Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars Phoenix Lander and Science Education Reform

I watched in suspense and awe, along with 1500+ other viewers, the Ustream feed as the Phoenix Lander touched down on Mars. Kudos to bencredible's spacevidcast for the show. Like another, I had to think, 1500 viewers? But my reflection was, why not 15,000? I remember as a kid every trip into space was an event. Everyone was gathered around the TV to hear Walter Cronkite or Jules Bergman relay the news from Cape Canaveral or Houston. I was too young to pay attention to the details but I knew this was something great that we were doing and everyone wanted to follow the event. What has happened? It was just these things that drove me and many of my generation to science and math as students. This was a different time. This was a time in which there was a national resolve to make science a priority.
It was a time which supported strong science curricula like the BSCS and PSSC. Curricula "encouraging engagement and understanding as opposed to memorization." Where is that leadership now? Who is going to set the sight of the Nation for something that may require a decade or two to reach fruition? Who is going to banish quiz show science courses for curricula which will give us students capable of handling the technological obstacles before us? Or maybe 2 Million Minutes offers a glimpsed of the reality. To paraphrase its producer It is not an indictment of our educational system as much as it is an indictment of our social system. Excellence in the sciences is no longer a priority for the nation, then how can we expect our young people to put forth the effort to excel? We haven't had a leader to encourage our students in this direction for a long time. I wouldn't think of endorsing a candidate here, but I am, before November, going to listen hard for sounds of that leadership.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Network Diversity Index Redux

Thanks to Darren Draper for taking a look at a suggestion I had made for network analysis in a previous post. Hopefully this is not a breach in "blog etiquette" , but my response to his comment was rather long so I entered it as a post instead.
Here was Darren's comment:

OK, so I used the Shannon index calculator to learn that my H1 = 0.9088. But what does that mean?

I'm assuming that an H value of 1 means that your population is not diverse - at least not diverse when considering the different kinds of populations assigned (which are arbitrary and subject to bias).

Here's a screenshot of what I've entered (as you can see, I mostly use Twitter to connect with the ed-tech community).

Darren, most biological communities will have a diversity index between 1.0 and 4.0. Your "community", with an index of .9088 indicates, on the surface, very little diversity. This would be what classical ecologists might call a "typal" community, like "grassland". In terms of your network, most of your information is coming from a single "species" called EdTech. Example: An established, mid-latitude ecosystem with limiting resources and most of them passing through a large number of very few or even a single species. The other species in this community, and there may be many, are represented by maybe only a single individual in the sample. You might say "Well yeah, its an EdTech community!' Low diversity in a network, to me, equates with focussed, but low quality (depth) information. Let's say you use Wordpress for your CMS, so you have a number of EdTech people using Wordpress in your network. If you added a few members of the Wordpress Codex community you might also pick-up information that may be of use to you.

Two observations:
One. If we consider this assessment to be correct, then, in conjunction with your discussion of Twitter Set Theory, you should be able to reduce the number of individuals in your network without reducing information content. Your EdTech species has a population of 257 competing for a resource, your time. Assume a 1 in 10 overlap in your EdTech set, you could effectively reduce the number of individuals in your EdTech population to 25-30, increasing efficiency and not degrading information. You might say at this point, "I've come to rely on my connection to more than 30 individuals in this group. How can I eliminate any one?" This brings me to observation two.

I believe your diversity is really higher than reported. I said "on the surface" earlier because I think the problem is in identifying a "species" in our analogy. If all the members in your EdTech population were giving you the same information, competition would have reduced their number before now (my guess is their number is growing). Case in point. Three different species of Anole lizard were observed in a certain tree of a Caribbean island. This couldn't happen because similar species couldn't occupy the same niche for very long without competition favoring one over the other two. Closer inspection revealed that each of them was occupying a very specific part of the tree and feeding on very specific prey in that area. Thus, they were not in competition with each other and were occupying a different role (niche) in the community. I believe closer scrutiny of your EdTech population will really reveal very distinct "species" exist within this group.

Biologists identify species using a key based on a dichotomy (dichotomous key). An organism is assessed as having a described character, which places it into one group or lacking that character which places it in another group. A new character is describe an the assessment continues in branching fashion until the "species" is identified (keyed out) by the set of accumulated characters. I've begun an attempt at this on a wiki but this is a developing idea much like the issue of "tagging". It will take time. One thing that might help is for people to give as much information in their profiles as they can comfortably give.

Of course, most of this is hypothetical and may be based on untested assumptions, but, if networks are going to be an important part of how we use the technology, then I think some metrics need to be established for assessing them.

