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Targeting Public Speaking Skills via Virtual Environments

Recently I shared an a-ha! moment on the use of virtual environments for confronting the fear of public speaking.

The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to claim that the real value of such technology is in targeted skills development.

Once again, I’ll use myself as an example here to make my point.

If I think back to my earliest attempts at public speaking as a graduate student, I’d claim that I did a reasonable job of delivering my presentation. And given that the content of my presentation was likely vetted with my research peers (fellow graduate students) and supervisor ahead of time, this left me with a targeted opportunity for improvement: The Q&A session.

Countless times I can recall having a brilliant answer to a question long after my presentation was finished – e.g., on my way home from the event. Not very useful … and exceedingly frustrating.

I would also assert that this lag, between question and appropriate answer, had a whole lot less to do with my expertise in a particular discipline, and a whole lot more to do with my degree nervousness – how else can I explain the ability to fashion perfect answers on the way home!

image006Over time, I like to think that I’ve approved my ability to deliver better-quality answers in real time. How have I improved? Experience. I would credit my experience teaching science to non-scientists at York, as well as my public-sector experience as a vendor representative at industry events, as particularly edifying in this regard.

Rather than submit to such baptisms of fire, and because hindsight is 20/20, I would’ve definitely appreciated the opportunity to develop my Q&A skills in virtual environments such as Nortel web.alive. Why? Such environments can easily facilitate the focused effort I required to target the development of my Q&A skills. And, of course, as my skills improve, so can the challenges brought to bear via the virtual environment.

All speculation at this point … Reasonable speculation that needs to be validated …

If you were to embrace such a virtual environment for the development of your public-speaking skills, which skills would you target? And how might you make use of the virtual environment to do so?

Only in Canada …

Every year, York University personnel assist a gaggle of geese in making the passage from a quad to the outside world. This year’s passage has been captured and is available for viewing at YouTube:

Enjoy!

On Knowledge-Based Representations for Actionable Data …

I bumped into a professional acquaintance last week. After describing briefly a presentation I was about to give, he offered to broker introductions to others who might have an interest in the work I’ve been doing. To initiate the introductions, I crafted a brief description of what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years in this area. I’ve also decided to share it here as follows: 

As always, [name deleted], I enjoyed our conversation at the recent AGU meeting in Toronto. Below, I’ve tried to provide some context for the work I’ve been doing in the area of knowledge representations over the past few years. I’m deeply interested in any introductions you might be able to broker with others at York who might have an interest in applications of the same.

Since 2004, I’ve been interested in expressive representations of data. My investigations started with a representation of geophysical data in the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Although this was successful, use of the approach underlined the importance of metadata (data about data) as an oversight. To address this oversight, a subsequent effort introduced a relationship-centric representation via the Resource Description Format (RDF). RDF, by the way, forms the underpinnings of the next-generation Web – variously known as the Semantic Web, Web 3.0, etc. In addition to taking care of issues around metadata, use of RDF paved the way for increasingly expressive representations of the same geophysical data. For example, to represent features in and of the geophysical data, an RDF-based scheme for annotation was introduced using XML Pointer Language (XPointer). Somewhere around this point in my research, I placed all of this into a framework.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

A data-centric framework for knowledge representation.

 In addition to applying my Semantic Framework to use cases in Internet Protocol (IP) networking, I’ve continued to tease out increasingly expressive representations of data. Most recently, these representations have been articulated in RDFS – i.e., RDF Schema. And although I have not reached the final objective of an ontological representation in the Web Ontology Language (OWL), I am indeed progressing in this direction. (Whereas schemas capture the vocabulary of an application domain in geophysics or IT, for example, ontologies allow for knowledge-centric conceptualizations of the same.)  

From niche areas of geophysics to IP networking, the Semantic Framework is broadly applicable. As a workflow for systematically enhancing the expressivity of data, the Framework is based on open standards emerging largely from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Because there is significant interest in this next-generation Web from numerous parties and angles, implementation platforms allow for increasingly expressive representations of data today. In making data actionable, the ultimate value of the Semantic Framework is in providing a means for integrating data from seemingly incongruous disciplines. For example, such representations are actually responsible for providing new results – derived by querying the representation through a ‘semantified’ version of the Structured Query Language (SQL) known as SPARQL. 

I’ve spoken formally and informally about this research to audiences in the sciences, IT, and elsewhere. With York co-authors spanning academic and non-academic staff, I’ve also published four refereed journal papers on aspects of the Framework, and have an invited book chapter currently under review – interestingly, this chapter has been contributed to a book focusing on data management in the Semantic Web. Of course, I’d be pleased to share any of my publications and discuss aspects of this work with those finding it of interest.

With thanks in advance for any connections you’re able to facilitate, Ian. 

If anything comes of this, I’m sure I’ll write about it here – eventually!

In the meantime, feedback is welcome.

Blended Learning Panel

York University’s Institute for Research on Learning Technologies is sponsoring a panel discussion on blended learning:

“A recent workplace survey reported by Brandon Hall Publishing (2008) indicates that employing a mix of web-technologies with face-to-face learning is more effective than either e-learning or face-to-face instructional approaches alone. To explore the use and potential of “blended learning” further, please join us for a panel discussion featuring experts from various fields …”

This event has been re-scheduled for April 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm in TEL 1009 at York’s Keele Campus. I anticipate a lively and interesting discussion!

