Thursday, December 21, 2006

Learning with Audio: Lessons from Television - Monk, House, MD, and NCIS

Borrowing the "in media res" techniques of popular programs, Monk, House, and NCIS, among others, can help make online and untethered mobile learning more effective. In the early days of e-learning, it was common to tape a classroom lecture, digitize it, and then stream it over the web for students to view. Sometimes it was synchronous, and one had the opportunity to use a whiteboard and text message. Needless to say, that approach was quickly discredited as passive. To solve the problem, designers started adding overlays of learning objectives and outcomes, along with review questions at the end.

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file

Television technique: switch to "in medias res." Literally meaning "in the middle of the thing," this technique is employed in almost all programs designed for television, as well as a significant percentage of feature-length films. It's a familiar technique: the viewer is catapulted immediately right into the middle of the action, usually a dramatic pivotal moment upon which the rest of the plot is constructed. For example, in NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Services) a spin-off of JAG, the episode opens with a 2 or 3-minute dramatic situation, usually resulting in a murder. The investigation of the murder is what constitutes the rest of the episode.


NCIS
Similarly, in House, M.D., the episodes open with a medical crisis, which takes one by surprise. We see a person going about their daily life when a catastrophic medical emergency besets them. The medical condition is life-threatening, and time is of the essence. Will the team of forensic diagnosticians be able to determine the cause before the patient dies? This adds to the urgency, as well as the emotional involvement of the viewer.

In rhetorical terms, what is activated is emotional involvement, "pathos," to use Aristotelian terms. The situation engages the emotions, and the viewer is held, rapt, in a state of hyper-involvement and hyper-identification with the victim, and the race against time.

Typically, authority is invoked in the persona of a "difficult" voice. In this case, "difficult," means that there is distance between the audience / listeners and the voice. Distance is created through formality, power differentials, subject-matter knowledge gaps, intimidation (shaming or threatening harm), refusal to be admitted to an "in" group.

The danger with this approach is that authority is off-putting, which can war against learning. Sometimes the most off-putting authority comes in the characters of "the professor" or the "scolding parent." The content delivered by the authoritative voice can be more accessible when it comes packaged in a character who begins to approach that of a tragic hero, which is to say that the protagonist hero is flawed, which makes the audience identify with him or her all the more.

To be effective, authority must be mediated with human frailty.

Gregory House, M.D., of House, M.D. is a brilliant diagnostician, but suffers from chronic pain from a nerve-damaged leg and has become addicted to painkillers.

Adrian Monk, of Monk, is a brilliant detective who can hold forth on a number of technical areas, but he never bores the audience. Instead, they feel for him, they cheer him on as he seeks to overcome his obsessive-compulsive disorder, and his grief over the loss of his wife, Trudy.


Likewise, the team of agents and investigators of NCIS are brilliant, but quirky. In fact, the concept of professorial lectures is lampooned by Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, who typically cuts off the endearing yet long-winded medical examiner, Dr. "Ducky" Mallard, and asks him to keep to what is relevant. The other technical experts in the team fare no better - Abby, brilliant in all manner of forensics - computer and biological - loves the long-winded technical explanation, which is also often cut off abruptly, with the question, "How does this relate?" stated in so many words. Special Agent McGee, an MIT graduate and computer whiz is also cut off. As an audience, we gain knowledge by seeing the theories in action, applied to the case.

In NCIS, technical details, analogues, personal anecdotal asides are permitted, but only to the degree that they contribute to an understanding of the case at hand. What this means, in some terms, is that we are looking at "situated learning" in action.

In the case of House, M. D., the fact is clear that we are observing an open critique of education, and a subversion of the typical classroom lecture, filled with professorial quirks, long-winded digressions, asides, and self-serving ego inflation in front of a captive audience.


The action takes place at Princeton Medical Center, a teaching hospital, and many of the episodes incorporate scenes from the lecture hall, where medical students regurgitate concepts they have memorized from their texts, and demonstrate that they have no idea how the concepts apply in real life.

Similarly, in the comedy series, Scrubs, hazing of the "newbies" often centers around the gap between "textbook" knowledge and situated, operational knowledge. The amount of information that is presented in a television drama, crime procedural, or sitcom can be quite surprising. It's not trivia, but is situated in a real-life or life-like setting, which makes understanding, retention, and application more effective.

In a world where distance learners are likely to be very film and television literate, it is likely that they, too, feel a deep-seated disdain for subject matter authority that is dislocated from its objective correlative, which is to say, the way the subject exists in the world of phenomena.



Scrubs

What this means to all the programs seeking to repurpose old-school lectures delivered by rambling, self-absorbed professors who managed to tape themselves at a chalkboard for 30 or 40 hours is that every dime they invest in digitizing those old assets will be utterly wasted.

The charismatic professor of the past ruled through a cult of personality, and he or she elicited all the emotions that one might expect of the leader of, say, a cult or a gang of grifters.

The charismatic professor of the untethered world of mobile learning reigns supreme by encouraging extreme identification - by imbuing authority with anti-hero or tragic hero elements. If not, the dehumanizing aspects of technology will prevail, and students will simply move on to educational interactions they find more engaging.

To conclude, a few ideas and suggestions can be made, and lessons can be learned from the failures of educational programs to interest the learners. In a pragmatic sense, what this means is the following:

a) Structure audio and video in a way that dramatically captures the imagination and reflects the very heart of the concept being presented in the module or unit. One effective approach is the "in medias res" approach.

b) Find a persona who will be your subject matter expert and make him or her deeply flawed. The flawed authority figure does not need to be morally reprehensible; quite the contrary. He or she should have flaws that are more exaggerated than those of the general public, but only to the degree that the audience finds the character to be very human, engaging, and ultimately disarming.

c) Consider moving subject matter authority around. For example, if one is discussing psychological disorders, instead of focusing on a professor who will discuss facts and figures, write a script that features a person who is suffering from one of the issues under discussion. She can discuss her condition, and the compare and contrast her situation with that of others. This allows the listeners to begin to relate to it, and to connect her situation to their own. It situates the material within a real person's experience.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Thinking Person's Sims for Business and Education

Podcast.

ExperiencePoint.com, a developer of simulations and serious games for business and education, offers a role-playing experience that puts less emphasis on graphics and effects and more on theory and educational support. For example, Sockeyes, a game in which the player assumes the role of the general manager of a Canadian hockey team, forces the player to make decisions, as it also forces the player to live with ambiguity and multiple outcomes, where the unstated but very real behind-the-scenes goal is to develop a survival strategy for whatever decision or outcome one might experience. As maddening as "there are no right or wrong answers" sounds, such lack of closure or certainty models the way things tend to be in the real world.

Sockeyes does not offer "extreme" animation, but uses an effective level of flash animation which is hosted on ExperiencePoint's servers, which makes it possible for the player to avoid bulky downloads.

There is a very modest amount of voiceover (in a cute Canadian accent), which contributes to the sim's quirky appeal. Further, the possible outcomes are sketched out, but the are largely left to the player's imagination. Sockeyes presents a set of scenarios, asks the player to make a decision, and, instead of seeing the sim unfold graphically before one's eyes, one is presented with text. The focus is not on the outcome, but on the factors that will influence and shape the decision-making process.

With an emphasis on process, rather than outcome, ExperiencePoint simulations challenge the players to become aware of their own thoughts, and the reasons or rationales for the decisions. In this sense, the process seems to have more in common with cognitive therapy and/or meta-cognitive analysis than Sim City. ExperiencePoint offers simulations in change management, health care management, corporate responsibility, project leadership, case studies.

One can check out Sockeyes here: http://www.experiencepoint.com/simulations/gm/

Health care, change management, and case study simulations by ExperiencePoint are very robust, and have more sophisticated graphics and animations.
http://www.experiencepoint.com

Experience Point has made a few holiday-themed simulations available. They are quite entertaining, and yet they help the players develop very transferable skills.

Negotiation at the North Pole. Welcome to the North Pole! It's after the holidays and Santa, Paul the Elf, and Blitzen are thinking about trading gifts they received. See if you can broker a gift exchange that maximizes overall good cheer! http://www.experiencepoint.com/holiday/2004/

Santa's Little Helper: Santa, fueled by the octane of Reality TV, has created a competition to find a new protege. You are a finalist and must manage a rag-tag team of previous cast offs in one last task. It won't be easy, but if you succeed you will earn a plum salary, sweet benefits, and the title of "Santa's Little Helper"!
http://www.experiencepoint.com/holiday/2005/

For individuals and institutions who want a customized learning experience and game design, a new gaming/simulation environment will be available in higher education.

