Month: July 2017

Innovation Team at BbWorld 2017

I attended Blackboard World 2017 in New Orleans last week, along with seven colleagues from The University of Alabama, including others in the College of Continuing Studies. The two keynote speakers, Jill Biden and Mae Jemison, were fantastic, but I was more interested in seeing what was happening in the Learning Management System that our campus uses. Below is a quick list of things to look out for.

Blackboard Ultra

It has been coming for a while, but the Ultra experience of Blackboard Learn seems to be rapidly approaching readiness for larger institutions. While there is still some basic functionality needed (they’ve just added True or False question types to tests, for example), it’s clear that Ultra is the priority for Blackboard.

Blackboard Collaborate

Collaborate seems to be rebuilt from the ground up. I didn’t attend the road map for this product, but it’s clear that there is heavy investment into (the new) Collaborate. It will be more integrated in both the course and the mobile applications.

A look at the Ultra gradebook.

Mobile Apps

Blackboard has split their main app into two apps:

Blackboard presented an ambitious roadmap for both of these apps, and I’m excited to see where they are a year from now.


Blackboard has opened up their developer program to anyone – there will no longer be a fee to become a Blackboard Developer! This is great news for developers building integrations, whether they work on a campus or in a small ed-tech startup. Furthermore, Blackboard has included the LTI 2.0 spec in some Learn environments, and they appear to be doubling down on their REST API. In theory, these two steps should help to reduce the need for Building Blocks, which are much more difficult to maintain and integrate.

I drove from Alabama to California to meet Jesus. VidCon — a religious experience.

Tote bag with slogan: Be Critical of the Media You Love
A tote bag for sale at VidCon in Anaheim sums up the feeling of the conference, although its go-to slogan is DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome).


Wednesday-Sunday, June 21–24, Anaheim, California

Mainstream journalists sometimes balk when I espouse why YouTube as an important news gathering and reporting tool. Yet it has come a long way since it’s first video was uploaded April 23, 2005. This year during VidCon (started in 2010 by Hank Green) released some numbers that back up the need for journalists to take note were tossed out from the stage by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. Take this one for example: There are 1.5 billion logged-in users visiting the site every month. Those users spend a over an hour a day watching video on their mobile device, which is staggering in a world of five-second attention spans.

Journalists should remember that YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18–34 and 18–49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

Crazy, epic, insane, ridiculous and thrilling are adjectives I’ve heard used to describe VidCon and that’s on point. But it’s also educational, enlightening and mind-opening.

Giant sculpture of "play" button outside Anaheim Convention Center.
The play button sits outside the Anaheim Convention Center and serves as a selfie magnet.


VidCon offer three tracks: Community, Creator and Industry, each a step up in ticket price and professional offerings from the next. While in one track people might be meeting the latest gaming, beauty or comedy gurus, elsewhere a panel on “Navigating algorithm changes in social video” and “Informing people in a post-truth world” are happening. (Sometimes media watchdogs become news at VidCon. This year at one of the panels, feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian — known mostly for #gamergate ––took the stage for a panel called “Women online” only to be harassed, videoed and stalked by her online haters.)

Photo of #YouTubeBlack panel members on stage.
One of the panels I attended was called #YouTubeBlack.

While old-school media grapple with how to reach the demographic that attends VidCon, VidCon offers sessions such as “Jumping the chasm from online to traditional.” It’s a media timeline in reverse.

I’ve been to VidCon twice now and both times was bewildered and awestruck. Not just because a man walked around dressed like Jesus, or that I could get more free candy than on Halloween as a child, but because I was able to learn so much. Yes, the bulk of attendees appear to be in the under 25 crowd, but growth in the Industry and Creator tacks balances things out.

A man in sunglasses portraying Jesus at VidCon.
“Jesus, you’re very big in Alabama, where I am from,” I told him.


VidCon also challenges assumptions about what journalism can be. I met Reid Nicewonder sitting outside the Convention Center at a table with a sign that said “What do you believe and why? 5-Minute Interviews.”

Man seated at a table prepared to record "What do you believe and why? 5-minute interviews"


I’m pretty sure I irked him by turning the tables and asking him tons of questions, although if that’s true, there was no sign of it. He patiently and Zen-like answered them all. “Was he a journalist?” I asked and, if so, what was his end product going to look like?

