The Digiverse & Flying to the Other Side of the Planet

Obviously, there hasn’t been much going on in my blogger head lately.  Most of my energy has gone into conference preparations.  I’m just back from the ICE conference in Illinois, where I delivered a brand new keynote for their luncheon.  There was double pressure there, being a new address and having to compete with the chocolate cake desert that had been layed out before my audience.

I’ve also been working hard to adapt another keynote to an international audience, the iCTLT (International Conference on Teaching & Learning with Technology).  This annual conference is organized by the Singapore Ministry of Education and ISTE.  Although most of the delegates will be English speakers, there are many cultural considerations in presenting in Singapore, where the population is of Chinese, Malay, and Indian origins.  Selecting colors alone is an issue — and I’m a bit handicapped by Prezi’s limited pallets.

I continue to be baffled by where I am — sitting at RDU, taking off at 2:00PM on Sunday and then landing in Singapore at 8:00AM on Tuesday.  So much of my life simply “..goes against the grain.”  It’s getting to be time for a house in the country with a garden — and broadband.

I’ve actually started a number of blog entries over the last few days, but not enough time to finish them out.  Just so you’ll have some reason for having invested this much time already in reading this diary, here are some bulleted stats I found yesterday from an IDC report that I often cite in my presentations.  These are mostly projections made by the report, published in 2008. 

  • The information of the digital universe will grow six fold between 2006 and 2010.
  • 70% of the information in the digital universe will be generated by individuals
  • Image captured by digital still cameras in 2006 exceeded 150 billion, while cell phone captured images hit almost 100 billion.  IDC projects that 2010 will see more than 500 billion consumer captured images being

Each of these pieces of information speak volumes for what and hour our children should be learning today.

What I Look for in a Hotel

Walking out of my very fine hotel room in the Grand Hyatt — part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

The last few days have had me in east Florida, central Saskatewan, Dallas, and Lubbock, Texas.  I am in serious need of a descent hill.  When I checked out of the Grand Hyatt, which is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and one of the swankier places I’ve stayed in.  Very modern, roomie, flat screen TV, marble desk, scandanavian lamps, and cool minimalist (but comfortable) furniture.  In contrast, I stayed at the Saskatoon Inn, while in Saskatchewan, and its lack of amenities (such as a bed lamp, clock, sufficient light…) was a topic of conversation at the conference.  But when I walked out of the Grand Hyatt, it occured to me that I really wasn’t that much more satisfied with that experience than Saskatoon.

So what does bring me satisfaction when mostly I rarely look further desk and computer, either working or watching Netflix.  Two features make the difference, I’ve concluded.

  • A descent desk chair.
  • A place to walk and watch.

The desk chair is obvious.  But I need to explain the walking a bit. 

I’m not talking about a tread mill.  I don’t use them.  I do not abid them.  It’s the Jetsons.  I’m not knocking people who use them.  It’s just a personal preference, that when I’m walking, it’s to get somewhere and/or to see something — and the memorable hotels, for me, or situated someplace where I can take a long walk.

Usually, they are in town or in the city, so I can walk out the door and explore.  Philladelphia, New York, Chicago, Vancouver and especially San Francisco are perfect for this.  But less grand cities work just as well, such as Fort Worth, Madison, Portland (both), New Orleans, and Columbus.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this here, except that sometimes I feel a need to escape the work mode, switch off, and smell the roses.  Now, off to the airport in about an hour, bound for ICE in Illinois.

Take a walk!

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Dispute Finders & Claims of Ignoring Lincoln

During my walk up to the coffee shop yesterday morning (for what I hope to be one of my last writing sessions for the second draft of “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning”) I listened to a CBC podcast, Spark. Hosted by Nora Young, Spark produces not only its radio shows through an RSS feed, but also extended versions of its interviews — and yesterday, I listened to Nora’s conversation with Rob Ennals of Intel Research Berkeley.  He, and other scientists, from a variety of settings, are building Dispute Finder, now in beta and downloadable as a Firefox extension.

Dispute Finder

Skeptical Readers

  1. Install the Dispute Finder Extension
  2. The extension highlights sentences that make disputed claims
  3. Click on a cliam to see web articles that support other points of view

Activists

  1. Install the Dispute Finder Extension
  2. Add a disputed claim to the Dispute Finder database
  3. Show Dispute Finder how to find sentences that make that claim on the Web
  4. Give Dispute Finder arguments for other points of view
  5. Skeptical Readers will now be told that this claim is disputed when they read a page that contains text that resembles a paraphrase of the disputed claim. ((“About.” Dispute Finder: Reveal the other side of the story. Web. 18 Feb 2010. <http://disputefinder.cs.berkeley.edu/thinklink/>.))

