Copywrong

November 26, 2007 § Leave a comment

So, I was thinking about this over the long holiday while I was reading about the new ebook reader from Amazon when it occurred to me that pretty much, at no time over the past 600 years has anyone worried about people sharing copyrighted material.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve borrowed books, bought used books (in fact, it’s big business at colleges all over the world) and loaned books to friends without knowing that I was breaking the law.

Was I?

Why is it we’re so worried about it now?  Is it simply because of the ability to mass distribute copies?  I can’t think of anything else that it could be.  People made mix tapes for years, copied their friends tapes, borrowed books, etc. without a peep from anyone about copyright infringement.  Now, though, it’s a big deal.  If the ability to mass distribute didn’t exist, would there be such an uproar?

And yet, the ability to mass distribute is also making it possible for people who would have never been published before to publish themselves and put their work out there for anyone and everyone.

So maybe that’s the problem.  The machine that decides who is worthy to publish, or have their songs played, is losing control.  The democratization of content creation and distribution seems to be what’s really scaring the machine.  The fact that a select few no longer control the entertainment options for the masses, so they’re trying to over-control what they do have a say over.

The culture is changing, and I’ve said it before – the companies that get on board now and figure out how to roll with it will be the ones that survive.

Who designs these things?

November 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

Note:  This post doesn’t have anything to do with technology other than the fact that I’ve linked to a document.

We talk all the time about what works best for kids, but it seems like the people creating our state test don’t have a clue about any of it.

Today, I was working on something for one of our teachers which required me to copy some items from the 2006 TAKS 10th grade test.

Go ahead, click on the link.  I’ll wait.

OK, did you look at the first few pages of the test?  Did you notice that after the first reading passage there weren’t any questions?  How about after the second passage?  Nope, no questions there, either.

The students taking the test have to get past the THIRD passage (which isn’t really a reading passage), before they get to the questions for the FIRST passage.

Now I understand that this is a high school test, and that those students should be able to flip back to answer the questions without any problems, but my GOD, could you make things a little more vague, and a little more boring?  I’d stop reading after the first PAGE, and just flip to the questions.

It’s crazy, I tell you, just crazy.

Edublog awards

November 12, 2007 § Leave a comment

Here’s my shameless, begging, strive for validation…it’s time to nominate blogs for the 2007 Edublog awards.  So, if any of the three of you that read this would like to nominate me for an edublog award, feel free =-)

Resistance is futile

November 9, 2007 § Leave a comment

Please pardon me if this post rambles a bit.   I’m living inside my headphones today because I don’t want to have an awkward conversation with a colleague that is going to be tense, and I’m sick, so I really don’t want to be any more stressed today, so instead I’ve got the headphones on as an indication to the world that I don’t want to talk to anyone and I’ve currently got INXS blaring in my ears making it difficult to put together coherent sentences.

Ramble-y enough for you?

So I was reading Miguel’s post about the resistance to change in school districts.  I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s usually a fight between the Mac people and the PC people, but it goes much deeper than technology.  Technology just happens to be at the forefront currently.  Just the tip of the iceberg.

The reason I bring this up is because of Miguel’s hint at the end of the post as to which local district he’s talking about.  I know the district.  I applied to be Technology Director there last year.  So did another friend of mine, a friend who is a lot more forward than I would ever be in looking for a job.  This friend of mine actually called the personnel director for the district to find out the status on their search for a director.  Spoke with the guy at length, and it turns out that they didn’t even interview anyone from outside the district.  They gave the job to someone in house.

It made me angry.  I knew I was qualified for that job, but I wasn’t even given the chance to show how qualified I was.  When districts don’t explore all of their options for infusing new ideas into their system, they are only making their problems worse.

I saw it when I was in NEISD, too.  They said they wanted ideas from outside of the district, which is one of the reasons they hired me, but when I spoke up and gave my educated opinion and gave them options they hadn’t thought about, they were poo pooed and never went anywhere, which is why I eventually left.  They were so ingrained in their own philosophies that every idea that didn’t jive with the company line was killed.

Think about this – how many of your administrators were hired from in-district?  Isn’t that a bit incestuous?  Administrators from outside of the district bring ideas from outside of the district and fresh ideas are needed to help teachers and students achieve better results.

I’m by no means saying that school districts shouldn’t hire from within, but it seems like there are way too many examples of administrators climbing the ladder because of politics or because they’re incompetent elsewhere.  It’s hard to get rid of people in education, to be sure, but maybe we should do a better job of cleaning house.

Personal story here – when I worked for another large school district in San Antonio, I had a principal who obviously had her favorites, and I wasn’t one of them.  She wouldn’t even say good morning back to me when I saw her in the hall, and this was the woman that hired me.  My second year of teaching, she came into my classroom when I had my 6th graders doing a group activity and yelled at my students in front of my that they were too loud and that she couldn’t tell if any learning was going on.  When she left my room, my students looked at me apologetically, like they had gotten me in trouble.  The thing was, there was a TON of learning going on in that room.  I just taught differently.  She didn’t get it.  I decided on that day that I was going to quit at the end of the year (you wonder why so many teachers quit before they reach 5 years of service?).  Luckily for me, that principal was promoted (!) to the high school we fed into and we got a new principal about 6 weeks later.  The new principal wasn’t much better, but at least she liked me.

The high school she was promoted to didn’t increase their test scores, and she went on to piss off a bunch more people there.

Guess what she’s doing now?

She’s an associate superintendent.

I’m happy to be where I am now, because for the most part, people here are open to ideas that may not fit “the way we do things.”  Districts that don’t have a doctrine, are in my opinion, better off than those that are entrenched in the party line.  At least if something doesn’t work the ideas for how to fix it can come from anyone, anywhere.  Not just from the top.

My point?  Change is going to happen.  People are going to resist that change for any number of reasons, but it’s our job as educators to make change happen.

“Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

If Larry Lessig had been my professor, I would have learned a lot more

November 7, 2007 § Leave a comment

I’ve always enjoyed Larry Lessig’s talks. His grasp of copyright and how the law around it needs to change to accommodate the digital revolution that we are currently experiencing. One of the points of this talk that really hit home with me is this:

We live in sort of this weird time, an age of prohibitions where in many areas of our life we live life constantly against the law; ordinary people live life against the law. [Our kids] live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corruptive, and in a democracy, we ought to be able to do better.

And he’s right on. What is this type of culture doing to our kids, doing to us? Basically, it goes like this – if you’ve ever downloaded a song, or made a mix tape or CD that you’ve given to a friend, or made a movie using a song you’d purchased, you’re a criminal.

You’ve broken the law.

People like Lessig are bringing to the forefront the fact that copyright isn’t what it used to be. It can’t continue to live in the old world and survive. The music industry, TV producers, all of them need to wake up and learn how to deal with the inevitable future. If they continue to tow the line, they’re going to lose their audience, and people who grasp the fact that there cannot be absolute control over media any more are going to be the big winners.

Driving question

November 3, 2007 § Leave a comment

I had lunch with a good friend of mine from Northeast today.

David and I got to know each other when I was assigned as the Instructional Tech Specialist for Krueger Middle School. He was the tech apps teacher for a new magnet program called IMAK. He would pick my brain about what to teach and how to teach it. Had has some great ideas about how kids learn and his classroom was very non-traditional (and not just because it was filled with computers).

We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we had some catching up to do. Our conversation eventually turned to the teacher tech proficiencies, which Texas has guideline for, but no way currently to enforce them.

NEISD started a program last year to bring all of it’s teachers up to par by offering classes from the most basic level, then allow teachers to take an ‘assessment’ (which is just a nicey nice word for a test) to ensure that all of the teachers in the district met the state tech standards for educators.

One of the things David said struck a cord with me – “Dude, no teacher needs to know what a VLAN is. No way a teacher needs to know what a Wide Area Network is.”

And it’s 100% true.

And none of those things are in the Technology Application Standards for Beginning Teachers. But they’re in the standards at NEISD.

And herein lies the problem. The state standards are so vaguely worded that districts feel like they have to cover all of their bases when trying to prepare existing teachers for what’s coming down the pipe.

I can see, maybe 10 years ago, that a teacher would need to know a lot about the inner workings of the computer, because those things crashed all the time. It’s probably the same reason we have so many teachers who are afraid of technology. They “broke” it once before the stuff was (generally) foolproof. Now, however, David is absolutely right. Your average Joe doesn’t need to know the technical side of things inside and out. Maybe they need to have a general idea of how a network works, but they certainly don’t need to know everything about it.

The problem is this: the people making the rules have never been just average users. They’re power users. They’re tech experts. They’re geeks, and I’m sorry, but those folks shouldn’t be making the rules about what you need to know about technology. Being able to use it effectively should be enough.

Let me put it this way. It’s like going for your driver’s exam, and after driving the speed limit, using your turn signal, wearing your seat belt, checking your blind spot and acing the driving part of the driving exam, having the proctor tell you, “Great job, now let’s pop the hood and why don’t you tell me a bit about what an injection valve does. Show me how to change your spark plugs.”

NO NO NO NO No No No No no no no no no!

In order to be licensed to drive, you need to know how to drive. You need to know how to use the tool to get you from point A to point B without killing anyone.

To use technology, you need to know how to drive it. You need to know how to use the tool to get your kids from point A to point B without killing anyone.

Two things need to happen here. 1) The state needs to clarify their standards. Make them as specific as the TEKS for kids. Don’t leave anything up to interpretation. 2) Stop letting people who have never been in a classroom decide what teachers in the classroom need to know.

By the way, can anyone help me figure out how to change my fuel filter…I think it’s got some gigabit stuck in it.

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