Monthly Archives: July 2006


GSCET poster 

I’ll be on my way to Shanghai, China tomorrow to be a guest speaker at the 1st Global Summit Conference on Educational Technology at East China Normal University. I was invited to present some of my research on mobile technology. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m not taking a laptop with me but will try to do everything of off my Zire72, except take pictures, since I’m taking a digital camera. I’m depending on the university for Internet access. I’ll blog if I can and will upload pictures to my flickr account. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be back on August 8……


Technology v. People, or When Can Technology Become Too Much? Part III

There was an interesting story on 60 Minutes last Sunday that I’ve been meaning to write about, called Working 24/7. The report was about how people in the U.S. now work more than ever before and that technology such as email, IM, VOIP, cell phones, Crackberries, wireless Internet etc. enable us to really work anywhere, anytime. The report gave the example of BestBuy who now has a program under which employees can work anywhere and anytime as long as the work gets done. A few examples (some I think were chosen on purpose because they seem a little extreme):

Shenkman is such a workaholic that he has wired his house with Internet, telephone and television in every single room. As CEO of the global high-tech firm Exigen in San Francisco, he feels he has to be available to his customers at all hours. … He’s so obsessed, he has wired his shower. When Greg soaps up, he doesn’t daydream — he watches the business news, checks his e-mail, and answers the phone (and he did during the show. They had it set up this way, so they could show how the water turns off when answering a call, and that all the tech was waterproof as well.

It turns out Joe and Christina e-mail and instant-message each other, even if they are at home (this one cracked me up, although it is pretty sad as these people are husband and wife and in the same location).

 Of course there are lots of negative side effects to working in this way (shouldn’t be too hard to figure this out):

  • More time working means less time with family
  • More instances of multitasking and continuous partial attention (with associated consequences for relationships)
  • Sleep disorders (not mentioned but shouldn’t be too surprising)
  • Addiction too work (some people mentioned they’ve canceled vacations, or are having a hard time relaxing)
  • Addiction to communication technology (they’re called Crackberries for a reason!)
  • Exploitation of workers (more hours, same pay)
  • Working more, BUT being less productive (on average)!!

 And, according to the segment, some positive effects too:

  • More flexibility in when and where to work (the BestBuy example)
  • As a result, some workers’ health has improved
  • Sharing jobs means more time at home (technology has led to improved communication), when cutting back on hours

But what got me most about the entire report was this:

Christina says she does tune out everything once she gets home from work, to play with their 8-month old daughter Amina. She even turns her cell phones off.

But when Amina gets fussy, they both reach for her favorite toy: the BlackBerry.

“I can have her on the bed with a bunch of toys,” Christina says. But her daughter will always pick the BlackBerry.

So the question is, what are we teaching our children here? There is a fine line between enough and too much technology…..

How Can Ubiquitous Technology Be Successful for Education?

I’m in Missouri this week for the 4th Annual Handheld Conference, currently listening to Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris do their keynote (yet another one…..). They have been spreading the gospel of handheld computers for years now, focusing on the idea that handheld computers are the only way to provide 1:1 access for 55 million school kids in the US (cost, size, weight…..).

Finally, they are mentioning the idea that mobile technology is a disruptive technology. I think the idea of disruptive technology is good, even though many, many teachers and administrators are very uncomfortable with this idea, because disruptive means having to change teaching and learning. Top-down teaching no longer works, as kids merely turn teachers off. Outdated or a lack of technology turns kids off in school, because they figure they just wait to get home to use the technology they have access to there (personal computer, Internet, multimedia).

As far as changes for teaching go, Cathie and Elliot have been talking about “evolution, not revolution,” which I agree with to some extent. Evolution is important for teachers (start slow, add a little bit at a time), the problem is that it may be too slow for kids. I think it’s better to give kids a little more freedom and let them run with the technology, let them show what they are capable of within the “boundaries” of learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean radical changes in content (for now), but it means giving kids more freedom to choose how to master the content, how they will represent what they have learned, and how they will justify how their representations show what they’ve learned. These ideas aren’t really new, but they need to be implemented more…

Student Voices and Technology

I’ve been reading and writing a bit lately on how new technologies have been changing how kids communicate, learn, and think in ways that adults often do not understand. This often leads to a new digital divide, this time between younger and older generations. There are some interesting twists and turns to this story:

  • many kids are going online because their physical environments are increasingly limited by adults. Therefore, socializing, forming social groups, and identity formation of teenagers is being moved online, hence the popularity of sites like MySpace and Xanga. dana boyd (a graduate student at UC Berkeley social media researcher at Yahoo! Research Berkeley) and has done some fascinating work in this area. Her thoughts and ideas can be found at the Corante blog as well as her personal blog Apophenia. She is one of few scholars who seem to have some real insights into the online world of teenagers (outside of teenagers, of course).
  • Parents and schools often don’t know how to deal with kids being online, and their first reaction tends to be ban and punish, rather than learn and educate (isn’t that education’s job??). Parents and schools do need resources to help them with this.
  • Technology does create safety issues and can be a distraction to learning, mostly because it makes deeper-rooted problems such as youth alienation and bullying more visible to a larger audience. The medium itself is often not at fault, it merely plays its designed role, that of messenger.
  • Fear of MySpace and predators tends to be overblown. See this recent report from Dr. Larry Rosen at CSU Dominguez Hills. In a nutshell, he concludes that the fear of MySpace is misplaced, BUT parents should pay more attention to what their kids are doing online, set clear limits, and communicate with their children about their Internet experiences. As Henry Jenkins from MIT has said, new technologies tend to be disruptive because older generations don’t know how to deal with them because they are new and different, while kids tend to be early adopters.
  • In their crusade to control teenage use of the Internet, many schools are now creating policies that hold kids responsible for what they do and post on the Internet outside of school, which has raised many an eyebrow among civil rights activists.

It seems that the solution to many of these issues does not lie in technology per se. Rather, real conversations between adults and kids, as well as trust building seem to be keys. To me, a lot of the fear and distrust on the part of schools and parents comes from a lack of understanding of new technologies. This is an age-old problem, and not one that was created by websites like MySpace.

So how can we make student voices heard, and I mean really heard? I’ve been pondering this question since I started reading Shultz and Cook-Sather’s In our own words: Students’ perspectives on school. While their effort is noteworthy, unfortunately the student voices tend to be lost

  • in the overbearing voices of the adult authors, who organized the chapters, wrote the context for the stories, and provided “captions” to each student’s piece of writing (which takes away from the student voice).
  • because of the medium used. It seems to me that student voices today should be heard using today’s media, and a hardcover book doesn’t really seem to fit the bill here.

Interesting stuff. It sure raises more questions than it answers….

Technorati tags: myspace, internet, teenagers, technology, socialsoftware

NECC 2006 attendance


For those of who haven’t seen this yet, here are some attendance figures from NECC 2006:

Attendance: 12,000 (down about 400 from last year. Not bad, considering this year’s scheduling during July 4th week).

Vendors: 512 (up from last year by about 60). Whether or not this is a good thing is another question….

For complete demographics, see this page on the NECC site.

Technorati tags: necc, necc06

Cool Social Software Drawing Tool

Here is a cool online drawing tool I just ran across: or

You can invite others by IM or email to draw with you, and you can print or “save” the drawings. Very userfriendly interface, and lots of different drawing tools, including shapes and stamps, and a text tool. You can chat while drawing. It uses Flash to run inside the web browser. 

Here is an example (click image to see a larger example):

drawing tool

Technorati tags: socialsoftware

NECC 2006: Reflections on Reflections


Since I’ve been back from San Diego, I’ve been trying to get caught up with what others have written about the conference (trying being the operative word here). There is literally a flood of information out there in blogs, wikis, and on discussion boards, to name just a few outlets. Here is my take on things:

As I’ve said before, my primary reason for going to NECC is to talk to and network with people I am in contact with virtually (and sometimes personally) throughout the year, especially in the area of mobile computing. This year, I had some nice conversations with both Graham Brown-Martin, who runs the Handheld Learning forum from London, as well as Cathie Norris, one of the leaders in the field of handheld computing. In addition, I ran into the usual suspects such as Tony Vincent, Mike Curtis, Elliot Soloway, Rolly Maiquez, Marge Arnold and Debbie Lyles, and the list goes on. NECC is one of the few places where you get people of this caliber together in large numbers.

Graham and I had some interesting conversation about how we need to get decisionmakers at the highest level of education (e.g. politicians, top administrators etc.) as well others at all levels of education to see that if we keep doing things the way we’ve always been, the educational systems as we know them today will not and cannot survive, in large part due to new technologies and the ways in which kids are using them outside of and despite of what they do and learn in school. That we’ll need to ruffle more than a few feathers in the process should speak for itself. An interesting observation we made as we were walking around the tradeshow floor is that many of the booths were hawking their wares using a traditional classroom setup, with chairs facing the presenter, who was often up on a small podium, talking down (literally) to the attendees. Graham promptly started snapping pictures with his Treo and has since posted them on his site. I am still amazed at how little venders of educational technology understand about the full potential of their own hardware and software for education, displaying them in traditional classroom settings for which they are not particularly suited, a feeling that is echoed in Will Richardson’s NECC reflections. It’s a feeling I’ve had at NECC for at least the last two or three years, with more of the same being shown every year and not much new and truly innovative technology.

Speaking of conversations, many bloggers brought up the subject of conversations they did and did not hear at NECC. A few excerpts:

From Will Richardson:

But the conversations and presentations about Web 2.0 were there in a way that I haven’t seen at NECC. They were NOT about pedagogy and about, as Jeff [Utecht] says, “about the changing nature of our students, our classrooms, and our society.” (That would have been amazing and should be the goal for Atlanta next year.) But they were about the conversations that have to come before pedagogy. Here’s what these tools are. Here’s what they can do. Here are the first practices that are sticking. It’s about building the vocabulary and the context, which, for some, takes time.

From Jeff Utecht:

I’ll agree that the tools that can and hopefully will affect change are at a pivotal point here with blogs, podcasting, rss, and others being mentioned in almost every session. But the tools are only half of the formula. The tools are here, we have them, but without a change in how we view education these tools will not affect education the way I believe it needs to be.

Jeff goes on to talk about the need for an appropriate educational theory that fits the Web 2.0 technologies if we are to use them to change education. He proposes George Siemens’ Connectivism theory (2004), which, in a nutshell, proposes that knowledge exists outside of ourselves in a network of information sources. As a result, learning and being educated should entail:

  • knowing where these resources are and how to connect them (i.e. getting a handle on collective intelligence);
  • nurturing and maintaining these connections, with the continuous goal to know more (i.e. lifelong learning);
  • the ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts;
  • being and remaining current;
  • decision-making as a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. What is true or right today may not be so tomorrow.

Obviously, web-based social sharing tools play an important role in this process, or as Siemens says:

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

However, as David Warlick has said, technology is not the key or panacea, and as much as I work with technology, teachers, and kids in the AT&T classroom at Kent State and surrounding schools, I wholeheartedly agree. While his focus seems to be on experiences kids have with technology (which we as adults know far too little about), I think another conversation we need to have more is teachers’ experiences with technology. As a former classroom teacher, I can only imagine how overwhelming the arsenal of technology must look to current teachers. To be able to use even some of the newer and more web-based tools effectively, teachers need to understand the technology and its potential for teaching and learning, learn what it can and cannot do, find out what it is that kids are already doing with it (both the good and bad), and make the technology work within the plethora of restrictions that schools put on them (what can and cannot be used, what is blocked, AUPs, technical limitations such as bandwidth, administrative and technical support, classroom space, limited time, high stakes testing, etc. etc. etc.).

While all of these reflections and observations are very insightful (for one I want to learn more about connectivism now), I think they do fall short of the bigger picture and larger conversation to some extent. They are all pieces of the puzzle though. In my opinion, the conversations should begin to focus more on the triad student-technology-teacher, and the complex of relationships between the three. As we have found in our research at RCET, relationships change when technology is added to the mix of teaching and learning. Examples of these changes can be found in these RCETJ articles:

Katz, K., & Kratcoski, A. (2005). Teacher-student interactions in a ubiquitous computing environment: Learning within dyads and triads of interaction.

Kratcoski, A., & Katz, K. (2006). Interactions in a ubiquitous computing environment: The implications of discourse for children’s conceptualizations and representations.

Kratcoski, A., Swan, K., & Campbell, D. (2006). Teaching and learning in a ubiquitous computing environment.

Therefore, maybe the “new stories” to be told shouldn’t necessarily be as much about experiences, but relationships……

Technorati tags: NECC, NECC 2006, teaching, learning, technology, Web2.0