Monday, October 27, 2014

Visual Language

A couple of weeks ago, a faculty member contacted us to ask for tips to help his students' articulate their ideas in more creative ways. As I responded to the request by suggesting some resources, I realized that in an unplanned way, I've spent some time trying out software and documented my playtime in my blog. I was thus able to refer the faculty member to examples of software and activities I've tried out myself or learned from others.

Here are some older blogposts I've written about my "serious play" with software and activities. I hope they will be of some help to someone:

Online Icebreakers
Oblique Strategies
International Groupwork
Embedding WowSlider in Blogger
Online Art Portfolio Sites
Automatic Captioning & Automatic Timing from Google
13 posts on Second Life, Games & Simulations (dated June 2007)
5 posts on Second Life & Virtual Worlds (dated December 2007)

The rest of this blogpost will focus on two enchanting software I've been fiddling with.

Visual Poetry

I got wind of this tool through #CCourses -- it comes from an interesting resource-rich site for writers (thanks to Kevin Hodgson, @dogtrax, Language is a Virus. I played with the web tool with a stanza from Paul Muldoon's poem*:
I thought again of how art may be made, as it was by André Derain,
of nothing more than a turn
in the road where a swallow dips into the mire
or plucks a strand of bloody wool from a strand of barbed wire
in the aftermath of Chickamauga or Culloden
and builds from pain, from misery, from a deep-seated hurt,
a monument to the human heart
that shines like a golden dome among roofs rain-glazed and leaden.

Here's how I used this tool to indicate a bit of my emotional response to the stanza.

Muldoon's stanza is extracted from Incantata, written in memory of someone he loved. It is richly descriptive and heartbreaking to read of his recollection of their times together. When I read this poem, I think of my parents. Using the software (you enter the text into the software interface, and use the mouse to outline something; if you have a drawing tablet, that would be greatly helpful!), I drew a sketch -- with my iMac mouse -- to express my longing to see and talk to my parents again someday.

I think of this tool as something a teacher might introduce to her students if she wants them to express writing in a creative and emotionally engaging way. It might seem a tad gimmicky, but teachers can facilitate discussions around students' images. Why did they draw this picture? What were they trying to express? What do the other students see in this picture? These pictures can be embedded in websites, blogs and student portfolios.

A LOT of people are either horrified by or reject the idea of using digital tools that require them to draw, something, no matter how simple :

"I can't draw -- much less draw with a mouse!"

Stick figures are drawings too and you can be very creative with these (see Dharma Comics). On hindsight, I believe I developed a visual language to communicate my ideas over time. Be patient and kind to yourself.


Another fun site that provides free software to make your text interesting is ImageChef. This is the same poem by Muldoon that I've fitted into two templates (limited ready-made templates available on the site but you can create your own symbol to fit text in) -- a panda and a man's silhouette:

How is this helpful and different from Wordle or Tagxedo? ImageChef allows users to include whole paragraphs of text (that are not too long) while Wordle or Tagxedo picks out words that are used most frequently for display as word clouds.  I've used the panda and man's images because I was testing the templates but you can upload your own images/photos to outline a symbol that fits the mood of the text you want to display. A panda doesn't exactly match the sentiments of the poem, but who knows what some students may think of when given the opportunity to be creative?

Till my next experiment then!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thinking Like the Web

Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, describes MOOCs as the next-generation textbooks. As I was savoring Unit 3 of #CCourses, I tried to think about how students would respond to such a textbook. There's a lot of information offered by the course, but we don't have to cover all of them during these two weeks. When I first landed on the course, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content and readings available. This week, I've learned to take it slowly, thanks to fellow #CCourses colleague, Tania Sheko, who blogged about learning "slowly" as an art to cultivate. She herself had read the New York Times article by Rosenbloom and compared learning at a museum to learning from #CCourses. Brilliant remix and repurposing. I believe we have to prepare our students in a certain way about the difference between a regular course and a cMOOC that is a next-gen text.

So I've tried to savor Unit 3 and consequently, it's taken me a while to post this piece. Since we were learning how to think like the web, I thought about how I was learning by being more conscious about where I had been fluttering around the web. The following sketch sums it up.

Note: Papa and Mama, this is my first drawing/sketchnote since your passing. It is dedicated to you both with much love. 

