Archive for the 'Random' Category

Posted by: Serena | 31st Jan, 2008


The proverbial ‘million dollar question’: how to get students interested, inspired, and engaged? Because I know absolutely everything and am in no way subject to error of any kind, I will answer this question. Ha.

I was lucky enough to happen upon Bryan Alexander’s gaming learning circle at the ELI conference. There’s nothing quite like listening to a group of higher-ed instructors discuss video games. What’s being used on their campuses? Medical simulations, textile design games, a game created by faculty to teach foreign languages, playing World of Warcraft (for research purposes, of course), Rock Band demonstrations for music departments… the list goes on.

As a student (perhaps a “damn idiot” one), it’s always a little surreal hearing professors debate over how best to reach students. The main question seemed to be “how can we use games to get students actively involved in their learning?” On one level, I’m genuinely impressed that these instructors are brave enough to approach this problem. Not every professor would be comfortable even considering the use of computer or video games for in-class instruction. (For some professors I’ve encountered, even using the internet to teach—or any technology more advanced than a VCR—is a daunting prospect.) Side note: Why does Microsoft Word want me to capitalize ‘internet’? What if I said ‘TEH INTARWEBZ’? Aha. It’ll take that. Thank you, Microsoft.

Gaming can be highly addictive. We’ve all heard of people allowing World of Warcraft to destroy his career, relationship, and even financial stability. Hell, I even know a few students who almost failed out of college; a result—at least partially—of excessive gaming. If we assume that displacement operates fairly logically, this becomes a simple matter, or so the world’s educators hope. Gaming is addictive. We want learning to be addictive. So if we combine the two, learning will magically take off in a way we’ve never dreamed of.

Well, yes and no.

While there are obviously many complexities to this issue, I think the most important—and often overlooked—question to be asking is not “How can I use this to hook students?” but “How can we do this together?” We’re not fish; we’re (mostly) discerning, intelligent individuals who can certainly tell when professors are introducing a classroom activity simply as an attempt to ensnare us. It’s surprisingly difficult to trick someone into learning things, especially when they know exactly what you’re up to. The way to do it (a method that rock star Gardner Campbell seems to have mastered in his usual effortless and more than slightly enviable way) is to be just as passionate about whatever technology you’re using as you want your students to be. Passion, inspiration, engagement… these are all highly contagious. If you decide to use games in the classroom, fine, but make sure that you’re so thrilled with these that you actually lose sleep at night playing them.

You’re not casting a line out to us… you’re jumping in with a big, noisy metaphorical splash.

And along these lines, I thought I’d write up a handy numbered list for all you teachers out there who have nothing better to do than read some crazy college student’s blog. Side note #2: Microsoft also does not like the word ‘blog’. For all you XP and Vista (oh no!) users out there, what you’re reading right now is merely a figment of your imagination. There’s no such thing as a blog. Back to the list!

1. Care! Care so much that every waking moment is spent obsessing over course content, student discussions, and all the possibilities for what’s next.

2. Engage your students! Class discussions are the best way to reinforce and expand learning. Students should be interacting with one another in the classroom, not just you. Have students create content for each other.

3. Give them more creative freedom. Consider assignments that allow students to exploit their own strengths. A piece of artwork or a video mash-up, for example, can demonstrate the same degree of learning as a traditional paper. (Often, these are even more effective.) Allow for flexibility in your assignments and encourage students to suggest their own ideas for how the content should be handled.

4. Take your class outside the classroom, both physically and figuratively. Play with different learning spaces, like outdoor areas or different types of rooms. Also try different setups within the classroom. Never have discussions with the entire class facing the front of the room. And encourage students to apply learning from the class to other areas of their life or coursework. Have them blog, tweet, photograph, film, paint, type, innovate.

5. As unbearably cliché as this sounds, don’t be afraid to try new things. Yes, sometimes it will fail miserably. Sometimes it will be a waste of time. But there’s also the chance that you and your students will discover something incredible. Don’t just try until you find one thing that works… keep trying.

This list is a work in progress, and I’m sure that I’ll think of more things to stick on there. Maybe it will help someone, or maybe it’s just repeating things that are already common knowledge. A common metaphor used at the ELI conference was “trying to get the fish to realize it’s wet.” (It’s convenient that this ties in so well with my earlier metaphor, isn’t it? I think fish metaphors work much better than iceberg metaphors.) This needs to be taken further.

The wet fish is no good if it thinks it’s wet alone.


**One last note on the fish metaphor. Jump in only after ensuring that the fish are actually fish and not, for example, giant maneating sharks. Because that would be unfortunate. Metaphorically speaking.

Posted by: Serena | 7th Dec, 2007

Playing with dolls

Filched from my Asian American Lit blog. Interesting how Uncanny Valley just keeps turning up. New Media Studies, the recent adaptation of Beowulf, Asian American Literature… perhaps this is an issue that will become increasingly relevant as our technology advances. Is it time to re-address the issue of replacement? Can people celebrate art while feeling threatened?

I can’t believe that nobody has posted about this before now, but hey, more fun for me! Asian ball-jointed dolls are a fascinating phenomenon, and their popularity is now widespread in this country as well. Anime convention-goers, collectors, and young children alike have adopted this fad with astonishing enthusiasm and occasionally alarming obsession.

In case you don’t know what Asian ball-jointed dolls are, I’ll summarize. They are, in brief, dolls of varying sizes that are based more precisely on the human form than most western dolls. Usually made of vinyl or resin, these dolls often have lifelike facial structures and anatomy, complete with staring eyes and a realistic amount of poseability. (In fact, many artists now use these dolls in place of the traditional wooden mannequins as reference for accurate figure drawing.) These dolls are generally made in Korea, Japan, or China, and there are many different brands to choose from, each of which have unique styles and features. Wikipedia has a good–though basic–overview of ball-jointed dolls here.

Read More…

Posted by: Serena | 25th Oct, 2007

Renaissance Revelry

This is gradually becoming my catch-all creativity blog. My latest Bullet article!

A Plague on Both Your Blouses: Renaissance Festival for the Modern College Student

Think of Maryland, and what comes to mind? Seafood? Mediocre baseball teams? Bad drivers? How about thousands of people running around in Elizabethan costume?

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is the second-largest fair of its kind in the United States, running every fall season from August to October since its opening in 1977. The festival itself takes place in a recreation of an old English village just northwest of Annapolis in Crownsville, Md.

Upon entering through the looming main gate, visitors are immediately overwhelmed by a wide variety of performances, shops, music, and general Renaissance-themed merriment. Many visitors choose to wear their own “garb” to the festival, adding to the authentic atmosphere. There are comedy shows, street acts, Shakespeare plays, elephant rides, breathtaking costumes, Celtic bands, a maze, jousting, and anything you could possibly want to eat… on a stick.

Last Saturday, members of UMW’s Renaissance Club embarked upon their annual pilgrimage to this hallowed 16th century village in the wilds of Maryland. Leaving before dawn and strengthened by a traditional breakfast of bagels and coffee, they piled into various historically inaccurate motor vehicles and headed north.

Once at the festival, they were confronted with the dilemma of planning out the day’s activities. It is tradition for Renaissance fair newcomers to hover just inside the main entrance with their maps and event lists, strategically blocking traffic as they wonder which attraction to explore first. Our heroes, however, were RennFest veterans and did not engage in such problematic behavior, each heading straight for his or her most prized destination.

Among the most popular events were regular performances by comedic acting troupe Shakespeare’s Skum. This year they amused hundreds of festival goers with Richard III: Just Misunderstood, Henry the “V”, and Macbeth in 20 Minutes or Less. Prancing about the stage in ridiculous costumes and even bringing in recent pop culture references, there is little doubt that their histrionic hilarity would leave even Shakespeare giggling in his grave.


A side-splitting performance was also delivered by Hack and Slash, a comedy duo who focus on the winning combination of improvisation and deadly weaponry. “The Bloody Drama” is another such comedy show, with a performance style fairly similar to UMW’s own improv troupe, The Undeniably Adjacent.

Further entertainment at Renaissance Festival was provided by The Mediaeval Baebes. Although the name might lead a few hopeful male readers to presume that these are a band of strippers, they are actually a band of singers and musicians. Yes, there is a difference. Singing primarily in Middle English but also dabbling in Latin, French, Italian, Russian, Welsh, Irish Gaelic and Cornish, these seven beautiful Brits are talented and attractive.

There are all sorts of unusual things to discover in the madness and mayhem of this event, from odd costumes to rowdy drunkards. (What makes these particular drunkards unique is their proclivity for bursting into period-appropriate song at regular intervals while still maintaining practiced English accents. Let’s see Psi Upsilon do that.)

During his travels, Renaissance Club officer Chris Goulait spotted a surly Genghis Kahn and several mimes connected by a white cloth. Also present were a gang of rather unconventional highwaymen clothed in road construction orange safety vests and plumed hardhats, wielding stop signs and shovels rather than swords.


Senior Lindsey Thomas had a similarly bizarre experience. “There was a guy dressed up as an elf, covered in black face paint and he dyed his hair and eyebrows silver. My friends said he was a ‘drow’ which is apparently something from Dungeons and Dragons … He hit on my friend and growled in her ear and called her ‘love.’” While not generally representative of typical behavior at Renaissance Festival, this illustrates the importance of not being seen, an accomplishment that is undermined by the ever-popular cleavage-enhancing bodices. It is widely agreed that these restrictive garments—when worn by the very old or the very nearly naked—are by far the most frightening thing at RennFest, rather than creepy but harmless role-playing game nerds.

After devouring one last round of assorted foods on sticks, the Renaissance Club members sadly departed, or attempted to. The later hours of Renaissance Festival are often characterized by heavy traffic in the parking area. One group of students, beset by cars on all sides, decided to make the most of their situation. As junior Michelle Labbe explains, “After the first hour and a half or so, we unrolled the windows, cranked up the volume, played the Time Warp, leapt out of the car in full garb and danced. Twice, so we could “do the Time Warp again.” This was met with much admiration from the cars in our vicinity, and we took a few song requests for a while until finally we started moving again.”

Another group of students managed to spice up their commute home by getting lost in D.C.

Generally, people tend to exhibit vast differences in basic desires. For example, Many RennFest attendees are filled with longing when confronted with delicious macaroni and cheese on a stick. Others are drawn to noisy stage acts and the thrill of jousting tournaments. Still more lust after glittering jewelry, handcrafted leather boots, or brocade corsets. And some simply drool over the contents of the aforementioned corsets. Whatever your obsession, you can find it at a Renaissance fair.

As coned cookie and yakitori aficionado Chris Goulait so aptly puts it, Renaissance Festival is “excitement on a stick.”


Posted by: Serena | 20th Sep, 2007

the Missing.

Dreams, or at least half-dreams, are seductive things. Forum post for 295 that I’m re-posting here because it ends with a question, one that I want to keep thinking about.

I fell half asleep re-reading Possession and I think at some point my subconscious began to blend me with the characters. You know that state that’s nearly sleep but not quite, when you begin to see flashes of the day’s activity as you drift off? And then it spirals away towards other things, blending everything together and inventing new identities, locations, frames of mind… until you either fall asleep all the way or wake up thoroughly disoriented and sometimes even disconcerted. Imagine now falling asleep with Christabel and Ash’s letters floating around in your head. I think maybe I imagined that I was one–or both–of them. Caught in an uncomfortable but hypnotic correspondence that I both craved and tried to escape at once. My whole life was wrapped up in letters. Nothing real, apart from just a few things, and those were increasingly problematic. In my half-conscious state I existed in nothing but letters. I’m not quite sure how to describe this, especially since whatever part I may have remembered clearly was effectively driven out by the building’s screeching fire alarm. (But hooray, we passed the fire drill.) Letters. When I say I “existed in nothing but letters” I think I mean that I had no real substance outside written words. Everything of me was trapped–not in the physical sheets of paper–but in the medium of correspondence. Limited to a written, intellectual, and emotional dialogue between two people. However intelligent or profound the two people are, an existence in letters is severely limiting. There is always something missing.

