Hello, fellow “Caravanistas“!
I am excited about embarking on this active co-learning Connected Courses adventure, and am looking forward to ‘meeting’ and exploring with all of you.
Hello, fellow “Caravanistas“!
I am excited about embarking on this active co-learning Connected Courses adventure, and am looking forward to ‘meeting’ and exploring with all of you.
Ever notice how synchronicity and connections occur when we’re open to them? I was lucky to have such a moment last semester. After a seminar conversation last fall on inclusive pedagogy and diversity, an undergraduate came in to grab some late evening study time in the GEDI seminar room as I was packing up. I heard what sounded like a spoken word performance emanating from his laptop. He looked up and asked if he was bothering me and I said not at all. I asked him if that was a recording of him doing spoken word. He said no, but wished he could make a powerful impact on people like spoken word poet and activist Shane Koyzcan does. He struck up a conversation with me about Shane Koyzcan and and hit replay on the YouTube video. I asked him to send me the link and he did. So, thank you, Nathan Chung, for crossing paths with me on that Wednesday evening last fall and sharing, and making a powerful impact by doing so. If you haven’t watched this before, Koyzcan brings the pain of being marginalized and misunderstood to all of our attention in his “To This Day Project.”
One aspect of our focus on inclusive pedagogy is to provide a welcoming learning environment and to find ways to model inclusive engagement in the learning communities we create with our students. Most of the time we hope this happens of its own accord, but I’d suggest to you that we need to be actively involved in the process. Our pedagogical praxis should focus on how we can encourage learners to choose to be their ‘best selves’ for their own learning and in their interactions with peer colleagues. Learning can be uncomfortable at moments, and learning that changes our world view, that has us examining new ideas, new data, new discoveries that shift our understanding of the world around us—those are powerful moments, and sometimes they are powerfully unsettling moments. . .at least initially. Those are the times when out of fear and insecurity and discomfort around change, our ‘lizard brain’ may kick in, and we attempt to make ourselves feel better/bigger/stronger by picking on someone who appears vulnerable. You may have witnessed, or even experienced, behavior inside and outside of higher ed. Bullying doesn’t just occur in K-12; we have bullying and emotional hazing going on in our university classrooms as well. Should we think that ‘victims’ oughta just toughen up, we may want to remember that affective and intellectual connection go hand-in-hand. This is not about rigidly prescriptive politically correct behavior. It is about being human and kind.
We are all weird, as Seth Godin declares. Indeed! Small amygdalas should not and shall not rule. Celebrate weirdness–yours and others’.
On any given Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoon, we can wander through the farmer’s market in our college town. Each time I do so, I am guaranteed the opportunity to select from a wealth of local and organic veggies, fruits, goat cheese, and hormone-free, grass-fed, humanely raised meat. The farmer’s market in Market Square Park has become a normative part of our community supported agriculture (CSA) and a little piece of the slow food movement in our own neighborhood.
I was struck once again by the injustice of unequal access when I listened again to this report on a food desert in L.A. It isn’t often enough that I think about food deserts. I should, though, because scarce access to a wide variety of fresh, unprocessed food isn’t just a problem for the residents of inner city Los Angeles. We can find food deserts of various kinds in most regions and many small towns, including those just beyond the geographic and cultural boundaries of our campus where Hokie nation is replaced by a fast food nation, one in which over-processed ‘food’ becomes the most affordable and easily accessible option.
Thinking about problems of access and equity in ways that don’t end up sending us into emotional paralysis (or into denial) about the social problems we face is important. Awareness should encourage us to think about both individual and/or collective action(s) we can take, of next steps–whether they seem to be big or small as we begin to move. It’s the forward movement that is important. Action, activism, positive problem-solving can so easily build community, or strengthen and reawaken and unite communities that have stopped functioning as such. Ron Finley has refused to let the status quo continue. He refused to let initial push back stop him from forward movement, from his community-empowering action, from creating the opportunity to reconnect with one of the touchstones of building community–growing food together. His activism is a reminder to me that action and collective activism trump emotional paralysis and denial every time.
What might a Huge-LQG and a motherblog have in common? The first challenges our basic assumptions about what we think the nature of the universe is, and the second enables us to challenge our basic assumptions about what we think the nature of education is.
You already know that a ‘motherblog’ is, in this context, anyway, the veritable mothership that pulls in and collects the many voices of each individual blogger; in this case, the blog of each individual Padawan in this semester’s group of GEDI Knights-in-training. The GEDI motherblog aggregates and allows us to share the musings, epiphanies, shared insights, and so forth, of each unique GEDI blogger.
But you may be scratching your head about the LQG acronym, so let me explain…. Last week I was reading about the “biggest thing in the universe,” a Huge-LQG, or Huge-Large Quasar Group, that challenges our very assumptions about the nature of the universe. Yep. British astronomers have identified an object so large that it turns on its head the so-called cosmological principle, which essentially argues that if you’ve observed one segment of the universe, you’ve observed ‘em all–that the known is similar to the unknown. Well, apparently not so much. That principle has just been grandly disrupted by the Huge-LQG identified in the UK.
Wow. So, here’s the thing, blogging can be a bit like that, metaphorically speaking. The newly discovered Huge-LQG is made up of 73 quasars, each at the center of its own galaxy. Our own GEDI motherblog is a cluster of 50 individual blogs, each at the center of its own galaxy, so to speak, and each potentially quasar-like in its vision and insight. And should I, or any other reader, assume for a moment that all blogging will produce the same results, we will have our assumptions grandly challenged. The blogging platform empowers a self-reflective voice and exploration, and the ‘invitation’ to do open and honest self-reflective engagement that is too often missing from most corners of academe. There is a self-reflective engagement that can occur when one jumps full in and embraces what contributing to the blogosophere invites. While journal publications have an important place in scholarly endeavors, so, too, perhaps does blogging. More than we might think. The blogger who wanders up, down, over, and through a topic or idea and takes us along for the ride, the blog post that does not resemble a formal writing assignment and does not rely on specialized, disciplinary language (or in worst case scenarios academese)–because formal writing assignments have rules and regs that are so specified as to directly or indirectly control and contain the intellectual exploration and journey the assignment was no doubt meant to engender–that is what I get excited about with the blogging initiative in GEDI. Each semester I look forward to what the mothership brings as it gathers all of these remarkable quarks, or in this case quirks, of unique intellectual and affective engagement.
And, oh my, my first ventures into the remarkableness of the spring 2013 GEDI motherblog have not disappointed. There are several fabulous forays into interesting questions, but in this post I want to comment on three bloggers who have left me astounded, gobsmacked, as Dr. C is fond of saying, with their open and amazing blogging and their willingness to dive right in and be bold and curious. Brandon started us off right out of the gate with an articulation of his hesitation about blogging, but then his post evolves into a delightfully open exploration about what his resistance has been about, and he shares his epiphany that perhaps communication about science in some of the informal ways that blogging provides is a way to get science back into mainstream society. He has created a professional web presence and decided that the Kool-Aid is something he will try, rather than shun without taking a sip. His rallying cry, “Let’s do this!” inspires us all to see if we may be parched and thirsty for the network of connection via blogging.
In her post entitled The Reluctant Blogger Laurie explores what we all fear about putting our thoughts out into the open blogosphere, primarily that we run the risk of “being poorly received” and that we may be “disagreed with, laughed at, scowled at,” and that we risk being judged. Laurie decides, however, that part of what we do when we make progress in any academic area and part of what we should be doing as public intellectuals is to recognize that it is “really essential to have disagreements.” We all fear being laughed/scowled at or harshly judged, but that would extend to other intellectual endeavors as well–conference papers, grant proposals, journal articles, oh, and yes, teaching that is fully present and actively engaged. Fear of disagreement or the fear of putting our ideas out there is not, I think, limited to blogging. (I actually think that blogging may make our other academic work more interesting and invigorating and help us discover our ‘voice’ in different kinds of writing genres.) To Laurie’s insights I would add some inspiration and wisdom from Seth Godin, who reminds us that not everyone will like everything we write and that we just need to shrug our shoulders and realize that it’s not for them and keep moving forward. Learning to teach shares this sentiment, too. What is most important is diving in and defining how to be the public contributor we believe is part of our role and responsibility as 21st-century academics. Brava!
But one among us has set the bar high, at least for me, in her story of how crosssing over the line from silent observer to blogger is a rubicon of sorts. Her take on the blogging ‘requirement,’ is such: “If not for these courses, I would not be taking this step. While the the requirement is forcing me out the door, the journey is still ultimately mine. So, stick around. I might just have a few interesting things to say.” Sho’nuf and bam her next post explores a recent APLU initiative and the trouble with NCLB’d undergraduates with her passionate engagement on the topic delightfully present. Nice! But her third foray into blogging caught my attention in the first two lines: “I noticed something this week. I am interested.” Yes, indeed, interested and interesting. Give me more, I think, and she does:
“. . . I think I’m starting to shake off the shackles and the dust from massive burn-out at my former job where I had become bored, uninterested, and dispassionate. It’s the closest I have ever come to feeling ambivalent. It actually frightened me. I worried that I might not ever be interested in anything again. What if I’d crossed the event horizon on a massive black hole of disinterest and boredom? Apparently, I had not crossed it. I just spent a little too much time in the ergosphere. Perhaps listening to people like Dr. Gardner Campbell, Sir Ken Robinson, and others is having an impact. The idea of exploration is appealing again. But now, I’m wondering how many students today are perpetually stuck in the ergosphere of an antiquated and inadequate education system that doesn’t provide the necessary tools? How many get lost, and how many have crossed the event horizon, possibly never to return?”
