Musical Slice of Life: Hope (Still) Remains

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

After the 2016 elections, in the days of disbelief and anger that followed, I sat down and wrote this song for myself, and for family and some friends who I knew were feeling like I was. The lyrics were a little message to the world, a reminder that politics was and is always about the long-game, of being close to those around us. I dug the song out again this weekend, as this mid-term election is upon us, to remind myself of that.

I still believe in the message. I share it with you, my friends. Make sure you vote.

Listen:

The following is a live version of the song — I like the above audio-only version better because the sound quality off the iPad is not so great — but here is me, performing the song, if that interests you. Notice I have my Peter Reynolds’ Create Bravely shirt on!

 

Peace (sounds like hope),
Kevin

On Beyond Like (The Place Where Conversations Happen)

On Beyond LikeI was sifting through a magazine article about the ways that social media make it easy to interact with text and how this has unfolded through sharing via the “like” and “plus one”  and “thumbs up” and “boost” buttons (and others with different monikers — choose your context). That got me thinking about how I, too, use those easy avenues for interaction, too, but also, it reminded me of the opposite — of how I often do try to add a comment, a question, spark a conversation.

Maybe I don’t do it enough but I try. If I read a blog post, for example, I try to leave some words for the writer, if only to plant a flag of “I was here with you.” Sometimes, I’ll grab a centering phrase. Or create a found poem. Or ‘take a line for a walk’ with reflection. If I see something interesting in a tweet, I’ll respond and wonder out loud. Many times, that’s where the conversation ends. Not always, but often.

Perhaps too often.

The above comic was an attempt to distill this idea of shifting away from the “read-and-run” mentality of online spaces, and maybe spend a little more time with a text or sharing. Engage the writer/creator in a conversation. Wonder out loud. Ask questions. Probe the topic.

Is there any doubt that the world would be a little better place if we took the time to talk, even in digital spaces, with each other? A “like” or a “plus one” or a “boost” or whatever is something, to be sure, but is it enough? Does it have depth? Nope. I can’t even remember what I liked yesterday and I bet you can’t either.

In Dr. Seuss’ not-well-known On Beyond Zebra, he imagines endless letters beyond our traditional English alphabet, spaces where creativity and imagination take hold, in Seuss-like ways, of course. The letters beyond Z were always there, we just never saw them.

Until we did.

This post is titled On Beyond Like because I am thinking that maybe, like the Seuss story, we have not yet gone beyond what the technology companies have designed for us. Remember: the likes and thumbs and all that are merely ways to gather data about what we like and don’t like, so they can push content and advertising our way. We are voluntary giving them tracking data on us. Imagine that.

This morning, I saw that Charlene had responded to my initial sharing of the comic. She asks a good question.

And I don’t know the answer. While my impulse is to say yes, do away with the buttons, the reality is that this would take away much of the way people show appreciation and interact. There needs to be some middle ground, perhaps, one that I don’t yet see.

Do you?

Peace (beyond like),
Kevin

 

 

 

The Cultural Currency of Fortnite’s Dance Move Emotes

I’ve written a bit in the past about noticing my sixth grade students breaking into dance moves from the video game phenomenon, Fortnite. It will happen when we have a few moments of down time — usually, at the end of the day, waiting for the buses to arrive. Suddenly, the back of the room will come alive with a bunch of boys (usually it’s boys) doing the Floss or something else. This never happened in the time ‘Before Fortnite.’

These dances are known as “emotes” (that link will give you full details about each move, and its visual messaging to other players, and it is fascinating to explore). If you didn’t know about emotes, they are used in the game to express a player’s emotion, usually in victory over someone else. Also, players can pay money for more emotes beyond the handful of free ones. So, you know, no surprise, but there’s a profit margin here.

Anyway, last night, my wife and I were at a Bar Mitvah celebration for the sons of some close friends, and the DJ had all the kids on the dance floor for extended periods of time, and the large crowd of kids (again, mostly boys but some girls) were doing a variety of intricate dance moves learned in Fortnite.

It seemed like every kid knew every dance move.

They were even teaching the DJ some new ones, which shows how quickly things change. Later, as we adults all took the floor to dance, too, the DJ added a few Fortnite references to the shout-outs for us, although he was careful to mix them in slowly and not choose the more bizarre ones (we did not all Floss at the same time, although that would have been rather amusing).