XplanaSim has a unique sim-authoring tool that allows clients to easily create their own, customized games. The basic structure is provided, but users can add and delete nodes, thereby constructing their own decision tree. Each node can be customized by adding various media, titles, and decision options. (from the product flyer).

Simulations and serious games that are flexible enough to support hybrid as well as 100% online delivery have the advantage of appealing to multiple learning styles, facilitating collaboration, motivating the participants, and providing a repository of documents, articles, and objects that can be utilized in future situations or scenarios.

XplanaSim episodes are created using a Flash-based role-playing simulation engine: there is no proprietary downloading necessary. XplanaSim can integrate with LMS platforms. All major types of meda are supported.

Using a flash-based simulation approach is very effective. The simulation is self-contained, and so does not require multiple players. The fact that simulations are built in flash, which can be easily integrated with instant messaging, bulletin boards or blogs, makes them perfect in conjunction with e-books and/or webinars. It also works well where access is not completely reliable, and a high-speed internet connection is not a given.

To be most effective, a simulation or serious game really does need some sort of collaboration, whether virtually (through the discussion board, e-mail, skype, etc.) or face-to-face.

XplanaSim will be available through Xplana Learning.
http://www.xplana.com

Friday, November 17, 2006

A War Game and a Meta-Cognitive Approach for Learning How to Learn in a Network-Centric World: F2C2

Podcast / mp3 file

Future Force Company Commander, developed by zombie.com for SAIC and the U.S. Army, is a gorgeously designed game. It is clear, well-organized, and has fantastic graphics and it has a high authenticity quotient. It gives you a sense that you're doing something in the way that it's really done. You're learning how to learn in the new network-centric environment. You're teaching yourself meta-cognitive survival skills. You're evolving into a "digital native" - made not born. It is an incredible thing to find a way to stay on the always-moving cutting edge of technology and perception.

Let's step back a moment. I can definitely see why Future Force Company Commander could be considered a good recruiting tool for the Army, as well as a way to get the message across that "Future Combat Systems (FCS) will transform the U.S. Army's Current Force to a more lethal, agile Future force to achieve battlespace dominance." http://www.army.mil/fcs/f2c2/

Star Wars, anyone?

Okay, it's not 1983, it's almost 2007, and we really are using a lot of technology in the battlefield. But, here's a question: Will people use the technology in the way it's intended? If you play the game, you have to use the technology in the way the game allows you to use it.

What happens when technology is used in ways it is not intended to be used? You certainly won't find out in a typical sim game.

But, in many ways, Future Force Company Commander goes far beyond that.

Basically, Future Force Company Commander is a simulation game, combined with elements of first-person shooter, as well as an interactive educational game. What the game simulates is the concept of a "wireless network-centric operating system."

"Future Combat Systems (FCS) will transform the U.S. Army's Current Force to a more lethal, agile Future Force to achieve battlespace dominance. The F2C2 video game demonstrates the FCS wireless network-centric operating system that seamlessly links advanced communications and networking systems with soldiers, platforms, weapons, and sensors."
http://www.army.mil/fcs/f2c2/overview.html

The network-centric approach suggests that each node in the net is of equal strategic importance and that one can input data that matters and have a positive outcome. All nodes, all players are equally important.

Mainly, though, only "players" on the ground die. The game conveniently glosses over that. It's much better to be "God" in the command post.

As an educational tool, I think it has enormous merit, particularly in the strategic planning and analysis phase. It does the following:

1. increases literacy by encouraging players to read the encyclopedia
2. develops land-navigation skills (map-reading, calculating distances, etc) are developed
3. initiates learners in the basic use of computers to do "command" functions (move equipment, fire weapons)
4. enhances one's ability to read and interpret multiple sources of information and intelligence
5. provides an after-action review which allows individuals to develop meta-cognitive skills and develop "lessons learned" abilities.


Seeing is believing. The satellites are always correctly calibrated in F2C2's sim battlespace.

The game helps explain the "every soldier a sensor" concept and it allows individuals to become "smart" in terms of sensing, encoding, and interpreting data in order to make decisions. Like all sim games, one gets to see the outcomes of one's actions right away.

"You'll experience an exciting range of real-time missions while equipped with the full spectrum of FCS capabilities. F2C2 shows the sophisticated sensors linked among the 18 different FCS systems, and how the FCS network quickly disperses tactical intelligence enabling soldiers to pre-empt enemy attacks and mount offensive assaults." http://www.army.mil/fcs/f2c2/overview.html


Sim Situation: Sabalan and Dalilar. The missions emanate from this. I am reminded of Jorge Luis Borges' poem, "Ajedrez" (A Game of Chess)

Dios mueve al jugador, y éste, la pieza.
¿Qué Dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza
de polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonías?

God moves the player, and this, the piece,
But, what God behind God initiates the action:
of dust and time and dreams and death throes?
-- Jorge Luis Borges, from "Ajedrez"

As a motivational tool, Future Force Company Commander is very effective:
1. engages the emotions -- is very entertaining
2. allows role-playing & one can develop sense of self-efficacy
3. gives a sense of mastery of the technology and mastery (even though the mastery is an illusion) over one's environment

Glaring ethical problems remain, though --

1. This game could exacerbate social divides because it privileges certain learners who have had education that includes maps, outdoors, expensive computers, familiarity with certain types of equipment -- excludes people who may have difficulty because English is not their native language and who have not grown up with expensive computer systems and games.

2. Players learn an approach that may or may not be the model that is the most effective for their situation; while it might be good for sequencing and staging equipment, troops, supplies, and it might be good for learning how to pace equipment, etc., it's still a very "inside the box" experience -- the players are constrained by the game itself. They are not able to use technology in "off-label" sorts of ways -- the sort of ways that our enemies tend to use technology.

3. Does not include enough skill-building that most users will need. The game represents an opportunity to really help players gain the real-life skills they need (reading, spelling, algebra, geometry, etc.)

4. Exacerbates social isolation -- military units consist of people who interact; the game consists of a human who interacts with avatars. The game needs more collaboration -- emulate team-building, negotiating, problem-solving, conflict resolution -- there is not enough interaction with "real" people.

5. Obviously, the biggest problem is FANTASY. Future Force Company Commander suggests that fighting in a war will be as stimulating, romantic, and attractive as playing a game. There is no sickness, no pain, no jealousy, no negative emotions, no sadness or homesickness, or raw, gut-wrenching fear.


Equipment you carry on your back, or, shoulder-mounted weapon. The weapon always works. No dust here, no shortages of water or food, no flu, no sand fleas, no parasites. Furthermore, the gun and ammunition do not weigh anything. It is like fighting in heaven.

Sensors do not accurately reflect human factors. Automated planning tools, real-time situational awareness, ISR and fire support planning tools are nice, but they are inadequate.

Where the game needs the most help is in emulating "situational awareness" that incorporates human factors (sickness, duplicity, false signals - false flag operations, etc.). This game makes people suckers for false flag operations, and, further, it suggests that false flag operations are by and large the only ways (besides sabotage and flooding the network with viruses) to overcome the new multi-sensor network-centric warfare. The implications are grave.

I think that Future Force Company Commander could be an outstanding educational supplement. Obviously, it would still carry the ethical baggage of romanticizing war. It also encourages people to be duped by appearances. Ground truthing is always necessary in any kind of remote sensing-based analysis.

But, F2C2 does have a great deal of merit for supplemental use in a number of disciplines and academic areas. Further, as a metacognitive tool, I think that the type of learning the F2C2 represents absolutely cannot be surpassed. The ability to take multiple data points, sift through simultaneous feeds of information, assess and position data spatially as well as temporally is, in a word, remarkable. Future Force Company Commander teaches people how to learn. Players are learning about learning in the network-centric world.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reconsidering Maxine Hong Kingston's "White Tigers"

Podcast / audio

Maxine Hong Kingston's narrative is built on a paradox. On the one hand, historically speaking, in the community she was born in as a female, girl children were considered worse than useless - they were considered to be a burden. On the other hand, that same Chinese culture she chose to identify with has a long tradition of myth and "tell-story" (as her mother put it) about brave, valuable and valued women. The "tell-story" is a narrative of survival and functioned in powerful, often unexpected ways in the life that Kingston relates to us in what appears to be a memoir, but is quite definitely something else upon close examination.

Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts tells the story of growing up Chinese-American in Stockton, California. While it is written in first person, giving the narrative the impression of being a memoir or autobiography, the reality is that Kingston's writing defies easy classification. With the stories of ghosts and the meta-narratives derived from the "tell-stories" of her mother, a doctor and midwife, Kingston blends autobiography, folktale, mystical narrative, and experimental fiction. Not strictly a postmodernist excursion, nor an exploration of psychological realism, the Woman Warrior contains elements of both.

Through "tell-story" Chinese girls learn about themselves and their eventual destinies, and the way the world regards them and will regard them. The irony is that the story the most memorable to the girls is the one the least likely to be realized in their lives. It is the story of the Chinese woman warrior, and here, in Kingston's narrative about herself and her consciousness, she weaves the myths together with the factual details of her life. The woman warrior fights, avenges, wins, and reverses the injustices in life. She is invincible. She possesses supernatural skills, abilities, and is admired to the point of worship. The longing to be a woman warrior is a sad counterpart to reality. In Kingston's world, and in the world of her mother and grandmothers, Chinese girls were considered worse than useless. They were considered a burden and eventually traitorous and family-abandoning. All investment and accomplishments realized by the Chinese girl would simply remind her family of what she would take from them when she left them.

Kingston's narrative represents a strategem for self-overcoming. She imagines herself alive by writing the dream. Perhaps the attributes she desires will only have life in her interior journeys, and in the development of a mental sphere that gives and breathes promise to others. Nevertheless, it is effective, as Kingston juxtaposes the dream of the warrior, who is assertive and avenging, with the reality of extreme submission and the denial of needs.

In Kingston's story, "White Tigers," the agents of change are the animals - the cranes, the white tigers, the white horses - who wield magic with their presence. The old couples and magical characters from a time long ago come into her life. They give the dreamer power, freedom, and self-actualization. The "tell-story" is what also imparts to the young girl a sense of wonder.

Are fairy tales appropriate modes for instituting real change? Kingston's narrative is ambiguous on this point. She has knowledge of who her enemies are, but how can she resist? She has "gun and knife fantasies, but did nothing useful." The warrior woman fairy tale without a correlative "other" in the phenomenal world which might give a person a way to implement the dreams is, perhaps, simply a route to resignation.


Kingston, Maxine Hong. "White Tigers," The Woman Warrior. 19-53.

Short Answer Questions for "White Tigers" by Maxine Hong Kingston
(developed by Elaine Bontempi)


1. Maxine Hong Kingston suggests that based upon the talk amongst the people within her community, a woman fails if she what?

2. Based upon the above answer, how does this contrast with the folklore within her culture?

3. The author suggests that the feet of women may have been bound because of what?

4. Why do you think women were taught stories of heroines and warriors when it was expected that they grow up to be wives and slaves?

5. Do you see any parallels between the hardships that women experienced within Maxine Hong Kingston's community, and the hardships that African Americans have endured in the United States?

6. According to the author, what community or "village" did she belong to?

7. The author recalls her rebellion growing up. What was her rebellion based upon? In what ways did she act out?

8. The author talks of her Chinese culture still handicapping her. How?

9. The author claims that her only "land" is her job. What does she mean by this?

10. The author faced discrimination because of two things. What are they?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Maya Angelou in Stamps, Arkansas

Maya Angelou writes a memoir about growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, in the segregated South. Her depiction is searingly honest, and it gives faces, places, and specific names and feelings to what could be viewed as the collective experience of many growing up in the South in the first 100 years after slavery was abolished in the U.S.


videography: dave feiden

As young African-American females, Maya Angelou and others are automatically relegated to the position of being marginalized by white society. The sense of being on the outside looking in is made even more poignant and harrowing by the fact that antebellum aristocratic values of European origin are imposed on blacks. They consciously or unconsciously buy into the vocabulary and practices of elitism by embroidering knick-knacks for a dowry chest, learning the rules of etiquette involved in setting an elaborate table, and using the language of the debutante to describe one’s coming of age. Such activities primarily function to reinstate difference as the only way of knowing each other, and reinforce the distance that exists between white women and the black women who present such a potent threat to them. To Angelou, the linguistic and social practices of the South are a cruel joke, particularly when the more typical role of a young black girl was to be a servant in a white woman’s home.

The young black female is considered an outsider – an outsider who possesses little or no power. Her powerlessness is illustrated when the white woman has the power to erase and then reconstruct identity by renaming. Angelou provides an example of this in the selection printed here. She is working in a white woman’s kitchen, in what Angelou characterizes as a perverse finishing school, where she learns the finer points of setting a table, etc. Her employer, Mrs. Cullinan, is descended from Virginia plantation owners. She surrounds herself with white friends who consider themselves entitled to “culture” and to be waited on by black servants, in an ugly echo of “the good old days.” The sense of the employer’s power becomes ominous with the power of naming. “Margaret” is deemed too long and is shortened to “Mary.” “Hallelujah” was long ago renamed “Glory” in a creepy echo of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

If renaming can dehumanize, negate, invisiblize and nullify, does the act of naming have generative powers as well?

The mindset examined in this selection is one that looks closely at the way language is used to either empower or strip away entitlement or rights. Conversely, there is an awareness that one can empower oneself by naming, and it can be used for the good.

In writing about how black girls and women were subjected to nullifying linguistic and social practices in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou also corrects the misconception that silence denotes acquiescence or agreement. The women to whom the psychological assaults are not sufficiently empowered to be able to question or counter the practices directly. Indirect rebellion seems to be their only way to resist. Thus, when Angelou considers her situation, she seeks revenge rather than rapprochement, and obtains it when she deliberately breaks a family heirloom from the old plantation in Virginia. Sadly, no one understands the message behind Angelou’s gesture, so her speaking and acting out are misunderstood and worse – processed through the unknowing and unenlightened mindset of her employer.

One does see how erasures of identity are always a part of the outgrouping process. A key lesson is that the converse is possible: ingrouping and inclusion are possible when one names oneself into it.

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. 104-119.

Short Answer: Maya Angelou
(questions by Elaine Bontempi)

1. How was Maya marginalized by white society?

2. What does the author have to say about naming?

3. How does the author resist psychological assaults?

4. Explain the irony in the location of the author’s finishing school, and the irony of it all.

5. What was the purpose of Maya’s learning the things that she was taught where she was working?

6. Why was it so insulting for the author to be called Mary? What did this mean to her and others in her community?

7. How is the author’s status as an outsider with little or no power made evident in this reading?

8. Explain what the author meant when she wrote, “Her husband remains, in my memory, undefined. I lumped him with all the other white men that I had ever seen and tried not to see.”

9. Explain how Maya’s identity was stripped away from her.

10. What does re-naming do to one’s sense of inclusion?


see other authors: http://www.fringejournal.com

Monday, October 16, 2006

Video Clips / Vodcasts for Online Literature Courses: The Allure of the Moving Image

I started incorporating digital video in online courses about ten years ago. I wasn’t following the lead of the “streaming lecturer” or “talking head.” Instead, I filmed myself with my Logitech MiniCam and kept the discussions to about 3 minutes or less. I also recorded a number in a studio in Oklahoma City that was incredibly ahead of its time. They had the idea of being a YouTube or a Google Video, and were helping film and host digital libraries of digital video.

It was a great idea, and they even hosted the video, so that one would not need to worry about bandwidth or capacity in one’s own server.

It was not a viable business model. No one paid for the service. Worse, it rarely worked on everyone’s computer. In theory, the mpeg file could play on the latest or next-to-latest version of RealPlayer, Window Media Player, or Quick Time. In reality, users had trouble downloading the right version of the media players. Even when they could get the media player to work, for some reason, the video would not always play. Sometimes, there was insufficient bandwidth and sometimes the connection was too slow.

Times have changed – note the recent acquisition of YouTube by Google Video. Now, people regularly host video they’ve captured on their digital cameras, cell phones, or laptops on YouTube or Google Video, and they embed the video in their websites and weblogs and social networking spaces such as MySpace, LiveJournal, Xanga, Blogger, etc. They can even e-mail their video casts.

What is the difference? The difference is in the “jukebox” – the little portable media player that does not have to be downloaded, but sits inside your website and allows you to click a button and it plays. You do not even have to download the video file! What is nice, is that services such a YouTube and Google Video will optimize your uploaded file. Say, for example, you upload a 80 MB wmv file that came straight from your Fuji F-10 digital camera. If it is in Google Video, your viewers can download the file to their iPod. When they do that, the file is converted into a mp4 file, which might have 4 MB instead of 80 MB. Amazing!

The bottom line is that basically everyone can capture and incorporate video in their websites, and basically everyone is.

The fact that the video will play does not mean that it is of high quality, though. In fact, there may actually be very little educational value beyond engaging initial interest.

So, it is good to look at where we are, and to review the fundamentals of using instructional media for positive educational effect. I’ll use the case of an online literature course, because it makes an interest example of how something that is essentially textual (a work of literature) translates to the moving image, with audio, often with spectacular success. There can be spectacular failures, too – and we want to avoid those.



videography: dave feiden



Video Clips in an Online Literature Course: What Works

*--Create ideal conditions for learning by capturing the students’ attention. Say something provocative about the work or the author. Find the heart of the issues that surround the work and focus on them in order to engage your reader.

*--Arouse emotions and curiosity.

*--Do not drone on too long. Keep it short – usually between 45 seconds and a minute and a half. Remember, you’re engaging the learner and trying to inspire him / her to want to delve in to the text and also to ask questions and engage in a dialogue, even a debate.

*---Go for sizzle. Have fresh settings, nice backgrounds, interesting venues.

*---Keep it real. Students respond in a positive way to the real presence of their professor or a subject matter expert, and if it is a bit rough around the edges, it comes across as authentic.

*---Try for the human interest angles. Find intriguing factoid about the author or the work itself and mention it. Establishing a connection with your viewer within 3 – 5 seconds is absolutely critical. In those first seconds and nanoseconds, the viewer makes the decision whether or not to pay attention or to switch to something else. You have 5 seconds to get their attention. Do you like challenges?

Video Clips in an Online Literature Course: What to Avoid

Here are a few natural mistakes that will result in less-than-ideal implementation and outcome.

*--Don’t focus your eyes on the ground or the sky. Keep your eyes on the camera. The direct eye connection makes a difference.

*--Avoid the “talking head” approach. It doesn’t work! Talking heads (a head that fills the screen and drones on and on) do not engage viewers. Learners become passive and stop paying attention, even if you think you’ve fancied it up with whiteboard.

*--Avoid the endless script. Don’t tape yourself writing on a chalkboard and trying to approximate the experience of reading. Don’t try to imitate the classroom lecture, either. Students stop paying attention.

*--Don’t read poetry from a script that you hold in your hand. I tried it. It is horrible. While watching myself, I immediately felt as though I were attending a painful poetry reading in which the poet has gone on entirely too long. I just wanted out. I clicked “pause.”

*---Don’t recite statistics. Avoid being too “canned.” Biographical details and statistics may be important pieces of information, but the mind does not hang onto them. Our minds love narrative in conjunction with the moving image. Therefore, it is good to connect the moving image with a story.

These are just a few practical suggestions from an “in the trenches” point of view. While the technology has improved immensely and it has made the incorporation of video both inexpensive and easy to use, it is clear that we are in a “rapid evolution” phase of technological development. So, keep an open mind, be willing to experiment, and keep up to date by continuously scanning the environment and trying technology.

The key is to uncover the real behaviors of your students and design a use of video that builds on how they are comfortable with using the technology.

Don’t try to impose an artificial behavior or awkward way of using technology. Instead, learn how it is being used, and incorporate that activity into your instructional strategies.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to try incorporating video clips in your online courses is that it is fun and effective! You’ll find that you are engaging students’ interest, creating conditions that are ideal for learning, accommodating learner preferences and styles, rehumanizing the e-learning space, and inspiring students to delve deeply into the text -- make connections, analyze in a new way, and think critically.



videography: dave feiden

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Making Moodle Work: A Manual and a Mindset

podcast - click here.


What will happen to Moodle if Blackboard wins their lawsuit against Desire 2 Learn? I wonder. We're in uncharted territory, and I hate to see open source initiatives die off. I personally think that open source will always be around -- if they do not succeed, it is because of the inability to implement them. There is usually a gap. Moodle, an open source learning management system is a case in point.



Because Moodle is open-source, the weak link is almost always the documentation and the training. Documentation support that is clear, well laid out, understandable, and supported with screen shots and graphics is a lifesaver. I would imagine that every institution that is using Moodle (or considering it) will want to buy a copy of this manual for every person on their tech team.


Packt Publishing has just released Moodle: E-Learning Course Development -- A complete guide to successful learning using Moodle, by William H. Rice, IV. Moodle is the highly popular open-source learning management software that was recently thrust into the spotlight as Blackboard took legal action against D2L in an attempt to restrict and /or limit the way that educational software companies develop learning management systems.

Packt's Moodle is a fantastic resource, although the title is a bit misleading. It is, in reality, a technical manual for using Moodle. It has very little to say about e-learning, except in the sense that it is implicit that learning via Moodle is e-learning. Its major deficiency is that it does not include any elements of instructional design that would allow a user to start developing courses that are pedagogically sound in terms of commonly accepted best practices for e-learning. Further, it does not contain templates for typical courses, which would also be quite valuable for institutions that would be most likely to be interested in open-source learning management systems.

mood.png
Link to the book and information: http://www.packtpub.com/moodle/book

The book begins by discussion how and why the Moodle e-learning paradigm emphasizes collaborative, interactive, engagemement -- with the content, with other students, and with the instructor. Moodle is serious about this. It allows discussion boards, but also contains the capability of incorporating a wiki.

The book contains a step-by-step guide for installing, configuring, creating courses, and managing content.

Thoughts on e-learning / mobile learning: E-Learning Queen

Image repositories: Flickr.
Custom images: click here for more information.





Viva Open Source! videography by Dave Feiden

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mobile Learning and Critical Thinking Skills: E-Learning, Plus....

Podcast.

Critical thinking skills can be developed in mobile learning in part because of the "extreme situatedness" of the learning. Situated learning, which ties together experience, context, backgrounds, and the concepts, helps learners develop a concrete idea of what the general course concepts are about and how to use the knowledge. Situated learning, with is often connected with experiential learning, is very effective when the concepts are presented in an "authentic" environment, and where there are opportunities for collaborative, interactive, social learning.

Mobile devices can be ideal because they can allow individuals to bring the content into the context. They can also allow students to interact with each other in synchronous or asynchronous ways, and to bring their unique context / setting / situation to the collaborative learning space. For example, they can take pictures and report on unique settings and share their findings in a common learning space (discussion board, blog, etc.).


This video clip addresses the basic question of "why e-learning?" The fact that e-learning and mobile learning can be highly effective is one compelling answer to the question. (videography: dave feiden)

1. Extreme situatedness. Learners who are learning about nature can actually bring their course into nature. For example, if they are learning about igneous rocks, they can take their mobile devices to a lava field, record the GPS coordinates, take photographs, and record an audio file. They can then post the text, the image, and the audio in a shared space. Individuals can then respond.

2. Case studies and extrapolating consequences through causal chains. Students are able to studies cases that they can relate to the content. They can also propose alternative outcomes, or discuss other scenarios. It is useful to extrapolate consequences, which allows students to develop their ability to develop cause-and-effect arguments.

3. Connecting the unconnected. Students can be asked to make connections and brainstorm. They can then share the brainstorms, or, even better, collaborate in brainstorming activities. This is very effective, especially via text messages. If individuals are not able to post, they can type up a brainstorming activity and e-mail or mail (via regular mail) to their instructors. Using mobile devices in all conditions is key to the success of this approach.

4. Collaborations. Students can collect, record, and share information easily. It can be real-time (as in instant messages, video-chat, or voice-over-telephony). They can also e-mail each other or post images / data collected in their various locations. For example, they may be studying pond scum.


They can e-mail each other photos of ponds they encounter. This one is of a pond in upstate New York.




