Archive for September, 2003

28th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

I seriously thought about withdrawing from the program this week. I’m tired of classes that meander and assigned readings from books that are filled with typos, $100 for two books that show NO sign of having been proofread. I’m tired of labs where the instruction is all verbal. How can you teach any computer skill or concept verbally? The Socratic method works for philosophy, but we’re not even engaging in a question and discuss approach. It’s a ‘listen to me tell you about what you need to know for an hour” approach. I’m tired of assignments that are tested on us. I used to assign projects to my students that I hadn’t attempted myself. When the questions started pouring in I would realize that I had given them an assignment beyond most of their skill sets. It should be outlawed for all teachers to assign tasks that they themselves have not completed. How else will you know what exactly your students are being asked to do? I’m tired of this awful, gnawing feeling of embarassment each time I want to ask a question but feel it’s such a basic question that I’ll stand out as someone who doesn’t belong. Everyone belongs in our prg. because it’s a hodge-podge of people with many skills and backgrounds. The prg. changes every semester with new profs. teaching the core classes. One even said that he’s trying to fit two courses into one and realizing that you can’t do that.

I spent four hours the other night trying to understand Vectors in Java. FOUR HOURS! Not a step closer to completing my assignment of creating a screensaver. If I had spent four hours studying Spanish or the Spanish Civil War, I’d be able to at least say a few sentences in Spanish or tell you the cause and effect of the war. That type of learning is linear and builds on learning constructs I’ve used my whole life: incrementing my vocabulary, names, dates, overarching concepts. With Java, you use all of those things but it still a very different way of thinking. Paradigm shifts are never easy.

I started to think of transferring or withdrawing and finding a teaching job. Why be miserable for three more months? I’ve got to figure out how to get something out of this semester.

28th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

I’m not sure if I used the word praxis correctly. I remember reading it on another blog and thought it might work for this post about an idea/desire I have to use all of this technology that permeates my day to somehow help me imbibe in poetry on a daily basis.

My idea. Nothing too far fetched really. I just want a database of poems that sends one out a few times a week via email. Maybe via a listserv, that’s the important part, sharing poems with other people. I think of all the email we get on a daily basis: admin reminders, pleas for coding help, posts from various listservs and of course the spam, a poem every now and then would be welcomed. A little poetry each day is an important thing. I keep thinking of that piece of software I saw years ago. In My Own Voice by Sunburst. Great way of extending the poems via music, video clips of famous people reading the poems. I wonder if the Favorite Poems project is on-line and if the movie clips are easily viewed on-line. And then this could be expanded to be a story database that sends out a story a week. That’s something that I’d like to build or have someone build for me. I wonder what program is best suited for developing it.

I bet there’s a way for blogs to help people display poems in an interesting way on their sites. I noticed that Flash components haven’t been included in anyone’s sites. Audio blogs is obviously a great way to share poetry. That would be a cool way to add your voice to cyberspace.

I just thought of a cool project for the kids at the Computer Clubhouse. As a way to introduce blogging to them. Ask them to find a poem, or even a rap, that they like. Record them reciting the poem. Have them add a short post about why they like it, maybe an illustration or their photo to go alongside it. Having a blog would be an empowering thing for kids because it gives them virtual space, and space for self-expression for teens is always at a premium.

Here’s the Billy Collins poems I found this afternoon that I liked. He’s coming to GA Tech this April to speak.

The Waitress

She brings a drink to the table
pivots, and turns away
with a smile

and soon she brings me
a menu, smiles,
and takes the empy glass away.

She brings me a fillet of sole
on a plate with parsley
and thin wheels of lemon,

then more bread in a basket,
smiling as she walks away,
then comes back

to see if everything is OK
to fill my glass with wine,
turning away

then circling back to my table
until she is every waitress
who has ever served me,

and every waiter, too,
young and old,
the eager and the sleepy ones alike.

