“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.