They’re Telling the Wrong Story Again…

I’ve confessed before that I am an iPhone Apps junkie, and that my favorite app, at least the one I dial to first, is Mobile News “Powered by Associated Press.” This morning, at 5:00 AM, I wasn’t very happy with this app, as I learned that Barack Obama will likely choose Chicago schools chief, and Obama basketball buddy, Arne Duncan. The consolation is that it could have been much worse — small consolation, though plodding down the same tired and terrible road is not so much a certainty, as it might have been.

What truly disturbed me about the story (Sources: Obama Chooses Chicago School Chief), which was posted two hours ago, was its portrayal of the advocating factions.  The winning side was “..reform advocates who wanted a big-city schools chief who has sought to hold schools and teachers accountable for student performance.”  They backed Duncan or New York City’s chief, Joel Klein.

On the other side were the unions, who hold much sway in the Democratic Party.  According to the story, they “..wanted a strong advocate for their members such as Obama advisor Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor.”

I’ve lived and taught in two states, neither of which are union states — and I can vouch for the fact that No Child Left Behind is as unpopular in North Carolina as it is any place else.  The problem is not in who is held responsible.  They’re our children.  We’re all responsible.

The problem is a law that measure success in the simplest and most limiting way possible, how well students can answer questions the way they were taught to answer the questions.  I do not know Linda Darling-Hammond, but from her writings, she advocates richer learning experiences for students, that are inquiry, project, problem, and design based.  She promotes classrooms that operate based on what research tells us about learning — but threads of research that were virtually ignored by an administration that pinched pennies when it came to the well-being of people.

I’m willing to wait and see with Mr. Duncan.  He did, after all, attend the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, founded by and on the principles of John Dewey.

But I’ll reiterate my main point here. 

This is not a struggle over who to hold responsible.  It’s not about politics. 

This is about a culture, that is adapting to major shifts in nearly all of its intersecting environments, but refuses to realize that the one institution that is perhaps the most critical to our future, needs also to change — and change means doing it differently.

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So Now What Do We Do?

Thursday was an incredible day in London.  Not only did I get to work in Ontario with such hospitable people, especially Doug Pederson (thanks for the cab fare, bro), meet and get my picture taken with Amber MacArthur, and meet her fiancé, Chris — but I also got to meet two edublogger greats, Rodd Lucier (The Clever Sheep) and Quentin D’Souza (Teaching Hacks).  Come on back, D’Souza.  It’s a great blog.

Trying to help Amber feel less conscious of her pregnant belly

In his blog post on Friday (Fertilizing the Grass Roots), Rodd wrote:

At today’s Western RCAC Symposium, educators from across southwestern Ontario were called to engage with emerging tools in order to ensure learning is relevant to 21st Century learners.

He went on to say,

My personal suspicions are that most attendees will fail to make effective use of any of the many tools introduced today. Even with everyone recognizing that we have a long way to go: A significant knowing-doing gap will remain!

Then Rodd listed some comments that he overheard during the conference, that support his concern.  I’m listing them here and will try to make some suggestions that may be useful.  My suggestions are indented just a bit to better distinguish them from the overheard statements.

Comment 1: “Our IT department won’t let us!”

Granted, it’s easy for me to say that IT should work for you, the teachers.  Their job is to make sure that you, the teachers, can do what you want to do — not prevent it.  Getting them to realize this is the challenge.  One of the best suggestions I’ve heard was when a tech director suggested that IT folks be required to follow students around for a day.  I would suggest that IT folks be required to sit in a classroom for a day, each month or so, to see not just the challenges of teaching, but the passion of mission.  We need to bring them into the mission.

I suspect that IT folks are evaluated each year just like teachers.  Give them an instructional goal to accomplish each year, find some way to technically facilitate better reading, global awareness, creativity, etc.

One final idea.  When you submit a request for technical service in writing, include a statement of it’s instructional benefit or goal, and write it clearly, succinctly, yet prominantly.  This way, refusing the request is documented as preventing instructional activities — and fulfilling the request makes you partners in a holy cause.

