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.
In the videos I’ve seen so far in Week 3, the idea of humanity is brought to the foreground primarily by the absurd or hyper-extended context in which each story is framed.
As a metaphor for what I mean, imagine you place a small area of light grey colour on top of a large black background. On black, the light grey will look much lighter than it actually is. In fact, people might interpreted it to be white.
That’s what these videos appear to be doing: creating a non-human, artificial or alien (spoiler alert!) tone or context, which brings out our internal concept of humanity in sharp relief. Unfortunately, they also bring out my cynicism in even sharper relief.
This somewhat shallow Toyota ad riffs on the idea of what today’s viewer would consider “CG” – a 3D representation that approaches the level of an interactive 3D video game, such as “L.A. Noire”. The message is insultingly simplistic: “Toyota is the real deal” [*snore*]
What I find more interesting is the fact that most younger viewers will totally be able to agree as to the “unrealistic” 3D graphics in this commercial. They’ve grown up in the era of HD and awesome frame rates.
I was born in 1966, and I suspect that my generation will be less likely to find as much fault with the quality of the “unrealistic” renderings. Maybe my generation would pass on the real deal Toyota, and drive our chunky, pixely KIAs or Yugos around in 3D land and still have a great time. I guess Toyota is pandering to the 25 year-old driver in this case, and I’m somewhat irrelevant.
This British Telecom ad makes the point about human contact by showing a family that interacts exclusively via text and social media. They don’t even seem to know how disconnected they truly are from each other, until BT points it out of course. Poor buggers.
This ad is basically “reach out and touch someone” all over again. (Does anyone remember that ad campaign from the 1970s?) Poor consumers. At least this commercial has a message promoting some kind of “more human” connection to it. The idea is that real-time voice comunication – the good ol’ phone system – is more human than texting or social media. I tend to agree with this sentiment, although ironically, I’d be using my social media as much as anyone, for the sheer convenience.
Most of the telecom commercials I’ve seen portray families that seem to need infinite minutes, massive data plans and constant texting. It always shows family members enjoying their digital lives, away from each other in separate rooms, not conversing or connecting or even acknowledging each other.
World Builder is a bittersweet fantasy. My initial response during the first few minutes was “Self satisfied 3D modeler plays God creating his perfect little 3D world = adolescent male power fantasy = So what?”
But as the story unfolded to it’s final conclusion, it revealed a sweet moral of self-sacrifice, a dream-wish of happiness and freedom given from someone who has freedom to someone who hasn’t any.
The idea here is that technology can be a tool to humanize and liberate, and in this video, liberation and freedom are placed in the service of love and compassion, instead of in the selfish pursuit of pleasure or power.
For an assignment for the MOOC, eLearning and Digital Cultures, I created my first Prezi…
It’s my little abstract reaction to the bewilderment of feeling lost inside a 40,000 member Massive Open Online Course.
The MOOC I’m taking, E-Learning + Digital Cultures, continues to unfold in front of me, gradually showing me new perspectives and more detail. But it’s not for the impatient…
For me, being in a MOOC has felt like being seated inside a vast, unlit stadium where you can hear other attendees whispering and you can see their messages on the walls, but otherwise, they remain invisible. Getting acclimatized – even feeling welcome – does not come right away.
A few weeks later, this is still more or less my experience, but my eyes seem to have adjusted to the darkness now – I feel like I can see better and interpret more than before.
Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain… [It] made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning.
In the Week 2 resources, under “Perspectives on Education”, the video of Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain: his passionate advocacy for truly open learning, his challenging definitions of what he felt it should be, and his support and appreciation for the interdisciplinary responses of his students – all of these factors made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning. I think I may have found a new inspiration – someone to study more closely.
When I was in the Emily Carr College of Art + Design in the eighties, I learned about media theory (e.g. MacLuhan), multimedia and hypertext (e.g. Ted Nelson), and visual literacy and visual perception (e.g. Tom Hudson, Rudolph Arnheim, Johannes Itten). Some things I learned from reading books or watching videos, but a lot of information I got first-hand, from seminars, workshops and special research projects. The people I learned from in-person were all artist-educators who were actively exploring ideas through their own art practice or educational research, often using consumer tech on shoestring budgets.
Back in my days as a multidisciplinary art student and research assistant, my greatest personal challenge was to interpret and synthesize all the raw information, and later, decide how to express my experiences. Many of my extracurricular readings covered topics in AI, cybernetics, user interaction, and theories of learning and education. I was all over the place conceptually, and loved it. Science educators like Seymour Papert and Alan Kay caught my interest for their explorations with interfaces and user (student) interaction. I read about the MIT Media lab, and all its explorations into media, technology, art and science. I read articles from the ISAST Journal “Leonardo”, and learned about PhD-level multidisciplinary art and science research projects. A good deal of the theories and terminology was just over my head, but I had found an interesting, fertile territory to consider, in the intersections of art, education and technology. Convergence was just starting to happen, and it was a fascinating thing.