  • I read a few articles from Unit 3, notably Jon Udell's writings and his fascinating screencast of how volunteers created the Heavy Metal Umlaut Wikipedia page. 
  • I was in and out of the webinar hosted by the panel of Unit 3 facilitators. Gardner Campbell likened Jon Udell's phrase, "awakening grains of sand" to the powerful learning that can happen when people connect and realize that a gap in their knowledge can be filled by bits of information published by other participants on the web. And that these bits of information can amount to a lot of learning over time; learning that is self-directed and interest-driven. I heard Gardner use the phrase, "virtual beach" to refer to the web, hence my attribution of that quote to both. Let me know if I've misquoted anyone. 
  • What really helped me a lot during this Unit was reading some blogposts of #CCourses learners and commenting on their blogs. These led to a bit of conversation which made me feel that the course wasn't static but alive and filled with interesting people who were figuratively, pollinating other plants to facilitate fertile development. 
  • Visiting these blogs led me to new articles and books, such as the quirky publication edited by Paper Monument, Draw it with your eyes closed: The art of the art assignment, which I discovered by reading Life Speed Bumps blog by Laura Jones. You can check my sketchnotes to see the two other blogs I visited and documented. Of course, there are blogs I visited and did not leave behind any comments, sorry!
  • I love the #DailyConnect feature. I used the Quozio app to create my nugget:

  • Last but not least, this Unit motivated me to read the article, The impact of open textbooks on secondary science learning outcomes, in the latest Educational Researcher, 43(7). The drive to find data that heighten and validate the power of open resources is critical. I will write a bit more about this later. I don't want to make this post longer than it should be though.
Tomorrow, we will have our Connected Courses Meetup. Maybe I'll have more to add to this draft.

Oct 23, 2014: Sorry if you tried commenting and your comment vanished. I had the embedded comment form which I've now removed. If you sign in as Anonymous, Blogger will make you pass the Captcha test even though I've turned it off. It's an added layer of security they have imposed. I can't do anything about it. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

525600 minutes

[Note: Have you watched Rent, the Musical? That's where the title of this blogpost comes from.]

I returned to work this week. At one of our meetings, we discussed how we would measure the impact of our work and how we would report it. Traditionally, we think about impact in terms of productivity, time spent (number of consultations!), the importance of the project, and response to the effort. A whole field is devoted to systematically researching how we assess and measure employee productivity-- human resource development and/or management, so I need not belabor this point.

In part, due to recent events in my life, I've thought a lot about the measure of one's life. It got me thinking about this song below.

Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? Measure in love


Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died ...


So how about using love as a measure?

But Yin, what does that look like in the workplace? 

Love shows up at work, as ...

Passion. Creativity. Quality.

Sharing and Giving. Learning.

Lyrically, over "cups of coffee," "in laughter, in strife."

But Yin, these are all very abstract. 

Apparently, there is Unmistakable Evidence. Inc magazine had a writeup about 15 revealing signs you genuinely love what you do.

How many of their statements do you agree with or not?

#1 Yup, so many things I want to do!
#2 is the reason why I'm back even though my physician says I should stay away!
#7 Depends on the type of meeting, :)

So love for your work will show!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

MCOs of Learning and Instruction

[This is my first post for #ccourses!]

One area of research learning scientists is concerned with is what Reigeluth and Merrill (1978; Reigeluth, 1983) call MCO variables in instruction; Methods (teaching strategies; manipulate-able by instructors and learning designers), Conditions (e.g. disciplinary goals, constraints, student characteristics; not manipulate-able) and (desired) Outcomes.

One of Unit 1's readings by Randy Bass (2012) reminded me of MCOs and the what and how to improve learning in these times. He put forth some changes instructors and institutions would need to make in light of the current learning and instructional conditions (possibilities!) and desired outcomes for learning in higher education.

Desired Outcome

Bass wrote that higher education was in a transitional stage, moving from an instructional to a learning paradigm, citing Barr and Tagg (1995) for that insight.

I want to extend this thought by adding that critical pedagogists have advocated for an approach to treat the student as a co-creator of knowledge for a considerable time. As a teacher, one of my desired outcomes of learning is for the student to recognize that his/her uniqueness is treasured. For this, I thank a teacher (or two) in my years of education who practiced the content (as John Seeley Brown was cited in the article as saying) and challenged me with questions such as, "Where is your voice in this writing? I want to hear it."

Paolo Freire (1970/1993; Pedagogy of the Oppressed) is opposed to the dichotomy of the teacher as the content expert and the student as a receptacle waiting passively to be filled by the teacher's content. He believes in dialogue, where "no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are "owned" by the teacher" (Freire, 1970/1993, p. 80).

