Category Archives: connectedcourseobservations

Discoveries from ‘Data’: Not New Landscapes, New Eyes


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I asked students to respond to a Google Form for class last week. The point in doing so was to see what students made of the data from that form. I wanted them to look over what amounted to a snapshot of community activity. (If you are interested in the data, just tweet me at @telliowkuwp and I will send you a private link.) There wasn’t a lot of time to consider everyone’s discoveries in class, but one of the most important understandings was that they were part of a continuous stream of intelligence, the wisdom of crowds. Some of the students considered a single question addressed by sixty or so students in all my E300 classes. Others wanted to consider what the whole survey/ spreadsheet meant. We even had an interloper, Bart Miller, my ongoing MOOC and music and teaching buddy from Japan. He tweeted in:

Ya gotta love Bart’s hashtag #ED300stowaway. And that tweet gave me an opportunity to introduce our class hashtag #e300wku and the twitter client Tweetdeck. This is what I mean when I use the phrase ‘adjacent possible’. Having a ‘lesson plan’ with all of that stuff carefully scaffolded doesn’t unfold for students so much as it crashed down on the ears. This way there was a natural unfolding like a rose bud.

I was most interested in the last question: “we will end the semester at some point. May 15, in point of fact.. The Ides of May (if there is such a thing). Write for me what you imagine you might have done in your semester in English 300.”

Here is a hackpad with their responses and my ‘tagging’ of them, a kind of summing up so that I can get inside the data, translate it into myself. You can view a chart with all of the learner responses here at  Discoveries about Feedforward.

 So what was there to discover in that chart?

1. Students are not very specific about their hopes, dreams, and expectations. That is to be expected. It would take a very brave and self-confident student to push the limits on their imaginations. Although I had a few who were very funny and very dreamish.

2. Students have never been encouraged to use the concept of feedforward in their learning workflow. Just started a Scoop.It called Brain Movies to research this idea further. Simon Ensor has suggested some resources here and here as well.

3. Lots of abstraction and not much concrete to tie down the visualization.  In fact very little visualization/imagining evident.  Again, not a judgment, just observing that students coming to me do not see ‘brain movies’ as a potent tool in this environment.

4. An emphasis on the instrumental over the affective.  In other words feeling and what will be felt at the end of the course is not generally considered as part of the feedforward process.

5. Reactive to teacher content more than to intrinsic needs.  The expert is on top, not on tap. This will change, must change, if their research is to be personally significant.

This quick analysis has inspired me to create a Scoop.It page and a Diigo list to share with students (learners here and elsewhere) the wider world of visualization. They may have also given me the beginnings of the research question that I will pursue along with my fellow researchers in the course:

  • Is feedforward and a useful learning tool?
  • What is the relationship between feedforward and affect in workflow and goal creation?
  • How can we use feedforward ‘brain movies’ to achieve short and long term ‘making’?
  • Sample of One question:  how has feedforward and visualization helped me teach better? learn better?
  • All of these doors were opened by student data.  Think about using it in your own practice.  Special thanks goes to Maha Abdelmoneim for encouraging this post with her prodding question:


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Holy Meta, Batman! Posting about Podcasting then Podcasting the Posting about Podcasting

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I don’t really buy into learning styles as a classroom management tool, but I do buy into sound, sight, connection, and practice as personal knowledge, or as Michael Polanyi defined it, “tacit knowledge”.

I bring this up because I just finished reading a post in Medium by Matt Haughey about podcasts that rings with my own tacit practices and connections. According to Haughey, blogs have flourished, podcasts…well..they haven’t. That resonates for me. I am forever saying to myself, “I really need to podcast.” I want it to be a practice and a regular intellectual process . I want it to be an active verb in my life.

Haughey points out that podcasting has two issues that have kept folks like me from adopting it as a ‘writing’ practice. First, subscribing has too much friction and there are tech gaps to listening across platforms and across spaces. Second, there is what Haughey calls the “social problem”. You are tethered to the podcast as an audience of one. Much like reading, listening is profoudly non-social. There are exceptions to this rule (Soundcloud annotation, Vialogues, Kindle highlighting, Genius for lyrics), but Haughey is mostly right here. We are sociable beings confronted by a technology that removes us from the milieu.

In order to really take podcasting to the next level, the natural social habits of people needs to be included in how they are found, downloaded, listened to, and discussed afterwards.

Haughey has some suggestions:

1.  Make the subscription process easy, perhaps browser based, so that when you come across a podcast you can subscribe to it automatically.

2. If you want a podcast to be sociable you have to create a social space.  Haughey advises that every podcast needs a meeting place much like the one he helped create at MetaFilter.

3. Use all the potential that already exists for embedding data in the podcast RSS feed.  Yes, there really is quite a lot of meta you can cram into that feed.

4. Podcasting needs a “clip and share” app that allows you to cut out just the right moment in a podcast that you want to share with others.  This would be the biggest help as far as I am concerned.  This is what inspired me to write this.  I want audio clips to be ubiquitous in my blog posts.  I want them just like Haughey wants them.

Podcasts are usually large mp3 files but mobile apps could offer share options that give you a scrubber to highlight the audio you want to share, create a short clip, and make that shareable and embeddable in tweets, facebook, and blog posts.

