Wednesday, July 30, 2014

why shakespeare (still) rocks

It's not just that he wrote better than all of us combined.  It's that he managed, somehow, to make iambic pentameter sing such basic truths that they are just as important to everything we care about today, half a millennium after he lived.  For example: What's in a name?

is this you?

I am a member of Generation X, which became well-known largely because of Douglas Coupland's book--which I will compare in class with Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales--and the ongoing desire of our culture's marketing department to brand us all.  (You should be aware that some of the things people assume to be "reality" are actually just clever descriptions of things that may or may not exist.  For example, the concept of "red and blue" states is only fourteen years old.)

I bring this up because my fellow Gen X'ers and I used to ridicule the way older adults described us in the media.  Sure, some members of every generation are flannel-wearing, pot-smoking slackers with McJobs, but my friends and I were generally hard-charging athletes and intellectuals who competed for the Yuppified American Dream.  I earned a Ph.D. and started a consulting firm by the time I was 27.  My classmates became doctors, lawyers, political commentators, economists--one even became a champion on Jeopardy.  One of the reasons you don't hear any more complaining about Generation X in the media is that we're the ones running the media.  So, the generational story has become the Millenials' problem-- after all, they're narcissistic slackers with crappy music and no goals (or they're not, and unfairly maligned in the same way we were). 

But wait a second: What is this?  Generation Z is not being saddled with the same old stereotypes adults usually ascribe to "teenagers" (the term itself is a modern invention).  In fact, this article suggests that your generation is going to save us all.

I'm always curious how the subjects of media reports evaluate their accuracy, so please comment to this post with your thoughts.  Now that the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, and even Generation X have screwed the world up beyond belief, are you the people who can set things right?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

why plagiarism is about the stupidest thing you can do in today's world (II)

I don't make this stuff up (or steal it from other authors without attribution).  Here is the link to the full article.

I am a huge fan of researching and remixing others' ideas and creations into original work.  I do it myself.  But too many people misunderstand the boundaries between ethical attribution and ripping others off to make themselves look good.  My freshman year R.A. at UCLA had a sign on her door with this Wilson Mizner quote: If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's research.  That's a witty line, but it's not accurate.  This year we'll spend some time this year with digital fair use experts and university administrators figuring out how you can make the most effective use of everything you can find without stepping over the line.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

why plagiarism is about the stupidest thing you can do in today's world

Students at all levels are tempted to take shortcuts.  You have a massive "to-do" list this year and you are provided with incentives for grades, not work process or integrity.

The problem, of course, is that we live in an era of transparency.  The idea behind using blogs is to create maximal value-- if you can send someone a link to your work, they can see for themselves how brilliant you are and reward you accordingly.  This value is hard won.  Since every author's work is available for all to see, it must stand the tests of inquiry and critique.  Or, as in the case of Senator John Walsh, it causes readers to think the author is the sort of person who steals work from other people and calls it his own.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

biggest freest photography class ever

If you're a photographer, check this out.


Mamihlapinatapai is my new favorite word.  I had no idea it existed until yesterday, when I found it while looking for a better way to describe "a person who goes first" as I was writing about Lupita's and Erica's blogs.

According to the 1994 Guinness World Book of Records (not my usual source for definitions except when discussing "the world's most succinct word"), Mamihlapinatapai means, "a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves."  It comes from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, which is spoken by exactly one remaining native speaker. 

Since I can personally guarantee that Mamihlapinatapai will never appear on the AP English Literature & Composition exam, why is any of this important to us?

Because it reminds us that we humans are immensely creative in identifying and describing abstract concepts that are important to our understanding, whether the terms we use appear in textbooks or not.  I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that a tiny electrical charge in the gray blob between my ears somehow leads me to experience a thought which can move my muscles to disturb the air in front of me or bang on this keyboard in such a way that you'll experience a tiny electrical charge in your gray blob.  Over thousands of years, people in every culture have explained this and other mysteries by inventing terms and languages (using words, sounds, numbers, pictorial symbols) that tell stories and use metaphors.  Think about how we describe the Internet-- which most of us don't understand very well-- as real estate ("web sites"), or plumbing ("pipes"), or transportation ("information superhighway"), etc.

