31 March 2008

Free Speech Recognition

Yes, right now your students can have free high quality speech recognition working for them.

Consider, without paying for Dragon - or before deciding to pay for Dragon, or without struggling with all the problems of Microsoft Vista - or while waiting for the eventual "Service Pack 2" which will make Vista stable, usable, and much less annoying, or without waiting for MacSpeech Dictate to finally appear, your students who struggle with the physical acts of writing or keyboarding can be doing their own writing and doing it (probably) for free.

You just have to let them have their mobile phone in the school, and you have to let them use it.

I re-discovered Jott via Karen Janowski's EdTech Solutions blog. I had heard of it, played with a very early version, then forgotten, until thankfully - through the wonders of social networking - Karen commented here, I went back to look at her site, and - voila!

Jott works very simply.
1. You sign up with Jott.
2. You register your mobile phone number and email with Jott.
3. You add other contacts into Jott - your teacher, your parents, your boss.
4. You call Jott.
5. You say "Send to me," or "Send to x."
6. You speak.
7. Jott writes it down for you.

8. Jott stores what you've written in folders you create on their website. ("Homework Assignments," or "My Second Novel.")
9. Jott emails the text to you or to whoever you wanted it sent to, or texts it to another phone.

A lifespan solution. And a real solution to myriad problems in school, from dexterity issues to dysgraphia to attention-spectrum issues to memory problems. And... yes, a high-tech solution which requires the school - in most cases - to spend absolutely nothing and requires none of that "precious" tech support time either (If a student did not have a phone a school could buy a mobile and minutes for far less than a computer and Dragon Naturally Speaking and a "strong enough for school" headset, etc, etc.).

Like most great Universal Design solutions Jott was not designed for people with "disabilities," nor is its impact limited to that group. Hands-free writing in your car just became easy, for example. So a student using this technology is not "marked" by their obvious accommodation - an important issue for children and adolescents, if not all of us.

I'd encourage you to read Karen's blog entry on this for a great list of real-school solutions, using Jott.

And consider all the other ways your students' mobiles can support them, especially if tied in with a Google Calendar at least partially shared with the teacher (with text-message reminders), and with the ScanR website which converts a 2 megapixel camera phone into a scanner capable of producing accessible text.

So I signed up. It is free. And I put Jott's number both into my phone ["call Jott"] and into my free calling circle. And now that is free. And now I'm ready to write, no matter how awful my handwriting is (and it is completely illegible), or how slow my one-fingered keyboarding is, or even if I am driving to campus.

- Ira Socol

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

27 March 2008

Cognitive Authority

Ideas join together. On the same morning that I had an email conversation with a distinguished George Washington University professor regarding "cognitive authority" and the role of teachers, I read a New York Times article on the way younger people are interacting with political news. That article began:

"Senator Barack Obama’s videotaped response to President Bush’s final State of the Union address — almost five minutes of Mr. Obama’s talking directly to the camera — elicited little attention from newspaper and television reporters in January.

"But on the medium it was made for, the Internet, the video caught fire. Quickly after it was posted on YouTube, it appeared on the video-sharing site’s most popular list and Google’s most blogged list. It has been viewed more than 1.3 million times, been linked by more than 500 blogs and distributed widely on social networking sites like Facebook."

The article continued, significantly in my opinion, with this interesting revelation:

"In the days after Mr. Obama’s speech on race last week, for example, links to the transcript and the video were the most popular items posted on Facebook. On The New York Times’s Web site, the transcript of the speech ranked consistently higher on the most e-mailed list than the articles written about the speech." [italics added]

Hooray! I thought. But also, it is no wonder why the traditional purveyors of information, be they newspapers or university professors, are terrified.

Dr. Margaret Soltan 1, the professor I'd been communicating with, had challenged my notion that faculty existed to serve student learning by meeting students 'where they are.' "Universities don't exist to sit around figuring out where students are at and then tailoring what they do to the students," she told me. "Universities are autonomous institutions whose glory and distinctiveness - especially in the context of a pandering capitalist marketplace - is that they've evolved their own sense of what's valuable to know, and how it's most valuable to learn what's valuable to know."

Just as The New York Times knows (and controls) what "All The News That's Fit to Print" is.

But those who have grown up with the new technologies of information and communication have very different ideas. Despite all of the education establishment actively refusing to assist them, these students of today (and tomorrow) are learning how to analyze and spread information through community cognition. They are learning how to discern, how to separate, how to rank, and how to consider the context. Yes, I will admit, they are doing it badly, clumsily, unevenly, but they are doing it all the same.

"the transcript of the speech ranked consistently higher on the most e-mailed list than the articles written about the speech" Remember this. People have learned that they would rather work from the source material than to accept the analyzed condensation of even "the best" journalists on the planet. Academics should be jumping for joy! Really. So should journalists. Because, imagine, now they have an educated audience that they might be able to communicate with as 'informed equals.' How much more sophisticated a column might one write about Obama's speech if the assumption was that all had listened to, or read the transcript of, the entire presentation? How much better - to compare to education - is a conversation with students on Shakespeare if they have actually seen Twelfth Night rather than only knowing about it through the ending of Shakespeare in Love?2

But neither educators nor journalists are jumping for joy. They are threatened. They believe that their jobs, their status in society, their entire personas are in jeopardy. I think that isn't even close to true, but I do think that the way both journalists and educators perform their jobs will change - must change - in important ways. And I do understand that change can feel very threatening.

I thought of a course I took a couple of summers back - a seminar in international civic education for both masters and doctoral students. In one class we veered wildly (and fascinatingly) off-topic into a debate on governmental systems. I, and some other students with experience in proportional representation systems and coalition governments, made the case that those systems were both more representative and more efficient than those governments built on a limited number of political parties and first-past-the-post elections. The professor, someone with vast international experience (and one of my favorites) argued back. He brought up the French Fourth Republic and post-WWII Italy as classic examples of coalition governments which could not make tough decisions. "Look at Vietnam and Algeria," he said, pointing to France, in what I would call a classic case of editing for a point.

