Getting into Twittering (again)

March 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

I decided to try out twitter again. I hear and see so much about it, that I thought I’d see if it was as special as everyone thinks it is.

I’m not usually a quick, early adopter of new technology. It takes me a while to warm up to something that’s a bit out of my normal range, unless it’s so obviously a killer app (Google Earth) or someone demos it for me and shows me some killer ideas that get my brain pumping.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around twitter for such a long time. It seemed like, on the surface, a cross between instant message, the status update on Facebook, and blogging…but very little blogging. Even now, I’m having trouble with it and how to explain it.

I was annoyed that I’d check it in the morning and have so many things to go through. I was annoyed when I started getting the updates on my phone and my phone never stopped buzzing. I was annoyed that there was no easy way for me to keep track of what I had read and what I hadn’t short of putting everything in my RSS feed and, well, see my earlier statement about having too much to go through.

Enter TweetDeck. I had seen a lot of people’s tweets coming from TweetDeck and decided to check it out. It’s nice in that I can keep it open all day and get notified when there’s a new tweet from someone I’m following. It’s a lot like an IM client for twitter. Something you can just leave open and it updates on its own.

The only thing I don’t like is that it looks so much like an IM client that I get annoyed when an @ response goes unanswered. But I’ll get over it.

A lot of what people tweet is crap. A lot doesn’t apply to me, but at least I can “mark all tweets as seen” and not have to worry about it.

So I’m tweeting again. Follow me @slaleman

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Selling the Product – Tim Holt, Guest Blogger

March 24, 2009 § 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I had asked bloggers to work with me to do an experiment on guest blogging: I would write an article for their blog if they write one for my blog. Scott agreed to exchange, so here is my response for his blog. Thank you Scott for being brave and taking part! –TH

We do a crappy job of selling technology.
 
Sure, we are great at convincing ourselves that ed-tech is good. We are great at throwing big parties like NECC and TCEA to convince ourselves that that we are doing the right thing. We read a lot. And we write a lot. We podcast a lot. And we RSS a lot. And we hire each other to speak at each other’s conventions and workshops. We have done a great job of convincing ourselves that technology is important.
 
The trouble is, we are not convincing anyone else outside of ourselves.

The kids are convinced, but they would be convinced even if we were not around. The teachers are somewhat convinced, and a chunk of them are doing the right thing and putting technology into lessons. Principals and administrators are kind of convinced. If they see a lit LCD projector and a Smartboard then they are convinced.
 
The trouble is, after having computers as staples in schools for over 25 years, there are large groups that are not using technology, large groups that don’t understand how it should be used, and even a larger non-education population that does not see the value of technology.
 
So what is wrong?
 
I was reminded again of how much the public does not understand the use of technology in schools when I read a comment that was left on one of my columns for a local newspaper. In it, the responder, as part of a larger comment said:
 

“ Sorry to sound so prehistoric to all you tech buffs but it’s the truth. Technology is of no account if they can’t put together a subject, a verb and an object in a coherent sentence, or can’t write a coherent thought, or understand a coherent essay, or reason with the logic of numbers. Without these tools there is no possibility of ever developing the capacity for critical thinking. And that’s not just the latest buzz word either, it’s the thing lacking in 95% of everyone you will encounter in your life, including many professionals on which you rely.”

These tools are the real value, not technology. Technology is only incidental, like learning the typewriter was to students of old. You needed it to type your college papers but it didn’t teach how to write or think. Creating media is no more than doodling on the etch-a-sketch. You can become gifted with it but unless you become a professional doodler, whither media skills?
 
We are crappy at selling technology. We have sold it to ourselves, but we haven’t sold it to the public. Yes, this is one person’s comment, but I kind of think that a community online newspaper is a better gauge of public opinion than people that subscribe to my RSS feed. These are the folks that are out there.
 
We need to do a better job of selling technology use to our communities. It is obvious that this guy does not see technology as the one thing that it needs to become: a tool.

Technology is a tool. That is all. Technology, in any form is merely a tool to help get a job done. But the public does not see that in education because they are comparing the technology they mostly see with the technology in a classroom. And the technology the public mostly sees?

Home computers

Video games

Cell Phones

DVD and Blueray Players

MP3 players

Satellite and Cable television

Internet

What do all of these things have in common? For the most part, they are used for entertainment. So, when the link is made from one to another, they link the technology (entertainment) in their personal experience with the technology at school. If Jimmy uses a computer at home to surf the Internet, he must be doing the same thing at school. If an iPod is used to listen to music that must be the only thing you can use it for.
 
They see big bucks being spent on technology, just like at home. They don’t understand why.
We have not done a good job at showing how technology is a tool, just like a pencil, or a textbook, or a calculator. When we show off technology, we often show kids using the computer for remediation, which in many cases is not much more than a glorified video game, thus reinforcing the belief that technology is entertainment.
 
Kevin Honeycutt once presented to a group of parents in El Paso and showed a typical “diorama” of a western town: Saloon, barn, stables, hotel, etc. These were made out of shoeboxes and wood, and had cotton balls for clouds. You have seen these. He then showed a kid’s version of a stable made with Google SketchUp. “Guess which one is teaching kids a life skill that can be used in a real 21st century job?” he asked the parents. (Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute to guess.)

THAT is the kind of thing we need to be shouting from the mountain tops to parents and community members and anyone that will listen: Technology is a tool that will give your child a leg up in the workforce in the 21st century. Every parent in the world wants to see that.
 
