A Little More about Open Source & A Real Treat

Seacoast Professional Development CenterI spent my last day in New Hampshire yesterday working in the most beautiful New England town of Exeter. I worked with Rick Chretien in the basement of a former hotel, converted to office building, at least 100 years old, of not older. I so loved being in New Hampshire.

They too are exploring and employing open source, and are furthering my excitement about the possibilities. We must continue to ask that question, “Why are we being made to prepare your children for a dynamic, exciting, and very challenging future, with little or no funding for contemporary information and communication technology?” “Why?”

That said, open source is appealing, if for no other reason than there seems to be very little trade off. The software and operating system are both rich and robust. Rick has a staff of several technicians whose job it is to take business donated computers, strip out the unneeded components, and install Linux, and dozens of open source software, including productivity tools (Open Office), graphics (Gimp), and sound processing software (Audacity), and many others.

Podcaster, Bob SprankleI also had a supreme treat as a young many walked up to me near the beginning of the workshop and introduced himself, “David Warlick? I’m Bob Sprankle.” It hadn’t occurred to me that Wells Maine might be so close to Exeter, New Hampshire. We had two great sessions, one on ethics in the new information environment, and the afternoon on emerging ICT tools.

Once again, I missed a golden podcasting opportunity, but I forgive myself, because I was very tired after a long but lovely week in that beautiful state. This afternoon, I fly to Texas, some of my favorite people in the world.

Albus DumbledoreI also want to mention the beautiful banquet hall where I spoke to members of the New Hampshire ed tech association and ISTE affiliate, NHISTE. The hall was part of the St. Paul School, and I felt like Albus Dumbledore, addressing the congregation of Hogwarts. It was a great evening, and I got to share some new ideas and resources. Thanks New Hampshire.

Missed Opportunities

Future NASA EngineerOne of many things that I’m not very good at is recognizing a wonderful podcasting opportunity. Yesterday, I taught two workshops at a staff development center on Concord, (pronounced con-cerd) New Hampshire. After the workshops and my re-packing ritual, Kathy Malsbenden, a co-director of the center took me on a tour of their thin-client lab.

It was a surprisingly clean and lean looking computer lab, compared to its surrounding, a century-old school building. The work stations were set against the walls, fairly large tower machine boxes ($25 each from government surplus) set lengthwise against the wall in front of flat panel displays and keyboards. She booted one of the machines, which immediately accessed a Linux network server, providing an impressive windows looking interface and an AMAZING array of open-source software. Notable was Open Office, a rich and worthy competitor of MS Office. I sure wish that I could run Open Office on my Mac without having to go into X11 interface (I just love to talk like that!).

When we went into the folder labeled Graphics Software, more than 25 applications showed up, including Gimp, a more than worthy and free competitor to Photoshop.

But I didn’t even have the presence of mind to take a picture. It could have been the fact that I’d just taught six hours of workshop or that my A.D.D. medication had long worn off. I don’t know. But I just didn’t see the significance of what I was being shown, until early this morning.

The thing is that I’ve not been a fan of thin-client, for the same reason that I haven’t gotten excited about handhelds as a less costly substitute for laptop computers. You see, I think that we are trying to answer the wrong question. Handhelds are amazingly powerful little machines, and they belong in the education environment. I’m sold on thin-client now in the configuration that I saw yesterday.

But the question we are trying to answer shouldn’t be, “How do we prepare children for the 21st century with pocket change?” The question is “Why are we being asked to prepare our children with pocket change?”

OK, I know that this country spends a LOT of money on education. But we are not spend enough money or attention on:

  1. Teaching children to “read” information that is networked, written by almost anyone for almost any reason.
  2. Teaching children to process numbers, when virtually all information is digital, and therefore, all information is made of numbers.
  3. Communicate effectively, when a storm of overwhelming information can filter out all but the most compelling messages.
  4. To adopt a fully ethical approach to how and why we use information.

Tonight, I will be delivering, for the 2nd time, an address called “Telling the New Story“. It’s about the stories that still drive our education system in a backward direction, instead of going forward into a future that is already around us, and what the new stories are, and how we tell them. I hope that it’s fun, and that we all walk away with a new drive to go out and talk to people about what and how our children are not learning.

I hope this is going to be a big 2 bucks worth.

Code of Information Ethics

I’m sitting in my hotel room in New Hampshire, trying to get ready for a week of workshops and an address to ed tech leaders here on Wednesday night. But I can’t seem to switch off e-mail and I just received my three-times-a-day news alert from a local radio station in Raleigh. One of the two “Top News” stories of the hour (9:00 AM) is:

Evacuees Stuck In Traffic As They Try To Return Home
People who were caught in traffic jams evacuating Houston before Hurricane Rita are in heavy traffic this morning as many of them return to the city.

Surprise? OK, it’s all a terrible thing, to live with hurricanes, tornados, winter blizzards, and we’ve just watched a city be destroyed by a storm that we’ve been waiting for for years. But to what degree does a journalism industry stir up controversy.

Now I’m not ranting here, because filling our increasing appetite for news, news, news, is a challenge. But I suspect that this whole issue would be worthy of some discussion in blogging classrooms. Students, who blog, in many ways, are becoming journalists. They are taking what they learn or observe, reflecting on it, and then reporting their impressions. What are the ethical considerations as we empower students to cast their thoughts out on a world of readers?

I would direct you to the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). There are four major sections:

  1. Seek Truth and Report It
  2. Minimize Harm
  3. Act Independently
  4. Be Accountable

This document may make an excellent focus for discussion. You might also take a look at the Student and Teachers Information Code of Ethics, which is part of Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, and adapted, with permission, from SPJ’s code. This document, which is in MSWord format, is designed as a springboard for schools and classrooms to use to fashion their own information code.

Now I’ve GOT to get back to work.

Might we be Starting to Keep Up

Last week, I took the opportunity of working in the Columbus area to meet with the publishers of my book, Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, Linworth Publishing. The night before our meetings, several of us had dinner at a very nice restaurant, and during the conversation got into a discussion of blogging, RSS, and podcasting (SURPRISE).

The next day, Donna King, one of the Linworth people, came in talking about having told her teenage son about what she had learned about blogging and podcasting, and that he at first said, “Mom, this is kinda strange, you telling me something about technology that I didn’t know.” She continued to talk about these ideas, and finally he said, “Stop! Stop! I can’t take this any more!”

Might we come to a time when there is no more digital divide between the techno-young and techless old? I think so. When we, as adults, working in an industry (and world) that is changing rapidly, master the digital literacy skills to become true self-learners (life-long learners), then we may be able to keep up. When we have to wait for staff development, then we languish behind.

Pretty weird coming from a staff developer.

Interviewed on Talk Radio

Last night I had a wholly unique experience. I was interviewed at a talk radio station, one with a giant picture of Rush Limbaugh on the wall. The show was called Viewpoints, and the first sentence was, “Why should we be bringing technology into our classrooms, when our kids aren’t learning the basics?” But by the third sentence, it was clear that everyone was on the same page, in terms of preparing our children for their future. It was an entirely enjoyable experience.

I did end out with a note pad of points that I wanted to insert into the conversation, but never got around to. 50 minutes can go by really fast.

  1. Kids don’t really need us to be getting experience with technology. They’re getting that on their own. They are learning to play the technology. They need us to help them learn to work the technology.
  2. “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” William Gibson
  3. The challenge with overwhelming information is not, how do I manage all of this information?” The challenge is “How do I get my message through the storm of all of this information?”
  4. In the entire day of staff development, here in Carteret County, we almost never used the term technology. It was always information, communication, processing, analyzing, expressing ideas, broadcasting. Technology was in the conversation, but no more than we would mention words like pencil or paper.

2¢ worth.

My Blogworld as a Social Cell

Sitting here in the Charlotte Airport, a conversation from the Duke CE Roundtable returned to me, as I plan for this week’s presentations about the Read/Write Web. Again, most of the attendees of that event were corporate educators with a handful of higher ed folks and me. Several of the corporate folks were struggling with ways of using technology to provide professional development, and someone said, “These people will not join one more portal!”

