The Virtual Revoltion Programme 3

I loved the dramatic “Dr Who” like music that accompanied the first twenty minutes or so of this programme. It summed up the melodrama of the main idea that the web is not free and that we are paying for it by giving all our details away.

So I thought about this and I had a couple of issues that I want to explore. Firstly, if Google is aiming for world domination then what would the world be like if it was just switched off overnight? I suspect that we’d all be “Bingers” or that the convenience of a massive and easily accessible search engine would lead to new players in the market to take Google’s place.

I am aware of the fact that advertising is omnipresent in web-pages or even on blogs but then again I can choose to ignore the advertising or switch it off when it infuriating appears as a pop-up before I can look at some interesting site.

If I did have to pay for “Youtube” for example, I would probably not use it very much, if at all and suddenly I could not access many of the marvellous Ted Talks that I am always going on or Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture that I managed to see last week and which kept me enthralled and amazed for well over an hour.

Yes the internet is a commercial playground and has been colonised by the captains of industry and commerce to further their wares but it also the means for children, students in higher education and adults who want to increase their learning to get access to many things that were denied to them before. How many of these would be accessed if there was a price to pay (and I mean money here).

Only at the very end was the excitement of the net made clear and so far in this series I have seen little of the tremendous potential of the web in education but I know that Amazon is an endless bookstore and may be influencing what I might purchase in the future!

I am afraid that this programme was very much back to the simplistic statements of the first programme and with many of the criticisms that I made then returning about a lot of wonderful locations being used needlessly (here I am in San Francisco with palm trees and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, here I am in New York).

Next week they are going to be looking at children and the net. I can already imagine the tone of the programme because they prefaced it by saying that this is the “Facebook generation” well there you go, we shall be looking at how all they do is post silly remarks on facebook, Tweet endlessly and get a bit of cyber-bullying in for good measure. But if that is the case, then again, there is very much oversimplification going on. I happen to know that there is some amazing work being done by students all across the world using the net and that they are collaborating across continents. (Please see my earlier posting on “The Flat Classroom Project”).

So far in this series I saw a small snippet of Howard Rheingold in programme 1 but have yet to see some of the more interesting figures in education and the potential of new technology being interviewed. What about George Lucas and the Edutopia Project? I recommended Curtis Bonk before the programme began but he has not been interviewed. If you’ve never heard of him or his ideas then I suggest that you look up yet another earlier post I did on his book “The World Is Open”.

I think that one of Curtis’ main points in his book is that the world is open because the technology is free (monetarily). I understand the arguments that have been put forward by Programme 2 but believe that there is a trade off here about the access to the huge knowledge-base that is the internet and the fact that we may be dogged by indiscretions 40 years after we have done them… but then again the papers dredge up the ancient indiscretions of every new celebrity that sparkles before their light goes out….. and do we really care… should we really care?

That there is a lot of knowledge about us given away freely is certainly frightening but then again the example of the Dutch collection of data that was so horribly used by the Nazis in World War 2 just shows that there has long been a problem with the ownership and potential misuse of data.

If we closed down Google and Youtube’s access to our data would that lessen the potential for important data to be held about us by Governments and other organisations to be misused at some time in the future?

Those of us who are trying to widen the use of the internet in schools believe that the free access to information and collaboration for students may help us combat authoritarianism in the future, that we are trying to produce global citizens who are interested in breaking down barriers of race, religion and nationality.

I wonder how much of this point-of-view has been looked at in these programmes.

internet voices

I have always been fascinated by people’s stories. When we are very young we listen to the words of our grandparents and people of their generation telling us stories about a world we didn’t know.

These stories were the things that helped us understand our own personal history. Where our forebears had come from and how they had lived. But as soon as these people died off we had vague memories of their stories and your own memory fades and you forget some of the things that you were told.

As a student many years ago I remember feeling really excited that someone had made use of the technology of recording to interview people and get their words onto tape (as it was then) so that we could have their testimony for ourselves and for future generations.

Sometimes the interviewees had lived through amazing and possibly horrific times like the Holocaust or World Wars 1 and 2. Sometimes though they were interviewed about their everyday lives, how their mother used to do the weekly shopping, what washday was like.

What was important in all this was not necessarily the mazing insights into great world events but that this was the authentic voice of people telling us how it was.

Many of these oral history recordings were kept in libraries or owned by a group or privately by an individual. They were difficult to pin down and were certainly not widely available. Also, it was not easy to contribute your own stories to a collection unless you had been contacted by someone asking you to do so.

The web has changed all of that. There are now thousands of sites which act as repositories for the literally millions of stories, some old and some which are being added on a daily basis because it is possible to do so. This is what I find so exciting about the web, that it has provided a platform for these recordings to be collected and most of all researched and hopefully learned from.

I thought that today I would let you know about three brilliant oral history sites that I have come across… these are just three of the thousands of sites out there and I would be interested for any feedback on sites that you may have that you think others would learn from and most importantly enjoy…. because I really do enjoy listening to these talks and often I find them incredibly moving in the way that real life and real individuals, talking about life and love and loss is really much more moving than the Hollywood dramas that  pluck the heartstrings artificially.


This is an amazing oral history project in the United States. I first heard about them from a Twitter hyperlink (I get a lot of leads that way!) and went on their site. I listened to a few stories, cried at some of them and thought that this was truly what oral history and people having a voice on the net was all about… I will let Storycorps introduce themselves as they put it far better than I can:

“StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and on our Listen pages.

The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing.

Pittsburgh and Beyond:

My brother (a librarian at Nottingham University) gave me the link to this site. It is literally thousands of hours of an oral history project that was done by the National Council Of Jewish Women in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania over a span  of  32 years.

The volunteers used old technology tape recorders to get the testimonies of all sorts of people about all aspects of their life and their memories of their parents and grandparents.

I found the whole thing amazing and yet somewhat overwhelming. Here I was in the midst (so to speak) of a sea of recordings, some good quality and some not so good. Some of these recordings covered many hours of taping and therefore were not easy to keep with.

But, as in all the recordings that I have listened to on the net, they do add to your ideas and as the Storycorps site said, they can change your point of view and make you get a different perspective on life.

If you get the chance go to this site and just listen to a few recordings. There are some really amazing stories in there.

The Museum of London.. London’s Voices

My last site is returning home for me. It is a Project done by the Museum of London, the city where I was born and grew up. This is an excellent collection of different media representing the lives of ordinary Londoners growing up, coming into or living in the great city during the twentieth century.

There are some excellent resources here for getting a real feel for what it means to be a Londoner.

I would point you in the direction of the “Women Talk” section:

Here you will hear the voices of different London women talking about their lives.

As in all the sites I have mentioned in this posting there are is so much to be learnt from these internet resources. They have added to my learning and most importantly, to my life.

The safe use of new technologies

I have just read the best report by Ofsted that I have ever come across! Following the Byron Review into Safety using New Technology Ofsted did a small scale research project looking at the same subject using 35 schools ranging from secondary, primary to special schools and a Pupil Referral Unit.

The report entitled “The Safe Use of New technologies” was published this month.

The key issue that they address is the difference between those schools that they deemed to be “outstanding” in the safe use of new technologies and those who they found less good and in one case inadequate.

Surprisingly, possibly, to some people, they found the best use was in schools which had a “managed” system of internet use as against a “locked down” system. The difference is that in a locked down system children are barred from accessing sites deemed to be bad for them by their teachers or the local authority. In a managed system there is more openness. The children are taught to be “internet safety aware” and everyone in the school takes a part in promoting this.

In these schools the children are made aware of the possibilities of internet misuse and of the problems of false identity, cyber-bullying and accessing sites that portray unpleasant things or pornography. These schools are aware that the children go home to homes where the internet can be accessed and that it is not about ignoring this or pretending that it doesn’t exist at school but using school as a means of training children to become sensible “digital citizens”.

I was really impressed  by the tone of this report and hope that it gets a wide audience, particularly in the world of education itself. There is really a need for all of us involved in education to come to terms with the fact that the internet is a vast place of good and bad things,that it has wonderful potential for good but can be very bad because it mirrors the different aspects of what makes up our human personalities both good and bad.

Internet safety should be a whole school concern and the discussion of what is good or bad on the internet and how to use it well needs to be a central part of any curriculum in our schools. It will not go away and has real power and potential for our children’s futures and we have a responsibility to make sure that they grow up as responsible users of it or at least understanding what responsibility means since, because they are human and prone to all of our vices and hangups they may in the future decide to misuse it themselves but at least we know we have tried to address this.

Well done Ofsted! I never thought I’d ever find myself saying that!

You can’t be my teacher.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "You can’t be my teacher.", posted with vodpod

Darren Cannell made this video using his son. I have read some reviews which are mixed in that some love this and some hate it. Personally I loved the raw energy and the style of the video. I feel that it manages to express the fact that this child will be growing up in a different world from many of his potential teachers. He asks them if they know about the world that he is growing up in… he is, as he says “a digital native”.
At the end I found myself stirred by the powerful way he says “that’s your job”… because… he’s right. I am a teacher who is maybe going towards the end of my career but I am aware that we have a responsibility to our students…we are preparing them for their future and they will not thank us if we do not let them use the technology that is available now and will be in the future.
The chants of “you can’t be my teacher” are not what I’d like to hear… as someone who’s been there a long time it’s the “thanks for what you’ve done for me” that count when you look back on it all.

Virtual Revolution episode 2

Having been very critical of the first episode of this B.B.C. series (see my earlier blog post), I was hoping that the second episode would improve.

I am pleased to say that it did. It still did not tell me a lot that I didn’t already know except for the surprisingly clear explanation about how the internet works by cutting up information into smaller “chunks” that then finds its way around the various routes that make up the world wide web network.

