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EdTech Update





Personal use of the Internet

I’ve been thinking a lot about a line from Frances Jacobson’s book, I Found It on the Internet.  (My review.) She worries libraries suffer from comparison to the Internet in students’ minds when, “Libraries become places to look for information other people want you to find, not for information that you yourself find intrinsically compelling or valuable.”

On our state media association list, a Minnesota media specialist recently asked a question all have asked at one time or another:

     …what do you allow students to do on the Internet? I started the year (in a high school) with a pretty loose policy, then had to step it up to no games, videos, quizzes, chat rooms, email, discussion boards, IMing, etc. Now I am battling eBay and anime sites and I am tempted to squash Internet use for personal things altogether.
     However, I also had a student today looking at different religions and I get students researching signs of depression and serious topics that they should be able to learn about on their own. I need to find a balance between no personal use and free access.

Below is a snippet from a book chapter I wrote for Carol Simpson’s Ethics in School Librarianship: A Reader which summarized my answer to the above question:
The pursuit of information by students to meet personal needs should be encouraged in schools. Life-long learning strategies, practice in information evaluation, and experiences in building effective communication strategies are all reinforced when students use information technologies to meet personal goals.

As library media specialists and technologists, we need to lighten up a little in regard to what students are doing with the Internet in our libraries and classrooms as well. The Internet has vast resources that are not directly related to the curriculum but are of high interest to students at all grade levels. Information about sports, fashion, movies, games, celebrities, and music in bright and exciting formats abounds.

 The use of the Internet for class work of course must be given priority, but computer terminals should never sit empty. And there are some good reasons to allow students personal use of the Internet:

  • It gives kids a chance to practice skills. After all that’s why we have “recreational” reading materials in our libraries. Do we really subscribe to Hot Rod or Seventeen because they’re used for research? If we want kids who can do an effective Internet search, read fluently, and love to learn, does it make much difference if they are learning by finding and reading webpages on the Civil War or Civil War games?
  • It gives weight to the penalty of having Internet access taken away. The penalty for misuse of the Internet is often a suspension of Internet us privileges. As a student, if I were restricted to only school work uses of the Internet and had my Internet rights revoked, I’d pretty much say, “So what?” and wonder what I had to do to get my textbooks taken away as well. But if I am accustomed to using the Internet each morning before school to check on how my favorite sports team was faring, the loss of Internet access as a consequence of misbehavior would be far more serious.
  • It makes the library media center a place kids want to be. Many of our students love the library for the simple reason that it is often the only place that allows them to read books of personal interest, work on projects that are meaningful, and explore interests that fall outside the curriculum in an atmosphere of relative freedom. Kids need a place like that, and we should provide it – even at the Internet terminals.
Granted, my thoughts on this are pretty idealistic. Recreational/personal use of the Interent in schools can and does cause problems. But we risk losing kids as library users, both now and as adults if we take a hard line approach. Unless you only want kids in your library when they HAVE to be there, it must be cool and meaningful place to be.

Where is the happy medium? Is there one? How would you answer the question 'What do you allow students to do on the Internet?"



Three laws of AI

George Dyson in his Edge article "Turing's Cathedral" (November 24, 2005), quotes a Google employee as saying about the  Google Book Seach (formerly Google Print) project:

"We are not scanning all those books to be read by people... We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

I have to admit, this gave me the willies. Should it? Is there an AI equivilent to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics?

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I'd sleep better knowing that someone a whole lot smarter than I am is thinking this through. Will AIs be the benign helpmates envisioned by Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines or the nemisis of humanity desribed in Dan Simmon's science fiction novels of Hyperion or Clarke's 2001?

Is my friendly little PowerBook about to say to me: "I'm sorry, Doug. I'm afraid I can't do that."?



Treo and the Accelerated Learning Curve

Several folks asked me if I would  comment  on whether I like my Treo 650 that I recently acquired.

The Sprint phone and web services became active last Wednesday afternoon,  so I spent quite a bit of time on Thanksgiving  Day futzing with the thing. Here, so far, are the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good:

  • Having used my Palm Tungsten C for a couple years,  I didn’t need to spend any time learning the PalmOS.
  • Synching the device with my PowerBook using Bluetooth is wonderful.  No wires. The first synch took a couple hours (I probably should have used the cable), but subsequent synchs have only taken a few minutes. I’ll be synching more often since it is so convenient, I believe.
  • Entourage (Outlook for Mac) conduits work great once you get all the Palm conduits turned off.
  • I used the same Palm desktop software with the Treo that I had been using with my Tungsten,  so the few extra programs I’d purchased were loaded to the new device. All but one (WebPro) worked.
  • The web connectivity works great. The connection is fast and a whole lot more versatile than the WiFi on the Tungsten. Yes, I’m paying $10 a month (less 15% school discount) for it, but that’s pretty cheap considering I can use this anyplace there is Sprint coverage and as much as I’d like.
  • Both my e-mail accounts, one POP, one IMAP, work just fine with VersaMail.
  • I like the speaker phone, the ability to easily create speed dial numbers, and especially being able to just tap a number in my contacts list and then tap dial – badda bing, baddaboom. No building two lists of phone numbers!
  • The manual provided by Sprint (not quite 8 pounds) is clearly written and seems comprehensive.

The bad:

  • Neither the keys nor the screen have gotten any bigger than on the Tungsten nor have my thumbs grown smaller nor my eyes better.  It is definitely bulkier than a regular cell phone.
  • Doesn’t look like there will be a good way to carry this device in a way that the screen doesn’t get scratched, but the phone is still convenient.
  • This will be a more costly proposition than I had anticipated. I had to buy my son a “Sprint” phone if we were to stay with a family plan ($70). I bought a case ($30) and an auto charger ($15). I’ll probably wind up buying another battery, another charger, and a memory card. So far, no software has caught my eye, but some of the mapping/GPS stuff looks cool. I also want a Bluetooth headset so I can wander about looking like I am visiting my own personal voices.

The ugly:

  • The little plastic protective sheet for the screen got bubbly and dirty in about 10 minutes. Worthless.
  • While websites pop up just fine, I’m finding very few maximized for the itty-bitty screen. Northwest Airlines has a special website just for people using PDAs. I’d love to see make a PDA maximized version of its site.
  • There is a learning curve still ahead –  how to use this thing as an mp3 player, with the memory card, programming buttons, etc.
  • Probably my biggest “ugly” may well be that the thing works too well and I may well become a “crackberry”- using it when I should be attending to human beings in meetings.

On a side note, I don’t remember a time when I’ve the need to learn more new techie stuff than I have over the past six months. So far I’ve tackled, but not mastered:

  • Tiger OS
  • Blogging software (two flavors) and relearning some html coding
  • Bloglines/RSS feeds
  • Wiki sites
  • Moodle learning software
  • Photo sharing services
  • New web editing software for our local Kiwanis club.
  • Skype
  • The cell phone part of the Treo.
  • The remote control on the big-ass, complicated TV I’ve hauled up from the downstairs family room.

I think I read one more “you really ought to try this wonderful service,” I’m going to have to find something to kick. Has the rate of new Web 2.0 apps increased lately, or have I just come out of a coma?