Month: April 2014

Teaching the Homeless to Code

A friend recently shared this video with me and I couldn’t help but think of our class “tool time.”

This 23-year-old programmer is teaching a homeless man to code, a skill the man can hopefully utilize to get a job and improve his situation. One quote from the video that stuck with me was “If Patrick was teaching Leo English few would care, but coding is the language of a new American dream.” Wow. Talk about a loaded sentence! It sums up the idea that traditional writing and communication ability is no longer adequate for success. Instead, we must learn to communicate and utilize the machines and tools that are abundant in our lives. For me, the video also emphasized the importance of the tools all around us. We tend to think of them as functioning to make tasks easier, but in this case they can literally be the difference between sleeping on a park bench and having a place to call home.

‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’

Picture and gif blog posts can be just as informative as compared to long text posts.

Here is an example of what I mean. I found this blog post while scrolling through my Tumblr Dashboard. I thought it was very interesting to see people in period clothing using modern day technology.

It would be really interesting to see what it would look like reversed; modern day people situated in daily activities with no form of technology whatsoever.

(Maybe we can do an English 340 pic set? :p)

The Benefits of Piracy… for the Author

After our reading in English 340 about how, in a sense, most mediums for sharing media have been founded on piracy, I checked out what the biggest form of piracy is today.

Today, piracy via the internet is commonly used to attain copies of TV shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones, the most-pirated show last year. Besides being a well-received show, the reason for this is likely its availability (or lack of availability, rather). Many TV show episodes are available to watch the day after they are first broadcast with:

  • On Demand cable services (accessed with a paid subscription)
  • through online services like iTunes or Amazon Prime (pay per episode or per season)
  • On the broadcasters’ websites (paid for by advertisers or TV licence payers).

If you want to watch an HBO show, however, you can pay for an upgraded cable subscription or the streaming service HBO GO. If you want to just watch Game of Thrones and not pay for a huge package of other shows along with it, you can wait for the DVD release… or illegally download the show, as was done over 8 million times last year.  In 2013, on average, the number of illegal download views for Game of Thrones exceeded the number of its legal TV views. HBO is clearly being robbed of their potential earnings, right?

No, they’ve actually taken no financial hit, and the TV viewership for Game of Thrones has actually increased with each season.

"How can this be?"
“How can this be?”
"You guys pirated my show?  Aw, shucks!  You're making me blush!"
“You guys pirated my show? Aw, shucks! You’re making me blush!”

I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo tells Entertainment Weekly.  He goes on to say that Game of Thrones is HBO’s top-earning show and its most-pirated show.  David Petrarca, a director who works on the series, echoed Lombardo’s comments, explaining that good TV shows become popular by being discussed and shared with friends.  I think the news stories about the Game of Thrones being pirated only increase the public’s awareness of the series, and being a popular show through any measure is positive press.

Piracy seems to have helped the show’s success and HBO has not announced an option for viewers to pay for the show by itself before DVD release, but HBO is working on making the show more easily available to viewers worldwide.

"Free sample, my lady?"
“Free sample, my lady?  One taste, and you’ll want to sign up for HBO GO— I mean buy a whole cask. It’s an analogy.”

This may not lessen piracy all that much, though.  Not too far behind Game of Thrones in the list of most pirated episodes from last year is The Big Bang Theory, which airs on CBS, free to Americans.  I think the reason piracy is a popular alternative to live television is because people just don’t like to pay for things.  While illegal, piracy acts as an illegal free sample for consumers of art and literature, which may encourage them to buy DVDs or online subscriptions for what they’ve sampled.
More on that in my next blog post

Technology IS the classroom?

I came across this article while doing research in another class, and I found it pretty interesting:

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2014/0420/Blended-learning-revolution-Tech-meets-tradition-in-the-classroom

In summary, the article talks about a new classroom model that is being implemented and reviewed in some schools, where students spend half the day in a regular classroom setting with teachers, working on projects and activities to hone their skills and the second half of the day sitting at a computer, working with software that teaches them content. Each student may advance at their own pace, and can only advance once they have passed the assessment for the unit they are working on.

I see many pros to this style of learning. For one, it is more individualized for each student and allows each student to learn at his or her own pace. This eliminates students from being too bored in a classroom and being held back when they already know and understand the material, and it also eliminates students who need more time from being pushed along when they still do not have an understanding of what they are learning. Another positive aspect of this teaching model is that teachers now do not have to spend as much time teaching content and facts to their students and they have more time to focus on deeper skills and more time to get to know their students and their learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. The schools that have implemented this thus far claim to have seen great results, noting improvement in their students test scores. Another pro they claim this program has is that it gives students more individual responsibility for their learning, which better prepares them for college. My argument to that is that while I do think it better prepares them for college in that they are responsible for their own work, it does not help them prepare for college socially, and it also does not give them a sense of what college classes will be like, as many of them are lecture-based or discussion-based, where you are requires to listen or participate in class rather than just focus on your work individually.

There are other concerns and questions I had as I was reading this article. One of the concerns I had was about funding. The article claimed that this program would not increase cost overall, but originally to purchase all the software and computers and to get this program implemented that would cost schools a pretty penny. Some schools may not be able to cover these costs.

Another question I had was what about special education students? There was no discussion in the article about how to implement this program with students that have IEPs, or that need more one on one teacher instruction.

Another main concern I had was how unmotivated learners would be able to get through a learning model like this, as it requires the student to take responsibility to get their work done. The article somewhat addressed this concern by saying that students would have weekly check-ins with teachers to make sure that they were completing things and going through the program at a realistic pace, but I have met some students in my practicum and student teaching that I know would sit there on the computer and not get anything done. I know students who would fall farther behind in a classroom set up like this.

The last concern I had was about students’ social interactions. So many people are concerned about people from this new technological generation not having imperative social skills that they need to get through life because heir social interactions have always been through a screen. Much of what we learn in middle and high school is how to interact with our peers, how to treat people with respect, how to handle ourselves in different social situations, and I think having students spend half their days sitting alone on a computer might diminish some of that social learning. Going off this, one example of how technology is used in the classroom was that students were blogging online about a question the teacher posted, as an online class discussion. My question as I read this was why not just have an actual class discussion? I think it is good for students to get used to forming sentences from their thoughts and to practice speaking eloquently in front of other people. Just as it is important for students to learn how to respond to opinions they might not agree with in a respectful manner.

I do see a lot of advantages of using technology like this in a school setting, I just think that there are still a lot of kinks to work out and a lot of things to consider before fully implementing this in school districts.

Some questions about Explainers

For those of you who don’t know what an explainer is, here is a link to the Geneseo English department’s page on Explainers.

http://explainers.sunygeneseoenglish.org

For the Digital Humanities class, I am part of the Explainers team, who have just put up a contest for the best Explainer. An Explainer is a short video or graphic that essentially summarizes a particular topic, be it Edgar Allen Poe or Magnetism. While we have been doing the contest, I wondered something about what we were doing. What I was curious about was whether the author of the explainer truly understood what they were talking about if they were writing such a small segment on the topic. So, to help potential contestants understand what an explainer was, the group, with myself included, decided to create our own explainer about different aspects of both the project and the class, and realized the actual value of an Explainer.

When you write an Explainer, you are required to understand the topic well enough to condense it into a small enough description that is not only easy to understand, but also remains informative to the reader. It needs to be able to teach while being brief, and for that to happen the author must be able to understand their topic to the point of efficiently being able to educate their viewers. It acts as a test for the author, forcing them to form their opinions and gather their knowledge in a very concise way, and in a world where a person’s interaction with any sort of knowledge is very temporary, that level of understanding is one that acts as a very positive example in an age of immediate information.

The only negative aspect of this is that the viewer is still receiving the same level of immediate information, and doesn’t have the same level of connectivity with the source material as the author does. Hopefully, simply the act of reading the explainer will be enough to motivate others to create ones of their own, and allow them the same experience.

Social Media Mishap

I recently came across this article over the weekend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/18/professor-game-of-thrones_n_5175889.html?utm_hp_ref=college

This for me has been only the most recent representations of how social media has evolved to the point where anything anyone posts can be placed under immense scrutiny. The professor involved is an art professor from New Jersey who was simply tweeting a photo of a fandom that he shared with his daughter, that being Game of Thrones. His daughter is wearing a t-shirt with a quote from the character Daenerys Targaryen, one of the more popular protagonists of the series, that reads “I will take what is mine with fire and blood”. This post led to his eventual suspension by the school as they took the post as a threat against the Dean of the school, as the school was involved in labor disputes at the time.

