I was invited to give two talks at the the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco. One was a Ignite presentation (5 minutes, 20 slides set to move at 15 seconds per slide), and the other was an ED Talk (sort of like a TED talk just without the tea). I chose to speak about creativity and technology – though in very different ways in each of these talks. I think both talks went well… While I was preparing for these two talks, I got inspired to create a bunch of new ambigrams. I recently posted four new designs, and now here are three more. I think all three are pretty good, though I am partial to the last one (the 3rd design). Read the rest of this entry »
It is difficult, in a world buffeted by change, to know what to hold on to. I often wonder about this when thinking of teaching and learning, when thinking of the speed at which technology is changing the world we live in… What do we hold on to? What do we let go? How do we know that we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater? (Some earlier writing that allude to some of these issues can be found here, and here.)
I was thinking of these questions in the context of the series on creativity and trans-disciplinary learning I am writing for TechTrends (see the latest article, with links to previous pieces, here). And yesterday, while speaking with my partner-in-crime, Danah Henriksen, I was reminded of an insight I had many years ago… and one that I had somewhat forgotten. Which led to some searches on google, a few steps back memory-lane, and this blog post. Bear with me here…
Back in November 2010, I had been invited by the Bloomfield Hills School District to speak to their administrators and leadership about issues related to social media and what it means for schools and districts. You can find out more about this session here. As I said in my previous note, I built on a previous presenter, social media guru Shel Holtz, and led a series of brainstorming activities with the participants about specific things they could do (short- and long-term) to meet some of the challenges being put up by these new media. I think the sessions went well.
I found out yesterday, through the magic of Google Alerts, the Bloomfield Hills AV team has released a video of that afternoon’s events. Here it is. I think they did a pretty good job of capturing, in around 30 minutes, all that occurred over a couple of hours that day. Sadly Vimeo does not let me embed the video so I am just providing a link to it here. Enjoy.
The Hindu god Ganesh (the elephant-headed one) is celebrated across India, and the world, around this time of the year. The Hindu community in Lansing is no exception. A couple of days ago I was asked to take pictures of a music program at the local temple. Read the rest of this entry »
Steve Jobs retired as CEO of Apple this past week. The Wall Street Journal marked this event by creatingSteve Job’s Best Quotes compendium. There are all worth reading – but a couple stood out for their connection to this course.
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something… It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985] Read the rest of this entry »
Jim Garrison and A. G. Rud have a wonderful article on TCRecord on Reverence in Classroom Teaching. Though, reverence may be “too exalted a word to associate with the practical and often mundane activities of teaching,” it appears to me that ignoring these deeper impulses impoverishes us as individuals and as a society. Framing teaching as being just about imparting skills, and knowledge, aimed at achieving instrumental goals (jobs, career and the like) misses something crucial. As they write: Read the rest of this entry »
Pauline Kael is regarded to be one of the best film reviewers to have ever lived. Sam Sacks has a piece on Kael in which he describes her style of film review, one based less on academic nitpicking and the presence (or absence) of directorial flourishes than on her personal aesthetic response to cinema. She is quoted as saying that there is only one rule in filmmaking:
There is only one rule: Astonish us! In all art we look and listen for what we have not experienced quite that way before. We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way.
I am currently working on a poetry research project for school, and one of the requirements is researching five different poets. While looking for people who wrote palindromic poetry, I found your website and decided to use you in my project. The only problem is that I can’t find much information about you for my research. If you could, please respond to this e-mail with a little information about your history (i.e.-date and place of birth, family relations, etc.) as well as your inspiration for writing your palindromic poems. Thank you for your support!!!!!
P.S.- I am an eighth grader from Colorado and an aspiring poet.
To understand the significance of April 2, 2011, I have to go back 28 years, back to the summer of 1983.
I had just finished 10th grade, and that summer I took a trip to the hills of North India, as a part of a social work volunteer effort. I remember sleeping on the floor in this little unfurnished hut up in the hills, spending the days digging what would be the foundation of a village school. We had no electricity, no TV, the our toilet was to go out in the woods.
