I’m joining #AcWriMo

This year I’m joining Academic Writing Month, aka #AcWriMo.

November is the writing month!  Academics have their own version of National Novel Writing Month called ‘Academic Writing Month’, better known in the twittersphere as #AcWriMo. The idea was announced here by the academic writing website PhD2Published.

studying#AcWriMo revolves around the following principles:

Formulate a goal. Put time in your calendar (days of november) to work on it. The essence is having a concrete goal you commit to and work towards achieving. This concrete goal is in GTD terms a ‘project’ that you break down into smaller actionable (manageable) pieces (e.g. write 350 words a day, edit or revise a piece you have already written down, write for 2 hours a day, or say 4 pomodoros etc.). It’s important for you to state daily accomplishable goals.

Declare it to the world! There is an accountability factor to #AcWriMo. You are not alone, there is a whole public revolving around the twitter hashtag #AcWriMo. That’s how I came across the phenomenon; on twitter.  In a google doc spreadsheet  you can state your overall goal, plan (strategy) and actual achievement progress. What makes the experience special, is the feeling that you form part of a community. A writing community comes into being thanks to the hashtag/spreadsheet. You are part of a community of academics around the world all working towards a writing goal. On the meta level we are more aware also of the writing process on itself. This accountability factor works for me very well. At work I’m part of a small phd accountability group and you can’t imagine how awesome it is to discuss your progress with others; we support each other. Even if I don’t know the people using the hashtag, or the ones who have written down there names in the spreadsheet -personally-, you can read about their progress, you feel connected to them. This makes the writing process a more humane and social process.

Draft a strategy. Instead of ‘binging’ in order to accomplish a paper deadline and feel ‘fried’ afterwards (I have completed a couple of papers this way) you can spend some time thinking and reflecting in order to come up with a more sustainable writing strategy. It’s more than just planning. It’s also a mental preparation thing, envisioning yourself writing and preparing the physical and media-saturated environment for the cause (cleaning your desk of all distracting stuff or stop checking your Facebook newsfeed). It’s about setting time during the day, during the week, and in the month of November, in order to progressively accomplish your goal. PhD2Published emphasizes the importance of having a strategy as follow:

Don’t start AcWriMo without doing a bit of planning and preparation. Get some reading done, carve out time slots in your schedule to dedicate to writing, even buy your favorite coffee

Keep track of your progress (and talk about it with others!). You will see that writing is a labor of love, the more you invest in it, the better you will become at it. Academic writing on itself is a multifaceted process. it’s about developing writing habits and skills that can help you advance as a writer. This involves: planning, mind-mapping, drafting the structure of the paper, reading and taking notes, writing a specific part, feed-backing, concretizing your arguments, re-writing, (killing darlings) and did I say re-writing?! But also other ‘stuff’ like having more patience, dedication, discipline, a writing routine, structure, taking breaks and celebrating each step of the way. This article on 10 ways  you can write everyday taught me how to start perceiving academic writing in diverse ways than just putting words in a linear way on a blank paper/screen. Doing all this in a crowd is the added-value, it’s like being part of a cool party of writers.

Although November is a busy month for me full of other responsibilities, I will do my utmost in keeping my daily writing goals.

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Becoming: a moleskine full of dreams and anxieties

The story of a ‘creative’ but  stressed-out generation

Recently I’ve seen a documentary that was both confronting as comforting: The Dutch documentary: ‘Alles wat we wilden’ or translated in English: ‘All we ever wanted’ by Sarah Mathilde Domogala. It felt confronting, as I recognized the phenomenon as a member of this particular generation the documentary is all about, and comforting as it gave me the feeling that I’m not alone.

For an impression, watch the trailer below (in Dutch), or watch the entire documentary online here  (hopefully English subtitles will be provided soon as it is a must-see):

The documentary illustrates in an artistic way what I experience as the subtle struggles of  a (my) generation. Artistically the documentary is brilliant, as it captures the colors (beautiful visual editing) and sounds (dreamy soundtrack) of what it feels to come of age (ranging from 25-34 years) during these ‘liquid’ times and negotiate  “who you are” and “what you have/want to become”. Just as the generation itself, free-spirited, beautiful, dreamy and creative, as in the saying ‘the sky is the limit’, so are the lurking and ubiquitous anxieties and sleepless nights.

Documentary "All we ever wanted" read more on: http://www.allweeverwanted.com

The title ‘All we ever wanted’ refers to the notion of growing up in an era where you live out and become your ideal self, you follow your dreams, you ‘make it’. Not only has this been engraved deeply in the collective consciousness of our times, but it is also ‘expected’ of us. The far reaching meritocratic ideals that lurk at night, preventing some from falling asleep. This generation grew up in a household, were  parents provided a daily dose of self-esteem enhancers: “You can do it”, “You can become everything you want to be”. Higher education was (and still is) for the most of us (caution: I’m speaking for myself) not optional, but rather a natural path to take. Prolonged student years of explorations of ideas, friendships, relationships and dreams. A ‘state of the art’ study loan debt, that now has to be proven to the self and society to be ‘worth it’ every penny, as every penny was invested in the trampoline for the reaching of our fragile blossoming dreams. This generation thinks of itself as being ‘free’, and compared to other generations, can be seen indeed as relatively more free. A freedom that comes with a high psychological cost. This psychological cost materializes itself in many forms: as many experience anxieties, panic attacks at night, low self-esteem because of social comparison (comparing oneself to peers that ‘have’ accomplished ‘it’ (whatever that ‘it’ might be)), the fear of failure -one of the many carried irrational fears additional to all the myriad of “what if’s” vocations- the ever-going quest of finding one’s true self, the fear of binding oneself to an ‘ordinary life’, restlessness, mood-swings, hyperactivity, compulsive thinking, irrational sadness, perpetual daydreaming, depression, burn-outs, perfectionism, being freaking hard on oneself and the need of medication to calm all this,  just to name a few of the psychological paralyzing distresses the documentary zooms in. In this sense the documentary contributes to more balance in the array of existing discourses on the new generations and of our contemporary time (late Gen X, Gen Y, MTV Gen, Gen Millenium etc.) where the positive attributes are more highlighted (e.g. greater freedoms, education for all, talents, creative, participative culture, pro-sumers) and other archetypal struggles these new generations face are left in the dark (high rate of depression, insecurities, the feeling of  ‘not fitting in’ etc).  Continue reading

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In the messy yet beautiful universe of data I’m searching for the “question” this time, not the answers

In my “scientific”  journey for a more sharp focus for my research en-devour, I try to be “open” for connections, for the emerging creative inquiry process. The art is now, how to define the edge (boundaries) of the circle of focus. I’m pondering on: how to be interdisciplinary in my approach without diminishing argument integrity?  Looking for a new balance between “solid foundations”  (deductive routine) and what  Feyerabend coins as “scientific anarchy” (my interpretation: new inductive chaos). I’m being pulled back and forth between the overwhelming new opportunities of new media (in this case: the possibility of abundant user-generated data) and the” back to basics” research questions. Tomorrow I will only try inductive reasoning and see where that takes me. It feels as if I have an answer, but I still don’t know what my question was in the first place. Inductive is more intuitive, it embraces complexities, it just feels right, but it is an overwhelming ride.

Paul Feyerabend

A quote I came across this week, when reading Bill Viola‘s essay “Will there be Condominiums” in Data Space?” for #nmfs_f11 (blog here)  keeps echoing in my mind:

Scientists always marvel at nature, at how it seems to be some grand code, with a built-in sense of purpose. Discoveries are made which reveal that more and more things are related, connected. Everything appears to be aware of itself and everything else, all fitting into an interlocking whole.”  (Bill Viola, 1982)

I will for now answer Bill Viola’s question he posed in 1982; “Will there be Condominiums in data space?”  with a No. Condominiums are fragmented, as he himself knew more than anyone else. I feel more for an ocean of data, where fluidity represents connectedness.  But the challenge with the more natural “everything is connected” approach is the question: from which angle do I have to look at this perpetual continuity, and what is enough for this project of mine? Or is “the ocean [indeed] without a shore” as the title goes of one of Viola’s art-projects?

