Teaching with Technology: Passion, Scholarship, and a Leap of Faith

Bonnie BraceyBy Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

I always liked that discussion about the body falling down the stairs and how it looked from various perspectives. I consider myself a change agent and that got me called into the office, moved from school to school, and actually allowed me to work for the President of the United States.

The answer is not on the page

KidsNetwork National Geographic and the laser disk programs I had (old technology) made me think in new ways, especially when the kids wanted to know why they couldn’t use the technology that I was using, computers, digital cameras, story boxes, etc. With laser disks, you could capture frames and create presentations. I also had a lumaphone from Hawaii somewhere, and we could see the people we talked to. This was revolutionary. You know what? Even though that stuff is old hat and we have moved on, there are people still looking for the answer on the page.

So what changed was me. I was not looking for the answer on the page. The kids were free to think, read, and use other sources. Dr. Hilda Taba did this without the technology. She used pictures. But that was way before the Internet. There have always been people seeking to create change. Change is chaos to many and quite frightful.

Perhaps you used to be a teacher and you learned what was in the book, so you dropped the book or lost it — easily replaceable — and you could look every kid in the eye while standing your ground. It takes courage to do anything else. I don’t believe I know how classroom management is taught for computer use, nor do I know how people estimate the variables of change over populations not used to being given permission to think, explore, search. That’s a whole discussion for another day.

How do you manage different populations of students using technology?

I learned classroom management for technology through NASA and National Geographic. The Challenger Center and various groups demonstrated and taught as much as they could about different approaches. Earthwatch did some of this too. Everything you teach is not going to be interesting, but there are different ways of teaching.

I made up my own matrix, a game, some books, a classroom display and resources, a field trip, and local and international resources. But I can cheat because I live in Washington, D.C. What expert is not available to me? What gadgets and gizmos, intriguing laser disk lollipops, giant insects, lizards walking on water, astronauts coming in to tell kids how they got started? With the magic of multimedia, though, you can have access to the things that go on in D.C. In fact, most of this stuff have migrated to the web. Now the problem is that there is too much information and too many things to do, and someone has to make choices.

I used the standards that I knew, and the students and I would apply them in reviews of their individual and group projects. Not hard to do except for the first time. I sent home the objectives I wanted to accomplish at the start of every big unit. A mistake?

No. Three things happened. Parents who could help, did. Parents who did not understand or know about the topics asked to come in to learn it and help me. (That was scary, at first.) Kids who were not in my class, unfortunately, wanted in on some of the action. You can see how I was a nuisance.

We did the Challenger Center’s Marsville project in my class. I asked other teachers to be a part of it, but they refused. At that time, I almost had an accident while going home. As I rounded the curve in the neighborhood, I saw a giant Marsville that my kids had built for their friends.

Teaching as a passion

For social studies and geography, I did a study of the Chesapeake Bay, the great shell bay. The Fish and Wildlife Service helped me with field trips; National Geographic had a video and lesson plans, and the map was wonderful. We read sections of the book Chesapeake and learned more than the three paragraphs in the social studies book. We knew the history, the science of the estuaries that lead to the sea, and we seined for crabs, did water turbidity and salinity studies, and examined microscopic organisms. Click here for the lab part — where I work.

school children using microscopes

One teacher told me that when they decide how to do technology and get it right, she would make an effort to learn. I suppose she is still waiting. Another teacher I knew watched me and asked to be a part of the project. So we worked together. This woman was such a good teacher that we joked she could teach the dead to read and write. No kidding, she could get a child up to grade level in about a year. Immigrant kids.

bonnie02

Deloris Davis. What she did was not to do all the work. We had a parent committee who did most of it for us. I never thought of that.

Teachers in Hawaii — I went there to learn about the long canoes. I have a friend from New Zealand who is a book publisher. I studied Hawaii, the islands, and the history in depth because if you are a National Geographic trained teacher that’s what you do.

Lately there is always more to learn

So there is Web 2.0 and the new Blooms Digital Technology and TPACK. You can see why teachers who are used to a book might run screaming from the room.

In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins talks about the new skills:

  • Play— the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  • Performance— the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation— the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation— the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking— the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition— the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence— the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgment— the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation— the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking— the ability to search for , synthesize , and disseminate information
  • Negotiation— the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives , and grasping and following alternative norms.

