Thank You for Raising the Bar, Apple

This week, Apple raised the bar on the education-related expectations from the tech industry.  The introduction of iBooks 2 and Apple’s entrance into digital and interactive textbooks certainly turned a few heads and raised eyebrows.  And then the mud-slinging came.

Just as quickly as the blogs and tweets were posted announcing the details of the announcement, the nay-sayers were creating lists of all the things [they feel are] wrong with Apple’s iBooks Author and the textbooks themselves:  limitations of only viewing on Apple’s own iPads, no real ePub exporting options, Apple taking their 30% share, and of course, the EULA limiting who actually “owns” what.

Now just a second.

Thank you, Apple.  Thanks for putting in thousands of R & D hours, thanks for being innovative, thanks for having vision, thanks for being  tech giant who is willing to listen and explore new approaches.

You didn’t get it exactly right [in the tech giant of Ryan Malany’s eyes] the first time, but you did something.  You raised the bar.  Just like when you omitted the floppy drive from G3 towers and iMacs.  Everyone freaked out.  Nay-sayers pointed out 197 things wrong with it.  And years later, it’s tough to buy a [any brand] computer with one.

We’ve seen this before: you’ll take in customer feedback, you’ll revisit your first generation software restraints, you’ll update, revise, and release.  Other companies are probably already hard at work emulating your software.  They’ll release it [after you’ve done the back-work] at a lower costs with more options and people will continue to complain about Apple’s high[er] costs.

Thank you for being first.  Thank you for raising the bar, Apple.

Speech: Underused In the Classroom

Just a quick post about a rather underused OS X feature in the classroom:

Thinking back to the good ol’ days of MacOS 7.x (Yes, I’m old enough to remember…thank you very much!), what was the single greatest feature of Apple’s SimpleText application?  That’s right.  Its text-to-speech functionality (using MacInTalk or PlainTalk for the Apple historians in the room).

Boy, were those days fun, or what?  One could spend hours trying to get your Performa 5200 PowerPC to correctly pronounce your last name after several hundred attempts at spelling it phonetically.  And when no one was around, maybe, just maybe, you even had Ralph, Fred, Cellos, Kathy, Princess, or Bubbles whisper a few certain four-letter words at you.  Rebel, you were.

But alas, in my teenage mind, that was the extend of the functionality of SimpleText: digital swearing.

Then I became a teacher.

As my fifth graders work through the writing process, what’s the single phrase I use the most when Johnny tells me, “I’m finished.”?  Yup: “Have you reread what you wrote?”

So back to Johnny’s desk he goes to pretend to reread his work through the end of class.  Enter: Apple’s Speech System Preferences.  One of the great, updated features of Apple’s OS X is the ability to quickly highlight text on your screen, hold down your hotkey combination, and have a choir of voices read you your text (with eerily close voice inflections!) right back to you.

Speech

As I’ve been working on my grad school work, almost every abstract, journal, reflection, paper, or key assessment has had itself highlighted and read aloud before I print or submit.  Why not do that in the classroom with your students???

We all know that during the process of hearing your work being read back to you, you’ll catch gramatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, and better-phrasing opportunities.  Since a vast majority of my students’ work eventually makes it to a screen of some sort, why not make this a required step in the writing process?

Just a thought.

What self-check tech solutions have you used with your students?

Professional Organizations Update: I Caved

Last summer, I wrote about “Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees”.  Well, I caved.  During the fall, I took a one-hour graduate class about educational readings.  When the time came to find professional articles to read, I, admidingly, went to my principal and asked for copies of her professional journals.  And before I knew it, I was stretched out on my couch with a stack of ASCD’sEducational Leadership” magazines.

So when the time came to write my letter to Santa, I added “ASCD membership” to the list.  I figured it was easy for the elves to make in the workshop.  Low and behold, I was a good boy, and my girlfriend purchased a membership on my behalf.

February is a fairly edtechy month for me, as it brings Ohio’s eTech Conference.  Even better, my first Educational Leadership magazine (of my own!) is titled “Teaching Screenagers” and focuses on edtech issues!

Okay, so there is some value in professional organizations.  I certainly won’t let it replace my PLN on Twitter, but it definitely makes a lovely compliment to it.

Shorten Your Facebook Fan Page URL

Last June, Facebook allowed users to shorten the URL that directs friends to their individual site.  Instead of friends or potential friends having to search for a particular user using Facebook’s search feature, they could instead be directed to go directly to a friend’s page at facebook.com/usersusername.  Essentially, it is supposed to be a time and space-saver.

