Just the Cool Stuff, Please

Warning: early morning, barely edited, snark ahead.

Mixed in with all the other lists from the previous year, we find EdSurge’s Top Ten S’Cool Tools of 2016. Top ten cool tools for school, get it?

Anyway, the people at EdSurge1 don’t explain why these web services are the best of the year or by what measure they declare them to be the most popular of the more than 300 or so “showcased” in their weekly newsletter last year. But all that doesn’t matter, it’s a list. Let’s just get to it.

Number 10, a Jeopardy game. But this is a website so you don’t need one of the many freely available templates that have been around starting two days after PowerPoint was released.

Three of these top tools allow students to search census data, Wikipedia (for maps), and Creative Commons licensed photos. One question. Why aren’t we teaching students to responsibly search for this material on their own? Never mind, I’ve probably heard all the reasons – no time, students getting “off track”, they might find something INAPPROPRIATE!!, etc.

Two of the sites listed – one a “library of open educational resources with curated curriculum collections” and “a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events” – are really for teachers, not students. 161 education events in just the next 8 months? Really?

The only resource on the list that even sounds interesting is an app that uses the sensors built into most modern smartphones – accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer – to perform physics experiments. But haven’t we seen that before?

However, considering all this coolness is free, don’t get too attached. Free is a crappy business model for the long term health of something you rely on, in the classroom or otherwise.

Our New App for Better PR Delivery

With great fanfare, our overly-large school district recently released it’s first iPhone app and, after playing with it for a couple of weeks, I just have one question:


Ok, so there’s nothing really wrong with the software. I suppose it does what our PR office intended, which appears to be repackaging district press releases and other carefully filtered materials, adding a few carefully produced videos, into a mobile-friendly format. Basically the same information anyone could view on the website, except in a far less confusing interface (and missing the illusion of a functional search tool).

The most interesting part is the inclusion of something approaching a comment section. It comes in the form of a link to the system’s account on Uservoice (also found on the website), a service allowing organizations to to collect ideas and suggestions from their community, which the members can then vote up or down.

Overall, however, the app itself appears to be lacking any input from students, teachers, parents or most anyone outside of the communications office.

I wonder how much different this project would look if they had turned the whole thing over to a group of students and asked them what should go into a mobile resource about their schools. The lunch menus and sports schedules would probably still be included but maybe they could create something more useful, and interesting, than this narrowly-focused propaganda app.

An Even Bigger Waste of Bandwidth Than This

As a web designer, I certainly don’t have the experience and/or talent to criticize anyone’s work.

As a web user, however, let me introduce you to one of the worst examples of web design*. Period!

News small

That’s an article called “10 of the best apps for education” from eSchool News. Except that it’s not the article. It’s the first of eleven “pages”, forcing a reader to click ten more times, with ten more page reloads, to see the full piece.

There’s no good reason to segment a post like this, especially one so short. It’s simply a rather obnoxious technique some sites use (Time is one of the more high profile examples) to increase ad impressions. The owners are more interested in serving their advertisers than they are in providing information to their visitors.

And speaking of ads, did you miss any of them? I counted seven large display ads on the page, along with many promotions for other things on the site. All of this non-content effectively minimizes the material you came to read. In fact, on most displays, this site has so much stuff “above the fold” that even the meager bit of content on the page is not fully visible.

As to that content, it’s not even worth the effort of clicking through to get it. Half of the minuscule space allotted on each page is a screen shot of the app. It’s accompanied by a couple of sentences that offer very little about the functionality or instructional application, and nothing about why this particular item is better than competitors in the same category.

Bottom line, the article was written (thrown together?) to attract viewers for the ads on the page, not to provide “technology news for today’s K-20 educator” as their mast (also lost in the clutter) claims.

This is a great example of why I dropped eSchool News from my aggregator many years ago and finally connived them not to send the paper version. Not only is the material presented poorly, the over emphasis on ad impressions makes it’s quality and objectivity suspect as well.

Move along, nothing to see here.

*If you don’t want to add to their statistics by actually visiting the page (or if they’ve recycled the electrons into another article), click the image to see the page clip full size.

The Daily Loser

Preceded by plenty of breathless rumor, The Daily was released last Wednesday, promising once again to revolutionize the news business.

In case you missed the hype, this is the iPad app developed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp at a cost of $30 million and supposedly backed by a staff of 100 creating exclusive material.

I’ve been playing with The Daily since it showed up in the app store and there’s no way I’ll be paying the 99 cents weekly charge ($39.99 annually) when the sample subscription runs out.

Beyond the version 1.0 bugs (slow, inconsistent navigation, way over-cute interface, annoying crashes, did I mention slow?), the biggest problem is the content.

First of all, there’s nothing unique about it. Several of the articles showed up in other places on the web and the rest is full of gossip and fluff pieces.

Then there’s the fact that the material is updated daily (hence the name), a concept that’s dying as fast as the paper version of the Washington Post that lands on my porch each morning (not my choice). Plus, the actual news consists of stories that show up in my aggregator as soon as I open it.

However, more than anything, I don’t want to pay for news from the megacorp that offers such crap as the New York Post and Fox News.  Just being picky I guess.

Ok, who’s next to revolutionize the newspaper industry?

Displaying The iPad

When the iOS 4.2 update was released earlier this week, I was expecting some nice new features for my iPad, although few were really surprises given what had been promised by Apple and revealed by developers.

However, one particular element I’ve been looking for from day 1 is the ability to show material from the device on a TV or projector.

Not just slide shows but web sites, videos, documents, and… well who knows what a group larger than three might want to view on the big screen?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many apps that will display their stuff through Apple’s VGA adapter and I’ve found few changes arriving with the new OS.

Still can’t show any part of the main screens or the iPad interface, nothing from Safari, and little or nothing from other apps, built-in or not.

In case anyone’s interested, here is some of what I’ve found while playing with my iPad connected to a pretty standard data projector, in no particular order.


App (cost) Notes
Photos (built-in) Shows pictures only when playing a slide show
FlickStackr ($1.99) Shows any pictures from a Flickr account including those of contacts and others
Art Studio ($2.99) Displays drawing window but not tools or other parts of the interface
Keynote ($9.99) Finally shows slides and notes on iPad while showing slides on display!
Video (built-in) Plays video on external device but not on iPad screen
Expedition Browser ($.99) Safari can’t show a web page but this one can! Including tool bar if turned on in Settings.
YouTube (built-in) Shows video (on external screen only) but not the search page or other screens
Good Reader ($1.99) The iPad’s Swiss army knife (and a great bargain), this app will show any PDF or Word file

A few disappointments include apps from ABC (probably don’t want me watching their stuff on the big TV without a flood of ads), Colbert’s The Word (which, admittedly, is an iPhone app), TED (why not? isn’t this coming from YouTube?), PBS (only a few videos play), FlipBoard (so much for hype), TWIT Pad (considering what a pioneer Laporte is in all this stuff, you’d think he could make it work).

And many apps that could be considered instructional.

If you have any suggestions for this list or any other insights about displaying and presenting from an iPad, I’d love to hear them and include them here.