I Plead Guilty

Click to enlarge
I was just reading Lisa Parisi’s blog post about Wordle, and decided to spend a few of my very few and precious minutes at home, playing around with it. I produced at word cloud from the URL of my blog, and, guess what. I’m guilty. I talk more about technology than anything else.

I come from a century that was defined by its machines. It began without airplanes, and the automobile was a true rarity. Personal computers and the Internet happened after I started my career as a teacher. Tech is cool. It’s a huge part of my world. It continues to astound me that I can project my ideas in writing out to a global audience and with half-way decent spelling — and that people actually read it.

But still, where it counts, it’s really about the information. Where are students meet their world, it’s about the information. They tech is only the lens.

Why am I Not Getting Through

Today, I’ll be working with educators in an independent school in Minnesota.  There will be an opening keynote address for the faculty, but then I spend the rest of the day with technology, media, art, and science folks, helping them struggle with some issues of modernizing instruction, making it more relevant to today’s information landscape.

If I ever say “Integrate Technology” today, may I be struck down!

Bronze Man on Tree Looking at TechnologyWhy is it that we can’t get past the technology barrier.  It seems that no matter how hard I try, to make it about the future, the kids, and the information, people still compliment me on a wonderful technology presentation.  If you use a computer and projector, then it’s about technology.  If you put your handouts on the web, it must be about technology.  If you’ve made a web site, then you must be talking about technology. [Image ((Svenwerk, “Nature and Technology.” Svenwerk’s Photostream. 3 Mar 2006. 22 Aug 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/svenwerk/107267802/>.))]

Here’s a quote about my speech to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools the other day, as reported in the local paper.

The keynote speaker was David Warlick, a 30-year educator who operates The Landmark Project out of Raleigh. Warlick shared many ideas on using technology and the Internet in the classroom to make learning more exciting for students and teachers.

Most of the article was about district initiatives that were presented by the superintendent, which is as it should be.  But I’m not talking about technology, like its something that you have to open your drawer and chose to use.  Technology is the drawer!  ..and it’s the paper and pencil! ..and it’s the voice and the conversation. 

I’m pretty sure that it was Alan Kay who said that, “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”  Does it have to stay that way?  At what point does it stop being the technology and become the medium — and become transparent?

This is a barrier for us, this sense that we’re striving to modernize classrooms by using more technology.  I still do not think that the kids do this.  When they go out and buy the latest game system, they are not buying the latest technology.  They’re buying better games.  They are buying better experiences.

Folks out there who are making valuable and sustainable uses of technology, do you still think of it as integrating technology?  If not, when did that stop?  When did it become sustainable?

I guess for me, it happened when I started thinking about my job as entirely about inventing and communicating, rather than helping people integrate technology.

“Stop Ranting!”

Learned Today — Photosynth is Live

Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos Photosynth | Video on TED.com
As I may have mentioned before, I’m trying to get in the habit of sharing something with my audiences that I only just learned — in the last 24 yours. Today, in Kannapolis, NC, I’ll tell folks about Photosynth. As a concept, it’s not new. Blaise Aguera y Arcas, of Microsoft, introduced Photosynth at TedTalks in May of 2007, to near thunderous acclaim in the blogosphere. I just learned, from Data Mining’s Matthew Hurst, that this amazing tool has formally launched.

I went to the Photosynth site, and was, once again, disappointed that it won’t run on the Mac, and I’ve got too much going on right now to run Windows and check it there. So I went to the next best thing, YouTube, to see if there were any recent videos, and found this one, a walk through that describes how to take photos of an object or place that are condusive to Photosynth’ing.

It reminds me a lot of how I use to make Quicktime VRs. Photosynth stitches photos together into a wider and more revealing panarama of the subject. However, Photosynth remains true to what’s going on, a bunch of photos synthed together to produce a world of that thing or place.

I could imagine a synthed photo arrangement of a classroom, where the teacher has place clues to an assignment. Students have to explore the classroom (museum, forest, local workplace, etc.) to discover the answer to a meaningful question.

Not often that I have Windows-envy, but this morning, I crave that distinctive bootup tone!

29 Days to Shanghai

I’m trying to focus on getting ready for tomorrow’s address for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools convocation.  But taking a quick glance at my e-mail, I just had to pass this one along — a video produced by my friend Carrot Revolution author, David Gran, an art teacher at the Shanghai American School.  It’s entertaining and always eye-opening to see what a Photoshop master can accomplish, such as making David Jakes look good on the cover of Vogue Magazine.

Click here to watch videoIt’s worth noting that the conference is only 29 days away and will certainly be a mega-watched event.

