Saturday, June 30, 2007

Efforts to force Web 2.0 out of schools will never solve anything...

Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) of Chicago's North Shore has spearheaded Congressional efforts to criminalize the use of popular Web 2.0 websites such as MySpace and Facebook from computers in public libraries and public school computer labs. I have tremendous respect for Kirk, but the simple fact is that he and his colleagues would be severely damaging the yet untapped potential of these emerging technologies as a platform for fostering innovative educational experiences. Kirk's bill is very similar to another introduced in the Senate by Ted Stevens (R-AL), "Protecting Children in the 21st Century", which is focused on removing the revolutionary open source encyclopedia Wikipedia from classrooms.

Illinois State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) has taken up the fight against the future at the state level, with the "Social Networking Website Prohibition Act", which would make it possible for libraries and schools that permit usage of social networking sites to be sued by parents or the Illinois Attorney General. Hilariously, Murphy has held discussion forums on his own blog to debate the merits of the legislation!

Illinois Library Association Executive Director Robert Doyle has protested this unbelievable movement on the part of lawmakers to micromanage the learning experience and taken Murphy in particular to task for his efforts. He stated earlier this year on his ALA TechSource blog that, "(L)imiting access to social networking sites in schools and libraries will have little impact on the overall problem, since young people access these websites from many locations over a period of time. If children are going to get into trouble online, chances are it won't be at school or at the library." He continued by asserting that, "if people were better informed about social networking sites and knew and used basic internet safety tips, the cloud of fear may decline."

What bothers me about the efforts of the politicians to meddle in this sensitive area is that so far it is purely motivated by opportunism on the part of Republicans to appear as if they care more about children's safety than Democrats. To characterize a bill that essentially bans Wikipedia as "protecting children" is reprehensible and has led me to conclude that unless younger generations stand up for their rights now, we are surrendering our lives and the technologies which have become indispensable components of our personalities and identities to the whims of lawmakers who are too old to ever truly understand.There is no way an 80+ year-old Senator from Alaska is going to get away with judging the quality of anything invented post-1945, especially not something that has become so ingrained in the lives of young people all over the world.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Read/Write Web features two must-read posts on Education 2.0...

This past weekend Read/Write Web, my favorite Web 2.0 review blog, had two feature articles on the current and future state of the Education 2.0 market. The most useful of the two was under the title Web 2.0 Backpack: Web Apps for Students and included brief introductions to the many new Web 2.0 applications that could be useful in helping students organize, share and develop a greater understanding of information.

As a recent college graduate I can attest to the poor utilization of eLearning environments in 21st century University education, with the prevailing market leader Blackboard the most pathetic excuse for Web 2.0 among the entire Education 2.0 market. As the most popular web-based software solution, Blackboard has taken a Microsoft-styled approach to innovation, which is strictly proprietary and profit-driven in nature. To compensate for their lack of innovative capacity, they have tried to lock-out the competition and have largely been successful because of the ignorant eLearning management practices at the Administrative level.

The second excellent piece featured on R/WW was eLearning 2.0: all you need to know, which similarly provides a broad wrap-up of the emerging technologies in the eLearning 2.0 market, and provides the basis for understanding how to integrate technology effectively in an organization focused on building Web Apps aimed at the education sphere.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Project On Liberty

Last summer I had to take a technical writing course during summer school at DePaul University's Loop campus to fulfill an English requirement. I didn't take the course very seriously, it kinda reminded me of high school English classes which is a depressing thought, but one project caught my attention and excited my entrepreneurial nerve. The final project in the two hour, dry, attendance mandatory session was to compose a draft proposal for presentation to your boss at work. We were to focus on a proposal that offered a potential improvement in how the office managed itself, how internal operations could be run more efficiently.

As a student and employee in the Political Science Department at DePaul I had grown frustrated with the way teachers conducted and facilitated the seminar styled class, in which participation was not only encouraged but required. Professors cannot remove their personal biases from the discussion, and frankly I think this is a good thing and should not be considered harmful because believe it or not, college students actually think for themselves. However, they do not always have the confidence to speak their mind because of the intimidated and lopsided nature of the classroom discussion.

Many politically inclined students may avoid the classes because a particular professor and his/her bastion of bloodsucking sheep posing as classmates. This leads to much of the disinterest and avoidance of political discussion and political expression, which leads to marginalization. It also leads to suppression of ideas that might of been worth realizing.

That was what inspired me to choose for my proposal an extension of the political science educational dynamic, which I decided to call Project On Liberty because of the inspiration I derived from John Stuart Mill's masterpiece work in political theory, On Liberty.

