Internet

Tower Bridge talking

Exciting times in ICT as its interconnections with other school subjects become clearer and as we build new areas to our curriculum. And some of that really does involve building.

This is a video made by my colleague, Olly Rokison, of his working Tower Bridge model. Both model and video are being used this year in our ICT course for our 13 year-olds as we explore how things are now talking to us.

From our school website (where the full, annotated Arduino code can be downloaded):

At St Paul's, we take a steady interest in new and emerging technologies. We have been experimenting recently with the open source Arduino hardware.

In this project, Oliver Rokison, Technology, ICT and Computing teacher, built a working paper model of Tower Bridge, connected it via Arduino gear to the Tower Bridge Twitter account — and the result is a model that mimics the movements of the real bridge.

The Tower Bridge Twitter account was, of course, set up by Tom Armitage. Tom wrote about putting Tower Bridge on Twitter in February, 2008, in Making Bridges Talk:

I’ve written before about how wonderful Twitter can be as a messaging bus for physical objects. The idea of overhearing machines talking about what they’re doing is, to my mind, quite delightful.


AUP

ICT AUPs are hardly sexy, but they of course reflect how an institution thinks of its computing resources and of its users. We drew up a revised AUP last calendar year and have just gone live with it for this new academic year.

In the development of ICT at St Paul’s, we have put the emphasis upon users being both informed and responsible. The course for our first years (13 year–olds) is open to all in our community to make use of and, within the constraints of a busy school’s life, we try to communicate widely key points about online life — from the way stuff endures online, is read by unknown publics, etc, to the exercising of thoughtfulness and the nurturing of a good ear for context and (therefore) register. Underlying all this, two things: the value in creating and nurturing your online identity, and the whole business of learning to be accountable for what you post or send.

The debt to danah boyd in our AUP will be evident, but we’ve also drawn upon a number of other writers. Last year’s introductory lesson on blogs and wikis cited danah, but also included this:

In all online activity,  you must post responsibly and wisely.  How we behave online affects our reputation — and the reputation of others. Here are some simple guidelines for participating in online life: ‘be civil’ (Jeremy Keith's Irish music site, The Session); ‘be polite and respectful in your interactions with other members’ (Flickr); ‘use common sense while posting’ (Last.fm); ‘Use your best judgement. Don't forget your day job’ (IBM, pdf); ‘IBM's integrity & reputation, as well as your own, are in your hands’ (IBM Virtual World Guidelines).

I like the point an IBM blogger made concerning IBM’s Corporate Blogging Guidelines, something I apply in my mind to a good ICT AUP, too: ‘a commitment that we all have entered into together’. Schools, with their transient populations, have to renew their commitment continually, not only every year but many times each year. This is the guts of teaching and of good schools. It’s tiring, but very rewarding.

Another reason why AUPs test schools: ‘most schools and districts are operating under Acceptable Use Policies that were written before there was a Read/Write Web’ (David Warlick, in 2007). As I’ve said before, no-one I know saw what we were really doing when we started connecting our schools to the web. The shared perception was that we were enlarging our libraries. When we began more fully to appreciate that we’d in fact joined the read/write web, the need for a very different kind of AUP was evident.

An AUP should, to borrow Roo’s words from his 2008 post about IBM’s conduct guidelines, Policing vs Guidelines, be ‘annually revisited (though not necessarily annually revised)’. This is what we’re running with this year:

ICT: policy for good use

This policy is binding. It has been kept as simple as possible and is intended to encourage creative, imaginative use of our computing facilities. If you exercise due care and consideration, you will be observing its spirit.

The school provides both networked, desktop computers and wireless access to the internet through the school’s own filtered connection. Wireless access (which does not provide direct access to the school’s network) is available in specified locations for authorised users to use via their own devices.

Identity and responsibility (online and digital)

Respect and maintain the integrity of digital identities — yours and others’. For example: log on only as yourself; keep your login details private and make them secure; do not leave any device logged in and accessible to others.

Exercise informed judgement about disclosing your personal details and do not give out another person’s details without their clear consent.

Except for Coletines, financial transactions by pupils are permitted where you act within the constraints of the school’s rules and with your parents’ approval.

In the digital realm, once something is posted online it has a persistence that is not like something that is said. It is also searchable and replicable and you cannot be sure who your audience is or will be. Once something is posted online, its effects are often magnified and can be mirrored out of context. All of this requires experience to understand. Remember: when you post, you have not only your own reputation to consider but also that of others and that of the school. Every member of the community has to take responsibility for his or her actions online. If you are in doubt, it is best not to post, send an email, etc.

Network and hardware integrity

Respecting and maintaining the network and the computers the school provides is largely common sense. For example, if the functioning of the system were to be impaired by the introduction of a virus, it would have a possible impact not just on the school’s network but on all devices using the school’s facilities. Attachments sent to you should be assessed case-by-case: unexpected or suspicious files should not be opened.

Many different devices exist which can be connected to a network or a computer. Every user needs to exercise judgement: for example, storage devices (eg, USB sticks) with non-executable files on them are clearly fine, but should have been virus-checked first by you. Harder to assess can be executables designed to run safely from a USB stick (etc) — eg, a browser. If in doubt, consult with a member of the ICT staff.

Devices that are themselves computers (in whatever form) should not be linked to the wired network without first consulting either the Director of ICT or the IT Manager.

Laptops and other portable devices can access the internet (and, via this route, the school’s systems) by using the wireless network — accessible from a number of points within the school.  Anti-virus provision for all mobile and portable devices is the owner’s responsibility.

Downloading files: again, exercise judgement and be aware that viruses can be hidden in documents and images (for example) and not just in executable files. To guard against accidents, the school’s own machines do not allow unauthorised software installation. Think about what you are doing and always seek advice if in doubt.

Respecting the network’s integrity extends to how messages are sent. There are many ways of spamming people, or generating needless messages, and no-one should be doing this. Another example of unacceptable practice would be attempting to send messages anonymously or pseudonymously.

It is standard practice in organisations to audit users’ internet activity and all staff and pupils are audited in this way. Audit trails are rarely examined but exist as a safety net should things go wrong. Should you find yourself looking at or opening material you consider the school would think inappropriate (or material you find disturbing), simply inform a member of staff so we can work with you to address the matter.

Note:

  • On our intranet, there are hyperlinks to further info for: disclosing your personal details and financial transactions by pupils are permitted where you act within the constraints of the school's rules.
  • “Coletines” refers to pupils in our junior school, Colet Court.
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Last words on last year

A few words to add to what I wrote back in January about the first half of last academic year, 2008–9.

This was the second year we’d taught our Year 9 the new ICT course (online here). Now that this body of material is very familiar to us, we can move on with confidence, keeping the old cycle of lessons as a reference for us and for anyone else who wants this level of detail, but producing much cleaner, leaner lesson material for the pupils with more time, now, for hands-on experience both in lessons and beyond. Given the engagement we’re building with professionals based in London, and the inter-disciplinary collaboration now going on at school to make much more of all the considerable areas of overlap between art, ICT, technology, electronics, science, etc, I’m confident that there’s something underway which, properly nurtured and encouraged, could be very exciting and creative.

As part of our continuing exploration of computer games, we were fortunate to have two more visiting speakers of distinction. Ian Livingstone came in May. Eidos hosts a biography. One of the UK’s founding fathers of interactive games and fiction (he co-founded Games Workshop in 1975), at Eidos (the UK's leading developer and publisher of video games) he was instrumental in securing many of the company's major franchises, including Tomb Raider and Hitman. In 2000 he was awarded the BAFTA Special Award for his outstanding contribution to the interactive entertainment industry. In 2003 he was appointed Creative Industries advisor to the British Council and in 2005 he was appointed Chair of the Computer Games Skills Council. He was awarded an OBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for his contribution to the Computer Games Industry. His talk, Life Is A Game, focused on his many years in games. He spoke about the acute skills shortage in the UK games industry and the urgent need for top quality UK maths/computer science graduates to consider it as a career.

I'm delighted that, again in May, Alice Taylor, Commissioning Editor, Education, at Channel 4 and a renowned gamer, came to talk about her life in gaming (she played Quake for England), what she does now and why she thinks gaming matters. You can read about her work with C4 and what she's up to on her blog. You can also read what Matt Locke at C4 has to say about her (‘she’s one of the most inspiring women I know working in technology at the moment’) and you can read about some of her thinking to do with a game C4 is developing about privacy. (And the game, Smokescreen, is now out.)

