Posts in Category "Articles"

March 1, 2011

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching (Part 2)

The Silicone  Pit

Iterative improvement and automation have resulted in the sort of hyperbolic innovations that engineer Gordon Moore predicted in the mid 1960’s. The rate of change is dizzying and poses significant challenges to our capacity for adapting to the changes they usher in. The explosion of new technologies, whose cycles of innovation and obsolescence relegate one to the status of instant expert or instant dinosaur in the blink of an eye, constitutes our greatest environmental challenge.

Having knowledge of one’s object of inquiry has traditionally meant being able to give a name to it—to plot its co-ordinates and assay and record its characteristics. This sort of knowledge has traditionally conferred on the inquirer a degree of power and control over their object of inquiry—it is a form of experiential mapping, if you will. However, this is not so easy with respect to characterizing much less predicting the evolutionary trajectory of our modern technological landscape. Mapping the contours of our ever-changing, ever-expanding information and techno-complex is intractable as mapping sand dunes or clouds—the particulars are so infinitely complex and changing that it defies linear, rational and concrete approaches to knowing. It is a phenomenon that has rapidly emerged into a quantum state where power comes from making sense of the relational dimensions between the elements of this complex rather than knowing the particular qualities or quantities associated with the constituent elements themselves. Understanding, then, assumes a holistic character where inductive logic gives way to deductive and intuitive processes that may benefit more from a metaphor or narrative thread with which to frame or anchor one’s understanding of the infinitely complex. This form of knowing differs from the traditional detached objective methods of scientific knowing. Instead, this form of knowing is experiential, immersive and, simultaneously, transforms both subject and object.

Consider that, in using a technology, you have changed the manner in which you interact with the world around you and this results in the emergence of new patterns of behavior, new modes of interaction, shifts in language, value systems and culture and we are irrevocably changed and the system within which this technology has been used is changed too. This implies that the relationship between subject and object have also shifted. In short we see the world in a different way for the simple reason that our internal value systems have dramatically shifted and the world that we inhabit has also dramatically changed. While we highly value information that is accessible and searchable many with the means to do so would pay millions of dollars for a highly inaccessible “original” painting by, say, Rembrandt, while few of us would be willing to pay for a digital version of it. An objects potential for ubiquity works in tension with its unique instantiation. An object that can readily be reproduced and reducing its value to near zero in a commodity-based economy where value is predicated on scarcity. The web-enhanced age in which we live is one of infinite abundance and, hence, traditional economic value cannot be derived from the objects produced in this ecosystem but, rather, from the relationships that it facilitates. While scarcity and  authenticity are still significant arbiters of value today we see from the runaway success of social resources like Face Book

5:41 PM Permalink

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching (Part 1)

Trapped in a Tar Pit

Metaphorically speaking, a dinosaur is any entity lacking the capacity to adapt to environmental changes in a timely fashion. While a dinosaur may well possess the ability to adapt it may be an unfortunate accident of biology or culture that predisposes it to an internal rate of transformative change that is relatively static compared to the rate of change in the environmental factors that, normally, support and optimize conditions for its survival. This inability to match the pace of change places the dinosaur at a competitive disadvantage that eventually pushes it to the margins of relevance and results in its eventual extinction—both literal and metaphorical.

No creature would invite change for its own sake and—humans being like most other creatures—expend enormous amounts of energy attempting to stabilize our situation and achieve a form of stasis that allows us not only to survive but to thrive in relative safety and comfort. We tend towards mitigating the effects of the unknown and the unpredictable and this requires apprehending and utilizing knowledge of the environment in order that we might exploit it to advantage.

Our ability to utilize binding symbolic language and symbolic artefacts and to fashion tools that—according to Marshall McLuhan—extend, enhance and accelerate our effective selves, creates a buffer between us and a natural order that challenges us with the timeless struggle for survival.

The fact that we will soon be uneasily celebrating the turnover of our biological counter to the 7 billion mark is a testimony to how successful we have been at disconnecting from or minimizing the risks that the natural order presents. One could argue that this disconnection could be better characterized as a complete domination and subjugation of the environment that carries with it a dire corollary for our long-term survival and that the technocomplex that we created constitutes its own environment with its own evolutionary pressures.

