Blog Archives

Absent… Present! (via Skype)

One of my students has not been feeling well, and a recent test confirmed he had a common illness that will likely result in him missing a lot of school.  Pobrecito.

His friend suggested he might be willing to have us “chat him in”, or digitally enable him to attend class, so I had him get in touch and get us connected.  Another student had brought her laptop from home (can’t wait for the 1-to-1 laptops next year!) and the sick student Skyped in.

We all said “hola” and wished him well, then we got down to business.  We had a quiz to take, after all.  We placed the laptop on a table facing the SmartBoard so he could see and hear what we were talking about.

After a brief, post-weekend refresher on the material, everyone felt ready to take on the dreaded reading comprehension assessment.

I asked the student, who had been able to prep right along with us, if he would like to take the quiz as well, since he was ready.  “Sure,” he said.

I hopped on my laptop, uploaded the quiz as a Google doc, and shared it with him.  “Got it,” we heard him say almost immediately.

As the students turned in their quizzes they all waved to him again on the screen and said hi, and we invited him to stay on while we watched a few videos for the last few minutes of class.  He did.

If he keeps it up, he won’t miss a thing!

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Hamlet’s Blackberry–Part two

William Powers in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry continues moving forward through time to give examples of how people have been challenged by technology and how their challenges can provide thoughtful questions for us today as we consider how technology will impact our lives.  Last time I mentioned Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, and Hamlet. Now we move forward with Ben Franklin,  Henry Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan.

Ben Franklin was a very self reflexive guy, recording a list of virtues he wanted to adopt in his life and painstakingly detailing how he would go about becoming a better person. Using this example, McLuhan adopts Franklin’s practice and discusses how with every new technological device, there are three issues that need to be considered:

1. Functional (What are its best uses? What can this device do for us?)

2. Behavioral (What behaviors do I need to change or acquire in response to this?

3. Inner Human Dimension (How is this device affecting me and my experience? Is it altering how I think and feel? What are the effects on my day, my pace, my work, my home life?)

Although not tied directly to a particular new technology as the other earlier examples from the book were, these questions are important for us to consider as we move forward with our students. Simply using technology because its there, isn’t the point. We need to be just as thoughtful in how we adopt technology into the classroom as we would any other tool we might use. But these questions also are ones we should be asking ourselves as our lives become more awash in technology so that we are able to serve as positive role models for our students who are more and more at risk of being “addicted” to technology or misusing it.

In the 1800s railroads and telegraphs were the new technology that Thoreau and his contemporaries had to negotiate with. A quote of the time describing the telegraph could just as well describe the texting, twittering nation of today (minus the wires): “A slender wire has become the highway of thought. Messages follow each other in quick succession.” While Thoreau had Walden to escape to, Powers argues that in today’s digital society, there’s no where to go to truly escape as long as we still have a screen, be it a smartphone, iPad, laptop or tv. Two costs Powers says we are paying because of this is extreme busyness and loss of depth.

Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher who coined the terms “the global village” and “the medium is the message” would argue that if you feel overwhelmed by technology, you can take control by living more consciously (much like Franklin).  In 1962 McLuhan wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy in which he argues that the tools and technologies we use are actually extensions of our bodies. Before this book, people considered the message itself as the thing that mattered, not the medium in which it was delivered. But McLuhan demonstrates that when a truly big technological development comes along (such as the printing press), “the change is so dramatic that it produces a new kind of human being.” The question that Powers wants us to explore, a question that both Franklin and Thoreau would have echoed, is

“What kind of human being am I becoming in light of the new technologies I’m encountering?”

Click here for a Prezi version of the info in Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry.