Final Project

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

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

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

A sandbox with no walls

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

 

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

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

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

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

Better isn’t always better

An almost infinite and rewriteable encyclopedia of academic discourse, organized and disorganized resistance, chessboards shared between distant opponents. labyrinths of literature, voyeurism of the ordinary, daily and sporadic expressions of desire; a pool that is murky and profound, teeming with the useless and the indispensable; a body of text we can surf in playfully or sail through with resolve on voyages of many sorts- religious missions or commercial journeys or attempts at conquest or exploration that aim to grow the great record of knowledge and give voice to, or change forever, who we are.”

epic.

I can’t imagine a better description. The possibilities and opportunities we have through the Web are endless; we are constantly expanding and improving this resource, opening up whole new worlds in which to explore. sigh, if only education had such goals and cut through all the crap. Then I would think our reaction would be a little more excited than the above gif..

 

Explorable Explanations

This is awesome. Bret Victor explores what it means to really be an active reader, and provides a phenomenal quote to define it. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to replace every “reader” in the quote with “learner” for I was struck with the striking (recursion) similarities and I’m sure Mr. Victor was intentional with this.

“An active learner asks questions, considers alternatives, questions assumptions, and even questions the trustworthiness of the author. An active learner tries to generalize specific examples, and devise specific examples for generalities. An active learner doesn’t passively sponge up information, but uses the author’s argument as a springboard for critical thought and deep understanding.

Do our learning environments encourage active learning? Or do they utterly oppose it? A typical learning tool, such as a book or website, displays the author’s argument, and nothing else. The student’s line of thought remains internal and invisible, vague and speculative. We form questions, but can’t answer them. We consider alternatives, but can’t explore them. We question assumptions, but can’t verify them. And so, in the end, we blindly trust, or blindly don’t, and we miss the deep understanding that comes from dialogue and exploration.

Explorable Explanations is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encourage truly active reading (learning). The goal is to change people’s relationship with text. People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be used as an environment to think in.”

Bret Victor introduces three different ideas that could allow this. The first is a reactive document, which allows the reader (learner) to manipulate and “play” with the author’s claims and find out for themselves what the truth is. As Victor puts it, “It’s like a spreadsheet, without the spreadsheet.” He provides an example which, at the very least, allows the reader (learner) to explore and change the values of certain things, observing how that changes the overall impact of what is being proposed. Active Reading (learning). It totally captured my attention, and I spent several minutes exploring what differences I could make and the results that followed. Victor believes, and I am inclined to agree, that with something like this, a realistic and easy-to-use resource, the reader (learner) is able to get a much better grasp on the particular subject and consequently formulate their own opinions based on differing data.

A second idea and example, Victor provided was the concept of “Contextual Information” in which the reader “learner” is able to verify the validity of a certain statement, without opening a new tab, searching google etc. It is built in per se to the text itself. I’m terrible at explaining  it, but see for yourself.

Anyway, all of this just gives what I consider to be amazing resources at the fingertips of potential readers (learners). What Victor provides is a wonderful and enjoyable way of reading (learning). The reader (learner) can explore for themselves different scenarios and facts about a particular statement, instead of having it shoved down their throats arbitrarily with no room or chance of open dialogue or discussion. I would love to see Victor’s ideas implemented into education.

 

Kids can be teachers?

In the past few readings, we have addressed the idea that children have the ability to learn for themselves, without a teacher, and only with some very basic guidelines, through the technology of computers. Most educators today would scoff at this idea, and if I am honest, I would be inclined to agree with them. Children are not able to focus without a supervisor and if left alone, would merely run wild; this could be a possibly extreme but possibly accurate statement, most people would be hesitant to try it. And understandably so. Because that would change the entire way we look at education.

I am taking Human Development, and this past week, we watched a documentary which, among other things, provided some insight into how bad the education system has gotten, and why. One of the statistics mentioned was that since 1971, educational spending in the US has increased from $4300, to more than $9,000 per student… and that’s adjusted for inflation. And the kicker is, since 1975, both reading and math skills have flatlined. The documentary showed a great deal of flaws in the education system, but the biggest one seemed to be that we are making it more about the adults and preserving “harmony” rather than about the children. But these facts and insights are just hot air if they aren’t recognized and a CHANGE is made. (just to make sure you know where the emphasis is.) But, many don’t even want to admit that the system is dead.

Author Peter Gray also discusses the concept of children self-learning and why kids “hate school” in his new book  “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” In an interview, Gray falls right in line with the “theme” of our discussions and readings.

I don’t blame teachers for the problem. The problem is a structural one.  It is impossible, given the structure of our schools, to allow students to take charge of their own education in school.  To do that we need to start from scratch and re-design schools in such a way that the adults are helpers and not directors.  I think teachers can make some difference, however, by creating as much flexibility as the system allows, by respecting students, and by permitting students to pursue their own interests to the degree that the system permits.  Unfortunately, it is harder now than ever before for even the most enlightened teachers to follow this path.  Increasingly, their job is being defined as that of somehow getting students to score higher on standardized tests.  Nobody is much concerned any more about true learning in school—the concern now focuses on test scores.”

