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What to do when the schools overflow?


Posted on 30th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and Uncategorized

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A new sort of digital divide is arriving: hoards of school age kids with no room for many of them in a school, yet they have mobile internet access. For that reason, India will provide $10 – $20 low power laptops for practically every student across the country. India Express and The Wired Campus have articles today about the India initiative. Mobile phones are increasingly giving internet access to youngsters in more and more countries – places where there are school shortages and where portions of the population have never gone to school.

There is a choice you may never even have thought about that 21st century people must make very soon.

  • Do we spend billions on brick and mortar schools and classrooms to accommodate the swelling global youth population? OR
  • Do we organize what is known online and provide tutorials there that deliver much of the knowledge to the new generations?

Perhaps we can do some of both, but doing only the first choice is no longer an option. There is not the wealth available to do the physical building, nor the time

A tweet tells me bees can count to 3


Posted on 28th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Animals, Biology, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability and Open Content

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Today I experienced a new kind of connecting of study subjects on the internet. I have been following the Public Library of Science (PLOS) on Twitter. This tweet showed up on my Twitter page:

The article the tweet points to is about Number-Based Visual Generalisation in the Honeybee. The bees get a sugar solution reward for learning to differentiate from choices like these (Fig. S1 in the article):

So think about what is happening. The connection between the potential learner and the source is made by a tweet. New science published by the PLOS goes in a new, individualized, beeline directly to the student. Sweet.

How kids today could know as much as Grandma did


Posted on 27th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Mobile Learning, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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The picture above shows my Grandma (2nd from right, front row), born in Kansas City in 1884, with some of her schoolmates. Below is the text of an email that is being sent around the internet about how very much more school kids in Kansas learned in Grandma’s day than they do now. Any of the kids in the picture could have told you all about syllabication and the the inclination of the earth, I would bet.

How could kids today know as much as Grandma learned in her Kansas school? There is nothing on the final exam shown below that could not be easily learned by a student with a mobile in her pocket that browses the internet. Grandma would have loved it BTW. When she was a young woman she was a high tech secretary skilled on a typewriter by around 1900.

UPDATE: A reader sent me this message to my email: “The test appears to be a hoax that’s been circulated by email for several years now. [Link to Scopes.] Didn’t want to point this out in the comments though.” I appreciate this reader’s heads up very much, and have just read the Scopes evaluation.
I find it fascinating that Scopes does not seem to say the exam itself is a hoax. Instead it states: “Claim: An 1895 graduation examination for public school students demonstrates a shocking decline in educational standards. Status: False.” [ital. Scopes'] Scopes then launches into a lengthy criticism of this “false” email content along these lines: “Just about any test looks difficult to those who haven’t recently been steeped in the material it covers. . . .” I actually had 2 grandmothers educated in Kansas public schools before 1900, both of whom I knew well. I am certain they could have done the arithmetic in the test, and guess that they would have known most of the other questions’ answers. They were both grammar whizzes with beautiful penmanship. I got my public school education in Texas in the 1940s and 1950s, and recall learning most of the answers to the questions on this “false” list. Even if such tests were not given in Kansas in the 1890s, I know first hand that they were given in Texas in the 1940s.
All of that aside, what I wrote in this post originally stands: Any generation would benefit from having what is known by humankind in their pocket. Today’s kids do, and my Grandmas both would have loved it!

UPDATE #2: After writing the above update, I decided to check my bravado about being able to find things on the internet. Here, from the Salina Journal is a report directly from the Kansas source: 1895 Salilne County exam continues to raise interest.

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2 . Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of lie, lay and run
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8 Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U. S. History is divided. (more…)

How we will use zillions of little pieces like spintronics news


Posted on 26th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks and Physics

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Physics: spotlighting exceptional research is a American Physical Society feature with small capsules of cutting edge research. An example capsule this month is Lending an iron hand to spintronics, about (are you ready?): Enhanced Spin Hall Effect by Resonant Skew Scattering in the Orbital-Dependent Kondo Effect. That is a very small subject which approaches this challenge: “A dream of spintronics is to find a way to easily convert between spin and charge currents, a task many believe will involve tapping into (so far) unutilized quantum properties of matter.”

To foresee how learning is about to flip end-for-end, contrast the tiny spintronics charge switching subject with the college physics textbook you used. The textbook began with big subjects in chapters that in turn divided downward into smaller and smaller topics. If a small new topic came along, about the best you could do to add it into the textbook would be to slip a clipping between pages of a relevant chapter.

