Kid in the Corner

Technology provides opportunities for self expression that I feel are unique or at least are unique in the way they are seized upon by many people. There is something about the opportunity to express yourself that prompts unusual effort without extrinsic compensation and promotes reflection on personal experience. Researchers suggest this is one of the values of multimedia projects in classrooms. It is also what motivates individuals to work late into the night adding to their blogs.

Cindy and my son Todd is a video producer and editor. He and his friends also create just for fun. Their work reflects the activities of a different generation than mine, but I do admire the creativity. They call their web site – Kid in the Corner. Take a look. Todd’s videos are based on his travels in Asia.

UM – Morris

I just returned from a trip to Morris, Minnesota. University of Minnesota-Morris and the University of North Dakota are both in the second year of PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers To Use Technology) grants. PT3 institutions are categorized by focus. Both UND and Minnesota-Morris are classified as prioritizing project-based learning. PT3 has an interesting requirement called a collaborative exchange which asks that grant recipients visit each other. Every institution has a different way of going about things so you also get some new ideas when faculty members get together. Thanks to my hosts – Craig Kissock and Bill Riggs.

Minnesota-Morris PT3 program has a nice web site and you may find the annotated “site of the week” to be useful.

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).