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 recently. (My inbox received no less than 5 emails over the last 24 hours from various people with the link to the video! It was also added to 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 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 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."