Is This Thing On?

Hello?  Is this thing on? Anyone?

That’s how it feels at the moment with my blogging. Or non-blogging. I can’t believe I have not written here since July! That’s 5 months, and the longest time I have gone without writing here since I started this blog just over 10 years ago. But August – my 10 year ‘blogaversary’ – came and went and I still just didn’t seem to get around to it. Not sure why. Partly being busy with my work with EdTechTeam. Partly being busy with other stuff. And partly, I think maybe just a little bit of a need to disconnect from this online space, and reconnect with the real world a little more.

I have good intentions of writing again. I enjoy writing, and as I’ve said on many occasions, writing is my way of thinking out loud, of throwing ideas around in my own head in a public space so I can be kept accountable for them. But lately I just haven’t felt motivated to do that.

I think it’s partly the impact of social media. It’s now so easy to just throw an idea out there, usually in a few sentences (or 140 characters), so that it feels pointless taking the time to express it here in a longer form.  It may be partly because I read other blogs that are full of ideas that seem so timely, so eloquent, so contemporary, that even when I’m thinking along the the same lines it feels kind of redundant and derivative to bother expressing it.

But I need to remind myself that I still have my own voice, and I can still make contributions to this ongoing global conversation in my own way. I forget that sometimes.

So I just wanted to assure you that I’m still here. Still alive. Still with a head full of ideas, thoughts and questions. And I plan to start writing here again. Honest. There, I said it. Now it has to happen.  Bring on 2017.

Oh, and a belated 10th birthday to Betchablog and to the many readers like yourself that have made the last 10 years such an amazing experience in learning together.  I appreciate you all.

Header image: Microphone by Alex Indigo
Creative Commons CC BY

Paid in Full

I haven’t seen an actual paper credit card statement for a long time because I’ve banked electronically for years, but I switched banks recently and they just sent me my first credit card statement on this new account.

I was really pleased to see a prominent section on the statement (mandated by government legislation) pointing out just how long this bill will take to pay off if I were only to pay the minimum amount. I think this is a great thing for developing financial literacy, as I’m always shocked at just how little some people know about money, especially credit, and how little they understand its impact.

On my credit card’s closing balance of $1898.20, it tells me that even if I spent nothing more on the card, and just paid the minimum required amount each month until it was paid off, it would take me 18 YEARS 6 MONTHS, and would accrue $4,348.57 in interest!

I hope we are teaching this stuff to kids at school, so they don’t fall into the “free money” thinking that so many adults I know still have.

My grandmother used to say “if you can’t afford to pay cash, you can’t afford it.” I think the more modern equivalent is “if you can’t afford to pay your credit card bill in full each month, you can’t afford it”

And yes, I always pay my credit card bill in full each month!

Update your Search Methods

In 2013 Google released Hummingbird, perhaps the most significant update to their search algorithm since the search engine launched.

From the Search Engine Land blog, here’s how they describe it…

“On September 26, Google announced a new algorithm impacting more than 90 percent of searches worldwide. They called it Hummingbird. Google’s Amit Singhal later said it was perhaps the largest change to the algorithm since he joined the company back in 2001.

Hummingbird allows the Google search engine to better do its job through an improvement in semantic search. As conversational search becomes the norm, Hummingbird lends understanding to the intent and contextual meaning of terms used in a query.”

http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-the-keyword-what-you-need-to-know-to-stay-ahead-175531

 In plain English, this means that the conventional wisdom of the way we teach search – identifying important keywords, eliminating unnecessary terms, removing the conversational parts of a question, etc, is no longer quite as critical as it once was.

I’ve heard many teachers tell students “never just type in a question to Google in plain English” but that’s exactly what Hummingbird is designed for. With so many searches now being done via mobile devices using voice, the evolution to plain language questions and semantic queries is the next evolution in Google search.

As a demonstration, here are 50 questions, all done using voice search, to show you just how powerful this new algorithm really is.

