Thursday, February 7, 2013

Advancing Learning Presentation: Taming Information Overload through Curation

Advancing Learning May 2012 Presentation

Taming Information Overload through Curation (60 Minutes)

Mitchell Kapor, founder of the Electronic Frontier, wisely said that  “getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. Our instant-on, hyper-connected world provides us with millions upon millions of pieces of data anytime and anyplace in a simple click. But how do we sort through all that data to reach the relevant information we seek? Can we trust the “Googlebot” to give us or our students the best of what’s there?  How do we tame that massive overload of data?
The most valuable resource we have is community and shared resources. This workshop will introduce you to the curation community and the tools you’ll need to become an effective curator.  Some of the tools discussed will be twitter, delicious, facebook, pinterest, tweeted times,,,, zite, and flipboard.

Presenter: Karen Hamilton, Professor/Online Coordinator, School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, George Brown College.

Stuff I Learned at SXSW Interactive 2011 and My Presentation

A fragment or two about what I learned at SXSW.

My presentation at SXSW

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Who Owns Knowledge? Sheba wants to know

Testing out Blabberize- A fun application for kids and adults who have a hard time just being adult. Make your pictures speak. Voice by Dr. Evil

Education 2020 Project

Carla Cross, Karen Hamilton, Debbie Plested and Mary Rezk.

In this EduCitizenship 2020 proposal, we will prepare an innovative design and rationale for the school/learning environment of 2020 for the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, we will articulate to the key stakeholders--administrators, teachers, parents, students, funding agencies -- the critical issues that will define the future of teaching and learning.

See the EDU2020 Website here

and a previous video created summer 2009- Who are the Millennials/

The Power of Web 2.10 and Instructional Videos

Jan 31, 2011 Presentation-  A look at three videos

Changes to the internet have enabled everyday users to produce content collaboratively or individually. Users today can share and re-purpose almost every type of media. For educators this creates challenges and opportunities. Rather than going to a library, buying a book or asking a teacher, students today most often go to places like YouTube for answers to their questions. How good are the instructional videos on YouTube? In this video we'll analyze three.

New Online Student Orientation Project for HRE472

Project as done for course but see it live here ( updated for new Blackboard)

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The Project- Cost of Free

Introduction to The Cost of Free

Web 2.0, and its culture of collaboration and sharing, has given rise to a new group of students. No longer just consumers of culture, they are producers of culture. Born into a digital era where everything is social, everything is available, and everything can be shared, they often come into today’s classrooms and experience a kind of culture shock. They find classrooms that look not unlike those of their parents’ time. More underfunded than ever, schools struggle to meet the needs of students and teachers. What is the answer? One answer might well be to look into the culture of sharing and collaboration that is all around, look for what is free or almost free, look to the same place that students are to engage them with the tools of their trade.

Ideological, technological, and economical forces have converged to make the Internet a virtual goldmine of seemingly limitless, authentic, and relevant resources free for the taking. Free resources provide tremendous opportunities for educators and educational institutions. Yet, all free resources are not the same nor is the definition of free as straightforward as it might appear. While most tend to think of free as “without cost” (gratis), others believe passionately in the unencumbered right to free (as in liberated) knowledge. Educators and scholars through the ages have fought to keep cultural knowledge and information free.

The implications of open knowledge and open access to information in education are profound, and perhaps more important than ever in a time when the millennial generation is sharing, remixing, mashing, creating, collaborating and posting; teachers are no longer the gatekeepers to information they once were. As Nicholas Burbules suggests, students have grown up as the participants of self-educating communities with “the ethos of shared information … the spirit of sharing that views the frictionless propagation of information as a good in itself…[and the belief in a] collective intelligence in which the wisdom of the whole can be more than the sum of its parts…In self educating communities [like today’s classrooms] the roles of teacher and student become fluid; most or all participants may regard themselves as students of the ongoing subject matter, and each as potential learners as well as a potential teacher” (Burbules, Self Educating Communities: Collaboration and Learning through the Internet)

NEW Address for website

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The Future is Here- Here Comes Everything

The Future is Here

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, August 2, 2010, 12:35 PM

What I find most interesting in the discussion question this week is that most of what is mentioned –continuous access, contact with others, information sources with learnable customization- is already here. A lot of what we previously had to remember is no longer necessary. I can honestly say I only know about three phone numbers: my own, my college number and one friend’s number. If I search my memory bank I can remember all of my old home phone numbers and some phone numbers from long ago, but I couldn’t tell you the phone numbers of most of my current friends. Apparently, my mind has dumped the requirement for remembering them. Those numbers are stored in a cell phone that has pictures of people and names, and I don’t have to key in the digits, so I think of people in a non numerical way. By accessing one of the augmented reality apps on my iPhone like Layar or Wikitude or Foursquare, I can augment my real life with information that is continuously available. My Macbook is hooked up to my LCD screen so I can surf on the laptop or on the TV screen and switch to cable and watch an on demand channel.

In a world with all this and a future with even more, what do I need to know? I’d say a whole lot but not necessarily the same as what I may have needed to know yesterday. Maybe I don’t need as many details, but I’d say I’d need to know how to navigate and understand how to use what’s there to make sense. In a world of constant and exponentially increasing technology, we need to know how to change and adapt. We need to understand what is real, what is important. We need to be able to sift through everything, analyze, and evaluate. And we still need a lot of basic knowledge that is the foundation for understanding complex subjects.

As Burbules says in Meanings of Ubiquitous Learning, ubiquitous learning is more that anytime- anywhere, and the distinction between formal and informal education is blurred. Teachers are no longer just the source of learning; they should be and will be more guide, more broker and learning is not and will not be just in educational institutions during distinct time periods. Learning will be more and more in immersive environments.

Two courses ago, I created a wiki in Wiked on Augmented Reality in Education  Now located here In the wiki, I talked about 5 applications of Augmented Reality in Education: AR in training, AR in Discovery Based learning, AR in Gaming, AR to Model Objects and Augmented Reality Books. Augmented reality is one way to provide opportunities for learning that is immersive. With many of these applications there is situated learning. Kids playing an augmented reality game that takes place in a real location interact with real and virtual characters to discover what really happened during a past event, or discover the source of an environmental problem. (see )

A doctor using a augmented reality simulation is able to practice a real world operation in a no consequence world. A mechanic can learn a process with information overlaid on a real process so that he/she can follow the steps.

The emphasis in these types of AR apps is on learning skills but also on the critical skills necessary to solve a problem. Information from these processes also can be captured and replayed so that not only the person taking part can watch and learn again but also that someone else can assess the process through a back channel. Augmented reality books, offer not just a reading experience but also an interactive process with visuals that are off the page. (See AR Book ) Augmented reality and virtual experience in the future will create opportunities for learners to experience and learn by doing not just on their own but collaboratively in teams.

