Monday, June 30, 2008

Is There Anything to Co-opt?

My feeling was that ultimately you don't want Pearson coming into Edubloggercon because you don't need to make it easier for them to co-opt the "movement." But as I rolled the (future) lawn this evening, I realized I couldn't really put my finger on what could be co-opted that hadn't in fact simply been co-opted by the attendees, based on something that itself is a third-rate recapitulation of what once had been a living idea.

Put another way, Pearson doesn't really need to listen in on what a bunch of teachers think about Clay Shirky's book. They can afford to just hire Clay Shirky. And they should.

Why I Find Konrad Glogowski Completely Unreadable

If you were to come up with a list of the five most important ideas for K-12 teachers of English to arise in the past 50 years, I think most people with some knowledge of the discipline would cite the basic premise of the Writing Project: that teachers of writing should write and engage their students in their own writing. Or maybe nobody believes that anymore, or maybe I'm just wrong, but I've always taken that as a foundational concept since the 70's. Whether or not English teachers do it, they certainly talk about it periodically or did as of 10 years ago.

So I can't read Konrad's blog because he constantly does things like this, which is a post on a nice project which essentially uses some new technology to make a nice little multimedia project (of the type that people have been doing since the 70's) easier and includes the WP teacher as author/peer angle. It is a perfectly fine assignment, but as a blog post, it drives me nuts because I don't want the high level Dewey quote and then the "look at the cool idea I pulled out of the blue." If you understand the discipline of teaching English, you cite the obvious practical precedents and precursors, it doesn't diminish the originality or success of the execution or the novelty of the technologies employed. If you don't know the obvious precedents and precursors, you've got a big hole in your knowledge, which I could deal perhaps if the overall presentation was less pretentious. Konrad seems well versed enough that he should know all this, so I figure he's leaving it out on purpose, and then I have to figure out why, and it really just isn't worth my time.

The Key Question

Greg Sargent, pointing out the rapid growth of the anti-FISA group on

It's also a suggestion that the powerful social networking tools spawned by Obama's formidable Web operation could end up being used to pressure Obama on this or that issue, should he become President. You can sign up for the anti-FISA-cave group right here.

Now is as good a time as any to test the hypothesis.

Liking the Obama Campaign Less and Less

Obama should stick up for his friends, especially when they are right.

Yes, John Thompson Can Blog

Yes, indeed.

Eve Online in the Times

The NY Times ran a couple of articles on "the most interesting, serious online game in the world," Eve Online, last weekend. One, Face to Face: A Council of Online Gamers, on the first meeting of the democratically elected Council of Stellar Management in Iceland.

I'm very happy with the news from the meeting thus far. There are, as far as I can tell from my vantage point, some serious technical design issues with combat at Eve at the largest scale, but it sounds like CCP (the company that runs Eve) is going in the right direction.

They also ran a piece on the annual RL barbecue held by the Band of Brothers alliance, including this bit of in-game news:

At the barbecue Mr. Molen unveiled a new strategy called Max, for Maximum Damage. While most Eve campaigns center on taking and controlling regions of space, BOB’s new Maximum Damage doctrine focuses on simply pillaging and destroying the territories of others.

Since Ushra'Khan currently does not control any space, I think we can only benefit from BoB shaking things up.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Not Working the Citizen Journalist Angle

So, you get 200 folks together for an Edubloggercon, immediately have a controversy over Pearson video-ing the proceedings, which happens to relate directly to a kerfuffle just last week about video recording rights and permissions at NECC, and as far as I can find, nobody has sought to explain on their blog how Pearson ended up there in the first place or under what terms.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Can I just note for the record that I think that going directly from your own uninterrupted education into teaching is completely insane. I have no idea why anyone would put themselves through that. Have some fun for God's sake. Play in a frickin' rock band or something. Live in the real world a while. Then try teaching, and about the time you feel like you're running out of challenges there, start having babies. Easy peasy.

Inside Ed-Tech's OODA Loop

Scott McLeod:

So when a new tool comes out – Twitter, Diigo, whatever – maybe we should hold off for a bit before we start blabbing to educators who don’t live as close to the ed tech edge as we do. Maybe we should voluntarily follow a process that looks something like this:


I believe that an emphasis on pilot testing, experimentation, and identification of both mainstream educator use(s) and optimal training mechanisms before introduction to other educators often would help us quite a bit. Instead of turning off the very educators that we want using many of these tools, some time spent in the ed tech quarantine might go a long way toward facilitating our overall goal of greater technology adoption in K-12 classrooms.

