IN THIS ISSUE:
iToon on Newspaper Circulation
Teachers & Technology
iToon on iFashion
The Ken Burns Effect
iToon on On Line Poker
iToon on nanomas
iToon on Presidential Play
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EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
Teachers & Technology
by Mark R. Rogstad
Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Montana Education Association Conference in the People's Republic of Missoula. Montana public schools take two days off each October to allow teachers to participate in Pupil-Instruction-Related (PIR) activities. The major activity in the state is the MEA conference.
All of the major curriculum areas attend, including technology (TEAM) and computers (MCCE). The best attended sessions are those that deal with federal and state laws. The second best attendance goes to technology/computers.
My "Digital Photo in 50 minutes" sectional packed 55+ teachers into a room smaller than the average living room. (I am thinking of putting a contract out on my colleagues, who refuse to give me a decent sized room.) I've given this same presentation five times in six years with only minor modifications to the PowerPoint show. Yet I pack the house every year. The "What is this Linux?" presentation drew 18 people in the auto shop (another horrible venue). I was stunned that 18 people wanted to know about Linux, a geekified alternative to Windoze.
These teachers hunger for technological knowledge and information. And I am proud to be able to deliver some of it to them.
According to preliminary figures, between 2,000 and 2,500 teachers attended the conference. Compare that to the fact that there are over 16,000 teachers in the state. So about 12-15 percent of teachers attend the conference. The rest, presumably, attend sessions in their home districts. Or they go hunting.
The sad fact is that the majority of public school teachers in Montana, and probably the country, are technologically illiterate, or at least inadequate. There seems to be a sick pride in making statements like "I never use computers." "I hate computers." or "I use a good, old-fashioned paper gradebook." Those statements often are taken with giggles and polite titters, but seldom scorned as they should be.
After some internet-based research, there are no omnibus studies that enumerate the use of technology by public school teachers. Perhaps I have an idea for my dissertation! My belief, though, is that no studies have been published because of the horrendous statistics that would emerge.
There are numerous reasons why teachers don't use technology, or, at least, don't use technology effectively. First among those is the lack of available technology. We tend to see those schools and teachers that excel in technology use and show it off regularly. But what about the small rural schools that don't have high-speed internet connectivity or a budget large enough to equip schools and teachers with the technology and training that they need or want. This applies to a large number of districts in eastern Montana, where it's not unusual for students to commute by bus, two hours each way to school.
Another popular reason is that there is little or no reward or incentive for teachers to change their ways and adopt new technologies. The history teacher that has his lectures on overhead transparencies would have to do a significant amount of extra work to convert them to PowerPoint. But why? Math teachers could toss those endless worksheets and use some of the numerous interactive tutorials available for all areas of math. But that would require them to take significant time to learn the program themselves. Change and Education have often been mutually exclusive terms and still are in many classrooms.
Schools themselves often have large discrepancies between classrooms. I challenge you to visit any school and ask about the most innovative teacher and the most traditional. No doubt you would find classrooms that appear modern and innovative and others that look like they did when you went to school all those years ago. The fact of the matter is that, just like other professions, some teachers enjoy their job and work to innovate while others are teachers so they can get summers off.
The solution? Pressure. Parents should actually go to school on Parent's night and ask their kids' teachers how they use technology in the classroom. Those who give you that cutesy response about not using technology should be told that they should change their attitude about technology. If things don't change, the principal should be notified. If nothing happens, call your favorite school board member.
The Ken Burns Effect
Last Christmas I used my new digital camcorder to record the first family event. It was a simple task to film the nieces and nephews tearing through the wrapping paper in the crowded family room. Afterward, I used the Apple iMovie application to compose a DVD of the event, which I circulated around the family. It was quite the hit. Now, I am the defacto family Ken Burns, filmmaker.
At any of the family events, the old 35 mm camera was the quiet recordkeeper. No one really knew when you snapped a few pictures (some of the best pictures are the ones which the subjects are unaware of the camera). Even the smallest video camera is in plain view most of the time. As you pan the room, someone will notice you then MUG for the camera.
The best part of digital video is the real time images. With a roll of film, it took 24 hours to years to get pictures developed at the local drug store.
With video, you can replay the last shot over and over again. After the over the shoulder gawkers have had enough, it is only then when you can reset the tape and hunt for the next scene. Instead of recording the event, the filmmaker starts to think about the next scene, how to place the camera to get an affect, and then push the actors into the view range. In reality, it is just as well to allow the event unfold on its own volition. Just stay off to the side, with a wide angle of range, and let the kids be kids.
It gets more difficult when you are sitting up in a high school gym, and your niece is down on the court performing with her cheerleading club. The parents around you are stomping and yelping, the audio speakers are feedbacking, and the crowded row is bumping the cameraman. The long range zoom gets a work-out. Find your niece, then pan back to put into context of the event.
So instead of having a half dozen exposed 35mm film canisters sitting on the kitchen counter ready to be picked up with the car keys to be driven to the nearest drug store for development, I have now a few micro-cassette tapes stacking up next to the computer waiting for downloading into iMovie.
