Reflections on Course 2

I found the Frontline Digital Nation video fascinating.  I am planning on attending (and now so are Kristin and Dan) the Learning & the Brain Conference in San Francisco in February which will focus on “iGENERATION: HOW THE DIGITAL AGE IS ALTERING STUDENT BRAINS, LEARNING & TEACHING”.  Several of the key figures in the Frontline video are presenters at this event: Marc Prensky, Gary Small, Jeremy Bailenson and Clifford Nass.

As for the course, I think it’s not as dull as Jeff makes it out to be.  As a TOK teacher, I find the questions about privacy, ownership, copyright, creativity and neurological impact to be fascinating topics, hence the interest in the iGeneration conference.  I was also somewhat chastised by the discussion on copyright for images.  Despite all of my vigilance on textual citation and proper use, I have been amongst the worst offenders for visual copyright protection.  I have considered the Google search to be my own private image archive and even posts on this blog are demonstrations of this.  Beyond my own epiphany and embarrassment, I also appreciate the mini-debate we had over why we are so protective of words but lackadaisical about images.  While Peter employed the fallacy of special pleading when stating that we don’t have time to monitor all aspects of a student’s process and product, there are still questions I have about the nature of copyright and the connective nature of the web.  If, as Jeff argues, the web is not about content, but rather connections (sorry, if I am misrepresenting you here Jeff), then clearly content has, in this exchange, become subservient to connection: hyperlink trumps hypertext.

This begs the question, then, about how different embedding an image from another site is from embedding a YouTube clip.  I know I have not verified the copyright legitimacy of everything (hell, anything) I’ve seen off of YouTube although I am quite certain it is not all properly cited.  However, if the web etiquette demanded that level of assurance before linking, things would grind to a halt.  It would end the echo-effect of the blogsphere that can be so pernicious in politics, but most everything else is built upon the loose referencing of the hyperlink.

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For example, here is a Metallica clip that I have, at least by my limited understanding of netiquette, given all I must give for people to follow it to it’s original source.  However, as anyone from the era of Napster will know, I doubt that Hr. Lars Ulrich has given nicolas86uy permission to post it on YouTube.  The interesting question then is what is the appropriate action.

Should I

  • simply cite nicolas86uy and assume he has a close personal relationship with Lars?
  • simply cite Metallica directly as we do in text form by saying “Enter Sandman by Metallica as cited by nicolas86uy on YouTube“?
  • assume YouTube would have removed it if it was not legal?
  • contact Hr. Ulrich directly for permission based on the very good assumption that nicolas86uy does not have his permission?

Facetiousness aside, I don’t see how this isn’t A) the lifeblood of the web and B) exactly like the issue with citing photographs.  Perhaps the answer is simple: don’t embed anything that isn’t shared fully through creative commons.  What would the web look like then?

Anyway, I’ve just bought my first Christmas gift, for myself.  It’s Lewis Hyde’s newest book on this very topic, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership.  The NYTimes has a great article reviewing his general ideas on this book in a 2008 piece called What is Art For?

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TAS Upper School AUP Proposal

Our rationale for revisiting the US AUP document was manifold. The original document looked as if it had been cobbled together quickly from a variety of sources. It was wordy, repetitively redundant, tonally variant, too long, negative rather than positive, and ultimately, lawyer friendly but not very student friendly. We decided that there was no need to reinvent the semantic wheel so we looked to various universities AUP policies as guidelines. We’ve attributed those sections that we paraphrased or used directly. Our goal was to reorganize the points in the original document worth saving and aligning them with the school’s four values. We removed some items that have been controversial and somewhat inconsistently enforced (primarily gaming) with the hope that their absence might invite a reaction from the administration. We were thus able to reduce a 3 1/2 page original to a single page which could be signed on the bottom.

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Sugata Mitra and Self-Organizing Education

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Thanks to a tip from Dan Long, I saw Sugata Mitra’s TEDTalk on “New Experiments in Self Teaching”. Mitra has spent the better part of the last 20 years experimenting with educational technology and it’s impact on teaching and learning.  His conclusions are quite profound and speak to a significant paradigm shift in the way our schools should be structured.  His most famous experiment which he has repeated all over India, and then in a varied form all over the world, is called “The Hole in the Wall.”  He places a simple computer with a touch pad and internet access in a remote area and leaves it.  From the first experiment in a New Delhi slum to more recent experiments in Africa, he has consistently found that without any “teaching” children “self-organize” and learning “emerges”.

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“A self-organizing system is one where the system’s structure appears without explicit intervention from outside the system.”  They also demonstrate emergence which Mitra defines as “the appearance of a property not previously observed as a functional characteristic of the system.”  He then simply but profoundly concludes that “Education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”

This is quite fascinating, yet not altogether unexpected, stuff.  It does suggest that teachers must take a fundamentally different role in the classroom; mainly as a facilitator who gets out of the way rather than a more dominant leading presence in the class.

And for those who claim that there are still certain tasks for which students need a teacher, Mitra has this great experiment.  He set up a computer in a classroom in a Tamil-speaking village of south-eastern India.  He put up a file for them to explain when he returned in two months.  The file was, in English, on bio-technology.   When he returned, the students were depressed.  They claimed to have learned nothing despite looking at the file every day.  When Mitra pressed them on their two months, one 12 year-old girl responded “Apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genetic disease we’ve understood nothing else.” No teacher, no English and no training in biology, genetics or technology and they still learned.  What if learning, he suggests, doesn’t come from a teacher.  What if learning, perhaps, means a little bit more.

© Chuck Jones & Ted Geisel

This is obviously a violent segue to another epiphany about unstoppable emergent behavior; a seasonally-specific one I just watched last night with my kids.

“And the Grinch, stood puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

I thought I’d close with another quote that simply eloquently and succinctly states what the 21st century teacher’s role is in student learning.  It comes from Ken Kay with Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

“So the coin of the realm is not memorizing the facts that they are going to need for the rest of their lives. The coin of the realm will be

*do you know how to find information,

*do you know how to validate it,

*do you know how to synthesize it,

*do you know how to leverage it,

*do you know how to communicate it,

*do you know how to collaborate with it,

*do you know how to problem solve with it.

That is the new 21st century set of literacies and it looks a lot different than the model that most of us were raised under.”

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The Long Arm of the Login

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I probably have just enough awareness of what privacy I am sacrificing every time I go online that I’m frightented but have little capacity to do anything about it. At least I came of age in the analog era so that any youthful indiscretions have been destroyed. I wonder how any Digital Native will ever be elected president in 2048.

As I teach only seniors, I am constantly inundating them with articles about their US peers doing things they can never take back.  After Alan November’s presentation at ETC10 in Manila, I have shared the WayBack Machine with every class I encounter.  It has the intended effect of terrifying enough students, especially when paired with the knowledge that colleges and future employers will be able to exhume all their past sins in perpetuity.

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Now, I can be criticized for lack of full disclosure because as most of the student’s potential sins are on proprietary social networks, the WayBackMachine will not be the vehicle for their potential resurrection.  Of course, this only means that someone else (Mark Zuckerberg) will be the tomb raider who brings one’s past to life…for a fee.  All that free entertainment had to find a revenue stream at some point!

So what can one do?  Well, first of all, don’t do stupid things!  Secondly, when you do stupid things, be smart, don’t document them!  And finally, if you are to stupid/incapacitated to not document it, for God’s sake, don’t upload it.  For my generation, that’s not going to be so difficult.  Sure, there’s always the possibility of Google Street View catching us in some act, unless we’re in Germany!

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Ultimately, though.  No one is safe.  If not Zuckerberg, then Larry and Sergey, or you ISP, or the NSA, or you HMO.  Somebody, somewhere has the capacity to know what you get up to online if they have the time and wherewithal.  The question then becomes, how should we handle this fear.  Caught in an inescapable web, what is one to do?

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Back to the Future

Throughout my teenage years, my name was always a talking point.  Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, wanted to know if my middle initial was “J”.  I used to answer it honestly (no, it’s “C”) but then decided to see what came of confirming I shared the same name.  It proved to be the most effective way for people to figure out how ridiculous the original question was.  It was its own sort of Vonnegutian grandfalloon…a non-connection, connection.

What was once the bane of my existence, then just a mild annoyance and occasional amusement, has become my invaluable internet security “beard”.  Google me and you’ll get 14,600,000 results, mostly of Family Ties and Marty McFly.  So for me, the digital footprint is soft if not non-existent.  But I realize that is a rarity.  If your name is Utecht and you’re Googling in English, you will find what you are looking for within four results (assuming you’re not looking for the Bengal’s Tight End).

For some, though, either their family name or their own notoriety makes their footprint overshadow the rest of their life.  My favorite podcast, On The Media, did a great report, called Life Archive, on a former Harvard student who held a funeral for his name.  Here is the key segment:

NAZANIN RAFSANJANI: This is not a funeral for a person. It’s for a name. Three years ago, a college senior wrote a story for his school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. The topic was a bit risqué. The piece was about:

PETER: My use of Craigslist to look for sex with closeted Harvard jocks. It was a big hit. It’s my number one Google result, of course. But now, you know, three years later, I find that I’d really like to be an elementary school teacher. So I’m really wary of the possibility of that, you know, a 10-year-old kid coming across this, because, you know, if I were, like, in fourth grade I’d be googling my teachers all the time. It’s really nothing I want coming back to haunt me.

Now while this may not be the ideal example to share with students, it makes a powerful point with adults.  You can run, but you can’t hide.  The Harvard guy tried to do a variety of things to bump the Crimson story off the first page of the Google search but with no luck.

Clearly, one must be conscious of the footprint one is making.  If you happen to be named Barack Obama, Ted Nugent, Greta Garbo or Sideshow Bob, you might, for now, be safe from the all-seeing eye of Google.  But for the rest of you, unless you plan to go full Kaczynski, you better start to get out ahead of your footprint so that you have control.

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Reflections on Course One

There was a moment in our class on Saturday when two separate streams of thought that had been running throughout the course for me coalesced into one.  The first was my concern about how to help students think critically about issues related to TOK.  The second was the concerns about the effectiveness of blogs in general, especially those blogs that are coerced through course requirements.  Ultimately, it was something that Becky said that drew the two together for me.  It was simply the word “reflection.”  Now that is not a great revelation to most teachers, but it proved to be the linking concept for me on how to address the critical thinking needs of my students but also understand the value of a blog that, yes, I was compelling my students (through grades) to participate in.

“Reflection.”  In our discussions on Saturday morning, I raised my concern that the technological gulf-stream that our students are immersed in is not one that encourages, or even leaves time for, critical reflection.  Jeff mentioned that the average life of a tweet is between one and three hours.  I’ve received 54 additional RSS feeds since I began typing this post…and yes, I am consuming (or really not consuming) too many feeds if this is the rate of arrival.  My concern is that the media landscape our students find themselves in runs contrary to the stated desire of most 21st century school mission statements.  The key, I believe (and thank you, Becky) is reflection.  As educators, we must use our time with students to regulate the media flow, slow it down, redirect it, even turn it off if that is necessary, in order to allow the time and space for student reflection.  And yes, any artificial curtailing of the flow will, to some students, elicit the complaint of “boring.”  However, if we, as Jeff and others suggest, allow the students near-infinite latitude in what they choose to reflect upon, “boring” will become a self-directed complaint.

So now, I feel better about the blog through which I am compelling student reflection.  It provides the space and the means through with students can hone their critical thinking skills and contribute to the communal conversation about issues of interest to them.

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Changing Paradigms

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I have been wrestling this entire course with what might be a false dichotomy; what I first deemed the Luddite vs. the LinkedIn.  I think this is a generational thing but not one of the analog vs. the digital eras because I consider myself just a little behind the curve on this whole “digital natives” thing.  While I was not the generation water birthed into a fully wired world, I did grow up on Pong, Atari, Commodore 64s, Radio Shack TRS-80s and BASIC.  I wrote my first college essays on WordPerfect and sent my first email from the one online computer at the LTWA in Dharmsala to my future wife in Denver.  We now own two computers, two Smartphones, one iPod, one iTouch, one Kindle, subscribe to 17 podcasts, bank, shop, write and work almost exclusively with ones and zeros.  I don’t think those are the credentials of a card-carrying Luddite.  In fact, it is because I am so enamored of this brave new world, so charmed by its many powers and distractions that I hold back from the edge.  I wonder what is the devil’s bargain here.

Postman spoke of this bargain, and I’ve mentioned this before:

“Anyone who has studied the history of technology knows that technological change is always a Faustian bargain: Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided.”

My caution, borne out of a concern for my own unbridled enthusiasm makes me ask, just what is it we are giving up, and is it a deal with the devil or a step closer to an interconnected, promised land…McLuhan’s global village…Disney’s Small World. I don’t think I’m using hyperbolic language here because the rhetoric on both sides seems alternately messianic and apocalyptic. I feel that my generation, Generation X (never did like that) or the Baby Boomer’s Babies, represents the liminal generation. We are the group that has one foot in each world. Most of our schooling was traditional (i.e. pre-digital…in some cases, even pre-Dewey) but we were witnesses to the dawn of this tectonic shift. We have a sense of what is offered by each and, in my mind, more importantly, have not been hardwired towards it from birth.

It’s hard not to agree with Sir Ken Robinson (he’s so agreeably British!) and have to acknowledge that the RSA Animate version of his speech is far more entertaining and engaging than the straight speech version. He makes a compelling case for the deadly path we’re on.   As he went on, I couldn’t help but think of what has befallen Japan the past two decades.  A country that believed it was invincible just at the moment it was committing its defining act of hubris.  The failure to take what was best from the past and adapt to the changing future.  I guess that’s what I am torn by, ultimately, what must be preserved and what abandoned.  What practices, skills and knowledge move forward and which remain behind.  I can’t keep the Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” out of my head…

Preserving the old ways from being abused;
Protecting the new ways for me and for you;
What more can we do?

Clearly, I’ve lost the plot on this post…

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Coercing the Classroom Blog

Seeing a session on blogging that Jeff gave at EARCOS last year in Manila, I began this year with a goal of implementing a blog in class.  In previous years, my approach failed for a variety of reasons.  Two years ago, I asked every student to have a blog and assigned reflective blog posts as homework assignments.  The first problem was purely logistical.  If you assign them, they will come…in droves.  The sheer number of posts I felt obliged to read and respond to was an unintentional, personal disincentive to continue assigning blog posts.  Now, perhaps, I should have simply held a different personal expectation regarding my participation in the blogs and only sampled some from time to time.  However, as we were using the Blackboard system, I was the only other audience for the students so if I didn’t comment or assign comments from student to student, there was a clear sense that the blogs were written for no one.  In Manila, Jeff offered the model of an ISB TOK teacher who simply has a class blog that every student must contribute to on a rotating basis; one student per day over a 20 day cycle.  This seemed to solve the march of the blog brooms so I took this model for my class this year.

The second problem, however, has proven far more challenging to address; it is the problem of the “assigned” factor of blogs.  Not unlike this post right here, student blog posts are generally coerced.  Most blogs are created by people with a desire to share their thoughts about a particular subject of personal interest (model airplanes, politics, technology, etc.).  So the $64,000 question then becomes, how can blogs become organic?  Or will there be an unavoidable element of artificiality to blogs in classrooms?

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Neil Postman – 6 Questions for Understanding Media

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The Other Side

I’ve been playing the Luddite pretty solidly now for a few posts, I thought I’d try to show that I don’t only play one tune.  There was an interesting podcast recently by one of my favorite sources of information, NPR’s On The Media.  It’s a great podcast for all things related to media, which includes social media and the internet.  The particular episode I’m referring to had the clearly contrary title of “Is the Internet Making Us Smarter?” It’s an interview with NYTimes Bits Blog writer, Neil Bilton and his new book, I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works.

Bilton argues that new media are always met with dire, quasi-apocalyptic predictions about the end of civilization.  He cites NYTimes front page articles bemoaning the social isolation that will accompany the newly invented telephone.  Quick on the telephone’s heels  was the phonograph which was suggested would bring about the end of reading.  Funnier still was the scientists who felt that the newfangled trains that appeared in the mid-19th century were a physical danger to all who rode in them, proposing that if the human body were propelled more than 20 miles an hour in the new “steam engines” the human skeletal structure would explode.

Now whether one considers these fallacious analogies in light of the latest internet revolution is up in the air.  I agree with Lewis Mumford and Neil Postman that technologies have tremendous power to shift thought and intentionally or, more likely, unintentionally launch revolutions.  Bilton is, of course, suggesting that the internet revolution, will take a similar path.  It will change the landscape by not by scorching it, but rather remaking it in new ways.  Bilton dismisses Nicholas Carr’s complaints about the potential stupidity spawned by Google as just a generational misconception.  He suggests that video game usage does away with Carr’s (and others’) suggestion that digital natives can’t consume long-form content acknowledging that while students won’t sit for hours and read history books on WWII, they will play a video game on WWII for hours on end.  I will acknowledge this is true but point again back to Neil Postman’s conceit that the current generation will attend to what is entertaining and that certain aspects of logical exposition and argument require a time and focus that is not inherently entertaining and as such won’t be attended to in a world where amusement is the currency of the kingdom.  I think it begs the question, can everything be made into a video game?

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