“Father or Fanatic?” Digital Propaganda Unit Project

Pro Lenin from ISSH on Vimeo.

Pro Lenin from ISSH on Vimeo.

I have been fortunate to work with the ISSH Grade 10 English teacher on a unit project which combined the learning goals of both the Pre-AP Grade 10 Russian Revolution Unit and his unit based on  Animal Farm . This project has evolved from one that Adam Seldis, Adam Clark and I collaborated on in 2012. I first tried this project in Theory of Knowledge and blogged about the results. However, after redesigning the project based on my first experience, I found this version of the project much more useful and the results were much better.

The Russian Revolution Unit Project assignment sheet and rubric are included here.

The assignment was introduced by showing two short sample videos in which opposing sides were shown of the same historical topic. All of the information was based on historically accurate materials. In English class, the teacher taught students propaganda techniques that they would then use in the videos. Students were given one double period each week for three weeks to work. Their projects were presented on the final Thursday. We divided the students randomly.

We offered several topics related to the Russian Revolution Unit from which they could choose. Each team chose a topic, like Lenin or Stalin. They then partnered with one other group and then took a positon, Pro-Lenin or Anti-Lenin, for example.

This project went well.

We wanted the students to think critically about how to use digital media to create a piece of propaganda based on historical research. We instructed the students that they should use either a Google Doc, Diigo, or another resource where they could compile and store images and articles. We believed that the strongest propaganda pieces could use the same images as the opposition but slant the interpretation of the images using music, voiceover, text, and placing the image within a swquence of other images. To support this, one class period was designated as time for collaboration between two groups with the same topic. There were healthy, ongoing discussions as to which images the two groups would agree to use. It was stipulated that the images could not be photoshopped. However, students could use almost any other editorial method to shape the meaning of an image. The two Lenin videos included above show how students made the most of these tools.

Based on their editing, selection of images, music, text, graphics and pacing, Grade 10 students are aware of the methods used by advertisers and entertainers to communicate with consumers. These projects demonstrated that students can selectively and cleverly adapt what they have seen and heard for their own purposes. This project should help students to take the next step and be able to cognitively organize what they know by using the terminology of propaganda.

We wanted students to see these historical actors and events from the point of view of a Soviet citizen or leader who would want positive representations. On the other hand, the same historical actors and events could also be seen from the point of view of a Western government or a Soviet dissident. Further, both points of view could be in play at the same time but to different audiences.

I liked this project as part of a Pre-Advanced Placement (AP) or IB course. This further prepares students to look for additional layers layers of meaning when they are evaluating primary and secondary evidence.

In AP History courses, historical analysis questions like this are common and the best students can see each piece of evidence from more than one point of view. In AP United States History (APUSH), historians frequently spar over the contributions of figures like Andrew Jackson, Robber Barons and Richard Nixon. While in AP European History, we must assess the legacies of Martin Luther, Klemens von Metternich and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others.

We also wanted the students to review Fair Use and Public Domain from the first semester.

From the student surveys, we are learning how to make this project better for next year.

One area that I would especially like to work on is how to effectively include the bibliography and Fair Use credits in the project. Students have tried including this information in the credit roll at the end, but it is hard to read. Some groups have inserted this information in the summary box that goes with each Vimeo video, but that takes too much space away from the thumbnails for other videos. I will need to ask colleagues who assign similar work for advice.

The second area for reflection is which images and film clips are appropriate. One or two groups used a few images which might have been from Germany instead of the Soviet Union. I think that, in the future, students should be required to use images that they are reasonably certain represent the topic and time period.

If you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along.

Garry Leroy Baker


Cold War Mashup Projects: The Results


This week my Grade 10 students completed their Cold War Mashup projects. I will include two of the 20 final projects here as samples. I learned a lot from the students by teaching this project.

I had planned for students to turn in their final project on blank DVDs so that I would have a reliable copy. That turned out to be time consuming. Not all of the file types (.mp4, .mov) would play on my Mac, so that slowed my ability to assess and report back to students. Next time I would give the students a window of two or three days in which to have the projects uploaded to the school’s Vimeo account. From there I could embed or save a copy to my own drive.

I also learned that I could use reliable DVD-ripping software. Students usually began with video files downloaded from Youtube or Quicktime screen capturing. The results were sometimes not as clear as they might have been if they could have started with their own video file. I have started to ask for software suggestions.

I will have project premiers in class this week. It will be valuable for students to have their videos screened for their peers and receive feedback. I would also encourage everyone to upload to Vimeo and generate traffic so that more people can respond to their work.

I will also want to continue to coach the selection of text font, subtitles when needed, colors, and including establishing shots. Most of these projects could be improved with some refinement in one or more of these areas.

Finally, when I assign this project again, I would include one lesson in which we watch a short movie. It might be Chaplin or Mickey Mouse. The purpose would be to note the ways in which directors use film to tell a story.

Overall, I was pleased with the results and the skills that students practiced while I coached in a flipped style. I look forward to doing more with this in the future.

Garry Leroy Baker

Play, Question, Learn

The final Grade 10 topic is the Cold War. I had thought before how play and experimentation could be guiding philosophies for this unit. I built upon an earlier post about creating mashups by assigning the students a unit project in which they create either  a mashup or remix to tell part of the Cold War story. I wrote the rubric and assignment sheet based in part on the work of Andrew Churches. I will post student samples when they are complete.
I made a sample mashup using Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl which I have embedded at the beginning of this post. So far it has gone well. Partners are exploring cartoon archives for public domain material while cross referencing what they find with what they know, and need to find out, about the Cold War topics they have chosen to illustrate. It is an opportunity for them to explore, experiment, and be creative with content and media in a new way. As a flipped assignment, I provide coaching or guidance when I am asked and, occasionally, when I see that a word of encouragement might be good. The students are playing constructively for these three weeks in a setting in which content is the vehicle for practicing questioning, self-directed understanding, and communicating effectively with video. As this New York Times article points out, trying can sometimes be more valuable than extensive planning and history teaching can sometimes be more valuable as a compass than a map.
 This American Revolution role-playing game is the type of activity that I enjoy running in my classes. With a flipped approach, students can use the activity to better understand what the factors were which may have changed an outcome in history. Sometimes I am divided on what I think of the flipped philosophy. I wonder; was assigning textbook readings a flipped approach we used in the past? It was. However, teachers always had to choose from four or five major textbooks and try to adapt our dynamic lessons, and students, to the static readings. Now, I can create resources with my students in mind.  I am familiar with what they have already learned this school year and in a previous year. I know some of their common references, and can refer to those. That I think is the real advancement.
A friend says that the best PD workshops do not teach you something new, but instead remind us of what we know we should be working toward. Like ESL in the Mainstream, planning instruction using a video game model fits that description. I will be trying to include their graphic structure to teaching and learning. One area that I would like to be teaching better is multiple choice for external exams, like Advanced Placement  (AP). The College Board advocates an open enrollment approach to AP classes; if a student wants to be in class and will work hard, he or she should be permitted to take the course. I agree with this approach. My AP European History and AP United States History courses should be designed to work with students for whom English might be a second or third language, this content is relatively new, and are balancing a busy schedule and class load. I found something I could use using video games as a structure.
Perhaps a student could take the first diagnostic MC test and that score out of 40 or 50 possible could be the “starting point” from which we track progress. Incremental goals could be set. For example, for Unit 2 we could agree on a 10% improvement over the Unit 1 score. Further, each student could agree with me on what would constitute an A, B, and C with this approach. With the way that I weigh the essay portion of AP tests, the writing could take a similar approach but would be more holistic and identifiable skills, rather than content, could be the focus.
One thing that I appreciate about teaching at ISSH is that the admin team supports experimentation by the teachers. I work with many teachers who are accomplished in their fields. The admin team encourages teachers to innovate and experiment. That can help make the school an exciting place to teach.
If you matched Flipped Classroom with New Culture of Learning, you would have video links or video lectures for homework with the class time dedicated to simulations, writing, or the creation of new research questions that students could then pursue with the teachers’ resources or online materials. In my Grade 10 class, the current unit is China:  Opium Wars to Cultural Revolution. I keep materials linked to my wikipage for students to explore and during class I answer questions or provide other support, if needed. Otherwise, students are teaching themselves and each other, the content. I have been short writing tasks to help them better understand important changes with Mao. Students do ask very good questions. Lately, these are a few of the questions I have been asked:
–Was it true that Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalist army was exhausted from fighting the Japanese Army (1939-1945), so that it was too weak to fight Mao’s Red Army when the civil war resumed in 1945?
–Why did Mao pick Hua Guafang as his successor if Hua was associated with the Liu Shiaxi’s anti-Mao moderates during the Cultural Revolution?
–Was Emperor Puyi the son of Emerpeor Guangxu?
These were all questions that I had not heard before and could only suggest answers. I keep two good China books on hand, Spence’s Search for Modern China and Chang and Halliday’s Mao: The unknown story.
It was summed up well by Thomas and Brown in their interview with Forbes:
Part of the point we try to make in the book is that inquiry is not about asking a “right” question, but it is a process of asking increasingly better questions. And I think we would say that the best questions are the one that ignites a student’s passion and cultivates their imagination. And it is very easy to tell when that is happening. When students have passion and enthusiasm, it is infectious and impossible to hide.
This is an approach worth developing.
Garry Leroy Baker

Project Based and Challenge Based Learning

I have been thinking about Project Based Learning and Challenge Based Learning for several months. It has been in the past two weeks that my understanding of how each can be applied well has improved. I began with sorting some real-world examples:

Project Based Learning examples would be Sarah Outen’s epic adventure, Model United Nations (MUN), and, a few years ago, when I wanted to learn how to use my South Korean driver’s license to acquire a Japanese license without taking the written test and the driving test. A person wants to learn something that will help them to do something else.

CBL: What can you do for someone else today?

Challenge Based Learning would include Jody Williams land mine campaign, ISKL’s work with the Turtle Conservation SocietyNepal Seeds, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Second Harvest Japan. These are individuals and groups who look for solutions that they can implement themselves.

Mayuka Thais visited our high school this week as part of Earth Day activities. She became active in helping to raise funds to move elephants from zoos to sanctuaries several years ago. This music video is one of several projects that she has worked on in addition to speaking to audiences in the US and Japan.  I appreciated the work that she is doing and it gave me an opportunity to speak to my Grade 10 students about a chance they have to step from Project Based to Challenge Based Learning in May.

This is the UbD Plan for the CBL extension activity. It has some general wording because each group will begin with research on a different topic and choose different goals.

Project Title:  CBL Action Plan

Standards Met: NETs

1. Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students:
a. apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
b. create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

2. Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.

d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

3. Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:

c. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

4. Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

b. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.

c.collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.

d. use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.

Enduring Understanding:

Individuals can choose to make changes if they select issues they are interested in and take action that is within their abilities.

Essential Questions:

What can I do to make a positive change?


Goal: To make a positive change

Role: Plan, organize, implement

Audience: Will vary. Primarily students, family, and friends in Tokyo and Japan.

Situation: You have been invited to plan and implement an event or activity in which you can bring positive change.


1) Research and presentation on a topic of interest. Past student research topics have included:  clean water, teenage prostitution in developing nations, mangrove forests.

2) A viable plan which would bring about a positive change.

3) Culminating video

Standards or Criteria: Did the plan make the changes desired?

Six Facets of Understanding:

Explain: Draft plan which outlines the goals and methods each project group will use.

Interpret: Students look at other examples of Challenge Based Learning provided as general models for their own action plans.

Apply: Students design and implement a solution to a problem that they have identified from their research projects.

Have perspective: Students look at their own resources to see what they can do.

Empathize:  Students see the issue from the viewpoint of others and anticipate how to reach and mobilize others to meet the plan’s goal.

Have self-knowledge: Students reflect on how successful their projects were in combining the resources that they had available and their plan to make the change that they identified.

We have about five weeks left of this semester for the students to complete the CBL enhancement. I imagine that, of the nine groups, all will design actionable plans. Depending on the reach of each of the CBL plans, perhaps two to three may implement their plans. I will include samples of students’ action plans in a future post, and videos which may be finished. Primarily I see this as a chance to try this approach and learn along with the students.
Garry Leroy Baker

It Takes a Village: Full Tech Integration Plan

Jennifer Anderson’s blog post was a great overview. I liked the analogy she created between IT and the way sea life can use camouflage. In class, people should not notice whether a presentation was created in PowerPoint, Google Docs, or Prezi if learning takes place. If that is the goal, how is it attainable?

We have all come to agree that it is the responsibility of everyone in the school community, teachers, technology and media staff, administrators, and heads of department, to teach to NETs or other appropriate standards. We cannot rely on a technology or computer applications teacher to prepare students to use software or online applications. Just as appropriate moral values or academic standards are taught and modeled by everyone, teaching technology belongs to all of us. So the question is how to ensure that the standards are being met with cohesion? By cohesion, I mean that it becomes so integrated and unified with the original school structure as to appear camouflaged.

