What Words Surfaced When Talking Augmented and Virtual Realities

VR AR Words Surfaced

I spent the weekend in New York City with a gathering of National Writing Project colleagues, talking and sharing about experiences around augmented and virtual reality, in connection to learning opportunities. The word cloud comes from my messy notepad, where I was trying to pay attention to key words that were surfacing across a day of project sharing.

Notice how the technical aspects — of how things work — is less visible than the “why we might do this” aspect, as well as the literacy components. This is not to say we didn’t talk technical at times, but mostly it was a rich discussion about how such virtual and augmented experiences might extend our definitions of literacy and composition, and how keeping an eye on the human interaction nature of technical innovation systems is a key component.

Peace (in real time),
Kevin

 

 

Google’s Reach into Classrooms (via NYT)

Piece from New York Times

It’s a strange bit of circumstance but the shift in discussions for Equity Unbound this week — in the form of a slow Twitter chat, unfolding over days — is about technology’s reach and impact into our lives. The odd part is that I had just been interviewed last week by a science/technology/education reporter at The New York Times about Google’s reach into the classroom through its “Be Internet Awesome” site.

The reporter had seen something I had written way back when the program was first announced and asked if I could talk. I did, explaining that while the site has some solid potential for teaching about technology use, the branding of it by Google clearly is a business strategy to hook kids into the Google ecosystem, early and often. I suggested that teachers use more than just the Awesome campaign when teaching about digital life. (I use elements of the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship resources, for example.)

The issue is complicated further in that we are a Google Apps for Education school district, and we use our Google accounts regularly for writing and for media making and more. It’s a valuable addition to our writing and technology and research work. I find the Google accounts more than handy … yet …. yet … I know that GAFE and cheap Chromebooks are all ways to get more schools to use Google’s infrastructure (even with privacy protections on GAFE accounts, if we believe it). More schools, more kids, more users.

And the more we use Google, the more ads they sell. (To be clear, there are no ads directed at students within GAFE itself.)

As it happens, I am right now in the midst of teaching my sixth graders in a Digital Life unit, where we discuss and explore issues of privacy, identity, choices, and the ways corporations like Google are using our browsing histories and data to target us with advertising. You won’t find mention of that state of the modern day technology world in Be Internet Awesome.

Here is the link to the piece in the New York Times.

I am quoted about halfway down, and then again at the very end. It’s interesting to see myself in The New York Times — when I was a reporter (before I became a teacher), I often wondered if my career would ever take me to the Times (it didn’t and I am glad for where I am as a teacher, and I don’t think I ever had the skills or talent for the NYT, anyway.) Now I find myself in there, in the newspaper itself.

I’m going to get a paper copy today and share it with my students.

Peace (in the ink),
Kevin

 

My Students and Their Technology Use


Digital Tree of Life flickr photo by ehren deleon shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Each year, as I begin a unit called Digital Life, I ask my sixth graders to take a survey, and the results help frame discussions about the role of technology and media in their lives.

Personally, I look for trends across the years of doing versions of this survey (Facebook, almost non-existent now; Snapchat, increased use; less negative experiences; more adults talking about technology; etc.)

Here are this year’s results:


Or here

Peace (wondering),
Kevin

What Does Project-Based Learning Mean to You?

What Comes to Mind with PBL?

I’m working with some teachers in my school district, exploring Project-Based Learning. In a gathering, we used Answer Garden to gather a bit about what comes to mind when we think of PBL (which is rather new for all of us). How about you? What comes to mind when you think of Project-Based Learning? I’ll share these responses with my colleagues.

Use the embed (just add your response) or go to the site.

Peace (and appreciation),
Kevin

NYT: Soundscape Ecology

NYT: Soundscape Ecology

We get the Sunday New York Times here at home because we are former newspaper reporters wanting to support the newspaper world in the Age of Trump and media-bashing, and because the Times often has deep dives into interesting topics. We like the voice of the Editorial Board, too. It pushes back on the president.

Anyway, the Times often does special sections for Sundays and this weekend, I noticed a large magazine called Voyages. I figured it was another one of their travel-themed magazines, which I will barely glance at. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. Same with Home sections. We’re not remodeling. But as I flipped through the Voyages magazine, I saw it was all just photos. Beautiful, fascinating, inspiring shots. And a note came with it, saying there is an audio component that you need to access online.

I dove in, headphones ready with my phone, and I was transported to places in the world through my ears and eyes. I listened to a lava flow, to the crackling of salt deserts in Chile, to the movement of a single tree with thousands of trunks in Utah, to creatures under the ocean, and more. It was a wonderful immersive experience, which one of the folks being interviewed on one of the tracks called “Soundscape Ecology.” I like that term.

It is a reminder of how much we forget about sound when telling a story, and how important it can be. It’s also about remembering that the world’s animals, plants and weather is talking, if we only take the time to listen.

Visit if you can. These Voyages are worth it. (There’s even an audio Crossword Puzzle “that you can hear.”)

