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The Internet Archive

While at a meeting in the Golden Gate Club building in the Presidio in San Francisco, I was gazing directly at the headquarters of the Internet Archive, housed in Building 4. My mind kept wandering to the incredible resource that was created and delivered within that structure and knew I had to go there right after my session was over.

So you have an appreciation of why I was so compelled to go there and the resource the internet archive represents, a little background is in order and they describe their mission on their ’about’ page:

Libraries exist to preserve society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world. Many early movies were recycled to recover the silver in the film.

The Library of Alexandria - an ancient center of learning containing a copy of every book in the world - was eventually burned to the ground. Even now, at the turn of the 21st century, no comprehensive archives of television or radio programs exist. But without cultural artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures. And paradoxically, with the explosion of the Internet, we live in what Danny Hillis has referred to as our “digital dark age”.

“The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet - a new medium with major historical significance - and other “born-digital” materials from disappearing into the past. Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come.

This 501(c)(3) non-profit was founded in 1996 and the volume of digitized content is quietly being amassed by the volunteers and staff dedicated to what many of us believe is one of the most worthwhile endeavors for future generations. 

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Jolicloud: The *Perfect* Education OS?

During the next six months of your decision-making process for the 2011 academic year, I predict you’ll be hearing A LOT about Jolicloud and other netbook/tablet/device operating systems (OS) that are so simple to use that even a computer novice will take to it instantly.

Built from the ground up as a “radically new OS” based on Linux which and optimized for netbooks, Jolicloud comes pre-installed with drivers for Wifi, sound, Bluetooth, 3G networks and optimal screensize. Replete with applications that are key for the always-on and always-connected among us (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) along with backup to cloud servers and an app directory with “one click install” for any applications, this is truly a dream OS for those of us who’ve had to service, support and train users on OS’s that seemed to get in the way of the tasks these folks wanted to accomplish.

There are already groups working on K-12 education distributions (or “distros” for short) as well as ways to quickly configure stock netbooks by removing Windows or Linux that ships with them and instead replace them with Jolicloud.

Recently infused with $4.2M in a Series A round of venture capital (which is the first significant round a hot young company receives), means that many others see the possibilities. This is especially true when one notices that Jolicloud received the support of the two co-founders of the wildly successful Skype.

Below is a snippet on Jolicloud from the popular San Francisco-based internet TV show, Tekzilla, by Revision3 and it will give you a better look-see at this appealing OS for netbooks:

Teaching Teachers Tech

TeachertechtrainingOne refrain runs through every single discussion I have with teachers in K-12: "I just can't keep up with all the changes and introductions in technology." Sound familiar?

Guess what? Neither can I and I pride myself on knowing 10x more than most people my age (53 years old). Since my level of tech savvy allows me to straddle generations and have one foot in the Millenials (i.e., Generation "Y") camp and the other in a camp that demands an executive-business level and strategic perspective, I'm constantly iterating my technology knowledge and skills but truly feel like I'm metaphorically drinking from the firehose of information in order to do so.

It's far too much effort.

So how do I keep up? By connecting and collaborating with people I know who are considerably more experienced in a technology category than I am. Sometimes it's a direct asking for information and occasionally I just read their blog or listen to their podcast. Usually much more learning occurs in a discussion about some area which I seem to understand but don't yet feel competent about such as, "How do you deliver ecommerce in your Wordpress installation?" and I listen, learn, ask questions another way and learn some more.

How do you teach teachers tech? Leave it up to them to figure out? Host classroom sessions or encourage them to attend technology in-service workshops? Or perhaps you have a district-wide teach-the-teacher technology coaching initiative? 

Apple has found that one-to-one personal teaching (or coaching) is most effective and they sell a $99/year One to One program so people can learn whatever they're interested in or are trying to accomplish on their computers. It's effective, minimizes Apple's need for theater-style seating in the Apple Stores, but one-on-one doesn't scale with faculty sizes enjoyed by most districts.

