Monday, March 28, 2011

Web 2.0 - Like Drinking Water from a Fire Hose

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

It seems that every time I turn around I see another new, or new and improved, tool out there that catches my attention and sends my mind into the, "I gotta sign up for that," mode. I have to admit it is very enticing when you see all of these innovative new tools coming at you fast and furious.

When you look at all of these new Web 2.0 technology offerings, making a choice can be like drinking water from a fire hose. I mean before you know it, if you lose your focus, you are signed up for a large number of sites that you find out you don't have any time to master or really integrate into your curriculum. The best advice that I can give is to take a deep breath and do your homework while developing your own Web 2.0 “Tool Kit.” By doing this you can develop skills and lessons based around your tool kit and then grow them from there. It’s very tempting to want to try all of the new things that you come across, but you need to explore them and make a decision as to whether that will work for you or not. Don’t try to “drink” them all in, take small “sips.”

So, how would one go about developing their own Web 2.0 toolkit? Here's my advice, and of course, I want to hear yours and what you use:

  1. Take time and reflect on your curricular goals and try to pinpoint areas that could be improved by the integration of a new tool or technology. Reflection is the key here, don't jump into the world of Web 2.0 without a plan and a clear focus on what you want yourself, and your students, to get out of it.

  2. Once you have a plan start to reach out to your colleagues both in person and through any networks that you have developed via your Personal Learning Network (You are developing your PLN aren't you??). Ask, what others in your curricular area have had successes and struggles with and filter that through your level of expertise as well as the vision that you have created in step one.

  3. Once you have made the decision take "baby steps," and make sure that you learn it well enough first before you fully implement it. Then identify a group of students that you feel would be a good group to pilot your new-found tool. Don't be afraid to have it fail at first, let the kids teach you what they have found it can do. They may come up with an entirely new, and innovative, approach to using it. Remember they are the experts sometimes.

  4. Once you have gone through the steps above stop and reflect again. I can't stress this enough, reflection should be a part of your daily routine. If it's not, then you are missing a very important step in your personal and professional life. Reflect on your successes and failures, as well as the feedback you received from your students and any observations that you have made.

Creating your Web 2.0 toolkit can be a daunting task. But, every craftsman has one and if you want to be successful educating our modern learners the you need your own to master your craft as well. Like real tools, your Web 2.o "Tool Kit," will get old, and better tools will come around, so always remember to go back through the process every once in a while to see if it's time to re-tool. Also, by all means continue to add new tools and grow it as well!!

So, now it's your turn. How have you developed your tool kit? What implementation strategies have worked for you and what are your favorite tools? Let's share our success and failures so we can all grow together.

Remember don't "drink" too fast, take small "sips" and leave time for reflection!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tablets - We're Almost There!

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

A whole lot of attention has been placed on the vast array of tablet devices that are on the market right now and their potential for changing the way we teach and learn.  Obviously with the release of the iPad 2 the discussion has ramped up a bit.  It seems to me that the talk about how the iPad 2, and other tablets, are going to "revolutionize" education, and how they are going to replace the computers and paper texts that we are using, is a bit premature.  Although I agree that the mobile computing platform is where we need to head, I still think that there is a whole lot of work that needs to be done.

Many people are talking about how the combination of  apps and e-textbooks are "the way to go."  There are so many great apps out there, and trying to cull your way through them can be cumbersome. Sure, there are ways to find the best ones but there are a lot that aren't viable either.  I think that we are still at the beginning of the true impact of  small applications that can be easily downloaded and are inexpensive and useful for the educational technology market.

The same goes for the way we are approaching e-texts.  There is a big difference between and e-book and an e-textbook.  An e-reader device or app works just fine for e-books because they are designed to be primarily flat text that is consumed in a linear fashion without any real interactivity. Just think about when someone is using a traditional book for study, not pleasure, they are going to interact with it in a variety of ways.  They will want to do what one would do with a paper text whether it be to annotate, highlight, or "dog ear" a page.   What I think we need to see are the designers of the devices, as well as the texts, look more towards interactive, dynamic and flexible content that will allow user to customize their experience.  The devices also need to be able to manipulate and create content in order to enhance any lesson that they are used for in the classroom.

I am not sure that they really have their act together yet on this because everyone is so busy just trying to get a product to market that they are trying to be all things to all people. Manufacturers, software designers and publishers need to get together and come up with a model that will make a tablet and digital text something that is more than just a tool for consumption.

The tablet creators are producing for a wide-ranging audience, not just educators, and I think that is where the challenges begin. A tablet that will revolutionize the way we teach and learn has yet to be produced because that device needs to be geared towards education as well. The iPad, which I am an owner of, as well as other Apple products, is truly a great innovation with a whole host of worthwhile educational apps. But, when I stopped and thought about it a bit, I have had a device similar, yet not as small, for a couple of years now and that is my tablet PC. Yes, it is a lot thicker and, a bit heavier, but not all that bad. I have a touch screen, stylus and a keyboard. Most importantly, I can produce content in a very efficient manner. It also costs about five times more than the iPad. Big downfall!!

So, we are still waiting for that fabled device that bridges that gap between a full-blown laptop and a powerful tablet that is affordable and capable of content creation, consumption and expandability. Now, don't get me wrong we are getting there and there are a few real players out there that are worth a look. One that I think is on the right track is the Kno Tablet.

The creators of the Kno have put together two models of the device, a single slate or a double that opens like a book. It has a built-in e-reader, notebook and browser. It allows the user to interact with their texts in a way that the others don't. They have also teamed with textbook companies to deliver e-textbooks that allow users to read, write and research all in one place. Users can write notes and highlight with their fingers or a stylus. You have the ability to keep multiple notebooks as well which makes it more of an "all-in-one," device. They are also offering a Software Development Kit (SDK) and recruiting developers for an app store to build upon its features. For now, it is marketed to higher education with the idea that e-textbooks are cheaper and that it will pay for itself in the savings they offer.

Check out this video to see its features in action -

In my opinion, and I want to hear yours, the concept of the Kno is good, but it is still a device that is primarily for content consumption and notation. Sadly, the producers of the Kno have halted production and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Some have speculated that the company is going to concentrate on developing their software and will team up with a better known hardware manufacturer for more market exposure. So, the future of the device is yet to be determined.

While we wait for that one device to come along that satisfies all of our educational technology needs it sure is fun to watch and see what innovations will take place. Early adopters need to give feedback to these companies and in turn they really need to reach out to consumers, educators and students. These conversations will continue to drive the innovations and really solidify the tablet's place in the educational market.

So, my question to you is this: "What features do you want to see in a tablet that could "revolutionize" education?