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EdTech Update





10 years of reading e-books

Amazon's Kindle turns 10, The Guardian

I was a late adopter to ebook reading. My quick research shows I did not order my first Kindle until June 2008 (for a price tag of nearly $400!) a full seven months after the intital release.

I had been, however, excited about digital readers and reading long before:

and I have continued to think about digital resources' impact on schools, libraries, and readers ever since...

I read almost no print books at all. I read ebooks (and magazines) not just on my Kindle (third one?), but on my iPad, Chromebook, phone, and desktop computer. My home library has shrunk to a few sentimental volumes while my Amazon library is now at 443 volumes and I increasingly check out ebooks from the public library.

To my mind, the shift from analog to digital reading sources is a no-brainer so I am always befuddled by the degree of push-back I receive when suggesting school libraries replace (selected) parts of their collections with ebooks. Shouldn't librarians (and educators in general) be progressive and innovative and future-thinking?

Part of the reactionary stance is justified by citing sources that show students do not like or learn from ebooks as well as print books.

...students experience with e-books include eye strain, distractions, a lack of overview, inadequate navigation features and insufficient annotation and highlighting functionality. They also find it unnecessarily complicated to download DRM-protected e-books. Why doesn't everyone love reading e-books? Caroline Myrberg, UKSG Insights

Really? Eye strain? (Ever read a print book in dim light?) Distractions? (Like a text message ding can't be heard when reading a print book?) Inadequate navigation features? (Search vs TOC and index?) Give me a break.

Educators need to put aside their sentimental attachment to physical books and help all student take full advantage of digital reading and learning opportunities. After all, I've survived without mental atrophy for 10 years of reading electronically.

Well, not much atrophy, I hope.

Book vs Kindle chart source originally from now defunct.


BFTP: Are report cards really necessary?

We're 5 years down the road after I first posted this. Sigh. Our HS and one of our middle schools no longer print report cards, but the report card is still a basic reporting tool...

After attending a 3-day workshop on standards-based report cards, I have been left with a single over-riding question:

Why do we still have report cards at all?

There are certain kinds of summary documents I have simply stopped looking at. I no longer view my bank statements. I no longer look at my credit card statements. I don't view my investment account statements or retirement fund statements. Why look at summaries when you can track changes in real time online? I don't remember the last time I reconciled a checkbook. (But then again, I only use about 10 checks a year.)

So, as a parent, why do I need an "educational progress" statement when, if so used, I can track my child's progress in real-time using a parent portal to the teacher grade book. If a teacher is tracking not just behavior, assignment completion, and scores on tests but reporting the meeting/mastery of specific standards, I don't need a summary. 

Summary documents, both statements and report cards, were created in a time of scarcity. Compiling, printing, and mailing information on a daily basis was cost-prohibitive. Providing digital access is not. 

Instead of improving report cards, lets spend the time making our grade books records more meaningful.

Original post October 12, 2012


Making time for ethical thinking

In Students' Broken Moral Compasses, Paul Barnwell in The Atlantic writes:

For many American students who have attended a public school at some point since 2002, standardized-test preparation and narrowly defined academic success has been the unstated, but de facto, purpose of their schooling experience. And while school mission statements often reveal a goal of preparing students for a mix of lifelong success, citizenship, college, and careers, the reality is that addressing content standards and test preparation continues to dominate countless schools’s operations and focus.

OK, this is a song that's been sung loudly and frequently. But Barnwell contends that this emphasis on testing has reduced or eliminated the time spent and effort made in teaching ethics and morals, cites studies of the ramifications of this neglect, and argues that empathy is critical in successful people. He concludes:

It’s time for critical reflection about values our schools transmit to children by omission in our curriculum of the essential human challenges of character development, morality, and ethics. Far too often, “we’re sacrificing the humanity of students for potential academic and intellectual gain.” 

Barnwell's concern reminded me of Anne Collier's post 6 takeaways from 20 years of Net Safety: Part 2 from last July in which she reflects on Internet safe and ethical use instruction in schools. She observes:

Our safety messaging (in many countries) has to date almost exclusively modeled what Harvard researchers call “consequence thinking” (consequences to self) rather than moral thinking (consequences for known others) and ethical thinking (consequences for unknown others, e.g., one’s community or planet). 

I agree that asking students to consider the personal consequence of an action is the most frequent and probably the most time-effective response to a misdeed in school - whether in the physical world or the virtual - at school and at home.

But should we be consciously trying to cultivate moral and ethical thinking, despite the additional time it might take away from teaching to the test? I think so. 

If we suspect a student is downloading media without paying for it, what might the response be?

  • If you are caught, you might have to pay a fine (Consequence)
  • If you don't pay the creator, the creator will have less incentive to produce more work (Moral)
  • If you don't honor the intellectual property rights of others, the economy, culture, creativity,etc. will suffer. (Ethical)

The impact of one's action become is more difficult to tie directly to a negative outcome at the moral and ethical levels. And is more time consuming. But it is also deeper, more thoughtful, and more important. 

Perhaps all of us need to think less about consequences just to ourselves and more about how actions impact others and the world.