Archive for the ‘Digital Literacy’ Category

10 Things Our Kids WILL Worry About Thanks to the Information Revolution

After reading this list of “10 Things our Kids will Never Worry About Thanks to the Information Revolution” from Forbes, I was inspired to remind people that technology usually creates just as many problems as it solves.  So here’s my list of the new worries created by the Information Revolution.

1. [Will never have to worry about Taking a Typing Class] They will have to worry about … Mastering multiple input methods and keeping track of which ones autocorrect which words badly.  Now you have to master typing on a keyboard, typing on a tablet device, sliding over touch-keys on a Smartphone, using a numeric-only keyboard on a cellphone, using the voice-input from Apple, using the voice-input from Google, or using the voice-input from Microsoft. Each one of these uses different AutoCorrect features and has different oddities.  That’s plenty to worry about.  One bad autocorrect could lose you a job if you’re not careful.

2. [Will never have to worry about Paying Bills by Writing Countless Checks]  They will have to worry about … Losing control of finances because it’s too easy to make impulse purchases.   When all it takes to make an impulse buy is one click on your phone, tablet, or computer, it’s pretty easy to overspend your income.  And, while $0.99 or $4.99 is a pretty inexpensive purchase, those small impulse App purchases add up pretty quickly.

3. [Will never have to worry about Buying an Expensive Set of Encylopedias] They will have to worry about …  Evaluating the Source of their Information.  I’m sure you know an educator or parent who has “banned” Wikipedia.  Now information comes from Twitter, Facebook, Internet Search, online journals, firewalled “scholarly” research journals, Wikipedia, and more.  Is it good information or bad information?  Well, now you have to make that determination too.

4. [Will never have to worry about Using a Pay Phone or Racking Up a Long Distance Bill]  They will have to worry about … Racking Up a Roaming Charge or Data Overage Bill.  The last time I roamed on my phone in Canada (for about 30 minutes), it cost me $27.  The current overage on a wifi hotspot on Sprint is $50 per GB (after you surpass 5 GB a month).   And, for the record, most phone plans DO come with a limitation on certain types of minutes, and the overages on those are NOT cheap.

5. [Will never have to worry about Having to Pay Somebody Else to Develop Photographs]  They will have worry about Managing the Storage and Rights on their Digital Photos and Videos.  Now they need to decide on their photo- and video-sharing strategy.  Where will they store their photos?  On a hard-drive only? (better have a backup system in case the computer is stolen or lost)  In the cloud? (Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Vimeo, YouTube …)  What kind of access do you want to give to your photos?  Should they be private or public? Private to specific groups or all your friends?  Do you want to copyright the photos?  If so, which copyright should you use? Oh, and did you still want hard copies of some photos? Then you’ll have to purchase and maintain a printer that is capable of printing color photos (together with proper toner or ink + special photo paper).

6. [Will never have to worry about Driving to a Store to Rent a Movie]   They will have to worry about … Violating Copyright by Accident when they Make their own Videos.  The U.S. Copyright laws have become so complex and confusing that you can accidentally violate them when you make a home movie in your living room while some copyrighted song plays on the radio in the background.  One can imagine a future when being sued for copyright infringement is an almost daily occurrence for the average person.

7. [Will never have to worry about  Buying or storing music, movies, or games on physical media.]  They will have to worry about … Being Locked in to a Single Media Device (and Format) Forever.  Kindle books won’t work on Nooks, Nook books won’t work on Kindle, and iTunes songs won’t play on Android.  Once you make your choice of digital format for books, music, and note-taking, you are either locking yourself in forever, or facing a very expensive switch to a new provider at some point.  The choice of media network not only locks you in to a format, but might lock you out of a sharing network with some of your friends.

