Sunday, November 4, 2012

All in with Apple

Well actually more like 98%, but close enough.  Nearly two weeks ago I started the journey of being a 'Mac Guy' (whatever that means).  I certainly don't need rimmed glasses or trendier clothes, but I feel cooler.  

I am currently utilizing all Apple products in both my professional and personal lives.  (I have a desktop PC in my office at the house, but it isn't utilized.)  The purpose of this post is to share my experience, document my rationale for the change, and the benifts / drawbacks. 

Why did I go Apple?  A handful of reasons, but for the professional world it was fairly simple.  I work in an environment where I am fairly mobile.  Throughout the day I am traveling between meetings, between buildings, and have various roles throughout the day.  Sometimes I am presenting, sometimes I am documenting, and sometimes I am collaborating.  Because of the transient nature of my job, I was constantly shutting down, restarting, closing, opening my PC.  The time it took to login, boot up, reconnect to the wireless, etc. was detrimental especially during a day that was filled with back-to-back meetings and visits.  I needed a device that met the demand of my job from a time standpoint.  One that had an almost immediate on, quick shut down, connects the network seamlessly, and is able to access the tools I need to perform my duties.  You might ask yourself, doesn't that sound like an iPad?  It does and I tried that for a bit.  While the iPad met my need when I was simply consuming or collaborating, it struggled where I was leading.  I needed a fully functioning device, with a keyboard, and the iPad was not the device for me 100% of the time. 

Enter the MacBook Air.  Wow.  Meeting all of the criteria that I outlined above.  The only flaw I have found to this point has been my inability to fully utilize SharePoint.  A decent portion of our intranet is within SP, and my MacAir with Safari and Firefox have limited capabilities.  (Thanks MSFT)  I am unable to check out documents and edit without IE, and that requires me to occasionally utilize the old desktop PC to complete work.  (hence the 98%)  I'm hoping for a virtual Windows boot in a couple of weeks, which will eliminate the need for the PC all together. 

What have I found most intriguing about this device?  Pretty much everything.  It is fast.  It handles my applications.  It is light and very portable.  It is trendy.  (ok, that doesn't really matter to me)  The biggest factor has been the portability and increased up-time during my work day.  I find myself still using the iPad, and iPhone throughout the day for various tasks, but the MacBook Air has been a nice addition to the arsenal.  I know Steve Jobs is looking down and smiling. 


Sunday, October 28, 2012

iPhone 5 (and iOS6) Review

Better late than never, but here is my iPhone 5 review.  I've spent approximately 3 weeks on the new iPhone 5 and it is one of the best mobile devices I've utilized. 

Here are the main features that have been of benefit to me:
  • The first thing I noticed in utilizing the device was the size and weight.  The device is much thinner and lighter than previous iPhones.  Because of this I really struggled in finding the right case for the device, as I didn't want to take away from sleek design.
  • The camera is high quality.  (I'm a bit biased on this as my previous iPhone had a scratched camera that forced me to use the reverse camera for all pics.)  I like the feature of taking a picture within a video.  That has come in handy already with my nephew.
  • Siri was a nice upgrade for me.  Since I had the original iPhone 4 and didn't move to the 4S, this was my first interaction with Siri.  I have found her to be mostly useful, when she fully understands what I am saying.  I mostly utilize this feature when in the car and trying to stay hands free.
  • Maps was not as big of a deal as people made it out to be.  I have yet to get lost or arrive late due to Apple's Maps taking me on a detour.  I enjoy the turn-by-turn navigation with audio.  This goes well with Siri.
  • I have found that the audio jack on the bottom just takes some getting used to.  I still can't figure out why Apple made this move. 
  • I'm not a fan of switching to the new Lightning cable.  I'm still adjusting to my additional Apple devices needing an adapter, but that adjustment will come over time. 
  • I did notice the battery drains quicker than it should when on wi-fi.  Because of this (and the nice addition of 4G/LTE) I don't turn on the wi-fi feature that often.  4G/LTE (at least to me) is just as fast as most wi-fi connections, thus I prefer my device to have more battery life than slightly faster internet access.
  • I haven't found a great use for passbook yet.  My only experience was using a United e boarding pass for a flight.  Still not sold on this feature just yet, but that is mostly because of my lack of usage.
Overall, as stated earlier, this is one of the fastest, smartest mobile devices I have used.  For me, it is a fully functioning device allowing me access to my personal and professional world in a quick and efficient manner.   Thanks Apple.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Digital Lockers

The idea of a digital locker for students isn't something new to education.  I've heard people speak to the concept for a few years.  But if the concept or idea isn't new, then why haven't we seen a shift in how our students share their work with colleges, industries, etc? 

