Monthly Archives: October 2006

It’s Not Just about the Information…


For a while now, there has been an ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about whether it is the technology or the information/learning that’s important. It seems like most people seem to be siding with the information/learning side.

However, following the Handheld Learning 2006 Conference in London, Tony Vincent posted this on the Handheld Learning Forum:

The second item that was pervasive throughout most all of the sessions in the Churchill Auditorium was that the device and software do not matter. I’m here to tell you that they do, especially software. As I said in my session, teachers need to know the abilities and limitations of the learning tools in their classrooms. You can’t expect them to figure it all out on their own time! Educators need training so they can use the devices effectively. Omitting discussion about hardware and software is a disservice because it really is necessary to know what your tools can do and can’t do. Also important in teacher training is classroom/technical management and instructional strategies. Without all of these, embedding handheld learning won’t be very successful.

And when educators go to a conference about technology, they are constantly thinking about how to apply the new tools to learning. Don’t insult them by constantly reiterating it’s about learning…they know-that’s why they are there!  Helping learners is their job and in most instances, it’s their passion.

Tony has a good point, and here was my response at that time:

Yes, the technology does matter, BUT, not to the point where it becomes the [sole] focus of learning. As Tony states in his post, teachers know it’s all about learning, they come to conferences like HH Learning to learn about technology and how to use it for teaching and learning. So… in my view we should be looking for a happy medium between learning and technology, especially when it comes to professional development.

I still stand by this. Information, and how to deal with it, is extremely important, no doubt about that, but I think what many of us are kind of pushing to the back burner sometimes is that technology,

  • has changed the nature of this information. As David Warlick has said, the new information is networked, overwhelming, and never finished. In addition, Judy Breck keeps emphasizing open content.

  • provides access to this new information. Just try to imagine for a minute what it would be like not having the Internet or your cell phone. What information would you not have access to?

  • empowers students. There are plenty of examples of this out there, and I see it on a daily basis in the work that I do.

To me, it’s the combination of mobile devices and networked and open content that is going to be the key for future (and current) learning. And so this means a combination of technology AND information, not just one or the other. And to answer the question that Graham Brown-Martin asked about my discussion with Tony of “whether new technology should attempt to work around existing pedagogy or whether it should inform/stimulate a new one?” I’d say, given the current state of our schools, that we need a new one, badly…


Image Credit: marygrace:

Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning (MacArthur Foundation)


Not one of my deeper thinking pieces, but an important entry nonetheless: The MacArthur Foundation announced its

five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations. The initiative is both marshaling what is already known about the field and seeding innovation for continued growth.

Not sure how I missed this one, as the announcement came last Thursday. The project website is accompanied by a blog to which the likes of Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, and danah boyd are contributing. Very exciting stuff, and an area of digital technology research I’ve gotten increasingly interested in.

For a synopsis of the initiative’s launch, see danah boyd’s post on the Spotlight blog.  More than worth a read….


Image Credit: Cambodia4kids photostream:

Information Literacy, Digital Story Telling, Citizen Journalism, and …..

iwojima1.jpg           marineskuwait.jpg

Today is the release of the movie “Flags of Our Fathers“, directed by Clint Eastwood, which I’m sure will bring about plenty of discussion about the role of the media when it comes to news reporting and war (reviews of the movie are already availble on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and a quick Google search turned up about 3.5 million hits for the movie). A good article to get started with is Newsweek’s “Inside the Hero Factory“, which discusses how the government and media have been using images over time to manipulate reality, and how the more recent proliferation of technology has started to turn the tables (although one should wonder about the content of the article, given the media outlet that published it).

The article draws a comparison between World War II and Iraq:

It hasn’t been a conflict in which photographers or network-news producers have captured the “picture that can win or lose a war” in Iraq. It was a shutterbug soldier who thought it would be cool to document the fun and games at Abu Ghraib. What the Pentagon didn’t foresee, and couldn’t control, was the rise of new media—the unfiltered images popping up on the Web, the mini-DV cams put in the hands of soldiers that emerge in the recent documentary “The War Tapes.” We don’t see much of the real war on network TV, but the unauthorized documentaries—”The Ground Truth,” “Gunner Palace” and many more—come pouring out. Just as more people think that they get a straighter story from Jon Stewart’s mock news reports than from traditional outlets, it’s been the “unofficial” media that have sabotaged the PR wizards in the Pentagon. The sophistication of the spinners has been matched by the sophistication of a media-savvy public.


