Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 2: Blogs and RSS as Tools for Education

Blogs are content-management systems built on databases—so sorting and organizing information is one of the chief advantages of they have over traditional page-by-page-built websites. After some exploration a few years ago, I jumped in and developed several sites with Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr.

Using robust multi-contributor platforms like WordPress or Drupal, I can envision students in a class posting all written material to a single blog as co-contributors and categorizing or keywording their entries as they go. Over the course of a year, an instructor could collect all the times students categorized their entries as “social studies”, “drawing” or “fiction” and compare and contrast entries, identify trends, or weak spots in understanding.

RSS (“Really Simple Syndication” or “Rich Site Summary”) readers manage incoming content. An unfortunate side effect is that we choose the news we want to see. We don’t expose ourselves to alternate viewpoints, or those that may not be popular or commercially-viable. See my comments in the Feedly discussion for my newsreader: Zite.

Cone, Sweet Cone

The Cone of Experience proposed by Edgar Dale describes increasingly abstract levels of experience. I appreciate that he makes a point to say they overlap and are not judged higher or lower.

RSS is a way to receive verbal and, to a lesser extent, visual symbols. Processing the stream of stories and (sometimes) images requires abstract thinking.

Blogs are ideally suited to creating text with still pictures and supporting recordings,  sound or visual. An author may post verbal or visual symbols, or embed sound or video recordings. The act of posting may be a direct purposeful experience, using tactile and visual stimuli. I would guess that repetition blunts the positive effect of direct action after a few posts.

If I want to change anything about how people cheerlead for tech, it’s that some think an online experience substitutes for a hands-on direct purposeful experience, study trip or exhibit (using some named cones). The world is not flat-screen. It’s messy, multi-dimensional and does not have an Undo button. Learning that everything can't be manipulated is also a lesson.

Week 2: Modest Proposals to Use Computer Imagination

Widgets to improve blog-authoring

"Computer Imagination" is a concept outlined by Martin Siegel in “Falling Asleep at Your Keyboard: The Case for Computer Imagination” (2003). Here are some ways inventive developers could allow us to use Blogs and RSS.  Maybe I'm behind the curve and these have all been done?

Attribution Solution:
Check your sources.

Attribution Solution
When you post a photo or a graphic to a blog, an image search is automatically done to see if it is copyright-protected in any way. Version 2.0 implements citation attribution as an option, relieving students of the chore of typing punctuation-heavy academic citations. Choose your standard (AP, Chicago Manual,etc.) and your 'cite' is bookmarked.

Fill your blog with
public-domain images.
An image finding widget that pops up as you type and offers public-domain images available to illustrate your blog. Version 2.0 would be context sensitive and know the difference between visual symbols like “square” the shape, and verbal symbols like “square” the concept for straightening things out or settling an account. Duck! Here's an image of a duck again. Aargh.

Implementations of RSS integration

Instant Synergy:
Identifies phrases that match
the one you typed.

Instant Synergy
If you are typing a phrase in a document, a list pops up from an RSS feed that displays links to pages or sources that have used the same phrase. You could use this to check for similar or opposing views, factual errors. Version 2.0 would give you a slider to control an option for exact to near matches. Perfect for the total originals in class.

Little Brother

Little Brother:
Watches what you type
and suggests RSS feeds to track.
A pop-up offers to track news stories if you type the same phrase more than once on your keyboard. An option allows you to set the number of exact or similar instances needed to trigger the popping-up. Imagine Google’s auto-fill search function in your word processor, suggesting sites and sources. Think Microsoft's late, lamented Clippy as Dennis the Menace.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What a difference a decade makes.

Here is my response to two articles about the possibilities of technology in education. The articles are:
Both essays are intriguing for what they reveal about attitudes toward technology at the time they were written.

After Postman (1993) takes time to explain Luddites, I'm ready to listen to his arguments. The Luddites have been reduced to a cliché in popular thought, but I appreciate the complexity of their story. So I was a tad disappointed to find that he sets up a false equivalence, assigning the behavior of a car salesman to represent the attitudes of the proponents of technology. I don't agree that their motivations are so similar.

In 1993 I had a Mac LC II with 10Mb of RAM.
I used an external modem to direct dial other computer users to transfer files.This was a lot harder than reaching over to hand-crank a window on the passenger side from the driver's seat.

Then, by the end, the jump to an extreme case in the closing paragraph: More information is not going to prevent nuclear annihilation every time. Sigh, no, it won't. I recall the fervor of proponents of tech at the time and it could indeed be over the top. Someone needed to be reasonable, but Postman isn't it in this article.

My largest problem with the essay is that “Information” in Postman's formulation is meaningless. It is a spigot of data points, unconnected, apparently to other knowledge or meaning. Just flowing.

For me, It isn't the inflow of information that defines the internet, it is the outflow of individual creation to (possibly) vast audiences from many creators.

Reigeluth and Joseph (2002) attempt to find a way to introduce wholeness and understanding into an instructional environment. Their “Principles for a learning-focused paradigm of education” include many points that build social cohesion, a sense of community, and respect. They give space for meaning in the learner's journey.

By 2002 I had a Blue and White G3 and had installed a G4 processor.
Dial-up access made living in the woods a viable self-employment location. A beautiful series of screeches and malfunction sounds announced to the world that you were connecting to the internet. 
I was heartened they accept that every learner will advance at their own pace, in their own style. My own experience teaching and learning is that one size does not fit all or sometimes any.

While Reigeluth and Joseph are willing to see technology as a tool to customize instruction, Postman says “One of the principal functions of school is to teach children how to behave in groups.” Ugh. Does that mean technology can't help with that task? The pair have the benefit of a decade's more evidence and critique than Postman helping bring more nuance to their conception of technology.

While it might have been true in Postman's 1993 that proponents of technology in education were over-promising the benefits of information access–much that the internet has brought forth since could not have been foreseen. Access to 'information' via internet connection made available so many so many viewpoints unseen before.

Ultimately, I may just have difficulty identifying with the views of an author who sees no reason to have cruise control in a car and waxes on about not needing power windows. Crank-starting a Model T was fine when autos were new, but I'm glad improvements were made to the driving experience. More and better technology opened access for more types of drivers.

I feel the same about technology: Having more choices does matter when doing so increases access to more voices. 

Images used are in the public domain and made available through creative commons license by their respective copyright owners.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I'm back and it's going to be fun. And rigorous.

Starting a class called "Introduction to Educational Technology"

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye blogger.... I'm moving in the new year.

....but only to I'll be collecting all of my efforts under one banner:

Please adjust your bookmarks, and expect a smoother interface with facebook. It's time to move to wordpress as a platform. I needed the ability to make static pages. I'm hosting it at my own site. To celebrate.... here's a broken down gas station!