Literacy Status: It’s Complicated


I’m writing this stuff down in an attempt to hash it out in my own head. Feel free to help me find the right path (if there is one) or even decide if this is worth thinking about.

Tool Exposure vs Literacy

What we have going on today in many cases is the illusion of teaching literacy. In reality we’re just exposing students to tools1. I see quotes similar to this one all the time-

The literacy tools of our day, today, include the web, netbooks, cell phones, cameras and recorders, etc. We are responsible for teaching students how to be literate. – source

So essentially, we have to teach kids how to use all these things because that’s what it takes to make it in the world. In the past it was just reading, writing and some math so the only general tools you had to be able to use were a pen/pencil, paper and a book. Now the idea is, we have to teach students (and learn ourselves) how to use all this stuff, to learn which buttons to push on lots of different objects.

Where these comments get messy for me is delineating what really requires different kinds of thought (bigger conceptual framework) and what is just today’s tool which needs only the mastery of the how (which button needs pressing). It seems picky, but I think that matters quite a bit.

There’s a huge difference between being able to read and being able to analyze literature. What’s our real standard for literacy today? I’d say it’s a good deal higher than just being able to translate letters into words, I’m hoping so anyway. If we take that approach, where are we with this concept of so-called modern literacies2?

Are we at the point when simply being able to make a video qualify you as being literate or does it take something more? Do students have to understand the vocabulary inherent in film, the rationale behind camera angles and lighting? I look at things like Animoto and see it as producing video but not contributing to any sort of literacy. I see it as the video equivalent of Madlibs (only without as many teaching opportunities).

What I see claimed as increasing literacy is often just exposure to tools and those two things are very different.

In general, I see communication in its varied forms becoming more important, more ubiquitous, more specialized and, as a result, more sophisticated. So you need to look at communication tools and resultant mediums more closely. For instance-

When does the character limit of Twitter and its semi-synchronous delivery benefit me? When might the speed and limited response hurt my message or the ones I receive? Do I treat information I receive from Twitter differently than I might from other sources? When is that information likely to most relevant and useful3?

I don’t see people addressing these concepts (maybe I’m not looking in the right places). For instance, Twitter is being treated like the newest shiny toy and people are pitching it as a panacea, a magical cure for all your PD, PLN, communication needs. The opposite view, that Twitter is the devil and useless, isn’t any better. Clearly Twitter is filling a niche communication role. It just seems like we need to analyze what needs it’s meeting and how it’s meeting those needs. We need to do this with conceptually different mediums of communication and we need to have the decision of which communication medium we use be an explicit choice based on the strengths of the medium and the needs of the message.

Getting into all this isn’t easy or neat. It’ll be difficult to decide when a particular medium is really different, when it deserves an in depth assessment. How can teachers guide students if they are unaware of the specific technology/medium and its nuances? Do we focus on just the most popular mediums and if so, what responsibility do teachers have to know the intricacies of the mediums?

That’s just looking at the need for more thought on communication and mainly electronic communication at that. I’ve seen all sorts of literacies mentioned- from environmental to architectural. Where do we draw the line? Is it worth worrying about?

To me it seems we need a greater focus on what might be termed communication literacy. That’s a mighty big umbrella, I know. But it seems to encompass a lot of needs that I don’t see being met. It’d require students and teachers to decide which method of communication would be best for their message and then design their message so that it takes advantage of the particular channel or channels. The idea that you’d present certain kinds of information using a slide deck and present other information in document form is one that’d be nice to get across early on.

I’d prefer the focus on communication as opposed to “digital literacy” or “21st century literacy” because those types of labels tend to lose credibility relatively quickly. Think about the term “eLearning.” It’s also easy with the tech centered terms to see them as discrediting or ignoring more traditional techniques and the very applicable history/learning etc. that goes with them.

If information is no longer scarce and it’s easier to find (and getting easier), then beyond our traditional need to figure out validity and bias we have to teach students how to best present this information. That’d have the double benefit of making them far more aware of how media is being used to manipulate them and make the more aware of bias when evaluating their own sources.

I’m not sure how this would all work but it seems like something that should be integrated at a base level and in a cross curricular manner. I do believe there’s a lot of good possible in reexamining how we look at communication in our k12 and higher ed institutions.

I’ll stop now. Knowing I’ve only muddied the water and probably been totally erratic in my use of media, medium and mediums. I’m going to resist my very strong urge to store this with my other 70+ drafts and just let it go. Right or wrong, I’m trying to treat this site as more of a place for thinking and less just a repository of things that I hope would be useful to others. So it’s about me being selfish and messier. I should re-title this “Unsubscribe Now!”

1 Keep all exposure puns to yourself.

2 I realize that analyzing film and images has been long established but the necessity of those literacies for the general populace has become greater because of the proliferation of multimedia both in terms of consumption and creation.

3 I found Twitter to be very valuable not too long ago.

A Separate Peace – Iron Teacher Submission

Here was the challenge

The Challenge (as defined by the teacher): Students are beginning a book discussion of the novel A Separate Peace. These particular students struggle to demonstrate understanding of content through writing, but have recently become more motivated to read and respond to literature as their teacher has incorporated audio books and modern literature into the curriculum.

The teacher shares that the class performs better when asked to discuss personal experiences and would like to incorporate the book themes of envy/conformity into the book discussions. These students in particular are not easily motivated to participate in class activities. Their teacher is looking for an original and fun way to have the students discuss and share while demonstrating understanding in a way that goes beyond writing an essay or taking a multiple choice test.

So here’s my attack, and it’s one I’ve done before but I wanted to work through this in a few different ways to show how you could use what students are doing now with Facebook (and other services) to get them both analyzing and empathizing with the characters.

Priming the Pump

First, I’d start off by having the students discuss the subtle (and not so subtle) ways people play mind games on sites like Facebook (like cutting people out of photos, top friends lists, snide comments, that type of thing). I’d probably do this as a think-pair-share. Might be worth saying come up with 5 good examples. This is just a quick thing to get them thinking1.

If you want to start with an example, my cousin (HS student) had some pictures posted and had cropped some of her friends(?) out. The comments under the picture went like this-

Jane Doe at 4:55pm February 18
YOU CUT OUT me and X and Y and Z.

My Cousin at 4:59pm February 18

I’d dramatize that a bit more but you get the idea. It leads to questions like-

  • What does it mean to cut someone out of a picture?
  • What does it mean if you get left in?
  • Does this apology matter?
  • Does the heart make it more sincere?
  • What do caps mean, if anything?
  • Does the speed of the reply matter?

I’m going to imagine they’ll have lots of examples. I’d probably have them list some on the board. You can do this before the book starts and have them start thinking early or do it after the first chapter and then have them work back through it.

Various Depths
Depending on what you’re looking for and your computer access here are a few varieties you could go with.

  1. Facebook Picture Comments (less involved)- An image that is representative of the chapter is posted. Initially you might choose the image and who posted it but I’d move that responsibility to the students rather quickly. I’d probably have consistent groups assigned to each character and in charge of “speaking” for him. I’d pass the image posting responsibility around. The image group would have to explain why they chose to post that particular image, how it represented what their character would do and explain why he would do it.

    You’ve got a variety of ways you can do this with computers- a simple blog, google docs, a wiki etc.

    Now, if you don’t have any computers in your classroom it’s fairly easy as well (and might, in some ways, be more engaging). I’d take a big piece of chart paper and draw out a page template2. That’d be my background layer. It’d stay the same and it’d probably be good if it was laminated. Then you’d just tape a new image in each time and students would have sentence strips with tape to stick underneath the image as comments3 I’d take a picture of each finished portion if I’m doing things this way so that I’d have a way to refer back to them later.

    This version is pretty light on commitment. You could do it once, when things were bogging down to help generate discussion or you could do it through the whole novel. I like it because it’s flexible. I might do the same image at a variety of different times in the novel and see how much the comments change as the students start to understand the characters more fully and as the characters themselves develop. I could do it at the end of the novel and have each group choose a single photograph to represent the key turning point for that character. They put them on the wall or post them and then comment on each others photographs in character, responding to each other as their character would.

