Saturday, September 27, 2008

Incredible story written in 1999

Almost prophetic...

Very accurate.

Quote of the day...

Boy # 4: "Dad? If somebody doesn't have any teeth, are they a toothless wonder?"

Dad: "Uh....sure."

Boy # 4: "Ha! I knew it!"

Boy # 4 runs off.

30 seconds later.

Boy # 3: "Dad? What do you call somebody who doesn't have any teeth?"

Dad: "Uh...A toothless wonder."

Boy # 3: "Ah, shucks."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Education Has Come Full Circle

Wow, how is that for a boring and dry post title? The full circle of education? But it's something I've been thinking about, so here you go. I'll try to be brief.

Although I've spent most of my career working in some form of 'distance education', I have long said that I don't necesarrily think teaching at a distance, or using technology in education, is the best, most perfect way to teach. I have stated in the past that I think that perhaps the best education can be described as many experts teaching one person. Think of it as the 'royalty method'. Imagine a prince being taught warfare by the king's general, and politics by the king's adviser, and foreign languages by people from that country. It's a great way to learn, but quite expensive, which is why hundreds of years ago, only royalty or the very rich could afford it.

The education for the common person, then, came in what I call the 'apprenticeship method'. This method usually involved one expert teaching one student. Think of a blacksmith teaching a young boy. The boy learns at the master's feet for 7 years or so, and then goes on and can do his own thing.

But while this may be an effective method, it's not efficient. So the solution to this problem is for that one expert to teach many apprentices. This method then morphed into the 'classroom method', which is the idea of one expert teaching many students - the antithesis of the royalty method. This method is not as effective, but much more practical. One happy side effect of this method is now if you're stuck on a particular concept or problem, you have friends to ask. Of course the reason you may be forced to ask friends is because the expert is busy dealing with other students, but still...

This was pretty much the state of things leading up to the late 90s. Then this fascinating thing called the internet came along. And suddenly educators found they could magnify this classroom method to the nth degree. Instead of teaching dozens of students (hundreds if you're in college), suddenly educators could theoretically teach many, many more. A teacher could create a site that suddenly allows content to be broadcast to tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Teachers have incredible reach. It's incredibly efficient, but do we lose out on effectiveness?

Well, just as we had a happy side effect in the classroom method, we find another happy side effect from the internet. Guess what? The internet has access to thousands of learners, but in turn, those learners now have access to thousands of teachers, and tens of thousands of learners. We're right back to the royalty method. I can learn anthropology at my university, but now I can also learn it from MIT, USU, wikipedia, and a number of other sources. I'm no longer limited by the information my teacher has, I have access to teachers and learners from all over the world.

Nowhere is this happy side effect more beautifully illustrated than in the open educational resources movement. Things like OpenCourseWare, Connexions, OER Commons, MERLOT, iTunes U, wikibooks, wikieducator, open textbooks, Wikipedia, and so much more. You now have many different experts, novices, and learners coming together to shape information. These resources give you access to numerous experts, something that was available only to royalty in days gone by.

We've come full circle, but seem to have the best of all worlds. I have access to hundreds of experts, thousands of other students, and together we can learn from those who came before us, and create additional learning for those that will come after us. It's an exciting time to be an educator.

My congratulations for those that made it all the way through this post. :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Styles...

I've been reworking The Super Trio. I initially wrote it as a chapter book. The final word count came in at about 13,000 words, roughly 60 pages, double spaced. But it just didn't feel right. I think the storyline was too complex for such a young reader, and the characters were acting a little more mature than they should. So I decided to go back, raise the kids ages, add more depth to the story line, and go from there.

I've been quite please with how it's turning out, so far. I'm currently at about 20,000 words, and I still have about 9,000 from the first book to include. And still more storyline to cover. I'll wager it will be about the same size as my Headlights books, around 60,000 words.

However, this time around, I've been writing it different. With Chickens and Bullies, I would write a chapter, and then let it sit. I'd go back and rework it a few days later, and then maybe even a third time. Then I'd send it to my wonderful sister-in-law who would do a crack job at fixing all my errors.

It was common for me to spend 3-4 weeks per chapter. But each chapter was pretty polished before I went on to the next.

With this book I have just been flying through the story. I've been writing for maybe 10 days, and already have nearly 80 pages. But it's a really rough 80 pages. I'm going back and forth trying to decide if I should stop, go back and polish, or if I should just plow ahead. It's kind of nice to feel like I'm making good headway.

Anyway, if any of you out there have a particular writing style style that matches either of these, or even something entirely different, I'd be very interested in hearing about it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Google Knol

I've written before about Google and their knol project. As a quick recap, the basic idea is that a person can create a page about a certain topic. Others can add to or edit the page. The author may choose to place Google ads on the page.

Sound a bit like Wikipedia? There are a few key differences. First, a knol has information about the author. Wikipedia allows complete and total anonymity. This allows you to judge the validity of the article based on who wrote it.

It appears there are different levels of editing allowed. An author can either keep all editing only to authors, or they can open it up to 'suggestions' (where people suggest changes, and the authors decide if they want to keep it), or they can just open it right up for anybody to edit.

The other difference is that Wikipedia has never placed ads on their site. Users contribute and Wikipedia is a non-profit organization.

I wrote a blog post some time ago on the lunar phases. I actually get quite a bit of traffic to my site from people doing a search on how to tell if the moon is waxing or waning. So, I took that blog post, turned it into a mini article, and created my first knol. You can see it here. And of course, it's wide open, so if you see any errors, feel free to correct.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm an angry, angry man.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Newman

One of 12.

If I had to pick my top 5 movies, I don't know what they would all be, but I'm pretty sure that 12 Angry men would be on that list. I've seen it probably 20 times in my life. Henry Fonda is fantastic. In fact, every person on the list is perfect for the roll. All be three minutes of the film takes place in one small room. But in spite of no scenery change, the movie draws you in and you are compelled to watch from start to finish.

So, when I heard that our community theatre was putting on the production, I couldn't help but try out. I've never been in a play before in my life (I may have been a tree in elementary school, I can't recall, probably I've repressed any memory). But I would have hated myself to pass up the opportunity.

So, to make a long story short, I tried out, and they gave me the 11th spot. For those that have watched the show, I'm the foreigner. So not only do I have to remember my lines, and remember when to say my lines, and say them with feeling, I have to add on an accent to boot. But, it should be fun.

Anyway, the play starts October 3rd (the same day as the USU BYU game, I'll REALLY be angry that night, for missing it), and runs through the 25th. If you feel so inclined, drop on by, it should be fun. And if you don't come to the play, you should at least check out the movie. It's a keeper.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The spiral jetty...

One of the benefits of doing homeschool is that we're pretty open when it comes to field trips. We can do whatever we want, when we want. So the other day I e-mailed my oldest son and said, "If you can tell me what the spiral jetty is, who build it, and how to get there, we'll go there on Saturday."

He takes after me, so within just a few minutes after reading my e-mail, he had replied with the answer to all three, including turn by turn direction from google maps. And yes, if you're wondering, our homeschool does allow the use of wikipedia. :)

Anyway, I was surprised to find out my wife had never been. We'd been out there a few years ago, but I think she was pregnant and passed up on the trip.

I don't think Sue was terribly excited about the trip, but she was a trooper. When she found out that much of the road was going to be unpaved, and a good portion of the road was quite rocky, I think she got less and less enthused. However, when we got there, the wonder and strangeness of the environment took over, and we all were really pleased that we went, salty shoes not withstanding.

We found three geocaches, and also saw a guy making a movie. He was dressed in a suit made out of mirrors, which was quite bizarre. He said we could take his picture but said we couldn't post it anywhere,'ll have to take my word for it.

Anyway, if you've never been, you should go. It really feels like you're on a different planet. Below are the obligatory pics.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I got a letter today from a total stranger. It didn't surprise me because I get a letter like this probably once or twice a week. It reads:

Dear Sirs,
Iam very in terested to get your open course ware, then I will need a credit, please make me know about it. how it works.
[name withheld]

The name is foreign, and to me sound African. I hear from a lot of people telling me how much they appreciate the material we have on our site, People want credit, and I get probably 30-40 requests a year for it. It seems like if we could somehow easily offer credit or a certificate, OpenCourseWare could become sustainable. We're never going to find a lot of people in Africa to pay full tuition, but if there was some alternative means of accreditation, it seems like as the word got out, it is not inconceivable that we'd at least be able to bring in enough to keep the servers online. As it now stands, the future of the site is in question.

There was a lot of fear in the beginning that if we gave away our content, nobody would want to come to our university. The exact opposite is the case. We gave away our content, and now we have more interest in our school than ever before. We just don't have a model in place to deal with the new demand.