We are losing elements of our natural world and the cultures that enable us to convey meaning to each other, and we are losing the ability to define and share reality for ourselves.  What happens to Mamihlapinatapai when Cristina Calderon and the handful of people who understand her die?  The next time you sit down to write an essay, ask yourself: Am I completing a meaningless exercise for a grade, or am I-- in the spirit of Montaigne-- trying to express my innermost thinking in a way another human being can understand?  

Whether or not Mamihlapinatapai survives as a word, and to whatever extent we communicate effectively with each other, the concept it represents will most certainly survive as a phenomenon we experience in the world.  Mamihlapinatapai is what happens in every classroom on every first day of school in those moments when teachers and students stare at each other, past the familiar clich├ęs, pep talks and false promises, silently pleading with each other to take the first steps beyond talk, hoping that this time there will be something different, something more...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

way to go lupita and erica!

Thanks to Lupita Pliego and Erica Paculan for being the first members of the 2014-2015 cohort to put up their blogs!

Over the last couple days Lupita and I exchanged emails in which we clarified the terms we use to describe what we're doing on the Internet.  Since most of this is new to most of us, it's worth noting here that the word blog developed from "web log" in the late 1990s, and generally refers to a site that includes a series of posts from one or more authors.  Blog topics range from personal diaries to hobbies to newspaper-y feeds of current events.  I use blogs as our starting point for a few reasons:

  1. Blogs are easy to create and use.  I have watched toddlers and grandparents create blogs in seconds.   
  2. Blogs are personal and customizable.  This ain't no three-ring binder.  Your blog says more about your thinking than a piece of paper ever could.  The colors, the design, the layout, the features you select, and the content you post provide your readers insight into your creativity, your personality, your critical thinking, and your ability to collaborate.  (NOTE: This also gives you the opportunity to create a competitive advantage-- while other applicants have to tell potential employers and scholarship/admissions committees what they've done, you can show your accomplishments.)
  3. Blogs can include a variety of media that effectively convey your ideas.  Sometimes a picture-- or a mindmap, or a video, or a .gif, or an animation, or a [?]-- is worth a thousand words.
  4. Blogs are a virtual base of operations that create value.  As you learn more about the Internet's culture and business models this year, you will come to realize how important it is for you to tell your own story.  Beyond the purpose/s of our study, you can create blogs for any purpose you like.  Maintaining a blog will teach you how to manage your own identity and share your interests & achievements in a way that creates value for yourself and others.  When someone searches your name you want them to find something more impressive than a pre-teen rant or party picture.
  5. Blogs demonstrate the ultimate in trust and accountability.  This may be the most important factor in our work together.  When I started Open Source Learning it was very unusual for a teacher to allow students to use the public Internet.  Although more and more teachers have warmed to the idea, there is still a heavy temptation to dictate what students can and cannot do, instead of giving students the freedom to be truly accountable for their own performance.  We will be talking a lot about this in the first couple weeks of class; in the meantime, have a look at WHY TRUST MATTERS IN CONNECTED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

how we read

It stands to reason that anyone who isn't a professional reader (teacher/professor/editor/literary critic, e.g.) is an amateur.  One connotation of the word amateur is a person who doesn't get paid for a particular talent.  In a culture that overwhelmingly--and often erroneously--associates value with money, an amateur is often considered less proficient than a professional who gets paid for doing the same thing. 

But it's the second connotation of amateur that makes something worth doing and life worth living.  The word comes from a French derivation of the Latin verb for "love."  Amateurs love what they do.  In fact, amateurism is often defined as, "the philosophy that elevates things done without self-interest above things done for pay."  In this sense, although I have been paid for teaching, consulting, researching, and writing about learning for nearly 25 years, I am a proud amateur.

