Impending Impact goes Little Noticed at NECC

It’s morning, and I’ve finally gotten around to reading yesterday’s USA Today (compliments of Holiday Inn Express). I’m intrigued by the story of a human built space craft crashing into a comet.

On Monday at 1:52 a.m. ET, a probe deployed by a NASA spacecraft 83 million miles from home will smash at 23,000 mph into an ancient comet the size of Manhattan, blasting a hole perhaps 14 stories deep.

Launched in January, NASA’s $333 million Deep Impact mission is designed to answer questions that scientists have long had about comets, the ominous icebergs of space.1

Cool stuff!

It also intrigues me that it’s just another story. I’m old enough (here he goes again) that I remember, not only when Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, but also when Alan Shepherd was launched into space. I remember Sputnik, and I remember how the world held its breath for just a moment with each one of these events. Now, we are exploring the Solar System, and beyond, and it’s like it is happening in the next town over, and deserves little more attention.

OK, we’re here at the National Educational Computing Conference, where tech-saavy, forward-looking educators from across the country and around the world are talking about the future of education. Yet, the only place I’ve heard tell of this extraterrestrial event is in the newspaper outside my hotel room door.

OK, we’re busy worrying about more important things, like the fact that the U.S. federal government is willing to pay more to build that small space craft than it is willing to spend on contemporary technologies for its children’s classrooms, a budget that president bush proposes be slashed to $0.

As budget talks continue on Capitol Hill, advocates of educational technology are praising a spending plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee on June 16, which would restore more than $300 million in funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program and provide additional spending for a handful of other initiatives President Bush had asked Congress to cut in 2006.2

Yes! We have more important things to worry about!

1 Vergano, Dan. “Science meets a comet head-on.” USA Today 29 Jun 2005. 30 Jun 2005 <>

2 Murray, Corey. “House would restore $300M for ed tech.” eSchool News 17 Jun 2005 . 30 Jun 2005 <>

Redefining Literacy

7:15 AM

Today, I’ll be delivering my Redefining Literacy… spotlight session. I do want to make note that this presentation is largely the same one I did last year. There will be some additions, but basically, the message is the same — and absolutely to no degree less important. We must rethink what it means to be literate, and then integrate that into the curriculum.

All of that said, if you’ve seen the presentation before at NECC or some other conference, then use your time more productively and attend another presentation.

Also, in my efforts to make my online handouts more useful to audiences, I have added a feature that will link blog articles about the presentation to the handouts. Therefore, if you will be sharing your insights about these ideas with the world of blog readers, please place the abbreviation, “rdl” (for ReDefining Literacy) in the text or title. It is also a good idea to register you blog with Technorati (, in order to expedite its inclusion in my handouts.

I hope to see you there!

A Great Night at NECC

6:03 AM

Tuesday NightLast night will go down as a high point in 2005 NECC. First of all, I went to the Technology & Learning Reception, celebrating their 25 years in service to educators. It was outstanding fun visiting with old friends and making some new ones. I’d planned to also visit at least one other reception, but fatigue and lack of time prevented it. I did make it to the student film festival, which, as anticipated, knocked my socks off. They were all not surprisingly good, and a few were professional quality in the production and imagination. I’m convinced that kids look at video information in ways that I don’t. They see nuances in how information is delivered, and leverage them in their own productions. I was more than impressed.

As the showcase was ending, Andy Carvin ran up to me and Clint Kennedy, saying that there was a long line at the door to the Podcasting party that Apple was putting on. To be honest, I was expecting a birds of a feather type session with 15 or 20 geeks talking about how the generated their RSS feeds. The line was long and thick, awaiting the gates’ opening for a rock concert. We got in line and performed a dueling podcast.

They got half of us into the room and decided to do two parties so that everyone who came could have the podcast experience. Apple’s presentation was quite good. They presented the podcast concept very clearly — impressively clearly. Although podcasting is quite simple, the vocabulary and the exceptions can make it confusing to someone who is learning from scratch. Andy Carvin did catch them on one, very important, exception, and the speaker acknowledged the omission. Still, the point was to portray podcasting as a communication avenue that is simple — made infinitely more simple by iTunes 4.9. “Yaaaaaay!”

Now, Apple is at NECC to make a living, as am I. So I blame them for nothing about their presentation. But during my session tomorrow, Step Aside, CNN! I’m Listening to My Podcasts [12:00PM, PACC 113A], I will acknowledge the real pioneers of education podcasting, and many of them will be in the room.

I must confess some skepticism about podcasting’s hype. It’s part of being more than a half-century old. Most of the people I talked with in line, did not know what podcasting was. It is a buzz. It is the new “thing”. It does have enormous potential, but not as the new technology to integrate into the classroom. Its potential is in helping students learn to communicate richly and compellingly. Its potential is in bringing rich and appropriate content into the classroom that plugs into learning styles that textbooks just don’t hit. It’s not about technology. It’s about the “new shape of knowledge” — the changing nature of information.

Cluetrain Book Study

5:20 PM

For those of you interested in further exploring the educational implications of “knowledge as conversation” and other aspects of Dave Weinberger’s book (with Chris Locke, Rick Levine, and Doc Searls), The Cluetrain Manifest, John Pederson is organizing a summer online book study. Here is his announcement e-mail which came across on June 11, 2005.

This quote came across my aggregator a few minutes ago.

“Knowledge is literally a matter of conversation. It’s disagreement with people who stretch you. Knowledge is the continuing conversation, not the result of it.”

David Weinberger – The Natural Shape of Knowledge (Last Night’s Keynote [6/10/2005] at the Reboot 7.0 Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark)

This gets at the core of throwing a “Cluetrain + Education” online book study. It’s about a conversation. A conversation intended to stretch our thinking about the role of this new technology in education.

A few “administrative” tidbits.

1) If you plan on ordering a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I suggest you hop on it soon. $5.00 through The entire text is available online as well.

2) The “study” officially starts on June 27th. Forward this message to your friends, colleagues, or complete strangers. is where they can register.

3) I just assigned everybody with “Facilitator” access. This gives you the chance to kick the tires in Moodle a bit. This course is 1) a conversation, 2) about a book, 3) using tools. I’m not the only one to a) facilitating online conversation, b) deconstruct the contents of the book, therefore, why not give everybody access to manipulate c) the tools. :O) I setup a “Sandbox” area for people to build their castles, then destroy them. If you build a very good one, please feel free to move it out of the sandbox. If you have new ideas, share them!!! The real power of this experience will be what people add to it.

Be good.

:: John Pederson

Tuesday at NECC (and the day ain’t over yet)

5:04 PM

[Warning: This is a conference session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes.]

Mike Hall, of the Georgia Department of EducationI was lucky enough to be invited to the Intel Breakfast this morning and got to finally listen to Mike Hall, of the Georgia State Department of Education. It seems like Georgia is doing some interesting and bold things, which doesn’t surprise me with Hall at the helm.

The talk was very good, with much that I knew, much that I didn’t, and lots of new perspective.

I also attended a session done by Susi Munshi and Susan Switzer about Chicago Public Schools’ use of blogging. The presentation was good, though a bit basic for me. I’m sure that most of the audience was thrilled. I must say that I’d thought that they were going to go through the process of setting up a blog, but I probably misread the the description. They shared enough that was new to me to make the hour very well worth it.

One idea that really stuck was related to book reviews. We’ve all thought of having students write book reviews on the books that they read and then having them available for future readers. But they suggested asking students to journal as they read the book, pretending to be one of the characters. As they say, “How cool is that”.

I spent about the next two hours in the vendor’s section, podcasting most of the time, so that information will be available on my podcast page ( very soon.

Dave Weinberger Speaks at NECC

5:58 PM

[Warning: This is a conference session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes. My comments are in italics]

The keynote session has begun, opened by Benjamin Franklin, who welcomed us all as educators and technologists. While waiting for the program to start, I had a long conversation with Mike Lawrence from the Computer Using Educators, California’s ISTE affiliate and a very fine twice a year (Northern and Southern CA) ed tech conference. Mike mentioned a quote that, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. He says that conferences are people aggregators. How right that is!

The StageISTE President, Kurt Steinhaus started the official session with welcomes and some announcements, including mention of a NECC style conference in India. Intriguing. Think about the conversations that come out of that, and I mean that in a new shape of knowledge sort of way. Kurt also made a passionate appeal for advocacy as our government(s) continue to cut out budgets in a time when we need to be investing more heavily in school technology.

The Shape of Knowledge
Keynote address by David Weinberger

Weinberger says that the Wikipedia will be what people point to when talking about when the information changed. He referred back to the Wikipedia several times during the presentation. I am still surprised at how few people in many of my audiences are not aware of the Wikipedia. I’m sure that won’t be the case here.

Knowledge began in ancient greece, in the Agora, the open market, where affairs of state were decided. Anyone (white, male, property owners) could stand up and speak. Knowledge it justified, true, belief (Plato).

Nature of Knoweldge

  • We assume that there is one knowledge
  • Knowledge is neatly organized (a tree of knowledge)
  • We need experts to know the knowledge
  • Those experts will have power.

This sounds like industrial age schools and too much like the definition of knowledge that we continue to rely on in our education system. ..and perhaps this doesn’t seem as ridiculous to most people as it does to me.

Think of Melvil Dewey, of the dewey decimal system. 88 numbers for christian religion, one for judism, muslem and all related get one number, and budhists go to the right of the decimal place. I guess this is what happens when we treat knowledge/information as objects to be placed neatly in bins, based on a 10 digit grid.

“This is not a solvable problem. There is not one knowledge.” bang!

Four basic principals of organization

  1. One thing in one place — except in the digital world many things can go in many places.
  2. Things are neat and clean — except when it’s digital, the more links the better. Messy is good.
  3. The owners of the information own the organization — except now the customer owns the organization. (it’s an enormous transfer of power)
  4. Users are passive — except people are not contributing.

One of the mantras of the Wikipedia is that “wiki is not paper”. You know, I think that this could mean a lot of things. What Weinberger went on to was the limiting nature of the traditional encyclopedia, because when it is in print, then the encyclopedia is seen as a container, and a container can hold only so much.
Weinberger says that Britannic consists of 32 volumes and 65,000 topics. Wikipedia consists of more than 600,000 topics and more in other languages.

According to Amazon, Britannica weighs 120 bounds, at 65,000 topics. Assumming all things equal, the Wikipedia at more than 600,000 topics, would weight more than half a ton. Add in the versions in Deutsch, Francais, Nederlands, Portugues, Italiano, Espanol, Plski, Svenska, and 日本語, it would weigh well over one and a quarter tons. But in the digital world, that doesn’t matter.

Weinberger goes on to say that Bloggers are not writing in their diaries. They are people participating in conversations by linking to other peoples ideas and conversations. Every link is a little act of generosity. Very few commercial entities understand that.

Multisubjectivity means lots and lots of viewpoints. but the point is that the viewpoints come from conversations with each other. It’s a paradox that people from varied perspectives converse on common grounds. It’s actually a miracle.

Knowledge as conversation

  1. Multi-dispute-ism — dispute is trying to get the other person to admit when he is wrong. But in the blogsphere, you disagree, talk about it, and then it’s over. In digital conversations, the dispute is never going to be resolved, and you accept it.
  2. In the real world, we accept “good enough”. In the web, “good enough” needs to be enough. with 3 million hits on google, you won’t find perfect. Print knowledge looks for what’s perfect.

This is probably the most profound statement in Weinbergers talk as it relates to education. It cuts through to our reluctance to let go of our authority as keepers of the knowledge and allow our children to truly become explorers in the world of information and construct their own knowledge. They need supervision, counciling, and consulting from us. They need us to craft their activities so that their exploration remain relevant to the curriculum expectations. We need to stop teaching students to be students, and start teaching them to be learners, teaching them how to teach themselves.

