What to expect in the near future

Hello all.

In my last post, I discussed the beginnings of my thesis and my expectations for it. I thought I would spend a few minutes today explaining what you will see here on the blog in the very near future.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time in class this semester getting my bearings for my thesis and laying the groundwork to really understand it, it has been a very slow process. However, with the semester coming to a close and final projects and papers due in all of my classes, I’m currently in a mad rush to get things finished up, tie the loose ends, ice the cake, etc.

Within about the next week and a half, you will see a new page on my blog. The page (not a post, but an addition to the blog, like my page that showcases my classmates’ blogs) will be the platform for my final project in Dr. Daniels’ class. I’ve been conducting interviews and writing survey questions for the better part of two or three weeks, and I’m finally starting to see results. As of right now, 41 people have completed my survey, and watching that number grow has been so neat, and it has given me a hopeful outlook for the future of my project.

The neatest thing that I’ve discovered in making my survey is that Survey Monkey, the platform I’m using, allows you to look at each individual respondent’s information. I can see what they answered to every question, and I can use their IP address to see where they are located in the world. So far I haven’t compiled that information, but I may do that with my project in the future to see what kinds of different people I may be reaching.

The other neat thing about this preliminary survey is that I’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions for my thesis and the real survey that I’ll have to conduct. I realized that I missed the opportunity to ask about a couple of things in this survey, so I’m glad that it’s a learning tool and not the final product. No one is perfect, right?

So please be on the lookout for my new page that will show off my thesis work so far. And think positive thoughts for my presentation to my professors in a couple of weeks!

Also, I tried to include a funny photo of penguins in this post, but the photo uploader is being finicky. Sorry!

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Please take my survey!

Here goes nothing! After many weeks of deliberation, confusion and frustration about my thesis, it seems that I’ve finally got a topic sorted out that I understand and can work with.

Because I know you’re all so interested (yeah, right), here’s the deal: I’m using John Dimmick’s Niche Gratification Theory, plus the help of a survey, to analyze which aspects of print books and digital books satisfy readers better than others. For instance, I’m expecting that connectivity to the topic beyond the book will be better satisfied by digital books, and good old-fashioned print books will better satisfy the need to share books with others.

That being said, I’m still in the very early stages of the entire process, but the class I have with Dr. Daniels is pushing me further into it, which I like but can also be stressful at times. Thankfully, my paper for Theory class is written (pending edits), so that will be a small chunk of the final thesis (which I’ve decided to call a project, doesn’t that sound friendlier and less intimidating?).

But with Dr. Daniels’ class comes yet another survey.

This time it was different. This time, it was all on me to come up with the questions, figure out how to word them and check for general sensibility of the whole thing. No pressure or anything, right? I didn’t spend hours debating the specifics of questions with my classmates. I had to start at the beginning and do research before I could even think about writing questions. Basically, I was in search of factors that influence purchases of print books and digital books, and I found quite a few, including cost, portability, and the convenience of buying books.

So instead of the classroom debate, I examined the questions myself and had a friend look over them for clarity. After a few minor adjustments, I saved it and it went live! So if you read books on an e-reader or tablet, please go take my survey to help me with my class. Here’s the link:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/printanddigitalbooks

Thank you!

Stop trying so hard!

It’s time for the Grad School Lesson of the Week!

Are you ready? Positive? It’s a biggie! Here we go…

No one is perfect.

I hit a little bit of a rough patch within the last week or so. Last Monday, I realized the very true fact that I had to plan, start and finish my final project for this class in the next 3-ish weeks. On top of the other things I have to do weekly, I had to work on a huge and important term paper for one of my other classes. So when I met this realization last Monday, I had a very optimistic plan for how to get it finished. Just like several other optimistic plans that haven’t quite turned out so well this semester.

So I spent the majority of the weekend trying to get the term paper finished, with spurts of productivity on the other project. I didn’t finish the paper when I had hoped to, but I did get it done today, so that’s a huge burden lifted off my shoulders.

After realizing that there was no way I could get everything done last week, I went with my second option: try my hardest, do the best I can and spend time working rather than worrying – or worse – panicking.

After I got through some really tough parts of the paper, the work wasn’t as bad, and I sailed through it in time to spend the rest of this evening catching up on some other stuff that I needed to get done.

The lesson here is that worrying never helps. Have a plan, but if it doesn’t pan out, take a moment to step back and consider the next move. Rework the plan. My grandmother always taught me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” So what if you reading responses aren’t amazingly insightful this week? Everyone has off days here and there. It’s probably not as bad as you think it is. No one expects you to be perfectly on the mark all the time. And if you find the rare person who does, don’t let them get to you. It could be an employer trying to motivate you or a professor who wants you to get the most out of the experience, but just know that your best is the best you can possibly do. I know I probably sounds like a Dr. Seuss book right now, but please just go with it, and save yourself some pain.