In June, we squeezed in another excellent talk — by Graham Cooke, eCommerce Senior Project Manager, EMEA, Google. He spoke about cloud-computing (trends and changes in computing and how cloud-computing is changing the way we work), his own work at Google and website analytics (what it takes to make a website work).

Last term saw us celebrate our 500th anniversary as a school and as part of that my colleague, Olly Rokison, showed off Centograph on our open day (more about our open day and ICT in an earlier post), a piece we’d commissioned from Tinker.it!. We’ve been talking with Alex and others at Tinker.it! for a while now (and Alex spoke at school last September), looking at ways in which we can make more use of Arduino in our teaching and at how we teach about “the internet of things”.

 

From the Tinker.it! post about Centograph:

image

Students in St. Paul’s technology classes are studying the fundamentals and the latest advances in computation, networks, electronics, and physical design. These technologies are increasingly complex and interconnected; this has been reflected in the emergence of fields such as interaction design, human computer interaction, and physical computing.

Centograph, a physical representation of virtual information, uses today’s technologies to encourage viewers to reflect on the past.

When you enter a search term into the computer, Centograph queries the Google News Archive for a list of related news articles over the past 100 years. The archive returns a timeline of articles sorted according to date. The bars on the graph then change height to display a histogram of the relative number of news articles for each decade. This allows you to view the ‘shape’ of the past century in relation to different topics—from progression in computing technology to times of war and peace to changing sources of energy, to name a few possibilities.

Centograph provides viewers with a context for exploration and reflection, and it urges viewers to seek connections between different subjects and evaluate changes in public discourse over time. It also raises questions about how we use technology today. How do we acquire and interpret information, and how do we connect the web of virtual data to our physical lives? Users type a search term into the computer and press enter. The bar graph then changes to display the histogram for the term. You can also browse through words that other people have entered by clicking on a term to see the related graph.

We’re looking forward to doing more with both Arduino and Tinker.it!.

And so, the new school year begins … More about us and AMEE, YouTube/Vimeo, etc as we go.


Back in May …

… St Paul’s held an open day to celebrate its 500th anniversary. For our part, we put together a small show in our main ICT room. My thanks to the four pupils who helped me set this up and who looked after our visitors so well for the whole of what was a fun but long afternoon.

Open Day  Open Day  Open Day  Open Day

Making use of the bank of desktop machines in the room, we gathered together a number of videos under this umbrella:

A brief introduction to the modern web: an overview of how computers shrank, became mobile and ever more powerful, an insight into how we teach about all this and a glimpse of the world we’re all soon going to be living in.

It may be that some of what follows in this longish post (a lot of video) is of interest beyond the immediate occasion of the day. I put the videos in playable form here as you may want to scan quickly and then dip in when something catches your eye. On the day, visitors could go round a number of videos/slideshows (mostly paired and in the sequence below) but of course, and as we expected, people dipped in and out: it was that or giving over a lot of the afternoon to this one room. (For me, in these very general talks or events, there’s quite a bit of churn, but it seems always to be the case that there’s plenty of new hooks for anyone whose life isn’t spent immersed in this stuff.)

Incidentally, one of the successes of the afternoon was the discovery of what you can do with the simplest of devices. Spotted in the field the previous week at Manchester’s Urbis, Staples’ slanted clear acrylic sign holders are a brilliant way of signing an exhibition with the minimum of fuss and a lot of clarity:

 The internet of things 

The only nod towards a more formal, display-board style of presentation was this:
 Moore's Law

(Sources: see the first slideshow below, Gizmodo for the smiling boy with the make-believe mobile and Intel’s Moore’s Law 40th Anniversary Press Kit for the two charts on the right.)

Finally, alternating on the overhead projector throughout the afternoon were these videos:

                     

1/

Slideshow 1 (credits as per the links and also: original Apple iPhone ads — see 6/ below; stills from Did You Know; the Flickr slide — from here).

A short history of how computers have grown in power, how their size has got smaller and smaller … and how they’ve gone mobile. Also (and very swiftly), an overview of developments in technology and the web, the advent of both cloud-computing and ubiquitous computing … and the emergence of astonishingly rich social sites and practices.

