from the Director's Desk

Musings about school library media and instructional technology programs from NCDPI's Instructional Technology Divison.  Subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Farewell, at least for now

It seems appropriate that my final posting as Director should be a hopeful one. According to the latest Pew Internet and American Life Project report, Information Searches that Solve Problems, “Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes . . .. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.” (See the whole report at )

Perhaps this is because of the work that each of you is doing to make media and technology relevant to our K-12 audience on a daily basis. As you continue to help students and teachers find, evaluate, and use information regardless of format, please realize that your work is more important than ever. Each of you holds the future of our nation and our society within your media centers, computer labs, and classrooms. It’s the most important job in the world, and I am proud to say that I have had a small part in all you do. Thank you for your support, your enthusiasm and dedication, and most of all your belief in our children and their potential.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Is she really a teacher?

This is just too good not to share! I'm still uncertain how I feel about this, but it just boggles my mind, especially the part about training the computer to recognize students' expressions. We've always said that the computer cannot replace the teacher . . .

New Zealand Gives Birth to it First Virtual Teacher

A research team based at the Auckland Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences has developed a near-human animated teacher and says the development has drawn the attention of scientists across the computing world. Eve, an attractive blonde, is able to respond to children’s moods and is being hailed as a critical tool in the expanding long-distance learning market.

Eve, intended to teach math one-on-one to 8 year olds, is what is known in the information sciences as an affective tutoring system; designed to adapt its responses to the emotional state of people by interaction through a computer system.

Linked to a child via computer, the virtual teacher can tell if the child is frustrated, angry or confused by the on-screen teaching session and can adapt the tutoring session appropriately. Eve can ask questions, give feedback, discuss questions and solutions and show emotion.

In developing the software, the Massey team observed children and their interactions with teachers and captured them on thousands of images. From these images they developed programs that would capture and recognize facial expression, body movement, and via a mouse, heart rate and skin resistance. The system uses a network of computer systems, mainly embedded devices, to detect student emotion and thought to e the first if its type. (from Public School Forum's Friday Report, 11/30/07)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ice Cream or Toppings (thanks to Jeff Utecht)

It's time to get back to school--for all of us!--and what better way than finding a thought-provoking blog: Jeff Utecht asks the provocative question: Do we offer ice cream or toppings?

In short, our students all get free ice cream--the free Internet resources that abound. But it's our job as educators, particularly media and technology personnel, to make sure that we provide the toppings--the educationally sound ways of using the technology to support teaching and learning. We add the toppings--the value--to the technology. That, of course, is the hard work. Finding educationally sound ways to integrate all these tools and resources into our daily teaching practice takes time, energy, and lots of faith. Every time we bring in a new tool or teaching strategy, ask another essential question for our students to answer, or collaborate with others and hand off part of our responsibility to them, we are taking a risk. It's scary stuff. But truthfully, isn't it a greater risk not to add the "topping" value to our ice-cream craving kids?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

According to this morning's News and Observer (, the US Department of Education released a study yesterday that states: "Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant effect on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education. The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate to meet the testing mandates of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law." ( )

Let's be frank. This is not new information. The researchers are looking at Math and Reading drill and practice programs, not authentic uses of technology that help students become 21st Century life-long learners. Authentic technology skills include using the tools that are and will be a part of their lives. Drill and practice programs, no matter how sophisticated, will never give students authentic learning experiences. They only attempt to prepare them for 20th Century multiple-choice tests--our present, not their future.

Furthermore, research has always warned teachers that as soon as students begin to progress on these programs, they should be moved to the types of technology tools and programs that promote higher order thinking, problem-solving skills, and more authentic learning experiences. In truth, higher level students' test scores often slide when they are put on these drill and practice programs.

Yes, technology can make a difference in teaching and learning. Even drill and practice programs have their place in the academic environment. After all, core skills are essential for both 20th Century and 21st Century learning, and we're still testing students primarily in this environment. But the collaborative, problem-based teaching and learning environment that emphasizes authentic tasks that require higher order thinking skills--those things that technology resources allow us to embrace--WILL make a difference.

And it just makes good sense. Technology resources are the tools that adults use daily. Why would we want our students educated any differently than we work?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

David Warlick and I presented a session at NCaect in RTP today on the educational and policy ramifications of the new social networking tools. The discussion was challenging and, I think, productive. We in Instructional Technology are posting a white paper to help all of us think through the issues of managing these powerful resources within our schools and school systems. As many in the session today reiterated, this is a delicate dance, one that needs a variety of controls based on the curriculum, educational need, network capacity, and ethical/safety issues. I'm posting this white paper here so that we all have the opportunity to continue the discussion that was begun this morning. I hope you will all help us make this a useful document as we move towards a more participatory, collaborative educational culture.

Harnessing (and Managing) the Power of Collaboration

Blogs, wikis, e-mail, chat, IM, podcasts, Flickr, YouTube, and RSS feeds—all Web 2.0 tools with collaborative potential. Why are these resources suddenly such exciting educational opportunities? How can we continue to manage a safe environment for our students, while providing these critical experiences in our schools?

The Opportunities Social Networks Provide

The MacArthur Foundation calls it the participatory culture and defines it as one

“with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of information mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at least they care what other people think about what they have created).”

“Access to this participatory culture functions as a new form of the hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind as they enter school and the workplace.” (Jenkins et al, 2006:3)

In essence, literacy skills for the 21st Century are social skills—participatory skills—that are equally as important as traditional literacy skills such as reading, writing, and computation.

It is this opportunity to be in charge of one’s own learning, become a part of a larger community of learners, share expertise and learn from others more experienced and knowledgeable, and create products, experiences, and opportunities that explains the educational benefits of social networking. It is the chance to offer the ability to cultivate and safely practice the “skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks and self confidence” (Jenkins et al, 2006: 8) necessary for the 21st Century workplace. They provide students the opportunity to be guided and facilitated by a knowledgeable classroom teacher who understands and appreciates the potential of Web 2.0, but who also is cognizant and on guard for the dangers inherent in such an open, collaborative environment.

In-school and after-school programs offer all students a level playing field in which to participate in this collaborative environment regardless of their home access and connectivity or their parents’ income or ability to support these educational experiences. Schools have an obligation to provide these opportunities to all students or run the risk of creating a society in which a few succeed at the expense of many and other nations, because of their sheer numbers, outperform our elite.

Managing Web 2.0 in Schools

As lofty as these goals of providing social networking opportunities for all students in a school-based setting are, the responsibilities are daunting. For every story of an exciting student educational experience, there exists at least one equally horrifying. How do we navigate this tenuous environment?

Start with the Teachers

Make sure teachers understand the social networking landscape. Create professional development opportunities that introduce them to blogging, wikis, and other innovations as they appear. Give them opportunities to practice their skills, and make sure they have good examples of classroom practice and resources that enable creative, productive, and educationally sound social networking. These tools can be an avenue of professional development in their own right. Not only do they offer examples of 21st Century classroom practice, they encourage teachers to grow in their own skill set via curriculum- or pedagogy-based blogs, wikis, podcasts, and the like.

Educate teachers about their public persona. Web 2.0 opens wide the door of private correspondence and gives it a public face. Private blogs become fodder for news outlets if controversy erupts. Above all, teachers need to understand that nothing is private in a Web 2.0 environment! If they understand and appreciate that fact, so will their students.

Examine Your AUP

Can your Acceptable Use Policy handle social networking situations? Apply a reality check: can you link back to a district policy to manage online behavior (i.e cyberbullying to bullying) or do you need to create new ones (i.e. posting images on sites such as Flickr and YouTube)? Can you cover yourself with the caveat that all equipment/resources used within the school are for educational purposes only, or is that too limiting in this participatory environment? Should you have teachers as well as students sign it? Should parents be asked to sign the child’s AUP, or should Internet access be treated the same as textbook access, without signed permissions but with specific consequences for misuse?

Reconsider the Traditional “Nos”

Traditionally Acceptable Use Policies have banned gaming, chats, and even personal e-mail. In this more connected environment, these banned behaviors may be not only acceptable but important. “Chat” is now a component of most online courses, and educational games are beginning to take hold as a way to teach real-world problem-solving. E-mail will always be problematic, but its importance as a mode of communication between teachers and parents, students and teachers, and students with other students cannot be overlooked. Rather than avoiding e-mail altogether, consider manageable solutions such as student-specific e-mail programs for school use.

Accept the inevitability that 21st Century AUPs are works in progress. They will have to be re-examined, and possibly rewritten, more frequently than in the past. Remain open to new technologies as they relate to education, and constantly evaluate school and LEA policies and procedures to include them where appropriate.

Educate Your Parents

Consider parents your first line of support and defense. Constantly inform them of the exciting Web 2.0 experiences your school and district are providing. Work diligently to get their buy-in as you open up your system to the opportunities for students to experience social networking opportunities.

Above all, teach parents strategies for keeping their children safe on the Internet. Provide resources and training in how to monitor their children’s Internet use—and offer strategies for talking with their children about the opportunities and challenges of staying safe in an interconnected world. Inform parents that they should continually monitor their children’s Web postings and that they should report threatening comments, sexual predation, or cyberbullying to both the school and local law enforcement. Also remember that reaching out to parents offers a subtle opportunity to review or update them on copyright and fair use.

