Is the New Information Landscape Changing our Shopping Practices?

The recession continues!  But evidence mounts that the world that emerges out the other end will be different from the one that entered it (and hopefully from the one that caused it). My latest indication is what data about Black Friday (2010) tells us. I initially found access to the data in this Mashup blog entry (Black Friday Sales Figures Soar for Online Retailers), by Jolie O’Dell. According to the story and this Coremetrics posting, online sales on November 26 exceeded sales from FB a year ago by 15.9% and the price of the average purchase rose from $170 to $190.30 — an increase of 12.1%.

Certainly there is much that can be concluded from this data.  But it must be acknowledged that the environment that influences these shopping behaviors are infinitely complex and they intersect with each other in lots of different ways. But as someone who has been promoting the use of this emerging digital and networked information environment for almost thirty years, it is just one more indication of our acceptance and growing dependence on our information and communication technologies and the information experiences that they avail.

It also makes more clear the need to retool every classroom and equip every teacher and learner with contemporary information technologies, and instill not only the literacy skills of this information landscape, but also the literacy habits.

Of particular interest is the shopping practices that the Cormetrics data implies. When visiting an online shopping venue, the number of pages viewed per session decreased by 7.39% from BF 2009, and the number of products viewed declined by 17.97%. O’Dell, in her blog post, suggests that,

This data … shows that consumers, though they’re spending more online, are spending smarter. When we make a purchase, we’re viewing fewer items per site, looking at fewer pages and doing fewer on-site searches, suggesting that we’ve done our research ahead of time and know what we want when we decide to make a purchase.

Although this data is less compelling, the Coremetrics post suggests that,

Consumers appear increasingly savvy about their favorite brands’ social presence, and are turning to their networks on social sites for information about deals and inventory levels.

I would be curious to know if you plan to, or already have utilized your social network to assist in your holiday shopping decisions? ..and if we are, as a society, coming to rely more on our personal digital connections in making decisions, how does this impact the what and how of our children’s learning?


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Education Reform is Re-establishing, Redefining and Retooling

While I was still in undergraduate school I took a year off.  There were lots of reasons, but chief among them was a perceived need for learning that could not be defined in a syllabus or described in a textbook or by an instructor.  I’d had enough book-learning for a while.

I spent much of that year in factory work and much of that time was spent making Homelite Chainsaws.

Advancement was fairly quick at the Gastonia plant, mostly owing to the drafting class I took in high school — resulting in my being able to read a blueprint.  During my time there I was a machine operator, materials handler (driving a forklift and hand pallet jack).  I was also a setup man, set up equipment to machine parts for different models of chainsaws — owing again to some fluency with blueprints and moderate skill with tools.

Various tools used by quality assurance workers ((Production. (n.d.). Retrieved from

But the last job I held at Homelite was in quality control.  I do not remember the whole title, but the word “tester” was in there.  I wore a white lab jacket and carried a variety of precision instruments (calipers and micrometers) for measuring the dimensions of finished parts and comparing those measurements with the blueprints. (see left)

My job was to make sure that every part was exactly the same and that they all matched, within prescribed tolerances, the engineer’s design.

Is this what we’re doing in our schools? I can’t help but feel that those experiences matched, way too closely, an education system that treats children as raw material and graduates as finished products.  Sadly, this model of schooling continues, as various high-profile individuals (mostly amateurs) have come to dominate the ed reform conversation and call for higher standards and more testing, for the sake of globally competitive performers.

As a result, we continue to run our children through assembly lines, installing math, installing reading, and installing science on them, under the theme of a “Race to the Top.”

To be fair, this systematic industrial model of education had its place in the industrial environment that I grew up in, where you needed workers who knew the same things, thought the same way, could work in straight rows, and follow instructions.  The columns and rows of compliant children all reading the same books and answering the same questions with the same answers matched the way that factories and even offices operated in those days.

But today, it is not so much what we know that is the same as everyone else that brings new value to business and even personal endeavors.  It is what we know that’s different, how we think that is different, the new answers and solutions we can invent and express that are different.  In this unique time of rapid change, we need employees, employers, and neighbors who are in the habit of resourcefully learning what they need to know, to do what they need to do.  We need learners who can critically access information, resourcefully work the information, and compellingly express the knowledge that results and these are not merely skills that should be taught, but habits that our children should acquire.

Real education reform is not about forcing teachers to work harder.  It’s about re-establishing the goals of education, redefining our roles as learners and master learners, questioning what it is that we need our children to learn, and retooling the learning landscape to truly address the needs and opportunities of…

A new generation of learners
In a new information landscape
For an unpredictable future

Reactions to Some Tweeted Statistics

Unlike many, I do not have Twitter open all the time. In fact, it’s rarely just open. But every once in a while, I’ll follow it for a time, usually tweeting out a lot of replies which make little sense to most who follow me.