While everyone has a role, each position has a different role and is in a unique position to support student learning and classroom instruction. I am interested in how this would work in a school with 600 students (K-12) in which faculty and administrators have the advantage of innovating quickly but may already be serving in several roles. These are the ways in which I envision each person applying their potential strengths in order to fully integrate technology into learning.

Technology Integration Specialist (TIS)-based approach was novel and should be incorporated. Tom Johnson’s blog made a good case for why this person should be on staff and how they could both lead and support faculty and administrators in integrating technology. This was thought-provoking because I would have first thought of this person as being the Head of Media Technologies or belonging to that office. This model appears more flexible. This person, or persons, could be related to the office or, perhaps more appropriately, be a teacher who also fills this role. A teacher would maintain the daily experience of teaching and innovating with technologies available and might be easier meet with if the TIS were also part of a department, like Social Studies or Science.

A Head of Department (HOD) could might make a good candidate for ITS. They are experts in the content area, are familiar with the visions and values of the school community and would recognize when integration would clash with a school value, as Nick Bilton suggests, with time for reflection, prayer, and mediation. HODs also could coach teachers in how to rethink teaching methods and potential outcomes with 1:1, Project-Based or Challenge-Based Learning, and other innovations. Since HODs work daily with teachers in their departments, it could also be a person that teachers respect and are willing to share stories of successes and failures along the way.

Teachers, working within the school-based team, will be able to bring useful technologies into the classroom in several ways. For example, the Edutopia article came to the real value of technology integration, “…effectively integrated into subject areas, teachers grow into roles of adviser, content expert, and coach.” This is where educators can serve. Lecturing has some benefits for some students, but those students will ask for explanations when they are ready. The myriad approaches to the Flipped Classroom philosophy supply examples of how teachers can teach effectively this way.

However, not all technologies fit the model. Too often, Smartboards and their cousins are used as a new kind of lecture tool, involving only the teacher or perhaps one student at a time. The Student Response Systems referred to in the Wikipedia article on technology integration also sound limited in how much decision making is in the hands of students. E-portfolios are a step closer, if the content and skills were student-driven. Teachers will need to work with the ITS, other teachers, HODs, and the IT department in order to evaluate technologies before and after adoption to see how they fit the SAMR model.

For teachers, the guiding philosophy is primarily to add resources previously unavailable to most classrooms. In my case, that might be access to archives, original documents as in the FSA project, or historians and scholars through Skype or email. The technology available becomes the way that teachers and students can access these resources, analyze the materials, and display and publish results.

Teachers will want to explore online content to possibly modify and adopt for their own students. I was impressed with Prof. Edward L. Ayers’ course The Rise and Fall of the Slave South  at the University of VirginiaLooking through his materials, it was clear to see how the SMAR + TPCK model could be applied to teaching a unit in high school history that would create an opportunity to do the work of historians using online and print primary and secondary resources. This was a good site for understanding sources both tools for students and teachers to use and the accompanying interviews with scholars, unique in history teacher resources.

I found the SAMR to be a useful guide to thinking about which projects begin to reach the event horizon of technology integration, after which you teach in a true student-centered, project-based learning environment without wanting to go back to teacher-centeredness. I will be using SMAR with this technology matrix as a guide for planning upcoming units. Like good Understanding by Design, it is helpful to ask yourself questions as you go along in the planning and revising stages of units.

Ultimately, it is not the technology that teaches. We teach by knowing what the grade-approprite content and skills are for our students. We read journals in order to remain current with the content of our courses. We should also be exposed to, and be experimenting with, new applications like infographics, CIS applications, and video, for instance, in order to better see how each can support student learning.

Students can offer their assessments of how technology integration is going. We often speak of the students, but may not speak often enough to the students for insightful feedback that informs planning and implementation.

Administrators and principals are visionaries and managers. They see the whole student as part of the whole school and his or her own family. With this position, they can liase with parents and faculty. Principals and heads of schools generally know a school community well and understand its values. They would be the ones to help ensure that the technologies and methodologies that are adapted continue to generally fit the spirit and values of the school. This is very important. These are the team members who support the school’s founding vision and values in the long term.

