Anti-Tech Articles--Not a Fan

Recently,  WBUR ran a selection of articles on what it calls "Digital Lives."  The series thus far covers relationships, video games, and multi-tasking.  The series as a whole is of course playing upon fears and leaving one with more fear than substantive tools and ideas about how to live a digital life.  I'm going to focus on the multi-tasking one as prompted by a peer of mine, but needless to say all of the articles feel superficial and fearmongering than productive to having an in-depth discussion.  For instance, the video-games article spends much of the discussion on the antiquated concerns around video games and violence and only so very briefly talks about the benefits of videogames (almost as an afterthought).  And any article on video games in our culture that doesn't mention the likes of Jane McGonigal or Tom Chatfield are ones that have been poorly researched.

So 10 Reasons why the multi-tasking article annoyed me:

1.  I'm always dubious by a media outlet that uses all the various forms of media (including several forms of electronic media) to tell us how dangerous digital media is.  They present an article that is filled with links (i.e. distractions) that include text, tests, and video as well as a slew of distractions surrounding the article--ads and additional links.  Clearly, if they believed in the truthiness of their words, they wouldn't engage in the same distracting-generating machinations.

2.  Peter Sagal is held up as some kind of important person to consult or worth consulting about this.  Why is a game-show radio host the go-to person about digital media and multi-tasking?    Does that mean I can qualify Marc Summers (host of Nickelodeon's Double Dare game show) as a military consultant for a discussion on the risks involved with further involvement in the Middle East?

3.  Eyal Ophir as a consultant is equally dubious since much of his suggestions are focused on directing digital interaction as a new experience or different experience than what it is now (and he just so happens to be working for a company that is trying to reinvent the browser--that is, his recommendations are directing readers to believe his product is relevant).

4.  No real mention of evidence or counter points that have been made to the arguments about multi-tasking (e.g. Brian Chen in his book Always On rips large holes in the research).

5.  No clear definition of what multi-tasking is or acknowledge that we regularly are multitasking successfully. The closest they get is "multiasking is believing that we can think about several things at once."  Qualifying "think" is problematic and ill-defined.  I can cook and listen to an audiobook at the same time; I can run on a treadmill and watch a movie at the same time.  Hell, I can even walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time--all of which requires conscious action and thought to some degree.  We drive and talk to someone in the car regularly.

6.  The metaphor of the brain as computer (using "working memory") is ironic, because of course, computers can do multiple things at the same time (look at the bottom of your screen--how many programs do you have open).

7.  The primacy of conscious thinking for creativity, deep thoughts, etc is a bit problematic too since the subconscious also works substantively to push us to that level.  There's much to be said about how our subconscious gives space for ideas to develop and equally important as Steven Johnson points out in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, a good amount of creativity is also generated from engagement and interaction with others (e.g. this post was generated by an interaction with a peer).

8.  "A recent study, No A 4 U, shows that students who use Facebook or email even as they do their homework earn lower grades than those who don’t."  The study is correlation; not causation--which could easily mean those students were predisposed to do poorly in those classes and give over to using social media (and in the absence of social media might do just as bad).

9.  The "landmark study" that they promote--assumed properties but did not actually measure or assess the kind of multi-tasking we're talking about.  It had participants looking at blue and red rectangles on a screen and changing them about and the participant had to register only the correct color (red) as both red and blue changed.  This may be a type of multi-tasking but it is seriously decontextualize from the multi-tasking we're talking about and very much a different beast.  Asking someone to engage with a foreign screen and play a game they are not likely to have played before--is not the same on a physical or conscious level to what someone does when they are absorbed in their screen.  That's like assessing someone's cooking skills by putting them  in the bathroom and giving them a random assortment of ingredients...as opposed to their own kitchens with their own supplies.

10.  They anthropomorphize technology ("Technology has brought us all of these amazing rivers of news and updates and communication. But Ophir says technology is doing a terrible job of filtering out what’s irrelevant, or knowing the best time to show you what you do want to see.") as if they themselves (the writers, editors, producers, companies) have no connection to what's going on and why there are some many distractions vying for our attention (going back to point #1).  Furthermore, we have the tools within the technology to better use it and less distract it--more tools aren't necessarily needed.

