Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Crossroads" and the Circle of Life

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery."
It is difficult to believe that YouTube started only about three years ago according to the WayBackMachine documentation/history. See here and here. I'm not sure we school people have come to terms with the revolutionary nature of this event. Now there is a proliferation of similar sites and the convergence of television and the internet seems to be very close. Sure there is plenty of distasteful stuff out there, but the power of this democratization of culture through this medium awes me. People who never have had a chance to strut their stuff now have a forum and, increasingly, in my humble opinion, we're seeing the power of it all.

I do understand that many schools block video sites, and I do understand their concern for protecting the young. I'm just not sure we are doing them a favor by failing to model and inculcate in them the ethics/etiquette involved in working in any forum. Are we teaching them about civility and how to think critically by simply ignoring and/or denying this powerful medium which just about anyone can access at home or, I imagine, most public libraries?

My nephew, Josh , a third year engineering student at UMO, posted a "cover" yesterday of a group he was singing and playing with at the Black Mountain Ski Area in Rumford. The song was "Crossroads" which was made popular by Cream and Eric Clapton back in the 60's. At least that is where I knew it from. However, Josh had connected with the tune with someone closer to his generation - John Mayer - who he can't seem to get enough of. And it turns out that it was actually written by Robert Johnson, a hero of Clapton. My point is that YouTube has the power to make all these connections at a gut level. The circle of life.

BTW, I subscribe to Josh's videos, so I instantly know when he has posted a new one. I can then give him feedback and encouragement. He loves it. Yes, the circle of life.

Josh and Band's Rendition:

Mayer and Clapton

Robert Johnson

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Amazing Simplicity of Google Sites

I've used Google Page Creator for about a year now, and despite a few minor bugs, I was very happy with it. It happens that it is being phased out, and Google Sites is its replacement. Sites seems to be of the wiki persuasion and is ultra-easy to use and offers lots of possibilities for collaboration. Here is my new "Online Office" site. Slick.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Neil Postman Revisited

"You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."
Photo Credit

In the foreward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman compares George Orwell's 1984 vision of the world with that of Aldous Huxley in Brave New World:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

~ Neil Postman

What do you think? Will what we love ruin us? Will too much information reduce us to passivity and egoism? What are the implications?

See earlier post

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When Words Get in the Way

jargon aphasia n. A form of fluent aphasia characterized by a copious flow of unintelligible speech. Jargon-aphasic speech may be subdivided into semantic jargon, in which ordinary words are strung together to form unintelligible utterances.

~ A Dictionary of Psychology

Dilbert: Mission Statement Generator

Education Jargon Generator

Hiding Behind Education Jargon


Education Jargon Information

Silos, Echo Chambers, and Human Nature

There are two metaphors in currency out there relatively recently that I think we have to seriously consider: silos and echo chambers. As our communities across time and space have become larger, we are increasingly hearing only one side of the argument or point-of-view. This, of course, has some advantages in that it simplifies our lives and allows us to become more proficient in our little piece of the world than once was possible. Specialization has done wonders in many ways in our society and personal lives.

On the other hand, how easy it then becomes to demonize the Other. How easy it is to miss the big picture. How easy it is to become self-righteous and ego-centered. It is a human problem, no matter who we are or what we do.

In many ways, we need to limit our vision in order to get some work done, but at some point, in so doing, we limit the possibilities of true collaboration and compromise. At some point we are blinded by our narrow-mindedness.

Parochialism used to be thought of as something that happened in small communities or insular places. Now perhaps it is instead based on our position, interest and point of view, with place being an increasingly minor contributor.

What do you think? Do you see more echo chambers and silos now than prior to the rise of digital technology? Is there any need for beginning to re-emphasize the whole . . . the universal?

Photo Credit

New Smartboards at York

I spent an enjoyable morning at York Middle School yesterday, sharing and learning about the new Smartboards with version 10 software that have been purchased for many teachers in the system who developed proposals that involved enthusiasm and willingness to use them in transformational ways.

In the photo, Eric Lawson, a top-notch technology integrator in the system, enthusiastically demonstrates many of the new functions of the 10 software. Gregg Martin, Director of Information Technology Services, lead the workshop, emphasizing that the vision is ultimately transformation in teaching methods and offering ongoing support to his teachers. There is a conference in their FirstClass system to encourage collaboration among the users. I also had to put in a plug for sharing state-wide through the Smartboard page on LIM resources.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Laptops for Infants

I certainly know the argument for waiting for children to have access to the digital world as stated in the Alliance for Children Report, "Computers and Children", and "Fool's Gold - A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood."

If I did not know that my 9 month old grandson, Ilan, had a home where rich experiences with attentive parents was commonplace, then I might not have done what I did. Ilan and my daughter, Jessica, are from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, visiting for a few days. Jess is a physician in the Chapel Hill area and my son-in-law, Sal, is a new assistant dean for student affairs at the University of North Carolina. Ilan is getting to the age where he likes to bang on the keys of his dad's new laptop. So my thought was, why not have an older computer that is made just for that purpose, one that you wouldn't be worried so much if it got damaged . . . so I cleaned off one of the g3 iBooks I had purchase a couple of years ago, added free AlphaBaby, TuxPaint, and an icon with a link to Starfall. At this point, I suspected that AlphaBaby would be of interest, providing visual and audio feedback to whacking the keyboard. And though I caught Ilan just before he was ready for a nap, we weren't disappointed in his enthusiasm.

What other good baby software is out there?

But the real question is this:

Was I a bad grampa for introducing this device so early in baby Ilan's life? What do you think?

Another Question:

What do we lose by moving learning to machines?

See earlier post: Read Aloud and Baby Einstein