Browsing "technology"
Feb 7, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Canvas, Part 2.

I posted before the fall term about my excitement at getting our Canvas implementation off the ground, and haven’t updated since, so I wanted to follow up on how it all went down. Tl;dr: it went GREAT. When I surveyed the other users, the biggest complaints were “Canvas doesn’t do X,” when in fact, Canvas DOES do X, and I would show them how to do X, if they’d asked! I used that feedback to make some targeted tutorials that I hope reached those users. Since the survey was anonymous, I can’t know who was looking for those specific features. SpeedGrader has been a huge hit, for me and for users.

This semester, we have about double the courses being taught in Canvas from last semester. What I’ve found is that those who had to use it (as required for online instructors, for instance) were requesting permission to use it in the courses that it wasn’t a requirement. Other users requested based on feedback from the mandated users, as well. I’ve also had several faculty that teach and learn using other systems (because they are adjuncts at other colleges, or because they are taking classes at other places) that have come to me and said that after using Canvas, they are realizing how much more they like it as compared to other systems. (Blackboard and Moodle are the main ones that others report using.)

When I tweet about these things, there are a few people who will fire back with a bit of a “yeah, really? Other Company is so much better!” — but reading their tweets, its clear that they are changing from another vendor to Canvas, so there’s a different level of learning there. One area is in the way discussions post. I, personally, have NEVER liked the “click each response” type of forum (and I’ve moderated or been a member of forum systems — outside of an LMS — for more than a dozen years now) so the Canvas forums make sense to me. And that’s the thing – when it’s a change, it’s going to be frustrating. Being that we are starting with Canvas as our first LMS, I don’t have to “unlearn” users and reteach them the Canvas way. If the forums on Canvas were the “click each one,” I’d be complaining, too. I recognize that that is an advantage, and am thankful for it.

But more than that, I am thankful for being able to teach with Canvas. Now that I am teaching my Tech in Ed class, the beauty of Canvas is starting to really show for me. Being able to put all of our twitter links and blog posts together (I’m a big advocate of connected educators) within the course is great. I used to teach Google Reader, but am moving that focus to Twitter – partly because of the changes that Google made to Reader and it’s sharing features – but I still use Reader myself, and have bundled the class blogs and embedded them into a Canvas page. (Here’s a screencast showing how to do that.) I’ve also added the Twitter LTI extension (I am a full Canvas admin, in addition to being an instructor) and have the results for our #ed307 hashtag embedded on the front page. I have plotted out all of the assignments, but left some of them as TBA — because Canvas will let me edit and add details later (and notify the students when I do), but at least I can give my students an expectation of the scope and sequence of the work we’ll be doing. And SpeedGrading blog posts — one of the first possibilities I saw when reviewing Canvas last spring — is exactly as great as I hoped it would be. I can make public comments, and private grades, all from the same screen. EXACTLY what I needed.

I have faculty members doing some cool things, too. One instructor has fallen in love with using audio media comments to give feedback on written papers, and her students are reporting back that they like that method more than written, because they can hear from her tone of voice the way in which she is intending her comments to be interpreted. The way faculty can do graded discussions has been very well received by many faculty, as the previous method involved a lot of sifting and hoping you didn’t miss anything. And importing quizzes from test banks is making even more people happy.

What would I change?

I would like for discussion posts to have the option to be locked from editing or deletion. The one thread I have done in my class was a simple “post a link” so I assume that most of the deletions were people trying to figure out how to create the clickable link, but I can see how in a higher stakes graded discussion that would be frustrating.

I love, love, love using Google Docs, and love the concept of collaborations, but it would be nice if a collaboration could be turned in as an assignment. I have students submit their URLs to do that, now, but it would be nice if the snapshot wasn’t of the login screen when that’s submitted. It’s just an extra click to view the original document, and it’s worth the click to be able to use the Google Docs commenting.

I’d also like to be able to copy assignments. I have 12 blog posts for my students to do, with a generic rubric, but I have to create each of the blog posts individually and then add the rubric (which I CAN reuse.) I’d love to be able to be building a collection of content to pick from as I teach my courses, and faculty would like this, too. Now, they have to go into old courses (and I had to extend the term availability for them to do it) to copy content.

Most of the things I would like to see changed are on the Admin side. I’d like it if course names and their IDs were able to display at the same time. When there are multiple offerings of Intro to Canvas, it’s a lot of clicking to find the section you are looking for. (Maybe schools that use Sections don’t have this, but we haven’t done that because it is an exception that an instructor would be teaching all sections of a course or that all sections of a course use the same content.) Even if it was something that was revealed by hovering over the course name, that would work, but it can be a little annoying to click around looking for the course you need.  When I look at user lists in a course, too, it’d be nice to have  a collapsed view to see them all at once.

But overall, things are really good with Canvas. I am going deeper this semester, and have already used peer reviews and loved it. I can’t wait to try playing with outcomes this semester, too, and more of the LTI integrations.


Nov 16, 2012 - technology    No Comments

Educause 2012

I have way more Denver pics to share, but I wanted to post a few thoughts about Educause, the conference I attended and the whole reason I went to Denver in the first place.

I have wanted to attend ever since I started working in Higher Ed, but family and time commitments just didn’t work out. I’ve attended NERCOMP twice, and both times thought it was a great conference. The last one I went to was in March, and I came home with a list of things to work on, put into place, etc. (The biggest of those would be Canvas, actually. At the time I attended NERCOMP, the plan was to go with…. another vendor.. and all the stuff I heard about Canvas made me wish the stars had aligned that we had started our LMS search THEN and not months before, and anyway, LOOOONG story short, I’m pretty sure if not for NERCOMP, when the other option started to fall apart, it was my conversations and connections made in Providence that landed us where we are today.) So, it was a great conference, and I was really hoping that Educause would be the bigger, better, magnified version of NERCOMP…. and it wasn’t.

I’ll start with the good — it was a great venue, and had great food, and I never once waited in line for a bathroom. It was pretty well organized. I met some nice people.

But the bad… the Shirky keynote was great, but it wasn’t much of anything I hadn’t heard before. The sessions… varied. I tried to choose the ones that were focused on distance and hybrid learning, because those are big on our campus right now, but clearly, they are big on EVERY campus. The “4 questions not to ask” session was standing room only. (And I also noticed, on twitter, that other concurrent sessions seemed to be about asking those 4 questions, so there was some conflict in ideals with that.  (Also, in a standing room only session, it sure would have been nice to have had the speakers use the chairs that were provided for them, instead of trying to find them in the crowd on the floor.)  One session I hauled myself too had been cancelled, and the teaching & learning sessions were spread so far apart it took a while to find another. The most disappointing sesssion was on Thursday. “Making the Connection” was listed under teaching and learning. Now, if you click on that link, you can see all the details, and see that the presenter is the VP of software engineering for D2L. But if you were looking at the app, or the mini guide, you only get the session description, which sounded great. And honestly, it could have BEEN great — had D2L bothered to find someone, ANYONE from one of their client schools to share some real life examples. I’m sorry, but an engineering exec does not convince me, especially when he starts with “okay, this is a fake student and this is a fake university but here’s some things you might do…” Full disclosure: I bailed after about 15 minutes. If at minute 16, actual users descended from the rafters and started sharing real life experiences, well, I missed it. But I was so peeved that I had been snookered into attending a vendor presentation, with fake info, that I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I actually left that session and went to “Moving to the Cloud,” which was another vendor presentation, about Canvas by Instructure. But it was a marked contrast (and I am really trying to be even in my assessments here) because the four speakers were people who were using Canvas and were sharing their implementation stories. I could see some key Canvas folks sitting in the front row, presumably there to be able to answer questions, but it was a totally client led presentation. And the speakers shared the good, the bad, and the ugly about their experiences implementing Canvas. It wasn’t a sales pitch by an engineer who didn’t know how to talk teaching and learning.  Another session that I was excited for was “Opening the LMS door to the community.” Since we have a strong focus on experiential learning, I was really excited about this, and it was in the teaching and learning track…. but it was all about the mechanics of it, how to configure user accounts for non students, etc etc. That’s not pedagogy. That’s systems maintenance. SIGH. So, that’s how the conference felt, all the way through. Like every session I attended was a missed opportunity to attend something better.

The two best sessions: Engaging Online Learners for Success: Beyond the LMS is the only one I took notes in. (And seriously, NERCOMP was a flurry of notetaking, both times.) The information was incredibly relevant to where my university is now, and the speaker was accessible, and I’ve already shared the notes I took with others on campus. It was great. The other was Instructional Technologies. When I walked into that session, I recognized a familiar face at the speakers table, and looked at my programs and didn’t see his name, but I was certain I knew who it was, so I asked when I had a chance, and yes, it was Dr Ruben Puentedura, whose SAMR model I teach to my undergrads, and who I have seen at ACTEM and MLTI student conferences several times in years past. So, yes, I traveled and spent thousands of dollars to have the best session be an extension of ones I’ve had for free, 8 miles from my house. (Or, for $100, 60 miles from my house. You get the picture.) In that session, though, I expressed my disappointment with the whole Educause experience, and after the session, I had several people approach me — some to agree and commiserate, and others to share info on other conferences that might be a better fit for someone with my interests.

Also, attending the Canvas party was a highlight — I was driving so it wasn’t for the free drinks, but I talked to several people there about Canvas, and what was working and faculty stories, and how we are implementing and all of that, and made some good connections with other new and some experienced Canvas users.

A caveat, I was not staying on site, and maybe that would make a difference. But I’m not sure it would — even at NERCOMP, where I stay right on site, I usually retire to my room with takeout at the end of the day (I have little kids! It means I can eat! in solitude! plus hotels have HGTV and we don’t have cable, so…) so it’s not like I missed some of that face time. And on the flip side, I am so glad I had my first (and probably last) Educause in Denver where I was able to spend so much time with my sister — had I had this experience and been by myself in a hotel in Philadelphia or Anaheim, I’d probably be reaalllly bummed (while watching HGTV and eating Indian food, but still.)

