Tuesday, June 25, 2013

#EdcampMN 2013 - July 25th - Registration Now Open

I am excited to be co-hosting with Scott Schwister and Kelli McCully our now third annual Edcamp Minnesota! This year's planning has been slow and for a long time I didn't think we were going to be able to have an event. But, what is it they say about those who wait? I know it is short notice but we would really love for all educators, and anyone interested in education really, to join us at Hamline University on July 25th.  The event is free.

Though it is not really in the tradition of Edcamp to select a theme, themes do tend to arise.  It looks like this year's unofficial theme is "Learning Environments." This Edcamp will showcase a fabulous new building at Hamline University, the Anderson Center. Also, our keynote speaker is world renowned school designer Randy Feilding!


EdcampMN 2013 Coming Soon!

Announcing EdcampMN 2013:  Join us in July for an exciting day of transformative learning!

WHEN: July 25, 2013, 8:30am – 3:30pm


EdcampMN is professional development FOR teachers, BY teachers. Experience professional learning that’s active, flexible, democratic, participant-driven…and FUN!

Never heard of Edcamp?  Watch this video to learn more.

Graduate credit is available through Hamline University.

We hope to see you in July!

Scott Schwister
Technology Integration Specialist
Northeast Metro 916
Carl Anderson
Art Instructor
Perpich Center Arts High School
Kelli McCully
Instructional/Technology Integration Coach
Northeast Metro 916

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Culture of Unconditional Acceptance

It happens once and we have room to blame it on the instability of a single individual. It happens twice and we have grounds to attribute the problem to access to guns. It happens three times and we look for similarities. We then might deduce that psychotropic drugs are to blame. It happens five times in one year and consistently for as long as it has and at some point we have to face the fact that there is something very wrong with our culture.

I can't sleep tonight. I have two daughters, one in second grade and one who will enter kindergarten next year and I can't help but think that tonight there are twenty parents staring at presents under the Christmas tree that will go unopened, stockings that will go unstuffed next week, and beds that lie empty. I can't fathom the dwarfing sense of loss these parents must feel, it hurts too much to fully empathize. And the lingering question on everyone's mind is, "Why?"

I think of the unconditional love I have for my own children and then I think about how much we hear people talk about the value of unconditional love but how seldom we hear anyone speak of unconditional acceptance. Now it is too early to know specifics about what happened this morning in Connecticut but we certainly know a lot about the other mass shootings we have suffered over what now is nearly a whole generation. I surmise that the common issue among all these tragedies stems from a culture that doesn't value or practice unconditional acceptance. Our culture in practice does the opposite. It sorts and exploits.

A. S. Neill believed that children only have two basic needs, they need play to learn and unconditional love and acceptance to nurture. He also believed that discipline is an expression of self hate of which the victims become the haters. With the numbers of people in our prisons it is hard not to conclude we are a culture of discipline. Now, take someone who has been pushed to the edges of society, labeled, clinically diagnosed, medicated and deny them the unconditional acceptance they need to be emotionally stable and they will exhibit antisocial and even destructive behaviors. I saw this consistently on a smaller basis in alternative schools. However, take a person in that fragile state and show them that you support them and accept them unconditionally and they begin to build the psychic foundation they need to get better. This is true for both children and adults. But, that is not the culture we live in.

Our culture ranks and sorts people through standardized tests, special needs assessments, tax brackets, and social standing. Our culture relies on clinical analysis of test results to treat everything from heart disease to anxiety disorders and depression. Instead of treating the human being we treat the patient. Our standards of measurement have turned people into objects. We watch the exploitation of those most consider different on The Learning Channel (TLC):  Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My 600 lb Life, The Little People, Hoarders, Extreme Couponing, all teaching us to view those who are not "normal" as something other than the kind of human being the rest of us are. We numb our sense of horror by watching violent television shows and playing violent first-person shooter games which also reinforce this notion that some people are objects. Once we accept a clinical diagnosis that proclaims someone different from us it is not that hard to accept a wrong-headed view that they are somehow less human. In all previous mass shootings the gunmen exhibited a pathology that indicates they may have felt this kind of objectification, this kind of ostracizement.

