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Category archive: The internet

Friday July 11 2008

Online education is on the up, because of the price of gas:

“All across the country, community colleges and universities are getting requests for online programs specifically with students mentioning the price of gas,” says Ray Schroeder, director of the office of technology-enhanced learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “I just filled up the tank of my little Hyundai, and it was $50 for the first time ever—I think it really is affecting people.”

Some experts say that the rising interest in online programs could lead more colleges to expand their offerings, or experiment with “blended” courses that mix in-person and online meetings.

Via Greg Mankiw.

Thursday July 10 2008

Again very little to say today, so try something else that is packed with stuff.  A few days ago I got an email flagging up 100 Unbelievably Useful Reference Sites You’ve Never Heard Of, which says pretty much what it says on the tin, but sadly, in American rather than in English.

I also got an email recently urging me to get interested in this.  Here is a testimonial about it:

“Je vous envoie ce mail du Canada. Je suis arrivé il y a 3 jours dans la famille d’Andrew, mon corres. Ils sont tous trop sympas! Demain on va aux chutes du Niagara. Waou!”

Sounds good.

Thursday June 26 2008



In the spirit of spreading the word and looking for constructive feedback, I’d appreciate you taking a quick look at our new baby, Beanbag.

A bit about us: we are what’s politely called ‘seasoned professionals’, we’re all parents and we’re based in Bristol, so we’re well used to the debates about standards in education. We put together Beanbag because, as parents, we wanted as much as possible for our kids, not just state vs private. I suppose you could say that we believe that old chestnut: if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a whole community to educate one. Beanbag is very much a grassroots project - it’s free of charge to use so we don’t spend on advertising. Anything you can say about us will help. Any questions, feel free to mail me or call 07725 471429.

Kevin Gibson
Beanbag Learning

I don’t now have the time to do much more for Beanbag than just copy and paste that email.  But I do like this, from the About Us section:

Our schools do all they can, but they can’t be all things to all children. There are literally thousands of really good teachers, tutors and education professionals that work outside of the school system. So we can’t understand why it’s harder to find them than it is to find a hire car in Romania.

I guess the good ones are too snowed under doing all the teaching they can manage to be bothering with advertising.

Wednesday June 25 2008

More on the computers-educational-or-mind-destroyers-or-what? front.  Linked to at Samizdata by Adriana, this:

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace have reputations as time-sucking procrastination tools, but a new study from the University of Minnesota says au contraire.

Social networks build beneficial technological, creative, and communication skills, the study says, leading the researchers to actually describe social networks with the adjective “educational.” Who knew?

“What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today,” Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher from the school’s College of Education and Human Development, said in a release Friday.

Data from the study came from teenagers ages 16 to 18 in about a dozen urban high schools in the Midwest.

“Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout,” Greenhow continued. “They’re also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology.”

Yes.  The main thing you learn from using computers is how to use computers, and that’s got to be worth learning.

The debate continues.

Thursday June 05 2008

Yesterday at mad housewife:

My son started surfing the net aged 2, on the Cartoon Network games site. He taught himself to read from reading the net, when his school class was still trying to memorise the alphabet. When he was still an earlyish reader, he learned everything from youtube, which is fantastic for those with less striking literary talents, like my daughter (I would say she is dyslexic, but she doesn’t like being “dys” anything), who finds out almost everything by searching google images first.

Their internet (in the UK) has been down due to storms for a few days, but today it came back up. I’ve never appreciated the internet so much! said D, listening to the latest pop songs and looking up the names of a couple of TV presenters to tell me about. Wow, I’ve got so much email! said Son, who has made a new “email friend” of one of his school chums.

It’s impossible to tell how the world will change when every child has access to a laptop with internet, but I’m absolutely sure it will be for the better. Kids turn into adults. It’s hard for most of us even to imagine how we’d be now, had we grown up with that kind of knowledge-power.

I don’t think I necessarily agree about this being an automatic good.  Knowledge is power and power can be used to do bad.  But, the world will change, I do agree about that.

A mad housewife commenter supplied this link.

Wednesday May 21 2008

I can’t say I get the details, but what I do get is that kids nowadays are utterly fascinated by their little games consols.  The contrast with their merely grudging acceptance of school work is palpable.  If that fascination could be turned back into physical activity, the health benefits would be huge.

Will historians decide that computer games got a generation of fatties back on their feet again, and off the couch that TV and the early internet had glued them to?

Thanks to Instapundit, who also links to this review, the final paragraph of which reads thus:

So what’s it good for? In fitness, no machine can ever replace the drive to be healthy. Not Bowflex, not Thighmaster, and not Wii Fit. The real difference here is that Wii Fit builds fitness consciousness, reminding us of our body’s state of being, chiding us for bad habits while encouraging the good. And this is while building up the basic fitness necessary to start doing high intensity workouts or sports. It makes exercise feel like a video game, and we all know we can have fun playing those for hours.

But the point is that this machine no longer interrupts the drive to get fit, the way TV did and the regular internet does.

This is surely a far more important cultural development than those damned Olympic Games, the health impact of which mostly is in the number of couch-potato hours spent sat in the couch watching them.

Tuesday May 06 2008

Libby Purves in today’s Times:

One unalloyed good that new Labour promoted is music in schools: slowly it is creeping back to prominence, and the Music Manifesto includes a demand that children should sing for at least five minutes a day. So far, so good. But in a classic example of meddling overmanagement, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, announced last year a “national songbook” of 30 songs that every 11-year-old should know. This prissy, prescriptive idea has just been abandoned because nobody could agree on which 30. Instead, the Sing Up website has a hundred, ranging from Clementine to Polish skipping tunes, and puts new ones up weekly. It still hasn’t nerved itself to include Land of Hope and Glory, but it’s doing fine.

Yet Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, instead of tossing his hat in the air and singing “Let my people go!”, proved that he is well in training to be a modern minister (aka an annoying, bossy pest) by criticising the decision to abandon the compulsory 30-song list. “This Government,” he thundered, “is so paralysed by political correctness and terminally afflicted by dithering that it cannot even decide on a simple thing like the songs children should learn.”

I am sorry to hear a Cameroonian so infected with new-Labouritis. Michael, man, chill! It is not the role of ministers to prescribe which songs children sing. Insist they sing something, provide an online facility to help timid teachers, pop in the multiculti stuff - fine. But a compulsory list of songs to be learnt by 11? Mad micromanagement: bossy, borderline fascist. ...

Guy Herbert of Samizdata is also appalled, both by the government’s micromanagement and by Gove’s attitude.

Herbert goes on to quote various other gruesome stuff from www.curriculumonline.gov.uk.

Sunday May 04 2008

Yesterday morning I did my first stint of teaching at the Civitas school in Hammersmith, Hammersmith Saturday.  I am not entirely sure whether my colleagues think I am making much of a contribution to their combined efforts, but no doubt a way would have been found to tell me not to come to Hammersmith had they thought it would be a nuisance.  So, I proceed on the assumption that what I am doing is appreciated.  When I helped out for a couple of mornings at a recent half term school, they gave me (as I think I may have mentioned here before) a box of chocolates, so I must be doing something right.  I could have done more at Kings Cross Supplementary, but teaching also at a different school (with all its compare-and-contrast possibilities) appealed more.

Once again I was teaching one-on-one, first with Twin Girl.  Twin Girl is identical to her identical twin sister, Twin Girl, so I am afraid I cannot tell you which Twin Girl I was teaching, but after early protestations against having been separated out, from Twin Girl and from all the other children in her group, for a scary new ordeal, the Twin Girl that I taught seemed reasonably happy about it all.  I checked out her 3R skills, trying without offence to correct all errors that I observed.  Then we did some map reading.  Twin Girl duly found here way, via the big index at the back, to the street where Hammersmith Saturday is located.  She also found Nigeria and Arizona, which are big places in her family’s history, because her family started out in Nigeria and then lived in Arizona for a while, before coming here.

