Painting the Clouds

Broadmoor Hotel RoomMy Dad would say, “You’re in High Cotton, son!”  Snap, and I’ve left Greensboro, North Carolina, and landed at The Broadmoor Hotel near Colorado Springs.  It was late when I got here last night and still dark this morning, so I haven’t seen the place from the outside.  But this is the first hotel room where the first thing I wanted to do when I walked in was pull out my camera and take a picture (see at the right).  It’s not my style, but I’m impressed.

I’ll be speaking to the Colorado Association of School Boards today and then going home tomorrow morning, for a couple of days.  But while I was flying west, a conversation I had at NCETC haunted me.

First, I want to say, I am certain that the two people I’ll be referring to a  good, caring, talented educators, with the very best intentions at heart.  I feel a bit uncomfortable and even sneaky reporting on the conversation here, but I am pretty sure that this is important — either in terms of my objections or in terms of finding, from you, that I’m wrong.

It was a teacher and a principal of an elementary school in a rural county of North Carolina.  I asked my usual question, “What’s knocked your socks off?”  The young one, the teacher, 4 years experience, started telling me about a web service that they are excited about.  She was practically bubbling.  I listened.  Then she described an online assessment service that was tied directly to the North Carolina standards, and that it would enable the teachers to frequently test their students’ mastery of specific standards,  evaluate their strategies, and adapt. 

Now normally, I’m losing interest at this point, but she was so excited, I have to say it was contagious.  My skeptic antenna stayed put, and I started proding with questions.  The principal, then, described the assessment tool that they were currently using, and how it worked, and I interrupted.  “So how good has your current assessment tool been at predicting performance on the state’s End of Grade test?

She looked at me, and said, “Terrible!”  She said, we were so excited and proud, and proud of our students, when testing time came, because they were doing so well with the assessments.  But then, the test scores came back and they were very bad (don’t recall the descriptive word she used).  This is why they are so excited about the new tool, that seems better aligned with the style of the NC tests.

OK, most of the readers here know where I’m going with this, so there’s no need to elaborate.  But as we were climbing to our cruising altitude last night, approaching the Appalachian mountains, I thought, we’re trying to paint the clouds.  Our kids are not a picket fence with identical rails you can paint.  They’re all different, they all have different strengths and weaknesses, talents and challenges, surfaces and depths — and they’ll all need to know different things for their futures, futures we can’t even describe.  Certainly they need to learn certain basic literacy skills (which we’re still trying to redefine).  And we need to be sure these skills are attained.

Sunset Photo from Flickr Creative CommonsBut when we teach kids how to pass tests, we’re trying to paint a picture on to something that just want hold it.  Looking out to the west, and seeing the setting sun shine through the ubiquitous clouds of the Smokies, I felt that this is how to get your picture.  Not by painting the clouds, but by showing the sun shine through the clouds.  Empower learners to surprise you with their brilliance.

And, perhaps even more important, what did those children think, when they’d been so successful with the schools assessment practices, only to fail the state test.  What do schools mean to these children.  How long will they stay in those schools?

2¢ Worth!

Image Citation:
Sparrow, Tom. “Flying Sunset.” Tomsparrow’s Photostream. 11 Sep 2007. 30 Nov 2007 <>.

Are We Inside the New Iron Curtain?

Alan November at NCETCBefore I get to the point of that title, I have to say something about the great day I had, yesterday, delivering four presentations: video games, wikis, a new session about SecondLife, and a featured address about the future, our kids, our information environment, and flat classrooms.  It was a great day because I had so many opportunities to engage in conversations about barriers and leverage points to pry those barriers away.  Conference planners sometimes seem surprised when I say that I want to do follow-up sessions.  It’s through interactions with educators and education leaders that I learn, that I get my ideas tested, stretched, and refined.

I got to see Debbie Silver, and to roll around in the floor laughing for an hour.  And, in addition to all of that, I got to see Alan November do a keynote, the first time I’ve seen him in several years.  I love Alan’s style, his ability to be so conversational in his presentation.  I wish that I could do that.  My formal presentations are often more performance than conversation — scripted and, to some degree, rehearsed.  I do better when I take my Ritalin, though I don’t that much any more.  Not sure why — just don’t!

Anyway, Alan said something that was a bit provocative — and something that I firmly believe.  He said (and these are my words) that the United States runs what is probably the most represive education system on the planet, especially when compared with the access to information that learners have outside the classroom.   “Students in China have e-mail,” he said.  “Do your students?”

Taking the Technology Journey at NCETC

I just met the hotel newspaper fairy, while stepping out of the elevator, after going all the way down to the 9th floor to find a working ice machine.  He’s short, wears round-rimed glasses, and has combed back black hair that sweeps back into wings above each ear.  He seems to wear a uniform, though its more like a bellman’s attire than a policeman — as is the case with the hotel bill fairy, who slips the bill under your door on the last morning of your stay.  The newspaper fairy is also a nervous fellow, as I pretty obviously startled him when I walked out of the elevator. 

20th NCETCIt’s the 20th NCETC, and they threw a wonderful reception last night with lots of food, a chamber orchestra, and lots of people — and the conference staff was obviously excited.  I’ve attended every NCETC and I believe that I’ve presented at every one.  The earliest state conferences I attended (more than 20 years ago) were run by a regional computer club called Micro 5.  It was almost entirely about Apple IIes, and the rage was The Print Shop.  There weren’t a lot of people using computers, and we didn’t seem to mind that we were a minority – a very special minority.  After all, most schools didn’t have them, and the ones that did, usually had less than a half-dozen.

Today, there are still a lot of teachers who don’t use them and don’t want to.  It’s the theme of this conference , so far as the conversations I’m having here.  Three times already I’ve told people, I’ve had this conversation three, four, five times already today. 

“We can’t even get teachers to fill out a simple web form for our information system.  Teachers are telling us ‘We’ve taught well for 25 years without computers, we can do it another five.’  and ‘I do not have time to learn this stuff!'”

It’s true that a teacher can be a great teacher without using technology and it’s true that teachers have a tragic lack of professional time to develop and refine their skills and knowledge.  ..And sadly, it is also true that a few teachers are not very good learners. 

But I think it’s wrong to expect teachers to use technology.  It’s like saying, “I expect you to use the chalk board!”  But what if half of the teachers in your school said, “I can be a good teacher without using our textbooks or any other text-based resources.  My students are going to learn without reading.”  Now that would probably shock us, because deep down, regardless of the testing culture of U.S. schools, we understand that reading is a working skill, not just an academic skill.  That students should be using this skill, not just learning it.

I think it’s the same with computers and networks.  Using digital networked content is part of being literate, and it is a working skill.  Teachers who aren’t using computers and the Internet in their classrooms with their students every day are depriving their children of the opportunity and the right to use basic literacies as working skills.  You can be a good teacher an not use technology.  But you’re not doing your job.

That said, we need to provide three things to teachers, if we are going to expect them to take the “technology journey.”  We need to give them

  • A Road – digital networked content no more than an arm’s reach away,
  • A Destination – Something on the other side worth working for, and
  • No Choice

2¢ Worth

Sometimes Size Doesn’t Matter

In his now famous video, “Did You Know?,” Karl Fisch starts with a slide that states, “Sometimes Size Does Matter!”

A Network of People
This photo shows a small group of educators, networking at the EduBloggerCon at NECC in June.  The picture was taken and contributed by Steve Dembo.

Last week (or maybe it was three weeks ago) I was delivering a breakout session at a conference.  I think that the audience was school librarians.  Anyway, to demonstrate the powers of social networking, I told the audience about my Social Networking for Teachers wiki, which I’d started on Wikispaces on November 13. After seeding that wiki page with four prompting questions, I announced the site on Twitter and through my blog, and requested assistance in building out the site. As a result, it was contributed to 40 times in the next three hours, and 120 time in total, since that announcement.

Then one of the librarians, sitting by the isle, about five rows back, raised her hand with a smile and said, “But David, you’re famous.  Certainly your network of readers can accomplish this.”

After gaining control of the coughing spasm that this comment induced, I smiled, allowing that she may have a point.  But then it occurred to me, that those edits were not performed by 40 people, or 120 people, or 500 people.  In the first three hours, 17 people made changes.  This is not an unimpressive number.  But I do not believe that it is the size that accomplished this task.  I do not believe that it is a size that makes the difference.  In total, the wiki was contributed to by 28 people who identified themselves and others who made edits as guest

Again, not an unimpressive number.  But I still believe that the size of your personal learning network is not nearly as important as its quality.  Who do you connect to in your social networking — through your blog, blog readings, Twitter, social networks, social media, and social bookmarks — and what is their value to you?  How do they help you do your job?  What do you look for?

Do you really have to wait until you have 500 readers to start tapping into your network?

It might be an interesting study, to compare the amount of content generated within Ning social networks to the number of members.  In general, do the larger networks create more content per member?  What’s the critical tipping point?  Is there one?

Image Citation:
Dembo, Steve. “PIC-0025.jpg.” Teach42’s Photostream. 23 Jun 2007. 27 Nov 2007 <>.

Now There was a Debate

David Jakes Capturing the Debate
Will Richardson
Gary Stager

When I woke up this morning, I had no idea I had this much writing in me.

