Posts tagged education

In other words, based on your consumption of news, your search patterns, and a deep analysis (semantic, tonality, implied emotions) of your mail and your posts — matched against hundreds of millions of others — Google will be able to suggest a link to the profile of an artist in Harper’s when you dropped in Google News to check on Syria.

Frédéric Filloux, News: Personalized or Serendipitous?, Monday Note.

Filloux interviews Richard Gingras (senior director of news and social products at Google) about how Google is planning to serve content to readers that is both personalized and serendipitous:

According to him, “Today’s news personalization is very unsophisticated. We look at your news reading patterns, we determine that you looked at five stories about the Arab Spring and we deduct you might like articles about Egypt. This is not how it should work. In fact, you might be interested in many other things such as the fall from grace of dictators, generation-driven revolutions, etc. These requires understanding concepts”. And that’s a matter Google is working on, he says. Not only for news, but for products such as Google Now which is the main application of Google’s efforts on predictive search. 

How it’ll actually pan out, we don’t know, but there are a couple of questions that come out of this that are worth keeping in mind:

01. How do recommendation engines (currently) work?

Ad Age explains:

Recommendation engines, otherwise known as recommender systems, suggest content based on previous behavior or purchases. Such systems typically use one of two approaches: Collaborative filtering creates a predictive model based on a user’s previous interactions such as products purchased or viewed. Content-based filtering looks at content or item characteristics and suggests content with similar elements. Amazon, Netflix and music services including Pandora and last.fm use recommendation engines.

02. Why preserve serendipity?

Four years ago, Mathew Ingram wrote about the serendipity defense—one of the main arguments for a bundled news package: basically, newspapers let you easily stumble upon fascinating articles that you’d never think to look for by yourself. The advantage that newspapers have over the internet on this is that once you pick one, you can have a good sense of what quality to expect from it. You know the brand, you can let your critical guard down and the whole experience is fun and easy. While the internet might be the ultimate serendipity machine, achieving the same results requires much more: know-how, patience, a critical eye on the trustworthiness of the source, and regular exploration.

03. Why prescribe content?

While the web allows us to find endless amounts content, that content often ends up being finer and finer bits of the candy we love, which encourages us to exist in echo chambers of information-decadence. Those who believe that news services should deliberately prescribe content to help readers diversify the perspectives they are exposed to have yet to find a way to do so that doesn’t feel like an eat-your-vegetables approach. Plus, prescribing content to readers for the benefit of a “balanced” news diet would likely require too many assumptions about value to ever be widely accepted. 

FJP: If you’re a proactive news reader, you can create your own diet of publications or people both in and outside your comfort zone and maintain a personalized, serendipitous, diverse set of sources. If you’re not, you’ll rely on recommendation engines to do the work for you. For the creators of those engines, it’s a tricky mix to find the right balance between serendipity and prescription. And unfortunately, many of the concocters of the magic potion are for-profit companies that skew the formula for their own benefit.—Jihii

Getting Web Literate
The Mozilla Foundation released its specification for a Web Literacy Standard. This, in the foundation and extended community’s view, is what people should know when participating on the Web.
Topics range from understanding the credibility of a Web site you’ve landed on; the ability to compare “information from a number of sources to judge the trustworthiness of content;” composing content for the Web (basic HTML, how to embed a video), remixing found content into something new; and basic coding with script frameworks, loops and arrays among other topics.
Take a look and see how literate you may be.
Educators teaching the Internets should explore the standard, according to Doug Belshaw, one of the standard’s creators, and consider incorporating it into their curricula.
If you’re interested in participating in the ongoing creating of the Web Literacy Standard, Mozilla places its open calls for ideas and consensus here. 

Getting Web Literate

The Mozilla Foundation released its specification for a Web Literacy Standard. This, in the foundation and extended community’s view, is what people should know when participating on the Web.