I am so sticking around. You inspire, lgm, and the metaphor of the ergosphere and the event horizon you use is beautifully apt. There is quasar-like energy in the analysis you provide of what may happen if we don’t explore better ways to educate all learners. Did I say I’m sticking around? I want to follow along as you explore what MOOCs can and cannot do in their current incarnation, or what they should be doing and what they may tell us about learning in our f2f courses as well. I’m interested. Btw, if you haven’t run across it yet, you won’t want to miss Clay Shirky’s latest post on MOOCs. A morsel for you: “MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.” His links within the post will connect you to the debate he’s been a part of. (Those amazing links, again, and no waiting for the debate to occur over several issues of a journal.) Shirky tries to turn our attention toward a clear and honest examination of what we’re doing in higher ed (or not doing well), rather than just presume higher ed is doing a grand job, as is, and foolishly hope that MOOC mania will soon cease and desist and all will return to ‘normal’ once everyone gets over the fuss. You might like the Shirky post, too, Brandon, since you are exploring the attack of the MOOC and future prof, you might find it interesting reading as well.
I’ve just highlighted three GEDI bloggers here, but the motherblog is full of interested and interesting colleagues. Sarah Hanks is very much leading from the inside out and is challenging herself to find both the courage and the time to be her best self for her students so that they will step up because “isn’t that what teaching is about? To be vulnerable enough to teach differently”? Yes, indeed, yes. Jack talks about his desire to find “[l]earning systems that promote knowledge generation, encourage practitioner / student participation in learning, and enable social change.” Young Rhodes Walker will no doubt be letting us know how blogging might impact STEM classes. Juan prompts us to think about the evolution and potential power of teaching with technologies, and our own smithing god has shared a video and his musings on how difficult the work of changing our pedagogy will be. And, huntingmaddness, we’re looking forward to what you tell us about your vinyl collection in a future post. Ivy ponders what makes for a learning environment that will generate engagement and critical thinking. We’ll be reading and watching to see what SansSucre thinks of some of Jane McGonigal’s games for social change once there’s been an opportunity to explore some of them. To the Macroworld of Microbes…good question about how/if blogging can work in a microbio lab–you might want to check the blogging wonderfulness of Dr. Jill Sible and what she models for her students, with whom she blogs. Taulby asks some interesting questions about blogging and democracy, and Sascha is pondering leadership issues and the political economy of blogging. I have missed mentioning some of the GEDI bloggers here, but I will keeping reading. I am unlikely to do a Homerian ‘catalogue of ships’ in each of my posts, but we should all connect to and reference each other whenever appropriate. Links are a wonderful thing.
Hi, Kim — Inspired by Jon Udell‘s notion that our online conversations might be even more useful when we use our own blog space to move beyond the form and function of ‘comment boxes,’ I am posting my extended comment and contribution to the conversation here. Thanks for your recent post following Jon Udell’s visit to our seminar.
I think you raised the issue of the digital divide (or digital inclusion, as it is now more often called) and community activism and that Jon Udell engaged with you and that the complexity of the question and answer were drawn out for all of us. As a member of the audience, I think Jon was responding to your concerns (and I didn’t pick up on anyone appearing to be offended). What I heard was that there are now, with the advent of networked knowledge via the web, a wider range of ways to inform community participation. Whereas in a pre-internet world, F2F meetings (one-on-one conversations or many-to-many in a community center) and the distribution of info in one technological medium—paper, for example, via a flyer or pamphlet—may have been the only option, the web offers an additional means of information creation, aggregation, and distribution. Jon’s example about the aggregation of resources with tags that allowed for increased open evaluation and interpretation of, as well as responses to, those resources (re: newspaper articles archived digitally, land survey reports, blogs, and such, given his specific example of the issue of the dam in the town) was to show but one example of how increasing access to information and creating additional forums for more voices to be heard can work.
What I took from the exchange you had with him was the importance of always considering ‘both/and’ vs. ‘either/or’ possibilities via new technologies. Different technologies can work to broaden the kinds of access and input and thus enrich and expand the participation that would still occur among members of the community able to attend a scheduled town council meeting. Such technologies needn’t replace the open town council meetings, where community voices are also heard, which I think was the concern you may have been articulating. It just adds to the process by increasing access in other ways, which is what I heard Jon suggesting.
(Dang, but it would’ve been great to have had such a networked participatory engagement with our own town council last year when they voted against bike lanes in the newly redesigned downtown Blacksburg. So many of us concerned with bicycle commuting and safety issues sure could have benefitted from a viral network that aggregated data about the number of bicycle accidents in the downtown and national data on how bike lanes increase community members’ choices to commute via bike and so forth. Instead, community members attended town council meetings, but not everyone could make every meeting, and not enough voices were heard, in my view, and we ended up with a new roundabout at Prices Fork and Main St., a traffic light at Alumni Mall and Main, and nice new brick sidewalks, but no bike lanes for our beautiful new downtown.)
