Interested in mathematical origami or Swedish folk music? How about online education or filmmaking? If so, you might want to take a look at the project I'm working on, a site at gardenedu.org. It's a page of video-lessons organized in 2 trees of subject matters: "Swedish Folk Music" and "Origami Design."
First of all, I hope you just think it's pretty. I had a lot of fun doing the art - and the visual metaphore is that 'topics' are trees suspending glowing spheres: 'concepts' so to speak. I'm not enough of an artist to fully demonstrate how beautiful this idea looks to me: a forrest, (perhaps more like a garden for the variety ;-) full of softly glowing spheres connected by strings of smaller lights, like a neural network of lights draped over a living forrest. If I could, I'd make a video in which you zoom out now and see that this lit forrest is itself inside a glowing sphere with thin lines connecting it to nearby concepts in aesthetics, education, and engineering:
So, in that order:
I've primarily been using 3 visual metaphores for education and 2 of them are reflected in this site.
The first is the 'neural network' aesthetic: that when I think of a concept, like "homomorphism" - it feels like the 'hub' of a network has lit up and I immediately consider if any of the 'nearest neighbors,' already half-lit in reciprocation of the hub's activation, apply to the scenario at hand. Iterate. This perspective matches my experience that learning is much more effective when you attempt to 'hang' new topics on the network of what students are already confident in -- making metaphore often a more effective way to teach, and making it clear how important it is to figure out what your students already know and trust before teaching, both with respect to topics directly related to what you're teaching, and large bodies of experience that aren't directly realated, but which are so 'powerfully' lit and well networked that not linking to them is simply a mistake.
The second visual metaphore is that of a 'garden' for education. That "To me, learning is like being blind in an enormous garden with many wild areas and some cleared out areas with paths. And teaching is knowing some area of the garden well enough that, although you too are a blind student who has explored only parts of the garden, you can lead other people to those parts and you can show them the most interesting plants and sculptures. You can bring their hands to the most illustrative parts of a statue so that, after a short time, they say 'AH, I SEE, it’s just like the elephant stature over in that other section, except it’s bigger, and wearing pajamas, and eating peanutbutter and jelly.'"
The third visual metaphore that I use frequently to discuss education isn't represented in the site... and the lack of it's prescence is unfortuante, although I'm not yet sure how to recitfy the issue. The third visual metaphor I use comes up right at the end of learning some concept, either a small independant one, or a big one that builds on other ideas: in either case, there's a moment at the end of each time I teach, and at the end of each section of a lesson, and section of sections of lessons if the subject is complicated... (think fractal) ;-) When I take the time to 'package and attach a handle' to whatever was just introduced and layed out. The packaging is because we'll need most 'active thinking/memory space for a new topic in just a moment' and the handle is because I'll need to refer back to this in the future and I want to attach a handle/tag to the package when it's closed that allows me to grab this concept again easily and use or even unpack it again in the future. This is how I teach Maxwell's Equations in 2 hrs -- Lots and LOTS of packing, fractal-style ;-) and using experience to pack with strong and very easily 'grabbable' handles. :)
Lastly, there's one visual motif in the site that came about unintentionally, but I really like it and want to use more of it. It's a 'story-telling' motif where the story is told visually with a set of slides. My favorite example is in the introduction video, where there's just a moment of it in the middle of the video: 5 pictures that illustrate me turinging the page of a book. It's just such a pretty moment! Also, in the last video I made, on Dalarma Province in Sweden, I love the 'story-telling' pattern of the video, especially the first story about the 24-hour sun-lit lake and music festival. :) I think I should combine these features and make it a thematic element accross the whole site: stories, illustrated by rhythmically matched 'frame-by-frame' images illustrating a few moments in time that relate to a detail in the story. For instance, just a moment of dance perhaps, illustrated by 5-8 frames of motion, each displayed for half a second. I think this aesthetic has the potential to really make the site something special. :)
From an educational perspective, my overall opinion of the site is as follows:
The story-telling is great.
The footage outside, walking around, time-lapse photography -- are all great and are the main features of education a la video.
The transitions (when you've just finished one video and are prompted to choose the next) need to be more compelling. There's a lot that I've learned about education and 'how people learn' that's not reflected right now in how the transitions work. A big part of this is technological constraints. I want 'a quick self-quiz' or something to do with what you just learned that lets you 'package' and 'attach a handel' to the topic as I discussed above, then a moment of respite to feel accomplished for making progress, and then a reminder that there are ideas left unresolved by the last video, and chains of lights that connect it to things you should now turn to and choose to persue. :) Also, the options should be displayed less 'overwhelmingly' -- perhaps only on video should have audio, a 'suggested option' and the others should just have video snipits. Right now, the transitions are sloppy and don't reflect any of this.
I think I need to rethink the aesthetic of the transitions, possibly rethink the technology I'm using if it's not matching what I think needs to happen, and put some time into making the transitions a 'feature' of the site instead of just a 'mechainc.'
I'm about to graduate, and this project makes me feel like 'just maybe' I'm graduating from MIT. What I mean by that, is that I feel like, somehow, over the past 5 years, I learned, if not the principles of standard engineering, at least the core motivations and insights of that perspective. First and formost, what I believe should be the motto of engineering: "Experiment and Iterate."
Thare are parts of the materials currently up online that I really like: I like the aesthetics I mentioned above, I like the focus on 'storytelling' and I think there should be more of it. And, while part of me is tempted to go back and redo the videos up there knowing what I know now; if I learned nothing else over the past 4 years, it's to MOVE ON, leaving what's there up and building in a direction that's appropriate given what I've learned. "ITERATE, don't start over. What's up is good if not great."
And more feedback/recomendations/insights on what's up already would, of
course, be appreciated! So comment or email me if you have ideas! :)