Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Flip Flopping on Flipped Learning

In March 2012 I wrote about Flipped Classrooms. Here is a brief update to that material:

December 11, 2013 Update
Mixed news today on the MOOC front. The NY Times reports on how MOOCs "flopped" at California State University, San Jose. The Times reported on a University of Pennsylvania Graduate School for Education report that shows a very small percentage of students ever complete these massive online courses. The Times goes on to say that San Jose State experimented with smaller online courses and personal mentors designed to increase participation but this had little impact.

Meanwhile, the PBS NewsHour profiled Detroit area high school Clintondale this evening in a piece on flipped classrooms. The NewsHour included an interview with Justin Reich, a professor with the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Reich was clear that the power of online learning is directly related to the connection between teachers and students and the curriculum in the classroom:

"What is exciting to me about the flipped classroom" says Reich, "is that it gets teachers asking two really important fundamental questions:

'What are the best ways for me to use my time, especially the very precious time I have in classrooms with my students?'

and then,

'What are the kinds of direct instruction that I can provide that could be digitized so that people can watch it again?'"

However, Reich adds: "If what we see from the flipped classroom is that we take bad lectures and uninteresting worksheet problems . . . and we simply flip the order of those two things the odds that we see significant improvement in our schools is pretty low."

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Picture This: The End of Photography

It's over. Photography is dead. You heard it here first.

Actually, you might have heard about this three years ago if you attended the symposium "Is Photography Over?" in April 2010 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. On the Canon Digital Photography Forums the death of photography was announced in February of 2012. In May 2013 the Small Camera Big Picture blog asked the question: "Is Professional Photography Dead?"

Aaron Lindberg starts his September 2, 2013 fstoppers article with the same question. In response to the growing army of photographers lamenting the end of their professional craft at the hands of wannabe photogs armed with $800 Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras, Lindberg ultimately implores pros to "take down a large client you never thought you could" as a way for professionals to stay successful in the business.

Really? I can do that?

The signs of the demise of photography are evident. Eastman Kodak Co. announced this week that it's stock would start trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Emerging from bankruptcy the venerable photo company heralded their phoenix rising with a shiny new business model as a "global technology company offering breakthrough solutions and professional services in the packaging, graphic communications and functional printing markets."

Perhaps the end of photography is at hand.

Looking at the data it would seem the death of photography has been greatly exaggerated.

In an ABC News piece on digital photography aired in October, John Donvan reported 850 billion photos are taken every year now. Check this Overgram infographic for more on the history of photography and some data on the increase of the number of pictures taken throughout the years.

Perhaps it is the end of professional photography we're talking about here. 

The LittleBirdLittleBee says that Lindberg is wrong. "I think photography is a cassette tape" says Little Bee. "And it's had it's day. I think I bailed at the exact right time. I am thankful every day that I'm not still pushing against that tide."

Armstrong Redwoods State Park
It feels a bit like the pros are doing a lot of griping while the rest of us are having a field day with our smart phones and cheap DSLR cameras that take amazing pictures with very little training, technical skills, or artistic ability.

Life on Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook couldn't be any better for us amateurs.

Back at the SFMOMA 2010 symposium you will hear a lot of discussion about the end of the art of photography. With so much digital photography and all the ways in which we consume it, some are asking why should museums present photography as an art form any more?

Panelists devote quite a lot of their discussion to the history of photography and they raise questions about whether photography can be considered an art form today given the nature of the field in relation to the changes in technology and the expansion of high quality camera equipment to the masses.

Some of the most interesting discussion centered on what photographers did with their cameras and the types of images they created in the early days. This was a visual art form more than 60 years before Photoshop.

Melies colorized "Trip To The Moon"
Much of the debate looked at the intersection between film, video, and photography and how the lines are being blurred as the new technology allows for both video and still photography even on your own smart phone.

The 2011 Martin Scorsese film Hugo brought one of the great artist to light for a new generation. George Méliés's films were more photographic art then they were movies. His film images were created using large art pieces he created and arranged with his actors in front of his camera.

Dziga Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera
Dziga Vertov is another early filmmaker who worked visual magic with his camera. Blurring the lines between documentary and propaganda for his Communist backers, Vertov also tried to create films built on fantastic photographic imagry -- more as art than narrative film.

Let's be realistic about this. In today's world photography has changed. For the better, and for some, it's for the worse. I know photographers who spent more than 20 years in the craft who gave it all up and never looked back. I know filmmakers who never learned non-linear digital editing and became unemployable almost over night.

Does that mean we are talking about the end of photography as an art form AND the end of professional photography as we know it?

I believe the debate is still going on these questions.

What is true is that the way we create, manipulate, and consume imagery is changing before our very eyes. Literally. Some of this change in technology is based on the needs and wants of the consumer.

