Monday, June 28, 2010

Four Fried Chickens and a Coke - and some Dry White Toast.

You're heard the saying "from the sublime to the ridiculous." It's the latest revelation that I've had regarding Instructional Technology - and it's only a revelation insofar as it's something that I sort of understood but not not seeing the "why" up until now.

The best metaphor that came to me was the scene from the film The Blues Brothers where Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) enter the Soul Food Cafe and place their standard order: Jake orders four fried chickens and a coke; Elwood orders dry white toast. When the waitress/manager (Aretha Franklin) takes the order back to the kitchen, the cook (Matt "Guitar" Murphy) knows exactly who's out there just from hearing the order.

It seems improbable that two people - brothers, in this case - would have two drastically different preferences in the same environment. We face this everyday as teachers - more so when we factor in technology. We don't just deal with Jake and Elwood - we deal with Matt "Guitar" Murphy, "Blue Lou" Marini, Tom "Bones" Malone and everyone else in the band. They all want the same outcome through different means. Some students will gorge on the new and exciting technologies introduced to the class while some will stick with the hum-drum safety of what they know.

It's tempting to point to the student who overindulges in the material and say "wow, now there's someone who is a hungry learner" while snickering at the others that play it safe. Let us not forget that there is a price for overindulgence. Somewhere there needs to be Prevacid or Nexium, or even Lipitor if it gets that far. That's where I see us as teachers. We can't always stop the heartburn or heart attack, but we play a crucial role in designing effective lessons that use technology in a positive way to prevent the overload or misdirection. 

The same is true for the dry white toast folks. They stay in their safe harbor because they know it works. Getting them to try new things is not at all unlike trying new foods. Set down a bowl of Panang Curry before the toast eaters and they won't budge. Put a little jam on the toast, and they might go for it. Getting them to try the technology must be done the same way - going from MS Word to SecondLife will be too much; Google Docs will seem very familiar to then, so they'll go for that. Along they way, they'll see the online collaboration and sharing features, and become used to those. Baby steps, but all going forward.

Before enrolling in the Instructional Technology cohort, I thought I was the four fried chicken guy. I thought I was an innovator in technology - even heard that from my colleagues. Now I realize that I was munching on the toast - maybe with a little jam, but that was it. I know I have a long way to go, but with the idea of Instructional Design guiding my choices in the classroom, I feel like I'm going to like the chicken.

Along the way, i found the following from TomBrienProfessional. It's the soundtrack from the Blues Brothers scene along with 3-D animation that does a great job of mimicking the actors in the scene. I only wish he would have done the next segment in the kitchen.

BTW, thanks to anyone from ISTI who is reading this via Dr. Leigh Zeitz's recommendation.  If he made all of us from his EIT Summer 2010 course sound wonderful, well ... who am I to call him a liar?

Still Image: The Blues Brothers, John Landis (Dir.) John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (Perf.) Universal, 1980
Video: TomBrienProfessional, May 31, 2009

Friday, June 18, 2010

I like Steve Jobs. So why does he hate me?

Let me start by saying if you want to pick sides now, here is where you need to go:

Steve Jobs lovers, click here. (It's also a nice spot to visit if you're interested in audio and video learning.)

Steve Jobs haters,  click here.

Perhaps hate is too strong of a word. I recognize that software has to change, but I've been a loyal Apple fan. The radical change from iMovie HD to iMovie 7, 8 and now 9 was just not in my best interest. The last straw came today when I decided to continue to show my loyalty by upgrading to iLife '09. That took me a 45 minute trip to the computer store and set me back eighty bucks. Then I found out that I couldn't upgrade until I signed on to Mobile Me, the service that allows your mobile devices to stay synced with your computer. While the first 90 days are free, you still have to give them your information and set up an account. After I did that, it took 45 minutes to update the software from a CD.

I don't have to tell anyone in the EITS 2010 that I don't have two hours to upgrade a program that came with my MacBook and that SHOULD BE AVAILABLE BY DOWNLOAD. (I know - the Geek Squad would point out that a 45 minute CD download was probably eight times faster than a download, I know.)

Steve, what did I do, buddy? How can we make this better? I still want to be your friend.


My Inner Curmudgeon Says ..

I had to stop myself earlier today when I was commenting on Brandi's blog (Well Isn't That Peculiar) regarding a visit to her nephew's elementary classroom (where she observed seeing technology in action.) My "inner curmudgeon" started talking and it was going in this general direction:
"When I was that age, we didn't have cell phone, PDA's, wireless anything, laptop computers, or any other gizmos. We had books, pencils, paper, and we raised our hand when we wanted to say something, and we waited until we were called upon."