And if no one else ever reads this blog, maybe I will come back to it for motivation one day. It’s like the British say: Keep calm and carry on.

A webinar, a UA shoutout and going to jail

Yesterday was a very exciting day. My Contemporary Issues in Journalism class met one hour earlier than usual so we could watch the State of the News Media 2012 webinar. The online conference was based off research done by the Pew Research Center, with some collaboration with Poynter’s News University.

The hosts reported tons of interesting findings, and it would probably take days to explain it all, but here are a few interesting points that my classmates and I discussed:

  • In 2011, revenue from print ad sales decreased by $2.1 billion, or 9.2 percent.
  • Only 3 percent of adults reported getting news from Twitter, and 7 percent get news from Facebook.
  • Community news and niche news are on the rise.
  • Magazines have benefited from tablet sales and use.
  • TV news viewership of the three major networks increased 4.5 percent in 2011.

While watching this webinar, the hosts and my professor, Dr. Chris Roberts, encouraged us to follow along, tweet and interact with the event. Six of us – that’s half the class – did just that, and we used the suggested hashtag, #nuwebinar.

Then the following happened…

Katie: Economics section of this news media webinar is depressing. Where’s the money? #addollars #sadtweet #nuwebinar

Katie: Are they pulling questions from Twitter? I hope they read one from our class.. We should have created our own hashtag #nuwebinar

Me: @kwood88 Did you tweet them a question? It’s hard to keep up with the video and tweeting at the same time. My brain is on overload.

Katie: @christi_cowan No question in particular… I just want to hear Tom give #uagradschool a live tweeting shoutout #nuwebinar!

…which led to the creation of #uagradschool. Towards the end of the webinar, Tom actually mentioned Katie’s tweet about the status of the money in journalism, then he gave us a shoutout and said that he had been to our campus and that it was lovely. We were so excited! It had been very strange to watch my classmates tweet and read their comments on the video while we were all in the same room watching it happen, but livetweeting was a success!

Sarah tweeted this picture,

Dr. Roberts is one cool dude. He let us watch the State of the News Media 2012 webinar. It was interesting stuff!

and we got a response!

Poynter’s News U: @kissmymuffintop and the rest of the class: Say hello to Prof. Roberts for us. Thanks for the picture #nuwebinar

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, right after that, Dr. Roberts took us to the quad to visit the kingdom of Roll Tidelberg, an event sponsored by UA’s chapter of SPJ, where we signed away our First Amendment rights for a free lunch. There was no freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly or petition. It was a really cool experiment, and it made me pretty thankful that we have the First Amendment. In fact, we got in trouble for standing in a group and were sentenced to jail. Here’s a picture.

Erich, Katie, Kristy, Ana and me. I went to jail willingly. It was the cool place to be. It also happened to be the only shady spot in the kingdom of Roll Tidelberg.

You can read more about it in The Tuscaloosa News and The Crimson White.

It was such an eventful class! Thank you to Dr. Roberts for always keeping it interesting.

The pressures of usability studies

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated my blog, due to Spring Break being last week. My mom and I had a perfect vacation in Seaside with amazing weather, and I had a joyous time eating lunch at Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar every day.

Let’s jump backwards to the week before that, when we spent some time in class developing a script for our usability study. We based it off one offered in Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug, and we filled in the blanks to fit our needs. Our class is examining the College of Communication and Information Sciences website, the main resource for our students to find information on classes, faculty, scholarships and ways to get involved in the College.

The tricky thing about these scripts is making them complete without making them sound cheesy. There are certain things we needed to consider, including the fact that we were testing the website, not the individuals using it. Part of the script asked the users to think out loud and tell us why they were scrolling or clicking on certain things.

This week, I sat down with two of my classmates and we conducted the usability study with one of our friends. She found it very easy to “think out loud” to us, and we learned some interesting facts about what the website does right and what it does not do so well. We had a few challenges for her, and she eventually succeeded in all of them, but one was certainly a struggle. I could tell that she was getting a little frustrated and wanted to give up, but for the sake of our study, she pressed on. She eventually asked us for the answer, and I definitely had a hard time not telling her. We resisted, and she found the answer a couple of minutes later.

What I learned is that usability studies are much more helpful than I had thought they would be. I was surprised at how much we learned about the website. I am personally pretty familiar with it and have been using it for several years, so I guess I took its usability – or sometimes lack thereof – for granted. I’m glad we’ve made some progress in our study and will have some propositions for the College to consider when making future changes.

Update on my blogging experience

So remember back in that post when I talked about the things I wanted to do improve on my blog? I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far. I’m required to post once a week, but I try to throw in some other things just for fun every now and then.

