Friday, February 29, 2008

Harvard, tech firms seek to create safety Net

It's a big step in the right direction, but regardless of what this task force accomplishes, it will only be a part of the solution. Without education and increased parental involvement, children will remain at risk.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Technology Workshops Can Be Heaven or Hell

Today I did a Web 2.0 in Education workshop for a small group of teachers in Absegami High School in South Jersey. It was NOT what I had expected.

When they originally asked me to do the workshop we discussed the fact that there might be a lot of material that might be blocked and that we needed to make sure that some of the key sites we were using would be open. The person I spoke to confirmed my fears and said that many of the teachers complained about the amount of blocking that takes place. Having done workshops around the country, I have come to see this as the norm. My expectations were set by my past experiences and while I loved the idea that they were asking for a workshop that pushed boundaries, I was a bit apprehensive.

About a week before the workshop, I sent her 7 URLs and asked her test them. I had about 30 others that we would be using, but felt that these 7 were important. I could live with blockage of the others. Based on workshops that I had given in the past, I expected that no less than two would be blocked. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that only Ning was blocked, but that she had put in a request to have it unblocked. Wow, they have an unblocking procedure that people actually use!

I learned a long time ago that when I do workshops that push technical limits or even challenge the status quo that I had better have plans A, B, C, and D in place and hope that I don't have to go to plan E. To make a long story short, I was able to go with plan A. (See me do a happy dance.)

The first thing I did was to show up an hour early so that I could test everything ahead of time. I came prepared with my material on CD, two different thumb drives, a copy that I could access online, and a copy on my own laptop. I logged in with the temporary login they gave for trainers, popped in the CD, and tried to drag the folder to the desktop, but it wouldn't let me do it. I did a quick check of My Computer, found the network directory assigned to login and dropped it there. Nice housekeeping!

The first thing I noticed was that I there weren't any speakers for my computer. I called down to the office and in 5 minutes I had two people hooking me up with speakers. During the five minutes I was waiting, I printed out a document I had forgotten to print ahead of time. The printer was on and ready for me, not something to be taken for granted.

Next I opened my presentation and began checking the links one by one. Ning was opened as per her request and the only sites that were blocked were 3 sites that expected to be blocked and would have been shocked if they were not. They were YouTube, SecondLife and Teen SecondLife. Imbee was also blocked, but that's not surprising in the least. In talking with one of the folks hooking me up with speakers, he made it clear that they try to be as responsive as possible to unblocking requests and that YouTube is often unblocked for periods of time for teacher requesting its use. Kudos to the techs and those who put the policy in place!

Ok, I was set, but how would things be for the teachers? There were about 25 computers in the lab, most of which were in sleep mode. I woke up the sleepers and turned on the others. Every mouse was functioning and only one computer failed to boot. Impressive!

I had done all of my testing and had lots of time before the workshop, so I headed to the teachers lounge. Things just kept getting better. I found vending machines with a nice selection of drinks and goodies. Not only did the machines accept my rumpled $1 bills, but the selections I wanted were in stock and fresh. Yum!

When the participants arrived, I had them go online to a survey I had posted to an Adobe Connect server. They took the survey which gave me their wants and set the priorities for the workshop. Then I asked the group how many of them felt that there were too many things blocked by their network. They were unanimous in their agreement that too much was blocked.

At that point, I let them know that I have had the good fortune of having given workshops all around the country and that they had one of the best run and most open networks I had come across. I told them that most teachers would be overjoyed to have the access that they had, but that their complaints are no less valid than the others. The more you use the technology the more access you need. The fact that they were complaining about their access told me that they WERE using the technology. That was further supported by the fact that never once throughout the entire workshop did I have to stop to assist anyone with basic technology skills. What a joy to be able to teach instead of being tech support!

One little anecdote that might give you some feeling for this group centered around our discussion of Wikipedia as a good starting point, but with the need for additional citations. One gentleman said that he and his students were aware of the problems with accuracy, but allows Wikipedia as the only citation. I was a little puzzled. It was not typical behavior to embrace Wikipedia so wholeheartedly. I asked him to explain why. He said that it's very convenient and he only uses it when he wants students to understand a general concept or the significance of the contribution of a particular person. I then asked him what subject he taught. He told me "wood shop".

