One of my Early Computer Programs

My brother found this at my parents’ house the other day. First off, for those of you who are wondering, it’s perforated printer paper. The holes (originally on both sides) are grabbed by the printer’s tractor cogs that pull the paper in to be typed on. The perforations enabled you to remove the hole strips and divide the conveyor of paper into 8 1/2 by 11 sheets. Since computers mostly delt with columns and rows of data back then, the green stripes made reading them easier.

Click Image to Enlarge

But what I’m excited about is what’s printed on the paper, a computer program that I wrote in 1983, when I was still teaching Social Studies in South Carolina. The program is a database application for our TRS-80 (Radio Shack) computers. It enabled students to create datasets for the counties of SC or states of the U.S., or animals by phylum and genus, and then run analyses on them.

I wish that I could find printouts of some of my games. It was such an exciting time when we were free to push the technology, writing and adapting software to support new ideas about learning, because no one else knew what we were doing. It was just computers.

Learning Doesn’t Ever Slow Down

I had a conversation yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster, of Centauri Dreams. He comes over about every other week and we talk about our histories, families, space and tech stuff, and it often erupts into some pretty insightful observations – if only to us. 

But we both agreed that as we are getting older, our learning has actually increasing rather dramatically. Of course, we are also forgetting a lot more as well. 

But one of the truisms I’ve concluded from a career of learning and teaching is that something learned and used once, can easily be relearned, growing our life long toolset. 

Twice Exceptional

Attending a meeting yesterday, regarding Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions, I learned a new term, twice-exceptional.

In education’ese, “exceptional” children are usually students with some learning difficulty, such as A.D.D., dyslexia, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance – or are academically talented in some way.

When I asked, the speak explained that a “Twice-Exceptional” student is one who has some learning disability but is also academically and/or intellectually gifted.

I suspect that this describes a lot of extraordinarily accomplished individuals, who later admit to being poor performers in their school experience, i.e. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and Steve Jobs. Sadly, this also, more than likely describes a lot of wasted talent caused by our assigning opportunity-limiting labels to children who are simply divergent learners, children who are not suited to regimented learning environments.

The Table of Contents

Click to visit the book’s web site.

My chapter titles are a bit cryptic, so I am adding some explanation to better anchor the reference points.

A Rough Start

I admit that there are some biases in my book. What’s a revolution without biases. To provide some context for my particular philosophies about schooling, I spend about 19 pages describing my pre-(technological)revolution education, including my less than spectacular career as a student.

The Confabulator

TRS-80 Model III, the first personal computer I ever laid my eyes (and hands) on.

Here, I describe my first experiences with personal computers, starting with how I was knocked out of my seat by an idea.

Leaving Kansas, Apples & Kindred Spirits

In 1983, I moved from teaching Social Studies in rural South Carolina to leading an instructional technology program in rural North Carolina. I also joined a users’ group (MICRO5) and transitioned from monochrome Tandys to color Apples – dazzling.

Networks Open the Gates

My first experiences with modems and learning to use computers to communicate. Project based learning (PBL) became our modus operandi – using computers for collaborative learning.

A Line is Drawn

Moving to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction I learned what a small team of passionate and imaginative professional educators could accomplish. I also learned how little could be accomplished from inside the system. I have to note here that what hindered us was not the nature of state government, but the nature of state politics, and a manipulative narrative that sought to demonize government.

New Education Models

After leaving NCDPI, I lucked into a project instigated by Allan Weis and Advanced Network and Services. It was called ThinkQuest and it showed us how we could make students active learners by making them innovative teachers.

My First Flat Experience

I was so embarrassingly naive on my first trip to Asia.

A Bad Day for Education

Our work toward using technology to encourage more progressive styles of learning ground to a halt on January 8, 2002. No Child Left Behind successfully shifted the aim of public education from active learning by doing, to passive learning by memorizing facts to pass tests. Computers became teaching tools instead of learning tools.

Literacy 2.0

This became my most passionate mission, promoting a model for literacy that addressed the changing nature of our information experience. As information became increasingly networked, digital and abundant (and social), merely reading and writing (and arithmetic) were no longer nearly enough to be truly literate.

The Day that Education Almost Became Fun

As video games became more sophisticated and social networks became places that our students visited and collaborated, we started to recognize the unique skills that they were developing – that much of their play was actually the hard work of learning. We began to look for ways to structure classroom activities to trigger the same learning practices that our students were gaining outside of education.

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

As technology became more prevalent in our schools, investors saw a “golden moment.” There was an opportunity to use that technology to “profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.” This has become, in my opinion, the greatest threat that public education has ever faced.

The “Perfect” Technology

Apple’s iPad. It didn’t surprise anyone. But is it so “perfect?”

BookBag 2024

I end with a few pages of casual predictions of where education might be ten years from now (2014, when I started writing this book). This chapter mirrors the first chapter that I wrote in Redefining Literacy, describing education ten years from then, 2014.

Announcing “A Quiet Revolution,” about the Evolution of Technology in our Classrooms

The Days & Nights
of a Quiet Revolution

Click to visit the book’s web site.

Most practicing teachers have never taught in a school without computers. Yet it was only a few years ago that the earliest machines started to appear in a few classrooms. These scattered Atari, Radio Shack and commodore computers were barely noticed by most educators.

A few, however, recognized these rudimentary data processors for what they represented, machines with which we could program new interactive learning experiences that would turn our students into explorers and discoverers of knowledge.

For us, education was no longer limited by what could be taught, but liberated by what could be learned.

These education revolutionaries set about embracing the emerging computer and network technologies, experimenting, discovering, inventing and sharing wondrous new ways to ignite learning. We were empowering our students to act as agents of their own educations and helping them to cultivate the learning-lifestyles that will be critical in their rapidly changing futures.

This story is about thirty-five years of disruptive new technologies that challenged education, an institution that, by design, resists change. It also celebrates the heroes who passionately sought to understand these new technologies and use them to promote schools that empowered learning, instead of administering it.

This story is about thirty-five years of disruptive new technologies that challenged education, an institution that, by design, resists change. It also celebrates the heroes who passionately sought to understand these new technologies and use them to promote schools that empowered learning, instead of administering it.

About the Author

Author of “A Quiet Revolution”

David Istlandoll has been a classroom teacher, district administrator and staff consultant for the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction. Since 1995 he has worked as an independent provocateur, developing popular interactive websites, writing for magazines and journals, and authoring four books and an influential blog. He has also traveled and spoken to audiences on five continents promoting a vision of education that empowers learning with contemporary information technologies.

A Quiet Revolution is written for:

  • Senior teacher technologists who would like to remember those giddy years gone by when we used MECC software on 5 1/4” floppy disks, bulletin board systems (BBS) to collaborate, and Gopher and Mosaic for surfing the Internet.
  • Practicing teachers eager to enrich their knowledge about technology by visiting a time when creativity and resourcefulness were key to hacking rudimentary computers into inspired learning experiences.
  • School leaders who want to better understand the forces from within and without that seek to keep, unchanged, the How, What and Why of public education.
  • Anyone who, for any reason, is interested in twenty-first century education and how these emerging technologies are opening the way to classrooms that empower learning and usher a return to “the art of teaching.“

Final Days before Publishing

This was my original cover idea. Then I decided it was too dark, and opted for something lighter and with my own art work.

I started working on the book in 2014. It’s short title is A Quiet Revolution, and it chronicles the 40+ years I have spent as an educator, the last three decades as an advocate of modernizing classrooms with contemporary information technology.

I’m experiencing the last days before publication, fixing problems that the final processes have exposed and polishing the final work.  The problem is that a task like this is never finished.  I re-read and edited the book six times, and I could do it six more times and make as many changes.  I completely changed the cover today.  But I am rapidly committing myself to the publishing.  Until then, I want to share some of the promotional text that appears on the back of the book and other places.

This is some text that didn’t make the final cut, so I’ll place it here.

This story is about thirty-five years of rapid change that have challenged education, an institution that, by structure, resists change. It is about the heroes who sought to understand and utilize emerging technologies to help their schools adapt. This story celebrates their passion for education, their inventiveness, resourcefulness and their persistent advocacy for schools that empower learning, instead of administer it.

..and the revolution continues.

Two Hours at ISTE in Chicago

I’m sitting on the shuttle bus now, only a few blocks from the Courtyard where my wife and I are staying. The chatter is wild and expressive as is the buzz of energy that this event sparks. Boarding are educators from across the country and around they world. They’re all here to learn and to be energized. The buzz of anticipated energizing will grow to a roar by the end of the conference on Wednesday. Im only here for a couple of hours, hoping not to be confronted by officials checking for badges. Hopefully my deaf-mute act will release me. My plan is to hang out at the Blogger Cafe, a comfortable corner for bloggers to sit and compose or just geek out with each.

At the Leadership Luncheon

My reason for coming, other than visiting one of my wife’s favorite cities was to attend the ISTE Leadership Luncheon. There, I had the honor and privaledge of sitting with Chris Lehmann. To learn more about this weirdly energetic education innovator, read my upcoming book. The bus is arriving, so I’ll write more later. im in and it’s a sea of people, all educators, moving in currents with no apparent purpose, but certainly directed toward opportunities to learn. They’re educators who are not satisfied with business-as-usual. They are comfortable with discomfort. They see technological, social, economic and cultural chang, not as a challenge to be feared and ignored, but as emerging opportunities to better prepair their students for their future — to own their future. More later…

It‘s about an hour-and-a-half later. One of my best buddies, Kathy Schrock came over and we shared stories from years past and about our children who are around the same age. If you buy my upcoming book, you’ll learn much about Kathy. Steve Dembo also came over. He was the first educator podcaster that I knew, and a dynamo presenter. Steve is also a drone enthusiast.

The flow of educators has not eased, even though presentations have begun. Around me, people are standing and sitting talking and learning. In many ways, the best learning at these conferences happen between sessions, in the hall, in conversations with educators from different states or nations.

Much can be said about education today that is not good. Most of our children are being schooled, but they are not being prepared for a rapidly changing future. It’s the people in this conference center who are trying to change education, and they’re doing it with brilliance, dedication, perseverance, and with enthusiasm. They are my tribe.

 

What’s Wrong

Now that I’m in the quiet of the Chicago airport, on my way back to North Carolina, I want to share my concern for education in the U.S. The people who are attending  ISTE, those I know and most of those I do not know are there for the sake of the future. Their eye is on the future. Part of it is the glamour of education technology — all the shinnies. But most of their presence and energy comes from a mutually held belief that by empowering student learning with information technology we are going to accomplish peaceful and prosperous in our future.  It will happen because we have become more tolerant, more compassionate, more inviting of different cultures for the sake of how they change us, and more willing to adapt our economic system to build a more inclusive society. We will predict and then learn that a country without poor people is a much better place to live.

Its hard to imagine such an America today, because the US is led by a man who continues to run for president, setting policies based on what got the biggest crowds during his campaign rallies. He addresses issues on the most simplistic levels ignoring the nuanced complexities of a country with 326 million people, 263 million of who didn’t vote for him.  He thrives on chaos and shuns the serious informed thoughtfulness that is necessary for leadership in this potentially wondrous time when almost anything is possible. He is a bully and he’s a fake.

..and I hold education responsible. I do not blame individual teachers and principals, except in as much as we have allowed public education to be corrupted into a standardized and mechanized institution for preparing future workers.  Instead, our job is to help our children learn as much as possible about their world and learn to

  • Think logically
  • Recognize the irrational
  • Read habitually
  • Learn as a lifestyle
  • Become information artisans
  • Respect each other, and
  • Find their personal intersect between play, passion and purpose.

