Sunday, March 1, 2015

Poetry Practice Pieces 2.25.15

Five Not-So-Easy Pieces

My head hurt in my effort to complete these assignments. Ils contestaient missions! And so, I'm still working on the Dickinson one. Enjoy!

1.Five Liner

Stiff knotty hands misshapen by age
Sculpts earthy tators with black steel blade
Practicing the presence of God, he says
Can I tempt you to rest your gnarled aching grip
His neck stretches, recoils, bent on his sacred toil

2.  Sound and Sense (A la Peyton Manning -"Nationwide is on Your Side")

I picked this line from one of Barry Manilow's popular hit, I Write the Song:

I write the songs that make the whole world sing..

I uploaded to SoundCloud the recording of me humming to the tune to get the rhythm in my head and heart. Tried Vocaroo and it didn't work so well for this purpose.

Based on that tune, I ad libbed these words -- depicting sensory images -- to fit the rhythm, or as Randy calls it, "the sonic footprint." Seriously, Peyton Manning makes it look too easy! I'm learning that poetry writing is a discipline that trains the mind to become more precise and concise. One must be willing to put up with the frustration of not finding the right word at the time one needs it.

Down coats in winter feel so snug and warm

Space heaters roar and drown Queen's melodies

Hot soups banish bone-chilling bitter cold

Fresh made popcorn smells tart and heavenly

A Saab zips by and wrecks her pristine Dior  

3. Dickinson Inspiration (c. 1862)

The clouds blocked out the sun --
They did not think I cared --
The smiling sun displeased the clouds
And five sullen days was had

And then, the snow came down
The waters in the sky --
Frozen into ice, pelted earth a foot high
Lunar New Year hit town with no glad cry

The plans to huddle, cook and eat
Were threatened and subdued
No firecrackers, steamboat feasts or greets
I wrote my friends, celebrate we ought

[Sorry, Randy, unfinished, still under construction]

I'll go and try redrafting the older pieces now.

March 2, 2015 Update:

This is an original old draft where we were instructed to translate an idea into an image, which I didn't do so well at. It was too abstract and Randy wanted more specific details.

What is Self
A lonely, single figure
Huddled up on an island
With no complications
Free of interwoven dependencies
No part in a tapestry of complexity
And conspiracy
Self is at liberty to worship
Kneel, express,
Move in thankfulness
For gratitude

Monday, February 23, 2015

Designing a Course Worth Learning 1

A woman is seated on the floor sorting papers and books, separating essential from nice to know stuff.
Selecting content? 
Over the next few weeks or months, my goal is to reflect on what and how I think as I design (big and small, d/Design) UNIV 291 in the roles of an instructional designer and instructor. There are many design decisions to consider. But there are a few BIG questions I must address. Uppermost in my mind is a question I borrow from David Perkins, a scholar I greatly admire for his ideas on thinking, teaching/learning, and clarity of thought.

With only 8 weeks for a summer online elective course, a big question I have is "What is worth learning?" [If there are things worth learning in a course of study, there are also some things we have to let go of, writes Perkins.]

A related question came in the form of an invitation to have a discussion with graduate students:
How do instructors "select content" for a course? 
Content means different things to teachers who adopt different pedagogical approaches. From the connectivist POV, content is external, constantly changing and interpreted (Larson & Lockee, 2014). In my course, we (my students and I) will build a network of knowledge resources together. One of the ways is to use a Diigo group bookmarking site.

Back to the main goal of my post, my response to the first question drives
  • the core questions I will explore in the course with my students,
  • what I will include in my course sessions (hence answering the second question), and
  • the assessments I will design to gauge what is being learned, or not learned, how students are learning, etc. 
In his latest book, Future Wise, Perkins (2014) describes a scenario where a smart-alecky student raises his hand to ask, "Why do we need to know this?" Therein lies the counterpart (or counterpoint?) to Perkins' question of what's worth learning. Indeed, as instructors, we hope to avert the occurrence of such instances, albeit astute.

As I ponder this key question (what's worth learning), I thought about the more than two decades of formal schooling I've had and what of it has remained in my life.

1. Most of the academic content I've learned are stored in long-term memory. What counts as active knowledge are what I use daily -- some theories, strategies and heuristics I may refer to for design thinking and problem solving.

2. What has lingered over the years and used persistently are skills of reading, writing, thinking (problem-solving, metacognition), communicating, and relating to people.

3. The early years of learning more than one language and culture and of avid reading and journaling have been augmented by specialized learning in my later years of formal schooling. These practices have morphed into and assumed 21st century forms -- blogging and e-reading extend what I learned from my early years. These practices are a result of my metacognitive awareness and responses.

4. In graduate school, certain values and attitudes were reinforced; discipline, parsimony in writing and precision of thought. In the presence of my mentors, I absorbed via osmosis and observation abstract concepts such as their approach to research and teaching. To this day, what they taught and modeled for me are ideas I still implement in my life -- the knowledge and practice of research, scholarly writing, mentoring, teaching, and service.

All these have remained. How then do these disparate thoughts help me in crafting a course that is worth learning? Here are some preliminary thoughts based on my pedagogical approach to teaching and learning:

  • How will I frame the course topic(s) so that it is generative and makes as many connections as possible to what matters in learners' lives?
  • As a thinking-centered course, what context(s) will I set the course in to help them develop understanding of visible thinking and visible learning? Learning doesn't take place in a vacuum (Perkins, 2009).
  • What do I want learners to understand when they finish the course? What do I want learners to get better at doing? What will learners construct an understanding of? (This has been somewhat articulated in my syllabus 1.0.)
  • How will they actively explore, inquire, argue, and construct their understanding of the topic?
  • What topics will the learners build a network of external knowledge sources on?

Let's see how these macro-level questions will guide me further in course design.

Meanwhile, at the micro design level, I've been working on the course site header and trying to pick the best theme, course site layout, and navigation for the site.

Do you think the header works? Till the next post.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Making of a Course Trailer

The course trailer is up on YouTube. Although it runs for less than 2 minutes, it entails a tremendous amount of work. Many people chipped in to help out given the tight time-frame we had to churn it out. To them I owe a debt of gratitude. Their names were not mentioned in the credits and I would like to use this space to express my appreciation to them.

Thank you, in no particular order, Alice Westerberg, Suzie Fairman, Molly Ransone, Emma Gauthier, Aditi Jain and Arianna DeCastro (both the actresses), Marcus Messner (and his students), Alana Robinson, Mr. Hunt, the cyclist who rode around the block near Lamplighter Roastery, Lamplighter Roastery for the loan of a Sharpie, Dan Silverman who earlier consented to do a voiceover, and last but not least, Max Schlickenmeyer, the videographer, concept designer, and all the roles he had to juggle to rush this trailer out. I hope this didn't ruin his Valentine's Day.

This is a quick recap of what we did to create this video. In time to come, this documentation might provide insight for future revisions.

1. Concept Design

After showing Max, my new media specialist colleague, a copy of my draft syllabus, we strove to craft a script. Since this course is not a content-based course and centers on the abstract topic of thinking, it was a challenge to consider how best to make thinking come alive.

Max came up with the concept to put thought bubbles above the actresses' heads. It was ingenious! Note, if thinking were that simple in real life, we would have less misunderstanding and better communication! But that was the best way in a video to represent thinking visually -- something which cannot be seen.

Hence, and back to the importance of making thinking visible. Visible thinking helps US to clarify and manage our own thinking; it helps OTHERS to become more aware of what we are thinking. It thus improves thinking and leads to deeper learning.

I'm an advocate for getting ideas out of our head and into some form of external representation to facilitate positive action. I'm also an avid learner of all kinds of strategies that can help individuals and groups communicate their thoughts -- using visuals (text and images), movement, sound, and learning as many languages as you can manage. However, unless you are ready to embrace certain dispositions towards thinking, the practice of visible thinking will come slower to you. I'll elaborate on this in my course. It will be an 8-week elective course for undergraduates offered this June. The course site is being developed, but I hope to get it up soon.

*February 18, 2015: There was also location scouting, which I'd earlier neglected to include. We checked out Anderson Gallery but settled on the VMFA.

2. Scripting and Storyboarding

Since we can't see each other's thoughts, Molly encouraged us to use a two-column table to script our thoughts. As I started writing, Max started to draft the storyboard. Even so, these have to be translated into moving images and edited. The first video clip that came out wasn't the final cut version. Why? Two persons can look at the same script and interpret it differently. And there is only so much that moving images can adequately describe a chunk of written text on thinking. Ever wonder how marvelous movies are in condensing a book into a two-hour film? I am more in awe of such feats now. Think of Austen's Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright.

3. Animation of Still Images (and Photography)

Script, storyboard, character development, animation ...

I don't know how Max did it but all I did was help sketch out some characters and he animated them all -- characters and thought bubbles. He could sketch them all himself, much more elegantly; I'm guessing he entertained my efforts because he was too busy. Incorporating my sketches did provide me with some ownership of the video production process and product.

4. Videography (The Shoots) and Acting

VMFA shoot

Lest I forget, the actresses are amateurs who did us a huge favor. In the live shoot at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I was glad when Molly came along, to hold the equipment (reflector and camera) and at times, to help direct the actresses on how to act.

5. Audio Recording 

Although there is minimal audio in the trailer, there was a part where I did a voiceover to briefly introduce the course. That was completed in our Jazzmosphere recording studio with Emma and Max's help.

6. Evaluation and Feedback for Editing

Several pairs of eyes reviewed it so we could fine-tune it further, including Aditi (who looked at it from the perspective of a student).

Towards the end, we wanted to give greater prominence to the student "who had taken my course" by zooming in on her notes. We weren't able to do that, unfortunately, due to time and weather constraints. We weren't able to reshoot because of poor weather today; inserting it into a scene with a notebook didn't help much either. So, here are the notes by that 'thought-full' student in all its clarity:

Thought-FULL student's notes
PDF version

I once worked in a multimedia company in Singapore in a creative team. This episode reminded me of those days, one of the best jobs I've had in my life, except that I worked in a highly specialized team as an instructional designer/content writer with a programmer, animator, illustrator, project manager, graphic designer and more. Despite this previous experience, there was still something to learn from working with Max and associates. Looking at him shoot POV (Point of View) shots reminded me about empathy in crafting instruction. Max had also invited a cyclist to ride around the block to make the scene less static. All these, and more I cannot detail fully, offered me a glimpse of the workings of an artistic and creative mind. All these learning opportunities filled my mind to overflowing last week, and in a good way!

I'm tired but thankful we made the deadline and probably set a record for producing a course trailer in 5 days, from concept to development. Of course, there is always room for improvement. For me, I was glad when our student actresses enjoyed the shooting process and one of them thanked me for bringing her on this learning adventure. Quite often, it's not about the final product, but the process. I feel privileged to be in a position to add some value to someone's life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bidart Lipsynch and Imagery

[This post is still under construction.]

The last few weeks have been a blur of activities. Does your brain hurt from non-stop mentation? Mine does and did. As Countess Dowager [Dame Maggie Smith] spouts in Downton Abbey,
"All this endless thinking, it's very over-rated!" 
But poetic imagination is not. To the uninformed, I'm learning to use metaphors in poetry writing, hence this Bidart draft. To Randy and my poetry friends, here are my practice drafts:

1) Here's my Bidart lipsynching draft 1. [Homonym: Lamp/Lamb]

Candle with flame burning on short wick
Candle with  short wick
The Poem is a Lamp

L A M P - radiating light in petrifying darkness, erratic
In its glow. As wispy candle burns into stumpy wick,
Or raging campfire the sacrifice of sweet wooden smoke
Gulps, swallows, the black night

Earnest, ardent, the promise of hope, victorious, breaks the hold of the unknown

March 2, 2015 Try:

The Poem is a Maze

M A Z E – as if a tangle that one must unsnarl diligently
Meandering routes, wicked hedges, loopy grids conceal veiled routes to bliss
Real traps, imagined wanderings, criss-crossing this labyrinth

2) Images Draft 1

Young Love at the Cafe 

Pale frostbitten faces
Lean young bodies
Swathed in thick coats - black, grey, and more black
Layers shed, as young dates sit
At gleaming square tables
Knee-high socks in leather boots
Flannel shirts fight with flimsy cotton lace
And chiffon, whips past me
A cold stream slithers down my aching shoulders
Down to my parched finger tips

