Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No Child Left Behind law leaving children behind

"No Child Left Behind" news from the New York Times:

1.‘No Child’ Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap

2. What We Learn From School Tests (a blog / debate on recent National Assessment of Education Progress numbers on math and reading progress over the past 30-some years.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Checking out the emperor

Some related links:

Research connects lower grades to Facebook use:

Ohio State University Research News: "Study finds link between Facebook use, lower grades in college"

Time Magazine: "What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades"

Frontline had a segment on a recent program on the impact of the intensive super-connected technology culture in South Korea. The program included a visit to a "digital detox" center for teenagers. I was reminded of the quote from a 5th-grader, courtesy of William Louv: "I like to play indoors 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are." The de-tox program included pitching tents and jumping rope (not sure what the exact context of the activities were, but notably they required being outdoors). That "digital addiction" is a manifestion of nature deficit disorder, and part of the remedy, as Louv writes, is "leave no child inside."

And a related post I made for a class last Fall:

Steve Talbott has written for many years about the dangers of our fascination with, and near worship of, technology. A former technology writer, he wrote The Future Does Not Compute in 1995, and released a collection of essays titled Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in the Age of Machines in 2007. Both books were published by O'Reilly, the respected and prolific publisher of a wide range of technical computer books. The subtitle of the latter book pretty much sums up Talbott's view of technology -- we are challenged to continually remind ourselves that we are not machines, and that computers are machines. "Artificial life" and "virtual reality" are fundamentally different from "real life" and umm real reality. Computers can do remarkable things, but thinking, Talbott argues, is a uniquely human activity (all of the AI research and theorizing notwithstanding). Talbott warns us that we endanger ourselves when we begin to think the way computers work -- reducing the world to quantitative, digital approximations, and then seeing and treating the world as a machine, instead of appreciating its wonderful qualitative, analog complexities.

As a working technologist, I have found Talbott's writing to be inspiring in terms of what it means to be a human being (and not a machine), and deeply helpful in reminding me not to be too swept away by the machines we have created -- to keep technology in its proper perspective. Much of Talbott's writings are available online at He also has an online newsletter (found at that site), called NetFuture: Technology and Human Responsibility which comes out irregularly. To subscribe to the newsletter, go to
And finally, I am reading Todd Oppenheimer's The Flickering Mind (2004). (The subtitle I think sums up his general theme: "Saving education from the false promise of technology".) From the introduction: "One could ... say that in the realm of education, technology is like a vine -- it's gorgeous at first bloom but quickly overgrows, gradually altering and choking its surroundings." (p. xiv).


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Map to all of the collaboration tools in the universe

Check out Robin Good's Collaborative Map of the Best Online Collaboration Tools of 2009. It is impressive, and overwhelming, the number of tools out there.

The map was made with MindMeister, which has a free basic service.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

I think this is starting to come together

Here is a schema of my Web 2.0 world now (it's basically a visual representation of the previous post). Arrows indicate direction of information flow. The size of the nodes indicates relative importance to me right now in presenting myself to the Internet. Everything from me is written or copied/pasted; the technology connecting the other services is indicated on the link. The graphic was created using Kidspiration, mainly to reinforce to myself that it can be used for adult activities.


Still testing

I am still testing how to best integrate blogs, twitter, Google Reader, facebook, diigo and the other tools out there. Ideally, I want to make one posting or bookmark or tweet (forgive me!), and it propagates to all of the web faces I have out there. For facebook, I want the blog items to show up as status updates so people will see short notes that the info is out there (i.e. not just on my Profile).

Blog -> (RSS feed) -> Twitter -> (facebook twitter app) -> facebook status update

Twitter -> (RSS) -> Google Reader
Blog -> (RSS) -> Google Reader (so duplicates the Twitter update!)

Diigo -> (RSS) -> Blog -> [see above, to Twitter and from there to Facebook]

Twitter -> (facebook twitter app) -> facebook status update

facebook link, events, notes -> (facebook widget) -> blog [these are links back to facebook; user needs a facebook account to see the info, so not ideal]

blog -> (facebook RSS setting (via Profile page) ) -> facebook Profile page [but not status update! -- this is redundant to the Twitter status update -- I am also checking out the Simply RSS app on Facebook, to see how it works -- which as the rationale for this post!]

I know I have missed some things. The above begs for a graphic to show the different flows.

Testing 1-2-3.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Diigo in education

After learning about Diigo in a Web 2.0 class a couple of weeks ago, I have been impressed with what it does (bookmarking / social bookmarking). I have especially been impressed with the links I am receiving everyday from the "Diigo in education" group -- Diigo lets you create groups, which others can join, and new bookmarks submitted by anyone in the group are sent out in a periodic (user-controlled) mailing.

Here are some samples from today's email:

The Top 10 Tech Skills Your Teen Needs Now

A People's History of the United States

Multiple Intelligences -- Assessment

Slums around the world

The Sect of Homokaasu - The Rasterbator (this is kinda neat -- you can take a picture and it makes it really big, printing a portion on many 8.5x11 sheets of paper, which you then assemble -- at least that's what I think it does...)

Dimdim: free web conferencing

Etc. etc. etc.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Doing away with Microsoft

The New York Times today has an article of note on Zoho (the link:, which provides a rich suite of online applications. Zoho's offering may appear redundant to Google docs, but the NYT reviewer liked the writing app better and Zoho evidently provides offline editing tools which sounds nice and useful.

CPS's provided email and collaboration tool, FirstClass, also provides a writing app, and is available via the web, although it is slow and cumbersome and has the very very annoying shortcoming of throwing away your work if you press the backspace key with the focus in the wrong spot (the browser takes you to the previous page, sans your work).

And then there is OpenOffice, the open source suite of productivity tools. Our Macs did not come with Microsoft Office on the Mac OS side (it did have the awful Office 2007 on the Windows partition -- how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...), so I though OpenOffice would be a viable solution for our Macs. And it has worked okay -- the Aqua version for the Mac uses the native Mac interface, but there are odd inconsistencies and silly bugs and not so silly ones that are irritating. (Specifically, and off the top of my head: keyboard mapping is consistent I think with OpenOffice on other platforms, but not with the Mac, in particular the laptop keyboard, e.g. Option-Down Arrow to page down -- I cannot figure out how to page down on the MacBook; the RTF save option omits, or rather, screws up simple formatting stuff like centered text; the autocorrection has some oddities; Page Setup is not of the File Menu where I am pretty sure it is for every other app in the universe, instead it is on the Format menu; and we had a very difficult time with the presentation software hanging, but it is better with version 3.0.1). BUT... It is a free and feature-rich offering with a large user and developer community behind it. I am forcing myself to use OpenOffice just to know it and to see if there really is a fulfilling life post-Microsoft. And for the most part, yes, there is life after MSFT.

So why bother with the expense and general trauma of wrestling with Microsoft Office? Mainly because of the dead weight of history, that incredible inertia of user base and training and curriculum material specific to MSFT and .doc files and .ppt files that use some peculiar MSFT feature not ported to the online and open source alternatives. Eventually I think blunders like the Office 2007 interface catastrophe and plain old price will wean educators away from the MSFT teat. In the meantime, us tech teachers should be ecumenical in our approach to applications -- we should be teaching word processing and not Word; spreadsheets and not Excel; presentation software and not PowerPoint. I have found students to be very flexible in moving across platforms and applications.

The biggest obstacle I see right now for going to online tools in the classroom is the legal one of age restrictions on the accounts for students. Related to this is the potential issue, if student accounts come with public email accounts, of Internet safety. But is this really an issue? Don't the students already have their yahoo and hotmail accounts? I don't know. FirstClass could be a good solution, since student email accounts cannot receive email from outside of FirstClass, but the writing app is so difficult to use, and the other main tools, spreadsheets and presentation software in particular as far as I can tell are missing. There is also some risk that the online services will at some point change their terms of use or pricing models. Are they a safe basket to store eggs?

Anyway I have sent an email to Zoho regarding classroom use and student accounts.