Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What is Education For?

This is one of those timeless pieces. Although it was written by David Orr in 1990, it is a valuable perspective - as valuable today as it ever was and ever will be. I had my 12 and 10-year olds read it and discuss it in the wake of what happened recently in Mumbai, and in the light of daily commentary on global warming and climate change.

I think high school children - old enough to debate global issues, participate in Model UNs and what not - should deliberate on the message in this speech. Although it was made as a commencement address to students graduating from college, I think kids should leave school - not college - with this message, so that it can shape what they study and do with their lives - and more importantly, how they do it.

One does not have to necessarily agree with everything David Orr says in this essay. It is enough that every citizen of this earth give this question deep and quality thought. When I look back on my studies in education at Harvard I feel that the paper on "What is the purpose of schooling?" was one of the defining moments of that academic sojourn. It was at once the most difficult and the most fulfilling exercise. I would give this question higher billing, and go a step further to contend that deliberation on this question could well be a critical part of human development, and must in some form or fashion, be part of every academic program - not just one on education.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Connectivism and The Networked Student

I spend much of my time reading, writing, discussing, and blogging about ideas around the broad theme of 21st Century learning. More specifically, what should 21st Century learning look like? How can social networking technologies be harnessed in learning spaces? How can emerging technologies truly, meaningfully impact the future of learning? How do we prepare our students and teachers for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century?

This video on Connectivism and The Networked Student resonates with many of my views on the subject, and answers in part some of the questions raised above. No surprise that the video has a connection to the person some refer to as the "father of e-learning 2.0" - Stephen Downes.

"The Networked Student was inspired by CCK08, a Connectivism course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes during Fall 2008. It depicts an actual project completed by Wendy Drexler's high school students. The Networked Student concept map was inspired by Alec Couros' Networked Teacher. I hope that teachers will use it to help their colleagues, parents, and students understand networked learning in the 21st century." (Description of video on youtube).

Love the 'Paperworks' style of the Common Craft videos ...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spore: Experiencing Evolution

A hugely anticipated PC game, Spore - was launched worldwide in September this year. This game has not only enthralled many kids and adults alike around the world, but also got educators talking about the value of this game in education - to help children learn about the concept of evolution, survival, migration, city development, trade and trade routes, and design of creatures and spaceships (among other things). The best part of Spore is that this learning is not overt - it just happens as kids play this immensely enjoyable (and addictive for some) game.

You can read about the accolades it has received and also visit the official spore website for more info, including an amazing demo of how you can nurture the creature your create through five stages of evolution: Cell, Creature, Tribe, Civilization, and Space.

Here's a write-up my 12-year old son Sidhanth wrote on his Spore experiences. He's enjoyed creating and uploading videos of his Spore creations to youtube - a cool feature that is integrated into the core functionality of the game.

Check out this Spore Ad video from the Spore youtube channel:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chat Widget for Blogs

Here's an interesting tool that was shared on educatorslog.in yesterday - a live discussion widget that can add a chat feature to any blog or website.

It is of particular importance to India, as it incorporates the Google's transliteration API for typing indic scripts for Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. It requires one to be signed in with their Google (gmail) account to make sure that only the signed in users leave comments.

It integrates with Google Talk as well so that people can see their "friend" lists and "presence" cues (online/offline/busy/other status).

I can potentially see a class gathering online for a discussion around a blog post that a teacher has posted as an assignment, or even groups of friends meeting online at a designated time to discuss homework on a class blog. I guess blogs and blogging need to become part of mainstream educational use by teachers and students before tools such as this can be leveraged for collaborative learning.

A neat idea and potentially useful tool nonetheless!

SKID: Dr. Arun Mehta's open source software innovation for children with disabilities

[Cross-posted as a 'spotlight' on educatorslog.in]

India, sadly, presents a very hostile environment for disabled people in general, and children in particular – not just for missed opportunities for learning and education, but for participation in several normal activities that most regular children enjoy. Many children with disabilities have serious communication issues, and the disability is compounded by this inability to communicate. Children in India who cannot communicate rarely get access to education, due medical attention or even basic human rights. In the case of autism, for example, the inability to communicate is the primary problem. “If we could find a way for the child to communicate, she could go to regular school, instead of compounding her disability with illiteracy” was the belief that propelled Dr. Arun Mehta of JMIT, Radaur, Haryana to innovate solutions to help such children. “Children with autism – like other kids – love computers. A computer is an excellent communications device: so why don't they communicate through computers?” The need to address the communication needs of the disabled early, and a role for computers to solve the problem has kept Dr. Mehta busy for the last few years.

A few weeks ago Professor Arun Mehta showcased a new software to provide free of cost communication support to children with special needs and all those who have difficulty with the keyboard and mouse. The software is called Skid (short for Special Kid). skid.org.in is home to a large group of software modules that children can use from any PC or mobile phone with access to the web. It is also a unique platform for learning web programming. The first module which has recently been made available online is co-designed by students from JMIT, Radaur, and allows special kids access to Wikipedia. (The more technically inclined would be interested to know that Skid has been developed on the open source web framework Ruby on Rails)

Skid has won Dr. Arun Mehta and his colleague Vickram Crishna, the 2008 Manthan Award for e-Inclusion.

The Skid initiative (documented at arpitblog.wordpress.com) is only a modest beginning in affording communication opportunities to large numbers of children with special needs, in that it is a process for developing such software on an ongoing basis, in an inclusive, participatory manner. In developing the words module, for instance, the team has tried to work with the dyslexic, to make a smarter spell checker that allows dyslexic kids to work with sounds and pictures in selecting the right word.

Arun Mehta (standing) and Vickram Crishna (sitting) working with a parent of an autistic child during a workshop in Bangalore. Photo courtesy: Shuchi GroverDr. Arun Mehta and his colleagues have conducted 3 workshops in Dehradun and Bangalore over the last 3 years, involving over 30 children with autism and their care givers, in collaboration with the Autism Society of India, Inspiration, the Spastic Society of Karnataka, the Anil Karanjai Memorial Trust, and Radiophony. (One such workshop in Bangalore has been described in detailed in this article that I authored for indiatogether.com). These workshops provided feedback on the use of existing open source software in this domain. They also inspired Skid, which has since been tried out with children with autism in the workshop organized in July 2008 in Dehradun. Early versions of the software were taken through their paces by children with cerebral palsy at AADI.

Given diverse kinds of disability, even within autism, cerebral palsy and dyslexia, and the different ways in which children might wish to use computers, there is an ongoing need to keep adding modules, and finding imaginative new ways to combine them. To address this need, the Skid initiative invites college students who know a little programming to undergo free of cost summer training in which they write software that doesn't just gather dust, but is put onto the web. Not only do they have the satisfaction that thousands of kids from around the world are benefiting from what they wrote, they also receive public credit on the page they helped design. ===================================================================
Dr. Arun Mehta has a B.Tech from IIT Delhi (1975), a Masters from SUNY Stonybrook, USA, and a PhD from Ruhr University, Germany. At the request of Professor Stephen Hawking, he wrote eLocutor, free and open source software that allows severely disabled people to write and speak. He volunteers as a programming instructor at the National Association for the Blind. In 2000, he co-founded Radiophony.com with IIT batchmate Vickram Crishna. Their current passion is software that might make communication easier for children with autism, cerebral palsy and dyslexia.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

TN Gives Reason to Cheer and Cause for Hope

The Government of India launched the Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyan (Education for All) program in 2003. I remember the launch as it came soon after I had concluded a research project at the behest of the Center for International Development at Harvard U, which was essentially a pilot study on the state of primary education in the vastly different districts of Madurai and Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. While there were some surprise findings in the study, much was as expected - a dismal state of education suffering from chronic issues like high drop-out rates, poor quality of teachers and teaching, and lack of adequate infrastructure.

Much hope has been reposed in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) since its launch. It is Government of India's mammoth, flagship programme "for achievement of Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) in a time bound manner, as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.

SSA is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations"

SSA's ambitions notwithstanding, most of us in India are painfully aware that the country, unfortunately, has a very long way to go still before it can boast universal education for all, and those chronic issues mentioned above still continue to plague the system. The pedagogy too, sadly, is still largely textbook-driven rote learning that rewards rote memorization and does not nurture understanding or questioning.

It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to come across a couple of videos - on YouTube, no less, that describe in detail an innovative pedagogy called Active Learning Methodology (ALM). ALM, which was designed as part of the outreach activities of the Krishnamurti Foundation School in Chennai, is based on research on brain-based learning and is being implemented as part of the SSA scheme in schools across Tamil Nadu. The videos are well made and provide some very good, concrete ideas to any teacher who wishes to employ an "active learning" pedagogy in a largely textbook-driven classroom environment (as is the case in much of India). The visuals are heart-warming - focusing as they do on female students - a demographic that is often deprived of an education in many parts of India.

There are other pointers too that Tamil Nadu seems to be doing well with their implementation of the SSA. TN certainly gives cause for cheer and hope - and a lesson for other states in the country.

Here are the 2 videos on the "Active Learning Methology" being employed by SSA teachers in TN...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Think Different (courtesy Apple)

Just love this video! I don't necessarily agree with their choice of people in the video - but I guess this was made for American audiences. The words and the message, however, are simply brilliant! Truly inspiring stuff...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cool Science

If you want to get an idea of what the (Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment is all about - I've found this basic intro on Alice, CMS, Altas, LHCb and the Grid to be very well presented and organized.

Here's "Rock-star physicist" Brian Cox explaining the LHC on TED.

Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, this certainly sounds like a very exciting experiment - a hugely collaborative effort that will hopefully unlock some of the dark secrets of the universe. Here's the coolest science video I've come across :)

And if you want to get really spooked, check this one out...

But after that watch this one to be reassured - "YOU WON'T FEEL A THING!"

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why do School Curricula Ignore the History of Computing and the Internet?

I was struck by this question at a recent visit to the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, CA. Kitty-corner from the famed headquarters of Google in Mt. View, this museum currently proudly houses the Charles Babbage Difference Engine in addition to countless other artifacts that help the visitor trace the timeline of computer history and are a testimony to human ingenuity and inventiveness in the field of digital technologies through the last 6 or so decades.

The 2 hours my sons and I spent tracing the history of computers and computing (and the Internet to lesser extent) were mesmerizing - not just for me but my sons (aged 12 and 9) as well. There is obviously that thrill of watching the sizes (and prices) of computers go down as their computing power and storage capabilities shoot up exponentially; but the stories behind the early innovations are fascinating as well. (I think the kicks I got may have had a little to do with the fact that I have programmed the DEC VAX in my early days as a programmer and used the PDP-11 in my undergrad days at BITS, Pilani. The sight of punch cards brought back waves of long-forgotten memories - of their use as flashcards for memorizing GRE word lists :))

(Incidentally there are several awesome videos on the history of computers on CHM's channel on youtube).

