How has Information Changed?

Gary Stager challenged me yesterday by asking in his comment, “How is information changing?”

Of course, in certain frames of thought, information itself isn’t changing.  However, the nature of information has changed dramatically in the past decade or so in how it operates, behaves, the laws of physics that control it, and these changes, I believe, are critical to us as educators because they further define what it means to be literate.

  1. First of all, information has become increasingly networked.  When I was growing up, the information that I had access to what that which I could set in front of me in a book, magazine, newspaper, etc.  It had been produced (at great expense), carried, and stored in my home, or in the small public library clear across town (about four blocks away).  The information was, by and large, trust-worthy, because I trusted the people who produced it, selected it, and put it in front of me.

    Today, much, if not most, of the information that we encounter came from someplace else, where it was produced at little or no expense, and probably produced only a very short time ago without evaluation or vetting.  This gives us access to enormous amounts of content from a wide variety of perspectives, some of them trust-worth, and some of them not.

    This, I believe, expands what it means to be a reader in the 21st century.

  2. DiagramSecond, information is increasingly digital.  Rather than being stamped or scratched on paper, information is now made of numbers, ones and zeros.  Text, images, sound, video, animation — they are all made of ones and zeros.  Because of this new structure to information, we can use computational devices to affect information in brand new ways, searching vast archives of content, organizing it in amazing and brilliant ways, and even manipulate, disassemble, reassemble, mix and remix content to generate new information and new knowledge.

    I believe that this new shape to information is important to use, as educators, because it brings the concept of numeracy to all content.  It’s no longer just about computing numbers.  It’s now about adding value to content buy processing images, sound, video, and text.

  3. We are overwhelmed by information.  This is not really a change in the nature of information, but it is a distinct change in our information environment.  Much of what defined our information experience, and education specifically, was a world of information scarcity.  We did what we did in our classrooms because we were so seperated from the world we were preparing our children for.  Now that we have so much information and so much access to information, it hikes up the possibilities of classroom instruction — of learning in general.

    Specific to literacy, this overwhelming information environment requires us to be able to distinguish information, to make decisions on what information to use and what to ignore.  From the stand point of the communicator, it means that they must produce messages that compete for attention.  Therefore, it is no longer enough to simply be able to write a coherent paragraph.  We must be able to express ourselves compellingly, so that our information will compete for the attention of our audiences.

Web 2.0 adds more changes to these, but I’m out of time for now.  The graphic here is a slide that I will be using at the ISTE Leadership Symposium at NECC in two weeks.

Just Some Reflections

I’m sitting in the Holiday Inn in Sioux Falls, waiting for a shuttle ride to the airport, where I’ll turn around and hop into a rental car and drive to Emporia, Kansas, for their Summer Institute for School Librarians.  It’s a 7-hour drive but I have all day and a very good book to listen too, Up Country, by Nelsen Demille.  It’s actually an excellent book which I read a few years ago — about a Vietnam Vet who goes back to that rapidly developing nation to solve a murder mystery, but to also come to terms with issues from his two tours, 1968 and 1972.  It is extremely interesting to me, because although I did not visit that country (my lottery number was 360 and they weren’t taking people who were almost deaf), that war played a formative roll in the lives of many of us, if not most of us, who were young and daring during that tumultuous time.  The book is full of many new and intriguing insights about that experience from a perspective that is entirely different from mine.

Back to now and South Dakota.  I had a wonderful ride back from Mitchell last night with Shawn Massey and Scott Wooster, from Michigan, and Pamela Livingston, from New Jersey.  Pamela had just delivered a 7:00 PM keynote and did a wonderful job of describing some of the 1:1 initiatives across the U.S. which she includes in her book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work.  Ms. Livingston will start a new career in July as a full-time consultant and will be a wonderful resource for schools and districts (and states) who are considering transforming their classrooms by empowering their teachers and students with access to information — laptops on their desks.

