Archive for the ‘Integrated Technology’ Subject

Educators That Rock!: Sarah Houghton-Jan

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Photo by Marc L. Gonzales, SFStation.

Last year, findingEducation spoke with Sarah Houghton-Jan, also known as the Librarian in Black, about her roles as a blogger, lecturer and the digital futures manager for the San José Public Library.

Houghton-Jan told findingEducation that when she’s teaching a customer or student something new, she tries to pretend she’s speaking to her mother because “the unknown is really creepy. And that causes me to show a certain level of respect and patience,” she said. “[M]aybe that will work for other people [but] only if you like your mother,” she added with a laugh.

Houghton-Jan was chosen as a Mover & Shaker by Library Journal in 2009. She is also a consultant for the Infopeople Project and a member of the Library & Information Technology Association’s Top Technology Trends Committee.

fE: Could you tell us how you became the digital futures manager for the San José Public Library?

SHJ: I started out not even wanting to be a librarian, and not being very techy. I was just handed our library’s Web site, at the university where I went to library school, and they said, “You’re responsible for maintaining this part of the Web site. Have fun!” I had no HTML training. So I did just a lot of self-training. And I took what few Web-based classes were available.

When I got out of library school, I was looking to relocate to the San Francisco area and one of the jobs that was available was for a combination Web site manager and technology trainer.

I’d been a teacher for a while, and I’d also now managed a Web site, so that was perfect.

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Related Link Resources
Librarian in Black
San Jose Public Library
Library Journal: Movers & Shakers: Sarah Houghton-Jan
Infopeople Project
Library & Information Technology Association: Top Technology Trends

Educators That Rock: Lauren Pressley

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Photo ©Wake Forest University by Ken Bennett.

Lauren Pressley is the instructional design librarian at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. In addition to her role as a librarian, Pressley is an author, a blogger and a frequent presenter.

Pressley was named a Mover and Shaker by School Library Journal in 2009, and was sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Board to participate in the American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders Program in 2007. She also recently developed a very popular toolkit of short videos (two to three minutes long), which answer patrons’ frequent questions.

In a phone interview last week, Pressley told findingEducation about the impact online networks have had on her personally and professionally. “As a quiet person … I’ve been able to find my voice online,” she said. “It’s opened up a lot of doors that wouldn’t have been open to me otherwise.”

Learn more about Lauren Pressley at Lauren’s Library Blog.

fE: This past fall, Michael Porter and David Lee King published a collection of librarian essays for a project they called Library 101. In your essay, you describe the disappointment you felt after taking a personality test that listed librarian as one of the last possible careers for you to consider. What did it suggest you do instead?

LP: It actually said I should practice law or be a “professional philosopher.” I have no idea what that means. So the thing that is sort of interesting to me about that test is that all the qualities that it said that I had that would have made me a poor fit as a librarian were because they were assuming that the person needs to be really rigid and rule-following and not necessarily friendly. But the things that make me good at my job are actually the very things that that test thought would make me bad.

It’s indicative of how the field has changed, that people have such a clear idea of what librarians were and make assumptions based on that.

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Educators That Rock!: Ajit George

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

This week findingEducation spoke with Ajit George, director of U.S. Operations for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project located in Edipalli, in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, India.  The boarding school was founded by his father, Abraham George. Ajit George lives in New Jersey, but frequently visits India. He has been working for the Shanti Bhavan school “on and off” for the last 14 years. He says, “It’s easy to believe in a mission, when I feel like we’re getting results.”

India’s lowest caste, the Dalits, have been historically persecuted and are often among the country’s most impoverished.  For a Dalit from the rural village, even crossing in the path of a person of a higher caste is forbidden, because of concern that the shadow of the Dalit would “contaminate” the other person. Because they are so poor, many Dalits take out loans at exorbitant interest rates from moneylenders, and as a result become trapped as indentured servants. Even in the cities, subtle discrimination against Dalits continues to exist in the workforce, where they are often relegated to menial jobs and hard labor.  The result is a cycle of unending poverty that Abraham George’s father describes in his book, “India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural India.”