5:35 PM Permalink
February 15, 2011


The ideas for this article came out of my reviewing the whole Rome process and the resulting software. What I could not stop thinking about was the question, what exactly do educators want… in software, in the digital world in general, in any way?

I was immediately struck by the huge assumption, and therefore the huge error, built into the whole question right from the get go – “educators” are not a homogeneous group. You can ask what we want any way you wish, but, unless you are prepared to understand just how diverse and downright different we are, your question will never really be answered. That is why any good designer / engineer / problem solver will start by asking, who are we… not, what do we want. There are dozens of books out now that discuss the value of the design process and design thinking which places the target or audience of a product ahead of the product itself. First understand your clientele, then build the product.

Let’s start by looking at a typical high school. Our school has approximately 1500 students and 100 teachers. Of those 100 teachers we have about 20 teachers who are already immersed in various aspects of digital technology, another 15-ish who are wading into the waters in varying degrees and the rest. The “rest “ represent widely varying perspectives. At one end there are those who would venture forth with lots of support and mentoring (hand holding is required). At the opposite end are those who are angry and or afraid… it really doesn’t matter which because the end result is the dismissal of digital technology and all that is has to offer. I cannot give you numbers or percentages for these two groups at this point. I can only tell you they definitely exist and that those against are vehement about their anti-technology point of view. I strongly suspect, based on the war stories I hear from other schools, that we are pretty typical of most high schools. To put this into perspective – if you are building software that appeals to somewhat experienced users then you are building for about 35% of our teachers. That means you are not appealing to 65% of them. It is that simple, and these figures may be overly optimistic.

I offer this insight into our mix of teachers because what the most involved would want in their software is quite different from what the others would prefer. And you are going to tell me you are going to create one software product that appeals to everyone equally? And serves them equally? Interesting…  (I am told it’s good to have dreams. )

I suggest we start with the most basic aspect of any technology – the names of the tools themselves. As I saw with Rome, applying very technical names to these tools may be perfectly logical for the engineers and for those who are very well versed in the technology but even those of us who consider ourselves immersed in this digital world do not know all of these terms. How, then, will new users ever figure them out? More to the point, don’t you want to make every aspect of the technology inviting, easy to access and use? Calling a tool by a technical name is a quick way to push a new user away, while using a term from common language makes the tool more accessible and appealing. Oh – one more note – do not make the names cute. That is worse than technical – at least technical assumes we will figure it out (rightly or wrongly). Cute is just insulting. Straightforward works well, it assumes normal intelligence and is accessible to most folks.

When planning the software, think like a new user. Keep the operations simple, the result clear and the process direct and easy to use. For example – explaining how to adjust, add or subtract keyframes will not make a new user happy – too many concepts at work here, and way too much to know right from the get go. Instead, think…   the story opens with ______; then this happens_____, then this ______. Finally, it ends when this happens ______________. End of story. The sounds will be _____, and so on until its built. Make it simple. All of that will work wonders for the teachers and for any users in fact, that want as close to drag-and –drop story telling as possible. Now – to add an underlying power to this software, you would need to make the resulting timeline fully accessible to those of us who play with such things… but not up front. Tell us how to lift the hood, so to speak, so we can access these details. I liken the whole thing to operating a car. Most folks do not want to know the details. They want the car to start, go and stop easily with simple instructions, not complex technical explanations and controls. Assume that the new users know virtually nothing and want to know only a bit more in order to make it work, at least in the beginning.