Yes we try and make the Learning 2.008 Educational Technology conference a little different each year. We don’t just talk about changing the ways we teach and learn, we try and model it as well.

I have to confess a bit of unease at this eagerness to stir things up, especially when conference organizer and Thinking Stick author, Jeff Utecht continues, “We don’t always succeed but it’s about taking risks and pushing ourselves as educators.” It is about pushing ourselves, and it’s what disruption is about — a willingness to re-think, re-act, and re-learn.

Being an international conference presents challenges.  Being in Shanghai presents challenges.  For instance, it becomes more difficult for schools to release teachers for extended on-site time, when they’re traveling up to 12,000 miles.  To address this, Shambles man, Chris Smith is building a site on International School Island in Second Life.  Scheduled appearances there include:

Each event will take place at 06:00 SL time (09:00 East Coast, 06:00 Pacific, 14:00 UK, 20:00 Bangkok, and 21:00 Hong Kong).

Leaving the Weekend Guilty

I got a lot done, this weekend, hunkered down at my desk, typing out code for Son of Citation Machine (SOCM).  I’m re-programming major parts of the tool so that it will run faster and draw less of a load on the servers.  I’m also adding the ability to save citations for bibliography building — which adds more of a load on the servers :-/.  It’s competition.  There are other very good citation tools out there now and although I do not find SOCM all that interesting to work on, its Google Ads are paying for the two web servers that run Class Blogmeister, Rubric Builder, Landmarks for Schools, and all the other more interesting things there and that I’d like to add.

Picture of Twitter FeedThe mistake that I’m entering a new work week with, is having watched Rick Schwier’s interview with George Siemens on Connectivism as the last think I did last night.  My guilt is that my weekend of coding and the personal server load that a summer of on-the-road work has cost me, has all interfered with the connective opportunities that persist in my fairly stagnant personal learning network.  This was more clear to me this morning, as I dipped into Twitter, looking for the reference to the Siemens interview, and found so many other very sticky comments that left me with a big, “I’ve got to come back and read that!”

Picture of Schwier/Siemens InterviewI leave at about 8:30 this morning for a drive up to Roxboro to speak at the convocation of local community college and later to talk about PLNs with the faculty.  So I have only four hours to re-connect — and to catch up on four days of e-mail.

The other thing that I can be thankful to the Schwier/Siemens conversation for is that I’m up at 4:00 in the morning, with their ideas rattling around in my head.  One thing that kept nagging at me was a glancing distinction that George made between Connection and Connective.  He stated that Connection is more about networks, and cited some smart person as a reference.

Having not connected so much with Siemens writings, nor of the writers he refers to, I’m left, in the early hours of Monday morning, to my own intuitive since of a difference, between education as connection and education as connective.

Connection, I learn from Merriam Webster, is a noun, and implies to me something that has already happened or is already planned.  From my little dictionary widget, I read, “The placing of parts of an electronic circuit in contact so that a current may flow.” Even though the circuits can be laid out in a variety of ways, the outcome has been pre-ordained — a buzzer, light bulb, or crystal radio.

Connective, on the other hand, is an adjective, “serving to connect”.  One is established or at least mapped out to be established, and the other is a potential for connection, or a condition that leads to connections.  One leads to, by function, predictable outcomes, while the other may result in surprising outcomes with unforeseen benefits. As I thought of this earlier this morning, I saw sticky tendrils or dendrites, reaching out into their environment of experiences and making connections with a wide variety of potentially related ideas, concepts, and people.  The key is going into the learning experience with stickiness rather than pre-defined circuits.

Of course, pre-defined circuits, on one level, are necessary.  There is a need for being connected with common languages (literacy & numeracy), and a cultural, societal, physical, and historical context.  There is a need for foundation.  Plus there was, at one time, a great deal of value for predefined circuits, when you needed a management workforce.  But when you need participants in a rapidly changing global economy who are inventive, adaptive, and compassionate contributors, then a certain amount of unpredictability in our learning establishments should be a goal.

So it seems to me, from my early morning mental wanderings, that it has become more important to make lessons sticky, than it is to make lesson plans.

A Nice Evening…

Not a lot of writing going on these days, the waning  weeks of Summer Vacation claiming much of our attention.  I certainly haven’t been writing much of consequence, especially as I’ve been busy with school districts, who are kicking things into action early with staff development institutes.  Yesterday had me opening things up for Currituck County Schools, in the far northeast corner of North Carolina.

That day went well with an address to the full faculty and staff of the district in the morning, and then the afternoon with the high school teachers.  Those of you who do what I do know what a tough gig the first day of the new school year can be.  Teachers are seeing each other for the first time in weeks, and they have so much to do to be ready for their students — and now they have to listen to this guy from Raleigh with credentials that “don’t really have anything to do with my biology curriculum at all.”

Picture on Pasquotank RiverIt was a tough afternoon, but I think that the high school teachers who came up to the district’s new tech facilitator and their director of technology, wanting to know how they can set up a blog, wiki, or RSS aggregator were a testament to what I think is an approaching tipping point for a new age of educational innovation.  One teacher came up to me after the workshop to tell me about the several other teachers in her proximity who typically resisted technology, but were taking copious notes during the presentation.  Of course, they could just as easily been writing lesson plans.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about, really for my own reasons, was Thursday.  I spoke to the ed tech facilitators in Winston-Salem and then drove by Raleigh, picking up Brenda, so that she could drive me the rest of the way to Elizabeth City.  After settling into our room, we drove on down to the town, situated on the Pasquotank River, and nicknamed “The Harbor of Hospitality.”

After walking around a bit, we had dinner out on the patio of Groupers, a locally favored seafood restaurant and lounge.  I suspect that the fact that the temperature was in the mid-seventies (24c) with a lovely breeze blowing off the river is the main reason for the blog post.  I typically will not eat outside between April and November.  But aside from some flies, most of which I trapped under the butter bowl (talk about some pissed-off flies), it was a wonderful time.

After supper, we walked around the town some more, and then over a bridge and down one of the tributaries, where we watched locals crabbing — quite successfully.  I assume that they were blue crabs, but I could be wrong.

So, again, this post is mostly for my future enjoyment.

Social Network for Graduate Students — Built by a Graduate Student

Picture of The Graduate Junction Web SiteThose of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been thinking a lot about social networks — or trying to.  I’ve just not gotten enough sustained time to really put any thing down on paper.  This morning I’m waking up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is great.  I just jumped in my little car and drove over, yesterday afternoon, taking a meandering array of back roads to get here.

While scanning through my aggregator this morning, I ran across something that looks about as close to what I’m thinking about as ALMOST anything I’ve seen so far.  It’s The Graduate Junction, which I learned about through this Wired Campus article.  In the article, the products developer, Daniel M. Colgate, answers some questions about Grad Junction, saying about Facebook,

It is already so big, and nobody I know would consider putting a technical keyword into the groups search there. I have discussed using Facebook groups with many friends and contacts, and they agree with me: It is just too big to be useful. They would prefer a more focused academic site. ((Fischman, Josh. “Networking, but Not Intimidating, Graduate Students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 13 Aug 2008 14 Aug 2008 <http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/index.php?id=3242&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en>. ))

I would tend to agree, though I’m also interested in other limitations of these canned networks.  Anyway, according to the tour of Graduate Junction, you share through your network profile your research interests, publications you have, specific research skills you’ve acquired, professional associations, research links, and general notes added to your research blog. ((“Tell the World.” The Graduate Junction. The Graduate Junction. 14 Aug 2008 <http://www.graduatejunction.com/site/tour1>. ))

Through the Network, members can,

  • Search to find researchers who share your research interests
  • Discuss and exchange useful information via email
  • Create virtual ‘Research Links’ to bookmark the research profiles you are interested in
  • Join existing online research groups or create your own. Communicate online using Group forums
  • Broaden your horizons by widening your interests ((“Get Connected.” The Graduate Junction. The Graduate Junction. 14 Aug 2008 <http://www.graduatejunction.com/site/tour2>. ))

It’s still a container, but I like the dedicated way that it provokes connections between researchers.  I’m looking for a way to make this happen among educators, who almost by definition, are isolated.

Partnerships in Learning

Picture of Yeon Duk Woo Video ScreenOne of my frequent chants these days is about students becoming our partners in their education.  That they not be considered vessels for the flow of knowledge is a common way of putting it.  But I’m even uncomfortable with calling them customers, though there is some value in thinking about services in that vein.  In a phone conversation I was having this morning with some tech-ed and library folks in Minnesota, we were struggling with describing this new relationship, and one of the bingos was that we need to respect our students as active and responsible learners — and to show that respect.

I don’t believe that this new partnership between teacher and learning, or perhaps more accurately, the interconnected and transparent nature of teacher-learner, has better been illustrated than EAROS‘s recent event in Kuala Lumpur — an event that was keynoted by Korean high school student, Yeon Kuk Woo.  It truly is an amazing address, saying much of what you and I have been saying in our conversations, but from the perspective of a school learner.

I was especially impressed with the speakers insights about global concerns, humanitarianism, and what individuals can do to assist and support people in dire need.

Many thanks to Thinking Stick’s Jeff Utecht for sharing this video.

How do you Kill Science?

