Monday, October 26, 2009

New Media Literacy Experiences...what makes it enjoyable?

Kylie asked me a question that I would like blog about since everyone could input their Scratch experience (and now their textile workshop) as well.  The question asked was: How do I see my experience in the Computational Textiles (CT) workshop at MIT in Boston (see for the one day workshop blog) as compared to my engagement with Scratch. 

As I reflected back I realized each workshop was quite unique experiences. In the MIT based CT workshop our tasks included 1) learning the elements of a simple circuit, 2) sewing a simple circuit (switch, LED, battery) and test it, and 3) Download Arduino and program the LilyPad then test the programming with alligator clips.  The workshop was held in a relaxed community oval table setting in a large room with helpers standing in the wings to answer any question we had. The grad student helper to participant ratio was 1 to 3. Additionally, the environment was set up so learning could easily be shared.  For example Yasmin, who was sitting beside me had sewn a + pole to a – pole with conductive thread, thus breaking the circuit connection. When her LED didn’t light a helper was there immediately to help discover what went wrong.  Her lesson learned made all of us aware to verify the symbols on the elements before sewing.

Probably the most complicated part of the workshop came at the LilyPad programming stage, especially since Mike and I missed the introduction, as we were a bit late returning from the MIT bookstore.  When I arrived I quickly realized I needed help since I couldn’t access their Internet and one of the helpers, Emily, immediately came to my aid.  When she couldn’t help me, David, another MIT grad student, assisted me in connecting.  Then Emily walked me through where to find the Arduino software and download it to my laptop.  Next she helped me navigate to the Leah’s programming page where the code was available to copy and paste.  (Leah has all of her programming code on her website, which is extremely helpful.) I then hooked up the LilyPad and she watched as I successfully tested it.  I was then caught up with the group and remained so for the rest of the workshop.  As you will see this experience was quite different from my last Scratch experience.

I must first set up a disclaimer for Scratch, which many of you know, is a multimodal animation programming software.  The amount of programming options are immense, which is wonderful for building a wide variety of projects, however the basic skill levels needed on other programs to edit elements before importing can be a hindrance if trying to build a more complicated design.   I believe this was my downfall…my choice of meaningful projects (one for a grandchild) was too complicated without first having the proper basic skill set or in-house support (either online or in person) to accomplish it.

The 650 Scratch training started with viewing existing projects as a class, followed by a short round robin of building like adding a simple background, changing a sprite characteristics (e.g. color, motion), and adding text.  We played a short time then the class ended. The next lab we were to work on an animation with a partner and I needed to do my name project. This was when I learned the most since my partner, David, was quite versed in Scratch due to his time spent building his name project out of class. It was suggested for additional training we could search for an existing project and examine how that person had programmed it…which I found could be quite time consuming. (time is something we don’t have…hence the frustration in learning a new multimodal software, without easily accessible instructions starts to build)  According to Csikszentmihalyi  (1996) one way to help creativity in a domain is to have knowledge structured, central, and accessible. 

...a trapped Mickey Mouse

For me, accessible knowledge was lacking in trying to build a Scratch multimodal project.  For example my current Scratch project has been littered with roadblocks, each taking time to research and problem solve, sometimes needing to go through several attempts.  (again there’s that nasty T word!)  These are a few of the problems I encountered and #2-4 am still perplexed with:
1)    sound file types: When trying to find out the type of sound files I could use, after searching in the program and online I couldn’t locate the types of files supported, so I finally guessed the type I thought it would support. 
2)    How to edit out the character background before importing: When trying to cut out the background of an imported character cartoon (like Mickey Mouse), the in-program editing cut off the character’s head.  Therefore, I need to use Photoshop, which I’m not familiar with…more time needed.
3)    Why do sprites stay on the stage?  After locating my Mickey Mouse Club characters, I imported the 6 sprites (with backgrounds) but they were automatically placed on the stage and I couldn’t remove them.  I found the only way to remove them was to delete them, which then erased the 7 audio files I had just imported for each one. 
4)    Programming sound file: After searching for existing Scratch files with behaviors that I wanted, unsuccessfully I might add, I logically tried to program the sound file actions (a counting song), which I had edited into 7 pieces.  The action was programmed to play the next part after clicking on the proper number key, however the song doesn’t play past the first segment even after pressing on the proper key. 

