One last podcast from the AALF conference. This one comes from Tim Magner, director of the US Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology. Tim talks about the role of emerging technologies in transforming education and educational management. -andy
Archive for June, 2006
Here’s a podcast of Ben Schneiderman, computer scientist and author of Leonardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies, speaking at the AALF conference. He talked about his work developing interactive visualization tools and learning experiences that result in positive real-world change.
He also offered a great quote from George Leonard on the purpose of education: “A large part of the answer may be what men (and women) of this civilization have longest feared and most desired: the achievement of moments of ecstasy.”
Unfortunately, when was the last time most students had a learning experience that was truly ecstatic? -andy
Here are my notes from former Maine Governor Angus King’s AALF keynote about the Maine middle school laptop initiative. The notes aren’t verbatim, but I tried to capture some of his more colorful and entertaining remarks word-for-word. I also hope to have a podcast online soon, but I’m waiting for the governor’s permission to post it since I didn’t get permission before recording it.
How did Maine’s middle school laptop program happen? It started with a data point, three insights and a lunch.
The data point: Maine was stuck in 37th place for per-capita income. We hadn’t been able to break out of this rut.
First insight: I don’t know where the hell the economy is going. Tom Friedman talks about teaching Indians how to speak with a Minnesotan accent to provide better service at India’s call centers. We don’t know where the jobs are gonna come from or be like, but they’ll probably involve two things: more education and technology. That’s the only thing you can predict about the jobs of 20 years from now.
Insight number two: We’re all chasing the same thing, we governors. We all want more jobs, better jobs. And everybody thinks they know the formula: cut taxes, encourage R&D, international trade, etc. But if we’re all doing the same thing, how are we ever going to get out of 37th place? That was a scary insight, because I thought I was pretty good. We couldn’t win that race. You don’t get ahead of the competition by merely keeping up.
Insight number three: I realized that everything we did was incremental. Everything was baby steps. Like giving a teachers a half-percent raise. One year we paved 820 miles of road, compared to 780 miles the previous year, and we treat it like a major accomplishment. We act like these are big deals but they’re just incremental.
The Lunch: with Seymour Papert of MIT. I said to him we have five kids for every computer. What if we could have three kids per computer? Seymour shook his head. What about two kids per computer? Wouldn’t matter, Seymour said. Then he said, “It is only when it is one to one that the power occurs.” But this was 1996 and we didn’t have money to do this.
By 2000, our finance people said we’d have a $70 mil surplus in the state budget that no one anticipated. It hadn’t been earmarked for anything. So I put these insights together and said I want to do something that helps people compete, isn’t incremental, and should involve edtech. We could have used the money for anything, but I wanted to do this. My chief of staff said that we could create an endowment to give laptops to every 7th grader forever. And I said, wow.
We worked on this idea and announced it six weeks later. Other people plan projects like this for more than a year – that’s better. But if we had waited, the legislature would have spent the money. If we didn’t get our mitts on that money, it would get parceled out and been used incrementally.
A reporter then asked a question we hadn’t thought of – will the kids or the schools own the laptops? I had no idea. I could have said I don’t know, but I blurted out, “the kids.” Wrong answer. Huge political mistake. People hated the idea that the govt would give these tools to kids. Seventh graders became the most hated minority in the state. So that was a big mistake. It was referred to as Governor King’s Laptop Giveaway. Why don’t more politicians try projects like this? It’s because I got the shit kicked out of me. Ten to one of all emails were against it. “Governor, what were you smoking?” “Governor, we are a poor state, let someone else lead.” Yes, and they will still lead. One guy even suggested it would be better to give kids chainsaws.
(The governor’s Bill Gates joke. I was on the way to meet him the first time, and was talking with a trooper about what I should say to him. The trooper said, “How about, ‘Dad, don’t you recognize me?’”)
So people hated the project, but I knew it was still the right thing to be doing. We had a two-prong strategy: deal with the legislature, and deal with the public. I had the legislators come in and see a mock classroom with laptop. Finally, one of my allies in the legislature – and as an independent, I don’t have many – came down and said we’re not going to be able to get this through. Instead we should put the money in a fund and create a taskforce. I said “sold” – because I knew that was the only way to keep the money. After a year of taskforcing, they came back with a recommendation – stick with one-to-one computing.
