The university of the web

There’s been lots of talk about MOCCs and about the power (and threat of the internet) to disrupt university education, as we know it. On the other hand, there have been lots of articles and reports written that suggest the residential campus experience, which only serves a small percentage of the students seeking post-secondary education, is the only true path to wisdom and a full education. Of course, neither is entirely true.

When I speak with most my students about imagining a new sort of education, they don’t have much to offer. They are as programmed as the rest of the higher education industry about the essential elements of a college degree. And, yet as valuable as they argue in-class face-to-face encounters are with professors, many are enchanted with their screen lives as if these are just as real as real encounters—and maybe they are in a brave new world.

The purpose of this entry is not to debate the current and future state of higher education. It is simply a review of websites and entries that have come to my attention during the fall semester of 2014. Each one to me presents something lovely and important about using digital technologies to tell stories. Each tells these stories in ways that would be hard to imagine not that long ago. Each is annotated. Like anyone who spends any time on the web, I have seen hundreds of these sites; this is a sample of what I think is this best. As an educator, I refer to these entries as I think about what a newly designed educational experience may be like as we not only appreciate these treasures but also create them.

 The Malawi Mouse Boys

From NPR, the story of a magnificently talented group of Malawi singers whose previous jobs of selling roasted mice brought them to the attention of a record producer. Using instruments made of bicycle parts and other recyclables, these men make exquisite harmonies. The story combines compelling music with an extraordinary setting.

The Toys of War

Set in Southern Sudan, the children who have survived the civil war make clay figures to illustrate the impact of the bombing and attacks from the Sudanese government. This will break your heart; no question about it. The children’s creation of the setting, their fashioning of the weapons of war and their interviews with the filmmaker conspire to punch out a damning anti-war message.

 The Kronos Quartet

Using 3D point capture, the members of this most intimate musical organization—the quartet—explain how to make music. Their figures enter and fade out of the moving image as they take up their parts. What is so intriguing is their belief that each time they place a piece that it can be better; that each performance is a separate and distinct conversation.

 Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible

Utilizing paper puppets, the writers tell the story of the invention of microscope. An amazing enough tale, of course but the use of the paper cutouts to illustrate the “discovery” of bacteria and the fact that most of the life on this planet is invisible to us makes this an especially lovely science story.

 The Animated life of A.R. Wallace

Also using paper cutouts, this short biography is a fascinating story of Alfred Wallace who along with Charles Darwin developed the theory of natural selection and evolution. Wallace, like many men of his time was a citizen scientist. With little formal training, he visits Brazil and Malaysia on collecting expeditions. As the narrators note, he gathers “great gaudy things.” Animals, bird, flora and other materials collected in Brazil were destroyed in a fire on the boat returning him home. In Malaysia, he collects 126,000 specimens and quickly writes down his “big” idea about what he has seen in the tropics. Told wonderfully, this is a tribute to Wallace who has doesn’t receive the sort of recognition that Darwin has and, if this account is to believed, didn’t mind as he considered Darwin the better scientist.

 Murmuration of starlings

There are few more interesting figures of speech than collective nouns for animal groups—an ostentation of peacocks, a badling of ducks, a cowardice of curs, a drift of swine—and, of course, a murmuration of starlings. This short video with accompanying music shows the mesmerizing flight of hundred of thousands of starlings. At some points in the film, you lost sight of what you are seeing and can easily conjure up waves of light or a digitized image of a black and white photograph.


About professorenos

I am a professor of sociology and coordinate service-learning and social entrepreneurship work on my campus at Bryant University. This blog brings together academic and creative work.
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