 
Steve Jobs (1991?) talks about what computers mean to him: ‘Computers are like a bicycle for our minds’.

 

2/  Apple, 1984

In January 1984, a youthful Steve Jobs demonstrated the first Apple Mac. This film still has the power to impress, such was the reception this innovative machine received. And then there’s also Jobs’ own reaction …


This advert, directed by Ridley Scott, was shown on US TV in 1984 and introduced the Mac personal computer. As they said in a later campaign,
Think Different.

 

3/  California dreaming

‘Knowledge Navigator’: another Apple film, from 1987, imagining a personal computer that would be like a PA, memex machine, scholastic aid, visual display — oh, and phone. (Sound familiar?)


‘Time Capsule’: an Apple film made in 1987 and imagining the future of 1997. “No question about it, the 1990s have really been the Apple decade.”

 

4/ Google and Cloud-Computing

It’s hard to believe that Google is just ten years old. In January this year, the company released this film looking back at what they’d done in that time. All 4th Formers get a thorough grounding in using Google’s tools and in managing their personal identity and privacy.


Cloud-computing: more and more of the data we create and use and store is not on our devices but “in the cloud” — in data centres such as this one. Google makes energy efficiency a priority.

 

5/  Google Earth

Everyone knows Google Earth and Google Street View. We explore in our 4th Form course the implications of these technologies for the visualisation of information. We also discuss the emergence of location-based social software and its implications for privacy.

Here’s a beautiful example of the educational value of Google Earth: Ancient Rome (a layer in Google Earth) as it looked in 320AD.

 

6/  iPhone

A game-changing device. The original advertising campaign from June 2007 summarises brilliantly what had been achieved.


The iPhone brought touchscreens into the lives of many. Will it be a key player in bringing ubiquitous computing into our lives, too?
4th Formers are taught that “computers” are much more, and much more present in our lives, than the single desktop this film is playing on.

 

7/  Living in a digital world

Slideshow 2:

An idea of how our students use web-based tools and a panoramic view of our course for 4th Formers.

(I used much of this material in my talk at C4’s recent What Comes Next? The Channel 4 Education Summer Conference.)


Editing Wikipedia: a time-lapse film of the edits made to the page about the London 7 July, 2005, bombings. The article was created, that morning, at 9.15am. In its first four hours, it was edited over a thousand times. All 4th Formers are taught how to understand, evaluate, use and edit Wikipedia.

 

8/  The near future

CGI: no water was harmed in this film. Or even used. Programmers from St Paul’s can look forward to working on enhancing such techniques even further, in film and videogames.


Big Dog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics, walks on rough terrain and ice whilst carrying heavy loads (340lbs). Control Technology works in areas that prepare students for fields like this.

                                          

 

9/  Games

A contentious area for some, the development of a substantial body of critical literature and the wise words of respected reports such as last year’s Byron Review, along with research and better knowledge generally, are leading to a more considered reception of computer games. This slideshow outlines some important research from last year and highlights a talk given here in November 2008.


Old Paulines created Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto, etc). In school today, we are creating an intelligent ethos for the discussion and understanding of games.

In designing videogames, something called The Uncanny Valley needs to be avoided. An entertainingly presented talk.

 

10/  The internet of things

Many of us have grown up thinking the internet is mainly the web — a web of pages. But the machines are coming: embedded devices of all kinds … Machines … talking … to us.

Gartner think that, “By year end 2012, physical sensors will create 20 percent of non-video internet traffic. … The extent and diversity of real-time environmental sensing is growing rapidly as our ability to act on and interpret the growing volumes of data to capture valuable information increases.”

Sensors to monitor energy consumption will become very common. Simon Hay, OP, has been working on this concept (see this poster and site) and three current pupils in the school will be using AMEE to record and monitor our energy usage.

This final Apple video shows the iPhone 3.0 and its use with medical devices — for example, in the monitoring of diabetes.

 

(And for further food for thought, Matt Jones’ iPhone 3.0: everyware-ready?.)

 

11/  Getting it wrong

So many of the things we imagine about the future are wildly wrong. This trip round the recent past and the fast-developing present has tried to avoid such wild predictions, preferring to look instead at some things that are coming true already (a near-future becoming the present) or that are already here.