    The key here is, of course, to get them explaining why they’re making these decisions. The teacher needs to really question them about their character and his motivations.

  2. Facebook Profile – students create the Facebook profile page of their assigned character. This could be a one time thing or revisited occasionally (not very frequently). Once again, the activity would engage the students but the key would be in questioning their choices. It might be worth having groups do multiple profiles and then have them work together to create a combined page. That could lead to some interesting discussions.

    Here is a blanked out Facebook page for Gene that might get things started if you had students with an image editing program. Here’s the PS file<>footnote>Just click on the text layers, change the name and do a save as to make one for each character..

    Here’s a partially completed Word version. Essentially, I put the image in, then dropped a big text box over it so it’d be hard to select it accidentally and began dropping smaller text boxes with the right color, size and font in the key locations for students to fill in. I’d take the time to get this pretty well set up for the students so their focus is on the content and not on the formatting etc.

    You’ve got options with all these projects. I might put the main characters’ names in a hat, enough for each student and have them draw. They each complete the assignment on their own and then get grouped by character in small groups (4 or 5 students at most) to create a group profile. Then they explain why they made their decisions and compare their choices with those made by other groups representing the same characters.

  3. Full On Facebook – (very involved) Essentially, each group gets a character. Their job each day is to create the entire online activity for that character. That includes everything from posting pictures, commenting, wall posts, to status updates, links, joining causes etc. Your character groups should interact with each other and change the pages in response to changes in the novel. For example, the students who jumped from the tree might have a group celebrating that, they’d join various causes related to the war etc. etc.

    If possible, I’d do this in Facebook. It’d be the easiest thing to do. I realize that’s highly unlikely in most schools. So here are a few other routes.

    The next easiest would probably be using a Ning site. You’d miss out on being able to theme it like Facebook but you could make it private etc. if that was needed for your own protection. It’d work ok.

    Another option would be an installation of WPMU and using BuddyPress. That’d give the right kind of functionality but would probably be more for someone who was interested in the tech side a little more. The benefits would be being able to control the look and feel to a much greater extent. There’s a Facebook based WordPress theme here. It’s good but not great. It’d be where I’d start if I was going to go that route.

    If you wanted to go the WordPress route but didn’t have WPMU and couldn’t install it, then you could do it using a few plugins (gravatars for example) and customizing the themes some. I did this in preparation for doing a similar project with Richard III4 but it was something of a pain.

    I don’t think many would want to do this without computers. It’s possible without them but would require a lot of dedication and wall space.

I’m not sure I’m heading down the right path or not. I had to hold back on creating the actual profile pages myself and building out the template etc. My goal is to keep this game sustainable for me. I’ll lay the ground work but I’m trying not to over commit. There’s a lot of good stuff in the construction that helps me when I’m considering a lesson. I have a tendency to do too much which hurts the process, I’m working on curbing that.

I’m trying to give some structure and offer some resources but not go all out with a lesson plan. With this particular challenge I think that’s the right thing to do. With other, more focused, objectives the lesson plan may be the way to go. I’m interested to see what Michelle, Todd and others will produce.

Hopefully this concept will bear some fruit and do some good in general. I think it’ll help me and produce some interesting ideas (although we do need to tighten up the contest concept a good deal more).

Let me know what you think.

1 You could make this more structured and choose specific psychological ploys from the book and ask for examples to be brought in representing them but not explicitly tying them to the story yet. You’ll also want to make sure they’ve been sanitized of names/real life associations to prevent classroom drama. I leave that up to you.

2 One easy way to do this for the artistically impaired would be to use an overhead and project a FB image page on the wall and trace out the basics.

3 It’d be pretty easy to add the avatar pictures as well for a little more realism.

4 The project never got rolling because the teacher’s children got chicken pox. That’s probably why it’s still in my head waiting for an excuse to come out.