Bill Viola’s “Raft” fits the feeling described here perfectly:

Questions, focus…please, do emerge soon…

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Cultivating Humanity: a Value Re-boot

Now half way the first academic semester, I’m reaching the end of the course I’m teaching on Sociology of Development. Where the concept of development and changing patterns in society are being explored from different angles. We have just started with the part where we creatively think about different futures. Yes, plural! because that is one of the main messages of this course, social change is about the pluralities of futures, we deal with a lot of the “what if’s”…and we have choices, we are agents of change and can choose wisely.

I named one of the themes the course deals with “Cultivating Humanity: a value re-boot”. The title of this particular theme was inspired by Martha Nussbaum‘s notion of  “Cultivating Humanity” and the unique challenges we as human beings face in our contemporary realities.

Martha Nussbaum

 Cultivating humanity: 3 capabilities

Nussbaum herself, a philosopher, delved into what it means to be human during different times in history and focuses on the meaning of humanity and its challenges in the 21st century, she explores the (crucial) role education plays in cultivating “humanity” and in specific the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The roots of the notion of cultivating humanity stems from the stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Seneca contemplates the capacities that makes us, according to him, human beings. Cultivating Humanity is seen through Seneca’s eyes as a true civilization project. Both philosophers -the classical Seneca and the more contemporary Nussbaum- explore what the particular role of education is in contributing to the ideal of humanity. In Seneca’s vision liberal education plays a crucial role, it not only helps to cultivate individuals with the capacity of critical self-reflection, but most importantly, with a “sense of belonging” to something larger than ourselves. Nussbaum, from a more humanistic liberalism perspective, weaves further on this notion and translates these “required” capacities in 3 golden capabilities for what is needed to become a true citizen of the world:

  1. Sympathetic imagination/empathy
  2. The Critical examination of one self/reflection
  3. The authentic feeling of belonging to humanity/solidarity.

The following short film entitled “Page 23″ was made during The 48 hour Film Project 2011 in Utrecht. The film captured my attention as it radically contrasts Nussbaum’s capabilities for the cultivation of humanity. Page 23 not only refers to a page in the well known catalog of the Swedish IKEA, but illustrates the perpetual hedonistic emptiness of trying to buy life-fulfillment, the consuming of life. Relationships are shallow and individuals are being portrayed here as replaceable, just as products in the catalog.

Continue reading

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Awakening the Digital Imagination: Virtual Worlds #nmfs_f11

After participating successfully this summer in the Digital Methods summer school “Big Data”  in Amsterdam at the University of Amsterdam (UVA) lead by professor Richard Rogers and his wonderful team (a post on the theme and the experience will follow soon), I’m so excited to continue digging the theme of New Media in interesting and innovative ways…

This fall I’m participating in another innovative seminar #nmfs_f11. I was invited by one of the organizers of one of the groups, Liz Dorland from Washington University to participate this fall in the Virtual Worlds New Media Faculty Staff Seminar 2011. This seminar is very special since it not only contributes to the exploration of fundamental themes in new media but we translate the discussions and findings in the context of education: what implications do these developments have on education. I’m loving the readings, the syllabus for this course is The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. This collection of timeless essays is very popular and an often used reference work, for it lays the history, developments and applications in the field of new media. Since I live in Aruba, it would be geographically impossible for me to leave the island and my work behind for a whole semester in order to follow the seminar, but my SL avatar nadiagabriela kroll will “teleport” (I’ve always wanted to do what that verb implies) weekly to meetings at the NMFS campus, in the beautiful park Ars Simulacra under the starry sky, sit around a campfire and interact with interesting individuals from different countries on interesting topics. I hope to write more on some of the topics. The first topic I’ve experienced with the group is on Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics and Licklider’s Man-Computer Symbiosis.

The #nmfs_f11 is a networked seminar. The seminar is being held in different groups in the United States. The seminar is the idea of Gardner Campbell who works at Virginia Tech. Our group is special because we meet in Second Life, making it possible for people like me -who live abroad- to participate. Here you can read more on the background and logistics of #nmfs_f11 and especially on our specific group. We also have a blog were participants can post their thoughts on the topics and the questions that emerge from the interactions. All the blogposts, links and tweets from the other groups will be sindicated in a sort of mothership blogroll by professor Campbell.

