We can't let educators off the hook

Steve Dembo said:


I don't see it as teachers spurning technology, or choosing not to take advantage of those new ideas and tools. I think most teachers don't even realize that there's a decision to be made. It's not a matter of choosing the red pill or the blue pill... if you don't know that there are even two pills available as options.

... A teacher that has never heard of Blabberize or Glogster or Prezi, has never been introduced to the new world of online applications that are available to them. They likely don't follow blogs or listen to podcasts. They have probably never been to an EdTech conference or seen a TED talk. In short, they're just ordinary, average educators who aren't aware that there's a whole other world that they have easy access to... if they just 'take the blue pill'.

... I'm all for conversations about 'big' change. And yes, I agree, it's not the technology, it's the pedagogy. However, I also think that you need at least a minimal base to build from before you can have those conversations. And the vast majority of the educators in this country do NOT have that base yet.

Every day that I present for educators, I have a greater appreciate for how distorted the view is as seen through the eyes of a typical EduBlogger. In fact, the majority of the voices in the EdTech Community are so far ahead of the curve that it doesn't even seem like their on the same road anymore. Most educators have never listened to a podcast, much less created one. They've never edited a wiki, much less started one of their own. So how on earth could they be expected to have a rational conversation about the impact new technologies are having on the skill sets our students need? Simply put, they can't. The majority of the voices many of us listen to on a regular basis... actually represent just a tiny fraction of the educators out there. We're the minority, the outsiders, the ones who talk using strange terms involving words with far too many missing vowels.

Darren Draper said:

the large majority of teachers that I know are very caring individuals that believe firmly in life-long learning. Most love teaching because making a difference in the lives of our youth can be the most rewarding profession on the planet. Most love kids, love community, and want to share. It's not that they don't want to try new things, it's not that they're lazy, and it's not that they're incapable. Rather, it's that their priorities don't always line up with those of other progressive educators in and out of the blogosphere. I'm not saying it's right, but I am trying to describe the reality that so many in the blogosphere seem to misunderstand.

Darren also said:

Those content to lurk but still hesitant (or unable, for whatever reason) to contribute.

The fact of the matter is that there exist a very large number of effective educators that are simply not able to contribute in any significantly recurrent amount to online discussion. All told, it's not that they're incapable of participating and it's not that they're unwilling. Rather, this group maintains perceived silence online because their professional priorities prohibit them from spending the time or energy required to provide plausible contribution.

To which I say, NO, WE CAN'T LET EDUCATORS OFF THE HOOK. Whether they're teachers or administrators or librarians or education professors, they have a voluntarily-assumed, paid responsibility to be relevant to the needs of children and education TODAY and to prepare graduates as best they are able for TOMORROW. 'Professional priorities' must be aimed at preparing students for the world as it is and will be. Otherwise, what are educators there for?

You can't 'firmly believe in life-long learning' and simultaneously not be clued in to the largest transformation in learning that ever has occurred in human history. Those two don't co-exist. Being a 'life-long learner' is not ignoring what's going on around you; you don't get to claim the title of 'effective educator' if you do this.

Look, it's not like those of us who now 'get it' were born with this knowledge. We weren't like this at the beginning. At some point in our personal histories we were the same as these educators that for some reason now get to be labeled as 'unable' to do this. Unable to do this? Poppycock. At no time in the personal computer / Internet era has this technology and social media stuff been easier to initiate. It's not like back when you needed to know computer coding. Want to use a wiki? Click Edit; type; click Save. Want to leave a comment on a blog? Click on Comments; type in your name, e-mail, school web site, and comment; click on Save. There isn't an educator alive who 'can't do that.' They engage in similarly-easy activity every time they search or order something online.

The reason many of us now 'get it' is because we realized that the world is changing, we recognized our responsibility to our students and schools, and we dived in and learned as we went along. Changing inertia into momentum, not waiting for someone to hand us the answer, taking responsibility ourselves rather than blaming others for our own inactivity - that's what life-long learners do. That's what effective educators do. That's what we owe our children.

If you're a teacher / administrator / librarian / education professor that somehow 'doesn't even realize [yet] that there's a decision to be made,' should you even be working in a school or university? Don't our children and our school systems need and deserve someone who's in a different place than you are? It's one thing to still be a learner; heck, we're all learners with this technology stuff. It's another to opt out or not even recognize the choice. If we look at what our kids need, shouldn't we replace you with someone else? 

It's not about us. It's not about our personal or professional priorities and preferences, our discomfort levels, or any of that other stuff that has to do with us. It's about our students: our children and our youth who deserve at the end of their schooling experience to be prepared for the world in which they're going to live and work and think and play and be. That's the obligation of each and every one of us. No educator gets to disown this.

We can't let educators off the hook. Not a single one. So keep that fishhook firmly wedged in their mouths. Keep tugging them along on the line. Keep scooping them up in our nets. Feed them tasty tidbits if need be. Do whatever it takes to make this happen. But insist on them doing the same.

Image credits: My fish hook; Slide - Should teachers get to choose?

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Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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