Breaking into houses with Dan Meyer

Dan’s got another What Can You Do With This1 challenge up. This time it’s dealing with a numeric keypad. Basically, it’s what can you do (in a more lesson plan focused format this time) with an image he’s posted of a numeric door key pad2.

I’m not helping much with Dan’s lesson plan but I’d actually have the challenge be to break the combination. I’d take bets on how long it’d take to break into this door if it had a one digit code, a two digit code, a three digit code and a four digit code (maybe go higher?). I’d write down the bet times- maybe graph them.

Then I’d give them a chance to try it and I’d record the times when they did break in.

If people had computers this would be an easy thing to do. Here’s the Excel spreadsheet I’d use (not very pretty – just a proof of concept). I’d lock the one I gave the kids with a password of course. It’s pretty simple stuff. It amused me though. Might be garbage for math class but maybe someone will get some other use out of it.

Here’s a video if you’d like more explanation on the construction. It’s nothing fancy but it might inspire some other better ideas3.

Excel as a lock

1 I love this concept and find it one of the best ideas for staffdev I’ve ever seen. I’m going to attempt to steal it and use it as part of a class I’m teaching this summer on instructional technology.

2 It’s far more engaging than it sounds. Go check it out.

3 I actually built a self-checking crossword puzzle in Excel one time. I have no idea why.

Picking Up Gauntlets is Heavy Work

So Dan threw down a challenge as he tends to do. I did the easy part but also felt I should do some critiquing to maintain some credibility in my own mind.

I’m taking a shot at how I might change Ms. Mercer’s Powerpoint presentation. The main thing that made this difficult is I don’t know what she says during this presentation and that stops me from really considering how I might change things more fundamentally. So the following is given in the hope of providing helpful and positive feedback for Ms. Mercer. Please excuse any mistakes I make while attempting to determine intent.


Here are the two title slides. Ms. Mercer’s slide will always be on top.

I found that slide to be a little heavy and dark for my tastes and wanted to go with something similarly humorous but a little cleaner. I found a warning slide about killer electricity and dropped the background in Keynote using the Alpha Channel tool1


Here I’m just simplifying. If I’m going to be out there talking, I don’t feel I need any more specifics than this. I might drop the slide altogether.

I’d probably use this slide to get the audience talking about why they use presentations. Get some top answers and then move on with what I’d bill as pedagogically and brain based rationales for using presentation software2


I’m sure Ms. Mercer has a story to go with the chair image but I couldn’t figure it out (which might be a good thing). I like the chairs- the colors are interesting. I’m not sure the rationale for having the flickr rating in the image.

I opted for these crazy looking poodles. I might opt to make this an animation slide starting with a small picture of an innocent looking poodle and mentioning that I’m terrified of poodles. I’d ask the room who else might be scared of poodles then switch to these crazy looking animals and say that visual support is often essential to proving one’s point.

I like the image because it’s dramatic and with or without the story it’s fairly humorous to see poodles as scary (at least to me).


The kids are cute but the image is blurry. I’m not sure it gets to the point I’m guessing is being made- which is that PPT is a good way record pair shares and story talks.

I went with something fairly simple. Mic = record. I didn’t really even want to limit it to pair shares and story talks but just emphasize that the software does a good job recording things in various ways. The image is mine and was used partially out of laziness and partially because it was in the image bank in my head as something that would fit. It’s not bad, but there are better ones out there.


Ms. Mercer now had a few slides in a row of ways to use this to capture and display student work.

I opted for the idea of presentation as refrigerator. You know, the place you put up the great work your kids bring home. You could also use it as a digital bulletin board. That type of thing. I might show some pieces of student work. I’m not solidly sold on this concept as I’m interpreting it but, once again, I don’t have the full story.


Here the idea is that to make good presentations you need a solid, recognizable goal. I didn’t like this shot because the goal was kind of hard to make out and I am in VA so a hockey goal would be somewhat confusing3. The blur and the brightness of the background didn’t help things but that may be my wannabe photographer self coming out.

