John F. Kennedy and One Person, Armed With Powerful Technology

John F Kennedy Official Portrait

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I wasn’t alive when it happened, so it is not an event that really touched me personally. Yet, the anniversary has led me to reflect on it quite a bit, if only for the fact that it is really difficult to avoid all of the media coverage.

And what strikes me is that it was a profound precursor to the world we live in now: one person, armed with powerful technology, can absolutely change the world with just an idea and three presses of a finger.

Hard to fathom in the ’60s. Routine today.

Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Music Technology and John Hampton Edition

I’m a big fan of the recording magazine Tape Op. It has been around about a decade and is all about DIY music. They were maker before maker was cool. (Plus, the physical mag is beautiful and U.S. subscriptions are free!)

A couple of months ago, they ran an interview with John Hampton, Grammy winning engineer and producer of folks like Alex Chilton, the Gin Blossoms, The White Stripes, Travis Tritt, and Jimmy Vaughn. Musing on his experience of working as an engineer vs. a producer, he remarked:

I was driving home one day from work and heard “Honky Tonk Women” on the radio for the very first time. I heard that cowbell and then Charlie [Watts] come in – I pulled over and rocked out to the whole thing. When I started working here I got engineer ears; I started nitpicking everything. Slowly, but surely, the nitpicking became the captain of that ship. After working in the studio for a while I heard “Honky Tonk Women” again and I thought, “That sounds like crap.” I had engineer ears now. Then it hit me one day that I used to love that song and now I don’t like it. Has the song changed? I’ve changed, not the song. So I slowly started what turned into a ten-year venture. I turned that boat around, falling back in love with music instead of in love with technology and how it gets put together. The only way that I’ve been able to do that is by making what I do, the engineering part of it, so easy that I can do it with my eyes shut. Its all in the background.

That should be the goal, right? Do what you do, not what the gadgets let you do.

Focus on life, not on the tools you use to live it.

For Amusement Only? Growing up with Technology

Over the Christmas holiday, my son and I were talking about video game arcades. I spent so much time in them during junior high. That and at the roller rink, where I first played Pong, Missile Command, and Space Invaders. Good times, mostly with my brother. My son hasn’t been to one and really wants to go.

Last week Laura June at the Verge published a great piece on the rise and fall of the video arcade. It is a long and richly detailed piece that is worth every minute you’ll spend with it. It is full of excellent social history, but these bits really struck me:

Like shopping malls and roller skating rinks, they were safe, isolated areas where kids and teenagers could hang out, and, with a reasonable amount of money, spend hours without their parents. Bill Disney, a pinball enthusiast and owner of The Pinball Gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, says of his younger years that “most parents, they basically didn’t know what their kids were doing any time of the day. They were on their bikes, out the whole day,” and “they didn’t care where they were.” This laid-back attitude varied by family, as well as by geography, but the relative autonomy of older children in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early 1980s, was much greater than it would be moving into the ‘90s. Films of the early ‘80s such as E.T. and The Wizard show typical, American kids, left to their own devices, playing video games and capturing aliens with their friends while their parents are at work…


Clay Shirky, MOOCs, and Living the Deeper Mission of Education

Seems like the discussion about MOOCs so often gets cast in an “us vs. them” narrative, with people wondering whether or not the new guy on the block will supplant the venerable institutions of higher learning.

Media theorist Clay Shirky wrote a great piece that contextualizes the revolution in education within the “big pictures” of both technological innovation and higher education. It’s a long piece that is worth the read. One bit that particularly resonates:

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years.

…In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Well put.

It’s one thing to argue for traditional classrooms against the onslaught of massive online classes.  It’s quite another to remain ignorant of all the people who are boxed out of our current educational framework.


Tech Press Flubs the Ed-tech Story (Again): Minnesota and Coursera Edition

This past week saw some fireworks over changes in the language of the Coursera license agreement. Seems that they were contacted by the state of Minnesota about registration of degree-granting institutions and decided to change their terms of service. Ok.

Here’s my paraphrase of the story that the tech press told: Minnesota won’t let its citizens take online classes. Obviously, Minnesota is a fascist state that wants to control every aspect of people’s lives, including how and when they think. How dare a state stifle innovation!? This sort of stuff was the core of quite a few stories that felt, to me, reactionary, off the cuff, melodramatic, and snarky. Ars Technica seems to have been the first organization to research the situation. The title of their story says it all: No, Minnesota did not kick Coursera out of the state. (Check out the transcript of the letter to Coursera from George R. Roedler, Jr., Manager of Institutional Registration & Licensing in the churnalisticly titled story “Is Minnesota cracking down on MOOCs?” )

So, what gives?


Online Education: Just Like Regular Education, Just Online-ier

It’s the last week in August and I’m back in the classroom. (And back to blogging regularly!) School started on Monday, and suffice it to say that we’re all a bit rusty. Add to that the fact that I’ve been away from teaching for a year, and there are a lot of cobwebs to clear.

For teachers everywhere, the start of a new semester is also a time to revise assignments. Most of the time we’re iterating in order to refine and increase the effectiveness of the things that we do to engage students in the process of critical reflection. Sadly, sometimes we’re just figuring out ways to assign things that will be harder to complete by plagiarizing.

And these days, we are all under a lot of pressure, what with the current surge in articles heralding (or reflecting on) the end of the university at the hands of online education. We are currently in the midst of a surge of excitement of the prospects for digitally mediated learning spaces. Some of this makes sense to me from the standpoint of learning. There are so many more people going to college today—both in terms of numbers and diversity of background—than when the predominant model of the university was developed, it seems more than reasonable that some re-visioning and innovating is in order. (Heck, I’ve never taken or taught a class of more than 35 students, so I don’t know how people even do that!)


%d bloggers like this: