Teaching methods, in some schools, haven't changed much since this picture was taken (Creative Commons License)
As students return to school, it's time to think about absolute necessities like pens, paper, school clothes, a laptop or tablet and, of course, a learning network that enables them to interact with fellow students and teachers.
Okay, that network may not yet be mandatory. But an increasing number of teachers are flocking toward "connected learning," which involves changing not only educational methods, but also some fundamental assumptions about the nature of education.
An infographic at ConnectedLearning.tv offers up a definition that refers to connected learning as a model that holds out the possibility of "reimagining the experience of education in the information age." It goes on to suggest that the power of technology be used to "fuse young people's interests, friendships and academic achievements" through hands-on production, shared purpose and open networks.
That's a refreshingly forward thinking definition of the term. For many educators, "connected learning," simply means using the power of the Internet to make it more efficient to bring resources into the classroom. It reminds me of a presentation I saw a few years ago at an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, in which a smart board vendor demonstrated her product by modeling a teacher-dominated geography lesson, using the smart board in almost the same way teachers have long used chalk boards to display information in a top-down fashion. It struck me at the time that much of today's so-called "technology in education" is nothing more than using 21st-century technology to enhance 19th-century pedagogy.
And that brings me back to "reimagining" education by finding ways to disrupt the processes and power relationships that have so long defined students as both the consumers and products of the educational system rather than co-creators and collaborators.
Not all companies are thinking of ways to reinforce old learning models. 1StudentBody (www.1sb.com), a Palo Alto startup run by serial entrepreneur Mandeep Dhillon, is leveraging the power of networking to help students help themselves and their peers.
Dhillon views "peer-to-peer connections" as a powerful way to connect students within and among schools to collaborate in the learning process. His just released app, NoteSnap (initially available only for iPhone and iPad, with an Android version coming), enables students to use their smartphone to take notes in class and, by default, share them with other students. The app lets students use the phone's camera, for example, to take a picture of the classroom's whiteboard to share the content with others in the class. The app automatically cleans up the image to improve readability and immediately shares it with others. It also allows students to ask questions, and there is the option of asking anonymously if you "don't want people to think you're clueless."
I asked Dhillon why students would want to use the app. After all, schools are often competitive, and sharing with other students helps them, but not you. His answer was aspirational. The product is not simply designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of getting a better grade, but reflects his philosophy that learning and work will be increasingly collaborative.
It makes sense to me. In the real world, you're rewarded not for what you know, but how you're able to leverage your knowledge, skills and talents for the benefit of others. Not only are companies increasingly encouraging workers to share their knowledge among colleagues, but there is also a growing open-source movement that encourages competitors to share some aspects of their intellectual property for the benefit of the entire industry and the world at large. In the real world, success is not a zero-sum game where your success depends on other people's lack of success.
I grew up at the tail end of the industrial age and got to live through the information age which, said, Dhillon, is about over now that information has become a commodity. "We're now in the networked age," he said, where what you know is far less important than your ability to use networks to obtain whatever it is you need and share it with others.
Other apps and servcies
There are, of course, other apps aimed at students and educators, including Edmodo, a network of 37 million teachers, students and parents designed to help teachers manage coursework and encourage all users to collaborate. Another app, ShowMe interactive whiteboard lets you use an iPad to create "whiteboard-style tutorials."
Evernote isn't specifically for students, but it does allow users to take notes, snap pictures, save and share Web links and organize and share bits of information.
And, for the more animated students and teachers out there, there is GoAnimate for Schools that lets users create amazing animated videos by dragging and dropping and adding audio dialogue, complete with lip-syncing. One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board.
This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
This selfie of a girl in front of Auschwitz has prompted unfair social media outrage.
I grew up Jewish so I'm naturally very sensitive to the horrors that took place at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. I'm also very critical of Holocaust deniers and those who would minimize what the Nazis did to Jews, gays and other "undesirables."
But I think we need to give that young girl who took a selfie of herself at the concentration camp a break. Alabama teenager Breanna Mitchell has been vilified in social media for gross insensitivity for doing what many others have done before her.
I've been to concentration camps and other infamous places including ground zero in New York, Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam and battlefields in the U.S. and other countries were countless people were slaughtered, and I've seen people taking pictures of themselves in front of the scene with a big smile on their face. It's natural. It's what we're taught to do when we stand in front of a camera.
Breanna tweeted and told a TV interviewer (scroll down to watch) that she does "understand what happened there" and had planned to visit there with her dad who died a year before she was able to make the trip.
Had this been a seasoned politician or journalist, I would criticize them (perhaps gently) for misjudgment. But this is a teenage girl who visited the site because she has a strong interest in the history of World War II and the Holocaust. If anything, she should be congratulated for caring about what happened there.
If I saw her partying at the site or trying to diminish the horror and historical importance of what happened there, I would think she was being insensitive, but smiling? Come on, we're all taught to smile in pictures. I'd like to think I would have the judgement not to smile at such a locale, but I honestly can't swear that I've never posed with a smile for a picture at such an important but horrible place.
It's hard not to agree with her followup Tweet, asking people to "quit tweeting, to quoting, retweeting and favoriting my picture."
Video of Breanna explaining on TV
SmartThings home automation kit
Samsung, according to TechCrunch, is in talks to buy home automation company SmartThings for $200 million. As of my deadline, the deal hadn't been confirmed, but if it goes through, it would put the giant Korean electronics company in direct competition with Apple and Google.
But even if this deal doesn't pan out, you can be sure that Samsung -- along with just about every other consumer electronics company -- will be entering this market.
Although technically the term "home automation" could apply to any labor-saving device, including dishwashers and washing machines, in today's world it means remote control and monitoring of home appliances, lights, doors, security and entertainment systems.
For example, SmartThings sells a $99 hub that connects devices to the Internet so that they can be controlled from your smartphone via a cloud-based service. They also sell a $49 Multi Sensor that can detect the temperature and when "things" (such as doors, drawers or even objects) are opened, closed, moved or change angles. You could place the sensor near your front door to know if it's been opened, which not only helps detect an intruder, but also can let a working parent know that their kid is home from school. The software can even be used to send you an alert if the child hasn't come home by a certain time. You could also use it to monitor if windows have been opened or if someone left the garage door open.
Because these devices are wireless, they're relatively easy to install and, unlike home monitoring services, there are no monthly fees to pay.
The company's website has an amusing video showing how a customer uses his voice to turn on the coffee pot. You can also program the doors to lock as soon as you leave the house or turn on the air conditioner from work so the house is cool when you get home.
There is almost no end to what you can automate using technologies not just from SmartThings, but also from Belkin, Wink (sold at Home Depot) and other companies. Nest, which was purchased by Google* this year for $3.2 billion, currently, makes a "smart" thermostat and smoke and carbon dioxide detector that you can control with your voice or your smartphone. The company hasn't announced other products but, based on Nest CEO Tony Fadell's presentation at the Re/code conference last month, it's pretty clear that they have ambitious plans.
Still, whether the technology is from Google or any other company, connecting our homes to the so-called "Internet of things" does raise some interesting privacy and security issues.
Apple, too, is jumping into home automation. Its iPhone, iPad and even its iPod touch media player have long been used as controllers for other companies' home automation products. Just about every company in this space has an iOS app along with an Android app to control its products. But at its Worldwide Developers Conference conference last month, Apple announced Home Kit, which is a set of tools to help developers create home automation apps for Apple devices. The technology allows for developers to create apps that share customer data with apps from other developers, assuming it's OK with the customer.
That means any Home Kit app can interact with any other compatible Home Kit device in your home. So your coffee pot and your dishwasher could carry on a conversation, even if they are controlled by devices from different companies. That begs the question of what they would talk about (Maybe the coffee maker would tell the dishwasher that it's time to wash your coffee cup).