I’ve missed the first two sessions, but I’m getting on track with the readings of these and I can’t wait for the next meeting. I also look forward for the keynote we will have in SL on october the 10th of Howard Gardner, known for his theories on multiply intelligences.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Liz, for her passion that is contagious, her patience in teaching me some basic skills in SL (I’m kind of a late adopter of SL) and for giving me the chance to experience this great journey where I learn and connect with others. I know Liz from twitter and I follow her interesting curated page on Visualization in Science and Education

I see a lot of opportunities for Aruban students and my colleagues at the University of Aruba in Virtual Worlds. Teleporting is ideal for islands :D

around the campfire @Ars Simulacra

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Digital Time capsules: Memory cultivation & preservation in the Digital Age (3 apps)

The digital age is like a fast lane, navigating it both as a consumer or as a producer of information can feel like riding the German Autobahn. Timelines are perpetual. We can’t grasp the past that easily, all is in the present-tense, but becomes past so rapid the moment the pieces of information dissappear for instance from your Facebook newsfeed screen.

There exists this massive, humongous,  beyond our wildest imagination archive of  collective human memory stored forever in the internet’s metaphorical brain.  All our activities are stored in theses archives. I imagine my information stored in digital manila folders, with the labels: “Nadia Dresscher”. We constantly leave footprints, like crumbles of bread, that one day can help us reconstruct our human memory. If a comet ever hits Earth and the hard-drives of the digital social infrastructure survives, we can tell the story of human culture just as digital cultural analyst Lev Manovich preaches.  Have you ever searched yourself on Google? And were you astonished with the findings? Did you come across that comment you posted in that specific Manga lover’s Forum in 1999?

Our digital self goes on, it is in a dynamic ongoing state, it doesn’t match your biological rythms. Even when we are sleeping, we have “an extension of ourselves” that is perpetual, as stated by media theorist Marshal McLuhan. When you are counting sheep in your dreams, people are still commenting on your Facebook profile, re-tweeting your tweets, checking you out on LinkedIn (etc!) and expecting something of you…

I won’t go into the public-privacy debate surrounding the data online, nor will I go into the question of data ownership. I just want to focus on how we are actively creating memories online every millisecond of our digital lives right now. We do this consciously, often strategically and even times unconsciously. I know with certainty that I can trace one day when i’m 90 years old, my footsteps back. My grandchildren will search for my information too and reconstruct who I was according to my digital self.  Henri Bergson once reflected on similar issues, he was fascinated by the radical changes in terms of how memories will be retrieved thanks to the invention of photography. By just looking at a photograph of that vacation in Paris, you revive it again. We become easily Prousts of the 21st century ‘In search of the lost time’, this time without smelling the sweet lemony Madelines.

Take a look at 3 applications that can help you start scrap-booking that digital memory lane right now. I came across these, thanks to some FB and Twitter friends (Thanks Zizi, Venessa and Benjamin). These applications use the data you have stored in social media platforms, such as Facebook, to accumulate  your memories (data=memories) and present it to you in an unique form. As a tangible book (Social Memories), in form of a Museum (The Museum of Me) or as a timeline of your activities on diverse social media platforms (Memolane). Continue reading

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How I’m finding back my Mojo

I’m visualizing the summer, and the break that comes with it before me. After some hectic months of teaching, consultation with students on their re-assessment projects and the constantly enlisting of “to-do” check lists of the thousands of activities that I have to get done before my summer starts and a cruel flu that took my body and soul literally over, I can say…

I’m thinking of new beginnings a new way to regenerate positive energies…

Life has been tough the last couple of weeks at the Faculty. Since we are a new faculty only operating for just two years, “changes” are the status quo. You have to be a real flexible dragon in order to survive. Sociologist Zigmunt Bauman‘s coined statement: “living in times of uncertainty” applies to these last two years. Uncertainty teaches you to be flexible and you have to anticipate and leave perfectionism behind and start embracing robust planning & visioning and authentic teamwork.  A wise man once told me that this context values the strategy of Feed-forwarding, rather than the more common “after the facts” feed-backing. Don’t get me wrong feed-back is still one of the greatest tools for learning and working together towards great things. Anyways, to get to the point, operating in a sphere of constant uncertainties has a dark side too, it can generate stress that can have its consequences on everything you do. Stress can sometimes trigger a constant state of fear that can be demotivating and can even paralyze the creative process. It encourages a negative spiral of fear of failure and it sucks you up. You become half the shadow of the woman you really are. Oops, there goes my honest self!

