Explorable explanations is a brilliant idea. How could we do this in the humanities?
Essentially, the Guardian article “Why there’s no such thing as a gifted child’ argues that what we think children are “good at” and what they later prove to be “good at” don’t necessarily coincide. A lot of the individuals we now label “genius” were late bloomers, the most famous example from the twentieth-century is … Albert Einstein.
The following are offered as actions to take to offset attention problems:
- Externalize important information at key points of
- Externalize time and time periods related to tasks
and important deadlines
- Break up lengthy tasks or ones spanning long
periods of time into many small steps
- Externalize sources of motivation
- Externalize mental problem-solving
- Replenish the SR Resource Pool (Willpower)
Sometimes it’s hard to explain the notion of simplicity in science as a principle for explaining things. Then someone sends you a link, and you have a visualization of the difference between trying to explain the solar system being geocentric, very complicated, and the solar system being heliocentric, very simple.
JSTOR’s [Research Basics] “contains 3 modules. Each module has 3 lessons. Lessons are made up of video lectures followed by practice activities. After completing all 3 lessons in a module, students may take a quiz, get feedback and a score, and earn a badge on completion of the module.”
If you’re student of mine, do it.
[Research Basics]: http://researchbasics.jstor.org
I am working on a “girl games camp” as a possible summer activity. I was drawn to it both because I am interested in coding myself and I want to get my own child interested in coding and because I have been disappointed by the relative indifference her school has had in engaging girls in general on the topic of coding.
So I can complain or I can do something. I choose *do*.
For those interested, I had planned a larger project that included each person building their own Raspberry Pi computer and then loading it with a Linux distro and working with plain text files, but, as you might have guessed, that seemed a little overly ambitious as well as, in some fashion, putting the cart before the horse. I want to get participants interested in coding, not necessarily getting them coding — and I think setting someone the task of editing config files in Linux is the wrong place to start. (I know, I once tried to start that way myself.)
The overall idea for this camp/experience is to get participants to design and develop their own text adventure game. I confess I am inspired by a wide range of recent games that, it seems to me, don’t stray too far from the early text-only games but use either very simple graphics, like Kentucky Route Zero, or use audio for immersion. I am especially blown away by the live-action game, [Door in the Dark], which hoods participants who then walk through, quite literally, a sound stage.
One of the things I would like to be foundational to the experience is to have participants working on the same file at the same time — the *wow* factor here is pretty intense and I think it really emphasizes the power of collaboration. The simplest approach seems to be [Stypi]. It looks like I could sign up and then simply provide a URL for participants to use. There’s also FlooBits, but they appear only to offer public spaces with the free plan, and while I’m fairly certain that would be just fine, I don’t know that I want to subject these particular participants to any externalities.
What I want them working on, of course, is code for a text adventure game. Everyone seems to agree that [Inform] is the way to go, which describes itself thusly: “Inform is a design system for interactive fiction based on natural language. It is a radical reinvention of the way interactive fiction is designed, guided by contemporary work in semantics and by the practical experience of some of the world’s best-known writers of IF.” So, not text adventure but interactive fiction.
Some things I have noted for this project:
* [The Verge] has a story on some of the early interactive games on CD-ROM focusing on some runaway hits made by women developers that have been lost to the larger history of “computer/video games” — I wish I knew the proper name for this genre.
* On the topic of games, especially alternative games, Zoe Quinn has a post on BoingBoing on [Punk Games].
[Door in the Dark]: http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/23/8477893/door-into-the-dark-anagram-interactive-art-tribeca-film-festival
[The Verge]: http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/17/8436439/theresa-duncan-chop-suey-cd-rom-preservation
[Punk Games]: http://boingboing.net/2015/03/16/punk-games.html
A paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest has evaluated ten techniques for improving learning, ranging from mnemonics to highlighting and offers some conclusions. [BigThink’s coverage](http://bigthink.com/neurobonkers/assessing-the-evidence-for-the-one-thing-you-never-get-taught-in-school-how-to-learn).
I may very well be a relic, or at least a square peg in an increasingly rounded hole. What do age and shape have to do with anything? Let me first tell you a story…
This past Wednesday, in the course on American folklore I am teaching this semester, we were discussing the way that contemporary legends manage to bridge the gap between what is narrated and the moment of narration so effectively. That is, we can imagine two individuals in conversation, A and B, who having proceeded through some sequence of genres — for example, the exchange of pleasantries followed by a few bits of news, then an anecdote or two, perhaps a joke or a bit of gossip, until one of them, let’s say A, suddenly, says, “Hey, that reminds me, did you hear that….” What follows is a legend. Perhaps it is, as we were discussing on Wednesday, a version of “the boyfriend’s death” or perhaps it is a more current-event-focused legend focused on some food contamination or something of that nature. No matter.
