Monday, December 7, 2009

The dumbest generation pushes back on the man who knew too little

So this fella, Mark Bauerline, wrote The Dumbest Generation (how the digital age supefies young Americans and jeopardizes out future [or, don't trust anyone under 20]). This article is about how us Americans under the age of 30 are more interested in ourselves and the technology that we so eagerly adopt, use, and surround ourselves with than anything academic or intellectual. Well sir, I am an under-30-something and disagree. In the article Mark talks, at length, about Jay Leno's Jaywalking segment as a main reference for his whole point that the youth of America know squat about politics, current events, or anything of substance that will allow the US to remain a major player in the world. While I can agree there are a lot of, well, less than academically oriented folks around are they really a majority? I believe no--that is unless you take Leno's demographic of 18-35 year olds along a strip of bars between 10 PM and 3 AM on a Friday night to be the majority of folks representative of youth culture these days.

Are we youth obsessed with technology? For the most part, yes. But why? Oh, I don't know. Could it be the fact that we have instant access to information that 15 or more years ago would not have been available to the general public en masse? Now Mark purports that while youth have access to such information they defer that information in lieu of more "interesting" media like facebook and myspace. While I cannot disagree that social networking sites are wildly popular and provide a great socializing platform for all, young and old, I disagree that youth don't bother with academic or relevant information.

My biggest rant against Mark is that he NEVER talks about poor standardized test scores or the lack of youth interest in informal academics, news, and politics being correlated to a school curriculum, teaching, or formal educational setting structure. I hate to break it to Mark, but if classes and the information being taught in them isn't the most interesting or given a little pizazz to help make it interesting most people won't find it to be interesting. What if class were interesting enough to pique the interest of a student such that they went out of their way to do further research on a topic, on their own, not as school work, to further their own personally vested interest in something? Wouldn't that be amazing? Well, I hate to break it to you Mark, but it does happen. But particularly (as part of my rant) poor test scores should not be a direct reflection upon the quality of the youth alone. The fact is that what is being taught and how it is being taught plays a major role in student production on standardized testing. Any reason why you don't mention that, Mark? Perhaps it's because you know that it's true and you simply wouldn't be able to rant like crazy had you not done so.

The fact that new media is so entrenched in today's youth does not have to be a negative. Sure there is always a negative side to any overindulgence. But if used in ways that foster peer relationships and personally vested interests then new media far surpasses analog media by leaps and bounds. So please, Mark, don't lump me and the many other deserving youth of America into the Technologaholics Anonymous category simply because I love and use new media and technology in most any and every facet of my life. That'd be like me saying you're just an angry, bitter man because you're use of technology stops at digital literacy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Want to visit the art gallery? Grab your laptop!

For many, viewing art has been an act of looking at pictures, sculptures, or other physical objects identified as "art". Most of the time viewing such objects required individuals to go to an art museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre where you stand in front of the object and attempt to extract meaning from the creator's work. Often this has been seen as a high culture endeavor rather than one of average folks. But is this the only form of art and viewing such work? The answer, no.

Nowadays art is much more than paintbrushes, clay, marble, or welded metal. Art encompasses us in most everything that we do through media arts. Media arts also allows for a much more diverse group of people to participate in and do art--more diverse meaning almost anyone. Traditional art used a relate more to using a defined media in an emulation of a particular style to create art. Media arts are much less constraining and much more open, containing many different vehicles for art creation in the digital computer realm.

Everywhere I look on my computer there seems to be art. Everything from my operating system to many programs, flash games, websites, even web-based ads are artful and aesthetically pleasing. Higher stakes are being placed on digital media and the ability and willingness to engage in media arts is becoming more lucrative and mainstream. If you've ever visited Newgrounds to play a flash game or two, you know that everything on the website is user submitted. The site includes video games, pictures, and videos--many of which are original while others are remixes of other popular media.

