Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview with Nikolas Baron, Grammarly: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Becoming a more effective writer by means of interactive, cloud-based grammar and composition tools has become much easier as adaptive elearning-focused web applications have become more sophisticated. One of the leading innovators, Grammarly, has pioneered new algorithms and approaches for writing enhancement software which are of great use for anyone who must write reports, proposals, and articles.
Welcome to an interview with Nikolas Baron, of Grammarly.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?

My name is Nikolas Baron and, for the last two years, I have been Head of Online Marketing at an automated writing enhancement software company called Grammarly. My ultimate focus is to make Grammarly as visible as possible to our potential users online; our most popular users being students and teachers.
Nikolas Baron,

2.  What is Grammarly? How did it start? How has it evolved?

Grammarly is the most advanced writing enhancement software out there with its grammar, spelling, and plagiarism checker. We are currently used by four plus million people around the world. Our biggest users are students wanting to write stronger essays, theses, and college applications and teachers needing a tool to grade their students’ work and authenticity.

Two ESL learners and our founders, Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn, started Grammarly in 2008 with the purpose of improving lives by improving communication. Alex and Max foresaw an opportunity to create a powerful tool that would instantly and accurately provide written writing assistance to the more than two billion native and non-native English language speakers worldwide. Grammarly’s algorithms have significantly evolved since then. We also started with a web application and expanded to a Microsoft Office add-in and a web browser extension to provide more accessibility to our users.

3.  How are interactive grammar tools better than they were a few years ago?

The English language has many exceptions to its rules and writing enhancement software was very inaccurate in detecting any contextual errors such as “there, their, and they’re”. Today, Grammarly can more accurately catch and correct English spelling and grammar mistakes based on deviations from baseline grammar standards. For example, when a user receives feedback from Grammarly with a detailed explanation, they make an informed decision about how, and whether, to correct the mistake and Grammarly’s algorithms learn based on their actions.

4.  How is Grammarly different than other programs? For example "WriteClick" offers automated grammar checks.

Grammarly regularly conducts tests to compare our algorithms against our competitors. Our continuously improving machine learning algorithm always wins. In addition to being more accurate, our Google Chrome extension, Microsoft Office add-in, and web application mean Grammarly is accessible where you write. Grammarly also has an intuitive product experience created by our world-class UX designers. I would suggest testing out the free Chrome extension since nothing beats personal experience.

5.  How is Grammarly available? Is it cloud-based and can it be used on my phones (iPhone 6 and Nexus 5)?

Grammarly is a web application, Chrome extension, and Microsoft Office add-in. Grammarly’s core English grammar checking engine relies on powerful algorithms and cloud-based processing infrastructure to accurately catch writing errors. However, this technology is yet accessible from your smartphone device.

6.  What are some of the drawbacks of Grammarly?  Can Grammarly be used for people learning English?

Although Grammarly is the most advanced grammar and spell-checking software, it is not a replacement for a human proofreader… yet! Our tool is best used as a second pair of eyes. I recommend initially trying it on the first draft of an essay, an important email, or even a blog post.

Grammarly is a great English-learning supplement because it offers explanations for every change it suggests. Although I speak and write English fluently, I still find Grammarly breaking my bad writing habits.

7.  What are your plans for the future?

The potential for writing enhancement software is enormous, and Grammarly is evolving fast to meet it. Our focus is quality and usability. Grammarly’s spelling, grammar, and plagiarism checker is getting closer to the accuracy of a human proofreader each day. We are also working to integrate more closely into people’s lives by creating our extension for Chrome, which will soon release for other browsers. It is an exciting time to be here!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Interview with Sofia Khan: Innovators in Science and Technology Series

Innovation in science and technology ties directly to the transfer of knowledge and distinct learning strategies. In many ways, scientific advancements are both the outcome and the foundation of ongoing research and development of breakthrough products and techniques. Welcome to an interview with Sofia Khan, NonLinear Seismic Imaging.In it, she describes her goal to help develop a new method of imaging fluid-saturated reservoirs in the subsurface.

1.  What is your name and your interest in geophysics? 
My name is Sofia Khan and my interest relates to the application of science to better understand the true nature of fluid-saturated hydrocarbon reservoirs in the subsurface.  I was introduced to cutting-edge concepts in direct reservoir imaging over ten years ago and am now more involved in the development of a way forward that could help solve many of the existing and future complex challenges faced in hydrocarbon exploration and production.

In general, we all want to solve and create a viable and cost-effective method to map oil and hydrocarbon accumulations underground, enabling us to produce more oil from existing reservoirs and from reservoirs not mapped so far using the current subsurface imaging methods.

susan smith nash and sofia khan
Sofia Khan and Susan Smith Nash at the AAPG Permian Basin New Technologies Workshop

Any useful knowledge shared, improvement or breakthrough in that regard is a contribution and benefit for the entire industry and more importantly for the world's energy supply - the impact of what we strive to achieve is far beyond our role within our own companies.  The ongoing effort to introduce new ideas can take decades before widespread acceptance and implementation, if we can patiently persist in that tireless effort.

Through the work of our company and others like the Los Alamos National Laboratory, it has been shown that reservoir rocks can be better mapped when we realize that the fluid-saturated, porous and permeable rocks exhibit “dynamic elastic nonlinearity.”  The reservoir rocks of interest are complex and heterogeneous and contain a variety of mesoscopic structural features (cracks, voids, joints, grain contacts) with different elastic properties specific to their structure.  The voids and cracks are filled with multiphase fluids that are under pressure.  The fluid pressure couples to the mechanical effects of an externally applied seismic signal that creates stress or strain cycles.  The reservoir fluids, which are an integral part of the reservoir rock, have different physical and elastic properties.  The elastic properties of the reservoir fluids - according to oil, gas, and water content - vary due to the changes in their viscosity and behave differently during load and unload cycles of a seismic wave.  The result is that a reservoir rock behaves like a complex configuration of tiny springs connected to each other in series and parallel combinations, each one of them behaving nonlinearly.  Research work on dynamic elastic nonlinearity of rocks carried out in Los Alamos and Stevens Institute of Technology establishes a relationship between measurable nonlinear parameters and the physical characteristics of the porous rocks, and further establishes that the elastic nonlinearity of the rocks directly relates with effective porosity and the pore fluids.    

What differentiates reservoir rocks from other sedimentary rocks is that the reservoir rocks have effective porosity, fractures and pore fluids. Subsurface imaging methods that will directly focus on these differentiating characteristics of the reservoir rocks and highlight them against the other subsurface formations will provide us with direct hydrocarbon detection capabilities.

When body waves propagate through the reservoir formation, they disturb the equilibrium state within the reservoir that exists, between the pore fluids and the rock matrix.  Shear waves, due to their propagation characteristics, show less sensitivity to the pore fluids.  However, the compressional wave and the Slow Wave or Drag Wave™, which effectively move the pore fluids with respect to the rock matrix, behave differently and generate elastically nonlinear attributes.  These seismic attributes related to the propagation characteristics of the P-Wave and Slow Wave are more sensitive for mapping reservoir properties compared to the currently used seismic attributes which relate to velocity, attenuation, and modulus.

The Nonlinearity Component, which is generated due to the relative movement of the fluids and the reservoir matrix, is caused due to hysteresis effects of the fluid movement.  This effect is more pronounced for higher viscosity pore fluids like oil compared to gas or water.

Due to the dependence of elastic nonlinear parameters of the rocks on the porosity, permeability, and pore fluids, elastic nonlinearity measurements are best suited to map the in-situ reservoir properties.  For most practical purposes, the nonlinearity parameter directly correlates with the ratio of the amplitude of the harmonics generated or the sum and difference frequencies generated, to the amplitude of the fundamental primary input signal.

I recently read something that reminded me of the importance of empirical data – that science requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.  I bring this thought into my dialog because we have faced a lot of resistance to a new idea in the area of geophysics, for reasons that are not always rational or fair.  If we can overcome all the disagreement and focus on the empirical data, perhaps we will all gain from the new ideas.  It might be considered radical or controversial, but we owe it to the industry to take a second look at the fundamentals of seismic imaging to advance solutions for more rigorous challenges that lie ahead.  We should boldly go to the oilfields and try out each new idea without hesitation, like the pioneers of previous generations did to come up with answers they wanted to obtain.  There was little hesitation or doubt involved, rather there was almost immediate support and interest in every idea.

At present, only the contribution of the reflected primary seismic signal is being used and the new frequencies generated due to elastic nonlinearity of the reservoir rocks are ignored by the geophysical industry.  The Nonlinearity Component, in the form of new frequencies different from the input signal, once acknowledged, will provide a powerful tool to map the reservoir properties not previously mapped using the current seismic methods. 

Another assumption made by our industry is that the contribution of a newly generated seismic wave in the reflected and refracted signals from a porous and permeable rock formation is negligible and can be ignored.  Using current conventional data processing, which does not realize the existence of this wave and does not account for its lower velocity in the reservoir rocks, its reflection is mapped as a ‘shadow’ or ‘ghost’ of the compressional wave reflection.  This is an artifact created by the lack of understanding of actual behavior of seismic wave propagation in porous and permeable reservoir formations. 

In reality, reflected and refracted signals from a porous and permeable rock formation have two components. Part of the propagating energy is reflected and refracted from the rock matrix and part of the energy is reflected and refracted from the pore fluids contained in the rock formation. Throughout the published scientific literature, the compressional energy in the permeable rocks, which travels through the pore fluid interconnections in a tortuous path, is known as Slow Wave because its velocity is slower than the fast compressional wave.

Slow Wave, as defined by known literature, is diffusive and highly attenuated therefore difficult to measure in-situ in reservoirs. “Drag Wave™” is a form of Slow Wave in that its velocity is also measurably slower than the fast compressional wave. This Drag Wave can propagate over long distances through and across the entire reservoir because it is generated by the solid/liquid coupling as the fast compressional wave propagates through a rock that is permeable, porous and fluid-saturated. Imaging this unique signal that is generated by the slower compressional wave only in the rock which is permeable, porous and fluid-saturated will directly identify the hydrocarbon accumulations.

2.  What is your new product?  
The industry has been looking for some form of seismic attribute which can differentiate the hydrocarbon-bearing rocks – those that have porosity, permeability, fracturing, and are saturated with pore fluids – from all others.  Nonlinear Seismic Imaging Inc. introduced a new concept of imaging certain important seismic attributes of the reservoir rocks - not previously addressed by anyone when we began our journey.  This technology is proprietary and protected by a number of U.S. Patents. 

In this technology we identified three main seismic attributes which differentiate the reservoir rocks from all other subsurface formations that exhibit non-porous and non-permeable properties:

1.     When a seismic compressional wave propagates through a reservoir formation it generates harmonics of all the primary frequencies that are present in the seismic signal.

2.     When there are more than one seismic signals propagating through the reservoir formation simultaneously, the sum and difference frequencies of the two primary waves are created, and that is a unique property of the reservoir formation.

3.     During the propagation of the compressional wave through the reservoir formation which is permeable and fluid-saturated, another seismic wave is created which is identified as the Slow Wave or Drag Wave™.  The Slow Wave travels at a lower velocity than the velocity of the compressional wave in the mineral frame of the rock, or the velocity of the compressional wave in the fluid that saturates that reservoir formation.  This phenomenon creates a very low frequency wave that will only be present in the reservoir formation and not in any other subsurface rock.

Nonlinear Seismic Imaging technology, in the form of proprietary acquisition and processing methods, uses these three main characteristics to directly map the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsurface formations.  To successfully achieve the desired results, the seismic data acquisition has to be specifically designed so that these seismic attributes are created and preserved for further analysis and interpretation after the seismic data have been processed.  Without the proper data acquisition, these unique attributes cannot be usefully extracted during the data processing, and we will not get the desired image to identify the presence of hydrocarbons.

3.  What does it do?  
In essence, Nonlinear Seismic Imaging will change the way we think about the hydrocarbons by focusing on directly mapping the reservoir rocks.  We need a method that maps the seismic signals being generated only in the reservoir rock which is fluid-saturated – mapping these signals will identify the formations of interest and all other rocks are invisible in the Nonlinear Seismic image.

To find and produce the oil that has been left unproduced or undiscovered, industry needs a scientific breakthrough that can provide Direct Reservoir Imaging, a new way to directly map the reservoir fluids and identify oil and gas accumulations, rather than map the geometry of the subsurface structure and use that information to infer the oil accumulations.  Industry needs a technology that will illuminate the oil reservoir like an MRI illuminates one chosen part of the human body, and ignores the rest.

The unique contribution of Nonlinear Seismic Imaging acquisition and processing methodologies is that they provide a method of differential illumination of the subsurface formations that are of greater interest to the hydrocarbon producers.  Clays and shales are normally less porous, more homogeneous, and behave more linearly in comparison with high porosity sandstones and limestones.  As a result, shales and clays themselves generate a weaker ‘nonlinearity component’ and show less prominent amplitude response on a nonlinearity seismic section.  Yet, the main advantage of this technology is that fractured and complex reservoirs will be mapped with greater definition than any conventional seismic method can, irrespective of the number of channels used in the acquisition systems being offered today.  Hydrocarbon-bearing shale would be a prime target to identify the sweet spots since the shale has been deposited in horizontal laminations, and the hydrocarbons captured between the laminations provide the same anisotropic response as the horizontal fractures.  The shale, because of the laminated effect of its deposition history, would become highly nonlinear to a vertically propagating seismic wave – and will give us a strong nonlinear response.

We have proposed that new reservoir characterization methods should be developed by using the elastic nonlinearity parameters of the reservoir rocks and their correlation with the reservoir properties.  Seismic wave propagation through fractured or porous and permeable rocks generates new frequencies not originally present in the input signal.  Seismic images created using the newly generated frequencies provide unique information related to reservoir properties at very little additional cost to the oil company.

Nonlinear Seismic Imaging methods enable the end-user to retain the conventional linear seismic images and provides additional seismic images that will go further to identify the porous and fractured reservoir rocks – and this is where the oil and gas will be located.  In areas where the current seismic fails to map the stratigraphic or fractured hydrocarbon traps, Nonlinear Seismic Imaging technology can provide the useful reservoir information so that reservoirs that are invisible to current technologies can be discovered.  Carbonate reservoirs are a prime target for this technology, since their porosity and permeability quite often does not correlate with the structure or the linear measurements of velocity and attenuation.

