Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Cost of Technology

I stumbled upon this graphic recently and it confirmed what I suspected to be true. We are not only living in an age of exponential growth in the POWER of computing, but also an era where the cost of technology is significantly less. I recall the day (1978) when my dad bought me an Atari 2600. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. Is that sad? It is strange that in 2012 I can purchase an Xbox 360 for about the same price. Cell phones, personal computers, televisions, and printers have all become far more powerful and cost so much less.

I believe this trend will continue, and this means the digital divide will shrink with each passing year.

Increased accessibility to knowledge and new ideas will truly flatten the world.

Ultimately the question will not be whether one can afford technology, but rather how much technology one cares to incorporate into his/her life.

To put this in perspective, the Atari 2600 CPU ran at about 1.19MHz. The Xbox 360 runs at 733. They both cost the same. In fact, the Atari would be over twice as much in today's dollars.

If only we could find energy solutions that provided us with the same kind of miraculous economic trend. I would be able to get about 22,000 miles per gallon at about 99 cents per gallon, right?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Best Video Sites For Educators & An Argument for Videos in the Classroom

Crossword puzzle or this?
While in the classroom, I loved to use videos. I think videos often get a bad rap in schools. I hear about silly rules such as, "Don't let your sub show videos." Crossword puzzles? Fine. That LOOKS like meaningful work.

I've heard some argue that students can watch video at home and, therefore, school ought to be used for instruction. In other words, "We aren't paying you to show videos."

The problem with that argument is that it is highly unlikely that a student will ever choose to watch Citizen Kane at home. Most students don't spend their free time watching TED videos.

It certainly seems reasonable to question an Algebra 2 teacher who is showing The Lion King, but videos are a powerful way to capture students' attention and supplement instruction.

As the website manager for CERRA, I often hear from frustrated teachers who cannot access YouTube at school. Someone has to explain this policy to me. Why would a district deny teachers from accessing such an incredible resource? Oh I forgot. The schools that DO allow this have a HUGE problem with teachers wasting their days watching Minecraft videos.

As you can tell, I share the frustration of teachers who are blocked from the amazing, free supplements available on video sites like YouTube.

I guess there is a lingering bias against videos because most videos do not require students to read. Written material seems to be given AUTOMATIC preference over the same information presented in audio/video form. If you read my last post, you will realize how silly this bias is. The ability to read information will soon be automatic. What will matter is comprehension and application of knowledge.

This is personal to me because I prefer to learn through video. I love reading, but SEEING the information has always helped me comprehend concepts better. Having a visual to recall helps me RETAIN what I am learning.

Some of the most important experiences of my life have come by way of film. Films like Gandhi, Into the Wild, and Hotel Rwanda all made powerful impressions on me. The combination of visuals, music, and dialogue produced powerful emotions that motivated me to do more, be more.

Please don’t read this as an attack on books. Like many others, I often enjoy books more than their film adaptations. Books force you to imagine, and a medium of text only can produce its own kind of motivational power. I just don’t understand the anti-video sentiment that too often guides school/district policy.

So when I stumbled upon Jeff Dunn’s article entitled The 100 Best Video Sites for Educators, I felt like it would be great to share with you. I also knew that some of you would think to yourselves, “Sure. That’s great, but my district probably blocks most of those sites.” That’s why I wrote everything above first.

Here is my three-step plan to improve the state of video usage by teachers.

1. Organize a coalition of teachers at your school/district to collectively argue for free and open internet access for all teachers.

2. Ask to meet with administrators or district officials so that you can show them EXACTLY the kinds of FREE resources you and your students are being denied. In many cases, they simply don’t know much about these tools. Rather than taking the time to familiarize themselves with online tools and develop thoughtful policies, they take the easy road and ban them altogether.

3. Use Mozilla Firefox’s add-ons, RealPlayer, or other free online tools to download relevant videos at home. These video files can be saved on a flash drive or portable hard drive, brought into school, and played on your computer.

If none of this works, be patient. It was not too long ago when districts treated Facebook like an enemy. Now they all realize how important it is to use it as a free and efficient communication tool.

As on-to-one computing becomes the norm and tech-savvy folks takeover leadership roles, “videophobic” policies will evolve. It’s up to us to speed that evolution up.

Monday, November 5, 2012

22nd Century Literacy (Maybe 21st)

I recently downloaded SwiftKey 3, an alternate keyboard for Android devices that learns your typing patterns and begins to predict the next word you will type. It then presents you with word options that you can choose to bypass typing in the whole word. The software also auto-corrects mistakes you make while typing. This makes typing on your mobile device much easier and faster. I am often amazed at how accurately SwiftKey predicts the next word I will use.

The more I use this software, the more I begin to consider how it will impact reading and writing instruction in the future. So on one hand you have an evolving tool to assist writers. On the other you will have software that reads for you.

If you have not read my post on Augmented Reality, you might want to go back and do that. I believe it won't be long before we have glasses, goggles, or possibly contact lenses that can view our external world and place another layer of reality within our field of vision. We will also have the ability to HEAR a layer of information based upon what we are viewing. So it seems perfectly logical that, in addition to text-to-speech software built into e-readers, we will soon have very affordable devices that can look at text and read it to us. Couple that with input technology, like SwiftKey and Dragon Dictation, and literacy instruction is turned on its head. Illiteracy will be a thing of the past. All children will be able to read every word, and the only thing that will prevent children from writing proficiently will be an inability to organize their thoughts into coherent sentences. With predicative software and auto-correction, spelling and other common writing errors won't be an issue anymore.

I am not sure exactly when the transition will take place, but I can't imagine a classroom in 2100, or MUCH sooner, that will address literacy the way we do today. Most of the barriers to literacy should be overcome by then. It seems as though most of the emphasis will shift to reading comprehension and ultimately the application of knowledge since the acquisition of knowledge will be a given.

Just as Gutenberg's printing press led to the Enlightenment, I believe technology that provides literacy for all will lead to a 2nd Enlightenment where, for the first time, no child will be left behind.