Sunday, November 23, 2014

Final Pitch: Mastering Map Scale

This is the final assignment (Assignment 6.2: The Final Product Pitch) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to create a complete pitch for the educational intervention we've been developing during the course.
The Challenge

“Hey honey, let’s hit to road for the trip to your parents! Can you grab the map?” 
“Which one?”
“The large scale...wait small...uh, the one with all of New England on it!”

Let’s face it: map scale is confusing to both school students and adults heading out for a road trip. How can individuals quickly get a handle on what the terms small and large scale mean and which map will suit their purpose?

A short visit to the interactive site Mastering Map Scale will have students of all ages using the terms correctly and creating or selecting an appropriate map scale for a project, paper or road trip. 

Currently, map scale is taught with graphics like the one below from Ohio Wesleyan factually member JB Krygier's Geography 222: The Power of Maps and GIS:  

How map scale is taught now.
Source: JB Krygier Geography 222: The Power of Maps and GIS, Ohio Wesleyan

In contrast, Mastering Map Scale relies on interactive simulations and constructionist ideas to teach about map scale.

The Intervention: Mastering Map Scale

Learning objectives:

The intervention is aimed at teaching four key concepts:
  • Larger scale means more potential details can be seen, smaller scale means fewer details.
  • Larger scale maps cover smaller areas (details of one tree, rather than a forest), smaller scales cover larger areas (rivers in a country, rather than paths trough a town park).
  • Using a map to find an answer depends on it being at the appropriate scale.
  • The RF is like a fraction, a larger fraction (a bigger piece of pie) means a larger scale.
The website includes two interactive tools:
Map Scale Explorer encourages visitors to key in map scales in a representative fraction (RF) and see the map change. They can also choose a “larger scale” or “smaller scale” button make the scale larger or smaller by a factor of 10.

Mockup of Map Scale Explorer

Map Scale Artist turns the screen over to the visitor to draw an object (penny, pencil, donut) and watch it appear at a selected scale in a second window. The “smaller scale” and “larger scale” buttons are available here, too.

Mockup of Map Scale Artist

Visitors are guided with simple hints as to what to do:

Example for Map Scale Explorer: Choose a scale. Predict what the map will look like! See if you are correct.

Example for Map Scale Artist: Draw a penny. What scale is best for reading the date on the penny? Larger or smaller than the scale at which you drew?

The site can serve students in classrooms and beyond. Teachers can make it available with other resources, assign it as homework or use it “as needed” with specific students when scale confusion appears. Because it’s stand alone, Mastering Map Scale can be used by anyone with Web access who need a short primmer on map scale. It’s designed to get the user back to solving their mapping problem quickly, after a brief interactive interlude.


Students in formal settings can tackle two formative assessments. Both include automated grading. Both assessments are based on material the student creates (specific maps at specific scales, drawings of particular objects). Any user is welcome to try the formative assessments to check understanding.

A summative assessment, aimed at formal educational settings, involves a map creation project. I may also be part of larger assessment related to the broader topic (geography, field biology, history, etc.)


There are three research components to Mastering Map Scale:
  1. A design based research program will explore if indeed the intervention teaches learners the key ideas without educator involvement. New Iterations of the tool will aim for a fully stand alone learning experience.
  2. Measurement tools in the intervention will determine if students are engaged in the tools and explore widely (explore several maps scale, draw several objects) or just dabble in the exploration environments (explore two scales or make but one drawing).
  3. Educators themselves will help determine the value of the intervention based on if they recommend or assign the tool to students and suggest its use to their peers.


The main risk of the Mastering Map Scale project is that it tackles just one small portion of map literacy. It might be overshadowed by more complete projects or curricula. Still, since this is a topic that comes up regularly (see: 1, 2, 3, 4) a short focused intervention may stand out and perhaps become part of these projects and curricula.


