Traveling! Traveling!

Dear Commons Community,

Since Sunday I have been at New Jersey City University as a member of a Middle States Evaluation Team.  It was a fine visit at a university in many ways similar to the City University of New York only smaller.

I have class tonight at the Graduate Center and tomorrow I leave for Egypt for ten days. While I will bring my netbook with me, I am not sure what my access to Internet technology will be on this trip.  I do hope to make a posting or two while in Egypt.


Text without Context Or the Case for Digital Humanism

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s NY Times has an article (see URL below) by Michiko Katutani that considers what Web 2.0, social networking, twitter, etc. have brought upon our culture, what we read and maybe how we think.  It is a fairly heady piece with a number of references for a reading list of critics of the effects of the new media.  Among the better recommendations are Jaron Lanier’s  new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” of how online collectivism, social networking and popular software designs are changing the way people think and process information, a question of what becomes of originality and imagination in a world that prizes “metaness” and regards the mash-up as “more important than the sources who were mashed” and which makes an impassioned case for “a digital humanism.”   Other important references are  Farhad Manjoo’s “True Enough,” which examines how new technologies are promoting the cultural ascendancy of belief over fact;  “The Cult of the Amateur,” by Andrew Keen, which argues that Web 2.0 is creating a “digital forest of mediocrity” and substituting ill-informed speculation for genuine expertise; and Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows” (coming in June), which suggests that increased Internet use is rewiring our brains, impairing our ability to think deeply and creatively even as it improves our ability to multitask.  I have read the Andrew Keen book and highly recommend it.  All of this has enormous implications for educators and those of us who are trying to inspire students to read and go into great depth into issues, stories, topics, etc.


The NY Times article is available at:


American Research Moving to Xian, China!

Dear Commons Community,

There are many discussions going on in our academy and beyond regarding globalization, competition, and the future of our economy.  In today’s NY Times there is a sobering article (see URL below) on how Applied Materials, one of America’s leading technological firms is building a major research center in Xian, China that will concentrate on solar energy production.  Applied Materials’ vice president, Mark Pinto, who is also one of its chief research engineers, is moving his family to Beijing to head up this project.  The article goes on to describe the plethora of students majoring in engineering in China and the fact that they can be hired for as little as $730 per month.  I don’t know that we have a solution for this but we need to recognize the severity of the problem if not for ourselves than for our children and grandchildren.



Cloud Computing Comes to Orlando!

Dear Commons Community,

I am sure that many of you get a number of invitations in your email everyday to participate in some type of webinar.  I usually take a quick look and then delete the item before I have finished the come on.  Yesterday I received an email for such a webinar and ended up reading the entire item (see the text below).   The topic of the webinar will be a discussion of how the city of Orlando is cutting the costs of its IT budget by moving a number of its applications including its email services to the “cloud” using Google Apps.  I have made three  other posts on this blog on the topic of cloud computing in terms of a future approach to providing computer services (see URLs below).  I am amazed that such a large and  fairly tech-savvy city/area of the country such as Orlando has already made such a move.  Putting aside the election debacle and the chads in 2000, I say Orlando is tech savvy mainly because it is a new and one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the USA;  the state of Florida is well respected for its technology initiatives in K-20 education; and the University of Central Florida where Orlando is located, is among the nation’s leaders in providing online learning programs in higher education.   If cloud computing has been such a benefit particularly because of its cost cutting, should we now be considering it as a viable option for IT services in our colleges, schools, and other organizations?





City of Orlando Cuts Costs by Over 66% by Moving Email and Apps into the Cloud

Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM (EDT) | 11:00 AM (PDT)

When Conrad Cross, CIO for Orlando, got his budget cut and lost two experienced IT administrators, he knew he had to find another solution to replace the city’s legacy email and communications infrastructure. After considering the usual options, Cross found a compelling value proposition in a cloud-based solution offered by Google Apps.

With tough constituents to please – including the Mayor’s office and public safety departments – Cross and his team converted 3,000 users to the new system over the year-end holidays. The results were compelling: no more requests for mailbox increases, no need to upgrade aging hardware, and a mayor who corners the CIO for the latest updates on Google.

Join Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government for a live, interactive webinar to discuss Orlando’s move into the cloud. You will learn:

  • Recent trends in government adoption of cloud computing
  • How to calculate the true ROI of cloud vs. conventional solutions
  • Rapid deployment best practices
  • Pros and cons of Google Apps for cities and county governments


John Miri
Senior Fellow, Center for Digital Government
Former Director of E-Government, State of Texas


Conrad Cross
Chief Information Officer
City of Orlando, Florida

Serena Satyasai
Product Marketing Manager

F.C.C. Plan to Widen Internet Access in U.S.

Dear Commons Community,

There is an interesting article in the NY Times today describing a new initiative (plan) of the F.C.C. regarding Internet access.  The article states that: “The Federal Communications Commission is proposing an ambitious 10-year plan that will reimagine the nation’s media and technology priorities by establishing high-speed Internet as the country’s dominant communication network. “  The plan reflects the government’s view that broadband Internet is becoming the common medium of the United States, gradually displacing the telephone and broadcast television industries.  The article goes on to state that:  “Broadband will be the indispensable platform to assure American competitiveness, ongoing job creation and innovation, and will affect nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives at home, at work, and in their communities.  The plan envisions a fully Web-connected world with split-second access to health care information and online classrooms, delivered through wireless devices yet to be dreamed up in Silicon Valley.”   Also notably, the plan will include an initiative the chairman of the F.C.C. calls 100 Squared — equipping 100 million households with high-speed Internet gushing through their pipes at 100 megabits a second by the end of this decade.    The average subscriber now receives speeds of three to four megabits a second. Lastly,  the plan will also call for a “digital literacy corps” to help unwired Americans learn online skills.

