Technology and the Construction of Meaning
Lectures, Seminars, and Whole Class Activities
Each week students will:
attend one hour of lecture
receive two hours of hands-on instruction in the computer lab
discuss the weekly topic in a seminar group (limit 20 students)
Instruction in the lab will be scheduled each week between the lecture and seminar classes
Week 1: Introduction
Lecture: Constructing Reality: Introduction to the Course
Introduce instructor: distribute syllabus. Explain objectives, general requirements, and evaluation procedures for the course. Begin course by talking about our individual and collective constructions of reality; Piaget and the schemas of young children; the influence of the environment. Explain that the course will be about the influence of technology on the realities that humans construct.
Lab: Experiencing a Constructed Reality.
Explain lab procedures. Boot disks. Introduce students to computers by having them use computer simulations in pairs. Begin computer work with an enjoyable social experience.
Seminar: Realities We have Known
Begin seminar with all students contributing. Students introduce themselves and tell where they are from and what program they are in.
Discussion: students will share early memories with the group. We will discuss common features of the memories to try to discover what a pre-school child's reality is like: possible clues: strong sensory memories, very tall adults and doorways, limited understanding of adult expectations. Do children live in a reality different from the adult one?
Week 2: Theme: Humans Define Themselves Through Their Relationships with Technologies.
Lecture: Capturing the Sun: Technologies for Obtaining Energy.
Hunters and Animal totems: Farmers, Fertility and Resurrection: Irrigation and Civilization: Slavery, Animal Power and Technology: Innovation and the Idea of Progress: Mechanizing the Animals: Do machines imply mechanical people?
Assignment: Make a list of twenty metaphors relating humans to their energy technologies: bring the list to seminar.
Lab: Begin Word Processing
Students will be given a look at the inside of the computer, and the concept of volatile memory will be explained. What word processing does will be explained: students will use the word processor to write a serial story, moving from computer to computer. Students will print out the course syllabus from disk.
Assignment: Use tutorial for the computer used in lab. Each student will write a short introduction about himself/herself using the word processor.
Seminar: Metaphors and Technologies
Discuss metaphors on the students' lists, classifying them as they relate to different technologies. Discuss how the use of these metaphors affects one's world view. How do today's metaphors compare with the metaphors of the past?
Week 3: Theme: Humans Define Themselves Through Their Relationship with Technologies.
Lecture: Answer Me! Technologies for Using Inanimate Resources
Even when using simple technologies and tools, humans have personified inanimate objects. From sacred trees and stones through life-like statues (Pygmalion) and simple tools, inventors progressed to machines with moving parts and, later, automata. The line between animate and inanimate grew thinner as machine power replaced animal power (the iron horse), behaviorism linked stimulus and response, and the use of interchangeable parts was extended from manufacturing into medicine. The computer extends the effort to create life by providing control of variable processes--in robotics, for example.
Assignment: Write two paragraphs. In the first paragraph, describe the activity of an animal as if it were a machine. In the second paragraph, describe the workings of a machine as if it were an animal. Try to make each paragraph convincing.
Lab: Continue work with the word processor
Students will continue to learn word-processing, using text formatting options and editing features.
Assignment: Use the word processor to type out both the paragraphs assigned in the lecture.
Seminar: Mechanizing the Animals
Share Pascal's description of animals as "mechanisms". Students will share the paragraphs that they have written and discuss how shifting their points of view can lead to new ways of thinking about life, intelligence and intentionally.
Week 4: Theme: Humans Define Themselves Through Their Relationship with Technologies.
Lecture: Heroes and Values: Technologies and self definitions
Heroes and their stories will be linked with the needs of their societies and the available technologies of their times. Some possible examples include:
Great Hunters and explorers Ulysses, Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Astronauts Religious Leaders Moses, Mohammed Kings Pharaoh, Louis XIV, King Arthur Warrior Heroes Horatio, El Cid, Richard the Lion-Heart, Audie Murphy Patriots Nathan Hale Thinkers Socrates, Voltaire, Descartes Martyrs and Saints St. Sebastian, St. Francis Lovers Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guenevere Scientists Van Leewinhock, Newton, Kepler. Einstein Entertainers and Sports Figures Babe Ruth, The Beatles, Madonna
Assignment: Write a two page paper about someone that you would consider to be a modern day hero. Explain why you have chosen this person.
Lab: Students will continue with word processing.
Assignment: Transfer the paper about the hero to the word processor and print it.
Seminar: Modern Day Heroes
Students will share their papers about heroes and discuss why our heroes are inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs (Horatio Alger, Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford) entertainers, athletes, or modern "mythical" heroes (James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Super Heroes, Mutant Teenager Ninja Turtles). If time permits, they will discuss our present search for ethnically diverse and female hero-models: is this search succeeding?
Week 5: Theme: Humans Define Themselves Through Their Relationship with Technologies.
Lecture: Technologies for Handling Information
- Information Management: encoding, storage, exchange, and transmission of information in biological and social systems, language, ritual, the oral tradition, the invention of writing, the printing press, and the computer. Each technology reorganizes and incorporates existing elements; older technologies continue to be used; changes in organization are followed by explosive growth in the information available.
- Assignment: Research Paper
- Write an 8 - 15 page research paper describing one of:
- 1. the changes in the forms and appearances of books that resulted from the use of the printing press
2. The changes in the contents of books that resulted from the use of the printing press
3. the changes in the ideas about knowledge that resulted from the use of the printing press
- Discuss parallel changes that you observe or predict as a result of using computer technology.
Cite sources and include bibliography.
Include a data base (label format) which shows how you recorded bibliographic information and quotes or ideas.
Due at the end of week 9
- Lab: Data Base
Seminar: Data Bases: Servants or Masters?
- Students will learn to use a data base, working with the example of and address book
- Assignment: Make a data base to catalog a collection or library in your area of interest. Include at least ten items, sort them alphabetically and numerically, and print them in table and label format.
- Students will discuss the useful aspects of data bases and the issue of privacy with respect to the possible uses and abuses of data bases by governments, employers, and individuals. The instructor will contribute a description of Bentham's Panopticon as a physical model and metaphor for the possible use of computers for social control.
Week 6: Theme: As technologies change, so do our thoughts and perceptions.
Lecture: What patterns do computers use
to process information?
An introduction to information processing methods used by computers: Contributors to the concept of the computer(Pascal, Jacquard, Babbage, Lady Lovelace, Hollerith, Turing, Boole): binary numbers, computer languages, programming structures, modularity, iteration, sequencing, if-then commands, variables.
Write a sequence of commands to tell
a robot how to
1. feed a cat or
2. wrap a cactus for shipping or
3. Put two ice cubes in a glass and add a soft drink
(A model of the suggested format will be provided.)
Programmers may substitute an interactive program which asks the user questions and gives directions for performing one of the assigned tasks.
Begin exploration of LOGO with basic commands: forward, back, left, right, pen up, pen down, and repeat. Students will use these commands to navigate a maze, draw assigned forms, and explore the program. The last fifteen minutes of instruction will be spent creating and modifying various star and flower-like forms.
Assignment: Create five task cards with illustrations of the design desired on one side and the commands that will make the design on the other side. TEST EACH CARD! Bring to class next time.
Students will share their directions for the robot in groups of four, looking for sequences that work and those that don't. They will discuss the process they used to create their "programs", the problems that they had, and the implicit assumptions that led to problems because they were not made explicit. What kinds of problems can be solved with these thought patterns?
Week 8 Theme: As technologies change, so do our thoughts and perceptions.
Lab: Continue to work with LOGO.
Students will exchange task cards and try making each other's patterns as a review exercise. New material will include writing procedures, using the editor, calling sub-procedures, using variables, and saving and recalling programs.
Assignment: Write a program which will:
1. Put star patterns in six places on the screen
2. clear the screen
3. Draw a polygon in three different sizes, putting the smaller ones inside the largest one
4. clear the screen
5. Draw a row of houses on the screen
6. clear the screen
7. save the program under the name first
Computers are programmed. Can people be programmed too? Is this desirable? Do programmed people have free will" How do people "break free" from programming? Is this a new way of thinking about human learning?
