Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time Magazine Features a Gallery of Obama Flickr Images

Check it out here.

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Atoms are More Valuable than Bits

Hey Web 2.opians,

What do you think of this?

At Magazines, It's 2.0 Steps Forward, 1.0 Step Back
The Web may be the future for magazine publishing, but in the present, ready revenue is winning out and Web writers are getting laid off left and right

Major magazines are CUTTING their web publishing divisions to focus on print magazine publishing, the part of the business that generates income.

The current issue of Wired includes an article, How T-Shirts Keep Online Content Free.

The simple reality is that work of quality costs someone something and at least in the foreseeable future, atoms may indeed me more valuable than bits.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Web 2.0 is Dead?

It is safe now to say that "Web 2.0" is dead. The evidence is irrefutable and it exposes the twin fallacies the concept of Web 2.0 has depended upon: 1) that people can build their worlds around - indeed, will want to build their worlds around - social networking; and 2) that social networking offers a viable, massively scalable business model.

So begins Peter Scwartz's Huffington Post article, "Facebook's Face Plant: The Poverty of Social Networks and the Death of Web 2.0."

This article echoes some of the things I've been saying for ages about educators who invest a great deal of their time, energy and allow their identity to be merged with products whose entire business model is based on borrowing money until Google bought them.

I've also been warning about cloud computing and how I don't trust the "cloud" with anything of value.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Keynote Flim-Flam

Will Richardson writes of his disappointment that highly paid speakers at a conference dedicated to the future of schooling lacked concrete ideas relevant to, well - the future of schooling.

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have endured endless lectures by "experts" with no educational experience, background or knowledge who apply conventional wisdom from every field except education, to improving our schools. I've asked the following question a zillion times in different forms, but continue to be clueless as to, "Why are educators so willing to take marching orders from slick talkers who know nothing about learning, have extremely limited experience in schools and have never led anything, even as assistant night manager of a 7-11?"

Will's blog about conference speakers
, Michael Horn and Tony Wagner remind me of Stager's First Two Axioms of Education Reform.
(Note: Tony Wagner has considerable education experience.)

Stager's Axioms of Education Reform

1) “It is my belief that the dominant solution to any educational challenge will be wrong and make the problem worse.”

2) "Observation is not insight and counting is not wisdom!"

The best of the fancy conference talkers and airport bookstore authors can sling meaningless statistics about cellphone ownership, Indian engineering graduates and how many kids play video games like a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher. However, the conclusions they draw, if they even bother to draw them, tend to be fatuous and apropos of nothing.

In other cases, the conclusions are drawn with complete ignorance or discounting of the social, political, historical or human aspects of schooling. Merely proclaiming that the world is changing and schools will soon be irrelevant is a cheap party trick worthy of your contempt. Inventing clever puns, taking credit for ones created by others or making self-evident claims about the value of educational tradition, without questioning those traditions, is just as disgraceful (see here)

Will ended his blog on an optimistic note, but I harbor great reservations about what he sees as progress.

Finally, I think the conversation that most blew me away was the one with Andy Ross, the VP of Florida Virtual High School. They’ve got almost 1,000 full time staff now and over 20,000 kids on their waiting list to take classes. They can’t hire teachers fast enough. Kids can take their entire high school curriculum online without ever meeting a teacher face to face, though there are plenty of phone calls and e-mails. Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery. Now I’m not saying that those are necessarily reasons to move everything online, but it was the one solid vision of a “School of the Future” that I got at the conference.

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.

  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?

  • I am NOT comforted by increases in standardized test scores or the "deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery." This is a vision of education I find nauseating.

  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it's easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

Educators in Pennsylvania told me that parents tired of receiving truancy calls simply withdraw their kids from school and "enroll" them in "cyberschools." The value or efficacy of that educational alternative remains in doubt.

On another note, I'm always amazed when bloggers who use so little computing potential and offer a slightly incremental view of educational innovation also feel compelled to apologize for their advocacy of the tiniest of changes in pedagogical practice.
That doesn’t mean than we throw out all of the good pedagogy that we’ve developed over the years and make everything about technology. But it does mean, I think, that technology has to be a part of the way we do our learning business
You can also keep your learning "business" while we are at it.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Web 2.Cola

Extend your PBD (personal beverage democracy) and order bottles of Cola featuring your favorite Presidential candidate. Now, thanks to the wisdom of the crowds, you - lonely blogger, can also be a candidate for POTUS, if only virtually via soda bottles.

The web truly does change everything in revolutionary ways.

Give me liberty or give me root beer
- Lawrence Lessig

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Crocodile Tears

Here he goes again.

Wes Fryer's latest blog post, This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma, is a rallying cry for the technocenctric who think schools and universities should use any and all information technology available or our children will be left behind.

Wes is a nice guy, but I must confess that I am occasionally confused by his prolific blogging. He seems to justify any application, regardless of its quality or educational practice it supports, while simultaneously working tirelessly to scare the pants off parents and educators afraid of all the "bad stuff" out on the Web.

Fryer's blog states that Oklahoma Christian University and Abilene Christian University "are among the first colleges in the United States to implement initiatives which involve ALL students in entering classes purchasing and using either Apple iPhones or iPod Touches." Then he goes on to say...
I almost passed out on the spot, but I was torn by a simultaneous urge to weep.
Question: What is Wes so upset about?

Answer: He met a professor at Oklahoma Christian University who "broke my heart"

It seems that the professor Wes spoke with was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of iPhone use in his classes. This in turn resulted in Fryer condemning the academic's disinterest in 21st Century skills (assuming they exist) and accusing the professor of all sorts of crimes against modernity.

Putting aside the generalizations drawn from a conversation with one academic, Wes' attempt to persuade the professor to embrace technology is as ridiculous as the institution's iPhone/iPod requirement.

Wes reaches into his bag of free Web 2.0 tricks and asks the professor if is aware of PollEverywhere. That's right. In Wes' world of plug kids into anything that plugs-in (as long as you remember that they may be abducted), PollEverywhere is just the ticket to "enthralled" [Wes' term] students.

On my planet, PollEverywhere sustains medieval educational practices. Thanks to Wes and PollEverywhere, a teacher can give a multiple choice quiz in class and get responses instantly via cell phone or other mobile device. That leaves me to answer, "WHO CARES?"

Justifying classroom technology use with such weak examples as PollEverywhere does not represent progress as much as it does desperation on the part of the evangelist. I am only worried about the professor if he is in fact persuaded by this argument.

