Monthly Archives: October 2009

Facebook performance – What are you doing right now?

phonetasticview

Photo of An Xiao

I was reading an article in the New York Times,  Where art meets social networking sites, and came across Debbie Hesse who is an installation artist and the director of artistic services and programs for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. According to the article, Debbie said she was a lot like others in the late boomer generation,

“trying to learn how to not be left in the dust with the new technology.” But she may be ahead of the pack in employing social networking as the theme for an art show.

Social networking a theme for art?

I figure it’s not entirely surprising. Why shouldn’t artists create something from the ubiquitous social networking phenomenon? Where there’s something happening, it’s natural for someone to analyse it or create something from it?

Debbie organised an exhibition named after Facebook’s communication format, Status Update. More than 50 works of art by a dozen artists were displayed.

But how can art come from social networking?

“Status Update” has turned out to be a somewhat unlikely intersection of digital concepts and conventional art.

Ms. Hesse curated the show almost entirely through Facebook, with the help of Donna Ruff, a Brooklyn artist. She found two categories there, she said: “Artists that are using it as a medium, performing in it, using it as poetry, using it as a canvas. And then artists that are commenting on it as a new form and creating new dialogues about what this means in our lives.”

Rachel Perry Welty is one of the artists who comments on the new way of communication.  For her performance, Rachel used her iPhone to enter a status update every minute for 16 hours.  That is, every sixty seconds Rachel answered the Facebook status question ‘What are you doing right now?’ (which has since been replaced by the question ‘What’s on your mind?’)

I hope artists and art lovers will not scream at me if I raise my eyebrows every so slightly in response to Rachel’s compulsive stream of status updates being called a ‘performance’.  Or maybe I’m just annoyed that I didn’t think of the idea first. Or maybe I should reconsider my concept of art.

Rachel says that, after reading an article about social networking entitled Brave new world of digital intimacy by Clive Thompson, she decided to give Facebook a go.

I’ve found Facebook to be useful as a view to the global artist community, but I don’t send gifts or answer quizzes or throw sheep at people. And I don’t update my status on Facebook anymore after my performance on March 11.

Rachel explains the performance aspect of Twitter on the Art:21 blog:

I use Twitter as an extension of my creative process, in the sense that it’s a view into the daily life of a working artist. As an artist, my project is concerned with the minutiae of life. As humans, we spend most of our time engaged in the small moments (whether we tweet or Facebook about them or not) and in my project I am trying to get people to notice the things they wouldn’t ordinarily. In that sense, Twitter seems like a perfect platform for me. It’s an ongoing performance.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter.

It’s worth reading Rachel’s interview in the blog post, but before you do, I’d like to highlight this paragraph, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about  myself (although not expressing as eloquently):

I had been thinking about and observing how we craft a persona online. I started paying attention and reading people’s status updates in learning my way around Facebook. It struck me that some people must spend more time than others choosing their words, just as some people spend more time getting dressed in the morning. Some are clever and entertaining, some vague or opaque, and others utterly banal. Each statement on its own doesn’t say much, but the collective tells a surprisingly sophisticated story, and forms a portrait of sorts. My performance was a way to make a quick and intense self-portrait. Imposing the limitation of 60 seconds was an attempt to make that more real.

‘Quick and intense’ is another way of looking at Facebook or Twitter status updates. We’re not talking great literature here, but as a snapshot of the mundane, it’s a pretty good window.

I realise that when I look back at my year-long daily photo challenge, threesixtyfivephotos. Each day’s snapshots seem banal and almost ridiculously tedious, but looking back at over 300 days now, I can see that it’s a concise overview of a life which would otherwise just pass by and be largely forgotten.

Rachel’s observations provide much food for thought; I urge you to read the whole article. Forgive me but I can’t resist pulling out one more paragraph:

Afterwards, I thought of Sophie Calle’s work where she follows a stranger throughout his movements in a day. My work was the reverse: I got strangers to follow me throughout my day. Well, into the next day, I found myself silently narrating (“Rachel is getting a cup of coffee,” “Rachel is ready for a nap”), this experience imprinted on my brain like the afterimage from a flashbulb.

