Unwonted Productivity

(This post starts with lots of tedious, whining context.  If you’d like to skip to the good stuff, please click here.)

Since fourth-year of my undergrad, my academic life has been a losing struggle for productivity.  Procrastination no longer tested the edge of my due-dates, but the patience of my professors.  By the first couple of years at OISE, I actually got fatalistic about it, and felt often as if I was watching my own self-destruction from a safe distance with idle, morbid fascination.  Sometimes, I could muster misery; often I dallied with shame and self-loathing (publically, even, to the grief and probable boredom of friends and family).  My rationalizations for the consistently missed deadlines, and the undeniable fact that my peers were marching past me academically and socially, were always based in some sort of reality but they became increasingly byzantine and hollow.  I incorporated my sense of futility into my identity and wondered that I had ever respected myself.  It’s likely that I was clinically depressed, but consistently, I didn’t face it.

My desperation to be done with my thesis eventually grew strong enough to break through my apathy, and I started actively working on strategies to get work done.  Brian and I had some productivity dates around the time I was working at Indigo, the semi-successful engine of which was simulated peer pressure (since neither of us would ever have dreamed of chewing the other out for flakiness).  Scheduling and proximity were a problem, though, and made these meetings inconsistent.  When I moved up north after Gideon got his job in La Loche, the distance was an issue and meetings eventually stopped altogether.  There’ve been less distractions up here, and I’d become marginally more productive than I was in Toronto, but progress remained agonizing.

Over the last five days, I have (tentatively, but optimistically) turned myself around.  As with anything like this, consistency is more important than initial, favourable results, and therefore the bubbly remains on ice.  But, I’m chronicling how it happened here so that

  1. If I lose my way, I can come back here and try to reboot;
  2. If it turns out that this changed my life, I’ve got a record of my personality on the cusp, when I was happy and hopeful, but before I got all arrogant and preachy;
  3. Maybe a variant of this approach can eventually be useful to someone else.
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Exploring Our World Meets Mark Thomas

For the last year and a half I’ve been working with Jenny to host “Exploring Our World” out of St. Clements Church with the older Youth Group kids.  This is billed (defensively, by me) as a “Secular Enrichment Class on Sundry Exciting Topics,” but essentially means I get to talk with intelligent and interested highschoolers about neuroscience, astronomy, ethics, and music.  Programming, for the most part, has been semi-prepared (read: spontaneously inspired) (alternatively, read: slapdash—deleted as applicable based on the results after the fact, typically), but we’ve just started a couple of long-term projects that I’ll be following here and wanted to tell you about.

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(Annotated Fragments) A Personal Guide to Extended Listening

(Danny from 2016: This was written on Christmas Day, 2010, evidently.  I never wound up finishing this post, and I’ll probably return to the material in the future – listening remains an awfully gratifying part of most of my days, and if anything, I’ve become more fastidious in my collecting and listening to British radio comedy, since I no longer have access to the filesharing resources that made indiscriminate consumption so inviting when I penned this.)

I am warm in my North York room, gradually digesting Christmas brunch, listening to Justin Bianco’s Blackbird, and watching my juicy Montblanc White Forest ink dry on the page.  My feet are resting in anticipation of my seven-hour Indigo shift tomorrow.  I am at peace.  I hope you are, too.

I met Lisa Bullock, a longtime friend of Geoff and Tab’s last weekend at their Christmas party and discovered I wasn’t alone in my obsessive interest in British alternative comedians: it was exhilarating to bounce obscure names and shticks back and forth with instant recognition and appreciation in front of our bewildered friends, like randomly meeting another Nipissing University graduate while wandering through an isolated rural village in Devonshire.  Though both of us love the same players, however, we discovered that we approached the scene through different media – Lisa is an impressive British TV aficionado while I’ve built my acquaintance almost exclusively with radio programs.  When I was (predictably) effusive in my desire to share my library, Lisa expressed concern that she didn’t know how to listen to radio.  This has come up often enough by now that I don’t take spoken-word audio consumption for granted anymore, and because it’s been a big part of my life for the last decade or so, I thought I’d take a shot at providing a tutorial.

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Trans-dimensional Knowledge Forum!