I really want to check out ELI next time, and I would really like to get a cadre of people to go to the Canvas conference in June, especially on the cusp of a full implementation. I also plan to keep NERCOMP in rotation, as well. But for the price — it ate all of my PD money for the year — I don’t want to do Educause again. I think it would be a great conference for the CIO/manager types, but for the teaching & learning side, I was pretty disappointed. Maybe I just didn’t hit the right rooms, or find my tribe, or whatever, but I am glad I experienced it, and can appreciate the smaller ones even more now.

Now just some bullets:

  • Best swag: a usb car charger thing (that I gave directly to my sister who desperately needed one) and a mini power strip from FireEye were my favorite. Also some earbuds from Acquia, I had my bluetooth ones with me but realized corded might be better for the plane, so that was nice.  The Canvas flask from the party was pretty nice, too, and thank you for the candy: so many.
  • Worst swag: I attended a discussion in the learning theater about women in IT (That was great!) and then walked out and was immediately confronted with a booth that had drivers as a prize (golf club drivers, not software). Free t-shirts are men’s swag, too, I think. Stuffed animals can go either way, since we are all taking them home to our kids.
  • Best prizes: someone won a car, so that’s pretty good, but I basically only drop my card/get scanned for cash gift cards, iOs devices, or kindles.
  • I never know if I should act interested with the vendor when I’m dropping a card or just be straight up and tell them I make no purchasing decisions and I don’t care what they are selling, just want to enter the drawing/have a pen/etc. We’re generally both wasting our time with those conversations when they don’t understand what little (none) influence I have.
  • I could never be in sales. Never, ever. Oy.


Oct 4, 2012 - fitness, technology    No Comments

What I Run With

Last night at Ingrid’s gymnastics, I was talking to a friend about how much fun it is to support a fitness habit with gear. I’m really not a shopaholic but as a geek, I do love gadgets and data and all of that. And as a Mainer, you do have to consider the clothing as well.

So, here’s what I run with:


I just bought this shirt from Target – a Powercore running shirt that is soft inside, wicks sweat and all of that. It’s compression so it’s super tight, but it helps with the jigglies quite a bit. I’ve had a few days to use it, but this week has been warmer so I’ve been using my summer clothes (A basic wicking tee from C9 by Champion – more Target – and a pair of Avia capris I have had for years) but the below 40 degree days, this shirt has been great.

I also wear a sports bra, but I’ve had it for years and don’t even know who makes it but I think it maybe came from Kohl’s originally? It works so far, so I haven’t gotten a new one. Since I’m, ahem, fairly large chested, they are hard to come by, so I’m just happy to have one that works and sort of dreading the day I need to find another one. (Though I’ve heard good things about Moving Comfort





For cold weather legs, I was advised to get Under Armour Frosty Tights. Those things are like $50! But yay, they had some on 50% clearance in Navy Blue, even available through Amazon with free shipping, so I bought them for $25. The first time I wore the compression shirt and the compression tights I felt a little — exposed (despite being so covered only my hands and neck and head were showing) because it’s all tight. But oh well, I run in the dark and never see anyone and even if I do? OH WELL. I’m running. I was really surprised at how warm they kept me on my coldest days (so far) so I’m glad I got them.

My socks are from Target, too (sensing a theme?) and are Duo Dry ankle socks and they seem to be just fine, though I’ve heard that other brands can be better.




Shoes: I am wearing Asics GT2150 that I purchased last year from a local sporting goods store. This is when I first decided to do C25k, and they seem fine but I really would like to go to the Maine Running Company for an actual fitting. I have heard noth

ing but good things about that process, at their store, and being an overweight, duck footed runner, I could probably use some professional advice. They seem to work fine, but I read about others who just LOVE their shoes and stockpile them and won’t ever buy anything else, and I think I need more professional input before I can say that.





First and foremost, I run with my iPhone. It’s (“just”) the iPhone4, but I love that it does so many things all at once. I have apps to monitor my pace and distance and cadence and tell me when to run and when to walk and when I need to move faster, and I just looove that. And while my phone is tracking all of that data, it’s ALSO playing my favorite podcasts (I know I should probably run to music, but running is when I have clear enough headspace to actually LISTEN to my podcasts. My favorites are This American Life, MacBreak Weekly, Manic Mommies, and This Week in Tech.  I have other favorites, too like the Moth, but that would require more playlist management than I do right now because it’s a short one. The other 4 I listed are all at least an hour long, so they are good for my workouts. I’ll always take recommendations for other podcasts, though!)

The apps that I use are iSmoothRun — it tracks a ton of data AND will export to multiple places. I have mine set to post a summary of my run to Facebook, Twitter, DailyMile and RunKeeper. I can also set up custom interval workouts, so when I get frustrated with a C25K week, I can make my own. Like, this morning I did my 3/1:30 routine, but I have a list of workouts I’ve made that I can choose from. I set a custom pace (12:30 – have I mentioned I am sloooow) so that when I am in an interval, it will tell me to speed up or slow down. And after every interval, it will let me know how I did. Interesting finding — I can never find that exact pace until the END of my workout. Which is weird, because it means I’m speeding up as I go farther??) It cost a few bucks when I bought it, but I really like it.

I use Downcast for my podcasts. This is a new one for me, and might be the solution to listening to shorter podcasts on longer workouts, because it does have a playlist feature. I like it way more than the interface in itunes, or even their new podcasts app, but I only recently bought it because my old one was basically bricked with an update. (Podcaster 5) and it was time to move on…


Headphones: Kinivo bluetooth headphones. When I hit my 10% goal in Weight Watchers, I rewarded myself with some wireless headphones. I am surrounded by magical technology, and it has always, always driven me nuts that headphones are still usually a knot of wire and figuring out which is right and which is left and then having the cord flap in your face while  you run, and needing to have the headphones always be just 3 feet from the phone. Oh my god, the anxiety corded headphones have given me in the years of digital music. Anyway. I bought the Kinivo pair based on reviews and price. I am not an audiophile that is going to be super critical of sound quality, but they sound fine to me.  They are over the ear, which I prefer because I can hear the environmental noise — cars, people, etc — still. Since I also wear glasses, I was worried about how they’d compete with the limited over-the-ear real estate I have, but it’s been fine. They sync quickly, remember the phone, and have a pretty great battery life — it took 3 weeks to drain them the first time, and I’m still waiting for the second drain. My only minor complaints are that the one button can be tricky because if you go to power off and don’t press long enough, you’ll dial the last number dialed (oops!!) and there is no ear-to-ear adustability, so there is some space between the plastic band and my neck. But for $25?? Those aren’t issues.





Fitbit! I got the Fitbit for Christmas and have worn it just about every day since. It tracks steps and flights of stairs (and sleep, buuut with a toddler that doesn’t sleep through the night, that ends up just depressing me) and syncs to a website where you can share your data with friends. I wear it on my bra, both when running and just with everyday use. It’s very cool to see the trends and how I’m doing with my goal, and to know that it’s 2000 steps to go around the loop and that my morning run route is almost 7k steps. And with my employer holding a step contest right now, it is super easy to just pull up my data and enter my numbers. I have the Ultra, but the newest version — the One — adds some great features, like Bluetooth syncing. (It will work with an iPhone 4s or 5, and the newest iPad, I think.) Right now, I don’t see the numbers online until I get home because it has to sync through a base station.


And to carry my iPhone, I use a SPIBelt. Yes, it’s basically a fanny pack, but it’s SO much better than one. It doesn’t bounce, it protects my phone from the elements, but keeps it near, and it fits so snugly that with my regular shirts, I wear it underneath and you don’t even notice it’s there. I have the water resistant one, in black, but they make lots of other colors and options. I had tried an armband for my phone but to make the phone fit, I had to remove my every day case, and it was awkward on my arm, and I couldn’t get to the controls, etc. With the SPIBelt, it disappears, basically, and I need to remove my phone to  access the controls (or not, I can stretch out the belt part and see my phone if I just unzip) but I can just set up my app and my podcast and go with it.





That’s what I have now — what will I want next? I can see purchasing official running capris in the spring, and some new socks and shoes. (OH! And I met my goal for the Freaky5k so will be donning a Team Sparkle skirt later this month, color TBA) And with technology, I’ve heard cool things about heart-rate monitors and GPS watches, but I look at the Garmin website and just get overwhelmed. Or if/when I update my phone, and I can use Bluetooth 4.0, I could probably just get a HRM and sync it wirelessly WHILE wearing my headphones (my Bluetooth doesn’t allow multiple connections). ANd then I think if I could have the GPS features of the Garmin with the ease of use and syncing with the Fitbit. . . that would be awesome. It would be nice to see more easily the time and pace and all that (with my phone in the SPIBelt, I can’t see it, so I rely on the app to tell me my statistics. And I haven’t used an HRM but have heard good things. But when I look at the Garmin site and see all the options, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect one (the 405 seems best, it’s now discontinued but available on eBay — but I’ve heard mixed things.) I am such a gadget hound, and will always be looking for the one device to do it all, all the time.

Is there such a device? Or any Garmin fans out there to provide advice?

Sep 13, 2012 - technology    No Comments

Why I Love Tech Events

In the last 7 days, there have been two big tech events that I have followed closely. The first was Amazon’s Kindle event, and the second was Apple’s iPhone/iPod event. Twitter on both days (but especially yesterday, with the Apple event) was a mix of people sharing their thoughts about the event, or sharing how annoyed they are by people who share their thoughts on the event. Which, I get it — I get annoyed when people tweet every play of a game, or every segment of an entertainment awards show, or whatever. But I LOVE this stuff, and not because I am going to BUY it — but because I want to see what has been done to advance the technology. There’s some consumerism in there, sure (but there’s a lot of consumerism in pro sports and Hollywood, too) but I just love seeing how far we’ve come. The first phone I used was my home phone, and it was a rotary dial, of course, but it was also a PARTY LINE. I am 37 years old and have seen my telephone evolve from a party line to a tiny computer that lets me videochat with my sister across the country. That blows my mind, so I always watch with the hope that the next thing to come will be mindblowing as well.