Lots of institutions of higher education require students to have a personal mobile computer. Pepperdine University, where I work, required student laptops during the Clinton administration and I began working in K-12 1:1 schools before the first Gulf War. This however is not why Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian is being singled out by Wes Fryer. Wes is touting their requirement that each student have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

It is ridiculous to suggest that an iPhone or iPodTouch is an adequate learning tool.

These devices are great for looking up answers to easily answered questions or even blogging. However, they offer VERY little of the potential of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression.

Why does an institution of higher education make such requirements? Because these devices 1) APPEAR cheap and 2) APPEAR modern and groovy.

So, the institution doesn't have the courage to ask kids to buy a multimedia laptop. Instead they suggest an iPhone and then shift the ongoing expenses to the student anyway in the form on monthly fees.

It might also be true that Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian have higher priorities than "21st Century Skills" or epistemological pluralism. To quote Hebrew National commercials, perhaps they "answer to a higher authority."

No matter what you think of the arguments above, I hope we can find common ground in stating unequivocally that neither the requirement that every college student own an iPod or the fact that professors don't embrace them has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Wes Fryer's blog title, "This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma."

Note: Here are a few recent examples of blog interactions to support the analysis above:

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Capitalism 2.0

Snapped at Staples in Manchester, NH

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Do You Want My Slides?

Read my latest article Why Do You Want My Slides? in The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

Each year I make dozens of presentations at educational events around the world. Nearly every presentation is followed by an audience member asking, “Can I have a copy of your PowerPoint?” Sometimes, they hand me a USB drive...

What do attendees intend to do with my slides?

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Isn't it Ironic?

Many of the most popular, hired and prolific members of the EduBlogosphere (particularly the edtech bloggers) spend a great deal of time, word count and airplane mileage talking about the importance of literacy - old literacy, new literacy, media literacy, superdooper 21st Century Web 2.0 literacy and "literacies" yet to be invented.

Literacy dominates my esteemed colleague's thoughts about education. Therefore, I find it shocking that there is so little [read: none] discussion of the news that the federal Department of Education has concluded that Reading First, the $6 billion shock and awe approach to literacy education at the core of No Child Left Behind, has FAILED to improve the reading comprehension of American students.

Why the silence among EduBloggers? Is this issue unimportant? Should we ignore the calamity created by Reading First just because it doesn't mention Twitter, Apture, Ning or other made-up words?

Or, are you waiting to be told what to think by Tom Friedman or Daniel Pink?

Too bad the self-proclaimed prophets of the information and media literacy "revolution" have nothing to offer the educators who will need to cleanup this mess created by the Bush Administration and perpetuated by those who remained silent when they knew better.

For the record, I've been writing about this issue for four years. An anthology of this work may be found here. I hope to have a more substantive piece published for a larger audience sometime this week. Stay tuned.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

The Most Ugly Side of Private Schools & Web 2.0

You must read this article from New York Magazine, Testing Horace Mann.

When students created Facebook pages that viciously attacked a teacher, and when their wealthy parents on the school’s board defended them, Horace Mann was forced to confront a series of questions: Is a Facebook page private, like a diary? Is big money distorting private-school education? And what values is a school supposed to teach?

When students post racist and sexist attacks on a highly-qualified teacher, it is that teacher and her defenders who are fired by an uber rich school much more concerned with their children realizing their birthright at Harvard than with education or doing the right thing.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stop the VoiceThread! Please!

Wes Fryer spends a great deal of time and effort on his blog and in workshops touting VoiceThread as an important new educational tool. VoiceThread (and similar products) may in fact represent interesting technical achievements, but a heathy dose of candor and critical reflection is needed.

I know that if I dare criticize Wes' examples I run the risk of being called a big meanie and told that the examples presented are just quick vignettes not intended to be exemplars. However, lots of educators are being led to believe that such web-based software tools represent sophisticated practice and new learning opportunities. Such a conclusion would be wrong.

The VoiceThread examples I have seen are little more than digital book reports with images not owned or created by the student (author) and with narrations suffering from too little planning and editing. The audience for such "productions" eludes me.

Some of these slapped together multimedia collages are about as entertaining as a slideshow of someone else's vacation photos.

In case you think I'm wrong, too harsh or making a rash judgement, please watch and listen to the VoiceThread video here.

This matters to me! I have been disappointed by how hard it is to engage the educational blogosphere in issues of social justice and civil rights as demonstrated in the following recent blogs:
Twittering While America Burns
The State of Race Relations
I'm Worried About America
Oh! The Humanity!
What's the Difference Between School and Prison?
Observations from the NSBA Conference...

In this blog, Wes Fryer shares a VoiceThread project he created about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "Dream" speech.

It is unclear as to whether the voices you hear are a mixture of students and teachers or just teachers alone. (there are no credits) The "educational objective" of the activity seem to have to do with evaluating audio quality more than understanding Dr. King. However, the enormity of Dr. King's contributions and sacrifice deserve far more than a soundcheck.

The following are some questions and observations that arise from the King VoiceThread video published by Wes Fryer:

Did the students (or their teachers) listen to the entire March on Washington speech? (few classrooms ever do) Did they discuss the purpose of the 1963 speech or read the speeches of others present that day?

Did they consider (re: READ) other work by King or his contemporaries?

Do the students (or their teachers) think that the nation healed immediately after that speech?

Do the students (or their teachers) know that the Supreme Court just made voluntary school desegregation illegal?

One speaker says something like, "one speech by one man with one dream change everyone's life even if you don't think about it?" This is the filibuster of an unprepared student and then you used your platform to share such nonsense with the world.

Why should we be impressed by a web-based slideshow of what kids or teachers) think/feel/believe based on exposure to a few sentences uttered by a prolific political leader?
This dangerously equates the teacher who rambles on about how American life is consumed by the "almighty dollar" with the Nobel Laureate. This is a display of egocentrism, narcissism and ignorance.

If the VoiceThread I watched and listened to is just an early draft, then why publish it? Respect your audience by keeping drafts private. Can someone please point me to the good VoiceThreads?

I wrote about the miseducative way in which Dr. King is taught in "If You Really Want to Honor Dr. King..." I hope some of you will read this article and "The Truth Shall Set You Free!"

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Eradicating Meaningless Euphemisms by Bombarding them with New Ones

David Warlick's most recent blog and the congratulatory support of his readers confuses me.

Let me begin by sharing a portion of his article with which I agree:

Our efforts should not be to integrate technology into the classroom, but to define and facilitate a new platform on which the classroom operates. When the platform is confined by classroom walls, and learning experiences spring from static textbooks and labored-over white boards, and the learning is highly prescribed, then pedagogy is required.

However, I am left to ask, "What do learners DO in the world of pretty diagrams, false dichotomies and networked learning platforms promised in Warlick's blog?"

