Big Brother would love the Amplify tablet

Amplifytablet

A recent New York Times story said:

[Joel] Klein, the former chancellor of New York City schools and the current chief executive of Amplify, News Corporation’s fledgling education division, will take the stage for a surprising announcement. Amplify will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet for K-12 schoolchildren.

In addition to tablets and curriculum, Amplify will also provide schools with infrastructure to store students’ data.

An early look at the Amplify tablet revealed a sleek touch screen with material floating against a simple background. If a child’s attention wanders, a stern “eyes on teacher” prompt pops up. A quiz uses emoticons of smiley and sad faces so teachers can instantly gauge which students understand the lesson and which need help.

“We wanted to use the language of the Web,” said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify Access, the division that produces the tablet, which is manufactured by Asus.

Outside the classroom, children can use it to play games, like one in which Tom Sawyer battles the Brontë sisters.

I predict (hope) this whole venture will be a complete bust. Not just because the market isn’t exactly clamoring for another Android tablet. Not just because the Android apps ecosystem isn’t as robust for P-12 students as Apple’s. Not just because having historical literary characters battle each other is both educationally dubious and less than engaging to today’s students. The ‘eyes on teacher’ announcements, the built-in ability to monitor students’ screens at all time, the student response system features, extensive back-end ‘data’ collection and analysis, the push-out from the teacher to all students’ screens, pre-loaded tools, filtering software, teacher-created content playlists, one-button device tracking / locking / erasure … nearly everything about this initiative screams replication and amplification of traditional instructional techniques in which teachers are the focal point and students are passive recipients. All of the features touted by Amplify are ones that amplify control over students’ learning with computers. Need further evidence? Here’s a quote from Klein:

The teacher can personalize (the tablet.)  A teacher can also click on and see what skills (the student) has mastered.

Notice who’s ‘personalizing’ the device. Notice who’s using data analytics to monitor skill mastery. Not the student, that’s for sure.

Who’s going to buy these devices? My guess is probably some large, vulnerable urban districts with deep pockets who 1) are susceptible to the big-time sell from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, 2) think that Joel Klein’s work in New York City somehow was successful and worth adopting (despite lots of evidence to the contrary), and 3) think that a desirable feature for student technologies is the ability to lock them down and control them as much as possible. That means even more instances where poor kids will yet again experience being programmed by computers rather than having the ability to use technology in meaningful, authentic, relevant, and powerful ways.

Aurasma: What could you do with augmented reality in your school? [VIDEO]

Last fall I demonstrated a couple of augmented reality (AR) apps to some of my workshop participants at the NESA Leadership Conference in Athens, Greece (yes, we were there during the riots). One of those apps was Aurasma, which allows you to connect digital content with real-world objects. No company-provided cardboard squares to lose, no special paper to print, no what-the-heck-are-these QR codes – just the ordinary objects around you. For example, imagine that you point your iPhone at a picture of a platypus and the Wikipedia platypus page pops up on your screen. Or imagine your students pointing their iPads at a drawing of a DNA helix on the walls of your science classroom and the Crazy Plant Shop genetics game launches. Or imagine a mother at your school’s Parent Night pointing her Android phone at her kid’s 3D clay sculpture and a video pops up of her daughter discussing her art. Or imagine a diabetic student pointing his smartphone at his school lunch and the nutrition menu appears, complete with carbohydrate counts. Or …

I think the ability to connect virtual content with real-world objects holds a lot of learning potential, particularly if we teach kids how to create their own real-world AR objects (and the background content to which those objects link). What ideas do you have for how AR – particularly AR linked to real-world objects – might be used for learning and informational purposes?

Oh, and for your viewing pleasure, here’s Matt Mills explaining in his TED talk how Aurasma works. Happy viewing!

Web sites that review education apps

TimeForApps

Apps. Lots and lots and LOTS of apps. Half a million and counting in Apple’s App Store… As iPads and iPod Touches become more prevalent in schools, educators often are overwhelmed by the sheer size and diversity of the apps ecosystem: How do I know which apps are good for my kids? Is there an app out there that will help my students with this learning goal? How can I tell if an app is great or junk?

