18 August 2014

A for Effort and Discipline

I've been learning Italian here in Italy now for almost a year. Given the feedback from others, and remembering where I was at with German after living in Germany for year, I'm giving myself an A for effort.

Effort has meant limiting how much time I spend in English. Doing grammar explicitly. Talking when I didn't really feel like it. Looking up words when I read. Asking people to repeat something or reword it. Listening and not zoning out ever though I don't understand what's going on. Speaking and writing hack-Italian. Not flipping into English when I know someone understands it. Perhaps there's some discipline in there too.

Or maybe it's just knowing how to learn a foreign language generally? Needing to get things done? Wanting to connect and understand?

Yeah but most of the credit still goes to effort and then discipline. Just showing up and doing it. It feels harder though. Than what? I don't know. The last time I did this, learning German?

I don't know what brain science says about the differences between a 32 year old brain and a 54 year old one regarding language learning. Certain mental processes slow? Is that what feels harder? Maybe. But if it were only about the brain, mine is actually fitter than it was then, with all the learning going on over those years in school and what not. I think it works better now actually.

It's probably my self-study program. It takes a lot more effort to self-motivate. And my expectations; they're high. I didn't have either, explicitly, when I was learning German.

Yeah that's it.

And then of course, we are in Italy. We enjoy life more than in the States. Effort is work. And life isn't all about working is it? I bet I'm the only one on my block with a self-study program. 

02 August 2013

My discomfort with the M in MOOC

I can't remember when I last had an experience of quality that was en mass. They generally don't appeal to me.

I'd rather go to a small intimate concert than a stadium production.

I don't shop in big-box stores. They exploit their employees. I find this socially unjust.

I generally don't eat prepared-processed food. It's inferior in taste and nutritional quality than what I can prepare myself. Its production is environmentally unsustainable.

The two MOOCs I didn't finish were socially and mechanically chaotic. Frustrating. Although the content was extraordinary, the experience is what I remember.

Learning and education are human experiences; they're fundamentally intimate and personal. Massiveness is emptied of intimacy. It's intentionally impersonal.

A personalized experience is not synonymous with a personal experience. The former is the product of an algorithm. The latter is what happens when people connect.

In a MOOC or on the street, I'm unable to connect with 100s of people, let alone thousands. Any networking book will tell you it's about the quality not the quantity of your connections. If that's the point.

When knowledge is commodified by a few people, and massively distributed, it necessarily marginalizes lesser known knowledge. It renders it as Other and disables cultural plurality. Collectively we know less. We atrophy. We become homogenized.

When the ethos of capitalism invades education--a social system--it rapes and pillages its meanings. What is valuable, what is worthwhile is colonized by what has capital value and makes sense to markets.

My values shape my experiences. My experiences shape my world. If my values are represented, if I have meaningful experiences, this is what I carry with me. This is what makes me feel whole and alive.

19 June 2013

Imparare Italiano

Last week in Italy I got compliments on my grammar and accent. Sono contenta. My self-directed learning program is working.

My strategy is simple. It's something of a left-brain/right-brain approach, something that was described as language learning verses accumulating knowledge. It's how I learned German.

In the US I learned grammar and vocabulary: structures and rules, knowledge about the language as well as its microbits. It was mostly rote learning. I spent only a small fraction of that learning-time "using German", in a conversation class. Then when I arrived in Germany everything was a big sound wall of incomprehensibility. Over the months and then years that followed, everything came together--the microbits, the structures, the sounds, the colloquialisms, the mannerisms. I became very fluent and literate and it was a joy I'll never forget.

Italian is far more fun of a language, because it's my language, and because it's fun to speak and hear. It's gorgeous. And so I'm doing the same thing except spending more time in the US on the sounds and the usage. Singing songs for example. I write and read quite a lot too, solely because of web, something I couldn't do 20 years ago when I learned German. Even when I don't comprehend completely, I'm still getting the right-brain stimulus.

My configuration of a going dilligently through a very comprehensive grammar book (in English), listening to podcasts, reading blogs and newspapers online, watching videos and movies, emailing and skying with Italian friends is fluid. C'e' un struttura, certamente, ma io la creo, e la faccio come vado e  come me la serve.

In settembre, quando arrivo in Italia, faccio un corso privato per 2 settimane o piu'. Sono curiosa come lo andra' e che cosa resultati raggiungiamo. Non facevo mai questo metodo. 


18 May 2013

The Net decontextualizes experience and it doesn't work for me

One of the ways we humans understand the world is through contextualizing. The brain connects the new with the already known. It's a physiological process with psychological and emotional dimensions.

Just imagine if every time you went to a grocery store, you had to "start from scratch" figuring out the context. What's a grocery, what can I buy here, how does the process work, how am I supposed to behave? Is it safe?

Anyone who's traveled in foreign culture knows what I'm talking about. It's engaging beyond many of life's experiences. It's also challenging and scary and exhausting.

Once I was in Istanbul briefly, on my own, taking a ferry across the harbor to catch a train. I'd never been anywhere where the language was completely indecipherable. But the context was decipherable and what I needed to do was clear--find someone who spoke English to tell what to do next. And maybe more importantly, all the relevant dimensions of the context were transparent because as an agent within the context, even with all the things that could have happened, I was fairly at ease with what I could read from and do with the context.

The Net is made up of decontextualized experiences.

This doesn't happen quite so fluently on the web. First off because human cognition is embodied.  It's all about the senses and the materiality of existence. Mind is material. A conversation is bodily endeavor. A philosopher's thoughts manifest in writing. So immediately I notice that Net experiences dehydrate my experience, and does so by giving me meaning only in the form of the written word, digitized 2-dimensional imagery and compressed audio input. All of which is fairly sterile. And the sterility doesn't dissipate with human interaction because the interactions themselves are dehydrated and sterilized. Moreover they're potentially uninviting and dangerous. Recently, one of the few critics of edu-tech mania has turned off comments on her blog because of aggressive misogynists and man-splainers.

So not only do my senses atrophy online, but my soul does. My humanity is profoundly compromised. And I'm noticing this more and more, the longer I've been here.

But ok, soooo...I don't care for the human and social experience on the Net, but here I am, a fairly intelligent, digitally literate person trying to make sense of something meaningful to me like a blog post. Because I do like ideas and knowing, and their power.

How I do figure things out?....pretty much I read and read and read and read and read and read and read and read and read and read. It's exhausting and a time-suck. And I'm not ill, don't have kids and a dog to feed, or a lawn to mow.

Just imagine being in a grocery story, and all the red labels on packages weren't the color red but on the label was printed:  "this is a red label." And then imagine that anyone could create these red labels. Some would read "this is a read label," "this is a label of the complimentary color to green."

The Net isn't bad, gawd no, it's just profoundly dehumanizing, and alienates the human condition. And this matters when we're talking about the human endeavors of learning and education.

08 March 2013

Caring and Technology

It occurred to me recently that my ethic of caring is completely undermined when it comes to technology.

I'm disabled from acting on the empathy I feel towards others and what amounts to an everyday discomfort of using technology to do X.

The discomfort includes feelings of anxiety, frustration, desperation, anger, uncertainty and disappointment. It's the lived experiences themselves and remembering them. And it's the outcomes and influences of these lived experiences on our lives and those around us.

This is the discomfort I've experienced and witnessed others experiencing using technology for teaching and learning. It's one context; I'm sure it's not an anomaly.

It's International Women's Day today. Women across the globe, regardless of their socio-economic status do the bulk of the emotional, unpaid labor in societies. Their lives are more work.

So it matters to me that a given technology ends up involving more work, more time, more effort, and for what?

These posts:  The Ironies of Educational Technology and The Inhumanity of Smart Technology say it too. They wonder too. For what?

It's occurred to me that the culture of technology is not a caring culture and that I'm complicit in this cultural hegemony. It's collaborative and "supportive" but this is not caring.

Caring would manifest in technology designed with people in mind, not with processes and procedures.

It would change at a more humane pace so that all the people involved in making technological systems happen had time to become competent, and so that users could effectively use them. 

Caring would have rhetorical resonance. Language reflecting the meanings and relationships forged through the technology would stymie the hyperbolization of technological solutionism.

The most care I can give is to be honest and refrain from the rhetoric of hyperbole and solutionism.