Thursday, December 15, 2016

Reflecting on the International Zoo

As I have mentioned in two previous posts, "Reflecting on a Global Education Conference Presentation" and "Influential Global Collaboration Projects," the final task in my Using Digital and Social Media in Education class was a global collaboration project that I created myself. The project is FINALLY complete! For my project, I created a website that provides all of the materials necessary for any teacher to incorporate The International Zoo collaboration project in his or her own classroom. You can view my website here. (I tried to use colors and a heading font that give off a zoo-vibe; what do you think?) In today's blog post, I would like to reflect on my experience building this global collaboration project.

A screenshot of the homepage to my global collaboration project!

Thankfully, about a month ago (during our global collaboration unit for class) I began thinking about a global collaboration project that I could create; I posted a few ideas in my blog. Therefore, when I was assigned with this final task, I had a glimmer of an idea for a project I could actually make. Normally it is the brainstorming stage that seems to take me the longest when working on a project, so having an idea was extremely helpful. When I began working on this project, I just had to more concretely develop the standards, objectives, and goals the project would address; the tasks I anticipated that the students would do; a timeline for the project; how teachers (and students) would collaborate; the technology the students could use; and some assessment tools for the teachers. Because my initial idea was conjured, after reading Kim Cofino's Step-By-Step Guide to Global Collaborations I had the project laid out in less than an hour.

That being said, the greatest challenge in this project was easily making time to create my website and turn all of my ideas into resources. I spent most of my free time over weeks to complete this assignment; I even spent a weekend in Cedar Falls to work on it when I had originally planned to travel home and see my family because this project and finals week created lots of academic stress. I think this would have been astronomically easier if I had my own classroom right now; I would already have a unit with materials to modify, or at least work from, instead of having to build all of this from scratch. If I was completing this as a practicing teacher, I also would have real students with whom I could test ideas and determine if my project would actually be feasible. Completing this project right (not applying an already-created app to a few kids, for example) took far more time than I think it took most people in my class because I didn't have the same resources available. (I will admit that the option to work with practicing teachers was proposed to us undergraduates, but I think that would have been worse; there weren't any teachers in my class who are in elementary education, so the project I would have created using their resources wouldn't be something that I could use myself in the future, and trying to find time to collaborate between two busy people is challenging itself.) At the end of the day, I am proud of the end result; I think my project is something that could be used by other teachers in addition to myself, and it looks great. It was just a frustrating experience producing it.

Image used with permission by KleeKarl on pixabay

One aspect of this project that I am particularly excited about was all of the embedding that I did. In the projects that I researched before creating my own, there was a lot of mention of materials and assessments that would be needed, but they were not actually provided to the teachers. On my website, I created Docs and Forms that could be downloaded and used. In order to do this, I had to create the resources, research to find the trick that allows resources to be downloaded as a copy (instead of providing anyone on the internet with the capability to edit my template documents), and embed my creations in the website. Additionally, I tried a couple of different technologies for the pages that now have Padlets, but I am glad I finally found something that teachers will be able to use easily and efficiently. All of this took a lot of delving into HTML code, which is an area of my website I try to avoid whenever possible, but I think teachers who stumble upon my project will be more likely to use it because they don't have to create the needed resources.

It's hard to anticipate exactly how students will experience this project because I don't have students of my own. However, I would like to think that students would be excited to complete this project. Many kids love (or at least have an appreciation for) animals, so the content area is interesting and engaging. I think students will find it fascinating to work with someone from an area other than their own, and I envision that their collaborative partners will make working on this project even more enjoyable for them. (It may even help keep them accountable for completing their work diligently and at a high level if they know someone from another country will see it.) I also think that purposeful inclusion of technology is exciting for students, and this project would allow the third graders a lot of choice in the technology that they use. Because the students are so young, I could see them getting frustrated with the research aspects or not having enough time to complete the project; however, I included the idea of holding a mini lesson on research if this is an issue with most of the class (perhaps inviting the librarian or media specialist in to help!), and the schedule is purposefully adjustable depending on the students' needs. Another frustration might occur if the student feels like his or her global partner is not putting in the same level of effort, but that could occur in any project and it would be up to the teachers to address that problem. Overall, if I were to incorporate this project into my future classroom, I think it would be successful!

Image used with permission by bird1974 on pixabay

If you have the chance to look at my project, let me know what you think in the comments below! I'd love to hear any feedback, good or constructive! Thank you for reading my reflection (and all of my posts for Using Digital and Social Media in Education)!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Reflecting on Visual Literacy

I can't believe it's already the end of the semester; finals are next week! For Visual Literacy, I have been asked to look back at what I wrote about visual literacy at the beginning of the course and reflect on what I have learned.

In my initial post, I centered my focus around visual symbols. I included photos of symbols in my life, such as the drawing I was using to do mathematics in my problem solving class and the Maps app I use almost every time I get in my car.



Reading my initial post is a little uncomfortable; my words lack personality, and my inexperience and narrow understanding of visual literacy shine through now that I am more educated. By only focusing on things I defined as visual symbols, I missed an opportunity to think more deeply about how visuals -literally all of the things that I see and perceive with my eyes- affect my daily life. 

I have learned that visuals are ALL AROUND us. Without recognizing this, we allow what we see to subconsciously influence us. All it takes is a moment to stop and think about what we're viewing to glean so much more from the visual itself. Here are some visuals I see everyday that I hadn't purposefully stopped to think about until enrolling in Visual Literacy. 





Through Visual Literacy, I have learned not only how to recognize visuals, but also how to think critically about those visuals. The course truly opened my eyes (as reflected in my aha! journals) to the visuals that are around me. Sometimes those visuals are not even intended to convey meaning, but they do anyway! Take, for example, my messy shelf. (Take a moment to really look at it and think about what's there before reading my comments below.)


You could pull any number of things from this image and use it to more critically analyze my life. First, we see that the desk is cluttered; I'll acknowledge it. (It's getting tidied after I finish my finals next week.) What does that tell you about me? Perhaps you're thinking that I am just a messy person. Perhaps I am too busy to clean up after myself. Maybe this is my visual to-do list; all of the projects I need to complete are confined to one shelf for easy access. On the other hand, if you look closer, there is some organization to this photo. Look at my shoes in the bottom left hand corner; they are paired and carefully arranged by frequency of wear. I have a multitude of bins organizing my purses, extra personal care items, craft supplies, and more. That blue piece of paper is a typed to-do list of things I need to do as an RA before I leave for winter break. Looking beyond the obvious catastrophe, a different side of me shines through. In reality, I am usually a very organized person!

In Visual Literacy, I have learned not only to look deeper into images, but also think about the creator's intentions behind the visuals. My shelf is not something that I intended would give off a message about me, and yet, it does. However, the door to my room is something I put time into. What have you learned about me from my bedroom door?


