Friday, September 28, 2007

The Liberty Elm

Elmwood is a neighborhood where a funky coffee shop is still a novel (and not necessarily viable) idea. I've been patronizing the new Liberty Elm diner on Elmwood Ave. The location is a bit awkward for foot traffic, but I can stop there on the way back from dropping off my Netflix at the post office.

Good food!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ubuntu Education Summit: Boston

Is cancelled.

If I Were Education Minister of Brazil...

... (or another random country in the developing world) I wouldn't have bought an XO for ever kid in my country this year for a simple reason. The software is too raw. I've always imagined that a successful early prototype of their inexpensive low-power dual-mode display, or at least the underlying technology, was the tipping point for publicly launching the project. As I recall, this previously unheard of technology was mentioned from the beginning, and I doubt they pulled the concept out of thin air or off a wish list, since exactly what they envisioned appeared right on schedule.

They just didn't have the same hook on the software side. Sure, they knew that they could use Linux and other free software so the whole implementation wouldn't be dependent on the good will of an American corporation. But it should be noted none of the key people who launched this project are stalwart free software advocates. Anyhow, the designs and overall scope of ambition of the software to be used in the XO unfolded late in the process, especially compared to the hardware. The innovative security specification (that's the plan, not the implementation) didn't appear until this year.

When I last checked the development snapshot of the XO software, it looked like they'd streamlined and tightened things up to the point where the software they ship later this year will work reasonably well. But a month or two ago, it was still hard to tell if it would work at all, and fundamental aspects of the architecture still seem unsettled, making it difficult for third parties to develop applications for the platform.

If OLPC really gets rolling, I'm not worried about educational applications and/or content appearing. The whole world can contribute their own bits and pieces to that effort. The bottleneck though is implementing an entirely new desktop computing paradigm, which primarily has to be done by a relatively small, cohesive team.

The Sugar development team has done an amazing job up to this point, and I think just about all their decisions have proven to be good ones, but for the XO to be "I'll order a million" ready today, they would have needed as much of a head start in writing the software as they seem to have had on the display.

It Goes Without Saying That...

eSchool News would not mention that IBM created the new National Museum of African American History and Culture Musuem's website with the open source Ruby on Rails framework.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's All Matt Yglesias Day


In those fields (education, poverty alleviation, global public health, and climate change), it really seems to me that Bill Clinton could do much more good using his charisma and standing to try to convince rich guys and executives at big companies to take a more enlightened attitude toward the political process, to return to the sort of public-spirited involvement in public affairs that characterized the business class in the 1950s and 60s. Realistically, you can't resolve climate change if the United States of America is in the grips of a fanatic ideological aversion to taxes and regulation, an ideological aversion that American business has spent -- and continues to spend -- tons of money propagating and re-enforcing. Similarly, you could do a ton of poverty alleviation if you worked through the political process to reorient America's global engagement away from such a lopsided reliance on the military. But somebody other than defense contractors and Israeli nationalists would need to invest serious money in foreign policy ideas.

What Everyone Really Thinks About the New NAEP Scores


That, though, is really boring so just take it for granted that these results absolutely confirm the rightness of all my beliefs about education policy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Smart People Don't Seem to Get the XO

Andy Carvin:

However, if there are any schools champing at the bit eager to get some XOs for their schools, I only have one request for them. Please don’t tether them; let your students take them home. Don’t lock them down; encourage students try to run their own software and tinker with the operating system. Get them dirty. Make students collaborate and create stuff. Otherwise, the XO will be just a miniaturized desktop PC, a mere reference and publishing tool, and not the transformative device as was originally conceived.

This is not really a concern. What are the steps involved? Basically, take your XO, install some other conventional Linux distro (if that's even possible) and use that. The likelihood of a school in the US doing that approaches zero.

Perhaps you'll be able to put Windows on it someday. There will be cheap alternatives for low cost pre-installed and supported Windows laptops though. Schools won't want to bother putting Windows on their Linux machine any more than they want to put Linux on their Windows machines.

The XO as it ships will be a uniquely bad multi-user computer. That it is used by one student is a fundamental design principle. Of course, it will be possible to share, but it would be a lot more like sharing a cell phone than a computer, and it'll be quickly obvious that it doesn't work on any scale.

The thing to look out for is schools banning them, which will happen almost immediately. The question is whether the OLPC hype, education focus, and use in the developing world will expose this a being absurd in a way that other electronics bans have not. If it does, it just might open up some broader conversations about how locked down school IT has become.

Download DRM-Free Karl Hendricks Trio

From Amazon. I'm on Some Girls Like Cigarettes, Misery and Women, and For a While, It Was Funny. I recommend "Nogales by Tuesday."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Document Workflow: Still on the Cutting Edge for K-12

Chris Dawson points out that document workflows are still a revelatory experience for most K-12 teachers and administrators. Six years ago I was excited about using wikis and blogs in our school, but I really wanted to get workflows going. This was pretty raw sledding in the old Zope CMF, and I definitely slowed down SchoolTool development for a while trying to stick WFMC-compliant workflows everywhere, but it is still depressing that the advantages of document workflows have not made the lives of educators easier.

Yes, administrative efficiency is not the end goal, but we need those time savings to focus on the more important bits.

Put Me Down For Four

One for me, one for Vivian, two for the developing world.

If you are considering ordering an XO to see what it can do, bear in mind that you can't test the collaborative features unless you have more than one, and without the collaborative angle, it is going to be a heck of a lot less impressive. And if you're buying one for your kid(s), remember that they are really designed to have one user. You need one laptop per child.

Is Being White a 21st Century Skill?


However, as I point out in this article on the subject, insofar as people want "working class" to mean "no college degree" that the median income for non-college whites is higher than the national median income.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hypertext Humor


"Into the Wild" is essentially humorless: Chris' encounter with a couple of Swedish tourists, one of them a curvy beauty who lounges boldly on a Colorado riverbank sans bikini top, is one of the few places the movie even flirts with levity. But even then, Chris seems only slightly amused by these amazing Swedish breasts; there's something inert, almost neuter, about him. In a hippie trailer town, he also meets up with a very young singer-songwriter (played by Kristen Stewart, in a sturdy, sensitive performance) who offers herself freely; he nobly declines on the grounds that she's too young, but you get the feeling he's not that interested anyway.

See how they throw that random link to an index of stories about Colorado in the middle of discussing topless Swedish girls and their amazing breasts? I'm not sure whether or not that's a little joke by a bored staffer, an automatically generated link (but Alaska doesn't get the same treatment earlier) or a little trick to boost pageviews and thus ad revenues.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Grays Return To Providence, September 29

The Providence Grays Vintage Base Ball Club is proud to return to Providence to play their first game within the city limits in several years, facing off against the Elizabeth Athletic Club at on Saturday, September 29 at 1:00 PM, at Joseph Williams Field (map below).

We will play two games, one with the rules and equipment of 1884, the year the original Grays won their second National League pennant and the first World's Championship of base ball, and the second corresponding to 1891, a key year for the original Elizabeth Athletic Club.

The EAC is a regular opponent of the Grays. They maintain a high level of historical accuracy and usually provide a tight contest. Hope to see you there.

Also, a trailer for Wooden Bats and Dusty Hands: The Grays, a documentary shot several years ago about the club, is now available on YouTube, if you want a little preliminary feel for the action.

Joseph Williams Field is located on the map below. The Elmwood neighborhood provides an excellent setting for vintage base ball. Joseph Williams Field lies across Adelaide Avenue from Roger Williams Park, a restored Victorian pleasure park, with period houses lining the adjoining streets. Babe Ruth played for the International League Grays at Melrose Park, formerly located a half-mile north of Joseph Williams. Another half-mile north of there, in 1875 the Adelaide Avenue Grounds hosted two games on the schedule of the National Association, considered the first major league.

View Larger Map

Jeff Elkner Wins Knowledge Trust Award from UNC

My buddy Jeff Elkner was honored with the Louis Round Wilson Knowledge Trust Education Award for his work on the Open Book Project. Other winners this year were Groklaw’s Pamela Jones, Brewster Kahle of, David P. Reed of Reed’s Law fame, Michael Jones of Google Earth, Tom Blanton of National Security Archive, and Ryan Allis of iContact.

In an irony typical of the interaction between the academy and the web, I can't find anything online about the awards except this blog post.

Chandler 0.7 Released!

Scott Rosenberg notes the release of the latest Chandler milestone, 0.7. The glacial pace of development of this once inspiring project has been a deep disappointment. Still, with some excitement I fired up the new release on Ubuntu Gutsy. Looks good! I poked at a few menus found "Accounts..." item, selected it and... dumped core.

While I second guess many of my development decisions with SchoolTool, running away from wxPython is one I have not regretted.

Later... to be fair to the Chandler developers, as they point out in comments, Gutsy is not supported in their release, and in fact Gutsy itself isn't even itself released. So the fact that Chandler doesn't run on Gutsy is neither particularly surprising nor an indictment of the quality of work on Chandler.

Nonetheless, it is particularly depressing for a Python programmer to have a Python program crashing with a core dump like this. I mean, I basically understand why this would happen, and avoiding this kind of fragility is why I (and just about everyone else) has been running toward the web instead of cross-platform GUI libraries like wxWidgets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Web 2.0 In Schools -- Question #1: Is it a Violation of Federal Law?

Following up on Miguel's post today, it is essential that we (collectively) have some legal advice on the implications of The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As Miguel alludes to, a big part of the seemingly out of control fascist filtering and blocking that is taking place in our schools is due to a strict interpretation of the rules for maintaining records in case of a civil lawsuit. I'm perfectly willing to entertain the idea that this is just an excuse for a deeply held desire by your IT and legal staff to maintain fascistic control of your school's network, but that's irrelevant.

Andy Carvin needs to call up his friends at Harvard or Yale, or something so we can know whether or not in the US:

  • We can produce authoritative arguments for a more sensible and lenient interpretation of the law than many districts have taken.
  • Federal law essentially precludes just about all use of offsite "Web 2.0" tools in schools and therefore:
    • We need to lobby for a change in the rules;
    • and present a united front in advocating for making equivalent functionality (as much as possible) available to students and teachers in a way that is compliant with the law.

