I’m an Expert

Developers make things so complicated! “We don’t want to hear what is or isn’t possible; Just make it happen!” (This is the best project-planning meeting satire, ever.)

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The Science of Orienting Response: What Is It About Media That Engages Learners?

Dog TVWhat is it about media that captivates people?  How should I be using more media (or less media) in my instruction?  At what times?  For what purposes?  Here’s some amazing research I bumped into this week that answers those very questions.  The science behind learner engagement, regarding media use, goes all the way back to a Pavlovian concept called, “orienting response.”

Grabbing Your Attention
What is it about TV that has such a hold on us? In part, the attraction seems to spring from our biological “orienting response.” First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus. It is part of our evolutionary heritage, a built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats. Typical orienting reactions include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, and constriction of blood vessels to major muscle groups. Alpha waves are blocked for a few seconds before returning to their baseline level, which is determined by the general level of mental arousal. The brain focuses its attention on gathering more information while the rest of the body quiets.

In 1986 Byron Reeves of Stanford University, Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri and their colleagues began to study whether the simple formal features of television–cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises–activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen. By watching how brain waves were affected by formal features, the researchers concluded that these stylistic tricks can indeed trigger involuntary responses and “derive their attentional value through the evolutionary significance of detecting movement…. It is the form, not the content, of television that is unique.”

The orienting response may partly explain common viewer remarks such as: “If a television is on, I just can’t keep my eyes off it,” “I don’t want to watch as much as I do, but I can’t help it,” and “I feel hypnotized when I watch television.” In the years since Reeves and Thorson published their pioneering work, researchers have delved deeper. Annie Lang’s research team at Indiana University has shown that heart rate decreases for four to six seconds after an orienting stimulus. In ads, action sequences and music videos, formal features frequently come at a rate of one per second, thus activating the orienting response continuously.

Lang and her colleagues have also investigated whether formal features affect people’s memory of what they have seen. In one of their studies, participants watched a program and then filled out a score sheet. Increasing the frequency of edits–defined here as a change from one camera angle to another in the same visual scene–improved memory recognition, presumably because it focused attention on the screen. Increasing the frequency of cuts–changes to a new visual scene–had a similar effect but only up to a point. If the number of cuts exceeded 10 in two minutes, recognition dropped off sharply.
Producers of educational television for children have found that formal features can help learning. But increasing
the rate of cuts and edits eventually overloads the brain. Music videos and commercials that use rapid intercutting
of unrelated scenes are designed to hold attention more than they are to convey information. People may
remember the name of the product or band, but the details of the ad itself float in one ear and out the other. The
orienting response is overworked. Viewers still attend to the screen, but they feel tired and worn out, with little
compensating psychological reward. Our ESM findings show much the same thing.

Sometimes the memory of the product is very subtle. Many ads today are deliberately oblique: they have an
engaging story line, but it is hard to tell what they are trying to sell. Afterward you may not remember the product
consciously. Yet advertisers believe that if they have gotten your attention, when you later go to the store you will
feel better or more comfortable with a given product because you have a vague recollection of having heard of it.
The natural attraction to television’s sound and light starts very early in life. Dafna Lemish of Tel Aviv University
has described babies at six to eight weeks attending to television. We have observed slightly older infants who,
when lying on their backs on the floor, crane their necks around 180 degrees to catch what light through yonder
window breaks. This inclination suggests how deeply rooted the orienting response is.

Lessons for educators:

  • Learners will zone out regularly through a lecture.  It is important to plan for this by preparing to activate their orienting responses.
  • Media grabs attention.  But it’s not video clips, or film media in general, that captures learners’ attention–it’s “formal features.”
  • “Formal features” in media (cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises) are what activate orienting response.
  • Alternatives to film-based formal features to gain attention include: a hand clap, a special mouth noise, disappearing/reappearing, showing a picture for only a second, throwing something, etc.  (It’s a good idea to throw some of these into your lesson plan to counteract anticipated lulls.)
  • Messages aren’t retained when you overwork the learner’s orienting response by showing more than 10 formal features/second.  (e.g. some ads, action sequences, and music videos.)  If you just want to capture attention (said no educator ever), go nuts with formal features.

Tips on how to film an engaging interview:

  • Bring two cameras.  Increasing the frequency of edits–defined here as a change from one camera angle to another in the same visual scene–improved memory recognition, presumably because it focused end users’ attention on the screen.
  • In pre-production, remember to include multiple scenes in your storyboard (even if they are just text graphics/animations).  Increasing the frequency of cuts–changes to a new visual scene–had a similar effect to increasing the frequency of edits, but only up to a point. (I wonder if reusing scenes makes a difference.)
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Earn My “Photoshop CS6 Literacy” Badge!


This new badge* will be accessible at non-BYU sponsored webpage. The direct link is not live yet; I still need to get my rubric reviewed and uploaded to the site. But it will soon be found on this site by navigating from the homepage to “Become a Technologist” > “Personal Technology Cluster” > “Photoshop Image Editing”. To earn the badge and add it to your Mozilla Backpack, all you have to do is submit a project (via the website) that meets the criteria on the badge rubric.

