RocketCodes are Go for Launch!

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Published on: November 21, 2014

This week I launched a new initiative in my school district: RocketCodes.

We are currently a BYOT district with a Chromebook initiative in place, but we’re getting a lot of pushback from staff on whether or not to continue allowing students to bring their smartphones to school. The common arguments apply, ranging from “phones are just a distraction” to “students only use their phones to text one another.”

Our band director and I disagree. We feel, for the most part, students have not been given a reason to use their phones in class. The problem with banning smartphones in class is it interferes with the education of students who want to use their smartphones for educational purposes. Furthermore, we feel the best way to find educational uses for smartphones and BYOT devices—in addition to Chromebooks or other devices a school district might provide—is to find out what students are using them for.

RocketCodes is our attempt to discover this, as well as take technology straight to the students. We hope to educate students and staff on the advantages of smartphones and tablets in the classroom, whether as a primary device or in association with a school-supplied 1:1 device.

Before we can make a final decision on the fate of BYOT in our district, we need data. To get data, we need to give the technology a fair shot.

This led to the creation of RocketCodes, which are simply QR codes linked to our RocketCodes website.

A RocketCode QR code in a hallway
A RocketCode QR code in a hallway

As part of a soft launch, I purchased a dozen cookies and left six each in our high school and junior high offices, then linked a QR code to the first RocketCodes blog post. Any student who scanned the code and visited the website on Thursday or Friday of this week was told to take their device to the building secretary, show her the website, and claim their cookie. We didn’t announce the contest, we only posted the QR code in a common area and waited.

On Thursday, we had no activity at the high school. At the junior high, I saw several students glance at the QR code but keep on walking. Our first-year English teacher, however, scanned the code and claimed a cookie for himself.

On Friday morning we moved the QR codes to different locations and put a simple hint in the announcements. In the high school, it only said, “Staff and Students: Win a free Caleri’s cookie! Yesterday, a clue was posted in the school.” At the junior high, we told the students, “Yesterday, Mr Fellner’s curiosity was rewarded with a Caleri’s chocolate chip cookie. There are five more cookies available. Keep your eyes open!” (Everybody in our district knows Caleri’s cookies can’t be beat, so it becomes a real incentive!)

All six cookies were claimed by 11am at the high school. At the junior high, it took until 2pm. One student actually took down the QR code during 1st hour and brought it to the office, thinking it must be related to the cookie. Because he hadn’t figured out how to scan a QR code by his last hour study hall, I’ll be giving him a lesson on QR code scanning and he’ll be rewarded with an alternate snack prize from our secretary.

A junior high cookie winner
A junior high cookie winner

Next week we’ll be doing a full launch and explaining the program to both students and staff. In the future we’ll be featuring tips on using smartphones and Chromebooks, app reviews, clever classroom uses, and occasionally fun videos and interviews with staff and students. Mystery and curiosity were not a tremendous incentive on Thursday, but the cookies sure generated some excitement. We hope the RocketCodes will be incentives themselves in the future.

If all goes well, maybe we’ll see a lot of BYOT uses in the classroom at last. If not, we can finally make an informed decision on handling smartphones in the classroom.

The Fear of Throwing Things Away

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Published on: June 5, 2014

I wandered past a stack of desks in the hallway and found two of these bad boys sitting on a small shelf unit with a pair of old, sun-faded computer speakers:

Spelling Ace... with Thesaurus! Oooh, aaahhh.
Spelling Ace… with Thesaurus! Oooh, aaahhh.

There’s a label on the back of each one bearing the name of a teacher who hasn’t been in this district for over ten years. One is missing a battery cover, and both have corrosion on the battery terminals.

I can imagine the conversation that surrounds these things. I’ve heard it many times over similar items:

Teacher 1: “Should we just throw these away?”

Teacher 2: “I don’t know. They’re probably still good.”

Teacher 1: “I’ve never used them, but they seem like they might be handy.”

Teacher 2: “Do you think they’re worth anything?”

Teacher 1: “I’m not sure. I’ll put them back in my desk drawer, just in case.”

Repeat every couple of years. Sound familiar?

I asked the current teacher in that classroom if these things had ever been used. Nope. I tossed them in the garbage.

Whether something is “still good” is not the question to ask. It’s too relative. Yes, the items may still work, but a better question is, “What have we replaced this with?” Or maybe, “Is this still an effective tool?”

Given today we have access to the Internet, most of our students carry Google in their pockets, and the teachers whose rooms these Spelling Aces were found in also have Chromebooks at their disposal, there’s no reason to keep these things around. I’d be willing to bet it would even take the teachers longer to figure out how to use these things than it would to open a browser window and hit Google or Reference.com.

What’s more, if a student is typing a paper on a Chromebook, is he going to pick up the Spelling Ace to look something up? Of course not.

We don’t need to be attached to such things. When I found some encyclopedia software dating back to 2003 in a lab cabinet the other day, I didn’t hesitate to throw it away. Same with the edutainment software from ’95 and the big stack of weather software CDs from ’99. Assuming they’d even work with our present systems (hint: nope), every one of those could be found more updated and with better presentation—for free—on the Internet.

Too much clinging to this old stuff creates clutter, and worse, it causes us to fail to grow.

Coming Soon: The Google Classroom

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Published on: May 7, 2014

Google yesterday announced their new Classroom product, a free learning management system for Google Apps schools. I think this is a natural evolution for what they’re trying to accomplish with GAFE, and I look forward to learning more about it.

I’ve tinkered with Promevo’s gScholar and looked at the Hapara LMS, and it seems Google is finally bringing the same functionality in natively. I imagine there will be premium features with the third-party LMS software which isn’t available in Classroom, but it may be Classroom is enough for most schools to get rolling.

I’ve signed up to be part of the preview. With luck I’ll be able to get some hands-on information soon.

Pro Tip: protect your Apple power adapter

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Published on: May 8, 2013

A cool feature of the Apple power adapters from the last few years is the cable wraps built into the power brick. They are fare more compact than most of their PC counterparts, making them less likely to snag on things and easier to store in bags and travel gear.

On the down side, however, some users are winding them too tight and are stressing the cable and/or its connection to the main power brick, resulting in frayed or destroyed cables.

For example, many users wrap their cables like so:

If it could scream, it would
If it could scream, it would

The little rubber sleeve at the base helps, but I often see cables where the main tubing pulls loose. This boot also prevents stresses to the side, but not stress coming straight out of the hole in the brick. The components on the inside are very likely under the same stress.

To prevent this, create a small loop in the cable. I usually hook the cable over my finger first, creating a 1″ loop before wrapping the rest of the cable. This takes all of the tension off of the cable’s connection to the power brick.

My preferred wrap looks like this:

No more tears
No more tears

This doesn’t take up any more room in a bag, it takes no time at all, and the loop can still fold over without putting additional stress on the connection if it is pressed up against another object during travel. The loop protects the adapter, and it protects the user’s wallet from an unexpected $79 charge to replace a broken adapter (or more for a larger MacBook Pro adapter).

Next time you put your adapter away, give it a shot! It will save you some grief in the long run.

Nexus 7: The Software

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Published on: December 20, 2012

Here’s the thing: I don’t see a clear advantage between Android and iOS.

Sure, the buttons may be in different places, and settings and menus may be handled in different ways, but in general they work the same way and, I find, the latest iterations of each are stable, speedy, and slick. Android may offer a few extra features like animated wallpapers and widgets, but those are going to come down to personal preference.

The Nexus does offer more flexibility in security and locking. The tablet can be encrypted, for example, which I don’t believe is possible on iOS. A simple slide unlock is the default, but users can also substitute facial recognition, PIN unlock, password unlock, or a pattern unlock. There’s even a setting to require blinking during facial recognition to prevent someone from using a photograph to unlock a device.

Furthermore, I like that Android now offers multiple accounts on one device. If I hand my children my iPad, they have access to all of my data and access to all of my apps. With the Nexus 7, I was able to create a second profile for my oldest son. It created a bare-bones profile, and he then entered his school-provided Google account information to set up his own account and even install his own apps (those already existing on the tablet were not re-downloaded, just made available to his account). I can see this being an advantage in an education setting where devices may be shared between multiple students in a classroom.