I have, however, seen several models of teaching teachers technology skills and have settled on a perspective of a best-practice that has emerged: a combination of classroom-style overviews with either a set number of staff just for teacher technology learning or an ongoing and formalized cooperative learning model (as either an adjunct to the classroom training or as standalone and ongoing group assistance). Though one-on-one support is preferred by teachers, it doesn't scale and collaborative learning seems to be the one that enables the quickest path to mastery and, surprisingly, sparks innovative thinking as teachers collectively discover technologies (or their use) that makes a meaningful impact on student outcomes, budget pressures and personal satisfaction.

Especially since technology as a category is changing faster than any other.

Fortunately in every school system I've been in there are an increasing number of tech-savvy teachers who have developed a competency or mastery in a given technology or approach. The sad part is few of them are formally engaged in collaborative learning activities or groups (ad hoc and informal is the norm. Formally collaborating -- with systemic infrastructure to support it like open source software for collaboration -- can be a strong positive for those savvy teachers as well as for the teachers who have not yet learned a specific technology or approach.

Tools abound from collaborative and internal blogs or forums (e.g., phpBB), to Yammer which allows teachers to ask a question, the person answering to do so when he/she is able, and it's trivial to do a quick screenshot or tell someone what to do next when time allows. The point is to be a catalyst for methods that will motivate teachers to become more collaborative as it pertains to learning technology.

No Question: IE 6 Must Die!

 Guyscream

Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer 6, is today's equivalent of relying on rotary dial telephones for your telecommunication needs but with one key exception: those old rotary dial phones (though a bit slow in dialing) still work just fine for making phone calls, but just try responding to an interactive voice response system that says, "To listen to your voicemail, please press 1" with that rotary dial.

IE6 kinda, sorta works for today's web in much that same way. Introduced on August 27, 2001 -- ancient history in the rapidly changing and accelerating world wide web -- it was the default browser included in most deliveries of Windows XP, an operating system still in use by the lion's share of Windows desktops globally.

The problem is that IE6 doesn't adhere to modern web standards. Using this browser, now more than eight years old (and for perspective it came out weeks before 9/11 and before the first iPod shipped) means that your teachers and staff are using a tool akin to your delivering a district, school or teacher communication website or portal like this one called the most amazing website on the internet

Unless your I.T. staff has been diligent, IE6 is also not secure. Using it means you can't view the image standard for the web (what many argue, including me, is the best) called Portable Network Graphics (PNG) or "ping" images, since these are rapidly becoming the most widely used types on websites due to their capability of having transparent backgrounds, better clarity than a JPG image, and typically a much smaller filesize than alternatives.

IE6 doesn't handle Cascading Style Sheets well (CSS is the code that tells the browser how to render a webpage MUCH more efficiently than with huge graphics and cumbersome table layouts). Also, many of the attributes in CSS that make a web developer or designers life simple and easy when creating your websites or web assets isn't supported by IE6 so these folks have to do a bunch of workarounds to make sure that IE6 can still render a page as intended.

In fact, there are so many web designers, developers, thought leaders, and frustrated website creators who HATE the IE6 browser and all of its shortcomings -- and that so many organizations and individuals are STILL using it -- that an internet meme has emerged around the rallying cry that IE 6 Must Die! 

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You *Will* Teach in a Virtual World

Girl-virtual-buttons
As our internet connections, computer power, and continued drive to perform more and more tasks virtually occurs, the rapidly evolving virtual worlds within the metaverse promise to become easy enough to use that we'll increasingly partake of them for what we do socially, collaboratively, and as emergent virtual learning environments.

When the virtual world There became all the rage back in 2003, I joined and began climbing the learning curve. Even though a few buddies were in it, I quickly became bored as I realized little of use would come from virtual socializing and what felt like a lame video game.

The next hot thing to join was Second Life (SL) and I did so. SL sported a significantly better in-world building capability and other in-world features. Quite soon the tech cognoscenti flocked to it and began holding virtual lectures and events within it. That waned fairly quickly too, as many found the learning curve too steep for others they'd invited in while the benefits seemed to be too few of holding virtual meetings (vs. a conference call and computer desktop screensharing or even live video streaming of an event). The novelty wore off for all but the diehard fans and my use is every other month at best. 

