On Wednesday, Dec 8, students in my writing and communication classes presented their ideas on collaborative consumption to the Georgia Tech community. Students enjoyed the challenges of communicating their proposals to students and faculty unfamiliar with the concept of collaborative consumption. Among the materials students showcased were videos, websites, and posters. See my syllabus for more information about the course. Below are some photos from the symposium.
(Cross-posted on TECHStyle.)
In a recent discussion on “The Real Cost of College Textbooks” in the New York Times, Anya Kamenetz, author of the controversial book DYI U, proposes: “Get Rid of Print and Go Digital.” Kamenetz suggests that professors abandon print textbooks in favor of eBooks and online resources. She asks:
Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic, rich-media learning environments instead using free and open source software tools?”
While her proposal inspired some readers to reflect on new ways of looking at reading material in the classroom, it also caught the attention of staunch traditionalists. Many critics who wrote in response to Kamenetz’s proposal suggest that reading on the computer is characterized by short attention spans and excessive distractions.
Print books, the critics argue, force students to shut off the technology and focus, enabling them to more fully engage in the material object of the book, complete with highlighting, annotating, and tagging the pages directly. One respondent writes:
Paper texts are easier to make notes in and to reference, both critical processes for students. If you want to read throw-away novels, go for the e-text. If you want a tool to use for passing a class and for ongoing use in your educational or professional life, use the traditional technology.”
I agree that what is most important in the college classroom is how students interact and respond to reading material.
However, for the many critics who lamented the loss of the ability to annotate print textbooks, I have a mini-guide to several tools now available, for mostly free, that not only facilitate student-text interaction, but improve upon it.
In Awakening the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das addresses the problem of “meditation with mosquito.” He’s simply referring to the moment when we are deep in mediation practice and a mosquito, or any other irritating distraction, appears buzzing at our ear.
What do we do?
Of course our natural instinct is to swat it away or simply become upset at our distraction by it. Lama Surya, however, suggests simply focusing on the buzzing as a “vibration in your eardrum. Buzzzz. . .” Development of this response cultivates mindfulness, “where awareness saves you from responding to the mosquito, or anything else, with a knee-jerk reaction.”
While Lama Surya’s main teaching is centered on this idea of mindfulness, what I feel most inspired by is how he suggests a Buddhist saint might respond: “A Buddhist saint might wish that the mosquito finds a tender juicy spot, has a decent meal, and a safe flight home.”
Not only do I respond very heartfully to this notion, but I find that it’s not so very out of reach in the viscerality of my imagination. Now, if only every distraction in my life could be transformed into that mosquito buzzing in my imagination’s ear…
Pema Chodron identifies three kinds of laziness: comfort orientation, loss of heart, and “couldn’t care less.” Comfort orientation, in particular, she describes as our tendency to over accommodate our physical needs, such as by turning up the heat at the first sign of brisk weather, and by doing so, we “dull our appreciation of smells and sights and sounds.”
It’s interesting to think of “comfort” in this way–because, for example, it’s possible to actively create comfort for ourselves in lighting scented candles, opening a window to let a cool breeze in, baking cranberry-apple crisp in the oven. These creations of comfort actively stimulate the senses instead of dulling them.
However, the kind of comfort orientation that Pema Chodron is referring to is that which is not active. We might seek comfort by sleeping in late when it’s too stimulating to shock the body into its awakened state or comfort by staying inside instead of jogging to avoid exhaustion of the lungs. Both modes clearly point to comfort by remaining static, by avoiding ignitions of the nervous system and engagement of the body.
In making a clear distinction between these two kinds of comforts, we might better care for our bodies and souls. To realize when staying in, staying put, and therefore becoming static is a kind of deadening of the senses and deadening of life experience–rather than a kind of resting nourishment–can enlighten us to when we avoid living and the “rawness of emotional energy.”
Classes began today. I’m teaching an introductory survey of English literature on the “Technologies of the Individual.” Here is the course description.
“Never judge a book by its cover.” A simple truth, and yet, our culture is driven by its obsession with creating “image.” Magazines and television shows teach us hair, styling, and exercise techniques directed at further shaping this image of ourselves, an image that will presumably reveal the “real you,” but nevertheless a reality that remains on the surface of the body, on the “cover.”
Similarly, when we think about identity and the individual, we might create a mental picture based on one’s personal style, professional identity, leisure activities, or, at a more sophisticated level, cultural markers of distinction (race, class, gender, sexuality).
But even as we attempt to invoke representations of a deeper nature, our perceptions of the individual remain largely externalized. We rarely invest ourselves in the machinery of the inner life of the individual.
What kind of portrait might we paint that imagines the breathless fears, pulsating desires, and remorseful thoughts that mark the inner spirit of the individual? One of our most coveted desires as human beings is to witness the soul of another human being; one of our greatest fears is that someone other will catch a glimpse of our own.
One of the appeals, then, of reading literature is that it provides access to the hidden and complex inner life of the individual. In this survey course, we will examine texts that enjoin the spiritual and mechanical spirit of the age with a dynamic exploration of selfhood. As critics, and as individuals, we will piece together a portrait of the inner lives we witness and also experience.
The reading list includes:
- Thomas Carlyle. “Signs of the Times” and Sartor Resartus.
- Mary Shelley. Frankenstein.
- George Eliot. The Lifted Veil.
- Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
- Aldous Huxley. Brave New World.
“Pickles Pig,” a silly book for kids. What a sweet story. Or not.
Poor Pickles Pig doesn’t want to be sold by the farmer and get turned into crisp-fry bacon. He learns that he must be sold because it’s the only way the farmer can justify his expenditures on the pig’s food, like the horse who earns his food by plowing the fields or the cat who rids the farm of rodents.
Pickles Pig needs to find an alternative way to earn his keep if he doesn’t want to become crisp-fry bacon. In the meantime, he plays with the farmer’s daughter and discovers how to use a computer. He writes his life story on the keyboard, gets it published, gets paid, and turns flips of joy in front of his farmyard friends when he is saved from the slaughterhouse.
The lesson I have learned, and correct me if I’m way off, is that the value of a life can be determined by the economic returns it produces; however impossible, we are all capable of providing our owns means for sustenance, we just need to keep trying harder and soon we’ll discover that most unlikely mode of economic production, that is, if we don’t want to become someone else’s food…