He told me he is gathering answers for a documentary. Not trained in journalism, he was more interested in philosophy and how people perceive the world around them. His social media handle everywhere is Cordial Curiosity, except on Facebook where he is Civil Discourse Network. When I pointed out that what he is doing could be considered journalism (with the addition of ethics and context) he neither agreed or disagreed.

The man who sat down at the table before me seemed confrontational, but by the time he left the table Nicewonder had killed him with civil discourse and open ears. Disarming nature oozed from his table, the opposite of the comments section on any news story.

Afterward I met up with Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, who taught for a year as a high school teacher in Los Angeles before he found his home in journalism. He was covering VidCon for Univision. He talked about the difference in ethical, credible reporting and media where “anyone with a camera” can contribute.

Jose Gramajo, a reporter for Univision, covered VidCon 2017


Next up on #followmylede series is an L.A. radio station. That city is on fire. (Literally.)

Reblogged with permission from a post by the same title at, published on July 3, 2017.

The mission? In Navajo Nation voices need to be heard. “Who else will tell those stories?”

Monday, June 19

12:30 p.m., The Navajo Times, Window Rock, Arizona

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. in his office June 19, 2017

The Najavo Times Chief Executive Officer and Publisher Tom Arviso Jr. radiates old-school journalist, but with a twist. As the person who oversees the day-to-day operations of The Navajo Times his paper, more than many, has to do double duty.

Not only does it have to cover the necessary societal watchdog issues, such as school boards, the environment and any number of other public institutions and issues, it also must cover tribal courts and tribal-specific issues.

Navajo Times Guiding Principles poster
Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times.

Guiding principles are posted on many walls of The Navajo Times. When I visit on a sweltering hot summer day, we stand in the middle of the pressroom, fans humming overhead. It is noisy and loud.

“I am so proud of these guys,” he said, beaming. “The quality of their work is better than anyone else’s around. They can kick everyone else’s butts. And they’re all Navajo.”

I admit my ignorance to him. As a white girl from Alabama with almost no ties to any tribe (I have Cherokee deep in the family somewhere), I stumble on how to approach a couple of questions. (When he uses the word “indian” I cringe because for so long, I have been taught not to use that word, yet I understand in this context how it’s OK.)

There are two stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture: 1) Rich, casino-owning people and 2) People who struggle with poverty and (because I have Type 1 diabetes I am aware of this one) diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Because of the first stereotype, I expect the newsroom to be large and imposing. I have USA Today in my imagination. Yet when I drive up, the newspaper is in a small, unassuming building. I am right at home here. Arviso welcomes me in with open doors. He is a man filled with kindness who immediately ushers me around the newsroom, a welcome change from some media outlets who — though they talk a good transparency game — seem hell-bent on keeping people out.

I meet Arviso’s staff, including Terry Bowman who covers arts and entertainment, among other topics, for the paper. I interrupt him as he is working on a story, and put him on the spot.

As past president of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, I know Arviso has seen a lot while fighting for equality in newsrooms for people of color. I don’t beat around the bush, and ask him specific questions about diversity and what that means to him and to our countries newsrooms.

I wondered if there was anything specific to the Navajo reservation (about the size of West Virginia) guaranteed to sell more newspapers for his readership. (In my hometown it’s Alabama Football or Nick Saban.) I was surprised at his answer.

Back in the pressroom, the new press foreman Ron Livingston discussed the struggle of printing and distributing papers in the desert, which can reach temperature lows and highs that present problems. (The former press foreman just retired after decades of service, one of several long-time employees Arviso is losing this summer. We talk about the importance of institutional knowledge in newsrooms.) Pressroom know-how is also institutional knowledge that must be handed down from person to person. It’s an art that you can’t go to school to learn.

He shows me the consistency the ink should be, and notes that the temperature — and even water — have to be exact to make it work properly. There is lot of science that goes into making colors on newsprint vibrant and to match what a designer might see on a computer screen before it prints.

Ink and tools at The Navajo Times
Ink and tools at The Navajo Times

Next up in the #followmylede series, VidCon in Anaheim.

Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at on June 25, 2017.