The New York Times’ Virtual Reality Experiment

Screenshot of two hands holding Google Cardboard at the website

Is the future of mainstream journalism to immerse the viewer into the action via virtual reality? The New York Times thinks so. Sunday print subscribers already received a complimentary Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer, which partners with your smartphone to create what appears to the novice to be a futuristic ViewMaster, and digital subscribers like me just got an email letting us know how we could have one sent to us today gratis.

In a story written a few weeks agoNYT editor in chief Jake Silverstein wrote:

Until now, V.R. has been seen mostly as a revolutionary new platform for video games, but it has the potential to transform journalism as well. At the magazine, we first began experimenting with the technology in April, when we shot a short film with the V.R. production studio Vrse about the making of our ‘‘Walking New York’’ cover. We didn’t promote this project at the time, but we were happy enough with the results to begin making plans …

Watching your first V.R. film takes a little bit of effort, but the payoff is well worth it. First, you’ll have to get our new NYT VR app, available free in the App Store and Google Play. Then you’ll have to download the film itself, which may take a few minutes, depending on your connection speed. If you’re a print subscriber, you will receive a Google Cardboard V.R. viewer with your paper this weekend, which you can use to watch the film. If you don’t have a viewer, you can simply watch the film on your smartphone alone …

Filming in V.R. also requires some effort. Rather than using one camera, a V.R. rig uses many, clustered together and pointing in all directions. The footage from this contraption is reconciled in postproduction to create a wraparound environment, with the viewer positioned at the center, like a sun within a solar system. To stay out of the shot, the filmmaker has to set up his camera rig, begin recording and then run and hide, peering from behind a haystack or a trash bin and hoping that the action unfolds the way he imagined. For this reason, V.R. usually involves more coordination between filmmaker and subject than in traditional video journalism. A subject may be asked to repeat an action, or wait until the filmmaker is out of sight to complete a task …

It is hard to know whether readers of the magazine’s issue on Sept. 6, 1896, were as transported by the newspaper’s first photographs as I hope the readers of today will be by ‘‘The Displaced.’’ But we are proud to carry on a tradition — one as old as journalism itself — of pressing new technologies into the service of storytelling.

Is this a step forward for journalism or will we look back at this moment as one of journalism’s many fads (including, for example, thin records slipped into newspaper pages)? What do you think?

You can learn more about the project at .




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AASL Data Visualization Presentation

Visualization comparing number of war deaths to desks by gunshot

Debbie Abilock and I are pleased to be talking about literacy in terms of “reading” and “writing” data visualizations at the American Association of School Librarians today.

Come by at 4:30 to hear more about what this visualization is all about!

You can find the slide deck here.

Visualization source

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Some interesting findings from Pew’s Spring 2015 data collection and recent report “Libraries at the Crossroads.”

Take a look at the least popular ideas in the visual below (Thanks to Pew for providing these embeddable graphics):3D printers and shifting books to make more collaborative spaces.

How do we reconcile this with the priorities we identify in our conferences, blogs, and publications?

Public Wants Libraries to Advance Education, Improve Digital Literacy and Serve Key Groups   Are we going in the wrong direction by pursuing libraries as creative spaces? The answer isn’t so easy … look at the change from 2012 – 2015: Growing Public Support for Libraries Moving Some Books and Stacks to Create Space for Community and Tech Spaces   What do you make of this data?

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“We’re a pretty personal library … When the toilet is clogged, people come here.”

Delighted to see my local library (Ann Arbor) and a few of our alums (Larry Neal, Josie Parker) featured in yesterday’s New York Times! Excerpts below.

Libraries aren’t just for books, or even e-books, anymore. They are for checking out cake pans (North Haven, Conn.), snowshoes (Biddeford, Me.), telescopes and microscopes (Ann Arbor, Mich.), American Girl dolls (Lewiston, Me.), fishing rods (Grand Rapids, Minn.), Frisbees and Wiffle balls (Mesa, Ariz.) and mobile hot spot devices (New York and Chicago).

“The move toward electronic content has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our physical spaces and enhance our role as a community hub,” said Larry Neal, the president of the Public Library Association … “The web is swell,” he added, “but it can feel impersonal.”

Libraries, arguably the original sharing economy, have long circulated art prints, music and movies, and more recently have added tools. But services like the Library of Things and the “Stuff-brary” in Mesa, outside Phoenix, are part of a broad cultural shift in which libraries increasingly view themselves as hands-on creative hubs, places where people can learn new crafts and experiment with technology like 3-D printers …

The economic downturn forced many public libraries, especially in urban areas, to close branches, curtail hours and cut staff even as demand for their services by job seekers increased … at the same time, “the crunch pushed libraries to look locally to prove their value,” said R. David Lankes, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University …

Last year, the Free Library of Philadelphia pulled together city, state and private funds to open a teaching kitchen, which is meant to teach math and literacy through recipes and to address childhood obesity. It has a 36-seat classroom and a flat-screen TV for close-ups of chefs preparing healthy dishes …

The Ann Arbor District Library has been adding to its voluminous collection of circulating science equipment. It offers telescopes, portable digital microscopes and backyard bird cameras, among other things — items that many patrons cannot afford to buy. Dave Menzo, a 28-year-old musician, created a whole album by borrowing electronic music equipment, including a photocell-controlled synthesizer called a Thingamagoop.

