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The Answer Is Within The Question

Back in the 1990’s, I took a course on becoming an info-broker.  It was a week-long course where I was introduced to data research, database design, and data retrieval.  About this same time, the Internet was evolving with Websites and new technology tools like browsers to surf the Net for information.  It was also during this time Vice President Gore created the phrase, “Information highway.” However, the course I took had nothing to do with links to Websites or University libraries.  It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands.  Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.

In order to access databases of this caliber, one had to have the following three things:  First an account and password to access these global information databases; Secondly, a bank account pre-established to pay for the information once retrieved.   Pricing varied from a few dollars per hour to one particular database that cost $1,800 dollars for every 15 minutes; Thirdly, the knowledge and skills needed to maneuver in a database to retrieve the information desired as quickly as possible.  What I also took out of this course was the importance of two other key elements:  Learning how to ask the right question, and knowing where to get the best answer.

quote-to-ask-the-right-question-is-far-more-important-than-to-receive-the-answer-the-solution-jiddu-krishnamurti-51-33-65

Asking the right question was not about asking a typical journalist question (who, what, when, where, why, and how.)  But learning how to ask open-ended questions, prioritizing them, and then mapping out a path within a database’s labyrinth maze structure.

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccI recently just finished a great little book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana called, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to ask Their Own Questions. This book mentor’s teachers on how to develop the skill in asking the right question.  I highly recommend it for those who are interested in getting students engaged and developing a classroom culture whose motivation is self-lit.  This is a small book but powerful.

 

Teaching students how to ask questions and then having them answer their own questions does lead to student lesson engagement.  Because the questions are developed by the students who are motivated to explore and discover their own answers.  Consequently, doing it this way has another benefit, they retain more information than through a lectures or worksheets.

As for where to look, that takes us into research.  Google has become the 21st Century equivalent to the 20th Century photocopying phrase, “I want to make a Xerox.”  Boy did 3M, Minolta, and other photocopying companies hate that phrase.  Today, you hear, “Google it,” for getting information.  Actually, there are 65 large databases on the Net.  Even though not as popular as Google many of the databases have links to information that might cut down on research time.

In any case, no matter which database is used by students they still need to know three basic things:

  • First, the structure of the database and how information is stored;
  • Secondly, logic tools on how to reduce the number of hits and get the best information quickly. Noted that I said the ‘best’ information, not the ‘right’ information.  In school, on a test, there is generally the one right answer whether that answer must be spelled out or blocked out on a multiple-choice question; and
  • Thirdly, the sources of the information. Understanding where the information came from and the timeframe are crucial to data integrity.

demingquestion

We should also teach students the value of asking the question, “Which database will best serve me?”  Followed by, how do I design the best approach to get the information and document it.  As for documentation, students should be able to tell you which database they used, where the information was stored, the date of publication and the person(s) responsible.  In my case, it was date and time (GMT) that had to be recorded for the unpublished data or information once retrieved.

Every database on the Net has a map along with the logic tools that best serve information retrieval.  But, I caution, it still comes down to answering the question, and if the question is not formed correctly, well, as Lewis Carroll put it:

cheshire-cat-alice-in-wonderland-quote1

Teaching students how to ask questions and then how to retrieve the information are important skills that all learners will need their entire life.  In fact, you might still have a question yourself.  You might still be wondering about what was in a database that would cost $1800 dollars\15 minutes to retrieve?  If you really want to know, I’ll tell you—for a price.  My next blog will tackle strategic ways to help students develop questions through storytelling.

 

MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation

Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet.  I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page.  In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation.  One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse.  In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.”  At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project.  The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York.  I had no idea what was to come next.

The Space Idualringstationslands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g.  By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project.  This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet.  To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.

In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  Historical event?!  It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet.  It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.

It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling.  For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?”  This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments.  Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice.  At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter.  The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.