The problem here, and it is a big one, is that in the large majority of cases by the time ed-tech gets through that quarantine period, the web tool in question is either dead or sold out, straining under either increasing advertising or lack of revenue. Or simply out of fashion. Imagine MySpace coming out of "quarantine" now. Or Second Life. Or even Flickr.

In terms of actual implementation implementation web 2.0's OODA loop is so far inside ed-tech's it is like comparing a wedding ring to a hula hoop, and the correct response isn't to imagine a world where we train teachers in five new technologies every year, most of them replacing last year's. It is to make or find stable, open source tools that can be managed and hosted by schools, improved and extended year over year.

Don't Think About IT


The biggest challenge facing successful XO implementation in Western countries is the requirement that schools think differently about computing. If you are concerned with making the XO (or any of the new generation of ultra-portable computers it has inspired) work with your district’s Exchange server on your Novell network with unchanged proxy settings, filtering software and firewalls, then it never will. Such costly I.T. ballast may not work with the children’s machine, but more importantly it will undermine the educational value of the device.

The ingenious mesh networking of the XO or the Mac’s Bonjour networking protocols make seamless collaboration free and easy right out of the box. Unfortunately, many school districts employ expensive personnel who disable this educational functionality deliberately or as a result of overly complex networks serving too many masters.

Imagine approaching the challenge of providing students with home Internet access in a new way. Instead of prevailing upon politicians or telecom companies to install expensive antennas or launch a new satellite, why not have a Mayor say, “My fellow citizens, the children of our city need you to remove the password to your home or small business wireless router so they may work and learn outside of school.”

The future requires us to think of the “network” from the kid up, not the system down. The “children’s machine” ensures that history will be on the side of the student.

This column was apparently rejected by District Administration magazine. The question of how IT is going to work in schools is a key choke-point for innovation, and there is essentially no conversation going on between ed-tech and IT, that I can discern, about how to address the issue.

What Really Stings About Obama and FISA

The best tool for understanding the intersection of technology, society and politics taking place now and in the near future is good science fiction set more or less in the present. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science in the Capital" trilogy, and Little Brother, being notable examples.

Both are fairly optimistic books in terms of the possibility of political change. The election of a progressive insurgent President is a central thread in Robinson's trilogy. Doctorow has state government stymieing federal excesses and ends looking hopefully toward an upcoming presidential election.

Here's what happened in real life: the Democrats have nominated a young, African-American community organizer and constitutional scholar, primarily powered by small donations from citizens over the internet. And... he supports expanding surveillance of US citizens and is unwilling to block amnesty for corporations who illegally invaded your privacy at the request of the Bush administration. That is not how this storyline is supposed to go. If this is the best we can do through the electoral process, then what?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Probably True

Phoebe Connelly:

Here's another example--when will the generation hit when a majority of young job applicants will have an online record of their youthful indiscretions? We're all warned to be careful of our Facebook or MySpace profiles, and I've watched friends hit the point where they pull down or (attempt to) scrub the internet of drunken photos and juvenile blogs. But as social networks explode, aren't we going to hit a point where a large number of high school students have lived a very public online life: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc? Will there come a time when employers Googling a prospective hire turn a blind eye to your online record because, hey, everyone was young once? Perhaps this generation hasn't hit yet, but I'd guess this will be the case for the the high school class of 2006 and beyond.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Simple Answers to Simple Questions: Virtual Worlds Edition

Bruce Damer:

...are we already seeing the early sign of a Virtual Worlds downturn that may lead to a "winter" as severe as the one in the period 2000-2003?


...if this is so, what can we do to head off or reduce the slope of a new downturn? If the infamous "chasm" lies before us, and not back in 2000-2003, then what can we do to sling a rope bridge over it?

Nothing. Don't even try.

Seriously, why don't you just cross everyone up and skip directly to the 2015-2018 virtual world bubble?

via OLDaily

Little Brother

I finally sat down and read Little Brother yesterday. It is both essential and enjoyable. My biggest concerns about the book, from a teacher's point of view, is that it is so closely bound to the present it may be obselete by 2012.

Similarly, I think it is easy to slightly mis-read it as near-future sci fi, when it is so grounded in the present and really the recent past. I mean, for example, the precedent was established almost a decade ago that non-violent protest in the US would be met by para-military forces, chemical weapons and illegal detention, and that the primary source of news about this would be internet media, and that we'd mostly forget about it anyhow, and just sort of wonder about why there isn't an anti-war movement now.

Side question: do any/many school libraries have the capacity to print and bind freely available books like this one at a cheaper rate than they can buy the regular bound version?

Also, based on the set of things they don't seem to already know, I get the impression that many K-12 ed-tech bloggers don't read Cory regularly on Boing Boing. This baffles me.

OLPC in NYC Evaluation

I really like how Teaching Matters after-action report on their OLPC pilot came out. It ends up mostly being a comparison between the XO and other types of "traditional" laptop deployments, and the XO ends up looking quite good in comparison, even taking into account the somewhat shaky software. I don't think you could read this report and imagine that in a middle school you would be better of with one MacBook than five XO's, or 1 low-end pc vs 3 XO's, or 1 EeePC's vs. 2 XO's -- notwithstanding the shaky and mysterious state of OLPC as an organization, and the almost but not quite done state of the software.

Is there Anything to be Done About David Warlick?

In answer to the sub-text of Gary's question(s): Unfortunately, no. I'm afraid we're stuck with him.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Not a Matter of If, but When


As I've written before, Democrats will regret embracing the expansion of executive power because a President Obama will find his administration undone by an "abuse of power" scandal. All of those powers which were necessary to prevent the instant destruction of the country will instantly become impeachable offenses. If you can't imagine how such a pivot can take place then you haven't been paying attention.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Copyright & Opera

In response to this, Tim sez:

Actually, almost everything on the Met stage is covered by copyright. The instrumental and vocal arrangements, the staging, choreography, sets, pretty much everything but the original source material.

Well, for the classical opera repertoire it would be a fairly weak claim. You don't rearrange say, Mozart, much, if at all. Most opera doesn't really have choreography. It could but basically, it has direction. Set design is most clearly covered by copyright, but it would be difficult to enforce outside of blatant rips of distinctive designs. Clothing and fashion generally can't be copyrighted.

I can't find much about actual lawsuits over these issues on a Google, except the famous Urinetown! case of ought six. This quote is helpful:

In the past, only the work of playwrights, choreographers and set designers has been deemed protected by law, but for direction, and costume and lighting design, the situation is much more fuzzy, Shechtman says.

These quotes from an article on the settlement of that case also make an important point:

New York side of the dispute had the support of directors' union the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, which aimed to use the case to boost its longstanding argument for the establishment of a director's copyright on certain staging choices.

The Dramatists Guild of America, which has taken a stance against such a copyright to protect revenues for its member scribes, swiftly touted an excerpt from a Department of Justice intervention in Mullen v. SSDC, et. al, which states "the Register denies that stage direction, as presented to the Copyright Office for registration, is copyrightable subject matter."

It is dead wrong to suggest that the proper action in the case of uncertainty and unsettled law is to sit back, be careful and wait for the court to make an objective decision to determine the Platonic truth of the law. Copyright law is about actors with competing interest pressing their cases, and the accepted practice and facts on the ground do play an important role in deciding where the lines will be drawn, just like the directors and playwrights are jockeying for position above.

Spacewalk: Red Hat Open Sources its Systems Management`

Red Hat has open sourced Spacewalk, its systems management solution. This should be very useful for schools. In fact, I used (i.e., paid for) this service in the past, including at school, when it was proprietary and only hosted by Red Hat and really liked it. This lets you:

  • Inventory your systems (hardware and software information)
  • Install and update software on your systems
  • Collect and distribute your custom software packages into manageable groups
  • Provision (kickstart) your systems
  • Manage and deploy configuration files to your systems
  • Monitor your systems
  • Provision and start/stop/configure virtual guests
  • Distribute content across multiple geographical sites in an efficient manner.

It should be robust enough to scale across an entire school district or region, although Red Hat's thinking is that if you're basing that much of your enterprise on it, you'd prefer the peace of mind that comes with service from Red Hat. But you don't have to. You can pilot it in a school for a year without so much as shaking hands with a salesman, decide if you like it and can reasonably host it locally, purchase service from Red Hat if you can't, or purchase service from someone else, and change if circumstances change. A responsible approach to spending taxpayer money, I'd say.

Gary's Trolling, I'll Bite

Gary's post, The Possibility of Doing Good AND Doing Well, doesn't make much sense, but in particular, the financial turnaround of the Metropolitan Opera doesn't say much about intellectual property. They mostly work from a classical repertoire which is not covered by copyright, costumes aren't covered by copyright, and copyright protection for sets is weak, at best. Acting, singing and directing have nothing to do with copyright.

It is also interesting to note that the Met has traditionally not only broadcast their performance over radio at no cost to the listener, they actually paid radio stations to do it. They distributed their content at a loss!

They have wised up a bit, however, and devised a digital distribution policy which outflanks concerns about intellectual property and copying. What they've done is started doing live digital simulcasts to movie theaters. This is really smart. It retains the sense of opera as a kind of deluxe cultural event while reaching out to a larger audience. Since it is only broadcast to theaters, there is less chance of bootlegging, even if there are bootlegs, it will be difficult to replicate the visual and sound quality of a theater, even if you've got a home theater and a high-def bootleg, you won't get your bootleg live, which they're trying to establish a certain cachet around, even if you could get a bootleg live, if you're interested in opera it is likely that you also value viewing it as a collective experience at a theater (so people can see how cultured you are...) so you're still likely to take that route if you can. Regardless, the more you watch video of opera at The Met, whether it is on a 3" YouTube or an iMax theater, the more likely you are to go to The Met someday.

The point of all this is that none of the above is dependent on intellectual property protection by the state.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Strange Bedfellows

I'm in for $100. You?

The Stoker

It would probably be better if I didn't know this existed.

Taking Down My Lawn Sign

I've taken down my Obama "lawn sign" in the sidebar because I simply cannot support a presidential candidate who will not speak out against telecom amnesty, which has, unfortunately, risen from the dead once again. Every time this comes back, despite its unpopularity, it reinforces the argument that amnesty is necessary to hide something which, even by the standards of the Bush era, would shock the conscience of this nation. This amnesty confirms that there will be no bounds, no bounds whatsoever, in the collaboration between big corporations and the national security state to surveil our private lives.

This bill did not come from Barack Obama, but he is the leader of the Democratic party now, the party that controls both houses of Congress, and if it passes without him speaking out strongly against it, I cannot support his campaign. I've already given $100 I could have given to him to the campaign to stop this bill, and it will be easy enough to send the rest of my contributions this year to EFF and the ACLU.

Ed Porn

There is something vaguely pornographic about "what's wrong with kids/schools today" articles like William Deresiewicz's The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. As with porn, there are a wide selection of fetishes to choose from, and what Deresiewicz is peddling is one of my favorite varieties. In particular, it is just too easy to decide passages like this are about me:

Some students end up at second-tier schools because they’re exactly like students at Harvard or Yale, only less gifted or driven. But others end up there because they have a more independent spirit. They didn’t get straight A’s because they couldn’t be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resum├ęs.

Oh yeah, William, you know what I like!

Beyond the self-satisfying wankery, however, I think this piece does in particular provide an excellent frame for understanding Teach for America, although it requires a somewhat subtle reading, because TFA is not a manifestation of the problems Deresiewicz outlines, it is clearly a response, but it is a response which still fits precisely into the parameters of the world he describes. It fits into his larger picture like a puzzle piece.

Which is not to say, thus, TFA is bad, but I think the article provides rich context for understanding TFA. Particularly if you are observing from, say, Australia.

Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush


I think the evidence is clear that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq because it's run by crazy people.

All is Not Well in the Ocean State

Matt Jerzyk:

Update #9: Shortly before midnight tonight, the House Budget passed by a final vote of 70-0.  It is a testament to the conservative nature of the House Democratic leadership that they were applauded by the House Republicans for essentially rubber-stamping Gov. Carcieri's budget.  Well, at least those Rhode Islanders living in the largest of homes can rest easily tonight, knowing that their millions will be left untouched.  Meanwhile, another kid is kicked off welfare, another parent is kicked off RIte Care, another low-income family faces foreclosure, another town and city will have to raise property taxes.

Congratulations, CCP

Factional warfare expansion achieving its design goals, apparently:

If you told me, as recently as two weeks ago, that in two weeks I’d be sitting in my very expensive logistics cruiser in a sixty man fleet in zero-frickin’-zero, conducting military operations that were superficially similar in appearance to a 0.0 gate camp, I would have told you to stop smoking the crack cocaine. And yet, there I was, and it was cool.

And yes, at some point I'll explain what's going on in EVE right now in a little more detail, but in the meantime I'll follow my usual policy of contextless posts that make sense only to me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Probably a Good Idea for the 21st Century School, Too

Linda Stone:

When I recently visited an old high school friend in Ipswitch, Mass., I witnessed something unusual for most families today. Everything had a place. Cell phones were used at people's desks. Computers were used at desks. The kitchen was a place for meals and family fellowship. Family members were fully present for conversations--enjoying eye contact, listening and a meaningful exchange.

The AP Thing

Atrios gets it right:

More to the point, as Glaser realizes in an update, the AP is full of shit here and there's nothing to talk about. If they want to take this to court, they can, but there are no guidelines to be negotiated here. They don't write copyright law or get to determine its precise boundaries. It isn't for them to determine what is legal fair use and what isn't.

AP has no more right to charge you for quotes than I have to open a toll booth on the sidewalk in front of my house.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Becta and the Open Source Community: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

It is a little difficult to feel confident about one's understanding of government grantmaking in foreign countries, but I think the UK K-12 open source community is justifiably chuffed (guess I have my British slang wrong) upset about Becta's awarding of a £270,000 contract to develop an open source community portal to a company with no substantial open source experience. The Register and ITPro have details.

I think part of the problem here is that it is easy for people to still think of open source as "new" in a way that is no longer valid. Even leaving aside the longer history of GNU, there is a solid decade of serious work behind us now in the K-12 open source community -- things were well underway before I started poking around -- and it is a community with low real barriers to entry. The software's free! We're giving it away! Open source writ large is one of the biggest, most inclusive collaborative projects in the history of mankind.

So in 2008, if you're involved in educational technology and not a part of the open source community, well, you've chosen to not be a part of that community, and to not support our goals, for a long time. Will you still be accepted into that community? Sure. Do you have the authority to lead it? No.

Individual Teacher Bonuses: So Effective We Don't Even Use Them

Apropos of this and the general buzz about merit pay, etc, here's an excerpt from Strategic Designs: Lessons from Leading Edge Small Urban High Schools, (where "leading edge" means some of the more progressive Gates-y schools) by Education Resource Strategies, of which I've obtained a bootleg copy:

Rather than using a compensation structure, Leading Edge Schools tend to attract, retain, and reward teachers in more intangible ways, including opportunities to fill informal leadership roles, collaborate with like-minded colleagues, and know students well and feel they are making a difference in students' lives. All the Leading Edge Schools structure teacher salaries based on years of experience and credentials rather than systematically paying more for content area experience, leadership roles, or other additional areas of responsibility. And most Leading Edge Schools use the local district salary schedules, even when not required, such as for charter schools, and even though their teachers work many more hours per year. [...]

At Pacific Rim, teachers and administrators receive a bonus based 50 percent on schoolwide performance measures (state test results and a parent survey) and 50 percent on individual performance measures. Although in theory the bonuses would vary, in the study year, all staff members received the same $1,500 bonus.

In an unrelated note, ERS is yet another example of a non-profit who takes foundation and public money to write... proprietary software. *Sigh.* Someday we'll all enter the 21st century.

Wincing at the Old Ball Game

Ed Achorn has a nice column on the Grays in the ProJo today.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Who Knew We Needed an Encyclopedia?

Mark Bernstein brings up the point that has always baffled me:

Wikipedia bursts triumphantly on the scene just as everyone had pretty much abandoned hope for the memory of Mortimer Adler's grand project to revive the encyclopedia.

Later... I guess this is a little different than I'd put it. Not so much that people had abandoned hope, but that the whole idea of an encyclopedia seemed antiquated. It is an enlightenment idea, certainly not a post-modern one.

This is, of course, closely related to Mark's later point that "it's been a full generation since people really believed that a neutral point of view was either possible or desirable."

The Meme Chooses You

I'm kind of annoyed that Clay's "cognitive surplus" idea seems to have gotten more traction than some of the other, better developed ideas in his book. "Cognitive surplus" has a lot of truthiness, and I think it is correct in its implication for the present, even if it is dubious historically and is just a bit too easy to loosely glom onto. In particular, I think it is important to position the TV era as very short moment in human history; we need to remember that mass consumption of media is, in its entirety, a recent phenomenon.

My point here, though, is that if you want a good tag for Shirky's recent work, "organizing without organizations" is a much more pithy and fruitful starting point, but this seems to be lost in the shuffle, primarily because there wasn't a new talk on YouTube on the subject, I'd venture.

For Your School (or Personal) Library

Every library should have a copy of Wikipedia: The Missing Manual:

I clearly remember thinking, when I ordered my copy of Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, "this has got to be a new low for O'Reilly. How can it be anything but a waste of a ream of paper?" I mean, "Wikipedia: it's an online encyclopedia that anyone can improve". There, what else is there to say? Throw in the URL and you've got ten words. But having read it, pressed it into someone's hands saying "you have to read this!", and ordered a new copy, I can safely say that it doesn't waste any of its 500 pages and is well worth reading.

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual talks about the invisible Wikipedia—the social and technical structures that you only see when you want to contribute. They're what prevent Wikipedia from becoming the other great social literary institution that anyone can contribute to, a public bathroom wall. It gives practical advice on topics like: how to improve articles, how to dispute something, and dealing with vandalism and spam. It even covers the ever-timely topic of deleting articles and "notability".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Establishment and Me

Matt Yglesias's view of his relationship to the foreign policy establishment could also describe my views on education policy:

To me, though, this is the point. My ideas really are basically the ideas that were at the core of the bipartisan, establishment consensus throughout the Cold War years. And they're ideas that could and should have been the key ideas of center-left think tanks in the post-9/11 world. But that's not what actually happened. Instead, a set of ideas that originally existed as a fringe right-wing position wound up being espoused not only by nearly the entire Republican Party but by a huge swathe of the broader establishment. The kind of institutions that you would expect to try to put the country back on an even keel -- The New York Times's foreign affairs columnist, The Washington Post's editorial page, the top foreign policy officials from the second Clinton administration, the Brookings Institution, etc. -- instead hopped aboard George W. Bush's madcap adventure.

