Digital Durability? My Money is on the Individual

ruins-326096_1280

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The Ultimate Roundup of Free Web Designer Resources

Web designers need a staggering amount of tools and resources to operate. You need the hardware, the design software, the latest eBooks, a subscription or two to good educational resources to stay up to date, the premium fonts, icons, vectors, stock images, and so on. It’s a wonder anyone manages to make a buck or […]

The post The Ultimate Roundup of Free Web Designer Resources appeared first on Elegant Themes Blog.

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The Victorian MOOC

It is 1873. Something unique is about to happen. A steam-train gathers speed in the background. Carriages on cobbled streets. In a dark room children sleep. In another room, a man reads a newspaper. In the kitchen a woman sits. She takes out a notebook, envelope, stamp and a package of brown paper containing a…

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The post The Victorian MOOC appeared first on Hybrid Pedagogy.

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25 years of the web

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the web. A remarkable achievement. A marker for how much impact one person can have. Both before and after it was assumed that only big companies could make world-changing software. How wrong that idea is.

The great thing about the web is the diversity it brought about. The mistake we’ve made, 25 years later, is being so distracted by money and the appearance of engagement that we have turned that wonderful diversity machine into a monoculture.

The people we celebrate as heroes of tech are the ones who made the most money, and that money is directly proportional to the amount of diversity they destroyed. They are the opposite of heroes. They are carpetbaggers, foreclosers, stealers of the future. 

Someone was generous enough to leave some money on the table, so they grabbed it. We should have seen that coming and protected it. 

If we want the promise that the web gave us a glimpse of, we can have it back. The raw material of the monoculture are you and me. People. We don’t make any money from our use of the web. It can be a tool for more working-together, problem-solving and love-making.

If you have 15 minutes, please listen to a podcast I did on the subject a few days before the 25th anniversary of the web? We forgot so much that we used to know. But it’s easy to recover it. You just have to want to. 

PS: In case you were wondering why there’s a picture of Kraft Parmesan Cheese in the right margin of this post. 

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The Now Page Movement

clocks

Setting clear priorities for how you’re going to use your time and energy can often be a challenge. For academics, figuring out how to arrange the competing demands of research, teaching, and service is but one part of the larger challenge of creating a work-life balance that serves you well. And many professionals today are struggling to keep focused on important projects amidst a flood of incoming emails and meeting requests.

The /now page movement

A few weeks ago, Derek Sivers created a /now

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Podcasting from inside a browser with Cast

Recording a podcast with other people over the Internet can be complicated. Everyone needs microphones, sure, but they also need to connect to you so you can hear one another, and for the best audio quality, they need to record their end of the conversation and then send that file to you.

The new web service Cast makes the recording process easy by not requiring that panelists install any special software (beyond Google Chrome—it doesn’t work with Safari yet) or sign up for anything in order to be a part of the conversation. You just send them a link, they open it in Chrome, and they’re up and running. (The service also provides basic in-browser audio editing and podcast hosting, all in the aim of making it easier than ever to get your podcast heard.)

Cast’s recording interface.

I tried Cast a few times this summer as a part of the service’s beta test, and wasn’t thrilled with the results, but now that the service is officially ready for the world, I gave it a spin this week. Dan Moren and I recorded a short podcast available to Six Colors subscribers using Cast.

I was pretty happy with the sound quality of the conversation, both as we were talking and when we played it back. There weren’t any noticeable artifacts, and the final version on the server sounded good. Cast works by streaming live audio while simultaneously recording your microphone locally and uploading a higher-quality version in the background.

Cast is limited to three guests (plus the host), but large panels are unruly and difficult to edit (take it from me), so I’m not sure it’s a major limitation.

Cast’s recording interface also takes care to add some features that will be quite useful to hosts and panelists alike. A Show Notes button lets hosts write down information about the recording, including when there were issues that will require attention when it’s time to edit the podcast. And the Raise Your Hand button allows a panelist to indicate that they’ve got something to say, which can help smooth out the conversation—I know a lot of podcasters who type the word “hand” into their Skype windows to get the same effect.

