iPad as laptop replacement

After mulling it over for several weeks, I decided to get an iPad to use as a laptop replacement for graduate school. Initially I had concerns about my ability to create using the iPad, based on the critiques of my technologist colleagues. However, it is my conclusion that my iPad will become my portable computer of choice. That old HP laptop is going to be collecting dust in it’s bag. The app that makes that work for me is Docs to Go. This app enables viewing and editing of documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. It also syncs with Google Docs to store files in addition to local storage. Definitely a must have for your iPad. My biggest iPad disappointment is the mobile version of Google Docs. Google Docs mobile version is lousy. It does not permit creation and editing of files on the iPad. Bad Google! Other sites work identically on the iPad as on a laptop. Why not Google Docs? My only other wish for things I can do on my iPad is support for equation editor. Docs to Go does not support this. Fortunately in my Ed tech life I don’t have a huge need for equations, but in my previous physics teacher life this would have been a big issue.

Reflections on Digital Tools in Education

This class has been very different from any of the others I have taken.  By establishing habits of using Twitter, writing blog entries and visiting Second Life, I have learned about the value of these tools.  In particular, I did not see much value in Twitter at all before this class.  Forcing myself to use it has enlightened me as to the utility of Twitter.  I had never kept a blog before this class.  For me, the jury is still out on my own blogging.  I’m not sure if I have much to say that other folks are interested in.  In the college environment, it is wonderful to have open access to all the tools – the sky is the limit!

However, there is a long way to go in many K-12 schools to enable teachers to learn about these tools and utilize them with students.  That is where the disconnect is – and where there is an incredible amount of inequity between schools.  The ongoing battle between control and access does not appear to be going away anytime soon.  There is much disparity in the types and amounts of access that students have in different schools.  Is access to the internet and its tools a right?  If student attend schools with overly restrictive internet policies, are they getting an inferior education?

Connecting with a PLN

Last week I blogged about how to start building a PLN, or personal learning network.  Since then I have increased the number of folks I am following on Twitter and the number who are following me.  But how to connect to these people?  I was working on a project about RSS and aggregators and I was looking for a teacher to talk about how they used them.  In my reviewing of the daily tweets, I noticed that @mbteach tweeted that Google Reader was one of her favorite Web 2.0 tools.  I replied to her and asked if she would be willing to be part of my video.  I did not think that this approach would produce anything, but I was testing the PLN waters.  To my surprise, she was very willing to help.  I had asked for a minute or less of video testimonial about how she uses Google Reader and its benefits.  Within 12 hours, she uploaded a video to Youtube and sent me the link.  She had created a 3 minute self-interview about Google Reader!  Thanks Mary Beth!  This experience has convinced me that there is more to Twitter than I had originally thought at the beginning of this course and that it is a viable means to sustain a PLN.  See my project at: http://digitaltools.wmwikis.net/RSS+as+a+Teaching+Tool

Building a PLN

Yesterday I attended the DEN online conference and listened to @TeachaKidd (aka Lee Kolbert).   The topic was Personal Learning Networks.  Lee explained how to create your own PLN using tools such as Twitter.  She shared some excellent resources on  how to connect with other educators (http://ping.fm/dYRrJ).   Something that struck me was the comments she collected from others about what the best thing their PLN had done for them (http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BESTPLN).  I  had never even imagined that these personal connections could be made online.  Quite impressive!  I am going to make more of an effort to establish my PLN.  I will keep you updated as to my progress.

The dream vs. the reality

Reading the 2010 K-12 Horizon Report is a motivational experience for me.  It makes me think of all the things we could be doing with students using the free, Web 2.0 tools available right now.  This has been my dream: to empower students through technology to become independent learners that are connected to the real world.  However, changes must occur in K-12 education for this dream to be realized.  What will it take to make it happen?

Policy changes are needed in many school districts to allow students to fully utilize tools such as aggregators, blogging and social bookmarking at school.  Currently, internet use is very tightly controlled and new plug-ins or services (such as the Diigo toolbar) cannot be installed by users.  Getting permission to install something is an arduous task which requires many hours of effort to go through the proposal and review process.  Most teachers don’t have the time or energy to endure such trials.  Innovation must come from leadership at the top, not just from teachers at the bottom.

Many districts have access issues.  The true potential of personalized learning using Web 2.0 tools cannot be realized until there is greater access to computers for students in school.  Students may only visit the computer lab once every couple of weeks in a course, which is not enough time.  Mobile technology may be the answer to this dilemma, but that would require policy changes. One to one computing is the dream, but in this current economic climate, implementation is unlikely.

Those in charge of IT in the district must have the foresight and vision to select emerging technologies, make them available to teachers and provide training.  District IT leaders need to be visionary leaders, willing to take some calculated risk to sow the seeds that will reap great rewards in teaching and learning outcomes.  If only…

Building your following on Twitter

Sitting idly in the passenger seat of our red minivan enroute to our Outer Banks vacation gave me extra time to investigate Twitter.  Honestly, I was struggling with the rationale for this microblogging tool, or the need to post status updates so frequently.

A couple of weeks ago, I subscribed to some recommended Twitterers from an online article.  However, since I do not have access to Twitter during the school day (no cell signal and blocked website) the number of tweets at the end of the day was simply overwhelming to review them all.  Having continuous access makes all the difference, when I can view the tweets at perhaps a maximum number of a few dozen at a time they are manageable.

I noticed some interesting uses of Twitter.

  1. To collect data.  Twitterers poll people in their PLN, or Personal Learning Network.  Tweets with hyperlinks to surveys hosted by Google Forms.  This was cool because you could go the the Google spreadsheet and view the instantaneous results of the survey.
  2. To advertise.  Twitter is full of people trying to establish an online presence for themselves.  I even found people with two Twitter accounts, using one to promote themselves on the other, for example to comment about how great their latest blog post was.  Self-promotion is rampant on Twitter.
  3. To campaign. I was solicited for votes for someone running for an office in ISTE.
  4. To get answers to technology questions.
  5. To forward interesting tidbits found online to folks who may be interested.
  6. As a backchannel at a conference or meeting.

Is there a monetary value to building a large Twitter following?  Is Twitter the key to becoming a leader in the world of Educational Technology?  My observations lead me to believe this might be the case.  How valuable is building a Twitter following in terms of business building?  Can a business be built through Twitter?   Maybe.

What if there were no regulations?

People behave better when there are not explicit regulations dictating how to behave.  This idea is explored by Jonathan Zittrain in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.   As an example, a European traffic planning approach called “unsafe is safe”, where all traffic signs, parking meters and parking space markings are removed.  The only rules are to yield to the driver on your right at an intersection, and if your parked car blocks another you will be towed.  The result of this approach — a dramatic improvement in traffic safety.  People are forced to think about how they drive and what they do.  Rules strip us of the ability to be considerate, standards work better than regulations.

This idea can be seen in the success of Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has few rules — no copyright violation (strictly enforced) and you cannot create or edit entries about yourself or your company.  Anyone can edit it or create content.  Frequent contributors can become Wikipedians, sort of “editors in chief” of Wikipedia.  Instead of regulating Wikipedia entries, standards are enforced.  Repeated violators may lose rights to create content.

Although teachers may have disdain for Wikipedia citations, a recent (2005) study in Nature showed that the error rates for Wikipedia were not significantly greater than traditional encyclopedias.  (Also see 20 page rebuttal from Brittanica.) Wikipedia is updated much faster (often the same day as an event), includes information not found in encylopedias such as different opinions about subjects, and comments from users about reasons for change made.  The generativity of the wiki format facilitated the creation of an amazing storehouse of knowledge.  Wikipedia facilitates futher generativity by allowing others to use its content in other applications or forms. 

The idea of removing regulations and instead enforcing standards could be applied to many other areas of our lives.  I wonder what would happen if we tried to do it?

The dangers of tethering and Web 2.0

Generative Machine vs. Appliance

We are moving increasingly toward appliancized machines — think TiVo, iPod, Blackberry, iPhone.  With software and applications moving off the PC and onto the Web we can use our PC as a dummy terminal to access online applications.  Continuous internet access creates the situation where our PCs and appliances can be reconfigured by their vendors anytime.  The question is does the popularity of appliancized machines represent a complete paradigm shift away from generativity?

Appliancized machines enable over-regulation.

One example of this over-regulation is illustrated in the court case of TiVo vs. EchoStar.  As a result of a 2004 lawsuit, EchoStar was ordered to terminate DVR functionality in units users had already purchased.  Imagine losing data and functionality after you have purchased a device!  Tethered applicances, such as the TiVo, remain under the control of the manufacturer.  Tethering is a double-edged sword.  With it, we get updates that can add features and functionality… but features and functionality can be taken away!

