Tag Archives: apps

Don Giovanni and an App for Binoculars

Last night, I had the privilege of going to the opera for the first time.  As the opening bars of Mozart’s famous opera, Don Giovanni, began, I resisted the urge to hum along, and found myself tearing up before the curtain was drawn.  I have long wanted to go to the opera, but for a variety of logistical reasons had, up until last night, not been; gratefully, I had the opportunity to attend with students and Zoe Sheehan-Saldana, one of the professors I’m working with at Baruch College this semester.  After the performance, I told Zoe that despite having gone into my freshman fall wanting to emerge four years later ready for astronaut training, I ended up taking a bunch of art, theater, and philosophy classes that first semester, including “The History of Opera,” and never looked back.  I’ve always been a classical music buff — I remember being just as happy rocking out to Mozart’s famous clarinet concerto as I was to the latest New Kids on the Block album, and at some point in high school acquired my first opera music on CD from Santa.

The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended Interlochen Arts Camp, an eight-week intensive camp that I’d heard about from neighbors who went every summer.  I drooled over the idea of spending eight weeks in the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, playing my clarinet three times a day and taking fiber art classes.  Speaking of fiber art, it would be the first and last time I took an art class that put a name on what I did with yarn and string in my free time — fiber art.  But I digress.  I mention Interlochen because it laid the groundwork for my artistic and creative interests that would follow, albeit unconventionally.

I admit I wasn’t the best college student.  There were a variety of reasons for this at the time, and if I could do it over again I probably would, but looking back, I recall attending every class meeting for “The History of Opera” and spending hours in the listening lab, taking in (through my ears anyway) opera after opera.  My relationship to music is much like my relationship to books — with books, I remember the appearance, not the title or author; with music, I remember the sound, not the title or composer.  Last night was no exception: unable to name the arias or ensembles, the memory of those unmistakable runs, chords, and melodies jumped to the surface of my mind, and I was right back in that old, gothic lecture hall, learning about Don Giovanni and his wily ways.  My learning chord had been struck, for lack of a better analogy…

Sitting through the three-and-a-half-hour performance felt like a dream.  While the music was familiar in my ears, the experience was not.  Seated way up in the nosebleeds, I regretted not thinking to bring my grandfather’s binoculars.  Granted, they’re enormous and not appropriate for opera viewing, but still, the thought made me think about how out-0f-the-loop I am with fully understanding this genre of music I’ve been carrying around in my ears and head for years.

I wondered through the second half (as the action heightened and I found myself wishing I could be closer) if there was an iPhone app for binoculars.  Indeed, there is.  There are a few, but the one I tried out is called “Awesome Binoculars,” costs $0.99, and sadly, is less than impressive (the image to the right isn’t the best illustration of just how not-that-useful this app is, but you get the idea — it’s a lot like the mirror app, which is not at all like a mirror).  As in love with my iPhone as I am, sometimes, little discoveries like this make me smile: it comforts me to think we haven’t gotten it all figured out yet!  And what if this app did work??  Would it then be kosher to pull out your iPhone throughout an opera performance?  I can’t quite imagine.  And then again, I couldn’t imagine in 2001, when cell phones were forbidden to be used in classrooms (by teachers or students) that they would someday be used pedagogically as extensively as they are today.

Unrelated (but as you are starting to see, with me everything’s related!): I spent most of last Sunday knitting warm things for Occupy Wall Street protesters, and will be returning for a few hours this Sunday.  If you’re interested, please visit the Blankets for Zuccotti Park protesters group on Facebook for more information.

My First Screencast

I made a screencast the other day on creating podcasts with GarageBand as part of my work as an Instructional Technology Fellow at the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. It occurred to me that as I learn new skills and create tutorials on various instructional technology topics that it might be helpful to colleagues at all instructional levels if I posted them on Mediated. So here is my first attempt. Podcasts have a variety of uses in the classroom, and if you’re interested in quickly learning how to create one with images using GarageBand, you can view my screencast here:

Stay tuned for more tips that might be helpful for conducting research, teaching, and living in a rapidly changing world. In the meantime, feel free to suggest topics for future tutorials.