Within moments emails began flying among "our side" of this debate. Links followed links followed links, and within 20 minutes we had timelines, and I could say not only that the US seemed no more competent with Vietnam than the French Fourth Republic (an obvious fact) but I could list the vast accomplishments of that much maligned government - from rebuilding a health insurance and delivery system, to rebuilding an education system, to creating a vast (and free) higher education structure, to (most importantly) forging the start of European unity. "Interesting," I noted, that "British socialists locked into first-past-the-post campaigns were the nation which could not make the essential compromises involved in creating the beginnings of the European Economic Community (the European Coal and Steel Community)." The French Fourth Republic, I could argue, had accomplished far more in the postwar years, in terms of fundamental changes domestically and internationally, than either the US or the UK, with their "inherently stable" political systems, could manage.

But that's not the reason to tell the story: The reason to tell this is to explain that the professor in question both accepted our learning technique and encouraged it. He did not suggest that students typing on their laptops were not connected to the class. He did not assume that back-channel student communication was a sign of disrespect. Instead, he asked us to send what we'd found to everyone. And in the end he made a remarkable admission, "I'm not sure," he said, "that you've changed my mind, but you have made me re-think my assumptions."

That's great teaching. Even more significant, this occurred in a course half occupied with high school social studies teachers seeking their masters degrees, meaning it offered a counter-model to the kind of pedagogy most often used in schools.

Imagine then, if we all taught our students how to do this. Imagine if - instead of either banning laptops and mobiles from the classroom or ignoring them - we embraced these technologies and the information and communication strategies they enable. Imagine what sophisticated learners we might allow to develop if we actively taught how to gather, analyze, and share information quickly and effectively. Imagine how much more we would all learn if we accepted that everyone in the room has something to contribute to a
"sense of what's valuable to know, and how it's most valuable to learn what's valuable to know."

Just imagine.

Roger Cohen, an International Herald-Tribune columnist also published in The Times, raised - in the same issue with which I began this conversation - an interesting issue re: Senator Clinton's lies about her Bosnia trip: "
Here’s some news for Hillary Clinton: the Bosnian war was over in 1996," he begins, a fact overlooked by almost every news source covering this "controversy," but a fact easily determinable by simply consulting Wikipedia ("The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, commonly known as the Bosnian War, was an international armed conflict that took place between March 1992 and November 1995."). In other words, the 'reliable' sources have edited out crucial facts to understanding that are freely available through communally cognitive efforts. We need not even discuss how YouTube managed to spread the story by providing the full video of Mrs. Clinton's arrival.

How to transfer knowledge in society is a critical question, as is, who has the power to disseminate that knowledge. I fully realize that embracing learner-directed learning is a messier thing. But I do not think that the 200-year experiment in "industrial education" ruled by a knowledge elite has proved so successful that we need not question it, or try other things.

And even if we did think that, I'll suggest that - as The Times article demonstrates - "the horse is out of the barn." We can either help our students use their new forms of learning and communication and make it as good as it can be, or we can - as educators - keep fighting reality and make ourselves increasingly irrelevant.

Related Posts: Social Networking and Education. Learning vs. School. Too Much Technology. The Medium is NOT the Message. Mobiles in the Classroom. and from Dr. Soltan's Inside Higher Ed blog - Laptop Bans and You Know the Type.

1 Dr. Soltan's blog is also available through Inside Higher Ed, at University Diaries.
2 I say this loving Shakespeare in Love and knowing that watching the film would actually increase the understanding of Twelfth Night, but I'd still like students to have seen the whole play.

Tech article of the week: Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison. "Scott is in many ways an unlikely hero of recorded sound. Born in Paris in 1817, he was a man of letters, not a scientist, who worked in the printing trade and as a librarian. He published a book on the history of shorthand, and evidently viewed sound recording as an extension of stenography. In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for "appropriating" his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but "writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means."' Talk about privileging one medium over another! There may be interesting parallels to explore here...

- Ira Socol

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

25 March 2008

Are teachers responsible for entertainment and engagement?

Why do we have teachers?
(a) Babysitting - someone has to watch the kids while mom and dad work, and without classes to attend, university students would never leave their pubs and cafés.
(b) Someone has to hand out the tests.
(c) Someone has to make sure enough kids fail to preserve the wealth of the privileged class.
(d) To help students learn.
(e) a, b, and c are all true.

One more debate on Inside Higher Ed brought this issue back up for me. Once again faculty whines that they are being forced to compete for their students' attention. And once again they declare that they are simply not up to the task. "Science Teacher" moans, "You’re there to be educated. If you want to be entertained, do it on your own time. I don’t allow open laptops in my classroom either, because I know they are doing what I would be doing if I were them...checking my e-mail, skyping my friends, downloading music from iTunes, etc.—and not paying attention to that subject matter on which they will soon be examined. I’m quite the ogre, true...but I can live with that," in the clearest expression of the despair.

"C" went further - attempting scientific analysis:
"a. I’ve sat in the back of several classrooms doing observations in recent months. Almost nobody with an open laptop is using it to take notes or follow readings. They’re buying shoes, watching youtube, IMing, e-mailing, on facebook.
"b. Because the surfers have a lot going on on their screens — rapid surfing, video watching etc. — it’s a distraction to anyone with the screen in their direct or peripheral vision. Students have complained to me privately about this.
"c. You also often get a couple of people clustered around one laptop chatting about what they’re finding.
"d. When I do class I don’t just lecture. I do a lot of interactive stuff in which I ask students to do something for a few minutes with a concept or an example. At those moments students who have been tuned out are dead weight — they can’t contribute to the work of a group. You can see this when people go to groups — the students who have been paying attention have to explain to the tuned-out ones what’s been going on for the last ten minutes.
"Of course, students can zone out without electronic assistance. But laptops make it a lot easier to withdraw and provide a lot more external stimulus, given wifi. People get drawn into IM conversations etc.
"I started banning laptops last year and we get a lot more done."

To which I responded (for the second time in this conversation): "C: How often do you include the laptops in your interactivity? Do you ask students to look things up? To email those results to others in the class? How often do you ask students to check the data on something you or a student just said? Do you have students share work via Google Docs?"

But that's only part of the answer. Because the question I began with remains.

Let's be honest. Most of us do not need school to learn. And if we were part of a society which celebrated and supported individual learning, even fewer of us would require a visit to that school building. I can read all the history I want either on-line or through books I find at the library or on Amazon. I can look up many different explanations of maths theories. I can visit foreign language websites. I can watch Mythbusters explain science to me.

So "school" and "teachers" only have value if they have the ability to simplify that process, to make it more efficient, and yes, to make it more engaging.

