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Thursday, December 31, 2009

21st Century Skills: Hedge Fund Honcho to Youtube video producer

This article on NPR jumped out at me. This hedge fund manager established the Khan Academy Channel, producing numerous academic tutorial videos on Youtube.

"The evolution to online videos came, Khan says, when it became difficult logistically to manage his work and the kids' soccer practice. He began recording videos and putting them on YouTube. He began with Microsoft Paint and a piece of $20 software called Screen Video Recorder, which let him capture his screen and record it at the same time.

"I just did it because I thought it was the cheapest and fastest way to make a decent quality video," Khan says. "Since then, one of the viewers actually donated a $300 piece of software called Camtasia Recorder for the screen capture, and now I use another piece of shareware called SmoothDraw 2.0 ... I just use that to draw, and I just have a little Wacom graphic pen tablet to do the writing."

Khan's videos cover math, chemistry and biology, but they also cover finance and economics, subjects that came out of last year's financial crisis. He says it began with him reading the Federal Reserve Act."

Salman Khan took his skills to the web, and made available fantastic tutorials for all to see. Hail open source!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What does Google make us?

I know everyone is impatient for vacation to be over, so we can get back to school. I thought it might be time for a new post, to get us thinking teachnologically, in the meantime...

NPR ran a story this morning with Nicholas Carr (who wrote "Is Google Making Us Stupid" published in the Atlantic last summer). NPR and Carr examine the ways that writers are adapting to the new digital platforms readers are using - and how their writing styles change when they are writing for cell phones or Twitter or the Kindle. NPR interviews writers who are now creating tweet and cell phone stories, and those writers describe how they have to write more poetically (one writer says "writing for 140 character tweets is like writing haiku") and with more punch and impact. This in itself is worthy of a teachnology discussion.

For background, you can read the original "Is Google Making Us Stupid" and several rebuttals here, at The Edge (a great blog, that by its very existence shows how new media can expand and broaden intellectual discussions on various topics).

Here's a sampling of Carr's thesis: "For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they've been widely described and duly applauded. "The perfect recall of silicon memory," Wired's Clive Thompson has written, "can be an enormous boon to thinking." But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles..."

Here's a sampling from Clay Shirky's rebuttal to Carr's view of the internet: "...the anxiety at the heart of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” doesn’t actually seem to be about thinking, or even reading, but culture. Despite the sweep of the title, it’s focused on a very particular kind of reading, literary reading, as a metonym for a whole way of life. You can see this in Carr’s polling of “literary types,” in his quoting of Wolf and the playwright Richard Foreman, and in the reference to War and Peace, the only work mentioned by name. Now War and Peace isn’t just any piece of writing, of course; it is one of the longest novels in the canon, and symbolizes the height of literary ambition and of readerly devotion. But here’s the thing: it’s not just Carr’s friend, and it’s not just because of the web—no one reads War and Peace. It’s too long, and not so interesting."

Friday, December 18, 2009

NY Times Digital Books Commentary

From the NY Times JR

Wary Book Publishers Are Fighting the Future
Students with ebook readersNorm Betts/Bloomberg Students with their school-issued Sony Reader devices.

Last week, a host of book publishers, led by Simon & Schuster, said they will delay publication of e-reader versions of many books because they were afraid the electronic copies were cannibalizing sales of more expensive hardcover editions.

As Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, told The Associated Press, “We believe that a large portion of the people who have bought e-readers are from the most devoted reading population. And if they like the e-readers, they are naturally going to convert because the e-books are so significantly less expensive.”

I own both an Amazon Kindle and a Sony Reader, and I can tell you that I didn’t buy them to save money. I know a lot of other avid bookworms, and I can’t recall a single one citing “to save money on books” as their reason to purchase one of these fancy new devices.

How can e-books represent saving money when an individual spends between $250 to $300 on a device and about $10 for each book?

No, these are people who love books so much that they want to carry a collection of them around on a single device and want to interact more deeply with them (such as looking up words in a built-in dictionary, sharing content with others and taking notes about what they’re reading).

Most importantly, e-reader users want instant access to books — if you hear about a new book that sounds interesting, you can start reading it a couple of minutes later.

