Sunday, January 30, 2011

Networking: A Valuable Form of PD

I attended and presented at 2 mini conferences this week, both of which showcased the value of peer-led professional development.

The first conference, put on by SAPDC, was directed towards CTS teachers. Knowing little about the CTS curriculums and programs offered, especially outside of our district, the conference brought some interesting points to light. First, and foremost, these teachers want more professional development opportunities specific to their programs. It also became clear that coordinating opportunities for CTS teachers was very difficult given the sheer number of areas that fit under the category of CTS, the need for specific facilities and the geographic distances between teachers. Through conversation, many of the teachers in attendance appreciated the opportunity to meet and network with other teachers throughout the South. It is perhaps these networking opportunities that could potentially yield the greatest benefit for our teachers.

Speaking of networking, I was delighted by the number of teachers who took up the call to join and use Twitter during our PD Day. Over 10% of our teachers joined in the conversation that happened throughout the day. As the day went on, the conversations began to deepen and push our thoughts as educators. I hope that these teachers will begin to build their PLNs and continue to explore using Twitter as an educational tool. I know that my PLN has helped me in a number of ways. Efficiency is the most obvious benefit. I don't need to search for resources or information because the people that I follow are doing that for me. They act as a filter, sorting through research, current trends, and resources so that I don't have to. And that happens without any participation on my part (other than reading). By participating in the conversation, I allow my beliefs and assumptions to become public, and be challenged by the beliefs and assumptions of others. This process allows you to further your understanding and knowledge of education.

Consider how influential master teachers have been on you. Through conversation they influence your beliefs and teaching practice. They offer timely advice and all the resources you could ask for. How many of these teachers have you known during your career? Five? Twenty? Fifty? Twitter will allow you to connect with this type of teacher worldwide, pushing that number in the thousands. You may even get to meet them in person sometime. Build your PLN.

Friday, January 14, 2011

CES: A Glimpse into the Future

Tablets, TVs and 3D glasses were everywhere. With over 140,000 people and 4,000 vendors at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, it was sensory overload!

While I did see some potentially cool educational devices, like Samsung’s version of an IWB (see pic below) or Vitiny’s Digital Portable Microscope, what I really took away from the conference was the overall sense of direction that technology is going in the near future. The conference revealed future trends in technology that the Education field needs to be aware of and plan for.

The most obvious trend related to our push in education to supply one standardized format of computing to students. This is the completely opposite direction that the market is heading. Take, for example, the tablet. 80 different tablets (ipad competitors) were revealed at CES by a plethora of different companies. As expected, all of the big names in electronics (Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba [liked this one] to name a few) released their version of the tablet with both Microsoft Windows and Google Android operating systems (Android seemed far less clunky and cumbersome). What was a big surprise were the dozens of unknown (at least to me) Asian companies that also released their versions of the tablet. These companies generally offered tablets in a variety of sizes and some had additional features that their big-name cousins couldn't offer (such as multiple SD, HDMI or USB inputs). While they couldn't give us an exact price, one can imagine that these tablets would be available for significantly less than the name brand versions, while the build quality seemed to be the same if not better.

Is the tablet the answer for schools? I would say no. Although their portability, price, and functionality are extremely enticing, one major contender in the electronics game doesn’t even seem interested in making them. Sony does not, as of yet, have a tablet. Considering that Sony is quick to make any type of device they believe can put their name into people’s homes, their lack of a tablet at CES seemed like a curious omission. To me this means that either Sony is cooking up something to potentially give them a monopoly on the portable computing market (think Blu-Ray, not Betamax), or they’ve given up hope of ever competing with the iPad.

What does this have to do standardized formats in schools? The vast number of tablets signifies a trend in technology where people are no longer using just 2 types of computers (PC and Mac). Now, computing devices transcend everyday life. Computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets, gaming devices and Smartphones (along with multiple operating systems) will become more common, especially as size and price drop, while functionality increases. To hold students to one type of computer system that is rapidly becoming non-native to them may actually be limiting their ability to find information and create new knowledge. We are fighting a losing battle. What we need to focus on is the “seamless integration” of multiple computing devices and operating systems.

Students should be able to bring whatever devices they wish from home, or use school provided devices if they choose not to, and connect seamlessly to school systems and wireless internet. Cloud based storage services (such as Google Docs, Dropbox or Skydrive) can be utilized to allow student access to their files anyplace at anytime from any device. Web 2.0 applications (soon Microsoft Office will be all web-based) will allow students to create knowledge and evidence of their learning whenever and wherever they choose. We need to drop-out of the standardization race that we could never possibly win and prepare for multi-platform devices. It’s all about developing flexible and adaptable systems for the constantly changing world of technology.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Darkness on the Face of the Earth

"When you left me darlin', my world came to an end,
And there was darkness on the face of the earth."
- Willie Nelson

I thought I'd lost it all. My precious iPhone and all of its contents. In the process of transferring my iPhone over to my new iMac, I thought I had accidentally deleted everything. Luckily enough, they try to make these things idiot proof, so I have recovered my information with minimal pain (Big sigh of relief!).

One of the scariest moments was when I thought that I'd lost all of my music. While I have copies of the vast majority of my music on my PC and external hard drives, I had some specific music that, if lost, could not be replaced. I'd liken it to having family pictures destroyed in a fire (Thankfully, with internet sharing sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Photobucket, losing pictures in a fire is not the end of the world anymore!).

So, I have found two programs that will allow you to get any music off of your iPhone or iPod by downloading it directly to your computer. This is handy if you are switching computers or if you simply want to share your music with others. Both are easy to use and allow you to choose a save location and specific files that you want to save if you don't want to copy everything.

For the PC, download the program Sharepod here.
For Mac users, download the program Senuti here.