Use of Electronic Devices by Young People – Study!

Dear Commons Community,

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation  found that the average young American (ages 8 -18)  spends  more than seven and a half hours a day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device.   This is compared to less than six and a half hours a day five years ago, when the study was last conducted.

The full report is available at:

Obviously this kind of use has serious implications for issues related to school work, childhood obesity, attention deficit, multitasking, etc.  Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, was quoted as saying that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

A NY Times article summarizing the report is available at:


Situational Values!

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Friedman has a pretty insightful column today (see URL below) regarding our financial and political elites.  Essentially he expresses his dismay at how the leaders of our financial companies and our political institutions have acted strictly in terms of their self interests even during our economic downturn and its “fragile” recovery.   He is absolutely correct in what he says that they are all about “situational” values that are the motivations to gain from present circumstances.      It is unfortunate that leaders of some of our financial companies have been exposed as putting themselves, their profits and bonuses ahead of everything else during this economic crisis.  They have reinforced  the stereotype of large international companies as maximizing profit-driven organizations that have little regard for the common good.   As for the political elites, they have been behaving for years as putting party and the need to win the next election ahead of the needs of the country.  The loyalties of the Republicans and Democrats are first and foremost to their Party interests and financial backers and not to the United States of America and its people.


Texting and the English Language!

Dear Commons Community,

Here is a light piece on issues of spelling among the texting set many of whom are us and especially our students.   The issue in the article (see URL below) is the fact that English is inconsistent in its pronunciation – through, rough, dough, plough  – all end in “ough”  but sound differently.   The author observes that texters are taking some of this into their own hands by using a kind of shorthand to sound out exactly what they want to say.  For instance, debate becomes deb8 or you are great becomes U R gr8.   The article goes on to speculate that some of this is because of the tiny or in some cases the abbreviated keypads on PDAs and cell phones  (I gave up on my Blackberry).   I would add that a social networking website like twitter that limits messages to 140 characters has something to do with it also.  With my own students, I see the standard abbreviations similar to those above in emails sometimes but rarely in a posting to a discussion board or a blog devoted to a class activity.   The article concludes  that the organizations who are the keepers of “standard” English do not see any official changes to the language in the near future but if it were to come it more likely will be from bottom-up usage rather than dictated (or should I say dict8ed) from the top-down.



Annual Survey of Freshmen!

Dear Commons Community,

The latest survey/study of college freshmen is now available from the Higher Education Research Institute and can be downloaded at:

I have not read the study but the NY Times is reporting today that the major issues facing incoming freshmen are financial related to the economy, paying for their college tuition, and applying for student loans.  The article stated:

“About two-thirds of incoming students said they had “some” or “major” concern about their ability to pay for their education. The percentage of those with “some” concern — 55.4 — was at its highest level since 1971.”

The article is available at:


21st Century Skills!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past few years, we have increasingly heard the need for educators at all levels to emphasize the need for students to learn 21st century skills.  The definition of 21st century skills is a bit complex but generally involves a heavy dose of learning and keeping up with information and communications technologies integrated with the development of critical/analytical thinking and interpersonal skills.   For a more thorough examination of a definition, an organization known as the Partnership for 21st Skills (P21) has  an extensive website devoted to discussing definition, issues, and implementation strategies. (see:

However, in a recent article that appeared in Education Week, the entire question of emphasizing 21st century skills came under attack as nothing more than an attempt by technology companies to sell products and “to gain more influence over the classroom”.   Here is an excerpt from an article in Education Week stating the criticism:

“after seven relatively quiet years of work, P21 is facing a vocal chorus of detractors of its initiative, primarily from among advocates for a liberal arts and sciences curriculum…

Recently, those critics have leveled a more serious charge at the organization. P21, they allege, is a veiled attempt by technology companies—which make up the bulk of the group’s membership—to gain more influence over the classroom.

“The closer we look, the more P21’s unproven educational program appears to be just another mechanism for selling more stuff to schools,” [says] Lynne Munson, the president and executive director of Common Core, a Washington group that advocates a stronger core curriculum,..”

