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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





Point/Counterpoint in L&L


Happy to see the question: Do Schools Still Need Bricks and Mortar Libraries? debated in Leading & Learning this month. Note that it is online as well and readers can leave comments.

And when exactly did I go from being the young cute guy to the old grumpy one in most situations?


Distracting technologies

"Once you are at cruise, there's nothing to do. ... You're not allowed to read; you're not allowed to, as we've learned, use laptops. You're not allowed to listen to music. ... you're supposed to sit in the seat, stay awake, and pay attention." Northwest Airlines pilot Jack Neis quoted in Nov 1, 2009 Minneapolis Star Tribune article (Could also be said by most students taking a F2F classes.)

Whenever the topic of students using technology in school comes up, observations of how distracting technology can be almost always follow.

In response to a recent post, a number of readers suggested that the problem with access to YouTube by students is not inappropriate content, but that the resource is a distraction - like Facebook, game sites, and a host of other sites kids find a good deal more interesting than, say, the Crimean War or square roots or past participles.

The ability to distract has also put the use of laptops, netbooks, cell phones, PDAs, and iPod/mp3 players on the banned list in many schools. "Those dang kids are just listening to the filthy lyrics of rap music on their iPods instead of my lecture," pretty much summarizes the argument.

And you know what? I agree that technology can be a distraction - from my own experiences both as an instructor and as a student, as a meeting chair and as a meeting attendee.

I find it discouraging, to say the least, when a participant in one of my "enthralling" workshops starts texting or banging out something on the keyboard instead of hanging on each brilliant nugget of wisdom emanating from the front of the room. But then, I've found reading my RSS feeds more interesting than more than one keynote or meeting myself. (And I've felt like a dope when asked a question and it's obvious that I'd not been listening to the conversation.)

What, if anything, can be done about the distracting quality of technology?

The quick answer usually put forward by those not actually in the classroom or leading meetings is to simply offer a more engaging F2F experience. More discussion. More hands-on activities. Better slide shows. More relevant content. And I agree with this approach. Most of us can, indeed, create a more interactive learning experience. But this is something that is far easier espoused, than done.

Education, as we know it, still involves delivering content to some degree. Curricula still include topics that need to be mastered that rank pretty low on the relevance scale (and is all content relevant to all learners?) And quite frankly, lots of teachers have never experienced a high engagement classroom or workshop nor been taught how to conduct one.

Another easy answer is to simply "let the chips fall where they may." If kids (or meeting attendees) tune out to focus in on their Facebook page, well, let the natural consequences of such actions happen. And what might this tell us when students who listen with only one ear do better than those who give us our full attention. (Ever have kids who are absent from class a lot do better on tests than those who attended every class? I have.)

I don't have a good answer here. But I do know that trying to keep technologies out of the classroom and library is an unwinnable strategy. These devices are getting smaller, cheaper, more powerful and more an extension of our students' brains everyday. There is a steady movement to unblock the YouTubes and Facebooks and game sites in our libraries and labs. And it would be cruel and unusual punishment to sent many adults to meetings without their iPhones or Blackberries.

How do we deal with the distractive qualities of technology in schools?


Why 5-star hotels suck

OK, a little rant that has nothing to do with libraries or education. Just life.

One of the great ironies when I travel is that the kind hearted, well-intentioned people who ask me to come speak and consult usually put me up in very, very nice hotels. You know the kind. Giant foyers. Lot's o' marble. Fountains in the lobby. Valet parking. Glass elevators.

For, I suppose, 99% of travelers, staying in these places is something of a dream - luxury at its finest. But, at the real risk of sounding like a terrible ingrate, I have to say that unless the conference is right in the hotel itself, I'd just as soon stay in something a little more downscale.

The alarm clock in my room this morning at a Crowne Plaza woke me twice - first with beeping and then again 15 minutes later with a very loud radio program. Not that I wasn't already awake, but it did scare the beejezus out of me. I had not set the alarm. It would probably have taken me 15 minutes to figure out how to operate this "dream machine" that sports 21 separate buttons. Yes, 21. This is what it looks like. It is now unplugged.

Like most regular travelers, I bring my own small, easy to set alarm clock with me. Sometimes I ask for a wake up call, but these tend to be undependable even in the best hotels. What I never do is use the alarm clock in the room itself. I don't have the patience to learn a new programming language each place I stay.

Fancy hotels have other downsides as well:

  • Expensive room service and restaurants. The cost of the room is just the tip of the expense iceberg. Most food and other services are very high priced and rarely of the quality to justify the cost. To add insult to injury, some hotels do NOT have in-room coffee makers so one is forced to buy the expensive stuff. $12 for a pot of room service java. What a rip-off!
  • No free Internet. Even the lowest cost hotel chains now offer free wireless. To pay between $10 and $20 a day for wireless is just plain nuts. And for someone who works a lot in hotel rooms (as I am doing now), not having Internet is not an option.
  • Complicated alarm clocks that it takes a PHD to understand. See above.
  • Poor configuration of rooms for working and reading. Too many fancy hotels (and granted, lots of cheap ones) don't provide good desks or desk chairs, convenient electrical outlets, or adequate lights. I also like a comfortable reading chair, not art deco.
  • USA Today. No local paper.
  • No flavor of the country. When I travel internationally on my own, I love staying in small, independent hotels. A Hilton/Radisson/Hyatt in Istabul is pretty much like a Hilton/Radisson/Hyatt
    in Beijing is pretty much like a Hilton/Radisson/Hyatt in Kansas City. Ya want a Starbucks coffee? You got it. So what's even the point of traveling if the place you are going to is just like the place you left? Give me a small room, winding stairs, a creepy desk clerk, and weird stuff on the breakfast buffet. Oh wait, that DOES sound like a place I stayed right here in Minnesota once.

I think I have that out of my system. I am genuinely grateful to the nice people who install me in nice hotels. Really I am. But given the choice, save your money. Put me in a Motel 6.