The power and confusion of online communities

A firestorm is brewing over this NYTimes op ed article, by Bill Lichtenstein about his daughter, a kindergartener being locked in a closet standing in her own pee in Lexington, MA.  I am a parent and have my own children in the Lexington Public School system. I participate in multiple online parent communities as well as the Lexington online communities. There are, as expected, a lot of "I am shocked" discussions. There are a few "let's wait for the facts" postings in the minority. I am not here to comment about what happened at that time, but to comment about how these online communities have responded. As comments are commented upon, the details of what we know from the article are slowly diluted and changed. Blog posts about the article started to be referenced as additional sources. Law and regulations around these issues are being discussed and I have no way to know whether those are correct.

From reading the article, I have many questions:

  • Was the child attending a Lexington Public Elementary School? Likely but the article never said that.
  • Was the child in a regular class or in a special ed class? We do not know.
  • Were other school families notified? Seems so.
  • Was there a settlement? Seems yes.
  • Were the schools allowed to respond in the public? Not sure.
  • Where people involved fired/disciplined/or more? Not sure.

So I am writing this post with the sole purpose to ask everyone to read the original article very carefully, picked out the facts as mentioned from the article first.

As a final note -- have you noticed the graphics used in the article? Do you think it accurately reflect the situation? Is there a window in the door? Would a five years old be that tall? Would a closet lit by a lightbulb be pitch dark?

Imperial Rank 9th in the world

I know -- college rankings only make sense when you are in the top ten for something positive. Ask Tufts University, they know. So, since my Alum, Imperial College, ranked 9th in the WORLD. Why not gloat? Imperial has been ranked ninth internationally and third in Europe in the Times Higher Education Supplement’s World University Rankings published today. The top ten are:

1. Harvard University 2. California Institute of Technology 3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4. Stanford University 5. Princeton University 6. University of Cambridge (joint) 6. University of Oxford (joint) 8. University of California, Berkeley 9. Imperial College London 10. Yale University

Scratch @ MIT 2010 Day 2 and 3

This is a picture of the the Event Space, the main presentation space. Besides the obviously very high ceiling, the room is laid out diagonally. It works. A simple idea. Brilliantly executed. The building really is designed (by Fumihiko Maki) with function in mind. Loneliness is failed Solitude

I find the most value at the conference not at the workshops and how-to sessions, but the more general education related sessions. Day 2 KeyNote by Sherry Turkle, Henry Jenkins and Marina Bers was great. Turkle presented her latest thought on the importance of Solitude. This frankly scares me. She has pointed out with our new constantly connected, constantly fed (with information) environment, would teens (and adults) know now to be alone? Not knowing the value of solitude, when one creates, and engage in deep self development, teens will be increasingly dependent on shallow casual interactions. Their phones become the center of their lives. They move from "I have a feeling; id' like to make a call" to "I want to have a feeling; I need to make a call."

Turkle ends with an encouraging note -- Do not use the word "Addiction" when talking about this connected world. Addiction implies that we want to get rid of the cause. We will not and cannot get rid of the Internet.  While many people falls into the fallacy that we are stuck with the current state, the Internet is actually very young. We can learn to live with it.

Referencing Thoreau, she encourages us to not live thickly - "Just because we have the net we do not have to live thickly".

Side Note: A funny moment at the start of her presentation, when Turkle says "you know when I say phone, I don't mean phone". Of course, she meant the smart phone/device that is used for texting, running apps connecting to facebooks, and seldom for realtime phone conversation.

2.0 is a Business Model, not a Pedagogy

Jenkins pointed out that the participatory culture is not new. Facebook is not the first social network. While Jenkin's studies often reference the fan fiction culture, there are many more examples. A "good" participatory community is not a pure consuming community. The "hanging around" group consume content, but also communicate with each other. The "Messing about" group contributes with self-expression and self-actualization. The "Geeking out" group tinkers and create for the community. A participatory community allows experts and beginners share a common interest and help each other.

"Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready, and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued."