Admittedly, a video clip on Emerson's essay, "Circles," that merges with something spontaneous and imprecise on Transcendentalism has precious little to do with mobile learning. However, it does illustrate how one can take learning out of the classroom. (videography: dave feiden)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ethics and Mobile Learning: Should We Worry?

Podcast / downloadable audio.

As a student, instructor, or e-learning institution administrator, are there ethical issues in mobile learning? If so, are they the same as ones one might expect in e-learning? This post discusses several of the more worrisome ethical issues that could accompany mobile learning and suggests approaches to raise awareness. The goal is to avoid ethically problematic design or behaviors. Some of the other issues are not as easily addressed.





video by dave feiden



1. Privacy issues. Mobile devices can invade privacy. Guidelines need to be set. They need to be clear and they should be enforced.

2. Uniformity of access. Ethical constructs that deal with justice and the administration of justice suggest that all individuals who participate in an activity should be able to do so with equal chances of success; which is to say they should be on a level playing field.

3. Non-biased, culturally equitable delivery and expectations. Signs and symbols can be subtle, and people may not be aware that a particular sign, symbol, or content item could be offensive to some groups. It is important to have focus groups and beta test the courses as well as the mobile learning devices. It is also important to expand the rules of proper mobile learning behaviors and to makes sure that students are not photographing or recording invasive or offensive items and then posting or sending them to fellow students.

4. Language barriers. Multiple delivery modes / redundancies. Are colleges ethically obligated to provide training, mentoring and support to learners who may not have the background or language skills to succeed in mobile learning? I would argue "yes." They are also legally obligated.

5. Learning preferences. Some students who sign up for mobile learning may not realize that they do not actually learn or retain content as well through audio as via other modalities. For example, they may be a spatial learner who needs to organize text. Will they be penalized for having learning preference differences? This is an ethical consideration.

6. Equity of instruction. Are some instructors trained more effectively than others? Does a difference in training and teaching philosophy result in uneven, inconsistent instruction within the same college or university? These are concerns, particularly when technology is an issue, as is the case of mobile learning.

7. Posting and other concerns. "Neti-quette" notwithstanding, impulse control is often lessened in an environment where one feels safe and fairly anonymous. One way to combat rudeness in the discussion board is to attach a real identity and impose social control.

8. Recognizing consequences of actions in an impersonal and sometimes invisible world. It is not always easy to be aware the consequences of one's actions when the action takes place "off the screen" and in the real world (rather than the virtual world). In the future, m-learning will help bring the "real world" more readily into the virtual world by means of video, images, and sound captured on location.

9. Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. According to utilitarian ethics, what matters most is the amount of discomfort one causes another. This puts the burden on the course creator or provider to assure an environment where individual learners are not caused discomfort or anguish through the actions of others. Harrassing instant messaging, posts, comment-spam, etc. are definitely off-limits.

10. Types of serious games, simulations. This topic could be a book in and of itself. While some games and simulations are clearly for the public good, others can be more questionable. Simulating crimes and violence, even if it is for historical re-enactment, can be ethical thin ice. Examples include JFK Reloaded and Grand Theft Auto Vice City.

11. Gender issues - relationships vs. justice. According to Carol Gilligan (1982), women have been conditioned to privilege care-giving, care-taking, and relationships over the execution of laws and justice. How this plays out in an e-learning or m-learning environment could be quite interesting, particularly when it might come to grades and performance. Females may express themselves differently in the m-learning environment, and may take on the roles of facilitation and relationships. Their responses may be more "gray area" whereas men may tend to have a more cut and dried approach, and may become impatient with the discursive strategies employed by women to facilitate relationships.

References.

Broudy, O. (2006). The Practical Ethicist. www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/08/singer/index_np.html

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Singer, P. (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge UP.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Learning with mobile devices: what's the best way?

Podcast / link to mp3 file

While it is true that one of the key benefits of mobile learning is the convenience, perhaps the most overlooked aspect is cognitive receptivity. Cognitive receptivity is a state of mental preparedness. A high level of cognitive receptivity results when the individual learner has

a) a high desire to understand the material
b) a high tolerance for frustration
c) a good foundation upon which the content will be built
d) support, either remote or face-to-face
e) high level of motivation, generally a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, and clear rewards
f) a way to relate the material to his or her experiences.

The mobile learning device (mp3 player, pda, video player, laptop, smartphone, etc.), can help the student capture content when he/she is at the highest level of cognitive receptivity.




Sometimes it is necessary to improve one's command of the basics. In that case, drills and exercises can be very helpful. Mobile learning can be ideal for on-demand quizzes, "skill and drill" exercises that are both entertaining and useful.




Helpful References
Bruner, Jerome. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hanley, Susan (1994). On Constructivism.

Honebein, P. (1996). Seven goals for the design of Constructivist learning environments. In B. Wilson, Constructivist learning environments, pp. 17-24. New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

Simon. Herbert. (1982). Models of Bounded Rationality , 2 volumes.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism. In P. Watzlawick, The Invented Reality, (pp.17-40). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1987). Learning as a constructive activity. In C. Janvier, Problems of representation in the teaching and learning of mathematics, (pp.3-17). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1989). Constructivism in education. In T. Husen & N. Postlewaite (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education [Suppl.], (pp.162-163). Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). A constructivist approach to teaching. In L. Steffe & J. Gale (Eds.). (1995). Constructivism in education, (pp.3-16). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995b). Sensory experience, abstraction, and teaching. In L. Steffe & J. Gale (Eds.). Constructivism in education, (pp.369-384). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1996).Introduction: Aspects of constructivism. In C. Fosnot (Ed.), Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice, (pp.3-7). New York: Teachers College Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes MA: Harvard University Press.

Watson, J. B. (1913) "Psychology As the Behaviorist Views It" Psychology Review

Wilson, B. & Cole, P. (1991) A review of cognitive teaching models. Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(4), 47-64.

Wilson, B. (1997). The postmodern paradigm. In C. R. Dills and A. Romiszowski (Eds.), Instructional development paradigms. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

If Blackboard Kills the LMS, What Next? Patent Applications for Internet Apps Have Become Equivalent of Domain-Squatting

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file.

If Blackboard prevails in their case against the Canadian learning management system developer, Desire 2 Learn (D2L), they may have killed courseware and learning management systems as we know it. To recap the story, Blackboard was awarded a patent on the general concept of the learning management system. In other words, Blackboard management seems to claim that they invented online learning (http://www.blackboard.com/company/press/release.aspx?id=887622).

Yeah, and Al Gore invented the Internet.

Of course, most people I talk to think that the fact that the U.S. Patent Office awarded Blackboard a patent in the first place is a travesty of the process. Stephen Downes and Michael Feldstein have weighed in (http://www.downes.ca/blackboard_patent.htm). Downes has an excellent compendium of events, responses, and sensible and insightful comment.

What Blackboard did was not much different than what had been done for years in computer-based learning labs where workstations are connected by a local area network. Databases interact and information flows to an administrator account, which monitors and manages the others.

If things go Blackboard's way, they will win. They will also kill online learning as we know it. Is that as bad as it sounds? In many ways, this could lead to liberation from what is, at the heart, a very flawed model that does not really deliver on any of its promises. Sure, it's scalable, but only if you have a couple hundred terabytes to spare, if you are a medium to large-sized user.

Is locking away the course content really necessary? Is it necessary to have everything under one roof? One of the big selling points of the learning management system is that it (in theory) works smoothly with the college's student information system, which is often an Oracle database, or a legacy database product, such as Banner. The belief has been that it is absolutely vital to have a learning management system that can seamlessly integrate with admissions, course registration, records, and the bursar's office. What about tests? What about the gradebook? Is it really necessary to use the gradebook as it is currently used? Conventional wisdom has held that it is important to have all these under the same umbrella. Is that really necessary, though? eCollege has patented the online gradebook. What is next? Patenting the spreadsheet?

I am starting to think that the U.S. Patent office is running the risk of becoming meaningless when it comes to online innovation. Instead of protecting intellectual property, the U.S. Patent Office is becoming the tool of opportunists. Patent applications should not become the equivalent of domain-squatting.

My personal feeling is that it is not necessary to mix content and grades, financial records, or transcripts. Why not take the approach of yahoo, lycos, google, and others, and simply provide a separate place and separate log-in for secure transactions? For me, it would be ideal to have a different level of security for grades, financial information, and other sensitive information, than simply accessing course content and the discussion board / interactive areas. By logging in separately to one's financial and other records, it might be easier to maintain optimal database size as well.

