A 16mm Education

16mm projectorMy elementary school days were the 1960s and back then seeing a film in class was a big deal. Those 16mm educational films often left a bigger impression on me than the books and lessons. A decade or so later and I was the teacher in the classroom and I became very good at threading those old 16mm projectors that often ate up the film.

Television as an educational tool was pretty rare. I recall my fellow students sitting on the floor of the gym in 1962 to watch one small television set as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

A bit more than a decade later I was threading one of those 16mm projectors as a teacher to show my students films. Some teachers took advantage of using films a bit too often. We called them "plans in a can" and they were popular emergency plans in case you were absent without warning or on a day before vacation.

I was pretty frugal in my use of films, but I also taught a course on film and video production, so I think I had legitimate reasons to show films. Before there were home video players, 16mm films were the only way to do it.

The Sony Betamax hit the U.S. in 1975, and my school bought a VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1977 when it was edging out the Betamax for the home video market. That VCR was something I used more and more, though my students were still shooting their own video on reel-to-reel VTRs (videotape recorders).

Sony changed that with their 1983 Betamovie cassette camcorder. My school bought a full size VHS camcorder and so did I. My first home movies of my newborn son were recorded with a video camera plugged into a VHS deck.

But I have very fond and surprisingly vivid memories of those old 16mm films that I saw a s a kid in school.

Many of them have emerged online. I assume that many of these films have had their copyright lapse, or maybe the companies that produced them have gone out of business or just don't care about their use any more.

I recall this film on "Lunchroom Manners" as one I saw in school. I also recall Pee Wee Herman using part of it in one of his shows. Watching "Mr. Bungle" in school settings today reminds me of my own school and the kids look like a lot I did then and my fellow students. Since I have no film and video of my own early days, these are like home movies.

I can imagine teachers in the late 1940s and 1950s showing in a health class films like the 1951  "Going Steady." (It doesn't portray going steady as a good idea.) And I'm not sure how teenagers in 1949 would have viewed the tips in Dating Do's and Don'ts. These were made by Coronet Instructional Films, which produced hundreds of films for the school market.

Public domain films from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive and Archive.org can be a real trip down memory lane for people who came of age in the 1940s through the 1970s.

But the films I saw in school that left the biggest impression on me were the ones about science. Many of them were well made and from Hollywood producers and studios. I vividly recall "Our Mr. Sun," a film directed by Frank Capra who is best known for It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many others.

That film launched the Bell System Science series. My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey then, so I thought then that he might have had some vague connection to these films (he didn't). It was the time time of the space race with Russia and an early version of STEM education that we all needed to know more about science. My father was determined I would be the first in the family to attend college and really wanted me to become an engineer.

With animation and live action, "Our Mr. Sun" was really well-made for the time. Capra had been producing documentaries for the Army during WWII such as the Why We Fight series and this documentary side business continued after the war. I know I saw that film multiple times in school, but this Technicolor beauty was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes and then some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

Another film I recall was on the atom. I grew up in that "atomic age" when the fear of nuclear war was very real. The film I recall was produced by Walt Disney Educational Media. Walt Disney began hosting his own television show for ABC in 1954. In exchange for a weekly hour-long Disney television program, ABC was funding some of the construction of Disneyland. The show was originally named Disneyland but went through later incarnations as Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney etc. All in all they ran for an amazing 54 years.

The "Our Friend the Atom" was a pro-nuclear energy film but it did compare atomic energy to a genie in a bottle, both of which are capable of doing good and evil.

Not all the films were about hard science and another one I recall must have had some impact on my decision to go into the humanities and major in English. Another from the Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra was "Alphabet Conspiracy" which was the story of the science of language and linguistics. The premise was a plot to destroy the alphabet and all language and it featured the very odd Hans Conried.

The growth of television after WWII scared many parents and educators. Kids were watching a lot of TV and, like film and comic books before it, the fear was that it would rot their minds. The same cry was heard with videogames, the Internet and now with smartphones, which contain all those formats.

I wrote my Master's thesis on the influence of television on children in regard to violence and isolation. There is no doubt that all this media influenced several generations, but I'm not sure that it rotted any brains. I suspect it inspired many kids.

This post first appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse

The Augmented Reality of Pokémon Go

People have been searching for creatures and running down their phone batteries this month since Pokémon Go was released.
Is there any connection of this technology to education, Ken? Let's see.

