Advice from Expert Curator, Robin Good, on How to…Curate

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Robin Good has long been my go-to guru for inspiration on how and what to curate.  In this short interview by Cendrine Marrouat, social media blogger, curator, and founder of Social Media Slant, I got some useful direction for something I have been practicing for several years now. Perhaps it will be of value to you as well.

Good notes from the start that he never consciously decided to become a content curator. He hints at how curation chose him.  I think that Good hit the ground running with curation because he realized early on that an inventory of his likes was also an inventory of this skills. His earliest success was in creating a taxonomy poster in high school. Later he was an FM radio personality, a private-party DJ, a newsletter editor and eventually a curator of  breaking news feeds.  Good always seemed to know how these strengths aligned with those of curation in general even though he may not have called it that as a young man.

Good advises a form of enlightened self-interest in curating.  In other words by curating spaces that help him find what he wants, he also does the same for those with similar interests. I think that this is also the key to persistence as a curator.  If you are passionately curious about a question, then you can add value almost automatically.  For example, summarizing a blog post or research paper helps you understand both how and why a piece is worthy and unworthy.  That gives you greater depth.  If you can add critique and analysis to the curation, you make the article more and more your own.  And if you let others peak over your shoulder and even critique and analyze what you have curated, then so much the better for all to share in the rising intellectual tide that anyone can surf

Good also argues that curation is a necessity in a target rich environment. Without the skills he has evolved over the years,  he argues that he could not effectively find what he needs to do his job. Curation is central to efficient and effective filtering the info-muck that the Internet often seems.

Of course, curation makes you smarter and more nuanced because you have gone through the full cycle of seeking, making sense of, and sharing that information.  Curation is the full monty.

Good is not nearly so helpful when he is asked for tips on how to do ‘great curation’. His advice seems at first to be the same advice that the baseball player Willie Keeler gave, “Keep your eye clear, and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Yes…and how does one hit ‘em where they ain’t?  Go deep–explore–be open to surprise—be disciplined–keep your filters on and your curation GPS flexible, but not too flexible. Perhaps the better advice would be to follow Robin Good’s work on Scoop.It  and Zeef so he can show you how to hit ‘em where they ain’t.

To his credit, Good later in the interview does suggest that you follow others down their curated rabbit holes. He suggest that you start with these:

Maria Popova – Curiosity and culture

Robert Scoble –Technology and startups

Peter Bogaards – Information Design

Stephen Downes — How to Curate

While you are examining the curatorial work of others, he advises that you “shine the lights on other people’s work, tools, ideas and let others discover what may have never come across their typical path.”  I like this quote because it is a useful reminder that while curation starts with personal curiosity and knowledge management, it only become curation when we consider a larger audience.  Without the “making sense” and “sharing” it is probably more noise in a world gone Babel.  Curation is all about tuning into the best signal even if all you have is a crystal radio set and then sharing that pure signal with others.

Thanks so much to Cendrine Marrouat for asking the questions and to Robin Good for broadcasting his bright curatorial light.

Lighthouse on treacherous ground

PowerPoint Karaoke, Improv Presentation & the Infinite Game–Playing to Learn

I have known about PowerPoint Karaoke for years.  If the idea is new to you think “improv for presenters”.  Terrifying?  To some, any kind of presenting is next to losing a family member or having a tarantula crawl on you…

and that is why  I am exploring this as end-of-class fun for everybody.

Before I am accused of having a deprived and depraved funny bone, let me explain.  The main focus of my English 300 writing course, Writing in the Disciplines, is to produce a research project that uses all of the skills most folks in rhetoric consider critical to being a competent writer: summary, critique, analysis, and synthesis.  I prefer to simplify that whole categorical mess by using Harold Jarche’s triune approach to knowledge management–‘seek/sense/share’.

Every class I try to help students do each of those elements.  I might combine a new search tool like Topsy with a sense-making tool like critiquing and use peer discussion to share.  Sometimes the mix is eclectic and weaves technologies (Google Scholar/Zotero/Scoop.it). Other times I flip the classroom and have them go totally paper and pencil and face-to-face.  The goal is to always be doing all three at some point in the class period or as part of an assignment.

One opportunity/challenge/terror they face at semester’s end is The Presentation. I have always thought of it as a festival of their ideas while many of them (especially my international and public speaking phobic learners) regard it as Professor Terry’s Cabinet of Horror.  The theory is that since they have had the entire semester to explore their project that they have become experts and are, theoretically, more confident.  Well…while almost all are more expert than their peers by far in their research arena, most do not feel expert at all as presenters.