May years ago I wrote an essay titled On becoming a website. It was about my experience on teaching online and I suggested somewhat facetiously that in order to be a good teacher online I needed to actually “become” the course website! I started the essay by describing the idea of a cyborg:
A cyborg is a cybernetic organism — a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. It has been argued that we are all cyborgs now (Haraway, 1991). Be it a pacemaker installed in our hearts or a pair of contact lenses in our eyes, technologies are now an integral part of our bodies and our consciousness. … Of course these socially (and increasingly biologically) embedded technologies often become transparent and, in some sense, so deeply intertwined with our existence that we don’t even realize they exist (Brooks, 2002).
Now this idea of a cyborg was somewhat of a rhetorical move, to generate interest in the topic I was writing about. So imagine my surprise when I read the following paragraph.
They gave her The Device when she was only 2 years old. It sent signals along the optic nerve that swiftly transported her brain to an alternate universe—a captivating other world. By the time she was 7 she would smuggle it into school and engage it secretly under her desk. By 15 the visions of The Device—a girl entering a ballroom, a man dying on the battlefield—seemed more real than her actual adolescent life. She would sit with it, motionless, oblivious to everything around her, for hours on end. Its addictive grip was so great that she often stayed up half the night, unable to put it down.
When she grew up, The Device dominated her house: no room was free from it, no activity, not even eating or defecating, was carried on without its aid. Even when she made love it was the images of The Device that filled her mind. Psychologists showed that she literally could not disengage from it—if The Device could reach the optic nerve, she would automatically and inescapably be in its grip. Neuroscientists demonstrated that large portions of her brain, parts that had once been devoted to understanding the real world, had been co-opted by The Device.
What a terrible terrible story. How and why did the parents give the device to a 2 year old! Is this kind of brain damage reversible?
So what IS this device? Well turns out it is a book!
Go back and read the passage again, making that switch! How does that feel?
I had written earlier about Douglas Adams’ rules about technology
Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. (p. 95).
Readers of this blog know that every year I provide a link to the same
interactive Diwali eCard. Why change anything this year? So follow the link below,
turn your volume way up, and remember to click on the sky
above the Taj Mahal for some fantastic yet
environmentally friendly fireworks
My daughter on her blog has a new poem / haiku called Sweat, a haiku with one glich. She is in India right now where the temperatures are easily in the 90′s – which I guess explains the genesis of the poem. What was more interesting, to me however, was the manner in which she, quite instinctively, breaks up a word in the poem. Interestingly, she regards that as a “glich!”
Here is the poem.
Sticky, icky, ew!
I wipe it off, and it trick-
les, right back again!
See the neat little trick of breaking up the word “trickles” so that it actually
down the page. Reminds me of one of my favorite poets, e.e.cummings and how he plays with words. For instance here is a poem by him
It takes a bit of effort to read but it is worth it. With some thought you will see that in the parenthesis is the phrase “a leaf falls,” broken up so that it runs down the page, rather than across it. So instead of “a leaf falls” you read
Of course breaking it all up forces you (the reader) to read the lines in slow-motion, with pauses as it were. Also the shape of the letters comes through now as do the alliterative / symmetric “le” “ll” and “af” “fa” sounds. There is a visual and audio pattern here… a verbo-visual pun maybe. Sort of what Shreya did with the word “trickles.”
But there is more…
Outside the parenthesis is the word “loneliness” broken up so that you can see the words “one” sandwiched between two “L’s.” The “L” is written in lower-case, which again makes it look like the number “1″ or capital “I.”
So the repetition of the idea of “one” or “I” (once as “one” and twice as the number or the “I”) emphasizes the solitary nature of this experience. It could be 1 leaf falling, or one person watching one leaf fall… And all the pieces come together to set up a sad mood of one lonely person watching one leaf fall
How clever of mr. cummings. And how cool that Shreya, discovered something similar in breaking up “trickles” into two parts, showing how the sweat actually
To me it is an indication of her increasing comfort with language. It is only when we are comfortable with the rules that we start to break them, and it is there that true creativity and one’s one “writerly” voice emerges. So I would argue, despite Shreya’s thinking that it is a glitch, that it is not. It actually her noticing a pattern, imposed on her by the syllable count required by the Haiku structure itself, and then using that constraint for a creative purpose.