Education in higher grades, from my point of view, will have less focus on just remembering information. Focus will be directed more to learning what information is relevant and how it can be used. Learning will be more authentic and situated. A year or two ago, I read of a teacher who allowed all the students in his class to use the Internet to complete their final exams. His thinking was that in the real world when employees have a task to complete, they have access to the Internet, so why shouldn’t students have that access during an exam in school. What that teacher was saying and what many others now are saying is that it is not just the information that is important. The search for the right information, the critical thinking skills to solve a problem is also very much a key.

We may talk about a “learned” person- one who has acquired much knowledge through study. Maybe in the past that was the goal. I’d say that the future is not so much in learned persons but more in “learning persons"-- ones who know how to continuously learn, change and evolve. As Burbules says, it is more than life-long learning; it’s not in a designated time or space and maybe it’s a changed world where, “to be is to learn.”


Augmented Reality in Education. (2010). WikEd. Retrieved from now at

Nicholas C. Burbules, “Meanings of ubiquitous learning.” Ubiquitous Learning, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis, eds. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009), pp. 15-20.

Playing out Alternate Identities: A little Alternate Reality sounds good to me!

A little Alternate Reality sounds good to me!

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, July 26, 2010, 06:12 PM
Response to Case Study

In case study 7, we see a number of graduate students from various backgrounds in an online forum discussing the Immigration bill debate in Congress. The participants may or may not be writing from their own point of view, but all are anonymous. From the sounds of the assignment, students were able to choose rather stereotyped identities: Anonymous Reactionary, Bleeding Heart Liberal, Red Neck or Wetback, Chicana Girl, Identity Politician, and Child of Immigrants. This exercise takes place by “mutual consent.”

The assignment in the case study starts out with this statement, “Playing out different identities becomes a resource that participants can use to give relevance to their arguments within an interactive discourse.”

According to Sherry Turkle as reported by Burbules, “The internet is a zone of enormous creativity and experimentation” and online writers, “are exploring identities…that are not constrained by their ‘actual’ selves: pretending to be a character of the opposite gender in a chat room; putting out provocative opinions that are not necessarily one’s own, just to see where the discussion will take them; playing with virtual interactions that do not have consequences of such activities in the ‘real world.” Turkle believes that these experiences can be “liberating experiences.” (Burbules, 2002)

The professor in the case study has taken Turkle’s perspective to allow students to experience a discussion of immigration in an alternate way. For me this is a completely legitimate opportunity for students to role-play as an anonymous self or as another opposing identity. These are not kids, in the class; they are adults who understand that what is happening is a simulation, an alternate reality where interactions can take place without consequence.

In many higher education face-to-face classes, students role-play scenarios to understand points of view, especially classes to do with racism, stereotyping, discrimination, and social interaction. By taking a role students can understand all sides of an issue and learn how to deal with difficult circumstances. In courses that teach debate, students also may debate from a position that is not their own. When I taught a course called Speaking with Confidence, I often had students debate from the opposite point of view from their own. When they called out that they couldn’t do it I’d say, “Just think of the advantage you have –you know all the points of the other side!”

Certainly some of the comments in the case study are inappropriate and racist in the exchange given…isn’t that the point? If we turn on certain “news” stations don’t we hear racist, stereotyped, narrow points of view? Don’t we see gatherings of groups with outrageously racist posters of presidents. Can’t we turn on the radio and hear the extreme right and the extreme left?
When a person has his/her own name attached to an online post, will they always be honest about their point of view?

Don’t we know that there are some who will wait until most others have spoken or even the teacher, so they can come in and say what they now have determined is “the right thing to say?”

Haven’t we all seen things said in real online and real face-to-face classes that were inappropriate, stereotyped and even racist?

When a professor devises a safe environment to explore a subject, students have a chance to learn and explore. I remember reading about a lesson in discrimination in face to face classes where the teacher set it up so that everyone who had blue eyes would be in a discriminated group, and the other eye-coloured group would be the non discriminated group. ( This experiment was to allow students to experience the effect of such discrimination.

We all have identities that are not narrow. We can be different people in different circumstances. Marketers look at different types of self: the actual self, the ideal self, and the looking glass self ( who you think people think you are). And these are just real world identities. The Internet allows people to experiment with their identity. The exercise in this case allows students to play out real or fake identities. This is an allowed “fraud” for the purpose of discovery. As Gerhard says, “Playing out different identities becomes a resource that participants can use to give relevance to their arguments within an interactive discourse.”

For those who may be horrified by some of the discussion, look to the comments below many YouTube videos and see similar, but much, much worse. For those who don’t see the value in taking on alternate personality, think of what a good fiction writer does- he/she takes on multiple personalities, brings them to life makes us believe. We as readers suspend our disbelief when tales are being spun..students in the graduate course of the case study are writers of truth or fiction --hopefully with one purpose-understanding and learning through experience in a slightly altered reality.

If I’m that professor-that works for me!

Further Comment:

I agree with what Turkle is saying. There is a big difference from real life and online life. But what is "reality" and who are "we" anyway? It's all in our heads. One event experienced by two people is not the same. Do two people in the same relationship, have the same relationship? I don't think so. Experience in the embodied world is subjective, reality is defined by the the baggage I bring. If I believe something, is it real, or just real to me, today, right now?

In real life don't we sometimes create some wonderful elaborate fictions? Is it just me who has had some wonderful passionate love that seemed to be just too good to be true..only to find a little later on that it was. Who is to blame? While some might blame the "thems" I'd be just as likely to say it was me, little me who is so good at creating elaborate fictions!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Who is the Teacher?

A Video Homage

by Karen Hamilton - Thursday, July 22, 2010, 12:52 PM

As Wesch and Burbules so eloquently point out, sites like YouTube can be more that just places with silly videos, they can be self-educating communities.

One way to start a dialogue with students is to use a simple application to make a statement. One such app is xtranormal. In the free version, users can create a short 2 person animation that says something. One user can post their work to YouTube and others can respond with their own short. It becomes a conversation. Xtranormal is a simple text to video format. Their slogan is something like if you can type you can make a movie.

I haven't been feeling well the past couple of days suffering from migraines, even so in an hour, I created a short (kind of bad compared to my normal stuff) video on the subject Who is the Teacher?

I did the basic animation in xtranormal and then dragged it into iMovie to add some titles and music. It's not great but I think it gets the point across in an hour a person can create and post a short piece of work, in an instant someone else can view it and respond, in hours there is a conversation

Web 2.0 has limitless capabilities for collaboration. As a YouTuber since 2006, I've shared a lot of education and got a lot back. For me it is like Nick is a "free exchange" and there is an "open source ethos" ..kind of a karma thing -you give a lot and you get much in return.

