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Saturday
May102008

Why manufacturing jobs are going away

From David Brook's column "The Cognitive Age,"  New York Times, May 2, 2008

The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturingRobotichand.jpg productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.

Hmmmm, sounds like what I heard on Minnesota Public Radio not that long ago. Maybe if David Brooks says it, people will listen. Or not.

Friday
May092008

Bird noises and building design

Here is my story about why I became interested in facility design (from "Building Digital Libraries for Analog People: 10 Common Design Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them" KQ, May/June 2000):

I once caught a glimpse of what purgatory must be like for school librarians. While student teaching in the mid-70’s in a small Iowa town, I watched the most hapless librarian I have ever met trying to do her job – which at that time was mostly keeping study hall students quiet and busy.

Her media center was, as are too still many yet today, two classrooms pushed together with perimeter shelving and a high circulation desk at the front of the long room near the door. The floor held just two tables near the circulation desk. The main seating was provided in rows of tall-sided study carrels running in long aisles down the length of the room. (See figure one)

The librarian spent most of the time I observed her running up and down those aisles of carrels trying to detect which students were making the little bird noises they knew drove her crazy. I believe this happened every hour of every school day. At least it was going on each time I visited the library. (That school building has since burned down. I like to think it was the act of a merciful God.)

A few years later when I was a school library media specialist myself, I overheard my principal say that he thought tall-sided carrels would be just the ticket for helping students work quietly in the new media center we were planning. My ears pricked up quicker than a dog’s. I decided it might not be a bad idea to be a bit more involved in the library design process.

Ah, it's good to be able to find oneself amusing. But it's my story and I am sticking to it.

Anyway, a short list of articles and columns I've written on facility design...

Next up: How does where we place computers in our buildings reflect our philosophy toward technology?

Friday
May092008

Is being "wired" a good thing?

As part of the planning process for the new elementary school we're building, a group of teachers and administrators toured four nearby schools that opened in the past two years. I am still mulling over what I saw, but this is what jumped out at me. Wires. In otherwise, thoughtfully (if not innovatively) planned schools, I saw wires and cords...

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wires3.jpg 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After retrofitting hundreds of classrooms in our district (with its oldest buildings from the 1920s) for telephones, computer networks, mounted projectors, interactive white boards and voice amplification systems, I was expecting, nay yearning, to see some beautiful, clean, neat, efficient installations - where technology was transparently integrated into the physical structure of these new buildings. You know, an absence of wire molding, no power cords snaking across floors and down walls, and sufficient electrical outlets where they needed to be.

No such luck.

If the wiring looks like that shown above in my new elementary school, I will be ashamed.

Oh, there is a practical as well as aesthetic reason to be neat. Wires are intimidating. The more wires, the scarier the technology looks. The scarier the tech, the less likely it is to be used. Hide the wires to help for the sake of your technophobes.

This is first in what will probably be a series of continuing ruminations addressing the question: How do I keep my district from building a brand new 1950’s school?

What are the qualities of an elementary school building that prepares kids for the future?