Cine-Tracts Issue Number 2

Cine-Tracts was one of the first Journals of Film and Cultural Studies published in Canada. The Journal was published from 1976-1983. In total, there were seventeen issues. No support was ever received for its publication except for the seventeenth issue. The journal survived on the energy of a few people and about 2,000 subscribers worldwide. Run your cursor over the image below to view the journal in full screen mode
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Learning, Informal - Formal

An editorial in the April 8th edition of Nature raises some important issues about student learning experiences in the sciences. [The] "evidence strongly suggests that most of what the general public knows about science is picked up outside school, through things such as television programmes, websites, magazine articles, visits to zoos and museums — and even through hobbies such as gardening and birdwatching. This process of 'informal science education' is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual's realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment." (Nature 464, 813-814)

The same argument can be made for many other disciplines. The relationship between informal and formal learning is characterized by extreme fuzziness. As I have discussed in recent articles (particularly, The Radical Impossibility of Teaching) classrooms and formal lectures may well be the last place in which empowered and empowering learning takes place. The formal schedules of schools, departments divided into sometimes highly contested disciplines, and the credit system all discourage the value and importance of informal learning.

In fact, learning informally is at the heart of how people discover new things and new ways of understanding the world. For example, a visit to a museum combines the experiences of viewing with the challenges of interpretation. It would be difficult to summarize or quantify the relationships that viewers developed with Mark Rothko's work at a recent retrospective at the Tate Modern in London. Something was happening, although it was difficult to know what. Many visitors sat and stared at the paintings for quite a while. Were they wasting time? Or were they exploring the canvases, their brilliant colours and careful shading?

"An Ad Hoc Committee of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching
(NARST) stated in 2003 that there are three “important characteristics of learning… First, learning is a personal process, second, it is contextualized, and third, it takes time…Learning occurs when people reconstruct meaning and understanding; a different way of thinking, perhaps, or a different way of responding to an idea or event. Learning that occurs today depends on yesterday’s learning and is the foundation for tomorrow’s learning. The cumulative, iterative process of learning emphasizes the importance of time.”. Our own research in this area reinforces the importance of iteration." (Susan Stocklmayer, Public awareness of science and informal learning - a perspective on the role of science museums, published by the National Academies in the US)

Learning takes time and follows many pathways. A good teacher can create a map with destinations, but the routes have to be developed by the students. Those routes may meander for a while because the iterative process is not the same for everyone. Knowledge and information can be shared along the way. Wisdoms can be imparted through discussion and interaction, but these travels will always be characterized by the richness of the unexpected sometimes colliding with the expectations of teachers and other times producing engaged and engaging dialogue.

The tyranny of schedules in schools is that they artificially 'locate' learning at a time and place that may not be convenient for everyone. The schedule cannot account for iterative processes because it generates a linear type of learning that goes against its very essence.

"To summarise: learning rarely, if ever, occurs and develops from a single experience. It is cumulative, emerging through diverse experiences. It is a dynamic, never-ending, and holistic phenomenon of constructing personal meaning. Much of what people come to know about the world, including the world of science content and process, derives from real world experiences within a diversity of appropriate physical and social contexts, motivated by an intrinsic desire to learn." (Susan Stocklmayer, Public awareness of science and informal learning - a perspective on the role of science museums, published by the National Academies in the US)

History's Folds

The brilliant French philosopher, Michel Serres proposes in recent publications that one of the best ways of understanding history is to think about human events as a series of interconnected folds, a networks of networks in which events that may have taken place thousands of years ago are still connected to the present through human memory and human artifacts.

The folds of which Serres speaks can be visualized as a series of pleated pages in which different points touch, sometimes arbitrarily and other times by design. The metaphor that Serres has developed has another purpose. In order to understand the technologies, social movements and cultural phenomena that humans have created, each point of contact among all these pleats needs to be drawn out in a detailed and narrative manner. Although Serres does not describe this method as stream of consciousness that is sometimes how it reads, to the point where the simplest of objects becomes the premise for an expansive narrative.

For example, (adapting Serres’s method) the notion of networks needs to be understood not only as a function of technology and communications systems, but also through the efforts by nearly every culture and every generation to develop a variety of bonds using any number of different means from language to art to music to political, religious and economic institutions. This suggests that the Internet, for example, is merely a modern extension of already existing forms of communication between people. And, while that may seem obvious, many of the claims about the Internet suggest that it is a revolutionary tool with implications for the ways in which people see themselves and their surroundings. More often than not, its revolutionary character is related to obvious characteristics like speed of communications, which may in fact be no more than a supplement to profoundly traditional modes of information exchange. The intersection of the revolutionary with the traditional is essential to the success of any new and innovative technology and may be at the heart of how quickly any individual innovation is actually taken up by individuals or by society as a whole.