You can view the proposal exactly as I handed it in to my professor and subsequently sent to the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Dr. Michael Budde by visiting the public web page I created for it using Google Docs and Spreadsheets (which was at the heart of this blogs inaugural post). It serves as a good example of what Google Docs can offer as a substitute for other word processing solutions.

Below I have included the email I attached to the proposal when I send it to Dr. Budde. I got the impression that I was being dismissed, so judge for yourself the merits of my proposal. I think it cut to the heart of what is wrong with political education in American universities today.

Dr. Budde,

I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing summer vacation, I am sure you are anxious to get back to work!

I spent my vacation in summer school, though I have had a lot of time to plan future projects and I am very excited about many of my ideas. I am writing this morning to share one of the ideas I had while working on an assignment for ENG 204- Technical Writing, and which was inspired by your Capstone class last spring. During the first few weeks of your class we focused largely on university education and alternative learning methods, and after reflecting for a few weeks about what was lacking from my college experience I realized that modern educators have failed to take advantage of and adopt recently popularized weblog and social networking Internet applications. As and
consume the attention of college students around the country, academia has (with few exceptions) missed the boat when it comes to integrating web publishing tools as an extension to typical classroom dialogue.

The attached proposal is an unedited copy of the final draft of an assignment which called for a proposal to compose technical instructions. It is far less ambitious than the ideas I have developed since I first wrote it, but rather than attempt to write a new proposal I have decided to just send the original to give you a general idea of the idea and discuss any specifics if you have any interest.

It is my hope to build this idea into a entrepreneurial venture and I have already reserved the web address , though I have not purchased server space in hopes of earning permission to use the Depaul server as a hosting location. I would like to apply for any grants the LAS department offers that may pertain to this type of project, as well as the entrepreneurial program and any other possible sources of funding you suggest.

I may be getting my hopes up, but I really believe this idea could add a new dimension to political science education at universities across the country. I can understand if you are busy or simply not interested, but if you are interested in meeting to discuss this further I would really appreciate the opportunity. I am available whenever you can make time, and would be willing to come in as early as this afternoon. I hope to get the ball rolling on this project ASAP, so I am excited to hear back from you!


Brian T. Edwards


Hi Brian:

Thanks for your note – your project sounds like an interesting undertaking of interest to many different groups and interests.

I’m afraid we have no funds for what you’re proposing at the departmental level; you might try the entrepreneurship program in the College of Commerce in case it has some undergraduate initiatives or resources that might apply.

I hope all else is well with you; best of luck with the fall term.


Michael L. Budde, Ph.D.
Professor and Chairman
Department of Political Science
Professor, Program in Catholic Studies
DePaul University
990 W. Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614-2458
(773) 325-1974
Fax: (773) 325-7337

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Google Apps for Educators eLearning software suite...

I have recently interviewed for a job working in the non-profit industry focused on improving urban education in Chicago using eLearning solutions, specifically web-based collaborative environments that offer students and mentors a unique opportunity to track their activities through time to evaluate progress.

Given the opportunity to transform the web-presence of a large or small academic institution the first thing I would do is install Google Apps for Educators on the local servers, which I believe will emerge as the industry standard for web-based collaborative learning experiences.
  • I suggest Google's new local service because in my opinion it has the best overall package for users, and offers every tool necessary to create easily tracked and evaluated interaction between teacher and subject. Details on the capabilities of the software suite can be found here.
  • The education specific suite also has a lively online discussion group that is used by developers, librarians and other educators to share tips.
  • Infinite Thinking Machine is a Google sponsored blog for educators and has been one of the driving forces behind my thinking on eLearning.
  • Establishing a good working relationship with the internet's best search engine offers great opportunity to optimize the center's websites and blogs to maximize its web presence and internet traffic. Google Grants is the current project the company offers non-profit organizations to increase their exposure in their AdSense online advertising program.
There are alternative project management packages that deserve consideration, such as Moodle, Drupal, Joomla and others which will be discussed further in subsequent posts.

Google has an entire division focused on developing online tools for educators to make the classroom environment more engaging and valuable.One very powerful concept that I believe to be under-appreciated by educators, whether it be at the elementary, secondary, or post-graduate levels, is that of the "digital native", which is the emerging generation of internet users that are drawn instinctively to the internet to find solutions to all types of problems and information needs. By harnessing the tools available from Google for managing large eLearning experiences on a local server, educators from elementary to post-graduate levels will have top of the line content management solutions driving the learning process and keeping students engaged.