PLAYBACK: “You Can Do Real Things on Computers”
11.20.11 | Creating instead of consuming online; “Drama in the Delta” puts players in internment camps; University of Missouri’s new policy on recording lectures; what facial recognition technology has to do with media literacy; and a new degree in digital culture at ASU.
The Right Amount of Screen Time: This might be my favorite quote of the week: “[Y]ou can do ‘real’ things on computers if you choose to (you can even program a Lego robot). You just can’t do them if your mother won’t let you sit down at the screen.”
That comes by way of KJ Dellantonia, who kicks off the discussion with a look at efforts to increase the number of women working in STEM fields and contrasts it with her ban on her four children’s use of technology during the week.
“What if, instead of turning the computer off during the week, I turned it on, but with a catch: no watching. No playing. Only creating,” writes Dellantonia at The New York Times Motherlode blog. “They could program with Scratch or Alice, the simple languages that allow kids to build games and create and move characters. They could use painting or drawing programs or create movies or cartoons for as long as homework and bedtime and sports allowed. How would I feel about screen time then?”
A lively discussion follows in the comments, with some questioning whether screens, regardless of activity, present “too abstract a world” for real engagement. One commenter, MiSo, asks:
Why do STEM skills have to be learned on a computer? [...] STEM skills take an inherent curiosity in learning and ability to question and figure out the answers. They are about patience and desire to discover. And most importantly, STEM skills take a high level of tenacity when the answers don’t come easily. Those don’t seem like “tech” skills to me; those seem like real life and education skills.
Balance, others argue, is key. Tim writes:
I read this post while my 13-year-old is creating a visual effect on a film he made earlier today. I can’t even follow what he’s doing on his Final Cut 4 software as he inserts the colors, adjusts the angle, fine-tunes the shadows, on his light saber effect. Is it active? No, but he’s an active kid and we foster that. Is it creative? Absolutely. Do we have television reception in our home? Not in the traditional sense. His creativity seems to be directed toward the visual, and apparently, he has an interest and a talent in that department. Balanced with enough time stacking wood, raking leaves, taking walks, climbing trees (okay, we live in the boonies), I say HELL yes.
Julie Dobrow, director of the Communications and Media Studies program at Tufts University, reinforces another point made in the post about parental involvement. “My own philosophy has always been that rather than be prescriptive about such things, I try to make media use for my children an educational experience,” Dobrow says in this Q&A.
“So rather than put huge restrictions on what they can watch or listen to, I’ve always tried to teach them to make good choices. To me that also means you’re with the child as much as possible. A child can’t learn this unless you help. It’s time consuming, but it gets less so as kids get older,” she adds.
Plus: The New York Times earlier this month looked at programs such as Scratch that enable children to program computers. Spotlight has extensive coverage, including video, of Scratch, which is lauded for fostering collaboration as well as logical thinking and perseverance. Some libraries around the country, including Wilmette Public Library library outside Chicago, have added Scratch to their digital services.
Teaching Historical Empathy Through Modern Games: What about spending time online delving into the lives and experiences of others? Liz Losh, director of the Culture, Art and Technology Program at Sixth College in U.C. San Diego, describes “Drama in the Delta,” an educational 3-D role-playing video game that enables players to embody various avatars at Arkansas concentration camps that held 15,000 Japanese-Americans interned by the U.S. government during World War II.
U.C. San Diego theater and dance professor Emily Roxworthy, who leads a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project about Japanese American internment camps in the American South, is one of the “Drama in the Delta” project directors. The art and programming was developed by mostly undergraduate and graduate students at U.C. San Diego and the Art Institute of California.
In many ways, this is not your typical gaming experience. As Losh writes:
One of the obvious design issues Drama in the Delta needed to grapple with immediately was the fact that a game about imprisonment in which movement is highly constrained might not be very appealing to players who have grown to expect being able to explore very large and visually rich game worlds. The Virtual Guantamo installation in Second Life attracts visitors who may understand the pedagogical function of constrictions that obviously limit freedom, but Roxworthy’s target audience of K-12 students might not have the patience to deal with an interface that conveys experiences about boredom, alienation and provides the player a very limited repertoire of actions. As Roxworthy explained in an interview for this post, Drama in the Delta is about “inhibiting play as it is usually understood.”
From Classroom to Culture Debate: With digital tools making it easier to record and distribute college courses, what rules, if any, should colleges implement to keep limit access to lectures and class discussions?
That’s the question University of Missouri had to confront after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart’s website obtained a leaked copy of a lecture on labor history by professor Judy Ancel and edited down hours “to suggest that she and a classroom colleague advocated union violence,” reports the AP’s Alan Scher Zagier.
A new policy under review by campus attorneys calls for students to obtain written permission from their professors and classmates before sharing recorded lectures.
A common reaction might be to advocate for even greater openness—put the whole lecture online so anyone interested can listen to the full remarks. But what about students in these classes? One student feared a conservative boss hearing her liberal views. “I don’t want to have to think about what I said in class because my boss might see it,” the student said.
I Think We’re Alone Now: Of course, anonymity in public spaces is becoming more difficult to maintain. More of us are being tagged now, and not just on Facebook, where photo-tagging suggestions can be both convenient and creepy.
The New York Times recently reported on facial recognition technology already in use in places you might not expect. For example, SceneTap, a smartphone app, scans crowds at participating bars in Chicago and detemines the average age and the male-female ratio. Cruising through Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, new digital billboards rolling out this month change ads based on the sex of the approaching driver. Natasha Singer writes:
Now, for example, advertising billboards that use facial detection might detect a young adult male and show him an ad for, say, Axe deodorant. Companies that make such software, like Immersive Labs, say their systems store no images or data about passers-by nor do they analyze their emotions.
But what if the next generation of mall billboards could analyze skin quality and then publicly display an ad for acne cream, or detect sadness and serve up an ad for antidepressants?
“You might think it’s cool, or you might think it’s creepy, depending on the context,” says Maneesha Mithal, the associate director of the division of privacy and identity protection for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission. Whatever consumers think, she says, they should be able to choose whether to be subject to such marketing practices. (The F.T.C. is planning a workshop next month on facial recognition.)
It’s not just about consumer choice; it’s about consumer education. And that involves providing students with media literacy long before they learn how to drive.
Digital Culture is the New Liberal Arts: We know technology is changing how children and young adults learn, but it’s also changing areas of study. At Arizona State University, students can now obtain a bachelor of arts in digital culture.
“Digital Culture provides students with a contemporary liberal arts education that gives them a set of skills that will be highly desirable in the workplace over the next 40 years,” Thanassis Rikakis, professor and director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, told ASU News, which describes the program as “among the first proficiency-based digital media degrees in the country.”
The curriculum is designed “to prepare students to develop new media systems for cultural practice and combine this knowledge with critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be able to create what has not yet even been conceived.”
Perhaps in 10 years, digital culture will be, well, culture.
Leave a comment
Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.