I hold my fork in the air–
the blades of the fans
turn slowly on the ceiling–

and I begin to picture them all,
living and dead,
gathered together for one night

in an amphitheater, or armory
or some vast silvery ballroom
where they have come

to remove their bow ties,
to hang up their red jackets and aprons,
and now they are having a cigarette

or dancing with each other,
turning slowly in one another’s arms
to a five-piece, rented band.

And that is all I can think about
after I pay the bill,
leave a large, sentimental tip,

then walk into the fluorescent streets,
collar up against the chill–
all the waitresses and waiters of my life,

until the night makes me realize
that this place where they pace and dance
under colored lights,

is made of nothing but autumn leaves,
red, yellow, gold,
waiting for a sudden gust of wind

to scatter it all
into the dark spaces
beyond these late-night, practically empty streets.

…Billy Collins, The Waitress from Sailing Alone Around the Room

17th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

Machinima came up in class yesterday. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this. You wouldn’t know it by reading this blog but the reason I came to Georgia Tech’s IDT program was to learn more about digital storytelling, which the advent of machinima has now broadened the definition of. This is so cool. I love video games and am interested in the storytelling capacity of them. And here is an ingenious fusion of the two genres. I laughed my butt off while reading A Lawn Gnome’s Revenge and another one about a spoof on Grand Theft Auto. This is the kind of stuff I’m interested in learning more about; how you take existing technologies and apply the age-old, still clamored for, hard-wired desire for story to them – and then figure out how it could be applied to educational environments. I got to make me one of these machinima digital stories. I guess my Java skills are not going to make into my suitcase.

17th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

Well, it finally hit. I really miss teaching. I miss the classroom environment of the give-and-take, of being needed and the immediate gratification of a lesson, situation, or whole day going well. For the last ten years being a teacher was the thing that defined who I was. Now, I’m back in school, surrounded by people mostly ten years younger than me, trying to figure out how to focus my research interests and what I want to get out of this program. I like being back in school. I’ll love it when I feel like I’m getting more out of my classes or when I’ve padded my suitcase with more skills. Right now, I’m taking steps to find teaching opportunities, but it won’t be the same as having my own classroom.

12th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

Hey, that’s the first decent post title I’ve come up with. I was trying to sleep when I realized that the hardest challenge I face in a program like this is the desire to learn all the software and programming languages I can. I want to be able to say I know Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, XML, Java script, Final Cut Pro, and anything related to database programming – I think it’s PHP or JSP or is MySQL? Either way, I want it in my suitcase in the next two years. But it’s not really about learning the software, it’s the thinking you’re doing while learning about the tools. I have so many ideas about using technology with students and that may be my role. The idea guy or the guy with the teaching background who knows what’s missing, what’s needed and what probably won’t work. Not everyone in my program knows Flash or can program in three languages. I may just come back to finding out that I’m a good teacher and that’s what I should spend my time doing. Nah, good teachers always keep pushing themselves to learn.

All of the second years are scrambling for thesis project ideas and lobbying profs for their committee. I love thinking about thesis ideas. I already have one thesis project that I started back at Lesley. I’d like to finish that or find out if I should abandon it and focus my energy elsewhere. Blogs are ripe for a bunch of thesis projects. They really lend themselves to identity construction and community building, not to mention enhancing literacy.

If I had to pick a thesis project today, this is what I’d pick from:

blogs as a tool of identity construction for middle and high school students

digital storytelling: create a web tool that guides user through creating digital story and then uploading it to a shared multimedia database, target group is underrepresented students of color in white majority high schools

simulation mod of sim city where a simulation of a high school is manipulated by the user to create a harmonious learning environment. simulation allows the user to address issues of racism, biased teachers, drug and alcohol abuse, okay maybe only one of this issues, but the idea is you take the sim city or sims formula and apply it to a high school environment. we’ve had sim town, sim city, sim earth, sim tower, sim farm, why not see if you can create a simulation that allows students to address difficult issues. tom snyder’s decision, decision series was excellent at this. can you ramp that software up to tackle bigger issues?