There's always more to say on the topic, but I thought I'd get my initial response out first and go from there.  At the end of the day, I want us to be critical of technology and its uses, but with that criticism should also come guidance, purpose, and a balance of viewpoints.  Too often we're reacting like we've unleashed Frankenstein's monster; of course, just like Frankenstein, if we took more care and consideration with the monster, foreboding disaster might not actually be around the corner.



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Recent Letter to the Editor: Fools tilting at windmills

This one was in response to Barbara Anderson's column "Overreaching government still a concern".  

To the editor:


Barbara Anderson’s selective reading of the Second Amendment and her NRA advertisement (“Overreaching government still a concern,” Jan. 3) is disappointing.


Never mind that there is no major movement or serious interest in repealing the Second Amendment — and while there are people advocating this, they are on par with those wishing to secede from the United States; fools tilting at windmills.


Follow through to read the rest.




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Social Media & Education Project Update

So in the first 5 days of the project, I've gotten some decent responses.  I've got just under 100 responses and am hoping that this next week with faculty and students back to class I will be able to catch more people to fill out the survey.  I'd like to see this go to a much larger number of faculty and students in the ensuing month, so please keep forwarding this survey to other people--your help thus far has been great!

The project is looking at faculty and students who choose to interact during or after a course via social media.  Thus I'm interested in hearing from students who have interacted with faculty they have had for their courses and faculty who have interact with their students from the courses they teach.  I wanted to take a brief look at the current findings to show some interesting elements in the results thus far:

1.  Faculty vs. Students
This breakdown shows the different in faculty and students who have filled out the survey.  That more faculty than students have filled this out speaks more to who is more connected in my social networks.  It's also because I've been posting requests to fill out the survey on largely instructor & adult oriented places (e.g. LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities regarding higher ed and such).  If people have recommendation for different student sites and social networks to post on, I'd be happy to follow up with that.
Number and breakdown of respondents among faculty and students.\
(click to enlarge)


2.   Usage of Platforms
This question looked at the different platforms that students and faculty interacted with via social media.  The big one was Facebook with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blogging also putting in strong performances.  Others were not as popular.

Platforms that students & faculty use to engage
(click to enlarge)

3.  Student & Faculty Experience
This is one of the most interesting charts thus far in that it is confirming some of the things I suspected.  For many of us who use social media with our students and vice versa, it is found to be substantially more positive than negative.  Of course that's a premature conclusion and maybe not entirely amazing insight.  Next up will be looking at the actual remarks and thoughts that people shared to see what further insights are useful.

Reactions about experiences interacting via social media by faculty & students
(click to enlarge)

So those are some preliminary insights and thoughts.  However, I am hoping to get even more results, so please continue sharing.

For those interested in hearing a little bit more about the project, check out the original blog post.  You can also take a look at this blog post where my musings and thoughts about social media and education have helped me formulate and design this larger project.  

If you want to go to the survey directly, check out this link.

Finally, I also wanted to mention that during the last few days I've had some great people email me and give feedback or ask for clarifications.  Thank you for doing so as that's helped me clarify different things with regards to the project.  If you run into trouble or need some clarity, please don't hesitate to email me or to comment here on the blog with your questions.

Again, I appreciate all the help everyone has given me in the last 5 days and look forward to seeing more contributions by students and faculty over the next month.



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Social Media and College, or Please Take This Survey

So I've been involved in a range of conversations in the last few years about the nature of social media and college education.  I'm fascinated by the challenges and possibilities that it holds for learning, engagement, and the opportunities it avails for deeper connections for students and faculty alike.


To that end, I've created the following informal survey to start to explore this in more detail than just my own experiences and those within my circle of friends and colleagues.  As I gathering the information over the ensuing months, I will share the results and findings in this blog to open up a more thorough discussion on the topic.

Social Media and College Survey

This survey is examining social media and the college experience.  Primarily, it's geared towards exploring how faculty and students interact via social media both during and beyond the semester that a student and faculty member initially meet.  The information will be largely used to better understand the dynamics of social media, faculty, and students.

Please move through the survey answer questions solely as a student or as a faculty member.  If you have served as both student and faculty (and used social media), then please fill out the survey twice.

This survey is specifically for those students and faculty who have communicated and interacted through social media.  You do not currently have to be a student or faculty member but reflect on your past experiences. If you haven't interacted with a faculty member or a student via social media, please do not fill out this form.

Follow this link to the survey.  Please feel free to forward this link to other faculty and students.



