Category Archives: learning

Assemble Your Own Belief System

Since my adolescence, I’ve never had a more than objective interest in religion. As a little kid, I trusted my Dad as I recited the Lord’s Prayer with him at night while he tucked me in. Back then, it was all the God Blesses wished upon my family members that felt the best. They were simple wishes of love, not complicated by old-sounding words that I sometimes couldn’t remember.

Back then, my baby-kid mind didn’t have any picture of God in it while I followed along with my Dad, saying “god bless Kim, and god bless Poppy” . It was just another way to say “please bless them and take care of them”. Back then, it was easy to ask an invisible, unknown authority for help. You were used to trusting and relying on someone bigger than you. Maybe as I looked at my Dad’s face while repeating the blessings, I was really asking him to protect everyone. It was him I trusted to protect us.

By about the age of eight or nine, I started appreciating some principles of science, and I was especially curious about dinosaurs and archaeology. Finding a box full of National Geographic magazines in my grandpa’s basement was like discovering buried treasure. I flipped through all those National Geographics with enthusiasm. I learned who Dr. Louis Leakey was and why the million year old skulls he dug up in Africa were important discoveries. I saw the colour, age, and vibrancy of distant cultures, and I learned about the shape of the world. I didn’t understand all the words in the articles, but they showed me a wide, strange world outside the bounds of my town. The world I lived in was just a tiny link in a chain of rises and falls that had happened over thousands of years, and as far as I’d seen, nothing in the modern world matched the wonders of ancient Egypt. It was scary and exciting to think that the physical world was such a vast, complicated, alien, and almost uncountably old place.

By my tweens, I regarded religious fervor and religious believers – especially those in my immediate family – with scepticism. To me, God and Jesus were unbelievable fantasies for others to adhere to, but they weren’t authentic for me. At that young age, I had very black and white thinking: I saw no difference between the incredible stories written in the Old Testament and the lying, hypocritical TV con artists who tried to evangelize ten dollars worth of prayer out of my auntie’s purses. I decided that I knew the difference between reality and fantasy, and I could smell BS pretty well.

I have one memory of attending Sunday School in Grade 3: I remember being confused by the blonde, short-haired, clean-shaven Jesus Christ in the religious storybooks we were given to read. Jesus looked like a Marine or one of the Beach Boys, not like a zealous, self-sacrificing Son of God. Even at eight, I knew that the image was a falsehood and a manipulation. Thank God one of the kids started eating the library paste and cracking us all up, otherwise, Sunday school would have had no redeeming moments at all.

My suspicion of that Beach-boy-Christ was definitely my dad’s religious cynicism seeping from my pores. My dad was his own leader, writing his own commandments for us kids to follow, with my mother as a generally-passive follower. Dad was stubborn and proud, and had no time for interference from any omnipotent, invisible organizations, or their earthbound representatives.

Nowadays, I tend to look at Christianity as an outsider, like how an anthropologist from one culturally-biased background might view a different civilization. I considered myself to be standing at the edge, observing from a distance, although truly, each of us stands squarely at the centre of our own biases.

Other Ways of Understanding Things

By eighteen, I understood some basics of physics, electronics, and radio, and had read a little about Sigmund Freud. I was becoming keenly aware of the disparity between the external world and my internal one. Externally, sunlight filtered through leaves on the trees outside my bedroom window, and RF radiation was all around me, resonating through everything and beaming out into space. Internally, my life was contradictory, and the adults I knew were mostly hypocritical and flawed. We each had muddled, conflicted, and complicated mental networks. Maybe they could be explored and untangled with time and care.

As I verged on adulthood, I anticipated the freedom and absolute responsibility I might face in the years ahead. Would I find someone to love me? I was sure it would be a girl, but would there be love? Would I find a career I would enjoy? I had no clear idea what I would do. I only knew I loved visual art and stories. Fantasy and escapism had practically saved my life, insulating me from the hard realities that faced me too early. Could life improve and would I be happy? Maybe I really wanted to escape and to take a chance, but I wasn’t quite ready.

Looking through the lens of science, I’d started to feel what might be the same wonder that I’d read theologians express when contemplating God’s creation. At the H.R. Macmillan Planetarium, I looked at a poster-sized photo showing a densely-packed field of glowing dots of light, and I learned each glowing dot was an entire galaxy. There were thousands of them in the ladge photo. That was amazing enough, but the real punchline was that the photo had been blown-up from a one square centimeter piece of film. The vastness of that scale just blew my mind. Outer space still fascinates me.

Years later, I read that St. Thomas Aquinas wondered “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”. Whether it was a sarcastic comment or a serious one, I’ve decided that even if science one day delivers an answer to dear old St. Thomas, the act of wondering at the vastness of the cosmos is not too dissimilar from musing on angel-pin occupancy in pursuit of almighty knowledge.

All of these disparate realms stimulated my curiosity. They made me wonder what mysteries were around the next corner and how much farther humans could go in the future.

Nothing to Tie it All Together

By about the age of nineteen, I began to realize that I saw no overarching framework to unify all the different kinds of information and values I’d gathered from my disparate sources. Nothing seemed to unite the physical world with the mental or spiritual worlds, and nothing brought the ideas of faith together with logic, or equated belief with common sense. All my little networks of facts and so-called truths seemed to be spoken in different languages, or measured using different scales.

In art school, the Foundation level of my art education helped me to begin integrating aspects of art, science, and perception. My first year of art college brought novel new unities between physics and perception. Initially, this blending started to emerge through my education in the experience of colour.

Hearing my art school instructors talk about the electromagnetic spectrum was the beginning of my understanding of the integration of art, science, and technology. Seeing how coloured lights mixed to create secondary colours (and even white light) helped me to connect the sensations of experiencing colour with the idea of the electromagnetic spectrum, wavelengths, and visual perception. The dogmatic divisions between art and science started feeling artificial, and it was a wonderful realisation – like discovering a grand unifying secret. The integration of new ideas gave back more than you realized: the whole was truly bigger than the sum of its parts.

Tendencies, Handed Down or Cultivated

The reason that I craved integration was likely because my world had always felt so fragmentary and disjointed. Life seemed rife with contradictions, and nobody really made it all make sense for me. My Dad, James, was a technically-minded man who never talked about subjective, interpretive experiences. Since we’d arrived in Vancouver in 1975, he’d been an Electronics Technician at the TRIUMF particle accelerator at UBC. Every day, he dealt with electricity, mechanics, and proven principles. He preferred ideas that seemed solid, immutable, and reliable, and he believed in math, logic, and common sense. He was the first person who told me about the law of conservation of energy (“energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed”). Whenever I badgered him to tell me about his day at work, he’d grudgingly talk about beam lines that move at the speed of light, gold targets that smash off new particles, ion streams, mesons, and a particle beam that would one day be used to kill cancer cells. It all sounded way cooler to me than he seemed to think it was. He worked with high-powered RF and electrical systems that supported the Cyclotron, TRIUMF’s world-class particle accelerator. To me, it sounded like stuff from one of my Fantastic Four comic books.

Dad spoke about Einstein with the same sense of appreciation that I have when I speak about Stephen Hawking, and with his occasional stories, he helped convince me that the world is smaller, larger, faster, and more dynamic than I could imagine. It was likely because of my father’s influence that I desired a scientific answer to every question.

In contrast, my Mother Angela was a creative person at heart, trained as a singer and musician, and in her twenties had been active on the amateur stage with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in her home town of Victoria. It always seemed like Angela’s best days happened before she met my Dad, back when she was singing, playing piano or violin, or drinking with her friends. She seemed like someone who was more “in the moment” than worried about the future. Put her in front of a piano, and she would come to life and burn up the room with some energetic boogie-woogie. Otherwise, she seemed silent, and maybe sad or bored most of the time.

The artistic streak ran through Angela from her father, Ernest (my namesake) whom we nicknamed Poppy. Poppy shot thousands of photographs of Angela throughout his life, and he painted landscapes in oils later on in his senior years. Angela was the apple of his eye, and his only child.

Nobody at home really talked about art, but at Poppy’s house it was around us in little, everyday ways. Poppy had a sense of class and style. His furniture was older, upholstered and carved wood, and little cut glass ornaments decorated the mantle over his fireplace. His couch always had some pretty oriental fabric thrown over it, and he dressed himself in a shirt and tie and leather shoes almost every day.

I was never discouraged from comic books, cartoons, colouring, drawing, or from daydreaming. Philosophy was revealed in bite-sized chunks, through funny sayings from Popeye or Groucho Marx. Punny poems by J. Ogden Nash would be recited at the kitchen table, or cute ditties from the forties and fifties would be re-sung, getting lodged in my young head. Humour and creativity seemed to be a part of my Mother’s home language when we all lived with her father Ernest In Victoria. Her happiness at being with him was probably a major factor in her overall happiness in life. Life was treated as something to be enjoyed whenever possible. Seeing my Mother laughing, singing, and acting lively were the best moments that I can think of. Her happiness was rare and infectious.

As I got older, Mum was often quiet, struggling with bouts of depression and saying very little. Lateron, reflecting on this would encourage me to wonder about mental illness and psychology, and to speculate if my Mum could be cured or not.

