Do We Really Need A Whole New Mind?

I was directed to a webinar from Discovery Education with Daniel H. Pink by a news clip in Technology & Learning magazine.

Pink wrote A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future which I had read in 2005 when it was published.

I think most of us would accept that information workers have a greater economic importance today than in the past when physical laborers drove the economy. Pink's claim that the workplace is shifting again and that people with strong right brain qualities will have the advantage would be much more controversial - especially in a school setting.

There's a lot to talk about in that book: economic forces that value right-brain abilities, his own list of 6 artistic, empathic abilities that are gaining value, and how schools may be starting to value those abilities.

The right/left brain theory has come under a lot of criticism since it first emerged, so that alone will get some argument.

I pulled the book off the shelf in the college library yesterday and paged through it again. This post isn't mean to be a book review and there's a quote in that magazine that I scribbled on my notepad that is where my interest lies.

"We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past," says Rich Menisco from the Fairfax County Schools in Virginia.

That is the real issue for me. I don't know that right-brain tasks are overshadowing left-brain tasks in importance. I'm not exactly clear on what the important 21st century skills will be in the workforce and economy. I'd question anyone who was certain that they knew what future our students will have, but I fully support efforts to answer these questions.

I guess my real question is not whether we need a whole new mind, but rather how schools are addressing both brain hemispheres because we don't know what our students will need.

It's hard to downplay that left side that does much of the math, logic, and linear reasoning as unimportant in a society where machines have replaced bodies. Those machines came from minds that certainly had some left-brain power, but the best of them needed creativity and abstract reasoning from the other side.

We have the mind already. We just don't value all of its abilities enough to allow a diversity in thinking, training, schooling.

Software is very good at left-brain tasks, but the "intelligence" that we have such trouble building artificially into pieces of hardware or software always seems to be those right qualities.

I'm not convinced that people who don't nurture their right brain skills "may miss out, or worse, suffer" in the new economy - then again, Dan Pink's book Free Agent Nation was right in 2002 in showing the shift from the "organization man" of the 1950's to the growing sector of self-employed in this century.

It's encouraging to see different groups paying attention to "R-directed thinking" - like this post on Designing Better Libararies that does that and talks about (new to me) "blended" librarians.

Thinking the right way is more than just using the right side of the brain.

The End of the Faculty Web Site

Last fall I had bookmarked a blog post called "What Happened to the Personal Web Site?" It focuses on academic librarians using blogs versus personal web sites, but it started me thinking about the use of personal web sites by faculty. Here's an excerpt from that post:

The sample of prominent (legacy)academic librarians I chose suggests that traditional web site content may be a bit more commonplace among that crowd, but certainly blogs are quite limited. While I found more of the blogging academic librarians less likely to have well-developed web sites, I found more web site-like content than I expected. But I think it’s safe to say that for most newcomers to the profession a personal blog will win out over a personal web site.

A web site, in my experience, is more time consuming initially to design and implement, but once established it requires just occasional updating. I think there are some good skills to be learned from this process - FTP, file structures, web site architecture and design,absolute vs. relative linking, bookmark linking, etc. re-designing my personal web site gave me an opportunity to get more Dreamweaver experience, to figure out how to get a Flash file to load on a web page, and to experiment with new design features. Is the personal web site passe? For academic librarians that appears to be the trend. But I don’t doubt that its decline has something to do with the recognition factor and where a librarian gets more bang for the buck. In that department, these days, a blog has the web site beat by a mile.

A part of my instructional technology time the past 10 years has been spent working with faculty to get their websites started and learning how to do some basic web design. NJIT never offered any official templates for faculty, but my department had created some basic ones and many faculty were happy to use them. Nothing fancy - CV, publications, research, course notes, syllabi.

Now, I wonder if faculty web sites will be a quaint thing of the past.

If you have a blog and a Facebook account, you already have a more sophisticated web presence than a basic web site. And those sites are more dynamic in the true web sense. They're not static web pages. If used as intended, they are updated regularly with text and images and interactive with comments and feedback.

If you are a research-oriented instructor, a blog has a much better chance of bringing attention to your pages than a web site, and opening opportunities for collaboration.

Here's another issue. Should a college's faculty web content be on the college's web servers? I think it should be there. It brings attention to the school and its academic programs and research. I also feel that an institution (grades K-20) should be offering teachers web space and tools to do their academic work.

NJIT, like many universities, currently gives students and faculty web space. Right now, they don't offer any content management system for that space, so you have everything from empty URLs to sophisticated web sites. Faculty are not formally offered a blogging solution, so those faculty who have created a blog have done so independently. You could create a Moodle course and use the blog or wiki tool, and some faculty use their Blackboard course as their web presence, but I'm not referring to those types of apps here.

That's not all bad. If you leave a university, the site remains. Serendipity35 is at NJIT though I have left the university as a full-time employee (I remain as an adjunct). If I decided to export it and take it with me, besides all the technical hassles of that process, I would have to re-establish the connections that the site has with readers and inside that neural network of web sites, other blogs, Technorati et al that has been created over the years. Deleting this blog would be a very small stroke to the Net brain, but a broken connection nonetheless.

My home day-to-day home now at PCCC is a two-year college that does not offer faculty any web space. I'm just now working through the process of gaining some access to their web site so that I can create a presence for the Writing Initiative that I'm directing. It's not something they normally allow. Plus they are in the process of moving their original website over to a open source CMS (hurrah for OS!), so the very small web team is very busy.

Will we see more faculty buying their own URLs and hosting solutions? That's one path that I see some faculty taking, especially if they have consulting and a business aspect to their teaching and research.

Where do the instructors at your school post public materials online? Is there an "enterprise" blogging or wiki solution?


This past month, I gave up two laptops and two desktop computers from my old job and gained a new laptop and new desktop for my current position.

New computers are nice and shiny and virus-free and empty of all the fragments of deleted files and downloaded software tests that remain even after you defrag and all that. However, given a choice I would have hung on to my older machines to avoid the installation of all the programs that I use regularly (some of which I no longer have access to for now), customizing the setting in browsers, the preferences in programs and copying my backups of presentations, documents and other files.

It gives me a renewed appreciation for cloudware.

Cloudware is software that runs on Internet servers rather than on your hard drive. They require little or no installation/download. It is also referred to as "Software as a Service" (SaaS) and it has some connections to what you may have heard called "thin-client devices" (hardware or even software where all the real processing is done on a server and not on the device you are using).

I believe the term cloudware was popularized in Wired magazine's Geekipedia section:

"The network is the computer," Sun's chief researcher, John Gage, prophesied in 1984 — and lo, it has come to pass. Apps and services that once would have run on a desktop operating system now run in the cloud: the unbounded, ever-shifting, intangible collection of servers that make up the Internet. Go to Google Maps, Yahoo Mail, or MySpace — most of Web 2.0, in other words — and you're using cloudware. (In the enterprise market, it's called software as a service.) Paradoxically, though, the power of your PC matters as much as ever. With P2P apps like BitTorrent, Skype, and the Joost video service, your desktop itself is a critical droplet in the cloud.

If you store your photos at Flickr rather than installing a photo-organizing software package on your computer, that's cloudware. To use cloudware, all you should need is a Web browser and an Internet connection.

There are many apps that have gotten wide attention - like Google Docs and Spreadsheets - and new ones coming online every day. It's hard to keep up.

Here's one that a colleague just showed me last week that we thought we might be able to use. It's Connotea at where you can save and organize links to your references by saving a link to a web page for the reference. Connotea, wherever possible, is recognizing the reference and automatically adding in the bibliographic information for you. You assign keywords/tags to your references. These can be anything you like, and you can use as many as you like, so there's no more need to navigate complicated hierarchies of folders and categories. Connotea shows you all the tags you've ever used, so it's easy to get back to a reference once you've saved it.

So, why not just have everything in the network cloud? The two biggest fears are access and privacy.