Of course, these are mostly simple fact recall style questions, and more sophisticated queries will still benefit from a more sophisticated approach to writing search queries – using good search terms, excluding words or phrases, using search operators like site:, filetype:, etc, as well as making the most of extras like colour filters, date ranges, and so on.

But if you’re still telling students not to write plain language queries because that the advice you’ve you’ve always given them, maybe it’s time to update your advice?

And of course, it highlights why the things we ask students to do these days need to be based on far more than simple fact recall. With most students now carrying around Google in their pockets, the value of “facts” has been completely commoditised. We need to focus on helping them develop knowledge and wisdom, not just facts. Facts are cheap.

Header Photo: J Brew on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/7NxJZy
CC BY-SA

Is it time to drop the Digital?

Do you remember when digital photography appeared on the scene? Real photography buffs snickered about the idea of digital photography ever becoming mainstream… the images were too small, the number of megapixels was ridiculously low, and the images were, well, horrible. It’ll never take off, they said.

Sony MavicaI guess it was about 1995 or so that the school I at which I was teaching managed to get hold of our first digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 100 camera. It could hold eight images if you shot them at full quality (640 x 480!) although if you stepped down the resolution to 320 x 240 you could fit a whole 32 images. It was a novelty, and definitely a sign of things to come, but the images were pretty awful. A little after that, I recall I got the the school to buy a Sony Mavica digital camera.  I recall it clearly because I wrote the submission for a grant to buy it, such was the special, novel nature of ‘digital’ photography. The Mavica FD-5 didn’t use film. It used 3.5″ floppy disks! You inserted a floppy, and there was about a 10 second delay after each photo as it wrote the image data to the disk. If a disk filled up, you just popped a new one in and kept shooting. With a box of floppy disks you could just keep shooting! It was awesome.

As time went on, digital photography got better and better. The first digital camera I owned was a Kodak DX3600. It cost me about $800, shot at a whole 1 megapixel, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. In hindsight it wasn’t. It took tiny little images that were largely useless for anything other than viewing on a low res computer screen. But at least it wasn’t that old-fashioned sort of photography that required a trip to a store to get a roll of film developed. How primitive! It was a digital camera, and I was doing digital photography. I’m hip.

Today, I have a camera in my phone that takes pretty awesome photos. My iPad has a camera. My computers have webcams. If I’m feeling a little serious about taking some photos I can use my Nikon D80 DSLR. Digital photography is everywhere.

In fact, digital photography is no longer a novelty. If you want to shoot ‘non-digital’ photography you’ll have trouble buying a camera, trouble buying film, and trouble getting it developed. Digital photography is now just normal.

What’s interesting is that I still hear people referring to ‘digital cameras’ and ‘digital photography’. It’s like we’ve been calling it ‘digital photography’ for so long now that, even when there are no realistic ‘non-digital’ options left, we still call it that.

Surely, by now it’s just a ‘camera’, and it’s ok to just call it ‘photography’?

It happens in other places too. Remember when the first analog mobile phones were around and we eventually started the move to digital mobile phones? For a while we called them ‘digital mobile phones’, until eventually we realised that since ALL phones were digital, we didn’t really need to call them that. We dropped the digital and now just call them mobile phones. (Give it a few more years and I guess we’ll just call them phones, since any phone that isn’t mobile will seem quaint and old-fashioned.)

Digital TV, digital radio, digital video recorders, even digital photo frames. Today, they are really just TV, radio, video recorders and photo frames. It’s 2012. Maybe it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and accept that digital things are just a part of modern life.

But what about ‘Digital culture’? ‘Digital citizenship’? ‘Digital literacies’? ‘Digital storytelling’? These terms get thrown around in education circles with the same degree of novelty that ‘digital cameras’ had back in the mid 90s.