The project, if successful, will be a resource for students to explore, perhaps several times in their student and working lives, to make sense of map scale. The best possible outcome of Mastering Map Scale: there’ll be less hesitation and confusion regarding map scale, like that illustrated in the introductory scenario.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Large and Small: Understanding Map Scale Assessment

This is an assignment (Assignment 5.1: The Assessment Plan) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to create an assessment plan for our educational intervention. My intervention is detailed here.


Learning objectives:

After using the intervention students should be able to understand apply these ideas:

  • Larger map scale means more potential details can be seen, smaller map scale means fewer details.
  • Larger scale maps cover smaller areas (a few trees), smaller scales cover larger areas (an entire forest).
  • Users need to create/select the correct scale map to get the best answer to their question
  • The representative fraction (RF) is written as a fraction or ratio and behaves like one: a larger fraction means a larger scale, a smaller fraction means a smaller scale.
Assessment: Formative

Formative assessments would “pop up” as the student interacts with the two apps.

In the changing scale tool (where students change the scale in various ways to see the impact on a Google Maps type map) the questions might include:

You made two maps in response to queries. Look at these two of your maps: a) one at backyard/neighborhood scale and b) one at county/continent scale. 
  • Which has more detail? What details are shown?
  • Which covers a larger area? How large (roughly) is it?
  • Which would you use to plan a walking trip? A long car or train trip?
  • What is the RF for each? Which is larger scale? Which smaller scale?

Feedback would include if each response was correct/incorrect and why. If all four are not correct, the response is: Let’s make some more maps!  The student is then guided back to the app to explore some more and create a few more maps.

In the free draw tool (where students draw in real world coordinates and a second pane shows the drawing at a requested scale) the questions might include:
  • If you want to see the details of one object you drew (the tail of the horse, the outline of Lincoln’s head on a penny), would the RF be larger or smaller than 1?
  • If you drew many horses and wanted to see where all of them were on the farm, would the RF be larger or smaller than 1?
Feedback would include if each responses was correct/incorrect and why. If both are not answered correctly, the student is requested to draw a few more items to explore the scale relationships, and to try the assessment again.

Once both assessments are “passed” (4/4 and 2/2) the student is invited to take the summative assessment.

Assessment: Summative

In the the summative assessment the student is asked to create a series of maps at the correct scale for a treasure hunt to be held as part of a birthday party in the park.

The student is asked to make three maps using the same Google Maps type interface from the changing scale tool. The dataset includes a town with a school and a park, (with a playground  ballfields, paths) and as well as details of the playground (slides, swings, etc). The student creates:
  • a map of how to get to the park from the school
  • a map of where in the park to meet for the party
  • a map of various treasures hidden in the playground 
With all three created an instructor would ask the student to use their maps and mapping language to:
  • identify the largest scale map and describe its properties (a lot/a little detail with examples, small or large area covered compared to other two, RF)
  • identify the smallest scale map and describe its properties (a lot/a little detail, small or large area covered compared to other two, RF)
  • describe who might use each map (child, adult, on foot, on bike, in a car)
  • explain using RFs how one is a larger scale than the other
Data Display

The key data from the formative assessments reveal perseverance: are the students motivated to keep exploring the mapping tools until they “pass” both assessments. That data might be valuable to the instructor to learn more about an individual student, but I’m not sure if the students needs to know that it took six iterations to “get it.”

The key data from the summative assessment is more difficult to break down. The instructor/evaluator might use a rubric to confirm the student could illustrate the four objectives which are tightly woven into the interview:
  • Larger scale means more potential details can be seen, smaller scale means fewer details. (Detail)
  • Larger scale maps cover smaller areas (a few trees), smaller scales cover larger areas (an entire forest). (Area)
  • Users need to create/select the correct scale map to get the best answer to their question. (Use)
  • The RF is written as a fraction or ratio and behaves like one: a larger fraction means a larger scale, a smaller fraction means a smaller scale. (RF)
The data display (mock up below) would include how  many times a individual student tackled the two formative assessments before achieving success as well as their success (or not) on the summative assessment. These could be compared to the class average.

 Mockup of Assessment Data for Large and Small Intervention

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"No Cell Phone" Summit

At this year's New York State Geospatial Summit the organizers, via Bill Johnson, asked that attendees challenge themselves to refrain from checking their mobile devices during the single day event. How'd it go?

I certainly saw some people texting and checking mail during and between sessions, but my sense is percentages were lower than at most events. Were more people interacting with one another? Perhaps. As I looked along the lunch buffet line I wondered how many folks standing in silence knew how to start a conversation, if they wanted to do so. I grew up as a shy kid, so I know how tough that can be. Now that I'm grown up and a journalist, I've had to learn to get folks talking.

I use a very generic question when everyone has been to the same session as occurs at the Summit and on the opening day of Esri UC. "What did you find interesting this morning?" Sometimes I get a generic response like "ArcGIS Online" and have to probe further. "Is there a new feature you'll use in your organization? How?" Sometimes I get a blank look indicating to me either they were not really paying attention at the session or really did not find anything interesting. Other times, they really get into the conversation and I've made a new friend and sometimes found a new contributor to our magazine.

Turning the mobiles devices "off" is only half the battle. The other half is enabling and encouraging interaction. I think organizers may have to remind attendees of the obvious, that it's a very special thing for this many people with an interest in geospatial technology to be in the same place at the same time. More than one of my band directors has made this point about our rehearsal time. I always think of the two hours each Monday night we have together as "sacred." I prepare for it ensuring mind and body are ready for intense work. (Most recently that's meant an extra cup of dark coffee between my 10 mile run and rehearsal. It works great!) I suspect all attendees should prepare for conferences the same way, but I'll be the first to admit that I do not.

Another consequence of the "please don't use your mobiles" request may have been a dearth of tweets and posts on the event. I count about 20 tweets about the 2014 event; about half were "pre-summit." There was no "official" hashtag best I can tell, though some of were using #NYGeosummit, which was used in past years. The choice to encourage mobiles to be off and the stealth use of the hashtag may mean that individuals who might have met at the event could not easily find one another on social media afterward. It may also mean that links shared by speakers via social media after their presentations didn't reach attendees. I for one tried to remember the few links I mentioned during the Summit that I wanted to share later. I did so two days after the event and wonder if anyone was still looking at the hashtag at that point.

It's hard to know if the "please put down your phones" request, on balance, enhances or takes away from an event. My preference would be to keep it. Conferences are great times to practice reaching out to others. Students and other still-shy attendees will be looking to more experienced practitioners to model these skills. And we can't do that if we have our heads stuck in our phones!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Exploring a Learning Community: The Somerville Road Runners

This is an assignment (Assignment 4.1: Amateur Ethnography) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to observe and reflect on teaching and learning within a learning community. Ideally, it would be one in which we were not a participant, but that was not possible for me. Thus I chose a learning community with which I'm very familiar.



As soon as the idea of a learning community was introduced, I immediately thought of my running club, the Somerville Road Runners. While I’d never thought of it as anything more than a social and competitive running club, I began to realize, it is indeed a learning community as the members:

are diverse: The club includes old and young, experienced and beginner, sprinters to ultramarathoners.

have shared goals: run in general but also: run further, run faster, run with more fun, get fit, meet people involved in running, etc.

come together regularly: There are three or sometime four “official” events per week which members ,and those who want to explore membership, can attend: track practice, two fun runs, and a formal or informal long run.

knowledge sharing: There are lots of informal chats during warmups and long runs; some include experts and apprentices and others are peer to peer interaction.

I’ve been in the club for about 10 years, so my observations stem from my own participation.

Experts and novices are hard to spot until the running begins. Everyone slowly learns who the fast men and women are as they win our fun runs and are called out for achievements on our Yahoo or Facebook groups. But there is also a culture that encourages more experienced participants to link those with questions to the “right” person. If you are considering running the Chicago Marathon, you will be pointed at those who have run it before.

