What could possibly go wrong?

This should make visual voicemail even more unlikely than on a non-approved carrier.

It’s hard to believe, but Labor Day weekend marks the first anniversary of The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate. That’s like 365 days in Web 2.0 time!

I can remember how exciting it was when the site went live and librarians all over the world took umbrage with Dr. Roger Schank’s article, The Library Metaphor. It was an auspicious start to a great year of publishing.

I am incredibly grateful for the remarkable contributions from some of the brightest thinkers in education.

Stay tuned for a site redesign and new contributing editors in the near future. In the meantime, join us online at The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate!

You may of course subscribe to the entire site or a specific author’s work via RSS.

Apparently, a school district may skirt the law requiring the employment of “highly qualified” teachers by waving a magic wand and wishing.

Federal Loophole Lets Interns Be Called Highly Qualified Teachers


This reminds me of one of my favorite articles, When I Run the Navy (Call me Admiral Stager)


Here is my August 2007 column from District Administration Magazine…

My Plan to Fix NCLB

Save a seat on the bus for me!


Photo by Andrew Vdill
http://flickr.com/photos/andrewdill/222033303/

Greetings from Bratislava, Slovak Republic. I’m here as one of the plenary speakers at Eurologo 2007.

I wrote a new paper for Eurologo 2007 that may be of interest to you.

Towards the Construction of a Language for Describing the Potential of Educational Computing Activities

Here is the abstract for the paper. I look forward to you reading it.

Abstract

This paper represents a first attempt at constructing a language for describing the potential learning value of computers as a learning material. A lack of precision in describing the value computers add to the learning process has paradoxically made it easy for people to elevate the significance of using computers in pedestrian ways while simultaneously marginalizing higher-order uses such as Logo programming. Colleagues are invited to extend or challenge this paper’s hypotheses.

In the early 1980s Seymour Papert was dissatisfied with Robert Taylor’s metaphors for the use of the computer in education. Taylor wrote about the computer as a tool, tutor or tutee (Taylor, 1980) while Papert described the computer as “mudpie” (Papert, 1980a; Papert, 1984) and then later more generally as material. (Papert & Franz, 1987) The tool metaphor dominates most discourse regarding the use of computers in education. Educators and policy-makers alike use it to describe nearly every application of “technology.” It would be impossible to list all the examples of “computer as tool” in common usage or even scholarship.

This work attempts to define the continuum that lies between the use of computers to reinforce traditional practice and the powerful ideas Papert writes of in Mindstorms. (Papert, 1980b) While Papert’s subsequent work provides examples of the construction of powerful ideas he fails to identify less powerful uses of computers. This may be the result of simple omission or a desire to appear polite. In either case all manner of computer-based activities have been granted equivalence by an education community lacking a precise metric for assessing value. When combined with the liberal and often inaccurate use of terms like constructivist we are left with a culture of intellectual relativism in which the loudest voice sets the standard.

Dichotomies like conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive, Democratic/Republican are inadequate for describing educational philosophy and its resulting translation into practice. Papert’s instructionism versus constructionism seems a more precise way of describing one’s learning theory and the practice that follows.

It seems impossible to invent an empirical metric for measuring the efficacy of computer use in the context of education. There are simply too many variables involved in a complex system such as education. The nature of learning is even more difficult to quantify in anything but a reductionist fashion. Therefore, I propose the creation of a continuum that spans the gulf between traditional education routines possibly enhanced by the use of a computer and the sort of powerful idea construction only possible with the purposeful use of the computer. The subjectivity of the examples are acknowledge, but are intended to generate discussion.

My 2005 Eurologo paper may be found here.

When you write an academic paper you anticipate that few people, with the possible exception of your Mother, will read your tremendous scholarship. Now technology is making the situation even worse.

I’m in Bratislava speaking at EuroLogo 2007 and while the abstracts for each session are published in convenient book form, the actual papers are on a CD in the back of the proceedings.

This means that even fewer people will read the conference papers and fewer yet will have read them before the presentation. This leads some speakers to commit the sin of reading their paper aloud to an increasingly sleepy audience.

Here’s a cute little wrinkle in the Wikipedia story. CIA, FBI Computers Used for Wikipedia Edits. Apparently, the FBI and CIA are “fixing” the history of the Iraq War and the US prison in Guantanemo Bay before the history is even written. The Bush Administration has never hesitated from changing online press conference transcripts or “tinkering” with the ERIC and What Works databases. These folks sure are through!

How will you explain this to your computer literacy students?

A few days ago I wrote the following article about the efficacy of “Baby Einstein,” Finally, An Alarmist Study I Can Get Behind, for The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.

I was pleased with the effort until I read Chris Kelly’s Huffington Post article, Bush Baby Einstein. It’s a doozy! He really connects the dots and tickles the funny bone.

Bravo Chris! I’m not worth! I’m not worthy!

