Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Microsoft vs. Google - The Education Edition (Round 2)

Universities used to maintain their own power supply. Google Apps Education Edition wants to take all the trouble of maintaining that power supply off your hands. Schools suffer from costly (both financially and time-wise) IT systems: emails, directory, storage, and databases. Google wants to leverage its own systems on behalf of schools.

Google Education Edition provides:
-Mail, gtalk
-Google Docs: online document, spreadsheet, presentation, creation and sharing
-Google Forms
-Google sites – team website creation with videos, images, gadgets, and documents integration
-Google Video (secure and private video sharing – 10 GB free)
-Google personalized start page
-shared calendars
-free for students, faculty, staff, alumni (with no advertising)
-6.5gf of mail quotas
-at @school.edu
-24x7 support
-access to extensibility APIs integrate with your system

Real time collaboration:
One of the most powerful things that Google provides is real-time sharing and access to documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and sites from anywhere, on any device. Multiple people can collaborate on one document at the same time. “Stop attaching and start sharing.”

YouTube has surpassed Yahoo as the 2nd most used search engine. Google Video is provided as part of the Education Edition package. The fact that students are turning to video for both knowledge content and creation gives Google a leg up.

Time and financial savings:
Google apps is a free system that allows schools to outsource all their systems: email, directory, storage, servers, and database.

Education Edition provides APIs to integrate with your system. They have also newly provided an integration with Outlook using Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook.

Resource Center:
The Resouce Center includes just launched additions and new updates, webinars, and lesson plans (organized by app, subject, and grade level) for K-12. Here is a lesson plan provided on the Impact of Photography.

Google apps is much more focused on a meaningful integration between web and documents, and producing content with other people (shared Docs, calendars, website, video, with real-time collaboration). The Resource Center also exemplifies the open source, collaborative benefits of sharing on Google. A current major issue that Dawson points to with Google Docs are their formatting issues. Right now the apps are not going to produce beautiful, polished, accurately formatted pieces of work. Both Microsoft and Google products provide a cloud-based document storage and sharing system. So with Google being free does it become the automatic winner? Stay tuned for a side by side comparison in round 3.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Microsoft vs. Google - The Education Edition (Round 1)

The two competing behemoths both understand the growth that will be coming from the education technology sector, and they both want in. This fits in particular with Microsoft’s way of doing business, by creating useful, uniform tools that are used by large organizations, and become so ingrained in them that the switching costs are high. Large organizations (such as a public school or district) is Microsoft’s target audience. This varies from Google's audience which has been more individual consumer focused to date, but is now hoping to expand into organizational arenas.

Let's start with Microsoft Live@edu:

A single sign-on for cloud based portal accessibility
Free email with @domain name for students
Shared calendaring
Office Live Workspace: for collaborative document editing
Creation of notes that can be shared
Windows Live Skydrive: 25GB of internet based file storage
-Password protected - students can decide who sees what
-Drag and drop your folders from your hard drive to the web
-Shared folders: Good for group projects: the whole team can upload, download, and collaborate on documents and other files
Windows Live Spaces: provides a web space where you can share ideas and information using documents, blogs, discussion groups. Great for "group projects, campus clubs, or personal webpages". You can also add people to your network, including through facebook.
Windows Live Messaging
Windows Live Mobile (mobile device access to email, messaging)

Enables you to create, edit, and securely access content from the school's site from anywhere.

Social aspect:
Organize, track and easily share classroom information, interests, expertise and find colleagues. The Windows Live Spaces in particular makes use of blogs, discussions, social networks and accesses facebook.

It offers intergration with all current Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Active Directory systems and software.

IT departments will be given more flexibility and control to set up and manage their school’s collaboration and productivity tools in a security-enhanced environment, as well as the ability to access and manage permissions to sites, documents and content (pictures, videos) with "enterprise-class control."

Learning Management System (LMS) Plug-in:
One of the latest additions is a free plug in for the Moodle LMS, providing access to many of the Live@edu services directly within the popular, open source Moodle application.

Announced on November 3rd, Microsoft has dropped the price in order to compete with Google's free model. This puts Microsoft more in the game in an industry that is plagued with budget cuts, especially in this very difficult recession time.

This is a great opportunity for those organizations that are already reliant on Microsoft Office, Sharepoint, Exchange, and other Microsoft products, to enable users to easily access and edit documents in the cloud. As mentioned above, Live@edu is an attempt to grab a growing sector of the technology market. It also aims to have MS become part of a student's work as students so that they are comfortable and familiar with it when transitioning to the professional world. They write on their own website: "Equip your students for the real world" (aka the world with MS that they won't want to give up).

