Friday, December 10, 2010

TIES 2010 Conference Reflection

High time I get back to this blog and give it a little TLC. And, there's nothing like a good education technology conference to get the "geek" blood flowing again. TIES 2010 was a very good conference this year and I commend all of the TIES staff, presenters and others who worked to put it together.

I also was very pleased that it had a decidedly education focus this year. I know that doesn't sit well with everyone, but I take this opportunity to point out that everyone working in a school needs to understand that the kids are why we are here and we all need to be concerned about the education of our children (whether ours literally, or figuratively).

Sir Ken Robinson, a best selling author and internationally recognized expert on creativity, was the keynote speaker. He advocates creating an environment in schools where students' creativity can flourish and they can find their passions.  He points out that we have been stuck in a 19th century model of education. We have tweaked the process but certainly not transformed it.

I believe that technology must play a role in the transformation of education. We live in the 21st century with technology all around us. It can't be simply a tool to modify the same content we've always provided, nor can it be only a modern method for assessment. It needs to unlock a student's creativity and prepare them for a productive existence in the connected world in which they live. I also believe that we will make nary a dent in the system until we change the way we assess students. The reliance on high stakes tests that focus on 19th century skills is akin to stomping on the dreams of every child in a public school. The fact that we hold teachers accountable for students' performance on these assessments forces them to put aside any efforts to foster a child's passions and help them grow for the sake of covering what is "on the test." This may ultimately be the demise of our society. We must find a way to teach and assess 21st century skills for a global society.

All that said, take a look at the notes and materials from the many sessions at TIES 2010, and watch the following two talks by Sir Ken Robinson. I think you'll find it a thought-provoking and worthwhile experience.


TIES 2010 Wiki

Sir Ken Robinson - 2006 TED Talk

Sir Ken Robinson - 2010 TED Talk

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Technology TIPS done right!

I recently received a message from a Minnesota instructional technology group list that originated with Shawn Brandt, a technology integration specialist for New Prague Area Schools. He was describing some aspects of Picasa, an online, free image management tool. In the message, he shared his website that includes well organized lists and descriptions of technology integration tools, news, a few instructional videos and best of all, tip sheets for using many of the tools. This is a very nice resource that Shawn has created, assembled and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Technology integration folks out there, take a look at this resource. This is a great example of putting wonderful resources and easy to use guidance right in front of your users' eyes. Well done! Here is a link to his "TIP Sheets" page, you can easily navigate the rest of the site from there...

Thanks for sharing this resource, Shawn!!

Marc Johnson

Monday, September 6, 2010

YouTube vids without ads and suggestions

There is no doubt that YouTube has some pretty strange stuff. At times, very inappropriate for a classroom or any educational setting. However, there is plenty of very good, educationally sound material on YouTube as well. There are a number of reputable news outlets that utilize YouTube for posting their stories. Additionally, as we enter the mid-term election cycle, there will be a bevy of political content available as well (which could be good or bad!).

A member in the Verizon Thinkfinity Community suggested a website that will allow the user to enter the URL to a YouTube video and it will return a substitute URL (kind of like Tiny URL if you know how that works) that you can set a link to, email to yourself (or others), post to your blog (or other social networking site) and display the video without ANY of the ads or alternative content or suggestions.

It is called "Safeshare" - I've tried it and it seems to work quite well. I was able to paste the URL of a YouTube video into the box and voila' I had a new URL that opened in my browser and played the YouTube video without any of the extras - that can often be a deterrent to showing the videos in a classroom. Here is an example.

I have not tried this behind a firewall that blocks YouTube, so I don't know if it will bypass a filter. I am NOT an advocate of bypassing a filter anyway. However, if your school does allow YouTube, this is still a very useful utility to prevent any questionable content from accidentally being displayed when you want to use a YouTube video in your classroom, or, perhaps include it in a distance learning environment.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Cool" online tools group in Thinkfinity Community

Hi everyone...

Just a quick post to plug an online group in the Verizon Thinkfinity Community. It has been very active during the summer and the participants have some great examples of and ideas for using web 2.0 type online tools. Take a look! The group is called, "Online Tools for Educators" and, of course, joining is absolutely free and will NOT result in any spam or other unwanted correspondence.

HTML5 Video

I started working on this post in June -- and then Summer hit like a freight train! It proved to be one of my busiest summers yet with work occupying more than its fair share of the time. No big family trips, but lots of small excursions here and there. All-in-all, it was good! Now, back to the reality of the school year...

I've been playing around with HTML5 lately, especially as it relates to video. We've been wanting to provide opportunities for video streaming at ECMECC without the cost of a commercial system. Budgets just aren't going to allow for that kind of expenditure. The issue that has been most problematic has been that of cross-browser and cross-platform support. We tried an implementation of Darwin Streaming Server, but it uses the RTP protocol which requires a plug-in such as Quicktime or RealPlayer. Not all modern browsers are supporting plug-ins the same way, then there is the issue of installing said plugins. We also tried some other methods of streaming including some open-source flash players. Great in many cases, but not supported on the iPhone, iPad or many other mobile devices.

Enter HTML5, the still evolving next generation of web development code. Now supported on most browsers and compatible with many mobile devices including the iPhone and iPad, HTML5 looks to be a promising (and relatively simple) way to stream video to the world. If I've done things right, the video below (the first generation of the popular "Did You Know" video) will play in nearly any browser on nearly any platform. If it doesn't work, give me a break, I'm still learning :-)

Below the video, I've inserted a few links to resources on video streaming with HTML5. I'll keep you updated on our progress!

Dive into HTML5 - A good basic guide to HTML5
Best HTML5 Media Players - A blog post with information on many HTML5 media players
HTML5 Tag Reference - A reference guide to HTML5 tags from W3Schools

Enjoy - and hope you all had a great summer!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MN Legislature Preserves School Funding

As is many parts of the country, there are tough financial times being faced by schools in Minnesota. With astronomically large state (and national) deficits, the job of a politician is more thankless now than ever. While I have been very critical of the direction of politics in general recently, I do want to take a moment to thank the members of the Minnesota Legislature for holding K-12 education generally harmless through the tough political decisions that were faced in the recently concluded session. Sure, there are still many underfunded initiatives and our kids are facing greater challenges than ever, but in a typical Minnesota response, "it could have been much worse." The fact that technology funding was preserved is of particular interest to those who might read these words.

Even if I don't always agree with them, I do respect the work that our political leaders are doing at a time of unprecedented global economic turmoil. Now, if we could just stop being so "gosh darn" polarized in our political views, maybe we could actually do some great things rather than just holding on.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Verizon Foundation has launched the redesigned Thinkfinity website. It provides easier access to some of the Thinkfinity resources from the home page. If you've never used this resource, you should really take a look. They work closely with nine national partners including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Geographic and many more to bring high quality lesson plans, online activities and other educational materials to teachers and students.

The redesigned website also introduces the Verizon Thinkfinity Community where educators can converse, ask questions, trade ideas and more.

Belt AND Suspenders - A Lesson in Data Backup

A college roommate of mine was once introduced at a banquet as the only person the emcee knew who was so conservative that he wore a belt and suspenders. That phrase has stuck with me over the years and I use it once in a while to describe security measures in technology. There are times when it means "overkill" and there are times when it serves as a good reminder - this one is the latter.

Two mutually exclusive events this week involving Data backup should serve as a reminder to all of us. Two stories of personal stress as two friends both lost years of digital photos. One accidentally deleted them and the other had a drive fail. In both cases, without any backup, the stress has been significant and the monetary cost may be steep. In both cases, many hours of lost time dealing with the issue.

One has recovered the photos at the cost of recovery software and an external drive to restore them to (and hopefully use as a backup drive in the future). The other will most likely get them back but will pay $600 to $1000 to a data recovery company.

Real examples to remind us all to practice safe computing. Back up that data early and often!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

National Broadband Plan

Recently, the FCC released the National Broadband Plan which was commissioned by congress in early 2009. While I haven't read through the 376 page document cover to cover yet, it has some ambitious goals and a direct impact on education. If you haven't seen it yet, you can download the entire report at:

The plan website also has a great deal of information and is found at:

Goal #4 of the plan directly relates to education by suggesting, "Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings."

In the school cooperative I direct, ECMECC, we have a gigabit network connecting 14 member districts, several non-member districts, higher education institutions, public libraries, county and city government and a few other entities. While we share the internet access among all the entities and it doesn't amount to a full gigabit, we enjoy a broadband network that permits us to share a number of services that are often limited to individual entities and we have great access to cloud computing services, video and all that the Internet has to offer.

Having tasted that level of access, it is easy to support that kind of connectivity or greater to every American community. It appears that the FCC is suggesting changes to the Universal Service Fund (E-rate) program to help facilitate this level of access. It will be interesting to watch this take shape. It will be important for all of us in educational technology to follow these developments closely and work together to see that any changes are implemented in a fair and equitable manner. The telecommunications companies will wield their influence to be sure and we will need to be at the table as well.

The final paragraph of the plan's executive summary worries me a bit. It begins with, "The remaining half of the recommendations are offered to the Executive Branch, Congress and state and local governments." I'm not convinced, recently, that these bodies are capable of implementing the recommendations that have been left to them. They continue, " Policymakers alone, though, cannot ensure success. Industry, non-profits, and government together with the American people, must now act and rise to our era’s infrastructure challenge." This I think is true. It will be an interesting decade ahead to be sure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 TIES Coordinator Conference recap

Well, back home after the annual TIES Coordinator Conference. Always a good time to network with colleagues working in school technology around the state. There were some very good sessions this year and you can find some of the session resources posted on the TIES Wiki if you are interested. Here are a few brief highlights...
  • Google, Google and more Google - Yes, this was quite the buzz. More and more schools seem to be riding the Google wave (pun intended if you know about Google Wave!) The Google Apps for Education package provides an enticing group of apps and who can beat the price. So... are schools moving this direction because it meets their needs or because it is free? I'll be researching this more as several of the districts I work with are looking seriously at this.
  • Mobile devices - The upcoming iPad from Apple was a topic of many. No, the Apple rep didn't have one to show us, but there was a fair amount of discussion about how this might affect education. I'm sure you'll hear more from me on this in upcoming posts.
  • Social Networking - Aimee Bissonette from Little Buffalo Law & Consulting discussed the legal implications of cell phones, email, texting, social networking, etc. both in and outside of schools. Her advice in a nutshell... be prepared, have set policies about such things in place for both staff and students and don't "look the other way."
  • Speed Geeking - Like speed dating only you have people with some expertise in various instructional technologies sitting at the tables and others who would like to learn about those technologies get to rotate through talking to each "expert" for three to five minutes.
As always, a good learning and networking experience. Check the wiki site linked above for more information.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mobile Computing Revisited

Wow... A lot has happened since my last post. For now, I want to comment on mobile technology again. I'll be discussing this topic once more at the TIES Coordinator's Conference with the hope of engaging some school technology personnel in a discussion of why devices like the iPod Touch may have a place in our classrooms. Now, of course, the iPad (still a rather unfortunate name, I think) has been announced and we have the potential of adding a device that runs all the iPhone/Touch apps on a screen with some real estate. It could be an interesting year ahead in mobile computing. Here are some good reads about the iPad and Touch that you might find interesting...

Article from the Apple Learning Exchange

Post at the MEMO (MN School Technology) website

Blog Post from Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog