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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Touching Christmas Eve Video

On Christmas Eve, we gathered around the tree in my brother-in-law's home in Edmonton to enjoy the company of family members and celebrate together. We also watched a video that touched us very much.

If spirituality is not your thing, please skip this post: I absolutely respect your position. If you can appreciate a little God-talk, especially at this time of year, check out this video.

Warm, honest, moving - beautiful.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Much-hyped Word Lens Fails to Deliver

Ok, there's a lot of breathless hype about a new iPhone app called Word Lens which translates signs and text between Spanish and English on the fly - just by pointing your device's camera at them. If you watch the demo video above your jaw will drop. It's an amazing piece of augmented reality, better than kicking an AR soccer ball around, for sure.

While the concept is brilliant, the execution is disappointing.

I've been speaking Spanish since I was 19 and wanted to test the tech. So, I downloaded the app and sprung for the $5 Spanish to English and $5 English to Spanish modules (other languages are in the works).

Yes it's cool seeing the "translation" appear. But it is not even close to being as smooth as the demo portrays. The words on the screen constantly, constantly, shift until you lock them in. It's a major annoyance.

Clumsy translations
On simple signs you get clumsy translations, which admittedly are still of value because you could make use of them in a place where you didn't know a word of Spanish (or English). But if you try it with anything slightly more complex, sometimes even a book cover, you get a different set of words every time you lock the translation in. The software is simply not robust enough to settle on a translation in one go. So it generates major visual noise as it tries to make sense of the text - words are always jumping around.

Another problem is the translations are word for word. This makes sense in a way. You can't fit five words on a three-word sign. But it's limiting as well.

Among the many pieces of text I tried was this simple phrase, "Sunday will come" in English, which should be "El Domingo Vendrá" or "El Domingo Llegará. Word Lens rendered "Domingo Voluntad Venir." Voluntad refers to a person's free will.

I have no doubt that this is the beginning of something special in the realm of AR. Kudos to the developers for it. But the demo video sleight-of-hand is really not appreciated. It's the visual equivalent of a disingenuous news release that overpromises and underdelivers.

So sure, if you want to experience the novelty of holding up your phone to a sign and watch it magically morph into another language, wonderful. It may come in handy if you're vacationing in Cuba or Mexico and need a bit of language help.

But if you want to use it for marginally more serious purposes, there is much more work to be done on Word Lens before it begins to deserve all its good press.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Five More Ubercool iPad Apps

CORAL GABLES, FL - OCTOBER 28: Sixto Ramos (L), a Verizon representative, helps Ron Katz with the purchase of two iPads at a Verizon store on October 28, 2010 in Coral Gables, Florida. Verizon stores started to sell the popular Apple product today. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
picTransfer - Send pics to your iPad from your iPhone without a tedious iTunes sync. Works well, keeps its promise. What more can you ask?

ColorSplash - Once you've got your pics loaded, use color splash to auto-convert them to black and white and daub color onto the areas you want. Pretty slick. Great tutorial.

I-Prompt Pro - Remember the free TelePrompTer @shareski used in his 2010 K-12 Online pre-conference keynote? This is the app. Spring for the $80 remote and you're really in business.

web2vga - Let's you hook your iPad up to an LCD projector or TV and take your audience to your favorite websites. All you need is the Apple Composite A/V cable.

Cam for iPad - Load this puppy on both devices and transmit streaming video and audio from your iPhone to your iPad. Baby monitor in a pinch? I know which device will run out of juice first.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jealous of My Duct Tape Twitter Wallet?

If you haven't heard of duct tape wallets before, they're pretty cool. I mean, I've heard of things being held together with duct tape, but not made out of it.

Andrew Cardona runs a local business here in Winnipeg called Custom Pockets and he offers various styles of wallets to choose from, and tons of graphics to go with them.

"Could you do a Twitter design for me, Andrew?" I asked him. "You got it," he said, and this was the result.

He gave it to me tonight at a church Christmas dinner and I was so impressed. It's cool, inexpensive, and although I currently use a bungee wallet, I'll keep this one around as a working conversation piece.

If you'd like to get your own, check out Andrew's wares at

Great Canadian Tweeters' Stomping Ground

Manitoba and Saskatchewan may have the two least glamourous handles of all the Canadian provinces, but this wide expanse of...well, frozen tundra right now, is home to a few big name edtech tweeters.

Among those who live and learn here on the great Canadian prairies are Darren Kuropatwa, (@dkuropatwa); Dean Shareski, (@shareski); Clarence Fisher, (@glassbeed); Alec Couros, (@courosa); Mike Nantais, (@miken_bu); John Evans, (@joevans); Andy McKiel, (@amckiel) and others.

If you've ever wondered why folks would settle and stay in communities with off-the-beaten-track names like Winnipeg, Falcon Lake, Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw, the casual introduction above should give you an inkling.

Social Media-Powered Adventure
This homey little vid comes to us courtesy of Alex and Luke, an intrepid young couple from Toronto who hit the road armed with only a blog and their Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and YouTube accounts.

They meticulously chronicled their excellent North-American adventure as they threw themselves entirely at the mercy of Facebook friends, tweeps and blog followers for recommendations on what sites to see at each stop.

Their videos provide an honest little glimpse of their visits, and, in this case, of the sweet prairie jewels that serve as stomping grounds for some capital-'t' Canadian tweeters - and wannabees like me (@raysadad).

So, put your feet up a bit. Enjoy the slightly hoser-esque banter between these two, and be sure to check out some past episodes where Alex and Luke stomp around more than 60 regions of the U.S. and Canada - likely including your backyard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Five Ubercool iPad Apps to Download Today

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: A young woman waits to purchase Apple iPads in Regent Street's Apple store on May 28, 2010 in London, England. Apple iPads went on sale today in countries including Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom as part of Apple's global roll-out of the hugely successful new device. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SoundHound - If you think Shazam is cool, hum or sing a phrase of your favorite current song into SoundHound and watch it identify song title, artist, videos and more. Yes, your jaw will drop like mine when my son pulled up Simple Plan's Perfect World that way. A real pleasure to browse and the interface is much cooler than that of its more popular rival.

CBC Radio - Gorgeous app, a delight to use, and under the slick design, a truly Canadian heart. All your favorites are here - everything from Ideas to As it Happens, to Q and The Current - plus live streaming from any of 31 Canadian cities. Whacks of great programming. And the best part? You can actually get past episodes of Terry O'Reilly's brilliant series The Age of Persuasion. Be still my heart.

iA Writer - Awesome, no-frills writing application. Don't be fooled by the plain vanilla simplicity. This is a highly functional app that's a joy to write with. Puts useful punctuation up where you want it. Tells you the time it will take to read your prose (copywriters take note). Unlike Pages, iA Writer gives you - wait for it - the ability to scrub back and forth through text without lifting your finger. Oh, and did I mention the Dropbox sync? Find your muse again.

SpeedText HD - Your handwritten words magically snap into sentences - in notes which become searchable when you forward them to Evernote (is there anything Evernote can't do?). Press the info button for a whack of controls. With a bit of practice you'll find lots of uses for this one.

Flixster (with Rotten Tomatoes) - Download this visually slick app and never search for newspaper movie listings again. Showtimes, reviews, trailers, ticket purchases, and a lot more.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Book that Opened a World to My Son

This past summer, my 14-year-old son blew me away by learning Spanish in about two months flat. Naturally, I'm not talking about complete fluency. But Ryan is now what I consider functionally bilingual.

Besides having a heck of a lot of determination, he owes a big part of his success to a book. Here's the story.

One day, suffering from a case of floppy summer boredom, Ryan asked me, "Dad, how did you learn Spanish?" I told him about taking Spanish lessons, striking up conversations with the Chileans there during breaks, listening to shortwave radio, frequenting a Latin-American store downtown, buying Condorito comics and other Spanish magazines, and generally hanging with a community that in some measure adopted this intrepid gringo.