Vertical team building is an element that Jeff Utecht highlighted in Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom, he offers clear guidelines that administrators and Heads of Department can use to critically evaluate how technologies are being used. This style of vertical team building is important step for success. There are activities which may appear cutting edge, which, when evaluated correctly, are old things in new ways. Teachers who create projects which are new things in new ways, the ultimate goal, might not be noticed because what they are presenting does not have something eye-catching, like a Vimeo link. This criteria guide would help administrators and Heads of Department see past surface appearances to recognize what is being accomplished and then evaluate on merits. It would also give feedback to teachers in order to better help them to see when their projects or activities are making the most of the resources available

Technology in the classroom should be like windows: we see past the media to the information and gain better understanding of the concepts. Just as children ask for books but what they want is a story. Lessons in class can be optimized by merging the right technologies and activities.

Garry Leroy Baker

UN Secretary General Ad Campaign

The assignment that I gave to my students was to create a 60-second ad. The ad would support or disparage the candidacy of a current controversial world leader for the fictional election to the position of United Nations Secretary General in 2012. Student groups were given the assignment sheet, rubric, and shown an exemplar that I created with Adam Seldis and Adam Clark. I also referred students to two Mitt Romney ads. Students were required to use factual information only but present it to support their view of the candidate that they chose.

This is the assignment sheet that I gave to the students.This is the assignment summary for teachers that my group created and the rubric.

The group that created this ad spent some time viewing campaign ads for the 2012 Russian Presidential election. They borrowed some of the feel of those ads which targeted younger voters. Overall, I thought that their use of text, music, images, and wording were cohesive in creating the overall message. They have met the assignment’s challenge to make a leader, who can be seen as unpopular in the West, appear more viable.

When I use this assignment again, there are a few modifications that I would make. The first would be to specify, or ask the groups to specify, the target demographic. This ad appears targeted to 18-24 year old females. It might be a greater stretch if the assignment specified 60-75 retired men and women pensioners. There should be greater emphasis placed on citing the sources of the photos and music. That is a good digital habit that we all should practice. I had originally presented samples that used voice-over for narration. I think it would give the fictional ads more impact and substance, but I would like to think about that more before I make the decision for next time.

Garry Leroy Baker

Update a Blog

It is time to consider how to contextualize all of my posts over time by developing the header, theme, widgets, fonts and colors of the pages. I looked at over twenty well-known sites with the belief that I would find some of the best graphic design available online. As I took notes on what I saw, it became clearer to me what I prefer as both a consumer, and creator, of online media. I began by reading the criteria and the judges comments for the Top Blogs of 2011. These were good goals to consider, and to set, as I considered design elements. The following video is my summary of how I would revise my blog and the description of the sites that inspired me are discussed below.

It was productive to first look at sites as whole messages before considering individual elements. I loved the idea of presenting information “above the fold”, a concept from the newspaper field.  The core idea was that the the most important or gripping information should appear on the top half of the physical paper since this would be on which a newspaper buyer would base a purchasing decision. This T-shirt company had a great blog. As the Top Blogs judges said, everything you need to see is available at once above the fold. By clicking the topics, you were drawn down into the rest of the stories, or the below-the-fold zone. I liked that each story had an image on top. That hat made me interested in reading more of the pages. This also helped with navigation. I found that I preferred the simplicity and statement of the larger header image to start. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) also used this approach for some of its rotating headers.
If an above-the-fold model would help my communication best, then the header is the first element to consider. While each designer created a unique page for each customer, similarities quickly became apparent. The best headers were large, usually colorful, and frequently dynamic. The SWRVE site is a super example. Again, the MOMA site was great. One of their rotating headers included the logo which appeared in a vertical slide, followed by the main image which was assembled from three or four vertical pieces. It was a memorable piece of work that I would try.
I found a few great rotating headers and occasional videos. The fading rotating header at Sueddeutsche, though an ad, was cool. I liked the blue background and the close up, above the fold, photo of February 17, 2012. Though not a good fit for my site, sometimes custom headers really stood out. One of the blogs that received praise from judges was For the Love of Nike. How did she make theheader? It looks like a photo with the blog title over the top. How do you change fonts from the set offerings? Quirky site but still formatted well and the colors and graphics help to make it memorable. The Jaguar site was similar. Great, large image that rotated with above-the-fold presentation. Harrod’s incorporated three, large colorful images and easy navigation along the top. I admired the banner for BBC. It was clean, red, and the mildly abstract globe communicated modern and comprehensive.
Widgets are one way readers may interact with the site.The New York Times format easily integrated their widgets. The element I would adapt for my blog is the Global Spotlight section in the upper right. Two headlines scrolled left every several second with small navigation buttons. I see that the BBC had the horizontal scroll on the upper right which linked to video features.
Theme, or setting, was the final element that I considered. Overall, the Versailles site uses many elements that would be valuable to model my own blog after. It has great colors, seasonal photos, and images that make me want to look around. I did not like the HSBC site. It was a lot of text with little information from the font, colors, or images.
I would like advice on color. I would like bright colors and white space to show them off. Speaking of color, Tiffany’s Valentine’s site set off a great shade of red against white. The rest of the year, though, it appears that they use their signature color to set the tone. The site for the Paris Dakar race had several good elements. It included a great, above-the-fold photo which made me want to follow the links. Easy navigation along the top and earthy colors suggest desert and mountain, rugged racing environment. Interestingly, no motorcycles or race vehicles appeared above the fold. I am impressed with Jeff Utecht’s Twitter homepage. He has crafted a background with an easy-going photo of himself positioned on the far left, white background. He was clearly aware of how to best include a photo of himself considering how a Twitter homepage is formatted. This created an environment that many Twitter accounts lack.
With these samples in mind, I am ready to contextualize my postings.



