Archive for January, 2008

Old School – New School

January 28th, 2008

As we begin thinking about the intersection of culture and technology, Ronni Barrett has another contribution for us to consider. I rely on blogs (and the ancillary feeds and readers) not only to give you all a place to write, but also to keep you informed and to provide access to information that’s current. Fresh and up to the minute, as they say. But blogs seem to be subject to a bit of the “Rodney Dangerfield treatment.”

The NYRB Snarky Attack on Bloggers
When the latest issue of The New York Review of Books arrived in Crabby Old Lady’s snailmail box last week, she was surprised to see a big, bold headline on the cover – BLOGS – by Sarah Boxer. The NYRB is more likely to deconstruct Montaigne (again), discuss the death of Susan Sontag or ruminate on evil in postwar Europe (all in this issue) than report on anything as revolutionary as blogs.

I don’t read NYRB, even though I’m an author. I don’t read any of the main stream media publications on a regular basis any more. That’s a character flaw, probably. I’ve been known to look up and cite a journal article, but only to support historical perspectives. Nothing in print is up to date — except maybe the daily newspaper — and, while I’m sure there’s much of value in print that does not have a short shelf-life, it takes so much attention trying to stay current in my little corner of the universe, I don’t allocate time for resources that are a) expensive, or b) require extra steps to access unless somebody ELSE in my network points me to it first.

Where’s the common ground? How does this view of blogs and Ms Bennett’s response to it relate to education, technology, and communication?


Four Barriers? Really?

January 26th, 2008

In Solomon, Allen, and Resta, the first chapter does provide an interesting and abbreviated over view of the evolution of the computer in education spaces. There’s some good information in there.

But here’s my problem with the set up:

Barrier one – “Access to up-to-date hardware, software, and connectivity.”
As you read about this in detail next week, consider what the term “up-to-date” means. There is no barrier to “up-to-date software.” Go to http://portableapps.com and download everything you need. It’s free. You’ll need a $10 usb drive to store it on.

How new is “up-to-date hardware”? We tend to focus on cpu clock speed and drive space, but the reality is that for educational purposes, the basic five year old desktop machine is more than adequate. Memory upgrades are easy and inexpensive and even outdated Microsoft operating systems can be purged in favor of free, high performance replaceents which can make some of those old machines dance rings around much newer and faster models.

Connectivity? More is better of course but I would submit that the problem with online resources is not the bandwidth but the time. Dialup is purgatory at times, but some simple tuning – and a willingness to offload heavy network use to podcatchers, bittorrent, and other time shifting technologies can get around some of it. ANY connectivity is better than NO connectivity, but the specific educational benefit of fat pipes over skinny ones is open for debate. If we continue – as educators – to design for the Lexus crowd, then people on public transportation have every right to complain it.

Barrier two – “Access to meaningful, high-quality, and culturally responsive content along with the opportunity to contribute to the knowledge base represented in online content.”

This is one of the artifacts of the radical change in outlook that’s occurred over the last five years. I can give you access to buildings full of meaningful, high-quality, and culturally responsive content by sending you to the local library. That’s not exactly a barrier to educational access. It’s also not terribly useful if you don’t know what you need to look for. Google doesn’t work on the library shelves and, frankly, LC and Dewey don’t do that good a job at abstraction, but that’s a side issue.

The best way I can demonstrate the flaw in this supposed barrier is to ask you to answer the following question:

“Do you want a book that explains whatever-it-is or do you want to connect to the person who can explain the book to you?”

I’ve long maintained that the value of the internet is not to connect people to content but to connect people to people. The latest spiffy Mike Welsch video maybe interesting, intriguing, or amusing but until you actually connect with somebody else over it, it remains a private conversation which may or may not have taught you something. Like the author of a book, the video has been broadcast into the present, and while it’s a powerful message, having access to Mike rather than his video might ultimately be more useful.

Barrier three – “Access to educators who know how to use digital tools and resources effectively.”

This is a “Duh” moment for me. Teachers need to know how to teach. We don’t consider that teachers who can’t use an overhead projector in their classrooms are barriers to education because they use the tools they know fluently to reach their students. The *big* problem here is that the majority of educators operating in online environments don’t know how to teach there. At all. Period. One single fluency would be enough.

Barrier four – “Access to systems sustained by leaders with vision and support for change through technology.”

There’s so much wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to start. To begin with, we need a good understanding that the “system” in this context is “a school.” We need to acknowledge that the leaders in question are not actually IN the school, but are the hands on the switch at the school district. We need to realize that the “system” is becoming irrelevant in most meaningful ways.

The largest problem and the biggest obstacle to equity represented in this barrier is that the system is designed to be inequitable. Changing the design to promote equitable access will take a lot more than technological change. It will require a rethinking of the political and fiscal underpinnings before any meaningful “change through technology” can occur.

Further, each of these barriers carries a presupposition that “access” is a necessary and sufficient condition. If we only had *access* to tech, content, teachers, and administrators, then all would be well. The reality is that we already have access to most of this and even five years later, it’s not doing a whole lot of good.

In defense of the authors, a lot has changed since the first days of the new millenium. Unfortunately, while the technology has changed radically, the re-defined culture has not yet been uniformly perceived by the people who live in it.


Maintaining Pace

January 24th, 2008

Lexie left this comment on the “Maintaining Identity” post the other day:

I agree the change is too fast, at times it is almost overwhelming the amount of change that is happening. I admit that even I get overwhelmed and frustrated at the speed technology changes. I feel that as a teacher, I must at the cutting edge of what is happening, how can my students learn if I don’t have a grasp of it myself? The question now is, how do we overcome these obstacles? How do we maintain this pace?

This is, indeed, the crux of the matter. One of the possible answers is, “We don’t.” That sounds defeatist, but sometimes you need to acknowledge the problem before you can address a solution. It seems to me that the answer might be bound in process and it has to do with investment.

The first problem is structural. The institution of Education is structured in such a way as to produce process that is antithetical to change. It’s too big, too much at the mercy of outside influences, and organized so that the various constituencies are cast in adversarial relationships. This is largely out of the control of the classroom teacher.

The second problem is process. Because the process is established by the institution, classroom teachers have only nominal control over this aspect. You don’t get to say when or what or — sometimes — even how a given body of knowledge is addressed.

The last problem is personal. This is where the classroom teacher has an opportunity to make a difference. By choosing to learn a tool, discover a technology, and try it out for your own personal learning, you’ve started the investment in your future. The “but I’m so busy I don’t have time” argument is a good one. It’s the reason more people don’t save money, too. All the current income goes to maintenance. Same deal with time.

But here’s the problem.

If I don’t invest, I’ll never get ahead. The resources necessary for upgrade will never be there and the future looks a lot like the present and I get ground up and spit out.

Luckily the reality is that, if i pick the right tools, choose to learn the right technologies, I can leverage my investment in time. By choosing tools that help me identify and augment my weaknesses, I can learn more and learn faster. By having more options in my toolbox, I gain access to even more options — more doors open, more possibilities become potential realities.

And that way lies salvation, it seems to me. With the right starting point, you can lay a foundation to permit you to learn whatever it is you need in the shortest amount of time. You still can’t learn everything, but you can at least have a leg up on figuring out what you need to learn, which is that much closer to actually learning it.


Creatives and Your Secret Mission

January 23rd, 2008

I found Chris Brogan on Twitter. His market is business, but that’s where the action is. The problems that Education has with the 21st Century are being echoed in the economy. Old school business meets new wave technology and the results are often no prettier in the board room than the district office.

Creatives and Your Secret Mission : [chrisbrogan.com]
The point is, there’s what you take to be reality. There’s what you MAKE to be reality. The more you work on B, even if it’s your secret mission, the more you can grow your abilities, find ways to satisfy what you know is true, and move into bigger things.

There’s a resonance there between Education and Economy — between Art and Industry — and it’s embodied here. Mur Lafferty is an exceptionally talented producer of new media. As you look over that site, notice that it’s not just “me, me, me” but “us, wow, cool.” Not only does Mur “get it” — she uses it to her own advantage.

The question that you, as educators, need to answer is simple:

“How can I use my Third Wave Power of Creativity to help my students develop their own Third Wave Powers in spite of the Institute’s obstruction?”


Identity Maintenance

January 22nd, 2008

The conversation about the relationship between technology, culture, and education has been a good one. The idea have been interesting and well reasoned. In many cases, I think many of the comments have been spot on as far as they went, but as I thought about this myself this week, I came to a different conclusion.

Technology is a Cultural diagnostic and Education is the process by which societal norms are maintained within that culture. Restated: Culture is the sum of its Techology. Education maintains the rules.

