What’s in your room?

RoomI finished reading Emma Donoghue’s, Room this morning and can’t get it out of my head.  Room is told from the viewpoint of a five year old named Jack who is imprisoned in an underground room with his mother.  Jack doesn’t know he is a prisoner because his mother has built him a world where living in a room is normal.  Everything in the room has a name and a place, and to Jack these things have magical qualities that make them almost like living things. Rules govern every moment of time in the room; designed partly to keep Jack safe but also to help his mother retain her sanity.

While their eventual escape from the room is a blessing for his mother, for Jack it is a confusing experience and he wants nothing more than to return to the familiarity of the room.  He longs for all of the things that filled the room and for all of the routines that governed his life.  Instead he is forced to change his routines and grow used to new things.  Behaviors that were acceptable before are frowned upon in this bigger world. There are more rules, rules that make no sense and violate the rules Jack is used to.

When Jack finally talks his mother into returning to the room he finds it is not as wonderful as he had remembered.  It is smaller inside, and while his things look familiar he does not find them as compelling as they used to be.  Jack realizes that he has outgrown the room and he says goodbye to it and walks back out into the bigger world.

165589_1252059517123_5958313_nI identify with Jack’s unique view of the world, or with the idea that we all have a unique view of the world.  As we grow up we learn the societal norms, we learn how to fit in, and how to fall in line.  We carve out safe little rooms of our own that we put our personal beliefs and rules in. Many of these rooms are public that we present to those in our extended social circle.  Some are private that we share with only a select few.  Then there is that one inner room that we share with no one, which contains all of those things we fear would reveal too much about us.  Would people like us if they knew who we really were? Would they understand our view of the world?

It is when you are willing to move beyond that fear that the world becomes really interesting.  Messy.  Frightening.  Exhilarating.  The mistakes you make are agonizing and you are embarrassed that you made them and you are so mortified that you don’t want to put yourself in that position again.  At that point you have two choices:  retreat to that safe little room where everything is comfortable and familiar, or continue to build on this new room until it becomes as familiar and comfortable as the old.  The second choice means that you are likely to continue this process again and again and perhaps forever because once you have discovered that the fear is not as bad as you had feared it would be, you won’t be able to stop.

An outline of my own recent journey.  I wonder what’s next.223546_10200508934707855_446299464_n

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Too many toys to choose from

I had planned on playing with Voicethread for this latest assignment because I had already had experience with most of the other suggested social tools.  The two tools that I had no experience with were Library 2.0 and Scoop.it.  Upon investigating Library 2.0 I realized it was using a Ning platform which I was familiar with so I turned my attention to Scoop.it.

Scoop.it is promoted as a method to aggregate and curate information found on the web.  Users, or curators as they are called, create topics which they then provide keywords for.  Scoop.it uses these keywords to search resources on the internet which are then aggregated on a “Suggested Content” page for each topic created.  Curators then choose, or curate, which articles they want to add to their topic.

I could not help but to compare Scoop.it to Pinterest as I began organizing and curating my own topics. Scoop.it has “Topics” while Pinterest has “Boards.”  Both social tools have a bookmarking button that you can add to your browser’s toolbar.  Both social tools are similar in that they aggregate information for you.  Pinterest does this in a couple of different ways:  you can look at the content of pinners that you follow, or you can look at Pinterest’s subject list under their “Everything” tab and choose one of their suggestions.  Scoop.it does this differently in that it uses keywords to aggregate information which seems helpful until you realize that you do not know if you are using keywords that will find you the results that you want.

Where both tools seem to differ is in the presentation of content.  Scoop.it is formatted so that it appears like you are reading an electronic magazine.  You can read whatever tagline that the curator adds to the “scoop” and if you find it interesting you can follow the link to the original content.  From what I have observed among the friends that I follow, Pinterest seems to be used mainly for adding and browsing pictures of clothing, or decorating ideas, or pictures of must try recipes.  This is not to say that Pinterest does not have the capacity for being a place that can be used for more serious content, because I have found boards where the content focused on learning.  These boards are difficult to find within Pinterest however, and I find it easier to locate them using a Google search.

I had originally created my Pinterest account because I was looking for a more interesting way to organize my bookmarks rather than keeping them in an uninteresting list.  I was also looking for an alternative to my RSS reader for the same reason; too many lists and not enough visuals.  I found myself too distracted by all of the images in Pinterest however, to use it effectively.  Organizing my boards was also a problem because it is difficult if you want to reorganize which I did a few times.  Pinterest also seems to be utilized by more women than men which makes the content a bit too (I’m not going to say girly although I’m thinking it) female centric.

