Beautifully-animated dance: “Thought of you”

From Open Culture

“Ryan Woodward has worked on the art direction of many big name Hollywood films – Ironman 2, Spiderman 2 & 3, The Iron Giant, the list goes on. But he had an idea for a short animated film, a love story expressed through dance, and it led to a fruitful collaboration with dance choreographer Kori Wakamatsu.”

  • “Thought of You” video from Vimeo

If school is a Race to Nowhere, where’s the somewhere we should be racing toward?

“Until we ask the question, ‘What is schooling for?’ with some commitment to seeking an answer, we will perpetuate the systems that are producing stressed out, unhealthy, dishonest kids, and we will try to fix the failing schools by doing more of the same….

“We have to envision our graduates not only as happy, motivated, and creative, but also ready and able to take up the mantle of responsibility for a world in danger and commit to directing their lives, energies, work, and volunteerism toward a healthy, humane, and thriving planet where we can live in some semblance of peaceful coexistence with each other and the planetary community of countless species with whom our fate is inextricably connected.”

Excerpts from: Zoe Weil at Cooperative Catalyst.

A month inside walled gardens

For some time, I’ve been concerned about the loss of creative work inside corporate social networks, so I’ve avoided posting unique text or images into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

I didn’t want to give away my rights — give away a part of myself — every time I posted in a walled garden. Besides, the manic  stream of trivia whizzes by without much opportunity for contemplation. That’s not social media, it’s oversocial media.

Of course, simply autoposting my microblog content on those services missed opportunities for interaction. So I thought I’d see if thoughtful conversation was possible inside the walled gardens, and whether I could archive those discussions outside on the open Web. About a month ago, I decided to conduct an experiment.

Starting October 22, I began carefully reading the streams, looking for opportunities for meaningful discussion. I checked my TMI filter at the door. I came across some pretty spectacular emotional train wrecks and a few too many updates about cats-in-boxes.

However, I did find people who were willing to take time to craft thoughtful responses and sustain conversation threads. I soon got into some interesting discussions about the election, education, and politics (a few excerpts will follow), and it was really fun and stimulating.

Since I spent a good bit of time crafting well-considered prose, I tried to find software that would capture and preserve my words outside the corporate walls. I didn’t have much luck, except with one attempt: after Twitter deleted 3 years of my entries — and then brought them back (which I discovered was not uncommon) — I did find a PHP script to archive my tweets. However, for Facebook, I had to go old-school: I copied and pasted my comments into Open Office.

Now the month is over. I’m glad Facebook and Twitter sparked my interest in threaded discussions, and I enjoyed participating. However, that content would have been lost — locked up forever in a space where I could not protect it — if I hadn’t worked to save it.

At the beginning of my experiment, I responded to Wired’s debate about the open Web and the closed Web, and, last week, I read Tim Berners-Lee’s case for openness and transparency. I know that the proprietary world of Apple apps and the preferred-bandwidth model of commercial ISPs is more lucrative. I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous.

There was, however, an important side effect from my experiment. While paying more attention to the social media stream, I fully reorganized my Twitter lists to capture my recent research on the idea and experience of learning.

I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous. It still does.

I’d been asking: What is learning, really? What are the powerful ideas and approaches that inspire teachers and students? What can I, myself, learn to bring into my role as a father and as a volunteer in a 2nd-grade public school classroom … a classroom of students who will soon enough be part of the high school class of 2020 and the Elderhostel cohort of 2070? (Or, as Stewart Brand would have it, 02070.)

I followed the tweets of Maine’s first TEDxDirigo held in early October. Through the event’s lead organizer, Adam Burk, I found a multiple-author blog about learning and education called Cooperative Catalyst. I read the passionate posts of  people who have been developing and testing and reconsidering their approaches to learning and education for years. They are mentors, teachers, and learners in the best sense.

So, this was actually the highlight of my experiment. Twitter helped me find an organic collective of caring, intelligent people posting and commenting on a WordPress blog. The stream still works best as a pointing mechanism, but I found the meaningful, valuable space … elsewhere.

Now … I wonder what next month will bring.

Excerpts from the experiment

So, here’s some of what I wrote last month inside the walled gardens. (Just so I don’t lose it.) Unfortunately, I do not have the right to republish both sides of these conversations … and perhaps, really, not my own, either! Let’s just say I’m saving this writing for scholarly research.

Facebook – October 22

Twentieth-century marketing used fear — reinforced insecurity and fear of “others” — and mixed it with a deliberate obfuscation of true risk assessment to get attention to sell product, and 24-hour news programming only exists to fill the space between the commercials.

One sign of hope is that programmed-TV-channel viewership continues to go down for younger people. Do you think college students have more tuned hype filters these days? Are they more skeptical? Looking for research …

Facebook – October 22

I’m starting to feel as if I am in a parallel universe: by the time I learn about the scream-of-the-day (from the echo-chamber land of mass media), the hubbub has already died down.

On the one hand, I am relieved to not waste my energy on unimportant trivia. On the other hand, I feel as if I’ve missed out on something: those water-cooler moments. In the old days, they called it the lowest-common-denominator.

With no programmed TV service (broadcast, cable, satellite) in our house, though, I still feel connected, especially with Hulu and Netflix. But am I experiencing the world in a different way than the breaking-news afficianados? From a civic point of view, is this positive or negative?

Incidentally, I also began an experiment one month ago to participate more in the walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter — in conversations like this one — to see if such dialog was possible, and what I was losing by committing my words to proprietary, corporate social media.

I’m writing a summary, and posting what I wrote in a blog entry, and I hope you’ll give me permission to post both sides of this one…

Chronicle of Higher Education – November 4

Of course, education is more than just a commodity or service relationship.

However, if business and marketing are evolving to focus on all types of mutually-satisfactory exchanges between people, then we need more sophisticated ways to evaluate success in the exchange of knowledge and experience between our schools and our students.

Are we creating valuable, meaningful, and authentic experiences through our whole offering? Experiences that will resonate for a lifetime? Experiences worth the cost of admission?

I think Gilmore & Pine on Authenticity is worth a look …

Facebook – November 4

Evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The world is becoming more complex and interrelated, and fear of the unknown devolves to binary thinking: “you’re with us or agin’ us”, “you were born in some other country”, “it’s all a conspiracy,” “they’re out to control us.” We saw such thinking on all sides this time, including vilification of the “Tea Party.”

But evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Thomas Frank’s book focused on the midwest, one of the most recent regions to succumb to the fear of “otherness.” If we seek to understand and recognize that fear, we can avoid the same hell.

On Cooperative Catalyst – November 3

Thanks to you and your partners, Adam, for bringing TEDxDirigo to life. I agree that introductions to great ideas, coming from the thinkers themselves, can be a significant addition to education at all levels.

Last summer, Fast Company ran an interesting article on that topic by Anya Kamenetz, author of D.I.Y.U.

The responses were informative. I was especially taken with a comment from Open Culture — which I consider to be one of the best curators of free educational videos from around the Web.

They wrote: “Will watching 18 minute lectures – ones that barely scratch the surface of an expert’s knowledge – really teach you much? And when the 18 minutes are over, will the experts stick around and help you become a critical thinker, which is the main undertaking of the modern university after all?”

That gets back to your proposal, as well as the Innovation Lab in Loveland, Colorado. Once a mind is sparked by video presentations of engaging insights, how do we turn that enthusiasm into sustained critical thinking? How do we teach and model techniques for discarding 99% of the trivial information that crosses the oversocial media threshold and for selecting the most meaningful interactions, virtual and in person?

You are right: it’s not about quantitative standards. But effective lifelong learning certainly does require teachers, mentors, task-masters to show us how to develop and use discriminating reason to pay attention to what’s worthwhile.