And a big question which was asked by the interviewer:

In your statement, you mentioned that you aim “to raise more questions about narcissism, voyeurism, privacy, identity and authority, as issues we consider in a technologically modern world.” What do you see as the role of online social media in society?

That’s a big question. I’m not sure we know yet. Clearly, it’s a way to communicate with a lot of people quickly and without friction. Relationships will be easier to maintain for a long time, for good or for ill. Imagine, as my son will probably experience, never losing touch with your best friend from 3rd grade. (Michelle Turner from Mr. Brentnall’s class at NIS in Tokyo, are you out there?!)Will it make it impossible to shed your identity as you move through life? Will you always be who you once were?

This is a fascinating question and one, I think, which we should all consider, and as educators, raise with our students.

I also recommend you read about how other conceptual artists have represented social networking. An Xiao, pictured above, is one of the group of artists.

As an aside, it’s interesting how the Facebook status ‘What are you doing right now’ has been replaced by ‘What’s on your mind?’ – a move from the external to the internal.  Is Facebook becoming less of a place where you keep an eye on what people are up to, and more of a platform to share thoughts, feelings and reactions?

Leave a comment

Filed under art, creativity, networking, technology, Web 2.0

Should teachers be more like conductors? TED tells

Orchestra conductor Itay Talgam has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general. I found the messages in this TED talk to be very relevant to teaching.

Itay Talgam’s TED biography observes that Talgam

finds metaphors for organizational behavior  — and models for inspired leadership — within the workings of the symphony orchestra. Imagining music as a model for all spheres of human creativity, from the classroom to the boardroom, Talgam created the Maestro Program of seminars and workshops.

Talgam’s workshops aim to help everyday people develop a musician’s sense of collaboration, and a conductor’s sense of leadership: that inner sense of being intuitively, even subconsciously connected to your fellow players, giving what they need and getting what you need. It’s this art of listening and reacting in the moment that makes for a swinging jazz combo, a sublime string quartet, a brilliant orchestra — and great teams at work.

Talgam talks about the conductor’s ability to use a small gesture to suddenly create order out of the chaos. When he asks who we should thank for the success of the performance, he is asking what the role of the conductor really is. In the same way as the teacher, the conductor is the single leader responsible for the success of his people. The question is – how does he create music out of the chaos?

According to Talgam, it’s not all about complete control of the orchestra. It’s about the joy of enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time – the story of the orchestra, that of the audience, unseen stories of people who made the concert hall and even those who made the instruments.

Talgam shows examples of different styles of conducting. There is the example of the conductor who is so clear about what he wants that he becomes overclear. Talgam describes this type of conductor as having a strong sense of responsibility. This type of conductor insists that there’s only one story to be told, only one interpretation of the music, and that’s his interpretation. In this case, the musicians feel they are not allowed to develop, but are only used as instruments. 

Talgam insists that leadership of the orchestra can be achieved with less control, or with a different kind of control.

One of the conductors is shown conducting with his eyes shut, confusing the onlooker with his apparent withdrawal from control. Talgam explains that, in this case, the musicians get their cues by looking  at the conductor’s face and gestures, and then looking at each other, with the first players of each section leading. This conductor claims that the worst damage he could do to  his orchestra would be to give them an overly clear instruction which would prevent them from listening to each other.

In another example, the conductor explains that by not telling the musicians exactly what to do, he’s opening a space for them to put in another layer of interpretation, another story. Talgam explains that this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster, whereby the forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. 

And what happens when there’s a mistake? The conductor’s body language is enough. When it’s needed, the authority is there  but authority is not enough to make people partners. This kind of conductor is there 100 percent but not commanding, not telling them what to do, instead enjoying the whole experience with them. In this case the conductor creates process but he also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. The soloist is allowed to be autonomous and is consequently proud of his work. Developing a partnership brings about the best music.