Then I mentioned Spanish Made Simple.

It was a book I pored over every night, slogging my way through its 50 chapters, repeating the dialogues out loud, working through the half dozen intense exercises after each chapter. That nightly effort yielded me functionally bilingual status after about a half year.

He asked, "Can we still get a copy?"

"Gee, I don't even know if it's still in print," I said. But we called up McNally Robinson and were able to order it in.

I see that it's been given a graphic facelift for a new generation, but the dialogues and the exercises haven't changed a bit since I picked it up 30 years ago. It's the same book only prettier. And you can order it for your Kindle or Kobo reader, too.

So, Ryan starts to study seriously, often bugging my wife and me to practice with him, listening to Spanish pop songs on YouTube, and increasingly becoming smitten by all things Español.

In the evenings, he's working through the book - doing exactly what I did decades ago.

He starts Facebooking his cousins in Edmonton, then our relatives in Chile. Lo and behold, he understands them, and they him.

The kid is hooked.

My wife and I never taught our two boys Spanish but used it as code for talking to each other without the boys understanding us. Now, there's nothing we can say around Ryan in Spanish that he won't get. This is not convenient. But the upside is we have another Spanish speaker in the house.

My eldest, Mark, is good-natured about being out of the Latin-American loop. He graduated from French immersion and, parallels between romance languages being what they are, he can still sometimes figure out what we're up to.

Anyone who speaks a second language knows the world opens up so much wider. Not only do you learn the language itself, but you're enriched by another culture and - more importantly - other ways of thinking; including the realization that the North American way of viewing the world isn't the only way.

You get a foot in both worlds and that's a healthy thing.

Yesterday, my son hooked up with a Chilean relative he's never talked to before on Facebook. Today, he asked us to speak nothing but Spanish to him for an hour. Tonight, he was asking my wife what English sounded like to her when she came to Canada from Chile as a 12-year-old.

Ryan now has a language skill that can play a big role in his life. Of course, it was his own curiousity and drive that propelled him forward, and he still has lots to learn. But the book was a huge help in giving him a basic grounding in grammar and speech.

As much as I like admire change and keeping things fresh, I'm thrilled that the same words and exercises that inspired me when I was 19, have done the same for him much earlier.

Who knows, maybe one summer his son will ask, "Hey dad, how did you learn your Spanish?"

Also read, Who Really Taught Me Spanish - Was It My PLN?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jott Assistant - Personal Productivity on Steroids

Over a year ago, I walked away from Jott Assistant (then simply called Jott) because it moved from free to paid. But I'm back, I'm paying - a modest $3.95 a month - and couldn't be happier.

Here's just a sample of what Jott Assistant does for me:
  1. Let's me send email just by speaking into my phone. I have around 80 contacts individuals and groups of people I've set this up for and I can add as many as I want. Individuals, committees, volunteer organizations, teams, I can email them all simply by talking. This works with dumb phones as well as smart ones.
  2. Reads my favorite RSS feeds back to me. You want cool? Try this in the car with your bluetooth earpiece on. I need to keep track of media constantly throughout the day. This really helps.
  3. Sets up events and appointments for me in Outlook Calendar when I tell it to - and reminds me of them when I want it to.
  4. Allows me to set up categories for every hat I wear and for any meeting or label. Then, it transcribes my voice notes into them. This is unbelievably handy. Throughout the week I simply dictate a Jott note or agenda item, tell it to dump it into the appropriate category, then review the whole bunch a couple of days before the meeting. When I walked away from Jott in early 2009, I had 27 categories spread throughout my home, work and church life. They were all waiting for me when I signed up again.
  5. Sends the people I email a slim voice file along with the transcription.
  6. Plays well with all my devices. I can Jott on my iPad, iPhone or desktop and the information is always current. Wherever I am I can Jott and read my Jotts. And it works on the Blackberry, too.
  7. Let's me print my Jotts. In a pinch, this can become an instant agenda.
There is so much I haven't tried yet - like voice posting to Google Calendar, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Remember the Milk, Toodledo and dozens more. But I'll tackle those if and when I need them.

All I can say for now, is that coming back to Jott Assistant is a real kick. It gives me another way to keep the balls in the air when I'm on the run - which is pretty much always.

Like most teachers - and people like me that work for them - I like free. But free can be so limiting.

If you're in the market for a reasonably priced productivity app, you've got to check this one out. Jott Assistant is not merely a clever voice-to-text toy.

In these fast and frantic times, it's a tool to lean on.

(Disclosure: I have no investment in Jott whatsoever, but I'd like to ; )

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Create Your Own Personal Cloud - Without Using Dropbox or Pogoplug

Recently, I told you how to bypass an iTunes sync and download video straight to your iPad with Dropbox. I also wrote about how to create your own personal "Dropbox" with Pogoplug.

But a few days ago, I stumbled on an app quietly sitting in the App Store that allows you to stream, view or download just about any file on your desktop - without iTunes and without hardware of any kind.

Zumocast is an slick little app that you download onto your PC or Mac as well as your iPad or iPhone. This app is so quick and duh simple to set up that when you suddenly see the entire contents of your laptop or desktop staring back at you from your iPad or iPhone, it's pretty trippy. Especially when you consider you haven't had to convert or sync a thing.

Stream your heart out
The app is free and gives you access to every document, photo, video or piece of music residing on your PC or Mac. You can stream video and music to your heart's content and view, but not edit, all your non-media files.

The wrinkle comes in not with streaming videos, but with playing those you actually download to the iPad in fullscreen. That's where I found the software a bit buggy. Many times video that I tried to play fullscreen would be masked by the menu area to the side of the viewing area. On subsequent tries things worked as you'd expect. Playing video less than full screen was always fine.

I tried correcting this spotty performance by downloading various sizes of video files, but in the end it beat me. I had to go back to Dropbox's solid and flawless fullscreen performance on downloads.

Temporary blemish
But don't let this temporary blemish - which I expect will be corrected in the next version - turn you away from everything else Zumocast has to offer. Streaming video fullscreen worked fine for me as did music. And viewing all your desktop pics and documents from your iPad display is pretty clever.

While you're mulling that over, check out the first video I downloaded from my laptop to my iPad via Zumocast - a fun three-minute blast from LDS hip-hop violinist Lindsey Stirling. It kicks off classically and morphs into the Black-Eyed Peas. For a "throw-up" (graffiti tagger terminology for a quick piece of work) in an underground parkade it's pretty amazing stuff.

Catch more of Lindsey's tunes - plus her AGT performance - on YouTube.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Cherish Our Teachers'

Early in the month, I blogged about whether any U.S. politician of note would recognize the work of American teachers with a few good words on World Teachers' Day. Surely that would have been a big boost to educators down south as beseiged as they are by reform mania.

North of the 49th, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Canada's new Governor General David Johnston - former president of the University of Waterloo and father to five daughters - took a few moments to praise Canadian teachers during his installation ceremony in Ottawa.

Johnston talked about Canada being a "smart and caring nation" and outlined the work we had to do to become even more so.
  1. Support families and children,
  2. Reinforcing learning and innovation, and
  3. Encourage philanthropy and volunteerism.
But what most struck a chord with me was his verbal bouquet to the nation's teachers. If you scrub ahead to the 49 sec. mark in the above video, you will hear this:

"Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better along the way...

"In my case, they number in the hundreds. During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today, let it be 'Cherish our teachers.'"

Hear, hear, Your Excellency. Nothing says eloquence like a heartfelt 'thank you.'