No way I can argue with his logic. Outstanding and clearly not typical!

I could list a half dozen other incidents that told me folks were doing things right. Such as the fact that we had 15 minutes left at the end and no one left early. Everyone was visiting sites we had discussed and about half of them were constructing their iGoogle pages which I had introduced as a way to get them started moving to the Web 2.0 world.

Having a small group is hardly basis for judging the performance of an entire staff, but if they were representative of what is going on in the district, Absegami is doing things right.

I left the building with a smile on my face, more refreshed and exhilerated than when I had started it and decided to go another 40 minutes out of my to head to Atlantic City to treat myself and my wife to a White House steak sub!

I want to passed on my observations and compliments to the teachers, tech staff, and administrators in the district and I want more workshops like this one!

They didn't ask me to take a customer satisfaction survey

It was something I did. I'll admit it and I told the tech up front what happened. After doing a system restore or two to try to clear up a problem with some sound recording, my Bluetooth cordless keyboard stopped working.

I explained the situation to the tech and told here that I thought there was software corruption and that we needed to do a clean install of everything related to the Bluetooth, mouse, and keyboard. She was friendly and very patient, but had here protocols to follow. She exhausted her data base resources, did online searches, and consulted with her supervisor, but after 2 hours and 10 minutes the only thing that was accomplished is that she managed to make the cordless Bluetooth mouse stop working also. We never did get to uninstalling Bluetooth.

The fact that the mouse failed as well, supports my contention that the problem is software driver related. So what was the resolution of the call? They are shipping me a new mouse and keyboard. What will happen when it arrives? Hopefully, by pairing with two different devices, things will clear up. If not, (which is what I suspect) I will be back online with tech support, but at least I will have a new mouse and keyboard.

Now I won't mention which company I was dealing with, because what happened to me it typical of so many customer support centers right now and I have had favorable tech support calls with them before.

Phone support is my personal vision of hell. Having been in a position of supporting teachers in technology in a face to face world is daunting enough, but I can only imaging the frustration felt on both ends of the line when there is a problem that is tricky or and ID-Ten-T problem (ID10T) on either end of the line.

Of course, in this case it helps that I'm retired and that I have a USB mouse and keyboard that keeps me in business. The only thing I lost so far was 2 hours and 10 minutes, but I did learn thing as we trouble shot, I will be getting a new mouse and keyboard, and I have a new blog entry.

How's that for a glass that's half full?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Can't Hear You...

You know the old joke about the guy walking around with a banana in his ear. A friend sees him and says, "Hey Joe, what's with the banana in your ear?"

To which he replies, "What did you say? I can't hear you. There's a banana in my ear."

Well, my cat might say something similar. While some cat's love to have their ears scratched, mines does too, but he likes it even more when you scratch from the inside out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Web 2.0 in Education

Next week I'll be doing a Web 2.0 in Education workshop for Absegami High School. Here's a quick peek at some of the sites we will be visiting and discussing. This trailer was created using a new Web 2.0 beta called Animoto.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Different Way of Life

In NJ, it often seems as if it is legal to run over j-walking pedestrians. Indeed, you get extra points if it is a little old lady with a cane, but it's different here in Amesbury, MA. Not only do you not get bonus points for bumping of careless crossers, you can get a $100 fine for not stopping for a pedestrian at a crosswalk.

Ok, ok, I know that even in NJ the pedestrian has the right of way, but there really is a big difference in driver attitude. In NJ, if the car is going to get to the crossing before the pedestrian, the car is going to either accelerate to do it or simply cruise on by.

Here in Amesbury, drivers actually watch pedestrians and stop if they even look like they are about to cross. A walker doesn't even really have to look both ways. If they set out into the street, traffic will stop, unless the driver is from NJ. So I guess it's still wise to look both ways.

We're up here visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson and it's time to get home. One of the first things I did this morning was to look out the back window to see what birds were at the feeder and enter them in my son-in-laws Great Back Yard Bird Count log book.

Yes, on the MA, NH border life proceeds at a more relaxed pace.