So, first up, the Kindle event. I have a 1st gen Kindle that I got through work, back when it first came out. 5 years ago? or so? And it was great, I loved the e-reader concept and still do. But since then, I’ve also gotten an iPad (also through work) and since most of my reading is done in bed, I ended up using that a lot because it’s backlit. Kindles I have personally spent money on= 1, a gift for my sister in Colorado, and another yay, technology! thing about that, is that I have the Kindle under my account, so we can share books — something I really can’t do when she is 3000 miles away. When I first got my hands on the Kindle (the original) my thoughts were that it was really cool, but really expensive, and if I was paying, I wouldn’t have bought one unless I had accessibility issues. Having worked in book retail for years (RIP, Borders), as well as libraries, Large Print books are often abridged, and they are huge, monstrous things, and not every book gets the LP treatment. My very first thought with the K1 was “every book is now in large print, unabridged. Awesome.” Future kindles added text-to-speech (and then even more future kindles took it away in many models) but my first thought was what a boon e-readers would be for assistive technology.

When it came to the Kindle event last week, I really didn’t care about the Fire models. I have a tablet, I’m pretty committed to Apple for most of my technology (more in a bit) but the thing I found I didn’t like between reading on the K1 and reading on the iPad was the distractibility of the iPad. With a Kindle, I can straight up get lost in a book. With the iPad, I can read along, until a notification pops in to let me know that I got an email (“Oh, it’s from a student, I will just answer that now so I don’t have to worry about it later”) or a tweet directed to me or someone messages me on facebook, or or or — distractions that don’t come with a dedicated e-reader. But, I really liked the backlighting of the iPad (except when I try to read at lunch in a sunny spot. Then, yeah, it really sucks.) When the Nook with glow came out, I was excited — not because I was going to get one, but because I knew that Amazon would have to follow with something, and something even better. I watched the event last week specifically to see how they would do it, and it looks great. Kindle Paperwhite
has exactly all the features I want, at about 1/4 of the price of the original K1. I added it, and the leather case (in Honey !) to my Amazon wishlist as soon as the event was over.
What I love: the front-lighting looks great, it’s small and light, and did I mention only $119?

What I’ll miss: I loved the weird space age feel of that weird silvery cursor thing on the K1. I can’t explain why, I just did. I also loved buttons for turning pages, because it meant I could burrow under a blanket and turn pages and my hands wouldn’t get cold. That may sound a little weird but I live in Maine, we are cheap with oil, and when you are reading in bed in a 58 degree room, you appreciate being able to have as much of your person as insulated as possible. The Paperwhite has no buttons and a touch screen, and I haven’t found any info yet on how that will work with gloves, etc.

(Man, that hand looks gigantic. I know they want to make the Kindle seem small and light, but what pecentile does that hand fall on?!)



The other event that I always follow are the Apple events. I love Apple, I do, and I am eyeballs-deep into their ecosystem (exactly where they want me) but I love it for the reason so many people do — it works, and it works well for me, and for my general household. Like I like sharing books with my sister, I like sharing apps with my husband, or keeping our music in one pile under iTunes Match (which, we have pretty different tastes, but I like just having one account to deal with it.) My first (and thus far, only) smartphone is an iPhone4. My first iPod was the fat nano, and I sold that when I got an ipod touch in 2009 (because of where we live, while I really desired an iPhone, the AT&T service is terrible here, so I couldn’t justify it, so I did the iPod touch + dumbphone for a few years.) Dave had a fat nano that ended up being too small for his collection, so he bought a used Classic and sold the nano. I have had an iPad1 and and an iPad2 (still have) through work. Dave has a refurb iPad1, and we have a 27″ iMac* we got last summer, after using a G4 iBook for 6 years straight. I say all that to note that we are not “must have the newest, latest, greatest!” but that we tend to be pretty frugal and selective with what we DO buy.

The reason I was especially interested in this year’s iPhone announcement is that Dave needs a new phone. When we first switched to Verizon several years ago (because our local carrier was bought out, and because I get a discount because of my employer), he got an LGChocolate and I got an LG Env2. The Chocolate died earlier in the year, so I activated the old Env2 for him, which he’s been using, but with frustration — it pocket dials, and lately, it just turns itself off without warning, so he will come home to find his phone hasn’t even been ON, and he has missed messages. We looked for a feature phone that would work for him — requirements of “qwerty keyboard, won’t pocket dial, good ratings” and … they just don’t exist. In fact, when I asked on Facebook if anyone could recommend one (and specifically said, NOT A SMARTPHONE), I got 6 recommendations. All for smartphones. Feature phones are going away, and fast, and I didn’t want to use contract pricing on a crappy phone. But, we wanted to wait to see what Apple had for it’s next-generation.

iPhone5 is … underwhelming. LTE is nice, but we don’t have it in our area yet, and we are very infrequent travelers. The bumps to the camera seem okay, but.. not huge. That there isn’t any NFC — especially with the Passbook app — is almost… weird. And the dock connector changing — I get why they had to, but it’s probably a big reason why we aren’t going to bother with the 5 this time. I’m sure, eventually, we’ll end up with devices that use the lightning connector, but right now we have enough devices that use 30pin that we have docks and cables and car chargers and all of that, and I don’t want to deal with starting the conversion now. The things I’m most excited about are in the new iOs6, anyway, and not the actual phone. HD front camera? Eh. I do think the EarPods look like an improvement though, as I have never used Apple’s headphones because they just don’t fit in my ear, at all. I leave some at work or in the car in case I forgot my usual ones, but that’s about it. After all the hype, we’ll be getting Dave a 4s — maybe a 32gb if they go on a steep discount, but even the 16 would probably be enough. (It wouldn’t for me, but I realize I am probably a heavier user than he will be.) More exciting than Dave having a fancy phone will be Dave having a phone that STAYS ON which means I can REACH HIM.

The iPods are definitely neat looking — Ingrid has an old school CD player that was bought at Rite Aid I think (a no-name brand we’ve had around for years) and she is getting into music now. Her newest favorite is the Fresh Beat Band, and one evening a few weeks ago, I downloaded the album to my phone, on a whim, while we were outside, and when it started playing, she was SO excited. I burned her the CD when I got inside, and she’s been loving it, but it made me think “huh, when will this go the way of the ladybug record player? I wonder when she will get her first ipod?” Because, she will, some day. Not this year, probably, but I look at the Nano and it’s cute colors and think it’s totally workable by a little kid. And the colored Touch models are clearly aimed at the under18 market for getting most of the advantages of a smartphone, without the data plan.

In general, though, I was left feeling Meh. I almost feel like there was something else that was supposed to be there, in the phone — but it didn’t get perfected in time. (Also, I just finished reading Steve Jobs by Isaacson this week, so that is probably coloring my reaction, too. That maybe there was something that without the ‘reality distortion field’ around, it actually DIDN’T get done on time like with other products.) (Also, ironically, I read that book in its paper form, checked out from the library.) I’m glad we waited — either way we’ll be getting a better deal than if we’d bought a month ago, but there’s nothing to make me buy up to the latest model for this situation, and I wonder if there are others feeling the same. Especially with 4s coming in at a baseline 16 instead of 8 — it’s way more palatable. (I don’t think I could go 8gb for any smartphone, even for Dave.)

Two events, that will probably net out a total of $250 spent over the next few months. Yes, I love my tech events. But most of it is just to see what’s out there now, and to start wondering about what will be next. iPhone5s rumors… are there any yet? I’ll have to check twitter.

*My first computer was a 386 Compaq ‘laptop’ that I took to college, which was followed by a Toshiba satellite, which was followed by a used G3 iBook, the G4, and then the iMac. The iPad is what led us to buy that first desktop.

Sep 2, 2012 - education, technology    2 Comments

Back to School with Canvas

Today I greeted my new class of first year students. I love teaching this class (you have to, to be okay with giving up your holiday weekend each year to teach it!) because I am the first instructor they meet. I take that role seriously — I try to set the tone for their college experience on that first day, by being positive and friendly and accessible.

This year, I am setting the tone by being even more prepared. Sure, I have started each class with a syllabus, posted a link in the portal, etc, but this year I built my whole course in Canvas. The other sections are using a 3 ring binder, developed by the course leader, and in lieu of the binder,  I rounded up electronic versions of those files and created modules (where the binder has tabs.)

But that’s just the baseline – the part I am even MORE excited about are the assignments, and how in Canvas, the assignments can be done so flexibly. For instance, my students are required to attend two different events during the semester, and in the past, that was proven by the student providing the handout in their portfolio. Which was fine, but easily forged. So, when I heard an instructor lament that they’d never seen an electronic device being used in class for classwork, I decided to make those event assignments something different than providing the handout. For those, the students need to provide a photo of themselves at the event. They will get 10 points (full score) if they are in the photo, and 5 points if it’s a photo of the speaker. Simple, but that I can specify the file type of .jpg or allow a link makes it easier.

We also do journaling in this course, but in the past, we were to collect journals at the end. So, of course, many were done the day before they were due and just backdated. This time, I have made 5 journal due dates throughout the semester, and only accepting submissions via URL. (Have I mentioned that we are ALSO converting to Google Apps this year, too? Another huge, bright spot in my day!) Attaching the rubrics makes the expectations clear to the students what is due. The calendar makes it clear WHEN it is due. I am in love.

