Posts Tagged ‘digital’

“Unlearning.” That word by itself kinda hurts my brain. Isn’t that the opposite of what we want? Don’t we want to grow? Isn’t the way to grow to expand, to intake, to gain? Well, yeah, of course, buuuuuut…

A lot of people, educators and learners alike, live by the doctrine of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s a problem.

Bindaas Madhavi Photo CC-by Bindaas Madhavi

“Unlearning”

Will Richardson’s article about “unlearning” mostly deals with throwing out old misconceptions or outdated methods of thinking, particularly in classroom settings. Verbatim, Richardson claims “it’s simply learning to see things differently or to at least be open to it.” I’m going to kick this section off with the last of Richardson’s claims, and say that the most important thing that needs “unlearned” is that real change can happen just by thinking it into practice. This is not a thing. Action needs to happen for change to happen.

Unlearning simply means re-evaluating old concepts, and being open to new ones. In education, this is probably the most vital piece of advice that can be given. Too many times I was at the mercy of teachers who utilized tired-out techniques they learned in school, and were unwilling to budge in any way, shape, or form. Each person learns differently. Each person has different passions. In order to harness all of this potential, flexibility needs to be a key factor.

This semester, I’ve unlearned quite a few things. I’ve unlearned that no one is making a charge to reform education. I’ve unlearned that social media is useless for anything besides cat videos. I’ve unlearned that blog posts are useless, because there are people somewhere out there paying attention. I still have a ways to go, though. I need to unlearn that most authority figures are pompous assholes who have no intelligence or empathy. I need to unlearn some of my cynicism and be a little more willing to believe in the good in humanity. I’ll get back to you when this happens.

Don’t hold your breath.

Thomas Hawk Photo CC-by Thomas Hawk

Innovation

In George Couros’s look into the mind of an innovator, he writes himself a mission statement:
“I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask “what is best for learners”.  With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.”

As an educator, Couros wants to focus on new ideas. He wants to focus on open-mindedness, much like Richardson, and above all else, he wants to focus on what’s best for learners. For educators, this involves quite a bit of humility and searching.

It means acknowledging that even if you are an expert in your field, you don’t know everything there is to know. It means acknowledging students as people and accepting the fact that they have things to teach you as well. It means figuring out how to work with each individual learning style, and doing your best to realize that teaching a group en-mass using the same technique is a busted-ass idea from the get-go. Couros understands that these things mean going out on a limb, upsetting an established status quo and taking risks for a reward that involves maximizing learning output for students.

Couros also heavily endorses technology as a medium for learning. He claims innovators can do their best by connecting to others globally, gathering , comparing, and discussing ideas from all perspectives. That being said, Couros also claims we no longer need to throw the title of “digital” on everything: literacy, storytelling, learning, etc. It’s now all implied. Learning is changing. It all ties back together in the fact that we need to “unlearn” the traditions of old in favor of innovating. As I said, learning is changing.

I’m not sure I’ve done much in the way of innovation this semester. If anything, I’ve played it close to the chest and stuck with what I know. Same routines, same attitudes, same techniques.. because they work. And because I’m afraid of change. Soon I won’t have the crutch of academia as an excuse anymore, and we’ll see what kind of innovator I really am.

Yikes.

Novus

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Weird at last, weird at least, god almighty, weird at last.

Commonplace Books Photo Copyright – Commonplace Books

Story Time

When I was a wee lad, my mom would read me Goosebumps books before bedtime (explains a lot, right?) Being read to then created images just as vividly in my mind as reading itself did. When I got older, I obviously fell out of touch with being read to – I’m an adult, dammit! I can read my own books!

Well, turns out, being an adult has literally nothing to do with it. Make a 6 hour commute (one way) every two weeks with only country and gospel stations at your disposal, and you’ll find something to pass the time in a big fuckin’ hurry. I decided to give a few e-books a whirl, ones by Stephen King which I had already read, but it had been a few years. Why not, right? What I wasn’t expecting was to have images play in my head, just as vividly as when I read, just as vividly as when I was a kid.

What a revelation! In between Stephen King books, I would tune in to NPR for as long as I could get the signal. All Things Considered and This American Life became staples of my journey – and major sources of news for me as well. Something clicked in my head, here: I can listen to these people talk about things.. Podcasts are usually just people talking about things.. I think I’ve got something here. But where do I start? There are literally an infinite number of podcasts on an infinite number of topics, and some people just are not interesting enough to listen to.

