Trail Camera

My brother Dan is an engineer, but he has a unique hobby. He develops wildlife habitats. The “riparian” is a seventeen-acre plot developed on a farm Dan and a couple of my relatives own in Iowa. Dan hunts there some, but mostly just enjoys the challenge of restoring the habitat and watching wildlife.

His new toy is a “trail camera“. This is a fairly inexpensive digital camera that is triggered by movement. You set up the simple camera in an area (a trail I suppose) where you expect wildlife to be.  After some time passes, you come back and see what images you have collected.


Dan sent me a few pictures a couple of weeks ago (a partial frame with a deer and some geese on the beaver pond you see above), but this new image is really pretty cool. There must be some educational applications here. What about the reality of not being able to take frequent field trips. What if a class could position a camera (via a teacher or a student with access) and then explore what they might find?

I have had this debate with teachers, sometimes biology teachers, from time to time about technology. I often do not immediately reveal some of my personal interests. The teachers often assume that my use of technology involves siting in front of my computer and exploring virtual worlds. I ask about their last field trip and what they and their students did afterwards. Virtual worlds are actually not my thing – I like being there. I tell them after my trips I continue to explore what I saw.

Maybe it has been made out to be worse than it is

It has been a while since I have posted here. I have been working on some other writing projects, posting on my microblog, and reading. I have decided I want to use this site for longer and more serious posts and the microblog for identifying resources I come across and for just playing around.

I wanted to finish the book I have been reading before writing something for this site. The book, Fertilizers, pills, and magnetic strips: The fate of public education in America (G. Glass), has a strange title, but a very interesting concept. There are many components to this book, but a core idea is that the reform agenda focused on supposedly underperforming public education is far less about offering quality education to all students and more about the political struggle to reduce the cost of education for most while securing opportunities for the wealthy. The title is weird (I may make the effort to explain later), but there are a couple of useful components of this book – a discussion of whether the data used to evaluate general achievement in public schools really demonstrates the fading of US schools in comparison to international competition and an explanation of how the present constellation of reform strategies (home schooling, vouchers, charter schools, high stakes testing, voucher systems, and tuition tax credits) are really mostly about discrediting public education so that public investment (taxes) can be reduced and those with greater wealth can focus their resources on themselves and their children rather than “other people’s children”.

What about the test data? I have read a book on standardized tests and the perspective that is perpetuated based on shoddy analyses of these data before (Berliner and Biddle – The manufactured crisis). Glass mentions their work and comments on how it has largely been ignored. You have to understand that Berliner, Biddle, and Glass are some of the real heavy weights in the evaluation and applied statistics field. Glass is usually credited with “meta-analysis” – the statistical procedure used to combine the outcomes from multiple research studies in a way that allows some general statement about the effect of the treatments involved. If you come from the position that one should reach conclusions based on sound methodology and data, these folks are legit.

Anyway, Glass concludes that the data from various tests (SAT, NAEP, TIMMS) used to argue that US schools are failing miserably really do not warrant such conclusions. Among some of the issues I highlighted:

The SAT is really not a test designed to evaluate K-12 achievement. It is an test designed to assess aptitude for college performance (hence the name scholastic aptitude test). It was specifically designed to predict performance in some specific areas and not appropriate to test a wide range of skills and knowledge.

The TIMMS is often used as the basis for international comparisons. This is actually challenging and is based on important assumptions – groups are equivalent, content receives equal emphasis, content knowledge and skills are understood in the same way across nations. As examples of some imortant issues, Gage points out that the science and math components rely on the metric system (still not the common measurement system employed in this country), the US was among 4 countries that did NOT allow the use of calculators, and education systems are not equivalent in terms of basic characteristics such as the age of high school students (e.g., Icelandic test takers who happened to score above the US in math averaged 21.2 years of age – roughly equivalent to a US college junior).

Gage suggests that the most appropriate use of exam scores for states or nations given some of these measurement challenges is to determine whether scores are going up or down. Contrary to what one might assume from reading the local papers, scores in the U.S. are increasing.

I do not pretend to be a measurement expert – the issues involved in exploring the complex datasets used for such analysis are not the type of thing I play with when I sit down to run some regressions or a MANOVA in SPSS. I do think it is fair to suggest that the arguments Glass makes are not the message you have probably encountered from the usual sources. If there are counter arguments, I would like to hear the debate.