Publishers are understandably worried about their changing business model, as they face new pressures from authors as well as readers. But do they really believe that they will boost their bottom lines by making it harder for these devoted readers to buy books?

Let’s say you unwrap your holiday presents and see a fancy new Kindle, Sony Reader or Barnes & Noble Nook. Just what you’ve always wanted! You turn on your new device, navigate to the wireless bookstore of your choice and search for Don DeLillo’s new novel. Instead of a simple click and download right from your armchair, you’re told it’s only available in hardcover for the next four months.

Are you really going to put down your new book reader, get in your car, drive to the store, and buy the hardcover? Probably not. Instead, you’ll click the ‘back’ button and search for something else to read in the digital bookstore.

The consumer understands that digital means immediate and infinite, and the limits imposed by paper no longer exist. As Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey Bezos, noted in a recent interview with The New York Times, “For every 100 copies of a physical book we sell, where we have the Kindle edition, we will sell 48 copies of the Kindle edition. It won’t be too long before we’re selling more electronic books than we are physical books.”

Yet some publishers are trying to do everything they can to look the other way and pretend the new products and delivery pathways haven’t changed old business models.

There’s one other important factor to swirl into this discussion: the next generation of book buyers won’t understand why they can’t access any information they want in a digital format. They have grown up in a world where everything, from movies to magazines, is basically just a collection of digital bytes.

And the economics of bytes aren’t the same as the economics of atoms. Infinite digital bits don’t have to deal with the supply-and-demand business models that existed in the past. You create one version and can disseminate it everywhere, instantly, at virtually no distribution cost. (Can you imagine if the digital camera you just purchased gave you this warning: “We’re sorry. You won’t be able to e-mail this photo to your friend for another four months. Instead, why don’t you print a copy and mail it through or on-demand printing service!”)

The publishers seem to be picking a fight with the wrong team: their customer. They are punishing the people who buy their content instead of making it as simple as possible for those customers to hand over their money, instantly, from any location in the world.

I can tell you one thing: When I’m looking for a new book on my Kindle and told I have to wait four months for the e-book version, I won’t be heading to the bookstore. Instead, I’ll click the back button and buy one of the 360,000 other e-books available now.

Petrie & Ranta respond 12/7/09

I don't think of it in such black & white terms. In the multi-media world, everyone needs basic competencies in all media. I'd agree with you if we edited it to say the following:

"Leslie loves to write. Leslie is an outstanding writer. As a matter of fact, she's wanted to be an author since she was ten years old. Since we have clearly identified that writing is Leslie's strength, she gets to spend the majority of her time reading and writing, once she has a command of the basic skills of video, powerpoint, podcast, etc., because we've already identified that these are not her media strengths."

I've had students with serious reading and writing problems, even disabilities, who were quite talented at video production, or web design, or animation. Unfortunately, these students struggled in their core classes, because so much emphasis was placed on reading and writing. From a differentiated instruction standpoint, we'd have been helping these kids to be successful if we had let them create their essays/reports/stories in the media forms with which they are most comfortable and adept. Phil & Aimee have been discovering the same thing in their classes, and have broadened the list of media in which kids can work for particular assignments. So a student is no longer constrained to a 5 page written report for the Immigration unit (for example) - that student can choose to write a report, or a web site, or a video. Phil & Aimee have worked out the rubrics so that the effort and standards are similar across the board, no matter which media the student chooses.

In my opinion, for option #2, multi-media in such a school would be taught the way we teach art today. Every student needs to take some art classes, even those who are lousy (as I am) at drawing and painting. This is because all students need to have a basic understanding of image and graphical composition. I think the same would be true of multi-media - all students would need a basic understanding and set of skills in each media, because they are going to come across all forms of media in our culture. But we would not expect, or require, a student to have master's level skills in all media.

But hey (disclaimer here), these are ideas that I am just starting to form as part of my Career Growth, they're still in the embryonic stages...

-----Original Message-----
From: Lisa Petrie
Sent: Mon 12/7/2009 1:32 PM
To: John Ranta; Frank Gallo; David Saxe; Susan Carr
Cc: Tom Sawyer; Bernard D'Amours
Subject: RE: 21st Century schools videos

If we chose option #2, that means we would allow this:

Leslie loves to write. Leslie is an outstanding writer. As a matter of fact, she's wanted to be an author since she was ten years old. If we have clearly identified that writing is Leslie's strength, she would never have to create a video, powerpoint, podcast, etc., because we've already identified that these are not her media strengths.



