Dreams of a Place Never Found

In a book last night, I read of a family in “Paradise,” a small South Pacific island. They had sailed there to escape their lives in the Pacific Northwest. As they stayed in a small cove, and became more accepted the local community, they found themselves invited to more celebrations and events in the village. They made friends with families.

At one point, the author was invited into the room (a part of a hut) of a teenage boy. The view out of his room was of the beautiful cove and the ocean. This view was blocked, however, by travel posters covered with pictures of the French Alps and skiers and snow. He hoped that his mandatory military service would have him stationed in Europe, where he could visit the mountains, play in the snow, mountain climb… It was his paradise.

Technology has sometimes been used to promise a new and better world– remember the advertisement of the man in a fabulous European square who was day trading via his wireless phone and a compuer screen integrated with his glasses? I still don’t understand that commercial…

Anyway, what I’m more interested in is a synergy of technology and lifestyle– a way that the tools enhance what we enjoy, either by creating time or by enhancing those experiences (like sharing with others). This may be more attainable than the “paradise” of the ads, or the false assumptions that technology is a key to unlocking all treasures (note the recent riot to get the $100 four year-old iBooks).

Respect and Collaboration

One thing that continues to amaze me about technology and students is the level of enthusiasm students show for using the new tools. These “digital natives” seem to have an innate desire to want to learn and master the tools, especially in the late Lower School and Middle School years. In Upper School, many students have stabilized, mostly because they create fixed and oftentimes inaccurate decisions about their abilities and needs in terms of technology.

Part of the “negotiation” mentioned in the last post is to what extent we “allow” the tools to be used. This isn’t unique in education– my eight year-old son has a passion for reading, but his teachers much decide to what extent he can chose the material he reads (given that Treasure Island may not be on the immediate booklist for third grade). Technology use, however, is more pervasive across multiple subjects. Thus, the “allow” decisions are harder to make.

This, I believe, is why David Warlick is having trouble with the terms “teaching” and “learning.” Both imply more one-way modes of transfer that are correct, given that students are capable of making at least some of their own content and tool choices, and teachers to some extent should respect and support those choices. This respect is the first step in creating more of a collaborative work environment with students, with the teacher as manager/facilitator, as well as appraiser of the work.

The philosophy of a school may be defined by the level of respect and collaboration that takes place, and in some ways I believe this is different than traditional “constructivist” approaches. Students who branch out into successful research forays (or creative productivity) using technology are not necessarily “constructing their own knowledge.” Instead, they may be developing their own sense of intellectual competency as independent learners, especially if their work is respected by both teachers and peers.

All of this may sound optional, but there may be “escape hatches” for students who know they are capable but not respected. I have met new teachers who are continuing their graduate studies online, for example. They started with traditional graduate classrooms, but then found that they actually preferred the online courses. The preference is based not only on the “convenience” issue, but that they feel more involved and respected when doing collaborate projects and having online discussions. The technology serves as a “leveler” that they appreciate and felt that they didn’t have in traditional classes.

Now, not everything can become collaborative and built on students’ areas of affinity and enthusiasm. There are plenty of subjects and materials that may best be taught in traditional manners. For the full and complete development of students, however, it appears that a balance may need to be struck between sage and collaborator, as far as the teacher is concerned.

Negotiation Instead of Conversation

I just read an interesting post on David Warlick’s blog (2 Cents Worth). He talked about how teachers are quickly adopting new technology communications tools, but maybe not understanding the full change that they represent. Here’s the gist of my reply:

Maybe there are reasons to feel cranky. I believe we were both at NECC last year when the point about Wikipedia “being a conversation about knowledge” was made. I agree with this, as far as “adults” are concerned in their contributions to and use of Wikipedia.

Next: The Future Just HappenedFor our students, of course, different standards have always applied. With our students, the current status is more “negotiation” instead of conversation. Michael Lewis made an interesting point about this in his book Next: The Future Just Happened. Basically, all the tools for individual empowerment and new levels of achievement are here already. However, they aren’t necessarily embraced by those in authority, who in many cases would prefer to believe that they don’t exist.

So, when I go to a conference session about blogging, and see a big room of teachers seemingly sway to the information like a revival meeting, I’m reminded of all of the previous tools that were never fully utilized or allowed to enable students, and I wonder if blogs aren’t simply the next “thing” that are added and then dropped once the “new thing” appears.

As you suggest, the constant change can be used as a way to ignore underlying issues, even if briefly adopted or debated. Culmulatively, however, I’d like to believe that some forms of lasting change are gradually occuring.

The Lunchbox Laptop

A colleague once noted that student computers in the future will look no different than their current lunch-boxes– bright colored plastic and pop culture cartoon characters. Xeon Hello Kitty with WiMax and bluetooth headset (Barbie tiara design, of course).

MIT $100 LaptopNot too many years ago, I handed out dozens of Apple Emates to fourth graders. The cases were made of football helmet plastic. The dark green translucent, however, was pretty calm.

Today, the official photos of the MIT $100 laptop were released. Note the plastic and colors. Note the child-sized hands. I don’t see the Disney stickers yet, but… I digress.

The goal here isn’t to provide kids with computers that look like their parents’ (we’ve done that plenty already). The goal is to reach as many kids as possible with tools that they can have ownership of. That may not mean they take them home forever, but that they are responsible for the “virtual workspaces” that are becoming increasingly important. Cognitive tools, like pencils, paper and laptops, should never be devalued, but in this case maybe the tools are too important to be taken seriously.

Persistence of Online Memory

The extent to which students and adults may protect their identity online can vary widely. Many students in a trusted environment may not even log off computers as they walk away from them in public spaces. As we’ve seen on Myspace.com, students may easily post their entire names and home addresses. Adult professionals have been known to post their entire resume online, complete with social security numbers, address, phone numbers (everything needed to apply to for lots of fun things).

Until recently, it seemed as if there was some security through obscurity, but now that the search engines are so advanced and capable, it seems like almost anything online may become searchable and possibly cached for years of access later, even if it is deleted now. So the “persistence of online memory” grows.

A slower day

Thankfully, this was a slow day compared to last week. In fact, my wife and I were able to get out for a sail on the Columbia River this afternoon– serious bliss.

Tech issue of the day– postage machines and addressing systems. We have a quote from Pitney Bowes, but I’m branching out the search to other vendors for comparisions. The topic is both mundane and relaxing at the same time. Not a bad thing.

The Thrill of No Technology

I just got back from one night at the family beach house over on the Oregon Coast. The decision was made about 30 years ago that the house wouldn’t have a telephone, and even today most cell phones don’t work there. As a result, I normally don’t bother to take a phone or laptop. Instead, I indulge in books or newsletters I’m behind on, normally on non-technology subjects like sailing or bicycling. This trip was no exception– I started studying for my next sailing certification (bareboat) and found myself relaxing in a wonderfully connection-free environment. Such retreats may save many of us as we become increasingly interconnected.

But now, I’m back at work, supporting the Upper School open house. A couple more hours, and I can bicycle home for a restful evening.

A Long Day…

We updated 67 iBooks today– latest updates, GURL Watcher, Apple Remote Desktop, All the Right Type and fixed IPs instead of DHCP. The work went surprisingly fast— once we had the Remote Desktop on, we could broadcast the other two programs. These iBooks are part of our 1:1 laptop program that just started in seventh grade. So far, so good…

So, this is the future…

I wonder if this new “mechanism” for streamlining online communications and services, remotely hosted but managed by individuals, isn’t simply the next stage in evolution for online identities. As a professional, this type of tool could become the norm for “non-company-owned” creative work and expression. Would our speech be limited? Of course, because we all have to protect ourselves, our employers, our families and others to a great extent. However, as a friend notes, the division between public and private is becoming less and less apparent. Maybe the desire to “share” is simply stronger. Worse things could happen.

Exploration Continues…

So far, so good. Yesterday we created a sub-domain of this site for a PHP BB discussion area, and then another for a test Coppermine photo gallery site. They all run on MySQL databases, and they were auto-installed by Bluehost. Pretty impressive– signing up is a cheap course in open source software.

Welcome to K12Converge

Thanks for visiting! I’ve had an interesting afternoon exploring all the open source options provided by www.bluehost.com. There are more than a dozen auto-installs available for blogs, PHP, surveys, calendars, galleries and other online services. It makes me wonder if we should outsource some of our online services through an organization like this one.

But, it’s time to go home. Have a great evening!

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