Monday, December 29, 2008

Tips for helping those who are new to the Internet

Believe or not, there are still some people who are new to the Internet. For those folks who have been left behind the technology wave, Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration provides some tips and good examples in "The Essential Guide to Internet & Software for First-Time Computer Users".

Though I doubt beginning computer users could read the post and understand why they need to install and use the programs, the guide does provide some good examples to us who are still teaching new computer users .

Among the programs that Amit sees essential for new computer users, my favorites are:

PC Decrapifier - will detect and remove all the unwanted trial programs that came pre-installed with your machine.

Firefox - is a web browser. Some think it’s better than Internet Explorer.

delicious add-on - to save favorite websites.

Two different email accounts on - The primary email address is to be shared with friends and family. The second one is to be used  for everything else such as newsletters and shopping deal alerts. - to enter a temporary email account without having to use your main email account.

KeepPass - to save the different passwords from day one. I use Password Safe, instead, but either program should work.

Laptop Alarm - will emit a loud sound if someone tries to shut down your computer or remove the power cable. Laptop thefts are not so uncommon after all.

Google Docs - Instead of using the preinstalled trial version of word processor use Google Docs for word processing and spreadsheets. - to convert files into some simple format (like avi for video, jpg for images, doc for documents, mp3 for songs, etc.) that the computer can play/open.

Windows Live Photo Gallery - to download pictures from a digital camera onto the computer and upload photos to common family Flickr account. 

VLC player - to play DVDs on the computer.

Live Mesh - to share files and documents with each other privately and backup important files onto the web.

Google Talk - to chat online friends

Meebo - is online program to chat with friends if they are are using some other chat software like, Yahoo! Messenger or AOL.

Evernote - will turn "paper" documents into digital format after you take a digital picture of them making it easy to find and manage.

FaxZero - to upload the document and fax it for free anywhere in the US and Canada. 

Feed My Inbox - to get updates via on pages that offer feeds, such as and blogs. Type the address of the website with a feed and you’ll be notified automatically via email with a new page is added to the website.

Tumblr - to share interesting pages, photos, and videos with others, such as family members.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

PowerPoint Ribbon on Slideshare

A new application allows you to publish and manage presentations from MS PowerPoint 2007.

Before installing the ribbon, I had to install Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 (my machine was using .NET 2.0).

The PowerPoint plug-in is explained in the presentation below.

The plug-in can be downloaded here . Tags: ,

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't be just a passerby this next year

The purposeful slow Sunday morning jogs allow me to think. Yesterday morning, I started out like normal, but did not feel very motivated so I stopped after two miles and started walking. While I walked, I thought of more solutions, ideas, and future conversations.

On this very familiar path, I also noticed things that I not seen before. In particular, there was a bird's nest in a tree next to the sidewalk on Samford Avenue at the top of the hill. I haven't seen it before. Usually at this point of my jog, I start mentally congratulating myself because I did not let the hill defeat me. I am usually so "full" of my accomplishment of topping the hill that I do not notice this bird's nest sitting on a branch, just a few inches from the sidewalk where I jog.

The nest reminds me that I don't want to be so busy running to the next thing that I miss opportunities right in front of me. It also reminds me that focusing on my own accomplishments--large or small--keeps me from seeing and hearing others.

Scott Fillmer in his post, Lack of Dead Poets Society Copy, asked the question "Why don't we challenge each other more?"

Why don't we, more often, challenge ourselves and others to see life and opportunities from different perspectives?

One of my favorite questions is: What is it that we need to know that we don't already know?

Learning new things means being open to learning, seeing different perspectives, trying things we've never tried before, talking with people we disagree with, possibly slowing down, and focusing on others' goals, needs, and wants--instead of our own.

As Brian Johnson says "the last thing I want to be is just a passerby.”

Like Brian, I don't want to miss my opportunity to see, hear, listen, learn, be more creative with my talents, and possibly, influence others in positive ways.

Why don't we challenge each other more?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Having conversations is something we enjoy and is an integral part of who we are. We have conversations almost anytime and anywhere.

To progress on projects, organizational and technology changes, and family decisions, having effective conversations is absolutely necessary. Practically anything that we want to achieve is dependent on having one or several conversations.

However, if the topics are important, there are differences of opinions, we have past experiences crafting our thoughts, and we are emotional, having conversations with people we work with, live with, and care for can be very tough, taxing, emotional, and stressful. When we are passionate, emotional, and pressured about some topics, we often don't listen well, nor do we communicate our own objectives well. By improving our individual and group conversations we hope to achieve personal, professional, and organizational goals. 

Last week I discussed some of the approaches given in the two books, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott via a web conference. My presentation as part the web conference review the two books are:

Slide 1: How this session came about: In the Leadership SIG meeting, we were discussing opportunities and needs for professional development when someone mentioned a persistent, consistent problem that she was having with an employee. I don’t remember what the problem was, but my thoughts, at the time, were that the problem was not going to be solved by one professional development session. Rather the problem has deepened through time and that the problem now affected the productivity of the department. The problem was not one that will be solved with with an easy supervisor to subordinate discussion.

As Susan Scott says in Fierce Conversations, “You got here—wherever ‘here’ is—one conversation at a time. Allow the changes needed at home or at work to reveal themselves one conversation at a time.”

Slide 2: Crucial Conversations is a 10 step process for engaging in conversations that are high stakes, high emotion, and opposing views. The idea behind having crucial conversations is that we should be able meet goals. Having needed conversations does not mean that we roll over. In fact, one premise of crucial conversation is that we look for higher goals –higher than your personal goals and higher than others’ personal goals because compromise is not really acceptable. Neither party wins with a compromise.

Slide 3: Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations encourages us to have fierce conversations that are intense, powerful, passionate, and authentic. Fierce does not mean cruel or threatening. Solving consistent, persistent problems will take having one conversation at a time.

Slide 4: Having effective conversations is synonymous of pulling weeds up from the roots rather than cutting weeds at the stem. 

Slide 5: Hang on because not having effective conversations can mean:

  • Future conversations are more difficult
  • Costs increase
  • Problems manifest
  • Risks increase

Slide 6: Goals for conversations

  • More funding alternatives
  • Better ideas
  • Better teamwork
  • Fewer mistakes
  • More solutions
  • Better relationships

Slide 7: Fierce Purposes of a confrontation

  • Interrogate reality
  • Provoke learning
  • Tackle tough issues
  • Enrich relationships

Reality changes—market, economies, strategies, our spouses , children, and ourselves.