Topics range from understanding the credibility of a Web site you’ve landed on; the ability to compare “information from a number of sources to judge the trustworthiness of content;” composing content for the Web (basic HTML, how to embed a video), remixing found content into something new; and basic coding with script frameworks, loops and arrays among other topics.

Take a look and see how literate you may be.

Educators teaching the Internets should explore the standard, according to Doug Belshaw, one of the standard’s creators, and consider incorporating it into their curricula.

If you’re interested in participating in the ongoing creating of the Web Literacy Standard, Mozilla places its open calls for ideas and consensus here

Stats, Data, Freelance Pitches and Other Things You Should Learn in J-School

The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan interviews some of her colleagues about things they wish they’d learned before becoming journalists.

Statistics and data are important. Stories about and around them take all forms. Take, for instance, how mathematicians and urban planners are analyzing bike share data to map our cities.

Ditto how to pitch a freelance story. We all start somewhere, and it’s usually not with a full-time job in a newsroom. Knowing what’s a good pitch, and how to write one, is half the battle to getting your story out there… and getting paid for doing so.

Oh, yeah, and code. It helps to know a bit of code.

Read through for the list. It makes for good advice. What Should Reporters Learn in Journalism School?

But the most important question for this “family album” will be to what extent we can enlarge our notion of family. If viewed as happening to the “other,” then much of this imagery—whether joyous or painful—will be ignored by those not directly affected. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as mutually dependent, both happy for each other’s successes and attentive to each other’s welfare, then even the harshest imagery created by communities of their own distress can serve a purpose.

Fred Ritchin, professor at NYU and co-director of the Photography & Human Rights Program at Tisch in an article for TIME LightBox on Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later.

He discusses the growing practice of and potential for communities to portray themselves through photography, be it professionals having access to a larger audience through the web, or amateurs using their mobile phones to capture events.

Instagram, for example, allows professionals and amateurs alike to immediately upload images; during Hurricane Sandy last year, ten photos tagged to the storm were uploaded every second; 800,000 pictures were uploaded in all. In contrast, the monumental, multi-year Farm Security Administration program created during the New Deal that focused on American rural poverty with photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn, produced roughly 250,000 images total.

While Instagram as a photographic and journalistic medium has its critics, one of its positive features is the fact that users can see only one photo at a time on their phone, which, Ritchin points out, provides the viewer a type of respite from the visual chaos of the web. At a time when increasing numbers of citizens around the world are documenting everything from war to human rights atrocities to their daily lives, a coherent way to filter this imagery is missing. Not all disasters are the same, he writes:

Whereas Hurricane Sandy was a catastrophe that those in the Northeastern United States suffered through together, sharing each other’s vulnerability, other circumstances may be more problematic. What might have been the result if those trapped inside the World Trade Towers on September 11 had possessed cellphone cameras? Would it have been enlightening for others on the outside if they were able to distribute images of their terrible predicament, or would large amounts of such first-person imagery have provoked an ugly voyeurism amounting to re-victimization? Would these images have further increased the trauma for a horrified, largely powerless public to even more intolerable levels, and with it the calls for vengeance?

Our task is two-fold: 1) “to develop practical applications for this abundance of imagery” and 2) to find ways to make this “family album” that stretches the world over accessible to us, in our media consumption cycles as something other than an overload of imagery lest it cause “an even greater distancing from events” due to our inability to process the abundance. 

All that in mind, view the photo essay "Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later: Self-Portraits of Communities in Distress" here.

10 Types of Plagiarism
Plagiarism.org has what it calls a Plagiarism Spectrum based on a 2012 survey with 900 secondary and higher education teachers: 

The Spectrum makes these forms memorable by tagging the types with “Digital 2.0” monikers, a gesture that both acknowledges the role that the internet plays in instances of content copying and makes the types more meaningful for a generation of writers who are “digital natives.”

The survey, and white paper that goes along with it, is available via TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection platform.
H/T: Maria Watson, OnlineUniversities.