So Mickey and Friends are currently held captive in the multimodal underworld with a few seconds of working sound and a frozen Mickey trapped in a white rectangle on the Clubhouse stage.  Amazingly I’m still motivated to finish this project since it’s for my 2 year-old granddaughter Katie, who adores the MM Clubhouse and is learning her numbers. 

While I will continue to work on my Scratch project, I’m really curious about everyone’s experiences with Scratch and/or the Computational Textile Workshop.  If you attended this weeks workshop, do you favor one experience over the other?  If so, why do you think that is so?  Or do you LOVE Scratch and found your experience wonderful?  (If so...I really need your help : -)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A True Epiphany or Simple Delusion?

I have to say I’ve been remiss about blogging.  It’s a new skill that I need to develop in this age of New Media.  One brick wall I constantly face is the feeling that I need to have something substantial to blog about, which means time is spent reflecting and we all know how time seems like a slippery commodity in your grad student years!   However, as I was drawing my concept maps on the Kress Multimodality paper's margins (yes, I’m now drawing arrows connecting cloud shapes in the margins instead of my usual bland text based scribbles) an epiphany hit me at the top of page 41 (sometimes I need to be hit really hard in the head with an epiphany before it sticks : -)  In switching from text driven abstracts to drawing concept maps filled with transformations, I feel I have changed from the Learning/Psych concepts model-where creativity is rare and inert acquisition takes place to…(this is the Ah Ha moment)…Semiotics/Sign-Making where creativity is “ordinary and normal” through mapping!  So, if anyone thinks they are not creative…look at your concept map and let your self-efficacy blossom!

Are others experiencing this…or should I really hit myself in the head?

My epiphanies always include smiley faces.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Yesterday I tried something that I had always wanted to do, but hadn’t formally done, learning how to mob flash dance. (Okay, truth be told, I really wanted to learn to dance since childhood when my cousins took tap dance lessons, but there was never enough extra money in our household for this.) This past summer dancing came to the forefront of my mind when one of my LA girlfriends and USC Cinema classmates, Lynne Oropeza, directed me to her performance at the Hollywood & Highland Thriller mob flash dance, via Facebook. (of course, Lynne, in the red hat, has years of ballet training and I have two left feet : -)

Mob flash dance (Thriller) @ Hollywood and 
Highland mall on July 25, 2009.

The dance looked like so much fun that I really wanted to try this, if given the opportunity…then fate dropped this in my lap when P650 classmate Nancy told me about a group that was teaching Thriller two times a week in BLOOMINGTON as a fundraiser for The Middle Way House and to break a world record! The big question is: I know I have severe limitations, since my sequential limit appears not to be 7 but more around 4, so could I memorize the sequence of steps? Could I learn the dance by October 24th to take part in a mob flash dance that evening at 8:30? (And will I be able to dance after a long day at the Arduino presentation/workshop and being with our MIT guests?)

At the dance studio I soon realized I had good company during the lesson: Nancy attended with her daughter (see her pre-dance blog: and Tom joined me for moral support, which he found quite enjoyable (it was at that challenging but not frustrating level)…YEAH!! (Yes, Ellen…we are patiently waiting for you to join the mob! ; -)

What I learned during the FREE lesson (my favorite word as a single grad student : -) was the instructor used chunking, that is putting sequences of movements together for ease of remembering. She would first demonstrate, at a slow pace-with her back to us while facing a mirror, the moves along with auditory cues like: right, left, right, left, back, left, right, along with teaching us the names for certain steps like Bootie Bounce…(who could forget that name?!), then we would try it with lots of repetition eventually picking up the speed to go with the actual soundtrack pace, then adding it to the previously learned steps for continuity. For me, it was exciting to see how I was picking up many of the steps, meaning that new connections/webs were being formed in this brain that’s over a half a century old (did I REALLY just admit that?!). Being a visual person, I’m finding the combination of kinetics, with the auditory words, the visualization of the dance, and of course my personal interest to learn the dance, has greatly increased my sequential abilities. To me…that’s time well spent!

The burning question is: can this transfer over and enable me to dance my way through Joshua’s P544 class? I think a musical version of Socio-Cultural Theory may be needed : -)

Saturday, October 3, 2009