Conference strategy 101

It’s taken me years of attending conferences to realize I need a strategy. Sure, I planned what sessions to go to, but that was the extent of it. Being a relatively shy and sometimes awkward person, I avoided talking to people I didn’t know. I thought I could get everything I needed from listening to presentations. Sometimes I’d leave conferences really inspired, but most often I was bored and frustrated.

No matter what your reasons are for attending a conference, with a little planning you can get a lot more from the experience, personally and professionally. There are some things I’ve learned that have helped me to have more positive and productive experiences at conferences:

Don’t let the big names intimidate you. Most of them are normal, humble people who are just as interested in learning about you and your work. Think of them as friends, not superstars.

Schedule coffee chats or lunch in advance. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking. Is there someone you’d like to meet or talk to? Email them in advance and set up a time to chat. This will help structure a specific conversation and won’t leave anything to chance. I used to think it was so weird to email someone that didn’t know me, but it turns out they’re usually flattered and very interested in talking.

Plan what sessions to attend. Read through the schedule ahead of time. What sessions offer unique perspectives or information you can’t access from reading or surfing the web? Who is presenting that you might want to connect with?

Ask questions. If you’re shy or intimidated by breaking the ice with strangers, start a conversation by asking questions. You can actually carry a conversation for a long time by only asking questions! This is usually a good back up plan for when I’m nervous or just don’t feel like talking (it’s so exhausting for us introverts!).

Set goals. This has probably helped me more than anything. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but here are examples of some I’ve had in the past:

Introduce myself to 2 strangers today. It may sound crazy, but some of us have to start with the basics.
Take notes to share with my team back home.
Attend sessions that will help me to learn something I can directly apply to my work.

Take breaks.  Don’t try to attend every session. Your brain will turn to mush very quickly. Schedule in some “me time” or a quiet coffee break. Consider skipping a few sessions and attending social events instead. For me, that’s sometimes been where the best connections are made and most interesting conversations are had.

Now, to start planning which conferences to go to this year!

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Pushing the boundaries of academic publishing


As a recent PhD grad, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to publish as an academic.  I know I’m supposed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, the gold standard for academics. There’s often a silent attitude that writing for other mediums is a waste of time. Even books are considered second tier in many fields, especially for young scholars. For those who don’t work in academics, peer-reviewed journals require all submissions to go through a blind review process in which experts in the field anonymously critique the research ideas, methods, claims and the importance of the work. Only the highest quality research, making the most contributions to the field, should be accepted and published in the journals, although, arguably that isn’t always the case (e.g. due to political forces or inattentive reviewers). While journals typically contain the best research, the downside is that they’re inaccessible and expensive.

Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is incredibly important and can determine an academic’s future. Employment and tenure can be determined by the number of published peer-reviewed journal articles, and the quality and prestige of the journals they’re published in.

But we (academics) have a responsibility to do more than publish in peer-reviewed journals. That means writing in more accessible spaces and using accessible language for practitioners, designers and researchers alike. It means sharing our process, challenges, and lessons learned, rather than just finished results. The hope is that more people can learn from our work and build on it in interesting and meaningful ways.

Academic publishing is still really important, but we need to push the boundaries of what it means to publish as an academic. The peer review process and blind review have their merits, but could we benefit more from seeking open conversations about our work and crowd-sourced reviews?

There are a lot of unknowns about the future of academic publishing; however, changes are slowly on their way (e.g. Open access). Whatever the future brings, we need open dialogue about the research we’re conducting.

What do I mean by open dialogue? I’m referring to making research visible and accessible by sharing ideas and work-in-progress and inviting others to provide feedback and new perspectives. Not only do we need to make research visible and accessible, but also the conversations, feedback, and critiques relating to the work.

There are lots of options for creating open dialogue: blogs, commenting spaces, and of course Working Examples. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what the medium is as long as the space can serve as a hub for vetting ideas and crowd sourcing reviews.

In case you need some more convincing that open dialogue is really important, check out Henry Jenkins post from 2008 about why academics should blog. Jenkin’s post is blog-specific, but the rationale can apply to having an open dialogue in general.

It can help us reach a broader audience, including non-academic experts, the media, teachers, and other people our work is trying to reach. It’s not just an avenue for sharing information, but sharing it in a way that more people can resonate with. It’s a flexible space where we can express passion, feeling, and sense of discovery much easier than in academic publications. We can draw readers in with images, videos, and other media we can easily create and share.

It can help build our reputations as researchers and young scholars can build their reputation earlier in their careers. I imagine someone would have to do something really wacky or unethical for it to hurt their reputation.

It can make us proactive, rather than reactive to the media and other’s work in the field. This form of “just-in-time scholarship” means our ideas are heard in the moment rather than several months or years down the road, as is the case with publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

Additionally, it’s an invitation for feedback. It’s a great way to access new perspectives and work through challenges during a project rather than afterwards.

PhD student Megan Farnel is one scholar using a blog to vet ideas (and possibly crowd source reviews down the road). Recently, she began blogging about her dissertation, including notes to her committee and all the nitty-gritty details that go into developing a research study. Likely this will help her to document and make sense of a very complicated process and study, get feedback, and build credibility in the field. But, it’s also valuable for the rest of us. We can learn from her experiences, build on her ideas, and, of course, share them with her and the community.

Maybe writing blog posts and sharing Examples about our work won’t help us get jobs or tenure now, but I suspect soon it will – especially in departments that are forward-thinking and eager for change. Most important, open dialogue can give us something that a faculty job and tenure might not be able to provide: satisfaction that we’re doing everything we can to disseminate our work and make an impact.

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The open web & privacy: Highlights from Mozfest


I’m fully recovered from my very short (and intense) trip to London for Mozfest and am eager to share some insights. This was my first time at Mozfest and I’m happy to say it lives up to the hype. Forget the stuffy lectures – this event was all about brainstorming, collaborating and making. It was an amazing collection of creative thinkers and do-ers! Here are a few things Mozfest-ers got me thinking about:

Open access, open source, open data, open web…what’s the difference?
I’m a big advocate for open access. But, I’m embarrassed to say, I haven’t thought much about how “open web” or “open data” pertain to “open access” and “open source”. Mozfest gave me a crash course on the relationships between these terms. Here’s my take:

Open access refers to unrestricted web access to research, including peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles, theses, or books. Open access journals, like the Journal of Media Literacy Education are important for making research and information easily accessible for everyone.

Open source is a development model that encourages 1) sharing a product’s design (code, blueprint, etc.) through free license and 2) collaborating online to improve a product or design that is freely redistributed and frequently updated. Mozilla Firefox is an open source browser that has been modified to build new applications, such as Songbird. As a result of open source, better products can be created.

Open data. There is a belief that data, specifically government and scientific data, should be available to everyone to use or republish without copyright or patent restrictions. provides data from the U.S. government in hopes of making the government “more transparent” and to encourage creative use of data to drive innovation.

– Open web. Open access, open source, and open data are all part of the open web. According to Mozilla rep, Santiago Hollmann, the open web is defined by 1) decentralization, 2) transparency, 3) hackability, 4) open development, and 5) accessibility. The open web is critical for pushing internet tools and content in new directions and for empowering many groups and individuals (not just companies or the government).

The Mozilla Open Badges Initiative promotes an open web by encouraging individuals or organizations to create, administer and verify badges. Check out this video from Doug Belshaw to learn more about open badges:

Don’t wait to share your ideas and work
So much great work is being done to make the internet open, accessible and meaningful for everyone. I went to a session hosted by the Open Knowledge Foundation, OpenStreetMap, MozillaWiki, Wikimedia UK, and Creative Commons where we discussed how to improve collaboration and sharing among communities who take more “open” approaches.
Something we all agree on: Share your ideas, challenges, process and products early – don’t wait till you’re “finished”! Sharing openly and early on will result in more innovative products, better research, and improved learning experiences.

Privacy concerns and open web
I’ve been wondering how the open web movement will impact our privacy. Turns out, many others are thinking about this too. There was a thread of Mozfest sessions dedicated to privacy, and during the festival Mozilla announced Lightbeam, a Firefox add-on that shows the relationship between the sites you visit and third-party sites, making our interactions and experiences much more transparent.

Through, you can calculate your “digital shadow” and discover ways to reduce traces of your activity. Check out the game Data Dealer if you’re interested in learning more about what’s done with your information online.

For more highlights from Mozfest, check out the Mozfest Tumblr page.

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Connecting families and classrooms

I defended my dissertation this week…and passed!

Here are the slides from my presentation.

Take a look at my working examples to learn more about the Family Share Project and the research study. If you’re really inspired you can read the whole dissertation (hah!). I have a few publications in the works too…more about that later.

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Fun at Sandbox Summit

Last week I attended Sandbox Summit at MIT! The conference was a mix of educators, researchers and folks from the toy and children’s media industry. I got some cool stuff in my “swag bag”; discussed kids, media and learning from a new perspective; and saw some really fantastic presentations. A few of my favorites…

Fred Newman was magical. He sang, he acted, he made me laugh, but most importantly he demonstrated the power of sound in telling a story and eliciting emotions. Sound can significantly alter our experiences. Think about watching a horror movie with no sound – it’s not really that scary without the freaky music leading up to something big. Clearly, this has implications for designing media for children, but for me, Fred Newman’s presentation was really a reminder to slow down, listen and appreciate all the natural sounds around us.

When asked what his favorite thing he ever made was Dale Dougherty responded, “Make Magazine”. Dale changed my view on what being a ‘maker’ means. For example, he counts his love for cooking in his making activities. Being a “maker” doesn’t mean doing something grandiose or even techie. It’s about exploring an interest and creating something that makes you happy. Maybe that’s baking a cake, knitting a blanket, taking photographs, building a shed, or making a scooter powered by an electric drill. Think about it like that and we’re all makers!  Check out Dale’s talk:

David Kleeman, President of the American Center for Children and Media, conducted a workshop on provocative kids’ television from around the world. We watched clips from TV programs that showed kids tinkering with tools outside and mixing foods in the kitchen. Yes, they were unsupervised and could have gotten hurt, but the kids were exploring, asking questions, and using their imaginations! Some of the TV programs covered serious topics, such as divorce, sexuality and physical disabilities. My favorite example was The Little Kid and the Beast (trailer) about some of the effects of divorce. Why don’t we see these kinds of programs in the U.S.? Why are parents so afraid to address serious issues with media?

And finally, Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, co-founders of JibJab Media and StoryBots shared their passion for kids and media. I love that they’re creating tools for kids and parents to create, learn and laugh together. Ok I admit it…I had some fun of my own.
Check out their talk from Sandbox Summit:

Thanks so much to the folks at Sandbox Summit for putting together a great conference and for making their content available for us to share.

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Digital Media and the Participation Gap

What’s the participation gap? What are some solutions for closing the gap?

I recently guest lectured at UCLA and had an opportunity to share my thoughts on digital media and the participation gap:

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