I finally watched last week’s debate at NYSCATE between Gary Stager and Will Richardson. I was not surprised to hear my name invoked, though it was startling to hear it as an impetus of that event — a challenge that Gary made months ago in his blog to debate me or any of the other Web 2.0pian evangelists out there. He claimed during the exchange, that we keynoters arrive from the airport, suddenly appear behind the pulpit, have our say, and disappear again. That’s rubbish! But it’s not the point of this writing.

I was not surprised to see that there wasn’t any thing that Will and Gary seemed to disagree about in any substantial way. There wasn’t anything said by either that I’d disagree with in any substantial way. I could certainly pick out minute elements of what both of them said and make a case for its wrongness from some perspective, but I just don’t see the benefit.  They were both eloquent and inspiring.

I think that most of us pretty much see education through the same glasses, and agree that students and teachers should be using contemporary technologies as tools of the trade. Gary likes using computers to help students learn to work ideas with logic and math (programming), and Will concentrates on using technology to work ideas with language (blogging). This is a rough interpretation of how the moderator (could not understand his name) characterized them. You can read a great review of the discussion in Gary’s latest entry (Will Richardson & Gary Stager – Live: The Bootleg Video) in The Pulse, and see the video here (recorded with a $100 digital camera by our friend, Dave Jakes).

What I was reminded of, while watching Will and Gary, was a debate that I saw many years ago at a CoSN conference in Washington.  I was at the conference working a booth for ThinkQuest, but somehow got invited in to attend the banquet and see a debate between then Technology & Learning editor in chief, Judy Salpeter, and Todd Opeheimer, author of a recent (1997) controversial piece in The Atlantic Monthly, The Computer Delusion.

Both debaters brilliantly hit their targets.  Neither came even close to hitting each other.  It was unsettling to me.  Then I realized early the next morning that they were each speaking from visions of education that were as different from each other as night and day, missing each other completely. 

Oppenheimer spoke from an education system that assumed a static world — where the job of education is to teach the child.  I like to refer to it as teaching children to be taught.  His perspective reasons that the same teaching tools and techniques that served children in the industrial age, will serve them just as will in an info-conceptual age (or whatever you want to call it).

Salpeter, on the other hand, spoke from a world of rapid change and a dramatic shift in the world of information, where teaching children to teach themselves and the literacies to accomplish this should be our goal.

I’m not sure why this little piece of history came to mind.  But today begins my state’s educational technology conference (NCETC), and I’ll be here for four days.  I know that I’ll be having lots of conversations, and I suspect that much of it will be about the roll of education right now.

Image Citations
Martinez, S. “Jakes ustreaming richardson stager nyscate keynote.” SMartinez’s Photostream. 20 Nov 2007. 26 Nov 2007 <>.

Smith, Brian. “Will Richardson – Stager/Richardson Keynote.” BrianCSmith’s Photostream. 20 Nov 2007. 26 Nov 2007 <>.

Smith, Brian. “Will Richardson – Stager/Richardson Keynote.” BrianCSmith’s Photostream. 20 Nov 2007. 26 Nov 2007 <>.

Sessions Analysis

While sitting and waiting for the folks who are hosting my web servers to finish up some sort of network configuration, I decided to do my little term search through the concurrent sessions that will be offered at the North Carolina ed tech conference this week, NCETC.

I searched for several terms that occurred to me on the spur of the moment and found that of all of the new Web 2 technologies that have emerged over the past couple of years, the one that continues to rock is podcasting.  Here is the run down on the number of times each term was mentioned in the conference program:

Term Frequency

Web 2 10
Blog 11
Podcast 50
Aggregator 0
SecondLife 3
Video Game 13
Literacy 14
21st Century Skills 12

Of course, this doesn’t mean very much. The rubber doesn’t meet the road until the conference comes, and the conversation begins. Remember how, after NECC this year, people were saying that at least part of the value of this great conference was the conversations that happened outside of the sessions.
Hope to see some of you at NCETC…

NCETC 2007

Tammy Worcester
Tammy Worcester in 2006.  Tammy will be back this year as a featured speaker.

Next week is my state’s largest ed tech conference, the North Carolina Educational Technology Conference or NCETC.  Held at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, this conference attracts thousands of educators from across NC, and also South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.  Well, not sure about Tennessee, but I know lots of folks from our northern and souther neighbors who come up to G’boro for this event.

NCETC is not quite as big as FETC or TCEA, but it has very much the same feel, with lots of choices for breakout sessions to attend, national keynote (Dr. Debbie Silver & Alan November)  and featured speakers, an extensive exhibit hall, and the energized environment that is common to ed tech conferences.  I’ll be able to see Debbie Silver, but Alan’s keynote is being delivered along with breakouts, and I’ll be doing something with wikis then.  Bummer!  Not sure I like that.  Alan certainly deserves exclusive timing.