We have an abundance of information, but it is a connect abundance of information. How true. The connection here, and this plugs in perfectly to part of my literacy model, the problem is not trying to consume all of that information. The problem is managing it, and this requires that we create and cultivate our own digital libraries if content, organizing it in ways that help us do our jobs and pursue our hopes and wishes. This is where librarians come in. They know how to do this. They not how to organize libraries. We need to figure out how to have librarians teach us all what they do, but how to organize personal digital libraries. It’s what our aggregators will become, our personal digital library.

Accountability is accountibalism, eating our young alive! Wow!

Knowledge is conversation, and he means that literally. I’ve been saying this for years, probably ever sense I read Cluetrain

Our job as teachers is to make things more complicated. The world is not that simple. Again, Wow!

There is an epochal struggle going on. One side is afraid. They want there to be one knowledge, one world, one truth, and that it’s simple. OK, I’m going to step way out on a limb here and say that perhaps, and this is just a perhaps, there is a tie between this idea of the one truth and one knowledge, and even one custom, and what is behind our struggle today with “terrorism”. The fundamentalists want the world to remain under control. But that just ain’t so. The world is changing more rapidly than we even understand. As the world of nature adapts, we too must adapt, and this plugs in to what we should be doing as we prepare our children for their future.

The day after 9/11, I tried to write a piece about how it was an attack against what we stand for as professional educators, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I think that David Weinberger has. Educators here were liberally and courageously guiding our children into “their” future by creating and crafting engaging and potent learning experiences. …While the fundamentalists want us to go back to a world under control. And folks, the fundamentalists are not just over there. Again, I’m just suggesting something here. I don’t know. Don’t believe me.

SIG TC Forum

2:26 PM

[Warning: This is a session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes.]

I just finished my presentation for the SIGTC (Technology Coordinators) Forum on telling the new story. I think that it went well with a lot of participant in the audience — some very smart, knowledgeable, and well-read. One book that was suggested that I’m going to look into is Jennifer Government (I think that’s what it was). Anyway, I tried using a wiki in the session, but the room (counter to plans) was set up auditorium style, and we did not have wireless in the room. One of the IT guys did set up my laptop as a wireless base station, so a few people on the first few rows had wireless, but not enough to make the activity work. Please do visit the page. I have linked in an RSS feed to the web links ( related to the presentation. I love RSS.

My session was followed by a panel on handhelds. In my notes below, the text that is italicized are my comments, not those of the presenters:

Elliot Soloway is talking now about handhelds. His initial proclamation is the 1:1 works. In today’s information environment, students must have ready access to information. You can’t do it with one computer in the classroom and more than the class can share a single pencil. He says that a handheld can do 80% of what a desktop or laptop can do. Hmmm! May be.

Kathy Norris, a professor at North Texas University, says that if the computer doesn’t help the teacher do his or her job, then students will never touch the computer. She says that students are collaborating with handhelds in ways that they wouldn’t before, because the students couldn’t read each other’s writing.

Norris also says the teachers must be able to collaborate with each other. There should be at least two teachers in a single building who are implementing handhelds. They need to work together in order to learn and develop skills. This seems obvious, but I think that there is something else in this statement, something that is important, something that is just under the surface that I think we can take advantage of. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to keep thinking about it.

OK, one of the presenters broached the subject, my objection to handhelds. The screens are too small. She says that this is an adult issue, not a child issue. This may well be. I can’t disagree.

One of the panelist quoted Elliot Soloway, saying:

That which will change education is that which can be put in the hand of a student.

How very true!

I’m sorry I don’t know their names, but the discussion has come to comparing handhelds to laptops. The college professor says that she talked with a school board member before leaving for NECC, and that he said that he didn’t know why they kept buying laptops for their students, because the students hate them. They don’t like lugging them around. I don’t know about that. I have to wonder if that school board member had a different agenda. I don’t know. That just doesn’t ring true for me.

There is another panelist who appears to be a vendor. He said that data indicates that handheld failure rates was 3%. For laptops, it was 27%. That is compelling for a school district without the tech support to handle this.

Someone asked about Negropante’s $100 laptop proposal. Soloway replied that this could happen, it can be done. But do kids in China want a laptop when they already have a mobile phone. Perhaps what we need to do is put more power into the phone. OK?

I think that what struck me about teachers working together is what it says about information. If there was a textbook, or if the users guide was enough, then they wouldn’t need the collaboration, the support of another local educator. The solutions to what, how, and why you use technologies in the classroom come from using them, and sharing the experience and growing knowledge.

NECC Gets Things Done

4:51 AM

I wrote yesterday about the support staff at the PENN Alex school and their work to assure that the technology was available and reliable for us. I can’t thank them enough, and if you are here at NECC, and see a tech person, thank them. This event would not happen without them.

Incredibly Helpful Support folksI neglected to mention the friendly and knowledgeable help that I received when I checked-in at the conference registration area. NECC works because of an enormous number of volunteers who are investing their valuable time into making this a valuable event.

I want to mention one more group of people. There are many here at NECC who will not get a chance to sit in sessions and learn. They are the many educational technology leaders, who are here for meetings. NECC is one event that most ed tech people attend. For that reason, many societies, associations, corporations, and national and international agencies hold there meetings at the conference, and I have meet quite a few people here who will be spending all of their time in meetings sharing, building, planning strategy, approving products, and much more. They are the leaders of this great movement to modernize our schools and classrooms.

Even if we can’t distinguish them from all of the other increasingly fatigued educators here at NECC, give them a thanks in your mind. If this movement succeeds, it will be to no small measure a result of our leadership.

Day 1 Behind Me

4:51 PM (yesterday)

NECC Code WarriersThe day is almost over. Teaching a programming class of 30, mostly techno-expert educators, was a demand that I wouldn’t be up to for more than a few days. Teaching a six-hour workshop without the stamina that teachers seem to have on demand is quite a challenge. It reminds me of those days at the beginning of the school year, when after the day was over and you walked into your home, and the only thing you could do is fall into your couch. Teaching can be an exhausting job. My workshop participants were wonderful, and wonderfully patient and understanding when the breakers on the computers in the lab kept breaking, due to the heat in the room.

That problem sorted itself out. But, I have to note (and this is the purpose of these blog) that the NECC support staff on hand at Penn Alex school, set up a new lab, and configured all of those computers as web servers and installed the files and a demo copy of BBedit on each of those computers, so that we could have a fall-back of the breaker problems percisted. It had taken me and one other person three hours to accomplish the configurations the afternoon before.

This expression of support was nothing less than heroic, and I want to thank the tireless staff at the Penn Alex school for helping to make the workshops a success.

Now, where’s that couch.

It has begun!

7:31 AM

I just checked in and got my name tag and a really cool looking conference bag. I have to be real careful not to leave it anywhere. I do that a lot.

ISTEI’ve already run into some friends. Number one, Holly Job, the director of technology at the Montgomery County IU. She is a long-time ed tech’er and a name that many look to for direction. I also ran into Michael Butler, an old friend and natural-born teacher. Michael does a who range of workshops on Front Page, Dreamweaver, and many other topics. He’s one of these master techs, who is also very good at talking about it.

The conference center is very pretty. It’s old and has an atmosphere that is absolutely appropriate for an old east-coast city. I’m now sitting in a comfortable leather chair (Looks like leather, feels like leather), waiting for the shuttle buses to take us to the outlying workshops. I’m teaching at Penn Alex school on or near the university campus. I took the subway out there yesterday to configure the computer as web servers.

The workshop, again, is Advanced Interactive Web Site Building with PHP. The participants’ computers are all set up as web servers. So they will be writing their code and then testing it on their own computers.