At this statement, it suddenly occured to me an important difference between between the traditional web (can’t help but smile at that)
and web2.0. Online communities, as powerful as they are for facilitating collaboration and knowledge building, suffer one important limitation. They have borders. Portals are often designed as closed environments with walls that prevent outsiders from coming in. Even the original collaborative tool, the mailing list (listserv), is a closed environment in that there is a gatekeeper who has to let you in, even if it is a software-based subscription.

The Blogsphere does not have this limitation. As we write and read blogs, subscribe via RSS to the blogs we want to pay attention to, read and respond to their postings, and have our postings and comments responded to, what forms is a social cell of idea exchange and building and personality sharing. Factor in the social bookmarks, and news feeds, and we find ourselves in side of a rich social community of people who have similar interests, or interests and perspectives that we find valuable to our goals.

Significantly different from portals and mailing lists is the fact that that cell forms almost organically. Back in December 2005, I subscribed (my first use of RSS) to three webloggers — people who I knew could help me to understand this new information environment. They talked about the ideas of other bloggers, with links to their sites, and I added new people to my aggregator. After a while some of them dropped of, and others were added as they got mentioned in my readings. My aggregator does not merely grow, it undulates ;-). It gets larger then it shrinks. It intersects with other peoples cells for a while as their ideas help me do my job, and then we disconnect, and my cell heads out into other directions.

Right now, it is fairly small, because I have so little time to read. But when I get a couple of these programming jobs out of the way, I have two or three topics that I will go to Technorati with, find people who are talking about them, and then grow my network — and learn.

Bottom line is that my online network is now organic. It evolves as my needs change, and how I process the ideas inside of my cell, affects other people and how their cells evolve.

Does this make any sense?

7000 Hours

Yesterday, I talked briefly (by my standards) about the statistics that use to float around indicating the scandalous amount of time our children’s spent watching TV. Like me, I suspect that a lot of us teachers decried this state of affairs ignominiously, owning up only to ourselves the number of childhood hours we spent in front of our TVs, as Doug Johnson admitted yesterday in his comments on the blog.

Frankly, I suspect that the benefits of my time in front of the tube, outweighed the harm, by a large margin. I was probably more aware of the historic, cultural, societal, physical, and ecological world around me, at an earlier age, than would have been possible for my parent’s generation. Plus, I got to grow up with Timmy and Lassie, Captain Kangaroo, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the advent of Rock & Roll.

But the second statistic that I shared, that a house hold with a 300 channel cable or satellite service has access to 7,000 hours of multimedia content a day. My first reaction is that so much of it is bad. Yet that reaction furthers the points that I will be suggesting to my audiences this week.

  1. Multimedia information is a pervasive part of our information environment, certainly outweighing print by a long shot in volume, compellingness, and vicinity (with more an more computer-based signage around us). It can not be ignored that an enormous part of accessing information today involves media literacy, not just the ability to decode text.
  2. Who’s going to fill all of those channels? There is an infinite web of knowledge, ideas, and stories out there, waiting for the telling. The mechanics of writing a coherent paragraph is a mere foundation to the skills that will be basic to our children’s future. We must help learn to tell stories, and tell them compellingly using the entire range of media.

These should be an explicit part not only of what we teach, but how we teach — and our students must be held responsible for demonstrating these skills.

What do you think?

Which is More Important

Old TelevisionI thought I was going to get through the entire day with nothing to talk about. I could say a lot about programming, but that would be really boring. Saving myself from interminable tedium, I took a break and thumbed through my latest print issue of WIRED. Quickly reading through an article about the future (like, a few months) of television, I ran across some interesting statistics.

Do you remember, a few years back, when people were reporting about how much time kids spend watching TV and what a shame that was? One set I ran across in a quick search comes from an article by Gentile and Walsh, in Applied Development Psychology. They reported (2002) that American children, ages 2-17, watched TV an average of 24 hours per week (that’s 3.5 hours a day). The article in WIRED comes at our television environment from a different direction, stating that

A household with 300 cable or satellite channels has access to 7,000 hours of programming a day…(That’s 49,000 hours a week)

I got to thinking about these two statistics, and started wondering which is more significant to our efforts in preparing children for their future. Which has more baring on what and how we teach our children?


