They say “if you’re not advancing, you’re retreating.” The university or higher education system is always facing challenges that aid in the transformation and advancement of how we as a society function. In the past, general, information transmitting courses offered during freshman and sophomore years seemed to be sufficient to jumpstart students’ passion and career goals. More recently, and from my experience as an undergraduate at VT, I found myself feeling stunted by these classes. I wished I had learned more. I wished I left with more real-life skills that would prepare me to hit the ground running when I entered my field. Luckily I was able to stay for graduate school which has greatly aided in development of “real-world” skills. Reflecting on my differing experiences in undergrad and grad school, I found it interesting and relevant that undergrad instruction is often viewed as peripheral to a faculty member’s interest (Origins reading). The description of this was on point with my experiences (2-3 large lectures/week with recitation sections led by grad students with little teaching experience). Having seen both worlds, I understand completely how hard it must be for these faculty members to juggle their responsibilities. What I’m trying to say is this: There has to be a better way to make this all work. The concept behind general classes makes sense but students have so many resources at their fingertips today with laptops, iPhones, iPads, etc. University systems and class courses have to keep up with the ever evolving technologies. The college freshman today looks nothing like the college freshman 20 years ago…or even 10 years ago. Maybe if professors could meet students where they are, students would be more interested in course content, and faculty members would find more reward and fulfillment in teaching them.
Category Archives: vtclis12
My Reflection on Higher Education
Here are the links to my YouTube videos from my final project presentation.
Scene 1 – Introduction
Hope you enjoy them as much as I did making them!
Pick a Keyword, Any Keyword…
When I began brainstorming for a final project topic, I was so overwhelmed by all my options and I couldn’t even begin to think about them in a creative way, let alone continuously; my ideas were so fragmented it was hard to create a big picture of all my half-processed ideas. We read so many intriguing essays about cognition, learning, and the internet. Upon meeting with Dr. C, my worries were silenced when he informed me that no student had ever chosen Clifford D. Simak’s essay, Immigrant, as a final project. I was shocked and excited simultaneously (how is it that we can experience more than one emotion at the same time?). Why wouldn’t a student pick a narrative on which to map another layer? A whole other narrative to further tap into the senses and further augment thinking. Already that makes two meta layers, without even considering the viewers of my narrative and the mental places to which my narrative takes them. I felt an obligation to take the challenge, an obligation to those half-processed nuggets that were jumping around in my head; I didn’t look back once. I was so eager at the prospect of incorporating the ideas of all my favorite essayists. Even more, I couldn’t wait to just think, an emotion that I have never felt or thought about before. Yes, I was thinking about thinking. Why do we always come back to that? It must be an indication that all these concepts, all these bolded words are, need I say it, INTERTWINGLED!
Something I kept trying to do throughout the semester was relate the nuggets from my favorite essays to each other. How better to do this than through a narrative wherein I am able to govern the conversations between say for example, Nelson and McLuhan? I really had to engage my imagination and let establish the necessary connections. I knew if I attempted a webpage I would inadvertently start making unnecessary divisions. The movie-making forum of Xtranormal enabled me to incorporate my thoughts with the characters and conveyed a sort of individual reflection through my use of scenes, emotions, and character scripts. Although I didn’t incorporate a lot on the augmentation and education power of computers, the WWW, and the Internet, I think the mere fact that I, Erin Passaro, created a small movie of my own is an indirect ode to the influence of these mediums/messages.
I spent hours trying to determine a clever story but I wanted to make sure it was something my viewers were still somewhat familiar with, so I could better reach out to them with these complex thoughts…because after all, not all my viewers on YouTube will be accustomed to the ideas we discuss in #vtclis12 (well let’s hope not anyway). I found that the introduction style utilized by MTV producers in the making of the Real World television show provided the proper stage to engage curiosity.
Going through my old blog posts and notes proved to be very beneficial. I stumbled across a Word document entitled “My Revelation” and it talked about McLuhan’s signature phrase “the medium is the message.” It only seemed appropriate then, for me to start with the point at which I felt revolutionized. In thinking about the medium, which is the channel through which an idea is communicated, I realized that WAIT a second…our minds can be channels right? Because when I think about something and then relay it to another part of my body, well that’s a channel right?! And then when that part of my body does something with it (whether it be my hand or my mouth), there’s another channel, and therefore, another medium! So where does the message part come in then, right? Well can’t an idea, which is the preconceived notion of a message, be a channel? Because can’t one idea lead you to another idea? Can’t one idea help a person gain insight into another idea? YES. So we’ve established that an idea, is obviously the message and less obviously the medium
Of course, that’s just my way of thinking about it…remember, we’re all our own individuals, with our own thought processes. My path of thinking might not lead you to the same idea but the two together could create something so complex and so much more advanced and meaningful, which is why I also talked about the holistic view, which Nelson emphasized a great deal. “THE UNIFYING VISION MATTERS A LOT MORE THAN THE LITTLE TECHNICAL PARTS.” Insert line about the unifying power of the WWW and Internet…here………………………..and here……………and…..right..about….HERE.
Did we just move in time and space simultaneously? Well of course not, it’s a continuous sentence, therefore a single instant in time, RIGHT? Not exactly, according to McCloud, “words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time — SOUND” (p. 713). Our eyes have been trained well, huh? Speaking of our eyes, sometimes they play tricks us. Did my use of the grid-lined backdrop in scene three with McLuhan and McCloud do anything for your perception of time? Maybe a sense of “lingering timelessness” (p. 721)? Since we’re on the topic of time, let me pose this question, the question of the semester: is time linear? Well, it must depend how you’re thinking about it…if you’re hopping around from past to present to future to fantasy…then where are you in time? It all depends on your first meta level, but good luck finding that!
Since McCloud is so willing to let his mind play tricks on himself (or so it seems in his comics), I thought it would be kind of funny to introduce him to Maxine. Not only did I want to see how that scene would play out, but I also wanted to snap viewers back into a semi-normal level of consciousness, to provide a sort of “comic” relief from all the complex thinking. Maxine represents the only person in this movie who is concrete and unyielding. By concrete and unyielding, I mean something that readers can hang onto for a second and be POSITIVE they know what she is saying for she doesn’t allow curiosity or uncertainty into her brain like the others do but do not fear, McCloud threw in the monkey wrench (does that surprise you?) when he started talking about teleportation, mass, and matter. I know we never talked about that in class but I thought it was relevant and when I thought about it while making my project, my brain was screaming “nugget” at me, so I just went with the flow.
Anyways, Maxine’s pride and defensiveness led me into my next frame with Viola and Illich. Maxine, to me, represents the typical student so I thought it would be a smooth and relevant transition. Also, as I’m sure most of you picked up on my casual mentions of Bishop. The characters touch on this progression through thinking about thinking and at the end of scene five, you will pick up on the strides the others see in him. That is because, Bishop to me, represents students like US, students who are willing to open ourselves up to randomness.
Viola and Illich make this whole episode recursive; Viola when he talks about the learning structures. The fact that schizo even exists clarifies to me that time/thought do not necessarily have to be linear, which is pretty cool. I want to have a day where it will be socially acceptable for me to voice aloud all my nonlinear thoughts. That would be cool, maybe we should start a petition for yet another national holiday. Off topic. Thanks Dr. C. Back to Illich and how recursive his thoughts were. He takes us back to the importance of individual-based education system, tailored to each and every learner’s needs. Funny how that works though, because when individual-level learning takes place, the sum of the parts (society as a whole) benefits exponentially more…than when we are educated in a “one size fits all” manner.
My last scene, the preview for “next week’s” episode recaps on the nuggets that truly interested me throughout this class and they convey the sincere hope I have for myself, for us, and for the future of a more meaningful education.
As I sat down to write one of my last blog posts for class I tried not to let myself approach the essay as I normally would when writing a final term paper. Although for a second, I did allow myself to get psyched out by the gravity of importance that always accompanies the word “final.” I found my mind reeling for a decisive or purposive point of From Memex to Youtube; a question for which my essay must provide a conclusive answer. I still couldn’t provide you with a concrete answer and I don’t think I ever will be able to, but I think that’s the very thing that has preserved my interest and pleasure in this class…the fact that there is never a right or wrong answer.
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W3: A Tool for Associational Thinking and Augmenting Intellect
“The World-Wide Web” was on the technical side for me which normally gets a little fuzzy for me but I was surprised by the understanding this essay provided in respect to the relevance of all the letters in the URL bar, which is mentioned in “W3 Broken Down.” It was a fairly followable breakdown and for that I was appreciative.