So the questions are: How to not drown in all this work? in all these uncertainties? How to keep your groove shining, or as Austin Power calls it, how to get  your “mojo” back when it slips away (mojo= a slang concept used to describe self-confidence, self-esteem or in the case of Austin his sex-appeal) ? Continue reading

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If I should have a daughter…

Young poet Sarah Kay use words that dance together in a synchronized choreographed celestial ballet for the human soul. Listening to her feels like sitting on a bench on a shining star while listening to a far away poet on the planet of Venus. In this inspiring TED talk she talks about transformation, and about the magic of expression through poetry.

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Goodbye Perfectionism! ‘not perfect’ is the new black (part 3 of 3)

This post is a reflection (part 3 of 3) on my participation in the course entitled ‘Transforming education for the 21st century’ .

After the classes Tito gave at the UA, I asked myself, why is it that I love to write, but sometimes have difficulty posting on my blog. The answer is: the sometimes agonizing believe that ‘it isn’t good enough’ to post yet that scares away all the inspirational creative energy I have. The underlying message is here: everything is good enough. The fear of not being good enough to go public (internet is a public place) paralyzes creation. Tito taught us that participation and trying  new things is better than having everything in a perfect way. For instance, when designing courses with the help of technology, the fear of  not doing it right away, can stop you of trying. I want to refer to my first post in this series of reflection on the course: Transforming education for the 21st century. I wrote that the education system has to be fluid, our minds and hearts have to be fluid, in order to create space for learning. This space will give the process of learning the freedom for it to emerge in its own unique way. Fluidity, self-adaptable, everything is just perfect as it is…

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A little on Technology, a lot on Pedagogy (part 2 of 3)

This post is a reflection (part 2 of 3) on my participation in the course entitled ‘Transforming education for the 21st century’ .
The course has been going on for three days already. I will first sum up all the applications we have used during  this course (this is the technology review) in order to get that out of my internal hard drive (brains) :D

With professor Tito Melendez; Transforming Education for the 21st century

We started by creating concept maps with bubbl.us ; This application is very user-friendly and in my experience it can capture the inituitive aspect of our brains very well, when our brains start their spectacular reasoning and creative thinking process. I myself, are accustumed with mindmapping applications such as mindjet (not free) and mindmeister (free) and once I tried freemind (free) but found it not really user-friendly. But since mindmapping starts with a central concept as departure, bubbl.us gives you freedom to start with several concepts and relations emerge in their own pace. So I loved that, my mind is always a myrad of associations. So what then do I experience as user-friendlieness?  I experience user-friendlieness as the degree to which technology can mirror natural human behaviour. In other words what you would do inituively can be manifested without technological barierrs of the application (in other words, the application doesn’t interupt the natural flow of natural human behaviour).

We learned to work with a leaning management system (LMS). The course was focussed on edu20.org. Edu 2.0 is an open-source LMS, compabarable to moodle.com and blackboard (commercial). edu 2.0 rocks! I love the rubrics you can make as a teacher to grade your assignments etc. The University of Aruba (UA) is contemplating the LMS issue for a while already, we are still in the progress of deciding which type of LMS will suit the UA better, since we are a small university. As a student I have experienced the workings of Blackboard during my whole student carreer. I have so say all the open-source versions you have available do the ‘magic’, even better than blackboard. The whole concept of open-source appeals to me. Open-source is the future! It is based on reciprocity, collaboration and open access to learning for everybody. The fact that ‘we’ all are responsible for the workings of the system, makes the system one that is in ongoing progress (constant flow of feedback and self-organization based on a non-profit aim).

We learned to translate other Web 2.0 tools in the classroom setting (blogs, wikis, digital conference, video-making,  etc). For me the added-value was when Tito taught us how to use these in a pedagogical way. I really enjoyed the dynamic collision between technology and course content. I’m looking forward to implement more tools in the classroom.

I’m used at building wikis to support my classes (e.g.  Critical Literacies and Caribbean Sociology), but I’ve always had the impression that my students didn’t really understand the ‘collaboration’ opportunities that the wiki platform had to offer. As a teacher you need to explain the added-value of the technological application to the students and let them experience this. Next time I will  incorporate this opportunity and skill more explicitly in my courses.

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