Classrooms are Changing part 2 (Feb 27)

Location, Location, Location

I was already in high school by the time my local school board took the initiative to do away with overhead projectors; those clunky but reliable fixtures of my grammar school days that meant the next thirty minutes would be spent with the lights turned blessedly low. Of course, this only came after they had installed laptops in all the kindergarden classrooms. The result was a bizarre amalgamation of old school and new school. Literally.

In my Algebra classroom a SMART board was mounted sandwiched between two chalkboards, one of which featured a Victorian-esque calligraphy guide. In French I watched my teacher lose a daily struggle against the pull-down screen projector and Microsoft PowerPoint. It was as if every old school academic in the building, the kind who still administered blue book exams and spent a good five minutes finding the YouTube “play” button every single damn time they wanted to use a video clip in class, were putting up a silent resistance. I can remember my history teacher complaining daily about being forced to record her grades online through the school network instead of in an old school gradebook, which she still insisted on carrying to every single class and taking with her whenever she left the room. [Never mind that the digital gradebook would calculate the grades for her.]

However, by the time I graduated the school board had installed several of what it liked to call “classrooms of the future,” accessorized by walls that were floor to ceiling white boards and interactive touch screen projection systems. Instead of organized rows we sat at adjustable communal worktables in chairs of modish color and design, all white or orange or kelly green. The whole classroom could be rearranged from the tables to the teacher’s workstation, as if even the furniture resisted the very idea of sitting still for hours at a time. But sitting still and silent was all I understood of school. If there was discussion or interaction it was limited, cultivated and artificial. Everything, from how I was taught to structure my notes to the conclusions I would make in class, had been prepackaged for me. To a certain degree I didn’t know how to operate in the wide open space of the interactive classrooms. I couldn’t associate the new, more casual atmosphere with the serious academic practice of memorizing names, dates and tables for an exam. Where was the final test? Where was the rigor and the pressure?

 

The so called “classroom of the future” is a larger concept educators, not-for-profit organizations, administrators, developers, IT professionals, parents and amateurs with a video camera have been striving toward for years. I’ve heard it bandied about on blogs, in interviews and by my own teachers. Though more often than not it was used sarcastically as if referring to a Jestons-esque concept of a distant future, rather than the very real possibility of technology in the classroom. I can understand the skepticism. After all, what happens to the traditional structure of education when students are allowed to write on the walls and talk openly during class? Where is the structure and order that we have come to associate with the learning process?

The guiding principle of the “classroom of the future” is that technology will enable students to have more control over the learning process. Instead of a collective grind students will engage in self-directed learning, say by doing internet research on an iPad, and engaging in collective discussions with other students and with the instructor. Hence worktables instead of silent rows of desks, and interactive projected images that reflect onto every surface instead of solitary screen projectors. Ideally the interactive classroom of the future contains no barriers, physical or otherwise.

As a result, the implementation of technology has changed the geography of the modern classroom. The director of the Office of Education Technology, Karen Cator, gave an interview for Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD, and more on that in another post] in which she outlines the role of technology in classroom conduct and the nature of interactive learning. She described a gradeschool she visited in North Carolina as “exemplary” in its use of technology in the classroom. She states, “In several classrooms, I couldn’t tell where the front of the classroom was. On one side of the room was an interactive whiteboard; on another side, a regular whiteboard; and the teacher’s desk was on a third side.”

It reminded me of the interactive classrooms of my own high school, all open and free and casual. According to Director Cator the technology itself should not be the focus of learning but an aid in the process. The entire room should be, “a learning environment, and the technology was just part of the infrastructure.” Sort of like high tech wallpaper. Ideally it should straddle the line between being completely invisible and totally distracting while still defining the learning environment.

Classrooms are Changing (Feb 20)

Access

Ever hear of the Office of Educational Technology? Probably not. I certainly hadn’t, despite all the technology classes I have taken over the course of my education. As it turns out the Office of Educational Technology, or OET, is the department responsible for taking the initiative to revolutionize technology in the classroom. They provide research grants. They make Wi-Fi accessible for public school students across the country. They get it. They’re “with it.” So with it they have a YouTube page. Go figure.

According to the department’s official website (see link above), the OET is located in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Education. Just one of many sub-offices and fractal departments that fall under the umbrella of government funded, capital “E” Education, sandwiched between something called “Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” and Student Financial Aid.

More importantly, it’s the reason public schools across the country have been going “paperless” by installing desktops, laptops, SMART boards, interactive projection systems, Wi-Fi and other innovative technologies in their classrooms. In fact, according to their official government website, one of the primary initiatives of the OET is to “close the broadband gap in k-12 schools in the US” in order to promote “equity of access.” This means high speed Wi-Fi in every public school system across the country. It’s an expensive but vital step in closing the learning gap from one public school system to the next.

Access to Wi-Fi means access to ideas, programs and information, to educational websites and resources. It means that if the OET is successful in achieving its goal, for the first time in the history of education children in every single classroom across the country will have access to the same kinds of resources at the same speed and in the same volume.

 

 

2/19 Class Activity: Typography

The two words I portrayed were “anger” and “punk or indie.” The first was obviously an emotion, the second was an identity.

For the first we were told we could use color, so I immediately chose a bright red. I chose a military-style font in large, all capital letters. I then made the text 3D so that it seemed to be projecting out into the viewer’s space.  All of the viewers except one guessed “anger.” Only one guessed fear, but I could definitely understand why.

“Punk or indie,” however, was a different matter. I’ve always associated being “indie” with being a bit nostalgic, or at least appreciating vintage style, so I chose a vintage style font accordingly. I also used all capitols and an unorthodox placement on the screen. However, I think the nuance of these choices were lost on most of the viewers, who chose either “childish” or “old.” I think this is more of a result of their not understanding the themes behind punk and indie culture rather than my aesthetic choices.

2/18 Class Activity

1) Creative Commons Image 

2) Copyrighted Image 

The image I chose was a political cartoon from 2006. Although it is a copyrighted image its purpose is inherently to commentate and to criticize. The copyright is also part of the image, so as long as I did not crop or remove that part of the image or cited the creator or original publisher of that image I am still giving credit where credit is due.

3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx96QodvmDY

This is a segment from the BBC that a YouTube user reposted under their own account. Technically this individual user does not own the rights to this BBC segment, nor did they presumably ask for said rights to redistribute this clip. It was not remixed for the purposes of commentary or criticism.

What Is Digital Education?

Image

The Past 

I remember my first “computer science” class. It was 1999 and my grammar school had recently installed a computer lab in an annex [probably a former supply closet] next to the library. It consisted of two rows of hefty IBM desktops, an industrial printer we weren’t allowed to touch and a projector. There was only one window [again, supply closet] and the walls were inexplicably painted black so that we sat in perpetual darkness, save for the bluish glow of our monitors. In short it was terrifying.

It also came with rules. Way more than an ordinary classroom. We couldn’t actually touch the power buttons on the monitors, but had to wait for a teacher to come do it for us. We couldn’t save any documents to “My Computer” and we couldn’t use Google because it was “unsafe.” We could only visit educational websites [mostly about math, no thank you] and even then only if we asked for permission. It was thanks to this cautious introduction that the science of computers seemed too limited to be of any real interest, especially in the eyes of an eight year old.

And perhaps in 1999 it really was a limited field of study. As if overnight the computer had become a household fixture, but it had yet to be understood and incorporated as an educational tool. Computer access was a privilege and I was instructed to treat it with near reverence. It was a tool with specific limitations and totally devoid of nuance. Windows 98, Microsoft Word, floppy disks and Yahoo search. Anything that wasn’t “.org” or “.gov” was automatically unreliable. It was as if the librarians that haunted the computer lab like bats in a cave, carefully warding against the slightest hint of unsanctioned fun, saw it as their duty to arm us against the evils of technology. If the school board were going to force them to teach grade school children how to format a Word document, fine. But that was as far as our technological education was ever going to go.

The Present

Under two decades later and oh how things have changed. The classroom is no longer an island in a sea of information but part of the larger conversation. A conversation that is facilitated by the implementation of technology in the classroom. “Digital education” is not a necessary evil, but a natural progression into preparing students to become active in an increasingly interconnected world. The very concept of digital education is based on the idea that simply learning how to use technologies effectively is only the first step. The second, third and fourth are using technology in order to share and to gain a holistic understanding of information that goes beyond a classroom.

The classroom is no longer the isolated, reminiscently Victorian affair it was when I was only a generation ago. Students, primary and secondary, are not isolated from the information revolution that was just beginning when I was being taught to “properly” use a computer. Use. Implementation. Understanding. Integration. And finally access.