As for the mis-spelling of “glich” – I hope she doesn’t correct it. Because the poem now does have one glitch, the mis-spelling of the word “glitch.” How self-referential!!
All in all, what a wonderful way to begin a Sunday, reflecting on creativity and writing, inspired by a poem written by 11 year old Shreya. How very cool!!
I just spent a day at MICDS in St. Louis talking with a small but select group of teachers about creativity in teaching, the role of big ideas, the meaning of TPACK, the importance of trans-disciplinary learning (among other things). What a wonderful way of spending the day! This visit was organized by Elizabeth Helfant at MICDS. Apart from the workshop, it was also wonderful to finally meet up with Mr. Nashworld, Sean Nash himself. Sean and I have been blogging buddies for a while now and it was great to finally meet up with him.
As a part of our activities today I had all the participants crate i-Images. I have written about i-Images on this blog before (see here and here).
i-Images are the brainchild of David Wong and you can find his page on i-Images here.
Anyway, here are some of the i-Images created today. I do think they are pretty cool and thought provoking, each in its own way. Click on the images below to see what the workshop participants created. Enjoy.
My friend and colleague Leigh Wolf forwarded me this article on Edward Tufte: The Many Faces (And Sculptures) Of Edward Tufte. I have been a fan of information design guru Edward Tufte’s work for years (decades?). I love his emphasis on clarity and simplicity in presenting information. I love the fact that he designs and publishes his own books (so that he can have full control over each and every aspect of the presentation). What I didn’t know of was his playful artistic side. It turns out that ET (as he is known) is also an artist, crafting giant metal sculptures in his “back yard” (if you can call the hundreds of acres that stretch behind his house a “back yard!”).
Over the past few years I have been thinking quite hard about the idea that creative people are not creative in just one area but rather tend to play within and across multiple disciplines or areas. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein have in their book Sparks of Genius often talked about how the most creative scientists are polymaths, often having artistic and other interests that go beyond their immediate professional interests. In fact they argue, and I would tend to agree with them, that creativity cannot be forced into one box or domain. Creative individuals are curious about everything and often engage in creative activities in multiple areas, though they may specialize in just one area (usually the domain they are most known for).
This is true for the most creative people I know. For instance, consider Douglas Hofstadter (best known for his book Godel, Escher & Back and is work in Artificial Intelligence) dabbles in everything from mathematics to music, wordplay to art. Similarly Scott Kim (best know as a puzzle game designer) creates ambigrams and composes music, plays the drums and teaches mathematics using dance!
In my own way I have tried to do the same. Everything I do, from creating ambigrams to teaching, from photography to developing keynote presentations, from being a parent to advising students on their research, seems to me to be connected and inter-woven. I think my success as a researcher and scholar (to whatever extent I have been successful) derives from this “dabbling” across disciplines.
What is sad, however, is how much such “dabbling” is frowned upon. Through high-school and college, through graduate school and even as a faculty member, I have been advised, always by by well-meaning people, to focus, to find my niche, to become an expert on one thing. I have resisted it, mainly because knowing just one thing, seems, at least to me, such an impoverished way of being.
And I understand why I have received the advice I have. We live in a specialized world. A world where expertise is valued. And an expert, after all, is someone who knows more and more about less and less. There is no space for dabbling in this world of.
But I wonder about that. I have a friend who is a successful professor of civil engineering. Turns out, that as he was growing up, what he really wanted to be, was a chef! I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about this but I wonder how his vision of being a chef influences what he does as a researcher and a teacher? Does it contribute (in some subconscious manner) to his work? Or has he suppressed it completely?
Either way I see it as a tragedy, in the first case because we haven’t developed a way of speaking of these influences, and in the second case because a possible, fruitful career was nipped in the bud.