Yeah, exactly what he said.  Wouldn’t this expand their use much like YouTube-to-gif apps have done for video and multimodal creation tools like Zeega and Weavly?

5. Extend the value of podcasts by having automatic transcription services.  Some are already working on this.  Although I have not done this myself, perhaps podcasting needs to be something that YouTube can do.  You can already use tools like Mechanical Turk to do a hybrid transcription.  Sorry for the density of this paragraph, but I think it shows just how up in the air and klug-y podcast consumption and production have become.  No one is jumping in to make the frictionless desktop-to-app product that works from a bookmarklet or extension in a browser.  Huffduffer shows some possibilities, but early days.

6.  Podcast MeetUps.  We go from analog (ourselves and our ears) to digital (podcasts) so why not from digital analog and use podcasts as an excuse and more to get together?  Maybe that is all one needs to build a real community, just that one little push to get together.  Who knows?

7. Connect desktop to mobile and sync.  Instacast does this on the Mac but it isn’t cross platform.  Pocket Cast syncs across platforms (Android & IOS), but doesn’t have a desktop presence.  Plus, how can we share with others, family and friends and colleagues and online buddies.  I would love to share a podcast space where I could comment back and forth asynchronously or just note where they are in the audiobook we are listening to together. Haughey’s point is that we are nowheresville on this.  He’s right.

8. Somebody needs to figure out what everybody else is listening to in your community.  Just thinking out loud here perhaps folks working in a federated wiki can share a page of podcasts that they listen to or just include an RSS feed from their podcatcher which an aggregator like Inoreader could subscribe to and share back out as another RSS feed.  OK, that’s crazy talk, but what starts in the sandbox stays in the sandbox, cat turd ideas like the above included.Is it too much to ask for a podcasting tool that is part curatorial much like Amazon reviews?

I realize that I have taken most of the content from Haughey’s post.  Not much original added to it on my part, but it has served as a template for acting.  In this case that means that I have done a pretty close reading of Haughey’s post, I have thought more in terms of my own podcasting possibilities, and I am inspired to do my own Soundcloud podcast of this blog post.

 

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/183465223″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

 

Some meta thoughts on podcast making.  I used my fav tool right now for a more finished sound product–Bossjock.  I am able to set up sounds in ‘cartridges’ like radio stations use stingers and commercials. I then record live adding these preset sounds.  After I am done then it encodes it and I can export it numerous places including Soundcloud (as above).  My workflow here is getting simpler all the time.

 

 

I Am a Teaching Huckster: Biometric Marketing, TechnoHavoc, and William Gibson’s Curatorial Polymer

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I have been listening to William Gibson’s newest novel/cypher, The Peripheral. I stopped and decided that a much slower and more attentive inspection was owed. I am a bit gobsmacked at how much I miss in listening including this descriptive gem at the opening when a character Leon’s old Airstream travel trailer is described as being “the color of Vaseline”.

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As so often happens circumstance, particularly the morning catch from my personal learning net, brings up some fresh but unfamiliar fish or two. Two from this morning’s trawl come to mind because they are just as deep in the center of the edge as Gibson is.

The first of these is a post in Venture Beat by writer Vivek Wadhwa on the coming tech havoc, “5 waves of technology disruption that are just getting started“. I almost ignored it because there is so much written this time of year about trends and anti-trends, but I perked up when it mentioned health. One of my daughters is a nurse working in heart monitoring telemetry so when I saw mention of artificially intelligent physicians and zero cost genomic sequencing, my ‘mantennae’ twitched.

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It reminded me of the term ‘deep learning’ associated with AI:

[Deep learning concerns] training systems [of] artificial neural networks on lots of information derived from audio, images, or other inputs, and then presenting the systems with new information and receiving inferences about it in response.

Wadhwa’s post makes clear the importance of these big data AI systems especially regarding the burgeoning biometric data market being pushed out through ubiquitous fitness wearables. And why is this data important? That’s what the other article I came across answered.

Cavan Canavan’s Tech Crunch article, “The Future Of Biometric Marketing” says that the data will be opening up “a frontier where we’re pulling laboratory science outside of the laboratory and creating a deluge of new data about human biometrics never before available.”

The rest of the post explores what that means to marketers. What it proves is that there is already a buyer for data from companies like FitBit and that the data will getting better as the sensors in the equipment gets better. Right now this data is not largely open to third party developers, but it is beginning to be shared.

Canavan invites us to imagine some deep learning, biometric scenarios:

1. You go to a movie and agree to share your biometric data as you watch the movie. No more focus groups or previews needed, right?

2. You are playing Candy Crush and your biometric data is flowing as you play. Rewards for emotional peaks might be possible.

3. How about a date where each party agrees to release biometrics afterwards?

4. Or perhaps you aren’t feeling well and Big Pharma gets that info, pre-targeted as amenable to their products?

This is not future distant like Gibson’s seems. This is marketing ready.

Is biometrics learning ready? The complexity of this issue in K-12 is staggering. Just take a look at this anti-Common Core website if you want a taste for the changing world of FERPA and COPPA and biometrics.

Here are just some of the questions that float across my radar as an instructor at university. I invite those in K-12 to bring up their own.

1. Will universities have a genome as a biometric record in the near future?

2. Will students logon with fingerprint scanners?

3. Will educational providers like Pearson have access to that and other wearable generated data?

4. Will I use apps that access student data to determine how attentive students were over a class period? Attentive while online?

5. Will I be required to use these analytics to ‘improve’ my online and face-to-face learning engagements?

I don’t even think I am asking the right questions. But I do know that the market and the money will be there because it already is there.

Depending on what report you read, as many as 285 million fitness devices will be on human bodies by 2018, with a 40 percent CAGR. Smartwatch sales are predicted to grow from 1 million devices in 2013 to 92 million devices in 2018

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I have been using a FitBit for at least two years to track sleep, steps, flights of stairs, and physical activity. It is not a particularly discriminating or intelligent data stream, but it does explain something. Whenever I have had problems with the hardware, they have replaced it immediately. I just thought they were a great service company, but after reading these articles, I now know why they were so quick to respond. Like a printer company, they are not interested in selling ‘printers’. They want to sell you grossly overpriced ink. Or in FitBit’s case, they want to sell or use your data. And it must be worth a lot. At the very least they are using it to promote their wellness business. Their privacy statements seem pretty strong, but if you give a third party permission to use your FibBit data, well…I don’t know quite how that monetizes.

Back to The Peripheral. Gibson’s new novel has its feet straddled over lots of adjacent futures. In fact his oft-quoted phrase (or Bruce Stirling’s, who knows) has never been more apt than it is right now, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” I am personally living in the biometric era, early days, but I am there. As a teacher, I am not yet there. I am both in the future and outside the future. It’s “curatorial polymer” all the way down to the skin. Spookier words and ways and days are yet to come and there is no getting ready for it.

I am reminded by all of this of one of my favorite 90’s movies– Joe Dante’s unlikely hit about the Cuban Missile Crisis, science fiction exploitation movies, and teen angst–Matinee . I was eight when the Missile Crisis happened. I saw the “duck and cover” movies on 16mm projectors and we practiced those pathetically futile moves under our desks. Today, I feel the same kind of learned powerlessness now as I felt then, trying to navigate in this brave new learning world. Yet I also feel weirdly empowered. I want to say “Bring it!” with all the bravado I can manage. Why? Because I am the movie huckster character that John Goodman captures so perfectly. Part of me knows that the learning landscape is populated by scams. I even realize that I am complicit in some of them. Yet I also know that I love telling the age old story of learning for its own sake. That drives me past the confidence game and into the space I believe in so utterly. Like Goodman’s character in the movie:

I get to scare everybody else. But it’s for their own good. You get people who go like this [he covers his face with his hands] at the scary parts, they’re not getting the whole benefit. You gotta keep your eyes open.

Gene: What’s the benefit?

OK, like, uh, a zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.

Gene: Well, yeah, ’cause he’s still living.

Yeah, but he knows he is, and he feels it. So he goes home, back to the cave. First thing he does, he does a drawing of the mammoth. And he thinks, ‘People are coming to see this. Let’s make it good. Let’s make the teeth real long, and the eyes real mean!’ [Mammoth roars] Boom! The first monster movie. That’s probably why I still do it. Make the teeth as big as you want, then you kill it off, everything’s okay, the lights come up, ahhh! You see, the people come into your cave, with a two-hundred-year-old carpet, the guys tear your ticket in half—it’s too late to turn back now!—water fountain’s all booby-trapped and ready, the stuff laid out on the candy counter. Then you come over here to where it’s dark. There could be anything in there! And you say, ‘Here I am! What’ve you got for me?’

I feel just like this in the classroom sometimes. I punch through the double doors leading from the safety of the lobby into the theater and say the same, “What have you got for me?” Here’s what I got for you. It is learning distributed across the ages from the Groves of Academe to the one room school house to the citizen schools of Highlander to MOOCs and beyond. The single line running throughout like Ariadne’s thread is teaching. Always the teaching. I am a huckster for teaching. Full stop.

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Experimenting with Friends (AKA, Connecting)

Simon and Kevin have been riffing back and forth with Soundcloud and I wanted to play around with what they did. I used their sound files and put them into a different container–Explain Everything.  It is all part of my attempt to do more in mobile spaces.

Here is Simon’s work, “CellFormatting”.

I am always so surprised when I translate others’ posts into a zeega by how much it resembles very close, slow reading. I get the same feeling here. I sometimes feel the same way when I memorize. Slow consideration is often the most efficient consideration. It is inherently playful as an activity. Well…it is for me.

Here is Kevin’s draft of a new song done on Garageband and uploaded to Soundcloud.

I only use his song at the end of my piece when it also enters into the end of Simon’s piece, but this is tied to some very interesting back and forth these guys have been sharing all weekend.

Here is my piece that I uploaded to YouTube using the iPad app, Explain Everything.  This is more proof of concept that the tool was capable of more, a sort of raw practice using a tool I had never thought to use in this way before. The emphasis is on raw.

Here are some discoveries.

1. Explain Everything (EE) is pretty good at sucking in digital objects.  In this case it accepts sound files from Soundcloud (mp3’s), animated gifs,  ad hoc recordings on the fly, and hand annotations.  I can do more.

2. EE allows for an odd kind of layering of different media.  Odd because, for example, you can see the sound files being turned on and off.  You can spin stuff.

