Move to the Dark Side

I have officially moved my blog away from blogs.lt.vt.edu to my own website: hazyblue.me, which eventually will host not only my blog, but also my teaching philosophy, CV and other professional- related tidbits. I hope that everyone will follow me over to the dark-side as I continue to write about education, technology and talking cows. I would especially like to hear feedback on my latest post (inspired by the likes of Janet Murray and Alfred Whitehead), but since I haven’t set up a commenting system yet, please respond via your own blog, a tweet, or an email directly to me!

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Making Space

How to go about creating a space that facilitates learning? As we learned from Morningstar and Farmer, there is a danger of over-designing the space and often the users don’t end up using the space in the way the designer intended. So we shouldn’t over-design. But there should probably be some kind of structure, right? Or why create the space at all? – my brain

These are some of the thoughts that were going through my head as I set out to plan my final project. Throughout the semester a common focus of mine has been the lack of a space in my own field (Electrical & Computer Engineering) to facilitate making connections between the work that goes on in the department, both teaching and research, and the outside world.

I also became interested in many of the ideas Ivan Illich presented in chapter 6 of “Descooling Society“. Specifically, how would we go about creating a network to facilitate skill exchange and peer matching? Once we have a peer-to-peer network of learners, what role does an “elder” have, and how does one become an elder?

I began by looking at some exiting peer networks and online communities that I have had either direct or indirect involvement in to see how they addressed the questions of structure, but in the space itself, and any imposed structure between peers that imposes some sort of hierarchy, or the notion of an “elder”.

1 The Linux Kernel

It has been several decades since Linus Torvalds’ original announcement of his new operating system:

From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
   Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
   Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
   Summary: small poll for my new operating system
   Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
   Organization: University of Helsinki

    Hello everybody out there using minix -

    I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and
    professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.  This has been brewing
    since april, and is starting to get ready.  I'd like any feedback on 
    things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
    (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
    among other things). 

since that time the Linux kernel project has grown to be the largest collaborative endeavor in the history of computing. According to one measure, there were 1,316 developers involved with the version 3.2 release, each contributing an average of 10,935 lines of code to the project. The clip found on the linxfoundation’s website summarizes how this tremendous feat is possible:

There is a fairly simple and effective hierarchy in place: individual developers submit patches to senior kernel developer who in turn review and sign off on patches before sending onward to Linus Torvalds for final approval. This is the most dictatorship-like model of any of the networks I looked at, but I think it makes a lot of sense. The stability and usefulness of the Linux kernel depends on all 15 million lines of code working well with one another, a more ad-hoc “allow everyone to contribute, fix errors later” method such as the one embodied by wikipedia probably wouldn’t be effective for this project. It’s worth noting that the rather strict structure doesn’t prevent people from maintaining and contributing to forks of the kernel other than the one maintained by Torvalds. In fact, up until recently, Google maintained its own fork of the kernel for it’s Android operating system.

2 github.com

The versioning control tool git was created by the Linux development community in response to changes in the relationship between the open source community and the company responsible for BitKeeper, the versioning control system used up until 20051. A versioning control system and git in particular, gives developers a powerful tool with which to track changes to software projects and facilitates collaboration by automating to the extent possible, the work-flow required to review changes made by contributors and merge them into one version. But to become a contributor, or find open source projects of interest, you need to know where to look. GitHub provides a hosting service for projects using the git revision control system as well as some social-networking features to help users connect with developers and projects that interest them. Users create profiles, much like they would on other social networking sites, but rather than posts about current gastronomic adventures, GitHub generates feeds of updates and changes made to various software projects.

There isn’t really a notion of a uniform social hierarchy, as everyone is the maintainer of their own project, and may act as contributor to any other project. Individual projects may be “trending” or “featured” depending on activity.

3 stackoverflow.com

Still on the geek theme, stackoverflow is an invaluable resource to many software developers, novice or advanced. Organized into a question and answer format, anyone can post a question or an answer and the site provides tools to improve the quality of questions and up-vote helpful answers. There is a notion of currency, called “reputation”, that members earn through participating on the site. Gaining reputation can unlock certain privileges that are not available to all users. With enough reputation, individuals can be elevated to moderator status, a role I would associate with Illich’s notion of an “elder”.