However, if the platform is a node on the global network; with text, audio, and video links to other uncountable nodes on the network; and the connections are real time and clickable, and tools are available to work and employ the content that flows through those connections; then the learning happens because learners have experienced personal connections — and they want to maintain those connections by feeding back their own value. (Warlick 1/13/08)

I don't teach from textbooks or white boards and never did. My teaching has been far from prescriptive, whether face-to-face or online. This was all possible without the technology platform Warlick fashions for educators of the future. Understanding how meaningful, personal, non-coercive, creative, constructive, collaborative learning environments have been created, and in some cases sustained, around the world should be a pre-requisite for anyone professing a desire to reinvent education.

I love talking, chatting, Skyping, Twittering, blogging, Mogging (yup, it exists) and writing as much as the next guy, but a very small percentage of knowledge is constructed by talking. Much is not. I remain unconvinced that the most vocal proponents of Web 2.0 offer a vision of technology use outside of the language arts or perhaps social studies curriculum. With all due respect, talking about math or science is not the same as being a scientist or mathematician. Papert originally offered a vision of how computers make that possibility a reality.

Learning is an active process with the learner at its center. It is not dependent on instruction, online or face-to-face. I got excited about computing thirty years ago because it allowed me to make things that did not exist before or were beyond my reach. It amplified my creative abilities. Playing jazz and computer programming afforded me a community of practice of like-minded people, of various levels of expertise and shared objectives.

I have since come to understand how knowledge is the result of active purposeful construction and that computers often unprecedented opportunities to explore new domains and engage in a much wider range of projects than have ever been possible before. As Papert says, "If you can make things with computers, then you can make a lot more interesting things." The process of computer programming was as creatively rewarding and intellectually satisfying as composing music or engaging in a well-reasoned argument. What are examples of the "artifacts of learning" that Mr. Warlick "breeds?"

I fear with all my being that the remarkable potential of computing and the promise for innovation and school reform it once embraced will be lost if all we focus on is the "well-reasoned debate" at best, and looking stuff up, PowerPoint or web quests at worst.

I do not mean to diminish for an instant the power of the Internet. I have personally been online since 1983 and teaching online for more than a dozen years. I used an acoustic coupler to connect from my bedroom to a mainframe in the late 1970s and remember when my Australian host invited her neighbors over to watch me check my email in 1990. I led collaborative online education projects in the late 1980s. As I write this paragraph, even I ask myself, "SO WHAT?"

The network begins at home. Isn't there MUCH more we can do to make the existing learning environments more social, collaborative and meaningful whether electricity is involved or not? Why do we constantly jump from melodramatic tales of school to some utopian world of online alchemy?

It may be ill-advised to project onto children or the educational system an adult's excitement about how social networks have reduced their sense of isolation, answered a tech-support question or even helped shape their personal identity.

I sense that we have gone beyond the tipping point of what Seymour Papert calls "verbal inflation." We are terribly excited about so very little.

David's triad of "electronic portfolios," "course management systems" and "social networking" offers not a single clue for a teacher yearning to make school a more hospitable place for learning nor provides a child one ounce of leverage against the system many of you proclaim a desire to reform. In fact, electronic portfolios and course management systems are clear tools of the existing system.

I do happen to agree with David Warlick's concern about the cacophony of meaningless euphemisms being bandied about, but cannot help but notice the number of additional ones introduced in the comments to his blog.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Official... Google IS Evil

Google's much-lauded corporate motto has been "Don't be evil."

As the company grows and its stock price approaches a squillion dollars, the company slides ever closer to the line between good and evil.

Let's put aside kowtowing to the repressive Chinese government and look a little closer to home.

The Wall Street Article, "Google Takes Aim at Wikipedia," describes how Google is creating its own site, Knol, where users can contribute expertise on any subject. Those entries will of course be presented alongside ads, Google's core business.

Picking on a non-profit global volunteer effort such as Wikipedia is really low. It reminds us that Google is a giant corporation with quarterly goals to meet and stockholders to please - not just a great big sandbox with salad bar, video games and massage chairs.

This is worth remembering as educators go gaga over the largesse of Google's "free" tools.

As my great grandmother used to say, "There's no such thing as a free search."

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Help! I don't know how to blog!

I'm often at a loss in how to "participate" in the "community" that is the "blogosphere."

I struggle constantly with the problem of what I call "the quick and the unread." If you don't respond to a blog quickly, almost at twitch speed, your comments have little chance of being read. Taking the time to thoughtfully respond to a blog often results in the original blog being supplanted by a new one. Once the blog you wish to respond to gets pushed down the page, the likelihood of discussion rapidly approaches zero.

My current dilemma is this.

Lenny writes a blog full of facts or advice I dispute. Squiggy leaves a comment on the blog, but provides a response I disagree with.

What should I do when I disagree with the premise of a blog or the facts within and one ore more commenters provide feedback that should also be challenged? Do you respond to the blog AND the comments? If so, should this be in the same comment or in multiple posts? Will other readers be confused by more than one point being made in a comment?

Add to this scenario the fact that many bloggers view criticism as "being mean" regardless of the merits of an argument. Other blog readers simply ignore complex arguments or those longer than a couple of paragraphs.

Should I ignore the other person's blog entirely and write a blog on my own site? How many readers will I lose by moving the conversation?

I'm confused.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

An extremely effective use of YouTube to explain complex issues

The Writers Guild of America is using YouTube to educate the public about the cause of the recent writer's strike. These short films are clear, concise, informative and entertaining.

One might imagine them being used as examples of short video production for students (particularly "Why We Fight"). They certainly explain the unintended consequences associated with the Web revolution and highlight contemporary intellectual property issues.

If the video clips below do not play, click on the link below the video to go to YouTube.

Why We Fight

The Office On Strike

Lost and Desperate

How Greedy Can You Get?

Garry Marshall un-Happy Days

Read the United Hollywood blog.

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Mark Cuban's inspired thoughts on the digital generation gap

I've long been concerned by the educational technology pundits, Web 2.0pians as I like to call them, who herald every new web app as not only an earth-shaking revelation, but the end of school as we know it.

In the social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, young activists used to say, "Never trust anyone over 30." It seems that popular middle aged ed tech keynote speakers and bloggers have embraced that slogan as a form of self-loathing. The Digital Natives/Immigrants cliché and other similar nonsense is built on the assumption that Twitter (or whatever replaces it an hour from now), somehow makes you smarter, a better citizen and reduces the chances of male pattern baldness. Such ageism makes me a bit queasy.

But, what the heck do I know? Maybe I'm wrong.

