Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thoughts from a new iPad user

Okay I got an iPad so what. Well I am pretty impressed so far. In fact I am writing this post on it right now. The onscreen keyboard is actually pretty decent. I am kind-of touch typing. I thought I would share my first impressions from my first weekend with it.

I immediately got iTunes going, synced up my music. The listening experience is great. Works just like an iPod. Then I installed the Kindle Reader from Amazon and bought my first book: The Singularity written by Ray Kurzweil. Next I setup Activesync for the Mail app to connect to my Microsoft Exchange email. Worked great. I have used that exclusively this weekend to read and respond to email. I found and installed a Twitter app Twitterific, installed a Soduko app, Google Earth app, Language translator app, Wired Magazine app, and Sundry Notes.

Reading with Kindle is very nice. A simple interface that doesn't get in the way. I love that I can highlight snippets of text and easily get back to it. I can also add bookmarks to easily return to specific pages. I am a bit frustrated though that I can not select, copy text. For example I might want to quote a piece of text from the book in this blog post or in a tweet. Can't do it! The other cool feature is that it syncs bookmarks and highlights up to the Amazon cloud so it is backed up and can sync to other devices like iPhone or iPod Touch. I must be old school though 'cause I still want the physical book to put in my library. Books are conversation pieces and if people can't see them how can the book passively stimulate a conversation? I would like them to give you the Kindle version for a couple of bucks when you buy the physical copy.

The Wired Mag app experience was good. Some article are interactive letting you press buttons to get more info or to run an animation. The ads often have short video clips you can play. It was an easy reading experience. I can see switching to emagazine from paper for sure.

As far as using it to blog... I still like using Windows Live Writer on my laptop better. Much easier to embed images or videos or other embeds. Easier to format, create links to web items, see the post as it will be, add tags, etc. Also, I can't seem to figure out how to scroll within the edit post box. No scroll bars evident. I tried the Compose mode and it says not supported for this browser version. Gimme a break...

I have a major bone to pick with Apple though. The fact that they have not implemented Adobe Flash is a slap in their users faces. I tried looking up Sky Train info last night and they use Flash for that. Slideshare.net uses Flash. pgatour.com uses flash to show live streaming. Give us a break, Apple! Sure you want html5 to rule but in the mean time make it work for the web today!

I will be participating in a learning team (action research) this next school year with our Superintendent, some Principals, and a few teachers. I look forward to seeing how well this new Apple gadget could serve educational needs.

Do you have any iPad experiences you can share? If so, please do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

3D TV – A New Learning Environment

I was out shopping with my wife Shelley on Monday.  It was our 25th anniversary – wow, time flies.  Anyway, while she disappeared into the Coquitlam Centre mall, I decided to check out 3D TV’s Sony BRAVIA 40in Future Shop.  I am totally impressed with the 1st generation products, especially the amazingly thin LED versions.  Apparently you can hang them on the wall like a picture frame!

So, I was wondering…  how might this technology evolve?  Where might it show up next?  And how can teachers and students use it for the enhancement, or transformation, of learning?  I wrote a post a few weeks back Welcome to your life in 2020 where I speculated about a learning holodeck / virtual reality experience and another Technology, People, and Learning where I wondered about applying Disney Imagineer’s magic to learning design.  Perhaps both posts are a little “out there” but I suggest that 3D TV technology will become mainstream within laptops, netbooks, tablet/pads, and computer monitors.  I am willing to bet this will be the case in the next five years.

Assuming this is true, the types of immersive learning environments that learning design experts (teachers and students) will be capable of creating will be remarkably engaging, compelling, and realistic.  Think online learning on steroids!  Likely these 3D true to life environments will be participatory.  For example, students may don 3D glasses and head phones and through Wii like control enter a Social’s unit on old world Quebec in Canada where they meet historical characters, such as Samuel de Champlain founder of Quebec City.  Students can ask the characters an array of questions and have a dialogue about history.  Perhaps they can visit a Maple tree farm and learn about and try out the historical and modern methods of extracting Maple syrup.  Or, a small group of grade 5 students can enter a 3D world consisting of geometric shapes that they can manipulate, learn about lines of symmetry, discover properties of fractions, etc.  Compared to the text, static picture, video, white board, smart board alternatives, I think students might really connect to their learning through this approach.

