“Tic Tac Toe” Project Finalist in Microsoft Innovative Teacher Contest

So I kind of wanted to hate this project, b/c a) it’s a Microsoft Competition, and b) the project is so mired in the bureaucratic context of grade-school that it begins to sound like something out of The Office:

2009 U.S. Innovative Teachers Network: Columbus East High School, Columbus, IN from Carrie Hipsher on Vimeo.

But as I listened to it, what I saw was something different — a way to introduce some amount of choice in a bureaucratic system that aligns against student choice. A way to build choice into an environment where state standards and testing and the need for far too many documented outcomes pull one in eighty different directions.

I have two daughters in public school right now. Would I love to see a real revolution in education, where we did away completely with the one-size-fits-all curriculum? A thousand times yes. But failing that, would I like them to have the option, even in this strange way, of choosing projects which suit their unique talents better? Absolutely. They’ll be well on their way to college before the current idiocy in education is addressed. Whatever helps them in the meantime is welcomed.

I feel like I’m constantly in this spot, hating the reform by increments approach, but painfully aware that the students we have currently need more flexibility right now, if only by degrees.

I still don’t know what is right, but I think I have finally decided that these people are my friends, not obstacles in the path to a bigger revolution. We’re completely different creatures in some ways, but we can’t afford to be enemies.

Education and the Good Enough Revolution

It’s increasingly important to consider how the Good Enough Revolution pertains to education. I’m a fan of educational research, but worry that it focuses too much on marginal differences, in a world that does not value marginal differences in quality anymore.

What does the world care about? The Wired article gets it right — we want ease of use, accessibility, and continous availability. And education is no different.

One way of looking at it is that the idea of quality has been enlarged, not demeaned. In the manufacturing model, quality was something that pertained to objects, because objects were their own contexts. A dishwasher doesn’t need to play well with your clothes dryer or your radio. It can,  for the most part, be evaluated on how well it does its job.

What the MP3 explosion showed us is that people are willing to trade quality as traditionally defined for portability, shareability, and availability. As the Wired article points out, we’ve seen this again and again with netbooks, Skype, Google Docs,  and YouTube. The question is not “How good is this?”, but “How well does this play with the other parts of my life?”

I’ve heard people mock the quality of University of Phoenix courses and other online offerings  — and in traditional terms they may be right As an object, I am sure that any course we are offering on campus is better than a UoP course.

But taking a more holistic view of quality this is not as clear. And as we move from the Manufacturing Age to the Network Age that is where the future of quality is headed.

Google Bundles, OPML, Courses and Cohorts

Google Bundles is likely to be a good thing for classroom use, because it’s essentially the OPML idea with a catchy name (in fact, it looks like every bundle also creates an OPML file).

I don’t want to get into an argument about why things like Google Bundles and Twitter take off while things like OPML languish (one clue: OPML is a crappy, crappy name). If every Bundle produces an OPML file, I think we should postpone the religious war and promote this.

Google Bundles are a great way to turn sense-making and curating from concept to practice. I can see a teacher in a journalism ethics class selecting out the CJR feed, Jay Rosen’s blog, and a couple other sources and asking students to scan these for relevant posts. Bundles can also be used to pull together all the blogs created by students in a class, so that an institution with no internally provisioned Web 2.0 system (like Otago Polytechnic, for example) can reduce the administrative load of providing a way for all the students to see each other’s work — Bundles aren’t just for curators, but for peer groups as well.

Finally, I can see a group of people (whether students or staff) divvying up all the things they want to read into different bundles — Wendy and I will take Bundle A, Jenny and Mel will take Bundle B, Russ and Kim will take Bundle C, etc. Stories of interest that each group finds they can bookmark via delicious with a specific tag (which then flows it back into Google Reader). There’s less of this divide and conquer around than I’d like to see — Bundles might add a level of ease to it.

[And yes, the first person that says “You can do all this with OPML” gets flamed…. I know, you can. That’s not the point.]

The one video of Ted Kennedy’s you should watch

Most people don’t understand the mess the Senate has become in terms of its delaying tactics and the use of filibuster by delay. The press doesn’t cover it, because they’d rather film people shouting at town halls than tell us why our system is broken.

The game nowadays, especially for Republicans, is not to vote against popular legislation. It’s to try to kill bills through endless amendments that delay or ultimately prohibit votes — and ultimately the use of the threat of filibuster by amendment to extract concessions from the Democrats that poison the chances of the bills passing.

When the Republicans tried this tactic two years ago to try to block the minimum wage increase by proposing amendment after amendment, and it looked like once again the minimum wage increase would not pass, despite the overwhelming victory the Dems had achieved, Ted flipped his lid, in an absolutely beautiful way, and showed why he will be sorely missed. Please take five minutes to watch it, it will inspire you:

Remember this video as you watch the health care debate, and the talk of reconciliation. When the Republicans say that reconciliation is not fair, they are saying that because of one reason only — it does not allow these sort of tactics. The best tribute to Kennedy at this point would be to push a good bill through via reconciliation, which will kill the game playing and allow our Senators to focus on the issue that was so close to Kennedy’s heart — how do we protect the weak, the underpaid, the people our society has forgotten. How do we of good fortune help those who have not been as lucky?

We can make that the discussion, or we can have another four weeks of pretend revisions and amendments and centrist posturing by people who are in practical terms obstructionists.

I know what Ted would have done.

R.I.P. Digital Native Theory

…and good riddance. From the NY Times:

Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., sends and receives 500 text messages a day. But she never uses Twitter, even though it publishes similar snippets of conversations and observations.

“I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life,” she said.

Her reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group. That success has shattered a widely held belief that young people lead the way to popularizing innovations.

In fairness, Digital Native Theory isn’t dead, because there was never any such thing. There was talk of Digital Natives in feel-good sessions across academia, but not, at least as far as I can remember, any serious exploration of the concept as something falsifiable. It would be as if I decided that British English was a completely different language than English, and then stood around for a couple hours swapping stories about how those crazy Brits call trucks “lorries” and elevators “lifts”. It wouldn’t pass muster in linguistics and we were insane to let it spread in education.

Now maybe, finally, we can get to the real questions: How do we teach our students to collaborate, cooperate, and communicate in ways fit for the agile projects the future requires? How do we give them methods to make sense of a world where filters are no longer at the point of production?

These teens that we are teaching are the same ones my wife watched go to McDonald’s on their high school Italy tour. Taken as a group, they aren’t the most adventurous lot, and that hasn’t changed because they have cell phones. It used to be the job of colleges to open up their mind to the possibilities they didn’t know about, to expose them to the opportunities they weren’t exploring, to get them to rethink how they approach problems. Now that this digital native nonsense is finally dying, maybe we can start addressing that.

DIYbio and Authentic Learning

“Kay’s dad has got recessive gene that she may have, she doesn’t know if she has it has it, so she is genotyping that gene in herself in her closet, and she’s going to figure out if she has it….”

If you are thinking of doing some authentic instruction in biology, you MUST, repeat, MUST watch this video on DIYbio and the biohacking movement.

The DIYbio Community – Presented at Ignite Boston 5 (2009) from mac cowell on Vimeo.

I cannot imagine a more compelling way to engage the future biologists of the world than to show them this video and to encourage them to come up with their own projects (or to join up with someone else’s project). The “standard” approach to biology (first, memorize some stuff, then do some lab work that has been done one million times before and check your results against the key, then maybe by senior year do some original research) weeds out many of the exact people biology needs — hackers, creative types, problem solvers. While it might seem that biohacking and institutional education are incompatible, this is by design, not definition. And we can change the design. After all, that’s what hackers do, right?

On a related note I came across this while putting together the instructional design sourcebook. I’ll talk about the sourcebook more later — it’s a project based on my belief that teachers need a browsable resource that ties networked learning pedagogies to specific classes, organized by discipline (I know for us that might sound ridiculous, but thee is some discipline tunnel vision holding us back, we can either deny it or address it, and denying it is not working). I am desperately in need of some innovative instructors in the sciences who can provide me with syllabi of innovative courses, or descriptions of unique net-enabled, student centered processes or techniques they are using. Please mail me at mcaulfield at keene dot edu. I’d be including them in this beast I am assembling for our faculty.

Cooperation, not Collaboration

Downes makes the point repeatedly that we talk too much about collaboration (which is something new technology allows us to do better) and not enough about cooperation (which is something the network allows us to do for the first time on this unprecedented scale).

The neat thing about cooperation is that if you can structure a solution to a problem as a cooperative one rather than a collaborative one you can solve very big problems in a very short amount of time — because at it’s best, cooperation requires simply that you do what you normally do, but in a way that allows cooperation. Which is why I will be watching this project closely:

If you’re a lawyer, and you use the crazy-outmoded PACER system to access federal court documents, check out the new RECAP system launched today by Tim Lee, Harlan Yu, and Steve Schultze with the help of Princeton’s CITP. If you use PACER, you know it’s difficult to use. It also charges citizens to access what are nominally public documents, something that makes little sense online. This combination has resulted in a multi-million dollar surplus for the judiciary’s IT department, and lousy access to data that would be useful not just to lawyers and litigants, but to bloggers, librarians, reporters, and scholars.

Schultze, Lee, and Yu’s scheme to free the documents on PACER is an ingenious one. They have built a Firefox plugin called RECAP that attorneys and other regular users of PACER can install on their computers. When a user downloads a document from PACER, the plugin sends a copy to RECAP’s server, where it is made publicly available. If enough PACER users install RECAP, it will only be a matter of time before the entire database is liberated. Why would lawyers participate? When they search for a document, the plugin first checks the RECAP database to see if a copy has already been liberated. If it has, then the lawyer can retreive it without paying PACER. Like I said: ingenious.

I think we have to teach our students to think about problems in this way. It’s a shame that the one area where students have solved problems in this cooperative way, through music file-sharing, has been criminalized. But that just makes it more urgent that we introduce kids to the legitimacy of the cooperative approach.

We are still just at the beginning of understanding what can be accomplished in cooperative frameworks. So one question for any instructional designer has to be whether we not only encourage students to develop collaborative frameworks, but cooperative ones as well. That starts with defaulting to open solutions, providing RSS, using open licensing, etc., but as the above example shows one can go even further in designing such approaches. And the potential impact graduating hundreds of thousands of students who understand how to think in this way — well, it’s huge. It’s the sort of thinking that could likely solve global warming, famine, income disparities — you name it.

(Side note: Is it just me, or is it enraging to think that the actions of the record companies are likely reducing our ability to solve problems that are core to the continued existence of our species — just because Billy Ray Cyrus needs his royalties for Achy Breaky Heart?)

If anyone has any good examples of encouraging cooperative thinking in a project-based class (beyond a general predilection to openness), please let me know, either through the comments or email to caulfield dot mike at gmail.

Blood of Tyrants

We scoff at the ancestor worship of other cultures, and consider divine right and kingship and all that stuff to be anti-American. So can someone explain to me why we will endure any kind of nuttery if it is tied to something one of our Founding Fathers once said?

Case in point — at the town hall Obama will be at in New Hampshire today, there is a right-wing freak with a pistol strapped by his side and a big sign that references the Jefferson quote “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This quote he is so endeared with is not a public statement of Jefferson — it’s a comment on the Shay’s Rebellion made in a letter to a friend in 1787. From a pre-Reign of Terror Jefferson.

In other words, take away the Founding Fathers as Gods myth, and it’s just something some guy said to a friend, something that he may not have even believed a couple years later.

And once you realize that, guess what? It turns out you’re guy bringing a pistol to an Obama event with a sign that seems to be calling for Obama’s assassination. That doesn’t make you a hero, and at best it makes you a dick. At best.