Will Richardson spoke today at the 21st Century Learning: Education 2.0 conference sponsored by the Center for Innovative Education at Kean University. His main point was:

The Big Premise:

This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.

As he noted, the world is changing, and the read/write web is facilitating those changes in politics, government, journalism/media, business, and education. He emphasized the need for curriculum to include and to integrate technology into the learning experiences of our children.

Much of what he said is available at a wiki he created for the presentation, along with links to many examples and resources.

Learning Math via Sudoku, Music, and Web Design
In Who Needs Maths?, Andrew Hodges, maths lecturer at Wadham College, Oxford, states that mathematics would be better learned through logical puzzles like Sudoku and adds,

"We should be trying to find ways of equipping children with the basic maths they will need to function adequately in society. ... We should be looking at ways of teaching maths skills through other media, such as electronic music and web design, that are more relevant to most students."

Learning and Exercise
Use it or lose it! If you want to keep your mind in good shape, you need to use it, and there are recommendations from playing crossword puzzles to using your non-dominant hand for combing your hair. But did you know that you need to use your muscles to keep your brain functioning well? The article Lobes of Steel (New York Times) reports on research showing that regular aerobic exercise "boosts memory and cognitive processing speed" in both mice and people due to increased neurogenesis.

Students Remixing Teachers on YouTube
How would you like to be videotaped without your knowledge and then find yourself on YouTube? Students are now posting videos of their teachers on YouTube. Vaishali Honawar has a lengthy article, "Cellphone taping a classroom threat".

Faculty Grating Habits
From a study on Professors' Most Grating Habits, here are the top ten:

  1. Poor course organization and planning.
  2. Poor teaching mechanics (for example, poor use of the blackboard or speaking too fast, softly, or slowly).
  3. Lecture style and technique, including being too wooden or long-winded.
  4. Poor testing and exam procedures.
  5. Negative mannerisms, including attire and verbal and nonverbal tics.
  6. Monotone voice.
  7. Poor use of class time (for example, coming in late and stopping early).
  8. Intellectual arrogance--talking down to or showing a lack of respect for students.
  9. Being unhelpful and not approachable.
  10. Unfair or confusing grading process.

Don't you hate it when you end up in the wrong room? I wanted to go to the "New York Showcase," which would look at social networking, blogs, wikis, and podcasting to support reading and writing, but I ended up in an authors' strand session featuring Holly Black and Linda Sue Park, writers of children's books. But sometimes a mistake proves to be serendipitous.

These two authors talked about their books, and they also talked about universal themes in stories. In fact, Park says there are two universal themes:

  • hero goes on a journey
  • stranger comes to town

In addition, stories follow a certain sequence of actions:

  • At the beginning of every story, a change of state occurs: Something goes wrong.
  • The resulting need or struggle propels the story
  • The conclusion arises when there is another change of state, sometimes one of reaching one's goal, sometimes not.

Identifying these common themes and actions can help students identify them across stories and can help them in writing their own stories.

Next, for a practical classroom example of using these generic themes and actions, Holly led us in a re-making of Cinderella. That is, she asked the questions, and we provided the answers. It went something (I didn't follow all of it) like this:

Once upon a time, there were two struggling young authors who lived in New York City who had a young son named Harold.

One of the parents died and the other remarried to an evil stepfather with his own evil children.

The young lad dreamed of becoming a comic book writer.

Eventually a teacher (the fairy godmother) came to the lad's rescue, bringing his drawings to the attention of an editor (i.e., the prince).

However, the evil stepbrother took credit for his drawings.

So, the editor created a contest so that the one who could draw like the drawings he had seen was the true comic book writer and would receive a publishing contract.

Finally, the good son demonstrated his talent, got the contract, and lived happily ever after.

Again, Holly asked the questions, providing the necessary structure to lead us through our own creating of details and coming to a better understanding of the Cinderella genre.

One other interesting genre described was sijo Korean poetry. In one way it's like haiku: It has three lines, each with a limited range of syllables. (Due to the long length across the page, the three lines can be split into six lines, with the same number of syllables for each two lines.) But it's also different. First the number of syllables ranges from 14-16, much longer than a haiku line. The second is that it is more formulaic. The first line is an introduction; the second gives more details, and the third line provides an unexpected twist. Here's an example:


For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juice. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or--warm, soft, and delicious--a few extra minutes in bed.

Writing poetry with a twist at the end should be interesting to children, and it may be useful for older students in getting them to use their imagination to think out of the box by coming up with a twist at the end.

Today, I presented at the NCTE Annual Convention on a panel that also included a look at MySpace and an international blogging activity.

Blogging to Learn

My presentation was an introduction to uses of blogs at different levels (elementary, high school, and college) for both students and teachers. My main point is that blogs, when used appropriately, spark learning:

"The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another."
--Marvan Collins

Blogs are especially good at sparking learning because they multiply the learning that occurs in the classroom as students

  • interact with each other, reiterating course concepts;
  • encounter different perspectives, leading to resolving contradictions and thus critical thinking; and
  • become motivated to write more when others respond and have a sense of ownership with an authentic audience.