I was reminded of my question once again yesterday when I chanced on a video of Ethan Zuckerman explaining the history of the Internet in about 5 mins - see below. (I think this one betters the earlier history of the Internet video I posted on this blog about half a year ago).

Agreed - the fact that I have always been fascinated by the history of Computers, Computing and the Internet may have a little to do with the fact that I have used computers for about 25 years now - I did my undergrad in Computer Science from BITS Pilani in the mid-eighties, and then was exposed to the Internet in the US in the BBS, usenet and gopher "pre-browser" days of the early 90s. (I remember following the 1992 Cricket World Cup sitting in my little apartment in the US - ball-by-ball on rec.sport.cricket. Why I was a member of rec.sports.gymn in 1991-92 I have no clue!).

That said, given how pervasive these machines are in our lives today, I think everyone, and kids especially, would be just as fascinated by the history of how computing, computers and the internet crept into our lives - starting with the code breakers used by governments during WWII; the work of research universities such as MIT; DARPA; the big mainframes; the pioneering work of organizations such as IBM; the birth of personal computers; Microsoft, Apple; supercomputers (the slideshow above has some pictures of the Cray as well); and finally CERN, hypertext, the World Wide Web and Google; iPods; video games; and seemingly limitless data storage capabilities...

Children are taught about many important discoveries, inventions and innovations in the course of their regular curriculum in Science and Social Studies. The rationale being that history teaches us about what man has done and thus what man is; and also helps kids understand change and societal development. Computers, Computing, the Internet and the World Wide Web rarely ever get the billing they deserve in school curricula today, despite that fact that these kids' lives are so hugely influenced by the use of computers and the Internet. I am convinced that our kids who are so familiar with names like Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google, Yahoo, Sun (to a lesser extent), Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergei Brin; so familiar with the idea of computers and with the use of computers deserve to know and be aware about innovations in computers, the evolution of these technologies, and the people and organizations that laid the foundation for the work of Gates, Jobs, Page and Brin.

And while they're at it, I think they should also learn the basics of boolean logic, binary number systems and why silicon valley is christened thus :)

Anyway, here's Ethan Zuckerman's entertaining video on the History of the Internet...Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Listen to the Digital Natives, Sync Up With Your iKids

Purely by coincidence, the day after I wrote the post on Marc Prensky and Born Digital, I came across an article by Prensky which appeared as the cover story of Edutopia some weeks ago. The story is titled "Young Minds, Fast Times: The Twenty-First-Century Digital Learner: How tech-obsessed iKids would improve our schools." I believe that at the core of this issue is again the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants that I talked about in the previous post.

The article to me is less about what kids would like their school education to look like, than about the simple but so very important act of listening to kids; and not just about what they feel about their learning and how they would like to learn, but everything that concerns them and their lives. It seems so ironical that we attempt to shape our kids into responsible, questioning, independent-thinking human beings, but do not allow them to question or have a say in how they would like to learn and be taught; about how they would like to spend those countless hours in the classroom through those dozen odd years that we keep them in school.

If you did ask, you'd find out that kids of today are BORED, BORED, BORED by plain old chalk and talk (See some quotes below from the article). Think about how they spend their time outside the classroom and during their vacations, and contrast that with how we expect them to sit - hour after hour and day after day in the classroom - with none of the technology that they are so fluent and happy with outside of school - listening to teachers who are so clueless about how to engage them. Can we blame them if they find most of their classes mind-numbingly boring and have this to say ? --

"I'm bored 99 percent of the time."

"School is really, really boring."

"We are so bored."

"Engage us more."

"[My teachers] bore me so much I don't pay attention."

"Pointless. I'm engaged in two out of my seven classes."

Prensky calls "unacceptable and untenable" the fact that "Unlike in the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their consumers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids' education, we generally don't make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught.", and he likens this to the treatment of women before suffrage.

According to the article - "Students universally tell us they prefer dealing with questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, participating in group projects, working with real-world issues and people, and having teachers who talk to them as equals rather than as inferiors. Hopefully, this is useful information for teachers and other educators -- and it is important that educators realize just how universal these opinions are."

Prensky concludes the article with -- "After hosting dozens of these conversations, I realize one thing: We just don't listen enough to our students. The tradition in education has been not to ask the students what they think or want, but rather for adult educators to design the system and curriculum by themselves, using their "superior" knowledge and experience.

But this approach no longer works. Not that the inmates should run the asylum, but as twenty-first-century leaders in business, politics, and even the military are finding out, for any system to work successfully in these times, we must combine top-down directives with bottom-up input. As the students have told me on more than one occasion, "We hope educators take our opinions into account and actually do something!" Until we do, their education will not be the best we can offer."

(Image copied from Edutopia; credited to David Julian)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

BORN DIGITAL Attempts to Make Sense of Digital Natives

Seven years ago, Marc Prensky authored a seminal article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants- in which he coined and used these now-famous phrases to describe (respectively) the students of today who are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet; and those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many new technologies. (Marc Prensky still continues to do some exciting work - his latest research is on kids, gaming and learning. I had the pleasure of interacting with him at BLC07 last year).

Prensky's powerful observations (and terms) have been used in the years following 2001 to make a case for the use of digital technologies in education in a manner that will serve these digital natives well. But it has been a tough sell, and so far I think, most digital immigrants still don't get it!

Anyway, coming to the book that prompted this post. Born Digital is an initiative of the Digital Natives project, an interdisciplinary collaboration of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen. The aim of the Digital Natives project is to understand and support young people as they grow up in a digital age. (They're a pretty active group on facebook - I'm a member but have not been able to participate in any of their events so far).
Although the title and sub-title of the book are self-explanatory, here's the blurb that describes the book on the Born Digital website -

"The first generation of “Digital Natives” – children who were born into and raised in the digital world – are coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our politics, our culture and even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed.

But who are these Digital Natives? How are they different from older generations – or “Digital Immigrants” – and what is the world they’re creating going to look like? In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of these young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow.

Based on extensive original research, including interviews with Digital Natives around the world, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues – or is privacy even a relevant concern for Digital Natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Are online games addictive, and how do we need to worry about violent video games? What is the Internet's impact on creativity and learning? What lies ahead – socially, professionally, and psychologically – for this generation?

A smart, practical guide to a brave new world and its complex inhabitants, Born Digital will be essential reading for parents, teachers, and the myriad of confused adults who want to understand the digital present – and shape the digital future."

I have not read the book, but would appreciate reactions from anyone who has.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Can Kids Teach Themselves?

Sugata Mitra (of the Hole In the Wall project) hints at an answer to this question in this talk delivered at the Lift Conference which was added to TED.com recently. (My inbox received no less than 5 emails over the last 24 hours from various people with the link to the TED.com video! It was also added to educatorslog.in yesterday).

Sugata Mitra is convinced: "Children will learn to live together and learn together. They will come to know how to evaluate different points of view. Self-organizing learning systems will continuously evolve their own curricula and learning methods".

Mitra talks about the idea of self-organization. Examples of systems that are self-organizing are galaxies, molecules, cells, organisms and societies (these are "natural" systems), and traffic jams, stock-markets, terrorism, and internet-based self-organizing.

The BIG take-aways from his talk at the end (although I feel that these didn't jell completely with the rest of what he spoke) --
  1. Remoteness affects the quality of education (duh!)
  2. Educational technologies should be introduced in remote areas first (will this ever happen? Even the OLPC XO machine - despite best intentions - ended up being sold in the US market to "raise funds" for the project!)
  3. Values are acquired; doctrine and dogma are imposed (duh! again)
  4. Learning is a self-organizing system (small a-ha!)
To address these issues, he urges the design and development of educational technology and pedagogy that is digital, automatic, fault-tolerant, minimally invasive, connected and self-organized.

He leaves the audience with the question : Can "outdoctrination" be the goal of educational technology in the future? (That was a bit off at a tangent from the rest of the talk, I thought).

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Powerful Geo Education: Google Earth in the Classroom

This is a continuation of the thread on technology tools for Geo Education initiated in the previous post where I discussed Google Maps in the classroom. (I have talked about Google Earth as well in some earlier posts that I will link to this one shortly).

Imagine being able to look at a zoomable image of the earth as an observer from space - a view of the Ganges meandering through the Northern Indian plains and then joining the Brahmaputra to form the world's largest delta before it empties into the Bay of Bengal, or a video of the 3D view of all the Olympic locations in Beijing as in this rousing youtube video, or a bird's eye view of the the city you live in and find out the actual lat/lon for your home or school! I've tried it - and it's a thrill, believe me! Just following the Ganga to where it meets the Yamuna to locate my home town of Allahabad and then zooming in to explore the part of this land where I grew up - in a way that I have never done before was truly amazing! I've even sat with my kids and explored Bangalore and located our home and the school they used to go to, and noted the lat/lon coordinates of all these locations - it was a lot of fun! (but don't take my word for it - try it for yourself :-))

With Google Earth, you can do all this, and much, much more.

The potential of this tool to make geography (and many other subjects) so much more engaging and interesting and meaningful is undeniable. The Google of Educators site has a superb introduction to the features of this tool in addition to a listing of ideas for the classroom -

"Google's satellite imagery-based mapping product puts the whole world on a student's computer. It enables users to "fly" from space to street level to find geographic information and explore places around the world. Like a video game and a search engine rolled into one, Earth is basically a 3D model of the entire planet that lets you grab, spin and zoom down into any place on Earth. Now, with Google Earth 4.3, you can tour distant cities with Google StreetView, view photo-realistic 3D buildings, and even show your students sunset around the world with the new Sunlight feature.

From literature to environmental science, Google Earth can help you bring a world of information alive for your students. You can use Google Earth demos to get your students excited about geography, and use different Google Earth layers to study economics, demographics, and transportation in specific contexts. For instance:

  • you can use real-time coordinates to demonstrate distance calculations and verify the results using our measurement tools;
  • view tectonic plate-shift evidence by examining whole continents, mountain ranges and areas of volcanic activity;
  • study impact craters, dry lake beds and other major land forms.

Students can also use Google Earth to explore topics like the progress of human civilization, the growth of cities, the impact of civilization on the natural environment, and the impact of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Using Google SketchUp and historic overlays, students can recreate entire ancient cities. The only limit to Google Earth's classroom uses is your imagination.

Don't limit your imagination to our lonely planet, though, launch your student's imagination with Sky in Google Earth. And if you prefer to explore the night sky from your browser, you can now try Google Sky on the web. Whether you stargaze, explore Hubble telescope images, or check out current astronomical events, you'll capture the wonder of the universe without leaving your classroom.

Here are some other ideas for using Google Earth in your classroom:

  • Biology: Track routes of chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe Forest. See the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee blog here.
  • Environmental Science: Have students check Alaska's global warming problems. See how the Sierra Club used Google Earth to depict this problem here.
  • Geology: Find images, links, and descriptions, with information about thousands of volcanoes around the globe, thanks to organizations like the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program.
  • Global Awareness: Study the Crisis in Darfur with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's unprecedented project.
  • History: Explore Tutankhamun's Tomb.
  • Humanities: Have your students scout film shoot locations like this teacher did with The Golden Compass.
  • Literature: Bring class or contemporary tales to life with Google LitTrips.
  • Math: Explore distance, velocity, and wave properties of tsunamis."
Many of the examples described above can be contextualized for the Indian curriculum.

Unlike Google Maps, Google Earth needs to be downloaded and run on your computer. Here's a video on the latest version of Google Earth --

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Map Your World: Google Maps in the Classroom

Imagine a History assignment where a student must submit a write-up on Mughal Architecture (or the form it takes as an oft-asked question in exams - "the contributions of Shah Jahan to Indian Archtecture"). Or a "project" on the temples of India. Think of the way this is usually done - a hand-written write-up with pictures cut and pasted into the notebook. Or in schools where students have access to computers this would take the form of a Word document with text and images or perhaps a powerpoint presentation with text and images. While the latter may be much more appealing as an exercise and as a product, and uses technology for collating and presenting the information, it pales in comparison to the use of some of the coolest new tools on the Internet that would make all the sense for use in such an assignment, and result in much more meaningful and engaging learning - and of course, the end product would be way more cool too!

I'm talking about the use of Google Maps - Google's powerful but really easy-to-use mapping tool accessed at http://maps.google.com. These maps are very well developed - with comprehensive information on local businesses too - for countries such as the US; they're fairly decently developed for Indian metros, and developing - slowly but surely for other parts of India too (thanks to mapmaker.google.com). In addition to local maps and landmark information, Google Maps also provides terrain maps, satellite imagery, and for some places (mainly in the US) a photographic “street view” of the real world. Using the “My Maps” feature anyone can create their own custom maps by adding new annotations or markers for just about any spot anywhere for which maps exist with some level of detail. These placemarkers can have a title and include text (which can be formatted like any Word document - with bullets, fonts - style and size, and other usual text formatting). What's most exciting is that it's also possible to include images, web links and video. These personalized maps can be saved, emailed and embedded (using the unique web address that each of these maps is given), and more than one person can collaborate to create one!

Now envision a work product for that history assignment - a map of North and Central India with placemarkers for all the monuments built during the Mughal period, with factual information such as dates, materials, architectural features and other details, along with images and videos from youtube. Not only is it visually more informative with the text, images and videos associated with each monument, but the location-based information conveys so much better the history, the spread and impact of the Mughal Empire in India.

I'm sure some of you may have tons of ideas already buzzing around in your head about the tremendous possibilities of the use of these in any subject or context where maps of the world have meaning. Here are some more ideas of the use of this tool -
  • in geography (maps with geological information; and for developing spatial and directional skills),
  • in literature and language ("literary field trips" on google maps),
  • in science (animal and plant habitats around the world),
  • in social studies (map neighbourhoods and local communities),
  • or simply have students document their field trips or holidays with their personal photographs and narratives (a great language arts activity).
If you and your students have access to the Internet, it does not make sense to ignore the potential of Google Maps as a learning tool. If you're enthused enough to give it a try, here's a video from the Google channel on youtube that'll help - it explains well how to create personalized maps --

Monday, August 25, 2008

If you were a teacher with access to the Internet, what would you do differently?

This is more a stream of consciousness dump at this point. I plan to organize it better after I get all my ideas in --

If I were a teacher with access to the Internet, how would I use it?
(If my students also had adequate access to the Internet, that would change things dramatically - see second list following this one)
  • Bring the world into my classroom - quite literally! With videos and images from every part of the world available on the Internet, think of how much more real the Amazon or the Sahara would feel to the students? Play the Roja song to give a sense of the Himalayas. With tools like Google Earth, we could look at the earth in as real a way as we possibly can. Look at physical features of India and the continents and all the parts of the earth. The study of the co-relation between the growth of early cities, civilizations around rivers and water bodies would be so much more meaningful while looking at the earth on Google Earth. Study of Lat/Lon.
  • Use Google Maps to teach spatial and directional skills. Get the kids to study their neighbourhood; map their trips and holidays; create holiday and field trip logs on My Maps; learn about the planning of cities and neighbourhood;
  • Bring History alive in the classroom using Youtube videos and images from around the Internet. Footage from real events in History like Nehru's speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th Aug 1947, or Gandhi's Dandi Marck, or Google Videos of Doordarshan 's 13-part series on the History of India by historian D.D. Kosambi.
  • Use animations and simulations from the many free science sites on the Internet to explain concepts of Science in a manner that I cannot demonstrate - the water cycle, the various human systems (like the circulatory system, the way the heart functions, nervous system and such). Find good lesson plans for ideas on conducting science experiments - even low-cost ones suitable for India.
  • Use the many Maths websites to get Free worksheets, and exercises for drill and practice. tutorials and animations for advanced algebra and calculus. Use free graphing tools available online to explain concepts of algebra (such as functions).
  • Teach kids how to search for information and make sense of the unweildy amounts of information available on every topic