8. [Will never have to worry about Having to Endlessly Search to Find Unique Content.]  They will have to worry about … Managing the flow from the firehose of information. When I was a kid, you could write a research paper after consulting your school library and your set of Encylopedias.  With the information now available (and having recently written a dissertation) I can say that having too much access to information can make it incredibly difficult to know whether you’ve thoroughly researched your topic.  How much searching is “enough” to say you’re done?

9. [Will never have to worry about Sending Letters.] They will have to worry about … Responding to Communication on a Multitude of Platforms and Networks.  A professional will have to communicate with their colleagues through email, several social networks, texts, and synchronous communication systems.  Not only is this a lot to manage, but each medium requires different etiquette. If you screw up the etiquette of the medium (for example, you use text-speak in an email) you’ll look like an idiot to the receiver.

10. [Will never have to worry about Being without the Internet & instant, ubiquitous connectivity.]  They will have to worry about … Getting enough Sleep and Managing Stress.  In an always-on world, you have to be able to disconnect to stay sane.  Many youth go to sleep with their cell phone on their pillow, unable to disconnect from their social network for even one minute.  As these sleep-deprived teenagers become adults and parents, one can only imagine the damage to their psychological well-being if they are unable to learn to disconnect.

So, yes, there are some things that our kids will not have to worry about thanks to the Information Revolution.  However, I don’t think technology has exactly made it less worrisome to grow up in today’s world.


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MAA Focus Column “Really Simple Solution”

My new column is up in the latest issue of MAA Focus: The “Really Simple Solution” to Information Overload” (it’s a play on RSS, you see?)

If you don’t know what RSS is, or don’t know how you would use it for math, this column is for you!

Go to p.16 to read the article.

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Transforming Math for Elementary Ed

After several months alone to think about why education has become so transactional, I decided that I’d have to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” and so I set about revamping my own classes.  For several weeks, my brain processors whirled while I tried to figure out how to make courses that have a highly structured and full curricula into courses that are transformational and revolve around learning.  Eventually, I hit upon the solution: Learning Projects.  Each student in Math for Elementary Teachers (MathET, as I like to call it) has to do five learning projects during the semester:

  1. Writing a Learning Blog
  2. Building a Mindmap
  3. Giving an Inquiry-Based Learning Presentation in class
  4. Creating a Video for the Internet
  5. Creating a Digital Portfolio to house their projects (this will be done by everyone last)

We cover four “units” in MathET, and each student completes the first four learning projects in a random pre-assigned order (I made a chart of all project assignments at the beginning of the semester).  This means that at any time, 25% of the students are blogging, 25% are building mindmaps, 25% are working on a 10-minute presentation for class, and 25% are building a video on a specific topic.  Projects are due two days before the unit exam so that everyone can learn from reading and clicking through each others’ projects.

No lies.  This required a large amount of time to get a new syllabus in place, verbage about privacy and appropriate computer use, tutorials on the LMS, and grading rubrics (and I already knew how to use all the technology).  I had to move one hour of class (4 hours each week) into a computer lab (and lab time is as precious as gold on our campus).   I set up an RSS feed (via a class netvibes page) to put news about math and teaching at the fingertips of the students.   I have to create a page to hold all the RSS feeds from student blogs, videos, and mindmaps (see the Unit 1 Tab of the class netvibes page).  This project also required a pep talk on the first day of class to explain why I was requiring that students use technology as they learned (because it will help them find jobs and provide them with valuable ways to teach and learn).  It was a bit of a shock, especially to those students who had barely touched a computer before.


However, the work was 100% worth it (maybe even 200% worth it).  We have never (and I mean never) had so much fun with a class before.  Every day of class I automatically get fresh learning assessments from the students who are blogging or mapping out the concepts we’ve learned.  The students really enjoy participating in each others’ active presentations and gain lots of fresh ideas about how to incorporate different teaching strategies into their own classes.  It’s also fun to watch the students get more brave (technology-wise) as the semester progresses – I really can’t wait to see what these projects look like by the end of the semester!  As I walk through the lab or peek at laptop screens before class,  I see students getting sucked in to reading blog posts and news articles that they might not otherwise even see (e.g. Math in the News).  I see them playing with interactive manipulatives from NLVM, and getting hooked on logic puzzles.

