Sunday, October 12, 2008

Answer to a question (and don't forget the apple pie)

I had to respond in writing to a question about the role of technology in education the other day. Rattling off a response in about 7 minutes, I didn't think too much about it at the time. However, going back over it today, it seemed like a pretty good statement, so I'm putting it here just to have it handy (and for others to see and perhaps comment on).

Technology in education serves as the single most essential element to move our schools from an era of standardization to one of personalization. When deployed and used with care and effectiveness, technology in education enables a level of communication, collaboration, and creativity among all members of the school family that sets us firmly on the course toward achievement of the 21st century skills essential for success in today's and tomorrow's global community. Effective use of educational technology enables us to be more human, more caring, and more wise; it serves as a tool to help make us better people.

Image from

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Could Chrome (+ Gears) Be the Next (Really) Big Thing?

In reading Dan Grabham's blog post over at , it seems to me he's pretty much hit the nail on the head. The combination of Chrome and Google Gears makes Google's dominance of the desktop, not just the Net, pretty much of a lead pipe cinch. Why pay Microsoft for Word(r), Powerpoint(r), and Excel(r) when one can have functional equivalents, and a whole lot more, for free. Plus, with Gears, one can use them from any computer connected to the Net online, and offline too.
Of course, many in the private sector will be happy to continue to pay for the added security represented by Microsoft's propriety software, but those outside of that realm (and increasingly, many within it as well), will come to see those costs as wasteful and unnecessary.
Seems to me that this is going to be really, really huge. We'll see.

Image from

Friday, August 22, 2008

Atlantic Monthly's Slightly Irresponsible Article

The Atlantic Monthly published an article that many have seen in its July-August 08 issue called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" In it, author Nicholas Carr talks about why he doesn't particularly care for what the Internet is doing to print culture (my interpretation). I don't like the potshot the title takes at Google and I don't especially care for its somewhat alarmist tone. However, I do understand that part of the magazine's and the author's purpose is to be provocative, sell magazines, and generate discussion.

The article has certainly generated a lot of discussion.

A lively listserv I'm on called LM_NET, composed mostly of K-12 school library people, carried a post from Tony Doyle of Livingston, CA on August 20. In it, Mr. Doyle said briefly that he thought the Carr article could provide good support to argue for a Sustained Silent Reading program in a school. I thought Mr. Doyle's conclusion, though surely well intentioned, was off the mark and decided to write to him. My response turned somewhat passionate and I thought it might be a good idea to place a copy of it here.


Thanks for continuing the conversation about this article.

It could be used to strengthen arguments for SSR, and a lot of other things in support of books, but to do so, in my opinion. would be a mistake.

Carr's piece, as seemingly intellectual and well-informed as it may appear (and may actually be), strikes me as little more than an early 20th century farmer telling a city slicker in a newfangled automobile to "Get a horse." In fact, it's more than a little ironic that a symbol of normalcy and stability in the cartoon accompanying the article is a car; itself the symbol of unwelcome modernity in an earlier age.

There were those who lamented the introduction of paper into schools in favor of slates, who extolled the virtues of quill pens over the fountain variety, and who preferred gas illumination to electric lights. And all of their criticisms of the excesses of the new in favor of the virtues of the old were not entirely erroneous. That is not the point.

There were many concerned about education who used to argue that too much reading and writing were detrimental to the skills of recitation and rhetoric and that therefore students should be made to memorize and recite much of what they were expected to learn. While there are virtues to this position, the preponderance of experience and opinion today indicates that those who took this position were essentially incorrect.

So too would be using Carr's article as justification for a back to basics movement for more reading the way it used to be done, as worthy as that may be from a (nostalgic and) purely intellectual point of view.

Where Carr is on the money, in my opinion, is when he speaks about the differences between gaining knowledge from and through print and from and through digital technology (As much as he tries to legitimize his gratuitous attack on Google, it's little more than a straw man here. He's really talking about personal computers and cell phones and PDAs and iPods and the Internet, not just Google.). We would do better to expend our limited energy and resources on working to understand these differences and seeking ways to maximize the benefits to students of knowing how to function effectively in using them both -- not arguing that the old way is better than the new.

When photography appeared in the mid-19th century, there were many who derided it and claimed it would destroy painting. In a relatively short time, it became accepted as a legitimate art form, and though it did not destroy painting, it did change it irrevocably. The printing press did not destroy the spoken word, but it did change it profoundly.

Today's digital technologies are having the same sorts of effects on the print culture. Digital will not destroy print, nor our abilities to think; it will, however, produce profound changes on both. We ignore or deride such changes at our peril. It seems to me our role as educators is yes, learn from the past, but not only from the past. We must embrace the future as well. By doing so, we will more effectively prepare our students for the world that will be, rather than only the one that was. It's not pages versus screens, it's pages and screens.

Jim Lerman

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Can we find our minds?

This article from ComputerWorld (July 31) discusses software being separately developed by IBM and Microsoft that is designed to help people remember the often elusive details of our lives.

I think the article describes pretty well how it's designed to work and it raises lots of hope for me, and lots of people like me I guess, because I frequently can't remember where I parked the car or where I read or heard about something, or someone's name.

Though clearly in a primitive state, this line of development gives us a clear glimpse of at least some aspects of the not-to-distant future -- and also cements further the role that those tiny computers we now call cellphones will continue to play in our lives. More surely than ever, these devices will be our windows on the world, and now apparently, the tools that will enable us to find the minds we have lost.

Coupled with the announcement on the same day of a potential breakthrough treatment for Alzheimer's disease (see articles here and here), it was certainly a banner moment in the development of human mental capacity. If we can somehow make similar progress in controlling our tendencies toward ethnocentrism, jingoism, religious intolerance, greed, hate, and violence then the future looks bright indeed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tying Teaching Together

I'd like to share two things that have lately been of
great interest to me.

First is Twine, which I think of as professional social networking
2.0. I say I think because Twine seems to me to be so beyond anything
currently existing in this space as to be something maybe really new.
Certainly it is a big step beyond Diigo. And I've surely still got a
lot of learning to do about Twine and its functionalities.

Anyway, I had to wait about 3-4 weeks to get an invite to Twine's
closed beta, but now that I have it, I've got invites of my own to
give out. After you go to their website and nose around a little bit,
if you'd like an invitation, please let me know.

Second, my Twine group led me to something called TPACK today that I
find absolutely compelling. The individual ideas in TPACK are not
necessarily novel, but their synthesis in this package is
electrifying, at least to me.

The acronym stands for Technological, Pedagogical, and Content
Knowledge. The concept deals with the necessary intersection and
convergence of these 3 elements in the teaching learning process.
There is a dynamite presentation by the 2 chief evangelists for TPACK
(Matthew J. Koehler and Punya Mishra at Michigan Sstate) at It's dynamite not only for
what it has to say (which is scintillating), but for the way it says
it. This is one of the most outstanding uses of powerpoint-type media
in a conference presentation that I've seen.

I am consumed these days with thinking about why it is so difficult to
integrate technology into current day schooling and what we can do
about it. I'm developing a conference presentation on this that I hope
to start making soon. I guess that's at least one reason why the
notion of TPACK struck me as so meaningful.

If the preso interests you, there is a website at
and a terrific resources list at