3. As I mentioned above, I get the same feeling of close reading/translation with EE that I get with zeega and popcornmaker. I certainly feel closer to the ‘texts’ Kevin and Simon provide.

4. I get a powerful sense of play, that a game is happening.  I feel that product is not what this is all about.  It is about process and making as much as finished product (thank God). I am reminded of a tweet that Susan Watson shared this week via …well, it got around. Thanks to Sean Junkins and Karl Hooker.

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And that brings me to Ian O’Byrne who really did exemplify above.  Instead of just consuming the new Star Wars Trailer like 45 million other people did in the first 24 hours, he posted on how folks were mashing and mixing the trailer including creating gifs from the movie (damn, I coulda done that) to lego-fying the scenes.  Brilliant.

I am so thankful to be connected like this.  I think that making might be our salvation.  I hope it is because…I am worried.  Why?  Because in the larger context–as in global context–what does it matter how connected we are if we are just preparing the next generation to preside over a slow ecological crash.  Dave Pollard in his most recent blog post divides the apocalyptic vision into two camps, the ‘Collapsniks’ who believe that collapse is inevitable and the ‘Salvationists’ who believe that civilization can be fixed.  How does connected learning fit here.  I am going to spend a lot of time thinking about this over the month of December.  I think that connected learning may well be the story that straddles this divide.  If it is then we should pour every bit of what we are into it.  If not, then let’s party like it’s 2099 when the population of the planet is 11 billion plus.

This is how my life online has been going online.  One damned thing leading to another. Or as  our rhizomatic friends Deleuze and Guattari are paraphrased by Davis and Sumara,

They point to the need to be aware of multiple interacting flows that , like the concealed root structures of some plants, give rise to similar structures of some plants, give rise to similar structures in diverse domains, even though the interconnections and shared reliances of those structures remain hidden from view.

Mindsets…are fractal-like, concealing intricate patterns of supposition and conjecture beneath a veneer of coherence (161-162)

Davis, Brent, and Dennis J. Sumara. Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research. Psychology Press, 2006. Print.

Hell, yeah!

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Simultaneities and Synchronicities: I Learn by Going Where I Need to Go

tl;dr:  Stuff happens in threes, simultaneously. This post explores the three times three of synchronicity

Does this happen to you online, these weird synchronicities of three?

First, I got a notification that there was a new Android app for WordPress.  I need to live more in the mobile world my students live in especially now that phones are so extensible, so powerful, so engaged in the distributed net. I need to live where they live.

Second, I ran across this very interesting article by Inge de Waard about something called “WMUTE design (Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education).” More on this in a bit, suffice to say it is a a dense dig to find the rough diamonds. At least it is proving such for me.

Third, my friend Maha was tweeting about what to do next online and I see that she is also beginning to post online via mobile.

The thread that runs so true and through? Mobile connection as system, mobile systems as learning spaces, mobile systems as living spaces? “Mobile” seems to be the Grand Attractor?

So I went outside.  It’s what I always do when I am drowned by the profusion of the net. I am driven to move into a larger, slower, deeper and more profoundly simultaneous system.  Nature or Gaia or the Mother or the Father.  Name matters not.  I just step into a vision in a rain barrel

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or the fuse of life that through a brown garden burns

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or in a squall of birds flying over in the blue pall of a November morning.

The animated gif and the still photo and the video above are connected through my mobile device and through the blog and with the three seemingly synchronous digital events above into this seamless (or what seem to be seamless) being, this post.

I pull a book off the shelf.

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Davis and Sumara. They are a reminder of my abortive attempt at a doctorate, but I remember something vague about simultaneity that I read there.

The word simultaneity refers to events or phenomena that exist or operate at the same time. It is used here as a contrast to the modern and Western habit of thinking in terms of discontinuities around such matters as theory and practice, knowers and knowledge, self and other, mind and body, art and science, and child and curriculum.

Davis, Brent, and Dennis J. Sumara. Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research. Psychology Press, 2006. Print.

There are some pretty awesome charts in the Davis and Sumara book that I didn’t wanted to reproduce here.  Instead I have grabbed some from another source that makes the same point. The three graphs point out the growing cognitive complexity of TV crime shows.

 

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Old school TV discontinuity, plot as strictly chronological.

Simultaneous and multiple narratives, fuzzy borders.

Simultaneous and multiple narratives, fuzzy borders.

Multiple threads layered one atop the other, truly synchronous.

Multiple threads layered one atop the other, truly synchronous.

Johnson, Steven. “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” The New York Times 24 Apr. 2005. NYTimes.com. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Inside and outside. Atop and below. Helixes of stories in simultaneous and seamless connection. Online and off. Is there a new story being born here? What is my point? Life imitates nature?  Nature mimics life?  I think it is time to return to de Waard and her article about WMUTE design (Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education).  The term of art she uses is ‘seamlessness’.  Mobile learning is giving us the chance, all of us, to live a new way of learning.

Seamless learning is still a new area, and the challenges are multiple. As this discipline merges the technological and human challenges faced by the emerging new technologies of the last decade (mobile learning, social media, MOOCs, etc.), it is becoming clear that the ultimate learning environment will have to provide a smooth learner experience, with options to both consume and create content. It is a bit of unexplored territory.

Hyperbolic understatement much?

I have been thinking of all that has happened in the last year in my own “not so very” seamless learning experiences.  It has been a simultaneous and synchronicitous layering of MOOC’s and makings and social media. Now I am working toward the mobile part. I sense that it is the ‘click’ piece,

Maha is wondering, “What next?”  It is an ultimate question we should all ask as we move through whatever season in whatever hemisphere in whatever country we live in. Perhaps the answer is already moving from one bit of informal learning toward another, from MOOCs to makes to mobilities.  Omne trium perfectum.  All threes complete. 

As a lit teacher  I cannot help but feel the emotional tercets of a Theodore Roethke villanelle, drawing toward the powerful, seamless conclusion:

 

Teaching Stories & Mindfully Learning

 

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“Be mindful to your teaching story. Always learning. Always growing. pic.twitter.com/NasAU8UWzB”

Source: twitter.com

I celebrate the idea of being conscious of your teaching story. Here is one about my lost wallet.

In all my years of owning a wallet I had only lost it once before (and that was at a restaurant where I met my in-laws for the first time–yeah, first impressions, not. ) Yes,  I had good wallet habits yet I lost it in my morning walk from car to office.  I did not realize it was lost until after my last class of the day. I had no hopes for recovering it, but I waited a bit before I  doing the manic, St. Vitus Day, cancel the credit cards dance.

The next morning I got an email from a former student of mine saying that she had found the wallet and would I like to pick it up.  All the money and cards and irreplaceable ephemera and cruft of lots of years was undisturbed in there when I got it back. Happy day and rewards all around and karma generated by the kilo.

So, my story is just another example of the Golden Rule: teach as if someone you are helping might find your lost wallet someday (or change your IV or keep an eye on your kid or make your dinner). Teach humanely, thankfully, and humbly.  It is its own reward, but…it can’t hurt to do so just in case you lose your wallet.  This is not the first time karma has reared it rollicking buddha laugh in my teaching life, nor will it be the last.

One last think.  One of the ways to be a mindful teacher is to constantly remind yourself of what your teaching stories are.  Maybe I need get that first tattoo for that permanent reminder.

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Teddy the Porcupine VS Myster E or Failing Incandescently

Tl;dr: I did some stuff. It sorta failed. Maybe I learned something. I suspect so. Maybe not. Kept on. You keep on!

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One might call it the “James Dean” effect–die young and make a beautiful corpse.  Unfortunately, I am neither young nor beautiful. Fortunately, I am not a corpse.  Yet this week has already seen some incandescent failures or as some might say in kindness–some fiery results.

Maha and Kevin both were concerned.  I wrote back to Maha indicating that all was in flux but OK and to Kevin I responded to his voice with my own.  I have promised more reports from the field, more feldgangs (field walks).  This is one.

So much pride cometh before a pratfall.

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So proud of myself that I had created a YouTube playlist for my freshman comp classes that would reinforce what we were working on this week-argumentation essays.  Now that I look at in the clean light after the storm I see it for what my students saw it as–just another foisted thing, another dull scene in the saga of being a strategic student.  I created it as a gift, but to their eyes it was just another intrusion in the zero sum game of academia.

Above  is my  pride and joy, utterly scorned by my students.  Well, not utterly scorned by my students as you can see below.

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But almost utterly.  There is a glorious brutality to numbers that forces you with a slap to the face to wake up.  But to what?  In part…to the foolishness of excessive scaffolding, to the impossibility of managing chaos and the unknown unknowns that float through our lives like black swans paddling furious and unseen.  Nicolas Taleb would say that I need to wake up to  “the critical issue … the artificial suppression of volatility — the ups and downs of life — in the name of stability.”   I think I do that.  I think I am aware of it in my teaching.  I know that the more locked down I approach the classroom and the more I try to “teach”, the more volatile it gets.  That volatility appears in the my playlist through disaffection. They ignore me. In no uncertain terms, they ignore me. And I know this because I asked them in class about it.  What playlists?  The data of the analytics doesn’t lie. What playlists?

But crickets are a good source of information about the ecosystem.  Their absence tells us even more.  Perhaps email has failed.  One student mentioned after class was over that she subscribed to so much stuff via email that she often missed important signals–out of sight, out of mind, never seen, neglect benign.  Or perhaps when confronted with my playlist, students saw noise not signal. Or perhaps it was and is noise.  Just bad vids.  Here is a copy of the email I sent them but with my reflective annotations for this post. Should I send this to them?  Probably.

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But I do know that a sizeable minority saw the little throwaway at the end of my email., hence they saw my email. They told me they enjoyed it so we all watched it again in class.

Lesson learned?  I originally learned this lesson from Vizzini in The Princess Bride, but obviously have forgotten it.

When you go up against a talking porcupine, expect to lose.  But all is not lost.  Today I will send another email reminding them of the playlist as a way to take another look at a template on how to write an argument paper and as an opportunity to send me questions if they have them.  But that’s not all.  If you read on you will get two free Google 20% projects that arose from my debacle.

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Students have been doing this assignment at their own pace all semester.  Some have presented publicly and some privately.  I had two present yesterday.  Both made me proud to have made this open-ended and  ‘odd’ assignment  (or so  both colleagues and students alike tell me).

