Tag Archives: osu

The Effect of Art

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid) 1991 by Kerry James Marshall

Blue Water Silver Moon (Mermaid), 1991 by Kerry James Marshall.  Photo copyright Dispatch.com.

I’m currently teaching one of my favorite classes: the Field Experience elective.  In this class, I plan a series of field trips on and around campus so students can explore their community as well as English, the field they are studying.

One of our recent trips was to the Wexner Center for the Arts, the campus art gallery.  The current show is Blues for Smoke, which explores Blues music as a “catalyst of experimentation within contemporary cultural production.”  Works in the show span several decades and include a variety of media.

As part of our trip, I ask each student to identify a favorite piece, which we later discuss in class.  One student chose the painting above.  We had talked in front of the painting and I helped her understand some of the vocabulary in the information placard next to the work:

Marshall’s portrait of a  mythical female nude lounging under the moonlight in a shimmering pond was inspired by a pulp comic book he was reading in the early 1980s.  He notes, “Up until then, I had not considered that a black woman could be considered as a goddess of love and beauty.  Even I took the classic European ideal for granted …. I wanted to develop a stylized representation of beauty that would be unequivocally black.”

We discussed how the painting includes faces from pulp romance novels that typify this “classic European ideal” for beauty and how the mermaid figure is beautiful and unequivocally black.

But what I interpreted as an interesting insight into the experience of African Americans was something that my student took to heart.  The next day, she shared that this was her favorite piece because she, too, had felt the pressure to conform to this classic European ideal of beauty in her native China.  For example, she and many of her friends stayed out of the sun so that her skin could be lighter and whiter.  But, in this painting, she discovered that black is beautiful — an idea she could relate to and share.

I wouldn’t have guessed that this piece of art would strike this student in this way.  But by exposing students to a wide variety of art, the opportunity for this to happen was created.  Never underestimate the power of art.  Or a good field trip.

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ELTU Unconference

breakout area 2 for ELTU

We’re about a week and a half away from the fourth annual Exploring Learning Technologies Unconference (ELTU4).  This year, we’ve moved the event to the start of the academic year because the spring was becoming crowded with other conferences and events.  So, on Friday, October 14, we meet again from 9am to 1:30pm to unconference.

What is an unconference?  There are lots of different variations, from Open Space to various camps (FooCamp, Barcamp, Mashup Camp, etc. — see Wikipedia for more.)  Our variant resembles a traditional conference in may ways — there are meeting areas for different breakout sessions that begin every hour —  but the biggest difference is that none of the content is set in advance of the meeting.

We spend the first half hour with introductions and generating session topics.  From there, the group negotiates which topics go in which time slots and we begin.  Being a technology-themed unconference, we use some technology to facilitate this process: we project the session grid on screens around the room so everyone can see and participate in the process.  We also set up a wiki in advance with one page that lists the schedule and links to one page per session so someone in each session can take notes.  (Visit http://go.osu.edu/eltu to see the wikis from the last three unconferences.)

Once organized, the unconference runs a lot like a regular conference, though participants are encouraged to move between sessions as a way of cross-pollinating the various discussions.  In fact, we have traditionally hosted the unconference in one big open space or computer lab in order to facilitate this movement.

The beauty of the process is that, if everything works as intended, the discussions are all appealing to those in attendance because they were generated only by those in attendance (instead of presenters who submitted an abstract months in advance and then failed to attend the conference.)

The effect is intentionally a bit like the hallway conversations you have at a traditional conference — when you actually get to talk to someone with similar interests to you instead of just watching a speaker read their PowerPoint slides.  By attracting interesting people from across campus and throughout Ohio, the discussion at the unconference is always a good one.

I’d recommend the format to any organization interested in hosting a stimulating conversation.  I’d also welcome you to our next unconference on Friday, October 14 from 9am to 1:30pm.  Details are available at http://go.osu.edu/eltu and registration is available (and free!) at http://eltu4.crowdvine.com.

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Genetics for Kids

test tubes

Over the past ten or twenty years, the news media has become saturated with stories about genetics.  But do you really understand how genes interact?  A new genetics simulation being developed at Ohio State can help.

The simulation begins with a series of cartoon faces from which the user can choose to populate the gene pool for the next generation.  (The term “parents” is used, but more than two can be selected.)  This process can be repeated several times to create successive generations of cartoon faces.

Over 50 “genes” are incorporated into the faces (affecting everything from the dimensions of the head and other features to how asymmetrical the face is and whether the eyes follow your mouse or not) and the genes of the “parents” interact to produce the subsequent generation.  You can also adjust the amount of mutation, which leads to a wider (or narrower) variety of offspring.

Another interesting feature is the ability to view genotypes.  This allows you to view a graph under each offspring representing which genes come from which parent.  You can also choose two faces and drag them to the Gene Exam Room to view to what degree each gene is represented in each face.  This also allows you to see the effect of each individual gene.  You can even increase or decrease the representation of each gene to see how it changes each face.

What can you (or your students) do with this simulation?  Imagine the faces are puppies and you want to develop a new breed that is cute (or whatever other trait you’re interested in.)  This simulation clearly demonstrates how breeders (of animals, plants, etc.) select for certain traits and refine them over generations.

