Archive for February, 2008

Age and Culture

February 21st, 2008

Ronni Bennett brings us another jewel this morning – about age and technological adoption.

TIME GOES BY | Elders in the Blogosphere
Overall, the study reports, a little more than half – 53.7 percent – are male; 44.7 percent are married; one-tenth – 10.4 percent – are students; and 28.4 percent hold professional or managerial positions.

Go read the whole thing and be sure to click thru to check out the research behind the blog. In particular look at where your stereotypes get exploded.

Something in the Air

February 14th, 2008

There must be something in the air today besides the fumes of processed cacao.

What Do We Know About Our Kids’ Futures? Really.
A lot of us (or should I say I?) frame the conversation around Read/Write Web tools in schools in the context of this very blurry future that our kids are entering into, one that despite its lack of clarity is decidedly different from today. In my own case, I tend to frame this through my parenting lens, that it doesn’t feel like the system is preparing my kids for their futures very well even though we don’t exactly know what that future looks like.

It never ceases to amaze me that two people, half a continent apart, can be thinking about the same things and have it posted up on the same day.

But then, look at the list of things that Will has posted. In a lot of ways, I’m already living this life – and many other people are as well. We’re immersed in the same sea of possibilities and it’s almost certain that some of us will throw a pair of boxcars on the same day. It’s not always the same two people, and it’s not always even the same take on the idea-du-jour, but the web is becoming a kind of meta-mind. We link up. We process. We produce. And since we’re all part of the same culture, it shouldn’t be surprising that – occasionally – two (or more) of us produce similar things.

But it still surprises me.

Better Than Free

February 14th, 2008

This may be the most quoted post on teh interwebs in the last two weeks. I’ve seen it everywhere. I’m posting in there so I can be sure you’re all linked in.

Kevin Kelly — The Technium
This super-distribution system has become the foundation of our economy and wealth. The instant reduplication of data, ideas, and media underpins all the major economic sectors in our economy, particularly those involved with exports — that is, those industries where the US has a competitive advantage. Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copies promiscuously and constantly.

This is an important paragraph in the overall essay (you should go read it) because it underscores the issue of equity. The technology defines our culture. It’s a radical change from the models of the past and it has direct bearing on the ideas I’ve asked you to think about over the last couple of posts.

How does this “super-distribution system” change the meaning of what an educated person is? How does the educational subculture cope with this idea and what can we do to make sure our students – our children – will be able to make a living when they grow up? How do we make sure *we* will be able to make a living in the face of the new economic models? If the schools close, what will teachers do?

Call for Equity for Community Colleges

February 11th, 2008

Here’s an interesting issue.

Call for Equity for Community Colleges :: Inside Higher Ed :: Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education
American higher education “is not sustainable,” and risks a growing detachment from reality if it does not come to grips with the needs of community colleges and the way higher education and government consistently mistreat the sector.

As we talk about equity in access, perhaps we should consider the red-headed stepchild of higher education. Community colleges “get it” when it comes to education. As the article points out, they take anybody who wants to make the effort. What do you think of the points Dr. Mellow makes? Is this a relevant question?

Compare and Contrast

February 8th, 2008

When I wrote Four Barriers? Really?, Connie Weber invited me to take the same post over to Fireside Learning.

As we consider technology and culture, how do you think the conversation stream is different between the original post and the Fireside one? Is this because of the technology — Ning vs Blog? Or the audience — Social network vs RSS link? IS there a different “culture” between the two worlds? Subcultural niches?

Programming: The New Literacy

February 5th, 2008

Marc Prensky has a new drum.

Programming: The New Literacy
I believe the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible one wants it to do — to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images. Some call this skill human-machine interaction; some call it procedural literacy. Others just call it programming.

As a long time programmer, I’m not sure how much I buy into this definition of programming. One of the issues I have is that there’s not *a* programming skill. While it’s true that Excel Macro Language, BASIC, Bourne shell scripting, C, Fortran, and python all have a certain commonality, there are levels of abstraction and limits on access inherent in each device.

We talk about “programming a vcr” but that’s not, at least in my definition, programming. It’s knowing which settings to set. While a certain amount of that knowledge does constitute “programming” as well, the limitations on abstraction — the idea that you can get the device to do something OTHER than record a program at a certain time — make this exercise in programming the moral equivalent of turning the little dial on your toaster to make the resulting output more or less dark.

Yes, the vcr example is more complicated, but the end result is not actually varied.

In the article he admits that by “programming” he is really referring to the ability to follow menu prompts on devices but he does get into the idea that creating content in Flash is “programming” … which is an interesting and, frankly, arbitrary distinction on content creation. I won’t argue that Flash is an interesting tool. I have several issues with the tool itself – not the least of which is that creation in that medium has a substantial cost threshhold to participation. But why Flash? Why not Photoshop? Or Word? Those tools are likewise complex, complicated, and require a level of knowledge, insight, and abstraction that is equal to Flash. They also have huge barriers to production, limiting access to the relatively well-to-do.

I particularly liked his comment near the end where he discusses how to inculcate this notion into classrooms:

Can we do it by bringing working programmers into the schools? Not likely. Most of the good ones are busy programming and have no desire to teach.

I suppose I’m not one “of the good ones” because while I am very busy programming, I very much want to teach. Unfortunately, the only way I can teach is to teach at the university level because the barriers to my entry into the K-12 classroom are too high. And that’s with a PhD in Educational Technology.


Is programming a literacy? Is it THE literacy? Is programming anything more than specialized language? Does knowing which button on your cell phone takes the picture contribute to your literacy? Or has Prensky — father of the Digital Natives — once more taken a position that’s too simplistic to have relevance?