We then built whatever alliances we could. But people were against it simply because it was my idea. Welcome to the world of politics. Then I went on a teaching tour, to help people understand what we were talking about. We had a dog and pony show, working with Apple, handing out iBooks, then I’d come in and teach US history. And all the cameras would be rolling in the background. So I taught the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge, using a website that had a collection of relevant sites and source materials, including the Gettysburg Address, in Lincoln’s own handwriting. The depth of content blew away anything you could find in a textbook. Really deep stuff. I did this routine all over the state.
Then a crucial thing happened. I was talking with a business group, and they said, “Let’s just do this in our own town of Guilford, and not wait for the government.” So in this poor, rural town, we suddenly had a pilot project. Instead of arguing with people, I’d tell people to go to Guilford and watch how engaged the students are. And that probably sold it as much as anything else.
The legislature, meanwhile, insisted on funding more pilots. We’d still have only pilots today if we had stuck with that. I said we’d do it now, state wide, because of equity. This is an incredibly powerful tool for equity.
Then comes the Constitution – God bless the Constitution. In the end, they needed a budget, and guess who had to sign the budget? Me. I said, if you want to have a state budget, you know what had to be in it. It was simple as that. Pretty straightforward. You’ve got persuasion, but then you’ve got power.
Now the laptop program is finishing its fourth year. The endowment got spent in that time. It’s hard to hold that money when you’re also cutting Medicaid. But now it’s being renewed for another four years, because it’s proved itself. It’s worked. The teachers, parents, students, convinced the legislature that it was successful and should be continued.
What did we learn? If you’re thinking of doing something like this, go to one vendor. Don’t spread it around – you want one throat to choke. When something goes wrong, you don’t want the computer company blaming the network company. Get one vendor who can deal with the whole issue and be your partner. For us, Apple was a real partner. They moved people to Maine, were fantastic with repairs, a real partner.
Things also have to work. If you’re gonna do this, the damn things have to work. If something doesn’t work more than once or twice, the teachers will fold up the laptops and go back to the book. Reliability is a huge factor in this. A teacher just isn’t going to put up with it otherwise.
Third – you can’t spend too much time or money on professional development. The best thing we did was focus on professional development from the very beginning, starting with a grant from the Gates Foundation. This is not a hardware project. It’s an educational project. This device is something that assists teachers, not replace them. So you need to help teachers integrate it into the curriculum. If all you’re doing is buying hardware, it’s going to be a failure, and I don’t want that to happen because my name is associated with this kind of project.
Fourth – assessment. This obsession with testing is focused on rote knowledge. It’s not capturing what these tools can really do. It’s a tool that helps you solve problems, which is what life is all about. It’s not for memorizing what year Columbus discover America. But the tests are testing that kind of knowledge. So do not – do not – promise your school board that one-to-one laptops will improve test scores, or you’ll be out of a job. You can say they improve writing skills – all the research is showing this. But it’s really about problem solving.
The model of education for 500 years has been a teacher becomes an expert and dumps data on kids. Thomas Jefferson could know everything, but now, no one can, because there is so much more knowledge out there today. We should look at law school as a model, because there’s too much damn law. Nobody can learn all of it. Instead, you learn how to ask the right questions, identify the issues, and find the law. That’s a much better model for kids to learn in a knowledge-rich society. It’s a different kind of learning. Like they say, we’ve gone from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. We’re not going to beat the rest of the world on rote learning.
Innovation is the only thing America has. Natural resources and capital can go anywhere, technology can get zapped around the world. Innovation is something we have had historically – a confluence of experience, education and technology. Yet we as a country are frittering it away. Currently the federal govt has zero dollars budgeted for education technology. Zero. We’re like England in 1900 – the most powerful country in the world, but for how much longer? We’ve had an incredible run for 60 years, but it’s only going to continue if we’re going to innovate.
My two favorite philosophers are Darwin and Gretsky. God said why, and Darwin said how. We all learned about survival of the fittest. I always used to think it was the ones with big claws who survived. But if that were true, the dinosaurs would be in charge. But the fittest are those who are most adaptable to change – and we’re in a period of the most rapid change in human history. Those that change will survive. Resist and die. Then Wayne Gretsky – greatest scorer of all time, but he’s not the biggest or fastest. How? “I skate to where the puck is going to be; everyone else skates to where it is.” I don’t think you have to be a genius to know where things are going to be in 10 years. It’s going to involve technology, digital literacy – and that’s where innovation will come. The next Bill Gates may be in a rural Maine town, but would have never had a chance if the state hadn’t put a tool in his hands.
Final Thought: The Five Ps for Success:
Those of you who are trying this, know that this is the right thing to do – but you’ve got to have these five Ps for it to work.
(Another gubenatorial joke: What’s a Canadian? A Canadian is an unarmed north American with health insurance.)
“Oh, and come to Maine,” he said while leaving the conference. “It’s really nice this time of year. I used to get five percent of everything spent there.” -andy
Notes from this afternoon’s keynote by John Bransford, professor of learning sciences at the University of Washington, at the AALF conference. Most of my notes are not exact quotes. -andy
Humans have always been learners – as a species, it’s our strength.
A turning point was the transatlantic cable that linked the british isles with Newfoundland. You no longer had to wait for ships to carry information across the ocean. But it was super expensive – a dollar a letter, payable in gold.
But people were still place-based; this affects visions of the possible.
The emergence of global connectivity is just a little blip in human history. But we live in a very different era.
Blogging has become an emerging political power, at least in the United States. Wifi is changing lives . Cell phones are reshaping Africa.
A question comes up for me – what do we do with these awesome new tools?
We can use them for web-based virtual environment collaborations. He shows photos of U of Washington students using Second Life to participate in a virtual lecture – shows clip of Ben Stein lecturing in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Not exactly collaborative.
Maybe Star Trek can provide a better vision? Shows clip of futuristic classroom where students turn on lightbulbs rather than raising their hands; otherwise the classroom pedagogy looks like it could have been from the 19th century. Not exactly futuristic.
How do we help people develop the ability to make wiser choices to life decisions? One way to approach this is as a learning issue. What can we do as educators to take advantage of this unique time in which we live?
How do we change learning stereotypes, things like boys are better at math and science than girls? How do we create experiences that let people behave their way into new identities?
The LIFE Center: to unlock the mysteries and powers of human learning as it occurs in formal and informal settings, from infancy to adulthood.
Developing expertise involves lots and lots of practice – and practice is more important than “pure abilities.” Whenever we try something new, we go through a period of feeling klutzy. How we interpret that klutziness stage directly affects whether or not we give it up. Helping people become aware of this is important.
People must be able to develop schemas. Test prep companies do this all the time. You help the learner understand the way the tests are organized. Eventually you learn to recognize the type of problem being presented. Letting people demystify this can be an important thing.
Practicing something helps people understand and notice things. He shows a video of a colleague looking briefly at a brain scan and being able to spout all sorts of knowledge about what she’s seeing, with great fluency and expertise. And it’s not just a skill that scientists have – he shows a clip of a houseboat owner being able to spout all sorts of insights after glancing at a photo of a houseboat. His experience allows him to glean details very quickly. Expert teachers, chessmasters, architects, policemen, etc can all do this.
He then has the brain expert and the houseboat see each others’ clips. They have no clue what’s going on. “Expertise is more importance than intelligence,” he suggests.
Another part of expertise involves change and adjustment. Adaptive expertise – researched by Hatano and Inagaki. Bransford sometimes works with Boeing employees. For a long time, the company was really good at making efficient, faster prop planes. But eventually, you hit a brick wall; you can’t go any further. You have to innovate and go a different route – in this case, jet engines. But making this leap allows you to push the envelope even further. Now they’re saying aluminum is too heavy, so they make the jump to composites. This is a part of expertise that isn’t about getting better progressively with practice. It’s being able to change thinking and innovate.
Anders Ericsson’s work says that if you want to be super good at something, you have to continuously resist automatize your methods. Look at Tiger Woods. He was great for a while, then he dropped off for a bit, then recalibrated his swing. Because his body grew, the swing he used as a teenager no longer made sense. He could have chosen not to recalibrate, but instead he hires a coach, actually loses efficiency for a while, but then gets back on track. Recalibration lets you reach a higher level of performance.
Working with a group of teachers, he asked a group of teachers to divide up into different groups each with a different subject area. All of them chose to be in the history group, because they weren’t comfortable with math and science. He pointed out that they’ve just stepped into the role of the student and the discomfort they feel in the classroom. So he encouraged them to think about themselves and encouraging them to adapt and take more risks, getting out of their comfort zones, as a way of becoming better teachers in the long run.
Making America more innovative requires us to take more risks and try new things. But the university system discourages professors from taking risks, and instead focus on their areas of expertise to achieve tenure. Meanwhile, grants tend to go out to senior-level researchers rather than the younger risk takers, again stifling innovation. You also have to be willing to learn, and admit when you’re wrong. Overconfidence in one’s expertise can stifle innovation.
Margaret Mead: Traditional societies were likely to use apprenticeships to prepare people for work. But now we’re in a transformational society, where there’s a constant transformation of new technologies. Since young people have more time to keep up, they end up becoming greater experts than adults. But most institutions aren’t organized to capitalize on this. It’s nothing new. Farmers resisted students from land grant colleges to help them improve their techniques. That’s why 4H clubs were invented – to give the children of farmers the chance to learn agricultural research and new techniques. The county fair then served as a showcase for the community to see what the young people had accomplished. It’s youth expertise guided by mentors.
Organizational effects on innovation. Giving people space to make mistakes. In the business world, if you don’t provide support for innovation, most people would leave. Yet in schools kids often don’t get the chance to innovate or make mistakes.
Formal education does not support self directed learning. We’ve trained students to expect to be told what they’re going to learn, he says, quoting Peter Vaill.
There’s also the overzealous application of current knowledge. Stan Wineburg of Stanford worked with AP history students in high school, then worked with professional historians. The AP students knew more facts, but couldn’t complete tasks like analyzing archival documents for discrepancies. The students jumped right in, but also jumped to conclusions when interpreting the documents, unable to examine the documents through the context of the time in which they were created. They’re applying knowledge willy-nilly, while the historians held their theories lightly and let the results fall where they may.
We need to understand ourselves as learners. A frog describes to a fish what different land animals look like, but in his mind, the fish can only picture animals that look somewhat like other fish. We have to learn to break out of that pond.
I just arrived at the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation conference at Northeastern University in Boston, after spending the last 45 minutes wandering around like an idiot across campus, until I realized I was looking at the campus map upside down. (It’s amazing how a lack of sleep can lead to a collapse of geographic literacy and spacial intelligence.) The conference is focusing on the role of ubiquitous Internet access and mobile computing devices in education. Former Maine governor Angus King will be speaking later today about Maine’s middle school laptop program, while tomorrow we’ll hear from Tim Magner of the US Department of Education and Mike Furdyk of TakingITGlobal. Should be an interesting conference. -andy
Just got this email from Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders:
“I’ve just called Manal. Alaa has been released 5 minutes ago !!!! But he seems to be extremely tired.”
Wonderful news coming out of Egypt late today…. It’s being reported that award-winning Egyptian blogger Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam will be released by the authorities later this week. “He will hopefully be out and back at home by thursday afternoon,” his wife Manal writes on their blog. Elijah Zarwan provides a bit more detail on the Free Alaa blog:
The Heliopolis State Security Prosecutor today told Alaa his detention will not be renewed. Alaa will now spend at least a day on a tour of police stations, and will likely be interviewed at Lazoghly, the headquarters of the Interior Ministry. But he should be back where he belongs, with Manal, within the next 24-48 hours.
Congratulations to Manal and thanks to all who worked on his behalf!
Now for the 26 Kifaya protesters and the more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood members arrested over the past months…
Alaa has been detailed since early May, when he and a group of pro-democracy activists were arrested by authorities for rallying publicly in support of an independent judiciary. Hopefully the police won’t stall his release, and Alaa will soon be reunited with Manal. -andy
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley, paying tribute to A Clockwork Orange
One of my favorite rock critics, Chuck Klosterman, has an amazing interview with the biggest music star you’ve probably never heard of: Danger Mouse.
Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, is a hero to many in remix/mashup culture. Two years ago, he was flipping through his music collection and found copies of both the Beatles’ White Album and an a capella version of rapper Jay-Z’s Black Album. After a bit of fiddling on his computer, he realized he could mix a song from each album and make a new song out of them. Soon enough, he had an entire album of mashups – The Grey Album. The album developed a cult following on the Internet, with hundreds of thousands of copies downloaded. While Jay-Z explicitly wanted his music to get remixed, the Beatles’ record label, EMI, saw things differently, and sent out their suits on a mission to quash the album. Ultimately, there was nothing they could do to stop peer-to-peer sharing of The Grey Album. And even though it was never officially released, it was named album of the year by Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker, among others.
Now, Danger Mouse is back with a new album under a new name: Gnarls Barkley. (And no, it’s not intended to be a play on the name Charles Barkley, so he claims.) His album, St. Elsewhere, is a collaboration with rapper-soul singer Cee-Lo, and it’s the most brilliant musical work I’ve heard this year. (Though I must admit I can’t stop listening to Wolfmother, the heaviest band in decades.) A brilliant mix of soul, hip hop, psychadelic 70s rock, and a few other random styles (including Klezmer of all things), Gnarls Barkley is reminiscent of both Outkast and Gorillaz, but without the gimmicks. It’s intelligent, thoughtful music that’s constantly full of surprises – absolutely a refreshing way to start the summer.
Here are some quotes from Klosterman’s interview with Danger Mouse. It’s clear that he has a whole other way of looking at music production, seeing himself as a movie director, an auteur, not unlike one of his idols, Woody Allen:
What changed everything was when I got into Woody Allen…. When I got to college, I saw ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Deconstructing Harry.’ I thought to myself: Why do I relate so much to this white 60-year-old Jewish guy? Why do I understand his neurosis? So I just started watching all of his movies. And what I realized is that they worked because Woody Allen was an auteur: he did his Thing, and that particular Thing was completely his own. That’s what I decided to do with music. I want to create a director’s role within music, which is what I tried to do on this album….
…I have to be in control of the project I’m doing. I can create different kinds of musical worlds, but the artist needs the desire to go into that world. I won’t fight with people to try and make the sounds I hear inside my head. What I want is for the leader of a group to come to me, and then I lead that person. Because even with some of my favorite bands, I only like 30 or 40 percent of what they do. I’d want to make that 30 percent into the whole album….
…Musically, there is no one who has the career I want. That’s why I have to use film directors as a model. But I think there are other people who could do what I do, and maybe ‘St. Elsewhere’ will open things up. Like, Jack White was able to take control of Loretta Lynn, and the result was a great record” (“Van Lear Rose,” which came out in 2004). “And that’s cool. That’s the goal.
On creating The Grey Album:
One day I was cleaning my room and listening to the Beatles’ White Album. I was kind of bored, because the other hip-hop work I was doing was really easy. Somebody had sent me an a capella version of ‘The Black Album,’ but I was already doing stuff with Cee-Lo and Jemini and Doom, so I didn’t want to waste my beats on a remix record…. So I’m listening to the White Album and I’m putting ‘The Black Album away, and I suddenly have this idea: I decide to see if I could take those two albums and make one song, just because of the names of the two albums and because they’re perceived as being so different and because I’ve always loved Ringo Starr’s drum sound.
I sat down and tried to make one track, and it happened really fast. Then I tried to make a second song, and it took a lot longer, but it still worked. And I thought, Wow. What if I can do the whole album? It was almost this Andy Warhol moment, where I made a decision to do something artistically without a clear reason as to why, except to show people what I could do. And I could never do an album like that again. I still don’t know where I found the patience to make those songs. It took me about 20 days in a row, and those were all 12- and 13-hour days. And the whole time I was doing it, I was terrified someone else would come up with the same idea, which would have ruined everything. Because really, the idea is pretty simple.
I thought it would be a weird, cultic record for techies to appreciate, because they would be the only people who would understand how much work was involved,” he says. “But then it was taken into this whole different world, where a million people were downloading it at the same time. At best, that record is just quirky and odd and really illegal. I never imagined people would play those songs in clubs. I also think the people who love it tend to love it for the wrong reasons, and the people who hate it tend to hate it for the wrong reasons. I think some people love it for what it supposedly did to the music industry, which was not my intent. I did not make ‘The Grey Album’ for music fans. I made it to impress people who were really into sampling.
On the influence of (yes) Pink Floyd:
I remember hearing Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ in a bar,” Burton says. “This was around 1995. And I remember thinking it was so beautiful. It just put me in a daze. I asked someone what it was, and they were like: ‘You don’t know? This is Pink Floyd.’ Now, I had heard of Pink Floyd, but I never really knew what they sounded like. I had never actually played Pink Floyd records. And I suddenly found myself wondering, Why have I spent all these years never listening to this music? And the reason was that I was afraid to do anything that would have seemed socially unacceptable. I was afraid that people wouldn’t think of me as this hip-hop guy, because hip-hop was my Thing. So then I went out and bought every Pink Floyd record.
Anyway, if you’re interested in good music, mashups and intelligent musicians in general, check out the article.
The summer just got a little more interesting. -andy
Today’s WashingtonPost.com has an excellent essay by Web 2.0 media critic Jay Rosen. Published as part of the site’s 10th anniversary celebrations, the article addresses how mainstream media is slowly beginning to understand how the Internet changes the fundamental laws of journalism.
“A decade after major news providers such as The Washington Post began publishing on the Internet, they are finally beginning to ask the right questions about what the Web can do for them and their readers — and to realize how disruptive web technology is to traditional journalism,” Rosen writes. He quotes AP chief Tom Curley : “When the Web was born as a commercial content enterprise back in the mid-’90s, we thought it was about replicating — that is, ‘repurposing’ — our news and information franchises online,” Curley said. “The news, as ‘lecture,’ is giving way to the news as a ‘conversation’.” This, of course, is something that millions of bloggers have understood for a long time, but it’s taken a while for traditional media to embrace this new reality.
Rosen goes on to cite several reasons why the Internet has altered journalism:
The “closed” system of gates and gatekeepers has been busted open. “Yesterday there were a few dozen providers,” he writes. “Today news, views and attitudes stream through millions of gates.
The new balance of power between producers and consumers. Quoting Mark Thompson of the BBC Rosen says new media “empowers those audiences, transfers control from us to them, lets them consume what they want, when they want, lets them create content, lets them participate.”
Sources have more power to sidestep journalists. Example: Dot-com millionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Rather than letting journalists dictate when his voice gets heard in the media, he created his own blog to serve as a platform for sharing ideas and addressing controversies.
The Net exploded the universe in press criticism. Before the Net, a newspaper was lucky if it got a handful of letters in response to an article. Now, they get hundreds, even thousands “It’s not just the volume, but who is speaking up,” Rosen writes. “Today there is much more criticism of the press from outside the club of mainstream journalists.”
The Net has exposed group think in journalism. Rosen raises the possibility of media outlets serving as a form of opposition to the White House, as away of counterbalancing yes-men-like coverage.
Disrupting the legacy media’s overconfidence. “On the day the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, Reuters had 2,300 journalists and 1,000 stringers positioned around the world, according to the firm’s chief executive, Tom Glocer. But none of them were on the beaches to witness the disaster, he told the Online Publishing Association.” Meanwhile, websites like Tsunamihelp filled in the blanks, posting accounts from survivors in various media formats. Bloggers from all over the world served as de facto stringers while the media scrambled to get its act together.
It’s a worthwhile read; Check it out when you get a chance. -andy