Blogs also work well as course management tools. Teachers can provide models, recap lessons, disseminate information, and so on. As I've had more than a few students lose handouts, I like having course information and examples online so students always have access to course materials and concepts. But even for those students who don't lose their materials, it's convenient for them when blogging to be able to see examples online pertinent to the task while online. To see the presentation, go to "Blogging to Learn".

Cultural Literacy and My Space

Another presenter, Ali Mageehon, teaches at New Mexico State University at Alamogordo, and she talked about using MySpace in the classroom in an intermediate developmental writing class. Her students who were to do a cultural analysis essay of Myspace, answering questions like these:

  • Who uses MySpace? Describe the demographic profile of the “typical” MySpace user.
  • How might you describe MySpace to someone who has never encountered either MySpace or a computer?
  • Based on what you have observed, why is MySpace so popular?

But for the most part,

Essays were largely students rehashing a common theme – that MySpace is popular because it gives them a chance to keep in touch with their friends.

It sounds like a good assignment, but Ali said that the students did not enjoy critically analyzing their social spaces. they felt that school and their social spheres should stay separated.

Generally speaking, we want to tie school learning to students' own societal practices: It makes the learning relevant, authentic, and potentially long lasting. But students may have other ideas. We need to consider how to encourage students to make these connections between school and their social life, to help them see the relevance of being able to analyze their every day life, to become more critical thinkers and writers.

"Multimodal Expression in an International Blog: Writing, Literature, and Technology."

The third panel of co-presenters was Donna Reiss and Art Young from Clemson University, who, along with Magnus Gustafsson of Chalmers University in Sweden, set up a blog looking at modernism in literature in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ for three classes: Fiction for Engineers (for graduate students), a second year general education American literature survey, and an M.A. seminar in Victorian seminar.

They wanted to

Develop an international learning community

  • Foster community by connecting to an audience not physically present in letters, a genre recognizable as interactive: a writer, a reader, a respondent
  • Invoke “presence” through salutations and signatures that project voices and social roles while developing content
  • Invite writers to include personal and cultural as well as literary responses
  • Encourage reflection and revision with asynchronous communication

The students included a large number of English language learners from countries, such as "Iceland, Norway, Spain, France, Russia, China, Afghanistan, and more." As they concluded,

Intercultural writing and reading assignments provide a rich context for student-directed learning across a variety of boundaries (language proficiency, academic discipline and level, cultural background, and constraints of time and space).

Letters in an electronic medium proved to be familiar and versatile, enabling students to fulfill assignment goals and develop new communities of interpretive practice beyond their individual classes.

Obviously, blogs can be used in a variety of ways to facilitate learning. The main points are to have the students interact with one another in ways they can find interesting.

How can we get teachers to collaborate and continue to learn and develop professionally? One answer is inquiry groups.

Christine Berg, Ruth Devlin, Darshna Katwala, and Lynn Welsch presented "Exploring language acquisition, academic literacy, and advocacy for ELLs ", which was about their different inquiry groups, at the 2007 NWP (National Writing Profect) 2007 Annual Meeting yesterday afternoon.

Of course, it makes sense that having people work together on learning will help them become better teachers and better at helping English language learners. Another interesting thing is that successful inquiry groups have both structure and also flexibility.

In Darshna's inquiry group, teachers kept observation journals on things that came up with their students while teaching, read research articles that pertained to those observations, and held weekly discussions at set times on those readings. The flexibility, or perhaps I should say adaptability, came from choosing research articles that pertained to what the teachers were experiencing currently instead of having a set schedule of readings.

Another, apparently crucial, feature that made Darshna's inquiry group successful was Darshna. Apparently, she was the primary recruiter of teachers for the inquiry group, and she continually motivated teachers to keep coming to the groups. From her part of the presentation, it was easy to see her personality: friendly and enthusiastic. In addition, she listened to the other teachers and spent time finding research articles that pertained to their classroom experience. She obviously put a lot of energy (time, effort, and contagious enthusiasm) into making the inquiry group successful.

It seems then that success for any group or endeavor depends upon these three factors:

  • adaptability,
  • structure, and
  • energy (effort and enthusiasm).

What sort of web presence should you or your organization have? And how do you go about creating it?

These questions and others were discussed at a session at the 2007 NWP (National Writing Profect) 2007 Annual Meeting this morning. The session on "Planning your site's online presence" led by Susan Biggs, Cheryl Canada, and Terri Godby, had us look at the following items:

  • Inquiry questions
  • Web presence word explosion
  • Exploring identity
  • Exploring audience and purpose
  • Mapping out our writing project sites

The main point was to establish our identity: who we are, what we do, and who do we have relationships with. And to do so in a way that was clear, professional, relevant to teachers' and schools' needs, welcoming to visitors and potential participants, and accessible in terms of ease of use and navigation. I made a preliminary map as follows:

One crucial relationship, as represented in the figure, are the teacher consultants who are on the leadership team and also take back to their schools and fellow teachers what they have learned in the Summer Institute and other programs. Yet as the connecting lines indicate, to have a web presence that represents you well takes considerable interaction and collaboration among the different participants.