This fits.  Consider the presentation habits of our greatest presentation practitioners–standup comics.  Almost all of the major comics (Chris Rock and Louis CK come to mind) have a similar workflow.  Their goal is about an hour of comedy once a year. And…it takes them about a year to do that.  (Aside: Think about that and then consider how little time we allow students to get ‘good’ at presentation.)  Typically,  the comedian will work up a few minutes of stories or jokes and then do short standup sets at very intimate comedy clubs.  Some stuff kills, some stuff sucks. Over a year of trial and error (and occasionally some new material created on the fly) a coherent hour emerges. A year of starts and stops and this and that.

And what do we give students?  I won’t even say because it is the definition of the word unfair.  Hence my crazy embrace of Powerpoint Karaoke.  What are the rules?

There are no rules so much as there are…guidelines, but if you are like Crazy Walter–

then here’s yer rulez:

  • The presenter shall NOT see the presentation slides in advance.
  • The presentation time shall be limited. 5 minutes is the most common time limit.
  • The jury shall have a sense of humor.
  • The speech must be related to the Powerpoint slides. General nonsense is not allowed.
  • Imporant: Everybody shall remember that the reason to do it is to have fun

What I am doing is a slo-mo embrace of the game.  First, I introduced it and showed a few video examples.  I then asked them if they were interested in trying it out on Fridays just for fun.  Horror dawns in their eyes.  A few brave souls with the hearts of middle schoolers willing to try anything including jumping off a bridge agree to try it.  Not an auspicious start but not unlike the first days of a drama class as you practice warmups.

Next, I asked some folks on Friday if they wanted me to demonstrate.  Of course, I was terrible compared to some of the great examples I had already shown.  Then it hit me.  Let them use their own research questions/topics, let them sit at their seats and let them do just one or two slides in a variation we call “pptx-relay”.  I see a bit more enthusiasm.

Next week we will try more.  The point (heh heh, maybe I should say the powerpoint? Oh, ok that would be mega-lame) is to ease them into the water with small successes.  I create the slide decks and I advance the slides while they just do the improv.

The main purpose is to play the long game– have fun , but if you insist on having cover then find some CYA in the Common Core (good luck) or just note that we are getting students to use the oldest trick in the book–teaching others in order to learn better ourselves.  An added CYA bonus is that we begin to increase the amount of time doing at least some extra rehearsal in front of others.

I sincerely believe that if you play the infinite game, you reap infinite, ever-expanding rewards.  If you play the finite game, you get winners and losers.  Needless to say I will be the entire judging panel and I will make sure I “cheat” so that the points don’t matter.  I am endlessly creative and improvisational in ways that make sure that everyone ends up getting the same amount of points. (Aside: you should hear the howls when I do improvisational team quizzes and my strategic students discover that there is no way to win or lose OR I rig it where I am the ultimate winner.)

Here is an exemplary ppt-karaoke to gnaw on.  Tasty. Wish me luck.

 

Critiquing with Other Lenses

I am showing students how to critique.  I am hoping they will return the favor.

I am using this very simple critique matrix that I am adapting from Andrew Dlugan.  He used it for evaluating speeches.  I am adapting it to a New York Times editorial board op-ed about coal, the Clean Air Act and an upcoming Supreme Court case.

The purpose here is to show how adapting a critique from another discipline might help you see others’ writings in a different slant.  The original matrix is below:

alternateform

Here is the adapted version with a couple of small changes:

adapted matrix

 

So here are the question I am going to ask as I take notes for my critique (which I will do with Diigo).

How do I feel about the content?

How do I feel about the presentation?

What am I seeing in the presentation?

What am I seeing in the content?

What thoughts do I have about the issue and its content?

What thoughts do I have about the presentation of the issue?

Here is a link that shows all my annotations about this editorial where I answer these questions…for the most part.

I hope my students choose their own critique templates.  Here is a critique template for dance, one for art, one for websites, another for video game critiques from my friend Kevin Hodgson.  Each critique is a “stance” that might give you a different view of the same information.

Old Guy on Porch Reads Walden to Kids on Meerkat

One of the biggest problems folks have with embracing ad hoc online conversation is that there is a lot of friction from the decision to do it and doing it.  Maybe Meerkat has figured that out much as many online social photo apps have.  These are my first attempts at pure play in these sand lots.  YMMV. I surely hope so.