Enter the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a comprehensive education program that aims to give India’s poorest children the same opportunities as their wealthier peers.

Ajit George in India.

fE:  Your father, Abraham George, began the Shanti Bhavan Children’s School in 1997. What do you think inspired him to want to help the dalit?

My father grew up in a Ghandian era. He took to heart a lot of Ghandi’s principles, including his belief in an equal society within India. After serving as an officer in the Indian military in the 1960s, he came over to the U.S., earned his doctorate, started his own company, and became a very successful businessman.  He has always been interested in the plight of the impoverished.  But it wasn’t just about helping dalits, it was more about wanting to tackle poverty within India. Depending on which standards you look at 50 to 75 percent of India lives on less than a dollar a day. During his career, he wanted there to be greater meaning to what he was doing. He always felt that money is a means to an end, but shouldn’t be the end. He was pretty happy to retire and sell his company and begin what he thought was the more important, more meaningful part of his life.

fE: On your blog, readers see stories about Halloween celebrations as well as Holi (a spring festival where people attack each other with colored sand). There are videos of traditional dances, as well as alternative rock songs. Has there been any pushback from the local community regarding the Western aspects of the school? What other challenges has your organization faced?

AG:  Initially, the village elders were really not happy with us educating the children because they were no longer going to be working for them in the fields. There was also this idea that the poor should be learning more traditional things and that we shouldn’t even bother with English. And some people worried that because my family has a Christian name—Kerala where we are from is a very Christian part of India—that we would try to convert their children. But the same people who said that were sending their children to the country’s best schools, a number of which are run by Catholics or other Christians. On top of that, while they’re saying our students should be taught only Tamil or Hindi, they’re teaching their children English. I found that hypocritical. They have the notion that India’s poor should be relegated to a living museum to preserve what India’s culture was in the past, while their own children are going forward and becoming part of a global community.

The other real major difficulty, as we’re entering a really tough period economically, is to convince people that a program like ours is worth it. People often ask, why does it cost $1,600 per child when another program asks for only $300 per child? If you wouldn’t have succeeded in your life as a professional with just a basic literacy program, how do you expect a poor child to get out of poverty with only that?  A lot of the parents of the children that we serve went through basic literacy programs or secondary education programs 20 years ago and they aren’t out of poverty now. Those programs failed their parents. I don’t ever want to see that happen with our students.

fE:  Even when students enter your school as four year-olds, the dalit in particular, must recognize that others treat them poorly. How do you build their confidence?

AG: It takes a lot of work. They have a lot of emotional, discipline and nutritional issues to work through. Even simple things like learning how to use a toilet and properly brush their teeth are new to the children. But they are able to adjust to Shanti Bhavan because of three factors: First, the intense and attentive care of house-mothers, the administration and the staff; second, the structured environment– while the children have a lot of freedom, it’s a very organized school, which gives them focus; and third, because we’ve been operating for 13 years, they have a lot of role models. The older students really help the younger children coming in.

fE: What are the criteria for choosing teachers at Shanti Bhavan?

AG: Teachers must have their bachelors in education and a degree in their specific field. Most have masters degrees. Because our school is a hybrid of Eastern and Western teachings, we can be very focused on discipline and following certain patterns. But we also try to instill some of the Western patterns of creative solutions and giving feedback. We try to find teachers who accept that balance.

We take teachers who are really understanding and empathetic, and who really want to work in a more liberal environment. Most importantly, we look for teachers who understand that almost all the children are dalit and who won’t treat them any differently than other students. We’ve fired teachers who were acting poorly towards the children because of their background.

fE:  When the first class of graduates returned to the school they were treated like such celebrities. It was fantastic! What was your response to seeing these students graduate? How did their parents respond?

