Thursday, November 5, 2009

One-to-One Laptop Computing Works - But You Have to Use Authentic Assessment to See It

In my last posting I included a link to my Infosavvy blog article about my evaluation of a one-to-one laptop program. The posting was fine, but the link was wrong. Here is the posting in its entirety so you don't have to link anywhere to read it. Apologies.

Recently I completed an evaluation of a one-to-one laptop program involving over 12,000 students in over 100 schools. The results? Standardized test scores show mixed results, but student engagement is through the roof. In addition, student behavior issues are down, student interest in their communities is up, parental involvement increased and students extended their school day by continuing their work at home on their laptops. And because I used focused conversations with teachers and administrators involved in the project, rather than strict quantitative analysis of standardized test scores, I saw many things I would not have seen otherwise, like the following:

  • teachers could truly differentiate instruction for the first time
  • mainstreaming special needs students became more effective
  • students could actually show many more of the multiple intelligences we have heard so much about
  • students developed a more professional attitude toward using digital technology
  • teachers and parents enjoyed improved communication, largely because parents were more involved in what was going on at school

But darn, there are those pesky standardized test scores, trying to validate an NCLB approach to testing in an un-NCLB world. Clearly we are using the wrong measurements to see the changes in education - especially the ones that work - that could be all around us.

Bottom line:

  • Re-engage. Re-engagement is the first step toward reinvolving students in school. Laptops, wireless connectivity and teachers who understand what to do with these tools make that happen.
  • Assess in context. Testing outside of any meaningful applied context will give you results that don’t map to the real world. We need new forms of assessment that honor how kids learn.

Want to know more about the study? Email me (, or the project coordinator, Steve Nelson ( from Alaska Association of School Boards, who directed this project.

I will write more about this at a later date, but for now I thought you might like to hear some good news.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Have Moved to Infosavvy

Where have I been? Writing for the Infosavvy Group.

I was asked to be a contributing editor for Infosavvy's blog, the Committed Sardine, and I was happy to oblige. Our blog receives about 10,000 hits per week, and we have a click through rate of about 5 times the average.

I will be posting here now and again to direct you to the two main sources of my writings: my TechWit column, and my Committed Sardine blog postings.

Who is Infosavvy?
Infosavvy members are speakers, writers, teachers, trainers, researchers and consultants in the field of the effective, creative and wise use of technology. Although our focus tends to be on education, we also work with business, government, community organizations - anyone who wants to bring perspective and results to the use of technology.

Please come to the Infosavvy site and look around. You can read more about us and what we do, and also visit the Committed Sardine blog.

Here is a list of places to go to read recent work:


From Reading Books to Veading Vooks - October 2009


Committe Sardine Blog

Links provided below are for the last two weeks only. Feel free to go directly to the blog site to read all postings.

My Favorite: One to One Laptop Computing Works - But You Have to Use Authentic Assessment to Understand That - October 16, 2009. This is based on my assessment of the impacts of one to one programs on classroom culture, engagement and literacy.

Other postings....

The Rise of the International Student - October 30, 2009

The Bad Schools Syndrome - October 25, 2009

Using Cell Phones in History Class - October 24, 2009

Pew, the Internet and You - October 21, 2009

Blabberize - It's a Good Way to Decompress - October 20, 2009

Florida School Allows Cell Phones in Class - October 20, 2009

Capscreen - Text and Video Mixing It Up Again - October 16, 2009

One to One Laptop Computing Works - But You Have to Use Authentic Assessment to Understand That - October 16, 2009

I Screen, You Screen, We All Screen - October 15, 2009

See you at Infosavvy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iran becomes iRan - censorship meets connectivity

Revolutions are so much about connectivity. We can see an army advancing from miles away and prepare to meet them at the gate. But electronic messages quietly ooze through leaky political borders no matter how hard the status quo tries to stop them.