Welcome to Nightvale. Figuratively and literally. Short version: Imagine “This American Life” from a community radio station in a small desert town in the Twilight Zone. Ms. Fish and I have been tuning in for several months now, and this addiction is far more rewarding and less expensive than crack. The most intriguing thing about Nightvale: It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous, ever-extending plot line. It’s a story. It’s a book that comes to us chapter by chapter. There are characters that appear continuously, plot lines that have ran (and continue to run) since the beginning of the cast almost 3 years ago, and a wide and interesting array of voice actors. Nightvale has become so ridiculously popular that they go on tours regularly, performing live renditions of shows, and have a novel coming out in October. Pre-order on lock.

Scottish Libraries Photo CC-by Scottish Libraries

Application

Certain classrooms in the U.S. are utilizing podcasts as tools – why bother forcing students to slog through classics if you can give them a story they’re interested in? Podcasts give stories that students can most likely better relate to. They can listen to podcasts while doing other activities. I know several people that would be more inclined to listen to a podcast as a homework assignment than read 85 chapters of Great Expectations. Digital storytelling as a medium, whether we like it or not, can appeal to students who rely so heavily on tech more than a conventional book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ink and paper, but e-books are a thing, it’s still an e-book, the second half of that phrase being book. Pen-and-paper elitists can get right the fuck outta my face wit dat.

That being said, it’s significantly more difficult to take notes in the margins of a podcast. Unless you can find some pretty interesting readings of said classics (which I hate but are necessary at times), students may miss out on some pretty important literary / story milestones if classics are skipped in favor of podcasts. Digital storytelling allows for an infinite realm of creativity and access, but also allows some pretty garbage material through. Many podcasts are poorly-written, gimmicky, or recorded through something that provides the audio quality of a potato. Quality control is an important consideration.

When it comes down to it, I’m of the opinion of “whatever you can do to get students interested jesus go with it why would you give up that opportunity.” The less students rolling their eyes in angsty disgust and actually engaging in something, the better.

Fabella

It’s a question we’re often asked when we decide to get a tattoo: “Will that still look good 30 years from now?” As if any part of me looks good now. My body is not a temple.

Still, the question does hold merit – not in the realm of tattoos, what people want to do with their body is their business, not yours, but when it comes to responsibility and ethics online, a lot of people have made the analogy “what you do online is as permanent as a tattoo.”

And it’s true.

London Permaculture Photo CC-by London Permaculture, relevant!

Digital Citizenship

The Internet is an entirely different world in and of itself than common society. Granted, is has microcasms of society: niche groups, hobbyists gathered together, fans of music / movies / etc, cliques, etc. However, the Internet offers something that none of these other groups offer without the aid of a mask: anonymity.

Digital Citizenship is a sophisticated way of describing how you behave on the Internet, and is often multi-faceted, including your security (passwords, not exposing identity-related information), ethical behavior (being a normal person as opposed to being an asshole troll), and responsibility. Everything you put your legal name on, attach to your e-mail address, and upload to an image-hosting website is there for good. You can delete these things, but often webpages have cached, older versions of themselves that can still be recalled. The Internet Wayback Machine lets you look through the older versions of countless websites.  Deletion is equivalent to getting a tattoo removed by putting another tattoo on top of it. Underneath, the original is still there.

I found this out the hard way. Try Googling your name – some things might turn up, newspaper articles, forums, webpages, etc. My Amazon author page and my portfolio for CSC’s newspaper, The Eagle, turned up. Same thing with image searching yourself. If you want a bit more interesting of an exercise.. try Googling your e-mail address. This yielded some.. interesting results. Including, but not limited to, a Dragonball Z fansite I made when I was between the ages of around 10 to 12. Tristen still has not stopped laughing about how, in her words, “adorable” that is. My ears and their burning beg to differ.

Tom's pipe fetish. Photo CC-by Jeff Commons, and what turned up when I searched for “embarrassment”

Anonymity /=/ Ethical Behavior

The reason so many people forego responsibility, compassion, ethical behavior, any of it on the Internet is because the Internet allows us what we believe to be free reign. Usernames aren’t our real names. Our avatar photos aren’t us. So it isn’t us, right? Wrong. Police and those of us who are tech-savvy can easily still discover a true identity. Insert flaw #1 with the anonymity theory.

Without repercussions or consequences, people see it fit to let their freak flag fly, and reveal an uglier side of them that day-to-day life doesn’t give them a chance to vent. Perfectly normal seeming people turn into monsters online: people encourage others to commit suicide, make horrendous, tasteless jokes, and send threatening e-mails every day, and with the exception of Cyberbullying laws beginning to be legislated, get away with it. As I have found out the hard way: jokes / sarcasm don’t translate well over text alone. No tonal inflections means things can be taken at face value, sometimes with poor consequences. During arguments online, gloves come off: everything is fair game, and they often become pissing contests over who can say the nastier thing. For every good facet of the Internet, there are infinitely as many evil ones.

How in the world do we combat this?

open Photo CC-by opensource.com

Live Online as You Do Off

Education is key. Children in school today have untold access to technology, and therefore, the Internet. Parents and teachers cannot possibly monitor it all, and even if they could, that would help little. It’s been proven that anti-Drug programs hammering it into kids to “just say no” don’t work. Schools where abstinence is the only method of sex-ed are proven to have higher teen pregnancy rates. Rather than treating kids like idiots, how about we do something novel and teach them early on how to use technology responsibly, and properly?

Schools (claim) to take zero-tolerance policies against bullying, but often look the other way (especially if perpetrators are children of administration or high-profile athletes). This has got to stop. If it’s doable, children need to be showed the permanency of their online actions early on, and be taught that the Golden Rule doesn’t stop applying just because someone’s sitting behind a keyboard. In a blog post by Craig Badura, he comes up with an extremely effective set of ways to analogize real-world actions to online behavior. Anything posted is like toothpaste out of a tube: it isn’t going back in. Passwords are toothbrushes: why in the hell would you ever share one? It seems simplistic or even silly, but something like this could be the difference between a student sticking up for someone being cyberbullied or laughing along and clicking the “Like” button. Bullies grow up to be bullies. Anything that can be done to break the cycle, should.

Scientia potentia est

It’s rare, but occasionally, even on the Internet, I stumble upon something that seems almost beyond description.

In the beginning of our digitally literate journey, we had to do some digging and discover what exactly it meant to be digitally literate. If we had to dig deeper and find something, like an online class, that perfectly embodied putting what digital literacy is into practice, it would be ds106.

digistorytellin Photo CC-by digistorytelln

Digital Whosawhatnow?

Digital storytelling. In a nutshell, without Wikipedia’s help, digital storytelling is the usage of all mediums of technology both audial and visual: written, filmed, recorded, drawn, photographed, read, etc. for the sake of telling one’s life story and sharing one’s life experiences. Each and every one of us is on a journey, and no two are ever the same. We feel a basic need as human beings to connect with one another – how better than to swap stories, even if by non-conventional methods?

ds106 is an open source, open-enrollment online course, originally offered at the University of Mary Washington and now available as a drop-in, drop-out, all resources available online course. No enrollment fee, no grading, all it takes is some participation, and a hell of a lot of creativity.

Something in me is inherently leery about something this open. Where’s the catch? All these resources, all these testimonials at my fingertips. I’ve been here before. “Hear our glowing customer testimonials!” “See what others think!” Page after page of falsified reviews and bogus claims give the Internet and I a love-hate relationship.

The thing is, I see no reason to disbelieve. All over the place there are videos offering reviews / advice to oncoming students about the class. Everywhere you look: Twitter, Gravitar, YouTube, WordPress, you see the real work of real people as they try to flex their creative muscles and learn a thing or two about technology in the process. As an educational tool, this is the real deal.

opensourcedotcom Photo CC-by opensource.com

Talk Techy to Me

I’ve made the analogy several times already that creativity is a muscle, but it’s something I truly believe. Use it or lose it – great ideas are good, but they benefit no one trapped inside your head!

Scam or no scam, cult or no cult, aliens or no, ds106 wins in my book for two reasons.

  1.  Promoting Digital Literacy
    1. A huge part of ds106 is learning how to tangle with the Internet’s different beasts: Twiter, YouTube, Gravitar, WordPress, Facebook, Internet Radio, Flickr, video manipulation software, photo editing software, etc. all are part of the many various creative assignments offered by ds106. In order to participate, you’ve got to be ready to tackle some serious tech. This is a great way to introduce those unfamiliar or leery of some of the many services offered online: I was the type of person to scoff at both blogs and Twitter feeds until I was forced to maintain ones of my own.
  2. Creativity
    1. “Storytelling”. That’s the focus of the class. It just happens to be digital. ds106 offers an untold number of different ways to put your creativity into practice. Writing prompts about fanfic characters? Check. Conversations with celebrities using soundboards and audio editing software? Check. Photography exercises focusing on colors? Check. Creation of old-school, 50’s style educational videos in favor of a topic of choice? Check. The possibilities here are nearly limitless. There are even assignments focused around creating animated GIF images, and if that’s not outrageous enough, there are 3D Printing based assignments. Holy hell.

The applications for this class, to me, transcend the bounds of education. Teachers who are passion-focused or looking for ways to hack education: this is it. Students learn practical / new skills, students learn (and tell us) about themselves, and students are allowed to be creative and kept from doing needless busywork. Hell yes. For others, it’s a great crash-course in Internet-ing. For others still, it’s a good chance to experiment with different forms of creative expression.

So, it’s a free, open-source, do-as-you-please class where all the material is available online, the assignments are all open to tweaking, and you’re heavily encouraged to share your work with others and network with people about what you’re doing and what you’re learning?

Sounds like digital literacy 101 to me.

Ex nihilo

Let’s get something straight.

I understand that the human language is flexible. I understand that words have meaning that change and evolve over time, and I understand that people are going to use words how they want to use words. I understand that the original definition of the word “hack” meant to tinker with or achieving a goal through non-conventional means, okay? I get that.

But I hate the oversaturation of the word now in 2015.  I was born and raised in the generation where I was taught “hacking” was the cracking of a computer system. When I hear someone describe something as a “life hack,” I’m sorry,  but my skin crawls. I am a tech freak at heart, and unless you’re breaking a code or calling someone a hack, other uses do not jive with me. Okay?

hacking

Photo CC- by bareform, and THIS IS HACKING OKAY JEEZ

“Hacking” Education

So, a young fellow by the name of Logan LaPlante gave a TEDTalk at an age where most of the people I know were still bumbling through angsty adolescence and could barely decide what color of ripped jeans to wear.

Mr. LaPlante’s message is simple: we need to reform education. We need to make sure kids are happy and healthy above all else, and we need to foster their passions rather than squash them with conventional, ineffective education techniques.

Bud Hunt wrote a blog post with similar ideas entitled “Make/Hack/Play,” stating that the three things we need to emphasize in education are creation, innovation, and freedom.

I’m on the fence with this one, ladies and gentlemen. I’m 100% on board with emphasis on freedom, on happiness over test scores, on pursuing passions over outdated curricula. What I am not 100% on board with, is the recent tendency to fetishize innovation over all else. People eat TED Talks up. How often do you watch one, feel an immense burst of inspiration, and then… do absolutely nothing with it? I know I’m guilty. This is my problem: this emphasis on radical innovation creates an environment in which laziness breeds rampant. We can feel better about ourselves for not doing anything to change the world, so long as we listen to and agree with people who have good ideas about how to do so.

Public school is the sharpest double-edged sword there ever was. Kids learn social skills, make friends, and give their parents 8 hour breaks from their hormonal outrages. School also forces kids into cliques, fosters an excellent “dog eat dog, kill or be killed” social environment, and gives many people debilitating anxietal and self esteem issues from day one. Too smart? You’re a nerd, and you’re a faggot, and you make everyone else look bad because you’re a freak. Too slow? You’re a retard, and a moron, and you should just give up now. Like the color black or skateboards? You’re a stoner, and you’re a goth, and you love drugs, and you’re a delinquent who will never amount to anything.

That’s public school. It forges some of us in steel and makes us strong. Others become brittle in the process. They look fine on the outside, but inside, there’s pieces missing.

change

Photo CC-by Feggy Art

Is There an Answer?