I'm thinking about this now because of some recent discussions with students about reading.  I understand how important it is to read what you love and to think about the text in your own way.  When I read for pleasure I want to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in the story.  I imagine the characters so intensely that sometimes when I turn the last page I actually miss them a little.  The furthest thing from my mind is whether I can write an essay explaining the author's tone or theme with a thoughtful analysis of genre or techniques like anaphora or synecdoche.  In fact, analyzing a text in that way distracts me from most of what makes me want to pick up a book in the first place.

We are not alone in thinking this sort of analysis can make a person fall out of love with reading:

However, at this point in history it's easier to portray that idea in a movie, where appreciation of the beautiful approximates Schopenhauer's pure intellect free of any worldly agenda, than in a real-world classroom where the pressures of life so often intrude.  Those of you who spend the $89 want to ensure a successful outcome on the AP English Literature & Composition exam.  This demands that we account for our understanding of the tools and techniques authors use to convey their ideas and connect with our experience.  So, in addition to seeing a novel or poem as a work of art that speaks to the human condition:

you will also need to analyze technical elements of composition to form arguments based on your understanding of academic principles of writing.

Now, you may or may not be interested to know that Leonardo Da Vinci used over 30 layers of paint to add only about half a hair's depth to a painting that looks like it has no brushstrokes.  But millions of people (including me) have stood just feet away from the painting, gawked in amazement, and wondered how Da Vinci did it.  For centuries, this was considered a mystery of genius.  Finally,

the ap exam: it happens every year

I just got the scores from last May's AP exam and it happened again.  Students who didn't think they could take an AP literature course, much less pass the exam, did. 

And students who thought they knew how to game the system failed.  Each of the last three years, some of our school's most notorious Type-A high-achievers got 2s.  If that profile in any way describes you, consider treating this learning experience as something beyond your to-do list.  You can't prepare for this test at the last minute by doing practice questions any more than you can prepare to die by taking naps in a graveyard.

Over the past three years students who have taken this course have taken and passed the AP English Literature & Composition exam in greater numbers than their counterparts in previous years or in current years at other schools in our area.  Some people look at that and give me credit; others look at the pass rate (about 50%) and want to hold me responsible for the cup being half empty.  However, while I'm proud to provide the opportunity to learn many things through this course, including how to prepare for the AP exam, I take neither credit nor responsibility for test scores.  That is a difficult thing to say publicly in a culture in which test scores are all the rage.  But the simple fact of the matter is that I'm not the one who has to sit in that room for three hours answering multiple choice questions and writing essays.  I've already come to the crossroads in my life and decided whether to read, to complete my work with integrity, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, and to do whatever is necessary to achieve the peace of mind that comes from knowing I did my best.

Now it's your turn.

We live and work in a community with 100,000 people, nearly 80 churches, and not one single new book store.  There is obvious economic and cultural disparity.  Lots of kids get to high school without ever having read a book.  Some of these factors you can't control.  But the illusion many of you operate under is that school will even the playing field for you.  It won't.  A recent study confirms that college "perpetuates class divides"-- so rather than waiting for another group of well-intended, hand-wringing adults to figure things out for you, you need to begin taking charge of your own learning.

I don't intend this to sound harsh.  I choose my words intentionally because we live in an era where unfortunately I can't even jokingly request that you not shoot the messenger.  But the fact of the matter is that AP is not a "college prep" course; it is a university-level course that just happens to take place on a high school campus (and, in our case, on the Internet).  With that in mind, you should be aware that if you haven't yet started the summer reading, you are behind.  If you haven't yet created your blog, you are behind.  If you are telling yourself that it will all work out some other time, you are fooling yourself.