While smartphone integration is relatively new to the home automation landscape, there is nothing new about devices that can be remotely controlled from within or even from outside the house. Twenty years ago, I was using X10 devices to control lamps, fans and other devices throughout my home. It wasn't a wireless technology exactly, but sent data through the house's electrical wires to any plugged-in device, so there was no need to string additional wires
I am excited about the developments in home automation and look forward to installing some relatively simple but useful things, like a garage door monitor and electronic house locks that let you lock and unlock the door from a phone or program a code to let workers into the house during a specific period of time.
But there are still some tasks that will require old-fashioned manual labor for the foreseeable future. We have machines to wash and dry our dishes and clothes but, until robots get a lot better, it still takes a human to clear the table, put away the dishes and fold clean laundry.
This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
*Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organisation that receives financial support from Google.
It's hard to get through a week without hearing about a new product designed to protect children online or on mobile devices. Some of these products block content, others give parents some control over who their kids can communicate with but most offer some sort of monitoring, giving parents a glimpse into what their kids are doing on their mobile and other connected devices. Increasingly, these products are being marketed as a way of detecting and preventing bullying.
It's not uncommon for these products to be developed or at least inspired by parents who have had an experience with their kid being bullied or exposed to inappropriate material. The parent may have been outraged by the incident with a sincere desire to help other parents avoid the same issues.
My advice to anyone thinking about creating such a product is to first take stock of the many other products and services in this already saturated field and second take note that even those products -- collectively -- have relatively low penetration rates.
I also urge any would-be parental control entrepreneurs to consider that one product can't possibly serve all families. Controls that block inappropriate content usually work well for young children but not for older ones. Products to monitor Internet or mobile use may be necessary for some kids, but not for most. Studies have shown that kids who get into some type of trouble online are usually risk-takers in other aspects of their lives as well. And if you think a monitoring program will stop cyberbullying, consider that the majority of bullying takes place in-person and not online, and even when it is online (or mobile) it is often a reflection of what's going on at school or wherever kids gather in the physical world. For more on bullying, see A Parents' Guide to Cyberbullying.
And, before you think you're going to earn a lot of money from your product, be aware that there are a number of excellent free parental control tools from Microsoft, Symantec and other companies.
I'm not aware of any accurate up-to-date data on the parental control marketplace but everyone I've spoken with in the know admits that it's pretty small. A 2011 study done by Hart Research for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that just over half the parents (53 percent) said they have used controls to limit or monitor their child's online behavior with products ranging from PC filtering programs that limit what sites a child can visit to services that monitor children's activities on mobile devices. But "have used" is not the same as using. I'm one of many parents who used controls for a short period of time and then stopped after realizing that having occasional conversations with my kids was a more effective, and lasting, way to influence their behavior.
Even though the survey found that 47 percent of parents haven't used these tools, 87 percent of them were aware that such tools are available, and 93 percent had a set rule to limit or monitor their children's Internet usage. Parents know these products exist and most have other ways to help their kids stay safer online.
That same study found that 60 percent of parents who are not using controls say that controls aren't necessary because they have household rules that their kids follow.
And even for parents who do feel a need to use parental-control software or service, it's important to remember that they are never a substitute for common sense, engaged parenting and -- most important -- teaching kids to be respectful of others, self-protective and resilient. Eventually your kids will grow up and one of the purposes of childhood is to learn to protect yourself long after mommy and daddy and whatever tools they employ are off the job.
Click here for infographic of FOSI survey
This post first appeared on SafeKids.com
Last month the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet released an outstanding report whose title, "Learner at the Center of a Networked World," suggests a radical rethinking of how we approach education.
The report was the product of about 20 leaders with expertise in technology, public policy, education, safety and privacy including my co-director at ConnectSafely.org, Anne Collier. Jeb Bush and actress and activist Rosario Dawson served as honorary co-chairs.
