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Tag: technology (page 1 of 4)

attachments, digital life, and my flippin’ class

We live in the blurry space between the virtual and the real. Recently, I heard a talk in which the presenter Michael Vaugn from Elan University quoted the following: “Computing isn’t about computers anymore. It’s about living.” (He didn’t so much say this, as he let the quote linger on his slide in the background while making his own argument.) His slide was quoting Nicholas Negropante, founder of the MIT Media Lab and the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). His use of Negropante’s words, however, did not provide the full and proper context. The fuller quote from Negropante’s 1995 book Being Digital is as follows:

Computing isn’t about computers anymore. It’s about living. The giant central computer, the so-called mainframe, has been almost universally replaced by personal computers, so they’ve moved from giant air-conditioned offices, onto desktops, onto our laps and now in our pockets. This is not the end. Mass media will be redefined by systems for transmitting and receiving personalized information and entertainment. Schools will be more like museums and playgrounds for children to assemble ideas and socialize with other children all over the world. The digital planet will look and feel like the head of a pin. (230)

Certainly Negropante was reading technology trends with prophetic accuracy. However, given what he’s gone on to do with the OLPC program, his implication strikes me as one more about the promise of technology—about fair access to fundamental information and educational resources that computers (and access to the Internet) can bring to children in developing nations and all over the world. He is not (IMHO) referring to the First World’s mindless addiction to social media technologies (or the celebration and embracing of such trends as Vaugn implies.)

I fancy technology. It’s no lie. But I also resist consumer trends, tech and otherwise. I like to tinker—sometimes with reckless abandon—and my insistence on using free and open-source technologies whenever possible (even when it creates time-consuming challenges) is as much an eco-political stance as it is a hobby. Even so, I’m quick to dig my heels into old ground—a place where screens do not mediate our every human experience, and so my stance becomes one of the curmudgeonly kind, or so it seems.

I’m quick to dig my heels into old ground—a place where screens do not mediate our every human experience.

As a writing teacher with this tinkering interest, it’s no surprise that technology plays a significant role in my classes. For years, I’ve been using computer technology to engage my students (and myself), streamline classroom logistics, and walk my idea of the bleeding edge in both composition theory and educational practice. I’ve always harbored a degree of insecurity with my approaches, though, wondering if being outside of the mainstream somehow was a disservice to my students. As of late, however, aspects of mainstream edu-tech and the trajectory of my own work have aligned most apparently with the emergence of the so-called “flipped classroom.”

Most succinctly, the flipped classroom is a technology-enabled reversal from the traditional way classroom time is spent. In most basic terms, teacher talk (lecture, verbose explanation, etc.) is moved online for students to prepare before class, and what used to be homework (skills practice, application of concepts, etc.) is moved into the classroom where peer and instructor support is most immediate. Scroll through the info-graphic below for more or see it in it’s original context here.

For several years now, I’ve supported my classroom with tech used in this way. I moved to a paperless course by making essential documents available electronically; I’ve facilitated all student-student and student-instructor paper exchange through a course website; we’ve extended our classroom conversations to online spaces when face-to-face time ran short; I’ve made a variety of rich media available online to students to supplement our coursework. Regarding classroom time, I’ve leaned heavily toward student-led approaches, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning—effectively moving me, as instructor, to the sidelines most of the time. Nowadays, I feel my approach legitimized with all the buzz of flipping. This has allowed me to push still further to provide more of the core “content” of my course fully online for students to work through before class and return to as needed. I’m rethinking and reworking even more aggressively my approach to classroom time, avoiding protracted explanations, presentation, or lecture in favor of supported group work almost entirely.

I worry about the hangover that will inevitably come after the intoxication of “anywhere, anytime, any device learning” wears off.

Still, my heels find their footholds. In speaking with a colleague who has recently flipped her class with a gusto, I worry about the hangover that will inevitably come after the intoxication of “anywhere, anytime, any device learning” wears off. My esteemed colleague raises good questions about the relevancy of the long-winded assignment handout, text-heavy online lessons, the sage-on-the-stage professor, and all that which by ordinary comes in the form of words—so many words. She cites the importance of digital and visual literacies and cogently supports her claims with research regarding the ways our young digital natives think, negotiate, and experience their world. Still, as I interact with my students and the many young people I encounter nowadays, I observe a marked decline in social skills—people unable to carry on a conversation, make a phone call, write a professional e-mail, or sustain their attention for any length of time. Trying so desperately to keep with the times, will we see fewer and fewer students who can comprehend and be moved by powerful written texts? Will it become unreasonable to expect our students to work through difficult ideas (or anything that doesn’t “flicker” or—more to the point—entertain?)

So I continue to tinker—in search of the right high-tech, old-school balance that will engage my students, facilitate their success on all levels, afford them with the opportunity and the skills not just to move quickly in life, but also to sit with me in slow conversation, to look me in the eye and have the patience to hear me out before contributing their own thoughtful verse.

invention club kicks-off

This past Friday, we kicked off our Invention Club–a 16-week program designed to introduce kids to invention and engineering. The program is part of the Lemelson Foundation with the mission to create innovative solutions to everyday problems. The club projects and activities are designed to engage scientific curiosity and wonder with the participants.

After some socializing, snacking, and “out-of-the-box” thinking warm-ups (which the kids were great at–probably because they were never in the box to begin with), we got started with our first invention challenge. The younger kids opted to take on a slightly different design challenge–building the tallest possible structure using only marshmallows and dried spaghetti noodles. What fun! For the older kids, the challenge was to design a trophy tower to hold a championship tennis ball. To do this, the kids had 20 flexible straws, three 12-inch lengths of masking tape, a ruler, and a scissors. Each design team started at the drawing board to sketch their design plan. Once everyone was ready, we headed out to the workshop to do some building.

It was cool to see how each team took different approaches at first–bending, taping, cutting. Some asked if they could use the scissors and ruler as part of the tower. Why not? In the box, these were tools. Out of the box, they became integral parts of the structure itself. Midway through, teams began to consult one another and their designs began to converge–looking very similar to one another–that is, until some departures occurred and teams struck out on their own again in new creative directions.

In the end, it was great fun and every team built a successful structure. (Sure, some might benefit from some redesign tweaks, but we’ll get to that.) We showcased each of the designs and took photos while the kids explained their design decisions and process. To wrap-up the activity, Chris explained the reiterative design process. This is something we’ll become very familiar as we pursue design challenges in future Invention Club meetings. Everyone had a blast. We’ll be back again next month to see what challenge awaits.

artistic imagery android style

Playing with a couple new photo apps, I created these images. The first one Aidan posed with his blanky in natural light. I ran it through Pixlr-o-matic. This is a post-processing app with many filters and features to affect overall image, background, and framing. It’s really versatile and free to boot.

This next image was run through an app called Paper Camera. This app is used to capture and apply a series of effects to the image all at once. The range of effect possibilities is not as full as with Pixlr-o-matic, but what’s neat about it is that it allows videos to be captured with effects applied. For a $1.99 it offers some fun possibilities for whimsical image making on the go.

Go make something today. It’s fun.

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