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And Reality Sets In

My first post from AERA involves a topic I did not anticipate. I assumed I would offer something related to an inspiring session I had attended. No luck so far. Instead, I find myself writing about conversations I have had with colleagues and with the all too frequent topic of these conversations. Higher ed folks are experiencing the same budget cuts so common in other industries. Words like furlough, layoff, adjusting course loads, and budget cuts seem to come up in most conversations. The convention itself is smaller and this was apparent reading the newspapers on the way here. This is typically a very large convention 12,000-14,000 and I suppose it makes sense that graduate students and junior faculty members would really struggle to find the means to get here. I wonder about those who have made a full-time commitment to a graduate education and now must try to find that first job. It really is a leap of faith or a commitment to a cause when you spend four years dedicating yourself to this goal. We admire risk takers and true believers, but we tend to think of business entrepreneurs as our examples. Why is that?

I have been attending sessions concerning 21st century skills and new media. I am still trying to understand if these areas are really new to me or simply represent a new vocabulary. I still like higher order thinking skills and participatory media – similar ideas I think. The one paper that intrigued me was from a U of M (that is Minnesota in my neck of the woods) group that were examining new media use among struggling readers (more on the specifics in a later post). The core idea, if I am interpreting correctly, was that by middle school a significant group of students have given up on reading or at least text-only content. New media may offer an opportunity to engage these students again. It appears that students were engaged, but may still be capable of avoiding the text components of projects by using options such as audio instead.

I like to think I keep up on emerging trends, but often I find myself interpreting using older models. I think this is how the constructivism thing is supposed to work. Many of these ideas of interdependence of production/consumption and modalities sounds a lot like the “language experience” model. Communication is a more basic process than specific skill areas such as reading and writing, speaking and listening. As I remember a core premise, these skill areas offer the potential to inform each other if the setting for learning a given skill does not decontextualize that skill from the others.

Back to the budget thing. The session I am sitting in writing this ended up with a different orientation than I expected. Several presenters did not show and the focus that remained was hip hop and the use of this genre in urban schools. Not what I came to hear. Can’t blame those who made it.  Hip- hop would not be my thing, I am more of a jazz and blues kind of guy. I also don’t teach in an urban setting. Exploring new ideas, hip hop included, takes both time and money. I wonder how the public costs out such ventures. Some may not understand hip hop in the classroom. I think your beliefs have to accept that these folks are trying to find ways to engage kids and the challenges in doing this work in these kinds of settings may not be apparent to those who view the effort from another time and a very different place.

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Blogging a Conference

I am approaching what for me is conference season. I attend AERA, NECC and the North Dakota edtech conference (TNT) in the next couple of months. The rest of the year my budget and job keep me at home. I write a few posts while I attend conferences and I read the posts of others some whom attend many conferences.  So, in a way, I am a producer and consumer. I know what I like to produce and consume, but I am attempting here to offer a broader perspective which requires that I  broaden my comments by pulling in thoughtful posts from others.

Here are the question. Are blog posts and Tweets authored by those who attend a conference helpful? What should those who post keep in mind to make their contributions useful?

AERA is next week and the Twitter chatter has been picking up for weeks (use AERA as a search term in TweetDeck or Nambu). I have also noticed that AERA is a frequently misspelled option for area and as a consequence weird things show up. AERA has not been a major bloggers event. I could not find it as a destination in David Warlich’s hitchhikr. I have always thought that someone ought to pursue the topic of “Why researchers don’t blog”, but we will save that topic for another day.

A comment on Twitter: I do not encourage frequent conference tweets especially from those who think they are live blogging. This is a personal thing, but consistent with what I think I get from Twitter. I can see Twitter as a useful backchannel tool, but just how often would I be in an AERA session with others who Twitter. Perhaps at NECC this might make sense. Sorting out a string of tweets to gain some sense of context and flow is too much of a hassle. Wrong tool. Don’t be lazy – share what you learn via blog posts so there is some flow and continuity.

There are others with other opinions. I tend to focus on information exchange. Others see the social networking advantage of Twitter. As I understand their perspective, a conference represents an opportunity to network with other professionals. Twitter can facilitate connections using the conference or conference events as a point of departure. Twitter offers a second opportunity in the post conference time period to follow up on what seem to be common interests. So, I guess – find new folks to follow and possibly meet to network.

Blog posts from a conference: I have researched the topic of conference blogging previously and there are some classic analyses. Here is a group-based approach from 2006. By group-based, I mean an approach by which a group makes a collaborative effort to offer a thorough review for others. AERA is a little to large for such a commitment. I remember reading a description from 2004 that identified major categories of conference blogging and I was able to still locate it. I like nice categorization systems. My posts typically fall into the reflection category – I pick up an idea for a single presentation and offer a comment both attempting to convey the original message and offer something more. If you really want to take the conference blog on as a serious mission, you might even download a pdf that attempts to organize tips for you to follow.

After making this sound like a serious pursuit that requires preparation, commitment and follow through I am starting to wonder if I have not set myself up to disappoint. I hope not. On the plane for San Diego in the morning. Might as well take advantage of the holiday to take a little time away from the snow and cold in North Dakota. Next week a few posts on research presentations from AERA.

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