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If we build a giant wooden badger...

Posted on 4:53 PM, under

As you may be able to glean from my title, I'm down but not out. Setbacks happen, and this has been a big one, but I'm recovering from it and will be better in the long run.

I've transitioned even more of my activities to my various mobile devices. My phone is more capable of handling incidental communications activities, and my first gen iPod Touch is a force to be reckoned with. I've now attended one class and one meeting via Skype, recorded a podcast, and am currently typing my latest blog from it. Considering how much I use this thing, the much maligned iPad might be right up my alley once they improve it a bit or drop the price into my range.

I've been thinking quite a bit about our classes this semester, and how they relate to my future endeavors. I'm increasingly certain that I'd like to spend some time in the corporate world, perhaps in the R & D side of a prominent tech company. Would also consider the game design side of things, as my research and longstanding hobbies dovetail nicely with gaming.

My research is starting up again and getting back on track, my coursework is nearly up to speed, and I'm feeling more confident about my ability to succeed here than I can remember. Really loving this semester's books, though I think the fact that I switched about 50% to ebooks might contribute to that.

While I included this in the aforementioned podcast, I won't be able to post that for a bit longer, so I wanted to finally thank everyone for your outpouring of support and concern. There's no way I could've hoisted myself up out of the doldrums as quickly as I've been able to knowing that you all have my back.

So now Lancelot, Gallahad and I leap out of the rabbit...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPod Touch

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I'm writing this, of all places, from ~38,000 miles above Phoenix, AZ. If i wanted to spend $8, I could send it out instantly from here as well. We are currently 55 minutes out of LAX, approaching at a ground speed of 416 mph.

While the where is interesting and provides a good frame (and imagery), more important is that I hope this becomes a springboard to being more consistent about my reflections. When I have a device upon which I can pretty quickly type anything I want to have easy access to later, it really does seem like I have no excuse. As a sidenote there, please check out Evernote. It has done wonders for my productivity by enabling this with ease and utility.

Coming out of our midpoint meeting in Orlando, I have two main observations to make about myself and our cadre. First, I have the utmost confidence in our ability to connect with each other, and see great promise in the realization of this open and trustworthy community of like-minded future change agents. Second, as a direct result of this community, I have found within myself a sense of focus and confidence the likes of which I have never before experienced. While I hope I managed to communicate how much I love and respect you all while we still had the benefit of co-location, I think the second deserves some time in this space.

Seriously, I feel like I should go home and apply to work at Google or get started on researching schools like MIT and UCF to apply to in the near future. More importantly, I feel like I could do so and not waver in my resolve that I would be a very competitive candidate, even in the face of a few initial rejections. Part of this is undeniably due to very positive interactions with our shining examples of educators and leaders, and I could probably find some way in which every one of you has influenced the way I think in the past five days.

I'm half-tempted to start naming people individually, but I worry that it might come to naming everyone in our group, but being a slow typist, we're already descending over California. I expect you know who you are individually, and suggest that you interpret the slightest inkling of possibility that I'm referring to you as cause for complete certainty that I must be.

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Not Dead Yet

Posted on 3:37 PM, under , ,

(So glad that many of my cadre-mates share a fondness for the Pythons... perhaps I'll make that a theme in my blog titles =P)

Things have gotten better since my last post. I'm still behind, of course, but I feel much less behind now that we've gotten a few more projects behind us. I'm also enjoying the heck out of programming in MicroWorlds, which is something of a new experience for me.

Getting the Lit Review done was an event in itself. The primary stress there was that I had allocated a block of time to get it done, but failed to account for the degree to which life finds a way to defeat any attempts at scheduling. I might have had enough time despite the delays if I hadn't had my ideas seriously changed over the course of doing the actual reading. I'll explain more in my AR blog, but suffice it to say that I'll have to seriously re-examine the fundamentals of my review of literature when I find the time to return to it.

As much as I'm enjoying the changes to and growths in my thinking that have come along with this class, I'm feeling a bit disconnected from the group. I know my current learning circle pretty well now, and look forward to our weekly meetings, but the electronic interactions we all have are feeling increasingly insufficient. Perhaps I need to interface more with e-mail and online discussions, but I worry that might not even slake my thirst for reconnecting with my fellow learners. There are so many cadremates nearby, but finding the time to meet and actually following through on it have proven complicated in the past, and I have my doubts about continuing to meet up when I really get into putting my action research into action.