However, as I was looking for nuggets I thought WAY back to the beginning of the semester when we read Bush, “As We May Think,” Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” and also a little Engelbart, just because W3 aided so much in augmenting human intellect. The authors hoped through the use of W3 that knowledge would be able to extend across “boundaries of nations and disciplines.” If I recall correctly, Bush called for this very same idea; in class I remember talking about taxonomies and the way the Library of Congress was indexed in a way that made searching for something specific so difficult. Why was it so difficult? This organization did reflect the way humans think, which is highly “associational.” It seems like W3 kind of wanted to aide in automating this humanistic way of thinking through hyperlinks and such. By providing more sensible ways of navigating such a vast and rich pool of knowledge, has the World-Wide Web enabled us to have “unfettered thought?” To think “creatively, continuously?”
The authors talked about future developments in information technology such as a “name service” that will allow internet users to discover information not based on a specific location but on the name. This screams Google to me, or simply search engine for that matter. They called for an integration with teleconferencing…Skype, Facebook video. The authors also wanted to facilitate commercial uses, such as online charging and virtual clothing stores (Paypal, any online store). These advances do not necessarily indicate a complete augmentation of human intellect but they sure do make things more efficient. In being more efficient, W3 eliminates all the processing which enables constant thinking and decision-making. I think that’s a sure sign of augmentation and associational thinking.
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Freedom, Perfection, and Control in a Rule-Governed Environment
Although I was not planning to blog for Sherry Turkle’s “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” as it is my seminar presentation, I have found the whole process of blogging very helpful in reflecting on the reading and gathering my thoughts.
First off, it is important to note that Turkle frames the chapter by establishing the culture of computers as “a culture of rules and simulation” (501). This is a defining theme throughout because somehow, through the underlying programming of a video game, which although is highly rule-governed (by the programmer), anything is possible. Users revel in the endless possibilities because they can somehow make sense of this rule-governed world. How can sense be made in an environment of infinite possibilities? An environment of infinite human thought? The games require so much attention and concentration, that users are able to lose themselves in the action of it all. So lost that the user doesn’t even realize how big their imagination is at the time. I could not accurately call this process a “mindless addiction” but more of a “holding power.” Now the only thing left to the reader is to determine if it is healthy…
This freedom is because video games are a simulation of the real-world, and with this simulation comes freedom through the idea of control. Ironic as it sounds, it is common for people to strive for control and perfection in their lives. The real-world makes this practically unattainable due to the existence of outside, unforeseen, uncontrollable variables. However, in video games, just as David describes, the circumstances are “fixed, invariant” (513).
The fact that users find peace in games which enable them to feel “close to the edge” is hard to grasp at first but the video game is a “perfect mirror” or a “perfect contest” as it tests the user and only the user. The obsession to do well in these games is not merely for the purpose of getting the highest score, it is to provide a sense of self-worth and competence. I wonder if this interactive media we call a video game is a reflection of our culture which calls for perfection. Turkle relates it to how we use our bodies and our money to establish control and measure perfection and therefore success…so the only answer is yes, this is a reflection of a somewhat oppressive culture that only accepts perfection. Video games then, must be humanity’s way of reacting to the loss of control which has been imposed by social norms. Each story (Jarish, Jimmy, David) conveys this idea.
Back to the idea of the healthiness of video games and their holding power…I see them as a means to an end. An end that must be met because the alternatives to video games could take many unhealthy forms, such as violence or constant self-disappointment. Whether these games are an extension of self, an entirely different personae, or just a way of re-centering, they can help us to develop identification and a sense of self.
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Only Time Will Tell Where We Go From Here…
Seymour Papert’s ideas in “Mindstorms” were particularly reinforcing for my own ideas that are being generated through our other readings. Coming from a very small school system, I cannot say that I experienced a lot of advanced computer programs that stimulated me to “think about thinking.” I think that process came about through other experiences but I did come in contact with a lot of interactive “cultural tools” that make complicated concepts easier to understand. For example, Oregon Trail was a very popular game in elementary school and provided a more interesting approach to the subject of history and the trials and tribulations of those heading west in the days of pioneers. There were also games like Zoombinis that focused on complex puzzles and such however for the most part, my teachers used the computer in a systematic way. In other words, I was not using the computer for “personal purposes” just like I was not learning a lot of material in classes for “personal purposes.”