The entire article can be found at:

The issue raised in this article is a good one to ponder because too many times the term  “21st century skills” is used  as a fait accompli rationale for using technology in our teaching and learning.  While I fully support  integrating technology in instruction, I do get concerned when colleagues stress too strongly the need to change, transform or revolutionize our pedagogical approaches in the name of teaching 21st century skills as if we would be short-changing our students and hurting their chances to compete in the future for jobs, careers, and professional opportunities.


Mobile Computing, Electronic Reading Devices, Tablet PCs

Dear Commons Community,

I am sure that many of you are aware that every January there is a National Consumer Electronics Show where the latest technology gadgets are introduced by the major hardware/software developers.  At this year’s show which is just ending, it seems that the products that have created quite a stir are mobile devices for electronic reading and tablet computing.  It appears we are moving quickly beyond the Kindle and the Nook for e-reading.  I also found most interesting the products being  introduced with an emphasis on tablet computers.  Tablets have been around for quite a while.  Our colleague, Bill Berhardt at CSI, has been using these for years especially in his Writing/Composition courses.  However, what might make the new tablet devices more popular is their size (about the lenght and width of a netbook) and their cost.  While Apple will make its tablet computer available in a few months at a cost of $700 – $1,000, other companies will be pricing tablets in the $150-$300 price range.  I think we might be turning the corner in the availability and popularity of reading and tablet devices so much so that they will become more a part of our considerations as we design and develop online course materials.  The URL for a NY Times article that covers many of the issues in this post is below.


Faculty Attitudes to Online Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

A colleague of mine, Jeff Seaman, at the Sloan Consortium recently completed a study entitled:

Online Learning as a Strategic Asset.  Volume II:  The Paradox of Faculty Voices:  Views and Experiences with Online Learning.   It is available as a free download at:

There are a number of interesting findings regarding faculty attitudes to the quality of online courses, motivation to teach online, and student access to an education.  Two areas that were particularly interesting to me were:  one, the popular thesis of digital immigrant v. digital native that posits that older faculty are reluctant to change their teaching approaches, especially with regard to technology and online learning, was not supported.  This study found that the most experienced faculty (those with more than 20 years of teaching experience) are teaching online at rates equivalent to those with less teaching experience.   This finding indicates that age has had little to do with determining who will develop and teach online.

Two, the time and effort required to teach and develop online courses was also an important issue among faculty in this study.  Nearly 64 percent of faculty said it takes “somewhat more” or “a lot more” effort to teach online compared to a face-to-face course. The results for online course development are even more striking: Over 85 percent of the faculty with online course development experience said it takes “somewhat more” or “a lot more” effort.    This is an important implication for faculty who work in institutions where scholarship is viewed more importantly for career advancement (e.g., promotion, tenure) than teaching.  Faculty in disciplines and academic departments that put a priority on research and grantsmanship would be careful about spending additional time on teaching that could better be spent on scholarly activities.

Anyhow this study has several other very interesting findings and I would encourage anyone interested in understanding more about faculty engagement with online learning to give it a read.  One caution is that the sample of colleges surveyed is skewed to southern institutions.


Best Tech Idea for 2009 and Happy New Year!

Dear Commons Community,

David Pogue (NY Times) in his column today reviewed what he thought were the best “tech” ideas for 2009.    The best tech idea was awarded to a simple, free piece piece of software named “Readability”.  Below is an excerpt from his column.  I have just tried it and it is everything Pogue says it is.

“READABILITY The single best tech idea of 2009, though, the real life-changer, has got to be Readability. It’s a free button for your Web browser’s toolbar (get it at

When you click it, Readability eliminates everything from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else. Times Square just goes away.

You wind up with a simple, magazine-like layout, presented in a beautiful font and size (your choice) against a white or off-white background with none of this red-text-against-black business.

You occasionally run into a Web page that Readability doesn’t handle right — no big deal, just refresh the page to see the original. But most of the time, Readability makes the world online a calmer, cleaner, more beautiful place.”

Happy New Year!