What my inner curmudgeon doesn't get is that what is going on in that classroom is way different from my elementary classroom - and I don't mean the technology. We never saw kids who had Assbergers or who had ADHD. The word inclusion was probably applied in a different situation. If you were a visual learner, tough. Here's the material - get busy. If you were lucky (and this is where I reveal my very nerdy past) you got to advance the film strip by turning the knob when the cassette tape beeped. I have no idea if the classroom that BDay talks about is the exception or the rule - but it sounds like a pretty good place to be.

I should probably say my inner curmudgeon is significantly older than I am. We sometimes believe the same things, but generally he's a kooky old guy who shakes his fist a lot while railing at the system.

The school I attended didn't really have computers until I was in the tenth grade. (Mr Iris did have a Heathkit computer that he put in a plywood box and attached to a console TV in the electronics room, but I don't really count that one because it worked about half of the time - and even when it was working, we just played a Pong-like game.) When we got  to use them, we played hard - sometimes pre-programmed games, sometimes we were writing code - basic. The first successful program my friend and I wrote was a resistor color code calculator. (If you want to know what I'm referring to, click here.) You would enter the color codes on the resistor, and the program would give you the resistance value in ohms. I can't tell you how many hours we spent on it or how many misfires we had - but when we got it to work, we were amazed. Ah, the heady days of early personal computing.

I have a greater appreciation for programmers and app developers. I couldn't hope to tell you what the first step is to creating an iPhone app, but then again, a month ago, I couldn't tell you what I needed to do to create a blog - or why I would want to create a blog. Now I feel guilty if I don't feed my blog every three days or so. (Don't hold your breath for a Blam App anytime soon - but just don't rule it out completely.)

That said, this is my 20th year in education as a full time teacher, and my 23rd involved in educational theater. I was told, not too long ago, that I am considered "old school." That hurt. I don't use a chalk board - I have a dry erase board AND a Smart Board. That doesn't sound old school to me. I would be if I said something like "When I was your age, I didn't have dry erase markers and fancy electronic gizmos - we used chalk and slate and pencil and paper and that worked just fine." Except that we did have calculators, which we were told would diminish our mathematical capabilities, and computers that would demotivate us, and portable music players that would deafen us and rot our brains.

"When I was your age, a computer's OS was on a disk that you had to insert into the computer before you started it up; our calculators only displayed numbers; our music was stored on analog tape cassettes that could only hold 90 minutes of music." I think the student of 2010 would regard this statement just as old school as the student in 1980 would have regarding the pencil and paper remark. Certainly they laugh at the notions of the Apple IIe, the TI-30 and the Walkman.

In 2035, I suspect the curmudgeon would be saying "when I was your age, we used these things called iPods that held only two weeks worth of continuous music; we used our fingers to text and our personal learning networks weren't beamed directly into our brains. And in Bartlett Hall, the internet and TV needed cables to access." (OK, couldn't resist tossing that last one in.) I might be off with "Vulcan mind meld" PLN thing, but I'd be willing to bet I'll be close with the rest.

The one thing I won't do - honestly, it's because I can't do it - is try to think what would remove the "old school" label. I am who I am - but It won't keep me from trying to keep up with the technology.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So, I Have My Geek On - Where's The Party?

I have never been so immersed in technology as I have been during the past two months. Yet, there is a nagging thought that tells me I am late for the party. Indeed, I may not even know where the party is. One thing I do know - for me, this is Geekdom - and I don't even have a fraction of the toys that go along with that state of being.

Where do the Geeks live? One place that I suspect they frequent is Second Life, the virtual world of avatars, Linden dollars, and ... freaky things, for lack of a better description. Some of us are recording Jing videos or creating Podcasts. Lots of us manipulate photos or videos digitally, and have been for years. And it's mandatory for Geekship to network socially one more than one space.

Today we got to see the Great Geek Bunker of the Cedar Valley. The folks at TEAM were kind enough to offer us a tour of their facility -  an underground facility that houses servers for many clients, able to withstand an F-4 tornado. Our course instructor Dr. Z simplified the facility - as he so often does so well - as nothing more than a high-tech garage. The people at this facility have the job of maintaining the servers for many clients and the internet for this part of the country.

Yeah, that internet. I assume you're familiar with it.

I won't say that TEAM employees aren't under some pressure to keep everything going, but they HAVE to keep everything going. Medical records, communications, banking records, corporate histories, this blog - all the essential stuff to your life probably flows through or is backed up at this site. These guys aren't just Geeks. They are Super Geeks with the academic credentials to back it up. They've had their Geek on for a while now. Good to know there's someone out there who works hard to keep things going.

BTW, the image that you see comes courtesy of Mini Mizer 3.0 at Wanna get your Geek on? Nothing says Geek better than a Lego avatar.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This Ain't Your Father's College Experience. Hell, it isn't even mine!

Today began the final five days of our Emerging Instructional Technologies class. We're all here in Cedar Falls for the week, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM, with lots of outside of class networking. Some of us are staying in the dorms so we can extend the quality time that we start in the lab.

It's been twenty-five years since I've lived in a dorm, and quite honestly, the room I've been assigned is eerily reminiscent to N270 Hillcrest at the University of Iowa. 1930's era construction, sink, bed, desk, dresser and window. (OK, I do have AC which is a nice touch, but otherwise not much different.) Some inner part of me is giddy about it - or was until I had to unstack the desks and dismantle the second bed so I could move around the room. Still, it was OK - setting up a new space for academic pursuit, sans posters of REM and The Replacements. The coup de grace was the Internet connection, the very lifeline to our course work and material.

That isn't working tonight. Seriously.

I'll spare everyone the rant of looking for any signal - three of us are at The Other Place on the Hill in Cedar Falls where the wi-fi is working, the pizza is hand-tossed and beer is cold - and just cut to the chase, which isn't a rant. There is a team of professionals here at UNI who are dedicated to making sure that every student has access to the tools of technology. Wireless access, dorm access, whatever. They do it day in and day out, and quickly.

Stand by for the cliche: when I was in college, the technical folks were either data entry people or the people who manned the computer labs - computer labs that had second generations Macs and PC's. Oh, the horrors. I suppose when my dad went to college, the tech people were likely telecommunications upkeep technicians - I'm guessing, of course, but I'd bet that I'm close.

The dorm rooms may not have changed, save for that little CAT 5 jack on the wall, but the way we deliver and receive our information is completely different - and better. Today's class was spent working with Twitter, Google Dogs, Skype, Diigo - and that was all before 3:00 PM. What we can do with our information - gathering, organizing, sharing, creating, saving - is like never before. What will the 2010 graduate think of her graduate experience in 2035?

I'm hoping the internet in her dorm is working by then.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Are You Crying? There's No Crying in Educational Technology!

Last week, it happened again. A solemn, forlorn student, looking blankly and helplessly at a screen after several vain attempts at trying to get something to work they way they wanted it to work. A moment comes and I hear that so often uttered statement:

"Mr. Lammers,  I think this computer hates me."

Yes, it does. It hates you like Arnold Schwarzenegger hated Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. In fact, your computer has just initiated a countdown sequence that will destroy every computer and network on the earth. That's how much it hates you.

Which, of course, I didn't say. Instead I reminded this student that computers don't act, they are acted upon, and they are machines that are sometimes prone to mechanical failure, not fits of emotional rebellion. Sometimes what is done can't be un-done, but most of the time, the damage can be reversed. You must be patient, you should back-up your work often, and you should learn the ways of The Force. (I actually said that one. At least it got the student to laugh a little.)

Other comments will from students will include (but are not necessarily limited to) "this computer sucks," I'd rather be using my PC/Mac," and my all-time favorite "this thing it taking forever." I wish I still had that Radio Shack TRS-80 computer that really did take forever just to boot up to demonstrate how far we've come. ("You want forever, kid? I lost a good three months of my high school career just waiting for the damn blinking "OK" to appear on my computer screen.")

Why do we do this? Why do we subject ourselves to learn a technology that is flawed - albeit better than it was long ago - and then turn it loose on our students? Sure, they may know more about Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media, but it's up to us to take that knowledge and turn it toward the "bright side" of the force. Again, why?

Because without a little direction, the technology is merely a toy. Something to divert us, to titillate us, or to just pas the time. Oh, what a waste.

Can you write a paper on a blog? Probably not according to the Chicago Manual of Style. But can you formulate a thought and get feedback? Sure. Research? Probably, given a little direction. Answers to questions? Again, yes, with a little preparation. All of that can lead to formal papers, dissertations, essays and other scholarly writing with a little planning. Just a little.

It amazes me that with just "a little" forethought, direction or patience you can find a vast audience for your work - and thus create something better than you possibly imagined.

Forgive me for drinking the Kool-Aid, but I think the amount of access at our fingertips can be tapped to just about any one's advantage. If this masters program teaches me anything, it's that the tools we have access to are pretty powerful.

Which leads me back to what I read on page 9 of Disrupting Class (Christensen, Johnson, Horn) about when a country (which I read to mean "educational system") goes from "developing" to "established." Our country is in love with the technology because it is fun, it keeps us in contact with each other and lets people know what "is on our minds." We're established, we've accomplished advanced medical practices, we've gone to the moon. We've done our homework. What we are largely missing is the amount of information we have access to that can expand our knowledge to almost limitless proportions. Certainly a number of creative thinkers can point us in the right direction. The problem is that we still have people who are at that precarious moment that I illustrated at the beginning of this post:.

