20: What in the Worlds is Going On?

So in case you haven’t noticed, this Honors Freshman Composition sequence isn’t exactly…typical. XD We’ve done a lot of very strange but very fun things in the past semester and a half, and all of our strange projects and experiments have made us think and have helped us become better writers. For instance, the murder project we did last year: have you ever had to write in a police report style? Or the explorations that we did, also last semester: do you have any idea how much fun it is to stalk people for an assignment, but also how hard it is to write about it afterwards? Goodness I love Dr. Woodworth. XD

(This is the point where I’m supposed to insert a picture that enhances my thinking, so, strangely enough, here you are: from http://www.infinitydish.com/tvblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/David-Tennant-Fanpop.com_.jpg)

We’ve made connections between quite a lot of seemingly disparate things in this class, wouldn’t you say? Tapestries, storytelling, a sci-fi/western crossover TV show that’s become a geek cult phenomenon, explorations, murder (rhetorically speaking, of course), open education, social media of all sorts, blogs and the intricacies therein, memory – public and private, memorials and monuments and the things they represent and the differences between them, ourselves and how they relate to the world and storytelling, machines and learning, and of course storytelling and writing in every shape and form. We’ve done some really strange connections, such as the “Bendito Machine” video we wrote about a few weeks ago, and connecting that to memorials and social media. We’ve done some more obvious connections, such as connecting the Explorations projects to the stories they tell about the world about the people we found in a few of the explorations. In fact, now that I think about it, the explorations connect quite well to the monuments and social media that we’ve been talking about this spring semester! And of course, everything can connect back to Firefly. I only just realised that we haven’t done much with Firefly this semester… 🙁 I do hope that in the last six weeks of this semester we’ll be able to do more of Firefly and those Explorations…

I have to admit, even though I was quite puzzled for the first month or so, and I wasn’t sure how the class was going to turn out, all the strange connections and things that we’ve been doing have been some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I think they can all most definitely connect to each other in wonderful ways that work quite well and actually may be very useful in regular life after college. Because we’ve had to figure out ways in which these different things work together, we’ve done quite a few brain stretching exercises which couldn’t be anything but helpful. Besides, problem solving is a skill that nearly every employer is looking for nowadays, and being able to write about a variety of topics is a useful skill no matter what career field you are planning to go in to. Also, the fact that the entirety of our ‘papers’ are online, on a blog, and that several of our assignments are through Twitter or Facebook, means that we’ll be more computer-literate than we might otherwise have been. And since our world is expanding rapidly through technology and online and social media, being able to use these technologies without fear (or at least with less fear) is a crucial skill to have, and to hone. Some other experiences that emphasize that point are the fact that we are told to use Google on a somewhat regular basis, and the fact that we have all made memes online, and so in order to do that we had to have been exposed to some of the meme norms, and what is expected of a meme, in order to use the meme-generating websites that we discovered. During class, when we’re writing or doing something that’s not discussing or watching a video, our teacher will go onto YouTube and play music for us. Exposure to new music is always good, don’t you think? Actually, exposure to anything new is very helpful. Open learning, which we talked about very briefly, is one of the best ways to learn new things: because it’s free!

So yeah, our class is pretty crazy. Geeks, all of us, and not ashamed of it. We’re all also not afraid of writing, nor of trying new things. Can you imagine if we were? Goodness that would make for some awkward classes… [Dr. Woodworth: “Figure out what you want to write about, then research and write 2000 words about it in the next month.” Student: “Um, I prefer multiple-choice tests…” *horrible silence*] But thankfully none of us are like that, so we all have a tremendous amount of fun, despite how much we may complain about having to write 500 words in a week (terrifying the first few times, but after you’ve been assigned that a good 20 or so times, you get used to it). I love how much our strange and unusual assignments stretch our minds and writing acumen, and I really will miss this class and Dr. Woodworth after the sequence finishes at the end of this semester. And while I can still say it in class without people looking at me funny, “Shiny!”

Write on!

19: Remix Open Sesame!

Open courseware: surely you’ve heard of it? Coursera, MIT, Stanford… No? Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, open courseware is a new revolution in how people of all ages and in all parts of the world can learn whatever they want, whenever they want. And most of it’s free! So far, you can’t actually obtain a free online degree, but educators are working on it, and it’s definitely coming. “Open” is the new standard for 21st century learning, and that’s why much of this semester we’re going to be talking about all sorts of “open” things in Honors English II.

We started off talking about open things with three TED talks (woot!) and a couple of other very interesting videos. TED talks by UN Admiral James Stavridis, Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk, and Kirby Ferguson (all available on YouTube or ted.com [although ted.com can be temperamental]), as well as Kirby Ferguson’s four-part series “Everything Is A Remix” on Vimeo.com. Adm. Stavridis spoke about open security for protecting people in, say, Afghanistan and Iran, Rich Baraniuk talked about his open textbooks that he and several other students and teachers from around the world had created, and Kirby Ferguson related stories about how creative people have always borrowed and stolen ideas from creative people who came before them.

As you can probably guess from the title, Kirby Ferguson believes that everything is a remix of everything else. This goes for education and learning too: papers about books, poems, scientific studies, or really anything that’s not an original idea is basically a remix of whatever it is that you’re writing a paper about. For instance, this blog post is a remixing of all seven videos that we watched the last two class days in English, and the last blog post I wrote is very much a remix of the Wikipedia article I used as a source. Even the massive project which you may remember I did last fall was a remix of all the historical things I knew or learned about Montgomery (and a couple of my favorite places to visit, even though they weren’t or aren’t necessarily historical; i.e. California Yogurt Kraze – not exactly a memorial). I sort of knew that people borrow from other people for all sorts of inventions and things, but until I watched these videos I had no idea how much they borrow. For instance, did you know that the Macintosh borrowed its Graphical User Interface from Xerox’s early PC? Or that Led Zeppelin stole (or borrowed without citation) many of their lyrics and melodies from old blues songs?

Putting things like books or music into the sphere of open works is something I’m fairly familiar with. I downloaded books from Gutenberg Press when I was about nine, and when I was 12 I read maybe a third of Fahrenheit 451 on Google Books. My brother, who obsessively plays Microsoft Train Simulator, talks almost incessantly about “free-ware” add-ons for that game. One of my friends releases all of his electronic music for free downloads online. I pretty much only download free apps to my iPod (because I’m too cheap to buy any XD). When I was about eight, I took an online writing course. But I’d never really thought of textbooks and actual college classes as being open. I’m really curious and excited to see how we’re going to incorporate our class into the world of open learning.

I really highly recommend all these videos, especially Kirby Ferguson, to anyone interested in how the world works nowadays for learning, security, and creativity. I’m personally very excited to see how my life will be changed because of the new world of openness, and the constant remixing that takes place in the lives of all human beings who actually absorb new material. I hope you’ll join me in my explorations!

Remix on!

17: The Story Behind It All

Just another quick update on how I’m doing on my writing project, and also a tiny bit about a video we watched for class. The video is a TED video (yay!) of a talk given by Andrew Stanton, the man who wrote and/or directed Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Toy Story movies, about the importance of story in everything. And this plays in to the writing project that I’ll be posting shortly. Memorials and monuments tell stories, and telling about memorials is an even greater story. I think I’ve discovered the story behind the memorial that I’ve chosen, and I cannot wait to tell it to you. Soon I’ll post it, and we shall discover more about it together!
Read on!!