I’ve spoken before about the two archetypes of Internet-based distance education: asynchronous (typically using message boards, email, etc., and allowing participants to contribute at times of their convenience) and synchronous (text or video chat, immersive environments, etc., which permit instantaneous communication and feedback, but require participants to adhere to a common meeting schedule like a traditional classroom).  My interest is mainly in the latter, but there are awfully neat asynchronous environments being designed at OISE and elsewhere to plumb the affordances of time-independent communication, such as deep organization, refinement, and archival of ideas while the communities involved collaborate to build knowledge.  We’ll be talking with Stian and Marlene Scardamalia at my research meeting in an hour or so about Knowledge Forum, which you can learn about quickly with Stian’s video, below.

A Demonstration of Knowledge Forum (v2) from Stian Haklev on Vimeo.

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Elementary Education

As I’m now on the other side of my final paper for Recurring Issues in Higher Education, I’m hoping to get back into a regular posting schedule. My goal is one substantial post per week, starting now with one of the culprits for my slow scholastic progress: the eminently dilatory Periodic Table of Videos. Leave now if you’ve work to do and poor impulse control.

Chemistry was my weakest science in high school, and after grade eleven I really only bothered with it when I had to slog through the rudimentary organic chemistry unit in OAC Biology. I was reacquainted with it much more gently and palatably during Astronomy in First Year when we studied fusion in stellar cores and supernovae, and I think I took to it more readily then because the reactions seemed simpler (at least, the expectations were lower—this was Astronomy for Arts Students, alas) and more exciting, and we really just had to collect the lore of the knowledge, with no pesky calculations. Moles die in outer-space, obviously.

I haven’t really had occasion to think deeply about chemistry since then, so when Geoff dumped the Period Table of Videos on me, my resistance to dilettantism here was at low ebb. The project is an on-going production of videos, produced by a team from the University of Nottingham chemistry faculty, with discussion of each element in turn. As an Open Educational Resource, these are pretty Web 1.0 (with ultimate production being in the hands of the provider institution), but updated videos frequently have the team referring to comments and emailed suggestions, so there’s definitely some give and take.

Here are some reasons why 118 shortish videos are worth your time:

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Open Education Scoop

Danny from 2017: My stated goal in going to OISE and bashing myself against a master’s degree was to figure out how to make post-secondary education free for everyone, obviating the boundaries of socioeconomics and geography.  Meeting Stian during an orientation session before the start of my first year was both humbling and a massive relief: he was working and developing systems alongside folks at the forefront of “open education” (imagine, I wasn’t the first one to come up with the idea…), and he was in command of stupendous contextual knowledge of the field; so, better men than I were on the job (sigh), and I didn’t need to save the world because better men than I were on the job (hooray!).

As I acquaint myself with WordPress’ levers, pulleys, and screws, I’m haphazardly contributing to a directory of links you can find south (at time of writing) of my biography on the left-hand column. My intention was to devote a section entirely to Open Education links and then gradually introduce them (and the concept of open education itself) to you, patient readers, over the course and career of this ’blog. In typical fashion, however, Stian Håklev just brought together much more information that I would have mastered in the next few months, and presented it with nearly TED-like production value to a largely awed and enthusiastic crowd of our OISE professors. So, uh, you should read his ’blog.

I will still gradually introduce many of these resources myself, largely because I am myself gradually exploring them for the first time and find that they are less daunting if approached more leisurely (this is my pedagogical gambit to avoid a Semelean tan). For those of you with interest in the topic and even less expertise than me, just bear in mind that others have tread here first and if you’d like to move more quickly, Stian is your man. The fast track starts here.

So, what is open education, and why should we care about it? 

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Introductions

Danny from 2017: Accidentally, I’m adding this on New Year’s Day, 2017, which seems to harmonize with the notion of arbitrary beginnings and the declarations around them.  This was more coherent than the first first post, but clearly not by very much.

 

I think, more or less, I’ve stayed true to my proclaimed intentions for the blog, though Philomathy did (and likely continues to) suffer from the dereliction I anticipated.  The website I referred to, incidentally, was www.thestairwell.com, which has been totally defunct since well before 2009, and had been a high school collaboration with Victoria Panos (and eventually Geoff Core in university) where we’d post our webcomics, The Stairwell and Snow in October, respectively.

Alright, perhaps a high-twee mission statement with an extensive pre-ramble wasn’t the most astute PR decision I could have made, though in a few years, when Philomathy.org rules the Internet and cyber historians clamour to write its biography, its aggressive salutation will be vindicated and lauded. Luckily, I have between now and then to remove the actual first post where I was still fooling around with themes and emphasis colours.

Welcome, readers!

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