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Archive for October, 2011

New-Age Learning, Stone-Age Testing

This week I read and analysed the article by Matt Richtel in the New York Times, “In School of the Future, Stagnant Scores” that looked at the inclusion of technology in Arizona’s Kyrene school district in 2005. Though tens of millions of dollars were spent on the new technology, scores did not go up in Kyrene’s schools (though they did rise at the statewide level). Richtel posits that the expenditure on technology wasn’t worth it without “proof” that student achievement–measured by high-stakes tests–improved. My argument is that the type of learning done with the new technology isn’t what is assessed in this outdated high-stakes exams…


Head in the Cloud

“What did you learn this week, class?”

“I learned that Google has it’s own Navy!”

…class dismissed, then! I mean, what else is there to learn?!

I have to admit, much of the information about “the Cloud” was old hat to me, having been a “cloud user” for a few years now. I can’t imagine a day going by without my relying upon Dropbox, for instance, for everything from research for school to sharing files and photos with friends and family. That being said, it was terribly interesting and informative to learn about Google’s forays into new “spaces” in the data world and their novel idea for sea-based datacenters to help house some of their globe-trotting (floating?) servers. I also found it hysterically ironic that so many gmail users, once finding out that Google harnesses the data in their emails to present targeted ads to them, still “worried” about such practices. So, they worry about it, but once presented with the knowledge that it is indeed happening, they don’t switch email service providers…  Strange, but perhaps it is akin to the ire and rage leveled at banks recently for upping their rates: indeed, there is a national call to leave the banks for credit unions (a movement I personally support) yet I’d be willing to wager large sums of money that the ‘movement’ will not amount to much changeover at all. It is because people are complacent and rarely follow up their words with actions (certainly en mass). But we shall see in regards to the banks and Gmail switchers.

Another major concern for, touched on briefly in the article, is reliability. Though I’ve recently “seen the light” and switched to a Mac–after five PC’s in as many years have broken or broken down on me–I still fear the day that my data in the cloud becomes lost or inaccesible when I need it. Imagine having a major presentation to make and Dropbox’s servers being down. Or writing your great American novel and losing it all due to a technician’s fumbling fingers during server maintenance? Though some cloud-storage providers have backups built it, it is difficult to know how robust these systems really are.


We Are The Machine…Aren’t We?

Though I enjoyed some aspects of all the readings this week, there was one article that had me shaking my head a lot.

Though Sherry Turkle makes several keen points in her article “Identity in the Age of the Internet,” (1999) several other aspects seem woefully dated and simplistic. Her concentration on MUDs, for instance, seems quite out of touch with the current reality of the ‘net and user experiences, even though there are, doubtless, still thousands of people that use MUDs still today. They represent, however, but a tiny niche when compared to the “rest of us” who use text and the internet in a different way.

In her examples, she shares several anecdotes about the “Mikes” and “Andys” of the MUD world, who spend their time creating elaborate fantasy worlds with their words. And all of this is text based. Fast forward twelve years, and most of the users of Second Life or Sim City would deride such a ‘boring’ and limited form of “play” or participation. And even though Twitter’s popularity would seem to support the idea that there is still a space for “text based worlds” today, I would counter that the vast majority of Twitter users represent their real selves to their followers, rather than made up characters or aliens. Though their tweets may be mundane (140 characters’ worth of info about their daily eating habits, for instance) they are still “real” slices of life, news, entertainment and information.

With a few areas, such as online dating sites, people may be tempted to present their “ideal selves” (Zhao et al, 2008) instead of their “real selves,” yet these are still anchored relationships in most cases, or will eventually become anchored in face to face, real world contact. This is the same reason that Facebook pages and profiles tend to stick closer to fact than fiction: because most people know each other on Facebook and are therefore aware of any major fictions presented, unlike in the MUDs where the fantasy is part of the package.

In my opinion, modes of communication like Facebook and Twitter will remain “mainstream” while MUDs and other games that require obfuscation and outright lying will remain niche and underground.