Sunday, February 28, 2010

Debate is life, the rest is just prep time

That is the slogan on a bumper sticker that my freshman have stuck onto their evidence tubs.

As we begin to wind down competition for this year, I'm already thinking about prepping for next year. More specifically what I can do to get my debaters researching effectively right now? Before they begin writing their cases for next year, I would like them to have a good background knowledge of the issues related to next year's topic.

The topic is as follows:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey

I am trying to think of how I can use blogs or a wiki to promote research. For instance, should I have each team keep a blog and update it once or twice weekly with news related to one of those six countries? Should I give each team a country to blog about?

The other option would be to use a Wiki. Every week I would create a new wiki page with links to articles. The kids would be responsible for reading the articles and writing summaries about them in the Wiki. I would also create other pages with broad topics that they need to research. Of course this does not ensure 100% participation, but since PBWorks records who has made edits I would have a pretty good idea of who is doing the prep work (therefore first in line for the Wake Forest tourney in September!)

I feel like blogging would be the most straightforward, however a wiki would encourage more interaction between the students on the team and it would leave us with one portal of information about the topic. Since most of my kids are younger, I'm not necessarily confident in their ability to find good scholarly articles on their own. I know some of the best resources for information on foreign policy. Therefore, a wiki might allow for more scaffolding. The older kids on the team can also be responsible for creating pages and research topics for the younger ones to pursue.

Fortunately I have a little time to think about it. Right now I just have to get us through Metrofinals, and States!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Brother is watching...and he is your school technology specialist

Recently I've been much more attuned to news story regarding technology in schools. The big one this week involved a suburban Philadelphia school district accused of spying on students through the webcam on school-issued laptops.

Ironically, I happened to be in Philly when this story came out. Perhaps even more ironically I happened to be in a rival suburban Philadelphia high school, hanging out with a lot of opinionated educators and lawyers (otherwise known as debate people). Needless to say, the story was popular topic of conversation in the judges lounge.

One of those engaged in the discussion was a former D.C. prosecutor. He railed against the privacy issues and clear violation of the 4th amendment rights. Many have equated the spying to a 1984-esque scenario. Is big brother watching over the students' shoulders? In fact, the student in question was eating a Mike-and-Ike, a harmless piece of candy that was mistaken for drugs on the computer webcam.

While I believe that the Lower Merion School district was clearly wrong in their actions, it does bring important questions to the forefront. As our lives become more integrated with technology the barriers between school and private life seem to blur. What rights do schools (or companies for that matter) have regarding their electronics issued to students and workers?

The privacy and security issues raise a host of questions regarding implications for child pornography. Many students have had the laptops open in their rooms and are enraged that they could have been spied upon. The blogosphere is reacting strongly. Americans are outraged.

But I can't help wondering how this news would have been received in other parts of the world. For instance, I've heard weird stories from people who've traveled to China. One businessman stayed in a hotel and happened to remark to his traveling partner that he was cold. Shortly thereafter he heard a knock on the door - it was a concierge with blankets.

People that work for the state department have said they are told to expect to be spied upon when in China. The social scientist in me is fascinated by this.

Privacy is truly an entrenched American value. The abridgment of that makes you a pariah in our society. And frankly, I'm thankful. I hope that our technological abilities never outpace our commitment to preserving the underpinnings of democracy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowmeggedon: Wiki Style

I will honestly admit that I was overjoyed on Wednesday to look out my bedroom window and see...well...nothing. I was overjoyed to turn on the TV (thank goodness I still had power) and find that George Mason was closed. I enjoyed sitting on my couch, listening to the 40 mile per hour wind gusts, finishing the TLA course, and updating our class wikis. This was much easier than writing our wiki articles together in the classroom. I could rest assured that anything I missed would be added to later on, anything that was irrelevant would be removed, and I could temporarily suspend my type-A tendencies and rely on my classmates to fact-check everything I posted.

Snowmeggedon has been a lovely week. While many find it overwhelmingly monotonous to be confined at home, I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience. I've been immensely productive, yet much less stressed in the midst of that productivity. I've been seriously thinking that if I could only teach from the comfort of my "reading room", or from an inconspicuous corner in Panera Bread, well, that would be the life.

With the advent of online learning that future may not be far off. For now I'm beginning to think about the potential value of wikis in high school education - especially after losing a week of instructional time. In all likelihood it will be another 100 years before Virginia again has the kind of winter than makes distance learning imperative. In the meantime, I'm toying with the idea of implementing a Wiki-based review for AP US History. For the past two years I have been trying to find effective strategies for AP review but have not been completely satisfied. I am mulling over some thoughts about setting up a Wiki before spring break and giving students a calendar of responsibilities in much the same way as we've had in ITS class. In this manner review can begin to happen outside of class long before it starts in class.

Happy shoveling.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Postmodern News

The other day a story on NPR's "All Things Considered" raised many questions regarding the nature of blogging and the interplay between bloggers and the media. More specifically, this story discussed the controversial Andrew Breitbart a man who typifies the 21st century journalist. Breitbart is a blogger out of San Francisco. He sits barefoot in his basement, kids running in and out, answering hundreds of emails, including those from politicians, actors and actresses, and business leaders.

Breitbart communicates frequently with conservative journalists mired in the trenches of that dying art called investigative journalism. Essentially he seeks to expose what he believe is a liberal narrative in mainstream media. He is a journalism critic. Yet, the greatest irony is embodied in his dysfunctional relationship with the media. "His sites rely heavily on [mainstream media]," NPR reports, "even as they tear it down."

So what are we left with. On the one hand Andrew Brietbart is critiquing media from a conservative perspective, the Huffington Post and provide commentary from the opposite end of the spectrum. USA Today allows readers to edit their stories and I'm left wondering - where are Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the legendary muckrakers of the Watergate Scandal?

The paradigm that heralded Bernstein and Woodward has shifted. That paradigm of black and white, communism and socialism, truth and error, dare I say, right and wrong, has dissolved into the postmodern paradigm of subjectivity. I believe blogs are evidence of how postmodernism has approached one more sphere of society. True, blog have positive components. People like Andrew Breitbart or other special interest groups are able to break down the supposedly liberal metanarrative. However, even as postmodernism seeks to undermine truth claims in the interest of relativity, the information structures built in this paradigm allow intolerant groups (e.g. neo-nazis, religious fundamentalists) to have their own blogs, news story comments, and wiki edits.

Furthermore, what will happen to the news media as it is dispensed into the hands of the public? Call me an intellectual elitist, but I shudder at the thought of this happening. Even with a million fact-checkers, how will we ever be able to know if the news we are reading at the moment is "true?"

Perhaps the greatest irony of this post is that I'm doing the very thing that I'm skeptical of - relying on mainstream media for inspiration and using a blog to tear it all down.