AG: It was an incredibly moving moment. I saw these kids when they were four years-old and they were just tiny, beautiful rambunctious kids.  They were full of life and energy. To see all of them graduate was so powerful. I couldn’t have imagined it.  All of the struggles that have happened between now and then have really paid off.

Graduation was a three-day celebration. On the first day, they did performances with the staff and gave gifts to their teachers. On the second, we had more than 30  volunteers come back and visit. And the third day was for the parents, who were really ecstatic too. In many cases, it was the first time anyone in their family had even gone to high school. And all 14 of our graduates are going to college. (Shanti Bhavan is different from any other program in the world because it pays for children’s schooling from age four to high school and then also pays for their college education.) The children have become leaders within their families. The children’s professional success means financial security for their parents . They’re really in awe about what the future holds.
(Watch a video of graduates visiting Shanti Bhavan)

fE: Can you describe what it’s been like to see one of these students change and grow?

AG: I’ll give you two examples. We have one student whose mother had been gang-raped. Afterwards, her husband left, and the locals ostracized her.  They thought she had brought it upon herself.  The mother committed suicide by burning herself alive. Her son tried to save her, and in the process was badly burned.

He had a really rough childhood, to put it mildly. He wet the bed until he was maybe eight. But he grew into this very confident and brilliant young man.  He’s at St. Joseph’s University. I talk to him on the phone pretty regularly. And I found out that he and the others boys from Shanti Bhavan are actually now the “cool kids” at the college. Other boys from upper-class and middle-class families come to their dorms to hang out with them and to learn from them.

Another student, Sheeba, wrote about her own life very movingly in a recent newsletter. She was sold as a servant when she was very young, beaten in her first home and sexually abused by her “step-father” in her second. We weren’t sure if she could handle Shanti Bhavan. Now she is this strong-willed, defiant, young lady, who is bright and eager and full of energy.  I talked to her this morning on the phone. She says she loves college and loves where her life is going now.

* Though not yet a graduate, a twelfth grade student at Shanti Bhavan, Shilpa Raj, has also written a very moving account of her experiences there.

New York Readers: She’s The First, an organization dedicated to educating young girls around the world, will be hosting it’s anniversary soiree on November 1st. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project.  See invitation for details.

Ajit George’s favorite sites:

She’s the First

Facebook

Abraham George

Arts and Letters

Policy Innovations

Related Link Resources
The Children of Shanti Bhavan
The Shanti Bhavan Children's Project
Policy Innovations: A Chance to Dream
Charlie Rose: A Conversation About India with Abraham George

The Answer Sheet: Week of August 21

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Did you take the Quiztory last week? Now it’s time to check your answers:

1.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, what controversial subject was Abraham Lincoln referring to when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”? a national solution to slavery

2. Who wrote “The Confessions of Nat Turner”? a lawyer named Thomas R. Gray

3.  In 1814, between capturing and setting fire to the White House, what did the hungry British soldiers do? eat dinner

4.  In 1944, prior to Paris’ liberation, German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz refused an order from Hitler. What was the order? destroy Paris

5.  What was the name of the slave who led a revolt against his captors on the Cuban slave ship Amistad? Sengbe Pieh, also referred to as “Cinque”

Related Link Resources
On This Day: First: Lincoln-Douglas Debate is Held
On This Day: Nat Turner Leads Slave Rebellion
On This Day: British Troops Burn White House and Capitol
On This Day: Paris Liberated from German Occupation
On This Day: Amistad Captured off Coast of Long Island

Quiztory: Week of August 21

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Did you take the Quiztory last week? Now it’s time to check your answers:

1.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, what controversial subject was Abraham Lincoln referring to when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”?

2. Who wrote “The Confessions of Nat Turner”?

3.  In 1814, between capturing and setting fire to the White House, what did the hungry British soldiers do?

4.  In 1944, prior to Paris’ liberation, German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz refused an order from Hitler. What was the order?

5.  What was the name of the slave who led a revolt against his captors on the Cuban slave ship Amistad?

What’s Coming Up?

