Occasional Thoughts on Educational Technology and Life by Judy Brophy

Monday, December 20, 2010

Geocaching for Fun

Geocaching is searching for a hidden object with the help of a GPS device.  You use the GPS device, plus any hints to find the approximate location. Then you search for the treasure box. 

My husband and I have friends that do it so a few months ago we asked to tag along when they went on a geocache.  We drove about 3 miles from home to a natural area which I had never noticed before.  The searching was fun. The finding , opening a box in the woods full of funny little trinkets, was even more fun.

But the best part is finding places that you would never ever go to unless “sent” by the geocache coordinates.  We have found paths in town forests, town recreation areas,  We started looking for caches around bodies of water nearby and found several ponds on which we could kayak.  It’s fun to do with friends or family.  Caches can be found at the end of a strenuous hike or easy stroll.  It satisfies the goal-oriented and the less purposeful.

When I search and find a geocache I am a kid again, taking shortcuts around town through people’s back yards.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Does Your Avatar Say About You?

Seems like we are constantly being asked to "personalize" applications we use by adding a picture that either is you or stands for you, your avatar. 

While you might just take the nearest image at hand,  my guess is that folks put some thought into the image they choose. They are making a statement. And what does that statement say?

Here are some things I've noticed about different types of avatars and what they say to me, at least. (These are all from Twitter, though I think you see the same types of avatars in Facebook.)

Posed portrait
Is this an artist? A model? Someone with too much time on their hands?
Digital image
I distrust this automaton. Is there a soul here?

Parts of faces once looked innovative but is now one of the older tricks in the book
This is a shy person, possibly artistic.
I am cool
I’m new here... or possibly just lazy?
Way too sexy for prime time
Cheesy. Having trouble taking what you say seriously.
Couple shot
A case of confused identity? Who's speaking here?
Too much detail
This is not the place for a mural. Don't try to fit too much in. Says to me you have trouble making decisions.
Lousy pix
Would you buy a used car from this man?  
I’m simple? I work with kids?

Sepia or B/W
Sepia or black and white photos stand out in the crowd. Shows independent thinking.

How about the picture that is obviously better looking than the person? I share no examples but you know who you are.

If your picture changes a lot you look indecisive.

People who don't care for their faces use their backs. 
Sometimes you just have a great face. Use it. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Giotto's Genius

I first became aware of Giotto in Santa Croce, Florence. Beauty and compassion shown out of his work like light. When I saw his much larger work, the frescos in Assisi’s upper church, I was overwhelmed with their size, beauty and humanity.

Particularly touching was the panel “Renunciation of Worldly Goods”, in which Francis stands clothed only in a sheet that a bishop-figure has wrapped around him. An older man holds a heap of fancy clothing. That man was Francis’ father and he was a cloth merchant. Giotto captured, along with the illumined Francis, the look on the face of Francis’ father, the consternation, anguish, the “where did I go wrong?” look of a parent that makes us realize suddenly that both to be a parent and to be related to a saint is not easy. It sets the exalted act in a more complex human context.

So when I saw a new book, Giotto’s O by Andrew Ladis, I grabbed it. Giotto’s O is the story of the Arena Chapel in Padua Italy which Giotto painted between 1305 and 1307. He painted every inch of the interior and because it’s dedicated to Mary, it is overwhelmingly blue.

The book is part description, part explication and part meditation. There are 64 panels telling Christ’s and Mary’s story and arranged in a way that creates a whole, a complete circle.

Ladis shows that there was complex planning behind the choice of content and the ordering of the murals.

In one paired set, the left hand mural shows Judas selling Jesus, while the right shows The Visitation, Elizabeth welcoming Mary. Depictions of the visitation are often most tender and moving. I love them because they are so wholly female, 2 pregnant women greeting, one older and one younger, both

unaccountably with child. In few scenes from the bible are all the main characters women, so it touches me in a personal way. The scene always has to me echoes of Mary being sent away to her cousins to be less of an embarrassment at home. Elizabeth welcomes her as an equal, another woman whose body is being taken over by natural forces.

To compare this scene with Judas’ betrayal is startling.

