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A Bit More Education Techno-Twaddle; Why I Avoid NECC, 2008 Edition

gooooo, technology!

*** An offshoot of this discussion is a proposal for the K-12 Online Conference 2008 titled ‘Effective Criticism in 21st Century Education Technology.’ If you have a moment, please take a look at the proposal and offer feed back – your time and expertise are both appreciated. ***

NECC is the National Educational Computing Conference, an annual event put forth by the International Society for Technology in Education at which school-related folks can get together and talk technology.

It’s a big draw for the ed-tech’ers from the US and other parts of the world – particularly Australia, I think.

Back in May, Miguel Guhlin asked if I was going to make it to Texas for NECC [this was when he invented and attributed to me a line about admiring Ann Coulter, then dropped off the face of the earth when I called him on it].

I said not sure, but I probably should have just said, “Nope.” And now that NECC is underway [until July 2], those of us who follow the ed-tech blogs are getting blitzed with NECCness.

Courtesy of Dean Shareski, another wonderful guy in ed-tech with whom I mostly disagree, below is a video of the EduBloggerCon 2008, one of the early events at NECC. Fire up those Macbooks, sit on the floor and talk tech! But before you watch, here are some highlights from the 4-minute video:

  • Web 2.0 helped raise money for Darfur – and the lacrosse team’s wiki went crazy!
  • Let’s be “very honest with ourselves… they don’t want us to be able to communicate and connect… much of school is about control”
  • “Waiting 3 years for it to click.” “What to click?” “It clicked.”
  • Make note of people video-recording one another. Really, at one point two digital camcorders appear to be pointed at each other.
  • Obligatory super-dooper-different’n'kool title of “The Real Unconference” with the also-obligatory discussion of professionalism.

It’s an excellent 4-minute summary of why I didn’t go to NECC – and likely won’t next year or the year after.

The EduBloggerCon is a tiny part of NECC – I understand that, as some sessions are more sensible than others – but the sheer lack of intellectual diversity [a statement which will undoubtedly be criticized as inaccurate], the techno-fandom, the 100% Process/0% Content split will keep me away. If I wanted to sit on the floor with a notebook, I’d go to a Halo 3 LAN party. At least those have HotPockets and Mountain Dew.

Time to peep the aforementioned NECC crash course:

So, NECCers, when you’re ready to take a hard look at technology initiatives, technology spending, the necessary limits of technology in a liberal arts education, the folly and incompleteness of 21st Century Learning [or whatever is fashionable at the time], the limits of Web 2.0 and the like, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll register.

Perhaps for NECC 2009, ISTE might entertain a bit more intellectual diversity in its workshops/speakers? Perhaps a few folks who inject realism into the debate?

You can shoot me an e-mail for that, too. I’m kicking myself for not trying to get on the docket for 2008.

A quick roll back to the end of December, when a blog post appeared on a leading ed-tech site and summed up the ed-tech attitude better than the treatises that come daily [as Mr. Downes says correctly, the education blogosphere's favorite topic is the education blogosphere. This is truest, I think, for ed-tech].

A teacher asks a common sense question about Web 2.0 in his art classroom – and it elicits outrage. How dare he question the value of technology?

The response, titled “Enough already.” expressed outrage at the stupidity and ignorance of a teacher who has the gall to ask “Why?”:

I’m thoroughly disgusted by this type of question:

How can an art teacher effectively incorporate technology into the classroom beyond photoshop and powerpoint? Is it even necessary for an art classroom to have all of the technological advancements of the modern age? Artists have been doing alright for hundreds of years without all of the computers, so what is the big deal?
Source: Forum – Classroom 2.0 9/12/07 4:01 PM Benjamin Worrell

Technology has changed how we communicate, collaborate, work together. It changes how creative minds feed off each other, increasing the number of connections people are able to make with one another, allowing the spread of ideas and thinking and playing. Imagine what would have happened if The Impressionists–did I mention I hate art?–hadn’t been able to share their ideas with others.

Why do we have to keep asking how technology will change how we approach teaching art or any subject? The fact is, it’s changing how people interact at the most fundamental levels OUTSIDE the classroom…you either use it, or you don’t. If you don’t then what is it about your field that is isolationist, anti-social, and insular? I ask because that’s what you’re choosing to teach.

There…another post about something I know nothing about (ART). Am I way off or what?

Thoroughly disgusted, indeed!

’tis the climate in education technology, folks, and it’s why I don’t go to NECC.

UPDATE at 12.01am EST:

I wanted to reproduce one of my comments below – it touches on one of the themes above.

… I want to talk about the imagery in the unofficial NECC logo [I made certain to include it in the post] and the irony of using that particular imagery. As background:

We’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico. It was at those Olympics that Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists silently to indicate solidarity with the black community and black nationalism:

That image of Smith and Carlos served as the image for the Black Power movement for decades, and it’s still an oft-represented scene. Throw “black power” into Google Images and take a peep:

Whatever one thinks of Smith’s and Carlos’s display, Black Power, nationalism, etc., is a non-issue. We can all agree that the symbolism of the fist in the air – the imagery from which that NECC logo of a fist holding a mouse and citing the ‘revolution’ draws – is one of challenge, resilience and struggle.