Does this require that schools and teachers cater to students? Of course it does. Because I have far more choices now. Information is much free-er now. And the only things schools can hold onto - outside of student support and student engagement - is credentialism. But credentialism - outside of medicine and some parts of the legal profession - is dying. People are becoming smarter - they are learning that what you know matters a lot more than who certified that you know it.

OK, put it in simpler terms...

The decimal parable...

Why is this equation so difficult for many young students: 1.75 + 2.90 = ?
but as most teachers have learned, these equations are much easier:
€1.75 + €2.90 = ? or $1.75 + $2.90 = ? or £1.75 + £2.90 = ?

The latter are easier because they engage student interest. Numbers and maths are, for most of us, meaningless without contexts of interest. Few care what "x" is, unless "x" is the amount of money we have to spend for things we want or need or a distance we need to walk or the speed of the plane carrying us from here to there or the number of square meters or square feet we get to occupy. Just as words and reading are of little value without the informational or entertainment value carried by those symbols. Why is it easier to read a good novel than bad textbook? duh. A good comic book or "graphic novel" than a bad textbook? Again, duh. One has the capacity to engage and entertain, the other tries to insist that it be read for its own sake. Removing motivation from the equation removes, yes, motivation from the student.

So teachers must entertain. Of course. If they don't their classrooms are like prison cells. Those who are otherwise motivated may still succeed in that environment, but chances are, they'd do better on their own. The others shut down and disconnect. Any learning is maintained in the same way prison discipline is maintained - kept until one can manage an escape. And of course teachers must work to engage students, and to engage those students on the students' on 'turf.' The ability to reach out, to bend the lesson, the curriculum, and the method to the individual student and that student's learning style (and learning tool preferences) is the only educational reason for the individual teacher to exist in today's world. Because otherwise, well, you know, I can watch better lectures online than you are likely to offer.

So teachers... think job security. You can probably already be replaced by a website and maybe an electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet, unless you stop thinking that you are the sole source for information, and realize that your role is to support the learning needs of your students.

- Ira Socol

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

17 March 2008

CSUN 2008/Free Universal Design

Adobe Acrobat Reader with Speech (v. 8.x): If this is not installed, get it installed. It allows most Acrobat docs to be read at loud with variable speed and pitch. FREE

Microsoft Reader with Text-To-Speech engine and Read in Microsoft Reader
(RMR) add-ons: This is a slightly complicated install – must be done through Internet Explorer – requires three or four (with the dictionary) steps. But it reads to your students, allows them to highlight and take notes, and even has dictionaries – and can handle English, Spanish, French, and more). FREE
http://www.microsoft.com/reader/downloads/pc.asp (laptop/desktop PC)
http://www.microsoft.com/reader/downloads/tablet.asp (tablet PC, with "write notes in the margins!")
http://www.microsoft.com/reader/developers/downloads/tts.asp (Text-To-Speech)
http://www.microsoft.com/reader/developers/downloads/rmr.asp (RMR, creates one-click conversions from Microsoft Word)http://www.microsoft.com/reader/downloads/dictionaries.asp (Dictionaries)

NaturalReader Free Version:
A simple, highly-effective screen-reader (it reads selected text in most programs). Best used via the "Miniboard" option which puts a tiny control panel on your desktop. FREE

Firefox Browser v2 with CLiCk, Speak Text-To-Speech (Dyslexia)
: Firefox is the far more accessible web browser, and when linked to the CLiCk-Speak text-to-speech add-on, it reads to you via a simple three-button set-up in your toolbar. You can also install one-click dictionaries, and right-click translations. FREE
Install Firefox
Install CLiCk, Speak
Install gTranslate
Dictionary Installs

and or
Firefox Browser v2 with FireVox Text-To-Speech (Blind/Low-Vision): Firefox is the far more accessible web browser, and when linked to the FireVox TTS engine, it reads to you. You can also install dictionaries, and right-click translations. FREE
Install Firefox
Install FireVox
Install gTranslate
Dictionary Installs

Ghotit – the dyslexic’s spellcheck: A website with a context-based spellcheck system that (a) does not require you to “be close” to suggest the correct spelling, and (b) gives you definitions of the alternative words suggested. A brilliant step forward for those who often get little or no help from the spellcheck in Microsoft products. FREE

SpokenText - free online text to mp3 converter: Make it a sound file! And now that information is completely portable - via computer, iPod, phone, CD. FREE

Google Notebook: The simplest of research tools, allows students to grab online data, organize it, and share it – from Google Labs. FREE
http://labs.google.com/ (the install is down in the left column)

Google Docs and Spreadsheets: Sharable (within the room or worldwide), free, word-processing and spreadsheets. This changes everything. FREE
http://www.google.com/google-d-s/tour1.html (a tour with get started links)

Google Calendar: Share calendars with your students and keep them on task. This sophisticated system can even send reminder text-messages to the student's mobile phone (if your school is smart enough to allow mobile phone use). FREE

Google Earth: If you are not using this tool you are missing a key tool for almost every subject, from Geography to Math to Creative Writing. FREE

Graph-Calc – the on-screen graphing calculator: Even allows you to paste equations into notes in a word processing program. FREE

Click-N-Type – the on-screen, programmable keyboard: That even shows upper and lower case letter to struggling writers and runs in dozens of languages. FREE

SENSwitcher – the simplest switch program: With great support for high-needs students. FREE http://www.northerngrid.org/sen/Menu-L.htm

Google Maps: In whatever language you please… (a simpler, no need to install anything, global place finder). FREE

http://maps.google.com/ (US) http://maps.google.co.uk/ (Britain/Ireland)

http://maps.google.de/ (German) http://maps.google.fr/ (French)

http://maps.google.es/ (Spanish) http://maps.google.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Wayfaring – map-making software: Let students build simple geography and history projects with this wonderful "map mash up" software. FREE
(My "Naming the World" map, as an example)

IBM Lotus Symphony – stop paying for Microsoft Office: Save that IT budget for the things that can’t be duplicated for free. Lotus Symphony is an easier-to-use version of Open Office, downloadable from IBM, and entirely free. And it is far, far easier to use than Word2007, but completely compatible. The suite includes a Word Processor, a Spreadsheet (like Excel), and presentation software (like PowerPoint) FREE.

- Ira Socol

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

16 March 2008

CSUN 2008/Listening to Themselves

Student Writers Editing Their Work via Text-to-Speech
(another of my presentations)

Text-to-Speech computer technology, both purchased software systems and free, ubiquitous systems, can dramatically change the process of editing, and writing itself, for students who struggle with reading.

