Category: Education (page 1 of 2)

Believe What You Want To

This post comes courtesy of a confluence of several items that have come across my network streams. Let me first list those “rivers” that have come together:

To begin our story, the state of Virginia, and other southern states have recently had to deal with at least a couple of nasty winter storms. I write this as my university has closed for the second day in a row courtesy of about 10″ of the white stuff. This most recent storm crippled traffic in the Raleigh, NC area, in the same manner that a couple weeks ago traffic was at a standstill in Atlanta, GA.

Just prior to that storm in Atlanta, we here in Fredericksburg had a storm that dumped enough snow to make “snow cream” (I tweeted about it, as shown above).

When the Atlanta storm hit, not only was it unusual for such a storm to be in that area (though not unprecedented), there also arose a conspiracy. Fake snow was manufactured by the government, so the theory goes. It contained nanobots and involved chemtrails, and even includes a specific warning for people NOT to make snow cream out of it and, well, let me let him explain it . . .

OK, say what you will about this explanation and “theory”, it was brought about by some unexpected behavior of snow in a place where it’s not normal to have it. When a lighter is put to that snow, it doesn’t appear to melt, but instead disappears or even burns, leaving behind some black marks. What is the explanation? Well, let me refer you to this guy . . .

So it’s sublimation. That explains the so called conspiracy. There. done. Further experiments show that the snow does indeed melt just like we expect. Now, sublimation is a term, as this gentleman indicates, from “science” – it is when a solid skips the liquid state and goes straight to a gas. When the snow is heated, as with the lighter, it doesn’t melt. It turns directly into a gas and disappears. Or does it? Here’s the real explanation . . .

This video is a bit longer than the other two videos, so if you’ve got a short attention span, the explanation is that the snow isn’t fake, but it doesn’t sublimate either. What happens is that the snow absorbs the melting water when the flame from the lighter is applied. It is well demonstrated when the snow is put in a heated pan and melts. Water doesn’t appear in the pan right away. What you see is the snowball get more and more slushy (to use a scientific term), until the snowball can no longer hold the water, then water disperses in the pan and eventually we are left with just water.

So be honest with yourself. How many would have been satisfied with the sublimation explanation? Obviously many people were. Imagine my excitement when an explanation was posited that it wasn’t explained by sublimation, but an even more simple explanation of absorption (and also the “soot” is there because of a separate chemical process of burning and hydrocarbons being left on the snow).

The point of this post is to ask “what makes us hold our beliefs?” At what point do we walk away satisfied with our answer? Why do we tend to not go deeper? Is it laziness? Lack of curiosity? The definition of science is, in a word, knowing (or knowledge). But scientists don’t stop. They also know that there is STILL plenty of stuff we DON’T know. They keep going because they know there is MORE knowledge out there.

Thanks to Gardner Campbell’s post about the process of discovery, I was reacquainted with this video . . .

The interviewer asks a question he thinks will garner a simple explanatory answer – What’s going on with two magnets when they either repel, or when turned around the other way, attract each other? Richard Feynman’s answer is far from simple. Gardner goes on to describe the “bad Sunday School technique” where the teacher poses a question that has essentially only one right answer. Why ask the question when it results with a dead end?

He also mentions Jerome Bruner and his approach of not “problem-solving” but “problem-finding”. Now goodness knows that academia is riddled with something known as “problemitizing” or creating a problem out of something that should be straight-forward. It’s the stuff that makes your head hurt after a committee meeting designed to move something forward and someone asks that one additional question, “have you thought about this…?” Thus the ultimate question behind it – “What if we get this wrong?”

One of the money quotes from Gardner’s post:

“For it seems to me that we are tempted to imagine reflection as a process of discovering and affirming lessons learned and problems solved, when anyone who has spent a moment in reflection will realize, I believe, that the depths of that practice awaken conjectures and dilemmas.”

This is the dichotomy. At a certain point we make decisions based on the best information – the information that we believe to be true. But there is perhaps infinitely more depth to the questions we are asked.

I’ll stop here, at least for now, because my head, and probably yours, is beginning to hurt. This all reminds me of this scene from Animal House . . .

I’ll end with two more points. First, go read Gardner’s post. It is one of those posts that I am convinced is leading toward good things. Thinking about thinking.

