Science and Tech Workshop in Sri Lanka

Just got back from a short trip to Sri Lanka, where I conducted two workshops for teachers.The first was in Maharagama on Dec 15th & 16th. The second workshop was in Kandy on Dec 18th.

Here are some stories about the workshops:

Much thanks to my co-presenters:

  • Dr. Paul Funk – Engineer, US Dept. of Agriculture, New Mexico (Via Skype)
  • Ruben Gameros – Autonomous Collective Systems Laboratory, Arizona State University (Via Skype)
  • Scott Logan – Montessori International School, Mesa, Arizona (Via Skype)
  • Lal Medawattegedera – Lecturer, Open University of Sri Lanka
  • Nalaka Gunewardene – Science writer, author, trustee of the Science and Development Network
  • Nazly Ahmed – Web App Dev at Social Seed Media

Also the two Keynote Speakers:

  • Dr. Ajit Madurapperuma – Dir. Of Information Communication Technology, ICTA
  • Dr. Nalin Samarasinha – Astrophysicist at Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona (Via Skype)

Finally, thanks to the American Center in Sri Lanka who made this possible – especially Joshua Shen.







Hands-On Engneering – Spaghetti Tower Challenge



Hands-on session on Audio Recording

Scot Logan & Students

Hands-on session on Motors and Electro-magnetism

Scott Logan & students at Montessori International School, teach class – via Skype


Aaron Fernando facilitates session


Using audio and video for content creation


Photography in Science – From SLRs to GoPro

Nazly Ahmed, Social Seed Media explains Depth of Field


Engineering & Problem Solving – Building a Solar Oven

Paul Funk, US DOA


Teaching Science Writing

Nalaka Gunewardene

Cardboard 2

Future Ready Classroom – Google Cardboard & Augmented Reality


Future Ready Classroom – Teaching Robotics

Ruben Gameros, ASU, teaches class on robotics – Via Skype

Joshua Shen - STEAM Workshop Introduction

Joshua Shen  Delivers Opening Address

How bankrupt is our media? The ‘Caitlyn’ story proves it

You know the media has been suckered into a story when the entertainment media and the ‘quality’ news outlets begin quoting one another. Fawning over one another, really.

If you haven’t noticed, watch how the ‘Bruce-Caitlyn’ story in Vanity Fair is being echoed by outlets sch as The New York Times (The Woman Behind Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover),TMZ (reporting on the Diane Sawyer interview about “the biggest reveal of 2015 for sure…”), to Us Magazine, and the Perez Hilton’s of this world.

Consider too, the ‘reporting’ being done, and the attempt to give the story gravitas based on the tweets. You know something is seriously wrong with journalism, when the headline such as “Caitlyn Jenner Crushes Record for Fastest Time to Reach 1 Million Twitter Followers” becomes a basis for a story.

Think about it. Would a reporter have written a story of ‘courage’ had half a million people ‘followed’ someone with no publicist or celebrity photographer in tow? The mad rush to cover this event –and it seems like a media event, when you think about how carefully orchestrated it is, with photo-shoots, and Kardashian-ized comments going back and forth– even had Us Weekly retracting a story.

There are so much more important things the media could be occupied with, but all we get is a story validated by the number of tweets, followers, viewers and  ‘unique authors.’

To be fair, one media outlet, asked the tough question. Melissa Block of NPR asked this of Buzz Bissinger:

I didn’t know until I read your story, Buzz, that Caitlyn Jenner has a deal with the E! television network for a docuseries about her life. It’s the same team that does “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” Why is she doing this? Is it the money? Is she at all worried about exploitation?

His answer?

“I think part of it is money. As she says in the piece, you know, I’m a businesswoman. I have a right to make a living…”

And we have a right to tune out this nonsense.


Podcasting is hot stuff. Again!

There seems to be a growth spurt for podcasting.

I love the fact that the audio format has been on the upswing, even despite the explosion of screen-based communication options. Depending on who you ask, they will tell you video didn’t assassinate the radio star for various reasons. Such as

  • Podcasts is immensely portable, and does is perfect for multi-tasking
  • Podcasts capture the ‘authentic’ voice of the person or the moment being represented – no fake ‘DJ voice’ required
  • Podcasts have in their DNA something akin to long-form journalism – deep dives into content, rather than skimming a topic

  • Podcasts lend themselves to drama, even while being authentic. The nearest thing to the documentary.

My recent favorites are Snap Judgement, Serial, Invisibilia (former radio Lab producers), and Star Talk.

Apart from the usual line up of This American Life, For Immediate Release, and EdReach, an education podcast for Ed-tech matters I now dabble in.


Interestingly this year will be six years since I first got into podcasting. And this year may be the year we begin podcasts at my school. More on this in a later post!

Why SoundCloud rocks

Whenever I get tired of reading the news, I switch to SoundCloud.

I’m currently doing a series of lessons with my students on audio, and having them experiment with the power of voice. (I know: It fits nicely into the theme I’ve been plugging in my book, Chat Republic.) Truth is, young people are enamored by video, and instinctively see audio as its poor-relation.

But ever so often, one of them says something in a microphone that makes them realize how simple and real an audio experience could be.

Here’s one that is part of an NPR experiment itself. An experiment to study why audio seldom goes viral.

It’s almost impossible to listen to this and not (a) feel close to the event (b) wonder how someone managed to record this near-death experience.