4 couchsurfing.org

Up until this point the sites I’ve surveyed have been what we would generally refer to “virtual” spaces. The communities and interactions exist primarily in cyberspace. Couchsurfing is a bit different. At its core it is a network of travelers who open their homes to other travelers to provide a uniquely personal and rewarding experience not available from hotels or other travel industry offerings. It is focused on helping people explore the world by connecting with other people in a particular geographic area, remote or local, so many of the interactions take place in the “real” world. However, a thriving virtual community is also an integral part of the couchsurfing experience in the form of discussion forums organized into groups of free formed topics ranging from geographic areas, to helping each other learn new languages, to everything in between.

One of the first questions asked by couch surfing skeptics is “is it safe”? There seems to be a common fear among those who do not couchsurf that most strangers are creeps who would sooner steal your wallet than let you stay for free on their couch. While most of those who join couchsurfing do so because they naturally have a more optimistic view of humanity, safety is a high priority and a clear set of community guidelines are published to help ensure everyone has a safe, enjoyable experience.

Most importantly though, is the system of references in place that enable members to rate the experience they had with other members. References themselves do not directly lead to any increased privileges in the community: members are free to use the information as they see fit. Some opt to only host or otherwise connect with people who have received a lot of positive references while others will accept hosts or guests with few or no references. I have never come across a profile with negative references. I suspect that this is not because there are no negative experiences (in fact I have heard of a couple from witnesses), but that people with negative references don’t last long in the community. While there are many people who would help those new members who do not have any references yet, I think few would choose to welcome someone who has violated the spirit of couchsurfing in some way.

Separate but related to the reference system is the vouching system. This is a more formalized approach to building trust networks and is a more integral part of the structure of the site in that being vouched for can grant certain privileges, namely, the ability to vouch for others. Unlike references, vouching is intended to ONLY apply to people who have met face-to-face, though the enforcement of that rule is left to the community itself.

5 illichvillich.net

The greatest challenge I have faced in the creation of a space for learning has been to identify which aspects of the previously mentioned successful virtual communities should be integrated, and how. At its core, the inspiration came from my understanding of the role english coffee houses played in the 17th and 18th century. While the idea of gathering around a particular beverage was not unknown at the time, the precursor to coffee was ale and along with the switch from a depressant to a stimulant also came a marked change in the intellectual culture surrounding these popular gather spots. People from all walks of life were able to mingle and share ideas and the space became an intellectual breeding ground separate, but connected with the universities of the time. I can only imagine that without any set curriculum the topics of discussion varied greatly with the interest of the participants and the local events of the time.

It goes without saying then (and yet, here I am, saying it), that topics must be defined and controlled by the members. But I don’t want to create yet another forum site.

Of the four networks defined by Illich to enable his vision of a deschooled society:

  • Reference Services to Educational Objects
  • Skill Exchanges
  • Peer-Matching
  • Reference Services to Educators-at-Large

I was most interested in building a Skill Exchange and Peer-Matching network. I feel that if I can create a space that is successful in that goal, the two “Reference Services” networks should follow organically, as it seems the primary challenge there is collecting the information, there are already well defined implementations of “reference services”.

On the face of it, implementing a skill exchange and peer-matching network is just a matter of defining a data structure that can associate a set of skills with a particular individual and then an algorithm that will match people who have mutual skill-learning interests. That’s the easy part. The challenge, which was brought up during the final presentation day, is that most people are probably not going to want to spend any amount of time entering individual skills and interests they have and those they want to learn. Ideally all a user would need to provide are links to existing blogging and micro-blogging feeds, in which case we would need an algorithm that would parse content that is already being created by each user to determine skill sets and interests. This is the challenge, and a complete lexicographic analysis is well beyond my current knowledge of algorithm design. What would be relatively straight forward is grabbing tags from existing structured feeds that provide that information. It would still depend on self-reporting, but ideally self-reporting that is already being done anyway.

The real challenge has been to figure out what more to do. What I have mentioned so far would be useful, but not particularly unique. In fact, couchsurfing already has a notion of “Learn, Teach, Share” built into the profiles, though the system doesn’t really facilitate searching for people based on that information. The more I have talked with Illich enthusiasts, the more it becomes clear that the real potential lies in creating more of a platform for exploring ideas, rather than just a repository of information. The last brainstorming session I had quickly turned from the details of setting up a skill exchange network to the much more difficult questions of

  • how is a unit of information stored?
  • who decides what a unit of information is?
  • how are individual units of information connected with one another?
  • how does a user effectively navigate a space of interconnected units of information?
  • how does a user track their personal path through a network of information nodes?
  • how does a user share their path through a network of information nodes?
  • who writes the information nodes?
  • should nodes have structural support for quizzes/practice exercises to help learners decide if they have mastered a particular topic well enough to move on to another?

