Another dot in the blogosphere?

Yes, screenshorts. Not just screenshots.

Screenshorts are images of text, images, or whatever happens to be on your device’s screen. The Buzzfeed article embedded above describes screenshorts as a way to overcome Twitter’s 140-character limit.

This is a sociotechnical phenomenon. There is a technical barrier (the character limit in Twitter) and a workaround (you can embed a picture of practically anything in Twitter). A few people started embedded pictures of longer form text and more people adopted the practice because it worked.

I use this strategy to provide a hook, summary, or concept bite of a larger resource I share. It might help to think of this as serving up a movie trailer and a direct link to the movie.

My favourite tool for creating screenshorts is OneShot because it allows cropping, highlighting, and auto-finding the URL of the article. The last feature is not always accurate and you have the option of using the URL copied to the clipboard.

However, the problem with screenshorts is that images in Twitter do not help the visually-impaired. While we have optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it does not seem to have extended yet as a web or mobile standard.

So a solution that helps many seems to have become a problem for some. But that problem is an opportunity.

The maker of OneShot suggested that screen readers for the visually-impaired be further developed to include OCR of screenshorts. That could be a parallel effort alongside a longer term solution of web and mobile standards to decode and tag screenshorts.

In the meantime, there is already a commonly employed workaround. Instead of just taking screenshots, sharers also include a link to the original source. This is not a solution in that the original source is larger than the shared selection. But it is a workaround in that a screenreader is likely able to process the original source.

As with most things, technology outpaces human readiness. It is important to realize that we invent the technology and we create the problems that arise. But these problems might be opportunities for even better work. We need only treat them as such instead of complaining.

This is a continuation of a rant I started yesterday against an STonline article.

I can almost understand why parents would want to attend a forum on factors that influence early childhood cognition. It is hard for any informed parent to believe what they read in the press and they would rather visit the stable and hear from the horses’ mouths. But I worry when the stable opening is organized by the press.

The answer to the question of letting your child use technology is not yes or no. It is knowing about when and how instead of being blinded by fear.

It is never too early to introduce technology to kids, just as it is never too early to teach them about setting rules, how to self-regulate, the consequences of one’s actions, etc. You do not do one (let kids use technology) without doing the other (learn discipline). If you leave kids unsupervised or unmanaged, you cannot expect good to come from it.

All this sounds like common sense. So why are we allowing organizations to not only take advantage of parental fear, but also get parents to part with money to hear expert opinion?

ttl by Stitch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Stitch 

The fundamental problem is that we are shortsighted. We tend not to be concerned about the foreseeable future or choose not to learn from our past.

If we let kids watch videos with a mobile device at meals, they will keep doing so because the videos are motivating. This does not seem harmful over the short term because the child is easier to manage. However, the ease of the here-and-now hides longer term problems like an unreasonable dependency on the device, a lack of discipline or internal locus of control, and selfish or antisocial behaviour.

We are just as myopic looking back as we are looking forward. We do not learn from the history of our fear of technology.

This graphic was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

Every previous generation fears what it does not understand about the current one. It treats the current generation’s technologies and preferences with suspicion. Some might call this neophobia, the fear of the new. Such a fear stems from the fact that the old is established and comforting. The new is the exact opposite.

We need to look back and realize that history repeats itself with every major technology. If we do, we learn that such fear is irrational. We have progressed because a few people chose to ignore that fear and even what passes as expert opinion. They relied on an uncommon common sense to do what they knew was right.

I wonder how much glee STonline had when it sponsored a forum and then ran with the headline Curb use of IT devices by the young, say childhood experts.

The title and writeup [archive] conveniently left out what the two experts they featured seemed to be focusing on in shaping early childhood cognition: The importance of play and a rich language environment. This does not mean that one should exclude technology-based play or interaction.

The first expert, Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, briefly mentioned a range of play in his interview: object, body, social, imaginative, and narrative. The last time I checked, well designed and managed technology enhances and enables all those.

The second expert, Dana Suskin, while cautioning against complete reliance on technology for language development, added that “Skype or FaceTime, or similar response-based interactive style communication tools, do help” [quote from video].

Brown and Suskin were the experts because they probably have the research to back up what they say. But when explained plainly to laypersons, it sounds like common sense to let kids play and to develop language humanistically.

If common sense was that common, why pay good money to fly in experts and run an event to validate or reinforce what you claim you already know?

If we had that collective common sense, why are some parents foolish enough to let mobiles replace person-to-person interaction? They deserve what is coming to them if they do. Like one parent with a seven-year-old reportedly said: “My older son sometimes refuses to feed himself and asks that I feed him while he uses the iPad” [quote from article].

It also seems like the article and video editor did not work in sync.

The article was decidedly anti-technology and old-school. On the other hand, a soundbite from Dr Brown in the embedded video indicated that “parents should let children decide how to play” [quote from video]. Parts of the video were decidedly progressive.

Perhaps STonline was submitting a weird General Paper essay where cons were delivered in text and pros in video. Maybe, but not likely. Folks who read the dead tree version of ST or choose not to watch the video will not see the other side of the story.

For me, the article reeks of maintaining the status quo by repurposing progressive expert opinion and research.

One of Dr Brown’s slides on screen (citing Einstein) stated “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.

  • How intelligent are we when it comes to rolling with change?
  • How much longer are we going to let headlines with “curb use of devices” hold us back?
  • When will we develop enough scientific literacy to find and evaluate such studies so that we make up our own minds?

My rant yesterday about the analogy of eagles vs geese as leaders reminded me of a fallacy I had to shoot down.

A few years ago, I supervised a student teacher who made an off-the-cuff statement during a lesson. It had no bearing on the content, but she decided to explain why it was important for her students to drink lots of water.

Reminding kids to drink water was great. Telling kids that each water molecule consisted of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom was good general knowledge.

However, things went awry when the student teacher explained why water was good for the brain. She mentioned that water split up into hydrogen and oxygen and that the latter benefitted the brain and made you alert.

This does not happen in the human body. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to split water molecules and the human body does not do that. Even if it did, we would have two extremely flammable and explosive gases building up somewhere.

Video source

The video above illustrates how dangerous this can be. By the way, hydrogen gas was a possible cause for for the Hindenburg disaster.

The human body gets oxygen from the air via the respiratory system and transports it via the circulatory system. There is a lower and safer energy investment this way. It does not get the oxygen it needs by splitting water molecules up like you might with electrolysis.

The electrolytic process might be chemically feasible, but it was biologically impossible. If it did happen as my former student teacher described, the physics would have been incredible. It would blow your mind. Literally.

Now this is not an informal science lesson. This is about teaching responsibly and holistically. A fallacy like water providing oxygen for the brain might stick because it sounds believable and was based on other scientific phenomena.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Two rights do not necessarily make another right. A teacher must know her limits and not try to make things up as she goes along. If she does, the teacher might not destroy minds as quickly as an explosion might, but she does insidious long term damage.

Over the last three days of the June school vacation, my son returned to school for a leadership camp. A vendor conducted the event and gave it a theme: “Eagles leading the way”.

Surely that sounds good and I should have nothing to complain about. If you think that, you do not know me very well.

Eagle species tend to be solitary creatures. You are unlikely to see one eagle leading other eagles in some flight formation. You definitely will not see eagles leading other birds. The only time and place you might see eagles leading might be in a cartoon.

I kid you not; I am taking this seriously. As an analogy, the theme was not just inappropriate, it was inaccurate and irresponsible.

Gimme a V by hjhipster, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  hjhipster 

A more accurate bird example might be geese. But a theme like “Taking turns to lead the way like geese” is not catchy or glamorous.

Nonetheless, that is what all the kids attending the camp were learning to do: To become better leaders by taking turns to lead depending on what they were good at and what their responsibilities were. This was a collaborative form of leadership.

The vendor could have come up with a better theme or analogy. It had the responsibility to do so.

My beef is not just the poorly selected theme. It is the frivolity with which people who think they are educators or para-educators approach their work. They might not realize that if we want want holistically-developed children, we need teachers who teach holistically first.

The eagle analogy reeked of lazy thinking. I would describe that sort of modelling or teaching as hole-istic. It is incomplete and easy to see through.

I am not saying teachers should be perfect in every way. But they must realize that they teach more than content. They also model values and thinking. If they are not sure about a some piece of information, a value, or a way of thinking, they should not fake it. Such weaknesses are more easily caught by their learners than they are taught.

Today I share another of my favourite quotations. I created this visual with Haiku Deck.

This quote has been attributed to Marx. I have no communist leanings and instead see the saying applied to education.

It is a reminder of the importance of praxis (the meeting of theory and practice). A researcher who operates in an ivory tower or who does not practice what he preaches should be treated with caution. A practitioner who cannot justify her methods should be treated with suspicion.

Again Haiku Deck is not very helpful in tracing the original CC-licensed image. Both the app and the web versions only provide a link to the photographer’s page and not the actual photo. I finally found the original image after a bit of trawling.

There are a few of my blog entries that seem to get hits every day even though they are a few years old. One of them is “Alternative to ‘best’ practices?“.

That particular reflection was a series of a few. To provide some context, I am listing my thoughts on this contentious issue in today’s entry.

  1. 15 Sep 2012: There is no BEST practice (Contexts may not transfer)
  2. 17 Sep 2012: Alternative to “best” practices? (Contexts are different; best implies there is no need to get even better)
  3. 22 Jul 2014: Can practices be transmitted? (There is signal loss; not all signals are relevant or timely)
  4. 24 Sep 2014: Be wary of “best practices”: Slides 5-9 (Best for whom? Have you considered all contexts?)


Just Beware by MTSOfan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  MTSOfan 

I was not the first to write against “best practices” and I will not be the last. Here are a few other bloggers or authors who have been more articulate than me with their thoughts about this issue.

  1. The Sham of Best Practices by Larry Cuban
  2. Why Best Practices Don’t Work for Knowledge Work by Luis Suarez
  3. On Best Practices by Shelley Blake-Plock
  4. “Best Practice”—The Enemy of Better Teaching by Bradley Ermeling, James Hiebert, and Ronald Gallimore

Click to see all the nominees!

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