Does the brand matter?

I understand that computer owners are passionate about their brand of computer. For some reason, I associate this loyalty with type of passion demonstrated by the pickup truck owners who have a decal of a little boy urinating on the symbol of a rival truck (this is probably a regional experience). I certainly have my own preference (without the decals).

Brand loyalty aside, if I hear the statement “We need xxx computers in our school because this is what students will need to be prepared for the real world” one more time I am going to scream. I have two objections to this claim. First, because I am an educator, I would prefer to think of K-12 and college institutions as part of the real world. Second, I wonder just what about present experiences with technology (not learning with technology) will or should transfer to the real world these students will eventually experience.

I look to my own experience now and then in taking this position. So you Mac or Windows users, answer the following two questions.
1) How would you list the files present on a 5 1/4 disk (if you know what one of these looks like) inserted in the drive of a PC running DOS or an Apple 2e?
2) How would you move a file from one 5 1/4 disk to another?

I think I still remember how do perform both operations, but I bet very few “computer users” can?

My point? The specifics of what I used to do many times a day has nothing to do with what I do in OS X or Windows XP. The general experiences I had with technology shaped my present profession. I learned the specifics of scripting in HyperCard (which I still miss), but I apply the basic skills to javascript. Mostly, what I learned was that technology could be empowering for me and for my students.

For the record, Cindy and I own quite a few computers. We find MACs most useful for the work we do, but our home network links machines running both XP and several Mac operating systems.

So — make your personal decisions based on which software (operating system and application) suit your needs. Just don’t try to convince me that the software you happen to run today will determine your students’ capabilities a few years down the road.

I am working on a paper on college student use of online lecture notes. This is the kind of work that I do. Studies of note taking and note reviewing were big back in the 1970s and 1980s (I am an old guy). The work seemed to offer some interesting possibilities for what might happen if students were provided notes to guide their processing during lectures and in later review sessions. The research area seemed to dry up after a time — perhaps because there seemed no practical way to deliver on the ideas. Few instructors/departments want to bear the cost and time demands of preparing and distributing notes. The Internet offers a way to handle these concerns and tools like Blackboard or WebCT make the delivery of PowerPoint presentations or word processor documents easy to accomplish. So I think lots of instructors are providing notes.

When I talk with others about this topic, the reaction I often get is — I don??t want my students to stop coming to class. Most instructors probably feel that at least some students will skip because notes are available, but like a friend of mine says – that??s an empirical question. Educational practices that have the potential to benefit learners, but also have the potential to be abused are not unique. So – do you make notes available because some students may benefit or do you ignore the opportunity because other students may skip? Sounds like a great research topic to me.

Next to CNN and any channel showing sporting events, TechTV is possibly my favorite television channel. The information density is not great, but I pick up something every now and then. The Screen Savers program has a good web site and archive (TechTv) that often provides me relevant information. A recent program focused on satellite imagery and explained how you can access images of your own community (program notes).

Grand Forks Map

My wife and I have an agreement about shopping trips. She goes shopping and I go to Barnes and Noble to drink coffee and look for books. We both like things this way.

I tend to get ideas when I have the time to sit around, look through books, and drink coffee. During my most recent “shopping trip”, I started looking at books about blogging and I ended up purchasing two (“we’ve got blog” by Perseus Publishing and “We blog: Publishing online with weblogs” by Bausch, Haughey and Hourihan). Why not start a blog about issues in technology and education? This would not be my first blog (Grabe NECC blog), but this would be my first serious attempt to maintain a blog over an extended period of time.

Here is my idea. Cindy and I are now between books. We always hope we have the opportunity to write the next edition. Rather than wait to find out if this will be the case, I tend to start collecting ideas and in formation immediately. I use some of this information in developing our web site (Grabe book site), but there are many ideas and resources that simply do not fit with structure of the web site. Why not use a blog to retain this information for personal use and share some of this content with others?


The issue of online safety looms as a threat to those of us who promote the educational potential of the Internet. Yesterday, President Bush signed into law a bill creating the domain (see legislation). The basic idea is provide a protected zone for children under 13.

A great idea, but success will rely on the underlying assumption that students will limit themselves to resources and services within this domain. It is kind of like telling your kids they can only watch the “Discovery Channel” and then leaving the house.

