Saturday, February 13, 2010

Invitation to a conversation with Dan Pink

Back in November, when I was taking the Cognition course, one of the assigned texts was Daniel Pink's book: A Whole New Mind. As I wrote back then, this is a popular text in Wilkes courses. It's an interesting read. Even if you don't agree with everything Pink says, it will get you thinking about the importance of creating activities and strategies that will engage both sides of your students' brains to enhance learning, remembering, and responding. On Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 6 pm Pacific time (9 pm Eastern), Dan will be joining the Tuesday EDIM student group online to talk about his new book, Drive.

The Tuesday group (as I've come to think of us) was started by an EDIM student who is in his last course -- Vince Hill of Credenda Virtual School in Saskatchewan, Canada. He wanted to provide a way for EDIM students to meet and talk in real time once a week. For me the conversations have been a highlight of the program. As an "old school" person, I find I sometimes miss the interchange between students that takes place face to face in a local coffee shop after class. The discussion threads in the course Moodles are a great way to share ideas about a specific topic or question, and you do meet some of the same people in different courses, but the informal online meet-ups using Vince's Elluminate room give us a chance to share our successes, air our frustrations, ask questions about assignments to clarify expectations, and catch up with how everyone is doing. As was made so clear in the Cognition course (and in Dan's book), the social dimension of learning is an important one.

I know Vince is totally sold on the message in Dan's newest book. Vince is a thinking educator who generally doesn't use a lot of words to frame his ideas, but his latest blog post (Can we motivate students?Or do they have to be self-motivated?), an exploration of how Pink's ideas play out in education, is a long one. (When Vince writes upwards of 10 long paragraphs, you know he's excited about his topic. LOL!)

The issue of motivation has been troubling Vince for some time especially in his work with those of his students who don't attach much value to formal education. The underlying premise in
Drive -- i.e. that extrinsic motivators don't work, have never worked and will never work -- makes huge sense to him. Vince sees extrinsic rewards (promising a screaming child an ice cream for good behaviour; paying students for perfect attendance; dangling a corporate carrot in front of a worker) as a form of negative reinforcement. In its true sense, "negative reinforcement" means increasing "the future probability of behavour" with a reward rather than diminishing it. The child comes to know that if he's bad, he'll get a treat; the student learns to comply when there's money on the line; the worker becomes dependent on bonuses as the reason to strive for superior performance. Vince's own experiences as an educator have been confirmed by the research and conclusions in Drive.

For Pink the true motive underlying the corporate world's use of extrinsic rewards is not to increase performance but to exert a form of control over the workforce. (Otherwise why would they persist in a practice that has such poor results?) He believes that the 21st century will be the era when finally companies' need for a passionate, creative, and dedicated employees will outweigh their desire to control. It will be economic suicide to continue to ignore the importance of self- (or intrinsic) motivation.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation cannot co-exist. Jobs that make filling one's pocket the highest priority seldom also fill our souls. After all -- do we teach because it pays us top dollar for our skills and time or because we love our work? On the other hand, when we know our livelihood is on the line, do we comply with policies we feel are not in the best interests of our students and bury our passions so we can meet external expectations?

I hope you'll join us on Tuesday for what promises to be an engaging conversation with Dan Pink. Vince and Karena (our Wilkes academic advisor) will be hosting the event. I (SueH) will be monitoring the chat panel, so if you type in your questions I'll do my best to feed them to Dan. The session will be recorded and archived and I'll post that link here.

Please note: in the event that many more people come than we had originally expected, there may be a redirect from the first Elluminate room (when you arrive) to a second one on a larger server. Please bear with us as we iron out any wrinkles in the technology.

You'll need the latest version of Java installed on your computer. Vince has recommended that we all clear our Java caches (especially important if you attend a lot of Elluminate meetings), and have a USB mike if you think you may want to ask questions directly. Your normal computer mike will cause echoing and may be disabled by the tech crew. If you haven't used Elluminate before, you may want to login (any user name will do) a little early and be sure your mike and headset are configured to work correctly. The room will be open 30 minutes early.

See you on Tuesday:
~ 6:00 pm Pacific (link to conversion clock)
~ meeting link:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I think I've cracked it!!

I knew when I started the 511 course in Portable Video Production that I was in for trouble. My dad loved photography and wanted to teach his children how to use a camera and share his passion. I recall his giving me instruction about f-stops, apertures, and shutter speeds, and I also recall being quite baffled by it all. I'd try to remember what he said, but it seemed that as I got older any piece of equipment that had anything to do with image production became my nemesis. I accepted that photography would never be my thing.

When I was first teaching there were no photocopy machines. We had to write or type a worksheet by hand and then burn a stencil from that using a machine called a Thermofax (not a fax machine but an infrared heat device that is still used in tatoo parlours!)

The Thermofax would make a transfer, or 'spirit master', of the worksheet which was in turn laid onto the drum of the ditto machine. The copies were cranked out like this.

They were a distinctive shade of purple, and if you had to use them right away would still be damp and smelling of the alcohol used in the process.

Anyway, I could never remember the settings on the thermofax -- too hot? the stencil would burn; too cool? the worksheet would be so faint the kids could not read it. Now I can't remember the settings on the photocopy machine and when I try put a book in the wrong place or try to use an alternate tray, the machine reacts in a totally unpredictable way. So I knew that in a course using a moving camera I was going to be up against it, but having decided that I was too old to let past frustrations determine future pathways, in I plunged -- teeth clenched in determination to make this work.

Now I have to say that Frank Guttler, the instructor, is a man with endless patience. He obviously wants us to succeed more than he wants everything to be exactly right. He's the kind of teacher who can live with a few typos or errors in API style if he has students who are showing true improvement. He knows that for some of us (or at least for me) tackling this course is like going to live in an alien world and he's giving me plenty of credit for trying and the marks I need not to give up. He treats us more gently than we treat ourselves.

So yesterday while all my colleagues at school were out having fun in a pro-d workshop, I sat at my desk with my laptop and camcorder. After 2 hours I figured out that if I chose a camcorder setting that would give me footage suitable for the internet or emails and an aspect ratio exactly double that which is required by this course (seemed to make the most sense when I chose it), then the anti-shake function would be disabled. Do people who want to display their videos online or send them to their relatives in Australia have have steadier hands?

The next task was, as Frank had kindly suggested after he tried to view last week's assignment, to "play around with compression." The file was far too large for the course drop box, but the only solution I could find in Adobe Premier Elements 4 was to reduce the frames per second by half and the quality to 30%. This created a dog's breakfast.

Hour after hour ticked by, but finally at the end of the day, I decided to take a look at the mobile settings under the Share tab. I mean -- mobiles have small screens right? And there it was. Under the Mobile menu of Locations & Settings is something called of all things (oh! the irony) "Creative Zen." Creative Zen picks up the settings I have entered from the Export function under the File menu and packages the video into what seems to be a tiny, beautiful .wmv file.

I've sent a test to Frank via email (30+mb now down to a little more that 3), and i have my fingers crossed. It's calling itself a "Windows Media Audio/Visual" file. When I do a search for *.wmv, up pops my test sample. I think I can finally meet the criteria of file size and format without sacrificing quality.

Interestingly when I was coaxing a student through the toughest unit in her math course on Tueseday, I told her it was as if she was on the last 750m of the Grouse Grind (a local attraction). She just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not give up on herself.

And that's why I took this course -- to feel the fear and do it anyway. It's my Grouse Grind.