Virtual Reality Is Amazing & a Little Bit Scary

My virtual reality head-gear.

Many years ago, at a conference on the campus of Virginia Tech, I entered a virtual reality (VR) area — I think it was  called “the cave” —  with all sorts of things going on around me. I think I was expecting the holodeck from Star Trek, where they went through a door and suddenly found themselves on vacation in a beautiful and peaceful place (check out what Virginia Tech’s video that describes virtual reality and the holodeck). Instead during my first foray into VR I wore big goggles, and I got a bit dizzy. So I’ve been a bit hesitant to try again.

This past week I gave virtual reality another try, this time at the Newseum VR Lab in Washington, DC. I was handed a pair of goggles, put them on, and followed the instructions to start the show. Continue reading

Looking into Our Kids’ Futures: Will Social Media Be There?

If you missed this set of essays, Is Facebook a Fad? Will Our Children Tweet?, published in the June 19, 2012, New York Times, take some time to read these short pieces on social media and contemporary life.

As a part of a regular Times’ feature, Room for Debate opinion, readers can learn what six knowledgeable media commentators think about the always evolving digital world.

For instance, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle describes the tendency of social media users to “hide” from one another, substituting quick text nuggets for what used to be face-to-face interaction. Morra Aarons Mele, a digital manager and founder of Women Online, acknowledges the communication downsides, but says that social media and the digital professional work it has created make the world more egalitarian.           Continue reading

Beloit College 2016 Mindset List: How Fast Life Changes

The new Beloit College 2016 Mindset List — a great start-of-the-school-year  conversation piece for adults — is out.

Watch a video about the list.

At the beginning of each academic year several faculty members at Beloit compile a list to demonstrate how students in the entering freshman college class experience life, learning, and culture differently from many of the adults they know. Some items are silly, others compare digital kids with their parents’ generation; some I don’t understand; and others I can fit into a bit of context, but they are mostly unfamiliar to me.

The list’s mission is to remind educators and parents that it takes energy and openness to new literacies to understand how dramatically the “growing-up” and learning processes change over time (and many of these have nothing to do with digital life). 

Every fall I look forward to the release of this list, which Beloit releases just before the start of the school year. I’ve included a few of my favorites from this year.          Continue reading

Staying Power — Is there Such a Thing Anymore?

My First Palm (PDA)

I’ve been thinking a lot about staying power and about the importance of understanding just how fast things can change in the digital world. Both are great topics for family conversations about 21st Century life.

My Current iPhone 4S

In Bye Bye BlackBerry. How Long Will Apple Last? Forbes writer Adam Thierer describes a historical pattern — digital information giants rising and eventually declining when something better, more interesting, and useful comes along.

Using Blackberry as the current example, with occasional references to Palm devices, Thierer points out that these companies are classic examples of companies, “… with a static snapshot mentality disregarding the potential for new entry and technological disruption.”

I’ve never owned a personal computer other than a Mac, so I understand a lot about rising and falling fortunes and how Apple is currently riding high. I also, fondly remember my first Palm device and how revolutionary it seemed.

Still it’s interesting to think about what new and exiting gizmos may be residing in someone’s garage, basement, hard drive — or imagination — and how revolutionary they may seem compared to the products we love right now.

Growing Connections and Leaders — Technology and Beyond

A view from the convention center.

As an educational technology faculty member attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference, I enjoy the opportunity to meet with lots of colleagues and friends. More interestingly, at these events I always come face-to-face, for the first time, with a number of people with whom I’ve previously connected via personal learning networks, LinkedInTwitter, blogs, and even via old-fashioned listservs.

While it’s always a joy to meet and greet these people, I am always aware that dozens more connected friends and colleagues are probably attending any given conference — I just haven’t met them yet. Today, in fact, I sat down at a table to eat lunch, looked at the woman across the table, noticed how familiar she looked, and realized that she and I are  Twitter followers.

It wasn’t always like this! More than 20 years ago, when I received my first email account, I desperately wanted to meet other teachers who were online.

Continue reading

Good Ed for Kids? Then Don’t Expect Online to Replace Teachers!

One of my students summed it up perfectly with this poster.

Check out the article, Why Online Learning Should Not Mean Replacing Teachers With Computers, at the MacArthur Foundation website. The post describes an article in the Nation Magazine that examines how online learning companies are manipulating the futures of our children.

I am peripherally involved with a new middle school Khan Academy project. As I’ve watched the program get started and observed the teacher combining her experienced teaching skills with the online opportunities that Khan presents, I am impressed. This dynamic classroom environment combines the best of face-to-face interaction with online learning tools, but the teacher-student connection continues, just as it always has. It’s a joy to watch children work in this setting.

What makes my colleague’s classroom so amazing is how she blends learning resources together — the activities that have always been in her classroom are now expanded with the online Khan materials. And with these additional digital materials she can more easily analyze the needs of her students, reinforce skills, and expand assignments. It’s this blend of rich teaching together with a unique online educational resource, that creates a strong educational environment in her classroom
How sad it will be if some children only have an opportunity to learn online, because the human interaction — and by this I mean the face-to-face moment-by-moment connections and not the digital communications between teacher and student — will never be completely replaced. As one of my colleagues commented recently, blended instruction (a combination of online and connections to real people) will always the easiest way to learn.

We are all living in a time of transformative cultural change. These days teaching — and learning for that matter — seem to be under fire everywhere we look — even in districts with the highest achievement levels in their states. Good digital resources present us with lots of opportunity and the potential to expand and improve the traditional classroom in infinite and exciting directions. Run-of-the-mill digital resources do very little and may, in fact, create more problems.

The bottom line?   Continue reading