Finally, I want to offer just a very brief reflection on the Laptop Institute in South Dakota.  Energy was everywhere, in the presenters, the planners, and the participants.  You naturally assume a level of hospitality in the mid-west, but they outdid all expectations.  There was a major focus on transforming education with laptops, not just using laptop computers as a teaching machine.  At the same time, I witnessed several occasions where session leaders worked to rein folks in from going to far out there — on one occasion having to pull me just a bit closer to the box.

Two major themes seemed to emerge in general conversations, that of support and professional development.  Most of the support issues, frankly, went over my head.  I can’t even visualize what it might mean to re-image your computer from an alternative partition.  But I may have some comments in a future post about professional development in 1:1 learning environments.

For now, it’s time to go hop on the shuttle, hop into that rental car (please let it not be an SUV), and then skip on down to Kansas.

21st Century Skills

[I’ve said all this before.  I think that’s ok for a blog.]

Two things we knowI mentioned yesterday morning, some of the conversations I participated in (mostly eavesdropped on) the night before.  It was folks from Maine, New Jersey, and the South Dakota Department of Education.  They were talking about new skills, 21st century skills, work-ready skills, etc.  Much was said about West Virginia and North Carolina and their work with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

I think, though, that the point of pressure for most classroom concerns should be is much more simple.  It is important that kids learn to collaborate, invent, and speak more than one language.  But there are two things that we know for sure.

  1. Information is changing — has changed
  2. We are preparing our children for an unpredictable future

The two knowns point to actions, which I think converge.  To address the changing nature of information, we must look hard at an evolving array of basic literacy skills.  To address a rapidly changing world, the very best thing we can teach our children, is how to teach themselves.

To teach yourself, you must be literate.  Let’s just put them both together and start teaching “learning literacy.”

When’s Steve Jobs Going to Get It?

The Mitchell, South Dakota Corn Palace.  Really!

I’m at the South Dakota Laptop Institute in Mitchell South Dakota — home of the magnificent Corn Palace, a theatre made entirely of corn cobs.  I’m not poking fun.  It’s an intriguing and very American place that I’ve visited before.  The last time, Joe Graves, there superintendent, and former social studies teacher, took me to an excavation of a plains indian village.  It was fascinating, and an amazing resource for South Dakota classes.

Last night was the opening keynote address, delivered by Tom Ferrell, of Dakota State University.   His address was very good and his style is energetic, entertaining, and engaging — just what’s needed on Sunday evening. 

I have to confess that because of some conversations that I mostly listened to between JIm Moulton, of Maine, Wade Pogany, of the SD DOE, and others at the table, I was morphing my own presentation for my own keynote this afternoon.  So I wasn’t paying the attention that I should have.  But it was clear that the real star of Ferrell’s address was the tablet PC that he kept tucked into his elbow, with a stylus in the other hand, controlling his presentation, making the content on the two screens truly and richly interactive. 

When is Steve Jobs going to show us something like this for the Mac.  It isn’t just about text recognition.  It’s about interaction with content.

Image Citation:
McNeal, Patti. “Cyclewidowpatti’s Photostream.” Mitchell, South Dakota_04. 1 Oct 2006. 11 Jun 2007 <>.

On the Road Again

This is my first airport in almost three weeks.  There have been a couple of jobs here in the North Carolina area, driving trips, but most of the past many days have been spent at home.  I’d love to say that I’ve been on vacation, but that’s just not happening this summer, only a short trips with a few family members.  Brenda will travel with me for a few trips this summer, and that’s a vacation.

The last many days have had me doing some maintenance on some contract programming projects, some work on Class Blogmeister, and enhancing Hitchhikr with a mobile version and a Tag Cloud feature.  I’m also finishing up the 2nd edition of Classroom Blogging: A Teachers Guide to the Blogosphere, new title, Classroom Blogging: A Teachers Guide to the New Shape of Information.  Brenda is doing a final read through and then I do the final page layout, and then upload it with the new cover art to Lulu.  It may be available by NECC, but that would be a near miracle.

I’m looking forward to a hard-working, but very interesting week.  Tomorrow I keynote that Laptop Institute of South Dakota.  They pick Pamela Livingston, Shawn Massey, and me up at the airport around noon today (currently in Chicago), and drive us to our hotels.  I’m also doing a session on Web 2.0, and Pamela delivers the closing keynote.  Pamela Livingston is the author of 1 to 1 Learning: Laptop Programs that Work, which I think was originally her doctoral dissertation.

[Inserted: I ended out getting delayed in Chicago because of a maintenance.  Something about a malfunctioning computer and a bird hitting one of the wings.  I might have misunderstood the part about the bird.  Not such a bad wait.  A very fine guitar player serenaded us.]

The next day, I drive from Souix Falls down to Emporia, Kansas.  I’m actually looking forward to the drive.  There is something about driving in the mid-west — it compels me to dial on to easy-listening stations.  I do not mean this as a sarcasm.  It’s relaxing in a way that I genuinely enjoy.  Then there’s the people — non-better on the planet.  In Kansas I am working with a Summer Institute for School Librarians.  This promises to be fun, sharing ideas about the changing nature of in formation and how that impacts literacy — and how that impacts libraries.  I always learn so much from the perspectives of information professionals.

Finally, I fly up to Toronto for a meeting with representatives of the Ontario Library Association (5,200 Members) and several consultants who have been invited to come in an share, talk, and listen.  I do not fully understand the context, except that the Ontario Ministry of Education has suddenly express a great deal of interest in media and library programs, and is funding the development of a new document to guide school libraries into the increasingly networked, digital, overwhelming, and flat future.  This promises to be not only a fantastically singular opportunity for schools in Ontario, but also a great learning experience for me.

Then I fly from Toronto to Boston on Friday to meet Brenda and Martin for a long weekend of doing history.  Brenda’s been so engrossed in historic novels over the past few years, that I look forward to her being the teacher.  She and Martin will enjoy a concert, performed by the Boston Pops, before I get there. So enough for now!   Much more later!

It Must have Seemed Easy

It must have seemed easy, writing a book about computers in education.  After all, he has a degree in engineering and has distinguished himself as a Microsoft certified solution developer, and a dizzying array of other technical proficiencies.  A book about computers in education should be no challenge at all.

Besides, so much of it has already been said by other people.  All you have to do is say it again — say it in their words.  Easy.  Who would know?  The original author is almost a half a planet away and wrote it almost ten years ago. 

Copy, paste, and turn it in. 

He writes a good book and copyrights it.  Includes the line on one of the first pages…

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written permission.

There’s even a chapter about legal and copyright issues related to using the Internet in education.  He’s protected by ten thousand miles and dozens of political borders.  No one will know that he plagiarized this book.

But then, the e-mails start coming in to your mail box.  That article that you wrote almost ten years ago had a fair readership, and people start noticing.  The e-mails keep coming:

We were searching for information on evaluation of internet based projects when we bumped into your article and website. On reading your article we realized that your content has been duplicated in a textbook we have read for a class.

In case these people have your permission to reproduce the content you have written, we are sorry to have bothered you. But we thought it was necessary for you to know that someone else is profiting out of your effort, possibly without your knowledge.

If you plagiarize, you will get caught.  You can’t hide it.  You can’t protect it.  Even if it’s in a book, the words leak out, and when one person notices — we will all know!

What would you do, if this happened to you?

Details to come…

What will you be Drinking in Atlanta?

NECC 2007That Educational Mac guy, Kelly Dumont shared with us his NECC agenda yesterday, sipping at the fountain of NECC the sweet flavor of gadgets, Web 2.0, disappearing laptops, 21st century education, more Web 2.0, iEverything — and I think that just gets him through the pre-conference.

