Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Deceiving Your Students

I came across an article this afternoon about "ghost students" that I have found rather disturbing. A ghost student, for those of you who may be wondering, are instructors who pretend to be a student participating in an online course. The student does not exist, except in the instructor's imagination. Instructors who have tried this approach assert that this act of deception enables them to get to know their students better. They also claim that the insight they glean from being one of the students enables them to create a better and more successful learning experience for the student. But is the deception regardless of the possible benefits justified?

I've been thinking about the ghost student issue from both sides - as a student and as an instructor. As a student, it takes me some time to trust the instructor. This likely stems from my experience as an undergrad when the instructors did everything in their power to weed out those who couldn't hack it. Finding out that one of the students was actually the instructor would put the final nail in that coffin. It would be difficult for me to rebound at this point in my academic career and learn to trust my instructor again.

When I put on my instructor hat, I have problems with ghost students, as well. I want to get to know my students as myself, not by being someone I'm not. If the only way I can make connections with my students is by posing as a student, then I need to reflect upon my teaching practices to determine what I could improve or change. I'm also certain I would say something that would suggest I was somehow listening in on the students' conversations. From my own experience, this does not sit well with students. If they believe they are communicating in a private forum, they are very unhappy and often become paranoid when there is a leak.

If deception is the only way to foster a successful online learning experience, then maybe educators should be looking toward alternative forms of teaching and learning.

It's All About the Experience

There's not much excitement in my life these days, so when the opportunity to do something "different" comes along, it's hard not to jump at the chance, regardless. Last night, we drove almost 20 miles along twisty roads in the rain to see the movie "Wendy and Lucy" in one of the smallest theaters in the world. The theater was nestled back off the side street in such a way that we drove past it a couple of times without even noticing it. Even though it was Memorial Day and Nashville was teeming with tourists when we arrived, the feel of the place changed a little after 5:00 p.m. when the town rolled up the streets for the day. It made me wonder what life was like for the residents.

The Lotus Petal Cinema is small - two people can barely fit into the space designated as a concession stand. After paying for tickets and assorted munchies (the theater offers an interesting snack selection; they will even put nacho cheese sauce on your popcorn!), we entered the viewing area of the theater. Thirty-five theater seats are nestled into a small room with blond paneling along the side walls. The area surrounding the screen is painted black. Typically, the ads designed to entertain and inform viewers prior to the start of the movie are annoying; the set at the Lotus Petal Cinema were actually fun to watch despite the typos. My favorite slide was the one immediately before the movie started. Four or five (?) Tibetan monks in winter clothing told the audience to "Enjoy the movie!" That was a first for me.

Even though the screen is small, it wasn't difficult to become completely immersed in the movie. We were skeptical at first, but we've watched movies in theaters with broken seats, a broken furnace in sub-zero weather (no heat in the "Big Chill"), and even had everything stop half way into the movie. To me, going to the movies is about the complete experience, not just the movie itself. That's why I'll go to a theater, especially a single-screen theater, to see a movie that's out on DVD.

The movie is based on the short story "Train Choir," which is included in Livability by Jon Raymond. It took me weeks to be able to check out a copy from the library, but it was well worth the wait. The concluding story in this collection is "Train Choir," and as soon as my eyes rested on the final word, I was determined to see the movie. This story is a quiet one with not a lot of action, but packed full of heartbreak, struggle, loss, and survival. Wendy (Michelle Williams), fresh from Indiana, is on her way to the fisheries of Alaska with her sidekick Lucy, a Golden Retriever type of dog. Because of car trouble in Oregon, these two find themselves on a downward path with no relief in sight. Wendy is arrested for "forgetting" to pay for a few cans of dog food, Lucy is taken by the local pound and placed in a foster home, Wendy's car is beyond repair, and money is dwindling fast.

Thanks to the small gestures of a security guard at neighborhood Walgreens, Wendy is able to locate Lucy. After seeing Lucy in her new home, Wendy realizes that Lucy is in a better place: she has nice owners, a large fenced-in backyard, and stable home life - things Wendy can't provide at this point in time. Wendy knows she can't go back to Indiana (a phone call to her sister clearly illustrates that) and without a car and very little money, completing the trip to the fisheries is going to be a challenge. That said, Wendy does the only thing she can do; she leaves Lucy, jumps on a train, and makes her way toward Alaska.

Michelle Williams performance as Wendy is powerful and painful. The viewer feels her profound sadness as each part of her plan falls apart. Williams portrays a character that is vulnerable and needs protection, but at the same time displays a strength that conveys the idea that she is tough enough to take care of herself, no matter what obstacles are thrown her way. In the end, Wendy loses it all yet still finds the courage to move forward.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day Distractions

After being a dissertation data coding monkey for a few weeks, I thought it was time to take a break. (Translation: I'm in a holding pattern right now. The next set of data to analyze won't be collected until June 3, and everything is set for the proposal defense. So, the only thing to do is wait.) I'm not very good at relaxing, though, which means I want to go somewhere - anywhere but here. Because traveling isn't in the cards for this weekend, I did the next best thing: I read Jean Thompson's Do Not Deny Me (forthcoming). While I've been intrigued by Thompson's work before, particularly given that she lives in my old stomping grounds - Urbana, IL - this book of 12 stories was my introduction to her work. And I devoured everyone of them like a decadent box of fine chocolates.

The stories are centered around everyday life - relationships, financial problems, work-related issues, and even the dreaded midlife crisis. While this may not sound like page-turning events on the surface, Thompson's writing draws her reader in deeper and deeper with each word, with each sentence. I could clearly visualize Professor Penrose walking through the halls of a college campus building (I imagined the English Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Agent Roorda talking about his parents' house in Paris (IL), Mrs. Crabtree from Olney (also IL) trying to save her American dream during an economic downturn, and Claudine threatening to take her husband, Hurley, to the "demented ward" at the VA Hospital in Danville. While the stories for the most part are not directly connected, the quotidian trials the characters struggle with weave a common thread throughout the book.

The book concludes with an update on Lynn, "a model of a modern Michigan matron," who decides her husband's affairs with young grad students are unacceptable. Even though Lynn's "Untold Story" does not spin a fairy tale of the good life, it does leave the reader feeling that Lynn is going to make it after all (cue the "Mary Tyler Moore" show theme song, "Love is All Around"). This is not to say that Thompson is trying to put a sugar coating over these stories. She is not. While not overtly disturbing, the lives and actions of these characters continue to haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. However, the message that seems to be seeping through the gauze of Lynn's untold story is that despite the rough patches, these characters will not be denied a bit of happiness along the way.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Personal Explorations Fueled by Coffee

One of the first things I came across this morning as I was waiting for the caffeine to kick in was the following:

"Two things are necessary for me to be able to write: music and coffee." - Aleksandar Hemon, WSJ, 4/8/09.

This quote really struck me, because last night I was listing to Janice Ian, who was a student of the Rev. Gary Davis. Before performing, Janice revealed a bit of her story. She would go into NYC on the weekends to hang out in Greenwich Village with other poets and musicians. It was there that Janice met Rev. Davis and his wife. While Rev. Davis told Janice her hands were too small for his style of guitar playing, his wife became Janice's advocate. Without Rev. Davis and his wife, Janice's life journey would have been completely different.

After Janice's performance (she was playing backup for Marie Knight - what a voice!), I began exploring her song "At Seventeen." Here are the first few lines from the song:

I learned the truth at seventeen,
That love was meant for beauty queens.
In high school, girls with clear-skin smiles,
Who married young and then retired.

This was my high school experience to the letter. In a YouTube clip, Janice describes her battle with curly, dark hair in a world of females with long, straight, blonde hair. At this point in my curly, dark haired life, I've given up the battle - I no longer dream of being a blonde; instead, I want to dye my hair red, attention-grabbing red that cascades down my back in swirls and curls.

While Janice and I shared some common characteristics, I have yet to experience similar career influences. While my main writing focus tends to center around the world of academia, I find myself more deeply moved by poetry, prose, and art. The music and the stories of individuals like Janice Ian inspire me to hone my craft and look at my body of work through different lens.

The other day I stumbled upon an article about an exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum that illustrates ways to share research with others in a creative and unique way. And unlike traditional research distribution methods (i.e., peer reviewed journals, book chapters, etc.), it is likely that a larger body of people will experience these findings. The exhibit is titled, "Grand Text Auto," which, put simply, converts blog posts into performance art. More about this exhibit is available here. Electronic literature and gaming - how cool is that!

Another exhibit worth checking out, one which combines electronic text and art, was created by the French conceptual artist/provocateur Sophie Calle. The title of the piece, "Take Care of Yourself," which reflects the last line of an email message Calle received from a boyfriend who dumped her. In response to this rejection, Calle asks 100 women to read this rejection letter and respond to the last line. What started out as therapy became a very unique look at technology, communication, and interpretation. The exhibit has a limited showing. So if you're in the vicinity of the Paul Cooper Gallery in the next 27 days, this is work worth checking out.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

John Seeley Brown at IU

A sunny spring day welcomed John Seely Brown to the Indiana University campus. According to weather.com, storms were on their way, but the gray skies stayed away. While TB and I didn't have to navigate wet conditions to get to the talk, I'm not sure it was worth the two hours I set aside for it.

