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Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Blogging Problem

hillsborough county, florida - education blogging capital of the world!

“We must have hit a nerve,” sayeth one of those Tampa-area bloggers. I believe that blogger is right.

I also believe that it won’t be long before Ms. Faliero et al. try to silence Tampa education bloggers officially, or at least try to intimidate them into submission.

I might be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.

I wrote a lengthy guest piece for the UMiami Education Students blog about Hillsborough County Schools and blogging. You can read about Jennifer Faliero foaming at the mouth about misinformation and lies on blogs – and read her call for the St. Pete Times to literally employ someone to monitor blog comments “round-the-clock.”

Oh, and she wants to “force” commenters to register in a verifiable way – and one has to assume Faliero would want that information accessible to HCPS. Good Lord, it’s almost as if she’s a union boss.

Faliero puts a panicked, high-pitched, uptalk “eeee!” in the phrase “Free press.”

Here’s are a few lines from my piece titled “Hillsborough County Schools’ Blog Problem is About Communication“:

“A [growing] segment of the Hillsborough public doesn’t trust the district. That takes time to erase. But in the meantime, trust can be built by using these channels of communication rather than complaining about them.”

It’s probably true of your district, too. I suggest you read the whole thing.

crowdSPRING: How the Internet Can Ruin the World While Smiling Sweetly

crowdSPRING ruins the world, but i can save it

Steve Dembo at teach42 posted about crowdSPRING, a site on which creative projects [logo, website design, etc.] are posted for all to see. Then designers, hobbyists and, as Dembo points out, students can respond to the ad with a design that may be chosen. In “Real World Art,” Dembo writes:

“The site is called CrowdSPRING and what’s amazing about it is that people aren’t competing to win a contract to create the logo/design, they’re actually going ahead and doing the work and hoping to be the one selected as the winner.”

Dembo sums up crowdSPRING better than they do. He goes on:

“At first I was just way impressed at the idea of the site, and that so many professional and amateur graphic designers were participating. Then i started wondering whether any student graphic designers were jumping into the game. After all, why not? If they enjoyed doing design work and wanted to practice in some real world situations, why not try their hand at some logos for real potential clients?”

I’m impressed by the idea, too, and a quick look at something from crowdSPRING’s project tab shows that range of hobbyist to professional. Imagine if Sunkist, who recently tweaked their logo, opened up a similar competition? Very cool possibilities.

Unfortunately, this stuff ruins the world.

First, the crowdSPRING model is a kissing cousin of spec work – and here’s why that’s bad. The professional association for design, AIGA, takes the following position on spec work and design competitions:

“… organizations sometimes initiate contests as a way of developing logos or other identity work. Unlike disciplines in which the designer can bill for implementation of the proposed design (e.g., architecture), in communication design, the submitted solution already represents the bulk of the intellectual work. AIGA encourages organizations to issue a request for proposals from qualified designers. This sample letter may also be sent by AIGA members to help educate organizations offering contests.

AIGA believes that doing speculative work seriously compromises the quality of work that clients are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide.”

You can see how spec work and design competitions can weaken the sector – but that’s not the big issue here. Especially in education – for developing students’ interests in and capabilities with design – we need to look at the opportunity cost.

The solution is direct, local charity. Walk down the street and give away a design.

If a student researches a crowdSPRING design, mocks one up and submits, he misses out on developing most of the skills that make a designer successful. He’ll have a logo for his portfolio, but he’s not a better designer than he was the day before. That, and he hasn’t done much good in the world.

So how can a student interested in design make a bigger impact on his own development and on the world around him?

1. Identify a business or organization that could use your help. This isn’t hard – it’s fairly obvious who does and doesn’t need a bit of rebranding. Stroll down Main Street, pop in, introduce yourself and offer to do a logo/website design for free. No obligation, no payment necessary. Just ask that you can use the design in your portfolio.

2. Work with them on the design process. This is the skill that matters the most – dealing with the people behind the designs you’re creating. Find out what they want, what they need, and figure out how you can do it. There are loads of free resources that can guide you in that process. Here are a few:

The student learns how to communicate with a potential client and plan/execute project management. It doesn’t get much more relevant than that.

3. Ram home that you’re part of the community – then add to it. These small projects are great opportunities to connect with the people around you. Explain that you’re taking a design class at your high school or that you’re a local student looking to develop a small business in design. You’re part of the community, they’re part of the community. It’s a lot more valuable than an anonymous crowdSPRING design with no feedback process, no connections and no conversations.

Schools especially need all the help they can get with positive PR. Engaging taxpayers, parents, and/or business owners with the fruits of their school taxes – and a bit of promise that local youth aren’t leading their community to Hell in a handbasket – can have a tremendous effect on garnering support of a school’s endeavors.

This isn’t one of those 21st century skills – it’s just old-fashioned, 20th century charity that happens to use Photoshop.

If a business/organization uses crowdSPRING for its logo project and it takes each designer 3 hours to research, sketch and develop a suitable entry, 100 entrants nearly wastes 297 hours.

Hey, one guy’s time will be made worthwhile with his selection and a couple hundred dollars.

My model? 100 students/amateurs go through the design process, build their portfolios and develop professionally. 100 small businesses or charitable organizations get free, high-quality design. 100 schools districts get good PR and 100 communities grow a little.

crowdSPRING’s problem is opportunity cost. It’s a very cool idea, and their PRO section may work out well as a business model, but it’s far less helpful than it seems.

Their idea does nothing to prevent the erosion of communication and community. My model adds to both. You decide.

Great Links Curriculum, Volume 1 – World Premiere!

Thank God for Google Reader. At this point, I follow ~500 blogs, view ~12,000 items a month [about 85% are education related] and highlight/distribute about 2% of those posts in a host of ways.

And then there’s the education blog…

… and Twitter, an excellent, free PR tool. If you aren’t following me on Twitter already – or using it yourself – sign up for free, check my profile and click follow. There’s always a good conversation to have or a good link to click.

That triumvirate of e-media makes it easy to do a roundup of interesting stuff I’ve read, so give a warm welcome to the world premier of the Great Links Curriculum.

The British are one baby step ahead of us in self-destruction. DailyWritingTips brings us a story from the Telegraph about banning “elitist” and “discriminatory” Latin phrases – like bona fide, vice versa and et cetera. Fancy book larnin’s a 20th century skeel, it seems.

“Why Parents Get Angry When They Learn the Truth,” from Motel Special Ed.

“Quantifying Greatness” - Greg Forster debunks an unfounded gripe about the Great Books.

Exhibit 1036a: Perfect example why normal people don’t take educrats seriously, courtesy of Salon. Really, that diagram could be drawn for just about any topic on Earth.

The Carnival of Education is up at the Core Knowledge Blog. This Carnival’s scripting took some real effort – well done.

Flypaper with some sober common sense. Want to retain great teachers? Remove the bad ones.

Obama celebrated in the World of Warcraft? Good Lord, there are so many factual errors in this testimony as to make me want to call the poor kid out. We’ll see.

Having solved every problem in New York public education, the State Education Department decided to buy a ton of fruits and vegetables.

Racial taunts in class for supporting John McCain? You betcha. This ideological intolerance happens a bit more than people realize, and sometimes – as in this case – it can get ugly.

Really, really, really, really smart to get into law school? George Leef at Phi Beta Cons drags that argument back to reality.

Head over to eMailOurMilitary and drop a quick note, even if it’s just a quick thanks.

Bill Gates?!?!? Making curriculum?!?! Relax, mouth-frothers. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Pondiscio will calm you down.

… and another political candidate in the education world whines while laying bare her ignorance on blogs, media and technology. Advertising, too, I suppose. Well done, Ms. Gallucci of Pinellas County. Perhaps the problem isn’t your makeup or wardrobe, but the woeful inadequacy you bring to the job.

In New York State, the education budget cut spin begins. Give it a day or two, you’ll want to throw money at NYSED just to get this circus to stop.

SpendOnLife’s Credit Blogging College Scholarship – $2,000, Under 400 Words

Here’s a rare one – an ad without commercial intent. has announced a blogging scholarship program for students. The topic? The importance of credit and preventing identity theft. A year ago most would’ve said this was a bit of a stale topic, but after a tumultuous financial season, this is a hot, relevant topic.

Who’s eligible? You must:

  • have a legitimate blog (blogs consisting of nothing but spam do not qualify)
  • be at least 18 years or older
  • be a full or part-time student of an accredited college or university

Pretty standard stuff. Have a blog, be an adult, go to school.

And what should you write about?

“To be considered for the scholarship you must write a blog entry on your own blog about credit or identity theft. We are not restricting you on exactly what you must write about, instead we are wanting to use your creativity and researching skills to decide on a more specific topic. We do ask that all entries are less than 400 words. That leaves enough room to communicate an idea effectively but keeps it short enough to keep the reader interested.

Each blog entry must also inform readers on how they can participate in this blogging scholarship. The more people that participate in the program, the more of the general student population that will be exposed to this very important topic.”

So, it’s up to you – find a particular facet of credit/identity security that you find interesting and have at it. 400 words isn’t much at all. A page of 12pt, double-spaced, Times New Roman text is about 250 words. That’s a page and a half for a shot at $2k.

Deadline? December 1st, so you’ve got time:

“All entries must be posted on your blog and submitted to us by December 1st. The winner will be decided shortly thereafter and scholarship monies will be mailed by check to the student by January 1st.”

Once you’ve written your post:

Visit our contact form and submit your:

  • full name
  • address
  • email
  • phone number
  • blog post entry URL

This is an opportunity worth taking if you’re in school, have a blog and can write a concise, meaningful post. If you can’t, your blog probably stinks and you write bad papers in college.

If you write a post, let me know – I’ll be happy to link to it.

Redesign and a Note to the Blogosphere

I’m working on a redesign, so posting will be light.

In the meantime, here are a few things that you, as a blogger, can do to make our lives as readers a little easier:

  • Let us subscribe to comments. We’re a lot more likely to discuss something if we can keep up with the discussion. Reloading a page 20 times a day to see if there’s anything new is a real pain. If you’re using WordPress, consider a plugin like Subscribe to Comments.
  • Publish a full RSS feed. I use Google Reader to keep track of over 400 blogs. Publishing a full feed instead of just a few sentences – or even worse, just the title [this means you, Teacher Magazine] – makes it a lot easier to keep up. If I wanted to load a page to read every article, I wouldn’t bother using an RSS aggregator.
  • Check your feed’s formatting. Rule #1: Subscribe to your own feed. You’ll see how it appears for other people, too. If your feed mashes together paragraphs into one huge block of text, no matter how long the article, consider checking that formatting. We want to read things smoothly and easily, not sift through text.

And a couple smaller things:

  • Don’t use CAPITAL LETTERS for EMPHASIS. Using the right words in a well-constructed argument makes THIS TACTIC irrelevant. Furthermore, it’s an offensive gesture. Do you really think your readers are too dumb to seize on key words and recognize their importance? If you NEED to do this, you’ve failed already. The alternative – and it’s a good one – is to use bold sparingly to catch attention.
  • Strikethroughs. This unbearably banal charming addition to the blogosphere irks me. We have no gripe when it’s used properly as a copyediting mark; it’s instructive and honest, two pillars of blogdom. However, most of the time it’s used to denote cheap snark and cheaper sarcasm. There are less obnoxious ways to go about this.

Any others?

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