It isn’t difficult to point out here that it is exactly because of these types of developments that it is sooooo important for educators to learn about and teach with and about many forms of media, including the ones that are currently being labeled as being bad for kids. Examples like flickr and YouTube come to mind, but let’s not forget television and the movies (especially those controlled by the large media conglomerates).

Again, this is yet another example of it is not the technology that is the focus of teaching and learning, but the information (a la David Warlick). How are kids going to learn to make their own informed decisions if we don’t

  • show them there is more than one side to a story?

  • teach them how to look for and recognize bias?

  • give them the tools to effectively analyze and synthesize a variety of sources on a given topic?

  • help them figure out the (un)importance of source and authority (see David Warlick’s post on that one)

As a former social studies teacher, I can tell you from experience that teaching these types of skills is much more important, relevant, (and fun) than plowing through an 800-page textbook of facts (which, btw, are not always correct either!!).

More to follow on this one …


Image Credits: mcfarland0311’s photostream
(Flag Raisers on Iwo Jima, 1945):
(Marines in Kuwait, 2006):

Cell Phones in Schools? Part IV


Ewan Mcintosh’s post I referred to in Part III of my cell phone ramblings was blogged from the Handheld Learning 2006 conference in London. The presentation he refers to has been posted here. In addition, many other presentations from the Handheld Learning 2006 conference are available for viewing on the Handheld Learning Forum. The forum as a whole is a great resource for anything related to mobile devices and learning, btw.

While my work is still focused mostly on the ideas of ubiquitous computing for education, what I keep seeing over and over again is the importance of both mobility and connectedness. That’s why conferences like Handheld Learning are still so very important. Sorry to say I had to miss it this year, maybe next year…

Image Credit: N. Mexico’s photostream:

Information Literacy


Here is why it is so important that we teach students how to deal with the flood of information that’s available to them on the Internet, instead of blocking them from it:

Students Lack ‘Information Literacy,’ Testing Service’s Study Finds

This article is from yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education’s Daily News. According to the piece,

A study by the nonprofit testing service [ETS] looked at the scores of about 3,000 college students and 800 high-school students who earlier this year took a new ETS test designed to measure their information literacy and computer savvy. The test is called the ICT Literacy Assessment Core Level. “ICT” stands for “information and communication technology.”

According to the preliminary report, only 13 percent of the test-takers were information literate. ETS set what company officials described as a rough, unofficial information-literacy bar using information from a variety of sources, including the Association of College and Research Libraries.

The article doesn’t give a definition of information literacy (although I kind of get the feeling it’s heavily text/print based) as used by ETS, specifics on the actual test, or detailed information on what it measures, but it does caution the reader that the findings are preliminary. An excerpt from the findings:

Among the study’s findings, the ETS labeled the following as “good”:

  • Students generally recognized that Web sites whose addresses end in .edu or .gov were less likely to contain biased material than those with addresses ending in .com.
  • Students typically favored print material over Web sites for authoritative information.
  • When searching a database of journal articles for a research project, 63 percent of students identified reasonably relevant materials.

The testing service labeled the following findings as “bad”:

  • Some students were too willing to believe print materials, failing to distinguish authoritative from mass-market sources.
  • Students were generally poor at identifying biased Web content.
  • When searching a database, only half of students downplayed irrelevant results.

As has been said so many times, it’s not about the technology, but about the information…


Image Credit: Nandudesign’s photostream:

Cell Phones in Schools? Part III


Just finished editing a manuscript for an upcoming special issue (Spring 2007) of Educational Technology Magazine on highly mobile computing. The manuscript in question was submitted by Giasemi Vavoula, Mike Sharples, Paul Rudman, Peter Lonsdale, and Julia Meek, and is entitled “Learning Bridges: A Role for Mobile Technology in Education.”

The manuscripts describes a project that involves the use of mobile phones for learning in museums, called MyArtSpace. It’s one of the better applications of technology for learning I have seen in a while. In a nutshell, learning is

  • set up in the classroom with a broad question;
  • students then visit a museum and use a cell phone to to collect physical objects from a cultural venue using a mobile phone, learn more about the objects that they collect, and then publish their own gallery online;
  • after the museum visit, students reflect on their visit at school/home; and
  • present their results in multimedia format. 

More information about the project can also be found at CultureOnline and the SEA.

This project is a good example of

  • emphasizing information over technology;
  • using mobile technology when it is appropriate;
  • using this technology within an existing technology and learning infrastructure.

I’d like to see more ideas on how a project like this is scaleable to large audiences, including visitors to museums and other places of learning who bring their own mobile, connected devices. It would be great if it would be scaleable that way, because learning with technology as described in MyArtSpace can truly be lifelong…

For the full article you will have to wait for the Ed Tech issue to appear 🙂

Image Credit: MyArtSpace

Cell Phones in Schools? Part II


I read a post on Ewan McGregor’s blog this morning entitled “Dutch mobiles in primary school: turn that phone on!” and couldn’t resist commenting, as it is after all a description of technology use in Dutch schools :). The project is using 4G cell phones for teacher and student reflection on learning, focusing on the multimedia capabilities (vod, pod, and mp3) of these phones.

A couple of observations related to this post:

Ewan reports that “the very pragmatic Dutch have no issues letting the parents and students pick up the tab of this apparently enhancing education experience. Is that such a bad thing?” My answer to this question is NO! Yes, I’m aware of digital divide issues when some parents can afford to buy their kids the technology and others can’t, but the current and most prevalent practice of schools providing technology to students doesn’t work for a variety of reasons:

  • If schools can’t afford technology, nobody has access;
  • If schools can afford technology, student and teacher use is often restricted by filters, limited functionality for the sake of security (or to make the tech person’s job easier);
  • Technology is only used during the school day and in school (this is esp. detrimental for mobile technologies which are designed to be, well, mobile);
  • Because of the previous bullet point, technology used in schools is not seen by student as a lifelong learning tool.

I’ve said this before, but I really believe that we will get to a point where students, not schools, will provide the technology for learning, and it will be up to the schools to make a wide variety of devices work together, using ad hoc, wireless networks.

Another thing I’d like to point out is the concept of Homo Zappiens, described by Prof. Wim Veen, which Ewan’s post links to as well. Veen describes the net generation in an interesting way. A few excerpts from his article:

Homo Zappiens is the generation that has grown up using three devices from early childhood on: the TV remote control, the PC mouse and the cell phone. These three devices have enabled today’s’ children to control information flows, to deal with information overload, and to select information properly, swiftly and according to their needs.

Note that the devices Veen mentions are all small and mobile, AND that the focus is on controlling and using information, not technology (along the lines of what David Warlick has been saying all along).

The net generation considers school as a meeting place for friends rather than a learning environment. School does not challenge them sufficiently for learning and take the risk of getting disconnected from their audience.

Nothing new here, but another voice to add to the discussion related to the need to revamp schools to change this attitude.

Parents are concerned that their kids are only playing games, surfing the net, watching TV and hardly go out for sports or never read a book. This is all understandable, but instead of looking at children from the point of view of what they should do according to school and parents, let’s look into what they actually do. By using the web, playing PC games and zapping TV channels, they develop critical learning skills that are extremely useful in an information society.

Emphasis added by me. Here is where a big part of the problem lies. It’s easy to blame the kids for not fitting into the existing system. It’s much more difficult for schools and parents to take a long, hard look at themselves and reflect on whether their point of view is still tenable in a society that is driven by digital, networked information.

Finally, Veen provides a list of skills that Homo Zappiens has:

  • Scanning skills: looking at a variety of digital information formats on a screen and deciding where to go or what to do next;
  • Multi-tasking: doing many things at once;
  • Processing discontinued information: “processing various interrupted information flows and extracting meaningful knowledge out of them. This skill helps kids to deal with huge amounts of information effectively.
  • Non-linear learning: information on the Web is organized in this way. Starting to use something without reading the manual is another good example, because it becomes learning by trial and error instead of a linear process.

Veen argues that, by and large, schools are not taking advantage of these skills, and I tend to agree. It’s an important component of the reason why there is such a disconnect between kids and schools, because schools tend to focus on text-based information, single-tasking, and linear information and processes.

And as Veen concludes with this question, so will I: “Western countries have invested huge amounts of money and effort in restructuring their old industrial economies into modern service-oriented societies. Isn’t it strange we did not the same with our education system?

Image Credit: Wim Kok: