Archive for the ‘technology’ Category


Save A Hard Copy Of Everything That Might Be Important To You. This Does Not Mean You Should Keep Everything, But Some Day You’ll Be Glad You Did Some Selective, Creative Savery.

March 10, 2012

And bring me a hard copy of the Internet so I can do some serious surfing • Scott Adams, Dilbert

During the latter part of the twentieth century (golly, that sounds self-important!), I taught in a high school dropout prevention program. I often recorded my students’ words so I would remember them. Years later, I’ve forgotten most of those words, but I can revisit them because I have that written record. Now that I teach teachers, I’m especially glad I saved so many things that help me be first person present in my high school teaching past. I’m also glad that I have hard copies of my related reflections. I am both amused and saddened when students tell me that they have electronic copies of materials and don’t need hard copies, dismissing my pleas to print and file. Today’s computer is tomorrow’s obsolete, toxic landfiller. And all those electronic files you saved on your Apple IIe? G-O-N-E!

I’m especially happy that I saved what follows here. When teachers are frustrated by their students’ behavior, it’s easy to forget that what we want them to do may matter very little in the bigger picture of their lives. Sometimes acknowledging those realities is a first step toward helping students engage in the kinds of empowering educational experiences that really do change lives, or at least change perceptions about possibilities. In the quotation/reflection that follows, students’ comments are in italics, interspersed with my own reflective thoughts:

Always the Same • Always Different

So I sit and listen and again I am overwhelmed by all I cannot do, a thousand problems that I cannot solve, the pain I can’t prevent, the angry lives unfolding opening sharing revealing more than I want to know because I’m only one and I’m carrying this invisible sack of worry and troubles of my own, the one that’s hidden from them behind my sunny smiles, the smiles they crave like candy or even some kind of drug, smiles withheld so often in so many places that when they get one, they cannot get enough.

And so I sit and listen and begin to understand that this always comes first. This dreadful torrent that pools in front around among us—each story adding to the waters that swirl with blended colors of our private agony. We stir the waters, salty with our tears, seeing each other with eyes washed clean. Every year the same. Every year different. Games and names and sharing our shallowest safest memories until we cross this bridge over our waters into another world. A place that’s real. Circled round, lounging on floor and couches, waiting for someone else to trust. Open. I’ve seen this many times, but I always wonder if. If the time will come when ones together become us, when we see the sameness underneath the difference, when what matters less is overwhelmed by what matters more. And so it begins.

My stepdad says I can’t go nowhere in the house. Just stay in the garage he says and if I want to be there I got to pay rent.

He stops.

There’s a freezer out there, but they got a big ole lock on it so I can’t get in. The only bathroom I got is in this trailer my grandma left in the yard, but it don’t work so I go in the yard at night if I have to and just cover it up.

He stops again. We wait. He doesn’t sa anything else. No one says anything. He’s hanging out there. Naked. Me? I want to jump in and say something. Offer something. But it’s not my tie. Another voice, so quiet we can hardly hear begins.

We sold our Levis yesterday. We were holding on to those, my mom and me. We like them a lot, but they wouldn’t give us anything for our Wranglers. My mom is gonna get a job pretty soon. Waitin’ for a call. I wrote a poem about being homeless. Wanna hear?

She pulls a piece of paper from her backpack—her new backpack—we can still do that much around here—supplies and backpacks and winter coats and PE clothes and bread and peanut butter and Ramen noodles and sometimes milk and even juice. She reads her words about doing homework by the glow of a cigarette lighter and dreaming of the better life she’ll have if she can only graduate.

And I wonder. What the hell am I doing? What am I promising? Acting as if this place we sit ifs the gateway to some promised land that offers all the things they’ve never had and maybe never will. We sit surrounded by pictures of their dreams and homes and happiness, cars and children, freedom to be to do to have to dream and have it all come true. I lose sight of why I’m here. What I can do. It gets lost in the sea of what I can’t. But still I, still we, listen.

I’m pregnant. Again. You’re gonna know soon enough so I might as well tell you. This time, it’s twins.

Period. We wait, but she just sits and glares. Folded arms and I know she’s just waiting for the word—any word—a wrong word—so she can up and bolt and leave this place and run to get the only piece of love that life has given her. Pick him up from daycare. Go to the park. Push him on the swing. Imagine that the life he’ll have is different form her own. Now this. And what’s it going to mean? We wait. Staring into space. Avoiding eye contact. Is it safe? Will it stay here? Will he be broken never to be fixed if we remove these masks, dismantle the facades, discover we are all in places we would never choose?

So I’m sleepy, you know. And you all poke me when I drift off and yell in my ear and I jump and you think it’s pretty funny, don’t you. Well, I’ll tell you this and you can see how funny you think it is. My dad left and he isn’t coming back and I’m working now ‘cause my mom’s two jobs just don’t cut it any more, not with five kids. I’m the oldest, man of the house now, my mom says. I work till four every morning and damn straight I’m tired. So leave me the hell alone, okay?

He slouches back and closes his eyes. We wait some more. And so it goes.

There are many spaces we inhabit that are filled with adolescent or adult angst and challenges, but often we don’t know our students or our friends or our colleagues or co-workers well enough to know what kinds of difficulties they may be grappling with. Sometimes we don’t even know these things about our families. As you go through your day, I hope you’ll take care of yourself, of course, but I also hope you’ll be charitable and kind, knowing that you don’t truly know what kind of burdens may be weighing down the others you encounter.

I also hope you’ll keep a hard copy of important information you may want to revisit some day!

What is it about today that you may want to remember tomorrow? How do you plan to do it?

I finished the paper, but the computer ate it. It’s gone. I have my notes, but nothing else. • Comments I’ve heard countless times during my teaching career, W-OZ



Ten Reasons To Consider Writing A Teaching And Learning Blog (Reason Zero: You Can List The Main Points Of Your Presentation In An Easily Accessible Format That Also Illustrates Your Topic)

April 22, 2011

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether people do. • B.F. Skinner (1969), Contingencies of Reinforcement

I am presenting at an educational technology summit today and although I have a handout with examples, I also wanted to illustrate the use of a blog in some related way. As I was working on something else, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was write a post that listed the main points I’ll be covering. I’ll have something to show and I’ll also be creating an outline for the presentation (and yet another reason to “consider writing a teaching and learning blog”). Ain’t life grand?

Here are my ten reasons to consider writing a teaching and learning blog:

1. You Can Embed Class Assignments In Your Posts

2. You Can Address Concerns Without Singling Out Offenders

3. You Can Model Civility Through Your Digital Fingerprints

4. You Can Create Content Collaboratively

5. You Can Provide Easily Accessible Assessment Help And Hints

6. You Can Reference Research You’d Like Students To Think About

6. You Can Encourage Reflective Journaling And Metacognition

7. You Can Connect With Colleagues Who Face Mutual Challenges

8. You Can Provide Food For Thought About Important Issues In And Out Of The Classroom

9. You Can Learn To Write Brief—Or Relatively Brief—Pieces Quickly

10. You Can Learn About Yourself As A Writer, Teacher, Learner, And Otherwise Creative Person, Even If You Don’t Intend To!

I can think of other reasons, but I’m not planning to talk about them today, so, well, never mind! Here’s some home•work for you:

If you were beginning a blog—or starting a new one if you’re already a blogger—what would you write about first? What would you call your blog? Why? What advice would you give yourself—or any other blogger—related to carefully crafting a public persona?

This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man—if man is not enslaved by it. [Women too.] • Jonas Salk




Medicine For The Soul* And A Prescription For Happiness

June 10, 2010

For Monday, June 7, 2010 (I have been unable to access my blog for posting for several days, so I’ve been writing, but not posting and hoping for better luck.)

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. • Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

I’m shopping with my grandsons and they want books. I do too, although I hesitate because I know I’ll have to schlep them across the country. I’ve done this before, seeding the volumes among my clothes, weighing my suitcases down until I can scarcely lift them. I always promise myself I won’t do it again, but I break this promise every time I leave home. Books are the addiction I cannot resist. They delight, comfort, inspire, and inform me daily.

I pass up many enticing volumes, making lists in the notebook I carry everywhere (remember my hunt for cargo pants with pockets?). I see them in bookstores and in the Smithsonian’s gift shops. I read about them in the newspaper: John Horgan’s Bookshelf column (p. A17) in the June 4, 2010, Wall Street Journal is devoted to a discussion of Nicholas Carr’s (2010) The Shallows. This book will be one of my first purchases when I return home. I won’t be able to wait for the paperback and I know I’ll want my own copy to write in as I continue to collect inspiration for The techNObots, an artmaking project that focuses on the human costs of technology.

Digression: I know it’s not advisable to write in books that belong to schools or libraries or other people, but I love to converse with books. I date my comments and can see the progression and origins of my thoughts over time as I reread and continue to reference my favorites. This form of journaling is relatively painless since it doesn’t require thinking up something to write about nor does it require finding something in which to capture your thoughts. Inspiration and margins are right there.

Horgan reports that Carr’s book explores what the internet is doing to our brains, quoting from the book: “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” I’m in a motel with unreliable internet connectivity, so slow that many of the systems I’m working with time out before I can complete my work and I am unable to whiz around cyberspace in ways I’ve become used to.

This is frustrating since I feel beset by expectations that I’ll be able to work anywhere, anytime. It’s also freeing now that I’ve gotten my grades in and I’ve read students’ final essays posted online. I’m not going to worry about connecting while I’m out of town. If I’m able, I’ll post. If I’m able, I’ll check my email. But I won’t be spending hours trying to do what should theoretically take minutes. If I do, I’ll be spending all my time off in the frustrating quest for connection instead of exploring the historic city I’m in, thinking about what I’m presenting, and processing what I’ve heard from other presentations.

I’ll also have more time to look for books.

What kinds of books do you find it hard to resist?

Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. • Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta, “Book Buying”

* Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes


Writing By Hand While Riding The Rails

June 2, 2010

For Monday, June 1, 2010

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. • G.K. Chesterton

We were supposed to have several hours in the Chicago train station, hours I’d planned to spend in leisurely word processing. I started out the trip trying to word process, but I realized that I was missing the sights and it seemed a shame to make our tiny compartment into a rolling office. So I didn’t.

I brought along a small notebook especially for blog thoughts and I’ve already filled pages with ideas and inspiration from the folks we’ve met at meals and talked to in the corridors. People are endlessly fascinating and filled with stories and it’s seldom that we have opportunities to talk with strangers.

I’m with my husband and unless we decided to invent a mutually-agreeable story, we’re struck with the truth, at least as we choose to tell it, but I just realized that we could be anyone we want to be. Hmmm. Food for mealtime thought.

Imagine that you’re having a meal with a stranger. What story would you tell about yourself?

A human being is nothing but a story with a skin around it. • Fred Allen


The Dreams I Cannot Forget

April 12, 2010

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
• Emily Bronte

I am a dreamer—figuratively through daytime dreams of hopefulness—and literally. I often capture my nighttime dreams in a journal, writing while still half-awake. Dreams not captured quickly are evanescent, evaporating once I’m fully aroused.

Most of my dreams are quickly gone. I write them down and when I read them even a few days later, it’s as though they were written by someone else. I don’t remember them at all. Except for a few: the dreams that color my mind. The exhibit I’m working on, The techNObots, was inspired by such a dream, one I captured in the late 1980s while I was going to school and working as a graphic designer, spending nights and weekends alone in a room with a hulking computerized typesetting machine:

