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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.

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