Thursday, May 21, 2009

7 for 7: Ubiquitous, Open & Simple Tools

"It's not about the tools, it's about the learning."

I find it amazing how far digital technology has come in 7 years. Prices have come down and power has increased in just about all areas. There has been a proliferation of new hardware and software (residing both on the devices and in the cloud), with manufacturers and programmers scrambling to find the sweet spot that will entice us to purchase their products and/or services.

Most applications are like automobiles: The buttons and levers might be in different places, but the basic skills needed to operate them are increasingly consistent. Grasp how to run one word processing program and you can probably figure out the basics of others quite quickly.

Questions: Given the above, is there a need for everyone to buy the same car . . . or is there a need for everyone to use the same digital tools? In our learning adventures, does everyone need to travel to the same place to be educated, to be enlightened, and to share and collaborate with other inhabitants?

Certainly there is something to be gained in the cost-effectiveness of group purchasing, but where is that sweet spot that will leverage the most learning for dollars spent in purchasing, supporting, and maintaining these digital tools? That is the big question that is being asked and debated very frequently in Maine and beyond during these days of recession.

We do know that we want digital technology that is easy-to-use. Simplicity is important.

David Pogue: When it comes to tech, simplicity sells . . .

Here are some of the ubiquitous, open, and simple-to-use tools that I find appealing:

1. Wikis. The mothership, Wikipedia, which humbly first appeared about 7 years ago, is a massive repository of knowledge, democratically gathered, which has proven itself over time. And, of course, we all can easily create our own free personal or institutional wikis using a growing number of online sites. Each wiki user can easily and personally configure the wiki to his/her liking without having to deal with bureaucratic barriers. I am using Wikispaces and Google Sites for my own work. Wikis are both simple and powerful at the same time. Albert Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

2. Skype. Started in 2003 with the motto, "P2P telephony that just works," Skype has proven itself to be the kind of tool that is simple and effective to use in sharing voice, chat, video, and files. Check out Jim Moulton's blog post, "Using Skype with Students" at Edutopia on Skype's virtues. By the way, my Skype handle is adagio10. Hans Hofmann: "The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."

3. Blogs. Weblogs were first utilized as personal journals, but they have become so much more. Again, the user can shape and control the space without having to go through bureaucratic hoops to get it done. There are blogs on every conceivable topic now. It is a superb tool for educators who desire a read/write digital presence. Combine them with wikis and you have a powerful combination. E.F. Schumacker: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

4. Nings.
Want to make your own free public or private social network with minimal aggravation? Nings allow you to sculpt your digital space, allowing forums, file storage, individual participant pages, video, audio, and so much more. Confucius: "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

5. Facebook.
I've had an account on Facebook for a couple of years now, but only started using it regularly about three or four months ago. Its power to connect people with one another is outstanding and, again, it is very simple to use. The user has full control of who he/she chooses to be connected. Leonardo DaVinci: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

6. Google Menu of Products/Services. So many easy-to-use possibilities!
Elbert Hubbard: "The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed - it is a process of elimination."

7. OpenOffice. An open source productivity suite which includes word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation, drawing & formula. I do a newsletter for my church. Initially I used Appleworks drawing, then Pages. Now I use OpenOffice Drawing. It meets my needs as a desktop publishing app. No, there aren't a lot of fancy templates built in, but I like to start with a white canvas anyway.
Frank Lloyd Wright: " 'Think simple' as my old master used to say - meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.

What ubiquitous tools do you suggest?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Essential Question: What is our role in nurturing curiosity in children?

I've always believed that children were born with innate curiosity, and that this was an extremely imortant gift in creating life-long learners. I've also worried that the means we structure their lives might very well diminish this propensity.

But now I'm looking at my unchallenged assumptions to see the issue in more depth.

I started by reading "Considerations for the Study of Curiosity in Children" by John Keller. It seems that the definition of curiosity isn't as clear as I thought it was. It means different things to different people. For example, is distractibility a component of curiosity, and if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Then there is the viewpoint that children aren't born with natural curiosity:

"The curiosity and creativity of children is very superficial . . . it is mostly a low order curiosity concerned with immediate gratification of a particular desire to know, and mostly oriented toward immediate practical results. There is no persuasive evidence that any societies have ever had a high proportion of people who were deeply curious in a systematic, disciplined way.”

~ Steven Dutch

Steven Dutch: Why is there Anti-Intellectualism?

Curiosity and Creativity in Children, Perhaps Not Quite as Sir Ken Robinson Suggests?

Curiosity at the LIM Resources Wiki

So . . . what are your thoughts?