There is far more informal mentoring than direct instruction. Sub groups that form at track practice and for long runs (those who run at roughly the same pace) become environments for mentoring. It’s certainly not called “mentoring,” and most participants probably think of it as “taking about one of my favorite things: running.” Direct instruction occurs at track practice when the coach describes the workout and how to get the most out of it. “We are doing 6 x 800, so don’t due the first ones too fast. The goal is to get them all done close to your goal time.” There is also direct instruction for those who choose to ask for input from the coach or other more experienced runners.

Questions run the gamut from: How do I train for a marathon? What race should I pick for my first marathon? How fast should I run my long runs? What do you eat before a marathon? What are the best shoes for trail running? My foot hurts; should I see the doctor? I’m exhausted; when can I take a day off running? How many calories per hour do you need to run 100 miles? The answers typically include a response from recipient but more often than not, a referral: “You should talk to x, he just ran a 100 mile race. Let me introduce you!”

The level of engagement varies. There is a core group that appears regularly. Other members 
 come and go. Some members are very social and have lots of questions and want to chat, others attend runs just to have companionship.

The "Aha" moment for me was in the first readings about learning communities. That’s when it occurred to me that this running club is indeed a learning community. As I noted above, I’d never thought it that way before!

Learning Theories

While I’m sure there are more than just two learning theories represented in my running club interactions, I want to focus on social learning and simulations.

I’ve detailed many of the kinds of interactions that involve social learning above, but have some specific examples. Social learning ideally involves all participants and offers a safe environment to try something new. At track practice the 60 (+/-) attendees typically break into groups of five or ten who run about the same pace. The runners in each group work together to complete the workout. Most workouts involve several repetitions (short runs) with a break in between. To share the load, different individuals will lead each repetition. Newer runners are often nervous about leading, fearing they’ll “do it wrong.” The community builds a backstop by having a more experienced runner provide some perspective: “Only two things can happen: you can run too fast or run too slow! I’ll run behind you and help you adjust the pace.” With that help nearly every first time “leader” is successful, which helps him or her move confidently into being an active community member.

The expert/apprentice model, part of social learning, pops up quite a bit. I had an experience several years ago that confirmed its value to me. I was warming up for track practice with one of our most experienced (65+) members. He’d asked how I was doing and I explained I was depressed, craved carbs and was not running well. I was “not myself.” “Hmmm.” he replied. “It’s October, the days are getting shorter, I wonder if it’s the lack of sunlight, seasonal affective disorder.” I went home and Googled it and found I had a classic set of symptoms. I bought a “wake up light,” which gradually wakes you up  in the morning, like the sun would. I’ve not had the problem since! 

I’ve been on the expert side of the equation, too. A first time ultrarunner approached me about nutrition during a 50 mile race. His first one was the next week. I shared my experience and helped him place in the top ten. To be fair, he was talented to begin with, but clearly he felt there was value in my input. I felt valued as an expert which perhaps tied me closer to the community.

The other learning theory we use within the running club is simulation. Many longer runs are meant to simulate, at least in part, the longer races we do (marathons, 50k, 50 mile and longer races). We’ll plan a long run to start about the time of race, have water and fuel when we expect to have it in the race, and attempt to cover terrain (hills, trails, flats) just the race course. Those of us who run through the night try to include at least one “night run” to gain experience for the challenges of running at night after being on one’s feet for 12 hours or more.

Reflection on Experience

While I did not consciously and formally observe the Somerville Road Runners, just thinking back on my experience helped think of it in a new way. I think it’s interesting that this club. and I suspect many other clubs related to sports or arts or other topics, have characteristics of learning communities though none of them set out to instill them. 

I’m curious how those of us who are trying to create learning communities can learn from these groups that seem to have its hallmarks in their DNA.

I’m sure being a researcher/participant skewed what I saw and how I reported on it. In an ideal world I would have tried to visit with another community and act solely as an observer. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Large and Small: Learning about Map Scale

This is an assignment (Assignment 3.2: The Elevator Pitch) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to pitch our chosen education technology intervention with a one minute video. A more detailed document is below.


