Friday, July 26, 2013

the right tool for the job

In the words of Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher whose work influenced prominent thinkers from Charles Dickens to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

It's easy to mistake the use of the Internet in learning as a simple way to make the same ol' same ol' seem a little more entertaining. What we're doing goes way beyond that. You now have the ability to use multiple media in ways that most effectively communicate your ideas and your sense of self.  As you select from a rapidly expanding online toolbox, keep in mind that every tool we use has a form, a function, a capacity to be interpreted (and sometimes hacked) by users, and even a "DNA" instilled by its creators that influences the way it's perceived and adopted.

Technology doesn't necessarily mean electronics. If you ask any serious writer, s/he will tell you that the action on a keyboard, the balance of a pen, or the texture of paper can make just as much difference as processing speed. And there are those times when nothing does the job like a simple, classic, well-made tool.  Here is a picture of me holding a 2 million year-old Acheulean Paleolithic bifacial hand axe-- the longest used tool in human history.  It fit my hand perfectly, right down to the indentations for thumb and fingers, like it was custom-made for me-- an especially rare experience for a lefty.

Apart from the perfect feel/form/function, there is something about an enduring classic that doesn't hold true for the phone you buy today that will be non-state-of-the-art in a few months.  This is about more than craft, art, or even quality: this sort of attention to detail is the product of loving care.  It's the difference between home-cooked and store-bought.  For real practitioners of anything worthwhile, tools aren't just about techne, they are extensions of our humanity.  Ask anyone who plays their music on a turntable, develops their own photographs, or sends handwritten letters.

And if all that didn't convince you to re-examine the tools you use and why, maybe a 39-second commercial is the right tool for the persuasive job:


Thursday, July 25, 2013


How many times have students been told: "Use your own words."

The problem, as George Carlin and so many of us have observed, is that we don't actually have our own words.  We all use the same ones.  Sure, we all think we're original/unique in our diction, and maybe some of us use jargon because of a specific interest or cultural identification, but we all drink from the same word well.  Understanding the options make us better communicators.  That's why we'll be discussing the origins of English and early literature like Beowulf.  For now, here are a few words that aren't as new as you might think.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

anyone can suck at writing

It's always a good idea to remember that, no matter what your position in life, doing a good job comes down to, well... doing a good job.  And no one ever effectively communicated an idea on paper (or screen) without being able to write well.  Consider this shining example.  So, even if you're not planning on a career as a writer and you just want to get English over with, get over it and learn to write.  (NOTE: I don't care who the congressman is or what party he represents, good writing is always good writing-- and bad writing always sucks.)
(Thanks again, BoingBoing!)

choir singers' heartbeats synchronize

Guiding your breathing from the outside, by timing it to music, for example, also has internal effects.  (Thanks, BoingBoing!)

kids, science fiction, technology, democracy & surveillance

Friend of the course Cory Doctorow was recently interviewed on Canadian television and talked about his new book and related topics.  Part I here, Part II here.

the bar has been set

We're going to be reading Beowulf, and you're going to be writing about Beowulf, so I thought you should see how someone ten years younger went about it. (Thanks, BoingBoing!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

to curate or not to curate

When Hamlet says "To be or not to be" he gives the impression that he is making a conscious decision based on thoughtful analysis.  In a world where actions speak louder than words, however, he also gives the impression that he's dithering.  In the beginning of the play he knows what he has to do, and he even seems to know what he WILL do, but bringing himself to act on this awareness is more complicated.

So it goes with your online identity.  However clear our own impressions of ourselves may be, it can be difficult to convey our inner selves and thoughts to an audience.  This is why Montaigne was such an important writer; his attempts to capture his real-time thinking on paper gave us the essay (which, contrary to popular belief, means "to try" and not "five paragraphs of suck.")  This is also why you are now such an important writer.  What you say, what you don't say, what you post, what you don't post-- it all adds up to an impression of who you are and how you think. 

How much of that impression is intentional?  When you write a blog post and click "Publish" are you imagining the effect your words and images will have on your audience?  When you read someone else's blog/site, what conclusions do you draw about the author?

Everything you see in a museum is there by design.  It is curated for a purpose.  Read this article on curation.  Then, reflect: How do the artifacts you wear, listen to, put on your bedroom wall etc. convey a sense of who you are and how you think?  How can you optimize your blog to help your audience understand the person who created it? 

Your situation is both simpler than Hamlet's and more complicated.  You don't have to worry about "not to be"-- that's not an option in Open Source Learning.  No one gets to be invisible.  There is no back row on the Internet where you can hunch low and hope to remain unseen.  But Hamlet only had two options; once you decide To Be, the real question becomes, Who do you want to be?  To everyone who sees what you put online, your curation becomes the story of your learning life.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

the hut where the internet began

Given the cultural and economic influence of the technology that enables you to read this right now, you should probably read "The Hut Where the Internet Began."

Let's start a conversation about this.  Too often we read history-- or any text in school-- without realizing that we are actually characters in the ongoing story.  What do I mean?  Well, some of you will read this article and think, "Cool, some guy had a great idea."  That response is a tragic waste of time and brain power.  What if, instead, you read this article and begin thinking about the problems and opportunities that surround us right now, and suddenly realize that you yourself are sitting in some version of a hut AND READING THE EXACT SAME ARTICLE (either follow the link to Bush's piece or go directly here)?  What will you think and create, and what story will learners read about you when you encountered the ideas that sparked your passion and moved you to action?

Looking forward to your comments!

Friday, July 5, 2013

are you willing to work hard for what you want?

This study says you're (in general, as a demographic) not.  Thoughts?

Given the issues we face today, imagine what you could accomplish if you were as committed as these teens.

control tailored ads on twitter

I've casually used Twitter for a while and I'm thinking about getting serious for the course and other reasons.  I figure I'd better know something about what I'm doing so I can help others do likewise.  Here is how to make sure Twitter is doing just want you want it to do, and not what third party advertisers want to do for (to?) you.  (Thanks, boingboing!)

r.i.p. doug engelbart

You may not know the name Doug Engelbart, but you use a version of his invention every day: the mouse.  Mr. Engelbart passed away this week at the age of 88, and his "Mother of All Demos" from 1968 remains a definitive moment in the age of interactive computing.  We all owe a debt to this intellectual giant.  I hadn't seen the following quote before (Thanks, boingboing!), and I love it.  He thought about problem-solving the same way I think about learning:

The key thing about all the world's big problems is that they have to be dealt with collectively. If we don't get collectively smarter, we're doomed.
- Douglas Engelbart (1925- 2013)

Monday, July 1, 2013

new teenage paranormal romance

Around two my daughter and I finally gave up our air-conditioned reading corner in Barnes & Noble and headed back out.  On the way I saw a genre sign I'd never seen before.  New Teen Paranormal Romance.  Two sections of it.  Next to a section of Teen Paranormal Romance.  I had no idea what I was looking at.  A girl stood in front of the second New Teen Paranormal Romance shelf holding a book with a monster on the cover.  The Sharpied name on the clear plastic cup with the light brown coffee drink in her other hand said "Jessica."  I asked Jessica what New Teenage Paranormal Romance was and how it's different from the classic Teenage Paranormal Romance. 

She said, "Vampires are sort of, you know..." 
"Passé?"  I offered.
"Yeah," she tilted her head to one side.  "They're not really, you know.  They're sort of out.  It's more zombies now."
I nodded.  "Yeah."

Any readers/fans/critics of this genre?  Is this for real or is it marketing?  Teach us in the comments.