Ranta's 12/7/09 Commentary

Here goes nothing – an email on the jranta theory of information ecosystems (I’m a Darwinist, I think).

I like to think about the natural ways for human beings to absorb information and digest stories. How are we built, as information digesters? What works best for us? I also like to think of the natural forms for various kinds of information. What is the natural habitat for a particular story, or a recipe? Does it always belong in a book, or do some stories, some forms of information, more naturally fit in a video, a podcast, a pictogram, etc?

“Proust and the Squid” by Maryanne Wolf is a great book on how human beings had to adapt to books (it’s all that damn Gutenberg’s fault  ). Wolf became a researcher of reading after working with kids with dyslexia. She’s done a lot of brain research, and found that reading is an unnatural act. Our brains have to be rewired to learn to read – we have to do a lot of work to build the synapses that interpret collections of ideographic symbols to determine their meaning, and then to put them together to make sense of them as a story or description. Some of us are quite good at that, and we become adept readers. Many of us do not complete the rewiring, and never become facile readers. Many are labeled dyslexic. Wolf is not anti-reading, she wrote her book so that we’d understand more about the process of reading. But she wanted us to understand that dyslexia is a natural state.

Becoming adept at reading & writing mattered a great deal for the past several hundred years, because the primary means of accessing and conveying information was reading and writing. Reading and writing was the only game in town. If you were one of the many whose brain never managed the rewiring, you were hosed, so to speak.

Some information, and some stories, lend themselves nicely to books. Many other kinds of info do not. If the story or information doesn’t fit easily on the printed page, it was too bad. Up until very recently, it didn’t matter if you had the perfect story for a movie form, or a radio broadcast. The means of production were only available to a very few, and the skills to utilize those media were not widely taught. Since only the wealthy and powerful had access to a printing press, a movie studio, a theater or a radio station, we didn’t bother to train people to use those media. We only taught people to read & write.

In the past 10 years we've seen a tremendous democratization of media, brought on by the wide availability of high speed internet connections, inexpensive personal computers, video cameras and editing software. No longer do the high priests of media control broadcasting & production. No longer are we mere consumers of media. And no longer is reading and writing the only game in town. Each of us can become a reporter, a director, an author, a commentator, etc. - and millions of us are training ourselves to do that. Granted, we are all new to this, and we're still making mistakes. But it’s very cool that we now we can create stories in any form we choose, in the form that best suits our abilities and our style, and share them with the world.

In my humble opinion, reading and writing (and books) are not going away, but I think they are becoming less prominent in our information ecosystem. And other media can now grow to take their natural places. In the information ecosystem, each media form is finding a niche, where it is best suited both to the individual communicator, and to the information itself.

I can see us (educators) going in one of two directions with literacy education:

1. One is to expand our definition, and teach a broader media literacy as opposed to a narrow text literacy. In other words, teaching each student to become a generalist in media production and digestion. That means including video, animation, audio along with reading and writing in our curricula.
2. The other is to attempt to identify each student’s media strengths and abilities, and map individual education plans to their strengths. That would mean understanding which student is the adept reader and writer, and focusing their work in that area, while enabling and supporting the videographer or animator or audiographer equally, in the classroom.


Prensky & Digital Natives

From: David Saxe

Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:00 AM

Just to clarify, this term "digital native," is not mine. I stole it from Mark Prensky, who coined the phrase in this 2001 paper:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Great reading if you care to check it out. Many since have followed his ideas and of course that has lead us into using many other technologies that our current "millennial" students use daily.

About the electronic publishing pieces, I just have hard time with the interface. On my ipod, or on the kindle, looking at the electronic letters doesn't suit my aging eyes. I much prefer the printed text on paper for my eyes, but the other physical pieces of enjoying reading or even reading for work is improved if it is on paper. There is a physical difference for me, and sometimes there is even some difference in comprehension!


From: Lisa Petrie

Thanks for the link, Dave!

I appreciate Prensky's historical viewpoint, but I would challenge much of what he's saying. I feel he makes many generalizations, displays a clear bias as a software developer & company owner, and shows no solid evidence to back up his theories. I can't get past his premise. He says:

"… the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”

Really...? :)

There's definitely a growing body of evidence to suggest that the single biggest factor in determining a kid's success in the classroom is the quality of his teacher. (Actually, a few of the videos that you sent to us in your last link illustrate that point quite clearly.) But never have I seen evidence to suggest that this has anything to do with a teacher's ability to use digital technology. There are folks here at school who use zero digital technology in the classroom; I think they're fabulous teachers.

So, I'm not so sure...? Just like I'm not sure that having access to GarageBand, and the ability to post one's music online, makes our students better musicians....? It's quite likely those students would benefit more from having an hour every day in school to get instruction from a teacher, and play music together. And though I'm sure it's thrilling for them to post their music online, it doesn't give them the same bona fides as a "published" artist. Much of the self-published stuff online is nothing most of us would ever pay for.

I absolutely appreciate how technology can enhance what we do. (I have no plans to give up my salad spinner any time soon!) But subject-area knowledge, classroom management skills, interpersonal skills, passion & committment, creativity, attitude, etc., are much better indicators of what make a teacher great.


From: John Ranta
Sent: Fri 12/18/2009 7:04 AM

Dave, thanks for the link! Much of what Prensky says makes sense to me, and fits with other research I’ve been doing for my Career Growth. Henry Jenkins, at MIT ( has been doing similar research into how kids today (Prensky’s “digital natives”) are developing different skills and learning styles than those of us who grew up in previous generations.

Prensky goes on in Chapter 2 to present his evidence (,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf). He covers the research into “digital” brain development in much the same way that Maryanne Wolf does for reading brains in “Proust & the Squid”. His work is consistent with other brain development research.

I think that, if all other things are equal, a good teacher that is facile with digital media is a more effective teacher than a good teacher who is not.


From: Lisa Petrie
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 8:29 AM

Maryanne Wolf is a neuroscientist, and speaks in terms of evolutionary biology. Prensky is a game developer, looking to sell his software to schools, and is speaking more in terms of social behavior. Their work is not consistent. Just sayin'. :)

But yes, I think I could agree that a teacher who is "facile with digital media" is probably more effective than a teacher who is not. I think we need to be really careful in the way we approach this, though. Many teachers here observe that some of our new technological tools are distractions. Is this because our teachers are "digital immigrants", and just don't understand those pesky teenagers...? Or, is it because some of these new technologies are actually impediments to learning...?

I think it's fair to be open-minded about the latter.


From: David Saxe
Sent: Fri 12/18/2009 10:40 AM

I think that it remains to be seen if the new technologies are actually impediments to learning. I’m kind of interested in learning new things all the time, and the new technologies fit the bill for me along with lots of reading (books in print, scholarly articles, etc.). I clearly don’t have a deep understanding of millennial students and pesky teenagers, but using technologies for teaching just seems like the right thing to do now. Students almost willingly accept the technological challenges, and I’m sneaking in some content that I think is important and relevant to their long term health.

For instance, I’m learning more about google maps, planning on having students create digital google maps to use for our programs. Sounds like fun for the students, fun for me, and getting some important content and fitness in the process of creating the maps!


From: Lisa Petrie
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 11:30 AM

I absolutely agree with you, Dave -- teaching with technology can be very powerful. I'm just one of those folks who feels very strongly that, when we do that, the instructional focus should be the content (mountain biking, yoga, Shakespeare, etc.), and not the technology itself.

I think we all know and believe this. But I also think that it's really, really easy to fall into the trap of letting the technology itself be the star of the show. For instance, we are the "Technology" Open Space group. Maybe we should be the "Best Practice in Curriculum Delivery" Open Space group, or something like that...? :)

This argument becomes particularly relevant when introducing "digital immigrants" to new classroom teaching tools. There will definitely be more interest and by-in if we focus on their curriculum and teaching, than on that scary technology stuff.


From: Dave Saxe

I think that there is a bit of give and take. Like teaching writing for instance, Chris Herold looks carefully at the writing skills themselves in addition to the content of the subject matter (Middle East Peace debates, European Union, etc.). Just an example of our ?obligation? to teach more than just content.