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adnan patrawala

 

16-year-old Adnan Patrawala, who had been missing for 2 days, has been found lifeless near Panvel, just outside Mumbai city. Reports claim that Adnan may have been strangled to death by kidnappers who had earlier demanded 2 crore as ransom.

Now it seems that Orkut may have been used to lure Adnan.

It seems that the kidnappers may have used the moniker *Angel* to communicate with Adnan, befriend him, exchange phone numbers and entice him with the possibility of a ‘real-life’ meeting.

I was stunned by this, especially just a few days ago I had read on Boing Boing (via David’s excellent blog) about a National School Boards Association report that the internet was safe and that we should use it more. The NSBA had determined that the much-touted risk of online stalkers and predators was basically nonexistant.

Adnan who (in his profile on Orkut) called himself a party-animal and who wanted to be a pilot, is being mourned by the Orkut Community. His profile has received almost 2000 scraps in the last four hours.

Information from the press that he “loved to spend money on his friends”, drove a Skoda car, love to party (the most syndicated picture shows him with a Bacardi Breezer) may point to indulgent parenting and adolescent precociousness but also to unbridled use of the collaborative web. As I write this, for the first time, the ‘web’ seems more like a metaphor for a spider’s net than for a mesh.

This incident sure to cause a reverberation in the online community. As teachers and educators we have a responsibility to help protect our students again such act. The correct response would not be a blanket ban on sites like Orkut and Facebook in schools, I can see this as a very likely knee-jerk response to this event.

A better approach would be continuing education about the possible consequences of undiscretionary online behaviour, much like the talk students get (or should get) today about sex education. Students have to be told, with examples like this unfortunate incident involving Adnan, that dangers exist and like one would not share personal information with a stranger or accept food from someone you didn’t know similar behaviours were inappropriate even when the other were a virtual entity at a computer screen miles from home.

A good article on what students should be exposed (or not) to is Putting Them in a Bubble, over on Jeff’s Blog

Till students become more adept at using collaborative/discussion tools on the internet, web monitors and net nannies are a good way to go.

I wonder what you all think about this. I await your response.

Rest in Peace, Adnan.

 

Further Reading (click on numbers to open links)

#1: Rediff article that talks of the Orkut Connection to Adna’s murde

#2: An article that claims that over a thousand sex offenders may be on MySpace. It also profiles Pancake26, a predator who uses simple code to lure children and young adults

#3: Indiscreet posting costs students University Seats, Jobs and more.

#4: Link to download the entire NSBA report cited above.

#5: An article that talks of the irreversibly of internet postings; how we ourselves are invading our privacy.

#6: MSNBC Dateline article on Why Parents must Monitor Internet Usage and MySpace

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In response to Dr. McLeod’s question on how his survey on the Top EduBlogs can be improved, I had put forward 5 suggestions. You can read them here.

One was that the rankings should reflect blogs that are currently popular, blogs that are fresh. In the same post, I recognised my limited understanding of internet metrics, site ranks etc.

This morning, I decided to read around on Technorati and see that their Authority Rank really meant. Here’s what I found.

On Technorati, only links to you from the last 180 days count towards your authority. So, it does seem that the EduBlog rankings show the fresh, now popular stuff.

MOUNTAINS TO CLIMB

It also means that if I want to keep Ms.Teacher or Clay’s Beyond School consistently ahead on the Technorati scoreboard, I need to link to them at least once in 6 months. One link from One Blog = One Authority Point on Technorati.

Before one of you Good Samaritans go on and send several links from your blog towards this one, let me tell you that one blog gets one vote for every other blog. So even if I link to Ms. Cornelius’ Shrewdness of Apes 15 times, she will get only 1 Authority Point.

Another interesting point. Technorati does not distinguish between a ranking from a Top Ranked Blog and a less ranked one. So, a link from Inside Higher Ed (Rank #1) or from Christian’s Think:Lab (Rank # 22) will not count for more than the link from Exhausted Intern’s Not enough Hours (Rank # 569) or Kelly Christopherson’s Educational Discourse (Rank #650), all sites I like to visit (the first two are old bookmarks, the latter two new discoveries I am savouring).