Here's my Who is the teacher video? (with borrowed words from Nick!)

Pulling the Plug on Shared Knowledge

Sometimes, you just have to take action

by Karen Hamilton - Thursday, July 15, 2010, 11:07 AM

Here's a case study:

You are a master's student at a large American university enrolled in a program that explores curriculum, technology and education reform. As part of your program you are not only encouraged but required to publish your work on the university controlled servers using systems like Moodle, Mahara and the college's hosted Wiki. One day in passing, you see a notice posted in the program moodle that says all the servers will be shut down in 4 weeks (by August 15) and that if students want to save their work they must somehow make copies because all of the work will otherwise be lost. The program's moodle and mahara will now be part of a larger department's moodle and mahara and students may recreate some of their work step by step there by cutting and pasting. The college Wiki may not be saved or resurrected. The college wiki represents many years of the collective knowledge and scholarship of previous and current students.

As an individual, you have created an extensive portfolio that includes much multimedia work and scholarship inside the Mahara platform. The program tells you that the current version of Mahara does not support back-up and restoration to another Mahara site. You hear that a newer version of Mahara does allow for back-up and restoration to another site, but that the school does not intend to move to that upgrade at this time.

Your only alternative short of losing your Mahara work is to upload piece by piece your work into the other Mahara which may be deleted after you graduate. As for your Wiki work and the collective work of students from previous years, it all will likely disappear at the flick of a switch.

What should you do?

Sadly, this is 100% real and happening now.

In the midst of one of our courses the above actually happened. Many of us were contacting the people who were running our program. Those people were trying to explain to the powers that be that the work of former and current students shouldn't just be disposed of in the blink of an eye. They were getting nowhere. When the above "Case Study" was posted in our current course the professor took notice. He actually didn't know anything about the actions that the school were about to undertake. Since he was a rather prominent professor when he spoke up, things changed and the WikEd was saved.  This was a case of being in the right course at the right time and just taking a risk and throwing it out there..victory for the little guys!

Great Composers Steal

Great Composers Steal

by Karen Hamilton - Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 03:08 PM
In this week’s discussion post we are asked what the implications of moving from a culture where the emphasis has shifted from “I know” to “We know” where our truths are the result of collective investigations. In the Google Tech Talks video (Oct 8, 2007) Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger talks convincingly about how our systems of organization can limit information. He also talks about “publically negotiated knowledge” and how sometimes the people on the mailing list on websites know more than the experts. When we look at Dewey’s organization and consider the kinds of ways that we can connect information on the net, I think most of us would have to agree that the miscellaneous approach of the net just makes sense.

After viewing the required Weinberger video, of course the miscellaneous nature of the web led me to click on and view another video “Everything is Miscellaneous- Talking to David Weinberger (Nov 29, 2007). In this short video Weinberger goes on to say specifically that the nature of kids learning is collective and collaborative but teachers are grading individually. He also suggests that teachers should stop just sending kids off to libraries; rather they should send kids off on their own to wherever and then really talk about the sources they come back with. He goes as far to say that in the future, “We’ll give up print, like that!” While those like Nicholas Carr continue their foreboding rant about how we are all just getting superficial and stupid, Weinberger embraces the miscellany of it all.

After reading Parry’s Chronicle interview with Nicholas Carr, I surfed over to Carr’s blog Rough Type, read a few posts and hyperlinked myself over to Steven Pinker’s Mind Over Mass Media where upon Pinker takes on Carr’s view. But Carr’s blog, also alerted me to his recent appearance on Steven Colbert’s Colbert Report. Lucky me, with so little time to watch TV, there it was on my PVR, so my next step was watching Carr on the Colbert Report. Of course my favourite part of the interview was after Carr was going on about how multimedia makes us stupid, Colbert shouted out, “Bull s..t!” I’m with Colbert.

Now what’s the reason for describing my excursion? To me it illustrates the power of the miscellaneous nature of the web. Oh the places we can go and the things we can see. Could any of it have happened at a library? Did it make me stupid?

All these things speak to the issues involved in our case study this week.

Walter was a student who didn't follow the rules, instead of writing about music he created a detailed mashup that demonstrated a deep understanding of music and defended his submission in writing.

In my brief and earlier post I posted my reply to Walter as this:

"Walter your grade is A+ Not only have you found a unique way to complete the assignment in a deep and meaningful way but from your passionate and well written defense of your work, I can see you are a thoughtful and accomplished writer. I'll be happy to read more of your writing in future assignments."

I’ll now explain why I’m sticking to that. First of all, as an experienced college teacher who has spent at least half of my 20 years teaching Communications courses and the co-author of a recent college English textbook, I think I have a pretty good eye for a good writer. Walter is a good writer and if a high school student can so eloquently defend his point of view and if his everyday vocabulary includes words like ‘bricolage” then he’s not someone who I as a teacher need to worry about developing writing skills. He has them. For me my job would be to encourage him to use them more and to do that my words to him here praise his writing ability. I’m not sure if Walter knows how good a writer he could be, but I’m sure of one thing by the end of my course, he would be writing more.

My second point for why Walter deserves an A+ is that he really understood the assignment. How much can one write about music without hearing it? I’m sure the rest of the class wrote some lovely essays about how music shapes the view of America through melody and patriotism, but how many of them actually listened to music? How many of them took those ideas and created something new? How many of them will keep their essays or remember them in the future. How much learning stuck? The required composition to me is as much about music as it is about words and words without music are not quite enough. This assignment calls out to multimedia.

My third point is that Walter truly understands the nature of composition. It is evident in the production and in his defense of his project. He knows how to develop a well thought out argument; his arguments are clear and backed up with evidence and documentation; he’s persuasive and he’s passionate. Are these not the attributes of a good writer or creator?

Walter too understands the nature of creativity at a deep level. When he suggests that everyone is just producing variations from other themes, he sees the deep connection to the past. How much of music is original? My favourite example of how music builds from the past is a video posted at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain ( ), under the link Great Composers Steal composer Anthony Kelley shows how everything from classical to jazz is very much derivative.

We could also argue that Walter did exactly as asked. His work had over 3000 words, was a composition and it showed how Music shapes a view of America.

What’s the big picture? In communications courses, it is about communicating; often the stress is on writing and speaking. Can Walter write? I’d have to say, yes. With encouragement, I have no doubt he will write much more than what was required in that essay.

What our educational systems have to do is encourage the Walters, not alienate them.

Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University Law. Retrieved from

Everything is Miscellaneous (Oct 8, 2007). GoogleTechTalks:Youtube. Retrieved from

Everything is miscellaneous –Talking to David Weinberger .(Nov 29, 2007). Infonomia:YouTube Retrieved from

Kelley, Anthony. Great composers steal. Retrieved from

Parry, M. (July 4, 2010). Is technology making your students stupid? Linkedin with: A writer who questions the wisdom of teaching with technology Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Pinker, S. (June 10, 2010). Mind over mass media. New York Times. Retrieved from

Hoodwinked by Facts

 Is the Truth out There?

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, July 5, 2010, 07:06 PM

While it is true that the web allows anyone to be a knowledge provider and inevitably leads to more and more information that we as users must sift through, the technology or Web 2.0 is not necessarily the problem. Technology may serve to amplify the problem. For me it is wholly a question of critical thinking skills and that, hopefully, is one of the most important skills that should be gained from education.

Moon Hoax 1835
Humans have been hoodwinked, bamboozled by false facts from the beginning of time. Do we trust print or media? In 1835 Benjamin Day's New York Sun ran a series of six articles that captured the nation's attention. There was life on the moon and Sir John Herschel, well known astronomer said it was so. The moon was full of bison, goats, unicorns, and bat winged humanoids who built temples. People couldn't wait for the next edition. Using the grandiose scientific language of the time, the story was so popular that it was reprinted and circulated in both local and national papers. After the story had its desired effect, it was revealed as a hoax. The great Moon Hoax of 1835 had done its job: increased circulation. And in 1938 when Orson Wells on the day before Halloween broadcast his War of the Worlds drama on radio causing panic amongst listeners who believed aliens were invading, there was the inevitable outcry against the evil and dangerous broadcast industry. Here we go again.

Do we trust what we see in the news, when their driving force is often, “If it bleeds it leads?” Can we trust a textbook? Pick up a textbook from the 50s and check how much of the so-called facts still add up. If we look at a home economics textbook from back then, we would certainly know that a woman’s place is in the home baking cookies and having babies not worrying her pretty little head with matters such as these. Knowledge isn’t a static kind of thing. It’s subject to revision. An authority today may not be the authority tomorrow.

That’s not to say that there is not more to consider in light of user-generated content and knowledge that is collectivized. But to me what it says is that education is more important than ever and it’s a teachers job to provide students with the experience of sifting through the muck to find the good and trustworthy bits. The search is important.

Instead of banning the use of sites like Wikipedia, students should be taught how to get to the truth of what is posted. There is no putting the genie back. The students are on the net; it’s our job to harness the powers of it and help show them a critical eye. Constructivists believe that students should build their own knowledge. Web 2.0 gives that opportunity as students and teachers can deconstruct and recreate original content and share it. With contribution, also comes responsibility. Should we discourage the collective contribution? I think not, but teaching thinking is never easy. In college many times students come prepared to memorize facts and they haven’t always been encouraged to think. It’s our job to get them questioning things. From what I’ve heard in K-12 it is often about answers set in stone. But even so called educated people can have narrow thinking when they expose themselves to only one side of an issue.

Would our students become relativists believing that it’s all equally true and believe that there is no real truth because of all the information that they can’t weed through? Would they believe that it all depends on one’s point of view? In my experience of 20 years teaching college, I have to say I haven’t found a lack of opinion. A problem more often is belief in things just because they are on the net or in a book, or “so and so said”. The courses I teach all address the media, so if I can’t get across the importance of critically evaluating any evidence no matter the media, then I haven’t done my job. But with all of us a creators also comes responsibility. As potential authors, students and contributors should learn to evaluate the consequences of what they post. In this way, the learning opportunity expands even further.

To me, what the web offers is neither a wondrous vision of the collective unconscious nor the gates to Dantes Inferno; it’s a complicated place that needs careful examination. We must examine not only content but also the meanings of all these words: knowledge, authority, expert, trust, fact, independence, reality, truth, credibility, wisdom and how they relate to both old and new technologies. It’s all about thinking, critical thinking.

Maybe we need a course on Prankonomy..

“Take and be taken. There's a skeptic born every minute. Every man a mountebank, every man a mark! These are your new commandments, O children of Barnum, Borat, and Blair Witch. The source of hoodwinkery has shifted from the all-powerful (ad agencies, governments, MTV) to the tweeting masses—and lo, charlatanism is democratized. …Still, it's sometimes hard to distinguish a prank from a scam, a sham from a fraud, a Nigerian prince from Prince Albert in a can.”
See Wired’s Guide to Hoaxes: The Official Prankonomy


Brown, S. (Aug 24, 2009).Wired's Guide to Hoaxes: How to Give — and Take — a Joke, Wired. Retrieved from

O’Reilly, T. (Sept 30, 2005). What is Web 2.O, Retrieved from

O’Reilly, T. & Battelle J. (2009). Web squared: Web 2.0 five years on, Web 2.0 Summit. Retrieved from

Wesch, M. (Jan 31, 2007). The machine is us/ing us. Mwesch:YouTube. Retrieved from

On the Digital Divide(s)

Here we go Again: Is it Either Or?

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, June 28, 2010, 03:12 PM

First off, I have to declare that I’m not that convinced with the either/or mentality that simplifies a complex problem to two sides- haves and have-nots. It seems to me that it is a little more complicated and certainly involves a number of factors that leave many people excluded or marginalized.
 Is it a digital divide, a literacy divide, a socio-economic divide, a gender divide? Is the internet going to solve it all?

While the article Digital Divide: What it is and Why it Matters suggests a two pronged approach that includes an indirect approach that extends rural health and quality education to the poor, it has statements like “Closing the Digital divide is a precondition for reducing poverty,” Closing the Digital Divide is a precondition for resolving terrorism,” and “Closing the Digital Divide is a precondition for achieving sustainable world markets.” Was it just me who thought those statements sounded more than a tad extreme? Sounds like some kind of magic internet to me.

While I applaud initiatives like the One Laptop program and 50x15, there’s a lot more to it than just throwing technology at the wall and hoping it sticks, so unless the technology is integrated with literacy these programs will not be as effective as they could be.

Speaking about throwing technology at the wall, let’s move to the case study. In this case we know that the teacher assigned a project and the kids had an option to use the library, the internet or both as long as they didn’t plagiarize. I hate to always be blaming the teacher, but here I go again. What were the outcomes for the assignment? I think the only clear one is “write without plagiarizing.” It would have been better if the teacher had said specifically that everyone use both the library and the internet and then he/she could make sure that students are comfortable using and documenting sources for both.

However, the teacher didn’t do that and what was observed was that the boys all went to the computers and the girls all went to the library. It isn’t clear whether this is a group or individual assignment but it seems that the group has separated itself. There could be any number of reasons why this happened. One reason may be that not all students were comfortable using computers or books so they moved to their respective comfort zones. If this is the case this is a problem. Has the teacher oriented students to the use of the computer for researching? If the answer is yes, did both genders perform the tasks at similar levels? On this particular assignment, was there a significant difference in performance between genders that is not observed in other writing assignments? In other activities have the girls avoided using the internet or computers? Have the boys avoided the library? What exactly were the boys doing while on the computer? Were they diligently working on the assignment? Is one area more comfortable than the other? Do the girls not want to be around the boys for some reason? Do the boys not want to be around the girls for some reason?

