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EdTech Update





The importance of sub-literature

In Books and the Teenage Reader*, G. Robert Carlsen devoted a chapter to what he called "subliterature". In it, he suggested that reading formulaic series books like Nancy Drew as well as comic books was an important step in the reading process for most children.

The theory was that when a reader sort of knows what will happen next, she/he can relax and get lost in the story rather than focus on the reading process itself. Reading becomes subconscious, transparent.

In Common Sense Media's How Comics Helped My Kid Love Reading 7/14/2016, Sierra Fliucci writes about how graphic novels have filled a similar role for her children. I am sure many parents have had similar experiences with their own children. Whether the books are the Lunch Lady series or Big Nate, magic happens when the reading act becomes transparent and the story foremost.

This is why we should never apologize for making "subliterature" available to our libraries, e-book collections, or classrooms. Kids who read a lot, read better.

There is no real secret to improving reading abilities as much as the producers of high cost reading "programs" would like educators to believe.

* I was fortunate enough to have Carlsen as my adolescent lit professor at the U of Iowa back in 1978. While now dated, the ideas he presented in this now out-of-print classic have stayed with me for many years.


Moral machines

In 2005 I wrote:

George Dyson in his article "Turing's Cathedral" (November 24, 2005), quotes a Google employee as saying about the Google Book Seach (formerly Google Print) project:

"We are not scanning all those books to be read by people... We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

I have to admit, this gave me the willies. Should it? Is there an AI equivalent to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics?

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I'd sleep better knowing that someone a whole lot smarter than I am is thinking this through. Will AIs be the benign helpmates envisioned by Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines or the nemesis of humanity described in Dan Simmon's science fiction novels of Hyperion or Clarke's 2001?

Is my friendly little PowerBook about to say to me: "I'm sorry, Doug. I'm afraid I can't do that."?

I thought of this post when our district instructional technology coordinator used the following problem she saw at this summer's ISTE conference as the grounding activity for a tech meeting (source):


No one in our tech department staff felt she/he had a good answer to this dilemma.

Were a human behind the wheel in a situation where lives were at stake, I suspect most of us would act instinctively, rather than rationally, with the primary instinct being survival. But with AI, we now have the power to have truly altruistic decisions made. Would the car's moral sensor deduce that the loss of my single life was preferable to the loss of multiple people? Or younger people? Or smarter people? An ethical case could certainly be made...

There was a lot of talk about coding for all students at the ISTE conference this year. But my take-aways were more about the ethical side of technology: How do we assure equity? Are our search algorithms racially biased? Does technology discriminate against the poor and powerless?

As what Kurzweil calls "the singularity" gets ever closer, when machine intelligence become powerful enough to teach itself, coding seems rather weak tea. Should we be paying less attention to if-then's and more attention right-wrong's in our computing activities?


Prognostications - 2003

Know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon…everything’s different. – Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes

Below is a list of predictions I made for a report I wrote as the president of our state's school library organization in 2003. Thirteen years ago. Over a century in computer years. (One computer year is ten human years, just so you know.)

Prognostications for libraries, technology and education 2004-08

  1. Less emphasis on “technology’ as a separate area of concern; more emphasis on technology as a means to achieve goals of other areas. Greater need for procedures that allow for joint decision-making among all technology users.
  2. Greater need to train students and staff on ethics, safety, and civility when using technology, as well as the ability to evaluate the reliability of information found and to use it purposely.
  3. Greater need for a secure source of adequate technology funding. Strategizing for decreasing “total cost of ownership” through maintenance outsourcing, use of thin client architectures, use of single-purpose devices (AlphaSmarts), adopting handheld computers by staff and students, and purchasing upgradeable devices. Greater accountability for technology expenditures and impact on school effectiveness.
  4. Increased desire by parents for real-time student information available via the web. Higher parent expectations of schools and teachers to provide comprehensive information about school programs and individual student achievement.
  5. Increased importance of the (technology-based) tools and knowledge needed to do good data-driven planning and decision-making by administrators, building teams, and individual teachers.
  6. Continued integration of technology skills into the content areas to meet specific state standards, leading to increased demand for individualized technology training by staff. Re-examination of software designed to help low-achieving and English Language Learners learn state-tested skills.
  7. Continued, accelerated move to information in digital formats such as e-books, online databases, web-based video conferencing, and video in digital formats on demand. Increased ability for individual teachers to create and make available materials accessible from the web. More capacity for electronically submitted student work.
  8. Increased efforts to assure data privacy, data security, and network reliability.
  9. Increased educational options for all learners including more choices of schools, more online course offerings, more interactive video offerings, and more computer courseware options. This will result in an increased need for school marketing efforts and increased “consumer-driven” choices made by school officials.
  10. An accelerated blending of “technology integrations specialists” and “school library media specialists” into a single job that takes responsibility for the instructional and curricular uses of technology, supported by more narrowly defined district-level positions of MIS Directors, network managers, technicians, and student information system managers.
  11. Increasing in-school use of student-owned technologies including cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. Most of these will connect wirelessly to each other and to the Internet, creating new security and ethical challenges. More emphasis on anytime, anyplace access to personal information through web-based personal file space, calendars, and wirelessly networked hand-held devices. The “digital divide” will grow.
  12. Continued “bare-bones” funding of the state’s educational system forcing schools to make tough program choices. If programs can’t quantitatively demonstrate they make a difference in achievement, they and the people in them will be subject to the budget axe.
  13. (Added in 2011) Increased efforts to ensure all teachers use technology to improve teaching and learning at at least a minimumn level through improved teacher review processes that include technology use criteria.

I missed, of course, iPads and Chromebooks which have made 1:1 more feasible for many schools. Didn't hit personalization, coding, makerspaces - the prediction of using technology for a more user-centric approach to education.

Were I to add a prediction today it would be that computer technologies will become increasingly transparent in our schools, eventually just the way we do business, no more remarkable that electric lights or flush toilets. I also have a sneaky suspicion the use of artificial intelligence will grow in creating individual learning plans for both students and staff.

Should I feel good since I was so precient? Or feel bad since so little seems to have changed?

I'm still waiting for the day "everything's different."

Your predictions?



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