A Few Items before I Hit the Road

It’s only hours before I hit the road again. Tomorrow, I’ll be delivering a featured address at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference (GaETC) and three breakout sessions on blogging, podcasting, and RSS. From Atlanta, I fly down to Austin for the second installment of Technology & Learning’s TechForum. I’ll be doing another session on Blogging and Web 2.0. Also, Hall Davidson will be the keynote speaker, which will be a real treat.

I wanted to just mention a couple of things that I’ve run across during my day in the office yesterday.

  • There are two articles in this month’s Learning & Leading With Technology about Podcasting. It starts with a piece by Brian Flanagan and Brendan Calandra. It’s a good article about using podcasting as a source for content, mostly in the higher-ed arena. I must admit that I finished that article less than satisfied, because the real potential of podcasting in K-12, in my opinion, is content production.

    Well my appetite was satisfied with the next article, by Glen Bull. He touched on the Long Tail and also offered, what I feel is the most accurate and concise definition of Podcasting:

    Podcasting allows distribution of audio files through an RSS feed.

    OK, so it’s not comprehensive, but from these two elements as a springboard, one could paint out a very nice picture of the concept and podcasting’s functions.

  • I also listened to an excellent podcast yesterday, EdTechTalk#24 a discussion with Barbara Ganley. The power of this podcast is that Barbara is using blogging in the classroom. So if you want to hear about what happens in a classroom that communicates, give it a listen.
  • Also, Steve Dembo’s back. For reason’s unknown, Steve is no long at the Charter School he started with this year, and is now working for Discovery Education. This is great news, not only for Discovery Education, but for us, because Teach42 is back online.

Finally, I wrote this as a comment for a post Miguel Guhlin posted a few days ago, and I never got around to finishing it. So I’ll just post it here. Miguel is struggling with the paradox, between understanding that an educatioin system that seems so focused on comparing students, teachers, schools, etc. and feeling pride when his daughter excels by these standards. He says,

When my children bring home a good report card for their standardized test, I’m proud. I’m proud that my child has met the standard or done 95% better than other children taking the test. But what does this really mean? For my daughter, for her family, it means a lot. It means an extra ice cream cone or a trip to Half-Price Books. We continue to place value on these tests, and children see it in school. I tried to keep her free of Accelerated Reader implementations in my daughter’s school, but it didn’t matter. My daughter loves to read but now she also happens to read for points. . .and arose to the top of the heap two grades in a row school wide. Wow…and while being literate meant so much back when, now, I’m worried that she can’t take media and transform it, etc. I’m not sure I know how to do that and I’m a grown-up playing with this stuff every day. If I have problems with doing that, it’s hard to imagine teachers who haven’t done anything along these lines in years. I have to force myself to think different about collecting and using media.

You are cutting through to some fundamental concepts here, Miguel. You are a good bit younger than me, but I suspect that you can identify with an upbringing based on competition. I grew up playing football (the pointed ball) and baseball, and on each team, there was the hero. We all tried to be the hero, but there could only be one quarterback or pitcher. You were measured based on your hero’ness. I grew up second rate, because I played first base (the position for boys who couldn’t run fast). But at least I wasn’t a complete losing, playing in the band (don’t get mad yet).

I, too, am proud when my children make the grade on their standardized test. I’m proud when I learn that my son, who has not been an extraordinarily successful student is suddenly outperforming the school’s Valedictorian in Calculus, and when my daughter is in the top of her chemistry class in college, when she never took chemistry in high school.

But I’ll tell you what gives me the most excitement. It’s watching my children in marching band. They are working in collaboration with many other youngsters, out of an information environment that precisely describes movement, all aspects of sound, and timing. They take all of this information, perform it together, to make something that is singularly beautiful — and out of this beauty comes emotion. Powerful stuff!

Kids, today, know about being a hero. But they share it. Out of video games, they all learn to be heros, but it’s not in competition. It’s in collaboration.

Miguel goes on to address digital divide…

The Digital Divide is growing wider in a sinister way. It’s clear that if children don’t have access to tech at home, anywhere but school, they won’t be able to survive in whatever world market they grow into. Maybe the solution isn’t to equip schools with technology but rather to provide that technology to students at home.

I agree that the digital divide is going to be far more sinister than we currently suspect. It’s not just a matter of the haves and have nots, the knows and know nots. It’s going to be the difference between those who are members (in online collaborative communities of power), and those who are disconnected and frustratingly alone. This is dangerous.

The only problem is, huge workforces (China, India) aren’t waiting to make radical changes in some areas. So…why are we?

I’ll tell you something else about my son. He use to believe in magic words. His favorite was “Wait a minute!” If he was in the middle of a video game, and his mother asked him to do something, he thought that saying “wait a minute” would make time stop, so that he could do what he wanted to do. We know now that making time stop is not so easy. So why do we as a nation keep saying “Wait a minute!”? Do we think that India and China, and Russia, and… are going to wait for us to finish our playing?

Waiting for the Telescope

I’m still sitting in the coffee shop. Evidently, I am near the university. The clientele are bohemien couples, hippie holdouts, and a couple of yuppies.

A couple of people are using laptops, so apparently there is internet. One Tom Wolfe looking guy is sitting in the corner with two laptops open. He’s wearing a fedora and drinking his coffee with an army canteen cup.


Next day at the airport. While waiting in the coffee shop a woman, who had been at the conference, came in with her husband. Her name was Jennifer, and she had presented as well. They were from the Pheonix area, and staying over to see Mars as well.

At 7:15, the line was already very long. Because I had purchacesed Becaused I h& purched a ticket earlier in the day, I was able walk right in.

I wish that I could explain how moving it was to look throught the telescope that Pursival Lowell errected and see the planet Mars.

Waiting for the Telescope

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

After the conference

The conference ended around 3:00 with no flights out of Flagstaff this late. Usually, I’ll head for the hotel and camp out, but Brenda worked up a fantastic list of things to see here in the Flagstaff area.

Being a old time space geek, I picked the Lowell Observatory. After a short drive up another mountain, putting me at about 8,000 feet, I entered the Lowell Observatory complex. There are actually several telescopes, and they all have a story. The most interesting one was the one that discovered Pluto.

They will be allowing the public to use one of the telescopes at 7:30 and if I go back to my hotel room, I won’t get out again. So I’m sitting in a wonderful coffee shop, near the campus, typing with my thumbs.

The confernce was great. The only problem was the enormous amount of ambient light in the presentation room. It was extremely difficult to see the slides. But it’s amazing how unimportant such problems can be when you’re with really good people.

After the conference

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

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

It’s early Saturday morning, and I’ve gone through my keynote one more time. It’s almost smooth. I get very nervous delivering a new presentation. Thank goodness for PowerPoint.

On the plane yesterday, I read through Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants again. One section struck me in a way that it hadn’t before. He says that there “…two kinds of content: “Legacy” content (to borrow the computer term for old systems) and “Future” content.” Prensky continues:

“Legacy” content includes reading, writing, arithmetic, logical thinking, understanding the writings and ideas of the past, etc. — all of our “traditional” curriculum. It is still important, but it is from a different era…

“Future” content is to a large extent, not surprisingly, digital and technological. But while it includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. it also includes ethics, politics, sociology, languages, and other things that go with them.

I like this distinction as a way of communicating that in a new information-driven, technology-rich world, there is new curriculum that must be included in our notions of the basics. That said, in practice, I believe that we would be better served to integrate Legacy and Future together.

What really rang my bell was when Prensky finishes the paragraph with:

…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?

This, I want to explore. But I have to get ready now. Stay Tuned for part II.

The conference is just getting started

The conference is just getting started

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

As you can see, light was an issue in the presentation room. It was a commons area at a very impressive community college. The technical staff there went to heroic effors to make sure that everything happened and that I had light (video), sound (house sound for the computer) and information (Internet). Again, there was too much light, as you can tell from the picture. For the two hours leading up to the keynote, the sun was shining directly across the ceiling-mounted screen. At 8:40, when the address began, the streak of sun light only covered the bottom one foot wide, lower left corner of the screen. But it was shining directly in my eyes. Such are the adventures of public speaking.

The conference staff were wonderful to work with, and the audience was totally hospitable and patient about the problems seeing the slides. They sure keep their sun turned up high in Arizona.

One item that I hope to blog about in more detail later is a product called Development Lab: Educational Virtual Reality Authoring Studio. I had dinner with the AzTEA conference committee the night before, along with a number of exhibitors, and sat next to Scott Jochim, the CEO of the product’s producer, Digital Tech Frontier. We didn’t talk long, because he sat to my right, my deaf zone, but what I learned was intriguing.

He never mentioned Virtual reality, but talked about a tool that allowed students (and teachers) to produce, what they called, virtual vacations. Students could take photographs of a place, and integrate them into a presentation of sorts, that included movement in some way. Again, I didn’t get a clear image of the product, but was especially impressed with the fact that they could share their virtual vacations with other classes in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, Scott’s presentation was at the same time as one of mine, but I stopped by his room, before hand, and became double intrigued, when I saw a head mounted VR display as part of his exhibit. Evidently, $6,500 gets you the software, a Mac iBook, a nice looking digital camera, with fish eye lens, and a head mounts VR display with integrated audio head set. He showed me a quick demo. Basically, it gives you a cube, upon which you attache six images of your location (north, south, east, west, up, and down). Using the fish-eye lens, you take two (this is all coming from memory, and I was stressed to get back to my presentation room). The software then stitches the images into a fully immersive VR location. I don’t know where you can go from their, but possibilities are endless.

I’ve often suggested that classes take cameras with them on field trips and take 360o worth pictures and using stitching software to create Quicktime VR presentations. But this software seems to do that and a whole lot more.

I hope to have more to say on this later.

Raw Materials for the Mind, in Braille?

I’ve been spending all day putting together my keynote for Saturday’s AzTEA Conference. The presentation slides came together very well, and I’m finishing up the online handouts.

But I wanted to pause for a minute, because Ruth Catalano, my contact at AzTEA just wrote me an e-mail explaining that a sightless person will be attending the conference, and that she has received her Braille version of Raw Materials for the Mind [ISBN 1-4116-2795-4]. Now I’m at a loss as to how this took place, and plan to learn about it this weekend. But I just felt the quiver of yet another branch of the massive root system that has become our information environment.

Something from my Research

Growing Up DigitalIn going through some books (I’m surprised how old Millennials Rising [2000] and Growing Up Digital [1998] are now), and ran across the Participant Rights and Rules that Don Tapscott used in the kids interactive forum he used in preparing the book. They seem especially appropriate for today’s classroom blogging communities.

  • You are entitled to express your opinions.
  • You are entitled to an audience.
  • You are expected to learn.
  • Your are expected to teach.
  • You have a right to disagree.
  • You have a right to respond.
  • It is your privilege to change your mind.
  • It is your privilege to remain silent.

There are others that should be added concerning appropriate communication, but I really liked to positive direction of these rules.

Digital Divide Multiplied

The Arizona Technology in Education Alliance holds three ed tech conferences each year. I’ve been asked to keynote each of them this school year. Since many educators attend all of the conferences, and each conference has a specific theme, I have to deliver three different keynotes — and the first one is brand new to me. The themes this year are:

  • Who are we Educating?
  • What is Important to Learn?
  • What is a Technology Supported Learning Environment?

Most ed tech keynoters have presentations on how our kids are different today. I’ve not done one like that, though I have snippets that I can pull from other presentations. Right now, I’m skimming through Millennials Rising by Howe & Strauss, and Growing up Digital, by Tapscott, and was surprised at how dated both of these books are. A lot has happened in the last five years. Or is it that I’ve had high school aged children over the past five years. I’m not sure, but I have a lot more research to do.

One thing that did occur to me yesterday, that I think is important, is the nature of our digital divide. There are lots of digital divides, each with its own seeds for danger. What I was thinking about was the digital divide between tech-savvy students and students with little or no access to networked digital information outside the classroom — and to some extent, the digital divide between tech-savvy students and less-savvy teachers.

The literacy divide of the 20th century distinguished between people who could functionally read and those who could not. Democracy was certainly at stake, but to no small degree, so was commerce. The literate could consume the messages of content producers.

Today, the divide has multiplied, because people with contemporary (digital/21st century) literacy skills not only consume content, but they are the content. Being literate means being part of the network. The difference is not merely the individual who can read and individual who can not. It’s the difference between networked communities of power, and individuals who are cut off. This is a distinction too broad to ignore or postpone.

Consider IM Speak, the abbreviations that students use in their instant message conversations. It is, in no small way, a new grammar, and these students invented it spontaneously in collaboration. The industrial literacy way would have been to assign a standards committee to establish a new grammar, and then spend years teaching it in our classrooms. We should be amazed and in awe of this accomplishment. It happened not because these kids were digitally literate, but because being digitally literate meant being part of a network — a community of power.

Where is our community of power?

AzTEA Conference Attendees

I will be using a feature of Technorati to identify blog postings that concern your conference. If you will be attending the conference, and will be posting blog articles about the event, before, during, after, or in between, then place the following code somewhere in the text of the article.

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

Technorati should find your blog article and aggregate it together with other related blogs. If you will be taking photos at the conference and posting them on Flickr, then they too can be tagged with AzTEAconference.

It would also be helpful to signup on Technorati, go to account, and claim your blog. This will cause the service to regularly check your blog for new entries.

See you there at the conference!

Letting Go

Presensky SlideI’ve had an interesting exchange with Marco Polo (Autono Blogger), through comments on a blog I posted a couple of days ago, Some Quotes from Presentation Slides. The quotes were from various presentation slides I’ve capture over the last many weeks with my digital camera. One set of quotes implies that we should allow our students to take the lead in what and how they learn. Here are the quotes, which are from a Marc Prensky presentation.

Does everything we do have great engagement and gameplay?
Would kids spend their own money for it?

Does everything we do empower our students?
Would kids do it in their leisure time?

Does everything we do change our students’ behavior, beliefs & attitudes for the better?
Would they make their friends do it?

It is common to believe that institutions are part of the problem, that we need to break them, and allow students to rebuild their learning experience. This is a dangerous notion, although there is much about it that is true, in my opinion. Still, Marco, in his latest comment, says:

The difficulty I see and face, is that, probably due to their incarceration in high school, my students have developed bad study habits and self-sabotaging behaviour. I’ve tried letting them take the lead, but that didn’t really work – they just think I’m goofing off, then they goof off too, and nothing productive gets done.

Read the entire exchange

It is a fine line that we walk, razor fine.

One of the most compelling ideas that came out of Got Game (by John Beck and Mitchell Wade) and the media around it, was the role of the boss. In many video games, the player must face a large and powerful monster before moving to the next level. The next level is where they want to be, and they will fight that monster again, and again, and again, until they learn how to get past him. That monster is always called, the boss.

To the video game generation, the boss is someone who is a barrier between the player and where the player wants to be. Beck suggests that the supervisor (or teacher) should instead become the strategy guide or cheat sheet, a document players download from the Net or purchase in video game stores. They include shortcuts through the barriers of the game.

Perhaps our challenge, as teachers, is to compellingly define and describe that next level, create a place where the players want to be. If we do it right, then our students will come to us for the short cuts (curriculum) that help them get there. Classroom learning, will always require a leader. But is it better to push a stalled car, or steer one that has someplace to go.

Why do we have to “learn how to blog”?

I’m not exactly sure who she is, except that she lives in New Zealand, is interested in science, and is probably a student. But Cherrie, of Cherrieland, posted an important question as a comment to yesterday’s blog about Class Blogmeister. I responded to her comment, but this is such an important question, that I decided to post it as its own blog entry.

Cherrie said…

I don’t understand when people say that teachers (and students) have to “learn how to blog” – what does this mean, how to write interesting, concise blogs that people will want to read, or how to type it up and click the submit button and changing links and profiles and editing… are there secrets to blogging I don’t know about?! (ARGH!)

Cherrie, I like your question because it points to something that irks me as well. Even though a hair just behind my left ear stands straight up when I hear it, I usually do not object when people say, “I need to learn how to blog,” or “My students need to develop blogging skills.” I don’t object (usually) because they are probably going in the right direction in thinking outside the traditional classroom box, and some important learning will probably happen within the context of blogging instruction. But it’s based on the belief that we need to learn and teach technology skills — that it’s about the technology.

It isn’t.

It’s about information.

Certainly, technology has changed. But what has the greatest impact on us is how the nature of information has changed. I believe that teachers and students should be blogging, not so that they can learn to blog, but so that they can learn to communicate. In a couple of years, it will probably be a different tool. But we’ll still be accomplishing our goals through the quality of our communication.

Thanks for this very important observation.