Choosing a Music Streaming Service

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the music industry was still resisting any attempt at allowing consumers to access music in any way other that buying CDs. So many other industries have been disrupted by digital technology, and while a few notable ones stuck doggedly to their “principles” until they literally vanished (I’m looking at you Kodak and Blockbuster), most industries either embraced the disruption or eventually waved the white flag and gave in.

One of the industries that probably should have most logically embraced the opportunities of being digital was the music business. After all, with a product that is essentially just a collection of digital bits, the decision to move those bits directly to consumers via the Internet should have been a no brainer. Yet the record company cartels fought the inevitable digital transition for years.  Rarely have I seen such a group of people with so little vision for the future be so obstinate about protecting their incumbency.

Thanks in large part the disruption of Apple and the iTunes Store in popularising the idea of moving music off plastic disks and making it into downloadable files, the door was opened to companies like Spotify to avoid all that messy iTunes syncing nonsense and just let you listen to music directly on your device as a stream of bits.  And of course, without the pirate attitude of early filesharing services like Napster, it may have taken a lot longer to get to that point.

So here we are in 2018, and we are now almost spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming music services. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music seem to be the popular choices, but there are plenty of others to explore like Deezer, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and more.

I’ve been using Google Play Music for a while now, and I quite like it. While it was a bit rough when it started, it has definitely improved it’s recommendation algorithms over the past year or so (although sometime the stuff it serves up based on my apparent listening tastes still seem quite bizarre).  As a paid subscriber I also get access to YouTube Red, which apart from access to special YouTube Red limited content (which I don’t really watch anyway) it’s nice to not have ads appearing in YouTube.

My biggest gripe with Google Play Music is that it’s tied to a single Google account (my Gmail account), so it’s a nuisance when I’m logged in to another account, like my work account.  Yes I know can have multiple windows open, I understand that, but I think this idea that my content (files, music, photos, etc) is tied to an account and not an identity is ridiculous and a major problem with the way Google handles these things.  I am still me, and my content is still mine, regardless of which account I am logged into.

Like many people, I also have a free Spotify account.  Because it’s free I have to put up with ads, so I’ve tended not to use it as much as Play Music. But the predictions and recommendations of Spotify seemed to be quite good, and it’s a great way to discover new music or hear old favourites. However, what I really like with Spotify, is that I’m allowed to be just me. I can log into Spotify completely independently of any other accounts I may or may not be logged into. I like that a lot.

That independence carries across to devices as well, with Spotify also playing nicely with most major hardware platforms.  It plays nicely with Chromecast, which is important to me, but also with many other services and devices. And of course, because it’s so widely used by so many people, it’s pretty easy to share and access playlists with friends. I signed up for the three month trial and am digging it so far.

That said, it’s not perfect. For example, there is no option to upload your own music. I have a number of files that are simply not available online because they are not commercially available.  Old singles, obscure bands, recording of my kids when they were little, songs recorded by my musically talented daughter, and so on.  None of these are available online. Spotify has a Local Files option, so I could theoretically access these things from my local drive, but the files don’t sync across devices, so I’d have to copy them to every device I own, which not an ideal solution.  With Google Play I can simply upload these tracks to the service and access them via Play, so that’s a definite benefit.

I’m trying to decide which of these pros and cons are most important to me as I think about which streaming music service I want to continue using going forward.

I also need to factor in that Google Play Music is going away soon and is being replaced with a new service called YouTube Music.  I have been given an early look at YouTube Music and I’m not sure it’s grabbing me yet. The new pricing model removes the Ad-free YouTube option unless I pay more. I also don’t have the option to upload my own tracks (although I hear that feature may be coming). And while it can be used just an audio playing service, there’s also a focus on music videos which I don’t particularly care about. The interface also seems a little unintuitive (although maybe I just need to get used to it). Overall I haven’t warmed to YouTube Music yet.  It’s possibly another case of Google being too late to the music party – a party that is well and truly being led by Spotify at this point in time – with yet another confused strategy of multiple semi-great apps all competing for our attention.

There are other services I could consider, like Apple Music, but to be honest I am actively avoiding getting sucked into any ecosystem that Apple runs simply because of their proprietary approach to most things.  Deezer has the biggest library of music, and works on my Fitbit Ionic (if you consider the way Fitbit expects you to get music on the device to be “working”). And Amazon?  Meh. Probably not.

