Posts tagged teaching

It’s been a long time, yet again: the blogging slippery slope. Firstly one remembers one hasn’t updated one’s blog in a couple of days. Then in a week. Then in two weeks. Then in a month. Then, that one han’t updated since Mad Men ended, an event that happened, as far as the Internet is concerned, sometime between the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise.

I’ve been busy. I’ve been tired. Good busy and bad busy, good tired and bad tired. Some days, whenever there’s time to do something else, all I want is to do nothing, to retreat to some Pacific Ocean of the mind, sunglasses facing the setting sun, having a cold beer half a world away. I definitely do not think of blogging. Despite the ways it became nearly frictionless, despite having a computer in my pocket almost every waking hour, which I need to deliberately put away, silent, whenever I need to be truly present. 

Blogging is the only activity in my life I have been doing more or less continuously for fifteen years!, fifteen at-times-embarrassing years, so much I embargoed much of my early blogging, and it is unvaluable to me. It’s my diary, a multimedia (quaint word nowadays) diary presented to a ghostly audience (not being the kind of person who writes intelligibly for his own later consumption, blogging exploits some loophole in my personality whence I can present stuff intelligibly for my own later consumption). I’ll continue to blog. Tomorrow, next Wednesday, or perhaps next year.

I’ll continue building. This past semester I had the privilege of teaching a Sound and Image Lab course at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Porto. Design students where challenged to build stuff from the most basic blocks of information and algorithms; I asked my students, mostly women, to play with digital and/or procedural Lego (in a metaphorical, not in a Minecraft sense). They did great. They inspired me. Retreating to the Pacific Ocean of the mind, I might want to build sandcastles. Sometimes I’ll blog.

There’s a recurrent theme in my inbox as another semester is near the end. (And yes, I do use that wooden desk Gmail theme. Let a man keep his kitschy customizations.)

CS50 OpenCourseWare

I’ve been ‘attending’ Harvard University’s free online Computer Science class, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. I hope to plug some holes in my CS understanding, left from sometimes inadequate self-teaching and an academic background too focused on the end-user understanding of computers. Having had almost no direct contact with a foreign academic systems (except for a couple of University of Texas workshops and seminars held here in Porto), let alone Ivy League, here are some remarks after ‘attending’ the first couple of weeks (meaning watching four videotaped lectures and doing a couple of ‘problem sets’):

  • Organization: it’s mentioned 700 people are taking the CS class in-site, but I have no idea how many more are taking it online (for a [obviously high] fee you can actually get graded). Dozens of staff provide service to just that one class. Plus all the extra seminars people can attend (or freely download videos of), such as A Crash Course in Java or Using the Vim Text Editor. Comparison to my own experience as academic instructor — all alone with sixty students in a small room — is headspinning.
  • Dress-code: the utter lack thereof. Students come on stage wearing shots and flip-flops, exactly the kind of clothing items a high-profile portuguese university attempted to ban while soliciting students to denounce colleagues. Only shows that what University should be all about is knowledge, ideas, and creativity; not suits. Rigorous dress-codes send the very wrong idea presentation is more important (I haven’t seen any portuguese college soliciting students to rat out plagiarists — which would still be wrong). Presentation has a certain amount of importance, of course, (I often find myself wearing a polo shirt just to look a bit different from most students — ‘more teacherly’, if you will), but very tiny indeed — if it’s hot outside, by all means skip the socks.
  • Colloquialisms and rhythm: the instructors’ speech is very free-flowing, sometimes even low-level curse words pass by. But that doesn’t mean the teaching is by any means dumbed-down, by the contrary, the rhythm at which new information is passed on to the students is much more unrelentless than anything in my own academic experience.
  • Notes: the lectures’ notes are provided to the students so they don’t spend their time writing down stuff instead of paying attention. In my teaching, I’ve often interrputed students writing down stuff I say, an habit so embedded in some students they often don’t even look to something I’m showing. I always give out some links that I hope work as notes, but perhaps I should systematize this.
  • Giving (Free / open-source) software in a virtual appliance, such as a VirtualBox VM: what a great idea! Not really practical in my video editing classes, but a good way to ensure students do their exercises in the ‘same’ computer in Multimedia Lab, for instance (of which usage of some open-source tools is part of the syllabus).

So yeah, I’m enjoying it.

Misc. links June 27th - July 5th

James Gleick on what defines a meme.

Practical tips on writing a book. Which is something I permanently want to start doing, soon.

Werner Herzog explains ‘truth intensification’ to Steven Colbert. I quite enjoy Herzog’s candid approach to the subject; while his manipulative antics (mutant albino aligators!) might horrify some, the fact is manipulation is unavoidable. Like an audiovisual equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle, I believe subjectivity stars when the filmmaker choses a camera angle over another or a moment over another. In that sense, all documentary is fiction (or, a lot more like fiction that most people want to believe), and the debate about truthfulness should hinge on what the author is trying to say rather than what is being shown.

A professor and a professional cheat talk about plagiarism, the business of writing college papers for other students, and the paradoxes of Higher Education.

The Elements of Hapiness, a study capturing the entire lives of more than 800 individuals. It’s a shame you can’t download the PDF.

Misc. links May 31st - June 12th

What is College good for? I’ve recently had a student ask a somewhat more brutal form of the question the author mulls about — “Why do we have to learn this?” (‘this’ being, by the way, a short tutorial on sound recording in the context of a Multimedia Lab course with a very high amount of audiovisuals in its syllabus) — and found myself unable to provide an answer. I always figured someone who goes to college has a interest in learning stuff, no questions asked (much less when the ‘stuff’ is a downright obvious part of what you commited yourself to study for three years).

In the United States, the advertising industry says the middle class is over.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman on the ‘rule by rentiers’. No better example than the recent Portuguese election, in which the media (owned by people with a vested interest in the privatizations-to-come) conspired not only to utter demonize the outgoing PM — the only way to ensure a ‘stable’ government by the right, given the overall perceived mediocrity of the right-wing leader and new PM, Pedro Passos Coelho —, but also to present the IMF’s prescriptions as palatable and inevitable (and a good 80% voted pro-IMF, fucking A!). And of course, not content until the country descends (or, as the media would put it, ‘ascends’) into a kind of feudal post-democratic ‘Berlusconianism’, pundits now call for a new ‘modern’ Constitution, stripped of such ‘nagging aspects’ as electoral and labour regulations, then freely available to the MPs and the lobbies to change as they please. And it seems people will gladly take it, as envious dreams of bling are the true opium of the masses. (via Boing Boing)

On a lighter note, about one year ago two players fought a three-day, eleven-hour battle in the Wimbledon lawn. The fifth set of the match ended 70-68.

Love this xkcd. While teaching practical use (i.e. video editing) to kids who often reason and behave as if the computer is a black box with elves, fairies, unicorns and glitter inside, I’m always trying to offer a glimpse of the real beauty: Layer upon layer of progressive abstraction that allows for billions of very simple elements, such as what are basically on-off switches, to create something incredible complex, for instance a dramatic chipmunk.