  • Here is a link to the badge rubric, which includes skills that I can teach.
  • Here is a link to my on-going “Advanced Photoshop Skills” google doc, which I plan to continually updates as I learn new skills myself.

*The badge is a virtual badge available through Mozilla Backpack (badge design still pending); not the merit badge shown here.

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Howard Gardener Speaks Out: Multiple Intelligences ≠ Learning Styles

In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed, Howard Gardner discusses his thoughts on the misinterpretation of MI Theory.  Here are some highlights from the article.

What is ‘Multiple Intelligences’ (MI) theory:

Howard-Gardner“I developed the idea that each of us has a number of relatively independent mental faculties, which can be termed our “multiple intelligences.” The basic idea is simplicity itself. A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on. I estimate that human beings have 7 to 10 distinct intelligences (see www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org).”

Gardner’s criticisms for why ‘Learning Styles’ doesn’t* hold water:

  1. The very notion of ‘Learning Styles’ [that is, catering instruction to a learner’s—or many learners’—preferred intelligences] is not coherent…these labels [‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner’] may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst. [Just because someone is physically intelligent by nature, it doesn’t mean that every assessment they take should be a psychomotor assessment (e.g. perform a dance to demonstrate your understanding of composition of a chemical compound).  Educators are trying to prepare students for life, not to have them be laughed to scorn. Teaching methods should match learning objectives.]

  2. When researchers have tried to identify learning styles, teach consistently with those styles, and examine outcomes, there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”

What are Gardner’s recommendations for teachers?

As an educator, I draw three primary lessons for educators:

1.       Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead of “one size fits all,” learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively. Of course this is easier to accomplish with smaller classes. But ‘apps’ make it possible to individualize for everyone.

2.        Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one (e.g. through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play). In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.

3.       Drop the term “styles.” It will confuse others and it won’t help either you or your students.

Additional MI Resources:

MI Oasis (Official Authoritative Site of Multiple IntelligenceS) –http://multipleintelligencesoasis.org/

Dr. Gardener’s Personal Website

Wikipedia: Multiple Intelligences

Practical examples of Multiple Intelligences

Take a MI test!

MI from a Psychology perspective

Journal of Psychological Science (2008), features more articles debunking ‘Learning Styles’

businessballs.com (2009). Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences.

Thirteen ed online (2004). Tapping into multiple intelligences.

Armstrong, T. (2010). Multiple intelligences.

Howard Gardner’s book, Multiple intelligences. (2010)

Edutopia video and transcript of Dr. Gardener’s central message (1997)

*While the majority of the academic community has concluded that ‘Learning Styles’ is bologna, Gardner respectfully concedes that just because we haven’t yet verified something empirically, it doesn’t mean that it must be false. #Psychology #Falsification

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Infographic Workshop (Using Adobe Illustrator)

This How-To-Make-an-Infographic workshop, developed by my fellow BYU instructor, Anneke Garcia.  It is designed to be a crash course in Adobe Illustrator®. Our undergraduate students have the option to create their own infographics as one of their major assignments for the “Technology for Secondary Ed Teachers” course we teach.  I’ve shared the content here with her permission. (Note: Researching information and choosing your infographic content is outside of the scope of this exercise.)

Example Infographic

Here’s an example of an info graphic created to adhere to the rubric you’ll be using – of course look, content, design, etc., is all up to you – this is just to show you how a few things can be handled.

The graphic as a PDF: Infographic.pdf

And so you can poke around and see how things are put together, the original AI file: Infographic.ai


The full rubric for the assignment can be found here:

Rubric for Illustrator Badge.docx


Here is a brief list of the technical requirements specified by the rubric. Along with each requirement is a tutorial or list of helpful points:

Layout and Guides

Your document can be created in any size but should use guides to define margins and any other layout features you are working with. Here is a quick tutorial on creating guides and locking background items (forgive my coughing fit at the end!)

Outlined Text / Using the Pen Tool / Grouped Objects

The rubric requires you to create outlines of your text, at least in the headline, and also to create some lines and/or objects with the pen tool. It also requires you to place some objects in a group. The following tutorial will help you with that.

Color Swatches / Gradients

You will be asked to work with a collection of color swatches and to have every color you use represented by a swatch. You will also need to use both linear and radial gradients. This tutorial will help you with those tasks:

Align / Distribute Objects

These tutorials will help you align and distribute objects and introduce the transform palette as well:

3-D Effects

This tutorial will show 2 ways you can create the effect of 3-D objects:

Column Graph Tool (Creating other types of graphs as well)

This tutorial will take you step-by-step through creating a graph, and includes some advanced options for those of you who want to go a little farther:

Clipping Masks

The following will show you how to clip objects that are overlapping the edge of the page:

Bonus: Image Trace

Sometimes you may want to take an existing pixel-based (raster-based) image and turn it into a vector graphic (re-sizable outline-based graphic) using Illustrator. While it’s not a necessary part of this project, you can watch a tutorial on it here:

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HUGE Addition to Khan Academy: Adaptive Technology

One of the biggest complaints about The Khan Academy is that learners don’t know which lessons to select.  There are too many choices.  In response, Sal Khan has adopted adaptive learning technologies to solve this pain.  First, a pre-test tool identifies a learner’s current position on a comprehensive knowledge map.  Second, the new learning flow gives users agency to go where they want, but offers personalized suggestions of where they ought to go next to build upon their current level of knowledge.

