of comprehension, context and compassion

The great Jane Secker published a list of student views of information literacy earlier today:

Of course they’re not just any students. They’re library and information science students, and as such are developing an understanding of info lit at a different level from most, as something to teach, to advocate for, to guide their practice. So it’s interesting to see what they have to say.

I’ve long taken issue with the way info lit is framed. That’s something I’ve talked about at OpenEd. I think my profession has tended to define it down, oversimplify it, so we can do our one-shot instruction sessions and crudely assess them and pretend we’re successful. While that does help students complete their assignments successfully, and perhaps enhance their learning along the way, it doesn’t go so far in preparing them for life or lifelong learning.

I see that narrow view of info lit well represented in the list. It is encultured in us. But there are hints of something larger as well.

Comprehend information and its context.

It’s a deceptively simple phrase. Comprehension is not a yes/no thing. We can understand information at many different levels, deeply to superficially. And context is not a singular thing. Information derives meaning not just from its context within a document, but also from who delivers it, how, when and where, and a host of other social, cultural, political and economic considerations. This makes me think of those criticisms of the CRAAP test, where people assert or assume that context isn’t part of it.

Why need info. Why heed info

I like the poetry in this one. Again, it hides its depth, as it implies a critical examination of context, relevance and authority.

Empowering people with the skills to search for information / knowledge

Perhaps this illustrates the crux of the issue. The “skills to search” can be a relatively simple ability to use an interface. “information” likewise can be interpreted simply, as in something that fits the criteria specified for an undergrad research paper. What really matters is in the bookends – empowering people to build their knowledge. I see that as learning how to learn, to engage in informed learning.

It matters because information is necessary for knowledge and compassion and all the things.”

Yes, all the things that we need to be free and human in today’s world. This was the problem with the old ACRL standards. They envisioned info lit as what you need to get through a college research paper. That’s one thing, or maybe some things, but hardly all, and in no way related to compassion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen compassion listed as an info lit outcome. Is it written out because it’s like understanding – too hard to measure, and therefore not worth considering? Is it written out because we don’t value it? Or vice versa? But it is vital and necessary, especially in today’s world, if we are to live and grow as free people. Including it was a brilliant insight.

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“It’s the end of the world.”

I have been seeing information on Twitter that someone is plotting the end of the world, as well as the end of ds106. It occurred to me that this is just the type of thing that requires superhero involvement. Even supervillains should want to stop this from happening, because they need someplace to do their villainry.

But it also gave me an idea for a mashup of sorts. There are a few songs that talk about The End, or the End of the World. I thought of a few, and asked my better half for input as well. It was a straightforward process to find the songs. I imported each one into Audacity, then copied out the sample I wanted, then went to the next one. I tried to make the transitions work, with slight overlaps in some cases, aligning beats, and adjusting amplification, but it’s still a bit crude. I also stuck in a bit from ELP’s From the Beginning so that it could close on a hopeful note. I exported it as an mp3 anyway. Then I went to iMovie and imported it and the The End 106 video. The audio was twice as long as the video, so I found the speed adjustment in iMovie to slow it down. I used the title function to add in key parts of the lyrics, and got those more or less aligned. It needed something else, so I decided to add “The End” as text. I went to Da Font and found there’s actually a font called The End so naturally I had to use it.

So here’s what I made:

The audio samples are from:
The End, by the Doors
Waiting for the End of the World, by Elvis Costello
It’s the End of the World As We Know It, by REM
Skyfall, by Adele
We are the Champions, by Queen
The End, by the Beatles
From the Beginning, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer

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Ergot sum

The setting: 1960s Boston, the US capital of conservative Catholicism. The Catholic Church had made the decision to change the language of the Mass to the vernacular, so in America it was changing from Latin to English. This was rather controversial, so to pave the transition the first English mass was going to be said in Boston, and since the Pope was not well enough to travel, he personally blessed several thousand communion wafers for the event and Fr. George Sedgewick bring them to Boston. Sedgewick was murdered upon arrival at Logan Airport and the hosts were stolen. A plot was underway to dose the hosts with LSD and cause a major Sunday morning freak-out.

That’s part of the story of Bag Men, a crime novel by Mark Costello, originally published in 1997 under the pseudonym of John Flood. I thought that LSD caper was a crime worthy of the Joker. Unfortunately it’s only a minor part of the book, coming up in the final chapters. It’s still a good book in the genre of cops, corruption and criminals. I thought I should reread it before getting into Saint Peter’s Snow, which also deals with feeding hallucinogens to the masses, and is planned as a follow-up to our discussion of The Twenty Days of Turin.

This idea of town-wide tripping has some historical references: Some theorize that it was behind the Salem witch trials and a Dark Age death rave.

So that’s what I’m taking into the book. Let’s see what I get out of it.