Derek’s was simplicity itself–a comic

He approached me before class to ask if this was OK as a Google 20% Project.  I said sure, but… I wanted to know more about how it came about.  And he proceeded to tell me about his art universe, a peek into the rich and full world of his imagination that I would have had no way of accessing without the assignment.

It is the memory of his voice and his excitement and his authentic self being validated that is what I wanted from the project. Sensing an open vessel,  he filled me full with the story of the kinds of tools he used and how much time it took to make this  and his own history with comics and on and on.  At the end he was startled that anybody cared about what he was interested in.

While Derek’s presentation was a private one, James’s was public.

James works in a genre known as “anime music videos”.  Simply put (and believe me there is nothing simple about any of this) AMV afficionados pick an anime episode or episodes and mashup an appropriate song with clips from the anime.  Music and clips are matched for rhythm and appropriate lyrics.  This is serious, next level remixing here.  James said this amv took 8 hours to make.  His first one took a week.  He does it all on a little notebook computer.  Now I do a little mashing up myself with a cool tool called Zeega, but mine is child’s play compared to what James does.

This is all part of a larger universe known as cosplay and I am always very keen to observe how peers look upon each other’s worlds.  I think that James’s peers were stunned into respectful, awed silence.  I know I was.  I would like to take credit for  that, but I can’t.  I just lucked up into having James in my course and in providing him with a public venue.  I got the opportunity to ask him some very public questions so that he could shine on a bit brighter.

I think I failed here, too.  I realized immediately after Derek’s presentation and after James’s that I should have done this at the beginning of the semester.  Instead of  restraining volatility, I should have released this kraken at the beginning of the semester.

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What would have arisen from that?  I will tell you. Something even more compelling and unknowable that would have reflected the happy act of faith in the motive power of human beings set free to learn as they would, an act so disruptive that I hesitate to even use that repulsive, cliched term.

All of what I have done is what Sean Michael Morris in a recent blog post calls ‘scholarship in the act’.  I trust that this post complements his abstraction with a messy dollop of practice. I know mine is too long.  That’s why I prefaced it with a “tl;dr”.  Morris’s  post bears quoting at length because it fits my own practice and is a nice emotional conclusion to our recursion, to our feldgang.

My philosophy of teaching assumes a scholarship in the act, and a reflective scholarship at that. I not only believe that the best teachers learn deeply by teaching, but that each of us has an obligation to pass on to students not only what we learn, but the contemplative process by which we came to it. I don’t believe as much in subject matter as I do in process. I don’t believe as much in methodology as I do in practice (one being how we plan to teach; the other, what really happens).

My practice relies on the element of surprise, and upon mindfulness. I believe, as Thomas P. Kasulis put it in “Questioning, that:

A class is … a process, an independent organism with its own goal and dynamics. It is always something more than what even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.

Because of this, one of the most important skills a teacher can possess is mindful attention, and a willingness to see where a class is really headed, and not stick so tenaciously to his plan that he misses the brilliance of collaboration possible with his students.

The ever-evolving digital learning environments available to teachers today offer up millions of possibilities for instruction, learning, and collaboration. But all of these are only possible if we pay close attention to the technologies we use, the methodologies we inevitably must disrupt, and the innovations available not within our own minds, but within the minds of our students.

So with mindful attention I admit freely to being too clever by half and I admit to losing out to a pumpkin eating porcupine and I admit to enjoying every damned minute of it. I admit to failing incandescently.

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Accelerate into the Crash

 

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Sometimes I read a post on the net that is so preposterous that it shakes me out of my bias and makes me, it just makes me, stand differently, look in a different direction, and finally see the view through a window I had never seen before.  Very similar to my wife pointing out  how this is the only time of year I can see the sheep in the far pasture. You have to look through the bathroom window and damned if I can’t see little white specks through the poplars and sycamores and river birches.

The post I refer to is one from from Venkatesh Rao’s blog Ribbonfarm and concerns the idea of crash-states.  He draws from the idea of ‘crash and reboot’ in software development as a contrast to what we all call ‘life’.  Or as Rao puts it:

A crash is fundamentally “life going on” even after you lose predictability and control. A recovery is not resumption of life. Life never stops. Recovery is about regaining predictability and control of an uncontrolled, unpredictable process.

Now comes the hard part. I feel like my classes  are in the middle of a crash.  I have tried to connect to my classes this semester.  Tried to use the tools we have discussed in connected courses and the philosophies of  connected learning. The result has been a crash.  The more and better the choices I gave my students the more confused they got or the more recalcitrant or the more … absent.  I modelled the work myself.  Uggghhh. I can’t even begin to catalog all that I tried and all that has happened.  Perhaps it suffices to relate just one example–my version of the Google 20% Project.

I designed this Project to be open ended, passion-driven, product agnostic (i.e. not just text, but all manner of made things), equitable because self-initiated from the learner’s own curiosity.  I justified it because I wanted  there to be at least one way for the learner to gain some control over a life more categorized by downloading the desires of others and re-uploading the  echo of those desires than reflecting their own will.  I wanted my students to have some freedom to learn and share what they might want to learn and share.  The prompt for the project is simplicity itself:  make something that expresses an interest, a passion, a question you seek to answer.  Share it as a product of some kind.  This was to be nothing more than a sophisticated, college-level show-and-tell.

