Well, I was partly right…

So Apple did their thing yesterday. In case you live under a rock or in a cave, the video is here. Btw, I’m there, in a tweed jacket at about the 4:39 mark. Just saying.

About 30 seconds after they finished their announcements, Google+ was all blown up by people complaining about the EULA that comes with iBooks Author. Details about their complaints all over the ed blogs, if you care to look. The lynchpin of those arguments seems to be the following: Content that you create via iBooks Author and that you wish to sell becomes exclusive to the Apple Textbook store.

You’d think they’d killed the sacred cow from the outcry.

I don’t understand how people thought this was going to work- did they think that Apple would invest huge money in building an application that does all this cools stuff and there would be no strings attached? I keep having the example of GarageBand thrown in my face. They say “GarageBand doesn’t only output to iTunes format. Why should this?”

Because they want it to. So what? If that doesn’t work for you, and you’d like to output to an ePub or a PDF, there are loads of other tools you can use. Free tools. Open source tools, if that’s your thing. But if you happen to work in an Apple environment, this is a nifty bonus.

Oh no, they say. You’d have to be LOCKED into an Apple environment for that.

Yup. That’s true.

Well that’s not good, they say.

That’s probably also true.

I keep hearing people complain that Apple brought in the three largest textbook publishers in the world. Did we really expect them not to? Needless to say, the fact that those books are for sale in no way means you actually have to buy them. Build your own book. You should be doing that anyway. The technology for a motivated educator to build and distribute their own textbook to their own students has existed for a very, very long time. It’s even been cheap and doable without any crazy skills for a bunch of years now.

I’m not sure that iBooks Author will change everything for me. I’ll likely play with it and use it from time to time (since all my students have iPad2’s right now anyway…). But I still see a future for ePubs and PDF’s in my classroom. This is another tool for the toolbox, not the only tool. And if anything, Apple building this new tool (and, apparently, a new eBook standard… more on that later), it will prompt others to build competing software and standards.
It will get hacked.

It will get changed.

It will evolve.

But if the future of all of this really is the ability of an average teacher, with no prior experience in typesetting/book design/electronic publishing to be able to output high quality engaging digital publications- what’s not to like about that?

Thoughts on BYOD…

I had this revelation this morning, and thought I’d share. I was thinking about my district/school’s eventual move towards a BYOD environment. I’ve talked before about how I don’t think going from a non-1:1 environment to BYOD isn’t a functional reality, but I had always assumed that once that eventual shift was made, I’d be teaching in a school full of varied devices.

Now I’m thinking that’s not the case.

The realization I’ve come to is that a wide variety of devices being self-deployed in a High School is exceptionally unlikely because it would require the majority of my students to have an interest in discovering the device that works best for them. Given my experience this year, and with High School students on the whole I can say this with certainty: That will never happen.

Functioning in High School isn’t about standing out as an individual and making independent choices. High School, for the vast majority of students, is about blending into the crowd. It’s about having the exact same shoes/jeans/fleece that everyone else has.

Beyond that substantial hurdle to clear, there’s this fact to go along with it: people deeply interested in tech will always be a minority. While the people reading this blog might care about tech, the majority of people don’t want to think about the intricacies of that tech- they just want it to work. That that same sort of dynamic exists in high school. Most of my students don’t really care what specific cell phone they have- they just need it to do what they want. Ditto with computers- they want to be able to see the web, check email, message, skype, and the like. That’s it- they’re not really into caring about the display tech or the wireless chipset the maker is using.

I’d guess that in a true BYOD situation, you’d end up with two or maybe three major options being brought, with a small percentage of technophiles/early adopters rounding out a few, other, more obscure options.




What I hope Apple’s Jan 19th Event is about…

Let me preface with this: I have no insider information about this. None. No connections with Apple (as if that would help…). No leaked material. Heck I haven’t even been keeping up with the rumor sites. This is what I hope it will be, which may be completely divorced from what it will be.

So. What I hope this is about is providing way for educators to publish their own textbooks. I assume ebooks, and further, I assume ePubs, given that Apple’s put a lot of work into that standard. And, the more I play with it as a standard and understand it’s limitations and strengths, the more I like it for what it is.