Avatar, the Movie

It is always fascinating to read critical analyses of popular films when the writer actually dislikes popular culture, which begs the question, why write about something you hate? [James Bowman writes for the journal, [The New Atlantis and his pieces are generally anti-technology and anti-pop culture. His recent article on Avatar follows the usual arguments of critics disconnected from the culture they seem bent on critiquing. Bowman describes Avatar as a flight of fantasy, dangerous because as with all fantasy films of this genre, it is both escapist and dangerously full of illusions not only about society but also about the future. Interestingly, he claims that the film doesn’t follow the Western tradition of mimesis, that is, it makes no claim to imitate reality and because of this, has no merit as art.

Bowman also says that the only difference between Avatar and other films of the same type is the use of 3D as if the medium of film and its transformation is not part of an important aesthetic shift as well as an important shift in how stories are told. Bowman even criticizes James Cameron’s development of a new language for the indigenous people of Pandora, the Na’vi whom Bowman describes as monkeys. Here is what he says: "The natives of Pandora are giant blue monkeys with sophisticated fiber optics in their tails and the natural world they inhabit is filled with floating mountains, huge dragon-birds whom the inhabitants ride like horses, hammer-headed hippos the size of houses, and other fantastical creatures too numerous to mention and impossible to exist on Earth." Of course, the ‘natives’ are constructions and of course they don’t exist. As with all artifice they are the products of Cameron’s rich imagination, but in Bowman’s world imagination is actually a dirty word.

But, enough about a bad review. To answer a question that must be creeping into your mind, why write about something I dislike? Avatar is an experiment in 3D, that is an experiment with images that have a rather wispy feel like the brilliant disappearing Cheshire cat in Tim Burton’s, Alice in Wonderland. 3D creates an intense feeling of pleasure in viewers largely because it is so ephemeral, not because it approximates reality. I have watched viewers try and grasp the images that come close to them. But, the closeness is itself a function of the glasses we are wearing, a function of the desire to be in the image, and to be a part of the experiences the images are generating.

Generating.

3D in its modern incarnation is about generative images, that is about depth, distance and a more profound sense of perspective. 3D continues the long tradition of exploring our rather human capacity and desire to enter into worlds entirely made of images. 3D extends the Renaissance exploration of line, shape and colour. That is why Avatar is so important. Sure, its story has been told many times, but crucially not in this way. The film is an exploration of a new frontier and aside from 3D, its real innovations lie in the use of motion capture technology to create not only a synthesis of the real and imaginary, but also synthetic worlds. Finally, we can be rid of the pretensions that all art must show in the most pedantic of ways some relationship to the real!! Painters rid themselves of this crisis when they explored entire canvases of one colour (Rothko), while filmmakers and film critics still think that a black screen goes against the essence of the cinema.

Of course, 3D is in its early days as a medium for exploring the power of storytelling. And, Cameron actually got much of his inspiration for Avatar from his underwater explorations of the wreck of the Titanic. Cameron is really interested in creating new languages for conventional ways of seeing and describing the world. He didn’t need to invent a new language for the Na’vi but he did. He didn’t have to shoot all those beautiful and magical scenes of Pandora, except that if you have ever swum off a reef, you would have noticed many of the same colours and shapes and why not recreate them if you can?

Bowman doesn’t talk about what the word avatar means. Yet, that is at the heart of the film. Avatars are about substitution, that is about substituting what is missing, be it a body or a mind or a story. Avatars don’t replace their progenitors. That is, unless you decide like Cameron did, that his main character had to be transformed from the two dimensional world of the screen into a Na’vi, through a death and rebirth ritual that actually happens to be at the heart of what nearly all major religions in the world proselytize about on an hourly basis.

Let me switch terminology for a moment and suggest that Avatar is actually a commentary on the illusions of religion and on the impossible dreams of immortality that have haunted humans since they began to paint on the walls of caves. Avatar is about that inner world, our inner world that we keep alive in order to stay alive. It is the reverse of the Platonic cave where those who are blind to reality need to be saved. Rather, the film explores those who have reconciled themselves to their fate and who have created a world that is a reflection of their weaknesses and strengths. In other words, the Na’vi are us when we dream and lest we forget, we spend a good proportion of our lives dreaming.

Becoming a Designer in the Age of Aquarius

What’s the point of reviewing a design book that is over 40 years old, long out of print and tied to the style and technology of 1968? Well, S. Neil Fujita’s Aim for a Job in Graphic Design/Art (Richards Rosen Press, New York) is a fount of professional intelligence for an emerging field. It is also a slice of lost graphic design history worth reprising.

by Steven Heller....read more.....

What they don’t teach you about identity design in design schools…

One of the most often repeated refrains on design blogs, in the critique of a new logo, is “Any design student could do a better job.” This ubiquitous comment is especially amusing to me because, well, it’s mostly true. If you judge virtually every new logo designed today by classical design school standards, the kids in school are doing a better job. This is because of the way logo and identity design are taught in so many schools, and what that exercise is meant to accomplish.

Read more……

Design and Healthcare in Britain

Today's designers are helping to transform the way the National Health Service (NHS) works with a range of 'human-centred' techniques that are unique to health-related environments.

The NHS is wising up to the value offered by the design industry: everything from improving the accuracy of surgical instruments, developing usable software that reduces clinical errors, and designing furniture that reduces MRSA, through to improving the patient experience by helping to design the ways in which non-clinical care is provided.

A new breed of designers have realised they can do more than the glossy consumer-brand work that might have otherwise filled their portfolios. They are bolstering their optimism, creativity and visualisation skills with a whole host of human-centred techniques unique to public sector design.

These advocate observation over assumption; facilitate collaboration between staff and patients; and prototype ideas so they can be seen, felt and tested in realistic contexts.

 

Architecture/Criticism/Critics

A brilliant article about architecture and the critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times by Alexandra Lange who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

"Architecture criticism cannot simply be about what’s new because that leads precisely to the globe-trotting, star-gazing, architecture-as-sculpture approach we have now. What we need is criticism that treats renderings and buildings as different, since users are the ultimate critics. We need criticism that connects us to a building’s references, emotions and textures, not only its news value. We need criticism moored to place, and to the history of that place, so that the ways forward multiply (and don’t only involve building something curvy). Ouroussoff is not good enough because he reinforces the worst trends in architectural culture, never explains where he comes from and never explores the many different places we might go."

Read more……

Implanted Neurons Let the Brain Rewire Itself Again

Experiments in mice show that the brain's ability to adapt might not disappear with age.

Transplanting fetal neurons into the brains of young mice opens a new window on neural plasticity, or flexibility in the brain's neural circuits. The research, published today in the journal Science, suggests that the brain's ability to radically adapt to new situations might not be permanently lost in youth, and helps to pinpoint the factors needed to reintroduce this plasticity.

Read more………

Eric Topol: The wireless future of medicine

Emily Carr University is developing a Health Design Lab in association with the Children's Hospital in Vancouver. The use of wireless technologies both in developed and developing countries will be increasingly important to efficient and economic health care delivery. Eric Topol develops a brilliant argument for the wireless future of medicine in this TED presentation.

As director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, Eric Topol uses the study of genomics to propel game-changing medical research. The Institute combines clinical investigation with scientific theory, training physicians and scientists for research-based careers. He also serves on the board of the West Wireless Health Institute, discovering how wireless technology can change the future of health care.

Learning in a Participatory Culture: A Conversation About New Media and Education

by Henry Jenkins, Professor at USC.

An important and timely discussion that explores the growing interdependence of learners with digital media and the need to examine how these media are working, what their influence is and how to teach in this new environment.

Jenkins interviews, Pillar Lacasa, a Spanish researcher. His first question is: "Children and young people like to spend their free time in front of the screen. Could you give us some good reasons to that could persuade educators to introduce new media and screens in schools." Read more……

Facebook Lands Patent for News Feed

Social networking site is awarded patent for news feed activity stream, potentially giving it a monopoly on the technology behind an essential feature on dozens of sites across the social Web.

Social networking giant Facebook has won a patent for its news feed feature, locking in the intellectual property rights to one of its most popular features.

The patent describes "a method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment," detailing the flow and filtering of information about people's activities across the site. Read more.....

We feel, therefore we learn by Daniel Siegel

The neuroscience of social emotion.

Presenting at the Mind and its Potential conference, Dr Daniel Siegel MD speaks about Interpersonal Neurobiology, an interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on over a dozen branches of science to create a framework for understanding of our subjective and interpersonal lives. Daniel Siegel completed his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and his post-graduate medical education at UCLA. He was the recipient of the UCLA psychiatry department's teaching award and several honorary fellowships for his work as director of UCLA's training program in child psychiatry and the Infant and Preschool Service at UCLA.

Next-Generation Search

Scouring the Web for information is becoming faster and easier. Could this new rise in search tools and navigational technologies be a threat to Google's dominance?

A series of articles from Technology Review. One of the best summaries of the state of the field and the direction of search.