Every week I gave them potential examples of what they might do.  A few students began to do the projects, some with real zest.  Each class had one or more student models to view as examples.  I did one myself by using the seed sharing I wrote about last week as an example.  Yet…I still got students approaching me about what they should do.  Less than 10% of each class has completed the project.  We are entering the last two weeks of the term for completing them. What else can these projects end up being but the same slipshod messes any syllabus assignment would have been as assigned by me?

We are in crash mode.  What to do?  Rao has  some vaguely helpful advice.

You accelerate into the crash. It is one of those counter-intuitive things, like turning into a skid while driving, getting an airplane out of a tailspin by pushing the stick forward instead of back (I think I got that right?), or emptying your lungs when exiting a sinking submarine instead of exiting with a big lungful (the pressure difference can be fatal as you surface otherwise).

Accelerating into a crash helps you regain actual control authority and predictability. If you force a crash into unfolding faster than it naturally wants to, you gain control over it.

What can I do with my students and the Google 20% Project?

I could just ride out the clock and get a “this too shall pass” glazed look on my face all the while blaming others for the crash.

I could rearrange the flowers on the tables of the Hindenberg, kind of a non-sequitur response to cover my own pedagogical ass.

I could try some totally crazy intervention like offering to have conferences with every student to help them find and complete the project on time. Maybe even allow them to come in on any day during their finals week to demo their project, thus giving them more time to hang themselves.

I could go into class and act crazy, blaming them into submission or just telling them to give up and noting I was crazy to have even thought they were anything more than a flock of helpless ‘sheep’le who just needed to be led by the nose and given an occasional smack with my shepherd’s crook.

Rao argues that all of these are possible responses, but they confuse accelerating into the crash with trying to manage it . You cannot manage the crash.

It’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing it when in fact you’re bracing for the crash, trying to get it over with, or wishfully seeking a zero state.

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This zero state, this reboot state, this bliss of starting over in a state of grace is only possible in computer software, not life.  We live in a world of relative states of crash and burn.

In life and business, crash-only is not a choice but an operating condition, because both are bundles of entrenched habits without on/off switches. Not only are there no kill commands … to forcibly stop behaviors, there is no equivalent to pulling the plug, short of perhaps some sort of controlled brain damage.

What can I do?

Accelerate into the crash, turn into the skid, push the control stick on the plane forward?  It is like asking President Obama what he is going to do now as a lame duck with his party in the minority?  I would tell him to accelerate into the crash.  Do even more executive orders. Push the Senate toward impeaching him.  Push ahead by forcing the crash to unfold faster?

But is it ethical to do this in a classroom?  Does it reveal what a hopeless zombie the classroom is institutionally?   I can only gain control by giving up control?  Was the Google 20% Project doomed from the start with hidden agendas and trap doors?  Rao is pretty damned Yoda in his ultimate paragraph of advice:

At the moment, the best heuristic I have is this: if a behavior change ( not an event or a single decision) brings you immediate relief from anxiety and makes you busier, but without any immediate material change in the environment, it’s likely a case of accelerating into a crash. Often this means giving up doing certain things you’re used to doing, and giving up your resistance to certain things others want to do (which might cause them considerable surprise).

So, according to Rao, what I need to do is change my behavior in a way  that relieves this feeling of failure. I need to be more active and at the same time not give up the project.  Previous habits and solutions are not allowed so I must open up to what my students and others might want to do.  Surprise might be proof of concept. It’s a crash.  What do we have to lose?

I return to the picture above. Rao isn’t giving me an answer to how I can correct and change course, but he surely is providing a promontory from which to stand and look at the field before me. Perhaps I will come up with an answer.  More likely I will get an unexpected surprise  bubble from the cauldron that rises up and pops.   Perhaps from you.  Perhaps in a dream. Perhaps not now but later as I reconsider all the various crashes of this semester and how they might be a Oiuja Board with a very different spirit message for my future.

I can really see the sheep from here. Wow.  I never knew that.

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The Quandary of Connection and Attention

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Jennifer England put up this webinar as a Soundcloud file.  One of the real value added features of Soundcloud is the ability to annotate the sound file and to comment on others’ annotations.  Beautiful tool.  I put up three responses to seed it. Crickets.  Hmmm.

I put up a Vialogue of the same webinar, thinking perhaps that it was the video that folks needed to engage with.  I made a few comments and included a table of contents in case folks wanted to skip around and only comment  on a portion of the video.  More crickets.  Double hmmmmmm.

I organized a film evening using the easy video IRC tool Synchtu.be.  I knew when I put up The Internet’s Own Boy to watch that the time I chose might not be suitable for our European and points east folk to watch.  Mira Vogel and Susan Watson both came.  The ability to watch and comment synchronously was a revelation for me.  I thought more folks would come although the ones who did gave a tremendous gift to me.  I am grateful.   Not crickets, but perhaps ‘golf clap’ might be the phrase I am looking for.

I also created a Hackpad for folks to add educational movies/documentaries/shorts/etc. so that we might find a way to find more content for the Synchtu.be Channel. I sometimes just turn on Synchtu.be and let it cycle through the playlist of videos already there. It would be nice for folks to be able to randomly dip in and watch what they wished as they wished. How nice to be able to add others’ choices to the playlist.