Picture of a Chemistry SetI grew up with science.  I grew up doing science.  I got, as gifts from my parents, a chemistry set, erector sets, do-it-yourself weather stations, and even assembled a three-bit binary processing computer.  Since this was long before “new math,” it took my Dad all afternoon to explain “binary” to me.  This story, posted by Tim O’Reilly, via Dave Farber’s Interesting People mailing list, describes a world that would have seemed quite disturbing to us in 1962.  Tim writes… [Image ((Trotman, Kevin. “Ah, My Old Friend, Mr. Wizard!.” The Rocketeer’s Photostream. 5 Jan 2007. 13 Aug 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/kt/346681395/>. ))]

I grew up with a chemistry set.  You could get them in every corner hobby store. But as liability fears grew, the experimental ethic that built  the US as a science and technology powerhouse faded, and such “dangerous” toys became much harder to find.

So, in April, Make Magazine‘s Make:Books series (a service of O’Reilly) published Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, “For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs, who can no longer get real chemistry sets…” ((“Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments.” Amazon. Amazon.com. 13 Aug 2008 <http://www.amazon.com/Illustrated-Guide-Home-Chemistry-Experiments/dp/0596514921>. ))

On Monday (11 Aug 2008), the following article was posted to the Make blog by Illustrated Guide.. author, Robert Thompson:

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports [link] that Victor Deeb, a retired chemist who lives in Marlboro, has finally been allowed to return to his Fremont Street home, after Massachusetts authorities spent three days ransacking his basement lab and making off with its contents.

Deeb is not accused of making methamphetamine or other illegal drugs. He’s not accused of aiding terrorists, synthesizing explosives, nor even of making illegal fireworks. Deeb fell afoul of the Massachusetts authorities for … doing experiments.

Authorities concede that the chemicals found in Deeb’s basement lab were no more hazardous than typical household cleaning products. Despite that, authorities confiscated ?all potentially hazardous chemicals? (which is to say the chemicals in Deeb’s lab) from his home, and called in a hazardous waste cleanup company to test the chemicals and clean up the lab.

Pamela Wilderman, the code enforcement officer for Marlboro, stated, ?I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation.?

Now I think I understand both sides of this issue.  We, as a country, are threatened.  But the method of our response either moves us forward, or it moves us backward.  What would terrorists rather see?

O’Reilly continues,

Allow me to translate Ms. Wilderman’s words into plain English: “Mr. Deeb hasn’t actually violated any law or regulation that I can find, but I don’t like what he’s doing because I’m ignorant and irrationally afraid of chemicals, so I’ll abuse my power to steal his property and shut him down.”

Listening to Interview with James Paul Gee

I’m listening to a podcast interview with game guru, James Paul Gee. I highly recommend giving it a listen [link]. Here are just a few notes that connected with me. The Interviewer, Barry Joseph, asked for some basics of what make games important to education. Gee said that there are two. The first is that games result in learning, because they make the player a knowledge producer, rather than consumer. There are obvious examples of this, such as building objects in Second Life. But…

To play a game, you have to think like a game designer — think like a producer.

The second element is the “Principal of situated meaning.”

Traditionally, we learned with words. To learn a new concept, we were given a definition to learn (a bunch of words). With games and virtual worlds, “You’ve got to deliver more than words, you’ve got to deliver the world that the words go with.” ((Gee, James Paul. “RezEd Podcast, Episode 12- James Paul Gee on Virtual Worlds and the Power of Situated Learning.” [Podcast Podcast] ResEd. 11 Aug 11: 12. ResEd. 12 Aug 2008 <http://www.rezed.org/forum/topic/show?id=2047896%3ATopic%3A12696>. ))

The conversation went on to discuss other issues and projects, notably Our Courts. The first paragraph of the summary reads,

Our Courts will be a free, interactive, web-based program and eventually a virtual 3D world designed to teach and engage middle-school students in civics. Through the lens of the judiciary, Our Courts will allow students to participate in realistic simulations of government and to grapple with relevant social issues. They will investigate and argue actual cases and controversies using real law, and they will view these cases from the perspective of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. Our Courts will also encourage young people to act, by voicing their opinions in their communities and to their elected representatives. ((“Project Summary.” Our Courts. Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University College of Teacher Education & Leadership, and Sandra Day O’Connor Project on The State of the Judiciary. 12 Aug 2008 <http://www.ourcourts.org/about.html>. ))

There is also a good video intro from Justice O’Connor. What I found intriguing was how she came to understand, while attending the Games for Change Conference, that Game, in a sense, is another word for world, and that makes games an appropriate avenue for learning and education. I also liked the way that Gee admitted to being a baby boomer, and that he was getting out of the way and letting younger game developers actually design the Our Counts game.