But the other morning, while deciding what I wanted to do first at my desk, I watched and registered a string of posts from CoolCatTeacher, Vicki Davis.  She was sharing what appeared to be quotes out of a presentation that she was watching, most of it attributed to a Bob Wise. I twitted back asking who Bob Wise was, and from her reply and a little research I learned that he is a former governor of West Virginia, who, with Jeb Bush (former governor of Florida), has formed the Digital Learning Council (a G-search revealed a lot of blog announcements and press releases, but no URL). Here is a link to one blog posting of the August 18 press release.

Here are some of the tweets that Vicki passed through, along with my comments.

Bob Wise – We have 3 crises “declining fiscal state revenues, mounting teacher shortages, increased global demand for skilled workforce”

These are all monumental challenges to schools, school administrations, and school governance. But I would add that there are also three crises that are (should be) challenging curriculum and pedagogy — that we are (1) preparing a new generation of learners, (2) within a new information environment, (3) for a future we can not clearly describe.

Fy 2010 had the most significant challenges for state budget planning since the great depression. Budget shortfalls everywhere. Bob Wise

Not much I can say here except that we asked for it. It seems to me that these financial crises are not merely weather patterns that we are forced to hunker down and wait out.  We are in these financial straits because of the decisions and actions that greedy compassionless people were allowed to make without checks.

I’ll also maintain that we might, during this times of forced reflection, discover that we might be able to conduct relevant education more cheaply by going digital and network, than by continuing to rely pulpwood, fossil fuels, and serving time in schools.

“Education ranks 55th out of 55 industries surveyed in the US” in the use of technology. Bob Wise about 3 hours ago

It’s a powerful video, owing in no small part to the people who are sharing their insights. I’m looking forward to working with Stephen Heppell again in February.

I’ve seen and heard this one before — the first time in the effective and inspiring Pearson Foundation funded video, Learning to Change/Changing to Learn. I do not recall who used the quote, only that it struck me on an emotional level and I wanted to find the source — which was not provided by the video as I recall.

I discovered a report, Digital Economy 2002, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce that listed 55 U.S. industries ranking them by their utilization of information technologies. The table on page 35 is labeled “IT-INTENSITY RANKING BY RATIO OF INDIVIDUAL INDUSTRY ITEQ/FTE TO OVERALL ITEQ/FTE, 1996 AND CUMULATIVE SUM OF AVERAGE SHARES OF NOMINAL GDP, 1989-2000.  As near as I can ascertain, ITEQ is “IT Equipment” and FTE is “full time employees.”

Although education remains shamefully behind the changing conditions that are defining our world and the future of our children, I have to question this particular angle of argument. The statement is made that education rests behind coal mining on the list, but I have to admit that I would hope that coal miners are entering those tunnels with the aid of the very best information that can be tweaked out by the very latest and most sophisticated information and communication technologies. I do not put education beneath any of these industries in their importance to society. But comparing in a straight line what teachers do, with the functions of mining and manufacturing, dishonors all educators.

“One third of our teachers are eligible to retire in the next 5 years. USA ” 43% of Georgia teAchers are 50 years or older. Bob Wise

Now this is scary, not so much because of the critical shortage of good teachers that will surely continue to plague us.  Vision and courage can solve that problem.  What worries me is the loss of experience and history, and the growing percentage of classroom teachers who have only known an institution defined and driven by high stakes testing. Even though I know many talented and dedicated young teachers, I fear that teacher-philosophers (with the space to explore, take risks, and innovate) are being replaced by teacher-technicians (who spend their time and talent checking off standards and following pacing guides).

“Almost half of new teachers today won’t be teaching in 5 years.” bob wise

Huge and shocking problem that is perhaps related to our shameful dropout problem. Fix it! Figure out how to keep good teachers and all children engaged in formal teaching and learning and do it. In my opinion it has more to do with a job experience and environment that boldly fosters success, than it does with pay.  But teachers do need to be able to live a teacher’s lifestyle.

Georgia has 440 high schools and 88 certified physics teachers. How can we spread this expertise? Bob Wise

This is the quote that sparked my attention and said to me, “You need to think about this, so you should blog it!”

I know that I seem to look at things from an angle that is left of center and often off-kilter — having to spend a lot of time explaining myself. I was shocked by this finding, but not so impressed by Wise’s spoken challenge, “How can we spread this expertise?”

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems so piercingly obvious to me that adapting to rapidly changing conditions desperately depends on how well you can learn, and not so much on what you’ve been taught by experts — that developing your own evolving sense of expertise is a skill that we need to provoke in our learners instead of worrying solely on who’s going to teach physics to our children.

