Listening to Vivian V.


I’m at the “Redefining the World” conference in a small town in Upstate New York. The children’s book author, Vivian Vande Velde, is talking to a large group of school library media specialists. She has already talked that one of the challenges of writing books is the limited amount of influence authors typically have on the post production of their books. She said that she has had a better experience than others, but I can vouch for that problem.

As I’m sure I have reported before in the blog, I am now publishing books using an online service, where I have complete control over the layout, illustrations, and even the price. Vivian is showing pictures from her books and talking through stories related to the book and stories from her life. She is an excellent and amazing story teller, and I look forward to reading some of her books.

By the way, many of you have realized that my blog has changed. I finally realized how much time I am spending troubling ongoing problems with the RSS files that my homemade blogging tool was generated. So I gave it a try, and sure enough, I had WordPress installed on my server in less than five minutes, and the theme laid out in less than 30 minutes more. I like it, and the RSS files seem to be dependable.

It’s getting close to time for me to do my presentation on weblogs and RSS. Great fun!

Education as Conversation

3:48 AM

I travel today, and to be honest, I’m kinda looking forward to it. The glamor of airports, tiny coach seats with the back of the seat in front of me too close to my face to even hold a paperback book, and those delicious pretzels. I so savor all seven of them. It still has has the aroma of glamor to this man who was 40 years old the first time he rode in an airplane.

So I’m up early this morning, planning to move some of my web Blogmeister and EPN over to the web server on my laptop, so that I can demonstrate them to my audience of librarians tomorrow in upstate New York, without having to depend totally on a working network. “Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups,” I always say.

book coverStill, I’m spending the first moments of my morning blogging, and today its a news story that was waiting in my aggregator, from The New York Times, A Town’s Struggle in the Culture War. At issue is a book, The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp, and its removal from the schools. I see this struggle over culture and values in schools as extremely counter productive. While our classrooms languish in the industrial age and much of the rest of the world catches up and passes us by, what brings passion to those who govern education is the brief reading of a passage from the book by a 16-year-old student. Read completely out of context, the delivery still provoked the school board to unanimously vote to ban the book from the High School curriculum less than an hour later. (Two board members were not present.)

Now what’s bad about this? Is it the exercise of political power over the curriculum experts — their teachers? Is it the vast waste of time and effort that the controversy is costing? Is it a right/left thing as the number of challenged books rises 20% after the re-election of George Bush (a connection made by the American Library Association).

What woke me up this morning was the beginning of a new Podcast program, swirling around in my head (that’s how ideas start for the A.D.D.). The concept is education as conversation. We traditionally think of education as being the delivery of skills and knowledge, depositing stuff into the heads of our students. What does education look like, if we start think of it as more of a conversation than a delivery?

How might the controversy above play out? Would controversial ideas be considered differently by the community if they thought of their classrooms as places where students consider, evaluate, adopt or reject, and build on knowledge; as opposed to a place where students are taught.

I’ve not read The Buffalo Tree, so I may be way off target here. But I still think there might be something to thinking about education as conversation. I think you might hear more about this from me, and I’ll expect to hear from you.

Network? or Netblock?

5:48 AM

I’m trying to lighten up a bit here at the end of the school year, but my mind keeps getting drawn into these issues. I just looked at my vanity search that I have installed in my aggregator and found that the name of my podcast had been used by Chris Harris, a “Director of a School Library System in Western NY”. He laments that he can’t listen to my “excellent educational podcast” at school, because all media downloads at are blocked. He continues to explain that resources at SourceForge are blocked because they are tagged as games, Google is tagged as a “loophole”.

Yesterday, Will Richardson posted another entry about the alleged school newspaper closing in Georgia, referencing Steve Dembo’s podcast where he predicted that…

…in a couple of years just about every school will have at least one student blogging away on his own time and space about what was going on at the school.

I jumped in with a comment from my reading (years ago) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the point being that people/customers are going to network, and as a result are going to know more about what’s going on in your school than you do. My point was that information will find a way. Does it do us more good to try to control/block the network, or facilitate it?

Two other comments were posted, both missing my point completely, issuing in on blocks and filters on the school networks. Well it wasn’t Bill and Bud who missed the point. It was me. I’m out here, way outside the box. Inside, it comes down to whether you can access that web page in the classroom that you selected at home last night, play that animation or video, access that open source wiki engine.

