Category Archives: psychology

Week 2: E-learning and Digital Cultures #edcmooc

I’m currently attending this MOOC: E-learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera.

Activity for Week 2

Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.

I watched these videos:

Video: “Day Made of Glass 2” (Corning)

The “Glass as lifestyle” approach is somewhat corporate wishful thinking, IMHO, and relies too much on groovy futuristic sci-fi touch interfaces to make the glass medium look exciting. Tinting windows? Sure. Use my bedroom window to help me decide what to pull out of my closet that is only a few feet away? Fat chance.

A massive sheet of glass in the middle of a demonstration forest would never be that clean and perfect.
I’m sure it would also be dangerous for the wildlife (dead birds having crashed into it all the time = scary discoveries for young girls).

In the classroom, students are just well-behaved passive recipients of the Teacher’s initial presentation, with nobody raising their hand to ask a question or ask to go to the bathroom. In classrooms today that use interactive whiteboards, students are often encouraged to come to the front and move images around as part of the lesson. Why do presentation and participation (at the beautiful touch-table) need to be presented as a group activity? In the Corning classroom, students are depicted and treated mainly as one group/collective. Is this a (subconscious) corporate wish for collective harmony? It’s okay for the kids to pick their clothes or to colour Dad’s dashboard full of hearts – that’s harmless kid stuff – but beyond that, personal expression or individuality seem muted in Corningland.

The glass-based solar array on the school roof was a nice image, but they could have done more to humanize their mission, and embrace corporate social responsibility. Like, why not show a kick-ass interactive graffiti wall donated by Corning to some local Community Centre?

Also, why are the young girls private school students? Is that a value judgement about an educational utopia? Does that mean that Corning’s utopian vision would only be available to the upper class and rich medical specialists like the Dad? That would leave something of a dystopian “plexiglass” reality for the lower classes, I guess… 😉 Definite technological determinism there, not to mention class-ism.

Video: “Productivity Future Vision” (Microsoft)

In Microsoft’s vision, paper seems to have disappeared, replaced by flexible touch-sensitive surfaces. Hard for me to accept that. Paper will still remain cheaper than plastic, for at least the next 10 years and more ecologically friendly, forever. I noticed that keyboards are still around in Microsoft’s future vision, at least in the office when one is preparing the annual report (or whatever that dude was doing).

Apparently, nobody at home or work is concerned about any repetitive stress issues from having to do all those large arm motions to swoosh images around on all those massive interactiuve surfaces. How many overweight CEOs are going to throw their back out trying to clear all the virtual files off their ginormous desk-walls?

This idea that all surfaces will be interactive and high-res is completely fantastic – a utopian vision and obvious excuse to demo Microsoft’s Surface technology. It is technologically skewed towards the vendor-manufacturer’s wet dream of an ideal consumer family.

#edcmooc

Improving hardware and software usability, but for whom?

stock-footage-social-network-on-touch-screen-tablet-pc-with-finger-touching-screen-and-arranging-wordsLast year, I read an astute saying that said “If you didn’t pay to use a service, then you are the product being sold”. I feel like that kind of “buyer beware” maxim could be applied to ease-of-use in information technologies too. Here’s what I mean…

If a technology tool or platform is popular, we could say that, in part, because it’s easier to use than the competition, the usability aspect of its design was likely a core business strategy. Hardware designers might talk of “build quality” and ergonomics – it’s all about usability.

Today, usability is deeply integrated into product design and marketing. For example, let’s take the rise of tablet computing platforms – most popularly, the Apple iPad. Many users who are new, or technologically-intimidated, or very young or old, will likely have an easier time using a touch-tablet like the iPad than they would using a desktop computer. Compared to the user experience of manipulating a mouse and keyboard on a desk to manipulate objects on a screen, touching your finger to a screen on a tablet (primarily one that has an OS that is designed for touch use) is much easier for a new or unfamiliar user. You don’t have to “get used” to using a mouse (i.e. training yourself that a wrist movement of a few inches from left to right across your desk will translate into a one-foot left-to-right motion of a pointer on the screen in front of your face). This basic aspect of the windows-mouse-icon-pointer interface is actually a barrier to use: a new user must practice a little bit before they can easily manipulate graphical objects using a mouse.