The inability of students with learning disabilities to read their own work clearly interferes with the ability to edit, and the ability to edit is crucial to both the writing process and the development of formalized thinking.

And this is not just for the dyslexics in your classroom. The ability to accurately read back what you have written is a difficult skill. Even the best readers often "see what they expected to write" rather than what is actually there. And there is no doubt that this is an equity issue as well - students who go home to parents who can support the editing of their writing have a significant advantage over those whose parents are poor readers, speakers of languages other than English, or simply untrained in writing.

But, using software created for other reasons, you can give your students, from the youngest writers through university and beyond, a simple system which accurately reads their writing back to them, and we have seen the dramatic differences this makes.

In 2004 Englert, Manalo, and Zhao described three vital ways in which computer technology may assist student writing: “Technology,” they noted, “can highlight the properties and features of a particular text structure, making it more directly available for inspection.” It can, “support communication by stretching the coordination of challenging writing processes and structures among the participants.” Technology also, “can present prompts and scaffolds that serve as thinking or mediating devices.”

Crucial to success in writing, however, are two other “cognitive supports and scaffolds” that technology can provide. One is strengthening the link between oral language and the code system written language uses – in order to write without extraordinary effort students must either develop a mastery of sight word recognition and an automaticity in spelling, or they must have effective technological solutions to the lack of that mastery. The other is the an ability to read their own writing in a way which allows the student to “hear” his/her own voice, to test how his/her words will be understood, and to edit their own writing in order to construct effective communication.

The use of Text-to-Speech software, including numerous free applications, is likely to improve the oral/written link. Because words are highlighted as they are read aloud by these computer programs sight-word recognition builds, and it becomes easier for students to absorb new vocabulary when they no longer have to struggle to establish a pronunciation that they can remember. Speech Recognition software, can increase those connections by directly demonstrating to the student the connection between their own spoken language and spelling conventions. As their own words appear before them, spelling becomes less of a mystery to those who struggle with the codes.

Most importantly, however, may be the ability of software to allow students with learning disabilities to “hear their own words.” Students who struggle with reading – with the decoding of written language – almost always struggle with writing. Not only do these two skills reinforce each other, but without the ability to easily read one’s own writing, the critical editing process becomes impossible. We could wait for reading to improve before focusing on writing, but we know that leaves students not just mute and frustrated, but far behind in critical functional and thinking skills.

When we experimented with this, with fourth year primary students diagnosed with dyslexia – a “less than first year” reading level – and dysgraphia, and, according to the teacher, had “no success in writing before this.” Specifically, in previous writing attempts the student would type in words, often badly misspelled and unconnected, and could do no further editing.

We looked at two interventions, one using Freedom Scientific's WYNN - the student typing his/her story using both audible word prediction and spell check, and then listened to her own writing through text-to-speech. The second used free solutions - a combination of Google Docs running in Firefox with the CLiCk-Speak add-on and using Google Docs spellcheck.

There were differences. WYNN's word prediction seemed to offer more vocabulary confidence than we saw without it. Students appeared more willing to try less familiar (more complex) words. And the more sophisticated voices in WYNN were preferred by some students. But both interventions showed significant changes.

It is not simply that grammar seemed to improve, but so did readability, clarity, rhythm and description. Missing words were discovered and repairs made. Repetitive word use (and pronoun use) decreased. Phrasing became far more sophisticated. And content changed as well, description being added and clarified. One student re-listened to her first version four times, eventually declaring, “That’s not what stories sound like.” Most importantly - the students did the work independently. It was their writing, crafted on their own!

We considered all the ways to accomplish this. We think that a "one-program" solution (such as WYNN or using the Google Docs - Firefox - CLiCk-Speak combination which becomes seamless to the student) is easiest to train, but even those aren't the only option. Another free way to go would be the new (and free) IBM Lotus Symphony word processor joined to the free version of NaturalReader. These software packages can be run on any computer dating back to the Pentium III and Windows2000 days, though, obviously any text-to-speech package benefits from increased RAM memory and processor speed.

The ability of struggling readers to “hear” their own voice will improve writing. It should assist in training formalized ways of thinking. It might increase engagement and an understanding of the reasons for learning reading and writing. It can be done at virtually no cost. Surely, it is worth a try.

- Ira Socol - back from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

15 March 2008

CSUN 2008/A Toolbelt for a Lifetime

Learning How to Learn Assistive Technology
(one of my presentations)

"Toolbelt Theory" suggests that we must teach our students how to analyze tasks, the task-completion environment, their own skills and capabilities, an appropriate range of available tools… and let them begin to make their own decisions.

Services to those labeled "disabled" are far too often presented as "gifts from concerned people," the style is, of course, medical, with evaluations, and prescriptions, and implementations set up by professionals. None of this builds independence. None of this builds life skills. None of this prepares students for life after school. And, truly, none of it is realistic because it all pretends that one defined, professionally chosen, solution will solve all of a person's needs forever. And, obviously, that is as ridiculous as it sounds.

Toolbelt Theory is based in the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based in the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports. After all, few of us have a toolbox with just one screwdriver, or just the tools we were given when we were ten-years-old.

So, the Toolbelt is designed to:
• Break the dependence cycle
• Develop lifespan technology skills
• Limit limitations
• Empower student decision making
• Prepare students for life beyond school

Students are taught a specifically ordered version of Joy Zabala's SETT Framework (Skills, Environment, Tools, Tasks). Specifically ordered because, in human experience, the choice of tools is always Task-dependent. At the most basic, I need to know if I need to cut wood or join it before I start looking for a tool to use. Environment is next because it makes a huge difference whether I am cutting the wood in my garage or in a forest and whether I am cutting the wood to burn or use in a cabinet. Then, I need to know my Skills – Am I strong? Am I exhausted? Is my right hand broken? Am I simply a danger to myself and others with power tools? And finally, once I know all of that, I need to know which Tools exist – if I have never seen a chainsaw, as many dyslexic students (for example) have never seen a good digital reader, I will spend long hours hacking ineffectively with an axe.

SETT is thus re-conceived as TEST:

1. What needs to be done? (when possible, break the task down into component parts)

1. Where must this be done (or is typically done)?
2. Under what time constraints?
3. What is the standard method of task completion?
4. How does the person with the disability interact within this environment?
5. Who is the task being done for? (specifics of teacher, employer, other expectations)

1. What specific strengths does the person with the disability bring to this task?
2. What specific weaknesses interfere with that person's ability to complete the task?
3. What is that person's "tool acquisition aptitude" and what tools are they currently comfortable with?

1. What tool best "bridges the gap" between the current skill set and what is needed for task completion?
2. If the tool is not already "in the toolbox" (the person has been successfully trained in its use), how does the environmental timeline match with the needed learning curve?
3. If it is not possible to use the "best tool" within this environment what is the "back-up tool"? How do we pre-train so the best tool can be used the next time?

But, we cannot just implement this in our schools right now, because our schools are unprepared. Essential things must be in place to do this effectively:

Up-to-date technology
• Schools can not continue to prepare students to use 20th Century technology
• They must be preparing students to use the technology that will be around in the next decade.
Start by asking: is the technology in your school…
• Up to that used in most major retail stores?
• Up to that used in most offices?

Ubiquitous technology
• Specialized technology is always more expensive, and more difficult to use “everywhere”
• The mobile phone, the PocketPC, Google-based solutions, Microsoft-based solutions, Firefox-based solutions, are less expensive and everywhere at the start.
Start by asking: Does your school…
• Ban mobile phones?
• Ban mp3 players even when students are working individually?
• Have all available free Assistive Technology installed on all computers?

Why is school, especially in the US, the least technologically equipped environment many of your students will be in all day? Why does school actually prevent students from developing their own – perfectly reasonable – even lowest-tech solutions… such as baseball caps which focus attention and keep eyes away from flickering fluorescent lights?

Choices of hardware and software readily available
• Students must make their own selections and learn how to evaluate
• Start small at young ages, and move up to discovering the world
Start by asking: Does your school…
• Have various keyboards and mice for students to choose from?
• Have more than one form of literacy technology?
• Encourage a choice of calculators?

Willingness to allow failure
• Without failure there is very little learning.
• Make failure “low cost” – learn from the world of video games
• Failure now beats failure later.
Start by asking: Does your school…
• Encourage all students to try differing methods of reading?
• Of writing?
• Have assessment method choices?
• Allow choices of seating?
• Allow schedule flexibility?

Instructional tolerance
• Accepting loss of classroom control
• Accepting that all students will learn their own ways to do things
• Emphasizing “what” instead of “how”
Start by asking: Does it matter…
• “how” a book is “read”?
• “how” a paper is “written”?
• “how” a student “gets to” a math answer if the concept is understood?
Does your school…
• Privilege methods?
Does anyone in your school ever ask a student…
• “What if the computer breaks?”
• “What if the power goes out?”

The goal is to empower students to continuously assess their changing needs and the ever changing technological environment that surrounds them, and allow them to build their own toolbelts of appropriate solutions to their life challenges.

The student with reading issues will likely need differing solutions for differing tasks for different instructors. She might watch a video of a Shakespeare play, listen to an audiobook of Joyce, need a simple computer reader with annotation capabilities for textbook reading, use a reading pen for a restaurant menu, and require a high-tech literacy support program for testing.

Some technologies are better at support for the "lifespan" than others - one reason I love WYNN is that I can teach it any entry level, and yet I've watched it carry many students through graduate school and into high-tech careers. Read-and-Write-Gold - for a different group of students - might have a somewhat 'higher' start point, but likewise will be a lifetime solution. The Cyrano Communicator - among AAC devices - has the same qualities. Six pictures at the start can lead to supporting the most sophisticated communication later on. In general software solutions - transferable across changing hardware platforms - trump hardware solutions, which of course, quickly become outdated. If I can read via WYNN, or Read-and-Write, or simply CLiCk-Speak I can have that "forever," but if I learn a specific reading device, you can be pretty sure that it will be in the trash in three to five years, and I'll have to re-learn from the start.

A student with math issues might require just his mobile phone calculator for work and a downloadable computer graphing calculator for homework, but may need to know to transfer data that he cannot write accurately from the teacher's calculator if that teacher distrusts the technology or suspects cheating whenever high-tech gadgets appear.

A student with writing problems might use speech recognition at home but type fastest using a mobile phone's word prediction for in-school answers.

There is not one answer. Tool choice is based in task, needs, environment, prior knowledge, availability, fashion, a sense of self, and the vagaries of what makes one person comfortable but not another, among many other things.

One AT device for each “issue” is as limiting as would be a toolbox with one saw, one screwdriver, and one crescent wrench.

There is a key final part of this learning, self-feedback, and it must be taught…

Data-Based Decision-Making

In tracking task success students can learn to look at direct results (improved test scores), indirect results (less time required for task completion), and affective indicators (improvements in mood, self-image, stress levels). Students need to be taught that all of these things matter, and will determine what assistive devices they use in the same way it determines their choice of mobile phone or mp3 player.

We are trying to develop students who prepared for independence and life after school. Who are ready to make their own data-informed decisions throughout their life as their needs and the world – and technology - changes.

To accomplish this our roles as special needs practitioners will change dramatically. We will become less doctors and chemists/pharmacists, and more librarians and advisors and personal trainers.

That is a huge change, but an essential one if the rights and needs of those with differing capabilities are to be respected and supported.

The Keys to Building the Toolbelt:
• Contemporary technology
• Ubiquitous technology
• A view to the future
• Student choice
• “Method Freedom” instead of “Method Privilege”
• Low cost of failure
• Universal design (non-“prescriptive”)

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

CSUN 2008/Communicating

Offering communications technology to those who cannot speak is so important, and now, often so brilliantly "easy" with great technologies. Here are three of the best...

The Cyrano Communicator was wonderful running on H-P's iPAQ, but it's even better now that it is based on the Pidion BM 150-R smart phone with GPS. The Cyrano is a lifespan technology idea, with an interface that allows extremely simple uses but can support the highest-level communication requirements, all wrapped up in a tiny, simple package.

The amazing Tango now brings Tango for Teens. Tango was the breakthrough in kids' alternative communication, offering everything from ease of use, to real-life supports, to emotion. Now the teen version adds higher literacy supports, tools for school, and new teen characters and voices. Try the Tango emulator.

Dynavox's iChat 2G is another great option for symbol reliant users. It is more than just a communicator, able to run other Windows CE applications. Small and not embarrassing to carry with good voices.

Communication has moved far beyond big picture boards, enabling real social interaction. These devices - and many others - are true life changers.

Check out other CSUN Conference posts below... and more to come...

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

CSUN 2008/Five New Combos

The best moments at the CSUN conference are the chance meetings which bring various types of participants together. Academics, researchers, developers, end-users, teachers can all end up at a table, sharing thoughts, ideas, and hopes. You get the perspective shifts that you need to break through with new solutions. So, as a quick salute to shared thinking, five cool ideas that bring technologies together...

The Access Tomorrow USB drive from Ideal Group (with The Ohio State University) is a great simple solution. It's a simple USB drive loaded with free AT software that could support any learner, linked by a common interface which makes it really easy to use. (Certainly Text-Help's Read-and-Write-Gold Mobile does more in more sophisticated ways, but Ideal is leading the way in Open Source design.)

The ERICA eye-gaze system is still (at $7,000 US for the system) half the price of it's nearest competitors, yet better than ever, running even more cleanly on newer tablet-PC technology and inter-connecting with almost every communication and information need, including the simplest Skype phone inteface you'll find.

Say-Magic from Next Generation Technologies (expected to release in June) combines Dragon Naturally Speaking (from Nuance) and Freedom Scientific's MAGic screen magnifier/text reader into a wonderful, and very personalisable, feedback centered computer control system with speech recognition and low-vision support.

Student Writers Editing with Text-to-Speech - which I presented on Friday - is another "assembly" - and it seemed even more connected after the conversations during the session. The idea is to join text-to-speech reading to the writing process, especially for writers who struggle to read, but really, for everyone who lacks a sophisticated reader to assist in editing at the moment of need. The idea is that when you hear what you've written you will not only be more aware of grammar mistakes, missing words, punctuation, etc., but also more aware of the way rhythm works in writing, and description, and pacing, and dialogue. As the discussion at the session revealed - this isn't just for dyslexic ten year olds - but might be the essential support for struggling community college and university writers. This can be done with a comprehensive support like WYNN (which then adds great supports such as Word Prediction and much more), or through free solutions - such as Google Docs combined with Firefox and CLiCk-Speak. (more about this in a few days).

ABISee offers a brilliant USB-linked portable video magnifier - book reader - book scanner - image to text-to-speech converter system, which can even grab images from, say, a whiteboard. Light and easy to carry, functioning primarily via a smart combination of softwares installed on your laptop computer, it offers a wide range of low-vision supports in the classroom or at work.

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

14 March 2008

CSUN 2008/Flexibility - the first technology

The conversants had varied backgrounds. Some of us had been good at school. Some had not. Some who had been good had kids that struggled, some of us who had struggled had kids that did not.

As we worked through a magnificent dinner, we told stories. School stories. University stories. And in the end, all of the stories we told centered around one simple idea - Kids are all different, but most schools want all kids to be the same, and most teachers - at every level - want students who are just like the teachers.

So we "teach this way." We run our "classroom this way." We go at "this pace." We sit in "these chairs." We meet at "these times." We read "these books." It doesn't matter if two thirds of the students in any class or course are miserable - whether bored to death or left far behind or just desperate for things to be explained in a different way.

All this came on a day when a new research study stated that math educators should stop trying to argue over instructional methods.

"The report tries to put to rest the long, heated debate over math teaching methods. Parents and teachers have fought passionately in school districts around the country over the relative merits of traditional, or teacher-directed, instruction, in which students are told how to do problems and then drilled on them, versus reform or child-centered instruction, emphasizing student exploration and conceptual understanding. It said both methods had a role.

"'There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction,” Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, said at a briefing on Wednesday. “People may retain their strongly held philosophical inclinations, but the research does not show that either is better than the other.”

Unfortunately the report misses it's very own research point. Though realizing that arbitrarily choosing an instruction method is wrong, this 'panel of experts' decides to set arbitrary age standards for math achievement. "[B]y the end of the third grade, students should be proficient in adding and subtracting whole numbers. Two years later, they should be proficient in multiplying and dividing them. By the end of the sixth grade, the report said, students should have mastered the multiplication and division of fractions and decimals."

In other words, different kids may learn differently but they all must learn at exactly the same rate. Got that?

What is it which makes so many 'educational experts' so clueless? A key part is that education is run by people - the small percentage of people - for whom school-as-we-know-it has always worked. Another key part is that research is too often done in ways that forces people to "study" rather than see or hear. And another? An inability to see beyond the limits of industrial-style education.

Is this about technology in schools?

Yes, because the fact is that our first uses of technology in school tend to destroy students. We stick them in cell-like classrooms, force them to sit for hours in uncomfortable seats ("stress positions"?), force them to accommodate to an absurd - anti-educational - schedule. We deliver content via antique technologies (printed books, chalkboards or whiteboards) which make individualization ("differentiated instruction") nearly impossible. We stick with pre-written curricula and syllabi. We light these cell-like classrooms harshly with flickering fluorescents. We create stress-creating corridors, lunch "hours," transportation systems. We evaluate learning using the idiocy of tests.

And, of course, we depend on a completely fraudulent research model - one which mistakes "statistically significant" group success for anything having anything to do with the way an individual human learns.

These are all technologies - human created tools - and they are all bad technologies - abusive, destructive, and anti-child and anti-human.

No excuses anymore.

But as my group of friends know, all the technologies exist now to break through all those bad choices. A student can sit in a classroom or not via podcast technologies. A student can move at any pace - right up to grabbing course curriculum from, say, MIT. "Time to learn" can be the student's choice. Amazon can ship you any book overnight, or put it on your Kindle, or you can grab it from Bookshare or Gutenberg.org. There are millions of audiobooks, great text-to-speech systems. Free tools for student collaboration like Google Docs and Google Notebook. Hell, you could prove your competence by fixing or improving a Wikipedia entry, or publishing a blog, or publishing a book.

It is time to stop abusing students, abusing children. It is time to embrace the technologies of our age to allow universal access to individually appropriate education. It is time to stop thing of students as a "normed" raw material which we will process.

It is time to be flexible, connected to our current century's tools, and human. It is just time.

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

12 March 2008

CSUN 2008/First Day

Jim Fruchterman is one of those guys. You know, literally a rocket scientist. The kind of Cal-Tech geek who could – or maybe did – make a bomb chase you down the street, around a corner, and wipe you and your house out as you put the key in the door. But he's chosen to do other things with his life.

