31 May, 2008

Bursting Brain

These last weeks have been very busy, exciting ones. Besides my part-time job at the university, I have been working on three other jobs.

One of the jobs is an online consulting contract. Now that we have worked out the technological glitches, it is all work and no delay. The hours I work are almost one-to-one with the hours I bill, and all this from the comfort of my living room.

Two of the contracts are teaching and lecturing contracts. This work takes more preparation time and the pay is, in retrospect, not adequate. Yet, I am learning so much, the work is interesting, so maybe the limited financial compensation is not so important.

As if this wasn’t enough, a friend of mine in NYC asked me whether I wanted to work on a project, which is, hopefully, going to create an audio-visual public art installation. The concept is so exciting and there is so many ideas floating around that have to be caught and put down on paper and structured into a coherent mass of information, I fear my brain is about to burst.

I’ve been walking around trying to keep my feet on the ground, but exciting ideas create this helium effect that makes grounded-ness counter intuitive. Got to slow down, breathe deep, and relax.

27 May, 2008

Internet Safety V

My friend, Charlotte, mentioned that her oldest daughter (8 years old) is getting interested in using the Internet. To date, her daughter uses the Internet to find information, e.g., Wikipedia. While riding to work this morning, I tried to figure out whether this is a good use of the Internet for young children. Surprisingly, I don’t think it is an age appropriate use, for reasons I mention below.

This post is about the guidelines I followed with my children the last fifteen years and the guidelines would I give to parents of young children, after working for the last years in a research project concerned with digital media in schools. Here is my list of points concerning young children (3-10 years) and use of media and the Internet:

1. Offline

This might sound Old School, but I would suggest that your young (under 8 years) children do all of their computer activities offline; or, if online, under your strict supervision. I think children should use computers, any digital media actually, to participate in some sort of meaningful action or interaction and not as source of information. When they are young, it is a question whether children really need interaction with people they don’t see in person, or go on sites whose purpose is to reach an attractive consumers group.

If they need information, let them read books. If you want to help them develop their imagination, follow the same advice. Take them to a library. Let them breathe, see, and hold books. This is important.

2. Exploration

You should encourage your children to explore their world and tell stories of their experience with the help of media. They should draw, sing, dance, put on plays, make up poems, write journals, make movies, etc. using traditional and digital media. Don’t leave out anything: neither the glue and scissors nor WinWord or wikis.

3. Magic mix

Encourage your child to combine all sorts of different media when they are working on a project. For example, let your child write a travel journal with the help of paper and pen, but later, print out some photos that they can stick into the journal, or cut out some pictures from a tourist magazine. Make up a collage or digital photo album about the places you saw and the special moments you experienced, and send it to friends and family. Use whatever media you have, the magic is in the mix.

4. All programs are games

Let your child use computer programs as learning tools for as long as possible. You can sell any software program to your children as a computer games until they are six or seven years old at least. There is really not reason for your children to spend too much (any) time playing jump and run or shooter games when they are really small. There are a deluge of excellent learning programs and projects for young children (from 2-10 years) that they will find fun to do.

5. Practice making rules

In the early years, introduce the concept that there are rules they have to follow if they want to “play” on the computer. My children could only play once a week and for 20 minutes at a time until they were six or seven years old. Then they were allowed a half an hour twice a week. They had to put on an egg time when they started. If we came into the living room while they were “playing” and there was no timer on, then that qualified as play time over.

6. Let children do all the work

A child has to be allowed to create their own stories in the manner they do best. As a supervisor, you don’t have to tell them what to do, you don’t even have to give them detailed instructions on how to do it, you only have to scan in their finished drawings or record their songs for later discussion and presentation.

7. Be informed

As a parent, go looking for ideas on the many websites and educational platforms that are available. Here (1, 2, 3) are a few I like.

This post is much too long, please excuse. Do any of you have other suggestions for young children? Does anyone what advice about somewhat older children (8-12)?

25 May, 2008

Internet Safety IV

Many (translate: most) of my friends and the teachers I know or work with, throw their hands up when it comes to becoming proactive and leaders in helping their children become media literate. They find this notion daunting.

Here follows the three main arguments I hear (over and over again) about why they remain inactive and my counter arguments:

1. Too much information

“There is just too much information out there, I don’t even know where to start.”

Try to imagine the situation where you learn to read in a classroom setting without the help of books and then you enter a public library for the first time. What would you do? Walk away because you are overwhelmed, or seek out the help of the kind and knowledgeable librarian? No one is asking you to be instantly savvy, rather, as a parent and educator, you just have to tread wisely and find someone to guide you.

