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Don’t Get Too Excited Folks!

For fear of sounding anti-Jetsons, I suspect the must-have techno tool in the next twenty years will not be as grand as we might like to imagine.  The computer of twenty-years ago is far bulkier, cumbersome, and less user-friendly than the smartphones of today, but the foundation of this technological house is still the same, its architects and builders have just made it smaller and more efficient.  I predict that this neutral direction will be the flow of the next digital wave.  I suspect that we –uh, hum, Apple– have hit our technological ceiling for now.

Rather like the proverbial cure for cancer and heart disease that researchers continue to seek but have yet to find, computer development has hit a similar wall.  This wall is not the devastating halt and hold-up of modern man as some cynics may predict, but it is a technological deep-sigh of sorts, a time for civilization to catch its breath.  If you have been paying attention to our technological history –in the development of this course’s literature as well as in regards to popular media– you will find that the majority of the information is dated 2004 and prior: that’s a virtual 10-year lag to today’s in-use market.

It would appear that technology years have nothing in common with dog years, but I beg to differ.  Let’s consider mobile technology for an illustration.  I am the recent purchaser of an iPhone 4S, and I am dazzled by its capabilities, but I opted to skip the $300 larger screen-but-not-much-else option of the 5 series, noting that this whole series gambit is more often a gimmick than an advantage (Think iPad, in its fourth generation in two years –it was first introduced in April 2010– what?).  Nonetheless, my remarkable smartphone is a product of 66 years worth of research, creation, and innovation, that’s right, 66 years in the making.

The first Mobile Tech Service (MTS) was developed and instituted in 1946 by AT&T.  The “cell” concept came to our phone system during the early 1950s, and was installed in the first passenger car in Sweden in 1956 (can you imagine the size of that gem?).  It was not until 1973 that the first handheld cell phone was introduced to consumers, and by 1987, Crockett and Tubbs went analog in Miami, likely upping their vice cool factor ten-fold.  By 1991, digital mobile phones arrived and our gadgets went from flip-phoned bricks to the sleeker precursor of the modern Razor, Droid, and iPhone of today.  But digital users had to wait another round and a half of dog years before the development of broadband in 2001.  Humorously, the 4G of today’s cell phone advertising wars is but a babe at 3 years of age.

Of course if we put technological development into the perspective of the first homo sapiens 160,000 years ago, 66 years seems more like a blip than a measurable passage of time, but in context, modern technological development is not moving at quite the light speed we think it is moving in; digital evolution is more like a generational barometer than a swift advance of years (I recall my grandmother crying in confusion at the answering machine we gave her for Christmas in 1985).  In essence, the emerging tool of excellence is likely a more refined version of itself, twenty years hence.  In the meantime, we’ll busy ourselves with a multitude of unnecessary and uncomplicated apps, games, and web tools; some will be helpful in building our critical-thinking-problem-solving selves, and defining our collaborative natures, others will be packed away with the likes of Beta tapes and camcorders.  And this is all okay.  This technological backdraft will provide our 360 million person population a chance to catch up, especially the schools.

Although the digital river appears to be moving at break-neck speed, it’s mostly relative.  Let’s all stand up, breathe deeply, crack our knuckles, and grab a digital paddle for the upstream battle that lies ahead.  No worries, if history is telltale, we’ll get there soon enough.

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat. New York: Picador.

History of mobile phones. (n.d.).  Retrieved on November 15, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mobile_phones

North Carolina State Board of Education, Future-ready students for the 21st century.

Podcast #4–E Readers for Young Readers?

So what do tweens and teens think of e-readers? Listen and find out more.

Boseman, Julie. (2012, February, 5). “E books sales rise in children’s and young adult’s categories.” The NY Times.

Cuckoo for Kobo

I’ve been interested in finding an online reading program that does not require a specialized tablet (e.g. Nook, Kindle, iPad) but is equally portable.  There’s a catch here, this online reading outlet is not for me –an established, dedicated reader– but for less devout seekers of the written word’s gospel: the American youth.  Ah yes, as traditional texts continue to lose their panache amongst 6-12th graders, no fancy stylized cover art is going to save this industry.  But have no fear KOBOBOOKS is here !

E-readers, computers, mobile phones, heck, they’re all like politicians in cornering the consumer/voter market: it’s all in name recognition.  I’ll admit that name recognition is not the ONLY reason David Price continues to get reelected (could someone please tell me what he has done since 1987 that keeps him in office?), okay, so it’s not the only reason iPhones are hot, Kindles keep selling, and HPs sit on shelves.  Excuse me, I digress, product loyalty is a huge obstacle for a newbie tech company to overcome, even if the new concept is superior in design, application, and performance.  And this is where Kobobooks sits in today’s market; in fact, I bet you’ve never heard of the Canadian (sold to a Japanese conglomerate in January of 2012) company before, most likely because, well, the hottest Canadian commodity isn’t e-reading programs, it’s Justin Beiber.

All jesting aside, Kobobooks “read freely” motto packs a lot of punch behind its moniker.  Like many Americans, I’m Amazon.com-happy.  I love the free shipping, link to other discounters, general ease of checkout process, but this name recognition loyalty has its limitations, namely, Amazon is the wiki of online book purchasing: the site is cumbersome, messy, and not particularly simple to navigate.  Barnes & Noble’s site isn’t a whole lot better but at least the BN site uses a more attractive font for its domain.  Kobobooks takes the icky-wiki feel out of online book selection, but notice my use of online here; you won’t be buying any videos and car mats from this dealer.  Just like the best-in-America fast food hamburgers, In ‘n’ Out Burger manages such a feat because they keep it simple: burger and fries… ONLY!  Kobobooks equivalent: e-books and e-periodicals… ONLY!  More isn’t always better.

Kobobooks has cleverly designed its niche too.  Kobo Inc. has pigeonholed its market through careful commercial play, making reading an interactive, social experience.  Acting the cultural bellwether, Kobobooks collaborative reading plan is youthfully engaging, redressing the traditional book in digital couture.  Not only can readers follow and join other readers on the Kobobooks app –like iTunes it syncs with all the user’s technologies, including mobile phones– the program has a Kobo Pulse, a literal red screen patch, that gets larger and brighter when it gets closer to “high activity” pages (ones with lots of social interaction).  Ding! Ding! Ding!  Did anyone else just hear the teen alarm for importance here?  What?  Lots of users?  Lots of action?  Must be important!  Better check it out!  Score.

Like many e-reader providers, Kobobooks offers the rate and review section, but it has another feature, once again, screaming for youthful participation: an awards and tracking package, for free!  (It’s official at this point in my blog; I have used up my lifetime allotment of exclamation points).  The Kobobook’s Awards Program keeps track –in these fabulously inviting graphs and charts– how many hours the reader has logged, pages turned, books completed, words per minute ratio, and my favorite, the when-you-prefer-to-read graph (my graph would be p.m. heavy).  I have two target-aged children at home (9 & 11), and let me tell you, mmm-hhmm, that tracker gimmick would be a b-i-g hit!

As a future ELA teacher, I’m all about the reading.  Fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, no matter.  Just keep those kids cracking those pages and an expanded mind is an unavoidable result.  If it takes a little fanfare to keep the youthful mind reading, so be it.  Kudos to Kobos for getting it right.  And at $20 less than the least expensive Nook, I’m cuckoo for Kobo.  Share the love, brother and sisters, share the love.

Choose Your Palette

Several years ago when I was living in the humid, steamy bayous of South Louisiana, I had this sudden urgency to pay off my student loans.  I had only a small amount of debt considering my six years of schooling, but I wanted to be free from it, all of it, and quickly.  As a result, I agreed to a summer job painting the apartment complex I resided in, at my leisure.  Fine and dandy, especially for what the landlord was willing to pay and my choice of hours, but I soon discovered what an overzealous fool I was for I had never painted more than a girl scout craft in my life.  I had no idea what equipment I needed to complete this job as efficiently and as effectively as possible.  But after spending two weeks on rickety ladders with my 1′ roller and my aching back, I realized that investing in the right painting tools would make for a mighty wise decision.

With a sprayer in one hand, and an extension roller in the other, I completed the job in no time flat, and although these tools were important in the completion of this arduous, and insanely hot pursuit, it was ultimately my work ethic that provided the wherewithal to complete said task in record time.  Heck, even my landlord was amazed at my speed!  Doorways, exterior walls, railings, and window casings all glowed with the shiny paint of my meticulous venture.

So replace my sprayer and extension roller with a laptop and a mobile phone and consider the following:  it’s not the tools but the craftsman that makes the art.  Fast forward twenty years, and witness the generation that has been raised online, uploaded, and plugged in since birth.  What kind of craftsmen are in the making here?  How will these young minds employ their technological tools?  Are they capable of making art?

If we patronize the likes of Bauerlein in The Dumbest Generation, there’s no hope for a competent and speedy paint job from this lot.  Baurlein assures his readers that these tools of technology will not sit idle on hardware store shelves, but they will not be used as intended; instead he claims the Millennials will spill their foolish souls onto social media, failing to ever articulate the connection between hutzpah and innovation.  His dim take on Gen M’s apprenticeship is beyond reproach.  I suspect he’s in cahoots with The Grinch.

Yes, it is a new world for parents, educators, and other guardians of America’s youth.  Moms can no longer simply search pants’ pockets to see what their children are up to; educators cannot assume their students stay on digital task.  But it boils down to faith.  I don’t mean religious faith, I mean faith in the benevolence of youth, of mankind.  With some modeling and example, Gen M is as capable as Gen X, Gen Y, or the Babyboomers of adding their coat of paint to this house we call the United States of America.  Problem is, it may not be a shade of Bauerlein’s approval.  And that’s just too bad.

1:1 Has Got to Come!

Four weeks ago, I began observing my cooperating teacher’s classroom at a Wake County STEM school.  I was excited to bear witness to this innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in action.  Egat!  Have I been astonishingly disappointed at what I have seen.

“Hey man, my turn, my turn, already, huh?”

First off, the handmaiden of versatile content material –that would be the ELA classroom for those of you not in the know–does not have one single, in-class computer beyond the rather archaic HP desktop gracing the teacher’s work station.  In fact, I have learned that no ELA classroom at this institution hosts permanent in-class technology beyond the mounted television with its antiquated VCR attachment.  The overhead projector, DVD player, computer speakers, and laptop are provided privately by way of the financial resources of my cooperating teacher.  Alert. Alert.  Remember if you will, this institution is a STEM school.

Perhaps since the focus of this high school is science, math, engineering, and technology, the administration feels no obligation to technologically support ELA studies.  Or perhaps you’re suspect here, certain that a computer lab is surely right around the corner, available, and awaiting extensive ELA project use.  But alas, you would be wrong.  The entire third floor –inclusive of all four of its wings– has access to one, proverbial, computer cart.  This modern wonder of technological innovation includes (insert exaggerated deep breath here), 30 Lenovo laptaps with Windows 97 AND one, lone printer.  This bounty of digital hardware is available to any teacher on the third floor for two consecutive days, once every two weeks!  Phew, now that’s a pedagogical relief huh?

No worries, the astute and well-prepared instructor can make amends for stipulated lesson planning.  Oh, but there’s a catch, a rather alarming catch here in fact: all webquests and typed essays –the cornerstone of ELA instruction mind you– must be completed during these biweekly 180 minutes because according to my unscientific estimates (I went around and asked the students personally), only 1 in 4 actually has access to a computer outside of this general education ELA classroom.