I just visited the Hitchhikr page for NCETC, and found that my friend, Bethany Smith is already busy blogging the conference, and I hope to see more.  The conference tags are:

    ncetc & ncetc07

There are no photos yet, but you can click to a slide show of laster year’s conference here.

Back in “Times” with Google

I’m sitting in the Hampton Inn in historic Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  I’m leaving our room quiet and without a glaring desk lamp, and escaping to this spacious lobby (and the ubiquitous Law & Ordewr in the background) to prepare for one of my first-time presentations for next week’s NCETC, my states largest educational technology conference.  Later this morning, Brenda and I will go to The Museum of the Albermarle, to see a unique collection of Ansel Adams photographs taken during a trip down the Intercoastal waterway.  These are photographs that were never developed by the master, so we will be looking at proofs.  Not really sure what we’ll see, but there will certainly be much more to learn about culture and life during the early days of the eastern part of my state.

Google Archive Search WindowWorking here, and testing some of the components of the online handouts I’ll use for one of my presentations, I discovered something new at Google.  …at least it was new to me.  I was testing a news search for the “Great Depression” — thinking of my daughter who will be teaching history next year. 

I did the search at Google News and received 5,652 hits.  Then I glanced down to the left panel to see the expected RSS feed link, that enables me to subscribe to ongoing news searches for my phrase.  But I also noticed, for the first time, a reference to archived news, for dates: 2001-04, 1997-2000, 1990-94, etc.  There was also a link for Other Dates, which I clicked.  This gave me a web form where I could enter a beginning and ending year.  I entered 1929-1934, and got access to 68,100 articles.  They are all from the New York Times, and the complete article costs $4.95 according to Google, and $3.95 according to the NYTimes.  Also, according to the digital news service, Home Delivery customers get archives for free.

It’s just another of those discoveries that force me to think back to my days as a history teacher, and the incredible scarcity of content that I had available to me, and how that scarcity defined what and how I taught. 

How has information abundance redefine what and how we teach?

How should it redefine education?

Click School…

Jeff Utecht's add for School 2.0Jeff Utecht’s quite unique mind is at it again.  Reading through his Men’s Health magazine, he ran across a Honda ad that spoke to him not just about motorcycles.  You see, Jeff had also been navigating his aggregator.  So lots of education related ideas were also intermingling with two-wheeled transport and advertizing.  The result was a quite clever add for School 2.0.  Click it here to view the version he posted on his flickr account, or visit his blog (The All-New School) to also see a second version.

Great job, Jeff!

Adapted from: Honda Inc., (2007, November). The All-New Accord From Honda. Men’s Health, 10-11.

The Question of Authority…

Juggling in the Airport
Hmmmm!  Is this what we’re doing?  …Juggling in the airport?

The other day, I was working at the North Carolina School Library Media Association conference in Winston-Salem.  There are basically two school library conferences in this state.  In the Fall, it’s the NCSLMA conference, and in the Spring we have the NCAECT.  The NCSLMA is usually more book-based, and the NCAECT is oriented toward technology.  I present more often at the technology conference and am challenged more often by attendees of the book conference — and last week’s event was no exception.

I was demonstrating Vicki Davis’ wiki site, where her students contribute and organize the content that they will use to study for their tests — how she use to say, “You write me a report about word processing, and you write me a report about quantum computing.”  And now she says, “You write the chapter on word processing, and you write the chapter on quantum computing.”  It’s one of those suggestions that usually gets heads nodding and pencils wiggling at tech conferences.

But on that day, a woman on the second row, with graphite gray hair and gritted teeth, raised her hand and asked, “But what about authority?”  I think I answered the question well.  I said something like, “The point of Vicki’s practice is to make the students learners, who are learning from the network of the classroom.  We’re trying to move from a learning environment where we teach children how to be taught, and instead, help them learn to teach themselves.” 

Then I threw in, “We live in a time of rapid change, where the answers to the tests will be changing during the lifetimes of our children.  It has become more important how we learn, and less important what we learn.”  This seemed to ring true with most of the inhabitants of that room, but the questioner’s jaws never appeared to relax.

I know now, that although I still believe what I said, I also trivialized the question.  That nothing has really happened to authority.  The basis for belief has not vanished.  It remains important to be able to justify what we write, say, and do — to be able to provide evidence of its accuracy, reliability, validity, and its appropriateness in terms of the goals we’re trying to achieve.

What’s changed is that the responsibility for authority has shifted.  The responsibility rests less with the teacher and more with the learner.  “In your chapter about quantum computing, it is critical that you site the sources, include a bibliography, and also include information about why this scientist’s perspective on subatomic processors is important to know.” 

The skills involved in being an information gatekeeper are no longer exclusively those of the librarian or the teacher.  They are now personal skills — and they are basic literacy skills.