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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Education and the - changing - way we learn

I am an educator. I am called upon at my 'day job' to educate new staff, and I educate the public. I teach Wilderness Medicine for - in my opinion - the best school in the industry for wilderness medicine education. I teach many different types of navigation on a regular basis. I have taught leadership and outdoor skills for an amazing school in Alaska. Obviously I also teach Kayaking. I never planned on being an educator, it just sort of happened.

My wife is a trained educator. A tenured professor at a University. She has been an educator all her life, as well as a highly respected researcher. You can imagine the conversations we have regarding education.  She has truly forgotten more about education than I will ever know, and she puts up with me when I have a 'realization' about something that she has known for twenty years.

I mention this because the world is changing, quickly, and on many fronts. The first big change - which effected me greatly, as I worked professionally in photography at the time - was the transition to digital photography from film. I think a lot of the effects were negative for professionals, as it made it much easier to take a great photo. It's not hard when you can take as many photos as you want and see what you are doing with every exposure. With film we paid for every frame, and had no feedback until we saw the film. The negative impact of digital photography though had amazingly wonderful impacts on digital film making- or cinematography. If you want to make a movie now, you no longer need a studio backing you. You have very similar quality with a $3000 camera as you do with a $25000 camera. You can edit on your laptop. You can distribute your film over the web. I remember watching the Film '300' and thinking, these filmmakers are proving that you can make a movie in your back yard against a green screen and compete with the big boys. That entire film has only one shot that was done outdoors, which is  incredible because the entire movie takes place outdoors. Before I worked in photography I worked in film, and was lucky enough to work at a studio in NY that used one of the first HD cameras outside of Japan. It was terrible. It was massive and needed to be connected to a truck. Every time it was moved it had to be re-registered so the imagery would look correct. A process that took a minimum of a half hour. Today I shoot HD video with a 3.3 ounce camera mounted to my head - or anywhere else I want.

Music changed next, with MP3 players, and then the iPod and iTunes. It gave people the ability to record music easily in their homes and then distribute electronically. Taking the power out of the hands of the record companies, and putting it in the hands of the artists.

Television is being forced to change. More people than ever are unplugging their TV's and getting the content they want - and only the content they want - over the internet. Myself being one of them. There are very few things I miss by not having a TV. And honestly if it bugged me enough I could find a work around for those as well.

The changes in publishing are occurring as we speak, Digital books are taking over. And while companies are publishing traditional books in digital format, non-traditional books will be coming soon to an E reader near you. Books with interaction, and video. How soon until all textbooks are digital and updated frequently. Instead of schools buying a fortune in textbooks that they throw away after five or ten years. The instant a text book is published it is outdated. That will change and it will change soon.

But keep this in mind, the power of publishers and record companies is the power to get a product on a shelf in a store. That is it. A decade ago there was limited shelf space in retail stores, so if you wanted your book or your record to get some of that space you had to have a publisher push it there. That time is gone. Amazon, and iTunes have unlimited shelf space. You no longer need a powerful publisher to get Barnes & Noble to give you access to a customer.

If I had to bet on the next industry to be changed dramatically by technology I would put my money on medicine. I am not clairvoyant enough to now how those changes will occur, but time will tell. The power industry is changing, but the power companies choose not to accept it. If they didn't have the backing of world governments they would already be out of business. They are going to get left behind, and it is just a matter of time.

I mention all this because I am always thinking about the best way to get information to the people I am trying to educate. When you want to learn something informally you go to the internet. You can find video that will show you how to do just about anything. You can then find written instructions if that matches your learning style better. That was a big impact on me when I realized that people don't buy 'how to' books anymore. When someone wants to learn something they go online. This was a scary realization as I was at the time writing a 'how to kayak' type of book.

It was hammered home this morning as I was reading a book by Seth Godin - which is free to download in any format. and I read it on my iPhone at the gym - about education, and how we do it wrong. Our education system creates people suited to working in factories. And while a lot of people see the unemployment rate and want factories back in the United States how about if we change the way we educate our children and prepare them to work in the future, not the past.

It made me think about the way I teach wilderness medicine. Is the white board the best method? I am realizing that people learn better by doing, than by listening. And if you talk to someone for more than ten minutes, they aren't going to remember it. Which is the beauty of teaching something like kayaking. You can put someone in a kayak and do it. Or teaching cooking, put your student in front of a stove and cook. You wouldn't teach someone to dance by lecturing them would you? So all this got me to thinking about how I teach, and how I will teach. It got me to change my book.

The book. There is something wonderful about a book. A physical, bound, beautiful book. And these will never go away. But there will be fewer of them. Most published media will be digital. As I started laying out my book I realized I would need to create a massive amount of photos. I had always accepted that I would need to do this. But when it finally came time to start I felt it was wrong. So much of what my blog had become was a repository for video of how to perform a skill. To make a book that used pictures seemed like a step backward. And so I gave up on the idea of a physical book and started looking at the idea of a digital book that used video. I found I could do it for both iBooks and kindle, though there would be number of steps and two or three pieces of software for each platform to make the layouts work.  Then about a week after I made my decision Apple released iBooks author. Which made it instantly easy. The book is laid out, I have to write one short chapter and shoot two videos. The text is greatly expanded from when I originally wrote it for the blog, and should be available in June on iTunes. I think it may be the first kayak instructional book with HD video. My goal has always been to help people learn to kayak. And I think this is the natural next step.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today is proving to be difficult.

My plan was to go to the gym and then come home and spend the day working. I had shot some video for the book - Yes, there are big things coming. And no, 'video for the book' isn't a mistake - and my plan was to do the appropriate editing this morning. When I got the footage loaded onto my computer I found that the two sources of footage were inadvertently shooting at different resolutions. So I need to convert them. Which led me to realize that my hard drive was almost full. Which led me to also realize that my external drive was also almost full. It took several hours to get the appropriate space cleared out, and the files are converting now, a process that will take several hours. Which means no editing. It also means if I want to do anything else on my computer it will run very slowly. When all your work is performed on a computer, to have your computer forced to do something very intensive for several hours can be mind numbing. I could have allowed myself to get frustrated. But I chose to do this instead:

I made myself a cup of miso soup. I listened to the rain softly falling on the skylight. I put a blanket over my old dog, and let her sleep. I then chose to sit and meditate for 30 minutes. I could have gotten frustrated at the lack of apparent work being accomplished. But I chose not to.

Meditation gives me the ability to sit back and think of nothing. Currently in our world that is a very difficult thing to do. We are overwhelmed with data throughout the day. Our phones and computers constantly update us with however much information we are willing to let them. I see people at the gym on their cell phones while watching TV. We are inundated with literally thousands of advertisements a day. Then when I talk to people and they tell me "when I lie in bed to go to sleep, I can't turn my brain off! I lie there for hours thinking of a million things!" And of course we can't turn our brain off, it has been going at two thousand miles an hour since the moment we have lifted our head off our pillow. In my opinion the answer isn't medication, it is unplugging, and slowing down.

I get a lot of questions about Buddhism, and mindfulness. Of course the people asking don't know they are asking about mindfulness, but they are. The simplest description I can give for mindfulness is an attentive awareness of the reality of things, especially the present moment (thought the description  A dear friend recently asked about mindfulness 'When I am studying, is it all right if I listen to music, or when I am doing the dishes?' This is the way our minds work now. We need filler. Our own thoughts somehow don't seem fulfilling enough, or even worse, the thought of no thoughts is frightening.

I offered up meditation to a friend who is going through some difficult times, he can't seem to sleep. His immediate response was 'I could never do that'. For some reason the thought of meditation seemed impossible. I sometimes struggle to quiet my mind when I meditate. It is very difficult. But oddly when I kayak I have no trouble. No trouble at all quieting my mind, and sliding into the present. It isn't exactly the same. I am not thinking of nothing, I am thinking about the present. I am focused on the wind and the water, and my kayak and myself. But it is a meditation none the less.