Am I wrong in thinking that ‘digital culture’ is really just ‘culture’ as practised by people living in the here and now? Isn’t ‘digital storytelling’ just storytelling using the tools of our current age? Unless you avoid all forms of technology, doesn’t being literate just assume that you are literate in digital things as well as analog things? And unless you’re living in a bubble of the past, isn’t ‘digital citizenship’ just ‘citizenship’?

As all these things moved into the digital realm over the last decade or two it may have been useful to note their ‘digital-ness’ as a way of reminding ourselves how they were different to what came before. But we are now 12 years into the 21st century. The Internet has been around for 44 years, the personal computer for over 37 years, and the World Wide Web for nearly 20. At what point will the digital nature of the world we live in stop being a novelty?

I wonder if it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and start accepting that this is just the new normal.

Enough is Enough

I just posted my final status update on Facebook…

Dear Friends,

As some of you know, I have been wary about the direction Facebook has been taking for quite a while. Their everchanging and confusing privacy settings, the dubious way they treat your personal information, the sneaky way they phrase things in their terms of service… the list goes on… in short, I have gotten to the point where I simply no longer trust Facebook with my information.  The recent (and soon to be released) changes like the Timeline View and the “frictionless sharing” that Zuckerberg talked about at the recent f8 conference have started to change Facebook into a service that I’m no longer willing to use.  Articles like this one (http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2114059/Your-Facebook-Data-File-Everything-You-Never-Wanted-Anyone-to-Know) make me feel entirely distrustful of the whole thing.

Despite reservations I’ve had about it, I’ve really tried to like Facebook. I’ve enjoyed making and maintaining connections with people here, but Facebook’s cavalier attitude to my personal information makes it impossible for me to continue being a user of the service. While I certainly have nothing to hide, in principle I simply no longer wish to support Facebook and its services.

I have disabled my account over the last few days and have realised that I really don’t need Facebook. Soon after I post this message I will be deleting my account completely. Unfortunately, I realise that even after I delete my account, I still have no real idea about how much of my information Facebook will continue to retain and use. That’s pretty appalling don’t you think?

I still think the basic ideas of social networking online are wonderful, and I’ve been really enjoying what’s going on over at Google+. To me, Google+ feels like a  far more vibrant, interesting (and trustworthy!) place than Facebook. I like the way Google have been upfront and open about what they do with my information. To be clear, it’s not the giving of the information that concerns me at Facebook, it’s the sneaky, convoluted ways that they miscommunicate their intentions about it. I feel like Facebook have crossed the line with my trust.

There are lots of people I’m going to miss being in contact with here on Facebook. But I hope you understand that I just can’t continue to support a service that acts so sneakily, so unethically, and treats me and my information with so little respect.

Chris

It’s a bit of a shame really, as I have a lot of friends on Facebook, but I just can’t do it any more. At the heart of it, I think Facebook is ultimately bad for the future of the open Internet.  It gives the impression of being all warm and fuzzy and connecting you with your friends and family, but the motives of the company are entirely Facebook-centric. Facebook cares only about Facebook.  As I watch it grow bigger and stronger it feels to me like what Germany must have felt like in the mid 1930s.  There was a time when people were great supporters of Adolf Hitler too. We all know how that turned out.

Oh, and take a moment to read that article linked above. Scary!  Seig Heil indeed.

Image: ‘DSC_0076.JPG‘ 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/24095119@N06/2324843973

A Public Life

Google - Web HistoryMany people don’t realise it, but if you use Google’s search services while signed into your Google account (which you already have if you use Gmail) then your entire search history is automatically archived for you, along with statistics about how often you searched, for what, and when. It will track how many times a day you’ve Googled something, and even displays a little colour coded calendar to show you your overall search patterns. Some people may find the whole thing a little scary, a little Big Brother-ish maybe.

