Monday, December 26, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
The other day, I introduced the idea of Introductions. (What follows was originally part of that post--which I decided was too long to chew up in one sitting.)
Introductions are short things. They could be prose or images or something else. (Mightn't an Introduction to Beethoven have a few tunes in it?)
Introductions introduce a topic, idea or thing by giving some locating information. Introductions answer the question: "Where the heck does this thing sit in the network of stuff I might know about?"
For instance, I might like an introduction to:
- object-oriented programming,
- chaos theory,
- 20th-century American poetry,
- theories of management.
Introductions could be a nice form & format for higher education. Higher ed desperately needs to go beyond the term paper, research paper, lab report, five-paragraph essay and Powerpoint presentation. New forms might include: the timeline, the small database, and the Introduction.
Hence Introductions could fit some neat pedagogical purposes: they wouldn't just be resources, they could be tasks. Indeed, in the framework of a course, it couldn't take that long to generate some decent introductions.
I sometimes advocate to teachers--in part purely for the purpose of raising some issues--the notion of the Syllabus-Free Course. That is: what if college courses did not have that defensive document saying what the course would and would not address, what books were trustworthy authorities on the subject, what fit within the field and what did not.
You are taking a course on English Literature. What the heck does the title mean? When I taught in an actual classroom, I used to call the first day "Explaining the Course Title" or "Reading the Syllabus." The syllabus usually sets the student straight on what the course title means: a syllabus is basically a title and then an explanation of its meaning.
Textbooks also shut down a lot of questioning. The Who-za-me Anthology of English Literature has decided what's fit to go inside. But in screening things in and out, the whole definitional process of the discipline is lost--whereas it should be core to what students learn. The idea shouldn't be "English Studies" is perfect as it is: it should be that the discipline was something else, was re-defined--and probably will be re-defined again.
What if students were asked to find out what was and wasn't included in this topic? To present definitions and debate them? The instructor could be an expert and could talk about why literature in English but not from England made up the field. The students could propose ways of slicing the topic that would be most interesting.
Introductions could be a wonderful part of such a course. (In this sense, Introductions are more of a tool in an arsenal than an end-in-themselves.)
Go break the course title down into some parts, you would in effect say to the students. How is a course called "Statistics" not just a math course? Why is it taught in a Psychology Department? What are the Big Things People Do With this "statistics" thing-a-me?
If courses used this strategy, a course on the novel could separate it from the epic--but only partially--and then dive into big novelists and kinds, and along the way students could find: "Jane Austen is what I care about in this whole Novel Game"--or Nabakov or Thackeray, for that matter.
Requirements could spell out how many parents and children and siblings and parts the Introduction should include. The "parents" and "children" are the predecessors and inheritors in a tree; the siblings are items that are similar-but-not-the-same; the parts are--well, just that. So:
- How many novelists "begat" Nabokov? How many "influenced" novelists should be included?
- How many similar novelists would be useful to locate VN?
- How many of VN's novels need we know about to get a good picture?
(Indeed, a clever system might store this kind of information in such a way that users could get only as much or little as they liked.)
I actually think a lot of Introductions could be built up relatively quickly--and then re-used--by just a few courses in each department.
And then everyone in the world could access these Introductions to find their own way.
--Edward R. O'Neill
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I have often been frustrated by the lack of a good introduction.
I like flipping through catalogs of catalogs. We all do. Amazon.com is a good example. What is it? A ton of books containing a ton of information. So it's information about information.
In the movie Annie Hall, the Woody Allen-character relates a joke about two old folks in a home. "The food here is terrible," says one. The other replies: "Yes, and such small portions!" Nowadays with information, it's just the opposite: such large portions.
It's been that way for a long time. Go into any library and you'll get lost pretty quickly. There's a lot of sections with a lot of books, and each book contains a lot of stuff--including references to other books. I remember distinctly that the first dozen times I walked into a library, I made a tour of the whole place--and then left. I couldn't find a thing.
Finding things is important: being able to find things. If you leave school and can't find anything--because it was all provided to you, plunked on your desk, shoved into your hands, crammed into your eyes and ears--you really did not learn something very important that everyone needs to know.
The other day I was flipping through a catalog of college courses on DVD and tape. All of calculus or Western philosophy or quasars or neutrino's--in twelve lectures or 24 or 36 lectures. I confess I own several of these already. I've never gotten past the first lecture. Call me ADHD--oh look, a bird is flying past as I type this! But the point is: introducing a topic does not require this much detail: it requires something else.