What Updates are Included in Sal’s New Learning Flow?

  • The new learning flow offers adaptive pre-testing places users at a starting lesson.  (So far, Math is the only knowledge map with adaptive learning capabilities.)
  • Once you have completed a module, the new learning flow will recommend the next lesson you should learn based on the learner’s previous responses.
  • The new learning flow offers automated coaching—mid-problem—for learners who are stuck.
  • There are a bevy of tools for “coaches” who are assisting/supporting learners as they go.  e.g. tracking and feedback tools, among others.
  • The new learning flow utilizes Mastery Challenges to fill out the learner’s knowledge map with darker shades of blue.  Each square represents  a concept in that domain.  The successful completion of one mastery challenge could darken multiple concepts.

Sal released this HUGE update less than 40 days ago.  He wants your feedback.  How would you improve upon this model?

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158 Tips on mLearning: From Planning to Implementation

In 2012, the big question was “Should we do mLearning?”  In 2013, the question has become “How should we do mLearning?”  From the one who brought us 61 Tips on mLearning: Making Learning Mobile almost a year ago, Karen Fornio, a Contributing Editor for the eLearning Guild, has done it again.  She has collected the findings of 23 experts in the field of developing and implementing mobile learning and compiled them into ebook filled with 158 mLearning tips, in areas including:

  • ebook mlearning tips coverSelling mLearning to stakeholders
  • Managing mLearning projects
  • Analyzing learners’ mLearning needs and preferences
  • Designing for mobile
  • Selecting and using mLearning tools and platforms
  • Working with mLearning media
  • Migrating and managing mLearning content
  • Using mobile for performance support
  • Delivering mLearning
  • Measuring mLearning success
  • Prospering in a multi-device world

Download from eLearning Guild Website (info request)
Direct Download Link of PDF (from my site)

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2013 Copyright Laws Regarding File Sharing at BYU

The Pirate Bay LogoIn honor of International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day this week (September 19), I’ve decided to remind everyone of this year’s “rules” for stealing and looting other people’s digital booty.

BYU, an LDS university, is a historic hotbed for the digital-file-sharing debate when Napster appeared on the college scene circa the year 2000.  As the definition of copyright infringement  evolved over the past decade, BYU has obediently followed U.S. federal interpretations of the law.  Just this morning, I received a campus-wide communication regarding the 2013 consequences of unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing.  The information below is generalizable to not only other universities, but to corporate organizations too.  I found the links to be especially worthwhile.

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Law (www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106) located at Title 17 of the United States Code. These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without permission constitutes infringement.

Penalties for those found liable for copyright infringement may be ordered to pay actual damages and “statutory” damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. For “willful” infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed in addition to costs and attorney’s fees. Willful infringement may also result in imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense should the court impose criminal penalties.

Activities such as uploading or downloading unauthorized copies of text, movies, games, computer software, and music (or any other material protected by copyright) may also incur serious personal consequences such as terminating your university computer privileges or affecting your status at the university. Students and other members of the BYU community should review the BYU Copyright Policy (policy.byu.edu/view/index.php?p=36) and Repeat Infringer’s Policy (lib.byu.edu/sites/copyright/policy-law/infringement-policies/), which further describe the consequences of engaging in copyright infringement.

If you are unsure if items you would like to download are legally authorized, review the Media and Copyright information (lib.byu.edu/sites/copyright/about-copyright/media-and-copyright/), Copyright Licensing Office website (lib.byu.edu/sites/copyright/),  or contact the Copyright Licensing Office (lib.byu.edu/sites/copyright/contact/).


Are you pirate savvy?  Take this quiz to test your knowledge!  Review this BYU-created, copyright tutorial, if needed.

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This is an example of a simple, but well-made website.  It employs some JavaScript to create some fun motion effects.  And the content is compelling for both dissatisfied workers who want to “get out of the rut” and for employers/managers who are looking for a solution to the Cog problem in their workforce. [Decog.me]

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The Amazing World of Voice Acting

Mike Rowe has a ver professional sounding voice—deep and authoritative.  You may remember him for his role as host of Dirty Jobs.  In the video clip below, Mike demonstrates why he sometimes has that glazed over look when he’s speaking to the camera.

When I worked at the LDS Church office building, my desk was right next to all the producers for Mormon Radio.  Occasionally, they pulled me into the sound booth to record some lines or bear personal testimony of one thing or another.  It was challenging work; and I loved doing it!  It was fun for me to approximate the appropriate inflection, timing, emphasis, and all sorts of other things (you just don’t think about when speaking normally) in an effort to capture the character’s personality.  I was so focused on the sound of my voice, anything other noise would have been too distracting.  I can’t imagine the hours of practice it must take VO professionals, like Mike Rowe, to develop that skill—that must be why they makes the big bucks.

Try this out yourself: ask a friend to read something to you and try to parrot back the words back to them.

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