Two Million Minutes

After 8th grade, the clock starts counting down on the two million minutes that a student has in school and at home studying, playing, working, sleeping, and socializing until high school graduation.

A new documentary titles Two Million Minutes is a comparison of education in the United States to that of India and China. The premise is that that amount of time is the same for all (though the amount spent in school or studying varies) and will determine their economic prospects for the rest of their lives.

Some questions the film asks: How do most American high school students spend this time? What about students in the rest of the world? How do family, friends and society influence a student's choices for time allocation? What implications do their choices have on their future and on a country's economic future?

It follows two students (a boy and a girl) from China, India & the U.S. to create a global snapshot of education. To put things in some context, there are also interviews with specialists like former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, Congressman Bart Gordon, chair of the House Committee on Science, Harvard economist Richard Freeman as well as top Indian CEOs, and leading scientists in America.

Some of the statistics for American high school students you've heard before and they don't ever seem to improve.

  • less than 40% of U.S. students take a science course more rigorous than general biology
  • 18% take advanced classes in physics, chemistry or biology
  • 45% take math coursework beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry
  • 50% of all college freshmen require remedial coursework

On the other side of this flat world, India and China have made strides in educating their growing middle classes. Each of those middle class groups is comparable in size to the entire U.S. population! China now produces eight times more scientists and engineers; India is 3X the U.S.

The filmmakers reference the "Sputnik moment" when the Russian launch of that satellite kicked off both a space race, and a new urgency for American schools to improve science education.

What will be the next event that launches American education? Will it be towards science, technology, engineering and math?

Watch a video report on eSchoolNews

Visit the film's website

What's All the Ruckus About Downloading Music?

There has been a lot of talk online about students downloading music illegally using campus networks. There are a number of issues that are being addressed. Some of it centers on the schools revealing (or not revealing) the offenders' identities. Much of the talk is about the RIAA's approach to this problem. A smaller number of us view this as part of the much larger issue of [academic] integrity.

Just last week, the RIAA issued another press release about their legal efforts:

RIAA Sends More Pre-Lawsuit Letters To Colleges One Year Into Campaign

"The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of its member record companies, has sent a new wave of 401 pre-litigation settlement letters to 12 universities this week. The letters cite individuals for online music theft via peer-to-peer services such as Ares, BitTorrent, Gnutella, Limewire, and Morpheus.

The RIAA’s thirteenth wave of letters went to the following colleges this week: Boston University (35 pre-litigation settlement letters), Columbia University (50), Drexel University (33), Indiana University (40), North Carolina State University (35), Ohio State University (30), Purdue University (28), Tufts University (20), University of Maine System (32), University of New Hampshire (32), University of Southern California (50), and the University of Virginia (16)."

You would think that if someone could come up with a completely legal and advertising-supported music service geared exclusively to the college community, it would be a big hit.

Well, someone did. It's called Ruckus. And it's not a big hit.

With Ruckus, all students with a valid school email (.edu) at a participating school have free unlimited access to the entire Ruckus music library. With a decent connection, you can download full albums in under a minute. You can create and share your playlists and it's 100% free and legal.

How could it fail? Free music. Unlimited. No legal hassles for students or institutions. But it's i trouble. I got an email from Ruckus last week that said:

Dear RUCKUS members,

You know that RUCKUS gives FREE and LEGAL music to college students, right? We’ve recently asked for your help because we need more members to continue to offer the music for free. Unfortunately, the efforts were not good enough, so we're asking you again to share RUCKUS with your friends. We pay our bills with ad revenue, so we need more users on the RUCKUS site in order to pay the rent and keep your music flowing for free. It doesn't matter how you do it. Share on Facebook, e-mail your friends, or even streak across your quad just help us save your music.

So what's the problem? There are a number of explanations. One post I found is from a Rutgers student who feels it failed there due to a bandwidth quota the university imposes on resident hall students.

I had an account at NJIT when it was first offered which I used infrequently, but it worked fine. Students I talked to at NJIT didn't like it because the music couldn't travel with them (on their mp3 player or cell phone) and they didn't "own" the music (they couldn't burn it to a CD, for example). Of course, those digital rights limitations are exactly why the service is legal.

At Passaic County Community College, it's not offered at all - and their bandwidth could probably never sustain it. There are a good number of affiliated schools, and yet the service doesn't seem to be able to make a go of it and so is recruiting users to recruit more users.

This post from LSU, notes that Mac users aren't happy that you have to use Windows 2000, XP or Vista on your computer to use the Ruckus software required to download the music.

Apparently, students want DRM-free downloads. The record companies don't. Students want all the bandwidth it takes to get the music. Colleges don't want to give that much away for non-academic purposes.

Readers of this blog know that I am a proponent of open everything, but that wide circle does have a border at the frontier lands of legality. It's a border that is unclear, and though it's not lawless, the enforcement is uneven and unfair. Does your school even have information on its policies available to students? (A sample from Purdue)

Colleges are not united on this issue. The University of Wisconsin is holding the RIAA to the letter of the law by refusing to pass along the settlement offers to students. Ohio University has completely banned peer-to-peer network traffic. Stanford University is charging its students reconnection fees if the school is served with a takedown notice.

I've seen the articles stating that the RIAA demands a minimum fine for each song of $750 (yeah, I know, it's a 99 cent iTunes download), so those 100 songs you downloaded will cost you $75,000. But they'll usually settle for $3000. Still, not a bargain.

Isn't this music downloading part of a larger discussion we need to be having about plagiarism, cheating, intellectual property, copyright, fair use and academic integrity?

An Anthology of Blog Posts

Add another milestone to the history of blogging. I read "Finding the 'Ultimate Blogs': An interview with Sarah Boxer" posted by Kelly Heyboer on the Jersey Blogs site last week.

Sarah Boxer has put together an anthology of the best blog writing. She admits the term ultimate is:

"kind of tongue in cheek. (I guess I needed an emoticon to cue people how to read that word.) There are no ultimate blogs, of course. The blogosphere is an endless stream of constantly changing material.

I went through hundreds of blogs, following recommendations, links, contests, and the "favorites" lists of bloggers I like. I looked for variety in terms of subject matter, use of language, age group, geography, and type (there are a couple of poetry blogs, a few cartoon blogs and one photo blog in the book).

The blogs I ultimately chose are the ones that I thought were exceptionally well written, bloggy in tone, and -- most basically -- would work in a book."

The former New York Times reporter is not a blogger herself, so she created this traditional book of paper about digital writing.

Ultimate Blogs: Masterwords from the Wild Web is made up of posts from 27 blogs. Some blogs are pretty well known (Go Fug Yourself ,The Smoking Gun) others are not - though I suspect their ht counters will surge this month.

Boxer was asked

Q: Did you have a favorite blogger? Were you surprised by what you selected for the anthology?
A: I love all of them actually. The ones that really stick in my mind are the ones I think of as alter-ego blogs or character blogs: AngryBlackBitch, Eurotrash, El Guapo.

I also love the cartoon blogs Micrographica and Get Your War On. I find I Blame the Patriarchy hilarious. I can't pick. They're all great.

There are tons of fabulous storytellers in there: There's an Iraqi blogger who tells an amazing tale about a t-shirt. There's an American Marine interviewing some Iraqi kids. There's an American living in Sweden who is a master of short anecdotes. A music blogger tells the story, with the help of Mozart and Wagner, of how applause between musical movements came to be frowned on.

Another blogger retells the story of the Iliad and Odyssey from the point of view of one of Odysseus's sidekicks.

I was surprised that so few of the bloggers in the book turned out to be political bloggers. I have only two -- Rootless Cosmopolitan and Matthew Yglesias. It is incredibly hard to find any political blogs that don't rely heavily on links and that don't go stale the day after they're written.

Do you use blogging in your classes? I know that there are courses taught at the college level on blogging. I wouldn't say that this anthology is appropriate as a textbook, but the sites and some of the examples might well be used to show the styles & genres that are developing in blogging. Did you know that there are cartoon blogs? (Personally, I like indexed.) Could you use under odysseus in your classics unit or pair it up with Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead to talk about changing the point of view in a story?

Will we see a time when there will be Best American Blog Posts (though "American" may not work for the Net) as we now have the Best American Poetry or Best American Stories et al?

Blu-ray Won - Should You Care?

Do you remember the videotape recorder battle between VHS and Betamax 20 years ago? VHS won. Anyone who had bought the Sony Betamax was stuck with the 8-track tape of video.

It has happened again. HD DVD has lost to Blu-ray which will be the standard for high-definition DVD technology.

The last blow was delivered when Toshiba decided to stop making “HD DVD” high-definition video disc players and recorders.

So now, the competition will heat up among the manufacturers of Blu-ray DVD players and recorders (Sony Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Sharp Corp., and Samsung Electronics).

The videotape battle was VHS (Matsushita) versus Betamax (Sony) in the 1980s. Sony still made some Betamax products for about 10 more years, but they had lost the war.

Is one really better? They both deliver crisp, clear high-definition pictures and sound that look better than the standard DVDs you probably have at home or in your school. But they are incompatible with each other, and neither type plays on standard DVD players.

Who are the losers?

On the corporate side, the Hollywood studios that produced HD DVD movies: Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and DreamWorks Animation. Other HD DVD supporters included Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., and Japanese electronics maker NEC Corp.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game machine can play HD DVD movies if you bought a separate drive for it. About 300,000 people bought those. And if you are one of the 300,000 worldwide who own a PC with an HD DVD drive, it's a relic.

Of course, consumers are the real losers once again. I remember the term "planned obsolescence" from my younger days. This obsolescence wasn't planned. I wish the manufacturers HAD planned, so that we could have avoided this Beta/VHS situation from happening again.

Now, should I buy a plasma or an LCD high def TV set? Roll the dice.

NCTE's New Literacies

TOWARD A DEFINITION OF 21st-CENTURY LITERACIES was adopted by the NCTE Executive Committee this month. Groups are always developing new literacies. I've seen lists of information literacy, media literacy and others, and I've seen multiple lists about "21st century skills" that we need to teach students. (A search will get you plenty - you might start with

I suppose what actually attracted me to this was that I joined NCTE as secondary schol teacher back in 1975, so it interests me what English teachers K20 are thinking.

Their document is brief, but has some lines that could easily generate a workshop of discussion, such as:

"These literacies from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups."

There are six things they say that 21st century readers and writers need to do:

  1. Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  2. Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  3. Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  4. Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  5. Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  6. Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Will Richardson picked up on the word malleable - "The ideas that these literacies must now be adaptable and bendable to meet whatever comes down the pike is a pretty big shift in thinking." Is it a big shift? Haven't we always known that literacy was malleable? Or is it that we knew it (as teachers) but it was never made official in the schools?

I do agree with him that, "Literacy, in other words, just got a lot harder to measure on a standardized test." There's the rub.

The idea of social learning and sharing information as being a kind of network literacy IS a big shift. It's the part that interests me the most about this "new" definition.