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!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Being Good

In 2006, can you be a good teacher without using technology? Are you doing your job if you don't use technology?

This was a very intriguing question posed by David Warlick in a recent post of his. I’ve struggled with this question, and I think I’ve come to a personal resolution about what I think.

OK, get ready to fire up those comments…

David posed these questions, with his answers:

Can a teacher be a good teacher without using technology? A resounding “YES!”

David continues:
Is that teacher doing his or her job? An emphatic "NO!"

I get stuck on the first answer. I certainly agree with the second. My issue: Can you be a good teacher when you don't do your job?

I think that if you asked most educators the first question, they would also answer yes. But I think that this thought is a very dangerous one, and in many ways, helps explain why our current application of technology to learning in the United States is typically optional and much less than optimal.

Think about it. I can be a good teacher without using technology. I can just hear it. “OK, fine, then I won’t worry about it because being good is pretty good. I’ll focus on other things because I have a lot on my plate. One less thing….”

And we wonder why teachers are less than interested in technology “integration.” They can be good without it. Press the easy button….

“I’m satisfied with being good, nothing wrong about being a good teacher….”


In my opinion, a fundamental belief that all schools, and all teachers, should believe in is that technology is critical, in fact, mission-critical to the learning process. And if you are not engaging in that mission-critical process with kids, and helping them understand how to use the tools of 21st Century technology, then you are doing less than you should. It’s that simple.

Three questions:

Is the use of technology as critical as effective classroom management, in what a teacher does?

Is the use of technology as critical as effective assessment strategies, in what a teacher does?

And is the use of technology as critical as effective cooperative learning strategies, in what a teacher does?

My answers? Yes. Yes. And Yes.

I believe that the effective use of technology in the classroom is equal, and just as important, as proper classroom management, just as important as effective assessment, and just as important as structuring learning in collaborative settings. It’s all part of a package, a vision if you will, of what constitutes good….

If you believe the above statement to be true, then how will you respond to these questions?

Could you be a good teacher if you didn’t use effective classroom management strategies?

Could you be a good teacher if you just ignored the proper methodologies for assessing students?

And could you be a good teacher if you just didn’t bother to help kids learn how to work collaboratively, and you just basically lectured 24-7?

Is it possible to be a good teacher if you ignored essential elements of your profession-essential elements that are absolutely mission-critical to learning and to the success of your students throughout the rest of their lives?

No, it’s not.

And another question. Would you be satisfied with an entire school of good teachers, none of whom used technology? You’d have a whole school of good teachers sure enough, but none using the very tools that can take students beyond the assembly line of the industrial age school to a place where learning is completely different, and prepares them for the competitive world ahead.

Would you be satisfied with that?

Did every one see Karl Fisch’s PowerPoint “Did you know?” Everyone really liked that, including me. How would a good teacher who didn’t use technology help address and reverse those trends contained in that presentation? How could that same teacher help our kids find their place in the world if they ignored one of the very tools that would be instrumental in such a mission?

Frankly, I’m tired of technology as a second class educational citizen. It’s not OK not to use it.

Simply put, a good teacher must know when and how to use technology to help kids learn, and must demonstrate it conscientiously, creatively and continually.

It’s one of the most important steps in becoming a great teacher….

Originally published in the blog. David Warlick, Wesley Fryer, Miguel Guhlin, Terry Freedman, and David Jakes are the Techlearning blogerati.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I just picked up a new book, recommended by The Center for Digital Storytelling, called Storycatcher, Making Sense of Our Lives thgrough the Power and Practice of Story, by Christina Baldwin. Although I haven't had a chance to read it yet, it looks outstanding...

Here is a short quote from the start of Chapter 2, entitled The Art of Storycatching:

Story is the song line of a person's life.
We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing.
Story told, story heard, story written, story read
create the web of life in words.

Very nicely said.

I'm looking forward to reading this to help deepen my understanding of story as it relates to the process of digital storytelling.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pop Quiz

School has started or is starting very soon in your area. And the most important day of the school year is the very first day. Yes, without a doubt-it’s the first day. And I always started with a pop quiz…

Teaching is often regarded as a combination of an art and a science, and I believe that. The first day should be reserved for the art of teaching and the passion that a new school year should bring. The science can come later. Use the first day to set the tone that will serve you the remainder of the year. Be different, be more than typical, be more than average….