Filter Flexibly While Teaching

Invest in filters that allow easy blocking and unblocking of sites—and consider enabling that process at the school or even teacher level. Filter flexibility must go hand-in-hand with the education process, however. Consider this teaching opportunity to be character education as well as technology education. Start in kindergarten by teaching students such basics as using the back button (and informing the teacher if they come upon an inappropriate site). Emphasize the Societal and Ethical Behavior Competency Goal of the Computer Skills Curriculum throughout each student’s PreK-13 career. View inadvertent access to inappropriate Web sites as teachable moments akin to teaching children to cross the street rather than locking them in the house. Consider graduated access from primary to elementary to middle school to high school, emphasizing that this privilege is accompanied with increased responsibility for individual behavior as well as life-long learning.


Four levels of challenges exist for successful use of Web 2.0 tools:

1. Technical: The network must be flexible enough to allow students to use collaborative online tools and yet provide a safety net to block harmful content from reaching students or the network.

2. Teaching and learning: To be effective, Web 2.0 tools must be used to accomplish instructional goals. This provides an opportunity for technology facilitators and media coordinators to support instruction through collaborative planning as well as professional development on Web 2.0 tools and teaching.

3. Students: Use of Web 2.0 tools provides students the opportunity to construct meaning from assignments and share that meaning with others rather than simply submitting a paper or project to the teacher.

4. Parents: Web 2.0 provides opportunities for schools to partner with parents in new ways. Parents should be offered training on how students can be safe online, what to do if they discover inappropriate content, and how Web 2.0 can be used productively.

As the world becomes more participatory, education must become more participatory as well. We cannot allow our fears to overcome our reason and our nation’s ability to remain competitive. The educational potential of Web 2.0 is too important to ignore. We must learn to take advantage of it—and manage it.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Playing the Game

Last week was a fascinating week. I observed 9 IMPACT Model/Award schools' 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers as they learned to think inside a gaming environment. Through the generous support of Food Lion in North Carolina, we have been given the opportunity to participate in a unique research study out of the Indiana University's Center for Research on Teaching and Learning. They explain it best:

"Quest Atlantis is a National Science Foundation (NSF) -funded learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9 to 12, in educational tasks. Currently over 4,500 registered users from five continents use Quest Atlantis in formal school environments as well as in after-school settings. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, Quest Atlantis combines features used in commercial gaming environments with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. The core elements of Quest Atlantis are: 1) a 3-D multi-user virtual environment (MUVE); 2) learning Quests and unit plans; 3) a storyline presented through an introductory video as well as novellas and a comic book that involves a mythical Council and a set of social commitments; and 4) a globally-distributed community of participants."

Some of the questions we will be helping the Center answer are:
1. Will students learn through this gaming environment? We know they will play, but will they actually learn curriculum content while playing?
2. Can teachers become comfortable teaching in this environment? Do they feel--can they be--effective in this environment?

As I listened to the Quest Atlantis developer, Sasha Barab, describe the worlds he was imagining and putting into the 3D educational environment, I realized that I actually had comparable experiences as a child. As I was growing up, I loved to play with paper dolls. I would design clothes for them, build houses, towns, and experiences for them. I created another world for them--and for myself. This is not so different for our children today. It's just a different set of tools. Instead of paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, they have computers. And they are being challenged to solve real-world problems in this virtual environment, something I can't admit to in my paper doll world. What an incredible opportunity for these students! And if the pilot is successful, Food Lion is willing to help implement Quest Atlantis across the state.

Go take a look at the Quest Atlantis demo site and let us know what you think. How do you feel about moving into a gaming environment in education? Do you have reservations or are you--and your students--ready to move to a higher level of learning?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lucky? Maybe . . .

One of the saddest censorship stories that I can remember in many years is playing out on the national stage right now. Susan Patron's Newbury Award book for upper elementary school children, The Higher Power of Lucky, is being written about, removed from shelves, or not even ordered because of one very proper, anatomically correct word. The august New York Times added fuel to the fire on Sunday with a front-page article by Julie Bosman "With One Word Children's Book Sets Off Uproar.

Yes, it's a most unfortunate censorship case, but my colleague Acacia Dixon pointed out yesterday that it is a fine example of the new world many of us media and technology professionals are facing. She says it quite well:

"Many of the quotes lifted for the Times article come from postings to listservs or other communication venues like LM-NET. For years we have said that email is a postcard not an envelope, especially when items are archived online for the whole world to peruse. There is some interesting indignation that this information was used against librarians as a whole. I agree it was taken out of context and that the flip side of the conversation was not covered. This does however play right into the hands of stringent policy makers (think PA) who wish to limit professional expression via social networking avenues."

Very insightful, Acacia! Yes, how do we align school policy with our professional right to free speech--and even philosophical conversation? What are your thoughts on handling this difficult issue?