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Archive for October, 2008

In the early days of educational technology reform, programming was en vogue and Logo was taught in many classrooms.  Over time we have found that fluency in a programming language was not neccessary for students to survive in the 21st century.  Programming in schools has fallen out of favor and multi-media skills have become more prevalent.  Part of this is probably to blame on the prevalence of fast and elegant user interfaces.  Still, I would argue that there is still a place for programming languages in education, though maybe a less traditional language such as Scratch.

The Generalized Lessons of Programming

  1. Cause and effect are not always direct. Often the effect is emergent.  The science fiction term for this is The Ghost in the Machine; the common term is often a bug.
  2. Outlining and ordering thoughts. A good programmer has a plan of action before beginning any project of length.  The amount of code and troubleshooting requires a clear program outline.
  3. Research skills. One of Gee’s (2003) Learning Principles is the Just-in-Time Principle.  Programmers do not just memorize all the code in a language.  They have the ability to peruse online help files, databases, and the internet in general to find the answers they need to accomplish their goals.
  4. Language Skills. Knowledge of translating your thoughts so that another person/machine can understand them is a useful skill in perspective.  Programming requires similar metacognitition as learning any language.
  5. Problem solving and mathematics.
  6. Programming skills. I started this article by discussing the rise of the user interface leading to the fall in programming being essential.  I would turn that on its head now and point out that programming is still a useful skill for productivity and analysis.  Excel and word each make use of Macros which are programming languages.  Statistics software, wikis, websites, and a host of other applications make use of some programming.  Which leads me to my last point:
  7. Communication. IT professionals have become the backbone of modern companies.  Joining administrative personnel, custodial workers, and human resources in their employment across all industries.  The jargon of this profession is useful for all productive employees.

Gee, JPaul. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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In case you missed this, US Congress has approved a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.  Initial funding is only $50 million, but this could potentially be a very important initiative in the long run.  The goal is to bring the same focused, sustained research funding to technology and learning that the federal government has funded for years in technology for health care at the National Institutes of Health and technology for energy at the Department of Energy.

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Technologic

Ever considered how much of our vocabulary is here as a result of technology? “Rewrite,” “unzip,” and “surf” have all been assimilated into our everyday lexicon. French electronica group Daft Punk often experiment with the idea of humanity and technology (they perform concerts while dressed in robot helmets) and released the single “Technologic” in 2005. The single’s lyrics are repetitive, robotic read alouds of these technology terms (their original music video is here – a bit creepy). YouTube animator hungning played around with the first verse of Technologic and came up with this:

And along the same lines, here’s Norwegian music group Royksopp’s take on everyday technologies in their 2002 infographic music video “Remind Me”:

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Is the notion of the scientific method taught in schools and colleges wrong?  Does scientific genius stem more from the ability to creatively detect patterns from a few observations rather than from classic experimentation? Robert Root-Bernstein thinks so.  And, if he’s right, what does that say about approaches to research currently supported by the U.S. Department of Education?

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More on Hypertext Reading

Recently we have been discussing the qualitative differences between reading a book and reading using hypertext.  I found this article from Freakonomics very relevant.

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Automation vs. Innovation

So I was thinking about this distinction we made in class between “automation” and “innovation,” and I was wondering if, perhaps, it was not so much a “distinction” as two markers on a developmental continuum that has as its origin “need.”  The way I see it automation is innovation—a “new way” of doing something—although innovation, clearly, does not have to be automation, nor, now that I think of it, does it (innovation) necessarily originate in need—the discovery of electricity being just one famous case in point.  Maybe what I am trying to say is that ICT seems to be situated somewhat between (mere) automation of already existing processes and (magical) discovery of entirely new ones—that it is at once connected to and unique from what came before it, but that it has real and practical (and new) uses in the world that are potentially transformative.  Of course, a good many of us still use computers principally to “type” text (automation), but how we type text has changed since we used, say typewriters (innovation), and this “change” is influential not only on the text itself, but also on us, the users (transformation).

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A two-day conference on the Future of Writing will be held at UC Irvine, Nov. 6-7.

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In a recent Education Week commentary, David Polochanin commented on how in preschool, discovering and exploring are the two strongest tenets of curriculum design.  When does schooling become less about discovering and exploring, and why does this happen? In Kindergarten, children are still given time to move about freely, playing house or freely reading and moving about.  Does this freedom end then in first grade when students are usually given a desk or table to sit at?

In order to continue discussing these questions, the ideas of discovering and exploring in the classroom need a more specific definition.  If a teacher stands in front of a class of students and tells them the facts of the curriculum, then it is safe to say the students are not discovering or exploring.  If a teacher stands before a class and using a Socratic type method leads the students to a conclusion they are discovering the answer, but they are not exploring the subject.  They are led to the answer by the quickest path the teacher can get them there.  If the teacher and students share any socio-linguistic knowledge, the student should be able to predict the answers the teacher wants.  Discovering then involves the students using a process to decide upon the knowledge using their own previous knowledge and some guidance.  Exploring is allowing a student to move through a subject with freedom to follow their own interest.

What then is the place of the teacher in a discovering and exploring classroom?  Much like in preschool, teachers can help students by facilitating their learning without directly interfering with their choice of learning.  Students in a preschool classroom I observed move about freely from one area of the classroom to the next.  The teachers facilitated the students by creating learning areas for them.  The teachers used tables, carpets, shelving, and couches to demarcate sections of the classroom.  Each station would be setup with toys, tools, books, and art supplies to facilitate the students learning.  Importantly, the teachers used themselves not as central pieces of the architecture, but as another tool to guide the students work.  They suggested ideas, limited the student ratios, regulated time spent, and above all kept the students happy and learning.  If a student became upset or unruly, often the punishment was redirection to a new station.

When do discovering and exploring return, or do they even ever return?  Barriers to this free form learning lie in the vast amount of knowledge required in the world today.  Exploring and discovering, though they lead to deep knowledge, take time.  There are fears of students learning “garden path” methods of solving a problem.  Standards set a large breadth of knowledge for students, and teachers only have around 15 hours of class time for each unit (based on an estimate of California Social Studies standards).  Still, teachers can still be self reflective and try to incorporate discovering and exploring into their curriculum.  As consumers of education, parents, administrators, and students can support their teachers in the use of discovering and exploring in their classroom.

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Welcome back to Papyrus News!

I first launched Papyrus News on September 5, 1999 as an email list focusing on the intersection of new technologies with language and literacy development, educational and social reform, and cultural diversity.  The list reached a large number of people in countries around the world.

After a hiatus, I re-launched Papyrus News as a blog in 2003, where I continued discussing the same themes on an occasional basis.  However, this past year “occasional” became “rare,” as I became too busy to update it regularly.

I am now fortunate to be surrounded by a number of terrific colleagues in the Digital Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine.  They have graciously agreed to join me in making the new Papyrus News a collective enterprise.

We will be discussing the same themes as always–the intersection of new digital media with language, literacy, learning, culture, and social development.  And we welcome your interaction and participation through making comments.

To old readers and new, welcome to Papyrus News!

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