I don’t care about filtering . . .

It may seem like lately I’m just attacking everybody. I feel like that’s what I’m doing1 but I keep running into things, unintentionally, that provide perfect ways to talk about some of the things I’m thinking about lately.

If you don’t want to read all my nonsense below, I not only understand, but encourage that notion. I would, however, beg you to keep bringing up the following question – “Does rule X address a real problem or simply attempt to mask a symptom caused by a more fundamental problem?”

image source: Mr Tickle

The following quote is from a post which seems to advocate the continued blocking/filtering of YouTube in schools2.

1. copyright infringement: it’s so easy to get videos that were posted to YouTube illegally. You can’t expect students to do their own work when you showed them a pirated video yesterday. However, I am afraid that the temptation will be too great for many teachers.
2. students waste time: YouTube is the ultimate playground for procrastinators. Students can waste class period after class period wandering through videos.
3. teachers waste time: like we’re any better- have you even been emailed that “must-see” video? Now imagine this stuff streaming into you classroom.
4. sucks up bandwidth: with everyone in the school browsing through video after video, network speeds at you school will come to a crawl.
5. inappropriate material: everything from pointless to tasteless- much of YouTube is not appropriate for school
6. here today, gone tomorrow: not all the videos on YouTube stick around forever- you might send students off on a wild goose chase that leads them to videos that you weren’t expecting
7. spam and scam: spammers and scammers are posting video all over YouTube to entice people to click over to a website that may contain viruses, malware or worse
8. lies, lies and more lies: 9/11 conspiracies, miracle water, the real truth about the Holocaust- anyone can make a high quality and convincing video for YouTube that can fill your students’ heads with lies

from Dale Basler

My first point is you can take that whole list and replace YouTube with Internet and things don’t change at all.

Secondly, and far more important is that all of these problems with YouTube are really expressions of very different core issues. This is the perfect example of what Schwartz was talking about in his TED talk.

Rules and procedures may be dumb but they spare you from thinking. When things go wrong we reach for two tools- rules and incentives. Neither rules nor incentives are enough to do the job. Rules may improve problems in the short term but they usually create a worse long term situation. Moral skill is chipped away by an over reliance on rules and moral will is destroyed by incentives to do the right thing.

This reliance on rules and incentives is the equivalent of a war on wisdom. (not an exact quote- see source movie here)

We keep treating symptoms and never even glance at root causes. It’s like treating a brain tumor patient with aspirin to cure his headache.

The rationale behind these reasons to block YouTube really scares me.

1. copyright infringement: it’s so easy to get videos that were posted to YouTube illegally. You can’t expect students to do their own work when you showed them a pirated video yesterday. However, I am afraid that the temptation will be too great for many teachers. – I guess question one is – do students care whether the pirated video clip is obeying fair use guidelines or not? Does the fact that a movie company says it isn’t obeying copyright impact the morality of our students? Not only could I expect students to do their own work after seeing things that violate copyright, I have done it. I’d be willing to bet just about any teacher you know has done it.

Over years and years, teachers have repeatedly and consistently broken copyright laws- only it was done with copiers. Now that it’s being done with the Internet, it’s scary and will hopelessly corrupt our students. Unless the teacher is claiming they created that YouTube clip they used to illustrate content X, they’re just using some media. The students could care less how it was obtained. I might say, if the teacher didn’t upload the clip but found it and used the clip in an educational setting for non-profit educational purposes then are they violating copyright?3

2. students waste time: YouTube is the ultimate playground for procrastinators. Students can waste class period after class period wandering through videos. What is going on in your school that students can hang out uninterrupted and watch videos all day? This points to a very fundamental issue with what’s going on with your teachers and in your classroom. Seriously. Sure students can flash between pages quickly but that’s a sucky way to watch a movie and messes up games. If your teachers are up and moving, requiring student participation and product then this scenario is simply impossible.

3. teachers waste time: like we’re any better- have you even been emailed that “must-see” video? Now imagine this stuff streaming into you classroom. I manage to survive having YouTube outside of school (in addition to more alluring diversions). Thinking like this does two things- it infantilizes and demoralizes people who are professionals. The fact that you can’t trust an adult who’s responsible for the safety of 20 to 160 or so children on a daily basis with a video site is insane.

I’m not saying there aren’t people who’d waste time but once again it’s a different issue. It goes back to supervision and culture. What’s happening in your building? What are the expectations of teachers and how they teach? Good teaching would make this deadly menace go away and you’d have the added benefit of addressing a core competency as opposed to a technological pimple.

4. sucks up bandwidth: with everyone in the school browsing through video after video, network speeds at you school will come to a crawl. See 3 and 4. This shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t make sense that you’ve got that many people with nothing to do but browse video unless your school is dysfunctional at a core and massive level.

5. inappropriate material: everything from pointless to tasteless- much of YouTube is not appropriate for school This is something of a point but not one that’s restricted to YouTube. There are lots of bad things all over the Internet. I’d argue that it’s very hard for you to judge what I might find useful in a class. I might use Scary Mary as a way to introduce the idea of theme. I might use the mentos diet coke stuff to discuss chemical reactions or pressure. Yet, you’d probably block all that as pointless.

The tasteless, I agree with.

6. here today, gone tomorrow: not all the videos on YouTube stick around forever- you might send students off on a wild goose chase that leads them to videos that you weren’t expecting Nothing on the Internet is permanent. Nothing on Earth is permanent. That’s pretty much common sense. That’s a silly reason not to use something. People die. Should I make no friend for fear of being hurt? What if the library book I sent my student to read is checked out? Do I worry they’ll now read books I’m not expecting?

Honestly, due diligence will take care of 99% of these issues. Check your links the night before.

7. spam and scam: spammers and scammers are posting video all over YouTube to entice people to click over to a website that may contain viruses, malware or worse Aren’t we directing student use of YouTube if they’re too inexperienced to recognize this kind of thing? We should be. We should be talking to them about this. These problems aren’t stuck in YouTube but a part of just about every web based experience from email to IM.

8. lies, lies and more lies: 9/11 conspiracies, miracle water, the real truth about the Holocaust- anyone can make a high quality and convincing video for YouTube that can fill your students’ heads with lies I find the same to be true of web pages, email, our popular media and most importantly real people. The worst misconceptions I see, the ones that really fill our students’ heads come from their parents and their community. The way to ensure students recognize the truth is not to pre-strain their food so they never have to chew. They need to gnaw on things, to develop muscles, to decide what to swallow and what to spit out. It’s part of learning. It’s an essential part of media literacy today. We have a nation of people who eat what they’re fed by our media and that food is often riddled with bias, stupidity and lacking in essential facts. If we’re not equipping students to assess slick media and decide whether it’s factual or not then we’re doing our students and our future a grave disservice.

I don’t care about filtering. I accept that we’re going to have filtering but we better start looking at our rationales for filtering and for all the other “this is the rule” things we do in education. We have created a place where wisdom goes to die, a mediocre land where we’re scared of any mistake. That’s awfully sad.

1 I am trying to keep everything as honest and real as possible while not being rude to the various people I’m disagreeing with.

2 Maybe it’s just link bait, I don’t know. It is the way a number of people think though and I see the mindset repeated in schools at a variety of levels.

3 Youtube might be because they’re making money, but the teacher? Is the teacher immoral because of YouTube’s business model? I don’t think so.

15 Years

Q Fifteen years.

THE PRESIDENT: Fifteen years. Okay, so you've been teaching for 15 years. I'll bet you'll admit that during those 15 years there have been a couple of teachers that you've met — you don't have to say their names — (laughter) — who you would not put your child in their classroom. (Laughter.) See? Right? You're not saying anything. (Laughter.) You're taking the Fifth. (Laughter.)