There is some obvious text information here. My door says "Resident Assistant," and my door decs say "RA Anna," so it's clear that I hold that role (in Rider Hall this year). But if I am purposefully advertising my job title, what do I want you to know as a viewer? I want you to know that I have been trained in how to respond to situations, emergency or otherwise, and that you can come to me with any of your problems or concerns. I want you to know that I am here for you always, but if I'm not physically in my space, you'll be able to see where I'm at (by my weekly class schedule to the left or the pin on my doorboard indicating if I'm out of town, in class, or around the hall) and can either find me or send me an email. I want you to know that I care about you as a whole being, not only your academic and social lives but your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. wellbeing. There is so much to the RA role that I could write a completely separate post about it, but these are some messages that I use my bedroom door to communicate to those who walk by.

Through Visual Literacy this semester, I have begun to explore the true power of visuals. We started small; we looked at dots, lines, color, shape, texture, white space, contrast. We combined these elements into broader concepts, such as aesthetics and creativity. Over the course of the semester, our focus only extended as we combined all of these ideas to reflect on larger projects, like movies and the presidential campaign that ended this November. We even created our own project intended to save the world and presented it in our Save the World Conference. Everything from the simplest black squares to multi-year campaigns such as Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has the potential to impact the viewer's emotions, thoughts, ideals, behaviors, etc. 


Because we are so deeply impacted by visuals, our exploration this semester resulted in my conclusion that we cannot trap ourselves in accepting everything we see at face value. We must take the time to not only appreciate the visual, but also understand it. What is the purpose of the visual? What did the creator intend to convey (through various elements, such as font choice, color, size, and even location of the visual)? How do these elements all work together to propagate a broader message? How does your own personal frame of reference and experience color how you view this visual; may someone else interpret it in a different way? These are all things we need to think about as we move through life. 

I am no expert. My journey to practice critical thinking through visual literacy is only beginning. However, I feel that I now have the necessary insights and tools needed to continue analyzing and appreciating my visual world.


This blog is about me as an educator, so of course, throughout this reflection I have been thinking about how Visual Literacy will impact me as a teacher. What I have learned in this class goes beyond teaching my students how to interpret the charts, diagrams, and graphs they will see in their textbooks. Truly phenomenal educators are those that teach their students the content and skills they will need in the world outside of the classroom (and that includes explicitly telling students why they need to know and practice these things). I intend to incorporate visual literacy into my teaching by helping my students understand how and why they need to critically analyze the world around them. I hope that they will come to the realizations I have, such as the power of visuals and their ability to influence us subconsciously. 

What other messages were you able to glean from critically analyzing my shelf, door, and other visuals in this post? Have you learned other lessons through my past postings on visual literacy that you think I should have included here? Please post your thoughts in the comments!

PS - Thank you for reading about my visual literacy journey through these blog posts!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Personal Analysis through Visual Literacy Lens

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a documentary about Jiro Ono, a renowned sushi master (though he would argue that there is always more to learn about sushi) and restaurant owner. The documentary also explores Jiro's past (including his family, particularly focusing on the sons who have followed Jiro in the sushi restaurant), his business, and what makes his sushi the best. Jiro is no-joke; he has been in this business for 75 years (at the time of filming), his restaurant was the first sushi restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, and he's truly a Japanese treasure. The film was light, whimsical, and eye-opening; I do not eat sushi, so I learned a lot about the food/craft and Jiro from this documentary. One of the best things about Jiro Dreams of Sushi was that it was on Netflix; I encourage you to watch it if you haven't seen it! (I had never even heard of it!) Check out the trailer, below:


What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
I think the message of this movie is that determination and hard work do pay off. Jiro talks about how he basically came from nothing; his parents abandoned him at a very young age, he was a troublemaker in school, and even when he was a young adult he had a humble home. But he worked extremely hard in the craft of sushi. He read but also practiced his skills, and with time he was proficient in techniques for selecting the right fish, cooking extremely laborious rice and egg, assembling sushi, and even establishing the aesthetic of his restaurant. There is a reason why apprenticeship in the restaurant requires 10 full years of patient learning! The others in the documentary frequently joke about Jiro's dedication to the sushi; he only takes off if it is a holiday or an extreme emergency, and he spends almost all of his waking hours in the restaurant. As Jiro stated, "Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably." Jiro never gives less than his best, and it is Jiro's lifelong dedication to his work that have led him to success.

If applicable, discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. Why or why not?
I think that Americans who have not actually watched the documentary may believe that the sushi chefs, as Japanese, are minorities; however, Jiro's restaurant is in Japan, so of course he and all of the other characters are Japanese. I thought the depiction of them was accurate according to what I know about Japanese culture. They perform their work diligently and proudly as a people, and they always display utmost respect.

One minority that was barely even mentioned in the movie was the role of women. There are no female sushi chefs (or food critics, vendors, etc.) at all; the only women we see are Jiro's personal friends, his wife, and a few customers. Jiro states that he creates smaller sushi for women specifically because it takes men the same amount of time to eat larger sushi as it takes women to eat smaller sushi. While some may consider Jiro's portioning choices intentional and meeting his customers' needs, I don't think women should receive less food just because they're women! If I went to this restaurant and noticed that my male counterpart was consistently receiving more food than I was, I would be upset; however, this may be a part of the culture understandable to those within the customs and outrageous to me with my American values. Overall though, I noticed the lack of women in the film and wondered why this occurred; are women allowed to hold jobs in Japan?


Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
In order to answer this question, I read Craig Phillips' "David Gelb Dreams of Sushi: A Jiro Q&A," which gave me an interesting view into Director David Gelb's motivations for creating this documentary. According to the article, Gelb's first intention was to make a movie about sushi as an art and include a variety of sushi chefs, but he was taken by Jiro and thought that his life story would provide a better angle than the film he original intended to create. It is possible that Gelb's ethnic and cultural background (as a white American from New York City), so different from Jiro's, caused him to take particular interest in Jiro's story. However, Gelb's professional background as a director definitely impacted the creation of the documentary; without his original idea, Gelb would not have met Jiro and this film never would have been created! 

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
As stated previously, women are excluded from this movie despite their presence in Japan, so I believe they could be offended by their omission. 

I also think that some people of lower classes may misinterpret this film. Jiro's story makes it seem as though someone can become rich and famous as long as he or she remains dedicated, focused, and does his or her best work every single day. In reality, that is not the case. People may be just as invested in their work as Jiro and still not see his results. Jiro's story is extraordinary, and I think people may become frustrated if they perceive Jiro's journey as the standard route for social movement from lower class to upper class. Similarly, people of higher socioeconomic status may use Jiro's story to justify that those who are poor are "lazy" or "unmotivated" when that may not actually be the case.

What has the movie added to your visual literacy?
There were many points made in this film about the way different aspects of a restaurant may appeal to a customer. For example, one of the comments I clearly remember from the film is that if a restaurant is clean and presentable, you're more likely to enjoy the food and think it tastes good, regardless of what you're actually eating. Though I had never noticed before, I can relate to that; if a restaurant was dirty, I think I would be uncomfortable eating there and may not even eat (or be unsatisfied with what I do eat). Another thing that the critic pointed out is that Jiro's sushi is incredibly simplistic yet is able to incorporate a wealth of flavors. This goes to show that just because something looks simple doesn't mean it's not actually complex underneath its appearance. As with all of the movies we have watched for this Visual Literacy class, I am reminded of the fact that what we see and perceive and how we interpret these things happens unconsciously all the time, but we need to develop an internal monitor that reminds us to focus and think more deeply about what we are perceiving and how that may be affecting us.


What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
One thing that I really liked about this documentary was that although all of the characters were speaking Japanese, the director did not choose new voice actors to read translated text of what the men were saying. Instead, we were able to hear each person speak in Japanese, a language that is interesting to hear as an English speaker because the two languages are so different. This meant that the viewer had to read the captioning at the bottom of the screen to know what each person was saying, but I found this very easy as it seemed to take much longer to say the words in Japanese than it took to read them in English; I never felt like I didn't have enough time to read the words and watch the action onscreen. I felt that because of this decision, there was more emotion to the film. In my past experience watching other media (like the world news), voiceovers have never been able to capture the true emotions of the people. But by listening to the tone, pitch, speed, etc. of the characters' voices in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the viewer was able to get a sense of the feeling of the speaker through changes in his voice (regardless of if the language was understandable).

A portion of this film that stuck out to me was when the food critic was describing the "ebb and flow" of Jiro's sushi meal. "When I ate the sushi, I felt like I was listening to music," he said. The critic then went on to describe Jiro's meal as three movements: first course as the concerto (with classic sushi), the second course as the improvisation or cadenza (with the fresh catches of the day and seasonal fish), and the third course as the finale (with traditional items like egg). To supplement this idea, the director paired these words with simplistic shots of Jiro and his son making the sushi and placing it on a plate, naming each sushi item (in Japanese and English) that was associated with each "movement." There was also orchestra music playing in the background, softly as the critic was speaking but loudly as the sushi was being shown. This segment set the tone for the experience of eating sushi in Jiro's restaurant, and it was incredibly enticing despite the fact that I don't care for sushi!


Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional).
When I first read the title and looked at the movie preview on Netflix, I thought Jiro Dreams of Sushi would be a bizarre film, and I wasn't really looking forward to watching it. While it was definitely unique, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the documentary. I was fascinated by Jiro, his story, and the sushi! I guess the director did a great job of combining all of the elements of film into a documentary that appealed to me! This just goes to show that there is more to a movie than just your first perception; you can't judge a movie by its case!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Crash: Personal Analysis Through Visual Literacy Lens

Crash (2004) is a movie that I'm having a hard time trying to summarize because there are many different characters and plots occurring all at once. It is a movie in which each character has his or her own agenda and motive, and throughout the film they all "crash" into each other and interact in different ways. For example, a cop pulls over a husband and wife, gropes the wife as he is "patting her down," later rescues her from her car before it blows up from the gasoline and fire from the nearby wreck, fights with his father's insurance because they aren't providing medical service that his dad clearly needs, and is assigned a new partner after his previous ride-along reported him for racism. The movie is filled with guns, fire, and tons of social issues. Because I definitely will not be able to explain the entire plot in this post, I highly encourage you to watch it yourself; as of today, it's on Netflix! Check out the trailer, below.



What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
There are a lot of messages that I feel like could be expressed in Crash, but the two highlights for me are racial stereotypes and that there are multiple sides to every story. 

The movie makes a point to address race, far more than any of the other movies we have watched for Visual Literacy, and I think stereotypes are used to directly impact the viewer. For example, one of the characters is the director for a TV show about an African American family, and when he wraps up a scene, his producer approaches him and says they need to shoot it again because one of the actors didn't act "Black enough." When I heard that as a viewer, I thought about what that really meant; skin color and behavior are two different variables, though the phrasing is muddied when "culture" and "ethnicity" are addressed. But that's not what the producer said; he essentially said that there was a disconnect between the way he perceived the character and the way he expected to perceive the character because of the color of his skin. Another example is that the first scene we see of an Iranian father and daughter is when they are in a store trying to buy a gun. They are speaking in Farsi when the seller gets annoyed and shouts, "Yo, Osama, plan the Jihad on your own time; what do you want?" Because this story takes place right after the 9/11 attack that was led by Osama bin Laden, and a jihad is the word for a Muslim religious war, this comment was incredibly offensive. I was shocked to hear the storekeeper say it; would he have had the same line if the family was not Iranian? (No.) This scene shows the stereotyping of Middle Easterners as terrorists! These examples (and MANY others in the movie) show how race can affect the perceptions of people in a stereotypical way.

The other main message that I think is addressed in this movie is that each human is a dynamic being, and what you see of them in one aspect of life does not tell their full story. For example, Jean is a white, high class woman who is married to a politician and has a young baby. At the beginning of the film she and her husband are held at gunpoint and forced to allow two men to steal their car. Later that night, Jean screams that the "gang member" who was sent over to change the locks on their house is going to "sell [their] key to one of his homies." In a different scene, she berates her housekeeper and babysitter, Maria, about the dishwasher, but later has to call her for help because none of her friends will come to her aid when Jean falls down the stairs. As Maria is taking care of her, Jean hugs her and says Maria is the only friend she has. All of the characters in the film are multi-faceted in this way, and I would say this is representative of real life as well. How I act in class is different from how I act at work or when I travel home to see my family. Until we take the time to get to know each other better and learn more about them in a variety of settings and scenarios, we cannot claim to know all about that individual. I think the film portrays this very strong message that we cannot judge someone based off of what little we know about them.

Discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. 
I think that this movie purposefully stereotypes minorities to support the movie's message. They may or may not be accurate; I have never lived in L.A. and I am a privileged white woman, so I don't know if the depictions in the film are "accurate" according to the situations that people were in right after 9/11. I am sure that these characters only represent one small snapshot of the lives of the people living in their minority groups. I would say, though, that the film portrays the different groups of people according to the stereotypes that I am aware of. For example, the Asian man who is hit by a car is referred to as "Chinaman" and "Buddhist," though we don't know if the man is from China or practices Buddhism. I think the movie shows that we stereotype a lot, perhaps even more than we realize.

Image used with permission from Tony Webster on flickr

Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
Crash was directed by Paul Haggis, and he clearly states that his background played a role in the production of the film in this article. It's a fantastic read that I would highly recommend, but to summarize, Haggis wrote the screenplay after reflecting on how he was carjacked 10 years previously; he thought about the lives of the people who had stolen his car as well as who he and his wife had met because of that incident (such as the locksmith). If Haggis hadn't had that experience, this story wouldn't have been created. Haggis was a Scientologist when he created this film, and about the influence of his faith on the movie he said, "The fact that you had a faith that asked you to look inward, and I did and I found inside me all these flaws that all these characters had, so how I wrote these characters was by putting myself in their given circumstances and then writing myself." Because Haggis is a white man, he said he was questioned about how qualified he was to direct a film with such heavy racial undertones. The director's professional background also influenced the film; it was supposed to be a television series at first, but when no one would pick it up he adapted it to a movie. Then, he struggled to find anyone to take on his movie because he was a television director. (I personally feel like this just adds a layer to the stereotyping; this movie about stereotypes almost wasn't created because of a stereotype about television directors.)

Image used with permission from Canadian Film Centre on WikiMedia Commons

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
People of all groups could be offended by this movie because of the way that group is portrayed. Because the message of this film is to address the negative stereotypes we hold, the people are heavily stereotyped and speak/behave in outrageous ways. This may be taken the wrong way if other people of that same group do not feel that the character is representative of the entire population of that group. Additionally, people may be ashamed of the stereotypes attached to their group. I also think that people who actively work to combat stereotypes may be angered by this movie because the film doesn't show any efforts to educate the characters on their prejudiced words or behavior. However, the purpose of the film is to educate the viewers about stereotyping and hopefully cause the audience to evaluate how they perceive others. 

What did the movie add to your visual literacy?
I think what this movie added to my visual literacy is reflected in the messages of the film. We may choose to move through life with our rose-colored glasses on, seeing everything as peachy keen. However, problems do exist in the world, and not everything is about ourselves. Stereotypes still exist (people are affected by them every day), and every person is dynamic. Our lives are interconnected. How somebody interacts with another person could wind up affecting you or me. There is more to the world than what we are able to see and experience. We have to remember to delve deeper and not necessarily react based on what we have experienced firsthand or our own instincts.

Image used with permission from vince logan on Wikimedia Commons

What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
My eyeballs were glued to the screen as I was watching the whole film, but the one scene I remember vividly was when Farhad (the Iranian shopkeeper) was pointing his gun at Daniel (the locksmith). (Farhad was upset with Daniel because his shop had been broken into after Daniel fixed his lock, but Daniel explicitly told Farhad that he needed to get the actual door fixed so it wasn't Daniel's fault.) As Farhad is pointing his gun at Daniel, the side of the screen that Farhad is on is dark, and Daniel's side is illuminated by the sun. There is music playing in the background but it is quiet, slow, low, and indistinct (it's composed of tonal sounds, not words). Daniel's young girl, Lara, is watching the entire scene from the screened front door and is urgently shouting at her mom; Daniel repeatedly begs Lara to stay inside. But Lara exclaims that her father does not have his cloak (an imaginary invisible cloak that Daniel passed down to Lara, saying it was once bestowed upon him by a fairy to save him from bullets), and she hurriedly runs out the door. In slow motion we see Lara jump up into her father's arms, hear Farhad pull the trigger and the gun go off, see Daniel and his wife's immediate grief and utter despair over the shooting of Lara, briefly view a startled and shaking Farhad gazing at the gun in his hand in disbelief, and then hear Lara whisper, "It's okay, Daddy." (This is all extended over a gut-wrenching 35 seconds, which doesn't seem like long but it's agonizing to watch.) Then, Lara looks at her father and says, "I'll protect you," and we realize that she is fine; at the beginning, Dorri did not trust her father and bought blanks for his pistol. As they walk back into the house, Lara says, "It's okay, Daddy's okay. It's a really good cloak."

In this scene alone, we see the use of light and dark, specific music, slow-motion, and emotion (but very few words) from the characters. These simple elements create a scene that affected my boyfriend and I so much that we were writhing on the couch with our hands over our faces, in complete shock that the man shot the little girl. (We had to go back and watch it again once we realized Lara would be okay.) It is awing to me that the artistic choices of the director and the acting on screen created a scene (and many others; this was not the only emotionally-jarring part) that affected me so much as an outside observer. All I can say is wow.

Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations.
As I have stated above, I would highly recommend this film. It is rated R and there are some inappropriate language and disturbing themes, so it's not one for young children. However, I appreciated the message of the film and think many could benefit from watching it. (I think I could pick up on even more if I watched it again, to be honest.) 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trigger Warning: PSA on Gun Violence

The video you are about to watch (PLEASE watch it before continuing to read my blog post) has been shared by over ten of my Facebook friends since it was posted to YouTube yesterday:


This video struck a chord with me for many reasons. As a future educator, I would be lying if I said I had not trembled in my bed thinking about the possibility of a school shooting in my future school. My dad, as a policeman, has taught A.L.I.C.E. training with the local schools in Iowa City and Coralville, and I personally have completed V.I.D.S. training through UNI three times. (I feel that I have retained new information from each training and do not regret doing the same program multiple times  - more practice only increases your chances of the correct response in case you are in a real incident.) But these trainings have only taught me how to respond if a violent incident does occur. As an educator, I should be on the lookout for abnormal student behaviors that indicate a student may be thinking about or planning this sort of attack. This video was impactful in a very personal way because a similar incident is possible in my future.

I, like you (probably), was completely focused on Evan and did not notice the student exhibiting warning behaviors in the background. I was disturbed to find myself so mesmerized by Evan that I only noticed the future gunman in one of the six scenes in which he was shown before the gym. (I noticed him as Evan was scrolling on his phone and thought the photo was odd, but I didn't put any more thought to it.) Though I know the purpose of the video was to subtly include these details to raise awareness through this shock, I still am embarrassed to admit that I missed the signs too.

Image used with permission from Bart Everson on flickr

In our Visual Literacy class last week, we talked about public service announcements. (I even blogged about it!) This one was powerful for many reasons, including the visuals and audio. As we are watching the beginning, the light guitar music, notion of a possible friendship or love connection, and Evan's connection with his secret note-passer from the library are happy and comforting. We are completely set up to be blissful when all of a sudden we're struck with terror: the gunman is a blurry figure in the background, shadowed by the bright light shining in behind him, the music stops and screaming paired with frantic running and fear ensues. Then, the screen goes black, and plain white text brings light to what we should have seen: the warning signs of the student in the background, clearly spelling out what we missed and urging us that "Gun violence is preventable when you know the signs," all the while playing slow, deep, mysterious, sad music. This advertisement was truly an emotional rollercoaster. I'll admit that I cried.

One of the things we talked about in class is that there are downsides to some ad campaigns. Sometimes advertisements encourage service that people don't follow up on, or they urge the donation of money with no clarity on where the money is going or what it will specifically be used for. This campaign is different; the purpose is to urge education, which is accessible to all through the website. We don't have to be a part of the organization in order to learn more about gun violence and how to prevent it.

