Sunday, February 22, 2009

I've Been Thinking...

A good friend of mine uses the title "I've Been Thinking" as the title of one of his blogs... and it seems fitting for this post.

Here's what I had been reading before this last school break:

Two books:
Disrupting Class
Grown Up Digital

Going through regular blog updates by:

I read through the New Horizons Report and one from the Web Use Project.

All of these the titles and bloggers above are worth multiple entries here themselves. But that's what's got me thinking... about taking a break. These books, reports and bloggers continue to share a common theme in that education is moving altogether too slowly and so often in the wrong direction on the technology front. Collaboration, creation, exploration and advanced use are too infrequently in place. Technology in many school settings is limited to how many computers the school has and most of those are used for general access. While a word processor is certainly easier to use than a manual typewriter it does not explore the potential of the machine. Add in limited web research opportunities, to say nothing of collaboration opportunities. Too many collaboration tools are restricted from use. Too many signs that prohibit or severely limit the use of technology use are still visible. Lots of potential slipping by I think. A Vermont education / technology listserv at UVM discussions reflect the wide scope of themes and discussions and the thoughts of the participants on these subjects.

It's not the first time my mind was buzzing and I was a bit frustrated with the same old debates on whether technology had a place in education, if students were too plugged in. So I took a theme that was running through the many of these blog posts on "what is education for" and decided to give it a good think on a trip I was taking to Disney in Orlando, Florida with family and friends for the break. A perfect time to unplug, separate from reading, take a ton of photos, get some sun and let my mind wander.

Here's a bit of what caught my eye.

It had been just over a year since I had been in an airport. Wireless access, plugin stations for power, laptop, cell phone, and pda use were, well, everywhere. I decided to sit back and just watch it all for a bit. Then I got the itch to talk to some folks about what they were doing. Here are a few quotes I jotted down.

"It's so much easier to stay in touch."

"If you don't collaborate, if you don't network in my business you're done."

"Ebooks, video and podcasts are how I educate myself now. I have access to everything I need and more ways than ever to find new things."

A lady I spoke with reading on a Kindle (the old version) tossed out a gem:

" It's hard to unplug sometimes. I get used to the connectivity, used to the stream of information coming in. I used to feel the same way with books though and in college. Learning how to manage it, how to separate from work is more important than ever. This is better for me now though. I can access what I want and it's easier for me to find information, to find something new."

Here was another beauty:

"Our company just got these blackberry's. For a bit honestly I was thinking it was time for me to get another job. Now that I'm getting used to it it's saving me a lot of time and I've been thinking more and more about how I work and keep in touch with people."

At Disney, cell phones and, as you'd expect, digital cameras were everywhere. I spoke to a few folks on how they used digital photos:

"I can capture everything I want. I used to be worried about the cost of taking photos. Not anymore."

"I snap everything I can now to capture our time together. My parents lost all our family albums in a fire. Almost 30 years later I lost all my photos to a failed hard drive. Now I back everything up and I'm snapping photos like crazy."

"We all have cameras, my three children, my wife. I decided to do this because my Father only appears in a handful of our old pictures because he was the one behind the camera all the time. I want my wife and kids to have photos of me too. It's also been great to see the world through the eyes of my children. Seeing what they feel is important is an eye opener. We take less formal pose pictures now and we're getting more shots of how we act, how we live."

I have relayed this theme to folks for many years. My own Father appears in about 20 photos in our family albums. This gent and I chatted for about 20 minutes on the subject and shared some ideas about how we talk to our own children about taking photos. I split use of a camera between two children to this point but plan on adding another so they can both take photos at the same time after this chat we had. We both seemed to agree in this conversation that folks in our generation and those earlier seemed to take a lot of photos of places we've been. Now these places and scenes are readily available on the web. I told this chap about the projects with SeaDragon and Photosynth , geo-tagging and the like and it led the conversation further down this path. Capturing family members in those scenes and the emotions, the nuances of our families and the people around us we agreed was easier than ever before. We also agreed that our children seemed to take to this shift naturally.

I took tons of photos, video clips and enjoyed the time away from reading on education, the sun and the change of scenery and close family time away from all our household lives. Disney is an interesting place. It's like stepping into my childhood imagination at times and one hell of a high quality theme park. It's also overrun with expense and commercialism. It's inevitable though to provide a scene of that high quality it seems. Walt Disney would have been a fascinating person to chat with while he was building the idea and beginning construction of it all. Selling that idea to investors had it's trials I'll bet. Perhaps it would provide insight into selling one-to-one computing locally and in the State. Walking around in t-shirts and shorts in the sun in the afternoon and returning home to shovel 10 inches of snow from the walkway sticks in my mind. Traveling the world is certainly something we should all do more of if we can.

The time away also reinforced once again that we're on the right track here in the Lab. Diverse challenges, loads of debate and discussion on all these issues in education and the role and use of these technology tools will get us closer to seeing it's potential. Ditto for the continuing quest to fire up innovative programs.

The trip also got me thinking about how this blog is used for the Lab. More posting, more discussion and.. we'll see what else is on the horizon.

On the horizon: Great work with students this semester will happily consume much of my time. Baseball starts up soon and there my continuing quest to leave the realm of general manager and dedicate more time to coaching. Burlington High School is coming to see the inner workings of the Lab and our scope of courses at BBA in March. Various presentations on what we're doing here at conferences and at other schools, foundation work on a State laptop pilot, further discussion on the shift in education and opportunities at hand will take place. Foundation work to improve local fields and instructional programs will certainly take some time. Whipping up a great local baseball clinic, that's definitely needed and in the works. We'll continue to refine our Help Desk program and direct people onto the potential of a one-to-one computing program here and the countless opportunities it can present to students to take part in education and skills in the changing world. Exploring creativity, the world and your role in it. A fine goal for what education means I think.

One of the blogs read today just pointed me toward Yale University's entry into the OpenCourseWare movement. Another point that giving folks access to technology and then modeling and promoting sophisticated use can lead down great paths.

... and Heath Ledger just won the best supporting actor award for his role as the Joker in the Dark Knight. Not to be bias as a Batman fan, but it's well deserved. The tragic death of a brilliant actor.

Lots to give a think. Lots of lobbying to do. Some good pizza will help I think.