A Bieber flavored over simplication on the fallacy of hardware creating change. Probably useless but it amused me for the presentation and the audience seemed to enjoy it. My 20 minute presentation ended up being a 90 minute conversation.
If you give Bieber a bike will he get home more quickly?
It seems like a straightforward question, an easy answer. Of course the bike will get him home faster.
But we tend to make a number of assumptions. It could be you’re a Bieber fan and you know where Bieber is now and where his home/homes are, maybe you’re a Belieber and you even know which home he’s going to. Most people don’t. They don’t know where Bieber is nor where he’s going despite general agreement on the definition of “home.”
Furthermore, I don’t know if Bieber can drive a motorcycle or if he can drive this motorcycle. If he can drive a motorcycle, how well can he do it? Does he have gas? Is a helmet required?
Now if we give Bieber a bike and he can drive it, we have to think about the terrain between where he’s starting and where he wants to go. Maybe there’s a forest in between those two points. A forest without roads or gas stations. This street bike will actually slow him down. Maybe there’s a road and things will work out really well.
If there’s an ocean between the two points, then requiring a motorcycle will likely result in Bieber drowning. That will substantially delay his return home.
Things begin to get complex and we have yet to address monkey transportation and associated documentation.
So my final answer ends up being “it depends” which happens to be the same answer I give on whether or not technology will impact student learning.
Slightly Less Nonsense
Continuing in the Bieber theme . . .
This is the recent quote and associated Internet furor that led to the Bieber flavor of this presentation. I learned quite a bit about Bieber as a result. This quote is a decent example of the kind of flexibility technology provides for teachers. Access to current events and the ability to associate these events with a variety of other resources quickly and easily is unique and matters. I can now use this quote to drive a conversation and build interesting extensions and associations through other media elements. There are lots of easy wins in both English and history. Naturally, showing students the quote doesn’t require them to have computers but building experiences off of that quote is made far easier and offers far more opportunities if students have technology and Internet access.
The association of technology with current events is pretty obvious. I don’t think the association of technology with historical sources is as publicized. The fact that I can provide copies of a handwritten letter from a US soldier at Dachau written on SS stationary is amazing. It is not the same as holding the material but it’s far more visceral than reading a type written version or getting a quoted excerpt in a textbook. Technology removes a number of restrictions that have long shaped the content we are able to provide as well as the things we were able to do with that content.
From there I showed them where some of our students at Moody MS, with the help of Will Berry, (one of our awesome ITRTs) had been taking this historical material and using Timeline JS to build interactive multimedia timelines on WWII. Students selecting and curating primary source material to enrich a historical story is not revolutionary but technology allows for access to a breadth and depth of material that was previously impossible. The ability for many students to build collaboratively and create an interactive product that other students could actually use is fairly unique as well.
I said a few other things as well but that’s the gist of where things went with the Bieber.
Maus is a graphic novel completed in 1991 by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. It depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The book uses postmodern techniques—most strikingly in its depiction of races of humans as different kinds of animals, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. Maus has been described as memoir, biography, history, fiction, autobiography, or a mix of genres. In 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
It’s a good text to explore via a timeline because of the the non-linear storyline and the advantages of setting additional historical context.
As a result of this, I’ve spent some time trolling the National Archives. Normally I wander around the Library of Congress but I was doing a parallel reading of The Liberator1 by Alex Kershaw which had some great images from the National Archives so I was inspired to go check it out.
There is a lot of great content available digitally, including some stuff I hadn’t seen before. Search and features leave something to be desired and you have to be really specific with your search terms. One other thing to be aware of is that deep links to the pages found in your search expire.
A few of the WWII pieces I liked but didn’t put in the Maus timeline are below. I also found a pretty decent, although silent, video of soldiers spraying people with what is probably DDT in an effort to kill louses and prevent typhus (aka war fever) from spreading.
1 Another WWII text but of more traditional style. Nothing great but did have an interesting portion on the murder of SS guards at Auschwitz by U.S. soldiers.
Discovery brought together an interesting mix of people to talk about the future of the textbook.1 The particular focus of this conversation was the math textbook. The repeated2 request was to aim high and describe what you would really want not to water things down to describe what would sell or what others might be willing to use.3
There is a lot to think about.
Doing digital content properly would have a parallel, intensive, and ongoing professional development element that would inform the container, tools, and the content in very specific ways.
The content would need to be very granular and editable by the teacher at a variety of levels.
The student should be able to annotate content in a variety of ways (highlighting, notes, audio/video) and associate other pieces of content (internally or externally) in a way that builds rich text connections between the notes/associated content and the original element.4
The data gathered and displayed matters quite a bit. There should be a huge amount of thought behind it and what both teachers and students see.