Bill pointed out that according to a recent survey at his school, less than 20% of students regularly use the technology provided in schools, where more than 80% have access at home, and that in most cases, the performance capabilities at home exceed those of the school computers and networks.

For the sake of protecting our “behinds”, are we shoving learning out the doors of our schools?

I know that this is a serious and complex issue that concerns teachers, but also extends far beyond the classroom. It has to do with staffing resources, community sentimentalities, government regulation, and the presence of truly dangerous content on the net. But we must solve this problem and be willing to invest in solving this problem.

Because when the students see their network as a wall between them and information, then that school is no longer being a school.

More Assorted Things (including books)

5:55 AM

The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman
Got Game, by John Beck
Oryx and Crate” by Margaret Atwood (well it’s not professional development, but all about ethics in science)
La Vida Robot, a WIRED magazine article

I’ll add a few more here, and please do comment with other professional readings.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (keynoted NECC last year)
The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming Our Imagination, by Mark Pesce
As the Future Catches You, by Juan Enrriquez
Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig

also consider my books:
Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century (2004)
Raw Materials for the Mind: 4th Edition (2005)
Classroom Blogging (2005)

Media guru Doug Johnson started a thread the other day on WWWEDU, about suggested books for summer reading. The discussion there has centered around professional reading and include those listed to the right.

I thought I would start a similar list here, but with books that are more for enjoyment than professional development. Though I read very slowly, I usually have two or more books going at the same time. So here is my list. Please comment to this weblog any books that you think would be worth the while of educators who are taking a much deserved break.

  • Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card (this is a must read, one of the best SciFi books ever)
  • Night Fall, Nelson Demile (An excellent read and interesting scenario leading up to 9/11)
  • Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card (not an Enders Game, but the ending knocked my feet right out from under me)
  • The Narrows, by Michael Connelly (One of my favorite mystery writers)
  • City of Masks & Land of Echoes, Daniel Hecht (I enjoyed both of these mixes of mystery and the supernature and am looking forward to more from Hecht)
  • Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson (not an easy read which is typical Gibson, but possibly my favorite)
  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (if you want to fill up the entire summer with one book, this is a very good one — politics aside)
  • The Broker — by John Grisham (Grisham’s getting better and better. I liked the Euro flavor here)
  • The Company — by Robert Littell (I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story that traces much of the history of the CIA)
  • Runaway Jury — by John Grisham (possibly my favorite book by Grisham, much better than the movie, and I loved the movie)
  • Balance of Power — by Richard North Patterson (Excellent about politics and the gun industry)
  • The Lake House — James Patterson (one of my favorite Patterson books)

I’m going to leave it there. Please do add to this list by commenting on this blog!

4:12 AM

Nancy Barbee, an eastern North Carolina educator posted a comment to yesterday’s blog asking for instructions on how to produce a podcast. I responded with an answering comment, but thought I would post it here as well.

First of all, I believe that one of the reasons why podcasting has caught on so well is that it is so easy to do. It’s like so much else regarding technology, it’s the content and design that are the hard part. Here is what you need to produce your own podcasts:

  • A microphone — most laptops have them built in (I use a Griffin iTalk attached to my iPod),
  • Software — most folks use Audacity, a free opensource program that can be downloaded from the net and is available for Macs, Windows, and Linux. (I use Audacity and Garageband),
  • A place to upload your podcasts — hosts all types of media files for free (I use them), and
  • A blog to attach the podcasts to that syndicates in RSS 2.0.

For more details, you can check out a web shelf of links related to podcasting that I keep in my PiNet library. Go to:

Blogging for Administrators

10:32 AM

This entry was a response that I wrote to the WWWEDU mailing list. The question regarded what school administrators should be learning about blogging.

I think that the real value of blogging, from a management standpoint, is in RSS and the aggregator — it’s the directions in which the communication flows. I’ll be participating in an event for a school district in Illinois this summer, exploring exactly how these technologies (blogging, RSS, aggregators, Podcasting, syndicated/subscribed/sent content, etc.) might integrate into the teaching and learning environment. I’m very excited about the possibilities, but in five words, “it hasn’t been invented yet!” We are so new into this stuff, that its place in the instructional environment is fuzzy, and its administrative application has barely been thought about.

I recently ran into an Ohio tech-ed leader with whom I’ve worked, who is working toward integrating RSS and aggregation into the backbone of how they communicate throughout the district. Again, they don’t know exactly what that is going to look like, but they plan to have it up and running by the beginning of the school year.

