Category Archives: youshow15

False Horizons or Failure of the Imagination or …

This post started off as a very short comment on the chart below.  It has become the monster below.  Please, dear reader, forgive me, but please read me.  I need all the help I can get.

Audrey Watters has a salutary chart in her most recent blog post at HackEducation.  The chart below is a summing up of the Horizon Reports 2004-2015.  So pretty.  I am so glad she made it all so legible.  There are many stories in here to be teased out and philosophical assumptions to be spoken to.  A steaming pile of ramen and soup to eat!

Watters, Audrey. “Horizon+Tracking.png (956×593).” Blog. HackEducation. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
Watters, Audrey. “Horizon+Tracking.png (956×593).” Blog. HackEducation. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.

Watters argues that the chart’s accuracy, Horizon’s batting average,  is not so important as what Horizon’s imaginative ‘process’ reveals about how the story of ed-tech is told.  I, too, am interested in both the failures and successes of the Horizon imagination, but where does it go from there.  What does the use of wikis and their transparency reveal?  Just because we can see the inner machinations of the experts panels at Horizon, that ‘information’ does not speak for itself.  It is the story we tell with the data, it is the signal we filter from that dogpile of noisy puppies that is what Watters is interested in.  My question is this: is our current narrative about this dogpile up to the task.  Do we need a new way of imagining the story in order to tell the new ed tech story? Can we proceed to imagine a future from the past or must we imagine that future from the future?  What I ask goes to the heart of what ‘history’ and ‘imagination’ mean to the idea of narrative  and who should tell the story of any future.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”~G. Santayana

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”~Heraclitus

Should Santayana or Heraclitus tell it?  Does the past dispose of the future, condemning us to repeat it in some Fated endless recursion or is the future’s story told by the imagination as we take unique steps toward what we invoke from that future?  I think that I would prefer the story was told by Heraclitus not Santayana.

Consider the chart above. I love charts.  I love teasing out the stories in them.  I love how they sum up.  For example, you would expect that the items that appear in the “Four to Five Years Out” column for 2004 would begin to appear in 2008 and 2009.  Do they?  I don’t know for sure.  Sometimes the terms that Horizon uses to couch their predictions is much like that of palm readers and horoscope diviners–wide enough to apply across a wide swath of the adjacent possible but really the frailest of signals. They don’t appear to tell much of a story.  I really don’t think that is Horizon’s purpose.  They understand the future in Santayanan terms-past is prologue to future.  They mine what has happened and they think that this is enough.  But what if they wrote their narratives with the idea of delineating lots of possible paths to the future or even better showing others how they might imagine that future into being.  That would be a very different narrative.  It would inevitably have some figurative elements to it.  Metaphor, metonymy, analogy, as well as humility and a rich capacity to prefigure instead of configure the future.  Poetry? Cinema?  Multigenre narrative?  Next generation Monte Carlo simulators? Black Swan machines?

Yes, when I see the realm of the possible and their adjacencies as a way of telling the edtech story then I find myself radically bored by Santayana’s crew at Horizon even at what seems only short time jaunts of a year.  By the by, why don’t they ever go out two weeks or two days. Prediction is prediction, right?  But that is my point.  There purpose is not to foretell but rather to argue.

This is to say nothing about the metaphor of the chart above.  I see it as surveyed territory with metes and bounds.  It is a platte book with ownership dilineated:  ‘mobiles’ owning this field this year and then his daughter ‘mobile apps’ owning it another.  Each edtech idea is contained and a property entire unto itself.  This way of telling the story is as handy as a pocket on a shirt, but it is also a handy ‘lie’.  Ideas are very rarely self-contained.  They are not atoms (or as Leibniz called them, monads).  They are more like messy pieces of memetic code replicating willy nilly.  And they are totally species agnostic as to who they have sex with.

A satellite view of my farm.
A satellite view of my farm.

