Monthly Archives: August 2006

Ubiquitous = Access?

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In a recent post, entitled “Another Side of China“, I wrote about how the Chinese government is determining what cartoons will be shown on prime time TV to protect its own industry. As we all know, the Chinese government is also monitoring and censoring certain Internet content, including parts of Google and Yahoo. More recently, a similar debate has started around Wikipedia’s entry into China. Today, I ran into an issue related to this, this time with access to Internet content of an academic nature. I was contacted by a Chinese master’s student who was looking for a few dissertations written by doctoral students in the U.S. She had the titles but could not get access to the full documents, or even an abstract. I ended up finding abstracts for her and sent them to her via email, as I couldn’t do it through MSN.

I started thinking more about this later in the day, and I now wonder if the Chinese government is blocking certain academic content in order to protect China’s research by forcing Chinese scholars to predominantly look at Chinese research. Obviously, for teaching and learning purposes, this is not a good thing, as it narrows the body of knowledge you have access to. In that respect, we are pretty spoiled in the U.S., as access to information is much easier.

However, the whole net neutrality issue could change that in the U.S. (I blogged about that in the post “Threats to Ubiquitous Computing“). In a way, a loss of net neutrality would have a similar effect to access to information via the Internet, in that certain content would be very difficult or impossible to access for people who have a slow connection (think media content like video). And even though this would not be a form of censorship by the government, if the government is going to allow the creation of a tiered system of access, it would certainly be condoned by it.

Either way, whether content would be completely blocked (as in China), or made virtually inaccessible (as may happen in the U.S.), ubiquitous access to technology does not necessarily equal ubiquitous access to information. This is something that learners of all ages should know about and realize when they access the deluge of information we call the Internet. In the back of your mind, you should always wonder what information is NOT there, and who is responsible for that. However, as in the example I described here, sometimes technology does provide you with ways to access what you normally couldn’t…

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Too Much of a Good Thing…

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It’s funny how new information about Internet technology and China keep popping up in my Feedreader. Here’s a rundown of a few recent pieces:

In a post dated 7/5/06 on ChangeWaves, John Cashman writes about China’s increased attempts to provide IP Protection to help companies protect their intellectual property, and potential issues related to government involvement.

Then there was this article on CNN yesterday entitled:  “MySpace founder adds China to friends list” discussing how Brad Greenspan is going to try to enter the Chinese Internet market:

Brad Greenspan said Wednesday that he founded BroadWebAsia, which has in turn taken stakes in 20 Chinese Internet companies that focus on entertainment and — like MySpace — social networking.

Seems like things are moving right along in China, especially in cities like Shanghai that seem to be ahead of the curve. Of course, all of this Internet access also comes with a price, as this article (and I found it posted on several sites inside and outside of China, the original source is the Shanghai Daily) shows: “Web addict ‘shelter’ opens”:

CHINA has opened its first halfway house for internet addicts, offering shell-shocked teenagers counselling, books – and the use of computers.

The shelter can hold four minors for one-night stays and help bridge gaps between children and parents, the Shanghai Daily said.

“None of the teenagers are forced to come here,” the newspaper quoted Wang Hui, the house’s chief social worker, as saying.

“We wander around in nearby internet bars at night and bring them to the halfway house if the teen agrees.”

Computer and online gaming has exploded in China in recent years, with an estimated 14 million people taking part.

While 14 million people is but a fraction of the population of China, it’s still a very large group of people, and I suspect that most of them would be in their teens and twenties. As we keep blogging, discussing, and reflecting on ubiquitous technology for teaching, learning, and life, let’s keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing…

I Didn’t Know….

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As I was perusing my RSS Feeds this morning, I ran across this post by Karl Fisch. Above all, take a look at Karl’s PowerPoint (read the post afterwards to get the context, and some info on updated slides). I won’t go into the details, you’ll have to watch it for yourself to get the full effect. There’s some pretty mind-boggling stuff in there. I ask you to think about this as you watch:

What does it all mean for teaching and learning?

High Tech, High Touch, Part II

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I’ve spent the last couple of days reading quite a few interesting pieces about emerging technologies, and the future of education as well as work. I’m rereading David Thornburg’s The new basics, and have been reading some articles by Judy Breck, as well as an interview with her on Rudy de Waele’s blog. All of this work focuses on the for a substantial part on the importance of personal, mobile, and connected digital tools as part of the solution to make education more meaningful and relevant

For example, for the past three months or so (ever since I started this blog) I have been spending much more social time online, chatting on MSN Messenger and IM with my sister and friends, using Skype for conference calls, and posting pictures on flickr and my MSN Space, and attempting to maintain coherent lists of websites at del.icio.us and Furl. And of course, I’m still using more “traditional” channels like email and cell phone.

Am I more connected? Absolutely. Do I feel more connected? I’m not so sure. Personal, mobile, and wireless technologies are great tools for anywhere and anytime connectivity to other people and information sources 24/7, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing beats face-to-face communication, no matter how you slice it. Even so, I wonder how I would feel if I were cut off from my digital channels all of a sudden……

More about this topic to follow, it’s been bugging me for a while now…

Another side of China

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After the great experiences I had in Shanghai, running into this article today was certainly a reality check:

China bans Simpsons from prime-time TV

An excerpt:

The Associated Press

BEIJING — D’oh! China has banished Homer Simpson, Pokemon and Mickey Mouse from prime time. Beginning Sept. 1, regulators have barred foreign cartoons from TV from 5 to 8 p.m. in an effort to protect China’s struggling animation studios, news reports said Sunday. The move allows the Monkey King and his Chinese pals to get the top TV viewing hours to themselves.

Having the technology available, like the ubiquitous TV screens I saw all over Shanghai, especially in public transportation, is one thing, being able to choose content is another. The article really reinforced my observations that as much as Shanghai is modernizing, the traditional culture and politics are still strong. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds, as there has been criticism to this decision in China itself…

High Tech, High Touch

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Here is an interesting and important idea about technology that is discussed by David Thornburg in his book The new basics: Education and the future of the telematic age: the phrase “high tech, high touch”. First coined by John Naisbitt in 1982, the phrase can be defined as

embracing technology that preserves our humanness and rejecting technology that intrudes upon it.

In essence, it means that many technologies meant to free us from mundane tasks (or replace us) can actually do the exact opposite, i.e. sometimes the technology can actually enslave us. Thornburg’s description of customer service “hold hell” is a perfect example, as is this post by Kelly Goto, appropriately called “cell withdrawal”, about our dependency on mobile devices such as cell phones and iPods.

Instead, “high tech, high touch” means that people should find a balance between high-tech skills and high touch skills of life, the latter being activities that keep us healthy, creative, and energized.

I’ve been thinking about issues related to this quite a bit lately, especially after listening to some of the presentations at GSCET in Shanghai. I think part of the problem in educational technology is that as educators, technology coordinators, administrators, and researchers, we often feel that we have to jump on the latest bandwagon in order to be successful, even though we don’t necessarily have the pedagogical rationale for it. Examples over the past couple of years include mobile devices, anything wireless, podcasting, blogging, wikis, and RSS. While they are all great tools with plenty of potential, I think that the downfall of technology in learning environments is often caused by:

  • using technology for the sake of technology

  • jumping from one tool to the next without giving the former a chance

  • using too much technology

  • using not enough technology

  • fear of technology (the most recent examples being MySpace and cell phones)

 

I know that personally I spend way too much time at work and at home exploring new and innovative digital tools, and probably not enough on the so-called “high touch” skills. However, I’ve noticed that when I strike a pretty decent balance between the two, I tend to be more productive in both high tech and high touch.

What does this mean for education? I think that we need to take a step back from time to time to see what we are actually doing with technology in education, and if what we are doing is warranted from curricular and pedagogical points of view. So many times we introduce new technologies in society simply because we can, and our students tend to jump right in. This were a lot of the fear and panic among educators and administrators stems from. While some of their fears are warranted, a more balanced approach to introducing technologies may work better.

What is a balanced approach? This is a difficult question to answer, because new technologies are appearing more rapidly almost daily, and our students are not waiting for us to start using them. However, while students tend to go the more “high tech” route in this context, maybe as educators we can provide them with the “high touch”, showing students that no matter what the tool is, there are always people behind them, hence the need to learn how to use technology in responsible, ethical, and safe ways. Balance is good….

China, 8/4/06

A few more observations from a different day at the conference:

  • The focus in teacher education in China with regards to technology seems to be on teaching pre-service teachers to use technology, even though there is some talk about connecting technology and pedagogy.
  • Some of the younger scholars (especially graduate students in the 22-28 or so age group) are interested in mobile technology such as handheld devices and mobile phones. This is not surprising, given the proliferation of mobile phones among Chinese in their teens and twenties. I saw plenty of them just walking around in Shanghai!
  • Another observation related to mobile phones and digital cameras in China is that smaller is better. When I asked some of the graduate students why people like small devices, they told me that the Chinese tend to be smaller physically, on average. Interesting thought which hadn’t occured to me.
  • The younger generations (those in college especially) are somewhat of a reflection of the changes taking place in China and the juxtapositions it’s creating:
    • They know their culture and roots (family is still strong), but are also forward thinking
    • They are inquisitive and want to learn about cultures other than their own
    • They want good jobs when they graduate, but now how difficult that will be given the current job market in China
    • They use lots of technology (mobile phones, SMS, Internet, digital cameras, blogs), but may not be familiar with the very latest such as RSS