Next week, On This Day will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the signing of the Treaty of Paris, and the confirmation of the United States’ first African-American supreme court justice. It will also examine Germany’s invasion of Poland and the end of the longest filibuster in senate history.

Related Link Resources:

On This Day Column

Educators That Rock!: Paula Naugle

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Paula Naugle with the ISTE blue bear.Paula Naugle, now in her 35th year as a teacher, recently became an active blogger and tech lecturer. Naugle teaches fourth graders math and social studies at Bissonet Plaza Elementary School in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), La.  A STAR member of the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), she was awarded a generous technology grant for her classroom last year.  She was also selected to attend the TEDxDenverEd Conference this past July.

In junior high, Naugle had an art teacher who let her express her artistic talent through knitting and sewing instead of drawing and painting. “I just remember thinking how relieved I was that I could take a class and do something that I really enjoyed doing.”

Paula Naugle with the ISTE blue bear.

Now that she’s the teacher, she says, “I’m always looking for more creative ways to do book reports, like making a sock puppet or bringing in a wrapped present and explaining why it would be the best present to give the main character in a novel.” In terms of technology, Naugle says, “If students want to turn in a handwritten report they can. But once they discover how much easier it is to correct mistakes, add pictures and make a very professional report with a word processor, they usually get on board pretty fast.”

fE: In 2009, you made a New Year’s resolution to expand your Personal Learning Network.  How did you do that, and were you successful?

PLN: Actually, it started in 2004, when I went to an educator conference in New Orleans. I spent three days asking myself, “What are they talking about? What is this Web 2.0?”  And then I started hearing this PLN acronym batted around.  And I thought, “What’s PLN, besides my initials?” I found a blog that Sue Waters wrote called PLN Yourself and I pretty much followed the steps.

My 2009 New Year’s resolution was to work more seriously on building my Personal Learning Network. In January, I created a Ning for the fourth grade teachers in my district.  And then in February, I joined Twitter. I learned how to follow people and to see who they were following.  Before I knew it, I actually had some people following me back. Now I have over 1900 followers and I’m on over 100 educator lists.

fE: Because of your PLN and Twitter, you were able to bring the Miller family to your school. Can you tell us about that experience?

PLN: I learned about The Millers through Twitter. This is a family that stepped up the homeschooling concept from just sitting at the kitchen table to actually going out and exploring the world.

When my friend Chris Johnston tweeted that they were going to be in New Orleans, I got in touch with Jennifer Miller and invited her to the school. She said, “Sure. We’d love to come.” They gave a really great presentation about the family’s travels in Northern Africa and parts of the Mediterranean. (Read more about The Millers’ visit on Mrs. Naugle’s Classroom Blog. )

fE: You’ve done several joint projects with a partner school in Kansas. Can you tell me about how those got started?

PLN: Jen Wagner out in California has a blog called Jenuine Tech, where she outlines a couple of project ideas and teachers sign up to do them. I began talking with Jan Wells in Kansas who was already planning to read, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” with her class because the movie was coming out. But she wanted to do a collaborative project. So, we decided to do a choral reading (reading aloud in small groups or pairs) of the book over Skype. Her kids would read one page and mine would read the next.

Then, we created a Google form that we sent out via Twitter, which asked people to share the weather in their town. We got close to 250 responses, even some from New Zealand, Australia, and Africa.  It was so cool!  Jan’s class and my class also did a collaborative choral reading and Voice Thread recording of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, where we had kids draw pictures to go with each stanza.

fE: Have you planned any interactive lessons with any other schools?

PLN: Last year, three schools interviewed my students about hurricanes, and of course they wanted to know about their Hurricane Katrina experiences.  But my students were four and five when Katrina hit, so I knew they might not remember a lot. So, we talked about it and they talked to their parents. And we discussed where people went and for how long.  Then I had two or three students sit in front of the camera—so no one would get stage fright— and do the interview over Skype. At first, I wasn’t sure this was something we wanted to drag up, but it was a learning experience.  And my students grew increasingly confident with practice. I’ve seen such a difference between the mannerisms of other students compared with my students who now feel totally comfortable in front of the camera.

fE: What is the OREO Project?

PLN: This is one of Jen Wagner’s projects. You have to place one cookie on top of the other and see who can build the highest stacks. You have to do the math, such as finding what the class average is. We also built a ramp and actually rolled our cookies down it, and adjusted the size of the ramp, and then took measurements to see how far our cookies traveled.  Over Skype, my students and Jan Wells’ students battled to see who could build a taller stack.  And of course they all got to eat the cookies at the end.

fE: You attended TEDxDenverEd this summer. What an honor!  Besides the Polyvision Eno Whiteboard that you won in the raffle, what were your favorite parts of the conference?

PLN:  I was so surprised when they announced that I won the Eno.  But because I was awarded a technology classroom grant last year, which includes a new Promethean board and ancillary equipment, I’m giving the Eno to a first grade teacher that I work well with. She will love it!

As for the speakers, Brian Crosby was my favorite. He teaches fourth grade in a poor area of Nevada, where there are a lot of transient workers. He started a project called High Hopes High Altitude Balloon project,  which involved a hot air balloon and a video camera, and a payload the students built themselves. Around the country people submitted their “high hopes,” to put in the balloon.

When his students started fourth grade, some of them didn’t even know which city they lived in. Now, as sixth graders, they’re blogging and skyping and corresponding with students around the world.

Dafna Michaelson was my other favorite speaker. She decided last year to visit a different state every week for 52 weeks and to talk to people about different social change projects they started in their communities. Now she’s writing a book.

fE:  Do you have any advice for newbies to the Web 2.0 world?

PLN: Get out there and really give it a chance. Do as much reading as you can. Establish a very good digital footprint.  You’ll be amazed at the response you’ll get.

Find a mentor.  There were two people who helped me the most: Beth Still in Nebraska, who helped me learn about Twitter, and Sue Waters in Australia, who helped me establish my PLN. I actually stayed up until 2 am to attend one of her sessions online.

When I went to a conference in San Antonio in 2008, I went by myself. I went to my sessions, went to my hotel, went to dinner, and then did the same thing the next day. When I went to a conference in Washington D.C. in 2009, it was such a different experience. I got to meet people face to face that I’d been chatting with on Twitter for six months.  I got to meet Beth Still and Sue Waters. And what’s your reaction? You go up and you hug each other like you’re old friends, because you feel so connected to each other and you feel so passionate about the same things, even though you’ve never met in person before.

Paula Naugle’s favorite sites:

Twitter

Edmodo

Skype

Glogster

Google (everything Google)

Related Link Resources
PLN-Not Just My Initials
PLNaugle Class Wiki
PLN Yourself
Edventure Project
Mrs. Naugle's Classroom Blog
YouTube: TedxDenverEd: Brian Crosby
YouTube: TedxDenverEd: Dafna Michaelson
Jenuine Tech
Nebraska Change Agent

Educators That Rock!: Michael Sauers

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Photo by Cindi Trainor.

Michael Sauers is the technology innovation librarian for the Nebraska Library Commission, the chair of the Nebraska Library Association and a frequent conference presenter. He has also authored nine books, and maintains a very funny and forward thinking blog at The Travelin’ Librarian.

Michael earned his master’s degree in library science from the University at Albany’s School of Information Science and Policy, and has been working in libraries for 15 years.

As Sauers appears to be part of an inner circle of technology librarian bloggers, findingEducation asked if he worried that other librarians might have difficulty relating to  him.

“I am always learning. They’re learning, too. I would hope that if it ever gets to the point where people can’t relate to what I’m doing, I would say I probably shouldn’t be doing it anymore,” he said.

Sauers tweets @msauers

fE: Why did you become a librarian?

