Thursday, April 26, 2007

Telling the OLPC Story

The Inside One Laptop Per Child: Episode 2 video is essential viewing for the ed-tech community in the US. It is a great introduction to the collaborative features of the system. Among other things, they make the point, in passing, of why educational games need to be free software. Episode 1 is pretty good too.

I'm a little frustrated that there's not more prominent, vocal and urgent support right now in the US for OLPC, but I suppose it probably doesn't make any practical difference. OLPC will succeed or fail in the developing world over the next few years (it is hard to imagine it limping along, neither succeeding or failing for a long time), and the future of educational technology in the US will be determined by process.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Presidential Endorsement

Given the accelerated primary schedule this time around, it seems like a good idea to announce early on that I'm backing Bill Richardson for president. We've never needed an experienced diplomat in the White House more than we do now. Same goes for serious executive branch experience, as a Governor and in the president's cabinet.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Comment on Indiana & SLA

Adding on to Steve's post...

What's interesting to me about Indiana is how it is different than, say SLA. I mean, SLA is an example of what you can do when you start from scratch with great leadership, fresh, inspired teachers, students who want to be at the school, an excellent facility, etc., AND technology.

Indiana is an example of what can happen when you get the technology and the particulars of the funding and deployment strategies right, even if you have not preceeded that deployment with a systemic progressive reform of the school, comprehensive tech support and expensive professional development, etc.

That is, if and only if you get the technology and economics right, then it can become "not about the technology" and learning can become the focus.

We have gotten to the point where the conventional wisdom among educational technologists is that there is nothing about computers that tends to drive school reform, but that, in effect, school reform is necessary to support computer use. This is, I think, backwards, and the direct result of a series of technological choices which made sense at the time (hey, in 1996, I would have bought Windows too), but have been crippling in the longer run.

Indiana is an example of an alternative.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Urban Turkey

This guy (gal?) flew through the neighborhood a couple weeks ago...

IMG_4974.JPG

K-Dog Gets a Name Check

From Mac:

Karl Hendricks Trio - The Jerks Win Again / The World Says, "Jerks" being a classic Karl blast from '03 featuring such gems as "Chuck Dukowski Was Confused" and The World Says being a new one (maybe not even out yet?) from the Karl Hendricks Rock Band that continues Karl's unsung winning streak. been a fan since i saw Sludgehammer at the Fallout Shelter in Raleigh back in 90ish?, and while it requires some hunting you should really keep up with what guitar-slinger and lyricist extraordinaire Karl is up to!

Best Education Blog Evah!

Can I just rave a little more about the Bridging Differences blog? Setting up the blog as an explicit dialog has been a stroke of genius. Kudos to Ed Week for putting this together. Here's Diane Ravitch today:

Since 2002, there have been three reorganizations of the (New York public) school system. The first totally centralized the district, so that all instructional mandates came from "Tweed" (as people now call the DOE), and everyone was expected to be on the same page with balanced literacy, Everyday Math, and the workshop model. In the second reorganization, the DOE created something called the "Empowerment Zone," where schools could escape the micromanagement of the first reorganization—and 332 schools, about one-fourth of the total, chose to escape and become autonomous of the regions.

Then this past January came the third reorganization, and this one was a doozy. The Mayor and Chancellor announced that they had decided to abolish the 10 regions (that they had created in 2003) and re-establish the 32 school districts (that they had abolished fin 2003). They described this as a natural evolution of their plans. Now every principal is tasked with choosing one of three options: 1) become an empowerment school and be sort of autonomous (the pedagogical mandates are still in place, even for "empowerment" schools); 2) affiliate with one of four "learning support organizations, each headed by a former regional superintendent who has no power to supervise the principal; or 3) affiliate with a private management organization to help them achieve their goals.

There is no template for the new structure. Apparently what is intended (though it is hard to know what is intended) is to abolish the school "system" and to rely on principal ingenuity and hard accountability to produce hundreds of quasi-independent schools, all meeting performance targets. The threat of firing hangs heavy over the heads of the principals, as this sanction has been repeatedly invoked for those who don't get the right test scores.

