Friday, June 24, 2011

Presentations and Raw Teaching At SMU Revisited

Two years ago I read an article detailing a movement at SMU to remove technology from their classrooms because professors had become too dependent on showing powerpoints. This move, known as teaching "naked" or "raw teaching" was designed to create a more engaging classroom environment; encouraging interaction and discourse between instructor and students. And Dean Bowen began taking computers out of the classrooms.

As a technology user and evangelist I was shocked that a university in 2009 would remove technology from classrooms for any reason. Sure, there are important points to be made about the way technology is used in classrooms on any level, but was stripping the classrooms of technology a good way to remove the "crutch" of powerpoints? So students (who use technology in most areas of their lives) are no longer going to use it in the classroom? How about expecting technology to be utilized more appropriately in education? Shouldn't 21st century classrooms and professors model the use of the available technology as an important tool for learning and accessing knowledge? Won't students be better prepared for the future because they were in technology-rich classrooms? If one of my children was attending SMU, I'd have some questions about how stripping technology was preparing my child for a their future...I thought.

But now, looking back I think I missed the point. I had a knee-jerk react to removing technology but didn't really think about the reality Dr. Bowen was addressing - many lectures and powerpoints are really bad.

It wasn't and isn't about the technology, but how we change the way we interact and teach when we are in face-to-face spaces. Powerpoint is easy to attack because it has been so overused and sometimes abused. But are bad powerpoint presentations more like Frankenstein's monster returning to haunt our courses and students, where we as the creators are responsible? And after all, creating a presentation in any form you think will be engaging takes time and effort.

I've been kicking this around in my own head because recently one of the most popular workshops I've offered has been on Prezi. I like Prezi and have used it and have enjoyed leading the workshop. But I always make the point there really is little difference between a bad presentation with powerpoint or prezi. The broader message I'm trying to convey, "It's not about the instrument - it's about the artist" and "You are the presentation."

It's about the craft of presenting and how good presenters connect ideas and engage their audiences. Which is not so different than what I think Bowen was trying to express. And while I still don't know about the notion of pulling technology from classrooms to prevent its poor use. I do think I would ask teachers who use technology to lecture or present to be thoughtful about it, to plan and reflect on how best to communicate and facilitate ideas and learning.


A lot of my ideas about proper presenting were shaped by the work of Garr Reynolds and his book Presentation Zen , Guy Kawasaki and the "10/20/30 rule" and the "knowledge-able" Michael Wesch. I also think one of the best places to watch great presenting is or surf a few of the presentations on slideshare for ideas.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

First Impressions of the iPad

Recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on an iPad. As an owner of an (aging) iPod and other Mac products I wasn't completely unfamiliar with the platform, but I've heard a lot about tablets and specifically the iPad so I was pretty excited to try this one out.

The following are admittedly my first impressions, so take all with a grain of salt and feel free to contribute your impressions or set me straight as needed. :)


  • I'd heard the iPad was light, but it really is ultra-light. I was amazed at the difference between carrying a laptop and the iPad, and I'll admit to double-checking a few times to make sure it was in my bag.
  • The iPad's display is also really impressive. The picture is crisp and easy on the eyes. This is the way to read any content online.
  • The combination of the above coupled with the adequate volume and audio quality make the iPad an excellent device for media as well.
  • iTunes - Ugh- In my experience there are few programs that slow down computer performance like iTunes. I know I'm using a PC and the Mac-heads would look disapprovingly and suggest that is my problem. But I'm not the only person running iTunes on a PC, and it be nice if getting an iPad didn't mean subjecting myself to the iTunes ecosystem (more on this in a minute). I looked at some alternatives to iTunes (like Songbird), but for the updates and apps I bit the bullet and installed the bloated iTunes on my laptop. Oh, look another update for quicktime....(shaking my head).
  • Flash - Yeah, I know this one has been covered so I won't go on about it. I'm just saying it would still be nice.
  • Lastly, and most importantly I'm not sure I like being here in the iStore with my iApps on my iPad. This is a closed environment. Apple will tell me what is available in this world and will control their environment. This is a little troubling because as a fan of opensource software - somehow this seems like the opposite of that model.

    With most of my other devices I am allowed to choose (with some limits) what programs I want to install and what OS I'd like. This is a great time for finding free opensource applications or even webapps. I am reminded of a Lawrence Lessig talk called "Open" where he speaks to these points about the closed environment of Apple and whether that is a good thing. It's worth watching and considering.

For Education

The Chronicle recently ran an article on iPads for professors which gave a great deal of insight into how the contributing professors used the iPad. It was a good read but it lacked an "aha" moment. And while it's clear the iPad (and tablets) will make a huge impact on the future of textbooks, again I wonder if this is a more controlled "DMRish" environment. If so, how would it impact OERs?

Finally, for the K-12 environment, I've seen a lot of extremely positive postings on classes and schools that have gone with iPads. No disrespect to the postings and successes students and teachers are feeling. However, I wonder if these same classes and teachers wouldn't have experienced similar success with other technologies if they were given the needed time and training. Finally the technology isn't as important was how it can be used to learn. And really is there anything I can do on a $700 iPad that I can't do on a $300 netbook?

photo credit

Monday, April 4, 2011

Delicious, Bookmark Housecleaning and Graveyards

Last December I was one of many alarmed to hear Yahoo would be shutting down delicious (or if you're kicking it old school). I've used the tool for many years and enjoyed the web-based bookmarking that freed me up to move between computers and access my saved bookmarks.

Logo of Delicious
After using it to bookmark my stuff, I soon found that Delicious was an area I could search before going to google and get better results because others were sharing their bookmarks as well. I quickly added smart people to my network and would search their bookmarks for links that had the benefit of being vetted by a trusted source. The light bulb turned on, and I became aware of the "socialbookmaking" part of delicious.

Delicious became a favorite subject of mine for workshops with teachers. I extolled the benefits of using a network of others to help find websites to use in class. And talked about how much time can be saved when teachers are networked and bookmarks are open. And like many who use web2.o apps, I assumed delicious was secure and would be around indefinitely.

So as I read through many of the "alternatives to delicious" links, I felt like an evicted tenant sizing up my options for where to move to and call home for my huge family of bookmarks.

But I was determined to find some silver lining. Although this was an inconvenience- some good might come of this still. Like a family who moves houses, I have a great opportunity to size up what I need to take with me.

I don't really have a problem with hoarding physical items. My office is pretty barren. I could put all my "work" belongings in one box. But "digital" is another story. My delicious account is bloated, and it's been a long time since I've done any work to pare down the jungle of folders and bookmarks. Delicious is a great system for organizing bookmarks, but one that requires a little attention to organization.

I've heard Delicious referred to as "the graveyard for bookmarks," and I'll admit there are more than a few zombies in my bookmarks. Links or tags I haven't revisited since bookmarking them (years ago), and some duplicate tags litter my Delicious page. Pages that I have bookmarked and then never returned.

Do I really need a "video" and "videos" tag? How many of the 240+ twitter links should I really save for the future? I thought that link was in "internetsafety" or "digitalcitizenship" but it's not; maybe "cybersafety"? I know I bookmarked it, now where is it? Yes, there is a search window in delicious, but what if I can't recall the meaningful keywords I would have tagged it with?...Ehhh, what a mess.

Maybe some housecleaning is in order. Time to sort and box up what to take and maybe what to leave behind when I move to the new place. So although I don't welcome the change, maybe it's time to reconsider how I organize my bookmarks. I'll streamline my system and look back at this as an important moment. I won't haul my bloated zombie hoard to Diigo or Google . I'll embrace organization and structure. (cheering) U-S-A, U-S-A!

Let me at 'em!!!

UPDATE: After the outrage over the closing of Delicious circulated for a bit, Yahoo! announced it was not being shut down. Whew, glad that is over....

UPDATE II: Then this: "Delicous in Peril" via Mashable. Time to be concerned again?