Now – if you are able to create software that works like this, go one step further – make it so it runs on old and new systems equally. Our school is running Windows XP on a variety of machines. The old machines have slow processors and about 512 Mb of RAM. The new machines also run XP and have 1 Gb of RAM. Our best machines in the school have fairly fast processors and 2 Gb of RAM… and nowhere are there any signs that point to better machines running Windows 7. Having said that, I know there are schools running brand new computers with tons of RAM and Windows 7… makes it quite a challenge, doesn’t it? We are never on the same page digitally, and you must assume the worst scenario possible. That is our reality and since there are no programs anywhere that are stepping forward with the billions of dollars necessary to not only equip schools with better computers but to also maintain those labs at that level indefinitely, this situation is not about to improve. I suppose you could go one step further and add that certain governments have education budgets on their radar screens – they consider them excellent sources of revenue. How they manage to also sleep at night is quite beyond my comprehension. I always thought that it was society’s job to invest in its own future, but apparently I was wrong on that point.

So – building new software for touch-pad technology? Great – schools may have that by 2020… if all goes well. Schools, which should be so much closer to the cutting edge of technology, are still fighting the belief that buying good computers is a luxury, not a necessity. And you want to create software that serves all educators equally? As is said at the outset, it’s good to dream. Therein lies all of our hopes for the future.

The picture shows us looking down – is that where we are headed, or is that where we have come from? I prefer the latter – you?

2:29 PM Permalink
February 3, 2011

University of Denver Students Participate in Global Game Jam 2011


X-Defender: Gameplay

The 2011 Global Game Jam took place January 28th through the 30th; a single 48 hour period in which teams would have to come up with and develop a game using the platform of their choosing.

48 hours, 44 countries, 170 locations, 6500 participants, almost 1500 games, one weekend, one theme (“Extinction”).

At the University of Denver, students David Fogle, Daniel Kjellerson, and Stephen Rice formed one such team in an attempt to develop a game using the Adobe Flash Platform. The three students are all dual majors studying in the Animation and Game Development and Digital Media Studies programs at DU. The idea for their game is an interesting concept as it immediately appears to be a regular 2D shooter, but is actually a little more complex than that… if you start shooting at the approaching aliens out the gate, they will retaliate- but if you choose not to start a fight, a peaceful outcome will occur.

Why Flash?

Taking into consideration the rich visual history behind Flash, the ubiquity of the platform, and some prior ActionScript experience, the team decided that the Flash Platform would be a good choice for their project, X-Defender.

X-Defender: ActionScript Class

X-Defender: ActionScript Class

“We participated in the Global Game Jam in order to further develop and practice our game development skills in an amazing environment. We found ourselves using ActionScript and Flash due to our prior experience as well its accessibility and ability to meet our needs.”

The two classes that were most influential in their decision had been Topics: Introduction to Game Design which is focused on game development theory and creation, and Programming for Play which deals with game and toy development which is taught using ActionScript as the development language.

Software used by the team included Flash Professional, FlashDevelop, Photoshop, SumoPaint, and Acid for sound composition.


All of the games created during Global Game Jam are in various states of completion due to the rushed nature of the competition. X Defender though, is actually playable with animated cut scenes, full player control, enemy attack patterns, a boss battle, and background score.

It is certainly a testament to rapid game development enabled by the Flash Platform, and is a stand-out project from a conceptual standpoint as well.

X Defender : Cut Scene

X-Defender: Cut Scene

Meet the Students

David Fogle:
Designer, In-Game Artist, Programmer, Music Development

Daniel Kjellerson:
Concept Artist, Cutscene Artist, Code Consultant

Stephen Rice:
Designer, Programmer

The University of Denver team was coordinated by Rafael Fajardo.