The 1979 Iran revolution is often called the cassette revolution because it was the mass production of cassettes illegally smuggled into Iran that brought about the Shah’s downfall and put the current regime in power. From Bretton’s International Relations in the Nuclear Age (1986):
In 1979 the Shah of Iran with the aid of a highly efficient brutal secret police, seemed firmly in control of all means of internal and external communications in Iran. Yet highly inflammatory revolutionary messages demanding his overthrow, taped in exile by his principal opponent the Muslim leader Ayatollah Khomenei, reached the masses. Smuggled by cassette into Iran, there reproduced and distributed en masse, the Ayatollah’s the word eventually triggered a popular uprising, forcing the Shah’s departing.
Fast forward to now, when bulky cassette players are replaced with sleek cell phones. Although the government tried to stop the bloggers, tweeters and everyone else plugged into the great international data cloud, the world learned once again that there is simply no stopping connectivity. With so many ways to connect, and so many info savvy, motivated people willing to speak, radio free Internet filled the ether waves. All that was required to change world perception was for a few bloggers to let us all know that the official word and the word on the street were very different. In the iPod age, Iran became iRan.

What’s our take away? That if an all out, government sponsored assault on the Internet could not bring it to its knees, then certainly it will never leave our shores, our schools, or our childrens' lives. That while internet lock down in K-12 schools is enticing and plays well in the press, it is rarely effective. This leaves us with a clear choice: no matter what kind of filtering we may wish to impose in schools, we need to couple digital skill training with wisdom building if we are going to teach students how to manage their lives in the infosphere. If we don’t like what is on YouTube, let’s teach them how to create stuff we would like to see there. If we think blogging is dangerous and superfluous, then let’s teach them how to make it safe and relevant. Like water that crosses borders, information flows around any rocks in its path. Let’s teach our students how to navigate that water critically, creatively and with a sense of humanity that will serve us all well.

For more information about the role electronic media played in recent events in Iran, see Jon Bernstein’s report: Iran - the Backstory

Image from a paid Clipart subscription.

Cross-posted with InfoSavvy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Blogfolios for teachers

Blog + portfolio = blogfolio
I have had the pleasure of teaching technology infusion in a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program for a number of years. During this fifteen-month intensive program, students complete coursework as well as spend a year working with a mentor teacher in a classroom. At the end of the program, students receive both a teaching credential and a Master's degree.

As part of the technology infusion coursework, each student creates a "blogfolio" that serves as both a work repository and reflection venue throughout the year. The work they create includes digital stories, documentaries, slide presentations, diagrams and artwork, podcasts, screen casts, lesson plans, units of instruction and essays. A typical blogfolio entry consists of a reflective text piece, which includes links to media that students have posted on the web using services such as YouTube, SlideShare and Google Docs.

Recently Academe published an article about my use of blogfolios in teacher education. What follows is an excerpt. Below the excerpt you will find links to the entire article as well as to this year's class blogfolio website, which provides links to all student blogfolios.

"Blogging has deservedly gained a reputation as the Web 2.0 tool with a thousand and one uses. My experience as a technology instructor in the master’s program for secondary school teachers at the University of Alaska Southeast bears this out. My students, who are preparing to teach subjects from art to physics in public schools, use blogging to develop their portfolios and coordinate the teaching resources they find. In addition, many use it with their own students in their work as teachers."

"All the work that students produce during the year is either posted to or cited on their blogfolios. Links typically lead to projects they have posted through free media hosting services. Students are encouraged to visit one another’s blogfolios throughout the year for ideas, inspiration, and conversation."


Or if you are on a limited time budget and would like to visit just one student blogfolio, I recommend that you visit the blogfolio created by art student Bethany Waggoner.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Critical Thinking and Media Literacy 2.0

Recently I had the pleasure of helping to design a critical thinking course for Fielding Graduate University’s Ph.D. program in Media Psychology. It is the first course that students take as they enter the program, and is actually a half course that happens quickly over ten weeks in a kind of compressed time. During that 10 weeks students need to begin developing the critical thinking skills and structured suspicion necessary to peel back the layers of the media onion in order to begin to understand the nature of media bias and persuasion.

In this course, critical thinking roughly equates to media literacy. There are two periods of modern media literacy, each of which corresponds to plateaus in technology. They are described below.

Media Literacy 1.0 - the era of mass media
In a sentence, Media Literacy 1.0 concerns the ability to identify and evaluate the techniques of media persuasion. It arose during the era of one-to-many mass media (radio, TV, print) in response to the concern that media companies and advertisers were trying to persuade us to think in certain ways and buy specific products. We were a captive audience with no way to talk back to the media that was talking to us. The emphasis in ML 1.0 was on protecting ourselves as media consumers.

Media Literacy 2.0 - the era of digital participation
In a sentence, Media Literacy 2.0 concerns the ability to identify, evaluate and apply the techniques of media persuasion. Note the addition of the word “apply.”

All of the earlier concerns of Media Literacy 1.0 are still in play, but now we expect students to “write effective media.” Media 2.0 began sometime during the past ten years, during which hardware and software became inexpensive and the web became universal, allowing anyone to create a news blog, radio station or TV channel.

Writing media helps us to read it
There is no better way to understand media persuasion than to create media. It allows students to lift the hood, so to speak, and see the internal workings of media production that conspire to do one thing above all others: make media appear effortless, harmless and natural. (The application aspect of media literacy is addressed in other courses within the Ph.D. program.)

Feel free to mine the course for resources
If you are interested in how this course views critical thinking, you are welcome to mine the course for ideas and resources. Just go to the course site and look around. Pay particular attention to the weekly topics on the right hand side, which include urban legends, musical persuasion, manipulation through word smithing, consumer psychology, media gate keeping and the impact of social media.

Effectively, creatively, wisely
The goal is always to have students use technology effectively, creatively and wisely. Becoming media literate demands all three.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alternatives to web lockdown in education

Right now most schools respond to the Internet with lockdown. Given the stories about kids, inappropriate material and the potential for harm, fear is understandable.

But this approach comes with a price, namely, it will force students to cultivate their personal learning networks outside school, where they can use web tools they understand to pursue personal and professional goals that they design. As the gap between what students learn within and outside school continues to grow, school, with its lockdown, minimal access to technology and severely antiquated approach to learning, will seem less and less relevant.

There are other approaches to consider. If we don’t like what we see on YouTube, then let’s help our students create the best stuff there. If we look askance at blogging because it seems irrelevant or harmful, then let’s show kids how to write blogs that are relevant and helpful. If we want them to understand the risks and opportunities of digital citizenship, then let’s talk to them about appropriate virtual behavior, and then follow up by giving them opportunities to practice what they learn, and reap the consequences of not honoring the trust given to them.

And if this is simply not permissible, then let's at least involve parents in the conversation and ask what they want. Would they rather have schools step into the fray or keep out? And if they don't trust schools to manage this situation, can we blend what students do at home, where parents have some influence, with what they do at school? It brings a whole new meaning to the word "homework."

Whatever we do, let’s stand ready to help students process whatever happens. Right now lockdown gives them no opportunities to do this.

Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Orchestrating the Media Collage- Digital literacy in an era of new media

Here is some grist for the mill for those of you leading initiatives in the area of 21st century skills and digital literacy. Educational Leadership magazine recently published an article of mine titled Orchestrating the Media Collage. It has the following subtitle:
  • “Being able to read and write multiple forms of media and integrate them into a meaningful whole is the new hallmark of literacy.”
The article provides an overview of the nature of digital literacy, as well as eight guidelines that can help teachers, parents and policy makers promote the crucial skills associated with digital literacy.

Read Orchestrating the Media Collage at the Educational Leadership site.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Greening of the Digital Landscape

[subTechst publishes a column 3 times/year. Feel free to republish it in any venue you wish. Contact jason ( for more info.]

Suddenly everyone’s favorite color is green. Not the color of money and envy but of their antithesis – environmental embarrassment. We are slowly awakening from our high technology revolution the way we do from an engaging movie, shedding our suspended disbelief to rediscover the world around us. What we see is that our relentless push for change has come with a price tag, namely the generation of a mortifying amount of computer generated landfill.

Much of today’s green concern about computing focuses on energy conservation and more efficient, earth friendly ways to discard yesterday’s model. But almost none of it focuses on a lifestyle change we have quietly embraced that expects us to upgrade every two years. After all, our throw-away culture is also our economic engine, unrelenting in its desire to make room for the new at the expense of the previous. It is built upon faster, lighter, cheaper…always with a shorter half-life.

The result is that we are generating piles of old gear that has no reasonable expectation of use beyond its very short life cycle. If you are 40 you have probably already had and discarded at least a half dozen computers, not to mention numerous television sets and other now quaint digital memorabilia. Sure, you gave your last laptop to your niece, who will no doubt get a few year’s use of it. But eventually not even the indigent will take it because it is, basically, useless.

Operation Seek and Discard
I got to see this first hand recently when I volunteered to head up Operation Seek and Discard. Our mission was to search every nook and cranny in my University of Alaska office building for defunct technology that was resting in some out-of-sight-out-of-mind place. For one week, myself and a brave cadre of colleagues spelunked under desks, in closets, in filing cabinets long ago locked, and managed to scare up enough obsolete tech to sink a mainframe. It turns out that a lot of the defunct gear was hiding in plain sight on people’s shelves and desks. We had just learned to ignore it, the way we had learned to ignore the water cooler that hadn’t been filled in years.

At the end of the week, the dispossessed pieces of tech were gathered in a pile in the center of a large room, forming a collage of hulking desktop computers, low resolution cameras, VHS players and a mishmash of cords and cables that held it all together the way spaghetti holds together a fine Italian meal. People would come by and stare before shaking their heads and saying, “Remember when we would sell our own kids for one of those things,” pointing to a color printer the size of a small refrigerator. “Now we can’t give them away.” Alas, we can’t give our kids away either.

As I stared at all the obsolete tech silently huddled together doing the dance of the digitally dead I felt a mixture of guilt, sadness and denial. After all, I was one of the digitally hopeful who helped convince the forces of the industrial age to walk out on to the leading edge, only to watch the edge sprint away from us at gigaspeeds. The pursuit of staying current quickly became inevitable but impossible. This mess was my mess.

A New Kind of Obsolescence
So much of this comes as a surprise because the digital age has so drastically redefined the concept of obsolescence. Cars with seized engines and rusted out frames are still good for parts. In fact, we have junkyards dedicated to their utility. But that isn’t how the digital age works. Most of the stuff we had to get rid of in Operation Seek and Discard worked just fine. The only problem with it is that it was… sloooowwww. And because it was slow, it had become incompatible with the faster technology everyone else was using.

The good news for our institution was that it did a good job of wringing every last drop out of technology that the public would allow. After all, the public will be the first to criticize an educational institution running last year’s gear. But the bad news is also the good news. Despite anyone’s best efforts, the digital age seems destined to generate landfill by the truckload. This could change. If the public demanded laptops made out of spare parts and recycled cardboard I am sure the engineering community could rise to the challenge. But I don’t see that happening soon. And it’s not just institutions that make a mess – we do it too. We wouldn’t dream of making our kids use slow computers running yesterday’s operating system. It’s the digital age equivalent of not feeding our children.

At the end of the Operation Seek and Discard I had created two piles. The first was stuff that we would either melt down for scrap, donate to the local gun club for target practice or ship off to state surplus. That is, anything that was over three years old. The second much smaller pile consisted of stuff we might actually use. While much of pile two was on the cusp of obsolescence, there was one piece of technology that had been around for 30 years and still had another 30 years left in it: the upright Royal vacuum cleaner. The custodian claimed that.

What's Next?
What do we make of all this? Surely schools can’t live with yesterday’s processor speeds. It’s downright irresponsible. And they can’t continue to force students to stare at fuzzy screens. That’s inhumane. So we wait for some social movement, some enterprising green company, some funded mandate from the government that will make green computing truly possible. When it comes perhaps it will allow us to at least reuse our computer casings, inserting new innards as they become available. Perhaps it will entail a new approach to creating computers that makes their constituent parts truly recoverable and useful. Or maybe it will drive us to create computers that are comprised of so little that it won’t matter.

But in the meantime, we live with our mess, teaching the science of ecology as a game of catch-up in a world that is exploding with efforts to turn third world nations into first world competitors, complete with the purchasing power that entails. And while we wait for the other shoe drop in many countries embracing a digital lifestyle, we approach our own future like we do the federal deficit, once again passing the buck on to our children.