  • Learn and teach foreign languages and cultures from the various free language learning sites
  • Access free books and poems to use for Language Arts
  • Communication and Collaboration: Use the many tools for authoring and sharing information like Email, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Wikis (Google Sites), Blogs.
  • Connect with people from all over - Connect my students with others around the country or world through Email, Wikis, Google talk, Skype
  • Stay abreast of current news from all around the World through sites like Google News, Rediff, and others. Use these sites to get kids to relate classroom content to real-world happenings.
  • Use tools like Google Spreadsheets teach students about data gathering and data organization, for keeping student records, lesson plans, and organize all types of data
  • Use Picasa to upload and organize pictures of my students at work, class field trips, student work and performances so I could share them with my students and their parents.
  • Classroom Central: Create a classroom website using a tool like Google Sites to centralize information sharing between me, my students and their homes - to make announcements, share with my students materials like homework & reading lists, maintain my classroom calendar, plan activities with my students, and share pictures of field trips.
If my students also had adequate access to the Internet, that would be truly transformative- it would essentially make my students active creators and producers of digital content on the Internet rather than mere passive consumers.
  • Podcast created by me for my students (use class time for discussions and project work); created by my students as products of their learning

  • Blogs

  • Videos

  • Personalized Maps
Learning would be most certainly be more personalized and collaborative at the same time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Rig Veda in Hindi

A new and unique translation in Hindi of the ancient Indian Rig Veda (ऋग्वेद) has recently been published - the first volume of a four-part series. This covers the third, fourth and fifth mandalas of the sacred text and is generally dedicated to Agni - the sacred fire. This volume also includes the sacred "Gayatri Mantra".

This translation published by Lokbharti Booksellers and Distributors, Allahabad, is unique in that it is the first time that a translation appears with explanations on literal and spiritual levels, in addition to the original Sanskrit text.

The translation and explanations have been written by Professor Govind Chandra Pandey, a renowned scholar in multiple disciplines. Prof. G. C. Pandey has been the Vice Chancellor of Jaipur and Allahabad Universities, he was the Chairman of Indian Institute of Advance Studies, Simla, the Chairman of Allahabad museum Society and the Chairman of Central Tibetan Society, Sarnath Varanasi.

A book such as this is truly valuable as it makes these ancient sacred texts much more accessible to the general reader and provides deep insight into the foundations of Indian culture. It would be a valuable addition to any library, especially in an institution of higher education that studies Ancient Indian Languages, Archeology, History and /or Culture.

This book has been covered in the blogosphere in these posts as well:

Published by: Lokbharti Book Sellers and Distributors
15-A M.G.Marg,
Allahabad - 211001
Tel: 91-532-3295870/ 2427210

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MWesch's Take on the Culture of Youtube

Michael Wesch (mwesch on youtube), he of the The Machine is Us/ing Us fame, spoke at length on the anthropology of Youtube in an entertaining and enlightening lecture delivered at the Library of Congress about a month ago. This delightful one-hour long video titled 'An anthropological introduction to YouTube' is up on youtube - naturally :)

Wesch's channel on youtube is truly worth subscribing to. He and his students (he is a professor of Cultural Anthropology and Media Ecology at Kansas State University) have created some eye-opening videos that explore the impact of web 2.0 on human interaction, like this telling video titled The Vision of Students Today on what the 21st century student looks like and what education should look like to cater to the needs of such a student.

So if you missed the Numa Numa wave on youtube, now is your chance to catch up, catch on and enjoy :)

New York Times Essay Takes an Optimistic Look at Technology in School Education

This is an article written for the New York Times by a self-professed techno-optimist (I think I too could call myself that), about the coming of age of technology use in classrooms after years of bumbling and trying and testing.

The context is US schools and quite different from the average school in India in terms of access to technology - "The ratio of computers to pupils is one to one. Technology isn’t off in a computer lab. Computing is an integral tool in all disciplines, always at the ready." While India is nowhere near there in terms of access, there are learnings for schools and teachers in India - to leapfrog to using technology in ways that make sense today - that these schools in the US have realized after decades of attempting to make technology work. For example,

"Until recently, computing in the classroom amounted to students doing Internet searches, sending e-mail and mastering word processing, presentation programs and spreadsheets. That’s useful stuff, to be sure, but not something that alters how schools work."

[How many schools in India are investing in technology just to get their students to be doing this? That money is better spent elsewhere, in my view. Kids are going to learn these tools anyway - and with much more ease then teachers, I should add.]

"The new Web education networks can open the door to broader changes. Parents become more engaged because they can monitor their children’s attendance, punctuality, homework and performance, and can get tips for helping them at home. Teachers can share methods, lesson plans and online curriculum materials.

In the classroom, the emphasis can shift to project-based learning, a real break with the textbook-and-lecture model of education."

The biggest take-away for me from this article -

"..while computer technology has matured and become more affordable, the most significant development has been a deeper understanding of how to use the technology."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is Cuil Cool(er)?

