Category Archives: Practical

Teaching With YouTube

Published!

A while ago I presented a paper at a conference concerned with the teaching of contemporary women writers at Brighton University.  My paper was about how I teach using YouTube as a way of enhancing my tutorials.  After I presented, I received a lovely email from Dr. Nicole King inviting me to turn my paper into an article for the magazine WordPlay, which is the English Subject Centre publication for Higher Education in the UK.

Today, I received a copy of the magazine with my article in it, and words cannot express how happy it makes me to see my words in print 🙂

Here’s the introduction:

The screen on the laptop becomes animated as a figure of a woman fidgets awkwardly in front of a microphone.  The camera takes in the mocking scepticism of those sitting in the audience and the cynical raised eyebrow of the critical music mogul judge.  The background music begins and the woman starts to sing, her voice soaring with a clear resonance evidently astounding to the attendant crowd.  The clip lasts only minutes, streamed directly from source to computer, and yet it has been watched by millions and has generated a media storm leading to international news coverage, tabloid frenzy, Oprah interviews and a week’s retreat to ‘The Priory’.  Surely this is the power of the Internet, and, more specifically, the power of YouTube.

And yet, the power of YouTube as an educational resource is still largely underestimated, as it is currently more famous for its facilitation of Britain’s Got Talent singer Susan Boyle’s hyperbolic rise to international celebrity than for its usefulness to the university teacher.  However, the video-sharing website surely deserves recognition as a valuable tool in the university teacher’s arsenal, rather than be disregarded as a fame machine for the talented few and the talentless many.

If that’s whetted your appetite, then you can download the magazine as a pdf document here: WordPlay.

If you like what you read, and you would like to approach me to write for your publication, please get in touch with me at amypalko [at] madasafish [dot] com.

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Pointless Babble?

Branching Veins

According to recent research carried out by Pear Analytics, 40.5% of all tweets are classifiable as ‘pointless babble,’ which the researchers defined as  ‘the “I am eating a sandwich now” tweets’.  You can read their full report which is downloadable as a white paper from their website; however, the BBC sum up the percentages here stating that:

it found that 40.5% could be classified as pointless babble, 37.5% as conversational and 8.7% as having pass-along value. Self promotion and spam stood at 5.85% and 3.75% respectively.

To be honest, I am dissatisfied with the classification of certain tweets as ‘pointless babble’.  In fact, I would go so far as to say it is those tweets which inform us about your choice of sandwich, the weather in your area, your indecision over which shoes to wear or your confession to treating yourself to a sneaky glass of rosé that brings the necessary level of humanity to your twitterstream.

It’s these small insights into the ordinary everyday that offer necessary points of connection; they offer a degree of commonality which others can relate to and respond to.  Following the sharing of the quotidian, conversation naturally flows, and it is from here that one can then go on to self-promote or offer those tweets defined as having a ‘pass-along’ value.  By offering up small, seemingly insignificant details, communication is sparked and friendships are born.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t follow bots.  I’m not interested in the firing out of information regardless of how relevant it may be to my interests.  I would much rather follow those that tweet about their everyday triumphs, struggles, decisions, disappointments, appetites.  I would much rather follow human beings with all their wonderful foibles, idiosyncrasies, oddities and failings.

For me the ‘babble’ is far from pointless – it’s the glue that sticks a community together; it’s the unapologetic celebration of human conversation.

How about you?  How do you feel about the classification ‘pointless babble’?  Do you think there’s too much of it on Twitter, or are you like me & revel in these invitations to connect?

Review: Do You Poken?

My Poken

As I mentioned in my last post which looked at attending & organising tweetups, today I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on my new poken & how I got on with it at Monday’s Edinburgh Tweetup.

Now, if you’ve never heard of a poken, don’t worry – I hadn’t heard of them either until a couple of weeks ago!  The people at Poken claim that, “We’re not another social network. You’ve already got that. We’ve thought bigger to let you instantly bridge the gap between the people you meet in the real world and those you stay connected to online.”

So, it’s not a new social network – it’s a way of sharing your social media profiles with those you meet offline.

The way it works is you buy your poken (I got mine from Firebox.com), and when it arrives your remove its arm and plug the USB connector into your computer.  You then run the Poken file which automatically takes you to the registration site.  There you choose what information you want to make available – on mine I’ve included my name, avatar, location & email address.  You also choose which social media profiles you want to connect to your poken – I chose Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, LinkedIn & Ning.  One small glitch with adding my Twitter profile was that it asked for my email address & then couldn’t find my profile – what it actually needed was my username.