My point is that if we've done everything we can to improve teacher pay and teacher performance and training and development, some people just aren't meant to be teachers, just like some people aren't meant to be carpenters, some people aren't meant to be nurses. At some point they've got to find a new career.

And it can't be impossible to move out bad teachers, because that brings — that makes everybody depressed in a school, if there are some folks — and it makes it harder for the teachers who are inheriting these kids the next year for doing their job.

So there's got to be some accountability measures built in to this process. But I'm optimistic that we can make real progress on this front. But it's going to take some time. All right?

via The White House – Press Office – Remarks by the President at “Open for Questions” Town Hall.

Some teachers suck1. This ought to be freely admitted. To pretend otherwise is the path to zealotry and madness.

1 What does suck mean? I’ll just go with people you wouldn’t want your kids to have.

When Librarians Go Bad . . .

I saw this poster in a library the other day and it made me queasy. I like books. I like libraries. I dislike zealots and this kind of garbage.


This poster is the kind of reactionary propaganda that does no one any good. The opening quote is below.

Libraries are icons of our cultural intellect, totems to the totality of knowledge. To claim, as some now do, that the Internet is making libraries obsolete is as silly as saying shoes have made feet unnecessary.

Wow. Icons and totality. He almost makes Internet zealots seem reasonable. To claim that there can ever be a “totality of knowledge” is egotistical and to claim the library somehow embodies “totality” is absurd. Libraries, by their very nature, have to exclude huge amounts of information and make editorial decisions regarding content inclusion. There’s plenty of good and plenty of bad in that.

To use the feet/shoes metaphor is equally misguided. Libraries and the internet aren’t comparable to feet and shoes. That would seem to indicate that a library is an organic component of a society, like feet are a part of the body and the Internet is an add-on whose main purpose is to protect, or possibly enhance, the library. Neither is the case.

Libraries are places we’ve put information. The Internet is a place we’ve put information. It’d be a more apt comparison to say information is food and libraries and the Internet are containers – let’s say bowls and plates. One is likely to be better than the other for certain foods but each has its own advantages. You should have access to all sorts of containers and you ought to choose them based on your needs.

I will say that the Internet is making the old idea of libraries obsolete. The Internet is forcing libraries to change and focus on what they offer that is beyond content repository. Libraries ought to be (and many are) incorporating the Internet and all it has to offer. Libraries are useful and good but not for the reasons outlined in this poster.

  1. Not Everything Is on the Internet. – You wouldn’t assume this anyway but lots of things don’t make it to the library because of limited space and money. This idea seems to be ignored. Other types of content simply can’t exist within a library. You need both- although in its current incarnation the Internet is far more likely to end up with a more expansive and deeper amount of content than the library.
  2. The Needle (Your Search) in the Haystack (the Web)- Building your own search skills is important. Don’t let librarians or anyone else think for you or control what you can access. Fear shouldn’t be used to motivate how and where you look for information. I’d expect better tactics from a librarian.
  3. Quality Control Doesn’t Exist That’s also a good thing about the Internet. Other people aren’t deciding what’s good for you. Granted, you need to learn to evaluate things for yourself but that’s a good thing. The comment about pornographers is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. I’ve seen articles about pedophiles in libraries molesting children. Would that be a reason to avoid them? After all, no one has ever been physically attacked on the Internet ever. Additionally, I know some libraries carry Playboy and other pornography. Should I be scared? That kind of stupid fear mongering sounds pretty desperate to me.
  4. What You Don’t Know Really Does Hurt You. – Don’t libraries continuously push online databases as a way for them to cut costs and allow greater access? This is a petty comment anyway and it ignores the vast amount of information that simply cannot fit within a library. I guess that info is ok to ignore because it hasn’t been sanctified by the Lord Librarian.
  5. States Can Now Buy One Book and Distribute to Every Library on the Web – Here the librarian proves he’s hip by using the ever popular “NOT!” l’m not ever sure how to respond to this other than with pity.
  6. Hey, Bud, What About E-Books? – And no one sees reading in general as a chore, right? Nothing like taking the opinion of some and making it fit all people. Who is the final arbiter of when this ceases to be a “chore?” How long is a library “generation?”