 

I am learning more myself and am sharing it here in this Storify.  I trust this will be of use to someone like @poh and @kfasimpaur who both have indicated that adhoc meetups with folks we know and appreciate are devoutly to be wished.  And for others (@sensor63 @Danceswithcloud  @taniatorikova @anna_phd @inspirepassion @dogtrax @dajbelshaw @Bali_Maha @wiobyrne @EatcherVeggies @davecormier @Clarissamfb @GardnerCampbell @cogdog).

The Storify below is in progress.  I am going to work in the garden and then work on this then cut some firewood then clean out the shed then work on this.  So…come back to it and see what has happened.

No agreement on KTRS yet – Glasgow Daily Times: News

No agreement on KTRS yet – Glasgow Daily Times: News.

The future does not look bright for Kentucky teachers who expect to retire. Oh…that’s right. The state made an explicit promise.  Maybe we’ll get a Scott Walker-type governor here in the near future who will solve the problem by just ‘renegotiating’ the pension to a more “affordable level”.  Are there any promises that mean anything to the big players?  Well…I am thinking that there aren’t.  So how do I embrace the future without it appearing to be a no-man’s land of razor wire and mortar pocks?  This is not a rhetorical question, Kentucky lawmakers. Not rhetorical.

Does Your “Company” Care?

Who or what is your ‘company’? Is it an abstraction, a legal fiction for which and from which we claim institutional imperatives? Is it company as in ‘a group of actors getting together to put on a show’? Is it a few good women and men, a saving remnant? Godin’s question is whether the company allows you to care? Well…better to ask how you allow yourself to care. For good or ill, vision statement notwithstanding, institutions are incapable of caring. Corporations are not people. They do not make good company. Yet… as Swift put it, “I hate and despise the animal called Mankind, but I like the occasional Tom, Dick, and Harry.” Substitute company for mankind.

I Keen; Therefore, I Am.

 

Playing the game alone

My wife and I often take field walks on Sunday to assess the state of the pasture, the grass, the woods, the water–in other words the full catastrophe that has been this winter.  And, of course, we wanted to hear the peepers at the Gates of Dawn.

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In the wetlands by Bacon Creek we muck about in our boots, drawn toward the keening of the peepers.

 

 

Yet…you cannot see a single one even though you hear them all about.  You cannot see a peep.  Hence the quote above from James Carse.

Here is the paradox.  Most of the time online,  I feel both utterly alone and surrounded just like I do when I visit the peepers in the spring.  I cannot see my ‘peeps’ yet I can hear them singing.  But it is confounding.  I want to hold both in my heart simultaneously, but can’t.  I cycle between desolation and habitation much like the  move from winter to spring.  I understand this in the natural world.  I do not understand this online.

Can I have faith that the peepers are there and lifting me up even though I cannot see them ?  Is Carse right in saying that “we cannot relate to anyone who is not also relating to us” ?  Are my peeps relating to me and I know it not?

This is not a trivial matter.  It applies to all communities.  It just seems particularly apt to my digital ones right now.  If I hear them keening, is that enough to be in communion.  Sometimes yes, other times no.  I am alternating current seeking the ground of community be that natural or home-made.

Right now, I ain’t feelin’ it.  But not to worry.  The infinite game abounds.  Keening and caring and connected  even though I cannot see it.  The peepers at the Gates of Dawn abide with me.

Screw it, let’s go on another feldgang

 

 

Camera Non-Obscura: Or Why the Brain Sees Better than the Camera

I was inspired to write this post by the work of Kim Douillard and Kevin Hodgson in a project called “Slices of Life”.

I was especially struck by Kevin’s photos here and here’s Kim’s).  In Kevin’s night picture, however, I found myself wondering about what I could not see just as much as by what I could see.  Having taken night photos before, I also thought about how limiting the camera is as it tries to record the fullness that the night can seem.  I know that is not a fair comparison in many ways, but technology is almost always like that.  In other words, in the fair light of day or night, technology reduces, delimits, and otherwise ‘cheapens’ experience. It makes the world more legible, but less wise.

For example, below is a photo of a rectangular platte of ground shot this morning just outside my back door.