Perhaps it is, although it doesn’t actually bother me at all. I find it useful to have a complete history of what I’ve previously looked for, and there have been a number of times that being able to go back through my search history has been very useful. If there are negative aspects to this sort of tracking, then, for me anyway, the positives have far outweighed them. I pretty sure that I  function far more effectively by being able to turn to a search service to ask questions (and get answers), and I really don’t mind that there is a history kept of them. I’ve nothing to be embarrassed about, and seeing the hundreds of questions I’ve asked each month really does make me wonder to whom these questions were directed in pre-Google days.

Whether this sort of thing bothers you or not might depend, in part, on what the search history shows. I’m reasonably confident that I could pick a random date from my search history and have it displayed publicly and not worry too much about what it might show.

I’d like to think that the same would apply with my overall online presence, my “digital footprint” as they call it. For the last several years I’ve been pretty open about sharing a good deal of my personal life in public online places, and although I can only speak for myself, the opportunities that “publicness” has brought into my life have been overwhelmingly positive.

Whether we like it or not, in a digital age we all leave a trail behind us.

Something we constantly remind our students about is the need to leave a positive digital trail behind them. I wrote a post recently about a lesson I had with a Year 6 group. In this lesson I asked them to Google their own name and many of them were surprised that there was already considerable evidence of their existence in the Google database – evidence that they didn’t put there and that they were unaware of. As I said to them at the time, the question is not “Will I appear in search results?” but rather “What will the search results say about me?”

While working with a small group of teachers the other day, we did a similar exercise. I’ll write more about this in another post, but suffice to say that some of these teachers were shocked when they Googled their own names. One found a fairly nasty comment about herself on RateMyTeachers.com, (a site she was completely unaware of) while others found no evidence of themselves at all in the search results. I’d suggest that both of these outcomes are not desirable. Having something negative turn up about you in a search is clearly not a good thing, but having nothing at all turn up about you is probably just as bad. I know some people who go to great lengths to avoid having an online presence – usually because they want to maintain a sense of privacy – but they need to realise that not turning up in a search result also says a lot. Unfortunately, not having a digital footprint makes a statement about you too.

Like it or not, in an age where “if it’s not on Google it may as well not exist”, we need to be really mindful about what our digital footprint says about us.

The notion of a personal resumé is quickly being replaced with the digital footprint. Do you have a positive online presence? How “Googleable” are you? Are you on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Do you participate in online communities? What projects have you been involved in that support your professional practice, and are they visible to the world? If your next employer was to Google you before asking you to come for an interview, would you be proud of what they’d find, or embarrassed?

These are realities we need to teach our students, and I’d suggest we can’t do a good job of it unless we  start with ourselves. When someone wants to know a little more about you, you need to be able to proudly say “Just Google me” and know that what they find will be the right stuff.

To be an ADE

I’ve always aspired to be an Apple Distinguished Educator, but I’ve never actually done anything about applying for it. As far as my own personal computer use goes, anyone who knows me knows that I am most definitely a Mac guy, but I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to apply to be an ADE because most of the schools I’ve worked in have been primarily Windows schools.  As they say, one should never assume.

While it’s true that many – probably most – ADEs work exclusively in Apple schools, apparently it’s not always the case.  While chatting with someone from Apple a while ago I mentioned this, and they replied that the ADE program is aimed at recognising teachers, and does not necessarily focus on the type of computers used in the school that teacher works at.

To become an ADE you obviously need to be active in certain ways that help spread the message about technology and it’s value for education.  You need to be passionate about the ways that digital technology (and pretty obviously, Apple digital technology in particular) can make students more engaged and creative.  You need to demonstrate some degree of innovative practice and a reasonable level of experience in the classroom. I hope I can do all these things. And you need to fill in the appropriate forms.  I’m pretty sure I can do that part.

Oh, and you also need to make a short 2 minute video that gives a bit of an insight into who you are and what you do and what you might bring to the party.  Apparently the video is pretty important.  I gave it my best shot.

Anyway, I finally got my ADE application in for this next intake of teachers (a few days before the deadline too! Woohoo!) so my fingers are crossed.  If you’re interested, here’s the video.

http://vimeo.com/18546117