It really doesn't matter that this course is designated "AP"-- I taught the same way when I taught Writing Interventions, or English as a Second Language at schools in the inner city, or UCLA courses, or strategic planning to executives, or woodworking to fifth-graders in summer camp...  The real value of this course in your life has nothing to do with a grade.  The grade is a superficial, market-based symptom of your performance.  You'll know whether this course has internal value for you after it's over, when you are on your own and using or not using what you've learned.  Learning is something you do, not something that can be done to you or for you.  The sooner you recover from following directions and begin creating your own path (you can start with your big question, or push me to start in a different way) the better off you will be.  If passing the AP exam is important to you, start thinking about what you need now and put me to work so that you get it over the next 10 months.

The strong will always survive and the incompetent will always be revealed.  The good news is that all of us in between-- me included-- have an ongoing opportunity to improve and show what we can do.  You have my full support.  I will work hard for you.  And I hope you are prepared to work hard for yourself.  I want each and every single learner in this program to find his/her path: to college, to entrepreneurship, to personal enlightenment, to... [?]  My job is to provide the environmental conditions (sunlight = transparency on the public Internet; water and nutrients = information, encouragement, freedom, trust) that provide optimal conditions for growth.  The rest is up to you flowers. 

this is a lollipop moment

Each of us has tremendous capacity to learn and succeed, and this year I will implore you to take the opportunity that Open Source Learning presents.  This is where words and their nuances become important to our understanding.  The word implore means, "To ask or beg earnestly for; beseech."    Why would a teacher-- especially one with a Ph.D. and a reputation for being a demanding smart-ass-- beg students for anything?  Two reasons: (1) Each and every one of you is capable of success and this opportunity is too important to pass up;  (2) Asking is more effective than demanding because our connection in learning can't depend merely on titles or roles.  All of us have to be present from the neck up, if you know what I mean, and that decision is strictly voluntary.  (We've all mastered the art of appearing to think while our brains are far, far away.)  I think of you as learning equals who want guidance and support instead of inmates who need carrots and sticks.  My philosophy of learning is based on a few very simple premises, and the first one is this:


Sure, sometimes we all make mistakes and do bad/stupid things.  I've been making mistakes for nearly 45 years and some of them still make me wince.  Occasionally that's what learning feels like.  However, I believe that most of us do the right thing most of the time, even when no one's watching and there is nothing to be gained.  More on this (along with the inevitable commentary on plagiarism and cheating) in a future post.

For now, as you think about next week and the beginning of your senior year, I want to share two brief videos about trees and lollipops.  The video about trees is really a video about a high school student who saw a need in the world and created a way to meet it.  TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, who started the organization when he was 18,  describes the magic that happened when, "We could see that we had actually healed something."  Andy's experience of being a teen was no different than yours or mine: "As teenagers we had been told that you can't fight city hall, there's no hope, the problems are too big..."  It's amazing what can happen when you forget all that and focus on the things that make you curious and caring in the first place. 

The second video begins with a question I'd like to ask you: How many of you are completely comfortable with calling yourself a leader? In this course each of us is a fully-fledged member of a network. Gone are the days of the classroom one-to-many broadcast (even when I lecture it will feel more like a conversation).  Gone are the days of being invisible in the back row.  Every single one of us makes an impact on someone; yesterday I saw a sign at the Ventura County Fair that said, "To the world you are one person; to one person, you are the world."

Drew Dudley makes the point brilliantly.  Each of you has immense value and your contributions enrich our experiences.  Adding value by sharing ideas is what entrepreneurs do.  Several of you have already demonstrated this publicly, which is why I posted about Alec's contributions. It's a thrill to watch the pioneers who lead the way (including our virtual teaching assistants Lisa Malins, Jon Begg, and Shane Cheverez).  Learners constantly change my mind and my life for the better. If that sounds exaggerated or ridiculous, it's only because you're not used to hearing it. It's time for each and every single one of us to begin considering how this learning experience can be of most value to us-- and how we can be of most value to each other and everyone else in our lives. As Drew says, "Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You have made someone's life better by what you said and what you did." Let's celebrate the lollipop moments.

remembering to balance-- and go outside

According to this article, "There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy."