I would propose that any learner who is ready to take high school physics, should, with guidance, be able to teach it to themselves. This is about literacy. It’s learning literacy.

1973 32% of all jobs could be done by high school dropouts 40% high school diploma. 2007 11% dropouts 34% high school. Bob Wise

coolcatteacher “By 2018 62% of jobs will be done by college graduates or higher.” Bob Wise wake up!!!

This on leaves me unimpressed as well, if only because we are looking at this through lenses that were fashioned over the past several decades. We do not know how our children will work, provide, contribute, govern, and seek self-fullfilment. We do not know what they will need to know or know how to do. We do not even know what shape higher education will take or K-12 for that matter by 2018.

I am all for shock treatment when trying to inspire a willingness to consider and explore change. But the point is to provoke the conversations that bring focus the vision and fit it into the evolving mechanism.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Another Virtual Event

When Brenda realized that I would be presenting as part of a virtual conference, but was going to be doing it on site at the ESC XI Regional Center in Fort Worth Texas, she asked if it was really virtual them. I don’t know. But that event was followed by another virtual session last night, a “fireside chat” after the airing of my K12Online Conference closing keynote, a stroll through my backyard.

It continues to be a terrifying experience for me, to present before a camera, even if it is in my office or a cell in Forth Worth (inside joke). I probably goes back to my days at the NC Department of Public Instruction and the teleconferences we would organize and deliver, and the pressure to make it perfect.

Several weeks ago, I faced the camera again, and this time with a director and interviewer, Tech Learning’s Editor in Chief, Kevin Hogan. tl_0410_06.gifIt was me and David Jakes, and we were the last pair to be walked into the makeshift studio. To add insult to the injury of my already creeping terror, there were two stools in the middle of the room, under the lights, in about the space of a phone booth. First of all, I don’t like stools that do not allow me to put both feet on the ground. And secondly, there isn’t a phone booth on the planet that Jakes and I can fit in together.

It ended out being a pleasant and stimulating conversation owing greatly to Hogan’s probing questions. I remember little of it, except for a quote I used in a previous blog entry, and the fact that I kept thinking that Jakes was answering a question in some way that I was going to strongly object to, but then he would bring it back around to my own thinking — kind’a like a roller coaster ride.

Anyway, the recording was done as part of the upcoming TechLearning Virtual Tech Forum, to take place on November 17. It is free, though you need to register at the site. I do not know much about the layout, except that the interviews will be played and then a discussion forum will facilitate Q&A with the interviewees. I will try to spend a little time there, though I will be in transit for most of that day, so it’s going to be iffy.


We have every reason to expect…

Finally back at home, I learned about Xtranormal from this Scott McLeod post. Then I tweeted my joy in playing with it, asking if there was an education license for the service. Here are some of the tweets I got back:

  • It’s infinite, just not full function. But it only cuts the number of parts you have to use, not prog functionality
  • We have MS students created personal stories using Xtranormal.
  • Vheap trick I use with Xtranormal: when you “preview” your video u can use Video Download Helper in FF to extract it w/o upload
  • Do you know how long the ‘trial’ for the spore creature creator lasts? Or is it infinite, just not full function?
  • It’s a great utility. Not sure if education license exists. But the free version sure is fun!
  • David we are looking at using this wih our primary classes and morning message. Also to move literacy with middle school boys.
  • Kids do love it, but I haven’t seen anything about ed accts. You should try free Spore Creature Creator:
  • Some ideas 4 Xtranormal included here:
  • I emailed them and received 1200 xtranormal points. They just asked that educators use school email address when making requests.
  • Kids do love xtranormal – creation is wonderful too bad some of the ed. gurus see it as a waste. Properly framed – it’s wonderful
  • So what do you think about xtranormal? I’ve not seen a single valid use for it.

I woke up yesterday morning with an idea waiting to be blogged. It was about an experience that I’d had at the NJEA Conference the end of last week. I had set up my computer for my first presentation, connected to the projector and tested the Ethernet cable — all good. Then I looked for the audio cable, which was no where to be found.

Even though there was still 20 minutes before I started, I’ve learned that it’s best to panic immediately rather than assume that the solution is on its way and discover later that it’s too late to panic. So I went to the room proctor and asked, and he went off looking for the AV guys — and I waited. It got down to about four minutes before time to start and still no AV guy.

Sometimes these things put me over the edge, and sometimes they don’t. I was pretty much letting this one flow over me, but I decided that if there was no audio for my computer at startup, then I was going to pitch a fit — or pretend to pitch a fit.

I would rant and rave and turn blue, I would then smile and say, “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Welcome to our world.'” Nodding and agreeing, I would then claim that, “If we are to prepare our children for their future, then the least we should expect is reliable access to todays information experience, which is networked, digital, and abundant, and it is expressed through light and sound. Being expected to teach without it is tantamount to malpractice.

