Process or outcome. What’s more important?

It was a good week.  A positive way to ease back into the routine after a leisurely spring break.

The DIY/Maker kids wrapped up their independent projects and presented their process/projects this week.  The projects included a puppet show, a matchbox pinhole camera, a board game, a couple of video projects combining spring break footage with music, baskets made from found cardboard and yarn, and a photography project that involved taking photos of students’ and creating collages from those portraits like this image by this Mike Marrero (I think).

pinhole came

We spent some time talking about process versus product/outcome, a point of conversation inspired by Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

I asked if Mau’s statement was true.  Is process really more important than outcome?  The opinions were mixed, and to be honest I’m really undecided.  No, maybe it’s less about being undecided and more about responding to the question with, “It depends.”

In my efforts to learn Scratch, something I’ve been doing as part of MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, process matters a lot.  I’ve been paying close attention to what works for me as a learner, especially as a learner of something completely new.  What causes friction?  The process has been insightful and has maybe provided some “data” I can use the next time I take on something new.  However, the more I roll it over in my head, the more I think that reflecting on the process IS the product or desired outcome.  The point isn’t to necessarily master Scratch, but to consider how I learn and what it means to be a student and/or self-directed learner.

But here’s the thing… if someone is paying me to create a product or get something done, a bunch of navel gazing and half-baked blogging about “process” isn’t going to make many people happy.

It’s the process where we learn from mistakes and where we learn what works well.  It’s the process that teaches us how to create that awesome product.  It’s the process that toughens the mental and physical resolve to get after it…  to get things done.

Or maybe that’s all hippie BS.

The class consensus was that it was indeed the product/outcome that was most important.  However, one student–a puppeteer–boldly admitted that he could’ve cared less about the final product.  It was the process–the making of the puppet show–that was the most fun… the place where the memories were made.

Truth.  The process lends itself to memory making.  Maybe those memories involve laughs with friends, but those memories are also, “X works for me.” and “I suck at Y.”  All useful insights to have when moving on to the next product or outcome.

 

 

The ‘Gears’ of my childhood: a LCL post with an unhappy ending

I’m in MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, and I think it’s going to be a MOOC with which I stick.  Much like DS106, LCL promises to be fun and engaging with philosophies to ponder months after it ends.

One of the first reading assignments is to read the foreward, “The Gears of My Childhood” from Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms.  From what I hear, reading just the foreward of Mindstorms isn’t enough.  It’s a book I plan to continue with over the next few weeks.  There was a short writing assignment with the reading.  It goes something like this:

Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you (and share with your group).

I would like to sit here and tell you that the Apple IIe that my parents brought home one evening was the most profound object to enter our house.  I’d like to say that I learned how computers really worked, that I learned how to program in elementary school, that I demystified computing, technology, whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t do any of that though.

I typed words and sentences into the command line, pressed enter, and pretended that I was doing important work, making big things happen, dominating my enemies.

The only thing I was really dominating was on that Apple IIe was “Sammy Lightfoot”

screenshot from Sammy Lightfoot

Image from Mobygames.com

and “Below the Root,” (which was based on the novel by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, one of my favorite authors at the time.  Although her name was in the credits, I was not clever enough to make the connection between the game and her until years later.  Um, I may have also stolen a copy of Below the Root from a library that will go unnamed.  I know.  I feel bad about this).

Screenshot from Below the Root

Image from gamesdbase.com

The day I solved/won/beat “Below the Root”–a game that I spent weeks playing–is one of the more memorable days from my childhood.  I vividly remember waking up and thinking, “This is what I need to do to win this game.”  And then I did it.  It was very much one of those “Aha!” moments that is actually a result hours/days/weeks spent cogitating about the problem at hand.

The Apple IIe wasn’t the “gear” of my childhood.  It was just an outlet for play and imagination.  It was, like Legos, Barbies, and a motley assortment of Smurf figurines, a way to create universes with complex plots, character motivation, protagonists, story arcs, etc.

With my rad gaming experience and interest in creating alternate universes, I really should gotten into game design or something.  Instead I studied English in college.  How depressing is that?  I went from making my own stories to reading about other people’s stories (and then writing mediocre essays about those stories).  From active to passive.

At some point there was an almost overnight shift (or so it seems) from playing to self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I’m still trying to figure out when this shift occurred and why it occurred.