However, Papert foresaw the price of computers falling to the point that each individual could have private/personal access. Once this happened, I believe people started exploring, on their own out of sincere interest. This is when computers started fostering more intellectual, individual action. This is happening right now. The only thing I fear is what Papert calls the QWERTY phenomenon, wherein there is a “tendency for the first usable, but still primitive, product of a new technology to dig itself in.” We are at a fork in the road if you ask me; although our technology does not seem primitive…do the ways in which we use them sometimes seem a little primitive? Do the ways in which teachers incorporate computers into their curriculum come off as primitive to you? Typing class…what? To think I spent a whole year in typing class during middle school, what a waste. How primitive. It is socially drilled into us to justify what we are used to, to revel in our comfort zones. Papert predicted it then and I believe it applies now to some extent:
“The computer revolution has scarcely begun, but is already breeding its own conservation.”
Where do we go from here?
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Simak’s “Immigrant” is by far by favorite reading to date. I could not bring myself to stop reading, the whole time speculating as to what the deep connections could be and discovering relevant nuggets. Throughout the reading, I couldn’t help but think of a book I read in high school, a well-known classic by George Orwell, “1984.” With a futuristic tone about it, one of this novel’s underlying themes is the suppression of individuality and reason, which are referred to as “thought-crimes.” Something along the lines of Orwell’s “memory hole” seems to exist in “Immigration” when Bishop discovers the inaccuracies of history books as he explores the “live-it” chair. Some vanity-driven copyist had added in their own twist to make the facts more appealing and interesting. Another connection between “Immigration” and “1984” is what Orwell coins as “doublethink” which is described as:
“…know[ing] and not know[ing], be[ing] conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.”
I believe this happens a lot within our education system for teachers and students alike. We are all stuck in a system that we know is flawed but it seems so difficult to transform it that we continue to tell ourselves great things will come out of extensive education but in reality the system places value on inherently empty and meaningless benchmarks, letters, and/or numbers. “Doublethink” happens to Bishop when he is feeling used by his Kimonian peers while simultaneously decrying the prideful, vanity-stricken, stubborn culture from which he comes because he recognizes the Kimons are much more intellectually and philosophically advanced than the human race. Bishop’s doublethink is more adequately deciphered by Jake in “Both and” (A and B). He contemplates writing to his fellow humans on Earth and telling the truth about what people experience on Kimon but pride won’t let him do it. He wonders why no one has gone back to Earth, once again pride does not allow for this type of failure. Are these aliens condescending or enlightening? He cannot decide and neither can I. I think the closing line holds the answer though:
“You’ll want to get up early,” said the cabinet “so you aren’t late for school.”
Now at first glance this sentence definitely sounds belittling but prior to this, Bishop establishes that he, as a human lacking the cultural advancement of the Kimons, truly is a child in comparison; he must listen to his elders and stop reinforcing his “shield” of pride that is a huge obstacle to learning. Just as we have discussed in other readings, children have the humility and humbleness to ask questions, to seek guidance from their elders, while also letting their own minds do the work (if permitted). After all, being truthful to ourselves is a defining theme of so many of our assigned readings…I think this idea indirectly contributes to a better application and therefore appreciation of human talent and values. Being truthful to ourselves fosters what I call natural development which involves the process that “start[s] out by saying, I don’t know. Then say[s], I want to know. Then say[s], I’ll work hard to learn” which is touched on in “Out of This World.” The key component of this process is the first part; in today’s educational culture, one must swallow their pride to admit to not knowing. Is that the difference between Kimons and Earthlings? Pride?
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I thought I would have a hard time appreciating Lucasfilm’s Habitat as I have not participated in any video games on a large scale, even Sims. I was pleasantly surprised when the reading emphasized the importance of realistic environments. This idea of reality is so inherent in the construction of video games that Morningstar and Farmer assert:
“cyberspace architects will benefit from study of the principles of sociology and economics as much as from the principles of computer science” (676).
That simply amazed me and has honestly reinvigorated my minor interest in video games. To know that these complex and highly technical games are catered to humans, to the idea that all people are unique and therefore all people will hope to get something different out of a video game, is pretty interesting. This idea means that there is a place for everyone in virtual reality which I suppose is the appeal, which leads me to my concern…having all these mini-worlds at our fingertips. Couldn’t this pose a problem? Couldn’t one get completely lost and cut off from the real world in games like this? The fact that morals come into question with video games emphasizes my concern but I will touch more on that in my seminar presentation on Sherry Turkle’s essay.