For the past six years I've been advocating for quality open source wikis, weblogs, and other read/write web tools that can be hosted by schools because I knew that these issues would come down the pipe sooner or later. I don't know why anyone with much experience with school administration would have ever thought otherwise.



...i hate ringtones and can't believe that they have something to do with my job.

Can We Get This Graph In "Did You Know 3.0?"

Paul Krugman has a (NY Times) blog. Today's intro kind of reminds me of something Warlick would write, except based on hard data and with a keener view of politics:

“I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.”

That’s the opening paragraph of my new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. It’s a book about what has happened to the America I grew up in and why, a story that I argue revolves around the politics and economics of inequality...

In fact, let me start this blog off with a chart that’s central to how I think about the big picture, the underlying story of what’s really going on in this country. The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. I’ve added labels indicating four key periods. These are:


Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

er... Will?


Guess we’re not gonna make it home (from Shanghai) tomorrow…

Typhoon Wipha heads for Shanghai:

Typhoon Wipha, billed as potentially the most powerful typhoon to hit China in 10 years, is barreling down on the province of Zhejiang and the city of Shanghai, and is due to make landfall Wednesday morning. Winds at the center of the super-typhoon have been measured at 198 kilometers per hour and 1.6 million people have already been evacuated from coastal areas.

A direct hit on Shanghai, a metropolis of 18 million people and the financial hub of China, could make Katrina look like a minor squall.

Blaming the Victim

Chris Lehmann is right on with this one: Blaming the Victim -- Creating Systems of Innovation.

His fellow Philadelphian Atrios put it more bluntly yesterday in The Lament of the Technocrat:

It goes something like this:

If only the bastards had done exactly what I told them to do!

Also, there is a pretty compelling case to be made for teachers having rational reasons to not embrace new technologies based on the unreliability of the systems we've got. Mark Cuban's post from two days ago provides just one of an infinite number of examples:

I sold and bought my first PC a long, long time ago. Back in the late 80s I owned a Mac, I think it was a Mac2. I honestly thought there would never come a time where I would buy a Mac. Ever.

Then I upgraded my PC to Vista. What a disaster. I had grown accustomed to my PC freezing every now and then. Enter Vista and my PC was frozen more often than it was working. The biggest culprit was MicroSoft Outlook.

The application has to have a memory leak. I could follow memory numbers as they grew and grew. Then as my email was downloading, the rules would stop working and everything went straight to my inbox. Spam and all.

When you get as many emails as I do. Thats a problem. When it also causes the system to freeze, its more than just a problem.

My first step was to get a copy of CPU Magazine with Vista tricks. The tricks helped. Everything froze or crashed less often. Significantly less often. But the annoyance factor was beyond belief. I dont run any special applications. I run outlook, Office and firefox. Thats it.

I had gotten to the point where I was embarrassed to be a PC owner. The thought of someone calling me and asking me to go to my computer to find something was paralyzing (ok, not that bad, but it sounded cool writing it).

This wasnt just a problem on my Desktop, it was a problem on my laptop with Vista as well.

So a few months ago I made the executive decision to buy a MacBook to replace my laptop.

If a tech billionaire can be ground to a halt by an operating system upgrade, to the extent that he decides it is easier to switch to a Mac, why should anyone approach new technology without a jaded eye?

Also, this paragraph from the above-mentioned Atrios post seems apropos to ed-tech bloggers' discussions of school reform:

This is, of course, the lament of the pundit also. The choice is never between your pony plan and something else, the choice is between competing packages which have some realistic chance of being enacted. There is value in discussion and think pieces, of course, and there is value in discussing what a pony plan might look like. But at key moments sophisticated people understand that their contribution to the political discourse is going to either be an endorsement of some policy or opposition to it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

L3RN: Who Owns the IP and What Did They Pay For It?

So... L3rn is now a commercial product? How'd that happen? Last I knew it was developed by employees of the Seattle Public Schools. Now it belongs to "SynapticMash?" There'd better be a good explanation for this. They use the typical weasel-language one would use if one wanted to mislead the consumer about open source:

The entire system is built on open source technologies...

But since there is an invitation to purchase it and no downloads available or explanation of licensing, it is wise to assume that everything under L3rn (Django, Python, Apache, etc...) is open source but L3rn itself is not.

What I really don't understand is why you would launch a startup using a product that is widely known to be developed internally in a public school district without taking a sentence explaining what the deal was, because with no explanation, it looks pretty shady.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dude, You Must Have Some Pretty Mild Dreams


The digital tools arrayed before us for communication, interaction and learning are more powerful than our wildest dreams.

With My Eyes Closed, I Don't See Anything!

Wes writes:

Will NCLB get reauthorized this year? I’m afraid it will. Where is the constituency of educational and community leaders articulating an alternative vision to NCLB for schools, students and teachers? Certainly there are many in the edublogosphere community and even at professional conferences like Learning 2.0 here in Shanghai who are advocating for change, but has this vision been spelled out (pun intended) and articulated in a way that it can be embraced as a counter-vision to NCLB? I don’t think so...