I think we can take a fair bit out of this talk and apply it to teaching. Teaching is like conducting or leading. What resounds with me is the fact that overly explicit instructions and tight control can be at best limiting, and quite possibly suffocating. Setting up the process and allowing room to move seems like a good way to teach. Realising that your interpretation is not necessarily that of everyone else opens up rich possibilities for learners. Understanding that members of the orchestra or class learn from each other. Getting to the point where you know the students so well that they can read your every nuance, and standing back and smiling, just enjoying the process unfolding before you, is possibly every teacher’s dream.

When, as a teacher or leader, you create the environment, give support, and then step back – you get to the wonderful point of ‘doing without doing’. As Itay Talgam says,

if you love something give it away.

7 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, learning, music, teachers, teaching

Have we understood picture books yet? What is YA literature?

shaun tan

Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, two of Australia’s favourite and most talented authors/illustrators, have received international acclaim by winning in two of the major categories at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.

zusak

Shaun Tan received first prize for the Picture Book category for his Tales from outer suburbia and Markus Zusak won the Youth Jury prize for The Book Thief.

bookthief

According to Tim Coronel in Publishing Perspectives, the award jury commented on Tan’s book that

 ‘the way that pictures and words work together in this carefully designed book is perfect.’

The Youth Jury also commented on Zusak’s story that 

‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’ That’s a serious recommendation, especially from a German judge, considering the enormous output of literature on this subject.

tales from outer suburbia

The whole problematic issue of picture books and their audience continues to generate debate. In our school library, the picture books shelf conceals many illustrated stories worth deeper analysis in the classroom, but few will remember this as they pass them by.

Shaun Tan describes his picture books on his website:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

red-tree

Understanding Shaun Tan’s thinking behind his picture books is a key to understanding just where Tan’s books belong. Michelle Pauli has written a very interesting article about Shaun Tan in The Guardian. Although Shaun’s books depict ‘a surreal world of bizarre animals, skew-whiff buildings, dreamlike landscapes and invented languages’, his books are far from fairy tales or pure fantasy, and that is because ‘Tan’s worlds, however fantastical they may appear on first glance, have their own internal logic. It is what he describes as “groundedness”, and he regards it as crucial to the success of the stories’.

“By itself, just to draw crazy creatures has limited appeal – if I had to give up one thing it would be the wild imagination. When the work becomes too detached from ordinary life it starts to fall apart. Fantasy needs to have some connection with reality or it becomes of its own interest only, insular. In The Lost Thing, to have creatures flying around is unsatisfactory without the context. It works because it exists in opposition to the world in the rest of the story.”

the-arrival

The fact that we still cling to narrow categories, such as ‘picture books’ and ‘Young Adult’ not only confuses readers but also pre-judges and precludes books from taking their place in the world of serious literature. Yes, many people understand and appreciate the complexity of Tan’s picture books and graphic novels (The arrival), but many more won’t give them a second chance when they see the children’s book award sticker or don’t even see them at all if they’re displayed in the children’s section of the book shop. As Tan says,

One bookseller in Australia took the children’s book award sticker off The Red Tree as he felt he could sell more that way, and sold an extra 30-40 copies a month. It’s about simple things like font size – people think they can judge the age a book is for by the font size and assume that it’s for little kids if it has a big font, but that’s silly. I don’t worry too much about those things as the creator because I figure that the books will find their own audience and sometimes I like the idea that they can give adults a surprise pleasure.

It’s interesting how readers feel there must be a definite meaning within the symbolism of Tan’s books. Tan himself avoids being pinned down to a single interpretation.

Tan is reluctant to delve too deeply into the “meanings” of his fables. Towards the end of The Lost Thing he writes, “Well, that’s it. That’s the story. Not especially profound, I know, but I never said it was. And don’t ask me what the moral is.”

