Apologies for Very Poor Memory

I’m sitting in a Linux session at the Hot Springs Technology Institute. It’s a geeky session with lots of talk about the various directors in the Linux file structure. Most of it is making sense for about fifteen seconds. But it’s extremely interesting to me — for about 15 seconds. I’ve actually go Ubuntu running on my Mac, so I’m following along.

On another issue, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the people who I will encounter at NECC next week who I should recognize, but will not. I’m sure that I have some learning disability to makes it hard for me to recall proper nouns 😉

So, please forgive me for a much less than suitable memory.

Tagging NECC

I only have a few minutes to post this — early flight to Arkansas for a regional conference in Hot Springs.  More about that later.

You know by now that NECC has its own tags: necc, necc07, and necc2007.  Tagging your blogs with these strings will make your blog searchable through Technorati and other blog search engines, and available through Hitchhikr.  You also, probably know that each session, at NECC, also has a unique tag, thanks to another NECC innovation.  For instance, the tag for my session on Contemporary Literacy will be n07s705

Blog Tag GeneratorActually applying tags can be quirky and dependent on the blogging engine that you use.  This is why I made a little tool a couple of years ago to help.  It’s called Blog Tag Generator (took me a long time to think that one up).  To run BTG, go to the front page of my Landmarks for Schools web site, and then click [Blog Tag Generator] in the blog panel to the right.  A small window will popout with three textboxes. 

  1. Type your blog tags in the top single line textbox: necc necc07 necc2007 n07s705
  2. Click [Submit]
  3. This will generate some HTML code in the larger multi-line textbox.  Highlight and copy this code.
  4. Go to your blog and switch it to Source or HTML mode.  The method for doing this will depend on the blogging engine you are using.  There will usually be a link or button either above or beneath the textbox where you type the blog article.
  5. This will cause your blog article to appear in HTML format, probably with lots of <br />s.  Place the cursor at the bottom of your article and paste the code from BTG.
  6. Switch back to standard view and your tags will appear at the bottom of your article, justified to the right.  You can submit your blog now.
  7. Finally, type the URL of you blog in the bottom textbox in BTG and click the [Ping!] button.  This alerts Technorati that your blog has been posted to.  It will then check your blog and index your recent article, making it available for searching.

See you at NECC, either in person or through your blog!

2¢ Worth

More Talk about Information and Media

Last week I went round and round about the nature of information.  My goal was examining how technology has affected the nature of information, and by nature, I mean how to flows, grows, and otherwise behaves as a result of networks, and so on. 

Anyway, I got from the conversation what I needed and learned some things from people a lot smarter than me.  David Thornburg has taken up the topic on his blog, at The Thornburg Center, and those of you interested in digging deeper into this topic, I suggest you go and read and engage in How Media Matters.

Thanks David, for letting me know about the continued conversation. 

Re-Capturing Books through Captcha…

A few days ago, Ed Warkentin, of Teach ‘Em How to Fish, sent me an e-mail describing something called reCAPTCHA.  A captcha is a string of letters and numbers twisted just a bit, and displayed when you want to post a comment on a blog, or submit some other information through a web page.  If you type the letters and numbers in correctly, then the software assumes that you are probably a human, and not an automated spambot, seeking to populate the Internet with that noxious waste and

reCAPTCHASo, according to the reCAPTCHA web site, about 60 million of these captchas are read and typed in by humans every day. 

Enter the problem, not with captchas, but with our ongoing efforts to digitize the pre-digital record of humankind. 

Volunteers around the world are working to type in the great books, and not so great works that define hour heritage.  They work very hard and they have a long way to go.

So, the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University takes a look and offers something interesting.  With the help and support of Intel, Novell, The MacArthur Foundation, and ALADDIN/Olympus, and a variety of Open Source applications, Luis von Ahn, Ben Maurer, Mike Crawford, Ryan Staake, and Manuel Blum have devised a way to help us, those who comment on blogs, to help them digitize books of old.  Each time you click to comment on a participating blog, the service delivers an altered photograph of two words from the work currently being digitized.  You read the two words, type them in, and then submit your comment.  The words are compared with what others have typed in, and if they agree, then the words are added to the work, and your comment is posted.  We are digitizing the great works — two words at a time.

The only thing that intrigues me more than this kind of harnessing of computer and human intellectual labor, are the people who think this stuff up.

Reinventing Libraries


It’s a unique experience.  I have flown to an exotic place, not home, to join my family.  Brenda and Martin flew to Boston yesterday to enjoy day one of a short vacation in this revolutionary city.  They visited Bunkerhill, and attended a concert of the Boston Pops last night, probably the high point for Martin — who was downloading music from Carousel shortly after arriving back at the hotel.

So this morning, I wake up on Boston Harbor, with the masts of the USS Constitution rising up over a contemporary office building, next to the hotel.   Later this morning we’ll walk the Freedom Trail, do some shopping, and probably enjoy some seafood (not fried).  None of us have visited Boston as a vacation, so this promises to be fun.

Yesterday for me was not a total loss.  Quite the contrary.  It was absolutely one of the most professionally rewarding days of my career.   Ontario’s provincial Ministry of Education has challenged the Ontario Library Association to write a new guiding document for school libraries.  They are providing a grant for selected writers to compose a blueprint for the 21st century library, and they are explicitly asking that this document be something that will not only influence school media centers, but reach into every classroom and transform teaching and learning in the entire province.

So picture this.  I’m in a conference room, sitting at a board table with some really smart people, who talk a lot like me — except for Ross Todd from New Jersey, who actually grew up in Australia.  Outside is a city of heritage, with enormous modern buildings of glass, parks, and sidewalk cafes.  And we’re asked to brainstorm about the library of the future.

I can not remember all of the high points of the day, but one that stands out was an initial statement made by a fellow named Ray (so very sorry I do not recall all of the names.  If I receive a list of all of the participants, I’ll post it.)  He asked why there were no students in the group.  A very important question, which actually inserted itself into nearly every other conversation of the day. 

One of the driving forces of this document, I suspect, will be the patron.  This is not to say that current school libraries in Ontario and across Canada and the U.S. are not focused on the patron.  They most certainly are designed and worked to serve patrons.  However, what today’s libraries should become is a place where the patron is empowered to make the library experience personal, to almost literally make that experience, redesign the library to be,  exactly what they need it to be.  You want a library were, by the end of the school year, each student can conduct a tour of the facility and that each tour would be absolutely different.

Another idea that came up, was from Esther Rosenfeld, the project’s lead writer.  She talked about a time when, if the history teacher did not get through World War II (in the U.S. it would be the Civil War), then that was OK.  Now, teachers are pressured to get through the entire curriculum, to the end of the textbook, covering every chapter.  What would a library look like that became the place where it was alright not to get past World War II — where students can linger and indulge in learning.

So much more to say, but it is now time for vacation.  I will mention that the ears of Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza must have been on fire!

A Hypothetical

My town wants to liquidate a large parcel of land that was once intended for a comprehensive high school, and it is considering selling it to a large discount chain.  I get on the Internet looking for information about the chain and its impact on small towns when it moves in.  I find a number of reports from other towns that have experience with the company, mostly produced by local action groups and mostly negative.  They all provide data on the impact, but I decide not to use that data, because of the emotional flavor of the reports.

One report, however, points to data from a study that was supported by a grant from the federal government, and managed by a college professor who, I learn from my research, has managed a number of other government funded studies.  I am able to import the raw data from the report into a spreadsheet program, and use some formulas to filter out irrelevant data.  Then I run some statistical function to measure and test trends, and produce some graphs that reveal some startling information about job patterns in the studied towns.

I want to share my findings with other residents of my town, but know that we are all too busy to pay a lot of attention to such information.  We all have too much to read.  So I produce a set of presentation slides that include some animation, convert the presentation into a movie file, and publish it on my blog, which is read by others in my town.  I hope that they will link it to their blogs.

Are the skills that I utilized in this story basic skills.  Is the ability to make decisions on the information sources I would use a basic/universal skill.  Is the ability to take data and make it tell its story by using statistics and information processing technologies a basic skill today?  I could certainly write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, but I decided instead that I might better influence more people by producing a video.  Should anyone have these skills?  Should everyone have these skills?  Is this literacy?

I was certainly not taught to do these things when I was growing up.  We didn’t have these technologies.  But is it simply advanced in technology that should cause us to rethink literacy, or has something happened to the nature of information — as a result of technology?

I’ve come to understand that “information” is sacred.  People much smarter than me have thought and talked and written about information for a long time.  Commentors to my blog are right.  Information has not changed.  But I think that it’s nature has.  It now flows through networks, so it can come from almost anywhere, any time, and from almost anyone.  That’s new.  It exists as ones and zeros rather than scratched or stamped ink.  We can work information in ways that were impossible fifteen years ago.  And there is so much of it.  We are overwhelmed by the vast supply of information and must constantly made decisions on what information we’re going to use and what we’re going to ignore. 

I think that this all affects what it means to be literacy.

By the way, this is a great conversation —-

Follow your Favorite NECC Session

Steve Hargadon, the magician who breaths life into old technology with open source, spent a lot of hours and brain cells yesterday creating a list of NECC presenters (NECC 2007 Session Tags and Feeds). Along with their name is the title of the presentation they will deliver. Obviously, a lot of time — but the NECC web site already has this. What is huge is that beneath the session title is a link to coded searches for blog entries and Flickr photos from that presentation, as well as RSS feeds for people who want include tagged references to the session in their aggregators — all based on session tags provided by NECC. This is enormous.

Not only that, but Steve has also set up a Twitter account for the Bloggers’ Cafe at NECC (Bloggers’ Cafe at NECC 2007). I guess I should come to understand this Twitter thing.

Check it out at Steve’s blog, and also check out his Technology Rescue Wiki.

I think that we’re seeing one of the qualities of the new web here, where extremely valuable conference services are coming from outside the conference — from the audience.

KCI is Wireless and the “Nature of Information”

It just came through the airport intercom, Kansas City International now offers free Wireless Internet, just configure your computer to…

I love it.  It was also interesting to see all of the Rest Areas on I29 between Sioux Falls and Kansas City with Wireless Internet signs.  I didn’t partake, but they were certainly more accessible than Panera Breads.

I just posted another comment on yesterday provocative post, and I’d like to repeat it here:

I do not disagree with anyone here, and terms are important.  But do you disagree that information is increasingly

  • networked,
  • digital, and
  • overwhelming. 

If you agree, what would you call this change.  I still believe that these are important developments, especially as we try to keep a handle on the basic literacy skills we should be teaching our children?

I look forward to reading and learning…

Going Simple

Yesterday’s blog sparked some very rich comments about the nature of information.  I was reminded of much that I have read and thought about, and alot that I haven’t.  I am seriously flatter to have earned a comment from David Thornburg. ..and I am always thrilled to see Tom Hoffman weigh in.

Being deep is not where I want to go with this.  I probably don’t have the capacity.  On top of that, I think that it does us, as educators, little good to quote media philosophers when what we’re trying to do is convince a complacent public that what our how our children are taught needs to change.  Our notions of literacy, I believe in my teacher’s heart, must become far richer than the 3Rs.  ..And the only way that we can convince people of this is to be able to explain it as simply as one can explain the 3Rs.

Saying that kids need to learn in new ways because of technology is not enough.  However, I think that if we talk about dramatic changes in information (what it looks like, where and how we find it, what we can do with it, how we communicate it) we might make a case for “basic skills” that more closely reflect today’s information landscape.

Image Citation:
Bakker, Conrad. “Information.” UntitledProjects’ Photostream. 13 Jun 2007. 14 Jun 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/untitledprojects/544096767/>.