Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick? Or Treat? Zombies in the Classroom?

by Nick Persad

Zombies! What comes to mind?

AMC’s The Walking Dead? The Resident Evil franchise? Education?

Personally, I imagine the rotting flesh and deep groans of humans who now walk the Earth (extremely slowly) as the undead—acting on one impulse: to satisfy their ravenous appetite for human flesh.
But, surprisingly, it is scenarios like this that are proving essential in teaching college classes about survival and human preparedness when struck with global disease, natural disasters or terrorism.
Professors are using popular culture—in this case, zombies and an impending zombie apocalypse—to attract students to classes where the scope of the class goes far beyond zombie culture.

In 2012, a professor at Michigan State University introduced the course “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse—Catastrophes and Human Behavior.” Capitalizing on the popularity of the undead in current media, the course examines “how human behavior and nature change after catastrophic incidences—from the historical to the hypothetical—through a blend of traditional coursework, online forums and a catastrophic event simulation.”

Similarly, during the 2014 spring semester, Central Michigan University “From Revelation to ’The Walking Dead,’” a religion course “exploring apocalyptic themes in biblical texts, literature and pop culture.” This class will discuss the “hypothetical ethical and theological problems that people could encounter in a post-apocalyptic world.”

During my undergrad, I took a gender and women’s studies course that focused on how women are portrayed in popular culture. This class was entertaining, but it wasn’t advertised using the ploy that students would be watching videos or movies the entire semester. Students took the class because they were interested in understanding the dynamic between women and popular culture and its corresponding effects, whether negative or positive. I entered the class ready to be bombarded with dense scholarly articles, and I was. However, some classes focused on video clips and movies that were required for discussion. Yes, they were fun to watch, but they also provided necessary reference for our topics and never became the sole focus of the class.

While undead-themed classes certainly examine much more than zombies, I think it would be beneficial to the students to understand exactly what the course entails rather than be enticed by the idea of a semester-long class about zombies. These classes offer insight into psychology, anthropology and geology, and students may not be aware of that from a class title including the word zombie.

This brings us to another point: What does it say about today’s college-bound that professors feel the need to reference popular media in order for potential students to consider a class?
An article from USA Today College states, “The issue of student engagement has begun to loom particularly in the growing field of massive open online courses (MOOCs), classes designed to reach hundreds—or even thousands—of college students. A recent study [PDF link] by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education [Penn GSE] crystallized the issue. The group studied one million users of MOOCs at the university and found that only an average of 4 percent of students actually completed their chosen courses.”

In another instance, the Utah-based company Instructure collaborated with the University of California, Irvine (UCI), to “try to combat student disinterest by relating complex sociological and scientific concepts to zombies in a MOOC titled “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ’The Walking Dead’ in October through December 2013.”

What is the reason behind this disinterest? Do college students simply want to take their required courses and not bother with elective courses—no matter how beneficial they might be?

Whatever the reason, the idea of generating student interest in unique classes is a great thing—regardless of how this buzz is created. If zombies will fill seats in classrooms, virtual or otherwise, then let’s use them to educate.

 Did You Know?

According to an article in Wired called “The Best Way to Teach Kids Math and Science, Zombies,” Texas Instruments (TI) has developed an educational program that “uses models of zombie outbreak loaded onto TI graphing calculators, computers, or iPads to demonstrate everything from brain damage [. . .] to the patterns in which disease spread.”

The program contains a battery of activities that teachers can download for computers, TI graphing calculators or iPads via TI apps. Additionally, TI is working with “physics professors, anthropologists, and NASA scientists to develop similar entertainment-focused education programs focused on superheroes, forensics and space.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Boston Teen Author Festival: Interview with Co-Founder Renée Combs

by Alyssa Guarino, Junior Project Manager
Although I’ve technically aged out of the young adult (YA) demographic—which, according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), is ages 12–18—I am still an avid consumer of the genre and admire the zeal of younger readers. To see that excitement firsthand, last month I attended the third annual Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF), a recent addition to the Boston literary landscape. The BTAF is a one-day, free and public event that consists of discussion panels and author signings. This year, the BTAF welcomed 24 authors with books published in the YA genre. Panel sessions consisted of author discussions on “Criminal Minds: Writing the Bad Guy,” “A Whole New World: World Building at Its Finest,” “Platonic in Love: Writing Strong Non-Romantic Relationships” and “Choose Your Own Adventure: Characters Who Forge Their Own Destiny.”
To get a behind-the-scenes look of what it’s like to start a book festival from the ground up, I interviewed co-founder Renée Combs, a fellow Emerson alumnus. Renée works as a marketing and promotions assistant at Big Honcho Media in New York and holds a bachelor of arts in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. She first started the BTAF when studying at Emerson and continues to coordinate the event while living in New York City.