When I was researching our next move with an LMS, Canvas was my personal first choice, and I knew that regardless what direction the institution would go, that I would use it my Technology in Education course. (Due to the nature of the course, it’s sort of part of the design that I get to go a little rogue with my choices.) The one thing that my evals have dinged me on is “timely feedback for grades,” and it’s the area that I’ve tried to make better with each class. The challenge in that course is that so much of it is blogging, and I can’t provide a grade on the blog, for privacy’s sake, so I end up with my Google Reader open and a Google Spreadsheet and trying to cross reference and set color coded rules, but I can’t share the spreadsheet with students because it has ALL their grades (FERPA again) and I inevitably scroll past (and thus, “mark as read”) a blog entry, and half of them title their blog “my ED307 blog” so I have to dig to see which student is saying what, and…. it’s a logistical nightmare. Add Twitter to my curriculum, and that doubles. So, when I saw the URL submission piece in Canvas, and the Speedgrader, it was the EXACT solution I had been looking for. I can now use a rubric for the blog posts, grade and comment all at the same time, and my students will know exactly where they stand.

Secondly, one of the biggest WTF? moments of last semester was when many students bombed a major project. I am a big fan of the “double dip” – I don’t create work without a purpose. So, when we discussed writing rubrics, and rubric tools, I used that class to have students design the rubric for the next big project. We designed the rubric, I posted it, and they had 3 weeks to complete. Many students failed, and it was clear that they never went back to the rubric to help guide their project. Those that had used the rubric, did great. Those that didn’t…. After that assignment, I knew that next year, I would have students do a peer review – if they had just had a peer look at it, with the rubric, everyone should have aced the project. And so Canvas offers every.piece.of.that. Every one. I can create the rubric, they submit the project via URL, I can demand a peer review, they can correct any issues, and THEN I can assess with the rubric.

I am convinced that my students will be more confident in their progress in the course, and that I will see that reflected in my teaching evals. And I am also convinced that students will start asking for more of that from their instructors, and once they see how much EASIER it is than any other method we’ve used before, that they will be into it, too.

Here’s a little clip showing how SpeedGrader works, from Instructure’s guides:


Apr 18, 2012 - education, technology    No Comments


In January, I got a dreadful email that my beloved Picnik was closing. Picnik was a free (with premium options — and I was a premium member) photo editing site that was absolutely the best solution for my many and varied needs. A flurry of blog posts ensued, with Picnik alternatives, but they weren’t alternatives. They were just other photo editing sites. I loved that Picnik was NOT trying to be like Photoshop, because it made it so accessible to my students. Or, if they veered close, they had ads that were not PK-12 appropriate, so that doesn’t work either. Or, they just didn’t have the essential tools that my undergrads need — a major use of Picnik for us is to anonymize photos of students to keep in line with FERPA, so if you don’t have a “focal pixelate” or “focal blur” option, you aren’t going to work. (Use ‘reverse effect’ to blur out student faces or names while preserving the spirit of the image.)

With the kill date for Picnik being 4/19, I tried to impress upon the student teachers that they needed to work on getting their images edited before then, and then shared my hope that the developers of Picnik would spin off a new product before then that they could take to the classroom once they were practicing teachers. Hallelujah, Picmonkey was born!

It worked out great, actually, and Picmonkey was what we used at our last teacher workshop. The only wrinkle? One of the cheeky suggestions was, funny, to an adult, but might lead some kids to wonder what “sacrifice a virgin” meant. I tweeted to the Picmonkey team, and emailed them, and within HOURS — hours! — they had changed the text to reference a “hamster in a wheel” instead. I was beyond impressed.

Picmonkey fills that gaping hole that Picnik left for me, and for my students. It’s NOT Fauxtoshop. It’s not peppered with ads for dating services. It’s easy to use for anyone who touches it. And when they offer a paid membership, I will totally be first in line to buy it. 

Jan 20, 2012 - education, family, technology    No Comments

Want to show Ingrid’s school the power of Twitter? Send her a postcard for this project and mention that you learned about it on Twitter. (And include your @name so I can thank you!) The postcards go directly to the school, and she is the only Ingrid there. Here’s a chance to show real teachers in a real school the real power of social media. 

We would love our tweets to generate a postcard from every state. When the project is over, Ingrid will be allowed to bring home the cards, and I will be excited to see who participated! Won’t you send a postcard, and pass it on? Thanks!

Jan 19, 2012 - education, technology    No Comments

Apple’s new education moves

I was excited to hear about Apple’s education products today for several reasons — in my career I deal with faculty at higher ed, AND with preservice K-12 teachers, so I look at these things through many lenses.

iBooks2: I really hope that there is a setting that allows people to trace the page without turning the page. That is, hands down, the hardest part of that app (or any e-reading app) for a new reader, I think.  The textbook feature is huge, and a long time coming, but I am truly puzzled as to why the focus was on K-12 and not higher ed. For one, K-12 students don’t buy their own textbooks, a district does, so anyone who is purchasing a $15 textbook at this point would require that that family has enough disposable income to have both an iPad and an extra $15 to rebuy a text. (I’m going to be general when talking about students, because I can definitely see a student that has special needs benefiting from a device and iBook that might be funded via the school system.) Hm. Also, K-12 students are generally in the same classroom, or at least the same building, each day, so portability is nice, but it’s not essential when it comes to books. (I won’t go into my anti-homework rant here, but making a lighter backpack for the trip home should not be done by making the textbook more portable.)

