Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Illusive Mystery of Sticktuitiveness

So, all of my faithful blog followers (all two or three of you),

My experience at the Saturday workshop about computerized textiles will be no surprise. I loved the lecture at the start, loved the big ideas about democratization of technology and found the methods and motives of the group incredibly inspiring. But, once again, in trying to actually be a practioner of the art, I found myself completely, totally, unbelievably, inept.

I could go into the gory details of the day, but let's just say (and I am no slacker, I tried my darndest for the entire 11:30-2:30 section of the sewing part of the day), the hours were a blur of unsuccessfully trying to thread needles (thank God for Ying Sin, the best lady in the world), losing the thread off of my needle, pricking myself, starting over because of fraying thread, and the cycle repeats. I did my most work of the day during the last ten minutes, when I panicked because I had no project for Dianne to take a picture of, so I miraculously somewhat-successfully sewed on a battery and half of an LED onto my daughter's "BOO" Halloween shirt.

I blame my slow-to-nonexistent progress on the following:
1. My lack of sewing skills. (I got a B- in sewing class in the 8th grade.)
2. The fact that several of the assistants recommended that I do a "trial run" of the circuit on a meaningless block of cloth. The second I moved to my daughter's shirt, I suddenly worked a lot better.
3. My lack of sewing skills. (Oh to have hand eye, small motor, coordination)
4. And finally, my lack of basic sewing skills.

I could comment on the computer programming section of the workshop (which did go slightly better, but no gold stars here), but this is getting lengthy.

I ran into an ethereal-with-joy Dianne at lunch (the lady practically ran the workshop), who breathlessly described the easy-connection she has with this medium, and related my frustration with it to her frustration with Scratch. (What happens if I was frustrated with both?) Of course, this validated the assumptions of Leah and Kylie's research group, that the medium makes all the difference, that it's not that technology is "too hard" for most mainstream girls, but that the medium is often unappealing.

One last topic to explore. My poor, sleeping daughter's ghost Halloween shirt. It has a battery and LED slightly dangling, thread all over the place. I, due to Kylie's encouraging urging, have some beads to attach and a very shaky vision of how I might actually be able to make it work, for Lucy's movement to make the light go on and off. Unfortunately, I've more than lost my motivation. This is the story of my life. I love the starts of things, the ideas of things. If I could, I would simply learn about interesting pedagogies, perhaps think about how I could adapt them to my context. But it's the actually putting them into practice, the cutting out of materials, this is where the rubber meets the road, and where I lose my interest. I figure understanding the new concept of the idea is the point, while most people find being able to actually physically represent this understanding is the point.

Does this make me a bad person? In our culture, it usually does. But I'm not so sure. I think some of us are finishers, and some of us are starters, and the really lucky ones of us are both starters and finishers. I feel like my daughter's messy shirt is pretty perfect the way it is, and I'm not sure if that is because I'm a lazy excuse for a human being, because I fear the constant prick of the needle, or because, in some way, me understanding how the circuit could work and how the medium has real potential (for some people) is enough for me. . .

And, more to the point, what about my students who are like me? Most of us "judge" our students by their output, their final projects, their revised and edited papers. Process gets very little credit, very little notice. I feel like I learned a lot from the day, but if Kylie just would take a look at Lucy's sad shirt, she would be hard-pressed to tell. In a world we are judged by the only thing that we CAN judge, the output, the product, is there anything more to us than just what we do?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Studio Time today, and why I'm not a Good Constructionist

It could be because I normally use Monday mornings to play with my daughter. It could be because I couldn't sleep well last night after viewing Jarhead and raging about the ludicrosity of war. It could be because I'm pretty sure I'm PMS'ing. But today, I found being crammed into a small room with other delightful members of class (I really don't mean this sarcastically, you all really are delightful), trying to learn about a new technology and its pedagogical potential, somewhat . . . how do I put this . . . frustrating. I, immediately, of course, attributed my frustration to my new media inadequacy (which is, quite naturally, the first place I usually go), but then I got thinking . . . does difference always infer hierarchy? I never would think this of my students. SO maybe I shouldn't do this to myself.

So here I attempt to critically reflect on why studio time wasn't doing it for me today.

1. I couldn't see the particular affordances working independently sitting beside my classmates gave me. (I realize the point was to work together, to share out ideas, and Steve and Jenna actually did this quite well, but at the early stage I was at at digital storytelling, I was just gathering initial articles and information. Once I get to the actual software, I will be ALL OVER getting help from folks, like David, who the good guy that he is, offered to help me out with Windows movie player.)

2. I felt distracted by the animated conversations going on around me, and found it nearly impossible to concentrate. (So, yeah, at 27 I'm one of those old folks that prefers to work in near complete silence.) Everyone had such interesting stuff to say about what they were doing, and Kylie offered such interesting responses, that I kept half-reading things, wondering if I should change my topic, second guessing my choice. It could be argued that this is a positive thing, but I think, for someone as perpetually indecisive as I am, it's helpful to have a goal and go for it. I felt somewhat paralyzed by the good stuff going on. Oh- and Mike's cool music kept taking me back to sixth grade band, when I was first learning simple melodies to play on my trumpet (good times, good times), which, though interesting, wasn't really where I wanted to spend studio time.

3. I felt pushed to create something, show something, contribute something tangible (although Kylie was quick to reassure me that I didn't need to!) I felt somehow vaguely guilty that I kept finding myself resorting to reading articles, looking at digital narrative examples, doing the typical research I always do when learning about something new. I felt like I was supposed to be a PRODUCER, not a CONSUMER. My work was, in some way, elementary and non-new-media-literacy-like.

So a lot could be said psychologically about me from this piece. And I should point out that I LOVED the share-outs other folks did at the end of the class; it's safe to say that Mike blew pretty much everyone's mind with the concept map craziness. I guess my main concern is for all of my middle school kids (who are FAR more A.D.D./distractible than me). How can we allow the collaborate tinkerers to talkatively tinker and the quiet, independent thinker/researchers to think ? And how can we keep everyone on their particular "task at hand"?

These are the universal question that will always plague/confound educators: How can I effectively teach a class (which is usually limited to one single classroom in a fairly traditional building) with so many different students? How can I both provide autonomy and push students to work at their highest potential? How can I maintain the focus of some without stifling the creativity of others? For those of you who have taught non-honors students at the middle school and high school level, I think you know these are very real questions.

So, any takers? How do we do these things?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Literacy: A matter of Decoding or UNDERSTANDING?

Being the fabulous and dedicated student that I am, I checked the syllabus to see the question to focus on for this week. This seemed particularly, embarrassingly un-blog-like, as it appears (from my SMALL amount of exposure to the delightful genre of the blog), that blogs are places for random, delightful, genius ephiphanies that strike you out of nowhere, as you sip your coffee in the morning, profoundly and deeply. Unfortunately, I have ten minutes set aside in a very packed schedule to "type my blog for P650", so this was what happened, the pure, honest, truth.

So, what, my friends is NEW MEDIA LITERACY?

I'd say we've all hit "what is new media" about three thousand times, so I think I'll skip, conveniently, to the last word in the concept . . . LITERACY.

I found the quick history from "reading and writing" (more psychological in tone) to "literacy" (more sociological in tone) enlightening, and, shockingly, during my three semesters at IU studying Literacy, Language, and Culture, no one has made the shift quite this clear. Here are some of the main distinctions or controversies, as I see them, relating to the definition of literacy:
-Is literacy merely a matter of decoding and encoding words?
-How is literacy linked to power?
-In, ever-broadening and liberal defintions, is literacy just a synonym for competency?
-What new literacies are being called for and created in relation to new technologies? (Is "literacies" a better way to think about than "literacy"?)
-Are critical literacy skills the "highest" form attainable?
-How are literacies linked to a person's identification with particular groups? (Socio-cultural, ideological, generational, etc)

For me, literacy is about communication . . . about meaning-making. Even when I wrote in my journal in the fifth grade about my crush on the deeply handsome Michael Chumley (his brown eyes could totally melt you), I was attempting to make sense of my own new feelings, a communication of self to self so to speak. What this means in the context of new media, which is so often-touted for its networking, social-connecting, participatory nature, could very well be profound. Maybe the way literacy will look when wearing the garment of new media will be the way literacy always wanted to look, that sexy little red dress that fits just right.

On the other hand, maybe new media is the sweatpants and t-shirt version of literacy, the kind of literacy that feels best in an informal setting, just hanging out with friends . . .