Q: What was the genesis for the BTAF?
A: I went to school in Boston thinking it would be like New York City, with YA book events every other day. When I realized that wasn't the case, my co-founder [Marisa Finkelstein] and I decided Boston needed a way for the YA lit lovers to celebrate the genre.

Q: As a college student, was it intimidating for you to line up the authors?
A: Surprisingly, no. I had been a book blogger for years, so I'd overcome my fear of reaching out to authors, and I'd been to enough book events that I knew what needed to go into planning one. It was the logistics of it that frightened me—finding a location, raising the funds, and convincing people that the event had a place in the city [of Boston].

Q: How has the BTAF evolved from its inception?
A: It's grown exponentially! The format has remained the same, but the number of authors and attendees has definitely grown since year one. We had hoped for this progression, but for it to actually happen is thrilling. Going forward, I'd love to offer more panel choices with a broader range of topics, more along the lines of the Rochester Teen Book Festival, but we're a few years off from something that ambitious. [Editor’s Note: Please see the last paragraph of this post for a link to the Rochester Teen Book Festival and other YA events across the nation.]

Q: Are there challenges coordinating the BTAF from NYC?
A: Not as many as you'd think! Most of the planning is done by email, so I can do that anywhere. Most people didn't even realize I no longer lived in Boston! It's the footwork that is challenging—scouting a location or passing out flyers closer to the event—but I have lovely local helpers to lend a hand in those instances.

Q: Is it likely the BTAF will stay in Boston?
A: The festival will absolutely stay in Boston. NYC has a thriving YA scene with several festivals similar to the BTAF, whereas the BTAF is the only event of its kind in Boston.

Q: Do you have a target demographic for the BTAF? Does this line up with the audience that attends?
A: Teens, teens, teens! It is very important [to my team] that teens get to connect with local authors and share their passion for reading and writing with people who are lucky enough to do it for a living. Meeting a favorite author when I was in high school was ridiculously exciting, and I love giving that opportunity to other young adults. This year the majority of our audience were teens, and we were so happy to see it.

Q: Why is YA literature important to you?
A: The young adult genre has no boundaries, and it's constantly pushing limits. It allows us to be un-ironically enthusiastic and creates a community of passionate and energetic readers that I think would be hard to find in another genre. YA offers the stories I'm drawn to, and their fast-paced, plot-driven story lines offer many other readers enjoyment as well.

Q: How do you feel about criticism of YA only being for the YAs? What do you think adults can get out of it?
A: I think it's absurd. The genre lines are put in place to say, “Hey reader, there are a lot of books to choose from, here are books that are similar to other books you've liked.” They're not meant to say these books are only for these readers. I don't think adults can necessarily get anything different out of reading YA than reading any other genre. For me it's all about the story.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for you? What is the most rewarding aspect? 
A: Time management. There's so much to do and so much that I want to do, it's hard to find enough time in the day for it all. But getting to that finale, seeing 170 “squee-ing” teens meeting their favorite authors, finishing that first draft of a book, taking that next small step toward another big goal, that's the most rewarding aspect.

Interested in attending the BTAF? Be sure to check out the event in 2015! Not going to be in the Boston area? Next year offers similar events, including the Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival in Rochester, New York, YALLFest in Charleston, utopYA in Nashville and in the Austin area, YAB Fest and YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium.