Will Richardson’s blog reminded me to share some thoughts I’ve been ruminating over for several years. Will does an outstanding job of spotting and sharing new software tools, particularly those of the Web 2.0 variety. Some of these tools demonstrate human ingenuity, many make a small improvement on existing software and one or two may even make a real splash, in either social impact or as a commercial product. Will’s recent blog posting, Mind Mapping Love, discussed new online tools for brainstorming, mapping and planning.

Upon reflection I felt compelled to ask, "After all of this mapping, brainstorming and planning, what do the students actually do? Is it better than what they wrote, filmed, acted, composed or constructed before such tools existed? What’s the point?"

I began asking such questions a few years ago when I keynoted a national educational technology conference overseas. The walls of the convention center corridors were lined with display boards containing student work. One would assume that this work exemplified the most extraordinary efforts from this nation’s classroms. However, upon further inspection I saw walls covered in three bubble Inspiration maps. Plants need… Water, Sunlight, Cool-Whip… That sort of stuff.

I was horrified. Why would we display such crap on the walls of a national conference?

This is like publishing an outline of a novel, without the novel, except it is worse than that. What I routinely see in schools is the equivalent of publishing the first three words of the outline of a novel without ever writing the novel. It’s then printed in fancy fonts and framed by brightly colored construction paper before affixing to a bulletin board. I’ve seen it a zillion times in classrooms all over the world. The pride educators gain from such incomplete work is an acute example of what Seymour Papert calls verbal inflation.

Again, what’s the point?

I have no reason to doubt that Will Richardson was an amazing teacher who inspired his students to express themselves with a clarity and fluency beyond their years. With Will’s guidance mind-mapping, brainstorming or outlining resulted in exceptional writing or journalism. But what about his protegés? Do the students of Will’s many followers produce work they can be proud of? Do their efforts justify the investment in hardware and software? Based on my observations, I fear not.

I often wonder why the package, Inspiration, has been such a runaway success. Almost every school with a computer owns a copy, while countless schools have it installed on every computer. One would think that all of this planning would lead to an explosion in creativity and dramatic improvements in student communication abilities, but aside from small anecodotal examples, no such evidence exists. Admittedly, my inner cynic gets curious whenever large numbers of educators are suddenly excited about anything. I like to know why.

Perhaps the enthusiasm for pre-writing tools, such as the Inspiration and the ones Will writes about, is based on the fact that schools hate process. Pre-writing/planning/brain-storming represents the first stage of a four or five part writing process. In order to gain benefit from this process, each stage must be completed. No step of the process is more important than another. They are equally critical. Well, at last that’s the theory.

The reality of school is that teachers routinely cherry-pick the part of the process which best suits them or fits within their time constraints. This has a lot to do with why "whole language" was vilified. Teachers embraced the invented spelling aspect of the pre-writing and writing stages, but never got around to actual editing or publishing. Putting invented spelling on the wall or in publications that leave the classroom is asking for trouble.

Some teachers focus on an essay’s cover, word count or fonts used while others brainstorm, but never get around to having the children write anything of substance.

This might be because writing is so hard and teachers are insecure about their own writing. An even more likely hypothesis for why the writing process rarely leaves the starting gate is time. It takes a wizard or decathelete to edit 150-200 pieces of student writing, so why require it? Even orchestrating effective peer-editing procedures takes time few teachers enjoy between the bells and other structural distractions of the modern school day. So, we skip a few steps. Favoring one step over the others tends to undermine the entire process.

We all had at least one teacher who required that an outline be turned in, even if it was written after the essay. Such requirements are profoundly indifferent and disrespectful to each distinct learner. With modern outlining tools the curriculum is too often on identifying the form of brainstorming or the shape of a mind-map, rather than on what should be the product resulting from the tool’s use. Too many teachers focus on the mechanics of these tools at the expense of developing articulate creative students. Not every writer requires an outline and most "real" writing results from a much more fluid process.

Another potential reason for the emphasis on brainstorming and mind-mapping is that the activity lends itself to being teacher-centric. I’ve seen countless demonstrations of pre-writing in which the teacher solicits ideas from the class (with differing degrees of coercion) and then creates the visual representation on the board or computer via projection. The locus of control shifts away from the learner to the teacher. The proliferation of expensive "interactive" white boards ensures that the teacher will never relinquish control or stop dominating the life of the classroom.

Writing is inherently learner-centered. Great writers know that writing may only really ever be taught mano a mano. Effective teachers use a bag of tricks to distract the rest of the class or create peer editing situations, but writing is a recursive process of continual writing and revision. That’s MUCH harder to do than make a diagram, print it out and stick it on a wall (or web page).


There are any number of things I read in other people’s blogs that I would like to respond to. However, I must carve out the time needed to craft a thoughtful response.

The nature of the user interface of blogs is such that “he who hesitates is unread.” If you don’t response quickly, you’ve lost your chance to engage in the discussion. Once a few readers post replies, people stop reading.

As soon as the author posts the next blog, the collective memory of the community abandons the previous topic. It’s 4:03 AM and I must surrender to sleep soon.

I HATE THAT!


Engarrafamento photo by Fernando Lins http://www.flickr.com/photos/littera/281029688/