It’s a testament to the current power of the video game to influence pop culture and an intriguing way to use dance as cultural currency outside of the game itself. Perhaps I only see a narrow view of the world (my classroom and other related spaces with my teenage son), but I’ve never seen more boys interested in dance moves than now, with the Fortnite influence in full effect.

There are other more concerning considerations, too, such as the message it sends of dancing in victory over another defeated player, as an indication of professional sports impacting game design; the influence of any video game on emerging youth culture (nothing new); and the public complaints of artists about Fortnite not crediting and paying for their original dance moves used in the game itself. (Is there a Creative Commons for dance moves?)

Emotes are another under-the-radar element of youth culture worth noticing, at least. Something new is coming. It always is.

Peace (moving it forward),
Kevin

In Defense of Google Plus

CLMOOC Google Plus

It feels odd and strange, defending the information-sucking, ad-selling, money-making Google behemoth here, but the recent news of the demise of Google Plus is actually worth a mention, given so much of the negativity it has seemed to arouse in people in some networked spaces. Putting aside the recent privacy breach (which is always something alarming and maybe should not be put aside at all … forgive me), I’ve read with some frustration as folks in some of my other networked spaces have mocked Google Plus, along the lines of “only three people who use it will care” to “Google Plus is still here?” to “Why would anyone use Plus?” and so on.

I get it. Google Plus never caught on with the masses, and is often listed as a “failed” experiment for Google. I get it.

But I have to tell you, Plus has been quite useful for a handful of projects that I have been involved in. In particular, the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) has long used its CLMOOC Google Plus space (3,000-plus members) as a way to easily share media files, engage in quick conversations and check-ins, and organize Make Cycles.

CLMOOC itself, as an experience, is never in one place for anyone person, so the Google Plus space was always just one of many platforms being used by folks to explore art and learning and making and connected learning.

Still, Plus was quite useful for what it was, providing a flowing connecting point of easy sharing. In particular, the sharing of images — for ongoing ventures like SilentSunday or Doodling — and adding video files was somewhat easy to figure out. Sure, things got lost in the mix as new material was added, but that’s what connected spaces are like.

Everything is always in flow.

And compared to the terrible visual design of Facebook (which is still, despite all that money flowing in, an awful mess to my eyes and gives me headaches whenever I happen to look at it, which is not very often) and unsteady tinkering of Twitter (which I use and still find useful), Google Plus — with its tiling box-like post formats — worked for me. I actually liked the organization of it. I found it useful.

I’ll miss it.

What happens to the CLMOOC G+ space now? It will probably disappear, but I figure with connected work, that is always bound to happen at some time. We will still have our main website hub (Thanks, Karen) and folks will continue to share and connect in other spaces, online and offline (postcards, anyone?). Some of us will investigate some other possibilities for sharing. Maybe it will open up more doors for more projects in other exploratory spaces. Who knows.

CLMOOC was always more than the technology and still will be.

Peace (the defense rests),
Kevin

 

A Comic Reaction to the Data Visualization

DS106 Non-Analysis Comic

Greg kindly shared out a data visualization of some #DS106 connections.

Although I didn’t quite know what it all meant — even though the focus of the E-Lit 3.0 course that I am watching from afar is all about data tools and data analysis, so much of it is beyond me right now — Greg’s visualization looked pretty cool.

After looking at it for some time, I thought, this is a game board. Then I thought, this needs to be a comic.

So I made a comic, for Greg. The game might yet come …

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

Even More Maps of the Internet (student view)

More Internet Maps

I continue to be intrigued by how my sixth grade students “Map the Internet” by artistically representing themselves to technology. This is a riff off Kevin Kelly’s The Internet Mapping Project. Two more classes did this activity this week.

These are some I shared last week:

Internet Mapping Project 2018

Peace (in nodes),
Kevin

Picture Book Review: The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story)

I am at in the middle in our Digital Life unit with my sixth graders, and the one component that I am adding to and beefing up in the last few years is a “critical digital media” component, with a focus on the veracity of news. I’ve been searching for a good book that might introduce the topic in an interesting way, and came across the perfect picture book and tale: The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story) by Darcy Pattison and Peter Willis.

This true story of fake news takes place not too too far from where I teach (Nantucket is a few hours east and then a ferry ride) but I know plenty of kids know where Nantucket is and some have even visited or vacationed there (my wife and I had our honeymoon there).

