Saturday, February 14, 2009

Are We Next?

I've read a lot of books recently that sort of-scare me. Foremost among them is the book Disrupting Class (see my review here)back in July. Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near also did a good job of keeping me up at night better than any horror film ever could. Since I read those books, I've focused a lot on our nation's economic woes and the potential impact on education. I am, to put it mildly, a bit nervous.

Disrupting Class shows the electronic competition and how it is forming into a high-powered system that may soon be able to provide many of the things we think that only schools can now do. When I took my first real online course this winter -- Roger Travis' brilliant Living Epic -- I got even more worried. The media covers the rise of online education on a regular basis -- Minnesota universities' plans to shift a large percentage of their content online; New Jersey's decision to not require online education for now. The open source content from Yale, Harvard, IIT, MIT, UCLA, UC Berkeley, etc...

Education's response has been pretty tepid. While there are some people who see the seriousness of this change (notably NAIS' Pat Basset), most of us aren't really paying attention to any of this. Most of us are mildly interested in this and see online education as a novelty. From what I've heard, newspapers and book publishers felt the same way.

But look around. The carnage of industries who dismissed the impact of the internet on their particular field is all around us. Newspapers, movies, music, publishing, magazines, photography, etc. -- all got hit and are now scrambling to survive. Are we next? Are we ready?

I think schools have a lot to offer in the internet age -- human contact, face-to-face leadership, emotional connections, social interactions, etc. -- but technology is making virtual or distance versions of all of these available. I still think we can survive and thrive in the internet age, but we've got to learn to integrate tech developments into our programs or we run the risk of becoming museums.

I used to joke that some students could learn no matter what -- "you could put a chimp in front of a classroom, give the kid a textbook, and the student would learn just fine." With so much content available in much more accessible formats, that comment becomes truer for more and more kids. Teachers still have a role to play in all this -- a crucial role -- but we need to think carefully about what that's going to look like. I don't pretend to know, but we need to start seriously thinking about this.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kids Write Novels in One Month

Edutopia has a profile of National Novel Writing Month and a group of sixth-graders who took on this challenge.

Watch Educational Videos Offline

Open Culture reports that YouTube has partnered with some universities to provide lectures, courses, and the like for people to download for free. Head over and start learning!

Soviet Social System Project Goes Online

The Harvard University Gazette announced that Harvard's Project on the Soviet Social System is now online. Much of what I saw was in English, so it looks like something students could take on as a research project.

Conducted between 1950 and 1953, the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System includes oral interviews with more than 700 refugees from the Soviet Union, along with several thousand written questionnaires. The goal of the project was to document the life of ordinary Soviet citizens from about 1917 until the outbreak of World War II. Interviewees were Soviets who found themselves outside their country at the end of the Second World War, and were therefore more willing to talk to researchers.

Cappuchino U

If your new to using the web (and even if you're not), blogger Harold Jarche has a link to the "book" (it's only 14 pages), Cappuchino U.

The book does a good job of outlining how the web can be used as a learning tool to access lectures, academic libraries and a host of other stuff. It's not great literature, but the book does show some of the internet's potential.

Kids Today Redux

I hear a lot of talk about "the young people today" and how they are just not as good as they used to be. It's a pretty constant refrain. Education blogger David Warlick recently commented on an encounter that reminded me of my own encounters with this line.

I hear the complaint all the time, but I just don't see it. Kids are different, but haven't people always said that? I think we romanticize our own youth and forget that we, too, were prone to boneheadedness and blunders. Should it really surprise us that kids can be rude? Aside from questionable anecdotes, I don't know that any of this kvetching is any more real than it was 10, 20, 50, 100 years ago.

Blaming what is a part of the human condition - rude adolescents - on things like technology or video games or rock music or comic books or opera (they blamed a lot on opera in the 19th century), seems misguided at best. Just look back in history and it's everywhere. Every time this argument comes up, people always go to great pains to explain how "it's different now". But is it? It's the same argument repeated endlessly in some sort of endless loop. I'd love to see us move beyond this...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Digital Wisdom

Mark Prensky, the person who coined the term "digital natives" and "digital immigrants", has a new article discussing the concept of digital wisdom. He outlines ways that we can teach our kids to responsibly use new technologies and develop wisdom in the process. Innovate has the article posted.