Once you’ve set everything up, you are then ready to to high four: this entails aligning the palms of two pokens allowing the devices to transfer the information they contain.  It stores up to 64 contacts, and when you return to your computer, you connect your poken and it uploads all your new contacts.  You can then use that information to connect with them on the various social media sites they frequent.

Nifty, isn’t it?

So, that’s the theory, but how did it work in practice?

Well, first thing I’d say is that its cheery design and the cleverness of the concept makes me inordinately happy, and at the tweetup I discovered that everyone who had one felt the same way.  However, that said, it is all still relatively new & so there weren’t that many out of a group of 50 tweeters who had one.  The poken concept will only really take off the more popular the product becomes.  As an electronic business card which specialises in social media it really is an excellent product, and I can’t see any hinderance to its ultimate success in the market.

The actual process of the high four went without a hitch; there’s a small magnetic pull between the 2 palms, and then aften a few moments both pokens glowed green to indicate that the transfer had been successful.  Not once did a see a red light to say that there was a problem with the transfer, and there weren’t enough tweeters with pokens to take it up to its limit.  The only thing I would say though is that it takes a few seconds for the device to stop glowing green, and it’s only once it’s stopped that you can then high four another poken.  This wasn’t a problem as such, but it was something I was conscious of while trying it out at the tweetup.

One small design issue seems to be the black clip that it comes with to attach it to your keyring, mobile phone etc.  It doesn’t seem particularly secure & I heard one story of someone losing theirs because of this*.  However, this is a minor problem with an otherwise excellent product.

Once home, the uploading of new contact details was extremely simple and I was then able to click through from their digital profiles to connect with them on a really broad range of social media sites. Really very impressive.

So, should you get one?

I would say yes, if you’re likely to be coming into contact with others who are social media users i.e. if you’re in an industry where social media is popular, or if you’re intending to go along to a social media meetup, such as a tweetup, flashmob, conference etc.  If you don’t tend to come into contact with social media users, then a poken is not going to really be worth your while – one poken by itself isn’t particularly useful.

If you do choose to buy one, then make sure you also take along some old-school business cards too** – at this early stage (Poken is still in Beta, after all) you cannot assume that everyone will have one and you will want to share your details with others who do not yet possess a poken.  Do not lose out on an opportunity because of this assumption!

Trevor Mendham has started a new blog Press The Plastic dedicated to these wonderful new gadgets, so for further information on poken, I would recommend that you check it out.

So do you poken? Are you tempted to? Any advice you’d like to give a new poken owner?  Is there something about the poken that’s putting you off?  Do please leave a comment & let me know what you think!

*Turns out it was @lesault who lost his poken due to a faulty clip.

**I recommend Moo cards which you can customise with your own or others’ Flickr images.

Interview With Tweetup Organiser: Baxter Tocher

Bird Silhouette

One of the main uses for Twitter is for networking – it allows you to contact a whole range of different people from a vast array of different professions.   As a virtual meeting place, nowhere on the web currently comes close to providing the opportunities for such diverse interactions that Twitter does.  And yet, I often find myself wanting more – I want to connect with my Twitter friends offline.  Sometimes this takes place over the phone, over Skype, or over coffee, but more and more frequently it’s happening at tweetups.

To explain the value of tweetups and to give you some tips on attending and organising one, I’ve asked Baxter Tocher, organiser of the popular Edinburgh Tweetups, to share with you his thoughts on how you can get the most out of tweetups. He’s been involved in social networking since “Web 2.0” first appeared and loves connecting people and finding patterns.  His generous responses will give you an idea of why he’s such a natural at organising these events – as a host he really excells himself.  I’m sure after reading what he has to say you’ll be checking out when your next local tweetup will be, or even organising one yourself!

So without further ado, here’s the interview:

Q1. What is a tweetup and why should we go along to one?

A1. Well, a tweetup is a real life gathering of folks who are somehow connected via Twitter. A few may be friends in real life who already share their experiences using Twitter, some will never have met before but will be already have discovered each other on Twitter, and others will be completely unrelated strangers who happen to find themselves in the same place at the same time, on different threads of the spiders web created by Twitter. Some will not know each other at all but will have Twitter friends or followers in common, even though they may not know it. They are connected via a web of contacts, some close and some distant. Oh, and some will have met perhaps once before, at a previous tweetup, or at a twestival, or even an unrelated event.