I’m not sure I’d keep the text here or in the previous slide but I left it in to keep things a little more in line with what Ms. Mercer’s original line of thought appeared to be. Once again, this is one of my own shots chosen out of semi-laziness. I just wanted a clear, fairly plain picture of a goal. That’s all.


I was fine with this picture. I don’t love it but I’ve got no issues.

I ended up just putting up the word plan. I initially had blueprints. I then went with a picture of Hannibal from the A-Team4 and then finally I did a hand made drawing with the vector stuff in Keynote to do a bunch of loops ending in a red X. I didn’t like any of them that much so I just went with plain. It’s ok.

This was another decent picture and I liked the goal. I just found the scaffolding harder to make out because of the color and pixelation of the image.

I went with something I felt was a little more dramatic. I like how this image allowed you to clearly see what the scaffolding was supporting. The imagine did not initially fill the page, so I took a quick screen shot of the outter left edge and copy/pasted it until it filled in with the solid gray that it now has.


Here I felt the Bloom’s diagram was too complex for people to get anything out of it. I’d include it on a hand out if I felt it was key to the final understanding. I figure the main point is to talk about higher order thinking skills . . . so I used the mountain shot. I played around with some meditation shots and probably would have used one if it had been decent. I was going to make it look like the kid was hovering a good bit off the ground but the shots all would have taken a fair amount of work to crop out the background and I am doing this for free in spare time after all.


From here on I skipped around a bit and went to slides I felt a little more strongly about redesigning. Doing this, especially this way, takes some serious time and effort. Seriously.

So the first image didn’t really say feedback to me. It looked more like a teacher telling students stuff but that could be because of my own deeply buried educational baggage.

I thought about it for a while and decided a Post-it style note symbolized feedback to me. To get this I used the note feature in Keynote and then just took a screenshot of it and put it in as an image. Simple, easy, quick. Fairly acceptable visual result.


Here’s one where I think what I did actually makes something of a difference. Ms. Mercer is talking about quality vs quantity. She uses the rose as her analogy which I think works for some but not all. My bet is that everyone can relate to cupcakes. So here is one small, beautiful cupcake sitting in lonely isolation. It is clearly a work of art. That’s also probably what I’d say when showing the slide.

It was set small and isolated on purpose. It’s meant to be. If you made it larger you’d be ruining the point. This is one small, exquisitely crafted thing.


The problem Ms. Mercer was having was that some people were saying they liked this yard better than the rose. So I’m working the inner guilt path. Even if someone would rather eat the 15 or so odd horrific looking snack cakes here, they know that the quality of the single cupcake is superior and a better choice. The few who will definitely say they prefer the mass of junk will really only reinforce the point- it’s better to have students work on making superior products than to have them churn out masses of garbage.


I think the marine guy would be usable if you had him on video saying something nice but in a drill sergeant’s voice. The text gets too confusing as it is with the other competing visual elements.

I changed the statement to some extent to reflect the way I see visual design. It is what you’re saying and how you say it. This would give me a brief chance to talk about color and font. I don’t know if I’d have to be this heavy handed. It actually hurt me to make this slide but anything in the name of ending the scourge of bad fonts.


I changed Ms. Mercer’s original photo so the top one is one I put back roughly the way it was. I’d use the fact that it doesn’t initially follow the rule of thirds and just show how you can enlarge and shift it some so that it becomes a stronger photo. Looking at it now, I might even move it farther to the left.

If the people know you I’d keep this for sure. If not, I’d probably go with another photo or mention that it’s your son explicitly and that you took the photo to get that emotional linkage going. Photo wise, it looks like the background is actually in focus and your son is slightly out of focus.

So there’s my $1.50 worth of comments and at least a few alternate ways of looking at the presentation visually. My guesses could be way off but they were done with a pure heart and for the good of the cause. Hope they do something good for you and maybe for someone else out there.