4.  What need does it meet? 

Some of the complex challenges considered to be solved using this technology include:

-  Can we map the reservoirs that are caused by stratigraphic traps that we are unable to map using current technology?

-  How do we map the unique signals that are being generated in the reservoir rock when the compressional wave propagates through it?

-  If there’s a deeper zone, can both zones be mapped simultaneously?

-  Will the presence of the Slow Wave generate a unique and independent signal that will identify the reservoir?

-  If there is no acoustic impedance contrast between the reservoir and other non-reservoir sedimentary rocks, can this technology be used to identify and map those formations?

-  In the case of a marine environment, how do we certify and ensure that we have highlighted the seismic anomaly which is porous and fluid-saturated?

-  To eliminate the cost of drilling dry wells, how can we map the porosity profile of an existing or potential reservoir?

-  In order to understand the flow patterns between the wells and between the reservoir facies for accurate reservoir simulation, how can we map the permeable units of the interwell space?

- How can we map the changes in the reservoir pore fluids that are caused due to production and injection processes; can we accurately monitor the fluid fronts?

In spite of all of our efforts to date, the quest for direct reservoir imaging has not been fulfilled.  From the time when we used the “divining rod” or relied on surface anomalies to find the drilling location, to the present day when we rely on advanced seismic imaging to locate oil and gas accumulation – the goal has been elusive.  The current technologies have come a long way during the last hundred years; we can map the subsurface geology of the sedimentary rocks with a higher resolution.  However, there is no technology which exists that can help us in directly locating the hydrocarbon accumulations with any level of certainty.

One of the critical elements of oil exploration is to identify the geologically favorable areas around the world where commercial oil and gas accumulations can be found and exploited.  Seismic subsurface imaging methods are being used in geologically favorable areas to image the subsurface strata.  During the last two or three decades, tremendous progress has been made in improving the resolution and the reliability of the seismic results.  Based on the seismic images, the potential geologic traps that hold viable oil and gas accumulations are identified.  At present, the interpreted results of the various geologic traps that can accumulate hydrocarbons can only be validated by the drilling results.  The current seismic, in spite of all the recent improvements, fails to directly map the hydrocarbon accumulations.

The existing reservoirs dating back to those discovered many years ago still contain substantial remaining quantities of oil and gas in a conventionally movable state.  The volume of residual oil in the existing reservoirs is large.  There is a strong correlation between the unrecovered reserves with the geologic heterogeneities of the reservoirs.

Over the past almost three decades, industry has applied different methods of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and improved oil recovery (IOR).  In most cases EOR or IOR have proven to be expensive and have had limited success.  Generally the limitations do not seem to be in the efficiency of extraction techniques, but rather in the ability to correctly deploy such technologies in geologically complex reservoirs.  Since most of the conventionally movable oil and gas potential lies in geologically complex reservoirs, the breakthrough reservoir imaging technologies will be chiefly responsible for improvements in producing the extra reserves. 

It is highly probable that more subtle hydrocarbon accumulations in stratigraphic traps have been left behind, since the current technology can only map the subsurface rocks and fails to directly map the subsurface hydrocarbon fluids. 

Today, what is needed is the development of a new technology that will provide a new seismic approach that will allow us to map the reservoir porosity profile, permeable flow units, location and orientation of fractures, and the distribution of different viscosity pore fluids.  In addition to the standard 3-D image provided by the current imaging methods, each one of these critical parameters would be mapped and displayed individually in three dimensions.  Hydrocarbon reservoirs are heterogeneous and complex in terms of porosity, permeability, fracturing, lithology, pore fluid saturation, and distribution.  Knowledge of these reservoir parameters and their spatial variation is critical in the evaluation of the total volume of hydrocarbon reserves in place and how these reserves can be extracted economically.

5. What makes the technique advantageous? 
We directly image the unique signal that is being generated in porous, permeable and fractured reservoir rocks, and not being generated in other sedimentary rocks.

The applications of this technology primarily define the reservoir parameters listed as follows:

1.         Direct Reservoir Signature

2.         Imaging Reservoir Effective Porosity

3.         Imaging Reservoir Permeability

4.         Mapping Pore Fluids

5.         Imaging Reservoir Fractures

As an end product, we will directly identify hydrocarbon accumulations and simplify the exploration effort.  There are several techniques we can utilize and they will depend on the challenge that is faced in the particular field location and geologic condition.  These methods can be implemented using all of the existing equipment already known throughout the geophysical industry, such as Vibroseis trucks, impulse sources, marine streamers, ocean bottom nodes and cables etc.  Recently, we have come up with a new, different approach to identify reservoirs with the “Direct Reservoir Signature using the Drag Wave™” – and feel confident that the industry will recognize its value.