Because every single project is organized around learning, they all enhance the students’ understanding of the material.   How do I know?   There were no failing grades on the first test.  Students write and talk about how learning Venn Diagrams is “awesome” and how learning base-5 arithmetic is “tricky but cool” … it’s like math has gotten turned upside-down. What was once scary and difficult is now fun and interesting (maybe still difficult, but more tolerable now).  I think it may even be possible that students are now more likely to study for the exams because they actually enjoy learning the material (this is just conjecture on my part).

There are lots more details to share about how, exactly, I’ve pulled this off (release forms, privacy issues, etc), but for now I’d like to share a few of the best projects from Round 1 of the Student Learning Projects.  I hope that by the end of the semester, every one of my students will have found a project where they had a chance to shine the best and brightest!

Best Student Web-based Projects: Round 1

Honestly, I wish I had recorded more of the student IBL presentations, because many of them have been clever and well-designed.

In addition to the projects, we’ve found ourselves doing some other fun things:


One more thing I’ve changed in all my classes this semester, I try to begin every class by asking students what they’ve learned in their other classes (an acknowledgment that these things are important too).  The only way to refocus education on learning is to make sure it actually is the focus.

Learning Projects Round 2 are already well underway!  Students can see each others’ blogs and mindmaps in progress from day one of the unit.  This (hopefully) encourages them to explore and read more about each topic as they follow links to resources and read about how math has been applied.  Stay tuned for more in our little learning experiment.


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Digital Age Bootcamp

I’m about to teach a few new courses here at Muskegon Community College.  It’s taught out of the Continuing Ed Department and they are part of a program we’re calling “Digital Age Bootcamp.”

Even if you don’t live anywhere near enough to the Muskegon area to take it, you might be interested in the content and in beginning a similar course at your college.  The program is designed to help people who are already working professionals to “catch up” with technology.

Digital AgeBoot Camp
You know how to use the basics (document software, spreadsheet software, and presentation software), but now there’s all this other web-based technology that’s being used in business and education.  If you’re feeling like technology has left you behind, or you’re starting to feel like your employees may know more about technology than you do, these sessions are designed to get you caught up.

Organize Your Digital Self: In these sessions, you will learn how to harness the power of the web to find and organize information, collaborate easily with your colleagues, use social media effectively and safely, communicate online, get control of your email, generally use technology to organize yourself and streamline your workflow.  In each session we’ll have time to play hands-on with the technologies of the day.  Everyone should leave feeling more comfortable with today’s web tools.

  • Internet Query and Link Management
  • Websites and HTML
  • Calendars, Scheduling and Project Management
  • Blogs, Wikis, and RSS
  • Social Media
  • Email, Desktop and Passwords
  • Organize Your Learning
  • Photos, Illustrations, and Videos
  • Web Communication Tools

Monday nights, 7-10pm, October 5 – November 16, Muskegon Community College Rm. L261, $200  (call 231-777-0348 to register or click here).

Presentations for the Digital Age: You know how to use PowerPoint or Keynote, but have you learned how to create an engaging presentation?  There are ways to make slide presentations engaging and effective.  We’ll start with good digital design principals for the standard “deck of slides” presentation and move on to creating other types of digital presentations (e.g. screencasts and webinars).  You should plan to bring at least one presentation that you’d like to design (or redesign) for this course.

  • General digital design principles
  • Non-linear slide presentations
  • Learn ways to dump the slides altogether
  • Create engaging webinars
  • Record informative screencasts and video

Monday nights, 7-10pm, November 30 – December 14, Muskegon Community College Rm. L261, $100  (call 231-777-0348 to register or click here)

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Technology Skills We Should Be Teaching in College

This is a follow-up to my recent research about Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.  I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how to alter the classes I teach to re-center them on a core of flexible learning.  In all of my classes this semester, students will be completing a variety of learning projects that involve alternative ways to learn (e.g. blogging, making mindmaps, teaching a lesson, making a video presentation, or designing a non-digital game).

The difficult part about including these alternative learning methods is teaching the students all the necessary technology skills first.  Most of my students are the traditional freshman-level age-range  (18-25).  For the most part, they “get” technology (cell phones, facebook, video games, and gadgets), but they haven’t been taught how to do anything productive with technology – at least, not with regards to learning or career skills.

If America wants to continue to be a world-leader, we can do it with a technology advantage – but only if we actually know how to leverage that technology to continue to be more productive.

So, I began to write out a list of the tech skills that I think students should learn before they leave college.  Ideally, these are skills that would be integrated throughout K-12 and college curricula.

Basic Web Stuff
1. Basics of HTML (bold, underline, italics, special characters)
2. How to use EMBED code or make a live link
3. How to make and share a screenshot
4. How to make and share a short video explaining something or asking for help
5. Learn basic abbreviations and emoticons (e.g. ROFL, IMHO)
6. How to build a landing page for your web-based stuff (e.g. iGoogle, NetVibes)
7. How to add gadgets or plug-ins for various sites
8. How to make a simple website (e.g. Google Sites)
9. Build a clickable resume / digital portfolio
10. How (and when) to use collaborative documents or spreadsheets
11. How (and why) to create tags and labels
12. How (and why) to use URL-shortening sites (e.g. TinyURL)

13. How to set up a web-based calendar and use it to manage your time
14. How to set up and manage an RSS reader
15. How to find a common meeting time (e.g. Doodle)
16. How to set up a communication aggregator (e.g. Digsby, Trillian, TweetDeck)

17. How to manage email
18. How to write a good “first-contact” email
19. How to write a good subject line
20. How to write a good email response
21. Texting etiquette (when it’s appropriate, when it’s not)
22. How to summarize your thoughts in 140 characters or less
23. How to use Twitter (reply, retweet, direct message)
24. How to determine whether you should share it in a public forum (will it affect your future job prospects, your current employment, etc.)
25. How to manage an online meeting
26. How to give an effective webinar
27. What are the differences between various social networks and how they are used? (e.g. Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn)

Finding and Managing Information
28. How to use web-based bookmarks
29. How (and when) to use library search databases
30. How (and when) to use an image-based search engine
31. How (and when) to use alternate search engines (e.g. Clusty)
32. Who writes Wikipedia articles and when can they be trusted?
33. How to build a custom search engine
34. When can you trust the information you find?
35. How to use article citations to find better references
36. How to manage a bibliography online (e.g. Zotero)
37. How to set up web alerts to track new information (e.g. Google Alerts)

Privacy, Security, and the Law
38. Creative Commons – what is it and how to choose appropriate license?
39. How to read the legalese that tells you who owns it after it is shared online
40. What should you share and how does that change for different audiences?
41. How to manage usernames & passwords
42. How to find and tweak the privacy settings in common social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter)
43. How do data-mining sites get your information? (e.g. participating in FB quizzes)
44. What are the security concerns with GPS-based tracking systems?

45. How to determine the audience and appropriate length for your presentation
46. Good presentation design principles
47. Principles of storytelling
48. How to share a set of slides on the Internet
49. How to build a non-linear presentation
50. How to build a flashy presentation (and when to use it)
51. How to find high-quality images that can be used in presentations (with appropriate copyrights)
52. How to find audio that can be shared in a presentation (with appropriate copyrights)
53. How to create a captioning script for a video
54. Ways to caption an internet-based video
55. How (and when) to use a virtual magnifier with your presentation

Ways to Learn
56. How to build an interactive mindmap to organize ideas
57. How to use a blog to track your learning process
58. How to find good sites, blogs, and other online publications for the topic you are learning about
59. How to cultivate a personal learning network (PLN)
60. How to participate in a live learning chat (e.g. TweetChats)

Okay, that’s sixty items and I’ve just scratched the surface (I haven’t even touched on virtual worlds, for instance).

The big problem?  How many educators do you know that have these skills?

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Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Two years ago at the beginning of the fall semester, I was given the chance to speak to the faculty on my campus about technologies for teaching and getting organized, which is how the mindmaps Web 2.0 for You and Organize Your Digital Self were born.  Now two years have gone by, and I’ve given both of these talks (updated with each presentation) all over the country in various formats.

This year, the Faculty Association invited me to give another talk about what I’ve learned about technology and teaching.  Although I got to choose the specifics,  I figured it had to be a departure from these other two talks (since at least 1/3 of the faculty have seen those).  After much thought and gnashing of teeth, I decided to focus on learning more than teaching, or rather, how the way we teach should be motivated by what we want students to learn.

This brings up the rather sticky question, What should students be learning today? To answer this, I did a lot of research and reading.  In K-12, there are several state initiatives to infuse “21st Century skills” into the classroom – many of these initiatives are part of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (which has an excellent website).  Another organization that is leading the way aims at adult education: Equipped for the Future (EFF) is housed in the Center for Literacy at the University of Tennessee.  Both organizations outline a set of “standards” or “fundamentals” with specific objectives for each.  You’ll see that I’ve largely built my presentation around the goals of these two initiatives.  The two sets of initiatives overlap in places, but you’ll see that they are framed a bit differently.  At the community college level, we are concerned about teaching students who are fresh out of high school as well as those who are adults returning to school.

The big takeaway from all of my reading is that we have to teach students skills that will help them flex into new jobs as the market constantly shifts to accommodate new technological advances, global competition, and sudden “black swan” events (can you say sudden economic collapse?).   Like it or not, the majority of programs in higher education prepare students for a specific career (journalist, nurse, engineer, teacher, etc.), but the industrial-age model of a “career-for-a-lifetime” is ending.

In Michigan, this lesson is particularly painful as we watch a large group of workers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s return to school to be “retrained.”  These folks are not just factory workers, they are managers, engineers, prison guards, retail workers, bank employees, education parapros, school administrators, nurses, journalists, printers, non-profit employees, counselors, and social workers.  Many of these folks have been through the system of higher ed once, and now they face a mandatory second run at it.  What worries me is that we may just be setting them up to experience the same thing when their second career fails.  This is our time to step up to the plate by teaching technology skills that will make our students employable and ready to face the next few decades of work, not just the next job.

The closest model for a degree allowing a large amount of career flexibility for the digital age is the hallowed “liberal arts degree.” However, the Liberal Arts degree needs a wee bit of modernizing for the digital age.  I think there is a way to carefully “hack” a better liberal arts degree into our existing system (like a patch to an older piece of software).  However, this is a blog post all unto itself (see a hint of what is to come on the last branch of the map for this presentation).

Anyways, I digress.  The presentation is called Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, and it is presented mindmap-style.


When I talk about technology, I like demonstrate by using the technologies as an integral part of my presentation.  First, I build the presentation so that it is based on a discussion with the audience.  No speaker, no matter how good, can have much lasting impact if they simply tell their message.  However, if your audience is able to engage with what you’re saying for a long time after they see you, you stand a much greater chance of making a difference.

If you explore the map, you’ll see that I have a small slide deck on one of the branches (for a section that had to present a linear argument).  There is a live chat room to simulate the “back conversation” that you can foster via twitter in a conference presentation or the text chat in a webinar session.   Finally, there’s a PollEverywhere attached to one of the map branches that can be answered via texting or a web page.

Aside from the technologies that I will use during the presentation, I’ve tried to come up with specific examples (most involving technology) of ideas for implementing the 21st century skills in the higher ed setting.  Each branch of the presentation terminates with ideas and links to resources that will aid in implementing the ideas.