I have no blanket solution toward fixing the broken education system. That’s what it is: it’s broken. I don’t care about dissenting opinions. Students in certain European countries go to college for free. Then they churn out more scientists, doctors, and credible artists than we could possibly dream of. A system where the amount of money you’ll be rewarded for an education is relative to how well you fill bubbles in on a ScanTron is fundamentally fucked up. Period.

I believe people like Mr. LaPlante and Mr. Hunt are on the right track. Public schools attempt to teach obedience and discipline over all else. We claim recess is only for little kids, but anyone who can throw a football reasonably well is perpetually carried through high school, and a lot of colleges. We expect kids to know enough about their passions and their lives to dictate where they go between ages 16 and 18. Kids haven’t experienced a fraction of their lives or passions at 18, yet school systems expect them to choose ONE major through college and stick with it, lest their wallet now and forever be perpetually raped by the United States Government.

It starts at a ground level. Not every school is going to get to have a curricula that involves skiing or glass blowing or anything like that. Some people are so staunchly in favor of a broken system that it’s quite baffling.

Teachers: foster creativity. Foster passion. It’s okay to like football. It’s also okay to like dance, computer science, Calculus, scratch drawing. We need critical thinkers, we need analysts. Enough of the “out of the box” bullshit. Forget the box altogether. Thinking in or out of the box keeps you firmly in the status quo. Be the teacher that cares enough to not talk down to your students, but not let them breeze through. Don’t let students think learning is “for fags,” don’t let them think failure is all they’ll ever amount to.

I’ve had 2 types of teachers talk to me in my life. I’ve had teachers who’ve told me “y’know, teaching is an alright gig. It’s job security. It isn’t my first choice, but eh,” and I’ve had teachers who told me, “If you don’t feel the call to educate, don’t waste your own or anyone else’s time.”

I think I understand the difference now.

Docendo discimus

(Disclaimer: This blog contains some strong language, and the only reason I’m being polite enough to put in a disclaimer is because I understand some of you are new to this enigmatic ball of hair and pent-up aggression that is Jeff McFarland. This is your first and only warning.)

That’s how the line goes, right? “We can rebuild him – we have the technology,” and indeed we do, boys and girls. It’s 2015. The future seems to eek closer toward us with each passing day. Nike announces self-tying shoes, the world’s top scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warn of the dangers of artificial intelligence, and supposedly, a hoverboard is in the works. We’ve truly reached the future, eh?

Always In Motion Is The Future

Get in, loser, we’re going back to the future. Photo CC- by JD Hancock

Though, the thing about when people talk about us nearing the “future,” is I call immediate bullshit. When people say we’re headed for the future, they usually mean we’re on the brink of some technological breakthrough (the brink meaning 10-15 years off at the very least) and we imagine our strange, sci-fi-fantasy version of the future to be just around the corner. We’re in the now. Technology is flying right now. The internet is no longer a stand-alone browser app in your computer: everything is smart (except maybe the people). TVs, phones, tablets, even picture frames. Fucking picture frames can connect to a cloud and stream photographs. As amazing as that is, it’s a little daunting too.

So, in an age where going out to dinner means sitting with 3 to 6 other people all staring at their glowing crotches and maintaining no contact with one another throughout the duration of the meal, what hope is there for homo sapiens to not simply plug and download their brains directly into Facebook? Well, if one remembers the original intent of the Internet – networking, to make the world a smaller place, we can discover some potential for good in the cesspit of evil that is the Internet.

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Photo CC-by MTSOfan, and no witty quip is needed

What is Digital Literacy?

A lot of .edu websites seem to favor defining Digital Literacy as “the understanding of, and ability to use the Internet in a responsible manner to facilitate learning.” Something like that. I don’t like that very much. In researching an answer to the above question, I stumbled upon an article on TeachThought by Terry Heick that I think hit a lot of important nuances of the question that Universities seem to overlook. Technology, the internet, all of it- are fluid. By tomorrow, yesterday’s newest device is obsolete. The internet, as both Terry and I pointed out, isn’t a stand alone thing. Not anymore. According to Heick’s article, “Digital literacy is the ability to interpret and design nuanced communication across fluid digital forms.” I think that’s a pretty good definition. It allows for flexibility in “digital forms,” emphasizes “communication” over viral cat videos, and illustrates the importance of being able to interpret information. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is a note about the responsibility needed when technology is part of the playing field.