So what do you hope to learn at NECC?  No need to list sessions from your Conference Planner — just share in your blogs, tagged with necc, necc07, or necc2007, why you’re going — what you hope to learn.  Let’s start up the conversations by jacking into the networks.  What’s important to us as educators?  What are the conversations we all need to be ready for?

No need to comment here.  Tell us about it in your blogs and podcasts — and don’t forget your tags.

A Magnetic Field of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)

Sorry!  This one just couldn’t be said briefly!

Magnetic FieldsIt seems that I remember an experiement that we conducted when I was in 4th or 5th grade, where we put some iron filings on a piece of paper.  The small flakes of metal arranged themselves randomly as they fell.  Then we placed a magnet under the paper, and then raised it up closer to closer to the mass of filings, they rearranged themselves into curving lines, illustrating something meaningful, which the teacher had to explain to us.

This is what I needed yesterday, as I tried to make sense of the new NETS Refresh standards.  Now don’t get me wrong.  They make perfect sense, especially in this atmosphere of reinvention that is about to take hold in education.  Yet, when I try to think about them in terms of what they look like in the classroom, what teachers and students are actually doing to effect those outcomes — well it isn’t quite clear to me. 

Now they’re new, and I’ve not been a part of any of the conversations about their creation.  I’m certain that there are smarter people than me who can and will explain it.  But after a short e-mail conversation I had with Gary Stager yesterday about why bloggers are not talking about them, I got to thinking.  My immediate response to him was that they are new, and that I’m waiting for a formal announcement and explanation before I weigh in.  But another thought that had been squirming around, just beneath my consciousness, and irritating a real raw place in my psyche, was the extreme direction that these standards had taken in contrast to what the original NETS were.

In the beginning, there was technology — and there was the urge to teach how to do technology.  Possibly this came out of our own lack of confidence with the new information and communication tools, but a set of standards that itemized and specified machine-oriented skills was what we got, and it’s what we needed.  They were clear, and it was easy to imagine teaching children how to boot up a computer and access the Web.

However, I, for quite some time, have been complaining about an over emphasis with the technology, that it’s actually the information revolution that we should be focused on.  These thoughts seem to have simultaneously occurred to others who were associated with the standards, because the Refresh version seems almost entirely about the information.  This is good.  The problem that’s been scratching at my nerves is “What does this look like in the classroom?”  “What are students and teachers doing that effects the outcomes of: creativity and innovation, communications and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problems-solving, and decision-making, digital citizenship, and technology operations and concepts.”  Well, picturing some of this in the classroom is not difficult.  But some of it is hard.  It sounds too big!

Again, I’m sure it’s all going to be explained to us perfectly clearly in less than three weeks.  But what I sought to do last night was to hold a magnet under the standards and see how they lined up.  The following Slideshare presentation walks through the process, as well as the descriptions that follow that.

