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EdTech Update





Think before you blog

Why I worry
  1. Teachers blog and don’t think about their audience and say things that show poor judgement.
  2. Teachers blog and use images that aren’t licensed for reuse and think it’s ok because they’ve used ‘Google Images’.
  3. Teachers blog and use images which aren’t referenced and think it’s ok because, well… it’s ok.
  4. Teachers blog and use images that they have taken in their schools which feature faces of children from their school.
  5. Teachers blog and don’t consider any of the things above. Mark Anderson, ICT Evanglist, May 30, 2015

From Blue Skunk post, Blogging and a Little Common Sense (January 2007):

Here are some things I try to keep in mind when I write for the Blue Skunk. I honestly don't want Johnson vs. Board of Education being studied in school law classes someday.

Write assuming your boss is reading. That's good (and common) advice as far as it goes. But I know my wife, my mother and my daughter all read The Blue Skunk now and then. I assume my co-workers read the blog, as might anyone for whom I might work for someday, either as a regular employee or a contractor. Somehow this doesn't really narrow the scope of what I want to write about, but it does force me to ask questions about language, taste, and approach. Every time I've wondered if I should put something of questionable taste in the blog and did, it's usually come back to bite me. A person can tell. Mostly.

Gripe globally; praise locally. I don't think anyone really fusses if you express your opinions about global warming, the Iraq War, or NCLB. But you will never catch me dissing a person who lives close enough that he could easily come by and TP my house. Nor would I say bad things about a person who I might then have to avoid at a conference. Even going negative, I try to make it about ideas, not people. I have to admit I am really lucky to be working in a school with people I genuinely think are pretty darned good and with whom I am proud to be associated. I don't agree with every decision made, but I know that the decision was made thoughtfully.

Write for edited publications. I've been writing professionally for almost 20 years and certainly on a continuous basis since I've been working for my current employer. A good deal of what I write is opinion and I've even written a several editorials for the state and local newspapers. My boss in the past has shared things I've written with the school board as a point of pride, I hope. Were the district now to react negatively to my blog, I believe it would have a difficult case showing that my writing impedes my employer's effectiveness or efficiency or otherwise disrupts the workplace, since it has not done so in the past. It would be a condemnation of a technology, not of a practice.

Write out of goodness. I have a difficult time believing that anything you write because you want to improve education, improve kids lives, or improve society will be counted against you. If you write out of negativity - to vent, to whine, to ridicule - yeah, you'll probably have problems. But I am guessing you were probably having problems at work before you started blogging if that is your blog content. In a workplace where dismissing someone for mediocre job performance or poor interpersonal skills is nearly impossible, supervisors are often looking for any legal means of firing people. If you are doing a good job at work, blog. If you aren't, don't blog.

It is our professional duty to share what works for us and ask for help when we are stymied. Blogs allow us to do both and it would be a crying damn shame if the advice of an overly cautious lawyer stopped this flow of information.

... rights are accompanied by responsibilities. Another thing usually must come along as well - courage. Be brave - blog.

Image source


Craft and creativity

The either/or conundrum pops up again and again over the decades. Across science, math, English, and social studies, classroom teachers weigh in on whether they are content-driven or skills-driven in teaching. The dichotomy afflicts all academic subjects and it is, of course, a false one but one that generates far more emotional heat than light, nonetheless. Larry Cuban, Content vs. Skills in High Schools: 21st Century Arguments Echo 19th Century Conflicts

As I was writing Teaching Outside the Lines, I too struggled with the relationship of creativity (a soft skill) with the need for content knowlege and hard skills like mathematical operations, grammar, and such. Ultimately, I concluded:

There are over 100 definitions of creativity as it relates to education in the research literature. (Trefflinger, 2002)

While I can't claim to have read them all, those definitions that I have examined nearly always have two components in common. First, that creativity has an element of the new, the innovative, the original - something not yet done before or done in a new way. This is not surprising.

But the second, too often overlooked, shared element in most definitions is that creativity adds value to the task or objective to which it is applied. Not only must the approach be new, it must make the product, the procedure, the message, or the experience more effective. To me, that second piece gives educators one key to valid creativity assessment.

We must be asking not just if the work is original, but how that originality improves the end result. Creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson simply says creativity is "the process of having original ideas that have value." (Robinson, 2006)

Craftsmanship - the missing element

But perhaps even Sir Ken’s definition is missing an important element.  Creativity that has value depends on what I'll call craftsmanship as well.

What is craftsmanship? In a sense, it is the ability to shape new ideas while still conforming to reality. It's the "why" any new idea has value. It’s what makes the idea feasible. It's why we spend all that time doing all the other skill building and knowledge acquisition in education. And it’s why, when craftsmanship is used a part of the definition of creativity, that new ideas outnumber genuine solutions many times over.

Craftsmanship is what separates cacophony from music or scribbles from art or fantasies from genuine solutions to a problem.

So what is craftsmanship? I'm calling each of these factors a type of "craft": (These are developed more fully in the book.)

    Content knowledge that makes an original idea workable.
  1. Written literacies that enhance the communication.
  2. Design skills that add clarity and aesthetic value.
  3. Discipline (physical dexterity developed through practice) that allows a performer to be expressive
  4. Accepting the illogical nature of human beings in interpersonal relationships when leading or managing a group. 
  5. Working within limits: of resources, of time, of morality, and of social acceptability.
  6. Working within the constraints of an assignment

We call the natural ability some people have at these crafts "talent" or "giftedness."

If, as Cuban suggests, we as educators have been struggling with the content/skills dilemma for centuries, I doubt this will solve the issue. But it helps clarify my thinking about why we need content - in order to make creativity have value.


Why Internet filtering by bad words is a bad idea

Like most Internet content filters our district can choose to block sites and searches on the basis of them containing "bad words" alone. And indeed, most Internet content filters allow blocking a rather uncomfortable list of words and phrases. Since I am not sure how proprietary the list from our commercial filter might be, here is a link to a generic list that contains many, if not all, of the naughty words that filters suggest be blocked.

I thought that our Internet filter by word was disabled until these tweets came to my attention:


A quick glimse at the first page of "bad" terms suggest probably the biggest problem with filtering by word - innocent words often have a sexual connotation only in specific contexts. Amateur. ass, bastard, bitch, cock, dick... well, you get the idea. As a result of this list you may well need to read this blog post from home instead of work.

A second problem is suggested by the Twitter exchange above. Perfectly legitimate searches which may have sexual overtones may be restricted. While there may be a prurient interest in searching on "breasts" (I suppose if you are an 8-year-old boy), there are plenty of legitimate reasons for searching on the term as well. I like to use the example of how flies is used differently in each example below:

  • Time flies like an arrow.
  • Fruit flies like bananas.
  • She unzipped flies like there was no tomorrow.

A word's meaning often depends on its context.

A third problem is that legitimate questions about the definition of words and sex itself may be blocked. I have always thought that if a child is old enough to ask a question, she is old enough to know the answer. As a parent and grandparent, I believe my kids and grandkid are better able to survive this world having good factual knowledge than being kept in the dark. But perhaps that's just me, having learned a lot erroneous facts about sex from my fellow equally misinformed 12-year-old Boy Scout peers.

A fourth concern I have is that kids may not know the "proper" term and only know it by its more vulgar name. If one is curious to know if HIV can be transmitted via oral sex, the more likely search term many kids will use will be "blow job" rather than "fellatio."

Finally, separating kids from information about sex through blocking sex sites at school allows those kids whose families can afford home Internet access to live healthier, safer lives than those without home Internet access. That's just not right.

In the column One Big Room I wrote:

Anyone who thinks he or she can control kids' access to online information or experiences through legislation or a filter is spitting in the wind. We are not facing a simple technical challenge. We are swimming against a cultural tide.

Neil Postman explains why in his book The Disappearance of Childhood (1982). It's been a while since I have read this book, but as I remember, Postman's arguments go something like this: Childhood is a social construct. Before the Industrial Revolution, children were simply treated as small adults. They dressed like adults; they worked like adults; they lived where adults lived; and they saw what adults saw. Adults and children before the second half of the 19th century all pretty much lived in one big room.

The rise in industrialization also gave rise to the concept of "childhood." Society started treating children differently than it did adults; separating them by dress, by activity, and especially in experience. We kept kids in their own rooms with very limited access to adult rooms -- for their own safety, of course.

Postman argued that with the ubiquity of mass media (pre-Internet days), society no longer has the ability to keep children away from adult venues, sights, and experiences. We've all been pushed back into one big room, as it were. Once again, kids see and experience what adults see and experience.

For many adults this is an uncomfortable reality. And poor Internet filtering practices won't change it.