If artworks cannot be pinned down to a clear and definitive interpretation, then picture books of Tan’s calibre are surely written and illustrated with the same infinite possibilities in mind. How could an artist have predicted, for example, all the interpretations that would come out of his or her painting? One thing is for sure – so-called children’s books, such as those by Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, are fertile ground for rich discussion.

This has been cross-posted at Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

5 Comments

Filed under art, Children's books, debate, reading

Michael Gerard Bauer joins our writing project

mgbphoto1a

This is cross-posted on my English class blog and fiction blog.

A little while ago I wrote on my English class blog about my hopeful expectation that Michael Gerard Bauer would accept my invitation to join our creative writing project after we listened to Lemony Snicket’s The composer is dead.

It’s a brilliant, witty and hysterical story narrated by Lemony Snicket himself. The entire production is fun – the story with its personified musical instruments presented as murder suspects (boisterous trumpets proclaiming loudly and with a certain arrogant rudeness), its alliteration (’we conquered the concert’; ‘battered the band’), and its playful use of language (the percussion instruments ‘percussed’, and ‘employed xylophoniness and cymbalism’).

Similar to Peter and the wolf, the story skilfully weaves plot around descriptive information about the orchestra. The boys seemed transfixed by the story, although the musical interludes may have been a bit much for some.

As a creative writing exercise, the boys will be writing their own story –

The … is dead

based on a group of inanimate objects who are suspects in a murder mystery.

Well, to our absolute delight, Michael generously agreed, and very quickly wrote a brilliant and witty piece which I’m going to share with you now.

Police Investigation Report by Chief Inspector Iva Noclue written by Michael Gerard Bauer.

It started out as just another routine investigation, but all that changed when I opened the fridge door.

The body was there lying before me. It was wrapped in plastic, naked, plucked and headless. It was obviously the work of a madman. I examined it more closely: female chicken, size 20, possibly from Ingham, and judging by the aroma – marinated.

You have to deal with some sick people in this job.

I immediately set out on the trail of the killer. I threw open the chiller door.

‘Freeze!’ I shouted. Luckily everyone already had.

I approached my first suspect. He claimed he was a famous rap singer called Ice Tray. I didn’t like his attitude at all. He was cold and hard and refused to answer my questions. He seemed very set in his ways.

I decider to move on. I found my next suspect lurking at the back of the freezer.

‘You, what’s your name?’
‘Ice-cream.’
‘Really? Why? Did you see something?’
‘What are you talking about you idiot?’
‘I want to know what made you scream. Did you witness the murder? It was Ice Tray wasn’t it?’
‘No you fool. That’s my name, Ice-cream. Strawberry Ice-cream. But what’s this you say about a murder?’
‘That’s right sister. There’s one dead chicken downstairs. You see or hear anything suspicious? Notice any strangers hanging about?’
‘Yes as a matter of a fact I did. Yesterday a whole family of eggs moved in down there.’
‘Right. Was that was before or after the chicken bit the dust.’
‘How would I know if I’m not the murderer?’
‘Good point. I’ll work it out myself. Hmmmmm let’s see, what came first, the Chicken or the Eggs? This could be a tough case.’

I left the Freezer but not before I arranged for Ice Tray to come to the Station the next day for a more thorough interrogation.

My investigation continued. I questioned all the Eggs but they refused to crack. (Just between you and me I think some of their brains were scrambled – or possibly fried.) Then I grilled the Cheese but got nowhere. Next came the Honey. She was a real sweetie but she couldn’t tell me anything either. I was getting nowhere so I decided to offer the Bread a hundred dollars to help me find the murderer. He refused. Said he already had plenty of dough.

My chief suspect was still Ice Tray but there was another guy who made me suspicious – wouldn’t tell me his real name. First he said he was called Vegemite, then he reckoned his name was iSnack2.0 then it was Cheesybite. I decided I’d run those aliases through the computer when I got back to the Station.

Only when I was about to call it a day did I noticed the trail of what looked suspiciously like blood spots. They led me right to a tall red haired chap who went by the name of B. B. Q. Sauce. Of course he claimed he was innocent like the rest of them. Said it was just a nose bleed or something. But then B.B. told me something that got me interested. He said he’d seen Chicken getting friendly with some unsavoury characters recently, said he often saw Chicken mixing with Avocado or Chicken with Mayonnaise or Chicken with Salad and once he’d even seen Chicken with Sweet and Sour sauce!

The case was getting more and more complex and rumour had it that Gladwrap was involved in some sort of big cover up. Then, just when it looked like I’d never get to the bottom of the Chicken case, there was a major break through.

I was interrogating Ice Tray the next day under the hot lights at the Station when to my amazement, he went totally to water. I figured that was as good as a confession so I locked him away in the freezer and threw away the key.

I never did work out how Ice Tray actually committed the murder. I mean it must have been quite difficult with him not having any arms or legs or eyes or ears or brain or any visible means of support or movement, but you could just tell by looking at him that he was obviously a cold-blooded killer and a hardened criminal.

Ice Tray – his heart might have been made of ice, but I saw right through him from the start.

Our boys have been collectively brainstorming possible characteristics for their group of inanimate suspects, but as you can imagine, first time round, it’s challenging.

Thankyou so much to Michael for taking the time and donating his creativity so that our students can learn from an expert, so that they feel special, and appreciative of the privilege they’ve received.

As I’ve said many times before,

technology makes possible the connections between people which would otherwise not have occurred.

This is a great example.

3 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, networking, Web 2.0, writing

Design the school of the future, but do it now (GPS)

As I’ve said in my previous post, Green Pen Society is Paul Cornies’ brainchild, and has brought together bloggers (thinkers, writers) from different parts of the world.

It’s my turn to devise a theme for October’s post, and I’ve chosen the theme of school design, namely:

What would your ideal school look like? Design the school of the future – but do it now!

A tweet from @kentmanning led me to the designers’ website of the award-winning International School in The Hague, Design Share: designing for the future of learning, and I started thinking about what was essential pre-thinking for a school design. These statements make a lot of sense:

The classroom is the most visible symbol of an educational philosophy.

It is a philosophy that starts with the assumption that a predetermined number of students will all learn the same thing at the same time from the same person in the same way in the same place for several hours each day.

Personally, I never felt comfortable with that assumption, and as early as kindergarten, which I attended on and off from the age of 2, in order to learn English (Russian was my first language at home), I knew I was starting from a different place in terms of what I had to learn.  Further on, in early primary school, I remember sitting obediently, silently, while students took turns to read aloud (and struggle through) the one reader for the year, whereas I had finished it at home in the first week. Statistically, I would not have been the only student, although my respect for authority kept me squarely on my chair, not even moving to fiddle with ruler or doodle in the margins.

How many of us learned to daydream away the waiting time in classes which expected all students to learn at the same pace and level?

tradschool

In contrast to the traditional classroom design is the Learning Studio. The L-shaped room includes 3 separate but open areas: Active Zone, Breakout Zone and Flex Space.

learningstudio

 The L-shaped classroom was first built in 1940, but the classrooms in the schools in which I’ve taught look like the first design, with rows of students sitting facing the front. Wait, there has been a change – we don’t have single rows any more. Do we think that having 2 or 3 students sit together in rows is a significant enough change to classroom design?

I think the trouble lies in the need to rethink the philosophy behind our learning spaces. How do we learn? How do we teach? What I’m still seeing is the predominance of the teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ and the students listening and responding in turn, or writing their own responses for only the teacher to read and correct.

If learning is to be student-driven, research-based and collaborative, then our learning spaces definitely need to take this into account. If we are to stop separating learning into discrete disciplines, and realise that in life we function in an integrated way, then we surely need to redesign our schools. But a physical reconstruction will have no effect unless we all start with a communal rethinking of the philosophy of learning and teaching.

One of the aspects of design in the index of this book is that of display space for student work.

studentdisplay

I know that there are schools that display student work around the school, and I think this is a great idea, and should be taken into account when designing the school. If the school takes pride in what students have created and displays it everywhere, not just in designated subject classrooms, then the message is that the school belongs to the students.

 As a teacher librarian, I also think that the library should be the centre of the school – physically and philosophically. It should be a central working, displaying, playing and meeting place, welcoming of all the different subjects and activities. It is, after all, a place which specialises in the location and use of information and ideas, as well as one which encourages leisure and relaxation in the form of reading and discussion.

Public libraries are changing their image and moving away from strictly controlled quiet areas, where people read or research in isolation, to places offering diverse learning programs, meeting places and leisure activities. I think school libraries should learn from them, as well as from book shops which create a welcoming environment and put the customer first, providing attractive and helpful displays and signage. And there’s nothing wrong with injecting a sense of fun. This applies to all aspects of learning in the school; learning should include time allocated to playing with ideas or tinkering with things – because that’s where the creativity steps in, especially in collaboration – instead of focusing on completing tasks for grades. Spaces in the school should be designed for this tinkering.

I’ve posted this TED talk video previously but I think it’s worth revisiting at this point.

Gever Tulley uses engaging photos and footage to demonstrate the valuable lessons kids learn at his Tinkering School. When given tools, materials and guidance, these young imaginations run wild and creative problem-solving takes over to build unique boats, bridges and even a rollercoaster!

Tinkering allows for learning through discovery and this type of learning is richer than learning from the assimulation of theoretical information.

As far as physical design goes, I’d love to see spaces that

  • encourage connection, collaboration, discussion, performance and celebration;
  • transparency and flexibility between rooms and to the outside;
  • a natural outdoor environment maintained partially  by students;
  • places to socialise in free time;
  • spaces for quiet, reflective or creative projects.

Of course, technology will become more and more ubiquitous. I think that technology is developing so quickly that we won’t need to think about design in terms of spaces housing cumbersome computer equipment, but spaces to provide for the learning and interaction of social networking using small, handheld technology.

Although, it would be kind of cool to have a school in a Jetsons-type world…

win-pics-jetsons

5 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, teaching, technology

By words my mind is winged – Aristophanes

Photo courtesy of Thungaturti on Flickr.

Aristophanes made an excellent point. Our thoughts soar but are carried on the wings of words.

Paul Cornies at Quoteflections has selected Aristophanes’ quote and many others on his eclectic blog. He has provided a platform for the sharing of ideas by giving an opportunity for bloggers to unite in contributing a monthly post based on a common theme. Green Pen Society is Paul’s brainchild, and has brought together bloggers (thinkers, writers) from different parts of the world.

I was thrilled to be asked by Paul to devise a theme for October’s post. I’ve chosen the theme of school design, namely:

What would your ideal school look like? Design the school of the future – but do it now!

I’m an educator, so this theme interests me, but we’ve all been to school (of some shape and form), so I think we all have ideas about what our ideal school might look like.

You could come to this in many ways – it could be a futuristic school, not entirely plausible, but desirable. You might submit plans, or you could contribute using images or even a slideshow. You might prefer to be more descriptive, like I intend to be – philosophising about what learning should and could be, and how physical spaces cater for this.

Doesn’t matter how you do it – imagine what a wealth of ideas we could pool together.

If you’d like to contribute, tag your post with the label Green Pen Society (GPS). Leave a comment here with a link to your post, so that I can find you and include you when I gather all the contributions together.

I’m looking forward to gathering your ideas in a future post. Thanks, Paul, for this opportunity.

If you haven’t done so already, check out previous themes on Paul’s blog. September’s theme was What gets you flying when you want to write? by Ken Allan of Blogger in Middle-earth 

4 Comments

Filed under blogging, networking, Web 2.0, writing