First off, Pokémon Go is a smartphone game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon creatures appear around you on the screen. The objective is to go and catch them.

This combination of a game and the real world interacting is known as augmented reality (AR). AR is often confused with VR - virtual reality. VR creates a totally artificial environment, while augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.

The term augmented reality goes back to 1990 and a Boeing researcher, Thomas Caudell, who used it to describe the use of head-mounted displays by electricians assembling complicated wiring harnesses.

A commercial applications of AR technology that most people have seen is the yellow "first down" line that we see on televised football games which, of course, is not on the actual field.

Google Glass and the displays called "heads-up" in car windshields are another consumer AR application. there are many more uses of the technology in industries like healthcare, public safety, gas and oil, tourism and marketing.

Back to the game... My son played the card game and handheld video versions 20 years ago, so I had a bit of Pokémon education. I read that it is based on the hobby of bug catching which is apparently popular in Japan, where the games originated. Like bug catching or birding, the goal is to capture actual bugs or virtual birds and Pokémon creatures and add them to your life list. The first generation of Pokémon games began with 151 creatures and has expanded to 700+, but so far only the original 151 are available in the Pokémon Go app.

I have seen a number of news reports about people doing silly, distracted things while playing the game, along with more sinister tales of people being lured by someone via a creature or riding a bike or driving while playing. (The app has a feature to try to stop you using from it while moving quickly, as in a car.)

Thinking about educational applications for the game itself doesn't yield anything for me. Although it does require you to explore your real-world environment, the objective is frivolous. So, what we should consider is the use of VR in education beyond the game, while appreciating that the gaming aspect of the app is what drives its appeal and should be used as a motivator for more educational uses.
The easiest use of VR in college classrooms is to make use of the apps already out there in industries. Students in an engineering major should certainly be comfortable with understanding and using VR from their field. In the illustration above, software (metaio Engineer) allows someone to see an overlay visualization of future facilities within the current environment. Another application can be having work and maintenance instructions directly appear on a component when it is viewed.
Augmented reality can be a virtual world, even a MMO game. The past year we have heard more about virtual reality and VR headsets and goggles (like Oculus Rift) which are more immersive, but also more awkward to use.This immersiveness is an older concept and some readers may recall the use of the term "telepresence.” 

Telepresence referred to a set of technologies which allowed a person to feel as if they were present, or to to give the appearance of being present, or to have some impact at place other than their true location. Telerobotics does this, but more commonly it was the move from videotelephony to videoconferencing. Those applications have been around since the end of the last century and we have come a god way forward from traditional videoconferencing to doing it with hand-held mobile devices, enabling collaboration independent of location.

In education, we experimented with these applications and with the software for MMOs, mirror worlds, augmented reality, lifelogging, and products like Second Life. Pokémon Go is Second Life but now there is no avatar to represent us. We are in the game and the game is the world around us, augmented as needed. The world of the game is the world.

Listening to Wikipedia

visualscreenshot of the hatnote visualization of Wikipedia edits

There is a wonderful STEAMy mashup application online that lets you listen to the edits being made right now on Wikipedia. How? It assigns sounds to the edits being made. If someone makes an addition, it plays a bell. It someone makes a subtraction from an entry, you'll hear a string plucked. The pitch changes according to the size of the edit - the larger the edit, the deeper the note.

The result is a pleasantly tranquil random but musical composition that reminds me of some music from Japan and China.

You can also watch recent changes. A the top of the page, green circles show edits being made by unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots. White circles are brought to you by Registered Users.

If you hear  a swelling string sound, it means that a new user has join the site.(You can welcome him or her by clicking the blue banner and adding a note on their talk page.)

You can select a language version of Wikimedia to listen to. When I selected English Wikipedia edits at midday ET, there were about 100 edits per minute resulting in a a slow but steady stream of sound. You can select multiple languages (refresh the page first) if you want to create a cacophony of sounds. You can listen to the very quiet sleeping side of the planet or the busier awake and active side. The developers say that there is something reassuring about knowing that every user makes a noise, every edit has a voice in the roar.

The site is at listen.hatnote.com and the notes there tell us that Hatnote grew out of a 2012 WMF Group hackathon. It is built using D3 and HowlerJS and is is based on BitListen by Maximillian Laumeister. The source code is available on GitHub. It was built by Hatnote, Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi.

