Category Archives: New Media

Teach Balance Rather Than Zero Tolerance

I ran across a new movement, advertised via social media, advocating “unplugging” during certain times of the day. Evidently, more and more people are choosing to disconnect for specified periods of time to see what it’s like to go without and then musing about it on the web, once they’ve reestablished connection. Most, amazingly enough, found productive things to do and were able to resist the urge to tell everyone else via the network.

I was reminded of two things: the “turn off the tv week” that I used to sponsor in the late great days before the Internet and the actions many schools are starting to take towards social media. These disconnect movements–whether done in the name of personal challenge, family togetherness or student safety–all seem to suggest that there is something suspect about our relationship to social media just as, in earlier generations, we worried about our television viewing. So I find it particularly ironic that the Good 30-Day Challenge folks who are unplugging at 8 PM do allow you to use your computer as a television.

Continue reading Teach Balance Rather Than Zero Tolerance

Denver Bound

I’m leaving for ISTE2010 on Friday evening and am looking forward to being back in Denver again. I was there for the American Educational Research Association conference in late April where I presented my dissertation research. I had reserved a day to explore the city and had a great time. Downtown Denver is user friendly with pedestrian access being a high priority. I was able to easily make it from the Capitol to the ballfield on my feet and it was nice to know that the 16th Street Mall bus was waiting to return me to my hotel when I finally got tired.

One resource that I really appreciated was the Denver Story Trek. This website features free audio files related to the history of Denver. There are informational casts but also oral history features and I was able to easily download them to my iPod so I carried them with me as I explored. I got through most of my trek. I couldn’t help but think what a great project this would be for kids to do about their own communities.

My favorite spot had to be the Tattered Cover Bookstore near the end of the 16th Street Mall. The latte was hot and strong and steamy and the sofa was comfortable. I’m looking forward to browsing and reading for at least a little while to escape from the craziness of the conference.

Here’s a mosaic of some of my pictures from the trip:
denvermosaic021. On the 16th Street Mall, 2. Daniels and Fisher Tower, 3. Gold Dome, 4. The Old Prospector, 5. Decorations Along the Street, 6. St. Cajetan’s, 7. The Molly Brown House, 8. 123/365 Along the Street, 9. 120/365 for 2010 The Big Blue Bear, 10. Historic Buildings Along Larimer St., 11. Big Sweep, 12. Capital Hill Books, 13. The View from the State House, 14. Union Station, 15. Tattered Cover, 16. Fence in Ninth Street Park, 17. Ninth Street Park, 18. Yes, I took a picture of a squirrel…, 19. St. Cajetan’s, 20. Golda Meir House, 21. The Molly Brown House, 22. Ninth Street Park, 23. Ninth Street Park, 24. Ninth Street Park, 25. Pioneer Fountain

Ed Tech Themes and Issues in a Nutshell

I’m teaching an online course this summer for budding school administrators. They’ve been discussing issues related to using “Web 2.0” kinds of technologies for the past two weeks and this week, I took a moment to summarize some of the themes and issues that emerged. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience, so here’s the posting with some changes to protect the innocent.

After reading your blog entries and Web 2.0 papers and listening to your elevator speeches, I was struck by several ideas that seemed to cut across all the conversations we had last week. The three themes are lack of time for learning and implementing technology; inadequate, unequal funding for education; and a disconnect between educational goals and assessment. I think the first two are perennial problems in education while the third is a contemporary issue.

There is never enough time in school and yet every year more stuff gets added and nothing gets taken away. Is it any wonder that teachers seem reluctant to add yet more things to their classrooms? Especially when adding technology can bring additional challenges in terms of classroom management and technical glitches. Whenever I hear someone talking about how China or Japan has yet again “beaten” our kids on some international test, I always take a moment to remind them that teachers in those countries only teach half the day with the other half reserved for planning and professional development. Can you imagine? It would seem like a paradise to US teachers who have just grown used to the idea that they do that kind of work outside of the school day, often for no additional pay. So much about school needs to be rethought but the agrarian calendar under which we now labor is looking more and more outdated when web-based resources offer opportunities for teaching and learning all the time.

Inadequate, unequal funding has always been a problem. Most of you seemed to think that your school district was doing better in this area in terms of commitment to technology funding. But as someone pointed out, supporting technology funding in a time when teachers are losing their jobs gets difficult especially since there seems to be a shared sense that many teachers aren’t using the available technology to its maximum capabilities (or even at all!). In your elevator speeches, several of you questioned how the state can help with this…certainly, Virginia’s online testing initiative has been one way to get hardware into schools that might not otherwise be able to afford it. Virginia has been at the forefront of educational technology planning, something I wrote about in the VSTE Journal several years ago. I analyzed the trends seen in the planning since it began in the 1980s.

Finally, many of you pointed out the disconnect between notions of 21st century skills and our state assessment program. In a comment to one of your papers, I traced the development of content-based assessment to A Nation At Risk, the landmark report that came out in 1982. The report was mostly concerned with what kids didn’t KNOW, and now 30 years later, we have based our system on teaching and testing content. Yet, business and educational leaders are suggesting that process skills are lacking. Yes, students might know facts, but they seem unable to problem solve or think creatively and in a world in which assembly line jobs are getting scarce, being able to think on your feet is essential. Our students are leaving the classroom for a world that is much different in terms of working. Since this is getting long, I’ll end with a video clip…this is from True Stories, David Byrne’s film about a fictional Texas town. About two minutes into the clip, the owner of the town’s big business explains his vision of the future. He ends with a pretty profound comment about the nature of work and play in the future. It makes me think…am I working or playing right now?

A Birthday Reflection

I turn 48 years old today. When I was born, the Vietnam War was just heating up, the Summer of Love was still five years away, and Kennedy was in the middle of those glorious thousand days that came to be known as Camelot. I am on the far edge of the Boomers and can even claim Generation X status when I get annoyed at what I think is the sometimes smug Boomer culture. All that Boomer optimism had faded by the time I came into the world and those of us in the 13th generation grew up in a much more cynical age. I have a good friend who is on the other end of the Boomers and when we play the Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit she knows all the answers to questions about Howdy Doody and the Beatles. I get the ones about Watergate and the war.

There have been some positives over the past five decades…such as a focus on environmental conservation. But it doesn’t always feel like things have gotten much better. I lived just 30 miles from Three Mile Island when it melted down and am now sick over the oil gushing into the Gulf. Earth Day began when I was seven because things had gotten so bad that rivers were on fire and whole communities were being poisoned. Now, we regularly see bald eagles flying over head. But we still haven’t figured out how human beings can live without destroying everything else.

And, then there’s education: A Nation at Risk was written in 1982 and I am watching its influence play out now, nearly 30 years later. That report was all about what students didn’t know and that’s what we are busy trying to test now. There was little concern for what they could do or whether they could think and how schools could foster more critical, creative problem solvers. I wonder how long it will take to see any influence from current reform efforts as the slow educational pendulum continues its eternal swinging?

Technology was not absent from my classroom when I started teaching in 1988. They were very old school: film strips, film reels, an overhead projector and an oft-used record and cassette player. I did have a computer in my room…an early macintosh that was used with a laser printer to desktop publish the school newspaper. It was hidden away in the back room. There was no Internet, just the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, most of which we did not have access to. Yet, we learned together with the materials we had. Much of the technologies supported my presentations as a teacher. But they also provided creative outlets for my students. My students used the analog video camera to make public service advertisements. After cleaning the strips in chlorine, they used pens to draw their own film strips. We listened to music as part of our poetry unit and watched the movie versions of Shakespeare’s work which added an interactive element to what was often a text-only approach to literature. I didn’t really think about it as “technology,” the way we talk about digital technologies today, but was glad to have choices related to how I could present and have students interact with information.

The excitement today, I think, is what students can do with the technology. Creating film strips and analog videos seem like cave writing in comparison to digital videos and interactive web sites. My worry? That all this great technology is still mostly being used to enhance teacher presentations and kids don’t get much chance to do their own creation and interaction. I was glad to see that several of my pre-service teachers this semester adopted Google Maps for their lesson projects and allowed students to do the creation. You could argue that it’s not that innovative since teachers have been doing map work with students forever. But what a step away from the flat views with their colored pencil hatch marks. Add markers, draw lines, zoom in and out, check out the terrain, the possibilities are endless.

I’m a huge fan of Google Maps as a great example of the interactivity that I think is really the innovative part of digital technologies. I used it recently to plan and execute my recent walking tour of Denver. I created the map on my laptop, pulled audio from the Denver Story Trek website, and then moved everything to my phone. (Don’t get me started on my phone…I really am in love with my Droid.)

View Denver in a larger map

It’s been an interesting time to be alive. Technologically, watching the world move from analog to digital must be a similar experience to the generation that went from horse-drawn wagons to automobiles. I’ve seen great cultural shifts as well particularly in terms of individual rights. The landmark civil rights legislation was signed when I was a toddler. And while it didn’t pass, the Equal Rights Amendment was part of the milieu as I came to adulthood in the 70s. I’ve grown up surrounded by conversations about race, gender, and sexual orientation and while we are a long way from answers in any of those areas, we’re moving in a positive direction I think as we learn to think of each other as individuals first and then members of particular groups second. We’re complex beings whose identities are woven from disparate threads.

I’ll close with the weirdest thing about being this age: the President of the United States is my age! And, I graduated from William and Mary with John Stewart. My generation is moving in to the leadership, joining but also changing the establishment while the next generation breathes down our necks.

Post Pencil?

Sharon has been writing eloquently about Sherry Turkle’s book Simulation and Its Discontents, which I also read as part of the “choose your own reading” part of the course. Go read Sharon’s posts, particularly the one about socks, and then come back…no, really, go…

Turkle’s book is a microcosmic look at experience of the analog to digital transition. I am part of the generation that is living through that transition. Like Turkle’s engineers and architects, I face the fundamental question: As technology replaces so much of what we do “by hand,” what analog practices do we want to keep around? I know that some of my colleagues would probably say none, having developed digital lives for themselves.

But, as I face the transition, I find that there are certain things I like to do with a pencil in my hand and the digital alternative is simply not as satisfying. The main one: my to do list. I use it, in conjunction with a print calendar, to map out my months, weeks, and days. It’s the way I’ve always done it and I have yet to find an online alternative that satisfies me. I begin my day by jotting down what I want to accomplish and still get a thrill when I can draw a line through it at day’s end.

I also prefer using a pencil and paper for brainstorming and drafting. Like Turkle’s folks, I sometimes feel as though word processed text looks too complete and the highlighting and commenting tools do not provide the same level of contact with the text in order to complete detailed editing. Of course, my advisor and I used these tools to pass drafts of my dissertation back and forth but my own work on the draft often include lots of handwritten work from outlines, to diagrams, to chunks of text. My spiral bound notebook is included in the archives of the project because much of the thinking about themes was concocted in its pages. At some point, I tried using a digital graphic organizer but somehow the technology got in the way. I wanted to scribble, to draw wavy arrows, to circle words, to jot pictures, to create messiness, and the software seemed to demand neatness and order. I wasn’t creating for someone else but instead trying to dig into my own thinking and the pencil was more inviting than the mouse as the tool to facilitate that process.

While these activities seem mundane compared to Turkle’s folks who are grappling with the meaning of simulations for their very work, they illustrate in a very practical way the decisions we make each day about our use of technology. I think it’s important to consider these decisions and provide opportunities for kids to understand them as well, lest they become like the younger designers who see no value in the old ways and rely, sometimes too completely, on the simulation.