Recent history has taught us that through the effects of Moores Law, the power of computing machines continues to double while the costs divide by half.  This effect turns “magic” into products and places them in the hands of the masses.  What seems impossible today, is reality just around the corner.  I think 21st century breakthroughs like 3D immersive interactive worlds built-in to digital learning devices will put all kinds of experiential learning in the reach of all students and teachers.  It’s just a matter of time…

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Laptops for Teachers are Essential Tools for the 21st Century

Our School District (Coquitlam, BC, CA) has agreed to set a new direction in how it provides teachers with technology.  Have a quick look at this presentation recently delivered to introduce our principals to the teacher laptop initiative (TLI).
The TLI is designed as a District <—> School cost share:  35% District and 65% School.  Each year up to 1/3 of all teachers will receive a new laptop and after three years, the laptops will be given to students to use and those teachers will receive a new laptop.  In other words, every three years, teachers get a new laptop and students gain access to a set of three year old laptops.

Coordinators from the District Staff Development department will design and coordinate various professional development (PD) opportunities for teachers and the implementation is based on an inquiry model (action research).  Teachers will be expected to commit to participating in an inquiry model, attend some after school PD sessions, provide ongoing reflection in a blog or wiki, and use their District provided virtual classroom to support their student’s learning.  School Leaders are required to support their teachers and to develop a local implementation plan including local PD.

The District will form a “guidance team” of principals (2 secondary, 2 middle, and 6 elementary).  It will also develop measurement instruments, gather data, and report out, as the initiative is rolled-out.  For year one, laptops are expected to arrive in teachers hands February-March 2011.

“So what” you might be inclined to say.  We believe this will significantly increase equitable access to quality tools for all teachers and to enable them to connect their students with relevant resources, information, and with other students outside the walls of their classrooms.  We have schools struggling to provide the tools on their own – some are doing well, others are not.  We believe that this cost share model with built-in PD, District support, local plans, all through an action research model, will help move our entire system forward in its adoption of the use of digital tools and resources to support teaching and learning.  We talk all the time about “21st Century skills and learning” for students…  we need to help our teachers in a focused way if we hope to engage our students in the digital world.

What advice might you have for us from your experience undertaking something like this?  What should we avoid?  What should we absolutely provide?  Thanks in advance for your help.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Technology, People, and Learning

My son Jesse, who’s 21, got us to re-watch a video today that Shelley (my wife) and I made way back in 1991 of a trip we made with some friends to Disneyland.  We used an 8mm mini-cam to record the Disney experience and edited using a VHS player that had a shuttle wheel.  Shelley wrote out the credits and introduction which we taped from a tri-pod facing the camera down to the paper “feed” while she slowly pulled it past the camera’s view.  We dubbed cassette tape music into the VHS player at key points to lay down some music tracks.  A two hour family movie was born.  It was a painful process with the technology available in 1991…

While re-watching the video I was impressed once again with the technical wizardry Disney used even 20 years ago.  The way they synchronized the characters in the Pirates of thimagee Caribbean or the Bear Jamboree and made them come to life was quite remarkable.

Video editing today is so much simpler than in 1991.  Even with free tools like iMovie or Movie Maker, one can do amazing things with video, images, music tracks, etc. With the tools available today, Disney Imagineers have a lot of new possibilities available to them.  Isn’t it amazing how they invent attractions and experiences that captivate millions of children and adults.  People keep coming back for more and spend a lot of money doing so.

Why is Disney so successful?  I’m reading a book imageby Lee Cockerell, a former executive of Disney where he shares Disney leadership strategies. I’m only half-way through but I think their focus on people (their employees are called Cast Members) and technology is the answer.  I like this quote he shares:
In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future” 
Isn’t that the truth hey.  He also says that:
Your people are your brand”
Disney’s purpose is:
“Be so nice to our guests that they won’t believe it” and “Make sure that every Guest has the most fabulous time of his or her life.”
So, technology aside, those of us who have had the pleasure of experiencing Disney’s magic know that without the people (well trained, great attitudes, well adapted) who make it worth the visit.  I think that we need to keep this fact in mind when we talk about the coming disruptions to education.

Some people think all learning will be online, self directed, and teachers won’t be as important.  I beg to differ.  I think most learning will be a blended combination of same place same time with a teacher guiding, sometimes teaching, and online, virtual, simulated, etc.  But, perhaps school systems should hire Disney Imagineers to design learning experiences.  Perhaps, school systems should practice the leadership strategies Disney bases its success on.  What if students, all of them, felt the pixie dust of learning the way kids and adults experience Disney?  With technology, learning can certainly move off the page and into some very engaging immersive online / digital experiences that connect with students passion.  That, should be the promise of technology for learning.

So what do you think about mixing Disney with School?  Or, using Disney as a model and guide for using technology to support learning?