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Monday
Nov072005

First iTunes, now iPages? Is this end of libraries as we know them?

From the Associated Press Friday, November 4, 2005
Amazon.com to sell individual book pages
NEW YORK -- With its new Amazon Pages service, Amazon.com Inc. plans to let customers to buy portions of a book - even just one page - for online viewing. A second program, Amazon Upgrade, will offer full online access when a traditional text is purchased.
Both services are expected to begin next year.
"We see this as a win-win-win situation: good for readers, good for publishers and good for authors," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told The Associated Press on Thursday.
For Amazon Pages, Bezos said, the cost for most books would be a few cents per page, although readers would likely be charged more for specialized reference works. Under Amazon Upgrade, anybody purchasing a paper book could also look at the entire text online, at any time, for a "small" additional charge, Bezos said. For instance, a $20 book might cost an extra $1.99.
For this librarian-at-heart, this is a mindbender. And it doesn’t just rock my world, but has raised “the level of concern” among other librarians as well. This e-mail came a day or so ago:
Do you know how libraries are going to fit into this kind of plan? Will we be able to purchase the electronic version along with the print version?  Will we be able to allow our patrons access to the online version whenever they check out the real book?  Will they be able to download just a page of it?  The implications for libraries are enormous.  Do you know what gurus might be out there making sure that libraries have a place at this table, so that book information does not eventually become the exclusive domain of the wealthy?
I even got a call from School Library Journal today asking for my thoughts about this announcement. (Desperate people, there at SLJ.)

I really wish my crystal ball wasn’t at the cleaners. I am not sure how to take this.

One of the primary reasons for libraries has always been that a collection of materials shared is more economical than everybody buying their own resources. See “Common Sense Economy.”

Does being able to buy one page or chapter at a time for pennies, change the entire economic model for obtaining “print” information?

First a few of probabilities.
  • Anything in the public domain or out of copyright is or soon will be available electronically. Project Gutenberg  has been running since the days when Gopher was the search engine du jour and now has 16,000 books available.
  • Google Print is trying to make available every other book that it can by scanning whole libraries. (It’s running into some objections, probably futile, from publishers and authors who want to be paid for their efforts.)
  • iTunes is providing an economic model that basically suggests that it is as profitable to sell a million songs for a buck as selling 50,000 albums for 20 bucks.
  • The iTunes sales model may actually close the digital divide. If I am poor, I may not be able to buy a $20 album, but I can buy a $.99 iTune. I may not be able to buy a $25 book, but I might be able to afford a $2.50 chapter from a book.
  • Kids and lots of adults are finding accessing information electronically more appealing than finding it in print. No, we don’t have a practical e-book reader available now, but ultra-portable laptops and handhelds are getting there. The latest iPods show video (and will, of course, play audio books). Will the next ones have a screen that makes digital reading easy on the eyes?
So what are the implications for libraries? I wish I knew. I can’t answer any of the questions above about Amazon’s licensing agreements with libraries. Does Amazon itself know? Who are the library mucky-mucks looking out for libraries? I doubt ALA's been asked to the table.

As I and others  have suggested, libraries may well need to become something other than storehouses of “free” (taxpayer purchased) information. When the majority of patrons can find or economically purchase (prices will fall for books as increased volume in purchasing lowers prices without hurting the publisher’s bottom line), what’s the use of libraries? Well,..
  • Physical libraries can still be terrific places to “be.” (Coffee shops, community centers, places to work in groups.)
  • Physical libraries can still be terrific place to learn how to find, understand and use information if the librarians are really teachers.
  • Physical libraries can still be places to excite people about learning through events and activities.
  • And, of course, the one no librarian wants to hear, libraries can still be places where children can be “contained” so parents or classroom teachers get a break.
What else can or should libraries be? What is the need for a library when the cost of information isn’t much of a factor, especially for the taxpaying and voting middle class? (Those on the wrong side of the digital divide aren't a political force, like it or not.)

 
On a side note, personally I am going to LOVE being able to buy a page of a book. Think of the convenience and economy. The LWW is currently reading Ellis’s American Sphinx : The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Let’s hypothetically say I am doing research on Lewis and Clark. I can either...

  • Drive 20 miles into town to the public library (and hope it’s not a night it closes at 5PM).
  • Find the book (if it is not checked out).
  • Find the chapter that focuses on L&C.
  • Pay $.25 per page to print the relevant pages.
  • Drive home. (Think of those gas prices!)
  • Retype the quotes I want into my paper.

or

  • Do an Amazon search.
  • Locate the pages I want from the Ellis book.
  • Pay my pennies.
  • Copy and paste the info into my paper (properly cited of course).

And this is from someone who believes in libraries! Help. I need your thoughts! What can or should ALA be doing?

Sunday
Nov062005

Can blogging be a tool for teaching good writing practices?

A gift for your favorite blogger
Last night I picked up the recently released illustrated version of Strunk and White’s classic book on good writing The Elements of Style.

The original has been an old friend of mine since college when it was required reading for a basic comp class. And skimming it again (concentrated reading to follow), I’ve decided S&W’s advice should be required reading of all bloggers. And required re-reading for those of us who have been writing for public consumption for some time.

How can anyone go wrong with commandments such as:
  • Use the active voice.
  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  • Omit unnecessary words.
  • Write in a way that comes naturally.
Bloggers, given the less formal tone of the medium, may have problems with admonitions such as:
  • Place yourself in the background. (Hey, isn’t this blog all about ME?)
  • Revise and rewrite. (You’ve got to be kidding.)
  • Do not inject opinion. (But what would I write?)

Pick up a copy for yourself or your favorite blogger.


Can blogging be a tool for teaching writing?
There is a raging debate on the usefulness and appropriateness of blogging as an educational activity throughout the blogosphere right now. Granted, I can’t say I’ve read every blog out there – far from it - but I am finding little about blogging as an effective tool to improve writing abilities and style of K-12 students. (Barbara Ganley at bbblogging  addresses the issue at a college level with experienced writers doing creative writing.)

On the positive side (this is the old English teacher speaking), I see blogging as having some genuine benefits:

  • We know students display a higher level of concern about the quality of their writing if there is a public audience.
  • Technology is sexy to kids and blogs may motivate them to write more. And the more one writes, the better one tends to get.
  • Blogs allow a simple and immediate means of responding/critiquing others’ writings and ideas.
On the negative side, I see blogging as having some significant drawbacks as well:
  • Unless we ask kids to compose first, and then paste their writing into a blog, the critical revision/re-writing stages of the writing process is missed.
  • The technology skills attainment may overshadow the purpose of the activity itself – good writing skill attainment. (We’ve certainly seen this happen with PowerPoint.)
  • This activity does, of course, require technology. What happens when the inspiration strikes a student and a computer is not available?
I’d love to see blogging addressed by someone who is deeply knowledgeable about writing “best practices.” Any places that you, dear reader, might send me to locate this sort of information?

FDA approved
Sundays I take the liberty of using this forum for more personal matters. I took a few minutes and did some counting. Since the early 1990’s, I’ve published:
  • Four books (one which has been revised – and another that needs it).
  • Over 100 magazine articles and book chapters (at least that I've kept track of).
  • Over 100 columns in print magazines.
  • And now,  already 80 blog entries since starting this nonsense this August.

I've tried to articulate this sickness at "Why I Write for Publication." I also take even greater pride in the fact that I've encouraged quite a few other educators to write for publication as well. (And if you have an idea, let me know. I'll encourage you as well.)

Readers, this is good news for you. My writing has long been approved by the FDA as a non-addictive sleep aid! Insomniacs, take note!

Saturday
Nov052005

Young bloggers - can we stop them? can we steer them?

 

Not only do my library friends at LM_Net have interesting discussions, so do my my tech buddies at WWWedu. A major topic this week has been on student blogging and the liability of schools for “bad” student blogging.

(The full text of this discussion can be found on the wwwedu archives or in yahoogroups, from about message 7550  to about message  7597. I have selectively snipped from the messages. I encourage you to read the entire discussion. It's worth your time.)

Friend and highly respected colleague (and national cyber-bullying expert), Nancy Willard (check out her website) offered the following caution:

My concern, focusing on cyberbullying, is that due to lack of effective professional and curriculum development, some teachers may think that letting students go to commercial blogging sites and post material is perfectly okay. …this raises significant liability concerns for schools (please note the JD after my name, something I rarely point out but in this case am).
OK, then I went a little ballistic:

I guess I am just feeling cantankerous today, but I am VERY distressed by Nancy's concern about the liability issues concerning blogging.

First, (while I have no JD), I do know parents can sue for just dang near anything they want to (and do). This does not prevent us from putting playgrounds, offering football as a sport, or letting kids ride bikes to school.

I also know that districts protect themselves from litigation by practicing due diligence. The question here is not whether we let kids go to commercial blogging sites (or have e-mail or use chat or even have Internet access period), but whether we can document whether we have taught kids the safe use of these resources and make responsible efforts to monitor their use.

Personally, I think this fear of lawsuits stuff has scared too many educators into over-blocking websites and denying kids use of technologies like e-mail, chat and blogging that kids SHOULD be learning to use effectively and appropriately.

Yes, kids are going to make mistakes. That's a part of learning. But isn't it better that kids are making mistakes at school under the supervision and guidance of knowledgeable adults than at home alone or with parents who know little or nothing of the risks? We should be thinking best interests of kids, not least trouble for schools.

There, I feel better.
And I threw in my “Proposal for Banning Pencils” for good measure. Hah, that’ll learn’m!

 

And did Nancy get mad? Nooooo. She wrote the wonderful reasoned response:

A couple of points: I do not think there is "potential misuse," I think there is a high probability that students are using Internet systems in schools to cyberbully each other. And some students who are being cyberbullied are committing suicide, as well as this is leading to school failure, school avoidance, and the like.

