Monday, March 29, 2010

Elevator to Nowhere

Audio File / Podcast: http://beyondutopia.net/podcasts/elevator.mp3

It had been a long day. Tinguely Querer was ready to leave her office. But, the elevators were malfunctioning again.

Not relying on the technology to repair the new, streamlined elevator, Tinguely decided to take the old reliable workhorse, the freight elevator.

How appropriate, thought Tinguely, as she felt she was getting a bit husky these days. It was hard to keep up the level of exercise she needed in order to maintain her weight. She was nursing a strained foot from the “turbo Air” footware that failed to live up to its promise of an effortless, injury-free run.

"The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

The lobby of the high-rise office building smelled of the latest “green” biocide used to keep the mold and rodent problem in check.

The freight elevator door opened slowly. Tinguely saw two men tumble into the door from the street entrance.

“You need to give me back my wallet. Now. I am serious.” A 60-something man was shouting to a young black man wearing a dark brown shirt, tight khaki jeans.

“You need to have a little respect. Respect. Now.” The young black man was on the verge of hyperventilation.

Lalica, the evening receptionist, leapt to her feet. Lalica had dark brown hair, and she tended to wear floral blouses.

“Boys! Stop it right now! There is glass in here! You could get hurt!”

The young black man sank slowly to the floor, put his head on his knees. He was sobbing. The older man pulled the young man’s shirt. “Give me back my wallet. You had no right.”

The sobbing was disconcerting. Tinguely was uncertain what she should do.

“You had no right,” sobbed the young man. The 60s-something man was frantic to get his wallet. He tugged on the young man’s shirt, his pants, groped in his pockets.

“Don’t take that – that’s my new iPod!” wailed the young black man. “It’s the only thing I’ve got that works!”

The malfunctioning elevator door yawned open wide to the dark cavernous shaft.

Pulling something from the young man’s pocket, the 60s-something man darted toward the elevator, not realizing what the door had opened to. He plunged through the open elevator doors.

Tinguely dug out her BlackBerry. “911.”

Lalica nodded. The young man continued sobbing, oblivious. As Tinguely dialed, the foot injured by inadequate running shoe technology throbbed. The malfunctioning elevator door went into spasms of opening and closing.

“It’s going to be hard to get through that,” commented Tinguely.

“The fall probably broke his iPod,” said Lalica.


"Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheaia, truth, happens." (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Tinguely walked slowly toward the wall of mailboxes in the high-rise apartment building where she was renting a bedraggled two-bedroom apartment. A tenant holding a paisley backpack was fumbling for her key. A tall, slender 70-something man held his restless Pomeranian.

“Bella. Relax. We’ll take a walk soon.”

Tinguely read the notice on the wall:

“Water Off from 6:30 am to Noon. We apologize for the inconvenience. West chase only.”

“No water again?” Her voice was indignant.

It was better not to say anything. After all, there was nothing to add. Her words would not influence the functioning of the plumbing.

“Another suicide. They have to turn off the water. Some kind of repair,” said the paisley backpack girl tenant.

“Well. Having the water off again will surely inspire another suicide. I do not know why it takes them so long to flush out the drains.” The 70-something man was huffy.

“That’s the third suicide this month,” said Tinguely.

“The curling iron in the bathtub may have been an accident.” The man did not seem to like the conversation.

“As was the death of the guy whose GPS unit instructed him to jump off the balcony from the 23rd floor?” asked the paisley backpack girl.

“Our machines are turning against us,” said Tinguely.

“Machines still save time,” said the man. “I love my high-speed coffee grinder and my new microwave.”

“Save time for what?” replied the paisley backpack girl, darkly. “Degradation and mind games?”

The Pomeranian barked, whined, shook her head, rattled her collar.

“Bella, is your ear still bothering you?”

The man’s brown eyes watered, and he patted the dog’s head lovingly.

“We just implanted a chip in Bella’s ear. This way, I always know where she is. She can’t run away from me. Ever again.”

“I wouldn’t trust it. The tracking device,” said the paisley backpack girl, glumly. “Bella is a girl dog. Bella, tear that chip out of your ear! It will only oppress and enslave you!”

“My dear, your comments are most unwelcome. Bella wants me to be able to find her,” said the man. He pursed his lips.

“Me, either. You’ve got to know your machines. You have to show them who’s boss,” said Tinguely.

Bella leapt from the arms of her owner. Her reddish-gold fur shimmered. She barked fiercely at Tinguely.