As we drill down by interrogating changes, we learn. Susan Scott describes us as having Mineral Rights: Dig deep in one place rather than digging shallow in lots of places. If you are successful at asking, learning, and tackling tough issues, then the relationships will be better. An example of labeling which is a form of violence.

Slide 8: Fierce: The conversation is the relationship.

            Crucial: Conversations can violent or silent.

Slide 9: Fierce: Good silence—let there be space.

Space between thoughts where less is more. The good silence—the space between thoughts and in the conversation gives the conversation time to breathe.

Slide 10 & 11: Crucial Conversations

  • Get unstuck: Identify where you are stuck.
  • Start with the heart: Work on me; what is it that I really want.
  • Learn to look: Learn to recognize when the conversation has become crucial: violent or silent. The behavior of you and who you are in dialogue with.
  • Make it safe for others to talk about anything. Create a dialogue that shows and develops mutual respect and mutual purpose.
  • Master my stories by understanding you are the one in control of your emotions…not anyone else. Separate facts from “stories”. Watch when you or others justify behavior by telling stories of being a victim, villain, or helpless. My favorite quote in this section is “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?”
  • State my path: Share your facts, tell your story, ask for others paths, talk tentatively and encourage testing.
  • Explore others’ path: Ask to get things rolling, mirror confirmed feelings, paraphrase, and prime the person when the conversation has stopped.
  • Move to action: Decide who, when, and how.

Slide 12 & 13: Fierce Conversations

  • Master the courage to interrogate reality: Question reality.
  • Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real: Become authentic.
  • Be here, prepared to be nowhere else: be here—attentive, listen, learn.
  • Tackle your toughest challenge today .
  • Obey your instincts: A careful conversation is a failed conversation.
  • Take responsibility for your emotional wake: An emotional wake is what you remember after I’m gone. What you feel, the aftermath, the aftertaste, or the afterglow. Learn to deliver the message without the load.
  • Let silence do the heavy lifting: Silence makes us nervous. So do innovation, change, and genius. Silence can provoke learning, thoughts.

Slide 14: Crucial: What am I acting like I want right now? What do I really want?

Slide 15: Fierce: If you knew -- what is it that you don’t know? What are you pretending not to know?

Slide 16: Fierce: You have to get at ground truth before you can turn anything around. 

Slide 17: Fierce: “I take the high road” is often an excuse for not tackling the issue.

              Crucial: Avoidance is type of silence.

Slide 18: Crucial: Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision. Find mutual purpose.

Slide 19: Crucial: If you don’t first change your heart, any efforts to change your actions are likely to be insincere, shallow, & doomed to failure. We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions.

Slide 20: Fierce: While no single conversation is guaranteed to change...a career, company, or relationship. Any single conversation can.

More information on Fierce Conversations can be found on the Fierce Inc web site.

More information on Crucial Conversations can be found on the Vital Smarts web site.

Please fee free to listen to the web conference.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: significant fierce)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Responding to opposing and inappropriate comments

Most of the educators in my blogging training sessions are horrified about the potential of the use profanity, porn spam, or just plain ugliness in comments to their blog posts. They are also very timid about having to respond to  comments that completely oppose their viewpoints. They simply do not want to get into an online debate.

Usually I tell the participants who are learning to blog:

"Don't be scare of others' responses and don't be scared responding".

When others oppose our views, wonderful opportunities are created to provoke learning. When writing posts or comments that oppose others' views, be sure to stay: 1) professional, 2) credible, and 3) appropriate. Often, we should ask, what does the research indicate?

I also tell educators if they monitor comments, they simply do not have to post those that get ugly or use profanity. But, I warn them about being overzealous in monitoring comments that may portray them as being close-minded and not open to other viewpoints.

When someone posted a comment on 15 minute Showcase on Twitter (the post is about 6 months old--which seems really old in terms of blogging), I found myself in a dilemma. The comment was an opposite view, but used profanity.

Exactly it is:

Anonymous said...

Plain and simple - Twitter is the useless bastard son on Web 2.0,

Some say it is a troll

someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, with the intention of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

Most of the time, the appropriate response to a troll is to ignore it. I considered ignoring the comment. Who would notice the comment on a post that is 6 months old? I could delete the comment. After all, the use of bad language would warrant the deletion.

I had other choices, too.  Could I post a comment including the content but bleak out the words? Could I find a way to show usefulness of Twitter without going into combat? I saw the comment as a teachable moment.

Though it had really bad language, I sent a Twitter message--bad language and all:

anyone want to respond to comment "Plain & simple-Twitter is the useless bastard son on Web 2.0,"? See post Twitter":

This was risky approach; it was a troll.

Within a couple of hours of the tweet, I had:

  • more comments to the post (1 one of those from someone who has never commented on a blog before)
  • comment to my Facebook status
  • Twitter replies
  • An increased number of visits to my blog

Lessons learned:

  • Don't get sucked into a troll techniques. "Don't feed the trolls."
  • Look for teachable and learning opportunities when engaging in online conversations.
  • Remove the emotion when writing opposing viewpoints -- list facts and use reasonable explanations.
  • Search for alternative ways to address opposing and inappropriate comments.
  • Use methods of addressing comments that work for you.
  • Learn to comment on blogs.
  • Avoid leaving anonymous comments. Most of the time anonymous comments are thought to be cowardly. Also, there is no way continue the conversation when you don't identify yourself. 
  • Use Twitter to ask questions. 
  • Make Twitter what you want it to be: fun or useful. For me, it's both.
  • Use a variety of tools to share and engage: For instance, my blog and Twitter were both used to make a point. And one person commented in Facebook.
  • Let others do your talking. When I asked the question on Twitter, I knew some would answer the question in ways differently than I would have. People were expressive. In fact, most of this list was developed by what I learned from those who commented. Tags: ,

Monday, November 17, 2008

25 tools every learning professional should have

During the Corporate Learning: Trends and Innovations online conferenceJane Hart presented 25 Tools Every Learning Professional Should Have.

She developed this list of 25 FREE tools by asking others what their favorites are in the Directory of Tools Index.

The top 25 free tools are:

  1. Firefox --browser plus much more
  2. delicious --social bookmarks
  3. Google Reader --RSS Reader
  4. Gmail --email
  5. Skype --instant messenger and voice call tool
  6. Google calendar --keep calendar and share events online
  7. Google Docs --online office suite
  8. iGoogle --aggregate all resources in one place
  9. Slideshare --share presentations
  10. Flickr --share images and photos
  11. Voicethread --using in presentations and flickr images a collaborative slide show
  12. WordPress --blogging software
  13. Audacity --record and edit audio convert audio files into MP3 podcasts
  14. YouTube --sharing videos
  15. Jing --screen capture and screencasting tools
  16. PBwiki --wiki tool
  17. PollDaddy --polling tool
  18. Nvu --web authoring tool
  19. Yugma --web meeting tool
  20. Ustream --live broadcasting tool
  21. Ning --private social networking tool (create and customized network)
  22. FreeMind --mindmapping tool
  23. eXe --course authoring tool
  24. Moodle --course management system
  25. Twitter --keep in touch with people

These tools are being discussed on the Ning network for the Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008. Tags: ,

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The passing of a leader in the Auburn community

Last night, Virgil Starks died unexpectedly.

Virgil's university title was Senior Associate Athletic Director, Student Services. He also was Auburn Junior High PTA President, a Sunday School teacher, and a former board member to the Lee County Red Cross. He is survived by his wife, Donna, and 3 daughters.

I have known Virgil through church, kids' ball teams, dance classes, gymnastics, PTA, and work.

Whenever I saw Virgil, he always had a friendly, firm handshake. At ball games, he encouraged the kids; he was never critical to his girls or anyone else on field.

At work, Virgil challenged conventional and traditional thinking, sometimes becoming an irritant to those who had to deal with his outspoken and zealous stance.

There were only two instances where I stood on the opposite side from Virgil --it was not fun. Though the issues ended in "my favor", Virgil's resolve helped me improve the way I communicated, the policies I advocated, and the decisions I made.

By standing up for the "little guy", the unpopular, and the disadvantaged, Virgil challenged us to be more emphatic, understanding, and giving.

We will miss Virgil Starks. Tags:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Extension Guidepoints

In September, at Galaxy III Conference--an Extension professional development conference--W. Gaines Smith, Director of Alabama Cooperative Extension System presented broad challenges that are critical to Extension in the Distinguished Ruby Lecture, Extension Guidepoints. This post is an abbreviated version of his lecture.

These guidepoints are those that we in Alabama and in other states have developed, updated, and evolved during the past several years. They are not hard-and-fast rules, but directions of movement and trends.

None of the 6 guideposts are revolutionary. All will be familiar in some context. What I hope to do is offer some insight on each point that will take you beyond your current level of comfort and security.

1. Relevant Programs With Impacts and Outcomes That Make a Difference

Programs must meet local needs to the individual, family, or community, but we must also be able to aggregate the results to show impact at the state level and beyond. with statewide impact, multi-state impact, and national impact.

Customers (and they are customers) don’t care which organizational unit the program comes from; they just expect results.

Use of technology in the design and implementation of our programs cannot be an afterthought. While we acknowledge the needs of those without Internet access, we now know that 70 + percent of our customers have internet access. Our traditional methods of individual contacts, group activities, print media, and electronic media remain viable, but they must be balanced with individual contacts through the Internet. Texting, blogs, wikis, Moodle, Twitter, eXtension, and various social networking techniques increase in importance in the future.

These mass-individual methodologies allow us to do a much better job of customer segmentation, tailoring audiences' specific needs--when they want them. 

The challenge is to provide significant programs that people can’t do without.

2. Motivated Employees

“The future success of our Extension system is dependent on people who care.” Dr. David Petritz from 2007 Distinguished Ruby Lecture.

Are we seeking individuals with the right characteristics in potential employees we recruit and hire? We are beginning to acknowledge the generational differences in work style and approach, but we must go further.

Are we willing to hire nontraditional educators who don’t look, think, or act the way we do? Many of us absolutely believe that working 8 to 5 plus whatever it takes is imperative. Recent entrants are more focused on results and outcomes than on the hours they put in.

We have to rethink our concept of employment: tenure track and continuing appointments for a 30-year career versus a 3- to 5-year term of employment. Young professionals are quite comfortable with the latter. And, this fits some of our funding stream.

An effective performance management system begins with self-motivated employees who clearly understand what’s expected of them, and includes opportunities to grow and develop professionally. Recognition and rewards should include appropriate pay for the type of work expected plus other non-monetary benefits. What are these benefits for the employees of tomorrow?

Our programs and our people are inextricably linked.

The challenge is to successfully connect our employees to our customers with significant programs that people cannot do without.

3. A Viable, Dynamic Funding Stream

Extension programs and people must be supported by a sustained, yet ever-changing revenue stream from multiple sources.

Level or decreased funding is expected from the federal, state, and local level. Capacity (the Smith-Lever formula) funds have been level to slightly decreased, with a modest increase projected. The 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (the farm bill) significantly enhances our opportunity for growth, but with a very different mechanism than we have become accustomed. Success in the new approach will depend on our Extension educators at all levels becoming engaged in the process.

Local funds from county and municipal governments are under the same pressure. At best, the traditional state, federal, and local funds are and have been critical in maintaining our basic programming structure and in keeping program continuity in place. It is imperative that we maintain this capacity throughout the national Extension system. This existing structure and its continuity are critical factors in attracting nontraditional funding.

Grants and contracts have brought varying success to our programs. It is important that we stay on-mission and not over commit our existing structure without appropriate capacity-maximizing funding.

Gifts and endowments are other somewhat new revenue sources for us in Extension. University capital campaigns have been quite successful. Extension has to be a part of these in the future.

Revenue from our programs and educational products has generally been regarded as inappropriate and even distasteful. As a public, tax-supported organization, we are not comfortable going to fees, charges, and sales. Experience has shown that our customers willingly pay for quality programs that meet their needs. Our biggest hurdle seems to be our own mindset.