Right now, given that Google Play Music is going away, I’m leaning towards a switch to Spotify. Although if the New YouTube Music service adds the ability to upload my own files, then I could be swayed to stay in Google land, even if they do want an extra $2 a month to remove the ads from YouTube.

Wikipedia has a good comparison table of all the streaming music services if you’re interested.

Decisions, decisions!  So tell me… what do you use? And what advice do you have for me?  I’d love you to take the poll about your choice and leave me your thoughts in the Comments!

Which streaming music service do you prefer?

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Header Image CC BY-SA:  Ian Hunter Rant Band on Flickr by bobistravelling

EdTechTeam. One word, No spaces, Three caps.

As many of you know, my current role is working with EdTechTeam in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a role I enjoy and I know we make a difference to many teachers both here in ANZ and globally.

As a team of educators working in the field of educational technology, I have always thought the name “EdTechTeam” is a good one.  It seems clear and unambiguous and I feel like it describes who we are and what we do.

So one thing that has always puzzled me is the way people consistently get our company name wrong. We commonly get called just “Edtech”, “Ed Tech”, and even “Edutech”, which is something entirely different. We sometimes get “EdTech team” or “Ed tech team”, both of which are close, but no cigar.

Say it with me. EdTechTeam.

I have lost track of the number of times I have received emails referring to us as Edtech, or been introduced as Chris from Edtech, and while I try to politely correct the error, I truly am astounded at the general lack of attention to detail it shows.

So please folks, it’s EdTechTeam.  One word. No spaces. Three caps.

Thanks!

Gridding up

I was turned onto this rather cool new tool that I think has a ton of great potential in the classroom. It’s called Flipgrid. It’s a way to collect short video responses to a prompt. As well as looking great, it works on mobile (with the Flipgrid app), doesn’t require a login, and is super simple to use!

I’ve embedded a link to an example. Just click the container below and it will take you to a topic page. Then just click the big green plus button to start recording (and you’ll probably also need to click “allow” to give permission to your camera). Then just record your message, add your name and a poster frame, then submit it. As more people submit theirs you can revisit the site to see what they add. Give it a go!

After you click the button, say who you are, where you’re from, what you teach, and how you might use this with your students. You have 60 seconds! Go!

The direct link to the topic page is https://flipgrid.com/2a35ea

The administrator of the grid has a lot of control over things like moderation and approval of comments before they go live, whether replies are allowed, whether likes and plays are shown, whether auto transcription happens, and more. This tool is well designed for classroom use!

I see this as a great way to collect feedback from students, allow them to share their learning with the rest of the class, reflect on an activity, brainstorm ideas, and so much more. What suggestions can you come up with?

PS: If you’re on mobile, grab the Flipgrid app for Android or iOS. I love that it works so well on mobile as well as the web. Well done, Flipgrid!

Header image: Sprites by Thomas Quine via Flickr CC BY

 

Be Smart On Air Interview

I was recently asked to be a guest on the Be Smart On Air podcast by Niilo Alhovaara. Niilo is a fan of The Google Educast and was keen to catch up to talk about podcasting, technology in education, and the good old days of the internet.

I thoughts I’d cross post the recording here, because, well, that’s just what the Internet does.

You can Tweet Niilo at @niiloa and check out his other interviews on his YouTube Channel.

The Case For Chromebooks

I was asked via email recently about Chromebooks and whether I thought they were a good choice for schools. Here is my email response, posted here for anyone that might be interested in reading it…

I’ll start by suggesting that any resistance you get on Chromebooks from tech and IT staff will be made for reasons that have nothing to do with pedagogy. I think you could argue that by almost any relevant measure Chromebooks are CLEARLY a better choice for schools. (which is why they are now the number 1 device in US schools)

They are easier to deploy and manage, more secure, more robust, and less expensive. They do everything that a student would need them to do. They integrate directly with Google Apps for Education and are easily shared between students in ways that other devices are not.  They boot fast (under 7 seconds), save work automatically, are completely immune to viruses, and are fast to use. ChromeOS does not slow down over time like other operating systems, and to completely wipe and reset a Chromebook to a fresh configuration takes about 40 seconds. They can be easily managed via the GAFE console, where you can enforce policies and restrictions if needed, install apps, and monitor usage.It’s true that Chromebooks are less expensive, with quality machines available for only around $300 to $500. But price should NOT be the deciding factor here.  The fact that they are cheaper is a great benefit, but it’s not the reason you should consider them. You should consider them because they are arguably better for school use.

