Things My Mobile Saw This Year

It happened almost imperceptibly. But there it is. I seem to have started using my phone to take pictures. Initially, I did not see the point of having a camera on my phone. After all, I did have a real camera and I hardly used it.

But as I was looking through my phone gallery just now I found I have loads of visual reminders of moments that have turned into nice memories – and that I somehow caught with my phone.

Below you can see a short impression of Things My Mobile Saw This Year, made with PhotoSnack. You can also view 2013 in mobile photos here.

Of course this is just fooling around and a major way of procrastinating online. After all, who apart from myself would care what things my phone caught in pictures.

However, this very easy way of collecting photos into a slide show with the option of adding text and descriptions – I did this in 10 minutes tops – can be a powerful tool when used for educational purposes. Why not ask your participants to make a PhotoSnack of their impressions of your training or workshop? Why not ask them to prepare for their learning process by showing you as trainer their day-to-day environment in which they will have to apply their new knowledge or skills? Why not ask them to show some of their routines, annoyances, or challenges? Why not ask them to show you their highlights and moments of glory after the training?

Why not, indeed. No reason why they cannot spend for instance half an hour reflecting on what they need to change or what they have learned. Such investment of time and attention is peanuts compared to whatever it is they will have to do to integrate their new knowledge and skills and insights into their daily practice. And it may well make that bumpy road ahead of them easier: it can help them focus and it can help them stay motivated if they can look back at their own visual reminders of what it is they wanted to tackle and what tools they got from the training to deal with those challenges.

As for me, it feels good to see some of the things I did and experienced so far this year. There have been a lot of good moments and I feel good to have captured them. If nothing else, that fact shows me I am still developing myself and that I am still building new habits. It is really inspirational to realise that there are always new things to be learned and applied – and this is so easily done!

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Make your online work place ad-free

Recently I was working with someone on a GoogleDoc. A very nice tool to write a text together online. It offers most of the options that Word has, too, like commenting and so on.

GoogleDoc example with comments

GoogleDoc: example with comments

One of the extras it provides is the possibility to have a chat if you are working online on a document at the same time as others.That is, if the chat window is visible. Which in this case, it wasn’t for my colleague.

I wrote a chat message, suggesting to discuss something and while I could see she was online and working in the document, I did not get any reaction from her. I was puzzled, because this is not like her at all, but I assumed she was busy with something else at the same time and I was sure we would eventually discuss the matter. No hurry, no problem.

However, when I spoke to her later I found out that she had not even seen my chat message. It had been obscured by ads.

I am not sure how that happened, and it may have been something else entirely. But it made me consider once again how annoying (pop up) ads can be online if you are there for your work. (Of course they can be equally annoying when you are just Facebooking for fun, I do know that!).

But it is truly annoying if your work is being hindered by ads popping up on vital positions on your screen. Like happened a while ago during a webinar. Some of the participants could not see the full presentation screen or were simply unable to concentrate, due to ads.

Imagine if such a thing would happen offline – if half of a meeting would be inaudible because of ads. Or if your notes in your writing pad would be obscured by ads. Or if, as you can sometimes see during TV reports of football matches, part of the playing field would be covered in banners and ads (luckily the ones that seem really in the way of the game are only virtual).

Impractical ads - if they were real. From Ajax-ADO, 2013, via http://youtu.be

Impractical ads – if they were real. From Ajax-ADO, 2013, via http://youtu.be/_KlhlaGfRn8

Of course I am aware that all free things have their price: ads and data collection. I am using many free services and I enjoy them a lot. And I hope they will continue to be free tools. And I am OK with paying a small price by giving up some level of privacy and providing some interesting data. That is our deal. But that doesn’t mean I need to see silly ads all the time.

Ads on Facebook

Ads on Facebook that I don’t usually see luckily

If you also prefer to work in a quiet online environment, without ads for women to meet, bras to wear, food buy, equipment to covet and so on and so forth, there is an easy tool to use. The reason why I had no clue that the chat message window was obscured. The reason why I can never cheer up my Facebook friends with posts about the funny products that Facebook thinks I could be up for.

It is simple to install and works miracles. It is called Ad Block Plus. It is available as plug in, for free, for most current browsers (like Explorer. Chrome, Firefox and a couple of others).

LinkedIn ad

So happy that I do not see these things when using LinkedIn

If you want to have a quiet work place online, I would highly recommend investing two minutes of your time, if that, to install Ad Block Plus. After all, we go to great lengths uncluttering our desks and making everything just so, in order to be able to work productively. So why not extend that courtesy to yourself when it concerns your virtual desk?

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Instagram as a Tool for your Learning Process?!

This summer I was finally forced to try Instagram. Until then, I must confess I had not bothered to. I do like photos, but I always seem to forget to take pictures even if that is nowadays as easy as not forgetting to bring your phone.

I first became more engaged with Instagram when the Dutch LOSmakers community organised a joint trial of it. The LOSmakers are interested in how social media can be used in processes of learning and change and the community members are focused on practical use of tools and exchange about experiences and best practices. True to form, the trial was practice-oriented: everyone who wanted to join was requested to post one photo each day during three consecutive days. The photos were to introduce yourself to the others. On the fourth day, a joint Skype session was held to share experiences and discuss how Instagram might be used in real life.

I was unable to join the Skype session, but did join the three-day photo posting preparation of it. And became hooked almost immediately. Why?

  • It turned out to be really very easy to take a quick snapshot of something around the house and to share this on Instagram
  • It turned out to be very nice to see how people reacted to this with comments and through their own photos – suddenly many of us started sharing pictures of our bookcases

IMG_20130626_134327-800

  • Some really nice conversations came about with people that I’d never met before, online or face-to-face
  • It was very easy to follow all posted pictures and conversations using Webstagram with a hashtag (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag)

Webstagram picture

  • As a bonus, we discovered the InstaCollage app that enables you to make a collage out of pictures (whether Instagram or not) including text, frames and effects

collage_4

 

So how could Instagram be used in a learning situation?

  • As an online introduction exercise – ask participants to share pictures of something they did, of something that is important to them, of their kitchen, bookcase, etc. Keep in mind to connect the focus question for the introduction to the theme of the work to be done later on
  • As tool for reflection or evaluation – ask participants to share a picture that represents what they learned, how they feel, what was the most important insight to them, etc.
  • As a tool to take stock of a situation – ask participants to share a picture of their desk, of an annoyance in their daily work or life, of an internal notice board, etc. The focus question will of course depend on what you will be working on

As said, the easy part is taking snapshots with a phone or tablet. Most everyone can do this nowadays.

However, there are some hurdles to be taken. While Instagram allows you to like and comment, it does not send notifications when someone comments on your photo or on a comment of yours. This means you would need to regularly check to stay on top of ongoing discussions.

Webstagram does help, because you can search on the basis of agreed hashtag, and then just visit the search page (web.stagram.com/tag/hashtag) online and browse through. As long as there are not too many photos this is easy to do. It is also possible to comment and like via Webstagram directly, without needing to go to Instagram.

A practical issue is that some people prefer to have a private status on Instagram, meaning that only their Instagram friends can see their pictures. That could lead to a situation where people are posting, but not all participants can see these pictures, more or less forcing that person to change their privacy settings if they really want to take full part.

The main reason why I might be hesitant to use Instagram as a platform is that it requires an account. If you are going to work online with a group, you will already have a platform for which people need an account (Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikispaces, etc) and to ask people to create an account on yet another platform and to have part of the discussion going on there might be too much. Especially, but not only, if the group is averse towards online tools in the first place. Replacing any of the other platforms would in my opinion not do, as Instagram does not have all the features needed for work in a closed group.

What the exercise did give me was a confirmation of the power of visuals, and the unexpected and interesting conversations that can come out of using photos and photo assignments. This is something I will certainly make use of. Those that have an Instagram account could then use that, while those that would not like to create an account on a new platform could for instance easily use Fotor, which can do much the same as InstaCollage, without account.

collage_10That does not mean that I would discard Instagram as a platform for learning and exchange altogether. I have experienced its power on the occasion of Croatia joining the EU as its 28th Member State, 1 July 2013. For many reasons this country has a firm place in my heart and I was very sorry that I was unable to be there at the magic moment. Instead, I became a Twitter junkie and followed whatever and whoever I could to stay updated in the days leading up to the 1st of July and on the night of 30 June. One of my new Twitter friends invited me to link also on Instagram, and that’s when I discovered a wealth of picture posts. And it wasn’t just enthusiastic Croatian citizens posting pictures of the main square, the Croatian government was really very active as well in sharing the atmosphere of these days, combined with information about Croatia and its accession process.

This unlimited sharing of information across borders is what, in my opinion, really shows the value of Instagram. After all, learning is based on being confronted with new information, reflecting on it and engaging about it, and embedding the new insights into your life somehow. Precisely that is what Instagram offered me in the lead-up to Croatia’s accession and in the introduction picture round with the LOSmakers.

wwwvladahr on Instagram

wwwvladahr on Instagram

 

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How to Make your Message more Attractive

I guess by now most of us are aware that the web2.0 is becoming increasingly visual. Information is shared as stories in the form of pictures, videos, infographics, cartoons, animations, wordles, drawings or combinations of these (like in Glogster and Storify).

Make your own photo slideshow at Animoto.

Continue reading

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Playful Visualisation Tools

If you want to spend 5 minutes and have some fun with a twist, then you should try BigHugeLabs, ReciteThis or Picture2Life. All you need is a picture or a quote. And a plan. And in a few minutes you will have an inspiring poster or a picture with a caption.

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

BigHugeLabs: Captioner

If you haven’t got inspiration, ReciteThis has a wide range of quotes you can choose from and make a nice poster-type picture of.

Uplifting! ReciteThis

Uplifting! ReciteThis

All this is of course a nice break away from work.

But you could also use these tools for work-related messages.

You could make a ReciteThis out of a quote of one of your participants.

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Participants defining the aim of a shadow report. ReciteThis

Or you could use the Motivator tool of BigHugeLabs to add a message to a photo of an activity.

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

BigHugeLabs: Motivator

Or you could personalise a message to someone using Captioner in BigHugeLabs.

Or, if you want others to do the dirty work, you could invite your participants to share a picture with a quote or message by way of introduction or as an assignment related to the topic of your workshop.

100_0374-1_original

So even a bit of fooling around with tools like these can give you tons of ideas for your work – justifying those 5 minutes break in a heartbeat! Have fun!

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Pinterest

Finally, I can say I started using Pinterest. Obviously, I had been reading about it, and had looked at other people’s pin boards and made good use of them. I also set up an account months ago and dabbled a bit. But I have to admit I was still more hooked to Delicious as a tool to create online libraries and was uncertain whether Pinterest would provide me with real added value. Especially now that Delicious has become much more visual as well.  Now I can say I got it.

Organise saved links in pin boards (Eric Sheninger)

Organise saved links in pin boards (Eric Sheninger)

Like in Delicious, you can save links in an organised way. In Pinterest this organisation is called a pin board, in Delicious it is a stack. Like in Delicious nowadays, these links are shown in a visual way: you get a one picture preview. The difference is, that you can save all links in Delicious whereas Pinterest needs a “pinnable” element on the location you want to link to. Not all sites have such elements, but there is a way around that, see below.

Example of a pin (Eric Sheninger)

Example of a pin (Eric Sheninger)

Both tools allow you to add a short description of the link, so that other people are able to see if this link may be interesting for them before clicking on it. In Delicious you can also tag your saved links, making it easier for visitors and yourself to select even within a stack which links might be useful. As far as I can see, this is not yet possible in Pinterest.

Like Delicious, Pinterest is a social media tool. Meaning that you can make your own profile and follow what other people do. You can re-pin pins saved by others. And you can comment and discuss.

Both tools allow for very easy saving of links, by adding an element to your bookmarking menu (“Save on Delicious” or “Pin It”.)

Both tools can be used in class and for trainings; sharing background materials in one location, collaborating in a group on this collection, etc.

So what is the added value of Pinterest that I truly realised only just now?

Go to the Add button on the top and upload a pin!

Go to the Add button on the top and upload a pin!

Easy! Pinterest allows you to upload your own content, too.  Content that is not online and thus does not have a link to bookmark. You can make pins out of your pictures, infographics and screenshots.  That way, your pin board can become a collection of links and photos, instead of just a library of links. This aspect is also the key to including links without so-called pinnable elements. You can make a screenshot of part of the page, upload it as a pin, and add the link afterwards.

Add a link to a screenshot of a site with unpinnable elements

Add a link to a screenshot of a site with unpinnable elements

This combination of links and own materials makes it, for example, possible to create a pin board relating to a certain event or activity that you have organised. You could collect all press releases, media clippings, photos and videos about the event in one pin board. That way, both people who were there and people who weren’t can easily see what went on and find all related materials in one publicly accessible place.

But, like Eric Sheninger, you can also create a pin board sharing methodsWeb2.0 Tools for Educators.

Possibilities are endless. And although I am sure I will continue using Delicious, I will definitely start using Pinterest more actively than I have.

So, just get started like I finally did and see how you like it!

Example of a pin board about an event

Example of a pin board about an event

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Online Polling

Whether you are working online or face-to-face with a group it is useful to know what is going on with the people in your group. Are they getting new insights? Are they satisfied? Are they still engaged?

If you are working face-to-face you can of course easily check by taking a look at the group. However, we all know that there are always some people that are hard to read or that hardly speak up. With an online tool you might get them to talk and express themselves.

View only the mood of those you are following

View only the mood of those you are following

A funny tool you can use during a (face-to-face) meeting or workshop is Moodpanda. Participants can rate their mood and provide a “reason” for the grade. It’s easy to change your mood status, so participants can easily keep their status up-to-date.

 

The downside is that you need an account to use Moodpanda and that you will need to follow the people in the group if you want to keep track of the group only. Otherwise you get a feed of everyone using Moodpanda at that moment of which your group is a difficult to discern part only. If you follow others you can choose to have a feed of people you follow only.

Once set up, you can react to other people’s status or simply “hug” a person in need of some TLC  (If in real need, the Moodpanda comes to the rescue, too!, see picture below). Moodpanda can provide insight into what your participants are willing to share regarding their current mood and can add a new level of interaction to your activity. It can show you relations and interactions within the group, as well as the relation between a mood rating and the activity you are doing with the group at a certain moment. Thus it can be a powerful tool to check if you are still on track or if you need to make changes in your plan.

Moodpanda to the Rescue

Moodpanda to the Rescue

Another tool you can use for getting a grasp of participants’ opinions during an event or afterwards is Polleverywhere.

Poll in Polleverywhere

Poll in Polleverywhere

You can start a poll with or without having an account. If you do not create an account your poll will be saved for 2 weeks. People can reply online (phone, computer) or via sms. A poll can consist of one or more grouped questions, and questions can be open or multiple choice. It is possible to post replies more than once from the same computer, which can be practical if not all participants have their own device with them.

Overview of responses

Overview of responses

Results can be shown in different ways, and if you take out a paid plan you can even export the results.

More visual ways of sharing the results with your group are the live text wall and a word cloud.

Live text wall showing replies

Live text wall showing replies

 

Results in a word cloud

Results in a word cloud

Polleverywhere is different from Moodpanda in that you can prepare a poll beforehand, there is no live interaction between participants (although you could show the results as a moving, live text wall) and participants answer anonymously. Results are kept, and not lost in a feed that you would need to scroll through.

Polleverywhere is a bit easier to set up than SurveyMonkey or FluidSurveys, but the type of questions and answers is more limited, too.

The possibility of showing a live text wall of results of Polleverywhere during an event can be a very nice way of sharing inputs and using these as a basis for further discussion, same as the word cloud way of presenting feedback that makes very visual which are the main key words used by the group.

I used both Moodpanda and Polleverywhere for the first time last week and found both of them useful – and easy to use. Try them and see for yourself how interaction with your group may change!

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LinkedIn

Don’t tune out just yet! LinkedIn may look boring to you but today I found out that it can look quite sexy as well! Like many other tools, LinkedIn is also moving forward in the visualisation trend and via LinkedIn Labs you can create a map of your connections as well as a timeline of them.

LinkedIn Map

LinkedIn Map

In this map LinkedIn tried, as best as it could, to visualise different networks that I am part of and the interconnections between people in my network. As you can see from the labels given to the different colours, this is not a perfect picture (as some friends seem to have been mixed up with other networks of which they are not really part and some people seem to be connected but are in fact not), but it can certainly provide some insights into my network.

At first sight it looks like there are 2 main network clouds (blue on the right and green/red/orange on the left). But it strikes me that there is also a higher level of interconnectedness between networks – bar a few exceptions – than I might have thought. Apart from a few “loose” connections around the middle, all networks seem to be connected to other networks in turn. What I see is that within my networks people are highly connected and I see that I know a few key people that move in different networks of mine and thus act as a linking pin between them (together with myself of course).

The second thought that struck me was the very limited cloud of family and friends. This is due my LinkedIn policy when I started using it – to focus on professional contacts only and not inviting friends. The only friends that entered my network at that time were those that sent me an invite that I did not dare refuse. Over time, obviously I have changed that policy and now my network does include quite a few friends.

A third thought that pops up is that I should invest a bit more in developing my networks relating to my new  activity areas, since these are among the smallest in the cloud. This is something I already planned on doing, but seeing the visualisation of my network brings this message home once more.

