Within the Shelter

As we move through a time of gathering with family and friends over the holidays, it’s worth considering the value of our closest relationships. One may not choose or even like one’s brothers, sisters or parents, but there’s no question that life-long connections are made when we grow up and grow older.

Shelter of Each Other Book CoverYears ago, I really enjoyed reading The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families by Mary Pipher. She recounts several case histories of families that repaired significant rifts and problems by increasing family time and decreasing distractions and interruptions. A key source of interference was technology– the 24×7 cell phones, computers, television, iPods, and “work from the office” that can change “at home” to “not at home even if present.”

Having grown up in a “camping” family that then built a basic beach house, I feel that I’ve benefited from much of the advice Pipher offers to others. Getting away from technology and spending time in spaces where family members really connect with each other can be tremendously valuable. I’ve seen the same argument made by “small space” architects and what they claim are the most cherished spaces for family togetherness. Last week as my family spent hours reading, talking and playing in a 16 ft in diameter yurt (at an Oregon State Park on the coast), I think we were hitting the marks.

Pipher wrote a great book. I’ve recommend it to parents (who are often thinking or struggling with how to deal with these issues), and several have thanked me years later for encouraging them to read it.

Shattered Sphere

Podcast SiteNow that the school holidays are here, I have time to explore some online areas I’ve heard about. One space I played in last night was the Podcast and Video Podcast areas at the Apple Music store. One thing I didn’t know is that most of them are free downloads. The second thing I didn’t know is that podcasts are becoming source of both main stream and alternative media.

Not that we deserve it, but we do have one of the new video iPods, and we’re rather impressed by the image quality of the videos. I might even buy some shows to watch on my next flight.

Of course, as we get more used to our favorite radio and TV shows on our iPods or computers (or TVs with media center PCs), will that have any effect on education? Maybe not. Or, will some faculty begin to share lecture and presentation content via Podcasts. Some are already, of course, but is this going to jump the gap and go mainstream someday?

How would the typical class change if more of the faculty-specific content was delivered on-demand at-home and more of the classwork was devoted to process (discussing and creating). I don’t know if this would be effective for the majority of students, but the concept of “reversing” the role of homework and classwork is interesting. It may also lead to changes in the way that we see faculty as content creators, and the implications of copyright and re-use thereof.

I’ll be gone the rest of this week– off to a yurt on the Oregon coast. I’m certain we’ll have rain, wind and cold as we huddle as a family in our 16 foot circle. Sure, I know it sounds like a psych experiment gone bad…

The Laptops Cometh

Dell X1 LaptopYesterday, we had finals in the Upper School. Laptops and computers are actively used for finals, including laptops brought from home. Our total count at one point yesterday was 235 computers in use, of which 132 were school owned. That means that we had 103 laptops brought in from home. Of these, approximately 55% were PC, and 45% were Macs.

We’ve been tracking this for about three years. Each year, there’s been about a 15% increase in total number of laptops from home. There’s been about a 7-8% increase in the percentage of Macintosh laptops each year.

It’s worth noting that we had no significant network or computer problems yesterday, other than a handful of individual system trouble-shooting issues.

Ultimate Space

We had an interesting “tech team” meeting yesterday when we tried to synthesize all the incoming data about student use of online profile pages, parent involvement, impressive uses of school collaborative websites, and the general trend data.

First off, the wild, woolly and hard-to-monitor options for online profile pages are not going to go away. So what are we offering as better alternatives?

SharePoint ExampleWe already do a lot of class-based work on public and password-protected SharePoint sites, but they aren’t individualistic like Facebook pages. How could we build an online community for students, faculty and staff that would be the “ultimate space” for interaction, sharing and academic work?

This wouldn’t be just a social network system, but it would have many elements of the Facebook site. The members should be able to run and individual bog, store and share files, create image libraries, have direct access to other community members (including IM and online presence indicators). Like Facebook, they should be able to create their own groups, and have automatic access by their classes to other students’ profile pages in that class.

Unlike Facebook, faculty and staff should have the same access to the student profile pages and groups. Everything and everyone should be on the same authentication system (perhaps Active Directory), and access from outside groups and individuals should be possible but not uncontrolled. Students could grant access to outside friends, but these access lists could be clearly recorded and accessible.

As for “policing,” the same standards as for student email accounts would apply. The community would be managed by the school, and claims of mis-use or harrassment will be immediately investigated. A similar, but separate environment could be created for parents to share more information with each other on an optional basis. A similar but separate system could be created for alumni.