Image used with permission from jarmoluk on pixabay.

The end of the commercial urges people to visit sandyhookpromise.org, a website dedicated to educating people about and preventing gun-related deaths. I was shaken up enough to go to the website and sign the pledge; were you?

What were your thoughts on this ad? Was it influential to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Influential Global Collaboration Projects

The final task in my Using Digital and Social Media in Education class is a global collaboration project that I will create myself. In order to build a successful and viable global collaboration project, I need to investigate other existing projects so that I get a better sense of what is feasible in the classroom. Today's post is about two global collaboration projects that have provided inspiration for the project I hope to create.

Nature's Global Zoo
The first project that I investigated more deeply is one that I mentioned in a previous post on global collaboration: Nature's Global Zoo.

Image used with permission from Rusty Clark on Wikimedia Commons

Goals:
   -In small groups, students will create zoos that represent the habitat and animals within that habitat from their area. 
   -The projects that the students will develop are detailed in the animals that are included, landscape of the park and each enclosure, finances, and publications (even including a tour guide script and safety rules for the guests and employees).
   -The zoos will be posted online so that students from around the world can "visit" the zoos from areas other than their own.

Subject Areas:
   -Science
   -Literacy
   -21st Century Skills

Age Level:
   -The lesson plan for the project is written for high school students.
   -Classrooms with students of younger ages are encouraged to incorporate whichever components of the high school project that "fit their individual comfort levels."

Time/Scheduling:
   -The time period given for the global collaboration project is January 1, 2017 through June 15, 2017.
   -There are no specific time or scheduling recommendations given on the site or in the assignment document.

Technology Requirements:
   -The instructors take a photo of the final projects and upload them to a shared gallery.
   -The students don't have to use technology to create the projects.

Communication Requirements:
   -Students communicate in their small groups in the classroom.
   -There is no communication between classes of students completing this project around the globe besides that they can view each other's projects via the gallery.
   -There are some "possible classroom activities" that encourage collaboration between classrooms from around the world, but these are briefly mentioned and details that would be necessary to actually complete these activities are not given (such as how to contact participating schools or what technology might be used).

Intended Outcomes:
   -Students will have an expanded knowledge of animal life in their own area from creating the zoo, as well as from other areas of the globe by investigating other students' zoos.
   -Students will have an increased sensitivity to global environmental issues, including an understanding about threatened and endangered animals and what measures are being taken to help those species.
   -Students will be "more globally in-tuned" by viewing other students' creations from around the world.

Reflection and Takeaways:
   -While this was marketed as a global collaboration project, the students don't actually collaborate with others around the world to make their zoos. The zoos are created in small groups of students from the same class, and photos of the projects are uploaded to a gallery. The global aspect is that students from other locations can view the zoos created by students elsewhere. I would like my project to have more global integration, actually encouraging students from around the world to work together to create their projects. However, I liked how the projects were uploaded to a centralized location for others to view, and I would like to somehow incorporate that idea into my final project.
   -This project did not have any technology requirements. Because I would like to incorporate global collaboration on a student-to-student level, they will need technology to communicate. Additionally, I would like the projects to actually be created through technology instead of in physical formats.
   -In general, the project requirements were more complex than I intend to create because this was written for high school students working together in the same space. In this project, students include a multitude of details, from the design of the zoo logo to the shows that will be put on in the exhibits. In my project, I would like to focus more on the animals themselves than the details of the park as a whole.
   -This project did not include any scheduling recommendations! I personally believe this may have been in an effort to allow teachers to spend as much or as little time needed on the project in their own individual classrooms. However, because my project will involve collaboration between students of different areas, there needs to be some scheduling guidelines so that the partnering schools stay in sync.

Weather Around the World
For my second project, I tried to find one that was more detailed and included interaction between the students actually participating. In this search, I stumbled upon Weather Around the World. It should be noted that this resource is a 9-week unit plan; however, for the purpose of this post I will be focusing solely on the global collaboration piece of the unit.

Image used with permission from Peel, Finlayson, and McMahon on WikiMedia Commons

Goals:
   -Classes in the northern and southern hemisphere will partner up to share daily weather conditions in their own areas, determine similarities and differences in the weather, and explain why they think those similarities and differences exist.
   -Students will also discuss content topics related to what they have learned in each week of the unit to establish real-life connections between the content and the lives of people in various areas of the globe.
   -In collaborative groups between classes, students will brainstorm, build, test, and reflect on ways of cleaning/filtering water for survival after a natural disaster strikes and pollutes the water supply.

Subject Areas:
   -Science
   -Social Studies
   -Language Arts
   -Mathematics
   -21st Century Skills

Age Level:
   -This project is written for second grade.
   -It could be adjusted for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Time/Scheduling:
   -The entire unit is written for 9 weeks.
   -The unit is written so that each week, students videoconference with their collaborating classroom to discuss the weather conditions in their areas, the content topics that they have been learning, and (later in the unit) work on their water filtering projects.
   -The plan does not identify how long or on what day during the week the videoconferencing should occur.

Technology Requirements:
   -Students need to be able to videoconference, either in small groups or as a full class.
   -(What technology is specifically needed, such as 1:1 devices or a monitor for the full class, is dependent on the format that the collaborating teachers decide on for this project.)
   -The lesson plan suggests using technology such as Skype or Google Hangouts.
   -The creator also suggests publicly displaying the students' endeavors throughout the unit through Twitter.
   -The teachers need to be able to collaborate to determine small groups, videoconferencing times, due dates, etc., whether this be through the videoconferencing platform or though other technology (such as email or Google Docs).

Communication Requirements:
   -The teachers in the collaborating classrooms must communicate before the project launches.
   -The students in each classroom must communicate, either in small groups or as a full class.
   -It is recommended that students participating in this project speak the same language, though translators may be used if the two groups do not speak the same language.
   -It is recommended that collaborating classes form within similar time zones so that times to videoconference can be arranged between the groups.

Intended Outcomes:
   -Students will be able to develop relationships with their collaborative peers and learn more about their cultures through collaboration.
   -Students will be able to make connections between weather and its relationship to the location on Earth.
   -Students will understand how people have basic needs that are dependent on the environment and that weather can affect people's daily lives by positively or negatively affecting the environment.
   -Students will establish connections between the weather-related content they are learning in class and how this affects them and the students in their collaborating class.
   -Students will determine which materials work best as water filters.

