Nothing To Concern You

If you want a glimpse of one potential future use for social media, listen to this episode of the Marketplace Tech podcast (5:10). The host and her guest discuss a plan in China that assigns a “social credit score”, based on a variety of factors including financial responsibility and “social responsibility”, to every one of their citizens.

However, the really depressing part of this story comes at the very end.

The Chinese government hopes to have a national social credit framework in place by 2020. The scheme has raised alarm bells among human rights activists, but Pak says, everyday citizens don’t seem overly concerned.

Everyday citizens not being overly concerned with a government plan to track them is exactly how people lose their rights. The same is true for companies that are track those same citizens.

And, despite all the high-profile stories about the crappy way Facebook and other companies mishandle user data, too many US citizens still don’t seem “overly concerned”.

At what point will that change?

Listen To This

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Do you ever pay close attention to the sounds that are around you? Telling the “stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds” is the theme of a new-to-me podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz. I’ve only listened to a few episodes so far, but if this topic sounds interesting (pun intended), I recommend starting with these two segments.

First is Muzak, which anyone of a particular age (re: older) will recognize as the company that became synonymous with the concept “elevator music”. Today, music and other sounds are carefully and scientifically designed to help stores, restaurants, and other businesses improve productivity and profits.

The other is Disney Parks in which sound designers (Imagineers) for the entertainment company explain how they program music and other sounds to enhance the amusement park experience. Even in It’s a Small World, which all sounds the same to me.

Both segments, which run about 20 minutes each, might be good programs to play for middle or high school students studying science, social studies (this work involves a lot of psychology), or music.


The image is from Pixabay and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Are These Events Necessary?

Going back to the beginning of the summer…

In a podcast discussion with Will Richardson following the ISTE conference, Bruce Dixon made a comment about the need for organizations and conferences like ISTE that has stuck with me.

We always used to say when we had our computer using groups… we’d be successful when we’re no longer needed. And I’m not saying that necessarily ISTE isn’t needed any more, but I do think that half of what it’s doing is trying to strive to hang onto everbody that it has, rather than trying to build towards it’s extinction.

Because if all the professional associations were so embedded with their use of technology that there wasn’t a need for this specialist organization, I think they should see themselves as a success.

It’s very sad when it’s main reason for being is a conference and a vendor floor, and not enough to do with learning.

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The poster session at an ISTE conference.

For many years, as I reflected on the trip home from ISTE and other conferences, I’ve often had the same thought. Was that event was worth my time, effort, and money? Should we even be holding special meetings that emphasize technology?

However, another reason why Bruce’s comment and the whole issue of the need for edtech conferences really sticks with me is that I am part of the problem, so to speak.

I’m on the planning committee for the annual conference presented by our state ISTE affiliate, VSTE1 and we are just now gearing up for the event coming up in early December.

To the general question of whether edtech conferences have any validity, I think they still do, although I agree that we may not be working hard enough to put the organizational “edtech” establishment out of business.

For me, this has nothing to do with the vendor floor and only tangentially with the conference program. The value in any meeting like this, big or small, comes from the gathering of many smart people in the same place, and the opportunity for face-to-face discussions. I’m probably old fashioned in that way, but social media and other digital communications have many limitations in their effectiveness to convey ideas.

I worry about many of the people who attend ISTE, VSTE and other educational conferences. They miss many of those opportunities by spending large amounts of time with the marketing people, where most of the conversations are more about selling products than about improved learning.

They also spend too much time sitting in sessions. I realize formal sessions are the core of most conferences, with the keynote speakers often being a major drawing card for attendees. But those lectures are, with rare exceptions, very one-way relationships.

So, for those of us who will be assembling the various parts of our state conference, we have a challenge. To make the time spent by our members both valuable and interactive. Listening, so we can help them connect with new people and ideas, rather than telling them what is important and “hot”.

And to work harder to make the whole event, and the supporting organization, unecessary.

Is that like heresy? Do I have to return my edtech geek badge?

Your New Curriculum?

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Most take the format of an intelligent conversation between two or more people, or someone telling a good story.

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Then there’s the program called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, which the producers (who also do the more conventional but also excellent Freakonomics) describe as journalism wrapped in a game show package.

On most segments, they have a panel of three very smart people and a general theme. Audience members (often experts in a specific field of study) are then invited on stage to tell the panel about something they may not know related to the theme. The panel gets to ask any questions they might have and, after all the stories have been told, they decide who did the best job.

It’s all simple, very nerdish fun.

However, as I was listening to a recent episode, it struck me that this is very much what school should be.

Stay with me.

Currently, in most classrooms, a teacher stands in front of a group of students dispensing information. Or at least they direct the distribution of that knowledge in some way.

So, what happens if the teacher walks into the classroom and instead challenges the kids to tell me something I don’t know?

There would have to be some structure, of course. I’m pretty sure teenagers could reel off a whole lot of trivia they consider interesting that would baffle most adults. But the show itself provides some of that organization.

The rules of the game are that the IDK (short for the “I don’t know”) presented must be something we truly don’t know, something that is actually worth knowing (which may eliminate everything on the E! channel), and something that is demonstrably true.

Ok, there are probably more than a few details that need to be worked out before anyone puts this idea into practice.

But what better way to get students to look at learning in a different way than to ask them to choose a topic they find interesting, immerse themselves in the details, and then put the material they find into a compelling form for a live audience?

Technology Changes Everything. Or Nothing.

This from a recent segment of the BBC World Service podcast, 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy, caught my attention.

Two economists… published research showing that many companies had invested in computers for little or no reward, but others had reaped big benefits. What explained the difference was whether the companies had been willing to reorganize to take advantage of what computers had to offer.

You couldn’t just take your old systems and add better computers. You needed to do things differently.

The program2 is about how the technology of electricity failed to improved businesses who remained organized around steam, in the same way that computers failed to improve businesses who remained organized around manual practices.

With that in mind, go back to that first paragraph of the pull quote and replace “companies” with “schools”, minus the published research part.

Over the past twenty years or so, many, if not most, schools simply added computers to the old systems. And then wondered why the promised revolution never appeared. It’s still happening today.

The presenter ends the podcast with a few lines to consider the next time you hear or read about some service, app, or system someone claims will “revolutionize” learning.

The thing about a revolutionary technology is that it changes everything. That’s why we call it revolutionary. And changing everything takes time. And imagination. And courage. And, sometimes, just a lot of hard work.

Instead of just accepting the statement as fact, dig deeper and look for that imagination, courage, and hard work required to produce genuine change.