Fred Sheahan – November 9

The fields of traditional education and online learning are on a collision course, and I think you’re right: one of the greatest sources of friction is the different pace of each.

Although titles are valuable in providing a context for the work, in a field that is changing as quickly as ours, the responsibilities and the titles will change rapidly, too. At the same time, the slower pace of structural change in educational institutions can prevent the nimble decision-making required in this new environment.

The governance process for online communications at a school — from marketing and engagement, to learning and business processes — is an excellent indicator of whether the school is ready to seize the opportunities.

Find out how institutional strategy and online communications are aligned, and how decisions are made, short-term and long-term. Who are the executive sponsors? To what degree are advisors able to advocate for their own constituencies and also understand and support the overall institutional values and identity.

But don’t worry much about the titles themselves. They’ll be different in 6 months.

Fred Sheahan – November 19

Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. I don’t think age matters that much.

I’d like to suggest that we are hard-wired to be social to some degree and hard-wired to be solo to some degree, depending on the individual and the influence of the surrounding culture. Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. (Some prefer contemplation in life over amassing Twitter followers.) I don’t think age matters that much; these traits are, I believe, deeper personality-based preferences.

In 1961, Jane Jacobs wrote about that dance between public and private spaces in New York.  Just as we benefit from those clear distinctions in the real world, so, too, are such boundaries important in our virtual lives. For example, I think the presence of a private virtual space right next to a public space is an apt application of the “creepy treehouse” effect.

However, having grown up in a medium-sized town where you were always seen and being seen, I can certainly remember feeling like I was in a fishbowl and wanting the freedom of urban anonymity. After that exploration, though, I realized what was missing, and chose to return to small city life and the expectation of responsibility that comes along with being seen by people you know all the time. (A friend of my uncle described that experience in an article she wrote about him some time back.)

With the Internet, we have made effortless the ability to try out new identities online without having to go urban, and such virtual promiscuity comes with little cost. Trustworthiness cannot be easily judged. Even “real-name” profiles can’t always be evaluated: “Is that person really who s/he says?” Multiple identities are easily juggled. I think the only real way to verify that an online profile matches a real person is to meet them in meatspace.

I’m not sure that online services are really ready to provide a real small-town experience. Imagine this: a social network that brings together people with very different beliefs, forces them to interact randomly, imposes severe consequences when they behave outside the norm, and makes it very difficult to leave. Some would choose to participate. Many would grow into stronger, yet more compassionate people. Unfortunately, I suspect most would prefer the online echo chambers of self-selected beliefs and believers. Much easier.

But, they might watch for the vicarious thrill.

Singing Hearts from Intrepid Teacher

“A few days ago I started reading The Last Child in the Woods. It sparked in me a sense of panic and guilt about the amount of time my daughter spends outdoors connecting to nature, getting fresh air, and exploring. I decided I wanted us to begin exploring our surroundings together. Even if our immediate surroundings was an empty dry desert field covered in garbage and construction refuse.

“We went outside with our cameras in hand to see what we could discover. I wish I had a field recorder, so I could have recorded her excitement and enthusiasm. We spoke of the wind, the setting sun, and how plants can grow with little water. We spoke about the power of art to make the ugly appear beautiful. We asked questions of each other. We guessed at answers. The two of us were a mobile outdoor classroom. Father and daughter in an empty field in the desert.

“When we came home I asked her if she wanted to see her pictures on the big screen of the computer and talk about what she had seen. The result was a very simple photo essay.

http://dearkaia.blogspot.com/2009/09/first-photo-essay.html

“Being the proud dad that I am, I decided to share the experience with my Twitter network. I thought that was the end of it, until last night when I noticed several comments come pouring in. After a quick request as to who was responsible I found out that @wmchamberlain had shared Kaia’s blog post with his class. I suggest you go and read some of the 43 comments.