Friday, October 15, 2010

Host a Web Conference From Your iPad or iPhone

Fuze Meeting HD lets you host and join audio/screen sharing conferences right from your iPad or iPhone. And it doesn't leave out Android or Blackberry either.

The demo above speaks for itself. There are more on YouTube. The website is cool. The blog is amazing. And there's even a live daily demo you can peek in on to whet your appetite.

While the Fuze Meeting app is free, you pay $10 for 24 hours of what I assume is non-consecutive conferencing time - with up to 15 attendees.

The service looks affordable for small groups or associations. The other pricing options scale from there. If you have the time and interest, this cool production seems like it's worth a look.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Make Your Own iPad Stylus

Why would you even want an iPad stylus? Well, have you ever grabbed a phone call and wanted to quickly jot down a phone number or short bit of information? How about making a quick sketch of furniture placement in a room or making a simple back-of-napkin drawing?

The iPad fires up so quickly, you've probably been tempted to use it like this. But as much the iPad's keyboard is functional and fast, it's not as fast as grabbing a notebook and scribbling as someone fires a phone number at you.

To use the iPad like this you need an app that will capture your writing in all it's hasty glory.

Enter Penultimate (iTunes), a great little notebook app that let's you do that. With Penultimate, you can create as many notebooks as you want; select lined, graph or plain paper; use multiple colours; even change the thickness of your lines.

The drawback is you're still using your finger to write or draw, and with your palm resting on the glass, writing with your finger doesn't feel as natural as holding a pen.

No, what you need is a stylus. But your old Palm or DS stylus isn't going to do the trick. They're made for resistive touchscreens, not the capacitive touchscreen of your iPad.

So, you'll have to buy a third-party stylus that will set you back between $20 - $35. Can you say Ouch? I shudder to think what the Apple product sells for.

The secret to any iPad stylus, no matter what the price, is a little capacitive foam nib. Pull any brand of stylus off the shelf and you'll see the nib looks fuzzy and unremarkable. I went to my local London Drugs last week, bought one for $35 and thought, "This much for a feather light stick and a piece of foam?" I tested it in the store and returned it right away, hoping to find the $20 version across town.

Then, I saw this simple video that shows how to make a capactive stylus for your iPad out of an old pen, a piece of wire, and - you guessed it - a piece of capacitive foam.

The end result may not draw oohs and aahs for style, but it works. And if you're around kids all day, they certainly won't mind.

Sometimes, good enough is all you need.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Picapp - millions of free blog pics, elegantly simple

Teacher in art class

I love using Picapp to post photos to my blog. It's quick, free, easy to use, has an elegantly simple interface and gives you access to millions of stock and news photos. No attribution is required: readers simply click on the gallery button visible on every photo you embed for full details. And you don't need to register to use the service.

An elementary schoolgirl takes part in an abacus contest in Tokyo May 19, 2010. About 100 students from American schools in U.S. military bases in Japan participated in the contest which made use of the soroban, a traditional Japanese calculating tool. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (JAPAN - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY)
Try punching in a few teacher terms using both "creative" and "editorial" searches. Creative will pull up a huge library of stock photos. Editorial will get you wire service pics from Reuters and others on everything from international news to politicians to celebs. You can illustrate virtually any domestic, international or opinion piece. Take your pick, remember they're free. Picapp photos are only for blogs and can be embedded on any blogging platform.

The Picapp site is still in beta. Enjoy.

Download Video Directly to iPad with Dropbox

Mar. 28, 2013 Note - The iCab Mobile app I refer to below has removed the YouTube download feature no doubt because of YT's TOS. No worries, though, because the free iBolt Downloader and Manager app will do the same for you, in much the same way. Works very nicely. Play with it for a while and you'll figure it out. If you get seriously stuck, drop me a comment and I'll be glad to help.

Dec. 31, 2012 Note - Thanks so much for clicking on this post. It's a couple of years old now, so I feel I owe it to you - and hundreds of others who view it every day - to tell you there's a much faster and cleaner way to download video directly to your iPad. The trick is a wonderful browser app called iCab Mobile. Use that browser to go to YouTube and search for the video you want. Once you find it, click play, let it run for a few seconds, then press and hold your finger on the video itself. You'll see a download button pop up. Hit that and your download starts automatically. When it finishes it will be much higher resolution that you'll ever get from the Dropbox method I describe below. You also have a choice to let that video reside within iCab Mobile or download it to your Camera Roll. If you need a few more instructions please see the reference to this browser in my post Cool stuff I learned over the summer on social media.

You can download video directly to your iPad over wi-fi or 3G without using iTunes. The trick is to first upload video to your Dropbox account on your desktop or laptop, then favorite it in the free Dropbox for iPad app.

The simple act of favouriting in Dropbox for iPad begins a download process you barely notice. Somehow your vid is saved directly to the iPad in no time flat.

So if you want to pull a YouTube video down to your iPad:
  1. Go to Keepvid on your desktop and save your video as an mp4.
  2. Upload to your Dropbox account.
  3. Download the free Dropbox for iPad app.
  4. Find your video on the iPad app and favorite it.
Voila, your video now resides on your iPad. No iTunes. No cable. Lovely.

The Thanksgiving video above was the first one I download with this method. It took five minutes to upload to Dropbox on my laptop over wi-fi, but almost nothing to download to my iPad after clicking star in Dropbox for iPad.

Still scratching my head over how fast this works.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Create Your Own 'Dropbox' with Pogoplug

I first heard about the Pogoplug in an interview with @CaliLewis and was left scratching my head as to why it would be one of two items she could not live without. After poking around a bit, I found out why.

This product lets you create your own cloud.

Plug your hard drive or USB-drive into one of the four slots, plug the ethernet cable from your router into the Pogoplug and voila, your very own Dropbox. No fees - and as much storage as your hard drive can handle.

Throw in the free Pogoplug iPhone app and you can stream your entire music or video collection - not to mention accessing your documents - through your phone or desktop.

Too good to be true? We'll see.

In Canada, London Drugs was selling them for $49 this week.

(You guessed it, I have no affiliation with PogoPlug or London Drugs, and you're right, the pitchman in the video is cheesy.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Who Will Thank the American Teacher?

Teacher in classroom
Did you know that next Tuesday, October 5, is World Teachers' Day?

You'd be forgiven if you said no.

Somehow, teachers think it's unseemly and self-serving to tell the world all the good they do, even on their own day. Yet, every October it rolls around, a day to showcase their work with the growing minds of the world's children - and comparatively few people know about it.

Here in my corner of Canada, our provincial government sends out a release thanking teachers for their service in educating students. We believe they really mean it.

Our national and local teachers' unions promote the day. Australia has been known to make a big deal of it. And in Uganda, the government recently declared that starting next year October 5 will be a national holiday in honour of teachers.

But I wonder about our American colleagues. With all the hyperbole and hyperventilation happening down south with Waiting for Superman, the Los Angeles Times and MSNBC's Education Nation, I wonder if anyone on the cutting edge of edu-bashing is planning to fete American teachers on their day.

Will MSNBC toss a bouquet to the nation's teachers by running an homage to the very folks they've largely left out of their examination of stateside school reform? Will David Guggenheim, the director of Waiting for Superman, consider a balanced sequel to his polemic film? Will the Los Angeles times simply say "sorry?"

More importantly, will reform's heavy hitters soften and speak words of gratitude for those toiling in the educational trenches? Will Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laud the daily efforts of the teachers who love teaching and nurture kids. Will President Obama finally decide to inspire hope in and respect for American educators?

Simply put, will the critics chill on World Teachers' Day? And will anyone who has benefitted from the experience, professional knowledge and care of their teachers issue a simple statement of appreciation for the work they do?

Surely U.S. teachers don't need a Hallmark card to raise public awareness of World Teachers' Day 2010 and feel good about their contribution to society.

