Saturday, August 25, 2007

28 The philosophy of the course as it pertains to technology and other environmental affordances...

Message no. 28[Branch from no. 22] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, January 22, 2007 11:03pm Subject: PLEASE READ: The philosophy of the course as it pertains to technology and other environmental affordances...

Hi Adrienne and all of you, (or should I say, "Marhaban, Salaam Alaikum!")

I'm also thrilled by the response we are getting from our fellow crew-mates on "spaceship earth" during these early moments in our voyage, and the smile I'm feeling grows from sea to shining sea!

A note to you all: don't let any of the technojargon scare you -- the fact that you are here, on-line, reading this, means that you have already mastered the necessities of running this ship. You are in a virtual environment called "the internet" that connects all of us real life flesh and blood minds from all over the world. That is a major evolutionary achievement! Think about it!...

When I was a youth in Dobbs Ferry back in 1981 taking summer night classes at Mercy College in Sign Language and Spanish because I was working with the deaf, autistic and mentally handicapped children and adults at BOCES, I never thought I would see the day when I would be able to teach a class at Mercy that brought together people from all over the planet to share in the experience of helping us all overcome our handicaps as imperfect beings in challenging, changing environments.

Yet here we are, a mere quarter of a century later, using a technological infrastructure that enables all of us, whether we are male or female or hermaphrodite, black, brown, beige, olive, tan, red, rust, yellow, pink or white, tall, fat, short, thin, strong or slight, shy and sedate, or willing to scream and fight, able-bodied or handicapped, blind or deaf or with full hearing and sight -- to participate in the full adventure of our human struggle toward the light! (I got carried away by the possibility of a rhyme there! :) )

The bells and whistles that we can add to the course -- blogs, videos, 3d avatars, panaroma wraparounds etc. -- these are mere icing on the cake! So have no fear -- everyone will get an A for effort -- nobody can lose in this course for trying. The idea of environmental psychology as I see it, is to collectively learn how we can improve ourselves and our environments in the most comfortable and mutually supportive way.

We study environmental psychology to bring some order into the chaos and confusion of our lives, and make them more livable. We strive to learn a common language that helps us communicate our similarities and accept and understand our differences no matter what physical, social, environmental, psychological or cultural barriers seem to separate us.

In the past, space and topography were huge barriers. All of us taking classes at Mercy had to live within bus, walk, train or car distance from Dobbs Ferry. And we had to plan according to our personal and environmental handicaps. We had to assemble in a sterile room at the same arbitrary time, and try hard to homogenize ourselves so as to adapt to a learning environment that either favored the so-called "lowest common denominator" (usually meaning those unfortunate students whose backgrounds equipped them for rapid adaptation to the challenges of the environments they had to face in real life, but didn't adapt them for the artificial and abstracted environment of the prison-like atmosphere of "the classroom") or favored the so called "rapid learners" (usually meaning those unfortunate students whose lives had already taught them most of what the class offered, but were forced by "the system" to sit redundantly in a room where stuff they already knew was thrown at them by "the defenders of the class system" for them to toss back, like faithful old canines who have learned how to fetch a long time ago but still get showered with praise for demonstrating "old tricks".

You will notice from my tirade (which, in a classroom might be called a "lecture") that I consider most classrooms and school systems to engender subtle (or not so subtle) forms of discrimination.

It goes with the territory -- "school" is a Pavlovian environment of rewards and punishments in a largely stimulus free cell where the flows of information are severly restricted and peoples' commitments to their children, or aging parents, or friends-in-need, or true interests, or dreams, must be put aside so that they can slavishly follow the rule of "the bell" and the artificial hierarchy set up by the pulpit demagogue called "teacher" and his/her sheeplike accolytes called "students".

But on-line learning has the potential to change all that. Radically. We are peers. We are equals who come together to share our special skills and knowledge and insights.

And we will learn how to use the new tools of liberation together.

Think of it this way: if "a picture is worth a thousand words", as they say, and a teacher were to demand a thousand word essay, would it not make sense for the teacher to allow the student to spend the same time that it would take writing a description of an object or event instead learning how to upload the perfect picture?

Obviously the calculus of words and pictures is not exact, but my point is merely that we are, in a course that is based on advancing human knowledge, concerned with THE OUTCOME, not the process. It would be discriminatory to insist that students must write, or type, or post pictures or videos, or sing, or dance, or fly. What students must do is LEARN and COMMUNICATE. That is whay I believe the essence of education is: we go into our environments and we learn how to make them more manageable and enjoyable, and we come back to the tribe and we report in. We communicate our findings. We scratch drawings of the bison and deer and mammoths we saw on the cave wall using charcoal from the fire and mud from the stream. We jump up and down and hoot and holler acting out what we did on the days journey hunting and gathering. We use whatever communication tools we can to share our discoveries with our peers. The environment gives us challenges to solve and the psychology of our behavior gives us the tools not only to solve the problems found in our environments, but to communicate the solutions to others.

That's it: Environment and the Psychology of Behavior.

Our job is to help each other to do these things better and better. That is why we are all here on this ship together. As captain I will help steer the ship, but you all have a great group of crew members with different skills, and we can all help each other to move forward.

No one will be left behind.

There will be no discrimination on this ship.

The key to this class is just to explore, attempt, try things out and COMMUNICATE what you are doing to the rest of us, in whatever medium you feel comfortable. Frustrating hours spent trying to learn a new thing will not be lost in this class even if one fails to get a so-called "positive result". Simply share with us the experience you had in the new environment. That too is "Environment and the Psychology of Behavior". Remember that TECHNOLOGY IS AN ENVIRONMENT. New technology is a new environment. Wandering around the virtual environment of a computer screen is just like wandering around a new city or a jungle. It is scary and disorienting and takes time and energy. Don't worry! Don't panic! In time we will all master the tools (our textbook calls them "AFFORDANCES") that we need to make the next leap in our personal and social growth. There is no deadline for mastery in this course -- all I demand is that you read the textbook, think alot about what it says and what your fellow learners (including your professor) relate about their understanding of its theoretical and empirical information, and how we all relate it to our worlds, and communicate your experiences in such a way as to help add value to all our busy and challenging lives.

I think we are going to have a really fun semester! It blows my mind to think that we have students from as far away as Yonkers, the Bronx, South Carolina, Virginia and upstate New York, and that you could be, like me, online from places as far away as California, Germany and Cairo.

And, by the way Adrienne, if you and your daughter would like to share your experiences with the rest of us as she explores the stimulating environment of Dubai, that would be really cool! Hopefully some of the technologies we employ in this class will help you and her stay connected while so far away!

To that end, I've attached a googlemap picture of Dubai, and one of what, I think, may be your home (I typed in the address from the registrars info!) The next task would be to highlight or circle important locations in red (using a paint program) and type in a label (using the text tool of the paint program) and then label the photographs you take with the same name so we can see what they look like on the ground as well as from the air! I will model this myself for you tomorrow!



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