I’m joining the movement

towards interdisciplinary practices in Information Design. Are you in?

My last blog was in 2012 where I mulled the emerging applications of data visualizations, most notably differences in applications in journalism as compared to business statistics and scientific research. Since publishing that post there has been significant growth in the multidisciplinary approaches to data visualizations, a push towards more open data and improved open source tools for data preparation and visualization. Citizen science is now an emerging trend with countless ways in which information is being crafted into impactful interactive visualizations.

The concept of Business Intelligence (BI) is being replaced with a focus and promise that visual data analytics and big data is the way of the future. In businesses, information technology departments are challenged with managing bimodal IT shifting from traditional “BI” to rapid analytics.

University programs are shifting and academic/industry partnerships are emerging to help with quicker adoption that comes with applied research through joint projects and practices (check out VIVA Vancouver).

Information designers/data journalists like David McCandless continue to lead the way. There is evidence of this at the local level here in Vancouver with the Emily Carr University of Art + Design recently hosting Universities from over 8 countries at the Information+ Conference with an associated exhibition of works. Vancouver’s own data journalist celebrity Chad Skelton, formerly of the Vancouver Sun, jointly facilitated the hands on Information+ workshop about water conservation.

Somehow I find all of this cross disciplinary action comforting given that my own background is interdisciplinary with a combination of degrees and certificates that can look rather confusing on a standard resume: Computer Information Systems, Communications, Executive Management, Data Resource Management, Educational Technology. The latter mostly because I could find no true interdisciplinary program for data visualization so I focused instead on how I could connect between industry and formal academic programs with a grass roots approach. At the time I was a board member of the Vancouver Chapter of The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI).

I started reaching out to the local university professors to present at TDWI Chapter meetings: John Dill (SFU) and Brian Fisher (UBC) came to speak about their research project with Boeing (prior to the establishment of VIVA); Andrew Gemino (SFU), the Associate Dean at SFU Beedie School of Business, came to share the direction of the University in setting up programs for Visual Analytics and Big Data; the course designers for the initial visual analytics course at BCIT demonstrated how they were engaging students with data by using Tableau Public and whatever data the students could get their hands on. This was an admirable challenge given that it was before ‘open data’ became a thing. After this round of sessions I realized the term ‘Data Warehouse’ was no longer a fit for my direction and hadn’t been for some time. I moved on to focus on the practice in performance measurement and applied visual data analytics. I also archived this blog as I worked to refocus.

I have recently reengaged with the academic community and am now developing an online course targeted to students (K-12) after hearing the advice from a couple of professors who believe visual literacy needs to be taught earlier. At the Information+ conference one professor pleaded ‘…teach the students the basics earlier so I don’t have to do it in University… then I can focus on more important things’. More on this later but I hope that this sheds light on why I’m joining the movement and re-engaging with the numerous communities involved while reaching out to my colleagues to join the movement.

A Visual Communications Debate

A relevant ongoing discussion in the Business Intelligence world is whether there is merit to the media style of Business Intelligence which has emerged in popular media and has been referred to as Infotainment, like the work of David McCandless.

McCandless became famous with his books, The Visual Miscellaneum, and Information is Beautiful, not to mention his MOMA installation, Talk to Me (I particularly liked his Hiearchy of Digital Distractions as I could relate to getting the laptop lid closed on my fingers now and again).

I am intrigued by this battle of the visuals. The discussion isn’t new but since TDWI Vancouver is about to host a data expert who will discuss visualizing data, it inspired me to revisit current leaders in the field of whom represent varying points on the spectrum.

Stephen Few  Is one of the first leaders in the field that I was introduced to, primarily because he is a regular presenter at The Data Warehouse Institute conferences and has written an insightful book called Show Me The Numbers that became a helpful guide book for many aspiring business intelligence analysts. 

Few wrote a criticism of McCandless work and later, Nathan Yau in FlowingData, blogged in response that “David’s work is a cross between news and entertainment. Business intelligence, which really is just statistics for business, is analysis. It’s not entertainment.” Yau also has a short video about the basics of corporate storytelling which appears to be made to entice you to buy his book but the main point is relevant: The skill of telling compelling evidence based corporate stories is a necessity today.

While business leaders may not be looking to be entertained, they are looking for clear concise communications to educate them quickly about the burning issues of the day. In a world of busy executives, we need to quickly grab attention with our corporate stories and be ready to supply successive layers of information as part of our package of evidence.

Edward Tufte wrote the book on Beautiful Evidence. Tufte is a respected statistician and political scientist who hosts courses and writes books on visual analytics. He’s famous for his criticism of the role of poor communication in Power Point as a leading cause in the Columbia Shuttle disaster. 