In the first years, use of the community could be low. Over time, the advantages of the system would likely become clear. One important advantage would be the access by faculty, and feedback from them on the pages and information shared by students. It could be an important part of their academic work, and regarded as such. This would never happen on unified basis with students using a plethora of outside profile pages.

So, what’s the tool for this? Blackbaud or Blackboard? SharePoint 3? Some sort of open source software? We don’t know yet, but we’re thinking about the ultimate space.

Advice in Motion Update I

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas to my “advice in motion” posting last week. The goal was to create a set of parent recommendations about their kids and online use, as well as student recommendations. The overall goal was to emphasize that online safety is the same as “real life” safety, and parents play a central role in enabling their kids to be street smart in both environments.

So far, we’ve completed our set of recommendations for middle school parents. They were sent out in our monthly technology newsletter. This newsletter (and the recommendations) is available at http://www.oes.edu/technology/TechWise_12_9_05.pdf. As a follow up, we will be meeting with parent groups about the recommendations, and creating special presentations by grade level for students.

We’re now revising and changing this list for the upper school parents. There are several recommendations that change for older students, but the primary premises are similar. It’s interesting, for example, that MySpace.com recognizes that it enables certain online dating features, and that is one reason it has an age limit of 14 (often abused). However, does that mean that online dating features are fine for kids ages 14 and above?

This exercise was labeled “advice in motion” since this is a developing issue that is in progress and has been active for some time. I’ll post a link to our upper school recommendations when they are incomplete, and they will include some data we received from a recent survey of upper school students about these issues.

Low Stress Program Design

NECC Conference InfoIt appears that I’ll be presenting my “Low Stress Laptop Programs: Designs and Implementation” session at NECC 2006 next year. This session will share research and examples of the impact of key stress factors concerning the planning, initiation and sustaining of student laptop programs. Factors such as cost, parent concerns, integration strategies, technology support, and aging equipment will play a role in every evolving program, and this session will share innovative ideas and program designs that directly address these issues. By creatively responding to these problems, we may discover a clearer image of what laptop programs will truly become.

I’m currently scheduled for Wednesday, January 5th at 2 p.m. NECC is a very large conference, but the range of offerings is amazing. I especially like the research paper presentations. Feel free to check out the online FAQ about our current laptop program.

Relevant and Valued Goals

David Warlick just published an interesting post on his site, 2 Cents Worth. He replied to a comment I left at his site in which I wondered aloud if we would be soon be providing “internal” blog/profile sites to all students, just as we did email accounts a few years ago. What is happening on Facebook is interesting but unmonitored (by individual schools) and relatively unvalued. Internally provided profile sites could be monitored and more protected from the general Internet. At first, they likely wouldn’t be heavily used (just as the first school-provided email accounts weren’t), but as time passes their value may grow and be recognized (at the same time that abuses are reduced).

Here’s my response to his post:

Interesting response– I like your last sentence best. What stands out is recognizing the students’ world, and how we can have a positive impact on it. Providing relevant goals is definitely part of it, as is recognizing the value of what they achieve.

My situtaton is unique, but becoming less so as time passes. I’m at a private independent school and close to 100% of our familes have had computers and Internet access for some time. 120 of our upper schoool students just responded to a computer use survey, and we found that about 50% have blog/personal profile pages (such as myspace or facebook), and of those about 25% check them daily.

Now, if you’ve plugged “Facebook” into Google News lately, you’ll find fascinating reports about how college students are using the service. It’s reported that 85% of the students are registered at some institutions. A teacher told me today that her college-aged daughter says, “You have email, we have Facebook.” If you read the reports, it’s now playing a major part in their lives, mostly good but some bad.

Facebook now has a high school section, and it is growing. As educators, I believe we need to stay in the loop as much as possible and have a positive impact. I feel we’ve done this with email, and now I believe we need to step up to the plate on this. Much of your response refers to “teaching technology skills.” Obviously, half of our students have figured out how to create and use these sites, but it’s clear that their use could be more mature and forward-thinking– just as with the abuses of email in the past. They also need clearer goals to accomplish, as you suggest.

To do this, we have to find a little common ground to understand “their world” and have a little patience. In some ways, we need to experience it in order to advise, which is mostly what I’m learning from the blog I’ve created. All of this seems to be more under the heading of self-presentation, communication and positive networking, rather than technology skills.

Along with this is the critical need for parents to be in the loop and to be central in the process of helping their children be “street smart” online. In a day or two I’ll share some of the guidelines we’ve developed for this.