He built blind reading software back in the 1980s. In the 1990s he and Roberta Brosnahan and the other geeks who made up what was then Arkenstone created WYNN – the literacy software for dyslexics which changed my life. I still remember talking to this guys back then. A prof had said to me, "there's reading software for blind people, there must be something for you." And an early-generation search (Alta-Vista, no doubt) gave me the phone number of these people who seemed to be working in some echo-y hangar at Moffett Field near San Jose. Maybe it wasn't a hangar. Maybe that's just how I imagined it. "Yes," they told me. "You scan books in and it reads to you. Shows you the word and reads it at the same time. You can even take notes right in the program." I ordered it for me. We ordered it for every computer lab at the university I was at. I could finally say goodbye to books read onto those stupid RFB+D cassettes by bored work study students. I could finally make notes as I read books. Yes, it was every bit as amazing as it sounds.

All that to say that Jim, now the leader of Benetech (Arkenstone and WYNN are now part of Freedom Scientific), keynoted the 23rd Annual International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities this Wednesday, and shared his vision of the future of Assistive Technology.

He insisted we must "raise the floor" through free technologies shared on ubiquitous devices. He insisted that we must stop asking people with 'disabilities' to "come to us" and we must "come to them" – enabling websites, computers, libraries, and above all mobile phones to bring these accommodations to where the people already are. And he pointed out the validity of this business model. After all, if a dyslexic student (for example) can get basic information through free text-to-speech software (such as Firefox's CLiCk-Speak or something in the future which runs on their mobile), they instantly become more economically (and academically) viable – and they will then become customers for the high-end solutions which will power their educations and jobs – solutions like WYNN (which now does so much more than what I described above).

And his targets are essential. This morning I saw a Nokia Mobile Phone (the N82 model with the 5.1 megapixel camera) teamed with $1600 (US) software. You held it about 7 centimeters above a page of text, take a picture, and after about 5 seconds it begins to read the text to you. Brilliant, absolutely. But also extravagantly expensive. But we have more ubiquitous answers. For $200 (US – with a contract) you can have an HTC Touch phone with a 2 megapixel camera, and for $5 a month more you can have a ScanR account, and – if we can just get a decent consumer addable text-to-speech system for mobiles (I know it is coming, just not here yet) – you could accomplish the very same thing affordably, though the wait will be (obviously) a bit longer.

Just as I can teach and analyse text-to-speech through Firefox/CLiCk-Speak, Microsoft Reader, or NaturalReader in order to prove the value of purchasing WYNN or Read-and-Write.

This is critical. We must build a base of universal design solutions based in ubiquitous technologies. This will allow all people to start to build their own solutions. But that does not mean we stop creating those "high end" specific solutions. Newly empowered end users will both demand those and be able to afford them.

- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

11 March 2008

When Print is a Worse Information Source

Lisa Rossi is likely a lovely person. She seems to be a fine reporter. But after a recent "encounter" with Ms. Rossi, and the subsequent article she produced, I have one more pile of evidence which suggests that print journalism might simply fade away as a primary information source, for good reason.

Which, of course, suggests that schools need to be doing a much better job of teaching the uses of, and the creation of, digital and online information. Which is not only more equitable in terms of 'disability,' economic status, and community location, but proves itself more and more superior to printed texts in terms of accuracy, completeness, interactivity, and educational value, as each days goes on.

Not that print news cannot be done well - not that online information cannot be done badly. But the limitations of ink-on-paper are profound, beginning with (outside of the best and largest newspapers) extremely limited space for news and opinion (see my Mobiles in Classrooms post for a comparison between print and digital articles), and including a lack of interactivity (note the way Guardian columnists often interact with their blogs' readers, or the way New York Times blogs have both reader recommended and editor selected ways of reading blog comments), as well as an inability to continually update, correct, or simply be challenged.

Two weeks ago I spent 48 minutes on my mobile with The Des Moines Register's Ms. Rossi. I know because though I have lots of mobile minutes, when the time counter passes 30 on any one phone call I still notice. I spent 48 minutes conversing about Dr. Michael Bugeja, the director of Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, and about the nuances of where we differ regarding technology and education, why and how. I suspect she talked to a number of others, perhaps for as long or longer, in addition, I would hope, to her conversations with Dr. Bugeja himself.

But the result, limited as it is by the "newshole" of the Register, and lacking the "live links" possible in digital publishing, can't possibly be worth the trees cut down to make the paper which holds these minimal thoughts - an article not even close to worthy of Dr. Bugeja's scholarship, let alone mine (if "scholarship" is what it is) or Paul Shovlin's - an Ohio U. doc student also quoted.

Now, for the most trained in search and research, one might begin with Ms. Rossi's 750-word mini-column and find lots of things to Google. But anyone reading the story and possessing the search and research skills typically taught in US schools would find nothing of any value at all - just a random set of facts arranged around no central theory or idea. (One might find complete untruths as well, I absolutely never said that I "[credit] blogs for the knowledge that views like Bugeja's exist" - much of our conversation concerned the ways Dr. Bugeja's views are different from, and similar to, others I have met over the past dozen years who share these oppositions to technology - besides, I "met" Dr. Bugeja through The New York Times - but that's journalism for you.)

After all, Dr. Bugeja and I agree and disagree about some fascinating things. I believe we both think that educators ought to think about what they are doing with technology a whole lot more than they do. I believe we both think that better teacher training is essential to better student training. I believe that we're both fascinated by the questions of power which arise from technological shifts. I also believe that we disagree on where the urgency is - I think the old models, and the old educational strategies have failed - have failed so many - and that we must embrace the new while fighting to make that future the best it can be. Dr. Bugeja, I believe, feels the dangers - the threats - to how we assemble, disseminate, acquire, and trust information are so great that we must make sure that we have the right controls for new technologies in place before we embrace them. Dr. Bugeja is likely to calls things like printing presses, blackboards, and lecture halls "tools," and consider them separately. I am more likely to call those things "technologies" and measure the impact of those things using the same criteria I use when looking at a social networking system. But Dr. Bugeja and I would agree - it is always good and bad - Gutenberg's press enabled many things, it also wiped out almost half the languages of Europe within two centuries of its invention (no printed work? dead language). These new technologies hold similar promises - and dangers. Our differences might be fundamental, but they are only "worlds apart" when filtered through the simplification processes necessary to certain forms of print media.