So, hey, make it up 😉

One interesting thing I learned recently at a Blogger-con was from an employee of a major technology corp, who had given permission to and even encourages all employees to begin blogging (internally) about their work. All blogs are syndicated so that they can be subscribed to by people with an interest. One of the surprises was that rather than workers overwhelmingly subscribing to their boss’s blogs, the trend seemed to go in the other direction, aggregation going from bottom to top.

Announcing The Education Podcast Network

I’d hoped to have this out long before now, but nursing my web sites back to life after a major server crash a few weeks ago, put this project on hold for some time.

So now,

it is time,

To tell you about a new service of The Landmark Project…

The Education Podcast Network!

Ok, I learned a long time ago that titles that are description and to the point, are much better than clever titles.

EPN is a growing podcast directory that specifically targets education and educational podcast programming. There are three major categories.

  • Education Podcasts, which comprise professional issues,
  • Student & Class Podcasts, student produced podcast programs, and
  • Subject Specific Podcasts, including computer/tech. skills, english language arts, information skills, music ed, etc.

This web site is still under development, but there are enough podcasts already linked for the tool to be useful to educators. Simply click the subcategory (professional), the name of the podcast you wish to (Waste of Bandwidth), and then…

  • visit the podcast web site by clicking the program title in the page that appears in the right panel,
  • listen to a single program online, by clicking the podcast icon (),
  • subscribe to the podcast using the feed address embedded in the RSS chicklet.

    Please feel free to suggest any podcasts (click Suggest a Podcast) that you believe will be useful to educators. I’m sure I have missed many obvious ones.

4 Points about Cobb County Journalism Class

9:34 AM

Time for my on an issue that has already been blogged by Will Richardson, podcasted by Steve Dembo, and just revealed 18 links from Technorati, including an entry in Scoble’s Link Blog. They story surrounds a Cobb County Georgia high school principal closing down the school paper. I would like to make four statements about this controversy, but first quote two paragraphs from a story in the Editor & Publisher (America’s Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry), published May 19, 2005.

Randolph Bynum, principal of Pebblebrook High School in Cobb County, Ga., cut the class, citing a teacher shortage and the need to keep more popular courses like cosmetology. But he also criticized the paper for negative stories at the expense of articles more favorable to the school’s image and for a lack of thoroughness in its reporting of stories on teen pregnancy and vandalism in the school parking lot.

He said despite this, the paper could continue next year as an extracurricular activity.

Point #1: It is human nature to jump to conclusions that agree with our world view. We’ve all known high school principals (and other educators) who’s behaviors conflict with our own desires for retooled education environments, both as students and as professional educators and education reformers. We’ve also known many who embrace and work hard for their students’ futures. In my book, we don’t have all the facts yet, and I suspect, as Steve Dembo said, that there is another side to the story.

Point #2: In Jurassic park, Dr. Ian Malcomb (played by Jeff Goldblum) says, when trying to convince park officials of the dangers of their project, that “Life will find a way!“. At issue to bloggers is the fact that the student journalists, after having their established news paper shut down, resorted immediately to a blog, Speaking Underground. Teachers, librarians, and school administrators must come to grips with the fact that our information environment is growing and morphing. It is become much less a library of publications, and much more a conversation. The information will find a way.

Point #3: Comments have been made about the fact that the students are not publishing much on their blog, only links. First off, I say, “Give them time.” In the same breath, I suspect that these students have not been taught to converse, in the sense that I described in Point #2. If this had happened in Will Richardson’s school, or the schools of many other educators who are using blogging to make learning more of a conversation, then the blog would likely have taken off like a prairie fire. In the 21st century, teaching and learning are about conversation. Don’t fight it. Doing so only damages your students’ futures — and yours.

Point #4: I often quote a book that was written a number of years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto. One element in the manifesto that impacted me was the idea that our customers (students & community) are going to network. They can either do it inside the school community, or outside. Which is better for local teaching and learning endeavors?

It’s Not about Numbers? It’s about our Kids

The talk in Raleigh today is about the school budget and our county commissioners’ agreement to fund only $12.3 million of the school system’s request for $29.4 million in funding increases. One reason for the ongoing stress in Wake County (for readers who are not familiar with the district) is the overwhelming growth of this county. The geographic location, Research Triangle Park, and the numerous world-class universities, in addition to other factors, have attracted immigrants from across the U.S. and around the world. We’re building new schools every year, and this costs.

But aside from that, the focus of the News & Observer article (Schools get mixed grades) is on numbers. They refer to Tony Pecoraro, a retired management consultant and “harsh critic of school spending”, and his ongoing personal examinations of the school system’s finances. I certainly understand the concern of tax payers, wanting assurance that their money is not being wasted. But I would suspect that Mr. Pecoraro owns a computer. Why isn’t he delving into the finances of IBM or DELL. He probably pays hard earned money for a car. Has he sifted through the ledgers of GM or Volvo? He pays for groceries, but I doubt that he examines data on the purchase, transport, and warehousing of his food. Why? For one reason, that information is not available to him. How convenient that school finance information is.

But if he did examine their records, would he find waste? I would hope so, though I would not call it waste. Competition in a time of rapid change requires that businesses take risks, and sometimes misspend money on ideas that, in the long run, do not pan out. I would expect no less from those who are preparing my children to compete in a global economy. If education were the well oiled machine that Pecoraro wants to assure, one that keeps turning out products, each like all the rest, not adapting to the new environment, then I would sincerely worry about my children’s future. In fact, I AM worried about my children’s future.

Mr. Pecoraro might even find evidence of unethical practices concerning tax payer moneys. He would be right to call attention to evidence of criminal behavior in school management, and to prosecute the offenders.

But don’t punish my children for it.

We are preparing our students for a future that we can barely imagine. The skills that they will need are different from those that I was taught in the 1950s and 60s, and for this reason, their classrooms must be dramatically different. In a flattening world where the U.S. is no long above the rest with its economy and technology, our sense of schooling must evolve. Not going forward today, is the same as going backward.

Be a patriot! Pay for the education today, that our future deserves.

Assorted Things…

Added Later 11:09 AM
I’m listening to a podcast by Moira Gunn, an interview with Brithis software entrepreneur Dill Faulkes (the Bill Gates of Britain). They are talking about the Faulkes Telescope, which is a project that he is funding where children in Britain can, through the Internet, control a telescope in Hawaii (where it dark during school hours), and conduct authentic astronomical research.

Faulkes says that their desire is not necessarily to make astronomers out of these students, but to help them to learn what science is. I’ve probably said the same thing myself, but only then realized the implications. There is a general distrust of science in our society, and part of the reason is that we never learned, in traditional schooling, what scientists do, what science is.

He also said something that seems to profound to have not been said before. So forgive me if this is an education euphamism that I alone have never heard. But he said, that we lose students to science at around 11 years of age, that before that time students ask “why?”, why do things happen. After that time, they ask “what?”, what do I need to know — to pass the test. What do you think? [comment?]

No big stories today. Just lots of little ones.

According to a recent (May 24, 2005) Ipsos opinion poll, Blogs (are) Now Seen By Readers As Influential Media Sources. You can read some of the details in a News story, Blogs vs Mainstream Media.

What I found most interesting was the connection between whether people read blogs and their opinions concerning the reliability of traditional news sources.

Blog-readers are also more likely to judge other media sources more accurate than their non-blogging counterparts

The study indicates that blog-readers will most likely cite local news, newspapers, cable news networks , and network news as accurate.

News Source Blog-Readers Non-Blog-Readers
Local News 84% 75%
Newspapers 81% 71%
Cable News Networks 79% 71%
Network News 78% 69%

The differences are not substancial, but curiously consistent. What do you think about this? [comment?]

Is Apple Limiting Technology?
How about that Apple. They are finally acknowledging podcasting, which is, after all, named for Apple. The next upgrade of iTunes will feature podcatching capabilities. Lots of other bloggers and podcasters have already commented on most of the exciting and disturbing aspects of this announcement, but to me, it connects with another development in the Mac arena.

OK, I got this e-mail from Steve Dembo (Teacher42) yesterday concerning something called Meme tag. I can infer a meaning but am not taking the time to look it up. My web site is being flaky at the moment, so I’ll just take the time to answer most of the questions.

