Category: Learning

Real vs Computational Art

The past two weeks I started three classes (I am probably certifiably crazy) while experiencing vertigo attacks and working full time. The classes included two MOOCs from Coursera: Intro to Computational Arts (SUNY) and Creativity, Innovation, and Change (CIC) (Penn State) along with Digital Storytelling (DS106) headless version started at Univ of Mary Washington and is now about online learners engaging each other. They are all complementary and I would love to take all three but I realized this past week that I do not have much interest in computational art. I was lucky that one of the exercises this week in CIC was to look at the passions and purposes of your life ring. I have known my driving passion for some years, but I have also found that I misplace or mislabel that passion when something knew comes along. And I think that is what I did when I signed up for computational arts. I wanted to learn and seek out new knowledge and then share it (my driving passion and the reason for the name of this blog). I also wanted to interact with others while attempting to create new art (even if computational). That has been an exciting part of the last two classes – Intro to Art (Penn State) and Art & Inquiry (Museum of Modern Art). But as I looked at the assignments and videos for Intro to Computational Arts, I realized why I do not find it as satisfying to do computational art as I do real art. Real art means that all your senses are involved not just your eyes (your brain is involved no matter what form of art is done). In computational art, I can’t feel the paper – touch its grain or thickness. I can’t smell the pungent turpentine or oils. I can’t taste the glue on my fingers when I accidentally chew on a fingertip while trying to figure out what to do next. I can’t see the textures and colors until the programming code works. As a programmer, I have to imagine the finished artwork and hoping that I make no typos. As an artist, I am also imagining the finished artwork but I am seeing it take shape as I create it. And while it is exciting to “birth” a visual object from code, it’s not near as exciting as seeing the evolution of new artwork into a surrealistic abstract, a funny sculpture or a more traditional portrait of my dog for mail art. So with only a small sense of regret, I’m going to give up computational arts for the time being. Perhaps some day I will find enough time to try it again.


Despite 2013 being an apocalyptic year for health issues (glaucoma, vertigo, car accident) for me, I’m learning how to enjoy classes with subpar health. And I’m grateful for the truly creative and fun people that I’m meeting along the way. I may be in overkill but this week I sort of started ( still have to register) a class called Digital Storytelling (DS106) from the Univ of Mary Washington – a “headless” online course where no one and everyone is really in charge. I’m also scheduled to start an online Coursera class on computational arts that is similar in some ways to DS106. And next week I start Penn State’s MOOC on Creativity, Innovation and Change (CIC or PSUCIC). I’ve signed up to work with some fraingers (friends who were strangers and have become friends through online courses) from another course. I’ve also agreed to become part of a quadblog group again for #CIC to help others learn how to blog. It’s great to have an instant audience when you are first learning. You will see others of my CIC quadblog group if you look at the links on the right hand side.

In addition to posting new experiences, I’m hoping get out a set of experiences from the past 3 classes that I have not yet added to the blog: Penn State’s Intro to Art, UPENN’s Growing Old Around the Globe, and MoMA’s Art of Inquiry this summer.

Officially I started Howard Rheingold’s class “Think-Know Tools” by attending the second session of the online forum tonight. I was very excited about this opportunity to learn from the man who wrote “Smart Mobs” in 2002 and continues to be a force in thinking and learning. The small group session tonight was great with about 10 of the students attending (the rest participated in the first session the day before). We got to interact through Blackboard and learn how to navigate the different sections of the class website (wiki, forums, lexicon, blogs and mindmaps). The class will have weekly virtual sessions, although I will not be able to participate in many of them because of the time difference. But most of the real work will be done interactively yet asynchronously online. To get familiar with different elements we each volunteered to take on some role contributing to learning like “search jockey” to search out websites for ideas mentioned in the chat. I really enjoyed the session but I came away discouraged. In March I went through two surgeries for glaucoma. I thought that the healing had progressed enough to be able to handle an intensive online class. But I found that wasn’t the case. At the end of an hour and a half, I walked away from the computer almost blinded by weariness and a headache.

In a slow-paced learning environment where you can control the media, it is possible for me to take breaks and resize screens so that I can learn. But in the Blackboard live session, the chat font and the video was very small (no matter how large I sized it). And even the whiteboard began to get blurry toward the end as the topics became smaller as more were dropped onto the mindmap. My physical limitations certainly play a role in the mind map we were building on augmentation where cognition may be limited by problems with perception which could possibly be enhanced or modified by technology.

I’m hoping that I can continue with the asynchronous part of the class but the reading may also defeat me. I have had to limit reading to some extent and go to audio books whenever possible. But I think that I can contribute some unique perspectives for those with disabilities whether old ones or newly acquired regardless of the reason why.

Last week I was in a F2F class thinking about asymmetric warfare and looking to the past for lessons that could be used to explain the conflicts of today. This clashed with the #edcmooc class requirement to look to the future to understand how utopian/dystopian stories shaped our understanding of technology and education.

So this past weekend, I wondered why I felt disconnected from #edcmooc to the point of severely limiting interaction with conversations going on across G+, Facebook and Twitter. Finally I realized that the week just had little to offer me as it was structured and I didn’t know how to learn from it. I always look to the future because that was my job until recently. I love the bright visions shown in concept videos like those developed by Corning and Microsoft and many others that I have watched over the past 20 years. But concept videos are just creative artifacts – they don’t predict the future although they may help steer some development. If you were to go back to the past (e.g. 1960s) to look at visionary videos by noted futurists like Arthur C. Clarke (search YouTube for longer versions), you see some elements that have come true like mobile phones and a worldwide communications network. But were they predicting the future or inspiring someone to make it happen based on plausible laws of physics. It’s hard to say but it would be a fascinating research topic.

I am more disturbed by the horrific vision shown in videos like “Sight” where technology is abused to control and manipulate other human beings. While the actual acts of digital manipulation may not be quite as obvious as that shown in “Sight”, it is becoming more common place every day. And it perhaps is more a part of being human than any grand visions for the future. Humanity has always had the ability to push science to create technology for social good. While some steps have occurred in that direction (e.g. medicines to control diseases), the preponderance of technology development seems to focus toward security and control whether through older principles like laying out a village for optimal defense or the continued improvement and creation of more weaponry (to include influencing minds like in “Sight”). So why isn’t there a push for more utopian solutions like ending disease and hunger or protecting the earth from the stresses of climate change? Why does humanity seem to trend toward the negative instead of the positive when interacting with technology? What happens cannot be blamed on faceless technology which doesn’t create who we are although it may shape how we connect and learn and react.

I also realized that there are times when it is hard to connect on so many levels and do creative and critical thinking in so many learning opportunities at once.  I will explore that in another blog.  In the meantime, these are the common elements and differences that I see between the two classes – a digital online course #edcmooc and a F2F class on asymmetric warfare. They both depended heavily on videos to set the stage for learning and discussions. In the F2F class, movies like “The Battle for Algiers” provided much discussion on causes and responses. In the online class, video clips like industry concept videos by Corning and Microsoft as well as short fictional clips like Sight, Inbox and Bendito Machine, provided food for thought on the utopian/dystopian meaning of the future. Both classes provided a shared experience although the timing was different with the F2F class sharing synchronously while the online course sharing was asynchronous across days. The big difference between the two has been the timing of the discussion and interaction. The F2F class immediately discussed the lessons learned in a group with time to reflect as an individual over the week long course.   But the group learning stopped when the class ended.  That is not the case with #edcmooc.  I was able to re-engage and pick up new learning experiences especially in an adhoc Twitter chat in the middle of the week.  Having both experiences together has shown me the value of both.  But overall I like the possibility of extended learning opportunities that a digital online course may offer  better than the “one and done” F2F course. 

I’m beginning to find little value in Facebook, Google+,  Twitter or Coursera  forums in helping organize knowledge and share meaningful conversations relating to #edcmooc.   Not surprisingly it’s exactly the same problem that we have in my workplace.    Prior to Jan 22, conversations were easy to handle and information generally easy to find.   But with the start of the #edcmooc  course on Jan 28,  the FB group has grown to over 4400 while the G+ group is over 1500.  Twitter feeds on #edcmooc turn over faster than one individual on Tweetdeck can adequately handle and the Coursera forums are like all the coursera courses where too many posts make it hard to read and respond in a meaningful way.  Additionally as new people jump on board they do not know the ground rules of various social applications and are apt to do things like misuse hashtags.      There is no way a person can read all the conversations even if you just focused on one social application.  And replying to any one thread becomes even more difficult especially on Facebook where notifications take you to the start of a sometimes neverending thread .  Fortunately a few people have jumped in to act as facilitators and coaches but not near enough for handling the sheer volume of people involved.

So what’s the solution with 40,000 people involved?  I ask because my workplace community is larger than that which is one of the reasons that I wanted to take this course to see how all this knowledge could be managed for better learning,  sharing and building/finding connections.   While there are some smaller groups set up for #edcmooc,  the noise seems unbearable at times.  Yet I don’t want to completely silence the noise because sometimes you need to connect to the larger stream of conversations just to find interesting connections or tidbits.   So how can technology help with that instead of just piling on more applications.

My initial response to the first week of class is based on both the formal lesson plan (using resources identified by the instructors) and my own expectations of what I hoped to get out of the class.  Based on the course content, I’m beginning to wonder if this class will help me achieve those expectations (especially the one to better understand how to juggle all these conflicting social networks and applications).   I do think the course format will bring home how broken social networking applications  at massive scale really is.  So now the question is what do I do about it?   Do I take the easy way out  and become a silent observer just doing the bare minimum interaction based on course content.  Or do I continue to build smaller networks that help me achieve a degree of satisfaction in connecting with interesting people trying to do the impossible – handle social networks at large or massive scale.

Yesterday was the height of a utopia followed by trepidation and perhaps a little heartache. The #edcmooc pre-course group had been spending two months connecting, experimenting and learning together. We seemed to be at the height of a utopia after Saturday night’s first Twitter chat #edcmchat where 128 people participated. Wonderful activities followed including new connections and discussions, ideas for next steps, a survey, learning how to analyze the chat session, and continuing to wait for that magic moment when the actual class would start. After the email arrived and I started looking at the class site and expectations, I wrote the following on G+ with a variation on Twitter and Facebook.

Now I’m wondering how the wonderful group cohesion and free spirit of the pre-course #edcmooc group will change as the formal class gets under way. How will the more formal course discipline with deadlines affect the learning that was already occurring.

I watched the short movie “The Inbox” and looked at Twitter and the discussion forums. It all felt very forced with none of the enchantment that I had been experiencing the past two months. I went to bed rather than ponder further,  but woke up to the feeling that we had been living the Inbox to some extent. In the beginning of the movie, you get a sense of   the grayness  of the daily routine of life. Some of us in the pre-course group have remarked on the feeling of being in a rut doing the same thing every day. It was not that we didn’t enjoy what we did but there had to be something more. You see that in the movie where the young man  looks longingly at the clasped hands of a couple or in the young woman who wants to connect with someone through the stuffed bear that can be held close.

The #edcmooc red bags arrived as an email in November encouraging us to try out different social networking tools before class started. A student developed presentation shows a timeline of the digital “ red bags” that began to connect a small group of about 160 people. You could liken each activity to one of the post-it notes in the movie where you learned more about each other and yourself. This included the anticipation that you had about the start of the class on 28 Jan. I felt that it was very much a Utopian existence filled with opportunities to learn with no undue expectations that you had to learn. Although that was tempered as  suddenly several thousand joined the student created Facebook group about a week before the class started. (Angela Towndrow sums up the panic in her blog on “My #edcMOOC Freakout” on learning that the class actually had about 32,000 registered in mid January ).

So where are we now? I feel that the red bag has been torn and there is the fear that something wonderful has been lost before it really started. At the same time, perhaps we are like two people meeting in that park holding red bags anticipating the next step – not quite sure what to do next but still filled with a nervous joy about the possibilities. That’s where the Inbox ends leaving us to imagine our own ending. Will it be Utopia or Dystopia for this young couple?  One could imagine both with moments of euphoria from connecting followed by disillusionment as reality sinks in.

So I am sitting here writing this digital post-it note ready to toss it out to the digital red bags of #edcmooc.  I wonder what will be the ending of the #edcmooc pre-course participants. Will the #edcmooc experience evolve into a more mundane academic discussion of big words like utopia and dystopia. Or will a vibrant learning global community emerge on the other side. Only time will tell but I hope it will be the later.

During our first ever #edcmchat (Elearning & Digital Cultures MOOC #edcmooc chat) session on Twitter, Andy Mitchell voiced a concern that I have also had and in fact talked about in a previous blog: “There’s so many webtools available now I struggle to find time .. I often feel I am playing catch up”. Angela Towndrow, an #edcmooc quadblogging partner, asked “Do we need to set aside time to keep up like getting a haircut or going to the gym….?”. My initial response was that I didn’t know… “the networking stream keeps moving even when you disconnect – calls for a blog to think it through.” There was certainly no way to give the subject much deep thought when tweets were rolling through at about 18 tweets per minute (pretty slow compared to events like the Olympics but fast for this new group).
With more time to think about it, my answer turns out to still be a work in progress with an initial answer. As I walked along the Potomac River this morning near my house without any social media, I realized that disconnecting to play catch up was not the obvious way to keep up with social tools. Sure a person can take time away to research and test various web tools; it’s usually what I do now to see if there is a capability that we might like to bring into my workplace. However, the real test is in using the tool within a network where  learning comes from both trial & error as well as coaching from others in the network. And that’s hard to do on your own if you disconnect from networking. Instead, I think that a venue like #edcmooc provides the perfect way to catch up on technologies and techniques for digital connectedness. I’ve listed some of the reasons, although I suspect there may be others.
1. Moves you out of your comfort zone
2. Provides a safe environment to network and experiment
3. Gives you access to people with many different skill levels and experiences – both in the network and adjacent to the network
4. Provides great feedback – both positive and constructive
Before I started the preparation for #edcmooc in mid-November, I was in a rut. I used a number of tools in my workplace and a different set at home (e.g. Twitter, G+, Facebook). But I wasn’t pushing myself to really learn anything more – I’d gotten comfortable with the minimum of interaction through relatively well understood social tools. I might test something new and then move on. The #edcmooc pre-course preparation has pushed me out of my comfort zone into interacting, chatting, searching, researching, connecting, testing and sharing experiences in a richer, deeper way. At the same, there is no pressure to perform like there is in a work  environment.  Also,  the wide depth of knowledge and experiences of the participants make it a joy to act as both a learner and a teacher/coach/mentor where needed.  This includes people who may not be directly in the network but are looking at similar capabilities or have skills needed by the network.   And the feedback so far has been both positive and constructive.  I have not had this same level of experience since I first started on the pioneer path with social media in 2005-2009. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time.  The biggest challenge is the time to fuse all the knowledge and perhaps develop a plan for the way ahead.  In other words, what do I want to do with all this knowledge and the networks that I am acquiring?  That will be for a later blog.

Sorry if this post is a little disjointed.   This issue has been building but I haven’t taken my usual time to write and review a post which can take days.  I’m just going to post it and may update it over time.

I’m trying to keep up with all the new network connections being built for the #edcmooc class but it’s getting increasingly difficult. And class doesn’t even start until Jan 28. One of my original objectives for taking this class was to see if I could learn to juggle multiple collaborative tools inside my workplace. I had hoped  the small group that spontaneously formed in mid November would help give me insights into new technologies or techniques to better deal with time management challenges. But that hasn’t happened yet.  In fact, I feel more overwhelmed by having to look at so many additional tools and groups.