A tells B the story using a sequence of words, the narration, that conjures up a narrated world. What is narrated, whether it ever actually happened or not, is a representation of reality, not reality itself. Even if A has just come from running into an old friend at a coffee shop, B has no access to the event except through its representation. How the gap between what happened, or is said to have happened, is crossed from the saying of what happened is what is at stake here.
In the case of many contemporary legends, we can see the bridging/crossing taking place across multiple dimensions: first, legends of this nature tend to draw people into closer proximity, creating a kind of intimacy of narration that is different from other narratives. Let’s call that pragmatic intimacy or pragmatic bridging. Second, it is quite common that the events narrated are said to have happened either to someone the narrator knows, or to someone known by a mutual friend, *or*, as is the case with other legend genres, the events narrated are said to have happened nearby or just recently. In this semantic bridging, or intimacy, any of a number of permutations are possible: close by relationship, close by location, close by time.
The combined effect of pragmatic and semantic bridging is, of course, the erasure of the gap between the real world, the world in which the story is told, and the tale, or the world told or narrated. Such moments occur regularly in oral discourse, which is an amazing thing when you think about it, and their frequent occurrence plays some role, I believe, in the grip that legends can have on us: we are so used to the invocation of storyworlds as reality in everyday speech that we hardly notice a different kind of shift.
It was this careful distinction between reality and the representation of reality that momentarily confused my students. No one said anything, but every teacher or public speaker reading this knows the slight change in facial expressions that cue you to stop for a moment, to digress from the topic at hand into something that needs fleshing out.
And so I found myself given a mini-lecture on the nature of realism, how standards for realistic representation change over time, such that when we look at old movies, read older novels, or even watch television programming from two generations ago, we wonder how the consumers of those fictions could have ever found them believable. To us, they look at least dated if not downright “hokey.” Silly people of a previous time. What fools they were! Why would you think that a static camera with constant medium shots was at all realistic? Then again, I wonder what folks from previous eras would make of the constant motion of today’s cameras.
I’m happy to say that the mini-lecture on realism got them thinking, and allowed us to have the fuller conversation about legends that I wanted us to have. But, in looking back on the moment, I realized that that teachable moment was, to some degree, a function of the size of the class. English 432: American folklore is, by my university’s standards, under-enrolled with 12 or so students in it. (I had to make an argument to the administration that it would be really wrong for one of the two folklorists in the department not to be teaching a folklore course.) But with that many students, not only do I feel comfortable leaving aside the day’s agenda, I am driven to do so by looking at their faces. And with that number of students, I have already gotten to know their faces. With double that number, the course’s preferred enrollment, I know students less well. I read them less well. I teach them less well. (I can still teach them: it just won’t be as well fitted.)
I got tremendous kudos for the way I teach freshman honors English, but it was a class that I had to leave behind because our department head at the time, like our current dean, preferred quantity to quality.
And that is what makes me a relic. I am sorry for my students, who while they attend a regional public university, still hope for a quality education. I want them to know that many of their faculty still hope to give them such an education. But, increasingly, the odds are, ironically, stacked.
Steven Conn has stirred up quite conversation over at the _Chronicle of Higher Education_ with [“The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher”][sc]. I am sympathetic to his sense that we are awash in rubrics, but I think many of the commenters are correct that it is not an untoward moment in education when students are better aware of the criteria by which they will be judged. (If only life itself were like that, eh?) There is hope, I guess, that the pendulum will swing at some point toward a moderate middle within which students and teachers can have both more freedom to play but also have a sense of clarity about any grading coming out of the interaction.
It is, I should note, the tendency toward driving out play that rubrics, and their all too common accompanists, standardized testing, to which I object. Regular readers will know that I have complained before about the nature of education at my daughter’s school, which is so driven by students achieving certain competencies by a certain date in the spring semester that there seems like there is less room for fun than one might hope in what is considered a gifted and talented environment — hers is not a G&T school per se, but rather a private school that, I think, claims to be steeped in G&T approaches and ideas. (I can’t say for sure because the more I get to know about educational theories and rhetorics, the less I understand them.)
I don’t have much more to say on the subject, except to make note of a side comment by one of the commenters to Conn’s post. It got a hearty, “Tell it!” from me:
> Moreover, many students bring pre and misconceptions about their classes with them: eg: reading literature is an act of decoding or that science gives them right answers.