(Please check the IRLT Web site for the latest updates on the event.)

An Eight Pack of Leadership Traits

I recently came across an article by Hank Marquis on effective leadership traits for those in IT

Marquis distills the following eight pack of traits:
  1. Leadership means focusing on the needs of others, not yourself
  2. Leadership comes from your actions, not your title
  3. Leadership makes you accountable, even if it’s not your fault
  4. Leadership is not a 9-to-5 activity
  5. Leadership takes trust from your followers
  6. Leaders get their best ideas from their team
  7. Leadership thrives on diversity
  8. Leadership comes from continuous communication
Marquis elaborates on each of these traits in the article.
And as two final nuggets to further whet your appetite, consider the following two quotes:

Effective leaders build a trusted team and then follow the team’s advice.

… always give the credit to the team. The leader’s credit comes only by crediting the team he or she leads.

Injury Time: Remembrance of Things Just Passed …

What happened?

I strained my lower back. Badly. It was the result of two careless acts: 
  1. Lifting a heavy prop awkwardly at our annual Mardi Gras event. I felt a twinge of pain, and suspect that this predisposed my back towards injury.
  2. Attempting to leave a leg-press machine before completely releasing the 220 lbs of weight that I, back included, was still supporting. 
The pivotal incident (involving the leg-press machine) happened last Wednesday at the University’s athletic complex. Of course, I finished my hamstring curls and rowed for 20 minutes before calling it a day. Doh! 
And yes, I knew then that I was in deep trouble. 
Contrary to my spouse’s advice, I hauled my sorry self off to the University the next day, because I had things that must be done. Doh! With a notable, curvaceous list (upwards to the left), and walking speed 10-20% my normal, I can honestly state that I got a deeper appreciation of what it means to be differently abled. People rushing past me, icy walkways, plus doors stiff to open, were all-of-a-sudden on my radar. 
I barely made it through that Thursday.
I started my formal convalescence (aka. sensible acknowledgement of my predicament) on Friday morning. 

What did I do?
I convalesced. At this point, I had no choice! I took muscle relaxant and installed myself upon a heating pad. Save for attending to primal bodily functions, and attempting to do a few exercises I learned in physio that last time I strained my lower back, I remained in a sub-horizontal state through the entire weekend. I had to pass on a friend’s birthday party and a ski day 😦  
But, I:

I fretted. About work – not being there, work piling up, etc. And about my exercise routine – that picked me up, and then knocked me down! I communed with my family – when they weren’t making up for my shortfalls – and with our pets (three cats and an obnoxiously vocal husky).


What did I learn?
How good people are to me. From walking the dog to driving Miss Daisy (our teenage princess to/from dance/work/friends/etc.) to countless other things I normally do, my family filled the gaps and still had some energy left over for me in my supine state. When I did hobble into the office, I received all kinds of moral and physical support from my co-workers.
In addition to valuing my health, which I’ve been consistently better at for about the past seven months, I need to be careful – especially during acts of weekend heroism (aka. attempts at being handy) and/or exercise (technique and form do matter – ouch!).
I need to allocate more time for reading. All kinds of reading. Because I really don’t watch TV, except for NFL football, there’s nothing I can do there. Reducing the amount of time I spend handling email is about the only place I believe I can claw back from. In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss presents some provocative suggestions on this front; I’d better re-read that! 
The BlackBerry is a wonderfully powerful platform that suits me when I am highly mobile, but also when I’m highly immobile – like flat on my back, literally! It’s also the only device my back can actually handle me moving around with at the moment – my laptop in an over-the-shoulder case is a non-starter for me in my current condition.

Why did I share this?
So that I have something to refer back to (sorry), when I’m getting careless!  

iPhone Envy? Live Vicariously!

Canadians are faced with the ongoing reality of iPhone envy.

And although we’re not alone, the iPhone feels so close …

Therefore, in the interim, I’m living vicariously by channeling experiences from those in the US.

I recently asked a tech-savvy, former-coworker, who actually has an iPhone: “How do you like your iPhone?”

Here’s what he had to say:

My wife and I both bought an iPhone. She is madly in love with hers. I really like mine. Occasionally, email doesn’t work the way one would expect which can be frustrating. The problems are related to 1) yahoo.com problems, 2) timing issues of using pop or 3) cannot connect to edge/wifi. But it hasn’t dampened our overall satisfaction with the phone.

Also, I can’t get work email as our exchange server doesn’t have IMAP enabled, but that’s cool since I don’t want work email on my personal phone. 🙂 Everyone who see’s the phone oohs and aahs about it even if they don’t realize that its an iPhone. It just has a really slick appearance to it. In particular, when you bring up photos or a web site and you turn the phone and the picture automatically reorients itself and then you use gestures to move around or to move to the next picture and resize the picture, they REALLY get excited.

Mostly, I just appreciate it because the interface works the way you would expect/want it to.

It is definitely 1.0. Can’t wait for 1.1 both to fix small issues and to see what features it brings along!

I heard rogers is supposed to carry it, but there have been issues in the negotiations.