The reservoir properties of interest are porosity, permeability and the identification of the pore fluids.  In large exploration programs when the data volume can become overwhelming, the industry needs a method which will identify more promising leads that will direct the explorationist to focus on the areas which are more likely to be commercially viable.  This patent is designed to address that shortcoming by using simple acquisition and data processing methods to locate the subsurface reservoir formations that will provide more commercial and beneficial returns. This patent would be extremely useful for reconnaissance work in unexplored areas of the world and in those areas where the conventional seismic has been unable to map and locate new reservoirs.  You might consider it as a “Step One” when using this technology.

In particular, no additional Vibroseis equipment will be required to implement the method; we’ve created the invention to be effective for the most difficult-to-access areas where the operations are increasingly expensive.  One of the main advantages of this new method is that the lower frequency generated due to the Drag Wave is totally unique and cannot be mistaken by the harmonics or the interaction of frequencies, and this lower frequency becomes a very reliable indicator of the presence of subsurface reservoir formations.

This Drag Wave™ invention will also reduce the cost of drilling dry wells because a simple test using this technology will either confirm or decline the presence of reservoir rocks, thus avoiding not drilling any wells where this newly generated lower-frequency signal is not present.  This invention will reduce the cost of exploration and improve the success ratio, and can easily be implemented with the current seismic equipment and the current practices using seismic imaging at present.

6. What are your future plans?
The work has been done to understand dynamic elastic nonlinearity; the methods have also been devised to take advantage of the science so that we can advance the effort in hydrocarbon exploration.  I would like to achieve the implementation of this technology as we advance into a world of changing demographics – increased population and more demand from developing economies throughout the world.  Using the new Nonlinear Seismic Imaging technology, opportunities exist to improve results in oilfields both onshore and offshore.  Taking this approach, the risk is minimal to the operators.  With intelligent planning and proper implementation of simple techniques, it would be nice to have a successful outcome for everything that has gone into this effort so far.

Using the technology is not capital intensive, so the rewards will be directly related to the exploration efforts of the oil companies.  I am currently exploring how to achieve global implementation of this technology – in a step by step process.  There are no easy answers so far, but I am hoping that we will find a champion in the industry that believes in this approach and decides to move forward with us with a full, dedicated commitment.      

Sunday, January 04, 2015

First-Ever "Sombras en la Noche" Paraguayan Online Film Festival

Werewolves that feed on corpses in old cemeteries, shape-shifting creatures that kidnap children and turn them into dunces, and an Incubus creature that can slip in during siesta impregnate sleeping young women -- these are just a few of the very interesting Paraguayan mythological figures that populated the classic 90s television series, Sombras en la Noche. A stunning commercial success when it aired in Paraguay, the series was the brainchild of director Carlos Tarabal. Because the series was based on the folklore of the Guaranis who live in Paraguay, and its stories very authentic, received numerous accolades and commendations from the Paraguayan government.

Now, 20 years later, the  original episodes are available on YouTube, and the website for Sombras en la Noche contains links to all the episodes, as well as a guide to the main mythological creatures found in Guarani folklore. They include the Luison, the Pombero, Jasy Jatere, and other myths having to do with ghosts, creatures, and buried treasure.

sombras en la noche -- paraguay - guarani
Sombras en la Noche: A classic television series based on Guarani folk creatures in Paraguay
Carlos Tarabal, a Uruguayan who, according to various interviews, has lived in Paraguay for 34 years, championed the original effort. It was stunningly popular. The fact that it was shot as though it were a reality series or a documentary made it all the more convincing, especially in the rural parts of Paraguay.
Carlos Tarabal: Creator of Sombras de la Noche and the Online Film Festival
The fact that the episodes are available on YouTube makes it quite amenable for incorporating them in e-learning and m-learning activities, including culture, myth, literature, film, and language studies. The episodes are subtitled in Spanish.

It would be quite interesting to develop lessons around comparing vampires, werewolves, zombies and other creatures with the Paraguayan ones, and also to see how they are represented in Sombras en la Noche, vs. in other television series. One that comes to mind is Grimm, which does in fact have an episode that features a "luison," but it is a rather silly one (in comparison with the horrifying cadaver-eating seventh-son wolf figure, the Paraguayan luison). The Pombero is featured in Ares Cronica, which gives quite a bit of background.

Episode from "Sombras en la Noche" (Shadows in the Night):  Suspected Luisón

Luisón (photo credit:
A cemetery ripe for Luisón predation and pillaging (photo credit:
A personal note:  I had not been to Paraguay in 15 years (so hard to believe!), and was very eager to visit again, particularly since I had traveled to Paraguay many times during the late 90s, and was involved in a wide range of cultural and commercial exchanges between Paraguay and U.S. entities, mainly in Oklahoma, which included The University of Oklahoma, St. Gregory's College, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, trade / business councils, and various film festivals, literary events, and indigenous tribal cultural exchanges. One of the activities I was most proud of was the completion of an anthology of 35 Paraguayan women writers, whose work I translated from Spanish to English and then made available online. I'd like to include a second

I had the opportunity to return at the end of the year, and I was really happy to learn that Sombras en la Noche had been made available, and that there was a virtual film festival. I ran into Carlos Tarabal in a restaurant one afternoon and he let me know that there may be a new series as well -- a kind of Luison, Reloaded (smile). I have to say I love the idea. Zombies and vampires are fine in the current culture, but it's time for some variety! 