However, Google does make a distinction. Its PageRank alogrithm gives greater weightage to sites with more pages linking to them, so if Christian at Think:Lab were to link to you it would do more to bring your page higher up on Google than if I were to link to you.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was my learning for the day. Hope it gave some of you something new too.

Btw, I encourage you to visit all the links above, they are some of the blogs I enjoy reading.

(image courtesy: Inky Circus)

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Aside: (Don’t forget to read our post on Sexual Harassment in Schools here)

In July 2005, I was to travel to the UK. Then day before I was to leave the London blasts happened.

A few days ago, the day Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister, blasts rattled London yet again.

Security was raised to ‘Critical’ status and again reams of newsprint were devoted to finer intelligence gathering, national security and a consequence of this, a loss of privacy. Fingerprinting of citizens has been debated around the world since 9/11 happened six years ago, and to date remains unimplementable because of the huge public outcry against it.

I was surprised then to know that in the UK, increased security, lower ID costs and quicker queues in libraries and canteens have been driving a nation-wide finger-printing exercise at schools, in many cases, withour parental consent. Schools have been implementing this, led by governmental mandate and subsidy carrots.

 

big brother is watching you

I want to point you to a post on this by Jonathan Calder who writes:

 

“Schools maintain databases (mirrored on government servers) store 300 bytes of data that form a map of each child’s fingerprint. So you can see the danger that children’s data will be stolen or haunt them years later.”

and

 

“… they are silent on parental consent. Many of the 3,500 schools took prints without consent. Children as young as five have had their dabs taken on the pretext of a game of spies.”

 

Two different worlds in the same country. Weird.

Further Reading: Have a look at “Leave the Kids Alone” – a UK website against government fingerprinting in schools. They present comprehensive data, though, quite obviously it has a strong anti-fingerprinting bias.

They rally against fingerprinting for the common reasons: irreversible identity theft and children losing value of their ‘identity’.

A YouTube video on their site calls Fingerprinting a Social Control Experiment- very Orwellian, very 1984. A little grave for my taste, but worth a watch.

 

 

As far as I am concerned, I wonder why fingerprinting is necessary at all- at least for cutting queues and issuing library books. Why can’t the school just use plain smart cards? Provide incentive for keeping the cards safe (and lowering re-issue hassle) by tagging a high cost for a duplicate card.

However, if fingerprinting were to come to ID and some men in robes turned up to ID my kids, i’d probably say yes. After all, the next time they travel to the Unites States, Uncle Sam will ID them anyway. Better our government then theirs.

(image courtesy: rit.edu)

 

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I think a lot about ‘customer satisfaction’ and how to achieve it. ‘Customers’ is sometimes seen as an ugly word in Education, so let me put in this caveat: In this article I am going to mean Parent every time I write Customer.

Why is Customer Satisfaction important?

Apart from the obvious benefits, parent satisfaction leads to engaged parents. Engaged parents allow, among other things, ease of implementing innovative practices (less resistance), lowers costs (parent volunteers replace part-time hired help) and improves student learning (interest in schoolwork and showing up at PTAs) and

How can Parent Satisfaction be increased? Here are 10 Tips from experience.

The Key to the 10 Tips: The over-arching insight is this- most parents are emotionally involved with their children and take their schooling (if not their school) very seriously. Respond to parents and their queries/feedback/suggestions humanely, patiently, emotionally without diluting the professional requirements of your role as an Educator.

1. Know Thyself: Who am I ?

For Principals and Administrators looking to create Wow! in their schools, the first step is to define clearly “what the school is” and “what the school wants to be.”

This means understanding the DNA of your school (private/public, residential/day, progressive/traditional, academe-focussed/big on curriculars etc), its current culture and then what the vision for this school is.