In some ways, this would be non-news. Pages already allows you to easily produce ePubs. Sure, it coughs a bit with large files, and sure, it’s an Apple only product, but still. It does a decent job. Actually, I’d pay for a simple app that only does ePubs and does it well. That’s 90% of my output these days, so something optimized for that would be pretty slick. (Know of one? Drop me a line…)

More likely, I think, is that the even is about allowing educators to collaborate on their electronic books and distribute them. A way of bypassing the entire publishing industry the way the iTunes store bypassed much of the music publishing industry. If Apple provides an elegant, easy, and low-cost forum for educators to store and share material and then gives educators a way to output what they’ve created directly as an ePub, well… That’d kill.

I don’t care if there’s a way to monetize it. I suspect there will be, because Apple is a company that needs to make money. I get that. I don’t know what I’d pay for that service as an individual, but I suspect my district would pay for access.

I’ll point out here that I’ve been a huge proponent of educators building their own textbooks. I helped make that happen at my school six years ago- long before ebooks were a reasonable reality for our students. We used (and still use) print on demand to have books that we’ve created printed in small numbers for us. Moving that to an ePub is just the next logical step- and since our student all have iPad’s now… well, it just makes sense. Imperfect, but what isn’t?

My $0.02



Here’s the quick update on the state of things around here:

1. This site is still being hosted at WordPress.com and I’m waiting for my web guy to install WordPress.org onto my server so I can be self hosted again, and so my email will start working. Taking more time than I’d like, but there you go.

2. I’m headed to Uxbridge on January 17 to train some of the lovely folks there on iPads- my focus is to be digital publication, as that seems to becoming an increasing focus in my life. Though my background has more to do with printed medium, I’m finding the shift towards ePubs to be (generally) a good thing, especially when we’re talking about texts in the classroom. More on that in a bit.

3. Apple (supposedly) is having a big event on January 19th regarding textbooks and schools- which seems like it might be the event they interviewed me for. I don’t know anything about this here- and it’s not that they’ve got me with some huge ugly NDA or anything. I literally don’t know. They set up an impressive rig in my classroom and I talked with an interviewer for something like an hour and a half about… stuff. How I got into teaching. What I like about it. What’s frustrating about it. Philosophy of teaching. And so on. So there’s this chance that I’ll be in whatever videos are associated with that. Or not.

4. There are two upcoming post for here I’m currently working on. The first is a product review of some samples that were given to me by a very enthusiastic CEO. The stuff looks interesting, and I can’t wait to try it out. The second post is about the class I taught on January 12th via a Google Video Chat. That’s a more complicated thing, and thus the post is a little longer. Again, soon.


Not a surprise, really, but there’s been some. Mostly in response to our 1:1 move, more of it in response to our choice to use iPad2’s as our only devices. Not that I feel all of the criticism deserves a response, but I thought a couple of words would be fitting. Here goes.

1. Clearly, 1:1 is no silver bullet for education. Josh Davis, also known as Dj Shadow, has said in more than a few interviews an interesting idea: He states that digging (the act of digging through stacks of old vinyl records in search of rare/unknown/unused gems) won’t, in fact, make a bad Dj good. But it will make a good Dj better, he insists. If a school culture is backwards and broken, 1:1 won’t make it any better or less dysfunctional. If you have a forward thinking, progressive, experimentally inclined staff, 1:1 can facilitate bringing that to new and fertile grounds.

2. The choice that we made to insist on every student carrying an iPad2 was, I firmly believe, the right choice for our school at that time. That doesn’t make it the right choice for your school, or even the right choice for our school in a year or two when it’s time to replace that fleet of devices. We’ve made no promises that our program will forever be a iPad specific one. In fact, our original plan was this: Use the iPad2’s as transitional devices from our (at the time) existing environment to our new (and current) 1:1 environment. We thought (and I still stand by this) that going from nothing in the school to everyone-with-a-different-device would be too large a gap for both staff and students to manage without a massive backlash of frustration. Everyone on the same device simplified this transitional phase. It is by no means a long-term solution.

3. We plan to use this transitional phase on our way to being a BYOD environment. I’d love to have every student/staff/parent well-informed enough to be able to choose a reasonable device for their use in the school. The barrier here is in education, but not just of the students, but also of the parents and the surrounding community. The iPad2’s should serve as a entry point to show the usefulness of this sort of technology integration- the hope is that with some buy-in from parents and the community, students and parents will be more motivated and empowered to research and explore their own options in hardware for students. That’s where we want to be going.

Yes, it would have been nice to simply tell every student and parent that they needed to buy a device for this school year. But the reality is that our program is experimental, and we need to be willing and able to fund it ourselves as a proof-of-concept. Having a wide variety of devices in a school is a great thing; it’s not feasible to go from no devices to such an environment. Our iPads merely mind that gap.

Not to sound too angry, because I’m not. Just emphatic.


How we went 1:1

Been a few days, but January is shaping up to be the busiest month of the year for me yet. Stuff to do all over the place.

Out of all the crazy, a gem has emerged: Some good folks at my work put together a comprehensive ePub of our school’s journey into the land of 1:1. It covers pretty much everything, and is a pretty neat resource/archive of the thinking and work that went into such a big shift. Linkage here.

Also, linkage to the lovely co-worker (and officemate!) Andy Marcinek, for building the thing what looked like one huge pull and having it come out looking so nice.

Also, linkage to Patrick Larkin for pushing all this in the first place. Like he needs the links…


Currently speaking…

Ah, yes.

An update.

This blog/site is mostly up and running, and I’ve even been slowly pushing older material from other blogs to here. So that’s good.

Bad news is that my email is still broken- it’s a matter of MX setting being funky and WordPress not playing nice with custom email solutions. Good news is that my former host and domain provider will happily run WordPress.org on my server, which means I can be self-hosted again and have my email work. Bad news (more!) is I’m going to have to migrate. Again. For the second time in a week.

Insert groan here.

So if things get a little lumpy here for a bit, I’m sorry. Try not to mind the dust on the floor and the paint cans scattered around- we’ll be back to normal in a bit.



Assembly Lines are Great for Cars…

…but not for students.

The idea that it takes each and ever student four years to get through High School is deeply flawed. The idea that every student needs to sit in a classroom for 990 hours a year is also flawed. And both of these flaws are based on the same mistake:
That all students are the same.

We know this isn’t true.

We know this because we have ed plans. And 504’s. And tutoring. And leveled classes. And AP classes. And night school. And summer school.
All things designed to put flexibility back into a rigid system.

Why don’t we stop putting bandaids on this gaping wound, and address the problem itself:

The system needs to be based on flexibility.

Why don’t we run things on a credit based system? You need (x) credits to graduate from High School. They need to be in the following distribution. If that takes you 5 years, that’s just fine. If it takes you 2.5, that’s ok too. If you’d rather take classes during the summer to speed things up, we’ll offer those. If you want to take a semester off to do an internship, that’s great; we might even grant you some credit.

Kids aren’t all the same, and treating them like they all need the same schedule does them a disservice.


Reading Deep

I’ve been thinking out this concept that I’ve had in my head for a while now.
Reading Deep.

One of the skills I’ve developed for myself over the years is the ability and willingness to read deep- that is, to read not only the core text, but to read the texts related to it. As an example: When I read Lord of the Flies, I read not only the book, but also related subject books. In this case, it includes texts on the Milgram experiment, Stanford Prison experiment, Third Wave experiment, the Bible, and so on. Then I read articles about those books. Repeat.

I feel the need to impress upon students that understanding a subject isn’t a matter of reading any one book, but reading a wide swath of books on the subject, and even beyond that, understanding the dialoge that is currently taking place on the subject. We can’t make students experts- it’s on the of reasons I take issue with the use of the word “mastery” in education. Mastery is a journey that we start, but not one we ever really reach.

But I digress.

I’m thinking about how to inspire this sort of deep reading in students- how to make it a part of their natural behavior and habits to dig a bit.

Or maybe it’s not ever going to be part of the majority of student’s behavior- maybe it’s not part of the majority of people’s behavior.