Second is the question many people asked when Bill Nye debated Ken Ham. Why in 2014 are we still debating Evolution vs. Creationism? Was the question answered in this almost three hour debate? I’d be surprised if there were many people who moved to the evolution side (or to the creation side for that matter). Why is that? Because people believe what they want to. They will live with that satisfaction for as long as they want to. They will either stop seeking, or something will trigger them to continue to go deeper. It shouldn’t be difficult to encourage people to go deeper, but we as teachers sometimes get to the point where we find it impossible not to require it. That’s where a good teacher comes in and is able to encourage it.

Ready? Go.

Epilogue – So the last of the “rivers” that I mentioned above is a project from Kirby Ferguson that is as he calls it “A serialized documentary about the forces that shape us.” I have no idea what will ultimately come out of it, but it has that hook, for me at least, to want to find out more. If Kirby’s “Everything Is a Remix” is any indication (and why I ponied up 12 bucks), it should be terrific!

The Steadicam of Life

This little video blew my mind in so many ways. I don’t expect it to blow the minds of very many others – or maybe it will – I don’t know. First, some background. The Techcast Focus Network (TTFN) is a group dedicated to informing would-be broadcasters about technology that delivers the highest bang for the buck. They are a consultant group and therefore get paid for what they do, but they give back to the community in many ways through their video reviews and coverage of technology shows – especially the National Association of Broadcasters Show (NAB Show).

I have subscribed to TTFN’s YouTube videos for a couple of years now, and they have informed some of my approaches to video and live production ever since. I especially like the fact that have an ethics page to transparently disclose any corporate assistance they have received and address the lack of influence that may have on their reviews.

So imagine the aligning of planets that brought the TTFN folks together at the NAB Show at the Tiffen Booth to talk to Garrett Brown about the latest Steadicam products. “So what?”, you might say. Well, if you don’t know who Garrett Brown is, he is the inventor of the Steadicam. It is a tool to stabilize a hand-held camera for film, and now video. The Steadicam was first used in the Hal Ashby film Bound for Glory. It was perhaps more famously used in The Shining, following the character Danny on his trike through the Overlook Hotel, and later through the snow-filled hedge maze at the end of the film. It was revolutionary. It allowed the camera to go anywhere, at least anywhere a human could go with a camera strapped on. Cranes and dollies would be impractical to follow a character doing one complete revolution of the hotel perimeter in one complete take. The Steadicam made it possible – and mesmerizingly unique. Wikipedia has a picture of Brown walking and talking with Stanley Kubrick, with the device, on the set of The Shining.

So this got me thinking about my favorite subject, or at least work subject, education. Specifically the tools that we use to not just enhance, but to transform education. What the Steadicam has done is provide an extension to the body that allows what I said before, to “see” in the most accurate way to how humans see life. And to go anywhere that humans can go. As Brown says in the video above, we humans have a built-in Steadicam. The technological device transformed filmmaking. Tools like this have transformed education as well. I’ll let others argue the accuracy and application of the terms enhance and transform for now.

But we know some of the tools that have changed for the better how education can be delivered. Altered and enhanced learning by enabling networks and communities of practice. It’s OK to celebrate the tools for what they have enabled. The Steadicam didn’t save the film industry. No technology will save education. What has happened to the Steadicam technology is that it has become less expensive, and therefore more democratized. It allows filmmakers on a small budget to get the look that films like The Shining have. You can get them for DLSRs and even get one for your iPhone for about $150.

Educational technology tools are similar. And the best ones are those that you don’t think immediately as being specifically a tool for education. Textbooks, film projectors, overheads, blackboards, and even computers, all enhanced education in certain ways. To a small extent they changed how we “see” education, but in a literal way. The technologies that will transform education are the ideas that are born from them. My friend Gardner Campbell talks often and lovingly of “Alan Kay’s aphorism that “the computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.” The Personal Cyberinfrastructure that Gardner has championed the last several years, and that DTLT uses as a frame for our “culture of innovation”, is some of that wonderful music born from the technology. A Domain of One’s Own is what we think will at least enhance one’s education and perhaps even transform it in profound ways.

Now like all analyses of this type, discussions can get bogged down in over analysis. What about “X” or”Y”? Time to rip to shreds your little dream-like analogy or aphorism. Steadicam’s are still relatively expensive for some. There are DIY versions of  them out there. So how about DIY education? Questions and further analysis for another day. I prefer to bask in the strange and delightful performance of Garrett Brown hawking a product on a convention show floor that was derived from a device he imagined and used on the set of a film by one of the greatest directors of all time. Life is full of delight.


I can’t imagine it will take too long to read this post. Mostly because I don’t want my words to get in the way.

This post is about lots of people. Teachers. Storytellers. Humans. But it’s about two people in particular. One Teacher and one storyteller. Jeffrey Wright and Zack Conkle. Mr. Wright is a teacher. Physics to be exact. Zack is a storyteller. A filmmaker to be more precise. Both are incredibly gifted at what they do. It is completely obvious. That they are so talented makes it easy to learn from them.

The messages from the above short film from Zack are many, but the core message comes out in anyone human in the form of tears. Love. It’s what teaching is all about, and what storytelling is all about. We teach because we love. We teach through storytelling because we love. That teaching and storytelling are about love is what makes them powerful. If you don’t see the power in Mr. Wright’s teaching, or the power in Zack’s storytelling is love, please try again, but I think most will see it plainly.

Zack Conkle was (and forever will be) Jeffrey Wright’s student. Zack sees the power of love as a key element to his films. Zack has many more stories to tell, but the love from his teacher will be a part of them all. So if you haven’t already, WATCH THE DAMN FILM ALREADY!

Zack’s other film, Marrying at 100, is also on Vimeo.

Drop the M, it should be OOCs


As is usually the case, thanks to Twitter I had a great bit of fun this morning. To start things off Bryan Alexander tweeted this:

So it was off to Inside Higher Ed to read a (hopefully not just another) MOOC article. I was somewhat discouraged at the start when the authors claimed that Teresa Sullivan (President, ex-President, then President again of UVA) was “skeptical” of MOOCs. Where’s the evidence of that? Supposedly one of the reasons that Sullivan was asked to step down was because she did not move quickly enough on establishing a MOOC at the University of Virginia. While it’s true there was no announcement, was she skeptical? There most certainly was research being done into them at some level of the university. Was Sullivan uninterested? It appears that the board of visitors at UVA was just reacting to the few other top universities who were establishing their own MOOCs and the board saw UVA, and ergo Sullivan, as behind.

I don’t want to belabor the point of the authors statement about President Sullivan, but instead highlight the point about MOOC “bandwagonism”. I also want to say that the rest of the article by W. Joseph King and Michael Nanfito is right on target. A refreshing occurrence in this MOOC-hype era that we live in currently.

Universities have adopted MOOCs (as the savior or cash-cow) too quickly. They haven’t been thoughtful about the educational side of the equation. The thing they haven’t been thoughtful about is the “M”, the massive part. Hundreds of students taking a course online isn’t much different than those hundreds sitting in a large lecture hall. People like Mike Wesch are beginning to change the way massive education is working, but most of it seems uninformed and unconnected.

That’s why I was encouraged to see King and Nanfito apply the MOOC idea to small liberal arts colleges/universities (kinda like the one I work at). The point, they say, is that “MOOCs, after all, were originally intended to provide for engagement and collaboration.” Whether massive or not, they are tools to provide connectedness and engagement. As they point out the original MOOC included Aggregation, Remixing, Repurposing, and Feeding Forward. The underlying philosophy of UMW Blogs was to accomplish all four of those goals. It continues today with numerous examples and we in DTLT talk about it constantly. It exists today most conspicuously in a very real course known as DS106 (digital storytelling). And it has long begun to go massive in a much more positive and organic way – by others freely adopting and adapting it.

I suggest that MOOCs as they are being talked about, and written about, and praised to the heavens, have begun to devolve into a Monty Python skit (or skits, they are massive after all).

So get rid of the “M” unless you’re only worried about your brand, possibly want to make money (though you’ll likely lose it), and if you’re not serious about education. Long Live OOCs!

What Color is Your Bumbershoot?

Before I get to the subject of this post, I need to say something. If anyone ever asks you what Twitter is good for, ask them if anyone has shared something inspiring before. It happens often for me. If it doesn’t happen for you, maybe you need new people to follow.

Twitter is exactly where I found inspiration this weekend. My good friend and colleague Gardner Campbell started off my Saturday morning (told here using Storify):

Looking back at the archive, the president, after a standing ovation for parents, states “Wow, this is a great lively crowd, this is fun.” It was indeed!

There are links to a part 1 video, but part 2 has the Eugene Mirman talk (at 33:10).

Video streaming by Ustream

* Bumbershoot – another name for an umbrella, and a festival in Seattle where Eugene Mirman played.

Small Pieces To-Go

conference room schedule

Jim “The Reverend” Groom and I gave a presentation at the 2009 Association of Collegiate Computing Services (ACCS) of Virginia Conference on March 12. Despite the usual anxiety of it all coming together and sounding coherent, I think it turned out pretty well. The main theme of the presentation was taking the idea of “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” and applying it to mobile devices, specifically the iPhone/iPod Touch.

I’ll have more to say in a separate post about some interesting discoveries on way to present mobile content, but for now here is the resource page for the Small Pieces To-Go presentation.

If you have kids, you should read this!


Image by Andrew Feinberg via Flickr

How’s that title for an attention grabber? It basically translates to saying, unless you’re a bad parent, you should drop what you’re doing and pay attention. In blogs, newscasts, and almost everywhere else that you turn we hear the warnings. Scary warnings about food, travel, drugs, and now the de rigueur warning about the hazards of the Internet and [insert dramatic music here] Internet Predators. The latest example is by way of Will Richardson who points to an incident that happened in a Wyoming high school. An officer from the nearby Cheyenne Police Department came to the school and spoke to students about the dangers of predators on the Internet. He used MySpace as an example of where students post their personal pictures and therefore leave themselves vulnerable to those bad people watching out there. Now, while there is some debate about what the officer actually said. Richardson’s point that it is the absolutely wrong approach is right on. He has a suggestion:

Go to your principal or superintendent right now and ask her/him this: Would you really rather have your students learn about safety online from some “authority” figure who drops in and attempts to make them fearful, or from people who they know and trust and see every day in their classrooms who over the course of time in appropriate and balanced ways can educate them instead?

Now I know a few police officers, good men and women all, but I know that their perspective is somewhat clouded by the fact that they see the end result of the "bad Internet". To them it must look mostly bad. So this fear approach to Internet safety doesn’t work any better than other types of "scared straight" education. This results in nothing more than articles like this one from 2003, which starts out like a bad novel. "Christina Long’s life was full of promise." I mean for cripes sake, what purpose does this serve? Christina Long was indeed the victim of a crime, but the Internet was no more of a perpetrator than violent TV, or slash and burn video games. Another example is this pitiful article from Katherine Ramsland.  After referencing the story about Christina Long, she refers to a June 2006 article in Science News:

[The] article reports that nine in ten adolescents utilized Internet resources in 2004, and at least fifty percent went online every day. A lot of them are contacted by predators seeking a viable contact whom they can draw into their net. Most predators have a number of fetishes and paraphilias, so for some, almost any kid who responds will do.

Guess which part of that paragraph were Ms. Ramsland’s words (hint, they’re in bold), because they are, in fact, wrong. Watch the PBS Frontline program Growing Up Online and see how the teenagers talk much more rationally about online life than the adults. Maybe we need to correct some of their laissez faire attitudes, but for the most part they know where the good Internet ends and the bad one begins.

So what is a good source of information that is easily digestible and dispels the myths of online predators? Well, start with the Crimes Against Children Research Center’s fact sheet from the University of New Hampshire. A quick read of this resource will demonstrate loud and clear how much hype there is when it comes to Internet dangers. Kids know when they’re being lied to, especially when we try to scare the crap out of them.

Celebrating Innovation and Creativity – More Ken Robinson

I just got done re-watching Sir Ken Robinson’s terrific TED Talk on creativity in education. Here is an update that expands upon creativity by talking about the power of innovation, and how we systematically suppress it in our classrooms. There IS an education revolution taking place and it is what makes my job one that gets me excited to go to work on Monday mornings. I’ll have more on these ideas of creativity and innovation soon (with thoughts of the neonatal EDUPUNK movement), but I wanted this video to make the rounds as soon as possible.

