Aaron Swartz Documentary – the PAST and FUTURE of the Internet

Today, I had the pleasure of screening THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: The story of Aaron Swartz. The feature documentary about the life of Aaron Swartz, an early internet pioneer who fought tirelessly for equality online.

The film is beautifully shot and features interviews with many of the key players involved in Aaron’s life, including Lawrence Lessig, the found of the Creative Commons.  I mentioned Lessig in a previous post – with the film RIP: A Remix Manifesto.  

Both of these documentaries frame a fascinating argument about the nature, need, and burden of copyright.  As our students have continued access to a global database of media, information, and scholarly works, it’s essential that the Internet remain a free and open space.  It’s also very important to educate students on the nature of copyright – so they can make informed decisions with media attribution, licensing, and remixing.

The film is in theatres in select cities, but available EVERYWHERE on DEMAND from any of your favorite streaming sources. STREAM it today, and support documentary filmmaking.

The BIG FOUR for learning HOW TO make movies.

In my time in the filmmaking classroom, I narrowed the essential skills for filmmakers down to FOUR big things.

1. COMPOSITION. Most first time filmmakers point a camera at a subject, and place the subject’s head in the center of the shot. This makes for a very well balanced image, but it doesn’t do much to push the visual storytelling along. The simplest rule for composition is the RULE OF THIRDS. Draw three lines vertically and horizontally in your frame, and place your subject in the crosshairs of one of these areas. Try and place something interesting in the positive space that is left in the other two-thirds of the shot.

Rule of Thirds

2. LIGHTING. The great challenge of digital filmmaking with auto-exposure on the cameras is finding a place where the auto focus is happy. Digital cameras don’t yet have the latitude of film, so we need to shoot accordingly. A few things influence light:

  • Direction of Light – this is the angle with which the light source is aiming. At noon, the sun is straight overhead. This creates really hard shadows on a persons face. If you have to use sunlight, try shooting during golden hour (about 45 min to an hour before sunset) the light from the late-in-the-day sun is warm and golden colored. Direction of Light
  • QUALITY OF LIGHT – the difference between the light from a cloudless sunny day and an overcast day effects the quality of light. Clouds act as a natural diffuser for the sun. The hard sun rays hit the clouds and scatter immediately. This reduces the number of shadows and softens the light on your subject.

Quality of LIght

  • INTENSITY of LIGHT – this is “how bright” your light is. You can adjust the intensity a few ways…if there’s a dimmer switch on your light source, you can turn it up or down, you can also move it closer or farther away, and you can also diffuse the light with a piece of paper, a sheet, or anything translucent. This will reduce the intensity and soften the quality.

3. SOUND. With automatic audio on most recording devices today, it’s important to be mindful of the conditions in shooting sound. Wearing headphones while shooting is a great way to monitor what your recording will sounds like. When shooting interviews with automatic cameras, it is important to try and find a quiet room, with a lot of soft things in it (like carpeting, furniture, and curtains) this will absorb a lot of the external sounds. If you have a puppy or a noisey baby – you might want to put them in another room.

Audio

4. STORY – this is one of the most important things to be mindful of. Every good story has a BEGINNING, a MIDDLE, and an END. You should try and outline your story before you start shooting (or at least have an idea of what you want to shoot). Story is mostly about WHAT your audience will watch unfolding in your film.

Story

Go BACK to the Future of Learning.

A lot of my favorite things have come together in this post. My favorite educational researcher, Sugata Mitra, was awarded the TED Prize. I used Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment to model for teachers and students that kids can figure the stuff out.

Fear created the greatest barrier to bridging the technology gap. The Digital Immigrants (teachers) spent their time learning in the old model. They read books, wrote papers, and filled in bubbles on tests. This made them good at memorizing things and good at using #2 pencils, but it didn’t prepare them for 21st Century life.

The Digital Native (students) however are spending all day on their screens. They are learning entrepreneurially on their iPhones. The problem is that they’re not learning as much IN school as they are outside of school.

Take a look at Mitra’s speech. The production value of this video is very good, but the message is the same as his previous TEDx talk. Here’s my previous Mitra post.

I am so proud of Dr. Mitra and the possibilities of his research.

There’s a real opportunity for a major revolution in education.

Great TIMES of INDIA article about the prize.

Become at least 100% more productive online

The internet can really be our enemy. It sucks our time down a rabbit hole that is impossible to get back. Since, I’m now freelancing from home and writing during most of the day, it is essential that I’m as productive as possible.

SELF CONTROL is a FREE app that is essential for me and my work.  If I sit down to write or edit video, I turn this app on.  It works quite simply, you add websites that are your biggest distractions to your BLACK LIST, and then you set a time limit (for me – I always default to three hours).  You then get three hours of distraction free computer time.

FREEDOM is a piece of software for Mac that helps increase productivity by blocking internet for certain amounts of time. Here’s my short video on setting up FREEDOM for an internet free work day. It is $10 – but essential for people who need to be OFFline.

Enjoy your Freedom.

The internet is filled with Junk Food. Here’s a tool to help slim down you junk consumption.

Four years ago, I started writing a book about educational technology.  At that point, I believed that the only thing that could save education was technology.  I felt that we needed EVERY student and teacher to be taught how to use technology.

Today, I believe that we need to start teaching our kids how to NOT use computers.

Because the corporations beat the schools to the punch, the internet is now a fertile playground for advertisers.  The way that we’re fed information is solely based on what we click on most.  There’s so many techniques that are being exploited be reputable news outlets.  We are constantly being fed affirmations instead of factual journalism.

In his book, THE INFORMATION DIET, Clay A. Johnson lays out the case for healthy consumption.

This video sums it up in 60 seconds.

I’ve been trying out the software that Johnson recommends – I am now able to monitor and limit the types of content that I’m consuming. I’ll be posting in a week about the results of my experimenting.

 

FIVE skills for 21st Century Teachers

Professional Development often emerges as a daunting process of ReLearning skills for teachers. I’ve been thinking deeply on the PHASE ONE skills that ALL teachers should have. They’re pretty simple. Here’s the list:

  1. Video/audio capture and upload – NO EDITING – just shoot and upload.  A LOT of information can be conveyed with some SIMPLE shooting techniques.  Along with THIS skills set – comes a few basic of shooting: Composition, Lighting, and Sound.
  2. Google docs collaboration and paperless workflows – the students are catching on.  The faculty is dragging their feet.  Collaboration can be introduced and continually reinforced in GoogleDocs.  PEER EDITING is one of the essential skills that students can learn from each other.  It holds them accountable and it helps them practice editing grammar and spelling.  Teachers need to catch on.
  3. Google docs collections and file organization – this is a SIMPLE skill that is sorta confusing inside the Docs management window.  Teachers need to learn that sharing ONE collection will allow them to share thousands of documents on the fly. They only have to create a class list ONCE – after that – new docs just need to be tagged to that collection.
  4. Understanding digital citizenship – this is one of those NON-TECH – tech skills.  Digital citizenship is not just the Golden Rule of Pixel based living, but it is also the key to introducing students to 21st century engagement.
  5. Understanding media literacy and the evaluation of sources – IS WIKIPEDIA – a GOOD source?  The answer is not a blanket NO.  TOO many teachers are teaching kids to simply avoid WIKIPEDIA. Isn’t it a stronger skills to teach students to EVALUATE and CONTRIBUTE and CORRECT Wikipedia?  We need to focus on evaluating and correcting sources online.  Student can be participants in their research and not just consumers of information.

What Can Education learn from Steve Jobs

I’ve been reflecting lately on the passing of Steve Jobs and what we as educators can learn from him. He was a true American. An inventor, a business man, a tech titan, and most of all a teacher. I’ve been exposed to Apple products in the classroom since I was a student. We had the Apple IIe in elementary school. So what can education learn from Steve Jobs? A lot.

Our educational system is broken. We haven’t really changed the way we teach since the invention of the printing press. We are literally still basing the majority of our teaching in text and books. Meanwhile, the majority of our learning is happening in hyperlinked, media rich landscapes that allow us to be well educated consumers. The internet has made us really good shoppers, but now really good students (yet). I’m one of the believers that education CAN and WILL be saved. I also believe that human ingenuity coupled with smart inclusion of technology will be the agent of change to save education in America, and ultimately the American economy.

Jobs created a company that created a product that served a niche market at a time when technology was evolving. He built a surfboard that rode the opening wave of the technology revolution. He stood tall on that surfboard, and he rode it all the way to end of his life’s wave.

Apple is an innovative American company and education can learn directly from the successes of Apple. If we can succeed in education, we can save our economy.

INNOVATION

Apple has always been ahead of the innovation race. Their philosophy is simple – let the past build on the present. ONE great product led into their NEXT great product. iPod one was ground breaking. The click wheel offered a fresh way to interact with a menu. That was the FIRST big invention. The genius of this technology was that people didn’t have to relearn what they learned with the first device. The iPod then set the groundwork for what became the iPhone and the iPhone became the iPad. Not only did Apple streamline the production process, but they also leveled out the learning curve from one product to the next.

Apple continues to demonstrate this intuition in its software. iTunes works and acts like iPhoto. iMovie (for better or for worse) now works and acts just like Final Cut Pro. Garageband works and acts like Logic. Users don’t have to relearn anything.

What can school’s learn about innovation?

Schools haven’t reinvented their approach in a long long time. We’re still primarily focused on reading and writing as our means to evaluate. The last major advancement in education came in the form of the printing press. Books gave students access to uniform texts that they could study from. The most modern addition to the current classroom is the word processor and the laser printer. It gave students the ability to write and re-write their work and print it out in a larger variety of font sizes, shapes, and now colors.

The read and write model needs to be innovated.
The content of our textbooks is curated by corporations who are profiting huge from our education system. We need to unify the textbook, and allow teachers to collaborate as authors.

STARTUP

One of the secrets to Apple’s success is that it is structure like a startup. This micro scale allows them to ignore market research and to innovate based on what the innovators feel is right. They don’t have the messy excesses that modern corporations have. They have small design teams that continued to be challenged through the years to “Think Different” and create new solutions to fresh problems. Education is currently stuck in a macro system of evaluation where politicians are setting standards for academic achievement based on bubbled in test scores. If we can shift our thinking to a local model, we’ll have a better time making change happen.

THE OLD MODEL

Kids simply aren’t reading today. The average 8-18 year old is consuming 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content in 7½ hours of multitasking. They consume media in all kinds of ways – they’re just not reading to consume it. They are WRITING more than ever before, but the language their using is an invented language that only they understand. They have created an efficient shorthand that older teachers who learned shorthand in school seem to scoff at. The truth is, less letters to communicate the same thing takes less time.

For less than $500 today, students have access to devices that can do what I call All of the WWW’s. They can:

W – Watch stuff
W – surf the Web
W – Write Stuff
S – Shoot stuff

The previous academic focus on reading and writing was a consequence of the technology available. For a long time, books were the most effective way to mass distribute educational content, and so we resorted to teaching broad topics like READING, WRITING, MATH, SCIENCE, and LANGUAGES.

Today, we can shift to a media focused landscape. Kids should be curating and creating Internet video content. Schools should be teaching kids how to evaluate and how to make what they’re consuming.

COLLABORATOR

Steve Jobs was a master collaborator. He hired people who were smarter than him to work inside the Apple HQ. He worked with vendors, and challenged them to continue to make better, smaller, faster products. And then he homogenized the workflow. The iPhone glass is the same glass as the iPad. The iPod, iPhone, iPad chargers – all the same.

He knew that he alone was not as smart as a group of smart people working together.

VISIONARY

Steve Jobs was an autonomous thinker who had the right combination of visionary and collaborator. Certainly, Jobs was at times uncompromising with his creative vision, but he knew what he wanted, and he continued to push his vision forward until people agreed.

We need to start teaching visioning in schools. Projects are often predetermined for students by their teachers. They are unwilling to invest a lot of their minds into projects – because they’re more interested in “finishing the paper” than they are interested in expressing themselves.

Our system encourages moderation. Kids complete just enough of a project that will yield the grade that they’re seeking, and they don’t go beyond the expectations that teachers set. We need to begin to design projects that challenge students to craft a vision for an assignment and autonomously seek the solutions to their in class challenges.

We need to also acknowledge that each student’s path in unique. Trying to teach a 5th grader to read at a fifth grade level when they are only able to read at a 2nd grade level is a recipe for failure. Self guided learning will allow advanced students to conquer greater tasks quicker, and it will help struggling students get the help that they need. Students need to be empowered to pursue areas that generally interest them.

Not every student will go to college, and so we need to offer a comprehensive curriculum in our K-12 schools that will introduce essential 21st Century Skills to our kids.

ENTREPRENEUR

We can learn a lot from Steve Jobs the entrepreneur. At 20, he started Apple in his parents garage. He saw the challenge – to create a workable personal computer, and he ventured out to create the solution.

An easy way to encourage entrepreneurship in classrooms is to let kids pick the content of their projects. They’re projects should be shared and used to teach OTHER kids about these niche fields of interest.

Students are the curators of their new world. They will be the next generation’s teachers.

THE APP STORE MODEL

Jobs continued his work as a master collaborator with the app store. He offered content creators 70% of the revenues from all of the sales of books, apps, movies, music, and apps.

Content creators scoured the free market to find a niche that they could fill, and they made content that could all be sold in one place.

What can schools learn from this? Well, they can take on the app store business model, and use it as an incentive to pay teachers more.

What if we got the top communicators in EVERY discipline to offer their lectures for free on the internet. Sponsors and advertisers will fund the projects. Teachers will get 70% of the revenues, the schools will get 30%, and students will get a FREE education.

COMMUNICATOR

Steve Jobs was a master communicator. When Apple launched a new product they did it in a BIG way. Their new product would be in the top of the news cycle for days after.

Jobs had a passion for his products, an understanding for what they could do, and he had the charisma that made people want to listen to him. They used the medium that they were innovating to help share the message. A few years ago, Apple started to webcast all of their major product launches. People were so passionate about the products, that they wanted to bear witness to every piece of the new products.

FORWARD THINKER

Apple has always plans ahead. Right now, if you purchase a Apple computer, it no longer has a firewire port. It now has a Thunderbolt port – which is 10x faster than USB. Apple has never market to what’s trending today – they’ve always worked hard to create products that will be of value tomorrow.

They’ve always thought about what was coming NEXT – instead of what works right now.

We are currently at the great technology plateau…High Definition video is at our fingertips. We can make and consume HD for very little cost. Internet is ubiquitous with urban living. 3G is everywhere, WiFi at every Starbucks and McDonalds. Our teachers and students need to coexist on this plateau. Teachers need to let go of the reigns of the classroom, and let the students explore new media with subjects that interest them. Students need to be guided through this plateau. Schools need to begin making sustainable investments in technology to keep inspiring students around the world.

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