Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Crazy Walls" and related tropes for graphic exposition

My note to day to several colleagues:
I'm working on an expository concept for a new project. I'm running
down a trope, a bit you might call "crazy walls", often used in
thriller movies, where the mind of the “crazy” antagonist is revealed
first and full-blown. The best example of this of the top of my head
was in "A Brilliant Mind" where we first see the genius’ blackboard
with manic scrawls or formulae linked by arrows. It produces a kind of
OMG this-guy-is-a-nutcase moment for the straight character.

The device can also be used by a sane protagonist --the de-coding
hero--fretting over a jerrybuilt cork-board with photos and post-it
labels linked with string, suggesting convoluted or esoteric
connections he has discovered. Other examples of the crazy wall might
be in the title sequence for “Rubicon”,  "The Number 23". Useful
variants could be any “wall” of display, personal shrine or collection
housed in a specific space.

What I'm really interested in is the expository potential for the
graphic itself, not so much the drama. Can you think of anyplace else
have you seen this trope used?

Thanks for any help you can give!!

Interesting idea you have.

These may not be dead on... but the are memorable for me.
There is a 'wall' in Usual Suspects that prompts the Kevin Spacey (character) with all
of HIS story components.  Detective character discovers he has been conned
right at the end of the movie... as Spacy is walking down the street.
The first 1:20 seconds is the piece of interest.

Se7en-Title sequence  (kinda graphic)

Momento  (awesome site.  Spend a little time on it... .and move your mouse
around for Easter Eggs)

Requiem for a Dream website.
(You will be 'fooled' by what appears to be a 1-900-website rediret Pop
Up... but stay with the site.... use your mouse on white screens.  Enjoy the
layers and complexities that are revealed with mouse movement.  If you feel
like you are at a dead in... mouse somewhere else and click on it.  Often
your screen will appear 'frozen'.  Just move your mouse and keep drilling

Sherlock Holmes
exquisite 'layering'

In the movie Amelie... there is a 'workbook' that is part of the story.  It
is a collection of photos the photomachine repairman constructed.... and
have some interesting graphics.

DIY segment

Fascinating wall

YouTube minimovie... with a couple of idea walls

Made of index cards?

Various walls

American Splendor

John to Steve:
Well, among other things, you've pointed me to the movie titles site which provides a lifetime of great ideas to steal.  Thanks, friend, for all of these, which send off sparks all over the place.

I know this was my quest, but obviously, you've already spent some time thinking about visualization of the abstract. You ought to check out, the zooming presentation tool, if (by some small chance) you have not seen it yet. It relies on the scalable nature of outline fonts to fly around text, jump scale and move laterally, allowing us to see context. The jumps in an x-y-z space are laid out in advance and rendered in Flash. There are other ways to do the same trick, but this could help with rapid prototyping. I see a lot of potential for this as a way of providing contextual understanding of non-linear processes and relationships.

I'm looking at all kinds of mind-maps. Any semantic or theoretical space (such as any map, a calendar, the Periodic Table of the Elements) in which, not just the text but the spatial organization is relevant and meaningful. Inspiration or Visio-built diagrams, if moved and "jumped" in After Effects could be cool too.

GoogleEarth “jumps” do with the planet what I want to do with ideas.

I liked this "crazy wall writer" for technique:

Hey John:
Sounds interesting.  Something kitchy I have always wanted to replicate myself!
Don't forget the "crazy wall" that's defined by the repetition of a word or phrase. Ala the "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" manuscript pages Shelly Duvall's character discovers in Jack's typewriter during Kubrick's "The Shining."  That was surely the reveal moment for her that he husband had gone insane.  Or take even miscreant Bart Simpson of cartoon fame, who's forced, every episode, to scrawl and re-scrawl some different character affirmation on the chalk board after school as punishment. Maybe that treatment makes him the malcontent he is? But actually, what's more insane, is he doesn't seem affected by it at all. Just part of his daily routine.