It’s not good enough to know how to use a computer or a smartphone. To be truly “digitally literate,” you need some essential skills. You need to know how to be able to search smart, be it for academic research or even typing things into Google. You need a basic grasp on copyright law so that you don’t accidentally piss off someone who can happily and legally sue the shit out of you. You need to be able to judge the merit and authenticity of things you stumble upon, and you need to know what not to click on. Also, as a bonus tip, you need to know most Anti-Virus software is bullshit. Your computer came equipped with an anti-virus that does everything the ones you’re paying for charge to do.

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Photo CC-by Joe, and what an image

Granted, a basic grasp on how to use technology is the only way to start developing any of these skills. I’ve known my way around a computer since I was about 5 or 6, and now I’m the guy who the “No, I will not fix your computer” shirt was made for. The thing is, most of my “fixes” could be done by anyone with a little know-how. Seriously. Don’t install shit you don’t need or if you aren’t sure about the source, keep complicated passwords, and you’re 2/3rds of the way there. I used to roll my eyes at Excel and Word classes that teach people the extremely complicated nuances of clicking “File -> Save,” but I realized the truth – that some people really have trouble with that. I know how to do advanced searches, I know how not to get sued, and I know how to keep my computer clean. What I need work on, is tolerance of those who have a knowledge level below mine.

Not everyone has been behind a keyboard since childhood. The internet / home computer has only been a thing for less than half a century. I also need to recognize that there are those who know infinitely more than I do. I can fix a computer’s software. When it comes to the guts of the machine, I know next to nothing. If a computer has a problem inside of it, I’m boned.

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Photo CC-by lgb06, strangely pertinent given this week’s itinerary
I think the most important step people can take to get better at these things, is simply to undertake the effort to get better. I know that sounds idiotic, but seriously. Take a class at a community college to teach you about Word or Excel, they help, despite what snobs like me believe. Check the credibility of your sources before you share some dumb shit on Facebook. Snopes.com is your friend. Take a typing class (if you didn’t have to in grade school) and avoid the atrocious-looking “search and peck” method of typing. If our society is going to be so reliant on technology, you’re going to have to be on the up-and-up.

Progressum

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages..

I’m back!

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Photo CC-by Bart Maguire, who presumably went on an adventure.

Yes, it’s a new year (and my final one) here at Chadron State, and the prodigal son truly returns to the English and Humanities department with a vengeance. This year I’ll be comparing religions, novelizing graphics, and literally digitizing with the very best of ’em. In all seriousness, it feels good to be back among the bookworms and writers among us.

That brings me to the main event of the post: Dr. Elisabeth Ellington’s Literacy in the Digital Age class. This class is going to center a lot, I’m guessing, on learning. About learning. Wait, what?

So, on the note of learning, I’m being asked to give something new a whirl here. I’m still blogging in my lovable Cracked,com format of witty banter-image-witty banter-image, but now I’m being asked to give it an actual purpose – 5 things that shaped me as a learner – and to do it all without potentially violating copyright law.
I think I can handle that.

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Photo CC-by az. Quite the name.
The first of five key experiences in my life that shaped the way I learn, and the way I pretty much operate at all today, was learning to read.

I know that sounds like a “duh,” but I could read on my own before kindergarten. I have my mom to thank for that. When I was around 4 or 5, every day was ended with a Goosebumps book. She read them to me, often had me read a few pages, and I would inevitably pass out on the couch. Not only do I have her to thank for my ability to read, but for my affinity for all things dark and spooky. Thanks, ma.

Seriously, though, being literate early on has given me the biggest jumpstart I could ever need. When you can read, the world is open to you. Travel isn’t an issue, you can do almost anything with a How-To book and a decently put together YouTube video, and you are never incapable of communicating with someone.. despite possibly being a continent or two away. Reading = writing. From literacy comes a growth of vocabulary, empathy, geographical knowledge, what have you. Reading is step one on the journey that is learning. When people say “I haven’t read a book since high school,” I want to vomit. On them. Hopefully I’ve eaten something messy the night before.

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Photo CC-by crypto, because street signs are apparently all the rage right now.