If I ever questioned the need for 1:1 computing, I am now a card-carrying convert!  As a society, we expect our youth to be computer literate, savvy even, members of the 21st Century work force, but our education system provides the equivalent opportunity for digital fluency the the postal service provides for instant messaging.  At this juncture, the connection just doesn’t exist.  We need to do more than keep our fingers crossed.

Podcast #3–Teens Turn Off Technology.

“You Can’t Handle the Truth!”

When Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Nathan R. Jessep, in A Few Good Men is caught with his chain-of-command pants down, his response to the lawyering upstart, Lt. Kaffee,  played by Tom Cruise is the often quoted, “You can’t handle the truth!”  The “truth” is always a matter of perspective, and so is who can handle what.  For the sake of context here, let’s consider the who, students, and the what, social media or as Ellison claims, “…participatory learning spaces” (2008, p. 1).

“Through Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites, [students] are creating and sharing blogs, vlogs (video blogs), and participating in developing content via wikis and other collaborative platforms” (Bloom & Johnston, 2010, p. 114).  But at the secondary level, 98% of this social interaction occurs outside of the classroom walls (what does transpire within said walls is often accomplished on the sly).  The pen-pals of yesterday have not morphed into the blog-pals of today.  Perhaps this connection will make its way to all third grade classrooms within the decade –at the elementary level this exchange is already common– but social media and teenagers is a far more combustible concoction, far more difficult to pedagogically oversee.  As “students these days are more apt to take control of their learning and choose unconventional technological methods to learn better” (Bloom & Johnston, 2010, p. 114), they are equally likely to use these technological mediums for social gain, failing to see the “truth” hidden behind the social media relationship.

So do Secondary students have the maturity to perceive the consequences of online relationships?   “It is imperative that educators help their students
to navigate and participate in this new social space, culture, and learning environment with the requisite skills that constitute media literacy” (Bloom & Johnston, 2010, p. 114), but who will be responsible for this instruction?  Undoubtedly, parents hold the keys to their child’s online safety and guidance, but if an education system chooses to employ social media as an in-school option, this responsibility is put upon the educator’s shoulders, and likely not the math teacher or the physics teacher, but the instructors of the ELA and social sciences classroom.  But can the already overloaded education handmaiden of Secondary education –the humanities and social sciences– withstand another responsibility?  And one as grave as this?

Moreover, do the inherent risks of online relationships belong in the Secondary classroom in the first place?  Do there exist too many unknown factors at this stage in the social media game to welcome its instructional use system wide?  Social Networking Sites (SNSs) is a very new industry.  The now defunct first networking site Six Degrees began in 1997, a mere 15 years-ago (Ellison, 2008, p. 6).  More alarmingly, the relative SNS dinosaur, My Space, is only 9 years old, and the Facebook wonder, is a technological baby at 7 years of age, scarily You Tube hasn’t even entered kindergarten yet, only 5 years from its birth.  The effects of media relationships is in the infancy of its understanding.  Can you imagine administering a vaccine nationwide with only a 5-7 year testing period?  The government would have the drug manufacturer’s proverbial head on an accountability platter!  The mere thought of the act is ludicrous.

The vulnerabilities of social interaction, even with the guidance of a devoted overseeing instructor, are just too numerous for classroom adoption at this juncture.  There is too much information available on these sites; we should all be wary of what we write, photos we upload, and information we exhibit. “The public display of connections is a crucial component of SNSs. The Friends list contains links to each Friend’s profile, enabling viewers to traverse the network graph by clicking through the Friends lists. On most sites, the list of Friends is visible to anyone who is permitted to view the profile, although there are exceptions” (Ellison, 2008, p. 3).  Sadly, I pity those young students whose parents do not pay attention to their online interactions, leaving the young mind to travel social media willy-nilly.  But is online social interaction another lesson for the nanny state of education to teach?  Where do we draw the line?