Tagged: Education

Electronically composting education

Another brilliant video from Michael Wesch‘s Digital Ethnography program at Kansas State University. Makes one want to scrap the education system entirely.

You should definitely check out his other videos, The Machine is Us/ing Us and Information R/evolution. Wesch is brilliant at capitalizing on the medium to tell a story. These are truly zeitgeist movies.

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‘Climate porn’ and global ‘despair’

The study reported below examines how news coverage of climate change has an alarmist tone, arguing that this inhibits people from taking action. I wholeheartedly agree. One of my biggest complaints regarding media literacy practices is that they can be done with a fear-generating approach that leaves people disempowered because by the end of a workshop they will feel used and brainwashed. I’ve seen this happen many times and complained to one well-known media critic that his talks were making people feel helpless. He replied that it was a good thing to create an emotional response and it wasn’t his problem to help them find the solution. I believe this is the opposite approach that we should take with our critical thinking skills. Instead we should not only “deconstruct” but “reconstruct” as well. This is the difference between a design solution and one based simply on criticizing effects. I applaud Simon Retallack for taking the lead on this issue. You can hear an interview with him on Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Simon Retallack, who is just in from Britain for the International Forum on Globalization conference. What is “climate porn”?

SIMON RETALLACK: Good question. It’s a phrase that authors of a report that we commissioned in London came up with to describe the way in which some journalists, some environmentalists and even some politicians use alarmist language to talk about climate change, in a way that you might see headlined, certainly in British newspapers, saying almost “the end is nigh,” using biblical terms to describe the impacts of climate change. It’s a phrase that is certainly not used to undermine the science. It certainly doesn’t mean to do that. What it seeks to do is try to encourage people to think about what sort of language will be necessary to motivate the public to take action.

If we talk about climate change in a way that makes it appear that there’s nothing we can do anymore about it, that it’s too late, that it’s happening, it’s going to be devastating on a global scale, without giving people the option and making the solutions clear to act, then I think we’re going to turn people off. So it’s part of some research and a long-running project that we’re engaged with to try to find ways of simulating climate-friendly behavior amongst the public.

‘Climate porn’ blamed for global warming ‘despair’ | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics:

Government and media organisations were today accused of undermining efforts to tackle global warming by using alarmist language that amounts to “climate porn”.

The “apocalyptic” way in which climate change is often portrayed in the press and on government websites succeeds only in “thrilling” people while undermining practical efforts to tackle the problem, according to Labour’s favourite thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

It analysed reports of climate change in 600 articles, 90 television adverts and news clips, as well as websites run by government and green groups.

A report on the project, published today, found that the issue was discussed in wildly divergent ways, and it argued that this meant the message to the public on climate change was “confusing, contradictory and chaotic”.

It says that the most prevalent tone for the discussion was “alarmist” and this was not confined to the tabloid press. It even cited a video on climate change produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Articles cited included one in Dazed and Confused, which said “We’re heading for dodo status”, and a piece in the Financial Times, which said “Think of being a canoe drifting downstream, then recognising too late that you are about to go over a waterfall”.

The report said that such “sensationalism… serves to create a sense of distance from the issue”.

It argued: “Alarmism might even become secretly thrilling – effectively a form of ‘climate porn’ rather than a constructive message. All of this serves to undermine the ability of this discourse to bring about action.”

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Quotable: John Dewey’s My Pedagogic Creed

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John Dewey My Pedagogic Creed:

I believe that this educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following. Of these two sides, the psychological is the basis. The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education. Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on of his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results but cannot truly be called educative. Without insight into the psychological structure and activities of the individual, the educative process will, therefore, be haphazard and arbitrary. If it chances to coincide with the child’s activity it will get a leverage; if it does not, it will result in friction, or disintegration, or arrest of the child nature.

Comics: a novel approach in the classroom

Panel from Understanding Comics
If it’s true that graphic novels are subversive, it’s probably why I love them so much. Scott McCloud‘s Understanding Comics makes a very convincing argument that graphic novels are indeed a high form of art. My absolute favorite is The Invisibles, but there’s too much drugs and sex to make it usable in a normal classroom setting. Still, I hope will read the series anyway.

Anyhow, I came across the following article that argues for graphic novels in the classroom. I wholeheartedly agree!

Reading Online – New Literacies::

Educators need not worry that graphic novels discourage text reading. Lavin (1998) even suggested that reading graphic novels may require more complex cognitive skills than the reading of text alone. Some English teachers use graphic novels to teach literary terms and techniques such as dialogue, and they use works like the Victorian murder novel The Mystery of Mary Rogers (Geary, 2001) as a bridge to other classics of that period. Graphic novels can also inspire writing assignments. For example, the human interest story Jack Cole and the Plastic Man (Spiegelman & Kidd, 2001) intersperses an essay on the short, tragic life of comic artist Jack Cole with examples of his artwork, photographs, and even reproductions of a Christmas card Cole sent. The collage that results captures biography in a new way. For a challenging classroom project, students could create graphic novels based on literary works or their own autobiographies.

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Quotable: John Taylor Gatto

One of my favorite education critics, John Tayor Gatto. From “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling”:

“School, as it was built, is an essential support system for a model of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control. School is an artifice that makes such a pyrimidical social order seem inevitable, even though such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution.” (p.13)

I also highly recommend:

“The Underground History of American Education” (John Taylor Gatto)

Deconstructing schooling

From a new blog. Right on! Deconstruct away!

My Learning Space:

The ‘mass production line’ is a great analogy to describe the traditional school system. Students as the raw material and educators as the cogs in the machine working for a bureaucracy. For too long, many schools and universities have operated like this: farms and factories that produce clones of a pre-determined specification, fit for society.

It is refreshing to consider an educational system that is not bound by four walls. Learning can happen about anything, anywhere and anytime. On the same token, our learners must become the producers, not simply institutionalised consumers of knowledge. I believe, that we as educators, must facilitate opportunities for our learners to connect, communicate and collaborate to extend their cognitive potential, virtually speaking. Technology is the perfect catalyst to realise this potential.

Will we ever deconstruct the traditional role of schools and universities as physical entities, bound by systems, structures and controlling mechanisms?

Quotable: Sir Ken Robinson

H/T to DK of MediaSnackers for turning me on to Sir Ken Robinson whose views on education and creativity mirror my own. Fortunately he is more articulate than I am, so when you watch him give his TED talk he can explain this big darn mess in much simpler language than I. Click here for his home page.

“We are educating people out of their creativity.”

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Media literacy gaining attention

MediaShift, a decent online column by Mark Glaser about new media hosted by PBS, features a nice article about a youth media conference in NYC that has been going on for a few years, The Overseas Conversation Series, created by filmmaker Jordi Torrent. I was fortunate to be on its panel a few years ago and it was fun to see some sparks fly between academic notions of media literacy and the practical. My friend, Kathleen Tyner, who has written a great primer on media literacy in the digital age, “Literacy in a Digital World: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Information (LEA’s Communication Series)”, complained that getting bogged down with literacy definitions is like counting the angels on the tip of a pin. She was calling on participants to just accept the notion that “literacy” can be used for books or digital media. I tend to agree, but feel that it’s also necessary to acknowledge that the reality of print media is substantially different than that of new media. As McLuhan argued, print represents a linear form of thinking, and new media is more multidimensional, or “acoustic.” An acoustic space comes at you from all directions (such as a forest).

Anyhow, I like Glaser’s overview. I wish I could have been there!

MediaShift . Digging Deeper::New Media Literacy as Important for Educators as Students | PBS:

For so long, the focus of media literacy education has been on helping students understand the media they consume. What are the biases? Who owns what outlet? How are news reports produced? But with the rise of new media, perhaps the focus of media literacy education should shift to educating the educators — and other adults — about blogs, podcasts, social networking, mobile content and virtual worlds. That way, adults could relate better to students and help them understand the world in which they are digital natives.

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Don’t get fooled again


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has created a great classroom Internet news tool, FactcheckED. It has very practical advice for helping students detect fraud in political advertising and propaganda. Another good source for researching PR and spin is the site, PR Watch.
FactcheED provides this simple and awesome checklist for detecting bias…


A Process for Avoiding Deception

1. Keep an open mind. Most of us have biases, and we can easily fool ourselves if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep our minds open to new information. Psychologists have shown over and over again that humans naturally tend to accept any information that supports what they already believe, even if the information isn’t very reliable. And humans also naturally tend to reject information that conflicts with those beliefs, even if the information is solid. These predilections are powerful. Unless we make an active effort to listen to all sides we can become trapped into believing something that isn’t so, and won’t even know it.

2. Ask the right questions. Don’t accept claims at face value; test them by asking a few questions. Who is speaking, and where are they getting their information? How can I validate what they’re saying? What facts would prove this claim wrong? Does the evidence presented really back up what’s being said? If an ad says a product is “better,” for instance, what does that mean? Better than what?

3. Cross-check. Don’t rely on one source or one study, but look to see what others say. When two or three reliable sources independently report the same facts or conclusions, you can be more confident of them. But when two independent sources contradict each other, you know you need to dig more deeply to discover who’s right.

4. Consider the source. Not all sources are equal. As any CSI viewer knows, sometimes physical evidence is a better source than an eyewitness, whose memory can play tricks. And an eyewitness is more credible than somebody telling a story they heard from somebody else. By the same token, an Internet website that offers primary source material is more trustworthy than one that publishes information gained second- or third-hand. For example, official vote totals posted by a county clerk or state election board are more authoritative than election returns reported by a political blog or even a newspaper, which can be out of date or mistaken.

5. Weigh the evidence. Know the difference between random anecdotes and real scientific data from controlled studies. Know how to avoid common errors of reasoning, such as assuming that one thing causes another simply because the two happen one after the other. Does a rooster’s crowing cause the sun to rise? Only a rooster would think so.

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The Future is Lost


I was a big fan of Lost, but since moving to Europe I have not been able to watch it. ABC blocks foreign access to the free viewings available in the US. Though news of the Lost college course is being offered is old news, I found the following post interesting. Some critics still think studying pop culture is a waste, but I found from my own study of the program an emerging critique of our media and electronic system. You can read some of these thoughts on one of my previous posts here. In it I wrote:

The surprise breakout on ABC is most definitely not your average program, and the one thing that keeps me interested is my view that Lost’s island is a metaphor for the mediated reality we find ourselves in. The island’s environment, inhabited by ghosts and “the others,” is like a dream space in which objects produce their own space, similar to the acoustic-like, all encompassing ecology of media where we currently live. The plane is our civilization, crashed, destroyed, in pieces. The survivors must learn to cope with their new environment, just as we have to adjust to ours.

Podcast: A ‘Lost’ college course, tons o’ new music and more – Pop Candy – USATODAY.com:

The Future is Lost: Economic, Social, and Technological Impact of a Cult (and Cultural) Phenomenon

The course: When a plane crashed on more than 18.5 million American television screens in September 2004, a new television show had taken up the mantle of “cult hit.” Lost, seemingly a mix of Survivor and The X-Files, was an instant paradox: a mainstream media blockbuster that defied categorization and appealed to some of the most fringe elements of human nature. In three short years, the show has spawned an empire of entertainment, marketing, and community that eclipses the show itself. Its producers have pushed Lost to the bleeding edge of new media; online communities take pride in dissecting each episode, from literary references to philosophical allusion; and the show’s format has inspired dozens of copycats on networks desperate to adapt to a newly demanding audience. This course is an interdisciplinary endeavor into the heart of the phenomenon. We’ll examine the economic circumstances that led to the development of the show, the societal context that it evolves in, and the possible effects of the show on technology and the future of media.

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Rebooting the classroom with DIY social networks

Anastasia Goodstein of YPulse and author of Totally Wired refers to a great article in Wired about how some classrooms are getting smart about incorporating online social networks rather than resisting them. At the center of this paradigm shift is an interesting software package, Elgg. I think the idea of a DIY social network in your classroom could get students to direct more energy and attention to what is happening in the class program than outside of it.

