Friday, March 16, 2007
The Sky is Falling
Freedman's Flat World thesis continues to propogate through the media. See Karl Fisch's "Did You Know?" video. [It's interesting how the music adds emotional impact to the words. Emotional intelligence, or as Dan Pink says, "empathy," is one of six important attributes to possess in order to avoid having your job out-sourced.] All the predictions of global competition for good jobs and the probable surpassing of human intelligence by machine intelligence certainly give one pause, especially as you consider your children's future. Couple this with the growing evidence of global climate change with some scientists even discussing species extinction in terms of homo sapiens, and you really start to wonder, what brave new world are we launching our children into, and what should we be doing now? Gore's Inconvenient Truth points out that we may be at or rapidly approaching a global ecological tipping point (e.g. with the release of trapped methane from the permafrost). I think that suggesting that there is not a scientfic consensus on the importance of these changes, or suggesting that scientists who disagree are being stifled by political correctness is sticking your head in the sand. So, as educators, what should we do? I think schools can open conversations and explore these issues in a number of appropriate ways. Certainly within the social studies and science curriculum students could begin to study and engage with these issues. There are also new online tools that allow us to communicate in new ways, collaborating across the globe. Miguel Guhlin twists a nice phrase as he describes Web 2.0 tools as "disruptive technologies," due to their expanding our communication capabilities.Perhaps these tools will help us move from School 1.0 to School 2.0 to grapple with the issues which face our planet. The NAIS 20/20 challenge project, one of their global education projects stemming from the book High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them creates avenues for school projects. Do you know of innovative schools that are doing great things? Please add links to them to this wiki. If you want to sign Gore's petition which he presents in congress next week, it is here.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Hyperlinks are Synapses
I continue to be intrigued by the idea of the internet mirroring a human brain. In this metaphor (simile?) each of us contributing content to the internet is like a neuron. As I was adding a link to my site yesterday it struck me that I was setting up a connection-- a synapse if you will-- to another neuron somewhere. I like to think about pathways of synapses, firing off between neurons, creating thought patterns and building upon itself. Those synapses that get used more will grow more, while those that get used less will fade away... kind of like the links on websites that get outdated, and no longer reach other pages [also called "link rot"].
Friday, February 02, 2007
Give Every Student a Web Page
Here's the idea: every student gets a web page for their academic career that includes one-click access to all past grades, reports, portfolios, etc. Teachers, counselors, parents, and others (with contolled access) comment on their students' pages, offering advice and college counseling. Kentucky implemented a system like this recently. You can read about it in eSchool News. They characterize it as "Myspace meets Monster," in other words, social networking meets career networking. I like the idea because it could be implemented from the beginning of a student's middle school years, and could serve to focus their understanding of themselves as learners, developing over time, and working towards long-term goals.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Electronic Classroom Etiquette
This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article commenting on how professors feel challenged by the distractions which laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices afford students in their classrooms. As described in the article, many students are making poor choices...surfing the web during lectures, IM-ing or emailing off-topic, and generally not taking advantage of classroom dialog. The author makes a good point that we need to create a better ethos of responsibility around the classroom use of mobile technology or "e-etiquette."
I teach every day in classrooms where my students have laptops and I understand this concern. Students need to be taught what is okay and what is inappropriate. They also need to learn to take advantage of class discussion to hone their communication and critical thinking skills. These skills will produce agile flexible learners -- one of the dictums of the 21st century skills report. However, I don't think that removing the technology is the answer; I think teachers need to learn management strategies to skillfully make use of technology which supports and enriches classroom dialog and resources.
Being able to seamlessly integrate virtual classroom tools broadens the opportunity for participation and extends the discussion beyond the time and place of the classroom walls. A simple strategy is to teach your students what "half-mast" means: the laptop screens must instantly be put half-way down so they cannot be seen (for purposes of discussion), but leave the computer on for instant transition back to an electronic activity that supports the learning context, such as taking notes, researching a website, back-channel chat rooms, posting on a discussion board, or collaborating online.
When I was a student I took all of my notes for every class using a tablet. It gave me an unprecedented level of organization. At my fingertips I had every note, every email, every resource that I'd ever explored. When the teacher mentioned a name or topic I was unfamiliar with, I could google it and was able to contribute more to the class discussion because of this. When the teacher presented a topic I had their powerpoint slides in front of me to annotate. I could switch to a concept-mapping program to brainstorm and organize ideas that were being presented. I could pull up Excel to calculate my grades. Using Windows Journal or OneNote I scrawl my notes, doodles, and diagrams that help me absorb what the teacher is saying. I draw diagrams at meetings of who is sitting where to help me remember names/faces, and who had made what contributions. I can't imagine not trying to give students this same tool. It is so powerful. They just need to be taught how to use it appropriately for their own benefit.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Putting the Printing Press in Perspective
This is an incredible time! It seems like every day brings news of some new tool or an easier way to do something that extends our ability to communicate, interact, and publish online. Today on the wizards list-serv someone mentioned Stickam, a website that creates an easy way for anyone to include a live stream from their webcam onto the Stickam site or onto any other webpage. This new tool certainly adds to the challenges that schools face in teaching kids what is appropriate, safe, and for that matter, useful.