Where Physical Ends and Digital Begins

How often do you still download a document, or go to the site of a periodical you used to get in the mail every week, and approach it as a concrete piece of the physical world?  How has the switch from print to digital affected how you engage with what you’re reading/learning?

I grew up convinced I’d been born in the wrong decade.  I always thought I should have come of age in the 60s, been a part of a set of movements that were fought by and for everyday people, had the chance to witness “real” change happening.  And it only recently dawned on me that the span of my lifetime, and that of my peers, is mind-boggling in a totally different but also unique way.  Although the technology revolution is of a different nature than that of the antiwar and civil rights variety, it is also the mark of an amazingly wild and exciting time to be alive.

I often come back to this fact: I typed my college applications on a typewriter.  Sometimes I spend whole days coming back to this idea, wondering if there has in fact ever been a time in history in which so much change has happened so rapidly.  I also wonder how historians will recount this period in time: are we only at the beginning of what is to come? When/how did this wave of change really start? What social, economic, and political forces impacted the rate and speed of digital growth?  How do schools factor into all of this?

But I digress.  Really what inspired this post was downloading my first book on iBooks. I’m a recent iPhone convert, and while a big part of why I’ve avoided getting one is related to my klutz factor, a big part of me has resisted the functionality of apps like iBooks that aim to marry the physical and digital.  If you’ve ever been to my apartment, you’ve probably noticed my monstrous bookshelf.  Even though it holds my most precious possessions, I have a love-hate relationship with the shelf itself.  I kind of can’t stand it anymore — it’s been through seven apartments with me over the last decade — and the more information I take in digitally every day, the more I want to purge my life of physical things (like my books — I can’t even believe I’m saying that out loud!!) for if I keep them, the growing intake of digital information will at some point surely seem redundant.

I can’t see myself getting rid of the well-worn tomes that my favorite high school English teacher assigned senior year, the stacks of heavily annotated political economy and education policy literature, my collections of Chris Van Allsberg books and Jacqueline Susann novels, the beautiful knitwear and fiber art books my grandmother gave me from the 70s, or the touchstone texts that guided me through the first years of teaching reading and writing in an elementary school.  But then I try to imagine what my iBooks library will look like a year from now — surely there will be more than just one volume sitting on my virtual shelves. So what happens to my actual books?  Will I end up purchasing them digitally, too?  Will my book collection become a retro conversation piece in twenty years?  Will my urge to purge anything in the physical world that I maintain a digital copy of grow? And related to my work: how can public elementary schools possibly keep up?

I went to a presentation at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting this year in New Orleans about the national education technology plan.  It was a fascinating symposium that went through a brief history of how the internet has affected students and learning throughout the U.S., and spent a lot of time explaining the plan for the near future.  All sorts of innovative ideas were shared about the impact technology is having (and could potentially have) on education, and the capabilities teachers have at their fingertips.  The catch is: only if there’s funding.  And at this point, the federal education technology plan puts the pressure on the states to back the plan with dollars to make it happen.  Of course we all know what’s happening with state budgets: they’re being slashed, and things like education are taking a huge hit.

So in my eyes, we’re at a real crossroads.  It’s not a clear-cut crossroads or even a fork in the road exactly — while I’m framing my thoughts here in the context of two distinct bodies (physical and digital), I see them as necessarily tangled.  I think a period of time will continue for a while in which most of us will kind of fumble now and then when we try to use an app that replicates something we’re already knowledgeable of tangibly (i.e., a book), but that eventually, the digital world will no longer seem to replicate (or try to imitate) the physical in the same ways.

I have so much more to say about this, but it’s the first week of the semester and I’m completely spent.  More tomorrow.