MS: Through high school and college, I worked in bookstores. A year after I graduated, I was still living at home and still working in a bookstore at the mall. One day my parents asked me, “What are you doing with the rest of your life?” So I considered graduate school, trying to figure out what I could possibly do with an American Studies degree. And I realized, “Hah, library school! Hmm. I love books!” I realize it’s a cliché, but that’s why I went to library school.

I fully intended to be a reference librarian, but then in about 1994, the Web happened. I got to library school and discovered the Internet. I latched on and started teaching computer stuff to the other students there, and I pretty much haven’t stopped since.

(more…)

Related Link Resources
The Travelin' Librarian
The Travelin' Librarian
The Travelin' Librarian
TEDxNYED

Educators That Rock!: Michael Stephens

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Photo courtesy of Michael Casey.

Last week, findingEducation spoke with Michael Stephens, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. As the 2009 CAVAL Visiting Scholar in Australia, Stephens spent five weeks of his fall semester riding camels on the beach, as well as lecturing and researching the impact of the Learning 2.0 self-directed technology program.

Stephens coauthored a column in Library Journal for more than two years. He recently shared a column in Digitale Bibliotheek, a Dutch library journal, with Jan Klerk, and engages with readers on his blog, Tame The Web. In 2001, he published a book, “The Library Internet Trainer’s Toolkit, and between 2006 and 2007, wrote two library technology reports on Web 2.0.

fE: What made you choose to teach library science and why technology skills, specifically?

MS: I spent 15 years working in the public library setting. In 1995, the library that I was in was the second in the world to have a Web page. This was at St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, Ind. Some of the jobs that I had there revolved around teaching staff what the Internet was, and what we might do with it. I started doing public classes and found that I liked to introduce people to technology.

I got my Master of Library Science in 1995. I started teaching as an adjunct for Illinois University, and realized that this was something I wanted to pursue more. Luckily an announcement about the program funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) at the University of North Texas came into my inbox with a couple weeks left to apply. They funded 10 people to get a doctorate in information science, so they could go into teaching positions in library schools. I applied and got in!

(more…)

Related Link Resources
Learning 2.0
YouTube: Michael Stephens
DOK
Groundswell
ALA Tech Source: Web 2.0 and Libraries Part 2: Trends & Technologies
ALA Tech Source: Web 2.0 and Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software Library Technology Reports (42:4): Web 2.0 and Libraries
2009 Charleston Conference: Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition: Hyperlinked Library Service: Trends, Tools, Transparency

Educators That Rock!: Sarah Houghton-Jan

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Photo by Marc L. Gonzales, SFStation.

Before the holiday break, findingEducation spoke with Sarah Houghton-Jan, also known as the Librarian in Black, about her roles as a blogger, lecturer and the digital futures manager for the San José Public Library.

Houghton-Jan told findingEducation that when she’s teaching a customer or student something new, she tries to pretend she’s speaking to her mother because “the unknown is really creepy. And that causes me to show a certain level of respect and patience,” she said. “[M]aybe that will work for other people [but] only if you like your mother,” she added with a laugh.

Houghton-Jan was chosen as a Mover & Shaker by Library Journal in 2009. She is also a consultant for the Infopeople Project and a member of the Library & Information Technology Association’s Top Technology Trends Committee.

fE: Could you tell us how you became the digital futures manager for the San José Public Library?

SHJ: I started out not even wanting to be a librarian, and not being very techy. I was just handed our library’s Web site, at the university where I went to library school, and they said, “You’re responsible for maintaining this part of the Web site. Have fun!” I had no HTML training. So I did just a lot of self-training. And I took what few Web-based classes were available.

When I got out of library school, I was looking to relocate to the San Francisco area and one of the jobs that was available was for a combination Web site manager and technology trainer.

I’d been a teacher for a while, and I’d also now managed a Web site, so that was perfect.

(more…)

Related Link Resources
Librarian in Black
San Jose Public Library
Library Journal: Movers & Shakers: Sarah Houghton-Jan
Infopeople Project
Library & Information Technology Association: Top Technology Trends

Dulcinea Media’s Vision for 2010

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

The end of a month, year and decade seems like an opportune time to take stock of where Dulcinea Media fits into the ever-changing landscape of Web content.

