Multitasking or Half-Listening?

We are living in a society where technology is the driving force of how we live, and this age has become known as the Digital Age. I argue that today’s day and age should be called the Digital Age of Multitasking, as my experiences working with adolescents and adults (my focus groups for this response) prove that we are constantly being pulled in several directions for multiple reasons. I challenged myself to think outside the box for this assignment, but felt that putting my opinions into a blog post was the most appropriate format to express my views via text, video, and online sources. I want my audience to be able to see what I see and agree/disagree with the points I make and the resources found.

In the PBS video, “Is Technology Wiring Teens to Have Better Brains?” Miles O’Brien sits down with a teenage girl and observes how she interacts with technology, and notices that it creates more of a distraction than it does an actual aid. The female student can be seen sifting through her school work (a physics lab and essay) as well as toggling between Facebook and Gmail chats.  Although this video didn’t exactly get me to think any differently or change my views, took me back to an article I read last year on multitasking, “Brain Interrupted.” In this article Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson state that multitasking is more of a misnomer; ”…the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.” Sullivan and Thompson conducted a test where subjects simulated the pull of an expected interruption (email, chat, text) while reading a passage and answering questions about it. Subjects were told that they may be contacted during the test via instant message; these subjects who were interrupted, compared to the test takers who were not, answered correctly 20% less often than others in the group who were not interrupted.

I chose this article as one of my focus points on multitasking because I see this in my experiences every day at school. I work in a classroom where there are 24 computers available. My class is a project based class, where students have create different projects using an array of skills based on the current subject area we are working on. It amazes me that even though students have these computers in front of them, that it is not enough. I walk around and check my students’ work in progress frequently, and notice students have their cell phones out on the desk station ready to check any message or notification that comes their way. Some also listen to music as they work, which creates another distraction because if a song comes on that they do not like, they have to pick up their phone and physically change the song, taking them away from the work at hand. I also see this in the hallway as I walk by students as they are passing to class. Majority of these students have their device out, sifting through content on their phone, most of the time listening to music. Most times when I greet a student as they walk by, I do not get the greeting returned, most likely because they are engaged well into what they are doing on their phone. Ellen Degeneres does a good job explaining to her audience what multitasking is and the implications it has on her and her viewers.

Technology has completely changed the way students learn and interact both in education and in society. Paper and pencil have become device and social learning platform. The same is true for adults. Our lives our pushed and pulled in many directions, especially being in a graduate program with a full-time job. We have to balance that and our personal lives. I find it extremely challenging at times to balance my work, coursework, and personal life, calling for me to plan in advance when I get certain things done.

As I was creating my response for this assignment, I noticed how distracted I was as well. I found myself reading and watching the sources posted by Reggina and Mike while I watched football with my wife, in between checking my phone for recent texts from one of my best friends who just had his first baby girl. As I was preparing for this response, I also had to update our own baby registry to include some more items we may need for “Baby V” this January. As I was doing all of this, I knew that multitasking had to be my focal point of this response. Adults can be just as distracted as adolescents can, we just know how to work with the technology and balance better because we have more experience with it. Adults tend to “half listen” just as adolescents do; Stephen Colbert discusses and models this in his segment on multitasking.

In addition to my previous musings on multitasking, this year I have made it a point to alter my instructional pedagogy and tweak my communication modes from more of a presenter of information to facilitator and communicator of information. In the past, I was the teacher to stand in front of the room and teach directly to my audience in a one size fits all format. After much reflection, I made it an objective to completely revamp how I teach and communicate information to my students.

This year, I adopted Meriden’s motto of “taking charge of student learning.” In my class, I record lessons and post them to our class content management site, Moodle. Here, students can see what the assignments and projects are for the current lesson, and go at their own pace. This differentiates how students learn and the pace at which they learn. Some students like to use my recordings as a way to learn, others like to go the traditional route and use the text as their main resource. The other way students like to learn is to do our hands-on lesson together, with me modeling how to perform certain tasks on the board with them in real-time. This format allows students who are more proficient to go at their own pace, and for students who find some skills more challenging to do it with me to seek immediate feedback.

The way I have set up my class this year fosters a multitasking approach to learning, as students have to have multiple windows open (PowerSchool, Moodle, Word/Excel). I ask students to always have Moodle open so that they can refer to it for page numbers in the Word or Excel text for their assignments. I ask that they have PowerSchool open so that they can always see where they stand in class from a grade standpoint. Students need to learn how to multitask effectively given the age we are in, and I believe that adopting this method of instruction truly fosters an authentic learning environment and prepares students for life outside of the classroom. Our students are going to be pulled in twice as many directions once they reach our age; it is our job to prepare them for this reality, and to be well-balanced and prepared for when these times come.

