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Tag: communications (Page 2 of 4)

Email is not Necessarily Communication

The tech news from the past couple of weeks has been rather interesting over with two giant tech companies making big announcements about very different products.

For one Microsoft rolled out their third major attempt to take some of the internet search business (and the ad revenue that goes with it) from Google, named Bing (“the first ever decision engine”?)

Google, on the other hand, demonstrated once again that they are looking at a much bigger picture, beyond simply providing tools for finding web pages.

At their annual developers conference, the company showed off Wave, browser-based software that is probably best described as a communications platform.

Watching the video (and you really should to better understand what they’re attempting to do) left me with a couple of big impressions.

First, the software itself may not be the most unique thing about Wave.

The most interesting part is that this major new product was being shown to the world in a very beta condition (it crashed at least twice by my count) and the company was inviting anyone to tinker with the guts.

Wave will be open source with a large set of completely open APIs and Google is encouraging people to not only write applications for it but even build businesses on top of it.

Maybe our students should be given the option of learning Google development tools as an alternative to Microsoft certifications. The difference between gaining entrepreneurial skills and being locked into someone else’s concepts?

Anyway, the other thought running through my head was about the crappy the communications tools we are stuck with.

In our overly-large school district, we use Microsoft’s Outlook which is pretty mediocre for an email system.

It’s even worse when it comes to actual communication and collaboration, especially when trying to work outside the MS bubble on mobile devices and non-IE browsers.

Ok, I’m not ready to assign miracle properties to Wave based on one demonstration.

However, watching the Google development team explain their vision for this new platform offers a striking contrast between the traditional concept of email (to which we seem wedded) and open, flexible tools that actually foster connections between people.

I wonder if our administrators might be willing to spend a small fraction of the millions we pay to maintain the largest single MS Exchange installation (that’s NOT a good thing) to develop Wave applications for the educational community.

Probably not.

Experimenting With The Touch

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this space – and in a few 140-word Twitter rantlets – about the test we’re about to run using the iPod Touch here in the overly-large school district.

For those interested in details, here are a few.

Right after spring break (which is next week around here), we will be giving a set of Touch devices to students in six classes (the teachers already have theirs) in six different schools for the remainder of the year.

While our planning group insists on calling this a “field assessment”, that sounds a little too corporate/military for my taste.

I prefer to call this an experiment. One in which we control for a few variables and then step back and see what happens.

ipod_touch.jpg

Anyway, the devices will be spread into a variety of classrooms in two high schools (English and Tech Ed), two middle (English and Tech Ed), and two elementary (5th grade and ESL).

We’ll also be providing lots of support including tools to help the teachers and the school tech team manage the devices in a classroom setting.

While syncing one iPod to a computer is a snap, as you might imagine, syncing 25+ of them to one computer is a little more challenging. Plus all the other “what-ifs” that have been tossed around at our planning meetings.

Although some in our planning group would like to have the Touches locked down and cloned the way we do with student laptops, Apple offers no way to do that.

Probably because they designed the Touch to be a very personal communications tool.

However, the most important unknown is what are teachers planning to do with the units in their classes?

That was a major topic during a half-day meeting we held last week with the teachers, principals, and tech teams from the schools involved.

Lots of great ideas were discussed but I’m not sure anyone left knowing how these devices are going to be used. Certainly I expect the kids will surprise us.

Frankly, at this point we have many more questions than answers.

Maybe in eight weeks we will have at least a little better idea of whether and how the iPod Touch and similar handheld communications devices can be used in education. Or not.

In the meantime, as our experiment continues, I’ll offer a few updates and observations around here if you’d like to follow along. And if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Process Not Processor

One headline in the feed from the British newspaper The Guardian really caught my eye today: “Pupils to study Twitter and blogs in primary schools shake-up“.

That certainly sounds like an intriguing change, although the details are a little weird.

Children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. They must gain “fluency” in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a spellchecker alongside how to spell.

First of all, I wouldn’t bet on Twitter being around when elementary kids graduate, at least not in the form it is when they write the specifics of the curriculum.

But to combine this with skills in handwriting and using a spellchecker…?

I would love it if our overly-large school district would follow the British lead and at least acknowledge the instructional possibilities of these new communications tools.

However, this particular change to the curriculum seems, on the surface, to be yet another attempt to teach tools instead of concepts.

It was the same way a decade or so back when we taught word processing classes (I taught my share of AppleWorks!) instead of focusing on how to improve the writing process using a word processor.

We should be helping our kids understand how to write for the web, to present their ideas, to craft their online image, regardless of the tools.

The emphasis needs to be on the process, not the processor.

Learning From Twitter

David Weinberger offers 4.5 Things Twitter Teaches Us, in which he makes some interesting observations about the microblogging system/current-mainstream-shiny-bauble.

His basic premise is that Twitter is a simple, extensible communications tool in which users themselves determine how best to use it.

Something that’s true about every successful web 2.0 application.

After you’ve finished with this crappy summary, go read the whole thing.

Learning in Your Pocket

It’s interesting how instructional technology gets into the classroom.

A lot of the choices are made by people other than teachers: principals, IT folks, tech specialists, superintendents.

But in my experience, the stuff that actually sticks around, the tools that actually get used and impact kids, is completely determined by teachers and their students.

Which brings us to our big boss who got an iPod Touch for Christmas (coincidentally so did his boss) and since then has been asking a lot of questions about how the devices could be used for teaching and learning.

As a result, many people in our office are now carrying Touches and a group has been tasked with creating a pilot project to put them in some schools.

While I think the iPod Touch could be an excellent learning tool (my iPhone certainly is), I’m also the resident curmudgeon about such things so naturally I have a few concerns about this initiative.

For one thing, in the discussions about the mechanics of using handheld devices with groups of students, it’s clear that many people around here are looking at the iPod Touch the same way they do our current laptops.

Almost exclusively we use computers as group technologies. We have a bunch of them in a lab and then bring in a bunch of kids to use them for some teacher-designed activity.

Or in schools that have laptop carts, we wheel them into a classroom, pass out the units, and then proceed, again largely with group activities.

However, the iPod Touch, and other pocket computing devices, are intended for personal use. They are designed to be customized, personalizing the user’s experience so, instead of everyone seeing the same desktop, we all see ourselves in the device.

In addition, many people in our group (as well as in the research I’ve done) seems to be trying to transfer our traditional classroom uses for computers onto these new device formats.

Of course, some of those applications may actually be appropriate (please, not the “blaster”-type learning games) but instead I think we need a new approach.

We need to come at this from the angle of how portable communications devices like the iPod Touch might be used to individualize instruction rather than continue to homogenize it.

And then there’s the matter of who we have on this planning group. Or rather, who’s not there: teachers and students.

In this case, that deficiency can be easily fixed.

We just need to find people who are already using these devices in our schools (our IT department sees several thousand a day on the network) and invite them to tell us how they use their iPod Touch.

Undoubtably they, especially the kids, will give us some insight we can’t get any other way.

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