This will then lead an understanding of how resources can be utilised and provide directionality to your actions that make you customer focussed.

The second step is to Know the Customer. During my first 2 months as Principal, we did a small survey (10 questions with mostly demographic and economic data) and were surprised by our results. We had been sending out circulars in English to parents- the data revealed that 93% spoke Hindi or Punjabi at home. This meant that most had greater familiarity with another language, and in all probability several were not comfortable with English.

Talk about a wake up call! We also discovered that most of our children came from joint families (where grandparents stayed with parents). We had been doing little to involve the grandparent (who held considerable authority) in the decision making and was an important ‘customer.’ Our orientation quickly changed.

If you are setting up a new school, you may choose to set-up a school looking at the population you will be serving. If you have a school up-and-running, this will tell you whether you need to educate your existing customers on your ‘philosophy’ or ‘brand’ of education or else it will signal that you are riding the wrong horse and you need to look at a different customer profile in the future when you admit new students.

2. Explain what Customer Service means: Once you have determined who your customer is and what your school wants to be, make sure that your team is geared to deliver. You have to tell them what great customer service means, let them know that customer service starts the moment the parent enters the school (and even outside) and encompasses both the classroom and everything outside it (in equal measure), provide them with examples of exceptional service.

Most teachers and staff-members at the school I headed, had not experienced WOW! as Customers. We took a team of teachers ,administrators and support staff (including gardeners, cleaners and a security-guard) to the Radisson. We paid attention to how the hotel greeted its guests, how the floor shone with wax, the manicured hedges, the clear signage and the alacrity of purpose in restaurant employees. Later, when the staff enjoyed their Rs. 120 (US$ 3) coffees and balked at the prices (compared to the monthly tuition fee of Rs. 800 (US$ 20), they were shown the co-relation between great customer service and the ability of an establishment to command a premium. This was connected to our school and the possibility of heightened innovation and resources at our disposal if we similarly wowed our guests.

3. Focus on the Small Things: During the administrative formalities in the days before I took over as head of school, I encountered long hold times when I called the school and on some ocassions, had to call a couple of times before someone answered the phone. One of the first things I did after I took over implementing a 3-ring policy. The School telephone had to be answered within 3 rings. If it wasn’t, it would be diverted to a voice mailbox (that was checked every half hour during school hours). I was maniacal about this. I know I have been hopping mad if I have been put on hold by call-centre manned telecom companies- it would be criminal to keep an anxious parent checking in on his child on hold for so long. This policy ensured that every individual calling the school received prompt service at his first touchpoint with the school.

There are several “small things” that go a long way- sending a small note to check on an convalescent child, ensuring that refreshments and light reading is available to visitors, ensuring every visitor is met by a member of staff as he enters the school and is guided to his destination etc.

Talk about these at staff meetings. Make sure transgressions are pointed out. Make it a big deal.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Tipping Point, talks of the Broken Windows Theory. Robberies tend to be higher in streets where there are broken windows. These streets are perceived as ‘easy.’ I reckon that the same is true of schools- wrappers lying around, broken (even chipped) furniture signal an indisciplined school (and may even cause indiscipline) and may affect how a prospective parent views you.

4. Speak to your Staff constantly: Your staff-members are your listening posts. They speak to parents and the community in greater numbers than you do and probably enjoy a closer rapport with most parents as well. Use them to gain feedback, formal and informal about how the school could improve.

If I was told I was allowed to speak to only one person in a school, I would speak to the receptionist (the lady who receives parents at schools and also their phone calls). If you don’t speak to your receptionist, I recommend you start doing the same. As someone who handles parents everyday, she probably knows of (even if she doesn’t understand) the many complaints, apprehensions and anxieties that they have.

5. Speak to your Customers: While I would be vary of allowing parents to have a say on every decision the school takes, I feel parent representation on school boards, PTAs and the like are great ways to listen to what parents have to say. Then we go further.

We started a Parent-School Partnership Dialogue where 10 Parent Representatives (from parents on one Yeargroup) met and discussed a pre-determined agenda once a month with me and two teachers who dealt with that yeargroup. This was a fantastic success- the parental cohort self-corrected its parental enthusiasm, shared their concerns and suggestions, listened to what the teachers had to say on matters ranging from trip planning and discipline to curriculum and parent-school communication. Parents were allowed to raise any issue they wanted, nothing was taboo (although the veto option was mine- never had to use it). The members understood that these meetings were for sharing ideas and brainstorming and that decisions would rest with the school. Minutes of these meetings were circulated to all parents.

These meetings helped build confidence in the school- we were a school that cared.

Make sure your parents have several ways of communicating with the school and that every parent knows of all possible ways. Research has shown that very few people want to complain/recommend/suggest improvement and you want to make sure you make it easy for those who want to.

All these are very important for the customer knows what he wants better than anyone else does.

Think about these tips and share some of your own! Also, do come back for the Final 5 Tips tomorrow!

 

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OLPC laptop in Ghana“It’s not a Technology Project. It’s an Education Project.” I didn’t say that. Nicholas Negroponte did. You know who he his, we blogged about him 2 days ago that also had a YouTube film and an overview of his workht here.

 

In case you missed it, Negroponte is ex-Director of the MIT Media Lab and chief evangelist for the One Laptop Per Child Project- a plan to provide $100 laptops to the children of the world. The OLPC Foundation believes that using these laptops will lead to learning. This post will tell you what are the pedagogical principles behind the OLPC, how making a $100 laptop is possible, what the current state of the project is and what could go wrong. I will use information from the Hole in the Wall experiment, first started in India in ’99, do explain why the idea may work.

 

What are the pedagogical principles behind the OLPC ?

 

Learning is our main goal; we do not focus on computer literacy, as that is a by-product of the fluency children will gain through use of the laptop for learning. Children—especially young children—do not need to learn about IT and certainly do not need to be fluent users of WORD, EXCEL and POWERPOINT—They are not office workers. However, picking up these skills, having grown up with a laptop, will be readily accomplished.

 

Learning some math facts while learning to hate math is far from ideal. Learning about things that are personally meaningful while constructing knowledge—especially where children realize that they had to extend themselves beyond what they believed they were capable of doing—is both natural and liberating.

 

Children need to learn learning, which is primarily acquired through the passion that comes from access, the ability to make things, to communicate and to express. Writing a computer program, while seemingly esoteric, is in fact the closest a child can come to thinking about thinking. Likewise, debugging a program is the closest one can come to learning learning.

 

It goes without saying that Internet access and tools for expression (text, music, video, graphics) are the contemporary “toys” for learning. Every child of any means in the developed world has access to a computer at home and usually his or her own, with music, DVD, plus interactive and rich media to do anything from learning languages to play games. Making these same resources available to the roughly one-billion other children, who do not have such access, has seemed ridiculously daunting, but is no longer. This is simply because the high costs of laptops has been artificial and perpetuated, not innate. It is fair to say that OLPC has broken this spell.”

 

The extract above was taken from the wiki site of the OLPC Project. You can access the entire wiki here.

 

The paragraph above tried hard to make a compelling case for the use of laptops, but fails. Yes, we don’t need to teach kids MS Office. Agreed. What do we need to teach them? Not articulated.

 

I think Laptops can help- indeed may studies have proven that they do (more on one such later). This is predominantly due to the ability of the machine to invoke curiosity and to provide rich visual imagery of a world unknown to the children until then. Also, interactive software and peer-to-peer sharing over wireless lan networks may being critical thinking, manipulation with data and collaborative skills in children.

 

But numeracy and literacy still need to happen- children need to learn how to write and talk in a language what the computer understands (or wants to make them learn).That and many other objectives need a teacher.

 

To my mind, the laptop is a useful tool but can only supplement not replace the teacher.

 

Lets look at what one group of experimenters found:

 

One of India’s leading IT Training companies participated in the “Hole in the Wall” experiment a few years earlier. A Latop was installed in the wall of a Delhi slum and then left unattended. It was observed through a telephoto lens from afar. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT who led the experiment to propose the following hpothesis:

 

The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.

 

The acquisition of these basic computing skills having been achieved. more traditional curricula can be pushed through the machine. In experiments with these computers (called learning stations) the NIIT team found the following:

 

data from the Hole-in-the-Wall Foundation

 

 

 

data from the Hole-in-the-Wall Foundation

 

The data above shows increasing achievement levels. Even though it does not mention control groups and their achievement levels, my experience with rural education suggests that the Learning-Station abled children would have come out ahead. So, on this evidence, the idea of a ‘minimally-invasive education’ (as defined by the Hole in the Wall Team) is worth suporting.

 

Ok, I get all this. But how are they managing to make Laptops for $100?

 

Over 50% of laptop costs are towards Sales & Distribution and Margins. As a not-for-profit, OLPC will lose this completely.

 

The screen is a large component of cost, with every extra diagonal inch adding $ 10. The OLPC laptops will be smaller.

 

The Laptop body will be smaller and of more inexpensive materials.

 

These 3 major costs bring the cost per laptop to $135. With economies of scale the OLPC team hopes to drop the cost to $60 or thereabouts.

 

 

So, the OLPC will donate laptops?

 

Yes and no. While some Laptops will be donated, I understand that the majority will have to be purchased by the government and distributed to the children. The OLPC recommends every child have one.

 

What is the current status?

 

Governments around the world are signing up. Rwanda was the latest to do so. India, which was invited to join has refused- apparently its a medical risk (for the eyes- overexposure to screens). Plus the government feels it does not have the cash to spend on this project.

 

On the technological side, experiments are on to perfect mesh networks (almost perfected) that will allow kids to connect to each other over a local LAN, school servers and even a portable yo-yo microgenerator that will allow kids to crank up on battery power. I am glad they cracked the last one- most other designs, including a hand shaft, solar power etc have either proven inadequate or too expensive.

 

Pilot programs continue around the world and results are encouraging- I understand that early next year the show should hit the road.

 

So, will it work?

 

I hope so. It’s an idea that has the power to make a difference (even if it doesn’t change the world, as it promises to), However, I couln’t help thinking of some shortcomings. I hope I’m proven wrong.

 

a) How does new software (new learning for the kids) reach them? It would have to created or underwritten by the not-for-profits or big corporations doing pro-bono work. Unless of course the OLPC team wants governments to have a recurring outlay on software (which does seem wishful)

 

b) What about laptop security: I am not talking about virus attacks, but security of the physical systems. The only way, probably, to do so would be to treat them as school aids- give them to kids every morning and take them back after school (though given that many schools dont have cupboards, finding storage spaces for laptops would be difficult- and another item of expenditure). But this beats one of the planks of the OLPC learning system- kids using & playing (learning) with these things at home, every day, even on holidays.

 

Moreover, since the laptops will run basic software programmes, they would have a market outside the school and the village.Why would an impoverished family, in the possession of a $100 object not sell it for food and amenities? Maybe the government should have a pay-as-you-go model in place to build ownership amongst families.

 

c) Wear-and-tear: How long will kids use these laptops. When they get slow and irritating, will the government buy them shiny new ones? Or does learning end with the laptop? Also there are costs to maintenance and use- in terms of resource time and materials used. What about repairs? I understand that they expects kids to conduct minor repairs- but seriously, wouldn’t that be too much to ask? Still, what about the major repairs?

 

d) What about Teachers? This still doesn’t resolve that problem: Pratham’s ASER survey found that in many schools there is gross absence of teachers (apart from when they arent on official non-teaching duties) and basic classroom materials like chalk and paper were absent. Most schools have student teacher ratios that make it impossible to teach with a modicum of success. I assume the same fate belies underdeveloped countries in other parts of the world. With money being diverted to the OLPC project, this will only worsen.

 

If this idea has to be implemented, governments are best advised to share computers between children and use any saved outlay money to put more teachers in the classroom, without whom learning through these machines will be hampered.

 

My concerns then are twinfold: it makes poor economic and logistical sense. I wonder what you think?

 

Let me stop here now. There is much more to be said and written about the OLPC project, I will do so if this entry creates enough interest. I hope this post has been of help. One caveat: I have read a little about the OLPC project but not significantly. If there’s anything that I’ve said that is error or if you can resolve the questions I worry about- click the comments link below and write in. I’m on my $15,000 laptop, listening in 🙂

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There has been a lot of talk about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the ambitious plan to educated the world’s children by providing many of them, mostly in the undeserved communities, with a laptop that costs $100. It’s headquartered at the MIT Media Lab and the chief evangelist is Nicholas Negroponte, MIT Professor and ex-Director of the Lab. How will it work? Will it work? What’s the latest? I will attempt to answer these questions tomorrow. In the meanwhile, have a look at a 18 minute clip (this is worth the time) on Negroponte’s blueprint for the OLPC project.

 

For those of you already wondering what this may mean for India – last year India, a preferred pilot country, backed out of the OLPC project with the HRD Ministry saying “India must not allow itself to be used for experimentation with children” and “It would be impossible to justify when public funds continue to be inadequate.”

 

(watch the clip – plays in the same window)

 

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Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato Public Schools since 1991 (among many other things, read full bio), runs the wonderful Blue Skunk blog on learning. His latest piece, on what he calls Techno Parenting, immediately caught my eye. I recommend you read it and send your child’s school a copy.

He asks: How can schools use Technology to make vital teacher and student links? He offers some suggestions and notes on practice-

Email: It’s quick, rarely get’s lost (or misplaced 🙂 ) and inexpensive. They can also be easily indexed, stored, and rapidly retrieved.

The Telephone: It’s personal and hence the best way to communicate.

Teacher Webpages: With student information for ready access and password protected grades, notice of assignments etc to keep the parents wired. Literally.

School webpages: With information on parent meetinfs, menus, discussions, policies, course descriptions etc.

Webcams: In classrooms so parent’s or even the granny in another corner of the world can watch.

I love it. Especially the last one. I can imagine it would be great for the family too.

Daddy couldn’t be there for your recitation sweetheart, but he saw you on his mobile from Sweden.”

That ought to make the child feel better.

Some other initiatives that could be taken:

1. Create wikis: Let the teachers, parents & students collaborate on a school policy thats up for revision. Or on a school building design. Start conversations- get people involved.

2. Text messages: A short message in the morning to inform you that your child missed school. Followed up by a call after school to check if all was well.

3. E-newsletters: To supplement the paper-based ones. Richer in content. Cooler in presentation. With video clips from the school play or an downloads of interesting presentations/artworks made by children. Of course, instantaneous feedback from parents.

4. Activities for parents to do with kids at home: Illustrated and easy – to – understand activities that parents can do with their children and in the process teach them.

Penetration of technology is increasing. More and more people are logging on. Initiative like these that link school to parents on the fly at almost no cost should be encouraged. If you are reading this and think it could work, copy these points from Doug’s website and mine and send it to your school. Make the change happen.

Caveat: In Informational Technology, there is something called the Mom Test. It says: if our mom can use this software, then its user friendly. Engineers use it before releasing new products or updates. I hope all the Moms’ reading this pass their school’s tests!

In case you are interested, here’s the (quite amusing) anecdote between Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) and his mom:

“According to an industry legend, [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer conducted a mom test before the launch of Windows 95, using his own mother as the guinea pig. He started her off by asking her to Click the Start button. When she had finished trying it out, Ms Ballmer asked, ‘How do I turn it off?’ Her son, somewhat irked by this question, pointed to the start button. ‘I have to go to the start button again to stop?’ asked his mother, quite perplexed.”

Sure sounds like my mom! 🙂 And, I’d have to agree with her!

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