With one month to go until school officially begins, I have a tendency to "ramp up" and think about  drastically shifting time allocations to achieve goals.  Years ago I wrote a book about time and I think about it a lot, but often I don't take my own advice and I get stressed out.  Re-reading the study about nature reminds me how important it is to balance work/tech time with relationships and things as simple as going for a walk (my dog Brewster is staring at me in full, impatient agreement).  As you'll see in upcoming posts about Open Source Learning, I learn just as much as anyone else in the process--and one thing I've learned is how easy it is to get stuck in front of a computer screen.  I've been at mine for over two hours and it's only 6:30 A.M. (and I'm supposedly on vacation).  So, more on this later; I'm taking Brewster to the beach.  He likes the idea.

montaigne #4: on habits of mind

As NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."

As you reflect on your own habits of thinking, read the following passage (after the jump) about Montaigne's view of the topic and ask yourself: Do your habits of mind help you achieve your goals, or do they get in your way? Answer in a comment to this post.

montaigne #3: on reading

It's amazing to me how personal and unique the experience of reading really is. Reading can bring to anything to mind: brutal wars, torrid love affairs, journeys to exotic locales (including outer/inner space), or even Marvin Gaye singing the Star Spangled Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. But mostly, reading is an imagined conversation. A short text is like passing someone in a hallway and getting a snippet of information ("Hey, how ya doin'?" "Fine.").  A medium-length text can be more enlightening or entertaining ("Dude, you wouldn't believe what happened last night!").  A longer text can feel like a relationship; when I finish a really good novel I feel a little wistful saying goodbye to characters who have managed to take on lives of their own and become "people" in my imagination. Experiencing all this without leaving my chair still surprises me with all sorts of thoughts and feelings I wouldn't have if I didn't read.

How do you feel about reading? [*Besides disliking school assignments. I think we can agree that none of us like being forced to do anything.  I'm asking about the reading you've sought out on your own. And if you haven't, it's time to start. Email me at if you need help getting started.] How have your reading experiences (or lack of reading experiences) influenced the way you think and feel about reading? As you read Montaigne's ideas, think about how we can choose texts and design reading experiences this year that will make you a happier and more effective reader. I look forward to your comments.

montaigne #2: on education

The next topic as you think about Montaigne is education (note: as a preview of coming attractions, you may want to have a look at how I returned to this in last year's final exam).  As a twelve-year veteran of the system (assuming you began in kindergarten) you undoubtedly have your own opinions about education. How has your education helped you think? What practices are effective and what needs to be modernized? What do you think of this article on homework, which ran on the front page of The New York Times?

Here are some thoughts from Montaigne (after the jump). Does his view on education surprise you? Does it seem like what you would expect from him? Do you agree/disagree with him? As you did last week, please feel free to compare these ideas with what you read (and this time, please respond in a comment to this post). Take notes on the ideas and the writing style, and remember that we will begin the year with a series of in-class essays on these topics, so if anyone has ideas or questions please don't be shy-- start sharing your ideas in comments now.

about the summer reading & montaigne #1: stream of consciousness

This year’s summer reading is a mix of eras, styles, topics and genres. Pride & Prejudice is widely acknowledged as a classic masterpiece. As you read, think, and take notes on this book, pay close attention to how Jane Austen describes the details of marriage as a cultural custom and how she develops a conflict. What is it about her style that makes an “old” story so attractive to new audiences? (Pride & Prejudice was released as a feature film in 2005; give your imagination the chance to “see” the book first, then check out the movie’s imdb entry—does the cast look/act/speak as you imagined?)

Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible was published in 1998. Studying a contemporary author gives readers the chance to ask about the thinking behind the text (as they did in this BBC interview). How are the topics of gender, politics, religion, and social custom dealt with in this book? What similarities and differences do you see between Kingsolver’s writing and Austen’s?