It’s very much a social night which gives everyone an opportunity to get to know others, to find out whether others share common interests, and perhaps to end up following each other on Twitter too. You should come along to a tweetup to meet the people that you regularly converse with on Twitter, to make new personal and business connections, to find new people to follow and be followed by, but in the main to simply have a good informal night out in a friendly environment where everyone there has at least one thing in common.

Q2. Why did you decide to organise the recent Edinburgh tweetups?

A2. Hey, I know this one! Pick me! Pick me!

Seriously, though. The Edinburgh Twestival was an utterly magical event. All of the hard work done by @jimwolffman, @tanepiper, @andrewburnett, @bureauista and @davelaw00 fitted together at very short notice to create a fabulous experience for charity: water. It gave all of those attending a superb opportunity to meet lots of other Twitter users for the first time, while ensuring that an essential cause was aided by all of the musical and fund-raising events of the evening.

From those I spoke to during that night, it became evident that there was an appetite for Twitter users to meet up more often, not necessarily for charity, but to allow folks to keep in fairly regular contact, to be able to talk informally, and importantly outwith the constraints of Twitter’s 140 character message limit.

I already had some experience of arranging social events, albeit on a much smaller scale than the Twestival! I organize the Edinburgh Diners group on Meetup, and I also host the Edinburgh Lunch Bunch there, though the latter events are jointly run by my good friends @jehollin and @blitzmiz.

So I thought I’d go ahead and book a venue, and see what happened. Everyone said they enjoyed it, and some folks asked me to organize another. So here we are already with the second Edinburgh Tweetup.

Q3. What has the response to the tweetups been?

A3. To be honest, it’s been knockout. Around 40 of us attended the first one, and it’s looking like there may be nearly 70 of us the second one. It’s been way more successful than I’d hoped.

In terms of feedback, everyone has been very positive. For anyone wanting to check what folks have said, have a look on Twitter for the hashtag #edtweetup.

Q4. What are your top tips for someone attending their first tweetup?

A4. I’d say try and speak to as many people as you can. Four hours or so is a limited time. Not everyone has a list of who’s expected to arrive, and there may very well be people there that you already follow on Twitter that you haven’t yet met. If you’re looking to do business, it may happen in the sidelines, though that’s not the main purpose. So if you’re going to do that, please do it subtly. And for the record, I don’t want to buy, or sell, anything!

If you’re looking for someone with particular hobbies or skills, don’t be afraid to ask the organizer. They’ll be trying their best to keep a handle on who has arrived or is running late, and what specific interests or skills they might have. They’ll likely be able to connect you with web designers, musicians, promoters, authors, bloggers and even bathroom fitters, if that’s what you need. If you want to discuss films, books or music, the organizer may be able to point you towards others with whom you have a common interest. And most importantly, if you just want to meet people and have a few drinks, that’s just fine.

Oh,and if you’ve a poken*, please take in with you!

Q5. What are your top tips for someone organising a tweetup?

A5. If you can find a private venue or a function room that’s the right size, and it’s very central for buses and trains, make that your starting point. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you don’t want to be out of pocket in arranging a tweetup.

One thing that became clear after the first Edinburgh tweetup was completely counterintuitive – being in a room with limited connectivity to Twitter is a bonus. Yes, you heard that right! Tweetups are about talking to others face to face. If there’s somewhere nearby with wifi and/or a great 3G signal (say a bar upstairs or next door), that’ll do just fine. There’s no value in folks spending the entire evening typing into a mobile Twitter client at a tweetup. That’s what a lot of us do on a daily basis already.

Finally, as an organizer you need to try and ensure that everything is running smoothly. And finally, don’t forget that you’re allowed to enjoy yourself too. Organizing and having fun are not mutually exclusive!

Thanks Baxter!!

Have you attended or organised a tweetup?  What advice would you give to someone who was attending or organising one for the first time?  If you haven’t been to one yet, what’s holding you back?  Oh, and if you’re coming along to tonight’s tweetup in Edinburgh, I’ll see you there!

*Poken – I’ll be writing a review of how my new poken fares tonight.  Expect it on Thursday!