They just need more people who are humble and gracious enough to say "thanks."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rev Up Your Creativity with Seth Godin

I read a post a while back from a tweep who returned his iPad shortly after he got it, because there was so much to play with, he couldn't stay focussed enough to read an ebook.

Well, I can relate. Sure I've downloaded a few titles, but haven't done much more than play with the features of the iBook reader itself.

That changed over the last few days since I got pulled into Seth Godin's Unleashing the Super Ideavirus. It was a cheap read at only $4.99 from the iBook store. And to my delight, once I downloaded it, I found each one of the 18 chapters begins with a short video of Godin profiling people who've built their own successful ideaviruses.

The videos are downloaded not streamed, so they'll play even when you're away from wi-fi or in areas where your carrier doesn't reach.

The chapter on the "Decline of Interruption Marketing" begins with an engaging little vignette on Little Miss Matched, a company that sells tween girls not two socks to a set, but three - none of which match. No advertising, but hugely profitable.

The section on "The Ideavirus Formula" has a feature on, an American crowd-sourcing site that matches public school teachers looking to fund special classroom projects with a huge pool of small donors who each chip in a few dollars to get the project off the ground.

The point of all this is not so much to gush about the excellent content and tight writing everyone expects from Godin, but to highlight the inspiration that came my way from interacting with the book by tapping out a number of enotes in the margins.

I spent the three highly productive hours one night last week thinking of how I could apply some of the concepts to a new Ning I am creating. And the creativity just, kept, coming.

As always, I was left with my mind revved up and more questions than answers. But the answers I did generate were welcome. And the search for the others is going to be a blast.

If you've tired of flitting your way through 240,000 apps, looking for the novel and new, settle in with one of Godin's highly engaging iBooks. You never know just what you might incubate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How blaming the teacher becomes 'common sense'

Woman with apple on head
Like all bad education ideas, it was just a matter of time before the L.A. Times' “grading the teacher” virus crossed the border. A month after the story broke stateside, the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti rolled out the welcome mat for the concept and its Canadian shill, the Fraser Institute's Peter Cowley.

Tremonti hosted both Cowley and Mary-Lou Donnelly, president of the Canadian Teachers' Federation, on The Current, the CBC's national morning radio show, last Wednesday. You can listen to the exchange here. (Skip the intro and scrub forward to the 2:10 minute mark.)

The front and back ends of the segment feature clips from parents and kids who - except for two I counted - were all in favour of grading the teacher. The common sense argument often expressed was "students get graded, so why shouldn't teachers?"

Donnelly admirably defended both teachers and the current teacher evaluation system, but Cowley got the more sympathetic hearing from the CBC host. The interview was the first spade full of spin in setting the foundation for the idea that this concept's time has come.

Blaming the teacher
It's the most ugly incarnation of the "blame the teacher" argument you can imagine, couched in pseudo-economic terms as "value-added." The idea being that teachers who deliver "more than expected" are adding value to students' educations, and that teachers should be held publicly accountable for their performance.

This nasty idea virus was born on August 14, when the Los Angeles Times published the first in a series of articles which highlighted 6,000 individual teachers’ effectiveness in America’s second-largest school district. You read that right – individual teachers’ effectiveness.

Based on what? Their students ranking on standardized tests, naturally. Here’s the Times' link. Brace yourself for the cutline below the photo.

So we’re not talking about school rankings, as distasteful as they are, anymore, are we? This is about comparisons, teacher to teacher, of how their students perform on standardized tests. It’s about as pointed as it gets and, until mid-August, had never been done anywhere before.

Sounding in every ear
Like other bad education ideas hatched down south, this one is destined to take its place in everyday conversations at the Tim Horton's and around kitchen tables across Canada. There is no doubt the Fraser Institute and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy will be beating this drum until it has sounded in every ear.

There will little talk of testing the public school system, not simply measuring student - and now teacher - performance. No nod to the value of developing comprehensive indicators to see how systems are performing. No awareness that funding is critical. No recognition that there are so many societal and systemic factors beyond the control of teachers that influence student achievement.

Grading, read 'blaming', the teacher will become common sense.

At one point in the CBC interview, Tremonti asked Cowley what the problem was when Canadian students consistently rank near the top in reading, maths and science in international tests. Cowley predictably asked her to get back to talking about the quality of teachers.

When is it good enough?
Even in Alberta, whose students lead the rest of the country on international tests, the Fraser Institute is actively trying to undermine confidence in public schools. Teachers don't put a whole lot of stock in international tests. But even so, are the results ever good enough?

Not likely, because better public schools are not the goal.

Make no mistake about the common sense agendas these right-wing think tanks push. Many of these concepts aren't homegrown. All of them are designed to crack the market for experiments with privatization of public schools.

We've watched these attempts collapse in other jurisdictions. Corporate control of public schools will never be common sense. And for all their concern for student learning and teacher effectiveness, it is abundantly clear these people are friends of neither.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

5 Good Reasons Not to Wait for iPad 2

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: A young girl holds an Apple iPad on display at Regent Street's Apple store on May 28, 2010 in London, England. Apple iPads went on sale today in countries including Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom as part of Apple's global roll-out of the hugely successful new device. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Sure, I was excited by the iPad launch, but I didn't run to the Apple store right away. I read up on the drawbacks and considered waiting for the second generation product - you know, the one that would appear within a year and sport all the much-vaunted "basics" everyone derided this one for not delivering.

Besides, with an iPhone, an iPod Touch, a laptop and a Blackberry, why would I want another device?

Well, I'm glad I swiped my debit card for an iPad - imperfect as it is.

We all know one of the major complaints about the iPad is that it's really a glorified iPod Touch. But that's what kicks this machine into a different product category and makes it so useful. So, hold on to your "I'm going to wait for the second version" logic for a minute and consider some reasons you might just want to spring for this very practical tablet - just the way it is.

1) Reading is an absolute joy on the iPad
Since you see more on the iPad screen you get better context to whatever you are reading. You no longer see a couple of lines or paragraphs in isolation - as you would on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Even PDFs are much more bearable and easy to read. Instead of the scrolling that normally takes place to see even a single page on a laptop or desktop screen, with the iPad you can hold an entire PDF page in your hand and see it with one glance.

Web pages look and read great because of the vertical orientation; I can't say enough about that. Even reading Maps is a pleasure. Maps takes great advantage of the iPad's increased real estate, becoming much more practical than the peering-through-a-keyhole-version you carry around with you on the iPhone.

And say what you want about iBooks, but it's just plain cool. Colour pages are colour pages. Turning the iPad sideways automatically puts you in two-page mode. The orientation lock is a welcome addition. And there's a Sepia wash you can toggle on to make the experience more like reading a book than a computer monitor.

If you're into reading wisdom literature like me, and depending on the app you get, the scriptures are gorgeous and a joy to read. Meditating on them is a soothing break from the hyper-connected world of blogs, Twitter and well, everything else.

2) App Store offerings take on new value
Old familiars have recast themselves and are benefitting from the larger screen. Dragon Dictation, for instance, becomes a big slate upon which you can experiment and compose before bringing that text into another application. The size of the slate makes it infinitely more useful than the same application on the iPhone or the iPod Touch. Dragon Dictation also becomes a wonderful journaling tool, lending a conversational tone to your notes and making the process of recording thoughts more fluid and natural.

The Google suite of apps is superb on the iPad. Take advantage of the iPad's microphone for some of your Google text and image searches. It really does feel like magic.

The mobile version of Google Docs is read only, so don't bother trying to compose a blog post on it. But I have found a great little app called Synote that will sync between your iPad and iPhone or whatever other device you happen to have. The price is nominal and it functions so well that it became my default writing tool before I bought Pages.

