Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sno Poly Fighting Ailerons

Saturday's Everett Herald featured a story by political writer Jerry Cornfield on the possiblity of Snohomish County funding its own University. Sen. Steve Hobbs is introducing legislation to create a higher education investment district to fund the creation of the 4-year Polytechnic university. Funding would come from bonds that would be repaid with the proceeds from a .02% sales tax increase in areas participating in the investment district. Newly elected Rep. Mike Hope is sponsoring a companion bill in the House.

I am no fan of the proposed university - it funnels money from education to construction - but I really like this proposal because it gives the citizens a chance to indicate how important the college is to them. Hobbs is quoted as saying "Now this says to the community 'if you really want it, here is an opportunity and if you don't want it, we'll move on.' " Let me summarize:
Snohomish County, put up or shut up.
Let's face it, up to now we have had no skin in the game. All the benefits come to us and all the costs are paid by someone else. What a deal! But that's not how life should work. When we break the feedback loop, when benefits aren't balanced against costs, we create a situation where really poor decisions are made (like when people who make mortgages are insulated from the negative effects of the loans going bad).

Under the Hobbs proposal residents of Snohomish county can vote to raise their own sales tax and commit the money to paying off $400 million in bonds. That is what I call putting your money where your mouth is. In addition, the proposal seems to put a stake in the ground and definatively state that this will be a polytechnic university. No waffling, no leaving open the possibility of an art history degree. Knowing it will be a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused school will also help voters decide if the proposed university will fill their needs for post-secondary education.

If my fellow citizens voted to tax themselves to build a polytechnic university I would get behind the effort. I might even go for a Master's in Computer Science (Mrs. AdvisoryBored's MS is making my BA feel inferior). Still there is plenty in the article to make me doubt the university will ever come to fruition:
  • Aaron Reardon heaps blame on the state for not doing it's job to build a college, but it was us that couldn't choose a site. If the three musketeers (stooges?) - Haugen, Sells, Dunshee - couldn't come to some agreement over the course of 18-months and with the help of a mediator, why do you think they will put their bickering aside now?
  • Mike Sells doesn't think the idea will get much "traction", but it deserves a hearing. A hearing in front of the committee where he is Vice-Chairman. If it doesn't get much traction it will because Sells doesn't want it to get much traction.
  • It is questionable if this school will be able to meet any significant portion of the demand for post-secondary education by our county's citizens. While half of the slots might be allocated to local students, there is a very really possibility that local students won't be interested in or prepared for STEM-focused programs. Backers have consistently described these as "high demand programs", but they refused to acknowledge that students have not been enrolling in these programs for years. Everyone needs to understand up front that this school's population may largely be young men from other parts of this country or world.
In the meantime, let's look towards Central, Western, EdCC and EvCC (including University Center) to keep delivering the goods.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Attention shoppers

It wasn't the last minute Christmas shopping that reminded me of the old Kmart blue light special, it was a blog post by Frank Kenny on his proposal for a social networking class. Frank is president/CEO of the North Mason County Chamber of Commerce and a big believer in social networking/web 2.0 in business, particularly for the small business sector. I've been following Frank on Twitter and that's where he asked for a little feedback on his proposed class. His idea is to introduce his membership to Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging.

I really like what he is proposing because I agree that social networking offers a lot of value to small business owners if they become familiar with the tools and learn to adapt them to their needs. I kinda went over board and ended up adding a post-length comment (see here and scroll down to the comments). Instead of reprinting my comments here I'll let you switch over to his site. I'll wait -- "someone left the cake out in the rain and we'll never get that recipe .. "-- oh, you're back.

Given that Frank and others like him are pushing the information revolution into small businesses everywhere, perhaps we need to consider a few things in our education environment:
  • if web 2.0 is on the radar of small businesses in Belfair then it had better on the radar of your business courses. Integrating web 2.0 into your business classes is at least as valuable as teaching it in stand alone technology classes, and probably more valuable.
  • don't shy away from teaching web 2.0 in the classes because younger students "grew up with the technology". As I have discussed before, a student's ability to use the tools in a personal setting is irrelevant. When they start working they will be judged on their ability to accomplish something with them in a business context (increase revenue, cut costs, build brand recognition).
  • in a small business and in a slowing economy, the creative application of technology to improve business can come from many places within the organization. Most small businesses aren't going to be looking for a director of internet marketing after completing Frank's class, but they will be more open to the use of the tools when an employee suggests it (perhaps one of your students). The person who recommends Twitter for announcing the blue light special on bananas probably won't be the store owner and maybe not even the produce manager. It's more likely to be stock boy (girl) and it's going to look great on their resume.
So what do you think? Does your HR program have students thinking about YouTube as a training vehicle? Do your purchasing classes include LinkedIn as a resource for vendor references?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Connections yes, funding no

Today's Everett Herald had an interesting editorial piece on education. To summarize: there are a lot of good, high-skilled, high-wage jobs out there, but students aren't aware and aren't preparing for them. The solution is a $900 million fund for grants to help draw the connections.

Okay, I'm buying the part about good jobs. I agree that students aren't recognizing the full range of career opportunities. The drop-out rate is way too high, yes I'm with you. So we need a new federal program to make grants. Oppps, you lost me on that last one.

Is it possible that students don't see these as an option because we - parents, teachers, counselors, business leaders, politicians and editorial writers - have spent the last 30 years devaluing these careers? I've done it myself. I've joked about avoiding jobs where your name is sewn on your shirt. Never mind that for the last 20 years I've been sporting a badge that tracks my every moment and features a picture that makes my driver's license photo look like Annie Leibovitz was working the camera at the DMV.

A month ago I walked into the Mariner High counseling center for our first advisory committee of the year. What I saw were big banners with the registration dates for the major public and private 4-year colleges in the area. That's all I remember seeing. There may have been information on community colleges and apprenticeship programs, but I sure don't remember them. If it made that big of an impression on a 50-year old, imagine the message a 15-year old receives.

I have heard on several occassions, from teachers in different districts, that counseling students to options other than a 4-year degree directly following high school is not done. The expectation is that college is the one true way to succeed in life. Society sees it that way, why shouldn't counselors. You've heard administrators proudly claim that "xx% of our graduates are accepted to 4 year colleges"? Okay, again why are students not looking at the full range of career options? Is it possible that students are listening to what we are saying, even if we aren't listening to ourselves?

So yes, we do need to feature these career paths. Yes, we do need to counsel students about their options. Yes, we do need to celebrate the opportunity Sno-Isle Skills center and our community colleges offer. We don't need a federal program and grants to do it. We've put up a wall to block student's view and now we want a federal grant to install a window. It's our wall and we should remove it ourselves.

For related discussions, see my 2+2+2 = Bachelor of Applied Science and Review Rep. Loomis Wrap Newsletter posts.