That's urban education in the US right now in a nutshell, roiling like a pot of boiling water, while everyone outside the system complains about how static and unchanging it is.

New Rule: Second Life Discussions

If you say "it's not about the technology" in reference to educational computing, you can't get too excited about Second Life, because using Second Life in schools raises a whole host of technological problems that make it "about the technology." You need computers with processors and video cards that can handle the load and how much bandwidth has to come into a classroom where 25 kids are all in Second Life at one time? How much bandwidth do you need to have several classes in one school working in it?

If you are focused on learning, you can find less demanding and probably free ways of doing everything you do in Second Life, without rebuilding your school infrastructure.

A corollary to this rule is you can't emphasize the importance of inexpensive laptops for 1-to-1 initiatives and push Second Life at the same time.

A Report from Indiana

Greg Dekoenigsberg from Red Hat went to visit Indiana:

Last month, I went to visit Mike Huffman in Indianapolis. He's in charge of technology in schools for the state of Indiana. He said he was going to take me out to show me how Linux worked in his schools.

I'd seen a bunch of cool Linux labs elsewhere. Good example: I visited Jeff Elkner at Yorktown High School (Arlington, VA) a few years ago and toured his K12LTSP lab. It was essentially a lab for teaching computer skills, in the wealthiest high school in a wealthy school district, with a highly motivated teacher. Impressive stuff, but not what I would call a broadly replicable success.

So on my visit with Mike, he took me to a school in Greensburg, Indiana. This was not a wealthy school; in fact, it was in an economically depressed area. A lot of parents lost their jobs in the past few years when the local plant shut down. Fairly typical story nowadays, it seems.

As we drove out to Greensburg, Mike told me the story of how he came to believe that open source in general was *the* solution to the "computers in education" problems in his state. He told me about how Microsoft was squeezing him at every turn, and yet how the computers he had were sorely underutilized. He really explained to me, for the first time, the ideas around one-to-one computing -- and why open source is ideally positioned to make one-to-one a reality in his state.

===

I was expecting Mike to take me to a computer lab. Instead, he took me to an English class.

The kids filtered in, chitchatting like kids do. When the bell rang, the teacher directed their attention to the URL she'd written on the board. The kids turned on the monitors mounted underneath their plexiglass-covered desks, fired up their web browsers, and got to work.

The URL was a Moodle quiz. Something about "The Red Badge of Courage" or something, I don't remember. (As so often in my school days, I wasn't paying attention to that bit.) But the kids were done with the quiz in, oh, five minutes. When they were all done, the teacher started to teach her class. The kids would occasionally Google something. The teacher had a supernatural instinct about which kids were working on class-related stuff and which kids were fooling around, and kept the class pretty well in line.

I talked to her after class. "Moodle and Criterion have saved my life," she said. "I used to spend hours grading papers and quizzes. Now, Moodle takes care of the quizzes, and Criterion grades the papers for spelling and grammar so I can focus on the content. This software saves me 10 hours a week -- which I spend building the actual curriculum."

When I asked her about how she created the content, she said "oh, I get help from the other English teachers; we build the lesson plans together." Whereupon Mike Huffman broke in and told me that this was one of the first lessons he'd learned: the absolute necessity of collaboration. When Mike put *one* lab into a school, that lab failed. The teacher was intimidated by the technology, wouldn't ask for help, and the computers would sit unused. But when he put *three* labs into a school, the labs prospered; the teachers compared notes, learned from each other, and ultimately took fierce ownership of these fantastic new tools they'd been given.

The next day, I went to the symposium for the teachers in the state of Indiana, and heard similarly breathless stories. I heard from a teacher of *twenty-five years* who said that her one-to-one lab changed her mind about taking early retirement. "I can focus on actual teaching now," she said.

The common wisdom that old teachers can't adopt technology is clearly wrong. If you give smart teachers the tools to do their jobs, they will use those tools. In fact, the veteran teachers will be *more* effective than the younger teachers, because they've got the classroom management skills to make it work. I've seen the proof.

===

All of this tells me that a lot of folks have been selling the whole "computers in schools" concept completely wrong. In Indiana, they are not, not, *not teaching computers*. They are teaching *kids*, and they are *using* computers to do it. It seems like an arbitrary distinction, but it is in fact a *fundamental* distinction -- and it's a distinction that so many people seem to miss. Until very recently, myself included. Sometimes you have to see these things firsthand to understand the impact.

So why don't teachers embrace technology? The common "wisdom" goes something like this:

"How can you expect a teacher to learn all this computer stuff when they've got all this other work to do, like grading papers?"

When the success stories go more like this:

"How can you expect a teacher *not* to learn all this computer stuff so they stop wasting their time on grunt work, like grading papers?"

He goes on to ask, "What role should Red Hat play here?"

This is on a fairly K12LTSP-focused mailing list, so the responses are, well, fairly K12LTSP-focused. I find it to be weird question, considering Red Hat is currently leading the software development for the most innovative, paradigm-busting project in educational computing in the past decade, if not ever. I would tend to think their role should be to make that software work. If it doesn't we'll all be able to return to our hopeless little desktop paradigm until it is time to retire.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time For A Blogger Ethics Advisory Board

If you get an email that says:

Please keep this information confidential. You may use the following links to visit our current efforts, none of which are public at the moment.

And links a live site on the public internet that is indexed by Google, is it wrong to post a link to the aforementioned site? Does it make a difference if the secret site is ostensibly about "openness" or does irony not change the moral equation?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Summer of Gradebook

I'm mentoring a Google Summer of Code project for Ubuntu to create a teachers gradebook client (i.e., a desktop app, not a server) for Edubuntu. The student working on the project is Leandro Lameiro, a Brazilian who I haven't met but was at the PyGame sprint at PyCon, so he was sitting 10 feet away from me for three days. Since we're already settled on using Python, GTK and SQLite, it should be very easy to package the finished application as a Sugar activity for OLPC, which is an exciting possiblity.

The first problem to solve is the name of the project. For some reason the initial name was "Coon." My American readers can see the problem with that.

Three Elements of Internet-Driven Collaboration

Once again, at the risk of sounding like a complete suck-up, I must point out that today's post by my boss is full of insight:

I’ve long believed there’s a general phenomenon that underlies the free software movement. It’s “volunteer-driven, internet-powered collaboration”. I think it will ultimately touch every industry that has any digital workflow. Lets face it, that’s pretty much every industry.

The phenomenon has three key elements:

  1. Freedom-driven licensing. If you want the magic, you have to set it free, because it’s the possibility of doing things for themselves that motivates people to build on your work. Just exposing the “source” (whether that’s code or other content) isn’t as interesting. Microsoft will show you the source to Windows these days, but they won’t give you the freedom to remix it.
  2. Community. The net allows us to build a community of eyeballs and fingers based on personal interest rather than personal geography. It used to be that companies always had to do the best they could with local talent - or fly people in and deal with visa issues (that’s why Microsoft is a big proponent of greater H1-B visa allocations). Today we can find the best talent wherever it is, talent that is really personally interested in the underlying issue. And we call that talent pool “community”.
  3. Revision control. I’m much happier to give you read AND write access to my stuff, if I can know who changed what, when, and easily revert it. And if that revision control allows cheap branching, then there can be multiple, parallel efforts to solve a particular problem.

Consider wikipedia in this light: it clearly meets all three criteria. Its content has a license that gives you genuine freedom. There is a big community that takes a personal interest in that content (actually, multiple communities, one which I call “the librarians” wants to make sure the institution itself is healthy, the others are communities that form around specific content, given the nature of wikipedia as a repository of knowledge). And of course every change is logged with some level of identity associated with it.

Right now, lots of K-12 ed tech types understand community, few understand freedom-driven licensing, and even fewer understand revision control beyond the history tab on a wiki. These are our weak points; this is where we need to improve to make real progress (as opposed to, say, reading TechCrunch every morning).