“I immediately got in touch with him through Twitter, and he told me that a few of his students were curious if we had electricity in Doha. I told him, if he was interested, I could Skype into his classroom and answer some quick questions. So there we were, a small classroom in rural Missouri and me in my kitchen talking about our surroundings. We were following our curiosity. We were discovering new things. We were learning, beyond classroom walls, because we had all decided to take risks and be open with our lives. I told wmchamberlain’s students that since Kaia is only three she may have a hard time reading their comments and really grasp what is going on….

“The next day Kaia and I sat in our kitchen and watched their video. She is still too young to really grasp the connections that she is making, but in a few years these connections and this type of interaction will be ubiquitous in her life. I hope that her teachers are ready to help her continue on this journey.

After Social Media by Brian Solis via @fredsheahan

“2010 will be the year that we save us from ourselves in social media … we will stop drinking from the proverbial fire hose and we will lean on filtering and curation to productively guide our experiences and production and consumption behavior and interaction within each network.

“2010 will also be the year that leaders and pioneers stop referring to social media as a distinct category of media as they/we usher in an era of new collective and machine intelligence that improves collaboration and interaction – freeing us to focus on the engagement that engenders long term relationships.”

Towards a new civic ecology by @henryjenkins

“The contemporary communications system is at once struggling with the threat that many major news outlets which have been the backbone of civic information over the past century are crumbling in the face of competition from new media. We may not be able to count on the traditional newspaper, news magazine or network newscast to do the work we could take for granted in the past….

“At the same time, we are seeing expanded communications opportunities in the hands of everyday people — including in the hands of academics and other experts who traditionally had little means of direct communication with the various publics impacted by their work. The problem at the present time is that existing channels of professional journalism are crumbling faster than we are developing alternative solutions which will support the kinds of information and communication needed for a democratic society….

“Thinking about a civic ecology helps us to recognize that while journalists do important work in gathering and vetting the information we need to make appropriate decisions as citizens, they are only part of a larger system through which key ideas get exchanged and discussed.

“We understand this if we think about the classic coffee houses which Habermaas saw as part of the ideal public sphere. The proprietors, we are told, stocked them with a range of publications — broadsides, pamplets, newspapers, journals, and magazines — which are intended to provide resources for debate and discussion among the who are gathered there on any given evening….

“By this same token, the present moment is characterized by both commercial and noncommercial forms of communication. As the comic strip, Zits, explains, ‘If it wasn’t for blogs, podcasts, and twitter, I’d never know whar was going on.’…

Educational reform should go hand in hand with our efforts to restructure the civic ecology. As I’ve shown in my work for the MacArthur foundation, young people need to acquire a range of skills and competencies if they are going to meaningfully engage in the new participatory culture. As they scan the media ecology for bits and pieces of information, they need more discernment than ever before and that comes only if they are able to count on their schools to help them overcome the connected concerns of the digital divide, the participation gap, and the civic engagement gap.

“The Digital Divide has to do with access to networked communication technologies — with many still relying on schools and public libraries to provide them with access. The Participation Gap has to do with access to skills and competencies (as well as the experiences through which they are acquired). And the Civic Engagement Gap has to do with access to a sense of empowerment and entitlement which allows one to feel like your voice matters when you tap into the new communication networks to share your thoughts.

“Unfortunately, we’ve wired the classrooms in this country and then disabled the computers; we’ve blocked young people from participating in the new forms of participatory culture; and we’ve taught them that they are not ready to speak in public by sequestering them to walled gardens rather than allowing them to try their voices through public forums. …

“Jessica Clark and Pat Aufderheide have written about Public Media 2.0, suggesting that we should no longer think about public service media (as if the knowledge simply flowed from above) but rather public facilitating and public mobilizing media that creates a context for meaningful conversations and helps point towards actions which the public might take to address its concerns. It is no longer enough to produce science documentaries which point to distance stars without giving the public something it can do to support your efforts and absorb your insights into motivated action.

“It is no longer enough simply to inform. You must inspire and motivate, you must engage and enthrall the public, if you want to cut through the clutter of the new media landscape.”

What’s the point of journalism school?

“If there’s one thing a journalism school expects of its students, it is the ability to pose a tough question.

“Orion de Nevers, a freshman at the University of Southern California, serves up this one: Why would anyone major in journalism at all?”

  • Excerpt from NPR

My comment:

Journalism is (finally) being decoupled from newspapers and magazines. Print distribution is going away. Critical thinking and compelling expression skills can be acquired in many ways other than journalism school.

Just do it. Write a blog, shoot and edit video, curate topics of interest. The traditional gatekeepers are not needed. Just do it.

Into the liminal: an ode to autumn

This afternoon, the wind whipped the leaves into wispy funnels that danced out around the woodpile and up the back hill, inviting us to come out.

L. and I loaded the wood stove for our return, and then went up behind the house to start wrapping up the past year. L. picked up the bamboo shoots she’d harvested with E. to make a fort under the lilac bushes. I put away the slip-n-slide sprinkler and hose from our big August party, and collected the croquet hoops from the girls’ game day last month. (The badminton net stays for a few more late-autumn matches, though.)

I’d already selected two saplings — an oak and an aspen — up on Friendship Hill to transplant to the side hill, which we’ve stopped mowing. Even though they’d lost many of their leaves, there was evidence of a new year in buds hidden away on the branches. The sun appeared through the dark clouds for just a couple of minutes as I tucked the tap roots down into the new soil I’d prepared for them.

I’ve always felt comfortable in the liminal, at the edge between fall and winter, between loss and renewal, as life flows back underground awaiting the next growing season.

I’ve always felt comfortable in the liminal, at the edge between fall and winter, between loss and renewal, as life flows back underground awaiting the next growing season. It’s my season — the season I was born in — and I thrive in what others feel is an empty space. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I recently enjoyed watching a drama celebrating the natural ebb and flow in a small island community a ferry-ride away from Seoul. “Thank You” starts with the end of one life and the last scene, after 20 hours of narrative, hints at something important just emerging. The entire series is about the space between. Here in the U.S., we seem to avoid endings — even avoid thinking about them! — so natural re-emergence gets stuck in the muck. It felt good to see three generations, urban and rural, navigate through death and life.

The first time L. saw something that had died was during kindergarten. A blue jay, recently deceased, was lying in the grass. She asked about it, and asked me to bury it with her. We brought it back to the pine woods up on the esker and, moving aside the soft needles, found a resting place for it. L. said she didn’t want to forget where it was, so we made a small sign, “Thank you for being part of our woods,” which still marks the place where we’ve buried the birds and mice that have made brief appearances in our lives. She’d learned, from us and at school, that everything eventually returns to the soil.

As I was refilling the empty holes up on the hill, thinking of the saplings adjusting to their new homes, I realized I’d also been reading about the liminal lately: William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives (thank you Art and Polly), Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline, Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things. I’ve always found myself between what has been and what could better be — on both sides of that unnatural boundary between avocation and vocation — but I feel less lonely in that role now than I did 20 years ago. Indeed, the wave of change is now well tended and the next phase already moving toward the mainstream.

But it is still challenging to embrace the season of evaluation, discriminating between which ideas should be nurtured and which left behind. After each outward arc of exploration and possibility, this is a season of judgement, and in a culture of innovation and collaboration, embracing creative destruction and opposing consumerism is certainly not mainstream. I don’t have to stake my new claim yet, though. It’s just too soon to know which of these ideas will thrive; they still have to get through the short days of a New England winter.  I’ll nurture them and keep them safe from predators for a few more months.

As I was finishing my transplanting and pruning, I went inside, and L. had already started baking her favorite sponge cake with fruit icing. Now that she is able to cook herself, she only asked for some help putting the pan into the oven. I had to let go of that wonderful feeling of working together through every step: she’s now a 7-year-old, and proud to do it herself, thank you.