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Santa arrives on a Viking ship

Christmas came early this year for fans of post-secondary education when Western Washington University announced two new bachelor's degree and one new master's degree to be offered at Everett Community College's (EvCC) University Center. If that weren't enough, the Herald's Editorial Board, in this Sunday's editorial, finally seems to acknowledge the value that University Center can bring to the county. I wished I had thought of that (oh wait, I did).

It's a nice change of pace from the news on post-secondary education we received this summer and into the fall. Our political leaders just embarrassed themselves arguing over the location, demonstrating to all that construction dollars, not education is their primary goal. Then a mediator was assigned to help break the impasse, but without much luck. Then the economy and the State's tax revenue tanked. As a result, expect staff cuts, program elimination, enrollment reduction and cost increases at every single public university and college in the State. The topping on the sundae is Sen. Shin's being replaced on the Higher Ed committee by a member from Gig Harbor. Did you know they want a UW branch campus out on the peninsula? Seems they're like the second biggest county in the State without a university and it would bring technology jobs and yada, yada, yada.

Look, I'm not suggesting that we don't need more educational opportunity in the tri-county region, far from it. I am, however, suggesting that a new university focused on advanced science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees won't help most people, and my quite possibly make the situation worse. Here are the questions I am asking when I read about the proposed university:
  • Has anyone stated for a fact exactly what type of university this will be? Will it be WWU or UW or MIT? Isn't that a more important decision than where it should be located?
  • How will it help lower high school and/or college drop out rates?
  • How will it help lower the cost of education, consistent identified as the biggest barrier to students attaining their goals?
  • How will it help prepare high school students for, and encourage them to enter, STEM programs in college?
  • How will it help students who need more learning opportunities, but who do not thrive in an academic environment?
  • How will it help address the need for continuing education required to advance in a career or switch careers through a person's working life (it isn't called the Information Age for nothing)?
All I know is that no matter what the problem is, a UW branch campus will fix it. It's like educational cod liver oil. So, until the proposal starts answering these questions I am completely opposed to this construction initiative. More thoughts are available on my archived No Sno U blog and I keep a list of Delicious links tagged UWBranch that you can view.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lights, camera, education

The Everett Herald's twitter feed carried a post for an article about YouTube as a teaching tool, which appeared in the Money section today. The profiled student, a college junior, was struggling with trigonometry and searched YouTube for videos on the topic. She was able to view and review these videos until she finally understood the topic. The video was from the Khan Academy Channel. The article says that the Khan Academy is the work of Salman Khan, a hedge-fund manager and math geek. The videos grew out his tutoring of his nephew. Other friends and family wanted tutoring, so instead of repeating the lessons over and over again he committed them to video and posted them.

As a teaching tool, the value comes from the fact that the videos are short, simple and on topic. Additionally, the videos are available when the student is ready to learn (what in industry is being referred to as just-in-time training). This brings to mind the wonderful Common Craft Show videos that I have featured here in previous posts.

Well, Mrs. AdvisoryBored just couldn't control her sense of curiosity and was off searching for systems analysis and database design videos. There were plenty of long-winded, talking-head lectures, but some other more interesting ones too. Take for instance the CareerRx channel which features a series of "A Day in the Life" videos that give viewers insight into what different jobs are like (see the computer systems analyst and the computer software engineer).

Are you leveraging YouTube to help educate students? Yeah, yeah, I know you can't get to YouTube at school because if you do then blah, blah, blah. Let's forget that argument for the moment and deal with what you can do. If you are a math teacher can you review the Khan Academy videos and, if you like them, recommend them to students and parents for homework support? How about an IT instructor and Word mail-merge videos? Can you do your own videos as Liz Davis has done (she supports teachers, not students, but same concept)? Can you ask advisory board members to review and/or recommend videos that they think accurately represent the work of their profession?

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's del.icio.us

You may have noticed a new feature in the left-hand navigation column right under the site labels called Recent Bookmarks. I use a social bookmarking tool called del.icio.us to bookmark online resources that I find interesting and want to comment on. Delicious offers a LinkRoll feature that lets me list my 5 most recent bookmarked entries, plus commentary, on my blog.

If you find these links particularly intersting, you can go to my del.icio.us site to see all the links or to browse via tag name. If you would like an updated list of new bookmarks you can subscribe to its RSS feed. Yes, you can use RSS feeds for something other than blogs.

I plan on writing more about social bookmarking in the near future, but for now I would really encourage people to investigate social bookmarking as learning and professional development tool. A couple of quick reasons why I like social bookmarking:
  • My bookmarks are stored online, so I can get to them for anywhere (any browser on any machine)
  • I can give bookmarked items tags, keywords that help me organize and categorize the list
  • I can find other resources tagged by other people on the same topic, allowing me to learn from their knowledge quests (consistent with the connectivism learning theory)
  • I can create a network of fellow bookmarkers so that I can share bookmarks with them without emailing links all over the place
Let me leave you with another of the fine Common Craft videos, Social Bookmarking in Plain English.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

But wait, there's more

I don't have children so, as a result, I have missed out on the whole joy/terror (circle one) of homework, except tonight. Due to a strange set of circumstances that included a week-long illness and a broken computer, my nephew Sam was over at my house doing research on China. I set him up in the home office with all the essentials: Word, FireFox, Google and iTunes (well not all the essentials, he's too young for beer or coffee). After awhile he tracked me down and asked "how many feet is 5,000 kilometers".

Since starting the Advisory Bored my life has morphed into a series of bloggable events. This is one of those moments. Since he had Google up, he had the answer right in front of him. Yes, Google is a search tool, but wait, there's more.

Google's has a number of search features that allows it to interrupt your input into the search box and return to you the answer as a search result. It will look-up words, convert amounts to different units of measure, give you local info and even do math. Try any of these in a search box:
  • 233 feet in furlongs (unit coversions)
  • define: connectivism (definitions from online dictionaries)
  • time stockholm (local time)
  • weather oslo (local weather)
  • 83 usd in kronor (money conversions)
  • 1000*(1+.05)^10 (math)
If you are more of an "on the go" type person you can use Google SMS to search and perform many of the same features via text messaging. If you text "sea airport" to 466453 (it spells Google on many phones, but not my Blackberry), you'll get a text message back give you status information about SeaTac airport.

One of my personal favorites is Google Alerts. Here's how it works. You put in your search keywords, the type of search, the frequency of the search and the method of providing you the results (either email or RSS feed) and you are set. Google will run the search at the frequency you defined and notify you of any **new** entries to the result set. For example, a student in a current events class might want to add "obama cabinent appointment" into a comprehensive search run once a day and delivered via email so she is prepared with the newest information in time for class.

One of the really big problems of the information age to date is that the tools haven't kept pace with the information. As a result we are overwhelmed with data, so much so that it hides the information. Google search tools, like those mentioned here, can help students, teachers, parents and business people take back control. Let me leave you with this short video clip from Google on how to get the most from your search tools.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Educating Employees

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving day. Mine was very enjoyable, largely due to the fact that the family dinner was not at my house this year (we still had the annual Fryday gathering around the deep fryer - 2 turkeys and 5 chickens). It did throw my schedule off, however, and I missed the full, extended version of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant on the radio. There's always next year.