Private/public funding partnerships are great unexplored opportunities. We’re not yet sure how these can or should be structured to meet our public responsibilities without compromising our credibility as unbiased sources of research-based educational opportunities.

Our future depends on making a culture change that involves new perspectives on how we do business seeking non-traditional revenue streams.

4. Beyond Diversity to Inclusiveness

Over time we have focused on civil rights, then diversity, and now inclusiveness. Regardless of how it is characterized, the concept is important in our programs, to our audiences, and to our own employees.

The long-term discussion has now expanded beyond women, African Americans, and Hispanics to include heritage, country of origin, religion, culture, family structure, lifestyle, blended families, and many other cultural and social identities.

Perhaps it is time for a new descriptive term—maybe the term “inclusiveness,” or some other term yet to emerge. In fact, a legitimate question could be, "Do we really have minorities as traditionally defined?" As the blending of our society continues, maybe we should be thinking in terms of people and their various needs without labeling them.

We have important issues to address:

  • How do we meet the needs of one minority group of individuals without ignoring or offending the needs of others?
  • How do we program to multiple non-English-speaking audiences?
  • How do we effectively document our EEO/AA requirements in a blended society?

On this last point, traditional categories of black, white, Hispanic, and other are no longer functional. Recently, a national survey that gave respondents 22 different choices to consider; “other” was still included. What does this really tell us?

It seems likely that 2008 will become known as a time when society moved ahead on this topic and leave our bureaucracies behind. It is imperative that we address inclusiveness.

5. Security and Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

Security issues and emergencies vary in size and scale from local to national. Tornadoes affect relatively small geographic areas, bringing devastation to those affected. Hurricanes, such as Katrina, create widespread regional damage with national implications. The 9/11 attack left local devastation with international repercussions. Regardless, there is always an effect where we work and do our business: locally.

Another factor is the varying time we have to anticipate, plan, and prepare. For 9/11, we had minutes; Katrina, days; drought, weeks and months; climate change, decades. This factor is significant as we address security and emergency preparedness needs.

There are two components to this issue:

Internally, how do we operate when our employees have damage and devastation to their homes and communities? How does Extension operate without communication, offices, and supplies? An organized emergency contingency plans are necessary.

Externally, we need to plan in advance for how Extension can address preparedness, response, and recovery. In preparedness and recovery, we have, over the past few years, developed educational resources that are effective and relevant.

As a general rule, Cooperative Extension is not viewed as a first responder at the height of an incident. It seems that our greatest opportunity to be significant is in the advance identification, recruitment, training, and coordination of volunteers. In a recent presentation, a state emergency management director stated that volunteers readily came forward, but many lacked an understanding of the needs and how to be effective in coordinating with others.

6. Excellence in Extension

Chester Fehlis addressed Excellence in Extension in his 2004 Distinguished Ruby Lecture.

Most of us are quite passionate about in our work. The real challenge in this area and, in fact, in all of these guidepoints, is to move our programs beyond success to significance. People, especially decision makers, must believe—know—that our programs are necessary for their daily lives and for a prosperous future.

The excellence in Extension work that Paul Warner, Kentucky Extension, is provides methods for measuring Excellence in Extension.


My comments are closing on two overarching points.

First, leadership—effective leadership, visionary leadership, committed leadership—is needed to keep Cooperative Extension on track to continue our tremendous heritage of success. Without this type of leadership, these guideposts and others that develop in the future are worthless. Leadership is key.

Second, Where will this leadership come from? A one-word answer is YOU! This “you” includes those in the audience today, others attending this conference, and your coworkers back home.

Leadership occurs at every point in the Extension organization. We often look to the top, but frequently the most effective leadership may be at some point well removed from the top. Central leadership is important but cannot be totally successful when leadership throughout the system is lacking.

Consider these guidepoints and that they will generate others of equal importance. After reflection, go to the text of the presentation and ponder each point, especially as it applies to your situation.

Successful leaders will use this occasion and conference to grow.

Successful leaders must continue to learn and develop over time.

Please access the entire script of the 2008 Distinguished Ruby Lecture, Extension Guidepoints as presented by Dr. W. Gaines Smith. Tags:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Social media and marketing

Paul Chaney shared his keynote "Conversations Create Clients: Using conversation marketing to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers" from the Real Estate Barcamp Houston conference.

Though the presentation is 82 slides long, it is worth the time to glance through it. 

Here are notables from the presentation:

Five consumer trends:

1. There is consumer skepticism and resistance to advertising.

67% of consumer good sales are based on word of mouth

2. Media fragmentation is out of control.

Daily advertising messages: 274 to 3000.

3. Increasingly, the consumer is in control.

4. The pressure is on to improve targeting--to achieve relevance and minimize waste.

5. Companies are held to new levels of accountability.

Other points:

Conversational media is about people, not technology.

"Markets are conversations" and "participation is marketing" The Cluetrain Manifesto.

No longer target audiences; we participate in communities.

"Advertising will get more and more targeted until it disappears, because perfectly targeted advertising is just information. And that's good." Dave Winer

Conversation marketing strategy is to: listen, respond, engage. (See slide 48).

My conclusion: Use the online tools to

  • Listen to customers, potential customers, and trends.
  • Respond to the customers (listening and not responding is like you are not listening).
  • Engage in the conversations.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Google Docs Guide

Amit Agarwal created "Google Docs Guide: How to do Stuff with Google Docs". Some topics covered in this tutorial are:

  • How to upload all your Microsoft Office documents from the desktop on to Google Docs
  • How to associate the common Office file extensions like doc/xls/ppt with Google Docs so that desktop documents open directly in the web browser
  • How to download all documents from Google Docs locally and burn them on to a CD
  • How to add watermarks (like PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL, etc.) to your Google Documents
  • How to translate documents in Google Docs to another language
  • How to track who read the document and when
  • How to know when people open your Google Documents
  • What more creative uses of Google Docs
  • What are some desktop applications that work with Google Docs

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not information overload--filter failure

Clay Shirky presented "It's not information overload. It's filter failure" at Web 2.0 Expo NY. Here are my notes.