So, I thought the Q&A between you and Jon was a useful exchange. I do think we need to be attentive to, and continually work toward increasing, digital inclusivity. According to a report commissioned by the FCC, “[a]ccess to the Internet is not a choice: It is a necessity.” As far as feeling “threatened by this technological control,” I’m not quite clear about what that means exactly. Perhaps I have less comfort with the institutions you name, such as the government or the academy. I tend to celebrate the watchdog groups and academics who work to keep the “elite” in any institution from having the only voice, or the only interpretation, or all of the power. I agree with you that the “pathways to interactive communication available to us online are definitely much more open.” Indeed, our current technologies often allow more of us to speak truth to power with more speed and efficacy than many other avenues of communication. I’m not arguing for replacement of previous venues, but I do get excited about the expansion of interactive communication via current technology. I think we may have more agency and control than we tend to think. In “The Machine is Us/ing Us,” Mike Wesch reminds all of us of the power we have in using and shaping our tools, too.
I guess I lean toward a curiosity about what technology can do to empower me, what it can do to empower learners, community members, and broaden participatory culture. I am curious about what it can engender, even while I work to recognize, understand, and disrupt digital exclusion. I just learned from a colleague with whom I work of a town in upstate New York that apparently does not have adequate broadband access much beyond the public library. While that certainly shapes our choices about how we will choose to communicate and work with the citizens there on a particular community-based project, it also makes us equally committed to working actively with that community to address and solve the problem of digital exclusion (via organized community activism). If knowledge is power, and access to all kinds of resources makes us more powerful, then access really is not a luxury or a privilege, but a right.
Like you, Kim, I also enjoy “having a cuppa joe with a person.” So many rich conversations and sharing of knowledge can occur in that kind of interactive communication, too, and I don’t expect that to end. I find that online interactions also enrich my convos over coffee. And, yes perhaps we can’t always know “the various consequences of our actions before we leap into new things.” Perhaps sometimes the leap is part of the process of our exploration and curiosity. I agree with you that being reflexive is also an important part of the process. Speaking of a cuppa joe, we can always continue this exploration that way, too. It’s been an interesting dialogue thus far, and no offense taken, nor apology necessary.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” — Brené Brown
I’ve been on a blogging hiatus. It has been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and I’ve been pondering why that is. Being busy and having this platform not rank as high as it could and should in the academic hierarchy of work-related tasks is likely part of it. Someone who is not a blogger, but who knows me pretty well, recently suggested to me that blogging seems like a very public ‘personal’ forum and I probably don’t just jump in on a regular basis because I’m a bit of an introvert at my core and shy to boot. Maybe. But I think there’s a little more to it than what either of those easy explanations proffer up.
The weird thing about my self-imposed hiatus is that I like this platform for engagement and exploration. I really do. I actually enjoy blogging, and when I give myself permission to go enjoy myself and do it, to go for a blog, so to speak, it feels good. It feels authentic and useful and important to do. And, oddly, that feeling is not necessarily based on the response the blog does or does not generate. The act of blogging itself, of discovery, of reflection, of engagement, of narrating and curating and sharing is empowering and interesting.
While I don’t know all of what might be behind sporadic or hesitant blogging for academics, I have a hunch that it has to do with being present and vulnerable and open and excited and passionate, and that, sadly, those are qualities we seem to become self-conscious about sharing as we become enmeshed within our academic identities. It’s as if we somehow learn that controlled and contained intellectual pursuits (and even intellectual posturing) are more valuable. In many of our institutional forums and arenas it seems that a well-groomed penchant for sharp-tongued critique and criticism alone inform the de rigueur posture of an academic. (I have too many colleagues who might be much more comfortable with the form and content of that last sentence than with the form and content of blogging, and that troubles me. It is the fear and loathing of blogging that perplexes me the most.) I guess we worry that we may be perceived as weak or as an amateur or a neophyte if we share our excitement about ideas, our passion for our areas of inquiry (whether old or newly stumbled upon), our delight about teaching and learning with colleagues (young or old), our curiosity. If we are too worried about that exposure or that misperception, we won’t let our uniquely individual and interesting intellects and authentic voices out for a walk, or a blog, in the hallways of academe.
Yet those are the very qualities required of anyone who is being (or in the process of becoming) an active and engaged participant in learning, discovery, and engagement. An open curiosity and an excited focus on, and excitable delight in, the adventure of discovery are exactly what should be driving our critical engagement with our research, our teaching, and all of our learning whatever our academic position, whether undergrad or grad student, faculty, staff, or administrator.
