Monday, December 31, 2012

Reuse, update and recycle old technology

Technology changes rapidly and it seems like something you just bought last week is already outdated and replaced by something new. Some people and companies are always buying the latest and greatest technology, but schools, and most people, can't afford to do that. So, what can we do?

One thing is to reuse old technology for new purposes. I use an old Palm PDA as my backup alarm clock. I can set repeating alarms for each day and when it goes off, the screen turns on, adding a visual alarm along with the sound. I use my old Palm Centro phone as a backup remote control for the TV, DVD, and VCR. It has an IR transmitter and an app that has all of the programs in it. I also have an old netbook that I still use. It is my remote back up system. It has Dropbox and Sugarsync on it and backs up those accounts, along with my Google Drive and Google Accounts and Evernote. This means that all of my data is on my main computer, this netbook, those systems, and my mobile devices. Great way to reuse an old device.

You can update old technology and give it new life. With thousands of computers in our district, many are very old. Yet for a small amount of money, we can get them running better and longer. We have been updating hard drives and RAM for a fraction of the cost of a new device and they run great. We also move the older computers for the lower grades student use since the software they use does not need high end devices. We even have very old LCD projectors out there that work fine. We are taking old laptops and updating the RAM and re imaging them. Most of the services and apps that the schools are using are all going web based so these older laptops, using a browser like Google Chrome, will be perfectly adequate and will be used like Chromebooks for web based apps only.

As schools got computer projectors and streaming video, TV's with VCRs and DVDs have been sitting idle. We just found some converters that allow you to connect your computer to a TV. Since we have some great, large TVs, we can use these converters to allow teachers who do not have a computer projector to share their computer image with their class.

You can also recycle your old technology, and even get some money for it. We have lots of old computers that need to be disposed of, along with printers, fax machines and old monitors. There are a variety of companies out there that will not only take away your old technology, they will pay you for it. They even certify that the data is securely erased. The only thing they don't pay for is the old monitors, but they also don't charge to hall them away and properly dispose of them.

Don't just throw away your old technology, find new uses, new lives, or at least get some cash for it.

How do you reuse and recycle your old technology?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gooru - the Search Engine for Learning

Gooru is a site I wrote about a while back when it was in Alpha status. It is now in Beta status and open for everyone to use.

Gooru describes itself as a "Search Engine for Learning". It is a study tool that allows students to explore resources and study guides that are aligned to standards. The materials are in math, social studeis and science and are from 5th grade up to high school. Resources include digital textbooks, videos, animations, links and much more. It also includes social media functions so that students can work, study, and share with others.There are ready made collections of resources, and users can create their own collections of resources as a study tool, or even as a class project.

There are self-assessments in Gooru that help it adapt to the student, suggesting resources and study guides based on the student's performance.

The resources are all vetted by educational professionals and you can even create custom collections and resources.

The site has resources to learn more about it and how it can be beneficial to educators and students.

Technology I'm using daily as a School District CIO

This past November I started a new chapter in my career and became the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the district I was a teacher in for 10 years. It combines my experience as a teacher and educational technology specialist, as well as my 10 years as an engineer and project manager, into one very exciting, busy, crazy, rewarding job. I am responsible for the IT department, as well as coordinating with the data teams and all technology issues and projects.

In the past, I've written about the technology I used on a daily basis as a teacher. Today, I want to write about the technology I'm using on a daily basis in my job as CIO and how this technology helps keep me organized, informed, and communicating with others. Some of it is the same, some different, and some just used differently.

Evernote - Evernote, an electronic notebook with lots of great features, is my main tool. I have used it for lesson plans, lesson notes, lesson resources as a teacher and travel info, recipes, clippings from web sites, to do lists, personal references, tech resources and instructions and so much more. It is the main app I use for almost everything. 

As CIO, I have created multiple notebooks. They are each named CIO and then the specific notebook title and all stacked under CIO as a main category. I have a note entitled "Priorities" that I update each week. It has a list of the major tasks and projects that I need to work on that week. I don't keep much for details in this note, rather I put the link to other notes that have all of the details on them. 

I also upload files as attachments to Evernote so that I can easily access them anywhere, on any device. Files that I have to edit often are stored on our servers and I can access them remotely via VPN client. 

I also use the Clip to Evernote extension for Chrome (my browser of choice) to clip web articles for future reference. 

Another great feature is the Outlook to Evernote extension. I use Outlook for email, contacts, and calendar, and can export any email or contact from Outlook to Evernote, including attachments. This keeps my email less cluttered and allows me easier access to the emails and files from other devices. 

I use Evernote to take notes in meetings also, either with my smartphone, Chromebook or laptop, or using my Livescribe Sky pen to take handwritten notes (I'm faster that way) and have them synced directly to Evernote. 

I use the Evernote desktop app at home and at work due to the advanced features and local backup of data. I have a premium account (only $45 per year), although many people would be fine with the free account. 

Dropbox - Dropbox is a great file sync, backup, and sharing service that you can use for free. The rest of the files I need to use that are not in Evernote or Google Drive are setup in my Dropbox so that they are synced on my home computer and my smartphone. I can access my files from any web browser also. I never have to worry about losing a flash drive or forgetting to copy or email myself a file.

Google Chrome is my browser of choice. It's fast, secure, easy to use, has great extensions and bookmarklets, and just works great. I have it automatically open up my most used tabs: Gmail, Google Calendar, Blogger, Tweetdeck, and Evernote. I also have bookmarklets for saving pages into my Google Bookmarks, accessing school systems, and much more.

Evernote Clipper - clip web pages and articles into my Evernote notebooks for reference or sharing with students. URL Shortener - shorten web page URL's for better sharing and tracking of sharing.
Webpage Screenshot - take screenshots of web pages, edit and format them, and save them.
Evernote Clearly - clean up a web page for easier reading and clipping.

Google Apps - I use Google's many apps, including Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Docs/Drive and Reader for myself and as part of my daily job. We are also going to Google Apps for Education for our students and faculty along with Chromebooks for different groups.

I use Tweetdeck in Chrome browser to access my PLN on Twitter. It is easy to use and has great features like multiple columns and scheduling of tweets. It's a great way for me to connect with other CIO's and Technology Directors for help and advice.

Android Smartphone - with my Android Smartphone, I can access all of my materials and resources, all of the apps and resources listed above and even control my computer with SplasthTop Remote.Android works great with all of the Google resources I use, and the Evernote app for it is awesome. This allows me to access meeting notes, files, and much more anywhere I go. Very handy as I travel the district for meetings and working with staff on technology projects.

Livescribe Sky Smartpen - This job entails a lot of meetings, issues, and challenges. One way I have been able to keep up with things is through my Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen. With this smartpen, I'm able to take notes in meetings on paper, which is very efficient, especially with my note taking style, which incorporates sketches, symbols, arrows, and more that don't translate well with a keyboard. The smartpen saves all of my notes and syncs them to Evernote over WiFi. This means that all of my notes are stored inEvernote so that I can access them anywhere. They are even searchable. I can also record audio in important or fast moving meetings to make sure I don't miss anything.

Outlook icon

Microsoft Outlook - As a teacher, we all used the web version of Outlook. Administration and office staff use the desktop version of Outlook because we utilize more features. Email management, calendar and meeting schedules, contacts, and more. The full version of Outlook also has the Evernote extension so I can save emails, attachments, and contacts right to Evernote. 

Brookstone Boogie Board -  a paperless notepad. It is small, thin and lightweight. You write on it using the stylus, or even your finger. It has sealed battery that lasts for 50,000 erasures. I figure 50,000 erasures will last about 20 years or so. It only uses power to clear the screen. I use this as my scratch pad on my desk to take quick notes with before adding them to Evernote or doing that task.

I also use some other systems, such as Tack-IT for our Help Desk, and our budget and purchase order system. For hardware, I have an HP desktop workstation, HP laptop, Chromebook (Samsung 303) and my smartphone and Livescribe SkyPen. 

So, that's what I use each day in my role as CIO. These technologies allow me to be organized and easily access all of the data and information that I need to access each day, as well as communicate with my staff and other personnel. 

What technology do you use each day in your job?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays - Most Read Posts of 2012

Happy Holidays from Google!
image from homepage 

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from Connecticut. I'm finishing up my day at work today with a quick post of the Most Read Posts of 2012. It's been an interesting year for me, as I started a new job as the Chief Information Officer for our district. It's a rewarding and challenging job that I love.

Tonight we head to friends' for Christmas Eve and then off to my cousins' tomorrow with the whole family.

I want to wish all of my readers Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. In this time of joy and celebration, please keep those less fortunate in mind, and please remember the 26 we lost in Newtown, and also the 2 Firefighter's lost today in upstate New York.

Most Read Posts of 2012:

1. 10 Tech Skills Every Student Should Have

2. 10 Important Skills Students need for the Future

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How does online learn by doing actually work? See the video we made 10 years ago at CMU

This is a movie we shot 10 years ago to describe what a learn by doing projects only mentored, team based curriculum looked like. There are interviews with the mentors, the students, and the faculty (Lynn Carter video referred to in my post yesterday starts at about 3.22).

We learned how to do it and worked well until CMU administrators decided they didn't want to have thousands of online students and didn't want have brand new empty buildings.

XTOL has re-thought and re-built these online learn by doing curriculum taking advantage of ten years of change in computer science. (See my post here from yesterday.)

We are now ready to offer real learn by doing education to everyone, taught be the people who invented it the first place (unless you count Plato or Dewey, which, of course I do.. but they didn't have) computers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Best and Brightest Teaching Computer Science Online

In the 1990’s I was running the Institute for the Learning Sciences, trying to re-envision education in the age of computers. My former PhD student (at Stanford) and colleague at Northwestern, Chris Riesbeck, was not only designing the technical side of what we were building at ILS, he was also putting our ideas into practice on a daily basis. He stopped showing up to teach his programming classes. Instead he posted assignments on line and responded to questions and problems that students were having with the assignments. He evaluated the work they did and, as they improved, gave them more difficult assignments. He saw no reason for lectures or classes.

Of course, the authorities at Northwestern objected. His students simply stopped coming to class. It was easier to communicate by email. Many people have learned to program from Chris and most will tell you that he is the best programming teacher they ever had. They were learning to do something and that is not done by listening, but by constant practice with help from a mentor.

Some years later, I was asked to design the educational offerings for master’s degree programs at Carnegie Mellon’s new Silicon Valley campus. Ray Bareiss who had been the associate director of ILS moved to California, and the team at Socratic Arts and I designed some radical new ways of teaching on line. Of course, what we did was built upon what Chris had done and what we had done in a previous venture with Columbia University. We added a story line to the projects students did so it would look and feel like they were on a real job. They were not taking courses nor were they attending classes. We were working with the faculty at CMU in Pittsburgh, many of whom objected to this new style of teaching by mentoring projects rather than by lecturing. One who did not object was a former PhD student of mine (at Yale) Jaime Carbonell, who together with Michael Shamos had enough weight to convince his colleagues in the eCommerce program to go along.

One who initially objected was the Software Engineering professor assigned to CMU-SV, Lynn Carter. But after a few months of teaching our way he said (and I have this on video) that he couldn’t see teaching any other way now that he had understood what good teaching in computer science was all about.

We built a great many computer science master’s degree programs for CMU. All learning by doing, all on line, no lectures, no tests, just mentors available as needed and students working in teams to get things done.

This was before online suddenly became fashionable in the university world, before putting lectures online became the must do trend, an idea that is absurd it is hard to contemplate. Who remembers lectures they heard in college? CMU actually was decidedly uninterested in the fact that our learn by doing offerings available online or even a way to improve face to face teaching, and with the exception of eCommerce did not bring our new teaching model back to the main campus.

My friends and I are still trying to get good practical computer science education to the world in a way that would allow many people to become effective programmers, software engineers, mobile app developers, ecommerce specialists, big data analytics experts and so on.

So, we started XTOL.

You’ll notice, if you look at that site, that the old gang is back together again. We are committed to getting on line education right and to changing the concept of school from a passive experience to an active one, solving challenging problems in realistic settings.

The first two schools (there will be others) to offer what we have built are:


The latter is offering an MBA we built for them and will be offering some of what we are doing in computer science as well.

In particular we will be launching much of the computer science masters degree programs as short courses, in addition to the full degree programs.

The short courses can be taken by anyone who can complete them. They teach real world skills that a high school or college student would not learn in their school and would give them useful knowledge for employment. (As an example, how to optimize a website for search engine ranking is a short course we will soon offer.)

As a computer science professor for over 35 years, I was always astonished at the extent to which computer science is taught as a series of subspecialties that in the end do not produce skilled professions who can be readily employed the real world.

Why is this the case? In my recent book “Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools” I quoted a very well known computer science professor who did not want his name mentioned:

Every faculty member in the Department of Computer Science at my University thinks that their small insignificant area is important enough that all undergraduates must take a course in it. When you add all those courses up there is simply no time for a student to do anything other than take crazy courses in sub-disciplines represented by the faculty in the department. Everybody’s course is a sacred cow. If you tried to put something new in, something would have to come out, and no faculty member wants his course to be eliminated.

