mark Burnett says he thinks YouTube is great. Why would anyone who's a professional content maker fear user-generated content? In the end, it makes you better at your job, which is to give the advert-watching public what they want. And there are incredibly talented undiscovered filmmakers out there, who are using YouTube to get things out.

Burnett claims that the Intenret will allow us to know everything about who's watching what. The complete disregard for privacy issues here is stunning. He dismisses those trying to block this kind of surveillance as blocking inevitable progress. "Of course we need to know exactly who's watching."

Burnett again: "Who would buy a computer without Intel? They'd be crazy to do that!" (Oy.)

AOL guy says "Version 1 of the internet was about typing in a URL and going to what we think of as an immersive experience." (Huh?) New profiles are people who aren't interested in going to a URL and being in the environment you create--they want the material made available to them (widgets, gadgets, etc). I think what he's trying to describe is the aggregation process--people wanting to pull in your content into "their" space (MySpace page, etc). Ah, yes. Now he uses the "Web 2.0" term.

They're all convinced that text gives way to audio which gives way to video--and that everything's about video. Why would anyone want audio when they could have video? (And, implied, why on earth would they still be bothering with text?)

Blair gets tagged on DRM. "Unfortunately it's gotten a bad reputation." Notes that the Sony root kit was a big factor in making the perception more negative, but says the root kit was not DRM, and that those shouldn't be confused.

AOL guy says this is a non-issue, that we just need a "rebranding effort" around DRM. All DRM is intended to do is establish some business rules. If you get it right, you can have new business models (like pay-per-view).

Burnett says he's not concerned about illegal downloads. "Nobody up here is missing any meals as a result," he points out to laughter. The opportunities to sell more content are massive, he says. Bigger than ever.

"It's gone from the information superhighway to the content superhighway," says the Intel guy.

The AOL guy says they're building an interactive programming guide to online content. Search and browse becomes the organizing principle for finding interesting timely content. (That's not an organizing principle!)

At this point I think I've heard enough. I'm off to take a break before the last panel of the day.

milken conference: sally ride on engaging girls in science

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There are disappointingly few people in this room, but the panel is a great lineup:

  • Ronald Packard, Chairman and Founder, K12 Inc.
  • Stephanie Rafanelli, Science Teacher, Menlo School
  • Sally Ride, Former NASA Astronaut; President and CEO, Sally Ride Science
  • Jane Swift, Former Governor of Massachusetts; Managing Partner, WNP Consulting LLC

It's wonderful to hear these accomplished, articulate women speak.

Ride and Swift both do an overview of the depressing statistics on the underrepresentation of women in STEM education and careers.

Swift points out that our educational offerings are failing to engage girls (and boys) in science. She says that dramatic reform typically doesn't come (from government) unless there's a cataclysmic failure, a train wreck. The problem they're talking about here is a quiet disaster, and hasn't galvanized a response. She criticizes the assumption that if we focus on the needs of girls, and create separate learning spaces for them, that we shortchange boys. The point is to create complementary environments that are designed for learning needs, not to create an either/or dichotomy.

Packard talks about key approaches. You need to make science interesting through hands-on activities. Very few primary education teachers have science or math degrees, so their comfort level is low for teaching this material. His company has been developing materials to support teachers and increase their confidence in teaching science and math. He points out the problem with the lack of visible role models for women and minorities. They've been working in Philadelphia to highlight real people in scientific jobs to help change the perceptions of kids.

Last speaker is a high school science teacher who's quite engaging. She's taught at an all-girls' school, but now teaches at a co-ed school. She asks her students every year to draw a picture of a scientist. Even in the girls' school, these 7-9 graders almost always draw men with stereotypical 'mad scientist' characteristics. She's never had more than 22% of her students in a given year draw pictures of women. Cultural perceptions aren't changing. Even her school, which is highly supportive of her work and speaking, has only now (after 11 years) thought to have her speak to her colleagues about these issues.

She makes an important point about the extent to which the girls she teaches perceive their math and science skills as being weak. They'll say they're not good at math, when their grades contradict that. But once they've convinced themselves that "math is hard," they start opting out of science and math classes.

An audience member--Paula Stern--asks what opportunities are out there inciting girls to involve themselves in math. She also plugs NCWIT's upcoming town hall meeting.

Rafanelli makes a great point about kits and toys for teaching science--to attract girls, they need to be social. Girls want to do things with their friends, and if the kit is designed for one person it won't be as attractive. Ride points out that science itself is collaborative and communicative, and the teaching tools need to reflect that.

Packard talks about the importance of contextualizing science education so that girls see the relevance to things that they care about.

Packard also says his experience is that if you don't test something, it doesn't get taught. If you're going to test, you have to test everything--not just literacy and math. Rafanelli says that very few primary teachers do "real science" in their classrooms, because they're having to teach to the tests, and the tests don't include science. (They're not arguing for the value of testing--they're saying that if you're going to have testing, you can't have it focused so narrowly and still have broad education.)

milken conference: our panel


As promised in our panel, here are our blogs:

milken conference: "global overview" luncheon panel

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We've got audience response devices here at our lunch table--apparently we're being quizzed as we go along, and each table can "vote" on the correct answer.

The moderator for this panel is Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal. He begins by talking about GDPs, import capital, China-US trade balance, and a variety of related economic indicators. What are the prospects for the world economy? How sustainable is the current rate of expansion? What is the impact of the current world security situation on economics?

Panelists are Gary Becker (Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences, 1992; University Professor of Economics and Sociology, University of Chicago), Vaclav Klaus (President, Czech Republic), and David Rubenstein (Co-Founder and Managing Director, The Carlyle Group).

Klaus is the first speaker. He says he's somewhat reluctant to discuss "global, cosmic, somewhat undefined topics" because they're too often a way to avoid talking about specific issues that we can do something about. It reminds him of the old communist days where they were unable to discuss problems at home, but they were encouraged to discuss the problems of Indian peasants and the miserable living conditions of the American middle class.

He says we should not listen to those who want to block globalization and open society. His experience of living in a closed communist society has taught him the importance of ideas (ideals?) and openness.

Communism has gone, but liberty and openness have not become the guiding principles of the world today. There are still many attempts to restrain freedom, which he sees most clearly in Europe. Its current social and economic system is not about freedom, it's about regulation and protectionism.

He dismisses the centrality and importance of most "global issues" being discussed here, and says the real challenge is in the dearth of new ideas. The problem is in political correctness, fair speech rather than free speech, special interest politics, the ambitions of those who consider themselves better than the rest of us and believe they should be our teachers, guides, and leaders.

