Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On the Greatly Exaggerated Death of Culture

I really thought Culture (I mean the exclusive education of privilege maintained by privilege) would have died years ago. Sven Birkerts and others have been predicting the death of The Book, Google is supposed be making us stupid, and instant messaging is supposed to turn us into twittering idiots, yet somehow things are not quite working out that way. Instead, books are more available than ever, social networking makes the authors and experts more accessible, and those same networks allow us to connect with others who are working along the same lines (or cause us to think differently). The same impenetrable silos of knowledge (The Ivy League) are now adopting an open courseware model because they are beginning to understand that information is not knowledge until someone applies, discusses, uses, and shares it. They really want an underprivileged high school student to be curious about New Media classes at MIT and to read their stuff.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the San Francisco Int...Image of Ferlinghetti by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Imagine my surprise when I open up the Chronicle of Higher Ed and read in an article called "The New Math of Poetry" by David Alpaugh that there is too much poetry in the world. That's right: because of technology, there is too much poetry in the world:

"Len Fulton, editor of Dustbooks, which publishes the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, estimates the total number of literary journals publishing poetry 50 years ago as 300 to 400. Today the online writers' resource Duotrope's Digest lists more than 2,000 'current markets that accept poetry,' with the number growing at a rate of more than one new journal per day in the past six months."

His complaint is that with all that poetry, we may miss the new Blake or Dickinson because the traditional filters of Culture (and please, do not reach for that revolver) are no longer in place. He says that no one can possibly read that much poetry and that

"professionals can ignore independent poets and reserve the goodies—premiere readings, publications, honors, financial support—for those fortunate enough to be housed inside the professional poetry bubble."

That is already the case. That has been the case for far too long. How many Blakes or Dickensons have we lost because they could not get into Yale or any college for that matter? Or didn't have the proper letters of recommendation to get through the doors of a publishing house? He does admit that Thoreau and Whitman were self-published. Yet he doesn't tell us how a volunteer army nurse and bum (Whitman) would get published in the academic poetry world before print-on-demand, lets say in the 1950s. Whitman would have died in obscurity if he waited to communicate. He continued to publish, not because he had the imprimatur and nihil obstat of Harvard, but because people read his poetry and bought his books. Emerson praised his work but the universities thought his work obscene and he had only one poem anthologized (a mummification process for poets) in his lifetime.

I also know some really great poets who only recently have made it into the anthologies because their poetry did not come out of the conservative academic tradition: they sinned by becoming popular before they were critically acclaimed. The first time I saw Ferlinghetti in a college anthology was in the early 90s for a single poem. There are a couple sides to poetry and one of them is the academic scene where the Status Quo gets to decide who is and who is not a poet. There is the MFA side where those who join the lodge publish fellow lodge members (secret handshake revealed upon final tuition payment). And then there is everyone else, who, despite themselves, can't help writing poetry, making videos, recording podcasts and producing art because that is what humans do and have been doing for 10,000 years. That is the frightening news flash: we are all poets. Ferlinghetti used to call for poetry to be recognized as a universal language, he opened his "Populist Manifesto" with

Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed up to long
in your closed worlds.

Technology is an opening of that window. More people can communicate and in a wider array of media than ever before. We should not be sitting on the ground telling sad tales of reading and the death of reading: people are reading and writing more than ever. They are just not reading and writing along the old model. People are creating videos, journals and blogs and listening to poetry in new ways that allow everyone to participate. And no, the professors will not have time to tell us who to include and who to exclude. It is up to us now.
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Meditation on 21st Century Skills

One of the reasons why teachers should not feel threatened by technology or change is that in the next decade, the skills needed to be literate in the age of social media are still going to draw on traditional literacies and rhetoric. As a matter of fact, one of the weaknesses of "New Media" is the focus on technology at the expense of solid critical thinking skills. There is so much reposting of stories and not enough fact checking and analysis. Many education blogs will repost stories from sources that are not credible and pass them along as "fact." (Take, for instance, stories about teaching and learning in virtual worlds posted by those who have little experience in the topic.)

I believe that the three modalities of learning will center around critical thinking, networking, and new media. In other words, students will have to be able to analyze information, connect with others, and then use technology to publish their results or express themselves. This has been true since the invention of writing.