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Adventures in translation

This morning I found this movie poster in my Tumblr feed. I wouldn’t exactly call it minimalism, but it is a close relative. I like the simplicity, the directness, the symmetry and the subtle use of texture in the cap. Intrigued, I looked into the movie. Roma a mano armata (Italian for Rome Armed to the Teeth) is an Italian poliziottesco from the mid 70s starring Maurizio Merli (Italian for Chuck Norris). I found a trailer on Youtube. While it’s not the kind of trailer where you really need to know the language, I thought I’d try to get translated subtitles anyway. I turned on the closed captioning and activated the auto-translate function. This may or may not be better than nothing. It listens to the sounds and tries to make it into words, but it can’t differentiate among speech, sounds effects, ambient noise and background music. And then it tries to translate those words from Italian into English, which adds to the potential for error. So you get these unintentionally humorous moments where gunshot sounds translate as “Welcome” and “Good morning.”

Since I thought that was kind of funny, I tried to capture it. I downloaded the video, but that didn’t bring the captions, which didn’t surprise me. I used Quicktime to capture a screen recording of the captioned video. This didn’t record the sound, but I could use Audacity to import the previously downloaded video and convert it to MP3, and then put that together with the screen recording in iMovie. That may sound like a lot, but actually the most time consuming part was waiting for iMovie to open.

If I had had the presence of mind to check IMBD in the first place, I would have found that it had a different title in the US. That trailer is on Youtube as well.  But then I would have missed all the fun.

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“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing…”

They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.
― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

I was testing out Youtube Live the other week, looking to see what had changed from the Hangouts on Air that we used to use to record video chats for ds106. I noticed something surprising in my video list: the Blood Meridian discussion Jim and I did had been viewed over 800 times.

This was shocking because almost all of my viewership is in the single digits, unless it’s something for ds106 where I might get two dozen views. Jim blogged about the discussion which certainly raised the visibility of it, but still, it seems a crazy number of views.

My guess is that people google for information on the book for lit classes, and our video comes up. It’s a top ten result when I look up “blood meridian discussion,” which I find hard to accept. Maybe students were trying to get around reading it, or maybe they wanted help in understanding it. Maybe they’re looking for ideas for essays and discussions of their own. Maybe, hopefully, my meager attempts as being open helped a few people out. I hope no one got an F because of us.

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Thoughts on copyright

So here’s a video in which I prattle on about copyright and fair use. I thought about opening with a mashup of No Expectations chords and Houses of the Holy lyrics, but I realized that a) I can’t sing and play at the same time, and b) I can’t sing. So much for that idea.

Coincidentally, I ran a copyright workshop for faculty Friday afternoon, using The Copyright Card Game. A few of us have been working on adapting the UK version, from Chris Morrison and Jane Secker of UK Copyright Literacy, for the US audience. We can do this because they were nice enough to release their game under a Creative Commons license. I’m interested in any input on the adaptation I can get. If anyone wants to help us work out how to incorporate the TEACH Act into it, I especially welcome the help. If anyone wants to make use of what we’ve done, that’s what it’s there for.

Addendum

In @jennymackness post on Copyright, the Public Domain, and the Commons, she brings up issues of sharing and the so-called sharing economy. Some creative professionals are taken aback by sharing, not that anyone suggests that they have to share. The term sharing economy is often just a smiley face slapped on the exploitation of people in need. I am certainly not a great example of a sharer, certainly not as good as I ought to be. But I make things and write things in the course of doing my job, and maybe other people are able to make use of these things. I get paid to do my job, so it’s no loss to me to share things I’ve made in the course of my work. Maybe there is some way to monetize those things, but that would be more work, and more importantly, work I don’t want to do. There are many like me in education, who produce artifacts in the course of their paid work which may be useful to others. If we share our work, and others are able to make use of it, we gain recognition in our communities. We may gain a sense of satisfaction that we’ve done something important and valuable for our communities. For those intangibles to meaningful, however, we need to have stable jobs that pay living wages. It’s a sharing economy that rises not from desperation, but a lack thereof.

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Reflections

by Bob McLeod, from The Incredible Hulk #339

I’ve been pretty consistently blown away by the reflections on the readings in this season of ds106. This week brings us design thoughts, something that’s usually a bit of a struggle. Too often people confuse decoration or templates with design, when both of those miss the fundamental principle of purpose. Design is not to look pretty, it’s to accomplish something. But everyone so far is picking up on Vignelli, the Italian maestro, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and his infectious enthusiasm. One of the things I really like about Hassan is the attention to detail and depth of analysis that he gives. Like Tony Zhou does with film, Hassan shows us another way of looking at sequential art, not just to get the story, but to get how the story is being told, by exposing the underlying language and how it works. That can give us both a deeper appreciation for the art, and  an understanding of how to make our own art.

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Negatives of open

Vulnerability.

Making mistakes in public.

Asking “dumb” questions.

Asking provocative questions.

In ds106, there is nothing that I can do that some of the students can’t do better. It may not be good to admit to that, because they probably want to have confidence in me. Or maybe there is an advantage to being a low bar, in that it’s less likely to intimidate anyone creatively. I don’t know. But within the framework of the course, I try to challenge people to push themselves, and to share what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and what they’re learning from it, so that we can all learn from each other. Open has risks, but there are also rewards.

