How Much Information?

Here is something from my seemingly endless preparation of The Quiet Revolution.  It’s a story that I often related to audiences to illustrate the changing nature of the information that we are using today and our need to redefine literacy.

VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, 1-Megabit-ChipThere was a study conducted by the University of California at Berkley called “How Much Information.” They discovered that the world generated five exabytes of information in 2002.

You are probably thinking,

If I knew what an exabyte was, I’m supposed I would be impressed.”

To clarify, if we added five exabytes of information to the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, it would require the building of 37,000 more Libraries of Congress to hold that year’s additional information. The kicker, however, is that only one one-hundredths of one percent (00.01%) of that information ever got printed. All the rest of the new information was digital, existing as 1s and 0s and residing on the memory cells of magnetic tape, disks, optical discs and integrated circuits; and requiring digital technology and technology skills to access and use that information. If more and more of our information is digital and networked, then we can take the paper out of our future workplace.

This also begs the question, “Why are we continuing to spend so much time continuing to teach our children how to use paper when we need to be teaching them how to use light – to use digital information?

Beyond the Textbook

I have been invited to participate in Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.  I feel quite honored, especially as I’ve scanned the names of other folks who are attending.  It will be a special treat to spend some time with Steve Dembo and David Jakes, two talented thinkers and conference speakers.

One thing that struck me about this event is the title.  When talking about my dissatisfaction with print-based textbooks, I often ask, “What will textbooks evolve into?”  This implies some assumptions, that textbooks, as we know them, will simply morph into something else that acts like a textbook.

The title of this event seems to be asking what the other side of textbooks might look like — and the opportunity of this wide open idea fascinates me.

We’ve been assigned to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit from our readers some ideas about what we might find on the other side of textbooks.  As a teacher, I need a simile.  I need to be able to say,

“The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.

So, if you don’t mind, would you think for a moment about this task and fill in the text box above with no more than 150 characters that complete the sentence. You’ll notice that I’ve changed your question a bit, “..will behave more like a…”

If you would like to expand on your thoughts, please feel free to post a comment.

Added at 12:17 PM two days later – Here is a word cloud from the similes that have already been posted.

The Last of its Kind…

The title has been edited to remove the errant apostrophy. Was, “The Last of it’s Kind.” SAT

IBM Selectric Typewriter, circa 1968

When I was in high school, a junior I think, I took typing from Mrs. Sapenfield, one of my father’s colleagues when he’d taught there twelve years earlier. We used manual typewriters, though there were three IBM Selectrics in the back of the room, with a type ball that rotated and pivoted, lining up the letters, numbers and symbols being pressed. That was just too future.

Before I graduated from high school, I got a Royal portable typewriter with case for Christmas.  For a number of years, it was probably a quarter of the volume of my entire worldly possessions — and it was about that important. My handwriting has always been atrocious, so all of my turn-ins, from that point on, were typed.

For a number of months, I actually used this (left) 1912 Royal 5 (which I inherited from my grandfather) for printing labels. It was the novelty of an experience that I knew was fading.

..and perhaps it is an experience that has faded away, as Mashable blogger, Todd Wasserman, reported this morning that the last company to manufacture typewriters is shutting its doors in Mumbai, India. ((Wasserman, Todd. “RIP Typerwriters: Last Manufacturer Closes Its Doors.” Mashable. Mashable, Inc., 26 Apr 2011. Web. 26 Apr 2011. <>.))

Godrej and Boyce – the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters – has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India with just a few hundred machines left in stock. ((“The end of the line: Last typewriter factory left in the world closes its doors.” MailOnline 26 Apr 2011, Web. <>.))

An update on the Mashable blog post indicates that according to Gawker, there are still manufacturers of typewriters in China, Japan and Indonesia.

I suppose that at some point, perhaps in my lifetime, we’ll read, somehow, that the last manufacturer of laptops or mobile phone devices has closed its doors because of the rapid adoption of …

If I was a Petulant Child

I just finished some email correspondence with a client, an upcoming presentation to teachers in the mid-west. Brenda had sent my AV needs PDF, and the client wrote back saying that everything was well within their means — except for Internet, no Internet available in the venue.

Being the polite and ever-conciliatory fellow that I am, I responded that this would be no problem. I can harvest all of the sites I need for the presentation and finesse myself around any online demos that can’t be easily simulated. This is my standard reaction and this is what it should be. After all, even with the best and most progressive of intentions, we are still catching up, and we’ll likely continue to be catching up for quite a while. Even though I often speak at venues that are not primarily education oriented, and many of them have adequate to exemplary technology in place, there are still those that pat themselves on the shoulder because they can wheel an LCD projector out for your Powerpoint are simply not there yet for a variety of reasons.

Accepting that, I got to wondering, what if I was a 12 year old, a member of the ultimate customer base that we are all serving. What if they’d invited a game-playing, text-thumbing, Facebook browsing youngster to speak? How might she have reacted?


No Internet? Wait a minute. You want me to talk about how my generation thinks, how we interact with each other, how we play – and work – and learn, what we care about and where we do it — and you want me to do it without the Internet?


Actually, I am not sure that “Dude” is quite the expletive that it was a couple of years ago. ..and a reaction like this would owe itself mostly to the petulance that comes naturally to many 12 year-olds. But I suspect that a more important part if this response — the part we need to be paying attention to — is that preparing today’s children, within today’s prevailing information environment, for an unpredictable future, should assume a networked, digital, and information-abundant learning environment, regardless of whether it is the children who are doing the learning, or the educators.

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Location:Lassiter Mill Rd,Raleigh,United States

Reasoning Our Way In…

My wrist watch is not digital

When talking about the differences between our generation (my generation) and our school youngsters’, I frequently point at my watch (when I remembered to pick it up on my way out of the house).  I explain that my watch is not digital.  It does one thing, and it well.  Digital watches did not exist when I was growing up, and that is an important difference.

You see, with digital watches, you typically have three buttons, instead of the single knob.  Using those buttons in various combinations, you can do many things with that watch.  I simply can’t remember the combinations, and when I try, I always give up with something blinking on the watch face.  VCRs are the same way.  You have a few buttons, which, in combination, can do dozens of things.  It’s why you might call my VCR, a twelve-o’clock flasher.

I thought about it this morning when I was trying to transfer miles into upgrade credits on the American Airlines web site.  It’s something I’ve done several times, but not frequently enough to remember the process.  I have to reason my way into the process each time, and it’s something I am not comfortable with and not very good at.  For my children, it is part of their way of doing things — approaching a task kind’a like a safe cracker, ready to work the problem rather than remember the combination.

Their video games are much the same.  Rarely do they come with instructions.  You have to go in, figure out what the goal is, learn the rules through interaction, and then figure out how to use the rules to accomplish the goals.  It irritates me when I do not know the process up front.  I am less than confident that I will succeed… accomplish the goal… get to the other side of the wall.

But from our students’ point of view — from the point of view of their future — is this ability to reason their way into a task a basic skill.  Because, if they will be shaping much of their future, will there be more need for this skills.  Are all children gaining these skills.