We as educational leaders must provide tools to our students that makes their life easier.  We must provide tools that enable them to share their rich media projects, works of art, or writings.  And the ability to share those works must be intuitive for the student, and for the person on the other end receiving the work. 

If your school district hasn't already started investigating digital lockers for your students - start.  Look at existing systems you have in place and see if they offer that functionality.  If they don't, start exploring cloud / web-based systems that meet your student's needs and are cost effective.  This isn't a high dollar investment, but it is an investment that pays huge dividends for our students as they are preparing for life after our institution. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Customer Service At Its Finest

I am usually quite critical of my cellular provider when it comes to quality of service.  I have been a loyal customer of AT&T for 12+ years, and while my experience with people and devices has been mostly positive, my biggest complaint has always been coverage (or lack their of).  This post isn't about AT&T's coverage, and the 3-4 times my conversation would drop from my office to house (8.3 miles), rather it is about a unique experience I had with their mobile app and international services.

While traveling last week out of the country for a personal trip, I realized at the airport that I forgot to add international text messaging to my iPhone.  I had a legitimate need to communicate with family and colleagues while on the trip, so a last minute addition to my plan was imperative.  I quickly launched the myAT&T app on my iPhone and logged in to my account.  I navigated to the 'My Services' area of the app, and scrolled down to the 'International Features' section.  I selected the Global Messaging plan that met my needs and accepted the terms.  Within 30 seconds I received an email to the primary account on my plan confirming that the Global Messaging had been added to my plan.  Also, within another 2-3 minutes I received a phone call from an AT&T representative confirming the change to my plan. 

Now, you might be asking what is so special about this?  All of this transpired within less than 5 minutes.  Less than 5 minutes.  I modified my cellular plan, received an email notification, and a confirmation phone call from the vendor.  If that isn't quality customer service, I don't know what is.  Upon my return from my travels, I used the same process to remove the Global Messaging from my plan. 

In technology, we are always searching for vendor partners who provide quality service such as I have described above.  1.  Immediate access to services and the ability to modify on the go.  2.  Customized notifications when changes are made or updates are provided.  3.  Quality assurance from a support representative.  4.  An intuitive and simple process that satisfies the customer. 

Thanks AT&T for providing a quality experience for this customer during a last minute change.  Now...let's get those coverage areas beefed up in the greater Chicagoland area. 


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kids Today Using 1980s Technology

Interesting video on how today's kids struggle to utilize technology from the 80s.  What will they be telling their kids about technology from 2012???


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Instructional Time

Too often in the land of educational technology we get lost in the tools, their functionality, professional learning, technical features, etc.  What we often fail to discuss with other educators is an essential question:  How does this tool provide more efficient and effective use of instructional time for my students?

At the end of the day, time is invaluable.  We are constantly competing with the social lives' of our students, other initiatives within our buildings that compete for the time and attention of our students.  Time is a commodity.  Anything that can provide a more efficient utilization of our instructional time with students should be highly valued. 

Let's look at a scenario.  A classroom full of students have an assignment requiring them to do research, take notes, and create a media project to share with their peers.  Unless the building already has an established 1:1 initiative in place, or a successful BYOD program (depending on the age of the students), this classroom would be competing for shared resources within the building, i.e. a cart of devices. 

Option 1:  The students check-out laptops that are district resources and proceed to power on the device, wait for it to boot-up, log in to the network, and launch the application (browser, productivity tool, etc.) they are utilizing first.  What is the time to accomplish this above in your environment?  5 minutes?  10 minutes?  You also have to ensure these devices were fully charged when picked up by your students.  Otherwise, students could be scrambling to find a power source to complete their work for that day.  At the end of the period, time must be allowed for the students to save their work, log off / shut down and return the device to its location.  What is the time for these activities?  Another 5 minutes?  So let's assume the class period was 50 minutes.  Right out of the gate you, as the instructor, have lost 10-15 minutes of instructional time.  This is assuming there are no other technical issues requiring you or an expert's troubleshooting.  That is 20%-30% of your entire class period that is lost instructional time. 

