Amplifying the Work of Others

Ampen don't Dampen

Ampen. Don’t Dampen.

My friend, Terry, wrote this phrase elsewhere in a discussion about “hospitality” and his words stuck with me, for its spirit of generosity of others. I hope I do that with my close reading activities, with quote pulling, with comic making, and with the remixing stories of others and sharing back.

By amplifying the work of others, we amplify the thinking of ourselves, for when you choose what to focus on in the work of others, you share a bit of yourself, too. This approach is also a way to counter the selfie-centered heart of technology. Turn the lens on someone else, and make a connection.

Peace (amplified),
Kevin

PS — Is ampen a word? I don’t think so. A quick search came up empty. Is it important? Nope. I still love invented language, and ampen to me signals a variation of amplify, but with softer and kinder tones.

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),
Kevin

What If You Met All of Your Virtual Friends?

MassMoca Day Trip

My wife and I took a personal day (no kids!) last week to visit MassMoCA, a huge and expanding contemporary art space in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. It was my first visit there (see yesterday’s Slice of Life for what I saw) and as we wandered around huge galleries in an old manufacturing facility, I was amazed by the depth of the artwork (and we even got a chance to try Virtual Reality Goggles for the first time, too, which was a neat immersive experience).

One of the exhibits that caught our attention was by Tonya Hollander, whose Are You Really My Friend? seeks to break down the barriers between the “friends” we make in online spaces and our interactions out here, in the worlds beyond the screen. Hollander decided to visit, with her camera, all 626 of her Facebook friends, documenting her journeys. Along with photos, she has sticky notes from folks, stuff given to her along the way, documents of her journey, and much more. The exhibit itself is multi-layered, in interesting ways, with translucent banners of artwork hanging from the rafters of the room.

It’s fascinating to see how she breached the wall between our virtual identities and our offline identities.

I was struck most by the humanity of the exhibit. It’s easy to lose track of the stories behind those who choose to follow us, and those we decide is worth our time to follow. Can you imagine spending fives years on a journey of documentation? Can you imagine how powerful that would really be? How it would strengthen your network?

Given all of our worries about how digital spaces are dipping towards chaos and negativity, the act of sharing our lives with a stranger, who becomes a friend, reminds us of why many of us went online in the first place: to find our Tribe and connect with others, and to expand our own notions of what it means to be a citizen of the world (or World).

Peace (in all spaces),
Kevin

 

Remember the Children (Digital Rights in a Digital Age)

What the Kids Say

Someone in the #DigCiz community shared out a research piece about the rights of children in the Digital Age, and I spent some time the other day looking through it. You can, too. The two researchers — Sonia Livingstone and Amanda Third — scoured through research on children to parse out what rights young people have, or don’t have, in the digital world.

As we talk about Digital Citizenship and Civics in the Digital Age, I find it important to remember the balance of adults and children, and how too often young people’s unique concerns and issues of agency get left out of the discussions.

Really, the focus should be all about the kids.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

Yes, as an adult, I have my own personal concerns about digital platforms (See Doug Belshaw’s post: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Facebook), and the commercialization of our data, and the privacy decisions made behind closed doors. As adults, we can navigate, react, resist, leave, stay, pause.

Kids have a tougher time, for all sorts of reasons related to developmental growth, social pressures and more. I hope I am not being too authoritative here when I suggest, from my experience as a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds and father of three boys, that young people are:

  • less apt to understand the mechanics behind digital sites
  • less open to individual inquiry about what is happening to their data
  • or are more likely to shrug off the trade-off because they see things “in the moment” and not in the larger picture
  • less likely, particular as teenagers, to have an adult they can turn to for help and advice (parents are often the adult of last resort during the teen years)
  • more apt to follow the social herd into something new without fully understanding the trade-offs
  • more likely to have their unique concerns be ignored by adults when a technology is in the sphere of public debate (read danah boyd’s work for a better understanding of all of this)

Take a look …

This video pulls some of the ideas from the research article, and hopefully, it allows for several point of discussion, including:

  • What rights should young people have in the Digital Age?
  • How do we articulate their concerns?
  • How can we empower young people to be part of the conversation and support their unique status when technology companies and governments try to exploit them?
  • Where is the line between adult protectiveness and youthful exploration?

