Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Learnings from Design and Implementing Think & Do's this past year

So exciting news!  My colleagues, Susan Resnick West, Jake deGrazia and myself submitted a review of the Think & Do process to the MIX prize last year.  You can see our submission here.  If you recall, we were finalists of the prize last year; and the organization reached out to us to let us know that they thought our submission was still very relevant and re-submitted it for us.  Here's info on the prize.  

They gave us a day to add more information on what we've been doing to date since last year's with the hope we move to Phase 2 where we can improve the submission even more.  Fingers crossed!

So for your enjoyment, below is a reflection on the learnings we've gathered from running 9 Think & Do's since inception of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, the additional material we added to the MIX prize submission.  What's great about deadlines under pressure is it really has you focus and get things written down and its all great material for the ebook we're planning to release in the Fall.


When we last posted, The Annenberg Innovation Lab was one and a half years into a lifetime adventure using the power of play to create networks of interdisciplinary collaborators. Our initial efforts have yielded our Think & Do process.  Over the past year, we have improved our execution but our fundamental process remains the same:
  • Ask Provocative Questions,
  • Invite Phenomenal Participants,
  • Create a stimulating Place,  
  • Get people together, mix it up, use Play and humor to flatten hierarchies and break down power barriers.
  • View innovation as a Process.  

Regular participation in our T&D Workshops is something we now consider a key benefit we provide our sponsors, among which are some of the world’s top media, entertainment, and technology companies. Over the three years we have been developing this process we have seen relationships grow across the media ecology amongst our sponsors, small media companies, our students, and faculty. Our process has also gained enough exposure that other companies and nonprofit organizations have asked us to personalize T&Ds for their networks. This increased interest has pushed us to start work on an e-workbook to be released Fall 2014. The book will further define our 5 Ps and offer a toolkit of activities that we hope will help people organize and facilitate their own Think & Dos. Since last January, we have honed our methods and thrown our nets wider, continuing our interdisciplinary work and expanding our process to help individual companies and organizations ideate and innovate.    

In the past year we have convened 2 additional cross disciplinary Think and Dos, focusing them on provocative questions related to the future of media and entertainment.

  1. Re-Envisioning the Home TV Experience: “Watching” and “Doing” TV Differently

  • Provocation: What defines the amplified experience of home television entertainment?
  • Participants included executives from the TV business and strategy side; creators and producers experimenting with content; user experience designers and developers; “wild cards” with an early appetite for reinventing, repackaging and enhancing the TV viewing experience; and USC professors, staff and students.
  • Everyone shared their best TV experience; mapped a typical 24-hours of viewing by a fictional TV viewer; discussed the shortfalls of our current home TV experiences; experimented with new technologies like Google Glass, Oculus Rift, 3D Printing and tablet experiences, to think about how these could add to or create new TV experience.
  • We came up with ideas like:
    • Enhancing a program with multiple points of view delivered to viewers through Google Glass (in development with prototype complete end of April 2014)
    • Using 3D-printed tangible artifacts to unlock extra content (in development with prototype complete end of April 2014)

  1. Business Models in an All-Mobile Environment


  • Provocation: How can we create new business models for the media & entertainment sector to take advantage of an emerging all-mobile environment?
  • Participants included Media & Entertainment executives, “wild cards” and USC professors, staff and students.
  • Everyone shared the most interesting way they had used their mobile phone recently; brainstormed ways to address current business problems with emerging mobile solutions; refined those solutions by incorporating some core principles for creating value for business and the consumer.
  • We came up with an idea tentatively called “Janus,” to take audiences deep into a studio’s library through a recommendation system using both algorithms and celebrity content curation. The audience builds a community around content through social media, fan pages, and geolocations. (in development)

We believe the Information Economy is being replaced by a new Imagination Economy: a new global boom in which the rise of ubiquitous, natural, and affordable technology, the rise of participatory culture and the new “maker” movement, the rise of a global broadband distribution platform with 3.5 billion users, and the rise of a rapidly growing global middle class converge to reshape the media and entertainment industries—and quite possibly every other industry as well.

