Tipping Point Continued — and being Mislead by Words

ListenChris Harris, the leader of a regional school library system in New York, wrote yesterday (Blog Tipping Point) about Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point concept. Evidently, Harris has had a good week with an unusual number of his constituents asking for guidance in setting up blogs and other collaborative tools (wikis, Moodle, Drupal, Blogmeister).

What continues to concern me is that educators are still thinking about technologies. “I heard about blogging, and I want one.” “I saw this presentation about Drupal. Show me how to have my own web page.” “I can teach my students to blog? What’s this Blogmeister thing?” “I need to Moodle my class.”

What scares me is that too many teachers are going to adopt these technologies without really understanding why, and that they are going to fail, and we’re going to lose momentum. Chris Harris certainly gets it. He’s a librarian. And I know that Gary Stagger gets it and is a fantastic evangelist (not to mention master trumpet player).

It’s probably the aging part of me that seems to want things to slow down a bit. At the same time, I feel a genuine sense of desperation, that we aren’t moving fast enough, that our fall as a nation is accelerating, and that we are wasting too many good minds, because we are measuring learning with a scale that is much too narrow.

It’s the words. They seem not to be sufficient any more for what I feel needs to be happening in our classrooms.

  • Teaching: It’s too active. It places too much of the responsibility and focus on the figure who isn’t going to be around when the student leaves the classroom — but continues to need to learn.
  • Learning: It’s too passive and final. “I’ve learned this, this part is over, let’s go to the next part.” Nothing’s over any more.
  • Technology: It’s only the tool, the conduit, the pen and paper. It’s the color we paint the walls. It’s the windows, the door, and the motors we don’t see. But not much more.

So what happens in between. I don’t know what to call it. But I know its sound. It’s conversation. It’s a new conversation between students and teachers, and it goes both ways. It’s new conversations between students, conversations between students and “experts”, conversations between classrooms and homes, and conversations between schools and their communities. It’s a national and international conversation about what and how children need to be learning and ongoing conversations about solving new problems answering new questions and accomplishing new goals.

I hear conversations! what do you hear?

Am I getting cranky?

Insights from a Techie

While working on the NCETC blogger page, I was listening to some ITConversation podcasts, and happened upon one that I almost didn’t listen to. When I see a name like Vinod Khosla, I assume that the topic is going to be WAY over my head. Today, I decided to listen. Actually, I was only half listening, since I was coding web pages at the time. But my attention kept drifting back to the speaker, because this venture capitalist and founding CEO of Sun Microsystems, kept coming back to his children and to education.

What initially struck me was when he said that to his children…

Everything is Clickable, even their parents.

Ok, this is important! Is this important? What does this mean? Ok! OK! My son has moved his base of operations from the TV room, where he regularly played with his X-box, to his bedroom, where he sits in a dilapidated office chair (inherited from my office), at a dilapidated G4 laptop (also inherited from my office), a digital video camera he bought himself, a Game Cube connected to a 13 inch TV, still camera, analog converter, etc. So what does it mean to him that everything is clickable? Well, it means that from his chair, he has access to content (Google), his friends far and wide (iChat), video games, cable TV, VCR, and DVD. What’s even more interesting is that with his still and digital cameras, he spends time mixing content together, recently recording himself miming the opening scene of Music Man, playing all 8 of the characters by editing himself in and out wearing different hats. It’s hilarious and impressive, and he does it by clicking!

What would it mean for a teacher to be clickable. First of all, students click on resources. They have a question that they want to answer or an experience that they want to enjoy, and they click into a resource of digital networked information. It isn’t enough, though, to model teachers as a resource, though it is a comfortable model for most. The difference is that in most teachers vision of themselves as resources of knowledge, they exercise control over its delivery. When students click their resources, they expect to have control.

So I think that we have to repurpose teachers slightly, in order to continue this metaphor of clicked-on teaching. How do we provide our knowledge in a meaningful way, while allowing students to have control? I’m reminded of what John Beck says, when talking about his book, Got Game, how for gamers, the word boss brings up images of a level boss, an especially large monster (barrier) that the must get past in order to move to the next level (see Letting Go). Beck says that we need to try to become the student’s strategy guide, the books that they buy with the short cuts they need to get to where they want to go.

The task of the teacher then becomes a layered affair (as if there aren’t enough layers already). First of all, the teacher has to create and persuasively describe the place that the students will want to go, a student-centered outcome that is compelling to young learners. Then the teacher must construct a context within which the students will work with relevant/authentic limitations, and appropriate tools to accomplish the goal. Finally, the teacher becomes a consultant, or strategy guide. Students need information and/or skills to accomplish the goal. The teacher provides them on demand and within the authentic context, or becomes a compass, helping students to discover on their own the information that they need, or the skills they must gain. It isn’t a pretty classroom, but students are learning by working the curriculum, not simply absorbing it.

The podcast interviewer, John Battelle, continues,

Given the access to all the knowledge…that’s out there in the search world, what does the education system need to do differently to deal with that change context?

Khosla responds,

The worlds a different place. Use to be that my kids would have to learn about the Hopi Indians in school. I was meeting with my children’s principal, discussing this subject, and I pulled out my Treo and got 436,000 search results on Hopi Indians. There is no long a need to teach kids the facts about the Hopi Indians. But there is a desperate need to teach them how to think critically about what to believe — how to sort through information. So, critical thinking is one example of something that needs much more priority.

Few readers of this blog will disagree with this. But Vinod continues,

Wikipedia is great. but why can’t we use the same model to make every textbook in the world open source and free. (Applause)

He itemizes price, the ability to have multiple levels of content, and the dynamic nature of the content as reasons. I thought back to my days at the NC Department of Public Instruction and how the curriculum consultants there could easily write open source textbooks for the children of North Carolina, aligned to NC standards, and then put them into the hands of teachers and students and watch them grow. But that got shot when Vinod stated the obvious,

It’s hard to change the education system, in my view, from the top-down. Can we allocate another few more percent, three or four percent, of the GDP to education? Yes we can, but it’s going to be very hard through the political process. Like all things, if we start at the bottom, start attacking it at its root in small, creative, innovative ways that are scalable, then we’ll see a much bigger affect.

So what does that look like? How do you quantify and qualify it? How do you share it? These were my initial questions, and they are old questions. But then my world got rocked again, when Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine), from the audience asked,

In five years or ten years Where is most the value going to be in what we now call media? Is it going to be in the top-down still (content distribution), or or in the bottom-up (trust and relationship)?

Khosla replies,

I can’t see that far. But one thing that I can say, is that
I suspect it is going to be in the company or companies that can grow and maintain audiences. Content today is the dominant thing. I think we will start to see people who can aggregate audiences in interesting ways.

Woooow! Ok, so it isn’t the textbook? It’s the audience? The class? What is the power of the audience? What is the power of the class? How might we turn the class audience into an engine for learning? What does it look like? Is this where we need to be thinking, in order to drive a bottom-up revolution in education?

What do you think?

Khosla, Vinod. “Vinod Khosla In Conversations with John Battelle.” ITConversations. San Francisco: RDS Strategies, LLC, 7 Oct 2005.

North Carolina Educational Technology Conference

Picture020.jpegIt is less than two weeks before the North Carolina Educational Technology Conference, my state’s largest edtech conference of the year. This conference is unique in that the planning, organization, and management of the conference are not operated by an association, but by a group of educators, who years ago, saw a need for a large state conference, when the state department of education was struggling with severe budget cuts.

There is also an ISTE affiliate managed conference in the Spring, maintained by NCAECT, but our November event is the largest, perhaps one of the largest in the nation.

I’m especially excited about this conference because they have arranged to have Angus King as the opening keynote speaker. King, the former governor of Maine, was instrumental in accomplishing that state’s 1:1 laptop initiative. I’ve heard him before, and King does a masterful job of weaving together not only his experiences in public service, but also what he has seen and learned during travels within the classrooms of Maine, and the nations of the world. His message is especially compelling in that he says that we have only a matter of months to turn our classrooms around to more 21st century relevant operations.

Also speaking at the conference will be Dr. Therese Crane, of Infotech Strategies (I don’t know her), Bernajean Porter of BJP Consulting (I’ve met Bernajean, but have not heard her speak), and Dr. Lee Whitmore of SoundTree (I do not know him).

For the last few hours, I have been building a web page for the conference with instructions for creating a weblog and for tagging blog entries and flickr photos, so that we can aggregate these conversations into one spot. Last year, I built a simple blogging engine for conference attendees to use to blog the conference, but am de-emphasizing that tool this year, since it is so easy to set up a blog for yourself using Blogger. Plus, I didn’t know what RSS was a year ago.

So, for those of you in NC, VA, or SC who plan to attend the NCETC confernece, and especially those who will be presenting at the conference and would like to provide a preview of what’s to be covered, place the following HTML code within the body of your blog articles:

<a href=”http://technorati.com/tag/ncetc” rel=”tag”>ncetc</a>

Jackson State Revisited (Night Sky)

Nigh SkyAs so often happens, I’ve been challenged by readers. The other day, I posted a short entry, describing a slide that Rem Jackson used in his keynote address at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference. He showed a collage of satellite photographs of the planet earth at night, including city lights. Jackson asked if we thought that the planet had looked like this a million, thousand, hundred, or perhaps even 20 years ago. The point is that lighting up the dark side of the planet has just happened, and it happened to us.

Marco Polo, commented on this posting, feeling picky. Here’s his comment.

it’s happened to us? No, we did it.
And why, or in what way is that powerful, exactly? Is it the lighted parts? Or the dark parts, that attract your attention? Which parts are the powerful parts? I can see that globe and imagine a Buckminster Fullerian world, sharing the electricity via an around-the-world grid, with all the populated areas lit up, but with blessed darkness too, coz we need both.

I thank Marco for these questions. It’s an A.D.D. thing that I hear or see something, and know that it is important. I don’t know why, but I go ahead and say, “This is important!” Then something else happens and I forget about it.

Marco’s given me reason to think harder about this. He’s right, that we did it, in a very broad sense. Our civilization has advanced technologically to the point where we can change the look of the dark side of our planet. But I feel that it isn’t the advances in technology alone that has helped us to accomplish this. It’s the fact that we can collaborate on a global scale to share the technology such that it rings the planet.

It reminds me of a conversation I participated in a number of years ago with a ThinkQuest team of students. Their astronomy project had been selected as winner in the annual competition, and they were going to be awarded scholarships. Over dinner, they were talking about how we would likely miss the next appearance of some comet, because the proliferation of electric lights would so fill the atmosphere with light pollution that we would not be able to see such events in the night sky. I know that I saw more stars visiting the Lowell Observatory last week, in the thin air of the Arizona mountains, than I’ve seen since I was very small.

But then one of the students said, “By that time, we may be so networked, and communicating together so easily, that, as a planet, we might just make the decision to all cut our lights off, for a certain hour, on a certain day, so that we can see the night sky again like we use to.”

I thought this, too, was powerful. Certainly, we are not there yet, as evidenced by the remaining dark areas, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. But the measure we need to be looking for, is how much we, as a species, use our advancing technology with compassion, generosity, and wisdom. Will we see the planet’s glow continue to grow, or will it be snuffed out, because all we saw in our technologies, was our own selfish interests.

2¢ Worth…

Tech Learning’s TechForum — Texas

I’m sitting now in the opening Keynote address. The speaker is Hall Davidson, who is an outstanding speaker. Fortunately, I’ve taken my A.D.D. medicine so I should be able to keep up. The topic is “Thinking as Big as the World is Small”

Hall DavidsonHall just showed a very powerful video clip of a cave drawing. But, thanks to animation, one of the horses, peals off the wall, and starts to run away. The end is sad, but the message is, how we express our selves has advanced madly.

Hall is talking about using mobile phones as an instructional avenue. I don’t agree with this. As Nicholas Negroponte says, “You can’t teach children about the world though a keyhole.” However, he suggests that as we subscribe to online information services, like united streaming, that we find a way to channel the content to our students’ pockets. This is an interesting concept, and something that I see in the future of Aggregators, that they not only collect, but they also push. Podcatchers already do this, but it’s a concept that needs to expand.

I’ll also add here, that Hall’s stolen my best stuff. He’s shown the “I am not Afraid” blog, the Wikipedia entries about the London Bombings, and has introduced the Wiki concept. I’m actually flattered, that Hall Davidson is pointing educators to the same things that I do.

I’m sitting with Gwen Solomon, who just commented that the technologies we are seeing Hall demonstrate, are brand new. However, their application has not changed that much. The reasons are the same. Today, we video conference. In the 1980s, we e-mailed. The communication is richer, but it’s all about technology. He is now describing the Erothostenes project, where student measure the shadow cast by the sun at a specific time, and then share their measures with their latitudinal position. Then they use geometry to calculate the circumference of the earth. We were doing this almost 20 years ago, using FrEdMail’s e-mail.

Davidson just demonstrated a fantastic Google Activity. You search for a controversial issue (Ronald Reagan greatest president agree) and then enter the number of hits into a spreadsheet. Then search, limiting to French web pages, and German. And then use the spreadsheet to compare with a graph. More than anything else, the activity spurs questions, and this is a good thing.

Being Hall Davidson, there are a lot of examples of student produced video. He is emphasizing student remixed content, students taking video and still content from the Net and then importing it into video editing software, and assembling a meaningful information products.

Media Tip from Hall Davidson: If you are using video in the classroom, turn the captions on. It improves reading.

Vender Sessions @ TechLearning

Vender Sessions @ TechLearning

Misspellings where called to my attention regarding this message. Rather than correct, I’m just going to post a note indicating the origins of the message.

[This message was thumb-typed and submitted with my mobile phone. Please excuse any misspellings or awkward text]

TechForum features a vender’s session. This is important, since a lot of the cost of these conferences is covered by exhibitors. Unfortunately, the projector just went out, but the SmartBoard rep is dong a great job of selling his product and its features — especially the sound effects. I guess there’s irony here, but we’re not going there.

Vender Sessions @ TechLearning

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

An Idea from Rem Jackson — Keynote

I’m sitting in the keynote address at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference. Rem Jackson, is speaking, and I wasn’t intending to write anything, because I’ve seen him present many times. But Jackson just said something that I think is enormously powerful.

He showed a picture of the globe at night. So you can see the cities lit up. Then he asked, “If we had satellites 50 years ago, would the planet have looked like this, or a hundred years ago?” For the billions of years of this planet’s life, the planet was dark at night. The lighting of the planet has just happened — and it’s happened to us.”

Very powerful.

Back to Personal Learning Networks (Social Cells): Part II

Last week, I drew attention to Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. I closed with the clincher, Prensky saying that…

…Someone suggested to me that kids should only be allowed to use computers in school that they have built themselves. It’s a brilliant idea that is very doable from the point of view of the students’ capabilities. But wo could teach it?

I really like the sentiment here, though I’m not sure that all students need to learn how to assemble a computer. After all, and as I say sooooo much, It isn’t about the technology. It isn’t about the machine! It’s about the information. So, with this in mind, what if we instead said…

…kids should only be allowed to learn from textbooks they have written themselves.

The sentiment is the same. Kids are learning by teaching themselves, within their own information environment. They are accessing information, doing something with it, and expressing it in a way that will be valuable to themselves and/or to others in the future.

I use the term textbook, as a reference to its function, not its form. I do not want to imply that we will be printing personal textbooks, though that is certainly possible and affordable. And there may be very good reasons to have students print-publish their work.

What I envision is a digital library, where students collect, trim, remix, organize, and then use information to help them with future information tasks, such as tests, or projects.

These textbooks or digital libraries could be personal or group. I suspect that first graders could produce materials as a class that could be organized in to valuable information resources, either online, or in print.

The point is that students are learning, not merely by consuming content, but by interacting within an evolving information environment and producing valuable content. In addition, they are learning by building a personal network of content, and ultimately, a network of trusted people as sources of knowledge. It’s the best way I can think of for students to learn contemporary literacy as a learning skill.