In this regard, smartphone and tablet-based computing have been absolute game-changer technologies for many people. Apple and many other manufacturers knew this, and were waiting for touch-screen technology to become sophisticated and inexpensive enough to bring to the mass market.

These devices are used to access many free and for-pay information and media services. People don’t really think about the way it is – they just want to be able to use these devices – these new gadgets – to get at the news, music, movies, or games that they want. Corporations seem to have taken a cue from the original “information on the Internet should be free” ethos that evolved through the 70s, 80s and 90s, and subverted it by making books, apps and games available on tablets for only a few dollars, or even for free. Buying an iPad game that will give you dozens of hours of fun will cost you about the same as a pack of bubble gum. That’s one barrier gone. After you download it, you can use it right away – installation is usually fast and minimal. That’s another barrier gone.

From a business perspective, making a platform easier to use (usability), and making the purchase process easier to complete (one-click fulfillment) and easier to justify (cheap or free) will easily result in more purchases. Amazon’s “One-click” purchase button was the first place I saw this kind of supermarket checkout “impulse purchase” tactic at work. I had disposable income, and Jeff Bezos and Amazon made it extremely easy for me to dispose of it on a whim. I could “impulse buy” a thirty dollar hardcover book with even less effort than it would take to grab a candy bar at the checkout aisle at Safeway. Tablets with apps and books that can be bought for under a dollar, while you’re laying in bed at night, are about as convenient and impulsive as it gets.

It means that the end-user consumer must exercise some discretion and will power to avoid nickel and diming themselves down to a negative balance in their bank account. A high degree of usability in the device itself makes for a pleasing and satisfying user experience, and ubiquitous cheap online products in a “one-click marketplace make it deceptively easy to please the vendors.

So, if it’s too easy to use, be careful. You might use it too often.

Buyer beware.

Sonic Soul and Electric Blues: Listening a little closer to Jimi Hendrix

Every few years, I go through a “music phase”, where I feel inspired to pick up my acoustic and learn a new chord or two, or try to learn a tune on our little Casio keyboard. It feels good to explore a different kind of expression, even as a periodic novice.

Inspiration can come from different sources. The biggest inspiration for me this time has been the great Jimi Hendrix. I guess I became most musically self-aware during the 70s and 80s, which was really a time dominated by heavy metal, progressive rock and new wave. The blues and blues-rock of the sixties were already being treated as passe, yet for my generation, the sixties were marketed as “the good old days” and could be heard every day at noon on “The Electric Lunch on CFOX.

I heard Hendrix on the radio a lot back then, and became fascinated by his crazy, spacey sounds, his incredibly powerful guitar riffs, and the honesty that came out in his singing voice.

I read James Henderson’s biography of Jimi, called “‘Scuze me While I Kiss the Sky”, and I realized that parts of his life story really resonated with me: he struggled with alcoholism in his family (me too), and he lost his mother when he was in his early teens (mine almost died from liver failure, and after brain damage and institutionalization, was unable to recognize her family most of the time).

In Hendrix’s voices (his own and through his guitars), I heard a quest for love, a sense of loss, and a fire to identify himself in the world. He had a lot of real poetry and passion in him, and all his music felt to me like very personal statements, whether it was funky, bluesy, folkish, or heavy electric..

Here’s a very good article on Jimi from The Guardian, written in 2010, on the 40th anniversary of his death: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/aug/08/jimi-hendrix-40th-anniversary-death

Gallery-2557: Personal Drawing and Collage

Here’s a link to a new gallery on this site – a collection of personal drawings or collages that I’ve done since 1998.

If I draw, it can be immediate, messy and expressive, like the manic scribbles of an angry child.
That feels good.

