Attention! is important

The first of the 5 Digital Literacies in Howard Rheingold‘s book Net Smart is Attention. At first, I thought this was just a warm-up to the other literacies, one to get things going to study Critical Consumption (crap detection), Participation, Collaboration, and Net Structure. Then I started teaching with the book. Then I started doing research, and have come to the conclusion that Attention is the most important of the five.

I have noticed in my classes that there are more kinds of attention. I have noticed myself managing different levels of attention. Managing your own attention is key to all of the others. Indeed, meditation shows both how and why.

I have been able to focus more as a result of monitoring my own (lack of) attention. Here are 20 Ways to Win the War Against Seeing by Rob Walker (Medium). They are great ways to practice Attention, and will help you manage your own. Here is part of a newsletter (called Noticing) by Jason Kottke about, well, noticing things.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

New Year Passwords

Every year I update my passwords. That is a lot easier than it sounds.

I use a password manager to create a different nonsense password at every site I register. But I need 3 that I remember; my master password (for Lastpass.com), one for logging into my computers, and another for my phone.

For the phone, I usually use old numbers from my childhood (my address number on Cordova Road, for example). But for the other two, I use abbreviations of quotes.

For example Iyttt,ydhtra. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain. I like quotes with numbers in them, or easily insertable numbers, as that adds to the randomness. 80%osisu. “Eighty percent of success is showing up. -Woody Allen.

Best if you have all four elements: Uppercase, Lowercase, numbers, symbols. For example, (not a quote) you could make a password out of that last sentence. Biyha4e:U,L,n,s. Need more help?

Here is a short video too. 

The CommonCraft guy explains how to make a password.

For even more security, if you use Lastpass, you can limit the countries where you log in from (be careful to reset before traveling). 

And more important, you can set up Two Factor Authentication (2FA) for your main sites (I do it with Google, Evernote, Facebook and Microsoft. But more about that in another post. 

Edutopia and EdSurge, too many Edu-websites

Steven Herder interviewed me for the iTDi Teacher’s Room a few days ago. In it he said he liked Edutopia and I said that it was primarily funded by big tech stakeholders in education. The truth is a little more complicated.

Though I hold to my opinion, I will have to admit I was confusing Edutopia with EdSurge. Edutopia was created by George Lucas of Star Wars fame as a non-profit to look into ideas for education.

Edsurge, on the other hand, is a total creation of the edtech companies and is little more than a front for its PR. Audrey Watters in her essential weekly run-down of edtech news (that run-down can be taken both ways), often berates EdSurge as company pablum.

So both websites depend on money from large corporations and thus are suspect. Edutopia is a bit more balanced, as it is more separate from its corporate parent. But mostly I agree with Steven, that the articles in Edutopia are very uplifting.

So there you have it. I haven’t even covered EduCause and a couple of others.

iTDi Interview Follow-up

Last Tuesday Steven Herder, of the International Teacher Development Institute, or iTDi (itdi.pro, YouTube, Facebook) was nice enough to include me on the list of people interviewed for their Teacher’s Room series. Steven interviewed me online using Zoom conferencing software. It ran almost exactly an hour and was really exhilarating. I started to realize I may just have some things that are worth telling people.

I went on far too long about my own history of language learning and teaching, how I discovered at 11 years old in Mexico that there were some people who did not speak English. I didn’t get to tell the story of watching Batman in Spanish, and how two little bilingual kids about half my 10 years of age could translate the dialog on the fly, all the while giggling. I wanted to do that. So you can go through my notes if you don’t want to watch the first 30 minutes.

More interesting was the last half where we talked about teaching and learning languages, along with tech (I am a tech guy). We did a few minutes at the beginning on RSS feeds and (one of many readers) Feedly software and how to use that to collect (aggregate) blog posts from across the world. I didn’t have time to note that after 20 minutes of Facebook, I am angry, and after 20 minutes of RSS (Feedly) I am enlightened. (Facebook is like porn, which, as Bruce Springsteen notes, “Just makes me mean,” because the enticement is there, but no real interaction.)

But after my history of junior year abroad in Barcelona, returning to teach English, studying for DELTA (in those days RSA Dip) and working my way into the field, my move back to Chicago for an MA (under Elliott Judd, great mentor), then to the TESOL meat market to get a job in Tokyo, meeting my wife at work, China for a year then daughter and university job 3 days apart 34 years ago, we finally got to the real discussion.

We talked about influences like JALT as a professional development network, but I did not talk about the Tokyo PC Users Group where I learned how to learn with other people and without a textbook (there were no guides to PC use in the early 90’s, things were moving too fast). The thrill of arguing about the best way to improve speed on the BBS software (a precursor to the Internet) to avoid high telephone bills when using a modem at 300 “baud” was eye opening in that we could create our own knowledge and help each other as a group. Following the Hacker Ethic has guided my teaching too. (Look it up. Hackers were good before some went to the dark side.)

Now a list of links because I was too excited and talked too fast about too many things, so you can follow up here. MIT Conference on Connected Learning netted a new tool for Augmented Reality software (for iOS) and Interactive Storytelling ARIS. We talked about Stephen Downes and his contributions to MOOCs and Connectionism. Do note that right now, he has just started a new MOOC taking it to the next step, E-Learning 3.0. Do take a look. The future of learning with tech. We talked about the JALT CALL SIG and how that paralleled my experiences of the TokyoPC in that we were (and still are) creating new knowledge, this time about teaching languages with tech.

We talked about frameworks for teaching. Steven liked that we had come up with similar ideas about having a variety of approaches to vocabulary learning, some with tech, others not. Developing a set of tools is something the learner has to do on their own, with support of course. I talked about using small groups and having students teach each other. Here are slides from a presentation I made last year on the topic. I didn’t get to talk about Socratic Circles (pdf) where you ask questions in the SIR order (Summary, Issues, Relevance) and SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments of Sugata Mitra) to develop learner autonomy.

Language learning is 90% motivation, 10% autonomy. If I am doing my job correctly, students will not see most of my work, which is developing and fostering an environment conducive to learning (languages).

More in upcoming posts.

Myanmar Update

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank is away, I am staying at his apartment in the Pansodong area of Yangon, waiting for the next session of teacher training. Today marks the first third of my six weeks here. Also the first time I have seen the sun on this trip. Two weeks in and we have finished sessions in Bago (monastery near Yangon, in the jungle) and in Sittwe, in Rakhine State near the Bangladeshi border. Of the two Sittwe (pronounced sit-way in Yangon, but sight-way locally) was the most successful.

We had 42 high school English teachers for 4 days, 5 hours a day (including lunch). Rakhine State is what the Burmese called Arrakan after conquering them in 1787. They are similar to Okinawa in that they have a rich heritage, but very little support (and lots of control) from the central government. They have a different language and different customs, along with different food from the Burmese. The Brits called the country Burma because the ethnic group around Yangon had that name. They pretty much ignored the other 129 ethnic groups. That continues to a certain degree.

This lack of support means that the acceptance rate for high school grads into university is the lowest among all states in Myanmar. The Education Minister of the region hopes that our training can help teachers raise entrance exam scores for students.

The classrooms were hot, sticky and noisy. We occasionally had to stop classes or do writing or reading when the pounding rain on the roof made conversation impossible. But the students were really motivated and most were open to new ideas. There have been rumblings in the Ministry about changing the entrance exam away from one that tested memory more than language. Teachers are ready. It was good timing.