Sunday, December 31, 2006

paving bricks

An old quote by an immigrant went something like this:

"They told me that in America the streets were paved in gold, but when I got here I found that there was no gold, and that the streets weren't even paved, and that in fact the only job I could get was paving them."

I'm thinking of applying this to Second Life, though I still admit that I haven't, and probably won't, at least not for the time being.

"They told me that in Second Life the streets were created by the imaginations of the people who walked on them, but when I got there..."

Oh, heck you finish it. I haven't even been there. What do I know?



My wife made an interesting comment the other day. She's a sociology professor, and she was reading the bibliographies at the end of her term papers when the term was ending; it was an extremely busy time, so the fact that the comment stayed with me was interesting by itself. She merely pointed out that it was ironic that students used Wikipedia as an academic reference, since it was made by everyone/anyone- it is in essence the opposite of an academic reference.

To her probably the most notable thing about it was that, having been asked to read the textbook, the students didn't bother referencing that, although it of course provided the most concise, academic perspective on the concept in question, and surely her favorite one, given that she'd required that textbook. But students don't read textbooks much these days (as she pointed out several times in the process), and more often turn to Wikipedia as if it's the gospel truth.

Interesting, because in some sense, our knowledge, all human knowledge, is really more a collective thing, what most people think, plus what a few people don't agree with, with an asterisk here and there. Wikipedia in many ways is more accurate than your average textbook, as it has far more readers and so represents more of a collective additive database. But it also contains notable gems, like the continuing assertion that ours is the best CESL. Can't argue with that. And I deny, again, that I ever put that there. I'm way too humble.


Monday, December 25, 2006

happy holidays

I'm on break; barely able to keep up with the rush of things, and not blogging much, due to family visitors & occupation of computer quarters. My son, home from college, brought The Language Instinct (Pinker) which he'd been using as a textbook; maybe I'll get a look at it before he goes. I have other goals too, but the first is just being ready for family & the holiday rush. I"ll see you in 2007, if not sooner!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

no comment for now

Business Week. (2006, May 1). My Virtual Life. good overview

Second Opinion (2006, Mar.) Teen Grid hits 10,000.

CNET News (Nov. 2006). Copy Bot threatens virtual economy.

Publishing World. (2006, Feb. 8). Fear and Shivering in Second Life. By Jason Boog.

Economist. (2006, Sept. 28). Living a Second Life.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

An education

Here's an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about SIUC and the way it fits into the economy of universities & funding. The Trib may require a log-in but it's well worth it.

I'll let it pass without comment, though. I have several children in college and can only say, you can't live without an education. In my present perch on the third floor of Faner I have a highly unusual perspective; I don't know if bringing up my children in this environment (I drag them through Faner every once in a while) will be good or bad for them. Nor do I know how well the students I teach will fit in to their target university population. I got a good example of my dilemma in my grammar class the other day; the story deserves more attention, though, that I don't have at the moment. Will try and save & savor it...


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

second life, cont'd

What I said about the last war still holds true: while there's nothing new about war itself, or about the flimsy pretenses the modern ones have been based upon, it is new when the games they use to train the bombers are so realistic that the trainees can lose track of when they're training and when they're dropping bombs. I feel the same way about Second Life, though I've never visited it. The mere fact that it is so close to reality in so many ways makes it an important development, even if it is still seen as a game by many people.

So I've been challenged, in a way, to prove that it's not just like a glorified video game, for people who are missing something, or unable to achieve something, in their first life, basically a hideout for losers. I think that even the geekiest video games can teach us some skills at a relatively low cost, most notably computer skills, and so have some virtue, but it's become a sore point in our house, where three hours a day of killing/chatting doesn't seem to be enough for the gamers or even to compare to what some other teens are doing, etc., and on our end appears to be taking people directly out of "first world" where we could at least experience their gaming withdrawal and otherwise cheerful demeanor, or involve them in our fantasy of good times that involve fresh air or perhaps exercise.

So I'll make my case for Second Life quickly and then try to prove it gradually, or rather, let time prove it for me. I'm sure there will be competition for SL soon enough, but the point is the same: the development of online virtual worlds will have profound consequences on life as we know it, especially on education, human self-awareness and perception, and we should pay attention quickly. I'll start with the things that interest me most.

First, I agree with Eric Rice: "You can call it a video game, which is true and false at the same time. You can call it a virtual world, which is more accurate, yet socially, a new concept." The fact is, we don't know what will happen here; just because it's being treated like a game by many shows only that that's what many need most immediately. When we get a handle on other needs that can be met here, it will take over other functions as well.

Online education, for example, has been most held back by a single factor: that the single student operating alone at the computer loses out on the learning environment that other traditional students enjoy. Where is the camaraderie, the community of people learning together? The student center or college bar neighborhood? The environment was always considered one of the high points of college; learning hasn't been the same without it, for the online denizens, even if you could chat with your professor at a prescribed time online. But now online education doesn't have to be without that environment. You want to go to college at night? You can actually go there, online, and stop after class to visit with other students, etc. Once people get in the habit, staying in dorms might lose its appeal. The geographical necessity of changing towns (in Iowa, for example, having to move to one of about 20-30 towns) will certainly be gone- to what effect?

Obscure languages are hampered by lack of geographical space where they are not muscled out by larger languages that people have to learn anyway. The new world does not really have a geography as such, so its dialects are driven by online communities that share needs and activities- for that reason, I'm sure new languages will spring up if they haven't already. But how about saving a few old ones? Those who are interested don't have to be driven apart by geographical barriers caused by diaspora. Quick- before it's too late- let's make online venues for Scots Gaelic, Yiddish, and Arawak! I'm one of a minority who would do this just for its own sake. More likely, people will do this for other reasons, or will at least be assumed to have ulterior motives, even if they're like me. You want privacy? Some folks may be looking into these languages just to get some...reminds me a little of the Navajo code-jumpers, who found that knowing a language with its own complete vocabulary was an unexpectedly valuable commodity in an unusual situation.

Finally, and I'm running out of time here, just remember this mantra: in the future bandwidth won't be an issue...these days, even with relatively new computers, we have to wait a while for the gamers to get off the computer before we can get on just to do routine stuff. But we're still living in the caveman era. My children will probably have different avatars for different functions- and be able to jump in and out of them. Nothing I've predicted is really radical- it's pretty much on the next horizon. If you'd like to ruminate about what could happen, look at what already is, and imagine how it will be when anyone can go there at little cost or effort. Briefly here are some other fields that I think will be radically changed fairly quickly, though I can't explain exactly how, at least not yet. Music; intentional communities; our understanding of altering perception through altering environments; and, our understanding of human behavior in large anonymous groups, or even small ones. The concept of "gender", I believe, has already been turned on its ear; just because no one has studied the change (for more than a year)- doesn't make it any less profound. What happens when people can routinely choose their gender? Slip in and out of them like slippers? I have no idea. But I can assure you- it's more than just a game.


Friday, December 01, 2006

blog survivor

So a couple more weblogs have bitten the dust, even since we last talked. To find out what's happening in esl/efl I often go here, where one can see that Dave Sperling is such a big name in the esl/efl web that he actually has an anti-blog, but where one can also see that the esl/efl world is very transient.

But in typical self-indulgence, I'm not here to talk about esl/efl, or Dave Sperling; rather, I've been reflecting on the many functions I have for this weblog, named after yours truly, which is barely read at all, but does a lot of things for me...among them:

-I work hard, teach hard, grade a lot, and make all my own materials. Sometimes I let off steam here. Very few people appreciate the grind of an 18-hour teaching load where people really need what you teach. The stakes are high, the pressure's on, and the chalk dust is flying.

-My professional interests- these days, using weblogs in the intermediate classroom, and plagiarism, which is an ongoing battle. I'd like to make an esl-efl teacher's plagiarism resource on the web, if I get a chance. I often dream here, but don't have much time to actually carry these things out.

-My enormous, and messy, web responsibilities at CESL. I call them messy because they exploded in size but sank in utility after being seriously messed with, and it's so broke I can barely fix it. So huge, it's like looking at a kitchen of dishes, and going out (to the weblog cafe) to eat.

-I direct my classes to thinking about things that I like- our topic this term is media, so I'm leading toward ways that technology is changing the way we live and think - MySpace, Facebook, chat, etc. And as a result- and this has been an ongoing trend- I like to reflect on that here. What is Second Life going to do to the way we see our world? What are these chat dialects doing to the relationship between writing and speaking, and the development of language as we know it? Sometimes I just ask my students what they're up to- (In the coffee line, one was telling me how Arabic English-letter-chat uses 6 to be a kind of accent) - but my point really is that I'd like to become a kind of social commentator, pointing out that the world as we know it is never going back to the old ink-and-tree paradigm...

-the running discussion on Chomsky and language theory gets diverted regularly and sometimes for long periods of time. But it's a long-term project, and one I can't seem to click a couple of hours together to put forward. It's interesting to learn how Chomsky hijacked a field and drove it into a plane, so to speak, but it will take the best of linguistics to pull it back into the third dimension. It's time to get started. My project is here, but it's barely started. Just gathering the materials. The theory is coming.

-my life as a citizen- of the USA, of Illinois, of Jackson County, of Carbondale, of Southern Illinois University, etc. I don't have much time to actually read the paper these days- and now that we get it by mail, it's very sporadic and unpredictable. I'm not sure what I'll do when newspapers like the Tribune actually go out of business or go totally online....I'm still a newsprint kind of guy. But as an ordinary citizen and employee of a major state university I'm an active writer with lots of opinions about the milieu I'm in- if I actually publicized this weblog, it might actually make more of a difference, but the fact is, people still don't read these much. And I do it mostly to develop my own writing, rather than to change the world, since I know full well that I have a better chance of doing that, just staying put, teaching, representing and putting forward internationalism in a self-absorbed place with lots of other political infighting-type concerns. One has to love one's place in one's own way. I have to say, though, it's been good to me and my family. I'm proud to live and work under the big high noon...

That's about it. I'll put all this on the sidebar someday, just so infrequent visitors don't get confused by the dazzling array of subjects I hit in a given week. I have dreams of making either an esl/efl kind of portal- an independent media- or some other kind of professional use of my writing- but, on reflection, the fame of the big-frog-in-small-pond situation that I already have, is more than filling my plate. Sheila Simon's father told her, if you want to run for mayor, go out and have coffee with as many people as you can. I agree with that; I wish I had time for a cup, myself, or at least a better reason for pouring another. It's an interesting world, and this late-night turtle-pond gives me the best view sometimes.

Thank you for your indulgence...