Further, based on what I know about the facts of the case -- which is admittedly limited -- I think there is a good possibility that the Red Lake shooter and other students were discussing the shooting in advance and, given they were teens it is probable these discussions were electronic, and given this was a reservation I suspect some of these discussions were through the district Internet system.

And I will tell you that this raises liability concerns for districts.
So here is a quick primer on negligence law.
There are four elements:
  • A legal duty. 
  • A breach of that legal duty.
  • Proximate cause—the breach of the duty was a substantial factor in bringing about an injury, damage, loss, or harm.
  • Actual injuries, loss, or damage. 
Schools have a duty to anticipate foreseeable dangers and to take necessary precautions against those dangers to protect students in their care. A breach of the duty occurs when a school official fails to exercise a reasonable standard of care. The issue of proximate cause asks whether the student’s injury something that could have been foreseen and prevented by a school official. Damages sustained as the result of bullying may include emotional harm and the costs of addressing that harm (e.g. the costs of counseling), losses to student due to the student’s avoidance of school (eg. lowered school performance, which will interfere with student’s future educational opportunities), and the like.

Clearly, schools have a duty to protect students when using the Internet. It is foreseeable that students could be using the district Internet system to bully each other or could post material online that provides indications of a threat.

So the key question is: "What is the reasonable standard of care?" And then for a school, it will be a question of fact regarding whether a particular school was exercising a reasonable standard of care. Schools can't guard against ALL harm, but if a harm is foreseeable, then they must take reasonable steps to guard against it.
And Nancy adds:
Banning computer use is clearly not the answer. Banning all blogging is also not the answer. But if we cannot establish practices that meet a "reasonable standard of care" then some administrators may think banning is the answer. So the last thing I want to do is tell administrators that they have a problem without telling them what they can do to address the problem and still encourage the effective use of technology for good educational purposes.
….
So, I am telling you that there is a high probability that students are misusing the Internet in schools to bully each other and this could cause significant harm to youth. You tell me what reasonable precautions need to be made in all schools to guard against this kind of harm.


OK, I’ll admit that I slept through my school law class and Nancy paid attention all the way through real law school.

What is really cool is that Nancy solicited ideas from the other members of WWWEDU (who she tells me personally she can always count on for good ideas) about what would constitute “reasonable standard of care.”  From these messages she generated the following major points:

  • Having a focus on professional and curriculum development related to these technology issues.
  • Using technology for student blogging that gives the teacher a maximum amount of control and that blogs are focused on class work activity.
  • Having teachers  engage their students in blogging – but teach them about responsible blogging.
  • Having guidelines for student behavior that promote student learning.
  • Promoting collaboration between safe school folks (who tend not to know much about technology but a lot about behavior) and ed tech folks (who understand the technology, but may not know a lot about the issues related to safe schools).
  • Making sure that staff and students know about the policies.
  • Having guidelines for teacher behavior.
  • Considering policies regarding actions to taken when a student is the victim of a harmful communication
  • Educating students about
    • the folly and potential downsides of making online threats.
    • the importance of reporting such threats (even if they may not be real)
  • Having a confidential/anonymous reporting system that specifically refers to and provides the ability to report concerning online material -- including an online reporting mechanism.
  • Having a systematic situation review process to figure out who is the bully and who is the target in the overall situation and determine the legitimacy of any online threats.

And finally from Nancy:

However, the thread ended too soon and there is at least one other item that should be on this list — and that is doing a regular needs assessment. Don’t just accept my word that this is a problem. I’m telling you that I think there is a high probability of the problem here, but it is really important for schools and school districts to figure out to whether there is a problem, to what extent there is a problem, how the problem emerges, etc.  Then, based on this information, more specific appropriate strategies can be developed. The other items on the list are important basic approaches that I think should be implemented in all schools — and not only will help address the concern of cyberbullying, but also enhance the more effective use of Internet technologies for high quality educational purposes. But if a school finds that there are particular problems with student misuse of computers in the library during lunch time, then specific measures can be taken to address this concern.

Cindy Penchina, David Warlick, Art Wollinsky, John Thompson and others also contributed great insights into this issue. Go back and read the archives.

Fellow educators, let’s not delude ourselves. Student blogging happens whether we like it or not. (See the new Pew study on teen-age blogging.)

We can’t stop student bloggers – period. But can we steer them by giving them guided practice in our schools? Personally, I believe the responsible answer must be “yes.”

Two side thoughts…

  1. Is it ethical to repeat the conversations from a listserv in a blog without the express permission of the writer to the listserv? Is taking conversations out of context (for brevity sake) fair to the original writer? (Like it doesn’t happen in journalism!)
  2. Are listservs a better choice of technology than blogs to conduct this sort of “discussion?” My current experience both with this blog and the others I read is that they are more a public forum for the opinions of the blogger than a discussion forum, despite that not being the intent of the blogger him/herself.

Your thoughts on student blogging in schools?