The two new Think & Do events mentioned above are part of our participatory design research agenda in how media and entertainment companies can reorient themselves to flourish in this emerging Imagination Economy.  By extending the Think and Do ideations into action, our approach responds to the challenge, “How can we tap into emerging digital technologies and the principles that undergird them (such as transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, open­ness, commu­nity and self-determination) to imagine the future of business?”  To extend the one-day experience we establish working groups and build on-going networks through social media. Since many of these people are not local,  technology today such as telepresence, skype and google hangout facilitate partticipant involvement.  

Projects Generated:
To date, our T&Ds have generated four new projects, all in various stages of completion:

1) Flotsam, a children’s transmedia play experience (PROTOTYPE consisting of an ebook, trading cards, game, and curriculum, a lab experiment conducted in the 1st quarter of 2013 to explore EXPANDING WHAT WE MEAN OF AN EBOOK PLATFORM)

2) A children’s pre-programmed second screen experience with DirecTV (completed in Spring 2012)


3) Individualized daily news delivered by a personalized anchor (in development; CONCEPT PROTOTYPE EXPECTED SPRING 2014)Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 9.25.42 PM.png

4) A white paper focused on defining the field of transmedia branding  (publication released summer 2013 -- download here)

Expanded Think and Do Applications
In addition to the Think & Dos that we implemented as part of the Lab sponsors’ annual benefits, three organizations requested that we design and facilitate organization specific Think & Dos. Two of the three requests centered on transmedia branding, an expertise within our Lab, and the Director of the Arts Journalism program requested a Think & Do for a National Arts Journalism Summit.   We used our 5 Ps process to design these workshops which included:  

  • Transmedia Branding Think and Do for a major Clothing Manufacturer
    • Provocative question:  How do we connect the notion of “frontier” to global stories and spark a multicultural conversation amongst a new generation of consumers.   We asked the question, “How will this new generation pave their own definition of pioneering a new frontier–what does that mean to them?” “How can the company connect the campaign to their origin story.
    • Participants: 20 people including a few of the lab’s research fellows, members of the company’s value chain, as well as the creative team running the program.
    • We laid the groundwork for three key transmedia strategy pillars and brainstormed tangible deliverables.  These deliverables incorporated an awareness of a more globally inclusive world. By the end of the day, we had seeded a transmedia strategy for the brand campaign that impacted both the bottom line and global equity.

  • Transmedia Branding Think and Do for a Luxury Car Manufacturer
    • Provocation:  What are the branding and image challenges faced by this company?
    • Participants:  All levels of the company from full participation of the CEO, to the Creative Director, to the social media assistant.  Our goal was to create an equal creative playing field for all voices to contribute and feel as if their contribution mattered.
    • We ended the day with a draft transmedia brand map for the company to use as it further refined their campaign.

  • Future of the Arts Press

  • Provocation: How do we build a better arts press?
  • Participants: 64 artists, journalists, foundation executives, technologists, and entrepreneurs
  • Summary of the Day: We asked participants to share their first creative acts, discussed arts journalism's branding problem, used the Idealized Design process to identify the features of an ideal arts press, brainstormed projects that could deliver those features, and presented scopes of work and startup budgets for those projects
  • Scoped and budgeted projects included: a location-based mobile app focused on making notable art discoverable, a foundation-funded journalism organization focused on arts reporting for non-specialist audiences, and a storytelling framework for reporters trying to tell a single story from many different angles, in many different shapes and sizes, over many different distribution channels

Our core Think and Do team has now expanded, drawing in graduate students as well as faculty and sponsors.  While the teams sometimes operate independently we remain true to the interdisciplinary nature of a Think & Do.  A requirement for all our Think and Do’s is flexibilty and openess to include a wide range of stakeholders and colleagues as well as “wild card” participants that we bring into the process. In other words, we insist that our Think and Do’s “invert the pyramid and shift from the static value chain to value-creating networks.”

