Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are We Damning our Students to Commodity Hell?

I sat in on a training session the other day. The topic was "How to Write Rubrics". It was an interesting workshop, although the instructor had about 10lbs of stuff to get into a 5lb sack, way too much material to cover. I'm not sure what the other participants got out of it, with no chance to practice or absorb the material.

During he workshop, the instructor referenced Bloom's Taxonomy. I was a little shocked to realize that there were people at my table who had never heard of it. Here is an image of Bloom's Taxonomy, thanks to John Manuel via the Wikipedia Common.

There is a point to all this, stick with me for a sec.

What Blooms Taxonmy has always done for me is to encourage me to push my teaching from the lower levels where students memorize facts (that are are so easy to score and required not much from me as a teacher) to the higher levels where students analyze, sythesize, and evaluate.

What employers are going to demand of our students is that they make knowledge, create new ideas and products, redevelop old things into new. Our students won't be able to do this if they don't learn how to do it in school. This isn't a nice-to-have. This will be absolutely mission critical. Linda Naiman of the Creativity at Work blog says,
"If you are not adding creativity to your products or services, you are doomed to commodity hell, where you are just competing on price."

Our companies in the US can't compete against emerging nations on cost. Wake up -- all those low-paying jobs have left the building. They're in India, Malaysia, China, where workers earn a fraction of what they are paid here. We have to compete on creativity. And creativity is a higher level skill.

We have  a moral obligation to our students to teach them how to collaborate, how to be creative, how to generate knowledge. Otherwise we are sending them out in the world unequiped to compete in a global market. That will spell the end of our happy materialistic consumeristic society. Or as George Baily said, when he famously melted down,
"Where's that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where's that money? Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison. That's what it means. One of us is going to jail - well, it's not gonna be me."
Well, maybe not jail. But it won't be much better.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deaf Poetry

For my hearing friends who have said, "What is Deaf poetry?" Here is a hearing guy, an English teacher, explaining the poetry of his students.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Well, Buzz is here. And that changes everything. Again.

It definitely feels like most of my demographic -- the other middle aged ladies -- aren't going to be heavy adopters of social media, unless it is going to be something that serves it all up for them in one place like AOL used to do and Facebook seems to do now.  At least most of my friends (the intrepid Vicki being one very notable exception) don't seem to be as excited about the world of networks and mashups as I am. 

My whole life has been waiting for mashups, the ability to put a bit of this with a chunk of that, as my interests and areas of exploration change and develop.  I like things together and organized. Back in the olden days, say 1999, I made websites with my favoirtie links, very crude efforts at mashups.  Later, when PBWiki made the scene, I used a wiki to accomplish this. (Now PBWiki is an "online collaboration space"!)  Now with IGoogle I can do it with practically no effort.  Here is an article on Mashable about how to get Buzz, Facebook, and Twitter in one place.

Beyond iGoogle, this week I am exploring the fan page functionality on Facebook.  I am involved with a number of organizations that would benefit from someone knowing about this.Personally, this also looks like a way I could reach people interested in consulting relationships with me.  Like anything the better I understand what I actually want to achieve, the more likely I will be to achieve it!  Stand by for more on this topic - I think this is going to be a major theme in my blogging this year.

Monday, February 08, 2010

To Marketta Gregory: What Meditation Is, and What it is Not

Every morning while I eat my whole grain flax cereal, I read our local Rochester paper, the Democrat and Chronicle. Mostly my reading is the comics, but occasionally I have a few extra minutes and read something else. Today the column on faith and daily living by Marketta Gregory caught my eye. It was titled On the Road to Meditation and Faith. In her article, Marketta, a Baptist woman, describes her attempt at meditation while driving on the highways of Rochester, NY.

I was really distressed at her description of meditation, which she believes is not a part of her Christian tradition. Apparently Marketta picked up her meditation instruction from Eat Pray Love, a book about Elizabeth Gilbert's experiences. Marketta believes that meditation is has something to do with humming -- being quiet and humming.

Marketta, meditation has a long history in Christianity. It also can be practiced with no religious overtones at all. Even if practiced for a very short time a day, say 10 minutes, you can get the benefit of thinking more clearly. And that helps everyone.

Here are instructions for a simple kind of meditation called "calming the mind". I recommend that you try this for 30 days, and then if you don't notice any benefit, abandon it. For people who currently are doing some sort of spiritual practice such as a daily Bible study, I would suggest you do this immediately before your study time.

1. Find a quite place/time. You need 10 to 15 minutes of relative peace, so do this when the kids are napping, or at school, and turn off the tv and your cell phone. You don't need a dedicated place, but that can be nice. But for heaven's sake, don't create requirements for yourself like, "I'll meditate when I get the spare bedroom cleaned out and made into a meditation room." Starting now is better than starting tomorrow.

2. Sit comfortably with your back straight, your hands resting naturally in your lap. You don't need to sit cross legged on the floor, although many people do assume that posture. Most important is that your back is straight and you are experiencing a minimum of discomfort.

