Heading back to my regular blog…

so if you’re looking for me: http://lisahistory.net/wordpress.

Turning off comments to stop the spamming.

C ya!

Posted in The Class | Comments Off


I blogged once on my frustrations when I started making it, so you know I decided to use Posterous, mostly because I’d never used it and I wanted to see if I could tweak it to make it do what I want.

After realizing I couldn’t move clips even though they uploaded, I did end up reuploading all my media, after making pages for each era instead of using posts. I could have used posts and faked the dates to organize them correctly, but pages seemed more discrete and appropriate. More time was spent redoing than doing, except for the writing.

Finding the clips and exploring the themes was the most satisfying part of this project, exploring the connections between the history and the human relationship to technology. Thinking like a historian again. Sometimes I think I don’t spend enough time doing that in my job, and I really wanted the chance in my final project.

So enough. Go take a look.

Posted in The Class | Comments Off

Say, what about my grade?

No, we have not been asked to evaluate this class yet, but I’m gonna. I LOVED this class. Everything about it was great: the resources, the synchronous meetings every Tuesday, my fantastic and brave colleagues, the posting, the commenting, the mentors, our brilliant and tolerant and generous instructor, everything.

Except the marking (we say “grading” in the U.S., but same thing).

We’ve got assessments, yes indeed: http://eci831.wikispaces.com/Assessments . Sans rubric, but we got ‘em. And Alec is great at feedback, in comments and Twitter and meetings — just having him put my post in a wiki page or laud it on Twitter was enough to make me smile.

But, man, what’s my grade? how’d I do? where could I improve? what should I do next now that the class is over? how did I do on one element versus another? were there times when I should have switched gears?

I was raised in that “get an A” culture. Do a task, get a mark. If I had been doing poorly, I think I would have gotten an email from the instructor. (I don’t think I would have heard it from my colleagues without some kind of formal peer review process — we were all busy being supportive of each other.)

I know, I know, the whole idea of open education was to get away from marking and that kind of thing. But this is a graduate-level class where there will be a grade at the end, and where tasks counted for specific weights. I don’t mind working beyond my comfort zone (duh), and I did it without belly-aching all the way through, and it really is my only only only concern, and I know I shouldn’t be hung up on performance, and maybe it’s just ego, but ….

What’s my grade?

Posted in The Class | 14 Comments

Mashups and piracy in the service of education

I’ve read and listened and viewed, and I still have no idea what my view is on mashups.

The copyright idea means paying people for their publicly-distributed intellectual property. In the U.S., this is as basic as the idea of a patent — you made it, you monopolize it for a determined period. There are people trying to make a living creating things, and if society doesn’t pay them they can’t afford to do that.

The “copyleft“  seems to consist of a range of views, including that all information should be free, that the copyright laws are unfair or trap things for too long or don’t pay the creators anyway, or aren’t flexible enough for education (the latter is where I’ve stood for many years).

I watched Rip! A Remix Manifesto 2008 (or if you like commercials and Hulu’s new business model, you can watch it here) My first response was horror because I was clearly hearing a Brian May guitar riff while being told it wasn’t Queen but something a mashup artist created. In the film, they show very small bits and pieces going into a mashup, tens of songs with little bits pulled out, but if I could recognize the guitarist and the riff (and I am neither a music expert nor a Queen nut), then the issue is not creating content in a way that truly changes the sources.

So I started looking at those kind of mashups, where people are combining recognizable things (audio, video, not just notes) in order to make a different point from the ones intended by the original creators.

I came to the conclusion that since copyright law protects usage for the purpose of criticism, we can define criticism fairly broadly, even to the point of simply combining other people’s work in order to make a different argument.

But there are value judgements here, and we shouldn’t pretend they aren’t there. Perhaps there is good use and not so good use in a mashup?

A good use of other people’s material might be something illustrative of a concept, such as the videos Blooms Taxonomy According to Pirates of the Caribean or Origins of the Moonwalk. They illustrate an idea, regardless of their quality.

A good use might also mean good attribution. At the end of the Origins of the Moonwalk video, the dancers who appear in the video are listed at the end (though not the composers and cinematographers, etc). This seems good, giving attribution to those doing the hoofing. But in the Top 25 songs of 2009 mashup, the artists were just listed in notes under the video on the YouTube page, which didn’t seem the same. Should attribution be part of the work?

A couple of week’s ago, Ola was inquiring in Twitter about some sources. Alec’s advice was to be sure to attribute items if they were “copyleft”:

This implies that using copyrighted stuff was not OK, and using open stuff still required a citation.

I went looking into Alec’s view on copyright, and found a reply to Minhaaj on his blog in Feb 2009:

“I was pretty much a copyright abolitionist. However, two things changed my mind. 1) I feel that I need to be more understanding of those who create content as their career. At my institution, as a professor, I am paid for research, scholarship, and community service. I am paid whether or not I create or sell content. I can give my content away, and do not have to rely on making my living that way. I personally publish everything under copyleft licenses (NC/ATT/SA), but I do not believe I have the right to enforce this upon others. Licensing content should be a choice. 2) Copyleft is a reaction to too much ownership of content in society. However, copyleft does not work as a legal mechanism without the existence copyright law. In other words, without copyright, there is no copyleft. Sure, another system may come around to replace copyright, but it does not yet exist. This is actually why there are many critiques of copyleft as well.”

The first point is one I have come to as well, not just from reading Jaron Lanier (I’ve linked him enough, I think), though that started it. But how would I feel if someone took my voice from one of my lectures and made a mashup promoting anti-Semitism or violence against women or Middle Eastern wars? Does it matter how I’d feel? And even if it does, will copyright law actually prevent this sort of thing? Nope. That’s why the second point, that it’s all based on copyright enforcement anyway, makes me sad.

All in all, I was unable to draw any lines anywhere.  Copyright is a good idea, because it allows the creator of a work to be paid for their work. That’s capitalism, but even in a non-capitalist system someone would be paying these creators for creating.

But then we come to the nitty-gritty: my own use of copyrighted resources for teaching.

I am an educator at a public institution, paid for by public funds. When I use copyrighted material, I am supposedly covered by and responsible for the rules of the US Copyright Law’s Fair Use provisions .  To make it work for online, one has to consider an online class as a “similar place devoted to instruction”, but I have no issue with that.

We also have the TEACH Act of 2002 , which was supposed to lighten things up in a digital environment by amending the Copyright Code. Although I lauded it at the time, I now see it as more restrictive than the original code, in the sense that it demands that the copyrighted work distribution must be technologically limited to enrolled students, providing a boon for proprietary learning management systems and a restriction on open education.

SO….am I engaging in civil disobedience or passive resistance in the interest of educating my students? Have I been for years? Or was I “protected” (at least since 2002) by my LMS? or perhaps I always have been in line with original law. I didn’t think teaching required a lawyer, but I could be wrong.

I made my first mashup a little while ago, and it wasn’t really a mashup at all. I had a scene from a modern movie that I wanted students to see because the actors were wearing very accurate historical costumes. I didn’t want the modern soundtrack, so I replaced it with music, taken from a CD I own, that was right for the period. When I uploaded to YouTube, I got:

So, arrrgh, I have joined ye pirate ranks by putting the right music with the right clothes for teaching purposes at a public institution and posting it in a public place where someone else might learn from it too.

So here goes, my (very uncertain) conclusions:

  • Artists and authors in our society should be paid for their work.
  • My role as a teacher is not as a consumer of such work, but as a user of it in the interests of education.
  • Sources should be attributed, period, even if it’s 1,000 of them.
  • The issue of wanting to educate everyone everywhere will always come up against the issue of copyright, because everyone on the web could be considered a teacher, even people who make very bad mashups.

And all I can really promise is to never play a Brian May riff for my students and pass it off as my own work. 

Posted in Musings, Responses | 2 Comments

(My ) Open Evaluation

Every four years (two if you’re naughty), MiraCosta College’s tenured instructors undergo full faculty evaluation. This includes at least two classes of student surveys, and one other either visited by another faculty member or surveyed, and a survey of 20 colleagues about our service on committees and such. The committee must include the dean, the department chair, and at least one colleague in our discipline or similar. In addition, any member may file a comment, and the instructor being evaluated must write a self-study and put together everything in a (paper) portfolio, which is supposed to be hand-delivered to the Office of Instruction, and reviewed and signed (in person) by the committee members.