    We should ignore new technologies because people aren’t used to them. That worked well with computers and the Internet. Why get involved with trends like that?

  7. Aren’t There Library-less Universities Now? If other people have failed then we, too, should give up. No one flew before the Wright Brothers so flight really should have been ignored rather than thought about in different ways because it’s impossible.
  8. But a Virtual State Library Would Work, Right? – Apparently digitization is necessary because you can’t buy digital books or take advantage of things like the Gutenberg Project. You certainly couldn’t pool state/national library resources and work on digitization in an organized way. Nope. It’s all or nothing. Besides, we’ve already proven reading digital books is a chore.
  9. The Internet: A Mile Wide, an inch (or Less) Deep – I find most libraries to be weak in lots of subject areas and, by their very nature, they are as limited in recent information as this claims the Internet is in terms of older information. If you want more, up-to-date information you need the Internet.
  10. The Internet Is Ubiquitous but Books Are Portable – I don’t know anyone who reads books in the snow. It sounds like a good way to mess up your book. The stupidity of this whole poster is that things are portrayed in black and white rather than degrees of grey.

All Mobs Are Self-Selected

All mobs are self selected 12Mobs bully/attack other people3 but they do so because people have gathered strength from finding other people thinking/feeling just like they do. I think the Internet and all the social media tools4 makes it really easy to surround yourself with the echo-chamber, or a self-selected mob, and then it becomes much easier to start doing dumb things while still feeling like your ideas/actions have been vetted and approved by an unbiased crowd.

I’ll also say that the Internet and social media allow you to do the opposite. That is you can surround yourself with vastly different ideas and people from very different backgrounds that will challenge your thoughts and ideas and help keep you from doing or continuing to believe stupid/wrong things.

I think far more people do the former. It’s human nature. I try to fight it in two ways. One, I try to get lots of ideas from outside what I do. I try to broaden where my information comes from and both the kind of information and the view points on information that I’m exposed to.. Two, I try to find people who make me just a little bit mad when I read them but mad in a way that makes me think. It’s easy to find people that make you mad but who you feel are idiots. That’s an echo chamber as well, just built of different stuff.

The way information flows on the Internet often results in people reacting quickly without thinking too deeply5. That reaction spreads quickly and can result in a lot of misguided action. I’d say that Twitter can certainly spread this kind of mob think because it’s designed for speed and the space restrictions result in complex messages being over-compressed which further encourages the polarization of the reaction.

1 and mobs often do very stupid things based on emotion

2 This post was inspired by some comments at the Edupunk panel at SXSW, which while disastrous as a whole, did have some good pieces. Granted, you had to look very, very hard.

3 or burn down building etc. but we’re talking Internet “mobs” here

4 from twitter to blogs

5 There are lots of reasons for and examples of that

Zombies, Flamethrowers and Catfish

Image credit – CogDogBlog

It’s really a strange world. The shot above was taken in Second Life by CogDog following my presentation with Jim Groom the other night. It was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had with a presentation. The video’s down there somewhere.

There were zombies, flame throwers and a lot of madness1. Jim was in rare form and really justifying his Reverend moniker. It was a pleasure to listen to him roll. CogDog has a very solid synopsis on his blog.

The gist of the presentation is that forcing people into boxes tends to mess up education rather than improve it- that things like BlackBoard create a lot of false impressions. They make it look like lots of your teachers are using tech but the way that they’re using it tend to be very low level and actually hurts your real tech integrators.

The future is open. The future is mobile, agile and friendly. BB (and others) are slow, ugly and unfriendly.

It seems simple to me. Forced tech integration doesn’t work. It just gets you really poor teaching with tech sprinkled on top. Focus on forcing good teaching, get rid of people who don’t do it. You can do things to require that and your time and energy will be spent in a much more useful way.

Good teachers will use things that help them. Make those tools available and obvious. Build conversations around them. Get people thinking and talking about what they might want to use and most importantly why they might want to use it. Help them. Make them superstars. Then get those people in groups talking to each other about what they’re doing. Then mix those groups every so often. Get those groups mixing with similar groups in other locations. See what happens.

If you hit teachers upside the head with something as big and unwieldy as BB as they roll in you short circuit a lot of the conversation and construction that actually helps build solid technology integration. You get people using things because they’re there or not really using anything because they have no idea why they might use them.

I’m not saying people can’t do good things in BB. It’s possible. Rather, I’d challenge that the mindset that adopts BB does it for mass coverage and to allow them to support more “clients” with fewer “experts.” It lets them brag about BB usage and how modern they are without really looking at how BB is being used. “We have 90% of our blah blah blah.” I hear them saying. They should be saying “90% of our staff uses BB to publish PDF syllabi and ineffectively use discussion boards.” Congratulations.

It seems so obvious to use small pieces. To spend all that BB license money on teaching and support2. Are lots of small pieces and lots of people doing non-standard things harder to manage? Hell yes! It’s just like differentiation though. BB and things like it are the textbook of the tech age. Homogenized, mass marketed and overpriced for a poor quality product that’s outdated before you even get it.

There is no one shot solution. Don’t believe those who sell one.

1 relatively speaking anyway, this is an edtech presentation after all- flickr shots here and here

2 You’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in many cases.

Edtech Survivalist

In my ever greater efforts to make a fool of myself in the name of educational technology I agreed to do an “interview” for Jim “Edupunk1” Groom’s Edtech Survivalist blog.

We filmed this on the fly2 in a creek by my house. Some of the kids wandering around aren’t even ours. The swamp comment towards the end was my favorite as it was totally ad-libbed based on one of the neighbor kid’s comments.

I highly recommend this as a way to meet your neighbors (there are strange men in camouflage with mullets filming your children) but probably not such a good way to make a great first impression.

Yes, I am considering growing a mullet after seeing just how good it looks.

1 He made it to WIRED magazine

2 Obviously without a script

There are No Shortcuts

A little bit of a rant or maybe it’s a sermon. Either way . . .

  1. Using “fun” fonts to make boring content exciting. – For a long time I’ve wondered why comic sans was so prevalent in educational material. My final idea is that people make content, then at the end they look at it and think “Man, this is pretty dull. I know how to improve it! I’ll use a fun font!” Bam. Instant solution. This type of use may explain my deep seated hatred for comic sans (See Jim. It’s not font elitism. It’s deep seated emotional scarring.).
  2. Adding technology to make a boring lesson exciting. – Technology will not save you. Adding technology to a bad lesson is kind of like those people who drink gallons of diet drinks while eating doughnuts and watching TV. Then they wonder why they haven’t lost weight. You might get a quick burst of interest from students out of novelty, like you’ll get a minor weight loss from shifting to diet drinks, but to get anything sustainable, anything long term, you’re going to have to do some hard work.
  3. Labeling – I’ve been looking a lot at the digital native label lately. I see this as one of the more harmful shortcuts. It’s an easy way to dismiss thinking about your students as individuals. We’ve got a lot of different students with a lot of different skills. Lumping them together is a mistake. You can also excuse yourself from what are at times inexcusable lapses in professional skills if you label yourself a digital immigrant. Hell, why not? You can’t speak the language. You can’t keep up with these ninja kids.
  4. Faking it. – You see it in lots of ways. Teachers pretending to like the same thing as their students. Administrators latching on to the newest buzzword. It always shows through.

So what should you do?

Work on your content first. Design don’t decorate. Thing about how presentation helps you. Look at other people’s work and steal good ideas. Note what doesn’t work and then remember to see if you do it.

Consider your lesson. Do you really think it’s good? Really? If you’re happy a lot, your standards probably aren’t high enough. What kind of results do you get?

Remember there is a difference between engagement and entertainment. Don’t confuse the two.

Apply technology when it make sense, when it helps you do things you want to do, when it makes things better. Don’t use it otherwise.

Think about everything- concepts, people, ideas, labels etc. Get to know your students, get to know them for real. Have actual conversations with them.

Think about yourself. Analyze your weaknesses and work on improving them. Reanalyze and refocus your improvement. Get others you trust to help you do this. Real, honest and helpful feedback is a rare thing. Value it.

Finally, be real. Use your real interests and energy. Your life will be much happier. If you can, surround yourself with others who do the same thing.

I Doubt I’m a Doubter . . .

Mike got all up in my grill for criticizing the CMS in education. I am apparently both a dreamer (but I’m not the only one) and a “doubter.” He even accused me of listening to Beach Boys music (I do have a theme song in mind for CMS’s – unless some knows a song dedicated to mediocrity?). I will ignore the fact that I was mainly talking about Blackboard and never mentioned HCPS’s Schoolspace. Although that military mindset is very much like some aspects of HCPS.

Mike, be careful with that kind of talk you’re headed toward a job in the nugget factory and I don’t think that’s what you want.

To put it simply, the use of the CMS in education is very often an admission of defeat. It is replacing agile and targeted with clumsy (often forced or coerced) mass adoption. It’s a cookie cutter response to what are very individual needs.

You want a blog, she wants a discussion board. I (the lord of technology) will give you something that does that (sort of, in the next version- I swear!) and 43 other things you don’t want– only it does none of them very well. Now you should be happy. Right?

I’d much rather work with individuals on tools they can control and tweak to really do what they want. Doing things piece meal and gradually isn’t a bad thing. With the CMS it doesn’t tend to work that way.

Now the CMS really tends to go down hill on the implementation side of things. Too often resources are taken away and this is given in exchange. Things are taken away that people used and liked. If you’re going to do this the replacement better be a big improvement for the users (the admins aren’t important). It also costs in terms of credibility. Every new thing that doesn’t quite work or only sort of works really costs in the end- especially when it’s forced on people.

Then it comes down to the conversations around the applications. CMS’s are “so easy” that teachers just need a brief overview and then they know how to use them. Maybe that’s true mechanically (although I’d argue that most use it simply for document storage). But I’d say the conversations about teaching within these environments is often forgotten. That’s not a shortfall of the CMS but it is encouraged by the way they’re marketed.

Finally, the whole paid CMS concept (BlackBoard money is literally insane) tends to cost a lot of money. That’s not including customization, upgrades, and the servers. It’s money that have more impact on instruction if it was spent on other things- like staffdev on how to actually integrate technology into teaching or just teaching in general.

I Want Video Proof of My Poor Judgement

College professors responding to RateMyProfessor via video on an MTV site


Professors Strike Back Out

Such. A. Bad. Idea.

I’ve rarely seen college professors come off worse. Nothing says class like snarky replies to anonymous comments on web sites. Better yet, I want to do it in conjunction with MTV (who can’t even get streaming video right on the site). And let’s make it nice and permanent.

If the accusations are false, then you can’t really control it. If they are true, then fix things.

Really, I keep looking back to see if this is a joke. It doesn’t appear to be.

Check out this guy.

“Don’t expect to be entertained in my classroom. Education is a challenge not an entertainment.”

Proof Blackboard Hates You

So Blackboard’s big time now (80% of the LMS market) and has bought out its rivals or sued them. Let’s ignore the fact that their product really is focused on administration rather than learning.

They made $4.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2007. So they’re not a one man shop barely getting by.

This is their idea of a search page for online documentation. Really. You’re not confused. Their search function is a really, really, really bad index. Really.

Blackboard is Evil

This was the final straw for me. I have declared a blood feud with Blackboard. One of us is going down.