Well, Mark Cuban (Internet billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks) agrees with me in his recent blog, Never Friend Anyone Over 29.

There seems to be some delusion that all technology and applications are new. Invented from a cloudburst with no historical context. That as new, the technology is the province of the young, with anyone over 29 too old to understand and too confused to actually use it.

Thank you Mr. Cuban. You were robbed on Dancing with the Stars!

PS: I learned to program in 1976 (in a school class that now teaches keyboarding), connected to a mainframe via acoustic coupler from my bedroom around 1978 and have been online since 1983.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Are We Impressed Because College Students Can Use Google Docs?

David Warlick is the latest person to go all "digital immigrant" and proclaim that we should all take a good hard look at the hugely popular YouTube video, "A Vision of Students Today."

Fantastic. A college class with way too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a 5 minute web video.

I'm sorry, but I'm unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, "My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube."

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we so desperate for moving pictures or are they a substitute for actual ideas?

Is showing these types of videos the conference speaker equivalent of the teacher running the filmstrip to eat up class time?

One valuable lesson you should learn at university is that the world is full of people smarter than you and wondrous things to learn. This video and the mindless kudos afforded it make just the opposite point. Hey kids, you have cellphones! You've played Halo and excerpted someone else's blog which in summarized someone else's blog which excerpted an article on a magazine web site. THEREFORE you are master of the universe and every educational institution should abandon scholarship and discipline and any text longer than a screen.

I've wanted to tell the Web 2.0pians the following for some time.

Observation is not insight.

Factoids are not knowledge

Talk (in this case, mime) is cheap.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - an historical perspective

Jeff Utecht and David Warlick are among the latest educators to bemoan the lack of educational technology use by educators. In this case, Warlick and Utecht are specific in their criticism. They ponder aloud why the Web 2.0 tools they love do not appeal to more colleagues and why they are seldom used in classrooms. Both author/educators desire an education revolution, even if they have yet to articulate what that would look like in practice.

I have attempted to explore the question, "Why don't teachers use computers?" in various publications, notably addressing technical obstacles in Why Teachers Don't Use Computers; teacher recalcitrance in Gary Stager on Tech Insurgents; and a lack of leadership in Laptop Woes: Bungling The World's Easiest Sale.

Utecht expresses his frustration with colleagues who don't share his enthusiasm with Web 2.0 in a blog entitled "Fear Factor."

"My job, and I believe the job of every educational technology person is to help people get over this fear. To encourage them to explore these amazing machines. This year at my school we’ve loaded some very cool programs onto every teacher computer, and created shortcuts on the desktop so they had easy access to programs such as Skype, Google Earth, Second Life, and Scratch just to name a few. Yet I wonder how many teachers haven’t even clicked on one of these shortcuts to see what happens. Most haven’t even deleted the shortcuts even though they never plan to use them, or don’t know what to do."

The larger questions of why teachers don't continue to learn and grow are impossible to answer for there are so many factors in play. The range of finger pointing in response to Warlick's "rant" verifies the complexity of the issue. However, I think it is much easier to explain why teachers fail to embrace Skype, Google Earth and Second Life with the zeal of many "Web2.0pians." This requires a historical perspective. I believe it might be useful to compare the current situation to another heyday of educational computing. In this case, the 1980s and the "Logo community."

A bit of history of another "edtech" community

In 1966, Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzig, Cynthia Solomon and others invented Logo as a programming language for children that would allow them to explore powerful ideas by interacting with cybernetic "objects to think with." Papert had helped Jean Piaget learn how children construct mathematical knowledge and then went on to be a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence. Logo, built upon the AI language, LISP was designed as a "mathland" in which children might learn math as naturally as one would learn French by living in France. Math would be relevant, powerful and beautiful. In the late 60s Papert proposed a computer for every child when that was dismissed as heresy. Papert's work with Logo inspired Alan Kay to invent the dynabook in 1968, the predecessor to the modern laptop and "personal computer" was thought to be a computational learning space for children. The NSF, NIH and even the Pentagon funded seminal Logo research. Psychologists, computer scientists, learning theorists, mathematicians and teachers were collaborators.

By the time microcomputers became available, the MIT AI and Logo labs had published extensive research on children learning with Logo as did researchers around the world. In the early 80s and in the world's first "laptop schools" ten years later, the purpose of computers was to "do" Logo. The language, always designed to allow a wide range of personal expression and intellectual inquiry continued to evolve with advances in computing, but it was explicitly designed as an environment for children. When David Thornburg taught Logo to Stanford engineering grad students, the work was fantastic, but outside of the primary objectives for the software. HyperCard and HyperStudio were heavily influenced by Logo and the Logo community. Squeak, Scratch, StarLogo, NETLogo, Toontalk, Agentsheets, Stagecast Creator and other software environments are Logo's cousins. LCSI's LogoWriter invented the site license.

Logo's academic community grew rapidly as countless teachers around the world found Logo on their new classroom computers. The needs and objections of teachers became important subjects for investigation, debate and R&D. Byte dedicated an entire issue to Logo. One of the longest running educational technology journals, Logo Exchange, was published for close to twenty years. Dozens of how-to books filled with creative classroom project ideas and pedagogical strategies were published all over the world. Online conferences, beginning in 1985 supported the Logo community and summer institutes continue to this day. Seymour Papert and children using Logo were featured on Donahue. The BBC made a documentary about Logo. Logo conferences in the mid-1980s were major academic events attracting scholars and practitioners from around the world. Classroom teachers found themselves in collegial settings with leading intellectuals.

Perhaps, the most important thing to know about Logo was that it came with an owner's manual in the form of an educational manifesto, entitled Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. This 1981 book by Seymour Papert not only called for an educational revolution, but it predicted how schools would reject and ultimately defeat such efforts. However, the book became a bestseller all over the world and resonated with educators committed to progressive education. Not only did Papert offer Logo as a way of breathing life into Dewey, Piaget, Holt and Vygotsky, but Logo also energized a community of educators eager for social justice. Papert was a South African dissident who fought apartheid in the late 40s and early 1950s. Many of my colleagues in the Logo community fought for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. To them, Logo was not just a programming language or an educational philosophy, it was also a way of empowering young people to use their minds in an independent fashion.

Logo was a way of giving voice to their democratic principles and amplified their child-centered teaching practices.

Logo was explicit in stating that the best learning was comprised of "hard-fun." Although Logo has no threshold and no ceiling, it does require a great deal of debugging and mastery in order to get the computer to behave in the way you want. This is the power of programming. It provides agency over the machine and enhances the intellectual stature of the learner.