I don’t have the answers. But, as a teacher and a father, I am often thinking about it. I hope you are, too.

Peace (in the kids’ world),
Kevin

Visiting Artist: Learning About Life with Your Hands

Elton visits

“Remove the negative. Uncover and highlight the positive.” — Elton Braithwaite, speaking to my students about art and life.

We’re fortunate to have an acclaimed woodcarver — Elton Braithwaite — come to work our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) this coming week.

Elton has been a partner with our school for more than 15 years, and the collaborative projects created by sixth graders are everywhere in our school — from a table-game picnic table to a welcome sign to wood murals to a puppet theater. All show the artistic vision of Elton and about 70 students, and the coordination and dedication of our art teacher.

Elton visits

I appreciate the tactile learning experience that Elton provides, and also, his views on life and the spirit and creativity, and the desire many have to create new things out of the old.

This year’s project is a wood frame for an events calendar. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Peace (carved and polished),
Kevin

 

 

Interpreting, and Honoring, the Words of Others


Untitled flickr photo by kangster shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Thanks (again) to Terry Elliott for sharing a new possibility for close reading and digital interpretation. This time, it’s something called Lumen5, which allows you to use text from blog posts (or freewrite) to create a short video not unlike a digital story. I like the “pick and choose” element.

By close reading posts of others (or close reading yourself, too), you can point to textual elements and then add images and music. The site then kicks out a video.

I tried the process first with my friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote of her move to Portland and what she is seeing in her new community in a very poignant piece of writing. She also shares how she hopes to make an impact there (of that, I am sure.)

The second was a piece by Maha Bali, as she continues to explore the terrain of “open learning” in a variety of ways. In the post I used, she uses the metaphor of the flower.

In both cases, I hoped to honor my friends with the choosing of words (and hoped the context would not be completely lost through my interpretation) and that the video versions might lead others on a path to their blogs and writing.

Karen writes All Hands on Deck

Maha writes Reflection Allowed

And you should, of course, read Terry who writes Impedagogy

Peace (extended outward),
Kevin

PS — I also could not resist making a version of my Western Massachusetts Mission Statement as a video.

If the Web is the City, Are Apps the Gated Suburbs?

I’ve recently read, with interest, a book by Virginia Heffernan entitled Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art, and it seems to mesh quite nicely with some of the exploration that had been done in the Networked Narratives experiment. As the title suggests, Heffernan proposes that we view the Internet itself as a huge canvas of realistic art, and then she dives into elements like design, text, images and more to explore these ideas through a networked lens.

In the chapter on Design, she notes that because the Web is both a commercial space and a collaborative space, it has become a messy sprawl of links, images, advertisements, and more. As a result, the experience of many users is far from ideal.

“The Web is haphazardly planned. Its public spaces are mobbed, and urban decay abounds in broken links, ghost town sites, and abandoned projects. Malware and spam have turned living conditions in many quarters unsafe and unsanitary. Bullies, hucksters and trolls roam the streets. An entrenched population of rowdy, polyglot rabble dominates major sites.” — Magic and Loss, page 45

Heffernan then goes on to develop the metaphorical supposition that this messy reality of the Internet gave rise to the closed and contained experience of Apps, which pulled us away from the Internet and created a sort of Gated Community. She talks about this as the “online equivalent of white flight.”

“The parallels between what happened to Chicago, Detroit, and new York in the twentieth century and what happened to the Internet since the introduction of the (Apple) App Store are striking.” — Magic and Loss, page 45

Is this true? Does the metaphor hold?