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I think the length of time since my last post says much about the state of things for me, but I'll try to expand on it a bit.

Needless to say, life has been busy. I feel a bit rotten saying that, as I'm certain that many in our program have much more going on and are keeping up much better than I am, but it doesn't change the fact that I often feel overwhelmed. The trick, which I haven't quite figured out entirely, is how to turn those feelings of stress into the necessary impetus to relieve the stress. I think recognizing the need to do so is an important first step, and I understand my goals well enough, but the steps along the way are a bit fuzzy.

I suppose I should give Papert the necessary credit for inspiring me back to writing this post. He puts forward and argues for a number of ideas that resonated with my own way of thinking, and the minor revelations that resulted will be the subject of the rest of this post, now that I'm mostly finished whining.

The concept of a science of "mathetics" is one that I agreed with the moment I read it. I was reminded of the reverse of a conversation I had with my Psycholinguistics professor... We had been discussing the acquisition of language in class, and I happened to go home that evening to find my roommates playing with speech recognition software on their computers. I immediately noticed that they were adopting a unique tone and speaking style when talking to the computer. It reminded me of the way people speak to babies, and was particularly interesting in that they didn't have to discuss or even really plan this speaking style... it came mostly naturally, as they realized that the reasonably primitive software was struggling to understand them. I brought this experience back to my professor, and asked if we weren't missing half of the picture when only discussing the learning of language... what about the innate tendency to teach language? This is essentially Papert's suggestion in reverse, though it's important to note that our class discussions about language learning weren't anywhere near what he's proposing in mathetics.

Mathetics appeals to me personally because I've long recognized some degree of skill in learning as an asset to my daily life. Unfortunately, I've tended to use this asset for less than productive means... specifically, I spent much more of my high school and college careers bathed in the light of my latest game than I should have been able to get away with. One concern, though, is that my tendency to slide through schooling may have been much less related to my ability to learn than my ability to take tests well. There is an undeniable bias towards the particular set of problem solving strategies often called "test-taking skills", and those who have obtained these skills have to do less work for the same rewards. The crux of the issue is whether tests are good measures of learning regardless of one's testing aptitude... and I have to strongly doubt that most (if any) tests really do measure learning well for anyone.

As I sit here thinking about all of this, I set my changing ideas about learning alongside my growing desire to go into teaching after this program, and remember a passage from Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". While I don't remember the exact passage or even the context, I remember him mentioning at one point in his time as a college professor that he was generally giving the worst grades to the students who were most like him. I strongly feel like the ways I see myself teaching based on what I have learned would generally make trouble for the good test-takers. However, I'm not sure if this is something that troubles me in any real way... so long as I believe that what currently passes for testing is not a sufficient measure of learning, I would be doing a disservice to all students by relying on it.

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Breaking the Block

Posted on 4:08 PM, under ,

Not sure what has been holding me back for the past few weeks, but I'm trying to change things now for the better... catching up on things I've been meaning to say, trying to insert myself back into discussions before they leave me in the dust. It hasn't helped that I've been sick for nearly three straight weeks now, but I find it hard to blame even a persistent chest cold for my inaction.

To be fair, I have been far from inactive... I've kept up with my cadremate's comments and discussions, tried to be an asset to my new learning circle, and made significant progress on my action research. I'm not completely caught up with assigned reading, but nearly enough. My dropping out of speaking out in most online conversation has also coincided with the resumption of my primary job as a behavioral therapist, which has itself been marked by concerted effort to improve my day-to-day practices and engagement. There are times when I feel like I understand the struggle of the current presidential administration in attacking so many major socio-political issues simultaneously... even while making progress on many fronts, it's hard to please everyone (or even oneself, in my case).

I've been thinking quite a bit about the issue of identities, probably associated with shifts taking place in my own set as a result of changes to many of my behaviors and attitudes. One unexpected difficulty I've found is that I apparently have a hard time switching gears or changing hats as I transition between parts of my day... Lately, I find myself so consumed with my "behavioral therapist" identity that by the end of the school day, I struggle to find the energy to fit myself into what I would call my "home" identity, let alone my "Masters student" identity. "Hobbyist photographer" has almost completely disappeared, and "helpful friend" is struggling to stay relevant.

If I do things correctly, I think I should find myself eventually merging these often disparate identities into something more viable and less stressful... simply me, without gears or hats to change. This is already largely happening with my action research and primary job, which should bring my school work along eventually. I don't really know that this goal is even possible, or useful for that matter. I do know that any stress I can shed from my current system will be a good thing for my health and functioning.

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I'm sitting on my couch writing in my blog rather than in school on the first day back because I picked up a bug of some sort from a coworker at Starbucks. Honestly, this is pretty lame. My client is back in school, the classroom is in minor chaos with new students and new behaviorists, I'm the veteran behaviorist in the classroom, and I'm sitting here, blogging.

I've been going a bit crazy with all of the effort required in getting things ready to go back to work and back to school, which probably stressed my system just enough for this invading horde to take me out for the day. Rather than sitting around trying to catch up on my content creation responsibilities, I'm going to try to back off and relegate myself to the role of content consumer and tool investigator. Right after I write a few quick blog updates...

I'm very much looking forward to the new year, new opportunities, new ideas, and new directions for my research that have been popping up over the last week. As my research goes, I feel the balance of powers shifting as I move toward understanding my ideas better. On the one hand, I couldn't have more of a green light with regard to my action research:
  • My client is served by therapists from two different companies, making our therapy team an excellent test case
  • My department manager might be more excited about the prospects for my project than I am, and has been an excellent resource for places to go in the company for help and advice
  • My client's parents are behind the project in whatever form it takes, and trust me to make this work for their child's benefit
  • Simply put, I'm investigating community building via gaming principles in an environment where the barriers to collaboration are minimal and the benefits of collaboration are substantial and yet the valuable collaboration is not happening... How can this fail?
On the other hand, I'm seeing the obstacles more clearly now that some of the adrenaline has dissipated:
  • I'm talking about building my own software solutions to a problem, but I've never done any real coding outside of two classes in college dedicated to programming, and have thoroughly forgotten those languages
  • Privacy, Privacy, Privacy.... If I fail to sufficiently safeguard client privacy, my project will lose it's backing and support.
  • I'm basically going to pitch turning behavioral therapy into a collaborative game, but I know I can't call it a game, and I know I can't explain the gaming principles behind it to anyone who can pull the plug on it.
  • I'm hoping to bring other therapy teams into this eventually, especially as this creates a necessary competitive aspect to the game, but how do I do this without fostering resentment and creating real-world social issues?
I'm not sure where the balance falls here, but I'm keeping these issues in mind as I reflect on what examples I can find of other implementations of alternate reality gaming.

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Having finally found the right mindset in which to coerce information out of myself and into written form, I managed to throw it off quite a bit by forgetting to balance my caffeine intake against my food consumption... an amateurish drug-user's mistake, and one I will avoid repeating in the near future. I'll try to write through the buzz anyway.

I've been up and down in my feelings about our program over the last week. My initial reaction to the e-mail prodding many of us (myself included) received regarding forum posts was one of disbelief... How could a program so well grounded in the value of order emerging from chaos stoop to such a top-down strategy? What happened to quality over quantity?

I'm sure this knee-jerk reaction was closely related to a deficiency of time devoted to things outside of class, work, and household chores. Rectifying this lack, as well as some reflection aided by insightful forum posts related to the subject, has abated my frustration with being nudged out of my inaction. I now feel like that the e-mail wasn't a top-down command, but more an appeal for help with the limits of our communication medium.

Apologies are due in retrospect if my voluminous messages aren't quite appropriate or are less constructive for our discussions. Though I've participated on a number of forums, I usually find myself fulfilling more of a curation and clarification role rather than one of content-creator (Wow, accidental alliteration abounds...). I have been trying to allow myself to make more brief comments.

All things said, the "reminder" has had what I assume are the intended effects. I have enjoyed being more engaged and active in this particular medium, and look forward to continuing and improving my practice with it.

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