I suspect there are multiple factors but at least two that I see include my own schedule (holidays, work, illness) that kept me from fully asking questions and the fact that a foundational network needed to be built with supporting tools/techniques (including experimenting with some). While the experience of sharing insights about elearning has been very inspiring, I feel no closer to meeting my personal objective of learning to juggle all these collaborative networks/technologies to which I am connected. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

In terms of the digital divide, I am starting to see this with the many collaborative tools/networks being established for #edcmooc.  There is Facebook (over 2000members), G+ (only 402 members), Twitter, Diigo, Wikispaces, YouTube, Synchtube, and so on (can’t even remember all the networks at this point).   Since not everyone is on all of them, some people will only get some of the information.  That means that some people must act as a bridge and share information between applications or people will have to join everything leading to more conversations and overload.  This is part of the problem that I have at work with internal collaborative tools – as more capabilities are introduced the information flow is fragmented and networks dispersed.  Somehow there needs to be a capability to prevent this from happening.  I just haven’t seen it yet.

Comparing a MOOC to the Classroom

For three days last week I was participating in an advanced writing workshop. This was a very small class of eight students with two instructors.   Learning  in the class was dependent both on the knowledge of the instructors and the knowledge/professionalism of the students.

The format included an overview of the background tools/techniques needed to write effectively within my organization followed by practical exercises reviewing papers from both the instructors and the students.   Initially we reviewed/graded the  papers handed out by the instructors individually and then collaborated in teams of two on a joint review.  This was followed by a open discussion of both an initial and revised version of the paper.  After this we brought in our own papers and graded them while going through two other student papers.   This was followed by different teams of two collaboratively discussing their review.   The open discussion started with the first author giving his/her personal grade followed by the team who had evaluated that paper.  Other students were then invited to add anything that they felt was missed.   Once the review process was completed, students were given the time to update their papers and send them around for review in the same process by the same teams.

Although not familiar with many of the specific topics in the papers, I found both the class format and the associated resources (e.g. checklists, tradecraft materials) to be very valuable in learning to effectively evaluate both my own writing and others.  And the feedback was critical in helping me focus  my  own writing which tended to cram too many points into one rambling mess.

But as I finished this class, I was thinking about how it compared to the two  massive open online courses (MOOC) that I had just completed.  In these two courses,  the peer review process was key in completing the course.  Each student was assigned to review the work of 5 other students and provide written grades based on instructor protocols.   You could not pass the course unless you had also completed the minimum 5 evaluations per assignment.    In some ways the process was very similar to that of the classroom where we reviewed student efforts.   However, there was no opportunity to interact personally  with the other four members of the review team or the students you were reviewing.   That later created some frustration among students who felt that they were unfairly judged and given significantly lower grades with little feedback.  Additionally, there was no continuity throughout the course.  While this meant that we were able to see more students, it also meant that you weren’t following a student’s ideas from creation to completion.

I think that for MOOCs to be truly effective, they must provide better opportunities for interaction during the course beyond the forums.  Somehow, the same type of small group interaction that occurred during my advanced writing class should also occur during a MOOC.  This way learning not only occurs from knowledge shared by the instructor but knowledge shared by the students.  The technology exists to permit that experience with applications like Google+ hangouts, Skype or   The biggest drawback may be the global nature of the student body that limits real time interaction because of schedule conflicts or different timezones.    It will be interesting to see if the #edcmooc group can solve this lack of interaction through the community that has been forming since November.

Social media is teaching me that there is no sense in arguing with someone is blinded by their passions – whether it’s love of an individual, love of stuff like guns or love of power. Some writers/researchers say it’s because of anonymity which allows people to write anything they want. I agree to some extent but I also wonder if it isn’t due to the fact that we no longer come face-to-face with those who have contradictory points of view. Instead we read what fits our passions and ignore the other writings as utter rot created by blathering idiots. To the point that we “unfollow” or “unfriend” or “unlike” someone because they dared to contradict our point of view. Sad that even the brightest seem rarely able to think objectively.  I’m not sure yet whether I will do any research into this area but I find it a disturbing phenomenon at global scale vice small groups arguing face-to-face in coffee shops.

Jabulani Does CIC

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