I am looking for more feedback on these 21st Century Literacies. There is a lot of talk about the need and not enough on what they are and why. Please feel free to contribute to this conversation using the comment feature of this blog.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Can't We Do

According to Google Analytics, four visitors to this blog over the last three months have visited via dial-up modems. For their sake, I am typing this very slowly.

There are a lot of reasons not to use technology for teaching and learning. Especially in a place like Humboldt County. There are some places here that are inaccessible. There are some that do not have electricity. The technological infrastructure is weak. There are places where there is not a lot of high speed computers available to the general public. But this shouldn't mean that we shouldn't work on that infrastructure.

For some reason, some think that technological solutions have to have the same effect for all people in all circumstances or they are not solutions. That is like saying that we shouldn't teach reading because many of our students do not have access to books, books are expensive, and some students will require glasses in order to read them. So unless books are free and your reading program includes universal health care, we can't teach reading.

Online learning is not new. I understand the fear of technology, the stress when confronted with change, and the anxiety that a sense of a loss of control can cause. But we have a responsibility to our students to pass on the critical thinking skills necessary to use technology wisely and skillfully, not to pass on our fear, stress, and anxiety.

The digital divide will not be conquered by stopping in our tracks, and we can't go backwards. The same critical thinking skills we used in the old media are applicable in the new.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Frontline: Digital Nation

I watched Frontline's Digital Nation on television last night. I didn't watch it on the computer because I wanted to give it my full attention while I checked my email, sent notes to Twitter, updated my blog, Facebook, MySpace page and played Phosphor.Wait, what was I watching again?

In all I thought the program was fairly well balanced. Our culture is shifting. It has not evolved. If the digital world has caused us to evolve, why do I still have faculty who need to print out pages from an online learning management system? Why are we still using an LMS? Evolution is where humans begin to develop stouter, stronger, faster thumbs because those who master rapid texting will be the ones who reproduce, but I digress.

I love the scenes where kids who are "internet addicts" are sitting right there on the computer playing games while the mother complains (she is standing right next to him) that the kids grades are down, he is on the computer 12 hours a day, he doesn't eat right, and is becoming more and more antisocial and it us supposedly his problem. The real problem is that people do not know how to raise their children. My dad never negotiated or bargained with me. I can't tell you how many times I have seen mothers and fathers say "wouldn't you like to eat dinner now?" when what they should say is "Its time for dinner." That is the real cultural shift; parents as "pals." Teaching responsibility begins in the home. They can learn about democracy in civics class.

I feel the same way about Sherri Turkle and others when they say that "the kids do themselves a great disservice" by letting them be distracted from lectures. We are teaching children learning skills that are no longer relevant. There are so many ways to harness technology in the classroom that I find it incredible that teachers at MIT are still harnessed to the lecture method. What about using their cell phones as part of a student response system? Have the "google jockeys" in the class put notes and links up on a wiki (yes, MIT, I am available as a consultant for curriculum design). There were some good examples in the documentary of people using technology to turn poorly performing schools around. Not that the technology was the answer; it was the attention to the students that really made the difference. Technology was the medium.

The tests that show that multitaskers are poor performers only prove that tasks that merely require linear analysis are no longer the most effective use of a exo-networked brain.
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Writing with Technology

Writing samples: Parker 75Image by churl via Flickr

Usually my life as a writer and my life as an instructional designer do not intersect much. I did begin life as a tutor and English teacher though. There has always been an element of technology involved with writing (reed stylus anyone?). My latest foray back into the world of novel writing has me thinking and rethinking what I need in a word processor.

My past writing process was to write long-hand in notebooks, type up a draft on a typewriter, annotate and mark up that draft, type up another draft, maybe do some very literal cutting and pasting, and then type up a final draft. This would then be read, annotated and corrected by Jacqui who might even be tempted now and again to retype short pieces for me. I could not have gotten out of community college without her.

I got my BA in English at Sonoma State in 1991. They had Mac labs and I had a couple (only a couple) of instructors who insisted on getting their papers back to them on floppy disk. One of the instructors commented electronically on the papers. I wasn't sure about this technology but my uncle Ed (who also wrote) said to me that what the chain saw was to logging, the word processor was to words. I always started in notebooks. I still have boxes of them.

