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Wednesday
Oct192005

The Paranoid Presenter

Heading off this afternoon to give a keynote and a couple sessions at the Maryland Educational Media Organization (the other MEMO) tomorrow in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Jay Bansbach and other fine Marylanders.

Even though I’ve done presentations for about 150 associations, school districts and other organizations over the past few years, I still get anxious. Have I prepared well enough? Did we choose the right talks for this audience? Did I bring enough clean underwear and socks? Details, details.

Anyone who uses technology as a part of his presentation also worries – will the technology work? And the more one works with technology, the more concern one has and the more heartfelt the prayers become. Computers not only sense fear, but nervousness as well. Trust me on this - the time a computer takes to reboot lengthens in direct proportion to the number of people waiting for it to reboot.

I always wonder when the “technology expert” speaking can’t actually get the technology to work. It's like going to a doctor who is overweight and smokes. Is there a credibility problem here? Duh.

So here is my paranoid presenters checklist I go through before I hit the road. If you find yourself going someplace to give a talk using PowerPoint or something like it, perhaps the suggestions might be useful.

1. Is my computer actually in the bag?
2. Are the right power cord, video dongle, and remote control in the bag?
3. Are the PowerPoint slides backed up to a flash drive? (In case the computer breaks or goes missing.)
4. Are the slides on an ftp site I can access? (In case the flash drive breaks or goes missing.)
5. Are the slides printed out? (In case the technology gods abandon you completely.)
6. Did I wear shoes that will allow me to run as fast as possible if all else goes wrong? (In case you can't find your printouts.)

As you can tell, when it comes to tech, I am a belt and suspenders sort of guy.

I have had to cancel one talk. Just one. At conference in Missouri the after lunch general session was being held in a banquet hall that I believe was a converted parking garage – low ceilings, lots of pillars, and no windows. The electricity went out. Blackness ensued. Glow sticks were passed around. My talk could neither be seen nor heard, let alone supplemented with the projector. Session cancelled by the sponsors. Act of God.

But most things are to a large degree under one's control. Here are some must-do’s for the traveling speaker.

1. Have backup plans (see above).
2. Use generic fonts in your slides in case you must use another computer.
3. Always get to the room at least a half hour early to check out the equipment.
4. Know your own equipment. (How do you turn video mirroring off and on? Use the remote?)
5. Never, never, never depend on the Internet. Have cached pages or screen shots just in case.
6. Don’t take the last flight out.

Oh, and pack an extra pair of socks and undies. You just never know.

Do have some tips about minimizing the likelihood of technology snafus?

Tuesday
Oct182005

Who You Gonna Trust?

There is an old Richard Pryor routine in which a woman catches her husband in bed with another woman. The husband’s quick response is “Who you gonna trust – me or your lying eyes?”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about determining the authority of information. It’s the fault of Tim Wilson, Technology Director for the Hopkins (MN) schools, and the owner of The Savvy Technologist blog. During a workshop he gave at our MEMO conference last weekend, a collective gasp of horror rose from the throats of many librarians when they heard him explain that Wikipedia gets its content through reader/user contributions, rather than established “authorities.”

Joyce Valenza in her Never Ending Search blog entry, Something Wiki this way comes , examines the Wikipedia phenomena, interviews its creator Jimmy Wales and offers some thoughtful insight on guidelines for student use. (Read it!)

Authority is an interesting concept and one we probably don’t think hard enough about ourselves as professionals. I have to say, I am growing less enamored of traditional “authorities” all the time and depend more on the “lying eyes” of folks with real world experience about the things I investigate.

This started when looking at a recommendation for resort to stay at in Mexico one Winter break. When I could find little about resorts in the “authoritative” sources like Fodors and Frommers, I turned to the web and chanced upon TripAdvisor.com, a site that features reviews of hotels written by people who have actually stayed in them. There are half a dozen or more reviews of any one place. This often have a range of opinions and experiences, but interestingly also some sort of consensus about service, cleanliness, and value. And the reviews tend to be current. My experience has been that TripAdvisor does a good job of estimating the size of cockroaches one might expect to find. (Uh, much to the Luckiest Woman in the World’s dismay, we rarely go 4-star.)

I’m finding I trust book reviews on Amazon rather than those in the newspaper. I read lots of user reviews of technology when I last purchased a digital camera. Increasingly it seems, the views of average schmucks whose tastes and abilities are closer to mine more valuable than the professional geeks, gurus, and critics.

This has been bleeding over into professional practice as well. In a number of areas, so-called “best practice” seems to be directly at odds with the views of practitioners. The reading experts are not fond of Accelerated Reader, but librarians and classroom teachers often love it. AASL despises “fixed” schedules, but those in such schedules write to me en mass defending the arrangement. There is often a disconnect between the purists at ACLU and those who face privacy issues in schools. (The ACLU cannot seem to bring itself to acknowledge the custodial responsibilities of educators.) What often sounds so good in theory, is often quite different in practice.

So back to Wikipedia. Do we trust it or not? Should we allow kids to use it or not? Quite honestly, I am still thinking about it and will probably double-check the information I might find there into the foreseeable future with another source or two.

Joyce offers the following:

In the face of information glut, we are faced with new decisions about the very nature of knowledge and authority. When does it make sense to use Wikipedia, other wiki projects, and blogs as information sources? When might it be best to use other sources? What do your teachers expect in terms of authority in a bibliography? How do the edit histories reflect the quality of the articles?

Pretty good questions. How do you guide your students?

Monday
Oct172005

Excuses, excuses

miles.jpgWhy I haven’t gotten much written lately: Miles Benjamin Roberts. Striking resemblance to his grandfather, yes?

Tell me what it is exactly about these small creatures with the wise, bright eyes that so completely capture one’s heart on the first touch? How do they get that commitment that no effort is too great, no cost too high, no sacrifice too hard to protect and nourish such a little soul?

I want to say to everyone, please make the world a nicer place for my grandchildren and yours. One little smile (possibly gas) and Miles has a grandfather who would move the world for him.