Here Goodstein discusses some ways teachers could jump to the new paradigm in an imaginary Web 2.0 bootcamp:

Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation:

The challenge for teachers is to find ways of adopting and integrating technology students are fluent with outside of class inside the class room in ways that are educational and help them accomplish their core teaching objectives (vs. just make class less boring). All of this got me thinking again about a post I did a long time ago where I suggested that the big tech companies join together and create “bootcamps” for every public school teacher in this country. Instead of just giving them more free versions of Power Point, immerse teachers in the technology their students are fluent with and explain how young people use it and why they love it. Here’s a sample “teacher bootcamp” schedule:

Let’s get social. Teachers learn how social networking got its start, tour the most popular sites with teens and create profiles on MySpace and Facebook. Teachers or librarians who have used social networking successfully in an educational capacity come in and present case studies.

Teens & their iPods, a love story. Every teacher gets an iPod. They tour the sites where teens download music for free and then go to iTunes and get to create their own playlist. Teachers who have integrated iPods into the classroom successfully present case studies.

Blog it! Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular blogging sites/software with teens. Every teacher sets up a blog, learns how to link and upload photos, comments on each other’s blogs. Teachers who have used blogs successfully in class present case studies.

Game on. Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular video games and online games with teens – including virtual worlds. Case studies then given on how educational games or educational activities in some virtual worlds are helping teens.

You get the drift. The idea would be immerse teachers, let them play with the technology in the same way kids do, then have the trailblazing teachers show them how these technologies can be used in ways that are educational. I think every teacher at bootcamp should also have a teen partner who does all of this stuff with them — and ideally who can be a TA (and help with tech support) when teachers go back to the class room, hopefully armed with more than just free software.

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‘No Child’ indeed!

From the family that brought you the Iraq War now comes a curriculum that profits from No Child Left Behind funds. Rest assured, your child’s future is in good hands. For example, view the sample lesson from their COW (Curriculum on Wheels) system in the above video. It’s on the history of “Habeas Corpus”; you may agree the lesson is in dire need of some media literacy. It’s curious how it repeatedly justifies the suspension of the law.

Further thoughts. If you go to to Ignite Learning‘s Web site and click on the “easy-to-use” button, what you see is a completely closed system. I think “cow” is an appropriate name. Make your students go “Moo”! Making education more like television, which this system seems to emulate, is not the answer. It would appear that in the case of COW the teacher is merely a manager of the curriculum, not an engaged, free thinking agent. There is something terribly frightening about making kids watch lessons in TV-like packages and then train them to repeat what they see. My hope is that kids are savvy and smart enough to see through this crap and reject it outright. I hate to say this but this is one situation when truancy might be the best educational strategy.

BTW, just because someone can pass a draconian test doesn’t mean they have learned anything. It just proves that their brain has been pulverized to a mind numbing pulp. Ack, how much more corrupt can our system get?

Bush’s Family Profits from ‘No Child’ Act:

Most of Ignite’s business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite’s COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times’ inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — “entirely political.”

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War of (media) worlds

This video by Kansas State University’s Mike Wesch explains so much better than text as to why new media are in many ways vastly superior modes of production and communication, which begs the question: how is an education system based on 19th Century modes of thinking going to deal with this emerging reality? More importantly, how will society grapple with this interlinked, intertextual, networked form of exchange? To quote McLuhan:

The United States of 2020 will achieve a distinct psychological shift from a dependence on visual, uniform, homogeneous thinking, of a left-hemisphere variety, to a multi-faceted configurational mentality which we have attempted to define as audile-tactile, right-hemisphere thinking. In other words, instead of being captured by point-to-point linear attitudes,… most Americans will be able to tolerate many different thought systems at once, some based on antagonistic ethnic

(From Global Village– a book I HIGHLY recommend!)

The last phrase, “antagonistic ethnic heritages,” might seem a bit antiquated, but I believe McLuhan means that some cultures have different learned perceptual modes that are circular, and therefor may seem “backwards” to Westerners, but are in fact better capable of interfacing the multidimensional realm that new media are moving in. McLuhan has also stated that wars can be the result of clashing paradigms, not just of the opposing society, but as a means of controlling the internal society’s evolving dynamic. In other words, the war in Iraq could be as much about asserting a dominant mode of perception and control locally as it is about dominating a foreign territory.