Week 9: Theme: As technologies change, so do our thoughts and perceptions.
Lecture: The mind mirror: the computer as an "other"
- The effects of computers on persons: "hold" and attention; the tendency to personify computers. Discuss Turkle's ideas about the different responses of children, young programmers, hackers, and the artificial intelligence community. Computer predictability: programming the computer to simulate spontaneity.
- Assignment: Write two paragraphs. In the first paragraph, address the theme: "My computer is my best friend." In the second, address: "I could never be friends with a computer." Support each proposition as strongly as you can.
Lab: Computer Generated Poetry
Assignment: Use the poem generator to create computer generated poems. Print out six poems. Write a one page critique of the poems, focusing on the ways in which the computer poetry is similar to and different from poems written by people.
Seminar: Share the Assignment papers.
What kind of a relationship could you have with a computer? How would that relationship affect how you view yourself?
Week 10: Theme: As technologies change, so do our thoughts and perceptions.
Lecture: Are Computers Intelligent?
Ideas about human intelligence. The Turing Test. Artificial intelligence, expert systems, industrial robots, robotic toys, robotic sensors. Existing robots and robots that learn. Depictions of robots in film and literature.
Assignment: How would you define life? Could a robot be alive? Does modern medical practice have a definition you agree with: Does the potential for artificial intelligence change how we think about life? Write a two page definition of life.
Lab: Machine Intelligence
Half the class will use programs demonstrating artificial intelligence: e.g., Animals (LOGO), Eliza, Tic-Tac-Toe. The other half of the class will use the Radio Shack Sensor Robot 20 (a simple, reusable electronics construction kit that will activate sensors when circuits are completed.) The students will exchange Assignments at the end of the first hour.
Assignment: Play Sargon (a chess game) or an adventure game. Write an account of the experience, evaluating the computer as a player or an opponent.
Seminar: What is "life"?
Share the papers on the definition of life. Conference to sharpen the definitions and discuss questions and controversial points. Is it "murder" to turn off and intelligent machine?
Week 11: Theme: Technologies affect the form and content of communication and creativity.
Lecture: Inventing Tomorrow
The initial users of new technologies tend to attempt to use them to do familiar tasks. Only when the new technologies become more familiar and more fully understood are new uses invented and old forms modified. Examples will include the evolution of the automobile (and its supporting innovations) and a short review of change in book forms caused by the invention of printing. Overheads will be used to illustrate contemporary uses of desktop publishing, including changes in letter forms and page formats. The lecture will conclude with a short creativity workshop: students will assort themselves in groups of five and
1. draw themselves as seen by an eye drawn on the sidewalk and
2. find a use for some object provided by the instructor and write an advertisement for it. Share the advertisement before leaving class
Assignment: Design a short booklet (ten pages or more ) in your area of interest. The book may be for adults or children, and may be instructional in content, a fantasy, poetry, autobiography, etc. The book will use different fonts in a rational way, and will include illustrations. It will be bound before being handed in at the end of Week 14. (Further help and instruction will be given. A rough draft with sketches will be available for share in by next week's seminar (week 12).
Assignment for this week: How could desktop publishing change the ways in which information is produced and distributed: What new skills will be required to exploit these possibilities?
Lab: Desktop Publishing:
Students will be introduced to a simple desktop publishing program. They will use different fonts and some sort of graphics to produce a one page news sheet.
Assignment: Create a one page ad for the product your group worked on in lecture.
Seminar: Every man his own printer.
Students will share their papers and discuss the social implications of desktop publishing.
Week 12: Theme: Technologies affect the form and content of communication and creativity.
Lecture: Becoming an Author with Desktop Publishing
The writing process: components of the process writing model: prewriting, composing, conferencing, editing, publication: the importance of conferencing: rough drafts and layouts.
Designing the page: using fonts: laying out pages for balance: coordinating graphics and text to enhance meaning.
Bookbinding: designing covers: some different ways of binding hand-made books--scrolls, accordion books, stapled books, book with unusual shapes, pop-up books, plastic laminated books, and regular book-binding with signatures of pages and stiff covers.
