Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Future (non)Classroom: An Educational Philosophy of Technology

Dear Educational Administrator X,

The following is my hypothetical response to your hypothetical interview questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me about any of my responses. Technology is a subject I meditate on frequently and I would love to share a conversation about it with you. -SJF.

How do you believe technology* can be used most effectively to support and assess learning?

    I suppose i'll tackle 'support' first. Technology can be used to support learning in many ways, but the most notable (and I think most effective) way is simply through the sheer volumes of data that the internet and computers have made readily available. This makes it a relatively simple task for any teacher or student to begin to explore alternative perspectives, new communities and cultures, and focus on interdisciplinary aspects of traditional subjects in a way that was simply not possible before the advent of the internet. In this way, technology can transform the old static classroom into a bustling information hub where students (with support and guidance) can begin their own journey through humanity's collective knowledge.

    Assessment is especially important in today's current educational systems. Teachers, schools, and students are all measured up to standards, a process that has serious economic implications for all of the aforementioned. Computers were originally developed for the purpose of basic computing: simple math and organization of large data sets. As technology has evolved, it has gotten very good at keeping track of extremely varied data sets. Tracking a student's performance used to be done entirely by hand, usually in a grade book, but now teachers have the ability to digitize their classroom records. With the proper tools, it's not difficult to apply statistical analysis to classroom data including grade levels, individual student performance, lesson efficacy, and subject interest. While the benefits of these tools is clear for teachers, they can also give students greater control over their education which subsequently improves motivation.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of various technologies for particular types of learning?

    I've already gone over some of the advantages technology offers when compared to your traditional classroom, so now i'll focus on the disadvantages technology may have when compared to other classroom tools.

1. Technology breaks down: If a teacher saves all of his or her classroom data on a laptop, and that laptop ceases to function, then that teacher may have quite a bit of difficulty recovering that data or completing necessary tasks like assessment. Traditional white boards rarely break down and pen and paper also perform very consistently.

2. Technology is not always available: Many students all over the world have difficulties acquiring food and shelter for basic survival, let alone personal computers. While a lot of technology used in classrooms today is still much more expensive than traditional materials such as textbooks and paper, this is rapidly changing. Soon, paper books will be obsolete and personal computing devices will be just as readily available. But for now, this remains a disadvantage for using certain types of technology in the classroom.

3. Attention Span: Many folks currently believe that the internet is responsible for shortening our attention spans and fundamentally altering the way out brains work. Usually people making these arguments also believe that this change is a negative one and that it prevents us from making deep thoughts and retaining important information. There is, however, quite a bit of controversy on the issue. While research certainly shows differences in brain activity between reading a book and viewing a website, it's not clear that the difference is bad, just different. Dr. Gary Small is a commonly cited source for this. An article outlining his arguments can be found here. Even though Dr. Small's studies a slightly outdated, there still seems to be no firm consensus as to whether or not the biological changes humans experience from our increasing use of technology is affecting us in a positive or negative way.

Here is a video interview with more information on how technology may be affecting our brains:

What are some specifics for how you will use technology in your own classroom, including technologies to support diverse learners?

    I plan to use technology in my classroom as much as possible. It will allow me to share information with students in a multitude of ways and give students the opportunity to explore their interests in much greater depth than would otherwise be possible. Instead of listening to a lecture, students might watch a video where I or another expert explains a concept and gives examples. Instead giving an oral presentation to the class, a student might participate in an online forum or chat room, sharing ideas with other classrooms across the world. Every learner is diverse, and technology has a way to empower all of them. Whether it's a change in the method of instruction, or an accommodation for a disability, technology makes it possible to reach and engage any kind of student.

    With so much raw data available to students online, it's imperative that they master the tools they need to navigate the digital world. Once that toolset is learned, there is nothing that can hold students back from achieving their wildest dreams. To this end, research techniques, copyright, plagiarism, and content analysis are essential topics I plan to cover in my classes. Most of us have heard the saying: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." I plan to teach my students how to fish. My students, using the powerful tools technology has afforded us, will leave my class being able to teach themselves anything they ever need to know.

Is there anything else you consider important?

    There are many other things I consider important, such as love, environmental sustainability, human rights, etc. In regards to the topic of technology, as I assume this prompt infers, there is one other thing I would like to mention. While Moore's Law has seen the rapid exponential growth of technology over the last half-century, education systems are changing very slowly by comparison. There is a lack of motivation for many teachers, administrative staff, school districts, states, and governments to radically overhaul long-outdated education systems. It's an obvious fact that technology will define the future of our society, and I think it's high time we begin to focus on giving students the skills to use and analyze it. I'm not saying that schools should start ignoring standards or throw classical knowledge out the window, rather I propose that these should not be the focus that defines education. Instead, we should focus on preparing students for a future where they will be less dependent on institutionalized education and more dependent on their own ability to navigate a digital world.

*Please note that the term 'technology' is not used properly in the prompts or in my responses to them. 'Technology' in this post (and probably throughout most of my writings...) refers mainly to newer digital technologies such as personal computers, digital networks, and modern software. Just felt the need to clarify. :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

WWU's EARTC and WordWeb 6 Reviews

   For this blog post I was tasked with visiting the EARTC [education and acronyms always seem to go hand in hand even though acronyms are often inaccessible to wide audiences, often making them detriments to communication and a hindrance in the classroom]. The EARTC is this educational technology center that seems to be intended for students of education rather than actual students. Much of the material in the center is very outdated and the room itself is tiny and cramped with just 5-10 people inside. My assignment was essentially to review “Writing Focus”, a piece of software by Granada Learning. When I got to the center, however, it was full of people; a lesson on the use of SMART boards was being taught to other college students who were taking up about half of the space. There additional students using some of the center’s computers [these were obviously hand-me-downs from other departments or deceased computer labs] and others perusing the shelves of odd learning/teaching tools sorted by subject and age.

   When I finally got a chance to ask the single available staff person for help, he looked up the name of the software on a list, logged into a computer for me, and gave me a cd to install. After the initial install and the subsequent repair failed, I denied the staff person’s offer to switch to a computer with an older operating system and gave up on “Writing Focus.” Honestly, I don’t know who is in charge of the software that gets included in the EARTC’s library, but he or she is either daft or busy with other tasks. “Writing Focus” was created and sold in 2001 which means it probably runs on Windows 95 and/or Windows XP. These operating systems are all but obsolete, and preserving educational software that is 11 years old is pointless. “Writing Focus,” like many of the EARTC’s so-called ‘resources’ are just as horribly outdated as much of the education department’s curriculum. Considering the fact that Western Washington University was originally founded as a normal school, I’m surprised at the lack of resources allocated for educational technology in a time where technology is completely redefining all aspects of education. Western’s education department, however, is already recognized as being fairly prestigious in Washington, and so WWU will make more money by building more classrooms and dorms [as they have been doing the last couple years] to increase attendance numbers rather than improving the quality of existing programs and departments.

   All one has to do is type “educational software” as a search query and Google will grant you immediate access to more tools, resources, and information in 0.21 seconds than the EARTC has ever seen [134,000,000 results]. The 8th result of my Google search brought me to, a trusted download site that has been around for quite a few years now. The site is especially good for providing fast and safe servers for free software and demos. The 2nd most popular educational software on cnet’s site is a small application called “WordWeb.” “WordWeb” is extremely handy, great for classroom and personal use, and it’s free. Here’s a quick review:

WordWeb [ver. 6] – Reviewed 7/9/12 

   WordWeb is a reference tool can assist students with reading comprehension and vocabulary. Most vocabulary-focused reference tools provide definitions, synonyms, and other information about a word or term from a single source. Other tools incorporate multiple sources but usually contain overlapping definitions or irrelevant information. WordWeb at first appears like a normal reference tool, until you realize that it queries WordWeb’s database, Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and an additional online database all at once. If you purchase the pro version, you can even customize these queries and add additional databases. This is how a modern student would look up and learn the definition of a word anyhow; by checking multiple online sources in additional to a dictionary and likely including an encyclopedia/wiki query as well. WordWeb just simplifies the process. WordWeb can be set up to run in the background and respond to a hotkey. The default hotkey is control + right click. I can use this hotkey on any word I see on the screen as long as it isn’t part of an image file. That means I can use WordWeb for word documents, pdfs, websites, etc.

