Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Analyzing the Significance of Google's Slow and Shrewd Exit from China

Google's recent announcement that it is no longer going to self censor its Chinese search engine and move its servers to Hong Kong is significant for more than a few reasons:

1) The move marks the end of the first phase of a Chess game that has gone on between Google as one of the premier global corporations and the Chinese state

2) It demonstrates that there is a moral center to a US global corporation and that is committed to "do no evil". Arguably the move would not have occurred had not China according to Washington Post reports , "targeted (them) in computer hacking attacks originating from China." Such attacks included prying "into the e-mail of human rights activists, according to Google..(raising) the specter that the Chinese government played a role in the espionage, although Google never made a direct accusation."

3) It makes more visible the wider economic war going on as China seeks entry into many other world markets and competes with Google for dominance in some economic sectors. As the Wall Street Journal reported "Signs of nationalism are evident in the grooming of state-owned companies to dominate their industries as "national champions," often at the expense of private Chinese companies as well as foreign firms. From airlines to coal mining to dairy products, government policies are expanding the state's role.A year ago, in a move foreign critics called protectionist, Chinese regulators rejected a bid by Coca-Cola Co. for China Huiyuan Juice Group Ltd., saying it could crowd out smaller companies and raise consumer prices. The two combined held just a fifth of China's juice market.In July, four executives of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto were detained, initially accused of stealing "state secrets," amid tense negotiations between global miners and China's steel industry over iron ore prices. Rio Tinto denies wrongdoing by the men, who await trial on reduced charges of bribery and theft of commercial secrets."

4) It reveals the relative power of an IT savvy global corporation and the relative fragility of a fearful Chinese one party state. The genius of Google's strategy is that by moving its search engine servers to Hong Kong (where different legal rules apply--two systems one country) they can can reveal the uncensored web to a country that had no idea that information was being withheld from them. We see what happens--could be as important as the kind of radio/TV stations etc Russians were picking up in the 1980s that led to the end of the cold war.

5) The conflict spotlights the historical tensions within the China's relationship to the west. As the WSJ comments "For many multinationals in China, today's profits follow years of investment, much of it encouraged by government policies designed to lure capital. Now, at the point when their dream of access to a giant market is becoming reality, China is so prosperous that it has less need for foreign funds. Foreign investment has grown much slower than the rest of China's economy, amounting to 1.8% of gross domestic product in 2009, down from a peak of 6% in 1994." That economic security means that those among the elite ruling class "who has long harbored suspicions the West wants to hobble its economic rise" have now have had their hand strengthened. Now this group wants to resist Google and others by wanting to limit "foreign presence in the economy." This group of economic nationalists seem determined and unusually angry judging by the scale of the cyber-attacks that took place back in January.

So far the US and the West reacted quite calmly to these provocations. Clearly China can behave so badly sometimes because they know we need them to continue to buy our debt and to help us solve some key problems around the world,so it will be interesting to watch whether China will continue to ratchet up the tensions or not. The best outcome will be to allow Google to continue to operate from Hong Kong and to slowly absorb the reality that we live in an age where countries borders' can no longer stop the free flow of information.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Global Competency and Why Schools Resist

One of the questions that will need to be addressed if we are to make progress in the area of global studies is the question--what do we mean by the term "global competence"?

The topic came up at a recent symposium hosted at CoSN. Alexis Menten, assistant director of the Asia Society, used the term when describing the skills that that today's high schol graduate will need:
“We’ve seen a sea change. The world has changed, so the education system also needs to change,” she said during a panel discussion explaining why global competencies are critical for today’s students. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent.”

How to make it possible? Many more teachers are looking to use Web 2.0 tools to make this happen. For example --Sasha Connors, an English teacher at Burlington County Institute of Technology in New Jersey,uses iEARN and Skype comments that the reason why these tools are so educative is that they can cut through the media stereotypes.

“I had seen students form opinions based on what they see in the media. They had a limited knowledge of how the world works,” she said. “Web 2.0 allows students to interact with students from around the world. Skype allows meaningful global exchanges.”

The great benefit is so often ignored that by interacting with other countries such as in the case of Sasha Connors, they not only gain a better understanding of other countries such as India and Afghanistan, "but of themselves as Americans."

But the sting in the tail is that there are so few teachers like Ms Connors --she comments that she is her school's only teacher making such global technoolgy enabled connections. Fernando Reimers goes further, in an excellent article on the topic of global competency, unpacking some of the deeply embedded issues that prevent schools from taking global competency seriously. He provides some results from a survey of 150 school principals he recently administered:

"Fewer than one-half of respondents reported that their schools offer opportunities to develop global competencies, with similar percentages reporting opportunities to infuse global competencies throughout the curriculum or participate in project-based learning. Although a somewhat higher percentage reported that their schools provide opportunities for foreign language learning to students and teachers, only one in four principals reported opportunities for students or teachers to travel abroad. Support in this area is also limited: Only one in four principals reported adequate opportunities for teacher professional development in global competency, and only one in five reported partnerships with universities or other organizations to support the development of global skills in their schools."

Among the issues Reimers identifies is "not simply figuring out which specific activities contribute to fostering aspects of global competency, but also finding out how to integrate those activities into the regular work of schools and how to align them with existing curriculum, assessment, and opportunities for teacher professional development."

Clearly we need to keep our focus on this set of problems and with the thoughtful leadership of groups like OECD, the Asia Society and thinkers like Reimers we may see some progress made in the next few years on this question of how to move schools ahead in developing globally competent graduates.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Future of Ed Technology? How about the global perspective?

This blog is posted after just returning from the National Press Club meeting hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). The presentation featured some highlights from two major plans--the U.S. Department of Education’s National Educational Technology Plan and the FCC’s National Broadband Plan as they currently exist in draft form. An additional presentation was made by representatives from the Maine regarding their pioneering one laptop per child program.

What did we learn?

The future of schooling may well be for the entire country to emulate the state of Maine and their vision of "A personal digital device at the point of learning" --with the point of learning defined by the learner. According to a 2004 report conducted by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute, "more than 70 percent of students surveyed reported that laptops helped them learn more effectively, produce better work and be more organized. More than 75 percent of teachers surveyed said having the laptops helped them better meet Maine's statewide learning standards." Visitors as far away Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong have visited and there seems to be evidence of success in terms of student learning. Clearly the drafters of both reports have kept the Maine experiment firmly in mind when drafting the draft reports unveiled today. The visionaries behind the Maine approach, Seymour Pappert and Governor King were clearly vindicated in their bold program that has successfully unified federal, state and local funding and policies to a common goal that places the empowered learner at the center of the 21st century school. The success of the program can be measured by the consensus that while (in the midst of the recession) Maine has seen fit to cut many areas of the budget but not their commitment to one-on-one computing.

With the positive message from Maine as the lead off--Karen Cator the Secretary's Technology Advisor who has only been on the job four months talked about five recommendations where technology needs to be used to reach President Obama's goal that by 2020 the US will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

1. Learning
All learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences both in and outside of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.

2. Assessment
Our education system at all levels will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data for continuous improvement.

3. Teaching
Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all learners.

4. Infrastructure
All students and educators will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning when and where they need it.

5. Productivity
Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money, and staff.

The public is invited to comment on the plan.

I have yet to carefully review the draft --but if there is going to be a national plan we need to provide some vision for the way ubiquitious computing can lead to the --as Karen Cator stated the "re-inspiration" of teachers to become more effective and enable their students to reach their potential. That re-inspiration is more likely to come about not because technology can provide greater order of efficiencies in terms of productivity and data management--a bias in this plan-- but also because we set out a series of best practices that motivate and inspire students to learn in ways that embrace our need to prepare students for a 21st century globally interdependent world. It would seem to me that the community has an opportunity to influence this report and by extension the debate about the role of technology in the forseeable future.

Steve Midgely from the FCC set out some key points that complemented the National Plan by talking substantively about the future of digital learning and how broadband speeds need to be increased to facilitate the best forms of the learning that require far more video and interactivity than most schools (and community colleges for that matter) are currently capable of using. He recounted that only 16% of community colleges as opposed to 91 %of research universities have the needed high speed bandwidth. He identified some of the barriers to online learning:

o Teachers prevented from teaching across state lines
o Limited supply of high quality content
o Limited digital literacy skills on the part of teachers and students
o Limited access to public data and transparency of that data
o Complexity of the E-rate program--he has some changes in mind for example for simple applications the equivalent of the EZ 1040 application, the use of networked school buildings for job trainers in after school hours.

Additionally Midgely referenced the need to advance online learning through

-technical/interoperability standards for government-generated multimedia elements, such as images from NASA, and data from other sources.

that would "help provide a uniform platform across the country for all kinds of online learning systems to consume that content, reassemble it.... [W]e should be provisioning all kinds of resources from the National Archives, from Smithsonian, from NASA, from NSF, from the Department of Energy.... All of these resources are digital; they're available now but in proprietary, unique, one-off formats. If we can get a uniform format to publish all of those resources, we can change the game in terms of how digital learning occurs in the United States."

Midgely proposed changing the copyright law to allow digital authors to make their materials available for educational use by marking such materials with a circled "e" symbol (ⓔ) instead of the current circled "c" (©). This would provide blanket permission for educational use of these materials, while publishers who did not want their materials used in this way would be able to continue using the standard copyright symbol. There was no discussion of what would constitute educational use.

So there we have it --a framework that helps to promote the idea that technology can be a vital force in meeting todays' challenge--creating more college graduates--so we can be more internationally competitive--but does not specify in enough detail how we can meet it more imaginatively and creatively than we have done in the past. Rather it simply points to the new efficiencies that technology affords and talks more confidently about a learner centered future. It is now our turn--the turn of globally minded teachers to make that vision more recognizable to every day teachers. We should not flinch from this exciting challenge.