Once the recording is done, you can jump into Cast’s editing interface, or—and I like this feature a lot—just walk away with everyone’s files, recorded locally and uploaded invisibly behind the scenes, and pop them into your audio editor of choice. Since the host controls the start and stop of the recording session, the files all start at the same point, which saves you from having to manually synchronize them. Files come down as 128kbps MP3s, which is absolutely acceptable quality for a spoken-audio podcast. (The first time I tried this with the files from my session with Dan, the download failed. I went back later and tried again, and there was no problem.) The show notes are also downloadable as a text file, tagged to the time code of your recording.

Cast’s editing interface.

Editing in Cast is pretty basic, as you might expect from a browser-based editor. You can edit out chunks of the entire recording, which is useful to make the beginning and end of the show line up perfectly, as well as remove any digressions or mistakes in the middle. You can also adjust the volumes of various tracks, so you can balance out the relative volumes of all your guests. Unfortunately, you can’t trim out noise from a single track, so if someone has a coughing fit while someone else is talking, Cast can’t help you.

You can add new audio layers to the Cast editor, letting you overlay audio (say, sound effects or music) on your session. There’s also a clever “Wedges” feature, which lets you insert audio that pauses your session, plays the audio file, and then continues your session—useful for introductions, ads, and that sort of thing.

Once you’re done, click Mix and Cast with collapse all your audio files into a single mixed-together file. You can choose Standard mix, which leaves your audio alone, or a dynamic-compression mix, which is supposed to smooth out your audio levels. Unfortunately, I found the dynamic-compression mix to be too aggressive—the whole thing sounded overmodulated.

Cast is $10/month (for up to 10 hours of recording time) or $30/month (for 100 hours of recording). I didn’t test Cast’s podcast-hosting feature, but offering unlimited hosting certainly sweetens the deal if you’re currently playing for hosting with a service like Libsyn or Podbean. I published an excerpt of my podcast with Dan to Cast if you’d like to give it a listen and, in the process, test out Cast’s hosting infrastructure.

If you’re a podcast host who has a lot of different guests, non-technical panelists, or panelists who don’t remember to press the recording button or send you their file in time, Cast offers an appealing and simple way to get good quality audio out of guests without asking them to install Skype. If you’re a podcaster or potential podcaster who is frustrated or confused by the Skype-and-local-recording rigamarole, Cast also seems like a service worth trying. And if you don’t want to do more than basic editing, Cast can potentially be a one-stop shop for all your recording, editing, and hosting, which is quite compelling.

Check Cast out for yourself at tryca.st.

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Course Management and Collaborative Jupyter Notebooks via SageMathCloud

Prompted by a joint coursemodule team to look at options surrounding a “virtual computing lab” to support a couple of new level 1 (first year equivalent) IT and computing courses (they should know better?!;-), I had another scout around and came across SageMathCloud, which looks at first glance to be just magical:-) An open source, […]

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Is It Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools?

This is a version of the talk I gave at ISTE today on a panel titled "Is It Time to Give Up on Computers in Schools?" with Gary Stager, Will Richardson, Martin Levins, David Thornburg, and Wayne D’Orio. It was pretty damn fun.

Take one step into that massive shit-show called the Expo Hall and it’s hard not to agree: “yes, it is time to give up on computers in schools.”

Perhaps, once upon a time, we could believe ed-tech would change things. But as Seymour Papert noted in The Children’s Machine,

Little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: … the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.

I think we were naive when we ever thought otherwise.

Sure, there are subversive features, but I think the computers also involve neoliberalism, imperialism, libertarianism, and environmental destruction. They now involve high stakes investment by the global 1% – it’s going to be a $60 billion market by 2018, we’re told. Computers are implicated in the systematic de-funding and dismantling of a public school system and a devaluation of human labor. They involve the consolidation of corporate and governmental power. They involve scientific management. They are designed by white men for white men. They re-inscribe inequality.

And so I think it’s time now to recognize that if we want education that is more just and more equitable and more sustainable, that we need to get the ideologies that are hardwired into computers out of the classroom.

In the early days of educational computing, it was often up to innovative, progressive teachers to put a personal computer in their classroom, even paying for the computer out of their own pocket. These were days of experimentation, and as Seymour teaches us, a re-imagining of what these powerful machines could enable students to do.

And then came the network and, again, the mainframe.

You’ll often hear the Internet hailed as one of the greatest inventions of mankind – something that connects us all and that has, thanks to the World Wide Web, enabled the publishing and sharing of ideas at an unprecedented pace and scale.

What “the network” introduced in educational technology was also a more centralized control of computers. No longer was it up to the individual teacher to have a computer in her classroom. It was up to the district, the Central Office, IT. The sorts of hardware and software that was purchased had to meet those needs – the needs and the desire of the administration, not the needs and the desires of innovative educators, and certainly not the needs and desires of students.

The mainframe never went away. And now, virtualized, we call it “the cloud.”

Computers and mainframes and networks are points of control. They are tools of surveillance. Databases and data are how we are disciplined and punished. Quite to the contrary of Seymour’s hopes that computers will liberate learners, this will be how we are monitored and managed. Teachers. Students. Principals. Citizens. All of us.

If we look at the history of computers, we shouldn’t be that surprised. The computers’ origins are as weapons of war: Alan Turing, Bletchley Park, code-breakers and cryptography. IBM in Germany and its development of machines and databases that it sold to the Nazis in order to efficiently collect the identity and whereabouts of Jews.

The latter should give us great pause as we tout programs and policies that collect massive amounts of data – “big data.” The algorithms that computers facilitate drive more and more of our lives. We live in what law professor Frank Pasquale calls “the black box society.” We are tracked by technology; we are tracked by companies; we are tracked by our employers; we are tracked by the government, and “we have no clear idea of just how far much of this information can travel, how it is used, or its consequences.” When we compel the use of ed-tech, we are doing this to our students.

Our access to information is constrained by these algorithms. Our choices, our students’ choices are constrained by these algorithms – and we do not even recognize it, let alone challenge it.

We have convinced ourselves, for example, that we can trust Google with its mission: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” I call “bullshit.”

Google is at the heart of two things that computer-using educators should care deeply and think much more critically about: the collection of massive amounts of our personal data and the control over our access to knowledge.

Neither of these are neutral. Again, these are driven by ideology and by algorithms.

You’ll hear the ed-tech industry gleefully call this “personalization.” More data collection and analysis, they contend, will mean that the software bends to the student. To the contrary, as Seymour pointed out long ago, instead we find the computer programming the child. If we do not unpack the ideology, if the algorithms are all black-boxed, then “personalization” will be discriminatory. As Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued “a ‘personalized’ platform can never be democratizing when the platform operates in a society defined by inequalities.”

If we want schools to be democratizing, then we need to stop and consider how computers are likely to entrench the very opposite. Unless we stop them.

In the 1960s, the punchcard – an older piece of “ed-tech” – had become a symbol of our dehumanization by computers and by a system – an educational system – that was inflexible, impersonal. We were being reduced to numbers. We were becoming alienated. These new machines were increasing the efficiency of a system that was setting us up for a life of drudgery and that were sending us off to war. We could not be trusted with our data or with our freedoms or with the machines themselves, we were told, as the punchcards cautioned: “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.”

Students fought back.

Let me quote here from Mario Savio, speaking on the stairs of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley in 1964 – over fifty years ago, yes, but I think still one of the most relevant messages for us as we consider the state and the ideology of education technology:

We’re human beings!

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

We’ve upgraded from punchcards to iPads. But underneath, a dangerous ideology – a reduction to 1s and 0s – remains. And so we need to stop this ed-tech machine.

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