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On the way to Phang Ngha Bay, photo by D. Johnson, April 2007


RCE 7 and 8: Moving with others and admitting ignorance

The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running. Aesop

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument is an exchange of ignorance. Robert Quillan

In a recent blog post, I visited the Radical Center of Education and suggested some principles for achieving this enlightened state of mind and how it will result in a change philosophy that may result in change actually occurring.

  1. Adopt an "and" not "or" mindset.
  2. Look for truth and value in all beliefs and practices.
  3. Respect the perspective of the individual.
  4. One size does not fit all (kids or teachers).
  5. If you think it will work, it probably will.
  6. The elephant can only be eaten one bite at a time. Or is it that you can't leap the chasm in two bounds?
  7. To travel fast, travel alone. To travel far, travel with others.
  8. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know."
  9. Measurement is good, but not everything can be measured.
  10. Know and keep your core values.
To travel fast, travel alone. To travel far, travel with others.

I thought of the African proverb above after three recent blog posts caught my eye:

Miguel Guhlin at Around the Corner in his post "Revisiting Common Computer Activities" wrote that a list including these computer activities - "* Checking Email * Surfing the Internet * Playing Internet based games * Word Processing * Excel Spreadsheets ..." - stuck him as outdated and wrote:

A quick reflection on my computing habits yields these about you?

  • Twittering
  • Email, Calendar, Documents (Word processing mainly) via Google
  • Blogging and maintaining web sites using content management systems
  • Mild photo editing (built-in Flickr image editor is fine (Picnik)
  • Photo library management using Flickr and Picasa
  • Listening to music on my machine while I work
  • Crafting video intensive presentations, including conversion of videos using a local utility or

Yes, Miguel, most of the activies on your list would make my list too. And the list of most blog readers probably.

Yet a posting from the downloadsquad (via Stephen's Lighthouse) reports that "73% of Americans have never heard of Google Docs." I wonder what percent of Amercians who have heard of the other applications Miguel lists above? The percentage of teachers who use Twitter, Picasa, or Zamzar? I'll be dollars to doughnuts it wouldn't even be close to 73%.

This disparity between the blogosphere and the average Joe or Jane, leads thoughtful practitioners like International School Bangkok teacher Kim Confino in the always learning blog entry "Few and Far Between" to observe:

We often complain about the “echo chamber” effect out here in the education blogosphere. Sometimes it seems like we’re a group of technology cheerleaders enthusiastically shouting our successes to each other over and over - to the point that I often feel like I don’t have much to add to the conversation because it’s all been said before. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that although we may be a vocal group online, the kinds of experiences we’re cheering about are truly few and far between.

and conclude:

I sometimes need to remind myself that the most critical part of my job to inspire change in the real world, not just within our connected group of educators. The reality is that those of us hoping to be voices of change need to make sure that we’re not speeding ahead on our own, but must always work to bring everyone else in our school environment along with us.

Speeding ahead is easy to do for those of us interested and invested in technology. But if experience has taught me anything, a school district needs to measure its technological achievements by how the majority of its teachers are using technology, not by it's few shining stars. (Every district has some.) The Radical Center emphasises smaller, but deeper, more wide-spread, and lasting change through the use of technology.

The problem with being too far down the road ahead of the pack is turning around to find that everyone else has taken a different path. 

Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know."
It's difficult to admit, but there are damn few things I know for absolutely certain, especially when it comes to technology and education. Thankfully, the older I get, the easier it is for me to say, "I don't know, but let's find out." Try it a couple times. It gets easier.

For some reason, our culture has replaced evidence with volume on too many issues. While it's very easy to say to those with whom one does not agree that they lack supporting evidence for their position, The Radical Center of Education believes one need to critically view the amount and validity of both (or all) perspectives. Self-examination of one's own beliefs is necessary for credibility. And to come to consensus on controversial issues, a consensus that vital information is missing (or is unknowable) must be reached.

The "I don't know" factor is a big reason I am boring you poor Blue Skunk readers by writing all this stuff out. Sorry.


OLPC XO field test - sort of

milesxo.jpgMy XO sat charged and available in the family room all last week while grandsons Paul (age 6) and Miles (age 2) were visiting with their mom and dad.

To my disappointment, the reception to the XO was underwhelming. Paul lost patience after five minutes. Miles whacked at it for a while, mostly in imitation of his older brother who quickly reverted to using the desktop PC.  Even their tech-savvy dad spent very little time with the device, having minimal familiarity with Linux.

To be fair, these rather privileged boys had other distractions - new  Legos, Thomas the Tank Engine toys, videos, books, cookies, and even a sledding hill just out the back door. Not to mention two doting grandparents willing to play with them.

Some observations:

  • A favorite website of these boys is Dave Pilkey's game pages. While we were able to connect to the page and even run Flash to see the game, none of the keyboard controls allowed game play. And, "Oh, man!" what a loooong wait for loads.
  • At age 6, Paul has already become a some-what sophisticated Windows user. While he has no problem with the Mac operating system, Sugar threw him. Since Negroponte's theory is that kids will be able to teach themselves this OS, I gave Paul minimal instruction. He was unable or unwilling to invest the time it took to figure all but the minimum out about the XO.
  • The XO was great at deflecting gooey fingers, snotty noses, and other liquidy sorts of attacks common with small boys in the winter. 

While my family is a very small petrie dish, I'd be willing to bet that if it were released in the US, the XO would be a computer of last resort - used only by those who could or would not spend slightly more on a faster machine with a more familiar acting OS. (The ASUS Eee, for example.) And I understand that Paul and Miles are not the intended audience for this computer. Still, I was a little disappointed that it was not better received. And neither boy (nor parents) lobbied for ownership of the XO.

However I still believe that anyone would rather have an XO than no computer at all.

For what it's worth.