But now that I think about it, this idea could lead to an interesting theory on art, one that I’d like to support if I discover (once I’m fully awake and no longer rambling in this manner) that it actually has any rational basis. (Ha, look at me, trying to apply rationality to art. Can it be done? Should it be done?) Perhaps the greatest works of art (and by ‘art’ I mean what is generally known as “the arts”; theater, fine art, dance, music, literature) are great not because of what they contain but because of what they’re missing. The Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile may be so appealing to us because of what we imagine causes it. The part of the story that is not told. Escher’s famous drawing of the room with staircases in every direction, defying gravity. True, there are figures walking along these paths, but they have no faces, no real substance. They are allowed to defy natural laws because they are not real. But what if there were real people in the painting, attempting the same feat? We imagine them in, and are intrigued by the seeming impossibility. My life-long obsession with the painting “Watson and the Shark” can perhaps be explained by the fact that it was not the emotion or beauty of the artwork as much as the story that isn’t told. Why is he in the water? And why is he naked? It is painted as if a shark attack is not only imminent, but has in fact already occurred earlier. As far as complimentary adjectives go, most people seem to place “beautiful” and “inspirational” at the top of the list. I prefer “unsettling”. I don’t think that anything would please me quite as much as someone describing a creation of mine as “unsettling” rather than those blander praises. Unsettling means you’ve really burrowed into your audience’s consciousness. If they’re bothered, they’re thinking.

The only things that truly inspire us and instill us with passion are those that in some way intrigue us as well. Challenge is tempting. As soon as you decide that there is nothing more to learn on a certain subject, it becomes boring. ‘Decide’ rather than ‘discover’ because there is always more to learn, whatever the subject; we just choose to stop sometimes. Is Christabel more appealing to Ash because she is, unlike his devoted wife, an unknown quantity? A loose element that he’s not quite sure how to grasp? A challenge? And are Roland and Maud so caught up with the letters simply because of the relation to their chosen scholarly pursuits? Or perhaps they are as intrigued with the Missing as everyone else, and the sense that there is always more than what they’re seeing stirs them into passionate pursuit of Truth.

I could go on, but I should probably stop before I wander off entirely. This isn’t a stream of consciousness so much as raindrops of consciousness, with thoughts splashing on leaves until, overflowing, they drip down to the next leaf, the next thought, and mix together until all are the same, or at least as good as the same. (How do you separate and compartmentalize a puddle of thoughts?) So I’ll leave you with one question, which, like most of my questions, I’m not sure I even have an adequate answer for.

Assuming that–for now–we treat “Missing” with the same capitalized respect as “Truth” is often given, what is your Missing? Why are you here? What is it that unsettles and intrigues you enough to keep going, in whatever manner you do?

Posted by: Serena | 3rd Sep, 2007

Be careful with the fire.

I was working on a film blog post yesterday afternoon when the internet distracted me again (pesky internet) and I discovered something pretty spectacular.

Ever wondered how to make a laser flashlight? Or a snazzy pair of homemade infrared goggles? How about a miniature bow and arrow from a pen? You could even view sound waves in fire!

As if you didn’t have enough online distractions…


Posted by: Serena | 19th Jul, 2007

Facebook polls

I’ve been keeping my eye for the past few weeks on the new Facebook polls. They have been interesting at best, and utterly ridiculous at worst. However, the latest one was a little different:

“Who do you look up to the most?” (CHOICES: Politicians, athletes, businesspeople, artists, or scientists)

I think part of what makes it interesting is how abstract the question is in relation to former questions. (i.e. “boxers or briefs?” “Is global warming a concern?” “What’s your favorite burger joint?”) What do they mean by “look up to”? Admiration? Respect? Most valuable to society? Most interesting? Closest to matching personal goals? Stereotypical, desirable personality traits associated with each career path? Successfulness? (As measured in happiness or monetary gain?)

Has this abstraction of query affected the results of the poll? Let’s take a look at the responses. (NOTE: Facebook does not claim statistical significance with these polls. Keep that in mind.)


Ok. So at first glance it appears that–on average–Facebook users look up to artists the most, with athletes coming in second. What about demographic breakdowns?


No surprises with the percentage of age groups. Facebook poll responses have generally followed this pattern. But wait! The male/female response ratio is a surprise. (Though only if you’re geeky like me and remember past ratios.) If I remember correctly, most previous poll responses have been dominated by women. Why was there a higher male response to this poll? Do women have a harder time answering a question like this? And is it because they don’t look up to others as often, disagree with the method of categorization, or because they recognize the high level of subjectivity in the question, which makes a thoughtful response more difficult? And why is this question so easy for men to answer? Does this simple bar graph indicate a meaningful difference in gender-related thought processes and societal influences?


Oooh! The only two categories in which females exceed males in vote percentage are, oddly enough, two occupations we (society) generally consider to be opposites: artists and scientists. What is it that we’re supposed to be getting out of this graph? That women place a greater value on art and science while men favor sports? I certainly don’t think we should jump to that conclusion; it’s probably unfair to men. But what does it mean? I think it ties back to the issue of subjectivity. How flexible is the question being asked? (It’s plastic, Dr. C.) Perhaps what happened is that, due to differences in cognitive directions, men interpreted this question in one way while women interpreted it in another. Likely?


This last one is interesting too. It seems that the oldest age group looks up to scientists more, whereas the youngest idolize artists. Naiveté vs. practicality? 18 to 24-year-olds also chose artists, and 25 to 34-year-olds went for athletes. Do age differences contribute in the same way as gender differences, or is it a bit more random?

The only observable, significant uniformity was general loathing for politicians. Unsurprising.

Posted by: Serena | 8th Jul, 2007

Portfolio online now!

Just a shameless plug for my online portfolio 🙂


Posted by: Serena | 6th Jul, 2007

Doll Face

I’ve been meaning to blog this for quite a while now.

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What does everyone else think of this video? I saw it (partially) as a statement on the media’s influence over us, but perhaps it’s also saying something about human nature. What makes it so sad? The very end, or everything leading up to it? (Or do you even think it is sad?) Just something to think about.

Posted by: Serena | 30th Jun, 2007

Just Czeching

This isn’t exactly directly related to anything discussed in class, but as it is something internet-related, I’m going to claim relevance. I was going through a long, unfruitful, and highly convoluted process to track down my ancestry (namely, which physical traits originated in which countries) involving Google Image Search and came across this site. Here’s an excerpt:

Finding a Czech wife

Every day we meet men from various parts of the world who are looking for a wife, a women for life, in the countries of Eastern Europe. They are often tired and even disgusted by the manner the women in their home country behave. That is why they have begun to search their bride in Eastern Europe. We have many times heard quite unbelievable stories and experience of men, our customers, with women from Western Europe and the USA. Stories of how women in their countries are mostly after money, their car, house, and property. It has become a standard that women spend a lot of money for plastic surgeries, in cosmetic salons, psychoanalysts etc.

Example: “John from the USA told us about his experience. The women he knows in his home country do not cook at all, they buy ready-made food or go out to a restaurant to eat. Someone else has to take care of cleaning up, John has never seen such a woman washing dishes or cleaning up the household, and still it is he who works and brings money home.”

We are always surprised to hear stories like that although we have heard them many times. Such behavior is not common in the Czech Republic. With your decision to go for a Czech bride, you may have taken the best first step for your happy life. Czech women are brought up in the traditional way, they are not so emancipated and influenced by feminism. A Czech wife is usually caring, loving, sincere, and faithful. They like it to be caressed and taken care of by you, and in reward they will take care of you and give you love. If you are looking for a partner, bride or woman for life, we will be very glad to help you in this quest. Just select one of our programs and register! And leave the rest up to us…”


After the initial shock of “I can’t believe there are still people who think this way”, the anger settled in. Now, I’m probably a rabid feminist–I’ve been raised that way by my dad, who is definitely a rabid feminist (yes, that always gets laughs)–but doesn’t this seem a little old-fashioned and even more than slightly offensive? Am I just overly sensitive, or are any of the other women out there outraged by this too? I don’t care what country you’re from or even your gender; being “not so emancipated” SHOULD NOT be a desirable characteristic in ANYONE.

What does everyone else have to say about this?