Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Provision threatens Internet access in schools

At a time when Internet access is becoming so important in our lives and the future lives of our students, the Republicans who control the Wisconsin State Legislature have advanced a measure that threatens Internet access for public schools and other institutions.

According to State Superintendent Tony Evers, three-quarters of our public schools get Internet access through WiscNet - a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A provision inserted into the state budget by the Joint Finance Committee will likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access, driving up the cost to school districts if they are forced to use other Internet providers. The provision will also cost the state millions in federal funding.

Evers says this provision will impact Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, and technical colleges.

"We all know the critical importance of having access to high-speed, affordable Internet access to educating our children and providing online information resources to the public via our libraries," Evers said. "We need to make absolutely certain that our schools and libraries have such access, especially in rural areas."

If you live in Wisconsin, please email your legislators by going to www.weac.org/cyberlobby and tell them how important education is to our state and how critical it is to maintain affordable Internet access in our schools and libraries.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Protesters pitch Tent City in Madison

Citizens from throughout Wisconsin are returning to the State Capitol beginning this weekend, but with a different approach from the mass rallies of February and March.

This time they are setting up Walkerville - a 'city' of tents around the Capitol Square calling attention to the devastating state budget cuts to education, health care and other programs benefiting Wisconsin's working families. This Tent City will stay up possibly for weeks as the Legislature debates the Republicans' Draconian state budget, with its massive impacts on children, parents, the elderly, disabled, union workers and much more.

Walkerville information is available on several websites, and updates will be posted regularly through social media. Here are a few of the websites that have information about Walkerville:

You can follow updates on these social media sites:

If you know of other good sources of information about the Walkerville Tent City, please add them in the comment section below.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's a 5 o'clock world

In the 1960s, the Vogues released “It’s a 5 o’clock World,” a catchy tune that became a big hit. "It’s a 5 o’clock world,” they sing, “when the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time.”

The song conjures up images of the 9 to 5 factory worker anxious to reach the end of the day so he can go home to “the long-haired girl who waits, I know, to ease my troubled mind.”

A reflection of its time, right? Well, maybe not so much. Despite huge changes in our society and advanced technology it is still a 5 o’clock world for many of us. You only have to venture out at rush hour to realize people are still living in the 9-5 workday world, all fighting each other to get to work at roughly the same prescribed time and fighting each other to get back home at roughly the same prescribed time.

Yes, some jobs simply require you to be in a certain place at a certain time. If your job is to check people out at the grocery story, attach a door to a car on an assembly line or see patients at the clinic, you pretty much have to be there to get your job done.

But for many 21st century jobs, a dramatic shift is taking place, and technology is driving it. I know many people – myself included – who spend at least part of the day – or a day here a day there - working from home or doing work at the coffee shop or even while on vacation. And, of course, there is no 5 o’clock whistle that protects us from working evenings and weekends. The trade off for this less rigid schedule is that in some ways someone “owns a piece of our time” all hours of the day. But for most of us, that is a fair tradeoff.

More and more jobs are moving away from the clocking-in, clocking-out routine, and schools are beginning to get into the act too.

No more snow days?

At the recent SLATE conference in Wisconsin Dells, Discovery Education’s Hall Davidson raised these very questions: Do student have to be in the school building from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day? Do teachers always have to be in the classroom?

As schools make increasing use of online education resources, students and teachers – just like people in the workforce – can get more of their work done remotely. There are of course virtual schools, but I am talking more about the hybrids – schools that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning. Maybe one day in the classroom and – for students – one day at home completing projects online, with online access to their teachers, who likewise might be at home. Maybe a student would have three classes at school in the morning and two at home in the afternoon.

A snowstorm forecast for the next day? Have the students connect to their teacher from home, Davidson says. Yes, that’s right, no more snow days! And if done right, schools could save a lot of money on transportation. Child care and technology access are issues that would have to be addressed, but there are many ways to work these amended schedules out, and many schools are experimenting with them.

Yes, the school schedule of the 21st century is still pretty much like it was in the 20th century, but ever so slowly change is taking place. In schools, as in the workplace, the clock is ticking on our 5 o’clock world.

Monday, November 22, 2010

ClassTech: Spanish teacher uses technology to make her lessons 'muy interesante'

You might think that someone who has taught for 38 years would know everything they need to know about teaching their subject. But Pardeeville High School Spanish teacher Kathy Casey says she never stops learning new and exciting ways to teach.

Kathy's students don't just work out of a book, they experience Spanish in multiple ways, including through innovative online learning tools with strange names like Yodio and ToonDoo. They interact online with people in Spain, and they share their work through wikis.

Kathy has devoted a lot of her time to learning these new technologies and putting them to work for her students.

She shared some of what she does with me and WEAC Assistant Editor Matthew Call during a recent visit to her computer lab classroom. Embedded below is our first edition of ClassTech, where we examine how educators are using technology to Move Education Forward in Wisconsin public schools.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Will the new Groups feature revolutionize how we use Facebook?

Facebook just did something I had been hoping for years that they would do, and I think it’s going to revolutionize the way we use this incredible tool. They call it Groups, and it allows you to easily share status updates with social circles of selected people. (Yes, it has the same name as an old Facebook feature called Groups, but it differs markedly.)

What does that mean? Well, suppose you just took some awesome pictures of your baby (or grandchild) taking his/her first steps. Of course you want to share it on Facebook, right? But do you really want to share those pictures with that crabby guy in Topeka you met two years ago at a business conference? And does he really want to see them? Probably not. So now you can create a Friend Group of people you know (or at least think) would be interested in those really cute pictures. And stop bothering the crabby guy with your personal status updates.