However, collage from found commercial images is my favourite method.
I like the idea of co-opting some art director’s vision, shredding it to bits, and putting the elements into a completely new context that suits my needs. I’ve learned that using “found images” evokes sub-conscious themes; archetypal symbols, dreams, or metaphors that are sitting underneath my skin, waiting to be re-used on paper. Some of the themes they evoke are inherent in the image, so really, at some level, I’m tapping into the collective unconscious that I share with that original art director or photographer. They just didn’t give me permission to so that, but so what…

I have (so far) resisted using digital tech for my personal images, sticking with scissors, tape, glue, pen, pencil, and crayon. I have a large plastic storage box full of odd magazine pages, and piles of ripped out, cut up elements: hands, arms, faces, spines, textures, dark silhouettes, and various angels and monsters. Fashion magazines often provide a rich storehouse of raw material for my surrealist visual “riffs”.

As I cut out bits of images and move them around on a page, a foreground/background theme, setting, or figure may begin to emerge. Rarely have I ever sat down with a particular idea in mind beforehand – it comes from the process of exploration, play and chance.

Creating a collage feels most personal when working by hand, directly applying paper to paper, tacking bits in place with tape, and then gluing them down into final locations. It feels like a little stage.

The weight of a Dragon; the position of a Rock.

Today, I enjoyed a visit and stimulating discussion with one of my earliest art school teachers, John Wertschek, currently an Associate Professor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

I suppose that many of John’s former Foundation students would probably agree that he has, in one way or another, challenged them to imagine the previously unimaginable. Certainly this was the case for me in John’s “3D” course, back in 1985 at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art + Design.

I remember “The Rock Game”, an “exercise” (for lack of a better word) situated in a low-lit room on a table that was surrounded by mostly high-school-aged young people. On the table was a collection of rocks of varying sizes, which each participant would take turns moving or re-orienting. That was the whole thing. The Rock Game could be called a “no rules” game, but it required reaction, space, material and personal decisions, so although “rule-less” it might have been,  it was not without structure or outcomes. Very zen, or whatever. 🙂

As an eager 19 year old who wanted to experience many new things, my take-away from that simple little game was “pay attention, feel, respond, and act for yourself”.

John liked to use words – their meanings, origins, sounds and similarities – to illustrate and challenge patterns of  thought. Sometimes the challenge was a visualization and/or a creative thought experiment, such as “build a device with which to weigh a dragon”.

I also took away one deceptively simple piece of practical advice from John: “The two most important books you’ll ever use in your life are the Yellow Pages and the Dictionary.” Something in that advice told me that the door was open for me to go through, the resources and information out there if I looked for them, and that I should give myself permission to act when I needed to. (What the hell was I waiting around for anyway?)

So today, my dictionary and my business directories are Wikipedia  and Google, and if I still have rocks to move around, they’re metaphysical or more often than not, composed of pixels. But the personal process contains a similar proposition: make a move, and do it with intention and integrity.

Today, John told me that back when I was doing my Foundation year, about 50-60% of the students were fresh out of high school, and that now, the number is more like 85%.

For a young generation of digital natives, acclimatized to immediate, packaged information and real-time access to a thousand opinions and personas, it makes me think  that the kind of face-first, open-ended explorations which can cause you to question, reflect and think for yourself are now more important than ever.

Related Links:

Learning, without end…

I get glimpses of learning happening all around me. Sometimes I’m part of the process, tutoring, advising or coaching someone through a new concept. Sometimes I’m just observing how others teach and learn, or taking an opportunity to observe the communities that educators create in order to make learning happen for others.

