New Media Faculty Dev. Seminar – FA2010

"Awakening the Digital Imagination" – a Networked Seminar

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RE Brenda Laurel

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Laurel’s description of the development of interactive theatre tied in so well to Viola’s work from our reading the preceding week.  Along with her mention of John Cage, she could/should have also cited Viola’s work with the rock concert La Mer.  The visual effect on the audience was profound.

I was also reminded of a wonderful play (light opera) presented here at MCC several years ago – Help Help the Globolinks! – in which the shrouded & spooky Globolinks came out and interacted with members of the audience.

When my grown daughters were small, long before computers or video games had made the scene in our home, we enjoyed the interactive books that were popular at the time – the “choose your own adventure” series.  In these books, a child could make choices throughout the story regarding how they wanted the adventure to unfold, and could experience a different outcome each time.

I see the bridge that she constructs between interactive theatre and video games, but if indeed “enactment can potentially involve all of the senses”, then do video games fall short of expectations?  Such attempts seem to have flowered and faded, leaving us with less.  But I’m not complaining!

some Viola videos

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I am attaching the collection of Viola’s videos that I showed in class today, including a couple for which we didn’t have time.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

On Marshall McLuhan

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The film clip with Woody Allen and Marshall McLuhan that someone posted on the networked blog was both amusing and  applicable.  ”Why can’t life be like that?”  Well, if the medium is indeed the message, then I would think it often is.  After plowing through the pages in McLuhan’s two selections, however, I can easily imagine McLuhan being the fellow behind Woody Allen in the line, pontificating about Joyce, Rimbaud, Ruskin, Pope, and Rousseau.  I have to admit that most of this was lost on me, but I get the reality of psychic transformation taking place since the time of Gutenberg.  The timing of this particular reading is serendipitously close to our recent experience with Mark Taylor, who spent the afternoon last Friday talking about the rewiring of the human brain over the past couple of decades.  I have been following with fascination the faculty response to his talk.  Most educators with whom I have talked agree emphatically that students today think/behave/study/respond/learn very differently.  The spirited discussion begins at the point where we ask the question “So what then?”  Do we put our energy into the technology (the medium) or into the content (the message), or do we do both, with neither suffering neglect?

I carry with me some lessons that I learned way back in my years as a storyteller, at a time when there wasn’t much (if any) real storytelling going on in our area.   Telling stories to young children without the aid of any props at all – no puppets, no flannel boards, no pictures – I found that children would listen with rapt attention.  Why?  I believe it was because they were hungry (dare I say starved?) for something that they rarely got -

  • eyeball-to-eyeball communication
  • total involvement with the speaker
  • nothing to come between the story and their own imagination

These were children who were being raised with Sesame Street, wonderfully illustrated picture books, beautifully animated movies, bright bulletin boards at school, and endless TV – who rarely were asked to listen, simply to listen.   It isn’t hard for me to imagine that their minds, with only a steady diet of the visual, might just undergo a kind of transformation.

I was also interested to read about McLuhan’s response to the misprinting of his book’s title – being The Medium is the Massage. He saw that as a good mistake, because he thought that the medium does indeed have the function of massaging the content.  I often take exactly the opposite stance – that when surrounded by such super-spectacular media, students lack the ability, the motivation, or the inclination to massage the material, to dig in and work with it.

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I love it that the test group for the interim Dynabook was composed of children. It is humbling to know that while I am today being wowed by the capabilities of Sketchup, a fourteen year old girl was programming just such a thing back in 1977!

The section on music capture (OPUS) piqued my curiosity about where that is at this point.  Having read this but knowing nothing more, I am quite sure that it must be possible to play a new composition on a keyboard on the computer (or ipad) and have it immediately appear as written in musical notation.  My thirteen year old grandson installed a cool piano program on my ipad, so that I can practice piano anywhere I am – so now I want to see how I can transfer my playing to written notation.  Who knows how?

Post source: JoMama Meets the New Media

I really regret not being able to be in class last Friday for the discussion of  Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines.  When I read “This book will explain how to tell apples from oranges and which way is up” I actually was eager to read on!!

Then:  “Any bright highschool kid … should be able to understand this book, or get the main ideas.” OK, I was a reasonably bright high school kid once, and even had my moments in college and graduate school – so this should include me. :)

It spoke to me on so many levels – teaching, technology, communication, and more – with straight English (mostly – but more about that in a moment) and humor!  How refreshing.  I liked his style.  He seemed non-proprietary, both with the advice that the reader might not need or want the first half of the book at all – and with the statement

“Most of what is written about computers for the layman is either unreadable or silly.  (Some exceptions are listed nearby [on pp. 6–7 of the first edition, not reprinted here];  you can go to them instead of this if you want.)” In other words, I am NOT indispensable.  This is an attitude not often seen in academia.