Large and Small: Understanding Map Scale

Students of geography typically know how to use a map’s bar scale to estimate the distance from one location to another. They can also use the representative fraction (RF, 1:24,000, for example) to do similar tasks. But ask them if they need a large or small scale map to explore the trails in the town park or the route a car might take from New York to California and they are stumped. In short, they can use map scale, but don’t really understand map scale.

My intervention is designed to teach about map scale for understanding, which should also help in its use and connect it to real world use. In particular I want students to understand:
  • Larger scale means more potential details can be seen, smaller scale means fewer details.
  • Larger scale maps cover smaller areas (details of one tree, rather than a forest), smaller scales cover larger areas (rivers in a country, rather than paths trough a town park).
  • Using a map to find an answer depends on it being at the appropriate scale.
  • The RF is like a fraction, a larger fraction (a bigger piece of pie) means a larger scale.
The intervention takes advantage of active learning tapping both a simulation component and a constructionist component.

The first element is an enhanced online world map, akin to Google Maps. The difference is the addition of a few tools. Students can enter a scale by keying in a number in an input box. In short, they’d put in in x in 1:x. The map responds by “zooming to” that scale. There’d also be two buttons labeled “larger scale” and “smaller scale.” Each one would change the scale by a factor of perhaps 10. Thus, hitting the larger scale button would change the scale from 1:1000 to 1:100. I’d also like my map to cover scales beyond 1:1, that is 2:1, 10:1, etc. I’d also like a way to visualize that 1:1000 is smaller than 1:100 visually, perhaps by using a grid of dots and turning one of the 100 or one of 1000 bright red.

Mock Up of Interface of First Element

The workflow might include a series of problems asking, essentially, what scale map might be appropriate for a map showing:
  • your walking or driving route to school
  • where you hid a treasure in your back yard
  • a car trip out of state (or country)
  • which states in the United States grow wheat
  • countries that are members of the European Union
The second element of the intervention involves students drawing their own maps. They’d do so on the left pane of a window. That would be the “real world” side. They might sketch a penny, a pencil, a toy bicycle. The other pane would, in as real time as possible, show the representation of the object at whatever scale is assigned in an input box as noted above. As before the student would also have access to a “larger scale” and “smaller scale” button to adjust the mapped representation. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Enhancing Maps101’s Field Trips

This is an assignment (Assignment 3.1: Make a Mod) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to identify an existing educational intervention, identity some weaknesses and suggest some modifications to make it better based on ideas we explored about educational theories and proven methods.

The Learning Intervention

I discussed Field Trips in my post from Week 1. It’s a tool to help knit history and geography together by integrating text, maps, images and videos. I felt that it had potential to be better than a textbook, but in its first iteration, offered a very passive experience. Students click through numbered topics and occasionally watch a video.

The product is rather new and I have found no information about its effectiveness. I did find that the product is part of a “pivot” and update to the company’s base product “Maps101,” a database of resources for social studies, history and geography. Sadly, a discussion of the rebranding and product development seemed to focus on teacher, rather than learner, needs. The other key drivers were support for standards and the development of a modern and fun user interface. I did not find any discussion of learning theories or user engagement from the designer who shared these insights.

I think Field Trips could be enhanced with some active learning!

The Weak Points

I will focus on just one part of one Field Trip: the second element (Pin 2) called Geography of the Nile in the Field Trip titled Gift of the Nile (it’s a sample Field Trip, open to all). Here are the concerns I shared about this content in Week 1.
It [Pin 2] discusses how the river is formed by the merging of the White and Blue Niles. It goes on to mention some rapids [caused by cataracts] that are treacherous for boats at a location called The Giant Bend. I zoomed in and out on the map but could not find the two tributaries. Perhaps they were there, just not labeled? I could not find where the rivers merge or the location of The Great Bend. There is no search tool for the map. Even worse, the location “pin” for Item 2 on the map is not even on the river (see below)! A motivated learner would quickly jump to a search engine to find a better map of the waterways of Egypt!
Here's a refresher on the current interface and workflow. Students click through each piece of numbered content.

Overall interface and workflow for Gift of the Nile Field Trip
Here are details of the current map interface. Note the limited zoom tools and lack of a search box.

Limited Interactive Interface for Map Exploration
Suggested Active Learning Enhancements
  1. Give the students a search tool and a more complete set of "zoom" tools on the interactive map and ask them to find where the rivers merge. Ask them to explain, in general, why locations where rivers merge, are important. Ask them to give examples nearby or ones made famous around the world. (Three Rivers Stadium ring any bells?) 
  2. Ask students to ponder why the rivers might be called the Blue and White Nile. Have them offer up a hypothesis and a made up story of the names. Then, have them research the origin of those names to see if their hypotheses held any truth.
  3. Have students, again using the search tools, find the Great Bend and some of the cataracts. Ask them to consider how the bend and the cataracts might impact choices of where Egyptians live or work. There’s a great day vs. night set of satellite imagery of the area that helps reveal where the settlements are today. 
Why These Enhancements Might Work
  1. Having students seek and explore via an interactive (or even a static) map is active learning. Asking them to look at the merging of rivers in general ties what they are learning about Egypt to their general and perhaps local knowledge of rivers. This might be part of a reflection exercise, asking how the study of Egypt relates to their region.
  2. Hypothesizing about how physical features or their names appear is a kind of modeling. Constructing a story (constructivism), even a made up one, enhances build model building prowess. Identifying the “true story” can help students update their models and knowledge.
  3. Moving beyond the idea that that there are cataracts and a Big Bend helps push students beyond memorizing facts to more generalized knowledge of how physical geography impacts human geography. This is teaching for understanding, rather than just for content.
Being new to educational technology, I’m not aware of how similar interventions have panned out. Not only is Field Trips new, the underlying technology, story maps, is also new. In fact an example of embedding quizzes into story maps just appeared in August of this year. I’ll be curious to see if enhancements like those I’ve suggested are implemented in future editions.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Telling Stories at the New York State Geospatial Summit

Earlier this week I attended the eighth New York State Geospatial Summit. While the speakers were mostly "GIS" folks, the form is different from other events. All attendees participate in one track. This year the crowd filled our venue's meeting room to capacity at 200. The format is this: three speakers each speak for 45 minutes, then there's a panel where attendees ask questions. We do this twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. My job this year was to serve as moderator of the two Q&A panels.

Skaneateles Lake in sunshine; it was dark and gray during the event.
(Image by Catherine Nonenmacher, public domain)
The organizers carefully select the speakers and the quality is always above any "regular" conference. What made this year's speakers so good? Stories. Do you know the phrase "driveway moments?" Where I live it's associated with National Public Radio and describes how you pull into your driveway but can't get out of the car because you must hear the end of an NPR story on the radio. That's one definition of compelling storytelling. Some news stories (from Morning Edition, for example) have this quality but the exemplars are also found on programs like This American Life, The Moth and one of my favorites, 99% Invisible.

I attend a lot of conferences and hearing a compelling story is rare. I'm pleased to report I heard a few in Skaneateles  NY last Wednesday. The first speaker was Esri's John Calkins. I've known John for years and if you know him for his "top ten features in ArcGIS," you don't know his true gift. It's storytelling. He told a few stories on the theme Mining Space-Time for Patterns. Note that unlike some of the speakers who had "TBD" on their presentation page, John's topic was detailed on the website some weeks before the event.

John started off by offering the assembled attendees donuts from five different Dunkin Donut shops around the area. To my surprise many folks accepted the gift, and ate a donut, even though we just had breakfast! His underlying point was to bring up and explore location and time data about restaurant health violations in different neighborhoods. Everyone was vested in the data - since he shared which box came from which store along with its location on a violations map. That was actually a white lie, he let us know later. All the donuts came from the store in Auburn, NY.