Not even crickets.  I look in the void

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and the void sounds back.

I am left mostly confused by the week.  What is happening here?  Some tentative conclusions:

1. I am not good at marketing. My marketing channels are not working.  No surprise there.  Like many teachers, getting attention tends to be a local skill-in the classroom, with your tribe on Twitter, your Facebook friends.  I always feel uncomfortable even pimping my own posts. I will feel uncomfortable tweeting this post out. Likely, I will not even place this on the #Ccourses blog  And if folks don’t respond then it means they are not buying what I am selling. Or it simply didn’t get through their attention filter.

2. Others in my various circles are not attending.  Some are busy and say so.  That is one’s absolute imperative.  I have no problems. The others who are in my Google+ circles, my Twitter feeds, my Facebook friends–there has to be a reason for no uptake.  Of course, I am not blaming them. Jeez, you can’t have it all.  Where would you put it? I think it is the same problem I have in attending.  There is too much and time and attention are too thin.

3. In the end we have to decide for ourselves what to do and where to go online.  But we also have to decide what to make and who to engage with.  I am thinking that for those of us who have not reached and (at least for my case) are unlikely at this point to ever reach the tipping point where one’s channel is already peopled enough to give one sufficient attention bandwidth, this becomes a true quandary.  What is worth my connection time?  What has been proven to ‘not connect’ and should I continue activities like Vialogues, Soundcloud, Synchtu.be, Hackpad?  Life is an infinite game, but its length is a zero sum one. What to do?  Should I keep throwing manna on the water in the hope of connection?  Isn’t that the definition of mental illness, doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result?  Should I pull in the boundaries of connections to the tribe however one defines that.  A G+ circle, a twitter hashtag, the blessed 150 of Dunbar’s Number?  Or will that just be happy echo chamber?   I could live with that if it actually existed.

I am reminded of one of the wisest of David Sedaris stories, “Laugh, Kookabura”.  In it, Sedaris is in the middle of a hilarious Australian travel piece when he quotes his Ozzie friend,Pat, as they pass by a billboard with four stove burners pictured.  Pat remarks

“One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

The hypothetical game that happens in the piece asks the questions: how successful do you want to be and which burners will you cut off in order to be so?

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I played this game with a student the other day in a conference about her research paper on workaholism.  She resisted.  Wanted to change the rules.  Finally, she decided what was really important in her life.  She decided that she really wasn’t a workaholic, just someone who needed to work to pay for school.

When I have a week like this I have to ask myself which burners?  I have characterized what I do here on #CCourses as one of these elements.  It isn’t the health burner (unless you are burning the candle at both ends in order to stay ‘connected’).  It isn’t the family burner unless you have decided that someone online is your family. It’s either work or friends.  So…if you want to be successful online and you characterize this as work,  then you have to give up one of the other burners.  If you want to be really successful then you have to shut down two of them. This is the quandary of connection.  What price will I pay for the attention needed to actually connect online?

I know some will immediately say that they don’t buy the premise. I can only argue that it’s a thought experiment. You have to buy the premise to play the game.  It’s like Monopoly,. You don’t have to be a blood sucking  derivatives trader to play.  You just have to hold your other rules and assumptions in abeyance in order to consider another stance.  (Peter Elbow called it the believing game.)  For me, I decided about Thursday of last week that the connection game as I was playing it wasn’t worth the burner  I lit in order to play it.  I dropped the work of connection and turned up my friends and my family and my health. Today I return to connection to ask you what you might do or what you might have done to balance these burners.  (It certainly is a funny question considering the little attention that these posts engender. )

Personally, I am not thinking of the four burners as a thought experiment anymore. I  have seen its wisdom over and over in my own life so often that this week may have been the tipping point. It is now my credo for wise action.  Like most credos, it is a personal one usually arrived at through the idiosyncratic process Nikos Kazantzakis  calls the “full catastrophe”, life. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

This means that while my flame isn’t going to flickr and die, my connection burner is going to go way down.  Just as I think multitasking is a chimera,  there can only be one priority at a time in my life.  Let’s just leave it that my #CCourses Food Truck hours are going to be drastically reduced.

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Update:  I posted this on my other blog, Impedagogy, on Saturday.  Nothing.  I tweeted out the post without hashtags. Nope.  No blame here.  Just observation.  Sometimes if you are broadcasting and no one is attending then maybe you are needed elsewhere. Cut your losses to a manageable trickle and move on to where you are needed.  I am definitely needed elsewhere.  Until very recently the noun “priority” had no plural.  I am reviving that older definition.

Complexity in Connected Courses: “Tis a Simple Gift”

Here we begin our course.  Initial conditions set.  Some string is longer than others. Some have different guages.  Equity? As much as can be accounted for.

I am a proprioceptric kind of person. I love embodied learning. When I saw these videos my body started to sway in sync to them and I began to wonder if there was something analogous to our work together in #ccourses. I put these out there with minimal text and invite you to watch and respond as you see fit. I find the whole process mesmerizing especially with the Shaker hymn in the background.

The initial conditions for connecting are set up. Sync up!

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‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.