There are a variety of digital museums devoted to new media rather than digital uploads from physical museums. One such museum is PrettyLoaded. This particular museum is purely devoted to flash load screens that typically appear while content is being loaded on a website. Another is The Digital Museum which is currently featuring a slew of anti-war art that appears to be primarily created in Photoshop. Large or small, static or fluid, new media art is something that has a relatively low bar of entry. Those who have any computer fluency most likely have already jumped into and already made digital media art. This group of computer fluent individuals is a growing number of today's youth who may not have a particular connection to or appreciation for traditional art.

Digital arts allow individuals to make a lot of what is around them into a personally meaningful work of art. Take a simple photo or even other work of art that is digital (even a digital version of traditional art) and it can be remixed and recycled into something that is meaningful to the individual creator. This also means that instead of cycling through a museum staring at pieces of art being purely a consumer, those creating digital art becomes a prosumer both adding to the art realm but also taking something away--meaning.

Another great example and a relatively low bar of entry is the viral sensation of lolcats. These are pictures of cats to which a funny caption (in kitty pidgin) is added to make a comedic piece of art. While this can be done through Photoshop, the original website allows users to pick a cat picture from a selection to which they can add a caption and post it on the website.

It would appear that many folks have actually created some form of digital art--perhaps annotating a youtube video--but do not realize it as art. While art is typically an abstract symbol, there will always be some contention as to what constitutes art. However, new digital art seems that it more readily can be called art as there is a far more diverse group of "critics" and viewers of the work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

When it comes to computers are you A) literate, B) fluent, C) flexible, D) huh?

Alright, so the term literacy has expanded a long way from just reading and writing but what does it really mean when we start talking about computers and technology? There are so many terms to describe computer “proficiency” such as computer literate, computational fluency, and computational flexibility. But what does it all mean? Especially when terms like "computer literate" is so broadly and loosely invoked it wouldn't be surprising that many folks have a skewed perception of what it means to have computer proficiency (as I'll be calling it for now). I remember growing up with a computer (FYI it was a Mac...blech), literally from birth (so I'm told). At about the age of 1 or 2 my parents acknowledge that I started playing with electronics and even the computer. To be honest I don't remember that far back but I will say that as far back as my memory will retain coherent recollections I have always used a computer or at least I cannot remember a time that I didn't have a computer. For a little frame of reference I was born in the 80s so we're talking super-old computers. Let me throw up a picture for reference (to the right). Now I'm not talking some crappy system that only ran DOS, we're talking a full desktop system with word processing, paint shop, computer games (I loved Brickles), music editing/authoring software and much more.

So why does this matter? Wellll...I was quite fortunate to 1) have a computer and 2) grow up WITH technology rather than it growing up around me. In the sense of what computer literacy is defined as in the many readings for 650 this week, I was computer literate by no later than age 4. I know that you me and everybody we know thinks computer literacy is probably thinking "duh, of course you're computer literate", but for many computer literacy is a struggle and the only end-goal. In a previous job a good portion of my work was with middle-age individuals who had zero computer literacy skills, but they didn't grow up with the technology. To be honest, for the purpose that they needed computer proficiency and level to which they needed it, computer literacy was the highest level they wished to go or even needed to go. However, for most of us born in the last 3 decades computer literacy is the first way-point on a continuum of computer proficiency.

Next stop in the continuum of computer proficiency is computational fluency. At the fluency level we're talking lifelong skills and learning here people, not just the everyday rote memorization tasks of keyboard, mouse and office suites. Now we're talking about taking that knowledge and creating something with it. But what, you may ask, constitutes creativity? To quote Mitchell et al (2003), creativity is a bit like pornography; it is hard to define, but we think we know it when we see it. At the point of fluency one should be taking said literacy skills and slapping them together with some creativity to pump out some original something (that's right). Maybe a video, a picture, music, a game, the list could go on forever. I personally hit fluency somewhere between the age of 4 and 6. I loved to create pictures on the computer. I even got into making and remixing music. Does making an old-school Mac talk constitute a performance piece? If so, then chalk that up to fluency. But here's the hitch for fluency--you can't stop. Why? Because today's computational fluency is (literally) tomorrow's computer literacy skills. Since technology and the skills needed to use them change so rapidly this goes right back to the lifelong pursuit involved in maintaining computational fluency.

