Knowing Your Role

This from the “Thinking Stick” – “I don’t like learning alone!”. Jeff Utecht comments on not being able to get into the conference scene. “Other than my own four sessions, I only went to two others …”. “I don’t like learning alone!” This post seems to have attracted some attention and comment. Perhaps it speaks to what the growing number of conferences have become, perhaps it speaks to something else. We do seem to have a proliferation of gatherings and some dissatisfaction with the experience. I do think there are too many conferences that seem to rely on the same presenters. I agree that this combination of frequency and redundancy is kind of boring. However, I am addressing a different issue here.

We may have just discovered another learning style or individual difference to add to the list educators need to address. Perhaps this difference is related to how many times a year you get to do this thing, i.e., go to a conference. Contrary, to the position taken in the Utecht post, I enjoy a “quality presentation”. I want to listen carefully and attempt to understand. I do not want to be distracted by “discussion” until the presenter has had the opportunity to offer background and provide a complete, well thought-out analysis. I do not want to offer three examples of whatever every five minutes to the person sitting next to me. I think I value depth over breadth – isn’t that the in thing to value lately. Until I can gain some insight into the depth of the position, data, or strategy someone else has to offer, my immediate reactions should be surpressed.

I like a quality handout and even a paper with additional information. If you presentation is really useful, I want to think about it some more. I may want to read the references you provide.

I guess we all have our opinions. Quality evidently means very different things to different people. My reaction to most spontaneous interaction depends on the intent. Most I regard as chit chat and banter. If it is intended as socializing, it is fun. Sparing with ideas is something I am capable of doing. It is entertaining. However, if the situation is intended as as an opportunity for learning, then the chit chat to Me is boring.

I think it is the combination of depth and interaction that is useful. There is a time to listen and a time to speak (this is starting to sound biblical). Take the time to read the book. Take the time to listen to a 20 minute presentation. Take the time to carefully prepare a handout. Understand a position and its context before you offer a comment. We get to play many roles if we are willing to be patient.

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Exploring An Event In Flickr

I get a lot of ideas for educational applications from my own learning needs. We have been in the midst of a serious flood threat in the Red River (Fargo, Grand Forks, and surrounding communities). This is not the first time for us. We were here for the flooding of Grand Forks in 1997. I am writing this as the flood approaches the crest and how this will turn out has yet to be determined. Fargo is experiencing record river levels, but so far the dikes are holding.

I take pictures in situations like this. This is a serious situation and being obnoxious about taking pictures can get you in trouble. However, these are events that shape our lives and so I collect images when I can. I put a few of these images on Flickr and in doing so I notice that my Flickr account has received considerable attention in the past few days.


When I examined the images that were being viewed, it turned out they were from the flood (most actually from a less serious flood in 2006). This became the starting point for my exploration of the images that were presently being collected.

I explored in a couple of ways and I am certain there are several more. You can simply search by tag and then use recent.


I geotagged most of my contributions so I also tried searching for images by location. The best strategy seemed to be Explore a place (Grand Forks) and then search this map using a specific term (flood, redriver).


Most of the geotagged images I located were associated with bridges. This is where I have taken most of the pictures I have collected because access is not prohibited.

P.S. – Presently the rise in the river has slowed because of very cold weather (single digits at night). This has delayed the crest, but has allowed some of the water to move through with less risk.

1:1 Initiatives – Not Much to Report – Wait Maybe There is Something

I happened across a recent article on 1:1 laptop programs by accident. A post from the National School Boards Association referenced a recent article in in the prestigious journal Science. The first issue of 2009 was devoted to technology in education and there was an article on Laptop Programs (Zucker & Light). In the end, I must say the article was pretty generic. While a prestigious general science journal, I forget that the topic discussed is something those of us focused on technology integrating read at every opportunity so I encountered nothing I felt was a great revelation. I was hoping that someone had new and impressive data to report.

Perhaps the one paragraph I found helpful focused on a 4-year longitudinal study being conduced in Texas. Most work in this area must rely on samples of convience. The Texas study includes a large number of schools with laptops and matched schools without such initiatives. It takes money and the right circumstances to do research on this topic. Unfortunately, the study found no impact on reading and writing performance and perhaps a slight advantage in mathematics. In addition, the study determined that “the availability of computer technology by itself had little or not impact on the intellectual challenge of teachers’ lessons.” Such conclusions seem all too common. I am going to have to attempt to locate the Texas study (not published in a journal as far as I can tell from the Science article). My question would be did the laptop initiative focus only on the equipment and how to use it or was there a plan for curriculum reform that teachers ignored or found impractical.

