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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Sep 172009
 

This post is the first of several as part of a Design Journal for a class I am taking in Representation and Interaction Design (E19.2015) as part of the ECT Program at NYU Steinhardt.

Please note that I include some bibliographic notes only as a courtesy and reference; this is by no means a properly annotated or formatted bibliography, though it is possible it will evolve as such.

Our first week’s readings were:

  • Hall, Stuart. “Representation, Meaning, and Language.” (excerpt)
  • Robert E. Horn. “Information Design: Emergence of a New Profession.” (from Jacobson, R.E. (ed.), Information Design)
  • Plass and Salisbury. “A Living-Systems Design Model for Web-Based Knowledge Management Systems.” (from ETR&D, Volume 50, No. 1, 2002)

composition n.1 by PEC_86
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First: Hall’s article. I have read selections from this text previously, though it has been several years. This kind of stuff fascinates me. It is one of the primary reasons I love teaching and learning languages. I love also that it is so abstract and philosophical — about how language and visuals construct meaning, but that it is conceptually created by the system of representation. There is a very strong argument here for teaching visual and spatial literacy skills alongside traditional textual literacy; any teacher who feels reading/writing is more important than other language strands must read Hall. Additionally, this is so crucial to understanding when setting out to design anything for learning purposes: the context of the culture, the meaning, the representation, and the language. They all work together (or against one another, at times). In a multicultural society, this makes design difficult, because meaning can never be fixed. No wonder countries like Finland have the “top-rated” educational systems; they are designing learning materials for a largely homogeneous society.

“Language can never be a wholly private game.”p.25

I LOVE this quote! The essence of language — and of communication — is that we share these representations and codes.

“This means that our private thoughts have to negotiate with all the other meanings for words or images which have been stored in language which our use of the language system will inevitably trigger into action.” p.25

Sit and think about that for a moment. To simply exist in the world, we must “negotiate” an understanding with others via words, images, and representation. That is a heavy-duty task, which we do without thinking on a daily basis.

I wonder how much better communicators we would all be if we were conscious of this challenge in each moment?*

The constructivist view of representation is also the reason, in my opinion, why things like poetry, music, and art are so beautiful — the meaning constructed at the “other” end (ie., the reader/listener/viewers’s end) is so unique. It is also the basis for the Reader Response instructional technique / philosophy in literature instruction — that there is no right answer. And, it links neatly to another reading from this week, from a different course: that of Paulo Freire‘s objection to the “banking” concept of education. Learners are not receptacles to be filled: we want them to make their own meaning.

Horn’s article was also interesting, but mostly because this is an aspect I know little about. Thus, it was a great introduction to Information Design, a relatively new “profession” and niche. I had no idea that the UK was (is?) a leader in terms of resources and development in Information Design, so this was interesting to read about. Again, I found a strong argument for teaching of visual and textual literacy in Horn’s article when he discusses Structured Writing:

“Structured writing . . . is foundational to some areas of information design. It provides a systematic way of analyzing any subject matter to be conveyed in a written document.” p. 23

Thus, the importance of learning how to organize and arrange information: it is a crucial skill in any kind of analysis. The section on p. 24 about iconic signage was also interesting (another argument for visual literacy in schools), particularly the study of international symbols. I especially think this quote is relevant:

“To create a true linguistics of visual language we need new concepts that focus on how words and images work together.” p. 28

But most interesting was the final conclusion, in which Horn basically says that this profession is still evolving. Huh. It is still evolving 10 years after the publication of this article!

The Plass / Salisbury article was the least interesting to me because it was so technical, and in the end I felt like the conclusions were a no-brainer to me, and therefore somewhat of a disappointment. Not that I think their research & development of the living-systems model is not important — it most certainly is. But their conclusion — that a design cycle to create an instructional knowledge management system works best when there is constant evaluation and regulation by participants — is pretty much a given when you come from an educational background like I do. Of course a system of learning works better when the students have a part of it. Of course a system of learning works better when you are constantly asking the question, “How’s it going?” and “What can we do better?” and then actually implementing the suggestions. To me, it is all summed up in the final sentence:

“The living-systems approach we described in this article aims to support the development of environments that not only allow individuals to regulate their learning process, but that indeed grow and change in order to accommodate learners’ needs.” p.54

I recognize that designing and implementing an instructional tool (particularly a web-based one) to do this may not be easy. Heck, judging from the lengthy process that Plass & Salisbury describe (approximately 20 pages), I have to surmise that it is major task. I get that. But in the field of education, the conclusion stated above is really old news and something that educators try to do daily — particularly if they agree in any way with philosophers like Freire.

On a related note, I was quite pleased to notice distinct similarities between the design cycle that Plass / Salisbury come up with:

Living Systems Design Model

… and the MYP design cycle:

MYP Design Cycle

* As I read articles in this course, I am continuing to find many theories and ideas that are philosophical in nature. I am constantly reminded of Buddhist and other philosophical thoughts (for example, Sikhism, and various other yogic philosophies). I often wonder if I should create a separate blog just about those links. It truly is fascinating, especially when you get even further into studies of cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive sciences in general.

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