You can create a Group for your work friends, your immediate family, your extended family, your old high school friends, or even people you “friended” (even though you don’t really like them) just because you didn’t have the nerve to ignore their request. Then, every time you post a new status update, simply select which group or groups you think are worthy to see it. How cool is that?

Facebook says it’s not eliminating Friend Lists, which provided a more complicated way to do pretty much the same thing, but they may as well. Unlike Friend Lists, I predict usage of Groups will become commonplace because it is logical and because the incorporation of dropdown lists to easily select groups associated with certain tasks (such as status updates) will make it more visible and accessible. With Facebook Groups, you can also have chats and send emails just to people in a group you created.

In addition, Facebook Groups help alleviate at least some of the privacy concerns people have about using Facebook. If, for example, you have 800 friends (which, by the way, you really shouldn’t because you can’t possibly know who all those people are), and you tell them all that you are going out with a close friend to The Social Network at a local theater, you never know whether one of them might take advantage of that information for nefarious reasons (such as breaking into your apartment). But you may want to tell five of your close movie-loving friends who you know you can trust. Now you can.

I have already been experimenting with the new Groups feature, and it’s working very well for me. I created a group for my immediate family, so we can share status updates on everything from family vacation pictures to my daughter’s latest activities at college. Of course, the college activities she shares with me may be very different than the ones she shares with her friends, but believe me I am OK with that. And, with Groups, my children won't have to see the work-related “junk” (as they see it) I might post. I can limit that “junk” to an entirely different group of people.

So have you tried the new Facebook Groups yet? What do you think?

Monday, July 5, 2010

A digital camera, a little know-how and a lot of luck

I recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime Mediterranean cruise with stops in Spain, France, Monaco and Italy. It was a photo-hobbyist's dream, and I took all the obligatory vacation photos, including the one where my wife appears to be pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa back up where it should be. Of course, the photos are great - especially the ones from the towering hills overlooking Monaco - but you probably wouldn't expect any of them to win a photography award.

But then again maybe, just maybe, I am wrong about that. After all, if you were to combine location, opportunity, composition, timing and a very smart digital camera, you might get that exceptional photograph that actually stands a chance at winning an award. In fact, I believe that is exactly what happened to me.

I wanted to make sure I had a high-quality, reliable, easy-to-carry camera for our trip so before we left I did a little research and ended up buying a Sony Lumix DMC-ZS6. I consider myself a semi-professional photographer, having been the chief staff photographer by my organization for the last 20-plus years, although that admittedly entails only a part of my job and I have very little professional photography training. Anyway, I picked this camera because it got great reviews for travel photography.

On the third day of our cruise, we stopped at Naples and my wife and I signed up for an excursion that included the beautiful cliffside city of Sorrento overlooking the Mediterranean. My wife loves shopping, so we ended up in a tourist-oriented shopping district in the center of town. While she was examining the leather purses, wallets and belts, I wandered a little on my own. I quickly spotted a beautiful historic-looking church-like building, with inviting open doors and decided to explore.

I took about three steps into the Sedil Dominova, which houses the Societa Operaia du Mutuo Soccorso - the Worker's Mutual Aid Society - and immediately held up my camera and snapped a picture. One shot. That's all I took. Here I had a digital camera with hundreds of free shots available, and I took one single shot. Automatic settings. I was in the building for probably less than a minute. I liked what I saw and I knew this had the potential to be a special picture, but for some reason I only snapped one picture. I walked back onto the busy shopping promenade and went back to taking standard tourist shots.

Later than night, back on the ship, I downloaded the day's photos to my Mac. When I got to the Sedil Dominova picture, I was taken aback. The photo I shot in this storied community building was like a piece of fine art. Seven middle-aged Italian men sitting around tables engaged in conversation and a card game. The room was piece of art in itself - slightly faded but stunning 18th century frescoes - wall paintings - of pillars, mantles and even babies with wings reflecting the character of this historic and artistically rich country. Set amid that backdrop - with perfectly even lighting - the men in the foreground almost appear to timelessly meld into history. A well-prepared professional photographer with the best equipment and lighting could have spent hours in this room trying to capture this moment and never have achieved it. All I had was a small - but very advanced - digital camera and a little luck.

Yes, I give myself some credit for looking beyond the surface for a better picture, for spotting the photograph in front of me, and quickly identifying a unique angle. But this is a picture that owes a lot to the incredible technology of digital photography. The camera made all the tough technical decisions for me, allowing me to act quickly and capture the moment.

The composition, the light, the background, the colors, and even the gestures and expressions on the men’s faces capture a moment that simply could not be planned or artificially created.

One moment in time. A real moment. A genuine reflection of a place and a group of people who represent a generation, a history and a culture.

I don’t know whether I will ever actually enter this photograph in a contest. But to me, it is an award-winner because – more than any of the 300-plus photos I took on this trip – it provides a genuine, deep insight into this fascinating country that I was so fortunate to visit.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How big is the Gulf oil spill?

Thanks to a very easy-to-use website by Andy Lintner, anyone can relate to the size of the horrible Gulf oil spill. Just go to http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com/ and you will see just how large the spill is as it is superimposed over your home town. I live near Madison, Wisconsin, and the spill – as you can see below – runs from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to north of Green Bay. And I can tell you it has increased significantly just in the last couple of days.

This is a great example of how web technology can be used to both inform and depress.