If any of the students have been avoiding using computers or internet is there a reason? Is school the only place they have access? Do these students or the whole class need some training on how to use the internet for writing and research?

From what we have been given, we can’t know. We might blame the teacher for just saying there are computers and there’s the library. In the way it was given it was a little either/or. We might question that approach. Answers aren’t all piled up in one place these days. If the students have not been taught on how to use the technology or the library, the teacher is to blame. There would need to be lessons. You can’t just say there is an internet out there, go to it. There is also an issue of potential gender bias. Many have suggested that background and school experience can have an effect on girl’s willingness to use technology.

Since I’m a college teacher and our libraries all have computers, this is not something that would happen to me. But if I were the teacher, I’d have to question what is going on with what appears to be a separation. If I had eliminated other possible factors, and concluded that the girls were not comfortable on computers and/or the boys were not comfortable using books then, yes there is a problem. Everybody needs to come together and learn about the library and everybody needs to learn about computers and the internet and everybody has to experience them. So preliminary orientations to both and experiential learning needs to take place, and a clearer assignment should be given. If separate assignments on the computer and at the library are given earlier then the next assignment should be one in which everyone uses both those sources to complete the assignments.


Digital Divide: What it is and why it matters, International Telecommunications Union.

The digital divide, ICT and the 50x15 initiative, The Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics. Retrieved from

An educator’s guide to gender bias issues. Retrieved from

Online- is it Up or Down

Is a Digital Hug Enough?

Karen Hamilton - Saturday, June 26, 2010, 12:59 PM

In our online course our professor left an audio prompt for us to discuss. The prompt concerned the difference between print media and computers and social networks and asked whether the changes in communication were positive:

To me this prompt was very interesting in that within itself it illustrated one of the advantages of the computer. How different and better are we finding this real voice compared to just the usual written text discussion? I’d say a lot. It brings us closer to the speaker when we hear how the words are spoken and we can feel another level. Is this just word processing? I think not.

The computer allows us to hear the voice of the writer at a time of our choosing, and sometimes through multimedia and it can bring us closer. It can create a wider community that the pencil would have a hard time doing. From the listener’s point of view, we are there, and we often have the opportunity to respond. But what if, we just listen and feel close? Are we really in the community, or only partly there?

The reason I ask that question is that I have a writer friend who died last week from cancer. She was the kind of person who loved nothing more than to have an audience. As a writer, she blogged every detail of her impending death. She wanted her life to have meaning and she wanted to perhaps help others but she also wanted to reach out and pull people closer. Just before she died, she wrote about the strange sensation of having all her friends and acquaintances knowing and having all these details and feeling like they were close. She found it odd that some people still felt so close when in fact they had not contacted her at all. In some ways, her blog enabled people to stay away. So while I love the community of social networks and believe they can bring us closer to more people, there is a distancing factor inherent in them. They bring us together and keep us apart. Kind of perfect for those who have fears of commitment.

I’d have to agree that the changes to communication and writing through the use of the computer are not always upward. But what is up? Is progress up? It’s all subjective. For me what it is, is different. In some ways it pushes us outward and in others the pull is inward.

What it pushes out sometimes can be great- everyone has a voice- there’s more information available. But what happens to our information and ourselves. We give ourselves and we loose our selves. Some of our privacy is lost. Who owns our stuff? Who controls it? Google digitizing books is great. We can sneak a peek into books we don’t buy. It’s a little like a library. But what happens when there is only one library that has all the books?

In an interview with Vincent Rossmeier, Baron is asked why he named his book “A Better Pencil.” He says that his choice of name was “From Pencils to Pixels” but the publisher didn’t think it would sell. They wanted something pointed- a hook. To me “Pencils to Pixels” is more what it is about. The computer is not a better pencil. They are both artefacts but very different.

When I think of the choice of writing an essay with a pencil and no internet or online resources compared with a computer with access to everything, there is no comparison. I don’t have to buy every book or take it out of a library and then plug away piecing things together. I can collect my references on delicious, have access to them on any one of my computers. It’s all there. Maybe what we do though is spend more and more time because we have so much information. The computer that was meant to free us sucks us in and steals more and more time. I went to a live meeting this week and was discussing all the things going on in my life. We had quite the laugh when I said, “That’s a lot going on for someone who has barely been out of the house in a week.”

Many of us have talked about the beauty of a good book. The books today certainly have been word processed but now we can see them in print or digitally. Will we fall in love with our digital copy like we did with our old favourite printed books? And what will happen to book covers if all is digital? A March 30, 2010 New York Times article laments the potential of the book cover if all is digital.

When we write on the computer to others in networking sites like facebook and twitter is what it does to us the same as if we were writing a handwritten letter? Adam Pennenberg writes in “Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love.” that social networking releases the chemical oxytoxin in our brains and we have a sensation associated with the same kind of warm fuzzy feeling like when we get or give hugs. Can a pencil do that?

But is that good? Are these digital hugs enough? Are we closer or farther away?
Or is it just different? All I know is that a nerd has to be careful- that’s why I’m going out there into the wide world today, turning off this computer for at least awhile.


Baron, D. (2009) A better pencil: Readers, writers and the digital revolution. Oxford University Press

Golden, S. (Sept 18, 2009). ‘A better pencil’, Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Pennenberg, A. (July 1, 2010) Social networking affects brain like falling in love, Fast Company. Retrieved from

Rossmeier, V. (Sept 19, 2009). Is the internet melting our brains?, Facebook, Salon Retrieved from

Rich, M. (Mar 30, 2010). In E-book era, you can’t even judge a cover, New York Times. Retrieved from

What do Marks Mean?

The Problem or is that Opportunity of Huck Finn

by Karen Hamilton - Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 03:28 PM

The case study presented with the multiracial group of students who created a multimedia version of a final project on Huck Finn rather than the individual written report required is certainly complicated on many levels. In many respects, the case study, the subject matter and the writing in the novel reflect on many of the issues inherent in The New London Groups 1996 paper, A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.

In the novel it is evident that both Huck and Jim are intelligent but uneducated. The language they use is considered “unsivilised.” On the other hand, the so-called civilized characters act in less than civilized ways. The journey of the main characters represents an authentic education to the characters. The book both presents and creates a number of moral dilemmas. Because of the portrayal of its characters and its racially charged language, it has become a controversial book and its use in education has often been challenged.

Can an assignment that asks students to read the book and write a summary on their own reflect the complexity of the book? Are all of the students mature enough to deal with the multilevel racial issues on their own? I think not. This is my first dilemma with the assignment.

Perhaps how the students took on the project as a group and illustrated the ideas in Huck Finn speaks to the lack of forethought in the original assignment. Did the students feel a need to discuss and work together? As the New London Group states, “Our view of mind, society and learning is based on the assumption that the human mind is embodied, situated and social.” (A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, 1996) To me, this book is not one to be taken on alone, and left to a book report. What the students who decided to create a multimedia project did was most real and authentic. Not only did they create an interesting multimedia project, but they were also critical and questioned Twain’s portrayal of race. A discussion of the portrayal of race is something that needs to happen with a controversial book like this. Their use of Hip Hop to illustrate the book is interesting especially since it, like the language in the book, is often controversial.

To me, what these students created was similar to what the London Group asks. “Multiliteracies also create a different kind of pedagogy, one in which language and other modes of meaning are dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they work to achieve their various cultural purposes.” These students redesigned, to use the language of the New London Group, much like today’s students who create mash-ups to re-envision the then and the now. Their learning was authentic and meaningful.

Having defended the work of the group, I have to now ask what was the purpose of the assignment? In my college, our courses have clearly defined outcomes and assignments should link to outcomes. Was the outcome here for students to gain a deeper understanding of the book and to use critical thinking skills to analyze it? If this is the outcome, then the outcomes have been met. If, however, the outcomes of the assignment were the above plus also to demonstrate in writing using standard writing, grammar, spelling, punctuation and bibliographical format, then the writing portion has not been met. If this were the case, I would call the students in to discuss how valuable the project was and to ask them how they would meet the last outcome. In my experience, asking students what should happen usually leads to the best solution because they are the ones who decide on what exactly it should be. In this case, any written work submitted would be individual. Perhaps this written work would explain how their project led each of them to a deeper understanding of the book, the issues and how it is relevant to them today. This request should not be presented as a penalty but as a chance to get the highest mark that it sounds to me like they deserve.

In real life, this most likely wouldn’t have happened to me because all of my assignments have options for more creative delivery. The courses I teach relate to media, and today that necessitates more than a flat text driven assignment. The above teacher though, might want to reflect on the assignment and create an assignment that involves social discussion, reflection and a multi literacy approach.

I hadn’t really thought about Mark Twain and Huck Finn for a long time, so it sent me back to do a bit of re-reading and also to look into the controversy of the book. In my journey, I came across Peaches Henry’s 1992, 8200-word essay The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn detailing the controversy. In her thorough and thoughtful essay she brings out many sides to the controversy but she concludes:

“The insolubility of the race question as regards Huckleberry Finn functions as a model of the fundamental racial ambiguity of the American mind¬set. Active engagement with Twain's novel provides one method for students to confront their own deepest racial feelings and insecurities.”

For me, active engagement with Twain’s novel is precisely what occurred when the students created a multimedia view of Huck Finn. They deconstructed the novel and reconstructed it in a way that was meaningful and relevant. If my students do that, I am more than happy.

What is it that we share in common?

We share a common goal to communicate and to question, and to make and create meaning of this thing we call life.

Cazden, C., Cope, B. Fairclough, N., Gee, J. et al. (Spring 1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures, Harvard Educational Review; 66, 1 Research Library pg. 60.

Henry, Peaches. (1992). The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn, Satire and Evasion: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Retrieved from

Do Computers Have Politics?

by Karen Hamilton - Tuesday, June 15, 2010, 03:43 PM

Are computers a "mechanism for centralized control and surveillance "or a "marvelous experiment in radically democratic social innovation?"

Do pencils have politics?

If you have been seduced by Langdon Winner’s argument in his 1986 article “Do Artifacts Have Politics,” then the answer to the question do pencils have politics, should be yes. A pencil or any writing instrument has the power to convey information that has political implications, and a computer too, which is more encompassing and complex could certainly be seen as a political instrument. But do they themselves have politics or is it their process that is guided by human hands? If we assume that objects have politics are we not giving them human characteristics, anthropomorphizing them?

I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of those wacky Mac lovers who have an unnatural fondness for my machines, but I’m not so sure I’ll give them full fledged humanity and assign them political values even though I’m sure mine would be lefties. In one of the college courses I teach, Psychology of Consumer Behaviour, I talk about the different versions of self identity that marketers are interested in. There is our real self, our imagined self, our looking glass self and our extended self. Marketers see us as a fragmented lot, open to persuasion if they can only know us. One place they would like their product to be is in the extended self. The extended self is made up of those things that become a part of you. They are often the objects we would run into our houses to get if there were a fire- the photos and mementos that help define who we are. I’ll admit, for me, my Macs have become a part of my extended self, and for sure I won’t be leaving the house without at least one. I’ll allow that my computer is close to my “me.” but it is not quite a person so how can it have politics?

If we allow computers to be seen as the determinants of our future we have the potential to see technology as the big bad Frankenstein-like bogeyman out to get us. In a June 6, 2010 New York Times article, “Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price,” author Richtel gives evidence on both sides of the argument about the effect of computers on the brain. He notes studies that show the detrimental effects of multitasking and studies that show Internet users who become more efficient at finding information and video game users who develop better visual acuity. Yet, in spite of these two sides, he tells the story of a family who is facing the effects of technology- mom is burning the cookies, dad is always on the computer and the son is getting C’s. Woe is us! In articles like these, we see the demon technology sucking the lives out of its innocent victims. The blame here is squarely on the technology, and all would be well if they just turned it off. And of course any person can turn it off or turn it down, so who exactly is to blame? -The technology or the people, or both? For me, categorizing technology or computers as semi human political beings makes them the easy scapegoat, and removes responsibility from we the people and I’m not so sure that is a good thing at all.

Both argument one where computers and the Internet are a “mechanism for centralized control and surveillance” and argument two where computers are a “marvelous experiment in radically democratic social innovation” lead to political ends, and for me both are true. Humans acknowledge the dual nature of man- good and evil; emotional and reasonable; enlightened and animalistic. So, then, it is completely consistent that we see objects in our world in the same way. A pencil can be a writing instrument or a deadly weapon. It depends on what we do with it.

In argument one we see the fight for control of the individual. For marketers the information tracked through cookies and other techniques on computers allows behavioural targeting and addressable ads where we are no longer just the mass receiver of an ad, but rather the recipient of one message specifically directed to us. Marketers know us in ways they had never before dreamed of. Massive amounts of information are being collected on social networking sites like facebook. And the so-called freemium movement where internet applications are free is no different than the “free lunch” we were warned about. We pay the cost with our information. Politicians like former presidents create laws like the Patriot Act that allow intrusions into the privacy of its citizens. Actions like this have caused institutions to require that no information be stored on American servers to protect students or staff. Countries ban parts of the internet, and some K-12 schools have restricted access. There are several big brothers watching us.