Medieval Manuscripts Online

Prior to my teaching career, I used to study Medieval and Early Modern History, so please forgive me this post.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus has a story about the Catalog of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts. So far, there are 5,000 manuscripts available. As more of these texts get digitized, the ability to research is going to get infinitely easier. While there is undoubtedly a romantic allure in sitting in a musty archive or library in foreign lands, this new availability makes it easier for cash-starved scholars to complete their work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Did You Know? Updated

The video "Did You Know?" has been an internet sensation (at least in education circles) the past few years. Below is an updated version with flashier graphics and a jaunty soundtrack. It basically chronicles how the world is changing. Worth looking at.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Math Reading List

Slashdot (News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters) has a recent post from someone asking for recommendations about books about mathematical topics (not math textbooks, mind you, but books about math. I'd add to the list Mario Livio's excellent Is God a Mathemetician ? to the list. Read the comments section of the post for a ton of great math recommendations.

Here's the initial post:

"I'm a high school math teacher who is trying to assemble an extra-credit reading list. I want to give my students (ages 16-18) the opportunity/motivation to learn about stimulating mathematical ideas that fall outside of the curriculum I'm bound to teach. I already do this somewhat with special lessons given throughout the year, but I would like my students to explore a particular concept in depth. I am looking for books that are well-written, engaging, and accessible to someone who doesn't have a lot of college-level mathematical training. I already have a handful of books on my list, but I want my students to be able to choose from a variety of topics. Many thanks for all suggestions!"

15 Benefits of Gaming

The web site Edge has an article outlining the benefits of gaming. Here's a summary of the points, but read the entire article for the details.

* Developing empathy in young people
* Post-traumatic stress therapy
* Pain distraction
* Physical rehab
* Visual acuity
* Hand-eye coordination
* Simulating real experiences
* Problem-solving
* Sparking imagination
* Cognitive health
* Understanding how others think
* Social connections
* Tech advancements
* Exer-gaming
* Fun

The "College Bubble"

Are private colleges and universities about to burst the way the real estate market did? MSNBC has a report on Antioch College's implosion and the fear that more failures may be on the way.

From the report:

Home builders and banks aren't the only ones facing economic headwinds these days. America's undercapitalized independent colleges are staring at a spiral of major threats to solvency as penny-pinching students and parents consider cheaper options, and funding sources dry up. As a result, they could be the next bubble industry to pop.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are Schools Killing Boys' Creativity?

The Times Online's blog School Gate has a blog post that asks that very question. Much of the post centers around Joe Craig, the author of the Jimmy Coates books. Here's a thought-provoking passage:

"To be creative, you have to be wrong most of the time. Unfortunately, being wrong doesn’t go down very well at school. In fact, I think creativity is being educated out of kids when they get into Secondary School, and it’s a big problem.

I frequently go into schools – primary and secondary – to talk to kids about reading, writing and my books. But instead of just talking to them, more importantly I challenge them to come up with story ideas (providing a few helpful tricks for them to start with) and get them thinking creatively.

When I visit a primary school, I’m often bombarded by dozens of ideas that amuse, surprise, entertain and sometimes even astound me. But within just a couple years that ability to conjure up the wacky, the off-the-wall, the daring – the creative – has virtually disappeared.

I’ve visited over 200 schools in the last couple of years, which means I must have run workshops for over 40,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time the students reach Year 8, I can predict almost word for word what their story ideas will be, from any given starting point. Even if they think they’re being subversive, in fact especially when they think that, the older the student is, the more predictable the ideas.

The biggest change comes in Year 7, which statistically is also when there’s the biggest drop off in reading – especially in boys. Now, it perhaps seems obvious that the withering of originality is greatly caused by reading less. But I think it’s also the other way round: they read less because their creative spark is consistently doused. Their connection with stories, with ideas and imagination, is stifled by the school environment. If the fun has gone from stories, why read?