Lessons Learned:  
  • The importance of initial introductions. The opening introductions activity can be an incredibly effective community-building activity.  As a result, we have increased our emphasis on making intros memorable. With such a diverse group of people, creative introductions give everyone 45 seconds of fame: a moment to position and equalize before leaving egos behind. Think and Dos start with participants introducing themselves to the entire group by sharing a personal experience related to the day’s topic.  For example, at the Future of the Arts Press Think & Do, all participants introduced themselves by recollecting their first creative act. At New Business Models in an All Mobile Environment, participants shared their most novel use of a mobile device in the previous week. Some folks got unlost with geolocation and mapping; others found their cars; and still others used the device to downsize their possessions.
  • The power of Wild Cards, or people who seemingly don’t fit the model of other participants. For example, we invited a Red Bull executive to the Future of the Arts Press Think & Do.  We’ve found that people who don’t initially seem to belong in a room often very quickly help all the belongers see their problems and opportunities from important new angeles.
  • The importance of laying out the framework for the provocative question before folks arrive - Finding the right balance of enough but not too much information was the biggest learning process for the briefing books (many linked above in the different Think & Do’s we mention). The briefing book offers a place to curate and make explicit information that help formulate the provocative question that guides the day.
  • The need for a toolkit/framework for activities.  In order to scale, we need to move beyond our very small (3-5) team. After designing and implementing 9 Think & Do’s, we have begun to curate a variety of activities that can serve as templates.  Some of our best activities have been done multiple times, but no two are the same because each activity is a framing rather than a didactic lesson. A few examples include:
    • Character Sketch Trading Cards which give brief facts about stakeholders or consumers
    • Fishbowl Discussions happen in the middle of the room, unlike “expert panels” on stage, anyone can participate and members can freely tap in and out of the discussions.  This “model of engagement emphasizes the power of the individual over command and control”.
    • A Day in the Life creates a temporal understanding of how a product, process or policy impacts specific stakeholders.
  • The importance of FLIPping at the end of the day. FLIPing is Fast, Lean Implementation Planning. Without this activity, the energy of the day quickly dissipates, and people leave having enjoyed themselves but not having committed to staying involved in the “process” of innovation.

Over the past year, we have improved our execution but our fundamental process remains the same:
  • Ask Provocative Questions,
  • Invite Phenomenal Participants,
  • Create a stimulating Place,  
  • Get people together, mix it up, use Play and humor to flatten hierarchies and break down power barriers.
  • View innovation as a Process.  

Each Think & Do is a springboard into a process of innovation with impact.  The events are wonderful sparks, the challenge remains to fan the flame and maintain the networks beyond the one day event. We’re having some success and look forward to the communities feedback to move us to the next level of understanding this new way of working.

We look forward to your input and help as we continue to refine our process.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Exploring Curation and Discoverability from a Man + Machine perspective

At the Annenberg Innovation Lab, some of my research is helping to lead The Edison Project, a multi-year research and executive education project launched during this academic year. The goal is to better understand where the Media & Entertainment industry is heading in the next 5-10 years and, working together with the lab’s sponsors and partners, to discover, embrace and leverage new opportunities in The New Creators + Makers, The New Screens, The New Funding + Business Models, and The New Metrics + Measurement.

To launch each of these research areas, we start with a Think & Do workshop to bring a community together and brainstorm / ignite ideas (you can find more about my Think & Do process here).  In February, we had our first Think & Do for the New Funding + Business Models series asking the provocative question, "How can we create new business models to take advantage of an emerging all-mobile environment?"  One of the ideas (which was referred to at the Think & Do as Janus) had a goal of exploring ways we can take audiences deep into a studio’s library through a powerful recommendation system using both algorithms and celebrity content curation. The system operates at two levels, drawing viewers into both the back catalog and new releases. The audience builds a community around content through social media, fan pages, and geolocations.

I've been thinking for some time about curation and discoverability which stems out of the 5 years of research I've done in designing the participatory learning platform, PLAY!, a prototype that offers  users multimedia tools to build, share and enhance their ideas in collaboration with others. 

Building off of this and bringing it back to the Janus idea from the Think & Do, I think there are four vectors to consider when thinking about the data to collect when designing a user experience that offers a powerful recommendation system with the goal of combining both man and machine.