With Disput Finder installed (see steps to the right right) you can be instantly notified if the information you are reading has another side, is disputed in some way by somebody  or source of authority — and if the questionable text has been identified already.  Dispute Finder is intended to become a technical solution to the challenges of finding reliable information on the Internet.

Ennals stated, in the interview, that Dispute Finder is not “the solution” to biased and otherwise less than accurate information.  But he continued to describe the product as an assembly of disputed facts, claims, issues, and arguments that is growing out of the crowd sourcing features of the extension.  You read something that you know to be disputed, highlight it, and link to the alternative information.

I have to admit some skepticism about the tool, as it was described in the interview. I question whether a community of users can make a dent in the ocean of opinions, spin, lies, and propagation of lies on the Internet.  It also concerns me that technical add-ons like Dispute Finder might become a crutch, seen to relieve us from the responsibility of critically evaluating the messages that we encounter.  But who would have thought that Wikipedia could ever become what it is today?

Skepticism expressed, I think that this sort of tool is very important — because we are all very busy.  We do not have the time, even when we do have the skills, to fact-check every piece of information that might influence us — which brings me to a little controversy that has recently erupted in my state.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), our state education agency (and my employer from 1990 to 1995, for the sake of full disclosure) is constantly revising elements of the NC Standard Course of Study.  Draft 1 of the proposed Social Studies standards, written by a team of practicing Social Studies teachers, has gone out, input has been collected from other Social Studies teachers, a public online survey has been coordinated by the department, and..

..more than 7000 e-mails delivered from caring citizens, not all of them from North Carolinian.

What a dramatic display of citizenship, and I do not mean that sarcastically.  I am proud of the response, though I am concerned at what might have contributed to such an impressive civic expression.

First of all, the charge given to the curriculum writing team and the intent of its work “..was to enable our students to learn, in depth, key historical concepts.” ((“Social Studies.” North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. NCDPI, Web. 18 Feb 2010. <http://dpi.state.nc.us/curriculum/socialstudies/>.))

DPI’s chief academic officer, Rebecca Garland, in a recent interview, added

..to teach (History) where students are connected to it, where they see the big idea, where they are able to make connections and draw relationships between parts of our history and the present day. ((Henneberg, Molly. “North Carolina Schools May Cut Chunk Out of U.S. History Lessons.” FoxNews.com 3 Feb 2010: n. pag. Web. 18 Feb 2010. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,584758,00.html?mep>.))

That quote was preceded by Garland’s retort that DPI is, “..certainly not trying to go away from American history.”

You see, even with access to a clear description of the changes proposed in Draft 1 of the Social Studies revisions, and an extended satellite interview with Dr. Garland, FoxNews.com opened a February 3 article with,

He may be the president who governed during the Civil War, freeing the slaves, but under a new curriculum proposal for North Carolina high schools, U.S. history would begin years after President Lincoln, with the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877.

A picture of government over-reaching is painted by FN reporter, Molly Henneberg, in North Carolina Schools May Cut Chunk Out of U.S. History Lessons, by drastically limiting the scope of its reporting to only two changes, the creation of a new U.S. History course, beginning at 1877, and the coverage of environmental issues in the Global Studies course.

A study of U.S. history from 1877 to present does not necessarily limit the learning to those years. A teacher could easily assign each student, as an ongoing project, to research and become expert in specific decades prior to 1877, prominent personalities, events, or become experts in the histories of other contemporary countries. Students’ expertise could be called upon throughout the year.

What happened to our faith that teachers will do their jobs?

The implied accusation, made blatant by the title, is a government working to devalue history and the social studies, to discredit the nation’s founding fathers, and replace hard history with tree-hugging environmentalism. She reports this, while documents on the DPI web site, plainly available to the FoxNews author, describe the educator team’s work to dramatically expand history and the social studies by adding:

  • U.S. History to the 5th grade,
  • A full year of U.S. History in middle school, in addition to the existing North Carolina History course, and
  • Addressing a wide range of issues in a global studies course, including (democratic regimes; peace & stability; causes & effects of globalization; investment, innovation, & technology; human rights; the environment; natural resources; ideologies, philosophies, values, and religion; and global economy).
  • And finally, a new U.S. history course that focuses on a deeper exploration of the last 133 years of the nation’s history.

I won’t say that the this Draft revision is perfect. I do not believe that it is. I have a personal bias that emphasizing U.S. History, at the expense of studying history in other parts of the world is a bit arrogant, especially when so many of us are working for Japanese, German, and Canadian companies, working beside colleagues from India, and investing our savings in China.  But we’ve got to work in Math, Science, Health, and Literature somewhere.

I can’t help but wonder what civics lesson high school students might be learning right now, when FoxNews reports only those parts of an issue that will generate the most negative emotional energy? What if all history teachers ask their students to compare the reporting of Henneberg’s story and the dozen or so echoing pieces in town papers throughout North Carolina and other states, with the facts published in the NC Department of Public Instruction’s web site? What lesson might students take away about history — and how and who is writing it?

As a former History teacher, I believe that knowing your historic heritage and that of others is critical — that a huge part of being literate in today’s information landscape involves approaching your reading with a sound historic, cultural, political, economic, and environmental context.  Without a basis for evaluation, it’s just grazing.

School & Games Overlay

Photo of Stewart Buterfield taken at Web 2.0 Expo 2007 by Scott Beale ((Beale, Scott. “Web 2.0 Expo 2007.” Flickr. 18 Apr 2007. LaughingSquid, Web. 16 Feb 2010. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/laughingsquid/464170886/>))

Mashable featured a fairly long progress review (Glitch: Flickr’s Stewart Butterfield Explains His Ambitious Online Game) for a game that is due for launch in late 2010, Glitch. Behind this game’s are Flickr co-founder, Stewart Butterfield and other alum, and someone from Digg — forming a company called Tine Speck. This appears to be a return to the gaming world for some of these folks, since the Flickr technology was originally intended to be a feature of an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) called Game Neverending. The photo sharing application proved to be more feasible, and the company scrapped the game. ((Graham, Jefferson. “Flickr of idea on a gaming project led to photo website.” USA TODAY 28 Feb 2006: n. pag. Web. 13 Feb 2010.))

Here is a short description of the game posted on TechVibes, on February 9 — Not really intended to whip folks who are my age into a frenzy of excitement.

It’s called Glitch because in the far-distant and totally-perfect future, the world starts becoming less and less probable, things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and there occurs what comes to be called the “glitch” — a grave danger of disemprobablization. This results in a time-traveling effort at saving the future, going back into the minds of eleven great giants walking sacred paths on a barren asteroid who sing and think and hum the world into existence and … you know what? You’ll probably just have to wait and play the game 🙂 (( Lewis, Rob. “Stewart Butterfield reveals Glitch.” TechVibes. Techvibes Media Inc., 9 Feb 2010. Web. 13 Feb 2010. . ))

What intrigues me about this, or at least my understand of the game (and the initial intent of Game Neverending) is its cross platform nature — and not in the traditional sense.  It’s how the game appears to play across a variety of technologies, game systems, web browsers, cell phones, etc. It appears that aspects of the game that might be played via SMS and other mini games that you might play with an iPhone app to build up your avatar. It seems to more closely mimic the real operation of social by players’ ability to invite the game into multiple avenues of communication and information processing.

Which brings me around to education. School is a closed environment.  It is as closed as we can get away with. Classrooms are closed. You go to class to learn Math or Science or Social Studies, but the only thing that comes out the door is the textbook, closed and stowed in a bookbag and hopefully the homework assignment, jotted down in a notebook. Science does not flow out through conversations in the hall, on the school bus, between the bookcases in the library, nor even in the Teacher’s Lounge (in my experience).

What if there were a way that we could, through a game (and I use that term loosely), cause curriculum to bleed through the walls of our classrooms and even the confines of our campuses? Butterfield says that he wants Glitch to be “as permeable as possibles.” That’s what I imagine, schools and classrooms that are as permeable as possible, so that learning leaks out — not that we’re losing it, but because we’ve stopped trying to contain it, allowing learning to grow, to network, to fertilize other learning.

Making this work, of course, would be very complicated, and it would take some pretty unique creativity. But I’m wondering about a commercial opportunity, or open source collaboration, to develop a package that overlays a schools curriculum with some sort of ARG (alternate reality game), along with game master instructions, social network plugins, a variety of barcoded clue stickers that can be planted, etc. Seems like some hard-fun learning.

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