Amazon: Fired Up

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: September 28, 2011

Amazon announced their new tablet, the Kindle Fire, today, and the blogosphere and Twitterverse both went berserk.

I think it’s a great device, especially at $199, and I think it will bring a lot more competition against Barnes & Noble’s Nook than it will against Apple’s iPad. It’s definitely a media consumption device, as well as a portal into the vast Amazon store. I think, however, it falls short in content creation at the moment. There are no cameras, and with no Bluetooth, I’m betting there will be no external keyboards.

But is that a deal killer? At a $300/head savings, schools could afford many more Kindle Fires than iPads, and they still get the benefit of having all of their textbooks, media, and online research with them wherever they go. The question, then, is not “Will the Kindle Fire compare to the iPad?” but “Will the camera and easier text input justify the extra $300?”

Assuming, of course, there’s not a version 2 device already planned.

I’m waiting to see what comes of textbooks. Given Amazon’s a bookstore, it seems a no-brainer they would woo textbook publishers to create electronic versions of their books in either the Kindle Store or the App Store. Get textbooks onto a 7″ device and let schools create student accounts or push textbooks/apps to student personal accounts and we’ve got an affordable, entry-level media device for a 1:1 initiative.

Finances aside, given the choice between the two today, I would still go for the iPad for students because there is central management available and the content creation is more flexible.

Given the financial realities most districts face, my own included, this is a possible alternative we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

Teachers and Facebook

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Published on: September 27, 2011

Missouri’s attempt to legally ban students and teachers from chatting on Facebook mystifies me. I understand what they’re trying to accomplish, but a law to enforce it? That’s seems like a knee-jerk, paranoid reaction.

I recently learned a local high school discourages Facebook contact between staff and students. A coach mentions she feels it’s inappropriate to friend students, which is fine if that’s her personal preference. But then the athletic director has this to say:

Pekin does not have a policy which prohibits the use of Facebook. However, athletics director Rick Kestner said, “I do think that Facebook contact is risky by coaches and I prefer other more traditional ways for our coaches to contact student-athletes with information. I see Facebook and other similar media as a potential trap that can ensnare a coach before they know it. Phone calls or texting are acceptable alternatives.”

So… inappropriate contact can happen on Facebook, but not by phone or text? Maybe he didn’t follow the news when Brett Favre got busted last year for sending explicit voicemails and messages to a woman’s phone.

A benefit of this contact occurring on Facebook is it’s easy to track. If the alleged contact doesn’t take place on a public Facebook Wall, it’s a simple matter of the student or teacher hitting a print button or taking screen shots.

But this assumes there’s no other viable use for Facebook. If there’s an emergency cancellation or announcement, would it not make sense to post it to a heavily trafficked website? If most students have Facebook accounts (and most of ours sure do), why not put it where you’re sure they’ll see it?

Furthermore, there’s a simple solution to all of this: Facebook Pages.

I decided to create a Facebook Page for the EdTech Samurai today. When someone chooses to create a page, they are asked which category the page fits. Lo and behold, public figures has a built-in teachers category:

Facebook Page setup
Public Figure sounds about right for teachers.

Now a teacher can create a page separate from all of their personal information. They can post classroom or athletic announcements and interact with students, and those students will not have to be privy to all of the teacher’s private data on their personal Wall.

This protects the teacher as well as the student:

  1. All teacher-student Facebook interaction now occurs in public view.
  2. Students (and anyone else) simply Like the page instead of becoming a Friend. Now the teacher can’t be accused of playing favorites by friending one student and ignoring others.
  3. Students don’t have access to the teacher’s personal information, as well as who their family and friends are. (We worry about teachers being predatory toward students, but what about student crushes on teachers?)
  4. It maintains a professional appearance.

Not to mention it’s a lot more convenient: I know my family & friends on Facebook would be bored to tears if I started discussing edtech topics on my Facebook page all day.

Our students are hooked on Facebook. This is how they choose to communicate. I see no reason we shouldn’t find a safe way to be right there with them.

Thank a Teacher Today

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: September 24, 2011

The Security Benefit-sponsored #51 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series sported a cool paint job at last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway:

Thank a Teacher Today
Have you thanked a teacher lately?

Supporting teaching is one of the more satisfying aspects of my job, and I also enjoy having the opportunity to work with the same teachers who have my three children in class every day.

For the parents out there, when you send your little ones off to school on Monday morning, drop a thank-you note to the teacher in your child’s backpack. Make a teacher’s day.

A Tale of Two iPads

Categories: Philosophy
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Published on: September 23, 2011

My district’s band teacher wrote up a great little essay called “A Tale of Two iPads”, in which he contrasts the implementation of two different iPad rollouts.

On the left is our school, and Mr Hayes’s own experiences.

On the right is another school.

Which do you think will find more success? Which will have more support headaches?

Tablets are not magic bullets. Any technology can be smothered by network administrators taking an antagonistic position against staff, students, and the network.

Different Ways of Solving Problems

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: September 22, 2011

I found this video fascinating:

It’s a good example of how there are different ways to solve problems, and an important example of how we should be open-minded to the ways our students may handle things.