Like everyone else, I do enjoy a bit of anti-establishment posturing now and again. But on another level, I'd really like my ideas to be espoused by the establishment. I think they're good ideas! I'd like them to be implemented! And as Kurtz-Phelan says, I think they've traditionally been espoused by the establishment.

The main difference is that education is much more diffuse than foreign policy, being more local than national (at least in this nation), so I can't say that "my ideas" were once implemented all across the country at the same time, as a coherent set, but as ideas, they've at least each had their own turn in the establishment sun over the past 50 years.

Friday, June 13, 2008



In the long run, I think we should expect Americans to continue manufacturing goods. The idea that manufacturing was shedding jobs primarily because of trade with low-wage countries is something of a misunderstanding. There's less cheap labor in Europe than in the USA but there's plenty of manufacturing over there -- rich countries just tend to manufacture higher-end goods. Even during the manufacturing drought, Americans were still "manufacturing" plenty of buildings. But the economics of cheap mortgages + construction boom + strong dollar + large trade deficit weren't sustainable over the long run and now we need to rebalance toward manufacturing fewer buildings and more stuff to sell abroad.

The Real High School Musical

This Salon article full of links to video of actual high school musicals, is a reminder of something that should be rather obvious in discussions of "participatory culture" and schools: that American schools have always been bastions of "a culture in which private persons (the public) do not act as consumers only, but also as contributors or producers." The difference is just that previously the results couldn't be published to a broader audience. That is no small thing, to be sure, but I'm not ready to say that it makes the work better or more important to anyone other than a professor of media studies.

At some point when you're looking at, say, machinima in schools, you need to remember that kids will have the rest of their lives to create little plays with virtual avatars, but being trapped in a schoolhouse provides a unique opportunity to try it out with actual humans and real props and sets.

The Multi-Tasking Virus

This take (part 1, part 2) by Josh Waitzkin on the drawbacks of multitasking students, inspired by a visit to a retiring professor whose lectures he had found "life changing," is interestingly nuanced:

Over the course of a riveting 75-minute discussion of the birth of Gandhian non-violent activism, I found myself becoming increasingly distressed as I watched students cruising Facebook, checking out the NY Times, editing photo collections, texting, reading People Magazine, shopping for jeans, dresses, sweaters, and shoes on Ebay, Urban Outfitters and J. Crew, reorganizing their social calendars, emailing on Gmail and AOL, playing solitaire, doing homework for other classes, chatting on AIM, and buying tickets on Expedia (I made a list because of my disbelief). From my perspective in the back of the room, while Dalton vividly described desperate Indian mothers throwing their children into a deep well to escape the barrage of bullets, I noticed that a girl in front of me was putting her credit card information into Urban She had finally found her shoes!

He goes on to tie our increasingly restrictive primary and secondary schools to the subsequent problems he sees with attention:

Too many primary, elementary, and high schoolers are being boxed into the mold of conformity required by big classes, competition for grades, tests with multiple-choice questions.

The first grader who leaps to his feet when he figures out the math problem is diagnosed as ADHD and medicated to sit quietly with the class. Young learners have immense pressure to perform, to get good grades, but no one is listening to the nuance of their minds. They feel suppressed, they are suppressed, and by the time students get to college, they have become disconnected from the love of learning. Then they are asked to read 1000 pages in a week and skimming is the only solution. Many of the students who actually were engaged in the Gandhi lecture, the ones who wanted to learn more than to shop, were taking notes on their computers in a frenzy, researching events online while Dalton described them, typing every last word of the lecture. But Dalton had already supplied them with a detailed course packet with all the relevant dates and facts. His classroom is an environment for reflection, introspection, and letting resonant themes sink into your being. Unfortunately, to these college students, the notion of delighting in the subtle ripples of learning is almost laughable. Who has the time?

This is well-trod territory, but I think a good perspective on it, particularly the critical stance toward the students who are engaged, but not really paying attention.

Sherman Dorn Asks a Good Question


In his Manichean spin, Brooks claims that one cannot agree with both manifestoes, and that they represent the status quo camp and the reform camp. But wait: isn't NCLB the status quo, and high-stakes accountability the status quo in many states before that?