More memorable for me was the second session I did, with Law Boy, whom I call Law Boy simply because, after the usual 3R ice-breaking routines, he revealed that he had in mind, perhaps, to be a lawyer.  However, he didn’t seem to have a very clear idea of what a lawyer actually does, confusing it rather with being a policeman.  So, I gave him a lecture on and around these subjects, concentrating on criminal law, because it is more dramatic.  Here are the lecture notes, which I made a point this time of photo-ing before presenting them to him, so I could show the photo to you people:


Click to get it bigger and more legible.

As you can see, a lot of portentous ground was raced over.  The list of ways the police might investigate a crime includes several of Law Boy’s suggestions, written down by him.  The court room dramas on the right are mostly me.

My belief about teaching is that the basic tools of our culture, alluded to with that common phrase the “Three Rs”, are often now skipped over, resulting in lasting confusion to many pupils who have been dragged towards more complicated spellings and constructions and sums before they are comfortable with the easier stuff.  But I also believe that eyes are not lifted often enough to the far horizons, to the matter of what life could and should be like, and how this or that pupil might one day make a great life as an adult.  There is rather too much obsessing in schools about intermediate matters, so to speak, like quadratic equations and possessive pronouns, and with answering questions about such things in exams.  But there is more to living a good life than merely embarking on the adult bit of it armed with some exam results.  It’s not that these things don’t matter and aren’t worth doing.  But they make a whole lot more sense if reasons for caring about and worrying about them are also alluded to from time to time.

And it really doesn’t take much in the way of 3R expertise to start scanning the far horizons.  I mean, how hard is it to spell “law”, and get a rough idea of what it means?  Or “jury”?  Or “judge”?  And why should a discussion of laws and juries and judges wait until children are teenagers and they first come up against the law when policemen, perhaps rather rudely, tell them about it.  Contrariwise, I was able to wave my finger at all that work that criminal detectives have to do, and say: “That’s full of the 3Rs.  Being a policeman isn’t just about being strong and rough and tough and courageous.  It also involves lots of reading and writing and arithmetic.” And for lawyers, life is all about getting to grips with such clevernesses.  Physical toughness and roughness has almost nothing to do with it.

Law Boy is the quiet thoughtful type, and also polite.  Towards the end I became worried that I was boring him, and that he was merely waiting in a trance for this baffling foolishness to end.  “Am I boring you?” I asked.  “Oh no”, said Law Boy.  “I’m thinking.” Such moments make it all worthwhile.  (And being able to write about it here, for me, doubles the pleasure.)

From where I sat, my central lesson to Law Boy was that it is not enough for the police to decide that somebody is guilty of a crime.  Too much hinges on whether that is true for us to take their word for it.  We can’t be sending innocent people to prison for a decade.  Thus, law courts.  Thus “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT”.  What did Law Boy learn?  I don’t know, but I trust: something.

The Giving them the paper at the end procedure never seemed to me to make more sense than it did with these particular bits of paper, and there were several more.  It helps that there is now the Internet.  If Law Boy is inclined, he can type all those mysterious words (Solicitor?  Barrister?  Jury?  Forensic?) into the Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky and learn ten times more about it all than I could tell him.  If he is inclined.

Lecture notes for Law Boy
Laureen on how the digital natives learn
CCTV could be used in exam rooms
School of everything
Neil Turok on teaching the best maths students in Africa
Graham Jones on cyberbullying
University of Phoenix pays for engadget
Bairn minding
South West Surrey Home Education
Bishop Hill on the beneficial impact of charging students to go to university
Robert Cringely on letting technology into the schools
I am having what the Americans call a learning experience
Norman Geras makes sure he is balanced about balance
Internet Command Central
Education equals state education
Smart Boy looks up Don Bradman on the internet
Therefore God exists
Hundred quid laptop
A little dinner party gossip
Facebook profiling the applicants
Continuing education
Free physics