Every parent and community member in the world wants to see how his or her tax dollars are being used to create meaningful content. Once the parents are convinced, the teachers that shy away from technology get convinced and the administrators that don’t understand technology begin to understand.

Then we won’t be doing such a crappy job of selling technology.

I am Tim Holt

I have a blog called Intended Consequences

Tim is the Director of Instructional Technology for the El Paso ISD in El Paso, Texas.  His blog is one of the first Ed Tech blogs I started following.  I always appreciate his honest, and I thank him for gracing my blog with his post. ~SL

Good on ya, AT & T

March 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

I have to say, I was pretty impressed on Friday.

My best friend was in town and we did a little sight seeing in downtown San Antonio, taking Flat Stanley with us (which I’ll tell you more about in a day or two).

I took my iPod touch with me when we left the car, not because I thought it might get stolen, but because I’d heard there was free wi-fi in Main Plaza and I wanted to see how well it worked.

Unfortunately, we never made it to Main Plaza, but spent most of the afternoon wandering around the Riverwalk and the Alamo.

Just a quick aside here – what in the world was going on in San Antonio on Friday? I have never in my life seen the line to get into the Alamo stretch around the corner!

Anyway, while my friend and I were having lunch on the Riverwalk (outside, I must add…it was a beautiful day), he asked if he could check his schedule on my iPod. I told him I didn’t know if there was wi-fi on the Riverwalk, but with so many businesses around, there had to be an unsecured network somewhere, so I’d give it a shot.

I pull out the iPod, check for signals, and they’re all over the place, but one catches my eye – AT & T Free Metro Wi-Fi. So I give it a shot. Sure enough, my iPod connects.

So I fire up Safari, and wouldn’t you know it – I get one of those welcome screens that says I need an account to access it. Just as my friend is telling me not to worry about it, I start reading. The account is free, you just have to sign up. And of course, you always have the option to pay for a faster connection.

So I go through the sign up process and within a few minutes, we’re surfing the Internet from our table on the Riverwalk. Checking basketball scores, checking email, checking my friend’s schedule for next month to find out when we can do this again.

The only complaint that I have is that it takes a while to do the sign up process on an iPod. I’m sure it goes more quickly on a laptop, but really, who wants to carry a laptop around on the Riverwalk?

Scamming school districts

March 6, 2009 § 4 Comments

Is there some reason school districts weren’t in the loop on this? Palm, in case you hadn’t heard, is discontinuing their handheld line. Now, whether you think handhelds are a good thing or not, understand this – they’ve been pushed at school districts for a number of years as the solution to not having enough computersEvery student can have a handheld computer!  If you’re in education you remember the pitches.

In recent years, handhelds have been the solution for a number of things, from testing to evaluations of teachers, which are two of the things my district is heavily invested in.  Over the past two years, we’ve purchased a number of Palms for our K-2 teachers to conduct reading assessments, and for every campus administrator to enable them to electronically do walkthroughs and evaluations on teachers.

As recently as September 2008, we were purchasing Palms from our vendors with nary a word from them about Palm’s discontinuation of handhelds (the only products listed on the Palm website are smartphones, and only ONE model runs the same Palm software that is on our handhelds).

So whose fault is it that school districts didn’t know about this?  Did Palm neglect to tell anyone so that they could sell their remaining stock of handhelds?  Did the vendors hold off on saying anything for the same reason?  Palm’s CEO confirmed that they would not be keeping up with handhelds in this interview published in December 2008, but how long beforehand did they know?  I know it’s all business, and that in this economy people will get any business they can, and way they can, but shame on them for not letting schools in on the secret so that we could start planning sooner.

With school districts being so heavily invested in this techonlogy, they (we) will need some time to plan for a transition to another way of doing the things we do with handhelds.  As it stands, we are scambling to purchase Palms from any of our vendors in case we need extras over the course of the next year while we’re planning to transition to something new.  And we’re being killed on the price.

Since the beginning of the school year, the price on a Palm Tungsten E2 has gone up $30 per unit for our school district.  Since we’re so heavily invested in the technology, we’re willing to pay the premium for obsolete technology.

What we should start doing, as school districts, is demanding that the companies we do business with transition themselves to a more ubiquitous form of software that isn’t tied to a specific platform, and currently, web based would seem to be the way to go.  As Miguel points out in his post about the same subject,

Why spend precious funding on a handheld device for one vendor’s assessments when I can get a netbook running Windows 7 that I can manage and teachers can do so much more with?

When it comes time to purchase new software in the future, we’ll definitely be looking at something that’s web based, or at least something that can be used on multiple platforms and pieces of hardware.

Breaking Microsoft Word (or at least spell check)?

March 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

So, with TAKS testing coming up tomorrow, we’ve been asked to help disable spell check on a bunch of computers. Of course, this request came Friday, the test is tomorrow. Planning ahead, anyone?

So Friday, we frantically searched for a solution and found several suggestions – for Word 2003. That doesn’t help the large number of our campuses that are already on Word 2007. We’ve tried it all…right down to changing the name of the executable, so they don’t even have Word as an option, which Office then fixes on its own, admin privileges or not.

Has anyone else come across this problem?

Here’s my bigger beef with this: Why are we disabling spell check in the first place? Don’t we allow kids to use calculators on the Math test? Then why not allow them to use spell check? Why is it cheating if they use a tool that is so completely integrated that even Firefox spell checks when you fill out forms?

Why does it take education so long to catch up to the rest of the world?

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