Glass.

So I’ve now tried Google Glass, and thought I’d share.

It’s not a joke, and it’s not going away. It’s entirely too useful and easy for that. It’s comfortable. It’s reasonably reliable. It’s in some BakN4jXIQAAjThiways WAY slicker than a Beta has any right to be. I want one. I want one more now than I did before, and that’s saying something. The interface to manage the device- a web page currently- is clunky. You have to add contacts one by one from your G+ account. The best way to think of this, I feel, is to compare it to the original iPhone: expensive, without apps, and slightly before it’s time. Still, once I added the WorldLens app and Glass was translating what I was looking at from Spanish to English in real time, it was clear: This is the way forward.

Time to start saving pennies.

Misfit Shine

My long-awaited new activity tracker, the Shine by Misfit, came in the mail late yesterday afternoon. I’ve been wearing it since, making it something like 14 hours of total time. Some initial thoughts:

Misfit Shine

 

  1. It’s a beautiful thing
  2. The sports band is nicer and more comfortable than I feared- but I still might look at other options
  3. Easy to set up
  4. Comes with two batteries!
  5. Came with a lovely present from Misfit. Thanks!
  6. Not sure it’s calculating my caloric usage properly- numbers seem pretty high…
  7. I’ve set mine to track my sleeping- but that just seems to show how long I’ve slept for, not the quality of sleep.

Anywho. For 14 hours in, I’m pretty pleased. The thing I’d most like fixed is #7. I’d been using Sleep Tracker on my iPhone to record the duration and quality of my sleep, but I tend to knock it out of bed. I had thought this would be capable of the same thing, but it seems not to be just yet. I can’t think of a reason it’s not able to- so maybe a firmware upgrade could add this feature?

My RSS reader

Google Reader is dead. Long live Google Reader.
Amidst the panic and mayhem surrounding this, I decided to view this as an opportunity. We often resist change, actively ignoring of dismissing new options for arbitrary reasons mostly related to them being new. Even more often, the new product is missing some “vital” feature we just can’t possibly live without. Some examples:

The first iMac that (gasp!) didn’t have a floppy drive.

The first laptop that didn’t have a DVD drive.

The first laptop that didn’t have a hard drive.

And so on.

But what I’ve found from each of those things happening is that the removal of the feature becomes an advantage. My thinking becomes more flexible, and I find that I can solve the same sort of problems as before. What I saw as a disadvantage becomes an advantage.

So when Google decided to kill Reader, I was sad. It was watching a friend go. But I knew that the options to replace it would be better and more powerful. More flexible. Worthy.

And so it is. I’ve been using Feedly now for a few months, and it is better than Reader was. It syncs between multiple devices. It’s very pretty on my iPad. The Chrome plugin is pretty nice. It even works properly on the screen of my phone. And the handling of going to the full article from the stub is lovely and (above all) fast.

My iPad Homescreen

People seem to be endlessly interested in what apps I use on my iPad, despite my insistance that it isn’t about the apps at all. My choices move around pretty often, but as of today, here’s what I’m using most:

In the dock, you’ll find my most-used apps. These include Drafts, Feedly, iBooks, Mailbox, Wikipanion, and Chrome. Of those, Chrome, Mailbox, and iBooks are pretty simple. Drafts is an amazing app I’ve written about before. It functions as my go-to for anything I’m going to do with text. Once I write it in Drafts, I can push that text into whatever app I need to be able to manipulate it. Feedly is my replacement for Google Reader, and Wikipanion is what I use to read massive amounts of Wikipedia articles.

And that’s it, really. Pretty simple.

iPadHomeScreen

I’m ditching projectors.

I’m pretty well done with projectors in a classroom. Here’s why:

  1. Expensive (especially the limited-lifetime bulbs)
  2. Fragile- knock on off the desk it’s on and you’ve got a dead projector
  3. Slow to warm up
  4. Slow to cool down
  5. Slow to switch between sources
  6. Terrible black rendition
  7. Limited lumen output
  8. Require a clear line-of-sight to the projection surface
  9. Require a projection surface

And so on. Up until now, there had been very poor options to replace projectors- in fact, projectors really were the best option we had available. But with the ever falling price of LED displays, it’s gotten to the point where there’s some price overlap.

In our testing, we’ve found that the minimum size screen that offers readability from the back of a classroom is 70″. Your mileage may vary given room sizes, but in our situation that seems to be it. I have always maintained that for classroom purposes larger displays are always better. The price curve of LED displays is such that as of this writing, the cost of a 70″ is in the $1400 range (ish). The next 5″ to a 75″ will cost a couple thousand more, and the 5″ to a 80″ will bring the total cost to $6000. So 70″ it is.

At that size, you’ve bought a screen that’s as large in display area as most of the staff will have set their projectors to. It’s roughly the size of the workable area on an Interactive White Board. It’s about an even swap.

Cost wise, it seems to be radically more expensive, but it’s not: The cost of an HD Projector is in the ballpark of $800. Add a spare bulb to that ($350) and a mount ($450) and you’re at $1550.

See what I mean?

Looking for some help.

I need some help.

We’re looking to fill an Instructional Technology Specialist position here in Burlington MA. It’s a great, motivated, and progressive system, and we’re looking for people interested in working in such an environment.

You can find the posting here.

 

Presentations

Presentations are hard, I’ll grant you. And I’m not talking about performing them.

There are a lot of rules to keep in mind, and a lot of guidelines that you need to take into account if you don’t want yours to look amateurish or be unwatchable. I’m not interested in getting into those details here- there are better presenters that do a better job of writing about what to do and not do.

I’m here to offer some other advice- something I’ve not seen much text about. It’s about using tech in a presentation.

Presentations are about engaging the audience. That’s it. There’s no second thing. If you fail with that, nothing else you do matters. As such, every decision you make should be based on that first criteria. So when you pick the tech that you’re going to use in a presentation, you need to focus on the engagement of the audience. Ask yourself: Will my use of this tech further engage my audience? Be thoughtful about how you answer.

The audience doesn’t care what remote app you’re using, but they’ll care if you have to re-sync the bluetooth to it during the presentation. They don’t care if your computer is wired to the projector or wirelessly connected, but they’ll care if the wifi flakes out and they won’t talk to each other. If you’re going to use a website live, you better be sure it’ll load and function properly. If you’re going to play a YouTube video, you’d better be sure it’ll load and play quickly and at high res. If you’re doing an audience poll, it better work easily and smoothly with a group that’s likely never used it before.

Losing an audience happens quickly and without remorse. Any glitch, any bobble, any reason to check out and they will.

As a result of this, I keep the tech I use to an absolute minimum. Cables are better than wireless. Reliable is better than not. Saved to disk is better than live-on-the-web. Familiar is better than novel.

 

Remote Teaching

From time to time I get asked about remote teaching- that is, teaching when I’m not in the room. I talk about how I’ve Google Video Chatted into my classroom to teach when I’m not physically there, and people are often… skeptical.

Just yesterday, however, an former student of mine sent me a video they’d shot from the first time I’d ever taught remotely- my kids had kept me home sick, and I felt some obligation to help my students with Midyear reviewing. It’s a short video, but it’ll give you an idea what it looks like.

Anywho.

New Tools

There are a lot of reasons that you should be buying a 3D printer for your school. It’s a tremendous learning device as well as a tool- and it can be used by nearly any department in a school. Here’s what we’ve done with ours:

1. Print a new filament tensioning mechanism for the printer itself.

2. What would have been an obscenely expensive shoulder-mounted DSLR camera rig.

3. Replacement Manfrotto 501 tripod plates.

4. Nikon lens cap holders for neck straps.

5. A stretchy bracelet.

6. Student designed pneumatic-actuated cylinders.

7. A model deer’s head (mounted via a magnet to my wall).

8. A 180 atom buckyball model.

9. Alternate tripod mounts for some webcams.

10. Tripod to cold shoe adapters.

11. A geared heart.

12. A Rodin “Thinker”

Upcoming prints will include spare camera mount parts, VESA mount spacers, a model cathedral, and some jewelry.
Get one and use it.

The danger of not being there.

There’s been a lot of talk around about “flipped”¬†classrooms. I’ve written about them a bunch, and I’m not here to re-hash any of that. The new “thing” has been people talking about “blended” classrooms- it’s a little like flipped, except not all the time. Or something.

Anyway, I’m seeing a rather large problem with all this.

Responsiveness.

If you aren’t in the room with the students (either physically or virtually), you can’t see or predict the engagement you’ll get from students. I don’t care how many years you have been teaching- some lessons that look great on paper fail in the classroom. There isn’t any rhyme or reason for it, it seems. It happens.¬†When we see it happen in the classroom in front of us, we can adjust- throw out the lesson, change the tone or delivery, or otherwise modify what we’re doing to adapt to the conditions we’re being presented with. It’s what we do. But if we’re not there, and if we can’t see, then we have no way of doing any of these things. The lesson goes on at whatever pace, in whatever tone, with whatever activities were in place when we began. There’s no adjustment. There’s no adaptability. You’re locked in from before the start.

The analogy here is to the new(ish) driverless cars from Google. They’re capable of getting from place to place- merging, obeying traffic rules, and so on. In theory, all that should be capable with nothing more than GPS- after all, the car only really needs to know where it is and where it’s going. But that’s clearly not the case- road conditions, traffic, accidents, construction… all these factors mean that the cars need to have “eyes.” In this case, that means Lidar, cameras, and other sensors.

We can’t excuse ourselves from the classroom after locking in our lessons ahead of time- via video or otherwise. We must make our lessons, however (whenever) they are delivered responsive to the reactions of our students.