Preparing Students for the Future

Categories: Philosophy
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Published on: September 21, 2011

Pending iPad rollouts and standardized testing have kept me from the blog, but I wanted to check in quick with a quick thought:

We talk about preparing our students for the future, but the problem is there’s so much uncertainty in the future, not just in the workplace but in their day-to-day lives.

A perfect example is Google Wallet:

The naysayers are already out there, saying it’ll be insecure, dangerous, etc., etc.

Yet that’s what the naysayers have to say about any new technology.

This is where open-mindedness becomes so important. We can’t sweat locking our children into some technology that’s in the workplace now, because it will be gone by the time these students graduate. We need to teach children to be analytical and adaptable. We need to teach them digital citizenship and digital responsibility.

We taught the last generation to think outside the box and to bring us new ideas. Now they’re doing exactly that. We need to make sure the new generation can keep up if they have any hope of making the next great leaps.

Bring on the Amazon Tablet

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: September 3, 2011

Details on the oft-rumored Amazon Tablet are finally emerging, and TechCrunch has the scoop. The short version: 7″ display, forked version of pre-2.2 Android, two-finger multi-touch, $250 plus possibly an included Amazon Prime subscription.

I’m excited… and concerned.

I do wonder why they’ve avoided following the Android path into the 3.x series. Forking is a fact of life in the Open Source world, but I worry it will limit growth in an already-behind (relative to the iPad) tablet market.

However, as a reading device, I have to agree it will dominate, and Amazon’s not stupid, so this forking may not be a problem after all. For one, I’m sure developers are going to want to be in the Amazon App Store if this thing takes off, so that alone may make the fork a moot point. There are also very few apps I’ve found that are in the Google Market but not on the Android App Store.

So let’s talk about this new Kindle Tablet in education. If I can buy two of these for every iPad, I’ve just cut my distance from a 1:1 tablet environment in half. My district kicked around funding a project with tablets at a $300 price point as doable, and now we’ve dropped below that line. It’s also a lot easier to get the parents and community to accept a $250 reading device over a $500 tablet often perceived as a vanity device because of who makes it.

Which begs the next question: will this be as capable as the iPad for students? The key requirements to me are textbooks, multimedia and note-taking/composition; apps are extras.

Given Amazon’s core business is books, I can easily see them wooing textbook manufacturers at all levels to their platform. There’s not an Amazon Education Store near as I can tell, but I imagine this would not be difficult for them to set up and partner with schools to push content to students. It may even motivate manufacturers to port things like HMH Fuse to Android.

As for multimedia, we (meaning education as a whole) have been pushing teachers to use more and more video and audio content in their classrooms. YouTube has been a boon to teachers, and there are also several online videos and DVDs from places like The History Channel and The Learning Channel teachers use to supplement lessons. Add Khan Academy to the mix, and there’s a plethora of video students potentially need access to both in school and at home. (Just imagine if Khan Academy added a “Sign in with your Amazon account” option…)

Finally, students will need to be able to take notes and, ideally, compose papers on the device. Evernote is already in the app store, but students will need to be able to easily capture or enter their notes. And for long-form typing, will there be an option to add a USB or Bluetooth keyboard? I don’t have a huge problem with the iPad on-screen keyboard for short notes and email, but as a novelist and short story writer on the side, I much prefer doing long composition on a Bluetooth keyboard on my iPad.

I also wonder if the new Kindle will play nice with Google Apps for Education. We’re sold on that suite in our district, and teachers and students are making more and more use of it. The collaboration features are great, and while Google Docs does not quite work seamlessly on the iPad (Google serves up a stripped-down interface), I’d like students to have access to it. Better to have their docs on a cloud account like GDocs than juggling server folders and email attachments.

Still, at $250, the price point makes most of these issues workable. I think there are enough innovative teachers out there to really make this work. And even if it does just do textbooks and notes, at $250 I would still call it a win if it just replaces all the books and notebooks kids have to carry around with them all the time. Long-form composition can still be done the traditional way: at home or in a computer lab.

Now I just hope they’re working on some method of deployment and management for schools…

iPad — How about “Teach”?

Categories: Gadgetry, Media
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Published on: September 1, 2011

Apple has released a new iPad commercial called “Learn”:

I like it. It’s simple, straightforward, and it showcases a handful of apps.

But what about teaching?

Why not show parents how teachers may use them in classrooms? Or at least show a teacher in front of a room with students interacting with the lesson on their iPads? Yes, the iPad is a learning tool, we’re sold on that. But my teachers are still skeptical about its utility as a teaching tool.

Yes, it puts a ton of note-taking tools in students’ hands. Yes, it’s a convenient way to carry more and different textbooks around. Yes, students can compose in class instead of having to jockey for time in a computer lab.

But these are conveniences. To sell them to teachers (and parents and communities), we need to show enhancements. We need to prove these apps supplement teaching and learning, not replace it.

The convenience is great, but convenience isnt’ a justification for the cost in smaller districts. Get test scores up and demonstrate measurable improvement in student learning, and now people are paying attention.

Our district iPad team is still working on that, and we see the potential. We’re just trying to bring it home. Our biggest battle, however, is going to be selling our community on the idea. It would be great if Apple could start planting those seeds for us.

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