Next up is David Rubenstein. He quizzes the audience on things like "how many think the stock market will be higher in a year," and "how many of you would vote again the same way you did in the last presidential election." The economy of today is not the one we grew up in. The US is no longer the principal economic engine. What happens outside the US is as important now as what happens within. Today's economy has been globalized and "internetized."

Last speaker is Gary Becker, whom the moderator introduces as, among other things, a "pioneer blogger."

Great productivity growth in the US economy, starting around 1995. Productivity drives growth, and he thinks productivity gains will continue into the foreseeable future.

Talks about China and India. Shows workforce comparison between China and India. China has double the GDP, more women in the workforce, smaller % of children (10-14) in the workforce, much higher literacy rate. But he focuses on reduced protectionism, and the importance of providing a good environment for commercial interests.

He thinks the real economic risk is generally that the government tries to do too much, and tries to do things that it's not capable of doing--at least not efficiently.

Gigot asks Becker if he's worried about incipient inflation. Becker says inflation is largely determined by monetary policies. This discussion then heads in a direction that's somewhat over my head, so I'm not going to try to summarize it. (I'm suddenly remembering why I switched majors from Econ to History when I was a junior in college...)

(David Weinberger, as usual, does a better job of capturing key content.)

I had breakfast this morning with the other members of our panel, and if our conversation was any indication, our panel this afternoon is likely to be quite lively.

This first panel of the day includes the followingg participants:

  • Greg Cappelli, Managing Directory & Senior Research Analyst, Credit Suisse
  • Edward Guiliano, President, New York Institute of Technology
  • Ted Sanders, Exec. Chairman Cardean Learning Group, former Acting Secretary of Education
  • Ted Mitchell, President & CEO, NewSchools Venture Fund (moderator)

(This room is full of people in black suits. Good thing I've got one on now...)

Driving question is "whether the pre-eminence of the American educational system is destined to maintain itsel."

Cappelli starts with Powerpoint charts (sigh) to compare GDP among countries, focusing on China. China's is currently 6th in the world, but is predicted to be 3rd in a few years. Foreign direct investment into China is huge. 110 million Chinese are between 18-22 years of age. Lots of private investment in education in China. More facts and figures, but am waiting for implications...

Guiliano says that China is swallowing the American model of higher education--he says that in 5-20 years we won't call it the American model anymore, we'll call it the "world model." He talks about "international education" (education that takes place outside your home country) is growing quickly. The biggest challenges and opportunities in higher ed will not take place here in the US. What/how/where we teach will be transformed by this huge global need, and a paradigm shift will result. (The focus is here on external pressures creating changes; not much discussion about internal pressures from a new generation of students with different expectations...) He notes that the ruling classes in China--the government and educational leaders don't speak English, but the younger generation does.

Ah, now they're shifting to the "world of the student." Sanders talks about challenges to global economic success. 1 in 5 Americans have passports. 87% of college-educated Americans can't find Iraq on a map. 65% of college-educated Americans can't find France on a map. Notes that in one generation, China has become the largest English-speaking nation in the world--all because they made a commitment to teach English to every single college student. More discussion of how poorly we communicate information about the world around us--not enough in our news, not enough to prepare us for living in a global economy. He says we also need real, person-to-person connections with people from other countries and cultures.

This room is full, and I find myself wondering who the audience is, and why they're here (in this room, as well as at the conference). Typically when I speak at a conference I have a pretty good sense of the audience, and what their information needs are. In this case, I feel as though I'm flying blind. Why are there so many people at this panel? What is it about global education that they're interested in? Do they want to understand education? Critique it? Influence it? Because this panel is entirely lecture-driven--with no participation from the audience--it's hard to get a sense of the audience needs and interests.

An audience member says that Europe is moving towards a 3-year baccalaureate; is that something we should be doing here? Sanders says yes. It's less expensive. And here we got...they move on to how the real problem is obstructionist faculty. I'm doing deep breathing exercises and trying not to say anything at all. I know it's futile. Faculty are such an easy scapegoat, particularly when they're not around to defend themselves.

Another audience member, a former university president, talks about (Qatar's? China's? Dubai's? I missed which country) "education city." (I've been to Dubai's version of this, it's quite amazing.)

A discussion about language learning resources points us to Chengo, a Chinese language learning resource geared towards middle-school ages that was a US-China collaboration.

An audience member asks where the next generation of faculty members will come from. The panel looks discomfited. "It's hard to find faculty," says the university president. The answer is to recruit on a global scale. (That's not an answer.)

Another question: a woman says young people are not being taught the critical skills they need to succeed in the real world. Kids are dropping out of school due to lack of relevancy. Young people are job hopping. How are schools preparing students to network and communicate? Panelist responds that very little is being done with K-12, because we're concerned with "grinding through literacy and numeracy." Totally sidesteps the question by saying "we ought to be doing that stuff in undergraduate education."

milken conference: agassi, armstrong, and nyad


I'm at a table up front for the conversation between Andre Agassi and Lance Armstrong, moderated by Diana Nyad. There's quite a crowd here, so I doubt I'll bringing back a Lance Armstrong autograph for my younger son. But I'm close enough to snap a cameraphone photo, and to feel engaged with what's going on here.

(There are a lot of recognizable names at the tables around me; I literally tripped over Richard Riordan's feet on my way to my seat...)

Nyad starts with a retrospective of Andre Agassi's career, with photos projected to illustrate it. Mentions that he's raised 52 million dollars to help kids through his charitable foundation. That's followed by an equally rich intro of Armstrong's career. (He was a world champion triathlete at 16!) I didn't realize that his testicular cancer had spread to his lungs and brain when he was diagnosed. She notes, quite rightly, that this is one of the most impressive athletic achievements ever.

She asks Armstrong to talk about the talent necessary to be an endurance athlete. He's often asked whether the physical or mental aspects are more important. They're both necessary, he says. You need to be born with the physical capability--but the mental capability is, if anything, more important.

Upon reflection, it's not being int he best shape of his life he'll miss the most, nor is it the glory of being on the winner's stand. He'll miss the dinner with the 8 guys on his team, those moments at the end of the day, even more.

Armstrong describes himself as "old" at 35...and Andre says wryly "Yeah, I remember that." (At which point Armstrong, not jokingly, describes Agassi as his hero.)

Nyad poses a similar question to Agassi--are his talents something he was born with? Or is it something you can learn? He was born with athletic skill, but his skill was nurtured properly by his family. He was never taught things that held him back down the road. (He's quite engaging and funny--I'm utterly charmed.) About his playing style, he says "The most important point to me is the next one."

She asks him how you keep focus when you're older and have a more complicated life. He says that having good people around makes all the difference. A wife that's willing to travel with him. A business manager that's been his friend and partner for decades. It's not (just) a sport where you have to train, it's a sport where you have to recover. (Interesting; I hadn't thought of it that way.)

Is it tougher to recover now that he's older? Yes, absolutely. But you get smarter, too, and can train smarter as a result. "A strong body obeys and a weak body commands." Now that's a quote worth posting over my mirror. He says he's very goal-oriented, but his goal is tomorrow, not Wimbledon. Tomorrow is the next step to Wimbledon, perhaps, but that's not the whole focus.

(I note that Nyad and Armstrong are both wearing jeans, which makes me feel oh-so-much better about not wearing a suit today.)

Nyad asks Armstrong how age has affected his performance. He says the most valuable thing you can have as an athlete is experience. Cycling, he says, is made up of the three things--marathon (because it's grueling), NASCAR (importance of drafting), and chess (tactics are crucial). Life is harder now that he's not racing--racing is simpler. All you have to do is eat, sleep, ride (as long as you're wearing the yellow or holding the cup over your head, he notes wryly).

She asks Agassi about the state of technology in the sport today. He's known as someone who researches every aspect of his sport--so where is he now with that? He was ahead of the curve in terms of the importance of physical training in his sport. When he started nobody did weight training, for example. Tennis doesn't have an off-season, so you have train differently. Equipment has made tennis a ballistic sport--it's violent, he points out. When you can serve at 150mph, what does that mean for the person on the receiving side?

Armstrong responds to the same question--talking about the fact that cyclists want a weight lifter's legs on a jockey's body. ("My soulmate!" cries Agassi, to much laughter in the room.) Keeping your weight low is the most important thing. After the illness, he was 15-20 pounds lighter, which made a big difference. The bike he rode for his first win was 22 pounds, and the bike he rode for the last win was 14 pounds. His team spent lots of time on technology to lighten the weight--clothing, gear, etc.

One last question for Agassi--what was it like when he was at his lowest. "I never played a match I expected to win. I never took one thing for granted." Most importantly, he said, he never tried to be more than one day better each day. Each day can be better, but you have to take it one day at a time. He never knew where he'd end up, but he knew that tomorrow he'd better than today, because that was in his control.

And a last exchange for Armstrong about his commitment to cancer survivors. The fans move on to a new sports hero. But what you do off the sports stage is what will matter for the long term. This army of people, this family of cancer survivors, those are the people you have to make time for. She asks if cancer will be solved in his lifetime. "While we're sitting here," he says, "there's a 47 year old woman dying in a hospital here, leaving 3 children behind." Why is he here and she isn't? Because each of these cancers is a different disease, and we need to be working to understand and treat all of them.

Nyad closes by saying that in sports there are many winners--but few champions. And both of these men are champions.

frustrating conference day

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First I ended up in the wrong session this morning. Then I got stuck waiting forever for the shuttle from the Century Plaza (I got put in the "overflow" hotel) to the Hilton, and by the time I arrived the afternoon session on Educational Philanthropy (with Andre Agassi as a panelist!) was already full, so I'm stuck out here in the lobby.

On the plus side, at lunchtime I stopped by Macy's, and found a lovely suit on sale, so I'll be wearing it tomorrow in order to blend in better with the natives. I also acquired a USB cable to charge my phone with--I forgot to bring a charger with me, and the phone was nearly dead.

Agassi and Lance Armstrong are speaking this afternoon, in a larger room (which I'll get to early, thankyouverymuch), although it's on a health topic rather than education. (Diana Nyad is moderating their conversation; quite an all-star lineup!)

I'm debating whether or not to attend the dinner event tonight. The topic is "the future of space," and that's not something I have a burning interest in. But the introductory remarks are by Leonard Nimoy, and that's oh-so-tempting. My guess is his remarks will be short, however, and then there will be two hours of dinner conversation with people I don't know. My inner introvert is lobbying hard for a food court dinner at the mall followed by an early night in the hotel.

what was i thinking?

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It's not like I don't have enough on my plate these days. Despite that, I've been made an offer I couldn't refuse--to join the august list of contributors on TerraNova, the world-class blog on virtual worlds and gaming.

When my colleague Andy Phelps started working on a game design and development program at RIT several years ago, I said I had no interest in being involved. "Games really aren't my thing," I said. And from a professional standpoint, that was mostly true. From a personal standpoint, it wasn't true at all. I've always loved computer and video games--from Hunt the Wumpus and Zork in high school through Pikmin and Katmari and World of Warcraft today.

As games have become more social and less solitary, however, they've forced my personal and professional interests into a point of intersection. And I can't pretend any longer that I'm not interested in studying the social aspects of gaming and game development. So the invitation from TerraNova came at a perfect time.

I can't begin to say how honored and delighted I am that they're willing to welcome me--a relative neophyte in this field of study--into their ranks. And I'll do what I can to carve out the time to post there on at least an occasional basis. I'm rather hoping that this will help me to get my blogging groove back, since I've not been posting much lately to any of the group blogs I'm associated with.

At any rate, my introduction and inaugural post are up and ready for your perusal.

First panel of the day. I was assured a few minutes ago that WiFi would be available, but the "Milken" network that shows up for me is requesting a WEP password. The self-proclaimed "technology guy" for this room decided it must be a "Mac issue" (insert eye-rolling animation here), and the "Mac expert" he called in did the classic "I dunno" shrug, so I'm stuck without connectivity for this session. Thank goodness for Ecto. (Update, 30 minutes later--woohoo! They fixed it!)

I also ended up in the wrong room, for which I'm kicking myself--I wanted to attend the panel on "Mind-to-Market: Increasing Role of the University in the Global Economy." But now I"m stuck on the far side of the room with no graceful way to exit. Aargh. This panel looks interesting, but far less relevant to my specific needs and interests right now.

Speakers on this panel include Harriet Arnone (VP for Planning at NYIT, and Provost of NYIT's Ellis College),Dennis Vicars (Exec. Director of Professional Assn for Childhood Ed Alternative Payment Program and CEO Human Services Mgt Corp), Tom Vilsack (Governor of Iowa), and Susan Tave Zelman (Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ohio Dept of Education).

The moderator, Susan Sclafani (Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group) starts by talking about declines in educational achievement and production, despite the concurrent increases in expenditures (we're second highest in the world on per student spending). The students are not the problem, she emphasizes. There's a disconnect in the system between what we know is critical for their success, and what the students know.

Arnone laments current students' increasing inability to clearly and logically describe and defend a position, and the need to improve those communication and analytical skills.

Vilsack talks about the pushback (from parents, not students) when they tried to make high school curriculum more rigorous. He notes that this means not just math and science and language, but also their creativity. (He's very articulate, charming, and convincing.)

Vicars talks about early childhood education. In a good preschool, everyone's an artist, everyone's a singer, everyone loves math.

Zelman talks about the development of STEM high schools throughout Ohio, schools in which they will cultivate "both sides of the brain"--not just the procedural aspects of science, but the affective aspects as well. (She cites Daniel Pink, whose excellent book I blogged about last year...)

There's a lively dialog that follows, but I'm not tracking it closely because this isn't really my area of professional focus.

milken institute global conference

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I'm having a serious "how did I get here" moment...

This conference is nothing like any I've been to before. I may be the only person here not in a suit--and that includes all the staff members at the registratio desk. I'm typing this in the "AOL Pavilion," an ultra-modern tent that feels more like an electronics store, with multiple TV screens showing news, sports and weather, loud upbeat VH1-style music that I think is supposed to show all these staid business people what "the kids" are listening to these days, and a variety of odd and uncomfortable workstations with computers where those same staid business people are checking their mail and forgetting to logout. (I've seen a staffer stop at least 3 people to tell them they really need to log out...)

There is no wifi, at least not here in the pavilion. Instead, we have to use these public workstations, which are running "AOL Explorer" as their browser. I'm hoping I might find a bit of wifi in the main hotel, since it's a Hilton, but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm headed to a series of talks today related to corporate partnerships with education, in hopes of getting tips on how to increase external funding for my lab at RIT; if I can do that, going back there (as opposed to staying at MSR) would start to look much more attractive.

So here's the question--do I go shopping for a suit today? Or just stick with what I feel comfortable wearing? I can argue it either way. "Be yourself" or "When in Rome?"

Wifi or no wifi, I'll be blogging a lot of what I see today. I don't often get to attend conferences with speakers like Lance Armstrong and Leonard Nimoy. Should be quite an experience...

directv's malicious billing


This morning, I had to cancel my Amex card and order a new one with a different number. All because DirecTV has been billing us for six months for an account we don't even have.

The first mysterious charges showed up in the fall, and we contacted them to explain that the charges were in errror. We don't have DirecTV, or any services they provide. They told us that we needed an account number to complain, which was a problem because we don't have an account. So they said to contact Amex, which couldn't provide an account number, only a billing reference, but allowed us to dispute and therefore not pay the charge.

The following month the same thing happened. And the month after that it happened again. Gerald started getting increasingly frustrated with the calls to DirecTV. Apparently they got irritated with him, too, because the charges didn't disappear--they started duplicating. Two charges (for different amounts) last month. And FIVE (yes, five) this month. That was the last straw--it's hard not to interpret this as malicious on their part, since each attempt at resolution leads to increased inaccurate billing.

Apparently we're not the only ones having problems with DirecTV. In fact, fraudulent billing to people without DirecTV accounts seems to be a common complaint.

Changing credit card numbers is a serious pain in the ass, because we have a number of things that are regularly billed to that card. I really didn't want to have to do this. But we didn't really have another option, since we couldn't even get through to a supervisor at DirecTV's billing office. (And now that I've read the stories linked above, I'm sure we did the right thing by changing my card number.)

So...be careful with DirecTV. Check your charges. Monitor your bill. And don't count on any assistance from "customer service." You can bet we'll never do business with them in any way in the future.

monday morning monkey mind


It's not morning anymore, obviously, but Monday mornings always seem to be "monkey mind" times for me. I've gotten pretty good at turning work off on the weekends and simply relaxing. This weekend was particularly nice, because Sunday was my birthday. Gerald and the boys took me to my choice of restaurants, The Crab Pot, where you order a seafood feast and they dump the pot of crabs, shrimp, clams, mussels, potatoes, corn, and sausage out onto your table. Everyone gets a bib, a mallet, a crab-cracker, a fork, and some melted butter. Yum!

But weekends off means that when I wake up on Monday my mind starts racing, jumping around all the projects that I've got on the table, all the things I meant to do over the weekend but didn't, and all the things I've got to get done that day. I take loooong showers on Mondays, while I try to organize my thoughts.

Today I had four areas of focus--the upcoming social computing symposium and related communication, the research project I've been working on here (and hope to be blogging about this week), the Star Wars: Galaxies "community summit" event that I took Lane to on Saturday night, and whether or not to return to my position at RIT.

The first of those, as you can see by the link, now has information available online. Once I've got webcast details, I'll link them from that site.

The second is something I want to get clearer in my head before I start blogging about it, but I think that will happen this week.

The third I've just written up in some detail, but won't be posting here. Why? Well, I've been invited to be a guest author on one of my favorite blogs, TerraNova, so watch for it to be posted there in the near future. (Yes, I know, I need another blog like a hole in the head. But it's so much more fun to start new projects than to finish old ones, isn't it?)

The fourth is a sticky subject. It turns out I like MSR. A lot. It's been wonderful to be in a place that really values the kind of work that I do--without my having to constantly explain and justify it. And it's not clear yet whether that's going to be true at RIT. As my end date here grows closer, my angst over this has grown as well. On the flip side, my family and I have strong ties in Rochester, and a strong sense of connection to community. While it's been nice having a break from teaching this year, I'm starting to miss my students. We also have a house we love in a great neighborhood, at a fraction of the cost of something comparable in Seattle. Life would be easier, I said to Gerald, if only someone would invent a teleporter. If I could live in Rochester and work here at MSR, that would be pretty much perfect. But life's not perfect, and I'll have to find a compromise that my family and I can all live with. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining. I know how lucky I am to have such great choices. But it's a big decision with a lot of repercussions, and requires a lot of thought.)


You Are 40% Evil

A bit of evil lurks in your heart, but you hide it well.
In some ways, you are the most dangerous kind of evil.

How Evil Are You?

And yes, I answered every question truthfully.

random scenes from my week


Scene: Lawley Living Room

Lane: Was Michelangelo's name "Michael Angelo," or was it all one name?
Me: All one name.
Lane: (after a pause) Cool. I think I'd like to change my name to "Bobjimmy"


Scene: Rosenblum/Lawley Family Seder

Me: We're thinking about a trip out to Ellensburg (WA) next month.
My Aunt: Why's that?
Me: I have a friend there who directs the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, and we wanted to boys to meet him and attend one of their "chimposiums."
My Aunt: (clearly interested now) Who's your friend?
Me: Roger Fouts
My Aunt: Really?!? How do you know him?
Me: (awkward pause, while I figure out how to say this in a way that doesn't sound too weird, and fail) We met in a video game.


Scene: IM with a friend

Me: [long story about frustrating negotations surrounding my return (or not) to RIT]
Her: That's ridiculous. They should absolutely give you more money.
Her: And a lower teaching load.
Her: And...and...a PONY!!!

uc irvine "informatics" degree


This degree program was mentioned today in the NCWIT meeting, and while I think the program looks great, I'm frankly appalled by this snippet from their web site:

6. How is Informatics different from a major in Information Technology (IT)?

The Informatics program at UCI is a Bachelor of Science degree. It has many courses in common with UCI’s other computer science degree programs. Informatics is a resolutely technical degree, paying attention to the context in which the technology is deployed. There is no IT program at UCI; other programs in IT vary, but most are much less technical than Informatics, de-emphasizing the concepts and techniques necessary for actually building systems.

WTF?! This characterization of IT as "less technical" is infuriating, and inaccurate. Have they even looked at ACM's draft curriculum for IT? Or the new ABET computing accreditation guidelines, which include IT?

Oooooooo, this makes me mad. :(

(However, I just brought this to the attention of their dean, who promises to address this immediately. So this rant will hopefully be irrelevant sooner rather than later. I should also add that I think that the program looks fabulous and is a model that I'd love to see other emulate. I just bristle at what feels like an unwarranted attack on programs that really ought to be allies.)


Update, 2:56pm MDT: Wow, that was fast. The section question has been changed to read as follows:

The Informatics program at UCI is a Bachelor of Science degree. It has many courses in common with UCI's other computer science degree programs. Informatics is a resolutely technical degree, paying attention to the context in which the technology is deployed. There is no IT program at UCI; programs in IT at other institutions vary in their content.

I'm very impressed, and delighted. Thanks!

if this is wednesday, i must be in the marriott


While I do enjoy some travel, I don't particularly like back-to-back trips with little time to enjoy the location. I'm in Boulder right now, but I got in this afternoon, and will leave tomorrow at dinnertime. Between the time change this week, the three-hour time difference between Seattle and Durham, and the two-hour difference between Durham and Boulder, my body clock is totally out of whack, and my sleep schedule is thoroughly messed up.

Tomorrow I'll spend the day at the NCWIT, where I'm part of an NSF site evaluation team. My flight heads back to Seattle at 8:20pm, and I'll be sleeping (or, more likely, trying to sleep) in my own bed tomorrow night. Yay!

itwf 06: tuesday afternoon panel

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This afternoon is a series of presentations by selected past grantees--including yours truly, so I can't blog much. It's worth calling attention, however, to the Girl Scout Girls are IT web site, which is really well done. I can't find (right now) information online about their "big purple bus," a technology-outfitted super-cool bus that they bring to various venues as part of their outreach. Great stuff!

itwf 06: dissemination to and priorities of industry

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This panel starts with Juan Gilbert from Auburn, whom I wrote about yesterday. He's editing a new IEEE computer society "Broadening Participation in Computing" series. The inaugural issue will be in March 2006. This helps to bridge the "real research" gap. (The article announcing the series, linked above, is excellent.)

He also recommends a number of other publications, starting Communications of the ACM (ITWF PI Roli Varma has an article in the February 2006 issue on making computer science minority friendly). Other journals he mentions are Jorunal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, Int'l Journal of Eng Ed, IEEE Transactions on Education. Most journals ask for suggested reviewers--and he strongly suggests that we use other people from this research cohort.

How do you make your research "count" for promotion and tenure? Funding helps enormously. (Amen.) As a faculty member, you have to do research, service, and teaching. Leverage your graduate students. ("Am I overworking my graduate students? No! I'm introducing them to reality!" :D )

Shows a Flash-based game he built to teach algebra with rap, hip-hop. The game is absolutely fabulous. I want this for my kids!!

Next up is Margaret Ashida from IBM, talking about increasing diversity in industry. Discusses an article by David Thomas on "Diversity as Strategy" in the September 2004 Harvard Business Review. It costs $6 to buy the reprint from HBR, or you can read the free interview with Thomas on the IBM web site.

Last speaker is Revi Sterling, whom I first met at MSR. She left Redmond for Boulder last summer, though, to become a PhD student at UC, and it's great to see (and hear) her again. She talks about some of Microsoft's initiatives, both internal and external. Getting businesses to look beyond the ROI-driven, quarterly mindset to longer-term intiatives with slow payoffs is a challenge. Focusing on concepts like "infrastructure" and "end-to-end solutions" gets more positive response from technology organizations. It's about contextualizing properly. She encourages more creative thinking and bolder partnerships. (She's amazingly articulate and poised, even in the face of often inaccurate criticism of "industry" generally. Makes me sad that she left Microsoft before we had a chance to work together more closely...)

(I'm a little worn out, so I'm only blogging a few high points now.)

Lecia Barker discusses things they've found in her research into middle school girls and computing. She talks about the implicit assumptions that college recruiters make about students--that they're "free, rational decision-makers," ignoring the many real-world conflicts and commitments that young women (and men) are struggling with. This is a wise observation, one I've not heard made before.

There's reinforcement of stereotypes in the way recruiters pitch their programs. "In general, people think this is a guy thing...I'm gonna show you that there are things for girls to do, too." (How many men would join a "women's group" just because "there are things for men to do, too," she asks.)

"Snapshot" approach to role models can backfire. They can intimidate the audience, and foster conflict of personal and social expectations. (Good point...how many times have other women told me "I could never balance things the way you do?") Must be relevant to their current lives and projected future.

I'm not blogging most of this, but I'm super-impressed by what's happening with Auburn University's Scholars of the Future program. Going beyond understanding why to fixing the problem is refreshing to see. And I really enjoyed the presentation by the PI, Juan Gilbert (despite his obviously inaccurate assertion that Auburn is the "flagship" institution of the state. ;).

One important takeaway was the value of supporting students' attendance at Tapia, a conference on minority involvement in computing that alternates years with the Grace Hopper Conference on women in computing. (I'm going to Grace Hopper this year, and will be looking for ways to take as many RIT students as I can...)

Diana Oblinger, the keynote speaker today, is the VP of Educause--which has recently put out an e-book on this topic of "Educating the Net Generation," which I downloaded last week but haven't read yet... She's got quite an impressive vita, including a stint at Microsoft. And she seems like a dynamic speaker, which is great.

She says she's not going to talk about IT directly. She wants to help us understand more about the differences in today's learners. We're all products of our environment, she points out, and there are very different factors influencing the "Net Gen" (web, cell phone, IM, MP3s, online communities) than those influencing Baby Boomers and Gen X. She shows a chart shwoing the average amount of media exposure the "average person" will have by age 21. (Average starting where, I'm not sure...)

Talks about "neuroplasticity"--the brain reorganizes itself throught life. Stimulation changes brain structures, the brain changes and organizes itself based on the inputs it receives.

Who are these learners? (She notes these are generalizations, broad-brush portraits, and of course there are exceptions.) Five characteristics: digital, connected, experiential, immediate, social. (Her definitions of "connected" and "social" seem quite similar...)

Educationally, what does this mean for learning preferences? Peer-to-peer learning. Interaction and engagement (this doesn't mean "entertainment," or "easy," which seems to be how Baby Boomers perceive it). Visual and kinesthetic--images, movement, and spatial relationships are important. "Things that matter"--they want socially relevant, problem-solving contexts for learning.

(Five-minute assessment: she's great! and her slides aren't awful! Also, it appears that I'm a NetGen mind in a Baby Boomer body!)

These are also time-constrained learners. 87% of college students commute, 80% work, 35% are adult learners, 31% of enrollment increases will be in adult learners. (Wow. These are stats I hadn't heard before.) But much of what we do in education is not designed for people who are time-constrained.

She shows figure about children 6 and under consuming media. Interesting that "screen media" (which combines both TV and computers, things I see as very different) is one category, and "reading" is another. Much of what my kids do on the screen involves reading. Does reading only count if it's books? If so, I don't do much "reading" anymore.

"Interpretive flexibility"--meaning is shaped by culture, technology, our understanding of education.

Students are harbingers of social and cultural change. Back to the "connected" issue--the Internet is their primary communication tool. "Peer-to-peer"--she talks about social bookmarking! She mentions del.icio.us and CiteULike!! In my head, I do a happy dance!!! Wikipedia as an example of "distributed cognition." Talks about the culture clash between traditional academia and "amateur culture." (Implicit "wisdom of crowds" references--I'm currently reading that book, and have a post or two brewing on it.)

Another characteristic that's emerging is "self-service"--people are doing more for themselves, like online banking, shopping, travel arrangements. It's an obvious segue to self-service learning, as well as informal, organic, activity-based, self-activated, open-ended learning.

(Yow. I can't keep up with her.)

She talks about Flickr, and shows screen shots. (!!!) She talks about how hard it is for her to go from her inherent preference for text to multiple media. (This is forcing me to rethink my current development project, which is good but also daunting.)

Time-shifting--from TV it's a short hop to controlling other kinds of content delivery.

This is a move away from the traditional hierarchical higher ed model.

Now she's talking about MMORPGS (she calls them "alternate realities," which I find somewhat problematic). She shows numbers on amount of time spent on games, number of players, revenue for the industry. Points out the average age of an online gamer is 37.

Now she's on to participatory media and culture. Cites estimates of number of blogs, blog readers, posts per day and hour (Lark, 2005 -- don't recognize the reference).

[I am beside myself with delight that the topics I'm most passionate about are being inserted into this event, and being done so by someone who's so engaging and articulate.]

The cultural shift is towards networked, mobile, participatory. There are also different perceptions. Today's students were born after the change curve had started its dramatic upwards curve, and as a result their expectations are different--they don't expect to have 3-5 years to master a technology before a new one supplants it. (That's an important point, one I've not heard made before. Academia has so not kept up with new technology, and the idea that we can or should spend 5+ years studying the use of a technology is becoming increasingly problematic.)

These interfaces are shaping learning. She talks about Alice in Wonderland--new technologies are offering that model, the ability to "fall into" these immersive virtual environments. Cites JSB's "learning to be." Points out that we need not just immersion, but also reflection. Need to be able to take a step back and think about how it worked. That combination is very powerful.

Shows some sobering figures on US higher ed generally, challenging the "we're number one!" perception.

New critical skills for the workforce: expert thinking (identifying and solving problems for which there is no routine solution--pattern matching, metacognition), and complex communication (persuading, explaining, interpreting information; negotiating, managing, gaining trust, teaching, etc).

Key point: education is not equivalent to content. Lots of good points she's making, but I can't keep up.

If you sum up everything we know about educational research, you find that we get educational value from:
* challenging ideas and people
* active engagement with challenges
* supportive environment
* real-world activities
* social activity
* unbounded by time or place

Provides some interesting examples:

  • Allowing students to do a virtual version of a science lab before doing a real-world version, the quality of the real-world experience is greatly enhanced. Both is better than either/or.
  • Shows an archaeology class project from UBC where the students had to build a virtual fly-through of Athens.
  • Hand-held genetics game called "live long and prosper" where students move around the room "exchanging DNA" between their programs. More experiential, more interactive, more engaging.
  • MIT "Environmental Detectives" game where students work in teams to solve a hypothetical local health problem--they have to interact with the environment to accomplish this

Games are fundamentally immersive (she points out it's not just the graphics, it's the gameplay that makes them immersive and engaging).

Shows a classroom just like ours--everybody stuck behind a big monitor. Contrasts to room (apparently at NCSU) with circular tables and laptops, designed for "built pedagogy." A single focal point at the front of the room with chairs bolted facing forward--this forces a mode of teaching. Putting people at round tables says "we want you interact." (Which is why we're doing the symposium setup in rounds of 10, rather than classroom/lecture layout.)

Talks about NCSU's SCALE-UP program ("student centered activities for large enrollment undergratudate programs"). This looks fabulous! Need to read more about it.

Emphasizes the need for more informal learning spaces. NCSU again--"fly spaces" in the student center, easily configurable for small group work. Glass matters--seeing people practice their profession is fundamentally engaging (I love this about the Golisano building at RIT).

Moves on to information literacy--cognitive, ethical, and technical aspects (gives props to librarians, who've been talking about this for decades).

What do employers really want from students, in terms of learning outcomes? It's not being able to program in C++. It's the more abstract skills like communication and problem solving (how many times have we heard this from our advisory board? but this isn't completely true--often the technical skills are the baseline, and what differentiates two students with the same skills are those higher-level cognitive abilities).

Shows figures on satisfaction with web-based learning (study done at UCF); younger students are least pleased by the web-based environment. (She translates that to the young people wanting to have more social interaction, but it seems to me there's more going on there. I suspect that some of it is that the majority of the web-based course management tools are horrendously awful, and younger people have higher expectations.)

She's done. (Phew. That was an amazingly content-packed hour. I wonder how much, if any, got absorbed by the audience.)

First question--how do we convince our administrators to put in the kinds of collaborative spaces that she described? She answers that Educause is doing a lot more executive outreach to help facilitate this. They're trying hard to raise awareness of the importance, but they need face time. They've got a book coming out in August on learning space design--will have to look for that. Like the NetGen book, it will be a free e-book.


itwf 06: "disseminating your good results"

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The first panel here is focused on disseminating research, and includes Andrew Bernat, the executive director of the Computing Research Association, Kathryn Bartol of UMCP, Bobby Schnabel of the National Center for Women & IT at UC Boulder, Eileen Trauth of Penn State, and Catherine Weinberger of UC Santa Barbara.

Bernat talks about "what goes wrong?" with getting women involved with computing research. He points out that finding a woman or minority takes more time (because they're scarce resources), and faculty are often under the gun on producing research results. What do we do? "Make it easy." Need to find the people who want to make a difference, and provide them with support--facilities, workshops, reinforcers. And if none of that works, bribe them. (Depressing note: He talks about a program where they did this, and it was really successful, but...only about half of the people participating got tenure. Ouch. What does that say about institutional commitment to these kinds of efforts to broaden participation?!)

Bartol discusses management-related publications and conferences where researchers can disseminate their work, the idea being that the ideas need to get out to business and management faculty who consult with industry. (Why not go straight to the trade press so people industry will see it themselves, though? Probably because there's no reward in academia for publishing that way...)

(I think I'm going to come down with a serious case of powerpoint poisoning before this workshop is over...)

Trauth differentiates between direct interventions (contributing to practice), and indirect interventions (contribution to future research). When we publish in academic channels, we're doing indirect interventions, helping to foster research by others that can build on what we've done. When we work directly with schools and businesses to implement the kinds of changes that our research results suggest would be useful, that's a direct intervention. She tosses out a great line--"What good is power if you can't use it?" So, for example, when asked to chair the SIGMIS conference in 2003, she did so under the condition that the topic be diversity. She also discusses ways she contributes to practice--teaching a human diversity course, giving lectures and presentations. For the lectures, she's not always asked to speak about gender issues, but she brings those issues in by using her gender research as a case study in her discussions of qualitative research methods, etc.

Weinberger shares a striking factoid: women with college degrees in computer science earn 30-50% more than women with degrees in other fields, regardless of age. (Wow. She says her article will be in Eileen Trauth's upcoming Encyclopedia of Gender and IT--would really like to see how that figure was generated. And yes, the encyclopedia is outrageously priced. :P On the one hand, I'd like to say you should ask your local library to consider buying it. On the other, I'm appalled by the price, even for a library, and wonder why this work couldn't have been done as an open online publication...) Another interesting factoid from her article--women are more likely to see themselves as unable to complete CS work than any other field (including medicine).

She offers the suggestion that dissemination should start with teaching undergraduates, and also with teaching faculty. And she suggests that we put together a short guide to the research we've been doing in this field, geared towards busy faculty who don't have the time or inclination to read through this body of work. A short, focused publication that could be easily and inexpensively disseminated. (What a great idea!) She asks "what if new NSF grant recipients were required to spend time online learning about our most compelling research results?"

Last up is Schnabel, talking about "Effective Practices and Dissemination." One of the key areas of focus for NCWIT is "creating a national community of practitioners with a sustaining infrastructure," which has involved creating alliances with academic institutions, K-12 schools, and industry/workforce. They're still trying to learn how to make this an effective organization for social change. Becoming a partner in the alliance carries with it a responsibility to do more than just attend meetings and be "part of the club." It looks like they're doing some interesting things, and they've definitely got some great people working with them.

They're doing a weird thing with questions--people have to write them down on index cards and pass them up, where they'll be read by the moderator. There are fewer than 75 people in the room, so I'm not sure why they aren't letting people voice their own questions.

(I stepped out to get some coffee, and apparently a heated discussion about how research proposals are evaluated, and how faculty are evaluated on research...trying to pick up the pieces of the conversational thread to see if I can figure out what's going on.)

Ah...apparently one of the panel members (who shall remain nameless, as I didn't hear the whole context and don't want to implicate improperly) implied that research into underrepresentation isn't "really research," and that this kind of research doesn't get faculty "fame and fortune" the way other kinds of research do. There's clearly a cultural divide here between the technologists and social scientists. For the social scientists, obviously this is the "real research." For computer scientists, it's harder to make the case for this focus.

This issue has troubled me since my first interactions with the ITWF research community. So much of the research comes from the "outside"--people studying computer science/computer scientists without being a part of that world. I'm often struck by how non-conversant in basic CS concepts and terminology many of the social scientists studying underrepresentation are. But I think it's true that it's very hard for those of us in technology to justify taking time away from our applied research to focus on this topic. In many research universities, it's far more important for junior faculty in technology fields to be doing research in their areas of specialty. The model at CMU, where Margolis and Fisher worked together, is one I'd like to see more often. (In that case, the CS representative was someone with sufficient seniority that they didn't need to worry about things like tenure and promotion--but if that model becomes more widespread, it may become easier for less senior faculty to do similar work.)

There's an interesting side discussion about the CS/IT divide, and the extent to which a faction of CS doesn't see a value in IT. But when CRA goes to the hill, they talk about IT, not CS, because that's where the money goes.

...and that's a wrap. break time. back later. (today's keynote on the "net gen" looks interesting, and I'll definitely blog it)

nsf principal investigators' meeting - it workforce

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For the next two days, I'll be listening to (and participating in) a series of discussions on research into women's participation in computing. The ITWF program, which funded my grant research into gendered attrition in IT, has funded a number of really interesting research and implementation programs, and many of the researchers will be talking today and tomorrow about their work.

Two years ago, I attended a similar meeting and didn't blog it, because people seemed quite edgy about preliminary results being reported out. This year, however, I intend to blog the interesting things I hear--this is, after all, government-funded research, and the proceedings I received have no disclaimers limiting my ability to share the information. I promise to clearly indicate where results are tentative or preliminary, and to point you to the people you need to contact if you want more information.

Posts related to this workshop will have itwf 06 in the title, so you (and I) can keep track of them.

(It's odd--I'm surrounded by a bunch of really talented, intelligent, accomplished researchers, but I keep getting this feeling that "this is not my tribe." Very different from attending events more focused on social and collaborative computing. Nobody I've talked to here seems to have any idea what I'm talking about when I say "social bookmarking systems," for instance--I keep wishing I'd brought a giant stack of this week's Newsweek cover story so I could just hand it to them and say "I study this stuff.")

1001 weblog entries

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(This one is actually number 1002!)

I don't know that I'd quite call myself a modern-day Scheherazade, but it is a lovely image.

Schherazade probably didn't have to deal with hundreds of comment spams on a daily basis, though, which is what I'm encountering these days. It's likely I'll be turning on TypeKey authentication this week, much as I hate to do it. The built-in spam filtering capability of MT can't keep up with the onslaught from the spammers, and I'm tired of what's starting to feel like an hourly cleanup job.

2006 msr social computing symposium


Two years ago, I was thrilled when I received an invitation to Microsoft Research's first social computing symposium. I had a wonderful time at the event, and found a lot of kindred spirits in the world of social computing research and development. I also made my first contacts with Lili Cheng and Linda Stone, who've gone on to be the best mentors anyone could ask for. Lili, who managed the social computing group at MSR (until she left to direct the user experience team for Windows Vista), was responsible for my sabbatical invitation.

Last year, with my plans to join the group over the summer well underway, I combined attendance at the second symposium with a househunting trip, and once again connected with people who amazed and inspired me.

This year, I find myself not just attending the symposium, but running it. Upon Lili's departure from MSR, followed quickly by the departure of Shelly Farnham (who'd masterfully managed the event for the past two years), Marc Smith inherited the event and asked me to run it. The event takes place May 7-9 this year, and we've narrowed the focus a bit from past years. The two areas of emphasis for this year's symposium are online "third places" and/or mobile social software. As in past years, we've split the group approximately into thirds--Microsoft & MSR, industry experts, and academics. We've also made a significant effort to bring in new names and faces; the repeat rate from past symposia is quite low (38/90 who have been to at least one of the events, only 19 who've attended both; those numbers are 23 and 9 if you look only at non-Microsoft attendees).

First, the bad news--the symposium is totally full. We keep the event small, both to foster community and to keep the cost manageable. Microsoft covers the entire cost of the event--facilities, meals, and transportation/housing costs for those presenting (and for doctoral students). Now the good news--if you weren't invited, you'll still have a chance to participate. We'll be webcasting the event live (the panels and the closing keynotes, though not the "open space" discussions.) We'll also have a live backchannel, probably IRC. (I was thinking about trying Campfire, but they've got a limit of 60 concurrent users, and with 90 participants onsite and an unknown number of external visitors, that's probably too low a cap.)

I'm working on getting a public web page up with information about the event, including the schedule and participant list--with any luck, that will be available by the end of this week, at which point I'll update this post to point to it.

This year's event wouldn't be happening if Microsoft Research wasn't maintaining its commitment to social computing and open dialogs, and if MSN/Windows Live hadn't stepped in to help support the cost of the event. Also providing some support were Channel 9 (and its new sister, on10), and MSCOM. (So you understand why the number of invitations had to be constrained, the cost of the event will end up being over $60K. Seattle's not a cheap place to throw a party.)

It's easy to hate Microsoft--there have been many reasons over the years (from business practices to blue screens of death) to do so. But it's worth giving them credit for activities like this one, which benefit the community as a whole through fostering community and collaboration. Anyone who's attended the past events will tell you this is not a marketing ploy, and that they got something of value of out of the experience.

Currently playing in iTunes: Nobody Else from the album "Los Lonely Boys" by Los Lonely Boys

april is the cruellest month

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As noted in the earlier entry, I'm on my way to Durham, NC, for an NSF PI meeting. (No, the grant research isn't done yet. Yes, it was supposed to be done a year ago. No, I don't really want to talk about it.) I was up painfully early this morning. Note to self: never to book a 6:30am flight on the first day of daylight savings time; the clock woke me up at what it claimed was 4am, but my body believed it was 3, and I'll end up with an extra hour of jet lag.

I only got back from Rochester on Tuesday night (edging towards Wednesday morning), so it wasn't much of a respite. Barely time to empty the suitcase, run the clothes through the laundry, and repack. The PI meeting lasts through Tuesday night, but I'm not headed home from there. Instead, I fly from Durham to Boulder (well, to Denver, where I'll take a shuttle to Boulder), to participate in an NSF site visit of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). I arrive in Boulder Wednesday afternoon, the site visit is Thursday, and then I head back to Seattle that night.

At that point I get to stay home for over a week, after which I take a two-day trip to DC to speak about social information tools at a Knowledge Management conference, the details of which escape me at the moment.

Then I'm home, and in full-on crunch mode preparing for this year's MSR Social Computing Symposium (more on that in the next post). Yikes!

time is money, friend

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Here's what the iTunes music store gets right: they make it faster and easier to get what you want, and they do it at a price point that doesn't make you feel like you're being gouged.

That was clear to me last night, when I realized that I wanted to watch the first few episodes of Battlestar Galactica while flying from Seattle to Philly (en route to Durham, for an NSF PI meeting). I had the episodes on NetFlix, but didn't want to (a) bring the DVDs with me because it's too easy for them to get broken or lost, or (b) use up precious working battery power on my laptop when I could watch the episodes on my video iPod. So I started to rip the episodes onto my hard drive (and yes, fair use zealots, I had every intention of deleting them after I'd watched them, since they were rentals). An hour later, with only one episode onto my hard drive, with mediocre video quality, I realized this was not time well spent. A quick look at iTMS showed me that I could buy all of season 2 (20 episodes) for about $25--and that I could start the downloading before I went to bed and have all the episodes not just on my computer but automatically transferred to my iPod before I had to leave. It was worth every penny to not have to laboriously go through disc after disc identifying, ripping, and transferring individual episodes.

I watch very little TV these days (with WoW to play, who has time?), and what little I do watch is typically on the video iPod while at the gym. Other than Lost, however, I haven't had many shows I've even wanted to watch there. BSG has changed that. For those of you who haven't watched the series, it's spectacular. And it's nice to find a show that I really like that hasn't already been cancelled (like Firefly, for instance). The writing, editing, and acting are all superb. Highly recommended.

(Fellow WoW addicts will probably recognize the game reference in the title of this post...it really needs to be said with the right goblin accent for full effect, though.)

Currently playing in iTunes: Tocceilidh from the album "Re: Bach" by Lara St. John

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