Back In

Back OnlineInternet was restored late yesterday afternoon, also announced on WRAL.  I wonder if the loss of only Cable Television would have warranted a news alert.  During the outage, my phone continued to provide me access to e-mail, but otherwise we were cut off. 

With little else to do, I walked up to our neighborhood stores, about a mile from the house, to drop off a package, go to the bank, and then to do some grocery shopping.  On my way back, it started to drizzle.  Brenda called me on my mobile phone asking if I needed her to come out and get me.  I was still four blocks from the house.  I declined, because it was only a drizzle, and she replied that without Doppler radar, she could not see if there was harder rain on the way.  She said that she felt blind.

It’s kind of an absurd statement, “I feel blind,” but at the same time, there is much to it.  I remember when there were no satellites up in space looking down on our planet.  Now, she can effectively, from her desk, see real-time weather patterns from space (and I from the mobile phone in my pocket), interact with people face-to-face around the world, circle the globe and zoom in to view buildings and local geographic features, often in great clarity, and so much more. 

We can see and understand so much about our world.  Yet we still misunderstand so much, and continue to fear and fight.  I hope that our new eyes and our new ears will one day help us to learn to love.

Joyful holidays to everyone, and may the new year bring happiness, prosperity, and understanding to us all.

A pot of gold’s worth!

Out for the Count

Photo Uploaded by David Warlick
Internet went down about an hour ago, and tech support has not been available — busy signal. I just received a text message from WRAL News Alert that a construction accident has cut Time Warner Cable service to 250,000 customers in the Raleigh area.


A New Learning Landscape

Robot-7I got raked over the coals pretty good yesterday.  There was lots of disagreement in comments over where IQ comes from,  the purpose of education, my choice of sources, and more.  It’s what I hope to see — civil, constructive conversation.

But my reason for sharing the WIRED article seems to have been missed.  It wasn’t the first time.  You see, I grew up in simpler times ;-).  Well, with respect to machines, it was a simpler time.  Most machines were designed to do one thing.  Our car carried us from one place to the next with reasonable comfort (by 1950s standards).  My watch displayed the current time.  Our TV displayed programming from four TV stations.  These devices had buttons, knobs, and switches, each intended for one function.  They turned things on and off, controlled the volume, or tuned in the stations.  You read the dial or label and pushed or turned.

Then came digital watches.  They could do ten things — but there were only three buttons to do them with.  Then VCRs, that could do a hundred things — but there were only ten buttons to do them with.  An I am completely at a loss as to how my son controls his mildly alien looking character in World of Warcraft, interacting within an enormous and enormously rich virtual world, with his mouse and keyboard.

I grew up with machines that were designed to do one thing.  Today, our machines are so much more.  I seriously struggle with my mobile phone.  I may be using 5% of its capability.  But I imagine that if I gave my daughter fifteen minutes with the phone, should could show me another 25% of its features, if not more. 

My children have grown up in a world of machines that you literally have to reason your way into — and what I believe, is that this has made them smarter than me in some ways that I think will be valuable to them and their future. 

I also believe that this is something that we should be trying to understand, and there are certainly those who are.  But I also believe that this is a conversation we need to be having, not just at conferences, but also in teachers’ lounges and PTA meetings.  It isn’t just entertainment.

Image Citations:
Robotgirl, “Robot-7.” Robotgirl’s Photostream. 7 Aug 2004. 21 Dec 2006 <>.
Hsu, Jonathan. “WoWScrnShot_032606-171649.” Jonathan Hsu’s Photostream. 26 Mar 2006. 21 Dec 2006 <>.

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Presenting at NECC

Christmas came early this year with notifications from the NECC program committee arriving in my mail box yesterday evening.  They have accepted two of the proposals that I submitted.  I’m disappointed in the ones that were declined, but I’m happy to be presenting

  • Contemporary Literacy in the New Information Landscape

as a spotlight session and

  • Advanced Blogging, or Dealing with Sidebar Envy

as a preconference workshop.

Hope to see you there.

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General Intellegence on the Rise

Every once in a while, I’ll grab and old issue of WIRED Magazine and thumb through just to gander at what got our attention only five or eight years ago, what cell phones were hot, how much memory we lusted for, and even a few ads for Apple Newton PDAs.

Yesterday I reached back only a year and a half to be reminded of an article that I merely mentioned, then, in this blog.  It concerned IQ tests, and evidence that we are getting smarter.  U.S. born, New Zealand philosophy professor, James Flynn has been the principal researcher behind this trend, that for decades IQ scores in industrial countries have been on the rise.

The trend Flynn discovered in the mid-’80s has been investigated extensively, and there is little doubt he’s right.  In fact, the Flynn Effect is accelerating.  US test takers gained 17 IQ points between 1947 and 2001.  The annual gain from 1947 through 1972 was 0.31 IQ points, but by the ’90s it had crept up to 0.36. (Johnson 100-105)

A rise in IQ raises many questions, such as, “Why?”  Classic research indicates that IQ is inherited. 

Look at IQ scores for thousands of individuals with various forms of shared genes and environments, and hunt for correlations. This is the sort of chart you get, with 100 being a perfect match and 0 pure randomness (see chart)

So, if intelligence is a matter of genes, does this mean we are evolving?  Well, perhaps, but probably not that fast.  So what is it about  our supposedly dumbed-down environment that’s making people smarter?  The WIRED article suggests that it isn’t schools, “..since the tests that measure education-driven skills haven’t shown the same steady gains.”

Flynn has his theories, though they are speculative.  He says,

I realized that society has priorities. Let’s say we’re too cheap to hire good high school math teachers. So while we may want to improve arithmetical reasoning skills, we just don’t. On the other hand, with smaller families, more leisure, and more energy to use leisure for cognitively demanding pursuits, we may improve – without realizing it – on-the-spot problem-solving…

…Over the last 50 years, we’ve had to cope with an explosion of media, technologies, and interfaces, from the TV clicker to the World Wide Web. And every new form of visual media – interactive visual media in particular – poses an implicit challenge to our brains: We have to work through the logic of the new interface, follow clues, sense relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the very skills that (IQ) tests measure – you survey a field of visual icons and look for unusual patterns.

I wonder if we might see, in the next few years, another acceleration of general intelligence, as people who have grown up on hypertext and massively complex game worlds start taking adult IQ tests.

This is a generation of kids who, in many cases, learned to puzzle through the visual patterns of graphic interfaces before they learned to read. Their fundamental intellectual powers weren’t shaped only by coping with words on a page. They acquired an intuitive understanding of shapes and environments, all of them laced with patterns that can be detected if you think hard enough. Their parents may have enhanced their fluid intelligence by playing Tetris or learning the visual grammar of TV advertising. But that’s child’s play compared with Pok�mon.

You can read the article online at:

Johnson, Steven. “Dome Improvement.” WIRED Magazine May 2005: 100-105.

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Return of the Rubrics

One of the hottest educational ideas of the late 1990s was rubrics.  As information and communication technologies (ICT) began to proliferate into many aspects of many societies and constructivist learning started to fuel the imaginations of educators, we needed a way to quantitatively assess the information products that students were assembling in their learning explorations.  Rubrics helped us to solve this problem by enabling teachers to precisely describe the instructional objectives of their student projects and to define levels of performance or accomplishment in each of those objectives — and then to determine  a score each level of performance.

Of course, when accountability knocked on our door steps in its black leather trench coats, barged in to our classrooms, and demanded to see our papers (well, enough of that imagery), rubrics fell by the wayside — replaced by testing, test practicing, test prep, blah blah blah.

The education landscape appears to be shifting again, in no small part to a growing realization that the information landscape is not merely shifting, but transforming.  I suspect that rubrics will once again become a useful tool for assessing student-written blogs, student managed wikis, digital stories, multimedia presentations, and even as a tool for self- and peer-assessment.

To this end, I have spent the last many days getting digital grease under my fingernails as I’ve been tinkering and moding up the motor of a web tool I built many years ago, The Rubric Builder

It’s all new and it’s Web 2.

Rubric Builder is a tool kit that enables members to construct their own rubrics using an improved interface.  Once the rubric is completed:

  • Its author can generate a URL that will link to a web display of the rubric. 
  • The tool will also generate HTML code that can be pasted into a WebQuest or blog, to make the rubric a part of that web page. 
  • Rubric Builder also provides a rubric calculator, enabling the teacher (or student) to click the levels of performance for each objective and calculate a weighted score.

All rubrics are public and are available under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, share-alike license.  Members can search the database of nearly 50,000 current rubrics, select one that appears to be a good starting place for the rubric they need, and then clone that rubric and edit it for their immediate needs.  It is a sharing community environment.

It’s not completely finished.  I’m still tweaking the carburetor.  Ok, I know, they don’t use carburetors any more.  But the system is ready for folks to come in, join, or just search for existing rubrics by keyword, or, if you used the original Rubric Builder, you can enter your access code and call up many of those rubrics you built years ago.  You are also welcome to join by signing up.  This will enable  you to build your own rubrics and clone the rubrics of others.

Future Plans:
I want to continue developing this and to make Rubric Builder an integral part of Class Blogmeister.  With RB latched in, teachers would be able to write blogged assignments for their students, and automatically make the rubric a part of the assignment.  Students would also be able to attach teacher-made rubrics to their writings and call on other students to assess their work.

Annual Holiday Reunion @ DPI

Tiger Butter

I haven’t written much lately.  Simply too busy with shopping, holiday’ing (well, not so much of that yet), and working through some writing and programming projects.

Today is our annual reunion and holiday celibrary of employees and alumni of the media and technology division  (or what ever they’re called now) of the NC Department of Public Instruction.  It’s a covered dish where collards will be welcomed from Margaret Bingham, cheese cake from John Brim, and other regular and much anticipated treats.

I suspect, quite seriously, that if I were to arrive without my Tiger Butter, I would not be permitted in.  I say that it’s my Tiger butter, because I make it.  The surprisingly simple recipe comes from an old Southern Living recipe book.  That said, I’m going to chance its inclusion here.  Guaranteed to bring smiles and tummy rubs from young and old alike!

Tiger Butter

by Yvonne Bennett,
Greenville, South Carolina

1 pound white chocolate
1 (12-ounce) jar chunky peanut butter
1 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Combine white chocolate and peanut butter in top of a double boiler; bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cool until chocolate and peanut butter melt, stirring constantly.  Spread mixture into a waxed paper-lined 15- x 10- x 1-inch jellyroll pan.  Pour semisweet chocolate over peanut butter mixture and swirl through with a knife.  Chill until firm.

Cut into 1 1/2- x 1-inch pieces.  Store in refrigerator.  Yield: about six dozen.

Bennett, Yvonne. “Tiger Butter.” Southern Living 1986 Annual Recipes. Comp. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House, Inc., 1986.

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A Cultural Invasion

Extreme frustration is giving way to a mild attachment I’m beginning to feel my new Motorola Q phone.  I’ve  never complained about the slightly larger screen (larger than Treos) and vibrant display.  But my eyes started to twinkle when I discovered that my new favorite RSS reader, Google Reader, has a handheld version that works wonderfully well through my Q.  I’m reading more blogs now, in off moments away from my computer.  Plus, when I’m at my computer, I want to work.  I want to build.  I don’t want to read. 

More about the building part later.

Anyway, I read in Will Richards blog this morning, an e-mail message he received from a desperate educator who was seeing valuable information resources blocked away from students because of the discomfort of librarians and supervisors.  I was reminded of something that Will recently said to Dean Shareski, and some of his friends, — a conversation that Dean recorded ans posted on one of recent Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech, Podcast 22 Conversations on Change.  In talking about our efforts to reshape teaching and learning to the changing shape of information (my phrasing), Will said that we are dealing with cultural change.

It was a simple phrase, but it illustrated pretty clearly how tumultuous this struggle is.  We have been invaded and the conquerers are unkindly imposing a new way of thinking about information, the fuel of our economy.

But who are the invaders? 

Are they our children, the digital natives? 

Or is it simply the future? 

Are we simply at one of those points in history where the future and the past meet, like opposing tectonic plates, grinding against each other, erupting into devastating quakes and forcing up magnificent mountain ranges.

What will be the renaissance that will result from today’s turmoils? 

What do you think?

Image Citation:
LovemaX, “Gondla Village.” LovemaX’s Photostream. 29 Sep 2006. 15 Dec 2006 <>.

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Video Search by Phonetics

One of the holy grails of technology is video search.  What if you could search a database of video for clips that say this or that.  Efforts have centered on voice to text technologies, but Nexidia is taking a different approach, something that they call Speech Intelligence.  Their technology listens for phonetics, the same thing that we listen for.

This Google video plays an interview with the company’s SVP for Marketing and Product Management, Anna Convery.

Think about the possibilities of teachers being able to create their own digital multimedia learning environments (textbooks), when they can search news and entertainment archives, and remix their findings into instructional media.

OK, admittedly, U.S. copyright law has a ways to go in order to adapt this this sort of remix classroom.  But do they have a choice?

Plesser, Andy. “Nexidia Is Pioneering Video Search Through Phonetics.” [Weblog AlwwaysOn] 27 Nov 2006. 13 Dec 2006 <>.

Is this Bad? or Is this Good? Karadogan, on Monday, wrote about new opportunities to become someone else.  In his AlwaysOn piece, he writes…

( offers bloggers cash from advertisers if they write on the topic of interest for the advertiser.  It’s a really cool idea and the company calls itself rightfully the “Consumer Generated Advertising Network”.  For example here is what one advertiser will pay you $10 for:

“We want you to make a short video asking Megaglobe to hurry up and launch their search engine .

We want you to have fun and to create any scenario that you can think of. The video must be at least 1 minute.

Once the video is done, please post it on Youtube. “

This really strikes a nerve with me because if it works soon everybody will be putting themselves in ads saying things for money that they don’t believe.  But that’s what ads are after all.

Does this bother you?  Is this what ads are for?  Do all of our students know that this is what ads are for?  What if we asked students to create TV, radio, or print ads for a product, and then ask the class (or other classes on line) to rate the ads based on their likelihood that they would buy the product.  Might they then have a better understand of what ads are for?

Baris then goes on to say that he would take the money he made on to, where you can pay to create a MySpace style site, pick what you want to look like, pick your cool new friends, pay them to post clever comments and engage in the rad’est conversations — being somebody else.

     I think,
          is weird!