Reflection and Takeaways:
   -This project was fairly vague in the requirements for communication between the students. I liked how it was up to the teachers to reflect on the technology they had available to them and decide between themselves whether their students should work as two full classes, split into small groups, or even partner up. Though this means that teachers working on this project would have more work to do to make that determination themselves, this project is more adaptable to different classroom environments due to the flexibility in the description.
   -I liked that this project was able to incorporate videoconferencing! I think videoconferencing is ambitious, but it can be extremely beneficial to the students if used appropriately. Because it limits the classes that are able to participate in a project (due to scheduling and time differences), I do not want to require videoconferencing in my project, but I plan to leave it as an option available to classes if they are collaborating in two areas in which this would be feasible.
   -I also liked that this collaborative project was built for younger students and gave them a fair level of autonomy! While I do believe that younger students need more guidance than older students, that doesn't mean that they can't be given a little freedom, such as choosing what they talk about with their collaborating class within the realm of the covered content. I hope to allow a lot of independence in my collaborative project as well.

What did you think about the projects I presented here? Have you participated in an outstanding global collaboration project that you think I should know about? Please share about it in the comments! And be on the lookout for my next post reflecting on my experience creating my own global collaboration project!

Monday, November 28, 2016

#GivingTuesday

In Visual Literacy today, we talked about campaigns for social change. The Ad Council has been sponsoring social change for decades; some current, familiar causes are sexual assault prevention (primarily through It's On Us - watch one of the public service announcements below), fatherhood involvement, and recycling.


One campaign for social change that has its annual kickoff tomorrow (and has been popping up all over my Twitter) is #GivingTuesday. After Thanksgiving Thursday (a day of eating) and Black Friday/Cyber Monday (days of shopping), #GivingTuesday is intended to help people kick off the season of charity by encouraging them to help out in their community. As the #GivingTuesday website states, "#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration." It also states that last year, over 700,000 people in over 70 countries raised $116,000,000 online through the campaign. That's simply incredible!

Image used with permission from Steven H. Vanderwerff on WikiMedia Commons

While it seems as though this day could only bring about good things, I have to examine this campaign with a critical eye. After reading a bit about #GivingTuesday on sites such as Mashable and Forbes, I am left with some questions. First, where is all of the money raised on #GivingTuesday going? Does the organization itself use the money to fund it's own do-good projects, or do they donate the money to other groups? Another question I have is how do we turn this from a one-day event into a longer project? While I think it's great that people are taking time on #GivingTuesday to give back, this is only a drop in the bucket if we consider all of the service we could do if #GivingTuesday lasted longer than just one day in November. Would people be as enthusiastic about a seasonal or monthly event as well, or would that cause less people to participate? One last question that is immediately coming to mind is how do we reach those who do not have technology? #GivingTuesday even has a hashtag in its name; honestly, I don't think I would have known about the event if not for Twitter. So how do we get the word out about this campaign to folks who don't have Twitter? Reaching a wider audience would surely encourage more people to participate, only leading to greater community outreach across the world.

Image used with permission from Joshua J. Wahl on WikiMedia Commons

I am looking forward to participating in my first #GivingTuesday tomorrow! Have you ever participated in a community project (or even just donated money) on #GivingTuesday? Please share about it in the comments!

Image used with permission from Jennifer A. Villalovos on WikiMedia Commons

Changes for Women in Fashion/Modeling

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Killing Us Softly, a video about women's portrayal in advertising. One of the points made in the video was that women in advertising (print, runway, etc.) are always thin and have been measuring thinner over the years; these models embody shapes that are simply unrealistic for most women to obtain and do not represent the general population.

Recently, I have seen many videos, articles, etc. providing a more recent perspective on an old issue. The first (and possibly most widely distributed) is Tim Gunn's view on the American fashion industry. (Read the essay on The Washington Post or watch the PBS NewsHour clip about it below.)


Tim Gunn (a fashion industry expert and one of my favorite TV hosts from my teenage afternoons watching Project Runway reruns) states that the American fashion industry "has a lot of problems" stemming from designers' refusal to create fashion-forward clothes for all types of American women. Gunn states that the average American woman measures between a size 16 and size 18, but it is incredibly difficult to find any clothes (let alone clothes that are considered trendy or glamorous) for these women. Gunn laments that the issue is baffling because although creating fashions for different-sized women would require a bit more work on the designers' parts, more and more women fit the "plus-size" (a term that Gunn and I both despise) category; therefore, there is money to be made in creating clothing that appeals to them. I appreciated how Gunn said it's "not a customer issue," acknowledging that it's the industry that needs to change, not the people themselves.

Another recent headliner was Ashley Graham's honor as a cover girl for Sports Illustrated's extremely popular swimsuit issue. Since this announcement, Graham has used her voice to advocate for women of all sizes. Her message is that no matter what your size, you can do anything you want to do - she was able to make waves in the modeling industry, one area that is overwhelmingly dominated by tiny figures. In addition, Graham has her own line of plus-size lingerie, and Mattel even created a Barbie doll in her image.



After receiving body-shaming comments on her Instagram, Iskra Lawrence responded with a photo of her lying on a bed of potato chips (see below); as she said, it was "for anyone who has ever been called FAT." Most recently, Lawrence stripped down on a subway to educate travelers about body diversity and acceptance.


Gunn, Graham, and Lawrence are extremely popular figures, but women's portrayal is changing on other levels as well. For example, BuzzFeed did a stunning photoshoot of regular plus-size women recreating high fashion advertisements. (It was discussed here in Glamour magazine.) CBS News reported that the brand Meijer is getting rid of its plus-size clothing section and will include these sizes in their missy and women sections. Meijer is also slashing plus-size clothing prices (which are typically higher than "regular" sizes) in an effort to make clothing costs affordable and consistent. A new kickstarter campaign by Shelley Johnson of New Vintage Lady plans to market vintage sewing patterns that are adjusted to fit larger-sized women (because most vintage clothing runs four sizes smaller than our current sizes).

The lesson I have learned from my recent attention to fashion and modeling in the news is that waves are being made. I still believe that women's portrayal in advertising is dominated by models who have certain characteristics (such as nearly impossibly slim figures), but it seems like this is changing. It is my hope that by the time my children are born and old enough to understand and be affected by advertising, these "thin ideals" that we see today are a part of the past.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reflecting on a Global Education Conference Presentation

The final task in my Using Digital and Social Media in Education class is a global collaboration project that I will create myself. In order to build a successful and viable global collaboration project, I need to learn about global collaboration as it relates to education. To do this, I have been asked to watch a recording from the 2016 Global Education Conference and reflect on what I have learned and how this might assist me in my project. For today's post, I will reflect on the recording I watched, Preparation for Teaching in a Global Classroom by Heather MacCleoud. (In order to access this presentation, I had to create an account and log in at the Global Education Conference website; it was free, in case you'd like to watch the presentation yourself!)

A screenshot I took of MacCleoud's presentation video; I watched this for my assignment.