Cyberbullying: Bob’s (not) your uncle

Cyberbullying is an important topic for school communities to address. As several writers have demonstrated, teasing and bullying have been areas of concern for decades. Strategies have been put in place to discourage, identify, and address instances when it occurs in or out of school. The exponential factor is the internet. As Ruth Ingulsrud clearly explained in her post, it is the use of photos, videos, and text, combined with the ease of use and mass distribution, that teachers and families are learning to address.

The best perspective I have heard is to continue to focus on the behavior and to not be distracted by the technological layer. Taking away the computer or phone would push a kid to continue by other means. There have been good resources shared which can help. One is from Carnegie Mellon University and is designed for elementary or junior school students. Carnegie Cyber Academy has various animations which teach students about responsible digital use and digital citizenship.

As with all behaviors, it is essential that parents and teachers model and coach what is appropriate both in person and online. Students recognize inappropriate teasing, sexual harassment, and bullying between faculty and in student-faculty interactions. If there were a teacher or specialist who became known to students for publicly inappropriate behavior at school, students and other teachers could expect corrective action to be taken. That would be in line with having an anti-bullying policy that was being enforced. However, what if a teacher were to appear to continue with inappropriate behaviors without any apparent censure or correctives? It would be easy to see how some students would be tempted to interpret this as de facto license to abuse others. If it appears that teachers and administrators are actually powerless to curb abuses on campus that occur in plain site, will students be more willing to take a chance to bully other students online? I hope not. There will never be a valid defense for bullying.

We must model what we teach.

Garry Leroy Baker

Links: Carnegie Mellon University,  Carnegie Cyber Academie, Cyber, Stuart and ScoutRuth Ingulsrud

Can’t swing a cow…

Inactive links

Hyperlinks are everywhere. Hyperlinks, or links, are in blogs, academic journals, news articles, and online reference materials. I have found them so useful for illustrating my writing that I wish that I could add links to short notes that I write on paper. As I read more about links, I began to wonder if they are more useful or distracting?

I think Viviane Van Esche demonstrated the utility and time-saving convenience that links can offer teachers. She used links as substitutes for marginalia and as signposts to direct students to videos or other supplements. Zoe Page found links very useful with younger students who may have had difficulty with typing long URLs. (I, too, prefer a link to typing a URL.  Typos are common.) IT’s Elementary used links to find additional dinosaur resources for her class. She then used the dinosaur database to begin a discussion with her students about the usefulness of links to connect people and resources that are in physically distant places.

Hyperlinks as a concept can be illuminated by physical examples. The Art Institute of Chicago show Hyperlinks:  Architecture and Design was based on borrowing the hyperlinks concept and applying it to architects and designers whose works range across media, function, and materials. A review by Chicago Tribune writer Blair Kamin took us through the show which sounded thoroughly modern, visually exciting, and human in its concerns. However, architects, sculptors, and designers like Isamu Naguchi and Frank Lloyd Wright worked widely in the early and mid-20th century. What Canadian Architect emphasized was the recent addition of biological research, social and environmental concerns, and new transdisciplinary practices to the mix. What the show appears to present is a new frontier in which many fields are in frequent conversation. This creates more hybrid projects. This is closer to the power of online hyperlinks. We can now create and share hybrid projects that are neither text, graphics, video, nor anime. Hybrid projects are better able to elucidate our ideas to others.

Surprisingly, I found criticisms of hyperlinks. The arguments appeared to have some merit. Nicholas Carr described an experiment to unlink and the reasons behind it. One criticism was that my use of links encloses, rather than opens, the world of the

Does everything require a link?

reader. The reader follows the links that I include, but this discourages the reader from trying any independent checking of the claims. If I include links to reputable resources like The New York Times or BBC, I think most readers would feel that the facts checked out. The reader should instead be encouraged to test my understandings and interpretations for himself by finding their own resources, the argument goes.

Carr claimed in his book, The Shallows, that research indicated that the use of hyperlinks decreased, rather than increased, information retention compared with text without links. Links can be great distractors and interruptors to reading. We may follow links the break our concentration on the main ideas of a text. We might also follow links out two or three steps, run out of time, and never return to the original article.

Would links be an improvement?

To avoid the distraction, but retain the usefulness of links, publications like The Economist are only using links at the end of a story in a footnote style. Foreign Affairs Magazine and the US State Department take similar approaches. However, the Council on Foreign Relations used about two links per paragraph in the article that I checked. The idea of minimizing the number of links in the text was attractive and the initial evidence reasonable. I think I will try it and see what difference it makes.

Garry Leroy Baker


References:  Viviane Van EscheNicholas Carr, Blair Kamin, Zoe Page IT’s ElementaryBBC, The Economist, The New York Times, Isamu Noguchi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Canadian Architect, Art Institute of ChicagoHyperlinks:  Architecture and Design, The Shallows, Foreign Affairs, US State Department, and Council on Foreign Relations.

Photo credits:  Cow Menu by GLB, Pumpkin by GLB, and Stone Sutra Tablet by GLB


What do people think of when they see your name?

Bill McKibbenMark Bittman. Faliero Masi. Mother Teresa. Don MortonKim Cofino.

When I read descriptions of branding and how to begin branding your own skills, these names came to mind immediately. They are individuals who are very clear on what they stand for professionally.

If this is what branding means, then I am not sure if I would support a planned introduction of branding in the middle or high school years without reading more research. Based on Erickson’s development model, in Stage 5 teenagers are forming identify by reconciling their inner and outer selves. As I understand it, good branding is a combination of deep reflection on who you are as a person and professional combined with a clear understanding of what you are already good at in your personal or professional life. Young people may be necessarily preoccupied with working these issues out for themselves. This may not be an appropriate time for them to choose long-term professional images. If they do, it may result in a trail of internet wreckage from attempted, and abandoned, brandings until they find one that is suitable. Also, we do not yet know all of the consequences associated with mixing cognitive development with the internet. Research has shown that there may be links between weak Stage 5 development and internet addiction. It is not that young people are not currently working on ego identity online. Many are. It may be better to allow young people the freedom that comes with more lighthearted experimentation and discovery than to add a task that can wait.

What do you stand for in your online presence?

This is a great question because it asks you to reflect on what you stand for in your physical presence. The two should be seamless if there is to be sincerity in how you present yourself. Knowing who you are is vital to personal and professional success. I think of David Letterman, for example. Now an established TV entertainer of nearly 30 years, things originally did not go well. His first opportunity was a morning TV show in 1980. It lasted about four months before being cancelled. The lesson I have always taken from this is that you must a) know who you are and b) you must find your audience (or help them to find you).

Creating opportunities for students to do history and practice the art of history is how I would describe myself and it is how I would like to be known. However, I think it could be made more specific.

Should you put your name everywhere?

One branding idea that I had been thinking of is based on my interest in project-based and activity-based learning from Grade 9 through the Advanced Placement history and social studies. A few teachers have discussed, over the years, abandoning traditional college textbooks in the AP classes for more concise books like that offered from AMSCO. It would create more opportunities for hands-on history, which I find the students remember clearly two years later.

I will give it more thought before I commit. If good branding means that people will associate your name with a philosophy or approach, I want it to be the right one for me.

Garry Leroy Baker

Photo Credits:

Casks by GLB

Pepsi Phone by GLB