Peace (eyes closed),
Kevin

Equity Unbound: Advocating for Accessibility

Alt text considerationsAn interesting discussion unfolded into the Equity Unbound hashtag the last few days as some of the organizers — who are university professors — launched a Twitter scavenger hunt, where people tweet mystery images and others tweet guesses as to what the image is.

The issue of accessibility to images and information for disabled participants, particularly those who use screen readers, sparked a discussion about the use of “alt-text” on images. If you don’t know what that is, alt-text is an option that allows you to layer some informational text along with an image, so that a screen reader for a blind participant, for example, can understand that an image has been shown and get some understanding of what the image is. (This is not to say screen readers are perfect, either).

On Twitter, you have to go into your profile on the web version and find the setting, and turn it on. It’s way at the bottom of the options. Once on, every image you post will give you a prompt on adding text to the image. But, the default for the setting is “off,” which seems rather strange. Maybe there is a technical reason. But I doubt it. (Mastodon, for example, has the default “on” for all users.) It’s also odd that the setting on Twitter for this is at the very bottom of the options, as if were a throw-away issue.

twitter alt text

I tweeted out an idea off the top of my head yesterday morning as I was thinking about accessibility — what if the Equity Unbound community wrote a crowd-sourced letter to Twitter, asking for it to make the alt-text option to be default as “on” as a way to make the platform for more accessible. After a day of teaching in the classroom, I found that a bunch of folks had taken up the idea, and a letter was already underway.

See the draft of the letter and consider signing it

Our friend, Greg, has been helpful in starting to share some online resources about this topic, and one of the links breaks down the types of images that might need alt-text for screen readers (such as informational images, photos with text in it, maps, etc.) and those that may not (decorative images). I also found a neat flowchart for making a decision about alt-text. There are also tips and tricks, and Alan even shared out a link about his suggestions for how one might write alt-text in a way to adds to the conversations.

Will Twitter listen to such a letter? Who knows. At times, it has seemed to ignore complaints and suggestions from its users. At other times, it seems like it has listened and made changes. If nothing else, it has all of us in theEquity Unbound network thinking about accessibility issues with digital platforms, and how to make the barriers of entry as low as possible for as many voices as possible.

Peace (write it for all spaces),
Kevin

 

Changing IOS Changed My RSS Reading Habits

RSS

(Note: this post was sitting in my draft bin for some time. I have only slightly updated it. My reading habits remain changed.)

Like many, when an operating software update comes along, I wait a bit for the bugs to get squished and then download and install it, figuring newer is better (not always the case). For the most part, the IOS11 update on my iPad had been OK.

Except … Apple has decided to sever many of the ties between apps and social sharing spaces like Twitter and Google (and, I guess Facebook, too, but I don’t give a darn about FB). I likely would not have really noticed or been bothered about it …

Except .. I still use RSS readers to automatically snag posts from a boatload of sites and sources, and then regularly read through what others are thinking, writing, reflecting upon in education and the arts and more. I use Mr. Reader app, which I recently found out was discontinued and no longer available (too bad .. it rocks!) and will no longer be updated (sad).

Now, with the IOS update, I no longer can share anything directly from my RSS reader into my Twitter and Google streams. It used to be a simple click of the button. Good piece? Bang. Shared. At first, I thought the loss of access was a setting that I had to reset with the new IOS. I searched and searched for a way to reset it. It’s not a setting. It’s the IOS itself.

Look, it’s not the end of the world, but I noticed something interesting … I am reading RSS different now.


RSS-Audio-Flag flickr photo by troutcolor shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I used to consume the news updates from blogs with both an eye towards my own interests as artist and teacher, AND with an eye towards sharing out any interesting tidbits and projects with my friends. Now, I am mostly just reading for myself. I’ve lost the sharing element, and I’d like to say that makes me a stronger reader for an audience of One (that’d be me) but that doesn’t seem true.

It’s as if someone cut the power wire on my amplifier, and now I am playing an electric guitar with only the tinny sound of metal strings. I miss the filter through which I actively read my RSS feeds — knowing that I was curating things of interest for others was part of my desire to dive into RSS on a regular basis. It feels presumptuous to think that people enjoyed and depended on my sharing of what I was reading, and makes me a little unsettled to imagine that such sharing might be valuable to others.

Chances are, no one will even notice the shift.

I still read my RSS, but I am bit slower to get to it, a little more likely to zoom through headlines that don’t quite interest me. Sometimes, I can use the “share” button on the raw post in my RSS but not always. I can’t tell if this withdrawal feeling is a good thing (less easy one-button sharing means more quality sharing?) or a bad thing (why was I so dependent on the concept of an audience to read what I was sharing?)

I’ll adjust. I’ll adapt. I’ll still read. It just feels different now.

(And this reflection on RSS and change reminds me that Apple itself as a company seems intent on making its closed garden of apps, IOS and more, and its influence, more and more closed off to the world, shutting doors left and right to outside influences. It gives them more control over what we are doing on its machines. That’s not necessarily a good thing, from the user standpoint, is it?)

Peace (it’s the RSS, baby),
Kevin

What Clocks Do to Us: Only Time Will Tell


Martinskirchen: strange clock at the church tower. flickr photo by fchmksfkcb shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

My friend, Charlene, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some “unintended consequences” of our digital lives. Her story has to do with helping young students in the first days of school, and her observation that some students struggle with alphabetization perhaps because they never spent time exploring the dictionary, and its sequential patterns.

She writes:

This disconcerting realization caused me to consider the ramifications of a generation(s) of students who haven’t learned and practiced alphabetization skills. The literature is rife with studies where memory system capacities, especially working memory, are measured and analyzed using span tasks which appraise the subjects’ ability to recall and sequence information.

Read Charlene’s piece here.

Her post connects to another activity a handful of us did last week, in which we were annotating an article from The Guardian about how digital reading was impacting the comprehension skills of young readers, and how brain scientists are studying the impact of screens on how we interpret text.

Check out the annotation activity for Skim Reading is the New Normal by Maryanne Wolf

And I was reminded about something else, too, along Charlene’s observational lines, in my first days with my new sixth graders when some students had to sign out to use the bathroom. Many stare at the huge analog clock on the wall, sometimes for extended moments (I guess the bathroom break is never all that critical), trying to figure out the time. Some even turn and ask me for help. Others give up, and either scan the projector screen for the digital time or ask someone else.

This is not a new observation. I’ve noticed it for years now. And wondered about it. We’ve talked about it as teachers, too. You should see students when I give them some “clock” math work to do, using the hands and face of clocks to calculate basic math skills. It’s like a foreign object.


Stereo clock flickr photo by cbcastro shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It occurs to me that something might be lost with this shift of how we tell time. It’s true that a digital clock is quick and accurate. But being able to see the movement of the seconds hand, and then the movement of the minutes and hour hands … these things give you a “sense” of time’s movement in a given day. You “see” the rhythm of your experiences.

I’m not suggesting all clocks in our lives need be digital. But like Charlene, who wonders about what gets lost when we don’t use the physical dictionary, I sometimes wonder what gets lost when we don’t teach basic analog clock skills. What are the unintended consequences?

Ever step forward seems to leave something behind — for good and for ill.

Peace (in the new school year),
Kevin

Book Review: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now

Jaron Lanier is a well-known name in Silicon Valley, and I’ve enjoyed some of his books in the past. His latest — Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now — is not as strong as some of his other books, and he gets too cute with his explanatory acronyms at times, but the book has merit for informed reading.

I won’t go through all his arguments, but it boils down to this observation from a technology evangelist from inside the technology industry (with a decidedly humanistic approach to technology):

Companies like Facebook and Google that have created algorithms that sell user personal data to third party companies (See Cambridge Analytica controversy) have created a toxic atmosphere that feeds on negativity because the powerful emotions of negativity — anger, sadness, frustration, isolation — fuels interaction, and interaction with the technology leads to profit for companies.

The only way companies will get the message to change their course is for users to stop using the technology. In fact, Lanier argues that this current business model is unsustainable in the long run, and that if Facebook and Google don’t consider other models of profit, they will be doomed. Until then, though, the degradation of experience will continue.

Unless you make a choice to stop.

Lanier argues that we make that choice, and quit. Not the Internet itself. Not the connections we make. But quit the social networking systems that don’t value users as people, and whose algorithms (now set in motion and running rather autonomously) nurture dissent and friction. He cites examples from Black Lives Matter to the revolution in the Middle East and more, as examples of how the use of social media begins positively and then quickly turns negative when the algorithms amplify negativity for engagement.

He also acknowledges that everyone’s situation is different, and quitting for one person might be easier than for another. His final message is, be informed and make an informed choice.

Interestingly, Lanier is not entirely pessimistic. He believes there is still time to change things for the better. He offers up some different solutions, including the idea of users paying a small fee to use social networks, but also, the idea of social networks paying users for any content that engages people on the same network. So, you would pay (creating a new financial system for companies) and they would pay you to write and create interesting content.

Would it work? I don’t know.

Will people really quit in numbers enough to effect change? I don’t know.

Is the current system sustainable? I don’t know but I don’t think so.

Peace (through networks),
Kevin

Beyond the Single Button World: Technology Interaction


Blue vivid image of globe and space tin can flickr photo by Patrick Bombaert shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“The switch is either on or off.” — Jonathan Josephson

In another video from an intriguing collection around transformation of storytelling, Jonathan Josephson explores the ways we interact with our technology, reminding us that the binary basis — the ones and zeros that make up the backbone of our technology — is both limited and non-intuitive for telling stories.

Josephson is part of a company doing work around technology interaction, so there is a commercial thread to this work. Even so, his observations of the tension between technology and people is worth a look and a consideratoin.

Jonathan Josephson – The Future of Interaction from Future Of StoryTelling on Vimeo.

Peace (interact always),
Kevin