I did catch an interest radio piece on KUOW, part of a series from the Cunard Cruise Lines called Liner Notes. Episode 6 (Talking Turkey) contained an interview with author Wendell Berry. Around 51 minutes into the podcast the interviewer asks Mr. Berry what advice he, a frequent commencement speaker, gives young people about leading a successful life. He says his comments always go against the grain because:
... I think what they are being taught is how to be good employees, which means to be dependent and obedient and so on, and I encourage them to try for independence.
Argue if you will about whether the goal of school is to create good employees or educated citizens (are the two really mutually exclusive?), but I can assure Mr. Berry that "dependent and obedient" is the very definition of a poor employee, certainly in the modern information technology (IT) organization. The world of routine, process-oriented jobs, where employees follow orders from a boss with superior knowledge is fading fast. Organizations are flat, managerial span of control wide, knowledge fleeting and work project-oriented. I would consider the 3 skills Alan November highlights in this short video clip as more accurate representation of what good employees need to be taught.

My concern, however, is not that Mr. Berry's assessment of hiring standards is accurate (it's not). My fear is that his assessment of education might be accurate. I know teachers and administrators are going to say we don't teach those things and I know that's not their intent. I am confident that there isn't an AP Obedience class anywhere in the country. Still, I wonder if the very organization of school and the behaviors it models doesn't encourage some dependent and obedient behaviors. I'm thinking of the focus on lecturing, the teacher as the expert ("the sage on the stage"), the rigorous structuring of the class day and standardized testing the reinforces the notion of "one right answer".

This gets tricky because, if we are modeling the wrong behaviors, then the discussion can't be between a couple of teachers at Kamiak or Cascade or E-W and their respective technology advisory committees. Those behaviors are woven into the very fabric of the education system. Removing them is the job of the weaver, not the seamstress. That is why, as I have written before, there needs to be a discussion amongst the broader community - taxpayers, citizens, civic leaders, business leaders, teachers and administrators.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Silk Degrees

From yesterday's (11/24/08) Everett Herald comes an article on the expansion of degree offerings from other universities as the UW branch campus idea dies a quick, painful death as a result of the State's budget shortfall.
As the campaign to bring a University of Washington campus to Snohomish County stalls, the state's other public universities are quietly expanding bachelor's and master's degree programs in the Everett area.
Quietly expanding? Really? Too bad Herald reporters don't read the ads in the Herald 'cause if they did they would know that the schools had been paying a lot of money to make the expansion of the programs broadly known. It's also too bad that Herald reporters don't read Herald letters to the editors 'cause if they did they would have seen a letter from me on 3/14/08 highlighting those same degree programs (you can also find the text of that letter here). I would argue that had the Herald not abandoned all journalistic integrity to become the primary cheerleader for the UW branch campus, the expansion of these programs would have been anything but quiet.

From my perspective as a lowly taxpayer these programs are a bargain because the deliver education to under-served populations, often in under-served areas, with significantly less infrastructure and administrative costs. A UW North Sound, for instance, will take the better part of a billion dollars and years of construction before we graduated anyone. These alternative from existing universities go up much faster (although they are still too slow to respond).

Take the Central Washington University (CWU) information technology and administrative management (ITAM) degree, mentioned in the article. You may recall that I blogged about the local version, a bachelor's of applied science ITAM (BAS-ITAM), last spring. The Herald article doesn't fully describe the value of the program. Yes it offers an IT bachelor's degree locally, but more important, it offers it in multiple locations and to a different student base. The program is taught simultaneously through distance learning technologies at Edmonds CC, Highline CC and now Everett CC. (Below is picture of the lecturer's workstation at Highline. The small screens let the lecturer see the classroom and students at the other locations.)

Lecturer Workstation

In addition, the program is targeted at a different audience than the Ellensburg-based ITAM degree. The BAS-ITAM is a two-year program for students that have completed an IT program at a community college and have at least a year of work experience (hence the "applied" part of the name). I won't cover the same ground covered in the earlier post, but one point bears repeating. Most community college IT programs are Prof/Tech and their credits do not transfer to any bachelor's programs (they are referred to as terminal degrees). Without the BAS-ITAM these students would have to start over again as freshman, spending time and money on areas of study where they already have the requisite knowledge. And, since the tuition is subsidized by the State, the program saves the taxpayers two years of tuition subsidy.

Also worth noting is that June 2008 saw the first set of graduates from the Edmonds and Highline locations. So CWU isn't really "testing the waters in Everett" as the article states.

For more ranting on what's wrong with a UW branch campus see my No Sno U blog.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

More tweaks

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll spend the weekend in a boat drinking beer with his friends." -- anonymous
In this sense, blogging is like fishing. I started to do just one thing, make the body of the post wider, and I am still making little changes. In addition to the new layout, I've:
  • added Creative Commons (CC) licensing. CC provides content creators a relatively simple way to maintain copyright over their materials while still allowing a range of usage, at their discretion. I, for instance, selected an Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-Alike license for all materials that I create for the Advisory Bored (see the footer of each page). This means that anyone is free to use my works if they: attribute the work to me, don't make money from it and share any derivative work under the same licensing. BTW (by the way ), this topic would be a great addition to any content creation class so that students start to understand the role of licensing in a professional/business setting. More on that later.
  • changed the position of the subscription details. In addition to moving the subscription box to the top of the left-hand navigation column, I've also simplified the display. I wanted to make it more prominent to encourage people to use some sort of syndication to get notifications of new posts. Syndication eliminates the need for the reader visit a site and look for new content. I use Feedburner for the syndication so that I am able to capture statistics about non-visiting readers.
  • made it easier to share with AddThis. At the bottom of each post you will now find a little icon that says "BOOKMARK". It's a tool from AddThis that makes it easier for you the reader to bookmark the post for retrieval later or to share it with friends via email or social networking sites. Click the icon and you get a box of common sharing/bookmarking options (see image at right). For instance, click on Email and you can quickly send an email to a friend, with a little message and a link to this post. In return, I get feedback about which posts are most intriguing.
As is often the case, the changes don't take long. It's troubleshooting all the little roadblocks that leaves you weary and sleep-deprived. I spent 90 minutes figuring out why I couldn't sign-in to Google in IE on my laptop - I almost never use IE on that machine. Somehow Google, Amazon and Blogger all were set as "never accept cookies" in the internet options, a requirement for Google/Blogger login. Then I spent another 2 hours trying to figure out why I couldn't add the AddThis icon to my blog template without causing an error. After 2 hours I put down my laptop, walked over to my desktop machine and made the change in 40 seconds. Why? I have no idea. Some days it is better to declare victory and go home early.

