Monthly Archives: April 2012

YouTube Links

Hey Guys!


Here are the links to my YouTube videos from my final project presentation.

Scene 1 – Introduction

Scene 2 – Nelson and McLuhan

Scene 3-McLuhan and McCloud

Scene 4 – McCloud and Maxine

Scene 5 – Illich and Viola

Scene 6 – Conclusion

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did making them!



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“Suddenly I See…”

Enlightened; freed from ignorance. A feeling of tranquility. A feeling that Siddhartha Gautama reached once realizing that in order to reach enlightenment you must not seek enlightenment. A feeling that I have now reached. A feeling I reached once realizing that in order to understand the broader themes behind #vtclis12 I must not seek the broader themes behind #vtclis12. I had to let the themes come to me rather than force them to me. I guess I could say hindsight really is 20/20.

As I listened to Dr. Campbell speak on the first days of class, I was astounded by the #vtclis12 colloquia. I did not understand the significance of #vtclis12. I decided to approach the #vtclis12 colloquia like any other colloquia. Unknowingly, I was forcing enlightenment. I quickly learned that this was not something that I could force. As I read over the syllabus, I came across a list of tasks. I immediately felt the need to complete the list of tasks. I was unaware that this was not the appropriate mindset for #vtclis12. Under the appropriate mindset, I would be able to see that the syllabus did not contain tasks but it did contain opportunities. These included the opportunities to grow, expand, and learn. Opportunities I may only experience once in my educational career. At the time, this philosophy was foreign to me. With time, this has definitely changed. As I listened to Dr. Campbell speak on the last days of class, I felt like a third party observer. Looking in on our class, I could see that #vtclis12 was more than a course. It was a way of life. There was no right and there was no wrong. There was simply a chance to better oneself.

The completion of my final project was the last step before my the realization of my enlightenment. The articles within the new media reader decided to pack up and move from one condominium within my mind to another condominium within my mind. Their original place of residence was crammed with abstruse, confusing, and puzzling ideas. On the opposite end of the spectrum, their new place of residence was overflowing with comprehensible, straightforward, and unambiguous ideas. These articles have now nestled themselves into the most comfortable region within my intellect. A region of understanding. This place prides itself on its conviction that the society in which we live must be challenged and not be accepted. This challenge is the only means of social change. The change that I hope to see is from institutionalization to deinstitutionalization. I would like our society to be characterized by freedom rather than oppression. Of course, our civilization does not embrace this challenge and it does not welcome this change. Unlike the conventional members of our society, Illich, Morningstar, and Farmer have decided to embrace this challenge and welcome this change. They have done this through their controversial writings entitled “Deschooling Society” and “The Lessons on Lucasfilm’s Habitat.” Through these, Illich, Morningstar, and Farmer have expressed their progressive theories. These theories have given me the confidence to express my own opinions in #vtclis12.

The congruence of my ideals with Illich’s ideals is why I decided to do my final project on Illich’s “Deschooling Society.” It was the first article of the year that I felt an true connection to. I had always found our society’s educational structure to be dysfunctional. Though I felt this way, I could not help but play to its power. Throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, and even into college, grades have been of extreme importance to me. Some would say of too much importance to me. I was taught that unless I received an A in a course, I had not mastered a course. The anxiety that the educational structure imposed on me as a student was loathsome. It squashed any and all of my potential creativity. Illich took the words right from my mouth when he proclaimed that “schools were designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets.” This disappointment in humanity was not the only disappointment in humanity that Illich and I shared. Our dissatisfaction ranged from a disapproval in humanity’s political structure, to its economic structure, and finally to its educational structure. All of these structures share a common theme of centralization. This centralization has come about through years and years of the gradual shift of power from the people to the institution. Most of us were unaware of this gradual shift. Thankfully, it is not to late to reverse this gradual shift. If we attempt to deinstitutionalize one structure, it may lead to the deinstitutionalizing of the other structures. Illich affirms, “that the institutionalization of education is considered to institutionalize society and that ideas to de-institutionalizing education may be a starting point to de-institutionalized society.” This same proposition is brought to attention in Morningstar and Farmer’s “The Lessons Of Lucasfilm’s Habitat.” Morningstar and Farmer boldly proclaim, “detailed central planning is impossible. Don’t even try.” Though they are approaching the situation from a different perspective, their perspective still sheds light on Illich’s statement. They are asserting that with the vast number of citizens within our society, we must be cautious of generalization. This generalization takes from in institutionalization. Each citizen’s diverse goals, interests, motivations, and types of behavior are neglected when a society becomes institutionalized.