Thanks again, Darren for the conversation.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Network Analysis a la Drape's Takes

Drape's Takes: Twitter Set Theory & The Wisdom of the Group

Related to my previous post, here is another view of network analysis with specific reference to Twitter networks.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What is Your Network Diversity Index?

In a previous blog post, I likened my network to a biological community. This was in an effort to provide a means of analysis of what was becoming the source of information in my personal learning environment. For the sake of the discussion I will classify individual (node) of my network as a member of a species. Also, in the case of my network, a species is an organizational construct rather than a genetic one. (See taxonomy in Wiki here).

The structure of a biological communities is very much a function of spatial and temporal interactions. For example, analysis of a non-tropical, climax community would show that it is comprised of very few species (low species diversity). In contrast, an equatorial tropical rainforest with moderate climatic conditions, high photoperiodism and few limits to colonization, show a relatively higher degree of species diversity. Climax communities, then, have a major fraction of the flow of energy/biomass involving very few species where in rainforests, that energy/biomass is not isolated but dispersed.

A learning network with a structure similar to a climax community would have a great deal of its information emanating from individuals of a very similar background thus creating the "echo chamber" effect. Whereby our associations with similar minded individuals creates a conversation whose point of view may be echoed by those around us limiting the opportunity of new/different ideas. The measure of species richness in a biological community (and information richness in our network) may be assessed by creating a diversity index.

The relationship between of the number of species in the community to the number of individuals in the community is shown by a ratio known as a diversity index:

Where D= Diversity Index
A = Number of species
B = Number of Individuals

The problem here is when the number of individuals is much larger than the number of species the diversity index will be very small. This could be corrected somewhat with the following:

Still, very little information about community structure is derived because as long as you have say, 5 species and 100 individuals, your Diverstiy Index will be .50 no matter how the individuals are distributed across the 5 species.

There have been many attempts at refining this index but the one I remember from an undergraduate Ecology class was called the Shannon-Weaver Index (revisionists now call it the Shannon Index).

Where: d = Index of Diversity
s = Total number of species collected
ni= Number of individuals in th ith species
n = total number of individuals


simplifying still:
The Shannon function combines both the number of species and the the uniformity with which the individuals are distributed among the species present. The presence of both an increasing number of species or more equitable distribution of individuals among those species will result in an increase in species diversity.

For example, consider three networks each consisting of 100 nodes (individuals). Those 100 individuals are representative of 5 different organizational groups (species). Here is the interspecies distribution for the networks:

You can see here that all networks have a total of 5 groups and 100 individuals. Network A (top) exhibits the most equitable distribution of the individuals while community C (bottom) shows the least equitable. While all networks will have the same species diversity index of 0.50 (see earlier calculation), network A has the higher Shannon index.

This may allow an individual to analyze his or her network as it develops over time.

If, like myself, the math makes you wail and gnash your teeth, try the following. Evaluate your network, divide it into groups, give each group a number and determine how many people you have representing each group. Then follow this link to a Shannon Index calculator, enter your the number of people you have in each group, compute and read the value for H1.

I'm not sure of the value of this index on small networks. In ecological studies a random sample of the community is done with a sample size of 100. Also, while this does evaluate diversity and equitable distribution, it doesn't evaluate something like "trust" as mentioned here in a presentation by George Siemens in Dr Alec Couros' EC&I 831 course.

I am indebted to my notes from my ecology class at the University of West Florida under Dr. Gerald Moshiri. I am also indebted to Roger's Online Equation Editor for generating the equation images in png format.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Network as Biological Community

Recently, Alec Couros, in preparation for a presentation to his faculty, tweeted the question,"What does your network mean to you?". As a tribute to the vitality of his network, the responses (twice) produced a host of comments (collected in a Voicethread here) to answer the question.

As a self-proclaimed digital primitive, I began to answer the question with analogs to the Ecosystem component of the Biology content I teach. If the internet has become the landscape of our Personal Learning Environment (PLE), then I will employ a Synectics strategy I use with my students and create the metaphor; "Networks as biological communities."

We might define a biological community as all the interacting species within a habitat (or biotope). My learning network is a community of interacting individuals within my learning environment. Now here, I first rushed to consider that each individual member of my network would represent a different species. After a bit of mental wrangling, I realized that was incorrect. I should consider each person in my network as a member of a population which is "a group of individuals of the same species". What defines a species in this analogy and the identification of which species inhabit our "environment" will take some work. (I'm thinking a wiki may aid in this discussion).

Alec utilized the diagram above, which he had developed some time ago, as the visual for the Voicethread. Entities at the perimeter of the diagram (Web 2.0 "tools" if you pardon the expression) are ways in which other individuals in our networks perceive us and interact with us. They represent codes for who we are, thus, in the analogy, our DNA. As is true for our DNA, these codecs are able to be replicated, mutable and adaptive and in light of changes in the environment, some become more favorable than others. For example, where a web page once was the dominant form of expressing oneself, in a 2.0 environment, blogs and wikis are more favorable. Thus, blogs and wiki are selected for fitness in this environment and increase in frequency while web pages are selected against and so their frequency decreases.

This also bring in to question the definition of an interaction. What must occur in order to qualify as an interaction? Is the reading of a Tweet considered an interaction or would you have to respond to the tweet in order to qualify? Consider this, while I was unable to respond to the Voicethread directly with a comment, this blogpost was generated in response to the tweet. Some time will have to spent on categorizing the type of interactions within the network.

Why take so much time to develop the analogy this far? One, to answer the original question for myself. Two, I believe if I can fine tune the components of the analogy, there may be some ecological algorithms to develop metrics for assessing our Networks and Personal Learning Environments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Response to "teacher fear or teacher laziness"

I linked to Connie Cossar's blog post by way of following Dr. Alec Couros' Twitter links to it and course presentations on Ustream. While I, like Connie, observe few local adopters of the technology , I'm not convinced that neither fear nor laziness could account for so few adopters. You have to assume that the number of teachers she is working with probably represents a poor sample of the population. Yet the number of teachers integrating tech on the order to which she alludes, would lead me to the conclusion that almost all are afraid or lazy. For example, we have 160 teachers at our school. Most are using email, Google searches, and learning Powerpoint. Of that 160 I am the only teacher that has posted a podcast, or utilizes blogs and wikis with students. ( I have taken on a technology learning group of 5 teachers so my hope is that will change). By my calculation then, better than 99% of the teachers at my school are afraid of technology or are lazy based on your criteria. I know this is not true. (Though yes, some are apprehensive and/or lazy!)

I agree, though, that most are "teaching" in their comfort zones. They have established their curriculum and their pedagogy in order to meet the needs (success) of most of their students. This, however, leads to a curriculum which is very inflexible to meeting the needs of all students. The technology they utilize is probably restricted to the technology that was available at the time they developed their teaching style, which, will probably shortchange students preparation for a technocentric future.

After teaching for twenty years I too, as in Mr Shareski's comment, am a bit more sympathetic to those teachers. When the administration tells teachers they are to developed 10 minute focus lessons for each period and teach a 25 minute focus lesson at the middle time block each day in order to prep for the state assessment (as well as teach their prescribed curriculum) well, lets face it, there are only 8 hrs in the school day. Also, in Florida a percentage of a teachers salary is dependent upon student performance on the state assessment. You can see where the state places the incentives.

So, one interpretation is this:
1. Teachers learn early on to prioritize. With the time available; What do I need to do to meet the demands of the administration? What do I need to do to meet the demands of my students? What do I need to do to meet the demands of my professional development?
2. The teachers/educators using technology are the ones that "get it". (But no one "gets it all". A total perspective is impossible. see Trin Tragula and TPV) This is that scattered but entrenched few that always look for a way to reach a few more students. They probably would have been the ones to embrace the "Open Classroom" and "Team Teaching" in the 1960's and 70's had they been teaching then.
3. Most adoptions/integrations are teacher initiatives and as anyone who has been teaching for awhile will tell you, teacher/classroom initiatives are rarely supported. So, unless you are in one of those rare districts where an administrator or IT director is the one who "gets it", widespread adoption of technology will more than likely be a prepackaged CBI.

The difference between now and 40 years ago, is the ability to network. Teachers will no longer have to work in total isolation. Innovation and support won't have to come from a University lab School. Most integration for the time being will be individual teachers, in networks, figuring out the what, the how and the why.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Acceptable Use

My School district is reviewing a new Acceptable Use Policy. (To read the current one, select Information and News after following this link here.) The teachers in training as Technology Learning Group Facilitators were asked to review the policy and read Chapter 7 Online Security from Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools and provide a response.

The following is the text of my response.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of school acceptable use policies is tolerated by many, ignored by most. We are willing to suffer the monster at the perceived benefits of the good doctor.

Fear and Loathing

I f the acceptable use is not in toto, then, there must logically follow, disuse and a line must be drawn to portion the two. Where and for what reasons that line is drawn is almost as contentious as the question by whom.