We like to talk about unconditional love for our children. We like to talk about acceptance and tolerance with regard to race, religion, or sexual preference, but we never talk about unconditional acceptance or what a culture built upon love and unconditional acceptance might look like.  To build such a culture we would need to eliminate clinical diagnosis that breaks us down and categorizes us. We would need to eliminate sources of rank and file within our institutions. We would need to move from a society that disciplines to one that nurtures. We would need to deschool society. To do so would heal so many mental illnesses and help prevent the sort of tragedy that happened today. While I look down on my daughters as they sleep in their beds tonight, overwhelmed with unconditional love for them, I hope that somehow I can instill in them an unconditional acceptance of all people. And I hope that that unconditional acceptance can spread, permeate the culture. If you change the environment you change behavior, if you change the culture you change the environment.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Farce in Numbers Project #edchat #artchat #digitalart

I think it was David Warlick who I first heard say, "First we do old things in old ways, then we do old things in new ways, and finally we do new things in new ways." David was talking about new computer technologies but I believe the axiom holds true for art as well.

I am currently teaching a Senior Digital Arts class at the Perpich Center Arts High School.  In that class I started by having students build online portfolios for their work.  We spent a couple days playing around with HTML then spent a day testing out numerous free WYSIWYG editors evaluating them to choose a platform that would fit the students' individual visions. The second week I had the students using digital painting and photo editing tools to create digital paintings and merged digital photos. These three assignments were examples of doing old things in new ways but I am interested in leading these students to explore how they might expand the definition of digital art. I want them to begin doing new things in new ways.

After gaining skill and competence in digital imaging tools I asked the students to apply those skills in a larger inquiry project. I began this unit while they were still working on their previous assignments. Without telling them it was part of the course I played Marshal McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage. I wanted McLuhan's recording to work them over and seep in through their skin. To my surprise they really enjoyed the hour-long broken spoken word hodgepodge. This provided a nice way of building background for a conversation on the role of media and society which included more than just the observations of McLuhan but also Neil Postman and others and especially their relationship to where we find truth. Basically, I brought them through a philosophical dialog that I later summarized on my blog last week in my post We Live in a Make-Believe World.

The week-long inquiry project that came from this became material for the session, Design of the Times, Scott Schwister and I did at the TIES Conference this week. I asked students to locate resources that showed how graphs and charts can mislead then generate a list of these strategies.  I also asked them to look at color theory, word-image association, juxtaposition, and other aesthetic methods of influencing meaning and interpretation.  Their culminating assignment came from a graph makeover contest that was published in Forbes that week. The contest provided two different data sets and asked readers to submit graphs and infographics illustrating the data in an easier-to-consume format. My assignment for my students was slightly different. I asked them to take the data in the Forbes contest and lie with it, to use visual rhetoric to change the perception of the data without changing any of the numbers. Here are a few of their finished products along with the original data set from Forbes:

Raw Data:

Student Projects:

This visualization lies first by omitting the other data then by drawing our attention to the red we are made to feel the increase in entertainment spending associated with television yet the raw data makes no association. It would be interpreted very differently had she used ballet slippers or theater masks as the associational image. It also lies by hiding the most startling statistic in the table. The cost of health insurance which by contrast gives both homeowners and renters less money to spend on nearly every other spending category. Had this data been included it would beg the question why did entertainment spending increase while most other categories decreased.
This infographic  uses a simple trick to lie with data. By replacing bars with houses in this bar graph and manipulating their width the yellow house is made to seem much larger and therefore much more significant than it really is. This graph greatly exaggerates the difference between these figures without altering them.

These two images simply use size and proportion to represent the figures but it tells a few lies with the images it associates with the categories. For instance, "Food Away From Home" is represented with a bag of fast food implying that this statistic actually represents only fast food. Likewise, "Entertainment" is represented with a game controller thus influencing our interpretation of what entertainment means.  In fact, the exclusion of the words in these pieces misinform us leading us to rely only on the icons to derive meaning.

Now, this is not necessarily doing new things in new ways except that what my students did not know was that while they were doing this assignment they were also contributing to a crowdsourced art project of mine. Their next assignment will be to explore the emerging art form of crowdsourced art and organize their own crowdsourced art project using their Web Portfolios as a place to launch their project.