As more computers were delivered to schools and the enthusiasm of the early adopters were drowned out by teachers with other priorities, Logo became harder to sustain in schools. Add commercial pressures that devalued children making their own software (for obvious reasons) and the rest is history (except I just got back from a Logo conference in Eastern Europe).

Web 2.0 today

Now, how does this compare with the concerns raised by Utecht, Warlick and their colleagues in the Web 2.0 community?

Like 25 years ago with Logo, some creative teachers today have become smitten with Web 2.0 technologies. They do creative things with the tools themselves and engage kids in interesting projects. They too can't understand why colleagues do not share their enthusiasm. These early adopters are great evangelists for the technology and hope that their work will result in school reform.

However, there are some primary differences between Logo (and its variants) and the panoply of Web 2.0 tools, including:

  • The Web 2.0 tools promoted by Warlick and Utecht were not created by educators or for children. Educators hope to find educational applications despite having almost no input into the development of future tools.

  • The Web 2.0 tools come out of corporate, not academic, cultures with very different motives.

  • There is no educational philosophy inspiring the development of the Web 2.0 tools or their use.

  • Although a principle of the Web is the democratiziation of knowledge, this is an abstract concept to educators raised on textbooks and being commanded to recite from scripted lesson plans.

  • The greater Web 2.0 community has little interest in reforming education.

  • Web 2.0 attracts very little interest in the educational psychology or even teacher education communities.

  • There exists very little peer-reviewed scholarship regarding Web 2.0. In fact, many people in the blogosphere are openly contemptuous of theory and scholarship in favor of "the wisdom of crowds," a new and popular, albeit inherently anti-intellectual world-view.

  • By definition, the Web 2.0 community is leaderless. Too often, non-equivalent opinions are given equal weight without a demand for evidence or supporting arguments.

  • There is very little material written for educators on using Web 2.0 tools in a creative fashion. Will Richardson's book is a fabulous resource for understanding the read/write web, but hardly offers provocative project ideas.

  • No matter how cool, powerful or revolutionary Web 2.0 tools happen to be, there are few if any mature objects-to-think-with embedded in them and certainly no explicit statement that their use is designed to transform the learning environment.

  • The emphasis on information reinforces passive pedagogical practices, whether intentional or not.

  • While they may be really powerful or innovative software applications, a teacher simply does not need Skpe, Google Eartth or Second Life. Using them will do little to challenge conventional classroom practice. Some of the richest examples merely enhance the existing curriculum.

  • Web 2,0 requires robust ubiquitous access to the Internet. Most schools have demonstrated an inability to trust teachers and kids online and as a result create insane barriers to teachers using the Web in an educational fashion.

  • By definition, Web 2.0 is temporal (just wait for 3.0) and new tools emerge every hour. As a result, teachers don't see a reason to invest much time in mastering technologies that will be obsolete or leapfrogged tomorrow. For many enthusiasts, collecting the tools is as important as using them.

  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students.

  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools.

  • What is the unifying educational theory behind using Skype, Second Life, Scratch and Google Earth?

When Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Oscar Arias campaigned for President of Costa Rica, he promised to modernize the nation's public schools. Once elected he did not neglect his pledge or buy a white board for each classroom. Instead he asked Seymour Papert and his colleagues to help Costa Rican educators use Logo as a vehicle for empowering children and teachers. The primarily low-skilled and female teaching force across Costa Rica took this mission seriously as a way of not only asserting their competence, but to improve the quality of life in their country. The NGO Arias created, Fundacion Omar Dengo, to support classroom innovation and Logo use has withstood countless changes in government and succeeds to this day. More than a million Costa Rican school children use MicroMundos (MicroWorlds) and Intel selected Costa Rica as the home of its chip manufacturing plant over ten other countries. They cited the educational system and the "Computers in schools" project as a primary reason for their investment. That investment represents something like 25% of the GDP of the nation.

Dr. Geraldine Kozberg was an interesting figure in the development of Logo use in American schools. She was Assistant Superintendent of the St. Paul, Minnesota schools and an educator who came to the profession late in life. Prior to St. Paul, Dr. Kozberg volunteered to work in the South Boston High School during the "busing" crisis of the early 1970s when White parents shot at school buses to keep their schools from being integrated. As she headed towards retirement, Dr. Kozberg spent her vacations working to establish schools in refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border. She was not a technologist at all. She was however a radical and progressive educator in the best sense of both words who after reading Papert's book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, called Papert and said, "I don't believe you. Come to St. Paul and prove it to me." The St. Paul Logo project lasted for more than a decade and served as a model of longterm, serious and sustainable professional development for educators. In St. Paul, Logo was not a technology initiative, but rather a catalyst for classroom change. This was not a secret, but its stated mission. The district invested human and financial resources accordingly.

What is the radical educational foundation of Skype? Besides, kids don't need to master Skype or even have it available in school. They can use it and other Web 2.0 tools outside of school with very little instruction and almost no practice or fluency required.

Kozberg wrote a reflective piece that might be useful in considering the current situation facing the Web 2.0 community, Whatever Happened to the Revolution? Seymour Papert's article, Why School Reform is Impossible, may also shed some light on the subject.

I remember a conference I chaired in New Jersey around 1990 or 1991. Gerry Kozberg spoke and afterwards a well-intentioned suburban computer coordinator came up to her and said that she too was a radical. Dr. Kozberg took her hand and said, "Darling, you're a nice woman, but you're no radical."

In 1996, Kozberg told the audience at Logosium '96 the following:

"The Logo community has been unable or unwilling to confront the larger social issues that are tearing at public education. In 1981, I wrote: "Logo is one part of a larger change effort designed to serve as an intervention in learning and learning environments.""

For the most part, this has not happened. The problem is not the technology, certainly not Logo. The problem is one of equity. Logo is for all kids, but the kids who need Logo the most have no access to it. They are relegated to educational games and instruction in the basic skills.

In the world of Web 2.0, being leaderless is a virtue and the value of expertise is democratized, if not minimized. There is no educational theory on which the tools are designed or the classroom practice is influenced. No critically acclaimed or even popular manifesto exists. It is difficult to sustain a "revolution" when its goals remain unclear and the soldiers rally around the tools, not ideals.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Birthday to The Pulse!

It's hard to believe, but Labor Day weekend marks the first anniversary of The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate. That's like 365 days in Web 2.0 time!

I can remember how exciting it was when the site went live and librarians all over the world took umbrage with Dr. Roger Schank's article, The Library Metaphor. It was an auspicious start to a great year of publishing.

I am incredibly grateful for the remarkable contributions from some of the brightest thinkers in education.

Stay tuned for a site redesign and new contributing editors in the near future. In the meantime, join us online at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate!