Cue Postcards Show the Year 2000 (circa 1900). And then:

Here, in two parts, is the GM Futurama 1939 World’s Fair looking ahead to the imagined 1960s, a techno-utopian vision we still haven’t achieved.

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Kayaking

The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it.
Scott Bradner, former trustee of the Internet Society (quoted in Here Comes Everybody)

The communications tools broadly adopted in the last decade are the first to fit human social networks well,
and because they are easily modifiable they can be made to fit better over time.
— Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody, p 158) 

Clay Shirky at the ICABack before Easter, I was at the ICA for the Eno/Shirky evening. One of the books I then read over the break was Here Comes Everybody. I’ve been meaning for some time to put down a few notes about it here. This has grown to be a long post as I’ve added to it, wanting to get a few things out on the page and, so, clearer in my own mind.

It’s a great book to suggest to friends who are not familiar with the technologies Shirky discusses as it hides its knowledge well — but there are still leads to follow up. The modest ten or so pages of the Bibliography threw up a number of articles I'd either not heard of before or hadn’t visited in a long while. In the former camp, I recommend: Anderson: More Is Different (Science — 1972); R H Coase: The Nature of the Firm (pdf) — a 1937 economics paper; Richard P. Gabriel — Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big: worse is better (1991); Alan Page Fiske: Human Sociality. (There’s an online “webliography” here.) And chapters 8–11, covering so many big topics — social capital; three kinds of loss (some solve-a-hard-problem jobs; some social bargains; negative aspects to new freedoms); small world networks; more on social capital; failure (‘open source … is outfailing’ commercial efforts, 245); more on groups (‘every working system is a mix of social and technological factors’, 260) — hit my Amazon Prime account hard. (Incidentally, there’s a Kevin Kelly piece on “more is different”, Zillionics, that appeared earlier this year. See also Kevin Kelly’s The Google Way of Science and Wired’s The Petabyte Age: Because More Isn't Just More — More Is Different.)

Further reading to one side, a number of things discussed in the book particularly interested me straightaway. Firstly, sociality, privacy and exposure online. Leisa recently posted Ambient Exposure, an update (of sorts) to her post of last March, Ambient Intimacy. The titles tell their own story. Early on, Clay writes about ‘how dramatically connected we've become to one another … [how much] information we give off about our selves’. This took me back to Adam Greenfield’s recent talk at the Royal Society (I’ve also been re-reading Everyware). Our love of flocking is being fed handsomely by means of the new tools Clay Shirky discusses so well.

Privacy is always coming up in conversations at school about online life, and what I’m hearing suggests our students are beginning to look at privacy and exposure with growing circumspection. Facebook’s People You May Know functionality has made some sit up and wonder where social software might be taking us. We’re slowly acquiring a stronger sense of how seduction through imagined privacy works (alone in a room, save for screen and keyboard) and a more developed understanding of what it means to write for unseen audiences. Meanwhile, there are things to be unlearned: ‘those of us who grew up with a strong separation between communication and broadcast media … assume that if something is out where we can find it, it must have been written for us. … Now that the cost of posting things in a global medium has collapsed, much of what gets posted on any given day is in public but not for the public’ (90).  In the Bibliography, Clay refers to a post of Danny O’Brien’s — all about register — which is a longtime favourite of mine, too.

Then there was what the book had to say about media and journalism. Simon Waldman, well-placed to pass comment, on chapters 3 and 4:

The chapters most relevant to media/journalism - ‘Everyone is a media outlet’ and ‘Publish first, filter later’ should be required reading for pretty much everyone currently sitting in a newspaper/broadcaster. It’s certainly the best thought through thing I’ve read on this, and the comparison to the decline of the scribes when the printing press came in is really well drawn. 

The summary to Chapter 4 (‘Publish, Then Filter’) runs, ‘The media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact’. ‘Filter-then-publish … rested on a scarcity of media that is a thing of the past. The expansion of social media means the only working system is publish-then-filter’ (98). (Language like this can sound an utopian note that rings on in the head long after the book’s been closed, as if we’d entered a world beyond old constraints. And look!: the Praetorian Guard of elite gatekeepers is no more.)

