Creating opportunity through new media

clay_animationOne of the most impressive set of projects I saw while in Dublin, Ireland last year was the Community Links Programme out of Dublin Institute of Technology. It was established in 1996 by DIT lecturer Dr. Tommy Cooke to help individuals and communities reach their full educational potential. Programs include psychotherapy, music, and courses for mature students.

One important component is the DISC Programme, which operates in 38 inner-city disadvantaged primary and secondary schools. DISC installs computer resources in schools and community centers, and trains teachers to integrate the use of computers into the teaching/learning process in all curricular areas. Projects include the use of comic creation, clay animation, video production, class blogs, podcasting, video game making, 3d design, and robotic Lego.

Staff such as
Ian Roller and Riona Fitzgerald bring knowledge of pedagogy together with skills in video and computers to help teachers and youth leaders do amazing projects. More importantly, they do it in a way that empowers teachers as creative agents in the education process.

You can see DISC publications, including their very useful monthly newsletter online. Here’s the April edition.

Sixth sense machine

The SixthSense “is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.” It could also be described as a low-cost, portable interactive whiteboard, one that integrates sensing, search, display, and interaction. It can use any surface, respond to the environment, and enable much richer interaction.

It was developed by Patti Maes and Pranav Mistry at the MIT Media Lab. For $350, it’s already less than the $10,000 whiteboards that schools and universities are buying. But the current version is a one-off, so the cost should come down considerably in mass production!

Sci-fi needs to reinvent itself.

Blog surfing

broulee-surfingAnyone who writes a blog is curious about who’s reading it and is usually interested to read on similar topics. Both of those motivations lead to an interest in blog aggregators, sites that bring together blog posts from around the world.

Some of these are automatic, based on keywords in the posts. In most cases these turn out to be spam sites, promoting a product or service. I suspect that the large number of hits I received on a post about youth may have come from an automatic aggregator.

There are also more intentional aggregations such as blog rolls or blog carnivals. At blog carnival, for example, you can find carnivals on many topics, and submit your own posts to them. You can also create a new carnival on a topic of your choice. Some of the existing ones are elaborate, representing considerable effort, such as Carnival of Education. But even the best of the carnivals have a little of that quality of random listing that one sees in the spam aggregators.

smokeThere are now in between sites, such as Alpha Inventions or Condron. For these, new posts are harvested automatically, but you can also submit a post and categorize it. Visitors to the aggregator site see a slide show like presentation of other sites, often constrained by topic or language. This leads to an enormous boost in hits on blog posts, especially from Alpha Inventions.

Lesley Dewar has been running some experiments on this at No Tall Poppies. I plan to replicate those here, and share the results.

The big question of course, is not whether some scheme can produce more visits to a web page, but what if anything leads people to engage in what they read, to think critically, and to integrate that with their own experiences. My guess is that somewhere in all the surfing, syndication, aggregation, cross-linking, and such, that there are occasional sparks of real connection, but that there’s also a lot of smoke without fire.

Arts and the cognitive life of the university

Harvard has issued a Report of the task force on the arts (2008, December), which argues that the arts are an integral part of the cognitive life of the university. Similar reports come out regularly from other institutions; this one is notable mostly because of Harvard’s stamp on the value of the arts, especially for inquiry in all fields. There is (belated) attention to a wide view of arts both in appreciation and in making, as well as the use of new technologies:

The use of new digital and media technologies—in virtually all forms of inquiry—provides an unprecedented opportunity for our students to take art-making seriously “for itself,” while seeing it as an enhancement of their own specific scholarly and professional interests. “Making” in the visual arts, for instance, is no longer restricted to the hand-held technologies of pencil, brush, chisel and camera…The availability of computer software for creative purposes allows for a range of artistic practices that may not “train the hand and eye” in the time-honored traditional sense, but whose imaginative and aesthetic possibilities provide the important cognitive and conceptual training of an “art-making” education. (pp. 8-9)

One side note is the recognition of Harvard’s “unusual, if not unique” relation to arts practice. The report notes for example that

By 1869, Yale had opened the doors to its School of Art . Yale now confers graduate degrees in arts practice from four separate professional schools—the School of Art, School of Drama, School of Music, and School of Architecture—and it provides as well profound opportunities for mentorship and instruction within the talented undergraduate population. (p. 6)

TakingITGlobal – Inspire. Inform. Involve.

tigI heard Michael Furdyk from give a very interesting talk with slide show on Thursday. TakingITGlobal – Inspire. Inform. Involve. “is an online community that connects youth to find inspiration, access information, get involved, and take action in their local and global communities.”

It offers many of the features found on other social networking sites, but with a focus on social good and attention to the special needs of schools and youth leaders for protected spaces and appropriate content. Youth can share media they have produced as well as discuss projects around the world. They can participate in fully online communities or build an online community to support their face-to-face interactions. TakingITGlobal now works with 235,701 individual members and 1008 schools in 261 countries.

You can see a short CBC documentary about Michael and co-founder, Jennifer Corriero, here:

Illini Summer Academies plans, 2009

isa_logoIllini Summer Academies is a three-day event providing Illinois teens opportunities to explore the University of Illinois campus, study potential careers, develop leadership skills, and meet with youth from across the state. One of the nine academies will be on Youth Community Informatics, in which youth will learn about GPS/GIS, video editing, and other digital communication tools as means for contributing to their own communities.

alumnicenterThe Academies are open to youth in grades 8-12. They take place from June 29-July 1 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Delegates live in college dormitories and tour the campus. Joint activities for all delegates offer opportunities to meet with those attending different academies and with youth from around the state. These include opening and closing sessions, activities every evening, and a formal banquet at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.

The Illini Summer Academies are just one among many camps and activities for youth offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during 2009.

Digital literacy, what is it?

When in Dublin last year, Leo Casey, Abi Reynolds, and I led a little exercise on the question, “Digital literacy, what is it?” This simple activity led to surprisingly fruitful discussions, often extending more than an hour, although it never produced a consensus answer to the question.

We had found six definitions of digital literacy from leading organizations and then modified each of them a little so their source wasn’t easily identifiable. We then printed the modified definitions on A3 paper and hung them around the room. We asked participants to read them all, stand next to the one they agreed with the most, then discuss.

Every time we tried this, every definition had several strong advocates. One interesting phenomenon was that the Microsoft definition often drew the most supporters, which dismayed those who’d selected it. I don’t want to say more here, because I’d like people to experience the activity as our participants did. If you try it on your own, please cast your vote and justification through the comments (link above).

Here are the modified definitions we used:

  • the term multiliteracies highlights two related aspects of the increasing complexity of texts: (a) the proliferation of multimodal ways of making meaning where the written word is increasingly part and parcel of visual, audio, and spatial patterns; (b) the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity characterized by local diversity and global connectedness 

  • basic computer concepts and skills so that people can use computer technology in everyday life to develop new social and economic opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities
development of critical, socially engaged intelligence, which enables individuals to understand and participate effectively in the affairs of their community in a collaborative effort to achieve a common good 

  • the knowledge and ability to use computers and technology efficiently
  • the ability to recognize when information is needed and to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information
  • a new liberal art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself its technical infrastructure and its social, cultural, and philosophical context and impact

With coaxing, I’m willing to reveal the original definitions and sources.

Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland

rothesayLeo Casey and I just traveled to Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland, where we went for a day of writing on digital literacy with Allan Martin. As you can see in the photo, it’s a beautiful island, harbor, and town.

We stayed in the Victoria Hotel on the seafront just below the church to the left and worked in a house also on the seafront, behind the white ferry in the center of the harbor. There was time for a walk in the hill above the harbor, and a Chinese meal in the town center,

The night before was in Glasgow where managed to visit the famous Horseshoe Bar. I have a big presentation tomorrow, a keynote at the inaugural International Professional Development Association meeting, which will be held at St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, Dublin.