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne is in a class by himself. You can’t escape the word essay in school, but the way we use it has nothing to do with the way Montaigne meant it when he titled his book Essays. In school the word suggests three paragraphs of tightly structured sentences with appropriate transitions sandwiched by an introduction and a conclusion. In Montaigne’s French, however, essays literally means “tries” or “attempts.” Today's world of first-person musings on blogs, texts, tweets and facebook pages was preceded by a world in which hardly anyone wrote this way. Montaigne was one of the earliest Western authors to try to capture and organize his thoughts as they occurred.

In 2010 New York’s Other Press published a book by Sarah Bakewell entitled How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I’ve never met Ms. Bakewell, but after finishing the book (again) I miss her. Reading How to Live while reading Montaigne’s Essays was like walking through a dark cave with a trusted guide who’s telling you all about what you can't see. Ms. Bakewell explained Montaigne’s writing in the context of his life. I understand Montaigne's ideas and his style more clearly because of Ms. Bakewell's descriptions of the people and events that influenced his thinking and approach to writing.

Following is the first of several excerpts from How to Live that may help shed some light on your reading of Montaigne. NOTE: These excerpts aren't written for children and they may contain words, names or ideas that are unfamiliar. Lector caveo. Yes, I could have been less annoying by avoiding the Latin and simply using the English, “Reader beware.” [And don't get the impression that I know more than a few phrases in Latin; I got this one from an online translator.] However, that would have failed to illustrate the point that there will be things in nearly every text we read that you won’t recognize, and that in the end you and you alone are responsible for making sure that you understand what you read. If you don’t get it all the first time around, or if you don't recognize names like Plutarch, Heraclitus or Seneca, congratulations: you're just like everyone else, including me, who examines something closely for the first time. Don't be shy about getting answers. Look up words and literary allusions, and make sure your references are credible (we'll discuss this further in class). Crowdsource by posting questions and ideas on the blog so we can respond. Send me an email at if you get stuck.

Because Montaigne’s writing is so different from a fictional narrative, we should examine it differently. Read the next few posts for new topics to review (or focus on as you fervently read this week).  See what insights you can unearth and think about how your notes (see previous post on Active Reading Notes) help you remember and organize the information you read. Post your ideas, observations, questions and criticisms (professionally, please) to the blog.

I will read your comments and contribute to the thread. This is neither a formal assignment nor extra credit. (Question: What’s in it for me?  Answers: Getting a head start on mastering material we’ll need to accomplish our goals this year; Meeting our colleagues and creating a sense of community to give us feedback and help us when we need it; and, Experiencing immediate success and understanding instead of just sitting around wishing we didn’t have to read.)

Here is the first excerpt from How to Live (after the jump).  I look forward to your thoughts and questions on this.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"in olden times it was different"

Love this, see more here.

the class of 2013 left you a little something

why i'm an alec mcfarland fan

How do we know when we really know another person?  Each of us has many sides, facets, and dimensions, and we are constantly growing.  Social media appears to be a window into our thinking.  It gives us a chance to share our perspectives, our interests, and even the people we know in common. 

I think I've met Alec in person one or two times-- however, to be perfectly honest, the brief encounter/s were in the midst of a crazed spring semester and I don't remember them very well.

However, I have clear sense of his commitment and his thinking online.  So far he's the only 2014-2015 student to reply to answer the question: Will this blog see tomorrrow?

He has asked some brilliant Big Questions:

And in doing these things he's inspired me and established himself as a thinker I look forward to learning with and from.  Thanks Alec!

the right tool for the job

In the words of Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher whose work influenced prominent thinkers from Charles Dickens to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

It's easy to mistake the use of the Internet in learning as a simple way to make the same ol' same ol' seem a little more entertaining. What we're doing goes way beyond that. You now have the ability to use multiple media in ways that most effectively communicate your ideas and your sense of self.  As you select from a rapidly expanding online toolbox, keep in mind that every tool we use has a form, a function, a capacity to be interpreted (and sometimes hacked) by users, and even a "DNA" instilled by its creators that influences the way it's perceived and adopted.

