I’ve been teaching online for several years now, and it’s become not only the only way I teach, but also the impetus for some of my research. For me, moving my teaching online led me to change my pedagogy. I have become an advocate of both Universal Design and the Negotiated Syllabus, which not only create more inclusive classes, but also engage students in their own learning. I began to use Turnitin not so much to catch plagiarism, but as a tool for students to learn how to paraphrase and cite correctly. It also became one part of a lengthy process of peer review that I now use to teach students that by adopting an iterative process they can transform their writing. I’ve also revamped my assignments so that they develop particular skills, such as the ability to locate, manipulate, and interpret data. When I look at my syllabi now, they are far different than they were a decade ago. Even though I had more than once won teaching awards for my face to face teaching. I think that my online classes are better than their face to face (F2F) predecessors. …
Dwight John Zimmerman has authored Area 51 in collaboration with artist Greg Scott, to tell the location of this key aeronautical research location in Groom Lake, Nevada. Of course, Area 51 is a favorite of UFO buffs and conspiracy theorists, and both these topics are covered (p. 3-8, 15, 51). These ideas, however, are not the core of this work of graphic non-fiction. Instead, this is a sweeping historical study, which describes the successes and failures that the U.S. intelligence and military services experienced while developing new aviation technologies at Area 51.
What is impressive is the quantity of material that Zimmerman is able to cover in 91 pages. Greg Scott’s realistic style works well with this content. Many of the black and white sketches remind one of period photographs. Scott is equally adept at capturing the look of advanced aircraft or a battle field. The text and images meld well together.
What most interested me about the work, however, was its extensive discussion of drones, particularly their early history (p. 42-50). Today global powers are discussing creating drone submarines, and even drone submarine hunters. In Northwest Pakistan and Yemen the United States has been carrying out an undeclared war. With a recent drone strike in Libya, the scale of the conflict seems to be expanding. This technology has developed with amazing speed.
As Zimmerman discusses, the United States invested vast amounts of time, funds and expertise into drone development in the early 1960s. For example, in 1964 the United States used drones to carry out “160 reconnaissance missions over China” (p. 44). Remarkably, in 1962 the United States began work on a Mach 3 drone, which proved unsuccessful (45). The scale of American investments is fascinating, but in the end Zimmerman argues that the U.S. failed, because the key technology to enable drones to work had not yet been developed.
By the 1980s, the situation had changed. Zimmerman describes (p. 65-73) how the rapid increase in microprocessor speeds permitted the U.S. air force to create a new generation of drones. The first drone was used in a combat theater in 1999 during the conflict over Kosovo. Scott’s images (p. 73) capture the rapid evolution in drones’ capabilities, from being tasked with aerial reconnaissance, to being used to accurately deliver laser guided bombs upon particular individuals. As Zimmerman makes clear, the U.S. is currently developing a host of new drones, which even include helicopters (p. 88).
In an earlier blog post I reviewed the book Ghost Fleet, which described a hypothetical future conflict between the United States and China, in which drones played a central and horrifying role. The groundwork for these robotic conflicts is being laid now. While cyberwarfare -such as the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program- has attracted the attention of security theorists, I believe that drones merit equal attention or more. Few people are regularly being killed in cyber warfare, but this is not the case with drones. While the United States took an early and impressive lead, other countries are now rapidly developing these technologies, particularly in Asia. The area of the world that is now seeing the most sustained and significant growth in military spending is Asia, and these expenditures are largely being driven by the issue of the South China sea. If one were to see the emergence of a major conflict in which drones played a central role, this would certainly be the most likely location. If so, doubtless some of the drones involved will have been designed in Area 51.
Scott and Zimmerman’s book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, and compelling. Highly recommended for anyone interested in military technology and Area 51. The truth is out there.
Do you want to read about a true historical mystery? Please read my post about the ghost ship the Baltimore, and the mystery woman who was found aboard after the entire crew disappeared.
Shawn Smallman, 2016
Warfare is changing rapidly, with the development not only of drones in the air, but also in other services. For example, the US. navy is increasingly interested in sub-hunting drones as a possible means to hunt other nations’ ballistic missile submarines. What is remarkable, however, is how fast the change has taken place within the U.S. air force. I recently came across this graphic at Contemporary Issues and Geography, which shows the size of the current U.S. drone fleet. Click on the image once to increase it to full size. As this graphic shows, the United States now produces and operates drones at a staggering scale.
Shawn Smallman, 2016.
I love online teaching, which I believe not only promotes learner autonomy but also helps institutions to fulfill their access mission. Gordon Brown argues in a recent opinion piece that online technology also can be a key tool to allow people in conflict zones to receive education. Of course, this argument presupposes many things, such as participants’ access not only to technology, but even to electricity. It also perhaps assumes that it’s possible to take valuable but small projects and to scale them. Still, at a time when Middle Eastern governments are struggling to offer education to a huge population of Syrian refugees, Brown’s argument is intriguing.
Update: a student in my Digital Globalization recently read this article. They thought that it was hard to believe that there would wifi in the refugee camps, or that migrants would have ready access to mobile phones or tablets. They also thought that most refugees would have more pressing needs, such as access to food. In sum, there are reasons to be skeptical about this idea, until it can be demonstrated at some scale.
Shawn Smallman, 2016