Coming Closer Together

Mary ConyersOne of the world altering aspects of the Internet is that it brings us closer together.  This is not always a good thing, and regardless of my published objections to the attention grabing fear tactics used by some, it is essential to acknowledge that inappropriate uses and even dangerous opportunities exist there.  There are people out there whom we do not want our children to come in contact with.  There are also retired grandmothers, such as Mary Conyers, who bless us with their drive and dedication.

Mary Conyers came out of retirement with one goal in mind: To keep kids safe online. She got the idea after watching her own granddaughters try to navigate the treacherous waters of cyberspace.

So far, the Knightdale grandmother has started a non-profit called “Protect Every Child,” which has distributed hundreds of free DVD’s to help schools and parents educate their kids about being safe online.

The DVD includes the basics – don’t talk to strangers and don’t share personal information. These rules seem simple, but they are violated every day.

You can see the WRAL video here

I haven’t seen the DVD and don’t know that Ms. Conyers isn’t using the same fear and death scare tactics that bother me so much.  But what intrigues me in this story is that there is so much goodness and caring out there to learn from — not just the evil to fear.

Lamb, Amanda. “Knightdale Grandmother Set Sights on Cyberspace Safety.” WRAL News 7 May 2007 8 May 2007 <>.

80% with a Second Life

Joop ZuhalI just met a fellow in Second Life from Rotterdam, and he pointed me to his blog, Aggiornamento II.  Joop asked about the C.A.V.E., but I’m afraid that I didn’t sound very knowledgeable.  I’m just not exuding a lot of confidence, yet, from this slippery place.

Reviewing his blog, however, I ran across a short piece linking to an article from Businesswire, that predicts that 80 percent of active Internet users will have a “second life” by 2011.  It says that it will not necessarily be the Second Life, but that it will be a primary part of how we interact online.  The story is about an Emerging Trends conference organized by Gartner Inc. and it advises the corporate world that:

..this is a trend that they should investigate and experiment with, but limit substantial financial investments until the environments stabilize and mature.

I suspect that this is where we are in education — investigating and experimenting.  Garnter also has identified five laws for participating in the virtual world.  They include:

  • First Law: Virtual worlds are not games, but neither are they a parallel universe (yet)
  • Second Law: Behind every avatar is a real person.
  • Third Law: Be relevant and add value.
  • Fourth Law: Understand and contain the downside.
  • Fifth Law: This is a long haul.

The story goes into more detail on each of these, but certainly some food for thought.

Conference in Second Life

Second Life ConferenceThat Four Eyed technologist, the Existential Paine, blogged yesterday about an upcoming conference to be held on Second Life — about Second Life best practices.

The Four Eyed Technologist » Blog Archive » Oh, It is going to be SWEET!:

What if you could attend a conference that would give you everything you needed to know to get started exploring the possibilities for teaching, learning, and researching a wonderful instructional tool? What if I then told you it was FREE? Would you be interested?

Wait! There is more.What if I told you that you wouldn’t have to leave the comfort of your home? What if you could attend at your convenience?

Well, that is what the Second Life Best Practice International Conference is offering any and all educators. On May 25, 2007 this conference will have exciting presentations, vendors, and exhibitors all within the world of Second Life for 24 hours straight and at no charge.

What’s good about the May 4 NY Times Article about Laptops in Schools

Creative Arts Matthew Bolton CollegeSo, let’s get to it.  What’s good about the “Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops” article, written for The New York Times by Winnie Hu, is that this story was not limited only to people who live within the NYTimes paper delivery area.  It was immediately available to readers around the world — including youngsters, sitting at their desks, their laptops open, browsers engaged, accessing and interacting with a global library of content.

While the article’s URL was hopscotching the continents from one ed tech advocate to another, students could, regardless of their geographic location, also read and consider the story — and the rather dramatic conclusions that it implied based on such absurdly little evidence. 

No doubt, some students concur.  Their teachers don’t know what to do with these state-of-the-art computers, sitting between them and their darlings.  They’ve been taught how to operate the machines, but little more, and they don’t bother to hide their frustrations and resentment at being pushed into futuristic classrooms that they are neither prepared for nor believe in. 

“I’ve covered this material perfectly well for twenty years.” They’d say,  “Why change now!”

And computers do go un-repaired for days and even weeks for these students, because the district has not hired additional technical staff for the hundreds of new computers.  And available power and bandwidth have, evidently, not been considered by the school and central office administration as they scurried to jump on to yet another bandwagon, without the appropriate planning.

Just as certainly, there were many youngsters, laptops on desk, scanning the story in astonishment, and seeking to reconcile these claims with their own experience in laptop classrooms.  These students Googled laptop schools, and although there were some articles about the successes of technology infused schools, they were not so plentiful — because sadly, that is not considered the news story that  presumed mistakes at high levels is. 

But they find statistics, and they find pictures, and they record the sounds of their clickety-clicking at their keyboards, and the conversations in their classes, and they mix and remix the information to tell their story with multimedia, and podcast it to the world.  Alas, their parents see them, and rejoice in how tech-savvy their children are.  But The New York Times pays no attention — that’s not news.

Their scores on their government tests do not increase dramatically, but the skills they are developing: to ask essential questions, research, evaluate, collaborate, process, mix and remix, and publish their findings — learning to be active learners in a rapidly changing world — these skills are not tested. 

In a world, where local news is global, and global news is local, where a reporters value is measured in how much angst can be generated by their writing, the 3Rs are no longer enough.  They are merely elemental — compared to the rich and exciting information skills that are absolutely critical to not only our children’s future, but ours as well.  ..and gaining this new information skills can only happen from within this new information landscape.  It’s why every child should be walking into their classroom with a computer under their arm, every classroom should breath with the global information landscape, and every teacher should trained and practiced in the life-long-learning literacies of the emerging future.

Hu, Winnie. “Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops.” The New York Times 4 May 2007 4 May 2007 <>.

Grand Ideas you, no doubt, already know, I saw a presentation on Wednesday from Tim Magner, ed tech guy from the U.S. Department of Education.  I’ve already written a good bit about that presentation and the even better showcase from classrooms across North Carolina.  I’ve even commented on some comments that I received, including one expressing disappointment that Tim was not offering some “grand idea” for bringing classrooms and school into the current century.

I wasn’t disappointed, because I think that’d be asking too much, especially with our current administration’s blah blah blah!

But since then, I’ve been asking myself what sort of grand idea might actually come from a U.S. Department of Education that was devoted to bringing schools into the 21st century with the patriotic will and courage to say, “We’re going to do it, and here’s how, and we’re going to commit this nation’s resources to making it happen!”

So here’s what I came up with!

A royal charter to schools for planting their flag into the ground of the 21st century: granting rights, privileges, and responsibilities, and holding the school accountable to its community.  To apply for a charter, schools must devise and write a constitution, defining and describing various aspects of how they will do the business of preparing their community’s children for their future — both from a local and a global perspective. 

There would be a set of aspects of the schools functions to be addressed in the constitution, including, but not limited to, 21c learning standards, 21c curriculum, 21c infrastructure, 21c assessment, 21c teacher practices, 21c learner practices, 21c implementation structures, etc.  The constitution would also require an implementation plan including plant and staff development.

After being signed by the entire staff of the school, a designated representation of the community, and signed off by local and state governments, the school would receive the funding and support necessary to achieve their constitution and earn their charter.

I’ve thrown a lot into this, much of it I’ve not entirely thought through.   It’s just a worm on a hook.

But nothing new is going to be happening five years from now, unless we are talking about it today.

Read EdTech

It was brought to my attention, yesterday, that I may have been unfair in my characterization of EdTech Magazine in a recent post about cybersafety.  In Fear & Death! Fear & Death! I took the EdTech magazine to task for it’s cover photo, the shortened title of their cover story, and the often misused Justice Department report.

I continue to feel the way that I did then, though I probably did not adequately express the respect that I continue to have for that publication.  It’s stories are of the highest quality, timely, and relevant to teachers and administrators alike.  That particular article, Thwarting Cyber Predators, was, aside from the fear tactics, was actually quite a good and helpful article, and I recommend its reading, especially among IT folks.

My intent was not to single out that particular publication, which I suppose I did.  They were certainly not the only publication nor the first to appeal to our fear instinct.  But as I wrote to the person who brought this to my attention, I believe that the very best thing that we can do to protect our children is to maintain their trust and willingness to confide.  If they believe that we will overreact, out of fear, to questionable occurrences in cyberspace, then they may be less likely to confide in us, and thar be dragons in those woods.

Two Things We Can Say!

Yesterday was quite frustrating.  We were presented with some amazing examples of innovation in classrooms that had been empowered by professional development, adequate access to technology, and, most importantly, courageous and innovative teachers.  We also saw evidence of our desperate need to retool education, as illustrated by Tim Magner in slide after slide of statistics about future employment, future technologies, and emerging competition for our position of leadership.

Bringing the possibilities (of which we saw only a hint among the demonstrations) together with the real needs of dramatically changing future, calls for a new vision for teaching, learning, and classrooms — perhaps even a need to redefine it all.  But that vision must reflect something that rests behind a wall that is so wide, tall, and thick, that we can’t see it.  Yet, it is the other side of that wall that we are preparing our children for.

There are two things that we do know that connect directly to our current vision of school.

  1. The nature of information has changed (digital, networked, overwhelming, unconstrained)
  2. We can not clearly describe the future we are preparing our children for.

From these ideas, two demands rise.

  1. That we redefine literacy (one literacy) to reflect an increasingly digital, networked… information environment.
  2. That we teach our children to be life long learners.

What I find interesting right now (and this is what’s great about being pushed by frustrating experiences), is that literacy and life long learning, might actually be combined to something that we might call learning literacy.
Learning Literacies

The ability to expose/find truth, employ information, express ideas compellingly to real audiences, and to understand and practice the ethical use of information, are all skills necessary to learning in a dynamic information environment.  If, in our conversations about teaching and learning, we replace literacy with explicit discussions of learning literacy, then we might have a foothold for starting to scale that wall, and perhaps even visioning classrooms that can tunnel it.

What Didn’t Disappoint me Last Night

Yesterday, I live blogged an address delivered by Tim Magner at the MEGA Showcase at the Friday Institute.  Magner is the Director of the Office of Educational Technology with the U.S. Department of Education.  The single commenter of that blog expressed disappointment that we did not receive a…

..grand ideas for how to change our education system to better prepare this generation of students to compete in a global market.

I commented that I was not disappointed, because my expectations were lower.  I have to say that I was impressed with Magner.  He’s smart and he has an amazing command of the issues, the programs, and examples of innovative working classrooms.  Only once did he sound like a Republican, when he expressed doubt that more money would be coming for technology, explaining that when we ask for money, enterprising reporters will find evidence of waste, publish it, and people won’t vote for more funds.  We’ve been hearing this for more than 20 years now.  We react the way that we do about waste in government, because we’ve been trained to.  Waste is not necesarily a bad thing.  It is can be a byproduct of risk-taking and innovation.

Magner is telling a compelling story about a need for new teaching and learning, for new classrooms, for a rethinking of the entire system.  I do have to admit, however, that I am no more optimistic that we’re going to be able to pull it off.  He said that we have no common language for reshaping a vision for 21st century education, and he is correct.  It’s why the new story has to be plain, simple, and energizing.

The best part of the MEGA meeting, hands down, was the show case.  There were probably thirty groups represented, mostly classroom teachers who were demonstrating various projects going on in their classrooms.  I wish I could remember all of the ones I saw (and I only had time to see about two-thirds of them.  The high points that I remember:

  • Gaming in elementary school
    Gaming at high school

    Two classes were using video games in the classroom.  An elementary school (Williford Elementary School) was using Quest Atlantis, developed by the Center for Reseearch on Learning & Technology at the University of Indiana.  The other was a high school class (Enloe High School), which was using a game developed by the science teacher, on a gaming platform developed and supported by HIFIVES at North Carolina State University.

  • I didn’t see any classes that were blogging, but did see two that were using wikis.
  • I had a conversation, via iChat, with a teacher in Lee County (above) whose class is visited regularly by pre-service teachers at North Carolina State University.  This was especially cool and very-doable.
  • I saw a video about bullying produced by three middle school children.
  • I saw a class that was podcasting.

So much of what I saw, we weren’t even talking about one or two years ago — brand new conversations.  Alas, there are far more classrooms out there that still reflect, all to closely, the conversations we’ve been having for decades.

ETANThis in from ETAN (EdTechActionNetwork).

Tomorrow evening there is a Republican Presidential Candidates Debate taking place. MSNBC is offering an opportunity for viewers to vote on questions to be asked during the debate. This is a great opportunity to get the candidates talking about education technology as it relates to competitiveness!

Please take 5 minutes to vote for the question Mary Ann Wolf posted by visiting:

When the message was sent yesterday, her question had made it to the 2nd page.  at 6:23 this morning, it has a little better than half way up on page one!  Let’s make it climb.  Let’s make this an important issue.

At the MEGA Showcase

[Live Blogged — please forgive any misspellings or awkward wording]

Each spring, MEGA holds a showcase event where teachers and students from the area (all over central North Carolina) are here demonstrating some of the things that they are doing with technology, and mostly with science.  Interestingly, I’ve seen two classes that are using MUVEs (Multi-User Virtual Environments) in learning.  An elementary school that I did some staff development in a couple of years ago.  They are using a tool called Quest Atlantis.  The children are playing the rolls of humans who have landed in Atlantis to help the people (beings) there to solve their problems.

The high school class is using

Tim Magner, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education.

Tim Magner, the director of Educational Technology with the Department of Education in Washington, is our speaker, and is said to be planing to talk about School 2.0.  I’ll be jotting notes down here.

We’re not in Kansas any more.  Things are different.  Lots of reports that are talking about these changes and education is the engine of our continued economic viability. 

The advantage of using a cell phone over using a pay phone is that we prefer to call a person, not a place.  That was an interesting distinction, but mostly the presentation is the same sort of thing that David Thornburg has been doing for years.  But the message is important.  It’s an information and communication revolution.  We are needing more information, sharing more information, using more information.  “We now connected in more ways to more people and more information than ever before.

Kids prefer text messaging, but it isn’t just text.  They’re sharing images, audio, and video — multimedia.

He’s talking ab out neil gershenfeld’s predictions about digital fabrication.  What do MUVEs help us in preparation for a world where the fabrication of our things is personal.  You’ll buy the chasis of a cell phone and design and make your own housing.  Very personal.

Now he’s showing a very interesting video about nanotechnology and the ability to have medication gear specifically to our DNA characteristics.  Nanotools that seek out and kill cancer cells.  He states that these are not only the new tools, but also the new jobs.  I would add that it is also the new questions.

Now, we’re getting getting to School 2.0.  The problem is that people talk past each other.  There is no entry point language to use.  It’s the reason that they created the School 2.0 Post.  Now he’s opened it up for discussion. There was a question about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  He says that what left out of this description of 21st century skills what it actually looks like in the 7th grade classroom.  “This is the messy stuff.  This is the stuff that doesn’t fit on a bummer sticker.