 

The Things that Catch my Eye

Now this knocked me off my seat. Ever notice the automobiles people drive in your town or neighborhood? Using the same concepts that enable Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to understand what they hear you say, scientists are designing computer systems that can understand what they see. It’s called “Deep Learning,” and it’s a form of machine learning, which falls under the broader umbrella of Artificial Intelligence.

Anyway, scientists from Stanford, Baylor and Rice Universities and the University of Michigan used images from Google Street View, 50 million of them, to infer the answers to questions about their communities and neighborhoods such as income, race, education and voting patterns. Specifically, they identified cars parked on the streets photographed by Google Street View cars and matched that with existing census and other survey data. The hard part, that required “Deep Learning,” was getting the technology to identify the make, model and year of all motor vehicles encountered.

One thing that they learned is that a neighborhood where pickup trucks outnumber sedans is 82% more likely to vote for a Republican in the next presidential election. Where sedans outnumber pickup trucks, 88% more likely to vote Democrat. So what do SUVs mean? ..and what about people with garages? ..and what television networks run the most pickup truck commercials?

I’ll be really interested when their computers can identify bicycles. 😉

Source: Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (https://goo.gl/is2nSX)

Better Learning?

Playing a Video Game

I remember one particular week when my daughter was trying to learn the nine types of nouns for English class. She would be tested at the end of the week on her ability to label them in given sentences. Although she was a serious and conscientious student, my daughter struggled with some types of learning, especially memorization. She spent evenings that week, heroically and sometimes tearfully trying to distinguish common nouns from proper nouns, from collective nouns, from verbal, compound, abstract, concrete, countable and uncountable nouns.

Meanwhile, with our attention firmly directed to our her efforts, our son was left to his own devices. He was less academically challenged, but far less serious about school work and spent that week playing a newly-rented video game. Without the manual, he had to trial-and-error himself into the game’s dynamics. He failed and succeeded, made observations, formulated hypotheses, tested his hypotheses and constructed a mental toolbox of strategies so that he could play the game and save the damsel or slay the dragon – or whatever the goal was.

That week of watching my daughter struggling while my son played left me wondering, “Who was engaged in the learning that might be most appropriate for their future? Was it my daughter, who struggled to memorize the qualities of nine types of nouns, or my son, who was teaching himself how to play a complicated video game?”

Is Print Really Better than Digital?

Business Insider reported on Sunday about a study that indicates that even though college students enjoy learning from digital texts more than print and believe that they learn better, the truth is that print is better.  The article, A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens, explores the work of Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer, both from the University of Maryland. The two also reported their finding here at The Conversation.

The Business Insider article does a pretty good job of drilling down into the specifics of digital print’s failing – and I do not contest their findings. As a long time reflective user and producer of digital content, I recognize that you read differently and often for different reasons with a hand-held or larger screen. My concern is that certain conservative-leaning policy makers will see this as an opportunity to lash out at progressive educators with, “Your new way is not as effective as the old paper print.”

That conclusion reflects a gross and dangerous misunderstanding of technologies’ place in formal education, and a disgraceful lack of imagination. Sadly, the imagination required to understand what technology means to teaching and learning is lacking in  conspicuous sections of the professional education community.

I have long held that to understand how digital networked technology supports leaning we must reflect and come to understand how we are using tech to help us learn after school. We learn by researching and identifying the information that best helps us accomplish our goals, and achieving this by resourceful perseverance. We use the technology to find people and communities who are knowledgable and discussing the topics we need, and dynamically connecting with those communities. We learn in this digital, networked and information-abundant environment by being critical readers, always asking questions about the answers we find. To this end, textbooks are a detriment to effective learning, because they defy critical questions.

We need to understand how we (adults) learn through our screens after our schooling, because continued learning is the defining character of the future for which we are preparing our students.

The flaw in education is that we’re stuck in thinking about education and not thinking about learning – something we’re all intimately involved in.