UPDATE III: Like the customer hanging around until the neon OPEN sign is turned off, I'm still in delicious and I still haven't really cleaned up at all. I looked at "Diigo" but it seemed a little too busy, and although I like google bookmarks I haven't seen how I get my "network" in there. I guess truthfully I like my graveyard the way it is, and I'll probably hang out until they close the doors. However, I do like what I am hearing about

If you too are looking for options and need a little help, Richard Byrne has a useful post on how to prepare a migration of bookmarks out of Delicious and into another platform. And here is the link to a list of delicious alternatives on googledoc via Alec Couros.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Foursquare, Science Fiction and Paranoia?

One of the best feelings as a blogger is when someone takes the time to comment on a post. If they agree, it's affirming; if they disagree, but do so respectfully, it's a chance to grow and see ideas in a new light while rethinking your own position. I almost always enjoy the conversation.

One of the blog posts I wrote last summer that received some comments and feedback was on foursquare and its role in twitter. I posted here on this blog and on my former district's blog .

My point was that I thought foursquare and apps like it dilute the value of twitter and made it harder to explain the networked learning that occurs on twitter to those who are not in it. I suggested Foursquare made twitter more easy to dismiss. People who I'd talk to about twitter and learning looked at updates from grocery stores and fast food restaurants and decided this "twittering" was just not for them.
"Mayor" badge (IRL)

I was pleased to receive all comments, one by Vicki Davis (whose work I've followed for sometime) gave me some food for thought. And while I did not agree with all the comments - one comment closed with "I am not an educator robot," which I thought was ironic because the foursquare updates have a very robotic feel. I can almost here HAL900's voice state, "I just became the mayor of Starbucks on foursquare." I appreciate that folks took the time to post comments, and I did spend some time reflecting and wondering if this foursquare disgust was a little of my "old codger" flaring up and whether I had missed something.

Well, I'm at it again. And while I stand by my earlier thoughts about the twitter "noise" created by services like foursquare, I've changed my focus to some potential pitfalls to using foursquare or any other geolocation reporting apps.

Before making my case, there are at least a few items I want to make clear:

  • I believe geolocation based apps that might enhance a learning experience have real potential. I'm watching some of the augmented reality projects for education with great interest (see also The Civil War Augmented Reality Project )
  • I've advocated teaching students to use technology and social media responsibly at workshops and PTA events. So I am not for the blocking of socialmedia or most websites for our students and schools. I don't believe in scaring people off the Internet (more on this soon).
  • I am not a "conspiracy theory kinda guy." I am not blogging in my basement with a tinfoil hat on to prevent the government from spying on me. I do think we landed on the moon. I don't think the US government blew up the Twin Towers...
  • Finally, I am not arguing teachers or anyone else doesn't have the right to use services like foursquare or should be treated any differently than any other person.

While it may be a sign I'm not that social to start with, the idea of self-reporting locations throughout my day seems on some level pointless, a little narcissistic and maybe even foolish to me when it first came out. Now I'm wondering if services like foursquare, gowalla and facebook locations might be . . . dangerous.

I know, I know I can hear myself saying that and thinking I sound just like some of the fearful internet safety presentations I've sat through and later tried to dispute. I'm not a cyber fear factor kind of guy. What would danah boyd say?

I'll start with a movie. I am a sci-fi movie fan and remember a scene from 2002's Minority Report , where protagonist John Anderton lives in a future where retina scans reveal locations, recent purchases made at the GAP and caters the ads to fit the person. The movie explores some important big themes regarding freedoms, surveillance and freewill. But I remember being a little creeped out by a future where every movement and purchase is potentially recorded and monitored. And I thought I wouldn't want anyone tracking all of my movements and behaviors like that. And we live in America - we'd never let that kind of surveillance happen.

I'll cry fowl when I feel like technology is invading our privacy, but this is another issue - this is incentivized self-reporting of location, habits and probable purchases using technology. I wonder if these are dangerous habits?

Report your every movement and purchase, and I'll give you a badge or a free latte. What would Orwell or Phillip K Dick think of this?

So when Please Rob Me came out, I thought it was a brilliant way to address the issue of "over-sharing." The site no longer reveals updates stating "We are satisfied with the attention we've gotten for an issue that we deeply care about." Apparently ICanStalkU feels it still has a point to make as they've continued to "raise awareness about inadvertent information sharing." But I'm not sure if some of us understand "over sharing" anymore. Or think about the caches of data it can create.

I'm not afraid of the "social web," and I know that is the direction the 'net is headed. But I'm not sure if this is the same as getting advice on a restaurant or film to see, and I wonder if this kind of self-reported surveillance has any unforeseen consequences for those "checking in."

Again am I wrong? Paranoid?

"And while new media bring with them new possibilities for openness, transparency, engagement, and participation, they also bring new possibilities for surveillance, manipulations, distraction, and control" - M. Wesch

A Few Related Links:

Photo under CC license

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Best of Times in a Digital Age

Last fall I watched "The Best of Times" starring Robin Williams and Kurt Russell. It had been years since I'd watched this football classic from the 80's. I remembered the tale of lovable Jack Dundee, haunted by the catch he failed to make- an event he is reminded of and relives often, watching the film projector in his office he dreams of recreating the moment. Jack’s burden of the “man who dropped the ball” is a mostly self-imposed title, but he is also remind by those around him of his transgression from years ago.

He feels his moment of failure has become one of the defining moments of his life, as well as the history of the town. Without giving away too much of the film’s plot, Jack formulates a plan to replay the game in an attempt to delete the embarrassing event from the past.

After watching the movie again and considering some of the themes, I’ve wondered if this comedy from the early 80’s has any parallels to the present day and the future when technology has enabled events in our lives to be very public (by choice or not). When our videos, pictures, writings and lives stay on the web, forever sometimes, without context or permission. This is great for sharing life’s positive experiences - maybe not so great in life’s inevitable failures or mistakes.

I wonder if we are prepared for how we will react as all of our inner Jacks will be forced to deal with the unflattering information that is sure to surface that might be available to friends, family, love interests, prospective employers, members of our future communities. Because I don’t think humans will stop making mistakes, and I don’t think technology will become less available or mobile, and I can’t imagine publishing content on the Internet will become harder, I wonder how we will all react when our “dropping the ball” moments are public and persistent?

I think a common approach in the past was to try to scare people, and I’ve sat through more than one “Internet Safety” session that seemed at its core to be telling people not to get online. But I’m not sure if this message really resonates with many young people who are increasing online and willing to share in digital spaces.

And it wouldn’t be hard to pull up numerous examples of when embarrassing moments have gone digital, public and viral and have lead to tragic outcomes. But it doesn’t seem right to cite those examples in this post that started with loveable Jack Dundee. I could cite articles like “Welcome to Facebook, Where ‘Deleted’ Photos Live On For 16 Months” by Carol Scott which outlines the persistence of photos deleted from Facebook, but I don’t want this post to be about Facebook or Youtube or any specific technology or website.

Instead this post is about us. And while I think it’s a great idea to continue to talk to our students about their digital identities and how to shape them in positive ways, it will be equally important to see a shift in the way we as a society evaluate content online and the context (or lack of context) for the content we have online. We might need to allow ourselves to “forget” - even if the web doesn’t. Otherwise generations of kids might be dealing with their inner Jack Dundee every time they apply for a job or consider running for public office.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Burning My Videos DVDs

So you want to take some of those video files with the easy Flip camera and turn them into a DVD for your family? Sounds pretty simple, but when I first began to look into options for burning my home videos to DVD, I was disappointed at the lack of relevant information on the web for simple steps to do this. I found a lot of suggestions for different apps, but nothing I found took me step-by-step. And often the information seemed to be about a product to purchase. I wasn't looking for editing software for helping me create a work of art-I simply wanted to take what I had recorded on the Flip and put it on a DVD that I could give to family to play.

I had two "musts" for this project:
  • All the software used must all be free and relatively easy to use. Bonus points for using software already on my machine.
  • The process must yield a DVD that can be played in a standard DVD player.
So the following are the steps I've used to burn home video files to a DVD that can be played in DVD players. I've found this to be very useful when sharing family videos that are too large to send in email attachments.
  • I recorded my video with an older model Flip video camera. The raw video is in avi format, and I imported those files into Windows Moviemaker which is included on my machine running XP. My version of the Flip uses avi as the video format, but it should be noted newer versions of the Flip camera do not use avi. Windows MovieMaker needs to be in a format like avi that can be imported in the program.
  • After editing I saved the file in MovieMaker. I learned the key step is to save as "DV-AVI (NTSC)". My first attempts failed because I didn't select this format.
  • Next I downloaded and installed DVDstyler(for free). It is simple and may lack frills, but the I found it very easy to use and create a menu with buttons that point to the imported video files. When done select the "Burn" option and check to make sure the file ends in .iso (for example "Save to C:\dvd.iso")
  • It will take a few minutes depending on the size of your project to generate a DVD image. When you are done you'll need to be able to locate the iso file.
  • Last step is to burn the iso file as an image. It is important to create an image to burn to a DVD which will allow you to play it on most DVD players. I use Infrarecorder , which is another very useful free app, but any software that allows you to "burn image" ( in infrarecorder it is under actions). Now navigate to the iso file , make sure you have a blank DVD and select burn.

  • When the burn is complete you should have a finalized DVD capable of being played in any standard DVD player.
So far my experience has been a very good one with all these programs and this process. I've been able to share a lot of family videos without the emails or home video viewings.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Early Impressions of Moodle2

It has been a few weeks since I attended a distance learning conference in Durham, and several days since the eagerly awaited release of Moodle2. In that time I've tried to connect the info in the sparse notes I've taken and resources on the web with what I am seeing in Moodle 2.

I owe my early impressions to both the "tire-kicking" I've done in a few Moodle2 servers and my attendance in an excellent session on Moodle2 from Michelle at Remote-Learner and Martin Dougiamas's keynote at the NC3ADL conference. I'll limit my post to a few elements I think are "big deals," as well as a few areas I'll be watching before I get too excited.

The Big Deals:
  • Files - File Management in Moodle2 will be a big change. The ability to easily access files over different courses and the adding of repositories from external sites like Flickr and GoogleDocs will be game changers. The "file picker" is easy to use, but this will be a significant change from the current system and the way files operate.
  • Hubs- I love the idea of a moodle hub as a repository sharing courses. I hope this will not only create some opportunities for openness and collaboration but also might encourage more discussions about the elements of a good online course. Sharing quality course materials across institutions, colleges and departments seems like an idea whose time has come.
  • Conditional Activities & Completion Tracking- Completion Tracking might be the perfect tool for allowing students and instructors to track their progress in a course. Activities could be set for automatic marking or allow students to check when complete. Conditional Release is one of the additions Moodlers have anticipated most. The ability to allow an activity only when a condition has been met might change the ways many courses are currently setup. I did hear at least a few calls for caution in using this lest your course become a series of conditional releases creating a maze for your students to navigate.
Cautiously Awaiting Word on....
  • Backups - This is also a big deal. The file extension for Moodle2 backups is different and given some of the significant differences between the two versions, I wonder when (don't want to think "if") there will be a way to restore a Moodle 1.9 course backup into a Moodle 2 course.
  • Blogs and Wikis -I have never liked the blogs or wikis in 1.9. Maybe its because there have always been better tools provided outside the walls of Moodle. So I am interested to see more of how these will look in Moodle2. The new blog in Moodle2 allows comments, and they may be linked to create a “blog about it” scenario. For Bloggers already using an outside/external blogsite, content can be easily pulled down into the improved Moodle blog. The new wiki tool has supposedly been rebuilt, but I haven't yet explored or seen the differences.
  • Mobile Moodle - Although it is not a part of the new release of Moodle, Mobile Moodle was mentioned by Martin Dougiamas as a part of his conference keynote. I'll continue to be interested in the development of the official Mobile Moodle App and how it might create more anytime environments for learning in Moodle.
As with any release of a new version of any technology there is level of of uncertainty. I have heard more than once from several sources, "I'll probably wait until 2.1 or even 2.2". But I like what I see so far, and this version doesn't seem to be adding more but possibly making better what is already in Moodle.