sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

how Jim Gee and I soothe our guilty consciences

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 8, 2010

In the video below of a presentation to the Education Writers Association 2010 Annual Conference, Jim Gee says this about how to introduce innovative ideas into education:

There’s a choice of strategies here…. One strategy is: Let’s take our innovations to the center of the school system and spread them as fast and quickly as we can. People believe that this current school system as it is will just co-opt those innovations and make them … just better ways to do the old thing. Another strategy is: Let’s make these innovative learning and assessment tools and put them at the margins, in places that will tolerate innovation, and then show it works. Now if you think about it, in technology outside of schools, going to the margins first and then to the center–that’s always been the way innovation happens. The only place we’ve ever tried to keep putting the new thing right in the center at once is in schooling, and it’s never worked. What i would love to see is that we hive of some of the (Race to the Top) money for a national center that would trial these new assessments, show they work in places that tolerate innovation, and then spread them there, just the way you would want if we have to keep coal and oil–let’s at least have something trying out new forms of energy, so that we’re ready for these markets but also we can prove they work. if we don’t do that, we’re just gonna get a better mousetrap.

I absolutely agree with the sentiments in the quote above, except for the BP oil spill. Let’s say there’s some innovative energy research going on in the margins, ready to prove it works and to take over where coal and oil left off. That’s fantastic, and it doesn’t do a single goddamned thing to help the birds, the fish, the sea mammals, the tourist industry, the ecosystem, the fisheries, and the human residents of the Gulf Coast. Those are simply casualties, not a single thing we can do to help them now no matter what awesome innovative fuel source we finally embrace, no matter how much more quickly we may embrace a cleaner fuel source as a result. Even if tomorrow’s birds are safe from Big Oil, today’s birds are drowning right in front of us.

Working at the margins of education is a fantastic way to innovate and offer useful evidence that innovations work. I fully support this approach–but not at the expense of the kids who exist at the center of our education system today. Yes, the school system can and does and maybe always will co-opt any innovation we try to introduce. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying anyway. That doesn’t give us license to give up on today’s children, even if it keeps tomorrow’s children safe.

And of course this isn’t what Jim Gee wants to do, anyway. But the Jim Gees of the world who urge us to work at the margin live in symbiosis with the Jenna McWilliamses of the world who believe we must also work from the center, where–ironically–the most marginalized kids in education commonly reside. I can’t innovate as much as I’d like from the center, maybe I can’t help tomorrow’s marginalized kids as much as I’d like either.  And Jim Gee can’t help today’s marginalized kids as much as he’d probably like from the edges. So we need each other, if for nothing else than to assuage our guilty consciences for being unable to do more of what we know must be done.

I should probably also note that Jim Gee is one of my absolute all-time heroes, so I hope he’s not mad at me for this post.

This video also stars Daniel Schwartz, who I believe is one of the smartest guys thinking about assessment and learning these days. I had the great luck to attend an assessment working group with him and a big crew of assessment-focused researchers, and I was amazed and blown away by just about everything he said.

In a recent publication, Choice-Based Assessments in a Digital Age (.pdf), Schwartz and his co-author Dylan Arena make this argument:

Educational assessment is a normative endeavor: The ideal assessment both reflects and reinforces educational goals that society deems valuable. A fundamental goal of education is to prepare students to act independently in the world—which is to say, to make good choices. It follows that an ideal assessment would measure how well we are preparing students to do so.

I can’t remember when I’ve agreed more emphatically with the introductory sentence of a scholarly article about education.

Here’s the video, which is well worth a watch.

Posted in academia, assessment, education, Jim Gee, journalism, learning sciences, public schools, schools, teaching, technologies, video games | Leave a Comment »

a call for businesses to boycott the Bloomington Herald-Times

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 28, 2010

Tonight will mark the last commencement ceremony for Aurora Alternative High School, whose doors will shut at the end of this school year after 15 years of serving the Bloomington, IN, community.

The Bloomington Herald-Times ran a nice short article about Aurora this morning, which I’m posting in a separate post. I’m posting it here instead of directing you to the article because the Herald-Times has stuck its online content behind a paywall, a decision I oppose deeply. The paywall seems even more wrongheaded and socially irresponsible during times of community crisis, as in, for example, when an economic recession paired with terribly short-sighted and heinously pro-rich tax laws force local school boards to make excruciating decisions about which programs to cut.

The publisher of the Herald-Times, Mayer Maloney, has stood firmly behind the paywall decision from its inception, arguing that it guarantees advertisers’ access to local readers who, because they live in the community, are far more likely to purchase the goods and services being advertised.

Let’s analyze this stance. First, the paywall is not an effort to recruit local readers; it’s an effort to keep non-local readers out. Which means that what happens in Bloomington stays in Bloomington, since the vast majority of readers live or work in the region.

Second, the economic value of a local newspaper is directly related to its community value, and community value is directly related to the newspaper’s penetration into the community it serves. As I’ve mentioned before, the Herald-Times is pretty much the only game in town, which perhaps explains why Maloney feels justified in prioritizing the paper’s value to advertisers over its value to community members. But eventually, I believe this approach will fail the Herald-Times. It’s inevitable that one of the following will happen: Another news outlet will provide good (or good enough) local reporting that will be made freely available to all community members; or, in the absence of another quality news source, a community whose primary news source is sequestered behind a paywall will be a community to whom local news matters less and less. Maloney has said that subscription rates have been steady since the inception of the paywall, and this may be so; but it won’t be so forever.

And even if business remains good at the Herald-Times, this doesn’t justify the social irresponsibility of making news available only to those who are willing to pay. Especially during times of crisis–and let’s not mistake this time for anything less than crisis–access to local news is essential for an engaged, politically active community.

If the Herald-Times refuses to stand down from its short-sighted position on news paywalls, then I call for local businesses to boycott the paper for the good of the community these businesses serve. If the Herald-Times will not heed the needs of its community members, then perhaps it will listen to the groups whose interests do seem to matter.

Posted in journalism, politics, public schools, recession | 11 Comments »

my mom gets on CNN

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 12, 2010

I recently published a post about my mom, Janet McWilliams, who has been fighting an excessively high water bill and has had a great deal of trouble getting local officials to respond to her attempts to communicate about the bill. After months of trying to communicate with township officials about her bill, she got tired of getting stonewalled and turned to local news media.

A letter to the editor of the local newspaper led to an article in the same newspaper, which led to a television interview with local news affiliate WDIV, which led to distribution across multiple national networks, including MSNBC and CNN. The video below ran on local stations, and clips from this video have been running on CNN’s Headline News for the last two days.

Despite the media attention, my mom hasn’t heard a thing from her local officials, who were also apparently contacted by the various media outlets and were not available for comment. I’ve also contacted several local and state officials about the issue and haven’t heard back. I’ll let you know if anyone does manage to get a response from those folks, but don’t hold your breath.

For now, enjoy my mom’s moment in the sun!

Posted in awesome, journalism, television | Leave a Comment »

on the decline of print media

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 10, 2009

The career counselors thought physician’s assistant or forester but I was born to this job like sturgeon.
My mechanic says cars are like people:
the oil’s always trying to find a way out—he beats off
twice a day in the utility sink.
The berry pickers heading home at dusk agree but it’s not oil, they say,
picking red clots from their feet,
it’s something else. It’s easy enough for them,
moving slowly in discolored robes, but I could never wait
so long for anything. At this speed shapes are baffled and missiles hover warily.

My composition coach treads in fear of modifiers but that’s
how they do it, I swear, warily. The architects guffaw.
That’s all we do is modify, they grin, turning back to their tables. Each night
they make love to someone who likes them less and less.
The journalists, my friends, have stopped taking notes. They are drawing their lions again; it’s impossible now
to get them to stop. We meet for drinks on Thursday nights
and an aproned man slaps an egg beater into his palm at the door. My friend,
says the editor, the earth doesn’t speak to us. We speak to each other and pretend it was the earth.
Then there isn’t much time, the berry pickers cry, squirting juice across the page.

Posted in creativity, journalism, poetry | Leave a Comment »

the ‘news wants to be free’ schadenfreude: rupert murdoch edition

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 5, 2009

Pity poor Rupert Murdoch, who recently ate a small bite of crow when he admitted that his plans to toss up a paywall for accessing News Corp’s online content by June 2010 may have to be…postponed.

Murdoch apparently didn’t offer any explanation for the delay, but this article suggests it’s because it’s becoming clear that not all news outlets will get on board. The Guardian, one of News Corp’s biggest competitors, has committed itself to keeping things free, and the article also offers this:

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis has previously said that the only effect of Murdoch’s papers charging online would be to clear the path for competitors. Some specialist papers can charge, he wrote in the Guardian, but “for most, pinning hopes for the survival of news on charging for it is not only futile but possibly suicidal.”

I have previously made this argument:

It would be passing strange to assert that “news wants to be free.” It’s less strange to assert that people want their news to be free. Less strange still to assert that democracy wants news to be free, despite the capitalist tendency to charge. Even less strange to assert that in a free, democratic society dedicated to democratic ideals, more news, made more freely available to a broader public, is better than the alternative.

Additionally, it turns out that I have deep faith for the journalists, editors, and media chiefs who commit themselves to a dying profession out of a deep commitment to democracy, free speech, and interest in arming citizens with information they need to resist, decide, embrace and challenge cultural movements, laws, and norms. I just don’t happen to trust folks like Rupert Murdoch, who by all appearances does what he does because it got him filthy rich and kept him there.

Posted in journalism | 1 Comment »