Category Archives: wordpress

On Using Technology Without Understanding It

This editorial from our high school student newspaper is a must-read for its criticism of the school-wide technology integration initiative. It’s a must-read for other reasons too — and other readers — but read it first, and we’ll get to that very different party afterward.

hs edtech editorial
hs edtech editorial 2

The first thing I did when I read this was mentally applaud.

The second thing I did was wish I could reply to it and, better still, promote it for a wider audience than the guaranteed one in the schoolhouse (I’ve always thought school newspapers were a bit like busywork, since they were monopolies without real-world competition, and had no incentive to earn a bigger audience through superior quality — especially silly in the Information Digital Age).

I wanted to start a conversation with the writer, share ideas and viewpoints, extend the topic — you know, basically learn more from her, and ideally give such quality feedback in my comments that maybe the author would learn more too. Surely she knew that authors have far less authority in the Information Digital Age, that the nature of those things called texts and authors has been revolutionized by the ability of readers to write on the same page, to (in the language of AP exams) “challenge, qualify, and extend” the author’s ideas and words and worldview.

Surely she knew that the 21st Century writer learns as much from the 21st Century reader as the reader does from the writer. (Because 21st Century readers — the best ones, anyway — write with the writer. Just look at Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman’s blog, all the references he makes in his writing to what his readers are saying in comments. Look at Rolling Stones’ Matt Taibbi having conversations with his readers in the space beneath his articles — you know, those silly “forum”-like things. Just look.)

So yeah, I wanted to respond to it, and share to the world here on my (real) blog. I thought the writing and the critique of the rush to laptop use in the classroom were that good.

But the editorial was on that precious resource and traditional tool called — what was it? It’s been so long since I’ve written on it — oh yeah, paper, so no luck there (for me, or the forests, or the atmosphere, or the students’ future environmental situation).

The third thing I did was figure, since the student says her “generation is more than adept at using technology,” that she would surely know that journalism lives more and more online now, that print news is dying. Since she says, after all, that she’s a “member of the Information Age,” she would know that the Huffington Post — a newpaper that has never been in print — eclipsed the venerable old Washington Post (that traditional newspaper that actually still uses paper) to take the number 2 spot, after the New York Times, in total traffic last September. I figured she’d know that the, what shall we call it?,  traditional NYTimes itself is taking out loans on its headquarters building, due to its almost nonexistent profit margins in this post-Gutenberg age. But surely this student knew all this stuff too, because I’m sure she uses an RSS reader, and reads links from the thousand smart people she’s built up in her Twitter network — surely Tweetdeck is one of the applications open at the bottom of her screen, and surely it’s populated not by people who share her blood or her table at the school cafeteria, like most of the silly Facebook crowd, but by like-minded peers (and unlike-minded ones) around the world.

Surely she uses these by-now old tools to stay more informed about the world than people who don’t use them.

I figured, in short, that I could find an online version of the editorial — since the student surely knew that that’s not only writing’s future, it’s its present — and be able to respond to it, and promote it to all of you readers dotting the six inhabited continents on my nifty Clustrmap at the bottom of the right sidebar. A simple select, copy, paste, and link to her site so my blog’s readers could follow the link, join the conversation, share their praise (and their experience).  Maybe offer her an internship if they’re in the publishing biz, since I figured her blog would surely have a “Contact Me” page for just such possibilities. I mean, she’s technically adept, after all, and so used to troubleshooting Internet Explorer for her parents. (She surely dropped IE long ago with most geeks in favor of Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari, or whatever. It’s a parent thing, surely.)

The fourth thing I did was search for the online version of the paper and, sure enough, I found it — in pdf. You know, the format where, as I saw Will Richardson put it, “good ideas go to die.”

And that almost totally changed my view of the editorial. I couldn’t comment. I couldn’t read other students’, teachers’, administrators’, parents’, and purely authentic Readers-from-the-Brave-New-Web’s ideas about the text. I couldn’t copy and paste the most interesting ideas in the text for fine-grained commentary here, and link to the article to send you there. Instead, I had to take screenshots of it and upload it here. All of which suggested to me that, contrary to the claims of “adeptness” and expertise in the editorial, the editorial writer(s) have much more to learn than they realize.

Parting shots: Last month I took three days off of school to fly to the beach in Australia, all expenses paid, in order to give a talk to an educational technology conference. I got the offer via the “Contact Me” page on this blog, from a reader of this blog I’d never met (because while she did read, I’m not aware of her ever commenting). She invited me to speak simply by virtue of the fact that she said she was a long-time reader who liked what she read here.

Here. On a simple blog.

That wouldn’t have happened if I thought pdf was good enough for the 21st Century writer.

A couple months before that, I got another “Contact Me” bite from a PBS TV documentary producer asking if I’d be available to be a talking head on a show they were doing about classic literature — for the first episode, to be exact, which was about none other than Gilgamesh, about which I’ve written about 20,000 words over the last year here, on this simple blog. She’d read my take, and said it was exactly the kind of approach and tone her team wanted for the show.

That, too, wouldn’t have happened if I thought pdf was good enough for the 21st Century writer.

But at that Australia conference, much of what I said actually agreed with what the student editorial said: I agree that teachers can be excellent at what they do without technology. I agree that, worse still, pushing teachers to use technology before they’re trained, experienced, and ready can indeed lead to worse teaching and worse learning. I really do think the student writer’s criticisms along these lines should be taken very, very seriously. I’ve been in this world long enough to believe that we can’t push the reluctant to use it, and that that’s a fool’s errand. The best we can do is “pull,” I said in Australia. But even that word is wrong, since it still requires more energy than is sustainable for teachers. Now I believe the best we can do is simply attract. The sun isn’t getting muscle fatigue keeping the planets in orbit. It’s simply attracting them, effortlessly, because of its impressive mass. Teachers should be suns in this way, and students the planets worth keeping in orbit. Those with ears, let them hear.

But. What I hope I’ve given the writer pause to reflect on in all of the above is that having “six or seven apps” open on your computer, doing Facebook, and helping Mom with IE is nothing special. It’s about as impressive as publishing to pdf.

And: Here’s my pitch, and it’s to you, student editorial writer, whoever you are:

Our school is going 1:1 next year whether we like it or not. And I’m not sure I like it myself, since I’ve taught at a 1:1 laptop school before, and really wonder, as I wrote lately, if “the Web is too beautiful to waste on the young.”

Because just as you’re arguing that admin shouldn’t force teachers who don’t want to learn new ways to do their job, I’d much rather not force students to learn what I’ve learned after three or four years of self-publishing, podcasting, networking, and more. I’d much rather invite the “three out of a thousand” I see every year to come by after class so I can say, “You’re a great writer (or speaker, or artist, or photographer, or whatever), and if you want my support in sharing your uniqueness with more than the school hallway or your bedroom file cabinet, I’ll show you some things that have worked for me. They might lead places for you.”

Moreover, I’d much rather you use the laptops at home to watch podcasted lectures and whatnot, and come to school to discuss, write, plan, create in a workshop-style setting that applies what you learned on your laptop the night before.

And I have no interest in playing cop to your generation’s Facebook addiction in the classroom. Sometimes I wonder why I should have to. Students who choose to spend their school time writing graffiti on Facebook (and not, in the traditional way, on their schooldesk) instead of learning from the web activity that the teacher, after all, ideally has judged as worth their time  — that’s their choice. It’s a choice not to rise. Maybe they shouldn’t rise, then, and they should go ahead and practice their spelling of “LOL,” “wtf?”, and “rotfl.”  Meanwhile, the teacher can focus on the students in the room who want to learn, and to peacefully pursue future superiority over the Facebook scribblers sitting next to them. It’s a lesson in real-world responsibility. Sometimes we have to do things we’d rather not do, or suffer the consequences.

And while I’m not sure I believe that, this I do believe: It’s going to be messy for all of us.

And you, student, whoever you are, can help make it less messy. You took a good first step by articulating the problems you say students are talking about. Now take the next step: get those students to join you in generating solutions. (Read my “Recession Skills 101″ posts here, here, and here to get my take on how you should see yourself as a stakeholder in your education — as basically an employee who’s expected to contribute to the betterment of the company.)

Do it openly, do it professionally, do it maturely, and do it constructively. Don’t name names and if you’re going to stab something, stab a solution.

How can you do that? The simplest way would be to start a blog — or turn the newspaper into one.

And one last thing: as you’re helping the school try to launch this thing, as you’re suggesting your changes and communicating your point of view, don’t forget to be open to changing your mind and learning something new. Because there’s more to the web — to “blogs, wikis, and forums,” to quote your example (did you know the CIA and United Nations use wikis now?) — than you seem to understand.

And that’s true for all of us.

Helping Launch the “Possibly Related Classroom Projects” WordPress Plugin for DonorsChoose.org

I get a good number of emails from people asking me to plug their book, blog, project, etc, and normally I just delete them (okay, I save the doozies like, “I’d like to give you the opportunity to let me guest-post on your blog” for laughs on blue days).

But this one was hard to delete:

Hi. My name’s Joe Solomon & I’m a blogger and social media consultant for nonprofits (EngageJoe.com). I’m currently helping to spearhead Social Actions Labs (a grant funded, not-for-profit initiative) – where we’re building web applications that help people connect to actionable opportunities across the web.

More specifically, we’re about to launch a revolutionary DonorsChoose.org WordPress Plugin. You know the WP feature – “Possibly Related Blog Posts”? Imagine “Possibly Related Classroom Projects.” Our plugin will match relevant classroom projects from the DonorsChoose database of 10,000+ projects – and enable you to share them with your readers below your posts.

As a leading education blogger who uses the WordPress platform, would you be interested in test-driving this Plug-in? We would really appreciate your feedback and are eager to share your blog as one of the first to raise awareness for DonorsChoose projects using this new technology.

We set up a campaign on ThePoint – It would be awesome if you could pledge to test out the plug-in upon launch.

We think this could be *huge* and I hope you’ll make the pledge and help raise awareness of classroom projects that need help across the US.

I checked it out, expressed tentative interest, and then Joe sent me a screenshot of how the plugin would generate causes based on a McCain post I did recently.  Check out the “oops” factor:

Hi Joe,

It’s an interesting idea. I looked at the screenshot, and blast the luck, saw that I would be promoting Abstinence Education donation requests with that post you sampled.

That’s a red flag. Is there a way I can delete any causes for which I’m unsupportive? If so, I’m willing to play.

(Regular readers might remember my Friday Funny post about Abstinence-Only Sex “Education,” and its hilarious tendency to make sodomites of our virginity-obsessed teens – and let’s not even start to talk about the creepiness factor in the incest-tinged “Purity Balls” – no pun intended – these smarmy dads take their daughters to, complete with Hymen Pledges and other whacked insanities. So, um, support Abstinence-Only? Over my dead body.)

But Joe replied:

Hah.  Yes, our algorithm still needs some tweaking.  Many posts we’ve tested have had impressively spot-on results –  from political posts that then recommend projects that help students develop critical thinking skill for the election — to a post about Steve Jobs bout with cancer that then recommends classroom projects that cover the tough issues surrounding cancer.

Currently, though, our developer has added a feature that lets you add “%NORELATED%” and this will remove the classroom projects from your post. [emphasis added]

I hope this answers your question…

It did.

So, without further ado, I’m happy to help classroom projects find funding by matching donors and causes with this plugin. Check this bottom of this post to see how it works.

Oh. My. God. With all the scandalous words on this post, we might get some whacked results. But it’ll be an interesting experiment, and I should be able to delete the links if I don’t like them. We’ll see. :)

(And for the record, Joe allayed my reservations about any profit motive on his part with this info:

I totally understand about the making money.  Social Actions is a not-for-profit initiative and DonorsChoose.org (which supports this project) is a non-profit as well.  Check out my website to learn more about my work — engagejoe.com.

Finally, the method of using The Point website to encourage the “Collective Action” that Shirky mentions (and many of us have discovered) is so difficult is worth noting itself.  The idea is, you announce a cause campaign there, invite people to commit, and promise not to launch this campaign until X number of people do commit, giving you a “tipping point.”  (I notice Alan Levine of CogDogBlog is the only other e’blogger I know who’s also supporting this particular campaign.)

For more info about the plugin, this is from the WP Plugin page:

Possibly Related Classroom Projects” enables you to share relevant classroom projects from DonorsChoose.org based on the content of your posts.

DonorsChoose.org is where teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn and succeed. Anyone can then choose projects to help bring to life. DonorsChoose.org usually has over 14,000 active proposals.

“Possibly Related Classroom Projects” makes it super easy to connect your readers to relevant classroom projects in need of help.

You’ll be amazed at the relevancy of many of these classroom projects to your posts (as well as the awesome and imaginative projects that are happening in classrooms around the US).

“Possibly Related Classroom Projects” is a project of Social Actions Labs.

For more info about the WordPress plugin, please see our project page.

For more info. about DonorsChoose.org, please see their Help section.

Okay. I promised, I waited, I tipped. I hope some of you will consider joining the cause.

(Now let’s see if any kinky links turn up about hymens, sodomites, or other whacked “classroom projects.” :P)

WordPress Plugin Offer: Read Comments with Posts in Feed Readers

A quickie: A couple weeks ago, I posted about the fatal weakness of RSS readers – their exclusion of a feed’s comments. Derrick Kwa replied with an offer to send me a no longer available WordPress plugin that shows a post’s comments underneath it. Derrick was kind enough to follow through (and by the way, check this post for an amazing example of how hyper-linking saved Derrick from the Singaporean Army and got him an internship with Seth Godin, if I understand it correctly – a literal case of how life-changing writing online can be).

I’ve installed the plugin, and noticed that it works in Google Reader, but not in and Bloglines. I don’t know about other readers.

Here’s how it looks on one of my posts in Google Reader:

comment feed screenshot

–I’m ambivalent about the plugin right now. Is it too inconvenient for readers when the rare post generates 50 or 75 comments? Or is that a price worth paying for elevating the conversations to the higher status they deserve? I lean toward the latter right now.

If you want me to send you the php file, just comment below, and I’ll shoot you the plugin file in an email.

Another option is AideRSS, a Firefox extension that modifies Google Reader in a number of ways. John Larkin was kind enough to share it in the same comment thread. It’s invitation-only, beta, right now, and I haven’t looked into it. But I share the link anyway.

Blogger to WordPress Redirect Blues

Making the move from Blogger to a self-hosted WordPress is one more example of the life-long learning that is the sine qua non of the geek world.

I only add this note for anybody considering doing the same: If you have consolidated your Blogger feeds under Feedburner, you do not need to create a new feed for your new URL (like this beyond-school.org one). Instead, you simply edit your Feedburner feed for your old blog, and past your new URL’s info in one text box. That’s it (I think).

So far, my old Blogger Beyond School still has 220 subscribers or so, while only 70 or so people have subscribed to this new site in the last 12 days or so (and a big thanks to those 70).

So if changing the old Feedburner feed did indeed work, my posts here should pop up in the readers of people who only subscribed to the old “BS.”

Now here’s the rub: I now have two Feedburner feeds for this blog. *Sigh.* Anybody else gone down this road want to suggest a way to gently consolidate everything without losing any new or old subscribers?

Here’s the next issue, for those interested in these complications: redirecting the hyper-links to your old Blogger blog to your new one.

Apparently, Google and other search engines “penalize” people like me who simply imported content from one site to another. “Double-posting” or something like that is a no-no. So I’ve been trying to put a permanent 301 redirect in the Blogger template. It worked on the homepage, but links to any permalink articles cause a minor nuclear meltdown for Firefox browsers, so I undid it.

I’m all ears if anyone knows the trick for a 301 Redirect from Blogger to here that also redirects individual post permalinks.

I’ll stop there. And say (if it worked), “Welcome, old Blogger BS readers.”