Let me know if you find any of these things helpful or merely a visual distraction.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Links and Resources: November 18th, 2008

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. -- Eric Hoffer
  • Opps, maybe IT isn't as recession-proof as columnist were predicting (that bubble burst quick). Over at ZDNet "Tech workforce pinched by economy, feeling like 2003" gives the bad numbers for layoffs in the tech sector, especially for telecom, electronics and computer industries.
  • However, there is still hope for other parts of the profession. Michelle Singletary picked "150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs" for her Color of Money Book Club (Everett Herald Nov. 2nd). #1 on their list was computer systems analyst. #5 was post-secondary teacher. Mrs. Advisory Bored, who teaches computer systems analysis at a community college, was rather smug the remainder of the day.
  • Computerworld's 2008 Salary Survey seems to indicate that "The hottest IT skills survive a cool economy". The survey tells us that businesses need to get the most of the technology they already have. Web developers, network administrators and information security managers stand to do well regardless of the economy.
  • At the most recent Everett SD technology advisory committee we briefly touched on the issue of the under-representation of certain demographic groups in IT. In the article "Making a Case for Diversity in STEM Fields" the authors argue that the lack of diversity isn't merely an unfortunately civil rights issue, but, given the importance of STEM, has significant implications for our economy and future. The article is hosted at MentorNet, an eMentoring site for science and technology fields (more here).
  • eSchool News reports that the "Nations first tech-literacy test" will be included in the Nation's Report Card starting in 2012. (I assume they mean information technology, because a stapler is technology and we don't need a test on it.) A contract was awarded to develop the framework for the assessment, but there is plenty left unresolved. They don't even know which grade-level will be tested.
  • And let us conclude with something fun. Paul over at the Last Great Road Trip sent me a link to Oblong Industries. Oblong makes g-spatial, a spatial operating environment. Watch the video.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seek and ye shall find

I was listening to KUOW on the way to work today and I heard a piece on a basic education funding study for the State of Washington. This blog isn't about that study, it's about finding that study.

So when I tossed the search terms into Google I started getting a lot of results from a lot of places. I had a few keywords that helped me refine the search, but there were still a number that were not relevant. Then I remembered that I could build my own custom search engine with Google. A custom search engine allows you define one or many specific web sites or web pages to be searched.

So I created a search called Washington State Education that pointed to a handful of state education sites such as the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (sbctc.ctc.edu) and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (hecb.wa.gov). Now when I enter those same search terms into the custom search box, only results from the specified sites are included. Much more relevant because I'm not interested in Ohio's basic education funding initiatives.

You can also include the search as a widget/gadget in your iGoogle page or in a blog. If you scroll down the left-hand side of the Advisory Bored you will eventually reach a search box. That uses the same exact custom search engine as if you went to the link I specified above. Cool, no.

What can you do with a custom search engine? Well quite a lot I would guess. Google lists some featured sites here. A couple of my favorites are:
  1. Expanding Your Horizons which is an engine for girls, teachers and parents to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This engine includes over 140 different sites.
  2. CS Curriculum Search will help computer science (CS) faculty find teaching resources that other CS faculty has published to the web.
  3. Mrs. Gray's Research Sites for Kids contains a list of kid-safe sites that middle school teacher Lucy Gray can use with her students in Chicago (and now you can use with your students too).
You will notice in the final site that there are contributors listed. What this means is that while Mrs. Gray created the site, she has allow some people to help suggest new sites to add to the custom search engine. So, for instance, history teachers in the Mukilteo SD could band together to build a history search engine even if they are spread out across the district.

My one other custom search site is called Puget Sound News Sources. It includes 12 local media entities, including the Everett Herald. So if you want to know what local media is saying about you, give it a try.

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Virtual High School - continued

Not long after my Virtual High School post I received a tweet (a Twitter message) from the Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis pointing to this article from Orlando Sentinel on a new Florida law to expand online education in primary and secondary grades:
The law passed by the Legislature last spring is designed to give parents more choice in how their elementary- and middle-school children are educated full time. Online instruction joins home schooling, charter schools and Florida's on-again, off-again experiment with vouchers to private schools as a way of broadening the selection.

"The beauty of this is it is another choice for parents," said Sonia Esposito, director of school choice for Osceola schools.

The state will pay for online instruction, providing districts about $6,000 per student -- what they would get for a student who showed up at a regular school. But savings are expected in bus transportation, school construction and other areas.
Then today I was outside for my last lawn mowing/Teachers's Podcast listening session of the year - I'm done with lawn mowing not the podcast. Virtual schools were again the topic of discussion in episode #28 (for those of you new to podcasting, you can play the episode from your computer, you don't need an iPod).

They discussed the Florida law which apparently requires schools to offer a full online degree program starting next year. They then dove deep into virtual schools and online education. It's a great discussion and they have posted a number of links for you reading enjoyment. A couple of things I found particularly interesting:
  1. Dr. Kathy talked about online education as a continuum that starts with the use of basic online resources, moves to students using it as part of their studies, then to partially online courses and finally to fully online programs. Starting with the simple stuff is alright, but it's just the beginning.
  2. Dr. Kathy also reinforced the notion that the proper application of technology to the classroom is not simply migrating your existing class content to the web or learning management system (LMS). Teachers will need to adapt their teaching to get the most of the new technology, just as they have had to do in the past (anyone remember filmstrips?).
  3. Dr. Kathy and Mark went on to discuss the hybrid or blended model in which coursework is a mixture of online and on-site. They referenced the VOISE program in Chicago as an example (see this summer 2008 Converge article about the program starting on page 21).
  4. Mark talked about a Converge article he did in 2007 about the Distance Learning program in Alabama. He talked about how the program was used to, among other things, deliver coursework that was not offered on-site because of insufficient demand for certain classes (say Latin or AP Programming). We might consider this the Long Tail of education.
Okay, so last time I said we in the broader community - business, taxpayers, parents, advisory board members - needed to be thinking about this too. I am even more convinced of that now. The implications of these changes seems more profound than merely getting teachers to blog.
  • How will we pay for educators to learn the technology and implement an entirely new way to deliver education? (And don't tell me they can do it as part of their job, that's not how it's done in the business world.)
  • How will funding be effected if students rush to fully or partially online programs and leave school buildings empty? It might be a great solution for a growing district that doesn't have enough space, but what about a district that is shrinking?
  • How will we fund schools if a student is on campus for four classes each day and then takes two more online from another school (funding and football are going to be the biggest roadblocks to educational reform).
  • What changes in teacher education do we need to make in advance of the transition? Are the Colleges of Education in our Universities training new teachers how to build their curriculum around both on-site and online delivery?
Digging up the links for this post I trip over a site, Virtual High School Meanderings, that you might add to your reading list if you are interested in virtual/online education.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's your reaction

I'm trying out a new Blogger feature called reactions. It's a way for you to quickly provide feedback about a particular blog post without commenting (although I would really like you to comment too).

At the bottom of each post, under the tags, comments and labels you will see the word reaction with five check boxes: Great, Good, So-So, Boring and Huh. If you have an opinion, but don't want to hassle with a comment, then just check the box that best represents your thoughts. Blogger will total the count and display it for all to see.

Enjoy ....

Virtual High School

Did you catch the Monday edition of the Herald? Their lead article was about the growth in attendance in virtual (0nline) high schools.
Online schools are booming. In Washington, the number of elementary, middle and high school students enrolled full-time in public, online schools has nearly quadrupled in three years to 5,666 last school year.

Nationwide, the number of students enrolled in online schools jumped 60 percent, to 506,950 between 2003 and 2005, the latest year with data, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Of course the paper edition had to feature more prominently the quote "I don't have to listen to teachers tell me what to do. This way I can site in my pajamas and still get it done." by putting it in a sidebar. That should stir some excitement in the if-it-was-good enough-for-me crowd.

It's time that education as a production line comes to an end. Students are not the raw materials of the education system and teachers are not factory workers, bolting facts onto students like an auto worker mounting a tire on a Buick. Is virtual high school part of solution?

Students don't all learn the same. People have different needs for the delivery of education. It's not that we have to do away with the existing format. Some people thrive in it, and it should continue. Many others don't, and we need an alternative for them. We can't afford to let students fail simply because we only want to teach one way. Perhaps you remember the TED Talks video from Ken Robinson titled "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" that I featured in a previous post. Take 20 minutes to listen Robinson's story of Gillian Lynne failing in the traditional school setting.

I know that we who serve on advisory boards are suppose to be thinking about about the needs of specific programs, but it seems to me that we also need to be thinking about the broader educational system. I'm interested in your thoughts. What type of people do you think would benefit from this alternative? Would an online education help prepare students for your job openings? Would you have wanted your high school experience to be all online, all in-class or some sort of hybrid?

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

I went to school board with 27 Jennifers

Jennifer at the injenuity blog has been reassessing the way she is presenting social media tools to teachers in her post About Face. The core of her message is that social media tools aren't necessarily right for all instructors. Forcing a set of tools upon an instructor does not mean better education. Unless teaching changes, the introduction of new tools does nothing to further the goal of better education.

Initially I wasn't really buying Jennifer's thought process (also see comments by Geoff Cain and a post from another author titled "Which Technologies Shall We Evangelize"). As I continued to read and re-read her post, I started to get her point about changing teaching. She says that:
Teaching has to change before these tools can be effective for learning. When we promote the tools to instructors who are using inappropriate instructional and assessment strategies, we are doing nothing to further the cause of learner-centered pedagogy and collaborative learning.
Still, if educators have not used social media tools, save a two-hour seminar in the summer, how will they ever participate in changing teaching. It may not be about the tools, but the transformation isn't going to happen without them either (or without teachers understanding of them).

It's no different in the business world. When I try to convince my co-workers on the business side of the house to use a wiki I get blank stares. "What does it do?" they ask me. Their mental model is of a software application designed for a specific task. Responding with "It's a tool to quickly develop and maintain knowledge repositories in a highly collaborative environment" doesn't resonate with them. I won't describe the look of disappointment when I say there isn't a manual. Until someone from the business side embraces the wiki, I'm stuck.

I hope that the instructors who are deterred from using social media tools by Jennifer's frank and honest discussion are only deterred from using them as a cornerstone of their current courses. My experience is that you need to embrace the tools before you can assess their value (or lack thereof). Teachers can adopt the tools as part of their personal life or professional development activities. And so what if you just use these tools to "pave cow paths". We used computers to cut paychecks for decades before we learned to send email alerts notifying you that you're about to reach your credit limit.

Instead of creating a flat classroom right out of the gate, perhaps they could start using a social bookmarking tool like Diigo or del.icio.us with a group of fellow instructors. Everyone needs to save bookmarks in such a way that they are available from any computer. Along the way the instructors will be introduced to tagging and the power of the network to deliver a high-value information resources (see Week 2 of Work Literacy's Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals for a better introduction to social bookmarking).

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Links and Resources: October 30th, 2008

“After bread, education is the first need of the people.”
--Georges Danton
  • I've been participating the Work Literacy online class covering web 2.0 tools for learning professionals. It has been very informative, although I've been behind. I still can't figure out how I can fall behind in self-pace education! Anyway, if you are new to web 2.0 tools and their use in learning I would recommend you peruse the site, check out the many links and read the discussion boards.
  • The ACM CareerNews mailing provided two links on the outlook for IT jobs in a slowing economy. "Wall Street's collapse may be computer science's gain" looks at the prospect of students turning away from finance programs for seemingly safer careers in computer science. "Hiring Survey: The IT Skills in Highest Demand" summarizes a Robert Half study on the state of IT skills now and in the future.
  • CIOInsight asks "Is the IT Profession Recession Proof". I'm guessing that most IT staffers at WaMu are a little worried, but maybe the rest of us are in pretty good shape.
  • Jen at the injenuity blog has made a number of her photographs available for use as slide backgrounds under Creative Commons licensing (see them all here). Jen's day job is in workforce development. She has created a Ning network on that topic here, although it doesn't look to be real active at the moment.
  • If you aren't familiar with Creative Commons licensing I suggest you read their about page to get an overview. In a nutshell, it is a way to attach a "some rights reserved" copyright to your creative works. It also provides a simple way to clear other's content for use on your site, art work, or publication. It's seems like licensing of creative works should be included in all content creation coursework (photography, web design, digital graphics, etc).

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Get with the program(ming)

Did you get a chance to see the Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on KCTS during the recent pledge drive (it has also been playing on KBTC and can be seen on the web here)? Pausch was a professor of computer science who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. This lecture, titled Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams, was given at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007. It's a funny, yet inspiring look at computer science, academia, football, teamwork, user interface design, Star Trek and one man's journey to achieve his childhood dreams. The 48-year old Pausch died July 25th, 2008. If you have 90 minutes someday, watch the video. You won't be disappointed.

In the lecture, Pausch talks about indirect learning several times, something he calls head fakes. An example of a head fake is how kids indirectly learn really important things like teamwork and sportsmanship when all they thought they were learning was to play football.

Pausch's head fake legacy is Alice, the 3D programming environment that allows kids to build animated 3D stories and videos while introducing them to the concepts of object oriented programming. The use of animation allows students to better understand how they control the objects through the language and it gives them an introduction to key programming concepts. It also appears to be a more inviting introduction to programming to traditionally under-represented segments of our society (see their promotional video here).

Similarly, Alan Kay has been working on Squeak, a programming language based on the Smalltalk language. In particular, Squeak eToys is an implementation designed to help younger kids learn about science and math through modeling and experimentation. This video is another from the TED Talks series, features Kay talking about the educational value of the tools and demonstrating eToys on one of the one laptop per child (OLPC) machines.