Cuil (pronounced "cool") - is all the buzz since its launch yesterday.

A new, and purportedly "better" search engine than Google, started by ex-Googlers, has received much press (odd term to use in the context of the Internet, I guess) in the past 24-48 hours.

Here are a few links -
I will reserve my own comments until I have tried it out some more. I do like the look of the results pages, if only because they are a welcome change from the usual style of results pages on Google and other commonly used search engines.

A search on "Isaac Newton" (well, yes, my son was sitting next to me at the time) - threw up interesting results and interestingly laid out as well. The very first result is a german site! There were of course tabs that organized the results and the neat "Explore by category" widget on the right. Check it out...

On the other hand - a search on "cuil" on both Google and Cuil was super interesting. The search engine did not feature anywhere in its own search results, whereas it was top of the heap on Google! Go figure!

By the way, I do believe Cuil's claim that they crawl through more of the Internet. Why? Well, I came across an academic publication (that has my name among the authors) in the archives of University libraries that I had never seen in Google searches before (yes, I did compare how my "vanity search" results stack up :-))

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch Lives on in Alice

[Update: I blogged about this originally on April 10th, 2008, but wanted to promote this to the top of the heap today as Randy Pausch passed away a few hours ago.

Here are a couple of great lines (lessons?) from his famous 'last lecture':

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.

The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.

RIP Randy Pausch...]

-------------------------------Original Post (from April 10, 2008) ---------------------

Or I should say "Randy Pausch will live on in Alice".

55 minutes or so into his now famous "last lecture" (more on that lecture later), Randy Pausch (47-year old terminally ill star professor of Virtual Reality at Carnegie Mellon) states
"To the extent that someone can live on in something, I will live on in Alice."

Well a post on Alice belongs in this blog, since so many posts have been devoted to talking about programming environments that help kids be creators rather than consumers of cool stuff like games, and digital stories and 3D worlds in cyberspace. These environments make it easy for kids to program i.e. make possible what is inherently pretty tough to do. In the process, they also teach kids to problem-solve and learn concepts of computer science like algorithmic ways of thinking and ideas like "messaging" and "objects" and "behaviours" or as Pausch calls it - the classic "head fake" - where you learn stuff without realizing that you're learning stuff (a great way to teach kids stuff that they think is too hard or beyond their reach).

So, what is Alice?
"Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment designed with middle and high schoolers in mind, that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience."
There's a wealth of material on the website on how Alice can be used to teach computer science to Middle and High School kids through creating story-telling and 3D-gaming environments (with characters from the popular PC game 'Sims').

Randy Pausch says of Alice "To think that millions of kids are having so much fun learning something that is so hard (programming)...that's pretty cool ... that's a legacy I can live with".

Of the lecture here's all I will say, it's a must-see for parents, teachers and children (old enough to internalize the import of his lessons on life and living), delivered with the clarity of thought and passion that only comes from knowing that you have but a few months to live, and by a man who has obviously accomplished plenty, lived a rich life, and had a lot of FUN doing all the things he's done. Here it is....

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Human Side of Moore's Law

Really enjoyed reading this article by journalist Bob Cringely (shared by Vishu Singh on educatorslog.in).

Cringely asserts that while the performance of personal computers has increased a millionfold over the last 30 years (following Moore's Law), it takes about as much time (30 years) - one human generation - for waves of technological innovation to be completely absorbed by our culture.

He goes on to talk about the impact on education of the "empowerment" that these technologies have brought about among today's younger generation.
"We've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools."
A few more interesting excerpts that resonate well with what I figure is going on in education today the world over, at varying speeds - in India perhaps slower than in others, but happening nonetheless.

"Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I'm sure today Dave wouldn't bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we're moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what's wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?

This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained - a view that doesn't work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we're getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.

This is an unstable system. Homeschooling, charter schools, these things didn't even exist when I was a kid, but they are everywhere now. There's only one thing missing to keep the whole system from falling apart - ISO certification.


Well reputation still holds in education, though its grip is weakening. I know kids from good families who left high school early with a GED because they were bored or wanted to enter college early. Maybe college is next.

MIT threw videos of all its lecture courses - ALL its lecture courses - up on the web for anyone to watch for free. This was precisely comparable to SGI (remember them?) licensing OpenGL to Microsoft. What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? Is it the seminars that aren't on the web? Faculty guidance? Research experience? Getting drunk and falling in the Charles River without your pants? Right now it is all those things plus a dimensionless concept of educational quality, which might well go out the window if some venture capitalist with too much money decides to fund an ISO certification process not for schools but for students.

The University of Phoenix is supposedly preparing a complete middle and high school online curriculum available anywhere in the world. I live in Charleston, SC where the public schools are atrocious despite spending an average of $16,000 per student each year. Why shouldn't I keep my kids at home and online, demanding that the city pay for it?

Because that's not the way we do it, that's why.

Well times are changing."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

@ NECC - 4: Education 2.0 in India

From my session on educatorslog.in at NECC 2008 - Education 2.0 in India: Community and Sharing through Blogging and Tagging...

More on Shirky's Here Comes Everybody

Having just returned from the NECC where there were buttons any direction you looked, I feel that the book cover of the UK version of Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is so much more interesting and apt.