Did You Know?
In addition to working at Big Honcho Media, Renée offers her own design services. She has worked with a variety of authors, mainly in the YA/middle-grade genres, designing covers, promotional materials and even reader guides for use in the classroom. She ran the successful The Book Girl Reviews blog for five years, which contributed to the world of internet author–fan friendships, many of which continue today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Novel Approach to Learning: The Graphic Novel’s Growing Popularity in Education

by Alison Oehmen
Almost since their inception, comic books and graphic novels had a large following, particularly among young people. In recent years, not much has changed in this regard, as the graphic novel sections have become some of the most trafficked and fastest-growing areas in many libraries . Graphic novels and comic books have likewise gained wider use in academic circles. Why are these changes taking place? The answer lies in a new generation of teachers and librarians, a broadening use of the comic-book format across multiple genres and the evermore technology-centric focus our society has adopted.
As far as libraries are concerned, this trend is developing as they attempt to stay current and attract younger generations of readers. For decades, comic books occupied only a marginal space—if any space at all—on libraries’ shelves, since popular opinion generally dismissed them as frivolous and uninformative. However, as greater populations of comic book readers reach adulthood—and consequently become the newest group of librarians and teachers—the comic book’s standing in the literary world is steadily improving. In fact, these materials are increasingly regarded as valid tools with academic and artistic worth.
Another contributing factor towards the upsurge in graphic novel representation in libraries is the movement to digitize. While most graphic novels remain available in physical book form, the comic book community has quickly jumped on the technology bandwagon with new innovations like Comics Plus: Library Edition, a service that specifically makes graphic novel and comic book downloads available to customers through library websites. As students become increasingly comfortable and partial to reading via resources like ebooks, this innovation serves as yet another way for libraries to make reading more palatable for young, tech-savvy people.
After all, the comic book is not just a domain for superheroes anymore. Now people can find comic books and graphic novels that run the gamut of different genres, from classic literature to history and biography to mystery, horror and romance. Even from a demographic standpoint, comic books have expanded their reach, coming out with titles geared towards everyone from kids and teens to adults. Consequently, comic books and graphic novels have become attractive to new audiences and provide new ways for teachers to present and students to absorb information.
Therefore, some educators have started integrating graphic novels into their curricula and finding favorable results with readers of all abilities. One Kaplan survey, for example, reported that a third of ESL instructors utilize comics to teach new English speakers. Moreover, teachers of English-speaking students find that graphic novels help them to reach struggling or reluctant readers yet also challenge more confident ones. Where the density of a heavy prose novel might deter a less advanced reader, the visual impact of a graphic novel piques their interest and enthusiasm. By the same token, graphic novels can also provide the level of plot and structural complexity necessary for a more sophisticated reader. According to Stephen Weiner, director of the Maynard Public Library in Maynard, Massachusetts, and an award-winning writer on the subject of graphic novels in modern society, “researchers concluded that the average graphic novel introduced readers to twice as many words as the average children’s book.”
However, this is not to say that the comic book’s foray into more academic circles doesn’t have its critics. For the considerable strides it has made towards mainstream acceptance, the graphic novel still strikes many as an unorthodox, and therefore controversial, tool. Furthermore, because the educational use of graphic novels is still a relatively new methodology, curriculum support is not as widespread as for more traditional materials. One pair of authors, Allyson A. W. Lyga and Barry Lyga, has published a resource entitled Graphic Novels in Your Media Center: A Definitive Guide to address this concern by providing lists of age-appropriate and edifying graphic novels to use in the classroom. Other resources have popped up to aid in the comic-teaching process, including No Flying No Tights, which is a website staffed by librarians and teachers, and “Using Graphic Novels with Children and Teens,” which is a downloadable PDF guide by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic. Finally, even within the Common Core State Standards, graphic novels are suggested as sample texts; they are mentioned in both standard 5.RL.7 for grade 5 and the range of text types for grades 6–12. Nevertheless, as with any literature, the question of which comic books would be academically suitable and relevant remains a contested issue.
As this story of the academic graphic novel continues to develop, one wonders what this could mean for the trajectory of modern learning. With the call for new approaches to instruction for modern students, we could very well see the implementation of the graphic novel as a scholastic tool become an even more widespread practice soon enough. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, of course, but I know I will be interested to see how things unfold either way.

Did You Know?
Although the first smash hit from the comic book world came in 1938 with the introduction of Action Comics #1’s enduring Superman character, the United States’ first major graphic novel, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, was published nearly a century before, in the 1840s.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Boston Book Festival, October 23–25, 2014

by Chris Hartman, Project Manager
Founded by Deborah Z. Porter in 2009, the Boston Book Festival (BBF) enters its sixth year as an important event for book enthusiasts in New England. For three fall days in late October—Thursday the 23rd through Saturday 25th, to be precise—Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood will be descended upon by literati and over 20,000 of their ardent readers, who vie to attend panel discussions where they have a chance to hear the thoughts and opinions of their favorite writers and cultural personalities.
Though much of the BBF has traditionally had a New England focus, hosting authors with local connections such as Dennis Lehane, Steve Almond, Susan Minot and Richard Russo, it has also featured more general panel discussions in a variety of genres and disciplines, such as architecture, education, politics, technology, fiction, memoir and sports writing. This year, there will be between 150 and 200 presenters, blanketing Boston’s Copley Square in a variety of venues, both large and small. Complementing its impressive roster of former and current presenters, the BBF has also hosted a number of Nobel laureates, including the 2006 winner in literature, Orhan Pamuk, and neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel, MD.
This year, the BBF will explore a diverse range of topics that have event descriptions such as “Africa: Looking on the Bright Side,” “Technology: Promise and Peril,” “Childhood Treasures: The Role of Illustration in Children’s Literature,” and “Memoir: Journeys Home and Abroad.” Highlighting the latter, a Thursday night keynote speech about his memoir, Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, will be given by the noted jazz musician himself. And in addition to Hancock’s talk, there will be a number of other keynote addresses, such as the history keynote address by Doris Kearns Goodwin, accompanied by Tom Ashbrook, the host of On Point on WBUR and NPR. Goodwin is a historian who is uniquely qualified to discuss presidential politics from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama and whose bestselling book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2012 Academy Award–winning film Lincoln. Immediately following Goodwin’s panel at 2:15 p.m., the sanctuary at Copley Square’s Trinity Church will host a 4 p.m. discussion by preeminent architect Lord Norman Foster, as interviewed by Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
An annual highlight of the BBF is One City, One Story (1C1S), which features an open discussion with an author about one of their stories, printed in booklet form and distributed months prior to eager readers hoping to attend the panel. In the past, authors such as Tom Perrotta (“The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face”), Rishi Reddi (“Karma”) and Anna Solomon (“The Lobster Mafia Story”) have bantered and otherwise interacted with hundreds of excited readers who’ve devoured their stories. This October’s talk will feature the story “Sublimation” by Jennifer Haigh, who won not only a PEN/Hemingway award for her novel Mrs. Kimball in 2003, but also a PEN/Hemingway award for her novel News from Heaven in 2014.
The Boston Book Festival has benefited not only from a remarkable array of attending authors, but also from the many merchants who come to distribute their literary wares, as well as the hundreds of volunteers who in their general-issue orange tee shirts resemble an army of traffic cones—safely guiding visitors to their preferred destinations around and about the neighborhood’s literary anchor: the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street.
I recall that when I volunteered at the first festival in 2009, there was only a Friday night keynote address in Trinity Church—by Robin Young, host of the WBUR radio program Here and Now, and a performance by musician Livingston Taylor—and the Saturday panels, capped off by an evening talk by novelist Joyce Carol Oates, which proved so popular that the BBF immediately outgrew the small number of venues available to host them.
The following year, 2010, the BBF brought out an estimated 24,000 visitors—double the number of the inaugural event. And now, six years later, the festival continues to grow; but finding an appropriate number of suitable venues still presents a challenge. Porter, a graduate of Brandeis University who holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College, has continued to meet that challenge. Ably assisted by her husband, MIT professor and author Nicholas Negroponte, as well as a small and devoted staff, Porter’s success is evidenced by the zealous attendees who come in eager waves that show no signs of ebbing any time soon.

Did You Know?
The Boston Public Library (BPL) was the “first large free municipal library in the United States.” Opened to the public in 1854, the BPLʹs first location was originally on Mason Street and was actually only a few rooms within a public school. The building in Copley Square on Boylston Street became its main hub in 1895. Since then, it has become the home to 23 million items, including the personal library of John Adams; it has also become the center point for many a literary event such as the Boston Book Festival.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Time’s Up for Times New Roman

by Mallory Abreu

Time to move on, typography. There are better fonts out there for you than near-centennial Times New Roman.