   Because it looks up standard definitions that are saved to your hard drive before querying websites, it’s blindingly fast. I haven’t ever used a reference tools that is this quick. Even the online resources are very speedy; taking you straight to the entry you are looking for, rather than requiring you to re-type the word in a search bar.

   Students and teachers alike will find that this software makes difficult texts more accessible simply due to the speed at which one can find the relevant definition of a word, term, or idea. It also allows students to remain engaged in what they are doing. It’s a huge drag to have to pull out a dictionary or open up a web browser, navigate to a wiki page, and enter a query. And while the program may not directly allow for student expression, it does provide synonyms for not only words, but phrases as well. This can help students find that phrase or word they were looking for and allow them to better and more efficiently express themselves.

   Every student who has the physical ability to use a computer and read can use this program. It supports different languages and could be very useful for a foreign language exchange program. With the pro version, one could set up an online translator as one of the queried databases [or even multiple translators for greater accuracy!!].

   I don’t have any concerns or reservations about this program. It’s everything an educational tool should be: simple, fast, and effective. I will be using this program for my personal use from this day forward, and I will definitely install it on any computers I come across in my own future classrooms. It’s just a no-brainer.

CNET download is here

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

IT 444 Blogging

I've enrolled in IT 444 at Western Washington University for Summer quarter. While I'm not very thrilled about taking classes and working during summer, I am looking forward to spending more time thinking about the intimate relationship between technology and education. For those of you who don't know me well, I am 23 years old and have a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Western Washington University. I am currently enrolled in Woodring, WWU's college of education, where I hope to complete my teaching certificate soon. Technology is very important to me as it is responsible for my current livelihood and is also the main focus of my teaching philosophies, which will be responsible for my future livelihood. This blog contains educational, academic, and personal posts! I hope you enjoy your visit.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Summer Love Is So Easy

I made this playlist in anticipation of summer. Now that it is summer (this update is coming in early July) and the sun has finally come out in Bellingham, this playlist must undergo a test of its faculties... does it entertain, seduce, relax, excite? Can I blast it with the windows down heading towards a sunset on the interstate? 

So far, so good. Please enjoy this, it took me many hours to compile! 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

From an email to my Secondary Education class at Western Washington University:

"This message applies to all sections of SEC 411 and actually every human living on planet earth.

I have been asked to email this TED Talk to you all after referring to it in class. Before you watch the video, however, i'd like to share some of my thoughts on the topic that Paul Gilding covers so eloquently. See attached links at bottom for TED Talk, information on Capitalism and an article on sweatshops.

In a class I took several years ago at WWU, the professor showed us a video that was a cartoon explaining capitalism (i couldn't find a link, i looked!). The video explained capitalism in a way that has really stuck with me and helped inform my understanding of not only capitalism, but also consumerism. I will do my best to explain it here:

Currently, the way we Americans (and those of other developed nations) view capitalism is as a black box theory. You can Wikipedia this idea, but essentially it refers to a system that looks like this: input -----> black box -------> output. The input and output are completely visible, but the black box, the function, the process, is unseen. In capitalism, the input is money and demand. The output, then, is the product or service we pay for. The black box includes everything that goes into delivering that product into our hands (shipping, production, waste, labor, etc).

So now you're thinking, "So what?" I put in money to the capitalism machine and products and service I want come out! That's awesome! There's a HUGE problem with this model, however. It's best illustrated by example:

Think about the last time you walked into a grocery or convenience store and purchased something. Let's say you bought an alarm clock for $3.00. If you look at the little sticker on the back, you see that it was made in China. Now think for a moment about the journey this cheap alarm clock has made to get to your hands. First of all, it had to be designed, then manufactured most likely using machine and human labor, then shipped by truck, then shipped by plane or boat, then shipped by another plane and/or truck to get to the store where it had to be put on display. Did I mention the value of the materials and the electronic components?

Clearly, even shipped in bulk, this alarm clock is worth more than $3.00. How does it become so cheap? This where the black box comes into play. Because the value of the input is LESS THAN the value of the output, the black box function represents NEGATIVE VALUE. In order for the alarm clock to have arrived at the store, someone or something received a negative market value for part or labor or some other process (this is the OPPOSITE of FAIR TRADE).

Here's what happened to our alarm clock in the example:

An American company decided it wanted to make alarm clocks. After some market research, they decided to make an low-end alarm clock in order to maximize their profits. They decided to set up a warehouse in China because the laws regarding fair wages, minimum wage, vacation hours, etc. are much more lenient there. Even with the cost of shipping, the company saves so much money by using labor from its sweat shop that it can easy compete with any company building alarm clocks in America (with much higher labor costs).

Do you see how the Chinese sweat shop workers are receiving the negative market value for their labor?

When the functions of the black box become exposed, the media and consumers are outraged. Just look at what happened with Kathy Lee handbags and Walmart...

This is still happening TODAY. RIGHT NOW. With just about any product you purchase. One of the main plants where IPhones are produced has had to install 'saftey nets' to prevent workers from committing suicide.

I think you all have heard enough about sustainability and carbon footprints to know that THE ENVIRONMENT IS ACCEPTING THIS NEGATIVE VALUE as well. Think about all the trucks and planes and boats it took for our alarm clock to travel around the world... Why not buy an alarm clock made in the United States? Because it costs more...

I hope this has explained to you how Capitalism (as it's being used today) is seriously broken. It's predicated on infinite growth and the idea that a free market will regulate itself (which is clearly not the case - ask a sweat shop worker who makes less than $20 a month). Humanity as a whole (not just America) has plundered the Earth far past the point of irreparable harm. OIL IS RUNNING OUT. Really quickly. Global warming IS being dangerously accelerated by human activity and pollution. If you believe that science is real, you cannot refute this. Our piles of trash are growing out of control (that's a black box process too, we export a lot of our toxic trash to poor countries by paying off their governments while the people suffer.)

Paul Gilding argues that humanity needs a crisis in order to create the fear that will allow us to solve this problem. It's like waking up and realizing you have a project due the next day and somehow finishing it on time. Humanity works well under extreme pressure. So in the meantime, plan for a sustainable future and look for ways to accelerate a crisis. Buy a Hummer. :)

I hope this has stimulated your brain! If you disagree or wish to provide a dissenting viewpoint, I'd be happy to set this up as a forum post in the Discussion Board on BlackBoard or in Western Forums. Just email me and I will stick it up for you to reply to.

-Steven Funcke
Woodring Post-Bac Program Candidate @ WWU


Paul Gilding TED Talk

Inside a Chinese Sweatshop - BusinessWeek article about Kathy Lee handbags and sweat shops

Khan Academy Dude on Capitalism vs. Socialism (He is biased towards Capitalism)
When Capitalism Is Great And Not So Great

Crises of Capitalism (awesome graphics along with a talk about Capitalism)
RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism"

Monday, November 28, 2011


When I was a wee lad, my mother frequently satiated my appetite for reading with many award-winning children’s books and novels. The many whimsical short stories by Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, were among my favorites. The stories are so well known in America, that you can practically guarantee that every person has at least read one story or is familiar with some of Dr. Seuss’s characters. Because Dr. Seuss is such an historically popular author, and because his books are geared towards an arguably young, impressionable audience, I have decided to choose one to analyze through the lens of Education 310 at Western Washington University. I will include broad themes and specific examples that relate to the topics we’ve studied during the course.

In light of the educative focus on pedagogy, I’ve decided to style this project in a manner consistent with my personally preferred visual method of learning. I will begin my thoughts with an image from the book and then transmit those thoughts to you, the reader, via poetry and or prose.

A young, white male walks briskly through suburbia… clean cut grass yards in squares, and white roads. This is clearly not a ghetto, but a nicer part of town. The narrator tells you, this is YOU, not someone else; so a second person points: you are white, suburban, male.

This is essentially the second page of the novel, and provides our first glimpse of a setting. If we read this book as an allegory about becoming an adult and separating from your parents (which is how it’s surely meant to be read), then we can conclude that the intended audience would be young white middle/upper-class males. You’ll notice there are very clear paths leading away from the buildings, which might suggest that the target audience is expected to physically remove themselves from their childhood homes and set out as an individual. This is a very American idea; the American dream has always been about the success of the individual, as opposed to the family or other group oriented values different cultures hold in higher esteem. In this way, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, silences cultures with different attitudes by presenting only one scenario as accepted and true.

A place of darkened windows and unmarked streets… We find ourselves in Dr. Seuss’s ghetto. You’ll notice here that the architecture does not resemble the goofy suburbia depicted earlier, but instead draws on foreign architectural concepts so that the building and archways here more closely resemble Indian architecture as opposed to Western. In the middle of the pages is a large black building that resembles a ‘leaning’ Taj Mahal. This image reinforces a notion that different cultures should be dealt with cautiously, and at the same time seems to paint ghettos as a problem better ignored; the character runs through, avoiding this area completely.

You break your shell and unfurl wings, shake dry, squeal, cry, take two steps and fly. Soaring towards the sun you find gravity outweighing your prayers, your knowledge learned in squares. Plummeting to the sea, you’re Icarus, kid, you’re left behind, you’re dead.

As you might expect in any education class, standardized testing came up several times. We also specifically discussed the “No Child Left Behind Act.” The idea behind the act, and indeed all standardized testing, is to ensure that all students who graduate high school in America all have the same basic skills in various subjects. I have many issues with this model, but the most hypocritical aspect of these programs is how funding is taken away from schools that perform poorly on standardized tests. This is supposed to work at incentive for teachers and administration to teach effectively, but instead it punishes schools with struggling students. It’s so obvious that this doesn’t work, I have no idea how the act got passed. It seems more ridiculous than a Dr. Seuss book…

There a lot of people in this image, can you spot any diversity? A large number of readings from this course discussed the problems with curriculums in America that simply did not include any multicultural content to speak of. This image, by not including any people in a color other than white, makes it difficult for a reader who is not white to identify with the story, and worse, suggests that he or she may not fit into the society in which this book was written. As a future educator, it will be important to me to carefully analyze classroom material to make sure that it does not contain any hidden racism or other negative subtexts.

Note: At least it’s not like this scene in the book is portrayed as an ideal place, indeed it’s the opposite.

I find this illustration incredibly racist. The characters here closely resemble the middle-eastern caricatures of old Disney films. You’ll notice the beards, the mustaches, the turbans, and the pointed shoes with tassels. Again, foreign cultures are being displayed as stereotyped and set apart from the rest of society. You’ll also notice that the character in the middle of the image is playing marimba-like keys that are floating in the air. To me, this connotes the stereotypical mysticism middle-eastern cultures have traditionally been associated with. While the text does not provide a specifically negative context for these characters, that association seems implied by the image.

6.4% of all Black students dropped out of high school in 2008.
5.3% of all Hispanic students dropped out of high school in 2008.
2.3% of all White students dropped out of high school in 2008.
About 30% of students in America will not graduate high school.

I was given a copy of this book when I graduated from a private Catholic high school. Everyone in my class was given a copy with small notes from teachers penned in the front. The percentage of students in my class who graduated: 100%. Dr. Seuss’s concluding statistics may be the most famous passage from this book, but they can only be accurately applied to an elite 5% of students. I don’t think that Dr. Seuss is intentionally racist; in fact I’m sure that this book was created with only good intentions. However, when analyzed under a carefully critical lens, some of the underlying issues at play in America’s education system come to light. θ

Friday, August 26, 2011

Working Title: "A Challenge"

I hope to begin to update this more regularly. My goal for the school year is to read books, improve my physical fitness, and write a whole lot more. With several great video games releasing in coming months i'm not sure how successful my endeavors will be. Here's a poem i just busted out. I was inspired a bit by the Hip Hop artist K-OS (pronounced chaos). I've included a music video of a song i enjoy from his album Joyful Rebellion (2004) at the end of this post.

the world's full of bitter truths
missed opportunities, miseducated youth.
the mirrors on the wall see it all reduced
the fear is in us all we don't care for truth
we can't help but stare at a stupid fool
fall in love like narcissus in an unused pool

no splashing acrobatics just
automatic nonaction
a monu-mental contraction
brought on by all this distraction-
cordless ideaaas and wireless sentences
with knowing online who swings for the fences?

photograph this if poetry's dead:
living walking empty head
trying to love and fucking it up.

but you're full of beauty
in a world of dark ash
and my heart's full of a fire
hotter than greed and cash

you can give up hope babe
but never desire
so lift up your tired eyes a bit higher
lift up your tired eyes a bit higher