I've been travelling for two weeks straight now, and I'm heading back to Eugene, Oregon this afternoon. Needless to say, my travel schedule has made me a bad blogger, and I've neglected to keep Hack Education as updated as I'd have liked. Food poisoning midway through my journey didn't help.
And even though each of these items below really warrants a much longer explanation (and hopefully I'll return to the topics again soon), here's a quick summary of where I've been and some of the things I've been thinking as I've travelled.
Great Lakes THATCamp
My first stop was Lansing, Michigan and the Michigan State University campus for Great Lakes THATCamp. For those unfamiliar with the acronym, THATCamp is the Technology and Humanities Camp. Attendees came from all over the Great Lakes area (with a couple of West Coasters and a couple of East Coasters thrown in for good measure); they came from a multitude of departments; there were scholars and archivists and librarians and at least one developer and one tech journalist thrown in for good measure. That blend of backgrounds -- disciplinary and otherwise -- helped make the conference and the conversations particularly thought-provoking.
Technology and the Invisibility of Labor: One of the unconference sessions that's stuck with me over the duration of my travels was on money, morality, labor and technology. Questions about money and education are always on my mind, particularly as I write about private industry and the development of (education) technology. But the unconference session focused less on the involvement of companies in funding projects or building tools (that involvement is something many educators are quick to critique) than it did on the ways in which the academy has its own set of questionable practices around labor and technology. Part of this concerns the ways in which graduate students are prepared (or not) for employment outside the tenure-track. But part of it also concerns universities' adoption of technology and the impact that has on those who are teaching with tech.
That session coincided with the story about Google's "yellow-badge workers," those employees (primarily people of color) involved in the digital scanning for Google Books. In trying to find out more information about this work, filmmaker Andrew Norman Wilson was effectively blocked by Google from talking to or filming any of the workers. Natalia Cecire has an excellent blog post on "The Visible Hand," the ghostly images of workers' hands that do appear from time to time in the scanned pages. She writes something that's worth always remembering: "Things on the internet are not made by magic; they're created by human labor. Who pays for that labor, and to what ends?"
MIT Media Lab
But if there is a place where technology and magic seem most intertwined, it would have to be MIT Media Lab. I don't mean "magic" as in "phenomena without explanation," but rather things that are deeply creative and generative in a way that is somehow otherworldly -- otherworldly, in this case, to both the business of technology and the business of academia. I stopped by the Media Lab for a brief visit and marveled at what was a place unlike any other I'd visited in academia and unlike any other I'd seen in tech. The Googleplex wishes it was this cool. The building was full of researchers, technologists, scientists, to be sure. But it was also full of toys. "Toys" -- again I'm using that term loosely. The building had various tech tools that highlighted play and exploration and possibility.
Digital Citizenship and Remix Culture: It could be that I was particularly tuned in to the notion of technology and play because the primary reason for my visit was to swing by the lab responsible for one of my favorite technologies Scratch. Scratch is a visual programming language with which anyone can learn to code (and with which hundreds of thousands of folks have).
I had a great chat with Andr�s Monroy-Hernandez who is writing his dissertation on the online community of Scratch users and particularly how on remixing impacts that creative culture. All Scratch projects are openly licensed, which means that users can download others' projects and reuse the code in their own creations. How does this sharing work? What do the users think about sharing and attribution? What do people learn, not just from creating projects with Scratch, but by sharing and interacting with others as they do so? How do these online communities -- particularly ones focused on coding and creativity -- help foster digital citizenship?
OpenCourseWare Consortium 2011
Happy 10th anniversary to MIT OpenCourseWare! This year's global meeting of the OpenCourseWare Consortium celebrated the decision in 2001 by the MIT faculty to make their course content available online, but it also looked forward to the next ten years and the ways in which OCW can continue to expand. You can read my write-up of Tim O'Reilly's keynote address on ReadWriteWeb, and I've yet to pull together my thoughts about the Q&A session with Khan Academy. (See what I mean? There's a long list of posts to-be-written still.)
Alternative Accreditation: It always feels like a "win" as a tech blogger when you make a prediction that comes to pass or identify early a trend that becomes hugely important. You can scroll back through the archives of your writing and say "Look, I totally knew that was going to happen!" And after hearing a couple of great presentations at the OCWC meeting, I did just that, locating a story I wrote back in February about alternative accreditation efforts underway by and Mozilla and by Nixty and Teachers without Borders. Presenters from those four organizations were at the meeting, and while there's still a lot of work to be done to think through what it may mean to offer alternative forms of accreditation, I am really excited about their projects and the possibilities. So I'll stake my claim now: this is going to be big.
Maine with My Little Brother and Family
From Boston, Kin and I headed north to Maine to spend the weekend with my little brother and his family. He lives off the grid, in a house powered by solar energy. I was predicting being off the Internet grid as well as during my last trip, cellphone reception was impossible. But AT&T 3G has penetrated into rural Maine. I stepped away from the Internet nonetheless, refusing to check email, Twitter, or RSS feeds. It was pretty glorious.
iPads and Toddlers: But my little brother's house is far from tech-free, and he recently purchased an iPad. It was fascinating to watch my nephew (age 4.5) and niece (age 23 months) use the device. But it definitely made me realize that a lot of the apps I have, even those aimed at the preschool age-group, are poorly designed: pop-ups, strange settings, slow loading time, and so on. A shout-out here for GoodieWords, which seemed to be the kids' favorite app on my iPad.
I've been at Google IO the last two days -- it was a really great conference, and I don't say that because I've been plied with a new Android tablet, a Verizon WiFi hotspot, and a Chromebook. Nor because I stood front row to hear Jane's Addiction play at the after party on Tuesday night.
Again, I have lots of thoughts I'm working through about Google: its competing OSes (Android versus Chrome), its attention to the developer community, and of course, its impact on education.
Chromebooks for Education: The Next "One Laptop for Every Child" Project? Google announced a new program yesterday that will let schools rent Chromebooks from Google at $20 per student per month. Although I'm not sure the price-point is that amazing, I think this is a pretty big deal and could enable a lot of schools to try out one-to-one laptop initiatives. Are schools ready to trust Google to provide both hardware- and software-as-a-service? Here are some of my thoughts on the program over on ReadWriteWeb. I'm pretty bullish on the program but I think it will take a big change of culture at schools, if for no other reason than they are handing over to kids the power for 24-7, always-on Internet access -- and we know how scary that is to some folks.