We’ve been thinking locally when considering technology in a kind of parochial construct of “here and now,” I think. Even when taking a broader view, we tend to think of a seminal technology — Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Age — but while these semantic hooks serve to provide a mental short cut, the reality is that the culture was defined by the sum of the technologies — a cultural gestalt that we have since identified for the purposes of classification and identification. Within every culture there are subcultures based on a variety of perspectives that are not limited to the haves-and-have-nots. We talk about the Digital Divide today but the Industrial Age was comprised of a similar spectrum of people who had access to the means of production and those who did not. I suspect it started in the Stone Age as tribes jealously guarded the secret locations of prime deposits of flint, chert, and obsidian.

Within that context then, it seems to me that the role of education has been to maintain the rules, norms, and mores from generation to generation. The process by which the young gain the knowledge required to take up their roles in the society. When technological change — and Cultural definition — was slow, the cultural purpose of Education was to preserve knowledge across the generations. As that rate of change became faster, the institution of Education became a kind of moderating influence, throttling the rate of change by insisting that maintenance of past cultural norms be maintained. On the downhill run to the future, Education has long been the handbrake that has prevented a culture from being over come. Changes in the culture leech slowly into the institutions of Education providing a kind of “knowledge lag” so that the rate of change might be moderated by keeping a mixture of old and new — a kind of carburetor of culture — striving for the proper mix of existing culture (air) and new (fuel).

The problem today is that, while the purpose of Education is the same, the rate of change in Technology and the subsequent redefinitions of Culture are coming too fast. The carburetor is flooded with the stream of innovation, and there is too little of the old left in that redefined culture to maintain the engine of Education as unassimilated changes are pouring in unmoderated.

As metaphor, it’s certainly strained, but as organizing theme, I think it has some support if we look back over the last 50 years. Transistor radios, then walkmans — cultural iconography at this point — and often confiscated in the classroom as a kind of distractive influence that was intolerable at the time. Flash forward to calculators and the cry to “first learn math before leaning on the crutch.” The parallels are inescapable, and the differences today are based in the speed with which technology is being adopted without the moderating influence of education, and that the very nature of that technology encourages — even requires — that the institutions be by-passed as being too slow, to cumbersome and with too much intertia to be relevant.

Technology remains, I think, the diagnostic of Culture. A Culture is defined by the sum of its technologies. Education, however, if it is to retain its function of maintaining the rules across generations, needs better ways of learning what the Cultural rules are — and better mechanisms for teaching the populace how to survive during rapid cultural change.


The Perils of Publication

January 21st, 2008

As we work through the Solomon introduction, we need to consider the problems inherent in the current state of Education. I’ve talked about this before in other contexts but it’s particularly important here. While many of the philosophical points raised in the introduction remain depressingly valid — actually showing almost no significant change — many of the descriptions of current condition depict a world that no longer exists. The peril, of course, is that if we try to address the philosophical shortcomings based on the described conditions, we find ourselves grasping at shadows. This condition rises out of the disparity between “research based practice” — the cultural imperatve to take action based on published knowledge — and the rate of change in the culture. The publication cycle is between 18 and 36 months. The innovation cycle is between 6 and 9 months. By the time an innovation hits your awareness, you determine a valid research question, conduct the research, analyze the results, and publish the findings, the innovation may well be obsolete — repaced by 2 or 3 generations of change. We find ourselves responding like a punch drunk boxer, blocking the punches that have already come and gone while being unable to even perceive the blows that are coming.

“Today, 60 percent of jobs require skills with technolgy, and people who use computers on the job earn 43 percent more than other workers (Solomon, Allen, & Resta, 2003, xvii).” The problem with his is that it’s based on a publication from 1998, which was undoubtedly reseached in 1997 or before. Given the ubiquity of the computer in the workplace, a situation grown even more common since the late 90’s, can we still say with any certainty that the wage gap persists? I haven’t found any data to support that, but my annecdotal observations cause me to question it. Consider that the counter help at the local fast food joint uses a very sophisticated computer every time they ring up a sale. I’m pretty sure they’re not earning a premium on that. While you might argue that this isn’t what the original Irving article was talking about – nor is Solomon – the reality remains that these systems didn’t exist when this stuff was published. It wasn’t considered. The limited – and arbitrary definition of computer use – would probably preclude its consideration even today, but it’s an important factor. The marketplace has responded to the need for workers who can use computer based tools by simplifying those tools to the point of appliance, reducing (not increasing) the need for workers to have any knowledge of how they work. While I’m sure that the cash register appliances wouldn’t fall under the definition of jobs that require the level of skill with technology, I submit that the substitution of wordprocessor for typewriter and spreadsheet for calculator have done no more for the average worker’s skill level than the cash register appliance has for the fast food worker.

Rephrased: We’re not doing new things. We’re using the technology to do the same things, with the same structural controls, and the same economic models we’ve always used. We’re merely adapting the technology to strive for efficiency in those models.

I won’t quibble over the importance of technology to student learning or the importance of bridging the gap between haves and nots, but while I agree that the causes put forth by Solomon (increasing dependence on technology and increasing diversification of population) are still valid, I would argue that the government intervention these days is less about eRate and access than about filter and control. The grand rush of connecting the schools has now turned into a battle of blockades. The very technologies that we’ve invest in the institutions are being knee-capped in the name of “protecting” the students from learning something “inappropriate.” The problem, of course, is that neither the tools nor the teachers and certainly not the government has sufficient handle on “appropriate” to be able to apply a technological fix to what is – at root – a political problem.

Even the definition of the divide is open to interpretation at this point. Solomon cites the Pew statistics from 2000 as one aspect of that definition. That’s not bad, given that the world had already moved away from that snapshot by the time the book was written. It was the best data available at the time, but already lagging reality. Look at the Pew Internet & American Life data now and learn that the bruited gap between blacks and whites has narrowed significantly. More importantly notice that a key technology isn’t even on the Solomon radar. A significant proportion of the global population access the resources of the internet, not on computers, but on cell phones. What does it mean to education when you can read a novel on your phone?? Where does this fit into the digital divide? And who’s on the far side when educational policy blocks cell phone access in the school?

More concerning than the description of the world that no longer exists are the pieces of the puzzle that persist in spite of the fundamental shifts in technology adoption.

The ongoing crisis in professional development is an excellent example. With 7million teachers in the US, almost all of whom have been trained in the Industrial Model of education, the need to skill up the existing population is not merely daunting. It may well be impossible unless we find some breakthrough in process, product, or perception that allows us to address the issue in a reasonable and timely manner. Ironically the very technology that we need to use to achieve this goal is in our hands (we’re using it now), but the economic obstacles of time, money, and administrative need are actually preventing the evolution of the profession as a whole by limiting access.

Moreover, teacher preparation programs are taking huge steps backwards by requiring that the courses offered to teach future teachers about technology have actual K-12 classroom certification and experience. Virtually all teacher preparation programs in the US now require that the faculty have K-12 certification and experience in addition to the doctorate. While this seems like a good idea on the surface – and it’s undoubtedly a logical political move – the reality is that we’re asking a group of people who generally lack the necessary skills and knowledge to teach the next generation of teachers how to use skills and knowledge they themselves lack. As a product of the doctoral process myself, I can assure you that earning a PhD in educational technology does little to prepare you for the realities of technology adoption. My anecdotal and highly subjective observation of the field is that the majority of PhDs in he field are on the wrong side of the Digitial Divide themselves. Starting with the population that generally needs the training to begin with, failing to provide it, and then requiring them to teach it is not a particularly useful exercise.

Before you get all bent, I’m not criticizing the teachers here in some kind of “blame the victim” trope. It’s unreasonable to expect anybody who is not exposed to a knowledge base to be able to adopt that knowledgebase with any degree of utility. By recognizing the need to skill-up the teacher base we take a valuable step. By adding the requirement that the instruction for that effort come from the population of teachers for whom the the instruction is intended without guaranteeing that those instructors actually have the requisite skills, knowledge, and attitudes is not going to be terribly productive. Yes, those teachers will know what the classroom teacher is up against, but I submit that – with some very rare and exemplary exceptions – that very experience will create a precondition that precludes sufficent innovation to make a difference.

Finally, my general criticism of this introduction extends to the very last lines.

[W]ith access to technology, technology proficient teachers, appropriate content, and student-centered instruction, disenfranchised students may experience significant educational gains. If technology provides access to information, experts, and appropriate and varied means of expression, digital equity may be a way to break the cycle of poverty through the only valid path our society offers — education. (Solomon, Allen, & Resta, xxiv)

The arrogance exemplified by that statement is almost unbelievable. While it is certainly true that education *may* offer a path out of poverty, it is hardly the case that it offers the “only valid path.” When any kid with a good idea, a little initiative, and access to a terminal can create money making content, the educational system that blocks access to the resources he needs to succeed is hardly going to break any cycles – let alone poverty. I think it would be more accurate to change that last sentence to read “technology may be a way to break the cycle of poverty in spite of all the best efforts of society to limit learning through the narrow lens of education.”

Other than that, it’s not a bad book.

Solomon, G., Allen, N.J, & Resta, P. (2003) Toward digital equity: Bridging the divide in education (1st ed). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon


The Village on Stilts

January 20th, 2008

The Stephen is out and about in Malaysia this week. I think that’s almost exactly halfway around the world from Moncton. He brings this post about culture, technology, and education that is exactly a propos of our emerging conversation.

Half an Hour: The Village on Stilts
I am not going to glamorize Malaysia – the country is far too complicated for that. Like Colombia, and like Lesotho, there is poverty. People struggle to make a living, even as glass and steel towers rise in the cities, even as the malls sell MacBooks and mobile phones. Perhaps my most enduring memory of Palau Ketam is not the old man weaving reeds around the shell of a chair or the women preparing seafood products on the floor of their house, but the sight of a flat-screen colour TV through the window of one of these houses. Poverty exists side by side with plenty, sometimes even in the same room.

Go read the whole thing.


apophenia – danah boyd

January 18th, 2008

This post is echoing around the blogosphere, and with good reason.

apophenia: The Economist Debate on Social “Networking”
Social network sites do not help most youth see beyond their social walls. Because most youth do not engage in “networking,” they do not meet new people or see the world from a different perspective. Social network sites reinforce everyday networks, providing a gathering space when none previously existed.

As we’re thinking about the intersection of technology, culture, and education, go check this out.


Infinite Thinking Machine

January 16th, 2008

Steve Hargadon started this weird space called Classroom 2.0 last year. I was one of the early adopters and I was pretty critical of it. Still am. His view of it is as a kind of “gateway drug” to get teachers hooked on the internet as a communications medium. His flagship – Classroom 2.0 – has been much more successful than many of the other attempts at linking teachers with technology …

Infinite Thinking Machine
The twist here, of course, is that Classroom 2.0 is a network for teachers (yes, adults, those sometimes called “digital immigrants!) who are interested in the use of Web 2.0 in the classroom and who are using the site for personal professional development. The ability to have productive, engaging dialog with others in a community is a natural fit for all ages in education.

Personally, having thrown the first handgrenade into the chicken coop back in March of 2007, I’m actually really pleased to see that the place is still there. I’m still not sure of the utility of it. Many people find it useful and engaging. I find it mostly maddening. The thread on Voki is a good example. What I do appreciate is that the space has done a good job of at least introducing people to the notion that they CAN belong to a network and that the network can have value to them. My own iconoclastic perceptions of that network aside, I think the old chestnut about the only bad publicity being no publicity has some validity here. Getting teachers to use the technology and gain practice in it can only help. If last semester’s mantra was “Think like a learner” then this semester’s might well be “Learn to learn with it before you try to teach with it.”

The point to my posting here is the list of “web 2.0” resources at the bottom of this post. You might find something relevant — and while you’re looking this list over — consider that a large number of them are less than a year old.


Time Goes By

January 16th, 2008

It may come as a shock to some of you that I don’t just follow technology and education blogs, but I manage to follow some blogs I classify as “Important Voices.” Ronni Bennett’s Time Goes By is one of them. She’s a fascinating writer who recently moved from New York City to my old home town of Portland, Maine, and I think I follow her for the homesick glimpses she gives me of life in the Auld Sod, as much as the insights into Ageism. Today’s post has an item that echoes directly into this class:

Time Goes By – What it’s really like to get older
I thought I’d like to be a writer, to tell stories. Then, in high school, when I’d written a fantasy for class about my home having a funny personality, the teacher gave me the only D I ever received. “Houses don’t have personalities,” she wrote on my paper and I, interpreting it as a negative judgment on my writing rather than the cramped thinking of an unimaginative teacher, gave up the idea of being a writer. It was a rough time in my life, I was only 15 and I didn’t yet have the self-confidence to dismiss a grownup’s spiritless assessment.

Here’s an intersection of Culture and Education. Yes, this happened in the past. I’m pretty sure Ms Bennett graduated high school before me which means this is more than 35 years ago. That’s about a generation and a half in human terms. Does it happen today? Could it happen today? What effect has technology had on Education or Culture that would have any bearing on a teacher’s ability to gut punch a kid like this?