Tomorrow I will reveal this to them but today I had them watch the documentary Catfish, ending class with tomorrow's discussion question, "Was what Angela did with Facebook art?" We will spend about twenty minutes with this question tomorrow.  I suspect they will not reach consensus, my colleagues in the visual art department couldn't reach consensus when I posed the question to them. However, the point is not to reach consensus but to begin getting the students thinking about how we can do new things in new ways using digital media. I will also share a project I did at ISTE in Philadelphia and pose the same question to them. In that project I linked video recordings of keynotes and presentation sessions I wished had been at the conference to QR Codes, printed them on post-it notes, then put the post-its on the session banners around the conference. Arguably, I held my own education conference and had 18,000 attendees. Is this digital art?

After this "What is Art?/What is Digital Art?" discussion I will introduce the crowdsourced art project. Students will explore the work of Aaron Koblin and other artists working with this new emerging medium. Their assignment will be to devise and execute a crowdsourced art project. Now, our class officially ends next Friday but there will be a semester student exhibit in February in our gallery where some of these projects may appear as living contributable works of crowdsourced art. But, as a good art teacher I know I need to model what I want my students to do so I am announcing my own crowdsourced art project and I invite you to contribute. I invite students to contribute. I invite anyone and everyone to contribute.

The Farce in Numbers Project:

Using the data in the table from the Forbes Graph Makeover Contest posted above on homeowner and renter spending, create a data visualization, graph, or infographic that utilizes visual rhetoric to tell a lie. You may omit data but you may not change the numbers. Rely on color, image association, juxtaposition, and other visualization tools to misrepresent this data. Send your submissions to me either by posting a link in the comment section below or by emailing anderscj@yahoo.com. All contributions will appear on this page of the Design of the Times Wiki. All contributions will also be stitched together to create a large tapestry of lies told with data to be printed on a large canvas. The goal is to reach more than 1,000 contributions making the final piece at least 25 images high by 40 images wide. Multiple contributions are welcome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sal Khan, Teacher or Opportunist? #ties12 #edchat

Between the blizzard, my own sessions, and having to go back to school to teach Monday afternoon I didn't get to very many sessions at this year's TIES Conference. I did, however, manage to attend one session that has been bothering me enough to feel the need to write about it. Tuesday afternoon I attended a Q&A session with Sal Khan of Khan Academy.

I have largely avoided any critique of the Khan Academy on my blog because for the most part I have never seen any problem with the basic concept of having a catalog of tutorials that students can reference just as I have never seen any problem with having a class library. I also don't see any problem with the flipped classroom concept. In fact, I have used the flipped classroom model for professional development for the past five years and have often used it with my students. However, after attending this session I am left with a few serious issues with regard to KA.

First, Khan claims to have been the innovator who revolutionized teaching and learning through the flipped classroom but I know better. I first became aware of the idea of the Flipped Classroom from Karl Fisch, a technology coordinator and professor from Colorado, who had pioneered the idea with two high school science teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. According to Who.is www.khanacademy.org was first registered March 14, 2006. While it appears Khan, Jonathan, and Aaron all seemed to start "flipping" around the same time I know for a fact that the term is one the boys from Colorado coined. Besides, tools like TeacherTube and Screencast-o-matic have been around for quite some time, tools that offer and anticipated this kind of use in the classroom. So, perhaps we should also credit Lloyd Smith, who created TeacherTube on April 6th, 2006.

Second, the Khan Academy videos are simply recorded tutorials. They are no different than any other instructional video that pre-dates the Internet. What Khan does that the producers of most multimedia curriculum of yesterday didn't do was claim that this is teaching. Before the Q&A a video from 60 Minutes was shown where the journalist asks Khan if he is the most watched teacher in the world. Khan doesn't dispute that. But, this can only be true if teaching is the same as content delivery. We used to call the producers of such content curriculum developers or curriculum publishers, not teachers. The teacher who produces their own curriculum actually teaches with it. The curriculum is not the teaching. Khan Academy may be a nice resource to have but it is not a teacher any more than a book shelf is a teacher or a textbook is a teacher. Teaching involves much more than delivering information.

