Another “It’s not the Technology, Stupid!”

I spent yesterday morning attending the college orientation day for students and parents transfering in to the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.  I was impressed by just about everything I saw.  It was my first time with anything more than a cursory glance at the campus while driving down HW 49 on my way to Raleigh — and moving my daughter in and out of her dorm room for the only semester that she spent there before transferring back to Western Carolina University. 

Brenda and I arrived Sunday afternoon, Martin having taken the train up the day before to stay with a friend.  Brenda and I walked all over the campus, seemingly a study of its many long and steep stair ways.  I suspect that she was playing me into the evenings exercise, which I’d missed because of traveling.  She’s a sly fox.

Again, I was impressed by the campus, the organization of the orientation, and the apparent quality of the students (at least in appearance).  The only problem that I saw was all of the goose droppings which kept you eyes on the sidewalk in front of you instead of enjoying the vast campus vista.  It seems that a goodly percentage of Canadian geese have immigrated to eastern Mecklinberg County.

Since Brenda and I missed one of the presentations because there were not enough seats, we went on to another building to get front row positions for another presentation that would begin in about 45 minutes.  Shortly after we arrived, and Brenda left  hunting for  coffee, the presenters came in to install their presentation on the class computer from their flashdrive.  we started to talk about the technology in the room and she said that almost all of the classrooms on the campus were “Smart Classrooms.”  Indeed, there was a presentation computer, microphone, controls, which she was struggling a bit with, and two projectors, causing the display of the Windows boot screen on two retracting screens.

I asked her then, “What makes this a smart room!”

She said, sliding her fingers caressingly over a brushed black panel at a corner of the podium, “This button right here.  If I’m having a problem with the computer or something, I just press this lovely button.  A voice then comes from the speakers in the ceiling asking about the problem.  After I explain (to the ceiling), they tell me what to do, or they fix something from where they are, and, suddenly, it works.”

At first, this seemed like exactly the answer I should expect from a less than tech-savvy educator.  However, as I thought about it, she is exactly right.  What makes the room smart is not its technology.  What makes is smart is what comes through the technology — from people — to people.  It’s a concept that I push all the time with Web 2.0, that it isn’t the new web applications that are special.  Many of them are actually quite primative from a purely technical standpoint.  What’s made them special is what people have done with it.

Canadian Civilization?

Canadian HistoryCraig Duplessie, whom I met during a recent trip to New Brunswick, just sent me an article about a collaboration between Bitcasters, Telefilm Canada and Canada’s National History Society to present Canadian History in a more engaging way — through a video game.  They are utilizing the Civilization III engine to wrap the context around and will invite gamer/learners to play history.

Call HistoriCanada, the game will actually be bundled with future shipments of Civilization III or can be downloaded by players who already own the game.

Cocreator Thomas Axworthy bluntly addressed the issue, saying that “Canadian history is sometimes portrayed as dull as dishwater, and there’s a perception that history is only interesting if there are a lot of battles.” In an attempt to remedy this problem, Axworthy and his team used the Civ III engine to create a platform for gamers to reenact the formulation of Canada. However, the gamer isn’t locked down into proceeding on exactly the same course as Canada; instead, decisions will potentially alter the course of history and lead to hypothetical “alternate universe” versions of Canada.

This is one of the aspects of these types of video games that intrigues me as a former history teacher.  It would be interesting to facilitate a class where students are coming in, not necessarily more factually knowledgeable, but having experienced some of the types of decissions that lead to past and current societal and cultural conditions.  I could see a different kind of conversation happening when students are asked, “How would you have responded to this…?”

What do you think?


Preping for NECCIt’s an exhilarating time.  The phone calls have diminished as has the e-mail.  Most educators are winding down the new year.  Brenda and I will attend the high school graduation of a niece this afternoon, just before dropping my son off at the Train station for orientation at UNC-Charlotte on Monday!

For some of us, we’re winding up for NECC, preparing presentations — and as a result, thinking and rethinking about teaching, learning, classrooms, and schooling in this time of rapid change.  I’m especially excited about the preconference workshop I’ll be teaching on Sunday (June 24).  Since NECC provides presenters with the e-mail addresses of educators who have registered for our workshops, I can contact them and learn more about their needs.  For this particular workshop, a wiki has been established, where attendees are quite literally participating in the planning and even setting the agenda of the event.  I will feel much more confident that the learning I plan to facilitate will be what the audience needs.

In amongst all of this thinking and planning and thinking and planning, I was interviewed last week by Kansas educator, Kevin Honeycutt for his Driving Questions podcast.  Honeycutt asked some great questions, and as is often the case, I didn’t think of the really good answers until after we’d laid our Skypes to rest.

One of those questions regarded skills for beginning teachers, right out of university.  This one hit home as my daughter has only one more year of college before entering the education workforce.  I gave some rambling answers, but two ideas occurred to me today — days later.  One question that I might ask, as a school principal interviewing a prospective teacher is, “What have you learned today?” 

I’m not looking for teachers who merely know how to teach.  I want professionals, for which learning is an active and conscious part of every day life.  I’d want to know what they’ve learned today, and what they think about it — might be a useful conversation starter.