I was interested, too, to read Shirky’s thoughts about the impact of new technologies on institutions. His application of Ronald Coase’s 1937 paper and, in particular, the idea of the Coasean floor (‘activities … [that] are valuable to someone but too expensive to be taken on in any institutional way’), was very striking: the new tools allow ‘serious, complex work [to be] taken on without institutional direction’ and things can now be achieved by ‘loosely coordinated groups’ which previously ‘lay under the Coasean floor’.

We didn't notice how many things were under that floor because, prior to the current era, the alternative to institutional action was usually no action. (47)

Later in the book (107), he comes back to institutions, taking what is happening to media businesses as not unique but prophetic — for ‘All businesses are media businesses … [as] all businesses rely on the managing of information for two audiences — employees and the world’:

The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. The linking of symmetrical participation and amateur production makes this period of change remarkable. Symmetrical participation means that once people have the capacity to receive information, they have the capability to send it as well. Owning a television does not give you the ability to make TV shows, but owning a computer means that you can create as well as receive many kinds of content, from the written word through sound and images. Amateur production, the result of all this new capability, means that the category of "consumer" is now a temporary behaviour rather than a permanent identity.

‘Every new user is a potential creator and consumer’ (106) is reminiscent of Bradley Horowitz in Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers (2006).

*****

Continue reading "Kayaking" »


Mobiles

To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures. According to statistics from the market database Wireless Intelligence, it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide. The second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

— from The New York Times article focusing on the work of Jan Chipchase (and colleagues), Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.

… have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why, regardless of culture, age, gender and increasingly context you're likely to find a mobile phone in the hand, pocket or bag of the person next to you? Put simply - the ability to communicate over distances in a personal convenient manner is universally understood and appreciated, and it's easy enough to get the basics without going to night school or taking a PhD. It certainly helps that, as a functional tool that can be used discreetly or with a flourish, the mobile phone makes an ideal vehicle for projecting one’s status and personal preferences - from the choice of brand, model, ring tone or wallpaper, or simply that (because you're connected) you've arrived.

Today over 3 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people have cellular connectivity and it is expected that another billion will be connected by 2010. But what is often overlooked is the disproportionate impact of mobile phones on different societies, which is one of the reasons why as researchers, we increasingly prefer to spend time in places like Cairo and Kampala: there is simply more to learn. These are places where for many, it's the first time they have the ability to communicate personally and conveniently over distances - without having to worry whether someone can overhear the topic of their conversation - communicate with whom they want, when they want. It makes new businesses viable and creates markets where there was none. For many it's the first time they can provide a stable fixed point of reference to the outside world - a phone number, which in turn creates a new form of identity that in turn enables everything from rudimentary banking to commerce. And not least - each new feature on or accessible through the mobile phone brings new modes of use - unencumbered by my, and probably your entrenched (and increasingly outdated) notions of entertainment, the 'right' way to capture and share experiences, the internet. If you work or study in the mobile space and you're expected to innovate, these are places that bring fresh thinking and new perspectives.

— from Jan Chipchase's article, Small Objects, Travelling Further, Faster.

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth. ... we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. ... "Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

"It's the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species -- sociability," says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It's the ultimate tool to find each other. It's wonderful technology for being human."

— from The Washington Post, Our Cells, Ourselves.


What we're teaching this year

I thought I'd post here some links to stuff we've developed and are using with our first year students (13 year-olds). The material is in the public domain, on JotSpot.

So, here's the syllabus. (It's open to revision this year, as we teach it, and, of course, before we teach it again next year.)

Autumn Term

ICT at school, home ... mobile
Internet & web: key figures and events
Reading the social web: browsers, RSS and search
Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line I: Office(s)

Spring Term

Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line II: webmail, IM, chat, VoIP; blogs & wikis; video- and photo-sharing; social bookmarking and tagging; maps

Summer Term

Responsibility and Identity: Wikipedia (critical reading, responsible writing); social software (privacy, safety, digital identity)
The Law: copyright (links, permissions, problems); music (file-sharing, DRM); defamation and abuse (rights and responsibilities)
Games
Virtual Worlds   

Then there's a wealth of linked-to background material that served earlier this year as stuff for the department to immerse itself in as it readied itself. (We're very fortunate in the quality and commitment of the team which teaches this course.) I update this material from time to time so it can remain useful. 

Finally, the lessons to date: 

1  Introduction

2  Home & mobile technologies

3  The internet

4  Internet pioneers

5  The web

6  The web

7  Browsers

8  Personalisation and home pages

9  RSS and Aggregators

10  Search

11  RSS & Search: improving the signal to noise ratio

12  Office: I

We've had fun delivering these within the constraints of time (one 40-minute lesson a week!) and the engagement of the pupils has been inspiring. 

In doing what we've been doing, my concern has been to leave behind what John Naughton called (in the Observer) the Old Person's ICT Curriculum. I also found inspiration along the way in Dave Snowden's blog post, Huginn and Muginn. Not everything there meshes with what we're doing (we're not delivering touch-typing and, yes, we should be) and we are teaching something of a body of knowledge (eg, about web history —€” Eliot: 'A people without history Is not redeemed from time' — but that's not what he was referring to: see 'don't teach ICT as if it was a "body of knowledge"'). Such things apart, I'm entirely at one with the spirit of remarks like these:

make computers and broadband a universal right, like water … most computing skills and all social computing capability is learnt by doing and by regular practice rather than classroom lessons.

what really matters is that children experience and contribute to the evolution of technology, and to see that evolution as a symbiotic relationship with human kind. That requires us … [to be] thoughtful and mindful. We don't need to sacrifice an eye to gain wisdom … but we do need to sacrifice an over explicit non-experiential approach to ICT teaching.

I also like his fifth point:

Let things emerge, don't plan … It's not so much about repeating a success as repeating the conditions which led to that success. In any complex system you can never replicate outcome, but you can replicate starting conditions. … you want multiple diverse initiatives to emerge, and you want to measure their impact on the social and educational fabric … not a series of pre-determined targeted outcomes.

There's been a surprising amount of room for things to emerge: pupils experiment in their own time, bring a lot to the table, anyway, and are excited by discovering more about the powers given them by contemporary computing.

I'd add to all this a word about the re-appraisal of Prensky's influential digital natives meme — a re-appraisal that has been going on for some time now. Here's Henry Jenkins (writing earlier this month):

Talk of "digital natives" helps us to recognize and respect the new kinds of learning and cultural expression which have emerged from a generation that has come of age alongside the personal and networked computer. Yet, talk of "digital natives" may also mask the different degrees [of] access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Teaching this course this year, we have had it confirmed that being born in 1994 doesn't mean that online life, for all that it may be familiar, is well understood: where it's come from, what it can do and what your options are —€” these are all things that unite adults and teens as we seek to develop and mature in this new and changing world.


On not rushing to disparage the internet

Vint Cerf in last Monday's Guardian:

It is not often that a technological innovation changes fundamentally the way people communicate. In the 15th century the printing press made it possible to distribute the written word. In the 19th century, the telegraph enabled rapid point-to-point communication over long distances. Then there was the telephone. And we're still coming to terms with the social effects of radio and television.

It takes decades if not generations to fully understand the impact of such inventions. We are barely two decades into the commercial availability of the internet, but it has already changed the world. It has fostered self-expression and freed information from the constraints of physical location, opening up the world's information to people everywhere.

Shelley Powers, responding two days ago to Doris Lessing's bleak assessment of the internet's impact on culture, education and reading:

The internet is no more culpable for people 'wasting' time away than the television was, and the radio before that, and the electric light before that–on back through history marked by one invention or another. Technology does not change culture, as much as technology and culture impact, equally, on each other. …

… Amazon has grown fat on the profits of selling that which we supposedly disdain: books. Entire web sites spend most or all of their space providing reviews of, what else, books. The Gutenberg Project actually makes books available online for free. Ms. Lessing mistakes our assumptions of easy access of books for indifference to books. A very romantic thought, but not a very logical one. …

As for the banalities of this space, among the items I've read this week were [detailed summary of online reading, viewing and web-led book discoveries follows] … I would be curious to know at what point in all of this reading is the moment where I stepped over the line from spending time in banal pursuits, to spending time usefully? What makes one piece of writing more important and therefore more worthy than another?