A WOW Moment — Up Early in the Morning

http://davidwarlick.com/images/weinberger.gifI got up early this morning to do a couple of last minute things before heading over to the airport. Looking for something to play in the background, I pulled up David Weinberger’s keynote at the SETT conference last month in Glasgow. I hadn’t seen or heard it yet.

SETT Conference Site: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sett/

His address was pretty much the same ideas that he shared at NECC a couple of years ago, but about 2/3 into the presentation he pulled up Wikipedia. Again nothing new. He flashed through a number of the warnings that appear on many Wikipedia articles: the neutrality of this article is disputed, factual accuracy is disputed, this article contradicts another article, etc.

Then Weinberger asked…

Why is it that you will never ever see these warnings in authoritative sources. You will never see it in Britannica. You will never see it in the New York Times. And you have to wonder why. Is it because they’re never wrong? No!

He described the New York times reporting prior the the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that they were reporting information that was wrong — without warning.

Weinberger then asks,

Why can’t they acknowledge their weaknesses…the only and reluctant answer I can come to is that they are more interested in protecting their own authority than helping us to the truth.

I sat back in my chair, thunder-struck, “Wow!”

There has been a lot of discussion in the edublogosphere lately about the future of textbooks, and I agree with Terry Freedman and Mark Montgomery, that authority is critical. But in a complex time of rapid change, the responsibility of authority shifts and spreads throughout the information chain. It happens at the top, and it happens at the bottom. It is why it is so critical to think about literacy in new ways, that part of being a reader is being willing, able, and encouraged to ask questions about the answers that you find.

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Out Early in the Morning

I didn’t take this picture, but I’ve been there.

I’ll be leaving long before light in the morning to fly three legs to Augusta, Maine tomorrow. I have been looking forward to this one. Actually, I look forward to all of them, but for different reasons. Maine is obvious. Laptops! I also have some great bloggy friends there, I love the state, I might see some color in the leaves, and every time I say, “Maine” I think of a bear called “State of Maine.” Weird, I know!

I’ll do a half-day workshop on Thursday on the new web, and then keynote on Friday morning, Redefining Literacy. I’ve been doing that one for several years now, but the topic seems to finally be getting some traction from aspect outside of the libraries. They have me scheduled for two more sessions, both entitled, “Follow-up with David Warlick”. I like it. I will get to talk with attendees, see what part of the keynote resonated with them, and then go from there.

I have no idea where I’m going next week, but I’m sure I’m looking forward to it 😉

Image Citation
Luv2run, “Portland Head Lighthouse – IMG_0147.” Luv2run’s Photostream. 8 Oct 2006. 10 Oct 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/luv2run/264228117/>.

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Of Snow Balls and Boulders

I listened to a great podcast yesterday, Steve Hargadon’s recent interview with Doc Searls. Doc Searls! I’m impressed, Steve. Searls talked a lot about his own background as a struggling student, and some interesting stories about his children’s experience in schools here in North Carolina and then in California.

But what really knocked me out of my chair was when he described blogging. He said, and I paraphrase, that blogging might seem something like pushing a boulder up a hill. It really isn’t. It’s more like rolling a snowball down a hill. Your idea starts out small, but it grows due to the conversations that it provokes. This is so true! As many edubloggers say so often, it’s not about publishing, it’s about conversation — and out of those conversations come sooooo much learning.

But, my mind being what it is, I jumped the rails and thought about flat classrooms, and learning engines. I thought about that snow ball, rolling along in the snow, getting bigger as more snow sticks to it than falls off. Isn’t this what facilitating learning is about? It’s rolling a snow ball in the snow, not rolling a bolder up the hill.

2¢ Worth!

Image Citation

Wearn, “Sai Kah Rolling His Snow Ball.” Wearn’s Photostream. 21 Dec 2005. 10 Oct 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/wearn/76100813/>.

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More on the Long Tail — by special request

It has been long overdue, a good thrashing from my favorite nitpicker, Tom Hoffman.  In his early morning writing about my recent post on The Long Tail, he was very careful to say that he did not quite consider what I was doing to be plagiarism, though he also seemed quite eager to use that word.  But that’s really not the point.