In argument two we have the democratic social innovation that allows us easy access to information and people and networks. It has allowed everyday users to not just be the recipients of information but to also be the creators of media. Media is no longer just pushed at us, but is pulled by us, and pushed back in. Everybody can contribute and create. (At least everyone with access and tools) Of course when everyone is a creator and using and reusing and reshaping the artefacts of our culture, the issue of copyright will be raised and those in positions of power will try to impose old laws on all that is new. We have seen the open source movement rise and the creation of sites like Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons for people to share creations on their own terms and for others to use those creations in a legal way. And at least one country Brazil is leading the way to allow more open use of materials. Their Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil fights against what he calls the “fundamentalists of absolute property control” who are in the way of the “digital world's promises of cultural democracy and even economic growth.” He believes that "A world opened up by communications cannot remain closed up in a feudal vision of property…No country, not the US, not Europe, can stand in the way of it. It's a global trend. It's part of the very process of civilization. It's the semantic abundance of the modern world, of the postmodern world - and there's no use resisting it." (Dibbell, 1994)

Having accepted that both arguments are true and that both of these have political consequences, can I still say that computers do not have politics?

I’ve already complained that I didn’t want to have technology framed as an evil entity that gets blamed for our failings, and said that a pencil could be a weapon it just depends how it is used. But is that all there is to it? Not really.

The things we create can have political consequences. While I was at first seduced by Winner’s story of Moses’ racist bridges, it wasn’t long before I questioned how he came upon his evidence. Before I read the next article, I was off on an internet journey where I found much that questioned his analysis. (Oh that is the democratic web!) Then I read Joerges’ Do Politics Have Artefacts where I found a more moderate view of things. After Joerges’ I read Woolgar & Coopers, “Do Artefacts have Ambivalance” and then Joerges response, “Scams Cannot Be Busted: Reply to Woolgar and Cooper.” All of these, lead me off in many directions in search of what I could believe.

So here it is: I’m not buying Moses bridges as racist or intentionally political. I’m not buying that artefacts in themselves can be political. I would allow that sometimes technology may be created for a political end; for me, political ends may more often be unintentional. Id’ think that the creators are many times self serving and their creations reflect their own needs which are not necessarily the needs of everyone else. Joerges talks about alternatives to control and contingency theory and speaks about thinking of artefacts as “expressive values” that induce nothing but indicate something and he suggests treating artefacts as boundary objects. To me this middle ground makes sense. But I also feel that the technology we choose has an effect on us. (423-424)

Neil Postman says, 'to a man with a pencil, everything looks like a list. To a man with a camera, everything looks like an image. To a man with a computer, everything looks like data” (Postman, 1993) To a certain extent, I agree with Postman here. We tend to see things through our own lens and our choice of media may influence the way we see things but I’m not about to go as far as to say that technology is the driver. We humans are in the driver’s seat and responsible for the political consequences of the technologies we develop.

What’s important for me in the arguments is to fight the entities who would seek to use our information and fight to ensure that what we have remains open and democratic.

The computer is neither good nor bad nor neutral; and it is certainly not the big bad bogeyman. The only bogeyman is the one we see in the mirror.


Chandler, D. (1995). Technological or media determinism, Retrieved from Prifysgol Aberystwyth University, The Media and Communications Studies Site.

Dibbel, J. (Nov, 2004). We pledge allegiance to the penguin. Wired. Retrieved from

Ensmenger, N. (July-Sept 2007). Computers as Ethical Artifacts, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing University of Pennsylvania (p 85-87). Retrieved from

Joerges, B. (June 1999). Do politics have artefacts? Social Studies of Science, London: Sage publications 411-31

Joerges, B. (1999) Scams cannot be busted: Reply to Woolgar & Cooper), Social Studies of Science, JSTOR, 29 (3) 450-457. Retrieved from

Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage

Reed, L. (Dec,1958). I, pencil: My family tree as told to Leonard E. Read. The Freeman. Reprinted 1999 -Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Richtel, M. (June 6, 2010). Your brain on computers: Hooked on gadgets and paying a mental price, New York Times. Retrieved from

Social Determinism, Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Winner, L. (1986) The whale and the reactor: A search for limits in an age of high technology. “Do Artefacts have Politics?” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19-39.

Woolgar, S. & Cooper, G. Bridges and other Urban Legends in S&TS
Do Artefacts Have Ambivalence: Moses' Bridges, Winner's,Social Studies of Science 1999; 29; 433. Retrieved from

More Disrupting Class and Technology Fix

Karen Hamilton June 7, 2010

Perfectly Predictable and Perfectly Wrong

Computers in schools? Yes!

It’s apparent from the readings in The Technology Fix and Disrupting Class that the introduction of computers into K-12 classrooms has been extremely problematic. Computers have as Christensen Horn & Johnson suggest been crammed into classrooms with little thought about how they can facilitate learning. As Pflaum repeats again and again, often there is a lack of an overall plan that ensures that technology will be integrated in meaningful ways. These problems multiply when teachers are either unmotivated or unable to use the technology for their lessons. Teachers become victims of time poverty and rush to prepare students for repeated standardized tests and have little to no time to try to implement change. Dependent upon grants, even when the technology is adopted, there is no guarantee there will be ongoing support. Many schools have not spent the suggested 30% of technology budget for professional development to ensure their teachers are prepared. In some cases schools decided that computers would be the catalyst for change. Unfortunately, a tool is not what creates change. It is easy to see why Christensen, Horn & Johnson in Disrupting class say that schools’ use of computers “has been perfectly predictable, perfectly logical –and perfectly wrong.” (73)

Let’s Keep the Baby

However, just because the implementation has been bad, it doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. Computers are a part of our everyday life and they should become a natural part of the curriculum. Our students have grown up in a digital age. To them a computer is what a paper and pen was to many of us when we went to school-- it’s just a part of the tool kit. For computers to be missing in school, forces students into a time they do not live in, and makes them very unhappy and potentially unmotivated campers. For me, computers are a necessary component of today’s classroom. On the other hand, computers and technology should only be used when they add value to the learning. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between real life classroom experience and computer mediated experience.

Computers in College - Harness the tools in the room

In colleges today, many students bring laptops into the classroom. Rather than having students shut down their technology, as some would want to do, we need to find ways to harness the power of the tools in the room. With an engaged audience, this is possible. Instead of worrying about whether Jessica is facebooking, we have to worry about ensuring that the classroom experience is meaningful and engaging. In my experience, this has been my most meaningful tool-- to attack the problem with the tools of their engagement--facebook, youtube, and twitter on their playing field.