Stay tuned for Round 2: Google Education Apps.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Digital media in an educational exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History's new exhibition The Silk Road opened on Saturday. The exhibit lays out the journey from Xi'an, Turfan, Samarkand, to Baghdad showing the products and cultures of each area. The exhibit is highly educational, explaining processes of the Silk Road, how it was travelled, how silk was made, the foods, spices, and textiles that travelled, as well as the languages, religions, knowledge tools (paper, calligraphy), and knowledge that travelled along the road. The exhibit borrowed pieces from various museums in order to have sculpture, paper, silks, and artwork be part of the exhibit.

One of the most interesting and educational pieces of the exhibit was a large horizontal digital screen that was able to show you almost everything that was included in the entire exhibit on a large map. Musical instruments, spices, silks, materials, aromatics, languages, religions, were all laid out on the map simply by clicking on the various buttons. In addition, it includes features that change over time such as populations that would swell and decrease around the cities while centuries were marked off at the bottom of the map (shown in the image above).

This map was placed toward the end of the exhibit, which was great because it included all the aspects of the exhibit in one interactive map. I liked it as an educational tool because it was controlled by the user and laid out the information in an easy and clear way. It traced the lineage of products like musical instruments and how they travelled on the Silk Road to evolve into what the Europe and the West used (how Central Asia's Ud became the Lute). By putting it directly on the map it made it very clear, both written and visually, to see how great was the distance travelled, and how interconnected were the developments in products and knowledge. And it was fun to use. It is interactive, provides multiple presentations (written and visual) of the material, and fun: many of the markings of a great digital education tool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Take your paper back: Kindle, Nook, Intel E-reader

4th and 5th graders got the lower lockers at my elementary school. Grades 6-8 got the higher level of lockers. That means that, to torture the younger students, they would frequently “accidentally” drop their bags on your head while trying to put their 30 pound backpacks filled with textbooks for every subject into their lockers.

Fortunately for small, sweet children everywhere, the textbook will soon go out of style as a torture device. And no one is about to drop their $300 e-reader on your head.

The Kindle is moving its way into the education world. The Kindle clearly has many great attributes: you can have all your textbooks, as well as thousands of other books in one location, and you can comment and annotate all over them.

The Nook one-upped the Kindle by having wi-fi access, and with the ability to share books with friends for up to two-weeks, smartphones or computers. The Nook will also be able to get books from the Google Books Project. (Barnes & Noble Unveils Kindle-Killing, Dual-Screen ‘Nook’ E-Reader, Wired.com). I think a great step forward with an education e-reader would be that the e-reader allows users to share notes and passages with fellow classmates. If sharing is not allowed universally, then perhaps a class group could be formed to allow for this type of limited but beneficial sharing.

One wonderful invention is aimed to assist the estimated 55 million people in the U.S. who have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities, or have vision problems such as low-vision or blindness, which makes reading printed words difficult or impossible. The Intel E-reader turns written text into spoken words and can convert either text files or pages photographed with the built-in camera (Intel e-reader combines Atom processor and accessibility, ZDNet) into text or spoken words. This device provides for the capabilities the others do not have: capturing the book as an image, text, or audio file and being able to copy and paste and share any part of those files.

Cushing Academy, a boarding school, has taken a great leap by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovating its library. The school is getting rid of the actual, physical books in favor of going digital. The library removed the stacks and added couches, to create a physical space for the digital environment. They explained they were meeting the students where they go to research (online). The library traded in its 20,000-volume collection for a database of millions of digital books. All students can read any of the books, either through the 68 Amazon Kindles around campus or on the laptop that each of the school's 450 students is provided (Digital School Library Leaves Book Stacks Behind, NPR) . But this has raised some concerns and complaints. The students don’t love their kindles, many say annotating is slow and annoying. A complaint from the President of the American Library Association said "Students learn differently, and some students will take to digital resources and information technology like a duck takes to water," Alire says. "And then there are other students who learn by turning the pages, by handling the materials." Creating easy ways of transferring the materials between physical and digital may be useful to deal with this issue, however, more likely the expense saved and possibilities opened up by creating digital libraries and resources for students will force students to have to adapt to the new paperlessback book.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Hey kids, let's put on a show!”

Film is one of the most pervasive art forms throughout the U.S. While not everyone may get to see Picasso or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, film reaches a huge amount of the population. Since youths are already exposed to and enjoy film, it can be a great way to introduce students to a variety of the art that goes into filmmaking: theater, literature, acting, music, composition, instrumental and vocal performance, and if it is a musical film, dance as well.

Because of the possibilities of film to be an excellent tool for both creative and documentation work, several schools have found ways to incorporate what becomes a cheaper technology everyday into their curriculum. Some teachers have made inexpensive equipment (flip cameras and other mini-camcorders) learning tools in their classroom (“How Tiny Camcorders are Changing Education”, eLearn Magazine) . Laurie Rowell interviewed a few teachers using mini camcorders who believe “that using camcorders as a medium is affecting not only the message but the student communicators and their learning process.”

A few ways that it was used include:

1) one teacher uses it as part of a final project for a writing class for an oral history video. Wolff's plan was to 1) get the students to apply "the metaphors of writing" (research, drafting, revisions) to video composition and 2) challenge the students to reconsider preconceived ideas about writing. In Wolff's course, the technology was the lesson. "Students had to become critically aware of the social, political, and rhetorical implications of the technology they were using, and not just learn how to use it effectively.”

2) Investigative Interviews for Biomedical Devices
In a course on biomedical engineering at Duke University, student teams create custom medical assistive devices. Armed with the mini video cameras, students recorded interviews with disabled clients, in which the clients explain what they can do on their own, and later, what they can do with assistive prototypes. Video recording helped the student's interviews and the projects themselves, since it helped the students to be able to replay what they saw and discussed with the patients. Presentations were done via YouTube and video conferencing, which Professor Caves said "really helped to improve the quality of those presentations."

3) Community Service Analysis
Jennifer Ahern-Dodson also teaches at Duke, and she saw an opportunity to use Flip camcorders for a service-learning course she teaches. In this course, students do critical analysis and evaluation of their community-service involvement. She had students record both by video and field notes. She noted that the videos caused them to have sharper memory, crisper analysis, and “she was pleased with the way lines of demarcation changed as the videos helped students see themselves as part of the community… 'We all could look at the video and see for ourselves—and not rely just on a verbal re-telling by one person. This Flip video became part of our collective class inquiry.' "

Jack Dunagan at Institute for the Future noted that video is now an important way for young people to acquire knowledge, and YouTube has surpassed Yahoo as the second leading search engine. He also noted that "teachers should no longer expect the classroom to be a private, walled-off space for learning, but an open and potentially very public space, as videos are captured and uploaded to sites such as YouTube."

Video recording will no doubt have a huge affect on the learning and project creation for each student, as they can be deeply involved in the process used to create a work, and be able learn from their own and each other’s videos and creations. In addition to a learning tool, students may be overjoyed to have what had once seemed like a distant and prohibitively expensive art form become something that could be potentially an elective course or formal study in their middle school or high school. Since film’s inception, the tools of video and sound have created such an overwhelming cost structure that the primary participants in the creation of film have been the Hollywood producers with a great amount of capital to support their projects. But now that the tools of film recording (through flip phones and mini camcorders) and film creation and editing (such as through Apple’s iMovie) are more affordable and accessible, the possibilities to incorporate film into public schools, as both part of non-arts courses, and also as independent filmmaking courses, are now real and inexpensive for the first time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guitar lessons through skype

New York based classical guitarist and pedagogue Kevin R. Gallagher is one of the world's leading classical guitarists. He was the first-prize winner in the 1993 Guitar Foundation of America, the 1994 American String Teachers Association, the 1993 Artists International Competition, and most notably, the only American classical guitarist ever to win first prize in the prestigious Francisco Tárrega Guitar Competition in Spain (1997). He has recorded four classical guitar CDs and his recording for Naxos Records Guitar Recital- Music from the Renaissance and Baroque was hailed as "...one of the very best NAXOS guitar recordings" by Classical Guitar Magazine (London) in 2000.

Kevin Gallagher also teaches several students guitar, as well as teaches lessons through webcams and skype over the internet. Since private instrument lessons rely heavily on physical placement of the hands and body, the sound quality, and what the teacher is seeing, my initial reaction about private instrument lessons was that digital media and the internet would not be able to replace lessons in their current form, and that it was one of those “have to be there” type situations. However, Mr. Gallagher provides these internet lessons on a weekly basis. Here are a few of his thoughts:

EM: Why did you start doing skype lessons?

