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Monday
Sep222008

Fall Odds and Ends

This was the perfect fall weekend here in God's Country - aka southern Minnesota. Highs in the 70s, blue skies, light breezes. Trees and shrubs are beginning to turn color. I had no writing assignments due nor presentations for which to prepare. So other than mowing the lawn and puttering a bit, I read, I napped and I ate.

Is this what retirement will be like one day?

Anyway, a few things caught my eye and here they are...

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Duke University's Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a downloadable comic book, Bound by Law?, that tells the riveting tale of a documentary film maker tying to figure out the in's-and-out's of Fair Use and copyright in her work. The authors do a good job of presenting a balanced assessment of both the need for and excesses of copyright law from the views of both the consumer  and the creator. 

One of the problems they examine is the "permissions culture":

...the belief that copyright gives its owner the right to demand payment of every type of usage, no matter its length, or its purpose, or the context in which it is set.

and observes

One of the under-appreciated tragedies of the permissions culture is that many young artists only experience copyright as an impediment, a source of incomprehensible demands for payment, cease and desist letters, and legal transaction costs. Technology allows them to mix, to combine, to create collages. They see law as merely an obstacle.

Hmmmm, echos of The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy that shows the same impact in education.

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In working on a column on RSS feeds, I found this list of imaginative uses compiled by Christina Laun at VirtualHosting.com -  “Top 25 (Non-Obvious) Ways RSS Can Make Your Life Easier”.  She suggests tracking everything from job openings to overdue library books to television schedules. Go RSS!

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For other manly readers out there, Stephen King has a short essay on "manfiction" titled What a Guy Wants on the EW website.  King pays homage to Travis McGee, but writes "The best current manfiction writers? I'd say Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Richard Stark, and Lee Child." I concur - pretty much. But I'd add:

  • John Burdett
  • James Lee Burke
  • Stephen Hunter
  • Daniel Silva
  • Martin Cruz Smith

Other manly writers?

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Jennifer McDaniel in her article The Case for PEDs in Teacher Magazine intriguingly begins:

For the first time this year, my entire 9th grade class is on task.

What miracle has Ms McDaniel used to create such a learning environment? She allowed students to use PEDs (personal electronic devices) - their MP3 players during Friday independent study time. It was against school rules, she has since conformed to the rules, and adult needs have been met.

Sigh.

When will educators learn to use these tools to meet instructional goals rather than simply give the knee-jerk response of banning them?

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Taken last evening, this is a photo of Pirates' Tree on the boat cut between Middle and Big Jefferson Lakes, about a quarter mile from our house. Pirates Tree is so named (by our family anyway) because we have always told the grandsons to keep a sharp eye out for pirates ready to leap from its limbs and commandeer any pontoon boat passing through the cut. So far we've been lucky. Very lucky.

The boys also know about Dinosaur Island which can be seen from our dock. Happily for humans, the dinosaurs that inhabit the island can't swim and hibernate in the winter so they can't walk across the ice.

I believe I once had my son fairly well-convinced of the presence of the nearby Lake Henry Monster whose tentacles could reach well onto the country road and drag unsuspecting cars (and small boys)  to Lake Henry's watery depths.

It is an important job for adults to impress a sense of fantasy on the children in their charge. I doubt either Frodo or Dumbledore would exist were this not the case.

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Saturday
Sep202008

Venting's just one piece

The post Ranting: School Internet Filtering appeared recently on the Informania blog. The school library media specialist author begins:
My district has a new filtering program and I guess they are trying to get their money’s worth because they continue to block sites - not just daily, but hourly.
The author lists several egregious filtering abuses and recognizes:
As an educator, my job is to prepare students to function in the real world.  The real world doesn’t filter web sites. This seems to be a bit of a problem to me.
And concludes:
Ranting is done - for now. 
Send blood pressure medicine.

Ah, I can almost feel the author's relief of getting that out of her system! Many librarians and teachers will identify completely. The post was well-written and her case well-made.

But...

I hope her vent was not the final action she, or any of us, take when Internet filters are abused in our schools. I offered Informania some suggestions in response to her blog entry:

  1. The first line of your post attributes these actions to a “they” - “they are trying to get their money’s worth because they  continue to block sites”. Do you know who the “they” is and if not, you should find out. Could it be the smoking man? A vast right-wing conspiracy? Space aliens bent on mind-control and world domination? Or is it a single tech who is probably out-stepping his/her authority in making these decisions?

  2. Have a visit with the "they." Ask for a clear policy statement about what is blocked and the basis for the decisions. Ask if there is an appeal process for unblocking. Ask (or find out) who this person's supervisor might be.

  3. With either the person in charge of the filter or his/her supervisor, lobby for filtering policies to be determined by a district tech committee and then become a member. Censorship is far too easy when decisions are  made by a single individual, no matter how well-intentioned, than by a range of stakeholders that reflect the educational community’s wider values.

Those who vent feel better after doing so - myself included. But venting itself is only a small piece of the change puzzle and alone doesn’t do much to help the students and teachers in our schools who may be in a venting mood themselves. Don't let venting be your first and only response when change is needed.

Image created using dumpr http://www.dumpr.net/ Thanks, Kathy Schrock!
Friday
Sep192008

In defense of postliteracy

...the postliterate as those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming.
Pew's new survey: Teens, Video Games and Civics was released this week. It finds (big surprise), that:
Video gaming is pervasive in the lives of American teens—young teens and older teens, girls and boys, and teens from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Opportunities for gaming are everywhere, and teens are playing video games frequently. When asked, half of all teens reported playing a video game “yesterday.” Those who play daily typically play for an hour or more. 

Fully 97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games.
And how did they spend their leisure time prior before there were video games?
Would 97% of kids report reading for pleasure?
Would 50% say they read for fun yesterday for an hour or more?

Are we already "postliterate?"

On another note,  I earlier argued "that postliteracy may be a return to more natural forms of communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization." and that we have an irrational bias toward print as the best way to communicate and preserve information due to our own success using the medium.

So it was interesting to read a new study from the Kaiser Foundation finds that when information is embedded in a television program, people remember it. Well, duh. Story, drama, dialogue...

Television as a Health Educator: A Case Study of Grey's Anatomy reports (from the press release)

In order to document how well viewers learn health information from entertainment television, the Foundation worked with writers at Grey’s Anatomy to embed a health message in an episode, and then surveyed viewers on the topic before and after the episode aired. The storyline involved an HIV positive pregnant woman who learns that with the proper treatment, she has a 98% chance of having a healthy baby. The study found that the audience’s awareness of this information increased by 46 percentage points (from 15% to 61%), a four-fold increase among all viewers. This translates to more than eight million people learning correct information about mother-to-child HIV transmission rates from watching the episode.

Schools and libraries take note. We are living in a postliterate society. Are we acknowledging and supporting or in denial?