And then implementation details involved with all of those are of course somewhat overwhelming at this point.

I plan to have another brainstorming session tonight, with a different group of hackers and see were these ideas lead. In the mean time, I will continue to get a working implementation of a basic skill-matching network up at illichvillich.net, just as soon as I’m finished posting final grades.

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And Now You’re an Anstronaut: Open Source Treks to The Final Frontier

There have been a couple of blog posts recently referencing the recent switch NASA made from Windows to Debian 6, a GNU/Linux distribution, as the OS running on the laptops abord the International Space Station. It’s worth noting that Linux is no stranger to the ISS, as it has been a part of ground control operations since the beginning.

The reasons for the space-side switch are quoted as

…we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable — one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust, or adapt, we could.

This is satisfying to many Open Source/Linux fans in it’s own right: a collaborative open source project has once again proved itself more stable and reliable for the (relatively) extrodinary conditions of low Earth orbit than a product produced by a major software giant. Plus one for open source collaboration and peer networks!

But theres another reason to be excited. And it’s a reason that would not necessarily applied (mostly) to, say, Apple fanatics had NASA decided to switch to OS X instead of Debian. And that reason has to do with the collaborative nature of the open source movement, codified in many open source licenses under which the software is released. Linux, and the GNU tools, which together make up a fully functional operating system, are released under the GNU General Public License. Unlike many licenses used for commersial software, the GPL esures that software licenses under its terms remains free for users to use,modify and redistribute. There are certainly some strong criticisms and ongoing debate regarding some key aspects of the GPL, especially version 3, the point of contention mostly lies in what is popularly called the “viral” effect of the license: that modified and derived work must also be released under the same license. The GPL might not be appropriate for every developer and every project, but it codifies the spirit of open source software in a way that is agreeable with many developers and users.

So what does this all mean in terms of NASA’s move? We already know that they chose GNU/Linux for its reliability and stability over alternatives, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely bug free, or will always work perfectly with every piece of hardware, which after all is another reason for the switch: no OS will be completely bug free or always work with all hardware, but at least Debian gives NASA the flexibility of making improvements themselves. And there in lies the reason for excitement. While there is no requirement that NASA redistribute their own modified versions of the software, there is no reason to assume they wouldn’t in most cases, and if they do, it will be redistributed under the same license. It’s certainly realistic to expect they will be directing a lot of attention to making the Linux kernel, and the GNU tools packaged with Debian even more stable and more reliable, and those improvements will make their way back into the general distributions that we all use. This means better hardware support for all GNU/Linux users in the future!

And of course it works both ways. Any bug fixes you make and redistribute may make their way back to the ISS, transforming humanity’s thirst for exploring “the final frontier” into a truly collaborative and global endeavor.

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Final Project

For the final project/presentation, Brooke and I joined forces as the META meta team- charged with the daunting task of providing an in-depth synopsis and presentation of the topics discussed throughout the semester. We decided an excellent way of doing this would be to start with creating our own website and hopefully building something worthy of  our charge. Brooke was told about a website where you can build websites (recursion yet again) called Wix, so we set forth with eagerness and anticipation. Then came the question, “where do we even start?” We decided it would be a good idea for each of us to split the load and work on separate sections so we would not be constantly having to both decide where to put this quote and whether a video is suitable there. Brooke was in charge of the design and I had the task of compiling the various media we used throughout the semester. That entailed going through all of the blog posts on our site (over 100) and pulling out all the links, videos, memes, gifs, everything that could be copied and pasted. we envisioned having whole pages of the website dedicated to the various forms of media- so we had developed a separate page for each “medium” and inserted small introductions for some of the videos. We really wanted to capture the personality of the class as a whole; so many of the videos and memes have special meaning to different  members of the class. The Oxford Dictionary was a integral part of all of our discussions, for both the definition and etymology of various words were constantly being referenced and commented upon so we simply had to put that somewhere in the project. Recursion was prevalent throughout the year (of course it was, otherwise it wouldn’t be recursion).. This is something Dr. Campbell so devilishly introduced us to, and the rest is history. We were constantly seeing it pop up in our discussions, blogs, gifs, everywhere. We had to honor it in some way, so we dedicated another page to our recursive artifacts. Brooke then took it upon herself to really blow the wheels off. No doubt she will explain her path greater than I, but essentially she took an afternoon to go through nearly every reading, pulling out excerpts, and putting them together in a seamless page with breathtaking flow and clarity. It very succinctly summed up our entire semester, and was really the cherry on top of the whole presentation. Brooke and I are both extremely proud of the site, and hope everyone can enjoy the antics, but also dive deep into content and come away with something precious. Happy Hunting.

