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Experiencing Mastery–With Julia Child

Julia Child On Quiche

Julia Child was terrific at teaching us how to cook, eat and live.

I have no monopoly on this insight.

But it’s very enjoyable to be reminded not only how much a very effective and hard-working person can do in a very small space, but also how much Julia Child has to teach us about teaching and learning.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a little half-page essay by Child in a cooking magazine. It’s a miracle of compression. In less than 650 words (about a half a page), Child:

  1. defines quiche,
  2. tantalizes us with a description of the dish,
  3. chronicles the dish’s culinary rise and fall,
  4. whets our appetite for the dish,
  5. inspires us with a story of how make the dish more easily,
  6. gives a recipe for both the crust and the quiche.

All in eight paragraphs! How many of us could teach half as much in twice the space?

What’s going on here? How does Child work this magic?

To start, Julia begins with the result, the end-product: its taste and smell and pleasures. Quiche smells good, and it’s part of welcoming friends into your home. This is very motivating. You think: “I want to do that!”

Second, Julia makes the process easier by dropping out unnecessary or more-complicated steps. Her inspiring anecdote concerns an anxious neighbor who dread making the dough. Julia comforted the neighbor by advising her to skip that hard part: just buy a pre-bought crust. Who would be the wiser?

The effect was magical: the neighbor brimmed with excitement at her newfound ability.

We may call this “confidence,” but learning experts call it self-efficacy: the feeling of ‘I can do it!’ Apparently, it doesn’t necessarily come from experience. Some people just have more of that feeling. But “experiences of mastery” can boost that feeling of self-efficacy, hence preparing us for greater challenges.

That’s what Julia did with her anxious neighbor: made the task simpler so the neighbor could experience a success and feel more confident to approach a bigger challenge. Julia was quite the psychologist!

Cooking is hard. It’s a complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process. Changing the salt here changes the taste and texture there. Kneading more or less there, changing the temperature elswhere––each of these changes the end result. So you might have to go through the same process many, many times in order to get each step just right, otherwise the end result may be inedible.

It’s difficult to do something without knowing where you’re headed. And too much challenge overwhelms us. So these two strategies work very well: (1) emphasize the end result, the goal, and (2) simplify the complex process, in part by reducing the steps.

So are these two clever methods something that applies only to cooking? Hell no!

There are simple names for these methods. The first is sometimes called reverse-engineering. You take the end result and you take it apart to see how the pieces fit together.

The second is an old educational method called (depending on the context) chunking or scaffolding.

  • The idea of chunking is simply: the average person’s memory only holds so much information. So in order to hold a long string of info, break it into smaller bits. We do this all the time when we separate phone numbers into three- and four-digit chunks.
  • The idea of scaffolding is simply to help the learner by building a supportive structure around him––like the scaffolds built around a building to work on it as it’s being assembled.
    • You give someone pre-assembled bits of the work, so the work is easier, and then over time the learner is able to do the more complex task.

If you teach or train, you can apply the same methods to any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process.

  • Say you want students to learn to write solid argumentative prose.
    • You might start by asking them to take some apart. Identify the argument, the evidence, the reasoning. Reverse-engineer what good writing is.
    • Then you might give the students the argument and have them support it with evidence and reasoning. Or give them the argument and a pile of evidence and have them pick which evidence supports and which undermines the argument.
  • You can do the same thing with scientific experimentation.
    • You might start by giving students a finished scientific paper supporting a conclusion based on hypothesis-testing. Working backwards, you can ask the students to explain why this particular experimental method was used, why another one would not have worked.
    • Or you can give the students the experiment to run so they can collect the data, or give them the hypothesis and the data and ask them to analyze the data to see if it supports the hypothesis or not.

In short, Julia Child was certainly a miraculously gifted teacher. And like all gifted people, she worked tremendously hard. But her gifts and hard work follow underlying principles. And one of the inspiring things about Julia Child is how much we can learn from her about teaching. Namely:

Any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process:

(1) can be practiced forwards or backwards––and should be––

(2) can be practiced from any step or ‘moment’ in the process to the next––and should be so practiced, e.g., by providing pre-fabricated materials for each step in the process and asking the learner to use them so as to lighten the burden of learning.

