About mnolan22

I study Professional Writing and Pre-Education at Virginia Tech, and I expect to graduate this spring. I also dabble in Political Science. When I'm not busy I can be found fiddling around with a deck of playing cards, or otherwise reading a book. I'm an avid lover of good stories in any medium, and I can binge on the most enormous books in a day or two if it has me interested enough.

Internet Addiction(?)

So my topic for the Unit 4 project is on internet addiction and internet ADD. There’s a lot of debate on whether the internet makes students smarter and more capable or makes them dumber and more dependent on technology to survive. This debate is fueled by the fact that students are now constantly connected to Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other site that strikes their fancy.

In class, on the bus, at home, at work, it doesn’t matter anymore. With laptops, tablets, and smatphones, the internet is never far away. And it invades everything. Nowadays I find that I can’t go for more than twenty minutes of just sitting around without reaching for the keyboard just to do something—anything—online. It actually really creeps me out; it’s like a drug. A need for constant content from a computer screen.

In more academic terms, this is sometimes referred to as internet multitasking—a term which implies that students who are online in class are somehow actually managing to get work done at the same time. Which is complete tomfoolery.

Oh, we’d all like to believe that we can peruse our friends’ Facebook statuses and take notes at the same time. We all try to do it, and we think that we succeed. But we don’t. Studies show we don’t. Our own personal anecdotes tell us that we don’t.

Is this a problem? Yes.

Oh, I’m sure there are benefits to being internet savvy. There are. But I also feel like I would be ignoring what’s right in my face to deny that my own constant craving for the interwebs sometimes distracts me from much more important things. Like going to the grocery store. Or getting my car’s oil changed. Or studying for exams. Or getting projects finished. (I know, I really probably shouldn’t be admitting to this problem on a class blog… my only defense is that it’s generally other classes that I ignore with the internet, not this one.)

I don’t know when the internet changed from being primarily a source of information to being primarily a source of entertainment. Probably somewhere around the time that flash sites became huge and kids started playing really stupid flash games on sites like Newgrounds. Though it may have been before then. But it really bothers me that I can’t have uninterrupted thoughts anymore.

I will literally be sitting down at my laptop with the intent to work on a paper, and before I know it, I’ve involuntarily and reflexively opened Facebook and about three other sites I frequent. In the space of about six seconds. Without even realizing what I’ve done.

That. Is. Creepy.

Now I’m not saying that a lot of people have this problem, but a lot of people have this problem. The good news is that one of the studies I read for my project suggests that this sort of behavior will reach a critical mass and then correct itself. But that’s not exactly comforting. Basically it means that this internet addiction will have to get so bad that it starts to ruin things in a person’s life, at which point they realize they need to cool it with the tubes and maybe reevaluate their web surfing habits.

In the meantime, yet further studies show that people who still have this problem of compulsively “multitasking” on the internet routinely suffer from lower grades and lower test performance. And just to add insult to injury, they even perform worse at multitasking than people who don’t multitask on the internet!

So maybe next time you find yourself meandering around on your Facebook page with absolutely no plan and no reason to be there other than being there, consider whether you might have an internet problem.

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Note Taking Styles

Now that I talk about learning styles, I realize that I am particularly fascinated by all of the different styles of taking notes that students have. I don’t know why, but I find it interesting to see how my peers choose to organize their information.

Do you choose to take your notes on a computer? I think that computer notes definitely have the advantage of being much faster to take than on paper. They are also a lot more consistently readable. I know that when I write my notes by hand, I often come to a word or several words that I just cannot read because of my hasty scribbling.

But when you type with a computer, I also feel like you are restricted by the screen and the nature of typing. It is much harder to be freeform when you type. If I want to take my notes with drawn in visual aids like arrows or circles, I can’t do that in the middle of class with my laptop. With typing notes, you’re generally restricted to paragraphs and bulleted lists, which is pretty limiting.

For that reason, I personally choose to hand write my notes. But then, should I use a pen or a pencil? This seems trivial, but I feel like the two different writing instruments offer a much different note-taking experience.

I use a pen when I take notes, mostly because I just prefer the feel of a pen on paper to a pencil. But I also like the authority and finality of a pen. For some reason the gray and uneven lines a pencil makes seem sort of childish to me.

I also feel that when I am using a pencil, I am making a sort of implication to myself that I might make mistakes that will need to be erased and corrected. I believe that note taking is not something that you can do wrong or right, and I like to see my own thought processes when I go back and look at my notes. Hence, the pen. Even if I cross out something I don’t like, the record of my thoughts is still there for me to access.

But even before addressing how you take your notes, I am interested in what sort of notes you take. Some people take ridiculously detailed notes, meticulously copying every word the professors says. Other students don’t record anything; they just sit in class and memorize, and that’s good enough for them. Most students sit somewhere in the middle, but there are still so many different levels of note-taking that everybody ends up having very unique notebooks.

Don’t even get me started on notebook doodles.

So consider: what do your note-taking habits say about you?

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Learning Styles and the Innovation Space

While we’re taking surveys on the effectiveness of the Innovation Space environment for learning, I felt like I would talk about learning styles in general.

People all have different learning styles, and there are a lot of different models for classifying these styles. Some people learn visually, some learn auditorily, some learn kinesthetically. So basically, I feel like it’s pretty much impossible for the traditional classroom environment to perfectly fit every student because each classroom has a single professor that has his or her own teaching style.

If you are a student whose learning style fits to the professor’s teaching style, then you’re golden. But if you are not so lucky, then you might just have a hard time in that class. I’m oversimplifying here, because everybody learns with just about every style of learning to some extent, and most professors can adapt to teach in multiple ways.

But I think that this is an interesting thing to consider as we think about the Innovation Space. Yes, it’s a very nice learning environment, mostly because it’s a lot more open and freeform. But it isn’t a perfect solution, because of the possibility for discrepancy between the teaching and learning styles.

This makes me wonder whether or not it would be possible to have an institution of higher learning that evaluated students and professors on their styles of learning and teaching and then assigned students to classes based on those criteria. Would a place like this work? Would the students show increases to their learning? Would they stay the same? Decrease? Would this show that learning styles are, in fact, an important consideration, or would it disprove the notion?

All of this also makes me wonder if the Innovation Space is more conducive to some kinds of learning and not to others. If I had to pick one, I would sat that it’s probably most conducive to more visual styles of learning, and less towards more hands-on approaches. But hey, that’s just me.

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Ignite Feedback

These are just some quick thoughts that I have about the last project we had for Writing and Digital Media; specifically, the Ignite style of PowerPoint presentation.

I will say that it was really nice how Ignite forced us to compress our presentations into five minutes. In any other class, doing presentations for a class of twenty would have taken two weeks, not two classes.

It was also pretty intense. I’ve had a lot of experience with public speaking, and no matter what I always get nervous when I present. But having to pace myself to a string of fifteen second slides added an entire level of magnitude to my nerves. I think that someone could do a scientific study on the brain and prove that a human’s perception of time speeds up drastically during a presentation, because I could swear that each slide lasted only five seconds.

I’m torn on the issue of Ignite. On the one hand, I suppose it was a unique challenge to learn how to constrain myself to the Ignite format. On the other hand, I have a particular PowerPoint style that is very different from Ignite, and I kind of sort of hated Ignite. At least, I hated it at first. And honestly, given the choice, I probably wouldn’t ever do an Ignite style presentation again unless I had to.

But I do think that this kind of presentation is a very good constraint to introduct, especially in a classroom environment where presentations often last way too long. Or even in a business environment, where presentations go on FOREVER.

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This Post is Way Overdue…

Well, it’s basically been a month since I last did anything on my blog, and I have a really poor excuse to try to defend myself. I haven’t really had anything I’ve wanted to talk about.

Okay, that’s not really true at all. More like I haven’t had a lot of time to work on the posts.

No, that’s a terrible defense. Blog posting takes a couple of minutes. This isn’t a term paper I’m writing here (though it’s probably a more accurate representation of my actual writing style). Okay, how about I say my excuse is that a blog is by nature somewhere that you post your thoughts and ideas whenever they come to you naturally, and I haven’t been hit by inspiration to write.

And that is the absolute worst excuse I could have come up with. Really, all I can say is that I sort of didn’t focus on the blog because of other projects with deadlines, and I could have just spent an hour each week keeping up. I have a personal tendency to procrastinate on things that I don’t have deadlines on, which is probably one of my own biggest failings.

Still, I can make this work. I can bring some value out of this month-long dry spell, and I can do this by talking about writing.

There’s this one nugget of wisdom I love that applies in this situation. In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” I love this quote because, even though it comes from the world of creative writing, I think it applies to just about every aspect of the writing universe.

It’s easy to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, to wait for the “right moment” to begin the composing process. This sort of thinking has caused many a student to wait too long to begin their papers, their final projects, and their presentations, until the final product is harmed by the lack of effort put into the writing process.

I am very, very, very guilty of this particular sin (hence the month-long absence of blog posts). Every so often I have to remember Mr. King sitting down and writing at his desk every day no matter what and force myself out of bed and into my crappy fifteen dollar chair to begin typing.

Now I’m not saying that the writing process can be simplified into a basic tedium of pounding out drafts. There is certainly a creative process where a writer would have to stop and think. My own writing process is very convoluted, where short bursts of writing is interspersed with hours of sitting around, walking, going to the grocery store, talking with my roommates, playing video games and tabletop games, watching movies, and generally goofing off.

Sometimes my goofing off is a part of my process; either I’m gathering up ideas to put into my work, or I’m resting my brain after a bit of mentally exhausting output. But other times I’m just putting off actually doing what I need to do, and it’s often hard to distinguish which one I’m doing.

I would say that it’s at least safe to say that if you haven’t even sat down to write a single word of a first draft yet, then you might just be procrastinating. This is at least true for me. Once I’ve begun to put words into a draft, I switch to writer mode, and everything I do after that tends to be a part of my process that feeds back into writing. But the most important step is to just sit down and, as Mr. King would put it, get to work. Once I grit my teeth and make a couple of paragraphs happen, my brain switches and the rest begins to flow.

Which brings this back around to the particular issue of applying this philosophy to blogging. I do firmly believe that if someone doesn’t have anything that they actually want to say on a blog, then they shouldn’t make things up to blog about. But that’s not what happened to me. I’ve had things I wanted to blog about, I just haven’t sat down and worked. So that’s what I’m going to be doing this weekend, and hopefully for the rest of the week and the semester as well.

Yell at me if I don’t.

Oh, and by the way, Stephen King is the man. I don’t care how many of his books are terrible. The man has serious writing chops.

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2:00 am Foolishness

Just a quick little post.

I feel like it’s insane how many college students push themselves to stay up until ridiculous times of the night in order to finish projects or study for tests. I’m not going to pretend I don’t do it, because I do. And I really hate it.

Mostly because I find it counterproductive. There is a certain point past which no real work can be done anymore. Your brain refuses to come up with smart ideas in a bid to force you to sleep.

I have a name for this magical point. I call it 2:00 am.

Once the clock hits 2:00 am, every single idea you have is officially stupid. You can go ahead and still have ideas if you want, just know that they are stupid. They cannot be proven to not be stupid unless you go to sleep, get a good amount of sleep, wake up, review your stupid ideas, and then make a logical decision whether or not the idea truly is stupid or not.

Why am I writing this? Because it’s currently past 2:00 am, and I’m currently stupid. Posting this on my blog was a stupid idea. You are reading the output of a stupid man right now.

Seriously though, despite how stupid I am at this moment, consider setting limits on how late you stay up. If you spend all night studying for that important exam, you’ll end up doing horrible because you are so tired during the actual exam.

Get some sleep people.

(If you do get enough sleep, good for you. The rest of us hate your guts. Sorry about that.)

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Back After a Month: why does everybody hate Shipka?

This might end up labeling me as some sort of total weirdo, but I have a confession to make: I didn’t completely hate Toward a Composition Made Whole.

Honestly, I see where everybody’s coming from. Shipka is very difficult to read. Perhaps the way she writes is par for the course for book written for instructors, but her writing style is incredibly convoluted. Whenever I read her stuff, it seemed like she was deliberately making everything as technical and drawn-out as possible. It made the book seem unnecessarily arcane.

But once I managed to crack the labyrinth of each chapter, I always found myself appreciating the heart of the content to some extent. I thought that her main points were very important to understanding the writing process.

Now I might be a bit biased. I might be defending Shipka because her book goes into detail on the time-consuming and convoluted writing processes that many writers have, and I may have spent the past several years feeling guilty about always procrastinating and having such a long and winding writing process, and I may have been nursing a bit of an inferiority complex as a writer because I can’t just sit down and start producing output like other majors can…

Seriously though. If Shipka had eased up on the esoteric throttle, I think that her book might have been much more successful and digestible to classrooms like ours. I do think that there were some good lessons in that book, but this can also serve as a lesson to writers in general and Shipka in particular that making your works long and difficult to read in order to supercharge your ethos tends to drive readers away.

