What’s at Stake: Government-Supported Humanities

Government support for scientific research is going to be the subject of another march on Washington, D.C. very soon. And support for both basic and applied scientific research is clearly important: it’s led to important discoveries that impact our health and well-being on a daily basis.  Basic research provides the building blocks for applied research:

Major innovation is rarely possible without prior generation of new knowledge founded on basic research. Strong scientific disciplines and strong collaboration between them are necessary both for the generation of new knowledge and its application. Retard basic research and inevitably innovation and application will be stifled.

For example, studying systems biology has led to a new understanding about how medications can interact in the body, and how they’ll interact with the food we eat. Practical outcome: if you’re taking iron supplements, taking a stomach medication like Pepcid will reduce the amount of iron that your body will actually absorb, and eating foods high in vitamin C will increase the amount.

But the federal government doesn’t only fund science!  It also funds the humanities: history, art, philosophy, literature, and languages — all the aspects of human cultural constructs.  The National Endowment for the Humanities funds a tremendous amount of work by local governments, universities, public libraries, and independent scholars engaged in the production, dissemination, and preservation of culture.

A small sample from the list of NEH grant recipients in New York’s 1st congressional district (the east end of Long Island) in the past ten years can illustrate this more clearly:

  • a public library needing to purchase storage furniture to rehouse and preserve collections of books, maps, photographs, diaries, and whaling logs used in research and exhibitions on the history and culture of Sag Harbor, New York, from the eighteenth century to the present.
  • a musicologist requesting assistance in preparation for publication of volumes 4, 8, 13, 19, and 21 of the complete online digital edition of the secular music of Luca Marenzio.
  • a town needing training in disaster preparedness to preserve the town’s historical records from 1640 on, comprising over 6,500 cubic feet of manuscripts, maps, bound volumes, photographs, newspapers, and other published and unpublished materials.
  • support for four Iraqi professional archaeologists to attend an intensive training program in Remote Sensing and GIS and to survey archaeological sites in the key Nippur, Uruk and Eridu survey areas for evidence of site damage from looting and development, recording new sites, ancient landscape features and intra-site details.
  • a professor writing a book on how people with cognitive disabilities have been and should be dealt with in philosophy both with respect to what is due them and with respect to what is conducive to their good.

NEH funding made a re-creation of John Donne’s “Gunpowder Speech” possible, a project that made a virtual reality St. Paul’s Cathedral: the featured image is St. Paul’s Churchyard, looking east, from the west; from the Visual Model constructed by Joshua Stephens and rendered by Jordan Gray.  Important because the five hundred-year old cathedral burned down in London’s Great Fire of 1666.  The project allows us to experience what it was like for someone in 1622 (minus the smells, of course) — very different from the present-day cathedral!  And if you’re thinking “that’s nice, but I don’t see the connection to real life” think about how useful this technique would be for solving crimes, or diagnosing illness long distance, and so on!

Does an organization in your community have a project that needs funding? Involving your students in the grant application process could be a real learning experience, demonstrating the importance of federal government funding for the humanities.

BulbgraphOnOffUse social media such as Instagram to document student’s finished projects.

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Tuesday #EdTech Round-up

To give everyone a break from election-related news, here are some interesting #edtech things from around the web:

  • Using virtual reality to revisit the scene of Nagasaki post-atomic bomb: with the help of archival photos, Nagasaki University created a 3D model of the city that allows schoolchildren to explore a radius of about 500 yards around the bomb’s epicenter;
  • a lesson plan for coding an interactive map using Scratch from Ryan Smith on Brian Aspinall’s site (this is specifically for a map of Canada, but is customizable);
  • reviews of social studies apps you can use for enrichment from Common Sense;
  • an optimistic article from C|Net on how good online-only high schools can be when everything is working as intended;
  • and on that note, for people implementing online studies, a list of thoughtful questions from the blog Seattle Education that anyone involved with schools should be asking about privacy, the value and goals of data-driven pedagogy, and technology-mediated education in general.

Back to the election. Remember to vote!


Virtual Reality Starter Kit

There are several different varieties of virtual reality (VR) now.   A recent Knight Foundation report called “Viewing the Future,” defined them this way: “‘virtual reality’…creates environments that allow people to be “present” in an alternative environment; ‘augmented reality,’ which starts with the real world and overlays virtual objects and information; and ‘spherical’ or ‘360-degree’ video, which captures an entire scene in which the viewer can look up, down and around.” (An older worldviewsoftware’s blog post about using augmented reality for education is available here.)

While the report focused on VR’s effect on journalism, VR has finally reached a price point where it is within reach of the classroom.  The immersive qualities of VR can make it a natural for empathetic storytelling, so why not help your students make a VR project instead of a video? There are just a few things to keep in mind.

First thing to recognize is that the VR itself is different from other visual media such as video and graphics.  This blog from graduate journalism students exploring VR contains lots of tips about perspective, angles, and other techniques that they have experimented with.  The second thing is a theme from the blog: it’s especially interesting to note that they keep finding a deeper message: the story’s the thing!  In fact, one of the most popular VR apps in the Google Play Store is Storytelling: Chair In A Room, by Ryan Bousfield, but horror stories are not my thing, so I didn’t download it to try it — I’d recommend trying the official Star Wars app’s Jakku Spy story instead.

Third is a reminder to keep it short — VR is still disorienting, and if a story is too long viewers may become nauseous.  According to this article, “Symptoms such as nausea are caused when the brain receives visual cues that clash with sensory information received from the ears’ vestibular system, which aids balance.”  This problem may have been fixed (.pdf) experimentally by researchers, but it will take time to roll out to users.

Finally, there’s already a wide range of tools available.  Google/Alphabet has put a lot of effort into creating the infrastructure around VR, and emphasizing democratic accessibility.  The featured image is a Google Cardboard VR viewer, by Wikimedia Commons user: othree, and is made primarily out of — yes — cardboard, which you fold up and drop your phone into.  (There’s some other stuff too, like a couple of lenses, two magnets, a rubber band, and some velcro.)  The first lesson plan can be to actually make the viewers you’ll be using, either from scratch or from the parts.  Other lesson plans can focus on students’ experimentation of techniques, storyboarding ideas, and the final product itself.


Examples: YouTube 360 Videos

What will your students create?

BulbgraphOnOffChronological questions test students’ ability to sequentially order information, placing it in historical context.

Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/