Their World

movie

I found this short movie online and thought it was bloody fantastic. I think it really hits on the issues in education that many schools don’t seem to be thinking enough about, or at least if they are thinking about them, they don’t seem to be truly committing to do something about them.

This ought to be required viewing at everybody’s next staff meeting.

If you can read this, thank a Teacher

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. Yes, on October 5 it will be World Teacher Day. So take a moment and send a quick email to a teacher that made a difference to you or your children. There’s nothing quite so lovely as getting a note from a student who tells you that you made a difference to them. I know it’s the true reward of the teaching profession.

PodcastGraphicsmall.jpgAnyway, I’m looking to also launch a new project I’ve been working on, and I reckon October 5 could be just the right date to do it. It’s a podcasting project where I’m getting the bestest, smartest, most creative teachers I know and sticking a few of them in a Skype conference, recording our conversation and releasing it as a podcast. We’ll talk about technology education in particular and what we can do to make school a great experience for the kids we teach.

Check it out on www.virtualstaffroom.net, and hopefully by October 5 we will have podcast number 1 up and running! Details for subscribing via iTunes or some other RSS aggregator will be on the site.

An Invasion of Armies Can be Resisted…

…but not an idea whose time has come, wrote Victor Hugo.

I just read a wonderful post over on the Fischbowl blog about a school ban on the use of certain “electronic devices” in class. The school I’m currently teaching at has just implemented a similar policy… and I think it sucks.

I was quite horrified when I heard the “new rule” for the start of the school year at my school here in Canada…

“No iPods, Cellphones or other electronic devices in class at any time”.

I can see little point in introducing rules that clearly cannot be enforced. I approached the vice principal after our first staff meeting and quizzed him about it, pointing out that I felt there were many educationally sound uses of an iPod in class, from class podcast projects to their use as a portable harddrive to some quiet private music to work to without bothering the rest of the class. He nodded sagely and said that of course, if it was for educational purposes it would be ok.

So what constitutes an “educational use” of these devices in the eyes of the administration? Apparently not very much, as we get reminded every morning that these devices of the devil are NOT to be in any classrooms.  In my opinion, any use of these devices that makes the classroom a better place to be or for learning to be made more effective, relevant or just plain enjoyable counts as an educational use. I really don’t think many teachers would be prepared to tolerate too many ongoing “un-educational” uses of them, such as having kids blasting music into their heads while the teacher was trying to explain something to the class.

But other than that, what really is the problem? Can’t teachers, if they see the MP3 player being used in a disruptive or annoying way, just say so to the kid and use it as a chance to impart a little “learning experience” about appropriate behaviour and appropriate uses of the device?

By placing a blanket ban on iPods and cell phones and “any other electronic device” (whatever that means), the administration sets themselves up for failure, or at least an ongoing battle that they will ever really win.

Extra, Extra, Read all about it!

As my reliance on RSS feeds has increased lately I’ve outgrown my ability, or willingness, to manually keep track of the blogs that I like to follow. From initially wanting to keep up with a small handful of blogs from a few people I know, my needs have now grown to include a much larger number of blogs and feeds that I like to keep up with. Seems that there are lots of folk I know who are now blogging, as well as there being a number of “professional” blogs which I find interesting so the idea of automating the process of tracking them is definitely something I’m interested in.

Fortunately every blog comes with the built-in technology for doing exactly this – RSS. RSS (an acronym for Really Simple Syndication) creates a feed using XML which can be read and regularly checked by software designed to do just that. In effect, it’s a bit like managing email in that I have a list of blogs and websites that I’vesubscribed to, and the updates appear in my reader as soon as an update happens to any of them. I no longer need to remember to check all these sites to see if they’ve been updated – my feed reader does it for me.

On the Mac, I’ve been using a free open source RSS reader called Vienna, and I really like it. Very simple, easy to use and works well. There are a bunch of others of course – I tried NetNewsWire for a while, and although it was pretty good, it wasn’t free whereas Vienna was. I actually prefer Vienna’s interface more too.

On Windows, I hear that FeedReader or FeedDemon are pretty good, but I haven’t tried them. FeedReader looks quite good from the screenshots I’ve seen.

There are also a few web-based feedreaders such as Bloglines that work through the browser directly, but I’ve not really played with them very much. I guess I’m still an applications kinda guy 🙂

Either way, an RSS feed aggregator of some sort is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already done so. Managing all my blog and other feeds are so much simpler now that my software does the heavy lifting for me.

Move over Lonelygirl, here comes Jo

Well, the big story on YouTube recently was that of Lonelygirl15, a supposed teenage girl named Bree who was videoblogging her life story on YouTube. I watched a couple of episodes and although it was interesting I couldn’t help thinking that it was an overly-slick production for a teenage girl to be making alone in her bedroom. As it turns out, lonelygirl did indeed turn out to be a hoaxygirl, and the whole thing was in fact made up by a couple of screenwriters looking to get some hype… For a while there, Bree was the most popular channel on YouTube.

But let me introduce you to some real YouTube videos made by Jo, a friend of mine back in Australia, and I think they are far more interesting than Bree and her made-up adventures. I worked with Jo on a couple of writing projects… at the time, she was head-over-heels in love with a new man in her life. Since then, well, things seem to have gone a bit pear shaped and Jo decided to vent her thoughts as a YouTube videoblog.

Jo muses about life and love, and gives us a little peek into her internet dating forays. I’ve enjoyed watching them, and think they deserve a look. Heck, they beat television anytime! You go girl!

Check them out at http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Sassenech2

The UI Paradox

As a power user on the Windows platform and a quick learner on the Mac platform, there is something about the difference between the two that has always intriuged me. I’ve noticed it in many forms over the years, but I was reminded of it when I read this rather silly report on the TUAW site… I’m sure the fellow who wrote it had his tongue firmly in his cheek, but if you browse through the comments under the main article you’ll find a very interesting thread of discussion has emerged relating to the Mac’s little green zoom button. Seems the zoom button is not without its fair share of controversy and a rather passionate, yet civil, debate is raging there about the differences between the way windows (with a small ‘w’) behave on Windows (with a big ‘W’) versus the way they behave on the Mac.

The basic gist of the discussion is about the subtle difference between the user interfaces of both platforms and the author tries to draw an assertion that the UIs actually cause people to work in quite different ways, and he even goes so far as to suggest that the differences in UI design actually attract different personality types. Not too sure about that one…

But it has always intruiged me that PCs – the machines with the DOS heritage, the machines that started life with nothing more than a simple black-on-white command line interface – are these days operated by the vast majority of users almost exclusively with only a mouse. It’s interesting to contrast this with the Mac, a machine born of a GUI heritage. The Mac is the machine that revolutioned the world with a point-and-click interface. Yet, in my experience, Mac users are far more likely to be the ones who know all the fancy keyboard shortcuts for tasks. Ask any reasonably competent Mac user how to perform a task on their Mac and in a majority of cases they will answer you with a keyboard shortcut. I just think it’s interesting that the machine with the GUI heritage is the one that seems to spawn the user base with the greatest knowledge of keyboard shortcuts – some of which really are quite arcane. The average Windows user on the other hand, drives his or her PC almost exclusively with the mouse. Maybe it’s just that there really are so many average (and below) users on the PC platform that they just don’t bother to learn these shortcuts… I don’t know.

The other paradox, as was mentioned in the comment thread on the TUAW article, is that most Windows users operate in full screen mode nearly all of the time, whereas most Mac users are far more competent and skilled at managing multiple open applications – they have to be because of the Macs UI design – and therefore more skilled at actually using the whole windowing concept. (The commenters to the TUAW article look to blame this behaviour on the controversial zoom button.) I find it mildly amusing that the operating system actually named ‘Windows’ seems to have a far lower percentage of users that CAN actually deal with multiple open windows.

Does this actually say anything about the types of users each platform attracts? Are Mac users better multitaskers? Or is it more to do with the fact that Windows users have a larger user base, and therefore a larger percentage of clueless users? Or is the average Mac user generally more competent at finding their way around the operating system than the average Windows user? Do the navigational quirks of each operating system in fact encourage a totally different approach to learning and using them? Is the Zoom button a flawed idea or a great idea?

I don’t have any answers… I just find the paradox of it quite amusing.

Stark Contrast between OSes

03suswin.gif

As I write this, I’m downloading updates for Windows in the background. Yes, you read that right. Windows. But wait, aren’t I a Mac guy?

Yes. Absolutely. But I also teach computing in a mainly Windows environment, and it still makes sense to be able to use those few apps that I need in a classroom situation in their native platform environment, and that means Windows. Although I personally prefer to use Mac versions of most applications, it gets too hard to teach a class about the Windows version of Word when they look up and see my Mac version on the data projector. (Despite the fact that everything is there in both versions, the Mac version has a slightly different IU and a few added features, so it doesn’t look identical.)

Anyway, I figured the simplest solution would be to just use the Windows apps for those few times when I need them. There is also a proprietary Markbook app that the school uses that is Windows only, and I would like to run that occasionally too.

As you may have read in a previous post, I was pretty blown away with CrossOver. And despite the fact that CrossOver worked well for Microsoft Office, it still didn’t support Access and Frontpage at all, nor the Markbook app.

So I decided to give Boot Camp a go. Boot Camp lets you dual boot an Intel Mac into Windows natively. No emulation or virtualisation involved, it just runs native on the Intel DualCore processor in the Mac, much as it would on a Dell, Toshiba or ThinkPad. There was really only a handful of apps I was interested in on Windows, mainly Office, so I pared off a 5Gb partition from my 100Gb hard drive and used the Boot Camp installation assistant to package up all the required drivers, etc, stuck the Windows XP disk in, and an hour or so later had a dual boot Mac that easily runs both OS X and Windows XP. Just hold the option key down at startup, choose your operating system, and off you go.

Anyway, it’s always interesting getting a Windows machine up and running. Despite the fact that I really only want a very minimal machine to use occasionally, I’ve just spent a good couple of hours setting it up. I had to install an antivirus program, and my computer is currently in the middle of downloading 59 – yes, 59 – updates for Windows. These are mostly security updates, critical updates, patches, malicious software removal tools, etc. I’d forgotten just how much effort has to go into simply maintaining a Windows box. Add to that the several dozen antivirus update files that AVG needed to pull down, installation of basic utilities like Acrobat Reader to allow me to read a simple PDF file, and I’ve just spent the last 2+ hours simply updating this machine so it’s safe enough just to go online. What a joke.

By contrast, when I got my Mac I just opened it up and started to use it. No driver issues, no AV issues, no missing utilities, and only a couple of updates – mostly version updates for iLife apps, not security updates. The updates were all done in a couple of minutes.  Back in Windows I’m experiencing the usual symptoms – “menu lag”, unacceptably long delays between clicks, excessive hard drive activity, hung applications, and a system that gives error messages at shutdown. This is a clean install for goodness sake!! That’s pathetic!

It’s installing those updates now, only 42 more to go. Seriously, I’m SO looking forward to rebooting and going back to an OS that Just Works.