In my efforts to write this book about the history of educational technology (as I have witnessed it), I’m finding myself doing more reading than writing. I guess that’s normal for book-writing, though it surprises me since I am typing this mostly from my own recollections.
This morning, in my reading, I learned a new word. It’s mesofacts. These are facts that, when learned, seem to be dependable, longterm and applicable truths – when in fact, they are likely to change within a lifetime, and often within a few years.
In his Harvard Business Review article, Be Forwarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying Samuel Arbesman relates an example, a hedge fund manager saying in a conversation, “Since we all know that there are 4 billion people on the planet…” 4 billion people is what I learned when I was in school, and it still surprises me when I heard that it was up to 6 billion and now 7 billion.
Arbesman says that these mesofacts are far more common than we realize. It makes me wonder about how much of what we are expecting our students to memorize, will simply not be true in their adulthood, and may even be problematic.
This all supports something that I heard someone say a few years ago.
Any question, whose answer can be googled,
should not be on any test.
Another epiphanic statement, which may or may not be attributable to John Dewey is,
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s,
we rob them of their tomorrow.
Another word I learned is scientometrics. Its the study of the shape of how knowledge grows and spreads through a population.
North Carolina anxiously awaits its grades. State law (General Statute 115C-83.15) now (2013-2014 school year) directs the State Board of Education (my former employer) to award each of the state’s public schools a grade, A-F. 80% of the calculated score is based on standardized test scores.
This is, to this citizen, further evidence of the arrogance of North Carolina’s pompously conservative law makers. Is their goal, to improve the state’s public schools, when there actions are designed to make it easier for parents to judge their community schools at the same time that they continue to cut staff and instructional materials?
An October 2013 NC Policy Watch article itemized the effects of state’s education budget (2013-2014), as reported by 34 local mostly conservative news outlets in 34 NC towns. Among other degradations to North Carolina children, the cuts totaled the loss of 364 more teachers, 901 more teacher assistants and $8,226,774 for textbooks and instructional materials.
By coincidence a publication just released by the Southern Education Foundation reports that students in American schools, who qualify for free and reduced lunches, now outnumber those who do not. 51% of U.S. public school students are low income children. Of North Carolina’s Students, 53% are low income, and to our south, 58% of South Carolina and 60% of Georgia public school students are low income.
I especially appreciated the statement made by SEF Vice President Steve Suitts.
“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness… Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”
I’ve been doing a lot of deep digging while working on my book about the history of technology in education – as I’ve seen it. This afternoon, I happened upon some online handouts for one of my first keynotes and its slidedeck. The address was called, “The Three Ts of Teaching in the Twenty-First Century.” It appears to have been delivered in November of 2000.
On one of the opening slides, I had listed the ten most searched for terms of that month. As a comparison, I found the top ten searches on Google in 2014, and have listed them as well.
|6||Florida Recount||6||Flappy Bird|
|5||Britney Spears||5||ALS Ice Bucket Challenge|
|2||Election 2000||2||World Cup|
I was actually surprised how little it’s changed? We have video games, sports, entertainment with a peppering of world-shaping issues.
In 1993, while I was working at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and exploring the educational potentials of the, then emerging, Internet, I ran across an intriguing and inspiring summer project being conducted at Maricopa Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.
With the local school district, they invited a diverse group of students who would be entering fourth, fifth or sixth grades (all at-risk of failure) into a MUD or Multi-User Domain. Essentially, a MUD is a text-based virtual environment. Think SecondLife where the environment is read about, instead of seen graphically.
This particular MUD was empty, flat asphalt. These students, some of whom you couldn’t get to write their names in a classroom, were challenged to create a virtual city in the MUD, by learning a simple programming language and describing its buildings, parks and their own virtual homes, in all their richness, with words.
At the end of the project, I invited a number of the organizers and volunteers to a virtual office I was maintaining at MIT’s MediaMOO, where my avatar was known as Peiohpah. There I interviewed the team about their experience. I had acquired a virtual video camera, which recorded the exchanges.
Here is a portion of that interview played back on Pei’s TV.