Yet, when clear thinking is set aside and decision making is clouded by fear, well, many dystopian images come to mind.

"And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid."
V's speech to London- "V for Vendetta"

Reacting out of an irrational fear is beneficial to no one.

The statement that a highly restrictive policy is needed to protect the students is based on the faulty assumption that it can protect students .

The Australian government underwrote a national policy to provide internet porn filtering software as a free download to businesses, schools and parents. The $84 million pricetag bothered a 16 year-old computer enthusiast who reported to the Communications Ministry that he had figured a bypass for the filter in 30 minutes. The ministry upgraded the filter software which he cracked in another 40 minutes. Wasteful spending aside, the student , a victim of cyberbullying himself, feared the complacency of responsible parties once the filters were in use.

The National Research Council released a report titled Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, stated that filters "can be highly effective in reducing the exposure of minors to inappropriate content if the inability to access large amounts of appropriate material is acceptable." (italics added)

An Electronic Freedom Foundation study found that with blocking software at its least restrictive settings blocked content .5-5% of the time based on state curriculum topics. In their most restrictive settings filters blocked up to 70% of the state mandated topics. The University of Michigan Medical School found similar results but also found that at the most restrictive setting 87% of the pornography sites were blocked while at its most restrictive still only blocked 91% of such sites.

You might wonder if such highly restrictive policies might be in violation of CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) "good faith" requirements for the protection of minors by relying so heavily on filtering software which is knowingly undependable.

CIPA with respect to adults, only requires that it is enforcing an internet safety policy that includes the use of filtering software that denies access to material that is obscene and child pornography (note that there is no "monitoring" requirement for adult use, nor is there a requirement to deny access to material that is "harmful to minors"), and that it is enforcing the use of such filtering software.

Controls v.s Control

David Warlick (cited in the accompanying reading on Web 2.0) in his November 30th,2007 blog post titled "Are we Inside the New Iron Curtain?" recounts a conversation Alan November and states:

" the the United States runs what is probably the most represive education system on the planet, especially when compared with the access to information that learners have outside the classroom. “Students in China have e-mail,” he said. “Do your students?”

No one would argue in defense of China's human rights policy over ours, but on this one issue, maybe there is something to be illustrated by this question.

District policy states:
Access is restricted to certain web sites and certain types of Internet activities by either the District firewall or the filtering service to which the District subscribes. Educational objectives requiring exceptions to this policy can be requested through the Network Systems Analyst and appropriate Director.

When did classroom teachers abdicate approval of educational objectives to a Network Systems Analyst? In addition, CIPA has no language requiring adults to state why they are seeking unfiltered access nor what type of information they are seeking.

Vicki A. Davis (also cited in the accompanying article), as well as teachers in other districts, have the ability to block and unblock sites from their classrooms. She advocates for teachers when she writes:

"We have too much to do to keep throwing rocks at one another! Fighting over filtration causes resentment, inefficiencies, and frustration. There are valid points on both ends of the filtration discussion, however, the bottom line is this… student learning.

Student learning…

Student learning…

Not, "it needs to be easy for a technology administrator to manage."

I’m sorry, but classrooms are tough to manage too."
Walled Garden or Stockade

District Policy States:
All content must be stored on the district’s web server unless the services of an Internet- based application service provider are required and cannot be duplicated on the district’s web server. All use of Internet-based application service provider sites or enhancements must adhere to the district web site guidelines and are subject to the review and sanction of the District.

This throttles many of the collaborative and asynchronous tools presently available. Without saying social, networking sites are out, but also many professional and learning network sites as well. Voicethread, Skype, Yugma, Googledocs , all blocked. Most sites which serve educators by hosting blogs, wikis and podcasts would be banned under this stipulation.

This is probably one of the most troubling (and baffling) of the policy issues.. Teachers anxious to leverage the technologies to their greatest potential will develop these devices outside of the confines of the network. Instead of school equalizing opportunity, a new segregation arises, those with access outside the school network and those without. We might want to add this variable in our analysis of student achievement data.

Working Together

Involve all stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process in regards to developing an acceptable use policy which provides an balance between protection and access which is appropriate to the level of the user.

Educate and assess students, staff and parents on the ethical use of the internet and make them accountable. Practice and model acceptable behaviors.

Provide dedicated logins for students.

Convey a sense of trust but provide an appropriately measured response for willful and malicious violations to the policy.

Provide distributed access and distributed filtration which allows a level of control and access commensurate with the user.

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