On a more serious note, myths can express the human condition, with all its paradoxes and complexities, in a way that very few narratives can. I found that the Paraguayan Luison myth related quite well to the experience of American Marines in Iraq, and I wrote a blog post, Folklore and the Horrors of War: The Myth of the Luison  around 10 years ago about it.  You might find it interesting reading. I go into a bit of detail about the Luison myth, as well as Paraguayan history and the Chaco War, as well as connections to other extreme experiences.

susan smith nash asuncion paraguay
Susan Smith Nash in Asuncion, Paraguay at the Gran Hotel del Paraguay (photo credit: hotel staff)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interview with Franklin Lafayette King, Authors and Innovators in E-Learning Series

Creative writing, literature, as well as highly personal writing are catalysts in e-learning because they have the capacity to engage deep emotions. Welcome to an interview with Franklin Lafayette King, whose writing is haunting, emotionally compelling, and emotionally engaging. He has also been a trailblazer in elearning, pushing the envelope with technology and also emotionally-engaging, effective approaches that encourage literature and personal self-expression.

1.     What is your name and your experience in e-learning?
Please allow me to introduce myself; my name is Franklin Lafayette King, Ed.D., Associate Vice-President Emeritus and Commander, USNR-Ret. After seeing a small rural Alabama school engaged in an early form of distance learning, I suggested to my university that we too could offer programs at a distance.  This recommendation was made in the early 1990s when the Internet was far from what we know it to be today.  With each advance in technology, the university was able to effectively impact an increasing number of students, and to later become a major force in the educational process reaching students not only in Alabama but throughout the world.

Of particular interest to me was meeting the needs of those who are challenged as well as the students who must work in order to receive an education that would not otherwise have been possible.  The working mother is a prime example of the audience that continues to benefit from e-learning.

2.      How can works of literature be used in e-learning?  
Works of literature challenge the student to use his or her mind in creative ways.  It introduces the student to media that he or she would not otherwise be comfortable with.  The Kindle, iPad, Nook and other similar devices facilitate the sharing and learning of new ideas and interest through literature.  In addition, works of literature are often free or are offered at a nominal cost to students through various sharing programs.  As an example of the economy provided e-learners, my latest book, The Story of James, is offered as an e-book for less than two dollars, a tenth of the cost of the paperback edition.

Literature like art furthers the emotional experience.  We are for a moment allowed to assume the identity of the author as he or she takes us on a journey that would not otherwise be possible.  On a personal note, I am richer for having walked the streets of Dublin in the company of a digital copy of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Literature is often identified with social movements.  The novel 1984 by George Orwell continues to influence our attitude towards the role of government in society. Walden written by Henry David Thoreau over a hundred and fifty-years ago teaches us to appreciate our fragile human and natural environments.

Literature allows the reader to place that which is mathematical and scientific within the context of humanity.  The knowledge that we gain through literature can be viewed within a shared community to which we vicariously belong.

3.       Please tell us about some of your works - how they relate to location, historical moments, etc.
I do not write stories that I cannot directly relate to.  I must visit a location or live there in order to incorporate it into my writings.  I feel that location is a major contributor to the writing process.  It plays a character role in my work whether it be in poetry, essay or novel.   

Lost Graves is based upon my own experiences in an antebellum house that I have owned for more than two decades but am now hesitant to live in.  The incidents that have occurred have created an unease within both myself and my family.

The Woods of Coole was built upon my many visits to Ireland, and to the site of Lady Gregory's house in particular.  Anyone that visits the former estate will be moved by the surrounding mature forest and the scant traces of the house that still remain. 

The setting and plot for In the Shadow of Leaves came from the week that I spent on Inishbofin, a small island off the west coast of Ireland.  It was the perfect setting for exploring an Irish legend that involved both trees and the role of fairies in the mythology of Irish literature.

4.    Please describe the Story of James.  In your opinion, what makes it special? 
The Story of James and Other Writings consists of two novellas and selected poems.  The first novella, The Story of James, is enriched by my own experience with cancer with all of the physical, financial and emotional upheavals that result.  A journey that has not yet ended.  Having lived in Galveston for several years as a child, it like Houston, was a familiar setting for the story.

Seeing the impact of cancer upon children was the most emotional part of my daily routine.  During my treatment sessions, I witnessed adolescents, toddlers and even infants awaiting their own therapy.   I saw firsthand the bonding of families and strangers.  The kindness shown to these children was far more moving than written words or verbal accolades could ever express.  It was their story and the story of those touched by this disease that I wanted to capture.  I hope that it will remind the reader how beautiful and fragile life is regardless of age.

