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Monday, January 28, 2013

We are social beings, so let's start learning that way!

This afternoon after checking into an early showing of Skyfall at the local theater on Facebook, I wanted to know how my drive up to Austin would be, so I opened my favorite driving app, Waze. Most readers are undoubtedly familiar with using Google Maps or other tools for navigation. Waze takes driving social, and leverages the power of connected drivers to predict traffic and travel times, but what is really powerful are the reports that appear on your map from others; there is an accident ahead, an object in the road, a traffic jam, or a hidden police car. Waze let me know that there was no major traffic, but to be careful about all of the police en route to Austin.

This is a fantastic use of social media. The reports of others are making my drives more pleasant, safe, and more on time. I never would have thought social media would be used to make driving better - but it has. Social media (which by most definitions involves a broad range of web sites, technologies, and apps) is a powerful set of communications technologies. Like any communications technology, it can be incredibly powerful, and of course like all others, it can be used for destructive purposes.

The ways which social media had helped are too numerous for a short blog post, but needless to say my travel, eating, professional networking, and learning will never be the same.

To some extent education seems very late to the social media game. Many schools are still just discussing if it should be used and if any social media tools are instructionally relevant. I am not advocating that all schools open up and start using every social media tool. There are many culture, policy, and instructional decisions that must be made at the local level before implementing many social media tools. But I am advocating that we should be leveraging some power of social networks, even if they are just walled garden social networks that we can use with our students to leverage peer learning. If I took one great piece of knowledge away from a great lecture last week by Dr. Abigail Baird, a Psychologist at Vassar College, it is that teens are social beings and that their peers are hugely important to them.

Dr. Baird did not advocate for using social learning with teens, but it really seems to be a great fit with what she talked about. She also pointed out that teens are most definitely not adults, which I think may be where much of our caution with social media in learning starts.

But ultimately social media has transformed many things we do and how we interact with our world and environment, but it has yet to make major inroads into most classrooms, when maybe it should, since social media technologies have improved our lives in many ways. Now it's back to improving my travel with social media; I am going to see what people on Yelp and Urbanspoon have to say about Austin's eateries.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Presenting on Social Media at the 23rd Learning Disabilities Symposium: HOW TEENS THINK

I have the pleasure of being able to present  on Social Media at the 23rd Learning Disabilities Symposium: HOW TEENS THINK, on Friday, January 25th 2013 at the Winston School San Antonio.  The event promises to have some great speakers (excluding me).  My presentation appears below:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Would you buy a new car with a blindfold on? Then why do so many schools ignore important factors when choosing devices for students?

Photo from:
You obviously wouldn't buy a car with a blindfold because there are so many factors in buying the car that are important, including design, features, layout, condition, and the cabin interior.  Many very well intention-ed educators are eager to put devices in the hands of students and jump on the bandwagon saying “we need to buy (insert device name here) for all students.”  This is often done without ever taking off the blindfold and getting down to looking at a schools’ and students’ needs, with a heavy dose of total cost of ownership evaluation to see what makes the most sense in a particular learning environment.

There are a host of great reasons why many different devices might assist students in their learning; Different curriculum (not just the book, but all that is done in a class to help students learn), grade levels, special needs, state requirements, testing mandates, student use cases and more should all be considered in an evaluation of devices for student. 

I suggest starting off with a needs inventory.  Get started by listing out all the things that are non-negotiable that you need the device and students to be able to do.  A short example list such as this would be a start: 
1.       Need to be able to print to classroom printers.
2.       Need 1024x1200 resolution to support testing mandates.
3.       Need ability to save documents to Google docs.
4.       Needs to save to local storage when not connected to the internet.
5.       Minimum 8 hours battery life.
6.       Science class requires USB based probe support.
7.       Social studies curriculum requires student to be able to display screen to entire class.

You also may want to list some things that would be nice, but are not true requirements such as: three year warranty, comes with a case, and has a CD drive.

At this point put this all into a big matrix or spreadsheet to start the evaluation.  It would map put like this but would have many more elements:
Total Cost of Ownership
Fully Supports Learning Ecosystem
Support Centralized Application Distribution
Android Tablet


Windows Laptop


The first column in one that is often ignored and beyond the scope of this blog post, but it is very important.  Looking at all the costs related to student devices is imperative in an evaluation.  The upfront purchase cost is just one part, but support costs, repair costs, and maintenance costs, etc. must all be included to get an accurate picture.  A great in depth resource on total cost of ownership, or TCO, is available from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) at

In the end when the matrix is filled out, you should have a very good idea of what device will end up best meeting the needs of students and the district.  While sometimes it seems easier to keep the blindfold on, in the end you may end up with something that is unworkable and not sustainable for the long term. Why end up with an unreliable Pinto, when you can have a much better device at a lower TCO?