The history of computer data storage, in pictures

Picture of an 8'' Floppy DiskNowadays we are used to having hundreds of gigabytes of storage capacity in our computers. Even tiny MP3 players and other handheld devices usually have several gigabytes of storage. This was pure science fiction only a few decades ago.

Here is an interesting walk through memory lane, the journey to massive information storage.  I remember eight-inch floppies and laserdisc players very well.

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What Would (Will) our Children do with This

Picture of Accelerator ConduitAn April 6 story (Coming soon: Superfast Internet) from TIMESONLINE, describes a new parallel Internet that will reportedly move information 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection.  Called “the grid,” the network is being established by the Cern particle physics center, and will be launched for research purposes on “Red Button” day, when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is switched-on. [image ((Kalmann, Marco. “Cern.” CernMarcokolmann’s Photostream. 29 Jan 2008. 8 Apr 2008]

The network is initially being built by Cern to handle that huge amounts of data that will be generated by the super collider, distributing it out to various research centers around the world.  One of the goals of the collider will be to locate the Higgs Bison particle.  You can look that one up for yourself.

There is no promise that “the grid” will ever become part of our household infrastructure, though information speeds like these will certainly be part of our future.  It might be interesting to ask students, the inheritors of this future, to speculate on what they might do with connections capable of sending…

…the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds. ((Leake, Jonathan. “Coming Soon: Superfast Internet.” TIMESONLINE 6 Apr 2008 8 Apr 2008 science/article3689881.ecehigg.))

Share what you think?

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How did you learn Computer Science?

Kim Cavanaugh, author of Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 Visual Encyclopedia, responded to yesterdays airport blog post about computer science and the AP exam. He asked his readers (educators and programmers and web developers) to share how they would teach computer science, and more to the point, how they learned to program.

I’ll tackle the last question, as I think that it may lead to insights about the first few. It started in the early 1980s, when my school purchased a Radio Shack computer, and then next year we received 11 TRS-80 Model III computers (16 kilobytes of memory) from a district grant, and I got all 11 in my classroom (no one else wanted them). In both cases, there was no software included. It is a testament to how little we knew about these things that we seemed to think that the green glow from those cathode ray tubes would make our children smarter.

Radio Shack, back then, had the best tutorial on programming (BASIC) I have ever seen. I poured through it, and it is no exaggeration to say that my life changed. I think that what impressed me the most was that this was a technology that you operated by communicating with it, by typing incantations into the machine. As an educator who’d taught history as a series of technological achievements (bow and arrow, agriculture, etc.) and their impact on societies, I saw the personal computer as one of those technologies that was going to change things.

No doubt, the novelty of a technology that you communicate with has worn off. It’s an old shoe for today’s kids. However, that you can make computers do things at a very fundamental level, through programming, and assemble those fundamentals together into useful and interesting objects and events, continues to hold potential to empower learning.

Early on, I tried my hand at writing video games. But what I discovered was that writing the games was much more fun than playing them. The adventure was in tracing pathways of thought and then testing them. It was clean, because it either worked, or it didn’t work — and if it didn’t, there was always a logical reason why.

I think that part of the problem is that we are trying to teach computer science or programming, rather than helping students learn to do interesting things with today’s prevailing information technology.

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Four AP Tests being Dropped

Photo from Flickr -- Last ExamI’ve been in the air all morning (still there at this writing), so I do not know if this has hit the edublogosphere yet. But I discovered in my e-mail a IP message referencing an article from yesterday’s Washington Post.

The College Board told U.S. teachers in an e-mail yesterday that four underenrolled Advanced Placement courses will be eliminated after the 2008-09 academic year in the first significant retrenchment of the
college preparatory program in its 53-year history.The courses being cut — Italian, Latin literature, French literature and computer science AB — are among the least popular in the AP portfolio. … The eliminated classes are “all less commonly taught disciplines in high schools,” said Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board for AP. “And they’re under fire sometimes,” he said, in school systems more focused on core subjects.

Trustees of the New York-based College Board decided to eliminate the courses March 27 at a meeting in Reston, Packer said. The decision was communicated at 5 p.m. yesterday via e-mail to 2,519 teachers of the affected subjects and to AP program coordinators. ((de Vise, Daniel. AP Language, Computer Courses Cut.” Washington Post 4 Apr 2008, Online: [www_washingtonpost_com] .))

The IP subscriber who posted the e-mail wrote:

It’s well known that the number of university students choosing computer science as a major has been declined significantly in the past six years. Many organizations, including the the Computing Research Association, have developed strategies to address this by enlarging the pipeline. A part of this is working to increase interest in the field in high schools and middle school. Eliminating the computer science AP test will discourage high schools from offering computer science courses and their students from taking them. Here’s a story from the Washington Post. ((Finin, Tim. “College Board eliminates computer science AP test.” E-mail to IP Mailing List.5 Apr 2008.))

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I’m not sure how much a Computer Science AP exam encourages high schools students to pursue CS studies. To my knowledge, it is basically a programming exam — only one aspect of CS (Please correct me if I am wrong here). I’ve heard in several conversations that colleges are losing confidence in the AP exams, as an acceptance and placement tool, because they are discovering that AP students, by and large, are taught to pass the test, not necessarily taught good Computer Science, Literature, or Mathematics. So if these observations are accurate, then I do not feel any real loss.

On the other hand, I am concerned with Tim Finin’s lament about declining enrollment of U.S. students in University Computer Science programs. I remain convinced that the problem has much more to do with how we teach computer science than the tests we give at the end. Of course the tests contribute significantly to our pedagogies, so the question that occurs to me is,

“What would computer science curriculum (k-12) look like, without a test, and with the aim of encouraging more students to pursue computer technology careers.”

But then my third mind says, “Hey, we don’t even know what computer science is going to look like 10 years from now. Computers may be programming themselves, redesigning their own circuitry, and growing their own memory. [photo ((“Last Exam.” Y-A-N. 13 May 2005. 5 Apr 2008 <>.)) ]

E-mail Author: Tim Finin, Computer Science & Electrical Engineering, Univ of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Cir, Baltimore MD 21250. 410-455-3522 fax:-3969

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What Place Personalization

Smarter than yesterdayOne of the topics of my workshop in San Diego was podcasting.  It was a real bear, as my Audacity refused to operate predictably — (Tech is wonderful until you use technology to demonstrate technology).  That problem, however, has been solved by reinstalling Audacity.

Since we did not have access to microphones for the audience, I recorded a podcast with the group, by asking them some questions about what they’d learned so far and the impact that they saw with student performance and their own performance as teachers.  One of the members of the group of 30 mentioned something that I’d heard before.  But the way that he said it sent me in a new direction.  He said something about how blogs, wikis, and podcasting allow our students’ learning experiences to be more personalized.

At this, it occurred to me that as our youngsters are engaged in their social networks at home, it appears that they do not endeavor to create MySpace pages that are just like those of their friends.  Instead, it seems that one of the goals is to establish and illustrate their uniqueness.  They use their online information experience to project their individuality — their person.  Of course, their expressions isn’t always authentic, that they will often project a person they are not, as experiment or as fun.  But it is uniqueness none the less.

So what is it in the learning experiences that we maintain for our students in our classrooms that calls on their uniqueness, that asks them to personalize?  If, rather than expecting them to turn in work that is the same as everyone else, we expected them to express what they are learning in a way that is unlike anyone else, might this be one way of starting to integrate, among other things, the Creativity and Innovation that the new ISTE NETS are calling for?

I don’t know.  What do you think?  What might this look like?

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Picture of My Personal Learning Network

I got bored on the plane, this morning, so I pulled out my laptop, loaded Inspiration, and put this together. The problem is that elements of my PLN will occur to me over time, and I’ll add them in. But this was my first attempt at drawing a picture of it.

Picture of my Personal Learning Network
Incomplete -- as it should be

It's a few minutes later, after a rash of Twittered questions, I see a need for some explanation:

  1. The cloud at the top represents the people component of my PLN. They are (well you can read the categories). They blog, they publish their bookmarks with or Diigo. Most of that comes in through my aggregator.
  2. Many of the folks I learn from Twitter as well, so that constitutes another avenue.
  3. I’m also fortunate to be able to attend lots of conferences, where I always learn through conversations.
  4. I also learn from news and from announcements about new information services and applications. Some of this a subscribe to directly with my aggregator. But most of the best news and announcements come for the people who blog about them or Twitter them.
  5. I think that there is a critical part of my PLN that I haven’t really written about before. It is my reflective endeavors, what I do with what I learn, to write it in context, to add to my context, to continue to construct knowledge.
  6. I continue to try to build knowledge because I want to share it, through my teaching, my writing, and web apps that I build and build onto, and especially the conversations I engage in with people at conferences and workshops.

Some questions that have been Twittered in:

What about Social networks like Facebook and MySpace?

I ‘ll have to say that I do not get very much value from my Facebook or Linked in presence. I’m not even paying as much attention to Diigo as I’d though I would.

No reference to my Twittering out.

This is probably something I should consider adding in. Thanks Smyth!

Someone asks, How about implementing in the classroom?

I’m afraid that I haven’t gotten there yet. I promote PLNs for educators as a professional self-development endeavor. I’m not really sure most classrooms are ready for student PLNs, at least as I see them.

There are no people!

Well, the people are in the cloud, and there is no message in that 😉 I know that some think of the individuals in their personal learning network. I just can’t do that. There are too many. I see the network as a community, a brain in its own right.

I wonder if it produces and upward spiral or spinning wheels?

Hmmm! An interesting visual. Of course, I’d prefer the upward spiral, and some how tapping into the centrifugal force of it for adding value. I’ll be thinking about that during the next leg of my flight 😉

Oh!  They’re getting ready to board.  Got to go!


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Surprises in Houston

Last week, I spoke at the American Leadership Forum Convocation, one of the semi-regular events that invite ALF members and fellows to listen and to discuss. It was an interesting day in two ways. One was the diversity of the attendees. They were teachers, librarians, school and central office administrators, superintendents, school board members, and business people.

A day of rich conversations
The second very interesting part of the day was that it consisted of my opening one hour address, a thirty minute closing, and a one hour panel discussion among school superintendents, with questions from the audience. All of the rest of the time was spent in conversations, both heterogeneous (groups randomly mixed) and homogeneous (grouped by occupation) — very unconference.

I was able to wonder around and listen to the conversations, and there were several surprises. However, the one main surprise that lots of people expressed was how much the entire group, regardless of their position among education stakeholders, agreed that old school does not server today’s children.

Also, fear became a major part of the conversations. This was partially my fault, because I closed the opening keynote by talking about the We’re Not Afraid blog. I presented the blog as an illustration of global collaboration. But being not afraid became one of the themes of many of the conversations.

A conclusion drawn by one group was that if we are to teach lifelong learning skills, then teachers and leaders should be willing to model these skills, to present themselves as master learners. If we are to practice lifelong learning skills, then we should be willing to ask our students, “How do you do this on the Internet?” or “How did you get your web site to do that?”

It models learning lifestyle and offers respect for the skills and knowledge of many of our students. One of the higher ed folks described how they wanted their faculty to understand social networks, and, perhaps, to figure out how to use them. He said that they paid a 25 year old student to come in and demonstrate their social networking practices.

I guess that the biggest surprise for me, not to mention validation, was the conversation among business people. Here are just a few of the comments I managed to type into my iPhone.

  • We can’t drag this out. Stop demanding pilot projects and overhaul the system.
  • (Classrooms) need to get updated.
  • Technology is not the answer.
  • If I (forty-something) am able help my children with Their homework, then there may be something wrong.
  • Today I don’t need to know everything I just need to know how to find what I need to know.
  • There is a disconnect between what we’re doing in school and what we need for life.
  • Change is going to happen. Are we going to anticipate the change and facilitate it, or are we going to wait and try to rebuild in the chaos that ensues.
  • Drop the text books and give (them) laptops. Textbooks are lousy.
  • Give a sabatical to all teachers to make themselves an expert in some area that could be used by the school (leaning theory, etc.)
  • Teachers talk about lifelong learning, but they are not willing to practice it (lots of paraphrasing)

About to fly. Long Day. Flying with the Sun.

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My Personal Learning Network needs a ######### !

I’ve been thinking about this article for some time now, but haven’t been able to start it because I know I’ll not do it justice.  Very soon, I’ll be doing some serious writing about PLNs — about my Personal Learning Network and how it helps me accomplish my goals and keeps me abreast of news and thinking about teaching and learning in this new information landscape.

I see my PLN as having three basic components.

  1. The network — People who have things to say that help me do my job, and dynamic information sources that provide me with the raw materials I need.
  2. The tools — Essentially, the avenues of communication through which I connect with people and information sources — conduits that often add value to the information.
  3. My Own Personal Echo Chamber — This is my own world view from which I teach, where ideas from my PLN bounce around off the walls of my mind and off of other ideas, either losing momentum and fading away, or generating energy and growing. (I’d look to talk a bit later about what I see when I look at this on my screen)

Poseidon unzipping an ocean stormBut there is a 4th element to my PLN that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  You see, as I rose this morning, and switched on Twitterific, I got pulled into the thoughts of Ian Usher, up a few hours already in England.  Then Julie Lindsay in Qatar, then Ewan Mcintosh and Josie Fraser from Scotland and England.  Also Chris Craft, with insane energy, chimes in from South Carolina.  Jeff Utecht, of Shanghai, is at the tail end of his day, but will be back at the end of mine, as he begins his tomorrow.

My aggregator is crazy busy, with a thousand+ messages waiting in my “Everyday” folder alone.  I have no intention of reading them all.  I read as many as I can.  But I subscribed to all of that, because I felt that it was valuable to me.

25 minutes later -- because I got sucked into my Google Reader, and bookmarked four new resources.


what my Personal Learning Network needs

is a zipper. 

I need a way to open up this nebulous and ever evolving thing and slip it off of my head, so that I can enjoy the azaleas, take walks, sit and read a mystery, veg in front of the TV, get back to cooking, pick up my guitar again, go meet my brother for lunch, go to a matinée.  Of course I do these things (except for the cooking, guitar, and haven’t been to a matinee in months), as do we all.  But the networks are not a 9 to 5 affair, and it’s why zippers on our PLNs need to be an explicit part of our conversations. [Image ((AZRainman, “Poseidon.” Azrainman’s Photostream. 2 Aug 2007. 1 Apr 2008. ]

2¢ Worth.

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