3. Your eyes should be open, focused about 18 inches in fron of you, a little above your nose. I suggest eyes open, with a soft gaze. Your tongue should be resting in your mouth. You are going to breath thru your nose if possible. Your breath should be natural and unforced.

4. Start by considering your motivation. Your meditation will lead to a clearer mind, which will make it possible for you to more effectively carry out whatever you see as your mission in this life. Take a few minutes to think about this and then make a heart-felt aspiration that your meditation will lead to this.

5. Focus your attention on your breath. As thoughts arise in your mind, simply label them as thoughts and redirect your focus to your breath. Don't allow your mind to grasp those thoughts. Just let them go as they arise and continue to bring your mind back to the breath. This is what meditation is, the effort of refocusing your mind on the object of meditation, in this case the breath. Some meditation techniques focus on an object, such as a picture, a rock, a flower, a small statue. Some meditation techniques focus on a sound, a phrase, a word. I have heard that in early Christian times, people focused on the phrase, "Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." A link to information about this practice can be found here. In the meditation I am telling you about, you focus on the breath.

6. Continue to redirect the mind to the breath for a period of time, maybe 10 - 15 minutes. It is helpful to have a small timer so you don't have to continually distract yourself by checking the time.

7. When the time has ended, take another moment and make a short aspiration prayer that your meditation will lead to you being able to better carry out your mission in this life. This will be different for each person, based on their own faith tradition.

There are some common problems that come up. If you become sleepy, it is suggested that you mediate at a different time of day when you are more alert. Raise your gaze slightly. Also, you could have a cup of coffee or tea before you meditate. If your mind becomes super busy, that is also very normal. it is suggested that you lower your gaze slightly. Also, several shorter sessions might be better to start.

Don't become discouraged, however. No one that I know of meditates without thoughts arising, which is good because it is the practice of controlling your mind when thoughts arise that is true meditation. You will be amazed at the control you can develop during the rest of your day. So, if for example, you have negative thoughts, you will be able to control those thougts with greater ease. You will also find that you can think more clearly when you do your bible study or other spiritual reading.

Good luck, and may all benefit from your fruitful meditation practice!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Winter Rose

IMG_1044, originally uploaded by clare.dygert.

Rochester NY is a sea of gray in the wintertime. The sky is gray, the ground is white, the tree trunks are black with white snow. Usually, by the time we get to February, I have already come home and told J that I MUST MUST MUST get out of here. Now.

But this year I can't get out of here this winter because we are planning a long and expensive trip to Africa. Every vacation day and every penny is being carefully squirreled away.

Last Sunday, to help me make it through the winter, J took me to Arena's Florist, and i bought a bouquet with this beautiful rose. I had a lovely hour shooting pictures. Don't know if this will be enough to get me through, but it sure helped me make it for this week.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Metadata and Video and Why We Should Work With Students in Project Development

One of the puzzles I have been working on this year is how to attach metadata to video. Yes, I understand that I can attach search terms to a chunk of video -- that's not the problem. I also know I can use the captions as search terms. But both of those scenarios are unsatisfactory to me.

If I attach metadata to the entire chunk of video -- a 50 minute video of a professor teaching a math class, for example, it doesn't help the student find that one part where she is talking about how to solve quadratic equations. To find that, the student has to fast forward through the entire 50 minutes, and hopefully will be able to find it on the first pass. What I want is to be able to search for "quadratic equation" and have the video queue up all the places where the professor used that term.

And what if the professor isn't speaking? What if she is signing ASL? I still want to find all the places where she uses that term. And if she fingerspells it one place, and uses a sign somewhere else, I want to find both places.

AND -- here's the hardest part -- I don't want this to require post production work. Because post production means money means we won't be able to do this all of the time. And it has to be screw-up proof too. For the obvious reasons.

So, one day this 4th year RIT illustration student stops by my office. He is working as a note taker, one of the access services we offer to students at NTID (and RIT too.) And he is taking notes for a student who is sighted, but unable to read. So this notetaker, who's name is Ben Rubin, is drawing notes for the student. Here is some of Ben's work. Very cool and very interesting, but it gets better.

Ben go a hold of a of a special pen called Pulse SmartPen. This devise allows Ben to record the spoken words of the professor as he is taking notes and link particular parts of the lecture to particular parts of the notes. In other words, Ben can insert a bookmark on the fly while he is drawing notes. Then he uploads the notes (and the audio file) to a website, and when his student wants to review what the professor was teaching about while Ben was drawing his notes, he just clicks on the website and hears the audio. Which is very cool, if you hear.

So Ben got to thinking about how sometimes there is also an interpreter in the room for the Deaf students. And what if, Ben said to me, we could video tape the interpreter and use the audio track to sync to his notes and make it so you could click on something and instead of hearing the audio, a little window popped up and you saw the interpreter signing what the professor was saying.

What if indeed!

So I told my programmers that I love this idea and I want to include it as a Major Design Project next year. And I met with the head of Access Services to ask him if we could use a couple or three of his notetakers next year. And he said yes. So this isn't really solving the problem of inserting metadata into video, but it is a hack that might work if we can figure it out. More to come!