I can’t say that she ever really taught me anything directly because she rarely ever even spoke to me or my sister. Instead, I ended up learning about her by listening to the stories my Dad told about her, and by watching her behaviour and listening to her rare words – I watched the performance that Angela gave as my Mother, and I tried to draw out some moments I could enjoy, and some lessons I might use.

I learned to recognize qualities in her that I saw in myself later: we had the same green eyes, we loved music, art, and the movies. Mum had acted and sang in musical theatre with the Victoria Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and later in my life, I realized that I love live theatre and music too. I took to many of the jazz and pop musicians whom Dad had told me that she’d loved in her youth, in particular, Oscar Peterson. We still have a few vinyl LPs that belonged to Mum. I can try to hear her voice by listening to the music that she liked.

The Hybridized Man

I realized by 19 or 20 that I was really a split human – a hybrid of him and her, mother and father, and their individual qualities. I had his lines on my forehead and her colour in my eyes. I knew I was artistic and creative, nervous, and introspective. I was also technical, curious, and resourceful. I had a bit of an ego like him, but could be gentle and insecure like her. If I was pushed, I could generate his power and authority in my voice, all while feeling her nervous butterflies swirling around in my stomach.

Finding computer graphics in art school gave me a perfect middle ground between art and technology. I could express my creative and visual design ideas, while gradually learning about the electronics and mechanics of the devices that made it all possible. The world was going more digital every day, and Stewart Brand of the MIT Media Lab was describing the start of the convergence of the Print, Broadcasting, and Computer media which, a generation later, has utterly changed our society. Back around 1986, it was still at the start of a brave new world.

Gradually after four years of study in drawing, art history, multidisciplinary art, and visual literacy, my grad projects came together as interactive electronic and graphical constructions that explored the relationship between viewer/participator, moments, and actions. It was 1989, in a time when terms like “user interface” were more likely to be heard in the offices of companies like Nintendo, Apple and Microsoft, not in an art school.

The next giant leap for me would be six years later, when the World Wide Web became popularized and started to homogenize and automate online information. By 1995, I was an art director at a small software developer, and riding the line between art and technology every day. The web became a meta-medium that absorbed and presented other media for multisensory experiences that transcended platforms and geographies. Basically, the web changed everything and 25 years later, it still feels to me like the medium to integrate all media.

Paths to Theories About Everything

Artists and multidisciplinary practices showed me the ever-blurring boundary between creative and scientific principles. Spiritually and philosophically, reading about Buddhism has drawn hugely important connections for me between ideas like hope and despair, and between the material and the immaterial worlds. Visualizing the interdependence of all things, and the suffering inherent in being alive has helped me to understand the difference between nihilism and peace of mind. I began to feel that letting go isn’t the same as not caring, and that love can be present and unwavering without having to be insecure or needy. A little peace of mind seems to make everything feel a lot better. Even if I cannot feel the satisfaction of knowing how all the parts fit together, I can at least feel more at ease with my not knowing.

Physicists have pursued a theory of everything for centuries, and whether conceit or truth, they believe they’re closer than ever to finding it. I believe that this is science’s main conceit, in its comparative youth, taking a journey down a path that’s been well-trodden by religion and philosophy for millennia. For me though, science is still the great, evidence-based system to rely on.

Ultimately, we each walk our own path on our own legs, peering out from behind own our coloured lenses, trying to bring our personal version of meaning into focus.

The great philosopher Dr. Seuss once said “Oh, the places you’ll go!” In other words, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

#cca0991 Novel Unit – Lesson 3: Activity 1 – Informal Presentation

For an online English course that I’m helping to develop, I’m now taking the Student role to do some careful usability and functionality testing.

This is one of my assignments.


Novel, Lesson 3: Activity 1 – Informal Presentation

In Defense of the Character of Sal Paradise

Over the backyard, grey clouds thickened and threatened to rain. Two crows fought raucously over a chicken bone near the garbage cans, and two sets of shoulders propped themselves on opposite sides of a common fence.

“So, that nephew of yours took off again, did he?” Cora Wilkes never did much to hide her disapproval of Sally’s young charge.

Sally Morgan wasn’t having it. “The boy’s only taking his journey – doing what he needs to do, that’s all.”

Cora snorted a little. “Don’t you worry about him? What’s he going to do? Running off and bumming around like that? What about school?”

“Well, Sal’s taking his own path. He’s…”

The dispute between the crows became louder and more heated. One grabbed the chicken bone and flew off, drawing shrieks of protest from the other crow on the ground.

“He’s being a bum!” Cora hadn’t expected to blurt it out like that, but there it was, how she felt, plain as day and she couldn’t take it back now.