Comment 2: “My superintendent doesn’t get it.”

Suggest that your superintendent read “The World is Flat.”  I don’t agree with everything that Freedman says in the book, and some of it has been debunked.  Yet, this book has probably had a larger influence on our rethinking our place in a rapidly changing world than any other message.  You might start with your principal and work your way up.

Enlist your students.  Help them make (our get out of their way) public service announcement videos expressing the importance of digital networked learning in an increasingly global marketplace.

Organize a 21st century education fair, arranging for teachers and students to demonstrate what they are doing with contemporary information technologies.  Invite vendors to bring in interactive white boards, turn the kids loose on them.  Invite the local paper, radio, and television stations, and allow students to organize booths where they can demonstrate what they are doing with technology and information outside the classroom, i.e. video games, social media, and social networking.

Comment 3: “We don’t have enough money.”

True enough.  But I’m starting to wonder whether technology might be a cheaper way to do things.  Find out how much you’re paying for paper and printing.  Find out how much it costs to heat your buildings each day.  Find out how much you spend on textbooks, that are produced by 15th century technology.

Then, what would be the cost of equiping all teachers with a state of the art notebook computer, every student with a netbook, integrate virtual learning environments, and establish a consortium of schools where teachers would collaborate to create a dynamic, customizable, digital networked textbook — available for free to the entire province and beyond.

Comment 4: “Our computers are too old.”

Your computers may be too old to run MS Office 2007 or Photoshop, but probably not too old to run, through Firefox, Google Docs and and a growing array of cloud applications.  One young man, at the conference, talked about bringing in older donated computers, having his students refurbish them, and then install Ubuntu Linux, giving them an equal array of opensource software — and the cloud.

Comment 5: “The school networks are out of date.”

Well this is a problem.  It seems that Alberta has established fibre to every school in the province, recognizing the critical importance of the Internet to teaching and learning.  This is something that has to be accomplished from the top — connection to contemporary, digital, networked, and abundant information is as critical to education today as heat and electricity.

Comment 6: “We still ban cell phones in school!”

This is simply not one of the wagons I’m riding.  I think that it will come, that we’ll recognize the value of pocket-based information technologies in education as we stop being afraid and come to respect what our students are doing with them outside the classroom.

But I’d not focus on cell phones.  I do not believe that we should expect our children to learn about the world through a keyhole.  They need larger windows on the world, more powerful lenses.  We would never think of issuing textbooks the size of a matchbook.

If we’re working toward preparing our children for their (and our) future, then we can’t compromise on content space.

Comment 7: “I’ve never even heard of RSS.”

Well, my initial response is, “Why not?”  I think that we have to stop excusing educators from not keeping up with what’s happening around them.  It’s what’s wrong with Prenski’s otherwise brilliant distinguisher, Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  It can be an excuse for immigrants to say, “I can’t learn that.  I’m not a native.”

As I said in the PLN session, “Start small.”  Form study groups, set teachers up with RSS Readers (you don’t have to use the term RSS).  Suggest a few connections for them, and have them blog (again, you don’t have to call it a blog if that will help) to each other what they’re learning.  You have to start the connections.  You have to start the conversations.  You have to work toward the point to where the learning engine kicks in, and starts running on its own momentum.

Comment 8: “The kids know more than we do.”

No they don’t.  They are more savvy at using technology, but we are better at using information.  They know how to play the information.  They desperately need us to teach them to work the information.

It’s one of the benefits of redefining teachers as Master Learners, that it give us permission to say, “Can you teach me how to do that with a digital camera?”

Comment 9: “I don’t have the time!”

This is too true.  When Amber MacArthur interviewed me for her podcast after her keynote, lack of time is the barrier to retooling classrooms that I zero’ed in on.  The teacher-day is virtually unchanged from the classrooms I attended in the ’50s and ’60s.  Think of lawyers, surgeons, or even farmers.  Do they spend all of their time in front of juries, in operating rooms, or in the fields.  No!  An important part of their job is research, collaboration, reflection, resource development, and professional development.

Now think of factory workers, who spend all of their time on the assembly line, installing parts.  And think of teachers, spending all their time with students on a conveyor belt, moving through kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, while we install math on them, reading, science…  Education is still an industrial age institution, trying to address information age problems.

This is a tough one, but, as you publish information about your schools, and take pictures of teachers on the job — include lots of pictures of teachers researching, collaborating, engaged in professional development, liaising with the community.  These are all critical elements of being a teacher today.  We have to get that message out there.

Is Obama Going to Sellout Education

Barrack Obama has a huge job ahead of him.  There’s no way to express in any language how huge that job is, and part of solving the problems we’ve been left with is to bring this country back together, to find common ground and build on it.

“But, Barrack Obama, please don’t do it through our children.”

Apparently, on the short list for Secretary of Education are Joel Klein and Arne Duncan, now running the New York and Chicago school systems.  I’ve not followed either of them (though I am somewhat impressed by the fact that Arne attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools), but apparently they have both seen test-prep style education reforms as the answer to failing schools.

For a rather irreverent expression of objection to these two candidates for Secretary of Education, read this piece (Obama’s “Way-to-Go, Brownie!” Moment?) from The Huffington Post.  Be warned that this is an out of the closet Liberal online journal.  I consider myself to be liberal, but I find the liberal voice to be as irritating as that issued from conservative media outlets.

Still, we do not need a politician or a lawyer running the department of education.  We desperately need an educator.  This country needs much more than to merely reform schooling.  It needs to retool the classroom, and no one can lead this cause who has never been a teacher.

Indications are that there is a struggle going on among the transition team, one school urging a “raise the standards and increase the rigor” approach, and the other faction advocating more fundamental changes.  The “rigor” rhetoric seems to be winning out.

I urge all educator bloggers to shout at the tops of your blog editors,

Don’t sellout education, Obama!

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The Technologies We Make

I just woke up in my native time zone, but about 8 degrees north of where I woke up yesterday. I’m in London, Ontario, Canada where I’ll open the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Winter Symposium in a few hours. I spoke here in 2004, following Canadian SciFi writer, Robert Sawyer. I’ll be hanging around after my presentations today to see New Media evangelist Amber MacArthur, or AmberMac. I met Amber and her fiancé, Christopher Dick, at dinner last night and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and how personable they both were.


I will likely live blog Amber’s presentations this afternoon — so stay tuned.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make my online handouts easier to use. As per a recent blog post about addressing the needs of a growing range of techno/info savvy educators, I need something that can reach beyond what ever ideas we are able to explore during the face-to-face part of my teaching.

Opened folder for my Personal Learning Networks presentation/workshop

I continue to believe that graphic organizers or concept maps need to be an key element of the handouts, especially since I’ve started using a graphical arrangement of files when I present from a finder folder on my Mac (see left).

I’ve explored a number of online tools for creating concept maps, and all combined, they do exactly what I want to do, conveniently create a map of interconnected ideas with nodes linking out to web-based information sources.  However, no single tool does it all.

I keep coming back to Inspiration, which is incredibly easy to use (especially when you learn the keystroke shortcuts), accepts hyperlinks, can use images as node symbols, and easily outputs to HTML. 

The Inspiration concept map exported as a Web Page

The information resources part was a little bit challenging until I started using Alan Levine’s Feed2JS tool, which I have linked to the front page of Landmarks for Schools.  This brilliant tool allows me to paste in an RSS feed from my Delicious account, that aggregates, for instance, all of the web sites I’ve bookmarked and tagged with PLN and visualization.  The tool then gives me a Java Script that you can paste in your web page that lists the items from the feed.

I created a single web page (and this is the geeky part of this presentation) that takes a set of tags and title out of a URL, plugs them into Alans feed lister to create a dynamic page that lists those specific bookmarked web sites.  The URL looks like this:

  • The location of the web page
  • rss-links.php: The actual page file
  • tags=visualization+PLN: The two tags to look for in Delicious
  • Title=Visualizing-the-Conversation: The title to be displayed. Here is the actual page.