When my son was born digital photography was in its infancy. The first consumer level digital camera capable of connecting to a personal computer came out the year before he was born. This was about ten years before YouTube was created so people were not easily posting videos online.

However, the ability to capture still frames from video recordings made it possible for me to capture these images and post them on the web as part of a site I called "Noah on the Net."

Not the most amazing quality when it comes to today's standards but the wow factor of putting pictures online for family and friends far and wide was pretty high.

In fact, I continued to create digital photo collages for many years and began sending them to mailings lists that grew and became too difficult to manage. It's not surprising that this is one of the most popular aspects of social networking today. According to Overgram, 70% of Facebook activity is based on photography. That's 70% of more than one billion users!

Let's get back to photography . . . or the end of it anyway. 

I wrote about the end of Kodachrome in 2011 when Kodak assigned National Geographic Photographer Steve McCurry to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome. That was two and a half years and about three trillion photographs ago.

It's clear to me that photography is booming. It's changing but it's not dying.

It's never been a better time for photographers who want to practice their craft. For me, digital photography expanded my opportunities to capture my family history and daily fun in life. But it's also provided an amazing opportunity to be a National Geographic photographer. I took this picture in November 2008 which was selected as part of the Daily Dozen for the Your Shot competition.

So go ahead and smile. Photography is not over and you might just need to take a selfie because your Facebook cover photo needs updating.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jewish Baseball Changes Lives, Builds Families, Creates Community

In the early 1940’s Simon Lakritz moved from the gritty streets of Detroit to the wild west of Tucson, Arizona. His parents were divorced so he traveled to the Southwest with his mom and siblings. Life was pretty tough during those years. He had no friends, didn’t do well in school, and he had no sense of what his future would hold.

Si Lakritz is far left in the back row.
“In November 1945” Si wrote in his memoir, “my life took a decided turn for the best.” At age 15, Si had joined Tucson AZA Chapter 457.

This is when Si met his life long friends Larry Fishman, Harry Nadler, Jordan Zipren, and Buddy Jens. AZA Chapter 457 was to help him get through the awkward days of high school and ultimately into the University of Arizona.

“There were several areas of interest in AZA” Si wrote, “including athletics, community service, and above all social events. It was a chance to be part of something.”
AZA Chapter 457 Baseball team circa 1951.   

Jeff and Brad Lakritz
According to Si, the 1951 AZA Chapter 457 baseball team had a “murderer’s row” of hitters.

On one particular day they swept a double header against the Al Jolson AZA Chapter taking the night cap 17 - 5. The Alephs were on their way to defending the Mountain Region championship they captured the year before.

20 years later Si was my Little League coach during those same critical years of my youth. They were important times for me and my older brother Jeff who played on the same team.
Coach Si Lakritz of the Hanford Little League Lions

Father and sons together on the diamond brought many exciting moments including one season when we went: “From Last to First . . . Almost.” We tied for first with CVC but lost the league championship on a tiebreaker.

I am still friends with most of the people from both those teams more than forty years later.

DTLLL 2008 Major All Star Team
I began my own official coaching career in 2004 with my son Noah. I coached his teams for six years from Little League to Babe Ruth including five all star and travel teams. What a wonderful experience we had together as father and son. The whole family had fun with those teams, the many exciting moments on the field, and all the trips to tournaments throughout Northern California. We met many of our good friends from all those games and tournaments and even the little league parade. Some of Noah’s best friends are from those experiences.

Brad takes a cut in a recent game
During that time I also joined and even became the manager of an adult softball team for six years. Interestingly, about half of the players on that team were Jewish. This provided a great outlet for exercise and fun but it was also a way to meet and hang out with new friends each week.

Eventually that team was too difficult to keep going as schedules made it impossible for everyone to commit to play even just one game a week during a 10 week season.

Matt Elkins throws a curve for the Rebels
So, I took a few years off from the regular softball schedule until one day I read in The J Weekly that Matt Elkins had started up a team at Congregation Rodef Sholom.

They had a maiden voyage in August 2011 with a game against a team from Congregation Kol Shofar. Matt’s dream was to put together a Jewish softball league of teams throughout the Bay Area. “Wow,” I thought, “just like my Dad’s AZA league in Arizona we could have our own Jewish league right here in Northern California.” I signed up as soon as I could.

We’ve played about 15 games in the last two years with games against Congregation Kol Shofar and Congregation Emanu-El from San Francisco. Matt brought over an East Bay team for a mini-tournament in May 2012 (the “Kiddush Cup”) and there seems to be a great interest in having more teams join the fun.