Tufte and his focus on the imperitve of beautiful evidence continued to become even more relevant with his appointment by the White House in 2010 to help visualize the US Recovery initiatives which you can read about here Recovery.gov A good example of how massive amounts of data can be analyzed and presented as evidence in a way that captures and retains the audience’s attention.

Incorporating social learning technologies

In the words of Robin Yap and Joost Robben, two leading researchers in social learning,

“The social network society is upon us”

It is time, in other words, to address the business need for on-going training and knowledge development by incorporating social learning technologies to support stronger relationships between business and IT stakeholders in order to contribute to the development of social and knowledge capital across the organization.

Given that education is central to any Community of Practice, it’s important to take a close look at how members share and construct knowledge. Understanding the theory beneath effective instructional design helps to understand why some models work well while others fail dismally.

Setting up an on-line learning environment to support the growth of a Community of Practice can be expensive and shouldn’t be entered into without an understanding of the organizations overall e-learning strategy. Two key components of this strategy will be learning theory and supporting technologies.

There are many learning theories that can be used as a starting point to build a solid foundation for a Community of Practice (CoP) educational model. The guiding focus should be on an andragogical model made up of complimentary established theories which may include problem based learning, active learning, constructivism, and constructionism, to name just a few.

For more on social learning by Yap and Robben check out

Balancing Identity, Community & Trust

Whether we like it or not the Internet is changing how we see ourselves and how others see us. This post isn’t about the rapid pace of technological change but rather how this change is affecting how we communicate, form relationships, and trust one other.

Social Networks are not new but the need to architect your communities within these networks is. What happens if you ignore this evolution? Imagine everyone you know getting together in one big room with a giant display screen behind them advertising some of the most private details of their lived experience. A birthday party, the death of a parent, the personal impact of a recent natural catastrophe.

Some of these events you may want to share with everyone but mostly you want to target your message to specific people in your community. Before social media this concept was referred to as back room and front room conversations and was easy to manage. Social media has broken down the walls between back room and front room conversations and opened a window into back room behaviors.

What you need to know is that social media can be designed in a way to strengthen our broader relationships in a way that is manageable. This introduces the concept of trust and managing our trust relationships.

I found the following presentation through a tweet and it’s probably one of the most clear and comprehensive explanation that I’ve come across about the importance of architecting your social network and of understanding the underlying trust relationships. It’s written from a designer’s perspective but is relevant to individuals and businesses alike.

Synergy: Business Intelligence Communities of Practice & Learn 2.0 Strategies

Corporate e-learning is not a new concept in the workplace but strategies must evolve to keep up with the increasing proliferation of web 2.0 technologies. (Berry and Moore, 2008). Corporations are moving to leverage from the latest technological advances and in so doing are shifting to a Learn 2.0 paradigm. Learn 2.0 is adding to the long established benefits of e-learning of reduced costs, learning on demand, and formal training assessments by facilitating new opportunities for corporate community collaboration, knowledge construction, and peer assessments. These new benefits have a lot of value to the community of learners that make up the Business Intelligence Community of Practice (CoP).

The BI CoP instructional designer can leverage from the Corporate Learning Management System (LMS) to develop re-usable learning objects and by using learn 2.0 strategies can enlist the community to personalize training by developing microcontent thereby keeping information current, soliciting ongoing feedback, and building stronger relationships using internal forums, wikis, and expert blogs. (Bersin, 2007).

To gain the most in synergistic effects, the social network of learning can and should extend outside the corporate walls to take advantage of the expanded learning community that social networking affords. For example LinkedIn has evolved into a wealth of knowledge content with groups such as the Business Intelligence Group, The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI), and Visual Analytics, all with on-going discussions where knowledgeable experts weigh in on the latest problems posted by their peers. RRS feeds and Twitter links provide additional content and integration across applications. Embarking on a shift to Learn 2.0 can be done well when following an established model like the one developed by Joost & Yap (2010). Their model describes how workplaces can take advantage of the social technologies to engage employees, build relationships, and enhance learning.

References:

Berry, K. & Moore, D. (2008). IBM virtual education center. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2008 (pp. 602-606). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved online Feb. 27, 2011 from http://www.editlib.org/p/29668.

