Success Because of Failure?

It’s funny that the article that struck me the most for this week’s reading also happened to remind me of one of my favorite movies of all time. In Meet the Robinsons, a young boy is plucked from his present and flung far into the future to help save the space time continuum, and all because a boy left the garage door open. And it is while he is there that he meets the strangest group of people, who become the titular characters. These people help him in the most fundamental way possible, by telling him that “From failing you learn! From success… not so much.” Indeed the entire theme of the show is keep moving forward, reechoed by a quote by Disney himself. “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” (Meet the Robinsons, 2007).

This encapsulates much of what Paul Tough was discussing in his article “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” In it, he takes a particular vendetta against standardized testing, which I also feel very strongly about (I think it is an abysmal way of determining or maintaining “intelligence”). There are so many qualities that a simple IQ test can never measure. They discuss the idea of character, but it goes far beyond just that. A sheet with questions to be studied quickly (often frantically) are quickly forgotten because there is no integration. It was not until a special adjunct professor in my undergrad program showed me just how all these seemingly random events in history were not isolated pigeon holes, but were all intrinsically connected to each other—often on multiple levels. Nothing exists in a vacuum, but it seems we are bent on teaching “biology” then “history” and “math,” “English,” “art,” “technology” all as separate subjects and in a single format. It has already been proven time and again that the more neural pathways the brain can forge, the more lasting the information will be. Simply, the more we allow ourselves to be integrated in a huge variety of topics, learning styles, and approaches, the more we learn and grow intellectually, and as individuals. This idea bridges a little into new culture of learning and reminds me of how I benefited from an unintentionally collective learning model.

I had a very hard time with math. The older I got, the more it felt like a foreign language. Now don’t get me wrong. I could scrimp by, often getting full As in my final grades through Pre-Calculus. But I wasn’t understanding it, not really. I would do my homework the second class was out (I skipped lunch for this) while it was still fresh in my mind. And then I would keep it just long enough to pass the test. I look at some of the questions I did back then and just stare at them, baffled. Not a lot of good my lecture and test formula did me. What did help when I was struggling with a concept was the brief group study time we had each class period after the lecture portion was over. We would form groups of our favorite people, and we would begin to talk and break down the assignment. And what I found cool, even then, was that somehow, a fellow student had internalized it differently than the single way the teacher had taught, but how they were explaining it made sense whereas before I had been completely lost. I feel this teacher did this intentionally now, and I realize the wisdom in it. Because in a collective, there is no single way to learn, and something will either strike a chord where it needs to, or even better, have that knowledge/community/idea build on itself.

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Where I Take a Beef with “A New Culture of Learning”

After commencing the first four chapters of a book for required reading this week, it caused some pondering and ultimately, some rather unsatisfied conclusions. Now this is a conundrum for me, because in A New Culture of Learning by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, it addresses many ideas that should bring accolades and praises from me, yet I am left feeling… dissatisfied. In it, they talk about how “a new culture of learning” is emerging through peer-to-peer interaction and collective learning which is amplified by emerging technologies. They address many points of great value, like how kids can learn and retain so much about something like the Harry Potter series, all without any kind of memorization of formal lecture method and to use the world as a lifelong vehicle for learning. And these authors hit it right on the head when they state “fusing a vast information resource with a deeply personal motivation le[ads] to an unexpected, unplanned, or innovative use” (Brown, 2011).

But it is how to engage across a broad wealth of foundational knowledge that seems to be grossly overlooked. They actually skip over many vital points in the road to creating this “new culture.” One of them is the absolute requirement for a “massive” information network or resource. What if that is not available? And how does one even create or sustain it? Even in my notes I was scribbling in the margins that was the very first question I asked myself. There are many households that do not even have access to a computer, let alone the sheer flood of information that is the internet (which I am assuming is one of the key ideas behind this new culture. They are kind of vague on specifying any of this). And what if that “vast” resource becomes unavailable, temporarily or permanently? They do not offer a lot of modes of adaptability in this model.

This also does not point out the negative sides of such a massive overload of resources and information. I think of the times I have stood stunned over the sheer number of choices of something as simple as buying a new toothbrush. Besides the internet being of questionable accuracy at times (we understand this well, as this is one of the primary purposes of our education is to be able to seek out and evaluate these resources. I will allow that the idea of “collective-correction” through something like Wikipedia as having high potential value, but even that has a framework of requiring documentation and editors working behind the scenes that the authors do not address. The talk frequently about the necessity of “a bounded and structured environment” but never give any indication of what kind of framework or structure that should be).

Lastly was the idea of collective culture. Not in the idea of peer-to-peer learning, but in their notion that “you don’t interfere with the process itself… In fact the entire point of the experiment is to allow the culture to reproduce in an uninhibited, completely organic way, within the constraints of medium and environment—and then see what happens” (Brown, 2011). Now granted, this is in reference to a petri dish culture, but they are directly comparing it to the desired ideal of this new culture of learning. Equally, “any effort to define or direct collectives would destroy the very thing that is unique and innovative about them.” So how are students expected to learn without objectives or goals? Yet they contradict themselves by saying we simply throw kids at the internet and that it would be just as detrimental as the current format of lecture and standardized tests. I think this is meant more to be a dialogue to engage for solutions than actually offering them themselves. The problem with this is that it falls into mere conjecture and philosophy. Because a simple truth is that information without direction for guidance becomes meaningless.

Fandoms

Sabriel - The Real Fauxtograper - Margot WoodSabriel by Margot Wood

Fandoms. They’re big and scary and seem a little uncontrollable at times, depending on who you meet, and with little real world value. Not so as Katie Behrens describes in a short little article that covers fandoms nicely. She states that a fandom “generally arise[s] out of a shared love of a particular story, whether that story is told through television, cinema, video games, and… books.” That doesn’t sound arbitrary and useless. That sounds a lot like a community to me. But not just a simple live-together community, but one that lives in and thrives in collaboration. The more collaborated they are, the deeper and more expansive their understanding goes, which ultimately leads so some very elaborate (and jaw-droopingly impressive) creations. These have real-world application, not just in the workforce, but in the world at large. Collaboration, sharing ideas, and playing nicely together tends to get things done.

And Behrens hits on another crucial point of this less than a paragraph later. “Fans are different from the average reader/watcher/gamer, though; they are not satisfied to just passively consume media… Fans actively participate with stories”–whether that is through fan fiction, filking (creating songs created for that world), knitting a scarf, or literally any number of other ways to create and expand on what has already been made to exist by the original creator. They are actively engaged with the the world. Some might decry this and say it is living in a fantasy realm. That if anything, they are disengaged from reality and the real world. But that “disengagement” often creates something in the tangible world, and many times acts as a springboard for further creation. In the very act of bridging imagination and reality, they are in fact creating something that did not exist before, and this often leads to create something else entirely.

For example, many advances in our technology have been inspired by the imaginary. Documented cases have traced Martin Cooper to be directly inspired by Star Trek’s communicators to create what we now know as cell phones. The submarine, designed by Simon Lake, was inspired by his love of Jules Verne’s Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as was Robert H. Goddard, the inventor of the first liquid-fueled rocket, was inspired by H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds. And the taser was a end-result of Jack Cover’s love of a series of young science fiction books created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. It is even named after one of the main character’s fictional inventions – the “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle” (Strauss, 2012). Talk about a blending of fiction and reality!

Barbie Croc Wrestler (small)From author Heather Dixon

At it’s heart, fandom is active, collaborative, and immensely creative. Just. try. a. search. for. any. favorite. subject/story. on. Etsy. These places are safe places. Usually in fandoms, there is almost universal support, because everyone there is coming to geek out over a shared commonality. It can be a neutral place to explore and share new ideas and see from different perspectives, even while being united under a common ground. These collaborations and sense of community while fostering creativity with which to actively engage in the real world are just a few benefits from fandoms.

An Inherently Good Conversation

First of all, I love Mythbusters. So this week’s reading was about the greatest thing ever. And honestly, I never even knew a Maker Faire even existed, or that Adam Savage would talk about Why We Make things. This is why I love graduate school. It brings you cool things.

I’ve actually been fascinated by and have seen this transition from fan to engager that Adam Savage talks about in the video about how he got his hat. Amazingly, I watched a video just last night proving this, of a speedrun (my first full speedrun video I’ve ever seen actually) of the video game Psychonauts. Fantastic game, by the way. A speedrun is where a person takes a game that is mean to be anywhere from 6-80+ hours and play through as fast a possible. He beat this entire game in just over 1 hour.

But it wasn’t just your average watch-a-player-blitz-through-the-game-YouTube-video. He actually played it in a live conference room with Time Schafer and ALL of the developers who had worked on that game. Seeing their expressions as they saw loopholes in their game they never knew they had exploited was hilarious and priceless (and they were dishing it out as much as they were getting it, which made it all the more fantastic). 12:31, 15:10, 23:50(-24:40) and 26:57-27:51 (especially) are a couple of those great moments. It was all in good fun, and even more, through the course of the video it was discovered that this was not only a fan of the game, but he was also in a masters program to finish his degree in computer programming, so he knew some of the mechanics of why these loopholes were working. I would not be surprised if he was offered a job somewhere because of his ability to creatively interact with their media and having the knowledge to apply it. It is a valuable skill with real world application, and something he taught himself by engaging with it in a new way.

And maybe because it is because of our impending project coming up and so too Gee’s paper-thesis captivated me. (It’s fantastic. Everyone should read it). He took it five steps beyond any academic writing I’ve yet encountered on the subject and applied it so well. So much so that I am urging my husband to read it for pleasure reading.

There have been a plethora of articles and papers on “tapping into” video games to engage and teach teens and children. Gee took it the other way and flipped it upside down, asking instead: WHY are these kids willing to pay so much money and utilize so much free time to play something that is designed to be hard?

He breaks it down into the reasons video games are alluring, and it isn’t always/just for the pretty graphics or escapism (or several other reasons). It goes far deeper than that. People who play video games want to be engaged. They want a challenge. They want to learn actively and approach it in a hands-on (albeit virtual) way. In a way, they too can be makers (as we saw in the Psychonaut speedrun video. He created a new way to play with the game that the developers never designed or intended. He “broke” the rules and thought outside the box, and those skills should never be easily dismissed).

Adam Savage says that when you make something “the world becomes a little more parcelable, it becomes a little more understandable to you. You become a part of a conversation.”

Synergy exists. When you meet in those conversations (and I’m not just talking verbal here), you create something and there is growth there: personally, intellectually, for the world as a whole. It exists now somewhere where it didn’t before.

“When you are shaping things yourself, it is an inherently good conversation” (Savage, 2012).