If you are like most high school teachers, you are reading off the names of the students in your class, asking them if they want to be called James or Jimmy, passing out textbooks, and laying down the class rules. The students sit passively, taking it all in, sizing you up, and bored to tears because they’ve heard it all before, and if it’s first period, they’ll hear it at least four more times that day. Oh, and by the way, 90% and above is an A....

If you do that, you're typical. Just like almost every other teacher and you've lost the moment. The first day calls for more creativity, more energy, more conveying what it means to be a teacher. Be the teacher the kids talk about at the dinner table that night....

I never passed out books, or asked their names. Plenty of time for that later. My first day started with a pop quiz. That’s right, the two words that strike fear into the very souls of any teenager. Here it is:

I ask them what these two images represent. Now I can see who my risk-takers are-very important. Always, someone will say the image on the left is a heart. Yes, that’s correct. The image on the right is more of a challenge and typically only because of my artistic abilities. Someone eventually will guess brain (stop laughing, Miguel) and they would be correct.

Now I ask them: What do these two things represent and why are they important in biology class?

They never get it.

They guess everything, and now I’ve got them into hypothesizing and asking questions, typically everyone contributing….but they never see where I am going.

These two things represent standard equipment for success in class.

And in life.

You walk into class with everything you need to be successful.

Here's the upshot:

If you have a lot of brain, you don’t necessarily need a lot of heart. You can do well, but you'll do so without passion.

If you have a lot of heart, you don’t necessarily need that much brain. You can still acheive success, but only with tremendous effort-a great lesson in itself.

But, what if you have both? What if you bring both heart and brain to the table?

Well, then there is no telling where we can go together, and there is no telling where you can go as an individual with the lessons that you learn here.

As a teacher, it was my job to get kids to maximize the use of both. Learning Biology was almost secondary. Develop both-that's what a teacher should do. It's possible...and it begins on Day 1.


Welcome to Biology. I’m Mr. Jakes. Let’s get started….

I really miss the first day of school....

published originally in the blog

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Is Flickr Appropriate? The kids have their say...

To follow up my post today at, I'm publishing student comments collected from our Digital Storytelling Blackboard (gasp!) course. (when classes begin a digital storytelling project, we just add them to the class and they now have access to all the resources, documents, etc. that we use in our process). These kids were seniors, and now have graduated. As expected on a discussion board, their sentence structure/spelling was not the best.

I asked them their opinions on the usefulness and appropriateness of Flickr. Here is what they had to say:

Student 1: Well, I like the fact that there are lots of photos to use, but sometimes there are pics that I can’t use if i want to put it on the internet. And sometimes i can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, but i just have to try searching for something else, and it usually works out. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good site.

Student 2: The best thing about Flickr is the quality of the photographs. I also like that fact that it has the information on if the picture is copy written or not, however that information will not stop people form stealing the pictures. I think it’s a good image site.

Student 3: I have found that a large percentage of the images I want to use are at least partially copyrighted. Why would you copyright your pictures from a party or something dumb like that? Actually, I many of those "semi-copyrighted" pictures were technically illegal because they were pictures of DCI competitions (illegal for the same reason you can't take pictures at a NFL game.)

Student 4: I like the site because it has really interesting, creative and artistic photographs instead of the usual ones you see all the time from Google or another site. i think some of these photos have a lot more depth to them. i do not like that it is not censored because i saw a lot of pictures i would rather not have and some that were very graphic also. its hard to find ones that you can use without a copyright. but other than those two setbacks i really i find the site easy to use and very productive for this project.

Student 5: I agree with [Student 4]. I don’t like the fact that Flickr is not censored. Some of the pictures aren’t at all appropriate. But other than that I like using Flickr if I can find pictures that apply to my digital story.

My question to student 5: Given the inappropriate photos, in your opinion, should we not use Flickr?