The final step in the computer proficiency continuum is computational flexibility. If you've made it to this step that means that you've superseded fluency due to some inadequacy of the technology or software available to you and gone on to create your own to fulfill your needs. Now if I'm going to be honest, yea I'm not here...yet. With movements toward open source software the ability to create even the most minute and simplistic software is possible to most anyone willing to put in the effort. From what I read on a lot of tech sites like or it would seem a logical next step in our technological progression of society for future generations to leap (pretty early on) into computational flexibility. However, this thought is hampered by the fear of apathy and stifling of creativity. Without the vested personal interest and the creativity of individuals then there isn't going to be an en masse movement to computational flexibility (perhaps the reason why we are all still struggling between Windows and Apple OSs). But even that is changing with the advent of Google running the gauntlet and getting into open source software, threatening to jump into the OS ring.

So what's the point of all this junk that may have read if you made it this far? That technology is a moving target, albeit an import and ever more necessary target to keep on top of. Like any other skill computer proficiency cannot stagnate lest you be stuck in the technological dust. Computers are always becoming more and more integrated into every little thing within out lives. I would really hate for folks in the near future to starve simply because they didn't care enough to keep up with their computational fluency and then grocery stores implement a new technology that you haven't familiarized. could happen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

If you lurk on myspace I'll get in your

So my buddy Jeff Kaplan posed a question or problem of the digital revolution as a comment to my last blog. The issue is what do we do with lurkers? For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a lurker is a person who visits social web pages (blogs, forums, wikis, etc) and reads from the page but rarely or never participates themselves. Slashdot had an article about lurkers which referenced a study done by a computer consulting firm in Chicago found that 98 per cent of the visitors to large sites with open forums - from AOL and MSN to sites like Slashdot - never submit ideas or articles and never post opinions or participate in arguments. So why is this important?

Lurking is typically the first stage of entering into a new social space online. Lurkers get to feel their way around and figure out the norms of the new space. In all reality, they are learning a new literacy practice and lurking is the scaffolding of sorts that new folks use. During the lurking phase newbies learn from more experienced individuals the norms and behaviors of their new social space. In education, lurking is encouraged to get individuals into new social spaces since students may be intimidated or could easily become frustrated with new spaces that they're introduced to. However, in the educational realm there is an expectation that students will move out of the lurker status and become not simply consumers, but prosumers--both producers and consumers. Much like having a conversation, online social sites cannot exist as a social site if there isn't another side of the story to keep it social--otherwise it's just another website.

When social sites are lurked upon by many and contributed by few, there is a very narrow scope of ideas flowing through the digital media despite that vast audience patronizing the site. Many folks have opinions, so why is it so hard for people to stop being consumers and become prosumers? Of course there could be digital literacy issues that hamper the contribution of would be prosumers. There could also be individuals who fear that their thoughts will be invalidated or rejected by the contributors of the site. There could also be apathy over taking time to craft a thoughtful response or to simply defend one's point of view from the regular site surfers. Personally I think that it has something to do with lurkers not valuing social site prosumerism as anything worthwhile. Lurkers in general could have a poor view of social site participation as a literacy practice. They may ask "where does it get me".

Unlike texting, phone calls, or paper and pencil communication lurkers may feel a disconnect between tangible participation (like a face-to-face conversation) and less tangible participation (forum posts). While most would agree, talking with someone in person is a highly tangible form of social interaction. However, in a digital space where communication can have lags in response or no response at all, this may lead to a slighted feeling and the time put into the social interaction was not worth the effort. However, just the converse is true. Each piece of participation to a social space builds up not only credibility as a prosumer within the social space, but builds up individual literacy skills within that space for the individual. In a society of instant gratification, the fact that a post or participation attempt goes unnoticed is seen as discouraging. in reality, people cannot expect to just go from lurker to social participant rockstar in a post or two. More lurkers turned prosumers need to understand that each participation effort should be viewed as a step toward perfecting a craft and literacy rather than speaking in an unheard voice in a sea of many other (perhaps much louder) voices. Like any other literacy practice not only takes time but yields results, tangible results. So for any of you lurking out there, try participating. When you turn from simply consuming on a social site to producing as well, you create something much more meaningful and much bigger than just place to read interesting thoughts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all scream for literacy!

In reading the passages for class I came across a few lines that screamed out at me, but for a project I'm working on outside of class. For this project I was to come up with ways of implementing the use of wikis in an English Language Arts classroom. Enter in the text from The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, page 309.

...becoming literate in a hypermedia environment challenges the notion that any single text represents an author's complete, separate, or unique expression...the perceived need to develop young people's critical awareness of how all authored texts (print, visual, oral) situate them as readers, writers, and viewers within a particular culture and historical contexts.

Eureka! The whole notion of a wiki is that it is a document that is authored, edited, and complied by a multitude of individuals. While a single person may create an article in a wiki, it is up to a social group at large to craft and shape the article in such a way that the group as a whole comes to a consensus of accepted and correct information.

What excited me further in my reading and crafting of this wiki project was stumbling across a web page from the Australian government's Department of Education and Training
on the uses of wikis in education. I was floored by the fact that a GOVERNMENTAL website deemed wikis as a valid educational tool. For me this is the coolest thing to come out of Australia since Fosters and Hue Jackman.

In my work I also stumbled across and interesting revelation, that being that Google Docs are an off chute of wikis. Sure, a document that starts out with a single author and then is collaboratively edited and re-crafted until the group as a whole comes to an consensus on the content of the document. Perhaps to those reading this seems like a "duh" moment for me, but the realization came from a wiki farm website called JotSpot. JotSpot was bought out by Google and aptly renamed...(drum roll please)...Google Docs.

So are things like wikis and Google Docs the direction that we're moving (or should be) toward crafting knowledge? I believe so. Not only is knowledge itself a social construct, but when people are personally invested in an area of knowledge, that knowledge transfers from simply ideas to a tool which can be used to shape a variety of other thoughts and ideas to create further meaningful connections. So do us all a favor, whatever it is that you are really interested in, go on Wikipedia and make a contribution. Ok, so if you don't want to specifically be an author or contributor, you can still participate in wiki culture as a lurker but you better question that which you lurk upon to construct a deeper meaning and understanding of the information you so deftly hide in front of.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh snap! You just got served...on my vlog

Over the course of the weekend and into Monday 2 of my fellow grad students (let's call them Menna and Meffrey to protect their identities) took what was to be a simple activity like a meet-n-greet video introduction and turned it into an electronic video version of dueling banjos. The idea was to take a simple process--getting to know an unfamiliar person--and adding in a new media twist--video. So where am I going with this? No, I'm not marketing a new angle for Could it be more reasonable to move away from written media to primarily visual media? With written media it is near impossible to decode tonal inflections and facial expressions (and since serious written media shouldn't have emoticons, there's a lot of room for interpretation). I'm sure at least once in your life you got a letter or email from a boss, coworker, family member, significant other, or friend and thought to yourself "did they mean x, y, or z?" Not only that, but have you ever had a battle with the spellchecker? With a visual media such as a vlog, we no longer need to interpret cave paintings but rather we can enjoy the full range of human emotion. We have visual forms of communication such as Skype video chat that further enhances our telephone experience, why not similarly enhance our email or blogs? Even video games show a wide range of emotions. The furthest back that I can think would be Doom--as your marine gets more and more beat up you seem him become more haggard and disgruntled. For me that just added to the intensity of the game. The transition to visual media seems like a good next step in the evolution of digital communication in a world that is increasingly smaller due to globalization, requires us to be everywhere, and allows us to be at the fingerstips of any individual with a computer or cell phone. A very convicted person once (well many times) told me that print media is not viable. Could it also be said that soon text media will no longer be viable?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is Baby Einstein killing your child? No, this isn't an excerpt from the Glen Beck Show

Alright, so Baby Einstein isn't killing your child. But is it really helping them out? Let me give you a little back story. As you may know, my wife and I are expecting our first child early next year. That being said, we are very excited as are my parents since they'll be first time grandparents. My mom brought a book on baby products and ratings and other interesting information. This book had a section of items that were not worth buying and among them was Baby Einstein. The reason the book listed Baby Einstein as a bad product because it is essentially an edutainment product. We recently discussed the difference between edutainment and playful learning so I believe there is a good grasp of what I'm talking about here. Now, before all of you already parents may boo me, I love TV and have since a young age and I am not saying my child will be brought up not watching TV. But there is a limit to this at a young age, or so I believe. To plop you child down in front of the TV and assume that a passive activity will make baby smarter seems a little far fetched. Instead, why not enact some playful learning experience with baby--which might also lead to some increased bonding with mommy and daddy. At a minimum, one could hope to grow baby's motor skills.
This brings me to a second point of contention for me, and America's youth. I don't know about you, but I feel it is sad that commercials like the NFL "Play 60" program show up on TV. For those of you not familiar with Play 60, it is NFL players encouraging children to go outside and be active for a minimum of 60 a day every day. Since much of the socialization of children will take place in the home, is it right to start out baby's first months or years plopped in front of a TV being edutained? With younger generations become more and more wired (or wireless), it seems plausible that it will be harder and harder to pull them away from technology to go and interact in the outside world.
Just a little food for thought. You're welcome to ask me how things are going with my implementation of this early next year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Constructionism: an itch I can Scratch

So, in the last week or so I have been playing around with Scratch which is like a WYSIWYG version of Flash. While having had some informal instruction in class as to how the program works before being untethered, the whole program has befuddled me a little bit. It utterly shocked the bejesus out of me that this is a project that is taught to younger children and implemented very well while I, a college graduate steeped in digital and electronics knowledge is struggling to fully grasp the program.

While troubles have been a point of frustration they have also been one of exclamation. The limited help (otherwise known as scaffolding) from Kylie coupled with the collaborative thought with my classmates have brought me to a curious thought. Scaffolding and constructionism is a method of teaching that I agree allows students to better formulate ideas and information for themselves, but takes a longer time to fully implement as a lesson (opposed to direct instruction). However, assuming that the instructor takes an active role in the construction of knowledge and couples that with peer collaboration and personal reflection, doesn't this ultimately yield more one-on-one instruction in the end? Not simply for the fact that you (instructor) or peers are working one-on-one, but the fact that this is done over a longer period of time--say a week for what would otherwise take a couple days to teach.

I also have to add in an unrelated side thought to this post. The article "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" was interesting, however I felt that they were presenting some ideas that were a little out there. The ideas about how current students process information differently than the digital immigrants do makes sense. To me I equate the older generations to different versions of PC operating systems. First there was DOS, then Windows 97, 98, 2000, ME, XP, Vista (and soon to be 7). While each of these systems inherently do the same functions, they all do them in varying ways and (of course) at varying speeds and with lesser or greater degrees of difficulty. However, the notions that he never seems to really firm up about how "students' brains have literally changed" is a bit like the rhetoric you may have found in a mid-1900s public service announcement video like Reefer Madness. It just seems to be such a blatant and unfounded rant from a frightened digital immigrant. But hey, what do I know? I'm just a brash digital native.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stuff you might not find out about me from my facebook page...

Hey everyone. As you may or may not remember, I’m a first year student in the Learning Sciences program under Dan Hickey. I hope by now you realize that I’m in the P650 New Media course—if not, how did you get on my blog?

I completed my undergrad here at IU in secondary education in social studies. Unfortunately, due to the saturation of able-bodied teachers in Bloomington it was near impossible to find a teaching job. So, for the sake of putting my wife through her last year of her IU undergrad in elementary education, I had to find a decent job. That’s why for the last 2 years I have sold insurance. Fortunately I not only sold insurance at a very large firm (about 400 employees), but I also got to train and educate many of those employees as part of my job.

If you want anything really interesting out of me you’ll just have to talk to me in class or meet up with me sometime. See you all on Tuesdays.