First, the room may have been ideal for a luncheon, but it was not adequate for a talk with a large attendance. After a number of people congregated along the fringes of the room, someone got the bright idea to bring in extra chairs. This still did not accommodate everyone. Fortunately, TB got a chair, but I had to stand for most of the talk.

John Seely Brown may be considered an educational "rock star," but he isn't a very inspirational speaker. He spent most of the time talking to the group of males sitting in chairs near the podium. (The women in the group obviously were not worthy enough of his words of wisdom.) There were also times when he was hard to hear, turned away from the group, gave rambling responses to questions, and mumbled unintelligible comments. One of Brown's main points was that educators should move away from the "sage on the stage" approach to teaching. Ironically, however, Brown lectured to the group for more than an hour. Stated another way, he was the "sage on the stage" he was arguing against.

In general, Brown's talk was tired and seemed somewhat out-of-date. Most of his talking points were presented in the article "Minds on Fire" he co-wrote in early 2008 with Richard Adler. If you have the opportunity to attend a presentation given by Brown, it might be time better spent to simply read the Minds article. Another "old" idea was the concept of play and fun in learning. Brown presented play (or as he calls it, homo ludens) as if it was new and revolutionary. He has obviously missed the wealth of information that is presented in much of the literature.

Other ideas mentioned in Brown's presentation:
  • It's not a digital gap but a participation gap. (Hmmm...wonder what the individuals without computer and internet access would say about this? But, when you think about it, you can't participate if you don't have access. Referring to the digital gap by another name doesn't make it magically go away.)
  • Play as an epiphany - Free your mind and the learning will come.
  • Tinkering is the key to mastering a world in flux. (Much of the literature on women and computers suggest that males are typically tinkerers and females are not. If tinkering is the key, and females don't tinker, is the assumption that they won't master this world in flux? That's not a very optimistic statement. Shouldn't we be working toward learning environments that are friendly to all students, not just those who are male?)
  • Pushing toward the acquisition of 21st century learning skills is wrong. Instead, according to Brown, educators should be working toward creating a 21st century disposition in our students. What is a 21st century disposition, you might ask? Brown defines it as just being open to the idea of learning from others.
Many individuals in the audience appeared to be wowed by Brown's presentation. Maybe I've read too much at this point in my doctoral career, but none of the concepts Brown mentioned seemed new or particularly revolutionary to me. Guess I'm not cut out to be a groupie, at least not for this rock star.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Girl Gamers, Not Stewardesses

Leave it to the serendipity of the web to point me in the direction of this article on gender and video games. I was reviewing the blog posts thousands of individuals (1,980 individuals, to be exact) contributed on Ada Lovelace Day (March 24), when I came across a reference to "Crossing the (Gender) Divide." Who would have thought that Delta Sky, the magazine you find in the seat pocket of Delta Air Lines flights, would have an article on gender and video games? Here's an excerpt from that piece:

Many of today's video games are shedding their decidedly male "skins" and reaching out to female players with both avatars and themes designed specifically for "girl gamers." And that's just the beginning. Avid gamers of the "gentler persuasion" are heading back to the classroom to earn advanced degrees in computer programming so they can create the games they, and others like them, have dreamed about playing.

The end of the piece includes a "Chick Click" site, which includes links to "chick-friendly" video game-related sites. One of those links leads to a hard-core girl gamer site - Frag Dolls. Learn more about these tech-savvy females here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Educational Video Players

Hulu and YouTube have tossed their hats into the educational video ring. Hulu's contribution is Academic Earth, a site where visitors can access "thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." Not to be left behind, YouTube introduces YouTube EDU, which offers "videos and channels from our college and university partners." Who are the college and university partners? A list is available here.

What does this mean for sites, like TeacherTube? Can all three survive in these tough economic times? What features and characteristics will distinguish one from the other? These are just a few of the questions that come to mind, and I'm sure others will surface over time.

What's in a name?

Women librarians have made great strides in recent years. According to Deyrup (2004), more than 50% of library leaders (top administrators; library directors) are women. This is significant in that in 1991, women made up 80% of the library workforce, yet 80% of the library administrators were men (Kauffman, 1993). Moreover, there are scholars (e.g., Zemon & Bahr, 2005) who claim that there are cases where the salaries of female directors exceeds that of the male directors. So, the issues surrounding the "disadvantaged majority" (i.e., women librarians) is over, right? Not so fast. While scholars such as Cassell and Weibel (2007) suggest that there are bigger issues today, there remains the image problem that has been plaguing libraries since the 1940s (O'Brien, 1983).