1 This aspect of Keynote alone makes me so happy it’s hard to verbalize. Sad but true.

2 I do some stuff on neuroscience and presentation so that’s probably why I want to go into that channel so readily.

3 That is opposed to my hometown of Hunstville, AL- the hockey capital of the south (really).

4 The “I love it when a plan comes together” guy. I have to keep a close watch on my own odd sense of humor in most of my presentation.

Iron Teacher

So there’s been good conversation lately recently about the lack of good lesson plans on the Internet. I think that’s true. I’m not sure this game will bring us much closer to the end game but it has the potential to produce some good content1. Hopefully it’ll be fun and catch on2.

Here’s the idea Milobo and I came up with a few days ago. It’s Michelle’s better twist on the Pimp My Lesson Plan idea that’s been nagging at me for a while3. Instead of Pimp My Ride, the inspiration is a lesson plan contest based on Iron Chef.

Basic Rules

  • Two teams of educators (more if others are game) will battle4 to develop a unit or lesson plan to meet the requirements of a selected teacher.
  • Each team will share their lesson along with the process they used to brainstorm and develop the idea.
  • A panel of judges, including the teacher who issued the challenge, will rate the lesson on Originality, Student Appeal, and Ability to Meet Outcome.

Here’s the current lesson request. It’s due by midnight- Sunday, April 26th. Post the content to your blog and link back in the comments5.

The Audience: 2 classes of 10th grade General Level Literature students.

The Secret Ingredient:
The novel “A Separate Peace”

The Challenge (as defined by the teacher):
Students are beginning a book discussion of the novel “A Separate Peace.” These particular students struggle to demonstrate understanding of content through writing, but have recently become more motivated to read and respond to literature as their teacher has incorporated audio books and modern literature into the curriculum.

The teacher shares that the class performs better when asked to discuss personal experiences and would like to incorporate the book themes of envy/conformity into the book discussions. These students in particular are not easily motivated to participate in class activities. Their teacher is looking for an original and fun way to have the students discuss and share while demonstrating understanding in a way that goes beyond writing an essay or taking a multiple choice test.

Two weeks have been dedicated to class reading and discussion of the book.

1 If nothing else it’ll give me a chance to get back into what I really like to do and do it in a way that might actually help some people.

2 Probably not, given what teachers have to do but you never know.

3 Apparently someone’s already used the title although, this looks so hideous I can still claim the idea in good conscience.

4 Good, fun competition, not bloodsport.

5 I’ll be getting a decent website built to tie things together as soon as I get finished with this lesson.

Why it’s hard to stay interesting

Even the things that you think are pointing you to new material may be further mainstreaming you.

Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil [sic] the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture1.

While each customer on average experiences more unique products in Internet World, the recommender system generates a correlation among the customers2. To use a geographical analogy, in Internet World the customers see further, but they are all looking out from the same tall hilltop. In Offline World individual customers are standing on different, lower, hilltops. They may not see as far individually, but more of the ground is visible to someone. In Internet World, a lot of the ground cannot be seen by anyone because they are all standing on the same big hilltop.

A “niche”, remember, is a protected and hidden recess or cranny, not just another row in a big database. Ecological niches need protection from the surrounding harsh environment if they are to thrive. Simply putting lots of music into a single online iTunes store is no recipe for a broad, niche-friendly culture.

via Whimsley: Online Monoculture and the End of the Niche.

So does this mean it’s harder than ever to stay interesting, especially if you spend a lot of time on the Internet? Seems like it.

I guess as the depth and breadth of communication3 grows between larger and larger sets of people this effect is more likely to occur.

1 Note from me- this seems to disregard the impact of online culture on offline culture. I’d say there’s a lot of influence there and that’s only going to increase.

2 Note from me- I see this recommender correlation as parallel to the personal correlations people make as they choose RSS feeds, media inputs etc. – that self-created echo chamber. You feel like you’re an outlier but in reality you’re becoming more and more mainstream in that subset. This could explain a lot of things about the edtech blog world.

3 I’m counting things like recommendation engines and other algorithms as communication between people.

You Are Your Own Laser Blender

I wrote one post that was long and full of references to things like the Kennedy Assassination1, furries and tattooing the whites of your eyes but it seemed a little too preachy and I’ve done more than enough of that lately.