The other thing that I would ask is, “How would you go about preparing a particular unit (and here’s the good part) without a teacher’s edition to the textbook.  How would you learn what you’ll need to know, what will you do with what you’ve learned in order to give it energy, and how will you convey it to your learners?”

One of the ideas that keeps hitting me over the head as I plan for my NECC presentations is that we do our children a disservice by teaching them from pre-packaged, scientifically classified knowledge.  It’s teaching by killing the content and mounting it.  Our students today must come to learn by living with the content in it’s own habitat, observing, experimenting, exploring, and discovering.  EduTopia this month asked sages to speak out on whether teaching is an art or a science.  I would say that it’s a bit of both —

— but to say that it is wrong to say that teaching is a science.

However, it might be useful to say that learning is!

Korea and New Education

Lee Kun-hee, Chairman of SamsungYesterday, Samsung Electronics Group Chairman, Lee Kun-hee had some things to say about education after the  Hoam Awards for excellence in the arts, service, and science and technology.  Increasingly feeling the economic threat of being “sandwiched” between Japan and China, he said to reporters,

“It is increasingly getting more serious. Education matters. We should produce geniuses by properly educating the gifted.”

Later in the interview he said,

“One genius feeds 100,000 persons,”

One reporter asked the electronics giant’s head about domestic education.  He said,

“it is too uniform. We should educate children according to the needs of the 21st century. [In education], Korea should model itself after advanced countries,”

I’m not exactly sure what he means by this.  What do you think?

“Samsung Head Stresses Need for Korean Educational Reform.” The Hankyoreh 2 Jun 2007 2 Jun 2007 <>.

About NETS Refresh — and Interview with Don Kenezek

Our Friend, Gary Stager, recently interviewed ISTE’s Chief Executive Officer about the soon to be announced NETS Refresh, and update of the organizations technology standards.  The interview is being published in District Administration, but is now available online at

It’s good reading, especially coming up on NECC — where the standards document is to be formally unveiled!

Thanks, Gary, for the tip and the work!

Internet Safer…

Boston Ed Techer, Joe Kidd, forwarded this article to me about a news story that seems to be painting a more sober and optimistic picture of the Internet and our children’s use of it. – Internet safer than it seems:

Fearful parents may conjure up images of trench-coated predators trolling the Web, but the virtual world their teens actually inhabit is more like the soda shop of yesteryear or the mall — a place to hang with friends.

A rash of new studies by Harris Interactive, the PEW Report and a Cal State psychology professor — and a new book by youth culture expert Anastasia Goodstein — say teens are using MySpace, Facebook, et al, to deepen and enrich existing friendships, not to chat with strangers.

A good read — and thanks Joe!

The Envelope, Please!

Remember the Pepsi spewing in the air, spinning fountains of sugar sweetness?  Was it Emmy material?

Internet Videos to Vie for Daytime Emmys:

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced the nominations Thursday for outstanding drama, comedy, variety and children’s original programming for broadband, specifically computers, cell phones and other handheld devices.

The New York-based organization teamed with the social networking Web site for the first time to solicit nominations from the public, resulting in the recognition of independent productions, as well as programs created by traditional TV networks.

Might we, at some point, see a 4th grader (from your class), walk up to accept their Emmy — and thank you?

My New Podcasting Tool…

As I said several weeks ago, while at the MICCA conference in Baltimore, my iPod finally crashed.  It was in its 4th year of pretty solid use, not only for listening to audio books and podcast (and a song here and there), but also for recording my Connect Learning podcast.  I reformatted the iPod’s hard drive and restored the software, and it worked for a few more weeks, but then it crashed again and refused to take the restores.  On my way out of town, on my way to Asheville last week, I dropped by the Raleigh Apple store and bought a new iPod (Video).  Way Way cool.  Almost entirely impractical for me because of my increasing farsightedness, but totally cool video.  I am entirely impressed, and suspect that younger eyes are delighted.

WS-100But back to the podcasting, I have always tried to focus down on using information technologies for learning that are accessible for schools that are willing to invest just something into it, and consistently say in my presentations and workshop that you don’t have to go buy an iPod to record a podcast. 

“I use an iPod because I already owned an iPod.”

“Just had to spend $30 for an iTalk to turn it into a recorder.” 

They’re a little more expensive now, but what else is available?

So I went to the local Staples store and bought an Olympus digital voice recorder.  Its a WS-100, $79 (usd).  I’m still working my way through the buttons, but I tried it for the first time yesterday, when I visited a technology showcase in Durham, North Carolina, and found that the operation was pretty darn intuitive.  The event was an excellent test of the audio quality because there was an enormous amount of background noise and confusion.  But when I gave one of the files a listen last night, I was overwhelmingly impressed.

WS-100 DisassembledI especially like the built-in USB plug.  You just plug the device directly into your computer, and it shows up as an external hard drive.  Just audio drag the files off into your podcast directory, and get to work.  One glitch is that the files are saved in WMA format, so you have to find a converter to change it to a wav or mp3.  I used Switch, which worked very quickly and effectively.  The files go from there directly into Audacity or GarageBand.

My only irritation is the weight.  I’ve been accustomed to holding a very solid and substancial iPod when interviewing people.  The Olympus is extremely light weight, and cheap felling, but again the quality of the recording surprised me — and at almost a quarter of the price.

Look for the next episode of Connect Learning.