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Separation of Church & State

It was Christmas eve in 1965 and my two sisters and I (yes, that's me in the photo at 10 years of age reacting to my big sister's gift of the wildly popular Give-a-Show Projector) were opening gifts at my grandparent's house in Moorhead, MN. As I look back on that year and try to recall all of it I see it as a simpler time, when each day seemed like an eternity, there were few distractions and, as I came to appreciate much later on, the average cost of a new home was $13,600, gas was $0.31 per gallon, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was a mere 969.

But it wasn't a simple time, was it? The Vietnam war was just beginning to escalate (President Lyndon Johnson announced an increase in the number of United States troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000), the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with the result of State troopers violently confronting them.

Preceding that 1965 Christmas in my school, Valley View Elementary in Bloomington, MN, was the first time that I had to confront the realization that there were other people who held religious beliefs different from mine.

A boy in my school, Sam S., was Jewish and we talked one day at lunch about that day's Christmas carol singing and he started to cry. Not knowing what to do, I sat there without saying anything and ate my sandwich until he stopped. "What's the matter," I asked as he wiped away a tear and responded, "I don't know any of the words and just feel stupid."

Though I probably did nothing to console him, that one incident forever changed the way I viewed what "separation of church and state" meant as well as the term "religious freedom" and the protection both deserve. 

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For 2010: Apple iPad, 300,000 iPhone Apps & More

If you’ve been paying attention to technology rumors, an Apple tablet (i.e., “iPad”) is at the top of many people’s list for most likely rumor to become reality next year. But when I read a recently published iPad prediction along with the number “300,000″ as a baseline prediction for the number of iPhone applications by the end of 2010, I was intrigued.

Continuing my reading found me focusing on an acceleration in something called “socialityc” applications which is a new category that fuses traditional analytic business applications along with social and collaboration software and how big this category as becoming since so many of us have shifted our attention away from virtually all traditional media sources toward new and social media ones. 

The key? These predictions had come from the well respected, global technology analyst firm IDC which is the real reason I sat up and took notice.

Why should you care? You might not if you were unaffected by the recent economic downturn and your community is giving you money without a referendum. You might not care if you aren’t experiencing any disruption, new opportunities or benefits from the internet or web. But if you have an interest in what is most likely to occur with technology in 2010, read on. 

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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:

Mobile Accelerating Faster Than Did PC's

Last week, Morgan Stanley released a 659 slide presentation and report (here) that details the accelerating change occurring in the mobile, smartphone space. If you don’t think this will materially and profoundly change education and learning in the future – and should give you pause to consider how you’re addressing this fundamental shift – stop reading now.

Though this report covers the entire mobile space and the influences, technologies and drivers of it, one key finding stood out: that the category of mobile devices – specifically those called “smartphones” with data as the key component vs. just voice – is ramping faster than desktop internet and will be bigger than most analysts think it will. The five trends converging in this area are fast 3G networks, the need for people to stay connected to their social networks while on-the-go, video and voice over the internet (VoIP).

As I’ve talked about previously on this blog, when your students have the world of knowledge at their fingertips, the ability to tap in to supercomputing for problem solving, and can connect to others to collaboratively learn, what do you think is the impact of always on, always connected and powerful computing devices? 

One of the most powerful slides in the deck (though there were many) was this one about the power of an smartphone (the Apple iPhone) compared to a desktop computer available in 2001:

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Are You Building in Time for Contemplation?

One of the unfortunate byproducts of our continually accelerating internet and information age – especially now that we have a dizzying array of devices to connect and be always-on – is how challenging it is to take time away in the classroom for something we all take for granted: contemplation.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) published this article about a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey in 2008 that showed, ”people in professional services (consultants, investment bankers, accountants, lawyers, IT, and the like) simply expected to make work their top priority. They believe an “always on” ethic is essential if they and their firms are to succeed in the global marketplace.

I feel their pain since I’m absolutely “always on” and “always connected,” often feeling guilty if I'm not working or putzing around on some project. You probably are doing this too since it’s likely you’re at home in the evening, or on weekends, grading papers, preparing presentations, reading journals, checking email, and performing other tasks that are probably easier to accomplish when other workday distractions are at a minimum.

BCG also discovered in that study that, ”94% of 1,000 such professionals said they put in 50 or more hours a week, with nearly half that group turning in more than 65 hours a week. That doesn’t include the 20 to 25 hours a week most of them spend monitoring their BlackBerrys while outside the office. These individuals further say they almost always respond within an hour of receiving a message from a colleague or a client.

Whoa. That means that these consultants are, practically speaking, always working. The problem with that sort of response time too is an growing expectation that people will be paying attention to their turned on and connected devices, able to receive a notification of a message, and are willing and eager to get back to us and BCG’s consultants were suffering from significant (and increasing) stress related to being seemingly “on call” constantly.

Is this the sort of future workplace behaviors we want for our students?

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How Much Data Do We Consume?

How much data and information do we in the U.S. consume? What kind of data is it? University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers asked these, and many other questions, in a just released research report (PDF) which contains stunning results.

My emphasis from their executive summary: "In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes. These estimates are from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included."