In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online.  I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using.  Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections.  Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.

connectionsfinalSo, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one  2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet.  And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement.  Why?

In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures.  Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.

Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades.  So, has technology become an aberration to me?  No!  For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally.  The first, centers on using technology as a motivator.  That will never happen.  The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.

I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools.  But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products.  It still is.  All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs.  In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas.  Common Core standardization was one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important.  It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.

In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results.  No, not higher standardized test scores!  Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet.  When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.”  What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.”  This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.”  By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs.  But, that’s another story.

Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5  Space Islands image from SI group.

MOOC’s Achilles Heel

achilles-heel1The ancient warrior Achilles had only one vulnerable spot, MOOC has three potential vulnerable spots.  MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is not exactly new, but some of the participants running MOOC are.  I’m not talking about some fly-by-night business Website that is not accredited.   I am talking about prestigious universities that are offering free courses for credit:  MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale Harvard, and Duke and more.  All that is needed is access to the Web and some time.  And yet, the completion rate is low and the failure rate is high!  Duke University’s Coursera MOOC program, which registered 12,700 students, had only 350 finish the course–that’s a 97% drop out rate (Rivard, 2013).  A lot of students from high school to retirees are jumping on board, but leaving the educational train before it completes its journey.  Why?

The first MOOC was created back in 1995 in a project called, “Space Island’s,”  which was logged into the Library of Congress in 1996 as the first long distant online educational program ever done in history.  The course study was on space flight and space station research.  The courses and lessons were free, as today, and reached over 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations.  I know this program well, because I’m the one who developed and managed it.  The program started out as a high school project but then exploded into global historical event.  Based on my past experiences and the evolution of the Web I think there are three vulnerable spots that MOOC needs to patched up.

Issue #1 :Student Knowledge Expectation
I took and finished my B.S.I.T. degree through the University of Phoenix online course.  The first thing I learned was the college’s posit that I had to have already knowledge and experience in the subject matter.  For example, one of my courses was programming in JAVA.  No problem for me, I had taught computer programming since the early 1980’s.  From FORTRAN to BASIC, Pascal to C, from C++ to JAVA.  When given a project to create a program in JAVA I was expected to know the software and how to program.  Several of my student colleagues went into panic mode when asked to develop a program they had never learned.  They expected the class to teach the course, when in effect the course had expectations of already knowing much of the subject matter.  I found this true in many of the online university courses.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “Information is not Knowledge.”  MOOC requires knowledge to succeed.  For the most part, the courses are not taught, they are designed to evaluate your knowledge in the subject matter.

Issue #2: Teacher vs Facilitator

dropoutOnline courses don’t have teachers they have facilitators.  In addition, many of the MOOC online courses have online videos lectures.  Now, there’s an innovation!  Okay, so you are a high school or jr. college student already bored with sitting in a class taking notes.  You read about a course you can take for credit on the same subject you are learning in school, and it’s free!  Unfortunately, you must listen and watch a 30 to 60 minute video.  Head goes down at this point.  The statistics gathered from MOOC (Flowler, 2013) shows the best attention span for a lecture is somewhere between 6-9 minutes.  Not new to elementary and secondary teachers.  But, college professors are not trained to be public speakers nor how to engage student learning.  It is expected that students will motivate themselves.

The video, if you are lucky, is probably the only visual you really will see.  The majority of the class interaction occurs on a message board.  Not much different than receiving a text or email.  The interactions can become stagnant when you find the only way you can express yourself is using the Bold key, CAPITALIZING words, or making the same graphic texting symbols you use on your cell phone.

