Saturday, May 19, 2007

iPods in school debate

We had an interesting discussion in a High School faculty meeting today. The debate was what to about "personal listening devices" at school. Some faculty were in favour of banning them altogether. The reasons being:

  • The historical reasons were:

    1. There is a very real possibility that students can damage their hearing.

      • Teenagers being the creatures they are need to see immediate consequences. Deafness /impaired hearing five ten years down the line is not on teenagers' timescale.

      • Volume and length of exposure are the key factors. Should we do what we can to reduce exposure?

    2. There is a concern that students were not socializing with each other. when they were jacked into their iPods they weren't connecting with each other. Not the environment we want to promote at school.

    3. There was a concern about the students listening to explicit lyrics that were inappropriate for school, and listening to such lyrics would not be conducive to engaging in constructive dialogue with their peers

  • Additional concerns

    1. The need for students to spend sometime unplugged, in that they ar eplugged in so much of the rest of their day. The converse of this argument is that allowing iPods in school helps make school like the rest of their world.

    2. The possibility of students using iPods to cheat on tests and exams as witnessed by this article
    3. Some students are not using the personal listening devices responsibly, ie. walking past people without exchanging basic civil greetings like "good morning"

On the flip side, certain faculty members were arguing:

  1. The current policy of no personal listening devices at school from 8:30 to 3:30 (school hours) except under the direct supervision of a teacher was basically unenforceable.

  2. There are perfectly valid reasons to listen to an iPod at school, especially when teachers assign podcasts to listen to such as in Easy French

  3. The students are social about their listening devices socially, often sharing a pair of buds between two people

  4. If not at school, where else can we teach students to use these devices responsibily

Good analogies abounded.

  • When one is reading, one is immersed in a world of one's own

  • Students may be reading objectionable material, but we don't censor that

All in all it was a very good discussion. In the end, the decision was to reframe the school rule so that students are allowed to use personal listening devices at school during their free time, and in classes only with permission of the teacher. I can clearly see the arguments on both sides of this debate. The only one that I have trouble with is the cheating argument. Why are we testing students on rote memorization? Why are we not looking at what value the students can add to the content with which they are working? The health argument especially caused me to rethink allowing students to use their iPods in my computer literacy class while they do their typing. I had always thought of it in terms of the music being an incentive for them to engage in what would otherwise be a dull repetitive task. I need to think some more about the effects it has on their hearing, or at the very least monitor more closely decibel levels.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What I've Been Working On

The last week has been very busy. Bad Internet access at home. We were not able to connect until after 9:30pm, so I got very little web work done at home. The NESA Virtual Science Fair has been running in virtual mode for the past week. Stuart and I developed an on-line judging system where the judges log in, access their teams' Blackboard sites and post their scores on-line. Some minor hiccups. Learned about php and timeouts, but other than that the coding I did worked as it should have, and Stuart has been able to have real-time data on the 47 teams that made it to the final round. This is a significant improvement over managing three judges per team, with three rounds, and one spreadsheet per team per round. (It would have been almost 150 spreadsheets).

Just to keep things interesting I volunteered to move the timeline for the 5th Grade Virtual Science fair up a year, and quickly cludged a simplified version of the NVSF judging software. This goes live May 15th.

The other neat project on the NESA end that is off the ground, is planning for the NESA Fall Leadership Conference. We're working on developing a technology strand for tech directors and coordinators from the region. Lynne Schrum is going to be the facilitator for two 3 hour sessions. One with the admins and one with the tech directors. We're doing the planning for this as a Wiki. The interesting thing for me is how far we are behind as a region on the Web 2.0 front. Most of the tech directors are using the wiki like a threaded discussion board. No one has hit the edit button yet. This has me a little discouraged, but ultimately I know this is the professional development that we need.

I've also been working on reworking our library web page. This is not yet finished. I had a frustrating time last week trying to upload from school different changes. The idea is that the web page is going to be database driven. I've got the drop-down menus working, but not the database query. Instead of seeing error codes that can inform me about what is going wrong, all I am getting is a network error. I suspect that it is the error checking and recursion I was trying to code, but it is not yet ready fro prime time. All in all a very eventful week.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Streaming music

I took a listen today to In comparison to pandora, it has some definite strengths. If you create stations on the band "Blue Rodeo" in both of them, the results are very different. Pandora picks up on the country aspect of Blue Rodeo's music and takes you down that path., picked up on who they sound a bit like and I think with whom they've toured, so bands like Great Big Sea, and the Jayhawks were coming up as well as artists like Simon and Garfunkel and Tom Petty. To my ears, this is a better match, so may have the better algorithm, however they do not have the better library.

My favourite station on pandora is "Theolonius Monk." This consistently delivers excellent jazz that for me is very listenable. Attempting to create this station on yields a "Not enough content to play this station." I am still torn between these two.