The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Information Literacy Revisited

I'm getting ready to do several presentations on information literacy and I'm in the process of begining to prepare. I've done presentations on this topic before but, as you might expect, I'll have to revise it dramatically to reflect many of the new tools and ideas that are supportive of what it means to be information literate today. Unfortunately, since July, terrorist attacks in London and most recently, the devastation created on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina have taught us new lessons on many fronts. During these events, new technology tools quickly exposed us to information about these events in very non-traditional ways (the rise of the citizen journalist), as well as the speed in which that information was transmitted (what Elliott Masie refers to as the velocity of information). In some instances, these technologies were employed in new ways to offer assistance to those in need-many applications done by creative people taking advantage of open source tools.

As the storm approached, I was able to watch it's progress through the Web cams stationed throughout New Orleans and available through While not a new technology, the cameras afforded me a real time view of what was taking place in the city from a view that I became familiar with during my 2004 visit for NECC (see my photos here). By viewing these images, by looking at images uploaded into Flickr (when I started, just over 1500 images with the Katrina tag, now over 21,000), by reading citizen journalist reports, and by reading the developing story at, my ability to understand what was taking place was much different than what would have happened perhaps even a year ago.

Unfortunately, these tragedies have taught us much about the new way in which information flows, the universal need for access to information, the skills required to access information when it is most necessary, and the methodologies required to blend new technologies together to make a difference for people when it most matters.

See my screenshots of the approaching storm here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Flickr Wish List 1

I’m a big fan of Flickr and am constantly looking for educational applications of the content found there. We have begun to use Flickr content in our digital storytelling projects and the quality of the photography has dramatically improved the look and feel of the completed digital stories. To be more specific, we’re using photos from the Attribution and Attribution-Non Commercial Creative Commons pools so that students receive a lesson on intellectual property rights in addition to the storytelling. Using these photos from these pools will also allow us to share the completed digital stories online because we have effectively addressed copyright.

Many new tools that take advantage of the open source code of Flickr have emerged. One of my recent favorites is Flickr Magazine, which enables a user to take a photograph from Flickr and convert it to a magazine cover.

But I’m waiting for something like a Flickr Sequencer(in Flickr lingo, it would be called Flickr Sequencr), that enables a user to organize photos in a sequence, or perhaps organize them even non-sequentially. This system would also allow a user to overlay text. Is this just an online PowerPoint? Perhaps. But more and more tools are becoming Web-based as the Web transforms to Web 2.0. I would also think that this might be the forerunner of online digital storytelling, something that could potentially make digital storytelling much more ubiquitous. (to see a potential example, go here and select slide 28 of the PowerPoint to see Storymixer).

I would like to see teachers, for example a science teacher, use such a tool to help students make a visual argument (don’t look now, a science application of digital storytelling). Imagine a student writes a script about some aspect of genetic engineering (e.g. stem cell research), and that script contains the student’s perspective or argument, and the product that is produced is an online, visual argument using Flickr photography, but it’s done all online.

Flickr has tremendous potential to help students become more visually literate. Developing more effective educational instructional uses, as well as more education-based online tools, would be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

But There is Good News!

Three science teachers in my district have set off on a 2 week mission to teach inquiry-based research skills to their kids. This process asks kids to attack an essential question, formulate foundation questions, develop a list of keywords from their foundation questions, develop a search strategy, learn how to locate, evaluate and distill information, and build an answer to the original essential question. Now, inquiry is nothing new to science education, but the systematic process that these teachers are using will provide their students with a methodical and effective process for problem solving.

Embedded within this instruction are learning activities designed to introduce students to the tools of the Read Write Web. Students will learn how to use these tools to drive the research process described above. The teachers will also ask students to demonstrate their problem solving using inquiry by moving their unit tests out of their classroom and down into the library for two days where students will be given an authentic, essential question and asked to use the research process, and the tools of the Read Write Web to develop an answer. Adults are not asked to solve problems isolated in a room with nothing but a scantron form and number 2 pencil, why should kids?

So, to get some baseline data, the teachers asked their kids to answer the following survey. The survey listed a particular tool or Website, and asked kids to respond in the following manner:

I don't know what it is
I know what it is but have not used it
I've used it

Here are the technologies:
Fagan Finder
Blogs (do you read them)
Blogs (have you written)

The results promise to shed some light where our kids are. The instruction promises to move kids forward, and to properly teach kids how to use the tools for lifelong learning. Here is an example of what should be happening, as opposed to my previous post, where I expressed absolutely no hope. Congrats on the fine job being done by these teachers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wanna Bet?

Here is the subject line from an email I received today from eSchoolNews:

eSN: Emerging technologies educators can't ignore

Oh yes they can. And they will.

The article dealt with blogs, digital curriculum materials (digital textbooks), as well as cell phone and iPod technology, all technologies with much capability to help us restructure how teaching and learning occurs, but with actually very little potential to do so.

Now, before you fire up that comment button, let me make my argument.

The problem lies with the concept of technology integration and of teacher’s perceptions of the instructional value of technology, among other's but I'm starting there.

Let’s begin with technology integration. I’ve argued for a long time that this was an inappropriate terminology because it implies a “top-down” add on, bolt-on to something a teacher already does, and might do successfully. Why add technology? Why take the time? My lesson works already. How often have you heard “I don’t have the time to do anything new.” What’s needed is a view that teaching and learning with technology should be “bottom-up.” In other words, when a lesson is designed, the application of technology to the learning process should be evaluated against lesson goals, just like any other tool (cooperative learning, lecture, lab, discussion, etc.). If technology extends the learning opportunity (for example, the process of digital storytelling) and adds value to the lesson then use technology. If not, don’t. I read with interest in David Warlick’s blog today, via John Peterson, who linked technology integration to extra credit. I agree with David, I think he has hit the nail on the head. Technology integration = extra credit for teachers. That provides a very simple equation to explain the current perception of technology use that most teachers hold. Most don’t get evaluated on their use of technology and they have always been successful teachers. Why change what works? Well, at the risk of stating the not-so-obvious-to-many, because kids have changed, what they are expected to do once they leave school has changed, and they way in which they learn has changed.

You can read above that many of my comments are directed at teachers. Well, so be it-I taught for 15 years so I have standing to make the comment. They have to assume some of responsibility for the failure of technology in our schools. Too much lecture, too much doing what I have always done. Now I know I’m not talking about everyone in every situation, and we have some simply outstanding teachers in this country, and some great school districts where emerging technologies are embraced, supported and used effectively. But how many teachers can even design an effective presentation in PowerPoint? How many take advantage of the professional development opportunities available to them? How many internalize technology tools as significant and mission-critical tools required to teach today’s kids. Sadly, the news is not good.

Blogs? Digital Textbooks? Cell phones and iPods? Are you kidding me?