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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





BFTP: 7 things you can always do in my class with your device

Dear Students,

If you have finished the required work for my class, you may always use your smartphone, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop to:

  1. Read a book, magazine or blog post of personal (and school appropriate) interest.
  2. Work on an assignment for another class.
  3. Play a pre-approved game that builds skills related to the class. (If you find a game that you feel contributes to your learning, tell me about it and why you think it should go on the approved list.)
  4. Have a serious discussion with a classmate about a topic in the course using an approved discussion tool.
  5. Listen to an educational podcast or view an educational video. TED talks and Khan Academy videos are always OK. (Remember to use your headphones.)
  6. Organize your life by reviewing/updating your calendar, to-do list, or address book.
  7. Write in your personal journal.

If you have another activity that you think I should consider appropriate, please convince me of its value. I'll listen.


Mr. Johnson

I have heard more than one teacher tell me that classroom management has become easier, not harder, when kids are allowed to use their phones and other networked devices in class. Bored too often means disruptive.

It's not the tool; it's how we use it.


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Judging a book by its author


The American Library Association's Professional Ethics principle that for me that is the most challenging to uphold is the seventh:

We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

Like most people, I have strong personal beliefs about a lot of stuff, especially social issues. My sense is that being the mission-driven profession that it is, those of us in librarianship may have even more strongly held (and informed) beliefs than the general population. And when selecting or weeding a library collection, we walk a very fine line of exercising our professional expertise in collection development and maintaining a collection that upholds the principles of intellectual freedom - making materials available that may not align to our personal social standards. 

I thought about this principle while reading discussion surround the disposition of children's and YA books written by authors and illustrators who have been accussed of sexual harassment. A question being asked is "If we learn that the creator of materials in our collections has been accused of personally unacceptable behaviors, do we still keep the materials?"

A related question involves retain materials by much loved authors whose works do not reflect modern sensibilities in relationship to race and culture. (1, 2) Do we keep these books and use them as discussion starters? Do we toss their books that show obvious racism? Or do we weed all books by those authors, defining them as created by racists?

Let me say up front that I have never experienced sexual harassment nor racial discrimination. These experiences remain academic and abstract for me, not personal, and thus the following argument is perhaps easier to make that it is for many.

My hope is that we judge any creative work for itself, not by its creator. I hope we keep materials in our collection for the good in them and use their historical biases as a springboards for discussion. I hope we can separate our personal reaction to socially unacceptable behaviors and beliefs from our professional obligations as librarians.

I hope that we at least have thoughtful discussions based on professional ethics, rather than have the latest revelations of misdeeds, guide us in determining the disposition of materials in our collections.

I often wonder how our great-great-great grandchildren will view early 21st century values and accepted practices. Will they look back and ask:

  • How could people have eaten meat from animals raised in confinement?
  • How could people have used carbon-based fuels knowing that doing so was harming the environment?
  • How could people have paid women and minorities less?
  • How could societies have allowed any child to go hungry and homeless?

As an author, I wonder if one day my books might be banned for values I held that are today accepted (or tolerated), but tomorrow may seem abhorrent?

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BFTP: 5 positive responses to complaints

A friend recently asked:

Just curious what your default response is to the teacher who goes off the deep end when Word docs look ugly when uploading to Google Docs.

A complaint about a change in a technology? Say it isn't so! 

I've been hearing and responding to comments like the one above for over 35 years. (Do we have to use a mouse? The arrow keys on the keyboard are so much easier.) And I have to admit that since many of the changes to which teachers object have been at my insistence, I take such remarks somewhat personally. They always sting, even if just a little.

So while it's difficult to keep from responding defensively, I do try to remember that:

  1. The teacher who goes off the deep end on something like a small formatting problem probably goes off on a lot of other stuff too - and most of his/her colleagues will know that.
  2. The complaint may very well be valid and if a work-around can be found, it's my job to find it. (Realize that Word docs do not have to be converted to be stored and accessed in GoogleDocs)
  3. People may not understand the reasons and benefits of the change (Consider that the ease of access and sharing of GoogleDocs outweights some formatting limitations.)
  4. The problem will eventually resolve itself over time. (Documents only need to be reformatted once if one stays in GoogleDocs. Docs are adding new features all the time.) 
  5. Change really can be unpleasant. A friend once compared changing software to moving to a new house. For the first few weeks, when you can't find the light switches, where you put the Scotch tape or remember to turn left or right to get to the bathroom, you wonder, "What was I thinking moving to this new house? I loved my old house since I knew where everything was!" In a fairly short time, though, the new house becomes more familiar and you appreciate the reasons for moving - bigger garage, nicer yard, more bedrooms, etc. The light switch location isn't a big deal anymore.

I don't honestly believe that anyone complains for the sake of hearing their own voice. Problems are bigger the closer you are to them and even a small problem is nasty if it is only one of dozens. 

People's reaction to technology change is much less important than our personal response to that reaction. (Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part.)

Now if I can only remember my own advice the next time someone complains. Sigh... 

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Original post 1-27-13