The sad thing is that I am seeing school do the same thing to my kids, in fact to most kids I know. NCLB has not helped either. Don’t get me wrong. This is not an argument for some form of dilletantism (dabbling for the sake of dabbling). Not at all. What I am recommending (thanks to the Roob-Bernstein’s for this term) is polymathy. One of my students, Danah Henriksen, is currently working on a dissertation on looking for polymathy in teachers. As she says:
“Polymathy” may be thought of as an informed enthusiasm for more than one field of knowledge or expertise, or excellence in several realms that might seem distant from each other. It has been suggested that what makes polymaths so successful and fluidly creative is an ability to cross-pollinate ideas and information. People who open their minds to, and who learn from, multiple knowledge areas can apply new information and unique ways of thinking from one discipline into another.
This for me is the biggest reason for supporting such playing around in multiple areas. These experiences at the fringes (so to speak) of our professional lives, provide us with newer ways of being in the world. They allow us to see the world in new ways. They allow us to question things the field may have taken for granted. Just as Tufte says at the end of the piece, my goal, is to “make people see a little differently.” Turns out one of the best and easiest ways of doing so is by seeing through different disciplinary eyes.
We need to provide better opportunities for our students to do the same.
Martin Gardner died five days ago. Gardner was an influential writer about mathematics and was one of the greatest influences on me (and my friends) as I was growing up. His recreational mathematics column was the main reason I subscribed to the Scientific American back in high school. A few years ago a couple of my high-school friends wrote a mathematical novel (see my posting about Suri & Bal’s A Mathematical Ambiguity) and the high point for them was the fact that Martin Gardner agreed to write a blurb for the back cover. (My point of pride was that I was thanked in the acknowledgments page, putting me cheek-by-jowl with Martin Gardner!).
More personally, it was through Gardner’s writings that I was introduced to authors like Douglas Hofstadter, Raymond Smullyan, Scott Kim and James Randi — people who in turn ended up becoming immense influences on my thinking and way of looking at the world.
Martin Gardner, through his writing, his sense of humor and playfulness, his emphasis on rationality as a tool for understanding the world, his love of mathematics and learning, will always be with me. I know that in some powerful, deep and fundamental way, he made me who I am today.
In his article Is Google making us stupid? the author Nicholas Carr takes Sergi Brin to task for something he had said in a 2004 interview with Newsweek. Brin is quoted as saying “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”
What is the relationship of information technology and cognition? What about human creativity? What role does technology play, if any, in getting us to be less or more creative? Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago we announced a new hybrid Ph.D. program in educational technology. It will be offered substantially online with some critical on-campus face to face factored in. You can find more details of the program by going to the website, or by reading the news release or a news story. But here I want to speak to something else—I want to speak about my personal excitement at being a part of this new program and why I think it is important. These ideas are difficult to fit into a press release or program website, but I think they are extremely important, maybe more so, than what gets into official documents. So here goes… Read the rest of this entry »
How does technology change what we do? Often when a new technology appears we tend to see it in terms of existing practices and structures. So an e-book is the same as a book, except in digital format. E-books still have “pages” which we “turn” (with a flick or our finger or if you are stuck with the Kindle, by pressing a button), though digitality does not require pages or turning them. Similarly the design of most early online courses attempted to replicate face-to-face modes of teaching (capturing lectures through video, for instance), instead of pushing for exploring the possibilities of this new medium. This is often most obvious in the kinds of iconography that new technologies generate. So the icon for Microsoft Word document looks like a piece of printed paper, an email-box looks like a regular mailbox (think AOL and its “You’ve got mail” message) and so on.
However, new technologies do not just replicate what we could do before – they insidiously and fundamentally change the nature of the tasks we perform. Think of the idea of hyperlinks! Regular texts go hypertextual through developments like the table of contents, indices etc. however, these are weak attempts at best. True hypertext emerges only through digitality.
I was reminded of this when reading a recent NYTimes article on video bingo and the controversies it is causing in Alabama. The article begins by describing traditional bingo:
Everybody knows what this is: dozens of people, mostly retirees, hunched over paper grids in a smoke-filled American Legion hall on a Sunday evening listening eagerly to a woman recite numbers.
Now we have a new player on the block, video bingo! which is described as follows:
But what about this: a dim warehouse of flashing, jingling video terminals with names like Boomtown Bonanza where, early on a weekday morning, people sit on stools pushing buttons and watching cherries and 7s reel by.
As readers of this blog know I love examples of seeing things in new ways. That to me if often the crux of creativity. Anyway here are two examples. The first curtesey of Leigh Wolf is a new advertisement from some credit card company. The ad is actually pretty average but what is really cool are the visuals. Read the rest of this entry »
Have you heard of the marshmallow experiment? It is a pretty famous experiment conducted at Stanford back in the 60′s. Walter Mischel a psychologist conducted this experiment on four-year olds in which the children were given one marshmallow and promised a second marshmallow if only they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Turns out that some children could and others couldn’t wait. Following up on this study Mischel and his collaborators found that those who waited were better adjusted, dependable and, on some measures, more successful than those who could not delay gratification. In fact they found that these children scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT!!
I had read of this experiment a while ago, it had also been the focus of a recent RadioLab segment and then I began running across a video titled Oh, The Temptation. As the director describes it he used, 2 Hidden Cameras, A bunch of Kids, 1 Marshmallow each to create this movie. He agrees that this was “not an original idea, but very fun to make.” And it is great fun to watch…
Imagine controlling machines, typing text or juggling balls using nothing but the power of thought. What sounds like far-fetched science fiction is gradually becoming possible, providing hope for disabled patients — and new gimmicks for the computer gaming industry. Read more in Playing With Your Head: The Dawning Age of Mind-Reading Machines
What implications do these new technologies have for learning and education? I mean even Mattel is getting into the action… As the article says
The new system Mattel is introducing at computer trade shows is called “Mindflex.” According to the company’s fact sheet: “A true mental marathon, Mindflex exercises the brain in an entirely new way as players learn to continuously control their brain activity.”
So, you ask, how does it work? To train the brain, the user puts on a headband with sensors at the temples and a cable connected to something that looks like a mini miniature golf course. Then the user tries to master the first task: balancing a small ball above an air current, causing it to levitate and making it pass through a plastic ring.
At this time these interfaces work only in one direction, from the brain to the computer. But can the reverse, from computer to the brain be far behind? The power being discussed here is truly revolutionary. We have all known that computers are cognitive tools i.e. working with them changes the way we think. However, at some level changes in brain states are mediated via our senses and through movement, a somewhat inefficient process. What these technologies indicate is the future is in a merging of our brains directly with the computer… where the distinction between us and the machine will be increasingly blurred till we won’t be able to tell one from the other. Imagine having access to Google like search engines whenever a question pops up in our heads? How can we tell where the brain ends and the machine begins?
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) has launched the Aesthetic Quality
Inference Engine (ACQUINE), an online system for determining the aesthetic quality of an image. The online photo-rating system helps establish the foundation for determining how people will react emotionally to a visual image. ACQUINE delivers ratings–from zero to 100–within seconds, based on visual aspects such as color saturation, color distribution, and photo composition. PSU researchers hope to improve upon the system’s current performance level of more than 80 percent consistency between human and computer ratings. “Furthermore, aesthetics represents just one dimension of human emotion,” says PSU professor James Z. Wang. “Future systems will perhaps strive to capture other emotions that pictures arouse in people.”
Wang says that linking cameras to ACQUINE could potentially enable a photographer to instantly see how the public might perceive a photo.
Now this is the ultimate democratization of the idea of aesthetics – of course diluting the idea of the aesthetic encounter to the lowest common denominator i.e. “how the public might perceive a photo.” The assumptions behind that definition of aesthetics are mind-boggling. Let me count the ways in which this is a boneheaded idea… actually let me not, at least at this time. But the link was worth sharing nonetheless. I hope to write more about this … hopefully soon.
Patrick Dickson just quoted e. e. cummings (one of my favorite poets) and I just had to look it up.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting: e. e. cummings