WordPress Updates

The next round of updates for the WordPress server will include improvements to WordPress itself, as well as, updates to a number of themes and plugins. The server will be down for a short time this afternoon (Thursday, March 21st) beginning at 4:30 pm.

The WordPress maintenance and security release includes fixes for how some HTML and javascript elements are handled. A few security-related fixes will be addressed as well. For specific details on what version 3.5.1 has to offer, visit the WordPress Codex page.

Most users will not likely notice a difference in the behavior of their site. If you use one of the updated themes or plugins, however, it’s always a good idea to check your site for changes in theme formatting or in plugin settings.

Updated Themes
Portfolio Press
Simple Catch

Updated Plugins
Facebook Like Box
Polldaddy Polls & Ratings
Slickr Flickr
WP to Twitter
WPtouch Pro

New Plugin
Link Manager—The Link Manager plugin restores the popular link widget that was available in prior versions of WordPress.


On the Web

This summer I spent time refreshing InTech’s web pages, updating some things and adding others.

Among the new things added is a group of copyright resources that includes sites where you can find royalty-free images, video clips and sounds. Content on these sites is either free or offered at a reasonable cost. Take a look around and pass on the links to your students. Feedback is very welcome as well. If you have a favorite site for finding royalty-free content, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

You’ll also find some sample release forms to use if you or your students are creating content that will be available for public viewing. Find out more about when to use a release form on the Images & Video page. Scroll about halfway down the page to find the sample forms.

Visit the support pages to view the current Swatt (Student Web and Technology Team) tutor schedule, along with information about the Maggie Lab and about InTech’s loaner equipment.

Check back often. The site is still very much a work in progress and we’ll be adding more to it as the semester progresses.

The Conceptual Classroom

As we’re all still pondering ways to adapt, embrace, make peace with or otherwise incorporate technology into courses,  much is being written about the tech-savvy younger generation coming up. Notice I didn’t say “technology into the classroom.” Teaching and learning spills beyond the classroom walls even for the most casual user of Blackboard, and courses have carried the expectation of work done outside the classroom since before the advent of the LMS.

A recent article “A Is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Education Revolution” by Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company magazine cites several examples of this youngest generation using iPhones and other mobile devices with a degree of comfort and familiarity that seem almost uncanny.  As the article points out, however, they’re naturals or, digital natives, a term used by Marc Prensky in his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (2001). These children (overly staged photos aside) have never known a world without cell phones and iPods and laptops. Even if their parents or the children themselves don’t own one (who doesn’t have at least a cell phone these days?), then there are other people around them that do. This is the case in developing countries as well, albeit to a far lesser extent.

Mobile phones have transformed communications, especially in the developing world, more swiftly than anyone could have imagined. The prospect of doing the same for education—putting best-of-breed learning software in kids’ hands anytime, anywhere—is tantalizing.

The article strongly emphasizes the educational value of mobile devices and spends a lot of paragraphs talking about the success of the TeacherMate, created by a former lawyer from Illinois named Seth Weinberger. The TeacherMate was primarily used in a relatively small group of Chicago schools but, thanks to the backing of a few big names including the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, they were distributed across 14 states by Fall 2009. Despite the success of the device (or maybe because of it), Weinberger can see a day when its software is ported to other things like iPods and Android devices.

With all the discussion about TeacherMate and other programs (Ex.: Pocket School and OLE Nepal) it’s easy to lose focus of the underlying theme of the article. That theme states unequivocally that a lot of learning happens outside of classroom walls and that children are very good at teaching themselves. Technology, particularly technology with internet access, ups the ante. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments proved this more than once. In his TED talk about the experiments Mitra noted, “Children in groups can self-instruct themselves to use computers and the internet.” The act of planting a lone, unattended computer kiosk in poor and isolated areas surprised even those participating in the experiments by demonstrating that collaborative and student-directed learning could (and did, repeatedly) evolve on their own.

[ted id=175]

So, what does it all mean for the future of higher ed? What does it mean for McDaniel College and other small campuses like it? I look out my window as I type this to see a young woman sitting in the grass with a laptop. It’s not unusual to walk into the Maggie lab and see half the students with earbuds dangling past their chins. The other half are texting on their phones even as they type and click on the iMacs in front of them. This is now. What will it be like when the digital natives like the ones referenced in Ms. Kamenetz’s article get here? What kind of learning environment will they be expecting? Even as we move ahead with expanding wireless coverage, revamping lab spaces and classroom tech, I realize those are only a piece of the whole. It’s not so much the physical environment, but the cultural mindset that goes with living the technology, as well as, the flexibility of the instructor/student relationship that matter. Will Richardson, contributing author to the book 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn puts it this way:

In this global community, we are at once all teachers and learners—changing roles as required, contributing, collaborating, and maybe even working together to re-create the world, regardless of where we are at any given moment.

Fascinating stuff. I look forward to seeing how we here at McDaniel evolve to meet the challenges ahead. 21st century learners? We welcome you.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats