Thursday, January 10, 2008

When "techpresence" Enters the Classroom

"Techpresence" is the ability of electronic devices to wirelessly communicate and interact with each other just by placing those devices in close proximity to each other.

A smart phone that that exhibits "techpresence" automatically syncs images with a desktop computer (perhaps via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) when placed close to the desktop. An example of techpresence in the living room might be picture frames or other art that "senses" the presence of "techpresence-enabled" devices and presents custom images or custom artistic content.

Techpresence can also happen with items that we now think of as "dumb". Your refrigerator, for example, could respond to your iPod playing a "don't eat that ice cream" message. Your "techpresence" wrist watch could talk to your front door locks and unlock when you approach from the outside.

In the classroom, "techpresence-aware" devices could reconfigure based upon the presence or absence of selected students. A computer in a lab could present custom bookmarks. A message board on the wall could announce the scores of last night's basketball game when the "star center" enters. A student's cell phone could turn into a "learning key" that unlocks technology and other resources as long as the student is present. Cell phones could also interact with schoolwide networks tracking the movements (presence or absence) of students in class. (No more calling the roll!).

For educators, techpresence could assist with security (locking your keyboard when you walk away from your desktop computer) or provide access to the faculty resource rooms. Place your laptop next to your home computer and that day's grades and assignments are synchronized. Place the same laptop next to your television and a list of educational films you'd found and bookmarked appears as a selectable menu on your TiVo.

The possibilities are endless. Watch as "techpresence" comes to a home (and classroom) near you!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Educational Media via (Smart) Phone?

With the advent of all the media-ready cell phones, why don't we use the new channel to distribute content, like educational movies/videos, to those devices?

The Challenges

Moving the media between convention DVD and digital distribution isn't that hard. Most schools have a server somewhere from which they can stream media directly to a mobile device (or any computer, for that matter) - or have access to a subscription streaming service and view from there.

You'd think there would be more technical challenges - but most of today's "smart" devices can display a web page with digital movie content (QT, WMP, MPEG, etc.), and, in some cases, support Flash or other multimedia content. Streaming a video is still a bit painful at "cellular" speeds, but if the device can access Wi-Fi, you're all set. Downloading entire videos (and passing them around on SD cards or through network connections) might work too.

The experience of watching a movie or video content on devices like an iPod or smartphone is becoming more common and accepted - especially among students used to viewing their world through a playing-card sized window. The iPhone or other "larger screen" smart devices, offer even more screen real estate and are surprisingly "watchable" - especially for a generation of student used to staring at a smaller screen.

The Opportunities

Because streaming media can be archived and delivered outside of the classroom (time-shifted) it's available on-demand for students and teachers. Sometimes, in today's world, "on demand" means when you're riding the bus, waiting for baseball practice, or hanging out at the mall with friends. Why not put the two together and leverage the use of mobile devices for delivering important and meaningful content.

Making it So

Some educators have stepped out and experimented with podcasting or even videocasting. This involved the creation of content for student use, or professional development. The idea is to take traditional content and offer it up for consumption on a mobile device.

There are several ways you could test the effectiveness of "mobile-video" offerings with your students. They include the usual things you would do to leverage video viewed through the student's home computer such as:
* making an (optional) assignment for students to access a (short) video on their mobile phone and report back to the class the next day
* offering mobile access to video content for students who are absent or infirm as an alternative to, or accent for, book work
* offering video content as preparation for class lectures or as a review for an upcoming exam

Before you can get started with all this interesting exploration, be sure to run some tests yourself. Fire up your Treo, iPhone or other browser-ready mobile device and view some videos. Try You Tube! first, then try surfing to your streaming video network (like Discovery education streaming aka United streaming) and see how it looks. Remember, Wi-Fi connectivity is better for streaming. Stand-alone (saved) video is OK on any video-capable device. If you're satisfied (make sure and listen to the audio, too!), then

I've always landed in the "student responsibility" camp when it comes to the use of cell phones and smart devices in school. I think banning these devices is short-sighted. Restricting the use of the devices is wise. Holding students accountable for "appropriate use of devices" while in school is the gold standard.

I'm off to watch "Cosmos" on my iPhone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Article in Teacher Magazine...

New article about podcasting in the 9/11/07 edition of Teacher Magazine (

The interview process was interesting. Basically I got a call from the magazine's editor who sent me an email and asked me to answer the questions. It was kind of like taking an essay test. :)

I answered the questions, then sent it off. Two days later, a draft of the story came my way. There were tweaks, but nothing i couldn't live with. And they wanted (ugh) a photo.

So... after agonizing over the photo, I awoke yesterday to find the article AND the photo plastered all over the site - and several other sites.

I wish I had more hair. At least the article was fun to write.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Another book - YOU can help with the next!

The "Educator's Podcast Guide" (LEARN MORE) just debuted and it's getting great reviews. (THANK YOU!)

And.. thanks to the wonderful 9 month publication cycle, the NEXT edition is already underway.

I'd love to hear from you if you're read the book - with ideas about how to make it better or podcasts you like. I'll give you credit if I use your ideas, of course!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Future-web Skills

Web 2.0.  JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, AJAX, php/MySQL, CSS, XML, ASP, Flash, SN, SL...

As the Web continues to evolve, tools for creating, posting and maintaining content get more complex.  Acronyms abound and job posting for "web masters" have turned into laundry lists of technologies, software and infrastructures that'll make most anyone's head spin.

Do students really need to master each and every technology and build "graduate level" skills before they feel "employable"?  Thankfully, the set of "future-web" skills needed for the web-savvy worker of tomorrow requires something totally different - the ability to seek out, analyze, and learn (many times teaching yourself) new technologies and new techniques.  

I live right in the heart of Silicon Valley, a place where you can throw a rock and hit three or four engineers, programmers, or web designers.  Stand on a ladder (a tall one) outside my house and you can see 6 colleges.  Apple, HP, MSFT, Intel and others are right around the corner.  It's easy in this area to find someone who claims to know pieces of the "web acronym alphabet".  They each have skills, mostly self-taught or gained from recent courses, in different areas and components of web front- or back-end infrastructure.  Few know most of them an an operational level.  None know them all.

What many of these talented people lack, however, is the ability to problem-solve and to adapt to the ever-changing technologies presented by advances in the pipeline, interface and functionality of the web.  Tomorrow's web designers must have both a catalog of code snippets and a catalog of places and people they can tap to learn or keep abreast of new technologies.

Future-web skills for "coders" and for "maintainers" are changing at an equally rapid pace.  Web 2.0 and the rise of social networking sites and media are changing the face of the web and, interestingly enough, are shifting focus from technologies (which are quite complex, but done by "someone else") to content.  Maintaining a website now may include posting and managing a blog, wiki, mashup, podcast network, RSS feed or virtual environment.

So what's a student to do who wants to learn web design today and practice it tomorrow?  The answer, in short, is:
* keep abreast of new developments
* teach yourself new technologies and learn how to learn others
* get really good at the basics (raw HTML/CSS)
* build your communication skills - both speaking and writing
* practice obsessively - build your own sites or sites for friends.
Focus on these and your success rate will rocket higher.  Ignore these and you'll watch everyone around you succeed, while you sit wondering what's wrong.

I'm off to figure out the GUI for my next back-end SQL DB...


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Little Widget That Could

In a world of multi-megabyte monolithic applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, it's easy to get the impression that the programs you run need to be huge and complex to actually do any real work.  You need lots of options, lots of bells and whistles, and huge multi-screen supporting windows of content, right?

Perhaps not.

Until recently, I'd thought of widgets (those always-ready little "applets" that run in a Mac's dashboard, Windows Sidebar or Yahoo! Widgets) as curious little programs that basically helped me get easy access to the time, weather, phases of the moon, and my calculator.

Then someone showed me a widget for Quicken.  And one for Skype.  And one for Wikipedia.   Then I discovered widgets that work on mobile phones (like my Treo smartphone).  Wow.  I realized that to enter a simple transaction in Quicken, I didn't have to wait for the program to launch, navigate to the account listing and enter.  To make a SKYPE call, I just need to press F8, or to see where that earthquake I just felt originated... well you get the drift.

Current widgets are mostly information or entertainment oriented, with a few biz widgets. I found most of them on Apple's site, but there are plenty more on Yahoo! and other places.

I'm hoping that these little buddies become even more prevalent and that we see the invention of widgets that help us quickly access tools for education, like gradebooks and discipline tool or students management systems.

Once these are out, I'll pop all of them on my Apple iPhone (we can dream) and I'll be good to go!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Are Ed Tech Conferences Really Worthwhile?

I've been in the education biz, either as a full-time educator or as someone working with schools and districts, since 1980. That's more than 20 years of opportunity to attend and present at education conferences. So, are they really worth the time off, travel, and expense?

As an educator, it's very easy for us to feel (and be) isolated from the world of technology. Sure we regularly interact with our peers, and perhaps local/district technology coordinators or IT administrators. But are we really getting the most out of the technology we have? Education conferences go a long way to bridging the knowledge gap and the isolation gap - connecting us with others. They help us discover and explore new technologies and help us meet our own (personal) learning goals. I think they're great.

I have attended, and been a presenter at local, state, national and international technology conferences. Each of these conference types offer different opportunities for learning and collaboration.

NECC, the grandest of the all, is the ultimate opportunity to go WORLDWIDE to find out what's new and what other schools and educators are doing. In addition to a host of vendors, the workshops are exceptional. There is nowhere else where you'll be able to explore such a diversity of well-presented topics. If you only attend ONE conference, NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) is the place to go. This summer's conference is in Atlanta, GA.

State conferences are a great choice if out-of-state travel is restricted or you want a more "people-centered" approach. Workshops tend to be more "real world" and often help you navigate the idiosyncracies of purchasing and using technology in your own state.

Five state conferences, FETC (Florida), TCEA (Texas), CECA (Connecticut), GaETC (Georgia) and CaliforniaCUE (California) are particularly good at drawing larger crowds and offering excellent speakers and workshops.

Local conferences can be good, although you'll mostly (obviously) hear what you might already know. If the conference organizers are on top of things, they'll mix things up by offering local presenters as well as "experts" from other districts.

Overall, conference attendance has been very erratic. As the Web offers more resources and budgets downsize, some choose to stay home. While the WEb is a great resource for information, there just isn't any comparison to roaming the halls of a conference and spotting "unexpected gems" or running into friends or making new ones.

If you haven't tried attending an EdTech conference, you should. If you're an attendee, try presenting next time. It's a blast - so is the lifelong learning experience you'll get from the effort.

By the way, looking for a keynote speaker or featured workshop? Shoot me an email!