-John V


Artificial Intelligence: Keyword “Artificial”

After reading chapters six and seven in Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” about Artificial Intelligence (AI), it made me think about the kind of world we would live in if robots existed and how it compares to the world we currently live in. Can robots actually mock human emotion? Furthermore, are we cyborgs (part human/part machine) since smartphones (machines) have become so vital to how we (humans) live? Will there actually be a real life version of Skynet?

Mathematician Alan Turing created a test to determine if machines are intelligent. This test, called the imitation game, would classify a computer as intelligent if it could convince people it was not a machine. Here is a clip from the movie “The Imitation Game” where Alan Turing explains the purpose of his test and how it applies to the process of thought and emotion.

When I think of artificial intelligence and whether a computer or robot can pass a human, it makes me think of the scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the character John Connor explains why humans cry and teaches the Terminator how to give a high five. Can the machine become independent from a human, even if the human is the creator? How can a machine be considered intelligent if it can be turned off with the flick of a switch, much like a microwave or television can?

Ray Kurzweil, advocate of singularity, would argue that machines will one day become one with humans, making my notion of a simple shut off switch much more difficult to argue. What happens if I shut myself off? Am I a cyborg since I always have my smartphone on me, powered on? Kurzweil argues that by 2029 the human brain will have been reverse engineered to simulate all of the brain’s capabilities, including emotional intelligence, to create machines that will become emotionally superior to humans.

This worries me mainly because I see the impact of technology on our students today in the form of a smart phone. Face to face conversation with people has become more difficult with so many technological distractions, desensitizing us from human emotion. At what point will humans be expendable and robots will take over the earth? Will there be a robot in every home, and human friends will no longer be needed? Could the robots become self aware, in comparison with Skynet in Terminator 2?

In my opinion I feel that Singularity has arrived in a way. I notice this in my interactions with people on a daily basis. We constantly have our phones with us, ready to check our phone at the instant of an alert or vibration of our phone. Human interaction seems to be easily compromised in the presence of these devices. One can think they are truly engaged in a conversation with someone, only to be quickly ended by a phone call or text message. Here is the Vieira test: before you go to bed one night, put your phone in the night stand drawer, and leave it there for 24 hours. If you have one stimulation to go and check that phone, you are officially a cyborg, meaning that piece of technology has become a part of you, and how you live.

Finally, we have the ELIZA program, which was created to serve as a psychotherapist, answering questions in the form of a question, much like a therapist would do. This proved to be an “as if” program, meaning people would type questions and statements into the program as if someone were listening. This program could not simulate true human emotion, serving more as a means to be heard.

ELIZA can be seen all over the world today, in the form of Siri. If you ask Siri a question, she will answer it with the most accurate response she can provide.

If you provide her with a command, such as “tell me about yourself,” she responds with a very simple “I’m Siri…here to help.” When asked to elaborate, she asks, “Who me?” where I respond appropriately with “yes.” She then responds with “I’m Siri. But I don’t like talking about myself.”

In this exercise, I tried having a conversation with Siri, but her objective was to serve my command and answer with an empty statement. Siri is programmed to carry out commands, not to have a meaningful conversation, much like the ELIZA program.

Perhaps one day, using the principles of Alan Turing, Ray Kurzweil, and ELIZA, we will create a robot that can truly pass as a human. Picture a day where people could have their very own robot to share stories with, fix their car with, and to share experiences with. The video below summarizes all my thoughts on artificial intelligence and the direction that I feel scientists are headed (without the whole Skynet becoming self aware thing).

-John V

*I chose to create my discussion response within a blog post because I feel it is most appropriate to the media that I chose to embed in my response. For each mode of communication, I embedded a movie/television clip to accompany it that provided a visual and supported my viewpoint on that particular mode of communication. The blog post format serves best in engaging the audience when embedding videos, images, and other forms of multimedia.

Communication: A Lost Art?

The focus this week was on communication and how technology has impacted each mode of communication in our lives. The three modes of communication that I will discuss in this response are conversation, discussion, and presentation. I chose these three modes because they are the three most frequent modes of communication that I experience in my life. Now, with modern technology, the way we interact within these modes has changed a great deal from the “old” way of spoken communication.

In my personal and professional life I communicate most frequently in the mode of conversation. In this mode all parties are equally involved in the conversation, including active listening, speaking, and reasoning with all parties involved. In conversation, all parties are involved, allowing every member of the audience to be an author within the conversation. One member may temporarily be the author in order to come up with a topic of conversation, but once this topic has been established every member becomes the author of his or her own viewpoint.

In my personal life I converse with friends and family both in face-to-face conversation and online/digital conversation. With how busy life has gotten, I tend to converse more with my friends and family using the digital form of conversation, which I would like to change. Technology has made it so easy for us to converse with others no matter where we are, and I think this has desensitized us from having face-to-face interactions with others. Sherry Turkle in her book, “Alone Together,” references that teens communicate via text even when they are in the company of others. I feel like this speaks to my personal life because I rarely see my friends, yet will speak to them a couple times a week via text.

What happened to getting together once or twice a month? Does engaging in a text conversation really replace the experience of hanging out in person? Does an emoji of a “thumbs up” or “smiley face” really replace a handshake or hug? Hanging out in person is more difficult as we get older and as responsibilities change (babies have a big impact on this).

I do not want to digress from my point, so I will discuss how conversation looks in my professional life. Recently, I participated in a professional development workshop to create graduation competencies for students in my department. I had to work with my team members to adopt competencies that all learners will leave with upon graduation. In order to do so, we needed to meet face-to-face and talk about what skills we want students to have once they leave us. Our conversations led us to listen to each other’s viewpoints and respond in a civil yet critical environment, in contrast to what Larry Sanger discusses in his work on “Internet Silos.”

Here is a small clip from the show, “The League “ that shows a typical conversation involving two members of a fantasy football league, with varying viewpoints on a particular player. There is no silo in this conversation!

The second mode of communication is discussion. In my personal and professional life, I interact in discussions every day. These discussions require the author to produce information that requires a response from the audience. The audience can then formulate an opinion to create their response; a great example is what we do in our course work in the IT&DML program. We are provided with information and assigned readings from our professor, and asked to create our own viewpoint to stimulate a discussion as a bigger audience.

Technology has impacted the way we discuss topics in our professional lives. In the teaching profession, students no longer are required to discuss topics face-to-face with their peers in real time. Students can respond to a discussion digitally using the social platform of the teacher’s choice (author to audience) and respond horizontally to others within the discussion. We do this using mediums such as Google+, Google Classroom, Edmodo, and many others.

The digital form of discussion has made it easier to assess how students are “getting it.” Recently, I have implemented the “choice” feature from Moodle into my formative assessment. I create a question that asks students how their current understanding is on a particular topic, and they select which option best represents their understanding. After I see the results, I use this to facilitate a verbal discussion with the class to reinforce what was learned and answer any questions that may arise, depending on the results of the question.

This can be compared to how we communicate with our friends and family on social media sites such as Facebook in our personal lives. We create the content (share a post) and our audience (friends) can comment on it to start a digital form of discussion (especially during election season). We ask our friends and family how they feel on certain topics, and share pictures and video, seeking input and affection from our social network. This can be seen on the Facebook group, “Southington Talks,” where community members can post a question relating to the local community, and respond to the member’s post. I use this anytime I am looking to hire a new contractor for my home, and has proven to be very helpful.

Here is a clip from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” which shows a discussion amongst the Jedi council. This shows the author providing information, and the audience formulating their opinion to spark a discussion (in this case who will bring balance to the force).

The third and final mode of communication is presentation. Presentation involves the author to provide the audience with information, with little to no feedback from the audience. Presentation is a means of one-way communication, not requiring any response from those being presented to.

In my personal life I present information to my wife ever day, usually in the form of a story or experience from a day at work. I present the experience to her, and she listens (she might argue that I do too much of this). We use social media and text messaging as way to share information with others, with the occasional response back from the audience when necessary.

In education, presentation occurs on a daily basis. The teacher presents information to students, and they take notes based on the lesson that is being taught. The technology used is a PowerPoint presentation via the computer and projector, versus the old way of presenting on the chalkboard or whiteboard. Teachers also interact as the audience as well. Recently I had professional development where I had to listen to a presenter on Mastery Based Learning and its effect on education. This was a vertical mode of communication as it was a one-way form of presenting material to an audience, requiring little to no feedback from the audience.

Below is a clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day off that shows a classic or “old school” way of presenting material to a group of people.

-John V

*I chose to create my discussion response within a blog post because I feel it is most appropriate to the media that I chose to embed in my response. For each mode of communication, I embedded a movie/television clip to accompany it that provided a visual and supported my viewpoint on that particular mode of communication. The blog post format serves best in engaging the audience when embedding videos, images, and other forms of multimedia.

DR 4 Part 2: Proud to be an American

When I grew up in school the “American Way” represented a free, English speaking country where citizens can prosper and live the American dream. In 2015, the “American Way” has changed its tune.

In James Paul Gee’s text ,“Social Linguistics and Literacies” he mentions a scenario between two students, Leona and Mindy. Both students are from different cultures and shared their own stories with the teacher, where Leona’s was poorly received and Mindy’s well received. Leona’s story was poorly received because the teacher could not relate or fully comprehend the message Leona was conveying. This is an example of a student losing their American identity.

No longer are we a country that consists predominantly of English speaking citizens. We are a culture where we have become so diverse, that there is no longer a one size fits all language. Being an American means that we can be who we want to be, not who someone else or who society wants us to be. Just because someone is an English language learner does not mean that they have to take on another identity to fit into the social norms of a community to be American.

To be an American means to be free from all discrimination and prejudices. In Rocky IV, Sylvester Stallone speaks about change. If we can change the way we think and broaden our horizons, then the community around us can change with it. I think this clip represents our culture more now than it did twenty-plus years ago when this movie first came out.

DR 4 Part 1: Visual Profiling in School and Life

I can remember one of the first times I was shocked at the result of seeing what someone looked like after hearing his or her voice. Over the course of the Star Wars trilogy, I was enthralled by the voice of Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones, an African American man. It was so deep and so dark; I couldn’t wait to hear him speak every scene he was in. In Return of the Jedi (spoiler alert) Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader’s son, unmasks Vader for the first time in the series. When I saw that the actor playing Darth Vader was a Caucasian man, I was absolutely shocked and rather disappointed with his appearance.

Why was I so disappointed? For years I had this visual in my head that Darth Vader was a well built African American man, only to find out that he was indeed a Caucasian man. How many times have we experienced this in our lives? How many times have our students experienced this disappointment in visual/physical appearance? My thinking here is that we all have our own assumptions of what people should and should not look like based on their roles in the community, but can this “visual profiling” be damaging to our classroom, moreover our society?

We are all allowed to have our “Darth Vader moment,” but we cannot let this be a part of how we carry our social and professional lives, nor can we allow our students to do the same. As teachers, we know who the trouble students are based on conversations we have amongst one another. It is human nature to see a student of ours hanging out with said trouble student, and instantly peg this student as a trouble student as well.

Is this fair to that student? I have had this happen to me throughout my experiences teaching, where I have had students who hung out with others who would get in trouble, but still excel in the classroom. My hope is that by giving all my students, especially the ones who might hang out with the wrong crowd, an equal opportunity to succeed without social judgment, it will give them the confidence they need to succeed in school, in turn taking this experience and making it a part of their daily lives as well.

Amy Cuddy discusses in her Ted Talk that our bodies can change our minds. I agree with this whole heartedly as I preach this form of empowering yourself to feel good in my classroom. I compare her power poses to the one that I use when I need to gain confidence or self motivate; I like to sit back with my feet up and clap three times over my head and say “Lets Go!” My form of power pose that I preach to my students is having an upright position at their workstation, and as they are creating their project I want students to say to themselves “I did that!” By doing this it forces students to change how they feel about themselves in the moment, with the mindset that they can achieve anything they put their mind to.

I can imagine that on the first day of school, when Reading teacher Rick Kleine’s students walk into school, that they see their new teacher and think, “Man, that is not what I thought my teacher would look like.” His appearance is laid back and free (as observed with his long hair and ear ring), most likely to exhibit the kind of mindset he wants of his students. He is shown theorizing with his students about meaning and how it pertains to a certain theory in the book he is reading with the class. He asks his students to do the same in their own silent reading after the mini lesson, walking over to each student to see where their thinking is in the book they are reading. I enjoyed his mannerisms both in the message he was conveying and the delivery (kneeling next to the student using a quiet voice to get to their level).

In visual contrast, Reading teacher Dana Robertson is shown wearing the traditional button down collar shirt and slacks, using the more professional approach to his physical appearance. I bet his students walk in on day one and instantly think that he means business. His instruction is similar to that of Kleine’s, as he asks students to theorize about the text they are reading. but does it in a much different tone.

The difference is in the delivery between the two teachers. Dana Robertson prefers the more professional tone, where Rick Kleine prefers to get down to the students’ level in the way he reads to them. I would prefer to have Rick Kleine personally, because I like to be free with my students as well and let my humorous side come out to loosen up the classroom, much like Rick does with his students. I feel like I am much like the two teachers here; I dress like Dana Robertson but act and teach like Rick Kleine. I appreciate the power poses both teachers demonstrate in their classrooms.

-John V