Monthly Archives: May 2012

Participant Observers

Sorry vtclis12ers… I feel a little late to the party.  I’m sitting here blogging my written portion of the meta-team project and think I’m going to take a bit of a different twist on it.  For one reason, I drafted the text about the story of the medianauts here and don’t want to be redundant.  Also, my two wonderful partners did an excellent job as they told of our team’s journey along with appropriate gratitude for your part in it all.

As I try to share with you what being a meta-team member has meant, I want to draw your attention to the notion of participant observer.  In my own understanding, I often think of it as this seemingly paradoxical role of being fully present in the moment, as one of the community, while simultaneously being fully removed – vigilantly tracking every action and experience, big and small, ever seeking to reflect, integrate, and synthesize.  It can be exhilarating – so many life-changing threads of insight flying by while frantically trying to grab them and weave them together.  At other times, it can feel frustrating and limiting… as if the ending of Schrödinger’s paradox is not that the cat is dead or alive, but that you in fact are the cat.  I jumped at the opportunity to be on the meta-team because I fully believe that we should be participant observers all the time.  As scary and challenging as the “both/and” can be, I feel that it is what can help us make tough decisions, persevere through hard times, maximize learning by straddling both micro and macro.  Ok, enough.  Clearly I’m overselling it a bit… but let me try to unpack a bit of how it affected me this semester.

As a student in vtclis12, I read and thought and blogged and tweeted and discussed and linked and clicked and shared.   You did too.  As a near-fully present, reflective participant, I carved my own path through the material.  I had insights that meant much more to me than they did to you.

For example – I got really tied up on the idea of collateration.  I’ve been thinking about it as this cool way for seeing connections in our life, across knowledge domains, etc. between seemingly distinct things.  A reading about how technology might enable us to make such connections got me thinking deeply about how it might relate to my own work, ePs for learning, etc.

Or, take the idea that we might be both augmented and blinded by our technology (or anything for that matter) in a way that should inspire us to actively filter/intentionally employ based on meta-level-aware, self-reflective proactive awesomeness. (insights we hit from McLuhan)

It might be hard for me to claim that these insights occurred just because I was on the meta-team, being encouraged to scour the meta-levels of my involvement in class.  So, let me tell you another story…

I have been thrilled, awed, inspired, challenged, frustrated, and taught by each of you so much this semester.  And, in part, I thank the meta-team for that.  With an ongoing project that asked us to consider the “ongoing legend of the medianauts” I believe I came to observe and respect each of you as colleagues in a different way.  For example, between Apgar’s face and Jordan’s enthusiastic, consistent deep participation, I felt called to be a better student of the class — maybe you felt that too.  I appreciated how Ben’s challenge of a point could help us peel back another layer, even if it caused some discomfort.  Or, how could we forget Julie breaking our brains by reading from right to left… or Adam’s incredible blog posts re: McCloud… or Hallie’s enlightenment… or Lissy’s dackulopatoni (which auto-completes in Google search bar now btw)… or Melissa’s recursive “aha’s” shared in her final project presentation… or Erin’s amazing movies!… or Matt’s dedicated participation to the classroom community… even if it means no sleep and a 3-hour difference via Skype!  Or, did you ever notice how Dr. C would kindly yet persistently ask each of us to continue when we rambled… ever determined to help us both humbly and triumphantly realize our own insights?

I believe I was more aware of these things because of the charge to be aware of our classroom journey.  It is this same awareness, and the awe of/for the magical learning taking place, that leads me to ask another question hoping that you might answer.

I believe we all felt a bit of a spark with the closing of the semester – like we had truly created something pretty cool together.  I felt this even from the hospital as I read this tweet and the one (that I can’t find now) about vtclis12 “creating our own content since…” It is in full appreciation of and consideration of this spark that I wonder, what were some of the key ingredients that made this space for us?  What things did Dr. C do that set us up for this?  What things did we do ourselves and for each other that fostered this environment?

Though I feel I could talk about many different items, let me pick one that I actually resisted quite a bit — Twitter.  I remember being somewhat hesitant at first.  I did not have a Twitter account before this class, and I was a bit skeptical of how it might enhance our learning environment.  The blog for me, was an easy sell.  But, 140 characters seemed like it wouldn’t generate the kind of conversation I hoped for.  Add to that, that I found it both pleasantly and terribly distracting.  I don’t even mean with things outside of the course itself — I distinctly remember a few times where I would post a link or get into a very engaging series of back-and-forth tweets with someone in class that, when done, left me to wonder where exactly the out-loud train of thought was.  Though the sidebar was both relevant and interesting, I do feel like things distracting us from being physically present should generally be done very carefully, if at all.  With all of that said, and understanding that any tool has both its opportunities and challenges… I want to share one incredibly powerful use of Twitter this semester that shouldn’t go overlooked.

#vtclis12 was our e-high-five in an environment (school) that seems to discourage real high fives.  Again, like when Julie read backwards.  We e-high-fived her.  While we were tactfully saying outloud “Julie, that was pretty cool,” #vtclis12 was lighting up with “holy crap you are reading backwards?! yes.” “like button” and “the reading backwards moment was beyond praise. i heard a click in my head. felt it too.”  can you imagine how encouraged and engaged you would be in classes if your insights were celebrated in the same way that ours were in #vtclis12?  Think Lissy will ever go the extra mile and do what the speaker challenges her to after the positive reinforcement of being an internet-dackalupatoni-sensation?  How many times have you ever had your “aha moments” celebrated as a classroom community?  Oh sure, intrinsic motivation, tracking and understanding our own success is important and all… but really, how inspiring is it to have a whole crowd of colleagues cheering you on?

I truly believe that we have encouraged, poked, prodded, and inspired each other along in a way that we should all be proud.  Yet another interesting use of Twitter’s small 140 characters… who’da’thunk?

With that, I will let my rambling end.  I apologize for the daddy-sleep-deprived incoherence if that came through at all.  I’m hoping for some moments of clarity between 10AM-noon tomorrow for our exam!

But seriously before you leave for the semester… what do you think contributed to the magic?

In paying homage to Twitter’s use, I’ll give you my response in 140 characters or less… :)

#vtclis12 makin’ magic learnin’. 1part diggin’ fer shiny nuggets. 1part @GardnerCampbell crzy mind-blowin’ ideas, 2parts hi fivin’ yer mates


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Illich offers more than four networks of alternative education

When VTCLIS12 firs started, I felt that I was in a completely different world, and I was terrified to say the least. I think this was more obvious when the undergrads sat on one side, while the grad students sat on the other. I felt intimidated by basically every single person in the class because I felt I wouldn’t contribute anything of value to the discussion, hence why I only spoke up when I really felt the need to say something. Now, I know we’ve always been told that it’s okay to speak your mind in the class, but that’s not the type of schooling I’ve come to known, and anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan of change. I like when things are clear-cut, with directions, and I can make a goal for myself.


That is the major reason I chose to do my final project on Illich’s “Deschooling Society,” because I felt that during my seminar presentation I had a good connection with it and I could relate a lot of my own experiences back to what Illich was saying and in a way, refute them. I do agree that out education system needs some work, because some things are just not working for our society. When I first started working on this project, I was doing almost the exact same thing as Hallie, which kind of threw me off track and I really wasn’t able to make headway into this until about Saturday night, when it hit me that a lot of the things Illich wrote about were present in my high school. I was in a specialty center in high school, where I was immersed in the French language and became practically fluent in it. However, the rest of the school outside of the specialty center was a mess, and it still is. I thought it was going to be hard to find three or four nuggets to present on for this, but once I got started, I had to stop myself from doing too many.

I felt very compelled by Illich’s argument on technology and how it can either be helpful or harmful, depending on the situation, in education. Technology can let a student’s mind wander for good, or it can allow them to procrastinate and waste time when they should be studying or paying attention in class. I can say with confidence that this happens more often than not, not only in high school, but college as well. In my county back home, the middle and high schools give the students computers for the entire year, hoping it will make them want to learn and get more work done. However, it not only shows the students’ motivation, or lack thereof, to do well in school, but it also demonstrates their responsibility and maturity levels. Students were so rough with their computers, and used them to play games, online shop, or just mess around on the Internet, all day long. I am all for using technology as a tool, but you have to remember, while all technology is a tool, not all tools are technology. Schools feel the need to keep up with the times of technology and giving students pieces of equipment that cost thousands of dollars, but is it really worth it? When I was researching online high education alternatives as Hallie did, I realized that this wasn’t where I wanted to do my research, because I felt that I wouldn’t be able to really put heart into it. Technology did play a huge role in those types of learning environments, since they were all online, but that was for adults who were responsible and actually wanted to learn. I decided to go a step back, and look at the big picture before you really get close to the real world.

In high school, students are constantly reminded of college, and the next big step in their lives. Well, coming from a sophomore in college, I feel like I still am in high school just because the amount of work didn’t change, I still check grades every hour after I’ve taken a test to see if my grade has been posted, and my teachers still hold high standards of their students, and I plan on fulfilling those standards and even going beyond those sometimes, because that is just how I am. I’m the type of person who gets frustrated when I’m not told clear directions, as I mentioned earlier, so this project was very hard for me to work on because I honestly had no clue where I was going or where my final destination should be. After thinking it through, I just thought, “this is what I am going to do, and I hope they like it, and I hope it makes sense.”

For this project, I also wanted to see what Illich meant by deschooling, and if I agreed with his ideas, and surprisingly, I did. In my opinion, you need to know the value something holds to you before getting rid of it. We need to break down the education system to see what really lays at the foundation of it all. There has to be some reason to it, and before completely restarting, we need to see what we do have of worth and what we can rebuild with. The education system has let the power shift from the instructors to the institution, as Hallie said in her blog, and the power needs to be redirected to either the instructors or to the pupils. But, deschooling also means abolishing the power of another person to make another attend a meeting, which I found interesting. There is no easy way to tell someone they no longer have authority over another, and it can cause even more problems. I think what Illich wanted was for people to step back and look at what has been created and where things went wrong. This does not give anyone permission to arbitrarily take things away without discussing with someone else.

Revamping the education system requires a lot of planning, thought, careful execution, and also, communication. I think communication should be at the forefront of deschooling because everyone needs to be on the same page so there are no surprises during the process or after the process is completed. I think that Illich makes some good points in his essay, but a lot of the points refute others that he tries to make. For example, he says that certification isn’t necessary to teach yet if you aren’t a specialist in a certain topic, you shouldn’t be teaching it, regardless of whether or not it involves your field of study. I think we need to give nonspecialists a chance to learn new things, because it may turn out that they are really good at it and enjoy learning more about that subject. When people tell me that I wouldn’t understand something because I’m not a certain major, its discouraging in a lot of aspects of life, and unfortunately, Illich can’t make up his mind on which side he would like to take.

The state of whether or not someone is a specialist in a certain topic and only that topic should not be the deciding factor or whether or not they teach that subject. I feel that it is possible to learn many things from people on subjects they aren’t specialists in, so we need to let people take a chance with it and see how it goes. Like I said during my presentation, my statistics teacher from high school is a civil engineer and didn’t need his teaching certification to teach, because it was something he did all the time, but I can honestly say that I learned the most from him in my entire high school career because he loved what he taught and he understood the best way to teach it. In my opinion, I feel that certification is necessary for some professions, such as medicine and surgery, but if you have been trained in something that requires an in-depth study of a certain skill, you should be able to teach that topic.

I can safely say that Illich definitely opened my eyes to a lot of different views, and some helped me understand better, while others made things worse. Illich carefully thought out this essay and wanted to make sure everything he wanted to say was out there. However, this essay was very hard to take in one go, so it is important to break it down and only take it paragraph by paragraph, because there is so much information and so many different things coming at you. This essay was very enlightening to read and I think it is something that future generations can learn a lot from when things change again.

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Ending… Telepathically

In the world of Kimon, a fictional world created by Simak in his story Immigrant, the inhabitants of the planet were highly evolved, telepathic individuals.  In a sense, the population was enlightened.  By communicating telepathically, they connected with each other and everyone around them in ways humans cannot fathom.  This connection resulted in an incredible capacity for empathy, compassion, and honesty.  Any text on enlightenment would describe enlightenment as such.

In the story, select humans were allowed to come and pursue job opportunities.  Of course, being an enlightened species, the model of communication and understanding differed so greatly that few humans were able to comprehend it.  While most characters in the story settled in their old models, one did not, and upon intense introspection, found himself invited to learn the new model.

So, how does this relate to anything?  To the internet?  To agriculture?  To evolution?

We, humans, will evolve.  We will evolve our technology.  We will evolve our culture.  We will evolve our model.  While we may or may not develop innate telepathic capabilities, it doesn’t matter, because we already have in our existence telepathic tools.  The Internet.  At our fingertips, we have almost infinite information, almost infinite possibilities for global communication- and much less of a reason “not to know.”  Technology is still external of us, and may always stay that way, which (currently) excuses our ignorance, but the model will change.  The model will state that technology is an integral component of your life, and if you do not adapt, you do not survive.  We will become telepathic in our own way.  You will drive by a farm and know what that farm entails.  You will know your neighbors.  You will know your world.  You will know, and because you know, you cannot be ignorant.  You cannot live in denial.

Evolved technology, the widespread adoption of the Internet, will expedite our capacity for telepathy.  We will become Kimon.  We will become enlightened.  We will learn to experience all things with a “simultaneous awareness of a complex group of causes and effects.”  We cannot imagine what this will do to us.

To always be on.

To be enlightened.

To see things as they are, for what they are.

Compassionate.  Empathetic.

Where would we go?

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Agriculture to Empathy… Continuing… Evolving

Our technological capacities are staggering.  We have the potential to collect, analyze, and communicate the intricacies of our ecological systems to everyone, everywhere, instantaneously.  Farm technology and advances in agricultural science allow producers to understand their land on every ecological, economical, and molecular level.  Inputs and outputs are understood, monitored, and tracked in real time by highly sophisticated equipment directed by GPS technology.  If there is a problem, the farmer will know.  Moreover, that farmer will communicate.  They will communicate with scientists, with industries, and together, they will solve the problem.  And then, the solution will be communicated to everyone, everywhere, instantaneously.  And that, I believe, is a good thing.

But agriculture, as important as it is, is still only a facet of the diamond.  What can be applied to agriculture can be applied elsewhere.  Understanding and communication, it is generally agreed upon, are signs of intelligence.  They are essential components of empathy and compassion.  The more you understand, the more you empathize, the harder it becomes to live in ignorance, to breed denial, and to shrug your shoulders in apathy.  Most technology, especially the Internet, tends to facilitate understanding and communication.  And so long as our technology is used for understanding and communication, and so long as we continue to evolve with our technology, and so long as technology becomes more integrated into our everyday lives, it will become a willful act to be ignorant.  Even better, evolutionarily speaking, in such a world, ignorance would not survive.

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To begin…

When I drive, as we all do, we pass farms.  We see fields of wheat or pasture, grazing cattle, or rows of soybean and corn.  Even more, we see something that is hard to describe in words.  That something is the reason why farms are the subject of paintings, photography, music, and poems.  Tranquility doesn’t quite explain it, but it’s a start.  But more importantly, farms also provide us the food we eat.  The work is hard, the hours are endless, and the natural world is brutal.  It’s a very different scene in the eyes of the farmer.  They carry a burden that few of us will experience.  The food that magically appears in our grocery stores must come from somewhere, and most of us have no idea where that where is.  Or what it takes for that magic to happen.  Inspiration is empowering, and if farms provide that, then by all means, let it happen.  But farms are more.  They are the backbone of every civilization.  If agriculture falls, everything falls.  Inspiration is critical in our world, but having an acute perception of reality is why we will survive.  And why we will progress.  This is not to say that inspiration and reality are separated- they shouldn’t be, but we can view it as such, and sometimes reality is compromised by idealism.

But learning to walk that fine line is the topic of another day.

I challenge you, the next time you pass a farm, to see the reality.  I challenge you to view that tranquil scene as data- data that will make us better- data that will let us progress.  I challenge you to see that scene as an ecological system, with almost infinite biological interactions, moving, working, in unison and in conflict, together, making that system work, allowing that crop to grow, so that we can eat.  I challenge you to imagine, where we might be, where we might evolve, if we could understand that system.

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