It turns out there are several East Bay congregations who also have teams. I joined the Kol Shofar team in an away game against an East Bay All Star team last summer. They were glad to host us and even provided bagels!

While everyone likes to win, it isn’t about the wins and losses. Although we do have umpires and keep track of the score, the emphasis is on being outdoors, getting exercise, and having a Jewish communal experience around a game of softball.

The fun is in the moments of the game when exciting things happen. Someone gets a hit or makes a great catch and there are high fives all around. There have been comebacks, disappointments, and lots of smiles along the way. We play as Team Rodef Sholom and the community comes together and supports each player in their moment at the plate or when the ball comes their way on the field.

We don’t have a “Murderer’s Row” of hitters and there are no Hank Greenbergs or Sandy Kofax’s on our team. In fact the line up is different just about every game. And that’s the point of it all. To give everyone a chance to join in on the fun.

One player is in his 60s, one player had a baby last year, new players join the team every game, and in one game we had three father-son combos on the field including Cantor David Margules and his son Benny.

I remember the days when Cantor David would cheer on his son during Little League games with a rousing “Let’s go Benny baby!”

When the game is over both teams line up for high fives and we pose for a photo to commemorate the moment.

Team Rodef Sholom and Kol Shofar in August 2013

After our last game players from both teams went out for a drink to salute one player whose wife was home struggling in her life with cancer. For him, going out for a couple of hours and playing ball was a welcome distraction from the trying times at home.

I hope that many years from now other members of the Rodef Sholom community, perhaps even the grandchildren of members of our team this year, will look back at all this and say that they were glad we started this tradition of Jewish baseball fun.

For now, I am simply pleased and proud to be a part of it all and I know my Dad would be too.

To find out more about Si Lakritz visit the Lakritz Family Scholarship page.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Be Here Now" - Aren't We?

I went to an amazing tribute concert for the late Michael Bloomfield this weekend at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley. The show was led by Jimmy Vivino (the Conan O'Brien Show) and Barry Goldberg (Electric Flag, Bob Dylan, Steven Stills), and included blues luminaries Nick Gravenites, Elvin Bishop, Harvey Mandel, Charlie Musselwhite, and Maria Muldaur.

The Sweetwater Music Hall is a tiny venue in downtown Mill Valley with a long history of musical performances dating back to it's opening days in 1972. Like most musical shows these days you see plenty of people with their cell phones shooting pictures and video all night.

Concert goer blocks view of Charlie Musslewhite.
In your face use of cell phones at concerts is funny and irritating at the same time. It's funny when you think about whether or not these people are actually paying attention and enjoying the concert. It's irritating for other concert goers and the artists who want to just experience the show.

So it came as no surprise when Maria Muldaur blurted out her desire for people to put down their phones by saying "Be Here Now" -- quoting Ram Dass. Of course the crowd cheered Muldaur's reprimand.

Another way of thinking about this phenomenon is that people (especially celebrities) don't want candid photos or videos of them ending up online. In a blog entry back in 2010 Digital Forgiveness vs. The End of Forgetting, I spoke about how these images and videos can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove after the fact. Indeed, according to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, many bars, nightclubs, and even private party hosts now require visitors to sign agreements not to tweet or otherwise post information about other guests and whatever is going on there that night.
Maria Muldaur at the Sweetwater Music Hall.

Rosen also talks about a Pew study showing that more 18-to-29-year-olds are concerned about their online portfolios than older adults are because they understand the consequences of over sharing.

It wasn't long before the phones came out again. Most people were at least nice enough to wait until Muldaur left the stage.

Which brings me back to why it is that so many people do this now days. Throughout the show I had been thinking the same thing myself. I wanted to enjoy the show and didn't want to bother anyone behind me if I decided to pull out my phone and shoot some video.

For me the urge to capture part of the show was not just to be able to share it with friends online. The video would help me remember the show and re-live some of the brilliant performances. It's what people do now.
Maria Muldaur sings "My Girlish Days"

The Grateful Dead were pioneers in allowing and actually encouraging live recordings of their musical performances. In what can now be seen as being way ahead of their social media times, the Dead allowed the recordings in order to maintain and, in fact, improve their fan base and ticket sales.

Today, if you do a YouTube search for Sweetwater Music Hall you receive a seemingly endless list of amateur and professional live video recordings from this venue. Included in that list are the two short clips I recorded last Friday night. Although not very professional, the video I shot is a nice piece of the evening I can share with the world and use to help me remember the show.

On the other hand, Muldaur is going to simmer in her disdain for the practice of fans putting their phones in her face whenever she's on stage.

Perhaps someday she will appreciate the recordings of her shows or at least be able to acknowledge the fact that people liked her performance enough to want to capture it and share it with others.

Click here to see another clip from that amazing show. Enjoy!