At a big state university, which one would think has an obligation to supply training to the students of that state in a major field in which students can readily find employment, the faculty could care less about that and they only want to do graduate teaching. We teach courses that are modeled after courses in the professor training schools like Harvard and MIT. But how many professors do we need?

There are roughly 60 faculty members in Computer Science. They cover all the traditional areas of Computer Science. Ironically, Software Engineering, which is what 90% of the undergraduates do when they graduate, is not covered.  It is not considered an intellectual or academic discipline. It is considered too practical. There is only one software engineering course and it is taught by an adjunct because no one really cares about it.

There are hundreds of computer science majors here.   The faculty doesn’t feel it needs to change because there are students clamoring for what is now offered. 98% of them want to be programmers. Almost none of them want PhDs.

I cannot go to a faculty meeting any more. I get into a fight at every faculty meeting. I argue about teaching and education and they think they know because they are professors. I cannot subject myself anymore to their abuse.

We are trying to remedy all that. Not just in computer science, but that is where we have started because we are experts in that field. We are ready to work with experts in other fields to start making on line education something worthwhile, useful, practical, and enjoyable. And, we want to start a revolution in teaching and learning. Students deserve better.

Check with Socratic Arts and Engines for Education (our not for profit for high schools) for updates:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Google Play books reads aloud - great for struggling readers

I just wrote about Evernote Clearly having text-to-speech and I just found out that Google Play Books does too. It has a read aloud function that will read books to you. It has to have an internet access at the time, but it is another resource for students who struggle to read.

Google Play Books gets high quality read aloud, pinch zoom, recommendations

Adobe Photoshop Touch Updated for 7 Inch Devices

Adobe® Photoshop® Touch

Adobe Photoshop Touch is a great app for tablets and smartphones that I wrote about before. It has just been updated for 7 inch devices like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and iPad mini.

This is a great app for students and educators to use for photo editing and effects and now it is available for the smaller tablets. I happen to love my Nexus 7 and the 7 inch table size, so I'm very happy. The app is $9.99.

Take a look at more information about Adobe Photoshop Touch.

Evernote Skitch meeets Windows to create a great, easy to use screen capture and image editing service.

skitch screen capture
Evernote, the app I talk about way too much, has some other great apps that work with it. Skitch is one of them. Skitch is a free image editing and screen capture app that has been on mobile devices for a while and is now, finally, on Windows.

It is easy to use, has enough features for most users, and is free. Hard to beat that. You can use it to take screen captures, annotate images, and it integrates with Evernote.

Teachers can use it to capture and annotate images for students, professional development, e-portfolios, etc. and students can use it for class projects.

It is available for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and Windows 8.

Learn more at the source page below.

Source: Evernote Skitch website

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Evernote Clearly gets Text-to-Speech - premium only

Evernote is one of my most used apps, ever. I'll be sharing the apps I use, and how I use them, in my new job as CIO shortly.

Evernote has a very cool product called Clearly. Evernote Clearly is a browser extension for Google Chrome (other browsers will be added soon) that allows you to read online with less distractions. You simply click the extension and it hides all the distractions from blogs and articles, allowing you to read with less distractions and more easily.It use it a lot, especially on sites that I want to clip to Evernote (it keeps all the junk from getting clipped too).

This is great for students who have issues with distractions and makes things easier to read.

It has a great new feature also. Clearly now has Text-to-Speech for premium account users. Premium accounts are only $5 per month, or $45 per year and are well worth it, adding some great features.

Words are highlighted as they are read and users can pause and skip. This is a great feature for ELL, early readers, and struggling readers. It supports 12 languages.

Source: Evernote Blog

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown - Sandy Hook Elementary

Friday was a shocking day. I was at one of our elementary schools working with a principal on some technology ideas when we started to get the news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, just 15 miles north of us. We were shocked and saddened even without knowing any details. Staff members live in that town and were trying to get more information about their own children.

As the day and weekend progressed and more information was released, things got worse. One of the students killed was the daughter of a teacher in our district. One of the hero teachers, Vicki Soto, was someone I had known when she was younger. She was a member of the EMS Explorer post at the EMS service I was a paramedic at and I had worked with her and the other Explorers many times. I know many of the first responders, having either worked with them as a paramedic or trained them. I've worked some very bad calls, including the death of a child, but I can not even begin to imagine what they are going through.

Newtown is a great town that my wife and I love. It's beautiful and quintessential New England. We go there a lot to go shopping, have some great pizza, and have ice cream at a dairy farm. It's a town that we have been considering to buy a house in, and still will.

It's been a rough few days. I can only hope that all those affected can find peace and comfort.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Barack Obama's Most Important Move: As a Dad

There is a reason he is our president. Barack Obama regained my faith in him tonight.  Here are some of his most important words.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight....

....We bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change....

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this....

We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?...

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that...."


Dear Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, and Allison:

Children all over America will remember what you did for us.  Finally moving our leaders to positions of strength.  We will back them.  We will push them. We will not forget.

Much love,

Sara, Liam, Annie, and Conor

Ban guns? Maybe we should also ban school!

In the wake of the recent school shooting, I can add my voice to the millions who think that easy ownership of hand guns and assault weapons is absurd, but there is another point to be made. Can’t we at least start to debate whether having schools is such a good idea? 

Below are some of the questions typed into google in the last week that landed the searcher on one of my outrage columns. They paint a picture in the aggregate of students who are very unhappy in school.  Were these searches made by just some odd kids? Or is it possible that most children find school difficult, threatening, and uncomfortable?

children should learn more useful subjects at school

public school teach you to conform

why should i go to school

math curriculum completely useless stupid

i hate high school what can i do

why school is bad for children

why i hate year eleven secondary school

students don't need certain subjects

hate high school will college be better

useless classes in high school

hating history class

If the school forced students to learn they are not interested in the course

why does a high schooler start thinking they are not that smart

hating a subject

high school is pointless

textbooks suck

commonly hated high school rules

how to get high school students to like you

Maybe you were one of the ones who loved school. I wasn’t. My kids weren’t. And I am pretty sure that any kid who is made to feel different, lonely, stupid, or miserable in school will come out angry. They may not all decide to shoot other kids or teachers, of course. But, some will. 

We need to re-think the very idea of school and we need to do it soon. They are other ways to teach kids the skills they need in life besides shutting them up with 30 or 100 other kids all day, many of whom also hate being there. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

You Are Killing Our Kids

It's impossible to tuck our kids in tonight, seeing the complete and utter excitement in their eyes about their futures (my daughter, age 2, said "I need to eat more foods so I can get tall and be allowed to go on the bus with my brother to school!"), without understanding that it is our responsibility as the adults to DO something to make them safer.  Enough already with the childish fear of the NRA!  The tobacco lobby was once all-powerful too.  Then we woke up and realized cigarettes were killing us all, and we put a stop to it.  Smoking is way down, including among teens.  The tide can turn. It's on us to make it happen.

Wherever there's a powerful lobby there are powerful wealthy backers. The strength of the NRA lies not in the many average fools who think that having guns in their homes makes them safer (tell that to the gun-toting mama whose boy killed her before shooting those 20 children in Connecticut), but in the obscene wealth possessed by the gun manufacturers. Who are these people, and how have they managed to twist the 2nd amendment into some rationale for the right for regular people to bear assault rifles?

I'm far from an expert on this topic, but what I do know is that social movements require individuals that get informed enough to be smart, inspired actors. And since I can't stomach sending my kids off to school even one more day without knowing that I DID SOMETHING to try and make them even a little bit safer, well, I'll take this one on.  And I hope you will too.

The tiniest bit of research tonight led me to learn a few things I had no idea about:

(1) Gun stocks are on the rise.  Smith & Wesson, among other gun manufacturers, is more profitable than ever.  At a growth rate of 10% per year on average, and much higher for the top sellers, business is booming.

(2) The industry is promoting gun use successfully among women and children.  Just like cigarette manufacturers, this mature industry is constantly seeking to expand its market and thus has encouraged an explosion of so-called shooting shows, including for audiences at the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.  The number of "shotgun" and "rifle" badges given to the Boy Scouts of America is up nearly 30 percent in the last decade, and the participation of women in shooting shows has experienced similar growth.

(3) Manufacturers of "high-capacity clips" -- which should remind you of extra-nicotine added cigarettes times 10 -- are major donors to the NRA and hold two board seats.  Why these high volume clips are considered requisite for self-defense is beyond me. What I do know is that each of the 20 six and seven-year-old children in Connecticut was riddled by between 3 and 10 bullets.