[on Pei's TV] *********************************** [on Pei's TV] ** C a m p M a r i M U S E ** [on Pei's TV] ** An Interview with the staff ** [on Pei's TV] ** of the first virtual ** [on Pei's TV] ** Computer Camp ** [on Pei's TV] *********************************** [on Pei's TV] [on Pei's TV] . . . the camera pans left to right over Pei's Studio [on Pei's TV] A cozy corner with two comfortable sofas arranged for conversation in front of a large picture of a schoolhouse. Curiously, the walls of the schoolhouse appear to be transparent. There is a copy of Tuesday's *New York Times* on an end table. [on Pei's TV] Lila smiles at the camera [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "I'm here with a few friends today to talk about a project that they have been involved in this summer, Camp MariMUSE. I call them friends although I have never met them face-to-face, and don't even know the sounds of their voices. Yet I have profoundly enjoyed their companionship by interacting not only with their words, but with their imaginations, and -- most importantly to this interview -- with their innovation." [on Pei's TV] Pei turns to the rest of the group. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Hi, Pei" [on Pei's TV] Avalon looks toward Pei, pleased to be here. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Why don't we start with my guests introducing them selves." [on Pei's TV] Woody waves to TV land [on Pei's TV] Miss-K giggles [on Pei's TV] Lila says, ""I am Lila on the MariMuse, a volunteer for the project. I am a student at Phoenix college, a returning student" [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "I am Billie Hughes aka Avalon on MariMUSE. I worked with the team that first brought Muse to Phoenix College." [on Pei's TV] Pei senses that another member of the MariMUSE team is looking for them and disappears suddenly for parts unknown. [on Pei's TV] Lila waits for Pei to return [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "I am Miss-K on the Muse, and Susan Oram in RL (Real life) -- the school librarian at Longview Elementary School. " [on Pei's TV] Pei has arrived. [on Pei's TV] Wlad materializes out of thin air. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Hi Wlad!" [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "I am Rod Brashear, Woody on Marimuse. I am a student at Arizona State Universtiy-West and also work for the Arizona Department of Education. I volunteered to be involved with the Longview project." [on Pei's TV] Lila waves to Wlad, and thinks she has seen him before " [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Hi, Wlad" [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Wlad, would you introduce yourself?" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "Hi, and I am Jim Walters. I work at Pheonix College and am intensely interested in this medium." [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Is that everyone?" [on Pei's TV] Lila thinks that is all for the moment, Platoon will join us later" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "Thanks" [on Pei's TV] Avalon turns toward Pei,anticipating a question." [on Pei's TV] Pei reads from his clipboard, then faces Avalon. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Avalon, would you begin by explaining how Camp MariMUSE came to be?" [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "Wlad and I were in the library one day when the Dean walked in. We were excited about what Muse was doing for our college students. She suggested we do a summer camp for kids." [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "We jumped at the chance and the rest is history." [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "Avalon had heard a rumor that Joanne, the principal at Longview, might be supportive of a technology linked proposal. So we set out to meet with her." [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "wlad and Av planted a seed and didn't realize how big the tree would be. [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "...and still growing!" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "it's rather like falling into the rabbit's hole with Alice." [on Pei's TV] Pei grins with understanding [on Pei's TV] Lila laughs at the rabbit hole analogy [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "So it began as an environment for college student?" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "We did try to start with the basis that it could accommodate learners of all ages." [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "But college students were the group we began with because that was the group we had access to." [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "We tried it first with our own students, but always dreamed of a huge one room school for learners of all ages." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "The dream is starting to come true, isn't it?" [on Pei's TV] Lila nods agreement [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "We took some risks in bringing in some of our own students, then to try to offer a class entirely in this environment." [on Pei's TV] Pei turns to Miss-K. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Miss-K, Could you describe some of the landmarks of MariMUSE that your campers saw when they first entered the MUSE?" [on Pei's TV] Woody notices sweat on the brow of Miss-k. [on Pei's TV] Lila hands Miss-K a tissue [on Pei's TV] Miss-K smiles sickly! [on Pei's TV] Pei reaches over and touches Miss-K's hand! [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Well, we went to Lady Starlight's castle first. " [on Pei's TV] Pei's eyes widen with excitement. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "We also visited some of the places the first group of campers had created. Also, Some of the campers spent quite a lot of time in an amusement park." [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "A couple of the volunteers had created a space station that was the initial home of all the Longview campers." [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Tell me about the students who participated in Camp MariMUSE?" [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "Do you want a feel for what they were like in RL, when they entered the room?" [on Pei's TV] Pei says, “Yes!" [on Pei's TV] Avalon sits back listening to those who were with the children the most to talk. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Well, it was quite a mixed group of children. Our school is very multi-ethnic and those groups were represented at the camp." [on Pei's TV] Avalon looks at Miss-K remembering just how diverse the group really was. [on Pei's TV] Lila remembers being surprised at the young ages. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "The kids were all going into the fourth, fifth or sixth grade.” [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "The children who attended were children who were definitely at-risk for failure in school either because of their back grounds or skills. They were chosen by the teachers at Longview on the basis of who we thought might benefit the most. " [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "The first day of camp was an exciting day. Students had heard exciting rumors and were very eager, with a bit of confusion and trepidation, to come to a college and work with the MUSE." [on Pei's TV] Platoon materializes out of thin air. [on Pei's TV] Platoon says, "HI Pei, sorry I interrupted" [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Platoon, my man! gime five!" [on Pei's TV] Platoon ^5's Pei [on Pei's TV] Platoon sits back and listens [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "The first couple of days the children were very quite and shy. After the comfort level was attained the kids were conversing in the muse and RL with real excitement and interest" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "They seemed very young, and shy and seemed to be wondering why they were here, but then they got started began having fun." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K nods. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "How did the students first approach the text-based virtual environment? What was their early reaction?” [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "On the first day, I heard whispers of, "This is dumb." By the end of the first session, all the campers agreed it was about the coolest thing they had ever done.” [on Pei's TV] Lila recalls the excitement of the children when they left for the bus, how anxious they were to come back the second day." [on Pei's TV] Lila recalls how quickly the children became conscious of correct spelling" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "I had worried that the ones who couldn't keyboard might become discouraged and quit, but they just hung in and their skills kept improving." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Even this morning some kids were asking about getting back on the system so they wouldn't lose their keyboarding skills." [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Those of you who were volunteers, how did you assist the campers and what sort of impact did this experience have on you personally?" [on Pei's TV] Platoon says, "My best the very best experience I had was when I started paging some of the campers and ask them if they need help...and they responded where are you...and i said that I am kinda far away from you...they couldn't imagine that " [on Pei's TV] Lady Starlight materializes out of thin air. [on Pei's TV] Platoon says, "I thought that was so cool to have to convince them that I am about 20 miles away from them” [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "She was having difficulty with him being in the same virtual room with her." [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "To build on Platoon's comments, one child initially refused to believe a volunteer was really in California." [on Pei's TV] Pei smiles [on Pei's TV] Lady Starlight says, "And another looked for a volunteer in the disk drive." [on Pei's TV] Wlad ecalls one student looking in the disk drive slot trying to see Angus." [on Pei's TV] Pei laughs and laughs and laughs [on Pei's TV] Lila laughs at the remembrance [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "What, exactly, did the MariMUSE campers do on a daily basis?" [on Pei's TV] Woody pulls out his muse curriculum daily guide. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "every day the students were asked to complete a journal entry. They also wrote at least one article per week for the newsletter. They were also responsible for doing some creating in the MUSE." [on Pei's TV] Wlad recalls some of the homework and how serious the students were about getting together their descriptions and setting their character names. [on Pei's TV] Azure_Guest says, "What amazed me was that they were so unwilling to leave for break." [on Pei's TV] Woody adds that they felt three hours was too short of a day on the muse. [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "Do you remember how Ginji would go home, make her sister help her research so the cave could be exactly what she wanted? [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "At the end of the first week, the students were wanting to come in over the weekend..” [on Pei's TV] Lady Starlight says, "They were all very proud of their work." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Ginji wears her Phoenix College t-shirt often." [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "Above all, we learned that this medium was exciting to students, it captivated them despite its text-base. And, they could handle the coding. They were reading and writing for 3 hours a day, thinking and problem solving, and loving it." [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "It taped the intrinsic motivation of all the persons connected to the program. Students Teachers, and volunteers." [on Pei's TV] Pei nods. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Have the kids come back to school yet? If so, what are they saying about the MUSE now?" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Everyday I am asked, WHEN can I come back on line?" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "The children are eager to get back on-line and are stating that they have projects to work on, and they really want to check their mail." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "I called all the MUSE kids into the library this morning and they were all talking at once. They did not want to leave to go back to class." [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "We believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. We believe we are on the wave of the future. This medium is a window to a new way of learning." [on Pei's TV] Avalon looks at Miss-K remembering the child who said, “You don't think I am stupid, do you?” [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "The kids are so proud of the NY Times article. They all want copies of it." [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "How did the parents react to Camp MariMUSE?" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "We had an enormous turn out on the parent day. We were amazed. The parents are especially proud of their children. I think it raises their self- esteem too." [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "Many parents had to take off work, with no pay, to attend any function to which they were invited. Such as graduation" [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "Some even rode over on the school bus to be here." [on Pei's TV] Woody says, "When the parents first met with us, PC volunteers and Wlad, There was a very small turn out. After the camp was over there was almost 100 percent parent participation." [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "Running Wind's parents went to great lengths to attend graduation, they VERY proud of him and his accomplishments." [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "And parents who had never heard their children talk about what they were doing at school were getting rave reviews and daily updates on the camp activities." [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "We invited the superintendent who was amazed at the children's creativity and the amount of writing they did. We also invited state representatives who felt the excitement. And we had parents who knew their kids were really excited about and successful with learning." [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "On graduation day, it really felt like one big family celebration." [on Pei's TV] Wlad laughs remembering how he helped Running wind entertain two of his younger relatives. [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "Remember, this was only a 3 week camp. All of this happened in 3 short weeks." [on Pei's TV] Lila shakes her head, and says, "Hard to believe we did all that in 3 weeks." [on Pei's TV] Pei 's heart is full! [on Pei's TV] Woody throws time out the door. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Were there any real surprises?" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "It seemed like a magical time." [on Pei's TV] Lady Starlight nods. [on Pei's TV] Lila says, "I was very impressed with the increase in global awareness." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "I was blown away by the research that the students initiated!" [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "One of the other teachers committed this week about how important it was for these kids to see the volunteers from the college working at their jobs, volunteering, and going to class. It helped them see they could go to college too." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "It was a time of being completely accepted." [on Pei's TV] Avalon grins at Miss-K. [on Pei's TV] Platoon says, "it was a time of beeing equal" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K says, "Actually, I still get misty eyed about it. " [on Pei's TV] Avalon hands an embroidered hankie to Miss-K. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K giggles [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "What plans do you have for the future of MariMUSE?” [on Pei's TV] Avalon has been assigned to work on grant writing and assessment so we can continue and can learn as we proceed into the future. This is a major commitment from the college to a very important project. [on Pei's TV] Woody boogies about the future. [on Pei's TV] Wlad says, "By the 15th of September, we should have 12 terminals installed at Longview for the students to use. There will be a 9600 baud modem line to the college. We know that the equipment will work with that speed. We want something that will work right away, so that we can get the kids back on-line." [on Pei's TV] Miss-K squeals in delight [on Pei's TV] Pei applauds [on Pei's TV] Miss-K will never get anything done once those terminals are in! [on Pei's TV] Pei rolls in the floor laughing [on Pei's TV] Avalon grins and grins and grins with excitement about the future. [on Pei's TV] Miss-K wrings her hands thinking of so much to do and so little time. [on Pei's TV] Avalon says, "We have very strong support from the Longview, Phoenix College and the district offices to continue and build on this." [on Pei's TV] Pei looks at his watch and turns back to the camera. [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Viewers...I am speechless!" [on Pei's TV] Miss-K smiles [on Pei's TV] Pei says, "Except to say that I am deeply moved by these people and what they have accomplished this summer. It is impossible to know all the consequences of how they and the experiences they have provided have touched the lives of a handful of children this summer. Or how the technologies and techniques they are pioneering will effect lives in the future. But my bet is that it’s enormous.” [on Pei's TV] From MediaMOO, this is Peiohpah saying "good night!"
In re-reading this interview I was struck by four ideas.
- The campers were engage in self-directed learning, because they were doing something with what they were learning.
- Their enthusiasm had nothing to do with slick graphics and booming sound effects. It was text.
- The campers were working hard, though they might not have called it work. Students who are engaged in this type of learning experience often call it, “Hard play.”
- There seems to be a direct relationship between learner-engagement and parent-engagement.
- Young Learners need to see adults model meaningful learning.