For more information, the NY Times article on this is available at:



Google’s Translation Machine!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past week, Google has made a couple of announcements regarding its translation software.  The NY Times (see URL below) is reporting that the Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text.  Creating a translation machine has long been seen as one of the toughest challenges in artificial intelligence. For decades, computer scientists tried using a rules-based approach — teaching the computer the linguistic rules of two languages and giving it the necessary dictionaries.   Google’s rise to the top echelons of the translation business is a reminder of what can happen when Google unleashes its brute-force computing power on complex problems.   The network of data centers that it built for Web searches may now be, when lashed together, the world’s largest computer. Google is using that machine to push the limits on translation technology.   This can have important benefits for a host of applications.

Those of us involved with online learning can now use this technology to convert materials into other languages whether for students who live in other countries or for local students whose primary language is not English.  Ray Schroeder, a colleague of mine at the University of Illinois – Springfield recently posted an item on a LISTSERV we both belong to that mentions that Google is now providing translations and/or captions for its Youtube services which many of us use to distribute instructional video material.




Print is Dying, Digital is Surging, Everyone is Confused!

Yesterday at our monthly CUNY Committee on Academic Technology meeting we had a discussion about digital content and e-textbooks.  More specifically, CUNY is launching an initiative to encourage faculty to consider using e-content rather than traditional print textbooks in order to help reduce the costs of attending college for our students.  A good discussion ensued about the pluses and minuses of one media vs. the other.  In today’s NY Times there is an  article (see URL below) on the pros and cons of digital readers.  The article quotes Craig Mod, a computer programmer, book designer and book publisher as saying:  “Print is dying. Digital is surging. Everyone is confused. Good riddance.”  The article goes on to say that Mr. Mod argues that:  “ it doesn’t really matter which vessel we choose to read on, since the content will always be king… For too long, the act of printing something in and of itself has been placed on too high a pedestal. The true value of an object lies in what it says, not its mere existence.”   In sum, it is the content and not the delivery mechanism.  I agree with his analysis and it reminds me of the grand debate that has gone on for three decades regarding the delivery of instruction digitally or face to face.

Some of the most extensive reviews of the research on computer education were conducted by James Kulik and his associates at the University of Michigan. In the 1970s and 1980s, they conducted a series of meta-analyses of hundreds of studies dealing with the effects of computer education at different grade levels (elementary, secondary, college, and adult). Their general conclusion was that computer-based education had a beneficial effect on academic achievement, although it was not uniformly true at all grade levels. However, Richard Clark refuted the findings by questioning the research controls of most of the studies that were included in the Kulik meta-analyses. Clark further concluded that the computer was basically a vehicle carrying an instructional substance and that real improvement in achievement only comes with improving the substance, not the vehicle. Clark’s position has been challenged over the years by a number of researchers including Robert Kozma and Jack Koumi  who see the medium as integral to the delivery of instruction. However, the two differing opinions on this issue remain and the “great debate” continues to this day.  As an indication of the importance of this debate, if one was to do a search on “Clark Kozma” on google or yahoo, there will be hundreds of hits, many of which refer to websites and blogs created in the past couple of years.


The NY Times article is available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/technology/11reader.html?th&emc=th

Diane Ravitch Changes her Mind about School Reform, Testing, and Charter Schools!

Diane Ravitch is a well-respected education historian who at one time was one of the leaders of the conservative movement that promoted the power of standardized testing, school choice, and charter schools to reform public education.  In the past few years, she has undergone an about-face about her views and in the words of a NY Times article (see URL below) an “intellectual crisis”.   She is now referring to testing, choice, etc. as faddish trends that have undermined public education not improved it.  She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.    The article quotes another conservative education reformer, Chester Finn, Jr.,  as saying that “Standards, in many places, have proven nebulous and low,” and  “ ‘Accountability’ has turned to test-cramming and bean-counting, often limited to basic reading and math skills.”   Recently Ravitch was asked how she would reform public education and she replied:   “Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”


The NY Times article is available at:


Individualized Instruction and Electronic Portfolios!

Dear Commons Community,

Starting this year, all 428 sixth graders at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, N.J., are charting their own academic path with personalized student learning plans — electronic portfolios containing information about their learning styles, interests, skills, career goals and extracurricular activities.   Each student is given a flash drive with her/his e-portfolio to maintain.  Individualized instruction is not new and in fact has been required by federal statute for special education students since the late 1970s.  What is interesting at Linwood Middle School is that the approach is being used for all students.  The introduction of electronic portfolios reduces significantly the paperwork and appears to make the entire record keeping both for the school and the student more practical.

The concept of individualized instruction is well-grounded in learning theory and has evolved from the research on learning styles and differentiated instruction.   It is completely counter to the one size fits all approach used as the basis for most curricula.   It makes a good deal of sense but implementing individualized instruction has been seen as time-consuming and logistically difficult.   The addition of the e-portfolio makes it more palatable.

A NY Times article on the above can be found below.