10 Types of Plagiarism

Plagiarism.org has what it calls a Plagiarism Spectrum based on a 2012 survey with 900 secondary and higher education teachers: 

The Spectrum makes these forms memorable by tagging the types with “Digital 2.0” monikers, a gesture that both acknowledges the role that the internet plays in instances of content copying and makes the types more meaningful for a generation of writers who are “digital natives.”

The survey, and white paper that goes along with it, is available via TurnItIn, a plagiarism detection platform.

H/T: Maria Watson, OnlineUniversities.

Journalism & Games: News Literacy Edition
ProPublica’s Sisi Wei just wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift on how to create compelling newsgames, that is, games that seek to reach, inform and engage news readers by involving them in the issues at hand. For example, you can play a game to experience being part of the sweatshop system and thereby potentially experience owning the consequences of the system:

This feeling of owning consequences is what’s at play in a game called Sweatshop. It simulates the life of a sweatshop manager, and in the face of the daily pressures, the player’s moral compass begins to lose its bearing. Betsy Morais wrote, in her New Yorker piece about playing Sweatshop, that “as I continued to play, I began to skip past … the interjections of a child worker who popped up at the bottom of the screen to plead for decent treatment. …The longer I played, the more each moving part — workers, children, hats — became abstracted into the image of one big machine.”

Or, you can involve yourself in the complexities of making budget decisions:

In 2008, American Public Media published a popular simulation newsgame called “Budget Hero,” which asks players to build a federal budget that can stay balanced over the next 30 years. The game is kept up-to-date regularly — for example, it takes into account the January 2013 fiscal cliff — and if you play the game without making any budget changes, the game displays a real projection of how current federal spending affects the budget over the coming years.

Read on for some best practices and tools to create newsgames of your own, which, apparently, aren’t technically much harder than creating interactive graphics.
FJP: While these games deal mainly with news readers viscerally experiencing the issues reporting in the news, another sort of newsgame that’s been on my radar for a while is what the folks on the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Reynolds Journalism Institute partnered up to create in the 2011 series Elements of Verification. It’s the same concept as most newsgames, except it puts you in the shoes of the journalist or news consumer to weigh creation and consumption decisions for yourself.
Granted, the news lit games are really simple and they’re not visually fantastic. But, they’re incredibly important to democratic education. They put the average citizen in j-school for a couple of minutes. Coupled with Sisi’s recommendations and the visual and storytelling perspective of interactive news designers it would be fantastic to build more such series. —Jihii
Background/Bonus Reading: Sisi Wei reminds us that there’s a difference between gamification and games (gamification being the practice of adding game-like elements to activities that aren’t truly games, i.e.: Foursquare) (but the words tend to be used interchangeably anyway). Here is a paper that explains the how’s, what’s and why’s of gamification in education, which is a pretty good primer on the potential and debates around using games in education. It was co-authored by Joey Lee, a professor at Teachers College who is doing some pretty interesting work around real-world impact games. There’s also an annual conference around social impact games which features some pretty incredible work. In my non-FJP life, I worked on a video about it which you can see here.
Image: Screenshot from the School Tragedy portion of the Elements of Verification game series.

Journalism & Games: News Literacy Edition

ProPublica’s Sisi Wei just wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift on how to create compelling newsgames, that is, games that seek to reach, inform and engage news readers by involving them in the issues at hand. For example, you can play a game to experience being part of the sweatshop system and thereby potentially experience owning the consequences of the system:

This feeling of owning consequences is what’s at play in a game called Sweatshop. It simulates the life of a sweatshop manager, and in the face of the daily pressures, the player’s moral compass begins to lose its bearing. Betsy Morais wrote, in her New Yorker piece about playing Sweatshop, that “as I continued to play, I began to skip past … the interjections of a child worker who popped up at the bottom of the screen to plead for decent treatment. …The longer I played, the more each moving part — workers, children, hats — became abstracted into the image of one big machine.”