Learning is hard.

  • Learning anything complex is harder.
  • Learning a multi-step process is hard.
  • Orienting all your thoughts and behavior towards one goal is hard.
  • Doing them all together is very, very challenging.

Julia Child knew how to lower the difficulty level while keeping us stimulated by the excitement and challenge of a meaningful goal. And she does this the same way we should: by starting from the end, working backwards, and making the steps easier by simplifying them or practicing them separately.

––Edward R. O’Neill

cross-posted to/from blogspot

Robin Ladouceur Moving to Yale Graduate School Deanship

I am equal parts excited and sad to announce that ITG’s Robin Ladouceur will be moving to a new position in the Yale Graduate School as Assistant Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences. Robin has worked in ITG for four years supporting courses, primarily in the English Department and managing our Instructional Innovation Internship program. She has recently helped advance mobile learning initiatives like our iPad loan program. Before coming to ITS, Robin worked at the Yale Center for Language Study and earned her Ph.D. at Yale in Russian Language and Literature.

Robin, thank you for your years of service and we wish you all the best on your return engagement at HGS. On a personal level we will miss you but we’ll see you around campus and, as you’ve assured us, when Peeps Fest rolls around.

Large Horizontal Image Presentation

Cross-posted from my project journal site

Since the close of classes in May, I’ve found more time to work on getting into the weeds with my 絵巻物 project and have made some forward motion.

One of my best discoveries has been that Adobe Photoshop CS 5.1 will execute the image tiling needed to allow zooming as happens in most of the typical large image presentations that I’ve found online. (For some scroll examples, see my post at Digital Humanities Questions and Answers.) Though I’ve only done it with my proof of concept section of the scroll, it was not a horribly intensive or time-consuming procedure. Strictly speaking, what Adobe has done is to bundle Zoomify capabilities into Photoshop. Using the steps described by Adobe’s help documentation, the output is not only the image tiles for my TIFF, Continue reading

New York Times series on Digital Humanities

The New York Times has just issued the first in a series of articles about “Humanities 2.0: Liberal Arts Meet the Data Revolution.”

The article quotes Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Tom will be speaking to Yale’s Digital Humanities Working Group this Thursday. The session is open to the Yale public. Please join us!

November 18
Tom Scheinfeldt, Assistant Director of the Center for History and New Media
4:00 – 5:00 pm
Whitney Humanities Center, room 208

Proxi vs. Automator

Having trouble with Apple Automator? Then try Proxi, a free workflow manager that can be downloaded from the Apple website. Automator is Apple’s built in task workflow utility but Proxi is an exceptional alternative. While Automator is useful for standard repetitive tasks such as searching for folder items, moving them to another location, and editing their names, Proxi takes a slightly different approach to setting up workflows. Proxi allows users to link their tasks (similar to the ones in Automator) to “triggers” such as waking the computer from sleep, launching or closing an application/file and many more. Proxi can even recognize when the battery is low and prompt the user to close certain applications that are running. Contrary to Automator in which users must initiate their workflow and tasks, Proxi integrates workflow management into native computer processes and non-user initiated actions.

Proxi main program window

Proxi must remain open for the triggers and workflows to be recognized but once your workflow has been set up the main window can be closed and Proxi can run silently in the background. Proxi even allows you to save blueprints of your “triggers” and “tasks” so that you can open them on another computer. The program is really easy to learn to use and you will even discover neat triggers to launch reminder messages that will display on the screen.

A sample message that can be produced from one of the many "triggers." This one is displayed when adding a new folder.

Altogether Proxi is definitely an application to add to your collection of utilities. Follow the link below to download.

Making WordPress Accessible

While WordPress is a highly accessible platform right out of the box, it is up to the administrators and theme designers to tweak and configure their site to ensure that it is accessible to all users, including the blind, deaf, elderly, or anyone else who might for some reason have difficulty navigating the web.

This post outlines some resources that might prove useful in creating an accessible WordPress site, particularly with regard to sight impairments.