 

blank paper + markers + public venue + high school kids =

Disaster, right?  Not entirely.  The DIY/Maker seminar students took over three blank boards in the hallway for a couple of interactive art projects.

photo(5)The board on the far left was based on the “Before I Die” project.

photo(6)The board on the right are coloring pages that can be removed, colored, and tacked back up.  The project was born out of a class conversation about the the effects of a large-scale construction project currently taking place on campus.  Fencing went up around much of the interior of campus.  Convenient paths from getting from on building to another are blocked for now.  The students say its reminiscent of prison or some post-apocalyptic zombie world.  Our question was how can we bring some whimsy to this situation?

It took maybe one school day for students to populate the “Before I Die” walls.

Some comments were reflective.  Some were silly.  Some were knee-deep  chest-deep in the waters of inappropriateness.

photo(2)

 

 

 

 

 

Unicorn races

Some reflections were scratched out either by the contributor or other students (maybe even staff/faculty).

photo(4)

Here are some questions/observations I’ve been rolling around in my head:

  • Does a space like this create yet another place where someone can be mistreated by his/her peers?
  • What are the implications of anonymity?
  • If a community sets the standards, how does the community enforce those standards?  Who is the enforcer?  How is that determined?  And what happens when different subsets of a community have different standards?
  • Why are spaces like this so appealing?  What is it that makes people want to share?
  • There is a secret language on these boards–a lot of inside jokes–that alarmed (perhaps rightly so) some staff and faculty.  Is the alarm warranted?  Is the “secret language” reminiscent of children’s made-up languages or is the intent not as innocent?

Senior seminar meets again Tuesday.  I’m hoping we’ll have an interesting class discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better living through better hacks (or knowing how things work)

Tonight was my greatest achievement in… well, a while.  I worked most of the week on a 30 minute presentation for VSTE’s VirtualVA2013 because I’m that kind of person.  Not an overachiever, but a non-talker… an introvert… an internal processor.  And then there’s the fact that I can’t pronounce words like “inquiry” and “peripheral” thanks to my Cumberland County slur.

I talked about the importance of third spaces and how they’re vital to the cross-pollination of ideas and the nurturing of the adjacent possible.  I talked about the Academic Commons that will open in 2013.  I talked about makerspaces.  I don’t think I sounded like a lunatic.  I think I made sense.  I think the presentation went ok.  I’m really excited about getting more involved with VSTE.  But what I’m really proud of is solving the gigantic Java tech issue I experienced all by myself.

The brief timeline of events:  (1) Java wouldn’t launch when I tried to get into the Blackboard Elluminate room.  (2) I think maybe it’s because I’m trying to log in too early.  (3) That’s not the case.  (4) I think, “Well, it worked fine Tuesday.  (4a.)  Check Blackboard Elluminate support page and see this:

Announcement: Thursday, January 31, 2013 – Some Mac OS users are unable to run Java. This issue will prevent users from opening any Java based application including Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing, Elluminate Live! 10, SAS, Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring, and Wimba Classroom. We are investigating alternative options and will provide update in this area as soon as possible. Click here for more information.

Crap.

(5) I try to update Java  (6) Software update wants to connect to school’s software server.  I’m not at school.  (7) Being mild panic attack.  (8) I vaguely remember logging into the school’s server via a VPN a few years ago.  Surprisingly, I still remember how to do it.  (9)  Update Java.  (10)  Still no go.  (11)  Fine.  I’ll do this workaround, which involves the terminal and sudo and warnings that you had better be sure about what you’re doing:

WARNING: Improper use of the sudo command could lead to data loss or the deletion of important system files. Please double-check your typing when using sudo.

But what the hey.  Java was screwed anyway.  I had nothing to lose but the connections with other educators and the time I spent preparing.

And there we go.  It worked.

Here’s the thing though: If it weren’t for my failed attempts at C programming and Unix school and a Linux class, I don’t know if I would’ve been comfortable futzing about in the terminal.  If it weren’t for past experiences, I probably wouldn’t have known to access the Collegiate server through the VPN.  Even though updating Java didn’t work, it was a possible solution.

What am I getting at?  I think I did some creative thinking under a deadline, and I’m pretty pleased with how things turned out.

And this brings me to my Maker Manifesto that I did for senior seminar.

Maker manifesto

Maker manifesto    

Figuring out how things work–even if it’s just trivial figuring–is empowering.  Having some idea–just a basic idea–of how things work or talk goes a long way in finding a solution.  That’s one reason why this maker movement is so appealing.  To make something, you need to know about all of its parts.  You need to know how it fits together.  Crawl under your house and spend an afternoon rerouting water lines and you’ll really develop an appreciation for indoor plumbing.  You’ll also develop an understanding for that system.  Understanding the system leads to better hacks, better solutions, and maybe better systems.