Student 5 response: I think its okay to still use Flickr but it would be better if the inappropriate pictures were not there.

Student 6: Navigating through Flickr is easy, but it is hard to find the perfect pictures for the projects sometimes. I like the many different types of ways to use it like the color, cloud, and regular. Some of the photos can't be used which becomes frustrating because it is the perfect picture and it can't be used.

Student 7: I found some okay pictures on Flickr, but decided not to use any of those pictures. I decided to use my own pictures to make my story more personal.

Student 8: I like the page on Flicker that has all the tags in bold that are used most frequently. I like it because it helped me come up with ideas for keywords to search.

Student 9: I have found Flickr to be useful. There is a lot more variety to it than google. Although some of the images are inappropriate, I have found this search engine to be successful.

Student 10: I think that Flickr is an overall good site for finding pictures. I like how you get some pretty accurate images according to the tag you used. Also the number of images you get is incredible. The only disadvantage is that some of the pictures you want to use, you can not because they are spaceballs or etc..

Student 11: This site had more relevant pictures than just a Google Image search. It was much easier to find pictures that would better suit a project. The time that it took to search through the pictures was reduced. The disadvantage of this site is that some of the pictures are Spaceballs or copyrighted making them unuseable for this project. But the site is still overall good.

Student 12: I found out that you have to very unspecific when image searching. Most of everyone has probably found that out by now though. Like for example I needed a picture of a school bus. Under school bus and bus not much came up. So i ended up searching transportation and I found a usable picture.

Student 13: I honestly don’t think that the inappropriate images really matter that much. I mean were all practically adults, and if we can’t handle a few naughty pics, then we shouldn't be using it. All you have to do is scroll down and you’re good. So despite the inappropriate pics, I think using flicker is still a good resource.

Student 14: I can see both sides. Personally, I would rather not come across any inappropriate images if I could control the internet and all that is in it. But when I think about my search for pictures on Google while working on my last digital story this past month, I think I definitely came across a greater number of inappropriate pictures. Maybe not by a lot, but it's all a matter of what you're searching for and how people in the internet have stretched that word. It's hard to avoid so we have to be responsible in dealing with the things we see.

Student 15: I did not find to many inappropriate images on Flickr. There were a few images, but nothing high school student’s haven’t seen in or outside of school. No image web page such as that with hundreds of users, will be completely clean. Some people’s art may also be offending to others, and it is all opinion.

Student 16: The way I see it, it also has a lot to do with WHAT you search for. It's not like you're just going to come across an image that you don't wanna see by searching for blue skies or turtles... So what's my advice? Be smart with what you search for and for the most part you won;t see anything that you don't want to.

Student comment to Student 16: Student 16, I found pictures of scantily clad women when I searched for "marchingband." But, as it's been said, that's the risk you run when you use an awesome thing like the internet.

Student 17: Flickr is dirty. That's about all; I have my own copyright free pictures.

Student 18: I think that the chance of coming across an inappropriate pic is well worth it for getting pics that we can use for our story. Any search engine has the chance of that coming up. I think that flicker was a great source to use.

Student 19: I really enjoy's got a loooooot more image selection then Google or any other image search engine out there. Google gives you random images and nothing specific...Flickr gives you exactly what your looking for with one word or "tag." It's helped me out this far and hopefully will continue to do so. As long as you just ignore the inappropriate images then your OK...because there is inappropriate images and content everywhere you look now a days..and much worse on other search engines if you ask me.

As you can see, some didn't like Flickr, some did. Some did not like the inappropriate images, others just ignored them. Some really liked the site. Please note that if a student didn't like using Flickr they certainly did not have to use it. They were informed that the site contained inappropriate imagery before use.

There were no direct complaints to me (I was with the class when they constructed their digital stories) and no parental issues. (Hey, they were seniors...).

Would I use this with juniors and seniors in high school? Yes, but I would go through an education program with them about the site. Would I with freshman and sophomores? That depends on the class. Maybe yes, maybe no. It's not a simple question.

Would I let middle school and elementary kids use Flickr as is? Absolutely not.

But whatever the use, such as a digital storytelling event, or any lesson that requires digital imagery, it makes sense to talk with the kids about online imagery and the possibility of inappropriateness.

I think you can see with my comments that I still have some uneasiness about the use of Flickr. I think we need to have some alternative solutions that make the use of the great photography a more safe proposition.

But most importantly, in the majority of the comments, can you see some learning taking place? Not all I know, but some kids gained and communicated some important new understandings and that's what it's about.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Corporations Behaving Badly...Again!

By way of Stephen Downes, it seems that Apple, yes Apple, has trademarked the word Pod. Here is a quote from the original article by Richard Waters at cited by Stephen:

Apple has laid legal claim to the word “Pod,” arguing that other companies that use the word as part of their product names risk infringing the trademark of its popular iPod music player.

So what exactly is a trademark? From the U.S. Patent Office.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

Evidently copyrights, trademarks and patents are all slightly different, but what they all have in common is that they protect something that an individual or corporation believes is rightfully theirs. They prevent others from legally using what the trademarking entity believes to be theirs.

See where I'm going?

I'll be expecting to see posts condeming Apple for their greed in protecting something that they think is theirs. They aren't patenting it because the word POD is not an invention, so they are trademarking it because the name represents something important to their success as a business (actually, I wonder if they hold patents on iPod technology...hmmm) . That's just dead wrong-it should be available for anyone to use, right, at anytime and for any reason? It belongs to everyone, right? How dare they!

Hey, if you don't believe Blackboard can patent something, then its my suggestion that you also won't be happy with Apple and their current business practices.

Beyond Stephens original post, I bet I won't see anything....

...afterall, it's Apple.

Shameless Self-Promotion II

If you have any interest in wikis, check out my new article, Wild about Wikis, on It will also be in the magazine when it comes out.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Blogging, Blackboard, and the History of the World

Blackboard has really done it now. They’re more evil than ever….

I would imagine everyone is now aware the Blackboard has patented the learning management system. As you may or may not know, I work for a school district that is a Blackboard client (full disclosure). I like Blackboard as a product and it has been a good tool for our use. I do have my issues with the company, like poor customer support, a revolving door on their reps and support people, and a too-extravagant conference that customers ultimately pay for (does everyone really have to have dinner aboard the flight deck of the USS Midway?). I’ll even admit to being pretty upset after we received a significant cost increase for the product and then at their national conference in Phoenix in 2004, watching them load up motor coaches outside the client party downtown (which was also over the top) and truck off their 28-33 year old staff to a private closed party while over a 100 people stared in disbelief…not good business. And with the patent, they seem to prefer a business model that seemingly operates in the most aggressive fashion possible, and in the process alienates many.

But can you blame Blackboard for their patent strategy? Seriously, they’re a publicly traded corporation who answers to shareholders. Like most for-profit business, their goal is to, well, make a profit, in fact, maximize profit. That’s what businesses do, and they believe that this current path will do just that. I would imagine that those who have posted against the actions of Blackboard would prefer Blackboard to possess a more altruistic approach to education. This certainly would be desirable, perhaps even expected, given that Blackboard makes its living off of education. But perhaps that perspective is just plain unrealistic.

You can HATE Blackboard, stomp your feet and hold your breath. You can think that Blackboard is part of a conspiracy. You can even design silly little graphics for posting on Flickr. You can blame Blackboard for the Kennedy assassination if you want. But Blackboard’s in this to make a buck.

If it was me, I’d design some peace graphics for Israel and Lebanon, or make some graphics about how the oil companies (and all their patents!) are making obscene profits by ripping us all off by charging $3.50 a gallon for their product. I might think of all the servicemen and women the U.S. has lost in Iraq, and design some graphics for them. Or I might design some graphics about the terrorists who want to blow more planes up. You know, maybe some graphics about something really important….

I think Mark Oehlert gets it right in his post title about the situation, appropriately entitled “LMS Patented!! Is anyone home at the Patent Office?” (my emphasis)

Shouldn’t we be blaming the patent office for allowing the patent? Isn't Blackboard, Inc. just taking advantage of what is available to them as a corporation?