Issue: #3:  Technology Evolution

When I launched ‘Space Island’s” back in 1995, the browser was just coming into existence, telephone modems (300 baud) were used to connect to companies like AOL and CompuServe.  Some people were still using their own television screens as monitors.  The interactions were still by emails, and many of the images were still being sent via FTP site servers.
However, 18 years later, technology has evolved into real-time interactions with the ability to access multimedia, hypermedia, and many forms of interactive and engaging technology.  Yet, I was still seeing simple and boring PowerPoint presentations, videos that were not streaming correctly, and communicating with the same black and white text formats in Times Roman I had used 18 years before.
Today’s students need engagement and interaction.  Even the Baby-Boomer generation has evolved into the new world of technology selections, and are learning how to use them.   Universities that are providing MOOC programming must realize what makes up their audience.  The age group, subject knowledge, background experience, and reasons for taking MOOC programs needs to be addressed.  Facilitators need to be replaced by teachers, and 21st Century visual interaction needs to be implemented to make these programs work.

Achilles was young, arrogant, and self-assured that he was invincible.  However, if MOOC’s efficacy is to prove out the above three issues need to bypass the hubris of college and university MOOC status quo programming and move from the inuring on-campus traditions to addressing ancillary 21st Century learning.   Comments are welcomed.

References:

Flowler, Geoffrey A. “An Early Report Card on Massive Open Online Courses.” The Wall Street Journal. WSJ, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://on.wsj.com/19gcXKX&gt;.

Rivard, Ry. “Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate.” Weblog post. Researcher Explore Who Taking Moocs and Why so Many Drop out. Inside Higher Ed., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://bit.ly/10oGf7Q&gt;.

Supervision is unanswered question to iPad distribution

I have to confess I’m often amused when I read an article in the newspaper or the Internet about school districts that have given computers to students who then break into ‘secured’ areas or forbidden websites.  The real punch lines comes with the words, “this was unexpected!”   Really?

30 years ago (1983)

Wargames

Back in 1983, the Commodore International released its newest computer model, the Commodore 64 home computer that cost $595 dollars and had only 64K memory.  This was an 8-bit computer that could be hooked up to a modem (300 baud), and more importantly–programmed.  In 1983, the movie,”War Games,” with actor  Matthew Broderick, playing David Lightman a high school  student, told the story about a young teenage hacker who breaks into a government computer facility and nearly starts WWIII.  In 1985, a real fourteen year old boy from Escondido, California, was under FBI investigation after hacking into the Chase Manhattan Bank computer (Arrington, 2008).  Most security people at the time were surprised that a 8-bit computer could log into a million dollar mainframe computer.  Oh yes, he did use his Commodore 64 computer to do the job.

30 years later (2013)ipad-mini-creative-apple

According to a recent article (Jones, 2013) Bernadette Lucas, director of the Common Core Technology Project for LAUSD, purchased 50,000 iPads, at a cost of $678 each, and handed them out to 47 schools to test them out on program integration and security verifications.  Within a short period, 300 David-Lightman-type students breached security measures designed to prevent students from accessing websites such as Facebook and YouTube, plus in house security.  When the iPads were called in thirty iPads were missing.

“We’re learning from what’s happening,” was Ms. Lucas’ response.  Considering the history of computer hackers that have been well documented since the 1980’s, at what point does information become knowledge.  This becomes a serious question because the district goal to distribute 600,000 iPads to LAUSD students that will be in full force by next fall.

The Real Question

The iPad is a useful tool that can be used in very creative ways.  The key is not about allowing or not allowing students to have access to the technology hardware.   The real issue is supervision.  This is no different than having a teacher in the classroom or on the playground.  Unless LAUSD or any school district can guarantee total supervision, and 600,000 independent users is not in the mix for this security task, then the prudent solution is to keep the units locked up in school.  If school districts become responsible for incidents (cyber bulling, adult sites, or any questionable sites not allowed in school) created outside their school campuses by students using assigned school equipment, I think the solution is quite evident.  Use them only in the classroom because in the end the teacher, the school, and the school district are still responsible for giving out Pandora’s boxes to discoveries and potential future lawsuits to minors!  I welcome your comments!

