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Tuesday
Nov082005

What drives your technology initiatives?

Last Sunday, I ruminated a bit on whether blogs were a technology for teaching writing.  And I found that I’ve been out of the English classroom too long to remember many “best practices” anymore. But I did remember I have a rather useful book sitting near my desk: Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde's Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools 2nd ed. Heinemann, 1998. (There is a 3rd edition available.)

In the section on “Best Practices in Teaching Writing,” compiled from various national professional organizations such as National Council of Teachers of English, the book lists these as “best practices.”

  • Teachers must help students find real purposes to write.
  • Effective writing programs involve the complete writing process.
    • Selecting
    • Pre-writing
    • Drafting
    • Revising
    • Editing
  • Teachers can help students get started.
  • Teachers help students draft and revise
  • Grammar and mechanics are best learned in the context of actual writing.
  • Students need real audiences and a classroom context of shared learning.
  • Writing should extend throughout the curriculum.

So which practices are supported, which are hindered, and which are not impacted at all by technology use? (Thanks, Chris, for your comment about how David Warlick's Blogmeister supports the revision stage of the writing process.) Do I as a tech director know enough about teaching writing to answer this question?

Here’s the point I’d like to make. Isn't it time we start looking at best practices first and technology second? It is about dammed time that teachers do the technology implementation planning instead of us technology directors. It's an awful lot to expect from even guys and gals even as intelligent, (charming and good looking) as we techies to know the best practices of every subject and skill at every developmental level.

In other areas of the district, the impetus for technology implementation has come from outside the technology department. Building administration wants a reliable student information system. Assessment needs good data mining tools. Special education demands a better way to do IEP forms. Community education wants a simple way to keep track of building schedules. Transportation, human resources, finance, census – all these departments have pushed my department to find, implement and maintain technology solutions to make them more effective.

Where is the push from the classroom? We have our early adopters. We have some simple programs that many teachers use (too often more for entertainment value than educational value). Our library media specialists, business ed, tech ed and (strangely enough) PE folks push for technology to support their teaching goals and best practices. But compared to the administrative side, teachers just aren’t very demanding.

Why?

  • Do teachers not know about potentially useful tech applications?
  • Do teachers not know best practices?
  • Are teachers not able to link technology and best practices?

I am signing up for this year’s English teacher’s conference and asking to be put on the routing list for NCTE’s English Journal. And if I find that technology is being linked to effective writing practices in places where these English teachers hang out, boy, are they in trouble.

How much is it the technology department’s job to promote technology use? How much is the technology department’s job to support the technology initiatives of the pedagogical experts?

__________________________

In his column this morning, Leonard Pitts described e-mail as "...a repository for the detritus of cluttered minds." That may well become the new subtitle of this blog.

 

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!