How’s that workflow thing going?


A project I just finished almost requires me to blog about a few of the workflow issues. Even if no one reads this it will go down in the archives as a “reference post”, so here goes. A faculty member here at UMW wanted to put speeches that his students recorded, on YouTube, and then create posts on a UMW Blogs site. Some of the speeches were recorded in the class, and some of them were recorded in DTLT’s “studio” (in quotes because you wouldn’t call it a studio if you saw it). The faculty member’s camcorder was a digital 8mm camera (with FireWire), so those were easily captured onto “The Beast” (our PC editing station). We used a Sony wireless lavaliere microphone setup to get good audio, as opposed to the standard noisy on-board mic that camcorders have. I set up a similar scene to the classroom in our “studio”.

So my first scare was the horrible crackling sound on the audio track for the videos shot in the classroom. Thankfully it was only on a couple of videos, and only on the right audio track, so it was easily muted in Adobe Audition. I’m using Adobe Premiere CS2 so it easily integrates with Audition, and switching out audio is simple. So a couple of tips to come away with:

  • Use an external microphone.
  • Use headphones connected to the camcorder to monitor the sound from the external microphone.

The “studio” setup was, as I said, similar to the classroom, though I did use a different camcorder (Canon HV-20) with a less noisy microphone jack and with the ability to manually change the audio levels (couldn’t find that on the faculty’s camcorder). Things were streamlined by recording directly to the hard drive (thereby skipping the video capture step) with a piece of software called DV Rack. Formerly a Serious Magic product, now known as On Location from Adobe, it records as standard DV (.avi) files. It did a basically flawless job, though it did provide another scare as some students talked louder and horrible clipping noises were present, but only when played back within DV Rack. The noises weren’t present when I played back the video in other media players.

I was very conscious of keeping the look of the classroom when I shot the video of the students in the “studio”, so I set the camera to auto white balance. We shot the videos in a very confined space. Despite giving the students directions to look straight into the camera, there were times when a few of them looked off camera at me at the end of their video.

Once I was done editing the videos, each clip was sent through the DivX Converter program to make smaller MPEG-4 versions of the videos to upload to YouTube. With these short videos, it is no longer a requirement to get them to smaller files as YouTube now accepts up to 1GB files. From a practical standpoint, unless you have a blazing fast Internet tube, you’re better off converting to smaller files and uploading those. The CS2 version of Premiere doesn’t allow me to save out as DivX (grrr!). The CS3 version does. Hence the use of DivX Converter, a $20 program that does batch conversion and is (now) quite stable.

Finally, it’s time to upload the videos. I had prior to this only uploaded videos one at a time. Was there a multiple video uploader for YouTube like there is for Flickr? Yep! It is PC only at this point, a Mac version is announced as on its way. YouTube is well known for sucking when it comes to video quality, but it adds other flexibilities that still make it a desirable place to serve your videos. Supposedly higher quality is coming in the near future. It’s the only thing left keeping from the title of super-uber-video-sharing site of all time.

All in all, it was a valuable education in using the popular video sharing site. Nothing like shooting 9 videos, adding to that another 6 shot in the classroom, and then 2 more that were self produced, all uploaded to YouTube to give you a real world test of the pros and cons of a service. Valuable lessons were learned, or reinforced.


The Crisis of Significance



One last time I’ll attempt to turn you on to the significance of what Michael Wesch from Kansas State University is trying to do. His talk at ELI 2008 in San Antonio is titled "Human Futures for Technology and Education", and his subtitle is "The Crisis of Significance". As the facilitator notes, Michael is famous for his "The Machine is Us/ing Us" video, and he continues to challenge us with more recent productions from his Digital Ethnography students.

It’s hard to summarize all of the goods points that were made in his presentation, but his central point revolves around how the classroom, and the nature of education, needs to change. If the top questions faculty are getting in their classes are "How many points is this worth?", "How long does this paper need to be?", and "What do we need to know for this test?", then that is a crisis of significance. "All learning starts with good questions" states Wesch, and if the only thing that the students are worrying about are what grade they are going to receive then there is a problem.

In fact there is so much here, and we all have so little time, I should just let you get to it right away and listen/watch for yourself.

UPDATE: None of the ELI sessions are available. Sure hope this is temporary.

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