We live in a culture of experts. There is so much information, and the only way to Be Somebody is to become an expert. We're drowning in experts--when we could really use some good amateurs. That's what good journalists are: good amateurs. That guy at Berkeley who writes about food is that. He goes and tries to find out stuff, and then he tells you about it, and it's interesting, and you can follow it, and you're not drowning in it. Really: the guy has a gift. He can boil what he knows about food--which is a lot--down to sixty pages.
Brevity is a good thing. Not shallowness and not compression but just brevity. What you really want to know is: just enough so you can find out more. Brevity clarifies. Brevity nourishes. Brevity excites. Brevity intrigues.
I really wish our culture had more brief introductions.
A good introduction is a short one. "John, this is Albert. Albert this is John. Albert works in a hospital like you do, John, but in Calgary rather than San Jose. John went to Occidental, and you want to Pomona, so maybe you can swap stories. And you're both married to Swedes." That's a good introduction.
Introductions are more about where than what. Where is this? Introductions connect, situate and locate along lines and in networks that are important. This is this kind of a person from this kind of a place with this kind of connections to the past and the present and to other people. That's really what the titles in personal introductions do: "This is Dr. John Sussmann, Associate Director of the Marlin Group." Now I know a bunch about John based on his title, his name, his job, and where he works.
But little introduction are now rather big. There's a nice series of books called "A Very Short Introduction To...." And then it's idealism in 90 pages. Or Derrida. Or Genomics.
Wikipedia is really a set of introduction. One lovely thing about them is how they're connected. One can lead to another. If it's an award winner, you find out who won the award the year before and after. That's context. That's part of introducing.
But even Wikipedia can be overlong--as introductions go. (Brief introductions are good introductions.)
There used to be some nice introductions. There was a wonderful 'invitation' to sociology. It was short, and any literate high school graduate could could read it with pleasure. Look at the Amazon.com reviews, and you'll find many who recall it with great fondness. But the introduction or invitation was killed off by the massive textbook tome. This contains everything you never wanted to know about X--and were quite rightly afraid to ask.
So when I want to learn about something, here's the kind of thing I'd like to know.
- What the heck is it? What kind of thing is it?
- What does it do? What does it accomplish? How is it used?
- Where did it come from? What did it lead to? So what came before and after?
- What else is like it--but not the same thing?
- How big is it? How many parts does it have?
- What do people argue about it?
These are actually semantic concepts and relations. What is it called? What are synonyms and antonyms? Aristotle offered his own list. (Of course: Aristotle loved lists. He'd be on my list of list-lovers.) You can find many good discussions--but of course, they're too long. But many others have chimed in--although the field of semantic relations is nowhere near as organized as you'd think it would be.
To my mind, an ideal introduction would be somewhere between a few sentences and a page. But is prose even the best medium? A nicely configured database might allow us to store items with explanations and relationships in a form that could then be browsed by whomever could build the best interface. This seems to be The Way Things Are Going. Yes, Amazon has a store, but it's really a bunch of data about products. And if someone else can create a nicer way to browse it, so be it. (The information is fed out through something called an API, if you're into tech stuff.)
It seems to me some basic semantic concepts that would locate stuff in relation to other stuff would be:
- scope & magnitude
- parents & children: where did it come from & what did it lead to?
- siblings: things that are similar-and-different
- internal parts
These aren't too fussy, but I hope they're not too broad, either. The point is that each semantic dimension is a kind of road or avenue bringing us to meanings--like addresses.
--Edward R. O'Neill
P.S. This post was formerly longer, but I migrated the latter half to another post--on how Introductions fit into the Syllabus-Free Course.
Monday, December 5, 2011
So you want to show your class what's happening on your iPad? There are a few things you need to know to display your iPad screen on an LCD, flatscreen or data projector.
You Must Adapt.
First, you will need an adapter. It’s an Apple product, so there is more than one type. (Ahem.)
- The most common is: VGA. This is the most common type of connection between computers and external screens or projectors.
- Less common is HDMI. It's less common, but it carries sound as well as picture.
Are You Enabled?
- HDMI will project everything on the iPad: the ‘desktop,’ the Safar web browser, ebooks, everything.
- Though the VGA interface is more common, what it projects is more limited.
Displaying to an external device from the iPad using VGA is enabled at the level of the app. Some apps are, and some apps aren’t.
Which Apps Are Enabled?
Some of the most important apps you can display using a VGA connection are:
- Keynote ($)
- Photos (in slideshow mode only)*
- GoodReader ($)
- Brushes and other drawing/whiteboard apps ($)
* = Preloaded in the iPad Operating System.
($) = not free
If you want sound, you'll also need an audio cable.
- The most common type is "headphone mini male to headphone mini male." If you have earphones, this cable will look like the earphone plug--but at both ends.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
- When a student shows up to class, he may well feel (quite rightly) that he should kind of do the homework, as the professor might call on him. Call it fear. Call it a stressor. But it's real.
Friday, July 8, 2011
The question can also be flipped: many web sites could just as well be ebooks--they are updated so infrequently.
A web site can:
- be dynamic (responding to users), frequently changing, regularly updated;
- be a hosted conversation, not a fixed monologue or dialogue: it's like a play where the audience talks back;
- collect data about users to track them over time--for their benefit or the site's benefit;
- immediately connect to other resources via hyperlinks so that the site is seamlessly embedded within the internet as a whole;
- be accessed sequentially over a long period, but brief and intermittent random access, skimming, searching and hit-and-run browsing are often assumed.
In short: a web site is a snack or a buffet, where an ebook is a meal or several meals.
- takes a fixed form which can be stable for weeks or months or more;
- does not include an on-going conversation--that takes place elsewhere;
- does not track user behavior (though some reader programs sync across devices for user convenience);
- contains within itself a tightly-bound group of coherent elements and may link more loosely to other resources (through footnotes, hyperlinks and other references);
- is a standalone resource that can be used, read and enjoyed by itself, often over a long duration, often sequentially.
- A web site is potentially casual, sampled in short visits, potentially over time, in a very non-linear fashion, and it may be a form of social interaction.
- An ebook has a longer duration, may be more sequential, and it is a solitary 'conversation' between an author and a reader.
- That some pieces of information are more tightly bound to each other.
- That kind of tight binding or coherence is what we expect of an author or content creator.
- That not everyone is connected to the web at every moment--nor wants to be nor should be expected to be.
- And that social as we are, we still enjoy solitary, reflective activities--as we have since Gutenberg's invention gave a reasonable price to solitary reading for enlightenment or pleasure.
--E. R. O'Neill
Friday, April 15, 2011
While this book has its touch-y-feel-y aspects, there are many good ideas. Indeed, I found that the principles in Caine, Caine et al jibed amazingly well with Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do.
In my notes I synthesized them down to ten or so points.
- Get the learner relaxed.
- This can involve things like: clear communication about expectations, short assignments.
- Assignments that involve contributing or sharing experiences can lower the learner’s stress, while also providing fodder for meaningful discussion later.
- Give the learner a challenge--but not too much.
- This implies knowing what the student can do. You can give a pre-test, quiz.
- Or you can even give a ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ test--e.g., asking students to write about themselves and then noting who can write a paragraph, who has spelling problems, etc.
- Crank down threats and fatigue and things that make students feel helpless.
- So: don’t overwork the student. Give clear feedback. Communicate clearly about deadlines.
- Rewarding the student for submitting work on time, for instance, helps the student feel she has control over her performance.
- Get the learners to interact socially.
- Social interaction is a motivation, and it has lower stress than interacting with a forbidding instructor.
- Encourage the learner to search for meaning that's important to her.
- Immerse the learner in a complex but clear and structured task.
- It can be a ‘Where’s Waldo?’
- Or it can be finding something meaningful based on her own experiences within a significantly complex whole--such as an essay or a textbook chapter.
- Give her ways of grasping wholes and not just a dizzying array of minute tidbits.
- E.g., demonstrate a clear pattern and then ask students to recognize that pattern in small examples.
- Promote pattern recognition.
- Keep using the same pattern or configuration--a loop in a computer program, an irregular verb, “causes of Expressionism”--so the student knows what to look for.
- Give the student ways to actively process information with concrete tasks (list, re-arrange, draw, map, etc.).
- The point is not the beauty of the results: indeed, you needn’t grade on quality, only meeting minimal assignment requirements.
- The point is for the student to put the information into working memory and build connections.
- Guide each learner to create her own unique knowledge-map.
- The important thing is to do and make the map--not that it’s the map you would make for yourself.