Where is the vision for the future of learning 2.0, articulated in pragmatic ways that local, state, and national leaders (as well as their constituents) can both understand and embrace? If it exists, I haven’t seen it. A blog is a great communication tool, but it is not the appropriate communication modality for a well-constructed and comprehensive reform agenda like I (and I think many others) want to see. This needs to be a paperback book and a downloadable PDF file.

Is it too late to draft such a vision for the NCLB reauthorization debates going on now? Probably. A single report, book, or PDF document isn’t going to broadly change the perceptions of voters on education in time anyway, however. I may be wrong, but I’m increasingly convinced it is CONVERSATIONS which have more potential to change us than anything else. What is the VISION for educational change about which we need to be talking and our leaders need to be supporting? Who is articulating this in a cogent and comprehensive way?

Well, Linda Darling-Hammond did a pretty good job in her testimony this week. She writes books, too! Here's another book: Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools, written by a good chunk of the best minds in US progressive education. No, I haven't read it either, but I found it easily enough after reading your post. It's only been out three years. If you want to stick to blogs, read Schools Matter to find critiques of NCLB from every possible angle. What about Nebraska's vision?

I could go on, and on, and on, and on. C'mon Wes. Open your eyes! If these educators, writers and their ideas aren't getting enough attention, perhaps it is in part because prominent bloggers with extensive teaching experience and post-graduate study in curriculum and instruction pretend they don't exist.

DIY... Not.

I'm not going up there.


In other house-related news, someone visiting our neighbors told one of the painters that when they were in elementary school for some reason they'd been given a tour of our house. They were told John F. Kennedy had slept here. If that doesn't get us started researching the history of this place, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Digital Rhetoric? Digital Epistemology?

I pointed out over at Vicki's that there wasn't much distinctively "digital" about the "digital literacy" (or "digital citizenship" as she also called it) skill of verifying sources. Upon reflection, I'd say it is even more dubious to call this either "literacy" or "citizenship."

Let me briefly explain why this isn't entirely pointless hair-splitting.

We're working in a period of education in the US where the focus is on the basics. So to get money and attention, everything has to be framed as a "basic skill" or a "literacy."

This generally seems harmless, but one problem is that you might start believing that some of the higher order tasks you're now calling "literacy" are as straightforward as learning the alphabet (or whatever... all the elementary teachers in the audience are now thinking about how complex basic literacy is...).

So in the case of "digital literacy" there is some danger that we begin to think of the critical analysis of texts as a simple procedural act. A roadbump on the way to writing a research paper. We may end up thinking like this:

  1. Find some sources.
  2. Determine What Is True.
  3. Write your stellar research paper.

Instead of:

  1. Find some sources.
  2. Discuss what you found and what you think of it.
  3. Gradually build up your understanding of the world.

It would be more accurate to call this stuff "digital rhetoric," or "digital epistemology," although I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for those to catch on. But if you called it that it would be less surprising that seventh graders get it wrong from time to time, that interpretation and criticism aren't the beginning but the end.

Fear is a Moral Issue

From Scott Bader-Saye's book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear

Do not be afraid. We live in a time when this biblical refrain cannot be repeated too often. Among all the things the church has to say to the world today, this may be the most important.

Child predators and suicide bombers, West Nile virus and avian flu: No one has to be convinced that we live in fearful times, but what does all of this fear do to us? What kind of people do we become if we are fed a steady diet of dread? How does fear affect our moral lives? ...

Fear is a moral issue insofar as it shapes the kind of people we become, and the kind of people we become has a lot to do with how we see the world around us. Our judgments about what is going on in the world and how to interpret events go a long way toward helping us define proper actions. Quite simply, how we view (or interpret) the world shapes how we act in the world...

Read Fred Clark's whole post on the subject.

Bill's My Man

Bill Richardson:

I have a one-point plan for No Child Left Behind: Scrap it.

Good Quote for My Talk On Homegrown Open Source Apps


In a telebriefing about Rails for the Burton Group yesterday, Dave Geary told an audience of hundreds of CxOs and team leaders from Fortune 500 companies that Java and its stacks are greatly overused for web development. And that his estimate would be that 70-80% of the applications currently being developed with these technologies would be better off using Ruby on Rails.

Ravitch's Reversal & Other NCLB Weirdness

Don't miss Diane Ravitch's Tuesday post on NCLB. It is stunning stuff:

I have been doing quite a lot of soul-searching these past couple of years. I don’t think it is because of age, although one can never be too sure about that. I think I am reconsidering first principles because of the very topics that you hit so hard in your latest letter. Living in NYC, I see what happens when businessmen and lawyers take over a school system, attempt to demolish everything that existed before they got there, and mount a dazzling PR blitz to prove that they are successful.

Lest anyone think that what you described is purely a NYC story, consider this: I hear from various people who participated in the judging for the Broad Prize that NYC will win it this year. This is not much of a surprise. When Joel Klein was first named chancellor, Eli Broad held his annual prize event in NYC and handed Klein a huge dummy check and predicted that one day soon this would be his. The $1 million hardly matters to NYC, which has an annual budget that approaches $20 billion, but the prestige is what the city is after. It desperately wants the confirmation from Broad that its new regime has succeeded.

About 18 months ago, I was invited to meet Eli Broad in his gorgeous penthouse in NYC, overlooking Central Park. I hear that he made his billions in the insurance and real estate businesses. I am not sure when he became an education expert. We talked about school reform for an hour or more, and he told me that what was needed to fix the schools was not all that complicated: A tough manager surrounded by smart graduates of business schools and law schools. Accountability. Tight controls. Results. In fact, NYC is the perfect model of school reform from his point of view. Indeed, this version of school reform deserves the Broad Prize, a prize conferred by one billionaire on another.

Thanks for your recommendation about the James Scott book, "Seeing Like a State." I happen to own it, as it had been highly recommended to me by Morton Keller, a historian at Brandeis University. It is a wonderful critique of reforms that seek to overturn the world, of the arrogance of reformers who do not understand the practical wisdom of those who must make decisions every day that respond to unique situations.

As I read "Seeing Like a State," especially its concluding chapters, I kept thinking about the wholesale gutting of the NYC school system by Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein, who are now hailed in the media as our nation’s leading education reformers. Professor Scott, an anthropologist at Yale, would find in NYC a perfect exemplar of men who think they can “see like a state.”

Worse, Deb, they seem to have sought out even the cracks in the sidewalk and tried to pave them over. They seem to have succeeded.

I can't muster much sympathy for the many Republicans and conservatives who criticized the Bush administration in private but kept their mouths shut until he was safely elected for a second term. But Ravitch is speaking out about NCLB just as the reauthorization debate is hitting its stride. I don't know how much of an impact it might have, but I have to give her some credit. And let's be honest, when's the last time you saw a conservative publicly turn against a big money funder like Broad? It's breathtaking, really.

And I have to give Ed Week credit for coming up with the "Bridging Differences" dialogue between Ravitch and Deborah Meier. I think it has been a uniquely successful format.

Meanwhile in Washington, civil rights groups are testifying against allowing more flexibility for districts under NCLB, and Jonathan Kozol is on a partial fast to protest the law. It is a world turned upside down.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

GNota 0.1 Now Available!

Leandro's release announcement:

I am pleased to announce the first release of GNota, a GTK+ teachers gradebook application. This first release was sponsored by the Google Summer of Code program 2007, mentored by Tom Hoffman from SchoolTool and Ubuntu as the mentoring organization. Beware that, as the first version, it can be a bit buggy. All your feedback such as bug reports, patches, artwork, criticisms and suggestions are really appreciated. GNota is a gradebook application, this means that its objective is to help teachers and schools with most of repetitive tasks, using automatic calculation of end-of-period overall grades, archiving of student data (like phone numbers, full name, student ID, etc). GNota aims to be suitable for all schools in the world, thus it supports various scoring systems like American Letters (A-F) and Extended American Letters scales (A-F+-), percentage scales (0%-100%), Zero/Ten scoresystem and has support for creation of new scoresystems if you need to. It also has support for 3 algorithms for overall score calculation (simple average, simple average of best N scores and weighted average). GNota can also calculate if the student was approved in the class, by using customizable approvation criterion (for instance overall score greater than C and missed classes less than 3 classes). GNota gradebooks can be imported from and exported to CSV files, so that you are free to work with spreadsheets like, Google Docs and Microsoft Office if you need to. (Yes, GNota runs on Windows too) === Installing === Preferred: Using Debian packages: Download the package from (If you are using Ubuntu) GNota uses Elixir, a python library that is still not in Ubuntu repositories. You can download Elixir package from Debian - Alternative: Using python eggs: First, you need Python 2.5 ( ) and setuptools ( download and run "python") In your command line (on Windows you have to type from Python Scripts directory) type: easy_install GNota Make sure that you also have GTK/PyGTK and all dependencies involved (PyGObject and PyCairo) If you need help installing GTK/PyGTK in Windows, see === Providing feedback === Your feedback is really appreciated and is necessary for improvement of GNota. You can add bug reports to the GNota bugtracker, or send me e-mails if you prefer ( lameiro at gmail dot com ).

The only problem is that the end of a Summer of Code project by definition butts directly up against the beginning of the school year, leaving you not much time to try this out before you start grading. GNota is off to a good start though, I think. We just need some user feedback now...

Catching Up With Ourselves

Stephen quotes Graham Wegner:

Look around at some of the (US ed-tech blogs) he suggests and you'll find that some of the issues that US education is exploring as 'things to do' are already 'things being done' in many areas of the globe.

Those things are already being done in the US, too.

Exploring Voting with Selectricity

Among K12 Open Minds Conference keynoter Mako Hill's many projects is Selectricity, online voting software with a few interesting twists:

  • Selectricity allows you to choose (and compare the results from) different mathematical models for determining the winner of the poll or election. Most (or all?) of the systems allow the voter to rank their selections in various ways. Really comprehensive reform of our democratic processes would probably include adoption of different selection methods like these to make minority representation and non major party candidacy work more fairly, so these are important technical issues for our future.
  • It has a nice UI and AJAX-y widgets for making your selections.
  • The code will be released under the forthcoming GNU Affero GPL license, which is designed "to guarantee that everyone could receive the source for web applications that they used, so the software could always be shared and improved." Online voting software is a particularly appropriate case for the Affero GPL, as it gives the user some capacity to audit the software being used (although it certainly doesn't prevent malicious acts by the poll host).

Right now they've just got basic "quickvote" functionality running. Hopefully, they'll be adding more features soon and you'll be able to use Selectricity in civics class and to run your student council elections.

Break Out the Vinyl!

Jennifer and I recently inherited some vintage stereo equipment, including some nice Smaller Advents from 1972. Considering we're both musicians, it is kind of bizarre that we've never had a decent setup for listening to music; so I got some stands for the speakers, and we've got everything set up in the parlor, including the turntable... Time to break out the vinyl! Tonight's playlist:

  1. Crime and the City Solution, Shine
  2. The Crow Flies, Babe
  3. The Vivians, Vivicide
  4. Henry Cow, Unrest
  5. Unrest, Kustom Karnal Blaxploitation
  6. Gore, Mean Man's Dream

Now I'm just waiting for my Bottomless Pit album to arrive (on 2 x 12" 45rpm disks, no less).

Monday, September 10, 2007

This Is My Computer. There Are Many Like It, But This One Is MINE.

I think the necessary companion to Sherry's "The Start of the School Year" post, which reflects the one-step-forward-two-steps-back state of school IT in 2007, is this eSchool News story about tech support costs doubling over the last four years.

The suggested fixes in the article -- standardizing your platform, weeding out old hardware -- don't really ring true to me, because my impression is that on the whole, that's what schools have been doing over the four years support costs doubled. There wasn't a new Microsoft OS in that period. Some schools would have been making the transition to Mac OS X from Mac OS 9, and I'm sure some are still in the middle of that. And a few schools have added Linux on the desktop. But on the whole, 2002 - 2006 was not a period of proliferating platforms for schools.

My unscientific guess is that the reason tech support costs have doubled is because 1) schools have higher expectations for reliability because they've got more mission critical administrative functions running over their networks, and 2) because before they locked down all the systems, a lot of problems that would previously be fixed by teachers and students (or never fixed) are now 100% the IT staff's responsibility. Of course, there was a cost of all that teacher time, but it didn't show up in the tech support budget line.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that a lot of schools aren't being well served by their IT strategy. Standardizing around networks of Windows PC's is just not that cost efficient, especially given the amount of flexibility that ends up being sacrificed. If you're creating a locked-down monoculture, you should at least be getting more access in return. Sherry is not alone in feeling like she's getting the worst of both worlds right now.

When you think about scaling this system up for 1-to-1 initiatives, it seems completely unworkable. We really need a completely different paradigm. Think of a Marine battalion. How many rifle technicians does it take to clean and maintain every marine's rifle? OK, I don't really know, but I'm pretty sure the answer is ZERO, because every marine takes care of his own. We need a kid's version of The Rifleman's Creed and computers that are as field-strippable and user-maintainable as an M1 rifle to get out of this mess.

Register for the K-12 Open Minds Conference... NOW.

The keynote speakers for the K-12 Open Minds Conference are now set, and it's an exciting group. We've got:

  • David Thornburg - who has done a great job the past few years in communicating the advantages of open source software to teachers.
  • David Cavallo - Director, Central and South America for OLPC, and co-head of MIT's Future of Learning Group. I heard Cavallo speak about OLPC at MIT shortly after the project launched. He's an interesting cat.
  • Benjamin "Mako" Hill - This one's my doing. Mako is a researcher at the Media Lab, member of the Free Software Foundation's Board of Directors, advisor to OLPC, active member of the Debian and Ubuntu communities, member of the WikiMedia Foundation advisory board, author of The Official Ubuntu Book and one of the prime movers behind the definition of Free Cultural Works.
    Beyond all that, I'm just thrilled that we'll have a real free software activist and hacker at an open source in education conference. I'm one of the few teachers, from the US particularly, who has had the opportunity to spend substantial time interacting with free software hackers in their natural environment, and I hope that, in addition to whatever message Mako communicates explicitly, he also gives the educators at the conference a better feel for who the people writing free software are and what makes them tick.

The rest of the program for the conference is being finalized at this moment. If you are thinking about attending, you should, and you should register right now. Since this is the first try at a national K-12 open source conference, a number of potential sponsors, etc. are waiting to see how the early bookings shake out before committing themselves, so it is extra important that you don't procrastinate!

Hope to see you next month in Indianapolis!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I'm not sure why David won't just come out and say that James crossed a line with his criticism of Gary. David says "be accountable" but isn't the corollary to that "hold people accountable?"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Touching on the Politics of the US K-12 Blogosphere Again

Wes's crappy post on equitable funding for schools (he's against it, unless it is provided with or by a pony), reminds me that these points from Gary's rant are worth reiterating:

  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students.
  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools.

To the extent this has provoked a response, that response has been from outside the US, and it seems is much more likely that a non-US ed-tech blogger is a liberal, so this isn't too surprising. But Gary and I are Americans, so let's focus on the situation at home.

How many assertively progressive US-based K-12 ed-tech bloggers can you think of? Chris Lehmann. Doug Noon. Gary. David Thornburg. Hm... Past that it's a bunch of Babbitts and presumably some quiet liberals, although the point here is that there are more of the former than the latter. I'm sure I'm forgetting some folks. If you feel slighted, feel free to proudly proclaim your US-based liberalism in comments.

This scene is just not the one I grew up in and joined as a teacher, and it actually takes a long time to realize, "Hey, these people are all squares." Having come into the full realization of this, there's nothing to be done about it, but it does provide some sort of resolution.

A Little More on Stager's Braindump

I want to try to tease out what I think was Gary's original context and motivation in writing his little rant yesterday. The start of the "thread" was Jeff Utecht's "Fear Factor" post, wondering why teachers don't show more initiative in exploring new applications Utecht has loaded on their laptops, namely Skype, Second Life, Google Earth and Scratch.

I think the overarching point that Gary was trying to address was that we should not simply expect teachers to be excited about new tools in general, we should engage them in a conversation about how these tools can improve their practice, which should be grounded in sound philosophy, theory and research about pedagogy (note that Utecht's original post places this discussion in the context of schooling). It may be the case that in the real world many teachers don't think this way, but as professionals we certainly should expect that they do.

Gary's overview of Logo history points out that the core Logo community operated this way (although ungrounded "Hey look, Turtles!" implementations watered this down). This time around, however, instead of arguments based on Piaget and Papert, we get Friedman and Siemens. This is a pretty big step down, imho.

Let me give a couple illustrations of how I think we could do better. I happened had dinner with some teachers last year at a conference who had just had a daylong immersion in weblogs, wikis, etc and seemed pretty overwhemled. Understanding By Design came up, and it was one thing they, their administrators and I all seemed to like. So I pointed out that blogging could be a particularly good way to demonstrate some of the Facets of Understanding that are hard to reach in traditional assignments, like Self-Knowledge and Empathy. Their eyes lit up and they said, "We wish you'd given the talk today." (Yes, I am very humble, thank you.) But the point is, if you've got some shared language to talk about how technology will help reach pedagogical goals, you should have a much more compelling argument for trying a new method. You don't even need a frickin' story!

Or let's talk about having kids think about the future. When I was in middle school, we did Future Problem Solving, which teaches you a great framework for analyzing problems and generating well reasoned solutions. It isn't the alpha and omega of the universe, but it is an excellent foundation. So it is a little disappointing when I see ambitious international collaborations around problems facing our future that make great use of new technology but take a step back in the core pedagogical process, leaving us with 21st century global multimedia book reports and research papers instead of the full creative and analytical process we used 25 years ago in our little small town classroom. It isn't too much to ask for the best pedagogy and the best technology, and if you have to choose one, you already know which one to take.

On the more positive side, there is a long thread of work by Writing Project folks to apply new tools to their best practices in writing instruction, but they still have frustratingly little capacity to influence the development of tools to meet their needs more precisely.

So this isn't so much an anti-Second Life/Skype/Google Earth/Scratch position, as a challenge to frame the presentation of these tools to teachers in the best thinking about pedagogy. And, I would add, taking into account the philosophy and worldview underlying these applications, their development and distribution.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stager Strikes Back

Gary Stager's "Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - A Historical Perspective" is a little hit and miss, but the hits are right on, and the whole thing deserves close consideration. He makes a long list of points which I'll respond to below. I'm not going to blockquote all this, so the bulleted points are his & my words are in italics.

  • The Web 2.0 tools promoted by Warlick and Utecht were not created by educators or for children. Educators hope to find educational applications despite having almost no input into the development of future tools.
  • Yes. I'd just also note that in any proprietary application, any input users have into future direction is at the whim of the vendor. Open source licenses give educators the right to control future modifications and development, given the capacity to do so. Also, an open source licenses guarantee that an application cannot be withdrawn from the market (hello, HyperCard) and that educators can indefinitely use and redistribute a given version of an application.
  • The Web 2.0 tools come out of corporate, not academic, cultures with very different motives.
  • This depends on how you define "Web 2.0 tools." If we're talking about Skype, Google Earth, Second Life and Scratch, then three out of four are corporate, but I'd argue that none of these are Web 2.0 at all since I can't use any of them in a browser, and I'm not sure that any of them are even dependent on HTTP. If you're talking about blogs and wikis, these didn't come from corporate culture, they came from hacker culture. If you're talking about whatever the latest thing on TechCrunch is, then yeah, that's business culture to be sure, and I agree that that's a bad place to be chasing applications for use in schools
  • There is no educational philosophy inspiring the development of the Web 2.0 tools or their use. Basically true. What bums me out is that I thought that by now we'd see more tools combining the two by now, but we've seen relatively little of it. Stephen mentions Moodle as an example. If Moodle is Web 2.0, Web 2.0 doesn't mean anything. In my opinion, Moodle is totally Web 1.0. Forum discussions!
  • Although a principle of the Web is the democratiziation of knowledge, this is an abstract concept to educators raised on textbooks and being commanded to recite from scripted lesson plans. I'm not sure that I'd be that condescending toward teachers, but certainly scripted lessons and democratization of knowledge cut against each other.
  • The greater Web 2.0 community has little interest in reforming education. If "greater" means, outside education, this is true.
  • Web 2.0 attracts very little interest in the educational psychology or even teacher education communities. True, but I'm not sure which side deserves criticism for this state, if either.
  • There exists very little peer-reviewed scholarship regarding Web 2.0. In fact, many people in the blogosphere are openly contemptuous of theory and scholarship in favor of "the wisdom of crowds," a new and popular, albeit inherently anti-intellectual world-view. I'm not sure which blogosphere we're talking about here. Also, this requires a very shallow interpretation of the original idea behind "The Wisdom of Crowds."
  • By definition, the Web 2.0 community is leaderless. Too often, non-equivalent opinions are given equal weight without a demand for evidence or supporting arguments. It is not leaderless by my definition, but that might depend on one's definition of "leader" as much as "Web 2.0." It is, however, true that the US K-12 ed-tech blogosphere tends to be terrible at constructing arguments based on evidence. Also, hopefully Gary will learn as I have to carefully construct his generalizations to make sure they exclude Stephen Downes. It makes life a little easier for everyone.
  • There is very little material written for educators on using Web 2.0 tools in a creative fashion. Will Richardson's book is a fabulous resource for understanding the read/write web, but hardly offers provocative project ideas. I'd basically agree, but cut some slack on this one. I'm much more tolerant of breaking in new technologies with relatively simple uses than Gary is.
  • No matter how cool, powerful or revolutionary Web 2.0 tools happen to be, there are few if any mature objects-to-think-with embedded in them and certainly no explicit statement that their use is designed to transform the learning environment. Basically, yes.
  • The emphasis on information reinforces passive pedagogical practices, whether intentional or not. Yes, but that's more a product of Warlick and friends' rhetoric than the tools themselves.
  • While they may be really powerful or innovative software applications, a teacher simply does not need Skpe, Google Eartth or Second Life. Using them will do little to challenge conventional classroom practice. Some of the richest examples merely enhance the existing curriculum. I'd say the richest examples enhance the richest curriculum. These tools just don't have much to say about pedagogy. Skype is a better phone, Google Earth is a better map/globe, Second Life is a simulated world. Is a phone, map or world inherently "traditional" or "progressive" in pedagogy?
  • Web 2,0 requires robust ubiquitous access to the Internet. Most schools have demonstrated an inability to trust teachers and kids online and as a result create insane barriers to teachers using the Web in an educational fashion. To go full bore with the full slate of tools would require immense bandwidth, at least if all the kids in a traditionally scaled school are sucking through the same pipe.
  • By definition, Web 2.0 is temporal (just wait for 3.0) and new tools emerge every hour. As a result, teachers don't see a reason to invest much time in mastering technologies that will be obsolete or leapfrogged tomorrow. For many enthusiasts, collecting the tools is as important as using them. Again, this gets into "are we talking about blogs and wikis or the latest TechCrunch startup? I would argue that blogs and wikis haven't changed substantially this century. That is, I could happily use the blog and wiki software available in 2001 today, and so could you, notwithstanding the various mutations in RSS syntax and the like. And they aren't going to change. And you are going to keep using them for a LONG TIME. The web app of the week, I don't know.
  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students. This is, in the aggregate, undeniably true.
  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools. This is not universally true, but on the whole it is right on. It is a bit of a mystery why things have played out this way though. The popular edu-bloggers seem almost self-selected, like they're the only people who chose to try to become big. I made an explicit decision not to. But consider, for example, the dearth of K-12 bloggers from Maine. Why isn't Maine leading this community? Why is it lead from the South?
  • What is the unifying educational theory behind using Skype, Second Life, Scratch and Google Earth? These things are so different I don't know why there should be, or even why we should regard them as being part of a single category.

Whew. We're crippled by trying to have serious discussions when the basic terms are undefined. Also, as usual, we don't really specify what age groups we're talking about either.

Since Stephen beat me to the punch on the point by point response, thanks to my brand-new child care obligations, I'll add a few notes on that. Stephen seems to think Gary is more bound to traditional schooling than I do. I think it would be helpful if everyone concerned would just weigh in on whether or not The Met is acceptable to them philosophically. Gary is down with it, as is Alan November, as is Ewan, so is Steve Hargadon. These schools are in my neighborhood, so I've seen a few more of the warts and glitches, but certainly I consider The Met model to be one of a small set of Coalition of Essential Schools derived models I formally approve of. Do we have some common ground here?