In terms of straight-up usability, however, I like both. I have yet to find an important (to me) core app that isn’t available on both devices. Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, a good RSS reader, and social networking tools are all working just fine for me on Android. All of my reading has gone digital, and I find myself able to go back and forth between devices without any problems.

Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7 is also my first exposure to Google Now:

Google Now is the Android answer to personal assistant’s like Apple’s Siri, and it’s worked well for what I’ve used it for. However, it’s a good example of where Google’s cloud-centralized information can really shine. When I search a location in Google Maps while logged in to my Google account in Chrome on a desktop, that search appeared in Google Now on the tablet and I was told how long it would take me to get there. My Chrome browsing data also appears to sync to Chrome on the tablet, which has been handy when I needed to find a website I’d previously visited. Even my bookmarks are all available in both locations without my having to do anything more than simply logging in to the tablet. If a student forgets or loses his Android tablet, or he neglects to charge it, he can feasibly log in to his Google account on Chrome on a school computer and have access to his data.

My Nexus 7 updated itself to Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, moments after I took it out of the box. Unlike with my Android smart phone, I’m not having to wait until my carrier and handset manufacturer get around to providing an update (assuming they provide one at all). Also, where the three Android phones I’ve had experience with (an HTC Desire, Motorola Electrify, and my wife’s Samsung Acclaim) have all faced a number of strange glitches, memory issues, and spontaneous reboots, the Nexus 7 has been near flawless.

The first problem I ran into was a strange crash. The screen went black except for some random, colorful streaks flying around, and it made a high-pitched squeal in the speakers. A Google search showed this is a common problem, and a hard reset by holding down the power button for thirty seconds resolved it. The problem hasn’t recurred since that first time, and that was shortly after the initial update.

The second problem is the Wi-Fi issue I mentioned in my Nexus 7 hardware review. It seems to only happen when moving from one network to another (not a different AP, but a whole different network), and again, turning Wi-Fi off and back on solves the problem. Hopefully a future patch or update will fix it for good.

Beyond that, things have been smooth. The facial recognition works better and faster than I expected, and I was surprised it didn’t care when I put my glasses on (and when it fails it goes into a PIN unlock immediately). There is a slight pause when changing from one profile to the other, but not so long that it gets irritating. The device does appear to keep working more in the background while not in use, which could contribute to the perceived idle battery drain.

So what all can I actually do with it? I’ll address that in the next review post.

Nexus 7: The Hardware

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Published on: December 17, 2012

My district picked up a Google Nexus 7 tablet for evaluation, and there’s a lot to cover so I’m going to break my comments out across a couple of posts this week, starting with hardware.

The Nexus 7 is built by Asus and is not as small as I expected. It’s taller and narrower than the Kindle Fire HD, but it’s still easy to read from and to manipulate. I can easily hold it in one hand, whether pinched between thumb and fingers along one edge or cradled across my palm with thumb on one side and fingers on the other.

Given we’re wanting to see how it fares in students’ hands, though, I gave the tablet to my ten-year-old son. He, too, found it very comfortable to hold and use.

Nexus 7 portrait
My son holding the Nexus 7 in portrait mode

I still see a remarkable difference between students and teachers when I hand them a new device. Most teachers, particularly those uncomfortable withe technology, will stare at the device and ask me how to turn it on. My son, like most students, went straight to work in search of buttons. The Nexus 7 has no buttons on the face when it’s powered off (the three you see at the bottom in the screenshot are all software buttons), so he searched the perimeter to find the power and volume buttons. He was in and exploring in seconds.

The Nexus is a weighty device given its size, but not uncomfortable. The chassis feels sturdy despite the plastic construction, and Google has placed the camera and mic near the top (short edge) and the speakers on the bottom back. The camera does not appear accessible by most apps, so must only be intended for video conferencing. The speakers have been loud and clear while playing YouTube videos.

Nexus 7 landscape
My son holds the Nexus 7 in landscape mode

The screen is very bright and crisp. It’s easy to read indoors, and it’s not too harsh and bright for reading in the dark. Scrolling through websites and flipping through apps was fast and smooth, and I had no trouble picking up Wi-Fi signals in various parts of our campus.

It does, however, seem to lose Wi-Fi from time to time. I don’t know whether this would be a software or hardware issue, and I’ve seen it happen both at work and at home while connected to two very different wireless routers. The Wi-Fi icon will turn white (it’s normally blue) and will say it’s connected, but to get back online I find it’s easiest to turn the Wi-Fi off and back on again.

I have mixed feelings on the battery life. I’ve used the Nexus 7 for long periods at a stretch with no troubles, and I’m confident it will get through one day without a charger. However, its standby time has something to be desired. Where the iPad seems like it can go for several days without draining, every time I’ve left the Nexus 7 for more than a day or two it’s been dead.

I’ve seen some praise Google’s decision to use a standard micro-B USB port due to charger availability, but don’t expect to solve the problem with a standard phone charger. In a pinch I tried to charge the Nexus with a 1-watt adapter, but even after charging for most of a school day it was barely to 30%. My cell phone’s charger provides less than 1 watt, so using it would take even longer. The Asus charger that comes with the Nexus, meanwhile, pumps out 2 watts and charged the tablet much faster. So, while the flexibility is there, it still comes at a convenience cost.

I purchased the rubbery Asus cover from the Play store after ditching the IVSO keyboard case, and I’ve been very happy with it. It provides protection without bulk, fitting more like a skin than a case. The front cover is soft and pliable, but thicker over the screen for extra protection. In fact, the raised portion that covers the screen fits neatly into the screen area to prevent it from slipping while in a carry bag. The cover is on the Nexus 7 in the photos above, and folding it back gets it out of the way without changing the comfort of holding the device. The cover does not, however, double as a stand.

In all, the Nexus 7 is a solid piece of hardware. I’ve come to enjoy reading from it, and the smaller form factor doesn’t get cumbersome like a full-size iPad can in some situations. I’d like to see it include a camera, but as is it’s a solid contender at a savings of $130 vs the iPad mini on the hardware side.

The Little Keyboard That Couldn’t

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Published on: December 10, 2012

I picked up the IVSO Slim Faux Leather Keyboard Case for $20.00, thinking it might be a viable, portable keyboard for student use in a classroom. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t quite make the grade.

The complete setup is smaller than it looks

The price point is hard to ignore, and in terms of quality and construction, the value is there. The case is sturdy, the keyboard has a nice, tactile feel, and the whole package feels very durable. Springy hooks help hold the Nexus in place. My only gripe in terms of construction would be the flimsy ribbon cable on the USB plug and a question of how long those elastic straps in the corners might last before they become stretched out.

An additional failing in the USB plug is its orientation. With just a slight shift, the plug protrudes beyond the lip of the case, which could induce stress or damage. Given this is also the only way to charge the device, I would worry about the end of the pug breaking off inside the tablet. I think a sturdier cable and plug, along with a 90° bend in the adapter, could go a long way to providing safety.

The keyboard, once plugged in, works well. The case turns into a stand with a simple flap, similar to what you’d find on the back of a photo frame sitting on a desk. The Nexus recognized the keyboard immediately, and the keystrokes work in every app I tried, including the searches.

However, the keyboard is far too small for practical use. Here’s a closer look:

It’s also been redesigned to maximize frustration.

I often hit the wrong keys or multiple keys while trying to type. It’s difficult to find the home row by touch, and when resting my fingertips on the appropriate keys, my fingers were all crammed together. The redesign to cram all the keys into a tighter space only makes things worse, as some keys (such as backspace) have been moved and others shrunken (the spacebar and the right shift key).

In other words, expect to learn a whole new keyboard layout and to type with extreme precision. This, to me, is a deal breaker.

Furthermore, users will not be able to charge the device and use the keyboard at the same time because they occupy the same plug. Using the device as a tablet is also cumbersome; while the keyboard folds back, the whole package is thick and bulky enough that I found it much more comfortable to just remove the tablet from the case every time. I also had to unplug the keyboard for those moments because my fingers struck the keys.

My recommendation is unless you need a cheap keyboard and you’re going to use it this way all the time, this case is going to be more irritating than useful. That said, if you are looking for a device with a near-permanent keyboard and plan to do more typing than reading, just spring for a netbook.