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Too Much Consideration for old Technology

Just a short thought.

While we’ve been talking about the dangers of new technology usurping effective older technologies, especially in the field of composition, I also want to bring up that it can be just as dangerous to be fixated on old and traditional methods and technologies. Progress is made for a reason, and sometimes a new tool really is just plain better than an older one.

I started thinking about this when I was talking to my aunt, who still uses a thirteen-year-old piece of crap computer. She uses dial up. According to her, it takes her hours to load a single video on Youtube. She keeps this computer because she is used to it, despite the pain it causes her.

I think this applies somewhat to composition, and how sometimes we can get caught up in forms of writing we are used to and avoid newer methods, even if the newer methods are better and more painless than what we’re familiar with.

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Why do we still use Imperial Units? (Shipka Ch. 2)

Reading chapter 2 of Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole, I think I was most struck by the section titled “The Agency of Mediational Means.” In this section, Shipka talks about constraints in mediational and cultural tools.

Her first point, that “an action is simultaneously enabled and constrained by the mediational means or cultural tools employed,” was something I noticed right away as I was working on editing the video clips for my digital narrative. While Windows Movie Maker is a good free editing tool that enabled me to cut up and edit my video clips and add sound, it also forced me to pick from the small number of transition effects offered int he program. I had to spend time how to cut up my videos because it was not an intuitive process.The biggest constraint was that I couldn’t just upload my narration; I had to have a long enough video to fit the narration before it would play everything.

Shipka’s words and my own experience, therefore, emphasize the importance of paying attention to what tools you use. If you are not mindful of what tools you are using, only paying attention to what they enable you to do, you might miss the constraints that those tools also put on you. Unintentional constraints can be the downfall of getting a project done well or on time.

Shipka’s other main point in this section is that many times, constraints of a certain tool are only realized when that tool is replaced by a newer tool. She goes further, stating:

“Althouth it may often appear . . . that a cultural tool is naturally or in and of itself tied to superior levels of performance, it is often the case that the continued use of dominance of that tool is based on other factors such as historical precedent, fear of or resistance to change, or the fact that the particular tool has been invested with so much cultural or institutional authority that it appears natural.”

I feel like this is an especially important thing to remember when deciding what tools to use for your works as well. Microsoft Office is the standard for writing anything in academia, yet it can be a flawed and unhelpful system if you are trying to do powerful, custom work. In the 90s, the outlandish and disjoint design of the web made with old, un-standardized web development tools seemed natural; now, however, we recognize the design principles of past websites as horrendously hideous.

Just think about America’s use of imperial units instead of the metric system. We are one of the only countries left that hasn’t converted. Imperial units are ridiculous and make no logical sense. Yet we continue to resist the metric system, because it is the system that we are used to. The same thing is true of the universal QWERTY keyboard layout. This layout was designed for typewriters to stop jams, and despite the fact that much more efficient and comfortable keyboard layouts exist (such as the Dvorak keyboard layout), we are familiar with QWERTY, so that is what we use.

Using a tool because it is the standard–because everybody is familiar with it, even when it might not be the most effective option–can have benefits and drawbacks. Familiarity might make your audience more comfortable with your work, but it will not be as impressive. Your work might suffer because you did not use the best tool for the job. It is therefore important to carefully consider every tool you use, looking at all of the alternative options available to you. You need to decide if you want to use a specific tool because it is the best one for the job, or just because it is the one you are most familiar with.

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Too Much Video Quality? (or just crappy cameras)

While I was watching video narrative rough cuts on Wednesday, I found that some of the most powerful moments in peoples’ videos were clips of old home movies. It gave a depth of genuine emotion to the stories, which I enjoyed. The thing is, home movies generally don’t have amazing production quality (especially when filmed on tape), but that doesn’t in any diminish their power.

In fact, I think that in some ways, the amateur quality of home movies is one of their defining characteristics, a sort of charming quirk. And it got me thinking about whether there comes a point when you can have to much quality in a video narrative.

For my own narrative, I am not using any old home videos, but I am trying to recreate some fun personal moments between me and my friends. Somehow, I feel that when I am trying to capture the feeling of a couple of friends hanging around a table and goofing around, having a high quality camera and professional lighting and perfect shot angles might somehow make the moments feel more artificial.

On the other hand, I also might just be making an excuse for myself, so that I can feel better about the fact that I have a craptacular camera and not a lot of filmmaking skill. I’ll let the world decide…

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