Monday, January 12, 2009

Links 1-12-09

A Whole New Mind Project - I'm trying to adapt this project to The Poisonwood Bible.

Learner vs. Curriculum-Centered
- A question I ask myself daily.

21st Century Handouts
- I think that's an oxymoron, but it's useful.

Online Reading - Glad to see somebody else struggles with online reading the same way I do.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Links 1-8-08

Here are some links that I've found useful. They all came to me via Twitter. Thanks.

The Digital Narrative - A nice one-stop for resources and ideas for creating diginarratives. I wish I would've found this link before my students started final project.

The Online Disinhibition Effect
- My Plan B is steering me towards the social culture of technology at my school. This is a pretty interesting skim.

Blog Design 2009
- In '08 cybersprawl got me down. I like minimalism and try to keep my online activity managed through a single-point of entry. This post has me inspired to reorganize.

Brainy Flix - A cool idea/contest for vocabulary or any other concept.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

(Re)Creating Culture: Cell-Phone Novels

Last year, our freshman English sub department decided to stop teaching The Odyssey. This year is being spent reevaluating the kinds of literature that make sense for our technology-enhanced students. I don't teach the course this year, so I'm not sure what they're finding out. I was the leader of the group throughout the process, and sometimes I feel a pull, a guilt, for abandoning a classic, especially one that has meant so much to me at different times in my life. But I spent a chunk of time today reading an article that Bruce forwarded to me. It's from the New Yorker and takes a fascinating look at Japanese cell-phone novels and how they've shaped culture and modern publishing. All that, of course, interesting. But what got me thinking, or what aligned with what I think about a lot, is down near the end of the article, a comparison of cell-phone novels to The Tale of Genji. Here's an excerpt:

“The Tale of Genji,” considered by many to be the world’s first novel, was written a thousand years ago, in the Heian period, by a retainer of Empress Akiko at the Imperial Palace, in present-day Kyoto. The Heian was a time of literary productivity that also saw the composition of “The Pillow Book,” Sei Shonagon’s exquisitely detailed and refined record of court life, and a wealth of tanka poems. We know “Genji” ’s author by the name Murasaki Shikibu—Murasaki, or Purple, being the name she gave her story’s heroine, and Shikibu the name of the department (Bureau of Ceremonial) where her father at one time worked. Told episodically, and written mostly in hiragana, as women at the time were not supposed to learn kanji, it is the story of Genji, the beautiful son of the Emperor by a courtesan, who serially charms, seduces, and jilts women, from his rival’s daughter to his stepmother and her young niece Murasaki. “Genji” is the epitome of official high culture—it is to the Japanese what the Odyssey is to the Greeks—but some have noticed certain parallels with Japan’s new literary boom. “You have the intimate world of the court, and within that you have unwanted pregnancies, people picking on each other, jealousy,” the managing director of a large publisher said. “If you simply translate the court for the school, you have the same jealousies and dramas. The structure of ‘The Tale of Genji’ is essentially the same as a cell-phone novel.”

Yesterday, I was working on the "technology's effect on school culture" section of my Plan B literature review, and it got me thinking about how we might start to build unpredictability and cultural change into curriculum. For example, the guiding questions for our freshman English course are: Who Am I? How does my use of language shape me? What if they started to sound more like: Who Am I in person? Who Am I online? How does my creation of digital media and text shape?
Our sophomore questions are: What kind of world is this? How should we live in it? What about: What kind of world is this? How does technology shape and change our world? I don't know, something to that effect.
Point is: I get excited about the idea of taking classic sensibilities (literary structures, as discussed in the NYer article) and holding them up to modern uses of language. I moved a little in this direction this past semester by asking my students to analyze facebook correspondence as a way to improve the way they give feedback to each others' writing and ideas on blogs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year, New Ideas From Literature Review

Winter break was nice. A trip to the mainland always makes me appreciate returning to the islands and to my work. While in the Bay Area, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a friend and colleague who's working in an education policy doctoral program. He's certainly busier than me, but we could commiserate over our respective grad school experiences thus far. We both agreed that's it's really hard as teachers to understand the sterile nature of education research. For some reason, we know that it "just doesn't work that way in a real classroom." So what's the purpose of the research. I find myself, 30 pages or so deep into writing my literature review, asking the question:

What can my school do with the research I'm reading and writing about?

How do I reconcile my own mistrust of numbers and standards based research findings?

How can I, once reconciled, translate the findings into a relevant recommendation?

My plan B project began having something to do with testing the viability of Tablet PCs in our evolving one-to-one laptop program. Four months later, the project has become an observation of our program's current reality and a set of next steps that I'm hoping will be useful in shaping the vision and implementation of 1700 laptop strong program.

An hour a night, I'm building a set of contentions about how a school might start thinking about a program of the sort we've committed to. And here's an attempt at sorting out and presenting some of the emerging themes:

-Technology is changing our culture in predictable and unpredictable ways. Introducing and "integrating" technology into schools will change school culture. There is a capability for transparency and meta-cognition unattainable up to this point in schools. Content is not scarce. Teachers can be bypassed in acquiring information. Teaching becomes more about learning how to learn, and learning how to make sense and meaning of information.

-Most of what schools have done with technology up to this point has been digitizing what they've always done. Social networking, collaboration, and communication are the real transformative technologies. While teaching and learning has been a traditionally isolated activity.

-The barrier between school and the outside world has been broken down. See cell phone videos of school hallways on YouTube; read real-time Facebook updates, for example.

-High expectations and standards can easily start to mean taking on more tasks, since technology continues to automate and cut down the time it takes to accomplish tasks.

-Committing a school to technology is committing to the unpredictable. That's hard to quantify.

-Ostensibly technology in schools was supposed to improve achievement. It's not having that effect, in general. But it is having an effect. What is it? What can/should we do with it?

-The biggest factor in a technology (delete the word "technology" because it's really about teaching and learning) program's success is in a school's ability to provide meaningful professional development and teachers' willingness to embrace school cultural change.

These are not my opinions necessary. They are themes that have emerged across the educational research. Now I have a set of look-fors to carry around with me on my campus. We've said that our one-to-one program will make learning more flexible, collaborative, and individualized. But what does that mean? And how does it intersect with what the research is reporting? How can we contribute what we're learning? The school culture will change? What change are we anticipating and or steering our school towards?