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Leaving children behind


Lately I’ve taken a break from teaching to focus on writing about education. Like most of us, I am pretty depressed about the state of our schools, and even more distraught that there is little criticism of No Child Left Behind coming to public attention. I truly hope the Democrats advocate for the abolition of this horrendous atrocity of education legislation rather than adding more fuel to the fire by expanding its funding. Sure it sounds great that we should give education more funding, but when you discover the nature of that education policy it gives one pause. The following article contains a bulleted list of why this program is so awful (I highlited the main point that interests me):

Truthdig – Reports – Leaving Children Behind:

The real problem is that students are disengaged from their education, and disengaged students ultimately drop out, as more than 50 percent do in large urban and poor rural schools. The antidote to dropouts is a rich and diverse curriculum offered under improved teaching conditions.

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Are ‘Baby Einsteins’ marching to war?

Marketplace: Iraq war justified? Maybe for Baby Einsteins:

By targeting babies, companies are marketing not just products but lifelong habits, hardwiring dependence on media before babies even have a chance to grow and develop the way they do it best, through hands-on creative play. And it’s through playing that children learn, among other things, skills essential to thriving in and protecting democratic society — critical thinking, initiative, problem solving and empathy.

That’s in contrast to what children learn from the more than 40 hours a week they spend with commercially-dominated media — unthinking brand loyalty, impulse buying and a belief that all the world’s a market. Corporate values embraced and pushed by the Bush administration.

During the build-up to the Iraq war, the President’s chief of staff was asked why Bush waited until September to promote the invasion. He replied, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

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Refusing an Inconvenient Truth

The story of National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) refusing a donation of DVDs by Inconvenient Truth co-producer Laurie David is flying all over the blogosphere right now. The following post from the Think Progress blog has a great link to the kind of oil and coal industry curricula the NATA does accept (it’s about a teen girl who discovers what life is like without petroleum, such as no lipstick!). Just goes to show there is nothing “neutral” about education, or the media used for teaching. But this being a “teachable moment,” I hope educators will show the Inconvenient Truth and the oil industry video linked below to teach about bias, not only in media, but in energy consumption as well. I encourage clicking through to the Think Progress post to read the whole thing.

Think Progress » Science Teachers’ Organization Refuses To Accept Copies of Inconvenient Truth:

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, global warming activist Laurie David writes about her effort to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association. The Association refused to accept the DVDs:

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other “special interests” might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn’t want to offer “political” endorsement of the film; and they saw “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs. …

[T]here was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

As it turns out, those supporters already include “special interests,” including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, which have given millions in funding to the NSTA. And while the NSTA showed no interest in helping educators get copies of Al Gore’s movie (which scientists gave “five stars for accuracy“), it has distributed oil industry-funded “educational” content, like this video produced by the American Petroleum Institute: (click this link to see the video)

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MacArthur spotlight

I’m currently writing a chapter on Native America, education and digital learning for the MacArthur Foundation, who is publishing a seminal six book series on the subject next year. My chapter will be in the “Race and Ethnicity” volume. MacArthur is investing a lot of resources ($50 million!) into this project and is making a conscious effort to create a new field of study on the subject.

Part of their effort to draw attention to the project is their “Spotlight” blog, which highlights some of the ideas and insights of the authors. I posted to it today, and you can view it here. A short snip:

The Nunga (southern Australian aborigines) have a term for the mental software of the European colonizers: “Invader Dreaming.” I take this to be a compact description of a mentality, one that is of the “invaders,” but one that also “invades.”

And just as I view advertising as the dream life of corporations, I think its fair to say that digital media is a kind of dream world that requires critical inspection. Consequently, I’m interested in what sociologists refer to as “subjectivities,” ways of perceiving and being in the world and how they impact communities. As an educator and writer engaging different media forms in Native American classrooms, I want to extend this discussion to a broader understanding of communication systems as mental and spiritual environments, or as ”media ecologies.” As Neil Postman remarks, “When media make war against each other, it is a case of worldviews in collision.”

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