Friday, July 31, 2009

Global, Mobile, Ubiquitous and Cheap

Those four words have been the rallying cry for most of Clay Shirky's recent talks at TED@State and other venues recently, speaking about how the media landscape is changing at a rapid rate. In one of my previous posts I mentioned the video you can watch on the subject along with the keynote presentation I did at the Harker Teacher Institute in June. In that keynote, "Jumping the Educational Shark," a reference to the social phenomena that Skirky identifies as the "cognitive surplus" of time that people in industrialized countries had after World War II that was taken up by the "sitcom." And my own reference to the phrase "Jumping the Shark," which is common in television, when a show has peaked and is definitely beginning to slide into the abyss and is making one last effort to bring viewers back before the show is eventually cancelled.

My point in the keynote was to express the idea that the educational community has many people trying desperately to hold on to the old industrial model of education that resembles an assembly line, but not recognizing that it is no longer useful to prepare students for the world they will live in during their adult lives. One of the arguments of this group was that we couldn't assign students work to do using computers or the Internet because not all students had access to those tools. Access has been improving steadily over the past few years and now, I truly believe this argument is no longer valid. If students want a computer, they cost about as much as a cell phone and if they want to use that device to access the Internet, there is free access at at variety of locations. This came into focus for me over the past three days. First, I read that Barnes and Noble is another national business, along with Panera Bread and Starbucks that is providing free Internet access to their patrons. Secondly, all of the public libraries in San Mateo County, where I teach, provide free wifi access as well. Third, the City of East Palo Alto, where some of our neediest kids live, has a free municipal wifi program that covers most of the city, called "wifi101." (Here is a link to their coverage map.)

Along with these developments, the Pew Internet and Life Project published a new report about how people are accessing the Internet and more than half (56%) have done so using a wireless connection through a phone or wifi. Some may say that the number is low, but there are some issues that are brought to light when you dig a little deeper. The first is that the use of wifi or accessing the Internet through a 'smart phone' has been completely demystified. It is common place in our society and people can assist those who are trying to make the leap into the wireless world. Secondly, the group showing the greatest percentage of gain is African Americans.
"African Americans are the most active users of the mobile internet – and their use of it is also growing the fastest. This means the digital divide between African Americans and white Americans diminishes when mobile use is taken into account."

So, to me the divide has been bridged. If a student wants access, it is available. They might need to jump through a hoop or two, but there is access and in most instances it is free. What does this mean to education, especially in my school. The on-going rhetoric from teacher's that they cannot assign work to students that would require them to access the Internet or use some type of technology is no longer valid. To me, as an administrator, the message is clear: Teachers you need to move forward and use these tools to engage students in the educational process. A blog post that crossed past me this week says it about as good as I could ever home to. It is from the "TeachPaperless" blog and it is titled, "Top Eleven Things Teachers Need to Know About Technology."


Friday, July 24, 2009

How Society Has Changed...

Well... this is a different type of post than I usually post here. Since almost all of them deal with Educational Technology in some way. This post is more of an observation of society and how times have changed in the last 20+ years.

I went and saw the film, "I Love You, Beth Cooper," yesterday. It is the normal teen fare, where there is some overt sexuality, the local bully gets put in his place and the nerdy guy finds out what life is like as part of the "popular clique." The main character, Denis professes his unrequited love to the head cheerleader. The rest of the film is a bunch of teen antics, but the underlying story shows that Denis is on his way to Stanford in the fall and on to a very successful adult life. The object of his affection, Beth, may have reached the apex of her life in High School and may never reach a higher status than the one she had.

The other film that it brought to mind was one that was somewhat similar was "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," which is a classic for most of the people in my generation. I can remember seeing the film in my early 20's and thinking this guy has the whole world "wired." Ferris is a cool and hip schemer, who is about to graduate from High School and go off to college, is trying to have one last great day with his girlfriend and somewhat nerdy best friend and before he graduates.

But here is what I wanted to compare between the two films. Denis' father in "Beth Cooper," is played by Alan Ruck. There is a scene, where Denis' father gives him a bottle of champagne to celebrate his High School graduation and tells him where there are condom's for him to use should the need arise. He does this because he recognizes that his son has worked hard to get accepted in to Stanford and says that, "there won't be much time for Toga Parties with your pre-Med curriculum." In "Ferris Bueller," the smart and somewhat nerdy best friend, Cameron Frye, is played by ... Alan Ruck. Same guy, 23 years later. Cameron has real issues with his father, there is little or no communication between the two, which frustrates Cameron. At the movie's climax, Cameron intentionally bashes in his father's prized vintage Ferrari to force the two of them to talk.

I will make the point here, that Alan Ruck in "Beth Cooper," plays the type of father he wanted to have when he was in "Ferris Bueller." Is this the evolution of our contemporary society, or have we recognized that we have to work with our kids to assist them in dealing with the social issues that they have to confront as teens.

As teachers, we deal with these issues on a daily basis, with a variety of students at completely different places along the social continuum, how we support them as they move forward in their journey towards adulthood is definitely part of what we do to create a whole person.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadership Day 2009

I wanted to post today to Scott McLeod's Leadership Day request, because I see myself in a situation that is different than most administrators and therefore, most educational leaders in the US today. As most of you know who have read this blog in the past, I have worked in EdTech circles for quite some time. I am one of the first 50 Google Certified Teacher's and I have moved forward into the administrative ranks for the express purpose to move the use of technology in the educational process forward.

There are two video's that really point the direction of the use of technology in education. There aren't many who believe that using technology in education is going to be detrimental, but many are not advocates, since they do not have any personal knowledge or experience in integrating technology into the classroom. There are two video's that have come out in the past two weeks that will really move the use of technology in education forward. The biggest reason is that the cost of most of the techology has become $0.00. That is right, NOTHING! And if school districts plan and make the right deals with textbook publishers, there will be a cost saving. If the country were to bring into practice, what California is talking about with online open source textbooks, the cost savings would be remarkable.

The first video is the quick speech that Clay Shirky, the author of last year's "Here Comes Everybody." Shirky makes the point that the explosion of Internet technologies have made the media of today, "Global, Mobile, Ubiquitous and Cheap." Cheap $200-$250 netbooks can provide a huge amount of processing power in a small package, which schools could provide to students at an even lower cost given the savings of bulk purchases.

The second video is the preview of Chris Anderson's new book, "Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price." This is a followup to his best seller, "The Long Tail" from 2004. Anderson makes the point that bandwidth, processing power and storage capacity has increased so much and has become so cheap that the cost of producing these items is virtually $0.00. This has a huge impact on education, since we are always facing budget cut backs and technology never seems to be a priority. If Anderson's premise is true, the future of education is going to involve more and more technology.

The last issue is the fact that California is undertaking with open source text books in Math and Science. Governor Schwarzenegger would like to have this all in place by the beginning of the next school year. This would push the textbook publishers to make additional material and even e-book versions of their texts available to schools.

We'll have to see how all of this plays out.... but the prospects are interesting.