Just Engage


Another Blackboard rant: everything in Blackboard that one creates for students is tied to grading. For example, the disappearing dropbox mentioned in my last post has been “converted” to an assignments. (Converted is just a nice way of saying it no longer has the option, I guess.) Ditto for the wiki. I want a wiki in my class to allow collaboration, organization, and quick notetaking. The Blackboard “wiki” offers none of those, and again it’s tied to grading. What if you just want a space where collaboration and participation can happen? Look for it somewhere else.

Death of the LMS

Blackboard no longer has a drop box feature.

Blackboard no longer has a drop box feature.

I’ve been using technology in learning environments for most of my career as a student and a teacher. I’ve emailed with my teachers since being in high school, starting when I took music lessons with a professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1996. My first college courses used online streaming to facilitate listening assignments in a music appreciation course through a home-grown (as much as you can call anything “homegrown” at a major research university, though it’s probably a bit ludicrous) course system at the University of Michigan in 1999. That system was replaced by a Sakai-based “Course Tools” LMS at UMich. I used that throughout graduate school, and again when I first taught courses at the University of Michigan–Dearborn in 2008. So, I don’t think that you could say I’m unfamiliar with using technology for teaching and learning. When UMich migrated to Google services in 2012, CTools changed and now integrates with Google web services.

Yet this year, returning as an adjunct faculty to teach one class at the George Mason University, I find myself completely fed up with the current version of Blackboard. Does it exist to provide easy, intuitive, and quick options that facilitate learning? No. It offers a blackboxed, behemoth system that is not open, not attractive, and offers nonsensical descriptions of things. (Like, if you just want to upload a pdf for students to read, you have to create “content” rather than “upload a file.” FYI – that’s not creating content, you’re offering content that someone has already written, and you’re not even creating the metadata for the file, Blackboard is.)

I want my students to be able to upload files to a folder that I can see and they can see, but not everyone else in class can see. Sounds easy, right? But BB doesn’t offer that any more (see above). Instead, if I want that, I’d have to use dropbox. In fact, that is the course I’m taking – using systems that do exactly what I want them to (and that students might actually use) rather than going through the plodding irritation of creating individual module after module. I want the tools I use to teach to be easy to use, lightweight, and to make things easier to do what I want, not more time consuming. And yes, perhaps tools that students might actually want to use. For example, I’m using a mixed suite of tools so far in teaching an archives course, including:

  • Email (Google, and also Office365) – some classics never go away
  • Dokuwiki
  • Twitter
  • Medium.com
  • Google Docs
  • WordPress (the version provided through GMU)
  • Blackboard (begrudgingly, but it does offer a login-protected place for grades and non-public announcements)

I’m afraid that this may be only one of a series of rants as I make my way back into the morass of teaching technology this term. The death knell of the open-source LMS that served the needs of educators and learners probably sounded long ago, and it feels like slogging through the tar pits to even use parts of Blackboard these days.


Corn chip music


Most certainly one of today’s most entertaining, and flavorful, examples of cross-domain use of music…

Originally posted on Bibliolore:

corn chip music

US patent 7942311, granted 17 May 2011 to George Eapen of Frisco, Texas, describes a  method for identifying sequenced flavor notes in a food product and developing a musical passage that represents or artistically relates to the tasting experience of the flavor notes. The passage is played and listened to concurrently with tasting the food product, thus producing a combined sensory experience.

The document includes data from a panel testing of a salsa verde flavored corn chip, which identified the flavor notes cilantro, tomatillo, lime, and an unspecified “spice flavor”. The inventor explains how these flavor notes can generate musical passages.

Eapen assigned rights to the patent to the corn chip giant Frito-Lay, presumably for its use in their marketing of corn chips.

This according to “Music to your tongue: In a bid for more emotional snacking, Frito-Lay patents culinary theme songs” by Marc Abrahams

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The esoteric phonograph


Always fun to be reminded about the spiritual roots of humble sound reproduction!

Originally posted on Bibliolore:

Edison phonograph

Emerging in the gaps between biology and physics, matter and unseen ether, electricity is a liminal force that inevitably carries a powerful imaginative charge both ethereal and anxious.

Many of the influential early figures in the science of electricity, such as Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, and Guglielmo Marconi, couched the new technology in mysticism and spiritualism, or even linked it to extraterrestrial life. Even the inventor of the phonograph himself was somewhat of a techno-spiritualist; Thomas Edison once attempted to build a radio device capable of capturing the voices of the dead.

Since then, musicians and composers both highbrow and popular have twiddled and tweaked electronic and electrical instruments, as well as electromagnetic recording and broadcasting technologies, to tune into new sonic, compositional, and expressive possibilities. In so doing, they have also gone a long way toward reimagining the scrambled boundaries of subjectivity as it makes…

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Voices from the past


Read about the recent Macarthur award winner and pioneer in recorded sound preservation!

Originally posted on Bibliolore:

Carl Haber, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

While he was stuck in traffic in early 2000, the physicist Carl Haber heard the drummer and world music enthusiast Mickey Hart on the radio talking about the dire need for preserving early recordings of indigenous peoples.

Haber had been working with SmartScope, a machine that analyzes visual information, and his work had been going so well that he had started brainstorming for further uses of this machine. It occurred to him that SmartScope might be able to read these old recordings without touching them, thereby removing the likelihood of irrevocably damaging them by playing them.

The idea worked, and Haber went on to facilitate the preservation of recordings in repositories such as the Library of Congress, and to participate in the repatriation of historical recordings to Native Americans and other ethnic groups, allowing them to hear the voices of their ancestors.

This according to “A voice…

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Shaker dance spaces

Originally posted on Bibliolore:


The Shakers built their first framed meetinghouse near New Lebanon, New York, along the Massachusetts border, in 1785; this structure assumed the central authority over the Shaker domain and became the architectural prototype for eleven other late–18th-century meetinghouses in New England.

The design of these structures had several distinctive elements, including a heavy timber frame, a sturdy wood-plank floor, double façade doors for separate male and female entry, leadership apartments above the private gable-end door and stairs, carefully gendered spaces throughout, a gambrel roof, and a singular unobstructed ground-floor space to accommodate dynamic communal dancing during worship.

The dance ritual influenced Shaker meetinghouse design and construction in two key ways: it required the adaptation of a mascular timber-frame technology that allowed a broad, uninterrupted floor space; and it necessitated substantial reinforcement of the flooring to safely meet the demands of the large, live weight loads of many worshipers moving rhythmically…

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