"This thing hates me."

There is no crying in Instructional Technology. There might be a little angst, time invested, trial and error and - OK, I'll admit it, I've done it before - yelling at inanimate objects of technology. But we shouldn't cry. We'll get there, those of us who are behind the curve. Play, experiment, try the applications in places they were never developed for. Keep notes. This is just as academic as hacking through Keats, Chaos Theory, imaginary numbers or the Malthusian Theory. The only difference is that it's just a lot newer.


Friday, June 4, 2010

We Interrupt this Program ...

Forgive the lack of links, theoretical discourse, or new innovations or ideas in this post, but this is worth noting.

Today I posted my finals assignment on the blogs I set up for my courses; I created my sub plans in Google Docs and shared them two different ways with my sub and my department head; I created a map to our destination in Google Maps and shared that with the people who are diving there as well; I updated grades in PowerSchool; I helped a colleague edit a photo in Picasa. Now I am posting on this blog. All done on Web 2.0 applications. (OK, technically Picasa is a download, but it utilizes its Web 2.0 access liberally. It's like Web 2.0.)

I won't stand on the hood of my car, extend my arms and cry "I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD," but I'm feeling pretty Web 2.0 right now.

Well, heck, since it's Friday, here's a hint to what my next post will be about. I promise that one will have links, reflections and anything else that is for the good of our cause. For now, enjoy the weekend!

Film clip: A League of Their Own. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnel, Bitty Schram. 1992. Columbia Pcitures. Clip:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Made it, Ma - Top of the World!

Well, here I am - at the top of the blog list, at least for a little while. I'm feelin' a little Cagney-ish right now.(Wow, what a view!) Anwyay, after giving myself a few days off, it's time to get back to the blogoshpere. Some doings in my classroom since my last post have given me a better insight into blogging.

After a few days of having my disgruntled juniors (because their senior classmates have graduated and do not have to come to the last week of class) create blogs and do some exploring in the blogoshpere, I have come to appreciate the managerial side of blogging. I am following the format of our Emerging Technologies class blogsite at UNI for my classes - posting instructions to the class, requiring them to read the blogs and comment as they go along. We've been formatting, downloading, linking, commenting, and troubleshooting. It's been as good for me as for them. We've been working through the problems together, and the techno-geeks in my first class have been my best resource for grinding through the troublespots.

This is where it has always been "dangerous" for me when I introduce a new technology. Inevitably, something goes wrong, I forget a step, the server doesn't have the same settings as my home connection, the network goes down, the computer freezes ... and these things are not insurmountable - just annoying and disruptive (in the bad sense.)  Right now I'm in a place where the students have about the same level of understanding about blogs that I did three weeks ago - which is about three weeks ahead of the students. Correction, three weeks ahead of most students. This is the "danger" I am referring to.

At what point does the kid who knows more than you regarding technology turn from "asset" to "antagonist?" At first, you're happy to have that student around because you can perhaps have them teach the skill, program, or whatever. If it's the right sort of student, they understand that they are helping. If you get the kid who is eager to show everyone how stupid you are, then you have what Oliver Hardy would call "a fine kettle of fish." I'm fortunate because I have leveled with my classes about this being recent information to me, and that we should view this week as a workshop to figure out the best practice or approach to blogging. This seems to be successful so far.

Several years ago I read something called High Tech Heretic:Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian by Clifford Stoll. (Here is an interview with him from about ten years ago that will give you an idea of his opinons.) It's mostly a long rant as to why we shouldn't be using computers in schools without much citation. One question he raises is valid, though, and it's one we've been tackling in the ET class: How do you keep up with an ever-changing entity? Or, if you prefer Stoll's tone, how can we expect schools and teachers to keep up with technolgy that's largely obsolete the moment it hits the classroom? Time seems to be the enemy, but honestly, when have teachers ever had enough time to learn, read, write, correct, plan, or workshop? It has to be part of the equation of learning and teaching. As we evolve as teachers, so do the tools (or maybe it's vice-versa - anyone care to comment?) It's true that we have to prioritize our tasks - but I think as we gain experience, we gain insight into makeing those priorties make sense, and we manage to learn new things like technology.

Now that I think about it, trying to keep up with technology is a little bit like Cody Jarett in White Heat - staying one step ahead of the law and getting away with it is akin to staying one step ahead of your students and keeping things on track. What you want to avoid is the spectaular explosion at the end. Top of the world, Ma!

POST SCRIPT: Dangitall if the sound on the clip from White Heat in that last link doesn't work. I'll see if I can get a legitimate clip of that scene.