Guns and cigarettes go hand in hand.  It took America nearly a century to stand up to tobacco, but it happened.  The time is now for guns. Call it what it is-- profitting on the backs of dead children.   And put a stop to it.  Join us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Let's Write It Down

"What happens when the gun shoots through you, Mom? Does your heart come out?"

These are not the sorts of questions I expected my 5-year-old son to be asking me on this, the seventh night of Chanukah. What happened to "can I have another piece of chocolate?"

As impossible as it sounds, a young man walked into a school this morning, shoved past a brave principal and school counselor, and did his best to shoot as many young children as possible.  Little boys and girls whose parents had kissed them goodbye after packing their lunch, bundling them up in coats, hats, and mittens, and sending them off to practice their reading and handwriting and maybe do a little art.  Off at work, these parents sat, as my husband and I do every day, thinking of them but mainly unconcerned, knowing that hugs would reconnect the dots at day's end.

Never again.

I spent this afternoon fighting off tears in a faculty meeting, trying not to play out the scenarios that confronted my son's peers in Newtown, Connecticut. Trying not to think about the look on that teacher's face as she was shot while teaching, trying not the hear the screams and wide open mouths of children just hoping it was a game and yelling for mom and wondering where dad was and then falling, falling to the ground---gone forever while sisters and brothers ran in distant halls unable to help....I kept drifting in and out of the meeting, trying to stay engaged while feeling so enraged, such fury, such complete helplessness, shouting it out with a Tweet once in awhile ("end the NRA" cried my fingers valiantly)... no point.

I didn't want Conor to wonder about my sadness tonight, mistaking it for something else. And I never, ever want to hear him again asking for a toy gun.  So I decided to tell him, when his baby sister was out of earshot, what today meant for those kids.  He listened, and said "wow" and seemed to really struggle. "Can I see him, the shooter?" he asked. "Can I watch the video of him doing the shooting?"  No, I said, "there's no video."

"But what happens, Mom, do they just fall down? And they never come back?"

Yes. They never come back.  We just move on. We can't quite bring ourselves to do more. We are too chicken, it seems, to fight with our fellow Americans who mechanically argues for the right to purchase guns without background checks or waiting periods, the right to own high capacity magazines, and the right to own automatic assault weapons.  Even though they make no sense.  Even though our silence can kill our kids.  Even though we know exactly what's right. We just fall down.

I can't take this anymore. My son knew exactly what to do, and he did it.  He said, "We will draw a picture of a gun and then cross it out, Mom.  We will write 'No guns allowed. No bad guys.'  I will tell those guys at school, it's not cool.  Let's do that. Let's write it down."

And he did.  He signed it: "Conor, Annie, Mom, Dad." That's our family. We're lucky enough to still all be here tonight, alive.

God bless America. It's long past time to fix the 2nd Amendment. Let's get it written down.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Education on Demand

I thought by now there would be no movie theaters. I have nice TVs and sound systems at home, subscriptions to various movie services and if I want it, video on demand that I can pay for. I never have to leave the house or put up with annoying people sitting next to me.

Still people (even I) go to the movies. They do it to get out of the house, to see an even bigger screen with better sounds and to keep current with the latest offerings that are being talked about in their circle of friends.

You get the feeling that movie theaters still won’t be around much longer anyway. But people who run the movie business are fighting this in every way they can.

61% of adults said that they rarely or never go out to the movies.  Of those who do go to the movies,  55%  said that they go see films less often now than they did before. 73% prefer watching movies at home. Many in the industry are scared to death of DVDS being released at the same time as the movie itself.  “The theater industry is facing something of a crisis. Theater owners don’t quite get that going to the movies is a social experience, and that they need to make that social experience a lot more enjoyable.”

Well, of course, I am not worried about the movie industry. I am just an observer who takes note that when something is available on demand at home or in your favorite place for social experience with others, its appeal in the standard bricks and mortar public format will go away.

Of course I am talking about education. Why would anyone go to school or put up with the annoyance of school regulations, certifications, classroom situations, and being told what you must learn when, if they didn’t have to? Schools were designed for poor people. The rich had private tutors who came to them, or failing that an elite upper class venue where they were treated respectfully. (Do Oxford students still have personal butlers?)

Today school is a miserable mass experience for everyone. Yes, it fun to go to Yale, but there are plenty of lost, bored, and angry kids at Yale too. (They all seemed to find their way to me when I was there.)

