Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Drop in a Bucket

Just finished reading Nicolas Carr's "The Big Switch," which is partially the story of the generation and dissemination of electrical power, and is partially the history being written *as we speak* regarding how computing services are/will be delivered to business, and indeed to all of us. It was fascinating to contemplate the imaginative leap that moved us--quite rapidly--from each man serving himself (the waterwheel as a source of power) to Edison's musings about why the "power of yonder river" couldn't be harnessed to make the job of mine workers in Wyoming less arduous.
Edison invents the generating station, designed as a local power source (with Edison envisioning himself selling MANY sets of the needed technology). His disciple, Thomas Insull, sees a still larger possibility...a much larger network which, if fully employed, could provide power to a region, and at much lower cost. The issue for Insull was that people had to believe that his vision was possible, as embracing said vision required that they turn away from the infrastructure in which they had heavily invested in favor of Insull's vision of the possible. Surely Insull's success in realizing his vision (at what would become known as Commonwealth Edison) had as much impact on the society we know today as did Edison's amazing harnessing of the power of rushing water itself.
Carr then draws a parallel between this story and the evolving story of computing in our lives. To make a long story very short, we find ourselves in the early stages of a transition from computers on desks and massive computer infrastructure at every business, to the astonishing possibility of (like the electrical outlet we take so much for granted) plugging a monitor into an "outlet" and having full access to a full array of computing services, data management, etc. This is a potentially revolutionary step for the business world, seeming to require the same kind of faith that Samuel Insull ultimately warranted/benefited from. In a sense, as individual users, we've already moved significantly in this direction with the explosion of web-based tools (the so called web 2.0 technologies) that push us away from the rapidly antiquating idea of buying software, etc.
So what does this have to do with education? Lots, to be sure. I'm still trying to get a handle on that question, but Carr's choice for an epilogue provided me with a starting point...our relationships with one another. Carr talks about people gathering in the evening around the fire, providing a social gathering point. Amongst other things, electricity afforded people mobility, even within the house, such that this gathering didn't necessarily happen. Carr also talks about how objects looked different in firelight than they did in electrical light...our fundamental "realities" (perceptual and social) were affected.
As I think about what I'd like to talk about with the "Teaching with Technology" students, I thought of Neil Postman. Postman's writing pulls the conversation powerfully in the direction of how we relate (as people and as educators) to the "magic" of technology. I recall Postman talking about what he called the "ecological" change brought about by technology. In a speech
he gave in Denver of 1998, he states that "(t)echnological change is not additive; it is ecological." He asks, "(w)hat happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe."
A new kind of light changes the way we see things, and our social relations. Computers have the same far-reaching effect, and we as teachers struggle to get a handle on what and how and what it means in terms of our teaching. What does all of this mean in terms of what should occupy the space labeled "Educational Technology" for future teachers?
One thing is that old-timers like me do not have the luxury of paying no attention to Facebook. For the moment, I'm going to take my students back to Dewey and see if we can connect with the astonishing, perplexing world of social networking.
I'll let you know how it goes ;-)

Carr, Nicolas. " The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google" (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008)

Postman, Neil. “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological
Change.” Web Home of Tom Shanks, Ph. D, Santa Clara University. July 9, 2008.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


originally uploaded by CC 0122.
this is a test


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Social Networking and Social Class

Danae Boyd recently had a piece on "On the Media" about the significant differences in the social roots of My Space and Facebook, musing about whether these distinctions are being deepened. She's a researcher at Harvard's Center on Internet and Society who shares a lot of her work on her Apophenia blog. Check it out...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kevin Kelly

For those of you interested in hearing more from Kevin Kelly, author of the "We are the Web" article we read this summer, here's a link to video of a presentation he did last year building on the theme of the article, and offering some interesting definitions of "technology."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Starting the School Year

Vicki Davis is an educational blogger (and a HS teacher!!) whom I very much respect and whose blog I read regularly. She just did a three-part series on starting the school year and I thought some of you would want to check it out, and/or flag it for re-reading in December:

Podcasting Basics

Caroline called my attention to my not explaining exactly what podcasts are. A podcast is simply a digital recording, usually audio, that is turned into an "mp3" file, the format that is used by itunes, for example. Creating podcasts is quite simple. I like a tool like gabcast

where you can set up a free account and then create an mp3 file (that can be accessed on the web as a podcast) simply by calling in to an 800 number.
If you want to work with your students and have the time for them to get into production, then the free download of audacity (PC or MAC) is a great option:

Here's an audacity tutorial on "Teacher Tube":

Caroline also asked some great questions:

Is it a radio station system? How do you access them?

Many radio stations, along with National Public Radio tape their shows and make them available as podcasts that can be downloaded and listened to by anyone, whether on their computer or an a tool like an ipod. You'll get itunes on your MAC Program MAC computer, but you can also download itunes for free, for use on a PC or a MAC. You can actually subscribe to an array of podcast programs, including many NPR shows, through ITunes.

Who listens to them?

Many people, including some of the teacher bloggers you're reading, do regular podcasts as well--think of it as internet-based radio. They have their listeners who subscribe via ITunes. In the classroom, the likely listeners could be themselves (of course!!) fellow students, parents (or grandparents) and, of course, you.

I still am not quite clear about their use in the classroom either. Do I make my own? Do my students make their own or a classroom podcast?

The answer to both of these questions is yes. I strongly suggest that you think about whether having your students create little podcast/radio broadcasts might not be an exciting way to assess creatively.
Check out the podcast at this URL:

There are lots more interesting podcasts here, but Maureen Yoder has some creative ideas for the history classroom, many of which involve podcasts. I was imagining students doing podcasts of their own that borrow from one or another of these formats.

And if I make lectures available to my students via podcast, won't that make them more likely to either not pay attention in class or skip altogether?

I'm not big on this. I think that podcasts should be utilized to expand what we can do, educationally, for or with our students. We should use them (or not) on the strength of what they can do to help us teach better, and to offer ways of engaging more of our students. Trying to make and post podcasts of each day's class would be way too much work, and (I think) of mimimal utility.

What about students that may not be able to access the podcast? Doesn't this give an advantage to some students over others?

It could. Another reason not to have them required to access material crucial to the class and their grade. You can use the school lab, and files can also be downloaded to ipods, so there are possibilities, but you're right to attend to this in your thinking.
I hope that this helps....

Oh...check this out for more:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Regarding Wikis, etc.

I wanted to follow up on Friday's session by pointing you towards a resource that I like a lot--Lee Lefevre's Common Craft site. Common Craft tutorial videos have a sense of humor and whimsy that I like, and he has a nice way of getting clearly and expeditiously to the basics. This link will take you to one about wikis, but he has others about RSS Feeds (a tool that will help you keep track of the activity on all of the blogs you'll want to read!) and social networking.
I also wanted to share something I just learned about. I know that you're using inspiration to do some concept mapping work, and I have the sense that some of you are seeing some neat possibilities for using the tool. You might want to check out visuwords, which is a dictionary using a graphical interface to connect words with other words and ideas. I know that it helps me to see ideas in context, even if those contexts are idiosyncratic, and this looks like the kind of tool that could inspire thinking, which I see as the ultimate criterion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Media Specialists

Caroline blogged this week about a trip that she and a couple of others took to the school where they'll be teaching, and she wrote about meeting an inspiring media specialist. I was thinking about this as I listened to a presentation done by a woman named Joyce Valenza from the Philadelphia area (more details in a minute). Her presentation was about what she calls information fluency--helping kids to thoughtfully engage with and utilize information AND to be more sophisticated learners and creators of content. She touched on a couple of ideas that I thought might interest you. First, she speaks of a dimension that we'd not yet addressed...the idea of using blogs as sources. She presented with a teacher from her building who encouraged kids to do this, but who also wanted to scaffold their engagement with this task. They shared a template they had created for evaluating blogs, which can be found here. While you're there, I'd encourage you to have a look at what Joyce calls curricular pathfinders. These are sets of pointers to online resources organized thematically. They point to some databases that schools must subscribe to, so you'll be a bit constrained, but there's a lot that you *will* be able to see and the idea itself is a most interesting one. It also suggests a good question to add to your list of questions when you do the "tech at my school" assignment (or anytime!) Which research databases does my school subscribe to? There's lots of cool stuff being put out there, some of which costs a bit of $$, and if your library is subscribed to some of these databases you media specialist will likely only be too happy to see it being used.
Oh. The presentation that I spoke of took place at the NECC Conference in Atlanta earlier this month. I heard Joyce's presentation (and was turned on to a treasure trove of resources that she shared) here (via Apple Learning Exchange) or on itunes by subscribing to "conference Connections."