3:00 PM Permalink
December 22, 2010

Finding the Voices Amongst the Noise

Welcome to my grade ten communications technology class. They are pure energy, talking and thinking and creating like a hive of loud, busy, bees. While grade nines may have invented “sociable” it took the grade tens to evolve it into a higher art form and they are continually polishing the concept. If you were to be a fly on the wall on any given day then you’d say, there is so much noise. And that is how it felt to me for the longest time, until they taught me otherwise.
Their project was a digital poster to be created in Photoshop Elements 8.0, to appear on our classroom TV’s (every class in our school has a 25” TV hung from the ceiling – we use them for our daily announcements and for school broadcasts). Our school was supporting the Toys for Tots campaign and it needed more publicity so I thought these posters would work well as a purposeful and quick end-of-term project. What I did not expect was how different their responses would be.
One created a design that was so simple and yet, so articulate and I was not prepared for that. Her design was in stark contrast to the other works that used every Christmas colour and seasonal font imaginable. It turns out she is also a wonderful singer, but that only came up because she suddenly, quietly, started singing in class. I would have never otherwise known. Another wanted more powerful colours – we explored the possibilities of layer blends together and she was delighted – that poster is still in progress but looking very promising (so much for deadlines!). Yet another was taken by the idea that there were students whose parents could not even afford food, let alone gifts and treats. How, in our school, could this happen? Very easily, as it happens, because we are a diverse community with many people in every demographic, including poverty. I am not sure she will ever finish her poster. I think her “poster” is still being formed inside her mind – a newly expanded and more aware mind than the one she had before. These are all voices being formed amidst the noise.
At our end of term Christmas concert I got to see that some of my grade 11 students are also well practiced musicians. Some may be struggling with Flash but when they are playing their instruments they sound fabulous and proud. I am so glad I got to see this other side of them. Their work in Flash made me think of a musician still learning the fingering for an instrument – initially very mechanical and not at all musical but later – fluid and intuitive. First we learn the basics – their voices will follow soon after and their “music” will flow from there. Once again, individual voices appear from amongst the noise of my classes.
It was meet-the-creature night (parent teacher interview night) and my interviews were done. I was chatting with another teacher when a couple came in and asked if anyone knew where they could find – me. It turned out they were the parents of a girl I was helping with her photography, and they wanted to express their appreciation for everything I had done. But – there was more. Mom was very concerned about how her daughter was going to earn a living as a freelance photographer. Her daughter has already found her voice – it is photography. We all know how important it is to her and while mom does not want to get in the way of her daughter’s dreams she also wants to be sure her daughter will be safe and secure. We talked about the realities of life as a photographer and faced the reality that there were no guarantees. At the end of the conversation she seemed better with it all. We’ll talk again. I will talk and work with her daughter and her daughter’s voice will continue to grow. Another voice will emerge from the din and the noise.
It is the end of the day and I am sitting alone in my lab surrounded by 30 very quiet, very peaceful computers. Everyone has gone for the Christmas break. The silence is wonderful, but strangely out of place. I miss their noise. As we pause for Christmas I hope you love the silence but also love the noise and all of the voices it contains. May they grow and learn and prosper.

3:01 AM Permalink
May 4, 2010

Does Data Based Decision making ignore Qualitative Research?

There is a strong push in educational administration to use data driven decision making. On the surface, it looks to be a very sound concept. What are the test scores, what subsections are strongest, what needs to be improved? In the test driven educational environment, it is difficult to argue with those priorities.
Yet as educators, we know there are always two faces to tests. There are the hard scores, ideally (But not always – see Texas ) based on non-politicized, well researched questions, and there is the story of the individual students, some of whom make heroic gains while struggling against incredibly difficult home lives to make substantial gains.
We have always known about this in education, and consequently, research has branched into two widely respected fields, quantitative research, (by the numbers) and qualitative research (by the case, or individual). My concern and the concern of many is that we have gone too far to the side of numerical analysis, and over reliance on test scores, and have ignored the qualitative aspects.
So why write about this in an Adobe blog? Because Adobe provides a tremendous amount of qualitative support options for education. Acrobat’s ePortfolio capabilities provide educators a chance to look in-depth at what students are doing, how they are doing it, and how they reflect upon that process. While it is not the only tool around for doing this, it is certainly an effective one.
When looking at the Adobe product line, there are many, many tools that assist in the achievement of higher order thinking skills, and 21st century skills and few that contribute to quantitative analysis. This is because it is harder to measure higher order thinking quantitatively, not because of any lack in the toolset. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the new digital divide emerging, one where rich kids go to school to learn how to tell the computer what to do, and to create, and one where poor kids go to school, and learn how to take orders from the computer, and how to do worksheets in a computer.
What experiences would you like your child to have? What products have they produced this school year?

8:09 AM Permalink
December 10, 2009

What’s Your Mobile Strategy?

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to a media distribution vendor who posed the question “Does your University have a mobile strategy?” Absolutely we do- at least my group of developers does. We’ve had the same strategy for a number of years now and that strategy is to hold and observe. This strategy will be modified slightly with the advent of Flash Player 10.1 for mobile devices next year to one of active, holistic, cross-platform development.
The vendor in question was visiting to inform us of their specialized video capture and delivery solution. This solution is heavily tied to the iPhone and Apple’s set of hardware and software tools. While this may be appealing to those students and faculty with iPhones and iPod Touches, the emergence of a number of Android-powered mobile devices deserves some real consideration, and the Windows Mobile, RIM, and Palm devices are nothing to dismiss either. If you target the iPhone today, you are greatly restricting the use of your application to one device out of many (which may be perfectly okay for some apps). I’d prefer to write my applications for the widest number of platforms and devices available since this expands the userbase and does not exclude anyone from using the tools I’ve worked hard to create. In a university setting which encourages open exploration of platforms, you need to remain as open and accessible as possible. The Adobe Flash Platform fulfills all of these needs in a platform-agnostic manner.
All major mobile platforms have their own version of an “app store” or “market” in which applications are developed and targeted for that specific platform. But what of current browser-based applications in use by students and faculty? If they are built upon the Flash Platform (as many are) then they have been effectively cut off from use on almost all mobile devices since, as of today, Flash Player is not widely available for mobile. HTML-based mobile apps may be one solution, but their capabilities are restrictive, and you must deal with a great number of cross-browser issues. Today- there is no good solution for this range of applications but to design them with mobile in mind… and wait cautiously for something better to come along.
At the University of Denver, we have a mature media delivery ecosystem (CourseMedia™) that absolutely requires Flash and AIR for even the most simple usage. Modern web browsers on mobile devices do a great job at rendering HTML-based web apps exactly as they appear on desktop and laptop computers… almost. The most sought-after missing piece of the puzzle is the Flash Player. With no Flash on these devices, web content delivery is severely restricted. There are platform-specific apps for audio and video delivery alternatives through popular services such as YouTube, but what of the plethora of applications that go beyond the simple viewing of video content? As things currently stand- there is no solution!
We are very excited about the upcoming Flash Player 10.1 release as this means that users will effectively be able to use the full toolset we’ve created to manage, explore, and display rich media objects on a wide array of mobile devices. If we do find the need to target Apple iPhone down the road, we can use the same Adobe toolset to compile apps specifically for that set of devices. While this is not ideal in the case of Apple (everyone I talk to desperately wants true Flash on iPhone), the fact that we will soon be able to “write once, deploy anywhere” is simply an awesome thought to ponder.
So what would be a likely scenario as Flash Player is released for mobile in terms of university usage? I envision faculty preparing media arrangements on their mobile devices while riding public transit with full video editing and annotation capabilities over their provider network. I can see students, later that day accessing this same content in a park or coffee house while studying for an exam that will utilize the same ecosystem through an AIR-based hardware projection system in an upcoming lecture. At first, we developers will not necessarily need to make many changes to the tools that currently exist, users will simply be interacting with mobile devices to do their work instead of sitting at a workstation. As time passes and needs arise, we will be able to modify our tools to better suit this approaching reality and create new tools specifically for these devices. As the hardware becomes more powerful and the Flash Platform itself evolves in the coming years, there will exist truly great opportunities that forward-thinking universities and corporations would be foolish not to embrace.
Our mobile strategy at the University of Denver CTL is strongly tied with the Adobe Flash Platform and the future of Flash on such devices is especially bright as 2009 draws to a close. Welcome, 2010 and Flash Player 10.1!
Open Screen Project
Flash Player 10.1
Adobe Flash Professional CS5
Mobile Framework ‘Slider’

9:00 PM Permalink
November 17, 2009

Integrated Technology Curricula Drive Student Retention and Success

I recently heard a colleague liken the experience of being a student in school today to that of someone riding in an airplane: you have to turn off your phone, unplug everything you care about, and stare straight ahead for hours. In an age when the economy–and many student interactions–are increasingly digital, our schools are becoming disconnected from the world our students know and falling behind in preparing students for the workforce. For many students, the result is that they are simply unbuckling their seat belts and walking off the aircraft.
Today’s dropout rates are staggering. A recent study published by America’s Promise Alliance cited that only 53% of youth in the 50 largest U.S. cities graduate from high school on time. It is a devastating statistic that–as administrators of schools large and small know all too well–seriously impacts youth and society in general. It also has major effects on districts, as they experience continued funding cuts because fewer students are attending their schools.
A study done by researchers at Texas A&M University found that Texas school districts could lose up to $1.1 billion in state funding because of declining enrollments. At a district level, these impacts can be severe. For example, after 104 students dropped out of the graduating class of 2007, the Longview Independent School District in Texas lost approximately $558,000 in state funding. Like the Texas schools, districts across the U.S. are actively taking on this problem.
“One of the biggest challenges today is keeping students in school,” says Jana Hambruch, project director at the School District of Lee County in Florida. “Discussions about improving education or funding opportunities are essential, but they mean nothing to a student who drops out. We need to keep students engaged and devise strategies that make learning more meaningful and relevant to them.”
Building on student interests
In the report, “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts,” researchers found that 47 percent of students who dropped out said they did so primarily because they felt their classes were not interesting. Other reasons students gave for leaving school were that they thought their classes had no connection to skills or activities they would need after graduation.
Some of the most shocking statistics in this report were that 88% of the students had passing grades upon leaving school, and 58% dropped out with just two years or less to complete high school. The reality is that students are not flunking out. They are getting up and leaving due to disinterest, low expectations, doubts about the value of what they are learning – or a combination of all those things.
In a report released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) titled, Focus on Technology Integration in America’s Schools, it was noted that by effectively integrating technology, districts saw significant improvements in student retention, achievement and teacher quality. In high-need districts, the high school graduation rate increased as much as 14%. More than simply making school ‘exciting,’ the report notes that the use of technology has a measurable impact on student test scores in math and reading.
From this perspective, the value of effectively integrating technology into curricula is apparent. In the U.S., the availability of Race to the Top funds is currently driving even greater innovation and reforms at schools. To better engage students, district administrators are exploring new programs that enhance student outcomes and give them essential design, development, and communication skills that will serve them long after graduation. The aim is to appeal to students’ penchant for technology and desire for real-world skills by teaching them how to use the software that business and creative professionals rely on daily.
State and district leaders have been looking at technology rich programs, and in particular career focused programs to bridge the chasm between student interests, the real world and our schools.
Real returns from CTE
Success at the School District of Lee County in Florida highlights the opportunities. Several years ago, educators in Fort Myers, Florida became concerned that Lee County was not effectively reaching all of its students. They set out to create a program that would prepare high school students to excel in a society built on information and technology. “We believed that an exciting program focused on technology would entice students to stay in school,” says Hambruch. “It would also produce well-qualified graduates with skills to pursue high-paying technical careers.”