"Brown sugar coffee!"
The barista shouts, not once, but thrice
Five thirty-five, the monstrous black clock declares
With its stark white hands
Diners, flushed in intimate chatter
Screaming rock music
Piped in, drowns out the java maker. No one
Claims the hot brew
It waits on the steel counter

Searching for a number
Etched in folded steel tags
Will it match mine, or yours
Taut necks stretch, yearning
"Cometbus," "Patterson"?
On round flat metal plates they arrive
Whetting appetites, real and imagined
An au lait all drunk up
The elderly couple stands, screeching metal stools against concrete
Layers up, and departs into the cold

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Learning Organization

Multiple Perspectives
"... a project’s relative degree of success or failure may change over time. The Sydney Opera House is a good example. The original 1957 project plan called for the project to be finished in 5 years at a cost of $7M. In the end, the project cost $110M and took 13 years. By any measure that was a severely troubled project..." - Calleam Consulting Ltd.

I am taking time to reflect on the projects I'm working on, mostly to sort out my understanding about this topic of project success. Thinking about it brought me back to the subject of project management, something studied and executed numerous times in my professional life. Yet project success, or the lack of it, cannot be pinned down to one factor. There are layers in project success. A project like the Sydney Opera House is now an outstanding tourist attraction and an iconic piece of architecture one must not miss when visiting Sydney. The project has risen from its ashes because the product is now a success.

A range of factors could contribute to project success and product quality. I'm going to borrow quotes from the seminal organizational management book by Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, to assess if I embrace the disciplines of a learning organization, one which leads to high-performing teams. [Quotes in italics are borrowed from the Infed website]:

  • Personal Mastery: People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’ (Senge 1990). Methinks this discipline is associated with the deployment of personnel, i.e. matching people to jobs that tap into and expand their strengths.
"Personal mastery ... is a lifelong discipline. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas. And they are deeply self-confident. Paradoxical? Only for those who do not see the ‘journey is the reward’. (Senge 1990: 142)
  • Mental Models: We all have "deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action" (Wikipedia) These affect the communication of  messages down the chain of command, down to the executors of the work.
The discipline of mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny.  It also includes the ability to carry on ‘learningful’ conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others. (Senge 1990: 9)
  • Shared Vision: Shared values and understanding regarding project process and product, e.g. What does it mean to "set a standard for future {insert project name}"? What is quality? What is timely delivery of quality product? What do terms mean in a group with multiple perspectives?  
The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. 
  • Team Learning: Are we suspending our assumptions and genuinely thinking together? 
People need to be able to act together. When teams learn together, Peter Senge suggests, not only can there be good results for the organization, members will grow more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise.
  • Systems thinking: Are we "continually learning to see the whole together"? 
The systems viewpoint is generally oriented toward the long-term view. That’s why delays and feedback loops are so important. In the short term, you can often ignore them; they’re inconsequential. They only come back to haunt you in the long term.

These are lofty ideals. Are these disciplines something a team can cultivate? Or do we have "deleterious mindsets" or "learning disabilities" (Senge cited in Wikipedia)? Personal mastery must include effective interpersonal communication skills. Without these, the above disciplines cannot be fostered. Food for thought.

I find that learning to work together comes back to one thing I strongly believe in. Execution of good work depends primarily on clear thinking (clear mental models) and having the knowledge and skillsets to translate that thinking into action. I'm a stickler for precision of thought. Clear thinking depends on getting your ideas out of your head into the open, and refining it with others through interaction. It doesn't come easily, but thinking can become clear and clarified, with others, as we work on communicating it in the open. When communication is effective, then putting it into action becomes less of a struggle when our mental models are clear. Then, the rest of the 4 disciplines can be implemented. In a perfect world, the ones executing the project would embrace the disciplines of "personal mastery," "shared vision,""team learning" and "systems thinking."

In reality, Senge discusses the eleven laws of the fifth discipline that might slow things down. But that is a chunk of ideas to discuss, I'll leave it for another day.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Collaborative Learning Activity: Poetry Writing

We sat around a table with interesting objects we had brought from home. A community of poet wannabes. Or poetry machines, Randy Marshall our chief instigator cheekily called us. He led us to write poems inspired by the stories we shared about the items. A good activity that I could use one day with my students, if Randy doesn't mind.