If we had education on demand, wouldn’t this be as threatening as movies on demand to the existing system?

So, in that spirit, I am announcing “Education on Demand.” We will offer, and by "we" I mean my team of respected computer science professors (XTOL, on line short courses that can be taken on demand (more or less, they will have start dates so students can work in small teams with mentors.)

Below is a list of short courses we will offer starting in January 2013. These courses run about two week full time and four weeks part time. More are coming. They are open to anyone who wants to take them. They are meant to teach people to do things that might need to do. We will issue a certificate to hang on your wall if you like signed by the relevant faculty. Students succeed by actually doing things. No lectures. No tests. Just producing. Open to anyone, anyone at all. Just do the work.

Introduction to Website Development
Web Application Development    
Mobile Web Application Development  
Native Mobile Application Development for Web Programmers
Sensor-based Mobile Applications Introduction to ecommerce
Search Engine Optimization
eCommerce Data Analytics 
Big Data Software and System Requirements
Managing Software Professionals 
Setting Software Projects Up for Success 
Team-Based Agile Software Development 
We are building more of these every day. There will be short courses in other areas than computer science soon (starting with learning sciences.) We are in discussions with industry on building other short courses that industry feels it needs. Feel free to contact us about courses we should build.
In summary:

Learning by doing
Deliverables that prove you can do something you couldn’t do before
Working in teams
Enhancing your employable skills
On line, no need to go anywhere
Education when you want it
The beginning of the end of brick and mortar education
The beginning of the end of rules about what you must do before you do what you want to do
If you can do the work, then sign up

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mimio Teach Interactive System - great IWB system with great features

Many teachers use interactive white boards in their classrooms. They can be used for interesting lessons, engaging students at the board, recording what is done on the board, and controlling the computer from the board.

There are a variety of brands and devices out there, and one that I like is the MimioTeach system. This turns any white board into an interactive white board. It can capture handwritten notes, annotations, operate the computer and presentation from the board and more. The receiver is mounted on the white board using suction cups or adhesive mounting brackets or magnets.

There is software for it that is similar to the Smart Board software and there are tons of lessons and resources available on their site. You can capture what you write on the board, your annotations, create your own lessons with the MimioStudio software, or use some of the lessons that are in their library.

The Mimio system includes the MimioTeach (make any white board interactive), MimioVote (classroom response system) and MimioPad (wireless tablet) and MimioView document camera. The entire MimioTeach family of products are excellent to use.

Another nice feature is portability. You can use them anywhere and the system is wireless. The capture can even capture to the device and then connect to a computer later to transfer captured data. A teacher moves rooms, the Mimio goes with them. Need to use one in another room, bring one along. Storage is a snap too since they are small. Lock them up to protect them from theft or damage. Bring them along to a conference and use them with your presentation.

If you are thinking about getting an interactive whiteboard, check out the Mimio System. They are more cost effective and easy to install and operate. The products all integrate with each other, are easy to use, and have great support. There are discounts for educators, great training materials, and a vibrant community of educators and lesson resources.

Here are some pictures of the system:


(I am not compensated by Mimio at all for this article)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Choices, Choices, Choices

As expected, the UW Regents moved forward Friday, approving the proposal from the UW-Madison Administration to raise the cap on out-of-state enrollment even though it hadn't been vetted through proper shared governance channels.  The cap was moved from 25% to 27.5%, rather than to 30% as requested.

In typical style, everyone involved acted like this represented the wise, informed choice arrived at through careful decision-making. Of course, we have real choices given the "new normal," a context so normalized at this point that the vast majority of our campus intellectuals can't even see that "normal" is a political agenda.

But as I constantly work to help my students understand, there is always a choice. And the lack of careful thought being paid by the state and its universities to this particular choice could easily come at the expense of Wisconsin residents. Sure, there are other options.  Let's consider the range of possibilities.


1. Unless explicitly noted, each scenario below works with the previously existing 25% cap on OOS to adjust the student body to achieve greater diversity and/or greater revenue for UW-Madison.  You could do the same exercise with 27.5% percent.

2. I illustrate three dimensions of diversity here-- socioeconomic (via %Pell), national geographic (via OOS), and international.  Of course there are others, but not knowing, for example, the % of racial/ethnic minorities within each current category of students I couldn't do the modeling (for example, what % of WI residents at Madison are racial/ethnic minority now?)  It would help if that sort of thing were publicly available.

3. Since the %Pell is a characteristic often recognized in rankings and accountability metrics, I consider it by applying it to Wisconsin residents only. This could be an error-- if, for example, a sizable proportion of Madison's Pell enrollment comes from OOS.  I strongly suspect this isn't the case, however, given that college choices of Pell students tend to be geographically constrained and Pell recipients are more expensive for the university's budget (e.g. because they require more institutional aid).

4. I assume, unless explicitly noted, that MN students count as "residents" when computing the cap since that's the rule.

5. I assume that international students are less expensive than other students because they do not qualify for financial aid.

6. I assume that it is possible to increase the proportion of Pell recipients and international students without diminishing the academic preparedness standards of the institution.  This can be achieved in several ways: (a) Waiving the ACT requirement for all or some students -- for example it could be waived for Wisconsin residents. The ACT is predictive of freshman year GPA and very little else-- it is not a useful assessment of how capable individuals are of succeeding at UW-Madison. (b) Recruiting in low-cost ways in a variety of additional countries, rather than focusing on a single nation or small set of nations with a limited pool.  Anyone rejecting this contention should be asked to provide evidence to the contrary- -rather hard given the many studies showing the sizable pool of high-ability low-income students currently not in college.

Where things stand now

This is approximately the current distribution of UW-Madison students. The percent Pell is slightly off (around 12%) but it has bumped around in minor ways for years. The main points are that (a) %Pell is well below that of our peer institutions (there's a nice paper by Bob Haveman of LaFollette on this), (b) Wisconsin residents are just 63% of the total now, even with the 25% cap, (c) international students are a small fraction of our allowable OOS enrollment, and (d) MN residents are dramatically overrepresented among U.S. students from outside Wisconsin.

Chart 2 shows that under the existing 25% cap, we could increase diversity and raise additional revenue by (a) reducing the percent of OOS students from the U.S. and increasing the representation of international students and (b) reducing the percent of WI residents who don't qualify for the Pell Grant and increasing the percent of students on the Pell grant (which would require some of the revenue from the international students, and a relaxation of our admissions focus on the ACT score).

Chart 3 shows that the previous cap was insufficiently specified to protect a UW-Madison focus on Wisconsin residents, and the new cap doesn't do this either.  The new cap requires 200 additional seats for WI residents but this could be done by expanding overall enrollment-- the proportion WI resident could still decline.  Thus, it would be possible for the % Wisconsin (and the %Pell) to decline below 50%, and the % international to fully replace the % OOS-- if Madison so chose.

Of course, the scenario in Chart 3 isn't likely in the near future-- though it is possible. I think that instead we are moving towards Chart 4 by growing enrollment a bit.  This is a more diverse campus in that it's more international, and national diversity is increased a bit by trading MN students for WI students, and it raises revenue. But it does nothing to increase the socioeconomic diversity of the institution.  (After all, the constituency for that group, I'm told, amounts to me and my friends.)  Heck, why not go for 0% Pell while you're at it, and maximize the heck out of students' dollars?

That would lead you closer to Chart 5-- still allowable under the prior and current caps, as long as overall enrollment grows.  We can let in more MN students, and cut WI representation, and diversify further through more international enrollment.  Nothing really to stop us, especially if we're headed for lots of online classes.

Finally, let me leave you with what I think is fairly close to the optimal scenario. This one does require a change, but it's one that the Regents should like.   If the goal of the cap is to protect seats for WI students, then we should count MN students as the out-of-state students they are. We can keep reciprocity while doing this (though one should ask-- why?). But it requires a change to the cap, since MN -- currently not counted-- would count towards it.  Under this scenario, we could diversify both in terms of U.S. states and internationally, and use the increased revenue to increase socioeconomic diversity by increasing the %Pell.  The current % Wisconsin remains the same. That's a change to the cap that would have made plenty of sense and given Madison administration more wiggle room without endangering enrollment among WI residents.

These are just a handful of options. Each one reflects a different composition of the student body. It is for that reason that any efforts to alter the constraints we face should be fully vetted through shared governance.  Constraints both help and hinder us-- they help us focus in the face of temptation, and when badly specified they prevent us from doing actual and real good.

Before Madison administrators sought changes from the Regents, they should have been required to show their cards-- which of these scenarios are they after?  Why should we imagine they plan to give primary responsibility for these academic decisions to their faculty, staff, and students-- even though it's specified in Chapter 36.09?  After all, remember, they feel they "have no choices."