Mashups & Media Literacy, Part I

In essence, I think the mashup is a compelling example of why media literacy should be an essential part of education (k-12 and higher education.) As educators create and share digital resources for use in the classroom, we have the opportunity to model best uses and create some effective mashups of our own. Also our students are creating more and more of their own digital content and a mashup can be an excellent project.

A couple of years ago I remember getting asked a lot about mashups. What were they? How do you make one?  Now, in 2011,  mashups are commonplace on the web. Yet this does not mean we (the everyday web surfer) is more cognizant of what mashups are all about.  So I decided to dust off one of my earlier attempts at explaining the basic mashup (see below) as I find it a relevant, evolving media form.

Mashup Image of women with blender
from librarian.net

Most of the time you might not even realize a website you are browsing might really be a  blend of  different apps and content being brought together for a seamless experience. This is could be considered a classic mashup. When you get down to it, isn’t your iGoogle page a type of mashup?

There are some amazing creations that come from mashups,  especially with music and video. This is where mashups can be controversial and the intellectual property and copyright is tricky to navigate. (For more on IP and copyright I recommend teachingcopyright.org) In essence, I think the mashup is a compelling example of why media literacy should be an essential part  of education (k-12 and higher education.) As educators create and share digital resources for use in the classroom, we have the opportunity to model best uses and create some effective mashups of our own. Also our students are creating more  and more of their own digital content and a  mashup can be an excellent project.

Below is the first part of a posting I wrote back in 2008 for my department’s blog on introducing the basic concept of the mashup to newbies.  Look for part II on creating mashups  tomorrow.

Understanding the Mashup -Part I

We’ve received a few inquires this fall about what mashups are and how they might be used in a course. The origin of the mashup is rooted in the music industry where people bring together instrumentation and vocal tracks from different songs to create a new song. Listen to an example of the classic Petula Clark song Downtown merged with the current Russian band t.A.T.u’s Not Gonna Get Us to form the new song Not Gonna Get Us Downtown.

The technical definition of a mashup refers to a website that brings together features, functions, and content of different websites into one tool or page. So essentially, a mashup is something that has been created from many other existing things to form a uniquely new thing, usually a piece of media or website.

Still scratching your head? That’s okay, so was I when I started reading more about mashups. The terminology and definition can seem more cumbersome than actually experiencing a mashup. Once you see one, you begin to realize that mashups are all around us. Here are some examples:
  • Flicker Sudoku – http://flickrsudoku.com/ The perfect site for sudoku fans and Flicker users alike, this site allows you to play sudoku with other members of the Flicker site, while pulling in content and sudoku boards from other sites. You experience the site as a normal, single webpage. In actuality it’s a site made of many sites and features.
  • Weather Bonk -http://www.weatherbonk.com/ Weather bonk is an interactive map pulling data from the National Weather Service, Google Maps, and other media sources. The site provides an interactive map of your region which gives you real-time weather, traffic, and sometime visual/image data. At same time, the site is very graphically busy and can be an example of the downside of the mashup.

Video Mashups
Video mashups are abundant. YouTube features many of them, and they are popular creations on comedy shows like the Daily Show. In an election year the variety and numbers of video mashups are vast. Below is a clip produced by an individual that was posted on YouTube. Notice the variety of images and clips ranging from Hillary Clinton speaking, a Nike ad runner, infused with George Orwell’s 1984:

Part II: How do I create a Mashup?
Basic mashups do not require expensive computer equipment or software. The most important resource in mashup creation is creativity and to keep in mind to start simple and build from there. In the next posting we will talk more about how to build a mashup using basic tools like PowerPoint.

Use Revisit to Visualize Twitter Conversations & Backchannels

I seem to be on a data visualization kick this week. Yesterday I highlighted the coolness of Many Eyes for text analysis. On the same day one of my favorite tweeps, @ToughLoveforX, shared Revisit, a project by Moritz Stefaner who is a freelance “information visualizer.” As soon as I clicked on Revisit, I was smitten from both my visual data geek tendencies and as an educator.

Stefaner’s Revisit allows you to “see” the connections happening across various Twitter streams and hashtags.  As a professional development provider and educator, Twitter is one of those tools that can take a while for someone to get the gist of (See earlier post on DABEL model for Social Media PD). One of the common complaints I hear from my students and colleagues is that Twitter is so hard to follow. Often I will introduce TweetDeck or Twitterfall (etc), as helpful tools to follow the progression of conversations. Some of my students and workshop attendees will then “get it” a bit more, but there is always a group of visual learners that are really trying to conceptualize the relationships of the tweets; particularly retweets and how people are truly connected. This is where Revisit is particularly powerful.

I did a sample infographic of the #edchat hashtag from 8/7/2010 at 11:30am EST. Click here to interact with this example (give it about 3 seconds to load). Also note, to the right of the Revisit screen, you can also type in your own search terms.

Stefaner comments this as a great way to create a Twitter wall for conferences, offices, and I would propose classrooms as well. Imagine visualizing your backchannel conversations in this way and seeing the connections come to life, as well as visualizing the major influencers  and branches in the dialogue.

Individuals and organizations can download the source code for their own stand alone implementations. Stefaner does note that due to current API limitations the only the tweets from the last 8 days are captured and retweets via the Twitter website are not captured. However, as an immediate infographic and quick analysis tool, it’s very effective. I invite you all to Revisit, and see your Twitter experiences in a new way.

Use Many Eyes for Text and Data Visualization

I am attending the Personalized Learning Symposium (#perLearn on Twitter) in Boston, MA this week. Today’s first group breakout session asked us to describe the qualities and characteristics that make a personalized learning environment.  At the completion of the conversation, one thing remained clear -we have a lot of ideas but no clear consensus. The lexicon for personalized learning is still developing.

I asked Molly McCloskey, Manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and convener in the Bartlett Room breakout session, to email me the collected table notes to see if I could create visualizations from our words. My goal is straightforward:  can we see immediate  patterns and connections from our combined words?  I usually use Wordle for some instant feedback. The result was okay, but didn’t make this diffuse topic any clearer.  So I turned to IBM’s Many Eyes site which allows multiple visualization types (including Wordle).  Here are the results:

Classic Wordle:
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The next three are a series of branching diagrams showing the connection of one word, to many thoughts & phrases. As you view these diagrams click on some of the words and see what happens.

Branching Diagrams: Students
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Branching Diagrams: Learning
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Branching Diagram: Teachers
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The Classic Tag Cloud
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Many Eyes is also capable of creating data driven visuals using specific word counts to create a variety of relationship diagrams.  I pulled the master word count list out of Worlde to generate an example of one of these options. For this to truly work, I need to go in a clean up all the “is, a, the, of , ands”…well you get the point.

Bubble Plot Example:
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For me the clear winner was the branching diagrams for this exercise. What is really great is that you can type different words into the textbox to see if they can be mapped.  Many Eyes is a free service and works simply by cutting and pasting your text into a basic text box. From there you can create interesting visuals for your data analysis. Do I dare say its a tad bit personalized?  Enjoy!

The Power of Visualizing Information: Reflections on ed reform

This post talks about how wordle can be used to rethinking and visualize the main ideas of reading. Examples from “A Nation at Risk” and “A Blueprint for Ed Reform” are used.

The amount of blogging time I have is pretty much 0-2% these days.  After work, I devote my idle hours to doctoral studies and family (and sadly in that order some days).

One thing about graduate work is the volume of print reading has not changed since I was in my Master’s program in 98-99. Darn. Synthesizing lots and lots of text quickly is a challenge for anyone.  As a teacher educator,  I am always demonstrating the use of certain tools to help organize and visualize text and data for k12 students.  So wouldn’t it be a novel idea to actually use some myself? I imagine anyone reading this might be saying –well golly yes– you just realized that?

I’ve been using Wordle a bit more to validate (or invalidate) perceptions of readings, especially articles that I have read before and already have formed strong value statements about. In my summer Historical Perspectives on Education course, we were assigned the classic A Nation At Risk report from 1983. I was feeling a bit more sour than usual about ed reform.  Chatter in the online discussion of my course turned to a bit of griping that not much has changed in our reform rhetoric since 1983. After completing a Worlde for #edchat this morning, I began to wonder if perhaps Wordle could help me see and perceive our impressions of a Nation at Risk differently, especially in comparison to a current policy document? If our class believed nothing had changed, we should see more similarities than differences between the two. In my mini-experiment I selected the recommendations section from  A Nation At Risk, and compared it to the recommendations of the recent  Blue Print for Reform for the reauthorization of the ESEA. Here is what happened:

Wordle Recommendations Section from a Nation At Risk (1983)
Wordle: Recommendation section from a Nation at Risk

Worlde Recommendations from a Blue Print for Reform (2009)
Wordle: A Blue Print for Reform --Priorities Summary of ESEA Reauthorization

I haven’t had chance to do a comprehensive analysis of each Worlde. Here are just some quick reactions:

  • That students were the most commonly used word in both reports. While we may not agree with the rhetoric in one or both of the documents, students are clearly at  the center.
  • Support is a huge theme in our current ed reform rhetoric and it was not even on the map in At Risk.
  • A Nation At Risk is  focused on k-12, with emphasis on teachers and students and preparing teachers.
  • Blueprint expands our thinking and focus; administrators and districts are mentioned frequently. Mentions of parents and community also appear.
  • Teachers are integral to both reports. But, the focus on teacher preparation through universities in the At-Risk report is not the core focus of the Blue Print recommendations.
  • Hmmm where did learning go in the Blue Print?
  • In the Blue Print, schooling is focused on preparing us for college, not just successful graduation from high school.
  • At Risk focused on the “Basics” that students need to master.  Standards appear to be our new basics.
  • Content based knowledge mentioned throughout the at risk. New reform rhetoric focused more on accountability and performance.
  • Heavy focus on nationalism in At-risk and national status.

I am glad I did this little exercise. We are inundated with so much information online, I know I am scanning my content more and forming assumptions and opinions quickly. While I didn’t walk away thinking “Wow, we’ve really changed! Reform now is soooo much better,”  it helped me clarify my thinking and even rethink how I approach discussing this with my classmates.  Even though I had read At Risk many times,  there is something intangibly powerful about visualizing the main themes of the text in a new way.  And, because I am not getting any more free time to read,  I did as I tell my teachers to do with their students: I stepped back, utilized a tool designed to assist and enhance  my understanding.

For any readers out there; do you ever Wordle, or use another tool, to help you with our own personal work and learning? This little exercise got me wondering about how often as educators we use the same tools we give our students for our own personal learning and reflection?