  1. Slide 1 — I did what I often do, I went to familiar turf, tierra familiar (thanks Google).  I went back to my thinking about the information revolution and lined up the characteristics that define today’s information landscape, that information has become increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming.
  2. Slide 2 — Applying the new web (Web 2.0) on this listing, it seems to me that as information has become networked in the past 10 to 15 years, it has also become more participatory during the past three to five years.  We are not only access information through networks, but actually interacting with that information in many trans formative ways.  As information has become more digital, it has more recently become trainable.  Using tags and types of aggregators, we can literally train information to behave in useful ways — on a personal level.  And, finally, as information has become overwhelming, it has also served to connect people, through their ideas.  It has become (forgive my use of a non-word) collaboratory, facilitating groups of people working together on common goals from diverse perspectives.
  3. Slide 3 — These ideas about the changing nature of information have been useful to me as a way of spring boarding into new notions of literacy (Skills necessary to use information to accomplish goals).  Starting with the three Rs, reading, in a networked and participatory information environment, expands into Exposing the value of information and ideas.  In an increasingly digital and trainable information landscape, arithmetic expands into a wide range of skills involved in employing that information to solve problems, answer questions, and accomplish goals.  And, as we become overwhelmed by information, and at the same time challenged to collaborate through the storm of information, writing has expanded into a range of skills involved in expressing ideas compellingly.
  4. Slide 4 — This new information landscape has also necessitated a new layer of concern for our visions of literacy.  Largely because much of the information that we use today can not be contained inside a file cabinet, the covers of a book, shelves of a bookcase or rooms of a library, we can no longer guard it, protect it.  There for the position of gatekeeper has shifted from something that teachers and librarians do to something that we all must know how to do — and the thread that runs all over this is ethics.
  5. Slide 5 — Now I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and writing about it, and I have some sense of what all of this should look like in the classroom, how we teach children to be exposers, employers, expressers, and ethical users of information.  So an interesting sense of tranquility came over me when I moved the magnet of these ideas up close to the new NETS Refresh — because they lined up, just like those iron filings.
  • Exposing the value of information is very closely aligned with Information Fluency.
  • Employing information requires the creative use of information tools, inventing solutions to new problems, and then critically examining the results.
  • Expressing ideas is entirely about communication.
  • Ethics is responsibility, and, in my mind, that’s what digital citizenship should be about — learning to use information responsibly.
  • None of this happens without the tools.  They are not the outcome, but the avenue, and the avenue is constantly changing.

Of course, there is a whole lot of overlap happening all over the model.  But lining these ideas up, creating a magnetic field of contemporary learning literacies is helping me to make some sense of these very important skills that are critical to our children’s future prosperity.

2¢ Worth!

NECC’s Program Planner

NECC PlannerI just spent a couple of hours searching and sorting through the NECC program, and clicking workshops, BoFs, and presentations in to my conference calendar.  It got pretty heavy there toward the end.  I searched for particular words and phrases in order to list out possibilities.  I wonder of the software that they are using tallies up the search criteria that people are using to find sessions.  It might be interesting to see what attendees are looking for at NECC.

It was also interesting on my part to see the number of hits that emerged from various term searches — terms I’m most interested in, and terms I was just curious about.  Here’s a tally.

Web 2.0 22
Blog 24
Wiki 15
21st century 25
video game 5
rss 5
podcast 30
NETS Refresh 0
Digital Story Telling 0
Second Life 4
Digital Content 4
Assessment 30

Hitchhikr’s in Your Pocket Now!

Hitchhikr MobileIt rained just before dawn this morning, as a rogue thunderstorm moved through, leaving behind sun shine, a residual cool, and a bit of very tropical looking steamy mist — a perfect formula for a perfect morning bicycle ride.  I’ve probably said before that Raleigh has a magnificent greenway system that spans pretty much the entire county.  The only real problem with it, for me, is that I ride down hill to reach the greenway and uphill to return home.  Anyway, this morning was especially nice for the first 9 miles.  Then I have to come back home — which is the uphill part that I’ve already mentioned.

I spent most of yesterday adding a new feature to Hitchhikr.  There have been many times that I was at a conference and wanted to be able to check in on what other blogger attendees are seeing and saying.  But, alas, the conference facility does not have WiFi or it simply isn’t convenient to crack open my laptop, or my laptop isn’t with me.  Although NECC will be a WiFi rich facility, cell phones and handhelds might be comfortable ways to jack into the conversation.

So yesterday, I wrote in a mobile version of Hitchhikr.  The URL is:

There are four main options:

  • Home — returns to a rather useless home page
  • List — generates a list of conferences that will happen in the next month, have happened in the past month, or are currently underway
  • Blogs — if you have selected a specific conference, this option will list blog entries that have the conference tag
  • Photos — if you have selected a specific conference, this option will list Flickr’ed photos with the conference tag.

Here are some screen shots!

The home page, a brief introduction worth of reading only once.

A listing of imminent conferences, red for the next month, gray for the past month, and blue for current conferences.

Blog entries for a selected conference with the conference tag.

Flickr’ed photos with the conference tag.