Well, let's assume the worst (or the best, perhaps). Blackboard kills the LMS. (Fanfare: The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star"). What do we have next? In many ways, the products are already out that that would allow professors and institutions to provide online courses. The content would be more flexible. The design and approach would be more dynamic. Here are a few ideas.

Service Provider My-Page Course: Pick and Choose Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Website, RSS Feeds a la deli.cio.us

Example: Lycos. In theory, a professor could develop an entire course with components available through Lycos. Content can be published on a website hosted by Lycos . Conversations and comments can occur via blogs and podcasts, also hosted by Lycos . Content can be incorporated via a feed aggregator for syndicated blog/podcast/vodcast content, as well. Finally, students can showcase their work (art, video, audio) in a MySpace kind of site, called in this case, Lycos Planet (http://www.planet.lycos.com ). Including tags and tag clouds can speed up interactivity and help make the learning space flexible and responsive.

Vygotsky Vindicated: The Extreme Discussion Course

For Digication, less is more. Their "simple by design" approach is an elegant concept which suggests that a discussion board or a threaded blog approach will allow professors to start teaching effectively with nothing more than the training they already have.
The concept is that they will easily translate their face-to-face pedagogy to online. The average instructional designer and person steeped in the theories behind instructional technology and design may be pretty alarmed at the notion. However, it is, in many ways, a chance to take Vygotskian theories online in a very pure form. Although there are likely to be skeptics who insist that what Digication is doing goes too far, there are others who may find it works and real learning takes place in ways it never did when using a clunky LMS.

Bandura and Emulatory Behavior: The Social Networking Course

A course completely on MySpace, LiveJournal, Xanga (webrings), or Planet Lycos? You never know. This may turn out to be the very best way to teach an online writing course. It encourages collaboration, cooperation, as well as drafting, revising, and more revising.

Mobile Courses

For years, this is what I've wanted to say to designers and purveyors of learning management systems: Incorporate real behaviors into your learning space. Use the technology people have. Keep it simple.

For years, each new release of Blackboard or WebCT came with an even more cumbersome set of activities and designs, and it required larger computers, faster chips, high-speed modems. They created a second-generation digital divide and essentially blocked access to those who did not have a new computer with a high-speed connection.

It is a relief to see colleges and universities start to deliver content on equipment that people already have and enjoy using. It is also good to see them focus on how the content can be used effectively in the real world -- for example, on a smartphone in a McDonalds, on a laptop in a Starbucks, on a pda on a Coast Guard cutter, on an iPod while walking the dog.

I'm certainly not any kind of soothsayer, nor do I have the preternatural ability to predict the future. I am glad, however, to see the lively discussion that the Blackboard patent and lawsuit debacle has brought to the e-learning community. I believe that we will see a quantum leap in terms of innovation and change as a result.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Memes of E-Learning and the Internet: Source-Memes, Contagion, and the Next Big Cultural Meme

Audio file / podcast.

When Richard Dawkins and David Dennett first proposed that Darwin's theory of evolution could be applied to culture, there was no way to easily explain how and why certain robust ideas appear seemingly simultaneously throughout a culture, and then begin to influence the culture and evolve with it, ultimately affecting its survival.

Memes are convenient ways to explain the emergence, influence, replication, and persistence of ideas, even if one does not completely accept the evolutionary theory mechanisms that support the concept.

A meme is an idea, but a remarkably robust one with sufficient complexity to be able to adapt itself to many cultural settings and situations. The elements within the idea have the capacity to produce copies of themselves, and can show up in different forms as they are modified by their environment (Holdcroft & Lewis, 2000).

Now, more than thirty years after the publication of Richard Dawkin's The Selfish Gene, the concept has entered popular culture. Perfectly illustrated by the movie, The Matrix (dir. Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1999), one could think of the Smiths as one meme -- the physical manifestation of or a metaphor for the ways in which society enforces conformity and punishes those who seek the truth behind what lies beyond a glittery false consciousness comprised of consumer products, etc.

The self-replicating idea of the meme was conceivable before the Internet. For example, one could envision the replication of an idea or an image into diverse cultural contexts, and the introduction of the idea into completely foreign territories, if one pictured turning on a television, or tuning into a radio show simultaneously in a government office, a small home, a luxurious estate, a car, a remote village, and a fishing village. However, there were limits to the dissemination methods because they were not interactive. Mass media before the popularization of the Internet was limited.

Now, with interactivity, and with RSS and instant postings via feeds, the cultural meme propagation process that Dawkins and Dennett proposed is a reality. The cultural meme emerges in its new form, which has been modified by the environment. It gets its "15 minutes of fame" and then it submerges again for the next adaptive speciation event. The only thing that changes is the time between iterations, speciation, even extinction. It may not be 15 minutes. It could be the meme's 15 seconds of fame. Either way, the mechanism is working.

Dennett gave examples of "distinct memorable units" (Dennett, 1995, p. 344) in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995). Some of the ideas he listed were general, some more specific. Each involved a complex cognitive process as well as associated action or physical or artistic expression. The ideas included: arch, wheel, calendar, alphabet, vendetta, impressionism, perspective drawing (Holdcroft & Lewis, 2000, p. 164).

It would be interesting to look at the memes of e-learning and the Internet and to see how they influence each other.

Internet memes:

RSS
Blogs
podcasts
social networking
folksonomies
MySpace
vodcasts
tag clouds
WiFi
hotspots
peer networks
search engine
customizable start pages

Obviously, there would be more, but those are a few that come to mind. To apply the same approach to e-learning, it is interesting to list possible e-learning memes that come to mind.

Current e-Learning memes:

e-learning (a meme unto itself)
learning management systems
m-learning
instructional design
content on-demand
posting on discussion board
learning styles and preferences
learning style assessments

It is hard to say if the ideas listed above are bona fide memes. For the purposes of this analysis, it's useful to say that they are. So, with that in mind, the next step is to consider how memes propagate. Cultural ideas travel from one cultural context to another, and appear or are generated within a cultural context. If they are valuable to the survival of the culture, they will modify themselves in a special way.

For example, the idea of evolution by natural selection emerged not only in natural science, but also showed up in Herbert Spencer's work. He used it to explain how and why individuals prevail and others do not. The "survival of the fittest" catchphrase persists even to this day, more than a century later, continuing still to be a useful idea in our culture.

Meme Contagion

So, if the e-learning list is exposed to the contagion of the recent Internet meme list, one can safely assume that aspects of the Internet list will show up. The e-learning memes will modify -- adaptively speciate -- to accommodate the insistence of the cultural idea, which will encode itself into the idea it is affecting.



Simply stated, we can predict that the rigid structures we currently see with e-learning content and delivery will adapt. It will metamorphose quickly and will result in a shedding away of some of the manifestations we now see in e-learning. One can safely predict certain behaviors among the memes.

Future e-learning memes (results of contagion between current Internet memes and e-learning memes):

MySpace learning space
peer-to-peer content on demand
folksonomies for content providers (schools, colleges, universities)
discussion tags
learning preference search engine
vodcast assessment on-demand

It will be interesting to see if memes become self-replicating in the world of the Internet. Perhaps they already are via Google and other search engines. It will also be interesting to see the new developments in access, connectivity, and software. When hyper-optimization, compression, and zipping of files can occur, who know what the new frontiers will be. Perhaps we will be able to store sound files via nano-particles in our forearms, or better, in our ears.

References

Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. London: Oxford UP.

Dennett, D. (1995). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. London: Penguin.

Holdcroft, D. and H. Lewis. (2000). Memes, minds, and evolution. Philosophy (75): p. 161-182.




Monday, July 31, 2006

Guide to James Baldwin: Nobody Knows My Name

James Baldwin's autobiographical account is the narrative of a black man coming of age in the first quarter of the 20th century, a time suffused with huge changes in society. Although there were more opportunities for education and economic access, black men also faced worsening racism, violence, and extreme prejudice.

Downloadable audio file (mp3 file) // podcast

In this selection, Baldwin discovers that once he has moved to Paris, he is able to establish friendships and relationships with Americans that were not possible in America. Musing this fact, Baldwin explains that in America, race issues still block people. Ironically, in France, Baldwin is able to communicate with Americans of all races, origins, and class because their common background as expatriates attenuates all other differences.

