Monday, May 30, 2011

eBooks and Education

The significant presence of eBooks in education is manifested simply but profoundly in this one experience: Upon beginning to Google "eBooks," the phrase "eBooks in education" appeared as a suggested search before I made it any farther than "eBoo." Clearly, this is a major industry, or, at least, there is a major push for the use of eBooks in education.

The Dr. Scavanaugh education technology webpage says that "it is now possible to have a library in every classroom or even in your pocket." Consider the import of such a capability! Just three years ago, as a senior in high school, I was in classrooms with insufficient textbooks; in some classes I couldn't even take my books home to study. In English class the classroom's several bulky copies of Webster's Dictionary sat in a shelf in the front of the room, available to two or three students at a time, and only if they were willing to make the walk. eBooks, stored on portable devices that are growing increasingly less expensive, can provide stores of knowledge that were previously inaccessible to money-strapped public schools.

There are scholarly sources that discuss the use of eBooks in secondary education, as well. In her article, "eBooks--Ready for School Libraries?" Marjorie Pappas discusses the advantages and limitations to eBooks in education, citing copyright laws as a major hindering force at this time. The advantages, of course, include greater accessibility and greater portability.

The renowned Christine Weber, suggests that eBooks might be used especially with gifted and advanced readers to provide great interaction with the text and a more personalized learning process ("Promoting Reading: Using eBooks with Gifted and Advanced Readers").

The vast majority of scholarly sources I found through the ERIC database regarding eBooks and education indicate that using eBooks in the classroom would be beneficial. Of course, it isn't easy to reform the way education has been handled for hundreds of years (with print resources), but eBooks provide many advantages that can't just be ignored.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Visual Arts and James Joyces' Dubliners

  • I'm going to use MLA Bibliography in order to research any visual arts associations with James Joyce's Dubliners to help classmate Ashley Nelson with her research.
  • I'm using MLA (Modern Language Association) International Bibliography, a "detailed bibliography of journal articles, books, book chapters and dissertations."
  • I did a simple search on the MLA site with the phrase Dubliners AND "visual arts." This search only pulled up two results, but I considered that a good thing.
  • Loss, Archie. "Seeing is Believing: Literate Visuals and Visual Literacy." Pennsylvania English 14.2, Spring-Summer 1990. 14-27. Web. 27 May 2011.
  • I actually could not access the actual article for this source, but it could be available through interlibrary loan. I am confident in the relevance of this source by the descriptors associated with it. The descriptors for this article that are relevant to my search are "James Joyce, Dubliners, relationship to visual arts, and pedagogical approach."
  • Ashley Nelson is diving into Dubliners, hoping to view it from various perspectives. A pedagogical perspective is one interesting way to look at a book, and because visual arts in the classroom is something that has come to interest me, and she helped me find a source for my research, I thought this would be of interest to her.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Dreams Can Come True": Why Wilson Rawls Would Believe in Visual Arts in the Classroom

  • I am using a database to learn more about Wilson Rawls, hoping to discover how he felt about elementary and secondary education and how he would feel about the use of visual arts in literary instruction.
  • Literature Resource Center (LRC). "Provides access to biographies, bibliographies, critical analysis, and web resources of authors from every age and literary discipline."
  • I simply typed "Wilson Rawls" into the basic search found on the LRC database website, and the first source I found worked with what I was looking for, so I didn't have to do an advanced search. 
  • The source is actually just an incredibly short letter from Wilson Rawls to "those who want to be writers," stating that dreams can come true and the way to become a writer is just to keep trying. Though this does not directly address visual arts or even education, per se, it reveals a lot about Wilson Rawls' personality and his attitude toward learning.
  • Wilson, Rawls. "Dreams Can Come True: A Special Message from Wilson Rawls." Idaho Falls Public Library (12 Sept. 2001). Rpt. in Children's Literature Review. Ed. Scot Peacock. Vol. 80. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 May 2011.
  • Wilson Rawls wrote a letter to those who want to be writers, encouraging them to write a lot and not worry about making mistakes.
  • Because I assert that using visual arts in literary instruction is beneficial for students of language arts, and I further assert that this technique would be especially useful in the study of Where the Red Fern Grows, I wanted to know how the late author, Wilson Rawls, would feel about this. Just based on this letter, I can tell that Wilson Rawls understood that there are many ways to achieve the same end--expression.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Forum Post

 I just posted this thread on the English Teachers Chatboard. Hopefully someone responds...

"Visual Arts in the Literary Study of Where the Red Fern Grows"

I am a senior English Teaching student at Brigham Young University, and I am currently taking a class that focuses on writing about literature in the digital age. This class have given me the opportunity to research aspects of an independently chosen novel that are relevant to me. As a future teacher of language arts, I wanted to focus on an old childhood favorite, Where the Red Fern Grows.

Through my research I have become highly interested in visual interactions with the text; that is, I have come to believe that a language-only reaction to Where the Red Fern Grows (a written or oral response) falls flat when compared with visual arts reactions. Written responses (including Facebook and Twitter feeds) are often, "It is such a sad book." Visual responses, I have found, are much richer. (See

Now, here is what I would like to know. Have any of you had any experience with teaching Where the Red Fern Grows in your English or language arts classroom? Did you incorporate any visual arts into the lesson plan (including pictures (painted, taken by a camera, whatever), sculptures, videos, etc.)? Was it beneficial in the students' interaction with the story? Any thoughts, ideas, or experiences will be greatly appreciated.

The Legitimacy of the Importance of Visual Arts in Reading Instruction

  • My purpose is to search the WorldCat database to find articles linking visual arts in reading instruction to literacy in order to legitimize my claim that, sometimes, particularly within the context of a book such as Where the Red Fern Grows, visual arts are a necessary component of a language arts classroom.
  • WorldCat. This is "a unified catalog of research libraries and public libraries throughout the world." It is "updated daily."
  • In the WorldCat search box I entered the phrases "visual arts" AND "reading" AND "literacy." This search resulted in 68 sources found. Scanning through them, I discovered many valid sources, but I was most interested in the Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research. I could not get full digital text directly through the BYU website, but I was directed to Google Books, where I was able to get a full-text preview. Once here, I scanned through the index until I found a chapter that seemed especially relevant to my interests. Chapter 13, "Visual Arts and Literacy," was such a chapter.
  • Zoss, Michelle. "Visual Arts and Literacy." Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research. NYC: Guilford Press, 2009. Web. 25 May 2011.
  • This article is about the integration of visual arts and language arts into one communicative curriculum within classrooms. The article mentions that visual arts is common in elementary instruction, but it could also be beneficial in secondary instruction because it is a natural means of communication that coincides with written communication.
  • The article is extremely relevant to my research because a) I am interested in the use of visual arts in secondary education and b) Where the Red Fern Grows is a novel that I believe is best explored using, as Zoss puts it, "multiple means for communication," which technique is legitimized in this article.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A New Pedagogical Passion

I decided to major in English Teaching because I love to write, I love to read, and I love to teach. Frankly, it is a major perfectly suited to my interests (besides my interest in money). I did not go into English Teaching because I felt strongly, at the time I determined my course of study, that visual arts is underrepresented in secondary education core classrooms and should be a serious part of language arts study. My research on Where the Red Fern Grows, strangely enough, has converted me into a visual arts advocate.

While searching ERIC, "the world's largest digital library of education literature," through the Harold B. Lee Library's website, using the boolean phrase "visual arts" AND "language arts," I discovered some highly interesting articles that indicate the importance of incorporating visual arts into a child's learning, even from an early age.

One such article, "Literary Instruction Through Communicative and Visual Arts," by Chia-Hui Lin, suggests that "using visual arts [including dramatic performance, comic books, television viewing, and more] in literacy instruction motivates students to become involved in the communicative arts [reading, writing, and speaking]."

Now, this pertains more to students learning how to read and write than it does the junior high and high school students I will be teaching. Nevertheless, this principle transcends the confines of age: If a student enjoys learning, more learning will take place. I have been blogging recently about how visual arts is an excellent way for readers to express their interaction with a text, especially with a book as emotional as Where the Red Fern Grows. Clearly, though, visual arts can do more than that. They can inspire students who aren't naturally into communicative arts to become interested in written expression because that written expression is interwoven with visual expression. Why make learning, even learning literature, one-dimensional!? Not only is that beneficial, it is disadvantageous for our students.

Yes, I believe that using visual arts in literary instruction can benefit students of secondary education in ways that have not been fully explored. I am going to continue to research the topic while exploring ways that teachers have done just this in their units of study around Where the Red Fern Grows.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reading Aloud with a Knot in My Throat

When I'm an English teacher, I will probably have many opportunities to read literature out loud to my students. In my daily reading practices, though, the vast majority of my reading is silent. So, as I finished up reading Where the Red Fern Grows, I decided to challenge myself (emotionally) and read the second-to-last chapter--the tear jerker--audibly with a reading buddy.

For the record, I didn't cry. But my voice did get a bit strained when I read how Old Dan took his final breath with one last thump of his tail and a longing look at Billy. It wasn't easy to voice aloud Little Anne's devotion even unto death to her buddy, Old Dan, and Billy's heart-wrenching reaction to the deaths of his dogs.

Interestingly, reading the chapter out loud did more than expose my soft spot for a couple of good, loyal dogs. The text, which I have frequently admitted isn't masterfully written, sounds much more beautiful when spoken than when sounded only in my head. I'm not saying Where the Red Fern Grows is poetry, but it is written precisely as it would be spoken by a man who spent his childhood in the backwoods of the Ozarks, a man with a beautiful story that is perfect in its simplicity.

Creating visual art to represent interaction with the book is kind of like reading it out loud. It takes on a new, third dimension. Art is like the intonations in the reader's voice. Art is like the knot in my throat, a near-tangible demonstration of how the novel moves us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Connecting with Teachers, Part II

These e-mails should speak for themselves. Finding student art might be tricky.

Connecting with Teachers

I feel bold. Contacting Israel Sanchez was one thing, but contacting a teacher who posted a Where the Red Fern Grows art project online four years ago for her middle school class is even scarier. Why'd I do it? It's cool to see how professional artists have visually reacted to Where the Red Fern Grows, but I want to see how the target audience uses art to express their interaction with the text. So, I need to go to the source. Here's the e-mail I wrote:

Mrs. Braxton,
I am an English Teaching major at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. I am currently taking a class called Writing Literary Criticism in the Digital Age, and I'm doing a project (via my blog) on visual art responses to Where the Red Fern Grows and how they tend to more closely convey the emotions experienced while interacting with the novel than do written responses.
While researching the topic, I stumbled upon your website. I recognize it is from 2007, and perhaps a lot has changed since then, but I was wondering if you have any examples of student art based on the book that I could see. With the appropriate permission and citation, I would love to display some of these pieces on my blog for my classmates and other scholars to see.
The project you designed for Where the Red Fern Grows looks wonderful. Thank you for your time and your consideration.
Amy Whitaker

I'll probably use almost the exact same e-mail (with minor necessary changes, of course) to contact other instructors who have used art as a way to explore Where the Red Fern Grows with their students. Hopefully I'll hear back from someone soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ekphrasis: Exactly the Opposite of My Last Few Posts

In my creative writing class, our assignment for today was to write a poem based on a work of art. Lately I have been posting a lot about using visual art to convey emotions experienced through reading literature, but I had to do the exact opposite to fulfill this assignment, which has led me to this conclusion: Art understands art, and using different mediums to explore the same concept provides exponentially greater depth to the concept at hand. Anyway, here is my poem and the piece of art off of which I based it.

A Freedom

It is the second.
God comes second to our Voice.
But this choice is the heaven in the wrinkled hand.
This choice wrinkles the rosary
and smooths the conscience
and rocks the mind of the dark-haired man
who is highly logical, with his
hand on his chin and
no rosary in his hand.

Are those wrinkles evidence
of your devotion?
Emotion wrinkles the age spots that dictate
the course of action that runs
according to your conscience.
God-fearing protestant,
head bowed in humility,
eyes on the heaven of her wrinkled hands;
God-fearing Catholic,
head raised in confidence,
eyes on the heaven of her three-man God
who makes all men free.

Each has hands.
Each has a choice that
comes second to our Voice.
It is heaven and it smooths and rocks and wrinkles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What We See Isn't What We Say

Compare this:

"Where the Red Fern Grows" by Marilyn Hoff Hansen
Idaho Fall, ID Library

And this:

"The blue tick hound was like the Pritchards, mean and ugly" by Israel Sanchez

To this:

caroleodell: Watching "Where the Red Fern Grows" and trying not to cry. <Impossible>
Bananaelf: Where the red fern grows is such a good book. I admit it I cried :)
D_Penderhughes: Haven't read a good one since six grade (Where the Red Fern Grows) great book....sad rite lol
I daresay that the visual representations are much more demonstrative of the emotional intensity and depth of Where the Red Fern Grows. To almost everyone with whom I discuss the book (which is a lot of people these days), I mentioned, "It is incredible. I tear up all the time." But really, who cares? It's a sad story, but it is so much more than that.  Sometimes what we see and what we feel when we engage with the book is impossible to put into words. Sometimes images just do it better. I don't know my exact direction, but I want to look more into this. Why is other art so much more capable of describing literature than literature itself.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Illustrator Israel Sanchez's Response

Here is Mr. Sanchez's response to my e-mail. I am incredibly impressed by his generosity and his understanding of the importance of collaboration. What a wonderful, professional artist.