11: The Digital Machine

We watched some very interesting videos the other day in class. They were informative, thought-provoking, well done, and funny (at least in part). Here are some links to them so that if you decide to read on in this post, you’ll know what I’m talking about (XD): The Bendito Machine III, a TED talk on Filter Bubbles, and The Machine is Us/ing Us. (Also, I don’t know how you feel about spoilers, so if you don’t want me to give you any spoilers about these videos, watch the videos first. :))

“Bendito Machine III” was, in my mind, a brilliant social commentary about how we view and use machines, primarily TVs, in our everyday lives. In this video, a ‘primitive’ group of humans discovers a TV, which they set up on a altar, replacing the previous statue that stood there. Soon, the TV becomes a part of their daily lives, and everything they do centers around it. The women watch exercise programs, and obey all the instructions the TV is telling them to do, because, as we all know (this is sarcasm, by the way), women are very vain about their figures and will do anything to be thin. The little children follow the TV like the Pied Piper when it plays a children’s program. They cross a bridge after it, over a dangerous ravine (probably a river), which I’m sure their parents would never have allowed before the TV entered their lives. When the TV turns maniacal and begins killing people and displaying a terrifying face, they run away and attempt to appease it, instead of turning it off or throwing it away, which seems like it would be the sensible thing to do. When it finally is displaced by the next new technology, the people throw it in the dump without a second thought. How many people do that nowadays with their ‘outdated’ cell phones and computers? What a waste!

The next two videos, the TED Talk and “The Machine is Us/ing Us”, were strikingly similar in the message they conveyed. “The Machine is Us/ing Us” is a video created by a cultural anthropology professor at Kansas State University to show the history and modern uses of what is known as “Web 2.0”. He explains quickly but clearly the beginnings of the different languages and formats used on and created for the Internet. Near the end of the video, he goes in to how we are teaching parts of the Internet such as Yahoo, YouTube, and now Facebook, what our preferences are, what we want to see, and even who we are, without knowing. Eli Pariser’s TED talk elaborates on that idea. He gives an example of two of his friends that he asked to Google the word “Egypt” on their computers and then send him a screenshot. The results were dramatically different. Both his friends were the same age, they were both Caucasian, and they both lived in the same city, but one of them saw articles on the wars, strife, and dissent in Egypt on his front page, and the other saw articles and ads on travelling to Egypt and the wonderful tourist attractions there.

Many people think of these machines learning as a terrible idea, and withdraw themselves completely from the Internet, and are terrified that somehow someone will be able to find them and will exploit them or hurt them in some way. I think those fears are unfounded. I do think there’s such a thing as too much information about yourself on the Internet, but I don’t think that the remote possibility of someone finding you from your search results is something to be completely paranoid about. I would like to know, though, sometimes, what search results am I missing because Google thinks I want to see one thing in particular?

Learn on…

7: Shame and Writing

Today we watched another of Brene Brown’s TED talks, this one specifically on shame, as opposed to shame and vulnerability. She referenced her previous TED talk on both subjects, which was quite nice, as I didn’t really remember what her first talk had been about. 🙂

One of the parts of her presentation that I really found interesting was her perspective on shame versus guilt. She said that guilt is a focus on behavior: “I did bad”, whereas shame is a focus on self: “I am bad”. Dr. Woodworth then asked us (after we finished watching, of course) to relate this issue of shame vs. guilt to writing: Are you a bad writer, or did you just write badly?

I used to think I was a terrible writer. I would always come up with characters and vague ideas for plots and beautiful settings, but I would either never write them, or I would try to write them and they would come out terribly: no ending, no real plot… In fact, I’ve described my writing as “J.R.R. Tolkien with less plot and more description.” If you’ve ever read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or *gags* the Silmarillion, you can get a sense of what that might mean. And I believed that up until the middle of last semester, when I did the Murder project. I thought I was a horrendous writer.

But now I’m rethinking my outlook on myself and my writing. I don’t think I was a bad writer, I just think I wrote badly. Every time I had to do some sort of application essay, my mom would remind me “third draft” to encourage me when my first and second drafts were terrible. I was just bad at writing back then. But now I’ve had a lot more experience writing. I think I’ve written more this academic year then I had in all the years I’d been able to write before then. (Possibly a bit of an overstatement, but it doesn’t feel like it!) So now I know: I am not a bad writer: it is merely that for a very long time, when I was inexperienced, I simply wrote badly. And that makes me feel very happy. Write on!

6: Information is Beautiful and Complex

This is partially a continuation of the post entitled “Complex, or Complicated?”, in that I’ll be talking about the same two TED videos I mentioned in that post, but it is also a completely separate post in that my purpose is different. That post had to do with words, this post has to do with questions and ideas.

How do the two videos – Eric Berlow’s and David McCandless’ TED talks – relate to me as a student?

Eric Berlow’s talk on complexity and complication is actually rather apparent, at least to me. When you’re faced with a problem or homework, especially science and/or math work, it looks incredibly complicated and frustrating. What are you supposed to do with all those numbers? Yikes!! But even though it looks complicated, that’s not necessarily so. It is definitely and always, however, quite complex. My mom has been trying for years to get me to look at a math problem and find the simple elements and not be scared, and Eric Berlow’s talk restated that idea. If you look for simple connections between simple objects, the most complex concept becomes easy to understand.

With David McCandless’ presentation on the beauty of data and data visualization, it’s a bit harder to make a connection. The beauty aspect is easier: beauty is everywhere, and personally I’ve found it’s quite easy and enjoyable to find beauty in everything. (Except the tops of really disgusting outdoor trashcans. And mold. Those, not so beautiful.) But data and data visualization is, at least for me, a bit harder to relate to. If you’re an information systems major, it would be rather obvious, as you would be dealing with data all the time. If you’re an art major, especially if you’re going into graphic design, it’s also quite apparent, as his job is all about creating graphics and art. But what if you’re going into military history, or neurobiology, or music like I am? Well there’s the obvious point of “you can make a graphic about data about all of those topics”, but there are also deeper connections. (Being a musician, it’s easiest for me to make references to music, so pardon as I make a bunch of music metaphors.) Albums need cover art, and that’s beauty. Lyrics to songs, titles of pieces, the little information booklet you find in CDs, those are all data, and lyrics and titles especially should contain some form of beauty. But I think what David McCandless focussed a lot on was the interconnectedness of the data in his visualizations, and music is about nothing if not connections. And broadening my interpretation to college students in general, classes often ask you to make connections to things you’ve learned before, both in that class and in other classes you’ve taken. English classes especially (or at least mine) want you to relate all your current assignments to assignments you’ve done in the past, things you’ve talked about in the past (tapestries!), and ideas you’ve had in the past. Life is all about connections and finding them, and I think that is mainly what David McCandless brings to light.

I’m sure there are many other connections one could find between being a student and these two TED talks, and this is merely the surface. I could probably and would love to go into more depth about the connections and complexities of being a student and being a human on Earth in the 21st century, but I’m afraid that these are all the bubbles that have been programmed into my graphic. I do hope that this provoked thoughts in your minds, though, and I would very highly recommend visiting ted.com and searching for these videos. They may well be the most interesting 21 minutes of your month (I hesitate to say year or life, but it could well be). And as always, read on.

Complex, or Complicated?

Eric Berlow: Simplifying Complexity.

TED talks!

What words do we find cool?

Baguette!! (I love baguettes)

A picture of a lake! Water’s pretty. ^_^

Nature can be tied in to anything.

Prediction and black boxes…

Embrace complexity.

Node… (always sounds better in a funny voice.)

Simplicity lies on the other side of complexity.

David McCandless: Data Visualization

Patterns and beauty.

Design information to tell a story.

Data visualization can look cool!!

Beauty out of frustration. XD

Colors represent motivation.

Doosh. Best sound effect ever.

Data visualization creates a landscape.

Landscape of the world’s fears.

Find hidden patterns.

Retrospects.

Data is the new oil?

Data is the new soil. (then proceeds to a brilliant metaphor of information as soil. <3)

Trawled through Facebook statuses for the phrases “break up” and “broken up”… (Depressing work, much?)

Sensitive to ideas.

Experience instills a dormant design literacy.

The language of the eye and the language of the mind.

Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble. XDXD

We need figures connected to other data.

Let the data set change your mind set.