The image problem has recently reared its ugly head at Rutgers University. At that institution, the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies is trying to remove the term "library" from its name. Some graduates, like Mary Chilton, a professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College (CUNY), are not happy about this move and state that they will not support it. In fact, Chilton claims the following:

It sounds as if the Dean really wants to say that librarians are female and poor and mostly wedded to a diminishing public sector, and SCILS wants private money and therefore has to appeal to private money biases, or to academic administrators who share these biases, all the while reaping the headcount of the MLIS students.

Chilton continues to suggest that should the name change be approved, she would like a "divorce" from her program. It appears that the presence of a female majority continues to taint the term "library." Maybe all women librarians who graduated from programs that remove "library" from its name should take similar action. Just a thought.

Despite the advances women have made in libraries, we cannot allow them to lull us into a false sense of security and mask the gender-related problems that still exist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cindy Sherman: Photos & Film

I first learned about Cindy Sherman a few years ago when I took a feminist methodologies course. We were using her work to learn how to analyze our data (i.e., photos) using a photovoice approach. (For more information on photovoice, this site has information about the creators of this method - Caroline C. Wang and Mary Ann Burris.)

Until the end of December 2008, a collection of Sherman's latest photos were exhibited at Metro Pictures in New York. While I was not able to view the collection in person, the kind people at New York Art Tours made it possible for me to vicariously experience the photos. The video tour for Sherman's work is available here.

Tomorrow (Friday, March 27), the new documentary, Guest of Cindy Sherman, will open in New York and in selected cities (read: The Film Center, Santa Fe). Co-directed by ex-boyfriend Paul H-O, this film has generated quite a bit of controversy. In fact, Sherman has spoken out against the documentary and does not want to be associated with it. For those who do not live in a community that will show Guest or who are looking for an alternative view of Sherman and her work, Culture Monster recommends the 2005 short, Cindy: The Doll is Mine - directed by Bertrand Bonello and starring Asia Argento. You can watch this film in its entirety here. Time to break out the popcorn!

Curriculum Changes in the UK

According to The Guardian, there will be more emphasis in the UK primary curriculum on emerging technology such as Twitter and blogging and less on the Victorians and WWII. This proposed curriculum is designed to give teachers more flexibility in what they teach, while ensuring that students are well-versed in the latest digital spaces. English, mathematics, communication, health & well-being, and science & technology, as well as art & design are the six core areas outlined in the proposal. While it appears that educators in the UK have jumped on the latest technological bandwagon, there are signs that the government didn't want to completely scrap traditional education. Although, an emphasis on books and the concept of reading for pleasure is downplayed in favor of online resources.

A statement made near the end of this article struck me. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, stated, "Children need to be enthused by learning, so they want to learn and gain the skills which will enable them to learn in later life." At present, I'm reading Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 for my project on women's roles in libraries. The third chapter in this book discusses early library leaders and educational reform during the mid-to-late 1800s. On p. 52, Garrison highlights the influence Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi had on American pedagogy during this time period, and states, "With Pestalozzi, learning came to mean not the gathering of facts alone, but the enjoyment of those facts to solve practical problems." While another influential educator during this time period, Johann Friedrich Herbart, concentrated on ethical instruction, he emphasized the importance of learner interest, as well. Even though Pestalozzi and Herbart were calling for educational reform more than 100 years ago, their message mirrors those being touted by today's educational technology advocates - individuals like Mary Bousted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SL and Other Virtual Learning Options

An article came out Monday (3/23) on virtual training and options beyond Second Life (SL). One of the first things the author, Jon Wilcox, mentions is that SL is not the virtual world darling it used to be. Wilcox is not the first to suggest that SL has entered a "gloom stage" (see Greenberg, 2008), but he doesn't dwell on this apparent turn of events. Nor does Wilcox imply that this signals a decreased interest in virtual learning. On the contrary. He instead turns to examine virtual worlds that are being investigated such as OLIVE, IBM's INNOV8 v.2, and TruSim. Mary Matthews, the strategy and business development director at TruSim outlines several requirements for successful virtual worlds. She argues that one of the most important features can also be the most difficult to determine - the right level of fidelity. Stated another way, not every training or learning task may require a highly detailed representation or a depiction of realistic characters.

While the current economic downturn may make some institutions more cautious in their experimentations with virtual worlds, this is not the case for everyone. Wilcox mentions, for example, that 50% of classes on one subject at a Boston university are using virtual worlds. Unfortunately, the name of the institution and the specific subject are not provided. On the surface, this sounds impressive, but it may not be. The subject could one in which two classes are offered; this would mean only one class was using virtual worlds. Also, why wasn't the name of the institution given? Does this Boston university even exist, or was this example used because it gives the illusion that virtual educational initiatives are alive and well in the physical world?