I am using my own Chromebook to respond to this email, and in fact my primary computer is now a Chromebook.  I think ChromeOS is the best option for my own use (and I have access to Macs and PCs if I want them).  ChromeOS is not a cheap compromise of an operating system…  it is an excellent, fast, stable operating system that rivals major OSes in terms of functionality and usability. Anyone who tells you otherwise simply has never spent any time with ChromeOS to make an informed decision.

If you are a Google Apps for Education school, Chromebooks make enormous sense.

Some people compare Chromebooks to Windows by listing their features and looking at what Chromebooks supposedly don’t have that Windows does. They are missing the point. The advantage of Chromebooks is that they are NOT Windows. Again, anyone who attempts to make a decision about Chromebooks by comparing them to Windows is completely missing the point of what Chromebooks are all about.

In terms of managing Chromebooks in a school domain they are TRIVIALLY easy to manage.  Because they are managed via a web interface and can be placed into OUs (organisational units) they can have different policies and settings easily applied remotely. Managing 5000 Chromebooks literally requires no more effort than managing 1 Chromebook.  That is NOT true of Windows or Mac. New Chromebooks are added to your domain with a simple keystroke, and then all settings, including wifi details and all apps, are automatically configured. I used to manage a large Windows network in a school and I speak from some experience.  Chromebooks are astonishingly simple to manage!

You will hear all sorts of conflicting opinions about Chromebooks, mostly from people who have never actually used them. Many IT people are not keen on them (why would they be? Chromebooks are so simple to deploy and manage they threaten their jobs!) Many school leaders are ignorant about them because they often simply don’t know any better (and have usually been taking their advice from the IT people; see previous point)  In short, when it comes to Chromebooks there are a lot of ill-informed people out there.

You’ll see from the responses you got in the original thread where you asked about Chromebooks that there is a great deal of enthusiasm and positive attitudes from many people who use them. Seriously, once you go to Chromebooks in a school you’d NEVER go back to the old ways of traditional PCs.

They do require rethinking the way you approach your computing tasks. Chromebooks are different. Not worse, not less capable, not more limited. Just different. And perfectly suited for schools.

Beyond the School Bus

Imagine you could visit any place in the world. Where would you go? What would you like to see? What would you hope to experience?

Imagine you are learning about India. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to visit the Taj Mahal and explore its wonders? What if your geography class is learning about coral reefs and could go diving in the Maldives or Hanauma Bay or the Great Barrier Reef to see what it’s like there. What would it be like to visit the South Pole, or Niagara Falls or the Palace of Versailles? There are so many amazing things to see and learn about in our world.

While we would love to take our students on excursions to learn about the things they can’t experience at school, there are obviously many places that are simply too far away, too expensive, too dangerous or too impractical to visit.

Meet Expeditions. Expeditions is a new tool in development from Google that uses the StreetView technology found in Google Maps to take students on virtual field trips to all sorts of exotic and interesting places, all without leaving the classroom. Using a simple and inexpensive viewer made of cardboard, paired with a smartphone and the free Expeditions app, teachers are able to share immersive 3-dimensional, 360-degree panoramic imagery with their students to let them experience some of the incredible places that a school bus simply cannot take them.

Although Expeditions is still in the beta testing stage, students from PLC Sydney were recently invited to take part in a special sneak preview of the technology. Two members of Google’s Australian Expeditions team visited us this week and spent a day sharing some of these amazing virtual field trips with our girls. Guided by the teachers, students in Years 3, 4, 6 and 11 were taken to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, to Amundsen’s Hut in Antarctica, climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and feeding sharks off the coast of Miami, to name just a few. The excitement, engagement and enthusiasm of the girls was very obvious. Their reaction as they first looked through the cardboard viewer was one of utter amazement. As they excitedly looked around – up, down, behind them – taking in the full panoramic experience of the location they were virtually visiting, it quickly became apparent just how much impact this technology could have in education. As one of our teachers observed, the girls got to visit and learn about places that they would not have been able to actually go to in person. And as one of our students noted, it makes you realise just how many places there are in the world to learn about.

Google Expeditions 08

Looking at the world through a virtual viewer is obviously no replacement for the real thing, but it’s certainly a great option for immersively taking students to places that they may not otherwise get to experience for real, all without leaving the classroom. As a tool for learning, as a starting point for discussion, as a means of provoking conversation and questions, Expeditions is astonishing in its simplicity.

