Unintended Consequences… of Sharing

Picture of youtube video

You never know who might be asking the same questions that you are. Nine months ago I started a conversation with a few instructors in the Biology department about their undergraduate researchers and how they collect data. One of the most dreaded tasks for their student researchers is counting fluorescing cells in a fixed sample. There can be over 400 fluorescing cells in any given slide, and there are dozens of slides to count. Undergraduates were starring into the unblinking eye of the computer clicking on single green dots for hours at a time. There had to be a better solution.

In fact there is. ImageJ is a lovely Java based piece of software that’s free and allows for several different kinds of measurement and analysis in digital photo files. The catch is that learning to use ImageJ can be a bit dodgy. I offered to take a quick look at the software, to see if I could make heads or tails of it. With a little bit of clicking and googling, I had a simple way to count fluorescing cells in a slide. Not elegant, but not awful.

I guessed that the easiest way to share what I had learned with the Biology crew was to make a short screen-cast coving the basics and post it on YouTube. I thought that Keene State’s Biology department might watch the video a handfull of times, and they might share it with a few other people. These kinds of How-To instructional videos are all over the web, and I figured that I’d be lucky if it was ever viewed more than twenty or so times. To date, it’s now been watched nearly 4000 times (it’s very likely that by the time someone is reading this post, that number will be over 4000).

What gives?! Why all of the attention for such a mundane technical task? As it turns out, our Biology department wasn’t alone in its search for a free way to reduce the time it took to complete this arduous counting task. Lots of people were looking (and still are) for ways to solve this problem, or at least an entry point into thinking about this particular problem. The video that I posted hasn’t meant that I’ve needed to do any additional work, or cost me any more time. In fact it’s saved me the time of needing to describe this process more than once – the time it took me to make the original video.

You’d be surprised by how many people are fighting with the same questions that you are, I know I was.



China Connections

The rich tapestry of sights, sounds, smells and experiences that is China captivated students Tom Freudenthal and Lance Whitehill during their recent visit to Shenzhen and Hong Kong with Professor Peter Temple.

Prof.  Temple was exploring possibilities for cooperative and exchange programs with 4 universities (Shenzhen University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic and University of Hong Kong,) as well as internships with architectural design, engineering, and building technology firms.

Shenzhen is the Chinese city designated as “Art and Design”. From a small fishing village it has been the fastest growing city in the world since its opening in the late 1970’s. The population has doubled in the last 6 months to 14 million people. As you can imagine there are building job opportunities everywhere.

Tom and Lance stayed in a dorm at Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzhen. This campus of Harbin offers graduate programs in both architecture and engineering. “We found that the HIT Masters of Architecture program could work as a graduate school option for KSC graduates. Although most students and faculty speak Chinese in their informal conversation, the classes, powerpoint presentations, and design critiques are all in English,” said Prof. Temple.

It was the students’ first trip outside the U.S. except for the Caribbean for Tom.  They took the opportunity to encounter every new experience they could over the week that they were there. Food was one area that fascinated them.

Durian Fruit
Durian Fruit

“The food was excellent,” said Lance. “Very spicy, nothing sweet. Not much meat.” One thing they noticed was that no cold drinks are served. If you order water you get a cup of hot water. “Our Chinese guide told us this is because they consider it unhealthy to cool down the core of your body,” said Tom.

Another big difference is that one person orders food for everyone and the food is delivered to the center of the table and all eat from the center dishes. Tom was on a mission to find a fruit that he had heard of called Durian.

They found some in a market and brought it back to the dorm room. It proved to be so odiferous that it earned a place on the balcony for the rest of their stay.

Lance became very fond of a fruit called longan or Dragon’s eyes. He also ate chicken feet.

Longon or Dragon's Eye
Longon or Dragon's Eye

While jet lag was a problem with 13 hours of flight and 24 hours travel time to get there, both Lance and Tom would recommend getting to China for a visit if you possibly can.

Prof. Temple adds, “Perhaps the most transformative experience we can provide for our students during their entire undergraduate career is to arrange for them to spend at least a semester in another culture. Many students go to Western Europe, or Australia. But the opportunity to experience a very different culture, such as in Asia, can have a much greater impact on their overall awareness and perspectives.”

Some of the student’s fine photos of places they visited are available in the KSC China trip interactive map.

Global Engagement in Peru

What are the roles and responsibilities for those who hope to embody the ideal of global citizenship? Professors Jo Beth Mullens (Geography) and Pru Cuper (Education) co-taught a 17-day field course to the Sacred Valley in the high Andes of Peru, where 10 students in KSC’s Honors Program engaged in group service learning and individual research related to their personal interests and major fields of study.

From the course syllabus:

“Designed to immerse you in Peru’s culture and environment, this course offers an opportunity to engage in international research and hands-on service learning projects which focus on health and environmental problems facing rural Peruvians, particularly those living in the Andes Mountains.  Readings, discussions and reflective writing assignments will occur both on campus and in Peru and will focus on investigating the roles and responsibilities of those who hope to embody the ideal of global citizenship. Within this critical investigation, we will explore the distinction between the perceived and the actual needs of others—what the visitor/”helper” determines necessary vs. what the host/”recipient” may want.  Through this critical lens, we will examine America’s role as a world leader, including a comparison of values in the U.S. and Peru, and the pros and cons of bringing change to a culture much older and very different one’s own.“

Portable technology:
Through the use of video, MP3 interviews, photos, and Twitter, students were able to digitally capture their immersion into the Peruvian culture. Periodic “tweets” (140 character updates also know as ‘microblogging’) kept parents and other interested parties up to date on the various daily activities and provided an archive that students can later refer to such as this gem:

“Today, there is a strike in town. The roads are blocked with large stones, children are out of school and a peaceful protest is underway.”

The archive of tweets and the end-of-course reflection questions helped students to analyze their assumptions about “place” and how those assumptions are shaped by culture.  In this 21 minute video students’ respond to questions that challenges them to assess their knowledge, values, and skills and how they may have changed because of their time in Peru.