I don't know if computer programming is being taught in the younger grades but these guys are making a really compelling case for focusing on it at a much younger age. Even if kids aren't becoming computer science majors, and most aren't, it seems like it offers important head fake opportunities to teach critical thinking, experimentation and what-if analysis. These are skills that are important to people who are working in finance or marketing. Heck, it's a pretty useful set of skills for picking the right mortgage (assuming anyone's allowed to have a mortgage anymore).

So what do you think? I'd like to know if any of the local school districts are teaching programming with eToys or Alice in middle or high schools? Is anyone teaching programming with any language in middle schools or are we all too busy studying for the WASL? Is there an opportunity to reach out to segments of our population that are traditionally under-represented in information technology/computer science?

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Would you like a Certs

In a recent post over at ZDNet, Deb Perelman asks whether IT pro's should have to demonstrate their skills. It appears there is some controversy over at Slashdot (like that's hard to do) as to whether experienced professionals with degrees should have to demonstrate their chops with, oh say, PL/SQL. Deb asks:
Do accountants have to provide the scores from their back-in-the-day CPA exams?
Well no, but they are required to pass a widely recognized, respected, standarized test that demonstrates their base knowledge and must follow-up with documented continuing education credits to maintain that certification throughout their career. We're not just talking doctors, lawyers and accountants here. I think hair stylists have more licensing requirements than the IT profession. In fact, some might argue that without such standards IT doesn't deserved to be called a profession.

Certifications are a subject of frequent discussion here at the AdvisoryBored household. In a recent post Mrs. AdvisoryBored dove into the issue of certifications and education following a Herald column by economist James McCusker. I'm not going to comment further than to suggest that you read her post and the two comments. In addition to teaching, Mrs. AdvisoryBored serves on an independent IT certification body, which gives her far greater insight into assessment, certification and degrees. Having been a hiring IT manager for several years she also understands just how useless the "your check cleared" certifications are to those of in industry.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

30 things

CIO.com reprinted an InfoWorld article called 30 Skills Every IT Person Needs. The list is a bit network heavy, but all-in-all I thought it was a pretty good list. A few of my favorites included:
  • Know basic networking (#6). Computing is all about the network. If you (programmer, DBA, support) don't know basic network concepts and troubleshooting techniques, then you deserve the scorn and ridicule that the network staff heaps upon you and trust me, they will.
  • Test backups (#12). This is one of those "I can't possibly be that stupid" things that every IT person learns, usually the hard way. And yes, it happened to me. Six months of backups and not a single file could be restored because of bad heads in the tape drive.
  • Learn the business process (#20). This is particularly true if you are in corporate IT (Nordstom's, Starbuck's). The real power of corporate IT is to make the business better, faster, and cheaper, not the IT department.
  • Square pegs go in square holes (#30). The strengths movement encourages us to play to our strengths and workaround our weaknesses (see this post). I would, however, amend #30 to say that it is just as important for individuals to understand this about themselves as it is for managers to understand it about their staff.
So how did you do on the list? Anything you think is missing?

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bates and switch

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Bates Technical College has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by 16 former civil engineering technician students who claimed they were not adequately prepared for jobs in the field. This follows similar settlements with students in their court reporting ($170,000) and denturist ($1,250,000) programs.

Bates is one of five technical colleges in the State's technical and community college system. So when they say they agreed to pay, I'm guessing they mean that they agreed for us (taxpayers) to pay.

The take-away here is not that technical and community colleges are bad and that all students should instead get a bachelors degree from the University of Washington at Lake Wobegon (where all the children are above average). The take-away is that the goal of professional/technical (prof/tech) programs is to train "employable" students and if graduates aren't qualified, then the program is a failure. Here is what one student said:

“When I left Bates, I was embarrassingly not ready for work in the field and was told as much by employers and potential employers,” plaintiff Michael Edmundson wrote in an affidavit filed earlier this month. “Bates did not teach me how to use the equipment required by the industry or how to do the basic task required as an entry-level employee in the field.”
Having served 7 years on a prof/tech advisory board at a community college, and having left a little frustrated by the experience, let me toss out a few rough ideas for your consideration (instructors, administrators and general community)
  1. Program outcomes must be created with input from, and regularly validated by, an advisory board of working professionals. Advisory boards should be coordinated by the college as a function of Workforce Development (or equivalent), not the individual department. The composition and functioning of prof/tech advisory boards must be actively managed and not left up to chance.
  2. Prof/Tech programs are not the same as academic programs and instructors should not be granted the same academic freedoms. This is not to say that we should micro-managed every classroom decision, but instructors need to be teaching to agreed upon outcomes. Further, if those outcomes are not being achieved then corrective action needs to be taken swiftly for the students' sake. It's not okay for a prof/tech instructor to have a "bad" year. It's one thing for an AA to graduate without a full appreciation of Maslow's self-actualization level and another for a database administration student to graduate not understanding the importance of indexing in database performance.
  3. Instructors should be expected to hold professional certifications in their area of instruction and be able to demonstrate that their understanding of the field is current. I would suggest a regular sabbatical (every five years) to work in the field or, better yet, local businesses (the college itself) could hire instructors for ongoing project or part-time work. And if no one wants to hire the instructor, well I guess that tells us something too.
  4. We need to pay instructors enough to leave industry and teach. If database administrators (DBAs) routinely make $120,000/year then you are going to be paying around $120,000 to get a DBA instructor. I don't care what Sociology instructors with 25 years experience make. As an alternative, we could use part-time instructors so they could keep their regular jobs. In this scenario the college would need to invest in a person or persons who can focus on curriculum development and assessment while part-time instructors focus completely on classroom work and sharing experience.
  5. Businesses need to invest in the system by having top people - people who really understand the profession and its future - serving on advisory boards. I mean an active strategy of identifying and rewarding employees to participate.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

That was weird

I was listening to the latest Teacher's Podcast on Sunday, as I often do (they're just the right length for mowing the backyard). About a minute in to the show I hear Dr. Kathy and Mark start talking about " ... this interesting blog called the Advisory Bored ... ". Hmmmmmmmmm. I must have misunderstood. I'll just rewind this, hit play and no, they just mentioned the Advisory Bored blog and me, by name.

I gotta tell you, it is really weird to be listening to a podcast and hear the hosts talking about you. I think the last time it happened J.P. Patches was announcing my 7th birthday over the ICU2 TV. That was a few years ago.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yeah, I knew 2.0

Over at that the Dangerously Irrelevant blog Scott McLeod posted about engaging the broader community - local folks he called them - in a discussion of the revolution in 21st century teaching-learning. I couldn't agree more and I should know, I'm local folks. I don't teach or administer anything and I am not a parent. I suppose serving on advisory boards for technology programs at a couple of different school districts (and blogging about it) makes me a little different than average "local folks". Nevertheless, the revolution won't be happening without me.

If you read the edubloggers enough you will eventually find a post lamenting the hard work changing the educational system one teacher/administrator at a time. My response is always the same - converting teachers is only one essential part of the puzzle. The revolution of 21st century teaching-learning is a part of a larger transformation of the society (information revolution, death of mass). Transformation of the part cannot be done without transformation of the whole.

As a result, the broader community will need to be included in the conversation. Not only must we rethink our collective mental model of education, but we must then redefine all the rules, constraints and measures that maintain the status quo. You know, teacher pay, school year, use of information and communication technology (ICT), teacher/student ratios, union rules, etc. 21st century teaching-learning will always fail if the measures for success are from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Furthermore, demographic changes make outreach to the broader community essential to just maintain the status quo, let alone complete the revolution. I am specifically referring to the fact that a greater percentage of the customers of the education system - customers being those that write the checks - don't directly benefit from the system. A greater percentage of our society is older and their kids have long since left school and the district. We also see an increase in the number of couples like my wife and I that will go childless throughout our lives.

Engaging that broader community will be no small feat. Robert Putnam documented the decline in social engagement years ago. If few people will attend a planning commission meeting on a topic that directly effects them, then how many do you think will show up for a school board meeting when they don't have kids? How many show up when they do have kids? Equally challenging is to get the broader community to recognize and acknowledge as positive the underlying changes that are driving/enabling the revolution in teaching/learning. I can assure you that where I work, the idea of a building inspector or plans examiner as a knowledge worker has not sunk in at any level. Remember what I said about crisis and illusion a couple of months back.

So what's a poor 21st-century education evangelist to do?
  • Look for kindred souls within the broader community and work together. The employee I need to enlighten about web 2.0 and the parent you need to enlighten about web 2.0 is the same person. Let's work together.
  • Keep it personal. It's easier to dismiss the ideas of the teacher's union than it is the teacher who lives next door (remember, the broader community thinks schools are bad, but not their schools).
  • Stay on message. In the business world we have the elevator pitch, what you will say to an executive about your idea on a 30-second elevator ride to the 40th floor. Create a 1-page talking points document on key topics and publish them so that any teacher/kindred-spirit can give the pitch at any moment.
  • Tie it back to the goal of a better future. Remind people that 100 years ago leaving the farm for factory work seemed like a road to disaster. After a difficult transition it was that feared "industrial" future that became the American Dream (see Glen Hiemstra's video Beyond 2020).
  • Read Selling the Dream and Made to Stick.
I don't know if it will help any of you, but since I didn't initially buy into the use of computer technology in the classroom it might be informative for you to know why I changed my mind. Basically it came down to 4 revelations:
  • In addition to teaching facts, schools also model desired behaviors. Unfortunately too many of the behaviors they are modeling aren't needed in 2008, let alone 2028. A rigid adherence to an arbitrary school day, for instance, doesn't really prepare anyone for a 9pm conference call to India or working from home one day a week.
  • You can prepare students for an uncertain future. Instead of facts and figures we need to focus on skills that allow the student to adapt to various situations. Isn't that what the Boy Scouts are all about ("be prepared")?
  • Computers are disruptive the 1960's-style classroom. Yeah, okay, but it's 2008. Maybe we need a little less lecture and a little more project time. An introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy helped my conversion.
  • It's the information (age) stupid. Information technology needs to be in the classroom so that students learn how to gather, assemble, assess and synthesize information. The enabling technology needs to be integrated into the course, not stand alone. You never had an Introduction to Pencil class (or AP Pencil, for those going to college).
Good luck with the revolution and let me know if I can help.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Links and Resources: September 3rd, 2008

When one teaches, two learn.
– Robert Half
On with the links.
  • Deb Perelman over at ZDnet.com adds her 2 cents on why tech jobs possibilities remain good as employment starts to erode in other sectors.
  • Jim Lanzalotto draws the same conclusion in a ComputerWorld piece titled Despite recession talk, it's still a good time to be in IT. You'll find a number of comments that don't necessarily agree with him and you should take a look at them too. I like the one where the guy says he'd tell his kids to join the circus rather than go into Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). Okay ... there certainly aren't any foreigners in circus acts or any really popular circuses from foreign countries.
  • Here are a couple of links related to the cost of college. The first is from the Everett Herald's James McCusker entitled Can we afford higher education's external costs. In brief, the debt students accumulate changes their behavior after graduation (a dentist won't practice in a rural area, for instance). McCusker asks if society can afford that externalization of the high cost of college. In the current issue of Money magazine, they ask "Is college still worth the price". Short answer is yes, with a maybe. Long answer is no, with a however.
  • In a recent post on podcasting I mentioned that LibriVox provides free audio books for works in the public domain. If eBooks are more your thing, you'll want to check out the The Gutenberg Project. Concept is the same, works are in the public domain so they can be made available free. Looks like they have sheet music, audio books and DVDs too. Also look at the Internet Archives, which is a wealth of all sorts of public domain/open source materials. You can download episodes of You Bet You Live with Groucho Marx (no, he wasn't the leader of the Soviet Union, that was Harpo).
  • Wordle is an internet based application that creates a word cloud of your blog, feed or text string. A word cloud graphically represent the frequency of word use through font size, placement, color, etc. Here's an example of one I created of the Advisory Bored on September 2nd. What can you do with it? I have no idea. The last link is is suppose to be fun. Were you planning on building a Teddy Bear that is interfaced with your computer?

Post script: I was finishing the Wordle link at midnight in Seattle. At that very moment Jeff Utecht, a teacher at a school in Thailand tweets (that's a Twitter message) that his U Tech Tips blog has a post from Dennis Harter, a teacher in Bangkok, called Wordle - DIY Word Clouds. Dennis suggests a couple of interesting uses for Wordle. That's globalization and the internet at work for you.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's the frequency Kenneth

I share my blogroll on this site so everyone can see what I am reading, but I haven't been so good with my podcasting list. I'm a big fan of podcasts and, while I don't get to listen as much as I like, I do get through 3 to 5 every week.

Podcasts are digital audio files distributed via the internet using syndication (like RSS is used to distribute this blog). The term is generally considered to be a contraction of iPod and broadcast, but it is not limited to iPods. I listen to podcasts on my iPods, on my computers, on my Blackberry and on my work smartphone (yes, only work related podcasts there). I use iTunes as my primary tool for podcast subscription, particularly for those I want directly sent to my iPod, but I have also used an open source tool called Juice.