Now the point of this blog post is not to show you how geeky I can be.  There’s nothing here that you, like me, couldn’t teach yourself FAR more easily than you might think.

What reflecting on this reminded me of is how we too often teach technology.  We try to teach our children how to use the computer, and then test them on how well they’ve learned what we taught.

However, if you think about how most of us use technology, it isn’t the computer that we’ve learned to use. it’s what we have made of the computer that makes it usable for us.

That probably didn’t make sense, but I suspect that rather than just teaching students how to use a computer, we should be helping them learn to make the computer something that they can use — something that helps them acomplish their goals.

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Unemployment Unequal

Photo by Frank Serritelli  ((

Serritelli, Frank. “Laying Down on the Job.” Flickr. 15 Feb 2008. 10 Dec 2008 <>.

I’d meant to blog about this a few days ago, when Christa McAuliffe Conference organizer, Cyndi Dunlap forwarded this Boston Globe article to me and fellow keynote speaker Yong Zhao.  It seems that the layoffs we are hearing about nearly every day are not impacting us across the board.

Men are losing jobs at far greater rates than women as the industries they dominate, such as manufacturing, construction, and investment services, are hardest hit by the downturn. Some 1.1 million fewer men are working in the United States than there were a year ago, according to the Labor Department. By contrast, 12,000 more women are working.

Let me repeat that!  1,100,000 fewer men working today.  12,000 more women working today.  We could go in so many directions comparing men-jobs with women-jobs.  But what concerns us, as educators, is skills that will live out all of the shifts and flips of today’s work world, a characteristic that shows no evidence of ending any time soon.

We’re seeing a shift from economies based on making things to economies based on serving people.  According to the article, 70 percent of workers in manufacturing are men — a shrinking shard of the economic pie that lost another 500,000 jobs over the last year.  Healthcare, on the other hand, where 80 percent of the workers are women, added more than 400,000 jobs during the same time period.  Construction, of which 90 percent of the workers are men, lost another 500,000 jobs.

Of course, this is not a gender thing.  It is about how globalization and technology have changed how we can be of value to the market place.  Manufacturing is shifting to other parts of the world, and I suspect that the trend toward automation will likely continue.  Technology has made everything personal.  So attention to the personal is desired.  It is valuable.

It seems that one way to adapt to this in the classroom would be to make learning more sociable — to connect learners to content and to each other in new ways that ask them to serve each other.

What do you think?

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Generations of Pioneers

A marker at the National Super Computing Center (NSCA) heralding the place where Mosaic was built

I was just collecting some materials for a meeting I’ll be attending later this morning, and ran across this still from a YouTube video (Internet & Web Pioneers: Joseph Hardin).  We’ve all seen these markers on the side of the road indicating some famous home where some once famous senator was born in eighteen hundred and something, “..building originally located 300 hundred feet south of this location.”

They rarely connect to anything that I am personally aware of, and I suppose that it is this notion that made my early-morning thinking experience a bit of a flash.  I feel like I was a part of this.  I remember when Mark Johnson, a friend of mine who was then a work-station jockey at North Carolina’s government computing center, mentioned that there was a new web browser on the horizon that you could use your mouse to click the links you wanted to visit — and it would even display pictures.

It was incredibly exciting, because the Web hadn’t really attracted very much interest at that time, since it was something you had to “tab” around (hammer, constantly, on your tab button to find hyperlinks).  Gopher was cool, because you were using information to navigate the information realm, a heirarchy of books so to speak.  But by pointing your way around?  Well made my head spin.  What a future we had, and I had it in less than six-months.

I guess the point I want to make is that we were pioneers, back then, the relative few of us who were navigating and growing information in this new way.  I wonder how useful it might have been to have thought about it as pioneering back then, 20 years ago.  I wonder if it might be useful for our students to realize, thinking about, and express some insights about their pioneerism — because they are certainly marking new trails of community and new ways of thinking about our world.