  • The assumption is that the information is going to keep increasing .
  • Before the Internet, the source was the filter.
    • My rewording: Newspapers and book publishers decided what was filtered because it was costly to publish (i.e., What if we publish, but no one bought the book?)
    • Now the cost of publishing is negligible so where is the filter? When the source doesn't filter, how is it information filtered? Individuals have to learn to filter.
  • We have to get better at filtering and keep re-tuning those filters.
  • Filters for information must be automated, manually constructed, and continuously re-tuned. All solutions for filters are temporary.
  • It's not an information overload problem, it's a filter failure, and we, as individuals, have to create, rethink, and re-tuned the filters.
  • Managing privacy information flow is unnatural for most of us because before the Internet, providing private information was difficult, inconvenient, and inefficient.
    • My thoughts: it's a new paradigm and we rethink the social social structure, expectations, the underlying way for which we decide what to share and not share.
  • Today, we design the filters so the privacy works the way we want it?
  • Large groups are tolerant of free riders where small groups are not tolerant of free riders.
    • My rewording: In large groups you can easily have lurkers. In small groups, you must be able to contribute in some way--just lurking is not permitted.
  • It's a mental shift--rethinking the model--we are the same as fish in the ocean--we are just in the flow.
    • My rewording: The ocean isn't the problem. The question is: how do we navigate the flow?
  • Rethinking the model because before the Internet the filter of the information was at the source. Now the filters are with the people.
  • Updating the old filters is not the fix.
  • We should re-think the social norms.
  • When you think you have information overload, think about what filters broke.
    • How is email broken? What are the solutions? Other methods of sharing, wikis, blogs, Twitter,FriendFeed, instant messaging.
    • How are feeds from newsreaders broken? How do I streamline and choose what feeds I read? Constantly changing feeds in my reader.
    • What about other solutions? Friendfeed and Twitter for manual filtering?
    • Still not working? More solutions coming.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wiki--not email--for collaboration

Recently, I have conducted several social media workshops. Often participants express that social media seems overwhelming. The participants say that they already feel like they have information overload, and they don't know how to handle more information.

My responses are usually:

  • Social media helps one keep up better with new information and ideas than current tools, like email.
  • Social media, particularly reading feeds, is much more efficient than not using them and allows one to increase access to more (much more) information.
  • Social media allows one to read and find information outside of one's normal colleague and knowledge circles.
  • Social media allows matching tasks and tools. Email simply is not the right tool for many of tasks we use it for. For example, wikis are better for collaboration than email. I usually have participants tell me how they work on projects together. The left side of the Wikinomics graphic is indicative of their description.



Email, although useful for some uses, is not a good collaboration tool. 

This Wikinomics graphic, originally created by Chris Rasmussen at US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, obviously shows which is the better collaboration tool. Tags: ,,

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Future forces affecting education

In a future trends of education discussion last Thursday, Dr. Joseph Pascarelli provided a Map of Future Forces Affecting Education, developed by KnowledgeWorks Foundation and the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The map is a forecast of forces that could affect learning in the next decade. The predictions are worth pondering for our future and how we should be changing the way we educate, manage, lead, and produce and market services and products.

I am using the map like this: If I believe the predictions within the map are true, how should education, management, leadership, and marketing change to adapt to these forces? For example, one prediction is that there is Community Value Networks. How do we make visible tangible and intangible assets (like knowledge, trust, reputation, loyalty) to create richer relationships of exchange? Addressing public education:

Lower network-coordination costs make it cost-effective to meet the needs and desires of “long-tail” niche markets in industries as diverse as music, health, and education. Numerous and diverse niche markets of learners become targets for all sorts of providers of learning experiences in the expanding learning economy (public, private, parochial, charter, home and other informal schools, and commercially based providers). Value network mapping becomes an important tool for tracking the exchange of tangible and intangible learning assets that flow between public schools and the rest of the learning economy. These exchanges create richer relationships between public schools and the community

Specifically, how does this change the way we provide higher education and Cooperative Extension education? Including and engaging community members, in both physical and online communities, to contribute in our educational efforts help learning spread more quickly and more effectively.

Other trends predicted are also provided. Pick one trend and reflect how that trend affects what you do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Dialogue about the Future Trends in Education

Today, I attended a loosely formed group meeting that was called "Future Trends in Education Workshop and Think Tank." When Tony Cook suggested that I attend, I was glad to be part of discussion, but it was unclear what the meeting would be like and what would be discussed.

I supposed I was worried the meeting would be a waste of time. I was thinking it would be another meeting where people talk about how learning styles, environments and technologies are changing, but don't really propose any different methods or philosophies for the future. Often after a declaration of how trends are shaping our future, the discussion turns how to address the trends which includes methods that are only slightly improved over what we are currently doing. For instance, one might suggest providing education online in the same way we lecture in classrooms or placing supporting materials for classes in closed course management systems. These discussions clearly do not show an understanding of open, free flowing opportunities that we should be considering.

This meeting wasn't really a meeting at all. It was more like a series of conversations.

In today's dialogue which was led by Dr. Joseph Pascarelli, one of the questions (I rephrased it) was "If we believe that the Map of the Future Forces is the way life is changing, then how can we should education change?"

During the discussions, I wrote words that people said that described education for the future. They are not in any particular order or importance: diversity, access, inclusive, open, flexible, connected, across, collective, creative, responsive, change, ideas, shift, sustainable. (Note: Although the discussion centered around education, I believe these same changes affect management, leadership, marketing, and communications).

We also discussed (among other topics):

1. what we are about. We are part of a land-grant institution, thus we should be embracing methods, engagement, and open systems that provide education to our communities. We have the resources, thus why aren't we utilizing those resources, technologies, and opportunities that enrich the lives of others? (We do this some, but not broadly across the university.)

2. generating an environment where creative thinking can occur.

3. that we need to be responsive.

4, that we need to build creative systems.

Some interesting quotes during the meeting that I might ponder and possibly investigate later are:

"Most change happens because of a surprise, not because of a strategic plan."

"Make work more like fun."

"We're looking for opportunities to learn in a safe environment."

Most meetings have agendas that allow discussions, but the decisions are already somewhat formed. Instead dialogues should take place first. (Paraphrased)

Some sources shared during the meeting are:

Etiene Wenger Community of practice and social learning

Margaret Wheatley Listening as part of leadership

Fostering Learning in Networked World (NASA) pdf

Knowledge Works

Capra, F. Center of Ecoliteracy pdf

PeaceJam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

This meeting was not really a meeting, but was more like a conglomeration of discussions that happen during conferences in the hallways at break-time. We are planning to meet again and are careful not to have too much structure, but will continue the dialogue. I am looking forward to more reflection and discussions that hopefully will result in changes in approaches to education. Tags: ,,

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why use social media in Extension

This week, Rhonda Conlon and I presented a poster session, Social Media in Extension, at Galaxy III which is a professional development conference for Extension Professionals.

In addition to the poster, we also provided a guide to help Extension professionals begin to use social media. The outline is here:

1 A Beginners Guide to Using Social Media in Extension

The guide is a wiki that can be edited by any Extension professional. Please help us improve this document.

Why Social Media
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: poster media)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Developing your personal and professional reputation

Corinne Weisgerber, Public Relations Assistant Professor, St. Edwards University, created an excellent slideshow, Blogging and Managing Your Personal Brand.

Google is your new resume.

Tips include:

  • writing quality blog posts.
  • being relevant to a niche.
  • respecting what others have to say.
  • being straightforward about yourself.
  • staying engaged in the blogosphere.


Friday, September 5, 2008

TweetUp with Blood Drives and Help the Red Cross

Step up and help the Red Cross.

The local Red Cross (Lee County Red Cross) helped over 180 evacuees before and after Gustav threatened southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

With more storms coming, American Red Cross needs our help. They need donations of

In Auburn, AL, we are having an #AUTweetUp (not a meet up). Those Twitters in the Auburn, AL area are encouraged to:

1. Give blood at any of these locations:

Tuesday, September 9 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Auburn University New Student Union.

Wednesday, September 10; 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Auburn University New Student Union.

Friday, September 12; 1-6 p.m. at Philly Connection, South College St., Auburn.

Tuesday, September 16; 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Lee County Justice Center on Gateway Drive in Opelika.

2. Tell others through Facebook, MySpace, in meetings, at church, and in classes to give blood.

3. Tweet using #AUTweetUp hashtag when you make the trip to donate blood.

4. Tweet when you are encouraging others to give blood.

5. Give a monetary donation to American Red Cross.

6. Plan to get training to volunteer for the Red Cross.

Not in Auburn, AL:

1. Find a blood drive near you or make an appointment to give blood during this next week.

2. Use Twitter to tell about it.

3. Give a monetary donation to American Red Cross.

4. Plan to get training to volunteer for the Red Cross.

Why you may ask that I am using this space to encourage your donations to the Red Cross?

After listening through Twitter to @leeoALredcross , CovCoRedCross, @RedCross, @JenniferRyan, and @jefferybiggs, I realize how much help the Red Cross needs and how very hard Red Cross staff work for the purpose of helping others.

I supposed Twitter has really helped me understand the importance of their work and develop a new respect for those leaders in the local and national level of this great organization.

In this weak economy and because Gustav was not as destructive as Katrina, Rita, and Andrew, people have not donated like they do when larger, more destructive storms hit our cities.

American Red Cross needs donations. From Washington Post, Hurricane Relief Efforts Create Red Cross Debt.

The American Red Cross said this morning it is going deep into debt to fund a $70 million Hurricane Gustav relief effort, an unusual occurrence even as the nation's biggest disaster-aid charity braces for a trio of powerful storms lurking in the Atlantic.

The Red Cross has raised less than $5 million toward its Gustav expenses, officials said. To recoup its Gustav cost -- most of it borrowed money -- the nonprofit organization plans to roll out an aggressive national campaign Monday.

Donate time, money, and blood to the Red Cross this week!

And, to Jennifer Ryan and Jeffery Biggs, keep up the good work. Tags: ,,

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Auburn University High Definition Board and Twitter

What do you do when you are supposed to provide excitement and a service to more than 80,000 footStand up and make noise!ball fans? You use Twitter, of course.

Bo Cordle (@sailingbo) takes his job of running the High Definition Board at Jordan-Hare Stadium very seriously, paying attention to details and orchestrating the production of the HD system 2 hours before the game to almost an hour after the game.

From a closed room within the stadium, Bo and his crew push images, camera shots, statistics, plays, replays, and pre-made videos to HD without actually seeing the board. Interestingly last year, the orange jerseys on the first game of the season looked red on the HD board. But, Bo and the crew did not know it until after the game when friends and university representatives told him. Needless to say, they adjusted the system so orange looked orange on the screen.

In his 2nd year running the system, Bo improved the system and the production of the videos, stats, presentations, camera shots, and still meeting any new expectations of Auburn University administration and coaches. 

This summer Bo set up a Twitter account @AUHD. He asked the AUHD followers to give him feedback. And we did. Look at Summize search to see some of the comments (there were other messages from people who protect their Twitter accounts that do not show up in the search). 

Additionally, Bo let us know what was happening. For instance, AUHD tweeted:

Took us a little while, and we had a bit of a visual glitch, but we finally got the "Scoring Drive" stat graphic up.

The tweets from @AUHD added to my ability to understand what was happening and of course, I appreciate @AUHD asking for my opinion.

Bo used the @AUHD Twitter account to get feedback and to listen to what others were saying about his work, and to give us updates. During the game, I watched the plays on the field and then, the replays on the HD board. I also conversed with others, as well as @AUHD during the game. I did not miss a thing and had a great time at the ball game.

Now, what happens if the number of @AUHD Twitter followers grew and @AUHD continues to give us updates? My guess is there will be more improvements, but time will tell.

Often people who want to use social media look as these tools as another way to disseminate their information. Social media tools, like Twitter and Friendfeed, are much more than pushing information out. Social media is about participating in the conversation--listening and responding. Doing both means you are fully participating, listening only or "talking" only means you are participating in only one side of the conversation.

Congratulations to Bo and his crew to providing fantastic service and production in the first game of the season, but more importantly, thank you for asking and listening to our opinions!

What would happen if you used Twitter and other social media in your next big event?


Note the picture above was taken by chsibley at the Auburn vs Alabama game 2007. Tags: ,

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time for social media

Through Twitter, Kevin Gamble shared Jeff Tippett's guest post on Social Media Mom. Jeff answers the question: how does one can find time to use social media? He makes time because that is what he does--like making time to eat.

Social media is conversations and collaborative work.

How do you make time to converse at work, at home, or in the grocery store? You just do.

What value do you gain from conversations at work, at home, and in the grocery store? Individually, some of these may seem unimportant. Cumulatively, the conversations help connect and understand others.

Jeff also admits that he uses RSS feeds to manage information and to manage "the noise" from floods of information. Tags:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Social media and National PTA

According to their newsletter, National PTA is using social media.

It looks like they are in the beginning stages. After a little time, I hope to see that they are engaging and listening. For instance, I hope to see the PTA Twitter account follow PTA members.

From their newsletter (at the bottom):

PTA Introduces Social Networking Channels

You can now connect to PTA through a variety of online social networks:

  • Facebook — Stay connected through PTA's Facebook Fan Page.
  • YouTube — Watch PTA videos and media moments.
  • Fotki — Photo galleries of PTA events and programs.
  • Twitter — Quick updates, perfect for mobile devices.

Some educators I work with keep saying "My clients don't use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc." My response generally is:

  • Use these tools to help yourself keep up and stay connected and learn from others.
  • Develop something useful with these tools so your clients can learn from you.
  • Eventually, they (your clients) will use these tools. You never know, some may already use them-you just don't know it.

In my explanation and response, I have not thought of how our partnering agencies maybe using these tools. National PTA is an example. Recently I discovered Covington County (Alabama) Red Cross is using Twitter. I already knew American Red Cross and my local county, Lee County (Alabama) Red Cross are using Twitter, but what I did not know is how much Red Cross is using Twitter. Local chapters seem to also have web pages, blogs or wikis.

Cooperative Extension cannot wait until the adoption is immersed in their local communities. The tools are already being used in their local communities, at least to some degree, and the use of these tools will continue to increase.

How should an educator get started?

  • Try something new. Try any social media tool (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, LinkedIn, Ning, FriendFeed, YouTube, Slideshare--you get the idea--try anything!).
  • Listen with Google Alerts.
  • Learn to use a news reader.
  • Listen with Google blog searches and keep up with changes through a news reader.
  • Follow a few blogs by using a news reader.
  • Edit something in Wikipedia, particularly if you have found something that was not fully explained.
  • Create something new in Wikipedia. Tags: ,,

Friday, July 18, 2008


The attendees of the AUTweetUp were:

@gparmer @bowerep @bowerjb @sailingbo @JenniferRyan @snydess @matt1583 @Tex3911 @BrettPohlman @phunkit @jamersan @lawremc @aafromaa

Tweets about AUTweetUp can be found on Summize.

These folks are from Auburn University: College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the athletic department (well sort of); Office of Communications and Marketing; Natural Resources and Conservation Service; Lee County Red Cross; Jamersan Web design; and an Auburn University student.

Several people could not join us so I hoping in the upcoming weeks that someone will announce another AUTweetUp which will help us expand our group and let us get to know each other better.

This kind of gathering is always fun and I always learn something.

Maybe next time hopefully we can meet in a place where people can mingle more.

In addition meeting socially, what if also we meet for a cause, like a blood drive TweetUp? I am sure @JenniferRyan and others would help us identify an existing blood drive. We could publicize the blood drive in the ways we know how: personally, Facebook, blogs, radio, etc. And, of course we would also donate. This is not my original idea...they already did this in Austin, TX

I don't usually think "out loud" on my blog, but here is an idea I am throwing out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A thought about building your own professional online reputation

Kate Woods, an Auburn University student in a class project blog, The Loveliest Village, makes a great point about what happens to one's public image when mishaps happen.

We all make mistakes; but being in the spotlight can be tough when a goof occurs. An image of a person can take years to build up, but a mere second can crush it tremendously.

While she is on target about how fragile our reputations are, I also wonder what happens when the mishap is the only reputation you have.

What happens if you are not famous (outside of your physical community) and if you are not known (other than locally) for your professionalism, the good work you do, and your vast knowledge in a particular area when a mistake suddenly throws you into the media limelight or onto YouTube?

All of a sudden you or your organization is known only for mishap--the mistake--the goof.

Although we never want to make mistakes, we might, at some point, publicly misstep. Having built a credible professional reputation will provide something positive to point to in times of crisis.

What is your professional online reputation? What happens when you Google your name? What happens when you Google your organization's name? Where can potential clients find you? While there is much more to building a reputation than using Google searches, start there. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ways to share if you don't have time to comment

I often tell people before they started blogging to:

1. start using a News Reader (Google Reader).

2. start following blogs of interest.

3. comment on good posts by offering your insights and suggestions as a way to practice participation. Learning to comment is an easy way to step yourself into learning to blog.

However, overtime you may find that you don't have time to comment. Chris Brogan offers tips when you find interesting blog posts but don't have time to comment.

  • Bookmark the post in a social bookmarking site (so others might find it).
  • Share it in Google Reader.
  • “Like” it in FriendFeed.
  • Stumble it in StumbleUpon.
  • If it’s *really* good, Digg it.
  • Note it on Facebook.

Don't use these tips as excuse to not comment, but sometimes you simply may not have time. Mark the post in way that it is shared and referenced.

Of Chris' suggestions, I bookmark posts in and/or I share them in Google Reader. Those who follow my bookmarked items in or my shared items in Google Reader or who follow my FriendFeed feeds will see the page I have marked. By bookmarking in one site (Google Reader or and feeding those bookmarks into other sites (FriendFeed), I am giving the choice to my colleagues to choose which way they want to follow my bookmarks.

Sometimes, I also share links via Twitter depending on the topic.

There are probably other ways. What methods do you use to share interesting posts?


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Disruptive innovations and education

While being interviewed for a Business Week podcast, Clayton Christensen co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns how disruptive innovations will transform education. Disruptive innovations can help can cater to the way students learn. 

My favorite quote is his describing disruptive technologies as a way to ..

give tools to plain ole students, teachers and parents to develop these learning tools themselves to help each other to learned the way their brains are wired.

The podcast can be found at 

The Innovator's Battle Plan is another article on disruptive technologies. Tags: ,,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I am tagged

Janyne Kizer tagged me which means I am supposed to share 5 things about myself that relatively few people know about me and then I am supposed to tag five other people. This is great exercise to show who I am--the person behind the blog posts. Maybe this will lead to easier conversations and better understanding.  If you are wondering about tagging John Dorner explains it on his tagged post.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

I had just started my co-leadership role with Jonathan Davis in the Computer Technology Unit.