Evernote is a killer app on a Touch or iPhone, but wait till you see it on the iPad's larger screen. It's a dream for carrying with you to meetings and appointments for note taking. And, if you're so inclined, you can photograph with your iPhone all those business cards and scraps of paper you write your phone numbers and notes on. Your notes are available across the three platforms - web, iPad and iPhone. And with so many new integrations, Evernote is a real powerhouse. If you have a copy and haven't been doing much with it, get to know it. You'll be grateful you did.

Tweetdeck for the iPad loses some of its functionality on the iPad - you can't schedule tweets, for instance. But you can add columns to track searches like #edchat and #caned, the interface is beautiful, and there's enough there to keep you very happily tweeting. Echofon is good on the iPhone or Touch, but a clean visual knockout on the iPad. I find myself switching between Tweedeck and Echofon a lot, simply because there are features on each that I love. Twitter hasn't released a native iPad app yet, but if it's anywhere near the premium quality of the iPhone/Touch version, you're going to want it.

3) More portability than your laptop
If you think a laptop is liberating, the iPad is much more so. You won't be able to do everything you can on your laptop, and it's a little heavier than you might expect, but it feels rugged and in so many situations it sure beats a laptop.

Wouldn't you like your laptop to fire up instantly after sleeping? Well, the iPad does, and that alone is such a relief when you need to get some banking done or fire off some emails in a hurry.

Getting a good case is essential. It gives you a solid grip on the pad and the confidence to cart it around without fear of it slipping out of your hands. It will quell your paranoia about screen protection and really boost your enjoyment of the machine.

There are rich possibilities for presentations with the iPad. Whether you're speaking from a podium, pacing back and forth or walking into your audience, the iPad is the ultimate tool for prepared text. I've spoken with it from a podium and during workshop sessions and it's a dream. You can even leave it sitting on a table and pump the point size up enough in Pages to act as a handy cheat sheet.

Of course, it's perfect for walking around your classroom. And with an Apple composite A/V cable you can patch your iPad right into your LCD projector.

One-on-one presentations become much less cumbersome and more intimate using the iPad rather than a clunky laptop. Even processing email becomes a more comfortable task by just picking up the tablet and working it.

4) Better keyboarding than your phone
I've always believed a little time spent practicing text entry on any new device pays off down the road. You and the iPad's virtual keyboard will make friends fast with a bit of practice.

Writing in landscape mode can be hard at first because of the same hair-trigger sensation you get in your first few days with the iPhone or iPod Touch. But let me tell you, once you get comfortable, you'll find your speed goes up rather than down. This will definitely come as a surprise. And your finger tips will pad along the glass surface with a lot less noise than when taking notes with your laptop.

5) YouTubing with your friends and family
Many times, I've wanted to share a video or blog post on the spot with a few other friends or colleagues and I can do this for one person easily enough an iPhone/Touch. But with the iPad, I can share with three or four people at once.

This ability to share video with others is one the coolest features of the iPad. It really is something to be able to curl up with a video or TV episode by yourself or with someone else. Of course, the App store has plenty to choose from and Netflix is rumored to be available in Canada soon. So the value of what you're able to consume is likely to increase exponentially then.

You can always prop the iPad up on a table or desk (many cases allow you to do this) while you're working or eating to enjoy whatever you've downloaded or feel like streaming. Remember there are mountains of video podcasts available to you - on everything from learning Spanish to checking out the latest tech toys - through iTunes.

Ok, enough gushing. If all of the above and serious laptop-kicking battery life don't sway you, here's a sixth great reason.

6) Your kids are going to love it
Tablets make so much sense and they are so easy to use that children take to this device almost intuitively. Having a communal iPad around the house is a wonderful way for parents and kids to share video, play together and make little forays into educational applications that are really well served by this platform.

For a super list of educational iPad apps check out the Teach With Your iPad wiki.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter, The 140-Character Chameleon

Creative Commons photo by Go to
If you've been told that all there is to Twitter is telling people what you had for lunch or following celebrities, you've been mislead. For teachers, Twitter is about connecting with colleagues and sharing ideas, resources and advice.

Call it a chameleon, a shape-shifter, use a pipeline analogy - anything you like - but one thing is for sure, you can't nail Twitter down. Twitter is whatever you want it to be. That's what makes it so hard to explain to people who aren't there - yet so brilliant for those who've taken the plunge.

If you're unfamiliar with Twitter and what all the fuss is about, you're not alone. Consider some of the ways this 140-character chameleon can be used.

Broadcast medium - Twitter is permission-based. Every message you send is broadcast to a group of people who deliberately choose to follow your feed. You do not collect email addresses. You never have to worry that you're sending unsolicited messages (or need to give yours). And whether you're broadcasting from an institution, your classroom, or standing in line at the grocery store, Twitter excels at letting you engage with people who want you to share your ideas, blogs, wikis, videos, and websites with them.

PLN builder - Your Personal Learning Network takes a while to build. This is the one thing you should understand - building that PLN requires real work. But once you do, it can be a great morale booster, invaluable source of advice, and cheering section. You can find thousands of advocates for PLNs, any one of whom could guide you, at a Ning run by Thomas Whitby called the Educator's PLN. Sue Waters has an excellent post on how to get started on your PLN with Twitter.

Professional Development - On Twitter, PD is entirely within your control and available literally anytime. Links to resources, lots of them, are Twitter currency. And colleagues are more than willing to share. This can be a wonderful cultural shift if you're not used to it. None of us knows everything, but all of us know something. Together we're better.

Edchat - You can chat with educators in a true global village through #edchat. It happens twice every Tuesday, but continues throughout the week. It's teachers talking to teachers. Real time PD anywhere, anytime. You won't believe the connections you'll make. Check out details from Tom Whitby and Shelly Terrell.

Virtual conference attendance - Short on PD funds? Just tap into a conference by following people who are tweeting from the event. Seriously, there will usually be someone there. Just search for the event name here, look for a hashtag, and you can monitor and participate in what's happening in that very room in real time.
Live blogging - Send a constant stream of tweets from a particular session or keynote and you'll be providing a wonderful public service to those who are following a conference or other event.

Backchannel - Following the hashtag for a particular conference session lets you communicate with other people in the same session. You can message people across the room, in another session, even those folks who are participating virtually a continent away - in real time. This sounds incredibly disruptive, but can work so well. Sometimes presenters will choose to display the backchannel tweets so they can get real time feedback on what's on the minds of the audience. Backchannels can greatly enrich your conference experience.

Complaints dept. - Get the attention of large companies and other organizations (at the least the smart ones who are listening) by mentioning your problem and including their name in a hashtag. Conscientious organizations will monitor their mentions and will often contact you to see if they can help.

Tech support - Crowd source (from your PLN) support answers to your vexing technical problems. Tell your followers what you're having difficulty with and tap into their expertise.

Subscription service - Whether it's Alfie Kohn, Sarah McLachlan, Lance Armstrong, or Michael Buble, Twitter gives you a glimpse into people's lives and the illusion (or the reality if you're lucky) of proximity to notable personalities. You can follow a author, a movement, a magazine like Fast Company or an organization like the National Education Association or the Canadian Teachers' Federation in real time.

Disaster and emergency tool - The American and Canadian Red Cross, Center for Disease Control, and police departments both stateside and in Canada are using Twitter to alert people to emergencies and send warnings and alerts.

Share your tastes and activities - Remember that tweet what you have for lunch thing? You can do that too, if you r-e-a-l-l-y want to. Some people even tweet pictures of it - ugh!

Real time search - websites are the institutional voices of organizations, tweets are authentic voices of real people. Find out what's happening on any topic under the sun by entering it at Twitter Search. Go ahead, type in anything under the scholastic sun to see what people are saying. You can use this to lurk and see the flood of real-time information on any topic before opening your official account.