I guess I had never really considered the connections but she raises some intriguing points. So, as we talked about the nature of “civic imagination” in Networked Narratives and built our own “Arganee World,” we also considered what we meant by public spaces. A further point of discussion might have been how to “design elements” can play a larger role in the permanence of online spaces, and is connected directly to how much a user invests in the experience.

I guess one of the larger questions remains: What do we give up when we move into any gated community? What do we trade for our security? There is a certain beauty in the chaotic mess of the Internet — the expected discovery or connection — as well as some real ugliness — trolls and negative comments and attacks — and we cede some authority to app developers when we move into the app on our mobile device.

During one summer’s CLMOOC, we explored the idea of the Internet as Public Sphere. I wrote about it here and here and here.

Peace (in all spaces),
Kevin

 

Check out this Creativity (K12 Online Conference)

One of the strands of this year’s ongoing K12 Online Conference is Creativity. This video is a cool inside look at the ways teachers around the world are using music and technology to spark creativity with their students.

Check out more about K12 Online Conference. There’s always cool sharing and all the presentations are archived, so you can always peruse past presentations whenever you get the time.

Peace (sounds beautiful),
Kevin

This is (still) the Truth (Zeega Multimedia Version)

Five Voices in Search of a Poem

I’ve been wanting to take a poem for five voices that I wrote last month, and invited four friends to virtually perform with me, into Zeega for some multimedia interpretation, and finally found the time this week to do so. The poem is a response to both the media landscape and the political turmoil (made even more tumultuous yesterday by the firing of the lead investigator by the president being investigated).

First, here is just the audio, with help from Terry, Sheri, Melvina and Scott. We recorded it all remotely using a site called Soundtrap.

Now, here is the Zeega version (You might need to tell your browser in the url bar to allow it to play unsafe scripts, which comes as a result of Terry hosting Zeega at his own space, I believe). Also, it is best to view the Zeega in full screen, to get the entire effect of image layering and viewing. Here it is:

What’s always so interesting about this process is trying to match the visual experience, with limited text anchors, to the audio, even knowing that every viewer will process through the project at a different pace. With Zeega, the viewer/reader/listener chooses when to advance the visuals, even as the audio plays on.

I’m happy with how it came out. I hope you enjoy it.

Peace (in many voices),
Kevin

Passing the Song Along (A little Dylan in the Day)

Dylan Words

A few weeks ago, my friend Laura put out a call for a project that she was doing that would feature the Bob Dylan song The Times Are a-Changing. When I first taught myself guitar, that was one of the songs I wanted to learn, and did. Laura was hoping to build a musical quilt of songs and voices and words, as part of a public performance.

I grabbed my guitar, re-learned the song a bit, and then choose the verse that I think has the most resonance for the times that we are in right now – the one where Dylan calls out politicians and writers to embrace change for a better world and be ready to defend the choices you make in the moments before you. I recorded the verse and sent it forth to Laura, to use as she saw fit.

A few weeks later, Laura shared out a video of the live performance of her Affirmation Quilt. As I watched and listened via YouTube, I was pleased to hear her cello layered in on top of my guitar and voice. She is a talented musician, and I was honored to hear her strings on top of my ragged singing voice. It was wonderful, particularly as she wove the music in with spoken words contributors by others, and other music pieces, too. She also performed the song, live. That was the quilt affect she was going after.

But this story doesn’t stop there.

Ron, another musician friend from another part of the world, watched Laura’s video, too, and he asked if she could share it on Soundcloud. He wanted a copy of the song. I figured he was up to something, and of course, he was. Ron, a talented keyboardist, took the duet of Laura and I, and made it into a trio (or more) by adding keyboards and other elements in Garageband, and then shared it back out again.

If you’re counting, that would be Song Iteration Three: me, then me and Laura, then me and Laura and Ron. (Well, Four, if you count Dylan, and you probably should.)

None of us (including Dylan, as far as I know) have ever met in person to jam. We only know each other through our networks, coming together for a shared purpose with shared interests. When collaboration comes together like that, it’s magical and powerful.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Ron.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin