Redefining Literacy

7:15 AM

Today, I’ll be delivering my Redefining Literacy… spotlight session. I do want to make note that this presentation is largely the same one I did last year. There will be some additions, but basically, the message is the same — and absolutely to no degree less important. We must rethink what it means to be literate, and then integrate that into the curriculum.

All of that said, if you’ve seen the presentation before at NECC or some other conference, then use your time more productively and attend another presentation.

Also, in my efforts to make my online handouts more useful to audiences, I have added a feature that will link blog articles about the presentation to the handouts. Therefore, if you will be sharing your insights about these ideas with the world of blog readers, please place the abbreviation, “rdl” (for ReDefining Literacy) in the text or title. It is also a good idea to register you blog with Technorati (, in order to expedite its inclusion in my handouts.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday at NECC (and the day ain’t over yet)

5:04 PM

[Warning: This is a conference session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes.]

Mike Hall, of the Georgia Department of EducationI was lucky enough to be invited to the Intel Breakfast this morning and got to finally listen to Mike Hall, of the Georgia State Department of Education. It seems like Georgia is doing some interesting and bold things, which doesn’t surprise me with Hall at the helm.

The talk was very good, with much that I knew, much that I didn’t, and lots of new perspective.

I also attended a session done by Susi Munshi and Susan Switzer about Chicago Public Schools’ use of blogging. The presentation was good, though a bit basic for me. I’m sure that most of the audience was thrilled. I must say that I’d thought that they were going to go through the process of setting up a blog, but I probably misread the the description. They shared enough that was new to me to make the hour very well worth it.

One idea that really stuck was related to book reviews. We’ve all thought of having students write book reviews on the books that they read and then having them available for future readers. But they suggested asking students to journal as they read the book, pretending to be one of the characters. As they say, “How cool is that”.

I spent about the next two hours in the vendor’s section, podcasting most of the time, so that information will be available on my podcast page ( very soon.

Dave Weinberger Speaks at NECC

5:58 PM

[Warning: This is a conference session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes. My comments are in italics]

The keynote session has begun, opened by Benjamin Franklin, who welcomed us all as educators and technologists. While waiting for the program to start, I had a long conversation with Mike Lawrence from the Computer Using Educators, California’s ISTE affiliate and a very fine twice a year (Northern and Southern CA) ed tech conference. Mike mentioned a quote that, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. He says that conferences are people aggregators. How right that is!

The StageISTE President, Kurt Steinhaus started the official session with welcomes and some announcements, including mention of a NECC style conference in India. Intriguing. Think about the conversations that come out of that, and I mean that in a new shape of knowledge sort of way. Kurt also made a passionate appeal for advocacy as our government(s) continue to cut out budgets in a time when we need to be investing more heavily in school technology.

The Shape of Knowledge
Keynote address by David Weinberger

Weinberger says that the Wikipedia will be what people point to when talking about when the information changed. He referred back to the Wikipedia several times during the presentation. I am still surprised at how few people in many of my audiences are not aware of the Wikipedia. I’m sure that won’t be the case here.

Knowledge began in ancient greece, in the Agora, the open market, where affairs of state were decided. Anyone (white, male, property owners) could stand up and speak. Knowledge it justified, true, belief (Plato).

Nature of Knoweldge

  • We assume that there is one knowledge
  • Knowledge is neatly organized (a tree of knowledge)
  • We need experts to know the knowledge
  • Those experts will have power.

This sounds like industrial age schools and too much like the definition of knowledge that we continue to rely on in our education system. ..and perhaps this doesn’t seem as ridiculous to most people as it does to me.

Think of Melvil Dewey, of the dewey decimal system. 88 numbers for christian religion, one for judism, muslem and all related get one number, and budhists go to the right of the decimal place. I guess this is what happens when we treat knowledge/information as objects to be placed neatly in bins, based on a 10 digit grid.

“This is not a solvable problem. There is not one knowledge.” bang!

Four basic principals of organization

  1. One thing in one place — except in the digital world many things can go in many places.
  2. Things are neat and clean — except when it’s digital, the more links the better. Messy is good.
  3. The owners of the information own the organization — except now the customer owns the organization. (it’s an enormous transfer of power)
  4. Users are passive — except people are not contributing.

One of the mantras of the Wikipedia is that “wiki is not paper”. You know, I think that this could mean a lot of things. What Weinberger went on to was the limiting nature of the traditional encyclopedia, because when it is in print, then the encyclopedia is seen as a container, and a container can hold only so much.
Weinberger says that Britannic consists of 32 volumes and 65,000 topics. Wikipedia consists of more than 600,000 topics and more in other languages.

According to Amazon, Britannica weighs 120 bounds, at 65,000 topics. Assumming all things equal, the Wikipedia at more than 600,000 topics, would weight more than half a ton. Add in the versions in Deutsch, Francais, Nederlands, Portugues, Italiano, Espanol, Plski, Svenska, and 日本語, it would weigh well over one and a quarter tons. But in the digital world, that doesn’t matter.

Weinberger goes on to say that Bloggers are not writing in their diaries. They are people participating in conversations by linking to other peoples ideas and conversations. Every link is a little act of generosity. Very few commercial entities understand that.

Multisubjectivity means lots and lots of viewpoints. but the point is that the viewpoints come from conversations with each other. It’s a paradox that people from varied perspectives converse on common grounds. It’s actually a miracle.

Knowledge as conversation

  1. Multi-dispute-ism — dispute is trying to get the other person to admit when he is wrong. But in the blogsphere, you disagree, talk about it, and then it’s over. In digital conversations, the dispute is never going to be resolved, and you accept it.
  2. In the real world, we accept “good enough”. In the web, “good enough” needs to be enough. with 3 million hits on google, you won’t find perfect. Print knowledge looks for what’s perfect.

This is probably the most profound statement in Weinbergers talk as it relates to education. It cuts through to our reluctance to let go of our authority as keepers of the knowledge and allow our children to truly become explorers in the world of information and construct their own knowledge. They need supervision, counciling, and consulting from us. They need us to craft their activities so that their exploration remain relevant to the curriculum expectations. We need to stop teaching students to be students, and start teaching them to be learners, teaching them how to teach themselves.

We have an abundance of information, but it is a connect abundance of information. How true. The connection here, and this plugs in perfectly to part of my literacy model, the problem is not trying to consume all of that information. The problem is managing it, and this requires that we create and cultivate our own digital libraries if content, organizing it in ways that help us do our jobs and pursue our hopes and wishes. This is where librarians come in. They know how to do this. They not how to organize libraries. We need to figure out how to have librarians teach us all what they do, but how to organize personal digital libraries. It’s what our aggregators will become, our personal digital library.

Accountability is accountibalism, eating our young alive! Wow!

Knowledge is conversation, and he means that literally. I’ve been saying this for years, probably ever sense I read Cluetrain

Our job as teachers is to make things more complicated. The world is not that simple. Again, Wow!

There is an epochal struggle going on. One side is afraid. They want there to be one knowledge, one world, one truth, and that it’s simple. OK, I’m going to step way out on a limb here and say that perhaps, and this is just a perhaps, there is a tie between this idea of the one truth and one knowledge, and even one custom, and what is behind our struggle today with “terrorism”. The fundamentalists want the world to remain under control. But that just ain’t so. The world is changing more rapidly than we even understand. As the world of nature adapts, we too must adapt, and this plugs in to what we should be doing as we prepare our children for their future.

The day after 9/11, I tried to write a piece about how it was an attack against what we stand for as professional educators, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I think that David Weinberger has. Educators here were liberally and courageously guiding our children into “their” future by creating and crafting engaging and potent learning experiences. …While the fundamentalists want us to go back to a world under control. And folks, the fundamentalists are not just over there. Again, I’m just suggesting something here. I don’t know. Don’t believe me.

SIG TC Forum

2:26 PM

[Warning: This is a session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes.]

I just finished my presentation for the SIGTC (Technology Coordinators) Forum on telling the new story. I think that it went well with a lot of participant in the audience — some very smart, knowledgeable, and well-read. One book that was suggested that I’m going to look into is Jennifer Government (I think that’s what it was). Anyway, I tried using a wiki in the session, but the room (counter to plans) was set up auditorium style, and we did not have wireless in the room. One of the IT guys did set up my laptop as a wireless base station, so a few people on the first few rows had wireless, but not enough to make the activity work. Please do visit the page. I have linked in an RSS feed to the web links ( related to the presentation. I love RSS.

My session was followed by a panel on handhelds. In my notes below, the text that is italicized are my comments, not those of the presenters:

Elliot Soloway is talking now about handhelds. His initial proclamation is the 1:1 works. In today’s information environment, students must have ready access to information. You can’t do it with one computer in the classroom and more than the class can share a single pencil. He says that a handheld can do 80% of what a desktop or laptop can do. Hmmm! May be.

Kathy Norris, a professor at North Texas University, says that if the computer doesn’t help the teacher do his or her job, then students will never touch the computer. She says that students are collaborating with handhelds in ways that they wouldn’t before, because the students couldn’t read each other’s writing.

Norris also says the teachers must be able to collaborate with each other. There should be at least two teachers in a single building who are implementing handhelds. They need to work together in order to learn and develop skills. This seems obvious, but I think that there is something else in this statement, something that is important, something that is just under the surface that I think we can take advantage of. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to keep thinking about it.

OK, one of the presenters broached the subject, my objection to handhelds. The screens are too small. She says that this is an adult issue, not a child issue. This may well be. I can’t disagree.

One of the panelist quoted Elliot Soloway, saying:

That which will change education is that which can be put in the hand of a student.

How very true!

I’m sorry I don’t know their names, but the discussion has come to comparing handhelds to laptops. The college professor says that she talked with a school board member before leaving for NECC, and that he said that he didn’t know why they kept buying laptops for their students, because the students hate them. They don’t like lugging them around. I don’t know about that. I have to wonder if that school board member had a different agenda. I don’t know. That just doesn’t ring true for me.

There is another panelist who appears to be a vendor. He said that data indicates that handheld failure rates was 3%. For laptops, it was 27%. That is compelling for a school district without the tech support to handle this.

Someone asked about Negropante’s $100 laptop proposal. Soloway replied that this could happen, it can be done. But do kids in China want a laptop when they already have a mobile phone. Perhaps what we need to do is put more power into the phone. OK?

I think that what struck me about teachers working together is what it says about information. If there was a textbook, or if the users guide was enough, then they wouldn’t need the collaboration, the support of another local educator. The solutions to what, how, and why you use technologies in the classroom come from using them, and sharing the experience and growing knowledge.


10:02 AM

I’m sitting on the tarmac of the Philadelphia airport. They’ve finally brought us to the gate, but there is apparently some kind of security breech in the airport, and they will not let us leave the plane until it is solved. So, I’m going to take the opportunity to do a little writing.

Cluetrain ManifestoMonday night’s keynote speaker will be Dave Weinberger. I do not know a lot about him, except that he was one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Cluetrain was an extraordinary book that, although it was a business work, presented insights that apply to what, how, and why we teach.

One of the uniquenesses of this book was that it was first available over the Internet, before it went into print. I puchased the book as an audio file from Audible, and listened to it while driving to a workshop in eastern North Carolina. The other thing that was extraordinary about Cluetrain, was that it took a relatively new technology, the world wide web, and completely turned around how we think about it.

Their over-arching theme was that the web is not about publishing or online brochures as much as it is about conversations, that the true value of the Net is in people talking with other people.

Today, this has never been so true. The emerging blogsphere is where people are talking and listening. But today, our messages are being cast out into an information environment with new laws of nature, were messages are automatically linked logically, and form themselves into new and larger messages or information constructs.

For instance, go to Here you will find a range of blog messages that all have in common the word necc as a tag. In addition, there are pictures taken by people associated with NECC, as well as web links from and Furl. A construct of information that has value as much from how it assembles as it does from the individual authors, and photographers.

What does this have to do with teaching and learning. Well, that has yet to be determined, and perhaps we’ll explore and discover some implications at the conference. But the implications are there and I think they will be exciting. I certainly look forward to hearing Dave Weinberger speak.

Also, consider Small Things Loosely Joined, Weinberger’s latest book. I haven’t read it yet, but I hear it quoted very often.

The Decade that Music Died…

Those of you who have heard me speak, know how I feel about music and art education. You also know that I have a passion for making music, even though I have no formal training in composition, and that my son is one of the best high school musicians in the state and plans to study music performance in college.

All of that said, we have just learned that the middle school that my children attended will eliminate its full time music teacher this year and drop the 6th grade band. Apparently, budget constraints are preventing the school from continuing its very fine music program, because of increased expectations from government regulations and continued inadequate funding.

Primary among the responsible is our County Commission, who is funding $14,000,000 less than the School Board asked for. As I’ve reported before, one of Wake County’s continuing challenges is enrollment. 2005-2006 expects to see between 5,000 and 6,000 additional students.

All concerned want what’s best for our children. But in the continuing struggle to balance budgets without impacting on tax payers, a very simple but definite fact is being ignored. Our world has changed and it will continue to change, and the classrooms of the twentieth century will not prepare our children for that world.

Tech Professional Development & Day 4 at NECC

I’m sitting in the Bradley airport, in Hartford, Connecticut, waiting for my flight home to Raleigh. This will be the end of my traveling until Saturday, when I take off for NECC.

The big discussion last night at the CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) Conference was getting teachers to take advantage of professional development opportunities. Most of the attendees at the conference, at least the ones who attended my keynote, were directors of technology.

Admittedly, private schools are something of a new environment for me. I work mostly with public school districts and agencies who serve public schools. I heard more than once, while at the conference, “We don’t worry about No Child Left Behind.” Being private schools, I imagine that there are many things that they do not have to worry about, constraints that face public school teachers every day. At the same time, I suspect that private school curriculum has to be much richer and deeper than is expected in most public schools, leaving little room to retool classroom teaching and learning.

Many of the educators I talked with expressed a sense of heritage at their schools (some of the schools nearly 200 years old) that results in an almost impenetrable barrier to restructuring. We try to sell the value of technology as an educational tool and to convince educators of the need for students to develop technology skills. But it remains a hard sell.

I am convinced that our best avenue is to make a case for the changing information environment, that increasingly the information that we use on a daily basis is digital and networked, and that it has become less a product for consumption, and much more an ongoing and global conversation. If we can convince people of the changing nature of information, and articulate a new model for literacy that addresses the new information environment, then we may be able to retool classrooms by integrating the new literacy into teaching and learning.

This brings me to my fourth day at NECC, delivering a Spotlight Address called Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. This is my most frequent delivered keynote address, and it has two goals.

  • To make a case for the changing nature of information, and the urgency that exists for retooling classrooms.
  • To build a model for literacy that expands out of the three Rs to define those basic skills that are necessary to being a successful citizen of the twenty-first century.

So, if you’re coming to NECC, I urge you to attend this session and learn what it means to be a reader, processor of information, and communicator in the knowledge age.

The address is scheduled for June 29 at 12:30 PM in Marriott Salon E/F.

NECC has Begun & Telling the New Stories

7:37 AM

NECCBrowsing through my aggregator and especially on a quick scan of the NECC Blog Dog, it appears that the National Educational Technology Conference has already begun. Tom Hoffman and Will Richardson are already conversing on their panel discussion, by disagreeing on the future of blogging. I just got invited to a new flickr group, NECC, where six pictures have already been posted.

You can go ahead and start reading and/or listening to the Blogging NECC bloggers. Among these esteemed citizen journalists are Steve Dembo of Teach42, Kelly Dumont of The Educational Mac, and Tony Vincent of Handheld Computing.

As for me, I’m up to day two, Monday, June 27. Yesterday (sunday jun26), a number of educators entered my workshop room at Penn Alex School, with some knowledge of HTML. Six hours later, they left as full-fledged coders, ready to make their contributions to the open source community — or at least they know now why they studied algebra 😉

On Monday, I speak at the Technology Coordinator Forum (SIGTC). The topic will be, “Telling the New Story”. Education, in this country, is mired in old stories about the 3Rs, the archaic roles of teachers and students, the positions of desks, and potential employees who can’t read an application form.