The process culminates in a meeting where the faculty member being evaluated spends an hour taking the committee through the packet, addressing any areas of concern and highlighting any wonderfulness. Then the committee meets privately to determine the fate of the faculty member: approval, assistance plan, summary execution, etc.

My meeting is this afternoon.

My dean loves instructional technology, and has indicated he’s looking forward to the meeting (hint: do something special). Rejecting interpretive dance, a YouTube video, or a group tableau of the Black Death, I have created a series of web pages showcasing my work.

But the paper and privacy bother me, thanks to this class. We all had to sign a confidentiality agreement at the beginning of the semester. It’s designed to protect me. But I don’t need protection. The hand-delivery, read in person, hush-hush seems archaic.

So I asked the two faculty who visited my online classes if I could make their reviews public (I did this after they wrote them), and they gave approval. I emailed my committee the entire packet, noting that they could review it from the comfort of their computer chair. Then I put the whole effing thing on the web.

Here’s my entire faculty evaluation packet and presentation for this afternoon. What, me nervous? Hah!

Take that, you closed evaluation, confidentiality, hand-delivery types.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Pecha Kucha (Too) Mucha

Yeah, I went too long. Like, way too long. Not 20 seconds per slide but more like 45. On at least one I went over a minute.

But heck, I tried it and it was fun. No, I’m sorry — that’s wrong. I have been feeling terrible about how long I went on. It was supposed to be 5 minutes, it should have been 6.5, and I went on for almost 15. That’s an imposition on everyone, took the class late, and I feel awful about it, really awful. My own learning is not always the most important thing.

Next time, less prep, just do it.

My real Summary of Learning was done over the whole course and can be seen here, as a MindMeister concept map. You know how I love concept maps.

Here’s the recording of the Pecha Kucha, as a slidecast. Audio got cut off on the last slide, but no big deal.

Posted in The Class | 7 Comments

Meta-lessons in Jenkins’ “transparency problem”

Still reading on the issue of “skills for the 21st century”, this time Henry Jenkins et al’s Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Jenkins and his colleagues set out very clearly the skills and competencies needed for our students to live in this culture. More importantly, he sets out the challenges. These challenges include unequal access, but also something he calls the Transparency Problem and an Ethics Challenge.

The Transparency Problem needs to be renamed something with the word “meta” in it, because what’s meant is the ability to get into the intentions and influences that reside in the media itself. In History, he notes a teacher using the video game Civilization to teach. Students played the game, but “lacked the vocabulary to critique how the game itself constructed history” (p 15). That is, in short, the problem with all media, including text.

Using media, allowing media, should take place within a learning context. This is not the context of learning the material, but rather the context of learning how the media is constructed. The only place I see this done is in the field of Communications, and sometimes not even there. We do not always, as educators, have the meta skills ourselves to teach the analysis of media as it is used to learn. It reminds me of everyone playing Oregon Trail back in the day, to “learn how people lived in the 19th century”. As a goal for elementary students that may have had value, but older students should have been analyzing the ways in which the game was portraying history.

Take it a step back, to traditional print media. The report notes that “students lack both the knowledge and interest in assessing how information was produced for and within digital environments” (p 45). Go ahead and remove all the words after produced — it’s safe to do so. This has nothing to do with digital anything, but with analytical skills in general. What Jenkins et al call the “transparency” problem is a basic lack of cognitive analysis.

When I teach history and provide excerpts (yes, I live in the 21st century too) from fictional works, the important thing is that students understand the historical context in which it was written. What were the social, political and economic influences that might have played into this work? Criticism of this nature is built into the field of history. And yet we assign Civilization so they can learn…what? the joy of doing history? Seems like the same kind of joy we have in watching the History Channel. Either way, it’s not doing history unless you get into it with some kind of meta approach.

I don’t think students will enjoy this. When I was an English major, back in the last century, I got very annoyed at criticism, especially of poetry. Why couldn’t I just enjoy the poem? or the story? why did we have to analyze it to death? It kept me from enjoying literature. What I see now as enriching, as understanding the code, I saw then as intrusive. I cannot, in other words, expect my students to enjoy analyzing a video game they might play for recreation. And I, the instructor, don’t enjoy playing the game — I am continually annoyed by the “alternative histories” in such games. They make no sense to me. It’s hard enough to ferret out the meaning of what might have really happened; adding a “what if” scenario seems to make it more difficult and less interesting. (Don’t worry, I’m good at bridge if not Farmville.)

What was most odd regarding the “transparency” issue in the report, however, was that the examples of how teachers could institute these skills still didn’t emphasize analysis. “Medieval Space” (p 31) is noted, where students “create online profiles for various historical figures” and imagine “how they might have interacted if they had online spaces in the fifteenth century”. Oh, do let me analyze this one.

Not only didn’t they have online spaces in the 15th century, but what people do and how they do it is influenced (duh) by their culture. That culture didn’t include online spaces, nor the type of communication that would imitate it, thus you get far, far away from analyzing the actions of historical personages when you turn it into this kind of game. And while it may indicate that the student understands that Richard III felt he was above moral rules (which is, in fact, a historian’s interpretation), imagining his current song as 2Pac’s “Only God Can Judge Me Now” (p 31) is vastly amusing but has little to do with learning history. (Yes, I know, I’m a fuddy-duddy. I have a friend who refuses to watch any movie with me that has a historical setting because I complain all the way through.)

So much was right in this report. It emphasizes that meta-analysis is significant, that ethics must be tied into digital learning, that analysis of text is still a key skill, that students must understand multiple perspectives. At first I assumed the examples were so poor because we don’t have very good examples (or perhaps people don’t recognize those of us already providing them). But now I’m thinking it’s because of the insistence on separating “digital” skills from everything else. The skills mentioned relate almost purely to the digital environment (appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, transmedia navigation), and yet the challenges are those of all learning environments: access, meta-analysis (“transparency”) and ethics. Although the report acknowledges these challenges, its error may be in not putting them first.

Perhaps the reason the examples are poor is because the (media skills) cart is being put before the (cognitive skills) horse. The foundational skills, the ones that are older than digital, are needed before the new media skills. Before one “appropriates” material (defined here as “the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content”), one should know how to cite sources. Before you do simulation (“the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes”), you need to know how the real world works. “Role play, in particular”, the report says, “should be seen as a fundamental skill used across multiple academic domains” (p 30). Back we go again to having Henry VIII use Twitter.

We never really taught the analytical skills correctly, or at least they weren’t learned as deeply as they should have been. I contend that these skills must be the foundation, just as the past is always the foundation for moving forward. The abstract expressionists learned to paint in the realistic academy style first. And although I am by no means recommending we go back to rote drills and factual memorization, the basic skills are individually cognitive and analytical, not embedded in new media. Rather than assuming those skills will some how emerge as we mash up, multitask and navigate transmedially, we should approach new media with those old analytical skills in hand.

Posted in Reading, Responses | 5 Comments

Going to extremes

We are taught a subject, yes, but we are also taught the milieu and the intentions behind the learning environment. If you take adopting social media/connectivism/web-based learning in schools to the extreme, here are the lessons it might teach. They’re all tied together, so excuse the list (I’ve had enough concept mapping for now):

1. I am at the center of my learning.
This is good for me — I like it. I want my PLN and my instant information, my Google maps and my blog. But I already went to school, and know how to learn and what might be worth investigating. Is it good for my students, who want to spend all day playing video games? whose idea of the future is after class? Does such an approach encourage narcissism and narrowness? I’m starting to think so.

2. If I can’t find it, it isn’t there, because everything is on the web.
Everything is not on the web. Most of the sources I used for my thesis are not on the web, nor are they likely to be. And it’s not just a lack of sources. One of my top students, now at university, asked me recently, “what do we need older people for, when we can look up all the knowledge on Wikipedia?” I explained the difference between data or information, a lot of which you can find on the web, and wisdom, the meaning that is developed using information. He understood. Many of my younger students don’t.

