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If you could give your child a superpower, would you?

With great power comes great responsibility. - Spiderman's Uncle Ben

Were you as a parent able to give your child a "super" power, would you do so? Let's take the ability to teleport - move from one location to another by just imagining the destination - for example. There would be personal advantages - ability to see the world at no cost; time spent on getting to school could be better spent in other ways; and surely there would be vocations (courier, spy, journalist, salesperson, artist, etc.) that would be enhanced by such a power.

Of course, as we know from countless movies about those with such abilities, the temptation to use this power for unethical purposes would be great. Think into a bank, grab a pile of cash, and think back out. Why work at all? Such a gift might also be dangerous were your child to teleport into a wall or the vacuum of outer space. For many parents, the dark side of such a gift would outweigh the benefits, with the parent perhaps projecting their own ethical weakness on to their child.

While teleportation, telekinesis, invisibility, x-ray vision, flight, great strength, and indestructibility are the stuff of Marvel comic book characters, parents do have a similar choice to make of a seeming superpower right now.

Isn't giving a child instant, continuous access to information by providing her with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with wireless connectivity providing a power that only a few years ago was unimaginable? Instantly finding a seemingly inexhaustible source of information - from trusted and questionable sources, from trusted and questionable "experts, or from trusted and questionable friends. Doesn't such a device give children an inexhaustible source of entertainment and mindless distraction? Doesn't such a device give children the power to communicate to the world without censorship, filters, or retraction? Doesn't such a device give kids the ability to connect with complete strangers - some trustworthy and some questionable? Doesn't such a device even give users the ability to potentially view the activities of others without their knowledge - and have their activities view surreptitiously as well?

Yes, we can deny access to these devices to kids, but it's getting harder to do. And given the positive tasks that they help kids accomplish, should we? 

Here is are questions I have for parents (and educators): if your child had a superpower like teleportation, at what age would you start teaching him how to use this power ethically, safely, and productively? Would you rely on the school alone to teach these skills? Would you deny your child this ability, knowing that age 18, she was free to use it as an adult?

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Predictions from 2003-04

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”   Yogi Berra  

From a friend and colleague in an e-mail last week...

As I attempt to purge my files, I'm running into all kinds of oldies but goodies. An example: I'd saved the MEMOlist post ... dated 1/13/2004 in response to your prognostications post. It's been 10 years; might be time for a revisit...

As president of our state school library/technology association ten years ago, MEMO [now ITEM], I was tasked with writing a president's column. Since I have a bad habit of saving everything I've ever had published, I found the predictions referred to in the note above. See what you think.

Our long range plan has always had a small section on "trends" - a brief look into a crystal ball for directions technology use seems to be heading. I am no Amazing Kreskin, but I will share our district’s list below. Since futurists are rarely held to account by anyone, this should be fairly safe.

Prognostications for libraries, technology and education 2004-08

  1. Less emphasis on "technology' as a separate area of concern; more emphasis on technology as a means to achieve goals of other areas. Greater need for procedures that allow for joint decision-making among all technology users. [I'd say in our district we've made serious progress here over the past 3 years. Nationally, from what I read, not so much...]

  2. Greater need to train students and staff on ethics, safety and civility when using technology, as well as the ability to evaluate the reliability of information found and to use it purposely. [With Web2.0 and the change from worry about what kids might find to what kids might share, this definitely was an accurate, if not particularly difficult, prediction. More emphasis on digital citizenship now than ever.]

  3. Greater need for a secure source of adequate technology funding. Strategizing for decreasing "total cost of ownership" through maintenance outsourcing, use of thin client architectures, use of single-purpose devices (AlphaSmarts), adopting handheld computers by staff and students, and purchasing upgradeable devices. Greater accountability for technology expenditures and impact on school effectiveness. [E-rate, cloud-based tools and storage, and tablets and Chromebooks make this one accurate. Tying technology costs to student achievement still not done - but tying any educational dollars to achievement is not done.]

  4. Increased desire by parents for real-time student information available via the web. Higher parent expectations of schools and teachers to provide comprehensive information about school programs and individual student achievement. [Our parent and student portals to our student information system have helped fill this need.]

  5. Increased importance of the (technology-based) tools and knowledge needed to do good data-driven planning and decision-making by administrators, building teams, and individual teachers. [Data-driven decision-making/evaluation still is done for programs and buildings, but not for individualized student planning. Too big a paradigm shift for too many educators, I'm afraid, to use data to create ILPs for the masses.}

  6. Continued integration of technology skills into the content areas to meet specific state standards, leading to increased demand for individualized technology training by staff. Re-examination of software designed to help low-achieving and English Language Learners learn state-tested skills. [Frustratingly, this is still very much a work in progress. Still lots of pockets of wow but little whole grade adoption of tech and commitment to student mastery of it. Maybe with greater adoption of 1:1 programs?]

  7. Continued, accelerated move to information in digital formats such as e-books, online databases, web-based video conferencing, and video in digital formats on demand. Increased ability for individual teachers to create and make available materials accessible from the web. More capacity for electronically submitted student work. [Moodle and GAFE have moved us forward in this area, but affordable, useful e-books and e-textbooks are still pretty much a dream for wide-scale use.]

  8. Increased efforts to assure data privacy, data security, and network reliability. [Thanks to Mr. Snowdon and reports of the NSA, along with continuing distrust of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple all nefariously tracking individual Internet use, data privacy has become an even hotter topic than I had imagined. I would add to this list "network adequacy" with 1:1 programs demanding more bandwidth and better wireless connectivity. I don't think we had any wireless access points in 2003.]

  9. Increased educational options for all learners including more choices of schools, more online course offerings, more interactive video offerings, and more computer courseware options. This will result in an increased need for school marketing efforts and increased "consumer-driven" choices made by school officials. [Commercial choices for charter schools and online courses continues to grow, but hasn't really threatened the hegemony of public education - at least in our neck of the woods. Starting to grow our own asynchronous online offerings slowly. Interactive video networks for offering synchronous classes has died; conferencing via Hangouts, Facetime, Skype has exploded.]

  10. An accelerated blending of "technology integrations specialists" and "school library media specialists" into a single job that takes responsibility for the instructional and curricular uses of technology, supported by more narrowly defined district-level positions of MIS Directors, network managers, technicians, and student information system managers. [Did not see the vulnerability of non-techie school librarians with the employment bloodbath of the last few years. You changed or your job was cut.]

  11. Increasing in-school use of student-owned technologies including cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. Most of these will connect wirelessly to each other and to the Internet, creating new security and ethical challenges. More emphasis on anytime, anyplace access to personal information through web-based personal file space, calendars, and wirelessly networked hand-held devices. The "digital divide" will grow. [Can you say BYOD?]

  12. Continued “bare-bones” funding of the state’s educational system forcing schools to make tough program choices. If programs can’t quantitatively demonstrate they make a difference in achievement, they and the people in them will be subject to the budget axe. [Depended on whether the Democrats or Republicans were in control of the state legislature. Lots of lean years because of this and the housing bubble crash now followed by a recovering economy and a more generous governor and legislature in MN.]

It looks like we will continue to live in “interesting times” for quite awhile. What gives me hope for the rest of this year and for the coming years is my deep-seated belief that what libraries and technology can do for children is both unique and vital. I also believe that the school library media specialists and technology specialists who don’t just have jobs, but are on a mission from God (as the Blues Brothers put it) will find the personal and financial resources needed to keep their programs in place.

So, how did I do? What did I miss?  I'd give myself a 7/10 but most of this stuff is pretty obvious. 


BFTP: When groups are necessary

I've long held a fairly jaundiced view of that holy-of-holies in our profession - collaboration. (See: A Few Words About Collaboration) Short version: collaboration should be considered a means of achieving a desired result, not the result itself. 

I'm glad to see someone else has grumped about having to work with others. Scott (Dilbert) Adams lists 11 "reasons that teamwork will make any normal individual perform below his highest potential." These include:

3. In any group of three people, there's generally at least one disruptive moron.
5. To mediocre minds, a brilliant idea and a dumb idea sound identical. A team will vote out the best ideas along with the worst.
9. Everyone wants to do the fun stuff and not the boring-but-necessary parts.

That's my kind of thinking! I recently (2014ish) heard someone say that groups always tend to go with the safest option rather than the bold, the experimental, the risky. As I remember the example given was when asked to choose a dessert, vanilla ice cream will be the flavor that offends no one in a group, never rocky road.

Yet even I admit that teams, groups and collaboration are essential under some circumstances. These include:

  1. When good decisions require the opinion/knowledge of variety of experts. (Tech and curriculum, for example.)
  2. When decisions involve highly conflicting values. (Security vs. convenience and access)
  3. Ownership by a range of stakeholders is essential. (1:1 laptop program buy-in by teachers and administrators as well as techs and librarians.)
  4. When the only way to overcome a negative power by a situational leader is by creating a strong group to counter. (A group of teachers forms a policy committee to make recommendations on less restrictive filtering by a tech director.)
  5. When a hiring decision is made my a group, a larger number of people have a stake in that person's success. (No one wants to believe they've hired a loser.)
  6. There is a better chance of donuts appearing when there is a group.

Groups, meetings and collaboration have their place. When there is a reason for them.

Original post May 27, 2009