remembering christopher

I never knew Christopher John Gabriel Pfoh, but his family and friends miss him. They donated a memorial bench along the Bowmont pathway, and this week marks the second anniversary of his passing.

I often stop at this bench to rest briefly – it’s the first bench after I get to the Bowmont pathway. I never stop for long, but have often wondered about Christopher.

Christopher John Gabriel Pfoh
March 21, 1989 – July 20, 2006
“Yo, don’t worry about it, just come and sit.”
“I’m not gone, my journey’s just begun.”
Love you Sweetheart, Love you Brother Chrissy.
Lovingly donated by Family & Friends

iPod Touch keyboard add-on

Real keyboard, connected to iPod Touch via USB through iPod Camera Connector accessory.

I want this. Well, maybe with a slimmer keyboard. Possibly a foldable version of something the size of the Apple Wireless Keyboard (pictured below). Doesn’t have to actually BE wireless, though. I’d be FINE with a USB cable, and even with slapping rechargeable batteries in the keyboard to prevent an additional power draw from the iPod Touch…

Apple Wireless Keyboard - perfect companion to my iPod Touch? Please?

This would make the Notes app much more useful. And the WordPress app. And email. etc… etc…

rethinking the digital photography sessions

I’d planned to keep doing episodes of the sessions, even going so far as to map out a few on the wiki. But, the folks at Inside Aperture are doing such a fandamntastic job, that there isn’t really much point for me to do Aperture-related screencasts, which is really all I’d done so far.

I’m going to rethink the sessions a bit. Maybe they’ll evolve into more of a storytelling thing – picking a shot and talking about the story behind it, and how the shot was composed, taken and processed… Something like that might be more interesting for everyone, rather than just duplicating a set of screencasts.

iPhone/iPod Touch native app for WordPress

Well THIS is the best mobile blog posting interface I’ve used. Thanks to Automattic for the app!

It also supports offline writing of new posts (but not of editing existing posts without an active connection). Very cool. I’ll be using this app a LOT!

Here’s a screenshot of the blog post/edit interface:


on the future of education

I’ll keep this rant short. I don’t know what the future of education is, or will be, but I do know that it’s not “web 2.0” despite the hype.

Education is, always has been, and always will be, about the acts of teaching and learning. It is not, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, a form of technology. It is not a suite of distributed online tools, no matter how buzzword compliant they might be.

We need to move past this infatuation with technology, this desire for shiny things to change everything, and get back to basics. To storytelling. To valuing and respecting the work of all participants (students, teachers, and others). To working together to teach our children, and ourselves. To extending the activity outside of some industrialized classroom and into the community.

Sure, “web 2.0” has a role in this – in providing tools to enable individual publishing and collaboration – but it is NOT the technology that is the future of education. It’s people. Without proper philosophies and pedagogies, all the shiny websites on the planet don’t add up to a hill of beans.

(donning asbestos underoos in preparation for ensuing deluge of fire and brimstone)

Learning Community – Blogging and Student Publishing

We held our first gathering of the “Blogging and Student Publishing” learning community last week. It was a small, informal gathering – only a handful of profs were able to make it due to summer schedules, and another handful of staff. I think the small group was actually a very good thing for a first gathering, though, as the conversation was extremely engaging and dynamic – something that may have been lost in a larger group. What I loved about this gathering, is that we were able to reproduce much of the vibe from the Social Software Salon event held a couple of years ago at UBC. I’m hoping to to much more of this kind of thing, to get faculty members together and properly caffeinated in order to get the conversations flowing.

We talked about many things, but I think the common thread was that this is really not about “blogging” or even technology. It’s about what happens when students are publishing their own content, and collaborating with each other. What does that mean for assessment? How do you properly engage a class of 100 (or more?) students, having them all publish content, exploring various topics, commenting, thinking critically, and still be able to make sense of that much activity?

Since we stepped back a bit from technology, we defined student publishing more broadly, to also include such things as discussion boards and wikis.

We talked a bit about blogging as an ePortfolio activity – that it may be effective for students to publish various bits of content through their blog(s) and then to let it percolate and filter until the “best” stuff is distilled into what is essentially an ePortfolio – and maybe THAT’s the artifact that gets assessed. The activity through the blogs is important, but every student will participate in a different way. Maybe it would be a valuable thing to even make blogging itself an optional thing – but those who don’t participate will have had less feedback and refinement of their ePortfolio artifacts.

I gave a quick demo of the eduglu prototype site to show some of the strategies could be used to make the workload more manageable – social filtering of content within the site, organic groups based on projects and topics, etc… There was a fair amount of interest in those ideas, and I’ll be refining the prototype over the summer.

We’re going to be having learning community gatherings on a regular basis – I’m hoping to have more faculty come out to the August event (date TBD), and have it keep growing from there.

I’m also starting work on a learning community around mobile learning (mobile devices as a platform for teaching and learning), and another on course design (to tie in with our ISW and FTC programmes here at the TLC).

My next immediate task for the learning communities project is to polish off the community hub website – which will provide a place for coordinating the various communities, as well as providing a way for faculty and staff to identify and create their own communities.

Links discussed during the gathering:

on the danger of twitter

Twitter has been bugging me for some time now. No, not the single-digit uptime. No, not the constant “Down for Updates” notices. No, not the slow unresponsive website and throttled API.

