Backup – Now

Backing up is a serious matter. It is very possible you have more money invested in what is on your computer than in the computer itself. My music collection far exceeds the value of the computer on which it is stored. There is also the reality that some things we now store can simply not be replaced. Consider the value you place on your pictures. I am thinking now is the time to look around for inexpensive backup options. There seem to be many sales on external and internal hard drives of all sizes.

Here is a recommendation  I think you are likely to overlook. I like the BlacX from Thermaltake. I admit it looks a little weird, but I will explain my support for this product.


The BlacX allows the insertion of internal SATA drives – the type of drive you install in your computer rather than attach outside. The drives pop in and out of the base like cartridges. Internal drives are significantly less expensive than external drives because they draw their power from the computer and have a less expensive enclosure. You can often purchase these drives in the 250-500 Gig range for $60 or so. So, buy one powered unit (the BlacX) and several internal drives.

Leo Laporte (podcaster) convinced me that you may be better off with multiple smaller drives rather than a single large drive (after I had already purchased a terabyte drive). It is cool to have the largest drive, pickup, or whatever, but the advantage may only be bragging rights. Leo suggested you backup the hard drive twice (perhaps in alternate months) and store one drive off site (home to office and office to home). The idea is that this strategy protects against catastrophe. Purchase multiple drives somewhat larger than the capacity of the machine you want to backup.

BTW – look around for prices on the BlacX as well.

New Data In From Math & Reading Software Evaluation

A major study supported by NCLB has been evaluating the impact of math software in classrooms. I appear to be on a mailing list resulting in my receipt of project summaries (I specifically asked about this research last year). The data from the first year basically showed little benefit. Data from the second year of the study are now available (pdf of executive summary).

A couple of issues were being evaluated – did experience with the software mater, did the impact on achievement vary from product to product.

Regarding experience:

For sixth grade math, product effects on student test scores were statistically significantly lower (more negative) in the second year than in the first year, and for algebra I, effects on student test scores were statistically significantly higher in the second year than in the first year.

Regarding individual products:

One product had a positive and statistically significant effect.  Nine did not have statistically significant effects on test scores.

In 2007, I attended a detailed analyses of the first round of this research at AERA. I anticipate there will be a comparable report this year.

We all are part of history



Approximately when was this picture taken?

What are the men doing?

Where is the activity taking place?

Several years ago Cindy was awarded a Teaching American History grant.  I sometimes get to tag along on her projects. One of the things I remember as an emphasis was providing students the opportunity to practice the historian’s craft. This is a careful process of examining and speculating about primary source documents. Trying to understand what was happening and why. There is considerable more to the process and in some ways some of concepts mirror skills that are applied when psychologists talk about observation. For example, differentiating description from interpretation. Anyway, one of the ways these concepts were presented to students was through the use of images. The link I provide describes educators in a work shop the grant sponsored going through this process with representatives from the Library of Congress via a video connection.

I have been scanning some slides and putting them on Flickr for viewing and sharing with my relatives. As I looked at some of these slides it occurred to me that they are perfect examples of the types of primary source material that offers a great opportunity to practice the historian’s craft. I am giving you a chance to see how well you can do. I have now added about enough words to this post to separate the image I have provided from my explanation of the scene it captures. If you are interested in this image, I decided to share the full size version as Creative Commons in case anyone wants to use it as a primary source document.

I am estimating this picture was taken in 1952-53. I know what was going on, but I probably did not witness this event. Some of my comments are speculative.

The men are playing a game called “dart ball”. You can see the target in the background. The teams are sitting facing each other. One of the men facing the camera is next up and he has darts in his hand. In the full size image, you can see the line on the floor behind which each player stood as they threw (underhand) darts at the target. Areas of the target represented outs, strikes,balls, and hits of different type. The target for a single is larger than the area for a triple. The area for hits is surrounded by areas of outs, strikes, etc. Each player threw until reaching base or being declared out. If I remember correctly, different teams would use different strategies. My dad’s team (the group of men you can see entirely) used to throw alternatively for singles and triples (I am thinking because it was easier to throw at targets ont the same level). I also think you could not throw at a base that was already occupied (not sure about this). Maybe alternating triple and single would be the most efficient way to force in runs. Beats me.

The scene is a rural Lutheran church basement. Teams from different Lutheran churches would car pool over to another church for an evening match and supper (they did not call it dinner). I even remember there being tournaments with trophies and the whole bit. Note the blackboard used for score keeping.

I never saw a woman throw a dart. I don’t think the Lutherans played other demoninations (again this may not be accurate).

My dad is the last man sitting on the left side (hard to see for certain). I remember him as being very good at this game, but he seems to be batting 9th. 🙂

Wikipedia has an article on dartball and it appears that it is still an active “sport”. Now, I am impressed. Would an encyclopedia have an entry on the game of dartball?

So, this won’t make me rich?

The Learning Aloud site has been in operation for one year. I thought that some who follow this site may be interested in site activity. Learningaloud includes a blog, a microblog, a social bookmarking service, and a collection of content focused on educational uses of the participatory web (something like an ebook). Some of these services have not been available for the entire year. For example, the microblog has been in operation for 6 weeks.

I decided to move content off servers I operated at my university because I wanted to experiment with “monitizing” our content and it would be inappropriate to do so using university resources. There are costs to this transition. We now rent space on two commercial servers and utilize a couple more “pro” services. I estimate our annual expenses at approximately $225. As a hobby and for the time I spend on this hobby, this is pretty inexpensive.

So, I have added Google ads to these information resources. Originally, there was a Google ad on the front page of the blog. I later added ads to the individual pages because most viewers of my blog content locate posts as a result of search rather than via subscription. For example, I did a mini tutorial on Picasa3 that was viewed 68 times as an individual page. By the way, one of the negatives of moving my blog from its original address was that you lose your subscribers.

My primary interest in creating this “commercial” site was in experimenting with an alternative model of publishing. The commitment in writing an online book that also links to functioning demonstrations is significantly different than operating a blog. It seemed that adding ads to each page would be obnoxious so I included 3 transition pages (content directories) that included ads.


So, the summary data for year one look like this – 12,261 page views (pages with an ad) that prompted 39 ad “clicks” generating $28.79. OK – I admit that I would not be a good investment.

Some specifics: Blog main page views (4731), microblog views (539), ebook content transition page views (2821), and other (blog individual page views and social bookmarking page views) (4171).

You can interpret this as you wish. One perspective – I would be money ahead to continue to use my on-campus servers (at least I would not lose money). What fun would that be? I could use free external services – the ads revenue would then go to the hosts, but I would not lose any money. Or, I could recognize that this is a hobby and understand that any revenue produced just keeps the costs down.

BTW – I have already paid the bills for next year.

Interpreting “Outliers”

Cindy and I have taken a couple of long trips in the car lately and I have used the time to listen to Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers. It is the kind of book that is interesting and invites interpretation and speculation.

The book consists of a series of stories that demonstrate that the reason individuals who we regard as extremely successful are so good at what they do is because circumstances have allowed them the opportunity to spend great amounts of time (10000 hours) on something. It is this combination of circumstance and time spent that greatly changes the odds of success.

The identification of what factors represent “circumstances” is what makes this book s0  fascinating. Circumstances range from birthdate in the example of successful Canadian hockey players to access to interactive coding opportunities when such opportunities were extremely rare (Bill Gates) to culture differences in how numbers are represented in language and the assumption that success requires personal commitment to lengthy periods of meaningful work (Asian success in mathematics).

One of the final chapters (chapter 7) considers the success of KIPP (Knowledge is Power). The analysis explains a major source of SES differences in academic performance as learning outside of the school day (summer and outside of school). In a way, KIPP intends to compensate for this difference by extending the school day, week, and year.

As a technology advocate, my tendency is to attempt to understand some of these factors within the environment I understand. Perhaps technology offers opportunities to extend the day, week, and year. This would require that ALL students have access outside of school and have the opportunity to use this access in meaningful ways. This reminds of the concern regarding high bandwidth access from home. 1:1 initiatives would be a start, but the most important applications would allow students to take the computers home and also keep them throughout the summer. Having a computer would be of limited value without Internet access. City wide wifi might be a solution in some situations. Finally, there is the problem of how access would be used. The KIPP expectations require intense activity (the descriptions from the book focus on math). I have less to say about the curriculum and I am not ruling out direct instruction, but I do note that the advantage of growing up in a family of means is not so much about formal instruction as it is about information rich activities (e.g., travel) and related discussion. Perhaps a place to begin would be to encourage a continued virtual connection to the school as a learning community through participatory web activities. Would a student with Internet access be able to find some interesting participatory activities during the month of July?


I picked this topic up from a post by Will Richardson. He passes on a request from an Edutopia writer asking for student input on how teachers should use technology in classrooms. The post then goes on to outline some examples that are very much in keeping with a view promoting student multimedia authoring. I always interpret this approach as proposing that teachers are out of touch with the needs and interests of their students.

Here is my concern with such an approach. It really concerns me what one might say from such input. Will it offer insights into what a typical student would like to experience as a learning experience and what a typical student would be prepared to implement as a learning project.

Two quick examples:

1) I teach educational psychology to undergraduates and some in this class are future teachers. These are both students who have opinions about how they should be taught and students who will soon be teachers. I am in the middle of a simple cooperative project in which students within a pair write on a designated topic and then send this material to their partner who analyzes the content using a technique I provide and then returns the results to the writer. Simply put, the project uses some very basic technology skills – prepare a document and save in RTF format, send as an attachment. I ask them to save a document in rtf format because students use different word processing programs and use word processing programs of different vintages. You would think I am asking them to code in C++. Many cannot understand my explanation of why requiring a common format might be important and many cannot figure out how to send an attachment. Often my instruction are ignored, some just send the file as it is saved and let their partner deal with it and some cut and paste into the email they send. In the same class, I have a computer science major and we talk about open source software. A translation program others could use was recommended.

If I was to inform other college profs on student interest in cooperative email projects in large lecture courses, do you think I should forward the student who recommends a format translation program as a prod to change their methods of teaching?

2) When I was a kid, I received a printing press as a Christmas present. I wanted this printing press very badly. Once I had it, I discovered that it did not come with enough letters (the rubber type you used to prepare your content for printing). I saved my money and bought more, but I also had to resort to tactics such as substituting 1s for ls.

I remember I created a sports page. I would write an account of the week’s playground softball games and I would include the pro baseball standings in the final document. Writing was challenging – I had to limit what I said to the type I had available. Probably good preparation for Twitter. I would take the pages i produced to school and distribute to my classmates. Circulation of about a dozen or so if I remember correctly.

I am the only kid I know who had a printing press, but I bet I would have been the kid my teacher would volunteer as an example of student authoring.

One of the long-term problems I have with the approach taken by many reform advocates is that they seize on the interests and capabilities of a few to argue for change for others. I wish the capabilities of digital natives were as advertised. I have been waiting for this group to show up in my college classes for several years now. I am thinking they must only enroll in colleges on the east coast.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate of the participatory web and the potential of these tools and tactics for learners. However, I think we must work with students to develop necessary tool skills and apply these capabilities in productive ways. The interests and skills of some are and have always been unrepresentative.

Are There Too Many Portals?

I have been working to create an educators portal for about a year now (Learning Aloud). It is a combination of my blog posts, a social bookmarking site focused on topics in educational technology, and most recently something I think of as an online book entitled Meaningful Learning and the Participatory Web. I originally developed the online book as a personal wiki (anyone could read, but only I could write), but then converted the content into more traditional web pages. There are also options for participation – it would make little sense to write about the participatory web without welcoming and offering opportunities to participate. The social bookmarking site allows registered users to contribute and rate. Access to some parts of the stie are controlled through Drupal and those who register are provided a page they are encouraged to use to link to their own projects and examples.

My site was certainly not the original. Those who work in this area enjoy working with the tools and sense the value of using these tools to tap the knowledge and experiences of others. However, a reasonable question might be – if too many portals are created has the potential body of participants been diluted to the point that the potential benefits of collaboration cannot be realized. I have begun to think about this topic because of two new portals I have encountered in recent weeks.

Social Networking 4 Teachers

ISTE Connects

One site is sponsored by a major organization for educators with technology interests (ISTE). Those organizing the other are a little difficult to identify (I know how some of the individual components originated, but not the site). While it has been argued that survival as a content/service provider is really a battle for attention, I encourage your examination of all of these sites. BTW – I am making no effort here to be exhaustive.

So, the site I am attempting to organize may have little hope of competing with the resources of an organization or perhaps an organized group with well-known members. So, what I would like to argue, perhaps in an effort at self delusion, is that the model I propose is more useful. Others could offer this model (a cohesive position/vision statement in combination with examples and comments), but I am guessing this will not be the case with the examples I offer here. I translate “cohesive vision” into something as comprehensive as a book. I say that I doubt the willingness of the sites I have mentioned to offer such a resource because of the “money” issue – the examples I am using as contrasts generate income from books or presenters’ fees. It is therefore difficult to acquire an integrated model and examples from these sources.

I think others offer a similar perspective. In Tapscott’s recent book (Grown Up Digital), he offers a perspective he bases on Geoffrey Moore’s famous “Crossing the Chasm” (this analysis based on an even earlier model of innovation that I remember using farmer adoption of hybrid seed corn as the core case study if my Iowa roots serve me well). To be honest, I am using Tapscott’s analysis here – I have not read the original content for some time. I am guessing you have encountered the argument – ideas take off when the early majority (rather than early adopters or visionaries) buy in. Moore argues that to reach the more pragmatic “early majority” one must offer a “whole product”. Visionaries and early adopters are excited enough by pieces that they will generate their own implementations and discuss these implementations with anyone willing to listen. I read an interesting ReadWriteWeb post that went further and proposed a somewhat different scenario when applying the Moore model to tech innovation. This post argued that innovators and early adopters can be driven by the excitement of the innovation (my interpretation), but they may not necessarily serve the most useful role in promoting change because they often move on to new innovations before the present ones are actually fully implemented or given a trial. I see a real germ of truth in this claim.

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