On Looking: Reading slowly and carefully

Andrew Sullivan at The Dish asked Maria Popova at Brain Pickings to choose the new book for the second installment of a big Book Club discussion.

As a long time reader of Brain Pickings, I ordered whatever she picked. On Looking: Eleven walks with expert eyes is all it is purported to be in Maria’s review.

The book is so well written that it is hard to believe it is non fiction. The main focus of Attention is only a vehicle to explore, well, eleven different viewpoints of the same city block, where the author lives. Making the banal interesting and exciting is the goal achieved.

It is one of those books that you want to savor. Read a chapter, turn it over in your head, look at it closely, enjoy the taste and all the other sesations, and ponder before moving on. I hope to finish before the Book Club begins next week. join me?

Kevin and Frank need your help

Indiegogo search results
If you search for Myanmar at Indiegogo, this is what you get.

Kevin and his good friend of many years are returning to Myanmar (Burma) to train English teachers. This time they are going under the auspices of the NLD (National League for Democracy), the party founded by Nobel winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She also founded the Education Network, to promote education, in a remarkably prescient move while still under military rule. The huge need for English as the country opens up to both tourism and business needs to be met.

Kevin and Frank went with a group of volunteers in January, for a week, and it was, in Frank’s words, “A life-changing event.” I concur.

Kevin and Frank will go for a month this time, in the rainy hot month of September. The NLD/EN will provide accommodations. What we need now is to cover transportation costs, mostly airfare from Tokyo to Yangon.

See our Indiegogo campaign to make a small donation to become part of this project. If we go over our goal, we will use any additional donations to buy textbooks and educational materials to distribute to the teachers there. If you are a publisher or distributor of books, contact me to get books into the hands of teachers there. If you have a large donation (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), contact us directly so we can eliminate the middleman at indiegogo.

Weekly Break Time 1

David Letterman, the biggest late night TV comedian, is retiring in one year. The night he announced his retirement, he had a new band on his show (March 27). This band was not well known. It is now. After the group was put on YouTube, it “went viral” meaning it acted like a virus and grew very very quickly, with almost a million people watching. The new band is called Future Island. Look for more of them in the future. They sang the song Seasons (Waiting on You). Lyrics.

 

Einstein on Education

Here is a quote by Einstein, whose birthday is today.

This school with its liberal spirit and teachers with a simple earnestness that did not rely on any external authority, made an unforgettable impression on me. In comparing it with six years schooling at an authoritarian German Gymnasium, I was made acutely aware how far superior an education that stresses independent action and personal responsibility is to one that relies on drill, external authority and ambition.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

I started listening to this podcast a couple of weeks ago. I can’t get enough.

I remember driving all over Japan a few years ago, listening to the series about the Byzantines by Lars Brownworth, a prof,  who is doing one on the Normans. Driving around the US last summer I listened to How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill.
hh_headerBut now this new guy (for me), Dan Carlin, talks about lots of different kinds of history. His podcasts are long, 3-4 hours, but engrossing. I’ve listened to #48, about heretics and a trial in Munster, Germany just after Gutenberg and Martin Luther. And #41, about how the Dark Ages weren’t really so Dark, and how the Goths were a lot more civilized than most people think. Covers from the fall of Rome in 472 up through Charlemagne in the 800’s.
He’s got a much more conversational style than Brownworth, and jumps all over the place. He is at the top of iTunes Podcast list, for a good reason. I just wish I had more time. Next for me: #49 The American Peril. He also does series, such as the ones about Mongolia and the Khan. Well worth the listen. 

Some Rhizomatic Learning on P2PU

rhizomatic

Our first task for the the first week of the new MOOC by Dave Cormier is not so much reconcile cheating with learning but rethink learning so there is no place for cheating. A MOOC, especially a Connectivist MOOC, with rhizomatic roots is a good place to do that. Rhizomatic Learning is an attempt to assemble a community of people, some with knowledge of the focal topic, others with knowledge of other topics, to work together to fill each others’ chinks. More on the root system that allows single plants to weave themselves together into a single organism, and how Dave had taken that idea and applied it to online learning. I have to take care of a couple of my other blogs, one over at DMLL, about Digital Mobile Language Learning, and another for student work over at languagejapan.com.

But I will be right back with another post. About Burma.

Burma Bound

MyanmarSchool3A friend of the family has wrangled me into volunteering as a teacher trainer for a week next January in Myanmar. The group is small, and works through a travel agent and has connections to the Education Network, founded by the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party founded by Aung San Suu Kyi.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive. I had to raise funding to get there, and stay there, and also find someone else to match that. I was extremely fortunate to ask Frank Berberich, longtime friend, who has recently retired. He immediately signed on, saying he had been looking for something exactly like this.

We are in the process of raising funds now, and getting visas. It looks like we will be training about 100 high school teachers in the Yangon (Rangoon) area. These teachers are part of a network of schools that teach the poorest and most disadvantaged children in Myanmar.