I just realized that Twitter is actually dangerous. Harmful. Damaging.

It has changed the way that I think, but not for the better. I find I am thinking more superficially when I’m active in Twitter. I think in shorter 140 character bursts. With little to no depth.

Now, Twitter is a really amazing environment – it’s been by FAR the most powerful social amplifier I’ve used. I’ve felt closer to the people that I care about online because I’ve been let in to their every day lives, just as they have been let into mine.

Although the things that get posted to Twitter are mostly banal and boring details of every day life, that is one of the things that makes it so addictive. So powerful. It’s not a “content managing system”, nor is it “publishing” – it’s a way to reinforce a personal connection. Every time I read an update by someone that I care about, I think about that person – if only for a second – and my sense of connection is strengthened.

But, I fear that the strengthened social connections are not worth the cost borne in superficial thinking. Being more closely connected is an extremely valuable thing – and Twitter is somehow able to make my connections to people online feel almost tangible, almost real – but not at the cost of shallow thinking.

When I catch myself offline, in the mountains with my family, wondering what people are posting to Twitter, and how I would describe what I’m doing in 140 characters, it’s become damaging. Distracting. Dangerous.

I’m not going to sign off of Twitter. I am going to try to experience it differently. Without the Twitter Tab constantly open and refreshed. Without any Twitter apps on my iPod. I don’t want to lose the sense of connectedness, but I need to repair and restore my ability to think more deeply.

on mobile devices as a platform for learning

First, I need to clarify something. I’m not going to call this “mobile learning” or even the more web2.0 friendly “mLearning.” (although I’ve tagged this post with both monikers, because that’s what everyone else seems to call it). What I’m describing is simply the application of small, portable, personal devices with various features that can be leveraged in interesting ways to support and enhance the activities of teaching and learning. By calling it “mLearning” there is an inordinate emphasis on the shiny technology, and less so on their appropriate pedagogical applications.

Second, the concept of using mobile devices to support teaching and learning is nothing new. The New Media Consortium’s 2008 Horizon Report outlines some of the educational ramifications of mobile broadband. There are several pages on tagged with “mlearning” pointing to much more discussion on the topic.

What is interesting is the rapid pace of development of various network-enabled mobile devices such as the iPod Touch, iPhone, Blackberry, and other sophisticated and convergent smartphones. We are now carrying devices in our pockets which are running modern operating systems, on processors more powerful than were found in high end workstations only a few short years ago. These devices now let anyone access advanced applications, with broadband Internet access and, cameras, and geolocation. We now have devices available that rival or surpass the mythical tricorder in power, mobility and flexibility.

Again, this isn’t new – I was writing term papers, printing, faxing, and accessing the network in the mid 1990s from a handheld Newton Messagepad 120.

Newton MessagePad 120, and three generations of iPods - including an iPod Touch, which finally matched much of the functionality of the MessagePad (but over a decade later).

What has changed is the cost – my MP120 cost nearly a grand, over a decade ago (IIRC, the MP120 cost about $850 back then. after adjusting for inflation that is now equivalent to over $1200). Devices now cost only a couple hundred bucks. These things are now accessible by nearly anyone that wants one.

Which begs the question – what can we do with all of this mobile power suddenly available? How does this change the nature of educational technology? What new activities are now possible, and how can they be applied pedagogically? This is about more than having a bunch of shiny pocket sized devices available. This is about what pervasive, ubiquitous, mobile devices can do to enhance and extend the activities of teaching and learning.

The simplest application is just by allowing access to the Internet – web, email, instant messaging, from anywhere. Students can call up references from the classroom or lab, or even while experiencing activities in the field. This has been possible for awhile, but smaller devices make it easier and more likely to be used (and used effectively).

Geolocation, putting a person on a live map.

Geolocation can be used to place a person on a map, find information about that location, and to find other people who are nearby (or are interested in that region).

Where it gets really interesting is in the intersection of location awareness and augmented reality. Mobile applications they know where a person is, what they’re looking at, where they’ve been.

A student at an ecological field station can call up photographs taken at a given location over the last several years. Someone on a marine research vessel can call up images, audio and video describing the organisms that arebeing retrieved by the trawling nets on the ship. They can post media to document and share the experience. GPS coordinates can be embedded, making the media relevant to other classes and researchers.

hand scanner
Augmented reality - enhancing an experience by drawing on location awareness and networked data to enhance an experience in real time.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine an application that is able to leverage the location-awareness of the mobile device, accessing information over the network to add layers of additional information based on what a person is doing, where they are looking, and what they need to learn about.

The hype has been heard before. Technology will change everything! All we need is a little more technology! Look! Shiny things!

Heritage Park - 7
The production of an early form of mobile device with interesting applications in the practices of teaching and learning.

But, I really believe that there are many extremely interesting, and pedagogically sound, applications of these new devices. We just need to be careful about buying into the hype without thinking about how we should use this stuff. I’m not going to try to catalog a long laundry list of possible applications of mobile devices – I’m quite sure that the most interesting uses can’t even be imagined yet. But we need to start thinking hard about how we will integrate these applications, and how we will adapt our teaching and learning where relevant.

ps. the first draft of this (exceedingly long) blog entry was written on my iPod Touch, using the Notes application. I then emailed this so I could finish the post on my laptop (adding the images and links).