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If you are leaving for the holidays, here is something you should avoid (see above). Do not set your email account to inform others that you will be away from the office. If you happen to subscribe to listservs, an email from the listserv will generate a reply to the listserv saying you are out of the office which will be sent back to you from the listserv which will generate a reply saying you are out of the office, etc.
nJust take your trip and forget about your email. It will be there when you get back.


Benton Warning

The Benton Foundation has released a new report warning that existing commitment to technology in schools ($40 billion in 10 years) is at risk. The threat stems from a combination of the underutilization of existing resources and the present economic down turn. Recommendations include (a) increasing the focus on professional development, (b) recognition that new skills are required for the 21st century, and (c) focusing on the growing digital divide students experience in their homes.

Gift Ideas

How about a last minute gift suggestion for your favorite techie. Something that is not too expensive.

My suggestion – a USB “flash drive”. This is a small memory device about the size of a pack of gum (the old 5 stick kind) that you insert in a USB slot. The device then functions like a small disk drive (you copy files to the drive, delete files, etc.). A great way to carry the word processing file you are working on back and forth to the office.

Kids should avoid computers

I ran across an Electronic Schools article yesterday summarizing the position of those who advocate that early use of computers in schools is damaging. I am not certain at this point what the context for this discovery was – perhaps an analysis of games that might be given as gifts for the holidays. The article outlines a number of possible problems when young students (lower than grade 2) work with computers. The concerns involve physical problems associated with posture and repetitive movements, isolation, and learning limitations. The argument associated with the position on learning bothers me a bit. The position essentially argues that early uses of technology tend to be too abstract and too engaging. Yes — that is too engaging. Students want to spend too much time with typical computer activities and get too involved in the activities rather than thinking for themselves.

Advocates for limited access argue that young learners need ” … lots of direct, hands-on experience, creative play” – blocks, clay, sand, and other objects. Just for the sake of argument – it sounds like if you give kids really dull stuff, they have to find a way to make it fun.` If you give them activities that are already fun and engaging, they will not exercise their creativity. An extended discussion is provided in the Alliance for Children report.

I think educators AND parents need to consider some of these issues. However, I also tend to reject extreme positions. The idea that young children would be denied access to computers until third grade seems to have little merit. I have been in enough classrooms to recognize that the “ideal classroom” providing creative play, engaging interaction, etc. is seldom a continuous reality. This seems one of those situations in which “an ideal” is being compared to a “worst case scenario” – neither situation is actually very common.

A side-bar: I grew up on a farm on a gravel road in Iowa. A quarter mile down the road was another farm. One of my best friends in high school lived on that farm. We went our separate ways when we left for college and probably have seen each other 3-4 times in the last 30 years. The article I mention above describes a book called “Breaking down the digital walls” written by Dr. Lowell Monke of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Lowell was the farm kid who lived down the road and graduated from high school with me. Strange we would both end up as educators writing books about technology. Strange we would end up with some very different ideas.

Quicktime HREF Technique

If you create online instructional content incorporating Quicktime video, here is a technique you should learn. Quicktime allows a text track. This track can serve several purposes. The one I find most intriguing allows the text track to trigger HTML commands (or JavaScript) matched to exact frames in the movie. When used in this fashion, the text track is called an HREF track. A very useful application of this technique involves the presentation of a series of HTML pages within a frameset (see image below) matched to frames in the video. We are attempting to use this technique to offer text comments keyed to specific moments within short video segments of classroom behavior . In the image below (generated using screen capture), the video plays in the left frame and the series of comments appear in the right frame.

HREF Image

The Apple web site offers a tutorial explaining this technique.

Kaiser Internet Study

Much of the buzz on the edtech lists this week was generated by the release of a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, investigated the extend to which filtering software intended to prevent K-12 students from encountering pornography and other undesirable web content, also prevents access to medical information. Why is this an issue? Adolescents use the Internet to answer their personal questions about all kinds of things including health issues. They may seek information about condoms. AIDS, or drugs from the Internet when they are unwilling to ask their parents about such issues. The study seems to suggest that educational institutions use the most restrictive settings on the blocking software they purchase. If less restristive settings were used, much more health information would be available with only a slight increase in access to pornography.

The Connection Between Educational Reform and Technology

I read a lot about the possible connection between educational reform and technology (see a summary of some major studies on this topic). My own optimism about this topic was kindled by a paper in the Harvard Educational Review (Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (1989), Kids and computers: A positive vision of the future. Harvard Educational Review, 59, 73-86). My interpretation of this paper was essentially that the authors were optimistic about the future role of technology in educational reform because technology seemed to be a way to make practical some of the project based learning concepts pioneered in the 1960s. The problem with the initiatives of the ’60s was that the hands-on science experiences fizzled out when the grant money and related curriculum support ran out. Teachers left to fend for themselves did not have the time or whatever to generate the learning activities on their own. The 1989 paper argued that technology offered practical ways to implement the old ideas.

So — it is now nearly 15 years later and the technology has clearly grown more powerful and user friendly. Cindy and I (and many others) are still attempting to find out whether or not it is practical to integrate more authentic, project-based activities in classrooms. Our own interest is now focusedon a “Teaching American History” grant Cindy directs. We are working with others to see if we can find ways to increase the frequency with which elementary, middle school and high school students in history classes have the opportunity to engage in “historical inquiry.” The general goal is to diversify the mix of learning tasks that students experience (a little less text book and a few more primary sources). We hope technology is part of the solution and there are clearly some wonderful primary source collections available through the Internet (e.g., American Memories Collection]). However, as we explore the existing resources available to teachers, we realize that access to useful resources is not the only issue. For example, we have discovered that vendors providing text books also make available great supplemental materials we would categorize as primary sources. Activities based on these resources seem to be rarely implemented in classrooms. Perhaps it is the second of the two “resources” identified in the 1989 study that is the major stumbling block. Perhaps it is the “lesson plans” as well as the “science kits” that must be provided.