I was fortunate to “meet” Will Richardson and David Warlick a few years back. They are two educators whose passion, wealth of experiences, and musings, inspired me to reach beyond my initial scepticism and fear to venture out into the wide world available to me through my computer. Through them I “met” other people from various professions, who are exploring exciting and interesting ideas. I can say without a doubt, that over the last five years, I have probably learnt more than I have at any other time since becoming an adult; in part, through the guidance of people active in the Internet, but also through my own humble learning experiences.

2. Too little time

“I just don’t have the time.”

Make time. This is important. There was a time, if someone said to you, “I don’t have time” it was a brush off. A rude brush off. The question we have to pose ourselves as parents is whether our children, internally, interpret our “no time” lifestyle as a brush off or disconnect. Our children are feverishly establishing identities, friendships, job profiles, gaming buddies etc. online. Not knowing personally about the pitfalls and rewards of such activities is tantamount to neglecting our parental responsibilities.

3. Too much crap

“There is just so much crap out there, I couldn’t be bothered wasting my time and energy on it.”

Have you been in a large bookstore or music store recently? Not only is there a lot of crap on the shelves there, but also a good percentage of the content is probably not to your tastes or doesn’t speak to your interests. The whole joy of the Internet is the fact that you can find the mainstream, the eclectic, the good (and I mean veryvery good) and the bad (even, sadly, the criminally bad) right in front of you. In the end, you are responsible for the quality and quantity of the information you read, the activities you participate in, and the people you communicate with on the Internet.

To be continued…

24 May, 2008

23 May, 2008

Internet Safety II

Mage pointed out rightly, that trust is sometimes very hard earned. Especially, when it comes to our children learning to behave responsibly. This is why it is more effective to talk to our children openly about what websites they visit or what games or online communities they are members of, than it is to put our faith in is some technological tool; in the hope, partially, that technology can take over our supervisory responsibilities. In my opinion, it is not really possible to protect/control/boycott your children’s Internet activities through technology, once they are actually logged on. Instead of installing parental filters, we should try to be leaders in guiding them in their exploration and adventures. Show them how to do so in a responsible and respectful manner.

In my case, when my children started going into the Internet (both were approx. 10 years old*), I spent some time and effort showing them sites I thought they would be interested in. Some of these sites were purely educational or concerned current events, but some were just very creative stuff. I adopted the same attitude as when they started reading books; I was selective about what content they were exposed to and supervised how much time they spent reading. This doesn’t mean that I controlled or decided the what, when, or how of their reading activities, I just guided and influenced their choices somewhat.

When they started going into the Internet, we discussed what sites they were going to frequent. I looked regularly at the sites, looking for subject material to use during future dinner conversations.

Our children also knew there was a history list we could look at. A list they were not allowed to erase. We didn’t say we were going to look at the history list every time they went into the Internet. We just told them, since the computer belonged to us, any of the activities on the computer was our concern. In those early years, there was conversation going on before, during, and after Internet use.

Please, do not get the impression that all went smoothly. Like all learning experiences there were hurtles to get over and mistakes were made on all sides. I don’t want to dramatize or minimize the experiences: the results were hard earned, even though the rules were simple.

To be continued…

22 May, 2008

Internet Safety

While I was in Toronto recently, I had the pleasure to talk with a couple about Internet safety for children and adolescents. L. has two sons who are more computer and computer game savvy than she is. D. teaches media in a middle school in a volatile area in downtown Toronto. They, like most parents and educators, are swimming through muddy waters when it comes to keeping children safe from adverse content and effects of the Internet.

I thought I would spend a few days writing about topics concerning parents, children, Internet safety, media literacy, media use… It has been a while since I’ve written about these topics near and dear to my heart and mind. The conversation with L. and D. has spurred me on.

Overall, I have the impression that there are difference about how the parents and educators feel about Internet safety and children’s use of media in Germany in comparison to the States and Canada. So, keep in consideration that what I am writing is greatly influenced by the culture I live in and my experiences with my own children (now 13 and 18 years old) over the last fifteen years, and the school children I’ve worked with in the last four years.

If I was to write briefly my stance on Internet safety, it would be to say that the focus of our attention and action should be on guiding our children though the Internet and not keeping them safe from the Internet. To do this, we have to build up a dialog and learn to trust our children to use the Internet appropriately. And by dialog, I mean listening as much, or more, than talking (lecturing, warning). By learning, I mean the whole jumble: to experiment, to problem-solve, fall on our faces, and jump in triumphant.