Times New Roman has endured a long lasting legacy since its first use in print in 1931. Designed by Stanley Morison as the body typeface for the British newspaper the Times, Times New Roman has since been adopted by publishers, teachers and writers of all walks alike. Yet as publishing and the typeface aesthetic continue to modernize and develop, how can we be sure the staple font will endure as “the most famous typeface in the world”?

Since its rise to fame, Times New Roman has fallen out with companies that once championed its didactic design. It was exchanged with Times Classic and Times Modern in the Times in 2006 and removed as the default font for Microsoft Office shortly after. Neville Brody, creator of Times Modern, says of his new font’s development, “We were building in a new sense of modern Times [the font family] history. In fact, no typeface is immune to history; the technology forces changes.”

It is precisely this idea that Microsoft Office embraced in 2007, when Calibri replaced Times New Roman as the suite’s default font. Senior program manager at Microsoft, Joe Friend, led Microsoft’s programming team in the modernization of Office’s typefaces for the digital age. Embracing forward thinking for the early twenty-first century, Friend “believed that more and more documents would never be printed but would solely be consumed on a digital device.” Before the rise of iPhones, Kindles and other tablets and gadgets, this idea of mainly digital consumption was a controversial one, so it was a progressive, if not risky, decision for Microsoft to make such a change to their aesthetic solely based on postulations of future print. Looking back, Friend and his team’s foresight was indeed accurate. As the twenty-first century continues to be defined by burgeoning digitalization, Times New Roman is left behind with other serif texts, too traditional and superfluous for modern readers.

Perhaps the widely used font is markedly boring and apathetic. Or, perhaps, it demands authority and truth. We recognize it as the commonly used vehicle through which we read printed texts, but have we just become accustomed to its regular usage because publishers are keen on printing with it? In fact, publishers can save money if they print in Times New Roman; since it is a slightly narrower font than many classic typefaces, publishers reduce the amount of paper necessary to print publications. It was for precisely this reason that Times New Roman was developed as a newspaper font. Capable of fitting long articles into narrow columns of text, Times New Roman served its ideal purpose in newspaper print form.

In today’s digital age, however, space is no longer a primary issue, since webpage text takes up so little storage space, and there is no additional cost for an extra amount of digital text on one’s own website. Rather, the imperative for typefaces today is readability. Microsoft changed its default font to Calibri because it uses ClearType technology, which has been designed for LCD computer screens. In general, the use of sans serif fonts in publishing has grown with the rise of digitalization. Fonts for mobile devices reflect this as well. Helvetica Neue UltraLight is the default for Apple’s iOS 7. Google first used a font called Droid on its Android operating system, and then in 2011 designed its own font, Roboto, to maximize digital readability. If digital corporations rule modern day typography choices, it seems Times New Roman and its serif compatriots are out the door, only to be used for specific and artistic choices.

Maybe I’m a sucker for antiques of any kind, or maybe I’m just stubborn. They say “love has no reason,” and maybe I don’t have many valid reasons anymore in the digital era to still be hung up on Times New Roman; but I like my classic go-to serif font. Some people like the bubbly simplicity of Cambria, and some even like the goofy casual scrawl of Comic Sans (but let’s not go there). Still more love the rigorous tradition behind a monospaced, typewriter-like font such as Courier. Yet despite the number of font choices available on my Word program, I continually find myself drawn to Times New Roman. It is clean. Classic. Not too big and not too small (unless you mess with the point size, of course). You might say it is my “just right” bowl of porridge, perfect in every way and for most every occasion. Readability and digital age aside, people will always have their favorites.

Did You Know?
Information on the go is growing more and more popular. According to digital publishing statistics compiled by (Adobe’s marketing information newsletter), “digital magazine subscriptions now outsell single issues three to one.” It’s hard to tell whether the constant outpour of information from our mobile devices makes us more or less avid and attentive readers, or whether we just skim news while scrolling through social media pages, not really processing any of it. Although many people still prefer print copies of news sources to digital forms, news and entertainment via mobile or digital devices certainly seems to be becoming increasingly popular, especially for younger generations.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Social Media and the English Language #TotesChanging

by Nick Persad

Who doesn’t love a nonsensical word or expression?