But as Martin Weller pointed out, some of us are in better positions to take risks. I can afford to embarrass myself here in OpenEdMOOC, or in ds106, because I’ll still have my day job. I’ll still be in an affluent and relatively safe society, and one that looks favorably upon people who look like me.  If I learn from my mistakes in public, I’ll probably be okay. I may even be rewarded for taking a risk and showing my growth. I don’t think we give everyone that same benefit. Does open exacerbate inequality? Perhaps. I don’t know if there is any way around that though.

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From screen to page

So I had this idea to use design to turn movie scenes into comic book pages. Not exactly reverse engineering storyboards, but rather using the language of sequential art, panels and layout, as part of the storytelling. This is challenging on a number of levels. The first is a matter of selection. How much can you get on a page? How can you edit it so that there is a beginning and an end, and an end which makes you want to turn the page, so to speak? What do you need to show, and what can you leave out? That goes for dialogue as well as visuals.

The language of sequential art is a challenge in itself, because most of us probably read it rarely if ever, and use it never. So we have no idea how to make an action scene move fast, or how to build tension visually and sequentially. Done well, this could be a true five-star assignment. Or someone could be lame and just arrange six screenshots uniformly in two columns and three rows, without even trying to work with the internal dynamics among the images. That might be worth two stars, if edited effectively.

I took this scene from the 80s TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns, because I thought it was funny. Unfortunately the humor is tied up in what comes before and after, as Thor reacts and adapts to the 20th century, so it mostly gets lost. Nevertheless, it makes for a dramatic moment that can stand by itself as a page.

I used a Firefox plugin to grab the video, and used MPEG Streamclip to pull frames from it. I eliminated a lot of dialogue, particularly from the investigative reporter. The essence of the scene is Thor intimidating the reporter, who has been tracking Dr. Banner/The Hulk for an entire series before this movie, into going away. Thor claiming to be Banner makes a good end point, because there has to be a reaction, so it would lead to the next page. But again, that gets lost without the context of what came before.

I made a Photoshop image 850 x 1100 pixels, to get normal page proportions, and copied and pasted my screen grabs into it. I found some speech balloons online, and used one of them to contain the conversation fragments that I wanted to use. I had to do some fiddling with the size and placement, and really should do some more so that it flows properly. I made Thor’s speech in bold type, to suggest his dominance in the scene. I could have used color or different typefaces to add further character to the voices, but hindsight is 20/20.

I made duplicates of all the images and merged them (that’s Ctrl-E, for those who like shortcuts) onto one layer, which I then ran through the High-Pass filter and then used the Threshold image adjustment. that made it into a black and white outline image layer. On the layer below it, I boosted the saturation and used the Posterize image adjustment, and then set the blending mode on the outline layer to Darken. The idea was to make it look like illustration more than photography, so it might look more like a comic. I need to work on that technique to make it more effective. Maybe it would have been better to leave the images as they were.

Duplicating the images was important because it left me free to experiment on them without permanently ruining anything. Merging them onto a single layer allowed me to apply effects uniformly to all the shots, and to do them all at once.

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A new thing: This Week in ds106

We will be doing a more-or-less weekly best of ds106, This Week in ds106, this semester. We’ve done something like this in the past, but now I’m trying out some new things. I’m using the PressForward WordPress plugin to manage it. This has a syndication function, so I’m pulling in all the feeds from both the UMW and KSU contingents. With the plugin, editors on the site can nominate, comment on, and discuss posts from the group. There’s also a bookmarklet for nominating posts, which is what I used this week as I was going through everyone’s summaries. The way I envision this working going forward is that the members of the group of the week, like the writing group for example, will be made editors for the week. They will monitor what people do and nominate work to highlight. Over the weekend after their week, they will publish their selected posts along with a commentary or editorial post on the week, and all of this will show up on This Week in ds106. Seems simple enough to me. All it requires is a little online interaction, and the group deciding how they will produce their commentary post.

I’m doing it myself this week. I picked out four posts to highlight. The first is Ashleigh’s Oreo O’s commercial. I’m known to some as a cookie monster, and I have a thing for Oreos, so for my own good I really shouldn’t know about Oreo breakfast cereal. But Ashleigh went all out, writing a commercial, enlisting others to add their voices, and editing everything together with background music. The next is Ashley’s Eyemation – another example of extraordinary effort yielding extraordinary results. I especially like the way it combines the physical and the virtual into a hand-drawn GIF. Another piece of GIF work comes from Megan, with her To-Do List. The GIF is cool in itself, but the post is what makes this one. She goes through the different things she tried, what worked and what didn’t work so well, and what she learned from it. And that means the rest of us can learn from it too – which is what this is all about. The last one I picked was Kelsey’s rock n roll Triple Troll. I love this particular assignment. I think I’ve done variations of it a few times. This is an inspired take on it. I feel like I could picture Johnny Cash doing something like this.

So that’s my This Week in ds106. No one needs follow my format though. Put your own stamp on it. It’s your course too.

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