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Friday
May232008

Brain rules and multi-tasking

I'm glad it is not a personal mental deficiency - my inability to multi-task.

According to Brain Rules by John Medina, multi-tasking is a myth.  (Great summary, including short video clips from accompanying DVD here at the Presentation Zen website. My personal copy of the book and DVD are on order!)

According to Medina, multitaskers take twice as long to accomplish things and have double the error rate. Check out the amusing video from YouTube (My trusted source of all things scientific.) and his Facebook! entry on the topic.

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I thought of this yesterday when attending a presentation by Michael Wesch of The Machine is Using Us fame. (Great presenter and message, BTW). At the end of the keynote, I had an entire page of handwritten notes, which has become unusual for me. Why?

My laptop's battery was dead and the lecture hall had zero electrical outlets. I could not do my usual thing of checking e-mail, reading rss feeds, or Twittering and half attending to the lecture. Now Wesch's talk was probably interesting enough to suck my eyeballs away from the computer screen, but then again, maybe not.

One of the things that I seriously question is the conversation about "enhancing" presentations with live blogging, back-channel discussions, streaming on-screen chat, and other noxious goings-on. Are these things actually valuable or are we doing them because we're nerds and we can?

Thursday
May222008

Experience with People to People program

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I received a mailing about a People to People Citizen Ambassador program to Vietnam and Cambodia led by Dominican University professor Susan Roman in this week's snail mail. The trip looks fascinating and it combines a number of real areas of interest to me: libraries and technology and education in developing countries. It would also give me an excuse to visit two countries that have long been on my "must-see" list. (Am I old enough to call it my "bucket list?"- gulp!) But the trip is not inexpensive and it would require my being gone from home and school for two weeks.

Anyway, I received these responses to a query sent to LM_Net, SIGMS, and AASLForum asking about others' experiences with the People to People program. Wisdom of the Crowds and all that. I promised to share what I found out so here it is...

  • What I can tell you is that just about every librarian I know in my district and I received the invitation, too, or one similar to somewhere. [The invitation list was perhaps not as selective as the letter implied. - Doug)
  • The mailing goes out to most people in YALSA and many in ALA.  When I asked about it last year as I had gotten it then and again this year, many people who had gone said it was great and others thought that if you wish to travel to those areas - go on your own time.  I guess it's up to you if you wish to spend the money. My decision was made when the admin said I'd face a losing a year toward tenure even though I was willing to take the three days dock in pay that would have resulted.  The union would have fought it, but I decided it wasn't a battle worth fighting.  thought I'd wait for a new admin........ This one sounds very interesting and I know the Dominican connection.  It will be a good one.  If I didn't have three in college.........
  • My husband and I went to China last year with People to People. It was well organized and we were treated like royalty everywhere we went. It was expensive, but I always felt completely safe everywhere we went. We had tour guides in each city and individual guides to go with guests on excursions. In addition, we always had a representative from People to People to translate, if needed, at airports, and wherever we changed modes of transportation. We never had to wait in line to enter events, either. I recommend it if you are interested in the educational part of it; in our trip, we visited many schools that would have otherwise been closed to us. Of course, the libraries were virtually nonexistent, but the schools were interesting to see.  
  • I’m the media specialist at an elementary school in ... New Jersey. I have taken two trips with People to People.  I went in 1994 to China with Bill Teale to schools and children’s book publishers.  I can’t speak highly enough about this experience.  Of course we visited many tourist sites as well as the schools.  It was invaluable as a learning experience.  I also traveled to New Zealand and Australia with teachers at the conclusion of the IRA international meeting in New Zealand in 2001.  This was during the summer so did not involve missing class time.  It seems that most trips take two weeks and cost $5000+.  This cost is for everything from the exit city and back.  You only have to spend on souvenirs and items to bring back to your school.  I was also invited to go on the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, but my superintendent did not see fit to grant my request for a temporary leave for two weeks. ... I do not know of Susan Roman but I would google her or check the university site for information.  You really want someone leading the delegation that has a definite objective in mind. I really envy you and wish I could go also.  Please let me know how it goes.
  • Haven't been part of this program personally, but my daughter will be traveling to Europe with People to People this summer. My friend's daughter also went on two trips with People to People. From everything I've seen so far, it's a great program, but yes, there is the expense. I would love to be able to go myself because it seems as though the group has opportunities a normal tourist would not.
  • I cannot speak for other librarians who have taken this trip, but my nephew did people to people, and visited Ireland.  My sister was pleased.  The cost is pricey, but it's a very reputable program.  Have Fun!
  • I too received the invitation.  I gave it a lot of thought and some research.  I checked the archives and found posts like yours for almost every year.  I checked the Dominican website but the most helpful website was the People to People website.  I finally decided that while I really want to have a similar experience, recent weather and natural disasters in that area, along with political unrest in adjacent parts of the world have given me pause and I have decided not to pursue the trip.  Perhaps in the future with a different destination, I will give it a try.

Some additional information:

I received a number of comments about student P2P trips from the perspective of the adult sponsors of such trips. I did not include these responses, but they were favorable too.

I visited with 3 other people who were happy to answer by questions. I was curious about flexibility, group size, and tax deductibility:

  • Susan Roman is an experienced trip leader (8 trips) and spent a long time on the phone with me.  I felt comfortable after talking to her that one had some flexibility when it came to choosing the "cultural" aspects of the tour, but not the educational components. That suits me fine. In her experience, the group sizes were between 18-58 with a mixed composition of adult students, practitioners and retired people. (I would not be happy in a group of over 25, I think.) She also stressed that 60% of one's time would be spent in visits and exchanges with fellow professionals.
  •  I visited with a representative from People to People. She assured me I could make my own flight arrangements (frequent flyer miles, you know) and pick alternative arrival/departure dates. She said the group size would be between 20-40. I would need to make a commitment 90 days prior to departure.
  • I also emailed my tax preparer who discouraged me making the trip a deductible business expense, based on the information on the P2P website.

So, based on this information, I am definitely, 100%, absolutely committed to doing more thinking about the trip and making a final decision in early September.

Any Blue Skunk readers with experiences with the Ambassador Program, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks! 

Wednesday
May212008

Classroom technology infrastructure: what's needed?

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I've been playing around with the best way to present to the architect the information/technology infrastructure needed in our new elementary school's learning spaces, especially the classrooms. The diagram above (larger tiff file here) represents my thinking to date, but it seems less than visionary. 

Here are some questions I have... 

  1. Do we need a standard classroom floor plan because of technology? In other words, does the teacher's desk, the front of the room, the IWB, etc. need to be in the same location more or less permanently in each classroom?
  2. Do we consider equipment like document cameras, student response systems, and remote slates add-ons, or infrastructure? In other words, does the design of the classroom need to take these soon to be ubiquitous tools into consideration?
  3. Do we need an electrical grid in floor? While students and teachers may be using wireless internet access and laptop computers, to date, the batteries do not last the length of a school day. CAN WE ELIMINATE THE NEED FOR EXTENSION CORDS WITH A LITTLE FORESIGHT?
  4. Do we need computer network drops on all walls? Yes, we will be putting in wireless, but at what point in the future will wireless offer the robustness, bandwidth and security needed for things like online testing or online photo/video editing, and video streaming? How many of these drops need to be homeruns back to switches in closets? Can we somehow eliminate in-room dumb hubs?
  5. Can ALL the wires coming into the classroom be Ethernet? Can voice, data and video converge into a single set of wires? What happens if the "one" wire connection is lost? Do we need some kind of redundancy?
  6. Can we use a single amplifier and set of speakers for all sound sources - teacher voice, student voice, video, telephone, computer, etc.? Do we need both a TV set and an data projector? Where and how do we place a television receiver so channels can be selected? Do the cost of LCD projector lamps make having a TV and projector still economically wise?
  7. How sophisticated does the video output from the classroom need to be? Will a built-in camera using Skype meet most needs or will a small, separate CODEC and camera be needed?
What would the dream classroom technology look like your new school? And what will the building look like that can accommodate it?