Many of us were still quite eager to partake of virtual spaces, especially since they hold one quite tangible benefit: they're immersive. A 3D space, viewed through a 2D computer display, is amazingly captivating and the usual distractions that tug our attention away from conference calls or webinars dissolve when one is within a virtual space manipulating our avatar and interacting with other avatars in-world.

There is a key trend that points the way to my argument that you will be teaching in a virtual world at some point in the very near future: virtual worlds are becoming easier to use and more powerful.  

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Jumping-for-Joy With Open Source in a Box

Man-jumpingWhether you use Moodle as a learning management system, Wordpress as a blogging engine or Drupal to run your websites, there are a lot of moving parts with these installations making management of them an ongoing support issue. In a day when you're experiencing profound budgetary constraints, finding a better-cheaper-faster way to use technology in your district or school is likely to pay off quickly.

One of the reasons cloud computing has taken off is not just the explosion in hosted applications, increased broadband and always-on & always-connected via mobile wireless internet, but instead is best summed up in the words of one Fortune 500 company CEO who said, "We outsource and offload as much of our I.T. infrastructure to the cloud as we can because we're in manufacturing, not the software business." That statement is all about how expensive it's become to deploy and maintain core software and how necessary it is to focus ones organizational resources on your core mission, not in areas which are ancillary to your goals and objectives.

As open source has accelerated in delivering mission-critical features and functions in a wide array of categories, cloud computing and open source projects have become indispensable for those interested in cutting costs, tapping in to a global ecosystem of rabid developers and what they're creating around those open source projects, and how global demand for cutting edge capabilities in those projects is driving ever faster feature and functionality releases.

Then when you see how the Obama Administration is embracing and driving open source adoption within the public sector with initiatives like Apps.gov (a must-visit site if you have any interest in open source or cloud computing and why it matters), then you can see there is little reason for you not to examine ways in which you can leverage all of this momentum and energy surrounding open source.

But your limited resources and, in many cases, your staff's modest technical skills at either the district or school level make it more challenging to adopt and deploy open source software instead of commercial offerings in K-12 education. Too often open source comes with limited hand-holding and technical support which means your mission-critical systems would likely suffer from downtime that might take longer to fix than if you were running those systems using commercial software.

Not only is that "open source vs. commercial" software paradigm changing quickly -- especially as the adoption of open source software continues unabated in most categories -- but the volume of support resources for these projects (i.e., in the form of books, how-to video sites, and local support groups of other I.T. professionals to name a few) has mitigated the risk significantly for any of us to choose open source software for our needs.

One company has taken a giant step forward in bring even greater efficiency and cost reduction to the world of open source software, and this is a firm you need to know about as you make decisions about your software infrastructure. 

Continue reading "Jumping-for-Joy With Open Source in a Box" »

Crossroads for Public Education

Fora

This weekend I carved out some time to watch one of my favorite internet TV sites, FORA, and came across this video of a presentation given at the Momentum Conference by John Stocks, described in his bio as "a national leader in the fight to transform America's public schools. Since 2003, he has served as a top-ranking official of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, the nation's largest union, with a $330 million budget and 555 staff. As NEA's Deputy Executive Director, Stocks spearheaded NEA's top policy, political, and membership priorities."

A few things struck me and these are why I'm embedding the video for your viewing:

  • Mr. Stocks describes two approaches: one upholding the status quo and the other creating a new "transformative architecture for public education"
  • Up until two years or so ago, there would've been NO way that I'd have been able to see this content since video sites didn't exist and I certainly would've been unable to share it with you so easily
  • I watched this on my HDTV since I have a Mac mini hooked to it, a bluetooth keyboard, and used the open source Boxee to watch the videos contained within the Fora.tv video feed which again, would not have been easy even two years ago 
  • In the video I've embedded below (at the 7:52 mark), Mr. Stocks covers the attributes of the "new architects" and his points are central to his argument on transforming education and what the teacher's union members must do to "change who we are."
The lens through which I view this tranformation and rearchitecting is admittedly a technology one, but systemic technology is out there just waiting for you to decide to move forward and take advantage of it, much of it already covered here in Accelerating Change.

WordpressTV: An On-Demand Learning Resource

Open source software has continued to grow dramatically over the past several years and the social publishing platforms like Wordpress have been embraced by millions due to an increase in features, functions, themes and capabilities. Add to that the free, hosted platforms like Wordpress.com, along with one driven by Wordpress called Edublogs, and you can see why the growth continues unabated.

What’s stunned me about the Wordpress community, however, has little to do with the raw platform or the number of people using it, but instead on the groundswell of “how-to” videos that have sprung up at a new Wordpress offering called WordpressTV. Everything from creating a post to developing a theme is covered, and all of these videos are predominantly built by the community, rather than anyone directly affiliated or employed by Wordpress.

Much of the spark for the creation of these how-to's come from passionate and gifted users, but also when needs are identified as like-minded users congregate WordCamps.

WordCamp’s are unconferences, set up and delivered for free by anyone (or group) interested in hosting one in their city or state. Larger ones, like the recent WordCamp San Francisco, was attended by the young founder and “rock star” of Wordpress, Matt Mullenweg, and since many of us cannot attend these events, users shot videos, uploaded them, and added them to a new WordpressTV area called ”WordCampTV”, enabling anyone to see them immediately upon posting like this highly sought after one by Mullenweg called State of the Word:



The lessons? That it is easier than ever to provide high value information to a narrow or a mass audience. Not only with videos taken with inexpensive cameras, but screencasts or podcasts too. The other one is the rapid growth of a critical mass of on-demand learning products, even if they're free, community generated or paid.

Wordpress' video capability also got a boost recently when they delivered an all-you-can-use, $59 per year, HD video offering that delivers video like the one you see Matt Mullenweg in above. This sort of seamless and easy creation, uploading and delivery--for a laughingly low cost--is the catalyst enabling a passionate community to deliver learning to others.

HTML 5: It's Coming Fast & You Need to be Ready

A richer, more powerful and media capable Web is emerging and you’ll need modern browsers on the computers of your staff and teacher-–some time in 2010 but by the 2010/11 school year for certain–-if you hope to take advantage of what’s coming.

HTML, the hypertext markup language (the code that tells the browser what to do, like rendering the webpage). HTML has gone through several iterations since the World Wide Web emerged in the mid-1990’s and even now, many technologists and developers have viewed HTML as inadequate for a world where, year by year, the applications we use on our computers are accessed through a web browser. These web applications increasingly live “in the cloud” (as hosted apps served from somewhere on the internet) more so than ones we use reside on our desktop or servers at the school, district or state level.

HTML version 5, a proposed standard moving slowly toward full and standard completion in a decade or more, adds several key elements necessary for the Web to evolve and better handle applications, play video and audio without special plugins, and better able to handle applications that look, act and feel like desktop applications, even though they’re delivered over the internet and in to a web browser.

You might say, "Hey wait a minute...completion in a decade or more? Why should I care now?"

Continue reading "HTML 5: It's Coming Fast & You Need to be Ready" »

Occam's Razor: Choose the Simplest Answer, but No Simpler

During my many years in the technology business--where “scope creep” is a constant problem as people add feature after feature to a product roadmap--technology products often become bloated beyond belief and the essence of the original idea or solution has been lost.

The shorthand for cutting features has always been Occam’s Razor, the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one (and the less complexity in a product or service means it’s more likely to be adopted and successful).

In my experiences at education conferences, with personal interactions at the district level as well as with teachers and educational technologists, the opposite of Occam’s Razor is usually the case: instead of finding the simplest answer, strategists leap to the most complex, telling me all the reasons why something can't be done since it doesn't do "X" or "Y" or my least favorite justification for inaction and risk aversion, "it's an unproven pedagogical technique."

I'm not minimizing complexity (or especially pedagogy for technologies that touch students and learning directly), but instead I'm encouraging you to look at solutions that are simple (but not too simple), fast to deploy and yet powerful and ones you can build upon as needs grow.

Let’s take a quick look at Google as one example of Occam’s Razor in action, and see how they use that razor to “shave off” features under consideration that have “crept up” on the product managers. Doing so will help you look at your own technology problems and the solutions you're seeking to solve them.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.