[Add note here about bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins)]

However, expecting students to be co-creators of knowledge is not frequently as well-received as we think it would be, by the students themselves, and, sometimes, their parents. This leads to the question I have:
  • How do we prepare students to practice "learning to be" co-creators of knowledge and courageously take ownership of their learning? I'm aware that there are a few subsystems here that we are impinging on in the ecosystem of education: students, faculty, leadership/administration (at multiple levels), programs/departments, parents, accreditation agencies. Yes, I honestly believe that there are some students that need to be inducted into a new way of learning.  
Image taken from Greer, M. & Rubinstein, B. (1978). Will the real teacher
please stand up? A primer in humanistic education. 2nd Ed. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear Pub.
Image Description: 4 circles (What I want to teach, what I want to learn,
what you want to learn, what you want to teach) overlap in the middle (What we
discover together). Mary Greer and Bonnie Rubinstein's names are printed at the bottom.

Methods of Instruction/Teaching

Having established the desire to put integrated learning design, experiential, and participatory learning as a vision of the reinvented curriculum in the post-course era, Bass offers a team-based design of instruction (as opposed to an individualistic approach). He shares a version articulated by Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries at University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The team could consist of co-instructors such as writing center specialists, librarians, instructional technologists and others.

It has been argued that piecemeal changes, as opposed to systemic change, will not be sustainable in the long run. However, for transformation to happen, Bass makes a strong and valid point, that present conditions for informal self-directed learning can no longer be ignored. It is not that courses can never be the site of high impact practices, but we have to think beyond the notion that the formal learning space has to be the primary place of learning. It is no longer so in an era where students can google for content, interact with people from all corners of the globe, learn on the go and even have their own online study rooms to learn together.

The questions I have are:
  • What and how do you sequence, synthesize and organize different macro and micro teaching strategies across fields and disciplines to make the learning as seamless as possible in a third space?  
  • Are teachers ready for this? Boundary crossing entails relinquishment and constant negotiation. What is our role in helping them get ready for this?

Someone asked, How do you assess such “messy” (participatory) learning?

Bass has given sort of an answer in his statement, "I don't know if every college course has to function like this." That is, the new learning design could be a blend of various learning and teaching strategies. Connected learning can thus be assessed along a variety of parameters (besides the networked participatory feature) as distinguished by its other features of being interest-driven, production-centered, academically oriented and peer-supported.

I close with a reminder of the sort of learning we desire to inspire in our students, found in a book I brought back from a recent Singapore trip:

Quote by Arthur Combs. In Greer & Rubinstein (1978, p. xxv)

Image Description:
From "What Can Man Become?" by Arthur W. Combs
The kind of openness characteristic of the truly adequate, fully functioning personality the experts are describing for us comes about as a consequence of the individual's own feeling of security in himself. It is a product of his feeling that he is important, that he counts, that he is a part of the situation and the world in which he is moving. This feeling is created by the kind of atmosphere in which he lives and works. It is encouraged by atmospheres we are able to create in the classroom and the halls and laboratories that help young people to develop a feeling of trust in themselves. 
What causes a person to feel outside, undermines and destroys his feeling of trust? Differences must be respected and encouraged, not merely tolerated .... The goal of education must be the increasing uniqueness of people, not increasing likeness. It is the flowering of individuality we seek, not the production of automatons. This means differences of all kinds must be encouraged, appreciated, valued. Segregation is not only socially undesirable; it is demoralizing and diminishing as well ....
This kind of openness we seek in the free personality requires a trust in self and this means to me, we need to change the situation we sometimes find in our teaching where the impression is given the student that all the answers worth having lie "out there." I believe it is necessary for us to recognize that the only important answers are those which the individual has within himself, for these are the only ones that will ever show up in his behavior ....

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dancing in the Rain

Reentering blogosphere with a happy song and a feel-good story about the impact of YouTube.

Bethany Mota was a victim of cyberbullying as a younger teen (she's 18 now!). Instead of moping, she turned to YouTube to find her voice. Bethany is now a social media star with nearly 7.5 million subscribers to her channel, and dances with talented dance pro, Derek Hough, on Dancing with the Stars. Last night, she shared these stories in her Most Memorable Year of Her Life dance. To the tune of Colbie Caillat's Try, Bethany shows how social media can sometimes be abused, but she chose to flip the negativity into something positive. She thrived.

Here's the other happy song I was talking about!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Interlude

Last blog-post: June 12. Last tweet: June 19.

Between June 18 to June 20, I fulfilled a wish that had long been on my mind since 2001 -- to learn Graphic Recording and Facilitation skills from the pioneers, The Grove Consultants. Since the late 1990s, I had delved into visual thinking, mindmapping, and graphic recording. I loved doodling, thinking and writing. Graphic recording/facilitation allows me to combine all 3 loves in an interesting way.

While at the lovely Grove office at the Presidio, San Francisco, I received news on June 21 of my father's sudden demise and my mother's critically ill condition (Mom passed on July 25).

I thank my Twitter network of friends for sticking with me despite my month-long absence. I've never understood why anyone would want to "follow" me. I have nothing to sell. Twitter is simply a fun way for me to learn and connect with others around the globe. I'm not as consistent in tweeting and using the medium as I probably should be. I do believe, however, in being authentic and not playing games on Twitter or anywhere. My blogging and tweeting style is a mix of the personal with the academic. I don't tweet just for professional reasons. I don't believe in formulaic living -- that if I do this, I will get that. There is no formula to living life from the heart. I dislike intensely those who "follow" me to get attention and then "unfollow" me after seemingly having gotten something out of that move. Get a real life.

I started a Twitter account in 2007. Over the years, as my learning interests changed and expanded, I have followed folks who curate content about e-learning, research (AERA, AERA Division C, members of these communities), writing, dissertation writing, art and arts in its various forms, leadership, spirituality, motivational as well as humorous messages, etc. My Twitter followership is a broad description of my professional trajectory, from being an instructional technology consultant, to graduate student, graduate student leader, dissertation writing to my current position as a learning innovation design specialist.

As I pick up the pieces in Life A.D. (After Dad) and Life A.M. (After Mom), I look forward to connecting more with my old and new followers. Thank you for staying with me.    

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thought Vectors: How a Thinkaholic Feels

Hi, my name is Yin and I'm a thinkaholic. 
(Check out concept and picture by Leah of Dharma Comics.)

This chronic malady has its side effects. I've thought and blogged about its "collateral damage" quite a bit some 7 years ago. Here's a paragraph from the post, Inner vs. Outside World, December 12, 2007 (on a private blog) about solo fantasy thinking:
Quite often--, my inner world is more exciting than the outside world as my mind races through a myriad of topics and imagine the possibilities for adventure. I contemplate on the prospects for learning new things and connecting with people if I did A, B, and C or put A and B together first, then work on C, etc. For this reason, I'm --mothballed if conversation topics lack a focus. In such times, I turn inward to my own thoughts to avoid being rude and seemingly inattentive. I still listen but I'm disengaged because I cannot follow the flow of the conversation as it jumps from P to M and then from N to S, etc. Much more exciting is my private world when I can write a short essay in my head in the span of time it takes to listen to a speaker belabor on a topic I have difficulty following.
When I'm conjuring up plans to learn something new (e.g. my next sketch, story to write, movie to watch, next travel destination, how to best have a stimulating mental duel with someone), I feel exhilarated and a tad anxious. (And guilty for stealth thinking if I'm thinking all these thoughts while on the surface paying attention to something else.) I also feel like Lucy entering Narnia (refer to C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia book series). The exploratory planning-think is magical, and I feel unstoppable with all my wild untamed thoughts, waiting to be connected and moulded into something new! Kahnmn likens this thinking process to engaging in Wikipedia wars (I learned something new!) and how fabulous it is.

The times when the light and joy goes out of my thinking are those moments when, sometimes, the unknown future and the known unpleasant memories of the past coalesce to become a menacing spirit. The more effort and time I spend trying to fashion some understanding of this intimidating specter, the more my nerves play tricks on me. A tight clamp fastens itself around my head -- I think myself literally into a headache.

These emotions are two extremes. Most of the time, I don't pay much attention to how I feel when I'm thinking. I mostly think like I breathe. Thinking has become a habit, a disposition I've cultivated. It's paradoxical. I relish the opportunities to think and synthesize thoughts. Yet, I sometimes take for granted that I am capable of clear thinking -- until I forget a memory and wonder, with mixed emotions, if I'm losing cognition. You see, I have a loved one who has dementia. Thinking about not having cognition is painful. Maybe that's why I think with such vengeance, knowing that there is an expiration date on thinking that leads to honest living, good work and service.

Gardner Campbell blogged about varieties of thinking, effortful and goal-free (mulling) thinking, and the experience of thinking. I definitely support the design of quality thinking experiences that results in positive change. Hence my advocacy for the Visible Thinking approach (TM President & Fellows of Harvard College)! Tom Woodward reminded me about groupthink and how it feels. The magic of improv in the production and staging of a play is something I sorely miss.

But thinking, whether painful, joyful, light or heavy-duty, is something uniquely human and precious. The mind is at once so powerful and delicate, a battlefield and a mushy mass of tissues. I am mostly grateful to feel how I think, headaches or not. Although being introspective has its delights, I sometimes like to get out of my own head, instead of watching how the missiles of my mind dart about, aptly illustrated by Leah of Dharma Comics: