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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 It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands. Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.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.
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.
I 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.
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:
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.
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 Islands 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.
So, 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.
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!