What I told Ms. Rossi was about all I have gained from my interactions with Dr. Bugeja. Every argument I have with him sends me deep into Google Scholar and into the MSU Library's digital catalogue. Every debate causes me to delve into the complex questions of how technological change actually impacts the people of the world. They key thing, for me, is that without these technologies - online news media, blogs, email, social networking systems - I, sitting in East Lansing, Michigan, would have little chance to know, interact with, and debate a scholar like Dr. Bugeja. If our relationship began in the worst of digital ways - a quote of his limited by the context of an opinionated NYT column and a flamed blog response from me - it has progressed through the best of digital ways (substantive online debates, email, ability to quickly research), all the way to the point where we've used the good old US Postal service to share books with each other.

Now let's be clear - the same article, produced for on-line use, could have been much longer. It could have contained links to Dr. Bugeja's writing, to mine, to Mr. Shovlin's. Readers could have jumped directly to the debates we've all shared. Real research could have been cited, and linked. And honestly, if the Register were a better (and by that I mean, a more 21st Century) newspaper, the online version of the story would have been all that.

Let's be equally clear. Carrying a copy of that print newspaper with the fourth-rate journalism effort into many college classrooms would fail to disturb many professors who would not want to see a computer being used in that room. Quoting from that print newspaper would be more acceptable to many high school teachers than quoting from a "blog."

In other words, schools are embracing an information communication technology provably worse, less informative and less accurate, simply because it is older.

Here's the article in full (c) 2008 The Des Moines Register

ISU journalism director challenges cyber trend


Ames, Ia. -- When Iowa State University journalism school Director Michael Bugeja asked a group of Simpson College students what inspires awe in them, he was greeted with deafening silence.

After a second attempt to get a reaction generated only a feeble response, Bugeja pondered his own question and concluded: Technology creates simulated lives for too many of today's college students. In some cases, he said, they get so wrapped up in their online lives that they lose touch with reality.

Bugeja blames technology. He warns anyone who will listen about the blind embrace of avatars, cyber lives and Web surfing during class.

"What we're seeing is these consumer technologies are blurring the line between entertainment and learning," he said.

His views have landed him at the center of a debate among education leaders over how to simultaneously capture the attention of tech-savvy students and still maintain the depth of instruction they will need to survive in the modern wired world.

Not everyone agrees with Bugeja. That's why there's a spam e-mail named for him. And it's why the editor of the campus newspaper characterized his comments as "iPhobic" in 2006. Some, however, give Bugeja credit for putting the issue on the front burner.

"He makes us stop and think about the impact of that technology and why do we think that it works, how could we improve on it," said Jim Davis, ISU's chief information officer.

Other Bugeja detractors are decidedly less polite.

Ira Socol, a doctoral student in special education technology at Michigan State University, wrote on his blog that Bugeja is "another old journalism prof" who is "locked in the past."

Bugeja condemns the personal nature of what he says should be a scholarly debate.

"If you disagree with me, publish," he said. "Don't post on a blog. ... Get down and do some serious research, and manage a journalism school on top of it."

Bugeja's work has been published by the prestigious Oxford University Press. It's based on a simple premise: All of the online chatting has diminished people's relationships with their immediate environments.

More than 60 percent of ISU students last spring said they sent text messages, checked their e-mail and visited non-assigned Web sites while in class.

Scores of professors have enacted policies that restrict the use of electronics. Some professors punish students whose cell phones ring in class. ISU students who take "Mass Media and Society" this year are required to take notes on paper.

Some of Bugeja's most controversial ideas have focused on the Web site Second Life, a 3-D world populated by characters called avatars. Recently, universities have set up mock campuses on Second Life, and professors, including some at ISU, have conducted discussion sessions there.

Bugeja noted that after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech last year, an avatar opened fire at Second Life's Ohio University virtual campus. He also pointed to investigations of allegations of virtual rape on the site.

Bugeja has not asked for a ban on the use of Second Life in classrooms. Instead, he wants professors to consult with lawyers on the service terms so that teachers, students and administrators are clear on who is responsible for what happens in the virtual world.

Paul Shovlin, a doctoral student in rhetoric at Ohio University, called Bugeja an alarmist. Shovlin, who moderates an online discussion about Second Life, was a victim of the virtual shooting.

"I agree we need to ... talk about what the risks are, what we can do to ameliorate those risks," he said. "But I don't think we should discount them for environments for education because something could happen.

"Then we are left in that traditional classroom, with the doors closed, students writing with their pens and paper."

Despite the controversy, Bugeja has managed to win minor concessions from his harshest critics. Michigan State's Socol said calling Bugeja old was the wrong thing to say on his blog. He meant "old-school," he said.

And he credits blogs for the knowledge that views like Bugeja's exist.

"We evolved from the argument on the blog, to e-mails, to conversation, to trading books, and we use all these technologies," Socol said. "One of the great things of getting in a fight with someone like that is getting a chance to get to know them in a real way."

Reporter Lisa Rossi can be reached at (515) 232-2383 or lrossi@dmreg.com

After speaking to Ms. Rossi I did send her lots of data on things she asked questions about... here's that email:

Thank you for speaking with me yesterday. Just a few links should you want a little more on my understandings of schools and technology.

You asked about teachers and resistance, and this blog entry
is aimed right at that, as are a few much older ones
and this Inside Higher Ed opinion piece

On a wider definition of technology
http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-does-assistive-technology-reall y.html
and on a wider definition of reading

and maybe most directly on the Viewpoint difference between Michael and I

Finally, I'm attaching a paper which raises these questions a different way - to go with my argument that the change has already occurred and that schools better start catching up - it is my attempt to show how "cognitive authority" (in education described, essentially, as what you have to believe about any information source in order for it to be seen as credible) has changed, and how the generation of students has a radically different understanding of this than does the generation of teachers.

All of this not to simply pick on Ms. Rossi or the Register, but to point out - once again - that relying on print - relying on what your "old school" thinks are the ways to gather information - will leave you far behind in this world.

- Ira Socol

Michael Bugeja Links:

Interpersonal Divide
The Economist Debate on Social Networking
Living Ethics Across Media Platforms
Facing the Facebook
Second Thoughts About Second Life
Can Media Overuse Stifle Emotional Maturity?

Paul Shovlin Links

Teacher, Researcher, Scholar, Essayist: A Web Text with Some Assembly Required
Book Review: For Two Years Who Cares?

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book