The second novella, the Tribe of Noah reflects in many ways my own journey. I, like Noah, own a green 1969 VW bus.  In addition I walked the streets of Provincetown, Massachusetts and like the protagonist, I too had a book of poetry that did not sell a single copy.  I hope that those who love the writing process and too often experience its frustrations will enjoy this short work.

The idea for the poems based upon the works of the Impressionist painters came to me as I viewed their work in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.  The plot of a Woman in the Window was deepened by my own Vietnam combat experience and my love for Paris, its painters and sculptors. 

Many of my poems are located in the countryside whether it is Texas, Europe, the Far East or the islands of the Caribbean.  Having lived on a cotton farm, I early grew to love the sights, sounds and scents of nature.  Like all that experienced farm life, I am familiar with both poverty and abundance.

Above all, I want to thank Dr. Susan Smith Nash and Texture Press for the opportunity to share my works with others.  My journey into writing would not have occurred without their ongoing encouragement.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ultimate Field Trip Competition: Interview with BP

There are many ways to learn, and one of the most dramatic approaches to situated, experiential learning is a field seminar or field trip. Welcome to an interview with Jason Terrell, Talent Attraction Manager, US University Relations, BP, who discusses BP's "Ultimate Field Trip Experience."   

Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview with Jeff Kissinger, Rollins College Certificate in Instructional Design: Innovators in Instructional Design Series

The need for innovative instructional design that works in many different types of organizational settings for many different types of learners is surging now with the advent of mobile devices. Welcome to an interview with Jeff Kissinger, Rollins College. Jeff designs and administers new programs in one of the nation's most innovative college, which is known for its passionate approach to instruction and learner engagement.

What is your name and your relation to elearning?
Hi, my name is Jeff Kissinger, Jeff, and what is my relation to eLearning?  Well, at my core I am a curious learner and teacher, always have been.  I am fascinated by how we make sense of the world around us, interact with each other, and attempt to gain novel insights.  eLearning, to me, is connected learning, which I suppose one could easily say of all learning; that it doesn’t happen in isolation and is always situated.  But, for the sake of the topic and this question, and your blog Susan, eLearning might be considered connected, social, omnipresent learning enabled by various technologies and ecosystems.

My relation to eLearning is quite simply my love of teaching, learning, and tools and creative ideas that serve these. I began to develop a true passion and connoisseurship for this convergence many, many years ago teaching students with exceptionalities applying adaptive technologies for their diverse needs at an urban high school in Orlando.  I got to see first-hand how creative uses of tools and technologies could enable higher student learning and outcomes, but more so than that how it changed their lives.  From that teaching experience alone I knew that I had to always be striving for better understanding, competence, and capacity to help create the best learning opportunities possible.  So, again, to me, I see eLearning as a shortcut to describe the learning in our connected age, whether formal or informal, and where modality is not the predominant defining factor.
What do you consider your core philosophy of elearning?

My philosophy of elearning, and simply learning, is based on a solid foundation of open access to knowledge, critique, and creation.  I began my career teaching English in a rural area of Florida but truly began to develop a connoisseurship at the nexus of pedagogy and technology while teaching students with exceptionalities in an urban high school.  This experience planted the seed for a life-long thirst to uncover, explore, and share novel learning affordances of emerging teaching/learning practices and technologies.

At the core of these inquiries is a focus on Connectivism and the omnipresent social layer of our modern existence and the necessary literacies we must continuously hone.   In my teaching, regardless of context or modality, I see the world through a multidisciplinary lens, where technology and tools serve the learners and seek to improve how we learn. 

How do you decide what kinds of instructional technology to use?  
Drawing on my resourceful, scrappy years teaching in special education I was always searching for creative ways to enhance student learning opportunities with whatever tools and technology I could get my hands on.  Ironically, in those days most of us wanted more PC-based tools, and I had a bunch of hand-me-down Apple LCIII’s in my adaptive technology classroom/lab.  So, I learned early on to use what I had, in the best possible way, however what this helped me fine-tune in my own teaching was to focus on the learner and not the tool.

The tool will present itself if you have this non-technocentric lens.  This perspective has served me and my students well over the years guiding key decisions in instructional technology selection and application.  I guess the other thing I would say, and why I feel Apple technologies align so well with teaching and learning is that the tools need to become common and fold into everyday life and use.  We can’t have environments and tools that create needless cognitive overload or distractions that get in the way of why we are here, which is to learn, create, share, discover…

Where do you think that elearning is going?  I think when one looks out on the learning landscape we see plate tectonics shifting.   There is a mad gold rush within ed tech, and it seems like there are new ideas and tools popping up daily, which I love.  The challenge will be to make sense of it all, in a sober fashion, to best serve learners.

Practically speaking, I see analytics beginning to emerge in useful ways, a continued move to learner-centeredness, and a unbundling and disaggregation of resources, services, and paths.  Designs, practices, and enabling technologies that foster this organic unbundling of available learning options, focusing on competencies and more authentic higher levels of learning and assessment, will be the successful models that emerge and persist.   