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Version 4.0 — then 5.0

You’ve likely noticed some happening with Citation Machine. If it has caused you any convenience or grief, please accept my apologies.

My main concern has been that efficient performance. With the end of the semester approaching and now here, the usage of CM nearly doubles, and I know that slow loads can be very frustrating.

So, a couple of months ago, I tried utilizing iframes in the code, something I hadn’t done before — and it worked quite nicely. When you click [MLA], and the list of content sources appears, that is the only information that is reloaded. Before, the entire page had to be reloaded. When you clicked a source to be sited, and the web form appeared asking for info on the source, then that form is the only thing that is loaded.

Version 4.0 was born.

The problem that emerged was that although my Windows computer (a Mac Intel machine) ran the new tool just fine, many people wrote in indicating that these new features were not loading at all — rendering Citation Machine useless.

I write in some workarounds, that would recognize Windows machines, redirecting them to non-iframe versions of the Citation Machine, which meant that I was maintaining multiple versions of the tool. The workarounds thickened the programming and caused more problems, nececitating more workarounds and more coding. It finally got to tedious to work with.

So I got up early yesterday morning and started a complete re-write of Citation Machine, using Cascading Style Sheets, something I’m doing more of — finally. Pulling in working modules from the earlier versions, I seem to have finished it after another early morning codathon (3:00am to 7:50am).

Version 5.0 seeks to solve both the problems of slow loading and complexity of the code. To address both of these problems, Citation Machine will now offer either the menu of citation styles and sources, or the web form or completed citation — rather than loading both the menu and the forms with each mouse click. The significantly simplifies the code and page loads should be nearly as fast as with the iframes.

Please let me know if the new version causes any problems.

Networked Learning at Conferences

We know that things are getting tight, when conferences are offering fold-it-yourself door prizes.  Yet the conferences are still happening and people are still coming.  Many of the conferences I’ve worked lately have actually seen an increase in attendance over last year.  There seems to be an intersection between shrinking budgets and a genuine interest in, and desire to change the ways we’re doing things.  The other day, I heard someone on NPR say that when we come out the other end of this recession, we’re going to see a different world.  I suspect that this will be especially true of education.

Sawyer & I cutting up after his keynote

I have only one more gig for 2008, Ontario’s Wester Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium 2008.  I delivered a keynote address for this conference in 2004 along with Canadian SciFi author, Robert Sawyer.  It was an honor to meet and talk with Robert and to read many of his books during the following weeks.

Photo by tyfn ((TYFN, “Amber Mac.” Flickr. 5 Oct 2007. 6 Dec 2008 <

This year, I will open the conference and then hang around to see the afternoon address, delivered by Internet media star, Amber MacArthur.  I remember her from TechTV and have listened to a few of her podcasts, but will likely be listening to more in the coming days.  Her address is called, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media & Web 2.0.”  I can’t wait.

Rolling around in my head, though, as I continue to prepare my talks, is something that I illuded to in my live blog of Jim Moulton’s keynote at NCETC last week.  It was only a year and a handful of months ago that virtually no one in my audiences had heard of RSS, only three or four had blogs, and Wikipedia was still the spawn of Satan.  Certainly there are still many educators who are unaware of RSS, continue to fear Wikipedia, and not everyone needs to be blogging.  But there are many who are attending these conferences who are in, with the new information environment, and who know as much as I do about the opportunities — and know things I don’t know.

“There are a lot of people attending ed tech conferences who don’t need to.”

Not only do I not like to teach things that people have heard before, but I suspect that we are wasting an enormous opportunity in not finding ways to tap into the knowledge and experiences that glow in the audience seats.

The way that my brain works, I know that I do better teaching from a script, sequenced presentation slides, arranged with purpose, to deliver a message through story.  But letting go of the script, breaking the slides out into flexible nodes of information, and asking the audience to share and build captures much more knowledge, experience, and perspective, and serves the needs of far more people.