Or, you can involve yourself in the complexities of making budget decisions:

In 2008, American Public Media published a popular simulation newsgame called “Budget Hero,” which asks players to build a federal budget that can stay balanced over the next 30 years. The game is kept up-to-date regularly — for example, it takes into account the January 2013 fiscal cliff — and if you play the game without making any budget changes, the game displays a real projection of how current federal spending affects the budget over the coming years.

Read on for some best practices and tools to create newsgames of your own, which, apparently, aren’t technically much harder than creating interactive graphics.

FJP: While these games deal mainly with news readers viscerally experiencing the issues reporting in the news, another sort of newsgame that’s been on my radar for a while is what the folks on the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Reynolds Journalism Institute partnered up to create in the 2011 series Elements of Verification. It’s the same concept as most newsgames, except it puts you in the shoes of the journalist or news consumer to weigh creation and consumption decisions for yourself.

Granted, the news lit games are really simple and they’re not visually fantastic. But, they’re incredibly important to democratic education. They put the average citizen in j-school for a couple of minutes. Coupled with Sisi’s recommendations and the visual and storytelling perspective of interactive news designers it would be fantastic to build more such series. —Jihii

Background/Bonus Reading: Sisi Wei reminds us that there’s a difference between gamification and games (gamification being the practice of adding game-like elements to activities that aren’t truly games, i.e.: Foursquare) (but the words tend to be used interchangeably anyway). Here is a paper that explains the how’s, what’s and why’s of gamification in education, which is a pretty good primer on the potential and debates around using games in education. It was co-authored by Joey Lee, a professor at Teachers College who is doing some pretty interesting work around real-world impact games. There’s also an annual conference around social impact games which features some pretty incredible work. In my non-FJP life, I worked on a video about it which you can see here.

Image: Screenshot from the School Tragedy portion of the Elements of Verification game series.

If you can’t present your ideas to at least a modestly larger audience, then it’s not going to do you very much good. Einstein supposedly said that I don’t trust any physics theory that can’t be explained to a 10-year-old. A lot of times the intuitions behind things aren’t really all that complicated.
Nate Silver in a Q&A with Harvard Business Review on how to get into data science as a newbie (student, professional, or otherwise).

Medium is the Message: The Perils of Algorithmic Curation

In an interview on his newest project (the just over 1-year-old long-form platform Medium) Twitter co-founder Evan Williams shared a few thoughts on the uselessness of general news, and the need for a platform to highlight ideas of lasting import.

TechCrunch reports:

Williams is taking aim squarely at the news industry’s most embarrassing vulnerability: the incessant need to trump up mundane happenings in order to habituate readers into needing news like a daily drug fix.

“News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and more ideas that have more lasting import,” he tells me during our interview inside a temporary Market Street office space that’s housing Medium, until the top two floors are ready for his growing team. “Even if it’s fiction, it’s probably better most of the time.”

[…] Instead, Williams argues, citizens should re-calibrate their ravenous appetite for information towards more awe-inspiring content. “Published written ideas and stories are life-changing,” he gushes, recalling his early childhood fascination with books as the motivation to take on the media establishment. The Internet “was freeing that up, that excitement about knowledge that’s inside of books–multiplied and freed and unlocked for the world; and, the world would be better in every way.”

In Williams’s grand vision, the public reads for enlightenment; news takes a backseat directly in proportion to how often it leaves us more informed and inspired.

This is a really valid, and really noble ambition that resonates with more than a few people. In a letter to a young journalist, Pulitzer winning writer Lane DeGregory looks back on her career and says she wishes she had “read more short stories and fewer newspaper articles.”