“To my knowledge, this is the only instance in Italian art where they are,” says Ladis. And there is no doubt that they are being compared. The figures in both panels are in mirror image, the colors used are the same. The embraces that Judas is receiving from a man and the devil show his undoing, his betrayal. The embrace of the two women shows an outpouring of love and concern for the other’s welfare. It seems the two panels show the best and worst that humans are capable of. For the rest of the meaning I will have to live with it for a while and see.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Birth of a Blog - Colleague Helping Colleague

Jim Glading, teacher in the Intensive English Program at Southern NH University, was at a staff meeting recently. The faculty were sharing what worked and what didn’t in their classes. Energy was high and Jim was loving it. But he stopped the discussion long enough to comment:

“We need to be able to do this all the time, not just at faculty meetings.”

From this comment and realization, rose, a week later the IEP Teacher’s Blog, whose tagline is “an interactive repository for SNHU ESL teachers to share tips, tricks, and news.”

It was not a terribly difficult process to set up a web space in which to interact. Once Jim was convinced that’s what they needed the process went like this.

Jim researched various blog-type software that he might use. He wanted something that would be easy for faculty to post to and easy for him to administer. He tried setting up a page in each one to see how easy it was.

• Wordpress was too complex, with an unfriendly author interface.

• Wikispaces had too many ads in the free version and was really more than he needed.

• Tumblr, which looked so easy, turned out to be incomprehensible.

• Google’s Blogger turned out to be just right. Enough functions (like being able to be notified when a post appears) but easy to post to. You can even mail in posts.

With his Blogger account set up, he created a “workspace blog” in which to try things, a “live” version at http://iepteachers.blogspot.com/ He made a few entries of his own and then sent invitations to all the faculty log in and post something.

It’s really easy to make an entry to a blog

So far a handful of faculty have posted ideas, recommendations and comments. The question now is, how to get more interaction? How to make it a living resource? Any comments you have about how to do that would be appreciated.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Choices and Learning

The pace of change has made learning content/facts not very useful as an educational goal. Students, indeed people, need to become life time learners to get along in the world. How do we as educators nurture that ability to learn?

I offer two suggestions:

• By asking students to make distinctions where none were before.
• By having students create something

When students draw distinctions, the distinctions are necessarily relevant to themselves. Ellen Langer’s* research has shown that the more students draw distinctions the more involved they are in a subject and the more that they like it. Creating your own perspective makes you aware of differing perspectives. These are all skills that are sorely needed on the planet right now.

Create something of your own is an entirely involving activity. It is learning at a high level. You learn about the subject, of course. If it is a group activity, you learn about other people and how to work with them. And you learn about yourself, how you think and how you feel about the world.

When students make choices they learn. Increase the choices they must make and you increase learning.

Langer, Ellen, The Power of Mindful Learning, Addison Wesley, 1997. http://bit.ly/craz6x

Monday, February 22, 2010

Google Docs is Taking Over My Life!

At work I am helping people use Google docs for collaborating and, more lately, for file transfer.

I log into my email and find that the web master of my church is urging members who send large files (like me, who publishes the newsletter) to use Google Docs.

Phone rings. My husband is putting his curriculum materials up on Google docs so he will have access to them all over the house, at all 4 computers and at work. Help!

Monday, January 25, 2010

When did the Play Triangle Disappear?

I was recently trying to create a graphic that meant "video" and went to YouTube to get a screen shot of the greyed out screen with ugly play triangle embedded in the middle.
Imagine my surprise when I couldn't find one. They all seem to be gone. The most I could find was a discrete blue arrow in the lower left corner.

The "go arrow" used to mean "this is a video, click here to view." Now everything is assumed to be a video. It is evidence for Mashable's predictions for what the web will look like in the near future (http://tinyurl.com/ybpl5jf)
1. Accessible anywhere.
2. Not focused on the computer.
3. Media-centric (text will become "minor component of our web experience.")
4. Largest area will be social media.
The "near future" is here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wiki/Blog bottleneck

Many teachers would like to use blogs and wikis in their classes. They understand that the more students write, and share what they write with an audience, the better. There are many many ways to do this, lots of free software out there. For the intrepid that just choose one (they all have their advantages and disadvantages) the inevitable bottleneck is the time and complexity of setting up and administering of these accounts.

Setting up individual wiki pages and giving each student access, along with the teacher takes time. If you’re using Google applications you need to gather the google account signons of each student. Most applications require that you enter an email address of some kind to give student’s access. Need I say that this kind of “clerical” work is not what most faculty will take on, even with the carrot of a useful class tool?

What we need is a quick and easy way to gather student emails and have them available for pasting into whatever application we want to use. Solving that issue would hugely increase use of these technologies.