Sally squinted and held Cora’s face in narrow, squinty contempt for a long three seconds before breathing out and letting a calm understanding smile take her face. “He’s not being a bum, Clara, and he’s not running away from anything. Why, it wasn’t that long ago that my folks and I had to move around from place to place to find work. My uncle rode trains and trucks from one side of the country to the other looking for work! A little travel’s not the end of the world.”

“That was different,” Clara retorted. “Folks had to move – to live! To find a new start!”

“Sure – a new start. They did it to pay the rent, and feed their families. Sal’s doing it to pay his dues, and feed his mind and soul.”

Cora mumbled something about her laundry, and turned away, not willing to meet Sally half way in Sal’s defense. Sally felt a loss, but knew that some people just need to experience the world face first to learn anything. That was something Cora and her nephew actually had in common, although Cora would never see it.

Farther down the sidewalk, a small bone fell from the sky, and a young crow swooped down from a branch where he’d been watching his peers fight. He picked up the bone and took off easily, heading into the wind with new rain in his face.

#cca0991 Novel Unit – Reading Log for “On the Road”

For an online English course that I’m helping to develop, I’m now taking the Student role to do some careful usability and functionality testing.

After many weeks of transforming course content from Word documents of in-class handouts to various file formats for the Moodle LMS, it’s so refreshing to walk slowly through the narrative of the course and absorb what it means – to “get into it” – and evaluate it from a learner’s point of view. I love this part…

For the Novel Unit of the online course “CCA English 12”, I’ve chosen to read “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. While I read it, I must keep a Reading Log of my observations of the characters and plot of the book.

Continue reading #cca0991 Novel Unit – Reading Log for “On the Road”

The Future of StoryTelling #StoryMOOC

I’m enrolled in the MOOC “The Future of StoryTelling” (#StoryMOOC, iVersity.com).

This Massive Open Online Course provides a foundation in the principles of the formats and methods of fictional storytelling.

The reasons this online course attracted me are:

  • The topic interests me: I’m beginning to write again, and I want to learn more…
  • The method of access interests me: I work in eLearning, and using a new Learning Management System is fun and educational in itself.
  • It’s largely self-paced, and absolutely free.

The course is organized into Chapters, each containing a number of Units of instruction. The format of each Unit is the same: each unit contains one brief video presentation (usually 10-12 minutes in length) where the host introduces the Unit topic, and provides examples, animation, or brief explanations from famous works of fiction or professional writers or storytellers.

Adjacent to each video  is a tiny, one or two question quiz (often multiple-choice) which you must answer correctly to “pass” the Unit.

Below the video and quiz are links to optional further readings, references to articles or books, or other supporting videos. It doesn’t get much easier than that. I think this course is a bit too easy so far, but it is also very well-designed, nice to look at, and easy to use. The videos are extremely professionally-made and fun to watch. So far, the course has been a very enjoyable experience.

Apparently, this course has over 65,000 enrollees from all over the world, and (with the exception of a technical problem in Unit 2 of Chapter 1) seems to be well-liked by its users.

My only concern is the “apparent” level of interactions online in the course’s discussion forums. I say “apparent” because in my opinion, the discussion forums in the iVersity MOOC platform don’t really seem to adequately show the amount of interaction between students, and I don’t get an obvious sense that the Instructors are online and available.

This may be unfair of me, as I admit that I haven’t spent much time in the forums for this course, but in my memory of taking a different MOOC hosted in Coursera (“eLearning and Digital Cultures”), the Instructors seemed to have a more obvious presence online in the course’s discussion boards, and in monthly Google Hangout sessions.

Having said all that, it looks like #StoryMOOC is very active on Twitter, and has a healthy Facebook presence too.

I’m really looking forward to taking the rest of this MOOC…

Why Openness in Education: Activity 1

This post is the first in a new series of assignments for a free online course. This open course is called Why Openness in Education.

The first assignment given in this course proposed:

“Think back to a time when you learned something you really value from someone. Write a blog post in which you tell the story of that learning experience using the language of sharing instead of the language of education. What did the other person share with you? What did you share back with them? How many times did you iterate through this cycle of sharing? How was your relationship with the other person transformed (if at all) as you shared with them?”

The first experiences that came to me were from 1987, when I was in my second year of art college.

I was just beginning to see a world of computers, image-making, ideas, and visual communications opening up before me, and I wanted to learn about it. The Dean of Education at Emily Carr College of Art, Tom Hudson, asked me if I wanted to take part in special research project that would use computers to explore drawing systems for an education television series he was writing. I was eager to take an opportunity to learn something new, and to work with the head instructor on a one-to-one basis, so I said yes immediately. For an hour or so once per week, we sat at a Commodore 64 in one of the school’s small computer labs, using a small drawing tablet called a KoalaPad, and Tom tutored me.