This is Huge

Enforced Ads Coming to Flash Video Players.

THIS is an Unsolicited Testimonial

I remain a Boing!Boing! fan but when Mark adds "(This is an unsolicited testimonial, btw.)" to the end of a random post on office furniture, it makes me wonder just how many of their testimonials are solicited, or what "solicited" means in this context. On the other hand, I don't care who is paying for them for what as long as I'm getting what I want from the site.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Vaguely French" Environmentalism?

This doesn't signify anything in particular, but I was wondering why Tom Friedman said:

...they defined (environmentalism) as "liberal," "tree hugging," "sissy," "girlie-man," "unpatriotic," "vaguely-French."

Um... "vaguely-French?" France is not, to my knowledge, particularly green, notwithstanding their enthusiastic embrace of nuclear power, which is only a green policy if we're sufficiently afraid of boiling the Earth to risk irradiating it. So where did this come from? Hmm... Google "vaguely french" green -friedman, and you don't find many (if any) cases of people actually calling environmentalists "vaguely French," but you do find this July 2006 Mongabay.com article, Environmentalism without tears: Arguing climate change to an energy executive, specifically:

While there's little doubt that the issue is heavily politicized, 2006 may go down as the year climate change gained mainstream momentum. It's no longer the domain of fringe environmentalists and Hollywood celebrities—everyone from grandmothers to politicians is talking about topics like carbon-dioxide emissions, ocean acidification, and solar photovoltaics. Magazines from Time to The Economist are devoting covers to the topic, while green concepts have been recast as "economic" and "patriotic," rather than being labeled "granola" or "vaguely French."

Vaguely amusing.

Namespace Pollution Spreading

I've figured that the best reason one might want to use the term "open source" instead of "free software" when talking to educators is to avoid the confusion between software that is "free as in speech" and proprietary code that is merely "free as in beer" (or the difference between libre and gratis). However, since there are two politically fraught terms that essentially mean the same thing, lots of people now split the difference: "Free and Open Source Software" or FOSS. It seems like an unnecessary acronym to me, but I can live with it. Increasingly, however, I see educators, who seem to be trying to be helpful, using "Free and/or Open Source" as encompassing "libre and gratis" software, rather than indicating two different ways of saying "libre".

This is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Do not do it and point it out to people who do. I don't care what you think philosophically about this stuff, but it is a misuse of language. Certainly there is built in ambiguity in saying "free software" in English, but "free and open source" has a specific meaning.

New Rule: OLPC Discussions

If you say "it's not about the technology" in reference to educational computing, you can't object that OLPC's hardware is insufficient or its operating system inappropriate for use in the US.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Americans Love Sports

I find it kind of weird that we seem to be able to have long, ongoing conversations about topics related to sports without acknowledging that sports are very important to the American people as a whole, and that we respect athletes, especially scholar-athletes, in the abstract, if not every particular.

For example, lots of people seem confused about why this particular racial slur brought down Imus, while previous ones haven't. Perhaps it is because he insulted athletes? To wit, rappers may call women "ho's," but do they call basketball players "ho's?"

This also bugs the crap out of me in all the discourse around games in education. Sports have a huge role in traditional American schools going back over 100 years, with a long ideological story. The difference between a "sport" and a "game" is not so great. Isn't video gaming treated as a sport in South Korea, for example? Should Spore be as important as football and basketball in an American school? Why or why not? This is a serious question.

In Principle, I Agree With Everything The Bush Administration Has Done

Scott McLeod sez:

I have yet to meet someone that is against the core premise of NCLB: that existing achievement gaps need to be closed and that schools should, and could, do much more when it comes to the academic achievement of traditionally-underserved student groups. In other words, everyone seems to agree that ‘no child should be left behind.’ The discontent instead stems from the way that NCLB has been implemented.

Following this reasoning, I'd also agree with the "core premise" of everything the Bush administration has done.

I'm in favor of better Medicare policy, I just disagree with the implementation. I'm in favor of peace and democracy in the Middle East, I just disagree with the implementation. I'm in favor of the principle of executive privilege, I just don't like it when the White House deletes 5 million emails. I'm in favor of federal funding for stem cell research, I just don't agree with the implementation. Etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Today's Linked List Nuggets

Unlike Will, I never read sites like TechCrunch. Too corporate in outlook; and not enough taste. It isn't a filter, it is a firehose. I prefer to pick up news from blogs by more discriminating humans, like John Gruber's Daring Fireball. Anyhow, here are two things DF led me to today:

  • This uncov post, "Meebo is What's Wrong with Web 2.0" illustrates why an XO + Web 2.0 strategy might not fly:

    let's take a look at Meebo as if we were desktop application developers. If you load up Firefox and go to google.com, it takes up about 40MB of memory. If you sign into GMail, it uses about 50MB. Take your browser over to meebo.com and sign into AIM, that's 61MB. Have a conversation with a friend? 69MB. Chat for a while with said friend? You're up to 79MB. That's right: if you use Meebo for a while, it will use 39MB of memory over Firefox's base usage. Gaim, by comparison, uses 15MB consistently, when signed into Google Talk and chatting all day.

    Realistically, cheap laptops for kids will need the efficiency of free desktop applications, not web apps uber alles.

  • Tumblr is a host for very low threshold, easy, but structured blogs. If I hadn't recently moved my base of operations to Blogger, I'd be tempted to try a Tumblr.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

CanDo: A Model of Collaboration

Miguel quotes

"The greatest growth engines of the 21st Century," share Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in (Wikinomics), "will be business webs that fuse the resources and competencies of the developed and developing worlds into unbeatable combinations."

And asks:

Are we fostering creativity and global collaboration, or are we doing the same old thing because it's comfortable, or locked in due to pressures in our respective communities?

Let's hear those stories of creativity and global collaboration! Here are a few....

1001 Flat World Tales Project - https://burell9english.wikispaces.com/

Westwood Wiki - http://westwood.wikispaces.com/

7th Grade Science - http://7gtscience.wikispaces.com/BodySystemsHome

So, what am I missing?

Well, how about CanDo?

I don't talk about CanDo enough, partly because it is hard to explain a unique global collaboration in fifteen words or less. Here's the general sequence of events:

  • South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth (living in London, UK) hires (Vilnius, Lithuania-based) Steve Alexander (English) and Programmers of Vilinus (Lithuanians) to start writing a free platform for school administrative applications, called SchoolTool.
  • Mark decides to start a new company (Canonical) to create a new Linux distribution (Ubuntu), and hires me (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) to manage continued development on SchoolTool based on my contributions to the SchoolTool email list, insightful blogging, and a few small code contributions.
  • I give a talk at PyCon, a conference for the Python programming language, in spring 2005, in Washington, DC, and meet Jeff Elkner a programming teacher at Yorktown High School (Arlington, Virginia, USA) who has used Python, Linux and other free software in his teaching for years.
  • Jeff is holding a "sprint" at the conference to plan a new application called CanDo, which will be developed by his students and alumni to manage competency tracking, with his friend Dave Welsh, a Television Production teacher at the Arlington Career Center, acting as the first customer.
  • At the sprint I convinced Jeff to combine forces with SchoolTool, and we continue planning via email and meeting at NECC 2005 in Philadelphia.
  • YHS alum (technically he graduated from a school in Switzerland, iirc, but he was one of Jeff's students) Paul Carduner leads development of the first SchoolTool-based version of CanDo, ready by the fall of 2005, with help from YHS student Eldar Omuraliev and mentors from the local IT community. Due to the relatively immature state of SchoolTool itself, this is a bit of a hack, but it works, and Dave Welsh is happy with his new system.
  • Dave is a born evangelist, and presents CanDo throughout the district and state of Virginia, resulting in funding from both.
  • With this money, Jeff sets up a training program and internships to continue student development of CanDo. We increase coordination between CanDo the core SchoolTool developers in the US and Lithuania, meeting at the New England Linux Symposium (NELS) in New Hampshire for a very exciting sprint, with our professionals aand CanDo's interns collaborating with teachers and tech coordinators attending the conference.
  • In the fall of 2006, a substantially improved version of CanDo is deployed more widely in Arlington. Other area districts express interest in piloting SchoolTool.
  • Local funders are very happy with what they're getting for their investment in CanDo. Leveraging SchoolTool development gives them good return and sets high professional standards for the project, while the direct connection between teachers and local student developers insures that the project is responsive to the needs of end-users. Mark Shuttleworth kicks in $10,000 to fund student interns in 2007; Jeff Elkner recruits high-end budding geek talent from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Arlington for this year's training and internship program.
  • At PyCon 2007, we host a sprint with CanDo high school interns pairing up with our SchoolTool developers from Lithuania and Belgium. Ours is just one of many sprints going on at the conference, for example, a few feet away Guido van Rossum, creater of Python is leading a group redesigning the language's I/O system, and across the room Ian Bicking and a clutch of hackers are working on OLPC development. It is like the Computer Clubhouse on steriods and human growth hormone. At the sprint we make several improvements to SchoolTool's resource booking system in response to requests from Arlington; they begin beta testing this work in Virginia immediately after the sprint.
  • Jeff has planned a series of sprints through the summer, including a return to NELS (now FOSSED), and CanDo developers making the trip to the EuroPython conference in Vilnius, Lithuania this July.
  • The latest news is that the Virginia Department of Education is going to sponsor 8 formal pilot sites for CanDo in Career Centers across the state of Virginia.

How's that for a global collaboration? I'd say it is about time for a CanDo feature in Technology and Learning or Edutopia. Anyone have any connections?

Meier: Hammer, Meet Nail

Deborah Meier is precisely on point here, as part of her dialog with Diane Ravitch:

We disagree about the role and meaning of progressive education—both historically and today. You see it as having had a significant and negative impact on the schooling of America's kids, and I see it as having been largely ignored, but as representing important and useful ideas for what democracy and equity in education might look like.

This isn't just a Meier/Ravitch problem, though, it runs through the entire on-line discourse about education. There is a whole universe of bloggers who would, for example, take it as a given that problems in math education are directly attributable to the widespread adoption of progressive methodologies (constuctivism, discovery learning, etc.); meanwhile, I've been in a lot of schools -- a lot of schools with explicit ambitions toward progressive education -- and seen very, very few classrooms that truly implemented progressive pedagogies in math. Part of these differences are regional (which is why it is more extreme on-line conversations than off, I think), part of the difference is that the critics are attacking implementations that are inadequate half-measures that I wouldn't consider "progressive," but clearly, if we can't agree on where schools are at now, it is pretty tough to carry the argument forward constructively.

A corollary to this is expressed by ed-tech pundits and bloggers who have long been fundamentally sympathetic to progressive education and its history but have, I guess, have gotten themselves accustomed to trying to communicate with people who have ignored it all their lives, so they constantly are inventing ways to re-package progressive education as "new," which, as you might have noticed, drives me insane, because it drives the discourse to the lowest common denominator and never lets it move forward.

More please:

We disagree about how much of a crisis we are in as a nation—and whether the real danger is foreign competition. I'd place democracy, as the crisis issue--she may or may not agree with me on this. Of course the status of our workforce and democracy are not unrelated, but we may disagree on whether raising our youth's skill level is going to create well-paying jobs.

You should already know where I stand on this one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

QOTD

Region 19 BOE Gazette:

When discussing the incorporation of technology into the classroom with a teacher, one gets the impression you are asking them to fly without a plane.

Your 21st Century Skillz

Andrew Leonard:

In the 21st century scientists will master the basic building blocks of life. We will be able to design and remake organisms in any way we choose.

The all important question is who controls that process? Who owns the intellectual property? Who influences the legislative policy? How rigorous is the government oversight? A strain of corn modified to kill corn borers and rootworm is small peanuts compared to what is coming down the pike, and it is absolutely critical that the corporations who stand to capitalize on the introduction of radically new products are under constant scrutiny and regulation.

The most important "21st Century Skills" are political.

Getting Stallman's Ethical Argument Right

Probably pointless to even bother, but here's my response to this "Game consoles are evil" post mocking the free software perspective on game consoles (and their software):

Stallman's ethical argument is based on the principle that it is unethical to not help your neighbor if it is in your power to do so. His argument is that it is wrong for your child to enter into an agreement with the software company to not give his friend a copy, because the fundamental value of personal, human cooperation is made secondary to a corporate economic model. You don't have to agree with it, but that is the argument. If you want to make a food analogy, it is like shopping at a grocery store that forbids you to give the food you purchased to anyone else, no matter how hungry they are. Or buying sunflower seeds that you are forbidden to plant by their license.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I Always Figured That Software Sucked

For most teachers, the first reaction to the "Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort" report findings is likely to be some variation on, "Of course you can't raise test scores significantly in one year." But for ed-tech bloggers, shouldn't the second reaction be "I always figured that software sucked." I mean, it isn't like I read a lot of people raving about LeapTrack or KnowledgeBox. Isn't our interest in social software implicitly based on a rejection of the stuff they were looking at in this survey?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Banned In DC

jwz's post on the proposal to ban minors from bars in DC (and the massive historical importance of this exact issue to my generation) meshes nicely with Robert Epstein's "Let's Abolish High School" article in Ed Week.

In other not getting into rock show news, I went to see former Sludgehammer drummer Ian Williams perform at AS220 tonight, but it was sold out.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Software Doesn't Write Itself

I don't mean to jump on Will (and his commenters, which are many these days), the day after he said such nice things about me (I love you too, Will), but regarding todays post on the University of Michigan's School of Information's M.A. specialization in Social Computing, I'm a bit taken aback, if not surprised, by the reaction. I wouldn't quite call it "anti-intellectualism" as Rob Lucas does; it is more specific. It is a sort of a willful ignorance of how software is designed and written, or, more to the point, a sort of denial of the fact that it is designed and written, that writing and studying software is rather different than using it. There is, for example, a vast difference between knowing that Amazon's recommendation system is handy, and knowing how to write a recommendation system that would be appropriate for a given use, or evaluate the recommendation engines of several different systems to determine which one would be best for your users' needs.

The current state of the ed-tech blogosphere is an example of why a program like this may have some benefit (I'm hardly ready to endorse it, I'm just saying it is not absurd). We've got lots of people excited about using the "Web 2.0" tools, but how many people are capable of substantively analyzing the range of options, let alone contributing to the development of new ones? The reality is that taking the next step is hard intellectual work, which requires more time and reflection than can generally mustered while working full time and reading blogs.

I think everyone should take a step back and read Dreaming in Code, for a reminder of the importance of writing the software and of how difficult a task it is.

Diamonds are Forever

The RI Monthly piece on the Grays is now available online. Unfortunately, not all the photos (which are excellent) are included, so I'll have to scan the one of me at some point...

SchoolTool Update...

I asked SchoolTool lead developer Ignas Mikalaj┼źnas to prepare an informal summary of his work on SchoolTool in the first three months of 2007. He has been focusing on refinements to existing SchoolTool functionality needed to deploy SchoolTool at the Vilnius Lyceum. His report (with screenshots!) is here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Roller Coaster Ride Through History

This video of a ride through a Roller-Coaster Tycoon coaster representation of the graph of real estate prices since 1890 should be interesting to educators in a number of ways. If the preceeding sentence made no sense to you, just watch the video.

I'll point out one of the less obvious ones. So many arguments in favor of educational reform and technology these days start out by emphasizing the rapid rate of change in our lives, in comparison to "the past" which is generally pictured either as "Leave it to Beaver" or a bored latchkey kid watching "Leave it to Beaver." This video is a good reminder of some of the ways that recent history is far more stable than, say 1890 - 1950. Certainly this video presents a rather compelling visual argument that we've got a wild ride coming in the very near future, but we haven't gotten there yet.

Via Boing!Boing!