Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Technology Requests Made Easy

The video is a little fuzzy right now, but the quality may improve after it's completely processed by YouTube. You can click on the icon in the bottom right of the video to watch it full screen.
Basically, go to Google.
Click on "Shopping" along the top.
Type in the product you want.
Click "Compare prices" on the left.
Tech Requests: DONE.
MNTC: win.

Scroll down for more on "Cheating" with Google.

"Cheating" with Google

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a challenge question I put out through email. Who said, and when, were the questions and I gave a quote from John Dewey (see The Challenge). I offered up an iTunes giftcard to the first person to tell me who and when this quote was from, so I expected a lot of feedback.

What I didn't expect was the amount of people that would send out a "disqualify-me" statement after answering. At least two thirds of those who answered said in one form or the other, "but don't count my answer, I used Google."

WHHAAAATTTT??!!! I exclaim with a genuine smile. It does, in some way, kind of feel like cheating when you think about it. But why is that? Why does it feel like cheating? I mean, if you don't know, you don't know, and you have to find out somehow. Does it feel like cheating because you don't have to dig to find the information?

I mean, I asked a question and said, "the first person to answer is the winner." You used available resources to meet the time requirements. You wouldn't have had the slightest interest in that quote if you would have had to go look it up in a library. And maybe not even if you would have had to read or type the quote out. But the ease and availability of the answer compelled you to participate! And so you copied and pasted.

The point of the challenge wasn't to see who was the "smartest", but to merely turn your attention to what John Dewey said in the 19th century, hoping you might wonder what I was up to. So, I got you! ha-ha-ha!... got you. And now you know that John Dewey advocates social media in the classroom... and you are also reading my blog... :) Maybe you're inspired to start your own blog.... ?

So what is wrong with googling for our information?  Well, how much information do you wish you knew but just don't have the time to go read at the library and study? How much information do you really need to know first hand and off the top of your head?

Think about this: faster feedback with information moves the conversation forward, onward, and upward faster. Which allows us move to a new question, a new problem, a new solution, and then a new question.

And the more important question: Which is more important in surviving and thriving in society - knowing a lot of information? or knowing the right information?

We all have a limited amount of knowledge to hold and access in our brains, and it's based on our experiences and interests. The amount of knowledge doesn't make one smarter than the other. Intelligence is marked by problem solving. Problem solving and solution finding requires that we use all available resources. And Google is a POWERFUL resource. In fact, it is so powerful that as solution finders, the real skill has suddenly skipped the hard part of "how do I think myself around this one?" and drops right to, "how clearly can I define my problem?"

This is an essential skill for our students. It is an essential skill for all of us. Search engines allow us to tap into those questions we need answered right away and allow us to then move on. In the workforce, the ability to find solutions will exponentially increase the worker's worth to the company and the person's worth in the community. Using Google is not cheating. I would argue that it is never cheating (okay, that's a tough sell, and maybe a little overboard - it depends on the real objective).

Can you find one of your assignments that would be enhanced by allowing your students to find the answers by using Google? If you are worried about the search's results (all of you in the health field I'm sure), see my blog about Google's "Custom Search Engine" The Text Book Terminator. It allows you to search only a specific set of websites. Or go directly to Google Custom Search Engine to start.

And for a practical application right NOW - don't forget that your Technology Requests are due on the 29th. You can use Google to search for the equipment you want. You'll even find sites that compare prices from different stores. Something you'll need to do anyway. So cut out the questioning and the procrastination - START GOOGLING! and then move on....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Death of the Descriptive Paragraph

or: Proof I'm Not Always on Technology's Side

A Los Angeles Times opinion article by Daniel Akst this morning gave me a perfect way and reason to express that I do, in fact, have a head of reason on my shoulders. 

A lot of teachers believe that the young guy down the hall who's always preaching that they've got to jump on to the tech bandwagon is a poster child for what is wrong with the kids these days. "All that stuff is just toys that 'real'  teachers don't even need," "Where's penmanship, what happened to good old letter writing, that's what I want to know," they say. "Nobody can read a book any more because they won't sit down, they'd rather watch a video to learn something," and, "Editing a video is NOT writing." Now, while I have pretty sound arguments against some of the statements, or at least arguments of why they are not such bad things, I do try to come about the topics from a blank slate angle. I try to weigh where our society and method of communication is headed with the skills that are truly needed to succeed in our society. 

So our communication methods are evolving... I've said that, I know, I know. I see that most of this is fine, and as long as we embrace it in education, we will advance our society exponentially. If we don't, we will continue to widen the divide in entertainment and education, and where do you think your students will go during "homework time"? Think about it, our society fell in love with reading because it was our escape. It used to be the only form of entertainment - aside from telling stories. And education matched what entertainment was (storytelling = lectures, and reading). In the early days of radio and TV, books were not only on par with mass communication, I'd argue they were still ahead as TV and radio were used more for spreading information and the entertainment aspects were looked at as toys. We were a culture of readers still. Until very recently, it was still commonplace to hear the phrase about retirement as "getting away and sitting down to finally write that 'great American novel'". 

You don't hear that any more but you do see more and more people with that dream of writing the great American screenplay. Which is a different skill all together. It is merely a blueprint for visuals where the very best writers use the very least amount of ink per page.

We've already seen a major shift in reading habits. And publishing companies are starting to die out. People are self publishing on Amazon and actually making money off of it. And here I am preaching that it should be a top ten priority as an educator to STOP buying TEXTBOOKS!!!

So now Apple unveils a digital book reader. It's a couple years behind Amazon's Kindle and Sony's PRS700 (great name by the way Sony... genius marketing there). But that's how Apple does it. They actually test their product.  They actually pay attention to its marketing. Then they go out and make you think you have to have one. Bottom line: this will kick start the digital book revolution. And I'm frowning.

You see, this will shut down bookstores, force libraries to rethink what they house to justify tax dollars their way, the Dewey Decimal System will be yanked off its life support. That doesn't bother me. But what Akst does go on to mention, does bother me. More and more people may start reading again, but he argues that the nature of the novel and writing will change to match the medium. Just like how the average length and depth of books have gradually diminished to meet demands of our shrinking attention span (I mean did you read the "literary masterpiece" that was the Di Vinci Code? You could smell his brown nose to the movie companies - it was practically an outline).

But when people begin to read on an Apple Tablet (meaning it's a small computer) they may be able to access every document ever inked to paper, but do you think they would read the entire "Old" book when they could stream the movie from YouTube? It's true I believe this could rekindle a love of reading (pun intended) and people will eventually go back to the classics to see what they are all about, but I think they might also skim summaries and reviews first to see if it's worth their time, then maybe skip to cliff notes online.

The new literature will become shorter to meet the demands of the market. And with plenty of - what he mentions - self publishers and no editors, what kind of literature will we be subjected to? I believe we are stepping into the zone of fast-food literature. McDonald's can feed the world, it can also make an entire country addicted to sugar and kill them with obesity.

What's more disturbing to me is that I'm a huge proponent of the idea that editing video is a higher form of writing. It takes more levels of processing to communicate an idea. And here, Daniel Akst mentions the very real probability of books now being accompanied by visuals, more pictures, some videos, and especially sound. Though I believe the novelist will necessarily have to plan and process more in order to successfully weave these mediums together, this will take away from the invoked imagination of the reader. A GREAT thing if we are teaching a skill - a horrible thing for reaching into ourselves for our own imagination. I also have a theory that reading a good novel is another processing skill that grows our mind. It engages the images we have already to match to someone else's words. This allows us to process our own thoughts, images, and emotions more purely as our own. Watching a movie or TV allows it to all be done for us, we are told what to see and how to see it. And more importantly for us as a people, HOW and WHAT to FEEL. We rarely deal with our own emotions in a movie, novels take us deeper and invoke all of our own senses on top of the character.

Again, this is good in education, it conveys the message more clearly for all types of learners. But it's a little sad to wonder, "Is this what our society will call reading two more generations removed?"

Remember how books would spend two pages describing a glass of wine? And look at the future by reading Dan Brown's Di Vinci Code. He's at his most "novelstic" when he very mechanically describes the ratios of subjects in paintings.

On a tablet reader he wouldn't have bothered. He would have just showed a picture and used digital ink to mark over the lines and point to objects in the paintings. Is the future of literature a digital comic book? Where the use of the written word is the novelty?

The descriptive paragraph is an essential tool to build brain processing power (I'm still not saying it's as good at communicating a message as a a picture or video is - but essential for brain exercising for it self). A picture is worth a thousand words - that's a thousand words a writer doesn't have to bother with. Good in moving education, in evolving our society, scary for art. The descriptive paragraph is not marketable because we have visuals to do the same in less time and that communicate more and get us to the point of the message faster. This is why one of the first rules of writing a screenplay is "avoid all narration", it's visually on the screen and nobody needs it described to them. The descriptive paragraph may indeed, be dieing with the paper it's inked on.

For more on Apple's Tablet from Daniel Akst's LA Times article, go here: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-akst24-2010jan24,0,3445923.story

Friday, January 22, 2010

15 Seeds to Grow Your Social Media Classroom

Cheesy title, I know, but this is a little checklist I've been working on for training instructors and other education professionals who are balancing the need to market their program and themselves, while providing an effective learning environment through social media. It's a work in progress - so I'll open the comments section to feedback/must changes/"that one is lame".

1.   Provide your IDEAS! - be the critical thinker
2.      Provide your commentary on current stuff as a subject matter expert - model critical thinking
3.      Provide current events in your industry / subject - don't be afraid to repost or retweet
4.      Provide interesting links for industry professionals -- when you come across them - post them
5.      Connect people who need with people or links that provide.
6.      Comment on others' postings
7.      Create “games” / provide “buy-in” to play
8.      Engage in discussions
9.      Drive users to through your "focus" (meaning where they should end up - group page, blog, website, etc)
10. Adapt old assignments to new environments (don't make them hand-write an essay - make them tag you in a note)
11.  Understand what your audience is on Facebook / Twitter for – then tailor to them *hint-they aren't on for you*
12.  Model effective ways to market ONE’S SELF - they need to know they are creating a personal brand.
13.  Provide incentives (bonus points, free stuff, longer break time, assignment do-overs, etc)
14.  Link followers and friends to subject matter experts or others they should model.
15.  Know your audience and your intent when posting
Also, I ran across some interesting websites that are also helpful:
       For useful applications to run in facebook that you could require your students to run in order to better collaborate:
For another list with some very interesting ideas on WHY you should be using Facebook in your classroom:

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Challenge

I spent $10 on an iTunes giftcard and put out a mass email: First one to tell me who said this and in what year wins an iTunes session with me and the card. It was answered in under 2 minutes. Within 5 minutes I had 15 answers. Throughout the day I would have more than 25 answers and more than 3 "off-topic" conversations. More on the unperceived value of this challenge later, let me tackle my initial concept.

Here's the first quote pertaining to how we learn:
"...the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs." 

What is the first thing you think of after reading this? Someone recent started ranting why IT should open the firewall back up on Facebook, right? This person must be talking about social media in the classroom.

What if I told you this was John Dewey in 1897? If you are still rolling your eyes at the quote then it would be akin to a physicist rolling his eyes at Einstein or Newton.

Dewey makes an example shortly after this quote about how a baby learns to speak. They start babbling but soon learn to control those babbles and form them into more precise sounds as their social surrounding dictate until they are able to form the sound "daddy" and connect that to their father turning around and giving them attention enough times that "Daddy" becomes the name of the father.

So... If our social demands and language is changing (again back to my mission as a tech specialist - what I'm constantly telling you) and our learning is based on "stimulation of powers by the demands of social situations" then how important is it to be involved and working within the demands of that social climate? Essentially, there is a younger generation that is beginning to speak a completely separate language that is more rich than you can keep up with and they are - in all reality - with out the ability to speak the language of the other generation.

But why is that important? Shouldn't they just tone it down and zone in and "if they want a grade then they'll listen up"? My mission is to get you to understand that this is not a fad or a use of toys and entertainment devices, this is an evolving language!

If I still haven't gotten your attention, then I want you to sit down in a classroom to learn something you have no idea about, and the teacher will ONLY speak a Shakespearean English. You will be required to listen up and follow along. You know every single word, none of those words are non-English, I mean, Shakespeare had about a third of the vocabulary you have, so you should be able to follow along.

Something I've learned from this is the reverse. I'm speaking a hyper language and expecting a lot of you to run to my videos and even this blog and learn and run with it. But you aren't speaking this language. So what did I do about it?

Well, jumping off of my last blog, I used a classic marketing technique. I gave away a free iTunes card and created a buzz. The buzz was about two separate things:
1.) it might be worth it to open Jacob's email immediately - it will have good and quick info anyway; and
2.) Who said that and when did they say that?
-- Which inevitably leads to a.) you having some buy-in to read my blog based on your previous interest and how easily you were able to come up with the info (so many more people participated since it was easy to just copy and paste the quote into google without even reading - you wouldn't have if you would have had to look it up in the library) and;
b.) wondering what the heck I was getting at with a quote from John Dewey in 1897.

What can you learn from my Challenge in its delivery method? How could you apply that? Have I gotten you interested in looking at social media as not a toy yet?

***Next blogs: 1.) affects of the challenge and the "off-topic" conversations
2.) At least a third of the people who answered gave the guilty confession "but don't count me, I used Google." .... wwwhhhhaaaaaaaaat?!?!

Oh! And here was the other quote from John Dewey in the challenge:

"...these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest."

What's that make you think?