Photo cred: http://laughingsquid.com/apple-in-education-launches-three-new-digital-educational-tools/

Focal Topic Proposal Draft

I only have one idea for my research blog that I am truly interested in. However, I am confident that it is a subject that I can carry through twelve weeks of research and focused writing. The idea came so naturally to me I actually couldn’t imagine having the same level of enthusiasm for a different subject matter.

I would like to research the connection between the evolving debate over access to information, specifically digital information, and education. I would like to explore the various mediums that people, both professional and amateur, have used to produce and share educational content. I would like to explore the question of who deserves access to information and why. Historically it has always been those who could afford it. In ancient Greece only the sons of the aristocracy could afford the time and monetary cost of the gymnasium. Philosophers and thinkers were the products of the upper tiers of society.

I believe that this trend has continued into modern society. A college education is required for any white collar profession. However, the cost of such an education is beyond the means of most people. For example, my parents have never been wealthy but they have earned steady incomes from white collar jobs their entire lives. Even so I know with absolute certainty that I will be paying off my student loans well into thirties, if not beyond. Formal education has been and remains a bourgeois institution.

However, as technology progresses the idea that Matt Damon’s character in “Good Will Hunting” epitomized is slowly becoming truer than ever.  We drop thousands of dollars for information we could get “for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” I would like to address the way technology has changed education, the modes educators use and the relationship between education and freedom of education. 

Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis: Week 1

“Rhetoric,” wikipedia

The article defines rhetoric as discourse, i.e. a conversation, meant to inform an audience and improve the capabilities of the writers or speakers. Wikipedia as a platform is a kind of digital conversation between various contributors, editors, readers etc. It’s flawed certainly, but it is also an incredible constantly evolving and expanding source of knowledge that could not exist without collaboration. The central figure in Western rhetoric is Aristotle, who defined rhetoric as, “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”

The five cannons of Western rhetoric are invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. They are the basis of teaching rhetoric and oration. As the article states, they are a guide for creating a persuasive argument. Invention is the beginning of the process in which the author decides what they would like to say. Arrangement and style are concerned with how the author presents their ideas and what tools they use to do so. Memory and delivery are concerned with the actual presentation of the information.

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric is broad, and purposefully so. The ability to make observations and present a convincing argument using those observations is an essential skill in all fields. Scientists do it on a regular basis. Graduate students and doctoral candidates applying for research grants do it regardless of their area of study. The ability to make a point clearly and to use the information at your disposal in order to do so is the most basic and necessary tool of communication.

 

Laura Bolin Carroll’s “Backpacks vs Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis”

Bolin defines rhetoric as the way we use language and images in order to persuade. From what I understand of Carroll’s discussion of Bitzer’s article, a “rhetorical situation” is when rhetorical analysis is applied to media in order to solve or respond to some sort of problem. The three components of a rhetorical situation are exigence, audience and constraints. Exigence is the recognition of a problem to be solved using rhetoric. Audience is the intended recipient of the rhetorical message. Constraints refer to the limitations of the rhetorical situation that effect the exigence. It is important to understand the three components of a “rhetorical situation” in digital composing because rhetorical situations are all around us, especially in the form of advertisements. It is essential to understand the messages we create and their effects as well as the effects digital rhetoric has on our daily lives. We need to be able to be critical about source, audience and the consequences of digital compositions.

Aristotle’s “rhetorical triangle” consists of writer, reader and purpose. Writer is the source of the rhetoric and asking questions about the writer helps the reader, or the audience of the rhetoric, determine whether the source is credible. The purpose of the rhetoric helps the reader understand what the rhetoric is intended to achieve. The rhetorical triangle is similar to Bitzer’s components of a rhetorical situation because it encourages the analyst to question the source of rhetoric as well as its intended audience in order to come to a conclusion about its intended message. As Carroll points out, rhetorical analysis is about determining credibility and that is an essential life skill in general.

Since I began my path to an IMS minor I have found myself asking questions about media in casual contexts. When I watch television I analyze the visual elements of commercials—the lighting, the subject and how it is displayed, the colors and the camera angles— as well as the music and other audio elements, the network on which it is aired and the sponsor. From there I find myself making conclusions about the intended audience or the angle the writers and composers of the media were attempting to manipulate in order to sell an idea to a viewer. I have come to realize that advertising is less about the sale of a product or the promotion of a cause then a sales pitch to people in their living rooms about an idea. The sale of what the cause or product represents (or rather what the seller wants it to represent) is more important even than the product itself.