Were We Ready?

A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:

We weren’t ready for the Internet

He got some affirming comments and I just added,

Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.

Being a Digital Detective
Being Literate Means being a Digital Detective

This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.

The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read.  Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education.  We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate.  As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited.  Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?

In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es.  Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true.  To expose what is true, you must learn to read it.  But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.

I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?”  I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?”  I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.

The other Es were:

  1. Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
  2. Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
  3. There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.

20 Mbps & We’re Still Searching for the Same Stuff

I’ve been doing a lot of deep digging while working on my book about the history of technology in education – as I’ve seen it.  This afternoon, I happened upon some online handouts for one of my first keynotes and its slidedeck.  The address was called, “The Three Ts of Teaching in the Twenty-First Century.”  It appears to have been delivered in November of 2000.

On one of the opening slides, I had listed the ten most searched for terms of that month.  As a comparison, I found the top ten searches on Google in 2014, and have listed them as well.

November 2000   2014
10  Pokemon   10  Sochi Olympics
91  Napster   91  Frozen
81  Playstation 2   81  ISIS
71  NFL   7 Conchita Wurst
Florida Recount   Flappy Bird
Britney Spears   ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Thanksgiving   Malaysia Airlines
Dragonball   Ebola
Election 2000   World Cup
Christmas   Robin Williams

I was actually surprised how little it’s changed?  We have video games, sports, entertainment with a peppering of world-shaping issues.

What If Our Roads Were Run Like This?

Photo by EFF

My wife and I are buying a house in the Shelby area, so that we can spend more time with both of our parents and have a larger place for family gatherings.  

We’re very happy with the house, except that we can’t get reconnected, the DSL line that the previous owners enjoyed.  I’ve spent many hours on the phone with AT&T  mostly on hold, or desperately trying to navigate their menu system, or listening to the scripts recited over and over again by the sales and support staff. The story seems to be that DSL is simply not (no longer) available to our house.

Time Warner will not serve the house, apparently because there are not enough houses on our street.  The next street over, more populated, has had Time Warner for quite some time.  

Being an early adopter of iPhones and iPads, I have been able to keep unlimited data plans on both of them.  

I also have an AT&T hotspot device that provides WiFi for me via a local cell tower, up to 5Gb per month.  So I went to the AT&T store last night to get its data plan upgraded to 20Gb.  It seems that the only way that I can change the plan on that device is by also changing the plans on my iPhone and iPad, giving up my unlimited data there.  AT&T seems more interested in providing less service, not more nor better.

We are probably going to go with a Verizon product that will provide WiFi and Ethernet, via a cell tower, 20Gb.

The reason I burden you with this is my wondering,

“What if our roads were handled like this, as a service to customers rather than citizens?”  

“What if there weren’t enough people living in my area to result in enough profit for the road company to lay a road?”

“How would my children get an education, if they couldn’t go to school?  How would I get my work done, if I couldn’t get to work?  How could we shop for essentials, if we couldn’t get to the store?”

You get my point.  Our Internet connection has become as important to us as our roads.  Yet service depends on the convenience and profitability to AT&T and Time Warner.  What’s worse is that North Carolina it is now agains the law for municipalities to establish and provide Internet service to its citizens, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of compaign contributions from the telecommunications industry.

So what do you think?

Evaluating Information: The Wrong Way or the Best Way!

A couple of weeks ago, I delivered several presentations to a school district in the mid-west, one of the numerous August back-to-school gigs I’m doing fewer of each year. It was a rewarding day, more so than many. Keeping the attention of hundreds of teachers, just back from vacation, catching up with friends, weighing in the politics of new leadership, and desperately needing to be in their classrooms makes this a pretty tough gig. Not so on this day.

After a presentations about expanding our notions of literacy, a teacher came up asking, “But what’s to be done about students accessing all the information on the Internet that is simply not true.”

I reminded him that I had just made the point that it isn’t just the Internet we need to be worried about. Then I gave him one of my usual responses,

If I was still teaching history, and my students turned in a paper, they would be waiting for the challenge. It happens every time.  It’s part of the ongoing classroom conversation.

Placing a student’s paper on his desk and pointing to one paragraph, I ask, “How do you know that’s true?” If the student can’t answer the question, he’s going to lose points.  Even if the paragraph is true, he’s going to lose points.  My students would be responsible for their information’s appropriateness and the evidence that supports its appropriateness.

I wonder now if this response makes sense only to me, a figment of a private fantasy. So I thought I’d spend some bits trying to unpack this approach into something that better distinguishes a “new way” from an “old way.

The difference is in what we call attention to.  Our tendency, as teachers, is to address the problem by focusing on the mistakes, red-penning what’s not accurate, not reliable, not valid, doesn’t make sense.  It’s logical because whats not true is a fundamental problem to education.  We work to keep wrong information out of our textbooks, whiteboards, libraries and lectures.  We foster a learning environment where we can all take comfort in the assumption that the information is “true.”  

Our position, as teachers, is based on this assumption.

For the problems caused by the Internet, we create checklists to identify the breakage in information.

[ ] Is the author’s name included in the page & can he be contacted?

[ ] Are the author’s qualifications available?

[ ] Is the publisher an educational institution or other reputable organization?

[ ] Is the information fact or opinion?  Is there bias?

[ ] Is the URL domain among the trusted (edu, gov, org)?

If you can check all of the above, then you can use the information.  

We teach research and writing as a practice in avoiding problems,

..but not as a practice in solving them.

If we teach our learners to research and communicate in order to solve a problem, then we entirely change the approach.  We assess their work through conversations about the “best way” rather than the “wrong way,” and learners become active defenders rather than passive accepters of judgement.  The classroom conversation changes.  Students become more active, empowered and invested.  They become stakeholders in their learning, and ultimately, responsible to an authentic context/audience.

They own what they write, present or make, because they did the work and defended it.  They’re accountable.  

They own the learning.


Internet before WWW / Learning before Education

This is Gopher, one incarnation of what the Internet looked like before the World Wide Web ((“Types of Internet Protocols.” Online Library Learning Center. The board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Web. 2 Jan 2010. .))

In Internet is to WWW as Education is to…, Willy Kjellstrom reflects on his recent reading of Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas — and how he (Willy) discovered that there is a difference between Internet and World Wide Web. We often use the terms interchangeably, without loss of meaning. They are, at this time, practically synonymous.

From January 1 Blog Post (click to enlarge)

Then, at the end of his article, Willy questions my January 1 resolutions post, where I resolve to avoid using certain terms, including education, preferring to emphasize learning.

Now I recognize the futility of complying fully with ones post-New Year’s Eve promises to one’s self. But I would like to draw on two distinctions between my perspective and that of Kjellstrom.

Number one, Willy appears to be younger than I am — “Harvard Alum ’05,” according to his Facebook page. Of course, that could be graduate school, which he, like me, may have attended over a decade after general college. But for the sake of my objective, I’m going to assume that Kjellstrom is decades younger than I am.

You see, I have always known the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, because I knew an Internet before WWW. I remember when you navigated the network of networks using Telnet and FTP — when, if you wanted to look up the meaning of Telnet, you had to know the IP number of a server that housed a file with definitions. I remember the rise of Gopher and the slower but formidable rise of the World Wide Web. I recognized these as protocols for shaping how information logically connected, so that we could navigate the network of ideas. Yet, I grant that in most contexts, I can exchange the terms in my conversations without losing meaning.

Also, being 34 years out of college and 16 years out of graduate school, and especially because of the shifts we have seen during the most recent decades, I understand that learning is an integral part of life, not just something that you do in school — a realization that I know Kjellstrom and you readers understand as well.

But, and this is my second point, in this time when so much is shifting (industrial to post-industrial, machine age to knowledge age, whatever you want to call it), learning has become a critical life skill.

I can remember, standing in line, at my high school graduation, and two graduates behind me claiming that they would never read another book. At that moment in history, and at that moment so close to our formal education, it was a perfectly plausible proclamation. They were, no doubt, getting jobs in one of the town’s mills and expecting to work the same job tasks for the next 35 years. We had been prepared for the next 35 years. What none of us knew, was that in less than 15 years those mills would all be gone, and my classmates would have to, as Toffler predicted, “learn, unlearn, and relearn” as a way of life.

Education is still characterized as a place you go, to get taught — where we teach and our students learn how to be taught. Yet, in the real world, learning is not something that is done to you, but something that you do yourself, in your own way, with your resources and sense of resourcefulness. I am not saying that every student moment in school is spent in passive receipt or that teaching should never happen. But “being taught” is still the character of the beast, and it is getting in the way of helping people learn to teach themselves.

If our global connectivity and sharing of ideas — our network of networks — was in desperate need of reform and the World Wide Web was getting in the way of that reform, then the distinction between Internet and WWW would be much more important.

Thanks, Willy, for continuing this conversation.

Filters Work

Flickr Image “Stay Behind the Fence” by Daniel James

The Internet has increasingly become a common and essential element of teacher lessons.  However, when asked about getting around the government-required filters, to conduct the deep research required to find the best resources,

..a frequent response is, “I have no idea.” The next most-common response: “I have no idea, but when I need to get to a blocked site, I ask a student for help.”

A recent Justin Reich op-ed piece (In Schools, A Firewall that Works Too Well) in the Washington Post (brought to my attention by Thomas Daccord) explores some of the issues of schooling in a world wide web that is fenced off.  He starts the piece with…

Web site filters in schools have had tremendous success in keeping one group of people from freely searching online. Unfortunately, that group is teachers.

Reich describes a Facebook group, with 187,000 members, devoted to sharing strategies for getting around school and library filters.  I won’t take any more from your reading of the article, except for one of his final statements.

The best strategy for protecting students online is educating them about Internet citizenship and safety. Young people need to learn about safeguarding their personal information, handling cyber-bullying, reporting and ignoring advances from strangers, avoiding online scams, and being courteous in online communication. They must understand the dangers and consequences of making details of their private lives available to the public. This education needs to happen at home as well as in homerooms, health classes, school assemblies, technology classes and guidance counseling.