Third, in the 60 minute video there is an interview with Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, where he says that we can't look to teachers working in the system for innovation, that we must look to outside sources for innovative solutions. He simply says, "That is not how innovation works." He doesn't qualify his remarks but speaks very dismissively of innovative attempts by educators. This is a basic propaganda technique meant to convince the public that private organizations and external non-profits are the answer and that anyone working within the system has bankrupt ideas. I find this enormously dishonest and incredibly offensive especially shown at a conference full of educators from around the Midwest who are being innovative. Every conference presenter at TIES who is a teacher showing an innovative method or strategy should be offended by this. Karl Fisch, Jonathan Bergman, and Aaron Sams should be offended by this.

Khan is not a teacher, he is a opportunist who when the stock market started to take a dive left his job as a hedge fund analyst to start a company. I suspect the only reason Khan Academy is a non-profit is he knew he would run into legal trouble claiming he invented the Flipped Classroom if it were a for-profit venture and besides, as a non-profit he can accept loads of Gates Foundation money.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Medieval Infographics

In Medieval times before the advent of the printing press most people relied on images in illustration, illuminated manuscript, and stained glass to visualize and communicate what is contained in written text. The illiterate and to those without access to copies of the source text had to rely on these visual interpretations to ascertain the truth. This is very similar to today's use of data visualization tools and infographics to help those who either are not good with numbers or who don't have access to the raw data to ascertain the truth. Each medium has a different set of affordances and range of expression. Information gained from an image contains information not gained from text or numbers. There are also limits to what visual representation can tell us. 

When we rely on visual interpretations to understand data, how can we be sure what we are seeing is not a distortion of the truth? How can we be sure we are not missing something important? How can we be sure we really understand the data? 

There is an old Hindu saying associated with the elephant-headed god Ganesh that says, "map is not territory" meaning that a map is an abstraction. It represents territory but is not itself the thing it depicts. René Magritte addressed this concept in his famous painting "The Treachery of Images" in 1928-1929. Below it, Magritte painted, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" for "this is not a pipe." It certainly is not, it is a painting, an abstract representation of a pipe. There are many who have observed the abstract nature of a representational medium. The same is true with the written word.

In Medieval times very few people were privileged enough to either possess books or learn to read, that was reserved for clergy and those in power (kings, queens, noblemen, lords, etc.). The average peasant read pictures but the ultimate statement of truth was, "and so it is written." Today we say there is "truth in numbers" for the same exact reason. Phrases like, "research shows," or "polls indicate," or "according to statistics" carry the same weight and are used in exactly the same way people used to refer to the written word. And the reason for this is, with the exception of the privileged few who have both access to the sources of data we hear used on a daily basis to support this or that claim and who have the skill to read and interpret it, for most of us the raw data is just as much a mystery as the written word was to the average Medieval peasant.

Both written language and statistics are abstractions from the truth. The most common texts in Medieval times were religious texts and were regarded as having been delivered to mankind through the hand of God himself. Yet historically, we know the Bible is a collection of many books that once were separate and only came together when a Roman emperor (Constantine) called for church leaders to canonize some of the books so that he could use the Roman Catholic Church to unify a wavering Roman Empire. After the Council of Nicaea the written word was translated into Latin then used as a political tool to manipulate the public.

The New Testament books, and the ones that were left out of the cannon, were written by men (and some women) and most were historical accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. These documents are essentially abstractions. The book of Matthew is not the life of Jesus Christ but one man's written depiction rendered in the abstraction that is the written word. By Medieval times most people no longer spoke Latin yet churches insisted on conducting services in that language leaving hem to rely on visual interpretations of a Latin text that had already been translated once, whose original was, by the very nature of the medium, an abstraction from the reality of the content the original was trying to depict. With each translation and with each interpretation into a new medium there presents the opportunity to alter or distort the original message. In this time the church used the written word the same way Emperor Constantine used it...for social and political control and manipulation.

Today data is used with the same power and for the same purposes. Data is collected by those who wish to exact some influence or control over that which it is being collected on. Much like the selection of books at the Council of Nicaea, data becomes canonized by those who wish to use it to control or manipulate. We put faith in numbers because like the written word to the Medieval peasant we find raw data to be largely inaccessible but also magical. But, just a written account of the life of Jesus Christ is not the same thing as the actual life of Jesus Christ, and just as a map is not territory, I am not the sum of my data. The world represented through statistics is a make-believe world, an abstraction. And statistics interpreted visually are even further removed from the truth.