Shout Out to Aram Kabodian

And, finally for tonight, a quick shout out to my friend and RCWP colleague, Aram Kabodian, who is getting back into the blogging business this holiday season.

Mr. Kabodian’s Blog

Well, I took the plunge and let people know I’m playing with pageflakes and bustin’ out this blog. And people actually responded!

It was nice to hear that there’s a world of readers out there. The message board on the pageflakes site is active, I had my first comment on this blog, and the emails are rolling in too. It makes me feel like the time I spend on this tech stuff is worth it. People seem interested — though maybe it’s just the novelty of the whole thing — which makes me want to keep at it.

I’d like to think that I’m not just doing this to play and impress myself and others. I want to make it a meaningful place to think things through and improve my teaching.

Keep those cards and letters coming 🙂

You heard the man — check out his blog! He has a great sense of humor, many insights into teaching middle school kids, and some other fun things thrown in. And, while you are at it, his class’s wiki, too!

Glad to see you blogging again, Aram!

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Thinking Rhetorically about Language Learning

Here is a post that got lost in the end-of-semester rush in my Firefox’s ScribeFire plugin.

Boy, it’s fun to find something you thought you had lost, especially on a computer.

I never really finished it, so it trails off at the end, but I think that I get the point across.

USA Today posted this story about Mandarin immersion, a topic close to my heart since my daughter is in one of these programs. The lead quote? From an educator in Chicago… “‘Chinese isn’t the new French–it’s the new English.'” More on the “world is flat” rhetoric in a minute, but here is a slice of the article:

As China booms, so does Mandarin in U.S. schools – USATODAY.com

The number of elementary and secondary school students studying Chinese could be as much as 10 times higher than it was seven years ago, says Marty Abbott, spokeswoman for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

When the council surveyed K-12 enrollment in foreign language classes in 2000, there were about 5,000 students of Chinese, Abbott says. The council is collecting data for another survey, but Abbott says early figures suggest the number of students now studying Chinese has “got to be somewhere around 30,000 to 50,000.”

As I’ve written before, I feel that we need to move beyond the argument that language learning — especially “critical” languages that are being taught for business and defense purposes — is simply utilitarian. There are other benefits, besides having a business edge.

For instance, I would like my daughter to understand how a country that affects our own — economically, politically, culturally, and in other ways I can’t even imagine right now — works, from the insides of the language to the way it is perceived in the world. Enjoying another language, another literacy, another rhetoric, has benefits far beyond just having a job. It offers a global perspective that will help her become a better person, a better citizen, not just someone who can cash in on a second language in a future career…

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OLPC: Helpful or Harmful?

Over the holiday break, there has been an interesting discussing on the TechRhet list about the OLPC initiative. Aaron Barlow has been leading the con side of the debate, and outlines the argument in his blog, here, and points to articles about failed development projects such as the one here; the pro side generally gives the opinion that we should at least be doing something, both at home and abroad, to close the digital divide.

One of the elements of the pro side of the argument comes from the idea that this is a program built on open-source ethos, and that makes it an honorable project, despite a history of failed development efforts. This is a valid point, yet I think I agree with Barlow’s point that we are still imposing our technological values on other cultures in that sense (having a word processor and other office tools installed, for instance).

What I find lacking from the conversation that would refute his point, however, is the explicitly constructionist approach that the OLPC team has taken in developing software and collaborative properties of the laptops. For instance, the OLPC News Page had a recent post about how the program is designed around constructivist principles, and teachers and students are reporting the benefits of collaboration, such as in Digital Planet‘s 12/21/07 story.

As I reflect on the ideas behind OLPC, and the fact that I donated in to the program for my children and children somewhere else in the world, I still feel that this was a worthwhile cause. I agree with Barlow’s main point — that western countries need to be conscious of what we “give” when we give aid. That said, I feel that we all need to be critical consumers of any technology given to (or purchased by) us, including the OLPC. I see this as the basic literacy issue involved — to what extent are the users of this, or any, technology able to compose their own thoughts with it? For the OLPC, I think that the options are wide open.

I look forward to continuing this discussion and exploring the potentials of the OLPC initiative, both with my own kids and in the larger educational communities that are forming around it. So far, we have figured out some of the basic options, individual and collaborative, in the writing, chat, browser, draw, and tamtamjam programs. More soon