Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life is PVP

I think she captured it perfectly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

André, Is That You?

Image via wikipedia by Duncan Cumming.
This past semester I added the film Exit Through The Gift Shop to my sociology course. Skip the idea that the whole thing might be one big Banksy prank, it does a great job showcasing contemporary street art. Overall it fits quite nicely into a unit on counterculture. (If you haven't seen it, I recommend it, and thanks to Phill for recommending it to me.)

One of the artists shown in a film is a European graffiti artist named André. André, alternatively Monsieur A, is commonly known for a painting a long-legged cartoon character with a cross or "x" for one eye and a circle for the other. Indeed, the artists is shown spray-painting this figure all over Paris in the film. The image to the right shows the trademark face but without the legs, just so you get the idea. I re-watched the film the other day and this image stuck in my head because I had seen it before.
I first noticed this on a bike ride earlier this year, but had no idea what it was until I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop. Either André has been running around the woods in Southlake Texas (unlikely) or one of his fans has. Perhaps the film made an impression on the youth of Southlake. (It is on Netflix.)

The segment of trail where this was shot is connected to three different subdivisions, two of which are ungated, meaning anyone who knows about the trail can use it. (I know one cyclist personally who loves to slip from neighborhood to neighborhood using these trails.)
There is a smaller figure to the right of the central figure, but with the eyes reversed. On the left are what I take to be the initials "I.C.V." or maybe "I.C.U." Maybe our artist is identifying himself in the style of MBW, the central figure of the film. Who knows.

I took a 360 image of the area to give you an idea of the park where I spotted it.
We learn by copying. I wonder if anything else will show up.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MEC Presentations

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting at the Marianist Education Consortium Summer Workshop. I gave three presentations, one on social media, one on Google in the classroom, and one on securing online resources. I have already shared an edited version of the first presentation here. I decided to include some notes on the other two.

I used Prezi for the first one, and keynote for the other two (long story). I have attached PDFs of the other two talks below.

Google in the Classroom
Session Overview: Participants will receive an overview of Google tools including gmail, docs, reader, sites, blogger, calendar, groups, voice, and YouTube, with a focus on the collaborative aspects of each. This session was held in one of UD's computer labs.

A PDF of the presentation can be found here.

Pitfalls of Online Resources 
Participants will be briefed on basic security precautions when using information technology in the classroom. The session will touch on topics such as best practices for passwords and password management, online encryption, two-factor authentication, and basic malware protection. Additional consideration will be given to email security and recovery, as well as backups and general PC security.

A PDF of the presentation can be found here. (Note: The PDF is missing a link to a video I used for Stuxnet.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What the TSA Can Teach Us on Technology and Education

By the end of this summer I will have taken two trips out of state on an airplane. This means that by the end of this summer I will have been subject to the Transportation Security Administration's "enhanced pat-down" four times, once each out and back. This is of course my choice. I chose to take both trips, one for work and one for pleasure, on planes instead of driving. And I will choose to opt-out of the full body screening which is in use in every major airport in the United States. I make this last choice in particular for several reasons. I will not participate in the pretense that this act is anything other than what it is, a strip search, even if it means a public frisking. As with most things that are unpleasant, I try to take it as an opportunity to learn something. I think there are lessons here that apply to any disruptive technology, especially in the classroom.

The TSA refers to this technology as "Advanced Imaging Technology,"of which there are two types. Active millimeter wave scanning sends millimeter wave energy through the subject and analyzes the reflection. Back-scatter X-Ray machines direct low-level X-rays at the subject and analyze the reflection. The idea here is to detect objects under a person's clothes. (www.tsa.gov) This technology makes sense to a lot of people. After all, the machine allows the agents to feel more comfortable and it allows the passengers (who don't think about it) to feel the same comfort. Why wouldn't it? The passenger doesn't get touched and the agent doesn't have to do the touching.

These machines are tools, and tools are an extension of their users, at least that's what we teach our students. A person is doing X, the act, to you, using Y, the tool. Something said between students on Facebook has the same validity as something spoken between those students in a classroom. Submitting to a search via a machine is the same as submitting to a search via someone's hands. Advance Imaging Technology makes an otherwise morally reprehensible act feel somewhat less-so, it does not change the act. 

Full body scanners allow people to pretend they are not searching or being searched in the same way a keyboard lets someone pretend that words sent over the internet do not carry the same weight as words spoken aloud. The technological facilitation of the those acts does not change them. The morality behind each is the same. A student should not need to submit to abuse any more than a regular citizen should have to submit to a strip search or enhanced pat down. And a person flying on a plane is no more exotic in this day and age than a high school student with a Facebook account.  

The premise here seems to be that technology has made the act of scrip-searching every person who gets on an airplane easy to do, therefor it is okay to do. Apply that premise to any other part of life in this country. Computer technology is to the point where we might as well record every piece of correspondence sent over the internet and glance through it just in case. Should I be allowed to search the contents of a student's phone? Their email account? Their locker? Because they might be concealing something? Perhaps. But only in circumstances where I can give my reasons to a third party in authority and when that authority agrees with me. Only in circumstances where the student may provide their own arguments and objections to such a search. Not on an ad hoc or arbitrary basis and defiantly not as a matter of course.

What about innovations in the classroom? If we didn't have unilateral strip-searches before the technology to call it something else was available, was there anything we do now in education that we didn't do because it wasn't previously possible?

Posting weekly grades online comes to mind. As a history teacher, it didn't bother me. It kept me on top of my grading and it kept my students and their parents up to date on their progress. It also serves as an enabler for helicopter parents. Suppose I don't have easily gradable assignments, suppose I assign essays or other long form, harder to grade assignments? Might a weekly grades update, mandatory or not, encourage teachers to offer smaller, easily gradable assignments just so they have something to post? One of the criticisms of internet technology that often crops up is that it caters to the student's desire for immediate satisfaction. Students are losing or never build the capacity for patience, contemplation, reflection, etc. Might the frequent publishing of grades be encouraging that?

New things are now possible. We should always be asking ourselves what good is being done when we use it. And we should always consider the harm. Technology makes doing good easy. It makes doing evil easier. Ignorance and indifference are attractive salves for today's youth. May this be a reminder to teach my students to consider, to think, and to see things for what they are.