First, the presenter spoke about diversity in the classroom today, particularly in the United States. She discussed topics like the increasing amount of multiculturalism in the classroom; how the minorities are becoming the majority; the unique situations of English language learners, immigrants, and refugees, and how these populations are more often represented in our classrooms today than they have been in the past; and the increasing global interconnectedness of our students. I personally liked MacCleoud's slide that discussed just a few of the many cultural identities that may differ amongst our students (language, religion, race, political affiliation, life experience, learning modalities, etc.) and her message that regardless of the teacher's personal culture, we need to be sure that we are welcoming students of all types in our classrooms.

Next, the MacCleoud discussed preparing teachers for our culturally diverse and interconnected world. She listed four features of cultural learning: it's developmental, transformative, takes time, and requires a safe environment. One idea that struck a chord with me was when MacCleoud said that preservice and current teachers all come to the classroom with varying levels of background experiences learning about and interacting with people of different cultures, and so do our students; therefore, everyone has to meet each other where they're at in order to support each other and facilitate learning. She admitted that it can be difficult and a little intimidating, but we have to take the time and put in the effort to make these learning experiences possible not only for ourselves, but for our students.

MacCleoud then examined the three dimensions of cultural and global learning: understanding of cultural and global contexts, integration of cultural and global perspectives in the classroom, and responsiveness to the influence of culture on teaching and learning. She defined understanding of cultural and global contexts as understanding "knowledge of the plurality of cultural practices present within human societies, and engagement with global issues." For integration of cultural and global perspectives, MacCleoud discussed ways of critically examining and questioning the perspectives that are present in the classroom and finding additional ways to include people of all backgrounds in the curriculum. Lastly, for the responsiveness dimension, the presenter said that we must remember that we as teachers are cultural beings ourselves, our students have their own cultural backgrounds, and together we have to pay attention to the ways that different cultural identities influence teaching and learning.

Image used with permission from Free Press/Free Press Action Fund on flickr

In order to increase one's cultural learning, MacCleoud identified a list of steps. First, the person or class has to take part in some sort of assessment to determine their current level of cultural learning; there are a number of existing assessments that would allow someone to do this. Next, the learner should reflect upon that assessment and determine if there are life experiences or influential people who have impacted his or her cultural learning. Next, cultural learners should take part in guided discussion, bringing up their own cultural competencies and areas of improvement with others who are similar AND different from them in order to learn. Based on that guided discussion, some sort of action should be planned, whether on an individual or group level. For example, in my RA staff this year, we discussed how many of us use the phrase "you guys," which can be exclusive to people who identify as female. We took it upon ourselves to try to consciously stop using that phrase as well as hold each other accountable and call it out when we hear each other say it. Throughout this period of planned action, the learner(s) should be reflecting on the experience and making changes to the action as necessary. Lastly, assessment should be taken to determine what progress has been made in one's cultural learning. At the end of the presentation, MacCleoud mentioned some resources and programs that people could get involved with in order to foster and support their cultural learning.

I really enjoyed this presentation and felt that it was not only applicable to the classroom, but also to daily life. There are very few places in this world where no diversity exists; we all have different background experiences to bring to the table. Therefore, it is essential that we become culturally educated and continue building our cultural understandings. In terms of my project, I think working collaboratively with a student from around the globe is a wasted opportunity if culture and experience are not incorporated into the activity. If I simply want my students to collaborate, I could ask them to work with partners within the classroom and forget the effort that it takes to set up a global collaboration project. However, the project that I want to bring to my students includes the opportunity to get to know someone who is different from them. Talking with another student about his or her different background will increase both partners' cultural learning. And in order to facilitate this, I need to be open to continuing to become more culturally literate as an educator as well.

Do you have any particular ideas for incorporating cultural learning into your own classroom or global collaboration project? Or have you fostered activities that include cultural learning? Please share about it in the comments!

Creativity-Fostering Playgrounds

Recess provides children with a break from the classroom. It allows them to build social skills and improve their physical fitness. The fresh air does them good. These are just a few of the many reasons given that support the inclusion of recess in a child's school day. Here's another one: playing outdoors with other kids promotes creativity... or does it?

Image used with permission from Glowman on pixabay

As we have been talking about in my Visual Literacy class, creativity is absolutely essential to children's development; in fact, it's one of the universal constructs of the Iowa Core. Creativity is constantly cited as a skill that employers value most in their applicants as well, so its benefits extend beyond the classroom. Therefore, it is essential that we, as educators, ensure that our students are provided access to many opportunities to boost their creative prowess. And if recess is one of the activities that we continue to cite for creativity development, we must be sure that recess provides a creative environment for the kids.

This issue was brought to my attention by "The Overprotected Kid," an article I stumbled upon from The Atlantic. The article discusses a type of playground (more popular in the UK than the US) in which there are moveable items and materials to experiment and play with instead of large playground equipment. Take a look at the short video below for an example of this type of playground, called The Land.


As you can see, this playground sparks ingenuity. The kids are able to use materials and tools to repurpose items according to their unique ideas. They are able to do this with very little supervision from adults; there are keepers who prevent the kids from causing true harm, but the actions the kids can take are almost limitless. While I believe kids can build their creativity through the playgrounds we are familiar with (including the typical swing set, slide, and maybe even monkey bars), the options are not nearly as free as they are on playgrounds such as The Land.

In response to the need to promote freer active play, there are efforts to bring about loose-parts playgrounds in the United States. Imagination Playground (as shown in the video below), is one example.


There are some amazing playgrounds in existence. However, I believe that if we are going to be committed to fostering creativity in our children, we need to do better. These innovative, loose parts playgrounds might be the answer. What are your thoughts? Do you think we could ever have playgrounds like The Land in the US? Or should we be advocating for options such as Imagination Playground? Please share in the comments!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wag the Dog: Personal Analysis through Visual Literacy Lens

Wag the Dog (1997) is a comedic drama about spin, similar to Thank You for Smoking (a movie I blogged about earlier this month). In Wag the Dog, the opening scene is a secret meeting of the President's advisors, who know that news of the President fondling a young girl is going to hit the presses the next day. The advisors need to lessen the blow of the news because the President is up for re-election in three weeks. Invited to the meeting is Conrad Brean, a well-known spin doctor who suggests that they use the media to create the illusion of a war to show the President's usefulness and distract the public from the President's scandal. Brean enlists the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motts, and they set to work creating the illusion of a war in Albania through fake scenes of a girl running through rubble with her cat, a rallying war song, and the death and proper burial of a "war hero." At one point the CIA even detains Brean and his advising partner (Winifred Ames) for their antics, but Brean suggests that the CIA doesn't actually know what's going on in the world and they are released. In the end, the President is re-elected, but the press insinuates his win was due to his campaign slogan and not his recent efforts with the war, which infuriates Motts. Motts says that he is going to call the media and tell them what really happened and why the President won the election, and after Brean unsuccessfully attempts to dissuade him, Brean tells a secret service agent to take care of Motts. The next morning there is a news story about Motts being found dead in his Hollywood home from a "heart attack," but we are meant to believe that the secret service agents killed Motts so he wouldn't release their secret war to the press. At the very end of the movie we see a news report about violence in Albania, leaving us to wonder if it was a real or fabricated report.

