Recommended summer reading – context for educators

I have observed that other bloggers with an audience of educators have been suggesting books for summer reading. I have decided to do the same. My first set of recommendations concerns what I would describe as an attempt to broaden the context for educational practice. The notion that educators can keep their heads down and ignore the political and economic context within which they work drives me crazy. The following recommendations concern issues I think are major factors in establishing the context for the future of education. I have made a conscious attempt to ignore books about political processes. Of course, these books concern issues that some have politicized. I believe the issues addressed are important no matter how politicians choose to spin them.

Friedman. Hot, flat and crowded: Why we need a green revolution. I have read all of Friedman’s books and this is perhaps the one that summarizes most of his key ideas – we must accept our interdependence (globalization) to address the most serious problems we face; e.g., climate change, population growth.

Goldsmith and Wu. Who Controls the Internet: Illusions of a borderless world. I have long hoped that Internet access would be a way to give more individuals more power and opportunities. This book argues against this hope and explains what those of us who are advocates might do about the direction we are heading.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee. The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. I would describe this as a description of the future of work (AI, robots, skills influencing employment opportunities) and the disruption why must work through in getting from here to there.

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Can less be more?

Urging innovation seems a political position that is too easy. I guess the idea is to encourage exploration by promising not to judge. Or, perhaps the suggestion amounts to “I have no ideas, but change sounds good.”

US News and World Report is at least willing to offer a proposal. As I understand the recommendation, it is to cut back high school to three years focused on the essentials. The recommendations for the 4th year is kind of a hodge podge:

Instead of a traditional senior year, that 17- or 18-year-old year could be spent in apprenticeships and various industry training programs, additional preparation for students who want to attend four-year colleges but aren’t academically ready, preparation for military service, gaps years, national service or starting college early for students who are genuinely ready to go.

As a retired university faculty member with considerable experience teaching freshmen, I certainly do not encourage putting students into a university setting earlier. If anything, I would support the US News proposal as a 5th year of high school. I like the gap year idea as a way for students to consider what they should do next and not waste expensive options because of a lack of commitment or maturity. I also wonder about the notion that high school should focus on the essentials. This idea is such an area of disagreement and I think most who work in high school settings would argue that they are expected to take on more and more rather than less (e.g., coding skills, financial literacy).

An issue that is important is that smaller school districts cannot offer many options. Gap year options make individuals less dependent on their local districts, but the challenge then becomes how to make these options available. This is one of those issues that wealthier families have always been more able to address through travel, time and resources for hobbies, etc. I just don’t see politicians taking up the slack. If anything, fewer resources are being invested in preparation for life.

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Browser improvements stress ad avoidance

Both Google and Apple held recent events to announce improvements to their products and services.

Among the upgrades announced by Apple at WWDC were some interesting improvements to the Safari browser. These changes, explained as security improvements, involve the display of ads. Safari will block self-playing video (this was described during the keynote as “you can press play yourself”). The browser “reader mode” will offer a clean view of content blocking ads when used as the default and machine learning will block ads that allow the cross-site display of ads (this is the feature that learns about your interests in one location and then presents ads related to such interests when viewing another site).

Google has announced its own approach to blocking inappropriate ads on Chrome. Obviously, Google makes most of its money from ads so it is not against all ads. Inappropriate ads are those that pop up over the content to be read or in some way require the attention of the reader.

The media has offered a variety of takes on these approaches noting that Apple assumes there is nothing to lose by blocking all ads and Google will emphasize the less intrusive ads key the Google business model.

Wired analysis

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Google Alerts – Search Continuously

Google alerts allow a user to set alerts that identify topics specified by the user and return a list of what is found on a periodic basis. Alerts let the user know when new content fitting designated search terms appear.

The video that appears here provides an introduction to Google Alerts. Perhaps this is a resource you or your students may find useful.

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Change to YouTube ad policy

I have ad-enabled videos on YouTube. These videos are mostly tutorials I have created to accompany my “tech for teachers” books. Instructional videos do not generate the millions of views sometimes associated with the popular entertainment videos, but I have already felt that those offering instructional content should have the potential for a return on the time they invest. Ad revenue from online resources in comparison to the return from books is miniscule so my interest is mostly in the process rather than the few dollars I receive.

So, I make a couple of dollars a month from my YouTube views. A month or so ago, I noticed that the frequency of views had increased but pennies were being accumulated. I thought perhaps I had been placed on super secret probation or something. I then came across an explanation that Google had changed its policy on YouTube video income and a producer must accumulate 10,000 views before the ads would return income.

For educators, hoping to generate revenue by offering instructional videos this information may explain what might be a source of confusion.

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Applying CRAAP to online sources

This from the American Psychological Association web site (Susan Nolan) – a comment on identifying fake news in the classroom. I do like the “think like a scientist approach” and I have always tried to encourage the students I work with to carefully consider the methodology responsible for findings (you tend not to assume there are outright fabrications in the content we ask students to review) and identify what unstated influences may have been present.

BTW – CRAAP is an acronym the author encourages to encourage attention to possible sources of bias.

  • Currency (When was it published? Has it been updated?)
  • Relevance (Does it relate to your needs? Who is the audience?)
  • Authority (Who are the author and publisher? What are their credentials?)
  • Accuracy (Is it reliable and truthful? Is it supported by evidence?)
  • Purpose (Why does this information exist? Is there a bias?)
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PEW data on book readers

PEW just released new data on adult book readers. The data are focused specifically on books and relates reading frequency to several demographic variables (income, education, age). Twenty-six percent of adults admit to reading no part of a book in the past year. Younger, better educated, and more affluent adults are more likely readers. The % of adults who have read an ebook is surprisingly small (28%) with better educated adults more likely to use this format.

The study ignores many related issues and makes little attempt to explain reasons for reading or not reading. It is unclear whether nonreaders consume information in other ways to make up for less reading.

I found it interesting that reading content related to work drops off quickly, but reading to understand current events does not.


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NPR podcast for 5-7 year-olds

WOW in the World is a new NPR podcast for young learners. The series will focus on STEM topics. This is the first NPR program for elementary and middle school learners.

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OER – an overview

Free is good” (Bethany Ray) – a recent Edutopia article – provides a nice explanation of OER (open educational resources) for the novice. The explanation argues the benefits of OER in contrast to commercial materials and suggests OER provides educators a way to find resources for individual student needs. Of course, the challenge with OER is finding the resources and the article does a nice job of identifying repositories that can be searched.

A brief plug for my own work – I argue that online content and learning resources are not the same thing (see series beginning with this post). Layering services (examples are explained in the series) enable educators to function as instructional designers and add components to information rich content to guide and support student learning.

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Authentic tech activities challenge stereotypes

I have long argued that a great way to address stereotypes regarding the potential of technology is to show educators striking counter-examples. To many, sitting in a classroom or a lab staring at a computer is the stereotypes I have long seen as artificial.

I was reminded of this issue in a kind of strange way. My personal training in biology sensitizes me to certain issues. The willingness of politicians to deny the reality of climate change is one such issue. In following this issue, I came across this article about taking students into the field to help them understand issues of ecology and climate. The article stressed the importance of getting learners involved in the science of ecology.

Take a look at the article I reference. For me, the image used in the article immediately triggered memories of a field-based experience my wife helped develop and sponsor. The project allowed middle school students to visit a state park in North Dakota and use technology to address issues of environmental importance. This was early on in the push for ways to integrate technology and the project has remained for me nearly a perfect example of using technology to provide students authentic experiences that allow them to function as scientific practitioners.

I wrote about this example in our textbook many years ago (a related description exists online) and the characteristics of the example still serve as a reminder of the potential of educational technology. I had the opportunity to video some of the events and I have now converted the video to YouTube video to offer this example.

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