My other favorite type is the audience reveal pull out.  Where all the elements on screen seemed to be unassociated, but when the camera pulls back, a bigger pattern is clearly revealed. Not always something the protagonist has made out... yet.

There's a site called tvtropes that covers a bunch of these...

And one of my favorites: 

The Stalker Shrine (crazy wall)

Loved Rubicon. The characters in that would spread the materials (usually 3x5 cards with single words on them) out on the floor and "connect the dots."  Sorry to hear it wasn't picked up for a second season... a victim of Walking Dead's immediate, if visceral, success. (Must everything be zombies and vampires these days!) -Chris King, Reader's Digest

John -an interesting challenge. I need to think about this.  off the top I think of the CIA sculpture story  and music; Glenn Gould, John Cage.  more later.
 -Bill Clarkson

John- Happy Thanksgiving.  The place I see that device used the most is in all these cop shows like Traces, CSI, Law and Order.  Specific episodes are hard to remember, but the use that thing both from the 'figuring out the crime POV'  to the 'weird guy has shrine to the person he's stalking'  Maybe in the 'Silence of the Lambs' franchise.
-Mark Menza

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Nine Rules of Thumb for Digital Signage (or anything)

1. Less (words) is (are) more. Audience attention is inversely proportional to duration of your message. Read up on your Strunk and White, then pare down your language, if you use any at all, to the bare minimum.

2. Start a conversation. Ask a question. Nothing hooks a reader like being asked for his or her opinion. Find a way to collect and exhibit the results, and you've gone from attention to engagement.

3. Use a single, compelling image. Look a the most compelling article layouts and ads in magazines. They will have a strong central figure, and a controlled level of detail.

4. Serialize. Look up Burma-Shave in the ad history books. Start something that can be extended over time. Use #7 below to build interest, and pay off your readers' gift of attention in ensuing messages.

5. Typography matters. Learn to design with type, and match the font to your message. For best examples, look at award-winning ads in trades like Communication Arts.

6. Subordinate/emphasize.

7. Mystery can be engaging. Don't give it all away.

8. Make it a masterpiece.

9. Surprise me. When all are shouting, whisper. Stand on your head. Paint your nose red. Attention goes to the unexpected, so think of the surroundings of your exhibit space, and make what's on the screen stand apart from that. If your exhibit is in Times Square, go B&W, or use white space.

10. Convey your brand respectfully. Stand on its shoulders, steal it's moxie, but don't ever mess with it. See Target for best practices here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Open Data Meme

Here it is in today's Times: "Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s". The article goes on to report the leaps in our understanding of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain, traced back to the work of scientists and executives from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and others from industry, beginning in 2003. Evidence of the value of the sharing comes with new tools for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s using methods like PET scans and tests of spinal fluid. "More than 100 studies are under way to test drugs that might slow or stop the disease.

And the collaboration is already serving as a model for similar efforts against Parkinson’s disease. A $40 million project to look for biomarkers for Parkinson’s, sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, plans to enroll 600 study subjects in the United States and Europe.....the key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world." (NYT, Aug 13, 2010).

This links nicely to the book we were tipped to recently while visiting at the Census Bureau, "Open Government"** a collection of essays that center around technology as an enabler of the meme. This from the text:

"Government 2.0 is not a new kind of government; it is government stripped down to its core, rediscovered and re-imagined as if for the first time. … There is a new compact on the horizon: information produced by and on behalf of citizens is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation; government has a responsibility to treat that information as a national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need them. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance. In this model, government is a convener and an enabler rather than the first mover of civic action."

The meme has escaped even its early proponents. Openness will be seen, this blog believes, not just germane to data, but to all forms of information. Despite the controversy around the Wiki Leaks' and specific foreign policy issues, the Obama administration's position on openness and transparency* is already underway at the cabinet level in his government. It did not begin there (for example: the NIH's initiative originated during the second Bush administration), nor will transparency go away because it inevitably winds up putting governments in the hot seat.

This is not, strictly speaking about communications technology. Openness has been possible since Gutenberg. Technology is not the driver. Culture is.

** Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice By Daniel Lathrop, Laurel Ruma Publisher O'Reilly Media Released: February 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Learning Limits of Animation? (MM pattern)

What's better, a movie clip of an internal combustion engine, or a series of stills depicting the critical phases of the combustion cycle? Evidently there is some pretty solid evidence that, at least as far as learning goes, there is little added value in watching an animation of dynamic physical processes over looking at comparable, but static graphics.

Moving illustrations may be prettier, and take up more "reel" time, but based on experimental evidence (referenced below), it seems that learners can do as well or better looking at the stills. Why?

A couple of explanations are possible. One is that the sheer speed and control of the animation may outpace the viewers ability to grasp it.  Second, the moving depiction of complex processes may result in too many visual elements to observe at once. If two or more critical events occur simultaneously in the animation, the viewer may not catch them. Suppose we are looking at a cross-sectional view of a 4-cycle engine. In the time-locked presentation style of movies or television, where the learner has no control of the time-sequence, it may be difficult to see the relationship of say, the piston rods down here and the valve lifters over there on the camshaft at a given moment in time.

From a contstructivist perspective, this makes sense. Animation may be inherently more interesting at first, due to our visual brain's "orienting reflex", gaining initial attention. Understanding the action depicted however, requires independent construction, one where we perform the animation in our heads. We can do this more readily when the action is frozen and critical elements are juxtaposed and labeled properly. Putting the static pieces together allows the learner to form concepts transferrable beyond the lesson.  A little of our earlier discussion of best practices for voice-over and onscreen text can help us round out this pattern.

What does the science tell us is the best practice then for demonstrating dynamic processes?

1. Offer clear visuals, the more diagrammatic the better (excluding distracting detail)
2. Offer a "structuring explanation" with VO or text (not both)
3. Offer them as stills, allowing the user to spend as much time as they need to grasp the essential parts and relations,
4. Only then do you animate the process, allowing user control over rate and direction if possible.

Ref: Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Richard E. Mayer, ed. Cambridge University Press, p. 457

Friday, July 16, 2010

Learning and the Game Arcade

Games are found in all cultures, even the most "primitive". The need to play (gaming being a rule-driven offshoot, I'd guess) lies very deep in the human code, and the dominant theory seems to be that play is not just what the young ones do the kill time between meals, but an adaptive strategy of evolution.

Play, and the more structured variant that emerged with human's abstractive abilities we call games may help us prepare for life, whether it be stalking prey in the bush or making it in the corporate world. Games are inherently reinforcing, communal, fun, and sometimes even reach over into life-or death consequences for the players. Whatever form they take in a culture, games clearly invoke learning results and are worthy of note for anyone interested in building effective learning devices.

Games, as we know can be addictive too, hence they present a business opportunity.

Games get big audiences on TV, but the actience dimension is where it's at. Electronic gaming is huge, a multi-billion dollar business these days, and in terms of sheer hours of attention paid them, console and online games combined probably already surpass commercial television, if not music and movies as well.

Because of their potential to hold attention, present information and provoke adaptive (winning) responses, over and over again, gaming lies on the frontier of educational and training practice, but the players are mounting up and it's a good part of the border to be policing.

Games seem to fit nicely into the constructivist perspective we have adopted in this blog. They are engineered environments in which the learner makes his choices and responds to the results. Broadly speaking, Seymour Papert's Mindstorms are building games, but any medium that has free parts and carries along a set of connective rules for them qualifies as well.

As I've been browsing the field, I ran across several interesting papers at the Education Arcade (established by leading scholars of digital games and education at MIT funded by the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft and others) They have developed some intriguing game concepts and pedagogy for math, science and humanities they hope to mix with state-of-the-art game play. Link

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Coded Picture

In the recent book, Codes, editor Paul Lynde describes Victorian artists practice of embedding "problem" narratives into their complex paintings. Clues to this seemingly innocent (at first glance) little scene are found in the glove lying on the floor, the hat on the table (he is a visitor!) and the paradisical exterior, to name a few. All such clues rely on a deep but shared cultural vocabulary of images and symbols, which taken together, describe the situation and comment on it. The fun is in the decoding of course, and sharing a moral point of view.