Computers vs. Handheld- Smart Phones
- Mobile Learning

I’m not sure that smart phones or handheld devices face the same problems with integration that computers have. One would hope that the problems with integrating computers into classrooms would provide lessons learned for adopting any new technology; although, I’m certainly not 100% confident of that considering the multiple levels of technology related problems in K-12 schools. One of the big problems with handheld devices in K-12 is that many institutions ban their use outright. In that case there could be no adoption. The only kind of adoption would be devices that provide secure lockdown of content. This then necessitates expenditures on technology with a limited use. A number of schools are experimenting with the use of gaming and augmented reality with handheld devices. Leading researchers like Karen Shrier, Chris Dede, MIT Teacher Education, Education Arcade, and Harvard are working together with K-12 schools to create games that provide students with the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills to solve realistic problems in a natural environment.

Mobile- Hand-Helds in Action

One recent example of this is Qualcomm and San Diego Unified School District’s “School in the Park” which began a pilot in May of 2010 of an augmented reality mobile game with students from Rosa Parks and Hamilton elementary schools. The schools sent grade 3-5 students to the "School in the Park" for 8 weeks. Using smart phones, students visit the San Diego Museum of Art and nearby Botanical Building. Students take on the identity of multiple characters and work in pairs to solve problems as part of a Chinese folk tale. With the help of GPS and AR triggers, the students use text messages, video, and email to collaborate with classmates to research art and flowers. According to Maureen Magee, "Qualcomm partnered with the Balboa Park School, in part, to introduce low-income students to cutting-edge technology.” The goal is to help the students learn to use the tools they will need to compete with their more-affluent peers. Initiatives like this could provide the impetus to motivate other schools to integrate the technology.

The difference between adopting the hand held device as noted above and the previous adoption of computers in schools, is that here one would consider the adoption of the device based on its ability to provide real world experience; whereas, in large part the adoption of computers has been to keep up with or catch up to technology.

In colleges today most students have cell phones and an ever-increasing number have smart phones. More and more, smart devices do not need to be provided. They are in the room; their power just has to be tapped into. Next semester, I will be experimenting with the use of QR codes in my classes. This technology costs nothing except the effort to integrate it into the lesson plan. The wireless in the room can be accessed so there would be no network charges for students on their smart phones. In colleges there is an opportunity for a more natural integration of handheld devices.

Pflaum’s Recommendations? Too Little-Too Late

According to Pflaum computer use in the classroom can be divided into- use as teaching machines, Internet portals, test givers and data processors. He believes that students have spent too little time on computers for them to have had an impact on performance. He finds there is a surplus of materials not being used, and that there are problems related to class size, lack of commitment, integration of technology and a focus on standardized tests.
He makes four recommendations:

1. To focus use on students who would benefit most

2. Use computers to align to standards, instruction and assessment.

3. Use computers for test taking.

4. Teach students to use tools but wait until they are ready (p. 198-207)

To me his recommendations are weak, too little and too late. On page 197, he lists a summary of his observations. His last point #11 states, “Computer technology is too complex to be cost-effective for many school uses.” To me this is a defeatist attitude that is just not acceptable. It’s like saying, well we can’t figure out how to use it, so let’s skip the big picture all together and just use it over here and that is precisely what he suggests in his first recommendation. It makes sense to use what you have to help those who are most needy, but to me it is shortsighted to suggest that, that is the best we can do. His point two to use computers to align instruction with curriculum seems logical but not revolutionary. Did we need to read the book to come to that conclusion?

Point 3 makes obvious sense especially because I have been using online testing with my students for 8 years already, and that is at least a few years before he wrote the book. His point four to teach students how to the use the tools but wait until they are ready might also be off given that kids today from birth are watching and very soon interacting with computers. Certainly, like any subject some things must be taught at certain stages, but how much longer will some of the basic things have to be taught? I’ve ranted before about the Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment, but isn’t it time we give kids a chance to try to learn some of the basic things on their own. Put them in a room, and they’ll surprise us, I’m sure.

For Pflaum it seems we should trudge the same old tired path, try to piece together this and that, fix this bit for now and do what we can. He’s not getting to the root of the problem for me. In his list of conclusions at number eight, he mentions standardized testing as problematic. Number eight, are you kidding me? How about number one! I know that maybe that list was not in order, but really --embedded in the middle? The system is broken and from my point of view the systemic insistence on standardized testing is interfering with learning.
That has just got to change.

Disrupting Class- Yes, Please Do!

I felt in familiar territory when on page 185 of Disrupting Class the authors talk about meetings where every one is talking, everyone is an expert but really everyone is talking past each other. I’ve been in many of those meetings, so it was easy for me to buy into the authors’ idea of the importance of creating a common language and a shared framework. Too often people don’t agree on the two dimensions they mention in their chart 8.1 (p.184) It seems hard enough to get teachers and management to agree on what they want and just as hard to agree on what is the cause and effect. When we all agree on a problem and decide on cause and effect we have a chance to work towards solutions.

Christenson, Horn & Johnson place public schools in the lower left quadrant where there is no consensus on either dimension. If we buy into Pflaum’s many examples, these authors are justified in this placement. Schools and the individuals in them were all over the map in what they should do and how best to do it. Within that structure a sustaining innovation only lives within a chaotic framework, and it is not enough.

To create change Christensen et al. suggest that leaders can use power. In some cases it is possible to rip things apart and start over, but in many cases where there are unions that kind of change is not possible. Their alternate solution- separation sounds harsh, but may be effective. It may be better to start up new schools where those who are hired all agree on a common language and framework than to just stay in a broken system where there may never be agreement.

To me the author’s idea of disruptive innovation to create change makes sense. Pflaum would have us march along on a road to nowhere (better). What Disrupting Class offers is a different way of looking at things. Since the release of the book, the authors have written several articles and given many talks. In a talk in elluminate called “Michael Horn Disrupting Class, Web 2.0 and More”, author Horn acknowledges that they didn’t supply all the answers but that what they wanted to do was start a conversation. He stresses the importance of sometimes taking a counter-intuitive approach. He says too, if he were writing the book today, he would have more emphasis on motivation-especially creating intrinsic motivation for learners, including the fun factor. Interesting to me also was his urging to see technology not as just tools but as a process whereby we transform inputs to outputs. Is it possible that if we begin to think of technology as a process that we will stop just buying tools, and instead focus on what we need to do and how best to do it?


Christensen, C., Horn, M., & Johnson, C. (2008). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Dede, C. (Jan 2, 2009). Immersive Interfaces for engagement and learning, Science Vol 323 (591)66-69.

Pflaum, W. (2004). The technology fix: The promise and reality of computers in our schools. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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Klopfer, E.(June 2008). Augmented learning: Research and design of mobile educational games, MIT Press.

Magee, M.( May 19, 2010). Students get hold of augmented reality: Museum, city schools employ smart phones as interactive teaching aids, Sign On San Diego News. Retrieved from

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