Archive for the ‘Social Sciences’ Category

Deadlines and Informal Learning

June 16, 2009

I saw this wonderful senior project from Bang-yao Liu, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and wanted to share it. The title of the video is “Deadline post it stop motion.”

But of course, this blog is about informal learning, not cool stop-motion animation.

So in keeping with the official theme of this blog, my post instead is about the derivation of the word ‘deadline.’

Wait, you say, what does the word deadline have to do with informal learning? Just this. Deadlines have a marvelous capacity to focus the learner’s mind, as I expect young Bang-yao would admit.

Informal learners could do worse than to give themselves deadlines to finish their readings, learnings, writings.

The word deadline comes from one of the darker chapters of American Civil War history, Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville. Andersonville was a Confederate prisoner of war camp, in Macon County, Georgia, about 150 miles from Savannah.

In time some 45,000 prisoners of war were housed at Andersonville over the course of its 14 months of operation. In August 1864, there were 33,000 POWs in the camp. By December 1864 100 prisoners were dying each day, mainly due to disease and malnutrition. All told nearly 13,000 POWs didn’t survive Andersonville.

The prison was set on 16 acres of land, later expanded to 26 acres. The Confederacy, stretched from war expenses, provided the prisoners no barracks or shelter of any kind from the Georgia weather, although a ‘tent city’ did arise self-provided by the prisoners. Food rations were notably meager.

The camp site was bisected by a slow moving stream called Stockade Creek. It served as both a source of fresh water for the prisoners and sanitation purposes. With so many prisoners the creek and the boggy area around it quickly became a fetid, disease-ridden swamp.

Camp Sumter was surrounded by a 15-foot stockade wall. Guards patrolled the inside of the stockade. Between them and the prisoners was a low wooden fence called the ‘dead-line.’ The name came from the rule that was associated with the fence: if a prisoner so much as put his arm over the dead-line, he could be summarily shot. About 15 men were shot and killed for dead-line infractions.

Andersonville was a horror of the highest order. Its commander, Henry Wirz, was tried and executed after the war. During the trial the prosecution and witnesses described the prison, including the malevolent dead-line and its deadly rule. The newspapers of the day ate it up.

In time, a number of personal accounts of Andersonville emerged, some of them highly dramatized (as if surviving the place needed any embellishment). Few failed to mention the dead-line.

By about 1900 or so the term was in use by printers to describe an area on the margins of paper not meant to be printed upon. By the 1920s or so it began to be used to mean a time limit.

That meaning seems to have found its fit with the word. There’s no good synonymy for deadline. ‘Target’ doesn’t convey the right urgency. ‘Zero hour’ has punch, but not much currency. ‘Crunch time’ implies a band of time rather than a terminal moment.

So thank you, Bang-yao Liu, for your clever project and reminder about the power of deadlines.


Informal Learning on the Street Where You Live

July 2, 2008

\Imagine if thought balloons appeared above people’s heads that told you exactly what they were willing to teach someone like you. 

  • Maybe the gentle-looking white haired fellow you pass in the aisle at the grocery store could teach you about the miracle of forgiveness.
  • Maybe the tattooed and be-pierced kid at the library texting her boyfriend could help you work through a thorny CSS challenge.
  • Maybe the well-dressed woman in the Lexus in front of you could help you understand the Upanishads. Or, belly dancing. 

Now it appears that a Seattle outfit called TeachStreet is doing just that. (Though not exactly with thought balloons).


Presently in beta, TeachStreet links together teachers who are willing and presumably able to teach students in Seattle. They claim to have in their database 25,000 classes, teachers, coaches, instructors and schools just in the Emerald City.


Here’s how it works. Suppose you’re a student who wants to learn, say, conversational Italian. You plug in the term ‘Italian language’ into the site’s search engine. When I did 86 results popped-up. Currently you can narrow the search by geography, class size, ability, schedule, and price.


I selected personalized lessons, evening classes, and beginner status, which left me with a more manageable six results. I clicked on the one taught by a Valentina Preziuso… whose name sounds wonderfully Italian… and it took me to her biographical area. So far Valentina has yet to post anything about her background. There’s a review section as well, but for Valentina that too is blank.


At the page for the class, I found a link to Amazon products and a Google Ads column, as well as information about the class and cost, times, days, etc.  


The class and teacher profiles are free to registered users.


TeachStreet is the brainstorm of Dave Schappell, the founder and CEO, and a director at Amazon from 1998- 2004, who was, as his bio says, a driving force behind Amazon’s marketplace platform.


So far TeachStreet is only in Seattle, but plans are in the works to expand the concept to “San Philayorkizona,” the website reports.


The Buddha is supposed to have said; “when the student is ready the teacher appears.”


Time will tell if there are enough students ready for 25,000 teachers in Seattle.