Microsoft’s “I’m a PC’ campaign created with Macs and Adobe software.

However, not even Microsoft itself can wean itself off the Mac, as the metadata discovered by Flickr user LuisDS points out. Microsoft was not only using Macs but also Adobe’s software in place of its own Expressions Studio, which the company bills as software that “takes your creative possibilities to a new level.”

Read about this and other Microsoft marketing problems difficulties here.

BrainPop gives me a headache.

I have long tried to make sense of BrainPop, a web-based library of short cartoons covering “hundreds of standards-aligned topics within science, social studies, english, math, arts and music, and technology; all supported with engaging movies and interactive assessment tools. Web-delivered and searchable by state standards,”

For quite some time I’ve wondered what a teacher would actually do with BrainPop or BrainPop Jr. Why would you show cartoons in the classroom? Who is the author of the content? How do you know that the information is unbiased, valid, factual or interesting? Shouldn’t “Internet Age,” learners engage with primary sources from a variety of experts with differing perspectives. How can complex issues and concepts from every discipline be reduced to a short cartoon? What do students do after watching one of the cartoons?

My ambivalence regarding BrainPop got more confusing this week after I received a press release announcing SEPTEMBER 11TH IN THE CLASSROOM: BRAINPOP RELEASES FREE MOVIE THAT HELPS ANSWER CHILDREN’S DIFFICULT QUESTIONS. BrainPop is giving away access to a 5:44 minute cartoon explaining the attacks of 9/11/2001. I’ll take the company at its word that it is not exploiting the national tragedy for cynical commercial reasons, but “help teachers communicate with students” about a “sensitive topic.”

With much trepidation I hit the play button. The simple 2-D cartoon features Moby the BrainPop robot and his human friend telling the story of 9/11 in a chronological narrative about the attacks and a bit of background information on the terrorists. The cartoon sticks to the facts with little nuance and one politically-correct perspective. The content was not particularly objective even if you think that children should relive 9/11 even in cartoon form.

My viewing of BrainPop cartoons suggests that too many topics are addressed in too little time, with complex issues, stories or concepts reduced to the most trivial level of education – vocabulary development. The excessive volume of vocabulary introduced in the short 9/11 cartoon almost guarantees a trivial handling of complex and potentially controversial issues. Front-loading vocabulary without context, relevance, and most importantly, experience with the underlying ideas is one of the biggest pedagogical error made by educators. Knowing the names of types of angles without experience working with angles is not mathematics -it’s memorization.

The 9/11 cartoon covers the chronology of the attacks, Al Quaeda, the Pentagon, terrorism, the Department of Defense, Osama Bin Laden, Islam, religious fundamentalism and more in just five minutes! In such scenarios, understanding is unlikely or purely accidental.

Fans of products like BrainPop justify its use by saying, “The kids love it!” By that peculiar standard, why not let the kids go home early or fill them with candy while in class? They love it compared to what? Given the choice between thinking, working or watching TV, most kids will choose the cartoon. The fact that the delivery of BrainPop cartoons is via the Web is inconsequential. This is TV cartoons without the artistry, storytelling or whimsy of great animation.

It is disingenuous to suggest that BrainPop cartoons are just tasty appetizers used to introduce a topic or inspire student interest. In order to justify the annual school subscription of $700-$1,400/year requires the company to make outlandish claims about state standards alignment and that the cartoons meet “the needs of multiple learning styles.” How many learning styles are supported by watching a cartoon?

Like most shallow easily pitched curriculum products, part of BrainPop’s appeal is based on its built-in assessment scheme.

That’s right! You guessed it! If you enjoyed the cartoon about the horrific tragedy of 9/11 you will love the multiple choice quiz that follows.

Turning 9/11 into a game of trivial pursuit in the name of standards alignment or assessment is most vulgar. Asking students to select the first World Trade Center that collapsed first is not a measure of understanding. It is a test of recall and nothing more.

Reducing a recent national nightmare to a cartoon may be in bad taste, but the multiple-choice test that follows reveals our real priorities.

Check out this fabulous bit of video of Daily Show “reporter,” Steve Carell following John McCain’s last campaign for President.

It’s well worth watching through to the end.

From New Yorker’s “Annals of Entertainment: Is It Funny Yet?” by Tad Friend, from February 11, 2002:

“In late 1999, one of the show’s correspondents, Steve Carell, boarded Senator McCain’s campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, and asked the candidate to name his favorite movie and his favorite book. Then, with no change in his expression, he asked McCain how he could reconcile his criticism of pork-barrel politics with the fact that “while you were chairman of the Commerce Committee, that committee set a record for unauthorized appropriations.” For a long moment, McCain was speechless. Carell started laughing. “I’m just kidding!” he said. “I don’t even know what that means!”

“That’s a true fact, that question,” [then-head writer Ben] Karlin said. “And McCain was caught in the headlights. But we punctured it with a joke, so all you’re left with is funny and awkward. It’s bittersweet.”

Thanks to this article in the Huffington Post for calling my attention to this video gem.

Genius game designer Will Wright‘s new computer game, Spore, is available today. Will Wrights it the inventor of SimCity and The Sims.

According to the fascinating description in Wikipedia,

[Spore] allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its beginnings as a unicellular organism, through development as an intelligent and social creature, to interstellar exploration as a spacefaring culture. It has drawn wide attention for its massive scope, and its use of open-ended gameplay and procedural generation.

The flexibility, customization and extensibility of Spore may make it truly worthy of the “edugaming” hype touted by many educators. Spore benefits from the efforts of a singular vision. It’s many forms of gameplay may be attractive to a wide range of users.

Take a look at Spore here.

Joe Lieberman… Change You Can Believe In!

“I was for Barack Obama before I was against him…”

Click the graphic above to learn more about this exciting Educon 2.1 preconference event!