Think about it from these four vectors...
  • KNOWLEDGE (what you know) ...Here you might ask, "When I create an account and set my profile, what information does the application gather or request to better know the type of content I'm interested in?  How does the recommendation take what I'm interested in and offer discoverability, similar content that I wouldn't choose in a list?"
  • SOCIAL (who you know) ...Here you might ask, "Can I connect with my friends through this application?  Is it as easy as signing up using my FB, G+ or Twitter account?  The friends that I'm connected with via this application, are they interested in similar or different things than me?  How are these similarities and differences shown in the UI / UX?"
  • INTEREST (what you want to know, even if you don't know you want it) ...Here you might ask, "Beyond what I know, is there a way for this application to create phrase net patterns and word relationships between the topics I'm searching and participating in and associate it with improving my profile, who I socialize with and places I go throughout the day (physical graph below) to recommend new interests (whether that is new music, new friends, new advertising / brand opportunities) beyond the knowledge graph?"
  • PHYSICAL (where you are and at what time when you're looking for it) ...Here you might ask, "Are there iBeacons [such as the use of Estimote] within the physical space that offers more of a push notification (rather than a pull) of information, discounts, etc with this application in order to create a fuller experience?"
This is just some initial thoughts, and I'm currently working to refine this ...so feel free to give me feedback on it.  My goal is to identify characteristics of each vector and see how it offers added value across different types of recommendation engines / archives such as Spotify for music, Amazon for retail, Facebook for social network and Flixter for movies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Coding for the Future: The rise of hacker journalism

Hacking is a practice and a new way of thinking that the field of journalism is beginning to embrace. It is a way to participate in media to make meaning of the social and cultural transformations happening in our society and is a skill necessary to be a journalist today. This doesn’t mean that journalists need to become programmers avid in understanding multiple coding languages. Rather, journalists need to know how to tinker with code and re-configure the social spaces and media tools available to make sense and tell stories about the world we live in.

There are many examples that represent this shift in Journalism. 

  • The hashtag is a form of a hack to better serve the needs of citizens. Hashtags are a common social practice for million of users on twitter and a way to self-organize around subjects that matter – something we saw or participated in ourselves with #OccupyWallStreet or #ArabSpring. 

  • Maps, charts and graphs are forms of a hack to situate the reader into the story with personalized questions, such as “What’s the wild fire danger near my Grandma’s house? or… Do I live in low-line flooded area?”. 

With the rise of free visualization tools and more accessible data sets open to the public, the process of making sense of our world and our place in it has become democratized. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on this topic at West Virginia University's Reed School of Journalism. In a rapid-fire Ignite-style discussion, the journalists addressed the challenges and opportunities in inventing new practices and acquiring new skill sets on the front lines of big data. And they called on students to become change agents in their future profession.

To hear some of the recordings of the ignite talks by our Hacker Journalists, check out this great article from MediaShift! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Media Literate Media Award Nominations OPEN!

What do Voices of Hope, iCarly, and Jon Stewart have in common? They have all been winners of the National Association for Media Literacy Education's Media Literate Media award.

Nominations are now being accepted for 2013 and will be presented at the NAMLE Conference, Intersections: Teaching and Learning across Media. Do you know of a person, program, organization, or initiative in mainstream media that deserves this honor?

Specifically, we’re looking for those who: Have raised the visibility of media literacy education or media literacy. Have helped citizens better understand media literacy education or media literacy. Have provided significant, outstanding resources that enhance the ability of educators to practice the kind of inquiry-based media literacy education described in NAMLE’s Core Principles of Media Literacy Education.

Submit your nominations below!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New publication: Designing with Teachers

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I'm so proud of the release of a new publication, Designing with Teachers: Participatory Approaches to Professional Development. This report represents the collaboration of a working group composed of “a mixture of researchers, teachers and school administrators from a variety of disciplines, schools, and states,” who wanted to better understand how we might best prepare educators in order to incorporate “participatory learning” models into their classroom practices. This working group emerged as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

The report includes case studies of innovative professional development initiatives (Vital Signs, PLAY, Scratch, Ask Ansai, the Participatory Assessment Project) with a larger exploration of what it might mean to adopt a more participatory model for working with teachers. These “best practices” are shared in a robust multimedia format, which allows you to see media materials produced by these programs and their participants, and in some cases, here educators describe their own experiences.