Audiation is a term used to refer to comprehension and internal realization of music, or the sensation of an individual hearing or feeling sound when it is not physically present. Musicians previously used terms such as aural perception or aural imagery to describe this concept, though aural imagery would imply a notational component while audiation does not necessarily do so. Edwin Gordon suggests that "audiation is to music what thought is to language," and his research based on similarities between how individuals learn language and how they learn to make and understand music.

As the Hatnote site points out, Wikipedia is a top 10 website worldwide with hundreds of millions of users. It includes more than a dozen actual projects including Wiktionary, Commons, and Wikibooks. It uses more than 280 languages. Perhaps more amazingly, it has only about 200 employees and relies mostly on community support for content, edits - and donations. Compare that business model to other top 100 websites worldwide.


Yada Yada: Using Seinfeld, Pooh, Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Popular Culture To Teach Serious Stuff

I wrote an earlier version of this post back in 2010 and focused on some academics using the TV series Seinfeld in their courses. But in fixing some broken links in that post, I discovered a whole industry has popped up using popular TV shows to teach more serious stuff.

Now, you can find material on using everything from using How I Met Your Mother to teach philosophy and popular culture, to using Doctor Who (Bigger on the Inside) to teach. As Chris Hansen (editor of Ruminations, Peregrinations, and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who ) says: "Do you want theories and contradictions of time travel? It’s in there. Do you want a deep examination of the nature of identity, as understood through the Doctor and his regenerative ability? It’s in there."

What got me to jump into this rabbit hole was Seinfeld which ran for nine seasons on NBC. I have seen every episode. Multiple times. In our household, Seinfeld references are a common thing.

The phrase that was always attached to the show (and became a meme in the show-within-the-show that George and Jerry create) was that it was a “show about nothing.” But almost every episode is about at least three different stories which are often very cleverly intertwined.

Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer encounter odd people and unusual situations that are surprisingly not so different from our own lives. For example, have you ever had to deal with a rental car agency at an airport?  Then you can probably identify with Jerry's consternation at a reservation that doesn't actually reserve a car for you. They can TAKE a reservation. They just can't HOLD it. And holding it is what really matters.

There's a good classroom discussion-starter in that scene for a business class. That's true for many of the episodes.

As a child of television, you can always get my attention with a clip. I'm not original in this idea of using TV clips in class and some academics have decided to use Seinfeld in their classrooms.

I first saw a piece on a Wall Street Journal blog about a professor using the show in an economics course.

“This is a paper about nothing.” So begins Princeton economics professor Avinash Dixit’s academic paper “ An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld.” The paper uses option pricing theory to deconstruct Elaine’s decisions in the “Seinfeld” episode number 119 “ The Sponge.”

In it, Elaine’s preferred contraceptive sponge goes off the market, sparking an ultimately fruitless hunt for a greater supply. Her limited supply of contraceptive sponges forces her to reassess their usage, and decide whether a potential partner is “sponge-worthy” or not.

Using these clips (as well as clips from other television shows or movies) makes economic concepts come alive, making them more real for students. Ultimately, students will start seeing economics everywhere – in other TV shows, in popular music, and most importantly, in their own lives.

“You are deciding whether or not to make an investment decision,” Prof. Dixit says. “The mathematical techniques are exactly the same as financial options.”

There is also a site called "The Economics of Seinfeld" that has the nice URL of  YadaYadaYadaEcon.com (an inside Seinfeld joke). The site creators select clips from the shows and suggest economic concepts that might be taught using them.

For example, in "The Apartment" we look at Jerry's NYC rent-controlled building. If you want an apartment, you need someone to die, because no one moves from a rent-controlled place.  Elaine is looking for a place and when Mrs. Hudwalker dies, she finds out about the opening from Jerry. She's the first one to get it, so it goes for $400 per month. But then the super realizes he can play around with the demand side of this situation. Yada, yada, yada, he is offered a $5,000 bribe and Elaine doesn't get the place.

Lessons? Price ceilings and rationing mechanisms.

Jerry talks about locations where no business can survive in the “Bermuda Triangle" and it can be used to discuss "free entry and exit" - "a term used by economists to describe a condition in which can sellers freely enter the market for an economic good by establishing production and beginning to sell the product. Along these same lines, free exit occurs when a firm can exit the market without limit when economic losses are being incurred."

