Archive for July, 2010

Slow Progress: The People Who Correct My Approach

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

As an intrepid, young DTLT-er, and not to mention a slight overachiever, I tend to take on far too much to chew in terms of projects. The fact is that DTLT is filled with people like Jim Groom, Martha Burtis and of course Andy Rush who are constantly blogging and making an impact on the web. So, I have to admit it is a lot of pressure to be the young upstart without having Serena Epstein like skills and drive. To counter all of the above, I recently began exploring coding with an emphasis on the very basics for HTML and then digging around php. In essence, I attempted to massively accumulate whatever knowledge I could to feel useful. Especially with having a full-fledged computer science major as a roommate, I definitely feel under equipped to do instructional technology. After a very thorough talk with Jim Groom about the nature of WordPress and everything that goes on behind what the visitor to the blog sees, I realized that the sort of project I embarked on is nothing short of a lifetime work that does not get started in finished even within the same month.

From the very beginning I had the wrong premise about what I needed to do. On my first week into this matter, Professor Zach Whalen mentioned that I’m a big fan of learning as you go (with software especially), so I’d probably choose a “real” project, if it were me. (personal comm) Well obviously, I should have listened to that advice and thought about how the available technology of web 2.0 could suit my own learning needs, but instead I became increasingly fixated on just mastering the tech out there.

Now, another word of advice came in the form of an older article by a man I still consider a great mentor, Gardner Campbell. He discusses the nature of the digital medium that is a matter of much discussion in academic circles as the lines, although not clearly drawn, at least tends to divide academics; Gardner Campbell’s main focus is the nature and benefits of web 2.0 for the university and students. At this point I must lift a few quotes from his article linked above. This statement particularly captured and spurred me:

Students with this kind of digital fluency will be well-prepared for creative and responsible leadership in the post-Gutenberg age. Without such fluency, students cannot compete economically or intellectually, and the astonishing promise of the digital medium will never be fully realized.

I read this line a few times over and considered my own status of, well frankly not having digital fluency. In my opinion, using wordpress, being plugged into twitter and other social networks does not make for digital fluency. In reality I think that having some deeper sense of technical skills is what makes for digital fluency. I dashed into a week or two of slow progress studying code and trying to even figure out what I wanted to do with that training. I might have been gaining fluency in something, but as I began to feel my own willingness to look through training manuals diminish, I had a suspicion that I approached this problem from a very wrong angle. I became a fanatic for instantly mastering or reaching the fluency level, and as I heard about DTLT members’ projects or saw the amazing work and thought processes over at Cog Dog’s space I’ll admit I felt inadequate. I worked harder and harder until finally I broke down to have a chat with the Bava. He surprisingly hashed out WordPress’s from a nuts and bolts perspective. Now I am staring at a white board filled with airs and diagrams tracing out how a wordpress blog works once put onto a server and uses LAMP. At the end of his lecture (late chat?) he simply asked “what are you trying to do?” At that point I could only respond that I had no idea. Well, that is hardly a good situation. I started to explain that I wanted to be well-equipped and helpful in the office. However, Martha Burtis made a solid point, you gain the skills as you need them. And in all reality the needs should shape what technology that you use and your grasp on it. There are far too many tools available to use that I am skeptical that any one person could make use of even the larger majority of them. Look at a list on lynda.com, you’ll find that there is a long list of software that one could learn. How does one sift through all that? Well, my previous approach was to ignore the volume and keep learning everything, but I do not have that sort of time, and that sort of method is highly impractical. As I listened to Martha explain how she acquired her mad skillz, I was reminded of Gardner Campbell’s article again:

Just as the real computing revolution didn’t happen until the computer became truly personal, the real IT revolution in teaching and learning won’t happen until each student builds a personal cyberinfrastructure that is as thoughtfully, rigorously, and expressively composed as an excellent essay or an ingenious experiment. This vision goes beyond the “personal learning environment” in that it asks students to think about the web at the level of the server, with the tools and affordances that such an environment prompts and provides.

Forgive a poor interpretation, but I severed the IT revolution from the teaching and learning. Sectioning off technological advancements from my own personal interests, I created a chore rather than an indepth and possibly meaningful change in the way I develop as a student. I agree that getting a solid handle on the environments we are using is a crucial element, however becoming so obsessed with it forgets that these are tools for communication and development of ideas. Campbell refers to this movement as a moment in time labeled “post-Gutenberg age”, and this is the key question, why was the Gutenberg printing press key, not because of technology for its own sake, but how one could promulgate ideas. So, while now I am taking it easy, I vigorously learn tools that are attached to what ever it is I want to do and what piques my intellectual curiosity.

Projects Galore

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

This week’s projects have had no really progress of which to speak, but at the very least I felt an update appropriate. My main goals for this week have been moving into my apartment with roommate Matt Keaton and getting myself further orientated with a range of technologies. So here is the general overview of the week:

  1. The apartment is getting more and more unpacked but still in rough shape
  2. Still clueless in HTML
  3. Working with audacity is now a breeze (with some kinks).
  4. Doing some research on recording and Skype
  5. What in the World is all this CMS whats it and how are they different?

The HTML has been a huge challenge for me, not because it is particularly to learntags but rather knowing what I need to know in order to get what I want done. As I debated over this past week on how to proceed with learning some basic coding languages, Professor Whalen mentioned that it is best to have a “real” project and build skills as you progress or hit barriers in your work. For me, learning in this fashion is a bit undirected, and I need a foundation or framework to know what I am looking at and have a sense of what I need. It seems that the skills I need involve HTML、PHP and MySQL. With those three I ought be able to dig around into WordPress and Drupal with only the normal setbacks and swearing at the computer screen when code explodes. As umwblogs is going to get hooked up with the awesomeness of WordPress 3 I want to be prepared to take part in as Jim Groomwould say “re-imagining the framework of the system.” Or something like this? Either way, the point is to get myself well equipped as an active member and not just using WYSIWYG! What I really need is some guidance on how I should be learning all of this material. Right now I cannot even quite imagine how my projects could shape on a widespread publishing platform. Submit thoughts!

This week (granted this week isn’t over yet!)I have devoted the majority of my time working with Dr. Kennedy’s students on their final communication projects. I mostly just keep an eye on equipment or help look at some of their editing work, but like most small projects, my student aid skills had some severe holes. I was entirely uneducated on how to use audacity. Frankly, it’s silly because audacity is awesome and easy to use. I found that a little bit of research and just playing with the program was enough to get acquainted with the program and how the program could meet the students’ needs. Since starting at DTLT I have not had a lot of opportunities to work directly with students on recording projects, but I hope to have some more of that type of work, especially with librivox’s project still in progress.

Helping other students record has recently sparked my interest in creating an audio blog for Chinese recordings, I am still not sure how to accomplish that task. I would need a place to store the files for my blog to grab. As I started fiddling with audacity, I realized that even using something like garageband would suit me well enough. What I really need is a solid microphone, because just using the built-in/headset-mic combo does not cut it for my tastes. For the purposes of language training, conversations with native speakers should be an important aspect of the journey to language mastery (but in all reality that is a cover word for competency). Thus, I started research recording my skype conversations with previous Chinese roommates and friends. I found that the crew for the amazing program headed by Dan Cohen,Digital Campus, had some great suggestions for at least getting started with this project. I downloaded a demo copy of a skype call recorder for the mac. I’ve done a conversation or two with the program, but it won’t be until tomorrow that I can start really cranking out some good work with New Media specialist Andy Rush.

Finally, I have a meeting with Jim Groom tomorrow on WordPress 3 and hopefully gain a fundamental understanding of how to start screwing around with wordpress templates, plug-ins and making the whole thing more customizable. But, Drupal is still out there waiting for me to make use of it. Your selection of CMS (if WordPress can qualify as one) really depends on what sort of content you are trying to connect together. So, who knows maybe a good brainstorm on projects is the next course of action. How do you internet literati work all this out?

While I’ve Been Gone!

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Since I left for China back in February I cut myself off from the internet and, save for a few skype calls with my mom and girlfriend, kept my computer use to an absolute minimum. While that really benefited my language learning, I have missed big developments in the tech world and have also found I am not satisfied with a WYSIWYG approach to writing posts and working the web around me. As it has been forever since I have blogged, I will be taking some time to get back into the writer’s seat.

Since my graduation from My CET 哈尔滨 Program I have been pondering over different projects to start publishing. I unfortunately am still in the planning and brainstorming stages, but hopefully I can start putting up some concepts for others to pick apart and critique.

Now while all of that is nice, I found that Word Press came out with a major upgrade while I was gone, namely Word Press 3. The big features for this upgrade is the addition of custom posts and custom taxonomies. To me, and perhaps I am mistaken, wordpress is moving away from pure blogging to developing a solid CMS. No longer are we restricted to the division of posts and pages or the markups of tags and categories, an awesome move. However WordPress 3 does not come out of the box ready for this type of work. First you have to dig into the default template (the snazzy twenty ten) to start adding functions. Cogdog does an amazing job at providing step-by-step instructions to bringing out the full potential of a much more powerful wordpress blog. Unfortunately, being a layman in the blog world, I felt a little bit overwhelmed looking at the coding to add all sorts of customization. I am sure that in no time there will just be a quick plug-in to take care of all the extra work.

But this got me thinking…

Why aren’t I really diving into the messy world of ripping open templates and playing with WordPress? I’m just not satisfied with using a template or settling with the out of the box product. As a student aide of DTLT, my own work philosophy should reflect the sort of edgy and groundbreaking work of my colleagues.

So I’ve started at the very basics like I should have years ago and am working with HTML. I say all of this rather reluctantly since I feel like I should be embarrassed for starting HTML so late in the game. Well, everyone starts somewhere, and I can’t really complain. So my main resources are O’Reilly’s HTML Definitive Guide and the A W3 School’s Chinese HTML guide. So after a little bit of readings I am finally more comfortable with doing basic work like adding my own links and hand writing a few things here and there. What’s even better about this process is I am learning it in Chinese. It’s nice knowing that 浏览器 is browser and that 链接 is the word of link. If nothing else it is fun knowing that my language has reached a level that I can learn slightly more difficult information.

Aside from my HTML work, I’ve been looking at lynda.com to start doing some audio and visual work with Andy Rush. What I am really gearing up for is a project involving Chinese recordings to work on those terribly monsters we language learners know as tones!

Lastly! Since this is my first week back at the illustrious DTLT office I can’t help but drop a line about our recent set of talks about the iPhone debacle. In our office, I sit right next to New Media guru Andy Rush and have been consistently pestering him about Apple’s recent upsets with their iPhone 4. While I don’t have the cash to get a hold of a defunct product, our talks about the company’s response to the problem have been very stimulating. You can check out some of our topics over at the Rush Headquarters.

Let’s see if I can’t get myself back on the blogger boat and come up to the forefront on this whole educational technology thing.