The search function for teachers looking to add or customize content should be internal and allow for something similar to Google’s custom search in terms of set up. A tight integration of search to the authoring tool would also be key.
I think someone else said this somewhere but “don’t pre-chew the food.” It’s gross and makes things boring. Give students interesting things to use and react to. If you’ve chewed it to bits trying to “help” them then chances are you’ve also robbed it of all taste and interestingness.
The more I read/write this, the more I add and delete. I’ve come to the point where I don’t know if it makes any sense. Read at your own risk.
Initially, it’s worth considering what people are going to expect from a textbook. Textbooks have typically served two audiences- teachers and students. Both parties received “true” content in a nice organized progression (vertically and horizontally articulated) that someone, probably multiple someones, thought about quite a bit with associated questions and activities. Today’s textbooks have all sorts of associated lesson plans, worksheets, questions, media files, PowerPoints etc. That makes things fairly messy. Even if there’s lots of really good thought behind all of that most of the thinking and rationale is opaque. The tendency is to improve directions for teachers rather than to get teachers to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Too much attention to delivery method (exercises! badges! energy points! sympathetic narrator!) and not enough attention to mathematics, not enough attention to how people learn mathematics.
What makes things difficult is that the actual curriculum and the display/interaction mechanism are two different, yet intertwined, things. In other words, you have to decide how you want students to learn and how teachers are going to facilitate that process so that you can build both the content and the housing to provide the right kinds of interactions and information (both to students themselves as well as to teachers). As is evident in Christopher’s quote above, people tend to focus on the structure and capabilities of the “container” because it’s easier to talk about it in general terms. The actual curricular pieces tend to require very specific conversations- at least that’s how I’d think about it for history and English. There’s probably also some push back against that “digital textbooks” have been envisioned as exactly that, a digital version of the traditional textbook. There are key ways digital content can and should be different. At the same time, you have to look at when physical interactions have key advantages over digital content. In any case, poor content in a fancy shell isn’t going to help nor will good traditional content necessarily take advantage of the digital affordances that should exist in this mythological shell. It may very well be that in talking mainly in the abstract we didn’t do either enough justice.
To further simplify, if you think mathematical conversations are a key element in developing mathematical understanding, there are a number of things that have to be further delineated. Are there particular areas where these conversations are essential? How do you help teachers shape the conversations in those areas?5 Let’s assume you identify a number of places where these conversations are essential. Now a number of other questions need to be answered. What kind of conversations are these? When do you have them online verses face-to-face? When do you blend the two? What role should different media elements play in these conversations? When should it be a still image, a movie, interactive? Do particular tools play a role in furthering the conversation? etc. etc.
Sequentially, I think one might to attack it something like this.
Figure out a general pedagogical philosophy. What do we believe about learning and the experiences we want kids to have? That should fundamentally shape both the content and the container. Technology can help you build a nice Skinner box if that’s what you want. Try to make this consistent between grades, teachers, and subjects. Seems obvious but it doesn’t seem to happen much.
Once you have a general foundation, the specific and nuanced elements of instruction that are associated with the content need to be delineated.
I’d want to further break down the pieces. These actions/interactions6 are important to how people learn. These particular actions/interactions are important to how people learn math. These actions/interactions are important to how people learn this particular element of math. I think a lot of these pieces overlap but there’s important nuance as you drill down towards specific concepts where both the instructional design and the affordances of particular technology based interactions ought to come together with real intent.
To further complicate things, I’d want really powerful model lessons for teachers that are well explained on the back end. The “teacher’s version” would need to allow people to drill down to see and understand the reasoning behind the instructional choices- why this question? why this image? why this tool with this concept? This is something Darren and I spoke about a few times and the group he and Karl Fisch were with did a good job delineating.7 It’s pretty ambitious to attack both professional development and good digital content at the same time but I don’t think things work otherwise. You have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It is the only choice. Standardizing and scripting things to the point where teacher understanding doesn’t matter is a path to madness and despair. Despite the money laced wisdom of Bill Gates de-skilling the teacher and trusting in the wisdom of AI is not a legitimate solution even if you have videos of Disney Certified All-Star teachers singing catchy tunes.
I suppose Discovery could do all this for a district but I’m not sure how that would work. It would seem the process would be really important.
Here are some other things that came up that might be interesting to people.
Watch live video from umwnewmedia on Justin.tv
Start at the 20 minute point and watch about 10 minutes (I promise it’s worth it.)- Wesch talks about how the introduction of “new media” (paper/writing) in this case fundamentally changes a society in regrettable ways. “Media mediate relationships” is a huge statement and one we ought to keep thinking about especially as we make big shifts in educational content. In just about every way, I don’t think we have a clue what computers are doing to us as we use them more and more.