any technology that encourages people to tell stories, share those stories, and create a more authentic representation of our communities – instead of the crap the mass media force feeds us.

any technology that helps deconstruct mass media

any technology that helps the mentally/emotionally challenged participate in mainstream society

an HCI treatment of some aspect of the gaming world for kids who spend most of their time in front of the computer, isolated from their peers, some approach that aims to reverse the insulating nature of the gaming world

I got to figure out how to add a photo album to my blog. This just looks odd.

10th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

I’m not really sure what ‘shlock’ means, but it was the first thing that came to mind when thinking of a reading response to an article I had to read from The New Media Reader. “Happenings” by Allan Kaprow was refreshing non-technical read. Not one mention of technology. Maybe I missed something. I think for future digital designers, the article reminds that technology can have a “happening” effect where the user experience is unscripted, unpredictable, explosive, stunning, the whole gamut of human emotion.

….Just reread parts of the article and I get it much more now. Kaprow was sounding an alarm at the absense of what he felt was art. The preface to the article explains that computer systems need not be passive, that they can be designed to be active, hence interactive art. Ah, now it all makes sense. To appreciate the complexities of interactive digital art, one should look to the struggles of the participatory art mvt. of the Sixties.

8th September
written by Tom Banaszewski

I want to create a blog for what I’m reading in my classes and a separate one for non-tech reading. Do I need a completely separate blog or can I just create a new category. In iBlog it’s more apparent when it’s a new category. I’m not so sure that’s the case with TypePad. We’ll see.

6th September
written by Tom Banaszewski


Camera obscura, long gave way to the portable camera, but still fetches a fat check for Abelardo Morell. The above sells for $4500 at it’s smallest dimensions. The topic of this past technology came up in two classes this week. I saw this exhibit at the MFA in Boston back in ’98. I’d like to try and do this.

I completed my first Java program. Almost lost a roommate in the process. I’m really interested in studying how people learn subject matter that does not build upon any other prior learning. I ran across an article on the web about someone trying out the Socratic method on fifth graders a few days before the end of their school year. For two hours, they were engaged in the discussion. How do we know when people have actually learned something? Too many people think that the test is the most reliable tool. There are so many conditions of learning, but the one that is always underestimated is the student himself. I always cringed when I felt that my students equated their learning with my saying so. We don’t teach kids to monitor their own learning. It’s dictated that they will learn from us the adults and we rarely stop to ask if the student has any understanding of how he or she learns best or if they know what the feeling even is when they grasp something. Unfortunately, the brain is still largely uncharted territory. There are many times when something comes out of my mouth in class that I had no idea I had consciously registered as having learned.

Programming has long been abandoned in the schools. Too bad, it’s a fundamental way of thinking about the future or at least the technologies of the future. I swore off learning to code back in high school. I just didn’t feel I had the logic or math skills, not to mention the patience, to wrap my brain around a programming language. People who know a programming language well often do not spend much time thinking about how they learned the language and when they are put in the position of trying to teach it they then see that teaching someone to code is not easy.

Everyone in the class is smart, but that doesn’t really matter much. This is where good teaching matters. With other subject matter, say a history class or even a software specific class like Photoshop, you do the reading, discuss it or learn the integral skills and you get it. But coding is much different. The book for the class, Thinking in Java, has the right idea, but you can’t teach someone a paradigm shift in thinking using only text. If I learn this stuff well enough I really would like to design a more effective way of teaching people to code. I think we could leverage the technology itself more efficiently, e.g using interactive examples to that allow the user to manipulate key concepts, sort of like the manipulatives-based approach to teaching math.

I’ve got to figure out a different way to use my class time because someone talking to me for an hour about programming is like sitting in a French class without anyone translating for me.