Don’t Touch That…

Star Spangled Banner

It’s the way we take vacations these days. I’m flying off somewhere, that’s best flown to from a major airport like New York or Washington. In this case, it’s  Washington.  So Brenda rides the train with me to the nation’s capital, we spend a day or two being tourists, and then we split, she training back down to Raleigh, and me taking off for some far off exotic land that I’ll be too busy and jet-lagged to enjoy.

Yesterday, we walked around (a lot) and visited some of the Smithsonian museums.  It had been many years for me. Brenda had a special interest in seeing the Star Spangled Banner, the huge flag that flew over Fort McHenry after the British fleet withdrew, unable to enter the harbor of Baltimore.  This was what we call “The War of 1812.” The flag has been undergoing conservation procedures and has only recently been brought back out on display at the National Museum of American History.

The line outside the museum was long, but moved fairly quickly. The line outside the SSB display route moved much less so. But we finally got through, got a multimedia background of the war and battle, saw the flag, and then got to play with a huge video display of the flag. The image moved slowly up from top to bottom, with circles around specific spots. You could touch those circles and a pop-out window would explain something about the spot — a shrapnel hole or some patchwork from a previous conservation project.

Near the center of the display was a larger circle with arrows pointing out in four directions. It appeared to me that you could grab the flag there and change its direction. But no one was using it. Most of the folks in line were adults, most of them middle aged to older. There were a few kids who were anxious to get on with it.

Finally, a kid, about nine or ten, reached up to that circle, grabbed the flag image, stopped its move up, and reversed the direction, dragging it down. His mother (I assume) gasped, grabbed her son by the shoulders and pulled him away from the display. It was such a perfect moment, one that probably repeats itself every day as our children seem so much more comfortably with an information environment that is central to how we do things today.

But it’s not about digital natives and digital immigrants.   It’s simply about all of us realizing and acknowledging that we’re all learners — and we should practice it in the light of day…

It Was Good Enough for Me

Our classrooms require a better window on the world than this… ((Han, Churl. “My classroom in Frieze.” Churl’s Photostream. N.p., 29 Jan 2006. Web. 8 Apr 2010. .))

I frequently receive comments and e-mails from readers expressing their agreement with something I’ve written or said. And then they lament the realities. “But, I have only one working computer in my classroom.” “But, interactive white boards are a pipe dream for us.” “But, Internet is too slow and/or too filtered for practical use.” ..or “We’ve been told to stop using technology or any supplemental materials after March and use only materials designed specifically around test prep.

We are not working under these conditions because of our zip code or because of some unavoidably cyclical function of our reality. These constraints do not happen like weather patterns that we simply have to hunker down and wait out. They happen because of decisions that people make due to greed, misinformation, politico-social agendas, or ignorance.

That we continue to try to prepare children for the future under these conditions is not the problem. The problem is that there are some (many) who still believe that these conditions are good enough.

“What was good enough for me is good enough for ‘your’ children.”

My advice?

  1. Dream and decide:
    1. What you want your classroom to become?
    2. What kind of access to information you need, in order to facilitate learning?
    3. What kind of access to information does your classroom need for relevant learning to happen?
    4. What kind of access to information do your learners personally need to drive their own learning?
  2. Answer the questions,
    1. “What will your community’s children be able to learn in this classroom?”
    2. “What kind of relevant and compelling learning experiences might your community’s children enjoy?”
  3. Reject any technologies from item 1 that do not directly contribute to item 2.
  4. Take the answers to item 2 and turn them into a story.
    1. “Here is the classroom that is possible.”
    2. “Here is what your children will learn in this classroom.”
    3. “Here is how they will learn and what they will do with what they learn.”
    4. “Here is the classroom I want, the classroom your children deserve, the classroom that our future requires.”
  5. Tell that story. Set up a page on your web site called “My Dream Classroom.” Update it regularly. Share it with other teachers. Share it with your students, your friends, and the parents of your students.

    Make its upkeep part of your personal professional development.

Resistance is Futile

“iPad” Flickr photo by Jeff Henshaw ((Henshaw, Jeff. “iPad.” Jeff Henshaw’s Photostream. N.p., 7 Apr 2010. Web. 7 Apr 2010. .))

Not quite. I spent about fifteen minutes with an Apple iPad yesterday, after watching about fifteen other people dominate the display devices — all of them playing the same racing game, driving their devices like steering wheels. I don’t get that — but it’s OK.

I was mostly impressed and I have to disagree with claims that it’s just a big iPod Touch. It’s more than that, even if only a little bit more. ..And don’t knock the bigger screen. It’s a major part of the machine’s appeal.

But even though it was such a compelling experience that I feel a little funny calling it a machine, I walked out of the Apple Store without an iPad. I suspect I’ll ultimately get one, but not quite yet.

Even though I,

  • Celebrate the growing move toward personal digital devices for all learners,
  • Recognize the tremendous (and entirely avoidable) budget constraints schools are facing,
  • Agree that pocket tech is an information avenue of choice for ‘natives,’ and
  • Am even impressed by some of the very clever applications that have appeared,

I still have concerns — even though the iPad resembles, remarkable, the learner device I described in the first edition of Redefining Literacy.

Yesterday, Laura Sydel reported on NPR that the iPad may change the way that we do Internet, quoting Paul Sweeting, analyst for GigaOM, “With the iPad, you have the anti-Internet in your hands.” His seemingly urgent concern was of a device that, while seductively appealing, is designed to deliver content, media, and entertainment (approved by Apple Inc.) to eager information consumers. Might we forget that one of the foundational qualities of the Internet is that it reflects us, not Apple.

Calming things down a bit, a sidebar was later added to the web-based version of NPR piece, stating:

Actually Sweeting isn’t worried about anything. “I was simply offering observations (and by the way, you will be able to access pornography on the iPad thanks to Apple’s new relaxed content policy). I think the iPad will have a lot of appeal to a lot of people. I was trying to be clear about what they’re getting.” –Paul Sweeting (themediawonk) ((Sydell, Laura. “Apple’s iPad: The End Of The Internet As We Know It?.” NPR 5 Apr 2010: n. pag. Web. 6 Apr 2010. <>.))

I mentioned the article to Brenda at lunch yesterday and the concern that people will spend more time watching their computers and much less time, effort, and creativity producing reflective blogs, videos, podcasts, digital art, etc. She said, “Well people will still use laptops and desktops.”

I have to ask, “Will they?”

Has Apple built the perfect TV set? ABC and Netflix hope so. ((Lawler, Ryan. “Netflix, ABC to Release Apps for iPad Launch.” NewTeeVee. 1 Apr 2010. Web. 6 Apr 2010. <>.))

Somewhat counter to my position is this Flickr photo by Shrryn Marrow ((Marrow, Sharyn. “iPad Keyboard.” MassDistraction’s Photostream. N.p., 5 Apr 2010. Web. 7 Apr 2010. .))

Certainly Apple’s aim is not to kill the Internet as we know it. Their job is to design a product that we will want to buy and use. How it is used will be up to us. My worry is that budget conscious (traumatized) school administrators will see the iPad as an easy (easier) way to achieve the new dream of 1:1, and tech leaders, with the best intentions, will leap at the chance to be current in educational tech — even if for only a few months.

…and this is fine.

I have no real problem with every learner walking into the class room with a digital tablet under their arm — as long as students also have access to the workhorses they will need to seriously crunch numbers, generate data visualizations, produce compelling video messages, do serious writing, compose music, and craft digital art.

As we usher in the personal learning device, we have to say, “This is not all you’re going to need.

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. <>))

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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