As we get further in our readings, I have noticed many reoccurring themes. Not to be repetitive but simply for compilation purposes, the idea and importance of individual participation and decentralization (branching, sharing). I was able to make a theme connection to other readings when the authors talked about the design process and how it should not be restricted to simply designing and implementing but should also include facilitating (this can be applied to teaching).
Interest and Pleasure: Beside the Point or THE Point?
Since I didn’t say much in class today (I think I was kind of using the discussion to reflect more on Illich’s ideas) there are a few ideas I found relevant to the topic of curriculum learning. When I say curriculum learning, I do not mean education. I mean the formal learning process, that is centralized and tackled in a “one size fits all” manner.
At first I thought Illich’s Learning Webs was kind radical and somewhat absurd but it’s not necessarily the ideas that were so out there, just the solution. Or maybe it was just his urgent tone…which made me feel like the world was ending or something. I think his term “deschooling” is a little hard to swallow upon first read. I think a better term would be “decentralizing.” I think this term epitomizes everything Illich is trying to put into words but it doesn’t have such an aggressive feel about it. It does however sound kind of generic so maybe it would just be best to think of his proposal in a decentralized instead of deschooled way. A way that doesn’t halt development through the forming of little black boxes of knowledge. A way that encourages questions and doesn’t instill the learner with a fear of sounding “stupid.” Similar to what Jake said, I fear if we cannot establish a more interactive means to learning in schools, it is truly questionable what the future holds for us. I can’t help but think back to when I was very young, pre- and early-elementary years, I never stopped asking questions. It didn’t matter if they were naive or silly because I was truly interested in the answer and I once I got it, I could go along my merry way, continuing my quest for knowledge in a way that made sense to me. Before I was conditioned to curriculum learning, I made connections all by myself, without the teacher’s help and I felt genuinely satisfied (again, Nelson).
So is interest and pleasure beside the point? Absolutely not. Interest and pleasure is the point. We need to stop striving for “productive members of society” and start thinking about ourselves a little more. As cliche as it may sound, it is strikingly similar to the idea of being happy with yourself instead of worrying what others think about you. If your education is not stimulating to you then the “benchmark,” the “A” doesn’t really matter or mean anything. Now if only there were a more sensible way to achieve this idealistic goal…
Deschooling: Liberating the Mind
The first thought that came to my mind while reading “Learning Webs,” from Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society was anger. I had not been aware of how weak my past education was until coming to college and this realization is highlighted a good bit in this class, especially in Nelson’s “Computer Lib / Dream Machines” but even more so in this reading. Why am I angry? I feel betrayed by what I thought was a good thing, by an education system that never taught me to delve deeper into how I was learning, not necessarily what I was learning. I believe more interest in topics would have been generated if the way in which I learned them was more appealing, more stimulating, and more diverse. After all, the medium is the message right?
It’s not that I am calling myself stupid or uneducated by any means but I do feel somewhat irritated at the inadequacies our current education system has produced in me. This idea of monopolizing knowledge, only those who have the appropriate title or classification are permitted access to particular tools and opportunities in education and in the working world. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Even with this class, I at first felt inadequate. It’s kind of a paradox because even though it caused me to feel inferior to others’ ideas, at the same time it made me be appreciative and proud of my own ideas.
Furthermore, this class is a form of deschooling itself if you ask me. Granted, it’s not nearly as radical as Illich’s proposed system but it does away with the concrete curriculum and skills testing. It is not “a demagoguery calling for more of the same” like so many other classes. I have said it before and I will say it again, student/reader participation takes precedence over predetermined right and wrong answers.
If Dr. C’s class provides a mere glimpse into the prospect of deschooling, than I will resound a major theme in Illich’s work: liberation. The idea of letting your own mind do the work is liberating. It provides a sense of self-worth that no A+ on a final can ever do.
When we start seeing more classes like this one, classes that encourage one’s own imagination instead of the easy alternative of yielding to a predetermined curriculum, then I think deschooling will be taking place on a larger scale. When people start experiencing what it feels like to actually learn, it will be positively impossible to stop deschooling. Illich agrees:
“The disestablishment of schools will inevitably happenand it will happen surprisingly fast. It cannot be retarded very much longer, and it is hardly necessary to promote it vigorously, for this is being done now. What is worthwhile is to try to orient it in a hopeful direction…”
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