Online experiences only go so far, said Josie Parker, Ann Arbor’s library director. “You can’t download a telescope to take on a family picnic in the country and watch the stars come up,” she said …

For Shereema Ibrahim … the discovery that sewing machines were suddenly available at her branch library meant returning to a favorite hobby… “It’s not so much the dollar amount,” she said of the borrowed sewing machine. “It’s about the value of opportunity” …

In Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota, … where fishing rods and tackle can be borrowed and used at the library’s own fishing dock on the Mississippi River, emergency assistance is provided during the summer months by a Rotary Club volunteer adept at untangling wind knots.

In Berkeley, Calif., the Tool Lending Library, a forerunner of the maker movement that was established in 1979, now houses some 3,000 tools, including weed whackers, drain snakes, demolition hammers and saws….

“We’re a pretty personal library,” said Adam Broner, a librarian who is also a carpenter. “When the toilet is clogged, people come here.”

I really love libraries.

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Obama on Teachers

From The New York Times:

“If you hear a candidate say that the big problem with education is teachers, you should not vote for that person,” Mr. Obama said. “It is a hard job, and it is the most important job we’ve got, and folks who go into teaching don’t go into it for the money. They go into it because they’re passionate about kids.”


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Prepping for maker class with the “American Maker” video from 1960

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4TDW Slides … and new ideas from today’s participants about boosting peer interaction

Decorative: Logo for 4T Digital Writing Conference

Do you know about the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing that Delia DeCourcey and the 4T team are bringing to your laptop for free October 11-14? This is a great chance for you to rethink — a la Alan Liu’s Transliteracies Project — about what reading and writing look like in the multimedia digital world.

You can register for the conference now. There’s no charge, and you can get Michigan continuing education credits (SCECHs) at no cost, too! There are many excellent speakers in the conference line-up, including nationally-recognized names like Andrea Zellner, Troy Hicks, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl.

But there are also many fresh perspectives presenting webinars for the first time. This carries on the pledge we made a few years ago for 4TDW’s parent conference, the 4T Virtual Conference to develop instate talent and give great teachers a supportive, ongoing community in which to develop a great webinar. This year’s featured presenters for 4TDW gave up a morning of their vacation for virtual professional development, and I got to share some of my strategies and listen in on their thinking.

My big takeaways:

  • I’m not the only one who thinks webinaring can be anxiety-provoking!
  • From Liz Kolb and others, I learned how to use the whiteboard and its “magic wand” (or, as Blackboard calls it, pointer) to capture information about participants (e.g., click on your grade level; mark where you are on this continuum) and also as a place to consolidate input from participants’ text. Today, watching people put comments about high impact webinar strategies onto the whiteboard using Blackboard’s text tool, I noticed something I had never seen before in webinars: people writing things like, “YES!” next to someone else’s comment. I also saw someone use the magic wand tool to place an icon next to content they valued. What if we gathered comments (as has been done before), then asked people to go back and:
    • vote for the most important ideas we should continue talking about (or prioritize in our ongoing work); and/or
    • respond to someone else’s content?

Thanks to today’s participants for giving me a new way to think about participant interaction with peer content. Now I’m looking forward to my next webinar so I can put those new ideas into play!

Slide deck for today’s talk available here.




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Another sign that the maker movement has gone mainstream …

… is that you can now buy Kickstarter products on Amazon.

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Edutopia on Makerspaces

From “School Makerspaces: Building the Buzz” on the Edutopia site by Blake Auchincloss and Lisa Yokana:

Just because you create a makerspace in your school doesn’t guarantee that your community will embrace it. Students who have had all personal choice removed by traditional educational models can be passive and feel overwhelmed when faced with real-world problems or design challenges. Academic passivity is common in schools where students swallow content and regurgitate it on multiple-choice tests. Students simply want to know how to get the “A” …

Teachers may find the role of facilitator (or “guide on the side”) uncomfortable if they are used to being the “sage on the stage.” New technology in these spaces may be intimidating. Teachers need encouragement and professional development to change their mindsets and become facilitators of learning.

I was glad to see folks raising the issues of buy-in and the cultural contrast between grade-driven culture and makerspaces’ process-oriented one. I’m always supsicious when people tell me their makerspace is just perfect … 

What do you think?

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Noodling about DIY Circuit Blocks as low-cost option for safe, hands-on exploration

When Michigan Makers was in DC in June, we saw the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Circuit Blocks at Capitol Hill Maker Faire and National Maker Faire … now we’re noodling with our Ann Arbor District Library friends about them as possible alternatives to the start-up LittleBits kit or Snap Circuits. Here are some links we’re exploring:

Overview from Children’s Innovation Project

Don’t want to make your own? Buy them.

Circuit Boards at the Exploratorium (different name but same principle)

Posts on circuit blocks from MAKESHOP at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

What do you think? Sound intriguing?







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