The school system did not like National Geographic, NASA, Discovery Channel, and others coming into my classroom to film because it made the other teachers feel bad. The teachers did not want to do the work, which I understood. Converting to technology is no easy task. It requires more than a leap of faith and a loss of total control, in some ways, of the classroom. It requires scholarship, diligence, and willingness to learn, and it also takes an inordinate amount of time. Few people appreciate that.

But it also leads to better classroom work. I was invited to leave teaching with early retirement and a bonus. Innovation and that kind of thing was not amusing to the school system where I worked even if I had worked for the President — which seems to have made it worse.

I was not a prima donna or a diva either. I simply love teaching.

The President’s Town Hall Meeting Could Have Been Entitled ‘No Teacher Left Behind’

bbracey80By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

[Note: The following article was originally posted by Bonnie Bracey Sutton in a WWWEDU (The Web and Education Discussion Group) discussion thread on “The State of Education in the Nation. Uneven But the President is on task,” on 26 March 2009. It has been revised for ETC. -js]

One of the advantages or disadvantages that I have is that I live in Washington, DC. That means I get to go to the hill and hear what President Obama actually says as well as reports from the different groups and sources on the latest in education.

I just attended an online Town Hall Meeting at White House.gov. You may want to review this presentation and or listen to the President, in his own words, share his perspective on education in the nation. I have heard the pleas from Compete.org, The Convocation on the Gathering Storm, the Innovation Proclamation, and the MIT PiTAC groups. It was like going to the hill with the cheerleaders for change in education. But today, the President talked directly about teachers, early childhood education, charter schools and evaluation, and innovation.

What was so interesting to me was that he talked about the support that is needed for teachers. Unlike Michelle Rhee, he did not play the blame game. He acknowledged that he had the best of education but that education is delivered unevenly in the US. He said that teachers need professional development, first, and then we can talk about measurement and merit pay. He must have been reading the local DC papers. How refreshing to see that he gets it..

Here in Washington there is a school where students are throwing books at teachers when they turn their backs. It’s not about technology. It’s about classroom management and attitudes. The President said that not only do teachers need to know curriculum, but they also need to know how to manage the classroom.

STEM

I attended a STEM initiative yesterday that was presented by the National Center for Technological Literacy, NSTA, and NCTM. It was a briefing of the House STEM Education Caucus. I also attended two STEM workshops yesterday. One was excellent. The various groups talked about science, math, technology, and engineering, and gave references, links to websites, and resources. The participants at the STEM advocacy meeting were encouraged to network. There were plentiful materials for all, and even a handout of all of the powerpoints. This was organized by Sharon Robinson and the STEM Alliance, The House STEM Education Caucus, and Innovative STEM Teacher Preparation Programs. It was worth getting up to go to.

At the Education of Science Teachers in Pre-Service for college teachers, in a powerpoint on Science Teacher Education, the focus was on content knowledge and content courses in programs. There was mention of the pressures from NCLB and other mandates. They actually said that in many states science in elementary schools had become a nonentity because it has not been tested and relegated to 20 minutes a week, if taught at all. There was discussion of the disconnect between “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants,” but the group acknowledged that there were some who were digitally disconnected and barack-obamatherefore not in either category. Discussion revolved around a holistic approach to educating pre-service teachers. This was the point made by Jon Pederson from the Association for Science Teacher Education.

Often people teach teachers how to use technology without explaining how that technology changes the classroom and the ways in which we must work.

In Mathematics Teacher Preparation, Dr. Francis Fennell discussed teacher education programs, emphasizing mathematical and pedagogical content knowledge needed for teaching math. Based on evidence from the 2009 National Mathematics Advisory Panel, he said that a substantial part of the variability in student achievement gains is due to the teacher’s ability and knowledge of math.

He discussed the critical shortage in most states of high school and middle school teachers. He talked about the various pathways into teaching and said that we must improve teacher mentoring, professional development, and retention. He was clear that the National Math Panel supported the idea of elementary math specialists. He predicted that there might be mathematics specialists at every level.

The only disconcerting thing for me was that he did not seem to know what computational math is and why it should be included in his road map to math excellence. See http://www.shodor.org

There was handout from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It stated that every student has the right to be taught mathematics by a highly qualified teacher — a teacher who knows mathematics well and who can guide students toward understanding and learning. A highly qualified teacher understands how students learn mathematics, employs a wide range of teaching strategies, and is committed to lifelong professional development.

An interesting variation and new discussion centered on the Atlas Program, Advancing the Technological Literacy and Skills of Elementary Educators, sponsored by the Museum of Science, Boston (http://www.mos.org/eie/atlas). They shared a rationale for engineering technology in elementary grades and discussed the needs, goals and outcomes, and a plan for distribution of this program to community colleges and four years institutions. This program and its highlights are available on the web.

Then I went to the NEA building to the 21st Century STEM initiatives presentation. Chris Dede began the talk in maybe ’92, and we discussed the 21st Century Initiatives. I actually worked for the first initiative, doing outreach to teachers after I finished my work on the NIIAC, and shared resources, ideas, and philosophy on the use of technology in the US. There were many players who had ideas at that time who were collaborating with the 21st Century Initiative. Sadly, I learned yesterday that the group is stll wedded to Margaret Spellings and the original NCLB talk.

There was no mention at all of science, geography, and the innovative part of STEM that we have come to know about from Compete.org. The innovation seemed to come from INTEL, and there was little mention of UDL, but Ken Kay never mentioned science, engineering, and/or technology as a complete subject. Maybe they need to retool and re-educate themselves on the new direction in which the President is going. Instead they wanted states to sign up for more standards. Maybe Ken Kay has not heard the Secretary of Education’s speech at the NSTA conference.

Arnie Duncan and the President mentioned SCIENCE and Technology. The difference between what the President actually says and what others SAY he says is huge. It is significant that the President and the Secretary of Education pay particular attention to the STEM work. Governors are also on board. There are special STEM academies and Project Lead the Way. Robotics First and other initiatives are being shared, as well as the results of ITEST NSF grants as ways of working. The vocational science issues that are addressing workforce readiness and the Perkins initiative were also important additions to the discussion by the President and Duncan.

The 21st Century Initiative seems to be more a membership initiative that is looking for state buy in. If they are not really going to include real science, real math, computational math, and science and engineering, they should not call their work STEM initiatives.

Geography (http://mywonderfulworld.org)? No one mentioned it.

Michelle Rhee Has a Broom: Should She Use It to Sweep Out Experienced Teachers?

bbracey80By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

If you want to start a heated discussion in the District of Columbia, just mention the name “Michelle Rhee.” We who live here don’t have a real political vote or a real senator, and now we have one more injustice to suffer. Ms. Rhee is the chancellor of education in DC with unlimited powers granted to her by Mayor Fenty. And one of those powers is to fire and hire.

Ms. Rhee doesn’t want citizens, parents, or teachers involved in her decisions about DC public schools. My concern is that many of us, DC educators, who have given our lives — our time, our money, and our dedication — to help bring up the race without special funding or fanfare, may be out of the picture. With Ms. Rhee in charge, we’re viewed as too old and unfit.

Seeing the ads in the help wanted pages, I initially intended to work with Ms. Rhee’s  program. I had worked with Teach for America informally in Arlington schools. I used to stay three hours after school to allow my students to use technology, and the Teach for America volunteers learned my software and used my resources to teach. I still had to put in time because it was important for me to know what the students learned or did not learn. But I changed my mind about applying after hearing Ms. Rhee’s comments about “seasoned” teachers. She felt that older teachers were not up to the job.

I am the teacher who was the technology director for the 21st Century Project when it was new. I am not a newbie. I know teaching, and I know curriculum. But given Ms. Rhee’s attitude toward “old” teachers, I simply decided not to apply.

As many of my “seasoned” colleagues and I disengage from the DC public school system, we take with us valuable knowledge and years of experience as well as an understanding and love for students that can’t be measured by test scores and dollars.

I am not a stranger to urban schools. I thought that my expertise and experience would be a good match. But I decided to keep doing outreach on my own. Ms. Rhee does not want interference in her plan. She knows it all.

For three years I worked in Anthony Bowen Elementary School in Southwest Washington, DC, before NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was even a policy. It was difficult work, but I loved it. I left when we were reduced to teaching on benches in the gym while renovations were taking place during the school year.

I had a foundation and funding to work with the school. But it was like flushing money down the toilet to see what happened and not fun to bonnie01bmonitor. We never had enough for regular school supplies, field trips, books, art materials, and other things we take for granted in other schools. Still, I made a difference in the lives of some of the children. The school was and is a ghetto school, and it was located across from a high rise in which kids fell to their death in the elevator shafts at least once a month.That facility has, thankfully, been shut down. It was about as ghetto as you could get. The little girls sometimes traded sex for sandwiches from the men working the food trucks. Drugs were a problem in the neighborhood. The school was ancient, and on the first day of heat the smell of ancient urine would choke in your throat and make tears come to your eyes. Then you would get used to it. Well, you can get used to it. As the children must.

I worked in Ballou High School, the one with the marching band that went to the Rose Bowl parade. Nearly 80 per cent of the students are so poor they qualify for a government-paid-for lunch. The school had many people trying to help. But not much has improved. Crime and student behavior were always a problem. A rape took place on my first day of work. Getting to the school was also difficult unless one drove. Cabs would not take you there.

Teachers who teach in urban schools suffer a very different set of circumstances. Children come to us with a variety of problems. I won’t detail them all, but often the biggest is the lack of involvement of the parents and community, as well as poorly chosen resources for students. Some of the children live in environments where being out after dark is dangerous. Still, some children try to do after school programs.

When I taught in DC schools, children would follow me home and sleep in front of my door if I didn’t know they were there, and once I found a child sleeping under my car. When they came to my home, I would feed them and walk them back home. I did not keep students overnight in my home. I was asked to move from an apartment because the children followed me there to sleep in the lobby or in the halls. It was a safe haven for them when they could not get into their own homes. I was called the pied piper of Southwest, but I could not care for all of the children.

I doubt if anyone monitored those kinds of problems, the drug problems, the kids who were being mistreated in foster care. We met them all in the classroom, but we were judged in the same way as those schools where the problems are less severe.

Every set of schools has its own unique problems. Read the DC news for a while and you will see what I mean. Once a child brought me a still breathing aborted child. Life is not easy in very poor urban schools. You have to think about much more than the basics. In fact, you learn the skills of a social worker if you can.

Substituting is a good way to get a picture of the reality of the schools. I recommend it for a reality check.

In DC schools, the nurse only came once a week. So my friends who were medical doctors did duty for me by treating the students with permission from the parents.

The non-textbook equipment that I shared in school was mine, paid for out of my own pocket. I couldn’t leave my resources in the schools because they would disappear. I know that they made a difference. I worked in Arlington schools and DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents Schools) in 22 countries. There was a tremendous difference in terms of equipment. In surburban schools and DoDDS there were supplies and budgets for special resources. In DC, most of the funding went elsewhere. There was no budget for field trips. We only had $40 worth of supplies so I spent a lot of my own money at the teacher’s store, the book store, and the museum for material to enhance the learning environment.

I fed the children with government cheese, crackers, and peanut butter or foods that were available, but until breakfast was started in the schools, bonnie01abubblegum was the smell of the classroom in the early hours of the day. It was strong enough to make one nauseous. The lunch was nothing special, but it was food. Some children’s parents were missing often from their homes. Here in the DC area we have had students killed and put in freezers, stabbed by their parents, and otherwise mistreated. The social network is hard to improve with those in need. People care, but there are so many problems.

Often I went to service establishments to find coats, shoes, socks, and hats for children without proper clothing. You have probably heard of the glove tree, or the coat collection, or the backpack that children now are given so that they will have food over the weekend. I even know how to find old eyeglasses when there is no other way. The Optimist group. Welfare does not take care of everything especially when parents are not involved or knowledgeable. A teenage group helped me teach students to go to the mall and to the museums, but we quickly found that they were not welcome unless we were there.

We had rats in the school that ventured out in the daytime. No fear. If the rats ate the graham crackers that were provided for students, the teacher had to pay for them. It was not unusual to find a tunnel through those crackers. The vermin were everywhere.

When I taught in DC schools, the library sent us a box of books for a month. They did not want the kids in the library. So I made them let the kids sign out the books by taking them there and complaining loudly.

Then there is the matter of science. There wasn’t anything to teach with. Science was  in a book, but a set of books had to be shared with four classes. Therefore most teachers did not teach science. We lived within walking distance of the national museums, yet most children had never been there. I was able to change that, but I found that the children were not welcome in the programs because of the logistics involved. They had to be picked up after a three or four hour session at the museum. Most parents did not drive and transportation was a problem even just to the mall.

My students could make money in drugs, prostitution, and with a five finger discount as well as the underground economy if you know what I mean. It really isn’t fun to teach where everything is a problem, but you do it for lots of reasons but certainly NOT the money.

Have you ever heard anyone say that teaching is lucrative? I have never. I also doubt that people enter teaching to bore the heck out of children. I doubt that people in DC, having been through so many changes, know what the pulse of education is. NCLB has created some problems in that teachers felt bound to teach to the test, but truthfully, DC schools have always been a problem for many reasons. Congress funds DC schools if it feels like it. Some special initiatives are poised for DC schools whether or not the schools really want them. The school board meetings can be a challenge. Ms. Rhee remarked that she did not have to put up with that “crap” (her word).

The technology in DC schools is wanting. Just take a look at the schools’ website. Sadly, I was working to create change in technology. It proved impossible at that time. Some groups make changes in a school, but the district is lacking in technology resources. Even Ms. Rhee will admit that. When ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has its conference in DC this summer, Virginia teachers will man the technology.

Later in my life, when I worked for President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we tried to change schools in DC, too. We deliberately picked those that needed the most help. I worked with the vice president on the CyberED Initiative that had us traveling the country in empowerment and enterprise zones. We worked in Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Clinton, Tennesee, Oakland, and other sites. Our job was to demonstrate, share, and let teachers, parents, and the community try out the new technologies. It was a wonderful job. It was a sharing of possibilities. We worked with community members, teachers, administrators, and parents.

Schools are communities made up of students, parents, and educators, not just a woman posing as a witch with a broom. Ms. Rhee should take that broom and sweep out the problem of thinking that the community is her enemy and that she alone can bring about change. She should use the resources available in the community, and that includes the layer of accomplished and experienced teachers.

[Editor’s note: For related articles, see Two Ambivalent Views of Michelle Rhee’s Efforts
and Michelle Rhee – What’s Really at Stake? Here’s a tip from Jim Morrison: For an update on Michelle Rhee, see Bill Turque’s 5 Jan. 2009 article, “Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training,” at washingtonpost.com.]

Thoughts on the Green Computing Summit

thompson80By John Thompson
Editor, Green Computing

The conference, held in Washington, DC, on December 2-3, 2008, presented “incremental approaches to the greening of agency operations, within the bounds of government procurement, budget and regulatory requirements.” There were two tracks for participants – Track 1: Greening Federal Operations and Track 2: Virtualization – For the Data Center and Beyond. (Click here for the presentations.)

green_computing_summitMy panel presentation – “How Green Are Your Operations?” – was the first offering in track one. The other panelists included Juan Lopez from the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, Dr. Ed Piñero from Rochester Institute of Technology, and Rob Pinkerton from Adobe Systems. A copy of my prepared remarks should be available at the conference presentations site shortly. The ensuing keynote was done by Dr. Daniel Esty, who is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and the author of “Green to Gold.”

Day two started with another keynote, “Environmental Design and Energy Efficiency for Federal Facilities: An Executive Perspective,” by Kevin Kampschroer, Acting Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration. He offered his insights into how to build green, energy efficient buildings. I spoke with him afterwards (and got his business card) as my college, Buffalo State College, is constructing a new science building and after that a new technology building. My department will be moved into the latter. I hope that these two pending structures will incorporate energy efficient designs. As pointed out by Kampschroer, energy saving design does not have to increase building cost. When asked how you can push for green design without being obnoxious about it, Kampschroer quickly advocated being obnoxious, if that’s what it takes. Unfortunately, I could not stay for day two’s concluding luncheon keynote as I had to go to the airport for my flight back to Buffalo.

Here are some selected notes from the keynotes, presentations, and table conversations:

  • The federal government prefers using “electronic stewardship” over “green computing.”
  • The federal government spends $60B (as in Billion) annually on electronics, making it the biggest IT user in the world.
  • There is an increased pressure for e-cycling at “end of life” for electronic equipment. Just discarding old tech stuff does not cut it any longer. One federal government program – Computers for Learning – directs excessed computers and related peripheral equipment (e.g., printers) from federal agencies be made available free to schools. All the necessary information is available at its Web site.
  • PC users can save $75-100 per PC per year using power management techniques on their desktop computers.
  • The green wave is not cresting. It’s more like a tsunami.
  • There is an underlying logic to eco-computing: save energy, reduce costs.
  • A lot of acronyms (a lot of federal employee presenters and participants in the audience) and green phrases like “carbon constrained future” were bandied around.
  • There is a price for inaction on green computing. Doing nothing can cost more than action.
  • There is a need for more efficient servers for IT.
  • Cool equipment, not rooms, in your IT operations.
  • Prioritize – what’s strategic, ROI (return on investment).
  • Kaizen – in chaos lies opportunities.
  • Government’s role is to incentivize, not control.
  • thompson28dec08Telework (aka telecommuting) agreement does not necessarily mean employees never go into the office. Barriers to telework include perceived loss of control (cannot manage who you cannot see), security, and negative impressions of past efforts.
  • Videoconferencing reduces pollution, speeds up decision making through increased communications, aids in recruiting and retaining employees, reduces travel costs and increases productivity, and enables real time face-to-face communication with remote employees.
  • Measure, measure, measure (e.g., energy costs, carbon emissions). What gets measured gets done. Conduct baseline of energy use with an energy audit. Implement your green initiatives. Measure again. Repeat.
  • Environmental Protection Agency has an energy savings calculator.
  • Green buildings:
    • Placing lights as close as possible to work sites reduces the amount of light needed.
    • Install waterless urinals.
    • Wireless sensors provide more local user control.
    • Install a green roof.
    • Challenge assumptions and “business as usual.” As the old saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”
    • Possible to put up buildings that achieve 50% reduction in energy needs with no additional capital expense.
    • Giving users control for lighting leads to less light used.
    • Use LED lights (less energy, less maintenance).
  • US government has approximately 445,000 buildings with three billion square feet (and leases another 57,000 building with 374 million square feet).
  • Paper represents 37% of trash that is thrown out. One ton of recycled paper equals one acre of trees.
  • Successful program needs supportive leadership.
  • The Business of Green.
  • Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

When I got back home, I put all this in a report to those who subsidized my travel to DC. I explained that the Green Computing Summit was a very worthwhile experience. We’ll have to see what changes on my campus as a result. But I’m going to talk with my department to start making some changes (e.g., use less paper, PC power management). Every journey of a thousand miles . . .

Live Radio Captioning for the Deaf

claude80By Claude Almansi
Staff Writer

Thanks to:

  • Sylvia Monnat, director of captioning at Télévision Suisse Romande (French-speaking Swiss television www.tsr.ch) for the explanations she gave me by phone on live captioning through re-speaking.
  • Neal Stein, of Harris Corporation (www.harris.com), for the authorization to publish on YouTube the video excerpt shown below, and for his explanations on the US live radio captioning project.

Why Caption Radio?

Making radio accessible for deaf and hard of hearing persons is not commonly perceived as a priority. For instance, the new version of the Swiss law and ordinance on Radio and Television that came into force in 2007 does add several dispositions about accessibility for people with sight and hearing disabilities but does not mention captioning radio. See art. 7 [1] of the law and art. 7 [2] and 8 [3] of the ordinance (in French). According to most non-deaf people’s “common sense,” deaf persons don’t use radio – just as many non-blind people still believe that blind people can’t use computers.

Yet deaf persons are interested in accessing radio content through captioning, as Cheryl Heppner, Executive Director of NVRC [4], explains in this video:

The video is from the January 8, 2008, I-CART introductory press conference at CES 2008. The full video can be downloaded from www.i-cart.net. Transcript of the above excerpt:

I’m one of 31 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing. A number that continues to grow. NPR Labs and its partners are on the verge of making many of my dreams come true. Beyond having that really crucial emergency information, captioned radio could also open up a world I’ve never had, because I lost my hearing before my seventh birthday.

When I am stuck in Washington’s legendary Beltway gridlock, I could check the traffic report and find out why, what my best route would be. I could check the sports scores and follow the games for all my favorite teams. I could know why my husband is always laughing so uproariously when he listens to “Car Talk.” And I could annoy him by singing along badly to the lyrics of his favorite songs.

I can’t wait. Thank you.

NPR’s Live Captioned Broadcast of Presidential Election

The work by NPR Labs and its partners, mentioned by Cheryl Heppner in this January 2008 conference, led to the broadcasting of live captioned debates on NPR during the US election campaign a few months later. The assessment by deaf and hard of hearing people of this experiment was extremely positive. According to the press release “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Vote Yes on New Radio Technology During NPR’s Live Captioned Broadcast of Presidential Election” (Nov. 13, 2008) [5]:

  • 95% were happy with the level of captioning accuracy, a crucial aspect for readability and comprehension
  • 77% said they would be interested in purchasing a captioned radio display unit when it becomes available
  • 86% indicated they would be interested in purchasing a “dual-view” screen display for a car (which would enable a deaf passenger to see the captioned radio text while the driver listens to the radio).

How Are Radio Captions Transmitted?

A digital radio signal can be divided to transmit audio and text, and the text can be read on the radio display. In fact, text messages are already being sent micro4_serviceon car radio displays through Radio Data System (RDS). For instance, this is how the Swiss traffic information service Inforoutes updated drivers in real time – or almost – about the state of traffic jams due to work in the Glion tunnel in 2004. (See “Service,” in French, on page 4, in the May 2004 newsletter of Les Radios Francophones Publiques [6].)

The radio devices used in the experience conducted by NPR Labs and its partners that Cheryl Heppner mentions have a bigger display. For the exact technical explanation of how the captions work, see the presentations section of www.i-cart.net.

Stenocaptioning vs. Respeaking

The NPR experiment mentioned above used “stenocaptioned,” i.e., they were written with a stenotype [7] whose output gets translated into captions in normal English by computer software. Live stenocaptioning – whether for news broadcasts or for in-presence events in specially equipped venues – seems to be the preferred solution in countries such as the US and Italy that have a tradition of stenotyping court proceedings or parliamentary debates.

In most other European countries, according to Ms. Sylvia Monnat, director of captioning at Télévision Suisse Romande (French-speaking Swiss TV – www.tsr.ch), broadcasters tend to prefer “respeaking,” which works with speech-to-text technology: the software gets trained to recognize the voice of respeakers, and then converts what they repeat into captions.

Ms. Monnat further explained that, on the one hand, the advantages of respeaking involves training. In fact, countries without a stenotyping tradition do not offer courses for it, whereas existing interpretation schools can arrange respeaking courses since it is a normal exercise in the training of conference interpreters. Moreover, respeaking is easier to learn than stenotyping.

On the other hand, it takes time to, first, train the speech-to-text software to recognize the respeakers’ voices and, second, to add words not present in its basic thesaurus for each respeaker’s voice. Moreover, enough respeakers have to be trained so that one whose voice is recognized by the software will be available when needed. Whereas once a new word has been added to the thesaurus of the stenocaptioning software, it can be used by any stenocaptioner.

Outlook

The fast evolution of technology makes it difficult to foresee the issues of live captioning, even in the near future. Radio and television are merging into “multimedia broadcasting.” And, in turn, the line between broadcasting and the internet is gradually fading (see the HDTV offer by internet providers). Speech-to-text technology will probably continue to improve. Mutimedia devices are also evolving rapidly.

However, the response of the deaf and hard of hearing people who participated in the NPR Live captioning experiment seems to allow one safe surmise: live radio captioning is here to stay, whatever the means it will use tomorrow.

Resources

Further information on live captioning can be found in the online version of the “Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Real-time Intralingual Subtitling” held in Forlì, Italy, on Nov. 17, 2006 [8].

This and other online resources mentioned here have been tagged “captioning” in Diigo and can therefore be found, together with resources added by other Diigo users, in www.diigo.com/tag/captioning.

Michelle Rhee – What’s Really at Stake?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

She’s on the cover of Time (week of December 8), in a classroom, unsmiling, dressed in black, holding a broom, with the cover title, “How to Fix America’s Schools,” set to look as though it’s the lesson for the day written on the blackboard. Framing her head is the huge “TIME” trademark. She is Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education, District of Columbia Public Schools. And the question for the “class” is, Does she have the answer to America’s failing public school systems? Is it, finally, time to make the kinds of sweeping changes that she represents?

Her goal’s clear, “To make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation” [1]. The yardstick is a simple one: reading and math scores on standardized achievement tests. And her formula’s just as simple: reward teachers who can help her reach her goal and get rid of the ones who can’t.

time_mag_cover_dec8This unflinching focus, she says, places the student’s best interest at the forefront of schools. Higher scores will eventually translate to college degrees and better jobs, which are the tickets out of poverty, discrimination, and all the other social ills.

The underlying assumption is that all students can significantly improve their scores IF they have teachers [1] who are willing to set that as the primary goal and do everything it takes to reach it. In this picture, there is absolutely no room for failure. Little or no gain in scores is a sign of failure, and failure means a quick exit from the teaching profession. When student success is weighed against teacher security, there is no issue. Tenure is a dead horse. For teachers, the decision is a simple one, too: Deliver higher scores or get out.

“She is angry at a system of education that puts ‘the interests of adults’ over the ‘interests of children,’ i.e., a system that values job protection for teachers over their effectiveness in the classroom. Rhee is trying to change that system” [2].

What about the gray area, the affective dimensions that defy objective measurement? Rhee says, “The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely. . . . People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning.’ . . . I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job” [1].

michelle_rhee01In pursuit of her goal, Rhee has the complete backing of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who appointed her chancellor in June 2007. “In her first 17 months on the job, Rhee closed 23 schools with low enrollment and overhauled 27 schools with poor academic achievement. She also fired more than 250 teachers and about one-third of the principals at the system’s 128 schools” [3].

Rhee scares the daylights out of me because she may very well be the wish that we’re warned to watch out for, the one that we might actually get. Now that we have someone with the power to really change the system, I suddenly have cold feet. Yes, she seems to make sense. Student achievement should take precedence over the needs of teachers. But are there other issues waiting below the surface that might just jump out and bite us if we follow Rhee?

For example, despite the radical nature of her approach, the bundle that we think of as “school” remains pretty much the same. The burden of accountability has shifted to the teacher, but the roles, resources, goals, and environment remain constant. Even pedagogy seems to be the same–more homework, more demanding tasks, more discipline, more testing. In other words, the same, but more of it.

One could argue that Rhee’s changes don’t go far enough and need to include innovations in information technology. There’s the possibility that these innovations could enhance learning by dramatically altering schools as we know them without some of the harsher consequences that seem to be a part of Rhee’s strategy.

Another issue is the effectiveness of strategies that Rhee lumps into the category of “touchy-feely.” Are these affective, student-centered, holistic, indirect methods proven ineffective? Or are they, perhaps, just as if not more effective than Rhee’s hard-nosed direct approach? Are we ready to toss these out as useless?

Yet another issue is the similarity of Rhee’s model to test-oriented systems in Asia. Is Rhee simply transporting a traditional model from China, India, Japan, and South Korea to the U.S.? If yes, then are there consequences that we need to be aware of?

Finally, are we beginning to draw a line between schools in general and poor urban schools in particular? A line that requires a radically different approach for the latter? Are we bending to the notion that schools not only can be but should be different for resource-poor inner-city schools? If this is the case, then could we be developing a system that channels or tracks children into careers at an early age, forever excluding college for many in favor of technical training? This could result in a form of economic and racial discrimination with far-reaching consequences.

In conclusion, my initial reaction is that Rhee’s ideas sound good, but I’m not quite ready to dump what we have now for an approach that we haven’t fully discussed or studied. At this juncture, an open discussion about the implications of Rhee’s tactics may be in order. I’m sure there are many other issues at stake. Thus, please share your thoughts with us. Either post them as comments to this article or email them to me at jamess@hawaii.edu

(Note: For a quick background, see Amanda Ripley’s “Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge” [26 Nov. 2008] at Time.com and Thomas, Conant, and Wingert’s “An Unlikely Gambler” [23 Aug. 2008, from the magazine issue dated 1 Sep. 2008] at Newsweek.com. Finally, go to YouTube and do a search on “michelle rhee” for lists of videos.)