Documenting Ferguson: Preserving the Protests; Remembering Michael Brown

The image was there for all to see. It proliferated online and through Twitter. There was a man, a teenager, face down in the road. There, in the median, lay Michael Brown. He’d been shot hours earlier. Continue reading “Documenting Ferguson: Preserving the Protests; Remembering Michael Brown” »


Kill the Topic Sentence

I used to hate writing. Looking back at composition classes in junior high and high school, writing had this mechanical feel, like following a recipe crafted by a mediocre cook who was more used to heating up microwave meals than using fresh ingredients. Topic sentences, thesis statements, stating the supporting points of an essay, it’s all so boring. What makes writing interesting? How do you write well? Start by committing a crime. Start by killing the topic sentence.

Air pollution in China is the worst in the world for many reasons. Fixing a flat tire on a bicycle is easy if you follow these simple steps. Scientists have learned to supplement sight in a number of ways. The center was not holding. Three of those sentences are from websites that teach writing. One of the sentences is from an essay by Joan Didion, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” Which of these sentences makes you want to keep on reading?

Yeah, I’m dying to learn how to easily fix a flat bike tire too. It just takes a few easy steps. The center was not holding. What center? Why isn’t it holding?

What’s more important in teaching high-school students to write: following a mechanical structure or learning that writing doesn’t have to be boring? Is the focus of high-school writing being able to pass standardized tests?1 Good writing is engaging. It’s entertaining. Good writing flows well and communicates ideas. We hear the person behind the words. Good writing takes time and practice, but it helps if you’re reading well-written essays, articles, stories and poems. Moving from the first sentence of Didion’s essay through the first two paragraphs, you’ll see what I mean.

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.

It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people and the uneasy apprehension it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was where the social hemorrhaging was showing up. San Francisco was where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves “hippies.” When I first went to San Francisco in that cold late spring of 1967 I did not even know what I wanted to find out, and so I just around awhile, and made a few friends.2

I hadn’t meant to transcribe that much text, but how could I stop?Didion’s writing is so compelling. Should we kill the topic sentence or should we kill the boring, mechanical topic sentence? “It was not a country in open revolution,” sounds so much better than “it was not a country in open revolution for many reasons.” It’s direct. It can be built upon. It makes the reader lean closer. I used to hate writing for many reasons; now, I just hate reading bad writing.3

  1. This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m actually curious. []
  2. First two paragraphs of Didion’s essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” []
  3. Photo credit: Taken by Karwik and used under CC https://www.flickr.com/photos/karwik/6563742965/in/photostream/. []

Innovating Campus Technology in Times of Constraint

Working with technology in higher education, you’re never confronted with the problem of having too much money. Reduced staffing and budgets are widespread. In these scenarios how do IT professionals stay proactive and innovative, while trying to shoulder their current workload and/or budget lines?

An interview with Scott D. Anthony was a good place to start and I’ve copied down these takeaways.

  1. Innovation is a necessity, not a nicety. If you choose not to innovate, you’re on course to fail.
  2. Before innovating, make sure everything you currently do is operating smoothly.
  3. To start doing new things, you need to prudently stop doing some old things.
  4. Bring discipline to your innovation efforts.
  5. Open up innovation beyond your department. Include students, faculty, and other colleges. Create partnerships to share the risk.
  6. Try strategic experimentation.
  7. Expose yourself to new ambiguities / challenges.
  8. Learn outside of your discipline.
  9. Tap into your network (follow cool, random people on Twitter).

Since this blog covers both educational technology and libraries, we’ll shift the conversation to those areas. What are some services and/or products you’d like to start or experiment with? How do you envision them serving your users? And, finally, how might you get there?

Digital Infrastructure Librarian – Washington University


Washington University Libraries is seeking a creative and enthusiastic individual to design and implement a new digital library application infrastructure using the Hydra repository framework and related technologies. Reporting to the Head of Scholarly Publishing, the Digital Infrastructure Librarian will work collaboratively with Libraries’ staff and campus partners to lead all aspects of system design and implementation, including gathering requirements, establishing coding standards, and participating in system testing, resulting in the delivery of a functioning digital asset management system based on the Hydra repository framework.  This position will participate in writing text and project plans that will be incorporated into grant submissions.
Continue reading “Digital Infrastructure Librarian – Washington University” »

iPad Apps: Hanx Writer – The Typewriter App You Don’t Need

We all love the clickety-clack-ding of typewriters. Ah, the good old days of carrying around a 10 lb machine that can’t search the Internet. Thankfully, Tom Hanks, is helping bring back the typewriter, or at least, the noise and poor usability of the typewriter with the iPad app, Hanx Writer.

Banking on a freemium model, one would need to shell out $3 or $5 for the app to actually be usable. Why would you buy Hanx Writer instead of using Evernote, Voice Memo, Pages, or Google Docs? Well, using a skeuomorphic typewriter interface is like being a writer in the video game, The Room. And, you like typewriters.

Beyond being a pretty design, it just doesn’t seem that usable beyond a conversation piece. However, we’d like to hear from you. If you’ve used Hanx Writer, what’s been your experience? Is this an app you’ll use regularly or does it fail to meet your needs?

App: Hanx Writer
Cost: Free1, $3, $5
Category: Productivity
Usage: Word Processor


  1. With severe limitations. []

These Professionals Review Products for Schwag. Should You Trust Them?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Please accept this ridiculous post as payment for the linkbait title.

The Technology and Learning blog at Inside Higher Ed, has a post “Don’t Trust Tech Bloggers,” which comes across as fairly absolute. The writer received a pitch from a company. If he writes about their product and if that piece produces seven donations to their IndieGoGo campaign, then they’ll give him their product for “free.” It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, because the company is looking for a return on investment. But interesting points are raised. When is it okay for a blog/writer to review a product? Should writers be given the product? Should they send it back after reviewing it? Should bloggers be paid to write about the product? Where are the lines in being true to your readers and creating content that your readers may find useful?

One example of blogs that get it right, is ProfHacker. In the post “Stand (in the Place Where You Work): GeekDesk Max Review,” the writer is totally up front about the review and the outcome. While, yes, there is a lot of cronyism in technology reporting1, I think there are bloggers who do an admirable job of being up-front and honest  with their readers, and who strive to create something that is useful and/or interesting.

Now, to address the linkbait title. Yes, you should trust librarians, but please note that publishers dole out so many free books to librarians at the American Library Association conference. Does that corrupt librarians ability to objectively review material for purchase? Or, is it getting a product in someone’s hands and letting the quality speak for itself?

If you blog, what guidelines do you follow for reviewing products, publishing native advertising2, or using real advertisements for your site?

  1. See Valleywag as a counterpoint to this trend. []
  2. We will never do this at Eduhacker, so please don’t email me. []

Online Scheduling with The Best Day

No one wants a flurry of emails about where and when to meet. And, good old Outlook meeting requests? They thrive in an environment where everyone uses Outlook. In higher education, where there’s a range of devices and calendars in use, meeting requests may not work.

One solution has been to use Doodle, an online scheduling site to send out potential meeting times. However, the aesthetic of Doodle and functionality may leave some users wanting more.

An alternative to Doodle, called The Best Day, works in a similar fashion, but allows invitees to vote on the where to meet, as well as when. Additionally, one is not stuck with just those two options. The meeting organizer can add more points for invitees to vote on. For instance, one could vote on agenda points, or anything else. The example used on the site is going out for drinks before meeting up for dinner.

The look of The Best Day is grounded in a 2014 aesthetic: porthole user images, page-width header images, responsive design, and large font.

Once time and place have been voted on, the meeting organizer clicks to lock-in where and when. Then an iCalendar datafile is ready for download.

In terms of functionality, there are more clicks involved in setting up and managing the meeting than Doodle. However, the other polling options and overall design of the site make up for that. They also have an iPhone app that allows you to schedule on the go.

If you’ve used The Best Day, what’s been your experience? Or, is there a scheduling app you prefer?