John moved on to talk about pirates and when pirates do most of their pirating. He showed us a "data clock," something new to me, and explained how to use it, but kept the tech to minimum. He focused on the story. I don't think John mentioned Esri or ArcGIS once. No, he was there to teach us about using time in our geospatial analyses by telling stories. What I did take away about Esri and its software was subtle: I learned that ArcGIS (some bit of it - an extension maybe?) can do this these time analyses. In the end, I felt satisfied that I learned something and was not sold anything. Did the stories increase the warm feelings I have for Esri? Yes.

How long did it take John to gather the data for the analyses and craft the stories? How many times did he practice telling the stories? I can't say, but I can say he didn't write that presentation on the plane ride to the conference! One of the presenters offhandedly noted one video was made on the train. I appreciate his candor, but sadly, his whole presentation had that feel, too. There was no story.

Paul Ramsey of Boundless is another great storyteller. I've known Paul for years, too. He reminded me we met at an Esri User Conference when he headed Refractions Research. Paul's presentation topic is not on the website, but he shared with me it was his "Open Source for Managers" talk. I've seen that presentation before, but wondered how it would "hold up" on second hearing. Like any great story, it was just as engaging as it was the first time! I'm not sure if Paul updated it since I last heard it (or since it was originally written), but since it now included Boundless in at least one slide, I think he did. I want to contrast that update with another speaker who showed a slide that indicated Facebook had acquired Titan, a UAS manufacturer. That was a rumor; Google ultimately acquired Titan in April.

While Paul was conveying some pretty high level content to us, there was a story. How do I know that? He regularly took detours from the story! Each detour was highlighted with a different "detour" graphic, and each detour was its own little story. Paul was also very careful to let us know when the detour was over and we were returning to the main narrative.

Image by Woodennature under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Even if Paul had written this presentation some time ago, he had to familiarize himself with it so it could flow during last week's presentation. It did. Again, how long did he prepare? I did not ask him, but I'm sure the answer was "some." And, like John's presentation, there was almost no mention of Boundless. I think it was noted in one or two slides as an example of a company within the open source community along with others like Cloudera and Red Hat.  In the end, I again felt satisfied that I learned something and was not sold anything. Did the presentation increase the warm feelings I have for Boundless? Yes.

The final storyteller I want to profile is Joel Caplan, a professor from Rutgers who studies crime patterns. He didn't provide details on his presentation, but when I asked him about the topic the night before he answered in two words: "dark alleys." Then he asked me what I thought he'd talk about. I answered with something on the order of "why crime happens in dark alleys" and "how we can prevent crime in dark alleys." That was pretty close. Caplan uses map algebra to identify factors that make certain areas more likely to encourage crime, then uses the results to predict other areas with similar characteristics where crime might emerge. Caplan's talk was pretty technical, but involved a number of "small stories" to make his point. I was thoroughly impressed when the first question posed from the audience related to his statistical methods. Caplan immediately moved to his "bonus slide" prepared for just such question because, as he noted, "it comes up a lot." The slide had all sorts of statistics I never heard of, like BIC. That didn't worry me; I understood the stories. And, I want to learn more about how such techniques might help identify and enhance spaces that encourage positive community behaviors  like eating well and exercising.

What is the big take away from these successful presentations? Stories. Tell stories. But, don't be fooled, telling stories is hard. If it were easy everyone would do it well! I'm not sure how John and Paul craft their stories, but I do know that organizations that have a reputation for great storytelling have "coaches" that help new (and experienced) storytellers hone their stories. The Moth holds workshops for regular folks, for high schoolers, for those in prison, among others, to craft stories. And, those who end up on the TED stage get some coaching. In short, if you want to tell stories like John, Paul and Joel, you may need to get some guidance and do some significant homework.

And two other observations:
  • I think it's virtually impossible to craft a good story, or a decent presentation, on a train ride or a plane flight.
  • Out of date slides suggests you did not prepare.