If nobody’s listening, why are you talking?

I just wrote a column that comes down hard on a practice many of us succumb to: Continuous Partial Attention.

We shouldn’t be surprised that, even with so many digital channels at our service,  with so many ways to communicate, few appear to be paying attention. It is an odd –but wholly appropriate– topic to take on in the few weeks before I launch a book that talks of the power of conversations.

I’m not in the news business, but I do follow some journalists very closely. So here’s a National Public Radio journo, with some great advice. he speaks of how storytellers could be paying more attention to their craft in relation to their audience’s ability to listen and remember the point of the story.

Top 2 PR Crises of 2010 involve taking eye off social media

What were the top-5 PR nightmares that got you fired up, or made you realize that social media is playing a bigger role in our reputation systems, marketing strategy, and media presence?

There have been just too many mis-steps this year, but here are my top two.

But… why stop at two stories? Here are some other categories that 2010 will be remembered for.

As for the best of, here’s the one campaign we could learn from:

And for the Evergreen PR Issues of 2010, I have two strong contenders:

Most Overblown story of 2010

Media Foot-In-Mouth Stories

Why was it that this year saw so many ‘name brand’ media people get into trouble? I was personally shocked

  • When NPR sacked Juan Williams. No one really knows what’s hidden in the code words it used when NPR stated that William’s comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

What’s your story? Dump the ‘pitch,’ find your story!

I’ve said it before: radio, which seems a lot like ‘old media’ has one leg up over new media because it’s where people come to expect to hear stories. Not sound bytes, not pitches, not bullet points, not all those forms of condensed communication snacks we have come to expect in every other form of media.

Don’t blame it on TV entirely. There are TV programs that refuse to do the truncated story, shun the fast cuts, and slick camera work so as to let the story unfold. We have ingested this packet switching mentality that the Internet brought with it, and forced our stories into the tiniest bits of content. It’s become the default format, and we go along with it.

But guess what? It is not the only format that works.

Exhibit A: I listened to a long segment today on a new trend Daryl Hall started, called Live From Daryl’s House. It’s an internet phenomenon. But if it hadn’t been thoughtfully told as a story by NPR reporter Robert Smith, I would have skipped it.

Exhibit B: Radio again. This time I have to bring in the show I co-host with Derrick Mains as an example of how we make  ‘talk show’ (in most people’s minds it’s where the hosts yak all the time) into a storytelling space. We bring people around the topics of business entrepreneurship, innovation and corporate sustainability, and let their stories unfold.

Everyone’s tired of hearing pitches. Too many people tell you what they do in that distilled, dehumanized format. Stories have a different pace, and in fact, different goals. Yet they break through the clutter in a more powerful way.

What’s your pitch? Could you turn it into a story? Try it. Record it and listen to it. You’ll never want to talk in bullet points again!

Thoughts on another missing journalist

Even though I mainly write about marketing, social media and PR, my attention always turns to journalism and media. How could it not, when it is an integral part of those categories.

So every time I see a journalist incarcerated or detained for reporting, I think about how easy and risk-free it is to practice marketing or media relations.

We don’t give much thought to how none of these two practices would exist if not for the courageous reporters who bring in the stories, that create the readers, viewers and listeners, that sustain the organizations we take for granted. CBS and Catie Couric would not exist if not for people like Richard Butler. He’s not a household name, but last year he was abducted in Iraq and held for two months.

This week, it’s an American Journalist, Roxana Saberi. Her story is told at NPR and the Times Online. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders keep track of these reporters who have been imprisoned or killed (11, and 136 respectively in 2009!) These are more than statistics. We ought to at least speak out for them –if not re-tweet the awful news from the comfort of our cellphones.

Speaking of which, you could keep up with incidents related to press freedom by following this British journalism site on Twitter @press_freedom

Clay Shirky on the power of web collaboration, media

Experiments in communication take off when they create ‘social capital’ rather than take that “big bang” approach, says Clay Shirky. He discussed this and more in an NPR interview and call-in last week.

Of course Shirky has written extensively on this subject of social capital, especially in Here comes everybody –the the best book on social media, to-date, in my opinion. His analysis of new media is spot on. As in observing how technology needs to become ‘technologically boring‘ before it gains social traction. It has to first lose its geek stigma, then become ‘normal’, then ubiquitous, to finally become pervasive enough to start a revolution.

And for those grappling with how much PR and media presence is necessary I love this quote from the book:

“All business are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on the managing of information for two audiences – employees and the world.”

Which opens a rich debate on the blurring line between internal and external communiction, whether PR should be taught in business schools etc, but that’s grist for the mill for another post.

2008: When the definition of PR was revised

2008 brought some sweeping changes to marketing, journalism and PR.

But as PR got tight with marketing, technology and media, the old, timeworn, definitions had to be reworked, as the practice of PR changed. I found a thought provoking definition by Parry Headrick of Shift Communications) who called PR still about fishing, but:

“once there was but an ocean filled with a certain type of fish, today there are channels leading to different bodies of water, where the fish exhibit unusual behaviors and don’t respond to the old bait.

It’s PR’s job to find out what these new fish in these unusual waters like to eat – before ever casting the first line.”

The use of word ‘channels’ is not accidental. The angling metaphor brings up interesting analogies.

Key issues were the blocking of PR Spam, and the assault on the ’embargo‘ that closed out the year.