Thursday 21 February 2013

Notoriety: Blessing or Curse?

So this post is primarily about Vi Hart and Sal Khan, and the fact that for the past year, the former has been working with the latter. If you want to see the video announcement January 3, 2012, click there.

But that was 14 months ago, so why post now? Two reasons. First, Khan seems to be back in the news; see Khan Academy Redux. And since Vi Hart works there, and her videos tend to have some hate for math instruction, there have been (possibly unconnected) blog entries in the last two weeks:
1) Why Did Vi Hart Go to Khan Academy
2) We have to call this stuff out

The second reason for posting now is more personal, connected to the idea of doing what you love.  Which I think is awesome. Now, if you want to jump to my conclusions, drop down to 'WHAT THIS MEANS'. Because I'm about to give you backstory, along with some #ffs.



Check out the Fan To Pro website here.

From the site: Fan To Pro is the source for professional geekiness. If you want to turn your hobbies into a career, make money at your enthusiasms, or keep that career going, we're your resource.

In brief: There are a number of people at this site who come together to analyze trends in the world (both past and present, with an eye to the future), and showcase people who are doing creative things out there. They're at @FanToPro on Twitter. In particular, right now Steven Savage (@StevenSavage) is talking about How Blogging Helps Your Career. I've met Steven Savage at Anime North. He has also published books.

Check that stuff out.


Check out the That Guy With The Glasses website here.

In brief: People from America, Britain, Canada and elsewhere, come together on one site to review everything from B-movies to comic books to music to video games.

For some, that's a part time gig. For others, this is their paying job. They do conventions. I've met both Doug Walker and Lewis Lovhaug. And I must say Linkara is just as awesome in person as he is in his reviews - bear in mind, this is a guy who reads all the comments you make on his videos. His storylines are epic. Sometimes I wish I could write like him... and other times I simply imagine that I do. He's on Twitter @Linkara19 if you want to check him out, updates for the site itself are @TGWTG.


By the way, teachers, I guarantee at least a few students in your school watch videos on this site. Worth a glance.


Check out the Central Website here.

From the site: We have teachers of all sorts, from novice to master, guys and girls, and from all over, teaching everything under the sun. The one commonality that we all share is a passion for our craft, and a desire to get a little bit better each year.

In brief: Math teachers who are so charged up by math education that they blog, tweet, and attend gatherings like Twitter Math Camp in summer to talk about it. Harder to single out any one person here (though Dan Meyer's blog in an option - saw him in person at OAME), but if you see who's following @TmathC you'll get a bunch.

Now let's consider the intersection of A, B and C. If you take a little Steven Savage, blend that with Linkara, and stir in Dan Meyer, what do we have?



It seems to me that Victoria Hart (@vihartvihart) is, in a way, at the centre of those. Like many at Channel Awesome, she started with a blog and a YouTube account, and then built the hobby into enough of a profession that she was hired by an organization, that being Khan Academy. The kicker being that she doesn't review B-movies, but mathematics. Musically.

The downside of this is that she's now become a bit of a lightning rod. But then again... they ALL have, to a certain degree, haven't they? A lot of people are on board with Dan Meyer's TED talk, but not everyone. There are probably some who don't buy into Steven Savage's books or his way of thinking. And Doug Walker had a mildly impressive clash with Mara Wilson over his strictly online persona, The Nostalgia Critic.

All these people, we look up to them, we see that they're making something of themselves, we figure they know more than we do, and we ask for advice. (Or... perhaps the media does that, and the public jumps on the bandwagon with them? That may have been the case with Khan.) But they're people just like us, so let's turn it around, and ask: How would YOU react to an increase in attention like that?


In all cases, those people are doing what they love (and managing to get paid for it), but now other people are watching them do it. More than that, other people are trying to take their own lessons from it, maybe even seeing these individuals as role models. So does this change how they do what they do? More importantly, should it?

Now, if I were in that position, I like to think I'd be holding myself to a higher standard, making sure I'm not swearing in public or the like. (Then again, as a teacher I already do stuff like that, as do they.) But if, let's say, my singing in math classes suddenly caught on and went viral, and everyone said I should stop slamming on pop music and write more rap parodies to appeal to a broader audience... well, no. That's not part of my vision, nor is it something I'm terribly good at, so it wouldn't be fun anymore. (And I've already blogged about doing things for yourself.)

In fact, the good folks at io9 have turned up research which says that one of the best ways to lose your hobby is to get paid to do it.

Back to ViHart for a moment. I've only seen a subset of Vi's videos, but one that I often come back to is "They Became What They Beheld". Here's a quote from it:

"There's a reason people prefer my videos which ramble through my thought process, or Sal's Khan Academy videos which he makes in real time, to the stale, polished information 'Let's Memorize Equations' stuff that Education Publishers still insist on producing."

People do say you should "write what you know", so is it simply a matter of advertising more clearly that there's more to it than texts these days? (There is, right?) Perhaps it's that some of us who are ahead of the curve are becoming collateral damage in the drive to change the system. (In fairness, the system doesn't seem to know what it wants to become.)

I quote her video again: "Reaching a Wider Audience is Not Worth Sacrificing Your Content."

For instance, Linkara might get more viewers by talking more about comic movie tie-ins, or recent events in Spiderman, but that's NOT what he does. In fact it's more than that, it's NOT who he is. He reviews comic books (and has a magic gun), and he does a damn good job. Meanwhile, ViHart talks mathematics, and while I won't deny there are times I'm feeling a bit burned by her commentary, if she were to suddenly talk about how elements of the curriculum can be really neat, that would probably freak me out too because that's not what she does. She argues against the system.


We all have our own set of values and beliefs. They make us what we are at any particular moment in time. When that sort of thing is put out there for the world to see, there will always be people who disagree. (A number of people out there may disagree with me with now... hey, I might disagree with myself in a few years.)

This doesn't mean we should change ourselves.

Which isn't to say that we shouldn't call out mistaken or archaic beliefs, but we should at least be aware that the other person isn't necessarily doing it merely to annoy us. They're just someone with their own perspectives, and their own role models, and they may even be very open to feedback and critique. Certainly more so than vitriol and exasperation.

I guess my final message then is that we need to make sure we're picking our battles carefully. It's just possible we're all on the same side, becoming blind to the real enemy.

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