Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thinking about Metaphors and Monday!

Monday, April 28th, will be a staff development day. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a whole day to spend exploring--listening to inspiring speakers, talking about 21 century education and how it is different from what we are doing, sharing our dreams and our fears! Wouldn't it be great to spend the day getting comfortable and acquainted with some of the ideas that all the new technology is designed to bring us? What happened on Friday brought all these thoughts bubbling to the surface.

A teacher asked for help saving a project that a middle school student had produced and loaded on the school's homepage. Unfortunately, her district machine had been locked down, and she had no rights to download the current edition of Quicktime, to make seeing it possible. I could display the project on my laptop because I had the right software, but I could not burn it to my CD. I tried several different routes, but had no success, and since I'm not permitted the right click I couldn't even trouble shoot. I will have to wait until our faithful technician shows up.

Disappointed, when I told her I couldn't find a way to do it. she said. "I can't believe you couldn't do it." Puzzled, I looked at her and said, "Why, do you say that?" Her response? "You know everything about this stuff."

"How can you say that? There are a million things I don't know," I shot back incredulous! Her reality and mine were certainly at odds. Over the past seven years, I disconnected from technology because of an unsupportive environment. As a result I feel as much of a novice as I did in 1993. Still this teacher thought of me as an expert.

This difference between what is and what we believe to be is one reason we have a critical need for time together to explore what is available, to see places where technology is being integrated wisely, and to try on different technologies to see what fits us.

One of the things we need to explore is this dynamic that someone knows everything --- the guru. The metaphor for technology is a network where everyone contributes. We need to help everyone catch a glimpse of it. We share its blessings and struggle with it curses together -- equally. The truth is that those at the top of the network don't know how to do everything either. Because of increasing complexity, we all need to share what we learn as we become comfortable with it. The Laubach model of literacy applies. Each one teach one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Playing the Organ is a little like Web 2.0

Incorporating Web 2.0 tools has been a goal for me at school this year. The fact that I am so slow to incorporate these tools places me at the bottom of the food chain of educational technology bloggers. My experience this year has reminded me of a distant time when my husband was studying Organ Performance at Syracuse University. I had been playing the piano for a long time, but certainly not at the level of a keyboarding student at Syracuse. I thought it would be fun to learn to play the organ, too, and Will O. Headlee who was the head of the Organ Department obliged by offering me lessons.

I was thinking how Web 2.0 is very like my experience on the organ. Being a listener or receiver of the beauty of the instrument is what the Internet has been about...but now it is interactive and messy and like an automic reaction as people contribute their gifts....So it was for me. I would contribute, my meager talents to the long line of those who played at this console.

I don't know why Headlee decided to extend himself for me. Perhaps he thought it would be interesting to teach someone so lacking in gifts. Perhaps it was a chance to hone his skills on someone who was a rank beginner. In any case, once a week I went for my lesson on the Magnificent Holtkamp that dominated Crouse Hall. I let my own embarrassment interfere with what might have been a really remarkable experience. I was so embarrassed, I would get up to do my practice on the majestic instrument at 3:00 a.m. on Friday mornings. I wanted to be certain that no one to heard me.

It is not so different now. I deal with teachers who feel embarrassed because they are coming late to the table. I want them to know that there is a place at the table for them and for me. We are all late to dinner. Me because I have been out of the loop for the past seven years, and they because they were not being propelled into technology by our district. They are just beginning to experience some of the blessings that will make them want to be more proficient users.

With luck we will all have a Will O. Headlee of technology who rather than make fun of our foibles will consider it an opportunity to learn and hone her own technology teaching. Above is the Holtcamp Organ being played just this January....It still looks and sounds as awe-inspiring as I remember it!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ferengi is US - How much am I bid for the future of education?

Bowker published its Annual with some ominous data, and independent publishers discussed the changing landscape where hedgefunds buy and sell them forcing staff cuts and requiring a 25% profit on any book published. In the past, wildly popular books helped to pay for those which were deemed worthwhile, but not so profitable. Harry Potter could have supported several hundred perhaps. Benefit to society? PRICELESS!

Independent bookstores used to buy niche books and stock unusual gems waiting to be discovered, but large chains pushed them out of business. We consoled ourselves with the thought that at least there were a number of national chains - Today I read that Borders may be going under- falling prey to Barnes & Noble. Independence and diversity? Cost to society? PRICELESS!

Libraries once had the buying power to keep independents alive, but Cuts to library funding are ever popular in a world where personal gain is the yardstick by which to measure success. Impact of the Loss of Library purchasing power? PRICELESS

Libraries are pressured to throw out (weed) books that are more than a few years old. They no longer provide an opportunity for authors to be discovered or re-discovered on a dusty shelf by that unique reader. In doing this they are forced to ignore Ranganathan's 2nd & 3rd laws. As a result authors do not have the time needed to find their readers because the time they sit on a shelf waiting for that right reader to arrive is too short. Cost to readers? PRICELESS

I remember the joy of finding Generation of Vipers on my high school library shelf in the late 1960s. Published in 1942, I glimpsed a world that was already disappearing. That book lead me to Wylie's ficitonal classic, When Worlds Collide, published in 1933. My librarian would have been given a warning for having aged tomes on her shelves in today's world. But, thankfully that was a different time, and I, the reader found my books! Today, readers are denied the joy of finding such treasures. Cost to Authors and Publishers and readers? PRICELESS!

As a school librarian I am writing about these issues because reading and learning are individual and personal - they cannot be mass produced - they spread virally. I am writing about this because thinking and learning cannot be reduced to a profit/loss or test/measure mentality.

Finally, I am writing about this because the gift of education is not the sole purview of formal public or private schools and universities!

As a public librarian in Clovis, N.M., in the 1980s, I used to travel to Albuquerque to visit a marvelous children's bookstore, Tresspassers William. It was owned and operated by a free spirit, Gwynne Spencer. She was a beuatiful woman prone to wear Indian bedspreads, trailing long, wild ,curly hair, and effusing about the latest childrens book! I used to look forward to her monthly newsletter filled with the newest and best books, and great ideas to help children respond to them! I learned about storytelling from her after I had started telling tales in my story hour. Her bookstore sponsored workshop after workshop with the finest people in the West! In so doing she provided one of the invaluable services that books,bookstores and libraries provide; they are the University of Life-Long Learning. How can we calculate the economic impact of that? It is truly PRICELESS!

So what does this have to do with the Ferengi? The Ferengi were a race of beings who valued only the material and the ability of each Ferengi to create personal wealth. The concept of greater good did not exist for them! Can America be far behind? Everything we do is based in profit. Education, health care, even prisons are privatized!

As educators we are to educate children so that they can integrate into the workforce and to the extent that we succeed in this task we are deemed to have value. The problem is the workplace and indeed the world is shifting beneath us and we are training a workforce for jobs that will not exist when today's kindergarteners graduate! We continue to measure discrete skills in a world that needs something we are not measuring! The cost of measuring the wrong thing? PRICELESS!

I read with deep sadness that our Mayor, Karl Dean, here in Nashville, (a mayor I voted for) has decided to fully fund "education" (I should be cheering, right?) BUT to do this he is cutting Public Library services. Clearly he and others on the 1% of the LCurve have missed the point. Indeed, he is not fully funding education when he cuts public library funding!

How costly this is to our societey (if we measure using something other than money) would be difficult to assess. I'd like to ask my wise friend, Gwynne how she would do it.

If you find this confusing -- watch this video which is on You Tube -- but I have included it from a new site which allows you to view it in many languages -- how about Esperanto?