As a farmer, when I see this chart I think of a farm with regular fence fields.  But I know when I get my muck boots out on them they become irregular in elevation and in what grows best in them and what flora and fauna haunt their margins and a multiplicity of need and purpose.  And I see that some of those fences will have to go and that I will need a pond here or some drains there. I see the chart above in much the same way.  I have made the world what James C. Scott termed ‘legibile’.

Venkat Rao has written about this better than I can.  I recommend him, but I can borrow an image from Scott that says it all.

scottForestry (1)

The chart is a rationalization of the state of edtech.  It is analogous to  the forest above on the reader’s right. Rao sums up this recipe below (apologies for the long quote):

Scott calls the thinking style behind the failure mode “authoritarian high modernism,” …

Here is the recipe:

  • Look at a complex and confusing reality, such as the social dynamics of an old city
  • Fail to understand all the subtleties of how the complex reality works
  • Attribute that failure to the irrationality of what you are looking at, rather than your own limitations
  • Come up with an idealized blank-slate vision of what that reality ought to look like
  • Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality
  • Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary
  • Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly

The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility.

What the Horizon Report does is create a blank slate reality and then projects onto what it must view as a blank slate future.  Of course it is a failure, but as you will note in the final two bullet points, there are some very practical political realities that can arise from the blank slate.  Its very process can lead to ever greater failures.  Has it?  Now that is an interesting story to tell:  who has relied on this report to make future going policy decisions of consequence?

I look forward to Watters’ other shoe to drop on this.  I do not like the dreamfield that I see in the chart.  It is potentially a map for control.  And to gain control you have to dumb down the narrative.  Where there are guardians of the narrative there are uncast shadows and strings leading straight up to we know not who.  A worry.  Yes?



Hope Full in February, the Honest-to-God Cruelest Month

Going on about the weather is trite when the weathermeisters natter on. But when I have to get up at 3 am to check on the lambs, it is not. Verily it is not trite. In fact the past week has been an exercise in the depressive grinding of its miserable self down onto me and mine. I am reminded of our first year as shepherds. We damn near slept with the sheep that year with a copy of Ron Parker’s The Sheep Book at the ready. W still needed to sleep so there was a three hour window of time very early in the morning when we were not there.

Of course, you anticipate the teller of the tale, “And that was when the ewe had her lamb.” I neglected to tell you that this was as cold a day as Kentucky had seen… ever. My wife and I both went to the barn and saw the lamb in a cold puddle on the ground, not so newborn. Nothing could live through this, I thought. Then we saw the faintest movement of a slippery pink tongue. No, it was alive! I tugged the ewe lamb from the ground. It wouldn’t budge. Without thinking I grabbed a grubbing hoe from pile of nearby tools dug up the ground around and underneath the lamb. My wife bundled up the baby along with clump of attached frozen manury ground and raced to the house.

Our deep shepherd-y reading had told us that a frozen lamb sometimes responded to a warm submersion. I filled the sink and without much hope we dropped in our little lamb-sicle. When she hit the warm water, she let out at a hot gasp and her whole body shivered and quivered into gear, alive in a warm sheep shit stew, stinking and alive. Even in the worst of times we remember this hope filled moment. The lamb went on to bear her own lambs and you would never know she had ever been nearly frozen except for the tip of her left ear that drooped only a little from frostbite nerve damage.

Today I feel the need to share a video that is also an “ante up” into the near future. That’s what hope is, right? It is the ante in the great and infinite  poker game of life.

We grow some of our own plants for the spring garden. In the video you see tomatoes and peppers and flowers. It really is too early for the flowers, but we will probably put them in a low tunnel of plastic to protect them outside. Seeds and trees are the great feedforward electromagnets that power my engine. We plant them and they pull us toward their emergent future. They give us an anchor there, a sense of the inevitable. Yes, the time will come when these plants will be grounded and that future ‘grounding’ is what fill me with hope.  That and a little feedback from the past that says to me like Theodore Roethke says below–trust in the emergent driving force of the seasons and nature.  We are all cuttings.


Sing it, Saxomophone Man!