And it’s that ‘challenge’ bit that causes the ed-tech’ers to squirm, squeal and cry foul when it comes to them. If education technology wants to be taken seriously locally/nationally/internationally, if it wants to command professional respect, it will seek out and encourage challenges to itself.

That’s a far cry from what we’ve currently got – an echo chamber and lip service to ‘challenge’ that only seems to go one way. When you think about it, the irony of using the Smith/Carlos fist is a stark reminder of where education technology is and where it ought to be.

UPDATE at 12.52am EST:

Since the topic at hand is NECC, I thought I’d re-link to my PLN. They are still all the rage, aren’t they?  Anyway…

Someone e-mailed to ask me what exactly ‘twaddle’ meant.

I don’t have OED access anymore – Good Lord, I wish I did – but I think it comes from the obscure/arcane twattle. says that too, but if it’s not the OED, I’m not too interested. Can one of you folks with an academic OED subscription confirm/deny?

The essence of ‘twaddle’ is… something silly, unnecessary, useless, trivial, etc. It’s surprising how many words we have that evoke their meaning when said aloud even if one has never heard that word before.

Say it out loud – twaddle. Doesn’t it sound like something not to be taken seriously?

And, I learned early on that as I trudged through life, I’d need as many variations on the words “nonsense” and “bullshit” as I could find – so I committed ‘twaddle’ to memory.

A Wolverton Mountain Vacation: Claude King and Clifton Clowers

claude king

As I work on some ‘new media’ of my own, I thought I’d highlight some of that good ol’ vinyl media for everyone to enjoy. Of course, we’re in the era of Web 2.0 [!], so I’ve got YouTube videos for all of it.

First, take a listen to Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain,” the 1962 #1 hit that launched King’s career. The singer is smitten with a beautiful girl on Wolverton Mountain in Arkansas, but he’s been warned: that girl’s father – Clifton Clowers – is a mean one. That’s why “They say don’t go on Wolverton Mountain / If you’re looking for a wife.”

Clifton’s “mighty handy with a gun and a knife” and employs a cadre of spies ["the bears and the birds"] who inform him if strangers come onto the mountain.

Lured by true love, our hero decides to go anyway – “though Clifton Clowers / He might take my life.”

After all, ” her tender lips are sweeter than honey,” so who can blame him?

“But I don’t care about Clifton Clowers
I’m gonna climb up on his mountain
I’ma gonna take the girl I love
I don’t care about Clifton Clowers
I’ma gonna climb up on that mountain
And I’ll get the one I love
I don’t care about Clifton Clowers…

Here’s the original Claude King recording [click here if reading in RSS]:

Many a country musician has paid homage to both King and Clowers by referencing pieces of “Wolverton Mountain.” Hank Williams, Jr. comes to mind; in “If The South Woulda Won,” a candid take on Southern life and lore, he says:

I’d have all the fiddles made in Virginia
‘Cause they sure can make ‘em sound so fine
I’m goin’ up on Wolverton Mountain and see ol’ Clifton Clowers
And have a sip of his good ol’ Arkansas wine

But few know that Clifton Clowers of Woolverton Mountain, Arkansas, was a real person. [Y'all pointy-headed academics call that historicity.]

Born on October 30, 1891, Clifton T. Clowers lived nearly 103 years. He was a veteran of World War I and served as a deacon in the Mountain Baptist Church. He’s buried in Conway County’s Woolverton Mountain Cemetary.

Here’s Clifton on his 101st birthday [1992] sitting on his porch as Mike Redmond plays/sings “Wolverton Mountain” to him, Part I [click here if reading in RSS]:

And Part II, in which Mike plays Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Jambalaya” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” as well as Lefty Frizzell’s “Mom and Dad’s Waltz” [click here if reading in RSS].

Fascinating stuff, that local history. [Hat tip: Miss Profe for reminding me of that post and Tyler for appreciating this one]

The Irrelevance of Race in Effective Teaching

Professor Dre

I generally loathe arguments that start with personal anecdotes, but you’re going to get one. There is also, regrettably but necessarily, profanity – I apologize in advance.

A friend of mine was teaching history in a troubled school [in an unidentified city] and her students were underperformers: behavior problems, couldn’t read well, didn’t care about school, etc. She was a relatively young, white teacher and she was sure that her ineffectual performance was due to the racial gap – white, young, female teacher, not from that city, and an almost entirely black/Hispanic ‘economically disadvantaged’ student population. I didn’t think so.

She was so worn out one morning that she called and asked if I would be a “guest speaker” in one of her afternoon classes because she simply couldn’t handle it and needed that period off. I agreed and asked her what topic she was covering. She was holding back tears and said, “History.” I didn’t ask any more questions.