How different learning is becoming! If you are collecting material online about quantum properties, electron charges, and many other subjects, the little tiny spintronics spotlight page would be relevant in the mix of materials you are collecting. Today you might find the little spotlight on Google, but you could easily miss the chance to use it. Something profoundly more powerful lies around the corner.

When search engine optimization, linking by subject experts, tagging, and the rest of the network tools of emergence have taken hold of educational online resources, knowledge will organize itself. While you are researching quantum properties, the latest spintronics spotlight will make itself known. The optimization of the spotlight will make this emergence happen for you just when its ideas are relevant to what you are learning.

I am simplifying here a bit to make the point that knowledge abounds in the network matrix. It is the little bits that will dynamically replace the printed hierarchies of the textbook past.

Carnival of the Mobilists features ‘A’ list bloggers


Posted on 19th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists and Mobile Learning

Midway Master mjelly’s James Cooper at this week’s Carnival barks that: Great stuff in this week from the mobile ‘A’ list bloggers, industry thought leaders and people out in the trenches building the next generation of mobile. Included is GoldenSwamp’s recent post about mobile learning.

Reviving the humanistic spirit online


Posted on 19th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Literature, Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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Stanley Fish is two years younger than I am. I hope he will accept this as a gentle nudge from an elder: he needs to grow up and look forward at the greatest ever human intellectual flourishing now beginning.

He concludes his Opinion piece in the New York Times this morning by looking back gratefully over his career as an institutional academic humanist, glad to have been born when he was (Wikipedia says in 1938): “Just lucky, I guess.” Me too (1936). Professor Fish and I have enjoyed many aspects of a world that is disappearing, and I also am grateful to have been there. But my core gratitude is to have our perspective of the past while we are experiencing one of the rare snippets of history when, something happens, as the saying goes that, “changes everything.” When Stanley Fish and I were children we had no computer; the internet did not expand until we were well into middle age. We know how things used to be done and can intimately appreciate what is better in what is new.

Professor Fish’s New York Times lament is prompted by a new book, “The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the University.” The author Frank Donoghue writes: “healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. . . ” Professor Fish groans that professors have just become “delivery people” for information.

What we have lost is much less than what we are gaining. For centuries, the cloistered setting where discussion took place between tenure-track professors and adoring students has been highly exclusive. The few who were included were not necessary the most talented. The cloistered setting was a bit of geography to which one had to travel and into which one had to be admitted. Everyone who could not make the trip or pay the tuition was excluded. There was not much direct communication between the cloisters of scattered universities.

These same geographical locations added skills instruction, which is making something of a transition to the internet. As explained in Professor Fish’s piece today: “John Sperling, founder of the group that gave us Phoenix University, is refreshingly blunt: ‘Coming here is not a rite of passage. We are not trying to develop value systems or go in for that “expand their minds” nonsense.’”

To understand why Professor Fish should not be glum, look only at his distinction between skills instruction and communities of humanities study. Yes, the exclusive cloistered geographical settings are disappearing, but it does not follow that the humanities will no longer be embraced in communities. Instead, the intellectual world that lies on the horizon admits all comers to humanist communities, led by those with the greatest expertise and elevating students for their growth in understanding.

John Seely Brown discusses how this works, and points to The Decameron Web for a glimpse of the future of humanities:

. . . the emphasis is on building a community of students and scholars as much as on providing access to educational content. The site’s developers note: “We fundamentally believe that the new electronic environment and its tools enable us to revive the humanistic spirit of communal and collaboratively ‘playful’ learning of which the Decameron itself is the utmost expression.”

We can teach the skills and knowledge in the moment


Posted on 18th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning and Open Content

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Practiced skills, and a constellation of expert knowledge, made the photograph shown here from today’s New York Times possible. An exciting new phase of education lies ahead, when educators make the leap to clustering open online materials around timely and topic ideas instead of only curriculum sequences. By clicking the highlighted phrases below, you can experience a rough example of how compelling this learning in the moment will be. (Be sure not to miss the getting out safely video, if you ever fly, and don’t be annoyed by the beginning ad, which pays to deliver the knowledge.):

Skills and knowledge were applied by:
- pilot Sullenberger who knew what to expect from his aircraft’s structure
- choosing the landing procedure
- pilot Sullenberger in gliding the plane on to the surface of the Hudson River,
- by the crew, and some passengers as well, getting everyone out safely,
- by river craft crews who sped to the rescue.
Divers, crane and barge crews, structural experts and other successfully lifted the huge aircraft up through floating ice.
The NY Times report adds: “The left engine, which had been torn off, had not been recovered by early Sunday. In a briefing on Saturday night, Kathryn O. Higgins of the National Transportation Safety Board investigators believed they had identified its location.”