Thus, the nuts and bolts of the presentation demonstrates practical ways to use technology, but the technology use is embedded inside of a discussion/presentation about why students should be learning these skills.

More later on how to “hack” higher ed … in the meantime, if you’ve got a teaching example to demonstrate one of the skills on this map, please comment them in!

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Web Tools for College Students

I’m in the DC area for a couple days and I was supposed to do a presentation to students at UMD today called “There’s More to the Web than Facebook.”

Description: If you think the Internet is for playing games, catching up with friends, and downloading music and videos, you’re right! But there’s a lot more out there that you could be using to help you with your education.  Use Mindmaps to organize a research topic for that long paper.  Find another lecture or a tutorial on a topic you’re having trouble with.  Meet with a group online to discuss a group project.  Write a paper with a group without emailing it back and forth.  Watch some of the most mindblowing video clips on cutting-edge research. Facebook IS great, but there are other Internet applications you should check out too!

Unfortunately, several inches of snow closed the UMD campus today, but there’s no reason you still can’t play with the presentation map!

The active map of this presentation can be found here.


For the record, I should probably admit  that after avoiding Facebook for years, I finally succumbed to the lure of FB in December.  I was pleasantly surprised that, although it is an excellent way to whittle away your time, I enjoy the time spent catching up with old (and new) friends.  I think it is one of those things that you won’t really understand until you try.

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Education, Competition, and the Environment

This video Did You Ever Wonder? produced by Bill Farren, provides, according to the author, a counterpoint to the Did You Know? by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod.

Did You Wonder… – video powered by Metacafe

Here are some of the great quotes that I pulled from the video and a few of my musings:
  • Quote from Alfie Kohn: “so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, … ” Is it just me? Or is this “lack of pleasure” seen in adults too!
  • Quote from Amory Lovins: “There is no cost difference between incarceration and an Ivy League education. The main difference is the curriculum.” California spends three times as much on its prisons than its University system.
  • Quote from Hunter Lovins: “What is the purpose of education if not for future generations?” Now that’s a quote I can sink my teeth into. As educators we can’t dwell on “how we learned it” – we’ve already been educated and have moved into the world community, but the students we teach need to be prepared for the world they will enter. If that means that instructors will have to continue to be learners themselves – so be it.
  • Quote from Edwin Land: “It’s not that we need new ideas, it’s that we need to stop having old ones.”

Overall, I need more time to think about this video before reflecting insightfully – but I thought I would pass it along. References can be found at

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Suggestions from the Age of Distraction

A reading assignment for today: The Age of Distraction: The Professor or the Processor? by Michael Bugeja (published in The Futurist magazine)

The question that Bugeja poses: Are digital distractions the cause of lowered performance measures for students? He argues that we’ve spent a lot of money on technology in education. Have we seen results?

It’s a good question. It’s not an argument against technology, per se, I think he’s just making the point that we may need to retake our learning environments from technology distractions (like improper laptop use, cellphone texting, video games on calculators, etc.).

Bugeja writes about what he calles “interpersonal intelligence” which he defines as “knowing when, where, and for what purpose technology is appropriate or inappropriate.”

He suggests teaching incoming students some basic interpersonal intelligence. At my college, we have a seminar designed to teach students study skills, and perhaps this is where these questions belong, in addition to being reiterated in other freshman-level classes:

  • Are you being exploited by the media?
  • Is your internet impulse purchasing destroying your budget?
  • When has using technology distracted you from accomplishing something?
  • Do you have real-person communication skills, like meeting your neighbors or talking to the students in your group?
  • How is instant feedback different from critical thinking?

Hmm. I may need to revisit the third bullet point myself. I know that technology (specifically writing these blog posts) often distract me from other things I should be doing. But I do eventually get those tasks done too… just maybe at a sleep deficit. : )

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