The site offers some clips and the DVD information (season, disc and the times for the key scenes) for using them. A department could pick up the Seinfeld complete series on DVD or just the seasons needed.

I never smiled once when I took economics as an undergrad. This would have eased the pain and helped me stay awake.

These economics professors are not the first to consider another side of Jerry and friends.

I bought Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing when it came out. It's for those with or without any real philosophical background.

There are essays grouped into four acts.

Act One looks at the four Seinfeld characters through a philosophical lens - Jerry and Socrates: The Examined Life?

Act Two examines historical philosophers from a Seinfeldian standpoint (Plato or Nietzsche? Time, Essence, and Eternal Recurrence in Seinfeld).

Act Three is Untimely Meditations by the Water Cooler, which explores philosophical issues raised by the show - Is it rational for George to do the opposite?

Act Four is called Is There Anything Wrong with That? and has discussions of ethical problems of everyday situations.

Years earlier, I had read through a set of books that use the characters from the Winnie the Pooh series in a similar way. I read the Tao of Pooh and Te of Piglet and really enjoyed this other way of viewing the "children's books" I knew from years ago.

Then came from another perspective: Winnie-the-Pooh on Success and Winnie-the-Pooh on Management (subtitled: "In which a Very Important Bear and his friends are introduced to a Very Important Subject") and then Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving.

I suppose with the holidays coming, these might make good gifts for that academic on your list - or for that non-academic to feel better about watching Seinfeld reruns and clutching their Pooh stuffed bear while reading on the couch.

But here are the new kids on the block.

I added Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts to my Amazon Wish List and I discovered there an entire popular culture and philosophy series that is available.

I used House as a way to teach critical thinking and problem solving, but it could easily be used to address ethical questions. (The book for HOUSE is subtitled " Everybody Lies").

And you know there had to be a Star Wars and Philosophy edition too.

I'm sure you have students you followed Breaking Bad and binge-watched entire seasons of this engrossing drama. The tale of the mild-mannered chemistry teacher with an an advanced cancer diagnosis who goes from trying to provide a nest egg for his family to becoming a feared drug lord and remorseless killer is full of lessons and questions on ethics, morality, justice, the drug trade and family. How about starting with asking why TV viewers remained loyal to a series where the hero becomes the villain? Does Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty actually play a role in the arc of the show's story, as suggested by the main character, and rule our destinies?

You can find ways to use Lord of the Rings (One Book to Rule Them All).

If you already teach Ender's Game, then using the frighteningly title "Genocide Is Child's Play." The book's blurb talks about discussing" "the violence and cruelty of children, the role of empathy in war, the balance of individual dignity and the social good, the justifiability of pre-emptive strikes, how Ender’s disconnected and dispassionate violence is mirrored in today’s drone warfare, whether the end of saving the species can justify the most brutal means, the justifiability of lies and deception in war, how military schools produce training in virtue, how Ender as the “good student” is held to a different educational standard, which rules can be broken in games and which cannot, Ender’s world as a mirror of our own surveillance society, the moral hazards of child warriors, the value of Ender’s ability to sympathize with his enemies, the meaning of a “hive-mind,” the limits of our ability to relate to one, the relationship between Ender’s story and Card’s Mormonism." You couldn't even fit all that in one course!

Did you have trouble understanding Philosophy 101 AND you were confused by the Matrix films too? Then The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real is perfect for you.

With Breaking Bad over, the current hot property is The Walking Dead which also has a book (The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now).

It's even more interesting to me that Canvas Network has offered a MOOC about the series that examines some of those same issues. Does equality or fairness have any place in the post-apocalyptic world? Do theft, assault and murder become acceptable under desperate circumstances?

Consider using some popular culture in your syllabus because - well, for one thing, it is popular. Having something that students are already interested in reading, watching and talking about is a great start to the serious discussion or writing to follow.

Using Multimedia Without Copyright Issues

Getting ready for the fall semester? You might want to avoid breaking any copyright laws by checking out the Baruch College's interactive guide to using multimedia in courses.

It has some computer animation where you follow a NYC-styled “Copyright Metro” to determine what materials can be used in courses legally. Choose the right metro line (easier than the real NYC system) depending on if how the materials will be used - face-to-face or online - or if you actually have copyright-holder permission to use the material.

More information online:
at Reed College
University of Maryland University College