A good concept, but lacking in execution. A redesigned keyboard and USB plug might merit a second chance.

Hands On: Kindle Fire HD

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Published on: December 5, 2012

The Kindle Fire would be a great tablet if users could separate it from the Amazon ecosystem.

Kindle Fire HD
“I’mma let you read, but first let me sell you something.”

Let me start by saying I like Amazon. I personally purchase all of my music through Amazon, almost all of my reading, and I purchase nutritional and weight lifting supplements through them regularly. I’m a Prime customer, I use the video service, and there’s a good chance my wife and I will do most—if not all—of our Christmas shopping through Amazon.

I like the screen. The stereo sound is a nice bonus. Navigating through books and apps is very responsive. The camera is on the long side of the device, prompting the user to hold the device in landscape mode for Skype, which actually makes sense given the video format. The battery life, even on standby, is quite good. I had no problems with wireless access. I did not test the HDMI out, but it’s nice to have it as an option.

After that, things get a little dicey, especially in an education setting.

First, while the $200 price point is equivalent to the Nexus 7 and sounds wonderful, expect to tack on another $15 per unit to get rid of advertising. Amazon makes no distinction as to whether the tablet is sold to a school or an individual, nor whether it’s being used by a child or an adult. While I’m sure Amazon will avoid racy ads, does an elementary student need a Discover Card? Do parents want schools effectively selling Men in Black 3 or Disney Epic Mickey to their children?

The device is also geared toward consumption over creation. No rear camera means no photography or video for students. The USB keyboards listed on Amazon go out of their way to say they’re not compatible with the Kindle Fire HD, but I did attach a Bluetooth keyboard with no trouble. However, without an app, there isn’t much point, and while the device does come with a QuickOffice app, there doesn’t appear to be a way to connect it to a Google Drive or Dropbox account without upgrading.

Which leads to the limited availability of apps. Aside from Amazon’s split from the Google Play store, I was not able to download any apps without having a credit card associated with the account, including free apps. Without the ability to push apps through Whispercast, the burden shifts to students to download apps they need, and will at least require obtaining gift cards for their Amazon accounts. Parents are going to have a problem with that.

Finally, the device is inflexible. If students or their parents are Barnes & Noble customers, they’re not going to get their Nook content on here. The interface is simple, but very different from other Android devices and smartphones, and there does not appear to be a way to customize screens or to use widgets. And while Dropbox and similar services are available, Google Drive is not, and the main apps are set up to go straight to Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

In the end, I just don’t need a device that is little more than a catalog for Amazon services. It’s great for someone who is looking for an e-reader that will also allow them to check email and keep up on Facebook, but it’s not quite a workhorse machine and I would not pursue it for 1:1 use. In a BYOT environment, at this point I would still recommend iPads or the Nexus over the Kindle.

Alas, Whispercast

Categories: Apps, Gadgetry, The Classroom
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: November 19, 2012

Apple, Google and Amazon are competing hard in the consumer market, but not a one has been able to quite meet the demands of the eduction market. I’ve long felt the first one to come up with a viable deployment and management solution, including textbook management and delivery, will be the winner in this space. To date, there is no clear leader.

Amazon’s solution is Whispercast, a free web interface for managing Kindle devices, content, and users. I purchased a handful of Kindle Fire HD tablets to test deployment and management, and while it holds a lot of promise, it still feels very much like a beta product.

Whispercast
Close but no cigar, Amazon

To sign up for Whispercast, one only needs an Amazon account. I used the credentials specific to my school email address to log in and I was ready to go. The management screen is fairly straightforward, with some “Get Started” documentation and a number of links and tabs for Users, Devices, Policies, Documents, and eBooks.

What they don’t make quite clear is how to order hardware through Whispercast. There’s a “how to purchase” link which instructs you to call Amazon directly. Call them, however, and they’ll tell you to just order the devices you need through the standard Amazon shopping process. Then you come back and enter the order number into the Add Devices button on the Devices tab.

