Google+ a la Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki gives us a great tour of Google+ and it’s facility for sharing the gems we might find on the web. His approach is as a entrepenuer promoting his brand but the tips are useful no matter what your intent. As a side line he provides some interesting observations of Facebook and how it manages your posts.

Always entertaining and fun, Guy shoots straight from the heart.

We Are Tools – With Due Respect

Fisher's Net
As I listen to people describe tools of various kinds, I am reminded that none of these inventions would be possible without the power and facility of the tool of all tools – the human mind. Kevin Kelly has done a very thorough job of documenting the connection between the maker (human kind) and the tool (from stone, to steel, to wheel, and so on) in “What Technology Wants“.

It is a bit confounding to look upon our selves as a tool building tools (mirrors with mirrors) but this is just what we are. It isn’t just a turn of phrase, but a recognition of our responsibility for managing our selves. The tool of our consciousness is evolving and extending itself through physical and mental constructions. In the Christian tradition we are described as “tools of God”. While I don’t grasp the external God part, I accept that “I” (whether led by God or guided by my own ethical choices) am an opportunity for doing good or evil. We can and should weigh our actions with the gravity of a god without assuming such status. Humble in what we assume, careful of how we behave, and what we create.

What is it that affords us the power to decide, adapt, choose, give, take, and reflect on the whole affair? Certainly it is tied to meta-cognition, but what does this mean. In “Beyond Religion“, HH the 14th Dalai Lama describes the characteristics that distinguish the human mind from the mind of other beings. He lists our capacity:

  • for remembering. We can project our thoughts into the future.
  • for imagining in detail.
  • for communication through symbolic representation – language.
  • for rational thought, the ability to critically evaluate and compare different outcomes, in real and imagined situations.
  • for empathy. We instinctively respond to other’s suffering, to their joy, and other emotions.

While HH is directing his investigations at the welfare of all sentient beings, his questions fit well with other investigators with more theoretical motivations. Other observers of mind highlight the dual importance of looking forward and remembering for human functioning. While asking what brains do, Jeff Hawkins‘ theory emphasizes memory and prediction. Much of our awareness seems to require the anticipation of known and novel situations. His theory helps tease out the physiological features and philosophical issues underlying our success. Hawkins and many others have inspired me to look deeper to puzzle about our evolution, our perception and consciousness.

Taken together, these theories describe a path from language adoption to symbol manipulation. It appears as though we have taken our cave paintings and internalized them within our minds. We continue to build systems of representation that afford new and extended combinations of ideas symbols.

I am fascinated with developments in cognitive neuroscience in large part because I am fascinated with the development of tools that we grow with and for of our minds; that extend our thinking, organizing, and doing. I am a pragmatic optimist in that I believe in the basic goodness of human nature and realize that technology (the extensions of our bodies that we create) have unintended consequences. I believe we will develop more humane and constructive tools if and when we pay attention to our intentions. If we want our species to survive in a civilized and peaceful way, we need to understand the creator.


“What Technology Wants” … “Net Smart”

It is technology planning season here in the school district. This yearly process pushes us to question how and what we are accomplishing in our quest for the perfect learning tool. I’ve been watching and participating in this “event” for over 10 years now, so I have developed some theories. Recently I have been reading (listening) to Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants” and Howard Rheingold’s new book, “Net Smart”.  These books, combined with my experience of how the humans around me choose has given me much food for thought. Writing always helps me formalize my theories and helps me make connections. So here goes…

“What Technology Wants” is a very, very, in-depth journey into the evolution of technology; it’s parallels to evolution in biology and human evolution and the ensuing creation of tools by homo sapiens. While the idea that technology could want something sounds whacky at first, Kelly provides a wealth of examples and some very compelling arguments for the comparison. Whether you buy the entire idea or not, in reading the book you will learn much about evolution in general, evolution of humans in particular, human invention and the gradual but steady evolution of our tools. Kelly brings many years of experience and thought to this subject. His description of the adoption of technology within the Amish community is especially thought provoking. What is instructive is not that they are 50 years behind in the adoption of technology but their process for choosing and rejecting. Key to this is their evaluation process which is continuous and includes the observation of the impact of a tool. They are willing to go back to the drawing board when something doesn’t fit with their culture.

While it doesn’t reach back into prehistory like Kelly’s book, “Net Smart” provides a history of the fast evolving tools of the Internet; a detailed view of the current state of communication, learning, online communities and collaboration. “Net Smart” is a user’s guide for anyone who would like to drive safely and effectively on the “information highway”.  As a seasoned participant in virtual communities (a term he coined) Howard steers us to the practical potentials and pitfalls of participation. While he avoids prescriptions, he provides a concise guide for focusing our attention, sorting fact from fiction, associating with people of like interests, and making a difference through community effort and knowledge building.

What do these books have to say about the adoption of technology for schools? Perhaps most important, they provide insight into where we have come from and where we can go. While, both Kelly and Rheingold are optimistic about the potentials of online learning and collaboration, both provide a realistic and sober assessment of the pitfalls and dangers. Both enjoin us to take responsibility and shape our personal and community practice with online tools.