I decided to explore Illich’s “Learning Webs” in reference to “Deschooling Society” for my final project due to the rationale that diverse goals, interests, motivations, and types of behaviors can be nurtured when a society becomes deinstitutionalized. These learning webs are the most practical mechanism for fostering a student’s learning. Learning webs possess four networks that allow a student to learn what they want, where they want, and when they want. For my project, I analyzed three contemporary learning webs including Academic Earth, Khan Academy, and Course Networking. I analyzed them in terms of the four networks presented in Illich’s “Deschooling Society.” These networks included reference services to educational objects, skill exchanges, peer-matching, and reference services to educators-at-large. Each contemporary learning web possessed some unique strengths as well as some unique weaknesses. I found that Course Networking had the highest score followed by Khan Academy and then followed by Academic Earth. Completing this scoring system provided me with a new level of cognition regarding learning webs. Getting involved with learning webs was completely different than reading about learning webs. Suddenly, I reached an epiphany. I caught myself THINKING about what Illich was THINKING about when he defined his four networks. What exactly was he thinking?

This is when the deviations of my ideals from Illich’s ideals became evident. I found that though Course Networking received the highest score, I did not believed that it was the  ”best” contemporary “Learning Web.” I found that Khan Academy was the “best” contemporary “Learning Web.” It incorporated more content and more educational resources than Course Networking. When logging into Course Networking I felt a sense of confusion. I wasn’t sure what the purpose was. I wasn’t sure what I was suppose to do next. I attempted to peruse the educational resources but didn’t understand what I was doing. I joined a conexus but couldn’t figure out who my peers were and I couldn’t figure out who my instructor was. However, when logging onto Khan Academy I felt the complete opposite. Once creating an account the next steps were human nature. What I got out of Khan Academy was a direct function of what I put into Khan Academy. I do think it’s important to share that I am a bit Khan Academy bias. Its immense amount of publicity is hard for me to ignore. It is easy to find information regarding the site and its easy to see the future of the site. A future that is optimistic. Academic Earth and Course Networking have not been around long enough to reach this stage in its development. I am hoping that with time the Academic Earth and Course Networking can evolve into aggressive competitors of Khan Academy. These thoughts as well as other thoughts allowed me to reflect on my final project. In addition, as I caught myself thinking about these thoughts I became aware of my enlightenment. I had not only analyzed the contemporary learning webs but also challenged Illich’s ideals. All without any intention of doing so. The continual thinking about thinking led me to a state of content. I realized that there was no right or wrong anymore. There was purely a preference. A preference that applied too more than just contemporary “Learning Webs.” It applied to life.

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Mixed Messages

In LDRS 1016 this semester, I am currently finding myself in one of those teaching quandaries we often find ourselves in.  In the spirit of open vulnerability, and as a bit of a practical, realistic, and (for LDRSers) relevant “case study” I am going to unpack it here.

— The Big Bad Blog Grade Dilemma —

This semester in LDRS 1016, we blogged.  The “requirement” was to post once a week on a personal blog with a prompt of “something interesting to you that seems relevant to the course and your peers in it” and to make two comments/week. We talked about that blogs and comments should be “substantive, meaningful, honest, and relevant” in order to receive all/nothing credit.  Credit was tracked by a simple quiz framework in Scholar where each student assessed her/his own participation that week.

Rationale in Jake’s head: I don’t want people worried about guessing what is in my head and what I want from the blog.  What I want is simple… individualized reflection about LDRS and collective engagement.  I want everyone to draw together seemingly distinct experiences on campus, with readings, after watching movies, etc. and begin to re-cast and re-understand “leadership” in a broader, deeper, more personal, more applied way.  Hey… I know!  I’ll have them grade themselves!  Then, students will be free from “worry” about the grade and will just focus their energies on meaningful blogging that makes sense to them… it’ll be great!  And, the blog “quizzes” will create a simple accountability structure so that everyone is keeping themselves apprised of week-by-week participation.

Real-life story: As we all know, sometimes things work out better in the head than the real world.  All in all, blogging has been pretty interesting and engaging.  The “grading” however… and how easy it all was in my head… has been a mess.  Culpability probably doesn’t matter.  In some cases, Scholar [$!@&# learning management systems!!!] likely failed.  In many cases students simply forgot to do the quiz.  In some ways the setup was flawed from the beginning with my idea of how it would work.

On average, 80% of students completed the assessment.  I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but based on emails throughout the semester, most of those who didn’t complete it actually blogged that week.  They just forgot to do the self-assessment.  Now, here at the end of the semester, a number of students have lower blogging scores than if I had actually graded them myself.

LDRS 1016 Timeout: Remember that whole talk about “clarify the message” and “authenticity” – aligning actions with espoused values as an important quality of leadership in responding to challenges we face?  Let’s keep that in mind…

Some options and the “messages” they carry:

(1) Nothing.  You knew the requirements, you had a time-frame for the quizzes, you very easily could have tracked progress, navigated issues with Scholar (or alerted me to issues as they came rather than at the end), and succeeded.  BTW, many students in the class did this just fine, why couldn’t you? 

This action values a rigid sense of responsibility.  It is justified by the belief that students learn that they need to read, follow instructions, and proactively navigate challenges well before the panic-at-the-end deadline.  Remember, you earn grades and are not given them.

(2) Forget the quiz for those who had issues/zeroes and either re-grade them manually as the instructor or just re-open the quiz for everyone so that corrections can be made.  Beyond self-assessment as an important step, I didn’t intend for quizzes to be a primary focus… the blogs were the point.  So, if you did them but forgot the quiz, then I should focus on what I said really mattered and not worry about the logistical hiccups.  Not to mention, Scholar has really shot us in the foot this semester, and that is as much my fault as yours.

This action values reflection and engagement first and foremost.  It recognizes that there is some mis-alignment between the assessment and the goal – that is, a 0 on the “quiz” is indicative of not doing the “quiz” rather than not meaningfully reflecting and engaging on the blog.  So, a course-correct by me helps to say “remember… this is what is important here” at the tradeoff of reinforcing that “loafing/procrastination” will be accommodated in the end.  Also, this option might be said to somewhat overlook that many students do what they are supposed to do and that accommodations now could demean or devalue others.

In thinking through these first two options, I also have to own my own role as teacher in all of this.  Though blog quiz grades are posted immediately after they are taken, “grades” in general have been delayed longer than anticipated… students are not really encouraged to track their progress through class via “the gradebook.”   Also, in retrospect, the setup itself was probably not the best.  Though students might have been freed to chase what was in their head rather than guessing what would be in mind, everyone has fretted so much about the quizzes and the grade that the entire point of all of this has been somewhat obscured. It is these two things that lead me to deviate from what might otherwise be a fully justified choice (1).  Though I do very much value everyone taking ownership of their own education and fiercely, proactively, diving into a course, the blog quiz is not a simple indicator of “are you doing what you are supposed to or not” and missing quizzes doesn’t necessarily indicate irresponsibility.  It has been muddied by technological issues, and some general inflexibility that comes with online quizzes.

However, I don’t fully like (2) either because I don’t want to devalue those that took the initiative to make sure they both blogged AND self-assessed as they were supposed to.   AND, while I value the reflection on the blog, I also did value the simple self-assessment because it weekly offered the opportunity (required) an answer to “how engaged am I in the course?”  So, really, the ship has sailed to a certain degree.  Self assessment in weeks 3 and 4 that could have lead to deeper engagement in weeks 5, 6, … was missed.  So, there really can be no make-up, can there?

It is with this dilemma that I enter the dangerous territory of make-up/extra-credit.  I say dangerous because I think that even well-intentioned, it can often be the worst of both options.  BUT, my hope is that the solution I am implementing might be able to avoid that… we shall see.

For good or for bad… Jake’s decision:

I really value your authentic, self-driven reflection.  That was one of the primary goals of the blog and of the “quiz.”  Simple as it was, you missed out on some of the opportunities presented by the quiz.  I don’t want that to kill your grade – because your grade should reflect overall knowledge of and engagement with “Exploring Citizen Leadership”… not simply remembering to log onto Scholar and take a weekly quiz.  But, I’m not going to just give it away, because you miss out on the opportunity and that devalues those who successfully navigated all aspects of the assignment.  So, if narrowed down, there were truly 2 primary functions of the “quiz” – (1) to self-assess blog participation, ultimately resulting in a grade for the gradebook and (2) as a very simple meta-cognitive tool to stop and think about individual participation in one facet of the course.