I do believe that virtual worlds have the potential to improve distance education and training. But because institutions are looking for ways to cut their budgets, they are likely to be more cautious in their adoption of emerging technologies. Many educators have been consuming new technologies like a child eating cotton candy at the county fair. After awhile, though, the excessive amounts of unnutritious fluff don't taste so good. At present, it appears that some virtual worlds may not be quite as appealing as they once were. Thus, it is necessary to examine these digital spaces more critically than has been done in the past and determine whether more nutritious options are available.

Video Games and Pauline Kael

Earlier I was pondering the idea of borrowing from the art world to better understand virtual worlds. At Pop Matters, L. B. Jeffreys questions whether video games need a critic like the late Pauline Kael. Kael was a film critic and regular contributor to The New Yorker. In her work, Kael was against any particular set of rules or guidelines for art or criticism. Instead, her belief was that the only requirement was to astonish the viewer/reader. As Jeffreys points out, though, the problem with video game criticism today is that it doesn't serve to generate any enthusiasm or appreciation for the games. Are we being too academic in our interpretation of video games (and virtual worlds)? Should we be following Kael's lead and attempt to undo the intellectual approach of analysis?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gender & Language Quote

What a fitting quote to send me off to teach my gender and computing class!

"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs." - Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Art Inspired Research

Over Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to visit two art galleries - Krannert Art Museum and the Indiana University Art Museum. The focus at Krannert was on two exhibits: Polaroids and Portraits: A Photographic Legacy of Andy Warhol and Audubon at Illinois: Selections from the University Library's Birds of America. Warhol's work has interested me for years, and his use of Polaroids was an attempt to democratize the concept of photography. It was also a way for him to create a visual diary of everyday life, which is very much like blogging, twittering, Facebooking, etc.

In contrast, the Birds of America plates, which were life-sized (the bound volumes of the plates are commonly referred to as the double elephant folio), had a more surreal feel to them. The colors in Audubon's work are so muted, yet there are plates such as the Roseate Spoonbill, 1836, where the colors are so striking. Prior to this particular viewing, I attended an entertaining and informative talk at the Lilly Library about Audubon. The event was by invitation only, and I (and the person who invited me) agreed to attend without knowing what to expect. Surprising to everyone in attendance, Christoph Irmscher was the guest speaker. Even if birds are not your thing, I highly recommend attending any talk given by Irmscher - a truly inspiring speaker.

These events merely whetted my appetite for art, so I went in search of another exhibit. I didn't have to go far - one was right in my own backyard. Because the weather has been more temperate, I've unearthed my camera from its hibernation spot and started taking photos again. As luck would have it, one of the current exhibits at the IU Art Museum highlights the minimalist photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto, who is influenced by the concept of 'Ma'. His images of movie theaters has stuck with me even several days later. Perhaps it's because at least two of the theaters included in the exhibit reminded me of the interior of the Art Theater in downtown Champaign, which is slated to close in December 2009. If the community cannot rally around this single screen theater enough to keep it open, someone should at the very least photograph the interior of this wonderful space. Maybe Sugimoto should add it to his collection?

Prior to my art binge, I read an interesting article by Osberg and Biesta (2008) on the emergent curriculum. In this piece, the authors refer via Ulmer, to the German performance artist, Joseph Beuys (1921-1986). Osberg and Beista suggest that Beuys' presentations did not transmit meaning; instead they inspired the audience to generate their own meaning. In other words, the audience was charged with creating their own art from the materials given to them by Beuys. Thinking outside the realm of art, this description sounds very similar to the rhetoric that surrounds constructivist ideals. According to those who espouse a constructivist approach to education, students construct their own meaning; the instructors merely serve as facilitators or coaches.

I guess one question I have is this: Can viewing research involving virtual worlds through an art world lens can be enlightening? By expanding my reading scope and drawing for what appear to be unrelated disciplines, I'm trying to shake things up a bit and alter my perspective. A misguided adventure? We shall see.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Isn't It Ironic

The latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review hit my in-box today, and this issue addresses the issue of learning spaces. Joan Lippincott wrote a piece that caught my eye, and it explores the involvement of faculty (and students) in the design process of technology areas. Rather than simply remodeling an existing structure or building an eye-catching new facility, Lippincott suggests that the ultimate goal should be to create a technology-rich design that will enable faculty to easily incorporate technology into their curriculum, as well as support them and their students in these endeavors.