It also echoes what Maria Popova has been aiming to do with her curatorial interestingness project, Brain Pickings, for years now. Last week, she wrote a must-read piece on tech writer Clive Thompson’s new book, which pushes past “painfully familiar and trite-by-overuse notions like distraction and information overload,” to deeply examine the impact of digital tools. She writes:

Several decades after Vannevar Bush’s now-legendary meditation on how technology will impact our thinking, Thompson reaches even further into the fringes of our cultural sensibility — past the cheap techno-dystopia, past the pollyannaish techno-utopia, and into that intricate and ever-evolving intersection of technology and psychology.

The Problem: Though I’ve been excited about Medium and its potential, I’m inclined to file Williams’ vision for it into the “pollyannaish techno-utopia” bucket that Popova mentions because although the impulse behind it (the desire for an antidote to the ravenous appetite for tidbits of useless information) is something I wholeheartedly agree with, algorithmic curation worries me.

How Medium works:

Traditional news editors stake their reputations on having an intuition for what drives eyeballs to their sites. Editors don’t, however, know whether readers leave more informed.

Williams thinks Medium has an answer: an intelligent algorithm that suggests stories, primarily based on how long users spend reading certain articles (which he’s discussing publicly for the first time). Like Pandora did for music discovery, Medium’s new intelligent curator aims to improve the ol’ human-powered system of manually scrolling through the Internet and asking others what to read.

In the algorithm itself, Medium prioritizes time spent on an article, rather than simple page views. “Time spent is not actually a value in itself, but in a world where people have infinite choices, it’s a pretty good measure if people are getting value,” explains Williams.

"Time spent" seems like a questionable way to measure value, if "enlightening" content is what Medium wants to put on the screens of readers. As a content-neutral long-form discovery platform, sure, it makes sense. And there isn’t really anything wrong with it either. But touting itself as a solution to our appetite for endless streams of meaningless information seems troubling to me. Here’s why:

A key aspect of Thompson’s argument on the good the internet has done for our brains is that it has given us unprecedented access to one another’s memory stores, which means that our ability to indiscriminately discover information and understand the world through it, has expanded infinitely. To oversimplify it: we don’t have to remember as much by ourselves—we simply need to remember where information is stored and how to access it quickly. While the benefits are obvious, the issue with this is that it hampers creative thought, and our ability to make connections.

In light of platforms like Medium, longer isn’t better, especially when the discovery of value is left to machines. Popova excerpts a portion of Thompson’s book in which he explains how an algorithm’s biases exist, but are almost impossible to identify:

The real challenge of using machines for transactive memory lies in the inscrutability of their mechanics. Transactive memory works best when you have a sense of how your partners’ minds work — where they’re strong, where they’re weak, where their biases lie. I can judge that for people close to me. But it’s harder with digital tools, particularly search engines. You can certainly learn how they work and develop a mental model of Google’s biases. … But search companies are for-profit firms. They guard their algorithms like crown jewels. This makes them different from previous forms of outboard memory. A public library keeps no intentional secrets about its mechanisms; a search engine keeps many. On top of this inscrutability, it’s hard to know what to trust in a world of self-publishing. To rely on networked digital knowledge, you need to look with skeptical eyes. It’s a skill that should be taught with the same urgency we devote to teaching math and writing.

Popova explains that without a mental pool of resources from which we can connect existing ideas into new combinations—and I’d add, thereby access, retain, and be “enlightened” by information—our capacity to do so is deflated.

TL;DR: Popova’s piece doesn’t directly address or assess discovery platforms like Medium, but I think it’s worth considering them together. Longer form writing isn’t an antidote to short bites of information, and ideas of lasting value can’t be judged by time spent consuming them. The point here is that for content platforms that truly seek to give people access to more ideas with more lasting import, a lot more work has to be done, namely: (1) The limitations of algorithmic curation need to be transparent, and talked about, and (2) Readers need to be taught how to critically consume self-published writing that they received through digitally networked knowledge. —Jihii

A Brief History of Newspaper Lingo

In honor of the first publication of the NY (Daily) Times on September 18, 1851, The Week has some journalism lingo trivia for you. Lonely-hearts, for example, refers to a newspaper column (circa 1930’s) “in which people attempt to find friends of the opposite sex.”