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What we see has little to do with it means.  For one thing, the metaphor of the ‘frame’ makes legible only a very small portion of the available universe.  In a way this is exactly what the brain does so very well–it uses an ‘ignorance’ filter.  And by ‘ignorance’ I mean that we accent the second syllable.  Based upon some idiosyncratic and lifelong evolving algorithm, each of our brains takes from the picture above what it will and ignores the rest. A collander metaphor jumps to mind.  Or maybe it actively pays attention to some stuff in favor of other stuff, a pattern bias unique to each of our own sets of experience.  Schrodinger’s Cat? Or Maxwell’s Demon?

But our views signify uniquely.  Each of us comes to the photo with a different filter.  Thinking out loud here, perhaps the metaphor is a loom, a Jacquard loom with a punchcard template (read schema) that weaves the sensorium back and forth.  Or as early neuroscientist Charles Sherrington called it “the enchanted loom”. The quote below is the loom in action according to Sherrington  as our brain wakes from sleep.

 The great topmost sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of traveling sparks hurrying hither and thither. The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.

I  am not thinking of the  kind of loom below as a metaphor although it is cool and tempting.

This weaving of the senses in with the schema we already have in our minds, that’s what I have in…mind.  Now, back to the matter at hand, the practical matter of what is seen in the rectangle of ground outside my back door.

First, I see or infer dozens of holes in the ground. Worms, beetles, and other critters are pouring from the warming soil looking for I know not what.  Perhaps they are like Mole in The Wind in the Willows. They’ve  got spring fever and are saying to themselves, “onion sauce”. The are holing out of the ground and checking out the surface because they can and because they feel the need.  Fanciful? Yet the holes are there and my mind weaves in some Kenneth Grahame

Second, I know what the holes signify–soil health.  There is much to eat and many to eat it.  In a way it is as the hermetic philosophers insisted, “As above, so below.”  Another weaving of the loom that contemplates the health of the soil.

RWS_Tarot_01_Magician

 

Third, it means that spring has sprung. This cliche is reinforced by the ‘frogged’ thrum of peepers in the background ready to move and mate and carry on with the ancient seasonal struggle. And all the other heaves and sighs and blats and tweets of spring. Not to mention the smell and breath of spring, its earth and touch moving in between what I see and hear and what I have seen and heard in sixty years of springs.

The camera’s purpose, like the brain’s, is to limit.  An example of this is filtering within apps.  I have been playing with two such tools of late: Adobe Shape and Waterlogue.

Here is how Waterlogue uses its “It’s Technical” filter to view the ground above… and so below.

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Reminds me of a topographic map without text.  In this case the map is both the territory and not the territory, what Vedantic philosophy calls “neti-neti”.  This filter is not like the brain’s enchanted loom.  It simply renders the photo into something legible.  It does not mean anything independent of the brain that views it.  Does a photo rendered in a forest by a filter signify if no one is around to view it? Nope.

The other app, Adobe  Shape is even more stark in its mapping of filter onto photo. Hard to believe it has the same picture as its source.

groundwithadobefilter

Photo filters and apps are more like the chain of punch cards for a jacquard loom than Sherrington’s magical shuttle metaphor.  This Adobe Shape filter seems more like a reduction of the original to that of a photomicrograph of…brain tissue, neurons and glia.  But, of course, that is what I am ‘weaving into’ the filtered picture.  I love the image of my mind shuttling back and forth into what it sees and carrying with it the partial, conjoined datum of the the brain (what it knows past, present,future) and carrying back the sensorium.   The gif below does not even begin to approach the speed and complexity of the process, but it begins to point at how meaning might begin to be made.

I return to the original inspiration–overlooked moments.  I think that every photo by design is an overlooked moment.  Each one has an audience that o’erlooks it.  That ‘overlooking’ is the meaning making moment, the time when the brain fills in the blanks or, using Sherrington’s metaphor, uses the enchanted shuttle to weave meaning back and forth.  And because there are many possible weavers, any picture can be a nexus for even more complex brocades, quilts, and damasks.  Is that what Kevin and Kim are doing. And me, too. We are “flashing shuttles weav[ing] a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one.” And always there is something overlooked that someone else can weave in or (and this is something I am only now considering) weave out, Penelope-like in the night.

Now what do you see that has been overlooked. I invite you to invoke the Muse, grab the enchanted shuttle and make.  We live in a world of connection and construction that is beginning to fit our minds better every day.  Carpe neuron!

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