Reference:

Arrington, Michael. “MySpace Cofounder Tom Anderson Was a Real Life “WarGames” Hacker in 1980’s.” Weblog post. TechCrunch. N.p., 30 Aug. 2008. Web. Oct. 2013. <http://tcrn.ch/aUNn13&gt;.

Jones, Barbara. “LAUSD’s IPad Problems Frustrate Those Involved in the $1Billon Technology Project.” Huff Post Los Angeles. N.p., 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://huff.to/16igCYc&gt;.

Knewton’s Knitch: Thoughts to Ponder

On the Today Show, a segment was dedicated to, “The Classroom of the Future.”  [see TV segment below] The initial comments pointed out that the “present educational system is impersonal, a factory model.”  This is followed by a set of statistics with no sources to verify.  Then the background voice of Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of Knewton, makes this comment, “How many da Vinci’s, Einsteins, and Marie Curie’s, and Michael Jordon’s are we losing every generation because we are not giving them the opportunities that some of us have?”  What?  How did Michael Jordon fall in the same category of the great scientists?   Okay, move on, the broadcast continues, in order to solve this problem of inequity and problems in the status quo, the solution becomes a what if question.  What if everyone had access to the Internet?


Lest we forget, Jose Ferreira runs a business.  A subtle note focuses that this is a company (.com) versus an educational research group (.org).  On his webpage (www.knewton.com) you are faced with a large screen counting the number of sales pitches he is making in the global market.  When I viewed the page the count was 270, 952,575 and counting.  This is not the number of students that are using his software, not the number of students learning from his program, and not the number of students graduating because of his program, but the number that are being ‘invited.’

In the broadcast, Mr. Ferreira says, “the present system is impersonal, a factory model.”   And, what exactly is a software program?  It is impersonal and a factory made model.  Now, at this point, I should state that I am not against technology.  I hold two B.S.I.T. degrees and worked in a secondary technology school for 22 years.  I also was the first teacher, documented in 1996, to launch the first global educational program on the Internet.  My program, Space Island’s, reached 2.3 million teachers and students in forty nations, and was placed into the Library of Congress as a historical event in 1996.

The Knewton Webpage is full of pictures of adults working one-to-one with young people, however, the software program is designed to work one-to-one with the student.  It is a template of problems and clocked timings to match the student’s ability.  Where is the challenge for student growth by matching those variables?  But that is what his knerds, yes that is what they call themselves, I believe this must be the generation that ate Knudsen products.  Anyway, the knerds design standardized templates!  Now, where have I heard that term before?  I believe that knerds are well educated and excellent programmers and data collectors, but lest we forget where these individuals got their education.  It wasn’t from the Knewton factory but from the public or private schools these engineers graduated from.

If you go to the careers tab of Knewton Website you’d think you would find examples of students who have used the Knewton program and what careers  (engineers, teachers, scientists, and programmers) they have landed in.  No, you find out how lavish the knerd employees are being treated with their own private areas, food services, and perks.  This is the selling page for those interested in employment to Knewton!   Now, where do you suppose the money comes from to cater to these benefits?   There is much hype that this software and program is a pantology that will create a panacea for the present educational system.  However, in reality, it is nothing but a set of organized, timed, impersonal-factory templates.

The broadcast also details the work of Khan Academy and its founder, Sal Khan, whose Youtube math tutorials are quite good and free.  Mr. Khan’s approach is to tutor in short segments with a lively and entertaining presentation.   Adding the good works of Sal Khan’s Academy model to Knewton is comparing apples to oranges.

Knewton is not free, but its founder at the beginning of the broadcast states, “…we (the status quo, which he has now joined) are not giving them (students) the opportunities that some of us have.”  Yes, Mr. Ferreira, what opportunities did you have?  How is your program giving students in the global arena those same opportunities?  The only opportunity I see is Knewton found a nitch to sell its product like Apple Computers did.  It will be interesting to see how many Michael Jordon’s make it to the big league by playing a video game instead of one-on-one on the court!