I tried it during the second day of NCETC, and received this comment from educator Earnie Cox…

I think I might be one of those people that don’t need to attend as many conferences as I do. Your sessions today invited me to form questions and engage in discussions about the tech stuff I already knew about. That is what we need more of…

I basically introduced Personal Learning Networks, at a fairly general level, and then asked folks to raise their hands if they could identify and conceivably map out their learning networks conceptually.  Several hands went up, and I asked, they described their networks. 

One of the distinctions that I discovered was that most of them saw their groupmails as their PLN — and rightly so.  This gave me the opportunity to say that PLNs are not new.  We’ve always had people and information sources we connected to.  The distinction today, is that our networks can extend beyond our geographies, and even more importantly, they extend through content.  The people in my evolving network are there, not because we speak the same language, grew up in the same neighborhood, look the same, or live the same culture.  We’ve connected through our ideas, through our questions and answers, experiences and insights.

Our networks today can grow spontanieously by virtue of the conversations we are having.

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Pre-Conference Ning’ing…

I have a quick question for you.

If you were considering going to a conference, might you decide not to attend, if the conference put its handouts up on a Ning prior to the conference, or opened the Ning up for conversation?

If you were trying to decide between two conferences, would the conference that offers a Ning for pre-conference resources and conversation, lose points for that reason?

I look forward to your response?

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NCETC in Greensboro.

I’m sitting here watching Jim Moulton’s keynote.  I’m also reading Jeff Whipple’s twittering of Zhao’s keynote in New Hampshire (where I was yesterday) — and still preparing for my three presentations and one workshop today.  …and I can’t multitask.

Here are some quotes from Moulton’s one lines.

  • We are teaching Screenagers.
  • For Kindergarten, the most important technology is the rug.
  • Talk to your children.  Speech Therapy is a growth industry in America. (applause)
  • We all have to know our multiplication tables (why do we have to say that? — I was almost applause for that line)

  • A = What one knows
    B = What one does with what one knows
    C = Who knows and cares what one knows and what one has done.
    (A x B)c

  • The world is going to be different at the other end of the depression.  America’s preeminence is over. (I suspect there is a lot of truth to this, especially the first part.)
  • Job interviewer is troubled by the lack of intellectual curiosity.
  • Perseverance trumps ability.
  • Yong Zhao – do the perceived “achievement gaps” between USA / Canada and rest of world really matter?
  • Zhao – purpose of education is definitely NOT test scores…other data is more important…
  • zhao – schools have been moving too far away from education, schools should be faith-based orgs…education is different from instruction
  • zhao – technology allows us to extend our world from local-physical to global-virtual…what new skills will we need?
  • zhao is showing two maps, sizes of countries based on pop and wealth…what differences…how will globalization change these…
  • zhao – now places map of education…now a royalty fees map…US is huge…we are knowledge economy
  • zhao – now a map of toy exports…china is huge…they hav e a making stuff economy
  • zhao – showing parts sourcing for Mini Cooper…if parts can move, so can people…yao ming and herbert hoover – global trade of talents…
  • zhao – “death of distance” ebay…a “global garage sale”…transformed garage sale…more access to people who want to buy your trash…
  • zhao – phenomena – some strange talents can be of value to others…web allows more opportunity to connect
  • zhao – creativity is not a skill, it’s a mindset, it’s innate and can be killed…
  • zhao – spirit of US (and canadian) education…belief in individual talents…YOU are responsible for success…adults have to respect kids
  • zhao – talking Dan Pink AWNM …GM says “we are not in transportation industry, we are in art industry”
  • Yong Zhao – do the perceived “achievement gaps” between USA / Canada and rest of world really matter?
Quotes from Yong Zhao’s keynote address at the NHCMTC conference in Manchester, New Hampshire — twittered by Jeff Whipple

I’ll add in here that I am becoming increasingly convinced that we need to much more frequently restructure our conference sessions as unconference in nature.  I’m finding that I am presenting in rooms with people who need to hear what I have to say and show.  But there are as many who know it already, and know many more things that I don’t know.  We can serve  everyone.

There are a lot of people attending ed tech conferences who don’t need to.  We need to tap into that capacity.

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