“Don’t worry, Bella. I’m on your side. I know someone who wants to chip me.” Tinguely looked down at her new Google phone which had built-in GPS, synched to Google maps. People in her Facebook network could tell where she was at all times.

She sighed. It was time to pay someone to take her Google phone and to drive aimlessly to random places, just to teach anyone who would track her movements that she was not going down without a fight.

It was not right to reduce her to a pixel on a digital map, and make faulty conclusions about her supposed movements.

Unfortunately, freedom and privacy were going to cost her money. She would have to get a new cell plan for herself.

The girl with the paisley backpack pushed up her sweatshirt, revealing Japanese calligraphy tattoos. She addressed Bella.

“Look Bella, it’s like this. You are negotiating with a hostile nation. You can’t go in and offer concessions right off the bat. You have to have a few kills under your belt. That gets their attention. It garners respect.”

“Do you realize you are talking to a dog?” asked the man. He placed Bella on the ground, attached a leash to her collar and strode away.

The door to the street opened and closed as the man left, Bella leading the way. The glass panes were clear. The lights of the city were twinkling. The empty parking lot and the abandoned gas station across the street were bathed in an eerie glow.

“You’re going to go on a walk on a night like this?” asked Tinguely.

No one responded.

The door opened and closed again. The night air outside smelled like lilacs and burning plastic.

“This is the way things really are, I guess,” said Tinguely. The chemicals and particulates in the air burned her eyes.

For the first time, she noticed that charred polyethylene smelled oddly of brimstone.

She suddenly could not imagine herself living here long.

********

"Technology is a way of revealing" (Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, 1954)

Thoughts
Mathematical Knowledge Is Constructed:


Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Mathematics and the political state both constructed from arbitrary states

Giambattista Vico (1668-1774): History is made by humans in collective action

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): The mind is active in the formation of knowledge, and creates categories.

Gottlieb Fichte: The mind “posits” reality and its positing is prior even to the laws of logic.

Hegel (1770-1831): Categories develop through time and history, focus on non-Being from Being to produce the synthesis of Becoming

Marx and Engels: Frameworks (or ideologies) are terms in which people understand the world; math is an ideology?

Poincare: Mathematics is built up from mathematical induction.

Jan E. Brouwer: Mathematics is built from the ability to count

Rudolf Carnap: Logical positivist – we build our idea of knowledge from sense data (logical constructions from sense data)

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934): Cognitive development is in stages; focuses on the social dimension of the development of a child’s conceptual framework

Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview with John Bittleston: Wiglington and Wenks

Welcome to an interview with John Bittleston, originator of the Wiglington and Wenks series of e-learning simulations, games, and interactive media for young learners. He has helped establish virtual mentoring programs for young learners as well.

1. What is your name and your affiliation?
John Bittleston (Lord Bittleston of Newnham - a very old British Manorial title).
A British Citizen, half American, living in Singapore. I am also Chairman of the Board of Wiglington and Wenks Worldwide Pte Ltd, children’s entertainment and learning project. http://www.wiglingtonandwenks.com/ Founder Mentor of Terrific Mentors Pte Ltd, an online and face-to-face personal and corporate mentoring business. http://www.terrificmentors.com/

I am a business man of seventy-seven who spent sixteen years in advertising and nearly twenty-five years in the food industry, part of it building a food and herbal remedies business based in Singapore but with operations in eighteen locations around the Pacific. When I sold this business, almost twenty years ago, I wrote four children’s books The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks. These were turned into a play, an exhibition, a schools program on creativity, a board game, an early computer game and a five minute animated video shown at Cannes MIPCOM.

2. What is your connection to e-learning?
My children’s project has been a mixture of entertainment and education. The books were conceived at a time when geography was being removed from the syllabus of most schools but children were travelling more than ever. They often could not identify on a world map the places they had come from or gone to. It worried me that even some of the young in the American half of my family in Minnesota could not point to Singapore - even though I was living here.


As Napoleon said ‘Geography reflects History’. I decided to make geography and cross-cultural understanding the basis of the children’s books. As the internet has developed over the last twenty years the opportunities for making education entertaining have expanded beyond anything we could have hoped for, hence the Carto’s Maps online hidden object games and The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World.






As a consequence of my books I was asked by the Singapore Government to get involved in developing the Gifted Education Programme, part of Singapore’s Creative Arts Programme. In particular I was asked to become a Mentor to young writers who were showing promise. Children everywhere are creative but in the past sometimes the demands of knowledge as proof of their education have outweighed the value attributed to creative output. The consequence of this is top level discipline at the expense of inventiveness and creativity.