A Step By Step Method For Writing Landing Pages

Many StepsSome of the feedback I’ve been getting regarding the writing of landing pages is that a bit more guidance is needed when it comes to what to actually include.  It’s all well and good to give you the permission (should you need it!) to act like a twitterpated peacock, but if you don’t know some of the basic components of a landing page then you’ll find it difficult to get started.  To help you on your way, I want to provide you with a very basic method for creating your landing page:

  1. First up you need to add a new page on your blog. I’ve called mine @amypalko as that’s the username I claim for use on all my social network profiles, but you could also call it Follow Me or Social Media Page, or really whatever you decide as long as you ensure it indicates to your blog visitors what the new page is all about.
  2. Next, add the photo which you use as your avatar on social media profiles.  This will help promote brand consistency and will also help to familiarise your potential followers with your social media image.
  3. Provide a brief biography.  It shouldn’t be of the same length or depth that you provide in your About You page, but just linking to your About You page isn’t sufficient either.  Your potential follower has already clicked through once, and you should give them the information they expected on the first click, rather than asking them to click again.
  4. Explain why it is that you use social media – What is it about Twitter/FaceBook/Flickr etc. that appeals to you? Do you use it for personal or professional purposes or a bit of both? What kind of content do you share?
  5. Show where else you can be found on the net including any blogs that you write (along with a basic description), social media profiles, video clips, interviews etc.

OPTIONAL. Ask your followers on Twitter to tweet why they follow you & share it on your landing page.  Frequently, other people’s words are more effective in promoting our positives than we are, which is why recommendations are so valued.  If your landing page is more geared towards a social media site such as Flickr or LinkedIn, why not share some excerpts from the recommendations your contacts have written for you there.

Despite giving you this basic structure of a landing page, I want to encourage you to get creative with it.  Perhaps start off with following the method & then see where it takes you.  A few examples that you may want to check out for inspiration include Laura Fitton, Darren Rowse, & Nikki Pilkington, who have all created landing pages for Twitter that have some of the elements I’ve recommended here, but have also mixed things up a little.

Now, if you missed my earlier posts on the Landing Pages Writing Project, you can find them here: Landing Tweets: Group Writing Project Announcement and The Peacock Guide to Landing Pages.   At the end of the month, I’ll be asking all of those who have created a landing page to share a link to it & I’ll be writing a post listing all participants in the first week of June.  So you have 2 weeks left to have a go at it & if you have any questions or need some more advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch either on the blog or on twitter.

In the meantime, do you have any advice for those writing a landing page?  Have you come across difficulties writing your own?  How did you resolve those difficulties?  What did you choose to include in yours, and do you agree with the basic method I’ve provided here?  Your comments, as always, are very much appreciated!

Digital Lifelines to the Rural & Remote

My Old Home

Can you see that wee house in the distance?  That used to be my home.  We only lived on the banks of the Kyle of Durness in Sutherland for a year before we moved to the slightly more populated Kinlochbervie, which is a small collection of hamlets skirting the far north west coast of Scotland, about 1 hour from Ullapool & around 2 hours from the city of Inverness.  After a year in KLB we made the decision to move back to the central belt of Scotland, and it’s one of the central reasons for that decision that I want to discuss in this post.

Perhaps it was because of the timing in my life (I was newly married with a 13mos toddler when we moved up & when we moved back down south 2 years later, I had a 3yr old, a 2yr old and an 11day old baby & I had completed my undergraduate degree) that this place had such an effect on me, but it was only when we visited there this year that it really hit me that if I lived there today, knowing what I do now, I may not have felt the need to move away.

One of the central reasons why we left was the lack of opportunities I could see opening up for me.  My husband had a good job at the local high school, but while he was out earning our income, I was at home with my very young children, miles away from anyone, with no television reception and a dial-up modem.  To make it worse, I don’t drive, so when my husband left with the car in the morning, that was us stuck.  This sense of isolation and being stuck was not confined to my physical presence in this beautiful but harsh location, as it pervaded my whole being, causing me to feel that I couldn’t become the person I needed to become while I lived there.  I felt cut off from the rest of the world and this, in turn, blinkered me to the gift living in that environment most surely is.

I realise here that I’m painting a rather bleak picture, but I have to stress again that Sutherland has left a lasting impression on me – its beauty, its wildness, its remoteness all sing to my soul.  And I know I’m not the only one!  Many people decide that they’ve had enough of the ratrace and are leaving the frantic urban spaces for the rural idylls of which fantasies are made.  However, as much as there exists a demand by those who wish to move into more remote areas, there are also those who wish to continue living there.  Those that were born and bred in the far flung corners of the map, and whose traditional industries have suffered huge setbacks of late, are finding that they have to move out of the place they recognise as home due to economic necessity.

One resource that I think could help those who either wish to move to these rural places, or who live there already & are struggling to get by, is Lea Woodward’s blog Location Independent.  In the past Lea has focused on those who are living, or who desire to live, a lifestyle characterised by international travel; the intrepid individual who strikes out to travel the globe whilst supporting themselves through online business or freelance work managed from a distance.  For me, however, Location Independent as a concept is one which could offer sustainability to these small remote communities by helping the individuals of those communities to create their own opportunities without resorting to relocating to more populated areas.

I have been in discussions with Lea about the applicability of the Location Independent to those who wish to pursue the freedom & choice which comes from living that lifestyle whilst remaining in one remote situation, with the result that I am now the team leader for the ‘Remote Communities’ team in her new Community Street Teams Project.  My role is to help promote  the Location Independent concept to those who are either living in remote communities currently or who have a desire to make the move from the urban to the rural.  This is a role which is going to allow me to express my passion for creating sustainable communities both online and off, so I’m really looking forward to where it takes me & discovering what I can achieve in this role.  As you can probably tell from the background I’ve shared in this post, it’s a project which is close to my heart.

So, over the coming weeks and months you can expect a few posts which take this project as its focus, as I intend to write reviews of products which can provide advice and support for those living in remote communities, as well as sharing some more thoughts on how digital technologies and social media can help provide opportunities to those who choose not to live in urban or suburban locations.

Are you aware of any projects currently focused on achieving this aim or similar?  Do you know of any bloggers/twitterers who I should connect with who share a similar passion?  If you have any thoughts on the relevance of the Location Independent concept and remote communities, or indeed how best to promote online communities as a way of ensuring remote communities remain viable, please do leave a comment.

The Peacock Guide to Landing Pages

Peacock Feather Study 9

It’s springtime and all the animals are twitterpated.  They’re putting on their best displays to attract, communicate, connect.  Out of all the animals, however, the peacock’s display is perhaps one of the most dramatic.  That full sweep of gloriously iridescent feathers fanned out to frame its brilliant azure blue head and neck.  If ever there was a bird that was not shy to showcase, it’s the peacock.

As I bring this magnificent display to mind, I can’t help but see its relevance to the process of writing a landing page.  After all, your landing page needs to be the place where you put on your most impressive show – the stage upon which you need to perform your most attractive self.

Like Twitter itself, there is no right way to compose your landing page – this guide is not going to give you a definitive outline with a list of necessary components.  Rather its aim is to provide you with a few key ideas of how to construct a landing page to show you off to your full potential.

One of the most important of these is the fanning of your feathers.  In your Twitter bio you are given 140 characters in which to sum yourself up.  No easy task!  I’m pretty sure most of us feel as though we’ve had to compromise in our description of ourselves – how do we differentiate ourselves from the rest?  How do we define what we do?  How do we make our values clear & passions vibrant with such a limited quota of words?  The good news is that, no matter how confined your bio is on your Twitter profile, your landing page gives you the space to fan those feathers wide; it gives you the space to expand on your 140 characters and make your case for why others should want to follow & connect with you.

One of the ways you can do this is to share the words of others.  When I was putting together my own landing page I let my followers know what I was doing and I asked for their assistance.  I asked if they could tell me why they follow me and if I could include their responses on my landing page.  As you’ll have seen, I got some great responses to my request and, in some ways, their words of endorsement do more than any of my self-promoting words could do.  Now if someone clicks through from my profile they’re (hopefully!) persuaded by the recommendations from those who already follow me.

Lastly, you need to capitalise upon the attention that your landing page has received.  You need to alert your potential followers to where else you can be found on the net.  You can do this by listing your other social media profiles, sharing the urls of your blog/s, any collaborative projects you are working on or online examples of your work.  The whole point of the landing page is to attract & direct.  Once you’ve attracted the attention, make the most of it and channel that attention towards the places where you most want to connect with like-minded others.

In short, don’t be afraid to put your best self forwards – tell us why we should want to connect with you, why we should follow you and where we can do that. Write it with confidence and don’t be afraid to set aside your self-deprecation.

In other words, create a display to rival that of the twitterpated peacock 😉