Without an Internet connection, you can't access the application or any files you have stored on servers. Try showing grandma the pictures of the new baby that you have online in her apartment that has no Internet. How do you get the spreadsheet for the meeting when the connection fails?

On the privacy side, some people just aren't comfortable with allowing someone else to hold all their data of documents, images etc. Is Google looking at my documents or spreadsheet numbers? I can assign "private" access to my photos on most storage sites, but what guarantee do I have that no one else sees them? What happens to all my files if the company disappears or turns into a pay rather than free service?

Personally, I like storing files in the clouds, but I also keep local copies. I prefer the ability to be able to still work on my files offline too. Let's say that I make a diagram using Gliffy (a free web diagram creation service) that also allows me to share the diagram with others that I am working with on a project. That's a great use of the cloud. Even better is that I can also save the diagrams in the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) file format and then import this file into other diagramming tools that I have installed on my computer. It's the best of both worlds of earth and sky.

Classroom 2.0 Live: A Free Meetup

Well, I can't attend the first Classroom 2.0 LIVE Meet-up on February 1 & 2 in San Francisco, California, but I really like the spirit and idea behind this event which is all about Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.

I've blogged before about the main Classroom 2.0 site which I joined and have spent some time on.

They have been seeking vendor sponsorship so that it's all free. Wikispaces was the first and is a primary sponsor for San Francisco, and is arranging the workshop location. Ning, delicious, Vyew, Atlassian and We Are Teachers are also on board, but they are still looking for other sponsors to try to cover meals and all the other stuff of conferences.

It reminds me of the barcamp events and other meetups that have been forming the past year. I'm all for free events, though I have no problem with attendees paying for hotel room and meals (people get piggy with free food anyway). The really interesting aspects of these events is having attendees help plan the sessions, the idea that they should actually be practical workshops, trying to always have one track that's friendly for the beginner and keeping them short.

San Francisco isn't the only site. It's the one currently buzzing, but they are looking for other meetup locations. Hey, someone in New Jersey is interested!

Grab That Screen

Many of us use screenshots (a still image of what's on our monitor screen) for presentations and in teaching tools, training materials, lesson etc. It's a great way to walk people through a process if you can't provide a full motion screen capture "movie" in Flash or some other program.

The basic way to capture your screen is to use the "Print Screen" key on a Windows machine. You can then paste that full screen into PowerPoint or a Word doc. But editing it to show only a section (you probably don't want all the browser frame, for example) is awkward.

Some people edit within PowerPoint, though many users don't even know they can do that. Some people paste the captured screen to an image editor (anything from Paint to Photoshop) and alter it. There are programs you can buy to do this too. SnagIt is one I have used in the past.

Macintosh users have a "print screen" feature that also allows you to capture just a selected area of the screen - a nice feature. If you are running Windows Vista, you may have discovered "Snipping Tool" hiding in Programs/Accessories that gives you some features beyond simple "Print Screen." (It's been awhile, but people always used to ask me why when they hit "Print screen" nothing ever printed.)

resized smaller version of Kwout screen capture of the PCCC home page

Today's product review is Kwout. It's like a Print Screen key for your web browser. This service lets you capture screenshots of web pages without requiring any other plug-ins or software.

You just type in the web page address and it converts the entire web page to an image. You can then select a portion with your mouse, then click “Cut Out”.

I grabbed the PCCC home page and then checked the options onscreen to add a border, shadow and rounded corner.

I chose for this small image to right-click and save the image to my computer, but I could also have let it stay on the Kwout website.

For that they offer the embed code (something you may be familiar with from YouTube and other sites) to post the image with the image map and link to your web page as I have done below.

to PCCC or view via via kwout with active links & the ability to embed this in your own page

There's also a link that you can drag to your Firefox toolbar or right click "Add to Favorites" in Internet Explorer, so that you can more quickly grab the next screen you want.

There are other things too - post to Flickr or Tumblr, change the background color etc. and if this service catches on, they will probably add more features.

I'm not familiar with HeartRails, (the folks who offer this service which is based in Japan), but it's a cool tool with the right price and easy to use.