So – as a solution that requires students to still meet goals (1) and (2)…

If you are content with the blog grades showing up in the gradebook: congrats!  hopefully they offer a realistic look at (1) and were a week-by-week accomplishment of (2)

If you are unhappy with the blog grades showing up in the gradebook and feel they do not accurately represent (1) because of Scholar issues, your forgetfulness/procrastination, and/or poor planning by Jake:

  • Share a self-assessment (via writing, video, or…) of your engagement with “learning” (whatever that means to you) at this phase of your life.  In what areas are you most engaged, and why do you think that is?  In what areas are you most disengaged, and why might that be?  The scope for this could be as narrow or wide as you want.  It could involve this course, other courses, other interpretations of the word “course,” or no courses at all.  The intent here is to accomplish goal (2) as a general strategy since it was missed week-by-week with the blogs of this course as the context.  This self-assessment needs to be emailed to Jake at the very least, but you could easily consider sharing it via your blog.
  • When you send an email to me, with an attachment or link to your blog with this assessment, also tell me which quizzes to re-open.  I will then re-open those on Scholar for you to re-take.  That will then allow for ensuring that your blog “grades” on Scholar are an accurate representation of (1) and not just whether or not you took the quiz.

I hope that this solution sends the messages I am hoping to send by this action.  I think we (as teachers, leaders, humans) often send mixed messages that are very different from what we intend.  While there is no sure-fire analysis that leads to flawless decision-making, my intent here is to demonstrate that some thorough and transparent reflection can sometimes lead to clarity.  At the very least, it opens up the floor for conversation that could shape the future… be it about leadership, teaching, decision-making, blogging, self-asssessment, or…

As a learner, teacher, person who ever seeks to reflect and improve, I invite your feedback on this decision regardless of who you are and whether you are currently a student in LDRS 1016 with me or not.  Thanks!

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MindFrames: The Comic

Here is Julie and my comic that I previously blogged about. Our collaboration of McCloud’s Time Frames and Papert’s Mindstorms. Hope you all enjoy!

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A Conversation With Myself- Post Prelim Havoc

(Irrelevant to class, but for some reason, I feel compelled to share, which is very unlike me)

I am listening.  I am listening to you.  You are me, and I am you, and I know I should listen.  What are you telling me?

I am telling you everything.  You have so many questions, and I provide you all the answers, and you do not listen.  You ignore your emotions, you succumb to your irrationality, and you have forgotten what I sound like.  You are so caught in the trap, you are so chained to the wall, your eyes have gotten weaker by your limited gaze, your muscles have atrophied, and your memory is dissipating.  You have forgotten freedom and youth, burdened by the excess of culture and expectation.  You live like everyone else, and everyone accepts you for it.  Resignation is normative.  Your inner child is dying.  You will eventually feel nothing, and soon after, you will forget how to feel.

As much as you like to say “This is it,” you do not come close to embodying it.  You repeat yourself like a broken record, just scratching the surface, and never delving further.  You are going to die.  Your time is everything you have.  The social constructs of time make you believe you are inherently doing something when you are doing nothing.  By the passing of a day, you succeed without succeeding.  You watch progression without progressing.  You live vicariously through the passage of time in attempts to justify your passage of time, meaning, you use time itself as achievement.  When you say “Here’s to another day,” you validate your meager existence without reason.  You let the inevitable passage of time do the work for you, and you attempt to reap the benefits.  However, and you know, that deep down, those attempts are feeble.  They are not satisfying.  You are not content.

Time means nothing and time means everything.  And in any given situation, you tend to confuse the two.  When time really means nothing, you give it meaning.  When time really means something, you give it no meaning.  And thus the strange conundrum of your life- that you find yourself walking away from the moments that give your life meaning, and embracing the moments that give you nothing.  When the dying say “I wish I hadn’t worked so much”- this is what they are saying.

When you woke up this morning, that feeling of recursion was overwhelming.  I am giving you that feeling.  And finally, you listened.  Are you aware?  Are you willing to repeat this tomorrow?  Is that what you want?

You are angry.  I am giving you that feeling.  Why?  So that you will listen.  Five years of anticipation that did not result in an equal serving of satisfaction.  Of course you should be angry.  Your reliance on external validation failed miserably and it will continue to fail.  Because you listen to everyone else before you listen to me.  I will eventually get tired of trying.  You do not want that.

What are you becoming?

In the end, on the last day, what you became will have to face me.  I do not like to be disappointed and I will let you know.  And it’s your last day.

Think about it.

And come talk to me more often.

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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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Upacking the Idea Machine

For my final project I drew inspiration (much like Lissy and Julie) from the TimeFrames reading. I went a little different direction in that I wanted to use the medium that I was describing to describe the thing. The thing that I want to describe is the Graphical User Interface.

To start out I want to pose a set of questions…if you want to play along think for a minute about each question before you read…if you don’t want to play along just read ahead (and I have to admit that I would probably just read ahead too).

How do you communicate with a computer?

What came to your mind first…using the computer as a tool for communication or communicating with the computer to get the computer to do something?

Just to be explicit, how do you communicate what you want a computer to do with a computer?

I think that answering this question is difficult. If your answer is something like…I click buttons and type things and the computer does stuff as per my directions. That answer is not quite the way that I see it.

How does the computer know what clicking a button means?

The computer has no idea what clicking a button means.

You are really telling some developer(s) or designer(s) what you want the computer to do and they are telling the computer what to do on your behalf.

If your answer is something like…I write code and the computer executes those instructions. Well that answer is closer to the way that I see it. But what you are really saying is that you use an interface, which is the computer programming language.  This interface was designed by a human with the express intent of enabling you to interact with a lower level of the computer. This answer recurses down and exits at the machine level, which only a few people fully know and understand. Even then I would imagine that there is no one person that knows how all of the different assembler language gets compiled to 1′s and 0′s. God help them (and us) if there is one dude or dudette that does all that. By the way the way things compile down is all different for each piece of hardware each of which requires an interface and abstractions. So, we are again at telling some developer(s) or designer(s) what you want the computer to do and they are telling the computer what to do on your behalf.

But where are these developers and designers?

They are in the past…they have already done what you are asking them to do.  You can thank them later…

So how do you communicate with the computer…for the most part you are not communicating with the computer. You are communicating with the designers and developers that wrote or built the stuff on the computer. There is still a tiny problem…they are not present and have no idea who you are or what your desires are (feel comforted by the fact that they probably care about those desires and thought a great deal about them :D ).

So how do you get developers and designers to do something on the computer on your behalf from the annals of history?

Well that is really the wrong direction to ask that question…I think that the question should be posed as:

How do you, as a designer or developer, communicate what you can get the computer to do on behalf of your future users with your future users?  (this question is ignoring the fact that you have to think about what the users actually want you to enable them to do…but that is another problem all together)

In the case of either the GUI or the code my answer is that you communicate with your future users with metaphors and abstractions (metaphors usually are chosen because they afford something). The reason that computer code is so much more flexible than a GUI is due to the different restrictions of the metaphors and abstractions. The main metaphor for computer programming is language, which enables programmers to get the computer to do most anything they can dream up. The metaphors for user interfaces are more restrictive and (usually) more related to something physical in nature…a button for instance. GUIs get restricted by this because there are only so many operations that you can afford with a button…mostly just pressing the button to do something. Usually, there are many layers of abstractions that are needed to facilitate the metaphor of something like a button. Usually, the more abstractions the less flexible the user interface is.

In the case of the search button and text box in Google there are a ton of abstractions involved. First is what happens to the textual component of your query. There are a bunch of different little tricks that they pull to make your query more effective: synonyms (i.e. think and contemplate); removal of fluff words like ‘the’; insertion of boolean operators; location based results; social based results; historical based results; global based results; etc. etc. etc. This is all aside from the fact that they have a bunch of huge buildings housing a ton of computers and that these computers are always indexing new and updated data and on and on and on. I am also ignoring how everything is displayed on the computer, communicated between computers, and a million other things like the mouse and…well you get the idea. A lot goes into that little search interface made up of a textbox and a button.

Notice, however, that even though this is not a terribly flexible UI (you can only really execute queries against their database of what is on the internet) it does not lack power. On the conceptual level think about the awakened grains of sand that Jon Udell proposed and Lissy experimented with…this is sort of flexible, but it is still taking advantage of executing queries on the internet (albeit a bit more interestingly). On a sheer computational level the number of computers that are involved in executing a query and returning results is mind-boggling. On a social level think of all of the aspects of life that have changed because of this simple interface and it’s many abstractions.

How do you understand and uncover all of the metaphors and abstractions?

Unfortunately, you really have to have inside knowledge of how everything works.  I do not know how a google query works…but I have some idea based on educated guesses.

The purpose of my project is to change this a little bit.  I eventually intend to unpack the metaphors and abstractions that are used in important interfaces like Google and Facebook. The deliverable, or the thing that I made for this class, is a series of mockups of how I am thinking of implement such a system. Dioramas for interfaces, like the one that I am proposing, are becoming increasingly important.  This increased importance is mostly due to the very purpose of user interfaces…user interfaces are built to create an illusion of simplicity (which I think is necessary). Just because the interface is simple, does not mean that what is happening behind the interface is simple. Just because the interface is not flexible, does not mean that the tool is not extremely powerful. Think back to our discussion about conundrums in data space…for some reason many of us thought that Twitter was more flexible than Facebook…even though the interfaces do not suggest this at all. How powerful has Twitter been socially, even though the only thing you really do on it is publish short snippets of text. How many of us really have an understanding of the consequences of our actions on a computer? I am sure that I do not fully understand the consequences of using different interfaces.

So onto my system…well let’s wait till after class ;P

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After presenting today in class, Lissy and I wanted to post our comic on our class blog so that you all can dive deeper into the material similarly to how we did while completing the project. Enjoy :D


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thank you, it’s been an interesting, recursive, meta-journey

My journey with the Meta-team started out as a confused one. Confused as in “I have no idea what a “meta-team” is”. It was also a little horrifying when Dr. Campbell said he didn’t have a clear idea about it either. Essentially, we were told to be “participating observer”, which was a very interesting concept. In order to observe something, we must be “outside” of it looking in. However, in order to be participants, we must in “inside” the something, doing whatever it is.

Meta- (from Greek: μετά = “after”, “beyond”, “adjacent”, “self”).

So, the Meta-team is the team about the TEAM. Our project is ourselves. We are to be engaged and participatory, yet able to remove ourselves from the class and view ourselves and what is going on from the outside. This is daunting and comforting at the same time to me. To be honest, it is sometimes nice to be told what our project is, since I really didn’t have a clue what I would have done. Yet, this is daunting because even though we know (vaguely) what we aim to accomplished, we had so idea how to go about doing it.

Because of the nature of the class, each of the participants of the the class generates a lot of content. There are blog posts, tweets, links and so forth. So, the Meta-team must first not only archive these contents, but also make connections within, and hopefully makes some sense of it all. Our immediate thought was to utilize a website. The class was already about the internet, so have the meta-team’s meta-project on the internet seems extra meta. We were drawn to Jordan’s idea of using “Wordles”, which is a webapp that analyzes text for the most frequently appearing words. The Wordle itself is artistic arrangement of these frequently appearing words, with the most frequent word rendered to be the largest in the final product, and so on. The nice thing about these Wordles is that at one glance we are able to see what words are the most frequently used. For the input text, we plugged in the text of the blogs of our colleagues. Depending on the purpose of the Wordle, different blog entries were used. For example, we made a Wordle pertaining to Douglas Engelbart, where the input text were blog entries written by everyone during the week we read about him. On some other Wordles we made, we picked a broad theme related to the class, for example, “Learning”. We searched all blog posts and tweets that contained the word and compile those into the Wordle. At first I was a little afraid that there would be too much noise the resulting Wordle would not be representative to the theme we picked (Turns out that in a class titled “Cognition, Learning, and the Internet” we use the word “Learning” a lot in most of our blog posts, go figure, right?). However, the output Wordle are often very enlightening. For example, for the Wordle with the theme “Media”, the most often appearing word (minus common English words like articles and propositions) is “People”. How cool is that!

Once we have the Wordle idea settled, we needed a way build upon this representative framework of our thoughts during the course of the class. So the we bounced around the idea of making a website that is a bit non-traditional. Jordan was familiar with the website-making online platform called “Wix”, which makes attractive, modern-looking websites with a very easy to use online interface. How easy was it? Well, suffice to say that I’ve never made a website before and I was able to pick it up with literally no learning curve at all. Basically if you know how to use Microsoft Powerpoint to make slides, you can use Wix with ease. We spent a good amount of time thinking about the aesthetics of the website, but more importantly, how to made connections with all of the ideas and thoughts we (as in all of us in the class) generated during the past semester, on a very wide variety of subject areas.