Bersin, J. (2007). Top trends in e-learning and corporate training. HR Magazine. Retrieved online Feb. 27, 2011 from: http://www.hrmreport.com/article/Top-trends-in-e-learning-and-corporate-training/

Robben, Joost & Yap, Robin (2010). A model for leveraging social learning technologies in corporate environments. Proceedings of Network Learning Conference 2010. Lancaster, UK, Retrieved Feb. 27, 2011 from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Yap.pdf

BI vs BA

In Unplugged, a recent article in the Information Management Magazine, George Shen asks whether Business Analytics (BA) is overtaking Business Intelligence (BI). This question seems only poised to get our attention because what Shen is really promoting is the need for an analytics oriented BI architecture that would incorporate better advanced analytics and modeling. I don’t think he’ll find too much opposition to that pitch. However, I do see a problem with the placement of the Advanced Analytics before the business semantic metadata layer. Shen is clearly not unaware of the problems with data cleanliness nor is he a stranger to the challenge of more user friendly design. However, in the article I don’t see a connection between these two problems and the need for a well developed business semantic layer or an indication that the layer is required to be accessed by the advanced analytics tools. Shen places BA beneath the semantic layer and only shows a push upwards. The other problem with the architecture diagram is the lack of emphasis on data that is external to the corporation. Even though Shen discusses examples of valuable data available outside the corporation he does not show how this would be incorporated into the architecture.

I like Shen’s statement “BA needs to be integrated and embedded in business process to be effective”. Too often we see that this is not the case and training for Business Analytics is divorced from the business process. Business Intelligence systems are often a very small percentage of the budget of a much larger ERP project and as such is treated much like an after thought. To compound the problem training is often treated as an IT function and provided as ‘systems training’ with an emphasis on standard reporting. There is often very little done to make the learning experience authentic by situating it within the current business process and relating it directly to real business problems. While I agree with Shen that the BI vendors need to step it up a notch in terms of their offerings and integration of advanced analytics, I think there’s an even bigger problem with the typical BI training approach.

Social Media & Collaborative Knowledge Building

Strategies & Challenges in using Social Media

The UBC Masters of Educational Technology program is a strong collaborative environment for learning. One collaboration tool that is emphasized is the Wiki. Although I am a fan of using Wikis, I can’t say that I find collaborating within them intuitive or easy. One thing that I’ve noticed is that it really helps to make use of the discussion page to describe your thoughts on what you have changed or what you think still needs more work.

Working with Wikis is something that takes a lot of practice to get good at. It takes some amount of confidence to go in and modify someone elses work without first getting their permission to do so. By virtue of working within a Wiki you give others permission to modify your work but it is still a little uncomfortable for me.

I thought it would be good to share the top strategies that we came up with as part of one of my classes for the benefit of anyone thinking about incorporating social media into their Community of Practice. These were developed over a week within a group Wiki and demonstrate the potential for the tool to support collaborative knowledge building. I have tailored some of the points to adapt them to CoPs rather than just academic learning environments.

5 Strategies for using Social Media

  1. Enhance a lesson by reaching learners through a multitude of learning styles; for instance, visual, tactile, and auditory
  2. Capitalizing on the way that learners already communicate during their daily lives and use social media to enhance their learning.
  3. Utilize the wisdom of the entire group to progress collectively to a greater destination than what they could have achieved on their own.
  4. Research other training uses of social media to determine the advantages of field tested group learning techniques.
  5. Teach digital etiquette. Discuss public identity management and the appropriate time and use of technology, privacy, copyright, and flame wars.

5 Key Challenges in using Social Media:

  1. Navigating through copyright and plagiarism issues and how these issues apply to the read/write digital culture
  2. Supporting learners with limited computer and/or internet access at home or in work so that they are not marginalized
  3. Providing another platforms to network while yielding sufficient training outcomes without negatively impacting individual learning goals
  4. Ensuring social media sites terms of service and corporate privacy policies are followed and kept apprise of by the CoP’s administration team.
  5. Navigating the legal, social and organizational ramifications of using social media between learner and teacher.

If you are interested in developing a Wiki to build knowledge within your Community of Practice then you might want to check out:

www.wikispaces.com

If anyone has a Wiki platform that they would like to share – please leave a comment and I will add the site to the technology page.

Development Environment Setup

Today I installed the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) on my company website to prepare for the migration of my first BICC Learning Management Center course that should be done by December.

My hosted site was on the Microsoft Windows platform and because Moodle only runs on Linux it was a little more work than I had anticipated. I had backups of my website and original blog so I decided to move ahead with the migration. It was time to update my website anyway given that it was designed in Flash and won’t run on the IPhone or IPad.

I don’t have a lot of time to spend on my website and have found that my blog has been a better format for communications so I’ve decided to combine the two in order to streamline my workload. I also decided it was time to integrate WordPress and Dreamweaver on my local development server which meant setting up a WampServer and the databases needed to support WordPress development and eventually a Moodle database as well.

For a while now I have had a subscription with a training site www.lynda.com which I highly recommend. The monthly fee isn’t that steep and there are endless sets of training videos and most are fairly high quality. I used the site for the server setup which is something that I will rarely have to do and I found the step by step instructions extremely helpful.