I’ve also been making it a habit to add some pizzazz to each post. I’ve even managed to add some relevant videos to some of them. I try to include links to fun and interesting pages, as well as kickbacks to some of my own blog posts to increase my web traffic.

I’m most proud of myself for figuring out how to add a new page of information. Last night, I created a page that links to all of my classmates’ blogs.

My new goal is to ensure that I update at least twice every week, which might be a struggle, given that there are about eight weeks left of school and a lot to be done between now and then. I’m trying not to panic!

CMS? aka Can’t-Miss Software!

In reading chapter 7 of Entrepreneurial Journalism this week, I discovered the keyword, keyphrase rather, of Mark Briggs’ discussion of technology that is available to those doing an online startup: CMS, which means content management system.

The chapter explains that there are three types of CMSes, which is a fancy way of saying who hosts your website and what the design and behind-the-scenes area look like. The types he mentions are (1) simple and free website-hosting sites, (2) those powered by blogs and (3) full open-source CMS sites.

Briggs goes into detail describing each system and how it works, and he spends a particular amount of time on WordPress. As you can see, my class chose WordPress for our blogs this semester. The main reason behind this has to do with web analytics, which I’ve discussed in this post and that one. For me, the huge upside to WordPress is that I had actually used it before without realizing it. Confused? Let me explain.

I spent a little time working for a magazine that frequently updated news releases, product descriptions and archival material to its family of websites. When I started the job, my bosses taught me how to post those updates, and they frequently referred to it as “the CMS system,” but I never really knew what that meant. As it turns out, the websites were powered by WordPress, but I never made that connection until I started running my own blog. It’s a small world after all.

What I found interesting about Briggs’ explanation was a little something called Weebly. It’s a hosting website that lets users design their sites using a drag-and-drop function. Because I have a strong background in desktop publishing, this definitely sounds like my kind of project. I’ve been thinking about building my own website for personal brand recognition, and I love that Weebly also includes a blog function, so I could maintain my resume and contact information on the main site and keep a blog that could show my real personality. I haven’t tried Weebly yet, but it sounds fantastic. Have any of you used it before? What did you think? Is there another program that you like even better? Watch the video above and let me know what you think.

Surveys and Google Documents

I was recently introduced to Google Documents. I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve always been an avid user of jump/flash/thumb drives (sometimes I call it a junk drive, because that’s usually what I have on there). I’m pretty good about keeping track of them, but I also use Dropbox for backup, which is why it’s strange that I never took advantage of Google Docs after being a Gmail user for quite a while.

As wonderful and helpful as it is, I had a hard time adjusting to this tool. My first experience with it was a document of survey questions that my class was putting together. We were all invited to edit and add questions, and some of us had a specific section to work on. Since my part in the project is to digitize and collect the results from the survey, when we worked on the document in class, I took to overall formatting and checking for clarity and continuity.

I’m not sure if this is usually the case, but there were seven of us working on the document at one time. We could see who was working on each section, and we could chat with each other. The confusing part was when I wanted to rearrange some sections, and I had to make sure I wouldn’t interrupt the others’ work. It was also really hard to keep track of places where I had made changes because the others could go back and alter it again.

After we had gotten it situated, we had a class discussion, and on one particular question, after much debate, Erich and I rewrote a question together from separate ends of the room. It was really neat because I could see what he rewrote, and we chatted about it in the sidebar.

As it turns out, survey writing was also tougher than I thought it would be. We had prepared by reading about techniques, and I had also taken a methods class, but the nitty-gritty part is making sure you don’t include bias and making sure that the questions are clear and the answer choices are well-defined. My classmate Sarah was frustrated with the details of survey writing. Read her blog post and find out why.

Our survey should be published soon, and I’m excited to see what the results will look like. In the meantime, please check out my Twitter, as I update that more than the blog. And if you’d like to learn more about Google Docs, watch this great explanatory video I found (above). It’s fast-paced and simple, so go learn about new ways to simplify your life!

Eyetracking and the tablet

As someone who is interested in studying different tablet and e-reader devices (I’m currently in the process of planning the groundwork for my thesis), I am super intrigued by the fact that Poynter is extending its eyetracking studies to include tablets. The study they did in 2007 evaluated the differences in reader usage between print and online news, and now they are working to track not only eye movement, but also other ways that people interact with tablets, like swiping, zooming in and scrolling. I am totally fascinated.

This could be a big deal for not only the news industry, but also the trade book industry, which is my ultimate goal for employment. If Poynter’s study can help publishers understand how readers interact with the devices and the material, we can play on those strengths and weaknesses to provide better products.

The previous studies have only watched individual readers for a short amount of time, so it would be interesting to see the actual differences in eyestrain between tablet types if Poynter were to look at back lit screens and those with e-ink.

But hey, maybe Google’s new glasses will save us all the trouble and track the information for us.