  1. First 5 Songs in Shuffle of Entire Music Library
    • Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – CSNY
    • The Rain, The Park and Other Things — Cowsills
    • Margaritaville (lost verse included) — need I say?
    • By the Time I Get to Phoenix — Glen Campbell
    • Genesis Ch. 1: V.32 — The Alan Parsons Project
  2. Current Book You are Reading
    • The Broker — John Grisham
    • The Terminal Experiment — Robert J. Sawyer
  3. Last Movie Seen in a Theater and Where
    • King Arthur — Saw it at the theatre in our new neighborhood outdoor shopping mall. The movie was a lot better than I’d expected it to be.
  4. Five People to whom I’ll pass this… Got to think about that…

One of the touted features of Tiger, Apple’s new Mac operating system, is an upgrade to Safari, that features RSS syndication, integrated into the browser. What disturbs me about this, is that I feel that the result will be a limiting factor for the potentials of aggregators. A news aggregator is not a browser, and a web browser is not an aggregator. They are two tools with too distinct functions in terms of helping us access information. One allows us to go out and browse information. The other helps us train the information to find us.

Now I see the value of combining the two so that we have one-stop-shopping of our digital information libraries, regardless of how it is found. But Podcasting is whispering at another capability for the aggregator. With podcasting, the aggregator checks for new programs, downloads them as they are posted, and then pushes or sends them to the appropriate device, in my case, an iPod. As more and more of our devices become connected to the networks, what aggregators imply is a central interface, that allows us to train information to behave in the ways that we want, that improves our experience.

I’ve talked about this before, but another application occurred to me the other day. In central North Carolina, we are experiencing that weird couple of weeks where the weather doesn’t know if it’s supposed to be Spring or Summer. Our daily temperatures are ranging wildly, and my brand new heating and air-condition system is having a hard time adapting. It’s either too hot in the house, or too chilly, depending on what the weather was yesterday. In the future, an aggregator may allow me to subscribe to weather information from the near by weather service or news agency, and then send that information to my heating system so that it configures itself, based on our preferences. Many other examples of training information to find us, and then sending it to the technology that can best use it.

Aggregators will become browsers, and browsers will become aggregators. But I hope that this merger does not cause us to overlook some pretty important opportunities. Perhaps the solution is in what Apple is doing, putting an aggregator in both its browser and its audio management software.

I use NewsFire as my Aggregator.

DOE Speak? You don’t say!
There was some very interesting talk from the Department of Education. At the Education Visionary Conference held by Intel in Washington last week, Susan Patrick, the director of education technology, for the U.S. Department of Education said, as reported by
eSchool News,

We are so trapped in the memory of what school was like for us. When we were students, the world outside of school looked like the world inside school. Now, it does not.

She went on to say,

The ed-tech community loves the term ‘integration.’ But our schools need transformation, not integration. Simply integrating technology into instruction, accepts the existing environment, the existing instructional model. … We need to build instruction for personalized, customized learning for every student’s needs.

OK, I’m going to afford myself a cheap shot here. “So why is the Bush administration seeking to wipe out educational technology funding?” That said, I’m going to pay some attention to Ms. Patrick. I suspect that her vision of the education that is instigated by technology may be different from mine, but modernizing classroom to prepare children for the 21st century is looking in the right direction. Not backwards!

Truth is a Bridge!

7:22 AM

There is a controversy going on right now that has dire consequences for thousands of students and hundreds of professional educators. The situation is so fragile, at present, that I will not divulge any specifics, and instead, treat it as a hypothetical.

So, let’s say that we have a suburban community, where a local newspaper reporter has obtained public documents regarding an issue being handled by local government. Reading through the document, the enterprising journalist finds several references that appear suspicious to his investigative mind. He makes some assumptions from his reading, without verifying facts and identifying unfamiliar labels. The journalist then approaches elected officials with the assumptions, reporting them as fact, and records a number of incendiary comments from those elected officials. The story appears in that week’s issue of the paper.

As it turns out, the assumptions are wrong, and the staff of the agency at issue has to spend an enormous amount of time (and taxpayer’s money) dealing with the fallout of this manufactured controversy. In addition, reputations are severely damaged, perhaps irreparably.

One of the foundations of my discussions on information ethics is that information is one of the fundamental infrastructures that our economy, culture, and governance reside on. It is no less critical to our survival and success than our roads, rails, sea and airports, and bridges. That information infrastructure owes its reliance not only on the security of our networks, but also on the accuracy of the information that we use.

What happens to a person when, either out of malicious intent or irresponsible negligence, blows up a bridge? What should happen to a person who, working for an institution that we are urged to trust, damages the information infrastructure out of irresponsible negligence or a conscious desire to ignite controversy?

——————————————– Added Later ——————————————–
In writing Redefinging Literacy for the 21st Century, I developed a students’ and teachers’ information code of ethics. You can download the document at the following URL:

Ironically, this guide was adapted, with permission, from the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.