Now that I have worked with Scoop.it for the past two day I find that I like it better than Pinterest.  I like the way that it is formatted plus I like that it suggests content that I have found useful.  Another advantage with Scoop.it is that its aggregators go out and look for content on the internet rather than just pulling from their user’s content.

As for it being a substitution for my RSS reader, I am not sure yet.  It doesn’t let you know when a blog has posted new content.  It does allow you to follow the topics of other users, and pull from that aggregated list, but I’m not sure that I really need more content on top of all of the feed I am already subscribed to.  There is such a thing as too much information.  I do think that it could be useful for bookmarking and I am going to stay with it for a while for that reason and see if I like it.

The Library Minute: Who says it can’t be fun

ASU Libraries video series “The Library Minute” is an example of how to create effective instructional and informational library videos.  Mentioned in a previous post, The Library Minute is one of many tools that the ASU library uses to provide information for their patrons.

One example of what ASU does so well is in the video, Library Minute: RefWorks.   The video is just under a minute, as many of their videos are, which is not that much of an investment of time.  Shorter videos may be more appealing particularly for students who have limited time and must balance school with their personal lives, and watching a library video may be low on their priority list.

The 58 second video on RefWorks begins with a very brief introduction that describes the citation software.  The video continues on with the benefits of using RefWorks for easily organizing citations, and for using whichever style format you need.  The video then shows the ASU Library RefWorks page and shows where on the page that the student can find more information on how to use the software.  The video also takes time in the short amount allotted to interject humor which makes the overall video viewing more enjoyable.

The only criticism of the video might be that the librarian presenting the video is a bit stilted in her dialogue but that actually helps to add to the charm of the video.

The main thing that works so well for The Library Minute is that the videos presents what could be dry information in a fun way.  This may not seem to be an important factor until you consider that it may make the person viewing the video more likely to look at more of the videos that the library produces.

What was the Question?

User generated content, in the form of question and answer websites in this case, is only as good as the content being provided.  Obvious perhaps, except when one considers how difficult it can be sometimes to tell the difference between good information and bad information.

A quick look at the main page of two big question and answer websites Answers/WikiAnswers  and Yahoo!Answers actually made me question the seriousness of either website; at least from a scholarly standpoint.   Yahoo!Answers had recent questions that ranged from wanting to know how to cite something in MLA style to wanting to know if a particular movie was available in Blue Ray format.  WikiAnswers was similar with questions ranging from who Jennifer Lopez’s parents are to the conversion of temperature scales.

Many of the questions I saw on either website seemed silly, and the answers in many cases appeared to be more opinion than fact.

Looking a bit further into news on question and answer websites found a February 2011 article on the technology page on the New York Times website.  The top websites were reported as being WikiAnswers and Yahoo!Answers.  The article went on to discuss a series of other new websites which include:  Hipster, Quora, Stack Exchange, Twitter, and VYou.

Curious about Quora as there were a few articles about it I tried to take a look at it but was unable to view it as viewing required an account.  An article on Mashable about Quora linked to a video that explains and demonstrates the features of the question and answer website.  From this distant view Quora had an interesting format which enables you to ask experts a question, although it seems like there are quite a few steps that you must go through to post a question.

Another article on Mashable talked about a website called Formspring which allows you to subscribe to particular people whose questions appear in your inbox, and their conversations will show up in your feed.  You can in turn send out questions for your friends to answer.  Formspring has various celebrities you can subscribe to on the website who have been verified to be celebrities.  Like Quora this website was also unable to be viewed unless subscribed to and this time I decided to take a look.  This look required me to sign in either via Facebook or Twitter and to create a screen name.

(One a side note I find it interesting and a little disturbing how both Facebook and Twitter seem to be tying a lot of different websites together.  I wonder if this is a trend that will continue and flourish.  I am not sure I want Facebook to track my movements on websites other than Facebook.)

At this time the only friend I have on the website is Formspring itself because I cannot figure out how to search the community.

Looking beyond the easily found websites, an advanced Google search found that some universities offer question and answer resources as well.

Go Ask Alice! is Columbia University’s Health Q&A Internet Service.  A similar sounding website is Just Ask Antoine! with questions and answers relating to chemistry.  If you are curious about astronomy then Ask An Astronomer at Cornell University’s website.  Sex, Etc. is a development of Answer, a website by Rutgers University.

Whether you hate them or like them, given the proliferation of websites that are available, it would appear that the question and answer format websites are here to stay.