BTW – the reports from the Texas Immersion Pilot work are available. I do note that the achievement data from the 4th year of the study is a little different than that reported in the Science article. One indicator of some unique interest is something called “home learning” –

For Cohort 3, the extent of Home Learning was a positive and statistically significant predictor of both TAKS reading and mathematics scores.

I think this makes sense. Perhaps simply finding ways to engage students to extend time spent will produce changes.

Content Providers – Part II

I recently generated a post on the changing nature of newspapers. This post on newspapers was motivated by recent accounts of papers going out of business or attempting to make the change from a paper to a web format. In reading material associated with changes in this industry, concerns with the economics of primary source content providers (reporters) caught my attention. The issues raised seemed  similar to concerns associated with commercial academic content. My personal experience is with academic textbooks, but I work in an Instructional Design and Technology graduate program and some students assume their skills will be in demand by companies offering other forms of instructional content. So, issues of whether there is a future for commercial content and what a paid professional can offer that others cannot are interesting to consider.

First, I do think there are many examples of quality content generated as contributions by unpaid professionals. By unpaid, I mean not compensated by those who seek access to the resource. I do not know whether these works were supported through summer professorships or some other form of institutional support. Within the past week, I encountered the following:

Handbook of Collective Intelligence – launched by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. This resource is already very well developed, but additional contributions are welcomed.

Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning (George Siemens & Peter Tittenberger) – University of Manitoba. This resource is also complete and also available as a pdf. As far as I can tell, this resource is not open to public modification. While open to any educator, the resource is associated with a Certificate in Emerging Technologies for Learning offered by the University of Manitoba (see preface for details).

I hope it is fair to include my wife and my effort within this group. Meaningful Learning and the Participatory Web – this is a resource for pre-service and practicing teachers and others interested in educational applications of the participatory web.

Other content categories are available. For example, collections of lessons – e.g., Curriki or Merlot – offer a different type of learning content. Again, these resources are available at no cost.

I keep asking myself if by the ability to generate this list (without searching) I have answered some question concerning whether commercial content generation is still necessary. The newspaper professionals don’t think so and in my gut I guess I do not either. The three extended resources I have listed are provided by folks with professional interests in the topic, BUT who are also interested in social and technological topics in sharing this information. Your average chemistry or history prof. or middle school math teacher is probably less likely to share this passion. I do think that access to some such resources will challenge the traditional commercial publishing model and expand the variety of formats in which learners access content. Competition is good. There is also value in editorial supervision, professional review, attention to content standards, and other factors that one may ignore when working without compensation. Curriculum committees selecting content may think some of these expectations are important. We do live in interesting times.

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Content Providers – Part 1

I have been interested in information content providers for some time and noticed what seems to be an uptick in comments related to this topic this past week or so. This morning, my local paper, the Grand Forks Herald, ran an editorial from the publisher focused on the present economic challenges to the newspaper industry. This evening, Andy Rooney’s closing piece on 60 minutes was about newspapers. While these editorials did not reference similar concerns expressed elsewhere (e.g., recent closure of the Rocky Mountain News), both concerned the threat to the newspaper as we know it.

Everyone seems to have a different take on the problem. Leo Laporte, a podcaster I follow, often comments on the unintended outcome of Craig’sList, taking away ad dollars from local papers. Why pay when you can advertize for free? The editorial in my local paper commented on the faster pace of things and the counter strategy of writing articles of a shorter length.

Blogger and author Clay Shirky has been writing about the newspaper business lately (also see posts previous to the one accessed via this link). His conclusion:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

Shirky makes the same observation I make – who actually collects the news, the primary source content that requires reporters, digging, authentication, etc. Who sends out people to watch and listen – just in case. Bloggers are not the answer – most of what we do is spin what we read. Most of us, at best, are secondary source people. We comment, but we do not gather the basic information that needs to be shared.

One more reference (just to clear that section of my gmail account where I have collected these items in the past few days whether the content was posted this recently or not) – the BivingsReport – summarized recent efforts of newspapers to extend their reach with blogs and other forms of online content. How are papers extending their reach by offering web conent?

Not sure where I think this is going. Will something rise up to replace newspapers if the traditional or modified model of news publication fails? Wrong area for me to assume I know enough to have anything of value to declare. I do see similarities between the newspaper industry and the book business. I know a little more about writing books and I have a bias because of my involvement in generating a book that brings me revenue. I guess the bottom line question is whether what we once considered quality content will be generated when funding models either change or no longer exist. I have another post coming on this topic. Without searching, I have come across a couple of quality wiki-book projects in the past week or so. I will identify these resources, plug my own similar project, and speculate regarding the motives of folks who put together major projects without a plan for financial gain.

P.S. – One day laterSeattle Post-Intelligencer switches to web

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Dumbest Generation – Same data, different story

Those of us who train undergraduate psychology major give several reasons for teaching all majors about research methodology. Most majors will never do research. We know this and argue that learning the research process is a good way to develop critical thinking skills. We suggest that in thinking carefully about the methodology used in research it is sometimes possible to offer a different interpretation of the outcome than that given by the researcher. This is one reason researches are required to carefully describe their methodology and to outline their results before offering an interpretation for what was observed.

It is so easy to get taken in by the story told by authors even when very possible alternatives are there for the taking. I use the following example in my undergraduate educational psychology class.

Imagine a researcher hypothesizes that the optimism and generally positive attitude of teachers represent an important factor in motivating students. One way to test this proposal might be to observe classroom behavior and count the frequency of smiling behavior (I call this variable smiles per hour – SPH) and then determine if variability in SPH correlates with the average class achievement level. Assume that such research demonstrates a positive relationship. Would administrators then be justified in attempting to use optimism/positiveness (personally observed or commented on in letters of references) as an important marker in hiring decisions? Should we be looking for teacher characteristics associated with higher levels of student performance?

It makes a good story and I can usually convince the class that this would make sense. I then ask one question that immediately brings to light a very different way of understanding the story. Imagine you are a teacher and for whatever reason you are working with a class of very difficult students. They have bad attitudes, are terrible to each other, and in general just do not care about learning. How much fun will you be having this year?

Those who write books as advocates for positions are basically story tellers. They martial what evidence they can to support the story they tell. Hopefully, they have thought carefully about the arguments they make and are reporting a complete description of the data available. Still, the job they take on is to tell a convincing story. It is your job as a reader to critically evaluate what you have been told.

Consider the Bauerlein story line (Dumbest Generatation) at least as I interpret it. Bauerlein essentially argues that tweens and adolescents have been taken in by the potential of the participatory web and have to some extent isolated themselves from adult influences because of the desire of adolescents to socialize with peers and explore topics of interest to adolescents. In other words, participatory technologies are both enabling and motivating, but the focus for adolescents is not on issues or skills of substance. Worse yet, such experiences encourage adolescents to be less tolerant of traditional school experiences because they seem dull in comparison. Juxtaposed with this observation of adolescent behavior the author describes international differences in academic achievement noting that despite advantages in wealth students from the U.S. do not score well. The argument assumes rejection of adult values and experiences and a self-indulgent focus on peers and peer values results in lower achievement outcomes.

It makes a convincing story. However, sometimes when interpreting nonmanipulative research or stories, it is a good exercise to consider other models of how variables might be related.

There is always it is not A causes B, but B causes A. What would this mean here – perhaps nonrewarding or nonstimulating learning experiences causes students to seek out stimulating experiences elsewhere.

There is also the third variable argument – perhaps C influences both A and B resulting in the impression that A is the cause of B. How about school time as a possible C. Differences in the time devoted to education in other countries might impact levels of achievement. In those countries of means spending less time in school settings, learners might have more time to explore online experiences they find interesting.

So, pick your own story line here. There are multiple ways to tie observations together. However, note that meaningful intervention requires that we pick the story line describing causality for the most students.

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The Dumbest Generation

I have read several books lately that comment on adolescent and tween use of technology. I try to spend time with a range of resources both pro and con. I don’t think the “fan boy” model is productive and argue advocates must be careful to approach dissenting views with an open mind.

I am scheduled to teach a course on online learning experiences for K-12 students this summer and I am seriously considering assigning “The Dumbest Generation” (Bauerlein) and Grown Up Digital (Tapscott) as reading material to place teachers “between” some of the arguments that have been advanced.

