Category Archives: baylor_nms_s10

Passionate about technology – lessons from a student

As we wind down to the end of the semester (well, honestly, it’s winding up…), I am in the middle of grading a giant pile of final papers for the Personality Psychology course I teach. As always, there are a few brilliant gems that stand out of the pile and amaze you. This semester, one of my more brilliant gems is a literature review of personality traits and online multiplayer games (MMOs). The student wrote a strong paper that was well-developed, organized, did an amazing job of covering a very sparse literature, and most importantly, that you could tell she was passionate about. She talked about which personality traits are most linked to developing an interest in MMOs and, even more interestingly, how individuals create characters within the framework of MMOs to both express and explore their own personalities. It was a delight to read, which is sometimes hard to find at the end of a long, exhausting semester.

But seeing the joy on her face as she discussed her project was the largest success I could ever ask for as a teacher – to give a student a platform in which they can engage in something they are passionate about. It reminded me that technology is something that most students really, really connect with and are often passionate about. Certainly not all students are, but I have to remember as a professor that new media is such an integral part of my students’ worlds. Thus, as the professor, I must walk a fine line between engaging them in that passion and also challenging them to step outside of their own comfort zones. And that’s just it – isn’t it? New media is meant to push the bounds of what we already do! That’s why it’s sometimes received with such skepticism.

As we draw to a close on our New Media seminar, I am reminded that the important thing is that we are passionate about what we do and open to learning new things when it comes to technology. There are aspects about technology that I learned about this semester that fascinated me and others that underwhelmed me, but the point is that we are open to learning about these things, trying some of them out, and ultimately attempting to become better teachers in the process.

iPads and technology – true love at first sight?

Last night I just watched the newest episode of Modern Family, a new comedy on ABC, in which Phil (one of the main characters, a father) receives an iPad for his birthday. **Side note – for those of you not watching Modern Family, you should give it a shot. It is quite possibly one of the most hilarious things on TV.** Anyway, the whole episode is centered around Phil desperately wanting an iPad for his birthday, but his wife oversleeps and does not make it to the store in time to purchase one. So, she (Claire) is chaotically running around in order to get him one (they are, of course, sold out everywhere). Finally, at the end of the episode, Claire manages to get him one and Phil, who had previously been depressed, just lights up when he sees the iPad. There is a hilarious shot at the end of the show where Phil is caressing his iPad and telling him he loves it.

This episode reminded me of the day I got my iPhone. Embarrassingly enough, I can totally relate to Phil’s feelings about his new piece of technology. You are so mesmerized by its capabilities that it takes you almost completely out of this world and into the technological world of your device. They marvel and amaze us, but are they helping us or distracting us from living our lives? Is it ok that technology has such a hold on us? I do not know. I’m still convinced that the good can outweigh the bad, but I thought this small parody on our obsession with new technological devices was hilarious if not even a little bit enlightening. You should watch it too. Catch it on or

Can technology take us to a world outside us?

Well, I admittedly have been away from the technology blogging scene and blogging scene in general for a couple of weeks. Spring Break had me working hard for a couple days and then out of town for a couple of days, and this last week has been “recovery” week in which I have been in desperate catch-up mode. I must say, however, that I am starting to love my New Media course more and more. It has quickly become the highlight of my week. This past week we have a very lively and engaging discussion about “The Media is the Message.” After much contempletive thought on it, we decided Avatar was a good example of this and somehow skillfully brought Plato’s Cave into the picture (kuddos to Dr. Bowery and yay for a recollection of my not too-distant BIC past…).

I just wanted to write a quick snip-it about a thought or two that have been following me for the past several days. In reflecting on my undergraduate experience, I realized that my time studying abroad was one of the most best, fondest, and most character-shaping times of my life. And it occurred to me, what happens to students who cannot afford to study abroad? I mean this in a monetary and time-line sense. What if my degree plan doesn’t allow that flexibility? What if I need to keep working to support myself or just cannot afford to go? What happens then?

So I am left with this question: Can technology help take us there, and if so, how? Obviously we can never fully recreate a study abroad situation through the use of any media, but can it help? I think of my own accessibility to French newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations, and this has helped keep my knowledge of (and love for) the French language alive and well. Can we use these new media techniques to bring people into different worlds (i.e., foreign cultures)? If so, how? What does it look like? Can we bring alive language, architecture, art, people? I really have no idea, but I am on a mission these next few weeks to really “think outside the box” on what new media could potentially do for us as educators. Let us see where the journey takes me. Your thoughts are welcome!

New Connections: MMOs

This morning, I am just reflecting on all of the “new connections” made possible by the World Wide Web (and yes, I do feel like an 80-year-old saying that…). I recently watched a documentary called Second Skin which chronicles the life of several individuals who are MMO users (Massively Multiplayer Online games). Most commonly featured in the film are the online games World of Warcraft (WWC) and EverQuest. In this documentary, you see how these MMOs have affected a wide variety of individuals. Some meet their significant other through the online world and fall in love without ever having met (they eventually meet face-to-face, however). Others are dealing with such a strong addiction that they are playing 17 hours a day or more, have lost their jobs, are being evicted, and essentially seeing their lives fall apart due to their addiction to online gaming. So as I watched this film, I was constantly asking myself – can any good come of this?