It was a long way of getting at my point, which is this- the Internet and our society (America in particular) makes it really easy to ingest laser like streams of information that focus solely on subjects you like and are said only by people who agree with you2. The world is full of lasers and echos, it’s up to you to blend them and make something interesting.

So take Dan’s video which says what he means much better than his later post3.

dy/av : 009 : don’t be prez from Dan Meyer on Vimeo

and mix it with one of the TED videos that walks a slightly different but similar theme.

I have another video that is Ed Ayers and Joe Hoyle from UR talking in a similar vein but it’s Real Media and can’t be embedded. Honestly, I’m not even sure it still works as I don’t have RM on this computer anymore. Shame about the format.

1 Amazon has 11,850 results in books alone and Google gives you 856,000

2 I count listening to opposing view points by people who you regard as idiots to be the same thing as listening to your own ideas. If it’s too easy to discount the messenger and the message then you aren’t doing anything but confirming your own thoughts.

3 I’ve got no problem with either but the video makes things much clearer than the posts seems to have done – at least judging by the comments.

Information Fluency Presentation-Old Skills, New Applications – Part 2

Before recording my response to Dan Meyer’s challenge1 I might as well continue what I started the other day.

So we had a pretty brief section where we learned (surprise, surprise) that there’s a lot of new information in the world and most of it is on some form of magnetic media. There was conversation around those facts and maybe it changes what kids/we need to know and do and maybe it doesn’t.

So we know there’s lots of information. Let’s take a closer look at both why this information is exploding and what kind of information is being put out there.


I can publish anything I want right now – text, audio, video – or any combination of the three – and what’s more I can do it for free and I can reach a world-wide audience. (really not sure about this slide, I made probably four other versions and just went with the simplest one)

There are great things about this personal publishing revolution but there are downsides as well. Huge amounts of information lack even the most superficial vetting and as more and more information is published at ever increasing speed it gets more and more difficult to find the quality pieces you need (the red 1s appear with flashes one after another- not sure that works either-a little cheesy maybe).

So the way people are wading through all this information now is search. In July of 2008 Google had 235 million searches a day. That’s just on Google. As late as 2007, 20 to 25% of all searches on Google had never been done before (this stat may not be recent enough to be effective).

What’s more is that the web has changed fundamentally as it has grown. People don’t go to web sites the way they used to. They don’t go to the home page and work their way in. 75% of people go to information directly from their search results.

That makes sense right? But if people are relying this heavily on search, how good do you feel most students, or teachers for that matter, are at searching?

So we know people are searching a lot. Where are they ending up? Who wants to guess which site was getting 1 out of every 200 page views in 2007?

Love it or hate it. It’s Wikipedia.

Do you think that number has increased or decreased? Does it matter? Does it change what we need to do with our students?

Indulge me for a second. What do you think about this quote?

Another factor that massive amounts of media causes is an increase it what it takes to get attention. That results in facts like this one that was quoted in a variety of papers and in the media in 19952.

Even if you start with only one child dying in 1950, you’d be cutting into our population just a bit by 1995. It’s obvious this statistic is false if you give it a little thought yet it was published and quoted numerous times.

Organizations feel they need very dramatic stats to capture the attention of media outlets and media outlets feel they need very dramatic stats to capture the interest and attention of viewers. This leads to a very unpleasant cycle if you’re after the truth and want to make decisions based on facts as opposed to emotion.

We need students who treat all information sources with a degree of skepticism, even the “trusted” ones.

Anyone remember seeing this image? It made it into a lot of mainstream media publications.


This slide shows a non-retouched photo and then allows me to point out the photoshopping.

The speed at which things are published also works against vetting. That rush to be first results in inaccuracies and sources aren’t checked out quite the way they might be if publishing wasn’t so rapid. This particular image didn’t create any ripple effects but it could have.

What kind of skills would help people identify this sort of manipulation on their own?


How do we prepare our students when the line between entertainment and news is getting increasingly blurry?

That’s probably enough for now. I’m sounding a little overly dramatic even to myself.

Once again, help me make this better. That goes for images, argument, facts – whatever. I guess the main idea is that – There’s lots more information out there than ever before. Do we have to rethink what we’re teaching students in order for them to be successful in the world?

1 Besides writing this now cements my obligation to get the recording done, which I never remember to do when presenting live. I’d do it now but all the kids, baby included, are sleeping and the house is just too peaceful. I must not risk disturbing this.

2 I got this quote from Damned Lies and Statistics

Even a Duck’s Quack Echos: The Danger of Networks

Ok, so that wasn’t the original TED title but I like mine better (it’ll make sense if you’ve ever gotten one of those “amazing fact” emails).

This is an old TED video from way back in 2005 but this one portion really hits home with me. I started to transcribe the notes and then got lazy- so my non exact notes are below and the video clip is embedded. I trimmed it to 3:30 but the whole thing is interesting, especially when looking back at 2005 and thinking how much more enmeshed in networks we have become and how much print journalism has continued to change.

duck echos

Rough notes for those who will never watch the video
It’s easy to believe networks are good. The dark side, the more tightly linked we become the harder it is to stay independent.

A network is not just a product of its component parts, it is something more than that.

The problem is that groups are only smart when the people in them are as independent as possible- paradox of collective intelligence.

Networks make it harder for people to think independently because they drive attention to the things the network values.
one of the phenomenons – meme gets going it’s easy to pile on, that piling on phenomenon, that essentially throws off bottom up intelligence

metaphor of the circular mill – ant colony, no ant really knows what it’s doing but they reach food super efficient – little parts = great thing

occasionally army ants go astray – if they get lost they just do what the ant in front of them does, this can result in a circle where the ants just march around and around until they all die.

Tilting at Windmills

My bad.

image source

Turns out my last post attacked a post that was set up to be attacked (his companion piece is here). I could have saved myself some time and read more of the site. The only problem I have with small pieces loosely joined is, for me anyway, it’s easy to lose the overall context of the pieces and you end up with misunderstanding because that context is missing. I subscribe to lots of sites1. It’s a little too easy for me to see the chunks as individual ice cubes rather than pieces of a larger glacier2. Sometimes that matters, sometimes it doesn’t- another way technology has made media literacy a little more complex3.

Totally my fault and looking back at it, the post did seem too easy. I’m leaving the post up, both to remind myself to pay better attention and because I still believe the whole rationale for writing the post is true whether the original post was written in earnest or not.

I believe our society and education in specifically has attempted to legislate its way out of problems and we have suffered gravely as a result4. From the top down, the choice and intelligence of individuals is stripped from the system. Centralized pacing guides are the mandatory sentencing of the education world.

Anyway, I’ll loosen up in a few days and maybe write something that is actually useful- or not.

Other Random Yet Related Thoughts

On a side note, Dale’s method of posting on both sides of the subject ties in with another discussion I had with Adam a few days ago. He wants to do a podcast where two edtech people debate opposite sides of an issue like YouTube in school. Sides are assigned randomly and humor and a degree of irreverence is encouraged. Maybe I could be against YouTube in schools and debate Dale or Jim. :)

Another thing I’d like to see would be “fact sheets,” for lack of a better word, describing the benefits and negatives of concepts and tools. I want to see places where people can go to start the discussion around a lot of this stuff with an attempt at full disclosure. You talk to your community and try to show them what’s possible and what the issues are, then you let them make the decision. We tend to get partisan views on either end of the spectrum. It’d be interesting to try to do it the other way.

1 I don’t know how many, several hundred feeds probably. There’s good and bad in that. Especially, considering I suck at remembering names and I subscribe to some people just because they disagree with me totally.

2 It’s a lot easier to notice the yellow snow if you see it surrounded by white snow.

3 I’m not saying that context is only important now but rather that technology and the way information flows has become increasingly divorced of a larger context and is often seen separately from an author’s larger body of work.

4 Man, that sounds pretentious.