How a tool intended to help my students became a gauge for my own performance

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of assigning weekly journals in my class before. Despite preaching to my students every year that they should journal to bolster their learning capacity, I’d never formalized it as a learning tool within the course. This year, in an attempt to show them the value more formally, I decided to experiment by implementing a weekly reflection assignment that students have to fill out within a few days of class each week.

When the students submitted their first journal entry, I was eager to see whether or not the students were engaging deeply with…

Fancy online tools won’t take you far without a solid foundation

My online lecture on Creativity, Innovation, and Critical Thinking has more than 90 students enrolled this semester. Even before COVID-19, I was constantly searching for new ways to keep the class experiential for such a large group of students.

When the university announced last year that the course would be online, I had to revise my way of teaching from the ground up. I started by looking at how online classes on sites like Coursera and Udemy are structured. The common format was to alternate pre-recorded videos and follow-up activities, with some live events thrown into the mix.

Using this…

How the added cognitive load of virtual workshopping tools impede learning

When I give a workshop in person, I don’t have to worry about whether people are familiar with the tools. Participants can focus on the activity, as the cognitive load required to use markers, Post-its, and whiteboards is minimal. These tools have clear affordances and exist in a shared space where the laws of physics apply to everyone.

In a virtual workshop, this isn’t the case. Participants need to be both tech savvy and familiar with the latest version of the specific application. With each new app, they must relearn how to generate virtual sticky notes and figure out how…

How a new app that’s challenging existing video calling software reminded me of this potent cognitive bias

A screenshot of Around’s website showing faces cropped in a circle and the quote “Zoom out. Kill the fatigue that kills creativity.”
A screenshot of Around’s website showing faces cropped in a circle and the quote “Zoom out. Kill the fatigue that kills creativity.”
Screenshot of taken on April 27th, 2021

Last week, I tried a new video conferencing tool called Around created by a startup with the same name. Having recently raised $15 million in funding, their big claim is that their product can eliminate Zoom fatigue, the newly coined term for exhaustion caused by too much time spent on video calls.

From the moment I opened Around, it was clear that the application challenges some long-standing attributes of video conferencing technology. There’s barely an interface to the app; it’s not contained in a traditional application window and the videos are cropped in tight circles around each user’s face. …

An overview of the competing definitions for addressing AI’s challenges

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash. Modifications by author.

There are a lot of people out there working to make artificial intelligence and machine learning suck less. In fact, earlier this year I joined a startup that wants to help people build a deeper connection with artificial intelligence by giving them a more direct way to control what algorithms can do for them. We’re calling it an “Empathetic AI”. As we attempt to give meaning to this new term, I’ve become curious about what other groups are calling their own proposed solutions for algorithms that work for us rather than against us. Here’s an overview of what I found.

Empathetic AI

The good, the bad, and nothing else.

A thumbs up and thumbs down icon on the left vs a variety of different icons on the right.
A thumbs up and thumbs down icon on the left vs a variety of different icons on the right.
Illustration my own with images from the Wiki Commons and icons from FontAwesome

After watching Seaspiracy, Netflix’s hotly debated documentary about the unsustainable practices of industrial fisheries, my mixed feelings about the limitations of the platform’s thumbs-based rating system were vividly revived.

I found Seaspiracy to be sensationalist, highly biased, and in some cases factually problematic. (Since I’m not here to explain these problems, I invite you to read what marine biologists had to say about it here and here.) Given that I absolutely want to learn more about the environment, my dilemma boils down to two conflicting messages I want to convey to Netflix through my rating of the documentary:

  1. I DO…

Expanding social beyond social media.

Colorful computer cursors fly around with the middle two greeting each other
Colorful computer cursors fly around with the middle two greeting each other
Illustration my own

Our current model for the social internet is destination-based. We have to stop what we’re doing, head to a social media app or site, then start sharing and interacting with others. Think of these social media sites as malls and every other website as independent shops and houses in a sprawling suburb. The suburb is quiet. Walking around the neighbourhoods is drab. What few shops exist outside the mall are nowhere near as lively as the mall. You drive to the mall, walk-in, and there are people and sounds everywhere. …

How this new term can help us understand the way people discover things online.

An image of a fake search engine with the words “what is keyword foraging?” in it.

Before you look up something online, you might first need to figure out what keywords will help you find it. This has become a common enough occurence that the usability experts at the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) recently released a term for it: Keyword foraging.

In their article, they focus primarily on how online creators and businesses could use knowledge about keyword foraging to ensure their content can be found. In one example, they discuss how someone searching for a “duster cardigan” may have to start by using less precise terms, such as “long sweater cardigan.” …

Companies have paid lip service to our digital wellbeing for too long. Now we need to see real change.

Thanks to Sandeep Singh for making this photo available freely on Unsplash. Color changes and added title my own.

In an insightful talk by Steve Selzer, the designer and creative director paints a picture of how our “frictionless” world has long been dictated by Silicon Valley startups. In particular, the dominant formula for apps is to make them as brainlessly easy to use as possible. Need a taxi? Hail it with a button. Craving a burger? There’s a button for that too. Want someone to clean your bachelor pad? Button!

Realistically, none of these apps need to be that simple. But unfortunately, startups took the standard of using technology to make our lives easier and ran with it (right…

Thanks to Proxyclick for the Unsplash image. Editing and text added by me.

In an attempt to peel away from shady data practices, I’ve started using more private browsers, opting out of data sharing on websites, and logging out of my Google account and social media to minimize cross-site tracking. For the most part, the only immediately noticeable thing that has come out of this is that my ads are less relevant, but I still see the same amount. However, a side-effect I didn’t expect to miss as much is the personalization of the service itself.

Now, my YouTube recommendations have become a lot worse, searching is more cumbersome without some amount of…

Charlie Gedeon

Designing tools for more transparent algorithms and better cognition. Dedicated to making tech further our curiosity and creativity.

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