Thankfully, others have stepped up to help educators curate apps that have learning value. Here is my list of web sites that review and/or share educational apps that work on Apple devices:

The list focuses on sites dedicated specifically to education apps, not sites that include apps and other educational technology resources as well. If you know of an education apps site that I’m missing, please add it to the list.

Does your school organization have a systematic way of sharing excellent learning apps with educators and/or parents? If not, maybe it’s time to initiate one!

[Continuing what I hope will be a month-long wave of resources for school leaders and the programs that prepare them…]

Image credit: Time for Apps, Bigstock

Focusing on superintendents: 5 technology leadership articles from AASA

AASA logo

Kicking off what I hope is an awesome, seemingly-endless month of resources for school leaders and the programs that prepare them, today I thought I’d share 5 technology leadership articles from AASA’s School Administrator magazine. All 5 focus on superintendents and feature either my thinking or my research.

  1. Blocking the future (May 2008). Superintendents may not have all the answers but they should at least have the right mindset. Are your leaders’ primary orientations toward enabling or blocking? 
  2. Rethinking technology restrictions in school (April 2012). Prohibition (i.e., overly-restrictive technology filtering and blocking) doesn’t work, whether for alcohol or school technology. It’s also inconsistent with how administrators approach non-technology-related school discipline issues.
  3. Responsibility for asking the right questions (November 2007). Superintendents may not be technology-savvy themselves, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ask better questions.
  4. The most important tool you probably don’t know (September 2011). RSS readers can be incredibly powerful tools for superintendents’ professional and personal learning.
  5. Online credentials: A state of wariness (September 2010). More teachers are getting their principal credentials from online Educational Leadership programs. But are they able to get jobs? This article highlights some of my research and was authored by my primary research partner and CASTLE Co-Director, Dr. Jayson Richardson.

Happy reading!

Digital Learning Day: The aftermath

Dldlogo

Well, yesterday was Digital Learning Day. By all accounts, it was a busy day across the country. Lots of conversation and high-profile events and demonstrations of students doing cool stuff with technology…

Should every school day be Digital Learning Day? Nope. We still need down time from these electronic and virtual spaces of ours, times when we experience the joy of human connection, nature, solitude, reflection (and all of those other things that people say I should be experiencing!). But, nonetheless, we definitely need ‘more digital, more often’ in most of our primarily-analog schools, so it was good to have a nationwide day that reminds us of the power of digital learning.

Here are a few things that caught my eye from the unrelenting stream of educational technology news yesterday:

  1. Instructure Canvas is now available to P-12 educators. If you’re interested in a better learning management system, you definitely should check out what Canvas has to offer. Canvas is free for individual teachers and professors. Set up a Canvas account and start playing around with it for a course; you’ll quickly see why its social media integration and other features blow the doors off of Blackboard or Moodle. Here are some other materials to get you started: overview videoPark City case study, Rockingham case studyteacher data sheetadministrator data sheet.
  2. The online Student Opinion section from The New York Times is full of fascinating commentary and insights from youth. Hear from students 13 and older about learning, teaching, technology, and other issues. Similarly, also see the StudentsSpeak section of the MacArthur Foundation’s Spotlight web site. There is great material at both locations to mine for instruction and conversation purposes.
  3. Speaking of student voice, check out Using media to (re)claim the hood: Essential questions and powerful English pedagogy. Then see I love my city: Youth as community problem solvers and creators in 21st century classrooms. After that, be sure to investigate the other amazing resources and ideas for teaching writing in a digital, hyperconnected world at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is web site. And then, before you collapse from exhaustion from all of this awesomeness, go visit Youth Voices. There, those will keep you busy for a while!
  4. Apparently some students got to testify before the Ohio House of Representatives about digital learning. I love to see tweets like this one or this one. In contrast, I’m not so enthused about tweets like this one (from a district in Alabama).
  5. The current issue of AASA’s School Administrator magazine focuses on P-12 laptop initiatives, particularly issues related to learning, teaching, affordability, and planning. Districts profiled include Mooresville (NC), Pascack Valley (NJ), and a host of others, including Van Meter (IA), Owensboro (KY), and Piedmont City (AL).
  6. Other things that I found yesterday included a great story on students with autism spectrum disorder using Google SketchUp, information about teaching digital literacy through game design, the Oakridge Elementary (VA) blog featuring book reviews written by elementary students, and news about the plan by MIT and Lego to bring robotics and coding to young children.

And, of course, we here at CASTLE were busy too. We launched our new online School Technology Leadership graduate certificate, Master’s, and Ph.D. programs. We also gave our 1-to-1 Schools blog a visual makeover and opened registration for the 3rd annual Iowa 1:1 Institute, an event that focuses on high-quality learning and teaching in P-12 laptop programs. Last year we had over 1,300 participants for the Institute. Maybe this year you’ll join us on April 11!

If you were on Twitter

TrappedDear educator, if you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have found:

  1. this awesome reflection about working with a teacher on technology integration; or
  2. these resources about ‘learning styles’ and whether they’re a myth; or
  3. this list of ideas about how to rethink awards ceremonies; or
  4. this list of 100 free apps to check out for that new iPad you just bought; or
  5. this update about the thousands of new online resources that PBS will provide you starting this fall; or
  6. these fabulous summer reads from The Atlantic; or
  7. these tips for using students’ interests in online video to make ‘book trailers’; or
  8. this story on how student gardens change attitudes and teach nutrition; or
  9. these suggestions for integrating iPads into your teaching; or
  10. this post about self-evident assessment; or
  11. these resources for reworking your acceptable use policies; or
  12. this list of useful web sites for creating outlines; or
  13. these award-winning chemistry videos; or
  14. these instructions on how to make self-grading quizzes; or
  15. this video about students developing their own learning paths; or
  16. these great ideas for doing Webquests in your classroom; or
  17. these tips for effective team teaching; or
  18. these 10 simple cooking tips that you wish someone had told you earlier; or
  19. this story about how teachers are accommodating students’ mobile phones for learning; or
  20. these incredible photos from the space shuttle Endeavor’s final mission.

But you weren’t on Twitter yesterday, so it’s likely that you saw none of this. And, yes, you probably also would have seen someone posting a picture of some strawberries or talking about how they just went to their kid’s Little League game. Or some friendly banter between friends. Or even someone chatting about walking their dog or the great sandwich that they just ate. Good grief, who posts that stuff? Don’t they have anything better to do with their lives?

Instead of being on Twitter yesterday, perhaps you were talking with your neighbors over the back fence. That’s a real relationship, isn’t it? Not like those so-called online ‘friendships’ where people ‘like’ each other. That back fence relationship is great, isn’t it? Almost every day you share little tidbits with each other. Much of it is banal or just friendly chatter, but much of it also is useful: where’s the best place to get this, how can I find that, do you have any suggestions for how best to accomplish this other thing, by the way I saw this thing today that might interest you, and so on. At some point you also realized that those small day-to-day interactions over the back fence about each others’ strawberries and Little League games and dog walks and sandwiches have somehow added up to something more enduring: lasting friendships and a positive interdependency that you never would have anticipated at the beginning.

Because you’re not on Twitter, what you don’t realize is that Twitter is the back fence you share with your neighbors. Except your neighbors are people all over the world who share your interests and passions and can help you accomplish your personal and professional goals. Every day you have a chance to learn from these online neighbors. Every day you have a chance to receive resources that you otherwise never would have found. Every day you have a chance to intersect with people who care about what you care about and are willing to help you be more productive and save time. And much of it is banal or just friendly chatter, but much of it also is useful.

What’s that? You don’t want to be part of a community that shares your interests? You don’t have time to learn? You’d rather not receive helpful resources? Oh, okay. Good for you, I guess.

Why, again, dear educator, aren’t you on Twitter?

Image credit: Twitter