Alas, the AV guy came, set me up, and I had light, sound, and information with which to present.

Serendipitously, when flexing the tentacles of my personal learning network yesterday, I discovered this blog post from I Love EdTech — “21 Signs You’re a 21st Century Teacher.” Written by Lisa, the October 27 article was a list of practices engaged in by teachers who are utilizing today’s prevailing information environment and the philosophical shifts that it evokes. The piece closed with a request for additional practices and characteristics of “21st century teachers.” As of this morning, there were 129 comments. I added the following, that you are a 21st century teacher when…

You courteously, but in all seriousness, complain when you attend a conference or other professional development event, and there is no WiFi.

“Seriously, how do you expect me to learn when there is so little access to information?”

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Some Reflections on Day One of the NJEA Conference

What I like about the setup of this conference and the take-away that I will likely continue to talk about is the concept of a conference within a conference. This is the NJEA annual conference for teachers. They are not tech teachers, language teachers, or math teachers. They’re teachers. But the association has, for a number of years, established a High Tech Hall, a large section of the exhibitor’s hall where ed tech leaders from the state, mostly classroom teachers, hold poster style conversations, present in a classroom lab setting, engage in an attached EdCamp, and other activities. It is interesting to watch so many teachers come around and start asking questions and having WOW moments, who didn’t come here to learn about tech.

On a broader level, I am extremely impressed with this 40,000 attendee conference. I understand the frustration that is often expressed about teachers’ unions. I also understand the potency of fear in achieving political goals, and fear requires the creation of a big bad monster. The underlying theme here, however, is that the future of education rests with teachers, and that we will not achieve our goals by simply making teachers work harder or with more fear. It will happen by helping teachers to work smarter.

I would like to comment on a couple of phrases I’ve heard a lot of here at the conference. The first, I Tweeted about early this morning. It read,

Most heard phrase yesterday, “Small steps!” Do we (our children) really have that much time?

I understand the phrase and why it is spoken. But how much do we (teachers) say, “Small Steps…” to our learners. The future is here. The world has changed. Can our children continue to wait on their teachers to take small steps.. Enough about that.

The other one, I’ve written about before, as have others. It’s “engaging.” “We need to do this, that, or the other, because it engages the students.” The assumption is that engaged students will learn — and it’s a reasonable assumption to make. But I think that if we are going to sell these ideas of more “engaging” learning experiences, then we need to try to be more specific as to what is going on. Why is the student engaged and how is that engagement resulting in better learning?

Enough for now.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Real Digital Divide

I woke this morning, at home, to a blog post (The real digital divide: time zones kill truly global thinking) from Ewan McIntosh, who’d just returned from the Innovative Education Forum in South Africa. Part of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative (which “..helps teachers and school leaders more effectively use technology as a tool for innovative teaching and learning”), the event was expected to bring together more than 500 teachers, leaders, press, and education thought leaders from more than 75 countries.

In his blog post, Ewan writes,

But most of those teaching in the Western world won’t know or care about students cracking cancer cells through vector diagrams in India, the five Arab states that pooled their learning to create a new understanding (and scooped the main award) or the inspirational learning happening in a country where 40% of people live below the poverty line, despite it being one of the world’s principal diamond exporters.

I say this based on a personal, unscientific and flawed set of stats gleaned from this site, but one I feel compelled to share. And it was in discussion with Vicki Davis, also with me in South Africa, that we both felt the impact of something outside the control of most classroom teachers and young people: time zones.

I happen to agree, with some additions, which I wrote as a comment on his blog. In it I relayed that:

Many years ago, in the early days of the WWW, I was involved in a project called ThinkQuest, that asked students from around the world to collaboratively design and build web sites that helped others learn something. It was a competition — and extra points were awarded to students who worked together from different countries.

Flickr Photo by Alex Carmichal

During one of the finals events, I was walking around and talking with students, and asked one team what their greatest barrier was — fully expecting them to say language or culture or some other obvious constraint that would occur to a former social studies teacher. They looked at each other and then in unison said, “Time Zones.” The truth of it shook me, both as a real impediment, but also that we’d come so far that time zones had become a barrier to 16 year olds.

That said, I’d have to say that I knew that (Ewan) and Vicki (Davis) were in South Africa working with a Microsoft project. I hadn’t seen the videos — but not because they were posted while most of us on the east coast of America were asleep and dreaming of lollypops and mid-term elections. It’s because we’re all simply too busy.

It sounds crass and even like a rationalization. But I think that an overwhelming barrier is an attention deficit. We can only pay attention to so much of what’s happening around us. This worries me, especially in the face of our mid-term elections, because it seems that those with political power are those with the most spare attention to spend on it.