--Edward R. O'Neill
Thursday, April 14, 2011
It's amazing/ridonkulous that you can't just search & pull all the tweets you want, and then wrap a commentary/discussion around them.
But there it is. Twitter is still evolving.
- Participation. Getting involved feels good.
- Help others. This feels good, too. It's not square. There's some new impulse towards altruism. Maybe after the Great Recession, we understand its value more.
- Doing and making. These feel good, too. And it needn't be digital, electronic, computerized or 2.0.
- Re-use, economize, invent. It's not only ecological to re-use, it's smart, requires smartness, and can help others.
- Value. What do we value? Who creates it? Who gets to share in it? Our society seems to be going back to fundamentals here.
RT @tastyjules #tedxusc is a major clusterfuck. Event crew shmoozing as at 30 ppl w orchestra seats relegated to 2nd balcony. #disappointedless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Replyedwardoneill
- Whom do we lionize?
- Whom do we revere?
- Billionaires because they are billionaires?
- Or when they create value and connect people--no matter how much they earn?
(Warning: if you go to his personal web site, you get re-routed to some media-heavy page that takes forever to load and may well crash your browser. Be forewarned.)
This underlined a running themes: social action, doing things and doing them together, participation, a greater good.
Pomona basketball coach Brian Kays (among the best live-tweeters on the premises) insightfully pointed to the less-is-more aspect of this talk. We are so distracted by technology and newness that we collapse the two. What if the greatest invention used rubber bands and bailing wire?
RT @coachkays: The poor are producing the beat DIY innovation around as they don't have the advantage of tech, results are astounding #T ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
Rosa also underlined the importance of hope: that without hope there is no creativity. Hope may be a delusion, but it is a healthy one.
RT @derekfromson: Biz prof Jose Antonio Rosa (University of Wyoming): "Hope allows us to engage in healthy delusion and creative devianc ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
(He also pointed out that creativity can be illegal, violent and inimical, too: this wasn't a greeting card.)
Most interesting, I thought, was his description of deejay parties where participants can have the deejay shout out the names of distant (even dead or missing) loved ones--then buy a CD of the shout-out.
At the Solidaro Party, the DJ shouts out to your loved ones. You get the CD and send it across the border to your loved ones. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Replyedwardoneill
Maybe I spelled the name of this kind of party wrong. Kun called them 'transnational messaging events':
RT @RickyHang: Sonidera parties allow transmission of messages to those across borders- basically transnational messaging events - Josh ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Replyedwardoneill
Rick Nahmias from Food Forward explained how gleaning unpicked backyard fruit could feed our hungriest, notably farm workers who themselves are poorly paid--fruitanthropy.
This is also a tax deduction for the homeowner!
Rick N. called it win-win-win-win: food pantries get food that's fresh and wholesom, homeowners get a tax break, volunteers participate, and hungry people get fed.(Where is our next Cesar Chavez, I wonder?)
RT @derekfromson: Watching "Apple of My Eye," a short film shot and edited entirely on iPhone4. Very cool! See it here: http://bit.ly/d4 ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
The fact of the technology produced more ooh's and ah's than the film, which is interesting. But I think this set up very powerfully the message: technology can lower the bar for skillful media content-creation.
He used salty Play Dough to make electrical circuits, and he built up to using an Arduino processor.
Homemade Play-Do, musical instruments and rockets? Sing-a-long's? We are craving to make & participate at #TEDxUSC!less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
Behind social media, which can seem alienating and distancing, there is a deep desire to CONNECT. You could see it at TEDxUSC in the opening participatory sing-a-long.
RT @derekfromson: MondoNet (http://mondonet.org), Aram Sinnreich's ad-hoc wireless mesh network, shows new approach to web connectivity ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
Jennifer Pahlka described a project in which programmers work for a year doing small projects for local government.
Code for America is like Teach for America--but for geeks. #TEDxUSC #redundant They develop apps for government/citizen use.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
I could go on about this one for hours, so I'll have to make it a separate blog post.
RT @snidelyhazel: Elisabeth Stock: Rethink digital learning through student-centered lens. Learning follows child, teacher and parents s ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
Her organization offers hundreds of digital assets for teachers, parents and kids to access.
And she told a charming story about a teacher realizing that play could be part of learning, not a distraction.
Elisabeth Stock tells a killer anecdote about teacher realizing a game can be a platform for learning. http://www.cfy.org/ #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet ReplyLearning Technology
This is the kind of 'a-ha' moment we need more of.