News on demand - News from all the major corporate suspects are on Twitter, like the CBC, CNN, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. But so are thousands of local news outlets - and millions of citizen journalists. If there's an accident on the highway, poor road conditions, plane crash, a dust-up at sporting event, you'll probably hear about it on Twitter before TV, radio and print get it.

Broadcast the revolution - When @cnn couldn't get reporters on the ground during election protests in Iran, citizens in the street tweeted all the drama and fed the world text and video as it happened. Glasnost and perestroika would have happened years earlier if the Polish shipyard workers had Twitter.

Journaling - Your Twitter feed is considered a microblog. But the truth is your tweets will disappear into the ether after a few months. If you want to save them longer than that, check out or You can also send your tweets directly to your Evernote account.

Look at me, look at me! - A bit of shameless self-promotion is expected. So, go ahead and brag about what you or your kids are doing - you're allowed. Don't worry, your PLN will give you props.

Admittedly, there is overlap the categories above. But this list is nowhere near exhaustive. The point is, that Twitter can be a tremendous boon to your personal and professional life. It really is anything you want it to be. Simply put, Twitter puts you in touch with colleagues and great PD, and it makes your world larger.
Skeptical? Read How One Tweet Changed a Teacher's View of Social Media by Irene Tortolini.
If you still have questions or doubts, there are over 4,700 colleagues who can help you back at the Educator's PLN.

If you have questions, comment below and I'll help.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mabey's Hope-Infused Reality Inspires

Stephanie Mabey's "hope-infused reality" has been making me smile for two years now. From her initial three offerings released under the name Stephanie Smith to her new acoustic preview EP, she has been the Voice most played while I kick around the house, do chores or run errands. Her videos have been a frequent destination on my YouTube wanderings.

Mabey is an LDS indie-folkie who recently married and moved to Arizona, but is actually a transplanted Utahn. She recorded her knock-out debut album Change when she was 17, stunning folks with her introspection, crisp story-telling, and honest lyrics. Tell Me and the brilliant Waves followed.

Tunes like October, Another Ticket (inspired by a job ticketing merchandise at Target) and Fragile Sometimes are at once vulnerable and lovely. You can hear all of them on the listen tab at There are some terrific Stephanie Smith downloads still available at Check out Let Me Know and Little Bit Scared.

Naturally, all of Stephanie's Mabey's material is available on iTunes. If you're looking for her first three albums, make sure you look up the right Stephanie Smith. There is another artist with the same name.

And if you're up for something completely different, watch If I Were a Zombie, Mabey's video poke at the Twilight movie franchise, "because vampires are getting way too much love these days."

Over the past few months, Mabey has been on a campaign to raise enough funds through sales of her EP to flesh out those songs and more for a fourth album. The way she's structured her fund-raising pitch is both novel and interactive. For $50 she'll let you download her EP, send you her new album, and list you in her liner notes; $750 will get you a house concert; and $1,000 will get you your own theme song to use as a voice-mail greeting, ring-tone or "just to hum when you're feeling down."

But enough gushing already. The bottom line is Stephanie Mabey's music rewards those who can truly appreciate honest, sensitive, intelligent music.

In the spare and beautiful Another Ticket, she says, "I sing out. like I've made it." We can only hope she does.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter @stephaniemabey.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Michelle, You've Got Me Thinking

While out scouting for Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus last night, I also picked up a children's book on Michelle Obama by Deborah Hopkinson. I've always believed America's first lady is a class act and reading through the strong and simple prose I was reminded of what an intelligent and accomplished woman she is. This book will be a short but inspiring read for elementary and middle school girls and boys alike.

But it also got me thinking about how her husband is getting public education so wrong, and how a Democratic president's endorsement of charter schools, merit pay and mass teacher firings is dangerous. It not only does a disservice to America's public schools, but will soon be used as ammunition by Canadian right-wing groups, chief among them the Fraser Institute and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

American ideas tend to drift northward pretty quickly. And Canadians don't always see the context for their genesis. So these ideas will again be concepts public schools and the people who care about them will have to fight.

What I really don't understand is how a president who is so progressive in other areas, can be so regressive when it comes to education.

How are these concepts justified pedagogically? And if it's a matter of wooing the vote of a certain right-leaning subset of the American electorate, he can rest assured they will vote for a dyed-in-the-wool Republican any day.

Many of these so-called reforms tap into a need to blame someone for the perceived failures of America's public schools. The game, of course, is to weaken public confidence in them and to further open the system to market forces. There is a pile of money to made here and Obama's posture on this front cannot be justified.

One Washington Post article nailed the recent spate of teacher blaming with a twist on James Carville's brilliant refrain by suggesting "it's not the teachers, it's the poverty."

This is one Canuck who has tremendous admiration for both Michelle and her husband. I still remember the thrill of tuning into that magic night in Grant Park with good friends. What a breath of fresh air.

But someone please tell me, how do you make sense of Obama on education?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Clay Shirky on "Big Things for Love"

Shirky explains that, in years past, we could accomplish small things for love, but big things took money. Today, online communities allow us to do "big things for love."

You can never sit at the feet of this NYU prof without learning something, and Shirky's point about love is made with his usual eloquence and passion.

Definitely 10 minutes well spent.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Kids and Music - Less Social Than We Were?

Boy listening to music with cell phone
Sure they can download tunes, but do today's teens really appreciate the social aspects of listening to music?

I mean, I can remember my friends and I crowded into my bedroom listening to one album after another - Babe Ruth, T-Rex, Mott the Hoople, early Bowie - and about 400 other superb pieces of vinyl (which now reside in my basement).

It was a chance for us to talk about school and life, who made the cover of the latest Cream or Circus magazine, and album reviews we'd heard or seen. It was nothing if not intensely social.

Now, I spot kids hiding between their earbuds in just about every imaginable circumstance. One evening I pointed this out to my 18-year-old along with the observation that his generation is more solitary than social when it comes to music consumption.

"I don't know," said my big guy. "We still listen to CD's when we're all in the car together." He then pointed out that if someone is listening to something good, they'll share a pair of earbuds. "We bring our iPods, mp3 players, USB drives - even our hard drives - to our friends' houses to share music," he said. "Plus, we still go to concerts together."

So it made me think.

My generation didn't have the chance to consume our music absolutely anywhere we felt like it. But if it had, would we have been more solitary or more social about music than kids today?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

5 Quick Tips for iPhone Users

New iPhone 3G Hits Stores Across U.S

Whether you bought your iPhone last week or a year ago, you know there's always something new to learn. So here goes...

1) Fly Through Calendar Months
Tired of repeatedly mashing your finger on your calendar's right and left arrow buttons to scroll through the year? Hold them down instead and watch the months fly by.

2) Compose Emails Twice as Fast
Dragon Dictation is the voice-to-text app you need. It's fast, free, and it lets you compose emails - or take notes - using only your voice. If you've never played with an app like this before, you'll be amazed at its speed and accuaracy. You can copy your text to your clipboard for insertion into other apps, or send it on its way via email. You owe it to yourself to try this freebie.

3) Track Your Blog Hits
No need to open Google Analytics on your desktop. Just grab Analytics App ($6.99) from the app store and load your username and passwords for your websites and blogs. You'll get instant access to all the numbers that make or break your day.

4) Check Out iPhone Web Apps
Looking for something different? You can spend hours browsing the app store. But did you know there are an extra 4,500 Apple web apps you can add to your iPhone or iTouch. Lots of categories. Some are unique products: Carbon Footprint Calculator, Color Mail and StreetMaven to name a few. You don't download these apps, you save them to your home page. Don't know how? Follow these instructions under "One Tap Web Apps."