There are many ways to be curious and engaged in the process of learning and discovery, and I think blogging is one of them. It encourages a voice less staid and formal than those we use in other formats–the academic journal, or the term paper, for example. It practically begs us to celebrate the first person pronoun, rather than erase it from our prose. At our best, blogging requires of us ‘being present’ and authentic. I think the blogging platform challenges all of us to be inquisitive and vulnerable–not a vulnerability that is borne from feeling like a victim, but rather the kind of vulnerability that Brené Brown suggests comes from an awareness of our strength. That is the place of openness from which innovation and creativity and change can emerge. Blogging that welcomes and explores innovation and insight can, I think, impact the power of our academic voices in other formats in a good way. Academe should be encouraging more of it from all of us–students and faculty, alike.
So, I have been reinspired to reenter my blog space and narrate, curate, share. I have been inspired by all of the HRCuleans who are blogging their hearts and minds. I get to learn from them on a regular basis. One delightful first-year student with the wisdom, insight, and courage of someone four times her age ‘schools’ me each time I read one of her posts. Her treatise on learning embedded within her most recent post does so in the most generous and encouraging of ways for all of her readers. I am also continually inspired by former GEDIs, who are blogging with the compassion and openness and creative exploration that inform, teach, and role model what critical engagement and critically engaged optimism in blogging can do. I am also inspired by the current GEDIs who are blogging, all of ‘em. I am inspired by all of them because they are challenging themselves to step outside of their comfort zone to see what else they can discover. And, in particular, I am inspired by those who are exploring and blogging with an open curiosity and are exhibiting what I’d call the strength from which true vulnerability is always an asset and never a liability.
On a recent dive into the GEDI blogs, I stumbled upon a wonderfully powerful entry on vulnerability—it was open, inquisitive, and pondering if we in academe mask our vulnerabilities because of a fear of failure, and how messed up that is because we need to learn from failure, not be afraid of it. And at the end of the post is a link to one of my fave TED talks, and I got excited and celebratory and it made me “simply pause” and take my feet off the pedals indeed and glide for a moment on the idea of it. Wow. And, then a post that reminded me, and all of us who teach, not to participate in the negative banter we too often hear about student motivation. It made me think about how the dynamic we set in our own classroom determines so much about what kind of learning does or does not go on in those environments. Rather than lament what seems too hard or too difficult to tackle, or fixate on binaries, so many of our posts focus on discovering better methods. Not all pedagogical approaches work for everyone, of course, and we are reminded to be critically engaged as we choose our pedagogical praxis in any context. Some approaches may be newfangled. Some approaches may work as an effective creative innovation in another course or learning context. Flexibility is key here, as is recognition that our choices and decisions for engaging learners should be guided both by the specific contexts/courses in which we teach and our own comfort level with our pedagogy. Encouraging our students to “actively engage and seek knowledge/wonder” and understanding that perhaps we need to be willing to be temporarily uncomfortable in order to figure out what our next best pedagogical steps might be make me optimistic about the continual evolution and upward progress of teaching and learning in the 21st century. Today’s most recent post brings up Stephen Shapiro and Sir Ken to ask me to think about stress and creativity, as well as to remind me that one of the productive ways to engage with blogging is to remember that it can “allow for a creative cultivation.”
Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right. This is the kind of platform that allows for a kind of Freirean critical hope and critically engaged optimism that can foster effective change. It allows for the kind of optimistic, forward-looking, problem-solving engagement of hearts and minds that John Boswell’s remix of TED 2012 captures for me. I think a critically engaged optimism and strength are crucial for exploring how our ideas can help higher education remain one of the “birthplace[s] of innovation, creativity, and change.”
Thank you, GEDIs, for inspiring me to reboot and reenter the blogosphere. You are all full of the “wonder, insight, ideas” that will continue to invent and reinvent the new academy of the 21st century.
“What will be the new configurations of mechanisms and of literacy as these older forms of perception and judgment are interpenetrated by the new electric age?”
[Marshall McLuhan, from “The Galaxy Reconfigured…”]
As I write this, you should probably know that I am simultaneously stopping to play air drums to “Whole Lotta Love.” If you’ve ever listened to the opening track of Led Zeppelin II, you will understand. You know that John Bonham can have that effect on you.
You may be wondering what air drumming to “Whole Lotta Love” has to do with “Two by McLuhan.” Fair question. I will try to explain the “mosaic pattern of perception and observation” that involves ds106radio, its two heart of gold DJs this evening, and the discovery I made while listening (and yes, air drumming). I decided that what I wanted to do in this post is take a moment to celebrate what we are doing collectively. I want to reconfigure slightly the original …uh… eros-centered thrust of those lyrics to an agape-centered focus in order to say I have a whole lot of love for the way this community of colleagues in weekly connection is having an impact on all who actively participate. I think this weekly connection shifts and changes our sense ratios.
Seems to me we are all capable of being “serious artists”; and, we are becoming increasingly aware of the positive effects of augmenting our understanding by altering “sense ratios” and “patterns of perception” in the most unexpected and delightfully productive ways.
