Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mobile Revolution

I am amazed how mobile computing has taken the world by storm.  It really is like a revolution.  Traditional ways of computer are being disrupted, some might suggest out of existence.  We increasingly read headlines (here, another) about the death or end of the desktop flickr-com-photos-wespeck-4960579336computer.  Actually it’s more, the death of the MP3 player, digital camera, calculator, voice recorder, handheld GPS, camcorder, to list a few other casualties.  I think this is great – fewer specific use devices to buy and haul around with you is a good thing.  Costs to own a diverse set of devices disappears into the single purpose device.  However, can the mobile device really meet all of our needs in the most effective way?  Is there still a place for “traditional” devices such as the desktop?

My own experience is that I might use my home desktop computer an hour or two a week at most and that’s mainly for banking, some email and Facebook, maybe a bit of Twitter, and at certain times to research companies, products, and vacation options.  My work laptop I use throughout the week when I’m in my office, mainly for email, calendaring, research, writing / planning, and designing/creating presentations.  I also use my laptop at home some evenings and most weekends to catch up on work, and of course, to write for this blog.  However, my mobile technology is used, statistically, far more.  This is relatively new for me.  Finally the smartphone (I use an iPhone 5) with an LTE data connection is powerful enough to be my go to device for most consumption and communication. 

I almost exclusively take my tablet (I use an iPad 4 with LTE) to meetings to take notes (with Evernote), do calendaring and email, and to look up stuff and share it.  My tablet is also my go to device at conference sessions or other talks / training where I mainly use a Twitter client (Twitter or HootSuite) and a note taking tool (usually Evernote).  I also prefer my tablet for reading web content and ebooks (Kindle) but when heading to a Starbucks to chill with a book and a coffee, I find that my smartphone is now all I need. 

In a Starbucks, I fire up Tunein.com and listen to some obscure online “radio station” from somewhere in the world, bring up Kindle and lose myself in the book and the music.  While reading, I often share thoughts and quotes using the Twitter app on the device – as others respond, I might engage with them about the content just shared.  To take a break, I may pop into Facebook, email, Flipboard, Zite, or my calendar.  The book content might trigger something I want to remember so I set a reminder in the device so I don’t forget it.  When I’m commuting home from work, I listen to audio booksiStock_000010954699XSmall via the Audible.com app.  If I want to remember something that I heard, I can one touch pause the book, one touch press to get Siri to wake up, then I ask “her” to remind me about whatever it is I just heard in the book.  Then back to the book.  In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not holding the phone while driving – it sits conveniently where I can one button/touch access it.  Note, I also use the smartphone as my GPS to accurately find my way around Vancouver from school to school – it works great.  Five years ago I would’ve been stuck writing down directions and / or using a paper based map.

Only a few years ago, my laptop was the go to device for all of my work, consumption, and communication.  Note, I’ve not used a desktop computer at work for over a dozen years.  However, I can’t see, yet, not having three devices to cover off all my needs as an information worker.  Sure I can edit pictures and videos on my mobile devices, I can blog and write, I can even create presentations using Keynote.  But… it is super inefficient and limiting.  I leverage the multi-windowed nature of my laptop to be working with spreadsheets, documents, presentations, email, calendar, Twitter, web content, pictures, videos, blog writer, etc. at the same time.  My productivity would be severely reduced if I did not have my laptop.  Also, I leverage the large screen that is on my desk at work and home for “heavy” compare and contrast activities.  More screen real estate is essential to efficient multitasking and multi-tool use.  However, let’s not limit our thinking to the present or near future.  Let’s imagine how mobile devices could replace all need for laptops or desktops.

The three main challenges with mobile devices are computing power, input, and display.  Computing power needs are rapidly being taken care of – this problem will certainly disappear.  Perhaps with the interface improvements described here, these could take on CAD, animation design, programming, and other heavy duty work, especially when matched to Cloud Computing.  The other two are interesting.  For input, I am finding Siri to be quite capable.  It has a ways to go though – it can’t recognize words well enough for me to interact effectively through voice.  The other challenge with voice is being able to sequence my thoughts and ideas, and edit them, verbally.  I think verbal interactions are great for asking about stuff, giving direction, and raw recording of notes, documents, and communications.  However, through my fingers, I manipulate and refine these into more appropriate formats and also ensure coherence.  I can imagine mobile interfaces to emerge that are virtual holographic keyboards and provide a virtual tactile “feel” so my fingers can “touch” the projected keys.  The next stage might be a mind meld of sorts where I can immerse my mind in the activity and content and manipulate it, edit it, add other content, etc. with my thoughts.  The point is, I shouldn’t have to add physical iStock_000011562895XSmallattachments like keyboards to my handheld mobile devices – that option makes no sense to me.  The third challenge of display will be overcome with 3D holographic projections that immerge from the device and be sized to whatever I need.  I will be able to manipulate the image with my hands to zoom, turn, dive deep, back out, move content around, etc.  Perhaps the combination of this with a mind meld with the device will be all I need.  You don’t think this is possible?  Read history, go back a thousand years, then plot the technology change over time and consider what people thought to be impossible even 20 years ago that we take for granted today.  We are experiencing a time warp – change is exponential, perhaps faster.  Impossible is a dangerous word to use in our world today – it causes us to underestimate the future.

How might you see mobile technology evolving?  How has it changed your life thus far?  Get ready for the future, it’s coming soon to a mobile device near you!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Learning and Technology are Better Together

I can’t remember what event or forum I was at where I heard this but the facilitator asked the group “what do you teach?” and each teacher shared what they teach… “I teach English”, “I teach Math”, “I teach PE”, “I teach grade 5”, etc.  The facilitator than iStock_000019575299Largeasked “Don’t you teach students?”.  Profoundly, teaching isn’t the goal, learning is.  I think we lose focus of this at times.  Teaching does not guarantee that learning is happening.  Learning is not necessarily dependent on teaching.  I know there will be those that disagree with me but I think we’re on a trajectory in time where learning will be dependent on technology.  However, today I suspect most of us would agree that technology is still seen as optional in schools, just a tool.

In my travels through Vancouver schools, I hear a lot about the barriers to using technology: networks are slow and unreliable, no wireless access, not nearly enough access to useful digital learning tools (computers, tablets, handhelds) for kids or teachers, not enough technical support.  No coherent way to store, share, collaborate: “how do I get this iMovie or iStopMotion video, etc. off the iPads”.  Cloud service privacy issues – a British Columbia phenomenon.  There’s not enough time for teachers to learn how to use technology for teaching and learning and to transform the teaching and learning processes.  I believe that as we build the case, the imperative so to speak, for learning through technology that these things will take care of themselves.  People do connect to important purposes and changes when they are part of the journey.  Our “system” will prioritize its scarce resources for what makes a difference in the the learning of kids.  The challenge though is to demonstrate the imperative where so many people in the education field still don’t see it – the way things were and are works just fine, we think. 

As part of removing barriers, we will transform our infrastructure to a utility grade “invisible” support where there is always enough and it’s always on – just like oxygen.  We will focus scarce resources on learning technologies and make BYOT a priority ensuring equity is kept at the forefront.  We will build (where necessary) and integrate online and mobile spaces for students, teachers, parents, and staffs to store learning evidence, to undertake learning, to teach through, to inform, and to transform work to efficient connected processes.  We have to!

So, barriers being removed, what then?  To take learning to whole new levels, the process and activities of learning need to be immersed in the use of effective technologies.  Take writing for instance.  When writing is done on paper, the words, the ideas, they are trapped on and enslaved to that single dimension medium.  The students thoughts can not be easily shared beyond their teacher.  Shift to digital writing and their ideas are lifted up, free to be broadcast to real audiences, to be shared and remixed, to be improved upon by others.  Their ideas can be enriched through otherflickr - langwitches - media fluency - 5603703139 mediums such as video, audio, pictures, and 3D virtual learning worlds.  Or how about art?  Using an iPad, I’ve seen young students learning to take effective (and respectful) pictures of each other and then negotiate with classmates on what they feel is appropriate finger painting.  Not only did they have fun and they were engaged, they learned how to take good photos, how to negotiated, how to practice social responsibility, and how to be creative with art.  This would be difficult, if not impossible, without technology.  For Physical Education, kids with SmartPhones could use apps to track their heart rate, breathing, caloric burn, and if on a run, hike, or bike ride, their route, the elevations, etc.  They can post this information on a class blog to share with each other and their families, compare and contrast each others data or just their own, forecast improvements and develop plans to accomplish that, and use the data to track their progress.  Not possible without the technology.

I was visiting with an elementary school Principal and Teacher last week and we were talking about new possibilities with technology.  I showed them how with SIRI on my iPhone I can ask questions like “what is X^2 – 3X + 8” and it taps into Wolfram Alpha to solve the equation, show and name the graph, show the roots, derivative, integral, and show its work in doing so, in seconds!  I asked SIRI about earthquakes near Japan and in seconds, again with Wolfram Alpha it plotted them on a map indicating their magnitude, dates, and times.  These are activities kids are asked to do without technology. Or, perhaps they are told to “google it” to do the research and then do the work by hand (create the table, draw the graph or map, color the picture, etc.) while consuming hours of precious learning time.  Why not use the technology to do the grunt “robotic” work and then ask big questions that require thinking.  Ask: “For that 5.2 quake, 9km off the coast, research what damage the coastal towns experienced.  What if that 5.2 quake was 6.2?  Estimate the damage you think would occur then and justify your thinking.  Now move that 5.2 quake to within 5km of the coast, what affect do you think that would have on the coastal towns?  What advice would you give the towns people to prepare for these alternative scenarios?”.  There are a lot of cross-curricular learning outcomes coverable with problems like this.  How often is there time for students to solve real problems like this?  Unfortunately, they are often too busy doing what computers do best.  We need to leverage technology’s “magic” to free learning, to free teaching, to move to whole new levels of engagement, knowledge acquisition and development, and personal growth.  Learning and Technology are better together!