Five snacks I enjoy:

  1. Dark chocolate.
  2. Peanut butter spread on graham crackers, vanilla wafers, or a caramel rice cakes.
  3. Roasted peanuts.
  4. Light popcorn.
  5. My own version of cereal mix--usually Honey Nut Cheerios, Life, Corn Chex, and Nuts (and occasionally I mix in a few chocolate chip pieces).

Five Things on My To-Do list today:

  1. Cook dinner and I still do not know what we are having (by the time I finished this post we decided to eat leftovers or pick up something depending on who is where).
  2. Jog at least 3 miles (I jogged 4.2 at 6 AM).
  3. Teach a session in a for-credit class, Extension in Aquaculture.
  4. Send emails about up-coming training sessions and web conferences (finished all but two of these).
  5. Finish this post.

Five Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

  1. Write books
    • a fictional book that would make my mother blush.
    • a book on how people who are going through tough times teach us all by their reactions and how we have opportunities to do great things during these their tough times.
    • a book on parents' tip on being involved and supporting their kids in school and sports activities--it would be about behavior and kids' and parents' goals.
  2. Hire a full-time housekeeper, and possibly, an assistant.
  3. Create a charity organization which provides financial support to organizations whose goal is to change bad behaviors.
  4. Hold babies in the pre-mature baby ward when parents cannot be there.
  5. Have a house on the water, does not matter--lake, river, bay, or beach. Hey, I am a billionaire--how about all of the above.

Five jobs I have had:

  1. Harvested and sold produce on the farmers' markets, including Birmingham and Montgomery. We were known not only as the Mims girls, but also the corn girls.
  2. Served as Hall Director (like a dorm mom).
  3. Interned with Federal Land Bank.
  4. Worked as an IT specialist, particularly in IT training.
  5. Led and managed a computer support department.
Five of my bad habits:
  1. Drinking too many diet sodas.
  2. Getting too easily distracted.
  3. Writing wordy sentences
  4. Not following up and staying connected to good friends.
  5. Giving advice too readily and too often.

Places I have lived:

  1. Haynes, AL (20 miles west of Prattville, AL).
  2. Daphne, AL (on the east bay across from Mobile), more importantly, less than 45 minutes from Gulf Shores).
  3. Auburn, AL.
Five Random Things:
  1. I feel special for being tagged.
  2. My oldest sister called me Annabelle when I was pre-teen and I hated it (@rbrekke this was the thing I blurted out that no one in my office knew).
  3. I think it is absolutely great that Harrison Ford could still fit into his Indiana Jones' pants from 20 years after he made the first movie--that's impressive!
  4. I want my kids to learn that their behavior is more important than their accomplishments.
  5. My husband was one of my college professors. In case you are wondering, there was no inappropriate behavior, otherwise I would not have written about it. I was finished with graduate classes when we started dating. When I had him for class a few terms earlier, a friend of mine and I made fun of the way he dressed (was not then, nor now is he very stylish). Also, I hold the highest B he ever gave in Econometrics. You would think that during our 20 years of marriage, he would have considered changing that grade.
Seven people I would like to get to know better. I wanted to tag about 15 people. I hoping some of my colleagues will tag the other colleagues. These seven people are officially tagged!
  1. Tony Glover I know you usually blog about gardening, but let us learn something else about you. Your clientele, too, would love to know more about you.
  2. James Robinson (I really want to know your favorite recipes).
  3. Asim Ali I know you write about technology support for the College of Education, but I bet faculty would like to more about you, too.
  4. Kenny Smith I don't know you, but your Twitter messages make me curious--tell me more.
  5. Jerry Thomas You don't blog often so this will be a great reason to write a post.
  6. Becky Nibe  I know you are not shy, tell us more.
  7. Jennifer Jahedkar We have not had enough interaction and I really would like to know more.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fire ants and being part of the conversation

Using social media means we are part of the conversation. We listen, lurk, converse, share, collaborate, and learn. This post has a few ideas for listening and keeping up with the constant flow of information in the blogosphere.

Kathy Flanders asked me to blog about fire ants--not really. She wanted me to describe how lurking and being "part of the conversation" can help us spread educational knowledge and help others with their problems. Some would describe this experience as a "going to them" experience.

I read lots of blogs and feeds from lots of topics. One particular blog I follow wrote an article that suggested that grits kill fire ants and it linked to an article on natural remedies on web site called Associated Content. Though the article describes several natural remedies to kill fire ants that are probably urban legends, I commented on the one remedy on that suggested grits kill fire ants.

I commented "Grits do not kill fire ants. Research from land grant universities have tested many of these home remedies and they simply do not work. Please see the one of the many questions asked of those who research fire ants and educate the public on controls for fire ants".

I am not an entomologist, but I can link to research-based information.

Randomly and haphazardly, I came across the grits and fire ants article. Reading many topics outside of my expertise area is one way of listening to the noise. It's in the noise that we learn about things that we don't know we need to learn. Though the blog does not usually describe remedies, the false information is what caught my attention.

Using social media (blogging, social networking, Twitter) means we are in the midst of many conversations. We cannot rely on people finding information through our web sites. And, how do we know what people are looking for unless we listen? Also, the noise helps us learn.

Kathy and her colleagues may ask "How can we keep up and learn when fire ants are being mentioned on the web? 

Use a multi-pronged approach.

1. Perform a general search on the term you are interested in. For example, "fire ants".

2. Use Google Alerts on the term "fire ants".

3. Create a feed into your feed reader to let you know when someone has mentioned this term in a blog. Create this feed from the Google blog search.  I did this on the term "fire ants" and found this real estate blog that also describes home remedies that do not least she discourages the use of gasoline.

4. Consider using these 2 techniques for other key terms, such as your name, researchers' names, and your organization's name.

5. Follow blogs within your areas of expertise and interests.

6. Follow your colleagues' and peer departments' blogs.

7. Search for these terms in Twitter using Tweetscan.

8. Read what is Wikipedia has said about the topic. (And you, too, can contribute to Wikipedia articles).