Here are some comments after reading “The Dumbest Generation”. As is always the case, what follows is my interpretation of what someone else has written. There is always some danger in interpreting the position taken by someone else.

Bauerlein’s book (The Dumbest Generation) offers a useful cautionary position which seems to suggest that left to their own devices and penchant for peer to peer socialization, many adolescents will focus on the trivial and in doing so will reduce opportunities to learn from adults and the world around them. I am assuming the extreme position was taken for effect – arguments that propose a modest shift tend to be ignored.

While Bauerlein seems to agree that the Internet offers access to potentially useful information and services, adolescent use of the Internet does not tend to take advantage of these services. Instead, adolescents use the Internet to increase their involvement with their peers and with topics valued by their peers. This increase in peer socialization comes at the cost of maturing factors such as involvement with adults, adult values, and adult institutions.

The books seems to use a “one would think” type of logic. One would think with the opportunities available to them adolescents would be achieving at a much higher level. Data from multiple sources seem to indicate that this is not the case. Hence, the way adolescents spend their time (i.e., online activities) must be at fault.

Rather than deal with some of these claims, there is a concern that institutions, educators, and parents attack the messenger. The messenger is wrong because the data used in support of the concerns are argued to rely on the “rote memory” of factual information. Counter argument – most text books are much more sophisticated and offer a context for the facts that are advanced. Bauerlein uses the word curmudgeon – people who express concern risk the danger of being labeled a curmudgeon. I thought only my wife used that word.

The problem is not largely a fault of what happens in classrooms, but what happens outside of educational settings. What happens outside does not inform what happens in classrooms and what is worse may operate to devalue classroom learning.

Reading, of any type, appears to be an area of greatest neglect. Data from the American Time Use survey (page 49) suggest 15-24 year-olds read for 8 minutes a day despite having 5 hours of free time.

Some data I find encouraging are also dismissed. 30% of adolescents, according to a National Schoolboard survey, write their own blogs. Bauerlein dismisses this as a focus on teen culture. I just don’t know many teen bloggers and think what I regard as blogging is not what is credited in the NSBA study. (my previous post)   –  I have always wondered if Facebook posts are regarded as blogging.

Bauerlein attacks educators who seem to feel that any screen time is educational. If screen time involves problem solving and collective intelligence and requires sophisticated technical skills, just where is the evidence that all of the hypothesized benefits create any payoff. A particular argument, the advancement of a clever adolescent who has done something remarkable, is particularly flawed because it offers little information on what is typical. Bauerlein appears particularly skeptical of educators who champion adolescent behavior as beneficial instead of arguing that it is, in fact, adolescent. By failing to contrast more mature forms of technology use with adolescent technology use, these educators offer a confusing and counter productive picture to everyone.

There are some things I do not like about the way the book is written. It seemed poorly structured and repetitive to me. The book seems to end with a lament for a proposed decline in a focus on the humanities in higher education. To me this is a second concern and one that was not balanced by a corresponding concern with similar arguments regarding other areas.

What is my personal reaction?

1) The path (evidently not taken) to get us out of this situation was not apparent to me. The book focuses on problems, but seems to offer nothing other than a return to 1970s experiences as a remedy. I do think educators should involve and not avoid the tools of the participatory web. What about using these tools to demonstrate reading/writing/analytical thinking, etc.? Given the potential (acknowledged) of these tools and the need for adults to both function in an adult fashion and expose adolescents to more mature experiences, wouldn’t this seem like the most productive approach to take. I think more educators should demonstrate adult blogging and scaffold adolescent experiences with participatory web tools. Educators should be in a position to gain attention for mature applications. Parents would be as well, but I tend to focus on educators.

2) I feel the need to acknowledge my wife’s complaint that I reflect on my own personal behavior. She keeps bringing up my active avoidance of the study of history as an undergraduate and graduate student. I also do not read hard copy newspapers. Not be argumentative, but I don’t think specific limitations are not the issue. I read and write a great deal – I just pick the areas and the topics.

I will post this and then make the effort to add what other bloggers have to say on this topic.

Will Richardson’s post on this book

Cool Cat Teacher post

Academic Librarian (very comprehensive)

Don Tapscott