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.

So Long, Farewell!

This summer, as I did the What-To-Chuck Walk around my classroom, my eyes kept returning to an entire bookshelf filled with giant Merriam-Webster Dictionaries.

We’re not talking five or six of them.  We’re talking an entire class set.  The collection was one of those inherited things that another teacher offered to me, and I was too much of a naive, young, greedy teacher to turn them down.  They were still in near-perfect condition, each with a $22.99 sticker stuck to the front cover.

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/60437

So I began the analysis: Do my students use them? Was in because of accessibility issues?  Could I put them anywhere else?  What else could I put there?  Would something else on that shelf serve the students better?

Then I remembered one of my students from the last school year: Ellie.  I think it was during our work on books for the Young Authors’ Conference.  I remember her words and actions specifically.  She was working at her table, located near the wall of computers in my room.  She must have still been drafting or editing.  Nearby, students were typing their drafts on GoogleDocs, preparing to copy and paste into StoryJumper for publication.

Ellie came across a difficult word to spell.  She asked her neighbors, to no avail.  Then she flipped on her lightbulb and exclaimed aloud, “Let’s look it up on GoogleDocs!”  Within seconds she was leaning over a friend’s keyboard, typing her best guess and waiting for for “The Red Squiggly Line.”  With a flash of the line and a quick right click, she had her correct spelling and was back to writing.

Meanwhile, four pieces of dust fell atop the dictionaries on the bookshelf.

So during that reflection, I had my answer.  I loaded up the dictionaries on a chair with wheels and scooted my way to the storage book room.  It was tough to stack perfectly good dictionaries (and their price tags!) on a dark shelf in the corner of the book room, knowing well that they would remain their until the end of time.  But alas, it is a different time.  Ellie, and all of my students, have coping mechanisms to assist them.  [Rest assure, I’m about to right-click on my spelling of “mechanisims” instead of heading to my bookshelf for a dictionary.]

Thanks for leading the way, Ellie!

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?

MacOS X File System Prediction

For not really any reason other than hoping to drop an, “I told you so,” I’d like to make a prediction about how Apple will revolution their file system in their 10.7 update.  Everywhere we go with a keyboard these days, we’re asked to identify blogs, bookmarks, photos, notes, conversations, videos, and more with a new type of label: tags.  Tags give users the ability to filter and search through content based on the desired file having one (or multiple!) tags.  The concept makes any search a custom search, perhaps containing photos in one’s library that contains “vacation”, “Steven”, “animals” in order to find that sequence of photos of Steven feeding the seagulls on vacation.

Throughout this year, I find myself trying to find the most useful ways to organize my files for my first year of creating content for fifth grade language arts.  As my plans are dictated by a standards-aligned map, each IWB file, worksheet, assessment, notes file, etc., are all connected to single or multiple standards.  In addition, the content is often related to relevant information for the kids (Christmas content at Christmas, hunting content during hunting seasons, etc.).  Long story, short: I want to be able to label files according to what exactly the file contains.

Currently, I’m stuck giving a file a single name and placing it in some heirarchy of folders.  Until Apple chooses to take on this system of file labeling, there are a couple workarounds I can think of.  First, you could use the current file system to make folders labeled according to the tags that you may want to use.

Get Info

In each folder, you could make an alias, or shortcut, and place it in each appropriate folder.  This will make a file that points to the actual file.

Secondly, you could use a file’s Get Info option to place tags in the Spotlight Comments box.  This will allow you to use Apple’s Spotlight search engine to find files according to what tags you’d like to search for.

Make no mistake, introducing tagging into the file system would take some thinking on the programmers’ part.  Moreover, they would need to think about how files migrated to other operating systems would adapt their tags to a standard file name-based system.  Still, I foresee the payoff of adapting this approach to be extremely helpful to Mac users.  And if anyone can pull off a revolution, it’s Apple.

Lost: Electronic Toy

A while back, my friend Thomas shared this creative video with me:

(Heads up: lyrics are PG-13)

As someone who has left both an iPod and digital camera on the back of my car, losing the devices (and their contents!) forever, I now do a much better job of labeling my digital devices.

In other news, I received another flash drive last week.  I’ve added the 4GB Kingston to the plethora of other flash drives I’ve acquired over the years.  With improvements to “cloud” computing and my use of my MobileMe, Dropbox, and GoogleDocs accounts, I find myself transferring files with flash drives lots less.  Nonetheless, there are still times where grabbing a flash drive is the easiest option.

That being said, how many times have you left your flash drive in a USB port and walked away?  It happens.  Usually I’m the first one back to the device and retrieve the drive.  But what if I’m not?

So this morning I came up with this idea.  Yeah, I’m sure I’m not the first.

ZIPPY1

I chose to make a PDF as it’s pretty much a universal format.

Zippy2

Again, I’m sure this isn’t too revolutionary, but it took all of 45 seconds to potentially save the loss of vital and/or sensitive information (like the chapter 16 presentation!).