Archive for the ‘social’ category

Disturbed and Angry and Sickened

February 9, 2008

sad face.gifWhat a title, right? Well, I just went through all of those emotions when I read this February 10th article from the Washington Post titled, A School That’s Too High on Gizmos. What can I say… you have to read it to see if you experience the same emotions. In a nutshell, it describes the teachers’ and students’ experiences in a very high-tech school in Alexandria… and most of what is reported is not good. Imagine – a new building, state-of-the art, all of the technologies anyone could want (and it turns out more than most want), and teachers who are disillusioned, turned off, and frustrated. Students who are recognizing technology for technology’s sake. The term used is “administrative technolust” –

“a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them.”

Teachers being told that they cannot use more traditional technologies (i.e. overhead projectors, chalkboards…). Technical problems continually interrupting learning. The mourning of face2face socialization and increased depersonalization. I love this one quotation from a student who admits that his favorite teacher

“isn’t into all this computer stuff. All he uses is the board — the whole board. He’s lively, energetic, witty and really knows his math. He forces you to pay attention; you can’t drift off even if you want to.”

I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that good teaching must precede effective technology use.

Now, there are so many issues to address in all of this – technology before training, unsupported infrastructure, mandated teaching styles, mandated tools, lack of mentorship, technology for technology’s sake, technology as magic bullet, technology diversion, poor leadership, and more… I think this might be the first article that I have read that includes so many illustrations of poor technology implementation. It also brings some insights into the great conversations that happened over on Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant and Pete Reilly’s blog, Ed Tech Journeys, about whether technology should be mandated or not. And, in all fairness, it is one highly publicized article that I am sure does not capture the situation in a totally unbiased and objective manner.

Anyway, read it for yourself. How did it make you feel? Let me know.

Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

January 29, 2008

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?

Ch. 3 – Typographic America

January 17, 2008

(Continuing with my book club…)

In this chapter, Postman recounts some of the major changes that occurred in America with the introduction of the printing press… Yes, books. But also a ravenous hunger for newspapers. He describes the general public as being quite literate and hungry for the written word, as there were no other informative media available other than the public orator who would come and speak in public forums. They were very well attended.

In the 1770s, even the poorest of common folk could read. Reading was not considered an “elitist” activity at all. This really made me think of how things are today, where literacy rates often decline in relation to socio-economic status. Is this in part because of the competing new media (movies, video games, television…) that discourages traditional literacies ? I think this may be a direction that Postman heads in future chapters.

I found incredible parallels between the emergence of newspapers in the late 17th/early 18th centuries and blogs in the 21st century. Postman describes how in the late 17th century how newspapers became so important in Boston to “combat the spirit of lying” that was going on in politics. However, the second edition of the Publick Occurrences never happened, as it was suppressed by the Governor for being too truthful (truth hurts!). Thank goodness for our freedoms of speech. By 1730 there were seven successfully published newspapers in the 4 colonies. By 1800, 180 papers were published.

Newspapers were referred to as the “spring of knowledge. The general source throughout the nation, of every modern conversation.” Per capita at end of 18th century, there were more newspapers in the US than there were in England due to America’s newfound freedoms.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “Parties do not write books to combat each other’s opinions, but pamphlets (and newspapers), which are circulated for a day within incredible rapidity and then expire.” He goes on to write that just as the firearm equalized nobility with the “vassal”, so did printing and the post (just like blog posts). Can you imagine if the common man of the 17th/18th century had access to some medium to easily publish his/her thoughts to the culture of the times? Information has truly revolutionized our society. There are now somewhere between 50 and 150 million blogs out there.

Today, anyone with Internet access (or a cell phone) can blog. Bloggers have changed reporting and the speed at which information reaches the masses. Blogging empowers the ‘common man’ who does not have access to publish in conventional information outlets (news, published books/articles, magazines,…). It has helped, just like the firearm and newspaper, as de Tocqueville put it, to “equalize nobility with the vassal” (YouTube debates?). Along the same lines, it can empower students and give them a voice like never before. Of course, with such power needs to come responsibility – and that also must be taught in parallel. Cyberbullying, for example, is related to this newfound power of youth minus the responsibility.

I don’t think that Postman was thinking about such parallels when writing this chapter since his book was written in 1985, long before blogging, podcasting and the like truly took off. I wonder what he thinks about such forms of communication that empower the individual like never before. I don’t think this type of activity would fall in his thesis of “amusing ourselves to death”. Of course, these new information tools can be used for trivial purposes, no doubt. Our challenge is to educate our students and colleagues on the empowerment that comes from having a powerful voice without boundaries. If we have important things to say, they are not merely relegated to the bulletin board, hallway display, or faculty room/water cooler chatter. I think a major hurdle is to shift from the thinking that we either have no voice or our voice does not matter to participating in global conversations about what we are passionate about. If we have nothing to say or are not passionate about anything, that says something, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s amazing what this one chapter sparked in my mind. I look forward to more such tangents.

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…

Thank You, Network!

January 12, 2008

I just want to stop and say thank you to all of you who blog about serious and relevant issues that we are all facing today in education. Over the past few days, I have been so drawn in by the many thought-provoking and intelligent narratives found in many edublogs that I routinely read and participate in.
In a recent post by Kelly Christopherson over on LeaderTalk, he shares his observation that many teachers who struggle with using new technologies to learn, collaborate, and teach are often those who have no support networks that challenge and inspire them. These are most likely the same teachers who struggle the most with change and the learning of any new things. They have often grown stale, fearful, and uninspired. He cites a few examples within his own network and writes that these networked folks are those who…

question and challenge, helping to stretch the discussion, helping us to reflect on our ideas and thoughts while providing some great tools and insights into using web2.0 tools in teaching, these relationships help us connect and develop, grow and learn, keep our perspective and motivate us. These relationships have become a large part of how we are growing and developing our teaching and understanding. These are the relationships that those teachers not engaged DO NOT have.

I have heard Will Richardson and others also attest to the importance of their networks in their own personal learning and professional development and I can certainly attest to the value of these new networks that are independent of time and space. So, here’s to all of you who have exponentially expanded my learning network. I look forward to many more inspirational, challenging, controversial, confrontative, serious, humorous, light, passionate, and heartfelt posts and conversations.

More School=Dumber?

October 19, 2007

I just finished listening to a 20/20 episode titled “Stupid in America” on the current state of schooling in America. Although I was not surprised by much of what I heard, one statement floored me… that the longer kids stay in school, the ‘dumber’ they become when compared to other countries and their students’ school performance. Wow!

I must admit, I take John Stossel’s terminology “most” with a grain of salt, as he describes some of the schools that exemplify poor quality. Are there bad teachers? Sure. Are their bad schools? Yes. Are there bored.jpgbad administrators? Of course. Bad policies? Many. But, I have had the blessing of being part of so many wonderful schools with caring teachers, administrators, parents, para-professionals… I think what IS true is that there is a definite divide in American schools – one directly linked to socio-economic status. Top performing schools are often so because of the entire social umbrella (village) surrounding those schools, not only because of great teachers alone. Actually, sometimes it can be in spite of lesser teacher quality.

One Belgian school administrator is quoted as saying, “You have to be innovative all the time and look for new means of thinking…” because if they don’t succeed, they are run out of business (school choice is big there)- and that American schools continue to leave children behind on a daily basis in spite of NCLB. She was pretty much mocking that policy. What strikes me as most important here is the initiative to constantly innovate. So many schools and teachers are stuck in 19th century models of schooling that are just not working. Does that mean just give everyone laptops and high-speed wireless? Not at all. There is nothing worse than an ineffective teacher with the addition of technology in his or her hands. But, the potential of bringing about new life and excellence into into our current practices by discussing and examining the benefits of integrating new tools and opportunities is great! It is when we stop trying that things go sour.

Certainly, these issues are complex. I don’t want to trivialize or oversimplify some of the issues facing teachers, administrators, and partents on a daily basis. Teaching in some districts can like going into a war zone. But, teachers need to be well-trained (a continual process) to meet the needs of the audience that they will be trying to teach/reach, not the audience that they remember as part of their own K-12 experience. Administrators need to embrace innovation and out-of-box thinking. Nothing less than excellence should be tolerated. The positive should be put on a pedestal. The negative squelched. Do teachers’ unions hold too much power as the video clearly suggests? Perhaps. Should the business of school run more competitively to ensure high quality schools succeed while poor quality schools shut down? Maybe. Should all education stakeholders embrace every moment and pledge to touch as many children as possible and skillfully engage them in powerful, meaningful learning?

No doubt.

You can comment on the video if you have a Viddler account by viewing the episode here.

speaker_20.gifListen to this entry as an mp3 file.

The Digital Gym

October 12, 2007

Wow… even physical education programs are seeking ways to integrate technologies in the battle against increasing obesity in children. Heart monitors and analysis software were at one point cutting edge. Now, we have the emergence of video games… in the gym!! How so? A recent article by the Orlando Sentinel describes how students are decreasingly motivated by traditional games and

exergaming.jpgexercises, but the convergence of video gaming and dance has developed, resulting in a new movement called “Exergaming” – students dancing to the music and the video on the screen, trying to follow the correct foot motions on a sensor foot pad. There are a variety of levels to complete, with increasing difficulty. If it is helping a inactive generation get active, then I guess it is a good thing. But, what if we think a little more deeply. Is there just no way to help today’s youth appreciate the simple things in life… to find satisfaction in personal achievement… to set a non-digital goal and strive for it? Is this type of initiative simply feeding a digital-only generation? Will this type of initiative get kids “hooked on an active lifestyle” as the article quotes, or will it further entice kids to a digital lifestyle? Will the next generation no longer play soccer on the field and opt for a virtual soccer game instead? Will they no longer explore the beauty of nature in person but rather through a 3-D headset and a host of other sensors? What is it with a good (not highly competitive) team sports game that kids are not interested? Is that worth investigating?

I am no luddite. Rather, I am a huge tech geek at heart. But at what point to we stop embracing a digital lifestyle in efforts to bring balance to life? Change will happen regardless of what we think – and change can be very good, of course. But are we guilty at times of helping to accellerate change at an unhealthy rate and in unhealthy directions in the name of a highly digital economy and society? Of course, I am sure no P.E. program is advocating a 100% digital curriculum…I hope. But if they could, would they? Should they? Am I just way off in left field here? Are we really still in the “dark ages”, as Steve Sanders, director of the University of South Florida’s school of physical education and exercise science, is quoted as saying here? Should we be in even more of a hurry to digitize life and leave traditional ways of existing, knowing, understanding, finding beauty and satisfaction, … behind? Am I just having a bout of nostalgia here today?