Option 2:  The students check-out devices that are district resources that have an instant on.  This could be an iPad, Ultrabook, etc. - any device that allows for the immediate on, with a long battery life - not requiring the lengthy boot-up time and log in process.  Once the students have the devices in their possession they launch the application they are preparing to utilize and begin their work.  What is the time to accomplish this?  1-2 minutes?  At the end of the period, students save their work, power off the device and return it to its location.  What is the time to accomplish these tasks?  2-3 minutes?  Again, assuming the class period is 50 minutes.  You have only lost 3-5 minutes of instructional time, or 6%-10% of your overall time with students for that period. 

Let's look at these scenarios over the life of the project.  Let's make an assumption that to complete the entire project takes 5 class periods.  This includes research time, organization, collaboration, and creation. 

  • 5 class periods = 250 minutes of instructional time
  • With Option 1, students would only have 175 minutes of instructional time.  They will have lost the equivalent of 1.5 class periods.  
  • With Option 2, students would have 225 minutes of instructional time.  They essentially gain back one full class period of work. 
I am not here to advocate a specific device as the 'solution' to an educational environment.  However, I am a firm believer in maximizing instructional time for students.  As our technology vendors continue to provide solutions that have longer battery lives and instant ons - the winners are our students.  Think of what you could do with an 'extra class period' each week as an instructor? 


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alan November: A Look at Student Learning and Our Future

It has been a few weeks since my last post, but I came across this video today and wanted to share.  It is Alan November speaking to student learning and the future of education.  Well worth the 10 minutes.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Where does iBooks Author Play in the K-12 Landscape?

With all the focus over the past few weeks around Apple starting to sell textbooks via their iBooks 2 platform for the iPad, I think the most important part of their announcement was overlooked. 

The iBooks Author tool that provides users the ability to create and publish their own multi-touch textbooks is a bigger game changer.  Many school districts (like my own) write their own curriculum through a process with teachers and other leaders, and the ability to create these interactive and engaging textbooks that best meet a specific district's needs are of huge value. 

The iBooks Author tool allows the creator to insert text, graphics, videos, and more to create a customized learning tool that flows with their curriculum and meets the needs of an engaged learner.  These media rich, interactive texts provide students with the cutting edge learning tools they have been asking us for. 

I have spoke to colleagues who believe this first pass at the Author tool isn't as intuitive it could be for the average user, and I have complete faith (in true Apple style) they will streamline their product in a next release that will make the creation and publishing more intuitive. 

Here is a look at the iBooks Author tool:

What are your thoughts on the iBooks Author tool?  Do you believe it has the potential to be a disruptive tool in K-12?  Why or why not?


BYOD versus District Provided Devices

Many school district across the country are struggling with the notion of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) versus providing district owned devices to their students.  I believe there are pros and cons to both sides, and will try to lay out a few of those below.  Feel free to add your own thoughts on the pros and cons of either program, including experiences in your own school district.  

  • Low cost for the school district. 
  • Students get to bring their personal and customized device that meets their needs. 
  • Students are guaranteed to have access to that device 24/7.

  • Who supports the device during the school day?
  • Students, parents, and schools are concerned about damage and theft.  
  • How do teachers manage multiple devices in their classrooms?  

District Provided Devices 
  • Similar device for students make it easy to manage and support. 
  • Easy to deploy district applications across a common platform. 
  • Higher cost for districts. 
  • No guarantee of students being able to take the device home.  
  • Students can't customize the device to their liking as much as they can in a BYOD environment.

I believe that regardless of the platform that a district chooses, they need to have conversations and discussions with their teachers, administrators AND students on what environment would best meet their needs.  The ultimate driver has to be Teaching and Learning, and they have to see the value that either of these programs would provide to the overall learning process.  Without that connection - both programs will fail.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Has Apple finally done it?

Have we finally fundamentally shifted the textbook and publishing market in K-12 education?  I have been saying (felt like preaching) for 2-3 years that it would take a major player to push the publishing companies from their traditional market place into the new arena, and it looks like Apple has stepped up to the plate. 

Our mindset shifts from the iPad as a tool that provides a majority of functionality for students, when it comes to consuming, collaborating, communicating, etc. to a device that does all that plus house their textbooks without a third party application.  The iPad was already relevant in education, but it just moved to the top of the list for many school districts across the country.  Schools can now leverage textbook dollars towards iPads and use VPP vouchers to purchase textbooks for students, while providing them a tool that allows effecient communication, collaboration and access.

The game has changed.  Thank you Apple for being the pioneer we all know you for.  You have revolutionized smartphones and music.  You are well on your way for revolutionizing education and the way we think of textbooks.

Game on.

Update / Clarification 1.21.12:   In response to the first comment below, let me make a clarification that I may not have initially been clear about.  This event is more about shifting the philosophy of publishing companies than a revolution of education.  While I believe this is a first step in a revolution process, it isn't the complete revolution itself.  Textbooks have to be interactive, engaging and relevant for students.  Change. 


Monday, January 16, 2012

App Review: CloudOn

If you are like me, you are always look for new apps for your iPhone / iPad that simplify the way you organize and share information.  I think CloudOn has hit a homerun. 

CloudOn is an app that allows you to utilize virtual instances of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint while linking to your Dropbox account.  Finally, an app that allows me to utilize these Microsoft tools while providing a seamless link to an online storage platform.

I've been using this app for a couple of weeks and have found myself moving away from Pages on my iPad.  The primary reason is the link to Dropbox.  With Pages I was always having to email my notes to myself and then save them the appropriate folder on my machine.  CloudOn removes that extra step. 

CloudOn also provides users who are used to Microsoft products a familiar look and feel.  While I had started to become accustomed to Pages, I'm glad to have an option when it comes to productivity. 

The biggest plus of CloudOn?  Free.  Yep - it is free.  Obviously, you will need a Dropbox account, but that also is free (at least the basic version).  You will spend $30 for Apple's version of these three products, and not have the seamless connection to storage.  This tips the scales towards CloudOn. 

If you haven't had a chance to check out CloudOn, I strongly recommend you do so.  I believe you will find it to be a valuable productivity and organizational tool.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Vision of K-12 Students: Today

A new look at what today's students need to be successful.


More than just the box

Technology in education is more than just the box.  As education technology leaders, we can't be consumed with the number or types of devices we are placing in the hands of our students and teachers.  (Both of these items are important, but shouldn't be the focus.)
Technology in education is more than just the box.  We have to ensure students and teachers understand how and why to utilize these tools to enhance learning opportunities.  This infers a strong connection to Teaching and Learning and that the boxes are valued as tools that enable teachers and students to communicate more effectively and efficiently, collaborate in new ways, more efficient research and organizational skills. 

Technology in education is more than just the box.  We have to ensure that proper professional development and support for teachers and students exists in our model.  To place technology in buildings for use by teachers and students without proper training, ongoing support, and modeling is a waste of dollars.  While some teachers are able to navigate the tools and learn on their own, many teachers need peers to assist them along the way.

Technology in education is more than just the box.  Educational institutions need visionary leaders who look beyond the current state and forward to where the technology is moving.  Without proper vision and understanding of trends, research, and outlook district technology will become outdated, unusable, and an afterthought.

Technology in education is more than just the box.  As education technology leaders, it is imperative we look beyond the boxes in our buildings and place our emphasis on student learning, professional development, classroom modeling, support for teachers, and visioning.  A box is a box.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Apple to Revolutionize Textbooks?

I have been saying to friends and family for a couple of years that it would take a mega company to shake-up the current practices between school districts and publishing companies.  The publishing companies are still running business (for the most part) as if it were 1987.  While they may have the technology and the tools to completely digitize all their content and offer every school district in the country digital textbooks, they simply haven't done it, and they haven't been in a hurry to do it.  Why should they?  They have a cash cow with their current structure, and until someone comes along and moves their cheese, they aren't going to drastically shift their current model. 

Then along comes Apple.  Apple is supposedly poised to make a big splash at the end of this month with an announcement relevant to digital textbooks and education.  (See here.)  It doesn't surprise me that this is Apple's next big splash.  Steve Jobs revolutionized the way we listen to music, the way we utilize cell phones (can we really even call them cell phones anymore?), and the way we communicate / collaborate.  Why shouldn't he be the one to revolutionize the way our schools deliver digital content to students? 

I hope that this next big announcement isn't a false hope and these aren't simply rumors.  The textbook industry needs to be rocked, and I am hoping Apple is the first one to deliver the blow.