Wednesday, March 23, 2005

In defense of analog.

That's right, analog. Just because you can go digital doesn't mean you should go digital with everything.

No, I'm not one of those people who still only listens to records because I think they sound nicer, but analog does have it's benefits.

I decided to write about this after reading about a study where technology was found to have no positive impact on student performance. In fact, the study said they did better if they didn't have computers. Shocking, I know. As a culture, educators often do tend to think (even if only subconsciously) that a computer is a magical device that will alter our students' DNA to make their brainpower increase tenfold. (Edit: Although technology can and does help raise test scores in some instances.)

You see it's not whether or not you're using technology, it's whether or not you're a good teacher. A shiny new Macintosh will not magically make your student ace his or her SAT because it's not a magic pill. However if you already are a good teacher, the increased use of technology can be a boon to the classroom as you now are better able to address the multiple intelligences found among your students - provided you do not then decide to get lazy and let the educational software do all the work for you. (I've seen that happen too, fortunately not at my current place of employment.)

This is even more obvious in an Art classroom. I love technology - I routinely play around with computers, digital cameras, digital video, web pages, RSS feeds, podcasts, the list goes on. I'm planning on having my 6th graders make a video for the upcoming multicultural dinner, and I'm really excited about it too.

However, I don't do these things in every class. There's still something to be said for the act of putting a pencil onto paper, for painting over crayons with watercolors and watching the crayon show through, and for following a series of folds to make an origami frog that can jump across your table. Sure, I could do some of this on a computer, but I could not do it as well.

A computer, like any other educational resource, is a tool - and tools are only useful if they're used for the jobs for which they are best suited. Perhaps that aforementioned study found such low progress because too many people thought you could hammer a nail with a screwdriver. You can get it to work, but it's a lot more effort than using the right tool for the right job.

So I'm all for computers and digital arts. Bring on the 1 to 1 computer/student ratio, I'm all for it!

... but when I show up to teach your class you shouldn't be surprised to see my cart's still full of markers, crayons and paint. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an art supply budget to complete.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ego Boost

Wow, since my last posting my Feedburner stats have gone from 2 (not counting me) to 11! (again not counting me). You're all making me feel obligated to include some more original content ... oh, alright, I will.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Now with fewer features!

Steve Dembo made a suggestion, so I decided to follow through. Let it never be said that I fail to cater to every person's whim!

So what am I talking about? I now have a "lite" RSS feed consisting of just my irregularly scheduled rants. Or, if you so choose, you can subscribe to the "classic" RSS feed that includes my Furl links and Flickr pictures.

Soda? No, I don't drink much, why do you ask? :)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Copyright Warnings

Copyright infringement is a big deal. I mean, a really REALLY big deal. A "cease and desist or our army of lawyers will sue you and everyone associated with you for your entire life savings" big deal. And for the longest time, many people have felt that they were (or should be) exempt from copyright restrictions. Unfortunately, they weren't and/or aren't. The following stuff is cautionary in nature based on facts. If you want to see my personal opinion on this I'll mention that at the bottom of this posting.

For many of you that stay up to date with tech news the first thing you thought of when reading the above paragraph was "stealing MP3s." Yeah, people distributing copies of music without permission is a big chunk of the pie, but there's more to it than just that.

Infringement in the arts...

Look at Andy Warhol if you don't believe me - his most famous works were all appropriated pop culture references, and most (if not all) of them were copyrighted by others. If he tried to do today what he did then (assuming he was still alive), he might need to put all his profits into legal expenses.

Infringement in Education...

But wait, there's more! Did you know that a lot of copyright infringement happens in school? Unfortunately, it does. There is a "fair use clause" that allows educators to do a little more, but the shield of fair use isn't as big as some teachers think it is.

Want to show a movie in class? Well you can probably get away with short clips preceded and followed with class discussion, but if you would rather just turn off the lights and hit play you're providing a public viewing. You know that little FBI warning you fast-forwarded through? Yeah, you just broke federal law and made you and your school liable. There are some tapes that when purchased include permission for viewing in their entirety in an educational setting, but I doubt Disney's "The Lion King" is one of them.

Want to photocopy a book for your students? Last I heard you've got two choices: Copy no more than a chapter at a time and disposing of (NOT reusing) the copies when you're done, or making sure you have an actual book for EVERY set of copies you make. Making 25-30 copies of a book you borrowed from the library can get your principal very angry at you if you get caught, and believe me people have been caught. (Some substitutes turn teachers/schools in for a small finder's fee.) When in doubt ask your Media Specialist (or Librarian for you old-schoolers) or Technology Coordinator. They may deal with copyright law on a more frequent basis than you do.

So what's my opinion on copyrights / file sharing / etc.?

I think some people are a little too zealous with their opinions. On one hand, the copyright holders sometimes go out of their way to enforce their intellectual property rights. Disney has served papers on teachers who put Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" on "Welcome Back" signs in September. Some CDs are modified so they won't play in computers. I don't think these steps are necessary (and in some cases they can be bad PR), but those companies have the right to do things like that - it's their products, after all.