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Hierarchy, Education, and Social Media

As many instructors have shifted towards a student-centered learning focus, I see and participate in regular discussions about decentrailizing the power within the class; creating a shared space of learning that is as least hierarchical as possible.  This discussion comes up a lot within online learning where the instructor is often encouraged to view himself/herself as a facilitator, not necessarily as an instructor.  This makes sense given the online environment can do significant injury to the traditional model of the "sage on stage."  Any instructor's wisdom is apt to be already found on the internet in spades along with additional wisdom, countered-wisdom, and other related wisdom.  The instructor is no longer the keeper of the knowledge but more a curator or conversationalist with the students; a guide. But many instructors realize the importance in shifting any class (online, face to face, hybrid, etc) in this direction as it does change the ways in which  power dynamic in beneficial and interesting ways.

Without significant work (and even then, there's no guarantee), we still fall short and resort to top-down hierarchy.  Quite frankly, it's hard not to slip into this mode of relating with students.  If we're teachers, we've sat in thousands of classrooms being exposed to how the dynamics of the classroom play out time and again.  It is drilled into us that we are in charge well before we step into our first classroom.  Without a doubt,  power and authority still remain inherent in the instructor and it's often our go-to method of instructors when all else fails.  It's certainly useful and it certainly has its place since at the end of the day, hierarchy is the name of the education game.  Institutes declare the demands of success, instructors act as gatekeepers, and students jump through the necessary hoops.  But if we are shifting towards a system of education that is less hierarchical in nature; more fluid across platforms (F2F, hybrid, online, MOOC, self-paced, and universities), then the hierarchy of the classroom too will need addressing.

This is apparent when it comes to social media.  In this, I'm not taking about instructors who don't use social media at all but those who choose it selectively.  These regular users (myself included) of social media create an internal algorithm of whom they will and won't be connected with through social media and come up with various decisions for who they are willing to connect with via social media.  I hear many instructors swear against any contact with students (present or former) entirely and others who fear it significantly.  It seems evident in this context that we're still thinking of learning in hierarchical ways when we talk about students who need to be separated and distinguished from colleagues, acquaintances or other people we connect with through social media. The decision process for accepting connections via social media often look like this:



I blame some of this reluctance with the term "Friend" that Facebook uses and the implications of that term.  "Friend" is a loaded (and in this case, over-inflated) term.  Most social media users recognize that one is not necessarily "Friends" with the people they are connected with.  We connect with people for many different reasons on social media--much of it is because we are directly connected in the real world.  But the term stays within our psyche and keeps us holding back from connecting with students online.  Instead of understanding social media and the people you connect with as "Friends", it's better to think of social media connections as community.  By community, I mean people that you have regularly come into contact with and want to acknowledge that you have some connection.  You don't necessarily have to engage with them substantively but a courtesy acknowledgement seems reasonable (baring situations in which the person has proved not mature enough or too challenging and/or disrespectful).  In some ways, given the increasing relevance of social media in our lives, I have to wonder if refusal to accept someone as part of a network is the same as refusing to acknowledge someone's presence when they are standing right in front of you.  

I'm curious to challenge this self-imposed barrier for myself and others for many reasons.  The first is trying to figure out just how much of the restrictions we put with on connecting with our students via social media is a result of the increasing mythology about the threats of social media.  I'm not crazy and think there is nothing to concern ourselves about social media, but I tend to think that anything that makes us connect with and engage with others more is generally a beneficial contribution to our society.  Much of the development of human rights is focused on people connecting with others and learning about them.  This often triggers the momentum for standing up and protecting one another (most human rights movements need first to connect with people who are not the focus of the rights being sought but are convinced of the importance of those rights).

There's also the concern that that students use social media in inappropriate ways and instructors shouldn't have to see "that"."  There may be truthiness to this but I don't know if that's a good enough generalization in that it implies that's all they do.  My experiences with students on social media have largely shown me otherwise.  Additionally, I have to wonder if such behavior is less likely if we encourage the social media world to resemble the real world.  If they know we're out there--that is, their social network becomes less anonymous--does that help them to be mature?  It's something I wonder about a lot:  does the adults' purposeful absence lead to them to believe that any action is acceptable and if that is the case--who has failed?  The students or the adults?  My experience working at a community college also plays a role in this as I feel its important to provide role models in the online environment as much as we do in the face to face environment.  I tend to see that the students fresh out of high school are still often in need of role models about how they present themselves and engage with the world; being a social media role model is increasingly just as important in this regard.