In film, the "problem" picture is a fully developed trope; i.e. the whodunit. How many thrillers and mysteries have opened with a clue-laden, but unhinted scenario, only later to be fully explicated at the climax of the movie? A shorter, and now widely-seen version of the same idea is the basketball passing clip, which viewed naievely, is a snooze, but on second view surprises (prepared) viewers (spoiler alert) with a perfectly clear walk-through of a man in a gorilla mask. What's impressive is that almost nobody catches the anomalous walker-by on first look, and the lesson is that we see, not necessarily what is there, but what we expect to see there.

This is structurally similar to "Where's Waldo" and those embedded word drawings that used ot be a standby of the old color comics page in the Sunday paper. Looking for hidden clues in a still, as above, or a motion sequence,

From a constructivist perspective, "problem pictures" could be a valuable tool, perhaps in unexplored ways. How much more could be done with short clips, set up with an invitation to "decode" them? What about applying a previously-learned scheme to a real-world scene, then discussing it in small group for a while? Reversing it could also work: where a scene is viewed prior to the presentation of the scheme or theory.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Applied Research: The Worked Example

It is hard to find any empirically tested media tropes, but here is one: the worked-example effect, predicted by cognitive load theory (Sweller, 1988). According to him, this is the best known and most widely studied of the cognitive load effects.

"A worked example is a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or how to solve a problem” (Clark, Nguyen, Sweller, 2006, p. 190). Studying worked examples is an effective instructional strategy to teach complex problem-solving skills (van MerriĆ«nboer, 1997). This is because example-based instruction provides expert mental models, to explain the steps of a solution for novices.

Researchers Sweller and Cooper looked first at the teaching of algebra. Early on, they saw that merely showing worked problems was not any better, learning-wise, than merely having students solve problems on their own. With sufficient structuring, however, which reduces cognitive load, the method appeared to work better than unaided solutions.  Importantly, for media designers, they found that (paper) display of both  text and diagrams reduced cogntive load, as we covered in an earlier post (Split-attention effect). Sweller later proposed applications for animation, (closer to home for us).

Not for beginners
The folks this strategy works best for are the more experienced students, and just a little "worked" material seems to be sufficient, follwed by multiple experiences of unaided solving. All of this is related to a more general body of thought, coming out of Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, Vygotsky, and others, called Problem-based learning (PBL) where students collaboratively solve problems and discuss their experiences as they go, or immediately following the exercise.This is not a matter of dumping the non-swimmers into the deep end. PBL assumes some earlier, didactic training in various problem solving strategies and heuristic reasoning first. In this view, the teacher's role quickly shifts however, after providing sufficient theorectical and procedural structure, to that of a facilitator of active collaboration by students facing a challenging, practical problem. The payoff is solving in context, with the complexity of the real-world reflected in the process as well as the outcome.

This techniqie has been applied extensively in professional training for physicians and engineers, and is one I'm entertaining for the training of non-profit professionals in recruiting, fund-raising and enrollment tasks.

Most of the citations I've found are in classroom or lab settings. Applying the technique to video and online will take some imagination. Clearly, the media will have to model a process as well as introduce specific "challenge" materials to be solved.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Notes on Mutimedia Theory (2)

Here are the constituents of we might call modern multimedia theory, and their founders (... and for which we can thank Richard E. Meyer for lacing together in his wonderful book, Multimedia Theory)

Dual Coding Theory, Pavio
Working Memory, Baddeley
Cogntive Load, Sweller
Generative Theory, Wittrock

For all of these, perhaps the overriding component is this last, the generative notion of the mind (mind defined, for now, as simply as "what the brain does") as an actor, building meanings, testing them against evidence and knitting them into what has already been stored away in long-term memory.