Since I founded Dulcinea Media three years ago, the marketplace has gradually warmed to my view that uncurated, general search engines are a less-than-perfect tool for finding information online.  One study, showed that user satisfaction with search results declined from 78% in 2005, according to Pew Internet, to 62% in 2006, and again to 51% in 2008, according to the University of Southern California’s Center for Digital Technology. And a study from the UK exposed as a myth the notion of a “Google Generation” of young people with native ability to find information online.

Next, Nicholas Carr, who famously asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, and a number of other columnists bemoaned the reality that most users today read an Internet that is a mile-wide and an inch-deep. The center of their media world is a technology driven algorithm and “the wisdom of crowds” that simply uncover the same recycled headlines and updates from a slew of news sources. And Roger Schank, an artificial intelligence expert from Yale University, reversed his 30-year-old prediction that we would create machines as smart as humans in his lifetime. Schank came to recognize that “[h]umans are constantly learning … [e]very new experience changes what we know and how we see the world.”  Schank attributed this to “an unconscious indexing method that all people learn to do without quite realizing they are learning it.”

And now a growing chorus of observers is acknowledging that search engines often fail the user. The impetus is the rise of “content farms,” which all but assure that search engines are only going to get worse at delivering quality results on the first search results page. Demand Media, Associated Content, Mahalo, Bukisa, eHow, HubPages and a voracious pack of others are paying freelance writers a modest per-article fee to create tens of thousands of articles each day. And these companies excel at getting their content to rank high in search engines, regardless of quality.

What I see is that this avalanche of mediocre content will drive Internet users to the “new portals” - trusted sources that consistently deliver important, relevant, reliable and comprehensive information, from a wide variety of resources across the Internet, utilizing a human touch.

Naturally, Dulcinea Media is planning to be one of those trusted sources. findingDulcinea now offers Web Guides to only the best information about more than 700 broad topics, and we’ve created thousands of Beyond the Headlines and Features articles that provide a full context view of news stories. Our sister site, encontrandoDulcinea, replicates much of this content in Spanish. To make all this content easier to access, we’ve introduced SweetSearch, a custom search engine that harnesses Google’s technology and the 100,000+ hours of Web site evaluation that is the bedrock of findingDulcinea. SweetSearch returns results only from a “whitelist” of 35,000 sites that we’ve evaluated and approved. And we are constantly tweaking SweetSearch to ensure that it remains the best search engine for students, and indeed, the only one they can use effectively. Lastly, we introduced findingEducation, a free, easy-to-use blogging platform that enables educators to leverage our tools to find and share great links with their students and colleagues.

As our audience continues to grow, we’ve found that our “best customers” are college, high school and middle school students. And thus we’ve begun to focus our content on subjects that would be of interest to teachers, librarians, and students. Through our conversations at the AASL conference for school librarians, and the NCSS conference for social studies teachers we learned there is a critical need in the marketplace for free products that promote effective, efficient, safe and responsible use of the Internet, and that ours fit the bill magnificently.

We remain steadfast in one guiding principle:  we will not use technology to aggregate links for Web Guides or articles; everything will pass through the prism of human judgment.

To address scaling issues while holding form to this principle we plan to introduce a program early next year in which we invite librarians and educators to submit content. Practitioners of these professions are trained to find, evaluate and recommend outstanding information resources, and library Web sites have always been the closest comparable to our Web Guides. We envision findingDulcinea and SweetSearch becoming a repository of the knowledge and insight of tens of thousands of librarians and teachers.

And we’ll stick with that vision, for as long as it takes to make it a reality.

~Mark Moran, Founder & CEO Dulcinea Media

Related Link Resources
Pew Internet
Edge World Question Center: AI?
British Library: Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future
The Atlantic: Is Google Making Us Stupid?
University of Southern California: Center for Digital Technology: 2008 Digitial Future Report