Saturday, July 25, 2009


I started using diigo a few months ago to keep track of links that I found. Mainly I dump them there so I can keep track of them, but diigo is nice for also sharing them with the wider world. Most of the resources relate to education or math, though I think there are some other odds and ends in there.

Before that I used Portaportal, but it's functionality (describing, tagging, sharing, listing, etc.) is limited (here is a link to my Portaportal page, but I stopped adding to it several months ago). Before that, I did my lists by hand (here is a link to my teaching math resources page), but it has been too cumbersome to maintain, and while generally available on the web, not as rich in features as a site like diigo. I tried delicious at one point, but couldn't get comfortable with it.

One of the most useful features of diigo has been its "group" feature. I am a member of the "diigo in education" group, and as a result, I receive a daily summary of new links that other members of the group have found. Links include both online activities as well as news articles on education. This has been an ongoing source of good new (to me) resources.

I have not been so good about sharing my links with others, except for whoever stumbles upon them via diigo.

I now have over 300 links on my bookmarks page organized into almost 50 lists. When I moved my Portaportal links over, the associated lists did not all transfer, so some of those links may not be in any lists. A number of the links have no description, so there is the danger of the links being orphaned in my diigo attic (now that's a rather bizarre mixed metaphor). This points to the general problem of Internet resources, the challenge of adequately indexing the material so relevant material can be quickly retrieved. Google of course is one blunt tool for retrieval. Librarians have been sensitive to this issue for a long long time. Diigo uses tags, which I have not taken advantage of until recently. The drawback with tags is the variety of tagging terms that people use.

Looking through the links, I am once again reminded first how much stuff is out there, and how the Internet is pretty amazing at making the stuff available. And second that there isn't so much a shortage of resources, but of the time to review, select and absorb the resources into one's teaching practice. That old metaphor about putting your mouth up to the firehose of information...


P.S. In case you were wondering (why would you wonder?), this was posted to satisfy a course requirement.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tech and ed spending in today's WSJ

Today's (7/23/09) Wall Street Journal reports on technology spending in education. The article is a bit confused, replicating many of the "e-lusions" that Todd Oppenheimer described in his book a few years ago. The article described federal stimulus money going into educational technology at the expense of money for teachers and other educational needs. The money has significant strings attached -- it's only for technology and tech training. So while teachers are laid off, classroom sizes expanded, and programs cut, more machines are being thrown at an educational system in crisis.

The fundamental fallacy is that machines can replace humans in education. The article repeats common dodgy research claims: a school district introduced laptops, and student scores went up over the next few years ("Sixth-graders taught with laptops the first year saw their reading and math scores rise 27% and 15%, respectively, by eighth grade, says District Superintendent Jerry Vaughn." Uhh -- they go up anyway; that's why the ISAT cut points go up for each grade level.

One North Carolina district saw signigicant gains after going to a one-to-one laptop program, but as with most tech and ed research, there is no basis for attributing causality to the laptops. My experience does support one observation by a school official: "Dr. MacNeill credits these advances in large part to the technology program, which she says has made the students 'more engaged, more active in their learning' and made school 'more purposeful and relevant to them.'" I think there is a sad statement about education and students in that statement though -- a sublation of some sort. Relevance is found in the interaction with an electronic device; and there is something in there about achieving engagement via consumption rather than self-generated. Some completely different physiological or neurological state is in play.

Some of the technology programs are accompanied by training in student-centered instruction:

Many districts receiving these funds are looking beyond simply equipping classrooms with the latest gadgetry ... in favor of rethinking the way education is delivered. In some tech-equipped schools, teachers are playing a less-dominant role in the classroom, group work and problem-solving are emphasized...

Ms. Herdman [district head of ed tech] envisions such a transformation in North Kansas City. “It’s no longer going to be ‘Turn to page 10 and look at this,’ ” she says. “It’s more collaborative work, the learning style is inquiry-based, and the teacher is guiding, facilitating learning rather than lecturing.
Which is to applauded I think, and is a responsible way to incorporate technology into the classroom. But Herdman adds, "It’s about teaching the curriculum using technology as your vehicle." I question the necessity of delivering the curriculum via technology -- it may be possible (even about that I am not so sure) -- but if so it is an expensive, and unhuman, way to do it.


Friday, July 3, 2009

What good is the Internet for education?

I am taking a course from National-Louis this summer on designing Internet resources for teaching. One of the course requirements is a series of blog posts, which I will be posting here. The first topic is a reflection on the value of Internet resources for education.

What good is the Internet for education? The Internet is so many things now that there are many ways to think about its role in education. Thinking in terms of education roles, it is a conversation space, a meeting space, a filing cabinet, a classroom, a bulletin board, a library, and many types of museums. It is a printing press / radio or TV station / movie theater (where you can be the projectionist or an audience member). It's also a shopping mall, collaboratory and playground (of sorts). Thinking of Google Docs or Zoho, It is many types of computer applications, and the metaphors that they embody. I am sure I have left out important roles, and given short shrift to some. In all of these cases, the economics of the Internet mean that the Internet is a tremendously cost-effective resource for education. So one can interpret its value in a quantitative, monetary sense (quite high), or qualitatively, in terms of (for example) surprising discovered connections, social or otherwise.

On the other hand... It is important to remember what the Internet is not. It is not "right there" -- it can only be reached through electronic devices, and those magical gateways, although not that hard to find these days, are not ubiquitous or free. It is not nature, the real natural world. It is not tactile, physical, sensual world . It is not a real room where one can enjoy the richness of face-to-face interaction. The Internet experience is mediated through electronics, a bundle of media that exerts certain pressures on experience, and so alters and shapes and constrains it. The Internet, hyperlinks notwithstanding, is a programmed experience, where the rules governing interactions are limited by the imagination of the developers or the capabilities of the hardware. And all of the social networking opportunities notwithstanding, it is still a terribly segregated space, of like communicating only with like.

So while there is obvious and real value for education in the Internet, there is also a seductive lure to it. There is the danger that education gets swallowed up by the Internet. That educators might confuse the world with its (relatively) tiny subset, the Internet. Because the digital Internet is, if you are sitting in front of a screen, right there, easier to deal with than the messiness of the analog world.

Here is a more interesting question to me: What is the value of the Internet for education, versus leaving the school building, and spending an hour investigating the empty lot across the street?