The selection is from Nobody Knows My Name and the chapter is entitled "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American."

The selection focuses on Baldwin and his experiences in Paris with fellow expatriates. After 1948, Baldwin made his home in the south of France, where he followed a tradition of many American artists and writers, who found France to be a more hospitable place for artists and writers than America. This was particularly the case in the post World War II era, when anti-Communist fears of the Cold War made innovative writing and socialist ideas dangerous. Returning to the U.S. for lecturing or teaching engagements, Baldwin's writing addressed themes of racism and homosexuality, which made him the subject of a great deal of controversy, even within the black community.

Baldwin, who was both black and homosexual, found himself cut off from the dominant culture for being both black and openly gay.

In the selection included here, what characterizes Baldwin's narrative is a sense of "thrownness." "Thrownness" was first developed as a concept by the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger. It is "the condition of being taken more or less by surprise, hurled into an unexpected and unpredictable situation. In one sense, all human beings are thrown: they all have to find their way through the world without much in the way of practice." In Baldwin's world, there is an awareness of being thrown into a world of which one has no knowledge - of what came before birth, or what will happen after death. The thrownness contains a feeling of randomness, and thus other individuals are perceived as part of that great outgrouped mass - a condition which makes one focus on the here and now; one's existential condition.

Baldwin writes to correct the prevailing view that people are rigid and cannot transcend their teleological view of the world, and that order, once established, cannot or should not, be re-ordered.

By moving to France, Baldwin places himself in a state of productive chaos, from which he can emerge, reinvented as the person he wants to be, and unconstrained by the ideas of his native society. However, Europe is no utopia, and it is not an Eden, freshly created and without a history. Baldwin observes, with some irony, that the place that allows him freedom is also the place from which the slave ships and slave-trading enterprises originated. In Europe, Baldwin's history comes full circle and he is hyper-aware of this.


James Baldwin's first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952), is a largely autobiographical account of Baldwin's life. Baldwin's writings include essays, novels, plays, and the best-selling collection from which the selection is drawn, Nobody Knows My Name (1961).

Essay by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Please click here for a useful text: Excellence in College Teaching and Learning: website.

Guiding Questions (by Elaine Bontempi).


1. According to the author, he wanted to leave American in order to find himself and similar others. Why was it necessary to leave America to do this, when America is supposed to be "land of the free" and a "melting pot?"

2. What were some of the themes of James Baldwin's writings? How did this exacerbate the prejudice he experienced?

3. What is the irony of the author's situation?

4. Why is the author able to experience friendships with Americans in Paris that he could not establish while still living in the United States?

5. Several characteristics placed the author into an outgroup. Name at least three and explain how each trait has potentially devastating stereotypes attached to it.

6. An irony that arises in being thrust into an outgroup, is that in so doing, you also "belong" to a group -whether this group is based upon SES, race, medical diagnosis, etc. Explain the potential effects of these memberships in outgroups.

7. For James Baldwin, it took going to Paris to discover what it meant to be American. Explain this.

8. James Baldwin suggested that one of the reasons it is difficult for American writers is because we, as Americans, have a deep distrust for intellectual effort. Discuss your reaction to this suggestion.

9. Why is it supposedly easier to cut across social and occupational lives in America than Europe? Do the previous readings that you have read in the previous sections support this suggestion?

10. The author writes of his experiences in Europe as an African American. How might these experiences have been different or similar if he had been writing based upon a white man's experiences? Explain.

Useful Web Resources:

James Baldwin: Teacher Resource File. http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/baldwin.htm

PBS: American Masters - James Baldwin. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/baldwin_j.html

James Baldwin. Kirjasto series. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm

American Writers: James Baldwin. http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/baldwin.asp

James Baldwin from the archives of the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin.html

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Anorexia and Bulimia: Marya Hornbacher's "Wasted"

Podcasts / audio file

Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher, is a memoir written by a young woman who chronicles her teenage years, her hidden life and self-destructive tendencies, which are masked by perfectionism and an edgy relationship with her mother. Marya Hornbacher, alternatively anorexic and bulimic, described how she was hospitalized several times, her weight sinking to a low of less than 80 pounds. Theoretically a part of the dominant culture's privileged class, Hornbacher is an enigma to those who judge people by the stereotype. Far from feeling privilege or self-confidence, Hornbacher exhibits the sort of self-loathing that one comes to expect from individuals who perceive themselves as society's pariahs.

Hornbacher's eating disorder causes her to lead a double life. The binging, purging, and recovery cycles are hidden or masked, as are the obsessive exercise and ritualistic activities. (http://www.bulimiasolutions.com) She becomes an outsider to herself. The more she tries to achieve balance between the perfectionist and the chronic "shlemiel," the more frantic and self-destructive she becomes. She is angry with herself, and with her parents. The etiology of Marya's ailment remains a mystery, even to herself, despite years and years of struggle and therapy. The early chapters explore some of the factors that cause Marya to try anorexia, "my Big Idea, my bid for independence, identity, freedom, savior, etc."


Marya is the primary player in this selection, and the narrative takes place at home - her parents' home - while she is a teenager. The action takes place against a backdrop of middle-class prosperity, affluence, access, opportunities. The American Dream hovers over the stage. Yet, in this theater of the perfect family, something has gone terribly wrong to create such masochistic habits. The conditions are perfect for the development of an eating disorder. Perhaps in a different setting, Marya's rage would have manifested itself as an addiction to heroin, paint sniffing, or criminal behavior. It is hard to say.

As an anorexic/bulimic teenager, Marya's mindset is that of a person who perpetually defines herself as a part of the outgroup, who refuses to join the mainstream. Further, a part of her refuses to thrive.

As she struggles with her need for control and her mounting sense of self-loathing, she finds solace in writing. Her writing is an act of rebellion against the rigid rules she has set for herself. Writing allows her to escape her self-created bonds and what seems to be an incorrigible masochism.

The first part of Wasted provides a glimpse inside the mind of a person who has recovered from a strange, inexplicable, and painfully slow way to die. Instead of slow suicide, one begins to see that Marya's eating disorders are a kind of soi-disant physical therapy. She is attempting to rehabilitate herself, and trying to come back from the wounds cause by anxiety.

The primary life lesson from this selection is to see how each person runs the risk of becoming an outsider to herself or himself. After self-isolating, the individual will think, act, and plan in ways that out-group her even to herself. There is no real community or ethnicity here - if anything, meeting people with the same issues would be anathema - after all, they could reveal or expose too much. Perhaps a narcissistic culture is to blame here - after all, isn't the core problem the rage against limits?

Perhaps narcissism is not the correct term. Perhaps it is simply individualism taken to extremes. The American Dream is not only the possession of creature comforts.

The American Dream also involves the attainment of lofty goals -- to be special and "different" and thus achieve success. What happens when a young woman realizes that her dreams are not truly attainable, even though she has been programmed to believe that they are? Do we see a ghastly inversion of a "dream deferred" and a "raisin in the sun"? What would Hornbacher be if not a "raisin in the sun"? In this case, the "wasted" fruit might be an "apple on the grass." Think of the images.

No one believes in Eden, but they certainly do believe in sin. Dreams deferred? Dreams despoiled. Think of vastly diverse images. Envision diversity. It might work as a strategy against a rigid, narrow, over-determined sense of what is "right" or "wrong" with body image.

Marya Hornbacher. http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0398/hornbacher/

http://www.beatrice.com/interviews/hornbacher/

Guiding Questions

1. Explain how Marya could be classified as a member of an outgroup. Which outgroup did she belong to?

2. Explain why the author thought that her eating disorder could not get out of control.

3. Did the author experience discrimination or stereotyping as a result of her problem? Explain.

4. What kind of stereotypes are associated with the author's disorder, and what are the effects of that stereotyping on her?

5. Explain how the author's home environment contributed to her addiction.

6. Eating disorders are more common among white, adolescent females from middle or upper-middle class families. In addition, most females who develop eating disorders are also over achievers. Explain why you think that this group is most at risk for this type of addiction.

7. How is an eating disorder often seen as a solution to a lack of autonomy?

8. Eating disorders can also be seen as a way of revenge. Please explain.

9. Why do you think that males are less susceptible to eating disorders?

10. Explain how labels and stereotypes became self fulfilling prophecies in the author's life.

11. Did Marya really have control? Explain.

Guide to James Baldwin's "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American"

James Baldwin's autobiographical account is the narrative of a black man coming of age in the first quarter of the 20th century, a time suffused with huge changes in society. Although there were more opportunities for education and economic access, black men also faced worsening racism, violence, and extreme prejudice.

Downloadable audio file (mp3 file) // podcast

In this selection, Baldwin discovers that once he has moved to Paris, he is able to establish friendships and relationships with Americans that were not possible in America. Musing this fact, Baldwin explains that in America, race issues still block people. Ironically, in France, Baldwin is able to communicate with Americans of all races, origins, and class because their common background as expatriates attenuates all other differences.

The selection is from Nobody Knows My Name and the chapter is entitled "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American."

The selection focuses on Baldwin and his experiences in Paris with fellow expatriates. After 1948, Baldwin made his home in the south of France, where he followed a tradition of many American artists and writers, who found France to be a more hospitable place for artists and writers than America. This was particularly the case in the post World War II era, when anti-Communist fears of the Cold War made innovative writing and socialist ideas dangerous. Returning to the U.S. for lecturing or teaching engagements, Baldwin's writing addressed themes of racism and homosexuality, which made him the subject of a great deal of controversy, even within the black community.

Baldwin, who was both black and homosexual, found himself cut off from the dominant culture for being both black and openly gay.

In the selection included here, what characterizes Baldwin's narrative is a sense of "thrownness." "Thrownness" was first developed as a concept by the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger. It is "the condition of being taken more or less by surprise, hurled into an unexpected and unpredictable situation. In one sense, all human beings are thrown: they all have to find their way through the world without much in the way of practice." In Baldwin's world, there is an awareness of being thrown into a world of which one has no knowledge - of what came before birth, or what will happen after death. The thrownness contains a feeling of randomness, and thus other individuals are perceived as part of that great outgrouped mass - a condition which makes one focus on the here and now; one's existential condition.

Baldwin writes to correct the prevailing view that people are rigid and cannot transcend their teleological view of the world, and that order, once established, cannot or should not, be re-ordered.

By moving to France, Baldwin places himself in a state of productive chaos, from which he can emerge, reinvented as the person he wants to be, and unconstrained by the ideas of his native society. However, Europe is no utopia, and it is not an Eden, freshly created and without a history. Baldwin observes, with some irony, that the place that allows him freedom is also the place from which the slave ships and slave-trading enterprises originated. In Europe, Baldwin's history comes full circle and he is hyper-aware of this.


James Baldwin's first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952), is a largely autobiographical account of Baldwin's life. Baldwin's writings include essays, novels, plays, and the best-selling collection from which the selection is drawn, Nobody Knows My Name (1961).

Essay by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Please click here for a useful text: Excellence in College Teaching and Learning: website.

Guiding Questions (by Elaine Bontempi).


1. According to the author, he wanted to leave American in order to find himself and similar others. Why was it necessary to leave America to do this, when America is supposed to be "land of the free" and a "melting pot?"

2. What were some of the themes of James Baldwin's writings? How did this exacerbate the prejudice he experienced?

3. What is the irony of the author's situation?

4. Why is the author able to experience friendships with Americans in Paris that he could not establish while still living in the United States?

5. Several characteristics placed the author into an outgroup. Name at least three and explain how each trait has potentially devastating stereotypes attached to it.

6. An irony that arises in being thrust into an outgroup, is that in so doing, you also "belong" to a group -whether this group is based upon SES, race, medical diagnosis, etc. Explain the potential effects of these memberships in outgroups.

7. For James Baldwin, it took going to Paris to discover what it meant to be American. Explain this.

8. James Baldwin suggested that one of the reasons it is difficult for American writers is because we, as Americans, have a deep distrust for intellectual effort. Discuss your reaction to this suggestion.

9. Why is it supposedly easier to cut across social and occupational lives in America than Europe? Do the previous readings that you have read in the previous sections support this suggestion?

10. The author writes of his experiences in Europe as an African American. How might these experiences have been different or similar if he had been writing based upon a white man's experiences? Explain.

Useful Web Resources:

James Baldwin: Teacher Resource File. http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/baldwin.htm

PBS: American Masters - James Baldwin. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/baldwin_j.html

James Baldwin. Kirjasto series. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm

American Writers: James Baldwin. http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/baldwin.asp

James Baldwin from the archives of the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin.html

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Small Is Beautiful, Economic Development, and Education: Lessons and Insights

podcast / downloadable mp3 file

E. F. Schumacher's seminal work, Small Is Beautiful, while a bit dated (it was first published in 1973), provides valuable insight into how and why countries that have high poverty rates and low economic growth may have problems with technology. It also suggests why technology implemented by industrialized nations may not help lesser-developed nations progress, but instead, heightens dependency. Schumacher helps explain what we have seen with globalization; namely, that the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and that corruption and exploitation often dominate all human enterprise. Eventually, poorer nations lose their autonomy and production capacity, resulting in crumbling infrastructure and ever-increasing poverty.

Schumacher makes the case that technology and industrialization projects in lesser-developed nations are inappropriate and thus harmful to the nation. His thoughts are echoed by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), who describes how "white elephant" and gigantic development projects funded by means of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank often lead to massive foreign debt, which destabilizes an entire country's economy and results in a drain of funds which are used to pay off the debt rather than in education, roads, health, and infrastructure.

The economic growth promised by the giant hydroelectric dams, the pipelines, the modern airports, and toll-road systems never materializes. In the meantime, corruption takes hold as primary contractors (generally large multinational corporations) have record profits and relatives of government officials make money on subcontracting and providing raw materials. The brother-in-law who owns the cement company that provides material for the building of the dam makes out like a bandit, and his profits end up in Switzerland or in an offshore bank, not in the economy that so desperately needs it.

What implications does this have for education?

We can take this a step further and ask the following question: How can online education and appropriate technology come together in a salubrious manner for lesser developed nations?

For Schumacher, the education available for individuals in developing nations is usually the worst for their needs. Instead of practical, in-depth knowledge in subjects that will allow individuals to participate in the specialized jobs that foreign nationals are taking (engineers, technological specialists, communication experts), higher education consists of what Schumacher characterizes as "an amateurish smattering of all major subjects, or a lengthy studium generale in which [learners] are forced to spend their time sniffing at subjects which they do not wish to pursue, while they are being kept away from what they want to learn" (Schumacher, 1989, p. 98). In addition to being unappealing, inappropriate education assures that individuals will not find jobs appropriate to their education level, and will be underemployed -- often as waiters and taxi-drivers for the technical specialists hired by multinational corporations.

According to Schumacher, higher education in both the developed and lesser developed world, lacks ethical groundings. Instead of incorporating any kind of metaphysics, divine purpose, or guiding vision, today's education tends to stress what Schumacher characterizes as the "six great ideas." The six great ideas Schumacher refers to are not those of Mortimer Adler, who claimed they were truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice (Adler, 1981), which sounds very superficial. Schumacher claims that the six great ideas are holdovers from the nineteenth century: evolution, natural selection, distrust of religion, Freudianism, relativism, positivism (Schumacher, 1989, p. 93). What Schumacher wants is a re-infusion of values and metaphysics, which might actually coincide with Adler's truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice.

Unfortunately, a rejection of modernism and postmodernism which involves reinfusing values runs its own risks, as one can observe with fundamentalist groups of all sorts. Ostensibly, a doomsday cult such as Heaven's Gate (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/hgprofile.html) which led to mass suicide, could be a paragon of metaphysics-grounded living, if one takes Schumacher at face value.

Let's return, however, to the original question. How can online education and appropriate technology come together in a salubrious manner for lesser developed nations? There must be equal respect paid to content as well as construct. Without being ephemerally utilitarian, "appropriate" education would include a grounding in theory, applications of ethics, and a mastery-learning approach to content which requires individuals to be able to do something with what they are learning, and what they are doing needs to mean something to them.

References


Adler, M. (1981). Six Great Ideas. NY: Touchstone.

Perkins, J. (2004). Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. NY: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Schumacher, E. F. (1989). Small Is Beautiful, 1989 ed. (first edition, 1979). NY: HarperPerennial.

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