Chris Anderson says in his book (The Long Tail) that he used his blog as a way of learning about the data he was collecting and synthesizing.  He’d toss ideas out and then learn from the comments and co-bloggings.  It’s one of the reasons why we blog.  It’s one of the most important parts of the blog — what you don’t say, what’s left to be said.  Hoffman very rightly pointed out to me that I had not explained enough about what I was doing with the long tail graph.  It is important for you to know that, and I thank him, and have thanked him in his blog.

Anderson has taken a great deal of research and data to give us a picture.  It is a data-driven graph, but it is also a picture, that he calls the long tail.  It very compellingly describes a rapidly changing information landscape where new content is available to us in new ways coming from new sources.  This should be of great interest to educators, as education may be the most information-intensive endeavor that our society engages in. 

So I am trying to use this picture as a platform on which to examine education.  I do see our system of textbooks, standards, and central authority as being slap-up against the spike, teaching for the greatest common denominator — and there is certainly a place for that.  But our children are down in the tail, accessing the living content that was produced yesterday, learning the skills of this conversation, and learning, learning, learning.  This concerns me, but it concerns me even more that we are ignoring it, trying to block it out, and go on with business as usual.

This could be all wrong.  If so, more people will tell me so.  But I’m wondering where teacher blogs fit along the tail of content, where Moodle fits, and Elgg, and MySpace, and YouTube.  Is it just play.  Can we ignore it? 

I plan to give you a chance to play, so stay tuned, and be sure to attend the K12 Online Conference to Unleash the Potential.

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Flat School vs Flat Classroom

I got called, yesterday, on my recent post on the long tail, A Landscape for Good and Evil. It seems that I may be mixing metaphors, where I’m describing the flat school as a vertical mass, slapped up against the Y-axis, and my frequent discussions of the flat classroom which spreads out along the X. So let me see if I can extricate myself from this mess.

First of all, the long tail and the flat world are two different things — sort of. So is there really a chance that over worked, over stressed, under appreciated, and under compensated professional educators might get confused? Well, yes!

So let me elaborate a bit more about my thoughts as they ride down the tail of the emerging information landscape. I’m starting at the top, and at the beginning (at least the beginning of my education experience).

Added on 10/10
Tom Hoffman criticized this graph early this morning in his usual subtle and good-natured way. He made some good points, so explanation is warranted, and should have been provided when this post was submitted. I see the long tail graph as a platform that describes an emerging information landscape. I drew this graph using Photoshop Elements, and have been playing with it for a number of days from the perspective of an educator. For instance, it makes sense to me that the tail, a place of limitless geography and limitless shelf-space is where students might start to direct their own learning (they are already), as opposed to the spike, where textbooks live. But I may be wrong, and I’m certainly considering what Hoffman said. I do plan to play with this some more, and hope to give you a chance to play with it. So ya’ll come to the K12 Online Conference.

1) In this region we had no personal computers. In fact the personal computer hadn’t even been invented when I started teaching. We used textbooks and taught from local curriculum, because of the limits of geography and shelf-space.

2) Then we started seeing computers come into some of our classrooms, and started seeing computer labs. Only some teachers adopted these new technologies in meaningful ways, but some pretty interesting things happened in some places related to the emerging tail. For instance, Oregon Trail had students learning with seemingly limitless combinations of experiences (unlike the textbook). Printshop gave us our first taste of desktop publishing and the opportunities to become producers of content, not just consumers. Yet, it would be overly generous to say that these developments in any way redefined a curve in what schools did.

3) Then came more PCs and dial-up telecommunications. Integrated Learning Systems arrived as great information systems that provided students with limitless variety on how to perform long division and the proper placement of the comma. Not insignificant, but also, not redefining of education. FrEdMail, on the other hand, started to reshape the thinking of a handful of educators across the U.S. and beyond, as teachers started to give students assignments where they literally communicated with students in other lands (or across the street). Yet, again, this was so rare, that I can’t change the curve of education, though the curve of our information world was certainly beginning to shift.

4) Netday and E-Rate brought us were we are today. I didn’t fully realize how much E-Rate has done for us until I worked in Canada a few weeks ago, where they pay market rate for their Internet connections. unfettered communication made state and national standards possible. Many teachers started running their own web sites. But this was still old school. What shows promise in terms of access and leveraging the long tail of content are teacher blogs, course management systems (teacher controlled curriculum), education-based social networks, student blogs, and class wikis. Still, these developments are not a part of the institution yet, merely the experiments of visionaries. So I’m leaving the school up against to Y.

5) Finally, more and more homes are getting broadband. If you need it, you can find it. I’m sure I’m going to get hit on this, but there is almost no excuse now for not having a computer. If you want one, there are ways. But it’s the near ubiquitous access to broadband that we see the full breadth of the tail. This is where we’re seeing IM, MySpace, online video games, collaborative media development, YouTube, etc.

Now, if we consider the classroom as a room of millennial children, literate in the skills of digital, networked, and overwhelming information, then we’d have to say that that classroom is flat — against the X-axis. However, when we consider our schools or schooling as remaining reliant on textbooks and centrally created and maintained standards, then they are flat — against the Y-axis.

How did I do?

In conclusion, it’s that very small point of intersection that must concern us. The children in that flat classroom will very soon be voting for or against our bond referendums and deciding between pro public education politicians and anti-education politicians. For the sake of maintaining an institution that is central to a democratic society, we should be very very concerned that the education that today’s children are experiences means something to them.

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More on Textbooks…

I simply do not have time for this, but when someone is baiting me — well I’m a softy.

Mark Montgomery, who runs a blog called Text Book Evaluator, commented on an exchange that Terry Freedman and I started over at the Tech Learning Blog, and then carried into our own blogs last week. As a refresher, I said that textbooks are bad, and Terry said that textbooks are good. OK, gross over generatization, because we ended out agreeing with each other, as we usually do. Do read our original exchange, The Rise and Fall of the Hit — and the Textbook Industry, at T&L, and Terry’s response blog, Reports of the death of the textbook have been exaggerated.

It is important to note that the sub-title of Mark’s blog is “Independent Evaluations of Instructional Materials from EdVantage Consulting.” This is a fantastic service, and I wonder why I haven’t heard of anyone doing this before. I wasn’t that involved in textbook adoption when I was at the state department of ed, but I know that there were committees of educators who went through the books. I can certainly see a place, though, for people who have made themselves experts in the field as an essential part of the formula.

Anyway, its important to have that background before reading Mark’s comment and my response. He’s pretty seated in the industry and I’m way outside the box. 😉 Mark says,

I very much agree with Terry Freedman. I often use the word “quality” when speaking about textbooks in the K-12 world. I like his use of the word “authority.” At the moment, what gives the Big Four publishers “authority” is nothing other than their brand names and their market share. There is very little quality control. Put another way, there is no independent check (or checks) on this authority. No one is putting their feet to the fire to independently verify their claims (”our book aligns to every, cotton-picking standard in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico!”).

But the lack of independent checks cannot be countered simply by Wiki-ization of textbooks. We still will lack voices of authority–andthe market will just be more confused and chaotic. The whole reason brand-names develop is because of perceptions of quality. The problem today is not the existence of brand-names, but the complete lack of Consumer Reports or Underwriters Laboratory to verify the claims of the producers.

I love capitalism!

Thanks for a provocative conversation.

2 Cents Worth » Textbook Exchange

Mark, I also agree with Terry, and especially his referral to authority. However, as you say, “..the (instructional materials) market will just be more confused and chaotic.” It is an interesting and accurate description, “confused and chaotic.” The fact is that the information landscape that we graduate our children into is confused and chaotic, and this is exactly why teachers and learners must become more reliant on un-authenticated sources of information, to learn to make themselves their own gatekeepers. It is a basic literacy skill today.

Authority is the key, and in a published print information environment, authority comes from the top. But in an increasingly digital, networked, and overwhelming information environment, authority is much closer to home. Authority has become the information consumer’s responsibility.

It’s like everything else. It’s never an either/or. We certainly do need go well evaluated textbooks. Teachers also need to be creating more of their own information products, if for no other reason than to practice their own information literacy skills. And our students certainly need to be constructing their own knowledge through the learning literacies involved in

   Finding and selecting the sources that help you learn

      What you need to know

         To do

            What you need to do.

The question is not, do I use textbooks or do I chuck them for the Internet. The much more interesting question is what will the textbook evolve into as the conditions of the information landscape change so dramatically? And, will the textbook industry have the vision and courage to drive this evolution/revolution or will it come, like so much else, out of the open source community?

This really interests me!

Image Citation
Ningen, Shinzo. “Textbooks.” Shinzo Ningen’s Photostream. 16 Nov 2005. 9 Oct 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/mbeattie/63836881/>.

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Upcoming Maine Conference

I’ve been writing all morning (since very early), and I thought I’d take a break and count. So I pulled up the PDF of Maine’s state education technology conference program and counted some words. First of all, I am really looking forward to being able to work this conference. I have lots of friends there in Maine, and, well, it’s Maine, and we all know the adventure that they are engaged in.

It’s a small conference in terms of the number of presentations, as there will be one day of preconferences workshops (three of them) and one day of concurrent sessions. That said, here’s the tally.

Web 2.0 Words

• Web 2 5
• flickr 1
• Blog 8
• Podcast 10
• RSS 1

Other Words

• NCLB 1
• MySpace 0
• Test 1
• Best Practice 0
• Music 3
• Art 1
• Reading 0
• Math 4
• Literacy 5

Interestingly, four occurrances of the word, literacy, were preceded by technology or tech. the fifth occurance was preceded by twenty-first century.

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A Landscape for Good and Evil

Many years ago, I experienced a period of insomnia. This was before I simply instituted my insomnia into a work schedule that works for me. But that particular period coincided with the weeks that I spent reading The Stand, by Stephen King. The book so clearly described a landscape for the gathering of good and evil in the world, that I’d lay awake until one in the morning reading, and then wake up from nightmares at 3:00 AM.

http://www.mainewebreport.com/images/long-tail.gifWell, it’s happening again. Now it’s Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. Now there are some pretty dramatic differences between these two books. Anderson is not a spookie guy from Maine and the Long Tail, is not intended to be a scary book. Yet, it is certainly affecting my sleep habits. Three times now, I have woken up, thinking about the economic landscape that this book describes, and applying the state of teaching and learning in ways, that quite frankly, terrify me. Twice I have gotten up at 4:00 AM, and pulled out Photoshop Elements to play with the long tail’s curve, its description of the new nature of information, media, and entertainment, and looking at this curve within the context of what schools must look like to our children.

http://davidwarlick.com/images/learning_in_the_long_tail_1.gifQuite simply, (and I’ll certainly be talking about this more) as information has become increasingly digital and networked, its nature as a consumable has changed because its geography has practically disappeared as a limiting factor, and its availability has exploded because shelf space is no longer an issue. As a result, we are no longer limited to only the content that the media industry has decided to bring to us, and we are increasingly delving into the open, enormous, and rapidly growing content that knows almost no limits — the tail.

What scares me is that as our information landscape and our children’s information experience begins to spread out into the long tail, our formal school remains flat against the Y axis.

Our books are still chained to the monastary walls.

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MySpace Classes Help Protect Kids

For three days in October, the city’s youth advisory committee, Visions in Progress, will conduct MySpace.com training classes to bridge the digital divide between parents and children.Two teens from VIP will facilitate each class and teach parents how to navigate the popular Web site, create their own accounts and alter safety settings for their underage children.

The Signal: News for Santa Clarita Valley, California

Wait a minute! Wait a minute!

     Rather than block it, you teach it?

          Why is that such a radical idea?

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