This isn't just snark, a lack of consensus of what the status quo is is a pervasive problem in discussions about school reform.

For example, what is the status quo of secondary math instruction in the US right now? Is it "traditional" or "reform" math? The answer to this question seems mostly dependent on what is being taught in your or your children's school district, not any real national data. This, of course, makes a well-grounded conversation about national policy almost impossible.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

GNOME and Sugar

It is a bit depressing that in this discussion of gnome in the age of decadence, looking at where the open source desktop should go next, that Sugar does not come up. Sugar is mostly built on the same technological foundation as GNOME, at least in part by (paid) GNOME hackers. It would be very helpful to the OLPC community if the GNOME community would look at Sugar as being at least a testbed for innovative ideas going forward, and contribute on that basis, but so far it doesn't look like that's happening.

I mean, Sugar literally was a testbed for innovative ideas from a subset of GNOME hackers, but the GNOME community response seems to be "Meh."

Lowsec Suddenly Seems a Lot More Interesting

Jim Bridger:

I really think that if there are militia fleets conducting regular operations in low sec from now on (and I’m pretty sure there will be, with or without rewards), the character of low-sec has just changed dramatically. The pirates won’t be going away, but their risk factor just skyrocketed, which means they’ll have to dial back on their WTFuberPWN shipfits and fly with a lot more humility and care. Result: more opportunity in lowsec for regular folks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Schooling as a Reputation System: Discuss

If I was spending a lot of time thinking about and talking to people about social software and education, I might consider using Yahoo's design pattern library as a helpful reference point.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Green Labs

Chris Dawson:

The room where we have our CAD lab running standalone desktops (relatively efficient desktops with LCD monitors, at that) has the AC cranking as we speak (it’s about 8:15 in the morning here in Massachusetts). The three labs with thin clients all contain more computers, but the air conditioning isn’t running (one room doesn’t even have an air conditioner).


No wonder they're winning.

More Likely Than The Singularity

Or at least as likely.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Paul Krugman's 12 Year Old Critique of "21st Century Skills"

"White Collars Turn Blue":

Perhaps the best way to describe the flawed vision of fin de siecle futurists is to say that, with few exceptions, they expected the coming of an ''immaculate'' economy -- one in which people would be largely emancipated from any grubby involvement with the physical world. The future, everyone insisted, would bring an ''information economy'' that would mainly produce intangibles. The good jobs would go to ''symbolic analysts,'' who would push icons around on computer screens; knowledge, rather than traditional resources like oil or land, would become the primary source of wealth and power.

But even in 1996 it should have been obvious that this was silly. First, for all the talk about information, ultimately an economy must serve consumers -- and consumers want tangible goods. The billions of third-world families that finally began to have some purchasing power when the 20th century ended did not want to watch pretty graphics on the Internet. They wanted to live in nice houses, drive cars and eat meat.

21st Century Careers

Andrew Leonard:

We usually think about technological improvements in productivity as benefiting the highly skilled and educated, and disenfranchising the poorly skilled and uneducated, but what I find most interesting about globalization in an era of $127 dollar-a-barrel oil is that blue-collar workers who make physical things in the West will stand to benefit, newly protected from foreign competition by energy tariffs, while white-collar workers who live off their wits will still feel the immense pressure of competing with everyone else in the world.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Enterprise Rules

O'Reilly Radar: Web 2.0 Is From Mars, Enterprise Is Up Uranus:

We could reframe all the Web 2.0/Internet rules as Enterprise rules quite easily.

Metcalfe's Enterprise Law: The security risk of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users.

Reed's Enterprise Law: The downtime of a network grows exponentially with the size of the network.

Moore's Enterprise Law: If you wait 18 months you can buy twice as much computational power for the same money, therefore you should never upgrade.

Torvald's Enterprise Law: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are exploited.

Godwin's Enterprise Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a lawsuit due to someone being offended approaches one.

Brooks's Enterprise Law: Adding more people to a late software project is the only way to appear to be doing something about it.

Enterprise Definition of Social Software: software that wastes more time as more people use it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Home Field Advantage

I was a little puzzled by the announcement that Ubuntu Netbook Remix would be "OEM-only," meaning that you'll be able to buy a netbook (or whatever you want to call your little device) with UNR on it, but you won't be downloading an UNR installer from Canonical. Rather than just ask someone at Canonical, I decided to try to figure it out, and here's my initial conclusion.

Basically, a Linux distributor does three things directly with software:

  • Modify and create software that is used in the distribution.
  • Package software.
  • Write an installer.

I can't imagine Canonical writing proprietary software as part of this project. Simply from a pragmatic point of view, they would be throwing away years of painstaking community and confidence building. It would wreck their brand. Also, I can't see them messing with their packaging system. It is central to everything they do.

What about the installer? Ah. What does a netbook installer even look like? You certainly can't count on one having a CD drive. USB? Also, they'll probably tend to ship with funky hardware by PC standards, like built in GPS, accelerometers and touchscreens. So creating a generic netbook install image that gives satisfactory results on an arbitrary netbook, as we've become used to in PC-oriented Linux distros, will probably be difficult.

And unnecessary, since netbook vendors have more incentive to squeeze every dollar out of their narrow margins by shipping computers with low software licensing costs, and the success of the Eee PC has demonstrated low cost mini-laptop users will use Linux without batting an eye, they've got more motivation to work directly with Canonical than PC vendors have in the past.

The clincher, which I'm afraid I didn't think of, but picked up on... erm, somewhere, can't find it now, is that UNR devices will ship with Flash and some patented media codecs, which can't be distributed on a regular free Linux ISO. Basically the OEM will be covering the licensing costs to include those things in the base install, but Canonical can't throw that stuff on the web themselves for everyone.

And now I see the UNR page on Launchpad, which fills out the story a bit more...

Comrades, Let Us Seize the Time

It is worth noting that this analysis is completely out of date:

This... brings into sharp focus a scary reality that often gets overlooked (or is it intentionally downplayed?) in educational technology, namely that the Utopian, blue sky ideas of technology as a singular harbinger of possibility and liberation ignores the cold and all-consuming role that capital plays in the shaping of technology as means of control. Now I understand that this struggle is by no means unilateral, and that for every instance of technology as a means to consolidate power for capital, there is another instance in which that same technology can be used to undermine the fallacious logic of capital’s vision of progress.

Capital does not shape software anymore, period. If you or your institution is using proprietary software it is solely due to choice. Hardware and network architecture are a battleground, but one that has no means been lost. This critique has not only been made by organizations like the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but very effective countermeasures have been designed, created and deployed to ensure freedom and a truer, more humane vision of technological progress. But in particular, in software, the power of capital has been decisively undermined.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My Other Blog

Since I can't buy Steve Hargadon a beer to thank him for his many contributions the K-12 open source community, I have to do other things when he asks me nicely, like write occasional posts for the K12OpenTech site. Like this one I wrote last week...

Too Punk For...

It is with no small amount of personal embarrassment that I pause to address the topic of "edupunk," as there could be nothing less punk than typing or speaking that word, but I owe it to my loyal readers to offer my own unique insights to the ed-tech buzzword du jour.

First off, I would like to compliment the community for maturing to the point where it is generating its own bullshit internally, rather than having to import it from the latest pop management, psychology or technology book. Way to take it to the next level!

This is, however, an excellent example of a tried and true formula for a hot discussion -- focus on a single provocative word that nobody even vaguely agrees on the meaning of. See also "modernism" and "constructivism."

In particular, since the etymology of "punk" in this case seems to be primarily "punk rock" > "cyberpunk" > "steampunk" > "edupunk." If punk rock and steampunk actually have anything in common other than both involve making things or music, I don't know what it is. So yeah, you can fall back to "punk = Do It Yourself," but that's pretty thin gruel.

The problem with using "punk" in this context isn't that it is impossible, though, just less well fitting than more obvious alternatives. The more useful connection is not to punk culture but hacker culture. In fact, it isn't even a connection. It is a direct overlap.

Or, if you want a smart, nicely pre-marketed version of contemporary hacker culture, it is Maker culture.

The discussions of the musical and political strands of punk has been a pleasant acknowledgment that there were garage bands before GarageBand, folk culture before participatory culture, and revolutionary ideas before 21st Century Skills.

Secret and Expensive

Andy Carvin:

A San Francisco-based startup named Grockit is working stealthily on what they call an MMOLG - a Massively Multiplayer Online Learning Game. What the game is and how educational it will be remains to be seen, but venture capitalists are throwing money at them. [...]

Will they succeed? I have no idea, and pretty much no one else does either, since what exactly they’re creating is still a closely held secret.

I'm going to go way out on a limb here and predict this won't succeed. Stealthy and expensive are not the future.

The nice thing about reading Andy's blog is that it is like getting a little transmission directly from 1998 every week. Gives me a nice nostalgic feeling, like watching the Pens go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, except not, you know, exciting.

Upcoming Grays Games

Just a note that the Grays will be playing this Saturday at Hope High School in Providence, and before the PawSox game on Sunday. Both start at 11:00. I've got two injured fingers in splints (one on each hand), so I won't be playing, but I will be umping on Saturday.