To see how three local sites have interpreted these issues, check out
Western Masschusetts Writing Project
The Philadelphia Writing Project
Northern Virginia Writing Project

Who does English belong to? In the article "Whose language?" (Financial Times, via EFL Geek via TESOL's In the News), Michael Skapinker covers quite a few items, including

  • the spread of English (supposedly about 1.5 billion people),
  • the issues this spreading raises (who decides which English dialect is correct), and
  • the language(s) that may supplant it some day (Chinese, Arabic, or Spanish).

Here are two excerpts:

The issue is: whose English will it be? Non-native speakers now outnumber native English-speakers by three to one. As hundreds of millions more learn the language, that imbalance will grow. Mr Graddol says the majority of encounters in English today take place between non-native speakers. Indeed, he adds, many business meetings held in English appear to run more smoothly when there are no native English-speakers present.

Why should non-native speakers bother with what native speakers regard as correct? Their main aim, after all, is to be understood by one another. As Mr Graddol says, in most cases there is no native speaker present.

Prof Seidlhofer says that the English spoken by non-native speakers “is a natural language, and natural languages are difficult to control by ‘legislation’.

As a teacher of English, I can only teach the English I know, but it's fascinating that some day what is proper "global English" may be decided by "non-native" speakers due to their greater numbers and perhaps greater economic power.

The article is a very interesting read, and so are the comments at EFL Geek that elaborate on and challenge parts of the article.

More bloggers are commenting on the myths of the Digital Generation.

Juliette White wrote of her misgivings on the notion of digital natives. As she notes, most of the evidence on their characteristics is "anecdotal."

George Siemens also critiques the so-called digital native/immigrant division of Marc Prensky, stating,

But I don't think the distinction has merit beyond a buzz phrase that has outlived the role it initially played in getting educators to think about the different types of learners now entering our classrooms.

the premise is wrong (and offensive), the remedy suggested is wrong, and the research is needlessly twisted to lead readers in directions at conflict with even the slightest amount of critical thinking. Prensky’s articles takes readers through a very shallow dive of a very deep pool.

Also critiquing Prensky's digital evangelism, Jamie McKenzie, in his article Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions, and Digital Deprivation (via George Siemens), gets to the point:

Prensky's labels are crude, inaccurate and based on no data. His gross generalizations lump complex segments together as if identical.

McKenzie's critique of Prensky is rather harsh, but he details how Prensky overgeneralizes, simplifies groups of people, and lacks evidence for his claims.

On a calmer note, Carrie Fried, Associate Professor of Psychology at Winona State University, conducted a study on how using laptops in class negatively affected learning. Her research is crucial because much of the earlier research, according to Fried, (1) did not objectively measure learning; (2) did not have a control group; but (3) prescribed how laptops could be used in the classroom. Although I wouldn't limit research to only experimental approaches, it is important that so far the effect computers on student learning has been left out. In addition to distracting other students, she found,

Students admit to spending considerable time during lectures using their laptops for things other than taking notes. More importantly, the use of laptops was negatively related to several measures of learning. The pattern of the correlations suggests that laptop use interfered with students’ abilities to pay attention to and understand the lecture material, which in turn resulted in lower test scores. The results of the regression analysis clearly show that success in the class was negatively related to the level of laptop use.

In other words, multitasking by digital natives decreases learning. Common sense dictates this finding: Learning depends on effective time on task (see Anderson & Schunn's Implications of the ACT-R learning theory: No magic bullets (pdf)), and dividing one's time among tasks lessens the amount of time devoted to any one task, along with losing time for switching between tasks. And other research has found the same results for multitasking. (See, for example, Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory and its Projects for links to online readings on multitasking and other cognitive processes.)

None of this is to say that computers cannot be used for learning in the classroom. Actually, they should be: They are part of the fabric in which we exist. Some research indicates that they can promote learning if used appropriately. (See again Fried's article and also this news about the Maine laptop project.) But also note that if used inappropriately, computers do nothing for learning.

So, we need to avoid the hype and exaggeration associated with the digital generation, focus on how Web 2.0 applications can support learning, and support instructors in gaining the skills to use these tools. Web 2.0 tools are not a panacea for ineffective instruction, but

  • They can engage students more than traditional forms of instruction.
  • They can enable students to interact with each other and others outside the classroom, thus
    • multiplying their exposure to course concepts and
    • motivating them to spend more time on task, the number one factor in learning.


Fried, Carrie B. (In press). In class laptop use and its effects on student learning. Computers & Education.

Related posts:
Myths of the Digital Generation, Part I
Myths of the Digital Generation, Part II
Hype from the Media and from Web 2.0 Evangelists

Links to online readings on multitasking and other cognitive processes from the Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory: Projects

Links to other posts on the myth of "digital natives":
Digital Natives and Immigrants: A concept beyond its best before date
Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions, and Digital Deprivation

Update (June 8, 2008) : I just came across this blog via Chris Lott: Net Gen Nonsense