This revolution of communication tools is allowing anyone with an internet connection to publish in any medium, and allows people to network and connect in new ways [text, audio, video, synchronous, asynchronous, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many]. Content is subscribable, taggable, and popular content bubbles to the surface of user-created folksonomies. It makes the revolution which the printing press wrought seem almost mundane... and we're only on the cusp of this change. This is an incredible time. For my own little publishing contribution this week in this brave new world of online presence, I just put up a home movie [Windows Media Player required] of our new dog, Gilmore, from our trip to Hilton Head. He wasn't quite sure how to pick up a frisbee that lands face down :)
This new publishing phenomenon also raises sticky issues about intellectual property and copyright -- my video uses clips from three songs as background music. Since they are each only a short portion of the song, I felt okay about including them. I came across an interesting rule about copyright of music for online radio last week (can't remember the source), but as I understood it, it said that providing music online is acceptable so long as the user cannot control the stopping or starting of the songs, or save them. I guess this is how the internet radio station Pandora is able to operate. Speaking of Pandora, and new ways of connecting-- it's a customized radio station: you tell it what types of music you like and then it sends you a stream of music based on your taste.
So all this new media leaves me wondering if we even realize the impact it is having and will have on our society. Working within a school it certainly seems imperative to address it and deal with some of the thornier issues with our students. Unfortunately, as many ed-tech gurus have noted, our students are getting very little exposure inside school, and almost all of it, on their own at home. We do lecture them about the dangers of giving out personal information on the internet, but meanwhile, they may be streaming their lives to a new network of like-minded computer-connected users flung far and wide. In some ways it feels like the train has left the station and we're still sitting in a coach & buggy wondering what that loud noise was.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Wiki Replaces Personal Document Storage
I was interviewed on the webcasted EdTechTalk show last month about the used of wikis in education. The show's hosts, Alex and Arvind, are great guys and it was fun to participate in this new form of media which feels a lot like radio on demand. The guys' demeanor remind me of Click and Clack on CarTalk [I hope they take this as the high compliment it is intended as]. At any rate, we had a nice chat and explored a few wikis, but I forgot to mention one area of wiki use which is most intriguing...
In my everyday work I am finding that I am much more interested and motivated to save my informational documents onto a wiki page as opposed to into my personal computer's "My Documents" folder. I'm very involved in the SchoolComputing wiki and also an eLearning wiki which my Hopkins' class created. I'm now finding that when I want to save a document during my normal day's work, I want to put it on the wiki, not in my personal files. The reasons are multiple... Most importantly I hope others will improve and add to my documents. Beyond that, having it on the wiki means I can get to it from anywhere, I'm hopefully contributing to others' knowledge, I can find it again easily using the "Search" function on the wiki, and I can link among documents easily. As examples, I recently collated some ideas that flowed in from a list-serv I'm on about the use of DyKnow software. Rather than saving this collation of ideas as a Word file, I put it on the wiki here. I am also working to adapt my faculty technology competencies document into Alex's page here. I find it fascinating that the wikis are replacing my "My Documents" file storage system. It's changing my understanding of document storage, intellecual property, and collaboration. It's a huge paradigm shift.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
What is the "social glue" that binds a community together?
This is the topic of our class discussion for the next 2 weeks. We're thinking about both online and offline communities and what makes them good experiences. As I think about communites that I have been a part of, I appreciate the memories of when I felt like I was valued by that community. I like to feel useful and valuable. This seems like a basic life need, and I think Maslow's Need Hierarchy mentions it. I also appreciate the feeling of being "connected"...being part of an interconnected web. In other words, knowing that there are people who know me well and whom I know well. I like the feeling of being in a group of people who share similar life-interests and life-goals. It seems like humor and having fun are another important part of community, as are sharing meals, and sharing life's joys and sorrows. Some of these things can be done online, others are not yet possible online. The point for me is that online communities extend the possibilities for people with similar interests to come together. I liked how this week's article pointed out that the net is just another tool like the jet plane, phone, printing press, or writing; and as such, extends the reach and possibility for community. So what are the things that bind us together into a community (either online or in person)? What is this "social glue"? What do you think? Leave a comment!
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Everyone wants to be 12 feet in front of me
The metro Washington DC area is hands-down the worst traffic I've ever lived with (and I've lived in Boston and New York, so I have some basis for this claim). On a daily basis I am astounded at the desire of the drivers around me to be in front of me. My car is about 12 feet long. I'm not sure what they think they're gaining. How long does it take a car to travel 12 feet if you're going 35 miles per hour? I'm not sure how to solve this math problem, but I know that the answer is a very short amount of time. Without fail, whether it's on a highway doing 70 or a side street doing 10, if I leave space between my car and the one I'm following, someone will inevitable pull into that space. Even when I only leave a tiny bit of space-- enough so that if the car in front of me were to stop suddenly I might have some mild hope of slamming on my breaks and avoiding rear-ending them-- even when I only leave a little space, someone in the lane next to me will jump into it, or if I'm on a city street, someone will pull out from a side-street into the space. In both cases, I'm forced to slam on my breaks so as not to crash into this knuckle-head. I just don't get it. To me, this behavior is the embodiment of the "rat race" mentality. Maybe we need to repeal the "no-fault" insurance law that says it's your fault if you rear-end someone. Stay tuned for an upcoming rant about the person behind me in the check out line at the grocery store...