I missed the F2F “idea space” of the VT new media faculty staff seminar last week. I missed out on the discussion of Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg and the Dynabook. I missed it because I was in Philly at a conference, yes, but what I really mean was that I missed the connection with my staff, faculty, and grad stu colleagues in seminar. In an earlier incarnation of a faculty development seminar (one in which only faculty would be meeting with faculty), I might ask someone to give me the highlights of what went on in the discussion, and that would pretty much be it.
Oh, but the nmfsf_11 (local and ‘glocal’) offers so much more than that. It is a seminar that is, to borrow from McLuhan, “totally radical, pervasive and decentralized” in the best sense of those terms.
So, I did not miss out entirely because this new electric age version of our seminar has a “narrate, curate, share” component that I want to get everyone (even more) excited about. I want to give a shout-out to everyone and let them know how much I love reading their perceptive and creative blog posts. These posts engage my imagination and inspire me. How often do we otherwise regularly share our thinking-pondering, best narrative selves with each other, and with the broader community of nmfs participants at other sites, and, oh yeah, with anyone and everyone on the world wide web? I guess I am becoming a blogger, and when someone asks, “Do you blog?” the answer is now “well, yes.” I know this not because of the few posts I’ve written but because I found myself over dinner in Philly telling two of Gardner’s fabulous colleagues from Tulane—Mike Griffith and Derek Toten—that I thought the blogging piece of the nmfs seminar is an essential component, that it amplifies the engagement in ways that you couldn’t have convinced me of prior to the experience of being a reader/blogger in this seminar.
What a wonderful evolution and augmentation opportunity in this new electric age this medium offers us. A sampler of narrated, curated and shared nuggets from those of us who were able to get posts up last week included (in order of appearance as I scrolled down): Yanna’s always original use of this metamedium to make me laugh, cry, and suck in my breath within one entry—this time with curly lambdas; Brian’s expert framing of the vision of Kay and Goldberg complete with cool photo of a mock-up for the 1977 Dynabook next to the 2011 iPad; Rebecca’s spot-on lament about “blah” eBooks as they currently exist, along with fond remembrances of her VTech Precomputer circa 2000 that she got as a 4th grader; Tim’s able riffing on the need for new, more expansive metaphors for pushing our understanding of our technologies; yet another remarkable exploration by Jill—this one makes gentle fun of her phobias—about snakes, those creepy ‘70s troll dolls (oh my, yes!) and computers, all to help disrupt computer phobia by reminding us that we can reframe and reenvision with the wonder of a wannabe smalltalk kid; and, Ann’s thought-provoking pulling together of Freire, Nelson, and Boal in one sentence along with a descriptive image of herself within that historical time in “Nehru style mini-skirt” and long hair with leather braids. . . . And that’s just a quick glance at last week’s posts.
A-Side Remix (‘cause there ain’t no secondary status B-side here):
When I came home from campus late this evening and sat down to read again the McLuhan essays and to do my narrating, curating, and sharing, my tweet deck suddenly prompted me to hook in to the pirate radio that doesn’t seek or need permission, the digital storytelling phenom of ds106radio. (If you don’t already dig it, you should check it out). It prompted me to seize the opportunity to hear, to be transformed by, to have my sense ratios no-doubt shifted by, the two DJs on last night. The long-time friends and colleagues @GardnerCampbell and @cogdog were sharing air time, playing some (righteously inspiring) vintage vinyl, trading insights, and discussing teaching and learning that can’t be “managed” (hallelujah!) by any control and contain tech tool. One of the wonderful things about ds106 is that the audience of listeners is connected and the backchannel feeds and inspires the on-air conversation even as the DJs inspire the listeners. Because of this medium, those DJs could see I was listening, and what a warm and wonderful shout-out they gave me. Hearts of gold, I tell you, hearts of gold.
So, in turn, I am inspired to give a warm and wonderful shout-out to my nmfs colleagues. I am listening. I’ll have more of what you’re all having, as Dr. C might say. We are all busy and struggle to make time—that won’t change. So, I say, let’s continue to make time to explore and have “multiple transformations . . . in the world of our time.”
Can I say, again, how delighted I am to be on this ride with all of you?
This post is inspired by Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson. It is dedicated to the late Edward J. McPherson, a colleague whose gentle persistence continually focused our attention on social justice and equity issues within and beyond our own community, and to the 99 percent in NYC, in Boston, in Chicago, in cities across our great nation, who are currently focusing our attention on the very complex and urgent problems we must solve.
Last week I met Doug Engelbart’s heart and vision. I did not expect when I began reading his 1962 summary report, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” that I would discover that he was driven to help us make ourselves more humane, to evolve rather than devolve. Technology to make us more human, not less. A huge heart and extraordinary vision and innovation and such compassion. Why was I surprised? What unexamined assumptions and cultural narratives about technology have I uncritically bought into, anyway?
This week I was introduced to Ted Nelson. Not literally, of course, but in that wonderful way that sometimes happens when you read something amazing, and want to meet the writer, have coffee and ask questions and hear more. Instead, I settled for marginalia. With coffee in hand, I conversed with Ted’s texts. I did not expect to have him so completely redefine computers for me. Dream machines.
