Dan Roam and Vivid Thinking

61nPVlgFr4L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve recently been reading Dan Roam’s book, Blah, blah blah. What to do when words don’t work. It’s an interesting read about visual language and why we should use it.


The most interesting aspect of this book for me is the vivid grammar chart, which I think can be used as a really good frame if you’re stuck on how to depict something. In it, he aligns visual language with grammar. Any sentence or idea can be broken down into parts, and each of those parts has a corresponding visual. At it’s most basic, it’s this:

Noun (who)= Portrait

Adjective (how)= Chart

Prepositions and conjunctions (where)= Maps

Tense (why)= Timeline

Complex nouns (why)= Combining maps and charts into multivariable plot charts

Complex verbs (how)= Combine maps and timelines to create flowcharts

Check out the link to the vivid grammar chart:

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There is a wealth of information on Dan Roam’s site, danroam.com , including videos and downloadable pdfs.



CJSF and sound

EdMedia has begun producing, and helping faculty produce more educational audio resources than ever before. While we offer occasional audio workshops, and have guided budding sound producers one on one as part of the Edmedia program, there are a couple other sources of sound expertise on campus that we think are valuable to check out. First our local radio station CJSF offers Audacity and Sound recording workshops for its “A&E” volunteers.  These are not regularly scheduled so you should sign up to their maillist to get the latest updates!


You may also check out their resources wiki for a bunch of CJSF related stuff including Audacity info and this gem on “Writing for Radio“, with many useful tips.


Finally the folks at CJSF are active listeners and have organized a “listening pod” (similar to a  book club) called “Pod Club – A Storytelling Podcast Discussion Group” which meets once a month to discuss…

If you’re a radio/media nerd and love listening to storytelling podcasts like This American Life, Radiolab, Love + Radio, Strangers, The Heart, 99% Invisible or any other sound stories come join the club!

The next meeting is coming up July 28th! and I’m very interested in checking this out!


In the future the edmedia team is hoping to create more opportunities for SFU faculty to explore sound, including something akin to a Soundcamp as fashioned by colleagues at TRU. More news as it unfolds!


Amplify Your Teaching PT I: Listening (turn it to 11)

Amplify set up at the Edmedia Expo Nov
Amplify set up at the Edmedia Expo Nov

Purpose of this activity: To listen to different examples of audio used in an educational context.

Using recorded audio in the classroom is old as recorded audio itself. Educational uses of audio were predicted to be amongst the primary uses of the phonograph intended by Edison in 1878, yet with recent improvements in mobile computing, sound is being increasingly deployed in an educational context.

Some reasons you might consider offering audio recordings to your students:

  • Be part of the “Revolution in podcasting”
  • Enables students to review material and free up class time for discussion.
  • Allow students to produce meaningful
  • Provides students with a study aid they can review after lecture;


Activity: Take some time, and listen to a selection of curated audio segments.

Oh the Horror…or How to Make a Cool Course Trailer

Using media can be a super effective way to connect with your educational audience. In this example Alec Couros from the University of Regina has created a savvy trailer for his course on Social Media & Open Education.

What makes this so effective is it’s awareness of the content, and while playful, the trailer offers information as to what is covered in the course while operating within an understood framework, i.e.: the old horror movie trailer. It’s a trailer within a trailer, and as such is a pretty fun way to catch the eye of the digital learner.

Creating Forms in Word


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One of the trickiest things to do in Word is to make a fillable form. However, forms are a useful tool if you want to distribute assignments digitally. To make things easier for you, her is a simple How-to guide for making forms in Word 2007, 2010 and 2011.

PDF form how-to guide coming soon!


The Thinking Eye



“Land Mammals”, by Randall Monroe, Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.5


In early August, I attended an advanced workshop in Seattle called “The Thinking Eye”. The presenters were info graphics pioneer Edward Tufte, graphics creator Randall Monroe, Maria Popova, creator of Brainpickings.org and Jonathan Corum, science graphics editor at The New York Times.

This eclectic group of people presented on subjects ranging from design architectures for information to diagrams, interfaces and presentations. All the presentations asked and attempted to answer a fundamental question: how do you get and communicate ideas?

Jonathan Corum’s presentation focused on technical and practical information. He discussed how to avoid the trap of pretty but useless infographics, and went over various diagrams and how they could be improved. An interesting tidbit I picked up was what he termed “the ugly sketch.” He showed us sketches of very elaborate data visualizations. These sketches were often just a squiggly line and few numbers, and yet they represented the essence of the idea and the final visualizations merely elaborated on them. Don’t be afraid to be ugly, Jonathan advised. Get the idea out there; the simpler you can make it for people to read, the better. You can see some of his work here.

Maria Popova’s presentation was more philosophical. She spoke about her frustration with traditional academic structures, and how that rigidity rids people of creativity. She saw how this approach translated in her workplace, where her coworkers recycled the same information and ideas within the same field over and over. To combat this, she began to send interesting links to her coworkers: five links at a time, once a week, on various topics that she found interesting, and most importantly, that were outside the field that she worked in. Unbeknownst to her, Maria’s coworkers were sending these links to their friends, and they to their friends. The newsletter grew to the point where Maria quit her job and focused her career on it. Maria is now a fierce proponent of the cross-discipinary approach. She believes that it makes people more creative because they can see links and make connections between previously disparate fields and ideas. You can sign up for her newsletter here, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Randall Monroe is a former NASA roboticist who creates a webcomic, XKCD, which on the face of it, is a light-hearted look at the world of scientists. But look a little closer, and you’ll see maps, charts and diagrams that ask questions that only an unrelentingly curious mind would ask. And then he answers those questions with accuracy, solid facts, and great design. His graphics prove that statistically correct information needs be neither scary nor boring.

Finally, Edward Tufte is a man who has dedicated his career to understanding the connections between science, technology, and art. I’ve written about this statistician/computer scientist/sculptor before. This time around, he discussed his ideas about how to stay curious, and how to look at the world around you with a “thinking eye”. He spoke about the importance of that moment when you see something for the first time without knowing exactly what it is and before you know how to label it. That is where creativity resides. Prolong that moment as much as possible, he says, because that’s where great ideas come from. He has written quite a few books on data visualization and you can find them on Amazon or in most bookstores.

All in all, it was an informative, refreshing workshop. I enjoyed how wide the range of topics was. I think the most important idea I took away was how much we can learn when we widen our scope and we don’t allow traditional barriers between fields to stop us from making connections and seeing things in a new light.