The old model of the brain was a passive one. It fit well into the industrial model of schooling, with boxes and bells and students sorted by age. Sitting in those classrooms, we took in knowledge when it was placed in front of us, and our labor was that of mere retention for regurgitation at testing time. The emphasis was on all the social and spatial arrangements around the student, about teaching and not about learning.

This is important, I think, because we still see that old passive brain model reflected in schooling and in much of "adult education" and industrial training today. "Sit 'n git" still rules in too many places when we really should know better.

An active brain model is better suited to these times when machines are taking over for teachers in much of the non-school teaching establishment (....oh, the machines are coming to the schools alright, but we will probably hold out there for decades.)  The question for MM designers and educational technologists is what ought we be doing with these machines to make the best use of what we now know about human learning?

If the active brain is the foundation, dual coding theory is the first story of the emergent model. There are two channels for us humans; one for processing visual information, the other, auditory. Scholars have gathered a considerable body of knowledge about the interactions of these two channels and the media objects they encounter.

Oddly, a third channel, the haptic/kinesthetic, does not seem to have made much of a stir in mainstream, academic discourse yet, even though a century of experience with Montessori's constructivist ideas seems to be well-supported by findings on the value of movement, physical media, collaboration and discovery, not just for children but life-long learners. The interface and game designers are way ahead of the academicians, though, at least on the haptic dimension. (A good topic for a later inquiry.)

 Working memory and cognitive load are closely interlinked. More on that next time.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Multimedia Theory (1)

There is no grand unified theory for MM yet, but there are some well-accepted sub-theories that seem to hang together pretty well, and which could offer some practical advice for the multimedia designer.

Cognitive Load Theory is one such sub theory, established in the late '90's. Based on the metaphor of a computer's processing limitations as applied to the brain, the theory predicts that when humans are overloaded, their ability to process new information (learn)is impaired. The so-called split-attention effect was cited as evidence for the theory (a decrease in learning efficiency when exhibits carry redundant information). This choking down of our mental processes is more than just a matter of taking in too much information over time, like water slowing as it moves through a narrowed pipe. The brain is not a passive container, but an active processor in learning; we don't learn what we perceive, but what we construct out of what we perceive. This active process of building up new mental models, then relating them to our previous knowledge takes up mental resources. Any redundancy or overloading that inhibits this internalizing process defeats its own educational objectives.

Learning is not a result of being exposed to an exhibit, or simply recalling a memory, it is work, and takes energy and resources. "Exhibit minimalism" is the best practice. Hence, "cogntive load" suggests the following MM rules of thumb:

Don't put animation, narration and text on the screen at the same time. This provides distraction and makes learning harder.

Don't add extraneous visual or auditory details to an explanation. Same as above.

Don't place on screen (or page) text apart from the visuals you are trying to describe. "Working memory" is limited too, so the less one has to carry around the exhibit in recall, the better off they are.

Likewise, don't separate such explanatory items in time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Applying the Frame Story

According to Wikipedia, the frame story (also frame tale, frame narrative, etc.) ..."employs a narrative technique whereby an introductory main story is composed, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage for a fictive narrative or organizing a set of shorter stories, each of which is a story within a story. The frame story leads readers from the first story into the smaller one within it."

This is a trope that can be useful in making an appeal piece (for an Olympic bid, for instance). Each story conveys a moral or principle embedded within a specific narrative. One story tells all, each story supports the others. This approach has variety, simplicity, and memorability going for it.

The ultimate frame story may be Boccacio's "Decameron",  re-mixed a bit by Chaucer in "Canterbury Tales", but there are many modern examples from cinema, such as "New York Stories" (1989), "Thirty-two Short Films about Glen Gould" and Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" (both in 1993). The recent film "Crash" while, like a frame piece has distinctive sub-story arcs and protagonists, so jumbles the orders of presentation and occurrence as to make it another thing altogether (see the article in Wikipedia on Fabula and Sujet for more).

Before we get too academic here, for the story-teller who wants to keep and audience attentive, the frame story lets us make a big one out of lots of little ones. (more to come)