Tutoring Grownups

In my day job, I often work with instructors who are specialists in their own subject areas, but who must redevelop their courses as online learning experiences. They have a specific set of project goals in mind (and usually a tight schedule), and need one-to-one guidance and hands-on experience in ecourse authoring, web design or multimedia. Some teachers are good at organizing information for others, and guiding their own students through experiences that help them to learn, but these same folks can struggle when they themselves are in the student’s position, faced with trying to learn something new and unfamiliar. Each person I assist is unique in their personality and preferences, yet they each experience similar moments of uncertainty, curiosity, revelation and inspiration, as they progress through the same cycle from mystery to clarity.

My challenge as their facilitator is to understand their needs and perceptions, find common language so we can communicate, find common goals so we can work together, and encourage confidence and pleasure from the process. It’s a personal thing, and if I didn’t really care about the people and the quality of the process, I would suck at my job. I do not suck at my job. I love my job.

Learning Environments for At-risk Youth

A colleague at my day job works at a youth resource centre in my neighbourhood. This centre provides tutoring, social services and personal support to youths who have struggled in the public education system, or at at risk in some way.

Visiting the centre for a tour one day, I saw a classroom where students complete their secondary school education, a work area where art and media projects are done, a computer lab, a community kitchen, and facilities for taking care of the basics of daily life, like showering, sleeping or getting medical assistance from a nurse.

Some of the kids in this centre struggle with addiction (their own or in their family) or with physical, emotional or mental challenges that mainstream services have not been able to adequately address.

In this youth centre, the lessons taken are life lessons more than school lessons. The social challenges, family breakups, and toughness of life for some low-income youth can affect everything about them. Their sense of value and worth is the very foundation upon which everything else they will do or will become will be built. So, in this centre there’s a strong sense of community, almost to the level of an extended family. It reinforces the feeling that the youth has value, is loved, and is connected to themselves, to their peers, and to their neighbourhood and culture.

People who feel alone, like outcasts, face a much more difficult road in life, and are less likely to succeed. People who feel valued and included will use that as fuel to propel them to the next stage of their life.

Learning the Primary Lessons

Community, personal worth and constructive social values are the basis of primary education, as I’ve learned from my wife’s example. She’s been a primary teacher for many years. At the beginning of a new school year, I’ll help her to set up her classroom and will find myself reintroduced to the miniature-sized world of little children, little hands, tiny chairs, and primary colours.

In the primary world, the smallest child learns how to socialize and share with others, how to communicate and cooperate, and how to negotiate and absorb the world around them.

The primary school environment is infused with simple colours, music and meter (chants and sing-songs), storytelling, and essential morals and values. Nowhere in a primary school will you see messages of cynicism, negativity, or despair on the walls. The tone is hopeful, positive and cooperative – often loving. Elementary school becomes a safe harbour, where the ideals of compassion, ethics and morals are held as the standard for young children.

If only the rest of the community consistently held those same values. How many of these little kids face the kinds of social challenges at home that could one day send them to a youth resource centre when they hit their teens? How many of the little kids live in rich, privileged families that don’t sympathize or understand the challenges their classmates may face?

At some point, each of us is a student who needs support and guidance to help us reach our goals and feel valued.

Rebuilding Foundations: 2012 Colour Studies – Unit 4

Unit 4: Between Black and White

Continuing with my self-directed study of colour by following the telecourse Colour: An Introduction.

(Check out all my colour assignments here.)

Here are my notes from completing this unit of study:

Click image to view the gallery for this unit:
Colour Studies 2012, Unit 4

The goals for this particularly large unit of study were:

  • mixing chromatic blacks, greys, and whites
  • establishing a grey scale
  • “breaking” a colour, by adding it complementary

My experiences while completing the assignments:

  • Like the other units, I did this unit exclusively on my Playbook tablet. Even though the Colour course exercises demonstrate mixing the red, yellow, and blue subtractive primaries (e.g. oil pigments), I was actually dealing in RGB colour (additive, light).
  • Using a paint program with a basic colour picker that had three sliders (one for Red, one for Green, and one for Blue), picking colours that successively changed from one primary to its complement were a challenge. Going from a saturated colour to a grey was much simpler.
  • A very enjoyable unit, but I think I need to produce more work here – it seems too incomplete in terms of explorations.