Things have changed since the age of manufacturing. The mill town that I grew up in has shrunk from 16 full capacity plants in the 1950s, to none left in 2005. What are the new stories that we need to tell in order to retool our classrooms for a time when intellectual capital generates wealth and success, not muscle? We will explore the old stories, dissecting them into basic components, and discover and invent some new stories, to take back home and begin to weave around our local campfires.

At Home & NECC Bloggers

6:54 AM

Sorry I haven’t been writing very much. I am in my home county right now (Gaston County, NC) working a district-wide staff development conference. And it is a conference. I haven’t counted the presenters, but their program book is a thick as any state tech conference I’ve attended, with presentations from locals and out-of-staters alike. the topics include differentiated instruction, brain-based research, 21st century literacy, and “making teaching fun”.

I did my contemporary literacy keynote yesterday and have been spending the rest of my time there teaching teachers to build web pages with PiNet, which the district has installed on their web servers.

Can’t Attend NECC? We’ll Blog it For You!
Here’s what SEGA Tech is saying.

Thanks to the kindness of Barbara Hewick, a Web Marketing Manager at ISTE, it looks as though SEGATech and others will be blogging the NECC in Philadelphia. If you’re unable to make to NECC, relax; you can check our blog for news and commentary concerning the conference. Thanks, Barbara!

This could, indeed, be a new kind of NECC, the beginning of something uniquely valuable, as conferences become as much a journalistic sharing beyond time and space, as it is a focal event of smart people getting together and growing their skills and knowledge.

Very cool!

The Challenge of Wikipedia (a response)

6:55 AM

Will Richardson brought up two incredibly important issues yesterday in The Challenge of Wikipedia.

I’m on a wiki and Wikipedia bender of late, trying to get my brain around all of the implications for educators in terms of how to teach research and the use of sources. I think that this is actually a bigger challenge for elementary school teachers who are in that pre-exposition gray area. For instance, if my daughter gets assigned a “report” on Argentina, why wouldn’t she go first to the Wikipedia entry? The bigger question is why would she go anywhere else? The entry has 4,100 words and about 125 links to more information. It’s got maps and charts and pictures. It’s been edited like a gajillion times, most recently today with updated GDP figures. Ok, I know, I know. It might be all wrong. But you and I know…it’s not.

Many of you have had the experience of demonstrating Wikipedia to a group of teachers, and they become so excited — until you click the “Edit This Page” button. It is no exaggeration to say that they are shocked. If it’s librarians, we wheel in defibrillators.

Richness and extent of accuracy aside, it is understandable that educators feel like their feet have been knocked out from under them by the Wikipedia. We have been taught to assume the authority of the information that we encounter. But today, our information environment is changing into something that is…

less worthy of this assumption
but at the same time
more valuable.

I would make the assignment like this. Look up Argentina on the Wikipedia, and collect the facts and concepts that are appropriate to the assignment. Then prove that those facts and concepts are true, by researching elsewhere for evidence of their accuracy and appropriateness.

We have to stop teaching students to assume authority and teach them to prove it. A big shift in the nature of how we teach!

Will takes us to the next level when he says…

The bigger, bigger question is why should she do that report at all? I know she has to learn how to write, to organize ideas, to use different sources of information etc. And believe me, I want her to do all of those things. But do I want her doing what I did as a kid? (I did Argentina, you know.)

I did a report about Argentina too. I remember nothing about that report, but I do clearly remember the Bola that I made, and demonstrating it’s use to the class. Took us almost 30 minutes to get Skitter Jones free from those things. 😉

Part of learning is expressing what we have learned, and more than that, expressing it in a way that accomplishes something. I do not write reports any more. I haven’t written a report since I was in school. But I do write, and I draw, and manipulate images, and edit sound and video. I produce information products that are designed to affect people in some desired way. Rather than giving students an assignment to write a report, they should write a travel log of Argentina, or make a travel brochure, or a news cast of some even happening in the country. Assignments should reflect the new information environment.