To help achieve its goals, Lee County School District opened in 2005 the Academy for Technology Excellence (ATE) at Dunbar High School, a public magnet school in Fort Myers. ATE complements Dunbar’s Center for Math and Science and offers hands-on courses taught by IT-certified instructors. Teachers and students can complete Microsoft software certifications, as well as entry-level and advanced certifications on Adobe’s industry-standard creative solutions.
“The impact of the program far exceeded our expectations,” says Hambruch. “ATE students have an enthusiasm for learning that carries over to subjects beyond technology. We’ve seen our standardized test scores increase above state and district averages, as well as an increase in our graduation rates since inception of our ATE program.” Currently, Lee County is looking to expand industry certification programs to other district high schools, and perhaps even to middle schools.
In Florida, school districts can receive $1,200 (through the Perkins Fund) for every student passing the ACA assessment. For schools, this can be a windfall, considering per student funding in some districts averages $5,000 annually. Of course, students benefit as well, coming away with skills that can translate after graduation into jobs they feel passionate about.
Taking a global view
The focus on enhancing the quality of technical education available to students can be seen around the world. Earlier this year in Australia, the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Training invested approximately $20 million dollars (Australian) in Adobe solutions. The software will be provided to more than 741,000 NSW government K-12 students and 50,000 K-12 teachers, as well as to more than 500,000 students and 10,000 of their teachers in high-quality job training programs.
The rollout of Adobe software is part of a much larger Australian government initiative called the Digital Education Revolution, which also includes providing students and teachers with laptops, expanded wireless capabilities, and additional software. The aim is to transform teaching and learning in Australia by giving students the skills to live and work in a digital world.
“NSW public schools lead the nation in providing computer resources, giving our teachers and our young people the vital skills they need to help them succeed in our IT savvy world, said NSW Premier Nathan Rees. “The combination of the laptops and the software contracts we have signed will open our classrooms up to the world. Using this software, students will be able to create videos, edit photos and make presentations for class assignments and projects.”
The efforts in NSW further enhance CTE in schools across the state, while aiding overall technology integration into everyday coursework. Students can use creative software to visually communicate and interpret complex ideas across a range of subjects. For example, students in history classes can develop interactive timelines and recreate significant historical events through dynamic, digital scenes. Or, science students can capture images of experiments, analyze details, and add visual elements to bring greater clarity to their findings.
Pathways to success
The importance of balancing student interests with proven educational approaches is more important than ever today. With so much competition for students’ attention, it makes sense to incorporate ways of learning and working that reflect their lives inside and outside of school. For educators, discussions about enhancing student creativity, strengthening problem-solving skills, or teaching students to work alone or as part of a team are nothing new. What is changing is the effectiveness of the tools available to achieve these goals.
“It’s about making education more relevant and even useful to students,” says Hambruch. “We want students to have pathways to careers they aspire to – so they are excited about what they are learning today and can see how these creative and problem-solving skills will serve them tomorrow.”
* Statistic from Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap; Prepared for America’s Promise Alliance by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.
* From “The ABCD’s of Texas Education: Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Reducing the Dropout Rate.” The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University – report commissioned by the United Ways of Texas.
* From “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts”. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By John M. Bridgeland, John J DiIulio, Jr., and Karen Burke Morison.