VisLit_1987

Click to view a sample of my Visual Literacy image research.

We explored the basic  elements of point, line and shape, using the relatively crude consumer tools. Tom guided me in a process of making basic marks and lines in a sequential series of developments. He prompted me to place marks on the screen and be aware of their proximity, uniformity or spatial tension. With each little square point of line placed at a particular angle, I felt like I was learning something elemental and essential.

In that exercise, he shared his intention to guide me to see and feel elements of visual language. I shared my growing proficiency with the computer and my eagerness to learn. In Tom’s earlier career as an art educator in the UK, he had been one of a few progressive art educators who had been introducing aspects  of the Bauhaus basic course into British art education. Now, twenty years after those developments, Tom was exploring how computers could be used to explore the same principles. I realized that I was in new experimental territory, and I gave myself to the process of discovery, exploration and personal preference. I trusted that our sessions would lead me to some revelations.

As I became more familiar with this way of working and thinking, Tom encouraged me to experiment, explore and personalize more. We moved to the college’s Amiga computers and I used a mouse instead of a tablet. As I continued to complete hundreds of drawings under Tom’s encouragement and guidance, or on my own between classes, the digital drawings became valued research artifacts, evidence of the concepts and working process that he’d instilled in me, and also expressions of my learning and my personal explorations into digital marks and images.


Why am I taking this online course?

Partly because the theme, “Openness in Education”, is in my mind at the moment. I’m a user of Moodle, the most popular open-source LMS in the market today (as far as I know), and at Moodle Moot 2013 in Vancouver, I learned more about the Open Ed movement. I like the idea of free education, lifelong learning, and self-study, and I’ve been trying to stay abreast of the intersection between open learning and the increasingly commercial online learning market.

E-learning and Digital Cultures, Week 4: Is Google making us stupid? #edcmooc

Go_SlowIn Week 4 of the MOOC E-Learning + Digital Cultures, one of the “Perspectives on Education” articles  asks the question “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”.

I must admit that I’ve sometimes asked myself a question very similar to this. I’ve asked myself “Am I losing my short-term memory?” or “Am I losing my ability to concentrate for long periods of time, or to read long passages of text in one sitting?

I do believe that over the years of web surfing (which I’ve been doing since 1994 or 1995, when the first browsers became widely available), my ability to concentrate or my pattern of reading – the way in which I consume words – has been modified by the activity of surfing online. I do feel as if the hypertext, hunt ‘n click web has modified my behaviour. I can feel that I’ve become more of a browser than a reader.

Has Using the Web Trained me to Click Instead of Read?

It’s a fair question,  as if the online world of information is like an endless, all-you-can-eat buffet. I may be in line to put together a meal from beginning to end, but the act of gathering what I need comes in little chunks, with possibilities for distraction at each new connection point. I’ll take a little bit of one site, a little bit of the next, etc. etc. Skip, skip, skip. Click, click, click. It’s more like an endless stream of consciousness, and it’s easy for me to get drawn off-course from an original train of thought onto something completely different. I think it must be the combination of my own curiosity and the seemingly endless array of links to other destinations.

But There’s a Physical Difference to Reading Online too…

I have always read, and I still love to read – novels, magazines, comics and graphic novels, and now more than ever, news and current events. But, I find reading from an LCD display to be much more difficult than reading from paper. Consistently more difficult.

I read a lot of text online, but it doesn’t mean that I’m no longer capable of reading a novel 0n paper. I love reading paper books and magazines (and even the occasional newspaper) – I’m just not quite to used to it as I was before.

So, I think the physicality of reading off a back-lit display of pixels (i.e. teeny little Light Emitting Diodes), combined with the click ‘n browser nature of hypertext brings me to a McLuhan-esque “Medium is the Message” realization:

I’m not getting dumber because of the Web, but I do think that the Web itself makes me read in a shallow way.

You know. The web made me do it.

#edcmooc

E-learning and Digital Cultures, Week 4: Redefining the Human #edcmooc

Week 4 of the MOOC E-Learning + Digital Cultures explores the theme of “Redefining the Human”.

I think the over-arching message this week is that our concept of humanity has become a relative and subjective thing. These videos explore that idea in different ways and different genres.

Robbie – A Short Film By Neil Harvey from Neil Harvey on Vimeo.

Robbie tells the story of a space-faring android who is the last occupant of a space station orbiting the earth. I could easily tell that this film was composed entirely of stock footage, but then again, how easy would it be to shoot your movie on the space station (or a realistic, earth-bound mockup). Nonetheless, the repetitive, stock footage appearance of it put me off a bit.  Aside from that, Robbie is an engaging tale about  survival, loneliness and angst from the perspective of an artificial intelligence.