Visually impaired computer users generally use a Screen Reader, such as JAWS, which speaks the website’s content using a synthesized voice. Screen Readers speak the content (headings, links, menus, blocks of text) according to the code, so it is up to the theme editor to keep the HTML and PHP clean and ensure that a screen reader can logically process the website’s content.

Though a bit outdated, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 provide sound coding guidelines for how to maintain an accessible website. In terms of WordPress themes, it is important to minimize use of tables and to make sure graphics and videos have descriptive alternate text.

The WordPress Accessibility Codex also outlines useful accessibility guidelines unique to the WordPress platform.

Screen Reader resources

WebAnywhere is a free online screen reader that is useful for testing pages. It’s also worth trying out just to get a sense for the challenges of navigating the web by ear.

Fangs is a Firefox extension that simulates JAWS reader. Rather than speaking the content, it outputs a text similar to how JAWS would read the page.

More useful accessibility testing resources:

Useful WordPress Plugins

The WordPress Accessibility Widget is a very useful widget that allows users to easily change the site’s font size. The code can be easily tweaked to customize the available font sizes or add additional size options.

The WordPress Access Key Widget is another useful widget that allows the administrator to easily set up access keys for their site. With this plugin, access keys can be assigned for existing pages under “Posts” on the admin interface.

One issue with access keys is that the keyboard commands vary by web browser. For example, Mac Firefox is CTRL+access key, and Mac Safari is CTRL+ALT+access key.

You can see these plugins in action at this test site.

Other Information

The Arjuna-X theme, which lacks tables, is a highly accessible theme and might be worth testing and tweaking when building an accessible WordPress site. and provide additional useful information and solutions for WordPress accessibility.

Learning iPhone app development

In this post, I will try to describe my experience with learning how to develop apps for the iPhone, and all other Apple devices using OS X for that matter.

1. What you need to know:

- Objective-C – it is a variation of the C programming language. If you have an year of experience in programming in another language, it should not be a great challenge – although, if the language you are using is not as low level as C, you will want to become familiar with pointers and memory allocation – Programming in Objective-C 2.0 by Stephen Kochan is a good introduction to the language – you will probably still need to look up some things on the internet though.

- Cocoa API and the iPhone SDK – allow you to build the GUI. This is how the code written into Objective-C is made to respond to the touchscreen and look as nice as iPhone apps look. Depending on the project you are working on you will probably want to learn how to access the internet and how to store information in SQLite databases. Sams Teach Yourselves Cocoa Touch Programming is a somewhat good introduction to the topic. At this point, I would definitely recommend watching youtube and blog tutorials, and referring to all other resources and books that you have at your disposal.

2. How to start:

I think it all boils down to the level of complexity of the app you want to create, and the programming background that you have. For Xunzi it helped me a lot to first familiarize myself with Objective-C, and then move on to see how to manipulate the GUI to some extent. Then learn how to work with SQLite (since that is the DB system that OS X uses). Then learn how to make your app get info from the internet.

Networking with youtego

It’s safe to add youtego to the latest iteration of social networking tools. While youtego may be carving out a unique niche, the end goal is nothing new: meeting people with similar qualities over the Internet.

Much like Facebook, youtego is built upon individual user profiles. However, this is where youtego goes off in a different direction. Rather than the usual profile structure of listed biographical information, youtego wants you to be more creative. By filling in prompts such as “I can” and “I love,” you build a less conventional, more artistic snapshot of yourself. Rather than posting your extended educational background, for example, you post an interest in stargazing. Each of your profile items needs an icon, so be prepared to provide your own images. Each time you fill in your profile, you are “tagging your ego,” hence “tego.” In this sense, using youtego is supposed to be an introspective experience, prompting you to think about yourself in a qualitative manner. Youtego advertises as an exercise in “self-visualization.” The downside of this is that the profiles are limited in scope. What they gain in artistic value they lose in terms of hard facts.

Once you’ve built a profile, of course, the next step is to join the youtego online community. Someone with similar content in his or her profile will become your “TegoMate.” This part is fairly standard with only a few minor innovations.

While youtego’s approach to profile construction is certainly more unique and wholesome, it’s still about joining an online community. Yes, creating your profile may lead to some introspection, but beyond that, you can’t do very much.