I'm also shaped by approaching social media from watching Michael Shermer's TED Talk: The pattern behind self-deception.  In this talk, he discusses the idea of patternicity.  The tendency for humans to make sense of the world through patterns.  Therein, he discusses the two types of pattern errors.  A false positive error is believing a pattern exists even when it doesn't.  The false negative is not believing there is a pattern when in fact there is.  I think we have been shaped by dialogue about social media and youth that is largely caustic.  The established (false positive) pattern is that students waste social media with  irrelevance of distasteful videos, inappropriate images, and mindless thoughts.  Believing in this supposed pattern leads many instructors to avoid engaging in social media with their students.   The other side of this is the disbelief that something of value could be attained from social media connections with students.  This would be the false negaitve; not believing there is a pattern of value in socially mediated connections with students and faculty when in fact, there is.  At this time, I have but my own experience to reinforce this, but my next post available on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 will address just expanding that beyond my own experience.  Despite the numerous flaws and problems around it, the excitement by youth in social media surrounding Kony 2012 I think proves a good example that they do not necessarily waste their time (or at least all of their time) online; they want to be engaged; they want to have purposeful interactions.  

Another concern about social media connections between instructors and students is that it challenges pre-established boundaries.  The idea surrounding this boundary between instructor and student reinforces the idea that there needs to be a clear direct relation--determined by the instructor--between instructor and student.  Why can't this be a negotiated space between student and instructor?  Why does the instructor need control over this too?  I've heard faculty get excited about the fact that they could reach their student anywhere by social media but then are aghast at the idea that the student could reach them; that somehow, instructors are privileged to digitally poke them, but that shouldn't be reciprocated.  This seems contradictory in that it stops being "social" media and simply one more method for an instructor to push his or her agenda without having to listen to the students.  The argument against there being two way communication is that the instructor doesn't want to be bothered by the student's inappropriate postings, thoughts, or even questions at any hour of the day.  Never mind that it opens up the question of whether the student wants to be bothered at any time of the day by class-related elements.

To that end, I don't think it's necessary to go out and friend all students.  However, I'm starting to think that if a student makes the conscious effort to friend me; why do I say no?   Is it a general policy or something specific about this student?  If it is a general policy, why?  Additionally, I'm not saying that the class must be or can be entirely ahierarchal.  But I do think that in areas where it the hierarchy want be put aside, it should be.  Assuming the worst of students means that's what you're going to see.  I would think as educators, our goal is to think the best of and foster the best of what our students have to offer.

My next blog post (Wednesday) is going to start looking at the conversations between faculty and students that happen through social media.  Please come back as I'll be soliciting all your help.



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Checking In: A Year On Foursquare

"1 year ago today, you found a crazy little app called Foursquare.  Thanks for hanging with us!"

Last year around this time, I was listening to Jeff Jarvis's Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live which eventually convinced me to sign up for the app known as Foursquare.  Today (Friday, January 11, 2013) marks the one year anniversary of using Foursquare.  The app allows users to virtually "check in" at the places he or she is physically at in a given moment, be it a school, coffee shop, music performance, or even private residence.  The check-in grants you a various amounts of points depending on frequency.  The points are contrasted with other people you are friend with on Foursquare and if you frequent a place regularly enough, you become "Mayor" of the place.  Along the way, you can also earn "badges" which collect on your profile according to the types of checkins you've performed.  For instance, after checking into the same place three times in one week, I was awarded the "Local" badge on my profile.  I've also received badged for when I'v e checked in to over 50 different places as well as when I had accumulated over 1000 checkins.  Additional options allow you to add to a photo gallery for each place you visit and to leave tips for other users using the Foursquare app.  You can also comment on other friends' activity and create favorite lists of places you go.

Clearly, the app has a good range of gaming tactics relying on points, badges, social interaction, and sharing.  And while all of it amounts to so very little (some places will grant discounts if you "Check In" on Foursquare; though this practice is more popular in urban settings), I find it enjoyable and a curious tool.  I also think it is a great example of one of a modern technology that actually propels us out into the physical world rather than keep us inside; one cannot really make full use of the app if he/she doesn't leave the house.  

I've synced my Foursquare account with my Facebook and Twitter account, so that when I check in somewhere, the message is forwarded and published on those profiles.  As my friends point out, I'm not hard to stalk--I'm not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, I'm leaving a big large neon signs in my wake. 

Why Check In?

So why do it?  Am I just an attention whore? (Which if I'm being honest, yeah, there is that to consider). But there's more to it than that.  There's value in me being able to see the places and frequency with which I've visited.  Firstly, it makes clear exactly where my money has gone; why haven't I saved for item X?  Well, the 100+ checkins at coffee shops in the last year easily answers that, right?  Secondly, it helps me think about other habits of life from diet to social interactions to writing--since these all correlate around often meeting people outside the house.  Thirdly, I've had some awesome conversations with people around my excursions.  In face-to-face, chat sessions, and online discussions, people talked with me not just about my usage but about the places I've been.  "Oh, you checked in there?  How was it?"  

What initially had me experiment with and ultimately regularly use Foursquare was the aforementioned Jeff Jarvis and his book.  It's an interesting book that had me morphed my thoughts about the nature of the digital life and how it does and doesn't mesh with the physical life.  He explores the nature of digital media and the idea that "it's all out there" and what that means.  There is a small library on the dangers of putting your "personal information" online, but I liked that Jarvis could rebut this in complex ways and critiqued some of the false assumptions about a public/private paradigm.  Most compelling, he emphasized that the Constitution and Bill of Rights did not guarantee a right to privacy but rather, a right to publicness.  In a democratic republic, this makes a good deal of sense.  We are protected to have a public airing of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc.  The closest thing to privacy within the original 10 Amendments is the search and seizure clause (4th) and the right to refuse testifying against one's self (5th).  Ultimately, Jarvis' ideas had me thinking more deliberately about my online identity and the ways both functionally and passively I exerted control over it.  Coupled with Amber Case's We Are All Cyborgs Now, and I realized that it made sense to make the physical Lance and digital Lance blend more together. 

Ultimately, I'm finding that trying to keep these lives separated increasing pointless and contradictory.   A "private" digital life ultimate is not attainable; in order to interact with another person via digital telecommunications, your information and actions are not only accounted for on numerous servers, but also scanned or noted by the numerous tools you are using from "autocorrect" to the tool (computer, mobile device) to the platform (browser, app, etc) are all virtually reading your actions and words.  It's like claiming the right to a private conversation on public transit.  It appears contradictory.    Something like Foursquare helps me feel more honest about that the transparency of that divide.  



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School Education: Convenient But Not Really About Learning

This past year, I read a handful of books on education, information, and the brain (see reading list at the bottom of this post for the major influencing texts).  All of it fascinating stuff, but all of it leads to me some rather disappointing conclusions.  As Seth Godin explains in his great TED Talk, Stop Stealing Dreams and Ken Robinson also addresses in his TED Talk turned animation, Changing Education Paradigms, the current education system is not only antiquated, but really, an impediment to learning given all we know about learning.  Given that learning still takes place every day (or rather almost every one of the 180 days students are required to be in school--barring things like field days, ski trips, and other non-education oriented excursions) seems to be a testament to the resilience of children, even when being done a disservice.  

This is not an attempt to bash teachers by any means; their resources and freedom are severely limited and confined.  That teachers are able to find meaningful ways to teach their students despite the impediments put upon them speaks to the resilience and skill of teachers.  Teachers put in an amazing effort to create a genuine learning environment for the students but like their students, that they continue to do so despite such restrictions speaks volumes about their dedication to the artful skill of teaching.  


What concerns me is that we have this rhetoric of wanting to create the best schools possible but often fail at doing just that because it's not convenient or it doesn't work with what school was like when we were children.  I cringe when I hear people say something along the lines of "I didn't do that when I was in school."  That education should be static and standardized during a century in which we have produced entire libraries worth of scientific knowledge about education seems like saying, we should still be treating health according to the bodily humours. 


I don't necessarily think that schools are broken or horrible places, but I do think in many ways we create as many barriers as we remove for different student populations merely for the sake of convenience than actual purposefully chosen reasons.  What follows are some examples of where it seems convenience trumps actual education.