But higher ed — that’s where this could be revolutionary. There is not a single student on this planet that has ever said “Wow! I am so glad I spent this much money on that textbook!” Even if it provided good info, even if they learned, the college textbook industry is a total racket. Then, to lug those texts from home or your dorm room to class (and then it may or may not be used — I would also bet that there is not a single student who would say “I’ve used every textbook I’ve ever been required to purchase.”) and to manage which texts are used when, oh, and also maybe you are hauling a laptop… that’s where mobility comes in. College students pay for their own texts. College students are all carrying a mobile device, right now. (I’m including cell phones to laptops in this, and maybe it’s not “all” but it’s “a whole lot of ‘em,” based on my scientific research of looking around my own campus. (Okay, that’s not really scientific. But still.)

Now let’s throw in the iBooks Author — imagining turning the “supplemental readings” into it’s own text, well, that’s awesome. And to go the next step, and have my ED 307 students (Technology in Education) learn to make THEIR own texts for a mobile device, that could be great. What a way to differentiate in a classroom without ‘othering’ the kids that require it! (Oh, and in addition to being a teacher and an instructional technologist, I am a parent of a kindergartner, and hoping for discreet differentiation with her.)

And THEN, then, dump alllll that up there into iTunes U, and that’s something that’s pretty damn interesting. Although the “rate this class” feature, well, I can see that being the reason that some folks retreat from getting in there too much. And not everyone is into open resources, and it wasn’t clear if an iTunesU course could be restricted to just the registered students. 

My takeaways:

Apple really wants more 1:1 stuff in the K-12 realm. If you can subsidize your iPad program by cutting costs with your textbook expenses, and then outfit your teachers with the ability to draft their own texts, that’s pretty huge… but it’s also platform specific. One of the reasons I adore Google Apps is that it isn’t platform specific, so when our students use Apps to do portfolios, and not Noteshare (which is apple only) it’s because they might end up at a Windows or Linux or heck, even a Chromebook school, and I want the ideas to transfer wherever they go. Moving towards stuff like this is definitely moving to Apple in general. For instance, I was madly refreshing the Mac store to get into iBooks Author, but when it finally appeared, I had to be running Lion to use it, which is going to mean hounding my IT guy to upgrade my computers, already. (I do have Lion at home, and am anxious to try it out!) I love Apple. With wild abandon. But I can’t yet require my students to purchase an iPad to use my homegrown textbook. In a 1:1 pilot school, this will be a great way to expand on the investment, however.

I’m excited to get in there and try some of this stuff, though, and it’s always good to be excited about a shift in your field.

Nov 3, 2011 - life, technology    No Comments

Technology & the Small World

One of my twitter contacts (@jswiatek) put the call out earlier this week for people that could skype in to a professional development session for some of his teachers at Crystal River High School, in Crystal River, FL. I had the time available, so I volunteered, and planned to talk about the Brewer schools’ use of Skype in the classroom.

When it was time, I introduced myself and gave a brief bio of what I do and where I live, and then we chatted about Skype, and at the end, one of the teachers raised his hand and said “My name is George, and I grew up in Hampden, attended the University of Maine, and my family is good friends with the Husson family! How much snow do you have? ” George even knew of my hometown!

This is part of why I love technology — my connection with Jerry originated when we both blogged for LearnNC at Instructify, and then we have connected on Twitter as well, and the skype call was borne of that — but how cool that that connection would lead all the way around to finding someone from my own neighborhood! 

Resources for Jerry:

Brewer 4th graders Skype Across America

Brewer High

Sep 27, 2011 - technology    No Comments

Be a page!

At lunch today, I went downstairs and saw that one of the vendors set up was a local goat cheese maker that I happen to know uses Facebook as a person, and not a page, and it had come up on twitter before, so I approached him and said “you know, you need to be a page.”

He didn’t like that. “Nope. we want to be your friend!”

“But, by asking me to be your friend, you now access all of my info. Being a page means I get to keep my info private* and still get updates on your product.”

“But we have 1000 friends and counting!”

“You know that if you roll to a page, you keep your friends as fans, right? And that your most social-media savvy customers won’t friend a business, and that it’s a violation of the Terms of Service to use your business as a person?”

“Yep, but this is the most elegant solution for us. If you’re paranoid about us seeing your info we won’t look…” (Even if you aren’t seeking it out, people who use Facebook, what is the first thing you see when you log in? The stream of your friends’ activity. So…)

I’ll admit, I was hungry, and I was getting even more annoyed, but instead of buying my favorite blend of theirs (and I do love their cheese) I bought a loaf of bread from the next vendor instead, ate my lunch, and then reported the convo out to Twitter and reported them for TOS violation. 

It’s one thing to be naive about the person vs page debate. If you area aware of all of the above, and still choose to stay a ‘person,’ then the only reason is because you like seeing what your customers are doing. The conversation I had shows that they know that the alternative would still meet their mission (keep their fans, provide info and updates) but they refuse to operate under the stated TOS. 

*Remember, the internet is real life and nothing is every truly private…