What is Rollins College's new Certificate in Instructional Design? Who is it for?  
The Rollins College Instructional Design program is a learning experience comprised of 5 online courses and a capstone course that is offered in a 6 month sequence.  Designed for adult learners by expert practitioners and leaders in the learning and training field.  These courses are taught by faculty and leaders from higher education, k12, and workplace training.

The learning outcomes are:
  • Apply project management principles for local and virtual workgroups
  • Develop connoisseurship for learning technologies along with current and burgeoning theories and practices
  • Effectively employ technology in the design, development, management, and evaluation of knowledge creation
  • Participate in the professional growth of the learning design and training communities of practice.
  • Develop and practice a reflective commitment of continuous improvement to creating quality learning opportunities
6. Create an instructional program for a defined population and purpose
The topics covered include: instructional alignment, learning motivation and engagement, assessment, mobile and social learning, eLearning, learning technologies, analytics, and authoring. 

Why now? What makes this ID certificate unique?
The Rollins College Instructional Design curriculum has been a labor of love and has been a culmination of my and my colleague’s years of experience teaching and learning.  What we looked out at the ID job market we saw a misalignment with programs, degrees, and certificates.  We wanted to create an experience for learning professionals, or those seeking to break into these careers, that gave them the foundational knowledge to make effective learning design decisions that produced tangible outcomes.

Employing practical, authentic learning activities and assessments, the curriculum is designed to serve professionals in workplace training, k12, and higher education.  Unlike many of the ID programs we saw, which were heavily technocentric and didactic, we designed a set of learning experiences that we would have wanted years ago that affords graduates the confidence, skill set, and connoisseurship to be successful. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview with Anne Higgins, Author of Reconnaissance (Texture Press, 2014)

Poetry connects to readers in many ways, and the sources of inspiration can come from experiences, ideas, relationships, and emotions. Welcome to an interview with Anne Higgins, whose latest book, Reconnaissance, has just been published by Texture Press. As sample of her work can be found here.

What is your name, and your primary occupation / avocation(s)?

Anne Higgins. My primary occupation is teaching.  I’ve been teaching English for roughly 40 years, from middle school level through college. My avocation is writing poetry and watching birds.  I also have a religious vocation; at the age of 30 I joined a religious community, the Daughters of Charity.

Anne Higgins 
Anne Higgins in 1970 - Ireland

Anne Higgins in 1978 as a novitiate
 What are some of your thoughts about the role of poetry in today's society?

It’s ever ancient, ever new. Today’s society needs it for the inner life. I agree with William Carlos Williams when he said “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

How do you see poetry in relation to other discourses?

It has equal importance, though not many think so.

What do you consider to be the difference between poetry and poetics?

Poetics is the study of the way poetry is written; poetry is the work itself.

How would you describe your own sense of poetics?

I would describe it the way literary theorist Jonathan Culler does: Poetics is the study of linguistic techniques in poetry; it’s concerned with the understanding of how a text's different elements come together and produce certain effects on the reader.

I have never studied literary theory per se: my study of poetry (back in the sixties) focused on form criticism, and I am still mostly interested in the words and how they are put together in the poem.

Your recent book is Reconnaissance.  What would you like a reader to know about it?  How would you like readers to read the text(s)?  What kinds of interpretive strategies / meaning-making processes would you recommend?  How can the work make connections with readers?

I titled the book Reconnaissance, because to me the word means “to know again.”  One of the dictionary definitions is:  preliminary survey to gain information; especially : an exploratory military survey of enemy territory. From the  French, literally, recognition.

So the poems are about knowing things again; especially, seeing things with new eyes.

I am a lover of spy novels, especially the work of John Le Carre. Because of the underlying motif of surveillance that the word reconnaissance implies, I used words associated with spies and spying for the divider pages: Binoculars, Debriefing Magritte, Interrogations, and Safe House.

Magritte - Girl Eating Bird
The title of the book also comes from a painting from Rene Magritte: Le Reconnaissance Infinie.  The wonderful and ingenious cover was created by Arlene Ang, incorporating the sky from the Magritte painting, framed by a camera lens, and visited by a “hated housefly” from my poem “Like the Eyes of Insects.”
Le Reconnaissance Infinie
I try to write accessible poems, though I know some of the ones in this book are more riddle-like.  I love to play with words, and would encourage readers to just play along with me. Readers should also be able to connect with many of the subjects of the poems: traffic, aging, illness, families, etc.
Magritte - Companions of Fear
 Most of the poems are open form, but I did include one sestina – the one about the terrible fire in Our Lady of the Angels elementary school in Chicago in the 1950’s.

Fire at Our Lady of the Angels elementary school - 1950s
Please describe what you would consider to be your prevailing philosophy of life.

To me, life is full of mystery , synchronicity, and irony. 

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