The 2012 ‘Backpack List’

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A Collaborative Review with @acmontgomery | @digital_2_print | @courtsinsession | @todompol07

There is a famous rap lyric that a ‘not so shy’ group member sang unashamedly when we came together to debate, collaborate and create the most impressive list of online educational tools that will help serve classroom needs going forward…

Rob the jewelry store and tell em make me a grill…”  well unlike our good friend Nelly we robbed the Internet to help foster progressive educational ideas and concepts:

Behold… the 2012 ‘Backpack List’ – Happy Investigating!

#1 Discovery Educator Network
Following trend that encourages network collaboration to further solve global challenging issues, like those effecting education, the Discovery channel’s interactive community for teachers, parents, students generates diverse content to help both inside and outside the classroom.

#2 Zotero
Research papers begin long before one hits the University scene but thanks to this program – this site helps students exchange/store/annotate online resources.

#3 ABCya.com
Online gaming & app resource which provides entertaining ways to learn elementary mathematics; check the Tech & Learning magazine article.

#4 ASSIST app
Our list would simply not be complete without giving a local Texas shout out to the innovative company All In Learning; if you’ve seen the classroom where students use a ‘clickr’ to take tests?  Oh ya – that’s just one headline to many these guys claim ownership to.

#5 Edmodo
Coming hot off the press and conference proceedings at SXSWedu, CEO Nic Borg sets the bar to help build a community model which helps leverage social media advantages and elevate educations’s societal role.

#6 Khan Academy
Think that a school system can’t be built on video alone?  Think again – because to date Khan Academy has delivered 134,600,469 video lessons.  Learn at your leisure – now that’s an interesting idea.

#7 Scratch
Built by the friendly MIT Think Tank folks, this interactive tool helps kiddos between 8 and 12 learn to code.

#8 LiveMocha
Online conversation stands to require a certain familiarity as technology advances and expands the global village; stop by this net-based community to learn one (or more) of the world’s 38 more common languages and offer your own expertise.

#9 USATodayCollege.com
In a way this Twitter feed serves as the last frontier / opening chapter to the transition which moves a student from primary to higher education; it’s an unnerving time but USA Today hopes that conversing about this adjustment will help.

#10 TEDEd
This extensive online lecture series follows along the simple premise and quote these truly are ‘Lessons worth Sharing’.

If there are any honorable mentions or other neat-o tech tools which help education – please feel free to share and send links!


Rydell HS: Education as a Village

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Amanda Montgomery || @acmontgomery

“Journalism has been formed by the convergence of many miscellaneous elements over several centuries and the variety of practices and the complexity of relationships between new writers and the publications they wrote for… even at this early point were manifest in the range of different names by which they and their output were described: authors, curranters, mercurists, newsmen, newsmongers, diurnalists, gazeteers, and (eventually) journalists.”  – Martin Conboy
pg 23 from Journalism: A Critical History

Are you wondering if I’m going to pull a ‘IMDb Trivia’ question and ask what epic early 70s movie featured the above high school in its opening musical number?  Not exactly, but if you’re curious it’s acclaimed Rydell High School (Venice Beach, CA) selected to host Grease 2’s filming.

Now on to a more academic discussion; Let’s consider the community cast surrounding Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta, the fellow Pink Ladies, T Birds, Rydell Highers and of course the ever entertaining faculty who must tolerate/discipline the bevy of ensuing semester shenanigans, staged motorcycle rallies, and football season: Mr. Stuart, Miss Mason, Coach Calhoun, the charming Principal McGee.  Martin Conboy’s thoughts describing how modern journalism’s history reflects an ongoing evolution that continues to blend both writer roles and publication platforms, certainly mirrors a similar pattern when looking at the inner operations effecting modern educational institutions.  The proverbial idea rings true toward both knowledge institutions: It takes a village... and a diverse one at that.

Looking beyond the obvious idea that cooperation, common experience, and connectivity help set the foundations so that such institutions experience success, Conboy also hints that it’s paramount to advocate diversity/fluid communication between niche community facets so that the end result offers broader perspective, increased creativity, and stronger performance.  Although a newsroom context must promote dialogue between advertisers, reporters, editors, and publishers, likewise a classroom context must meld a conversation between principal, superintendent, parent, faculty, administrators, and students.  A combination requiring time, technological advances, developing relationships, and continuing to review operational practices – as Conboy so eloquently points out- will only solidify the strong foundation pertaining to journalism, but also to education.

So if the modern education litmus success test measures how well educational institutions blend the infinite range of resources, personalities, and communication between one another then its possibly fair to offer that the (ironically sing-song) cast from the hit TV series Glee might be just the type of K12 environment parents vote to build locally.  Again, the recurring trend stands paramount- diversity brought together to learn, debate, heck even sing when the mood so strikes the classroom.  Upon striving to understand Conboy’s above observations and relate them to how a 21st century classroom works, try imagining a newsroom, science lab, museum gallery or film set void everything except one person running the show.  Certainly possible – but not at all practical; when an innovative domain (schools, museums, the arts, etc) loose the expansive, colorful, misfit cast of characters who each contribute to the holistic narrative- collaboration amongst the community falls away leaving only a stagnant, archaic structure.

Despite the challenges facing today’s educational institutions, it’s quite fortunate that digital media continues to open never-before engaging opportunities and ways to generate discussion between participants both inside and outside the classroom.  Elearning trends such as class blogs, school Facebook Fan Pages, Teacher Twitter accounts reveal that communication between a school’s community doesn’t necessarily need to occur between 1st and 8th period.  Arguably when one sets out to pursue 21st century knowledge, they’ll need the ability to engage openly.. and also possibly sing and dance.

The Problem with Ownership

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The core trouble with intellectual property discussed in both the documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto and the book Information Feudalism is assumption that ideas can be owned. Intellectual property ideas must have a sole proprietor, otherwise, the profit could not be funneled so directly. As Drahos and Braithwaite suggest, “knowledge is not only power. It is also the source of profits in modern global markets.” (39) Large corporations rely on intellectual property revenue so they have lobbied aggressively for laws that respect and enforce their intellectual property. They have also launched campaigns to “reeducate” the public on the seriousness of intellectual property in the digital age. These campaigns attempt to persuade through “romantic notions of individual authorship and inventorship,” (16) but ultimately fall flat when carried to their absurd, but ultimate conclusions. For example, searching out and prosecuting a few downloaders of copyrighted material out of the millions that download things everyday.

In order for ideas to be profitable for corporations or individuals, ideas must be owned. This ownership truncates the history of inspiration that came before it. The fervor to patent ideas, lest they prove to be profitable in the future stifles innovations that could be taking place now. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson outlines the environmental conditions most suited for innovation. Not surprisingly, the easy exchange of ideas is a key factor.
By asserted that ideas, hunches, and inklings can be owned, we are creating an anemic environment for innovation. Education is (or at least should be) designed to breed innovation because new ideas are the driving force of our economy. However, intellectual property walls erect barriers rather than build bridges to new ideas. If we continue to patent hunches, we may find, as Brett Gaylor suggests in his film, the cure for cancer is hidden behind patents.

Turn And Face the Digital Changes

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“Authorities have long filtered and organized information for us, protecting us from what isn’t worth our time and helping us find what we need to give our beliefs a sturdy foundation. But with the miscellaneous, it’s all available to us, unfiltered,” (pg. 132).

It has become evident that the future of information retrieval is changing at a rapid pace. No longer do scholars have to sift through the endless isles of books and Encyclopedias to find what beetle species with a red shell resides in Costa Rica. Why bother owning a library card when you can have Wi-Fi? That’s what society and David Weinberger have concluded about our new digital universe. It can be found online and organized in a cost efficient and productive way.

So what then is to become of our local libraries, pillars of American society since the 1800s? Weinberger expresses brief concern when he says that, “miscellanizing of information endangers some of our most well-established institutions,” (pg. 134). That’s certainly the belief of Robert McHenry, ex-editor in chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, when he railed against online informational site Wikipedia. Bottom line, they simply cannot be relied upon. The argument continues comparing the expert librarians and researchers who sift through and organize material that is brought to, say the Library of Congress versus the average joe who thought he/she knew a thing or two about the Spanish Inquisition and thought it would be cool to share it with everyone else. Wikipedia has since become a little wiser and made restrictions, like no longer allowing anonymous users to initiate a new article. However, there is hope with these new digital-pedias. It lies in the contributor. Of course sites like Probert, Infoplease, Wikipedia, and Pakistanpaedia (that’s facts all about Pakistan), still have an obligation to act responsibly online and oversee every entry made. It’s the contributor, though, who now has the knowledge and ability to contribute. “Knowledge-its content and its organization- is becoming a social act,” (pg. 133). It is our ability to have some sort of control in the information we consume that makes the miscellaneous so unique and popular.


Ok, so it’s a work in progress, introducing a completely new way of researching digitally. It may remain inexplicable to some for a while. Another question that should be asked though is what happens to the future youth who rely tremendously on what the Internet tells them? Will it become the job of teachers to warn students of the false and incorrect information that lurks online? Could you image a poster hung in classrooms containing the “dos and don’ts” of online research. When I was a kiddo and assigned a research assignment, there were textbooks that provided that information and no one would dare question its authenticity- it was written by a credible scholar in that particular field. My point is, when we introduce a profoundly new method that could replace a traditional method, we must also then prepare for what changes will have to be made to accommodate it.

By. Sarah Crowe

Ubiquitous Computing and the Classroom

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“Ubiquitous computing is an attempt to reform reality by making technological objects conform to human needs and wishes…” (218)

Blackboard and other platforms like it are technological systems that instead of creating a new space of interaction, mimic and conform to the previous mode of remediation. They are a literal translations of our needs into the digital. Blackboard, Elearning, RenWeb and etc. ape the older constructions of grade books and classroom. The speed and efficiency at which the information is disseminated on such virtual platforms increases, but has that remediation also brought the object to greater immediacy and transparency? Bolter and Grusin describe the ideas about ubiquitous computing that prevailed at the dawn of the digital world. For The Jetsons, daily tasks such as showering and dressing were not transformed, but rather supplanted by technology. In their world, new media reformed reality by mimicking the old. This ubiquitous computing, the authors argue, is the opposite of virtual reality. A wired classroom does not transcend the traditional classroom, but solidly ground its students in the technology used within it. The authors describe a classroom experiment (though 11 years later this “experiment” would seem to be the norm) in which the teacher’s lecture is recorded digitally, the information written and displayed in class is on a screen, and all the students communicate instantaneously with each other and the teacher through their personal computing devices.

Such ubiquitous computing is currently used in many educational setting. Online classrooms are constructed around the traditional classroom setting. Teachers write on “virtual” blackboards and interact with students via message boards in instant messaging. Card catalogs in libraries are replaced by virtual card catalogs. The belief that this shift from analog to digital would improve the quality and immediacy of education was strong at the end of the 20th century. During the 1990’s, Clinton tried to gain support for a funding initiative that would place a computer in every classroom. However, that simply the greater presence of a technology would increase that technology’s efficacy is naive.

I believe Bolter and Grusin posit that blindly remediating information systems is treacherous. They would agree with Benjamin and ask that as we remediate, we consider the impact of that new form of remediation on the media object itself. When a lecture is remediated into a podcast, what has changed? We know the immediacy of remediated educational objects has expanded their availability to those who perhaps could not attain them before, but what else? The remediated map, in the form of Google Earth, magnifies the actuality of the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls to students but how should it be used in a Geography lesson? The trouble with ubiquitous computing is that we use technological objects as band-aids, rather then lenses to more clearly see our needs and wishes. The remediation of educational objects should focus on the usage within its learning structure and therefore, hopefully spark a remediation of the structure itself.

Courtney Hernandez

Imagine Taking Art Class with Marla Olmstead…

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Amanda Montgomery || @acmontgomery

“Digital Art shares something with both photography and painting…and at the same time provides [the artist] with an opportunity to redefine [their] cultural status…”  p 140 ; Remediation by Richard Grusin and Jay David Bolter

Today’s kindergartener falls incredibly vulnerable to momentous pressure when it comes to Art Class, because gone are the days of care-free finger painting, macaroni glitter and construction paper shapes.  Incoming elementary schoolers who will never know the joy associated with a creative, control free art period have pint-sized prodigy Marla Olmstead (or rather Marla’s parents) to thank for the shifting tensions related to the larger ‘Refrigerator Art’ market and its alway-fluctuating appraisal values.

Moreover, if you’re a parent whose seen the accompanying documentary entitled My Kid Could Paint That, (directed by film maker Amir Bar-Lev) then you’ve probably also seriously considered uprooting the family to the charming town of Binghamton, NY…

Courtesy of IMDB.com

In their collaborative work Remediation, authors Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin review how manipulative graphic technologies such as photography and Photoshop, fuse/remediate conceptually into a new, unprecedented medium termed ‘digital art’ which at the same time produces a yet uncharted buying trend.  And since its conception, the ‘Digital Art’ movement stands fraught with anxieties toward how it will be formally received by critics, collectors, and curators – to name just a few judging parties.Now introduce the aspiring artist/family, Marla Olmstead and company.  When considering the astronomic media frenzy that’s surrounding this particular child’s creative streak and their artistic future — one might question how her artistic techniques will change alongside forthcoming technological advancements?  But perhaps even more importantly, one might also consider how will the subject matter she approaches over time shift alongside her maturity as an individual?

Without a doubt, Marla Olmstead’s inaugural leap into the ‘Sustaining Artist’ role makes for an rather interesting educational case study.  Grusin and Bolter discuss at length how digital art endeavors merge revered, traditional methods into new, unconventional canvases but the narrative message remains allegorically/figuratively consistent.  Therefore over the next several decades, it’s speculative but exciting to anticipate how teachers, experiences, and society will effect the Olmstead legacy that in turn will impact the next generation art student and so on.  Marla’s advantage compared to Gaudi?  Marla began at age 4- her paintings currently appraise at $25,000 plus ; Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is 80 years down the line yet incomplete.

Courtesy of Digitalwish.com

Although the ‘Olmstead Outrage’ places signifigant focus on the artist personality, countless unnamed graphic designers have earned fame, fortune and patronage by ‘learning while doing’ with such programs like MacPaint, Kid Pix, etc.  Parental encouragement/pressure stands secondary to an untainted curious and imaginative behavior every child carries when setting out to explore unknown lands and tasks.  True, an adventurous spirit and well developed software programs can lead any child to discover their hidden aesthetic talents, but only a historic education, guiding instruction, and opportunities to excel professionally will solidify a successful, long term artistic career.  Beyond creating ‘mere art’ any true artist must know their governing purpose intrinsically – and that is an idea which congeals over time.

Learning Virtually

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While I was reading this week’s assigned reading, I had an epiphany. It came shortly after reading Howard Rheingold’s claim that, “at the heart of VR [virtual reality] is an experience- the experience of being in a virtual world or remote location,” (pg. 22).

Now I know what your thinking, “there’s no way robots will be teaching my children!” I am not suggesting that we do the whole AI thing and remove teachers from the classrooms. There wont be a Rosie in the classroom like there was at The Jetson household. Rather, I feel extraordinary learning experiences can be made with the help of this new media we call virtual reality.

Back in high school, and really throughout all of my academia years, we (the students) obtained our knowledge of different subjects through various media. The most well known way was through a book. Like books, virtual reality exists from a combination of past media. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin discussed a process in the text they called “remediation.” Remediation is used to describe how new media are making progress by collaborating with more traditional media genres. Virtual reality for example, is a remediation of film, television, photography, and print. Interestingly enough, at one point or another, scholars will obtain some kind of informational knowledge through one if not all of these media.

Virtual reality in the classroom could be the answer for the permanently bored student. For a student, the ability to “authentically” experience what they are learning will help keep the concepts in their stored memory. The same concept has been said of physically writing notes by hand as opposed to via computer, for an example.

Jaron Lanier, a developer for virtual reality systems, suggested that in virtual reality, “you can visit the world of the dinosaur, then become a Tyrannosaurus. Not only can you see DNA, you can experience what it’s like to be a molecule,” (pg. 22). How cool would it be to go visit the Taj Mahal in 2nd period and then see what lung cancer looks like in 5th period? 3D cinema has been jabbing at this concept for the last few years. And it’s beginning to catch on. Society enjoys being able to experience, if you will, what they are viewing. Having the feeling they are literally standing with Harry Potter in Hogwarts or fighting against the Imperial Forces in Star Wars is the goal of 3D film. Virtual reality as well as other digital technologies, are trying to create the sense of transparency between the user and the medium in order to create the feeling that the user is actually there. Making these technologies transparent is an aide in the virtual experience. Military personnel have for a while now been using VR technology in an effort to prepare pilots and foot soldiers for their upcoming deployments. They also use it in addition to a simulator to teach tank drivers how to deal with claustrophobia and vehicular warfare. What brings VR to life is this idea that it is so realistic, so tangible, your not focused that much on the real/physical world.

Virtual reality could become the next best teachers aide… Well, it was just an idea.

By. Sarah Crowe

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