My multimedia instructor, artist Gary Lee-Nova, helped me understand the relationships between modern analog and digital media, perception and society. Gary talked about author William Gibson and the idea of cyberpunk way before it was popular. Research, exploration and personal development were fun back then.
My mentor back in art college, Dr. Tom Hudson, opened my mind to modernist Bauhaus art education patterns, and under his guidance, we updated and reinterpreted them by using desktop computer graphics programs to research visual literacy and drawing systems.
After graduating from Emily Carr’s four year diploma program in 1989, I opted to pursue computer graphics, animation or commercial design as my career path, instead of art education. Tom had, at some level, hoped I would continue pursuing art education as a career. I did teach computer graphics in night school for a few years, tutored art privately, and was an Artist-in-Residence in the Vancouver School Board, but I never went into education in a more formalized way, like by pursuing a degree.
After 20 years working in the commercial sector, bringing visual design services to software/hardware developers and business people, the exciting theoretical, creative aspects of my thinking felt as is they had atrophied and needed some dusting off. My Modus Operandi had become one of speed and economy: skimming the surface of the pond of ideas to get from questions to answers, and from initial request to practical deliverable, as quickly as possible. Any education I took from my graphics career was of a short-term, tactical nature. I learned what I needed in order to fulfill a particular short-term goal. In that kind of mode, there wasn’t much time or interest in theory.
Now, I’m employed in Vancouver’s largest vocational college, helping teachers to adapt their experience and materials into online courses. In a higher education institution, my perceptions and reactions have had to adjust to a more deliberate, thoughtful form of delivery: integrity over speed, and quality over quantity.
Now, it feels like I’m rediscovering the joy of the interconnectedness of ideas – a multidisciplinary approach to things. I’m fascinated to see some of the topical connections between Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and Gardner Campbell.
I can, and should, now enjoy taking a deep dive into topics, instead of just skimming the surface.
I admit to not always being the most successful critical thinker – I tend to want to believe the things I read, especially if they sound optimistic.
Having said that (and having read other articles that tout elearning and MOOCs as the next big thing to open up and democratize higher education), I admit that some of Mr. Shirky‘s opinions in this piece did cause me suspicion. I am wary of the for-profit world, and fairly cynical about why for-profit companies would offer any service for free. I believe that there’s a for-pay business model underneath a fairly thin veneer of “open access” and “free content”. Nothing is ever truly for free.
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.
Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.
I watched these videos:
This animation showed symbolically how cultures elevate and then scrap technologies, hoisting them to a high level of dominance, only to turf them in favour of the next big thing. The animation design style mimicked Javanese paper cutout shadow puppets, which was a very compelling choice, and lent a sense of tribal, primitiveness and other-worldliness to the characters.
This live-action comedy-drama uses the metaphor of magic paper bags and sticky notes to illustrate behaviours, interactions and expectations in social media (Facebook, primarily).
“Thursday” is a charming animation showing the tension and inter-relation between human modern electronic culture, and the natural world that continues around (and in spite of) it.
The design style of the animation evokes video games in its pixely appearance and representation of space (isometric projection and side-scroller” look and feel).
Thursday seems to be saying that we live in a vastly technological society, but the natural world is vaster still, and more persistent. The little mother blackbird adapts her song to the tunes she overhears in people’s cellphones and alarm clocks, steals a bit of wire to build her nest, and shelters her chicks in a satellite dish. Nature adapts.
Mankind borrows echoes from nature, putting little bird-like chirps into its mechanical tools – as an ancient comfort perhaps? Generally, it’s man who seems to be living with blinders on, surrounding himself with mechanical proxies for nature, and cloistering himself away from it in his dark, hive-like internal cubicle farms. Not until our human protagonist sees “the big picture” from space (and later when he contemplates the little crashed bird on his windowsill) does he seem to reconnect to his natural world.
Ultimately, the theme I saw here was freedom and survival of the natural world, alongside the structure and abstractions of the human digital culture. I think the true main protagonist of this little film are the birds.
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.
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.
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.
I find it difficult to contemplate learning in a group, or in a classroom.
I don’t know where this reaction comes from, but I can say without hesitation that I’ve always treasured the time I spend reading on my own, and pondering new ideas.
Why do I enjoy self-learning?
I think that deep inside, I’m a fairly solitary person, with a strong sense of self-reliance, personal pride and curiosity. Something in my gut may compel me to feel that other people actually get in the way between me and the information I want.
However, I’m not a hermit or a recluse. I like to communicate with others, but it seems that communicating on my own schedule or terms (i.e. asynchronously) seems to suit me the best.
An irony of this “lone learner” ethos is that once I have achieved something from my own investigations, I feel a strong need to share it with others.