Lippincott begins her discussion with a brief description of new computer labs and information commons, just to name a few. Interestingly, the University of Virginia just announced that they plan to begin a three-year plan that will eliminate the the computer labs on their campus. Instead of planning for new tech facilities for students, faculty, and staff, U. of Virginia states that most students come to campus equipped with their own computers. Thus, while their computer labs are heavily used, administrators argue that these facilities are not essential in tough economic times.

Going back to Lippincott's article for a moment: she points to a 2008 CDW Government report that claims that when it comes to selecting a college, students say that technology ranks high on their list of important features to consider. Self-report data is often suspect, but if this finding is correct, then cuts to computer labs may lead to lower student enrollments in the future. I also found this report finding interesting in that other research, such as the ECAR studies (an EDUCAUSE research center), suggest that students - individuals who are typically prolific technology users in their personal lives - only want moderate technology in the classroom. Also, the face-to-face interactions with faculty are important to them. Moreover, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder were frequent laptop users in the classroom, but they stopped after their instructor pointed to the decline in grades for the web surfers in the group. While laptop bans are difficult to enforce, highlighting the impact they have on grades may motivate some students to stop surfing.

To add technology or not, that is the question. And, if technology is added, Lippincott's suggestion that planners should take into account the stakeholders' perspective is a valid one. Proper planning may take more time, but it may be more cost-effective in that it leads to the effective use of the new and remodeled tech spaces.

Monday Morning with Foucault

It's amazing the thoughts that come pouring into the brain during an early a.m. run. Today is not a particularly lovely spring day - cloudy, around 50 degrees with gusty winds from the SE, and rain is on the way - but the run was one of the best I've had in recent weeks and left me feeling inspired. Must be the adrenalin high.

So, how does Foucault fit into this? Over the past few months, I've been preparing my dissertation prospectus, human subjects materials, and dissertation proposal. While the chair of my committee told me I didn't need to do any additional reading, I felt that my current perspective felt tired. Perhaps that was merely a reflection of the physical tiredness I've been feeling from training for a half-marathon, but I was in the market for inspiration.

Luckily, Dr. Elisabeth Davenport visited IU at the end of January during an unprecedented snowstorm. Following her discussion on dialogic methods in information science, I was able to talk to her about her interest in social media. In addition, she pointed me in the direction of some of her colleagues who are currently involved in social media research, including virtual worlds.

One scholar in particular who has caught my attention is Dr. Siân Bayne. In the several articles and book chapters I've read thus far, Bayne takes a more critical approach that most elearning scholars. Because reading much of the educational literature is like consuming an endless amount of cotton candy at the county fair, Bayne's references to philosophers such as Foucault and the points she makes about the limitations of digital spaces was like adding a serving of fruits and vegetables to an otherwise unhealthy diet.

Through Bayne's work, as well as a piece on virtual topographies by Mark Nunes, I stumbled upon Foucault's work on "other spaces." In that article, which originally served as the basis of a lecture presented in 1967, Foucault discusses utopias, or "unreal spaces," environments that have no place. In contrast, he presents the concept of heterotopias, which are based on real places, but at the same time are unreal, as well. In his discussion, Foucault outlines five principles of heterotopias: 1) all societies likely have a heterotopia; 2) existing heterotopias that whose function can by altered by a society; 3) the juxtaposition of heterotopias, some of which may be dissimilar, in the same space; 4) heterotopias linked to time (i.e., heterochronies) and breaks with traditional time; and 5) entrance into and exit out of the heterotopia.

As I was trying to wrap my head around these principles of heterotopias, the characteristics of Second Life (SL) came to mind. First, several scholars claim that today's students are a different type of learner - they want an educational experience that is unlike traditional teaching and learning interactions. Next, education is undergoing changes such as moving from a physical classroom to an online space. Third, in SL entities that individuals may not find located in the same part of town may be neighbors in this virtual world. For example, an island were educational activities occur may be located next to a risque nightclub. The fourth principle - time - also applies to the SL environment. In-world, following SL time (SLT) is the norm. Individuals unfamiliar with SL may not realize it at first, but SLT is simply Pacific Time. And finally, SL is free, which means that it is open to everyone. Yet, at the same time, the steep tech requirements exclude individuals who cannot afford high-end computers.

I'm still trying to determine how to incorporate the concept of heterotopias into my own work and how they related to SL. At present, it has served as rich food for thought.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bits of Honey

The trip to Colorado couldn't have been any smoother. Everything worked like a well-oiled machine, including the airlines. Surprisingly enough, the return flights were ahead of schedule. While I was away, several interesting tech stories hit the virtual presses.