This long toed cowboy boots seem insane and evident of today’s strange culture and yet totally impractical shoes with giant toes have made appearances before. The length of the toes were even restricted by class. I loved the idea of fleeing knights having to chop off the toes of the shoes to retreat during the Battle of Nicopolis way back in 1396.8 It’s these connections to today’s world that I think good history content ought to bring out and use for larger discussions. Fashion, itself, has some really decent potential and is tied into larger issues in fairly accessible and interesting ways.
1 Full disclosure – Discovery funded my travel/room/board. Also Steve Dembo encouraged me to start my own blog in the dark ages of the early 2000s so I still like him for that.
3 It’s harder to do this than you might think and that is one of my own personal fears. I worry a lot about the chains I don’t feel.
4 That may not make any sense, think something like what iBooks allows but add multimedia elements, the ability to associate external content, and some elements of social transparency. I probably need to draw it up.
5 I wonder how possible this is without a fairly massive professional development component.
6 “Things” sounded too flippant but I’m no happier with this pairing.
7 I’d agree with Karl in terms of opting for an element based check box display system (like WordPress uses) as opposed to the slider.
8 Strangely, I had that anecdote in my head but had forgotten the name of the battle.
Granted, it’s more than possible I have no idea what “digital content” means either. I may also be the guy walking around arguing that water is wet.
The White Whale
“Digital content” is what everyone wants as we move towards the magical BYOD-Edu-singularity. What that means is likely very different depending on the person saying it.1 I think you can divide what people mean by digital content into a few major categories.
Link Lists – the venerable link list divided by your content label of choice (state standard, topic header, novel, etc.). The “new” version would likely be built using a social bookmarking solution and tagging but it’s the same concept. Context for the resources is minimal if it exists at all.
PDF/HTML textbooks – no substantial changes in what we’ve always had but in digital format. The rationale usually involves things like lighter backpacks and the ability to update/correct errors.2 It is a sterile environment where you have to take what you get and integrating additional resources fluidly is difficult. Topical content integration isn’t facilitated.
Augmented Textbooks – start with a traditional textbook and replace some of the pictures with movies, add self-grading multiple choice quizzes,3 and some links to internal content. Some simple tools may be integrated (think highlighter, light note taking). Interactivity and multimedia content is increased but I’m not sure it really matters. Content remains hard to change and customize with anything on the outside of the system. Topical content integration isn’t facilitated.
LMS as Textbook – essentially lots of content and internal tools (discussion board, drop box, etc.) with varying degrees of imposed content structure. This system may or may not facilitate the integration of outside content and tools. This system tends to either be set up to push content in a fairly rigid format or to enable teachers to do whatever they like. It can provide an in between structure where core content is pushed in a modifiable manner and the teacher based customization is visible.
There are also a variety of ways to think about the actual pieces of content.
The first is the vetted, contextualized informational content we’ve always relied on textbooks to provide. The kind of content that tells us what we need to know in a fairly condensed way so we can pass the test. It’s attractive, in part, because it’s convenient and seen as “true.”
Then there are the resources (usually informational but which may also include lessons/projects/media) teachers habitually use to fill in gaps they perceive based on what the text provides. They tend to have context and are meant to be educational. This could be driven by the teacher’s understanding of the final test (their own, AP, or high stakes), personal interests/beliefs about the content, or based on attempts to engage students.
Media elements devoid of textbook/externally imposed context also play a role. These can vary from primary source documents, to graphs, to maps, to images, to songs. They may or may not be intentionally educational (at all or about that topic). The context in which they are used matters quite a bit and tends to be personalized by the teacher around their particular teaching style and knowledge base.
Finally, there’s the idea of topical/ephemeral content. This is the kind of content which matters in the moment but may not be (as) valuable once that moment passes.
In my own definition of digital content, I also include tools, platforms, and raw data- essentially things you might manipulate or process as well as the means to manipulate and process.
Clearly there are lots of ways to think about this content and the way both teachers and students interact with it. What I think becomes increasingly important is what we expect. For instance, if you believe that a textbook should tell a teacher who is struggling what to do- then you pursue a highly structured, very detailed, almost scripted model. That very structure and specificity is likely to turn off your highly skilled teachers.4 Maybe the goal is to provide base information so teacher don’t have to build everything from scratch. If so, that’s likely to be an entirely different type of structure and methodology. All things that seem to require quite a bit of thought and planning prior to deciding on a “digital content” solution.
In the scheme of things, it’s fairly easy to create an index of resources aligned to some set of standards. It’s not even that hard to create an online textbook.5 The textbook will certainly take more time and effort but in the end it is just a fleshed out version of the resources.