I thought I'd go ahead and provide just a taste of Mr. Sanchez's work. I'll provide more of his art and analyze the significance of his artistic contribution to (or remix of) Where the Red Fern Grows in posts to come.

Some May Call It Corny...

I call it classic. It is lines like these, as dramatic as they are, that make Where the Red Fern Grows such an emotional read for me:

"Men," said Mr. Kyle, "people have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they'll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don't.  I may be wrong, but I call it love--the deepest kind of love." -p. 184 Where the Red Fern Grows

If you don't get a little knot in your throat from reading that, you probably don't know Old Dan and Little Anne. Or maybe you're just more of a cat person.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Using Art to Interpret Art

**Spoiler Alert** If you don't already know the story of Where the Red Fern Grows, don't read this blog; go read the book!

 Sprinkle Butts by Canopener Sally, 2009

While exploring others' blogs, reviews, and other forms of commentary on Where the Red Fern Grows, I've been a bit frustrated by their redundancy. Almost everything I've read goes something like this, "What a sad book." Then, the elaboration on that statement forks in one of two directions: "It is absolutely beautiful; what a wonderful tale of love between a boy and his dogs" or "I'm so sick of sad endings. Why do the dogs always have to die?"

This frustrates me because these words are completely insufficient in conveying the complexity of the emotions that I experience as I read the novel. In fact, even my own commentary on it would be insufficient. I could write an essay singing praise to the story (and probably admitting that it's really not especially well-written), but even my most flowery language could not recreate the emotions that readers encounter.

Art is different, though. Particularly visual art. As I looked at Israel Sanchez's art inspired by Where the Red Fern Grows, I saw an interaction with the text beyond the surface reaction of "Wow, that was sad." I would even say that Sanchez enriches the novel with his drawings because he legitimizes the simplicity of the diction and syntax by creating something beautiful out of it. This is what I want to see! I want to see that others feel the way I do about Where the Red Fern Grows. That's why I have been asking everyone I encounter if they have read the book, then interrogating them when I discover that they have. That's why I plan on reading the final heart-wrenching chapters of the book out loud with a reading buddy. I want to know that others feel what I feel.

Surely Mr. Sanchez isn't the only individual who has created visual art in response to Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, there are a couple of movie adaptations of the book that I intend to view and analyze in the context of an art form. I want to find art inspired by the novel. I'll ask teachers for student work. I'll Google search until my eyes twitch. I want to know that I am not alone in my deep love for this book, and I feel that visual art holds the key to this quest.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Letter to Another New Hero

Here is my letter to illustrator Israel Sanchez:

Israel Sanchez,

I am Amy Whitaker, an undergraduate in the English Teaching program at Brigham Young University. I am currently enrolled in a class called Writing About Literature in the Digital Age, where we discuss the new methods and formats of expressing our interactions with literature. At the beginning of the term, each student chose a work of literature to focus on in the context of consume, create, and connect. In other words, we are expected to "read" the work differently than we've ever read anything before (through audiobooks, e-books, reading it out loud, reading others' blogs about it, looking at others' derivations of it, etc.), create scholarship on the work that is original, imaginative, and nothing like the traditional scholarly essay, and interact with a broad online community to collaborate ideas and share our scholarship on the work.

My book of choice was a childhood favorite, Where the Red Fern Grows. I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered your art that you did for the book for the Picture Book Report project. The illustrations provide a beautiful and nontraditional interpretation of the book that I find thrilling. I am interested in sharing some of these illustrations directly on my blog, but I wanted to make sure I have your permission. You will receive appropriate credit for the work, and I will provide links to your blog and website.

Thank you so much for your beautiful artistic interpretations of one of my favorite books. You have somehow portrayed both the childhood whimsy and the deep emotionality of Where the Red Fern Grows, which I find absolutely inspiring.

Thanks again,

Amy Whitaker

My Letter to a New-Found Hero

Today I discovered a website that will greatly enrich my experience in English 295. It's even going to enrich my life. demonstrates everything we're learning about the evolution of the consumption of books, and it particularly addresses how we create based on our interactions with text. In a very brief nutshell, the Picture Book Report is a collaborative effort of fifteen illustrators to craft artwork as a response to their favorite works of literature and then share them online. Meg Hunt, the leader of the effort, calls the project, "an extended love-song to books."

When I saw that one illustrator, Israel Sanchez, had crafted art for Where the Red Fern Grows, I felt as though I had struck gold. When I saw that the art was beautiful, I was overjoyed. This is exactly what I have been looking for.

I'm sure I will have many posts that result from this wonderful discovery. Below is an e-mail I sent to Meg Hunt. I will soon contact Israel Sanchez to ask his permission to share some of his work directly on my blog. Until then, I encourage you to visit his page on the Picture Book Report website.


I am an undergraduate in the English Teaching program at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, and I am currently enrolled in a class called Writing about Literature in the Digital Age. The basic premise of the class is that we live in an age when literature is consumed, reacted to, and shared in new and ever-evolving formats. Your picture book project is fascinating, beautiful, and reflective of our heightened ability to share our creativity (which is inspired by the literary creativity of others) through digital media.

At the beginning of the term, my professor asked each student in the class to pick a work of literature to consume (study), create (inspire us to craft substantial "scholarship" on the piece, including blogs or other creative venues), and connect (share our ideas and creations with others and encourage feedback). My choice was a childhood favorite, Where the Red Fern Grows. Needless to say, when I discovered Mr.Sanchez's magnificent artwork, I felt as though I had struck gold. Your entire project addresses how the experience of literature can be expressed through formats other than the traditional scholarly essay and enriched by digital collaboration. I will be contacting Mr. Sanchez myself to thank him for his art and to ask his permission to share it through my own blog.

Thank you,

Amy Whitaker

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Wonders of a Physical Classroom

Today in my creative writing class I was put on the chopping block. And I loved it. In that class we take turns having our pieces workshopped, and today was my turn. I sat back and listened to my classmates’ feedback. What they had to say about my essay was beneficial for me, but their suggestions went beyond just words. I could gauge their sincerity by their body language. I could hear in their intonation exactly what they were saying. My classmates’ even had the opportunity to (respectfully) challenge one another in their assessments of my paper with instantaneous—and sometimes inaudible—feedback. It was a wonderful environment of interactive learning, and it all took place in a traditional physical classroom.

Now, this may seem to contradict what I said in my recent blog post regarding the magnificent opportunities that technology can provide, sometimes replacing face-to-face interaction. In fact, I specifically mentioned the practice of peer review, or, as we call it in my creative writing class, workshopping. So, yesterday I suggested Google Docs as a preferred format for peer review, and today I am suggesting that there is no replacement for the traditional method. And I am not going to retract either statement.

Teaching is, and always has been, the art of not only knowing the material, but how to teach a particular lesson in a particular situation. There is a time and a place for technology in the classroom. There is also a time and a place for physical interaction. There are benefits to both, and I believe it is absolutely necessary that teachers and students remember this.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teachers vs. Technology

In about a year from now I hope to be a professional English teacher. My experience with middle and high school English was wonderful (or I probably wouldn't be going into that field), but it was almost completely void of technology. Occasionally I would make a video for a project. Every once in a while we would do a traditional research paper with a little bit of the research on the internet. Besides that, we sat around and talked about books, or we got out our paper and pencils and wrote some solid five-paragraph essays.

Teaching methods are changing. This is obvious. Many teachers are embracing technology and allowing it to enrich their classrooms. Some are resisting. My classmate, Ashley Nelson, bookmarked an article on the future use of Google Apps in public schools. While my initial response should have been, "Wow, that's awesome! I wonder how I will be able to incorporate that into my teaching methods to benefit my students," it was instead, "Dang, that sounds like it will take a lot of effort on my part. Is it even worth it?"

I know. I'm a terrible person. I have taken plenty of technologically-rich classes in college, and I have seen how technology can benefit pedagogy. Maybe it's because of my experience with technology in the classroom that I am so aware of how difficult it can be to implement. Every new technology that we believe will benefit our classrooms is worth exploring, but we can't expect smooth sailing from the infancy of our digital experiments.  And if something just doesn't work, we need to be willing to drop it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Digital Collaboration in the Classroom

I'm an Assistant Learning Specialist for student athletes at Brigham Young University. My role is primarily to help students who are struggling academically learn how to learn. While we participated as a class in the brainstorming session via Google Docs, I realized that this could be incredibly useful for a particular football player I mentor. We'll call him Bob.

Bob doesn't care much for writing. He's a hard worker, but he likes to get in, sit down, and write what he needs to write. Often, though, he gets frustrated when his ideas just aren't coming together. I usually work with him before he turns in a rough draft of a paper for Writing 150. We pound out a paper (all his ideas and words, for the record), then he turns in the rough draft to several of his peers. After he gets this feedback, Bob can finally work on his final draft.

This is an incredibly disjointed method of writing for a student who desperately wants to do his best writing, right then, right there. One mentor, even though I'm quite a confident writer, is not enough collaboration; the peer contributions to his piece are useful, but they are too delayed.

Why not use technology to rectify this problem? Why not use Google Docs, or any other digital collaboration tool, to help Bob clean up his ideas on the spot? How wonderful this instantaneous feedback would be for a student who wants things done instantaneously! The status quo condemns Bob's natural writing methods. The status quo says that Bob is wrong to want to sit down, right his stuff, stand up, and go play football, free from lingering thoughts on the paper he still has to complete. As writers, it might be hard to understand why Bob struggles so much with the process. Non-writers wonder why it has to be so drawn out. Technology can help us bridge the gap between the need to go through the entire writing process--including peer workshopping-- and the desire of many to write a paper and be done with it.

Goodreads Review on Rainbows End

I am not a fan of sci-fi (which, I admit, is probably the primary reason for only two stars...sorry for the bias). This book does, however, have some great things to say about what it means to be a citizen in a digitally-saturated society. I quite frankly didn't care much for or about the characters or plot, but the connections that can be drawn between the characters and plot and our contemporary society are highly intriguing.

Women Aren't Where the Red Fern Grows

I'm reading Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows for my personal text for English 295. At some point I know I'm supposed to focus in on literary aspects of this book that I want to explore (though I'm not completely sure what the encompasses yet). Nevertheless, something significant about the book just stood out to me, and I thought I'd publish it here to see if any other Where the Red Fern Grows readers have thoughts on the topic.

On page 146 of a novel that only has 212 pages, I learn for the first time of the existence of a living grandmother in the story. The grandfather's role in the novel is major from the beginning to the end, but not once until page 146 is his wife mentioned. Also, Billy has three little sisters, all of whom are frequent recipients of Billy's generosity and admirers of his dogs, but not much else. His mother is a perpetual worrier, constantly concerned about Billy's safety. There isn't much depth to her character at all. In fact, there is no depth to any female character in the entire novel (unless you count Little Anne, Billy's dog).

I love Where the Red Fern Grows, so I hate to see in it something so unappealing as what I've just pointed out. Am I just being a feminist? I don't think so. The women are inarguably flat. I'll love this book no matter what sort of sexism I uncover, and I think this might be a topic I want to look into further.

How to Read Remix, Thus, Creating Your Own Remix: A Step-by-Step Guide

Lawrence Lessig is on to something in his work, Remix. My interpretation of his most blatant theme is probably skewed by my bias as a future teacher, but I see it as this: Remixing (taking others' work and building upon it in a community of sharing that is greatly enhanced by more reasonable copyright laws) is highly beneficial to education, whether it be formal education or lifelong learning. This overview of Lessig's work is completely my own interpretation; in fact, I put my own educational spin on it that Lessig might have never intended. I just created (a completely copyright-appropriate) remix. I was able to do so because of the method I took in consuming the work. I did not read it front to back. Here is how I did it how you can remix your own remix:

1) Skim over the online version of the book, primarily looking at the chapter titles and section headings, reading through his introduction, and glancing over some anecdotes.

2) See what wikipedia has to say about the work. Click links that teach you about the author. Glance over summaries of some of his other works.

3) Go to and look through what others have to say about the book.

4) Look through others' blogs on the book using Google's blog search feature.

This method of reading a book takes away the author's connection with the readers, which is why such a method would be inappropriate for many texts. For Remix, though, it was perfect. I learned what I needed to learn, and I was able to learn it in the context of what I care about rather than what the author wants me to care about.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tag, Grandpa! You're It!

My grandpa is nothing like Robert Gu. He eats technology like that horrifying machine eats books in Rainbows End. But he has a bad case of indigestion.

Over the weekend at my brother's wedding, I took a lovely picture of my Grandma and Grandpa at our home near Dallas, TX. (See below).

Cute, right? Grandpa inspected the picture immediately after I took it, and, upon finding it satisfactory, he said, "Great. Make sure you send me a copy." Grandpa is my Facebook friend, and, knowing how much he loves technology, I said, "I'll just post it to Facebook." He was unhappy with that suggestion, telling me that he doesn't know how to save files from Facebook (and, to his credit, the picture quality does generally diminish), so I was directed to just send it via e-mail. A couple days later I sent the e-mail, with a little note attached mentioning that I had also tagged the photo on Facebook. Grandpa wrote back, "Well, I don't know what tagging something on Facebook means, but I'll ask your cousin in the morning." Grandpa has had his Facebook account for at least a year.

At first I was flabbergasted. How can he not know what tagging means? The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how complex our digital vocabulary is. If I hear a technological term that sounds advanced (or even if it sounds as though it would take a lot of explaining), I just ignore it. It is easy to refuse to explore the intricacies of technology. Grandpa didn't know what tagging a picture on Facebook meant, but so what? He is still a useful and productive (and hilarious in a Michael Scott from The Office sort of way...or Carl from the movie Up (notice the resemblance)) citizen.

If my grandpa never gets past his adoration for Angry Birds to more advanced uses of technology, his attempt to embrace the culture of the digital age will still be impressive. But for me and anyone viewing this blog, we have been immersed in a society that requires technology as one means of communication, without which our communication will not be as rich and full as it can be (see classmate Ben Wagner's blog post, "Digital Interaction is Real Interaction"). That isn't to say that non-digital communication is unnecessary or even subordinate (I would argue that it is of utmost importance), but digital literacy is a form of literacy that cannot be overlooked for those of us hoping to make an impact on our world in this digital age.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Life is One Big Remix

Lawrence Lessig's Remix is interesting on many levels, but to me, this is one of the most significant: The average individual (one without large stakes in the copyright industry) is bound to agree with what it says. In a nutshell, Lessig argues that copyright wars are senseless and extremely damaging to children who are born into a culture that inherently compels them to break those laws (which they don't understand); therefore, copyright laws need to be modified.

Our culture is one of consumption. It always has been. And now that our culture is saturated with technology, we are destined to consume technology with gusto. We do. In fact, this very class, English 295, encourages my classmates and me to consume, create, and connect (see Professor Burton's post, "Traditional Literary Study Breaks Down in the Digital Age"). This cycle of consumption, creation, and connection--which is actually quite natural for those of us reared in the digital age--leads to layers of information that pile up on top of the original source, creating richer material and a greater depth of knowledge. In other words, we consume knowledge more thirstily than ever before--how exciting for teachers and scholars! And we contribute to knowledge--also incredibly exciting. This is remix. This is natural. Life isn't some disjointed collection of separate ideas and events, it is a symphony of layers and overlays, intersections and interminglings. Unfortunately, adding our ideas to copyrighted ideas is, in the improper context, against the law.

Maria Popova, curator of the blog Brain Pickings, summarizes Lessig's argument neatly: "[E]ncouraging exclusivity of access is inconsistent with the ethics of our world, the sort of paradigm that lets knowledge wither in the hands of the privileged" ("Lawrence Lessig on the Free Access Movement"). Read more:

I'm seeing major connections between Remix and everything we're learning in and doing for class. Knowledge shouldn't be bought and sold; it should be shared. Funny how our consumer culture advocates copyright laws that contradict our inherent urge to consume. That isn't to say anything goes is a good philosophy in regard to copyright (see the Wikipedia summary of Lessig's proposal to reform copyright laws), but it does pose some interesting questions. Why must we struggle so much with laws that we don't understand when we aren't trying to make a profit off of our intellectual internet exploits? Shouldn't we be able to garner knowledge and share what we learn in peace so long as we aren't ruining others' livelihood?

According to my classmate, Matt Harrison, Convergence Culture reiterates Lessig's ideas in Remix (see Matt's blog on the topic). Matt mentions that, as copyright laws are implemented in various situations, our digital consumption evolves to conform (as loosely as possibly) to those laws. But our culture is one of sharing, one of consuming, one of creating, so why do we have to work so hard to do so legally?

I don't have good answers to the questions I posed in this blog, and I'm sure that there is much to be said about the necessity of our current copyright laws. From all I've been learning from English 295, though, these laws are counter-intuitive in any society that values knowledge.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mile-High Wi-Fi

It is a cliche that has been repeated so many times in recent years because it is inarguably true: We are more connected now than ever. This morning, at 4:30 a.m., I was in the Salt Lake City airport on the way to Dallas for my brother's wedding, and I felt the need to check my e-mail. No problem. I whipped out my laptop, got connected to the SLC airport wi-fi, and I was set.
Even in the airplane, cruising at 35,000 feet, I could have surfed the web from my seat in the sky (if, of course, I had been willing to pay $9.95...what a rip off!). But this made me think--as almost everything seems to do these days--about Vinge's Rainbows End. In the book, society's dependence on technology is vividly illustrated when, due to riots and various other dramatic happenings, the characters lose connectivity and are unable to cope. Clearly, we aren't too far from this already. When my airplane landed in Dallas, all passengers over the age of 10 and under the age of 80 reached immediately for their cell phones, and the release of tension was instantaneous. Technology doesn't even seem like technology anymore; it seems like a necessary part of life.

And, to illustrate this point, here is a creepy, yet intriguing Daft Punk video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Blog is Not...A Bump on a Log

And neither am I. So how do I translate an active life and an active mind into interactive learning?

The mighty blog?

Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End does not specifically address the power of the mighty blog, but the book does address the necessity of intellectual collaboration, and my conversion to this concept is coming. I can feel it. I am Robert Gu before his own baptism by the fire of interaction (though the comparison makes me blush). I have preferred independent learning over anything that could be truly beneficial for my classmates and me.  I've been stingy. By refusing to share my ideas, I've been a boring bump on a log. But now I am calling myself to repentance.

Collaboration is our language of learning. Just ask Lawrence Lessig. In his work, Remix, Lessig argues that the opportunity that students have to consume and consider others' work, particularly through technology, is essential to their learning. Moreover, it's natural. Lessig quotes Hosler as saying, "Every high school in America needs to have a course in media literacy. We're buried in this stuff. We're breathing it. We're drinking it constantly."

Both works that I have been reading demonstrate the benefits of collaboration. Why was Robert Gu such an unappealing specimen before he learned to learn with others? Community is essential to education in this technological age. So why have I been trying to learn in a bubble? I cannot be content sitting stagnantly on a log that is being worked into a boat, a chair, a roller coaster. Age-old methods of learning are dying, and to survive, I need to add my mast to that boat, throw some varnish on that chair, and buckle up as I take a ride on the roller coaster of interaction.

How will I make this change? The mighty blog. This is a genre I vow to figure out. And tomorrow, I'll do better. Tomorrow I will create a blog that is not a monologue. One step at a time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Don't Read Me; I'm about Technology!

"Ah, Miri, you read, but you don't understand." Sometimes while reading Vernor Vinge's  technology-dense sci-fi novel, Rainbows End, I feel as though these words from the Mysterious Stranger to Miri could easily be directed toward me. It's not that I lack the reading skills to understand the book; at times, I just lack the interest. This book has some excellent things to say, and I'll get to them later, but right now, as I'm on page 304 with 77 pages left to go, caring about the plot is taking a concerted effort.

I'll be completely honest. I took a peak at Vernor Vinge's picture in the back of the book: This was my first grave mistake. But I wasn't looking for a romantic flame here; surely I could overlook the inch-thick glasses, mustache, and receding hairline in the name of good literature. After this thought came my second grave mistake: I read Vinge's brief biography. This novelist is not a literary man--he's a mathematician and computer scientist! Impostor! So, yes, I immediately formed a bias.

And then, there is all the futuristic technology. I love the internet. I love my cell phone. Do we really need another book predicting the radical societal changes that will come as a result of the exponential growth of our technological capabilities? I'm more of a take-it-day-by-day sort of girl when it comes to technology.

Alright, I've done my complaining. Now I am going to be a cautious advocate of the novel (cautious because a large part of me still sees it as silly, with fluffy dialogue and a dissatisfying lack of imagery). Vinge is not just predicting the future--that would be presumptuous and irrelevant--he is commenting on the present. I mentioned the metaphor of looking at shadows rather than looking to reality in my last post. Vinge recognizes we are a society of shadow watchers, and he illustrates this through the exaggerated shadow watching of a more technologically advanced society. Their brawls are fought in cyberspace; our wars are viewed over the television. Their communication is often through smings or with projections of people; our communication, too, is rarely face-to-face. The question Vinge poses, the question of what we are becoming as a result of our infatuation with technology, is relevant. True, I prefer books about almost anything other than a technologically-saturated society in jeopardy, but at least Vinge has something to say.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jump Roping and Rainbows End

I should have never looked at the shadow. Looking at the shadow was my downfall. Moreover, it was my own shadow--my unique joint creation with the sun--that slowed the workout and sent my jump rope smacking into my shins. When I should have focused on the real rope as it circled around my jumping body, I instead looked to the shadow rope, and while it was an almost accurate representation of reality, it was off just enough to throw my groove.

As I stood there, holding the jump rope and catching my breath in the warmth of the sunny parking lot, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the physicality of my existence. The air was still, the birds were singing, and Utah finally felt like spring. It looked like spring. It smelled like spring. Why had I looked to a shadow when I had an entire world of reality around me? And, as if to prove to myself that I am, in fact, an English nerd, my thoughts immediately drifted to Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End. The characters in the novel look to shadows--overlays of reality--so often that they forget what is real. I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm over two-thirds of the way through, and I anticipate this inability to differentiate between what is real and what is virtual, this inability to see shadows for what they really are, will lead to blunders more grievous than the jump rope against my shins.