11:23 AM Permalink
November 12, 2009

Adobe Developer Connection – Q & A on DU Video

Last month, I participated in a phone interview with the education team at Adobe to talk about how the University of Denver is using Flash Media Server to stream both live and on-demand content across campus and out into the world. The resulting article was recently published on the Adobe Developer Connection website.
Topics covered include our CourseMedia™ system, live events, and various video uses across departments. It’s a fairly quick read and a comprehensive look at what DU is doing with media streaming using the Flash Platform.
Check it out: Q & A with Joseph Labrecque

8:54 AM Permalink
June 18, 2009

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

It’s the first day of English class. You’re sitting in the third row, near the middle, minding your own business. Your teacher hands out a contract and announces that each student, and their parent or guardian, must sign and return it. The agreement reads something like this:
“I understand that my access to pencils is dependent upon my commitment to use pencils appropriately. I understand that the purpose of pencils is educational. Specifically, I will not use pencils for any commercial purposes, to infringe on any intellectual property rights, to distribute chain letters, or to libel or defame any person. I will not attach any peripheral equipment to my pencil without school permission. I understand that should I break this agreement, my access to pencils will be revoked and disciplinary action taken.”
You immediately realize that you are already in violation and surreptitiously remove the Hello Kitty eraser head from the top of your pencil, praying that no one has noticed, and trying your best to look innocent.
Sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? But substitute the word “computer” for “pencil” and you have a reasonable facsimile of the acceptable use contracts routinely distributed in classrooms from coast to coast.
Responsible use documents began appearing back in the mid-90’s, when it became apparent that the World Wide Web was becoming a permanent fixture in the classroom. It seemed prudent to administrators, school attorneys, and educators to set some perimeters for this learning tool. Then they installed filters on school networks to contain the information available on school sites (Although resourceful students quickly learn how to navigate around them—Last month, I witnessed a fourth grader circumvent a district filter by deftly redirecting his search through instead of google. us.) Inadvertently, those perimeters fueled the fear for many classroom teachers. They proceeded with caution. A couple of years ago, the National School Board Association released a report proposing that, perhaps, fears of the Internet use in school were overblown.
Even though it’s decidedly uncool to admit it, there still lingers a fear factor when it comes to computer use in schools, generated in part by the long list of don’ts, administrative cautions about inappropriate sites, lurking strangers, our litigious society, and other calamities astir when students access the Internet in school. Those cautionary tales are often compounded by the teacher’s self perceived lack of “tech savvy.” The fears simply outweigh the benefits for some educators. I encountered this recently, while working with faculty members and students in a large middle school. “I’m still afraid of the Internet,” confided one teacher. “I don’t want to be responsible for all of the things that can go wrong when students are unleashed. I know I can’t watch them all every minute.” I pointed out that students are using the Internet anyway. A recent study in the UK indicates that students are averaging a whopping 31 hours a week on the Internet, mostly for socialization and entertainment. The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Youth Project details how students learn and interact through the World Wide Web. Other teachers pass the buck. “If my kids need to use the Internet, I send them to the media center and let the media specialist deal with it,” another teacher told me.” That’s part of her job.”
That fear is certainly not confined to the United States. A quick Google search reveals that teachers in the UK are struggling with the same issues “afraid of technology, while underestimating the impact of students’ experience in technology outside school” while the Director of Education in Saudi Arabia is implementing teacher training programs designed to “break the technological fear barrier.” There’s even a guy on the Internet who promises to eliminate fear of computers by rerouting your bioenergy system—at a thousand dollars a pop.
There is a less expensive solution available.
It’s occurred to a number of folks that, if our students are spending massive amounts of time on the Internet anyway, perhaps we are all better off embracing the truth of that, and teaching them how to become responsible digital citizens. Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey quantified and elaborated on the concept of digital citizenship by developing and describing nine themes of effective digital citizenship. These educators from Kansas State University’s College of Education spell it out plainly: Kids are not simply not going to become responsible and thoughtful users of technology unless we teach them how to be. ISTE supports this with a student NET standard cultivating responsible digital citizenship. And the new NAEP standards coming down the pike for 2012 remind educators that the time to take that leap is now.
There are a number of excellent sites that provide balanced information and training for educators and administrators to pass on to students. One of my favorites comes out of the UK. Digizen points out that digital citizenship “isn’t just about recognizing and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy – using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same.” The site provides a range of information, ideas, and resources on just how to develop that in your home and classroom. Another excellent resource, Digital Citizenship, builds on Ribble and Bailey’s nine themes of digital citizenship education and pairs them with helpful links. The United State government developed a kid friendly site on cyberethics. Netsmartz provides games, activities, and videos that promote cybersafety. Students themselves are getting in on the act: Minor Elementary School in Lilburn, Georgia has developed a webquest on “safe surfing”.
Like any true change, digital citizenship is a learned and gradual process. It begins with awareness, follows with education, application, and lots of practice, and culminates in fluent use, evidenced by the choices that students make about the ways they access and use technology.
Are Internet safety issues real? Of course. Responsible teachers and parents must work together to find the delicate balance between censorship and information, common sense and fear. Surprisingly, the “what ifs” we fear most—online predators, stalking strangers, explicit sites—take a backseat to the single greatest Internet threat facing students today. Art Wolinsky, of Wired Kids, (who, by the way, originally came up with the clever substitute-pencil-for-computer illustration at the top of this blog) talked to me recently about Internet safety. “The greatest threat to students on the Internet is cyberbullying, “he said. He went on to tell me that a whopping 85 percent of students reported either participating or being the victim of online bullying. “It is need for education on all fronts. It is education, and intervention, that is most needed, and will do the most good.”

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