What’s more difficult is designing a structure and system that intentionally creates overlaps of structured content with alternative content types and harder still creating workflows that feed that system in ways that people will maintain. I want to prevent content in a way that encourages a lens on the world that is far broader and more inclusive than the one typically used in instruction and instructional content. I don’t know how much energy and time should be spent trying to make these connections explicit for people vs just juxtaposing content types where people might make connections themselves or others beyond what you intended.
I wonder quite a bit how the structures used to present content shape how that content is used both by teachers and students. I’m also realizing that I need to build something like this for two of the three audiences. I don’t think building systems for the lowest percentage of teachers has enough return to justify the huge amount of energy and time required. It seems you have to shoot for something that is manageable for the middle percentage but actually provides advantages and opportunities for the upper tier of teachers.
1 If it’s followed directly with a “cloud” reference, I suggest beating a hasty retreat.
3 The results of which may or may not be visible to the teacher.
4 It seems it might be possible to have both simultaneously but it’s not an easy thing to achieve. I think for the most part people revert to the first scenario because most of the energy, attention, and structure is focused on “failing” teachers. I’d also argue that a truly bad teacher is not going to be fixed through scripting. You might get to low mediocrity through that kind of intervention but it’s unlikely to fix the core problems without some serious additional work. Aren’t you glad this is a footnote so you can ignore it?
5 The name is somewhat problematic but I’m going to let that go for now in a perhaps misguided attempt to avoid a long tangent.
Here are examples of hats made of felted beaver fur, because if you ask your students to draw a picture of a beaver hat, you’re likely to get some sort of coonskin monstrosity. (Seriously, you should try that.)
Pukestocking, Puke-stocking, Puke Stocking
tl;dr – Being called puke-stocking likely has everything to do with fashion instead of seasickness.
Despite many sites claiming that Pilgrims were called puke stockings, I can’t find anything substantial to back that up (and now think it means something entirely different anyway). I did find a reference to puke stockings in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV -
Wilt thou rob this leathern jerkin, crystal-button,
not-pated, agate-ring, puke-stocking, caddis-garter,
In 1598, when Shakespeare wrote his play, “puke” was a very fine grade of woolen cloth, often used to make stockings as well as other garments. This kind of “puke” first appeared in English in the mid-15th century, derived from the Middle Dutch word “puuc,” meaning “the best grade of cloth.” Interestingly, “puke” cloth was, in Shakespeare’s day, usually dyed deep bluish-black or dark brown, leading to the term “puke color.” This “puke,” however, is unrelated to the brownish-purple color we know today as “puce,” which takes its name from the French word for “flea.” Apparently if one looks very, very closely at fleas (I’ll pass, thanks), they are purple-brown in color.
Thus haue you heard the particulars of this massacre, which in those respects some say will be good for the Plantation, because now we haue iust cause to destroy them by all meanes possible: but I thinke it had beene much better it had neuer happened, for they haue giuen vs an hundred times as iust occasions long agoe to subiect them, (and I wonder I can here of none but Master Stockam and Master Whitaker of my opinion.) Moreouer, where before we were troubled in cleering the ground of great Timber, which was to them of small vse: now we may take their owne plaine fields and Habitations, which are the pleasantest places in the Countrey. Besides, the Deere, Turkies, and other Beasts and Fowles will exceedingly increase if we beat the Saluages out of the Countrey, for at all times of the yeare they neuer spare Male nor Female, old nor young, egges nor birds, fat nor leane, in season or out of season with them, all is one. The like they did in our Swine and Goats, for they haue vsed to kill eight in tenne more then we, or else the wood would most plentifully abound with victuall; besides it is more easie to ciuilize them by conquest then faire meanes; for the one may be made at once, but their ciuilizing will require a long time and much industry. The manner how to suppresse them is so often related and approued, I omit it here: And you haue twenty examples of the Spaniards how they got the West-Indies, and forced the treacherous and rebellious Infidels to doe all manner of drudgery worke and slauery for them, themselues liuing like Souldiers vpon the fruits of their labours. This will make vs more circumspect, and be an example to posteritie: (But I say, this might as well haue beene put in practise sixteene yeares agoe as now.)
ames Akin’s earliest-known signed cartoon, “The Prairie Dog” is an anti-Jefferson satire, relating to Jefferson’s covert negotiations for the purchase of West Florida from Spain in 1804. Jefferson, as a scrawny dog, is stung by a hornet with Napoleon’s head into coughing up “Two Millions” in gold coins, (the secret appropriation Jefferson sought from Congress for the purchase). On the right dances a man (possibly a French diplomat) with orders from French minister Talleyrand in his pocket and maps of East Florida and West Florida in his hand. He says, “A gull for the People.”
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