I don’t know if 4000 or 6000 years of feeding its neural net with information would result in an android that would have dreams – literally flights of fantasy – and not for one moment did I buy the premise that Robbie wanted to be Catholic.

I’ll say that again: Catholic. I’m not anti-Catholic or anything, but such a specific choice of religion seems out-of-place. Is the author of this piece likening Robbie the Robot to Jesus, by virtue of his symbolic impending death (and do we presume, rebirth?)

My expectation of an autonomous, artificial intelligence would be that it would be somehow more neutral, probably atheist or maybe humanist. It either wouldn’t believe a religion or perhaps it would believe in the species which created it. Okay – so, I’m an atheist and I have a hard time with that aspect. I’ll leave that point alone, and get on with it.

No – I just cannot leave the religion aspect alone on this one…

The idea that a robot with what we consider to be A.I. would care about one religion over another probably says more about the film maker’s attempt to imbue his protagonist with some kind of “soul”, so that the viewer will empathize with him. “If the robot wants to believe in God, then he must be more like me than I thought. If he could consider accepting God as his creator, then he must have a higher level of enlightenment, just like a human.”

If, however, Robbie were to possess the actual mental engrams of a former human being – if a human being’s actual thoughts and personality could be transferred into Robbie’s memory and mechanical frame – then THAT would convince me to feel sympathy for Robbie’s plight (his curse of immortality).

But so long as I believe that Robbie possesses a 21st century version of artificial rationale, I can never consider him conscious, and so I will never accept him for much more than a glorified electric screwdriver left behind by a space workman. How cold-hearted am I? I just didn’t buy into this movie’s attempt to tug my heart strings.

Gumdrop was a sweet little comedy, and a gentle visual sleight-of-hand. By substituting a young human actor with an android auditioning for an acting job, we end up starting to think about the values and hopes of the young actress, mechanical or not. Gumdrop was a light-hearted examination of the casting call too: do we treat each other like commodities or machines? Does the audition process demean the female actor? Should human actors be worried, now that we live in a world where lots of supporting and lead characters only exist in an animation database, but never in the physical sense?

Gumdrop’s vacuum cleaner gag was very funny. But, does that mean she’s really just a glorified Rosy the Robot? What happens when the acting career is finished, or when she outlives her warranty? Will she get literally dumped on the scrap heap?

For some reason, I care about Gumdrop more than Robbie. Maybe it’s the human motion and voice. She’s much more likeable than Robbie. Like they said in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way.

Maybe one day soon, Honda’s Asimo walking robot will be able to audition for Survivor or something.

Hm. Robot Survivor – I’d probably watch that…

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

True Skin is an extremely well-made, and convincing film. Very Blade Runner-esque. Great Raymond-Chandler-inspired dialogue. “Their eyes burned holes in my pockets” was a brilliant line.

So, the one thing all these films have in common is that they live or die by the quality of the plot and the dialogue. Yay, human writers!

In terms of the humanity proposition of this week, I think this film does the best job of articulating some major issues:

  • If there comes a time when we can no longer define or recognize humanity by its fleshiness, will it still be considered human? Is a cyborg who is less than 50% flesh and bone still a human being? Maybe the more metallic and less meaty we become, the less human we will be perceived to be. Ben Kenobi said of Darth Vader: “He’s more machine than man now, twisted and evil.”
  • On a personal level, if a friend of mine had their thoughts transferred into a little computer, and I could interact with them (either text, or maybe Max Headroon style on a display screen), would I still consider them human? Probably not, if I could put them into Standby Mode, or turn them off, like any other device. So, maybe autonomy and self-preservation are other key aspects of being a sentient being?

I loved Avatar Days. The simple concept of transplanting a fantasy persona into the owner’s real-world life and society is an extremely powerful thing. It’s done so matter-of-factly and carefully that it becomes a real artistic social statement. Coolest of all, it’s contemporary. You can get immersed in World of Warcraft or Second Life and become a sword-swing, spell-packing nerd of Azaroth today.

I’ve played around in Second Life a bit in the past (reporting as “Earnest Oh”), so I can appreciate the appeal of being able to put on that second skin and walk around (or remove it and assume the position, in a lot of people’s cases… yeesh, people). It makes you wonder about the boundary between fantasy and reality for one thing. I read somewhere, that internally, your brain does not distinguish the difference between a memory of a real event, and a memory of a dream. They’re both equally valid as memories, even if one of them didn’t occur in the physical world. So, if our brains are already wired to accept dream-memories as valid, why wouldn’t we send coma victims to Azaroth to kick some goblin ass as part of some cognitive stimulation therapy? At least they’d have something interesting to do.

What about The Matrix as Long Term Care Facility? Let me extend that interesting idea into my personal life experience…

My Mother was a long-term care resident at our provincial mental health hospital for many years. I’m willing to bet that if my poor Mum were able to choose between (A) stay in a semi-vegetative state with little physical activity and not much on TV, or (B) Be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (her favourite movie), she’d have gone for Option B and never looked back. And if I could have visited her on the yellow brick road instead of in the awkward, cold silence of a hospital visiting room, I know which choice I’d have made too.

Dorothy and her friends had much more fun…

E-learning and Digital Cultures, Digital Artifact. #edcmooc

Here is my “Digital Artifact” for the MOOC E-Learning + Digital Cultures.

This blog post and the embedded video, form my Digital Artifact , my personal response, to the MOOC “eLearning and Digital Cultures”. In this post, I’ll try to respond to the propositions it has put before me, and to the methods and patterns I’ve observed in it and in myself.

About the Video…

I didn’t set out to emulate “The Machine is Us” or any of those first-person, typing-on-your-screen responses to modern tech, but in retrospect, my video kind of looks like one of them.

But, the way it looks came about purely practically:

  • I wanted to use my voice. Maybe this was because the vastness of the MOOC classroom made me feel like it was difficult to be heard.
  • The MOOC is a heavily visual experience (all those videos, and scrolling of screens to read things), so my response had to be full of images and motion.
  • I  knew it would be made up of some kind of collage of images, but I didn’t know I’d be sampling my own web surfing so directly. This was like a riff on the act of doing web-based research.
  • I wanted the video piece to look and feel a bit obscure, rough or hand-rolled, not perfectly trim and clean. Plus, time would be an issue, so I had to figure ways to do things live, and to move things around on the screen in real-time. Time was my enemy. I’d probably need to work fast.
  • I had a rough script, but was ready to improvise if need be.

How the video was produced:

The video came into being through a combination of digital and online resources, and coincidental, guerrilla production methods.

I’d originally thought about doing a Prezi or a slideshow as the format for my final piece, but after thinking about it for a while, I decided that those formats would either be too restrictive, or too over-used. I would definitely record something off my computer screen though – maybe using Jing…

My next concept was to create many little graphical clips – little cutouts – in Photoshop, and move them around on Photoshop’s artboard, like little 2D puppets on a digital “stage”. (Maybe the “Bendito Machine” video had influenced me subconsciously?)

As the deadline approached, the prospect of capturing and clipping dozens of graphics – maybe even one hundred – seemed hugely impractical. I needed a more immediate, more rapid way to get my idea across. I decided to try to stay with the “stage” idea, but move bigger and fewer pieces of art around.

I built a simple Photoshop project that used a soft-edged rectangle, like a soft viewport or blurry camera iris. I decided that the first few moments of my story could represent a frame of my expectations – the fuzzy edges might stand as a visual metaphor for the uncertain boundaries of my expectations, or the blurry boundaries that I perceived to be the student parameters of the MOOC itself.

Beyond that, I had a number of concepts that I’d thumbed into my smartphone during a coffee break. I knew the story would trace a line through the content that I’d experienced thus far, and through my reactions to being a MOOCer, in general.

I set up a small 640 x 480 rectangular area on my screen to record, and I abandoned Jing in favour of its “big brother” app, Camtasia Studio.

This became as much of a temporal collage as it was a spatial collage.

As soon as I got to record the first web page in the video (in this case the front of edcmooc), I decided to abandon the Photoshop artboard “stage” altogether, and just grab whatever I could online to tell the narrative I had sketched out in Notepad. I would just capture whatever I could in my browser (making elements bigger so they better filled the screen and the user’s field of view), and use whatever images I could find on the fly from the web.

I began recording, and would pause from shot to shot, to change what content would appear in the little 640 x 480 capture area. This allowed me to create the whole sequence in chunks of one minute or so, or sometimes as brief as a few seconds. This gave me the freedom to work rapidly and change things on the fly, spending 10 or 15 minutes between “takes” to select and compose what would go in the next little sequence, or consult my little script (which you see me doing in the video), and practice or re-do my audio narration.

The music track was from a creative commons source, and any coincidences of images and sounds (like when an image appears right in time with a strong drum cue or something) is purely and wonderfully coincidental.

So, there was some predetermined design, and there was some random chance, and some on-the-spot improv, which felt very liberating. There was a logistical framework in some of the preparation, and most especially there was a definite mental framework in all the concepts which had been interconnecting in my mind over the past few weeks.

But it was truly recorded as a sequence of brief  little live performances. Recording and editing the initial 12 minute “draft” version of the video probably took me five or six hours. The next day, I emailed and tweeted the YouTube URL around to get some feedback, and then spent another hour later that night tightening up the editing, adding graphics, and refining the music volume.

Then, I spent another few hours working on this blog post, in order to try to explain (and rationalize) it all…

What my Digital Artifact probably says about my experience…

…is that after the first few weeks, I think I responded more to the process of MOOCing, of being a student in a MOOC, than I did to the actual propositions put to me by the course facilitators and the course content. I always have been a bit more interested in process rather than product. I think that working in relative isolation, with only a vague feeling of online “connectedness” to instructors or colleagues, tended to make me turn inward more and more. Instead of reaching outward to collaborate with my online classmates or facilitators, I turned inward and did a more personal analysis of the internal learning and thought processes which had been triggered – some of which from twenty five years earlier! I think that’s what my artifact communicates: my reactions to the process in which I was immersed.

I enjoyed creating something that moved and contained more than one mode of apprehension (i.e. voice + video + music). I think that I ended up responding to those same qualities in the MOOC content…

  • The little animated chunks of video, which delivered little windows into someone else’s world.
  • The relentless reading and scrolling and clicking to get from idea to idea (an animated experience in itself).

What does my experience reflect? Is it useful to the MOOC itself?

A friend and fellow classmate in this MOOC told me that being in it felt a bit like being in art college all over again. I must totally agree with that statement: that is very much how it felt for me as well. And for me, that’s a good thing.

But, is it useful information to the facilitators of this MOOC or to the developers of the versions of it that will come after it? Just what kind of teaching and learning have we been undertaking here in MOOCland, and what are those Masters students in the U. of Edinburgh getting from studying this massive online learning experiment? And what does Coursera get out of it?

What is a MOOC, after all?

Is it just Edutainment, as some people fear?

Is it a new excuse for more web surfing and social media?

Is it actually some yet-to-be-validated form of social learning?

Those questions will take me much longer to answer.

Beyond the Buzz: MOOCs at UBC, plus a marketing perspective…

MOOC_SMMOOCs and UBC: Top 12 things you need to know now…

In September 2012, UBC entered into an agreement with Coursera to deliver online web-based free courses as part of MOOCs. UBC has four non-credit and free online courses planned for 2013. They include: “Useful Genetics”, “Introduction to Systematic Program Design”, “Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Conversations” and “Game Theory”.

Read all 12 things in this BC Campus article:
http://www.bccampus.ca/moocs-and-ubc-top-12-things-you-need-to-know-now/


A Marketing Perspective on MOOCs…

My stream-of-consciousness explorations of MOOCs and MOOC-related online chatter brought me to the following article, from wired.com. I never really thought of a MOOC as being “edutainment” before, but I think it just might represent a social merger between mass education and mass entertainment, between social learning and social media.

More than that, the idea (below) that the author sees lifelong learning as a “continuous, on-the-job process” (e.g. vocational) seems to me extremely practical, possible, and a little too skewed towards commerce. IMHO, MOOC-based education has, at some level, been fueled by a business model, like it or not. It’s free – but not without some cost.

This article was written by a Marketer or a Market Analyst (read: business person) – not by an Educator.

Beyond the Buzz, Where Are MOOCs Really Going?

(Originally posted at http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/02/beyond-the-mooc-buzz-where-are-they-going-really/)

MOOCs can be much more than marketing and edutainment. We believe they are likely to evolve into a “scale business”: one that relies on the technology and data backbone of the medium to optimize and individualize learning opportunities for millions of students.

This is very different than simply putting a video of a professor lecturing online.

The initial MOOCs came from a “process business model” where companies bring inputs together at one end and transform them into a higher-value output for customers at the other end — as with the retail and manufacturing industries.

But over time, an approach where users exchange information from each other similar to Facebook or telecommunications (a “facilitated network model”) will come to dominate online learning. This evolution is especially likely to happen if the traditional degree becomes irrelevant and, as many predict, learning becomes a continuous, on-the-job learning process. Then the need for customization will drive us toward just-in-time mini-courses.”

A Summary of Student Experiences from #edcmooc (Prezi style)

Some students are now completing the MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures.

This Prezi gives an interesting overview of some student experiences and observations from this massive MOOC:

http://prezi.com/fsfqdiusthcc/sentimental-campus-dublin-february-19/?auth_key=eb36ed77d88e4c2a191d5a7df9d0eba58f701a8c

Also, yes, I’m tooting my own horn on this post: one of my illustrations was actually used in this Prezi. It had been my entry into the MOOC’s “make an interesting image for Week 2” competition. I never won enough “likes” or whatever on Flikr to win the prize, but seeing my illustration used as a slide in this Prezi is prize enough for me.

Ah, sweet recognition…

#edcmooc