Saturday, May 12, 2012

Academic Websites Ain't Got It--The A/B test

The most dismaying article I have read in recent months is The A/B Test:  Inside the Technology that is Changing Business  in Wired.  So here is the basic idea.  Brian Christian describes a process of changing updating websites that relies of data rather than what the designers or authors think is "right," "beautiful," or "useful."  Here is the basic idea.  Rather than make design and layout decisions based on hunches or design principles, the point is the make the decisions based on how users actually use the website.  I know, I know, .. use data to actual make decisions... seems elementary, right. 

My experience in developing websites in academic settings is that most people don't even know that you can collect analytic data on websites and most academic staff wouldn't know what to do with analytic data.  The typical academic website rarely even goes through any basic user testing to see how it works.  Yikes. 

The A/B test is simple.  There are numerous ways to design websites and multiple of ways of organizing information.  The A/B Test idea is the try things out and see what works.  Compare design A with design B and see what users like by randomly presenting some users with one version and other views with other versions.  Over time this approach this approach will refine the design of the website and provide a means to develop a design that fits the user rather than the designers.

Here are the basic principles that Christian outlines:

1.  Choose Everything  instead of having to make choices.
2. Data makes the call rather than the person at the top makes the call.
3.  The risk is making only tiny improvements rather than the risk is making a huge mistake.
4.  Data can make the very idea of lessons obsolete rather than experience teaches us lessons.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Scholarship and Klout

My colleagues won't appreciate this comment, but I can't help but think that Klout will matter in the future in scholarship.  In some sense it all ready does, but we measure Klout by way of citations in referred journals.  I can't imagine this will be sufficient going forward.  At present my citations on Google Scholar exceed my Wekcitations is the major scientific databases.  What does this mean?  Am I more citable online than in print?  Is this more important?  My citations in Google Scholar does not include my Facebook views, my blog posts discussions, my tweets (there are none incidentally).

In the recent issue of Wired, there is the suggestion that my Klout score my help me get better dinner reservations (have they ever lived outside a major metropolitan city,  think not?).  Although I can't imagine my Klout score earning me coupons and free refrigerators, I can't help but think that scientific scholarship will ultimately develop some version of the Klout-type scores for scientific publications that will capture the wider use and reference to scientific studies beyond the current level of citation indices. 

Martin Weller who writes about digital scholarship makes a similar argument in a recent issue of The Chronicle for Higher Education.  Weller has written a thoughtful book about the course of academic scholarship in The Digital Scholar. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Comments, teaching & HuffPo Divorce

My most recent post on the Huffington Post has gotten the most comments to date.  (about 290 in 3 days).  Most of my other posts generally only got less than 50 comments.

The comments vary widely.  On the one hand, you now get to hear what the students in the back of your class are whispering to each other during the lecture.  For example, in response to the title of my post "Are the courts biased in favor of mothers, one commenter, wrote,  "When someone tells you there are no dumb questions, refer them to this headline."  Funny and snarky.

Overall, this post got some very thoughtful and interesting commenters.  [These are probably like the students who sit in the front of the class.]  For example, 715W posted the following,
The solution is to put divorce into an administra­­tive system rather than the judicial system.
To each divorce case, assign an administra­­tor trained in mediation/­­conflict resolution­­.
The commenter goes on the explain more about how this system of managing custody issues would work with this system.  

There were also a number of commenter who cited specific research and/or other scholarship that enriched the discussion.  Chris Sirhc writes
"The court's ability to determine the best interest of the child is limited. See Robert Emery's review of custody evaluators­. He is particular­ly daming: 'There is essentiall­y no psychologi­cal science to support the measures and constructs designed specifical­ly for the assessment of child custody arrangemen­ts for individual children.' "
 In many cases these publications we new to me or added significant new perspectives to the discussion.  This is the type of discussion that I would hope my work fosters.

The third type of postings are the personal stories.  In many of the cases in this particular post the stories are by men who appear to have had particularly challenging, perhaps unfair treatment by the court system.  Michael Morrison wrote,
"I'm one of those odd-ball men who was awarded custody of his daughters. A couple of years later, Mom landed in jail, and decided that she wanted custody of the kids...Rem­ember, she was in jail.

Every few weeks, I'd be subpoenaed to appear in court. The experience was absolutely surreal: She would appear in her finest orange jail garb, and explain to the judge why she thought she should have custody. I would then have to explain why I thought custody shouldn't be awarded to an inmate.

This went on for months. It was absurd, and the court would never have countenanc­ed this sort of lunacy had the genders been reversed."

Overall, I think this was a good discussion.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Huffington Post Social Media & Web Strategy-- Mix Education with Tabloid

A central challenge in all teaching is to get the attention of the student.  So how is this done on the web? 

Bob Garfield, On the Media, asks this question of Farad Manjoo of Slate.  Here is what he says about the strategy at the Huffington Post:

"One of the brilliant things about what Huffington Post does is it really understands this sort of mix of tabloid news and straight news and politically sensational news better than almost any publication on the Internet. And it has this mix down really well, so that it publishes stories about politics, about legitimate news stories and then it also publishes the kinds you just cited."
 So what should this tell the rest of us about education?  What is the combination of topics that we might be using to get the attention of our students?  In parent education, should be include a place to share cute baby pictures and diaries of new parents?  What is the "sensational news" we could include about parenting? 

Of course, some will ask, is this appropriate?  Again, what should we do here?  What compromises our integrity and what is just savvy marketing? 

There are a number of good articles at On the Media on web strategy and search engine optimization, strategies for the "most emailed stories"  that are worth listening to or reading.  Also, note the multiple delivery methods used by On the Media with its content.  They did a very thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of the impact of the internet on society. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interesting Huff Post pattern

The editors at Huffington Post are doing a nice job of mixing the various postings-- various practitioners (therapists, lawyers, authors of various types), a little research and lots of celebrity divorces.  It would be interesting to see the pattern of page views on all these items, but there may be much to learn about how to get and keep people's attention. 

One interesting little episode surrounds a recent study on conflict and divorce by researchers at the U of Michigan. 

On December 8, 2011, I posted the following commentary on this study and today (Feb 24, 2011), the authors' did an interview with the Huff Post editors that headlined the page. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Linking News, research and outreach--An example

One of the central themes in my work  (See my proposal for linking science to practice)  has been to champion the linking of research, news, and outreach activities in order to connect all these activities in a more synchronous manner.

This past week I found this example based on a research study conducted at the University of Michigan.

In this news release about a study regarding marital conflict there was a link to a website inviting readers to compare their own personal ways of resolving conflict with those of the participants in the study.  If you click on this link you are taken to a brief survey that includes a series of questions that appear to be typical questions one would find in marital conflict instrument.  After completing the questions, your responses are compared to the "average" responses by survey participants.  In the final screen you are also given a variety of referral sources for counseling and other types of help.

The good part of this work is that the this is an interesting way to engage readers in exploring these ideas a little further and also linking them to potential types of help.  But there are also substantial limits to this.  First, the results that you are provided are not very easy to comprehend unless you are used to reading scientific tables.  These results could be provided in a more comprehensible way that indicated in words or with other visual aides that explained the meaning of the results.  I am sure that the scientists were reluctant to provide too much "explanation" because of genuine concerns about using a brief tool such as this for "diagnostic" purposes.  This is an important consideration, but these results could still be presented in a more insightful way.  The other problem is that the only "advice" that is offered by this quiz is counseling.  Surely most couples who are seeking insight and/or help do not need this level of intervention.  The "help" offered at this point in the quiz/activity could have included self-help books on marriage, links to appropriate websites and other material that addresses couple relationships, etc.  In my "perfect" world of linking research and outreach, I would recommend that the authors of the study and/or their colleagues produce some useful activities and/or resources based on their research and professional experiences.

Overall, this is a good step in the right direction for taking more advantage of the distribution of scientific information to the public.  This takes it beyond the mere "announcement" of a set of findings and invites the public to explore the ideas more deeply and in this case, apply it to their own personal lives.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother-- Another opportunity to teach parenting

The book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua is stirring an important discussion of the role of parents in their children's success.  Some of the controversy over this book was stirred up by the Wall Street Journal that titled an article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior."    But the topics discussed by Ms. Chua raise important questions about parent expectations, discipline, peers, practice, and so forth. 

Here are some interesting discussions:  Huffington Post:  

Slate magazine is hosting a discussion of the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua on January 27th. 

Participating Online about Parenting

This cartoon which shows a gun with the word "parenting" as the safety switch was a major topic of discussion in my house this week.  It raised lots of questions. 

1.  Are parents to blame for gun violence?
2.  Are parents "responsible for gun violence"?
3.  What are our responsibilities about dealing with our adult children's positive or negative behaviors?
4.  What are the challenges of finding resources/supports for our adult children with difficulties?
5.  What are the limits of our ability as parents to influence our children?
6.  If not parents, then how do we explain the troublesome behavior of young adults?

We didn't have any firm opinions on these matters.  As family life educators and professionals who study parenting, child development and families, should we be talking about this issues.  Should we respond to cartoons like this?