The trends that Rheingold and Kelly describe have critical implications for schools who (for the time being) have an opportunity to influence the choices made by our children. As Mimi Ito points out in her “Digital Youth Research“, our youth are learning to use the web in informal ways, outside the walls of school. It is time that we adults move out of our comfort zone and face the emerging forms of communication. It is time to get informed and organize our learning with them. We have an opportunity to emphasize technological literacy over technological consumption. This isn’t about control but education and it starts with an informed pedagogy. It is reflected in the “stuff” (tools) that we choose for/with students.

Re-thinking technology adoption is not an event but a mindset. As such, I would like to find new and continuous ways to engage students, administrators, teachers and parents on this subject. A Net Smart curriculum could form as a touch stone for this conversation. It could inform both informal adoption (personal expenditures) and formal adoptions (with public money). As I convene with school principals this spring I hope to bring this spirit to the table. I realize that the industrial model of learning (fact and memory driven) is the elephant in the room. Such a model lends itself to a strict adoption of technology that looks like a textbook or a workbook. I would like to broaden our concept of learning to include constructivist models, as described by Ito, Kelly, Rheingold, Jenkins, Hargadon, Warlick and many others. I hope the conversations we have will generate avenues for learning that are generative, relevant and rich for our students.



The Process of Presentation – with Keynote ’09

Most of you have probably heard the phrase “death by powerpoint”. In addition to the problem of rigid and poorly produced content, the concern is that we reduce complex ideas down to simple presentations, simplifying decision-making, and thereby choosing simply bad solutions. I agree – presentation tools can be poorly and inappropriately used, and yet I am trying to hone my skill in the art of presentation. Where does one start? We start by creating. Yes, we make mistakes. That is a art of the practice. Creating crappy content IS part of the process. For the sake of our audience, hopefully we create some jewels as well.

Over the past few week I created a 40 minute presentation that summarizes some of the key issues for technology in my school district. The tool I chose was Keynote ’09. It took me quite some time (understatement) to create the presentation. I would like to take time in this post (and others) to summarize some of my lessons and think about how to improve my skill. I would like to improve my skill and make the creative process more fluid. I would like to create some stunning works of art that convey important ideas. First I need to take stock of the process.

Here’s the presentation:

Creating a presentation is a dual operation. On one hand you are thinking through a problem or situation and trying to convey it to an audience. On the other, you are using a tool that requires skill and adaptation of that skill. You are merging your facility with the tool with your facility to make meaning in your head and with the tool.

As much as I understand this parallel creative development (ideas with tool / tool with ideas), I was confounded in my process at times. Similar to a sculptor, I was shaping my idea while I was applying and sharpening my tools.  Sometimes I lost my way and couldn’t see the meaning from the tool. Sometimes I couldn’t get the tool to perform the way I had in mind. I moved from paper to computer, from mind mapping software to outlines, to drawings, to more writing, to trying PowerPoint and back to Keynote.

The Idea(s)

Luckily I knew my content well. I can’t say that I had a clear outline in the beginning. I had worked one out in my head and thought I had a good sense of how things fit together. But as much as I THOUGHT I knew how it all fit together – I didn’t. This is an important point. One that I hope I will take to future creative projects. The creative process is about making connections, understanding the relation of ideas. If we could do it without the process, we wouldn’t need to communicate at all. All would be understood.

But ss much as we understand and cope with the content of our daily activities, we don’t understand the connections between one activity and another – THAT’S THE POINT! We need to apply our awareness, bring bits and pieces together, in order to create meaning. The desired culmination is a concise presentation that brings many ideas together under a premise.

I have a fantasy about how other people work. I picture a writer, pencil or computer in hand writing a book from beginning to end. I picture a movie editor, splicing film, frame by frame, into a Hollywood film. In my fantasy, I see a the process as a linear, block by block, process. Idea + idea + idea + Tool = masterpiece. While I don’t truly believe this is so, it is easy to underestimate the details, the sweat and tears of the process. The product itself belies the process. When done well, the product we see is an integrated and sequenced message, created to sway us to the message. The more effectively shaped it is, the more we are “fooled”.

We all know people who are full of good ideas and never produce a thing. We know people who are always “in production”; shaping, reshaping, and reshaping an idea and never publish a final product. The “Goldilocks” creator is the one who has great ideas, knows her tool, and who’s effort is highly product-ive. This person is good enough to create meaning, wise enough to let good enough alone,

Through the process of creating my presentation I struggled with these things. It was difficult to keep going  as I questioned the meaning of the project, my competence, how the presentation would reflect on me, and my ability to meet the deadline. My guiding light was in knowing that I was learning – gaining insight into the subject (technology and it’s significance for K12 Education) and into the creative process and tools (Keynote in particular). Without some immediate and tangible satisfaction, I’m not sure that I could have continued.

The Tool(s)

While the idea, the meaning, is the most essential part of the process, the tool can make or break our success in delivering the message. As the title of my website indicates, tools are a fascination of mine. Tools of mind (the creative and contemplative process) and tools of hand (implements to express thoughts and feeling).

Keynote was my tool of choice in this project. While I have tinkered with it before, I had never produced a “feature length” film 🙂 I am not especially proud of this production but I think it was good enough for the intended purpose. One has to start somewhere right? Through the process I learned to appreciate the power and the limitations of Keynote for illustrating ideas. In the entries that follow, I’m going to document some of the tricks that I learned. Some are YouTube videos that helped me. Some will be videos of my own. My hope is that my documentation will further my creative potential with future projects.