My first computer experiences did not inspire or engage. I did not read nor hear the refrain: “Come Dream along with me: The Best Is Yet To Be.” I never felt that way about computers in 1977 when FORTRAN IV was new to me. Feeding cards into the machine back then, I hoped only that errant space would not somehow locate itself next to a comma to stop things from compiling. I think I ran into too much cybercrud and did not discover the magic back then. I was much more interested in playing with metaphors.
But who is this Ted Nelson who talks about computers as dream machines and plays with metaphors? I started with the anthologized excerpts from Computer Lib/Dream Machines and got unreasonably excited, so much so that I now have the complete 1974 oversized, zine-like manifesto in my hands. Oh, my. Reading backward and forward and forward and backward and upside down and right side up I chanced upon (or not, since there are no accidents, I think, only very cool synchronicity) page CL 83 / DM 46 and read:
Douglas Engelbart is a saintly man at Stanford Research Institute whose dream has been to make people smarter and bring them together. His system, on which millions of dollars have been spent, is a wonder and a glory.
He began as an engineer of CRTs . . . but his driving thought was, quite correctly, that these remarkable objects could be used to expand man’s mind and improve each shining hour.
Doug Engelbart’s vision has never been restricted to narrow technical issues. From the beginning his concern was not merely to plank people down at display consoles, but in the most profound sense to expand man’s mind. “The Augmentation of Human Intellect,” he calls it, by which he means making minds work better by giving them better tools to work with.
Yes, exactly. Simply put and nothing simple about it. Yes, Engelbart as a wonder and a glory, working to make people smarter and better at working together, so that we can improve every single shining hour. Yes, exactly. And, who is this Theodor Holm Nelson who can see it and say it just like that? That prompted more exploring. “Literary Machines,” a title to compel and draw in any English professor, and “Computopia Now!” (from which this post’s title comes, and what a powerful declarative opener for an essay it is: “Dream no small dreams, make no small plans. . . . Choose your dream’s direction first, without worrying about the possible limitations.”). Oh, my. Yes.
Last week our seminar conversation wandered around at the end of the session to wondering if our students really use their technologies to augment the human intellect. We collectively wrestled with that–some wondering if students were really capable of innovation, of building and creating with these tools, while others suggested that there are tons of examples of innovation and that the problem isn’t with the technologies, or with students per se, but with our control and contain teaching. We curb their enthusiasm and disrupt their desire to be innovative and squelch their impulse to use their machines to dream. I don’t think blaming technology or blaming students is useful. It is the failure of our imagination that is a big part of the problem. It is the failure of our praxis. We can do better.
I have been thinking about Engelbart and Nelson all week. I have also been thinking about the OWS movement, nearly a month strong, and growing. I have been thinking about how the 99 percent are using the dream machines to capture our collective imagination in order to spark problem-solving and ignite a sense of urgency to discover complex solutions to complex problems. Connections.
In “Tell Me More, Mr. Engelbart,” Yanna celebrates Doug Engelbart’s vision, and reminds us that “our world today needs more, many more, augmented imaginations, augmented determinations, augmented visions….” and that “the augmentation of the human intellect, via the augmentation of human interaction with artifacts-language-methodology, is helping not only professionals but also many ordinary people to finally address (and sometimes even resolve) complex and seemingly insoluble problems.” And, she wonders, had he known that his vision would give voice “to people who often go unheard?” It has. It does.
In honor of the vision of Engelbart and Nelson (and many others before them and since), and in honor of Ed McPherson, whose commitment to an equitable and just society lives on, here are a few compelling examples of how ordinary people use technology to augment our human intellect and our hearts–both of which are necessary in order to solve the complex and urgent problems that affect all of us. Regardless of what you may think about the strategies of the OWS movement, I think the stories shared on the Wearethe99percent blog are powerful voices that inform and connect us, and that we should listen.
I like it when I am reminded that the siloed boundaries between disciplines, between the sciences and the humanities, for example, are something to be questioned at every turn. When two of my scientist colleagues said that they were sometimes overwhelmed by the ever-increasing data and that the real work was asking the best questions, I thought, well, yes, that’s it. Asking the best questions is the hard work for all of us.
Sometimes I worry that we are losing the joy that comes with discovering good questions. Many of our students seemed to have had their intellectual curiosity severely diminished by the time they reach us. The emphasis on rote memorization, on rote everything in the faux learning of public schooling, often means students are worn out and no longer excitedly curious. Colleagues, too. The emphasis on work done quickly and sometimes without as much depth as we’d like in order to build long lists of pubs and other ‘list-able’ accomplishments (lest we perish) often means we are worn out and no longer excitedly curious.
