Posts tagged: Observations

How are computers in the classroom really doing?

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By , November 22, 2010 11:31 am

This weekend, I was hit by two interesting finds in my Twitter feeds. The first takes a look at what the Alberta Teachers Association – ATA –  (via @joe_bower) thinks needs to be changed to get computers in the classroom to “actually do something (my words)”. The second is a comment from Alan Kay who goes over some points as to how computers in the classroom have actually failed. Looking to Alan’s points first. He likens what has been done with computers in the classroom to people playing Guitar Hero – players experience the fantasy of being able to play, but in reality learn nothing. Going further,he is frustrated that schools, and society at large have yet to really make use of the technologies made available through the computer to be intellectual amplifiers, rather it seems that computers, specifically consumer computer technology has essentially become the “next legal drug”. Kay suggests that evidence for this can be had if you take a look at how education, which is supposed to (in his interpretation) create a sophisticated voting public, has not been able to deliver on its mission. It seems that many of his frustrations are around the inability of those involved in any given stage of the computers in education process to focus on the curriculum.

The ATA, in its new report looks at changing from the “new chalk” approach that has seen new technologies be used in old methods to shifting to a more problem based curriculum that might encourage new ways of teaching out of necessity. The use of technology to merely create and process more administrative data is also called into question, as it seems to enable the conservative nature of education rather than encourage its ability to change. Technologies in the classroom should be used to create knowledge that is unique to each student and emergent of the situations that the student is presented with as opposed to funneling student responses into a standard score. Finally, it looks at something that the University Academy has started to realize now as well, the distinct and often fiercely independent disciplinary domains of knowledge that have been used for the past hundred years or so are indeed part of the problem and should be revised to recognize the connections rather than the distinctions.

All this was certainly interesting reading. I found that Kay was a bit too gloomy, and the ATA, a bit too optimistic. For my money, the truth is somewhere in the middle. I would love to be able to read more about what Kay has done with respect to technology integration, as a trade article is not really representative of his body of work (I think the only reason it came to light is because of the iPad/Dynabook comparison). I also hope that in some way I can help to effect change within the province and bring forward what some of the ATA has said. There is hope on that front. We now have some schools that are open year round, something that only took perhaps decades. The change of curriculum from Bio/Phys/Chem to Science to the Art of Science hopefully can be done in less time. I think it would be really cool if by the time that my daughter and her cohort hit Div II, that they only have three subject – Art of Science, Science of Art and Human Motion.

Edit: And of course, at it often happens, later in the day, I find another interesting resource that talks about the same thing – this time Mashable‘s take on how computers are helping in Education – part of their Education Tech Series. Some of the points, specifically when it comes to Kay vs Mashable, I would say that with the exception of ebooks and more efficient assessment, Mashable’s list is pretty good. Showing how computers have been used to extend the capacity of students to be able to take in and manipulate data and then synthesize it in novel ways and with others who are not physically in the same location. I would however have to agree with Kay with regards to this list. These examples are the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to computers in the classroom. Even though every school in a district may do the same thing, without the ability or structure within the school and the society within which it exists, students are not really using the computer for what it could do. They are jumping through hoops to meet a standardized assessment (hence not agreeing with all the Mashable points) and only providing the impression that they are capable, ala Guitar Hero. Some students are of course going to be able to transfer the skills and knowledge in spite of the school and the society, but these are few and far between. So perhaps the next question should be… do we really need all students to understand computing and the ways and means that it can extend capacity in the same manner?

Young teachers, no technology… ’cause that isn’t content.

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By , August 4, 2009 3:34 pm

Over lunch today, two of my friends who are both young teachers (one in Edmonton and one in Calgary) and I met for lunch. The conversation came around to teaching different courses and both said that they wouldn’t take their kids into the computer labs, or even teach using the computers until well into the year/term.  Why? Well for a number of reasons, the first ones being that the kids don’t need to be taught keyboarding, they don’t really need to learn about how to use the “computer” in general. What they need is to learn how to deal with the information that they get from the computer. They need to learn how to print legibly and not rely entirely on spell check for everything. They don’t need time in front of the screen,  too many teachers think that because the kids are staring at the screen that they are doing something productive. That, as many of us know, isn’t the case. These teachers also don’t make these online/computer related assignments that rigorous as they believe that it is hard for the kids… or more likely that they would not have ability to assess what their students create.

So it seems that the obstacle to technology integration isn’t necessarily an age thing, it could also be that so many others have done it wrong and overlooked other basics that those teachers who would/could integrate would rather spend their time getting the basics done right.

Apple and Anti-Virus

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By , December 8, 2008 11:07 am

This weekend, I got quite a kick out of the local radio annoucer doing her best to protect Edmonton listeners against the Koob worm that is moving through Facebook and is baiting users to install an update to their machines. While I think it was certainly an admirable thing for the announcer to do, I think it is telling as to how common Facebook and virus proctection has come in common parlance that this advice could be handed out over the radio and people would actually be able to understand it – or stand a chance to.

But where my part in this story comes in is that I tell all the Mac users that I’ve converted that you are safe (and attacks are dropping) from just about everything out there as long as you don’t install something that you are not sure about (unless you were paying attention the the hay that the press made last week about Apple’s KB update that was later pulled) – and this is exactly how Koob is moving, by getting people to install it, banking on the transfer of saftey from Facebook, creating a vector that might allow for Mac/Linux machines to be attacked.

Thankfully the Koob is probably dropping an exe file that won’t run, so we are safe for a while… So in addition to the “don’t install anything that you don’t understand”, I’ll add to my 1-2 saftey rant/appeal for common (computing?) sense – install updates only from the original vendor… if you are prompted to install something from Adobe, go to and search for it – or google for the update that you are being prompted for to see if it is legit.