Balloon race!![diagram]

Efficacy. <3

The data is alive…

Society&Culture and Beliefs.

Recognizing things in yourself is really really uncomfortable.

You’re capable of holding conflicting beliefs joyously.

Provide elegant solutions.

Information is too interesting.

And that is beautiful. <3

10-Minute Writing: Brene Brown

Brene Brown, in her TED Talk on vulnerability, comes up with four ways to be a “whole-hearted” person: to not be afraid of being seen as your whole self, to have courage in being yourself, to accept vulnerability, and to feel worthy. Very poignant stuff, no? These are great strategies to try and implement in everyday life.
But my English teacher is having us go deeper. After watching the talk and thinking about vulnerability, she asked us three questions to have us answer in our blog post: What is scary about college? Can education be whole-hearted, just like people? How can we be whole-hearted students?

What is scary about college? For me, as a former homeschooler whose first experience in any kind of school environment is college, nothing is really scary. Okay, yes, I’ve never had to study for a test, so that is a bit strange and a tiny bit worrisome occasionally, but really scary? No. Vampires are scary. Thinking about living on campus in a couple years in college is a bit more scary than tests, because I’m known for procrastination, so I’m afraid that when I live on my own, it will just get worse. But in the whole scheme of life, the universe, and everything, college is one of the least scary things out there. At least homework can’t kill you.

Is it possible to have a whole-hearted education? By all means, yes. Most definitely. My mom tried to teach me and my brother (I am quite astonished that she didn’t lock herself up in an insane asylum after a few years, but I also really appreciate that she didn’t do that), and she dedicated the last 11 years (if not more) almost exclusively to helping us learn. She’s still helping, because I ask her questions if I have trouble with homework. So yes, I believe whole-heartedly (pun intended) that it is possible to have a whole-hearted education. Is it prevalent? No, I think not. But is it possible? By all means.

How can we be whole-hearted students? Put the entirety of your being into learning as much as you can. Okay, no, not all of the entirety of your being. Have a social life, most definitely. But don’t spend so much time having fun that you don’t learn things that can touch you in a way you never would have known, or things that will help you in ways you never imagined. You can definitely learn from your peers, mostly about human behavior and the Internet these days, but don’t discount the experience and knowledge of your teachers.

So yes, all these things are possible. I believe everything, whether humans or education, can be whole-hearted if you try hard and want it enough. But don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, and love with all your heart.

10-minute Writing: Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution!

Yet another TED video, and yet another Sir Ken Robinson TED video! Hurrah!
This time, we are supposed to relate his “Bring on the learning revolution!” video to us and to our Honors English class. Hum…

This video took on a more serious tone than the first video of his that we watched. He was calling for reform of the education system, but not just reforming the old broken system: creating a whole new education system to help customize learning for all the different kinds of people that populate the world.

Customize education. What does this mean? Does the teacher have to speak to each child in turn, and give each child a different curriculum? Will there even be a curriculum any more? Will there even need to be a school system, or does homeschooling work better? (As a former homeschooled child, I’m sort of biased towards homeschooling. At times it was frustrating, but in truth, I loved it.)

So how does this idea of customizing education fit with this class? As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading any of the assignments for class on my blog, we’re doing quite a diverse set of assignments. In the Explorations project, we are allowed to choose our assignment based on a set of options and guidelines. Is this customized, because we choose what our four assignments will be, or is it still more “traditional” education, because we can choose only from the Explorations in that book? In our Murder project, we get to show our personalities. But in a traditional classroom, even writing a 5-paragraph essay, a bit of your personality can show through. So is showing personality customization, or something that happens no matter the circumstances?

I’m inclined to believe that this English class is very dynamic, organic, and customizable for the 15 of us students that are taking the class. I’m sure my teacher will be pleased by my saying that. But this class is so much like when I was homeschooled, I feel comfortable, at home, in familiar territory, and like I can express myself quite a lot within the loose and flexible guidelines that my teacher has set. It is indeed quite a wonderful class.