I am walking down a long, featureless corridor, chilly and dim.
It is always cold here, for Their comfort.
Their comfort is more important than mine.
Despite my sweater, I shiver.
I do not want to be here.
I want to leave and never return.
I cannot.
The craft I once enjoyed now imprisons me, because of Them,
Machines that lack just one thing to make Them perfect,
The human element.
And that is me, and others like me.
They still call us artists, but our work is no longer our own.
Passing countless doors, I reach my cubicle, a tiny blankwalled room.
The room is even colder than the corridor.
And there He is: my partner and my nemesis.
I dread the coupling.
Each time the neckshunt is connected I fear that we will never disconnect.
I dread the ghastly coldness that invades me as we join.
My blood becomes His, flowing over His circuitry.
I am alone here, in a room designed for Him and not for me.
I could keep Him at home, but I don’t want to.
Coming here is bad enough.
Living with Him would be unbearable.
He is efficient.
Images I envision appear instantly.
Colors I imagine burst forth brilliantly.
It is wonderful and horrible.
He is wonderful and horrible.
Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, we work.
He monitors my thoughts.
Only my artthoughts are paid for.
My private musings, my daydreams, my feelings are captured in His memory.
And worse than this, I can feel Him, an invader in my blood,
Touching, exploring, searching for something.
I do not know yet what He seeks.
Artistry could not be built into these machines, so I am here.
Attached by silicone fangs to a vampire who drinks my creativity,
Wondering how long until it’s gone.

I have had other related dreams.. On November 25, 1994, I dreamed that I woke up because my arm itched. I looked down and steel wires were growing out of it. Only a few at first, but they kept popping out all over my arm. I couldn’t pull them out or cut them off. They kept getting longer. I talked to my husband, but he just said I would have to go the doctor. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to hear that I was becoming a robot woman. I got panicky and I woke up.

Eric Fromm (1990-1980, social psychologist and humanist philosopher) said that “men and women are growing more alike every day because they are both growing more like machines.” The techNObots explores the costs and benefits of human’s increasing dependence on—and romance with—machines, to us and to our human relationships.

Even as I wordprocess this and get ready to post it for the world to view, I think fondly of the days when it was not possible to do so. When email did not dominate my days in ways I find difficult to escape. When I did not have multiple phone numbers and multiple voicemails. When it was not so easy to be accessible. I do not want to be a slave to technology, a prediction Fromm did not know he was making when he said that “the danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.”

It does not require a metal body to turn human beings into extensions of their tools.

What do your dreams tell you?

In our dreams (writes Coleridge) images represent the sensations we think they cause; we do not feel horror because we are threatened by a sphinx; we dream of a sphinx in order to explain the horror we feel.
• Jorge Luis Borges, “Parables”


What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate*: Disconnected in a Connected World

March 19, 2010

For Saturday, March 20, 2010

Western society has accepted as unquestionable a technological imperative that is quite as arbitrary as the most primitive taboo:  not merely the duty to foster invention and constantly to create technological novelties, but equally the duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are offered, without respect to their human consequences.
• Lewis Mumford

Technology is so ubiquitous in my world that it seems like access to anyone anywhere anytime is the norm. It isn’t. I’m away from home. I have a computer with me. I have an iPhone. And I’m only sporadically connected, reliant on the generosity of coffeeshops who stand ready to serve me a disappointing cup of tea and a piece of something marginally edible that I don’t really need to eat so that I can use their connection to swim in the everflowing stream of communication that flows into my life. Even my phone is affected by tall buildings and other features of the landscape I’m traveling in. It comes and it goes.

We are becoming the servants in thought, as in action, of the machine we have created to serve us.
• John Kenneth Galbraith

I’m posting this early since I’ve been off for too long and don’t know when I’ll be back on. When technology is easily available, I get used to the need to check regularly to see if there’s something I should be responding to. When I can’t be responsive, I feel off-balance. I resent this. I want to disconnect and feel comfortable about my failure to communicate. I want to let go of the expectations I impose on myself. I want to just stop and think without wondering if there’s something else I should be thinking about. As much as I love the ability to connect, I also resent the need to stay connected.

This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man – if man is not enslaved by it.
• Jonas Salk

Does your need to stay connected impinge on your ability to connect with yourself?

Soon silence will have passed into legend.  Man has turned his back on silence.  Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.  His anxiety subsides.  His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.
• Jean Arp

* Thank you, Cool Hand Luke, for the title quotation.


My Computer Is a Small, Yet Extremely Effective Time-Suckage Machine and I Am Stressed

January 21, 2010

Nicholas P. Negroponte, a computer scientist who founded the One Laptop Per Child organization, claims that “[i]t’s not computer literacy that we should be working on, but sort of human-literacy. Computers should have to become human-literate.” I agree. But computers have human users and those users also need to become aware of the human costs of their tech use.

I am stressed. Last night at almost 9 p.m. I received an email requesting a letter of recommendation. There was a job description attached so that I could figure out what to address, I suppose. At least it said there was. I didn’t open it. I didn’t have room in my brain for the information. The sender needs the letter to be mailed by Saturday. Although I truly respect this person’s intellect and would be delighted to provide a reference, I really do need more than a couple of days to do this.

Here’s another related hint: When you make a request and get a response, be sure to respond so that the person isn’t left hanging. This applies to setting up advising appointments or help sessions or any other kind of time commitment you’re requesting. I just received a kind and understanding email regarding the letter I was unable to write by Saturday. Imagine that you are me. For whom would you be willing to write a letter in the future? The person who never replies to you or the one who sees that you are a human being too

I really should know better than to check email when I get home from work, but since I’d been in meetings since 3 p.m. without a chance to look, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t something urgent like a meeting time change for the next day. Incidentally, here’s another hint related to human/computer interaction. I’m not your friend planning to meet you for a movie and I have to drive an hour to get to work, so if you want to cancel a meeting with me–unless the circumstances are extraordinary–don’t email me right before the meeting time.

As for the letter, I already have my work time committed for the next couple of days and the only place to get more time would be to give up some sleep or eat faster. I’ve already planned for my “free” time and will be using it to finish getting a conference presentation ready for next week. I’m behind because of several other requests for rush letters, and that’s another reality. As I’ve mentioned before, I have not yet found a time to make time elastic.

Technology is getting to me. I do love email because it’s preferable to listening to endless voicemails and I’m old enough to remember pre-answering machine days of endless attempts to contact someone. But just because you can reach someone and send something out, it’s not reasonable to expect 24/7 response•ability. I know that I am guilty of this myself, and so I don’t mean to sound as though I am not. Still, wanting a response to something that will require a couple of minutes and wanting several hours of a person’s time are different things and all of us should be aware of this.

Teachers are especially vulnerable to this kind of request, particularly if we care about our students’ success. Even being asked can activate our guilt button. As a student, you should be aware of the time cost of any query, particularly if you may be only one among many who are making similar requests. I’m delighted to provide input about multiple things, but not instantly. And please, do not get huffy when you email on Sunday morning and haven’t heard by afternoon. Ask yourself what students did before email and IM and voicemails. How might you get answers for your questions on your own. My son, who teaches middle school, asks his students to ask “three before me.”

There are other things I’m asked to do are things the person should do her- or himself. Even if I’ve read two million books, I’m not likely to want to spend the afternoon providing you with bibliography of “best” resources related to a particular topic. If I can think of something, I’ll be glad to share it, but I don’t want to do your work. It’s part of why students are in school, to learn to locate resources. I get asked to do this kind of thing quite frequently.

A couple of years ago, I got one of my favorite requests: “Here’s a list of my information. I know that you’re a former graphic designer, and I was wondering if you could create a resume for me since I’m headed off to a job fair next week and I want it to be perfect.” What I wanted to write back in response to this email (I didn’t even get asked in person) was “ARE YOU NUTS?!” Instead, I politely responded. I should have been clearer about how inappropriate this request was.

This isn’t my only tech challenge today. Let me simply say that institutions can have communications systems that are frustrating. I am sometimes left feeling like I am serving the system and not that the system is serving me. And then there’s the email I got today with sixty attachments. I’m interested in what’s in them, but until I look, I won’t know for sure. I fear my boat of good intentions will sink as it hits these shoals.

Neil Postman (1992) points out in Technopoly that there are winners and losers in the spread of computer technology. The winners tell the losers “that their lives will be conducted more efficiently. . .should the losers grow skeptical, the winners dazzle them with the wondrous feats of computers, almost all of which have only marginal relevance to the quality of the losers’ lives but which are nonetheless impressive” (p. 11). Many days I feel like a loser as technology becomes more and more intrusive and its benefits become instead huge time-suckage-frustrations.

What are the costs and benefits of technology in your life?

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.
• Andy Rooney

Working in an office with an array of electroic devices is like trying to get something done at home iwth half a dozen small children around. The calls for attention are constant.

•Marilyn vos Savant