On the other hand, those that promote the breaking of copyright laws seem to say "Let us do what we want or we'll do whatever we want anyway!" Seriously, I've heard people interviewed who said they didn't agree with the price of something so that's why they downloaded it illegally. If you try that at Walmart they'll haul you away in cuffs, and rightly so. A thief is a thief, whether it's a 25 cent pack of gum, 99 cent song, or a $1,000 stereo system. Oh, and saying it should be ok because the person you robbed is rich will at best make the judge laugh at you for acting like you have a below average intelligence. "...and justice for all" includes the rich too, you know.)

As for me...

I am an artist. As an artist, I would feel greatly offended if someone else made a profit off of my creations without giving me a cut. I would also feel cheated if something I based my livelihood on was being distributed for free whether I wanted it to be or not. I mean, why buy something if you have something else of equal quality for free, right?

Now as an artist, I also see reasons to have my work shared with others. It can get my name out and increase my popularity, for starters. I'm not concerned about financial gain (although my student loans aren't due yet...), so I'm just happy for the ego boost I get from people telling me they think my stuff's cool. That right there is payment enough for me. But the free distribution of my art is and should always be my choice. That right there is in my opinion the bottom line. Promoters of file sharing have given good reasons for what they do, but not a single one of them can or should trump the copyright holder's wishes.

You may be missing out.

Looking at my visitor stats tells me that I'm getting a decent amount of traffic, which is cool, but I'm not sure you're seeing everything this site has to offer.

You see, whenever I see a cool site that has to do with art, tech, or education I add it to my Furl account. (You can see it sitting there inconspicuously in that left hand column there.) Thanks to Feedburner those of you who have subscribed to my RSS feed can also see my Furled links as soon as I add them, or you can always browse through my old links.

So I might not add full entries every day, but I do add things often. I'll be adding more images in my flickr account soon as well, but I seem to have hit my monthly quota already.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bridging the Digital Divide

... and doing it $100 at a time, if those wacky geniuses at MIT and AMD have anything to say about it.

The more I read of this article, the more happy I became about it. To make a long story short (Trust me, my story's shorter. Their story's 3 pages), A bunch of MIT researchers have decided that it's possible to design a wireless laptop for $90-$100, provided they get a screen that's cheap enough. AMD (one of the leading processor manufacturers and Intel's main competitor) and Google have promised to help out as well.

Naturally they'll be using open source stuff like Linux (I'm sure they'll pick one of the free versions over Red Hat or Linspire) and OpenOffice to make sure only the hardware needs to be purchased. Does this mean that people will miss out? Well, sure, if you mean spyware and viruses.

All is not perfect in this wonderful dream. Apparently one of the ways to cut costs is to only manufacture orders of one million or more, so unless a school district has $100 million spare cash in it's budget it might be a little difficult to see computers like these showing up in schools. I suppose school districts could always team up to pull their resources though. I can even see them instituting some type of clever reselling system to earn their money back. I know I would totally buy one of these if it went on sale.

And the bottom line would be: everybody wins.

Monday, March 07, 2005

On Demand Education

Many of us are old enough to remember when VCRs first became popular. Before then if you wanted to watch a movie you had to go to the theater or wait for it to show up on TV. Once VCRs got past the legal problems (The movie industry thought it would COST them money .. HA!) you could see a movie any time you wanted to. If there was a cool show on TV but you still wanted to go out someplace with your friends, all you had to do was program your VCR and walk away.

(Yes, I'm looking at history through rose colored glasses. Our display was always flashing 12:00, I admit it.)

Nowadays we have Tivo and other digital recorders to do the same thing for us, only better. On top of that we have podcasts, RSS feeds, voice mail, and all other kinds of cool things that let us get our information when we want it, not just when it's convenient for others.

That right there is the heart of this little spiel of mine.

You see, we can use this to our advantage in education. Imagine a school where every student is required to have an MP3 player. The teacher could record the lecture and / or supplemental information and distribute it to the students. They could listen to it while on the bus, doing chores, or even when playing their favorite video game. Students could make the time for education while doing other things as well, thus taking a load off of their shoulders.

Now I don't think that audio should replace text entirely. Not all students perform well by being lectured to, just like not all students perform well by being given worksheets. Rather, I think it would be ideal to have the two elements combined, with one reinforcing the other.

Sound like more trouble than it's worth? Not really. Most podcasts out there right now have corresponding "show notes" for each episode, including links, downloads, and more. If people can do this for a hobby, why not do this for a class? If each teacher had an RSS enabled blog, the homework, notes, audio recordings, handouts, JPG files of sample artworks, and anything else that needed to be distributed could be sent directly to the students. The students could even have their own blogs with which they could submit their assignments. Imagine: students could no longer use the "You never gave me that," or "I know I handed it in, you just lost it," excuses. One quick trip to the news aggregator would prove them wrong or right instantly. (Those excuses would have to be replaced with "I have a virus," but that's your own fault if you're still using Explorer.)

Naturally this could invigorate distance learning programs, (I'm in one now as I'm enrolled in University of Phoenix's online Master's Degree program, but I think they could make a good program into a great program if they started using RSS and podcasts in addition to the newsgroups and email they already use.) but I can see this being used in the regular classroom as well. The only things holding us back are the lack of a 1:1 student/computer ratio (not including an MP3 player) and the inertia that keeps teachers from trying new things.

I know I'm not the only person who's thinking along these lines. David Warlick, Steve Dembo, & Steve Sloan have voiced similar opinions. I'm just agreeing with them here.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Free Site Features

I've added quite a few free things to my web sites over the years, including some new ones quite recently. As such, I decided to take the time to plug each of them for you. After all, you might want to use some if them on your own web pages.

Thingamablog: This is a nice open-source blogging program. It's written in java, so practically any OS can use it. There are some good points and bad points to it, but it creates RSS feeds and it's customizable so I like it.

Haloscan: One of Thingamablog's bad points is that it doesn't support comment or trackback codes, so I signed up with Haloscan to add them.

eXTReMe Tracking: Of course everyone needs their ego inflated now and then, so I use eXTReMe Tracking to tell me from where my visitors are coming. I've been using this free service for years and I'm very happy with it.

TrueFresco: Another thing you can do is return the favor to people who link to you. TrueFresco allows you to do that instantly, but I only recommend it if you already have a lot of incoming traffic. If you don't, it might be a little embarrassing.

Furl: There are a few services out there that allow you to bookmark sites for future reference - like a web browser does it, but better because you can check them out at any computer. Some people like more, but I like how Furl has extra features.

Flickr: A lot of the bloggers I'm reading nowadays have Flickr accounts to show off their pictures, so since I'm an Art teacher I said "Why not?" I haven't fully integrated it into my site yet, but right now I have 22 pictures uploaded onto my account. (Sorry, no pictures of students. I refuse to do that without parental permission.)

Feedburner: This service is only useful to you if your site generates an RSS feed, but if your site doesn't then you should really think about adding it. It allows you to maintain the same RSS address in spite of a change of web URL, track to see how many subscribers you have, and even incorporate your Furl, Flickr, and Bloglines Clip Blogs into the same RSS feed.

WebAlias: Sometimes, having an incredibly long and hard to remember web address can be a bit of a problem. I use WebAlias to create a new, more memorable URL and forward visitors to my site through that. It causes some slight but acceptable problems, such as a small pop-up, but you're already using a web browser with built in pop-up blocking, right?

Bravenet: I use Bravenet for it's free web counter service, but they've got all kinds of site tutorials, services, and add-ons. If you're creating a web site on a small or nonexistant budget, then you should really check this one out.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Google and the Global Community

I suppose every blog should have at least one rambling post about the global
community, so here's mine.

You may or may not have heard the story
Google wanting to create an online library
of famous / important books.
Good for them, I say, but not everyone agrees.

Some people over in France
, for example, are concerned that this new
universally accessible library may focus too much on the U.S. perspective
of world events. The example given was "I don't want the French Revolution
retold just by books chosen by the United States. The picture presented
may not be less good or less bad, but it will not be ours." When I first
read this article I was a bit indignant. After all, they more or less said
the U.S. way of looking at things is no good, right?

Wrong. What
they're asking is that the library show more than JUST the U.S. point of
David Warlick
has some commentary in one of
his podcasts
(I forget which one) about how back in the day the internet
was for the most part a U.S. phenomenon. Now of course, it's
international. That person you're talking to in a chat room? They could be
next door or on the other side of the world. The United States cannot claim ownership of the internet, and the world is better off because of it.

One of those buzz
words that keeps popping up is "Global Community." Ok, that's two words,
but you know what I mean. With the internet we're able to share a lot of
things in common, but we have just as many differences as commonalities.
Rather than ignore those differences I see them as things to explore.
Doing so can help us learn about other cultures just as much as exploring
our common traits.

So what does all this make any difference in the
world of education? Believe it or not, it can and does. History books
might be filled with facts, but they're also filled with interpretations
of those facts based on the culture of the organizations that published the
book. (Today a coworker of mine told me about how one of her U.S. history
classes had used a textbook printed in the U.K. - I would have loved to
see their view on the American Civil War.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


I'm seriously hooked on listening to podcasts, particularly ones geared towards education - Connected Learning, teach42, & Teachnology post such wonderful things. Unfortunately a 64 meg card only holds so much. Sure, I could buy a a new card for my Palm Tungsten E, but I've been thinking about getting a new MP3 player for a while.

After a little bit of research, I found this little beauty. Not a bad price for the storage space, and get this:

It has a built in microphone.

Could podcasts of my own be in my future?

Could be.