A last thought is that the classification of networks is based on from where and when I know people – not on where they are now.  In that sense the cloud is a picture of the past as much as it represents present connections. It will be interesting to see how it will develop further and what it will look like a few months from now.

LinkedIn Timeline

LinkedIn Timeline

Through the timeline application, LinkedIn Labs try to visualise your network development over time. This, too, is not a 100% correct representation of when connections came about but it is a nice try and it does give an impression of how your network expands in relation to your education and job timeline.

So, apart from enabling you to fool around for a bit – are these applications useful? I would say yes. First of all, anything that makes you pay attention to your network is useful in and of itself. More importantly, these applications make clear visually how you have built up your network (and what choices you have made in this regard) and where it is strongly developed. If you reflect on the pictures, they also provide pointers as to where you might invest your networking efforts, if you want to develop your network further.

I think investing some time in LinkedIn is useful not just for people looking for a new job or a new client. I find that LinkedIn with its groups and update functions is also pretty useful for professional development and for keeping up to date with what’s going on – as well as with your friends and acquaintances. The more you link with the people that are right for you, the more you will learn about the world around you – and without much hassle! It may not look sexy, but it is definitely worth it. I find at least one interesting thing on LinkedIn on each day that I check my updates: a job description I have never heard of before, an inspirational quote, a useful link or an interesting group that someone in my network joined … And if you want to spice up your LinkedIn experience you can always play with these nice applications! Enjoy!

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Short Guide to Delicious

I wrote about Delicious before, and I do not want to repeat myself telling you how useful I find this social bookmarking tool. However, Delicious has changed a bit in how it looks and functions since I blogged about it, so in this post I will focus on how it works now.

Delicious is a tool you can use to bookmark web pages for yourself. You can tag them with key words or phrases so that you can find them back more easily later on. In order to do this, you need to set up a Delicious account.

Without account

Starting page of Delicious with search box

Starting page of Delicious with search box

But even without account you can search what others have bookmarked with a certain tag. For instance, if you would want to find all bookmarked links related to the IAF Netherlands conference in 2012, you could search for the tag IAFNL12.

 

If you would do that, you would find the following overview in which you can see the tag you searched for, along with other tags used to bookmark these links (all underneath the links), you could see how many times these links were saved (on the left) and you could see other tags used on links tagged with IAFNL12 (column on the right).  Via the arrow or a click on the link you can view the page. The plus above the arrow on the right hand side can be used to save the link for yourself – but that requires an account of course.

Delicious search results

Delicious search results

Another way of searching you can do without account is to search for a person. For instance, if you know that my Delicious name is suzannebakker, you can go to www.delicious.com/suzannebakker and see what links I saved.

With account

Once you have made an account, you can start bookmarking web pages. In Firefox it looks like this in 2 steps:

Saving a link in Delicious

Saving a link in Delicious

 

Saving a link: details you can add and edit

Saving a link: details you can add and edit

And, once you have saved a link, in your own overview it will look like this:

Saved links in Delicious: with description

Saved links in Delicious: with description

To organise your links you can create so-called stacks. (Please note that stacks have been replaced by tag bundles, which work much the same way). You can add a link to a stack when you save it, or you can add it later on – just as you may edit everything else later on.  You can add a description to a stack to let yourself and others know what the links in the stack are about, and you can easily share the link to your stack with others, for instance participants in your training who can then easily keep updated with materials related to the training as collected by you. They can decide to follow the stack so that they will know when you add a new link to it. Data on followers and views are provided. Here is what a stack could look like:

Example of a stack in Delicious

Example of a stack in Delicious

If you do not invite others to contribute to your stacks, links saved by others with similar tags will not show up in your own overview or in your stack. So for example, I have a stack with links related to IAFNL12, all tagged with IAFNL12. Others can view this stack, and others can save their own links using the same tag, IAFNL12. But if I have not invited them to contribute to my stack I will not see these bookmarked links unless I search for this tag or save the same links myself. However, if someone searches for “IAFNL12″ they will find all the links saved with this tag – both those that are in my stack and those that are not. So the fact that I have made a stack does not hinder anyone else who wants to save links or who wants to find saved links, but it does help me to have all those links organised in one place, and others can take advantage of that if they wish.

This is one of the things I like about Delicious – I can organise myself and inadvertently help others with that, while I can also get inspired by others who have bookmarked links on topics that I am interested in!

I hope this short explanation helps you get started and will enable you to get the most out of your own bookmarks and the power of the social web. Feel free to let me know if you have questions!

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