The intent of the Expeditions team is to develop a tool that not only offers an incredibly immersive educational experience, but can be used in schools at minimal cost. Many students already own a smartphone, so by adding a free app and a viewer costing just a few dollars the potential for exploring the world virtually becomes a very real option for schools everywhere.

PLC Sydney was very pleased to have been able to be part of the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and to be able to offer feedback on its future direction. For more information about Expeditions you can visit https://www.google.com/edu/expeditions/

A Bicycle for the Mind

I’ve been doing some work recently with a school that’s using iPads with their kids, and was asked to give a talk on the topic “The place of iPads in teaching and learning”. This post is just a bit of thinking out loud about that question.

Let me start by saying that I think the iPad is an amazing piece of technology. I dispute the common claim about iPads just being “consumption devices”. That’s a load of nonsense. Used wisely, iPads open up incredible opportunities for creativity. This point was driven home during my recent 365 project, The Daily Create, where I made a creative “thing” every day during 2014. Although this project wasn’t specifically based on using an iPad, the truth is that at least 80% of what I came up with over the course of the year was made on an iPad. Whether it was photo editing, making graphics, editing movies, composing music, building animations and 3D objects, or even just writing, the iPad was a perfectly credible tool for creation. And of course the actual management of the Daily Create project via a blog was mostly also all done on the iPad. So I know that the iPad can help people do amazing things.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s not also a great consumption device. For reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts or music, browsing the web, playing games and so on, the iPad is a convenient, intuitive easy-to-use device that, for the most part, “just works”.

So yes, I like the iPad. But just because you can do certain things on a device does not necessarily mean it’s the best device to be doing them on. So the iPad, as a tool, needs to be kept in that perspective. While it’s capable of most things, it’s great at some and not so good at others.

For example, I’m typing this post on a Chromebook. Why not an iPad? Well, as much as I like iPads, I prefer the writing and editing experience on a device with a real keyboard. I like the extra screen area, the ergonomics of sitting it comfortably on my lap, and having a physical non-modal keyboard.  Could I type a piece of writing like this on an iPad? Sure I could (and have), but if given a choice I prefer to pick the tool that works best for me for that given task.

This is one of the reasons my school has gone down the path of having a combination of both iPads and Chromebooks. There are times when one is simply a better option than the other. They both have such unique strengths, and to exclusively choose one over the other tends to just highlights the weaknesses of each. That said, if you only have a choice of one or the other, either will be perfectly fine.

So back to the original question… “what is the place of iPads in teaching and learning?” It’s a loaded question really, because it begs the bigger question, “what is the place of technology in general in teaching and learning”. And to take it a step further, I think you should probably be asking the much bigger question “what is the point of teaching and learning anyway?” Thinking about the place that a particular technology might have in the teaching and learning process first requires you to think about what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.

Figuring out the place of iPads in teaching and learning should be pretty obvious once you know what you want teaching and learning to look like to start with. If you’re clear on the big idea of why, then seeing how is easy. You simply ask yourself whether this technology is helping you get closer to your goal or not. If it is, it has a place. It it doesn’t, then maybe not.

The school that asked me this question seems to have a pretty clear educational direction for what they are trying to achieve, and how they believe the teaching and learning process should look.

For a start, they want their learning to be transdisciplinary. The transdisciplinary model for teaching and learning is highly inquiry based and values collaboration, teamwork, curiosity and interconnectedness. It’s more than just thinking about a topic from different perspectives (that’s multidisciplinary) or by thinking about a topic by combining different subjects together like maths and science (that’s interdisciplinary). The idea of making the learning transdisciplinary involves bringing together multiple subject areas in such a way that the learning transcends the curriculum and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. If you’re a PYP school this should all sound quite familiar as it forms the foundation of that program. By taking a transdisciplinary approach the aim is to bring a more authentic, open-ended, personalised, contextual learning experience to each student.

Threaded through this core model for learning is a highly inquiry-based approach, a strong belief in differentiation according to student needs, flexible learning paths, and a fundamental goal for students to build their own learning through a Constructivist approach.

Would an iPad help support that kind of learning? Yeah, I think it would.