With more users creating “fan” pages for everything from small businesses to community clubs to classrooms, Facebook allows the same URL shortening service if your page has 25 fans or more. The process is simple.

1.  While logged into the account associated with your fan page, visit facebook.com/username.

2.  Select your fan page from the “Page Name” drop down menu.

Facebook | Username

3.  Create a unique username and check availability.

Now you’re set to send your users to the shortened URL!  This is much easier for publications and publicity, although Facebook offers several options for electronically promoting your pages.

Feel free to visit (and “like” or “fan” or whatever we’re calling it this week) my classroom’s page at www.facebook.com/mrmalany.

Also look for more information from Ryan Collins’s blog on why/how teachers should create Facebook pages.

It Just Looks Good!

Imagine this scenario:

You put a blank piece of a paper in front of a 12 or 13 year old child and ask her/him to create an illustration that represents her/him.  A collage, a diagram, maybe a map?  Surely they’ll include a person or two (your more advanced drawers may even go beyond The Stick Man).  They may even add a little shadow or dimension. Nevertheless, unless, by chance, you happen to be working with a future Van Gogh, the resulting illustration may be refrigerator-worthy at best.

And that’s where Web 2.0 come into play.  I contend the following:  Students (and adults for that matter) enjoy profile, document, and media creation using Web 2.0 apps because it just looks good.

Students are able to create content that is neat, organized, and makes the creator appear as an artist!  Take, for example, a recent project my students worked on.  They used an internal, open source social network called elgg to create “fake”Greek Projects_ Zeusprofiles of historic Greek figures or Greek mythology characters.  The students entered “about me” info, made up contact details, explained their location, predicted “interests,” etc.  When they were finished, they “friended” me so that I can see their profiles.  The old-school alternative? “Make a poster about your Greek character.”  I’m going to predict the latter assignment’s product to be sloppier, harder to share, and I’ll go as far as predicting: boring.

Another example.

When we studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I gave the students lots of options for presenting their group’s topic, an overwhelming majority chose someBuddhism Presentaion. _ text, images, music, video | Glogster sort of Web 2.0 app.  One of my Buddhism groups chose Glogster to make what I call, “virtual posters.”  Just as if I placed construction paper and a tub of markers in front of the group, they planned, designed, and created a canvas of content to share with others.  Their canvas, however, had animations, cheesy graphics, roll-over sounds effects, embedded videos, etc.  They took their traditional (and by ‘traditional,’ I of course mean, ‘boring’) methods of conveying information to the next level.  It didn’t matter who had better handwriting or if they ruler lines were straight or even if the marker they’re using started to run out of ink halfway through the third bubble letter!  Taking their content to the web provided a cleaner, more manageable and collaboration-friendly working environment.

My seventh graders are early in this process.  Unfortunately, they’re not used to expressing themselves academically with digital media.  I’ll admit it: they get caught up in the process and the content suffers.  For now, I’ll let that go from time to time.

Next year it looks like my building will have some “guided study halls.”  Maybe I can teach a Web 2.0 class?

Backchanneling in the Classroom?

I was first introduced to public speaking backchanneling when I attended a session by my district’s technology coordinator, Ryan Collins, at eTech Ohio’s 2009 conference.  During the session, he used several different backchanneling methods (I don’t remember the specific services.) to relatively instantly gather background information about his audience.  Additionally, he was able to provide a medium that the participants were able to submit questions or reflect on comments he has made during the presentation.  Essentially, it was instant (and silent!) collaboration.

The thing I noticed most about this, was that all of the participants in the backchanneling process had to be completely engaged in the presentation.  That’s what I strive for EVERYDAY with EACH of my students.  Admittedly, the extent of engagement in my classroom is all too often listen-to-what-I’m-saying-and-write-it-in-your-notes.  Bleh.

So that’s where the idea of students backchanneling to me (I’m not sure if I used the verbiage correctly there) during lessons comes in.  Has anyone used this successfully?  What services are available?  Which are better than others?  How can one student backchanneling be beneficial to all my students?  Are there some hidden benefits here for absent students to utilize?  Other thoughts or advice?

Shortening the Clicks and Keystrokes

In an increasing effort to connect to/with/from my students electronically, I like to think that I practice several networking technologies including email, Twitter, GoogleWave, and GoogleVoice. Of this ever-increasing list, it appears that email is the most reliable, consistent, familiar, and is here to stay.

Several weeks ago, I asked our district’s technology coordinator to set me up a list-serve mailing list for all of my 168 seventh graders. While I don’t really understand the technicalities of a list-serve, I am at least familiar with the end result: I can send an email to one address and a whole slew of kids get the message. Continue reading