5) Power Up Your PD
You can download audio and video versions of superb Classroom 2.0 Live professional development sessions recorded in Elluminate. Just open your iTunes app, hit search, punch in "Classroom 2.0 Live" and download the sessions you want.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Five Minutes with Sir Ken Robinson on Standardized Testing

Bonnie Hunt had Sir Ken Robinson on her show earlier this month to plug his book "The Element" and talk a bit about standardized testing. The segment is short - just five minutes long. Robinson is relaxed, the audience learns something, and Hunt makes it quite apparent she's grateful.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Your Life - Unplugged for a Day

Do you have enough will power for a digital media fast? For being present in the moment with the ones you love? To keep the digital distractions at bay - even if it's only until sundown today?

If you weren't aware, today is the National Day of Unplugging, an initiative of, a group of Jewish artists, writers, filmmakers and social media pros who are getting high-profile press these last few days because of its pitch to live an unplugged life from sundown, Friday, March 19th to sundown, Saturday, March 20th.

Think of it as the digital equivalent of Adbusters TV Turnoff week. Only perhaps our redirected attention is making technology more of a threat to connecting with family than television is these days. No matter, the point is that here's a chance to prove we have the mettle to put family and friends first for a few hours.

You'll notice I'm writing this post on this digital day of rest, so I've broken the fast already. But, hey, I'm on my own timetable, and apart from tweeting this a couple of times, I'm planning to make it until sundown today without tickling the keyboards of my laptop or iPhone.

Couldn't hurt, right?

How about it, are you up to the challenge?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How a TV Reporter Came to Love the "Worst School" in B.C.

Tired of simplistic calls for ranking schools by publishing test scores? Fed up with think tanks tearing a strip off public education? Ever wish reporters would know exactly what you're up against every day before commenting on teachers' lives, pay or performance?

Have I got a video for you.

Three years ago, the Fraser Institute ranked elementary schools in British Columbia and decreed that Roosevelt Park Elementary School in Prince Rupert was the bottom of the barrel - the worst school in the province.

Imagine the blow that must have been to the teachers, students and community there.

Now, imagine a reporter setting out to discover the truth about Roosevelt Park, by actually teaching there for a week.

No credentials, strong desire
Set aside the fact that CBC reporter Mark Kelley had no teaching credentials. He knew he didn't have the paper nor the experience. But he had a strong desire to get to the truth about this maligned school and the many at-risk students it served. And that's exactly what he did.

Kelley travelled to Prince Rupert to do your job for a week - and learned so much in those brief five days.

Part one of the series has been lost somewhere in the CBC archives, (if you find it online please let me know). But part two has been preserved by some thoughtful soul on Google Video.

Spend the next six minutes on this one and enjoy the feeling of watching someone wake up to the fact that teaching is incredibly tough, test scores are a poor measure of the work both teachers and students do, and school rankings aren't worth the newsprint they're wrapped in.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is Social Media the New Hula Hoop?

You've probably seen or perhaps even used the video "Is Social Media a Fad?" in presentations to give your audiences some measure of the power of social media and its increasing ability to allow people the world over to work, collaborate and play.

In a simplistic counterpoint to the original vid, Andrew David from Tippingpoint Labs suggests that social media is exactly that, a fad - but one with the staying power to hang around into the future.

Personally, I'm not sure why he would ever compare the depth and breadth of social media usefulness to the single function utility of the hula hoop we played with as kids. Ok, I admit there was one other use. If you tossed the hoop in front of you with a healthy backspin, it would boomerang back into your hand. That was cool.

But really, can there be a bigger apple-orange analogy here?

I'd love to get your take on this 95-second argument. Does David's video response serve up a grain of truth or does it miss the mark entirely?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Imagination and the iPad - Blue-Skying the Future

Boy Wading
Those who dismiss the iPad as being a "glorified iPod Touch" likely don't own the iTouch or iPhone - and haven't caught the vision of their exceptional versatility. They really do change the way you relate to the Internet and liberate you - within limits, of course - from being tethered to your desktop.

I'm expecting the same kind of freedom from the iPad. I can imagine being curled up with not only a good ebook, but a good movie or some great streaming content from the web. I can imagine touch processing my email the way I do on my iPhone, but doing it from my favourite chair on a much bigger screen. I can imagine flipping the pages of a bright ebook (my 50-something eyes thank you, Steve) in that "intimate" experience Jobs talked about during the launch, or perhaps the simple cool factor of using my TweetDeck or Tweetie app the way I do on my iPhone - on a 9" screen on my lap.

But, more to the point here - I can also imagine a LOT more.

Creative applications
It seems the iPad and augmented reality would be made for each other for certain educational, business, and creative applications. So, while these odd musings may be just that now, here's what I hope to see in the next five to 10 years.

I imagine placing four or five little GPS dots on a wall and moving them around like Post-It notes. Then I point the iPad (which would in the second iteration include a camera) at those dots and immediately see the positions of the scanned pictures I want to hang on that wall. Once the images are "live" so to speak, I move the pictures around the wall with my finger to get alternate configurations.

I imagine interior designers making over entire rooms virtually by aiming the iPad camera at a kitchen or living room and spilling colours from a virtual palette onto the walls, ceilings and furniture. This capability, plus scores of apps written for designers, becomes an indispensable sales and visioning tool.

In much the same way as my iPhone can identify songs simply by listening to them in Shazam, sending a clip to iTunes and kicking me back the title and album, plus the artist's biography, discography, tour info and YouTube videos, I imagine similar databases for all kinds of things.

iBotany and architectural ID
Biology teachers on a field trip in the woods could snap pictures of a leaves or plants, have them sent in moments to "iBotany" or some such future app, and get an instant ID on the specimen. Architectural students could point the iPad at a building and find the style of those glorious old buildings around town. Anything tangible, anything that can be catalogued, could be identified in the same way.

With a high resolution camera and some GPS/database magic, I imagine snapping a picture of my home library, entering a title and watching it ID the book's location for me. Heck, with some fancy future tagging and software, I could haul my iPad down to an unfamiliar school or other bricks and mortar library, punch in a book title, and physically see its location in that room or on another floor.

I imagine pointing my iPad at my desk and having it ferret out a document's location by name. How? Who knows, but I want it. On the links, I can imagine someone pointing the iPad at me and analyzing the trajectory of my sorry golf swing by sending the video clip to iDuffer.

Did I mention just how important a high-end camera will be? The iPad will have pretty much the largest display of any available video camera - providing there are enough Apple Kool-Aider's who buy the product to make the addition of a camera a second- or third-generation reality.

I imagine this as a huge plus to broadcast students, filmmakers, ad agencies and creative types. With a sturdy case, tons more memory (I know I'm dreaming, but that's the point here) and two great big side grips to hold it while video recording, the iPad could evolve into creative tool like no other.

Cataloguing the planet
There's great potential in the iPad, and the iPhone for that matter, in cataloguing, identifying and analyzing just about any tangible object on this big blue planet. Combine that with awesome video potential, GPS and advances in satellite info to give us the ability to tag buildngs and objects by height as well as on the ground, and it could spawn a new generation of super tools.

But enough of my blue skies. What have you been dying to do creatively or productively that you can't do without some fancy tech innovations? What do you need that we're on the cusp of developing - that's so close you can almost touch it, but isn't quite here.

In short, what do you imagine?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fast Speech to Email (and More) for iPhone

If you own an iPhone, you have to try Vlingo. It let's you send email with your voice and it's wonderfully efficient. Sure, you can send Facebook and Twitter updates, plus SMS messages. But the ability to compose unlimited emails with your voice is a minor tech miracle to be savoured.

You can perform some neat voice search work using Google, Yahoo or Bing, too, but where Vlingo really shines is sending messages through its smooth voice-to-text interface.