Or imagine the choices you  make in the simulation are not choices, but represent the effects of the environment.  For example, say the Sun grows dim giving people with big eyes that can see in low light an advantage over people with small eyes.  This advantage results in a higher percentage of offspring surviving and a wider representation in the gene pool.  What effect would this have after several generations?

Think of how much richer students’ discussions of designer pets and natural disasters will be after they have “experienced” the process instead of just reading about it.  In addition to genetics, this simulation can also stimulate interest in probability (how likely are offspring to have certain characteristics), design (ideas behind evolutionary design were the impetus for the interface), as well as all of the social issues behind decisions we are now able to make regarding genetics.

In terms of ESL teaching, I think giving students something interesting to do and then having them talk or write about it is a great way to get them to practice English.  This genetics simulation is simple but interesting enough that it could generate lots of interesting ideas for students to talk about.

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Kinect-Based IWB

infrared points of light projected from a Kinect

Ever since a $3000 bounty was placed on cracking open Microsoft’s fab new gaming hardware, the motion-sensing Kinect for Xbox, hackers and tinkerers have been putting the open-source drivers to lots of interesting uses on platforms that Microsoft never envisioned.  I’ve written about interesting Kinect hacks before (and before that,) and I’ve written about my experience with the Wii-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard (IWB,) but I haven’t seen a fully-developed Kinect-based Interactive Whiteboard.

Perhaps an Interactive Whiteboard is too narrow a description.  Many of the pieces are in place (see below) to interface with a computer using Kinect.  So, as with the Wii-based IWB, any application you can use on your computer can be controlled by this hardware.  If you connect your computer to a projector, you essentially have an Interactive Whiteboard.

Is the Kinect-based experience different from a Wii-based IWB or a Smartboard?  Almost certainly.  There would be no need to touch the screen at all, but rather to gesture in front of the Kinect to interact with the projection on the screen.  Would this be an improvement?  I’m not sure.  A touch-based IWB is more analogous to traditional whiteboard that uses markers and an eraser.  So, the touchless experience would be quite different.  I need to try it myself to really wrap my head around the opportunities that this motion-sensing interface offers.

I’m not sure if anyone here at Ohio State is working with Kinect as an interface for non-Xbox applications.  But I do know that the Digital Union has a Kinect which could probably be used to see if and how things work.  If anyone else is interested in trying to pull this together, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Multitouch with Kinect

Kinect on a Mac

Multitouch Kinect

Kinect Fingertip Detection

Kinect + PC + Mario = Fun

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Jane McGonigal @ OSU

dice

I got to meet Dr. Jane McGonigal yesterday and hear her speak on her work on making games for good.  I’m still processing a lot of the ideas she talked about, but wanted to share some of my notes.  It’s a bit of a brain dump, but I’m sure more of what was covered will come up in future posts.  These are not only things she said, but also my reflections and interpretations of them.

Narrowly defined games are not fun.  This could be why many educational games are not very good.  That and the fact that so much less money goes into making them than other games that are designed to entertain.

Off-the-shelf games can be a good option for educators and the classroom.  Ask students what they are playing, go from there.  Older versions of popular games can be cheap and online games are often free.

Augmented reality brings games into real world.  But beware of gamification — adding game-like elements (points, badges) to something that is not a game. For example, see Foursquare.

Almost every game that exists has a wiki (the World of Warcraft wiki is the world’s largest after Wikipedia).  This may be an opportunity for ESL students to interact with language by reading or even writing about a game they like.  Gamers often use the scientific method to approach finding solutions in games.  Teachers can ask students, “Is there an undocumented way to win?” which requires reading the wiki and then critical thinking.

Gamers have very few nightmares and a high rate of lucid dreams — dreams in which they take control — perhaps because they practice doing this in games.

Among the top ten emotions gamers want to feel when playing a game is love.  Specifically the kind of love one feels when one teaches another how to play a game and be successful.  Parents feel this kind of love for their children all the time.  But children feel this love when they teach a parent to play a favorite game.

Edit (11/11/10): The rise of gaming coincides with the overscheduling of the millennial generation and changes to education such as No Child Left Behind.  When kids are spoon-fed in school and by their parents, one of the only outlets they have to express self-motivated mastery is through games.

I hope to provide some examples of these games in future posts.  To learn more, visit Avant Game.com, Gameful.org, or @avantgame on Twitter.

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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Digital Union Brownbag Resources

digital eye

There was a great turnout for the gaming brownbag at the Digital Union today.  (Thanks to everyone who came and joined in the discussion!)  In lieu of a handout, I provided a link to my blog.  Most of the resources I talked about are relatively easy to find here, but I thought I could make it easier by posting them all below.

WERTi System – Working with English Real Texts intelligently, developed by Detmar Meurers and others.

WERTi Firefox Extension – Still an alpha version, but fun to try out.

Blank or Blank Demo – A less enhanced version of the presentation gave today, posted on Slideshare.

OSU Game Based Learning Wiki – A place for OSU folks to connect with resources (and each other).

Collins’ Corpus Concordance Sampler – An example of an easy to use concordancer, likely a better source for Blank Or Blank that Google searches.

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