For its survival Singapore - and the whole world - now needs high level thought and ingenuity if the human species is to survive in anything like its present form. From my mentoring young writers I became interested in mentoring older people and started Terrific Mentors, an online and face to face mentoring business with programmes covering career, personal, business and social problems. This became very popular and the people involved came from all over the world, a significant number from the United States. With over 4,000 personal Mentees, aged six to ninety-two, and many company Mentees the business has grown and is growing fast.


3. What s your philosophy of learning through virtual worlds and / or simulation?
All learning should be fun. We do best in life what we enjoy doing. There is certain basic information we need to be given in childhood, some standards that we need explaining to us so that we understand the community’s advantage of our abiding by them. But information is now readily available and we can see the standards of others on the internet.



What the young are not learning, and what previous generations have failed to learn, is the wisdom to use the information and technology we now have and will shortly have on a vastly greater scale. The evidence for this is all around us. In the 21st Century we are still fighting wars. The gap between the rich and the poor has doubled in my lifetime, a period when democracy has been widely accepted and practiced as the fairest of the available political systems. We have turned sex into a heinous crime while allowing truth to be routinely ignored, indeed even discouraged. Business, especially in the financial area, is more corrupt than ever.



Mankind is a mixture of good and bad. Proselytizing good has not had a record of unqualified success because it has involved telling people what to do. Mankind only does what is right when men and women have worked out for themselves what is right and concluded that following the path of right is sensible.


4. How do you see gaming / simulation / virtual worlds working with mobile learning?
We all grew up believing that, apart from life itself, choice was our greatest gift. We could choose right from wrong. Countless millions have struggled to follow their consciences while a relatively small number have been allowed to take advantage of them for personal material, social and political gain. This is not a Socialist view, it is a sound social view.



The fastest way to improve choice for those for whom it is still too limited is for them to know each other, to talk to each other, to learn about each other’s cultures, to enjoy each others’ company. Every time I see a children’s party on The Travels of Wiglington and Wenks Virtual World I rejoice at the mixture of cultures, at the visible exchanges of childish but profound wisdom, at the making of the real global village we all live in.





5. How can virtual worlds help develop viable learning communities?
Virtual worlds are nothing new. All religions from the dawn of time have relied on a concept of virtual world, without the benefit of the internet, to promote their beliefs, confident that doing so will improve the world and the behaviour of the people in it. As I have already said the lessons mankind has to learn are lessons of wisdom.



Who has this wisdom?
Happily, each of us has some wisdom regardless of our intellect and despite our level of education. Some of the wisest people I have known have been peasants or people in jobs that lacked the influence of the celebrated and the politically or commercially dominant. The internet is a chance to root out the dangerous businesses and the personality destroying greed and learn about a more balanced lifestyle.


We talk about it enough. Let’s start to walk the talk.
John Bittleston

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview with Sharon Brothers, aQuire Training Solutions: Interview with E-Learning Innovators Series

Health care for the elderly is of deep concern to millions of families, as populations age, and younger generations are pulled in many directions, or "sandwiched." Finding competent and compassionate care for elderly family members can be a very difficult challenge. Knowing that the professionals who work in an assisted living facility are well-trained is important. Home health care professionals who would like to specialize in health care for the elderly, or who need to update their skills can now get training online, thanks to aQuire Training Solutions. Welcome to an interview with Sharon Brothers, President and CEO.

1. What is your name and your affiliation?
My name is Sharon Brothers and I’m the President and CEO of aQuire Training Solutions.



2. What is your relation to e-learning?
Our company is an e-learning company dedicated to supporting and training individuals who care for the elderly. I certainly didn’t start out in e-learning, however. For over 20 years I owned, operated and consulted for senior living communities: retirement centers, assisted living and nursing facilities.




Although I’ve always been passionate about education, I only began to focus on e-learning when we began to look for ways to train caregivers all over the U.S. (and the world) without having to be constantly on the road. Even then, we could only train small groups at a time. To achieve universal access to the best possible caregiver training, we began to realize, meant learning everything we could learn about e-learning, and launching this new company, aQuire Training Solutions.

3. What kinds of e-learning are you involved with now?
Since we first began offering a few e-learning courses in 2003, we’ve grown a lot. We now offer a variety of training programs online, ranging from courses for staff working in assisted living and home care companies, to pre-employment training for individuals who wish to become caregivers to a loved one, or as a profession. We now consider ourselves among the small group of e-learning experts in the field of online training for caregiving professionals.

Our newest business division is a licensed career school, the Institute for Professional Care Education (http://www.ipced.com/). Through this school we offer a Personal Care Aide Certification which we believe will set the standard for new caregiver training in this country. We’re working with long term care insurance companies (who will typically reimburse for this training) and a number of other programs to make this training widely available to people who provide care to an elder.



One very interesting tidbit of information is that training, especially for family caregivers, has been demonstrated to measurably reduce caregiver depression and stress, and allow the family to continue to provide care for up to 2 years longer than they could have without the training.

4. How can e-learning train individuals who have to engage in hands-on caregiving?
We’re strong believers in blended learning – in gaining knowledge and values through comprehensive e-learning courses, and blending that with classroom based practice for the hands’ on skills training.

Currently, we offer the only approved online Certified Nursing Assistant course in the state of Oregon - but we only offer the classroom equivalent. We partner with other training providers who provide the lab practice and the clinical work experience components, for a highly successful training program. Our training partners include hospitals, community colleges, nursing homes and career schools throughout the state. This program is helping many, many individuals take the first step into careers in nursing or health care who would otherwise not be able to access the training, mostly due to time constraints for classroom based programs.

We’re somewhat mirroring this program for the new Personal Care Aide Certification course, too. After a person completes the comprehensive 40 hour online course, he or she can optionally add an 8 hour skills training component to practice the hands’ on skills needed for caregiving. This added component can really help build confidence, not to mention solid skills, for people new to caregiving. We’re piloting this program currently in Oregon, California and Arizona, and plan to launch it nationwide in the coming months.

5. What is your philosophy of learning? 
I’d a real believer in adult learning principles. Learning must not only be interesting and engaging, but it must also be grounded to life experience or real world practice. Our own in-house principles, too, are important: the work caregivers do is hard, often thankless work. Learning shouldn’t be another hard task – it should be fun, lively and engaging.


It should have lots of stories (because we love stories) and it should make the caregiver want to learn more – and help her easily see how to apply what she’s learned in real life.

6. Do you see potential for your training to be done via mobile learning?
It sure seems like mobile learning is the next frontier in e-learning – although it will probably be even more focused and targeted than current courses. We’re looking for ways to begin to transition some of the basic concepts we teach online to a mobile learning approach, and will no doubt be offering at least some of our training in this way in the year to come.



7. Please list three books you've found inspiring.
I love to read – anything from a great detective story (I love the Steig Larsson series, "The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played with Fire "), to books like "Blink" (Malcolm Gladwell) and "They’re YOUR parents, too: How siblings can survive their parents’ aging without driving each other crazy" by Francine Russo, a wonderful woman I’ve recently gotten to know.

Of course,
"Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" is a favorite of mine, but for those of a more mature age, not wanting quite so much relationship drama, another book I’d highly recommend along the same vein is Alice Steinbach’s "Without Reservations." Inspiring and wonderful.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Developing a Professional Digital Competency Portfolio: Market Yourself, Your Skills & Vision

A portfolio can be one of the most useful tools you can use to showcase your abilities for potential employers, or simply to keep up to date with useful web applications. You can use the "digital competency portfolio" for course projects and capstones. The personal portfolio is a great way to show your creativity as well as your skill, and to guide people to an understanding of who you are. As you build your portfolio, you can use open source portfolio software such as Mahara (http://www.mahara.org). If you want your e-portfolio to have maximum exposure, you can use social networking solutions. Facebook is perhaps the most ubiquitous, but you can also use Ning, Orkut, Bebo, and others.

Checklist of items to include:

**Website with personal mission statement, your vision, work experience, insights, important links.
There are a number of places that offer easy-to-use free webhosting, with templates. Many colleges and universities provide you with free webspace. Others may require you to develop a website as a part of a master’s or Ph.D. program. If you use your university’s free student web space, be sure to create a mirror site and upload to server space / web hosting that will not go away when you graduate.

Once you have webhosting server space on something like siteground (http://www.siteground.com), you will need a web editing program. One of the most convenient ones around is the Sea Monkey Project (originally Netscape Composer). Then, you'll need an ftp program, such as FileZilla.