The Printed Blog: Print is dead they say, long live print! More on this experiment can be found here.

The latest addition to the Twitter family - Bank of America.

A virtual college debate match - St. Johns versus the University of Vermont: February 4 at 8 p.m. ET in Second Life! Go here if you'd like to attend this event.

Interested in elearning? This site includes a bibliography of 2007-2008 articles, and some are available online.

Are young people as tech-savvy as they are portrayed in much of the literature? Some Australian scholars say "No." Go here and here for the details.

The 2009 Horizon Report claims that the latest hot technologies are mobile technology, cloud computing, "geo-everything," and the personal web. In the coming years, watch for semantic applications and smart objects. What about video games and virtual worlds? No info on video games, but virtual worlds are mentioned in the geo-everything and smart objects sections.

A new critical case study also came out this week on social networking sites and electronic surveillance.

Enabling video game players to create games as well as play them. A fad or a new game genre that's here to stay? http://tinyurl.com/cymvrr

No online learning option for individuals taking advantage of the GI Bill. http://tinyurl.com/dz9mce

The mobile computing trend is on the rise, but "the era of the desktop PC is quickly coming to an end." http://tinyurl.com/bb9ab4

It's not just for entertainment anymore! YouTube is now a reference search tool. http://tinyurl.com/8rtver

A few little nuggets from the publishing world:
John McMurtrie - editor of the San Francisco Chronicle book reviews - has plans to save it from the "deteriorating" pub. world. http://tinyurl.com/8kzkt9...and "The days of a 'newsmagazine of record'...are long gone." http:// tinyurl.com/a37992

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bits of Honey

Just returned from Chicago and head out to Colorado later in the week. While I've been jet setting, here's what's been happening in the world of elearning, the Web 2.0, and the publishing industry...just to name a few.

Education and eLearning
Serendipitously stumbled across two more new pieces on mobile learning....
Publishing, Reading, and Writing
Research & Academia
  • When you use your kids as your research subject, you get to sign your own informed consent forms. Hmm....http://tinyurl.com/6tz298
  • "The academic fast track has a bad rep...unrelenting wk hrs that allow little/no room for a satisfy. family life.” http://tinyurl.com/85jdgb..
  • "Cellular telephones are perhaps the biggest threat to survey data that epidemiologists have confronted in years." http://tinyurl.com/8wsoko
Social Networking
The Web 2.0
Video Games and Virtual Worlds
  • View digital reproductions of some of the Prado's "best loved masterpieces" through Google Earth. http://tinyurl.com/8h4xcv
  • "The lines between the cell phone market’s 'mobile gaming' and true portable gaming are starting to blur." http://tinyurl.com/9wtzlr
  • “WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games & other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior” http://tinyurl.com/7834ku

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bits of Honey

While the weather this week in the physical world made me want to hibernate, a counter feeling was felt in the online world. There was a blizzard of activity going on during the first full week of the new year. Here's what people were all atwitter about this week.