I still carry a notebook and pen but it is more to shock my brain out of ruts, brainstorming, concept maps, outlines and, of course, just to sit and process thoughts. The odd poem gets pulled out of there but it is mostly for notes and keeping my brain in order. It is more a part of my thinking process than my composing process now.

In November, I took on the insane task of the National Novel Writing Month "contest." The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I wrote the whole draft in Google Docs, Google Notes, and Delicious Bookmarks. It was insane because I am still settling into a new job at College of the Redwoods with a really hectic schedule, but of the many justifications, it was a good opportunity to give some online word processors a good shake-down cruise with a big project. I liked being able to write anywhere. I liked being able to share my draft with Jacqui. I will use Google Docs to share the first draft with a couple of volunteer readers and editors. I wish there were a way to join the docs, notes, and bookmarks though - maybe my next novel will be written in Google Wave.

I looked at Zoho Writer which is a great contender with Google Docs. Both of them allow the writer to build a table of contents and insert anchors into the document. This allows you to navigate quickly within the document. I found myself missing the navigation pane in MS Word or Open Office though. What Open Office (and MS Word) lacks though is the ability to edit or move sections of a document in that navigation pane. This is something that you will find in Jer's Novel Writer and in Scrivner (a Mac program I highly recommend).

I have been finding the act of organizing my discovery draft in Scrivener to be an invaluable aid in getting to the first draft. I am still in the 30 day free trial and I am about to shell out the $35 as an early birthday present. I don't usually buy software with a few exceptions but I am willing to pay for usefulness and innovation.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

12 Free Learning Networks for Students and Academics

A social network diagramImage via Wikipedia

The rise of new online technologies has reshaped the way people learn. Print reference sources, though still valuable, are no longer the primary gateway to information. Students and other academics have turned to social networks and collaborative learning communities to find research materials and increase their knowledge of various subjects.

There are many free learning networks that have been created specifically for students and academics. The following twelve sites are good examples. These online communities provide access to alternate forms of teaching and learning. They also offer a central place where like-minded people can easily meet and share information.

LearnCentral- LearnCentral combines social networking with live collaboration technology to provide a unique teaching and learning environment. Classrooms can connect with other classrooms, peers can connect with other peers, and groups can conduct online meetings and seminars.

LearnHub - This social learning network is home to a number of experts who can help with standardized tests, college admissions, and other academic pursuits. LearnHub also offers a community space for users who want to contribute educational information and learn from other members.

Sclipo - Sclipo is a social learning network that makes it easy for academics to teach and learn using the site's many built-in applications. Popular apps include a course manager, a document and video library, and a webcam-based classroom that can be used for live teaching and webinars - Created and supported by the Goodwill Community Foundation, this global learning network provides free lessons on everything from math and money to careers and computers. - This unique learning network can be used to find researchers with similar interests. The site's search feature also allows members track the latest developments in their research area and see what other people are researching.

Academici - Academici is a professional social network for academics and scientists. Site members include people from more than 200 countries.

GradeGuru - Designed specifically for college students, this knowledge sharing network makes it easy for students to share course notes and study together online. Members who share notes can earn gift cards, PayPal cash, and other rewards.

Pronetos - Pronetos is a social network for scholars, professors, and their institutions. The site encourages collaboration by allowing members to share papers, find research, post course materials, and share special announcements.

TheApple - TheApple is a learning community and social network for current and future educators. The site offers career resources, lesson plans, education-related quizzes, education news, teacher trivia, inspiring videos, and a community forum where members can chat and learn online.

Livemocha - Livemocha, the world's largest and most active online language learning community, provides a place for language learners to meet and communicate online. The site also offers free courses in 36 different languages and learning tips from native speakers.

LingQ - LingQ is a knowledge sharing network for language learners. Visitors who sign up for the site's free membership can meet other language learners online, take an unlimited number of free language lessons, and join live conversations for extra language practice.

VoxSwap - VoxSwap is another good place for people to learn new languages online. Members work together to teach each other new vocabulary words and language skills.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online degrees for

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