You may of course subscribe to the entire site or a specific author's work via RSS.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Add This to the Web 2.0 Curriculum

Here's a cute little wrinkle in the Wikipedia story. CIA, FBI Computers Used for Wikipedia Edits. Apparently, the FBI and CIA are "fixing" the history of the Iraq War and the US prison in Guantanemo Bay before the history is even written. The Bush Administration has never hesitated from changing online press conference transcripts or "tinkering" with the ERIC and What Works databases. These folks sure are through!

How will you explain this to your computer literacy students?

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What I Hate About Blogging - Part 1 of a series

There are any number of things I read in other people's blogs that I would like to respond to. However, I must carve out the time needed to craft a thoughtful response.

The nature of the user interface of blogs is such that "he who hesitates is unread." If you don't response quickly, you've lost your chance to engage in the discussion. Once a few readers post replies, people stop reading.

As soon as the author posts the next blog, the collective memory of the community abandons the previous topic. It's 4:03 AM and I must surrender to sleep soon.


Engarrafamento photo by Fernando Lins

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Creative Commons ≠ Free

In David Warlick’s blog post, It’s Going to Happen Without Them, Mssr. Warlick makes a wide-eyed prediction that the Creative Commons (CC) is going to put the textbook industry out of business. Unless they do what? Should the for-profit textbook industry begin to give away their products (and profits). Now that’s a formula for corporate success!

Warlick writes:
My take is that if the Textbook industry does not work really fast to reinvent itself in the image of a more participatory, reader directed, and people connecting information environment, then it’s going to happen without them.

OK, let’s say I agree that learning should be more participatory, learner-centered and collaborative. What does that ideal have to do with the Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons isn’t about making all content free. The purpose of the Creative Commons is to provide creators with more control over the copyright and subsequent use of their creative output.

Don’t believe me? The top of the CC homepage states its mission as:

“Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

We must stop wrongly conflating the open-source movement with free. They are not the same thing.

I believe that the purpose of Warlick’s post was to pass along news of the Creative Commons’ new project, ccLearn, the education division of the Creative Commons. Right away I have problems with underlying assumption of this project. Such initiatives are based on the flawed premise that education equals access to content (information). Once again, this falls prey to what I call the information fallacy. Knowledge is constructed as a result of experience. Access to information represents, but a small piece of the learning process.

Besides, how does a teacher reconcile a desire to make all content free and accessible with schools’ ongoing obsession with plagiarism and cheating? I’m OK since I haven’t given a test or quiz since 1990, but what about the sheep-like teachers for whom textbooks are created?

Faulty assumptions

There are three deeply flawed assumptions underlying the notion that the latest CC scheme and its competitors, such as Curriki, will reform education.

1) No amount of groovy new wave talk of mashing-up or remixing of content can disguise that this is yet another form of tabula rasa education wrapped in a web page. This latest initiative Creative Commons initiative is about access to arbitrary educational content. This is a fancy way of saying delivery of information to students.

2) Just because a space is created for the sharing of educational “materials,” it is unlikely that many teachers will actually do so. After all, teachers do not share lesson plans. They may share ideas, but ideas are hardly what we mean by “educational materials.” Look at any of these “sharing” sites and you’ll find lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations and worksheets. Great teachers are not dependent on such static artifacts created for other students and weak teachers are unlikely to improve if their job is reduced to finding pre-chewed materials.

I suspect that the same sorts of teacher who think their worksheets are better than everyone else’s will publish “digital resources” for other teachers. A few will make a bit of money, but these materials will have zero impact on the daily practice of most teachers and even less positive influence over the education their students enjoy.

This fantasy is hardly new or dependent on Web 2.0. Your local bookstore offers countless workbooks and backline masters for sale. Do we want to extend this tradition to the powerful medium of the Web?

Look at Curriki and see the profoundly dull, random and mediocre materials being touted as a way to revolutionize learning. Can you tell that a billionaire finances Curriki? Who owns the content? Why would educators wish to write textbooks when there is so little to gain and when primary sources abound, both on the web and in convenient book form? Many of these sites look like a garage sale of content far beneath the exacting standards of even Frank Schaffer.

Textbooks are a technology that has had an enormously deleterious affect on learning. They are filled with homogenized factoids, written by anonymous committees possessing dubious qualifications and are designed to enforce a uniform teaching experience regardless of individual student differences. Textbooks are by definition one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching in which learning is at best an accidental side effect.

I’ve seen countless cases where a school district has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to fund new textbook purchases. In one case, science teachers were fired so the district could afford new science textbooks. Politicians get elected promising new textbooks and under-funded schools beg for textbook money.

This is the golden age  of (real) publishing. I like to take teachers to the local bookstore and demonstrate that there are better trade paperbacks on any subject at every conceivable developmental level than a textbook. Yet, states spend billion on such backpack ballast and add insult to injury by requiring that the books not be updated for five, or in some cases, ten years.

3) It is fantastically naïve to suggest that teachers sharing worksheets online endangers the textbook industry in any way. They are a multi-billion dollar industry most Americans (and certainly politicians) equate with education. They’re as American as spelling tests and handwriting instruction. The textbook industry is not going to roll over and play dead just because some teachers are blogging.

The keys to success in textbook publishing are simplicity, uniformity and compliance. Textbooks are about control (real or imagined) of the public school system. The companies make it very easy for school districts to buy and rollout new textbooks like clockwork. Nobody buys a textbook because it’s good. They do it because it’s quick, easy and asks nothing of teachers while promoting a public image of progress.

Recent trends like the Open Court Coaches (snitches) employed in Los Angeles and other districts; along with scripted curricula like “Success for All” demonstrate the destructive power textbooks hold over classroom instruction. These models also demonstrate how willing decision-makers are to enforce compliance and homogeneity on their teachers.

In too many cases, textbooks are weapons used against learners. It hardly matters if the weapon pointed at children is created by teachers for free on the web or by multinational conglomerates adroit at separating taxpayers from their treasure.

Textbook companies are incredibly nimble. Emphasize authentic literature and the next textbook series will have literature included. The problem is that the 32 page Sarah Plain and Tall will be abridged and each paragraph will be followed by a multiple-choice comprehension question that destroys the narrative and distracts the reader.

The Zelig-like shape-changing ability of the textbook industry has found a way to wreck every new technology that may render it obsolete. Now students can be bored with incomplete misinformation not only by reading a hardcover text, but on their iPod and laptop as well. Yippee!

Throw a new technology at textbook publishers and they’ll turn it into a textbook.

Underestimate the power of the textbook industry at your peril. Where do large district superintendents work after they retire? Textbook companies. Why? They are hired for their rolodex and access to other superintendents (re: customers) Visit Austin, Texas and see the textbook publishing offices walking distance from the state capital. Coincidence? Hardly!

Three foreign conglomerates control the vast majority of American textbooks. Why isn’t Tom Friedman or the Congress upset about turning our educational system over to foreigners? These same companies control standardized testing and test-prep. Their dominance is formidable and likely to be with us for a very long time.

Textbooks even play a role in our history. Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, not the Creative Commons.

Lawrence Lessig can afford the luxury of eating his own dog food by giving his books away. He’s a world-class attorney and tenured academic at Stanford.

Is David Warlick giving his most recent book, Classroom Blogging: A Teacher’s Guide to the Blogosphere, away for free?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

A Whole New Mind?

A review by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

I have long been uncomfortable with how eager school leaders are to embrace popular business books. It seems odd that educators would seek inspiration from business authors rather than other educators. When I attended a conference where five consecutive speakers quoted from Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, I was inspired to write the controversial article, Reading Fads: Why Tom Friedman Does Not Compute.

That article not only discussed the bizarre conclusions and sloppy logic presented by Tom Friedman, but also explored why school leaders are so drawn to business self-help books. Surely there are lessons to be learned from actual educators who can inspire educational practice.

As more and more educators discuss their craft in the blogosphere a remarkable number of them quote from business how-to manuals while very few ever mention the work of notable educational theorists and practitioners. The concise nature of the blogosphere takes already oversimplified principles and abridges them to fit the grammar of the medium.

Inspired by members of the online community I read the dreadful Everything is Miscellaneous and observed countless discussions of The World is Flat, A Whole New Mind, HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), Wikinomics and Informal Learning. Not wanting to be left out, I rushed to the bookstore but felt queasy on the way to the cash register. With so many unread books about education sitting on my desk I could not bring myself to give any more of my money to these business authors.

Eventually I purchased and read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I did so in order to be able to discuss the book thoughtfully on various blogs and in professional development settings.

What business gurus like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins have in common is that none of them actually ever ran a business prior to hitting the bestseller list offering business advice to others. Most of them have never been the night manager of a Seven-Eleven let alone launched or managed an innovative business venture.

They are fancy talkers

That is their skill. Several are evangelicals. Faith or pseudoscience, along with a dose of prosperity theology, is used to advance their arguments.

Their audience is adults who dream of being rich or increase their personal productivity. Neither goal is analogous to the education of children.

There’s trouble right here in River City

I’ve observed that the fancy talkers tend to have three or four good stories, perhaps as many as seven, they use to captivate their readers. If you see the author on Charlie Rose, you hear the three stories. Google an interview and you’ll read the three stories. Read the book and the three stories will appear verbatim. There is a polish to their schtick that often masquerades a lack of depth or thoughtfulness.

Many of these authors are linguistic jugglers. They can turn a phrase (or at least a handful of rehearsed ones) brilliantly. I compared Thomas Friedman to Nipsey Russell in my review of Friedman’s book due to his penchant for reducing complex ideas to puns.

Ultimately the success of these books is based on the authors’ ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white. The principles apply to any situation.

Obviously, lots of people buy these books. Some even read them. Many of the readers are hooked on this genre of business book and purchase lots of them. Ironically, the people who don’t read these books are successful business leaders. The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn.

It is the great insecurity of wannabes that drives the sales of popular business books. I am of the opinion that educators with limited time should not squander it studying to be CEOs. This is especially true when these books are written by charlatans and touted by educational gurus who themselves are fancy talkers.

Education should be about doing, not talking. Education leaders should be well versed in the literature (past and present) of their chosen profession.

Which brings me to Whole New Mind

Alan November, Will Richardson and other well-respected educators are fans of Daniel Pink’s 2005 book. I had not read the book until recently. Recently, David Warlick wrote in his blog about how excited he was to be speaking at the same event for school leaders as Daniel Pink. Warlick is obviously a fan of Mr. Pink’s work.

I asked Mr. Warlick, “Just wondering. What are Mr. Pink’s qualifications for speaking about learning and school leadership?”

David Warlick answered my question by restating the same question. “I’m just wonder! What kind of qualifications does he need?”

Surely, an “expert” earning large sums of money for the privilege of speaking with large groups of educators about learning and leadership should know something about learning and leadership, right?

So, I broke down and bought A Whole New Mind. What follows is my initial review. I intend to elaborate on this analysis as time permits.

The Review (version 1.0)

Pink's entire thesis falls apart in the book’s opening paragraph.

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind - computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."

This argument reeks of the cheapest form of populism - playing on the economic insecurities of Americans to reiterate the horrific prospect of Indian and Chinese children destroying our precious way of life. OK, lots of fancy talkers make this case (re: Tom Friedman). Pink's basic thesis is much more objectionable, he uses pseudo-science unconvincingly to advance what is otherwise another pop business book. The first paragraph of A Whole New Mind is a hideous slur against every man and woman working as what new-school Pink defines as old-school knowledge workers. It is simply not true that the kind of people he dismisses (programmers, lawyers or MBAs) either have a different kind or mind or lack any of the more desirable traits he blesses in the next sentence. These are the words of a man who never used "that" kind of mind, because if he had he would understand that scary smart people are also creative and compassionate. Programmers are not pattern recognizers or creators? Give me a break! Ways of knowing are not mutually exclusive.

These caricatures and simplistic dichotomies not only devalue the "minds" of millions of people, but do great violence to education. Pink's work will be viewed by educators (and textbook publishers) as license to move students from the old mind to the new one - I guess like deprogramming gay people. How does this reconcile with ideas such as multiple intelligence theory? (Which also is too often interpreted as finding a child's dominant intelligence and then teaching everything or nothing to a child in that way. Both approaches are wrong and counterproductive.)

One gets the sense that Pink doesn’t even really believe the right-brain/left-brain ideology he advances in the book. However, real scientists who actually study the mind dismiss such simplistic models. Marvin Minsky of MIT, and author of The Society of Mind, calls the right/left brain stuff the “dumbbell theory.” Mind and brain researchers possess a humility that allows them to acknowledge the great mysteries associated with science. Daniel Pink leads readers to believe that he has a handle on how the mind actually functions.

The need for brain-based justifications for treating humans individually and with respect demonstrates the weaknesses in thinking Pink seeks to overcome. A reliance on junk science and mechanistic explanations of unexplainable mental phenomena does little to advance the quite simple proposition that all sorts of talents and aptitudes should be celebrated.

A Whole New Mind is full of factoids woven together to conjure up grandiose theories. For example, Pink’s assertion that MFAs are more valuable than MBAs suggests a zero-sum causality that simply does not exist. The fact that fewer MBAs are being hired by the McKinsey consulting firm, responsible for Enron’s creativity, while more MFAs are hired is neither statistically significant nor interdependent. The premium on design and aesthetic Pink uses to justify the development of “new mind” employees is based on economic prosperity. Rich people want goods and services of a higher quality. Advances in transportation have more to do with these trends than a “new mind.”

By the way, if you embrace Pink's two categories of minds/thinkers/workers, where would you place teachers? I know. We'll place ourselves in the good pile of people. 

Pink can't keep the differences between mind and brain straight, but admits that the whole discussion is only a metaphor anyway. His ignorance of the "old kind of mind" is unrivaled by his ignorance of the "new kind of mind." Once again, terms like symphony are used as metaphors without the slightest regard for what a symphony is or how it's created. The fact is that there are numerous similarities between writing a symphony and programming a computer. But that's in the real world, not the "new" world Mr. Pink predicts based on his experience as a Gore speechwriter, law-school grad who never practiced and latrine digger in Botswana. 

At the end of the day there is nothing revolutionary or even new about what Pink presents as “new.” The book not only plays loose and fast with facts, but the traits ascribed to the evolved human workers of the future can be found in any good salesman of the past century.

This is personal

Many of my colleagues in the blogosphere and on the speaking circuit mean well. They honestly want schools to offer what Sarason calls, more “productive contexts for learning.” However, their embrace of pop business gurus and their methods do little to advance this noble agenda. Learning is personal, diverse and complex. Reducing learning to a handful of teaching tricks does nothing to advance education or improve schools.

A Whole New Mind cannot be reconciled with my own scholarship and twenty-five years worth of thinking about learning. My personal experience obliterates the firewall Pink builds between the two hemispheres of the brain. Several bloggers conflate Pink’s advocacy for increased arts education with his frivolous claims about the mind and economic success. Grand proclamations about the future are offered as substitutes for doing the hard work required today. Neither mind nor future economic prosperity are sufficient arguments for arts education. Students should enjoy rich, diverse and bountiful arts experiences because it is what makes us human.

However, too many of the Web 2.0/School 2.0 community have given up on the promise of school. Media mashups and video games are discussed as substitutes for the discipline and powerful ideas required to play an instrument, write a novel, build a mathematical model, design a computer application, construct a robot or make sense of a rapidly changing world.

Music education enriched my life in innumerable ways. Studying music (up to three periods per day) with professional musicians (expert mentors) in the Wayne, NJ public schools laid the foundation for both my Ph.D. in Science and Math Education and being the new media producer for a Grammy Award-winning project this year. Learning to program computers in the 7th grade, where it was required of every student as a rich intellectual pursuit, helped me develop the habits of mind that serve me everyday.

The seeds of my social activism and vocation were planted when at the age of 18 I saved school music from the budget ax. Devaluing the arts is not new or the exclusive fault of NCLB. The nation began losing its soul and sense or priorities decades ago. Pink offers scant advice for reversing this trend.

Although school was often a mind-numbing, soul-killing experience I learned to play an instrument, love the arts, program computers and compose music in the public schools.  I wish that every child may enjoy a plethora of rich learning adventures. Jingoism and junk science offer insufficient justification or motivation for educational progress.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Skip the 600 Words. Write the Review First!

My articles in District Administration Magazine and The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate often elicit strong letters from readers, but today's mailbag reached a new low.

Someone read an online synopsis of a recent article and sent me a screed full of personal attacks.

The email and my response follows. Enjoy!

The email message I received:
I see that you have nothing better to do. Jealousy! What can you do about it? There are more important issues than Oprah and her money. What's your contribution to how we tackle illiteracy? What else have you written? What research have you conducted? As the old saying goes, You're a part of the problem. Where is the solution?

Record: 1

Title: Oprah's Edifice Complex.

Authors: Stager, Gary

Source: District Administration; Jun2007, Vol. 43 Issue 6, p84-84, 1p

Document Type: Article

Subject Terms: *EDUCATIONAL leadership

*SCHOOL buildings

*SINGLE-sex schools


Geographic Terms: SOUTH Africa

Abstract: The article discusses the author's perspective on the establishment of the school Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. He cites that the $40 million school established by TV host Winfrey has been subjected of controversy which some people are offended that it features fine china and trillion thread count sheets. He admits that he already read and watched about the school but still asks the educational philosophy of the school and the learning theories that excite Winfrey.

ISSN: 1537-5749

Accession Number: 25585814

Database: Academic Search Premier

The link information above provides a persistent link to the article you've requested.

Persistent link to this record: Following the link above will bring you to the start of the article or citation.

Cut and Paste: To place article links in an external web document, simply copy and paste the HTML above, starting with "<A HREF"

If you have any problems or questions, contact Technical Support at or call 800-758-5995.

This e-mail was generated by a user of EBSCOhost who gained access via the WALDEN UNIV account. Neither EBSCO nor WALDEN UNIV is responsible for the content of this e-mail.

I responded as follows:

Dear Anonymous Card Catalog Reader:

Thank you for your email. You may read my dozens of publications at and my qualifications at While there. You can actually read the article that seems to have offended you.

All the very best,


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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wikipedia's Numero Uno Editor

Smith Magazine (whatever the hell that is) has a really interesting story about Richard Farmbrough of Stamford, England. The Wizard of Wiki is an interview with the man with the largest number of entries in the history of Wikipedia.

You know what? The more I look around Smith Magazine, the more I actually dig it. I may bookmark the site or add it to my RSS feed.

Smith Magazine reminds me that the dream of my own magazine, Stager, may be within reach.

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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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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

What are the rules of engagement in the world of Web 2.0?

Joel Stein wrote a hilarious and provocative op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. It raises important issues regarding the nature of creator and audience in the Read/Write World.

This is a must read...

Have something to say? I don't care
Don't bother sending anything to that e-mail address below -- because I don't care.

Here is an excerpt from this timeless piece of satire...

Here's what my Internet-fearing editors have failed to understand: I don't want to talk to you; I want to talk at you. A column is not my attempt to engage in a conversation with you. I have more than enough people to converse with. And I don't listen to them either. That sound on the phone, Mom, is me typing.

Some newspapers even list the phone numbers of their reporters at the end of their articles. That's a smart use of their employees' time. Why not just save a step and have them set up a folding table at a senior citizen center with a sign asking for complaints?

Where does this end? Does Philip Roth have to put his e-mail at the end of his book? Does Tom Hanks have to hold up a sign with his e-mail at the end of his movie? Should your hotel housekeeper leave her e-mail on your sheets? Are you starting to see how creepy this is?

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