View the trailer for Wag the Dog below:



What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
I think the message of this movie is that unless we witness something ourselves, we can never be sure of the full truth. (And even if we do witness something, sometimes we still cannot be sure that the occasion was not a set-up.) Trust goes a long way, and in general, trust is earned. For example, I am more inclined to believe a story that my best friend tells me as opposed to if a new acquaintance just shared the same story because I have known my friend for a longer period of time and have heard stories from her that were later verified. In this movie, the situation is heightened because the government is the body sharing the story. As the citizens of the United States, we put our trust in the government as our administrative, commanding body; the government cannot properly rule without the trust of its people. In this movie, that trust is exploited for the gains of the President. Of course the American people are convinced that a war is occurring in Albania; why wouldn't they? The TV showed clips of "destruction in Albania" and "war heroes" that were believable to the people, even though they were completely fictional. The President and his team used that blind trust of the nation to win re-election. So I think the purpose of this movie was to not only show that we can never be sure of the full truth, we should also be skeptical of bodies (such as the government) that have an incredible amount of clout and influence and would have the power to sway our opinions.

Discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. 
This movie included very few minority groups, and they did not appear to be purposefully cast for their minority status. The only possible minority issue I detect in this film is the role of women. Winifred Ames, the advisor working alongside Conrad Brean to pull off the fake Albanian war, is a blonde who is frequently ignored. (Perhaps she is being painted as a "dumb blonde.") There is also a scene in the movie in which Motts writes a speech for the American public that the President doesn't want to give because he thinks it is corny; to prove its ability to impact the people, Motts collects female secretaries and delivers the speech to them, resulting in a room full of bawling women. This perpetuates the openly emotional woman stereotype. Besides these examples, I don't think this movie was intended to depict minorities in any certain way.

Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
The director, Barry Levinson, is a Caucasian male born in the 1940s. I could not find any conclusive articles that stated he was skeptical of the government, he was raised in a household that encouraged him to be critical of the government, or any such quotes from the director himself. However, it is possible that Levinson wanted to bring light to the role media plays in manipulating our minds due to some experience he had in his past.

An interesting addition to this topic is that soon after the movie was released, the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton sex scandal was publicized and the President bombed Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the Kenya-Tanzania bombings of American embassies. People drew parallels between Wag the Dog, in which the President covered his sex scandal with a fake war, and real life, in which the President may have tried to divert attention from his sex scandal with bombings. (I was alerted of this comparison in this article from the Los Angeles Times.) I doubt that Levinson knew anything about Lewinsky and Clinton's affair, but it is incredibly coincidental that what happened in history seemed so similar to the film. Did Levinson detect that the government was hiding something?

Image used with permission from David Shankbone on WikiMedia Commons

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
As mentioned previously, women (and particularly secretaries) may be offended by the movie due to the way their identities were portrayed in the film. However, I think all American people may be impacted and possibly angered by this movie. The movie depicts a small group of wealthy, well-connected people brainwashing the public through the government's influence. This insinuates that the American people are gullible and will believe anything their government tells them without questioning it (even when the CIA tries to release the truth). It may lead people to wonder if they are indeed that easily influenced.

What has the movie added to your visual literacy?
This movie has reiterated the importance of thinking beyond what is actually portrayed, not only through visuals but in all aspects of life. For example, in one of my other classes we have mentioned poor research ethics in medicine, from issues such as not reporting some clinical trials to make a product seem to work better than it does to medical companies funding their own studies and not obtaining an unbiased review. These sorts of problems lead people to believe that their medicines and medical devices are actually more effective than they are, putting people's lives at risk. On a less serious note, we are tricked all the time into thinking a certain way. For example, check out this Ikea lamp commercial:


The commercial uses effects that we usually associate with sadness (the rain, slow music, darkness, the lamp that is alone on the street) to make us feel sad for the lamp; we are only snapped out of it when the narrator reminds us that "it has no feelings" and that we are "crazy" for feeling sad for it.

Director Barry Levinson did quip that this is not always intentional. Because of the instantaneous nature of media, reports may be disseminated that are unknowingly incorrect. While this was not the premise of the movie (because reports were being released that were intentionally fictitious), it should be known that this problem exists innocently as well. People are made to believe something that they don't realize is incorrect until later on. (See him talk about it in the interview below.)


The movie adds to this discussion. We believe the news (whether they be broadcasts, print media, websites, etc.) because those are the outlets we expect to receive reliable information from. But, though we may question advertisements (because we know that their purpose is to sway us into thinking a certain way), we rarely question other sources that we have deemed factual and credible, such as research, news, and even the government. We need to be more critical of the media that is given to us. What is the message that the author is trying to portray? WHY is the author trying to transmit this message? Is the purpose to transmit factual information or persuade us? Is this a credible source? Are there any parts of the message that are hard to believe? Overall, we need to look at our world with a critical eye and think more deeply about (and question) the information we are being fed on a daily basis.

What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
The parts that stand out the most to me from this film were the very beginning and the very end. I rewound the movie and paused it a couple of times to write down the opening remarks written on the screen, "Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog." I think this quote could have two different meanings. First, the dog might represent the American people and the tail might represent the media. As we have explored throughout this class, the media influences the public, though the people should be greater than the media. The other meaning that I see in the quote would be if the dog represented the American people and the tail represented the government. The government is supposed to exist for the benefit of the people, but as Wag the Dog shows, perhaps the government exists because it is influencing the people to believe that we need it. This quote was given at the beginning of the movie to set the tone of the film; it's satirical and shocking. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking about that quote and how it related to the atrocities I was viewing.

The end of the movie also stood out to me because it left me thinking even after the movie was over. At the end, we are shown news stories of the war in Albania; however, it is left uncertain whether the war is real or continued fabrication from the President's story. (Even the empty room shown after the clip is troubling; is the room empty because the advisors are busy making up the news, or is the room empty because they no longer are making it up and have duties elsewhere?) The uncertainty focuses our attention back to the message of this movie; we can't necessarily believe what we see at face value.

Image used with permission from Counselling on GoodFreePhotos

Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations.

Overall, as I was watching this film I was torn between laughing at the hilarity of a couple of people trying to create the illusion of a war and crying because they were successful at convincing the American public that it was true. I try to be skeptical and reflective on the things I see, hear, read, etc., but I wonder how truly successful I am. I wonder how much paranoia has been caused by this film and others like it (such as Thank You for Smoking). And was the purpose of this film to make me feel paranoid?