Maybe rekindling our curiosity, valuing leisure (as Jill Sible and Norbert Weiner remind us), reading outside the disciplinary box in order to think outside the paradigm, in order to color outside the danged lines, is something to make time for. Let’s reclaim the meaning of ‘school’ / schole,–taking time for learning important insights. Perhaps that will help us (continue to) turn the machine to our advantage, to teach the machine and have the machine teach us in such a way that it is about truly symbiotic and interdependent learning.
I can be a humanist who focuses too much in any given moment on our failings with technology, on the moments when culturally we tend to worship, rather than understand, teach and learn from, and become wisely interdependent ‘with’ our technology. Watching Edward R. Murrow’s window onto the world become the electronic babysitter made the mad as hell Peter Finch quite reasonable for someone of my generation.
There is also a joy about science and technology that I wanted to focus on today. Reading Norbert and learning that J.C.R. and his son found the method of transportation in the Pentagon in the early ’60s amusing, (which it is…adult-sized tricycles? Really? Cool!). They somehow headed me in this direction.
So, if you haven’t done so recently, watch Feynman light up talking about science. He tells us that science takes a lot of imagination. “It’s very hard to imagine all the crazy things that things really are like.” Feynman’s joy about jiggling atoms is rather contagious and worth the seven minutes:
It does take imagination, and curiosity, and excitement. What if tiny neutrinos may have broken the cosmic speed limit? How cool is that?
Last week I wanted to have coffee and conversation with Vannevar Bush. And, not just Vannevar. I wanted to hang with the scientists for whom P.O. Box 1663 was a community of sorts in a particular historical moment: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Isidor Rabi, Joan Hinton, Leona Woods. I wanted to walk the hallways, look over their shoulders at the work they were doing, see what they were seeing, listen to the intensity and feel the mixture of excitement and fear in their voices and in the glances they surely gave each other as they puzzled over equations on a chalkboard.
What was it like to feel the weight of the first nuclear arms race–would the Nazis find a way to purify uranium-235 first? What was it like to live where any and all mail must be addressed to P.O. Box 1663 and was opened, read, screened, whether coming or going? What was it like to be gathered in Los Alamos, living in Site Y, loving the science, heady with the collaborative creative energies fostered by the advent of patriotic science? Did they call J. Robert O. “Bob”? “J.R.”? Were any of his colleagues nervous that he was a “political” scientist, that his gf, his wife, his brother, Frank, and Frank’s wife were communists? How to reckon all that creative collaborative energy with the burden of what it meant to make the world safe for democracy…wait…didn’t the war to end all wars fix that?
It is for me always about the complexity. Nothing is simple, and binaries are rarely useful. And the complexity of connection is just that–delightfully, remarkably, fascinatingly complex. From the perhaps mundane of how we refer to each other, of what we name things, and how that can signify meaning, to the very difficult to fully understand significance of the best uses of any technology, of any tool, in any specific context–those are interesting questions to me. Not equally important at all moments, to be sure, but somehow all a part of attempts at rich understanding.
“As We May Think” made me think about indexing memories and technologies, and it made me think about 1945. July, 1945, brought us the successful testing of “The Gadget,” with an explosive power of upwards of 20 kilotons of TNT, and it also brought us the idea of Vannevar Bush’s Memex, “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” That’s a richly complex connection. Most significant, it is the evolution of Vannevar’s Memex that allows me to muse, search, write, and share (or to “Narrate, Curate, Share,” as Gardner Campbell would say) in just the way I am doing at this very moment. From wondering about the question of whether or not human cognition is gendered to what difference it did or did not make in various moments to be Joan or Leona in the hallways of Los Alamos as scientists wrestled with both the science and the applications of the science, to talking with my partner about these complexities and having her tell me the story of her uncle Arthur and about visiting him in the ’50s in Los Alamos and the mail to and from P.O. Box 1663. I knew about uncle Arthur, who fascinated an 8-yr-old girl because he was oddly interesting and his socks never matched, but I didn’t know about his fascination with Stellar pulsations.
Bush’s desire to help us review our past, shady and otherwise, and “analyze more completely” our present problems has led to the development of tools that enlarge and supplement. And, the evolution helps me index, after a fashion, ideas and stories. I am encouraged to remember to focus on the richness and the complexity as I try to make meaning. I can ping from wondering about Joan Hinton’s story, her fascination with the science while working at Los Alamos, and her profound and lasting dismay when she realized that 66,500 Japanese killed instantly was very different from an Alamagordo demonstration. I can place that story next to the complexity of J. Robert O.’s shift from the ‘father’ of the A-bomb to the anti H-bomb activist because is “a genocidal weapon” whose “only conceivable purpose would be the destruction of civilian populations in the tens or hundreds of millions.” Doing so helps me avoid a tendency to make a simplistic assumption about gendered science.
I imagine that I will have the desire for coffee and conversation with several of the authors I’ll read over the next several weeks. I know that I will want coffee and more conversation with the colleagues in nmfs11, the F2F and virtual colleagues. I am looking forward to the sharing of narratives and stories.