Kevin had a bit of musical bio this morning on his website. It inspired me. Real self-insight into what makes this polymath tick. And I’ll give you one clue–it’s what comes out of the horn. Yes, music. Saxophone music to be specific. Kevin’s got a real gig with his band coming up so I am coming up with a fantasy playlist for him of Saxophone “kings”. I am embedding the list below. It is public and collaborative. Join in and add to the list in honor of one of our musical sons–Dogtrax.

Saxomophone Set List from tellio on 8tracks Radio.

February 19, 2015 | A Shepherd’s Journal: The Fragile Crack of Frozen Stars


When it is -11 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 C), the snow doesn’t so much crunch as it …squeaks.

I wait in the dark at the gate. Again.  Yesterday was a meal best left behind for the post trauma to come.  Today I voice a prayer for ‘no new mamas’.

I listen deep inside like an equitorial tracking station pinging for space craft. Was that something? No.

The wind has mercy.  I am only marginally cold except in my exposed face, but I am imaginative enough to bring up my dear Jack London in the similar dark but way worse.

I trudge and squeak down to the rambling pile of desuetude called our barn.  The snow is a Godsend.  It insulates the ground from a truly deep freeze.  Some old timers say a February snow is worth an April fertilizing.  We shall see.

I pass the spot where we lost two lambs yesterday.  Another motto: raise ’em on the ground.  In other words, hope your lambs be small and easy to birth.  Raise ’em on the ground, not in the womb.  These were among the largest lambs we have ever grown in our thirty winters of joy and pain and shepherding.  Too large to make it safely out. You don’t want to know how hard we tried.

I see the ewe who lost them both.  Yesterday, after my wife heroically midwifed them out,  the ewe licked and licked and licked them.  A bleat, a sideways look to us.  She paws the lambs still sticky and golden from birth. Post trauma.  I walk into the barn.

No new mamas. My prayer has been answered.  I break the ice in their water buckets.  Later I will swap out empty buckets for fresh ones and hope desperately that the so-called frost proof hydrant at the barn has not frozen.  That would probably mean hauling water from the house.  An all day affair.  We have done it before.

I think about my wife upstairs at home, deep in the piles of blankets and cats.  I imagine that warmth like the shot of bourbon I probably should have had before I came down here.  She took the late evening duty.  She is the real shepherd of the two of us.  I got the early morning duty.

I feed out hay and a little grain.  The ewes and their lambs are snug in their little lambing ‘jugs’. Sufficient unto themselves even to eleven below zero. The expecting ewes outside stir with anticipation so I toss them a few flakes of hay to keep them from talking behind my back as I trundle uphill to the house, to the warmth that loves me and doesn’t want to kill me.

At the gate I note that my beard is icicled where I have been breathing.  I turn off the flashlight. Frozen photons rain down from the new  moon sky. It is dark matter lambtime in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


A Portfolio Response to Summary

An Improvisational portfolio on the subject of Ferris Jabr’s “Why Brains Prefer Paper”.

For class,  Friday the 13th, February, 2015

1. Here is the article for summary:

2. Here is the diigo annotated link:

3. Here is the diigo outliner that scraped all the links and little bit more as I attempted to ‘Backward engineer’ the author’s writing workplan:

4. Here is the picture of the map I drew based on the annotated link above:  20150213_070511

5. Here is the zeega:

I prepared this on the fly for class and will report back on results and more explanation in the next post.  What. Fun.


February 7, 2015 | A Shepherd’s Journal: Nothing. Done.

I have a reason to
be about
inside this beastly hour
scrubbing the moony
fields for
a mule braying
at distance.
Mars two handbreadths
away from
a waning full moon.
shadows full as noon.
Young toms
touching whisker
trading sniffs
of where they’ve been.
neighbors a mile away
security lights ablaze.
stars even farther.
I listen for a ewe’s
faint chuckle,
for a lamb’s quivery birthbleat.
the moon points to nothing.
I am up for the nothing.
the shepherd’s chore of declaring
nothing new tonight–


Engagement: I Do Not Think It Memes What You Think It Memes

INIGOI don't think

When I search Google for “engagement WKU” or “student engagement”  I get a hot mess of stuff.  In fact it clarifies for me how the word has lapsed into confusion (at least for me).  The Google nGram chart below for “student engagement” indicates that before 1962 there is no record of  the use of the phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary connects engagement to mortgage in a feudal bow toward reciprocal duty.  The modern usage  has abandoned this idea of shared duty for the behaviorist schema that engagement is something we do in order to elicit the response we seek.  In other words where engagement had once been a two way street, it  has now been reduced to a “treatment”.  I get attention by doing something to get it.


I am trying to figure out what this word means in the classroom.  With the aid of two blog posts, one by Steve Greenlaw which led me to another  by  Gardner Campell nearly ten years ago, I have begun to  sample what engagement might mean.

Here is the idea that Gardner Campbell suggests:  treat engagement like an Apgar Test.  Interestingly, out of my 60 university students only four of them admitted to having heard of the idea and only one nursing major and one elementary ed major could speak specifically to what it meant.   As a husband whose wife birthed all of our babies at home (she is my hero), I helped administer the Apgar Test to all three of my newborn squids.  My favorite observation from the midwife of my first born was “pink to the fingertips”, an observation that meant a lot considering my son had the umbilical wrapped around his neck.

The idea here is to use this tool as a simple screening device to get an even simpler take on whether or not your learners are either finding themselves engaged or are actively engaged.  Below is the HaikuDeck I used in class to administer the Gardner’s Apgar. If you click here you can also see my slide notes.

Gardner’s Apgar – Click here to see slide notes and observations.

I have prepared a Google Form for use in future classes:

One of the reasons for doing this work is to push back on the behaviorist notion that engagement is an experimental stimulus to be applied to learners in order to get more of it. Engagement is indeed what the teacher does, but it is even more what the learner does and even more than that it is about how everyone in the community connects. It is what the learner brings to the task at the hand, what she brings to the community of learners, and what we all share as our “ante into the game”. And the game is no fun unless you have skin in it.

Petty Joys: A Series | Part Two: If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It

Music can change the world because itOne of my grand joys has been using a fountain pen.  When we were kids my parents let us fill our own ink cartridges with syringe and a bottle of Shaeffer peacock blut “Quink”.  I never had a ‘stick’ pen until I went to junior high school and I sharpened my pencils mostly with a pen knife (although I still fancy the smell of graphite and pencil shavings from a traditional, wall mounted sharpener).

I still love the feel of a good fountain pen nib on quality stock.  I still do calligraphy although you would not know it from my remarks on my students’ papers. I would love to own a really good fountain pen, but that is a luxury I have never afforded myself.  In the last five years, Pilot Pens came out with the Varsity Disposable fountain pen.  Normally, I would not be caught dead with a disposable pen.  What’s the point?  Well, the point exactly was the point.  The nibs on these cheap pens (about $2.50 each, American dollars) were so smooth to the touch on paper; plus, they worked on a wide variety of stock.  The downside was that they were disposable.

No problem.  You can pull off the nibs, refill them and then carry on as if new.  I use the needlenose pliers on a Leatherman utility tool to ease it off and then refill them with a quality ink like Noodler’s Eternal Luxury Blue Fountain Pen Ink. (Yes, it really is called ‘eternal’.)  Voila.  I own these pens because I can open them.  I have about twelve of them that I rotate in and out of my morning journal lineup.  I filled up six of them today including one for my wife who was thrilled.  No, really.  I am her go-to guy for pens.

Here is what  you need to do the job.

Here’s the finished work–like magic.  Probably took me thirty minutes of very satisfying work to do this.  I hummed some Warren Zevon the whole time, mostly “Nighttime in the Switching Yard”.


I have six pens anew here.  I could be persuaded to part with a few for those who want to recycle them further.  Just drop me a line at  terryelliott at gmail dot com.  I gotta figure out some kind of origami packaging with bubble pack,  hmmm. Petty joys can sometimes grow large in the considering.  What are your petty joys?

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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