I will just briefly say that my own bias creeps in when I talk about online gaming. My own experiences with it have only been second-hand, in which friends could not hang out with me or make time for the people already existing in their life due to their need to get into the online gaming world. Perhaps the most common example of this would be WWC’s raids. In these raids, from what I now understand, players engage in a sort of battle with other online players in their guild (much like a clan, I suppose). When you combine the pleasure of the game with the social pressure experienced by being part of a collective team of individuals, the need to play the game just increases. I remember one distinct instance in which a friend and I were out having a wonderful picnic I had made on a beautiful day in the park. It was one of those perfectly sunny yet cool and breezy days that rarely occur. Although we were enjoying ourselves, he had to cut it short because he had to go “raid.” At first, he wouldn’t even tell me the real reason he was leaving, but I did get it out of him. I do admit that this example is very mild of an occurrence, but at that point, I was dumbfounded as to why you would leave the beautiful “real world” to go sit in a dark room and enter the “virtual world.”
But I must admit this documentary opened my eyes a little bit. Although some people do get heavily addicted to online games, people get addicted to things every day: drugs, shopping, alcohol. If a human finds themselves in need of satisfying an emptiness or lonelinesss, they often will find comfort in a variety of things. So the first thing this documentary showed me is that gaming addiction is the same as any other addiction – it’s an issue of hurt, loneliness, and emptiness in the person CAUSING the addition, but it is not necessarily the game causing it. For so long, seeing friends of mine’s lives be negatively affected by these games made me feel like it was something about the game.
The other thing I was able to see was how positive of an experience these MMOs are to many users. It opens up a world of people you wouldn’t otherwise know who often share similar interests with. Many of the individuals seemed to benefit very positively from the opportunity afforded them by entering into an online world. One couple who met and fell in love through playing EverQuest and later started dating was one example of this. The girl in the couple was so cute when she recalled the first time she openly “flirted” with her partner online. She recollected the account as if it had happened in person, even though it was her avatar that had done the flirting. It was so interesting to see how powerful and real these online relationships are. Many of the users explained that they felt closer to their online friends than others in your life. An area of the psychology literature on this area demonstrates that online interaction often leads to higher levels of self-disclosure and honesty. I thought to myself – this must be really therapeutic to someone who does not have a person playing that role in their “real” life.
So, in short, I am still a little leery about MMOs, but I do see some of the positive benefits in them now. I started thinking – what if I used the online world to meet people who shared my interests that I wouldn’t otherwise ever know? What if I connected with others who speak French, or love to cook, or enjoy travel. I think in many ways, the virtual world allows us to escape to places we ordinarily couldn’t go. We just have to make sure we stay grounded in reality, always being thankful for what we do have but not being afraid to take glimpses into these virtual worlds. I think that’s the bottom line: let the online world compliment your life, not replace it.

Educators and technology: The possibility of a "free" knowledge market?

To begin my blog today, I have to share a couple of links that have got me thinking about how education and technology intertwine with one another to create a more revolutionary learning space.

The first is a talk given by Richard Baraniuk on the possibility of open-source learning. [] In it, he discusses the idea of knowledge being shared across online space and modified to where we can create or “rip” custom-made learning tools, much like we create our own custom-made music mixes.

Perhaps a realization of these ideas is a digital textbook by Macmillan that will allow teachers to create their own custom textbooks by reordering content, adding supplemental materials, write in the margins, etc. [ see].

The most intriguing thing about these ideas and concepts is that they make education more affordable and therefore accessible to the masses. In some ways, I think that this creation of more readily accessible knowledge is much like the invention of the printing press was in its day (thanks for bringing this point home, Gardner). Much like there was hesitation about knowledge getting into the hands of so many people and the implications for that, I think there is certain hesistancy about this open source knowledge that is beginning to be created through an online space. The hesitation has less to do with people having access to the knowledge but more about the creative rights of the knowledge and who has access to EDIT the knowledge. I think these are valid concerns that should be addressed by educators and consumers alike.

However, I see the positive in this possibility. As an educator myself, I have seen how the mere limitation of resources has prevented many of my students from gaining access to valuable knowledge. In my time teaching at a community college (versus a private University), I have had students drop my class because their funds to buy the textbook for the course did not come through. I have seen other students go through several loopholes just to get their hands on a book or resource they were dying to read. This makes me sad. Books and knowledge are the very essence of my existence, and I am heartbroken at the thought of anyone who would not have access to it. To me, books are a place to escape and find freedom. Knowledge and new ideas are the very fuel that drive me to do what I do. It’s so exciting to think a new thought or engage yourself in a stimulating discussion. I live off of this stuff and for it. So, yes, I am excited by the idea of a world where free knowledge (or at least cheaper knowledge) is shared.