Steve Jobs once described computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a metaphor borrowed from a study on locomotive efficiency in animals. Apparently for humans, walking is incredibly inefficient. Other animals can travel much further with far less energy. Steve observed how humbling it was for humans to be placed so far down the efficiency scale compared to other animals. However, he observed, if you allow a human to use a bicycle they become the animal with the most efficient form of locomotion of all. The larger point is that the right tool can make a big difference to what we are capable of.

Being given an opportunity to learn on your own terms, in ways that make sense to you, about things that interest you the most, forms the foundation of great learning. But without an effective tool to help, you’ll be like a human without a bicycle. You’ll probably get there, but it will take so much more work than it should.

So all of that pondering just leads me to my main idea, that giving a student an iPad (or any other piece of technology that helps them think more efficiently) can be a powerful thing. I think we intuitively know that, but it sometimes helps to step back and think about why we know it. And I think the “bicycle for the mind” idea is a pretty decent metaphor for why technology in the classroom can help support the kind of learning that we want. It can helps reduce the friction in curiosity, wonder, creativity and inquiry, and makes that process more efficient.

On the most basic level, having a device in the hands of a student that places them one click away of the sum of all human knowledge is in itself a pretty amazing advantage. (and one that no generation before them has ever had, by the way). We talk a lot about these devices helping students “connect, collaborate and communicate” so the simple idea of just being able to “look stuff up on the Internet” may not sound very impressive. But even though this might not be the wow factor that makes these devices “revolutionary and magical”, it’s still a pretty useful thing! To be able to look up a word, find a definition, peruse a map, verify a fact, ask a question or see a picture of something – instantly – is amazing. Don’t underestimate the power of that!

If you’re running a classroom based on an inquiry model, the iPad truly can act as that “bicycle for the mind” machine that helps a curious kid instantly connect to any fact or statistic they need to keep inquiring. iPads are transdisciplinary in the sense that they don’t silo information into arbitrary subjects. A query is a query. Curiosity does not have to limit itself to whether something is “science” or “maths” or “art”. Picking up an iPad and asking “OK Google, what type of lettuce is used in a Caesar salad?” and finding out that it is Romaine lettuce, and then wondering why it was named Caesar salad, or where it was invented, or whether it’s less fattening than a regular salad, or how you make a crouton, or the million and one other questions that might spring to mind as your questions cascade from one to the next… that’s just one small reason why technology makes sense in an inquiry based classroom.

Of course it’s much more than that though. You can wonder something, learn about it, and respond to it by making something with that information. It can be the tool by which a student can respond to their own curiosity. An iPad is amazing because it is a not one thing. It’s a notebook, a camera, a recording studio, a stopwatch, an atlas, a sketchbook, an editing suite, a music synthesizer, an artroom. It lets you compose, create and explore ideas. It’s screen instantly changes to become whatever tool you need it to be. There is really nothing else like it in that respect.

Using an iPad you can publish a short story, compose a soundtrack or produce a film clip. You can build a 3D model of a house, record a timelapse of a science experiment, or add augmented reality to a poster. There are literally millions of apps in the App Store so whatever you might want to do, you can almost guarantee “there’s an app for that”.

Finally the iPad is an incredible tool for communicating and collaborating, from having access to email, to messaging, to videoconferencing, to cloud computing. The world truly can be your oyster. You can collaborate with amazing cloud-based tools that let students form crosscultural, transdisciplinary teams to work on projects that are authentic, meaningful and real.

Of course, in reality none of this is terribly new. In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper titled “20 Things to do with a Computer” in which their key assertion was that computers are capable of doing so much more if we allow them to be used creatively, and that the real reason to introduce computers into schools is to empower students. If a computer (or an iPad) is not being used to give agency to student learning then we have missed the whole point of having them.

Introducing computers (or iPads) into classrooms is not about better forms of testing students or NAPLAN preparation or math drills. It’s not about data management, not about saving money, not about impressing parents and not about keeping up with the school down the road. It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen.

Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money. Providing technology to students gives them an opportunity to do not just the same old things they’ve always done, except now with a shiny new tool… No. we now have an incredible opportunity to do entirely new things that were never possible before, using an amazing array of digital tools designed to create, and reinventing the way the way we think about teaching and learning.

Giving students iPads and not making fundamental shifts in how we teach and learn would be like giving them that bicycle for their minds, but then expecting them to push it and walk along beside it.If they are to get the true potential from that bicycle you need to let them get on it, get the wind in their face and ride the damn thing.

Featured image “Speedy Bike” by Till Krech via Flickr. CC BY.