New literacies and frogs

I visited the University of Connecticut in Storrs yesterday. It was a brief stop, but enough to be once again impressed with the excellent work of the New Literacies Research Team, led by Don Leu. They use new media, not simply to enhance or modernize in a superficial way, but to return classroom literacy to its roots in real communication. Nearly every project I heard about emphaizes reading and writing with a purpose and communication with real audiences.

For example, one project links a fourth-grade class studying the continents with a first-grade class in another state doing the same. The fourth-graders made online slide presentations to help teach the younger students, but quickly learned that their language was too advanced. They then recorded audio explanations to help explain things better.

On the way to UConn, I passed through nearby Willimantic, which is famous for its legend,“The Battle of Frog Pond”. This great battle occurred in 1754 around the time of the French and Indian War. It started with a huge racket in the middle of the night. The terrified villagers seized their muskets and prepared for the attack. In some accounts, they fired wildly across the town common. But no attack materialized. Instead, when morning arrived, they found hundreds of dead bullfrogs. A nearby pond had dried up causing the bullfrogs to fight for the remaining water.

Later, American Thread Company established a mill in the town, which grew to be one of the largest producers of thread in the world. Willimantic became known as “Thread City,” and today boasts four statues on its bridge across the Willimantic River, each with a huge thimble and a giant, now silent, bullfrog.

Your very own barcode

Tech-Ex talks about the Google doodle becoming a barcode, and then, how to make your own. That article also includes a little history of the barcode:

The first item scanned was a pack of chewing gum scanned at an Ohio supermarket in 1974. On June 26, 1974, Clyde Dawson pulled a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum out of his basket and it was scanned by Sharon Buchanan at 8:01 AM. The pack of gum and the receipt are now on display in the Smithsonian Institution.

Click here to create your own, and you too could be scanned!: the barcode printer: free barcode generator by Barcodes Inc


hear you are — [murmur]

murmur[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations. We collect and make accessible people’s personal histories and anecdotes about the places in their neighborhoods that are important to them. In each of these locations we install a [murmur] sign with a telephone number on it that anyone can call with a mobile phone to listen to that story while standing in that exact spot, and engaging in the physical experience of being right where the story takes place. Some stories suggest that the listener walk around, following a certain path through a place, while others allow a person to wander with both their feet and their gaze…

All our stories are available on the [murmur] website, but their details truly come alive as the listener walks through, around, and into the narrative. By engaging with [murmur], people develop a new intimacy with places, and “history” acquires a multitude of new voices. The physical experience of hearing a story in its actual setting – of hearing the walls talk – brings uncommon knowledge to common space, and brings people closer to the real histories that make up their world.

Being cellphone-impaired, and far from Toronto, I’m reduced to listening to the stories on the website, but they still convey a sense of the city and its history. The site’s a well-designed example of integrating oral history, geographic information systems, and mobile phones.

Inquiry Page and Community Inquiry Labs

inquiry_pageIn a previous post, I described the latest version of Community Inquiry Labs (CILabs). I’d like to add to that, based on some questions.

A precursor of CILabs, is the Inquiry Page. This site is still very active, open, and free. It offers an easy way to learn about inquiry-based teaching and learning, to search a large database of Inquiry Units, and to create your own, either de novo or a spin-offs of existing units. There are other features, including help with evaluation and quotes about learning.

CILabs just offers another way to do Inquiry Units, but in the context of the group support functions (blog, document center, group email, web pages, etc.). The two sites were developed at very different times, using different software (Perl vs. Drupal). A current effort is to make the connections between them more evident and to enable them to work synergistically.

The birth of computer networking

I had arrived at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) in the summer of 1971, knowing of the important work there in artificial intelligence, computer simulations in psychology, and natural language understanding. But I understood only vaguely the explosive potential of the work on computer networking.

Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing was a movie made to accompany the public demo of the ARPANET at the 1st International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington DC in October, 1972, about a year after my arrival. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t finished in time for the demo, but it was released before the end of that year. I didn’t have anything to do directly with the movie or the work described, but knew many of the people and projects that are featured.

The movie represents both a thoughtful account and a primary source itself for the general history of computing and communication. It also tells us about successful collaboration–how participants at the time themselves described it. I think it also gives a good account of the motivations behind the ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet, and a good basic description of how it works.