But I do see the pitfalls. Who is getting paid to share this knowledge? Who is allowed to write up these ideas and share with the world? But I must say, to me, it appears that publishers are perhaps the only individuals who may be benefitting from the creation and circulation of texts (and we are hard pressed to say that, I think). I know that I write just to get my ideas out there. I’m never paid for a single journal article or book chapter I write. In fact, I’m dying just to share my thoughts with the world (and praying to the journal gods that I get published)! I think this online space could be a great way to start sharing that knowledge in another format. The peer-reviewed process, however, should never be abolished as it results in such sophisticated, rigorously tested writing. But, I think there is a space for the sharing of knowledge in an online format.

This is a post in which I anxiously await the reply of my readers. I’m curious what others thing. So, tell me!

The little "joys" and "pains" of technology

I feel like I have been gone from my blog for some time. In actuality, only a week has gone by. Perhaps this is the beginning of me getting more consumed by the things of this online world…ok, enough of that! I digress.

Today I am amazed by what technology offers up to us with a very specific example.

I am currently collaborating with a colleague in Virginia and another colleague in Nevada. I’m amazed at how easily these collaborations have come together. I have a question about my dataset – BAM! There’s an email waiting in my inbox answering my question with any files attached that I may need.

It is crazy to me to think of collaboration as happening in any other way. Heck, I often collaborate with my advisor (who is a floor beneath me) and the researcher in the office next to me purely through email. Certainly, we have our moments of meeting face to face, but the majority of our work-related communication is purely online.

As an individual who was born into this online world generation…well, almost…I certainly remember the first time we got internet in my house. Oh the sweet days of dial up – click of a button *insert annoying modem dial sound here* and in just a bit you were “online.” Of course, those were the days you had to be fully committed to searching the web because you’d be waiting forever for a single web page to load. Oh how far we have come and I can barely think of a world where these possibilities did not exist.

But this increase in ability to collaborate and the lightning speed at which all communication flies seems to mean one thing to me — I have to do more. The amount of work being done, things getting published, collaborations happening are all increasing at an exponential rate, and I cannot help but think it has something to do with the speed at which everything is happening. Think about it – you can easily edit, copy, paste, and move text around in a word file; thus, no longer giving you an excuse as to why it’s taking you so long to write that manuscript or edit that book chapter. You can quickly and easily hand documents back and forth between colleagues which means the average time something stays away from my desk = 24 hours or less. But is it possible our technologies are outrunning our intellect?

It seems to me that I rarely have time to ponder a moment or think in depth about what I want to write or how I want an experiment to look. I am just overwhelmed by the masses of information available to me (published works) and my own inability to keep up with the work I should be doing given the ease and flexibility of writing and editing documents and sending them between colleagues.

So today, I write a simple post in both amazement and weariness.

A watched society

I am now entering my second full-fledged week of my New Media course, and I have found the course to be both interesting and challenging. Oddly enough, the challenge for me lies in the amount of monitoring I feel by participating in this course. First, I had to get a blog.

“What?! Write my thoughts and feelings online for everyone to see?” I asked myself. “Isn’t a blog essentially an online diary? If so, I remember keeping a lock on those things as a child because the purpose was to keep everyone OUT!”

But oddly, these days, technology seems to invite everyone IN. The ease with which people exchange pictures, videos, comments, posts, blogs, information, articles, thoughts, etc. is astounding. Think about it. In an ordinary month (or even week), how many photos of your life have you posted on to some site for others to see (Facebook, flickr)? How many times have you had some sort of personal exchange with a friend that others could monitor (Hello! Writing on people’s Facebook wall!)?

The big question remains for me -why are we making these exchanges (blogs, Facebook posts, pictures) so public?! Sure – privacy settings exist, thankfully, but if we want to send a note to our friend that we miss them and want to see them, why don’t we send them an email or call them? Why do we put it out there for others to see? Why do we blog our thoughts and feelings so that all of our friends and families can read it? Is this narcissism or interconnectivity? If it’s the later, are we narcissistic because we think so many people want to be connected to us? What are the implications of this “watched” society that we are creating for ourselves in a virtual space? Fear not – I’m preaching to the choir. I engage in all of these behaviors, but I want to know why I do! Remember, I am a social psychologist which means I long to understand what motivates humans to engage in certain behaviors.

For myself, I am slowly getting used to the high levels of monitoring that exist online. I fought getting a Facebook account for several years, and now I have one and communicate on it regularly. I am now (mostly) comfortable with the insane number of photos tagged of me on Facebook. But now I face new levels of monitoring that I am uncomfortable with. For instance, this blog is an adjustment. Why should people be able to read my thoughts? Why would anyone care to? Also, the other day in class we had to record videos of ourselves discussing passages from a book on our iPod Nano. Why must I be documented and permanently archived in video form? I prefer my ramblings/thoughts to exist only in their purest and briefest form – while discussing them. But then I suppose you could ask what this says about me. Either way, I am intrigued to see where I end up at the end of this class. More importantly, however, I am still left with these two questions – 1) why do we engage in such a “watched society” and 2) what are the implications of this society that we are creating for ourselves?