 

The blog is renamed “the therapist’s couch”

The blog isn’t really renamed the therapist’s couch.  Maybe it should be though.  These personal web spaces are not so much about library/school-related issues and successes as they are about my feeling insecure or unsettled about this or that.  I guess it’s all connected at the end of the day.

The spring semester started January 8th, and I kind-of-sort-of invited myself to sit in on the Physics 2: Electronics class.  In all fairness, I was talking to the physics teacher back in the fall about soldering or something, and he said I should sit in on the class–that it’s a work-at-your-own pace/independent project class.  I said, “OK!”

And here I am.  Spending my very small amount of free time trying to learn physics.  I’m still trying to solve complex circuits from last week.

It shouldn't be this hard.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

This would probably all make a little more sense if I had taken physics at some point–any point–in my life.

I’m frustrated, and I’m very much reminded of my math/science experiences in high school/college.

I’d like to give up, and I would if this idea of making–more specifically making IN THE LIBRARY, A COMMUNAL SPACE–wasn’t so unbelievably spot on.  I don’t want to be an armchair maker.  I don’t want to be just a cheerleader for making.  I don’t want to research the whole DIY/Maker movement and just write about how it needs to happen in schools.  I want to know how to do.  And yeah, making is more than just soldering and programming and cool tech projects.  It’s filmmaking and writing and photography and all of that stuff too.  The differences are: (1) I can at least fumble my way through the latter and (2) I know the campus experts who can help out with a film project or a photography question.

I at least know something about filmmaking, and literature, and photography to be a legitimate part of those communities.

A pile of resistors, capacitors, and wires…. well, that’s slightly paralyzing.

bits and bobs

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Nick Ames

Why has learning the tech end of Making become a personal crusade?

Because if these videos doesn’t move you, you have lost your soul:

But just plugging things in based on a set of instructions isn’t enough.  I want to know how it works.

What does this have to do with the library?

There’s a sixth grade girl who visits the library several times a week to say hi, to find a book, to, on occasion, show off the latest invention she made with a lamp from Family Dollar, electrical tape, and other odds and ends.  Last week she came in and said she was suffering from “inventor’s block.”  She didn’t know what to make.  She had reached the limits of what she knew about electronics.

I had nothing to offer except, “I know how you feel” and my Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab.

Librarians know things, and we’re pretty good about shepherding people to the right books, databases, web sites, or human beings.  I’m going to talk with the student’s advisor about finding her an electronics mentor.  Maybe even one of the students in Physics 2 would be willing to help.

Exploration of interests need to happen in the open.  I can’t think of a more open space than the library.  If you put a 3D printer in the science department it becomes a science thing.  If you put a large format printer in the art department it becomes an art thing.  If you put these tools in a community space, they belong to the community.  The community see what’s being made.  They become inspired.  They start to make too.

<hippiespeak> And that’s effing beautiful. </hippiespeak>

 

 

Why do we make?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question.  Maybe the answer lies in Shop Class as Soul Craft or some article I could find in JSTOR.  

I’m going to go out on a limb and give the non-committal answer that people make for different reasons:  necessity, compulsion to make something out of nothing, the challenge of the puzzle, curiosity, and maybe even the satisfaction of seeing a successful finished project after hours/days/weeks/months/years of invested time.

I don’t even know what I make these days.  I knitted in the past.  Dabbled in quilt-making.  I spent a summer during my undergrad years in the dorms during summer school.  One of my hall mates had a sock monkey from his youth (this was before Paul Frank, thanks).  I decided then that I had to have one too.  A lot of time was spent making sock monkeys and weird sock creatures for friends and family.

Weird sock creatures

Weird sock creatures

Having a kid has cut into my time to work on fiber/textile projects.  I dread (am intimidated by) home improvement projects.  Yet I find them to be really interesting once I’m immersed.  I spent a day one summer under the house rerouting a water line.  It made for a pretty interesting day once I got past the camel crickets in the crawl space.  What’s the most fascinating to me about these home improvement projects?  It’s a peek into how the guts of a house work.  It’s interesting to see how things are put together.  That’s really something I never cared about until I bought a house.

camel cricket

photo credit: lobstar28 via photopin cc

Lately I’ve been interested in projects that seem doable mainly because I don’t know enough about the topic at hand to feel otherwise.  An example?  Arduino.  Raspberry Pi.  WordPress.  Google searches and Youtube videos bring answers or at least more breadcrumbs.  The internet keeps the trail warm I guess.  At this early point I don’t even care if a finished project results.  It’s just cool to have something to sink my brain into.