I put on a Brooks Brothers suit, shined my Bostonians and showed up. She said, “Thank you, I’ll be back at 2pm,” and rushed out. There were about 20 kids in the class, most of whom were yelling or talking on their cell phones. One student had a notebook out and I asked to see it. Her latest notes had something to do with prohibition and Al Capone.

I yelled to get their attention – it gave me about a 15 second window to hook them or lose them. I said, “My name is Mr. Tabor. I’m going to pick up right where Ms. _____ left off, so we’re going to talk about Tupac and Dre. Listen up.” The only thing I could understand above the laughter was the, “Nigga, what the fuuuuuck is this?” that a student in the back said to a friend. They quieted down and listened for a bit because I looked and acted as though I was there for a purpose.

“Someone tell me about Eliot Ness.” No one responded and a few went back to their conversations.

The Untouchables?” I lost a few a more.

“How many of you know the lyrics to “California Love?” More than half of them either started laughing or singing parts and a few raised their hand.

So I sang as loud as I could, “Caaaaali-fornia Looo-ooove! Dahhhh-da-da! Dahhhh-da-da!” and motioned to a few of the more animated students to sing it, too.

[I chose this particular song because it's a popular, pervasive tune that most everyone young knows well. It's been referenced in plenty of songs, media and art, including most recently on South Park [watch the video clip, link opens in a new window] – students know it, minority or not. And hell, Hank Williams, Jr. is my favorite artist and I still know the lyrics to California Love. If you don’t know the song, watch the original video on YouTube – the link opens in a new window].

This gave me another window – about 30 more seconds. If I didn’t tie in the subject in a meaningful way, it was over. There were 4 or 5 kids giving solid backing with the, “Dahhhh-da-da!” so I went on:

“Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west /
A state that’s untouchable like Elliot Ness.”

Then I yelled, “Stop!” abruptly and asked, “What’s that mean?”

No response, but they stopped and listened. Then I explained that Pac and Dre were talking about how great California was, right? Yeah. Yeah, California has integrity and Pac and Dre want everyone to know it, yes? Yeah.

Then I told them why Pac and Dre referenced Eliot Ness and the Untouchables in the lyrics. That no one could buy them off, that they were principled and dignified. That they were respected – just like Pac and Dre wanted people to think about California. I knew they got it when one said, “Ohhhh, shit!” which is the normal version of what obnoxious educators call the “A-ha! moment.”

Then I related it to prohibition and Al Capone, who they were shocked to find out was the inspiration for Scarface. We talked about that, too. They all listened and started to participate and answer the brief, simple questions every 20 seconds or so – you know, the ones designed to foster engagement and monitor understanding.

I ended by talking about how important it is to know things in history because then most everything in their life will make more sense – even the music they listen to. About a minute before the end of the period, Ms. _____ walked in on her 20 attentive former-hellions listening to me talk about the importance of studying history. The bell rang and they exited, during which I got about half a dozen daps and some comments like, “Yo, that was tight,” and overheard but not said to me, “Y’all is Professah Dre, muthafuckah!” [referencing a line in Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" featuring Snoop Dogg] I regretted his use of profanity, but I understood what he was getting at.

Ms. _____ and I talked about why our race, backgrounds, interests, behavior, mannerisms, and everything else about our personalities just didn’t matter much in the classroom – we could teach effectively even if we were radically different than our students. Sometimes we have to take a different approach than would be most natural for us [my favorite music is Southern and Guitar rock, a la Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Scorpions]. We focused on what it means to teach and how to do it.

Her conclusion?

Being an ineffective teacher has to do with not knowing enough about how to teach or who we’re teaching. It has nothing to do with something inherently in or missing from our physical makeup or personality.

And that’s the way we need to approach issues that involve race, class and gender in education. It simply doesn’t matter who we are – it’s what we know and how we’re able to convey it. It might be easier for some to get started than others, but the end result is what matters if we’re truly concerned with education.

Ms. _____ called me the next day to tell me that some of the students in that class told her that they’d never had a white teacher talk to them like that. She also said that they treated her with more respect than before – they treated her as a teacher, not a white annoyance who exuded irrelevance.

They also asked when Professor Dre was coming back. I didn’t have to.

Candida Höfer’s Libraries: Books, Buildings and Photography = Scholar Art

The Nonist pointed us to Libraries, Candida Höfer’s incredible collection of photographs of book-buildings. Though I wasn’t familiar with her work, I’m embarrassingly interested in this book after seeing a few of the shots. Hofer’s Wikipedia entry is brief:

Candida Höfer (born 1944) is a German photographer, a former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher and specializing in large-format photographs of empty interiors and social spaces that capture the “psychology of social architecture”.

Höfer lives and works in Cologne.

Nonist says:

Yesterday I came across a truly gorgeous book of photographs by Candida Höfer titled, Libraries, a title which pretty much says it all, because that is just exactly what it is, one rich, sumptuous, photo of a library interior after another.

Sound absurd? Check out a few of these shots and you’ll understand the interest.

Trinity College Library, Dublin


Maybe I’ll treat myself when the exchange rate is more friendly.