Monday, November 17, 2008

Students Change the World!

Greetings from Qatar!

My entire "Learning and Technology" Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology class at Pepperdine University collaborated online to create a web site promoting the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's Give One, Get One promotion in which Americans pay $398 and get an XO laptop computer (known as the $100 computer) and a child in the developing world gets one as well. Donors also receive a $199 tax deduction. This special offer runs between today and December 31st.

This learning adventure embraced by students was an opportunity for them to develop technological, project-management and advocacy skills, in addition to making the learning case for G1G1. It was gratifying to receive email messages from students thanking me for the assignment. Having a sense of purpose makes learning more meaningful.

Check out result of the students' efforts at the following URL:

The OLPC Mission

The XO Computer

The Unique XO Interface

Superbowl MVP Tom Brady on the G1G1

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Monday, October 20, 2008


I have long been fascinated by experts, expertise and the commonalities between them. I have learned much about learning by being in the presence of people who are great at what they do. In fact, I believe that reality TV is a manifestation for our basic human desire to engage in apprenticeship experiences.

The Sundance Channel just started broadcasting its fourth season of Iconoclasts. In the series, extraordinary people are paired to interact informally and we get to eavesdrop on the result for an hour. Clips from all four seasons may be watching online at

This season pairs people like Archbishop Demond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson; Clive Davis and Bill Maher; Tony Hawk and Jon Favreau.

iTunes offers Season 2 of Iconoclasts , including six pairings like Dave Chapelle and Maya Angelou; Dean Kamen and Isabella Rosellini, etc... for $9.99 or as individual episodes for $1.99 each.

I hope other seasons will be available on iTunes or DVD sooner rather than later.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

You Must Rethink "Tech Standards"

In 2004, I had the great privilege of being hired to consult and lead professional development in India. One of the highlights of the trip was being on a panel discussion with Dr. Sugata Mitra and a billionaire high-tech exec. The purpose of the day was a school convening it's community and experts to discuss the future of education. (How many of your schools have that sort of event on its calendar?)

Dr. Mitra and his work were damn impressive. Upon returning home I wrote the following article: Let Them Eat Tech Standards - A hole in the wall as science and public policy
The "Hole in the Wall" project is a testament to the competency and capacity of children to construct their own knowledge in a community of practice. Internet access can connect children to each other and the 21st century.

The fabulous TED Conference has just posted a new TED Talk by Dr. Sugata Mitra. It is worthy of the attention of every teacher concerned about learning and every coordinator with "technology" in their job description.

Note: The TED Talk site has better video quality, but Blogger would not allow the Embed to work properly.

Also read Sylvia Martinez's blog about Dr. Mitra's work, Hole in the Wall - Can kids learn computer literacy by themselves?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Please Say Thank You

The time is now to thank your mentors and heroes!

Please Say Thank You, my latest column for District Administration Magazine, is a reflective piece on the role mentors play in each of our lives.

Please read my latest article and share your thoughts here on the blog.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

There IS a Difference Between Teaching, Learning and Curriculum!

Last Friday, I enjoyed the great privilege of participating virtually in a discussion of Daniel Pink's dubious book, "A Whole New Mind," with terrific high school students from Arapahoe High School in Colorado. Karl FIsch, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Moritz earned my respect for inviting "outsiders" into the discussion and for their preparation. Based on the comments from their articulate students, they are doing something right.

(You may read the discussions I participated in here: Period 4 & Period 5)

In preparation for the book discussions, Karl Fisch's Fishbowl blog, Karl Fisch shares the following quote from another blog.

Twenty-first century education won’t be defined by any new technology. It won’t be defined by 1:1 laptop programs or tech-intensive projects. Twenty-first century education will, however, be defined by a fundamental shift in what we are teaching—a shift towards learner-centered education and creating creative thinkers.

This comment makes an all-too common mistake. It confuses teaching, learning and curriculum. They are not the same! "A fundamental shift in what we are teaching" refers to content, not how students learn or think. In fact, I do not believe that you can create creative thinkers since learning is what the learner does - not the result of teaching.

It seems peculiar to me that there is so little discussion of changing curricular content among those who spend their time blogging about school "change." Surely, you cannot keep adding content to the overcrowded curriculum. Not only does some curricular content need to be cut to make room, but some content is irrelevant while other "content" is counter-productive, unteachable or bad for students.

