Category Archives: Paradigm Shifts

So, It’s Not Just Education…

I receive the IT Security Bulletin from emedia. I generally don’t read it too closely, but one of the headlines caught my eye this morning (plus I’m procrastinating doing some work for an online class): “The Facebook Headache: How to Effectively Block Blogs, MySpace & More.” The problem, it seems, is that employees are wasting time online and there is now a product that will put an end to that for all time. Another headline promises, “How to Stop Flash Games at Work.” The white paper focuses mainly on issues of malware and security, but I suspect the problem is the same as that with Facebook: employees wasting time.

The main problem here is that all those digital natives who have been wreaking havoc in the schools are now heading out to the workforce as well. And, businesses, it seems, are taking the same steps schools have: block, filter, forbid. Then I think about Wikinomics, which I am finally getting around to reading. The authors–Tapscott and Williams–would probably argue that rather than banning, we should be adopting these new disruptive technologies as a way to increase collaboration. Bring them into the mainstream, encourage employees to chat with their Facebook friends about issues they are encountering in their work. And, just like my state has launched an Internet safety campaign, companies should deal with the issues surrounding malware by educating employees.

After so many years of hearing how business should be more like education, it’s nice to know that businesses don’t always get it right.

Digital Literacy: Reading the Paper Online

This post was supposed to discuss Chester Finn’s editorial about No Child Left Behind, which appeared in The Washington Post on Sunday. He outlines five myths about the law, taking both Republicans and Democrats to task for the way they mischaracterize the law, while providing some insight into the history of national educational reform.

I think the most important one of those myths–that standards will fix the schools–must be addressed at both the federal and the state level if the standards movement will ever have a positive effect on our schools. Finn writes, “For this to work, of course, good standards have to be in place, and NCLB doesn’t address the problem of mediocre or even downright silly standards.” How much of what our students are learning is about snippets of information that can easily be found when needed? Isn’t it more important that our students know how to use those snippets to develop understandings of larger issues? That rather than knowing Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States, they grapple with how someone like Jefferson could write that all men are created equal even while owning other human beings? That even as the country was being put together, the seeds of the Civil War that would threaten to rip it apart were being sewn? (I had this sudden flash to the musical 1776, where Rutledge of South Carolina sings about the link between molasses, rum and slaves. I saw that musical numerous times in the theater where I worked as an usher and sometimes think I learned more about American history that summer than in my high school course.)

While I focused on the content of the article, I was also intrigued with its format. The article is littered with hyperlinks that take the reader to lists of articles, videos and audio related to the link. Here’s an example for President Bush.  What a great example of how online newspapers can take advantage of technology to expand the focus of its readers.

However, one of the links on the Bush page also reminded me of the importance of helping our students become discerning readers.  For instance, I couldn’t help but click on the headline Bush to Phase Out Environment by 2009.  It’s a very funny piece from Andy Borowitz, originally published at Creators Syndicate.   It’s clearly a parody despite its third place ranking in the list of articles related to the President.  It would be a great discussion starter with students about the kernel of truth that makes it funny.  And, it might lead to reading and discussing other famous parodies such as Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

The bottom line for me is that we need to be helping our students navigate this sometimes confusing world of digital publishing.   Susan Jacoby, in her current book The Age of American Unreason, takes on Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good for You) for suggesting that somehow Internet culture and gaming may be making us smarter.  I think here’s a good example of how Johnson may be right.  It takes a pretty smart reader to move from a serious news piece to a parody and be able to read both intelligently.  What we need to ensure is that they can make that move.

A Finnish Edutopia

I was planning to post about Finland after reading this article in eSchool News that described a recent visit to Scandanavia by US educators.  Finland was of particular interest since they are often first in international tests of math and science.   I never got around to the post yesterday because I spent the time I had learning more about Finland at Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook.  Then, this morning, Tim over at Assorted Stuff pointed me to a post about a series of articles related to Finland’s education system.  Combine all this with Sheryl’s 9 principles for implementing what she calls the Big Shift, and we begin to see how education can become more than just something students get through.

Tim writes,

While I’m sure there’s much more than meets the eye, their success seems to boil down to a high degree of trust for the students combined with high expectations for their learning.

I agree.  I also agree wholeheartedly with Ewen who points to the trust that they put in teachers.  Being a teacher in Finland is the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer here in the states.  Only one in eight applicants gets into schools of education and teachers are widely respected.  They are given high levels of autonomy in their classrooms where the pedagogy is very much student-centered.  Hmm…is this the edutopia we’re always talking about?

I also agree with Tim’s comment that there is more than meets the eye, particularly in terms of making these international comparisons.  Finland is not the United States.  My research into Finland led me to see it as one big exclusive private school.  The incredibly homogeneous population equals that of Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Everyone speaks the same language, and, it appears, shares the same culture, values and history.  And, one of those shared values is education.

I don’t want to discourage us from looking to places like Finland for inspiration.  But, I also want us to recognize that America’s great experiment of educating everyone leads us to grapple with an incredibly heterogeneous population that often does not speak the same language or share the same values.

And, while at the national level, we may not seem to trust either students or teachers, at the local level, I’m seeing some of the “big shift” happening. I have been in several high schools this past year where teachers are part of the leadership and are implementing amazing changes in their classrooms, partly from a wider access to technology tools such as blog and wikis, and partly because they are changing the relationship they have with their students.  I would suggest that, rather than sending delegations to Scandanavia, we might be better served by sending delegations to those schools to highlight what we’re doing right in this sometime suffocating standards-based world in which we live.

Is This Cheating?

Brenda Dyck, over at wwwedu, posted a link to this article about a Canadian college student accused of cheating because he organized a Facebook study group where students worked together on their homework. Turns out it is the university’s responsibility to make sure that students do their own homework. As the students rightly point out, there are many face to face study groups in which students are working on homework, but none of them have been expelled.

To me, it seems like a clear case of the “digital divide” between young people and adults, with the latter having a misunderstanding of social networking. I’m impressed that students are using Facebook for more than just idle chatter. In addition, I would guess that these future chemists will be collaborating with others throughout their careers so they are getting a good start on that skill as well.

Maybe part of the concern is that once the homework problems are posted this semester, students in future courses won’t have to actually do the homework. Hmm…you mean the instructor might have to find new problems? Or reconsider how to teach the course using Facebook as part of the curriculum rather than banning it?

Think Twice

From a colleague of mine as part of a discussion of protecting privacy:

Sorry, if you’re offended that I embedded it, but you need the effect before the story. Here’s the AP version. And, here’s Doug Feaver’s take on it at the Washington Post. Feaver reviews comments from readers on the story. He says, “I’m with the kid, but of course a recording of whatever message he left has not been made available so perhaps I would have a different view if it were.” That’s what I thought was interesting. The only person who can publish Kori’s message is the administrator’s wife. And, as long as we can’t hear Kori’s message, we really can’t judge for ourselves. Did she delete it? Or, is she just not adding fuel? Or was it a pretty reasonable message and she just overreacted? In the end, it probably doesn’t matter, but like, Feaver, I wonder in whose favor the pendulum of public opinion would swing if we heard the original phone message.

Here were two of my favorite back and forth comments about the incident:

readerny said, “I don’t agree with the tirade by the woman who answered the call, BUT as an employer of young adults, I can say that there are some (not all) who are overempowered and think that they know the whole story, or more than you do, and should be running the show themselves…”

But Nicester wrote, “Overempowered kid” and “self-centered youth” – OK, that’s one perspective. Sounds a bit like “whippersnapper” or whatever the Greatest Generation was calling the Baby Boomers when they were dropping acid and rolling in the mud at Woodstock…”

I just feel sorry for this woman, sacrificed on the altar of the digital generation gap. And, like the story about Heath Ledger and the blogs, it’s a story about the future of “news” in the 21st century. What if the kid hadn’t had access to the Internet? He might have sent the tape to the television news, but they have may have demanded to have his recording. He gets to bypass all those gatekeepers and tell his side of the story in a way that kids have never been able to do.

In the end, I find her tirade to be funny rather than offensive. “Snot-nosed brats” was the worst of it. It is more important as a reminder that digital recording and distribution is almost transparent, and perhaps will finally lead to people living by the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” We have left behind the era of deniability.

I’m tagging this one 21st century skills because I wonder how this fits in? I’m also going to tag it adult learning 😉