He stomped all over our toes, while showing an odd kind of respect and what I saw as a lack of rancor.  His attitudes toward education are right on, in my opinion.  Maria Montessori said many of the same things and put them into practice – but her methods are certainly not in widespread use.  Most will acknowledge Montessorian wisdom and effectiveness, but balk at putting it into widespread use.  After all, she (like Nelson) decried the worth of traditional testing, and the legislature is the tail wagging that dog.

But on to computers … Having been on the “slow learner” end of the technology continuum, I have struggled for years at the hands of computer experts who, when asked a simple question, go off into the nuts and bolts of HOW it works, leaving me with neither an answer to my question nor an understanding of how it works.

He warned against computer-assisted instruction which, when used repetitiously and thoughtlessly, would be as deadly dull and uninspiring as traditional instructional means.  Witness “death by PowerPoint.”  I do have serious reservations about his statement “If the student were in control, he could move around in areas of material, leaving each scene when he got what he wanted…” IF a student is to be given a “variety of interesting materials, events and opportunities” then a teacher is obviously going to have to be a part of the mix.  Having observed a local high school where everything is done on the computer, at the student’s own pace, I see this as all that Nelson warned against.

I was intrigued with his image  of a tree branching out, and  the fluid and endless possibilities of discovery.  This made me think of the newest type of searching made possible in EbscoHost – their Visual Search.  Students have been excited about this method of searching – it helps the thinking process and is quick and clear.  If anyone want to take a look at it, just go to the EbscoHost advanced search screen and click on Visual Search, which is located just under the three search fields.  A tutorial will begin automatically.

A question

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Surely there have been some posts since the class on Friday! I have been looking forward to hearing something about the class discussion that I missed, but no new posts have appeared since Gail’s on last Thursday.
??

A little knowledge can be …

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On reading this week’s selection from Engelbart and English, I had only one comment.

WHAT?????

As I plowed through it, I wondered why I persisted, and knew that the only reason was because I hoped that sooner or later, I would come upon something that made sense to me.  It didn’t happen.

So I returned to the reading of other participants’ postings in our blog, which were both interesting and instructive.  A comment from publicintellectual struck me as both true and important.  He/she said “… what is lost is the knowledge of how it works…”  (apologies for pulling it out of context).  As we have departed so drastically from Engelbart’s notion that what he was creating was for those who could understand how it works, we have had created for ourselves devices and systems that are so user-friendly that 8 year-old street children in India can figure them out without any instruction.  When we are evaluating new technology for student learning, what I most often hear is how this new technology will make it easier for the students – NEVER do I hear anyone saying with excitement that this will make students understand complexities or work harder or think more deeply.   I have a problem with this.  I believe that this is not only changing the way our students think (not for the better), but it is also increasing the risk of confidential information being shared in unsafe ways.  It is so easy and so much fun to get out there and chat, without any notion of how this “magical” thing is happening and without any understanding of the vulnerability that results.

Then there is the “powerful pull” – dare I say “addiction”?

A recent report from the CQ Researcher had some intriguing quotes from yesteryear:

The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct knowledge by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful lumber.

— Edgar Allan Poe, author, 1845

[New technologies are] pretty toys, which distract us from serious things … We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

— Henry David Thoreau, author, 1854

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Engelbart’s example of an architect’s work was phenomenal – so close to what is being done right now. 

 I appreciated his recognition on p. 98, column 2, of the mitigating factors that would inevitably be at work in any conceptual framework.  He admits that “even if our conceptual framework did provide an accurate and complete basic analysis of the system from which stems a human’s intellectual effectiveness, [it] would be highly affected by … our understanding of the human being.”  It seems to me that the framework that he is suggesting is perfect for many (maybe most) kinds of research or indexing or analysis, but it breaks down in the face of subjective analysis and research.  The very immediacy, convenience and speed of the process works against the possibility (or probability) of careful thought and deep reflection, as we find to be necessary in an analysis of literature, for example.  I think that the speed of document delivery makes our students unwilling to sit with a piece of writing, to dig within a body of information and wrestle with it.  Engelbart was a prophet, and his warning that we would need to pay attention to “our understanding of the human being” has gone unheeded.

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These words from Murray struck a chord in me: “The promise is that we will not be crushed by our own knowledge, as the writers at the beginning of this period anticipated, because we will organize it together in a vast distributed and synchronized effort. We will not be mere prisoners of the labyrinth, nor even trail-blazers: we will be the makers of the labyrinth, the gods of our own machines.”   I recognize that at each new dawn of emerging technology, we humans have felt overwhelmed by the amount of information before us, and I think that at this point in time, it is a mistake to blur the lines between information and knowledge.  I see students being crushed by the information that is before them, and being utterly unable to work with that information in order to seek knowledge.  It comes so quickly, so easily, sometimes so spectacularly, that they don’t seem to know how to work with it.  Outside of academia, in the public and the political realm, the sound byte becomes the Truth.

My hope is that the pendulum swings, and that somehow when we are no longer quite so wowed by all this cool stuff, we will get down to the more serious business of using it to enhance and deepen the thinking process, rather than to flatten and trivialize it.  If indeed I am to be a maker of the labyrinth, that will be my choice.