The School "Day"


Typically, school hours for public school are from 7:30am-9am until about 2pm-3pm.  Within that limited and disruptive period of time, students are expected to be exposed to 4-7 topics depending on the school set up in 40-90 minute sections.  Lunch times are truncated to 20-25 minutes, pushing students to wolf down food in order to have what limited time possible to talk and socialize.  But does that format--particularly the 7:30am-3pm slot--actually useful for student education or is it just useful for parents and their schedules.  Would a later start time be useful or would a more dispersed range of time (9pm-1pm and 3pm to 5pm) change learning?  We seem stuck on the this time slot without much reason beyond that it's convenient to the work world, not the learner.  
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8pqqn_7TMBY/TzMRnRnSlsI/AAAAAAAAAOM/8mjix_9o9k8/s320/MidvaleSchoolForTheGifted.jpg

The School "Week"

The 5-day school is meant to mimic the work-week but is that really useful to students?  5 days of learning and 2 days off (of course, that's increasingly not the case for many adults of just working 5 days).  I think about my own experiences and Monday often felt like a throw-away day as we were still settling in from the weekend.  By Thursday, our eyes were set on the weekend.  Would more dispersed education or even less days off improve learning?  It's not that I don't believe children deserve down time, but is the weekend the best form of down time for learning and education.  It just doesn't seem so; again, it just feels convenient.  

The School "Year"

180 days stretched out over 10 months with several vacations interspersed throughout and 5 days a week is the standard rule.  First, why only 180 days?  It equates to just under half the year but is there any other reason for it?  Besides a sense of balance about school and play, it doesn't seem to make much sense (and trust me, I believe there is an essential element of play to childhood and education that we horribly ignore, but more on that below).  And is two months off from education actually conducive to learning since a serious part of the first quarter in the new semester is spent on relearning what has been forgotten or addressing knowledge gaps from the previous semester.  A further extension of this is summer reading where kids are coerced into reading two books among a list of pre-selected books.  This too feels more a product of convenience than actual substance.  I remember my senior year I didn't get credit for summer reading; not because I didn't read (I produced a list of the 42 books I read that summer), but because I didn't read any of the lackluster books on the list.  

The School Classroom

To some degree, I feel this has the most viable change with the introduction of tablets in the classroom and the ways that will change what the classroom means and looks like, but of course, such technology will not exactly be distributed equally for years (that is, until a newer technology comes along and lower-class schools get the hand-me-down technology).  However, having students sit for up to 6 hours a day for their education seems not only detrimental to actual education but to their overall health.  People aren't made to sit for long hours.  It's funny people are quick to yell at video games, computers, etc for making kids fatter because they sit for long hours staring at the screen.  But that's exactly what they do at school; they sit and stare at screens or the instructor or both; allowed to stand up only when it's time to move to the next class or go the bathroom.  We know I'm clearly a fan of the standing desk, but there is something to be said about allowing kids to have some means of control over their body in this regard.  (And I'll even avoid going on a rant about how those chairs and desks are just an invitation to poor posture and back problems).  

School "Activity"

That gym and recess are severely limited instead of highly encouraged is equally challenging.  One of my favorite books of last year was John Medina's Brain Rules. His very first rule is about exercise and how it is connected to learning.  As he says, our ancestors grew up on the move and there was a strong evolutionary tie between learning and moving.  That we virtually banish physical activity and require inactivity seems to do more harm than good.  

Looking Elsewhere for Good Ideas on Education

Overall, I think there is a lot more that we could do with our education than what we have done.  Looking at the Finnish school system and they changed they made in just 50 years, I think there is still much to be done, but so little has.  In large part, I think it's because we're still looking at education through an industrial model--one that treats the parts like automatons being trained to jump through hoops and because it's largely convenient.  If we could throw out the current school model entirely, what would an ideal education system look like to produce learners?

The top list are books specifically, but the rest are books that also influenced and guided my thoughts about this post:


EDUCATION


  • A Year Up: Rediscovering America and the Talent Within by Gerald Chertavian
  • The Systematic Design of Instruction by Walter Dick et al
  • Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents, and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis by Lee Hirsch
  • E-Learning by Design by William Horton
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson
  • Learning and Change in the Adult Years by Mark Tennant
  • Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? By Pasi Sahlberg
  • A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas
  • The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship--and What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner
  • Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner

OTHER RELEVANT BOOKS

  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
  • The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman
  • As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human  by Jonathan Gottschall
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert
  • Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson 
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • The The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World by Jeremy Rifkin
  • The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose
  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
  • Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
  • Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger



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Favorite Reads of 2012 and Why

I clocked in 2012 at just over 265 books.  Granted, just over 135 of them were graphic novels, so they might not count as some people might argue; but I'll still take over 125 books read in the last year as a win.  So of those books that I have read in the last year, here are some of my favorites and why:

NONFICTION


Education

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
            A fascinating book about a teacher who manages to get her students to regularly read forty books within the school year and how she manages to do it. 