Old Media, new Ideas

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By , April 25, 2008 6:35 am

YASP (yet another short post…) I spotted Unlimted Magazine in Chapters last night (as well as Jesse Cook’s new album Frontier for $18.99), so like any good geek, I came home and checked to see if I could get everything online cheaper, and yup. Cook’s album is $7.99 via iTunes and obviously (as linked above), the magazine is all online. But in the classic “try before you buy” model, both the magazine and album are likely worth getting.

But back to the reason for the post, the editors of Unlimited put together an interesting article how the old media (pre ‘net) are still around and doing well.

I’ll try to put more into this later… brain is needing breakfast.

Science 2.0 – Celebrating the formative art

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By , April 24, 2008 3:22 pm

SciAm has an interesting article about the idea of Science 2.0 and how it seems to be slow to emerge. They suggest that the reasons range from shifting researchers from an attitude of competition to one of collaboration (OMG!) and celebrating the formative nature of the Scientific ProcessTM and not worrying that these informal notes are going to be treated the same as peer reviewed work.

If you think about it, there is a reason why the notebooks of the great researchers of the past have been so valuable. These books show not only the final work, but how they got there, something that Web2.0 is/would be great for science. 

This matches up with what Johnny Lee was talking about in his talk. Get the information out there and start the conversations faster. This can have a secondary impact, just like online classwork and conference2.0, when there are strong connections made online, face to face time becomes far more productive. 

Wii are not bored

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By , April 23, 2008 6:54 am

At the risk of sounding like and apologistic fanboy, I really do wonder about stories like this one and other stories like it that say the Wii is slowing down because people don’t buy as many games or because as others have noted – it’s not a technical marvel:

That’s because third-party companies such as Epic Games don’t want to make titles for the Wii because the specs of the 360 and PS3 allows them to push the technological envelope, to stand above the hundreds of titles released annually. The third-party companies that do make Wii titles often make better versions on the other consoles.

So based on this, games are relying on technology in the “hardcore” 360/PS3 market to sell and I would think that the Wii with it’s meager technology would be relying on it’s unique interface. For my money, I would think that the technology would get old fast, but the interface would keep me hooked. That on top of the fact that the Wii is lower cost and targeting a different demographic – slow stable types vs twitchy hardcore gamers.

So how does this relate in any way to teaching? Well, think of it this way – you can throw all the flash (or Flash) you want at a student, but unless they can interact with the content in some unique and meaningful way, it’s likely to be forgotten as they move on for the next fix.

Borrowing credibility

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By , April 17, 2008 9:20 am

Stephen commented and questioned yesterday on my post as to why the appearance of Lee in TED gave what he did more credibility. You can read my reply to him and as most of what this post was going to be is there already, here is a slightly different idea. 

I mentioned that presenters lend credibility to those venues that ask them to present and those venues in turn gain credibility as a venue to present, based on the presenters that had presented in the past. A nice little circle. So, if you put this idea together with the Socialcropping post you can start to see where what Lee mentioned in his talk between 4:56 and 5:26 about using Youtube to share research ideas, something interesting comes up… hasn’t this “cropping” always been going on? More later… I hope… 

Do Ubergadgets even need to talk the talk?

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By , April 4, 2008 3:59 pm

This is something that I noticed and now that I’ve seen this article from the International Business Times, I’ve got some backup… data-centric (maybe that name should have been the give away) likely use far more data bandwidth than they do voice bandwidth. With this in the back of your mind, the rumours of Google and Skype getting together start to make much more sense.

Afterall, with txt and messaging being the main means of communication for so many (cost, archive and multitasking being factors) and voice as a convenient fill in, the “data anywhere device” really makes sense. I would likely not be going too far out on a limb if I suggested that many iPod touch users are using the device more for surfing than music (with games coming soon).

I wonder how long it will be before data is the major service in the handheld market.

Facebook and the stemming of friendly spam PtII

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By , February 3, 2008 11:02 am

As an add on to last night, the other thing that is very obvious is that people have figured out a way to get a penny out of some of what used to be spam. Take a look at how many of those surveys are now apps that have ads and collect personal info (what on Earth is that data all used for in the end anyway?). But these might face a bit of push-back as now there are a raft of apps, created it seems mostly by young independents, that require a significant spam-out before letting the user of the app see what the results are. Some of these only require one person be invited, but some are 20-100! So not only do you have to spam out to get the results, but you have to have a certain number of friends before you get the privilege of annoying them! So it seems that there is a pecking order in the spam world – these spam apps don’t want you if you are just starting out and if you have only a close circle of friends. But in the end, isn’t this a way to fight back against these spam apps? Who knows, always more questions than answers.

Facebook and the stemming of friendly spam

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By , February 2, 2008 10:59 pm

It struck me this afternoon while I was shoveling, that I haven’t got nearly as much “friendly spam” as I used to about a year ago. I think it came to mind as I got a classic forward from a friend that got filtered and I happened to check that before I got working. Then, looking around the profiles of different friends, I spotted all the “forward this to umpteen people” and funny picture emails that I used to get. All this stuff has found it’s way onto Facebook (and likely other social networks) and found itself trapped. Good for hard core/old school emailers, but is it so for social networkers?

I’m not sure. Part of me has always thought that, though annoying, these spams were a way of maintaining an open communications channel between two or more people… a poke, reminding those involved that the sender is still there and “still cares”. Well, even the poke is there in Facebook… so the social network has taken over almost all of that social communication and email has drifted to something more formal. So now that the poke doesn’t happen in email, what about those that don’t participate in SNs? Well, I’m sure there are still a few of those out there, but as likely as not, they are not the ones who are even bothering with electronic communication.

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