Monday, January 26, 2009

The Swell Information Super-College!

Okay, so for a rhetoric hoohaw, we're supposed to read this because the professor who wrote it will be coming by on Thursday. That's right: coming by. Face-to-face. If you didn't take the whole time to read this address to students, ah, that's too bad, but here's my summary of it:

"Hey kids, I want you to know that education is the yo-diggity and learning should be on the sweet world wide web instead of in dopey ol' classrooms! Peace out!"

That's reductive, I know, but the tone is roughly correct; the same tone that teachers used in high school when they reminded us that we should come to the activity because "there will be pizza!" In fact, we called this "the pizza effect." The pizza effect is that painful, trying-to-be-cool thing that teachers do when they assume that kids are some how cool. (We're not cool--we're mostly a little dorky.)

Not that I disagree: yes, technology is a great boon for students. I felt weird walking up to campus today without my iPod because I usually take that time to listen to the news or Classic Tales on podcasts. Two night ago, after watching Amadaus, I looked up on Wikipedia to see what about that movie had been factual. Watching YouTube was my primary research source for choreographing a Isadora Duncan-esque dance last semester. I'm always trying to get my students to use the Blackboard discussion forums. And heaven knows I have no compunction against spouting my opinions into the blogosphere through "Mary Versus the Trumpeting Legions..."

In fact, many of the things this professor suggests are just educationally-neutral: facebook and google. If you're a smart person, you use these tools like a smart person. If you're a dumb person...well, you understand. The fact is that most students aren't particularly thrilled with the tools they already have at their disposal and it's unlikely that our inticing them to use techology for education will result in any long-term changes in how they use that techology. People who like to gossip will gossip by Facebook, people who like to view pornography will view pornography by searching Google, and people who like to learn will learn through whatever technologies they're comfortable using. Using the technology itself doesn't necessarily make a person more academically-minded.

But let me reiterate what I said in the beginning of the post: this particular professor is coming to our rhetoric club to speak to us. We're not just all posting on his blog; we're not subscribing to his podcast. No matter how great technology is a tool, there's still something, probably something deeper than I understand, that makes face-to-face conversation still the most effective method of communication and education. Maybe it's the real-time interaction. Maybe it's the psychological evaluation of non-verbal cues. But there's a reason why, over thousands of years, education keeps going back to a teacher. Talking. To students. Technology can do a lot to supplement that. Still, whether it's a formal teaching situation or just chatting with friends over a lovely mega-salad (thank you, KjE), education still depends on the personal, old-fashioned method of talk.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rock Tour

Okay, so it all started with my brother Dave's Christmas present. Rocking with him and my sister-in-law, we formed "Opportunity Cost," fronted by Livvy Danger, our cover-band with an exploding panda logo. Then the break ended all too soon and the gift had to be packed up and shipped.

Then, the day I move back from break, what do I find, but my roommate, Laura, is a mega guitar-hero fan.

This whole phenomenon cropped up while I was on my mission, and it kind of passed me by for almost a year, but now, now here I am.

Yeah. I should be sleeping.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Good Day

Having gotten 6 hours of sleep thanks to roommate shinanaginisms, I soon found myself in the shower thinking, "C'mon, keep telling yourself this is going to be a good day, this is going to be a good day." I woke up on time, I told myself. I also didn't forget my movie for my lesson plan somewhere. But then, I told myself, that's not a good day, that's just not bad day. Then I got out checked my email and found a bevy of good news!

My mom found my little black journal with all my addresses and plans in it!!

I got accepted to the RSA Workshop!!

My paper got accepted the LTUE conference!!

My mentor isn't coming to class to observe me today, so I can watch the inauguration with my students!!

Ten minutes later and already, yeah, it's a good day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happiness is...

So I just finished watching the Russian film Stalker. (By the way, this clip does not do the movie justice--it's three hours long, long takes, not much happens, but every single frame I'm screaming "This is the best movie ever!!" in my head.) (Yes, with two exclamation points.) The wife of the stalker (meaning, like, guide or hunter, not creepy following guy) has this great Eve-esque monologue to the camera where she describes how hard it is to be married to a guy who sneaks people into a terribly dangerous illegal Zone so that they can make wishes in an abandoned room (I'm telling you, this is a really awesome movie), but how she never regretted it because if things weren't miserable, she wouldn't know happiness, and, more importantly, she wouldn't know hope. In general, the movie makes the argument that happiness is hope, however ephemeral.