Ah, how could I forget? one must have the link in order to explore.

http://bbaugher.wix.com/meta-team-vtclis13

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Something Funny about School (Part 1)

In the last “adult” class of the semester the reading du jour was Scott McCloud’s “Time Frames”, a comic about comics. Specifically, how the passage of time, including motion, are depicted in the medium. The discussion that started as we talked about the gap in between frames of a comic got me thinking…

...a dangerous past-time, yes I know

panel2

panel3


Sometime in the not-so-distant past…
heraclitus1

heraclitus2

heraclitus3


sea1

jack_and_rose

titanic1

iceburg1

iceburg2

brachristochrone1


brachristochrone2

chart1

chart2

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VTCLIS13 Final Essay

Prompt: “Write an essay that explores the question”

Question: “How should a professor evaluate student performance and accomplishment in this course of study?”

Stipulations:

  • Write Clearly
  • Write Well
  • Write in a natural, authentic, and effective manner.
  • Use three of the essays we have read this semester
    • Powerfully
    • Insightfully
    • Imaginatively
  • The words must Move
  • You must be Proud of at least some significant part of the essay
  • You must complete the essay by 5:54pm on 05/11/2013
  • Your work must be your own
  • You must indicate other sources

Essay:

“There were no answers.  It was all supposition.  It was a premise built upon a pipedream—built on wishful thinking.  He would wake up in the morning and know that it was wrong.”—Simak

But he wouldn’t forget it because…

It wouldn’t be a school—at least not the kind of school he’d ever known before.”—Simak

The teachers at this school seemed to understand that…

“THE TECHNICALITIES MATTER A LOT, BUT THE UNIFYING VISION MATTERS MORE” – Nelson

Because…

“The augmenting of human intellect remains an uncertain and even perilous activity”-Murray

Where many children can be…

“held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you either got it or got it wrong” – Papert

 But you can’t get it wrong because…

It means supporting children as they build their own intellectual structures with materials drawn from the surrounding culture” – Papert

So perhaps the need to give out grades which so often…

“reflect commitment level, anxiety, and willingness to focus on core emphasis”—Nelson

Is an attempt to gauge it’s effectiveness in which case the grades are more for the instructor than the student.

I didn’t come here for the grade.  And I didn’t come to Virginia Tech for the benefit of the institution, so when you have to give me one then give me what you think I earned.

What I would prefer is to have a conversation about the thoughts went or will go through your head as you quantitatively or qualitatively determine what that grade should be.

I came here for the conversation and I hope that in some capacity it continues beyond the termination of the semester

Because It is what It’s all about.

Isn’t it?

-David Henry
Final Essay
VTCLIS13
130511

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Final Exam

Final Exam

For some reason, wordpress hates color…so above is the download think for the word document!

Thank you for your patience, enjoy!

I also want to say a big thank you to Dr. C, for putting up with us for the semester, and guiding us through one of the most memorable and enjoyable journeys that I have ever been able to be a par of. So thank you for that, Dr. C. It has been quite a ride.

that is all. I may be a little gif deprived.

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intertwingularity

Internet of Things StatusThis was my new years prediction this year (sorry for the typo). Then on January 4, 2013 the MIT Technology Review published a blog post announcing the same thing (I would like to point out that I beat them to it by 3 days…).

The Internet of Things is not an entirely new concept. The term was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton in 1999. It is basically the idea that all of your things (home, car, appliances, memex devices, etc…) will be “connected” via the  internet. The will then “talk” to one another independent of human interaction.

If you go to the grocery store, for example, your refrigerator could compile a list that know you are out of milk and running low on ketchup. This idea could obviously go a lot further down the line of automation. The food could be collected and delivered to your house automatically in specifically designed refrigerated driverless cars and left on your porch (or in something akin to a P.O. box in the city) in secure refrigerated units like the milkman from days of yore (only with a cooler paint job).

There are advantages well beyond a simple time savings for the consumer. There would no longer have to be ridiculous expanses of parking lots which generate a tremendous amount of heat gain and could be better utilized as green spaces. The environmental cost of transporting food to homes could be reduced by optimizing delivery routes. The stores could more appropriately stock foods with real time inventory and tracking of consumer demands over time reducing the need for excessive preservatives. There could be dynamic pricing in lieu of sales. I am sure the list could go on (but I don’t know enough about grocery stores). The grocery stores could potentially be constructed vertically since they would no longer require total human accessibility.

In theory this could lead to more awareness of food origin because it could be tracked and even have the travel distance from farm listed for consumers to make informed decisions about their food. Hopefully developing an open grocery platform would prevent the “McDonaldization” of the market.

Everything will be connected whether it is grocery stores, lists, and consumers or doctors, medical, pharmacists, and patients.

This concept goes wonderfully with the idea of interwingularity. The term coined by Ted Nelson in his book Computer Lib/Dream Machines in which he says

EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.

We have seen this concept manifesting in the increase of “interdisciplinary” or “cross-disciplinary” majors at colleges and universities. Virginia Tech has developed an Integrated Science Curriculum which, it seems, is acknowledging this reality of our world (though it is only interdisciplinary within the sciences). They are recognizing the world is not as segregated as the labels we love to give to things.

We have taken much of the world apart in the last few decades, defining and distinguishing constituent parts. After we take the world apart

we must begin to put it back together. Putting it back together is the way we learn how the parts interact. Just like ants are individually very unintelligent, together they are able to accomplish highly complex tasks.

 

 

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feedback loops

Why do we share things?

Are you doing this for feedback?

Are you?! ARE YOU?!

Yes, well, yes with hesitation…

But you did it and you are getting feedback.

Why do we do things?

Are you doing this for feedback?

What is gained by recording things to share them with others?

I spent more time documenting myself building the sandcastle than building the sand castle, he said.

David’s video was not a recording of a finished sand castle. It was a recording of the making of a sand castle.

What is the power of making? The power of play?

The author selects what they too wish to remember (or do they?)

The author selects what they believe will be forgotten (or perhaps missed by others)

What is the warm fuzzy feeling deep in your gulliver?

Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now.

How did you do that?

 ’You caught the glass before it hit the floor.  You teleported it back into your hand.’
‘Look, buster,’ she said grimly, ‘quit kidding yourself.  They’re watching all the time.  They play little tricks like that.  Anything for a laugh.’

Who did you make this for?

Are you doing this for feedback?

Did you make it for yourself?

Yes, well, yes with hesitation…

Why are you here?

I guess I’m here for feedback.

Why did Einstein publish his findings?

Are you doing this for feedback?

Are you?! ARE YOU?!

Why did the other David say?

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
― Henry David Thoreau

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A sandbox with no walls

David’s project and video were quite thought provoking. His video in particular really caught my eye during several of the moments. As he begins building this sand castle, he is working with a theoretically infinite amount of space, since he could have chosen any spot on the beach in which to build. However, as he begins to focus more and more on building his particular sandbox, a wall is slowly built around him, shutting him off from the surroundings. They are still there, still real and ever present, but his vision of them is blocked, for he is so focused on his task. Only when he is so wonderfully interrupted by a lovely gift from above does he stop and look around.

 

He realizes that with such an intense focus on his task, he has lost sight and awareness of what is going on around him. I could be completely wrong, but I recall David saying that he was more focused on the “experience” of building the sand castle instead of the actual building. This caught my attention as I immediately wondered “if he was so focused on capturingthe  of building a sand castle, is that totally different from the experience of building a sand  castle?”

image

David realized he had been blocked in by his own devices, but instead of remaining inside the “box” and believing that is all the world had to offer now, he climbed out and began to explore a vast new one, perhaps with an entirely different attitude and sense of awareness than before. how do we get out of our boxes? the first step i suppose is to even realize there is a box (or is there?) but even after we realize that, we still are not in the clear.

We must achieve a sense of balance, to focus on our “task” at hand, but also remaining aware of everything else happening- owl eyes. This is much easier said than done of course, and not many have mastered it. sometimes we believe we are SO close to achieving it, we can almost taste it.

But alas, there could still be some unknown barrier still holding us back.

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