The Wordles helped a lot in organizing out thoughts. Jake and I had the idea that to identify key words (that is, the big ones; the ones that appeared frequently for a particular set of texts), and link those to the content that we generated. For example, the word “Language” appeared very frequently in blogs pertaining to Brenda Laurel. We then link the word “Language” in the Laurel Wordle to a blog post specifically discussing language in the context of Laurel’s article. We repeat the process for a lot of the prominent words in each Wordle. Things become interesting once we start cross-linking within the webpage. “Media” is another word the appears frequently in several Wordle. In that case we link from one Wordle to the “Media” Wordle. The idea is that we can show how ideas are not exclusive to a subject. This is an notion that is especially prevalent in this class. The readings that we read are not strictly classified within an identified theme. While Illich talk more focused with the topic of education and learning, his discussion bleeds into the subject area of cognition and thoughts. We can see this especially in recurring words in several Wordles.

Another thing we tried to do is to link outside our generated content. There are videos and other web content that we discussed and tweeted about (and some we posted on Delicious), that we would link to as well. For example, the word “Education” appears a lot in the many Wordles. On some of these we would link to the TED talk the Ken Robinson gave on revolutionizing the education system. We would also link the word “Read” or “Reading” to Addison record of books related to the word. Sometimes, just to be devious (and recursive) we would link some words to other parts of the Website. The word “Thoughts” on some Wordle we would link back to the main page titled “Insert Cognition Here”. On the word “Comments” we would link to the page on which the visitor can leave a comment about the website to us. Overall, we are trying to achieve a very crazy (schizo, as some would say) criss-crossed network connecting our generated contents, both to each other, but also to outside content as well. All this is to show how interconnected the ideas we discussed so far is.

The final hope for this project is for it to be sustainable. We hope the next Meta-team will be able to pick up where we left off and perhaps evolve the webpage into something more. The website is set up such that the template is there, and the content is easily changed. Also, attached to the webpage is a Gmail account, where comments left by visitors would be sent to. The Gmail account can also be passed on so that the next Meta-Team would have access to those information, and hopefully be able to use that information as another level of the meta-ness.

Well, it is my, Jake’s, and Jordan’s hope that all of you would be able to enjoy the website. The coolest thing is that YOU help made this website! So thank you, it’s been an interesting, recursive, meta-journey.


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Final META Team Project

When Dr. C mentioned a META Team, I had no idea what he was talking about. I was wondering what “meta” even meant and how it applied to me or this class or education in general, I was clueless. But, I enjoy a challenge and this class proved to be one of those challenges. Therefore, I took a leap of faith and joined with two other graduate students who I have come to respect very much. In the beginning, we were trying to find our footing. There was no previous data or projects go upon. There wasn’t even much of a mission statement or goal other than to be “participating observers”. The goal that we came up with was to be organizers. We would make sense out of material that has so many different avenues of explanation and opinions. It was a task that seemed daunting at the time, but looking back we embraced. We discussed at several of our biweekly meetings what we wanted to do and how we wanted to approach the project. We even met with our librarian, Rebecca Miller. She gave us some fascinating background about what angles the class had been taught at before, be it only undergraduates, only graduates, etc. She explained that there were class themes that each class would constantly go back to and how it was interesting that each group of people who took the class saw the material differently. This reassured us of our goal to make sense out of material that could be taken so many ways. However, we were still unsure as to what to make of it.

At some point, Jake mentioned a pretty cool website that made these things called “wordles”. When he showed them to me I was instantly drawn to them. I’m a very visual learner and I was anxious to try them out. So, I used them in my seminar presentation of Alan Kay. Dr. C seemed to really enjoy them. At the time I thought they were just a cool visual aspect that would get the class talking since I had no previous notions of what a seminar presentation should be like. But, now I think that they can have much deeper meaning than just words in pretty colors, which I hope you all will witness with the launch of our META Team website.

After getting such a positive reaction from Dr. C in class, we met again. We weren’t sure how we would use them, but we thought that maybe it would be cool if we could do a web of hyperlinks within a wordle, allowing people to move from a wordle to our blogs and tweets. We were envisioning something so much smaller than what we will be presenting tomorrow; at least in my head it was not as intricate. But, it was an idea. So, we pressed on and continued to bounce ideas off each other throughout February, making progress in class by participating in group discussions, blogging, and tweeting as much as we could. Finally, we met and came up with something of substance, a physical project that we could present to the class.