Talking about the idea of the "WE over I" - the name iPhone seems rather inappropriate, especially when you see people constantly conversing, communicating, collaborating over those sleek devices... wePhone would be so much more apt - or maybe wiiPhone! Not having one myself made me feel quite the outcast at NECC - a fact underscored by a remark Will Richardson made in jest - "Oh! You're SO 2007!"

Shirky's book was also at the center of an interesting session at EduBloggerCon 08 (see previous '@ NECC' posts); and here's an interesting post on the book on Jeff Atwood's blog Coding Horror.

Finally, here's a 42+ minute video of Shirky talking about his book at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in Feb this year.

(My own distant connection with Shirky - if it can be termed "connection"...I wrote a letter of recommendation for a design student in Bangalore when he was applying for the Graduate Program at the ITP at NYU in 2005...he did get admission, and went on to take Shirky's course(s?) at ITP :))

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

@ NECC - 3:The Collective Over the Individual

It's not about YOU or ME or I today, it's about US, and what WE can accomplish together.

That seems to be the big message out at NECC that concluded today. Here's a video of the opening keynote address by James Surowiecki author of Wisdom of Crowds who described several examples that demonstrate time and again how the decision-making ability of a diverse group of people is more effective than that of individuals (even 'experts').

It was great that I had my session on educatorslog.in soon after the keynote, since the philosophy of sharing resources on educatorslog.in is much the same - that the knowledge of the collective is greater that that of any one individual who is a member of the online community.

As mentioned in my previous post, Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody - about how web2.0 is revolutionizing the social order - also garnered a lot of interest especially at EduBloggerCon 2008.

@NECC 2008 - 2: EduBloggerCon 08

A few words about EduBloggerCon 2008 - the "unconference" or rather "collaborative conference" at NECC pulled together by Steve Hargadon. For more on the idea of an "unconference" - check this post by Steve.

I was unable to attend the various sessions as I was busy taking care of some snafus related to my session the next day and had to make a desperate run a few miles out to get some printing done. I did however enjoy the one I was able to attend - outside in the Second Life space late morning. I liked that it had an informal, unconference feel - in terms of the space especially and how everyone was sitting on couches and chairs, on the floor...some even standing around the periphery, but participating nonetheless...

I also enjoyed the discussions around Clay Shirky’s new book - Here Comes Everybody - The Power of Organizing without Organizations. Many quotable quotes in there, but here's one I'll add here--

"Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technologies - it happens when society adopts new behaviors"

We're clearly waiting for such a revolution in education.

It's always a pleasure for me to step out of the blogosphere and meet f2f with the active edubloggers from around the world who are shaping web 2.0 in education.

Thanks, Steve, for organizing this. Here's to more such open, collaborative exchanges in the future that help bridge the virtual blogging world with the real world.

A short video put together by Dean Shareski --

Saturday, June 28, 2008

@ NECC2008 - 1

Well, here we are - some 15,000 educators - all passionate (to varying degrees) about technology in education - at National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) 2008 of the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE ) in scenic downtown San Antonio, TX. A small percentage of us more passionate than most others about web 2.0 in education met up at the EduBloggerCon earlier today.

It's great, as always, to convert online connections to f2f ones every once in a while...Here's to convene * connect * transform at NECC 2008.

The Swedish Model

A recent article in the Economist with the same title as this post was shared on educatorslog.in recently - it's about Sweden's "Knowledge Schools" where students
"do much of the work themselves....(through) the Kunskapsporten (“Knowledge Portal”), a website containing the entire syllabus. Youngsters spend 15 minutes each week with a tutor, reviewing the past week's progress and agreeing on goals and a timetable for the next one. This will include classes and lectures, but also a great deal of independent or small-group study. The Kunskapsporten allows each student to work at his own level, and spend less or more time on each subject, depending on his strengths and weakness. Each subject is divided into 35 steps. Students who reach step 25 graduate with a pass; those who make it to step 30 or 35 gain, respectively, a merit or distinction."
So many of us have been talking for so long about personalizing the learning experience by leveraging tools of the new web, creating hybrid learning spaces - online and offline, with individual and group work, and each child moving at his/her own pace...Well, here is someone finally doing it, and succeeding, on a large scale!

Lessons to be learned, to be sure.

Monday, June 09, 2008

ZAC Browser for children with Autism

If you have not already come across this browser (and the related story of a grandfather who developed this browser for his autistic grandson), here is some info on and link to the ZAC (Zone for Autistic Children) browser.

"ZAC is the first web browser developed specifically for children with autism, and autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), and PDD-NOS. We have made this browser for the children - for their enjoyment, enrichment, and freedom. Children touch it, use it, play it, interact with it, and experience independence through ZAC.

ZAC is the zone that will permit your child to interact directly with games (a LOT of games) and activities (focused on MANY interests) that cater specifically to kids who display the characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, like impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. ZAC has been an effective tool for kids with low, medium and high functioning autism.

ZAC focuses on the children and their interaction - But we also provide an excellent forum for parents, caretakers, teachers, and others to share their experiences, tools and resources and to unite as a caring, compassionate, and extremely knowledgeable community. It is said that "it takes a village to raise a child", and that is exponentially true for raising a child with autistic spectrum disorders. The power of your experience yesterday is going to be instrumental in helping someone successfully tackle the circumstances of today."

Parents and caregivers of kids on the autism spectrum, please do share your views and your feedback on this...