Gaming and Virtual Worlds
  • "Barbie reps. a confident and independent woman with an amazing ability to have fun while remaining glamorous." http://tinyurl.com/9b2mpb
  • Women = ~ 1/2 of new physicians, but there is new concern about a "leaking pipeline." Will pt work/flextime help? http://tinyurl.com/856nsa
EdTech, Education, and Online Learning
  • Wired proposes 5 options to Google that might bailout newspaper. But should Google do anything? http://tinyurl.com/779bpl
  • Newspapers are dying. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, wants to save them...he just doesn't want to buy them. The answer? http://tinyurl.com/7n7qf2
Predictions and Trends
  • EDUCAUSE's top 5 educational challenges for 2009.
  • "No one can guarantee that these [5] emerging technologies will become widely accepted but the trends are clear." http://tinyurl.com/7bsldw
Social Networking
  • "By becoming entangled in ever more social networks online, people are building up their own piles of revealing data." http://tinyurl.com/8npflk. A copy of the full report, written by Google researchers, is available here.
  • YAs may have time for Facebook but "35% of males & 42% of females reported lacking time to sit down & eat a meal." http://tinyurl.com/98ucsp
  • "Facebook announced that 150 million people across the globe are actively using Facebook—half of them every day." http://tinyurl.com/7zc5as
  • A negative review posted to a social networking site like Yelp could lead to a lawsuit. http://tinyurl.com/9vxvx9
  • SNS LiveJournal has laid off (no severance) 12 of its 28 US employees. So far, no layoffs at Facebook & MySpace. http://tinyurl.com/8927d9
  • Get to know your kids thru MySpace & Facebook, and learn about the risky behaviors they discuss. http://tinyurl.com/a2un2d. The full report is available in the January 2009 issue of The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. [NOTE: Check your local library for free online access.]
  • Celebrities who twitter "are being forced to pick a spot on the Gulbis-O’Neal scale of openness." http://tinyurl.com/9jrjx6
  • Google cut some of its famously free cafeterias & canceled a big company ski trip. Oh, and there were layoff too. http://tinyurl.com/9a2u4p
  • Due to the tough economic times, the One Laptop Per Child project is restructuring and cutting staff. http://tinyurl.com/8njz2a
  • The Pre - it's a "killer Palm product" not an iPhone killer. But will it get Palm back in the smart phone game? http://tinyurl.com/72nnst
  • Are desktop computers headed for the junkyard? Some analysts speculate that laptops are today's alpha computer. http://tinyurl.com/7pl9ms
  • Best Buy is now selling refurbished iPhones for $149 and $249 (deps. on memory). Original price $199 and $299. http://tinyurl.com/axwtfq
  • Hulu: "It was hazed as just another slick effort to upstage the fun, do-it-yourself YouTube" but not anymore. http://tinyurl.com/7u3r67
  • On Jan. 15, 2009, 15,000 Microsoft employees (~17% of its total work force) may be without a job. http://tinyurl.com/9wqq4v
Writing and Publishing
  • Of the 312 stories in the New Yorker from 2003-2008, 119 or 38.1% were penned by women--up from 37.4% last year. http://tinyurl.com/7ay8k2
  • Secondhand books - "Away with 'Best Novels of 2009', farewell to 'the new faces of the new year': http://tinyurl.com/8t5qsg
  • "There are only ten writers that you can be compared to in blurbs or publicity materials." http://tinyurl.com/6tkf37
  • Reflecting on fiction that appeared in the New Yorker in 2008: http://tinyurl.com/8s7kf2
  • "It is not just publishing’s flashy customs that are getting a tough look. Other sacred cows..are being examined." http://tinyurl.com/a8btbb
  • "It brings the literature...back into a form that the students of the 21st century will be able to find it.” http://tinyurl.com/7kg8l8
  • After 73 years, Librairie de France in NY's Rockefeller Center will close its doors in Sept. 2009. http://tinyurl.com/89mdm6

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bits of Honey

This was another quiet week, but there appeared to be a flurry of activity around the start of the new year. Much of the discussion surrounded year-end summaries as well as predictions for 2009. Here are just a handful of topics that made it to the cyberwaves...

Education, Elearning & Virtual Worlds
STEM & Geeks
Technology - Computers, Companies & Products
Writing & Publishing
  • The value of author websites: "An author is no longer a disembodied face on the back of a book jacket." http://tinyurl.com/9m38kz
  • Recent publishing troubles got ya down? Try self-publishing. Here's a list of 25 tips to get you started: http://tinyurl.com/4z3wu8
And finally, this article in Friday's Telegraph (Jan. 2) borders on the ridiculous. A new primary school in the UK dropped the term "school" from its name. Why? Administrators believe that this term has negative connotations and prefers that the new structure to be known as a "place of learning." No matter what administrators call it, the name isn't what is important; rather, the key to making a school a positive place for learning revolves around the pedagogies that take place there. If the same, tired approaches are used, then calling it a place of learning does not make the lecture more exciting or unique.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Video Games - Are They the Solution?

In the current (January 1, 2009) issue of Scientific American, Larry Greenemeire ponders whether video games may be the solution to today's educational problems. According to Greenemeire, video games are popular with young people, and it is likely that the attraction to this form of entertainment will continue to grow. The author points to examples of successful educational game-like environments such as Chris Dede's River City project. Many educators, like Dede, contend that these multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) support critical thinking skills and foster interest in science and math. Further, technology proponents suggest that students have different learning styles, and this diversity is not always taken into account in the physical classroom setting. Thus, Greenemeire highlights the claims that MUVEs present students with multiple ways of learning. While educators do not believe that video games will replace traditional education, Greenemeire does conclude that "research into the effectiveness of video games as learning tools indicates that classrooms of the future will certainly include a virtual component." However, a common theme presented throughout the literature on video games, virtual worlds, and education is that more empirical research is needed. Currently, there are more questions than answers when it comes to determining the learning outcomes associated with virtual environments.

It is worth mentioning that the ideas presented by Greenemeire are based on work that appears in a special online collection of Science - one that focuses on education and technology. [NOTE: Science is one of those access via subscription only publications. Many libraries pay for an online subscription to this publication, and patrons can access the full-text articles for free.]