So here's my list, in no particular order:
  • TED Talks - you've seen me reference a few TED Talks video's in previous posts. Really thought provoking stuff.
  • The Teacher's Podcast - Dr. Kathy King and Mark Gura host this show for teacher professional development. Not being a teacher, the topics aren't always relevant to me, but it's always fun to listen to their banter. Listen carefully and you might hear a little Bichon barking in the background.
  • Science Friday - a NPR show that focuses on a wide variety of science topics every Friday. I like that I can cherry pick just the segments I want to hear without having to listen to the whole 2-hour broadcast. As you might guess, there is a boatload of good NPR and PBS content for download. You can browse the Podcast section of the iTunes store or go to a resource like Podcast Alley.
  • Sketicality - Discovery Institute fans can skip this one. It's the official podcast of Skeptics magazine and it reminds me to think critically. It's mainly an interview show with some news briefs and a little opinion.
  • Radio Sweden - one of my brother-in-laws lives in Sweden with his family, so I like to stay in touch with what's happening in Stockholm. Many other countries have the same, which could be a useful tool for researching other countries and world events.
  • The Chillcast with Anji Bee - It's a pod-safe music show featuring Anji Bee, who sounds like she just stepped out of early 70's FM radio (anyone remember KZAM). Even if the music isn't your cup of tea, the issues around legal licensing of music for podcasts, blogs, etc is a great topic for students to investigate. You might want to start your next content creation class with a trip to Creative Commons or Ioda Promonet.
  • Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - No, the history of hardcore is something completely different. I just learned about this site and haven't listened much. Dan Carlin comes at this as a fan of history, not a historian. I really enjoyed his interview with James Burke, host of great PBS shows like Connections and The Day the Universe Changed (now that what some serious education).
  • The MedicCast - I highlighted this one in a previous post. Created by the podmedic, Jamie Davis, I listen to the show to learn terminology of the Medics that I work with. There are a lot of professional-to-professional podcasts out there, which provide a great resource for students interested in a field.
  • Technet Radio - is a product education source from Microsoft about Microsoft technology. I really should be listening to MSDN's Channel 9, however. Technet is more infrastructure and MSDN is for programmers.
Also, let me suggest that creating podcasts (audio-only, or with video) is a powerful educational tool. I mean really, with podcasting, YouTube, instant messaging and email is there a reason to have "snow days" anymore. There are several small scale recording devices that capture your audio and transfer it to a computer. A free software package like Audacity does the same and can be paired up with an inexpensive microphone or wireless mic (I picked one up at Radio Shack for under $65) for recording lectures or interviews. Mac users can use Garage Band. Phone interviews can be captured directly from Skype. Oh, and you'll need a place to store your podcasts. iTunes U provides such as source for schools and districts, at a fee. There are free sources, but generally they are wide open, so you've got some trade-offs to make.

Okay, one last audio source and I'll leave you alone. LibriVox isn't a podcast site, but it is a source of free audio books of works that are now in the public domain, which includes many of the classics (I've been considering Moby Dick). Also, they are looking for volunteers to read chapters of these books. Might be a great service learning project for that student with an interest in the theater, radio, etc.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Basic Cable

If you're watching my blogroll over there in the right-hand column you might notice another new entry. After several months of reading the WA Open Education Resources blog I bumped it into heavy rotation for a couple of reasons. First, I find the topic of open source educational resources (textbooks, course materials, etc) especially intriguing and would like others to be introduced to the idea. Second, the author, Cable Green, is the eLearning Director for Washington's State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), which means his insights count a little more than someone in Indiana or California.

In a recent post, Cable highlights a NPR piece on crowd sourcing and poses the questions of how this might work in education. In case you haven't clicked the link yet, crowd sourcing is the idea that product design, for instance, could be done by your customers instead of your own staff - better, cheaper, faster. (Oh just go listen to the NPR piece...I'll wait). Cable asks:
"if we open our courses, and textbooks, and let students design the learning materials and spaces they want… what would happen to participation and retention rates?"
I can only begin to image how hard it would be to implement this sort of cultural shift, but assuming the challenges can be overcome, I think community colleges might increase participation by a traditionally under-served audience, working professionals seeking continuous career development. Not career changers or degree seekers, but those of us needing to advance our skills within our current profession.

Let's say I'm an information technology (IT) professional in the small corporate environment trying to keep my skills relevant in a constantly shifting environment (oh wait, I am). I am faced with a number of professional development challenges:
  • Employer sponsored training focuses on what the employer needs not what I need
  • Employer sponsored training is limited in $$$ and time
  • For-profit training is pricey and favors popular topics (to fill the classes)
  • For-profit training is short-duration, so you don't get to reflect on the learning (drinking from a fire hose)
  • Colleges focus on degrees not learning (seriously, try taking one class)
  • Colleges serve a broad range of students, so the course content tends to be least common denominator (18-year old, career changers)
  • My experience, knowledge and skills aren't a factor in the course (except maybe in master's degree programs)
Colleges already try to tap into the experiences folks like I have through advisory boards, but there are challenges turning our advice into programs. What better way to do that than to let us do it as part of our learning. The development costs of text and courses could be reduced and the content made more relevant through the use of the cohorts. Further, the individuals of a diverse cohort will benefit from the varied experience of its members as would the instructional staff (who can't possibly stay as current as the cohort can). For example, an experienced database administrator learning C# could provide important knowledge about database administration to a fellow student (or instructor) in exchange for some insights on Microsoft's common language runtime (CLR). Finally, we can share our learning with others by capturing, organizing and reflecting on the information in a public forum like a wiki, blog or podcast. Is this a natural extension to the Majoring in Learning or Personal Learning Environments concepts?

If, using web 2.0 tools, I can build a cohort and we jointly develop the objectives, texts and course work, why do we need the educational system at all? Well, some people don't. I think, however, that for the majority of us colleges can add significant value to our professional development. First, they need to jump start the program with a base level of content and structure. I just don't see a group of professionals paying to start with a blank wiki. Second, they can provide access to resources that are difficult or inconvenient to access otherwise. For example, I may want to learn about web services but I may not want to learn how to configure and maintain my own web and database servers. Third, they can provide organization and structure, ranging from maintaining the computer lab to organizing the wiki where the course ware and texts are stored to enforcing the Creative Commons licensing. Finally, and perhaps most important, they can provide independent assessment of individual learning and of the program as a whole. Assessment is, after all, the point - to determine if I really learned the things I set out to learn.

Okay, so as long as we are blue skying this thing, what if the community college becomes my career health club. Instead of signing up for a class or degree I join the "club". I get access to a trainer that helps me set goals, demonstrates proper use of the equipment and checks in to make sure I'm progressing. Obviously, the club maintains the equipment and facilities so I have access to what I need when I need it. I might want to stop by at midnight to blast my abs().

The actual training is up to me. I might work completely by myself, but more than likely I will build a social network that helps me. I might have a running partner of similar capability for a weekly run. When weightlifting I may just hookup with whoever is available - sharing techniques, spotting and providing encouragement. I might also work with the club to find a swim coach to help me on my stroke and to join a cycling club to get me out on the road. Then, to demonstrate my progress, I participate in a club-sponsored triathlon.

I don't know, what do you think? Do you trust the wisdom of crowds or do think the structure of the current model will carry us into the future?

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