Visualize your inquiry unit

radar_plotThe Youth Community Informatics project now offers a free tool to create a radar plot for visualizing the strengths of an inquiry unit. The basic version is built on the Inquiry Cycle.

There are a variety of possible uses:

  • to show how different inquiry units emphasize different aspects of the Cycle. For example, an otherwise good unit might offer little in the way of Discuss (or collaboration). That might be fine if other units do emphasize collaboration, or it might indicate that some modification is needed to include that.
  • to compare across sites or projects.
  • to portray the development of a single site over time.
  • to support development of inquiry units.

The scoring of units could be done by researchers, teachers or youth leaders, community leaders, or community members.

None of these uses are a substitute for detailed analysis, but they can help start an investigation of the units.

The basic version of the tool, shown here, simply provides a single radar plot, with a logarithmic scale of arbitrary magnitude. Other versions might support overlays, color-coding, additional axes, or other features.

Mapping cemeteries

Several of our Youth Community Informatics sites are mapping cemeteries. What sounds like small project, or even a gloomy one, soon opens up into far-reaching explorations of history, geography, health, families, technology, mathematics, literacy, and more.

At Iroquois West Middle School, youth started with a story about a primary school’s project to study cemeteries: Learning from graveyards. The “Map Masters” soon expanded this by incorporating technologies of GPS and GIS into their mapping project of the Onarga Cemetery. They have already made many discoveries and are continuing to do more. They’ll also connect with cemetery mapping projects in Cass County and East St. Louis.

One interesting tombstone that we found at the Onarga Cemetery was in the shape of a tree trunk. The name of the person buried there was Emory Gish. According to our reseach on symbolism the tree trunk showed a life cut short. The number of broken branches might symbolize the number of deceased family members buried nearby.

Journey sticks for learning geography

This video about journey sticks for learning geography presents a project for Key Stage 2 pupils (ages 7-11) in England. It’s a different age level, orientation, population, and technology from our Youth Community Informatics project. Even so, it has some interesting ideas and you’ll enjoy watching it. It shows how simple tools can help young people open up to the world around them.

The origins of mobile phone and email

atsignMartin Cooper and Raymond S. Tomlinson have just been granted the 2009 Prince of Asturias Award.

Cooper invented “the first handheld mobile telephone and supervised the ten years that were necessary to commercialize the product. He … formulated the Law on Spectrum Efficiency, also known as Cooper’s Law, which states that the maximum amount of information that is transmitted over a given amount of radio spectrum doubles every 30 months.”

tomlinsonTomlinson worked at Bolt Beranek and Newman (now BBN Technologies). He helped develop the TENEX operating system, which had several innovative features, including a full virtual memory system, a user-oriented command line interpreter, and a command escape recognition system. In 1971 he developed the ARPANet’s first application for email by combining the SNDMSG and CPYNET programs so messages could be sent to users on other computers. He selected the @ sign to identify the user’s computer. Before long, that sign became the icon of the digital era.

Ray and I were colleagues at BBN, and teammates on the Great Swamp Volleyball Team, but I was just an ordinary user of that ground-breaking operating system and that early form of email.


Kapitzke, Cushla, & Bruce, Bertram C. (2005). The arobase in the libr@ary: New political economies of children’s literature and literacy. Computers and Composition: Special Issue on the Influence of Gunther Kress’ Work, 22(1), 69-78. [doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2004.12.014]one of

Creating opportunity through new media

clay_animationOne of the most impressive set of projects I saw while in Dublin, Ireland last year was the Community Links Programme out of Dublin Institute of Technology. It was established in 1996 by DIT lecturer Dr. Tommy Cooke to help individuals and communities reach their full educational potential. Programs include psychotherapy, music, and courses for mature students.

One important component is the DISC Programme, which operates in 38 inner-city disadvantaged primary and secondary schools. DISC installs computer resources in schools and community centers, and trains teachers to integrate the use of computers into the teaching/learning process in all curricular areas. Projects include the use of comic creation, clay animation, video production, class blogs, podcasting, video game making, 3d design, and robotic Lego.

Staff such as
Ian Roller and Riona Fitzgerald bring knowledge of pedagogy together with skills in video and computers to help teachers and youth leaders do amazing projects. More importantly, they do it in a way that empowers teachers as creative agents in the education process.

You can see DISC publications, including their very useful monthly newsletter online. Here’s the April edition.