Kids at Arapahoe High School understood me when I suggested that "kids go to school to be taught." This is not the same as learning. Too many educators and policy makers seem to have a tenuous understanding of terms central to their mission.

Here is a primer...

What you teach is curricular content. How you teach is pedagogy. Learning is the process of growth undertaken by the learner. Knowledge is the consequence of experience.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

That Damn YouTube!

For a decade, new Masters and Doctoral students in educational technology at Pepperdine University have experienced a "learning adventure" I created. Groups of relative strangers with diverse backgrounds, expertise and talents randomly draw a complex robotics challenge out of a hat. They then must design a robot to solve the problem on their sheet, program it in Logo and reflect on the learning experience.

The strength of this "learning adventure" lies in the following elements:
• The improvisational quality of the LEGO materials with which a bug causes you to reflect on your thinking, attempt new strategies and make adjustments while success inspires you to test a larger theory or expand on your invention.

• The activity creates a "level playing field" where despite differences in expertise, few adults are LEGO robotics champions.

• The activity is wildly interdisciplinary.

• The activity requires students to engage in math, science, engineering and computer science in a playful context.

• This is no mere "team building" activity. Collaboration is natural within the context of learning and constructing something of common value.

• Members of the community may learn from one another and achieve great results even when multiple projects are underway. In other words, it is NOT necessary for every student to be engaged in exactly the same task for the capacity of the community to grow.

• Students' eyes are opened to the larger potential of computers as intellectual laboratory and vehicles for self-expression.

For several years, students were required to videotape key moments of the invention process, edit the video and include it, along with a reflective journal of their learning process on the web. In other words, mid-career professionals could learn to engineer a robot, program it, shoot video, edit video, upload it to the web and create a web site complete with a reflective narrative, digital photographs and video clips - all in approximately 10 contact hours WITHOUT BEING TAUGHT.

How could that be? It's taken some schools 25 years to get teachers to check their email.

I'm developing a pedagogical theory to describe my work with children and adults in contexts like the robotics challenge. I call it, "A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words."

That means that with:

1) A good challenge (ideally self-selected but in this case provided at random in the interest of time)

2) Substantial materials (not only bountiful in quantity, but possessing the quality of "objects-to-think-with)

3) Sufficient time (Stay up all night if necessary. Work again tomorrow...)

4) A supportive culture free of coercion, sorting, labeling and judging

It is possible to solve problems and do work of higher caliber or level of sophistication than you might otherwise have thought possible.

Every single person who has ever worked with me in such a context has collaborated to solve the problems in a way they can be proud of. That goes for five year-olds and 50 year-old doctoral students.

That Damn YouTube
I am reluctant to share examples of past student projects with current students for any number of reasons. Some students freak out and are overwhelmed. Some think the task is beneath them. Others might take steps to seek a competitive advantage and worst of all, "finished" projects from the past imply a correct answer or strategy. This limits creativity, divergent thinking and reduces the learning benefits of the activity.

I led a group of new Pepperdine doctoral students through the random robotics challenge today and something new occurred. Student teams had been given their randomly-chosen prompts (challenges) a few days ago so they could start thinking about execution strategies. During that time, a number of students searched YouTube for finished examples of such LEGO robotics projects. Remarkably, such video clips exist. This (mis)led several teams into thinking that they had "the correct answer" and may have dimished the richness of the learning adventure.

I don not consider this cheating. I encourage students to use any resources that help them learn. My world is open-book. They may just be cheating themselves.

Just because one solution is on YouTube hardly means that it's the best solution, but school conditions us to get done quickly and have THE right answer.

The Good News

This class of mid-career professional students solved complex robotics engineering and programming projects in just a few hours with no direct instruction. I didn't use a white board, black board or projector once. I did a 5-minute intro to the materials, answered questions, collaborated in brainstorming sessions on a team-by-team basis and suggested they ask other teams for assistance once those teams learned to solve similar problems.

One team even used YouTube in a personally meaningful way. They published a video of their magnificent invention. I just hope that the next class that comes along doesn't think that their solution is THE right answer!

My collection of LEGO challenges
Useful LEGO robotics reference materials
A small selection of videoclips from past student projects
A paper in which I explain the theory behind "learning adventures" and how I teach online - Towards a Pedagogy of Online Constructionist Learning

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