Whether it be What’s your damage?, the popular ’80s phrase used to show annoyance with your friends; da bomb!, the go-to expression for ’90s kids used to describe anything cool; or bro hug, a term the current generation coined for when two guys warmly embrace, society loves creating new language to heighten its expressiveness.

Most times, when I need to exclaim how much I have enjoyed something (eating at a new restaurant, going to a concert, getting a tattoo) saying, “It was totes-magotes amazing!” just feels far more appropriate than “It was great!”

While some may cringe at the very idea of verbalizing these terms, they have quickly and effectively wormed their way into our everyday speech. Even if you don’t personally use such terms, you are almost guaranteed to enter a conversation where they will be uttered—probably with much enthusiasm.

But how do these words and phrases become part of our normal dialogue? What factors contribute to them becoming globally recognizable—to the point where they are inducted into the Oxford online dictionary as part of the English language?

First, let’s take a look at some of the words making the cut this year in the Oxford online dictionary:
  • catfish: to lure someone into a relationship by a adopting a fictional online persona
  • cray: crazy
  • selfie: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media
  • side-eye: a sidelong glance expressing disapproval or contempt
Unlike the generations of the ’80s and ’90s, which lacked the technologically advanced resources and devices that are prevalent in the 2010s, the current generation is swamped with social media platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine—encouraging them to reiterate the latest lingo. Interestingly, the majority of these terms simply exaggerate forms of different emotion[AVT1] s (much like totes-magotes is a way of saying “really, really, really….”)
According to Jon Reed for the OxfordWords blog, “The words that surround us every day influence the words we use. Since so much of the written language we see is now on the screens of our computers, tablets and smartphones, language now evolves partly through our interaction with technology. And because the language we use to communicate with each other tends to be more malleable than formal writing, the combination of informal, personal communication and the mass audience afforded by social media is a recipe for rapid change.”
Undoubtedly, technology is the primary factor in these terms becoming known across the nation and even around the world. From the use of the hashtag (e.g., #ThrowbackThursday) in every tweet or post to Instagram and Tumblr, to abbreviations like ICYMI (in case you missed it”) and YOLO (“you only live once”), these new words and phrases have entered the English language to the point of essentially becoming acceptable for informal usage. Future generations may come to know these terms as regular, common words in the English language. The debate over whether that’s a benefit for the language has attracted polarizing views, but it shows that English continually evolves over time. And while many cite the internet as a catalyst for the speed of this change, it is important to note that the internet is also the reason we notice these changes so quickly. Websites are collecting written records of language faster than verbal phrases could have ever been cataloged.
A quote by C. W. Anderson, a professor of media culture at the City University of New York (CUNY), for a New York Times article sums it up best: “The internet is everywhere, but it has its own regional vernacular. And those expressions move into standardized language. That process is occurring—like everything else—far more quickly. What’s different now is that it’s being transcribed and written down.”

Did You Know?
Use of words and phrases like bro hug and selfie have skyrocketed due to their strong use in social media. But which platforms are having the greatest effects? In order to determine the most popular posts and articles being shared on the interwebs, the website Marketing Land found “the 1 million most-shared articles on social media from the top 190 publishers, and the number of shares they generated during the first half of 2014.” Once they compiled this list, they applied AlchemyAPI’s Sentiment Analysis API (application programming interface), which provides “multiple modes of sentiment analysis . . . for a variety of use cases ranging from social media monitoring to trend analysis.” The study yielded that Facebook produced 81.9 percent of the shares, while the remaining was a combination of Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Additionally, the publisher with the most shares was BuzzFeed, claiming 408 million shares that accounted for “6 percent of the 2.6 billion shares generated by the million articles in this study.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Right at “Holmes”: Traveling Exhibit Transforms Visitors into Real-Life Sherlocks