Gentile, D.A., Walsh, D. A. (2002, January 28). A normative study of family media habits. Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 157-178.

McHugh, Josh. “The Super Network.” WIRED Magazine September 2005: 107-109.

Last Open House

Last Open HouseYesterday, I attended one of the last school open house events of this life time. My son is entering his senior year, and we’ll have one more open house at the beginning of the second semester.

First of all, I am overwhelmed at the (dare I say) rigor, of his work load. He’s taking AP Calculus, Honors English, Wind Ensemble (performing college and professional grade music), and AP Statistics. On top of that, he continues to practice his instrument in order to become one of the best musicians in the world — which is what it will take to make a living at it.

But what impressed me even more was the help that he will have in accomplishing these high standard of learning, his teachers. In what I do, speaking to educators about technology, the future, and new literacies, I typically see them as learners struggling with brand new ideas that simultaneously excite and threaten them. I easily forget how accomplished teachers are, their vast knowledge, their incredible creativity, and the joy they project in their jobs.

English was never my favorite subject. We read books, and our teachers told us what to think about them. My son’s English teacher, talked about the books that he is and will be reading, and the writing assignments he gets. I asked her to share some examples of the topics they were asked to write about. She went through about five, but what set my head to spinning was that every assignment was tied in some logical and intriguing way to another assignment, which was tied to three others. This teacher’s curriculum is a web of ideas linked to the great thinkers and writers of our history, to the world around us right now, and to the emerging ideas of these 17 and 18 year old students.

And you know what? She never mentioned technology. Well, that’s not entirely true. I learned a lot last night about the creative ways that you can integrate paper into the learning experience. 😉

More on Leaking Schools

I keep relapsing into old topics, pulling reader comments to the surface. I’m simply amazed at what others have to say, both in support and opposition to my positions. It’s the nature of the great conversation, and if change is happening five years from now, it will be because we were talking about it today.

A teacher in Downers Grove (Downers Grove Summit) commented on one of my recent articles, Our Schools are Leaking. He says…

I see the same things you observe. Students are more “connected” than ever. Still, I had an email yesterday from a counselor here at DGS (site of this summer’s tech summit) in which she explained that one of her students was extremely worried about not having access to a computer at home, and that the student was considering dropping my chemistry class because of it.

Shock horror! I require my students to view and use my class website daily!

The greater majority of my students value and use my blackboard (c) powered website. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have the extra mode of communication with my students and their parents.

I do worry a bit about those without the tools and access at home, yet I still require the use of technology here at DGS because it is so readily available here in classrooms, computer labs, library etc. I think I would be short sighted if I didn’t require the use of technology.

I agree that we owe it to our children and their future (as well as our future) to integrate the use of digital networked information into the learning activities of your students. But this doesn’t solve the problems of students who do not have convenient access to the tools they need to properly engage in those learning activities.

I would suggest that you (the school) explore ways to get a computer and Net access into the hands of that student. But this is not to say that this is a school problem. It isn’t. It’s a national problem. During most of that student’s life, virtually all of the information that he or she needs on a daily basis, will be networked and digital. Anyone who does not have access to digital and networked technology and the skills to use those tools, may as well not know how to read. We’ve decided that every child should know how to read. For the same reason, we should be making sure that every child has access to information and communication technologies.

The commenter continued…

The world of technology is changing. The types of work and types of careers that will be available to my students in their lives after school are becoming more and more technology based. I submit, that any and all students need to be given access to technology, and further, should be required to learn how to use it effectively and appropriately. Ultimately, any other course of action greatly limits their options in the future.

A few months ago, I was talking with the principal of my son’s high school. I was shocked to learn, after a rather lengthy conversation, that the school no longer offers auto shop. They can’t afford it. Auto Shop was a staple of my high school experience. I didn’t take it, but I lot of kids did, and there is no smaller need for automobile mechanics today, than there was in the 1960s. What else are we going to drop, because we can’t afford it, and what price will our future pay?