I think we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in what technology will do to disrupt and transform learning.  Currently most use of technology in classrooms is either for teaching or under the direction of the teacher.  Kids usually don’t get to choose when they will use technology or what that technology is – it’s “assigned” to them.  The problem is school systems and those of us in them, continue to stand in the way of the potential.  I would like to see education systems move to a model where it is a student’s right to use technology, to choose what that is, and the school systems provide safe spaces for them to store their learning, share it, reuse it, and enable teachersiStock_000010314279Small and families to be plugged into the kids learning, provide easy feedback on it, and to highlight great work.  Obviously the degree of choice and teacher direction will need to evolve from K to 12 but we need to arrive quickly in a place where kids really do own their learning.  Until all learning has either a digital focus or at a minimum, a digital trace, learning will remain trapped in physical spaces with very limited value.  Isn’t it an imperative for education systems to free the learning from the technologies of the past?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pervasive Inequality

I find it rather surprising how much I did not learn about important aspects of history during my stint in the K12 education system as a student.  Was it taught and I tuned out or is it a challenge of too much history, what do kids need to know?  I’ve listened to two ear opening audio books recently, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest both written by Niall Ferguson.  In many ways, these books expound dark truths about our past.  The abuse of peoples, the creation of vast inequities are the story of our past which were essentially driven by greed, power, and fanaticism.  Our past is rife with conquest, enslavement, murder, starvation, etc. and the love of money is clearlyiStock_000023558527Medium at the core.  We continue to strive today against inequities and inequalities but I wonder sometimes if this is a losing battle.  The civilizations and systems we live in and with are still stacked against the many and favor the few.  The relative prosperity and high standard of living many of us have grown up with as baby boomers and subsequent generations, is highly unusual.  It is also apparently in decline.  Take the economic meltdown of 2008 – we haven’t seen the end of this yet.  Countries and their people are on life support – we’re simply temporarily insolated from the impact of massive debt loads.  Even in the “wealthy” USA, there are 1.5M households living on less than $2 per day (Wikipedia May 4, 2013)! “During the Age of Reason, Francis Bacon wrote ‘Above all things good policy is to be used so that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered into a few hands... Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.’” (Wikipedia May 4, 2013). 

Today in a British Columbia there seem to be a lot of competing interests and entitlement minded people.  Our politics are polarized by this.  Politicians promise what they think people want, costing large sums of money, without being clear about how they will pay for it.  People want more / better health care, better transportation, cleaner environments, and want to be paid higher but they don’t want gas pipelines, business development, or higher taxes.  They want the “government” to pay for it.  I suppose they don’t realize that would be themselves… Inequality persists in this complex society.  On a global scale, people are dying every 3 1/2 seconds due to extreme poverty.  This should concern us.  Zooming in on a BC Wants Vs Needs - Balanceschool system, my eyes are opened every week to the inequities in the Vancouver area.  We have schools where most families are unable to feed their kids consistently and schools where many kids drive fancy sports cars.  How, in a system of pervasive inequality do we provide a technology infused equitable education?

I truly believe that access to information, knowledge, and people around the world is an essential ingredient for a society and its education system. The Internet has developed into a sort of global mind.

We have already largely outsourced our historical, intellectual, social, and personal memories to our devices and the cloud. Kurzweil, Ray (2012-11-13). How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (p. 246).

We might be shocked how much of who we are is now inseparable from the tools we use on the Internet.  Our memories are stored in digital calendars, notes, blog posts, tweets, Facebook or Google + posts, pins on Pinterest, and emails, to name a few.  The people we know and learn from increasingly don’t live anywhere near us.  We become smarter and more capable through these connections and tools.  But, pervasive inequality exists in this new world.  How can we call our education system “modern”, equitable, one that serves the needs of all kids and families, and allow access to modern tools with sufficient bandwidth to be unevenly distributed?  How can we continue to not invest adequately in ensuring our teachers and school leaders have the skills and knowledge to use technology, teach its use, and enable students learning in critical new ways?  In my travels to schools I see pockets of technology infused learning, but it is highly unevenly distributed.  There is a lot of money poured into K12 education in BC every year.  Yet, there isn’t enough to address today’s inequities of access, skills, and knowledge that persist with technology.  We must remove barriers.  It increasingly bothers me when people so easily relegate the use of technology for learning to “just a tool”, “a support to learning”, or worse “unnecessary”.  Technology and learning today should be are inseparable.  We accept so much less when we “force” students to write or draw on paper where their words are trapped and at best appreciate by their teacher.  When ideas and thoughts are stored in digital mediums iStock_000008585896XSmallthey are free to be shared, mixed, mashed-up, learned from, and re-used.

It may be a pipe dream but I would like to figure out how to eliminate pervasive inequality (with respect to access to technology in education) - it is becoming somewhat of a mission for me.  I want us to remove barriers such that teachers and students experience a diverse technology infused learning journey.  For our kids to live successfully in this ever increasingly complex world, technology needs to be baked into their learning pathway through our schools.  People need to learn to let go of their own notions of entitlement and help our systems direct resources to investing in our kids futures.  In fact our kids futures are our futures.