The thing that social media has done more efficiently than any other form of media is attracting a massive audience at the flick of the switch. However, our society doesn’t seem to understand the full implications that come along with that, and as such sometimes don’t understand when something that is read by hundreds of thousands of people is given a different meaning than what they intended. There are so many different viewpoints and so many different ways to read a post or view an argument that posting a quote of your favorite character may not always be safe. It does, however, demonstrate the potential for a more expansive and cohesive viewership, and has also been a way for many different kinds of dialogue to occur on many different subjects, from popular culture to world events. But in order to be part of those sorts of dialogues, people must first be made aware of the power that they now have, over both their own image and the image of their topic.

But that’s mine!

The discussion in class about copyright and plagiarism got me thinking about something I’ve seen circulating on the internet lately. The popular store Hot Topic appears to be stealing creators ideas and selling them as their own. Here and here are just a few examples of how they have been caught in the act of doing something wrong.

What really makes this frustrating is these artists are selling their designs on sites such as Etsy.com and this is how they are creating a livelihood for themselves, but this big chain store is taking their ideas, maybe changing them slightly and then selling them for a lot less. So there is a gray area of who owns the right. Do the artists have a legal right if there is no technical copyright or is their own creative license enough for others to take that idea and sell them?

  

Are these the same or are they different enough that there is no legal claim? Personally I believe that because the original artists believes that this is too similar that they have the right to claim an infringement on their creative ideas. And apparently Hot Topic does as well. Whenever they are brought up on these charges they will stop the production and in most cases cease to sell their remaining stock.

Then there is the this controversy, which states that they stole the hair bow scheme from this artist. But the artist is taking the ideas from Disney. So are they both wrong to be taking from other people? This one is the most gray area that I can see from this idea. Should Disney be getting involved as well? Hot Topic has since stopped production, but I hear tell they are selling their remaining stock instead. So it appears they know it is wrong, but are also passive aggressively saying that they don’t care.

The real question lies in, why do they continue to do this when it is inevitable that they will be caught in the end?

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

reddit-alien

In an earlier class we talked briefly about Reddit and its upvote/ downvote system, which can either make a post popular or to prevent it from ever being seen by anyone. Another feature of the site is the comment section of each post, where users can comment to share what they think about the post. The original poster will sometimes post their own comment to supplement their post. If they posted a picture, for example, they have the opportunity to share who the photographer was (if it wasn’t them) or they can include more background information so that other users can understand the context of the picture.

r/Pics, specifically, is where users can share pictures and photography, and is often used by users to share a meaningful picture they or someone else has taken. In this post, the user has shared something that they did themselves. This post, on the other hand, was shared by a user who didn’t create the work. In the second post, users have given credit to an artist for the type of art that has been done, and other users are able to ask if anyone knows who the work belongs to. Sometimes, users other than the original poster will share where a picture came from. It’s not just about making an income, it’s about giving recognition to whoever came up with or worked for the content.

 

The world is your oyster (and also your audience)

The sticky note upon which this post was built throughout the semester
The sticky note upon which this post was built over the course of this semester

Throughout the semester, many of us have remarked on the connections we seem to find between the courses we’re taking. Sometimes it seems like all the professors have a top secret meeting at the beginning of the semester where they compare class lists and decide on a common thread to subtly (or not so subtly!) work in so we cannot escape it. This semester it was blogging and other forms of online writing. I spent 10 weeks as a public relations and marketing intern for the Alzheimer’s Association, Rochester & Finger Lakes Chapter, which involved a lot of social media writing and learning about blogs. Naturally, I knew I’d wind up writing a blog post about it for this class. So here I am, finally trying to put all the thoughts I scribbled down on a Post-it note throughout the semester into one cohesive blog post that isn’t so long that you all go back to watching cat videos on YouTube halfway through.

Shameless promotion of the Alzheimer's Association. They do great work!
Shameless promotion of the Alzheimer’s Association. They do great work!

There are dozens of connections I could talk about in great detail, but the one aspect of online writing that had the most profound impact on me personally was the idea of writing for different audiences. It hits hardest when you realize that your “audience” happens to be a super vague concept, since anyone who is literate and can open an internet browser could read all of this. You can’t picture them because you don’t know just who they are. Starting my internship at the end of January, I had thought a lot about who I’d be writing for. I figured that this would include people with early-stage dementia, their caregivers, friends, family, and maybe a few other folks from the Rochester area who just happen to be interested in Alzheimer’s education programs and events. For this class blog, I generally go in with the mindset that I’m writing for Professor Schacht, my ENGL 340 peers, maybe some other SUNY Geneseo English students who are avoiding blog assignments for their own courses, and a few other stragglers who happen upon this page.