**Audio mp3 (optimized) using Garageband, Audacity, etc.
Creating audio content is not as nerve-wracking as you might suppose. It’s mainly a matter of deciding what your content will be, and then making an audio recording. You can use open source programs such as Audacity (be sure to download the lame.dll driver to help you convert to mp3 files). Then, simply upload to webspace that you may have, thanks to hosting packages with yahoo, siteground, lycos, or others. Alternatively, you may wish to use a podcasting service that has a built-in recorder and a built-in flash audio player. In any case, to impress, be sure to do the following

--make sure your recording is clear
--if you read your script, make sure to let it flow
--don’t be afraid to interject personal asides and to make your script engaging and conversational
--provide links to affiliated text(s) or websites that complement the content

**Video (Youtube / ustream)
Being able to demonstrate your ability to capture spontaneous, field-based experiences and then to share them with others is critical in our knowledge economy. Whether you capture video using your smartphone or handheld device, or if you invest in a video camera, the point is the same. Your original videos can be designed for archived viewing (Youtube.com), or to be “live” as a synchronous feed, which you later archive (http://www.ustream.com)

Make sure your content is

--engaging and interesting to your audience
--relevant to your overall message or goals
--thought-provoking
--humanizing – gives your audience a sense of the people and the community behind the names and the links

**Images (professional focus) -- Flickr, Photobucket (http://photobucket.com/)
It’s fun to share family vacations, graduations, and goofy pet antics on video and still photos. These are great to have. It is also good to have images and videos that resonate with your professional interests. These images are a wonderful element within your e-portfolio and can make a compelling case that you are pro-active about what you care about. Taking photos and posting them helps get the message across that you are active. Your images and videos show that you’re willing to put out the effort to create a reality around your interests and goals. Here are images to include:

--conferences / professional development events
--imaginative images that illustrate your dreams
--projects you may have created (robots, buildings, scale models, drawings)
--images that convey your core mission and vision

**LinkedIn
There are pro’s and con’s with any professional networking site, and LinkedIn is no exception. It’s not easy to show who you are in their rather rigid templates. But, thankfully, that’s not all LinkedIn is about. It provides a way for people to find and contact you, and you can give and receive recommendations. Beware, though. Like all social networking sites, LinkedIn can become an obsession. Remember the goal is to achieve your career objectives. It’s not about how many people you can “friend.”

**Archive of white papers (link pdfs)
One of the most impressive things you can do if you’re building a personal e-portfolio is to create a digital repository of some of your research, which could include web searches, annotated bibliographies, research papers, and white papers. Don’t forget to include metatags, and to put key words after your title and author block. They will help you get picked up by search engines. Also, be sure to be consistent with the appropriate style - probably MLA or APA. Also, be sure to put your name prominently on the website, and the date written. You may be surprised how many places will start linking to your white papers. You may even find yourself picked up by Google Scholar!

**PowerPoint (as pdf)
It is a good idea to include presentations in your e-portfolio that showcases your digital competencies. If you want to collaborate, you may wish to take advantage of open source presentation software, such as Zoho Show. Here are a few things to remember:

--convert your presentation to pdf (to make it more difficult for people to use your work without attribution)
--use a pdf converter program such as Adobe Professional, or a free pdf-maker such as Primo
--include metatags as you create a description
--don’t forget your name and date created
--write a synopsis
--include notes for each of the slides

You may be surprised how quickly your presentations will be picked up, especially in image searches.

**Twitter
Granted, Twitter is evolving, and we don’t know where it will take us, or if tweeting is a digital competency, per se. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea to include your twitter account, and to make sure to describe your interests so that they align with your professional interests

**Widgets, Scripts, Apps, Mashups
If you like to create applications, or to create widgets, scripts, or other integrated applications and mashups, the e-portfolio is a great place to let people know. If you're using Bebo as your social networking platform, keep in mind that Bebo has a good library of integrated apps / mashups. They also make it easy to create your own.

Putting It All Together
As you start to bring everything together, you may wonder if Facebook is really the right place to showcase your skills. The answer is a bit ambiguous. If you have a personal Facebook account for friends, family, and communication in general, you will definitely need to keep that one intact. Keep your wall open, and let people post.

However, for your professional e-portfolio that demonstrates digital competencies, use Facebook in a very constrained manner. Don’t allow people to post on your wall. Keep the content totally professional. Incorporate the items listed above, and embed html when possible. You may need to prominently display your website, and mirror all your links there, just in case people get a bit lost in your Facebook e-portfolio.

As a final note, be sure to share the digital competencies e-portfolio idea with your friends, and to exchange design, content, application, and “cool stuff” findings. Make it easy to get in touch with you – and clearly post what you’d like to get involved in, and the kinds of jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc. that motivate you.

The e-portfolio is powerful, and your ability to demonstrate your digital competencies will give you a boost in the knowledge economy.

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