The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course by Linda Nilson
            I talked this book on this blog.  It’s a great one for thinking differently about communicating the details of your syllabus.

The following books paint a very challenging picture about the future of education.  There are some great ideas offered (particular with regards to the Finnish model of education) but  that requires a whole lot of effort and revamping of our schools. 
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch         
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson (Check out his awesome animated lecture)
  • Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? By Pasi Sahlberg
  • A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas
  • The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship--and What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner
  • Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner

Technology

Book cover:  Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis
Reframing the public-
private debate.
These books are engaged in the same conversation about the ways in which social media and the wealth of information about us on the internet can impact us.  They all provide different approaches and advocate different ways of grappling with the same issues.
  • I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy by Lori Andrews
  • Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age is Revolutionizing Life, Business, and Society by Jeff Jarvis
  • Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger (check out my interview with the author)


These books offer creative insight in to what to do with and how to use social media and the internet for different purposes.  Each one shows the ways in which these can be used for good, bad, and irrelevant purposes. 
  • Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas by Grant McCracken
  • The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done by Peter Miller
  • The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose
  • And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture by Bill Wasik
Both of these books look at the ways in which these could networked knowledge could (and has) fundamentally changed how and what we do in the future (and both left me with a desire to learn programming).
  • Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson (his Where Good Ideas Come From I also read this year and recommend; check out the TED Talk!)
  • Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner

Politics, Society, People


Book cover: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Two books I think we all need to read and have a long conversation about with regards to how we move through the world. 
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. 
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by by Brené Brown. 
Three books that would be enough for anyone to think differently about the way things are today.  That’s not to say they are anti-capitalistic, but they identify some of the challenges with capitalism that we never seem to talk about (or address). 
  • 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
  • Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr; check out the interviews with Goodwin and Burr
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
 These books all have me thinking about the ways in which I not only understand myself and my actions, but those around me.  They have challenged me to think differently and to be more hesitant with my judgments.  They have also helped me think differently about how I do things and how I might encourage others (in the context of work, education, or even friends) to do things.  If you ever wonder why I’m able to see or come to certain conclusions about others and their actions, much of it stems from books like these
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (despite the issues of plagiarism and inaccuracy that haunt this book, the ideas are solid)
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy        
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink 
  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman
            Learning about the instability of knowledge and why that is. 

As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins
            An interesting look at the ways in which Texas has shaped elements of our country in the last fifty years. 
Book cover: Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
            A book that makes me want to do more things in the physical world (like gardening, crafting, etc).

Popular Culture : A User's Guide by Susie O’Brien
            A great textbook for my course on Popular Culture.  It does really well with explaining and illustrating hard concepts. 

Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or Chance by Ellen Walker
            A book I’ve talked about before on this blog.  

Misc.  

On Writing by Stephen King
            A good book with some solid thoughts on writing. 
           
Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
            A good reminder to be in the moment and to balance the internal state of mind and external state of awareness. 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
            A solid book about the nature of running by focusing on some of the mast amazing runners on Earth. 

The Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West: Recovering the Lost Tradition of Europe by Michael Drout. 
            His Modern Scholar material is awesome and highly enjoyable.  He’s quirky and knowledgeable about the literature he speaks of but makes it extremely accessible.  Every time I listen to one of his lecture series, it makes me want to go out and read (or re-read) everything he talked about.       

FICTION

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
            Enjoyable and interesting, the book is not entirely different from the movie(s), but it’s interesting that the elements of the Wahlberg version of were more closely accurate to the book than the Heston film. 

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
            A book that strikes close to my heart with my teenage experience. 

The Rats by James Herbert
            I clearly need to read more Herbert; he’s fun to read for horror. 

Year Zero by Rob Reid
            The book had its funny moments and was truly in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Redshirts by John Scalzi
            A metafictional spoof on Star Trek and highly enjoyable. 

DMZ Vol. 12: The Five Nations of New York by Brian Wood
            The end of an awesome series by Brian Wood.  Sad to see it end, but it was a great ending.  I’m likely to follow Wood as much as I follow Jeff Lemire (which is to say, read everything he has!). 