Rebuilding Foundations: 2012 Colour Studies – Unit 3

Unit 3: Colour Structures

Continuing with my self-directed study of colour by following the telecourse Colour: An Introduction.

(Check out all my colour assignments here.)

These notes give more detail on my experiences while completing this unit of study:

Click image to view the gallery for this unit:
Colour Studies 2012, Unit 3

The goals for this particularly large unit of study were:

  • further exploration of to colour temperature (warm/cool) aspects
  • to further explore the relationship of colour to form, via personal language and basic mark-making using warm and cool colour combinations
  • using triads and tetrads on the colour wheel to establish colour schemes
  • To use those colour schemes to devise freeform and geometric shapes and lines (layouts)

My experiences while completing the assignments:

  • Again, some drawing aspects (straight-edged forms in the colour layout series) had to be finished on my PC using Photoshop.

Inspired by Teachers, Symbolic or Real

What Makes a Teacher Special?

Who are (or have been) the most important teachers in your life?

Any category, any reason. Think about it.

Growing Up Years

Growing up through to my teens, my heroes were the adults I admired, and the school teachers from whom I took my lessons, both directly and indirectly.

My Dad

My Dad taught me about fairness, courage, cowardice, respect, and how to work hard for a living.

Dad was both a positive and a negative role model, and I’ve already written about him at length in numerous articles. By his living example, Dad taught me a lot about regret, fear, and the dangers of not dealing with your demons. Dad was suspicious of religions. His faith rested in science, many of the values of the modern world, and his simple series of edicts: Respect the rights of others. Do it right or don’t do it at all. Stand up to bullies.

Maybe nobody else holds a more central position in my psyche than my Dad. Young lessons at his side were set early, and some of them took a long time to reverse. Fathers raise you right in the fray of life. Their hands tend to get dirty.

Directly and indirectly, my Dad taught me how to survive.

My Grandfather

The next role model/teacher would have to be my Mother’s father. We called him Poppy. He led by example, was a gentleman, and he bore his losses and burdens with dignity and grace. I still hold my head up high thinking of Poppy.

Poppy also painted landscapes in oil (taught himself, I think), and I found it interesting to look through his Walter Foster art books and see how perspective worked or how to model a form with cross hatching.

Grandparents tend to have more distance from the centre of your life, giving them a wider perspective and often, a wiser view.

My Art Teachers

Tom Hudson

Dr. Tom Hudson was an internationally-recognized Master Art Educator, and a key proponent of the revolution of the Basic Design programs in the UK in the 1960s. Tom and his colleagues adapted modernist values from Herbert Read and from the practical patterns and programs of the Bauhaus, trying to transform and update art and design teaching across the UK. [View the VADS UK Basic Design online collection.]

As Dean of Education at Emily Carr College of Art + Design (ECCAD), Tom was directly responsible for the structure and evolution of the Foundation (1st year) program that I waded into in 1985. I was so inspired by his passionate lectures on Colour, Drawing, and Modern Art that I soon volunteered for his summer, out-of-class art projects. I remained a student and assistant of his at ECCAD until 1991.

Tom Hudson has been described as pursuing his goals with “missionary zeal”. That was very true of him. He remains the central figure in my training as a visual designer. I still hear his voice when I’m hacking away at some creative challenge, and I continue to find inspiration from his early lessons.  Through his art and design tutelage, Tom taught me how to see and understand the big, revolutionary changes in art and design history, how to relate them to current movements and ideas, and how to pursue my own explorations.

Neil Prinsen

Mr. Prinsen was my art class and home room teacher throughout high school in East Vancouver.

He was a practical, direct man with a friendly face and a confident yet sympathetic nature. He had some idea of the challenges my sister and I faced in our difficult home life, and he let me know that he cared.

He was a talented painter who gave me my first lectures in painting and art history. Art was always my favourite subject in school, and in Mr. Prinsen’s class, I learned about the Impressionists, I fell in love with Claude Monet, and I frantically tried to emulate Seraut using felt pens.

In our senior year, Mr. Prinsen gave me and a few of my classmates art books describing the artists and genres that we each had responded to the most. He gave me a book about the Impressionists, and I devoured it and studied it over and over.

Mr. Prinsen was passionate about art – he loved it and he truly understood it. He was a great high-school teacher and a nice man.

My Grown-up Years

My CEOs and Bosses

For years after leaving the art college, I worked for a succession of small private high-tech companies. Most often, I was the resident graphic designer, documentation writer, and creative dog’s body.

Running a small company and taking responsibility for your employees is stressful, and I don’t think I could do it. From my best bosses and coworkers, I’ve seen warmth, humane behavior, responsiveness, compassionate support, and well-reasoned decision making. All bosses should exhibit these values. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Unfortunately, on the other side of the scale I’ve also witnessed yelling, nepotism, loud profanities, lying, massive egos, laziness, weasely sucking up, supervisors with manic eyes and little flecks of foam in their mouth, and dumbfuckery of all sorts.

I’m convinced that some of the people who exhibited the worst of these behaviours were borderline sociopaths. Often they were in Sales. Others were just Bullies, and made the Worst. Bosses. Ever.

Overall, the best and worst of my bosses taught me to trust my own judgement and to maintain my integrity.

Favourite Teachers Whom I’ll Never Meet

These are writers and teachers whose work I’ve really enjoyed and whose voices really reached me. Their expertise cuts across a vast range of subjects, but in each case, their voices have resonated with me very strongly.

The Dalai Lama

His Holiness became an inspiration to me years ago, when I began reading his books. Two of his best books, IMHO, are “The Art of Happiness” and “The Universe in a Single Atom”.

My wife and I saw The Dalai Lama speak at GM Place, when he came to our hometown of Vancouver. The crowds were massive, but very joyful.

The international importance of this man’s living example of loving kindness and compassion simply cannot be overstated.

Albert Einstein

After reading Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time”,  I decided that I needed more background in physics, so I bought a small book called “Relativity: The Special and General Theory“, written by Albert Einstein.

It turns out that Albert Einstein is an excellent explainer of his own theories. I followed his detailed yet easy to comprehend discourse from his initial “man on a train/observer on an embankment” examples, straight through to the Lorenz Transformation. I even limped through the calculus far enough to see the final derivation of his famous equation e=MC2. I had to read this book twice, but it was all there, well said.

I grew so fond of hearing his voice in my head as I progressed through that book, that I began to warmly regard Albert Einstein as my “Uncle Albert”. Even more than 50 years after his death, I believe that he still has a vast multitude of adoring adopted nephews and nieces who feel the same as me.

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong’s book “History of God” did more to help me consolidate my thoughts and feelings about religion and spirituality than almost any other author, with one exception (above).

Her little book on the life of the Buddha was a thing of beauty, at once both humanizing and elevating the character of Siddharta Gautama for me.

In “History of God”, her description of “The Axial Age”, covering the major personalities and eras around which all three monotheistic religions rotated, has stuck with me.

Groucho Marx

Another adopted Uncle – a Great Uncle, I think. He’s a complex and contradictory figure: bitter yet sweet, biting yet gentle. I picture an older Groucho, way past his prime, skewering some rich upper crust fat cat at a dinner party, and then going home to strum his guitar and bang out an angry letter to the editor about how his own money is subject to too much income tax.

I love watching videos of Groucho on the Dick Cavett show, showing his intelligence and his quieter, more serious side. Stefen Kanfer wrote an amazing biography of Groucho, but best of all, I love dear old Groucho’s own private little autobiography of sorts, called “Memoirs Of A Mangy Lover“. Let him tell his own story in his own surprisingly self-deprecating style, I say. I can read between the lines, hearing his regrets on the one hand, while he tries to get me to laugh with the other.