Please Stop Saying That

As 2009 and the aughts come to a close, lots of people are presenting retrospectives on the year and decade past.

A few pundits and experts (not necessarily the same thing) are offering predictions of what to expect ahead.

This rant is neither of those.

Instead I have a request in the form of a short list of phrases that need to be retired from the public lexicon as we begin 2010.

21st Century skills

As we enter the second decade of the century, this is a cliche that has lost whatever meaning it might have had. Mostly it’s used by politicians and education experts as a catch-all for whatever concept they’re currently pushing.

The skills most often included – creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc. – are nothing unique to this century.

And they are, for the most part, the diametrical opposite of the test-driven crap that has been passed off as education reform during the past decade.

digital native/digital immigrant

As outlined in the original 2001 article, Marc Prensky’s concept of how kids differ from adults in their use of technology had some validity.

Today, it’s degenerated into another edtech cliche, far too often used by adults to excuse themselves from having to learn about the every expanding array of tools for communication and collaboration that have become part of daily life for many of us, not just kids.

web 2.0

New rule: anyone who wants to use this term, must first identify what on the web isn’t “2.0”. That should kill it fast.

And finally…

back to normal

This phrase has been used excessively during discussions about the economy but it is also invoked by leaders of companies and organizations (including those in our overly-large school district).

However, isn’t “normal” where we were when the wheels came off the bus?

In education, “normal” is the traditional system most people remember growing up with – and which isn’t working for a growing number of kids.

When it comes to teaching and learning (as well as the rest of American society), instead of longing for something called “normal” we should be working to rebuild into something better.

Ok, that’s my list. What would you add or delete?

Is Live Blogging Worth It?

The Blog Herald wonders whether live blogging, using tools like CoverItLive, is really enjoyable?

I’d go beyond that and ask if live blogging is really worth the time and effort?

Maybe the process has some value for the person doing the writing.

However, as a consumer, I’d rather have an active Twitter stream with a variety of immediate thoughts during the event.

And a recording or a well-written summary afterwards.

Seduced By Web 2.0

Lot’s of people have written about possible similarities between the current economic mess and the beginnings of the Great Depression in the late 20’s and early 30’s.

However, Andrew Keen, author of the anti-web screed The Cult of the Amateur, heads right off the deep end trying to make a connection between the proposal for universal broadband access in Obama’s economic plans and the rise of fascism from the same period.

The 1930s fascists were expert at using all the most technologically sophisticated communications technologies–the cinema, radio, newspapers, advertising–to spew their destructive, hate-filled message. What they excelled at was removing the the traditional middlemen like religion, media, and politics, and using these modern technologies of mass communications to speak with reassuring familiarity to the disorientated masses.

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then. Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere.

Keen’s basic premise seems to be that the growing millions of unemployed will be so pissed at “institutional authority” that they’ll fall under the spell of the unfiltered internet’s “seductive promise of personal empowerment”.

Or something like that. It’s really hard to follow his crappy logic.

[Thanks to Stephen for the link to the crazy.]

Changing the Government Web

A group called the Federal Web Managers Council, “an interagency group of almost 30 senior web managers from the federal government”, has written a white paper for the Obama transition team outlining how the government should be using the web to better serve citizens.

According to the report, there are currently more than 24,000 US Government web sites “(but no one knows the exact number)”, many of which “tout organizational achievements instead of effectively delivering basic information and services”.

So, what does this group recommend to change that?

– Establish Web Communications as a core government business function

– Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently

– Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online

– Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service

– Ensure the public gets the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, print, or visit in-person

– Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online

According to the report, some of these improvements can be made quickly and inexpensively.

Others, however, will require far more than technology as government culture adjusts to the concept of being open and transparent, not to mention actually providing service to the people.

Spending Time Outside the Bubble

Last week, Karen and I did a session for the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) national conference being held here in the DC area.

Carrying the somewhat cheesy title of “Learn New Tech Tools”, we nevertheless had a good time with it. I think the folks who spent two hours with us enjoyed themselves and left with some new ideas.

Overall, it went well. Considering that none of it – the concept, title, description – was our idea.

This was one of those situations when someone else submitted the proposal, couldn’t travel to DC, and a friend of the local arrangements committee drafted us to fill in.

While I was pleased with our session, the conference as a whole, however, was another story.

For one thing, this NSDC meeting was only slightly more tech savvy than the one we presented at four years ago.

They offered no wireless access in the convention center (brand new this year) and we had to pull some strings to avoid paying for a connection to use in our heavily web-based session.

The lack of tech usage was especially apparent in the program, which was very thin on topics you might expect like online professional development or using the read/write web for instruction.

It was also reflected in the many presenters wheeling around piles of paper handouts, chart paper, and overhead projectors.

And then there were the keynote presentations. Both of those I attended were more like extended infomercials featuring bad PowerPoint shows with lots of text-heavy slides that were unreadable from many parts of the hall.

Ok, I know I’ve been spoiled by the extremely wired echo chamber in which I spend most of my time.

In the past few years, I’ve become very accustomed to have easy, almost continual access to a back channel populated by lots of smart people who have many innovative ideas for improving education and know how to present them in creative ways.

I guess being dropped into a professional situation which is largely cut off from that rich atmosphere of learning is somewhat jarring.

Maybe the next time we present at NSDC (another four years?), the organization will have learned a little more about the ever expanding options for professional development in the 21st century.