The voice recognition is not perfect because frankly there's no such thing. But it is startlingly good and lightning fast. Just a couple of seconds of "thinking" time before your text snaps onto the screen. My playing around for two days produced emails with a high degree of accuracy as long as I spoke at a normal pace. If you do spot a glitch, Vlingo makes it easy to clean it up or add more voice transcription before sending.

The app is free and there's no cost for Facebook, Twitter and search functions. Unlimited email and SMS features are modest one-time hits on your iTunes account and are good for the life of your phone. Each will set you back $6.99. Or you can buy both for $9.99.

Vlingo is not the only voice-to-email app in town. I was a heavy two-year user of Jott in its beta stage. It's a class act and I know it's improved far beyond where it was when I left. But Jott also costs real money--$3.95 to $12.95 per month.

So, if you're looking for a clean, simple and economical way to compose email or text using only your voice, Vlingo for the iPhone offers a lot of functionality for a modest one-time price.

If you're a Blackberry user you can smile. Vlingo launched on that platform long before it was available for the iPhone and it includes even more features.

More tips for your iPhone...
Another 5 Essential Tips for New iPhone Owners
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Desperately Seeking Loved Ones in Chile

Twitter and Facebook messages through Ustream chat Saturday 3:00 p.m., translated from Spanish.

We're watching from France, it looks really bad.

I need to know if my mom in Concepción is OK!

I need to know about Silvia and Paulo Ruiz in Maipo.

Somebody from Concepción Please!!

Your sister is OK, she got in touch with me.

I'm in Scotland and I need to know about Chiguajante.

Cobquecura is 80% destroyed.

News from Temuco please!

Messages pour in every few seconds. Worried relatives around the globe are casting their pleas onto the waves of social networks in the hope of getting a scrap, a clue, a fragment of information about loved ones. Google launched for people who are looking for relatives.

Hearts are turned toward the people of Chile.

But hydro is out, phone lines are down and infrastructure has taken a huge hit. The 8.8 magnitude quake (8.3 according to Chilean media) has meant deaths, chemical spills, broken bridges, flooded hospitals, homelessness and high anxiety. The Chilean minister of housing is saying many buildings will have to be demolished to prevent further injuries and says she will launch an investigation into why some newer buildings faired pourly in the quake. Search and rescue teams have started their efforts are seeing their first successes.

Any nation hit this hard will be reeling from the impact--and the physical, social and emotional aftershocks. But this is a nation that's much better prepared and organized for this kind of disaster than Haiti, for example. Chileans have dealt with deadly upheaval before, most notably the huge earthquake of 1960 which claimed thousands of lives, and the tremendous societal quake brought about by the military coup in 1973.

On a personal note, my wife and I are on edge waiting for news from the Region 8, the area hardest hit and home to many of my wife's relatives in Concepción. Scenes of crushed cars, demolished buildings and streets full of debris stoke the frustration of the information vacuum. No word yet.

We're hoping that when communication comes it will bring relief, not pain. We know the importance of family. When it comes right down to it, folks--that's all that really matters.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hope for 21st Century Education

A recent post by Tom Whitby on his My Island View blog explored the issue of standards testing. It was a great springboard for Andy Marcinek's launch of the #onecom chat associated with his growing One Comment Project ning.

Tom's post and this little video--inspired by the Lost Generation video of the same format--bring hope and a refreshing point of view to the debate.

If you're looking for great professional development, start your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) by joining thousands of colleagues from around the world on the Educator's PLN. Then join us on Twitter every Tuesday afternoon and evening for #edchat.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Who Really Taught Me Spanish - Was It My PLN?

Business 2
I've been blessed with being able to speak Spanish for a long time now. It's a real kick being a gringo and knowing my way around this wonderfully exotic language. And it may not have happened if it weren't for The Midnight Special.

Back in 1975, there were two Friday night concert shows on TV--The Midnight Special, first hosted by Wolfman Jack, and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

One night, two extraordinary acts hit the screen. One was David Bowie back in his glam rock days--the other was a British-American, flamenco-rock group called Carmen.

These days, you'd probably call Carmen's style world music or worldbeat. All I knew at the time was that they sang in English and Spanish and their sound really rocked.

So, I enrolled in Spanish lesssons at the International Centre and met Soñia Amaya, my Spanish teacher. Sonya taught us hapless Canucks how to trill our Rs and do various other pronunciation gymnastics which anglos have such difficulty with.

During the coffee breaks, I would sit myself down at a table full of Chileans--this was three years after the coup in Chile, so there were lots of them around--and test my halting Spanish. I'd ask if they had the time or invent any other excuse to start practising my rudimentary Spanish skills.

Well, I had a ball.

I got such a warm reception and made so many good friends that things snowballed from there. Setting foot into the Chilean world made mine so much bigger. They fed me and helped me learn their language. I heard their stories and grew to love them pretty quickly.

There were other Canadians who were just as adventurous and who were rewarded in the same way. And right about that time, I discovered that there was a small Spanish-speaking branch in my church.

I had hit the jackpot.

I was so excited. In fact, the first talk I gave in church was in Spanish, after I had spent eight months reading Condorito magazines, buying Chilean newspapers, listening to Radio Havana Cuba on the short-wave and working through a book called Spanish Made Simple.

Because of my association with Chileans, I learned all about the coup in '73, saw the movie Missing many times and tried to understand what my friends were telling me when they said they were in Canada as refugees--that they were forced to leave their country.

What an eye-opener.

The benefits of speaking Spanish have been extraordinary. But first, let's be clear. The language itself is not hard to learn. People talk about having a universal language and sometimes point to Esperanto. Well, Spanish has Esperanto beat hands down.

It's easy to learn, the grammar makes sense--I don't even have to know the meaning of a word to pronounce it properly--and it's already spoken in 21 countries. I love keeping a foot in each world--the Canadian and the Chilean. They really do complement each other.

I know my wife, who was born in Concepción, Chile, wouldn't have married a gringo who couldn't speak a word of Spanish, so I was lucky there. And that's the biggest blessing.

But it has enriched my life in other ways, as well.

I've learned that there are other ways of looking at things, other ways of thinking, other points of view. That the North American way of doing things is not the be-all and end-all. That has been a major benefit to me.

I like to think I'm more tolerant, more sensitive to racial issues, less patient with racial slurs, and more understanding of other people and cultures because of it.

I love this quote from anthropologist Wade Davis:

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you;
they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."

I owe a lot to this ability to speak such a warm and inviting language, to rub shoulders with such wonderful people, to have my world view broadened and my life enriched.

But my question is, who taught me Spanish? Am I really self-taught?

I could say I spent countless hours listening to La Voz de Los Estados Unidos on short-wave and many more dedicated to working through Spanish lessons on LPs, cassettes, and in manuals. I could give a nod to the excellent PBS sit-com Que Pasa USA--and to the many newspapers and magazines I pored over. Surely my own hard work combined with media and technology (such as they were) played a big part.

But even more important was the friendship of wonderful people in the early years. Recent immigrants who had little but shared their hospitality, friendship and their homes with me. Instructors who really cared about my success and the way I sounded. Church members who reached out to the Chilean wannabe in their midst. The Columbian woman at the Cosas Lindas Boutique who ran the local Hispanic radio show. My good friends Ivan and Victor. Later, my wife and my in-laws. All were huge influences.

In short, I had a large social network that adopted me just because I showed an interest in them, in their culture and language.

So, did I really "teach myself" Spanish?

Far from it.

I had a lot of people who mentored me, guided me and cared about me. People I enjoyed being with and who enjoyed being with me.

And even though we didn't have Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Livemocha--or any other social media tools to study languages with--we all shared and learned so much from each other.

To me, that wonderful network of friends sure sounds a lot like a pre-web PLN.

Your comments?