by Alison Oehmen, Intern Fall 2014
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric yet brilliant detective, Sherlock Holmes, is arguably one of the most enduring literary characters of all time. From the original mystery novels to more current television series and movie franchise adaptations, Conan Doyle’s characters seem to champion all aspects of the entertainment business time after time. Following the recent resurgence of all things Sherlock in popular culture, a recently created Sherlock Holmes exhibition has begun traveling to different cities across the United States, once again capturing the imaginations of its patrons.
Debuting at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in October of 2013, the exhibit allows visitors to become real-life Sherlocks, confronted with crime scene conundrums and a handful of clues and tasked with solving a case using nineteenth-century technology and other Holmes-esque sleuthing techniques. Visitors step into reinterpreted life-size crime scenes as well; settings such as the Bakerloo train station and 221B Baker Street are all modeled after the period. Sherlock and Conan Doyle aficionados even have a chance to marvel at the variety of items that are on display throughout the exhibit, such as the author’s original manuscripts, period artifacts and props used in the Sherlock Holmes movies.
In order to solve the mystery, the amateur detectives receive instruction and guidance on the various Victorian-era processes through live demonstrations. They also receive tutorials on such topics as botany, ballistics and the bygone technology of the telegraph. Using this knowledge, along with Holmes’s hallmark skills of deductive reasoning and observation, the sleuths travel through different interactive stations of the exhibit to piece together what happened at the crime scene.
As a result, this exhibit offers a uniquely rich and complex experience for those who walk through it. Science, detective work, popular culture and literature come together under the thematic umbrella of Holmes’s history for a multi-discipline perspective. So far, it has hit Portland and Columbus; St. Louis is its most recent stop, a stint that begins in early October 2014. The exhibit is continuing to make its way throughout the United States, so if you feel an itch to don Holmes’s trademark deerstalker cap, make your way to the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes when it visits your area.
Did You Know?
Conan Doyle attributed the creation of his Sherlock Holmes character to three real-life inspirations. The first was Joseph Bell, a renowned English surgeon and lecturer who was also Conan Doyle’s one-time teacher. Taken by Bell’s acute observational skills, Conan Doyle fashioned the Holmes persona after his mentor. The second was Émile Gaboriau, a French mystery novelist whose main protagonist acted as a prototype of sorts for Conan Doyle’s Holmesian invention. The final inspiration came from America’s own Edgar Allan Poe, the author widely acknowledged as the father of detective fiction, whose works attracted Conan Doyle to the genre.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ken-tinuing Education

by Ken Scherpelz, VP Sales & Business Development  
Though I’ve been out of the classroom (as student and teacher) for almost 35 years, I still learn something new just about every day. The fact that I’m no longer working within the boundaries of an institution of learning does not mean that I’m finished with acquiring new information to fit into an already-crowded brain. It’s no stretch to admit that I am where I am today—in my career and personal life—because of what I continue to learn along the way. (If you ask my wife, she would say that the proper application of what I learned is questionable, but that’s fodder for another blog post.)
At Publishing Solutions Group, we have been very deliberate about how we continually train our staff. While all staff benefit from the expected on-the-job training, we also make it a point to sit down with our colleagues and address issues that are relevant to our specific responsibilities and the business as a whole.
As the company’s VP for sales and business development, I bring not only 30+ years of publishing experience to the presentations, but also the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the desk—in editorial positions with major publishers on one side, and as a VP with several development firms such as PSG on the other. One of my responsibilities is to direct the ongoing education of our staff in matters that matter (say that five times fast) to our clients. Called “Ken-tinuing Education” (I’ll let you figure out where the name comes from), our sessions cover a wide range of topics. Our feeling is that the better informed our staff is about how the publishing industry works, the better prepared we will be to develop quality programs and products for our clients. A typical hour-long session that I lead addresses topics that are very much in play with the work we do at PSG. Topics have included:
·            a review of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how they affect educational publishing.
·            the use of readability scales in trade books.
·            levels of intervention in reading instruction.
·            frequently asked questions from our clients: How should we respond?
The research I do to prepare for the sessions as well the discussions they inevitably produce brings about new discoveries for me, too. A recent discussion of the CCSS brought about the question of whether or not other countries use national curriculum standards. I did some additional research to learn that yes, many countries do indeed have national standards. (Did you know that Finland, a world leader in education, is one of those countries, and those standards include instruction about religion?)
Upcoming session topics include how ever-evolving technologies are changing the publishing industry and how PSG effectively markets its services to clients. We anticipate the give-and-take of these Ken-tinuing Education sessions to be lively, enlightening and energizing to those of us for whom learning never ends.
Did You Know?
Although he jokes that his wife fails to see application of his knowledge, Ken especially enjoys using his repertoire for trivia. At each of our weekly staff meetings, after going through the points of business, Ken likes to conclude with a few trivia questions. Sometimes he pulls them from a discovery made during the week, others from his team trivia nights. On the weeks when Ken is lacking in new trivia, we consult the (unofficial) Jeopardy! archives. Each of us seems to have a different categorical strength, and it’s particularly exciting when a question is raised that applies to knowledge obtained during project work. Just looked at a passage about Sequoyah and his Cherokee syllabary? That may just come in handy for future questioning, whether by Ken or Alex Trebek. Who knows? We just might have another Ken Jennings on our hands.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hypercorrection: A Millennial Paradox?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

[Note: The first paragraph of the Slate article referenced here contains potentially offensive language, but we feel the remainder is worthy of exploration. Ed.]

Ever wondered why you or others say amongst instead of among, or amidst instead of amid? Wonder no longer! The preference for these words is an example of a strange phenomenon in which Millennials, a generation of increasingly tech- and abbreviation-savvy individuals, are using erroneous or antiquated forms of words used by others every day.

Is there a name for this phenomenon? You bet—it dates back to 1922, when linguist and grammarian Otto Jespersen coined the term hypercorrect in his book Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin; the term was published in that year’s Oxford English Dictionary. The modern OED defines hypercorrection as “the erroneous use of a word form or pronunciation based on a false analogy with a correct or prestigious form.”

Some of the most common hypercorrections in modern English include replacing like with as or who with whom, refusing to defiantly split infinitives or compound verbs, substituting the pronoun I for the object me, or using double adverbs or incorrectly formed Latin plurals. Hypercorrections often occur because we have an unfounded belief about proper form or a misunderstanding about descriptive and prescriptive grammar. Not all grammatical rules are created equal, and in fact adhering to some of them can make our language clunky or even incomprehensible to the average English speaker.

How does amongst fit in here? In American English, amongst was nearly as popular as among in 1720, but the former largely fell from use until the new millennium. Ben Yagoda at Slate suggests a humorous but unlikely inspiration for the comeback was Mike Myers’s Saturday Night Live character Linda Richman, known in the 1990s as the host of “Coffee Talk” and for her exaggerated New York accent and her catchphrase “Talk amongst yourselves.”

While it is oddly formal, amongst is not technically a hypercorrection because it is not erroneous. Well, then, what is it? Yagoda offers the term “‘Runyon-correction,’ in homage to the Guys and Dolls gangsters who, putting on airs, are discordantly proper when referring to ‘an individual with whom I’m acquainted.’” The grammar faux pas can also be seen as the result of Millennials and modern Americans becoming so used to the informal style of blog, email or text message composition. As Yagoda puts it, “Amongst and other formulations represent a kind of better-safe-than-sorry strategy. That amongst has moved well past the Millennials suggests many of us now lack footing on the formal-informal landscape. Sometimes you just want a word that sounds official.”

So, are hypercorrections and Runyon-corrections paradoxical or indicative of a new strategy of writing and speaking? Talk amongst yourselves.

Did You Know?
How do words make it into the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the way hypercorrect did in 1922? According to, the team at Oxford University Press is constantly trying to keep track of new words that should be considered for the dictionary. Their most important resources for doing this include the Oxford English Corpus, entire documents from the web, and the Oxford Reading Programme, an “electronic collection of sentences or short extracts drawn from a huge variety of writing”—everything from song lyrics to scientific journals. Once there’s evidence that a word has been used in a variety of sources (print and web only; it doesn’t include broadcasts), it becomes a candidate for one of the Oxford dictionaries—meaning it doesn’t necessarily make it into print. In addition, the word has to be used for at least a period of two to three years for it to be officially considered for a printed dictionary. Lexicographers have to test whether or not the word will be “ephemeral or . . . a permanent feature of the language.”

The list of words that don’t make it into the print version but are added to Oxford Dictionaries Online can be, as some may argue, heavily cultural or colloquial. For example, the word selfie was named the word of 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries, adding it to the online database. It hasn’t yet been added to the OED but is being considered. Research shows the word’s popularity has increased by 17,000 percent in the last year. The word is traced back to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum, but the hashtag (e.g., #selfie) promoted its popularity, helping it to become widespread in mainstream media by 2012.