It wouldn’t be until late middle school-early high school that I would come across a teacher that I truly respected. If my appearance in the “About Me” section of this blog doesn’t give it away, I have a bit of a problem with authority figures. Always have, always will – only now I can use the excuse of being an adult for when my mouth happens to fire off like a cannon.

That being said, Mr. Dick RIschling taught the marching bands at Alliance High / Alliance Middle School in Alliance, Nebraska for I believe 33 years, and I was fortunate enough to be a small part of those years. Those who made the mistake of thinking band was an excuse to dick around for 45 minutes and get an easy A were in for a brutal wake up call. This man provided me with such great quotes as

“I love conflict, I win them all!” 

Dick Rischling was the type of man who would go for a two-mile run and smoke every 15 minutes while still running. He had zero time for slackers, zero tolerance for class clowns, and was not afraid to say what he thought. He was like the Gordon Ramsay of marching band. Ask other AHS graduates if I’m kidding. The man taught me to stand up straight and carry myself with some dignity, to force my nose to the grindstone, and kept me humble when my sarcastic mouth got the better of me. If my mom provided me with the tools to learn, Dick Rischling provided me with the devotion that was necessary.

So I had the skills, and I had the motivation. What’s left?

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Photo CC-by Nate Cochran, and a damn fine picture if I do say so myself

Self-confidence. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I began to branch out and discover something about myself. I was borderline misanthropic, extremely anti-social, and probably pretty socially awkward. I had a set circle of friends I had always had, and other than out with them, I went nowhere. I hung out at home, read, played video games, and surfed the web. My life was pretty consistently boring this way until my parents bought me a guitar.

About a year later, around April 29th, 2009, the band I’m in, Monster in the Mirror, had their first concert. Something lying dormant inside me woke up that night. The general consensus was shock: this shy, kinda weird kid who didn’t say much in class was a natural on stage. The crowd of 200 or so people loved us. And 6 years later, we’re still a band.

Being up on a stage allowed me to be everything I wasn’t. Up there, I was loud, I was mean, I was aggressive, I was a commanding force. And it all felt good. After that, I began to speak up in classes. My sarcasm and my opinionated nonsense became more and more frequent. I knew what I was talking about. If I didn’t, I knew I could learn, and I knew I could be good at it. Now I make money making an ass of myself on stage, and I’m slowly but surely beginning a career as a writer, something else I thought I could never do. Never underestimate the power of knowing you can do something. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

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Photo CC-by Phillip Taylor, of something that doesn’t exist in 2015

Success is nice, of course, but to me, the most powerful teaching / learning tool is failure. For me, the hardest lesson I ever learned was learned the hard way. That lesson, quite simply, is not to settle.

I was in a relationship for 4 years, 2 in high school, and 2 in college. When that relationship started to fall apart, I panicked, and did the worst possible thing in an attempt to try and salvage what was left. I proposed.

19 and engaged. Never thought that would be me, but it was. I’m not against early engagements: if you think you know, then go for it. Just be prepared for what could happen. But take it from me: never, ever, ever, ever propose out of fear. You’re building pillars of salt on top of a waterbed. It was doomed to fail from the start. Friends and family tried to warn me, but I was comfortable in my routine of boredom. I don’t regret the time spent, because the lesson I learned was invaluable. Still, it’s left me with some extra bags that I’d very much like to get rid of, and have yet to figure out how. I do have someone very special who’s helping me with that, though. Things do get better.

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Photo CC-by SNIJLAB Rotterdam

That being said, the bottom-line lesson that has come from all of this, and the thing that will best facilitate both teachers and learners alike, is flexibility. Don’t become rigid in any way. I understand that routine and familiarity is comfortable, but standing water breeds pestilence. Not everyone learns the same way you do. Not everyone teaches the same way you do. Deal with these things. You can make plans for 6 years from next Tuesday all you want, but the fact of the matter is, life is unpredictable. Sometimes it’ll flip the table on you, and you’ve got to be prepared to pick up the pieces and rearrange the silverware, ya dig?

So, that’s it for me. 5 things that shaped the way I learn, but in all honesty, these 5 things shaped my life; who I am as a person. Maybe those things are synonymous – being a person and being a learner. Whoa. I just blew my own mind. I think I need to sit down.

Percipio Percepi Perceptum