Sunday, January 31, 2010

We have the technology...we have the capability...

When I was growing up I liked watching the Six Million Dollar Man on television. In the opening for the show, there’s a line that says, “We have the technology.” I thought of that – for pretty obvious reasons if you’re familiar with the show - when viewing the video for the Bionic Eye iPhone application.

This is a nice little app for what it does, but imagine what it’s going to evolve into: a portable heads-up display for everything. Yes, right now it lists restaurants, subway stations (in certain cities), and wifi hotspots, but it’s not that hard to extrapolate a few years into the future where this app – or something like it – connects you to all the available information about whatever you’re looking at.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s on an iPhone-type device, or whether it’s mounted on your eyeglasses, it’s going to be with you effectively 24/7/365 (only “effectively” because you can still choose to turn it off), have 99% uptime, and is going to get better every hour of every day as more information is added to it. Practically every urban location will be geotagged and infotagged (think Google Street View on steroids), extending further and further beyond urban areas with each passing year. In fact, I imagine the app will evolve into a two-way app, with users adding to the database as they go about their daily routines, constantly adding more locations and more data to the database.

Perhaps a few more years down the road artificial intelligence object-recognition software will be embedded, maybe even with some simple sensors to analyze the material it’s looking at, so that the app will be able to peer into just about any object and return information about it’s chemical composition, various useful facts about it, and ways the object can be used.

I know that scenario is frightening to a lot of folks, and certainly there are going to be more and more privacy/ethical issues we are going to have to figure out as a society. But, for the moment, let’s focus on the incredibly positive side of this – what kind of learning apps can be built on this platform? What will we be able to do as teachers and students that we can barely even conceive of today, but will be commonplace in the very near future? What happens when the sum total of the world’s knowledge – updated in real time - is available in a portable heads-up display?

Just imagine the possibilities. How many years is it going to be before we see something of this sophistication? I don’t know. My guess is more than three and less than thirty. So you’ve got to ask the question, does your school/district want to be ahead of the curve in figuring out best practices, or behind it?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


With apologies to The Graduate...

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you – just one word.
Jimmy: Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Jimmy: Yes I am.
Mr. McGuire: Collaboration.
Jimmy: How do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in collaboration. Blog about it. Will you blog about it?
Jimmy: Yes I will.
Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That’s a deal.

Cisco CEO, John Chambers has empowered the employees in his company to
cooperate and collaborate like never before. He explains that the bumpy part –
and the eye-opener – is that the leaders of business units formerly competing
for power and resources now share responsibility for one another’s success.
What used to be “me” is now “we.”

Cisco is moving from “me” to “we.” What about your school district? Your school? Your classroom?

“We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know,”
Chambers says.

How much opportunity does our staff have to share? Our students? Is it an expectation that they share?

Chambers promotes all kinds of social networking at Cisco: You can write a
blog, upload a video, and tag your myriad strengths in the Facebook-style
internal directory. “Everybody is an author now,” he laughs. Blog posts are
voted up based on their helpfulness. There are blogs about blogging and classes
about holding classes – all gauged to make it easy for less-engaged employees
to get with the program.

Cisco provides resources and training opportunities so that less-engaged employees can “get with the program.” Does our school – or district – provide this opportunity?

So, if you’re an administrator, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your staff, and especially your teachers? And I’m talking more than just PLC’s, although that’s not a bad start. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your school(s) from one of isolation (close the door and teach), to one of sharing and collaboration (knock down the walls)? Is it unacceptable to share in your School?

If you’re a teacher, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your students? And I’m talking more than putting them into groups of four and having the students create a PowerPoint presentation together. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your classroom from one of isolation (do your own work), to one of collaboration (work with others)? What are you doing to build their skills to succeed in a corporate environment that requires them to collaborate on a global scale?

If you're a student, what are you doing to improve your own collaboration skills - and those of your peers? What are you demanding of your schools, your teachers, your administrators to help prepare you for the collaborative marketplace that is your future?

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
You: ?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Technologically Illiterate

I ran across this post today by Terry Freedman over on the Tech Learning blog where he talks about whether it’s acceptable for teachers to be technologically illiterate and lays out a set of proposed “standards” for teachers.

Before I give my list, I should like to say this. The first step in establishing a standard is to state what that standard is, and/or what it is not. Just because you may not know how to go about achieving it is certainly no reason not to state it. For example, in my classes I always had expectations in terms of acceptable behavior. It would sometimes take me three months to achieve them, despite teaching them every single day, but that's besides the point.

Here is my list:

1. All educators must achieve a basic level of technological capability.

2. People who do not meet the criterion of #1 should be embarrassed, not proud, to say so in public.

3. We should finally drop the myth of digital natives and digital immigrants.

"I'm sorry, but I don't go for all this digital natives and immigrants stuff when it comes to this: I don't know anything about the internal combustion engine, but I know it's pretty dangerous to wander about on the road, so I've learned to handle myself safely when I need to get from one side of the road to the other."

The phrase may have been useful to start with, but it's been over-used for a long time now. In any case, after immigrants have been in a country for a while, they become natives. We've had personal computers for 30 years, how long does it take for someone to wake up to the fact that technology is part of life, not an add-on?

4. Principals who have staff who are technologically-illiterate should be held to account.

5. Schools, Universities and Teacher training courses who turn out students who are technologically illiterate should have their right to a licence and/or funding questioned.

6. We should stop being so nice. After all, we've got our qualifications and jobs, and we don't have the moral right to sit placidly on the sidelines while some educators are potentially jeopardising the chances of our youngsters.

Some of the tech questions I answer from staff members are really rather depressing. But it's the bigger picture I'm more concerned with. I think there's a general feeling among teachers (certainly not all teachers, but many) that it's okay to be technologically illiterate. It reminds me of when I was a 4th grade teacher. In about 80% of the parent conferences I had with students who were struggling, at least one of the parents would say "I was never any good at math either." While I don't doubt the truth of the statement, it was the fact that they said it and almost seemed proud of it that bothered me (and of course the message it sent to their student). I can't imagine a parent saying "Oh, yeah, I never learned how to read" and being proud of it. It seemed like there was a different standard for math - not knowing math was socially acceptable, not knowing how to read was very unacceptable.

I sort of get the same feeling today about technology. It's acceptable to say "I don't really get computers" - and many people appear to be rather proud of their technological ignorance. And let me be clear, I'm not saying that technology is the end all and be all of education. As I think I've always tried to say, it's just a tool to help us teach and learn and grow - but an indispensable tool. Technology is the underpinning of just about everything we do today - and especially so in relation to how we communicate with each other. And isn't communication one of the essential ideas that runs through all of our disciplines? The fact that a large percentage of our staff is not only fairly comfortable in their ignorance, but apparently unwilling to make any effort to learn new things (I'm talking instructionally - and even personally), is really worrisome to me. So let me make a rather extreme statement for you to comment on.

If a teacher today is not technologically literate - and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more - it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write.

Extreme? Maybe. Your thoughts?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Five Educational Technology Trends for 2010

It looks like 2010 will be an exciting year for the integration and advancement of technology in the classroom. According to an article written by Bridget McCrea in THE Journal, here are the top five technology trends and tools to keep an eye on:

eBooks Will Continue to Proliferate
Although it will be some time before math and English textbooks are replaced by eBooks due to needed advancements in color, graphics and animation, Gerry Purdy, chief analyst for the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, says eBooks "will gain traction in the K-12 arena this year."

Netbook Functionality Will Grow
Netbooks will become more and more popular in schools as they become more affordable and will also help streamline technology by eliminating the need for multiple devices.

More Teachers Will Use Interactive Whiteboards
Federal economic stimulus funds are helping to advance the use of whiteboards. These tools promote "engaged learning," says Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer for Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, LA, and they "serve as a catalyst for getting students out of their seats and up to the board to learn."

Personal Devices Will Infiltrate the Classroom
Once thought of only as a distraction, the use of smart phones and iPods in the classroom is beginning to gain the approval of teachers and administrators. "We used to think this was a 'teen' phenomenon," said Purdy. "But it's now culturally acceptable for someone as young as seven or eight years old to have a cell phone. It won't be long before every student will have access to one or more wireless, portable devices in the classroom."

Technology Will Enable Tailored Curricula
New student assessment tools are being developed that will create an easier way for teachers and administrators "to assess, record and track individual student performance in the classroom."

"Historically, schools have given specialized attention to students who 'fall out of the system,' but not when it comes to applying individual curriculum to a broader population," said David Stienes, principal with private equity fund LLR Partners in Philadelphia. "Look for technology to change that in the near future."

What do you think?
Do you agree with these predictions?
What, if any, challenges need to be overcome before any of these technology trends can be appropriately and successfully integrated into the classroom?
Do you think that technology will help make the educational process more about student driven learning rather than teacher driven activities?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Conquering Web 2.0

A series of videos focusing on Web 2.0 has been released as part of Discovery's CDWG’s Conquering Technophobia mini-site, which has the videos as well as a slew of resources for teachers who are looking to learn more about new technologies.

They recently updated the site to include an embed code, so now you can share these videos with your colleagues that may be beginning their Web 2.0 journeys or are just looking for more information.

I've embedded the intro video below and you can find the rest of them here. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Technology in the First Decade of the 21st Century

Others may look back on the years 2000 to 2009 and remember elections, wars, global warming and Michael Jackson, but for a gearheads like me, this was the decade that mobile tech grew up.

During the first decade of the 21st century, we saw a whole slew of new mobile technologies capture the our imagination: the smartphone, the MP3 player, the USB stick, touchscreens, Wi-Fi, 3G wireless, pocket camcorders, digital SLRs and more.

Thanks to these inventions, people got increasingly plugged into an always-on, totally portable, always-connected existence. Where we stand now, notebooks outsell desktop PCs, people spend more on mobile phones than on landlines, and portable game consoles outnumber the ones plugged into your TV.

2000: PlayStation 2
Console gaming in the late 1990s kind of sucked compared to what we have today. The PS2 is the highest selling console in history with more than 138 million units sold. And it’s still growing, even though it’s technically obsolete.

2001: Apple iPod — Gadget of the Decade
The original iPod weighed 5.5 ounces, had a tiny monochrome screen, and featured a mechanical wheel for scrolling through its menus. It seems ancient to me now with the iPod Touch and the iPhone. But the iPod, combined the iTunes Store for purchasing digital music that same year, giving birth to a cultural phenomenon.

More than any other gadget, the iPod opened the doors to the always-connected, always-online, all-in-one-device world that we live in today.

2002: Microsoft Xbox
What made the Xbox the greatest gadget of 2002 was how it revolutionized playing videogames online, thanks to the launch that year of Xbox Live.

Cheap, fast and, above all, simple, Xbox Live transformed online gaming, my son and his friends lived in my basement playing kids from other states every weekend. I'm not sure they even ate all weekend.

2003: Nothing really came to the forefront that year. But 2004 was a different story...

2004: Nintendo DS and the Palm Treo 650
For the longest time, Nintendo had two distinct product lines: home consoles and the Game Boy. With the Nintendo DS these lines merged, putting a powerful, 3-D console in your pocket.

With its secondary touch-sensitive screen and microphone, players could draw and blow their way to the high-score table, as well as doing the usual button-mashing. But it was the games that made the DS the best handheld you could buy. Mario Kart DS did what even the Nintendo 64 and GameCube couldn’t: It managed to equal what is possibly the best videogame ever made, Super Mario Kart. And then it put it in your pocket

Before the Treo 650, smartphones were an ugly bunch, hard to use and generally clunky. Many people would even carry a PDA (remember those?) along with a “dumb” phone. Palm’s Treo 650 may have been pedestrian by today’s standards, with no Wi-Fi, just 32 MB of memory, a 0.3-megapixel camera and a stubby external antenna, but it was so popular that many owners only threw them out when the iPhone came along.

2005: Motorola Razr
Motorola’s Razr, an impossibly thin clamshell phone, sparked the trend of anorexic mobile devices. The Razr was the biggest sensation that the mobile phone industry had seen before the iPhone came along. The Razr went on to sell 110 million units over its four-year run. And it left us all with a permanent feeling that anything bigger is, well, just sorta clunky.

2006: Apple MacBook
The MacBook was Apple’s bestselling Mac ever. It debuted in 2006 with new Intel chips and a complete industrial makeover, doing away with many design and performance flaws of other Mac notebooks. The success of the MacBook helped Apple brave the economic recession without even delivering a cheap netbook

2007: Apple iPhone
The iPhone changed everything. It started out at $600 as an overpriced luxury device with few features setting it apart from the competition: a multimedia player, a web browser, a touchscreen and a phone. A year later, with the second-generation iPhone, Apple opened the App Store, which opened the door to an army of third-party software developers, adding their own quirky capabilities to the device. We’re still witnessing the killer effects of Apple’s everything-in-one device. There’s an app for practically everything the iPhone is technically capable of, and this is only the beginning. Just wait...

2008: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
In many ways, Canon’s follow up to 2005’s EOS 5D was incremental. It boosted the full-frame sensor from 12.8 to a whopping 21 megapixels, added a bigger, sharper LCD screen and generally did things faster. But the Canon 5D Mark II added one thing that made it the defining gadget of 2008: Full, 1080p HD video.

Kids and adults alike can shoot HD movies with Hollywood-style likeness. My best friend has one with the crazy-sensitive ISO 25,600 sensor (which let it practically see in the dark), and you would think he had another child he is so giddy with excitement. But I do have to admit, it is pretty awesome!

2009: Amazon Kindle 2
This one surprised me with all the consumer excitement. Amazon is very smart and doesn’t stop with the device — it lets you read your e-books on its free apps for the iPhone and the PC, adding a whole new dimension to the concept of “mobility.”

What's next?