Modern-day Cassandras?

I'm enjoying blogging. It allows me to connect with others, get ideas out that are bouncing around inside my head, and get some positive affirmation that the ideas that I hold are held by others too.


Just like some people watch the Amazon ranking of their published book or the Digg ranking of their online article / post, I've been watching my Technorati rating slowly climb since I started blogging six weeks ago. It looks like I'm about to break into the top 100,000, which doesn't sound too exciting until you realize that a brand new blog starts with a rank of 1 million something. Here is my Technorati ranking compared to some other, more well-known K-12 ed tech blogs (statistics as of Sep. 30):

  •     1,804 - Weblogg-ed (4,761 links from 849 blogs)
  •     4,745 - 2 Cents Worth (1,793 links from 436 blogs)
  •     7,734 - Cool Cat Teacher Blog (743 links from 298 blogs)
  •     7,899 - Moving at the Speed of Creativity (1,287 links from 293 blogs)
  •   10,372 - Learning Now (520 links from 234 blogs)
  •   17,459 - EduBlog Insights (393 links from 145 blogs)
  •   19,355 - Education/Technology (314 links from 132 blogs)
  •   20,965 - The Savvy Technologist (398 links from 123 blogs)
  •   26,142 - The Thinking Stick (367 links from 101 blogs)
  •   27,930 - Ed-Tech Insider (263 links from 95 blogs)
  •   28,288 - Blue Skunk Blog (296 links from 94 blogs)
  •   33,355 - TechLearning Blog (205 links from 80 blogs)
  •   36,732 - Around the Corner (138 links from 73 blogs)
  •   44,201 - The Learning Circuits Blog (90 links from 61 blogs)
  •   59,698 - The Strength of Weak Ties (86 links from 46 blogs)
  •   64,353 - Tuttle SVC (125 links from 43 blogs)
  • 116,125 - Dangerously Irrelevant (76 links from 25 blogs)
  • Although I'm making progress, I obviously have a long way to go before I catch up to some of my blogging colleagues!

    The reason I'm discussing all of this is because I ran across a quote in The Big Moo that got me thinking:

    All of this online buzz and hoopla by and between us bloggers is wonderful. I learn a ton from my blogging colleagues and I have seen the way I think about some topics shift dramatically as I read and interact with others. I wonder, though, how much difference we're actually making with our intended audience of K-12 educators. Are most teachers and administrators reading even the most popular ed tech bloggers such as Will, David, Vicki, and Wesley? Probably not. Although Technorati only shows links from blogs, not the number of page views, I'm guessing that collectively we ed tech bloggers still are reaching only a tiny fraction of teachers and administrators. If there are 90,000 public schools in this country, that's a lot of educators.

    I think it's important that we bloggers remember to go beyond providing thought leadership, witty critiques, and insightful commentary and actually provide something tangible now and then that our readers can take back to their school organizations. Whether it's something small like my Why Blog as an Administrator? packet or something bigger like School Data Tutorials or Class Blogmeister, the more we give our readers concrete resources that they can use with other staff, the more we further our cause of effectuating change. I don't think that merely posting about various topics is enough.

    We don't have to create new tools, necessarily, although of course those are always needed. I think my Why Blog as an Administrator? packet and my list of Digital kids. Analog Schools. quotes show that repackaged blog content can have a lot of value to others. I encourage anyone and everyone who's reading this blog to think about how your own content, whether it's short pieces that you've written or blog posts or whatever, can be packaged and disseminated to effectively reach teachers and/or administrators. Because we're primarily working through our readers (unless we present at a workshop or conference), when we do this we need to be cognizant that our material should be packaged so that it can be used by others. If we do this right, we become secondary change agents, working through those educators who like our stuff and want to use it to make a difference in their organizations. Between us there is a lot of good stuff out there - we need to somehow make it more available and more public.

    As Godin notes in Small is the New Big:

    We can't be worried about bragging. If we have something worth sharing, we need to get it out there in formats that educators can use. I don't share my data-driven decision-making white papers and my administrator blogging packet because I think they're the best thing since sliced bread. I share them because they're a resource that some educators have found valuable. Since this is the case, the more broadly they're disseminated and publicized, the more likely that others will find them, and find them valuable, too. Let's work on ways to get our content and tools and commentary into the hands of the educators who really need them, the folks who still aren't sold on the value of technology.

    Let's also try and remember to highlight specific examples of changes that we're enabling. If something successful happens because of our work, either directly or indirectly, let's be sure to make those examples as public as possible. Most of us can probably identify several examples of successful change that we have facilitated but that few folks know about. Get the word out. Again, it's not about bragging but about providing concrete examples that others can tap into.

    Few of us want to be modern-day Cassandras, railing at the ignorance and intransigence of educators and policymakers. I think that most of us feel that we have something worth saying, and information and resources worth sharing. One of our critical tasks is to extend our reach beyond our small community of bloggers and blog readers and find ways to reach the rest of the K-12 world. We can only reach so many people through our blogs, workshops, and conferences. We need to tap into the larger pool of educational technology advocates and feed them resources they can use to move things forward.

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    New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

    Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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    • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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    Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

    A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

    Rethinking humanity's origin story

    The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

    David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

    The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

    Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

    He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

    It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

    "Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

    Migrating out of Africa

    In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

    Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

    The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

    The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

    Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

    Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

    Did we head east or south of Eden?

    Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

    Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.