Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ring that bell

In prior years, I have been known to slip change into the Salvation Army bucket. But I just don't think I can do it anymore. I had heard a lot about the SA being anti-gay, but I thought I'd check it out for myself. Here are the secondary sources I consulted about the SA's policies (which talk about homosexuality, but also about checking IDs and immigration status of those they help - which they seem to have stopped doing once it was publicized).

And finally, let's go to the source: Salvation Army's own policies on many issues, including homosexuality (which is OK as long as you don't sleep with anyone). The Salvation Army says they won't discriminate against anyone in need, but reserves the right not to hire anyone who doesn't share their beliefs.

I know that the SA has helped a lot of people all over the world, but they're not the only ones. So this Christmas, instead of dropping money in the red buckets, I'm giving a donation to Rosie's Place, a homeless shelter serving women in Boston. I urge my legions of readers to find a worthy local charity in their area and follow suit.

Um, that's books in this one, just liberal propaganda. :) Happy holidays to all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Middle ground

Well, looks like I'm slowing down in posting from previous years to about one post per month. I think I can live with that, if my legions of devoted readers can.

I've had this book - The University of Google: Education in the (Post)Information Age by Tara Brabazon - on my desk at work for a long time, and in the spirit of clearing things out before the new year, I finally read it (or most of it, anyway). I found it to present the best balance between two attitudes I normally encounter when it comes to information and learning: on the one hand, that the Internet/social media/Google are intellectually ruining us, and one the other hand, that Google/crowdsourcing /anything 2.0 have changed everything, and we don't need stodgy forms of information like books or indexes anymore.

Instead, Brabazon, a professor media studies in the U.K. (her website is here), combines her observations from teaching with studies and articles about online learning and related issues. This combined approach, also, is a breath of fresh air. One of my bugbears in this area is when people take their own experiences and generalize them without any outside support. There are two passages from the book at which I found myself nodding particularly vigorously; here's one:

"The second assumption of flexible learning is that 'new' technologies intrinsically create a productive learning environment....Technological platforms require care in their introduction. Only the applications that assist student learning should be mobilized, and this requires clear learning rationales to be determined. Technology does not create high quality learning resources: teachers and librarians do....Technology does not create learning. Teachers do not create learning. Students do not create learning. Instead, the space between students and teachers summons the transformative dialogue of an educational encounter. In that space may be an internet connection or a PowerPoint presentation, but just as likely it could be a soccer ball or a guitar. The best of teachers are able to deploy diverse sources to tease open these spaces between teachers, students and learning outcomes. They are not being valued in a flexible age." (emphasis mine; pp. 82-3)

Basically, there are no easy answers, especially when it comes to education. This, to me, is self-evident, but it's clear from discussions about technology and education, especially in the United States, that my view is not a widely held one. Here are the other lines, taken from later in the book:

"Information has no value in and of itself. It must be sorted, contextualized, and evaluated. When information is the aim, when information becomes a commodity, the interests of those groups already in power are reinforced. ... The consequences of digitisation are that it increases the speed and spread of information. Yet the quantity of trivial data that survives also increases. The crap of a culture is stored on multiple hard drives and endlessly returns through Google." (emphasis mine; p. 162)

Writing things down and providing access to them used to be much more precious and costly, so people wrote down only what they felt was most important. Current technology allows us to save virtually everything (though not necessarily find it as easily - you can't search for the subject of a photograph unless somebody labels it). Is this a re-definition of what's important? If so, prepare for the next generation's heads to explode with the sheer mass of it.

Anyway, I know that was a bit of a long post, but I highly recommend the book. It's well-written, concise, and insightful.

All quotations from Brabazon, Tara. The University of Google: Education in a (Post)Information Age. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.