Assignment: Rough out your illustrated book (rough pencil sketches are find) with text and graphics and bring it to seminar.
Lab: Graphics software:
Using SuperPaint and drawing freely. Using repeat commands to create borders and groups of identical figures.
Assignment: Produce a page for your book, using both graphics and text.
The instructor will review the elements of the technique of conferencing. Emphasis will be placed on the supportive role of the listener. Criteria for listeners will be listed. Students will divide themselves into groups of three--one reader, one listener, and one observer. The roles will rotate through the group, giving each student a chance to participate in each role. Students will practice using conferencing skills with the rough drafts of their manuscripts, having the opportunity to work in three separate groups. The class will come together again to debrief on the conferencing process.
Week 13: Theme: Technologies affect the form and content of communication and creativity.
Lecture: For Your Eyes Only: Technologies that Engage Our Sight.
Visual literacy: symbols and meaning (more than simply seeing) has its own conventions. Examples: Show slides of stained glass windows at Chartres and identify the stories and symbolism: show modern day advertisements and discuss the symbolism. Discuss Postman's interpretation of TV ads as parables.
Discuss the graphics capability of the computer. Show a tape segment on computer generated graphics.
The computer can make mathematics visible: demonstrate with a graphing program, LOGO programs (branching, trees, etc) computer generated spirals, fractals. Relationships of mathematics to art and the natural world are being made more explicit: Conclude with a video-tape on fractals.
Assignment: Discuss the strengths and limitations of the computer as a vehicle for information.
Lab: The Video Camera
Demonstrate VCR Companion, a program which shows how to interface the computer with a VCR in order to record the computer output on video tape. Show students how to lay out a story board for a video commercial. Discuss the format of video commercials: problem, advice, solution, Joy! Divide students into groups of four and give them a product to advertise: e.g., the strips torn off the sides of sheets of computer paper. Students will plan an ad for their product in their groups, and then each group will be introduced to the video camera (which will be set up on a tripod). Each group will then "shoot" their commercial with the video camera. The students will make use of VCR Companion. Students who finish early may work on their book Assignment. The lab will conclude with a showing of all the ads created.
Assignment: continue working on illustrated book.
Seminar: Share Turkle's concept of "Hard Masters" and "Soft Masters".
Relate this concept to current right-brain/left brain theories. Where do the students see themselves: What implications do these ideas have for persons concerned with the care of children?
Week 14: Theme: Technologies affect the form and content of communication and creativity.
Lecture: Telecommunications and the Work Place
Dissemination of information via electronic bulletin boards: How it works
Applications: banking, news, information retrieval, travel, planning, banking
Work: working at home--isolating workers? Increasing the importance of writing skills, decreasing importance of personal appearance and interpersonal skills
Electronic Bulletin Boards: if unregulated, possible rapid information dissemination
Video tape: show demonstration of interaction with electronic bulletin board.
Assignment: continue working on illustrated book.
Lab: applications for different fields
The instructor will demonstrate software for writing music
TimeLiner for sequencing historical events
Telecommunications: Students will use Netscape to explore the Internet.
Assignment: Complete illustrated booklet and turn in at seminar.
Seminar: Being an Author
Students will share their booklets with the class and discuss the process of writing and producing them.
Week 15: Theme: Technologies affect the form and content of communication and creativity.
Lecture: The Life of the Mind in an Age of Visual Literacy
Are there any "computer books"? Interaction with books, "talking books", "video magazines" and "animated books" as movies (e.g.,; Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows). What is the role of print and language in these "books"? Discuss the decreasing use of print as an information source and some possible social effects: e.g., Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, Scriber's finding that Piaget's formal operations stage has never been found in pre-literate societies, the emotional impact of seeing as opposed to the more reflective process of reading, and the decontextualized, edited experiences that we get from visual media.
Lab: Movie: Fahrenheit 451
Seminar: Discuss the movie
Did the movie predict a possible scenario for the majority of our citizens? What is the role of alphabetic literacy in our thought processes? How is this different from visual literacy?
Week 16: FINAL EXAM
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