That's a lot of data! What impressed me about their findings was that they took in to account multiple source inputs since, as I've found, many of these research studies focus on the new, internet-centric data consumption as though traditional forms of data delivery (the "old" above) are suddenly irrelevant.

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Children Who Use Technology Are Better Writers

Those of us who are highly active users of blogging, social media, and other forms of technology requiring ability to properly communicate regardless of the medium agree: fully participating with technology and communicating with others makes us better communicators.

Coming across this article, "Children who use technology are 'better writers'" seemed too broad and blanket of a statement for my taste, but it brought forth my knowing that there was an intrinsic truth to it and I was intrigued enough to poke around and discover the UK-based National Literary Trust and the report itself.

The report validated my personal belief, and reinforced observations that I and many of my colleagues have made, about what happens to someone when they're motivated to communicate with the written word, receive nearly immediate feedback on the efficacy of their writing, and strive to communicate well.

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Virtual Magazines, Newspapers, Books...

When I wrote this post about the changing nature of ebooks, most of it was startling obvious to most technology players, and yet I find that most strategists are intrigued but in the dark about what's really going on with tablet devices.

Publisher Condé Nast has been very public about their preparations for the rumored upcoming Apple Tablet with Wired magazine, but there is no question in my mind that publishers are going to be hedging their bets with Amazon's Kindle and even possible reference designs (which PC manufacturer's could deliver) like the one Microsoft showed in this concept video called "Courier".

This week has seen a flurry of activity and discussion surrounding major publishers and their magazine prototypes like the one in the video below.

Will these tablets and devices ship, enabling all of these exciting and rich publications to be created and delivered on a reader/tablet type device? I have no doubt the answer is, "yes." Will there be a model for publishers to charge for their content? Absolutely, and many of us believe it will be an online store, similar to buying applications for the iPhone or iPod Touch, both of which can now take advantage of Apple's rollout of "micropayments" for, as an example, games that are enabled for the game publisher to charge for incremental play (i.e., additional levels of the game or in-game purchases that enhance game play).

Take a peek at Time's Sports Illustrated prototype that will help you see the possibilities that 2010 will bring with an entirely new class of devices, content delivered to and through them, and what this means for everything I've been discussing on this blog as it pertains to the world our students will inherit.

Unshackle Your Team

Teacher-unshackleHaving guidelines and rules for public dissemination of information, photographs, video and even text is something every organization needs to do in some fashion. But if the obstacles you put in place for self-publishing and communication are so formidable, the normal human reaction is to do nothing or the resulting content is so bland and vanilla that no one consumes it, and I'm afraid that the latter is most often the case in the K-12 websites and external communications I, and others I know, have reviewed.

In the spring of this year I took several hours over multiple weeks to review the websites of the top 100 school districts. After having reviewed thousands of "Web 2.0" sites over the last 3+ years, I've developed a keen sense of what it takes to deliver a robust, easy to navigate, and communicative website that's intuitive and simple to use, and wanted to see what they looked like and offered.

For the most part, most of these districts delivered content well and with good navigation. What I was stunned by was the lack of any conversational tone in the writing or of the use of blogs as any kind of primary communication mechanism. If the latter was available (and a few sites did link to blogs) in every case I found the link I clicked jumped out to a Blogger, Wordpress.com or Edublogs hosted blog. They were not integrated within the site itself which, of course, says two things to me:

1) Blogs are not important enough to be integrated in to the website or core to district communication

2) These districts are still rooted in yesterday's communication paradigm: anything published has to be vetted, well scrubbed, and delivered in a mostly static way.

In conversations I've had with district operational and instructional technology leaders, the one thing that pops out over and over again is the necessity to limit and severely restrict the ability for teachers and staff to self-publish. 

The private sector has already dealt with that problem and is well past that paradigm and on a way to a new one: trust in employees coupled with an absolute minimum amount of guidelines, rules or regulations.  

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Pew Internet on "Social Isolation & New Tech"

Boy_book Profound changes always bring with them differing perspectives on their impact and whether the new is the enemy of the old or simply something different. The explosion in the use of social networking, social media, mobile phones and smartphones, online gaming and more, has seen no shortage of people offering up differing perspectives on whether these changes are positive or negative, and the only shortage has seemed to be a lack of solid research and good data.

I've witnessed, and been engaged in, vigorous debates about whether the "always on, always connected" lifestyle is driving those who use these online social services toward a life that isolates them from others. Those in the Luddite camp lament the loss of in-person connections while those holding progressive views see technologies as simply augmenting and enhancing human relationships in ways never before possible.

What if the reality showed that our use of mobile phones and the internet is increasing our social connections and engagement with other people?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project just released a study which finds that, "...Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks."

This report (PDF) is filled with nuggets to satisfy the Luddites and hand-wringers such as, "In-person contact remains the dominant means of communication with core network members. On average, there is face‐to‐face contact with each tie on 210 out of 365 days per year" or for the progressive among us "Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

It's worth a read to help you deepen your understanding about the accelerating change toward social engagement online and what it means for those whom you're teaching and preparing for a connected and lifelong learning life.

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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.