My co-editor, Ioana Literat, summarizes nicely the key goals and findings in the report’s introduction: The principal goals of this working group were to:
  • Provide a common forum for professional development conversations centered around participatory learning;
  • Foster interdisciplinary dialogue among vested audiences in participatory learning;
  • Identify synergy among members and facilitate learning from each other;
  • Construct a common framework for participatory models of professional development;
  • Extract best practices and lingering challenges in the field; and
  • Build a collection of case studies exemplifying these best practices and share them with the larger community of stakeholders in participatory learning.

Our collective experiences in the realm of professional development and our dialogues within the context of this working group led to the identification and explication of four core values that we consider key to effective participatory PD programs. We believe that these four values, along with the design principles that they inform in practice, are an essential take-away from this multi-stakeholder conversation. Thus, in our view, the values that shape the design of participatory PD are:
  1. Participation, not indoctrinationThere is a critical need, in the field of education, to transition from professional development for teachers to professional development with teachers. Participatory learning relies on a model of “distributed expertise”, which assumes that knowledge, including in an educational context, is distributed across a diffuse network of people and tools. We believe that professional development for teachers should similarly be conceived and implemented in a non-hierarchical, inclusive and partic- ipatory manner, thus modeling the type of dynamic pedagogy that characterizes participatory learning. 
  2. Exploration, not prescriptionIn order to inspire this sense of ownership and co-design in the participants, PD initiatives must allow ample room for personal and professional exploration. Attention must also be paid to what teachers want from a professional development experience, rather than just what is required of them. By allowing teachers to explore who they are and what their professional goals are, the PD program can provide educators with an opportunity to connect to the content and to display their own individuality in the process. 
  3. Contextualization, not abstraction: PD programs should be tailored to the specific questions and particu- lar career goals of the participants. We acknowledge the tension between the desire to create scalable and flexible initiatives, and the need to cater most effectively to specific disciplines and levels of instruction; this challenge is all the more acute when it comes to sharing strategies for integrating media and digital technologies into the classroom. However, we believe that there is a way to reconcile this tension. By addressing the common core standards teachers need to fulfill, while in the same time accounting for the various disciplines and grade levels, program designers can craft versatile PD initiatives that represent – and feel like – a genuine investment in professional growth. 
  4. Iteration, not repetition:In order to sustain ongoing learning, the design of successful PD programs must provide opportunities for constant improvement, troubleshooting, and evaluation. In this sense, assessment emerges as a problematic yet nevertheless vital topic in the realm of professional development implementation. We hope that assessment practices in professional development will increasingly mirror the participatory shift in program design and reflection. 
These values offer a blueprint for an innovative type of professional devel- opment. By incorporating these values into the design of professional development programs, researchers and practitioners can efficiently craft initiatives that are participatory, non-hierarchical, personally and profession- ally meaningful, relevant, flexible and sustainable.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Submit a proposal to the 2013 NAMLE Conference

We are currently accepting proposal submissions for the 2013 NAMLE Conference to be held in Torrance, CA on July 12-13. The theme for this conference is Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media. Disruption is a watchword for the time we live in: competing social networking platforms, ever-shifting working styles, novel job descriptions displacing the old, manifold curricular and performance demands. With all these possibilities vying for our buy-in, it is vital to seek commonalities. It is at the intersections that we will begin to make sense and make use of a media revolution well underway and yet incompletely understood by our educational infrastructure. This conference will highlight the role of media literacy educators’ capacity to take a leading role in this nationwide task.

We are looking for proposals from media literacy educators, advocates, and researchers who use media as the backbone to teaching and who guide students to a thorough understanding of how to practice creative production and critical analysis ethically and responsibly across media.