So what is happiness, anyway?

This isn't the first time this week I've pondered that. In the econ class I T.A., we're talking about GDP and HDI and that elusive end of economic prosperity, welfare. Which is to say, happiness. Can money buy happiness? I don't know for certain, but I do know that money can buy my sister not being a widow. Money bought 70 Cambodian children not getting measles, mumps, rubella or hepititis last Christmas. And, to be less dramatic, money bought the Netflix subscription to watch Tartovsky's Stalker, which has brought me a lot of joy. (And even the Soviets dumped a lot of money to make Stalker--it had to be reshot after a problem with the film they used.) But, as economic indicators all seem to agree, we're getting richer every generation...but are we getting happier? Rather famously, Easterlin says we're not.

Happens too, this week, that I'm reading Bentham in my Victorian Rhet class. Bentham, you may remember, Father of Utilitarianism, coined the phrase "greatest happiness principle" and to prove how great and how principle, he enumberated types of happiness. (You'll be pleased to know that he mapped out 14 sources of pleasure, while only 12 of pain--we seem to have pain outnumbered) I figure I'm a sort of Cosmic Utiliarianist, in that I'm a Foundationalist who beleives that God has our utility figured out to a T and wants us to be as happy as possible for as long a period of time as possible. Little wait now, big reward later, like with that famous experiment with marshmallows.

Speaking of psychology, I'm listening to this podcast explaining how adult behaviorist therapy doesn't work with kids, because they can only really understand four emotions: mad, sad, glad, and scared. I'm glad to see that happiness made the list, but I'm sad that it's the only positive emotion of the batch, and scared to think what this might mean about human nature. (I'm not mad at anyone for this, though). Did you know that psychology journals are more likely to publish about depression than happiness? (I read that in Harvard Medical Journal years ago, but I can't find the source now.) What is with our preoccupation with unhappiness?

If we have two terms (happy and sad) and we privilage happy and see sad as a deviation, that means that we think happy is the norm. If we see happiness as the "natural" state, and everything that's not happiness as a deviation--sad, mad, scared-- then does that mean that we are naturally programed to be happy? That every negative emotion is just a different flavour of "not happy?" What standard of happiness are we supposed to be judging these emotions by, anyway? Happy as in "I just had a nice bowl of oatmeal" or happy as in "I just had a nice bowl of diamonds dropped in my lap"? Maybe, as they say, even the happiness in the lowest Kingdom, will be better than anything we could imagine here.

That's all very well and good for now, but what do I tell Stalker's wife? What do I tell Eve? What do I tell anyone who's had to wade through a seemingly endless swamp of misery (in other words, everyone)? Wait it out? Hope's going to come through for you? There's a point to all this suffering, somewhere, and you'll be just fine? Nice on paper. Harder on film. Devilishly difficult in life.

That's rather grim; let's look at this the other way--I'm a very cheerful person, by nature. I think. Am I cheerful because however bad my bads are, they could be worse? Why am I so happy? Is there something wrong with me being happy? Am I missing something by being happy? Should I be sadder in the hopes that it will make me more hopeful and then, somehow, more happy?

Bah. It's too late to think about this anymore. I'm going to bed. My polka-dot blanket makes me happy. That's good enough for now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Scientists Discover

A new theory of dinosaur extinction focuses mainly on poor Super Mario World playing in the late Triassic period.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Craziest Things to Happen to Captain Picard

1. De-evolved into a monkey.
2. Temporarily assimilated by the Borg
3. Lived an entire alternative life in 20 minutes (and learned to play the flute therein).
4. Was Robin Hood.
5. Was present when life on earth began (thank you, Q).
6. Learned how to communicate with an alien by talking entirely in metaphor.
7. Shared minds with ex-girlfriend.
8. Shared minds with Vulcan ambassador.
9. Encountered alternate universe version of self.
10. Had no son, then he had a son, then no son again.

What a stud!