sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from


Archive for the ‘shark attack’ Category

what is learning (in new media)?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on September 9, 2009

Alert blogtrollers may have seen multiple posts recently with titles identical to the one accompanying this post–that’s because we’ve been asked by learning scientist and new media researcher Kylie Peppler to address this very concern. The question–what is learning in new media?–is too broad for anyone to address within the context of a single blogpost, but if we all set to work, we might get that turkey stripped down to its bones by the end of the night.

My chunk of the turkey is time.

When I joined Twitter, I lurked for months and months without tweeting a thing. When I finally did join the community as a good, earnest citizen, I started out slowly and picked up speed as I learned to negotiate the community’s norms and embrace the valued practices of the space. Now, a year and a half later, I can communicate fairly clearly the spoken and tacit norms of the Twitterspace.

I did the same thing with Facebook, Wikipedia, and blogging–looking around for months before joining the community. By doing so, by taking the time to consider the space I was entering, I was able to reflect on others’ practices before offering up my own. I read thousands of blogs before starting my own. I worked with friends to learn how to edit Wikipedia. And I was coerced by another friend to join Facebook; the rest was up to me.

I recently spent some time working with Scratch, a simple visual programming language designed for young learners. As the site explains,

Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

I’ve designed exactly two projects in Scratch; the first was about a year ago, when a colleague spent the morning helping me work up a little thing I call Jimmy Eats World.

To play this project, click the green flag in the upper right.

I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t make the flying hippo actually disappear at the end of the project, and if I wanted to I could open up the program and make it so. Or I could turn the main sprite, the walking cat, into a hammerhead shark announcing my blog’s url.

I could do that if I wanted to, because I am a highly resourceful independent learner who has the passion and the time to devote to projects like this. I find them personally and epistemologically meaningful–I feel enriched, and I feel that the time I devote to these kinds of projects makes me a better, more useful and proficient blogger and educational researcher.

Time, the friend of the highly resourceful learner, is the enemy of teaching. Time: There’s never enough and even if there were, it couldn’t be spent on tinkering. There’s content to cover, and not just in the name of high stakes tests. A teacher’s job–one made ever more challenging by the social revolution–is to equip learners with the knowledge, proficiencies, and dispositions that will suit them well for future learning. There comes a time when the teacher must say, It’s time to stop with Scratch and start on something else.

Which is a deep shame, because it’s the tinkering, the ability to immerse oneself in participatory media or a learning platform, that fosters a real fluency with the space.

This is a key feature of what it means to learn in new media: the choice to engage with certain tools, to join up with certain affinity spaces, beyond the time required by schools. Clay Shirky writes that the days are gone when we could expect to do things only for money; we’re in an era when the greatest innovations emerge not for money but for love.

If learning in new media takes time, passion, and some combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, then on its surface school seems to run anathema to a new media education. In fact, it may be that engagement with participatory practices is exactly what schools need at a time when they are struggling to remain relevant to the real world needs, experiences, and expertises into which learners will ultimately emerge.


Posted in academia, academics, blogging, Clay Shirky, creativity, education, Facebook, graduate school, MIT, new media, Ph.D., schools, shark attack, social revolution | 10 Comments »

How to survive: A public service announcement for the readers of sleeping alone

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 26, 2009

Because I’m here to serve you, today I offer you a plethora of help-sites and advice for surviving extreme accidents.

Surviving a Plane Crash: Sit in the Back
Common wisdom dictates that if your plane starts plummeting to earth, it doesn’t matter where you’re sitting&#8212you’re gonna be incinerated, smashed to bits, fully submerged in the ocean, perhaps eaten by sharks or crocodiles. In fact, a study of recent plane crashes suggests a high rate of survivability, as Tim Jepsen explains in the London Daily Telegraph:

[T]here were 568 plane crashes in the US between 1993 and 2000, involving a total of 53,487 passengers and crew. Of these, 51,207 – or over 90 per cent survived. Even on the 26 crashes deemed the worst, the study found that more than half the passengers and crew survived.

How to survive? Well, Jepsen writes, “you can be lucky, like the 155 passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed on New York’s Hudson River, and enjoy a combination of luck, superlative flying and excellent staff training. Or you can take matters into your own hands.”

First, always book your seat in the rear of the plane. A Popular Mechanics study examined all commercial jet crashes in the United States since 1971 and found that the odds of survival are far greater for passengers sitting in the back of the plane.

Aside from booking a seat in the rear, there are other things you can do to increase your odds of survival in case of disaster. The folks over at HowStuffWorks offer the following tips:

  • Identify exits and count the rows between them and your seat–that way, if the plane descends into darkness you’ll be able to find your way to the exit.
  • Prepare for impact by assuming the official FAA crash position:

    extend your arms, cross your hands and place them on the seat in front of you, and then place your head against the back of your hands. Tuck your feet under your seat as far as you can. If you have no seat in front of you, bend your upper body over with your head down and wrap your arms behind your knees.

  • Wear crash-appropriate clothes: long pants, long sleeves, and closed-toe shoes. This can protect you from crash debris and, in case of survival, the elements.
  • If you’re flying with your family, discuss an emergency plan, including dividing any children between responsible adults.
  • Pay attention to the preflight emergency instructions&#8212all planes are different, and knowing the details of emergency procedures can drastically increase your odds of surviving a worst-case scenario.

If the above are too vague for you, Jepsen <a href="
” target=”_blank”>ponders air-crash survival strategies in greater detail, including a description of what to do during the “golden period” of escape, which he identifies as the first two minutes after impact. He also considers various conspiracy theories, including the argument from some skeptics that the established crash position is actually intended to kill you quickly and efficiently by breaking your neck and back&#8212″a deliberate ploy, they claim, to make your death as quick and painless as possible and reduce insurance costs.”

Surviving a Sky Diving Accident: Be the Right Kind of Person
On Feb. 2, Army Private Daniel Pharr, in his first-ever sky dive, survived through quick thinking when his instructor suffered a mid-air heart attack during their tandem jump. Though Pharr was a novice, he had paid attention during the instructional video and used what he had learned to direct the parachute to safe ground. This was harder than it seems, explains Ben Sherwood, the author of The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life:

It’s not easy for a newbie sky diver to land safely, especially with a dead man strapped to his back. If he had pulled on the handles too hard, for instance, Pharr might have gone into an uncontrollable spin. And yet, when everything went wrong, Pharr somehow did everything right.

Sherwood interviewed Christian Hart, a psychologist and veteran skydiver, who believes that in time of extreme stress, people emerge as one of two kinds of personalities: Either they refuse to quit, even as the odds of surviving dwindle to just above zero; or they resign themselves to death and wait for it to happen.

So there’s your tip: Be that first kind of person.

Second tip: Get really freaking lucky.

In 2005, Shayna West’s parachute and reserve failed to open and she plummeted thousands of feet before landing face-first in a parking lot. Not only did she survive, but the fetus she hadn’t known she was carrying survived as well. She carried the baby to term and gave birth to a healthy boy. To review: West landed on her face and presumably also on her stomach; she and the baby survived. She does appear to be the first kind of person&#8212she explains in an interview with CBS several months after the accident and 15 facial reconstruction surgeries:

Of course, as high up as I was, I was still about 3,000 feet off the ground, I was gonna give it a try. I was doing everything I knew to do to correct the malfunction. But, ultimately, I was prepared for it to be a fatal accident.

There is no other explanation of how West could possibly have survived a fall that, logically, should have ended both her and her child.

Surviving a Zombie Invasion: Take Refuge in a Country Farmhouse
Just kidding. There is no way to survive a zombie invasion.

Surviving a Shark Attack: Don’t Pee in the Ocean
Seriously. The smell of ammonia has been known to attract sharks, and when it comes to sharks, the best way to survive is to avoid them altogether. The Discovery Channel also advises avoiding defecating or vomiting in the ocean; if you really can’t hold it, try to fling whatever comes out of your orifices as far from yourself as you can.

If you do spot an approaching shark, try to splash and yell and make as much noise as you can. Though this runs counter to my common sense, Discovery explains that if sharks perceive their prey to be extremely large or powerful, they’re likely to look for easier hunting.

If a shark does attack, don’t play dead. Fight back by punching the shark in the eyes or the gills (not the nose), the shark’s most sensitive parts. If you’re bitten, get out of the water as soon as you can and find a tourniquet.

National Geographic offers many more tips for avoiding and surviving shark attacks here.

Keep in mind, however, that the risk of dying of a shark attack is small&#821215 times smaller than the risk of dying from a falling coconut.

Surviving a Falling Coconut: Cut Down the Offending Tree
In the late 18th century, British missionary William Wyatt Gill recorded the death of a concubine to King Tetui of Mangaia, an island in the Cook Island chain, due to a falling green nut. The king immediately had the tree cut down. No further deaths due to falling nuts, green or coco, were recorded on this island.

Posted in open education, plane crash, shark attack, sky diving, zombies | 3 Comments »