Underwater Photography and the Value of Online Learning Communities

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the US. Unlike in Israel where Yom Hazikaron is a solemn affair, us Americans celebrate Memorial Day mostly as the start of the summer season with barbecues, trips to the beach, and swimming in the pool. So this Monday was the perfect time for me to test out the underwater camera mode on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. You see the Active advertises itself as being water resistant when dunked in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It even has an underwater camera mode which converts the volume button into the camera key for picture taking when the wet touch screen does not work. It is not necessarily scuba diving worthy but certainly good enough for some fun family pictures in the small backyard pool. Sort of...

Many reviewers have pointed out that the underwater mode on the S4 Active is not really that effective, there is a reason why the phone's warranty does NOT cover water damage. (I think the new S5 is truly waterproof at least according to this reviewer.) But I am fearless when it comes to technology. I like to tinker and try things out. It's how I learn. And if something goes wrong, I just try to see if I can fix it. If that doesn't work, I can take it back to the store and play dumb and see if they replace it. Not sure if that would be the moral thing to do, but the phone has an underwater camera mode for a reason, right?

So I sealed the phone as best I could and starting taking pictures in the pool. The pictures came out AWESOME. See below.

The problems began after I took the phone out of water. It worked just fine. But then the battery ran out so I plugged it in to the charger and it started acting strangely. It would vibrate, turn on for a moment, show the battery charging icon, then turn off again and repeat this process all over again. After charging in this strange way for about an hour, I turned the phone on to discover that when the phone was on, it did not recognize the USB port and would not charge while turned on. After repeated tries, I opened the phone to discover a bit of water had seeped in. I started to get that sinking feeling that maybe I would have to take a trip to the phone store after all. Not something I was looking forward to.

So I did what I usually do when I have a question or problem. I Googled it and discovered an entire online community devoted to helping one another solve this and similar technology problems. For example, I found extensive forums on this issue with dozens and dozens of postings here, here, and here. I even found a YouTube video where someone recorded their phone with this problem and asked people to help fix it by posting comments. These posts featured suggestions that were sometimes obvious- swap out the battery, often creative- use a small flathead or tweezers to adjust the microUSB port connector, occasionally tinkering- swap out the USB port with a new one, (Its only 8 small screws!), and some veering to the inane, blow dry the port. I tried the blow drying one by the way. It did not work.

Finally, after an hour of searching, I found the following post by someone who calls himself BrianmCRI.
I have the same problem - "Vibration Loop" and phone not recognizing a wall adapter, however it charges fine when plugged into a PC or Laptop USB port.
I called Samsun tech support. A tier 2 level engineer showed me a way to fix this. Steps as follows:

1) Go to SETTINGS / MORE and select "About Phone"
2) Scroll down to find the "Build Number", and even though it appears it is an "information only" field, tap on it seven (7) times. you will see the phone mode indicate "Development Mode".
3) Press the back arrow to return to Setting Main Menu
4) Select "Developer Options" from the menu.
5) Find "USB Debugger" and select it (click the check box)
6) Now try your phone on the wall charger., it should work

You can then return to "Developer Options" and turn "Development Mode" OFF, it will continue to work OK, but it the problem returns keep these instructions to correct it.

Good luck, hope this helps all of you experiencing this problem. Maybe the manufacturer will have a patch for it sometime.
I tried this secret development mode and USB debugging and amazingly, it worked!!! Thank you BrianmCRI! My phone quickly started recognizing the charger again even when turned on and I have not had a problem with it for two days since.

Lessons learned. Do not take underwater pictures with a Galaxy S4 Active, even though they will come out awesome. But if you do, make sure first to blow dry the port and then to go into development mode on your phone and do some USB debugging, whatever that means.

So why am I sharing this with you on this blog which is devoted to the intersection of technology and Jewish education?

Because through this exercise I experienced first hand the value of online communities of learners. None of the people in these forums were hired by Samsung or ATT or T-Mobile. They were just regular users trying to help each other out. This was classic inquiry based learning. Someone posted a real world problem and then different people proposed solutions, some of a theoretical nature others rooted in experimentation; they had worked for them and they were now proposing these solutions to others. Still other solutions were research based. They looked up information about Samsung mobile devices or spoke to engineers from Samsung. Each of these people freely shared their knowledge with no expectation of reward besides online approbation.

This is just one example of an entire movement of online self help forums on every subject imaginable. My daughter is learning guitar by watching YouTube videos created by amateur guitar aficionados. Another daughter uses Youtube to learn more about fashion and style. Another watches cooking videos. My son watches videos containing hints and "easter eggs" for his favorite video games. I know that whenever I want to do an art project with my 4 and 6 year olds, I just look for stuff around the house like newspapers or brown paper bags and then search YouTube for projects related to these items.

I believe there are some common denominators to these videos and forums. These people are writing or video recording about things they are passionate about and wish to share with others. They have a sense of community and camaraderie, of common purpose, interacting with one another, building off each others' ideas, and freely giving credit to others. They truly represent an online community of learners.

So my question is, how can we foster this type of online learning environment for Jewish education? I believe that if we just create forums of our own and require students to participate, this might be valuable but it is not quite what I am describing. In this case, our students are participating because they have to, not because they want to.

One idea which I love is when students create their own Facebook groups connected to their different classes. These are usually student run and involve a free sharing of ideas especially when all students share a common problem, like an upcoming exam or project. This is not quite the voluntary online learning community that I described above but it is a step in the right direction.

I have advised teachers who were asked to join that they NOT participate in these online Facebook groups. Not because of issues with social media interaction between students and teachers. That is for a different discussion. But because when the teacher starts responding it creates an asymmetrical interaction. The teacher will be perceived as the "expert" and students will often stop freely sharing their own ideas and instead yield to the teacher's greater authority. Teachers can certainly respond to student emails or text messages which can then be quoted by students in the online discussion. But their active participation can be detrimental to the health of this online learning community.

So the next time you have a problem or want to learn something new, Google the answer, or YouTube it, or post it on Twitter. Then start to think about how you can apply this to your classroom. How can you foster online learning communities amongst your students where they freely and passionately discuss ideas related to your discipline. If you stumble upon some creative examples of this, please share them in the comments to this post so that we can create an online learning community of our own.