The whole undertaking took about 5 hours from start to finish and another hour or so to restore the course from a backup and blog entries from backup.

The environment is now ready, well before the course completion date and because it’s ready early I will be able to do some additional course design testing that I may not have been able to do on the UBC site.

Terms of Service

I chose today to review the terms of service and privacy statements for four social media sites to investigate terms of services: WikiSpaces, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress. After a quick look at the size of the documents, and the related privacy documents, I decided to start with the WikiSpaces statement because at least I could understand it. The Wikispaces terms of service and privacy statement were surprisingly and refreshingly simple. They do not claim ownership of any content that you submit however, because of the nature of the service they have a full sub licence, royalty free, perpetual licence to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, etc. everything you submit or make available to the service. The material can be used for anything. The site is very clear about privacy and does not make any private information available to anyone. However, they will disclose private information by law, and they are an American site which means that the Patriot Act would apply. The site does collect clickstream data in log files for performance reasons and uses cookies for sessions as well as those that are persistent. I think it’s appropriate for adult students to use this site.

The next site I looked into was LinkedIn. I was surpised that it’s legal to do extensive updates to your terms of service but not have to rewrite the terms of service. They have a page of updates referencing line items in the original document so not only do you have to read a complex original document but you have to refer to the new changes on a separate page. What I determined is that you essentially own your content but they have full rights forever by licence. You can request material is deleted but have no control if someone else has used it. It has pretty much the same legal access as Wikispaces and it is also an American site but there is also part ownership in Ireland. This is a site that I would encourage my students to use because of the network of people involved in related communities of practice that they could connect with.

I moved on to FaceBook where I was surprised and maybe a little disappointed with the complexity and detail of their terms of service and privacy information. This definitely is not a site that you should request that students be members of for a course. There are a number of privacy controls but the users information is accessible through their friends and there are quite a number of third party applications that can access your information. Like the other sites Facebook has a full licence to use your content however they like, royalty free of course. I found the terms for this site the most confusing because of the amount of information. I was wishing for the simplicity of the Wikispaces terms.

Finally I moved on to WordPress – clickstream information is collected but not for performance but for ‘understanding’ how users are using the site aka marketing and they use non-identifying information in aggregate for marketing as well. The site collects personal information but doesn’t disclose it. They mention access to personal information is allowed by their staff, on a need to know basis, which made me wonder why I didn’t see this clearly stated in the other sites terms. They also mention that these staff may be located in countries other than your own and your information will be transferred to those countries but it doesn’t specify the countries. They have the typical statements that the other sites have that they don’t rent or sell your information, they disclose it for legal purposes, and they use cookies but they take the opportunity to remind users that they are in control if they want to turn cookies off on their computers but some aspects of the site may not work properly. I didn’t find any reasson not to have my learners use this site. I think it’s a valuable format for sharing information across a diverse community who may have different perspectives.

All in all this was an informative but tedious exercise that I have been putting off for a long time but glad I’ve made my way through it!

Addendum:

As part of some background research for E512 I went to sign up for an account with a social learning website “Babel” and read the terms of service more thoroughly than anything I’ve signed up for to date. I was quite uncomfortable about a couple of statements. The first was that they seem to shift more responsibility to the user for security and access. Specifically they state that the user is responsible for blocking third party applications from accessing their registration information and that the user is responsible to make sure that none of their content has any virus, worms, trojans or the like. They also make it clear that they have full rights to repackage and redistribute any content the user  uploads. This is a paid service site so I found this quite concerning because it gives the impression that the corporation can ‘steal’ from the users to repackage and format their ideas for sale to other members. I’m not sure this would happen but they’ve written it into their terms of service and I’m sure it’s not by accident. This is the first German terms of service I looked at so I wonder if this has anything to do with some of the differences.

At the Intersection of Art & Technology

The musician Trimpin has been given many labels but the one I like the most is kinetic sculptor. He refers to his work as a visualization of sound. Sound being primary it must come first.

I am inspired by his creativity that kept a childlike wonder persevering past a filing cabinet full of eloquently labeled ‘FU’ letters. Of course those probably ended soon after he won the MacArthur “Genius” Award.

I went to see Trimpin talk after a local showing of his documentary about his music experiment with the Kronos Quartet. What interested me most was his creative process and particularly how he visualizes his musical scores.

Trimpin’s experimentation with technologies enable him to create technical feats and artistic wonders such as the automated piano in Ratatatatatt. Being an inventor at heart he custom designs almost everything he creates including the hardware and software.

When asked what he would set out to do if he had unlimited funds? He gazes at the questioner quizzically and responds that it is not the money that is the challenge but the limits of time.