Oct 132009

If I Had Something to Say by re_birf
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This week we’ve been asked to jot down / sketch / brainstorm some ideas about our final design project. I was pretty stumped for a while, and I’m still not sure I’ve really got any ideas. I have several jotted down in my (paper) notebook and have been letting them “sit” in my mind for the last 4 or 5 days. Generally they all come back to writing and how to make it more of a social, interactive experience. Basically, I am uncomfortable (always have been) with the stereotypical image of “writer in solitude.” While I agree that at times one can write better when sitting alone, I also think good writers can emerge from a supported community. It takes some balance. I’m not really keen on teaching / instructing people how to become better writers in solitude. I’ll leave that for Sark, Natalie Goldberg, and Julia Cameron. I’m much more interested in how to capitalize on the hive mind and create some solid pieces of Writing For The People.

i am by Will Lion
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Robert Scoble tried a variation of this using FriendFeed and Twitter, but I am much more interested in the idea of having some kind of platform that makes this all possible — that your audience can give you feedback as the ideas are being generated, and that parts of the writer’s words can be shared, and critiqued, before the piece is “finished.” Or perhaps the piece is never finished? I’d like there to be some element of audio / video, as well, so that users can comment this way and so that the focus is not entirely text-based. I basically want writing — that is, communicating via text — to not be as laborious and text-heavy as it is now. In order to blog these days, you have to be pretty text literate. And while that is fine for those of us who are verbal and educated, what about twelve-year-olds who have something to put out into the world, who want to refine their writing, but want some help and interaction to make their writing really phenomenal?

Perhaps I’m thinking too grandiose at the moment…

What’s been sticking out to me when reading Saffer, Sharp, Norman, and Adams is how important it is for the affordances of the interface to be almost instinctual, or intuitive. I also am intrigued by the feedback/ feed-forward ideas Saffer discusses in Chapter 7; it is striking to me how few programs / platforms incorporate this. The key, I guess, is to have everything seem simple to the user but in reality the complexity is all hidden from the user. Which has got me thinking — if it is intuitive to me, how will I know it is intuitive to others? Saffer in particular talks about how so many designers design things for other designers, and how this is just not cool. I have to agree. So I am wondering — hoping? optimistically? naively? — that not being a designer myself or having that background will actually be an advantage in this particular project. Or is that what every designer thinks when they first start out… ? 😉 I suppose it comes back to what we’ve been learning in every course so far — a tenet that is fundamental to educators in general — know your user. Do research, talk to them, study them, find out how they will use things, how they think. This reminds me also how intrigued I was about all the user research that went into Quest Atlantis, having read about this for a different course. Knowing your user is key, and I suppose one cannot assume ever that they are just like oneself! :)

I have to admit that I’m really also loving the ideas of one of my classmates, Poukhan. Check out her ideas. I am tempted to scrap my interactive writing idea altogether and ask if I can join her!

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Sep 252009

Screen shot 2009-09-25 at 12.11.10 AM

I’ve just finished reading a whole whack of stuff about the history of constructivism and constructionism in educational theories. Fascinating. But in it all, I came across a gem of a reference that helps (I think) support my point in an argument with Dennis Harter about the IB Learner Profile. To sum up, our Twitter discussion was about whether the IB Learner Profile adequately covers the area of collaboration. Dennis thinks it doesn’t; he feels that it should be a separate attribute in the Learner Profile. I, however, think it is adequately covered under Communication. I think this because communication does not exist in a vacuum. To be an effective Communicator, you must know how to work with others effectively. To me, the terms “communicator” and “collaborator” are NOT mutually exclusive. You cannot be one without being the other.

So, I was reading a chapter from Psychology of Learning for Instruction by M.P. Driscoll (2005), and came across a cross-reference to some research done by Roy Pea (1994) and Edelson, Pea, and Gomez (1995).  I looked up the article (PDF) by Pea, Edelson, and Gomez, “Constructivism in the Collaboratory,” which describes how the authors set up a learning environment based on constructivist theories which allows learners to collaborate in an open-ended investigation. Here is the quote that got me; it is from the conclusion:

The collaboration tools enable students to engage in this scientific practice in a social context that includes other students, teachers, and scientists. The resulting social interactions enhance the learning that students achieve through the transformative process of communication. (p.16)

Basically, the authors are concluding that collaboration enables social interactions, and these interactions — and therefore the collaborative efforts — are achieved via communication. So, one cannot be collaborative without communicating effectively. Communication is essential to collaboration, and can not be achieved in any way other than via communication.

Roy Pea, in his article (PDF) about how multimedia (specifically computer-supported collaborative learning, or CSCL) can help or transform communication between learners, comes to a similar conclusion earlier. His article is about how the complex construction of CSCL needs to be re-thought in light of new ways of communication. He says, about communication in relationship to collaborative processes:

I therefore propose describing this third view of communication as transformative. The initiate in new ways of thinking and knowing in education and learning practices is transformed by the process of communication with the cultural messages of others, but so, too, is the other (whether teacher or peer) in what is learned about the unique voice and understanding of the initiate. (p.288)

What to make of all of this? I would posit that recent research suggests that communciation is an essential part of collaboration: communication changes the way we collaborate. It cannot be separated from it, and therefore the IB Learner Profile is justified in applying these two domains together.

Works cited:

Edelson, D.C., Pea, R., and Gomez, L. (1995) Constructivism in the Collaboratory. In B.G. Wilson (1995) Constructivist Learning Environments: Case Studies in instructional design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Pea, R. (1994). Seeing What We Build Together: Distributed Multimedia Learning Environments for Transformative Communications. In Journal of the Learning Sciences, pp. 285-299.

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Sep 232009

… or, Representational Autobiconography as assigned by Frank Migliorelli

Creating “my story” was actually not as difficult as I had anticipated. Actually, for me the question was, Which story to tell? I drafted several outlines (0n paper — I always do my pre-writing/pre-project work on paper) and decided that most stories were too difficult to tell using iconic images. I think the reason is because I was thinking in terms of emotion rather than events, and emotions, while easy to convey using imagery such as photographs, are difficult to convey using icon-type images. So, I elected to tell a story with events and places. I even limited the people in my story — again, just too difficult to do simply without showing relationships and emotions.

(Note: thanks to those of you in my Twitter network who provided advice / tips. I hope my reasons above justify my choice of “techniques.” I so appreciate your input and hope you understand why I chose these techniques.)

The images I chose had largely to do with places and what it was I was doing in those places. It was a challenge to use iconic images to

represent places because the risk of using stereotypes was so high. I wonder if others had this problem, or if it is unique to me because of the varied places I have lived. It definitely made me think about how culture and stereotypes influence our visual understanding, and it is a two-way street in this sense. As in, our understanding of other cultures is sometimes derived from the visuals we see. But the visuals we see also create the understanding we come away with. For example, if you see this first image:

… chances are you will assume that the photo is from Vietnam. And you would be correct. Why would you assume this? The conical hats, of course. In many ways, the conical hat represents Vietnam.

But what if you saw the next image?

Would you also think “Vietnam” as soon as you saw it? It is also from Vietnam, yet we don’t usually associate construction and skyscrapers with the stereotypical Vietnam. But those images are just as “normal” as anyone who has lived in an urban centre in Vietnam will tell you!

Choosing images to tell my story was definitely strategic. I wanted to follow the KISS principle — Keep It Simple, Stupid. Less is more and all of that. I originally had ideas about how to communicate to my audience about the type of schools I’ve been teaching in these last 8 years, but quickly realized that too many representational images on one slide was going to be difficult and confusing for the audience to understand.

I think the most complex thought I tried to transmit was the last slide, whereby I was trying to show that studying and learning (albeit with an ironic bent of boredom) will lead to enlightenment. I wanted to actually make it look as though studying + collaborating = enlightenment, but I could not find any simple images to represent collaboration. There were plenty of cheesy simple ones, or complicated artistic ones but none of them complemented the images I had already chosen, which I chose deliberately for their simplicity in composition.

And so, here is My Life in Iconic Images, version 1.0. Please be gentle. :)

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My Life in Iconic Images by Adrienne Michetti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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