This is your brain on technology!

February 7, 2011 § 4 Comments

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.  (p. 95).

It seems to me that this quote, which incidentally is taken from an article in Slate Magazine, reviewing Sherry Turkle’s latest book, captures the manner in which new technologies are often seen to go against “the natural order of things.”

Whether we like it or not, we are all cyborgs now.

Models of design, creativity and more…

November 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment

The Dubberly Design Office has created a series of models of innovation, play and design. These are terrific resources and I just found out about them by chance. I see these as being quite significant in the classes I teach, including CEP817: Learning Technology by Design; CEP818: Creativity in Teaching and Learning; and CEP917: Knowledge Media Design.

I am including links to a couple of their models – but I do recommend visiting their site to see more…

What is cool is that they have created a whole series of posters that can be downloaded as pdfs.

I haven’t had the time to look at all their work in detail… I but I anticipate going back there multiple times in the future.

Creative Idiots share their process

October 1, 2010 § 3 Comments

Slate Magazine is running a series on Creative Pairs, or why Two is the Magic Number! Written by Joshua Wolf Shenk the series seeks to understand:

What makes creative relationships work? How do two people—who may be perfectly capable and talented on their own—explode into innovation, discovery, and brilliance when working together? These may seem to be obvious questions. Collaboration yields so much of what is novel, useful, and beautiful that it’s natural to try to understand it.

The series is an excellent introduction to the research on creative collaboration has most interestingly has a series of case studies of creative pairs. The first pair studied were John Lennon & Paul McCartney and followed their careers over time and how the “push-pull” between these two creative personalities led to some of the greatest music of the 20th Century.

The next set of profiles focuses on Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr, the couple behind Idiot’s Books. Joshua Shenk inflicts on them “a series of experiments, stunts, and adventures” with the goal of shedding “light on the nature of their collaboration—and on the broader questions of relationships, psychology, and creativity.” So far the couple has been given a battery of psychological tests, tolerated a tour of their home and studio, sat on a couch for a psychoanalytic session, and finally, created a verbal/visual map of their creative process. As Shenk says, “What they came up with turned out to both nicely illustrate how they work and to perfectly embody their Idiocy.” I completely and totally recommend anybody interested in creativity to take a look at this somewhat interactive feature: Idiot Books, Creative Process Diagram.

Demotivational Posters II

July 23, 2010 § 15 Comments

A few weeks ago I posted a note about an assignment I gave my students in the on-campus version of the MAET program. They had completed an unit on motivation and had watched the RSA / Daniel Pink video and their task was was to create demotivational posters, (along the lines of those on despair.com) using ideas either from their readings/discussions or from the Pink video.

The posters were a huge success. In fact Daniel Pink tweeted them (Thanks Daniel) and lots of his followers ended up on my website to see the work done by the students, which is all very cool.

Well, I am now in Rouen, France, meeting with the students in the off-campus MAET program. I got a chance to work with each of the groups (representing year 1, 2 & 3) and had them create similar posters as well. So now we have a total of 17(!) posters. It is interesting to see just how different they are, even the ones that tackle the same concept do it differently.

I have included all of the posters below  — the one’s from East Lansing as well as the one’s created here at Rouen. Click on the words to see the posters (the names of the students who created them is provided below each of the posters).

Incentives
Individuality
Motivation
Rewards
Curiosity
Incentives

Scot Acre
Patrick Gillespie
Marc Compton
Shawn Telford

Individuality

Kerry Guiliano
Aaron Moran
Mike Bammer
Julie Howe
Addy Hamilton

Barb Bedford
Cheryl Schaefer
Hope Andres
Stacey Schuh
Grace Bammer
Mary Wever
Jessica Steffel
Sarah Blazo
Craig McMichael
Chloe Tingley
Lial Miller
Katie Lorey
Teamwork
Rewards 2
Mastery
Dreams
Grades

Teamwork

Melanie Hosbach
Fiona Scott
Andrew Melmoth

Rewards 2

Sarah Pickles
Katie Shefren
Joost Guttinger
Renee Codsi

Theresa Hamilton
Larissa Lisayo
Miguel Herrera
Cheytoria Hickey
Bridget Reed
Kristi Dix
Patricia Liff
Rugh Gadson
Olivia Shillings
Autonomy
Mastery 2
Collaboration
Creativity
Financial Incentives

Autonomy

Frances Snowden,
Jessica Maisonnave,
Andrea Ouimetto

Mastery2

Paul Blackwell,
Brigette Jensen,
Candace Marcotte

Bill Marland,
Christina Popowski,
Jillian Johnson,
Jamie Perry
John Hogan
Michelle Cox
Sean Sweeny
Rehb Rajab
Alfred McDonnel
Dean Halverson
Ashley Priem
Shaza Ahmed
Lauren Cortesi
Camiella Hudson
Material Incentives
Motivation 2

Material Incentives

Rawad Bon Hamadan
Jason Shulha
Eliza Mantyh
Patty Kolinski

Bossel Deiry
Susie Dina
JP Bennett
Kelly Cunningham
Kristin Bergeron

TPACK survey, new journal article

January 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

Hot off the press:

Schmidt, D. A., Baran, E., Thompson, A. D.,  Mishra, P.,  Koehler, M.J. & Shin, T. S. (2010). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): The development and validation of an assessment instrument for preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(2), 123 – 149.

Abstract: Based in Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) has emerged as a useful frame for describing and understanding the goals for technology use in preservice teacher education. This paper addresses the need for a survey instrument designed to assess TPACK for preservice teachers. The paper describes the survey development process and results from a pilot study on 124 preservice teachers. Data analysis procedures included Cronbach’s alpha statistics on the TPACK knowledge domains and factor analysis for each domain. Results suggest that, with the modification and/or deletion of 18 of the survey items, the survey is a reliable and valid instrument that will help educators design longitudinal studies to assess perservice teachers’ development of TPACK. (Keywords: TPACK, instrument development, preservice teachers)

Art, design & teaching great quote

January 17, 2010 § Leave a Comment

Steve Wagenseller, a student in my 817 Learning Technology by Design seminar wrote something so cool in the class forum that I felt that it was worth recording on my blog…

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Nature v.s. nurture, what are we missing

December 31, 2009 § 5 Comments

Jordy Whitmer over at the Birmingham School district forwarded me this link to this really cool video by George Kembel on Awakening Creativity. There is a lot in the video to ponder and discuss but I want to focus on something he said about music learning that really hit home with me. Citing some research on music learning he describes a strong link between speaking a tone language, such as Mandarin, and having perfect pitch. A search on Google led to the following article: Tone Language Translates To Perfect Pitch: Mandarin Speakers More Likely To Acquire Rare Musical Ability. As this article says:

Perfect, or absolute, pitch is the ability to name or produce a musical note of particular pitch without the benefit of a reference note. The visual equivalent is calling a red apple “red.” While most people do this effortlessly, without, for example, having to compare a red to a green apple, perfect pitch is extremely rare in the U.S. and Europe, with an estimated prevalence in the general population of less than one in 10,000.


Image credit: Tom Carmony

So think about this for a second. Here is an ability that was once thought to be extremely rare, within the capability of just extremely talented musicians. People born with this talent, as it were. This research, however, shows just how mistaken this view is.

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Teaching to learning styles, what hogwash

December 16, 2009 § 11 Comments

There is an article in today’s Chronicle titled Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.

I have been somewhat skeptical of the learning styles literature for a while, not the least for hearing the phrase being bandied about without much thought. I have heard people claim without much evidence, that today’s kids are visual learners. I have heard a teacher say that as a consequence, that visual learners prefer reading text from a Powerpoint slide, rather than read it on a blackboard! (Those who know me that I am rarely at a loss for words, but that statement truly struck me dumb! In Wolfgang Pauli’s words, that statement was not even wrong.) I have also had students claim that they did not do well in a certain course because it did not match their learning style!

Anyway, the study reported in the article

… does not dispute the existence of learning styles. But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning style while also harming students who have a different learning style.

What does this non-finding mean for practitioners (teachers and professors)?

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All you can cheat, part II (a response)

November 13, 2009 § 10 Comments

Cheating

Patrick Diemer commented on my previous posting, All you can cheat, the web & learning by saying:

Do you have any words of wisdom or resources on how to create appropriate questions? This sounds great, but easier said than done in my humble opinion.

I started writing a response to his comment, but as I wrote on, I realized that it was better as a post in its own right. So here it is…
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Jere Brophy / Motivation Ambigram

November 9, 2009 § 1 Comment

A new ambigram created in memory of Jere Brophy, world renowned scholar on psychology of motivation. The ambigram reads, “motivation” one direction and “Jere Brophy” when rotated by 180 degrees. Click on the image to see a larger version, hosted on Flickr.

Enjoy.

From incompetence to mastery, the stages

October 23, 2009 § 3 Comments

One who knows and knows he knows is a wise man, Follow Him
One who knows and knows not he knows is asleep, Awaken him
One who knows not and knows he knows not is a child, Teach him
One who knows not and knows not he knows not is a Fool, Avoid him.
— Attributed variously to Confucius, Socrates and others

I was reminded of this quote while reading an article by Ken Friedman titled, Design Science and Design Education and came across a section that described a view of learning. Friedman describes a framework on going from incompetence in a domain to mastery in the same domain. More specifically, Skoe talks of this process as having four key stages. These four stages are: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. Here is Friedman:
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Designing for anticipation, Teaching for anticipation

October 19, 2009 § 3 Comments

In a couple of previous posts I had talked about the idea of postdiction (see the posts here and here). The argument being that good teaching (among a long list of other good things) is postdictable, i.e. it walks the line between predictability and chaos, and most importantly makes sense post hoc. To make my point I had posted a couple of videos that were good examples of being postdictable.

Closely connected to the idea of postdictable is the idea of creating anticipation and suspense. Once again other artists (particularly those working in temporal media such as film, and advertising) seem to have grasped the importance of this earlier than educators. Good film-makers can create suspense out of pretty much the flimsiest of materials. Think of the first scenes from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The way the scene builds tension out of a disagreement over whether or not to tip is pitch perfect. There is more tension in that scene than in dozens of other “suspense” thrillers.

However making suspense work is difficult. Navigating this line between predictability and tension over the unknown is a fine art. (This is where, of course, the connection with postdictability becomes most clear.)

Check out the two videos below, which highlight just how fine the line is between succeeding at creating suspense and anticipation and failing to do so. Both of these videos are interesting and well made – both have pace and rhythm but one of them builds anticipation while the other just happens. One tells a story, the other doesn’t.
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Jere Brophy, note from the Dean

October 16, 2009 § 4 Comments

Carole Ames, Dean of the College just sent out this note regarding the sad news of Jere Brophy’s passing. She has asked for it to be shared with our broader networks, so I do so.

Jere Brophy

Note: The memorial service for Jere Brophy has been scheduled for Monday, October 19th 2009, from 10 – 12 at the MSU Alumni Memorial Chapel

It is with great sadness that I write with the news that our dear colleague, Jere Brophy, died last night from an apparent heart attack. There are no words to express the loss of this intellectual giant to the field of education, but more importantly, we have lost an esteemed colleague, a cherished friend, and generous mentor. Jere’s warmth of character was apparent in all his interactions. He always had an inviting smile, was known for his laid-back manner, and greatly enjoyed a good chuckle. He had a genuine interest in other people, their families, lives, work and ideas. To the world, Jere was an internationally-renown scholar whose writing informed researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners alike. To us, he was all that, but, in addition, we had the privilege of having him as our beloved colleague.
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Postdictable, the commercials

October 15, 2009 § 5 Comments

I had written earlier about the idea of “postdictable” which was defined as something that is “surprising initially, but then understandable with a bit of thought.” It lies at the spot between predictability and total chaos. The movie Sixth Sense is postdictable in the best sense of the world. Good teaching I believe needs to be postdictable. That is what keeps us engaged, keeps us waiting for more, the payoff as it were. And best of all, once all the pieces are in, we can’t wait to go back and review everything again, to see just how beautifully the whole thing holds together. There is a strong aesthetic component to this – a sense of wholeness, closure, elegance, and inevitability. Good poems have this quality, as do mathematical theorems. A well crafted lecture or a lesson plan has this quality as well. In my mind these ideas are closely tied to the Dewey’s idea of experience and to the idea of design. Hopefully I will have a chance to explore these connections in a later post but for now, here are a couple of commercials that I think were postdictable in a really cool kind of way.
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Finding patterns (& creating them)

October 11, 2009 § Leave a Comment

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.
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I can resist everything except temptation (or marshmallows)

September 20, 2009 § 1 Comment

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!!

You can read more about this experiment and its findings in this New Yorker article titled Don’t: The secret of self control.

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…

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

Keeping tabs on the experts

September 8, 2009 § Leave a Comment

In an age where experts are a dime a dozen, willing to pontificate at the drop of a pin, it is hard to tell whom to believe, and whom NOT to believe. In comes Phillip Tetlock, an academic who has made it his mission to evaluate the prognosticators! This is described in his book:

Tetlock, P.E. (2005). Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

I recently came across a review written by him, titled Reading Tarot on K Street (in the September/October 2009 issue of The National Interest) and I thought it captured his work in this area quite nicely (and would be worth preserving).

When we score the accuracy of thousands of predictions from hundreds of experts across dozens of countries over twenty years, we find the best forecasters tend to be modest about their forecasting skills, eclectic in their ideological and theoretical tastes, and self-critical in their analytical styles.1 Borrowing from philosopher Isaiah Berlin, I call them foxes—experts who know many things and are not finicky about where they get good ideas. Paraphrasing Deng Xiaoping, they do not care if the cat is white or black, only that it catches mice.

Contrast this with what I call hedgehogs—experts who know one big thing from which likely future trends can be more or less directly deduced. The big thing might be any of a variety of theories: Marxist faith in the class struggle as the driver of history or libertarian faith in the self-correcting power of free markets, or a realist faith in balance-of-power politics or an institutionalist faith in the capacity of the international community to make world politics less ruthlessly anarchic, or an eco-doomster faith in the impending apocalypse or a techno-boomster faith in our ability to make cost-effective substitutes for pretty much anything we might run out of.

What experts think—where they fall along the Left-Right spectrum—is a weak predictor of accuracy. But how experts think is a surprisingly consistent predictor. Relative to foxes who are less encumbered by loyalties to an all-encompassing worldview, hedgehogs offer bolder forecasts and, although they hit occasional grand slams, they strike out a lot and wind up with decidedly poorer batting averages.

The implications for people who make projections about technology and schools and learning is quite obvious to me. It is the hedgehogs we need to be careful of, mainly because of the vehemence of their beliefs which can sometimes override our “foxy” nature. I say inherent because I think that educators, for the most part, are pragmatists, sensitive to the limits of arm-chair theorizing and big ideas. A hard nosed approach to reality, that recognizes its complexity, that demands multi-faceted problems solving approaches is what is needed, not being wedded to one, just one overarching idea.

Mind power: Brain Machine Interfaces

September 6, 2009 § Leave a Comment

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?

Correlates of creativity

July 20, 2009 § 1 Comment

Just came across this on the Ph.D. design list (a listserv for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design) from a posting by Charles Burnette. He quotes Donald MacKinnon, author of a large study on creativity in the arts, sciences and professions:

If I were to summarize what is most generally characteristic of the creative [individual] as we have seen him (sic), it is his high level of effective intelligence, his openness to experience, his freedom from petty constraints, and impoverishing inhibitions, his aesthetic sensitivity, his cognitive flexibility, his independence of thought and action, his high level of energy, his unquestioning commitment to creative endeavor, and his unceasing striving for creative solutions to the ever more difficult … problems he constantly sets for himself.

The question to ponder is, how many of these correlates of creativity are amenable to teaching (i.e. can be taught / nurtured) in the classroom or other contexts and how many are completely outside of our control?

Charles Burnett also provides a couple of references to MacKinnon’s work:

MacKinnon D W. (1962). The nature and nurture of creative talent. Amer. Psychol. 17:484-95.

MacKinnon, D. W. (1978). In Search of Human Effectiveness: Identifying and Developing Creativity. Creative Education Foundation.

Design and creative repurposing: Thinking about Ed Tech

July 11, 2009 § 2 Comments

One minute design ideas…

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x93dzc

I had posted something similar here (from Bic to vase).

There is something deeper here than just cool design ideas though. What this video highlights is improvisation, creativity and a sense of play to repurpose artifacts for purposes other than what they had been designed for. In fact some of these designs find a use for what most of us would regard as trash.

It is this creative repurposing that is critical in this new world of teaching and technology (Technology Integration 2.0 and the TPACK framework). Teachers often look for the perfect technological solution to pedagogical problems they face. The fact is that there is no such perfect solution. In fact I argue that there is nothing like an educational technologies. Most technologies we regard as being educational in nature were not designed for this purpose. And yet, everything from a Excel spreadsheet to a Wiki; a GPS device to Audacity can serve as an educational technology, if appropriately repurposed! The sooner teachers realize that we live in a world where nothing is an educational technology…. and yet, everything has the potential to be. the better if will for all.

Scott McCloud over at Dangerously Irrelevant in his most recent post asks “Are our training efforts helping educators or enabling codependence?” This is a great question and one that all teacher educators with an interest in technology need to confront. I have always struggled with this – and varying levels of success in my own teaching (and in the MAET program I now direct). As he suggests what is needed is to develop a “willingness to probe, investigate, and experiment … [to] learn and master the tools.

It seems to me that videos such as this one highlight exactly the kind of free-form creativity we need to encourage in teachers: the ability to see a side-table in an old magazine, and a vase in a bic pen. It is only through similar creative repurposing that technologies can become educational technologies.

P.S. A key aspect of creative repurposing has to do with looking at the world with new eyes! Check out this movie titled SURFACE or Veja Du assignment on this very site.

Making (non)sense of dots & lines

July 6, 2009 § Leave a Comment

I love how these interconnected pipes called the Intertubes lead to serendipitous discoveries. Here are two videos, the first I went looking for, and the second, fell into my lap, so to speak, due to YouTubes related videos section.

The video I went looking for was based on a delightful book I had picked up at a garage sale a few years ago. “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics” is a little book (20 pages or so) with an intriguing story-line and its geometrical illustrations. The main character is a straight line who is in love with a dot – but sadly she is more attracted to a wild, unruly squiggle. How the simple line develops his talents and wins the love of the dot is told through whimsical (and mathematically sound) illustrations.

I learned later that the famous animator Chuck Jones had made this into a short film. Here it is (thanks to YouTube).

YouTube Preview Image

This is just a wonderful example of how mathematics and art, perception and recognition, creativity and design can come together. This book (and the movie) speak to me at so many different levels. What is most amazing is the ability we humans have to see purpose and meaning in the simplest of lines and curves. So much of art and science depend on this ability to perceive / construct patterns.

Nowhere is this more beautifully (and humorously) illustrated than in this other video I discovered. Written and narrated by Mel Brooks (yes THE Mel Brooks) this animated short film, The Critic, takes a different interpretive stance (crankier and edgier) than the previous narration. That this short animation captures, powerfully how we as humans both seek, and question, the meanings of the patterns we see around us.

YouTube Preview Image

I just finished reading parts of Sheri Turkle’s latest book, Simulation and its discontents, and the parallels to what she is writing about and Mel Brook’s Critic are quite strong. The cranky one man in the short recognizes or “sees” meaning is some of the abstract images he sees on the screen and yet he questions their value. The scientists and designers quoted in Turkle’s book echo some of the same concerns.

What is amazing is that the Mel Brooks short was made in 1963, the Chuck Jones movie was made in 1965 and Turkle’s book was published just this year, in 2009!

Like to learn, but hate school

June 12, 2009 § 9 Comments

In this TCRecord piece, Daniel T. WIllingham uses what we know about cognitive psychology to explain  Why students don’t like school. He suggests that

although most people believe that humans are good at thinking, it is actually the weakest of our mental faculties… Our minds are biased against thinking, because thinking is slow and effortful. In addition, it’s error-prone; it may not even produce an answer at all, much less a good one.

What we truly hate, according to him are things that are (a) either too easy; or (b) things that are incomprehensible. What fascinates us are problems that hit the sweet spot, not merely unpredictable but rather postdictable. He defines this as being initially be surprising, but then be understandable with a bit of thought.”As he says:

… interest is engendered by an appraisal process: that is, a process by which we evaluate the potential interest of something before we delve into it. If we perceive an event to be novel and complex, but also comprehensible, we find it intriguing and worthy of continued thought. Tasks that lack complexity seem too easy. Tasks that lack comprehensibility seem too hard.

Just two points here. First, most of school, it seems to me, lies at these two extremes, either lacking in complexity OR lacking in comprehensibility. Combine this with the diversity of student interests and background it is hardly surprising that even students who like to learn, learn to hate schoo.

Second, I had never heard of this term “postdictable” before but I think it is going to become a part of my vocabulary from now on. It helps me explain and categorize educational activities that work from those that don’t. Additionally it helps me explain movies and books I like – from ones that don’t. I know I hate predictable plots and stories (something I am trying to get my daughter to realize particularly around the typical Disney fare she so seems to love). However, complete unpredictablity is also a pain – a waste of time. Movies I like are postdictable… surprising at first glance but understandable later. Cool.

Computerized aesthetics… what’s right with that idea?

May 14, 2009 § 1 Comment

I just came across this… Online System Rates Images by Aesthetic Quality

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.

Profesor 2.0, blurring the boundaries

April 16, 2009 § 2 Comments

I am in Chicago to give the Keynote address at the 2009 DePaul University Faculty Teaching and Learning Conference. The conference theme this year is Engaging Minds: Pedagogy and Personalism. I was invited by Sharon Guan (she was part of the AACTE Innovation & Technology Committee that edited the TPACK handbook). The title of my talk is Blurring the Boundaries, The Personal and the Professional in a Webbed World. Here is a brief description of what I will be talking about

Dr. Punya Mishra of Michigan State University asks DePaul faculty to consider the role of the professor’s identity (or persona) in course design. What are the challenges, benefits –and limits — of bringing personal experiences, values and interests into one’s teaching? We want our students to see us as “being knowledgeable yet accessible, wise but funny, cerebral but warm, benevolent and yet firm.” How can we do this in an age where we are increasingly communicating via electronic media that alter, extend and/or challenge the teacher’s identity?

Special CITE issue on TPACK

March 30, 2009 § Leave a Comment

The CITE Journal had a recent special issue devoted to TPACK. You can access the special issue (edited by Judi Harris and Matt Koehler) here or individual articles below.
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Serendipitous Connectability… a short history of an idea

March 23, 2009 § 1 Comment

A while back I had written about the idea of “serendipitous connectability;” the idea that the web allows us to “to run across things that are stunning in their ability to connect to us in powerful, emotionally touching ways.” I was prompted to do this by clicking on a random link on the We feel fine website that led to someone’s personal blog (one that I, deliberately, didn’t link to and have no real record of).

This idea seems to have been picked up a bit and this is my attempt to sort through and see how it started and how it is developing (note: there already is a mutant version out there). Details below. « Read the rest of this entry »

Creativity at Wake Forest

March 20, 2009 § Leave a Comment

I presented yesterday at a conference a Wake Forest University titled: Creativity: Worlds in the Making. I was part of a panel that included Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein and Todd Siler. More details about the panel and links to my presentation can be found below.
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Why I love the web…

March 12, 2009 § 6 Comments

I don’t know if anyone has been following the back and forth following my posting about the Periodic Table of Typefaces (see Yet another periodic table…). In brief, I was quite critical of the design of this table and made that point in no uncertain terms. Imagine my surprise at receiving a wonderful note from the Camdon Wilde (the designer of the table) which led to quick back and forth between us. It was a wonderfully pleasant conversation and I am very appreciative of Camdon’s grace.

I was telling my wife about this, reading through my posting, and the comments back and forth… and it struck me just how cool this entire episode was. To connect with another person, someone I have never met, building on mutual respect and openness, was beautiful in being unexpected. And it could not have happened without this wonderful technology called the Web! How very cool is that.

The 60 second lecture

March 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

I received an email yesterday from the State News (our local university newspaper) about what I thought of the 60 second lecture—a trend sweeping through online courses. Some of my first thoughts about this are below. « Read the rest of this entry »

TPACK Survey(s), now available

March 4, 2009 § 5 Comments

As the TPACK framework has developed and received greater research and scholarly attention there has been an increasing demand for a survey instrument that can help us measure TPACK. There are now two such measures available.
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