Submissions are welcomed in any of the five session formats: Workshop (choice of 60 or 90 minute session); Poke, Prod, Provoke Panels (60 minute session, 3-4 panelists); Media Literacy Smackdown (2 minute presentation); What Works: Gimme the Skinny (10 minute presentation); or Fireside Chats (choice of 60, 90 or 120 minute session).

The Conference Program Committee will accept proposal submissions until 11:59 PM PST January 7, 2013. All proposals must be submitted through our 2013 Conference Proposal form. Proposals will undergo rigorous review by a committee of NAMLE members.

For more Call for Proposals information please visit

To submit a proposal, please use the online form at

For additional questions about the review process contact the Proposals Coordinator, Tisha Dejamanee at tishadee@gmail.com.  For general questions regarding the conference, email Ethan Delavan at edelavan@namle.net

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Flotsam: A Transmedia Play Experience

I'm working at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, in partnership with The Alchemists, to extend the principles of transmedia storytelling into the exciting realm of children’s entertainment and education by exploring the transmedia storytelling opportunities presented by Flotsam - a visual representation that encourages all to discover the fantastical story of the oceans and our relationship to it.

David signing a Flotsam book.
Flotsam was created by the award-winning author David Wiesner and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  In December, we conducted a two-day Think & Do Tank to discuss the potential of leveraging new media affordances for children’s storytelling, learn from the diversity of knowledge and experience that our attendees (including some of our sponsors such as Orange France-Telecom and Warner Brothers) brought with them, and play with ideas and each other in the sandbox (literal and figurative!).

You might be wondering what a Think & Do Tank is?  Over the past two years, I've designed and refined a Think & Do Process at the lab to foster an open space for people of varied disciplines and backgrounds to come together and effectively learn from each other and create together. The Think & Do Process often occurs over multiple sessions with the goal of creating real tangible products / productions. As Albert Einstein famously said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." This is not a single or solitary occupation but a collective, an embracing and transforming process of engagement where transparency across disciplines has us “see with new eyes;” to push ourselves and each other to be constant learners, to grow and innovate to better ourselves and the world we live in.

Collective Storytelling of Flotsam
A Think & Do process often is held for, at minimum, a full‐day immersive experience with the potential of extending into one or two additional days. The primary goal of a Think & Do session is to implore the idea of thinking while tinkering, or thinkering. Thinkering, coined by Michael Ondaatje in his novel The English Patient, means to think about something by tinkering with objects relating to the problem under consideration. It usually is unguided, exploratory and collaborative, and often used to explore aspects of difficult problems or to find solutions where none are obvious.  In other words, an active form of thinking. This has become an ideal means to describe a designer’s way of doing things.

Participants come from varied disciplines and backgrounds, are asked to come and be mentally present throughout the entire session, respecting the goal of the day and the resources allotted within the time frame. This also holds true with the group / company involved in the process that has a stake in the final deliverables. This open line of communication before, during and after the Think & Do session helps make the entire process stronger and relevant to everyone’s expectations. Through this process perspectives are synthesized from those who are participating in the creative process and key takeaways with possibilities for incubation of new research‐design projects are identified.

Ideating Opportunities with Transmedia
With Flotsam's Think & Do Tank, there were three big ideas that emerged for which we are now in the process of designing and developing prototypes and which will be shared at the upcoming USC Annenberg Innovation Summit. The “mother narrative” of the Flotsam Transmedia Play Experience will be six story chapters delivered in the form of DIY “explorer kits” that encourage creative remix through the use of a camera that will come as part of the initial kit. These six chapters will extend the digitally dynamic book that we will design for participatory retelling of Flotsam; user generated retelling can be shared as gifts with family members and peers, as well as shared into the Flotsam community though a recursive photo application we are also designing that will connect Flotsam stories and creations to be released and shared.

We will share the conceptual design of the Flotsam Transmedia Play Experience at the upcoming Innovation Summit on March 30th and then continue incubation with focus groups in late April.  So more to come!  I hope in future posts I'll be able to share some of my ideas on how we define Transmedia play, learning and performance.