No Teachers

We’re pretty amazing creatures…

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves | MIT Technology Review: “Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. ‘I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,’ Negroponte said. ‘Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.’”

Origami iPad

I love the Incase Origami case/stand

Review: The Origami Workstation for iPad — Shawn Blanc: “Well, why not just use the iPad’s smart cover, and carry around the keyboard by itself? I’m glad you asked. For one the Workstation allows me to use the iPad with keyboard on my lap (for times I’m sitting in a conference room or an airport terminal). Secondly, the Workstation offers a sturdier support for the iPad than the Smart Cover. Thus allowing me to press the Home button and navigate the touch screen without using two hands to keep the iPad from tipping over. And if you prefer to type with the iPad in portrait mode, you can do that no problem.”

I’ve been using an Origami case for my Apple keyboard exactly the same way as Shawn (here’s my setup that I take to the office and school, complete with the same Jawbone Jambox) since last May. It’s rugged, stylish and does what it says it does.

Not bad for $30.

Google Now and All

One of the best posts that Jason has made in a long while…

Google’s Fiber Takeover Plan Expands: Will Kill Cable & Carriers   – LAUNCH –: “Google is going to kill AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and the cable companies. Kids don’t talk on the phone and they don’t have a ton of money. If they can be reasonably sure they’ll have a wifi network, then they are simply not going to sign up for AT&T or Verizon.

It’s game over… in five short years.”

So true and yet another reason I’m trying to offshore more of my digital life away from Google:

“Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.”

Be like the fox indeed.

Google Kills Its Affiliate Network

In yet another round of Google Spring Cleaning surprises, GAN hits the chopping block (to the surprise of many in the affiliate marketing world including myself):

An update on Google Affiliate Network | Google Affiliate Network: “Our goal with Google Affiliate Network has been to help advertisers and publishers improve their performance across the affiliate ecosystem. Cost-per-action (CPA) marketing has rapidly evolved in the last few years, and we’ve invested significantly in CPA tools like Product Listing Ads, remarketing and Conversion Optimizer. We’re constantly evaluating our products to ensure that we’re focused on the services that will have the biggest impact for our advertisers and publishers.

To that end, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire Google Affiliate Network and focus on other products that are driving great results for clients.”

Certainly, this isn’t along the lines of a Google Reader surprise (let down) but it does provide an interesting high water mark for what was once the promise of open-web marketing.

It’s no secret that the rise of the “social web” with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ etc has led to traffic flow and even content production being offloaded from once-independent web publishers and sites (affiliates) to respective walled silos. In turn, these silos have realized that co-opting the affiliate model within their own walls to drive advertising revenue.

Therefore, my biggest concern in this is the further consolidation of web content production (especially advertising based) and what it means for small to medium publishers and website owners. Whereas publishers had a chance to compete and thrive and be seen as a valuable channel to advertisers in 2005 or so, that business model is rapidly realizing its own end-of-life.

It’s a strange new world for affiliate marketers and this is only another phase of what started in 2006.

CourseSmart and Dumbing Down Teaching

I had to wince to make it through this article and visibly groaned when I read this:

Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading – NYTimes: “CourseSmart is owned by Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other major publishers, which see an opportunity to cement their dominance in digital textbooks by offering administrators and faculty a constant stream of data about how students are doing.

In the old days, teachers knew if students understood the course from the expressions on their faces. Now some classes, including one of Mr. Guardia’s, are entirely virtual. Engagement information could give the colleges early warning about which students might flunk out, while more broadly letting teachers know if the whole class is falling behind.

Eventually, the data will flow back to the publishers, to help prepare new editions.”

As a teacher, I definitely understand the well meaning intention behind something like CourseSmart. I use Khan Academy a great deal with my 7th grade students for similar intentions.

However, the reason I use Khan for reinforcing math skills we’re discussing or for enrichment is to increase a student’s “number sense” and basic quantitative reasoning skills. We have conversations about their work on Khan, we do track progress a little (though it’s not used as the basis for a grade) and I am able to see where a particular student might be struggling, bored, competent or proficient on certain math skills that we’re covering. It’s a handy tool just like worksheets or pencil and paper. In the end, my job as a teacher is to converse with each student and see where they are in their math work on an individual basis. Khan along with many other tools helps me do that more authentically. I don’t “helicopter” students but want them to realize that they can take charge of their own learning for learning’s wonderful sake.

Khan, Code Academy, iTunes U, Coursera etc have made me a much better teacher over the last three years because I fundamentally believe that conversation (meaning more than verbal but conversation in the truest sense of the word possible) with an individual student is still the best test.

Nonetheless, what CourseSmart is doing from a teaching point of view is taking something like reading and making it into a quantitative model of “engagement.” Rather than a student being able to engage with material that suits them best, they’re being pigeon holed into an algorithmic expectation of highlighting and note taking in a way that up-ends the teaching process. Services like CourseMart are yet another example that boxed one-size fits all education at any level does not work.

Plus, the connection to corporate edu is so disturbing. Pearson and McGraw-Hill have become the Facebook and Google of education with their takeover of the education cloud.

Trying to Fix What Is Not Broken

Sad and true across the landscape of education (public and private)…

“Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession … no longer exists’” – Washington Post: “My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom.

Links and the Persistance of Memories

Doc Searls riffing off of Dave Winer’s post about the history of podcasts here…

Doc Searls Weblog · Why durable links matter: “We can find these historic details because links have at least a provisional permanence to them. They are, literally, paths to locations. Thanks to those, we can document the history we make, and learn from it as well.”

As usual, Searls says some incredibly important things (and gives some great links such as Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost) in a small space.

However, as a middle school teacher I constantly try to reinforce the idea of not just “portfolio spaces” (each of our middle schoolers has a blog that they get to design, set up, create etc) and why links on blogs and personal spaces are so important to the health of the web. It’s a difficult concept for anyone to understand. Why worry about links to things when we have Google for information, Facebook for social, Instagram for pictures and Spotify/YouTube for music?

Doc points out the best reason possible… permanence. The “HT” part of HTML and HTTP are important signals as to how and why the web exists. To be able to look back and learn or reflect on information that we create as we encounter this new digital landscape is so important.

For example, I didn’t know Allen Stern personally but he was a rather important figure when I started to get involved in blogging and what has become the social web. His blog CenterNetworks was a constant source of both information and traffic for my own marketing blog (CostPerNews) at the time. I was saddened to learn of his death late last night and went on a trip down memory lane to see what I could find from my own linking to Allen. Sadly, most of it has eroded by my own actions over time. I’ve started blogs and either sold them or abandoned them. I had to rely on the wonderful WayBackMachine. However, I wish I still had that content that I produced by linking to his work or thinking on what he thought up first.

Instead, I’ve posted in walled gardens that cease to exist or are inaccessible to the outside web. I’m more guilty than anyone for relying on services like Twitter or Facebook to deliver content when I should be posting info, ideas, pictures etc on this space and then letting those services aggregate as needed.

So, learn from my mistakes.

Create your own blog. Live on that blog and let other services slurp your content in as you intend.

Create a real and lasting digital footprint.

Leave a legacy so that your kids’ kids can read your portfolio or your blog just as they can read the paper versions (if you please).

Create a healthier web.

R.I.P. Allen.