3. My interests are of high importance in my ability to learn.
We keep assuming that engagement is crucial to learning. I haven’t seen evidence of this. The fact that everyone gets so excited about a study implying that a group of students had higher grades because they used Twitter indicates that there isn’t much research yet. So now we study attention. People pay more attention to things they’re interested in, so they must learn more. It’s easy to see the common sense of this. But there are many things I learned that I was not interested in, but I needed them later and was able to use them. And I have several students who engage in class, they are so into what’s happening, but forget the whole subject the moment they leave the room. (I know it’s anecdotal, but I deliberately tested for this by formulating an essay question around an exciting class discussion we had about which movies expressed the same values in Homeric poetry — no joy.)

4. My teachers are there to understand my needs and meet them.
The popularity of learning styles, the idea that we have different kinds of intelligences, led to a craze (I’ll date it 1991-2010) of catering to these preferences. I did it too, surveying my students to see what kind of learning they liked according to their own stated “needs”. The theory is being discredited now, right after I’d already come to the conclusion that I want my students working against type, so they could learn how to learn in other ways too.

5. My contributions are appreciated, regardless of their quality.
This is a hold-over from the whole self-esteem, I’m OK- You’re OK, thing. It’s not that we aren’t all OK. We are. But our work isn’t. It varies in quality. Sometimes it’s bad (this blog post ain’t so hot). Sometimes it’s good. There are gentle ways to suggest improvement, and not confuse the work with the person, but we don’t do this. We call someone a “C student”. We also make allowances. I’ve had a student tell me they couldn’t do an assignment because they’re a visual learner (see #4). Appreciate the person. Critically evaluate the work.

6. My ideas are always worth of respect.
They aren’t. Morally reprehensible ideas aren’t.

7. Learning should be pleasant.
Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) blames television in general, and Sesame Street in particular, for the idea that we should always be entertained and amused as we learn. TV, and now the internet, makes concentrated learning (especially of long texts, mathematical equations, or focused study) even more dull than they were before. Learning my multiplication tables was dull. But I still know them.

8. If I am bored, it is because my classes are boring.
There’s an old reply to a child saying, “this is boring”: you may be bored, but this is not boring. We say people should learn how to learn. I think it’s good if they also learn how to learn things that don’t interest them. You’re 8 years old (or 12, or 25, or 46) — how can you know what will interest you later? (see #1)

So do we try to reform the whole educational system in a way that encourages these extremes? Do we hold up the student in the New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” as what we want? a young man who cannot get through a book and thinks that you can get the “whole story” of a novel in a 6-minute YouTube video?

We need to look at what we’re accepting and encouraging here. I do not agree with the quotation by Jeff Jarvis, presented by Will Richardson in our class last Tuesday: “Maybe the issue isn’t that we’re too distracted to read but that reading can finally catch up with how our brains really work.” He says the assumption is that we think “that the way we used to do it is the right way”. He says change brings “fear and retrenchment”. But looking at what we had before doesn’t need to imply traditionalism. It can be an effort to select what is worth saving.

What most people agree on, even the apologists, is that our print culture is moving toward web culture, and that we are moving from a world of lengthy printed texts to web-based scannable snippets. Even in my somewhat traditional field of History, we now have “new forms of his­tor­i­cal writ­ing, shorter forms with less schol­arly appa­ra­tus“.  The question is whether that is OK, and what kind of society results if we do. Do we want to save the ability to develop a sustained argument? To triumph over the difficulty of learning something hard? To pay the respect owed to teachers? to study ideas and ideals that transcend the interests of the day? Then we should keep those in mind as we move forward.

Posted in Musings | 5 Comments

I hate concept maps, so I’m doing another one

I was really mad at George Siemens, who made me do a concept map as part of the Connectivism class in 2008. Here was this whole class using and exploring all these tools, and for this one particular assignment we were forced to use a concept map.

Horror. I am a word person. I like language. I find lists perfectly acceptable. The closest I’d ever gotten to visual representation of words was a calendar grid, or possible drawing a line across my notes from one word to another to show relationship.

I don’t draw. When I was in high school my art teacher drew a picture of a brain, then another much smaller one next to it. He explained that this was a girl’s brain, and that’s why girls can’t do art. I’d like to say I got over that….

I could do layout on the high school paper, no problem. I did some visual stuff in college — lighting design was my thing. That kind of spatial and color stuff I could understand. Then came the web, and I made web pages.