Again, while some people might agree that the system needs re-working, others would continue to raise the question about whether or not children really learn on their own with a computer and their peers as the starting point. In this awesome TedTalk, Sugata Mitra proves that not only can children do this, but they do it astonishingly well. Definitely try to watch the whole video, it is really interesting and perfect for our discussions. If Mitra has seen such an explosion of learning, shouldn’t the rest of us be jumping out of our seats to adopt the method and restore learning back to the children? Or are we lost in the red tape and disgusting clutter of what we have the audacity to call “education”.

Illusion. Every bit of it. But a nice illusion.

We are all searching for something. Deep down, we all have a hunger, a need to satisfy “it”- some abstract thing that most of us probably can’t quite put our finger on. And so we search. We have hobbies, and favorite pastimes, goals and careers, love interests, secret addictions, anything to fill the “void.” But it doesn’t work, so we go on to “better” things; exploring the universe, determining what is virtual and what is reality and if reality really is virtual. Always drawn onward to that “thing” that epiphany that will explain everything. For each of us, that final destination will likely have a different name. I will use the term “purpose”. People search for the purpose of life. But of course others will question if there is a purpose and therefore, no need to search. Regardless, everyone is searching. But the truth is; they won’t find “it”. Not where they are searching. Everyone wonders at one point or another, “what if this isn’t how it’s supposed to be?” Is this the “real” world, or is the answer found in some virtual world that is actually the real world and we just haven’t gotten there yet. But “It doesn’t matter if they’re real or not. You couldn’t tell the difference.” so now we are in no-man’s land. Where there is no absolute, and so we are lost. And what does this world (reality, virtual, insert whatever word you consider “this” to be) tell us? “Buster, That’s the question we never ask.  That’s the one that can drive you crazy… just Don’t think. That’s the way to beat it.” And so the cycle continues. Constantly searching, but never finding, always thirsty, but never satisfied. I simply cannot end this without saying definitively, there is an absolute. There is Truth. And it is found in only one place; Jesus Christ. That is where you will find what you are “missing”. I am compelled to share this, because this is the foundation that my life is built upon; it is a new life that I am living.

We have come a long way in terms of communication and interaction, even from the time that this essay was written. Technology and programs are making leaps and bounds, connecting millions of people across the globe. With all of this newfound “power” I feel as if most of us hardly know what to do with it. Are we just people who “have only a hammer, so all the world looks like a nail”? If I may borrow David’s brilliant metaphor of children playing in a sandbox, we may not all know what we are building, but we see something forming, and that is enough for us. Or is it?

 

Throughout this entire semester, more than anything this class has challenged the way I look at technology and its effects, both good and bad. I have always wondered how big of an impact our networking has on us personally and how we deal with others in the physical environment. With all of these simulated “lives” we live online, are they not affecting us, at least on some level? The ability to sit behind a screen and say whatever we want with usually little to no physical consequences is quite intoxicating. Perhaps it goes without saying, but most people become much much more outspoken over the internet than they ever would be in person. And this can be immensely beneficial. It can provide a voice to those who normally would not have one. But of course, there are two sides to every coin and I’m sure each of us can think of several instances where this “power” has been abused or used for selfish and hurtful purposes. I guess what I am getting to is this; do our virtual interactions, simulations, connections, etc. shape our physical, emotional responses as we go about in what I will call “reality”..or is it the other way around. or both? I am curious to see where we end up, as more and more of society is being globalized and opening up to everyone.

Theoretically Speaking

I don’t even know where to start. I am really looking forward to the discussion tomorrow to see what everyone else thinks about this reading. I honestly, could not bring myself to finish the reading. Illich has some great concepts and ideas, but I feel like he would finish a paragraph that had terrific points and insights, and then totally contradict the whole thing the following paragraph. This made it extremely hard for me to continue to follow his train of thought. He seemed to have this Utopian dream of how education (and consequently, I think, society) should be, and admittedly some parts of it sounded great! But once we come back to reality, his dream is shot to pieces. Harsh as that is, Illich wants to present a  feasible alternative to what school is right now. But the constant contradiction breaks everything down piece by piece. I think I ranted to 6 different people about the passage and I am eager to discuss everything tomorrow!

Self-examination

As I was reading this passage, this phrase really caught my eye. In a world that is fraught with imperfections and wrong-doings, we are constantly trying to play “catch-up” with the latest, most effective ways to prevent pain and heartache that is caused by so many people for seemingly no reason.

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We invent new ways to monitor or track possible perpetrators, we develop programs and collect data, trying to figure out what caused this person to commit this crime and can we raise awareness or pass a law in order to stop this from happening. Don’t get me wrong, these are all good and beneficial things, but might we be focusing too much on the “technology” or outside portion of the problem, and not the inside? Why not focus more on being better parents and peers. To improving ourselves and seeking to improve the lives of others. Ut Prosim. Why not change the user, instead of always trying to tweak the programs. (terrible metaphor but there it is.) To an extent, I understand much of what happens today is human nature and therefore, this seems like a Utopian view, but I have been thinking about this a lot recently, and I just felt like sharing it with you as well.

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