Poetry writing sharpens our minds and writing. I like the opportunity it provides for us to be precise and playful with words. It is a great learning activity to try in classes. I recommend it highly, not just in literature classes.

Here is mine, slightly edited from the first draft written on Feb 4 evening.

Some of the objects of inspiration: jade cat, brass bell, seagull feather, my red macrame knot

Objects of Interest

A friendship in Beijing
Solidified by a dark green jade cat
"An exotic city," R professed
Her love for that Forbidden City
Swiftly the gemstone transported me to my unspoken grief

"The first one was damaged
The second one stolen"
So a third ring her mother offered
A sparkling aquamarine set in silver
A symbol of T's childhood in Japan

Where has this bottle roamed
Whose lips have pursed against this rim
A chipped whiskey bottle top
Plucked from the grounds of Rappahannock Station
A decade and a half in L's keeping

A brown seagull's feather
From the shores of a Polly Island Beach
She recalled the loudness of the placidity
Life had become too big and clamorous
The ocean could swallow H
Like a hushed hiccup no one knows
Everything will be okay

Soft crystal clear peals
Of a miniature brass bell
With claws and etched with flowers
A gem found at Paul's Place of timeworn treasures
A renewed friendship from M's years in graduate school

I unveiled my dad's prosperity-red macrame knot
Don't weep, I will be brave
"My dad used it as a key-holder"
Words slow and deliberate, I uttered
Him who I can no longer hold
His effects, his assets, my objects of affection

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Reinventing Dissertation Writing for Sharing

On June 10, 2013, I successfully defended my dissertation and officially graduated from a doctoral program in instructional design, development and evaluation. I had grand visions (delusions?) of staging it as a play. Even as I was writing it, I had considered writing it as a play. My advisor finally let me organize it as different acts/scenes in a play but it wasn't written like a play script or in a dialogue format. She asked me if I was ready to be non-conventional. I didn't know what to think at that time. I just wanted to be done with dissertation writing. (You know what I mean, right?) But the 2014 Summer of Major Changes happened and I took some time off to deal with them. Lying around somewhere is the business card of a dramaturg who I planned to work with to write the play.

Journal articles? Conference proposals? I have been mulling over this post-dissertation challenge of disseminating findings for a while. At first, I was quite sure I wanted a book to be written. People need to know about my findings (Really!). Someone recommended I write to a book editor, and I checked out a few, but I didn't follow up after looking at the requirements. I am quite sure I don't want to write a dry academic book. I had written several proposals and presented at a few conferences. But nagging at me are the stories of my participants whose voices have barely been heard. What do I do?

After chatting with my new Twitter friends yesterday from #satchatwc, I have come to some tentative plans to share these findings, beyond waiting for a play to be written and staged. By the way, Tribes the Play was my inspiration. I took a greyhound to New York in December 2012 to watch it a few months before my doctoral defense, riding right into a snowstorm. I wrote a blogpost about the trip and a strange poem about the play.

The minimalist that I am, I try to use as few words as possible to convey my ideas. So they are broadly sketched out here:

Mindmap of plans to share my dissertation findings far and wide. 
In text description, reinventing dissertation writing will include these steps:
  • I will create a new blog site as a repository for the dissertation findings. 
  • The findings will be presented in multiple ways. As I've always wanted to present it as a play or some art form, I will seek to represent the findings using still or moving texts, images, sound and movement/gestures. 
  • I will work with UNIV 291 course students to collectively imagine how to present these ideas. It is an authentic community research problem that we can explore together. I will present these findings to them as a visible thinking product which needs more work. We can work together to solve this particular challenge of disseminating the findings beyond its present academic format. I have to organize my findings to help them work with my dissertation. But a lot of my findings include long narratives of participants. They will do quite nicely for interpretive work (dramatization etc.). 
I'm excited to see what we can come up with together as a group. Interpretive dances, sketches, maps, essays, stories, acting, ... My course continues to take a clearer form and focus. Onward!