But the concept map thing sent me into a panic. I forced myself to do it, of course, using that awful Cmap program. I began to realize it was mostly words, just arranged differently. I kept working with it. I did the assignment. When I was done, I vowed I’d never do it again.

So then Dr Couros assigns a Summary of Learning, as an “artefact”. My first thought was (gasp!) a concept map. What the hell had happened? I wanted to track my progress — surely this blog is already doing that. Surely a simple list or outline would summarize my learning. I could explain in words.

But no. The right tool for this job, if I’m going to do it, is a concept map. So I found something better than Cmap, and though I’m still not thrilled with MindMeister (ironically, because it doesn’t let me use enough images!), it will do fine.

Very brave, I thought. I hate vegetables, so I eat them. I detest exercise, so I go walk on a treadmill several times a week. And I can’t stand concept maps, so I’m doing one for my Summary of Learning.

Posted in The Class | 5 Comments

Another off-the-wall perspective

Off the wall and probably off base, I guess I’m turning into the class curmudgeon (move over, Jud). I don’t want to be a believer, to be part of a “movement for change”, to be part of the solution, or to be the change I want to see in the world. I respect the people who are, and who seem happy with their role. I find the role frustrating, and for me it leads to egotism and expectations and other things I find uncomfortable. I’d just like to use my teaching tools, please.

I am intrigued by the perspective indicated in Shelley Wright’s post Daring, a response to Danielle. Teachers want to change the world — why would we be teachers otherwise? And to network with like-minded people is great. But the idea that together we can reject standardization and accountability, march in a different direction, make a new world, rebuild education….

I just don’t think it will happen like this.

Partly this is because I was politically active at a young age. I was doing cold calls to get people to vote against a nuclear reactor in my home county when I was 11. I worked political campaigns at 13. In high school, I edited the school newspaper and attacked the truancy laws that were rounding up anyone caught off-campus and detaining them. As an adult, I marched against both the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq. I was just one of many, carrying a sign and singing songs we didn’t remember because we hadn’t marched in 1968.

The power plant was not built, thank goodness, but my candidate did not get elected, the truancy laws didn’t change, and we haven’t ended these wars. Change does happen, but often in small ways, or steps forward and back, often over many years. (Or it happens half-way: I once paid a lab to do soil samples at our local playground to show the arsenic in the sand from the play structure’s pressure-treated lumber, and put the results on everyone’s doorstep. The Homeowner’s Association denied the results, but the play structure got replaced because it was falling apart. But they left the sand there, of course.)

Most change happens incrementally, and often through undermining the system from within. I can’t do that with arsenic-laden sand, but I can with teaching. I am considered something of a campus leader in technology at my college, although I have no official position of any kind, not even heading a committee. This is because I continually subverted the system, then requested support for my subversion, or began teaching workshops on what I was doing and asking others to do the same. I created a whole professional development program beholden to no one because I rejected the role of campus technology leader, refused positions where I might have been paid for it, because it would have then been controlled by people who wanted to systematize it.

So we look at something like the “Top 20 Most Influential People in Online Learning” list, posted by Alec Couros last Thursday in Twitter, where he commented:

Where indeed? I couldn’t help but notice the dominance of company-employed people on the list, people who are part of the new system. I’m not sure I like the new system any better than the old one.

Luckily for the prospects of change, the group changing things is still fairly small. We are all part of it, but I don’t want it to become a cult. I don’t want to be a believer. As soon as we start that kind of thinking, we construct alternate realities that don’t dovetail with enough ordinary objectives to earn widespread acceptance.

Instead, let’s just do it, and when people ask, let’s justify it using the accepted norms, as I suggested on Shelley Wright’s blog. We can share ideas on how to do these things successfully, but the best way to get an idea to spread is to just show it working. That’s why I’m not too interested in educational theory and research, nor forming the First Techno-Utopian Church of the Web. I’ll just use a blog here and a wiki there as if it were the obvious thing to do for the pedagogical objective I have in mind, being as open as possible about it so anyone who wishes can see what I’m doing.

Maybe it’s off the beaten path, but I think it will be more effective.

[Snow monkey photo by Trent McBride]

Posted in Musings, Sideways | 5 Comments