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Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.

ORION/CANARIE National Summit

Just in case you haven’t heard:

… join us for an exciting national summit on innovation and technology, hosted by ORION and CANARIE, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Nov. 3 and 4, 2008.

“Powering Innovation – a National Summit” brings over 55 keynotes, speakers and panelist from across Canada and the US, including best-selling author of Innovation Nation, Dr. John Kao; President/CEO of Intenet2 Dr. Doug Van Houweling; chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley Dr. Robert J. Birgeneau; advanced visualization guru Dr. Chaomei Chen of Philadelphia’s Drexel University; and many more. The President of the Ontario College of Art & Design’s Sara Diamond chairs “A Boom with View”, a session on visualization technologies. Dr. Gail Anderson presents on forensic science research. Other speakers include the host of CBC Radio’s Spark Nora Young; Delvinia Interactive’s Adam Froman and the President and CEO of Zerofootprint, Ron Dembo.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet and network with up to 250 researchers, scientists, educators, and technologists from across Ontario and Canada and the international community. Attend sessions on the very latest on e-science; network-enabled platforms, cloud computing, the greening of IT; applications in the “cloud”; innovative visualization technologies; teaching and learning in a web 2.0 universe and more. Don’t miss exhibitors and showcases from holographic 3D imaging, to IP-based television platforms, to advanced networking.

For more information, visit

CANHEIT 2008: Enhanced Abstract

The program specifics for CANHEIT 2008 are becoming available online.
The enhanced abstract for one of my presentations is as follows:

From the Core to the Edge: Automating Awareness of Network Topology through Knowledge Representation

Ian Lumb – Manager Network Operations, Computing and Network Services (York University)


Like many other institutions of higher education, York University makes extensive use of Open Source software. This is especially true in the case of monitoring and managing IP (Internet Protocol) devices. On the monitoring front, extensive manual configuration is currently required to make monitoring solutions (e.g., NAGIOS) aware of the topology of the York network. And with respect to managing, NetDisco automatically discovers assets placed on the network, but is unable to abstract away unnecessary complexity in, e.g., rendering schematics of the network topology. These and other examples suggest that NAGIOS and NetDisco operate in the realm of data, and possibly information, but are unable to envisage network topology from a knowledge-representation perspective. Thus the current focus is on applying a recently developed knowledge-representation platform to such routine requirements in network monitoring and management. The platform is based on Sematic Web standards and implementations and has already been proven effective in various scientific contexts. Ultimately our objective is to extract data automatically discovered by NetDisco, represent it using the knowledge-based platform, and transform a topology-aware representation of the data into configuration data that can be ingested by NAGIOS.

A visual representation of the approach is illustrated below.

CANHEIT 2008: York Involvement

York University will be well represented at CANHEIT 2008
Although you’ll find the details in CANHEIT’s online programme, allow me to whet your appetite regarding our contributions:

Synced-Data Applications: The Bastard Child of Convergence

At the Search Engine Strategies Conference in August 2006, in an informal conversation, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated:

What’s interesting [now] is that there is an emergent new model, and you all are here because you are part of that new model. I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a “cloud” somewhere. And that if you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn’t matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile phone or a BlackBerry or what have you – or new devices still to be developed – you can get access to the cloud. There are a number of companies that have benefited from that. Obviously, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon come to mind. The computation and the data and so forth are in the servers.

My interpretation of cloud computing is summarized in the following figure.

Yesterday, I introduced the concept of Synced-Data Applications (SDAs). SDAs are summarized in the following figure.

SDAs owe their existence to the convergence of the cloud and the desktop/handheld.

Synced-Data Applications: The Future of End-User Software?

I recently asked: Is desktop software is dead?

Increasingly, I am of the opinion that desktop software is well on its way to extinction.

In its place, Synced-Data Applications (SDAs) have emerged.

One of the best examples I’ve recently run across is Evernote. Native Evernote applications exist for desktops (as well as handhelds) and for the cloud (e.g., via a Web browser). Your data is replicated between the cloud (in this example, Evernote’s Webstores) and your desktop(s)/handheld(s). Synced-Data Applications.

And with Google Gears, Google Docs has also entered the SDA software paradigm.

With SDAs, it’s not just about the cloud, and it’s not just about the desktop/handheld. It’s all about the convergence that this software paradigm brings.

A revised version of the figure I shared in the previous post on this thread is included below.

Once again, it emphasizes that interest is focused on the convergence between the isolated realm of the desktop/handheld on the one hand, and the cloud (I previously referred to this as the network) on the other.

It’s much, much less about commercial versus Open Source software. And yes, I remain unaware of SDA examples that live purely in the Open Source realm …

Is Desktop Software Dead?

When was the last time you were impressed by desktop software?

Really impressed?

After seeing (in chronological order) Steve Jobs, Al Gore and Tim Bray make use of Apple Keynote, I absolutely had to give it a try. And impressed I was – and to some extent, still am. For me, this revelation happened about a year ago. I cannot recall the previous instance – i.e., the time I was truly impressed by desktop software.

Although I may be premature, I can’t help but ask: Is desktop software dead?
A few data points:
  • Wikipedia states: “There is no page titled “desktop software”.” What?! I suppose you could argue I’m hedging my bets by choosing an obscure phrase (not!), but seriously, it is remarkable that there is no Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”!
  • Microsoft, easily the leading purveyor of desktop software, is apparently in trouble. Although Gartner’s recent observations target Microsoft Windows Vista, this indirectly spells trouble for all Windows applications as they rely heavily on the platform provided by Vista.
  • There’s an innovation’s hiatus. And that’s diplomatically generous! Who really cares about the feature/functionality improvements in, e.g., Microsoft Office? When was the last time a whole new desktop software category appeared? Even in the Apple Keynote example I shared above, I was impressed by Apple’s spin on presentation software. Although Keynote required me to unlearn habits developed through years of use Microsoft PowerPoint, I was under no delusions of having entered some new genre of desktop software.
  • Thin is in! The bloatware that is modern desktop software is crumbling under its own weight. It must be nothing short of embarrassing to see this proven on a daily basis by the likes of Google Docs. Hardware vendors must be crying in their beers as well, as for years consumers have been forced to upgrade their desktops to accommodate the latest revs of their favorite desktop OS and apps. And of course, this became a negatively reinforcing cycle, as the hardware upgrades masked the inefficiencies inherent in the bloated desktop software. Thin is in! And thin, these days, doesn’t necessarily translate to a penalty in performance.
  • Desktop software is reaching out to the network. Despite efforts like Microsoft Office Online, the lacklustre results speak for themselves. It’s 2008, and Microsoft is still playing catch up with upstarts like Google. Even desktop software behemoth Adobe has shown better signs of getting it (network-wise) with recent entres such as Adobe Air. (And of course, with the arrival of Google Gears, providers of networked software are reaching out to the desktop.)

The figure below attempts to graphically represent some of the data points I’ve ranted about above.

In addition to providing a summary, the figure suggests:

  • An opportunity for networked, Open Source software. AFAIK, that upper-right quadrant is completely open. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, so any input would be appreciated.
  • A new battle ground. Going forward, the battle will be less about commercial versus Open Source software. The battle will be more about desktop versus networked software.

So: Is desktop software dead?

Feel free to chime in!

To Do for Microsoft: Create a Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”.