Archive for August, 2010

American Film: Myth and Reality

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

In a world filled with movie stars and red carpets, the dirty, seedy money of Hollywood flows unchecked. After years of big name assassins murdering the work of scholars throughout the country or producers blackmailing historians into bitter silence, a group of young students have risen up from the other side of the mainland US. This is a group hell-bent on giving directors the finger, this is a group willing to dissecting the mutated demons of “Historically accurate films”, This is the University of Mary Washington’s US History in Film Course, a mindbending thriller that will send chills down your spine.

Critics claim, “This film is more frightening than a bad lit review!”

“It sings of some lost concept of ‘Digital Humanities’.”

“It bashes Disney so bad, that I can never look at Pocahontas or even the Little Mermaid the same.”

Test Post Provided by Joe Calpin, UMW blogs, and of course Viewers like you!

Beginning Semester (1/2)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

At first beginning as a stream of conscious writing for tonight, I scrapped what little I rambled and considered, in a list, what I really wanted to say. I happened to steal that method from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in order to break whatever I want to say down to a simple level, a welcome to a new semester and a series of questions about projects and moving forward. Today at the University of Mary Washington we had our first day of classes, a rather stressful and hectic time for both students and professors. Unfortunately, this has been the worse (or at least roughest) start I have yet to encounter since starting here in Fall of 2007. As a history major, it has been next to impossible to find classes that will move me closer to completing my degree in a timely fashion. I did at least sit in on many other classes that I might not otherwise have seen had I settled all of my classes. I cannot blame anyone for the frustrations I am experiencing, we have an increasingly large number of history majors as compared to our current staff of history professors, who are already overworked as it is. Despite a number of setbacks, I am following a recommendation from one professor to keep trying for what I want, which will of course be worth all of the trouble and headaches.

I’ve already hit the main issues with this semester, overfilled classes and no wiggle room for students. There is no need to rehash any other issues, because matters such as being overworked or overwhelmed really don’t start on day 1, much more of a day 2 problem. It’s safe to say that this semester, from an administrative standpoint has already been painful.

But rather than dwell on an issue that I have no control over, I would rather like to focus on more interesting questions, namely how to schedule my side work and projects, absorb materials and gain understanding of foundational skills. I list side work, because I have opted to take less than a full load of credits to pursue my own interests that the school is not able to accommodate at this time.

My workload this semester falls into the category of coursework, stand-alone language training and club work. The main focus of course should be the actual coursework for the semester, yet it is hard for me to set aside my language training for normal classes. As I have been reading through other language blogs, I am no longer convinced of language being akin to riding a bike. Especially in the case of Chinese, use it or lose it. Yet I have noticed, as it is already nearing quarter past eleven, the day only has so many hours. Unlike last year, I am no longer actively leading clubs, and instead use that time to make clubs a relating hobby or find a way, like with the radio station, to link it to my language studies.

Thinking Goals

Over the summer, I read Adler Mortimer’s How to Read a Book. I am still in the process of self-training but feel I have come a long way in understanding how to further develop reading skills. The author makes an interesting observation in the differences between reading to absorb information and reading for the explicit purpose of enhancing knowledge. Now according to him, and I find his list quite narrow, very few books honestly qualify for the reading to enrich understanding. Yet the distinctions set forth in the book caused me to realize I have set the bar far too low for my classes. It seems as if the class is a place to finish the work and call it a day without the material really grasping your mind or your heart.

With that in mind, I want to truly engage material in a way that I just haven’t done prior to this semester. Honestly, dig into the materials and follow what I am reading closely. This of course is a well-recommended goal but would be easily dropped at the first sign of overloaded work in the semester. You have to back it up with something a little more solid. So why not say keep an active reading journal and throw your thoughts online. If I have to write a paper on the material I am reading anyway, why not just start writing now on every bit I read. Perhaps take a bit of time and set up a nice form for articles, who is the person, what are the themes of his/her argument, how is the argument crafted? and also write out a thumbnail sketch of the article with some reflections. It sounds like an overall good, although time consuming plan. Yet it doesn’t have to be, a few paragraphs would suffice. Goal number 1 start writing out reading journal more thoroughly.

Goal 2: Dealing with side projects

I tend to be a lover of all the things that you want to do but is not quite related to your main line of work. I think that working on the projects you really love is far more beneficial and perhaps even a great break from the mundane work of a class that you are unfortunately stuck taking. For me my main side work involves continuing Chinese language studies. This unfortunately is a rather big and not so easy to pin down. Good language study takes up more time than most people would expect, but in terms of a big picture I need excellent Chinese for potential grad school, and with competition supposedly being more fierce due to bad economy, I need to be at the top of my game which means great language skills and a solid handle on proper academic writing. In my mind the coursework itself will take care of the latter. It is up to me, however, to formulate a plan to handle my Chinese. Of course that needs to be further broken down to define what sort of training is appropriate and how to approach it. Where do I find time and people to work with on my material? Frankly, I need to man up and accept that as a sideproject my training will be considered “treading water” unless I find some other method to make the training more intensive. I just won’t see the level of progress that I managed in Harbin.

The side project gets more complicated if there is more than one, yet I am trying to make projects either similar in theme or somehow weave together so I am working on two things at once. Case in point, I am putting together a radio show for the campus that is focus on Chinese music, podcasts, language and culture. It fits with everything else I am doing so why not? How can you draw your experiences together and not kill yourself with lack of sleep? This is always the big question, how do I get sleep?

A Break

This subject can be continued on for quite a while, but for now it is good to leave it here and practice the art of patience. I can always write more tomorrow.

Spaghetti Project-Urban Art

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I love to walk through downtown Fredericksburg and do a bit of window shopping. I never considered that just window shopping does not help a business to stay afloat. While showing a newly arrived freshmen the downtown area, I walked by a store that I had walked by many times before, Spaghetti Project. I noticed that in the window of the store was a sign indicating they were moving out of their currently location. After a talk with the owner, I found out that on September 11th they will be moving down to a new location in Richmond just outside of VCU. I couldn’t just let the matter sit at a nice goodbye and asked to walk inside and take some pictures. The store provides anything and everything awesome from clothing to interesting figurines. With the whole Mary Washington community returning today (Sunday) for the beginning of a new semester, I would love to see students (including myself!) go down to Spaghetti Project and say hello. Maybe there is something neat with your name on it, waiting for you to claim it, a piece of urban art that not just calls but sends you texts too. While all of us are well aware of the “broke college student” circumstance, helping a unique shop open up is awesome. The Following are some photos I took of merchandise that struck me as over the top awesome.

spaghetti project

Aren't they cute?!

I personally dig the amazing brainexplosion of interesting figurines here are some of my favorites that I found.




Being a China fan boy this and the below photo of the Monkey King are by far my favorite items lurking in Spaghetti Project. When I stumbled upon them I had to stop and gawk for the appropriate amount of time. The owner tried to bring in fresh items to the Fredericksburg area based on his own love of collecting odd, unique items that he would inevitably have to travel to New York City to get his hands on. When setting up shop, he started sharing that passion for the cool thing; the cool thing being of course that mysterious object that although has no seeming utility absolutely attracts your eye. “Now that I set up shop” he explained, “I could finally get stuff down my way without having to drive all the way up to New York all the time.” He’s bringing the good stuff down this way.

So as a finally hurrah for Spaghetti Project, I decided that a little post to attract your attention to the store was in order. Down on Caroline Street, past the Tea and Spice shop towards the Central Library, it’s a store you might pass by after seeing long rows of antique shops where you can buy back your grandma’s record player. But what we really have here is a shop, like the handful of shops like it in Fredericksburg, trying to call out to the “young blood” to check out cool stuff, see something a little different. Since, the store is moving out of Fredericksburg on September 11th, why don’t you go ahead and check it out!

Spaghetti Project can be found online on facebook as the Spaghetti Project as well as their current space on blogspot .

Small thought: written on the iPod touch

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Alright, since I really have not blogged, a far project update is in order. Actually I am in palm coast florida with my girlfriend and best friend; with the next semester starting in about two weeks, I really wanted to get some vacation time. Lucky for me my mom recently moved down to the palm coast area to get away from the rest of us crazy kids, you can tell how well that worked! Anyway, I have gotten little reading done, but I have been waking up nice and early to workout on the neighboring Flagler beach. Standing out by the water and practing my basic stance drill (基本功), I could just concentrate on something small, breathing and thinking about the position of my spine, my feet. It was and is beautiful. What I found was that I can just step back from being an academic wanna be or a bava impersonator. Rather, I allowed myself to just be a quiet bakhtinjali. I often wonder how I should proceed with my day, does one really have the power to balance being an eager and ravenous scholar and the quiet meditator? Perhaps without both you miss the point .

Alr

Start Moodling!

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I am all for shameless plugging of whatever I happen to be working on at a given point in time, and for this week DTLT sent me packing through the web to figure out what all the moodle non-sense is about. What I found was an LMS (Learning Management System) that is open source and does not give me the willies or cause me to gag. I spent this week looking through screencasts, playing with an instance of moodle, and reading a download manual. With all of that in mind here is a brief review of what I liked about moodle and how I would use it if I were one of those funky teaching types.

To begin allow me to point you to a video put out by the creators of moodle themselves which covers how awesome their LMS is over everybody else:

Now if the sweet and touching guitar music did not make you want to download this LMS right away, you have no heart! Okay, no in all actuality LMS are a company and want to package their product as the best thing on the block. With overlords of CMS LMS whatever you want to call it floating around, I can understand wanting to put out a strong impression as your first and foremost goal. However, I found that the level of documentation on the website to be quite helpful and beyond that a number of users independently putting out screencasts to help with the initiate or technophobe. A website that offered some pretty decent and straightforward tutorials was target”blank”>moodletutorials.org.

I hear that there is supposed to be a big upgrade to Moodle 2.0, but I have not had the opportunity to play with a beta so I can only speak for my experience with 1.9. I had no troubles getting my teaching website off of the ground and if you look at the site, it is pretty but at least it is up and doing what it should be. Now I would like to give you all a look at the little site I had been playing with, but unfortunately I have yet to figure out how to get guests into the site despite having selected “allow guests without a key” any number of times! I must admit to you all that I am not exactly the most technically inclined member of DTLT. I usually have to fumble my way around, but be ready for an updated post so I can give you access to all the juicy details of my imaginary class. Frankly it’s like playing house for me : P

So to give you a good breakdown on this whole moodle thing. I dig it. I like the options and features it comes with, but most of all it is about usability. I suck with setting things up, but I really managed to work my way around the interface and get a feel for it very early. I may have a few snags in creating the perfect site, but for just getting it off the ground and ready to use it is a snap. With loads of drop down menus and small question marks around any option that might seem the slightest bit confusing, the website is very easy to navigate. I have been working from a system administrator perspective, but upon seeing a whole host of helpful websites and videos it seems that most teachers and students can quickly get a feel for this LMS. As a big fan of simplistic layouts, I am very happy with how moodle lays out activities and assignments on an easy timeline on the main page of the course.

So what did I like about moodle?

I really enjoyed moodle’s glossary module, which once you turn on, gives you the option to set up course dictionaries, a main one designed by the teacher and also a secondary (or you could say weekly) glossary that can be student built. What’s even sweeter is having the autolink function, which will link to your definition of a word anytime a student comes across it on the course site. So, if I define “historigraphy” and then have it appear in a document or anywhere on the state, it gives the students a link to the dictionary page also on the site. Is it a simple tool that other LMSs might have? Yes, but I think that it is a powerful tool, especially when student made.

Example

This glossary module is particularly handy for a language class. I started looking into using the glossary to have students (imaginary ones) suggest mnemonics for a new word or phrase as well as give example sentences. Also the addition of a keywords function allows for students to select synonyms of the word which when clicked allows students to jump right to the other word’s definition. Students building their own dictionary will cause them to remember the words more distinctly as they debate or see how other students are remembering symbols and sounds. A student built dictionary is far more meaningful than a one-to-one correspondence dictionary within the text books themselves.

In terms of my foreign language example, I have found that moodle does not seem to read the Chinese characters as anything other than “special” characters. If it weren’t for playing with my iPod touch lately I would not be complaining, however when I switch my iPod’s language to Chinese, my iTunes re-categorizes all of my Chinese songs into alphabetical order despite them being written in characters. If it weren’t for that I would have a nasty unordered list of Chinese music artists.

How are other foreign language instructors in the States dealing with that?

Conclusion!

I am by no means finished with this whole moodle thing, but a post has to end somewhere. Moodle has a host of useful functions that easily will integrate with any class setting from wikis to inbuilt quizzes, and a fairly easy grading interface moodle offers a wide variety of options. It seems as if one can actually submit essays into moodle where teachers are able to grade and leave comments all in the same space. That’s sweet! But like all things in life there are obviously problems with this sort of program, but with my use only being a test run I am less than certain what those problems would be. However, they are most certainly there, because no program is perfect and each has their own specialties. For instance, Moodle’s blogging platform just doesn’t touch wordpress in style. And now since I’ve made a scene about this whole “having issues” matter; I think that something like an LMS that is an all in one package has one major flaw, it does everything, but really specializes in nothing other than managing the content. Yes, it rings of jack of all trades and master of none, but don’t get me wrong, moodle’s set up gets a big thumbs up from me.