Tag Archives: review

review: diy u … viewing the end of college as we know it?

When a faculty reading circle announced the selection and discussion of Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, I was more than a bit intrigued. I’d read great things about the book and here was an excuse to check it out … as well as see what colleagues think.

Reaction? Wow. So much food for thought! I didn’t totally agree with everything within the pages, but a few major themes and threads emerged that I’ve pondered quite a bit. They include:

The separation of content from delivery in education. Just as iTunes decoupled individual songs from the traditional album distribution model and Hulu divorces shows from networks and the usual delivery method, the Internet has placed countless opportunities for learning at our fingertips either free or at marginal cost. These range from the sophisticated (MIT’s free broadcasting of classes online) to the homegrown (semi-instructional YouTube videos), but all represent a challenge to the traditional authoritarian delivery system. The regular college experience remains popular, but is knowledge now more of a buyers’ than sellers’ market?

The opportunities of technology. Instead of seeing technology is a threat to education, should we look at it as a tremendous opportunity? Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized my ability to create/maintain friendships and share/gain information, YouTube and Skype have redefined video communication and cloud computing kicked collaboration wide open. As educators, we shouldn’t fear the power of these tools; we should figure out how they can help us deliver an enhanced academic experience.

Is the traditional college experience for everyone? At the risk of sounding cliche, I value my college years as much (or more?) for what I learned outside the classroom. It was a key developmental milestone for me — from shy country boy to socialized (read: slightly less shy) scholar with the confidence to find my own path. Anyone who wants that experience should have a chance, but does everyone want (or need) four years of college? What about shorter specialized programs that fill vital needs? And as someone pointed out in our discussion, our non-traditional students don’t gain the residential college experience, yet they still thrive from pursuing their educations.

The trouble with rankings. How many people complain about the US News rankings, yet put out a news release on their listing? The book raises serious points to ponder. Like how raising tuition (i.e. higher expenditures per student) helps a college’s rating. Or that chasing a certain academic profile could mean shutting out promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds who need education most. We all believe in acaedmic quality, but how do we weigh pursuing high rankings and fruitful access at the same time? (And Malcolm Gladwell checked in this week with his problems with US News ratings.)

The faculty discussion was fascinating as well. Some blasted some of its more controversial suggestions and offerings. Others very much agreed with the challenges and opportunities Kamenetz laid out. I just appreciated the conversation taking place at all, which in itself demonstrates that DIY U is a remarkable read.

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tron: legacy, a review — we’ve come a long way, baby.

It’s a sign of my age that I recall seeing the original movie Tron when the effects still looked advanced. And that we owned the table-top version of the Tron video game. So I was very interested in the new movie Tron: Legacy, hoping it wouldn’t be a disappointing jumble of style over substance.

No worries, mate. I found the movie satisfying and enjoyable on every level. The eye-popping (literally, in 3D) special effects were astounding. A quantum leap from the old special effects — not surprising — yet truly engrossing to the point I bought into the plotline and stopped wondering how they did all the incredible things.

Engrossing action sequences? Check. Compelling storyline? Roger. Good enough acting to span the technology? Affirmative, right down to great use of facial expressions. (And I couldn’t take my eyes off Olivia Wilde, but that’s beside the point.) It’s a wild ride, and at times I was a little bit lost, but it was marvelous all the way. (And, as my brother points out, props for the inclusion from the original of Bruce Boxleitner, who deserves the visibility.) To think that the original Tron preceded the Internet as we know it and yet presaw it, in a way, is pretty amazing.

Leaving the theatre, we heard this conversation:

Teen #1: So I don’t get why they called it “Tron.”
Teen #2: Cuz it’s based on a 1980s video game called “Tron.”

Er, not exactly. Kids today should know that, once upon a time, moviemakers didn’t just take a popular video game and make a movie as a brand extension. People once created movies based on original, visionary ideas! So, in a way, Tron: Legacy is a throwback as well as an envelope-pushing work of movie magic.

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i finally used Google Wave for a project …

… and all I got was a mutual agreement to abandon using Google Wave halfway through. But at least I realized some of the strengths and weaknesses of this new and hyped collaborative tool.

Shoot schedule, already in progress

Our three-person team collaborated on a holiday video project where various students — individually and in groups — sang lines from our alma mater. As concept/director/talent wrangler, I had a place to post an updated schedule of shoots and ask for thoughts when shoots didn’t pan out for technical or logistical reasons.

Posting clips for review/comment.

Our cameraman/first editor could post various takes and we could collectively decide which was the best. I had most talent sing more than one line of the alma mater so that we had backups for most parts, though the idea was to build from solo to larger groups while showcasing the campus and our students.

The ability to refer to various production elements worked very well, as did the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss in real time. So why did we abandon the wave halfway through? Because of weaknesses others who try to use it tend to cite:

1) Lack of notifications. It was quite possible someone would reply to one of my questions, or that the other two collaborators were having an important conversation, but I may not know unless they contacted me another way. Yes, I know there are plugins and the like that can enable notifications, but if Google Wave is all that and a bag of chips, shouldn’t it come standard?

2) Lack of anchoring. When I revisit any wave, I find myself arbitrarily plopped in the middle of the conversation, not where I last read. If Plastic.com figured out nearly a decade ago how to anchor so you could resume where you last read a discussion, you’d think the leviathan that is Google could have built it in too. The lack of anchoring particularly confuses when combined with …

3) Lack of adequate marking. For some larger waves, I can read the whole conversation and it will remain bolded in my list of waves. So unless you’re memorizing time stamps you don’t always know which waves have new comments. Worse is that once you hit a new day, waves are marked only by date and not by time. Our team works late and often has discussions after 11 p.m., but if I last looked at a wave at 10 p.m. Dec. 9, when I’m on Google Wave the next day, that wave is only marked Dec. 9, no time. And since even waves I’ve read are bolded, the lack of adequate marking means I rush back to check waves that are not updated.

In terms of user experience, the most common response among those who waited and waited for that Wave invite would be: Is that all? After all the hype, many just refer to it as a glorified chatroom and all kinds of waves started with subjects like Trying A Wave sit wrecked and idle like ghost ships. For a user experience analogy: Imagine working at a college where your prospective students, upon visiting campus, say: Is that all? Safe to say, we wouldn’t feel like we’re doing a good job.

But I come to neither bury Google Wave nor to praise it, but to merely provide a status report in its beta existence. Like Thursday’s child, the Wave has far to go. The ability to collaborate in real time while incorporating all kinds of media and documents points to a bright future. But the development team — and I’m sure it’s a large one — has a lot of work to do until it reaches a user-friendly level.

PS: I forgot! Here is the finished video project!

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