No money?

I would offer this as evidence that Internet providers do make sufficient funds from their past investments.

Companies have bid more than $30 billion to get a slice of the mid-range frequency spectrum auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission last week.

Part of the concern highlighted by the net neutrality debate is that providers have or nearly have a monopoly on access opportunities. My concern is that the Internet is moving toward the old system in which only those with great assets control the information we can access or can offer.

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Net Neutrality – Both Side

Folks probably tire of my comments on net neutrality. Obviously, I am a fan of maintaining what I would describe as an open Internet. As a provider of free content, I want to keep my server costs as low as possible and I do not want large companies to be able to reduce the efficiency of access to my content because they can purchase fast track access. From the beginning, I saw the value of the Internet as what used to be called a Read/Write web. The implication is all whether wealthy or not would have a chance to write.

This would not be much of a controversy if there was not another side. Rather than try to explain the complexity of the controversy, I refer you to a recent edition of This Week in Tech mostly featuring a give and take on this issue.

The way I think about the competing positions might be explain as who do you trust. Do you trust the government or do you trust the access providers (e.g., AT&T, Comcast)? Some folks just assume the government should stay out of as many functions of things as possible. The success of the US according to some is based on business competition leading to innovation and efficiency. While true in many sectors, this does not happen to be true for online access. Most folks have the option of two providers and some of us have a single provider. Hence, the pro-business argument makes some sense BUT not in a situation when there is very little actual competition. The business argument is that this sector must operate differently (phone, cable) because of the cost of infrastructure. True, BUT the companies in this sector have already paid for their investments and are now making huge profits. Anyone dealing with a cell phone company probably has an opinion of the responsibility these companies feel toward their customers.

Anyway, watch the video. It does a good job of offering the competing positions and explaining some of the complexities.

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Who knows what about tech

The “digital native” thing has always annoyed me. I guess I should be less critical – growing up with a technology in place does not necessarily mean you understand the technology or can use it in creative ways.

I always wondered why there was so little data available on who knows what. It would seem the kind of thing researchers could easily investigate. An article in THE Journal referenced a recent study that I found interesting. The study concluded that middle school science teachers know more about tech than their students. What I found useful about the paper was the literature review (the full paper is available online). Ed tech grad students might want to take a look at this paper as a good source for other studies.

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Election 2014

If you read my blogs on a regular basis, you likely understand my interest in politics. For me, this interest is a requirement of anyone interested in public education. For a couple of decades, Cindy and I have hosted a gathering at our place to watch the returns. This year because we have moved we are no longer in the company of our friends.

Just for kicks, I searched my blogs for past comments on this day. Interesting to review the highs and the lows.

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Selling course notes

Here is a NY Time article on the financial opportunity in selling class notes. This is one of those topics that relates to my past professional life. I had no interest in selling notes, but I was interested in the note-taking limitations of lower performing college students and how their learning might be improved by what were called “expert notes”. Those who purchase notes have achieved an important goal – they have acted in support of their learning. One of the problems I found in my research was that when expert notes were made available, the notes were more likely to be accessed by higher performing rather than lower performing students. Hence, it is difficult to do applied research on this topic. It is difficult to isolate the value of the more complete notes from the higher motivation to learn possibly implied by seeking the notes in the first place.

I was also interested in the potential of wiki notes. I would post an outline of presentations and invite any and all to add details. This never seemed to work. There was plenty of interest in detailed notes, but not in creating such a resource for peers. This is also an interesting question. Why, if students have taken more complete notes on a device, are they unwilling to share and collaborate?

These are issues in the transitions between the idealism of the lab and the frustrating realities of what most students are willing to do in support of learning. Selling notes to the needy works because of these disparities.

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Coding is not the issue

I must be careful when I characterize what other people advocate because I may not actually understand their intent. This is the case with my reaction to educators who have discovered coding. Is the intent that it would be helpful if students learned coding as a life/vocational skill or that they learn enough about coding that they are not mystified by how technology works? Education is a type of zero-sum game. Unfortunately, we keep thinking of things to add, but they struggle with what to delete.

I can code – I really can. I operated servers in support of my research for many years and wrote the software that was the basis for my research. I went through several languages over the years as I moved from a focus on isolated computers to making use of the Internet. Now that I am retired I was thinking I should develop something that would make me rich, famous, or both. I have the time. I have the hardware. Why not just sit down and get to it? What I am lacking is the “big idea” and probably the motivation to search for one. I would rather read and write.

I just encountered this piece from the Telegraph that prompted this post and made a similar point. The topic also reminds me of the conversations I have had with my son about his career (he was originally a video editor and now an artistic director). For example, what is the advantage of his college educational relative to a technical degree say focused on multimedia. His reaction kind of explains my situation as a programmer. He values the background that allows him to tell a story with technology. This might be a documentary or a television ad. Mastery of the tech tools is important but that is just the starting point. He has a film degree, but he once told me that “anthropology” would also have been a good starting point. This was when he wanted to focus on documentaries and before he understood that supporting a family would at least temporarily require that he apply his skills in a different way. The point being that coding or video editing are tools and it is the background allowing the creative application of these tools that results in innovation.

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Future of the Book

Extended essay from The Economist on the future of the book. The essay can be either read or listened to.

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I wonder how Google identifies SEO scammers

I have a Google search question. Can the Google search algorithm tell the difference between a social bookmarking site and a link farm. I know that Google search drastically lowers the ranking of sites it interprets as a link farm and I think that social bookmarking site and a link farm have similar characteristics.

I started to think about this question when I set up a Shaarli bookmarking site  and wondered how Google search would infer the purpose of the site. I do not want my other content to be ignored because I have a bookmarking site.

It is not obvious to me how Google could tell the difference especially if the source was not a commercial site such as Diigo.

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Another comment option

I wish Google would add another option to commenting. The system as it exists seems optimized for collaborative writing. Adding a “commenting” option that would kind of fit between suggesting and viewing would be better suited to peer editing. Suggesting can be adapted for commenting, but the assumption is that a specific change is suggested and this change will be accepted or rejected by the original author. When educators read student work, they really want the student to do the work of improving the product rather than just accepting the teacher recommendation. I would think the best use of a peer editor would be similar.

Screenshot 2014-10-28 at 10.43.36

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A new type of textbook

The improvement of the textbook has been an interest for many years. Hence, when I locate an article on the topic I must curb my reaction which is often that the article offers ideas that seem novel but actually are not.

Here is a recent article from Medium on new ideas for the industry. My comments will make more sense if you first read “Tomorrow’s Textbooks”.

Here are my initial negative reactions:

1) The iBook from author does indeed offer flexibility in the use of multimedia that many think will improve the learner experience. As an example of a more innovative format, I would say I agree. However, until and unless Apple creates a product that is cross platform the iBook will not move the market forward. Few profs would knowingly require a book that also requires a certain type of hardware. The iBook is more likely to be influential in the K12 market as schools may provide iPads to all student.

2) The notion that students will learn on their phones has a surface appeal. Most students have a phone and most use them heavily. However, my challenge to the proponents would be this. How many books have you read on your phone? I can say I have read several just to evaluate the experience. It is a stretch to say extended reading on a small screen is an equivalent experience when what we are searching for are improvements. Maybe a phablet. I also think the focus on phones runs contrary to some of the other recommendations regarding learning content.

3) My area of research for quite a few years involved personalizing the reading experience. What I did as research seems similar to one of the final areas of development identified in the Medium article. The article describes the use of analytics embedded in the learning resource to help the learner make better decisions. “Computer control” in computer based instruction has been around for a long time, but seldom applied at scale to textbooks. My personal interest was in the use of diagnostic quizzing to encourage review of poorly understood content. I was interested in metacognition and what technology had to offer to those with poor metacognitive skills. The frustrating (and interesting) thing about this work turned out to be that those students with less capable metacognitive skills also turned out to be less responsive to suggestions for what they should review specific content (rereading could be tracked). Instead of “don’t know and don’t know you don’t know” it seemed to also be “don’t know and don’t care”. It was about this time in my research career that I reached the age of 65 and retired.

As I suggest in my initial comments, I think a focus on “learning materials” deserves more attention. I am encouraged by interesting ideas even when I am a doubter. I am more concerned with the textbook industry because I see the large commercial sources retarding the process of improvement. I do not see traditional companies as being creative or flexible enough to generate change. If I were to complain about profs, I would focus less on their insensitivity to cost issues and more on their lack of willingness to explore alternatives to the traditional book. Perhaps instructor evaluations should include items related to the learning resources that have been assigned.

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