MyanmarSchool2So here I am, an expert in using computers to teach adults languages, and I am going to try to train teachers on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of polite Japanese school girls as students, we will have harried teachers, trying to add to their arsenal of teaching tools, so as to open up Myanmar to the world.

As we approach deadlines and prepare for the training, Frank and I are getting more and more excited. We are going along with 6 others on the trip, and will meet them in Yangon shortly after the new year. I will keep you updated on events as they happen.

#ETMOOC, baby steps, students

I have always figured I am about 3 years ahead of my students, at least in adoption of technology for learning. But with this MOOC thing, I have leapt way, way ahead. The way universities are set up, the education system so entrenched and ossified here in Japan, I fear for the 2020’s (and figure not much will happen until then).

Japan’s Ministry of Education is promoting the idea of applying the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle to learning. Never mind that this was developed to improve assembly lines for Toyota in the 1960’s by W. Edwards Deming who has reached mythical status over the years. Teachers tell me it can be used for anything. Sure it can. But should it?

So how do we get from here to there? Baby steps? A gradual evolution? Or a revolution? Will digital citizens rise up and man the barricades, voting electronically to…do what? MOOCs of the Connectivist variety will require a lot of nurturing, and will get splashed with the backlash that is sure to come in the next few years of the emerging technologies hype cycle.

My students are woefully unprepared for autonomous learning. They have been instructed and directed down to the minute in a very efficient system for developing instruction followers. I am guessing they will become the engine for whoever will lead them. I teach one day a week at the leader’s school. The ones who will go into the bureaucracy to push Japan forward in the next few years. They leave me hope. They are willing to experiment, but only so far. Tiny tiny groups are allowed to do things differently, such as take a gap year. Are these baby steps enough? Should I try to foment a revolution? They say the best leaders are adept at spotting a crowd going somewhere and getting in front of it. I don’t see much movement right now. Hopefully it is just me.

TV Guide to MOOCs

The most profitable company for TV in its golden era, before cable and the Internet, was the TV guide. Cover TV Guide It made more than the networks did. Networks, for our younger readers, were large broadcasting companies that worked with local distributors (affiliates) to make a broadcast network, exemplified by CBS, NBC or ABC in the US.

I can’t help but feel that we are ramping up to that golden age very quickly for MOOCs, and whoever has the best directory will have tremendous influence over how the industry (and it will be an industry) develops.

Stephen Downes MOOC Guide is a good example of an open source guide. Coursera is working hard to involve so many universities that it will become a defacto guide in itself. Edx is offering its courseware to anyone who wants to install and use it.

One or more of these groups will eventually (and I think already has) offer the platform as-is for teachers to use to offer courses. A guide for that will also be essential in the near future. This guide would include the each platform available, the tools available, the requirements for hosting a course, and the outcome for both teachers and students.

ETMOOC LogoIn the age of digital citizenship, (currently being discussed at the ETMOOC), the educational component of that citizenship may well require access to a directory like this, either for learning or for teaching, and may even be required eventually for access to parts of society the citizen belongs to. One may have to take a course in the constitution before running for office, for example. Certainly driver’s licenses could have requirements that might be satisfied with a MOOC, and add a built-in support group for driving issues after the license is obtained, in case one gets arrested or breaks down.

The ramifications are endless.

Audio Books and Driving

drivingJim Dean, my dad’s colleague and long-since-retired English teacher at Larkin high school near Chicago has a wonderful laugh and a razor sharp wit. His appreciation of English is also remarkable. When he sent me this link to an account of driving across country while listening to an audio book version of Moby Dick, it made me smile. I love audio books and reading as well, and find they are very different experiences. Especially with something like Moby Dick. The money quote from the New York Times account:

I was always glad at day’s end too, when we parked and turned off “Moby-Dick.” Not that the book ended then. Usually, in the evening, I would begin reading the book where we had left off listening. I have never been so struck by the silence of the printed word. I have never grasped so clearly how inward words have to go in our minds before they come alive. I was the one leaning forward, hearkening to Ishmael, keenly aware of the whiteness of the page, just as I had been every time I’d read “Moby-Dick” before.

But I also smiled because just last summer, after more than ten years without a real road trip, I escorted my daughter along the left coast, shopping for colleges. Instead for flying from Dad’s retirement home near Denver, I drove to LA to meet her. I threw in an old CD audio book about how the Irish Saved Civilization, Dad loved it. It made for great listening (anything about Ireland needs to be both rich in language and delivery), speaking of green verdant fields as I passed Moab, fearing the Goths as I reached the Grand Canyon. Maybe I will try an audio version of Joyce if I drive around Hawaii. Incongruent enough? Maybe Maugham.

But I keep wondering. Now, who’s Ishmael?

***1 AM Update (too much coffee). Over at my favorite blog, the Dish, Andrew Sullivan points us to research that says even if we are reading silently, we are hearing the words. Love those Internet Coincidences.