I was very  interested in the visit to one of the 13 internet “vaults” that store much of the worlds websites and which is highly protected against electronic failure or attack from outside.

The programme built up a good argument that the internet was originally conceived to be free from centralised attack from an enemy (in those days the U.S.S.R.) and that due to this lack of a central core it was, from the onset, decentralised and therefore difficult to control by Governments.

There was some interesting material on the role that Twitter played in the Iranian elections and then there was one of the “geekiest” people I have ever seen telling us how he created a program to unblock the efforts of regimes such as Iran to stop their citizens getting messages out about the  horrible treatment of their political protestors.

The bit about China and the way that the State plays a strange game of needing the internet for commercial reasons but fearing it for political ones was good.

Then they went on to the dark side of the net. The threat from organised international groups of terrorists such as Al Quayeda. Again, this did not really come up with anything startlingly new but it did show us how the freedom of the web can allow those who want to misuse it for evil ends to be able to do so. The attack on Estonia was a typical example of this.

I think that the political implications of the “Flat World” of Thomas Friedman are profound and they will increasingly lead to a change in the concept of the nation-state. I am though, incredibly optimistic about the potential of the web to lead to a new “global awareness” and eventually true “global citizenship”. In this respect I feel that the “Virtual Revolution” programme needs to look at the role of education in this and the efforts that have already been made to allow students to co-operate and collaborate worldwide.

In an earlier post I talked about the work that has been done by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay with “The Flat  Classroom Project” I have added the video of their 2009 Conference from Qatar. I think this is the sort of thing that would give a different perspective for the viewing public on the potential for political change of the “Virtual Revolution”.

Nicholas Kristof humanitarian journalist

I found myself a New York Times on-line reader following a link in Twitter. As in so much of my continuing learning journey I just get the link, click and then see if it has any value or not.

This link was to a report by someone called Nicholas Kristof. Now those of you reading this will probably know of him and his exploits and his New York Times fame but, as a Brit from Essex who did not really know anything about the New York Times, its influence or its personnel,I just had to judge on what I could read.

The article was about a book he had written with his wife Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky” which was all about the exploitation and mistreatment of women and the potential for women and particularly women’s education and health to effect a better future for us all on this planet.

I was hooked by this article. Not just to Kristof but also to the New York Times. I wondered about an organisation that would pay a person to campaign so publically about major issues. I became a NYT online reader and always refer to it during the week to see if there is anything of value.

Usually there is an article by Kristof. These articles are about the current pressing issues like Haiti but they are also about places like the Congo.

Recently Kristof has taken himself to the Congo and has reported about the sheer horror of the killings and rapes that are happening in that part of Africa every day.

His stories are getting back to the U.S.A. and to people like me on the world wide web and he is letting us know about events that the world and in particular the international organisations and governments of the world have chosen to ignore.

This morning I sat and cried as I watched two wonderful but deeply harrowing videos that Kristof made on the NYT site. The videos are “Congo’s Forgotten War” and “An American In Congo” they can be accessed from the New York Times Video site

I know that this blog does not carry to thousands but I feel that I can at least play some small part in getting people who follow me (in countries across the world I have found out)  to look at these videos and read Kristof’s work on the NYT site and his blog which is also on the main site.

I feel that he is one of the best finds that I have made in my learning journey because he speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. We need people like Nicholas Kristof to use the power of the media and the increasing power of the internet to let their cries be heard and may, just maybe, we might do something about it!

19 Princelet Street an internet discovery

I am often fascinated by the things that can be turned up from an internet search. I was searching for oral history of the city of my birth London when I discovered, purely by chance, the fascinating article that is linked below.

It tells the story of an old building in a run down part of London, Whitechapel (the area my mother was born in). It tells of a tale of successive generations of immigrants coming into the city and living in this area not too far from the docks where they had first landed.

In this particular building a Huegenot weaver’s house had a synagogue fixed to it as the next wave of immigration (Jewish) tried to establish their places of worship in this new land.

The synagogue was shut in 1960 and the last inhabitant of the building was a strange person named Rodinsky who died in a mental home some time after he left the room where he lived in this otherwise deserted synagogue.

The article was a translation of a review of the book “Rodinsky’s Room” that appeared in the French paper “Liberation” on 14th March 2002.
The article is written almost like a fictional story in itself, it conjures up ideas about the strangeness of Rodinsky, called “The Caretaker” of the deserted synagogue (although he was never a caretaker in the accepted sense of the word).

There are images of a ghost story that has helped to bring a certain notoriety to 19 Princelet Street. The building though has become a Museum of Immigration that is a testament to the role that this run down part of london has played as the first port of call of so many waves of immigrants. It is open only a few times a year but has many many people come who have heard about it and are fascinated by the stories.

The link is:

How many more stories are there to be discovered on the net? How might it ever have been discovered if search facilities such as Google did not exist?