Thursday, September 27, 2007

"The Perfect Thing"

The book I'm reading (listening) to right now is, The Perfect Thing by Steven Levy. It covers the rise that handy little gadget, the iPod, and how it's transformed more than the technology culture today. How the simplicity and usefulness of this device has made it as pervasive as the car or television.

The important point of the book for me is the idea how something that didn't seem to be a big deal - a portable music player - would create such a following. It would expand well beyond the original design and has become so much more.

We received a grant in my district to improve literacy, so we purchased 500 of them. The impact for students and staff is measured by how many beg us not to take them back at the end of the year. They've become such a part of their daily routine they couldn't image life without one. I know I couldn't.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sage Advice

Every month the educational magazine Edutopia, put out by the George Lucas Foundation, includes a section called 'Sage Advice.' There they pose a question for educators and this September it was:

"What's your resolution for the new school year?"

I was pretty excited that my answer was printed in the magazine.
"Get as many students in my district teaching technology to as many of the teachers in my district as I can. The students learn by teaching, and the teachers learn by listening."
I was feeling pretty good about it, and showed it to my wife who reminded me that,
"Your brother was in Computer Power User magazine, he made the cover." ;-)

The added smiley wink is mine, she was, of course, teasing me, (My brother designed and built the computer on the cover.) But it helped to remind my how pervasive and easy pockets of celebrity have become. Small bits of fame that add up to more than the alloted 15 minutes these days. This fame is relative to the size of the audience, but because the are so many channels for people to connect today, anyone with a computer and modem can be a celebrity. (Or at least feel like one anyway. ;)

Noob 2 Leet

For those follow the Learning 2.0 conference, a new Web 2.0 toy that's making the rounds is called Animoto. Basically it's a template driven video producer, you provide images and select music, then click finalize. It does this rest. The following video took me about 3 minutes from creating an account to completion. Here's a quick look.

When showing this to one of my Video Production students, he commented:

"It makes a Noob look like a Leet."

My Immigrant to Native language dictionary tells me this roughly translates to,

"A inexperienced user, (a Newbie) can quickly and easily
produce something that looks like a power user (an Elite) made it."

Some edu-bloggers like David Warlick and Wes Fyer are pretty excited about it, while others like Gary Stager lament on his blog: "Animoto lets you create meaningless PowerPoint-like slideshows without all of that pesky, editing, creativity or thinking. I won't even mention the discipline, knowledge and sense of history required of artistic expression. "

I have to agree with Gary's description, EXCEPT that it does have educational value. It raises the bar.

To recreate the effects that effortlessly appear in one of these productions in any flavor of video editor you'd like would take a substantial amount of time, but because they are so easy to create, it makes those production values into vanilla. It's like the first time you play with GarageBand. You create a song, that really sounded like a song you'd actually want to listen to in a few minutes - wow. There was magic there. Then you play it for others and they start nodding their heads and tapping feet. More magic. But soon, the more you listened to what other made, using the program, all those loop diven tracks start sounding the same. To the point where, it's cliche, and boring.

What this has done, for students is that they have to produce better stuff. Don't get me wrong, I think that GarageBand is a fantastic tool and fun way to create quick songs, but if everyone's sounds the same - it begs you to be different.

As students create content and productions like Animoto become the baseline. It makes the quality of work of those trying to stand out have to be that much better. Our expectations increase, and educationally that's not a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

NetFlix in School?

If you have a Netflix account, (or know someone who has.) You can watch a selection of videos right online. How might this tie in with education you ask? Well, there are hundreds of documentaries to choose from. Offerings from PBS Video, Nature, Discovery Channel, History Channel and many more.

There's a very wide range of titles, some of which I had at one time gone and signed out from the library. Viewing them online doesn't effect the number of DVD's you have from Netflix and you can watch as many as you want!

Note: The Netflix viewer wants to run on Internet Explorer. But If you'd still like to watch it through Firefox there is a cool add-on that turns a tab into IE and works fine.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Whoa - Thought Controlled Wheelchair?

This story was too cool not to mention, Here's the story from the New Scientist.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Buying Technology

Since the iPhone price drop is such big news on the tech front, and I'm so often asked,
"I'm planning to buying a [enter tech item here.] What do you recommend?"
Here is my patent response for buying almost all computers, digital cameras, media players, etc.

1) Wait as long as you can.
With the iPhone dropping 30% in price in two months as proof, there will never be the 'perfect' time to buy tech stuff, it's not an investment and will certainly reduce in price.

2) Set your price.
Because there are so many options when buying tech toys, there always seems to be more
features with just another just

3) Search for your price.
Because there are so many options when buying tech toys, there always seems to be more
features at small increments, so once you have the price you're willing to spend, stick to it. Otherwise you can keep upping the price until it's way more than you intended.

When I start searching for tech stuff, there are always the usual suspects: Amazon and EBay, but I like to start with a trip to CNET reviews to narrow it down to the exact one I want. Then a trip to where I can see if there are any deals on the sites.

(BTW A couple of the tech sites I especially like are and

Sunday, September 02, 2007

So . . . what did YOU do this summer?

Cracked iPhone anyone?
For those who don't know, this summer the iPhone was cracked by a 17 year old George Hotz.

By cracking it, he made the phone able to run on different networks other that AT&T, who I'm sure was not happy about the announcement. But in the weird word of cyber -law it's ok to crack a phone, just not sell or distribute the know how.

While this is all interesting on a geeky level, the real interest for me is from the rationale of George spending 500+ hours on this 'summer project' because ultimately he was bored. And where were we, the educators, in all of this.

If George came to you with this idea, what would happen? What about all the other George's in our classes. This reminds me of another story about Ashley Qualls. A 17 year old who started a website called that provides templates for MySpace. She's since been offered $1.5 million for the site. (Which she declined, by the way.) Again, where would be she in class and what are we offering students that want to move beyond the standard multiple choice tests.

A final note on students. We must take them seriously. Not just as another aspect of our jobs, but people to engage and learn from as much as we teach them. Recently "A 16 year-old Australian student took approximately 30 minutes to bypass a government funded content filter that took $84 million to create." [link]

Students will always find an outlet for their creativity, whether we chose to benefit from their creativity is up to us.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tracking Comments

As fun as blogging is, in many ways it's still a one way conversation. What I mean is, unlike a forum where all participants have equal say in posting or responding, the creator of a blog really has total control over what gets shown on the site, by way of moderation.

So anyone who reads a large number of blogs, then makes comments, and then wishes to follow up on those comments - I've found an easy way to do it. The site is still in beta, so there are some quirks, but it's been the simplest way to track the conversations I have on other blogs that I follow. They all turn up in one convenient location.