Another very important piece of the solution is to empower teachers, students, and parents by helping them understand the potential dangers that exist and providing practical suggestions for what might be done to avoid or handle dangerous situations. Filtering or channeling will never be a complete solution. This is the position taken by iSafe – a program that is being implemented in our local schools and schools across the country. I attended one of their information sessions yesterday and wrote this comment as a consequence.

By the way, Internet safety is the responsibility of educators who encourage Internet use. It is also the responsibility of parents. Do you know where your kids are surfing tonight?

Project Based Learning

We write a lot about project based learning. Just what qualifies as a learning project? I guess I have never generated a list of “must includes.” Some folks worry about such things and as long as such lists are intended as a way to stimulate thinking, I feel they are useful.

A group at the University of Michigan has generated a list of design principles for science inquiry projects. You can read their analysis of project essentials in the Educational Psychologist, 35(3), 165-178 or online.

The design principles follow from a social constructivist perspective (sounds abstract, but translating the basics is a useful exercise). The social constructivist features include: (a) active construction (e.g., collect evidence, find examples), (b) situated cogntiion (experience how knowledge and skills are applied within the discipline of study). (c) community (a community of practice, e.g., biologists, have a vocabulary, methods for answering questions, procedures for communication) and (d) discourse (symbolic forms used to communicate).

The authors propose that projects should: (a) be based on general guiding questions and domain standards, (b) involve inquiry – an extended process of posing questions, gathering evidence, reaching conclusions, (c) require collaboration (working with peers and perhaps experts), (d) use learning tools that provide opportunities for data collection and interpretation, and (e) generate artifacts (products that can be shared and evaluated).


This blog was created as a record of some of our experiences at NECC. Blogs are organized chronologically and the more recent entries appear at the top of the page. This blog allowed us to learn a little about how blogs work and to consider how blogs might be used as an educational communications tool. Comments on the creation of a blog appear in the entries generated during the first couple of days (see bottom of this page).

Global Schoolhouse sponsored a session on online collaborative learning. The purposes of the session were to introduce the audience to the resources of online collaboration and to provide some examples from the registry of more than 800 online projects Global Schoolhouse maintains.

Guest presenter at the GSN session was Karen Eini winner of the 2002 Shared Learning Award is responsible for developing and maintaining Friends and Flags a project dedicated to multicultural learning. Karen presented her structure for successful online collaborative projects.

Children’s Software Review offered a presentation based on their process for identifying the most innovative learning products of the year. The specific products that were discussed were used to illustrate the design features the review committee looked for in identifying quality products deserving recognition,. An interesting side light of the presentation involved comments about the difficulties involved in delivering quality learning experiences online.

Finally, we had an opportunity to catch up with the people from Tech4Learning. We have previously commented on several of their products (MediaBlender and Claymation) and spent time at the conference learning a little bit about VideoBlender (product for student video projects). Cindy and Melinda Koch have known each other for some time and we follow what Tech4Learning does because of their focus on support for student projects. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to use these pictures and wish we knew the entire cast of characters.

Melinda Koch of Tech4Learning


David Wagner and Tech4Learning Colleague



Today was the final day of the conference. I have a number of final comments to make in finishing this blog, but I am going to spend time tomorrow on the trip back putting this material together.
nA few words to recognize our sponsor. Cindy and I spend some time consulting with a technology innovation challenge grant awarded to the Grand Forks Schools and the Dakota Science Center. This organization attended NECC to promote the resources NatureShift makes available. The following pictures are from their convention booth – note the URL for the grant

Dakota Science

One of the more popular demonstrations in the NatureShift booth involved robot kits allowing the creation of BoBots. See the NatureShift site for details.


Blogs can be community projects. Blogger allows the blog administrator to “invite” other participants. These individuals are sent an invitation by email and establish a username and password. These individuals can sign in and submit contributions. They are unable to edit other entries to the blog. The administrator can edit (including remove) any entry. Because the NECC blog is stored on my personal server, an entry submitted by a participant would be stored by Blogger.Com until I (administrator) upload the blog to my server by FTP. I am certain how this would work when serving the blog from the Blogger site. I am guessing that all participants would be able to immediately update the blog.