BYOB for No Ceiling Computer Science Education

Brian Harvey gave a short presentation on Day 2, and a long one on Day 3 on BYOB, the CMU developed variation of Scratch that has list of lists and "procedures" which turn Scratch into almost visual Scheme. Given these new first order data object, one can program much more advance concepts using BYOB.

Technically BYOB is brilliant and I can't wait to use it. Politically they are working hard with the core Scratch team to find a way to incorporate BYOB into Scratch. Harvey is extremely sensitive to no wanting to split the Scratch community into the beginners and the advanced users. I hope they find a way to do this as BYOB clearly is a good thing.

Useful Software Finds

By talking with different people in different disciplines, often from different parts of the world, I found a few new software and web projects that are of interest:

  • Animationish -- flipbook type of desktop app
  • mind42 - a free online mind mapping tool
  • prezi -- a web based and desktop presentation software with a twist

Scratch @ MIT 2010 Day 1

I have been looking forward to this Scratch conference. Last one was two years ago and it was a great event. This year it is held at the almost brand new Media Lab building. I had been there for various local events before in the evenings, but this is the first time I get to spend the day there, and we get to check out the view from the terrace. What a beautiful 90 million dollars building. Adapting Workshops for Informal Library Settings There are always too many good sessions and not enough time. I decided to skip most of the demo and workshop type of sessions and went for the big ideas. With my current involvement with schools and libraries, the first session I went to was a session by Jennifer Nelson of the Hennepin County Library and Keith Braafladt of the Science Museum of Minnesota. They Talked about their experience in adapting Scratch workshops from the paid Museum classes settings to free workshops in the library settings.

Some highlights:

  • it is difficult to gain focus of the teenagers at the information settings, often they are distracted by having to baby sitting a younger sibling at the same time, for example
  • as a free workshop, best goal is to introduce enough concepts so that it will extend their interest, or give them enough knowledge so that they will try it themselves later
  • personalize the experience to spark the interest / gain their attention
  • music is big with teenagers, not video games -- start with project that use their own music
  • "all about me" project is a good example (didn't we do this at Kindergarten?) -- personalized story telling
  • this session also reinforce for me the importance of community library, especially at an urban settings like ours
  • BTW they have a book coming out, and this is their new public website containing useful resources

Computational Thinking

Why do I attend these conference? To learn outside of my usual circles. This is what I consider Computational Thinking to be the next New Big Idea. The educators and the computer scientists are still debating what exactly is Computational Thinking. Yasmin Kafai, Mitchel Resnick, Karen Brennan and Barbara Ericson described the many aspect of this new idea. You can also read the initial paper by Jeannette Wing to get some background. I am going to let you read all the current articles and decide exactly what is Computational Thinking. At a computer scientist and an amateur educator I think this new direction is going to be big. The Workshop Report is available, and you can download a free copy there.

LEAD Creative Classes in Hong Kong

It is always good to hear what's going on in Hong Kong, especially about education. Who knows, we may head back there some day! Dr. Felicia Tsang gave a wonderful review of their efforts in integrating Scratch and other creative classes into the core curriculum in Hong Kong's local primary and secondary schools. Some of her observations:

  • Don't make mistake of running workshop for the teachers, get them involved at the beginning
  • being so test driven, these classes stop after Form 3, because they are then focused (sadly) on the public exams
  • Parents thought negatively on why the teachers are doing "unusual" things with the kids instead of teaching them the old way (just like what the parents went thru in the old days)
  • While HK Government fully back the ideas and funding and equipment is not a problem, often schools ended up locking up computers because they don't know what to do with them
  • parents (and sometimes teachers) are intimidated because the children will ended up knowing more then what the adults know
  • the traditional Chinese localization is not good, the blocks are translated literally, and often do not make sense. They ended up using the English interface once they learnt the system
  • Scratch is introduced through non technology classes, starts with art and English classes.
  • Starts with all girl schools, then challenge the boy schools with the impressive results

Dr Tsang showed off an amazing robot that some student built, taking a year, from parts sourced from street vendors from the electronics district. (The old Aplui street? I spent many weekends there during my school days).