This means learning-by-doing and not just assimilating a critical mass of facts. Thus, the belief that it is essential for each of us, as parents and educators, to learn, experiment, and participate alongside our children. It is by travelling alongside our children, discussing the pros and cons of certain Internet applications that we can slowly develop a trusting relationship with our children.

To be continued…

18 May, 2008

Silly Season

My mother, who lives in Grenada, refers to the Christmas season there as the Silly Season. There is such a rush of partying going on, it is as if this normally party-friendly society goes completely berserk, or falls into a frenzy, of fêting.
After many years of studying a pattern to our hectic life in Luebeck, I’ve decided to announce the end of spring, beginning of summer, as the Silly Season. The school year draws to a close with a blast: final exams, summer concerts, fund raising bake sales, and school parties. Our companies are crunching out their last project deadlines before summer vacation time arrives: did I mention we get six week’s paid annual vacation, ten religious and bank holidays, and flexible overtime compensatory holidays.

With summer looming, a time that leaves Europe void of productivity, everyone tries to squeeze everything important into the weeks from after Easter until the beginning of July. It is completely crazy. Silly Season.

I don’t even want to risk telling you the state our calendar is in. We have more appointments, dates, and celebrations overflowing every one of our days; enough things to fill the rest of the year with. And, we are no dullards when it comes to social engagement. So, please forgive any certain lack of focus you might be feeling from my writings or non-writings. Even this will pass.

17 May, 2008

This Is My Life

I’m sorry, I can’t stop myself from praising, quoting, and embedding videos of TED Talks in my blog. Yet, I have to do it again…

This talk by Mark Bittman is my life in the sixties and seventies in Canada, and my observations of what has been happening in North American concerning home cooking over the last 25-30 years. I know it is only one man’s story or perspective. But, it is a story that I share in sentiment and daily practice.

13 May, 2008

Slow But Steady

I haven't been able to work on my Creating Collages blog over the last months. Life caught up with me. Still, ever the slow but steady worker, I did manage to write a post about how I got started making collages.
It seems now that those of you who expressed interest in my collage making are not, thankfully, asking me to give you all the ins and outs of Photoshop. This post is just a story and next post will be more practical.

So far, I haven't been big on the practical. I'll get there. Please have patience.

11 May, 2008

Puzzling Experiences In Toronto

Here is a list of things I saw in Toronto the first few days that left me puzzled:

Condominiums built with their backyards exposed, in spitting distance, to millions of cars driving along the 401 large thoroughfare.

So much has changed in the city that I only recognise the names of the streets, but practically none of the landmarks. I haven’t been here for 25 years.

It is cold outdoors (10 degrees C), yet many people are walking around in T-shirts and flipflops. I have three layers on and regret not having brought any long sleeve turtle-neck shirts.

Most of the people I’ve seen in this area of the city are young (teens up to their 30s). I rarely see people my age or older.

A grade school traffic warden waiting at a street corner early morning for the school children to arrive: smoking one cigarette after another and looking very scruffy and hung over. What happened to the perky mothers on alternate traffic duty?

A group of overweight youths with man breasts, greasy long hair, pants that seem to mysteriously stay up somewhere in their hip regions, gold and diamond earrings on both ears, and expensive PSPs or Bluberries devices in their hands. After sitting together, in silence, in a café for an hour, one decides to go to school, two say they are skipping classes, and one goes off shopping. Initially, when they first came down to sit next to me, I thought they must be poor, then when I saw the expensive jewellery and digital devices I thought they came from rich families, then after an hour of watching them do nothing, I thought them poor in a way it is hard to explain.

I am completely baffled by the advertising. It no longer seems necessary to state what the product is or what it does. Example of three adverts:

  • Billboard: Three guys standing in working clothes. In print, “Try Us” and a website address, which is something like www.tryus.com. Billboard shown in the gay sector of Toronto, so I had no idea if the guys represent various trades, a stripper’s service, or a dating platform.
  • Billboard: A young woman sitting in her gym clothes, holding a cell phone. Slogan, “Fat-free mobility is here!”
  • A Cover Girl nail polish restaurant washroom advert: Your husband is sampling your entreé, 16-hours of colour/ don’t miss out.

It is like they adverts are speaking a foreign language I don’t understand.

10 May, 2008

Flying Home

The ten days over here in Toronto and a very brief stop over in Montreal have gone far too quickly.

So, guys, I am heading over the ocean again, so send your good thoughts in that direction.

The time spent with my favourite uncle was like discovering love all over again: bitter sweet and deeply moving.

I'll be back to blogging more regularly soon.

06 May, 2008

Keep Saturday Free

You know where you should be this Saturday.... right here!

05 May, 2008

Where Others Are Not Welcomed

The one thing I like about Canada is that it is truly egalitarian. The one thing I hate about Canada is that it is truly egalitarian. Canada is the only country I know of that herds all people entering the country into one collective cattle line at customs.

In all European countries, you have EU lines and “Others” lines. The EU lines whizz along. You practically get whiplash watching the citizens of EU countries peripheral efforts to clear customs. The speedy movement of the line indicates a wide bridge to assist them in their continued journey. The “Others” line up, by contrast, is stop-and-go at best. Most often, it just stops.

In Grenada and other countries I frequently visit, there is a special line up for “citizens and residences”. These booths are manned by custom officers who either know everyone and wave them through with a wink and a wave; or, custom officers nearing retirement who couldn’t be bothered and so they wave the people through with a dismissive flick of their fingers. The “Others” booths are manned by the young-and-uncertain or the old-and-resentful. Their working lives consists of making these initial moments in these countries of choice (often for restful and relaxing vacations) as uncomfortable as possible.

Last Thursday, I arrived at Toronto airport alongside quite a few other flights. Joy of joy. The dimension’s of the custom’s hall is beyond belief. One universal cattle line larger than any I’ve seen before. Standing in the crowd, itching forward at an irritatingly slow rate, I daydreamed that one of the customs officers entered a new message in the LED sign over his booth. Instead of lighted number, it said, “Non-Others”.

04 May, 2008

a story begins: a poem

A few days ago I posted a video about a certain mind mapping method, called, for use of anything better, the “what, why, and how” method. I thought I would use the method to help me write a poem.
Here is the result. The photos used in the slideshow are copyright free from this site. I don’t know if making a slideshow of the poem is such a good idea. Please tell me what you think.

03 May, 2008

Looking for the Mouse

As someone who spent a lot of hours over a very short period of time in my childhood watching sitcoms of the 70s, I can very much appreciate Clay Shirky’s argument about seeking out better ways of utilising our “cognitive surplus”.

What he is suggesting, which may be offensive to many, is that even though we are all far too busy and our lives are crazycrazy, we spend a phenomenal amount of time consuming television (he estimates in the States two hundred billion hours a year). Time better spent elsewhere.

In his talk called, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, at the recent Web 2.0 conference (text transcript here), he presents an interesting argument about the potential of web participation to create new social projects.

We do not have a television in our household*. Never have. It is not because I feel television is a waste of time, it is because I think we can better spend our time. Life is just too short to spend it in front of a television.

Now we spend a fair portion of out free time in front of computer screens. And, this makes me nervous because my family’s and my activities is a cumulation of “consumption, production, and sharing” that Clay Shirky talks about. It is the consumption part that I have difficulties dealing with. Since we never have and still don’t watch television, the hours spent in front of YouTube seem like waste. Even though we have produced YouTube videos, SlideShare, etc. over the last year, I can’t quite reconcile myself to our consumption.

This talk has not calmed my worries, but it has allowed me to obtain a bigger picture about what we are doing in our family by blogging, playing WoW, podcasting, writing wikis, using Google Docs, and participating in social networks. We are, potentially, preparing ourselves for better things to come: a time when we will create new meaningful social institutions, movements and changes.

*I was the one who decided not to have a television. My husband and children would have preferred one. In this one topic, anarchy (me) ruled.

02 May, 2008

Getting Unstuck

“ … I want to show you that the creative impulse is quiet, quiet. It sees, it feels, it quietly hears: and now, in the present… It is when you are really living in the present that you are living spiritually, with the imagination.”

Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write

A friend of mine has become stuck halfway through writing a novel. The story so far is very good. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Since she’s temporarily stuck, and also unwilling to tell me what happens, I wait impatiently for her to continue.

She says she wants me to be a cheerleader. I’m a lousy cheerleader. In fact, I (so unkindly) have always hated cheer leading and cheerleaders. I have a phobia about pompoms.

What I really would like to do is, shake her by her shoulders and yell at her to “get on with it”. I have to know what happens next. I have to know what the main characters say, or do, or experience. Selfishly, I fail to understand completely why my friend has, at the point in time, chosen to have this crisis. Can’t she see there is a story waiting to be told?

Can’t she just jump over all of this internal uncertainty, the barrage of family obligations, her pursuit of living a balanced life (ha, who manages such a thing anyways?), and sit down and concentrate and write the rest of the story, so that I can finally read more? I want her to write and write and write, so that I never have to stop reading. I want to live close by her characters for a long time to come.

So, as a means to an end, sigh, I am on my way out the door to buy some pompoms. I’ve already made up some silly rhyming cheers. My desperation knows no bounds.