Being bilingal triggers more semantic reflection

Being fluent in two languages means one has two language frames to interpret situations; inherently one thus has more reflection – according a recently published research paper.

This makes it obvious what would happen if we’d only learn one language and outsource our additional language capscities to technology.

Leaving Facebook to keep your info from the US security services

Samuel Gibbs writes: “The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen’s data. The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.”

How to evaluate technology use in education?

Michael Trucano wrote a long article on the topic of how to evaluate technology use in education. He tells us that utilizing randomized control trials (RCTs) “are consider a sort of ‘gold standard’ by many in the education research community.  A working paper from the the Inter-American Development Bank (DB), Technology and Child Development: Evidence from One Laptop per Child Program in Peru, has been a notable exception to many of the research reports about educational technology initiatives in developing countries that have employed methodologies that haven’t been particularly rigorous, and which have often focused on things like changes in attitudes, and perceptions of change, among groups which have been involved in various ways with such projects. There is nothing necessarily wrong with evaluations that make extensive use of things like self-reported data, of course, but the limitations of such efforts should be pretty clear as well. RCTs can be quite expensive, and difficult to do, and, depending on the circumstances at hand, there may well be other research approaches that are more viable and useful. That said, by attempting to set up and assess the results from an RCT, the IDB working paper exploring some of the potential impacts of the OLPC project in Peru has been widely cited by many researchers with serious interests in this area, and has in many ways helped raise the bar for what is expected by many international funders interested in supporting other rigorous research efforts of this sort.”

Trucano adds: “For those not familiar with the writing style and notation conventions of academic works of these sorts, these working papers may make for tough reading at times. In some cases, the papers may raise more questions than they perhaps answer, and the careful language with which conclusions are presented may frustrate policymakers looking for clear, unambigous insight into what the ‘impact’ of various types of interventions may be. (The reality of work in this area is typically much messier than what is portrayed in the marketing brochures produced by both vendors and governments alike.)  That said, many people who make decisions about large scale investments into the use of ICTs in education would do well to take some time to read through the studies and familiarize themselves with the approaches and language which characterize reports and analysis resulting from the use of research methodologies which utilize randomized control trials.”

Media education back to its roots

In the Dynamic Identity workshops participants – (young) adolescents – are asked to draw a Selfie that should never come into existence. The Selfie may only concern the way they look, their surroundings/ context or may concern both.

As can we expected quite a few girls – and boys – drew themselves with a bad hair-day or just after waking up. Some, on the other hand drew themselves on a naturist beach or at a funeral. But over one-third of all participants drew themselves in a situation of violence, war or, more concretely, in front of a crashed plane – sometimes specifically the MH17 – the Malaysian Airlines airplane that was downed when flying over east Ukraine, or with Islamic State beheadings at the background.

One might argue that this was a provocative response by the participants involved but quite a few of them explicitly requested whether their drawings could be destroyed after the workshop session – or simply destroyed them themselves.

A few times a provocative drawing was indeed produced – a self-portrait of themselves as Hitler for instance – but this was always accompanied with shy probings whether this was OK and whther there would be no consequences. None of these provocative drawings were ever shown by the particpants involved to the workshop group as a whole.

The external settings did not seem to evoke provocation, rather contemplation.

While media education specialists seem to focus on the dangers of the Internet maybe we need to reconsider the essence of media education. Shouldn’t media education start with providing instrumens to make sense of the world around us and not leave youngsters with these ultraviolent images without reflection?

Identity or identities?

If the European Dynamic Identity workshops – conducted by Beata Staszynska and me – show one thing it is that nowadays (young) adolescents do not possess a default biographical narrative on themselves that pours out when prompted. Neither did any of the adults involved in the workshops display such biographic narrative.

In times before the Internet social scientists like Anthony Giddens postulated that we create throughout our lives a story about ourselves that answers the question who we are. The story was supposed to conform to quite a few prerequisites like being not too far detached from reality, being consistent and being the only story that one would tell about one’s self when asked. For Giddens, as for many others, the mission of our human  lives was to build the best possible narrative – if needed by means of therapy.

Zygmunt Bauman argued that in these modern times (“liquid times”) in which everything changes so fast that no habits or reflection can emerge, our identities no longer resemble a jigsaw puzzle that we try to create out of the jigsaw pieces that were handed out at birth as constituting elements of our identity. Rather, in these liquid times, we are reconfigurating the given jigsaw puzzle pieces all the time to create temporary identities that respond to external challenges.

In our workshops we defaultly asked the question: “Who are you until now?” The question was to be answered by the workshop participants (N=262) on the spot, being alone in a room with one of the instructors and facing a recording camera. The participants were not aware of the question or the setting before they were taken out of the main workshop space and guided to the room with the camera. The question: “Who are you?” off course is the default question about one’s identity. We chose to add “until now” because we wanted to find out if Bauman’s concept of liquid life in which identities are dynamic could be evoked.

After the recording the participants were familiarized in the remainder of the workshops with theory on identities (mainly Goffman) and with film theory (mainly on frame sizes, backgrounds and the necessity of each object in a frame having a meaning). Then they were confronted with their own recordings that were displayed by means of Augmented Reality. Finally, they were invited to answer the question: “Who are you until now?” again, but this time as the director of the resulting video.

The first thing that is apparent is that very few participants repeated in the second version their original answer, verbatim or in a slightly altered form. This is amazing given the pressure to be consistent that youngsters currently experience.

The second thing that was noticed is that the answers most often provided seem to be culturally determined. In the Netherlands youngsters most often answered the question with their names, in Poland more often with some of the roles that they fulfill (“I’m a student, I’m a sister/ brother”).

The third, and maybe most obvious feature of this workshop element is that almost no participant could watch themselves without emotions of shame and embarassment. The shame and embarrasment were even anticipated by quite a few when they started to realize that the recordings would be shown in the workshop. For some (between 5% and 15%) this went so far that they demanded that the recordings were not shown at all – but only in the Netherlands.

The emotions of shame and embarrassment seem inconsistent with Gidden’s theory of us possessing an ever more trueful narrative – although it could be argued that embarrassment and shame were signs of a realization that the current narrative was still far from satisfactory. In this respect it is interesting to notice that adults experienced very similar levels of visible shame and embarrassment.

Beata Staszynska and I provided in parallel to the Dynamic Identity workshops get-togethers in which we asked the question: “Who are you until now?” in a group setting. Unlike at the workshops the participants (N=118) were asked one-by-one to respond with the others present. What happened now is that the first person to be asked would react puzzled and freigthened. And would, after some contemplation, come up with an answer. The following individuals would then, typically, provided an answer that was framed by the answer of the first participant. So, if the first participant would state their name and age, so would a vast majority of others after them. If the first participant would state their name and a role they play (“I’m a student.”) or a hobby, so would almost all others. Only once a group showed a more varied pattern.

It seems logical to ascribe this result to group pressure. Bruce Hood (2011) would probably go so far as to take this as evidence for our lack of Self and for the existence of a self illusion only. The situation does seem to confirm Bauman’s idea of identity as a reconfigurable, temporary jigsaw puzzle outcome. Given external demands, most (young) adolescents seem to respond flexibly to external challenges.

Once we noticed this we started implementing both elements in the workshop setting, only to find out that the answers given in the group setting prior to the individual setting were completely different from those given later in the individual setting, even though there was only less than an hour between the two events. In the group setting the answer given would resemble the frame as provided by the first person to answer but in the second setting this frame was absent. The answers in the two settings had very little in common. Again, this seems striking given the cultural norm of consistency.

Our interpretation is that the different settings indeed triggered different challenges to define one’s identity, just as Bauman tells us. Rather than possessing one consistent narration (young) adolescents possess identity elements, or labels in the frasing of Stone & Heen, that they use in various combinations depending on the external challenge.

What is unknown is whether this was always the case or whether this is a new phenomenon.

Augmented Reality activism – #SHEasHE

Practical uses for MS HoloLens: porn, design, instruction, smart home gaming


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