Alexandria Online

Friday, March 25, 2011

Innovative Technology Versus Innovative Teaching

We put aside some money in our budget to fund innovation grants that teachers could apply for. Walking around money. Seed money. It was a nice sum and we should be able to make most of the people who applied pretty happy. There were two things in the nature of the applications that surprised us.

First, we came to the realization that using technology in the classroom seems a lot less innovative than it used to. Just as we have become accustomed to the relentless acceleration described in Moore's Law, we have also become accustomed to changing out the hardware and software we use at a predictable pace. Change is the new Same.

Smartboards, clickers, projectors, and tablets have been around for a while now. One-to-one laptop programs have come and gone with some successes and some expensive failures. And don't forget the prehistoric days of PalmPilots.

Second, there was not a single request for iPads or Kindles even though we maintain a stable of Kindles in the library, have piloted the use of Kindles in 11th grade English class, and have seeded the faculty with a dozen or so iPads.

So what did they request? Big bright visuals: wireless projectors and smartboards along with their accessories for the most part. Our teachers wanted large, reliable display devices connected to input devices that they could hand over to students. Not the worst impulse to have when you want to be innovative in the classroom.

Is there a general principal at work here? Perhaps this: avoid the bleeding edge of technology. Reliability and flexibility are prized by innovative teachers. They want something familiar, something already accepted into the educational community, something that will not distract them from creative teaching. New but not too new in a world where change is the new same.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who are you?

I posted a comment on a youtube video. The posting process required that I identify myself through a short menu of sites that establish online identities --- Facebook, Yahoo, etc.

We are heading away from anonymity on the internet. To be authoritative and have a voice, you have to be a someone, not a no one.

In special cases the anonymous voice can also have authority. Take my field: information technology. Many technology vendors now offere tech support in the form of a social networking site. Problems get posted by users and solutions are offered either by other users or by posters who are tagged as official experts by the vendor.

In this field, solutions can be tested easily . They either work or they don't. Anonymous posts provide hints or notions of how to solve problems.

Anonymous information, if tested, can be useful.

In his review of James Gleick's new book, "The Information," Geoffrey Nunberg emphasizes the importance of distinguishing the content of the signal from the signal: the number of bits transmitted and received continues to explode, but that does not mean that knowledge is increasing.

As Nunberg points out, "Even Wikipedia’s guidelines insist that articles be based on “reliable, published sources,” a category that excludes most blogs, not to mention Wikipedia itself."

The only reason to read a blog is because you know the author, either in person or from his writing. And the only reason to use Wikipedia for serious research is because most articles have a great bibliography of unique, authoritative voices.

The unique voice has value and authority.