Who else now wishes they'd asked for a golden eagle for their 13th birthday?
Who else now wishes they’d asked for a golden eagle for their 13th birthday?

We all tailor our voice based on the digital environment in which we’re writing. My voice on here sounds much different from the one I used while writing press releases or tweets for my internship, and different still from my personal Facebook posts, such as a recent article I shared about a 13-year old eagle huntress in Mongolia, which I described as “basically the most bad ass thing you can do as a 13 year old.” Obviously that’s not something I’d put in a tweet for the Alzheimer’s Association. I would bet that most of us don’t even think about changing our voice from platform to platform; we just do it naturally.

When I did start consciously analyzing my writing with my audience in mind, it was a little overwhelming. I discovered that the Alzheimer’s Association has followers from all over the country, and all of them have varying degrees of knowledge about Alzheimer’s. They all need something different. How could I possibly write for all of these people? What is an overwhelming amount of information for one is far too little for another. As we all know, the beauty of the digital age is our interconnectedness, but that also means it’s impossible to please everyone. I thought this tied in quite nicely with the discussions we have in the margins of The Readers’ Thoreau. We interact with our classmates, students from the University of Maine, scholars, and Thoreau fans from all over. Chances are you’re bound to say something that someone else doesn’t understand. How do we even begin to broaden our writing to meet the needs of our potential readers?

An 8th grade teacher in Connecticut had his students blog for more than two months, and then gave them a survey asking how writing for a worldwide audience changed the way they write. You can read their unedited responses here. Some of my favorites include:

  • “I write what people want to hear.”
  • “I wanted to leave a good impression to the higher authorities reading my blog, therefore I wrote with enthusiasm and intelligence, and I wrote of very interesting topics that grasp the readers’ attentions.”
  • “It has changed the way I write by just being aware of what people want to see and how well done things have to be. Basically it has made me a cautious writer.”
  • “I no longer write pretentiously or just to Amerincans.”
  • “It change a major role because i am so use to writing to a teacher and having it grade it and only her and me see it, but now its a bunch o people looking at it. so it became pretty scary and at the same time fun.”
  • “It makes me think that I can acomplish great things.”
You're basically writing for the entire population of the world. No pressure!
You’re basically writing for the entire internet population of the world. No pressure!

It’s certainly some valid insight from these 8th graders. I think that bloggers of all ages have experienced a number of these hesitations, thoughts, and realizations. We can’t always write what people want to hear, but we can’t go out trolling just to rock the boat either. We want a balance and to be taken seriously. It makes us cautious and, in my experience, much more thoughtful with our writing. If people don’t understand what we’re talking about, they can look up more or go on living in blissful ignorance; it depends on how invested they are, and there’s definitely something to be said for the ability of a reader to choose. It seems to me that there’s an unspoken agreement between reader and poster. As a reader, you go in with a unique perspective. You either read deeply and thoughtfully, skim halfheartedly, or fall somewhere in between. You may never mention the thing you’re reading to anybody ever again. You might read every word or glaze over the first paragraph and leave. Our time is precious and there’s a plethora of information to be had. Why waste time on something that doesn’t interest you or that you’ll forget the next day? As writers though, I think we get it. Not everything we write is everyone’s cup of tea, and we try our best to accept that. When you have a worldwide audience there’s no way to hold everybody’s attention, so in my opinion, you might as well be true to yourself and write for the ones you will strike a chord with.

MST Fair at Geneseo Central

A couple of weeks ago, Geneseo Central School held their Math-Science Technology Fair, where students from kindergarten to the eighth grade were encouraged to enter themselves in a science fair contest for a chance to win prizes. As an eighth grade judge I had the opportunity to speak to some students of the grade about their projects, as well as observe the projects done by students of the other grades.

Overall, there were many interesting looking projects that caught my eye and made me want to go closer and see what experiment the student or students had done. A couple of projects, however, were particularly interesting because I noticed laptops in front of their display boards. I realized that they were using the laptops to supplement their project and give information that they couldn’t fit on their boards.

One boy did a project on skiing, and how different ski lengths affected the number of rotations he could make while doing trick jumps. He had recorded his jumps and was using his laptops to show judges what it looked like and how he determined what qualified as a whole jump.

I thought the use of technology was interesting, especially because when I was doing science fair projects we had never even thought of incorporating technology to enhance the sharing of information. It gives students an extra way to explain what they know or have learned and also encourages them to want to participate more in school, especially with the increase in the use of technology in our society.