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.

5 thoughts on “Missed Opportunities”

  1. Thank you David for taking the time to mention Open Source applications. I do believe they are becoming a viable option for school districts and do open doors to programs beyond the packaged deals vendors tell us we need–much like the textbook vendors. After reading the above article, I’m thinking about BASIC… Open Source Software code is available which allows everyone to tweak the products to their needs. Just think of what students could do, ethically, with all the different projects out there….They probably already are..I just have to find them!

    I’m trying to understand one part of your “story”
    “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.” You continue with your questions. Do they reflect a sense that we CAN do more with less, or that we shouldn’t be put in situations we as “technology using educators” find ourselves in…trying to keep up with all the latest technologies with little or no funds?

    These past two days have been very engaging and enlightening…thank you for making the visit to NH.

  2. Kathy,

    The answer is the later. We should not be struggling with little or no funds to prepare our children for the future. We have institutionalized begging in our schools, a teachers and administrators are asked by their supervisors to go out and find grants, because there is no money in the budget to do GREAT things, and GREAT things is what our children and their future deserves. We shouldn’t have to resort to open-source, though you have shown me that there is little if any tradeoff for going that route.

    Thanks for allowing me to get to know you and your program. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at the NHISTE meeting last night.

    — dave —

  3. I showed the students in my biology classes the movie called epic (http://www.lightover.com/epic/) the other day. After watching the short movie more than a few times I keep seeing and hearing more and I keep interpreting on more and more levels. To be sure, it has had an impact on me. On some levels, the movie is exciting, on other levels, its frightening.

    We had just been through the Dave Jakes and Chris Gales inspired “Inquiry based research unit” and I was hopeful my students had realized that they all might begin to be a part of this future where we all begin to contribute and learn from one another using this seemingly magical mode of communication (and hence learning) we call the internet. They learned how to more efficiently and effectively search for specific, relevant information pertaining to a set of self developed foundation questions.

    I asked my students what they thought about epic; whether or not the short film presented a plausible (I didn’t use that word) future. Some kids seemed to think so.

    However, some of my students didn’t know what to think or perhaps didn’t even care. “What’s going to happen to X-box?” -This was the question one of my student’s asked. Clearly, I had overestimated the impact the movie would have on mhy students.

    I’m not certain, but I think most of my students that didn’t understand the movie or didn’t find any value in thinking about the possiblities it presents are those students that don’t have any access to technology outside of school. It worries me greatly that because of minimal exposure to technology and its applications, some of my students don’t see or understand its value in their lives now or in the future.

    Then, I resolve to do a better job convincing those same kids of the power of global communication and access to information that this new brave world of web 2.0 provides.

    Yet, at the end of the day another students asks….”So does was that moviesaying that google is going to take over the internet and control all of the distribution of stuff on the ‘net the way Microsoft (C) dominates computer operating systems now”?

    She got it.

    You know what? I’m pretty sure that kid has a computer to use at home.

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