Technology doesn't necessarily mean electronics. If you ask any serious writer, s/he will tell you that the action on a keyboard, the balance of a pen, or the texture of paper can make just as much difference as processing speed. And there are those times when nothing does the job like a simple, classic, well-made tool.  Here is a picture of me holding a 2 million year-old Acheulean Paleolithic bifacial hand axe-- the longest used tool in human history.  It fit my hand perfectly, right down to the indentations for thumb and fingers, like it was custom-made for me-- an especially rare experience for a lefty.

Apart from the perfect feel/form/function, there is something about an enduring classic that doesn't hold true for the phone you buy today that will be non-state-of-the-art in a few months.  This is about more than craft, art, or even quality: this sort of attention to detail is the product of loving care.  It's the difference between home-cooked and store-bought.  For real practitioners of anything worthwhile, tools aren't just about techne, they are extensions of our humanity.  Ask anyone who plays their music on a turntable, develops their own photographs, or sends handwritten letters.

And if all that didn't convince you to re-examine the tools you use and why, maybe a 39-second commercial is the right tool for the persuasive job:



Hi and welcome back.  Thought I'd give us all a few weeks to catch our breath, enjoy time with friends and family, and recharge our batteries.

Now I'm thinking about last year's students who wished they'd gotten started earlier on everything from college/scholarship applications to setting themselves up for success in the social media and academic elements of this course.

If you need proof that this isn't going to be business as usual, please don't take my word for it.  Have a look at last year's Member Blogs.  Talk to people you know who took the course.  Consider the fact that, of the seven people currently following this blog, three are students who graduated last year.  I didn't want to go anywhere near my high school when I graduated, so it's worth asking: What are they doing here?  Lisa, Jon, and Shane are your virtual TAs. They've been through this, they've been uber-successful (hey, does anyone know how to insert an umlaut?), and they're here to help.  Since my limited math skills tell me that leaves only four current followers who are enrolled to start on-the-ground class in August, Alec (more on him next post), Breanna, Victoria, & Ephraim are the officially the most valuable learners in this community right now.  Why?  Because they're going to see this post before everyone else.  Whether they share is up to them, but I hope they do, and I hope everyone else who is enrolled gets the idea, because there is about to be a flood of posts as I come out of hibernation and we get up to speed.  It's much easier to follow and get posts automatically in your email Inbox than checking back 12 times a day, especially given the hours I keep.  You know that moment on a roller coaster, just after you start, when you're ticking up the last few feet before the first big screaming drop?  That's now.  Make sure your belt is tight and get your scream on.  Anyone who isn't following and/or lucky enough to get word from the Seven will be shocked at the amount of stuff they'll need to read in addition to the formal summer assignment.

For now, here's what you should be getting ready:

1. Your blog.  You can use Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, or something even cooler we haven't thought of yet, but think about what you're good at, what you want people to see online, and which media and tools will help you tell that story.  If you have a strong perspective, great; we'll be asking you about it during the first week in class.  If this is all brand new, start with Blogger (it's easy and you'll have lots of help).  You can always migrate later.  As soon as you create your blog, please email the URL to

2. Your summer reading notes.  If you haven't already cracked the books, stop kidding yourself.  Starting the year behind is a recipe for disaster.  Put your notes on the blog you just created.

3. Your scholarship and college application materials.  By the time we begin class you should have: a) a list of 5-10 scholarships you qualify for; b) a list of 3-5 colleges you'd like to attend; and c) a draft of a personal essay.  More on each of these in coming days/weeks.

So it begins.  Please feel free to comment to this post or email with any questions, suggestions, ideas, or general feedback.  Onward!