Tethering enables surveillance.

TiVo monitors our viewing habits.  OnStar-equipped vehicles and mobile phones can be used to eavesdrop, even when the phone is turned off.  PC’s that use automatic update can also be used in this way, with a software update to your operating system.

Web 2.0 and Generativity

Remembering that a lot of innovation stems from amateur tinkering enabled by generativity, limiting generativity will lead to less innovation.  But, doesn’t having a PC mean we still have generativity?  The shift to Web 2.0 applications that are run from the web means a loss of control and generativity for the end user.  It is very convenient to use Google Docs, but that means that the features could change at any time, or just go away.  We willingly give Google control over our data.  Google applications and widgets do allow some generativity, but within the prescribed limits and without guarantee of continuing service.  Google giveth and Google can taketh away…

Note: Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, is available online for commenting and annotation at http://yupnet.org/zittrain/archives/13.


A key concept in Zitrain’s book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it, is generativity. Zittrain defines generativity as a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences (http://yupnet.org/zittrain/archives/13). A generative system must possess 5 qualities: (1) ability to leverage, (2) adaptability, (3) ease of mastery, (4) accessibility, and (5) transferability of changes. The greater the degree to which these 5 qualities exist, the more the technology will be used in unanticipated ways.

Every machine is not (and should not be) designed with generativity in mind.

Affordance theory suggests that the object’s designer should anticipate the uses of the object and tailor the appearance and function to those uses.  This  thinking produces appliancized systems instead of generative ones.   Generative systems are not inherently superior to non-generative systems; each must be examined as to its benefits and shortcomings individually.

Generative systems facilitate innovation.

The structure of the PC and the Internet enable them to be generative, compared to that of wireless telephone service providers and wireless phones which are largely appliancized.  Although phones can be programmed, the system lacks some of the 5 qualities required for generativity.  Big companies often exhibit innovative inertia, especially when dealing with disruptive innovation.  Disruption benefits some; corporations often see these disruptions as endangering to their current operational model.  Therefore, the activity of amateurs often leads to results that the corporations would not produce.

Generative systems invite outside contributions.

The Internet has created a polyarchical system which facilitates the development of obscure, but transformative ideas.  New ways of collaborating online have allowed projects too ambitious for single programmers to be undertaken by groups of people.  The linkage of the PC and the Internet has enhanced creativity.  The generative qualities of the PC and the Internet also set the stage for potential digital catastrophe.  One virus can disable millions of machines.  The paradox of generativity is that this invitation of unanticipated change can lead to the imposition of controls which limit future generativity.

A warning.

Reactions to some negative products faciliated by generativity will likely be overreactions that threaten the generative basis of the Internet and could lead to censorship.  Zittrain points to the need to solve generative problems at the technical layer to prevent the future imposition of controls at the content and social layers.  (Refer to description layers of the Internet  http://yupnet.org/zittrain/archives/13)

Note: Zittrain’s book is available online for commenting and annotation at http://yupnet.org/zittrain/archives/13.

Your data is out there for everyone

Social networking applications have experienced amazing growth. I have a Facebook account and a MySpace account, although I do not use them nearly as much as my students do. I also use Netflix, which provides its users a service by tracking what movies you say you like so that it can offer you similar titles to select. All this convenience, at such a low price… sometimes even free… What could be bad about that?

Americans have always had expectations of privacy… this was before the age of the Internet.  You have no privacy on the Internet. Social networking sites have value because of their captive audience for advertising and the large amount of data that is available.  It is only a matter of time before that data is mined… what will it be used for?  What about your children’s data that is on their MySpace and FaceBook pages… should that be available to anyone?  Do you even know what your children are putting out there? MySpace is offering their data up for sale. (see this article) How much data about minors is in there… A LOT!  How many children are putting data on the Internet that should not be out there… ? How long will it be before FaceBook does the same thing.  For all you Netflix users, Netflix just found out that your movie ratings can be used to identify you (see this article).   Netflix was trying to improve their algorithm for picking movies for you, but stopped offering that data to outside companies because of the identifying information.

How many other web-based services will sell their data?  How about Amazon.com?  Amazon already tracks everything you have bought, someone could be interested in that data. But Amazon sells everything so cheap!  Maybe that low price and convenience carries a bigger price…