I managed to connect my personal endeavors to the project. I had been vigorously working on my own personal/professional website, an attempt at branding myself for future employers as well as an eager family audience. It’s a place called Wix and it turned out to be the foundation of our project. I showed them my website and they seemed to like what I had done. They trusted my opinion and we decided that it would probably be easy enough to add wordless to a website. Also, we thought it only fitting to use the internet to explain how we learned about the internet while using the internet in a class with internet in the title. So much recursion. Therefore, our main structure was to combine the aspect of the wordles and the website. But, how to do that and do it well? Well, I’m not quite sure who came up with the idea- this entire project was so equally managed and collaborative- but we decided to divide the material up in to authors and themes. Our thought process centered around our main objective, which as I’ve stated before, is to be organizers and sense-makers. In a class with so many components over the internet and so many possibilities for human interaction, there was a lot of material to work through and organize. As participators, we wanted to use our experience to make more sense of a class that had a lot of information and grey area. So, authors and themes seemed to not only utilize the structure Dr. C prescribed by dividing the class in to very physical chapters but also utilized the natural connections made by our class throughout the semester.

So, we began the process of constructing a website out of nothing in the beginning of April. Our ongoing work had previously been divided between the three of us at one of our first meetings. Because we could not figure out a way to archive the blogs in one feed I simply copy and pasted them periodically throughout the semester. I would divide the blogs up by author and then make a wordle for them. These were all saved in word documents and were extremely useful when it came to creating the actual website. They also gave us visual confirmation of what we thought the class was thinking at the times that those authors were discussed. Jake created an archive for our tweets so that we could reference those later on in the semester as well. We continued to monitor that and it turns out we have all of them saved from when he began the process which I believe was in early February. Matt was to begin thinking about the themes. He was in charge of monitoring class discussions with his speaker and slowly breaking down the class in to subcategories that he would then later make in to wordles as well. So, throughout the semester when we met they were brief meetings. In mid- March we still did not have a full grasp of what we wanted to do in regards to details of the website.

As I said before, we began the process of picking out a layout and creating the website in early April. Because I had previous experience manipulating wix and using their templates, I took on the role of transforming the pre-made template in to a META Team website. But, before I go in to that let me give you some background. In order to have a website from wix you have to have an account. They’re free but you need one. I thought we could use mine since I already have one and you can make multiple sites from one account. But, the email on the account would be included in the url of the website. So, we actually had to make a separate gmail for our class. Although this was not planned in the beginning, it actually made for a really cool addition to our website because as you will see tomorrow, you can actually send us an e-mail directly from the website. We hope to give Dr. C access to this account so that he can get feedback from users of the site as well. Anyways, so we made the email account and picked out a template. That was hard because we basically had to design the website in our head as we were picking out a template because we had to make sure that each wordle had the ability to link specific words to various links instead of the whole wordle being one link. After searching, we found an auto car template that worked very well. I began to transform the auto car template to META Team.

This took several hours and all the while, Jake and Matt were continuing their ongoing efforts. Back when we decided that we would make a site with wordles on it that would be divided in to authors and themes, we decided Jake would be in charge of linking the author wordles to various content including but not limited to blogs, tweets, and delicious links. Matt would be in charge of making up the theme wordless as I previously stated, as well as linking those wordles to content that includes but is not limited to blogs, tweets, and delicious links as well. We wanted to incorporate the audio from Matt’s speakers but our efforts to obtain a transcription program did not work so well. Rebecca tried to get us one but it didn’t transcribe as well as we needed it to because there was so many hours of audio. It just wasn’t efficient. So, unfortunately that got edited out of our website.

Once I had the layout transformed, we put the wordles on the site and linked them all to each other and all of the rest of the content. We purposely kept the direction of the website vague because we want users to feel unrestricted in where they can go and what they can see. We hope that everyone will move throughout the site by that unknown motivation we keep talking about that seems to breed curiosity.

In the end, I’m so happy that I got on the META Team. I was nervous being the only undergraduate student, but they really surprised me. My thoughts seemed to be just as important to theirs and they really acknowledged that although I am younger, I had some cool ideas too. It was nice to be respected and put on the same playing field as two extremely intelligent individuals such as Jake and Matt. I really appreciated this respect and cannot say how much this boosted my confidence in this class. It really was a privilege to work with them on a project that none of us really had any idea what we were doing to begin with. It’s really cool to make something out of nothing when you’re working with people who also care about the end result and when we all appreciate each other’s ideas. I wish them both the best of luck in the future and would be honored to have the opportunity to work with them again.  

I hope you all enjoy our end project and can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts!

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