Catching Up on Syria

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what the best way to get caught up with what’s going on in Syria is. I’m not a fan of most cable channels because they tend to make one feel compelled to have an opinion, jump in on the debate, or pass judgement before being fully informed. So here’s a reading round-up:

The Basics:

And then there’s Mother Jones’ guide to the debate, which is always an easy, and comprehensive read, the Washington Post’s 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask, and Children’s BBC, which, yes, is for children, but for those trying to catch up, helpful.

Diving Deeper/Interesting Tangential Thoughts:

If you want to spent some time digging into the past, present and future coverage on the issues, go to directly to Syria Deeply, and/or the NY Times Crisis in Syria page, from which some of the above links were selected.

The Story of Physics… Up To Einstein Edition

Via physicsphysics:

BBC Science Club came up with this tremendous short animation video detailing the history of physics. You probably know the names —Galileo, Newton, Einstein— but this video dives into a few things that you probably weren’t taught.

Directed by Asa Lucander.

FJP: Delightful.

Bad Egg
Of course there’s a Wikipedia page teaching you how to curse in Mandarin.
Choose your angle: The butt, the boob, a variety pack of genitals. And turtles and eggs for the curious.

Bad Egg

Of course there’s a Wikipedia page teaching you how to curse in Mandarin.

Choose your angle: The butt, the boob, a variety pack of genitals. And turtles and eggs for the curious.

To evaluate the nothing-to-hide argument, we should begin by looking at how its adherents understand privacy. Nearly every law or policy involving privacy depends upon a particular understanding of what privacy is. The way problems are conceived has a tremendous impact on the legal and policy solutions used to solve them. As the philosopher John Dewey observed, “A problem well put is half-solved.”
Daniel J. Solove, Why Privacy Even Matters if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Googling Longform

The News:

When big news breaks, readers clamor for updates — but they also yearn for context. For example, when word got out Monday afternoon that Jeff Bezos had spent $250 million to become the new owner of The Washington Post, there was suddenly a demand for all kinds of information. Who are the Grahams? How long have they owned the paper? What kind of leader has Bezos been at Amazon? What’s the status of other historic newspapers — have any others been purchased recently?

Some of this information would have been clear after a quick Google search, but piecing together a full portrait of the significance of what happened would likely have taken a combination of queries and resources — maybe a Wikipedia article, some breaking blog posts, a couple of company biographies — to put it all together.

Google wants to change that. Today, they announced a new search feature that aims to put in-depth and longform coverage of people, places, events and themes at your fingertips.

Why It Matters:

One possible result of the new search might be that more eyes are turned toward content produced by journalists in newsrooms rather than the aggregators we have come to rely on when looking for background information — Wikipedia, IMDb, or WebMD. It also suggests that Google is aware of an information gap that others are also trying to fill, a centralized hub for background and context on an issue. 

Thoughts on the potential of this sort of search engine:

As a journalist and seeker of content-specific longform, this is a dream come true. When writing a story, you want to know what’s come before, you want to know what excellent journalists have grappled with in executing stories before yours. Digging through the archives of publications and asking people for recommendations should not be the only way to discover this content.

As a news consumer and citizen of the world, my relationship with literary and longer form stories has been entirely serendipitous; I’ve relied on the magazines and journals I love to read great stories, and more recently, on apps like the one by Longform to find writing and writers I don’t know of. But if one is looking to learn about a topic, get lost on the internet, or deep dive into the life and times of their favorite celebrity, search engines pointing to great writing (as opposed to say, the Wikipedias of the world), has the potential to change consumption culture. Granted the content isn’t guaranteed to be great, but it could help us discover more “writing” as opposed to more “content,” which has the potential to get us used to reading and experiencing longer, well-thought-out, well-researched stories again. And that is something that really excites me, because that’s the sort of world I want my kids to grow up in.—Jihii