Okay, fair enough. I’m only ordering three and they don’t charge me tax, so I’m good with that. I entered the order number, however, and Whispercast couldn’t find any Kindles. I had to wait a while until the order was actually processed and shipping before Whispercast could actually “see” the Kindles.

These are small things, to be sure, but it’s unnecessary confusion.

Kindle Users, meanwhile, can be created individually, in bulk with a template, or through invitation for existing Amazon accounts. Users can then be placed into Groups for management purposes. Every new user created also gets an Amazon account, so the email address must be unique. This is where Amazon demonstrates two examples of foresight:

  1. If a student or teacher already has an Amazon account, the administrator can add a plus sign and a random string to make the account unique. For example, I created moliveri+kindle1 and moliveri+kindle2 email addresses. I still receive email generated from account usage, but it keeps these Kindle accounts separated from the primary account I use to manage Whispercast or to purchase hardware.
  2. In a BYOT/BYOD environment, users with existing Kindle accounts can be invited to the Whispercast management system. This way an administrator can still push Kindle content to the user without actually taking ownership of their device or interfering with any content they may already own.

Created Users can then be assigned to devices. This is done either randomly or by assigning them to a specific device by typing in (or copying & pasting) the device serial number into a field. You can see a screen shot of the device screen with users assigned below.

Whispercast screen shot
The Device Management screen

The plus side of this is as soon as I opened the Kindle Fires and connected them to my wireless network, they were provisioned with the assigned users. On the down side, because the device serial numbers are not visible on the outside of the device (especially after they’re placed in a case), there’s not an easy way to keep track of which devices are assigned to which users. In the future, I’d like to see the ability to rename devices to make deployment and management easier, particularly in a loaner/library setting. Allowing a serial number from a bar code to tie into an asset management system would be even better.

Simple Policies can also be placed on the devices. Restriction policies, for example, allow administrators to block the store, social network integration, or the web browser, or to lock out factory reset, prevent wireless tampering, and enforce password/lock settings. The Wireless Networks policies allow an administrator to push out wireless network settings to the devices for roaming around campuses. There isn’t much granularity in these settings, but they work in our environment.

Through the Documents tab, administrators can push their own documents out to the devices. I uploaded a PDF file and it arrived on each device in moments. The only trick here is Whispercast still uses the shopping cart metaphor, so it feels like you’re purchasing a free document rather than uploading and distributing something.

At this point I was able to use the Kindles and download free eBooks. They came with 30 days of Prime membership, so I was also able to borrow a book from the Kindle Lending Library for free. I knew going in that Whispercast was not set up for apps, but I was disappointed to learn that I could also not download free apps without a credit card associated with the accounts. Parents and students could conceivable add credit cards or pre-pay debit cards to their accounts, but it would be a lot more convenient for a student to be able to download Evernote or similar apps without having to track down a card.

To this point, I didn’t see any real showstoppers. However, when I involved the librarian and started to purchase eBooks, the major shortcoming started to appear.

I had intended to turn these Kindles over to our library from the beginning, so I wanted to add our librarian as an administrator. Unfortunately there is no way to do so within the Whispercast interface. I called Amazon for help, and once they verified her Amazon account, they were able to give her information to the developers. It was then about 24 hours before she was able to log in.

The library had two older e-ink Kindles already, and we wanted to add them to the Whispercast account as well. Again, the only way to add them to the Whispercast account is through order numbers, and we were only able to find the number for one of the Kindles. The system did not acknowledge the order, so we had to again call Amazon. They gave us the choice of inviting a user (which we could do ourselves) or providing them with the device serial numbers. We chose the latter, they were turned over to the developers, and once again we had to wait until the Kindles appeared on the Whispercast account.

Now device management got a little dicier. Random assignment to users is the easiest, but now if a Fire HD and a Keyboard Kindle were both available, the librarian would have no control over what a student received. This would require her to track serial numbers on the exterior of the devices to be sure she assigned the student to the correct device. Also, some kind of checkbox or drag-and-drop interface would be much more helpful than entering or pasting a serial number.

Finally, and the most problematic, is the entire Kindle library is not available to Whispercast. The librarian looked up several of the most popular books through the Whispercast eBooks tab but could not find them. She tried a few other titles at student prompting, and only found a couple of them. Yet another call to Amazon and they told her no, the full library is not yet available and the developers were working on it.