BEST BOOK OF THE YEARThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Book cover:  The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
I’ve talked about Pinker before on this blog.  This massive but accessible text is an essential book for anyone who wants to better understand the world at large and move into a mental space that is much saner than what the daily news delivers.  Check out his Ted Talk that's a summary of many of his points:  TheSurprising Decline of Violence. 

WORST BOOK OF THE YEARThe Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen.

Oh man!  I enjoyed Saberhagen’s approach with Dracula in The Dracula Tapes, but this was an extreme let down in all manner of speaking.  The book’s end destroyed the journey. Nuff said!



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Favorite Posts of 2012

Like many others, I see the end of the year as an arbitrary time to reflect, but that won't stop me from doing so.  This post will highlight some of my favorite posts in the last year (of which there about 90 posts between this post and when I restarted the blog back in March, 2012).  What follows are what I think are some of the best of what I've done.

As a whole I've really enjoyed blogging and how it has helped me think more clearly about different ideas and issues.  It's one thing to have ideas in your head, it's another to talk in miscellaneous exchange about them, but it's entirely something else to collect them together in written form for others to see and respond.  Putting them in this forum has allowed me to share what I feel I can share with the world (my ideas and thoughts) while also allowing me to hear from others where they agree, disagree, and have even been moved by what I've said.

So here are a few of those:

On Becoming a Reader Part 1 and Part 2 (May 2 & May 5, 2012)

We all know I'm an avid reader.  But I think there's a profound importance in promoting that idea and making sure others know the importance and value of reading.  In many ways, it's a solitary act, but one that needs to be regularly discussed in a public forum.

The Right to Fail at College (March 17, 2012)

I'm profoundly challenged by the role of shame and failure in our culture.  I don't think failure is a bad thing, but the ways in which we shame people for failure seems to create more problems. particularly with youth; they will avidly avoid that which they've failed.  When it comes to education, a system that doesn't utilize failure as a learning moment seems to be poor education.

On the Death of a Student (April 4, 2012)

One of my harder posts (emotionally speaking).  The classroom is such an curious environment and dealing with the death of a student in that class is a very challenging event therein.

Standing Tall: After a Week of Active Standing at Desks (June 19, 2012)

I've become a big fan of the standing desk and 6 months later--I still love my makeshift standing desks.

1 Year Later: of Fitbits and Vibrams (June 25, 2012)

A realization of how some tools can actually make all the difference.

Sure, I'll Do That: Where Volunteering Has Led Me (July 12, 2012)

A reflection on the benefits and interesting ways volunteering has influenced my life.

Tale of 9 Runs: Men Cry, Go Figure (August 6, 2012)

Our culture isolates men from talking or thinking much or understanding their feelings.  We are often made to pretend or close out emotional experiences because of the roles "men" are supposed to exhibit.  Here's some of my thoughts on that.

Verbal Handgranades, Vitriolic Banter, and Verifiable Rape (August 23, 2012)

A more nuanced discussion on political rhetoric and missing the real issues that are out there.

Tales of 9 Runs: A Tale of 2 Medals or I Just Ran a 25K, No, Really! (September 3, 2012)

The first long run I accomplished this past fall.  Still marveling at it and the other runs I did this fall.

A Youth Well (Mis)Spent: (Video)Games of My Mind (September 10, 2012)

Video games were a major part of my childhood and I'm all the better for them.

Online Education: Some Considerations (September 14, 2012)

As I've gotten more experience at my job as well as further in my MEd program, some thoughts about the nature of online education are brewing. 

Tales of Running:  First and Last Impressions (September 21, 2012)

 A reflection on the passing of a coach and kind man

Tales of Running:  Resilience and Mules (October 13, 2012)

One of my best reflections on running and how I got there.

Look What I Made: Apple Leather (November 12, 2012)

Maybe not one of my favorite posts per se, but it was one of the most popular in the last year.   I certainly enjoyed making it and talking about it (and am still making batches regularly).

Students: Why You're Smarter Than You Think (November 28, 2012)

Students are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to learning.  They need to know they're way smarter than what they give themselves credit for.

If Teaching Online Is Easy--Are We Doing It Wrong? (December 12, 2012)

Again, as I think more about education and what it does or doesn't look like in the online environment, some of these assumptions are problematic. 

Shootings, Troubled Boys, and System Failures (December 28, 2012)

 One of the hardest pieces of writing I did all year, but I also think quite important in the larger discussion around the Sandy Hook shooting.



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