The book centers on 1937, when an elaborate spoof of the public — the newspapers, some department stores and a few locals were all in kahoots on it — unfolded in the newspapers, first locally and then nationally. It had to do with the sighting of a monster in the fishing waters of Nantucket, and the curiosity and fears that came from it. The newspapers printed “authentic” accounts of sea monster sightings and spun the story from different angles.

Finally, the collaborators let the public in on their joke — an elaborate stunt by a local balloon maker getting ready for Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade. The monster was inflatable.

The picture book story is helpful for framing a discussion about Fake News because it points to gullibility of readers, responsibilities of the media outlets, and the way businesses use these elements to market products or information. I’ll also reference the use of radio in the War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938 (a year after the Nantucket incident).

Cut to modern day and the political use of news items and news outlets as rhetorical arms. Our work in the classroom is to make visible as much of the fake news phenomenon as possible and give them strategies for considering source and material for what we call “news” these days.

All in all, I recommend The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story)While its reading audience might be younger than my sixth graders, I am always bringing different picture books to the classroom, and this one is a gem.

Peace (real, not fake),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Young Users in an Ad-Driven, Privacy-Invading Digital World

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.

“Now I’m scared.”

She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.

It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.

“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”

They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).

Privacy Slideshow Apps and Internet(View the presentation)

I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.

We teach with hope that change can come.

Peace (discovering it),
Kevin

What Words Surfaced When Talking Augmented and Virtual Realities

VR AR Words Surfaced

I spent the weekend in New York City with a gathering of National Writing Project colleagues, talking and sharing about experiences around augmented and virtual reality, in connection to learning opportunities. The word cloud comes from my messy notepad, where I was trying to pay attention to key words that were surfacing across a day of project sharing.

Notice how the technical aspects — of how things work — is less visible than the “why we might do this” aspect, as well as the literacy components. This is not to say we didn’t talk technical at times, but mostly it was a rich discussion about how such virtual and augmented experiences might extend our definitions of literacy and composition, and how keeping an eye on the human interaction nature of technical innovation systems is a key component.

Peace (in real time),
Kevin

 

 

Listening to George and Stephen: Machines, Humans and Learning

Just hanging out with George Siemens and Stephen Downes with a cup of coffee. I started yesterday morning and am continuing to view it this morning. It’s fun to listen in to these two. This video discussion is part of E-Learning 3.0. These two have a long history of nurturing open, connected platforms for learning.

Some Scattered Collected Words and Observations:

  • “What’s the future like?” — Stephen
  • George: We are at a funny point in the field, with technology explosion, innovation and moocs. There was a wave of ideas that emerged and then …  “The last five years, we’ve been in the wilderness ..” — George, and the potential “structural different” possibilities of learning is still in flux. He refers to AI and other ideas.
  • “The human end is critical” (George) as the wave of AI and data comes into play. “What should our school systems do to prepare people for” that future? Me: this is always the question, always on the minds of educators.
  • Stephen’s pointed question: What is the thing that is uniquely human?
  • George: Connecting the idea of machine learning to human learning. Is there such a connection? “What’s left (for human) is the definition of purpose …” — Stephen.
  • “Maybe we’re (humans) destined to be that voice in the computer’s head … that’s an important role …” — George
  • “Why are we teaching in a way that is counter-intuitive and not personally satisfying to students?” — George
  • Trustworthiness of the system is important — George, but he notes that the problem (fake news, platform manipulation, politicizing technology, etc.) has long been there, but the US presidential election brought it to the public surface
  • Fragmenting a narrative via digital to cloud the meaning of an event is a new corporate/political approach to control news cycles — George, talking about Occupy Wall Street, President Trump, Turkey, etc.

Listening to these two grapple with the impact of AI and Machine Learning in a human world, and in schools that are still driven by older models of learning, is interesting.

Like them, many of us are struggling to retain what it means to retain a humanizing approach in a data digital world, which feels more and more as if it is overwhelming us. This same topic of “being human in a digital world” also came up during a day-long meeting yesterday I was part of about technology and education, and I loved how theat important topic spilled over from me, watching this video, and us, in the room.

As a teacher, thinking about the role that education will play for my students in navigating such a world is a constant overarching theme. My students won’t be in that world for another ten years or so. Can you even imagine that world? How do you educate someone now for what you can’t yet envision?

Peace (learning),
Kevin

PS — it occurs to me now that I should have popped this into Vialogues for collaborative viewing and commenting. Next time, perhaps …