Archive for the ‘Media’ category

Ch. 7 – “Now….. This”

February 16, 2008

Continuing on with my reading – and thinking/blogging – about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, chapter 7 continues to lay out the argument that the rapid-moving format of our television culture is duping us all into being satisfied with shallow, fragmented, and decontextualized ways of “being informed”. Postman attacks American news in particular in this chapter – news as pure entertainment, delivered in tantalizing disconnected chunks, interspersed with commercials, music, and other eye candy. I agree wholeheartedly. That is television. However, he does make a few points that really made me stop and think hard about our digital “natives” and their proclivity toward multitasking, remixing, ubiquitous socialization tools, mashups, and other schizophrenic-like behaviors.

The result, Postman writes, is that “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” He goes on to write:

“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… misleading, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”


“In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

So, this all got me to thinking about our “digital natives” and us, those adults who have embraced new ways of expression and communication. I think that in this new world of data smog, info glut, and info garbage, it has become even more critical than ever to help our students learn deeply, to see information transformed into knowledge that is deeply connected, grounded, and complete. I am not so sure that the emphasis on multi-tasking, mashups, remixes, and the like qualifies here. Expressive, it is. But, are we becoming satisfied with shallow learning wrapped up in impressive packaging? Our national obsession over testing has certainly railroaded any movement toward depth over breadth. However, I think more than ever before, we must help our students become well-informed, be highly skilled at navigating through the data smog, and produce learning artifacts that demonstrate a deep understanding and mastery of knowledge. We have more tools than ever to gain a broader cultural understanding of ourselves and of the world – past and present. Lets not let these tools trivialize it. Lets help students focus on a task and exhaust it. Lets not, as Postman writes, “let the information environment mirror television.” Is a college-level course taught on YouTube or a course taught over the cell phone head in this direction? Yeah… the digital natives love this stuff. And as a tech geek, I think it is all quite amazing. Does something of value get lost along the way? Are we heading in the direction of learning as a mirror of television?

What do you think?

New Podcast Content in iTunes U

February 6, 2008

PBS and others are now present in iTunes U. There are some great resources here that are now itunesu1.jpgaccessible freely via iTunes. These are wonderful resources that have relevance in the classroom, but would also make great out-of-class assignments where relevant. Of course, since they can by synced with your portable media devices, that means that students do not need to be tethered to a computer to listen to or watch this media. One can access the following resources there: history, art, music, science, museum artifacts, scientific research, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and PBS content.

PBS, in particular, has a great deal of valuable content that can be used to supplement the curriculum and instruction.itunesu2.jpg The screenshot below shows content from just one of 3 pages of PBS resources.

With so many great resources being made available, it makes the integration of podcasts and portable media players even more of a no-brainer. Of course, all of this content can be accessed on a computer as well. Depending on the goal and age, one medium may make more sense than another. And, with so many filtering obstacles in schools, this also makes it easier to bring content into the classroom that is not accessible from the school network. Content can be played right off of the teacher’s laptop or directly off of an iPod. Not so long ago, it was fairly difficult to bring this type of content into the classroom. You had to either record it at home and bring it in on VHS, or ask the library media specialist to record it for you (but that had all kinds of requirements and limitations…). Oh, and you had to (1) know what shows were to be aired, and (2) remember to record them (if you had that channel at home). Now, it is just a matter of looking through a list of already-aired shows and picking them to download and watch – whenever and wherever you want. So, no excuses now… (well, I’m sure you could still come up with some…).

Tooble: Great New Free Tool

January 21, 2008

I recently learned of a new tool called Tooble that was introduced at Macworld Expo 2008. What is amazing is that this tool has been created by 2 high school teenagers! It is a free download and once it is installed, it works with YouTube and first downloads then converts your selected videos to .MP4 format. It will even automatically add them to your iTunes library if you wish and compatible for your iPod. For me, this is great because I never like to rely solely on a network connection when I want to show videos to my students in class or in a presentation elsewhere. I have been using Zamzar to convert such flash videos, but this tool makes it even easier. Here’s how it works (the functions correspond to the image below).

1. You can enter a URL of a specific video

2. You can search for a video at YouTube

3. You can search by YouTube’s common filters as well as your own favorites

4. Select the video(s) you want converted and saved locally as .mp4 files

5. Click “Download” and the magic begins.

It could not have been easier! For now it is only Mac compatible, but one of the high school students, Alex Catullo, is working on the Windows version. Thanks to their computer science teacher for encouraging powerful uses of technology beyond shallow mind maps, dull PowerPoints, and pretty page layouts.


Ch. 4 – The Typographic Mind

January 20, 2008

(Continuing with book club idea…)

In this chapter Postman deepens his argument by describing the impact of print information on 17th and 18th century minds. He describes the disciplined minds of the time as being able to sit and attend to 4-7 hour lectures – with relish. In addition, the people of the time were also able to both speak in and comprehend complex sentence structures. Postman contrasts this with what he calls, “people of television culture” who need “plain language” and who would struggle greatly to comprehend the complex text and oratories of the 18th century. I think in our time of information glut that we are in more need than ever for people who can do what Walter Ong called the “analytic management of knowledge.” Postman describes this well with the following words:

“To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weight ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another.”

I would have to agree that as technological progress has advanced, the ability of our students (who become the mature citizenry) to process complex information both in print and aurally has declined a great deal. Postman contrasts those individuals from the pulpit, from the courtroom, and from politics with the same today and comments that those today could not hold a candle to the typographic and oratorial skills of a few centuries ago.

Postman also observes that “the printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge.” He begins to build his case that a major shift in thinking power has happened as we have moved from a word-centered culture to an image-centered one and a century he describes as the “Age of Show Business”.

Personally, this argument resounds true with me, as I see experience the numbing power of today’s media blitz on a daily basis. Even in schools we struggle to achieve such a basic level of performance and ability in all our students. We have become obsessed with assessment and accountability because of such low levels. We have all looked at the statistics regarding the way our youth spend their time “hooked up” to all varieties of media. Yet, I think we can all agree that most of that time spent is shallow and trivial. Why are we all so enamored by their proclivity to be social and remix content in the virtual sense? Even at the college level where I teach I experience the inability of students to think deeply, speak cogently, write powerfully, and read complex text. I have recognized that in myself at times and that is why I pick up books like this one to read. It is good mental discipline that is all too easily lost. I think such challenges as found in this book need to spur us all on to make sure that new technologies and forms of communication and discourse are used in powerful rather than trivial ways. Sometimes I think we are all too excited to see that students are blogging, creating wikis, developing digital stories, producing podcasts, developing semantic maps or webs – without examining the substance of their narratives, analyses, criticisms, and arguments. I also feel that we have become distracted by trying to get teachers to USE technology instead of teach powerfully with the help of new technologies. The “we have to start somewhere” argument really does not work. We need to start with powerful teaching and then harness all powerful tools at our disposal. I think if more teachers would spend time reading books like this new one called The Strategic Teacher we would see a much higher quality of teaching and student learning than what results from much of the focus being put on technology. That being said, I am one of the biggest techno-geeks out there and strong proponent of new technologies for teaching and learning. I guess I am being convicted as I read this book as well 🙂 I fear, as Postman does, that we are letting technology dictate what is most important more than we might like to admit at times.

Enough said… Until next time

Trying a New Thing…

January 16, 2008

I have been blogging for some time now and have enjoyed every minute of it – both sharing my own thoughts and participating in the thought conversations of others. For some time now I have been playing around with the idea of holding some type of book club within a blog. So, I am going to give it a try. A book club of one (and anyone else who is interested following and perhaps participating in my ramblings). I have been struggling to get started with Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in the age of show business. (1985. Viking Penguin Inc.)amusingo.gif Yeah, I know what you are thinking – what a dreary choice to begin. However, one must blog for oneself and I have always tried to bridle my natural enthusiasm for technology with the other side of the discussion. Neil Postman has written a number of excellent, thought provoking books. They are hard reads. He writes way beyond my level of thinking, which is why I like to read his work. Reading Postman is hard work, but an important discipline and skill that must be practiced if one is to participate in this level of thinking and discourse. I have found that my involvement in blogging has in some respects taken away from the time that I normally spend reading material at this level. So, I figure this is a way to do both. I will read his book and process his message within successive blog posts. I think that this is good on a number of fronts – especially since when one processes in written form what one is reading, it actually helps process and truly comprehend the information at a deeper level.

So, I am committing to this bumpy ride. Tag along if you like. Even better – help me find clarity and educational relevance in Postman’s almost prophetic ideas. Camille Paglia writes in review of this book:

“As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman’s dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proven Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.”

Stay tuned…