These kids have a high tuition offset in their pockets


Posted on 17th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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The AP picture here shows students protesting tuition hikes who, you can be confident, all have mobile phones in their pockets. The photo is from a Yahoo! News article called The Secret Reasons for Tuition Hikes.

Students pay hundreds of dollars every year for printed textbooks. The technology is well established to provide textbooks on their mobile devices. Doing so would give kids a significant offset from tuition hikes. Colleges can make administrative savings by providing access to services through the devices. If instruction continues to decline in quality while analog services are funded, it is likely students will be going to their mobiles for instruction too.

This bleak outlet described by Yahoo! will be replaced by cost savings and richer instruction in the mobile future for learning:

Why has college tuition been rising so high and fast? Will college costs ever drop back to more affordable levels?

Those questions have been frustrating parents and students for years. A new report provides some surprising answers that will, unfortunately, probably only frustrate and anger them even more. At public colleges, tuition has generally been driven up by rising spending on administrators, student support services, and the need to make up for reductions in government subsidies, according to a report issued by the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

In some cases, such as at community colleges (which educate about half of the nation’s college students), tuition has risen while spending on classroom instruction has actually fallen. At public colleges especially, the current economic troubles will likely only accelerate the trend of rising prices and classroom cutbacks, says Jane Wellman, the author of the report. After analyzing income and spending statistics that nearly 2,000 colleges reported to the federal government, Wellman concludes: “Students are paying more and, arguably, getting less in the classroom.”

Russell Buckley predicts mobile learning in 2009

1 comment

Posted on 14th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Mobile Learning

Russell Buckley, “one of the leading experts on mobile marketing in the world,” concludes his 10 predictions for 2009 with “Mobile Learning.” He explains why, and writes:

“Incidentally, if you’re interested in this whole “mobile meets learning” area, a great resource is Judy Breck’s blog, Golden Swamp. Check it out.”

The posts I have written here at GoldenSwamp on the topic are available in the Mobile Learning category.

I have reposted my picture here of my iPhone asking a green gnome “Who is your daddy” because it suggests that this tool to deliver learning is blind to prejudice. The setting students are in does not create or diminish expectations for them; the device simply delivers knowledge. And as Russell says,

In the meantime, many of these target kids already have access to a mobile, albeit one per family or even one per village, but the point is that they already are connected to a digital device today. So take the principle of the OLpC project and combine all that goodness with the mobile and we have something that’s already capable of changing the world. And once you start educating ordinary people, they’re less easy to indoctrinate with propaganda and fanatical messages, so in a way, the mobile could be responsible for sowing the seeds of world peace, if that doesn’t sound too hippyish.

Expert, teacher email juice must be true


Posted on 13th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Networks

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When someone knowledgeable on a study subject sends an email with the URL for a webpage the sender knows is high quality for that subject, and the person receiving it opens the URL, that webpage gets nudged higher in search engine results. In the search engine optimization world, that nudging is called “giving juice.”

How giving juice works: Say you are a literature teacher, and you come across the handsome page on Luminarium for the poem “The Triple Fool” by John Donne. Let’s say you come across it by finding my review of the page on

You then send an email with the above URL to several other teachers, and perhaps some of your top students, extolling the terrific Donne webpage featured. Those who receive your email (especially if they respect your opinion), will click on the URL, and then click URLs on my Learnode review taking them to the the Donne and related pages the review offers. Google and other search engines will count those clicks and nudge these links up higher on their search results pages for such keywords as the poet’s name, the poem’s name, and the words in the poem itself. At that point, the quality of the Donne page itself takes over; it will not move further in the network unless the people you send it to forward it to others.

The picture of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales above is from a brief video in which he and Seth Godin discuss reaching individuals with a message. Wales compares a Super Bowl ad with an email of recommendation, like the one you might send about the Donne poem to other individuals. Wales tells us that for the email to continue to be spread, it must be “true.” Your judgment of trueness, and that of the people who receive your email, is what determines whether the Donne poem pages spread some more.

The implications for education of the juice and trueness for your email are mega, mega. You can give a webpage juice, but that effect will not spread unless your webpage is true. Your ability to judge trueness for literature is established with search engines by the juice you give over time, and what respect it receives in the viral process. Quality learning materials emerge on search engines from these, and other, natural effects of networking.

The video is from an excellent Open Forum series on marketing.

Library of Congress Flickr model key for education


Posted on 12th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability, Open Content and SEO

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When I look at the photo with this post, I can probably tell you things about it that you would not know, because we have different expertise. I remember New Mexico of the 1940s, where this photo was taken. As a child I rode several time in the back of a truck that looked just like the one in the picture. (It was really fun!) I also have a memory of a gas station, much like this one. We bought RC Cola there.

Folks who are experts can pass on what they know by linking to and tagging the webpages they respect. This sort of thing has happened spontaneously from the beginning of the internet. A couple of bright guys saw it happening and invented Google. Doing it in a thoroughgoing manner by academic experts is overdue. The answer to complaints that it is hard to find the right webpages to study are best resolved when experts who know subjects to link to those pages and tag them with keywords from their expertise.

The following is from the new report by the Library of Congress of their Photos on Flick project. What follows from the report of this project describes challenges the academic world has not yet met. Opening educational resources online is vital. Experts need also “to give them love” as the search engine optimization experts say, by optimizing them in ways we can all find them.

The Library of Congress, like many cultural heritage organizations, faces a number of challenges as it seeks to increase discovery and use of its collections. A major concern is making historical and special format materials easier to find in order to be useful for educational and other pursuits. At the same time, resources are limited to provide detailed descriptions and historical context for the many thousands of items in research collections. The Library also faces competition for the attention of an online community that has ever-expanding choices of where to pursue its interests.

One solution worth exploring is to participate directly in existing Web 2.0 communities that offer social networking functionality. Reaching out to unknown as well as known audiences can attract more people to comment, share, and interact with libraries. Taking collections to where people are already engaged in community conversations might also encourage visits to a library’s Web site where the full wealth of resources are available.

The Triple Fool by John Donne for wise literati


Posted on 11th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Literature

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Drop by Rockefeller University for the latest score on nuclear pores


Posted on 9th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology, Findability and Open Content

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The nucleus of each of our cells has transport machines called nuclear pore complexes that decide what moves in and out. The Rockefeller University Newswire reports the newest understanding of how the nuclear pores work in these two articles:.

12.24.08, Structural study backs new model for the nuclear pore complex (source of the above Core pore image and text)

01.06.09, Researchers construct a device that mimics one of nature’s key transport machines

These reports are pure gold in the science resources swampiness as we transition from the analog print days to a fully open content future. For now, printed textbooks will not yet have the latest updates on new understanding of the pores. Many scientific journals are still barriered by expensive subscriptions and fees. These reports are excellent resources for school science or independent researchers. They capture the connected future of open learning content by:

Being findable small pieces, with their own connectible urls
Having authority direct from the scientists doing the work
Containing explanations of the science
Presenting the most up-to-date knowledge for their subject

Boy 6-years-old learns to drive from video games


Posted on 7th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now


The Yahoo! headline for this story is 6-year-old takes family car after missing bus. This near tragedy that ended with only a bump on the head raises some interesting questions about learning and schools. The boy was able to drive, not perfectly, though one wonders how he managed the accelerator and steering wheel:

The boy, whose name wasn’t released, missed the bus, took the keys to his family’s 2005 Ford Taurus and drove nearly six miles toward school while his mother was asleep, police said. He made at least two 90-degree turns, passed several cars and ran off the rural two-lane road several times before hitting an embankment and utility pole about a mile and a half from school.

In all seriousness, this story provides insight into the new generation’s school expectations:

The little boy got enough knowledge and skill from an interactive machine to drive. “The boy told police he learned to drive playing Grand Theft Auto and Monster Truck Jam video games.”

His motive for getting to school was not to learn: “‘He was very intent on getting to school,’ said Northumberland County Sheriff Chuck Wilkins. ‘When he got out of the car, he started walking to school. He did not want to miss breakfast and PE.’”

Were Europeans in Arctic Canada before Eirik the Red?


Posted on 6th January 2009 by Judy Breck in History

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Who were the Europeans who may have been in Arctic Canada as early as the eighth or ninth century? The Helluland Archaeology Project is working on finding the answer. The project is an ongoing research initiative of the Canadian Museum of Civilization which maintains an online exhibit called Strangers, Partners, Neighbors? about this archaeological work.

We tend to think of the internet’s ability to provide the latest science and world affairs information as a value to educational resources that tend to lag behind the latest news. But even in matters relating to history of a thousand years, online updating is important. How long will it be before schoolbooks teach youngsters that there may have been Europeans in Canada before the time of the famed Norse led by Eirik the Red? Spelling his name Eirik here is not a typo. I got it from the experts at this museum website.