I'll get to the report in a moment, but as I read it, I couldn't help to reflect back to my own experiences from a few decades ago, beginning when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.
In 1967 I had the privilege of being one of the student coordinators of Berkeley's Center for Participant Education, a student-initiated course program that was born out of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement. CPE, like other "free universities" and "alternative schools" that popped up around the world in the '60s and '70s, promoted student-centered learning by giving students the power to initiate and help direct their own learning, using resources from local faculty, the community and subject matter experts, including some without traditional academic credentials. By getting faculty sponsors, we were able to offer academic credit for non-traditional learning.
There was no Internet back then, but we did have museums, libraries and access to people from the community such as artists, musicians, bakers, bankers, park rangers, social activists, and people with and without all sorts of advanced degrees and impressive credentials, including some who were internationally recognized as leaders in their fields. And -- even without the Internet -- there were plenty of other resources, including newsletters, films, records, and of course, books and periodicals. We didn't have blogs, but we did have mimeograph machines and megaphones. But, mostly, we had an attitude that students were the center of their own learning and that any student had the right to help fashion a learning environment, based on his or her own needs and learning style.
In 1969, I moved to Washington, D.C., to run the Center for Educational Reform, a Ford Foundation project of the now-defunct National Student Association, that helped bring this concept to universities and secondary schools around the country. Another nonprofit, New Schools Exchange, published a newsletter that supported hundreds of student-centered "free schools," where even young children were able to help shape their own learning environment.
Tech opens doors
Fast forward to 2014. Technology has unleashed incredible resources for individualized learning, but -- somewhere between 1970 and today -- educational reform got hijacked and redirected by well-meaning policymakers whose strategy seems to be more aimed at preparing students to take standardized tests and less toward student and parent empowerment and the ability for young people to articulate and achieve their own dreams, goals and aspirations.
So, imagine my delight that a group of 21st century experts assembled by the Aspen Institute took us back to the future with recommendations for a "new culture of learning" where "learners must move from the passive absorption of content to a new sense of agency that enables them to find a path that makes sense for their individual interests and learning styles." These are great ideas, reminiscent of what pundits like John Holt, Ivan Illich, Herb Kohl and Jonathan Kozol wrote back in the '60s.
What is different of course is that with modern technology there are no more excuses for education to remain in the dark ages. As the Aspen report ably documents, the proliferation of broadband and mobile devices is already "helping students chart their own unique pathways of learning subjects as well as adjusting the pace of their learning."
I fully support the task force's recommendations, which include redesigning "learning environments to empower learners to learn any time, any place, and at any pace, both in school and beyond," as well as building "an infrastructure that will connect all students in all of the places they learn." The task force also called for open standards and "protocols that simplify and promote interoperability of learning resources" and -- my favorite recommendation -- that schools adopt "policies to incorporate digital, media and social-emotional literacies as basic skills for living and learning in the digital age."
I also applaud the Aspen task force for taking on laws like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which, though intended to empower parents to protect their children's privacy, has the effect of preventing children under 13 from participating in popular social media services along with what the report called the "unintended consequence of encouraging children to make use of sites that do not attempt to enforce COPPA's restrictions and that may be less conscientious about protecting young users."
The task force also calls for "deeper research on the efficacy" and possible negative side effects of privacy and safety laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and various state laws.
I'm not anti-regulation and I certainly agree that government has a role to play in protecting the privacy of both children and adults, but I agree with the task force that we need to examine the unintended consequences of even the most well-meaning legislation.
Learner at the Center of a Networked World splash page. Full report (PDF)
A task force report & a student bill of rights: Task Force member and ConnectSafely co-director Anne Collier's commentary about the report and the work of modern-day student activists
Make personalized learning a realty says ed tech task force: Observations and commentary by Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) CEO Stephen Balkam
This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News