Overall, it’s a great start but still very much a beta product. They Whispercast home page talks about a school in Florida already deploying Kindles to 3600+ high school students, but there are a lot of compromises to deal with for that many devices. Having to make a phone call and wait 24 hours for changes just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially where non-technical users may be administering the devices.

Right now, I feel like if I could take the over-the-air management and content deployment of Whispercast and merge them with some of the granularity of Apple Configurator for iOS devices, schools would have a really solid product. And whither Google in all of this? I understand they have management for Chromebooks, but I haven’t seen anything for Android tablets.

In the end, it appears the manufacturers are content to hand us off to third-party device management vendors for the time being. There are some good solutions out there, but they only add to the costs of deployment, which can make or break 1:1 programs in cash-strapped districts. This is why smaller players like the Kuno Mobile Tablet are starting to make strides by bundling their devices with a management package.

Schools are ready to catch up with the hardware. Now it’s up to the manufacturers to catch up with us.

Scratching the Surface

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Published on: June 19, 2012

So Microsoft unveiled the Surface yesterday:

Unfortunately, the actual presentation was not a whole lot more informative than this dubstep video. ARM and Intel processors, fancy keyboard and display, Windows RT and Windows 8. Great!

Price? Availability?

No and no.

want Microsoft to put out a good product. I may be an Apple fan at the moment, but that’s because—at the moment—I feel Apple puts out a better product. I want to see more competition. I want to see prices start coming down.

I’m not sure the Surface is going to do it.

This seems more pitched toward competing with ultrabooks than tablets, and prices are being speculated as high as $1000. Jason Perlow at ZDNet speculates on why this is a questionable move for a number of reasons. Personally, I wonder if it’s going to be split into a consumer product (ARM/Windows RT version) and a business/power user product (Intel/Windows 8 version).

I’m not seeing a lot to get excited about from a consumer and educator perspective, either. The big deal with tablets right now? Apps. What do you have Microsoft? Do we know, yet? ARM means Microsoft is now asking developers—who, by the way, have already established markets in iOS and Android—to port software to a whole new platform. Did MS not learn a lesson from RIM last year?

Then there’s price. If this makes for a killer notebook, and it’s over $1000, then it’s twice as out of reach as the $500 iPads I couldn’t afford to buy my students. If I’m going to spend my own money on it, iPad still has the advantage for being a known quantity and having a plethora of apps.

Now let’s look at the device itself. The Touch Cover keyboard is a great idea on the surface (see what I did there?). However, I’m anxious to find out if it feels any better than just using an on-screen keyboard. If the biggest complaint is the tactile feel, is the flat, fuzzy keyboard really a big step up from a glossy screen?

Speaking of the keyboard, how do you keep it clean? It’s easy to clean a glass screen. Something fuzzy? Not so much. Now the keys you just mucked up with your greasy fingers, or spilled your Starbucks on, or dropped crumbs onto, is going to press up against the glass and muck it up, too. Now add student carelessness to the mix. Ack.

The Touch Cover is magnetic, just like Apple’s Smart Cover. What’s the chief complaint with the Smart Cover? It doesn’t hold well enough.

It also appears users will be stuck with a keyboard. The built-in prop only goes for one angle, so I’m assuming there’s no on-screen keyboard to use at a shallower angle. I suspect this will be a good opportunity for keyboard and case manufacturers, but now it’s something else the user will have to carry along and making it less tablet and more notebook.

Between the filth and a forced keyboard, casual or student usage is getting less and less convenient.

Finally, let’s talk about that hinge/prop again. A liveblog of the event quoted something about the hinge having the feel of a car door. I hope it’s as sturdy, because it will get a workout. I’m not crazy about the angle because it looks like it could tip easily (at least without the weight of the magnetic keyboard to hold it down). I also see that prop space and hinge as just another place to collect dust and muck.

I do want to get my hands on one of these, hopefully sooner rather than later. But all this big event has done is through further caution onto my cautious optimism that Microsoft could put out a decent tablet.

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Welcome , today is Tuesday, June 27, 2017