But she does notice my sorrow at losing the little girl, even as I’m excited about the new self that is emerging every day. She looks at me and asks, “Daddy are you crying?” I say yes, and let her know how I can be happy and sad at the same time, as today becomes yesterday and then yesterday becomes history. Later, she gives me a big piece of paper, with big letters, “Daddy, this is how much I love you,” and a heart that stretches to every corner of the page.

This was a year of many such losses, small and large, yet the most healthy buds of next year’s healthy growth are right there, ready to emerge, just waiting.

The revolt of China’s Twittering class via @ethanz

“Twitter has become a powerful tool for Chinese citizens as they increasingly play a role in reporting local news in their communities. But the social revolution brought by microblogging might be even more important than the communication revolution. Indeed, here Chinese Twitter users lead the world, using it for everything from social resistance, civic investigation, and monitoring public opinion, to creating black satire, ‘organizing without organizations’ in the Guangdong anti-incineration movement, and mailing postcards to prisoners of conscience….

“Twitter political activism in China challenges the simplistic yet widespread assumption that social media in the hands of activists can lead swiftly to mass mobilization and social change. Instead, these information-sharing tools and channels promote more subtle social progress.

“That subtlety reflects the distinction between macro-politics and micro-politics. Macro-politics is structural, whereas micro-politics is daily. Changes in the micro-political system do not necessarily lead to an adjustment in the macro structure, particularly in hyper-controlled political systems like China’s. But if small units are well organized, they can greatly improve the well-being of society as a whole, bit by bit, by working at the micro level. ‘Micro-information’ and ‘micro-exchange’ can push forward real change.

“Why is micro-power so important? In the past, only a few highly motivated people engaged in political activism; the masses took almost no initiative. Passionate people did not understand why the public seemed unconcerned about their efforts. Today, highly motivated people can lower the threshold for action so that people with less passion join their efforts.

Currently, the Chinese Twittersphere has three prominent features: First, as China’s rulers strengthen their censorship efforts, Twitter has become highly politicized. Moreover, Twitters brings opinion leaders together around one virtual table, attracting a lot of ‘new public intellectuals’ and ‘rights advocates,’ as well as veterans of civil rights movements and exiled dissidents. Its influence on Chinese cyberspace and traditional media is the result of this grouping.

“Finally, Twitter can be used as a mobilizing tool in China. Recent years have seen an explosion of activities indicating that Twitter has become the coordinating platform for many campaigns asserting citizens’ rights. With the proliferation of Twitter clones in China (all the major portals now offer microblog services), social movements in China are getting a long-term boost.”

With Twitter blocked, Chinese micro-blogging thrives

“China’s 420-million web users have seized on micro-blogging as a new avenue for mass expression in a tightly-controlled information landscape….

“Last year … China’s censors added Twitter to their list of blocked foreign services amid government accusations that social media were used to fan deadly ethnic unrest in northwestern China in July 2009.

“But several Chinese clones soon sprung up, offering users a platform for sending 140-character messages via provider websites or mobile phones — while exercising heavy self-censorship to keep authorities happy….

“From almost nothing last year, there are an estimated tens of millions of micro-blogging, or ‘weibo’, accounts in China…. A recent poll found that about 90 percent of under-40s use a “weibo” service … The DCCI predicts active user accounts will exceed 400 million within three years as China’s online population grows…

“Users say China’s half-dozen providers offer services that are superior to those of Twitter, such as embedding of videos and photos. They add that more can be expressed in 140 of the Chinese language’s pictographic characters than in English….

“The real impact of ‘weibo’ could lie in its ability to knit together — through the rapid, mass sharing of links — the countless Chinese blogs, forums and other websites that are the dominant outlet for public expression.

“’The density of information they have created, their frequency of dissemination and the degree of connectivity they have enabled for web users far surpass any previous form of Internet use,’ Hu Yong, an author of several books on the Chinese Internet, wrote in a recent opinion piece.”

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