Balancing Respect and Accountability

A wise upper school head once told me, “If you make rules that can’t or won’t be enforced, you simply lose the respect of students.”

In our middle school laptop program, we recently added Apple Remote Desktop to all of the iBooks. At first we added it simply to improve the way we installed software and updates on all the machines. Then we found the inventory feature works well. Finally, we found that “view remote desktops” works remarkably well, even in a wireless environment. Our middle school technology coordinator is not the “big brother” type at all, but if he observes students using iChat or other programs when they are not supposed to, he shoots them a message directly with Apple Remote Desktop. He’s demonstrated the software to the students so that they can see exactly how it works– including how nine student screens can be observed in real time.

I think we’ve all struggled with the idea of computers empowering students versus computers monitoring students. At this stage, if we consider total use of comptuers by students (at-home as well as at-school), it’s fairly clear that students have plenty of recreational time, and maybe too much time unobserved or unmonitored. If we’re serious about trying to change the culture of computer use so that they are more tools than toys, it’s probably time to have rules that are clearly enforced. I have a lot of respect for the way most students use computers, and even slight increases in accountability may lead to more trust. With that, everything moves forward.

Crop Variation

On a dark day a couple of years ago, we fought a campus worm that was blasting away on the network. As we regained control and patched PCs left and right, we were able to let our Mac users know that they weren’t affected.

Windmill in wheat fieldAt some point, a science teacher brought in his Dell Latitude for “the fix,” and commented that he finally figured out why we were cross-platform. “It’s crop variation, right? Societies that base too much of their food supply on a single crop leave themselves wide open for disaster when that crop fails or is ravaged by a disease.”

We agreed, of course, taking credit for something clever we hadn’t thought of. It’s true, however, that the different operating systems we run do appear resistant to different types of problems. In general, I’ve always wanted to do a conference presentation called “The Future Is Messy,” in which I’d argue that there is a zero chance of a single platform future. Cross-platform environments are more of a challenge to support, but they are worth the effort. Personal computers are supposed to be personal, and respecting and supporting the choices of faculty and students in this regard can pay handsome dividends. In the near future, won’t all upper school students be chosing and supporting their own systems, for example?

Students– Are They Heard?

I just got done drafting a Zoomerang survey for upper school students. We talk in general about their interests and needs all the time– but it’s time to get some direct numbers and ideas. Questions I have so far include online identity information (how many email and IM and Skype addresses, and how many online profile pages, and how often used), as well as best and worst experiences with computers.

iPod Video PlayerOne idea for the “Advice in Motion” concept in yesterday’s post– a competition for students to create recommendations for others about safe and productive online communications and networking. We might offer a new iPod Video player to the student who creates the best set of recommendations and guidelines, with supporting examples. We’ll also have runner-up prizes, and then create a 2005/2006 composite document for all upper school students. Next year, we’d hold the competition again in a way that builds on this year’s event.

I like this idea– challenge students to become authorities, and let the expert users think about what is best for all.

“Advice in Motion” Recommendations

I did some research on Facebook.com last Friday. I gained access to the site for a few hours to look at our upper school representation, and I found about 31 students with registered accounts there. Overall, the interactions I saw were more mature than those at MySpace.com, and I saw more links to students known from other schools. There were also picture libraries, full names and even some phone numbers. Nearly all the profiles were “fully open” to other students at our school, as well as to students from other schools by invitation.

Then I did some news searches about Facebook and found several articles from college newspapers about the service. Facebook started in only February of 2004, but it already has 9 million college students at 2000 institutions registered, and it adds 10 to 20 thousand new accounts each day.

It’s worth doing a Google News Search on Facebook: many colleges and universities are becoming involved with disciplinary and privacy issues surrounding the site. Some colleges are trying to ban the site entirely. At others, college police are using the site for research on inappropriate or illegal activities (and possibly evidence). Some college newspapers are using Facebook profiles, pictures and information for articles, and reposting pictures and text from the sites for news articles about drinking and other rules violations. Facebook lawyers argue that this is a violation of the user agreement because the information is being reproduced without permission from Facebook, yet the college newspaper advisors argue that the materials are “newsworthy” and not protected. There are also stories of students not getting campus jobs after their profiles were reviewed.

Facebook, MySpace.com, LiveJournal and several other such sites have been a topic of recent discussion on this list, but I sense that a gray area exists that isn’t necessarily covered by the “Internet Safety” advice we give to students. Just as face-to-face harassment is difficult for students to discern from “joking and friendship building,” so are the types of information exchanged on these sites.

Given this, I think we need to develop better “Advice in Motion” materials for students. I’m working on the Defense and Avoidance policies suggested by Jason Johnson, but at this point I think we also need to fully define the use of the online spaces for gathering information about others and sharing information about oneself. The lines between online and actual identities (and the public and private) are becoming hopelessly blurred.

What I find most fascinating about my own blog is how I have to balance my writing to be both personal and public. I want to share experiences and ideas about educational technology, but at the same time I have to write carefully, knowing that the site is not just for me or my friends, but also for my local colleagues and possibly future friends and collaborators. The care and thought needed to craft a public set of postings with this in mind is significant, but rewarding. Most importantly, I feel I’m learning about what students need to consider as they create a public persona online that may be seen by far more people than just friends.

I’d be happy to hear from others for “Advice in Motion” recommendations (for safety, defense, avoidance, multiple audiences, future reference, and opportunity growth) that I can integrate into my materials for students, parents and educators. I’m also interested in how modified coursework and discussion in departments and courses may also advance the abilities of students in this area. As Facebook suggests, this is a growing issue that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I’ll post a summary of suggestions here in a week or two after everyone has a chance to respond.

A Different Kind of Technology

Brief confession: I’ve been expending way too much mental bandwidth on sailboats lately. This afternoon, the family and I spent about an hour going through a Pearson 35 sailboat that’s for sale in our marina. The technology of even a ’77 sailboat is impressive, from the foils of the mast spreaders to the compromises of the hull design beneath the waterline. All to move a hull through water by harnessing the wind, and provide a living space below with the necessities and comforts needed for days, months or years. Pearson 35 Design

As for the rev of this– I don’t know. Centuries of thought and design have been dumped into the project, some lessons learned at the expense of lives. Mission critical failures in the open ocean are show-stoppers.

The technology I work with– the stakes are lower than life and death. Failure is accepted as operating cost. There’s a web of alternative support and replenishment. I’m glad of that, or burn-out would be inevitable.

So why the fascination with sailing and sailboats? Highest stakes? Mature technology? A playing surface that covers three quarters of the earth? Who knows. Sailboats are freedom, according to Jack Sparrow.

A Talk by Joel Garreau

Joel Garreau spoke at our school yesterday morning– he’s the author of Radical Evolution : The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human. In this book, he reviews the future-thoughts of Ray Kurzweil, Bill Joy and others, breaking their views into Heaven, Hell and Prevail scenarios. Technology may not make us or break us, the the near future impact of genetics, robotics, information and nanotechnology will be siginificant.

I’m beginning to wonder if there aren’t paradoxes in all technological achievements. The same technology that can enable a paralyzed person to compose an email with only his mind (or move a leg though a stimilation device) can and will be used to improve fighter jet technology. The same for exoskelton suits. As we create increasingly complex solutions for problems, they create the opportunity for increasingly complex mis-uses of technology.

At the same time, I’m contempting the need for a computer ethics course for high school students. Strangely, however, I think more than half of the course would need to be programming experience for the students. Without a basis in the algorithmic patterns of programming, and how that relates to creation of technology and software, and even the new thinking in the areas of genetics, robotics and information, students will only be talking about “black boxes.” In order to really make ethical decisions about these issues, our shared understanding needs to be deeper than Newsweek cover stories or 50 minute NOVA episodes.

Going further, opening the black boxes for students can also make them more than just users of technology– to innovate, they need to be creators.

A Flat World (filled with Stanleys?)

I follow and contribute to the Independent Schools Educators Discussion List, affectionately known as ISED-L. There’s been a recent thread there for several days about Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. What I find most interesting about the thread is how a “hard” question is asked about globalization, but the discussion quickly veers to confusion and consternation about student work ethics, constructivist vs. content-based learning, and other open-ended topics.

A friend of mine in London once referred to “American Think Think” as being a fascinating display of sound and fury, signifying… If you pay attention to our media, for example, 1:1 student laptop programs are both the savoir of US education and a horrific waste of money and incentive of evil behavior. In our marketplace of ideas, the put down is highly regarded in terms of attention (and sales of media), so oftentimes our smack-down mentality (or “look at this scary perspective you missed!”) approach oftentimes over-rides any intentions to actually effect change or improvement. If any action for improvement is simply going to be tarred and feathered later, then why bother?

Feel free to review the ISED-L discussion at the archive site.

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