OK, take a trip back in time with me to look at a little history. Let’s consider how outraged bloggers would have been in ____ .... (had blogging existed, of course…) . Fill in the blank with the date below:

1849, to find out that a future president who invented a mechanism for floating a ship through shallow water received a patent for that design. That man was Abraham Lincoln.

1879, when they found out that the symbol representing our freedoms as a country, the symbol that graces our eastern coast, and the symbol that was the first thing seen by millions of immigrants, had its design patented. That symbol is of course the Statue of Liberty. Shock. Horror. Outrage! (and maybe even some graphics!).

and in 1906, when two visionary young men applied for a patent for controlling some really crazy “flying machine” and were awarded it. Those two men, of course, were Orville and Wilbur Wright. (patent information)

A simple search of the U.S. Patent Office database returns 11,747 patents that include the word “education.” Where are all the blog posts screaming hatred and damnation at these patent holders? Or is it just a Blackboard thing?

Now I probably shouldn’t compare Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, and the Statue of Liberty to Blackboard but this is my blog so I’ll do it. Perhaps you’ll even have some fun at my expense in your posts. Do I like the fact that Blackboard is trying to corner the market by bullying its competition? Not really. Am I willing to use their product in spite of that? Yes-the product has been a good thing for the parents, teachers and kids in my district, and that’s the most important thing. I am willing to accept that patents have been around for a long time, and inventors, businesses and corporations will continue to take advantage of them, often at the expense of others. I’m willing to accept that Blackboard as an organization is not perfect-and in fact, probably far from it. I’m also willing to accept that everything is not always open-source and that some people, believe it or not, wish to make a profit for what they produce.

That's just the way it is...

tags: blackboard patent


Are you ready for some football?

Cubs-who cares. White Sox-who cares...

Because tonight, the NFC North Champion Chicago Bears take the field again against the San Francisco 49ers in their first exhibition game of the season. It's now only a matter of several weeks before the Bears and Chicago will smash any hopes the pathetic and hated Green Bay Packers have for any success this year and begin their defense of last year's NFC North Championship. I'm predicting a Super Bowl win for da Bears this year.

The World Champion Chicago Bears. It sounds just as good as World Champion White Sox (sorry Cub fans, I had to throw that in...)

In Chicago, the Bears are easily the favorite, even more so than that team that plays at Wrigley Field.


(Bearzsss 27, fordy ni-nerzzzzs 10)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Digital Storytelling DAY 1

I'm up in Elgin, Illinois, my home town, where I graduated from Elgin Larkin High School in 1977 (It's been fun returning to the district that I graduated from). I've got 15 teachers from District U-46 starting on a four-day digital storytelling course that will help them initiate a digital storytelling program in their 52 schools. I've worked with them in the past, helping them build an instructional support program with their 52 new Instructional Technology Facilitators. Their work is being supported by their outstanding and visionary Instructional Technology Coordinator, Janine Shelley.

We are using the classical digital storytelling approach that is advocated by the Center for Digital Storytelling and that I have used for three years in my school district with great success. We've probably had well over a thousand students traverse through our program with outstanding results, so we know the process works because our kids have actually done it. This process of course is grounded in writing-and did we have some great stories today! I was really impressed with the participant's ability to develop their personal narrative, and then develop their script from that. Included in both is a focus on a fundamental, universal theme (loss, accomplishment, challenge, personal growth, etc.) that any viewer can relate to-it's a personal story but everyone can relate to because they have experienced it as well.

I've also introduced Flickr much to my delight. And they have bought in hook, line, and sinker when they saw the phenomenal imagery that is available. I've also showed them how to use single image analysis to promote writing and the interpretation of visual imagery, and on Thursday, each participant will build an "image chest" filled with images from the attribution pool that students will be able to use in their projects. We've done this in my district with good results-outstanding photography and safe for kids....

My participants will also be building a second movie, and we'll be using MovieMaker 2.1 to provide two tools that the teachers can use with their kids.

Digital storytelling workshops are complex endeavors, but watching wonderful stories come alive make it all worthwhile, and especially when the teachers tell you about the wonderful stories their kids produce....