So the tapes which are projects begin to pile up. I could take the easy way out and add a simple opening title then burn the raw footage into DVDs. But once you get the simple basics down pat, then the evil creative genius side of the mind begins to hog the frontal lobe. You begin to push the raw footage with seqs, pans; hey, why not add a soundtrack or commentary; or hey, let's add some personal graphics or stills to the mix. Then, in a matter of moments, you need production flow charts, more hands and tons more time to finish each little project. Suddenly, if there was a schedule, you were behind. The more complex the project, the more glitches. The more raw footage, the more planning is needed. More segments hit the cutting room floor. Then you push the editing software too far, and the soundtrack no longer is in sync with the frames. Frustration. Then malaise. You set the project aside to think through a solution. The final solution is starting for scratch, go simple, just to reach the finish line.
You get the mentality of a Hollywood studio exec: what projects are worth putting more time and what projects are not salvageable. But in the family video sphere, all the events have value. It is trying to balance the movie-mogul inclination with the reality of mere recordkeeping of memories.
Apple's on-line community, eWorld, was way, way, way ahead of its time.
It had the elements that most net surfers now take for granted: links to news, reference materials, bulletin boards, shopping sites, product support. The original eWorld Town Square (home page) consisted of icon links for the following areas:
Arts & Leisure Pavillion, Learning Center, Computer Center, Marketplace, Business & Finance Plaza, Newstand, Community Center, email Center and Info Booth.
One clicked on a building to enter its content. The Newstand and Business Plaza were excellent gateways to news and business stories. The Computer Center was an on-line support center for computer questions. The Community Center was the chat and discussion areas where users interacted at will. Email was a simple interface.
But with a CEO shift, Apple abandoned eWorld, killed off its community site, and pushed its members toward AOL. It was a bitter blow to the hard core Apple devotee, the rebels who were on the front lines of the Windows wars. The simple interface easily brought its users to the links of rich content.
Apple has gone full circle, but inside of a content portal, Apple's new Internet hub is to supply content through its iTunes store.
The Apple iTune store is turning into an electronic big box store as the weeks pass by with new editions. First, it was the price point legal music downloads. It was so popular, that the music industry record labels are now crying foul (they want a bigger royalty). Second, the iPod turned into your digital cameras best storage friend. Instead of lugging around 5 x 7 glossies from the local pharmacy one-hour photo, you could bring your entire vacation to life in the palm of your hand. Third, the iPod turned into the iPhone. The merger of two different technologies was achieved, but the sales have not ramped up to expectations. Fourth, the iPod has evolved into a video player. Early reviews are quite startling; reviewers are actually surprised by the quality and definition of the small video screen. The ABC television programs are easy to digest from the vid-pod. The biggest bonus for the video iPod has been the airport business traveler's solution to dragging out a laptop to see a DVD during a long lay-over; the iPod is a pocket player (with limit selections to date). Steve Job's vision of a personal digital hub is the iTunes home page powered by the iPod. Most pundits thought it would be attached to a desktop personal computer.
LOST and Found
When you have a hot property, you sell and sell and sell it to death. When one of the forgotten networks, ABC, stumbled upon a quirky, sci-fi survivor drama called LOST, it was merely an hour of filler slotted for a season. But in an oversaturated Reality television cycle, ABC suddenly found itself with an audience. Finding an audience in the wilderness of viewer choices is becoming harder and harder for a network executive. Dramas or sitcoms need writers, actors and a big budget. Actors are picky; directors are pushy; producers are greedy. It is a headache. Reality shows are cheap to produce, the 15 minute of fame seekers are naive and will get paid in alcohol to be humiliated on film.
Networks have lost their sheepish viewers. The previously captive television audience has more and more non-traditional viewing choices: surfing the net, listening to the iPod, surfing 100 channels on the dish, exercising with the iPod, working overtime at your computer cubicle, watching DVDs or movie rentals, editing your own home movies, or reading a book (or computer manual).
So ABC finds itself with a series, which each episode asking more questions than it answers. Each character has his or her own secrets. A plane crash, exotic beach locale, violence, sexual tension, mysteries and fear are the elements being weaved into quilt of human dysfunctional storylines. The rumor is that the creators had no idea that the pilot would be a hit. The creators themselves don't know where the storyline is going, so they continue to throw in new mysterious elements to keep the story engine fueled to the next week. It has turned into this decade's The X-Files, the quirky FBI-UFO cult show.
During the first season, ABC's web site had its LOST home page. The LOST page contained the basic fan-base features of characters, photo galleries, TV Guide style previews, a video snippet, trivia, and message boards. For a television network, it was a pretty good site. The best part of Season One at the site was the episode recaps. Most viewers came into the series at different times, so the plot lines were difficult to follow unless you had a reference. The Season One episode recaps were detailed novellas, complete with details which could have missed just from viewing the show. The episode novellas brought in many more viewers into the storyline and hooked them on the strange twists on the island.
Then for Season Two, ABC shifted its focus. It began re-running episodes later in the week. It also doubled up before the new episodes to get people refreshed for the action. The episodes also included more and more repeated flashbacks (which at this point is mere time filler than story line enhancements). As the episodes get stretched out, the LOST web site got compressed. The long novella episode guide is now a short story summation. If you want more information or information that used to be free, there is a premium link (data mining). More and more merchandise sales is crowding the site links. The commercialization of the show has now taken priority over the show itself. These changes are also fueling the rumor that the network and show creators are at the critical point of collapsing on their own sudden success; jumping the shark before the end of Season Two.
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