KG: It’s a great opportunity for students when they couldn’t connect with teachers who are close by. The physical distance is removed through the video. Also while skype has been around for a while, the sound and visual quality is now good enough to make these lessons possible.

EM: Is there any other reason why you would give a lesson through skype aside from distance?

KG: It’s only because they are far away. Sometimes students will come to NYC and make having a lesson a day of it, and alternate in-person lessons with skype.

EM: Do you teach all levels through skype?

KG: Yes, all levels, but they have to be able to read music. Especially since what we study is through digital scans/pdfs of the sheet music.

EM: Is there anything that you feel that you can’t do? I ask because I initially thought that it was important for a teacher to be able to physically place someone’s fingers and direct them to the right position.

KG: You do it without being there, because you have to do it. You adapt. For example, if you took my blender away, I would figure out how to do the same thing without a blender. So I improvise with my directions in order to get the students to do what I’m talking about. It’s important for the students to have an open mind so that they are able to experiment and figure it out for themselves. I can also give them references to use online- such as videos of other people playing in order for them to be able to see what it is that I am trying to communicate.

EM: Are there any disadvantages of skype versus an in-person lesson?

KG: For the teacher, it is very similar to a regular lesson. You are relying on the student hearing the sound you are trying to convey. So the problem becomes when you think the student sounds one way that they actually don’t. In order to deal with this, I have the student send me a higher quality recording of their playing before the lesson that we can both review. You can’t be in front of the students with your sound and presence resonating in their eardrums, and sometimes that’s what they need, but you work with what you have. Another problem is when the technology stops working; students don't accidentally disappear for a few minutes during a regular lesson.

EM: Are there any advantages over an in-person lesson?

KG: The weekly recording is an advantage, so that the student can hear their own work. It also becomes an interactive hour, where we can bring the huge library of resources on the internet into the lesson. There are so many video and audio resources that we can take advantage of, which are not usually used during an in-person lesson.

Mr. Gallagher has also posted various lessons on his YouTube channel. Learn from his lesson on Classical Guitar Counterpoint here:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A couple political changes to keep track of

Economic stimulus funding and a larger budget for the U.S. Department of Education are creating a "fertile environment" for the growth of technology use in K-12 schools, according to a report released this year from Simba Information. ("More and More Educators Turning to Technology in the Classroom", Earth Times)

In May of this year, Sens. Kerry, Rockefeller, and Snowe introduced the "21st Century Skills Incentive Fund Act" into the Senate. The bill recognizes that, in order to prepare students for the modern workforce, "students need 21st century content, beyond the traditional core subjects, that includes global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, and health and wellness awareness" and education must teach "critical thinking and problem solving skills, communication skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills."

Also, announced today, former Apple Executive and educator, Karen Cator, was appointed to head the educational technology initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education. This appointment is very exciting as she will bring "a passion for the potential of technology to improve teaching and learning" (Education Week). She plans to capitalize on the federal funding for educational technology to put new tools to use to improve teaching and learning.

As bureaucracy and orders from top down can often be what stops overhauls and changes in their tracks, the entrepreneurial executive, legislative, and financial support coming from the top will no doubt help create, feed, and support major changes as they are put into effect.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Outside of the classroom, but not extracurricular

CUarts created a program called ArtsLink which is designed to enable faculty to easily include arts events in their syllabi.

Here is a fun video explanation of it:

The program is based on the concept that the arts can help connect topics to audiences in a new way. This type of experiential education is valuable in a completely different way from reading a textbook. The program site indicates "Students, like everyone else, respond strongly to questions and themes expressed in a dramatic context, no doubt because drama depends on conflict. Is Hamlet crazy, grief-stricken, or very clever? Why does Hedda Gabler kill herself and her unborn child? Is Mary Stuart a victim of Elizabeth's ambition, or a necessary sacrifice to the stability of an endangered nation? Shakespeare, Ibsen and Schiller make these questions live." And a survey reported that 90 percent of students said the ArtsLink event "strongly" or "somewhat strongly" influenced their understanding of the related topic(s) discussed in class; and 85 percent of faculty reported that the event had a considerable to high degree of academic value. While many music humanities classes use it to take their classes to the opera, there are also many non-arts courses that use it to help their classes explores themes and topics, such as Introduction to the Study of Hispanic Cultures taking their classes to West Side Story, and Globalization and Politics in Africa taking classes to Ruined.

This is a fantastic program and a huge privilege of living in New York: that great art can be a part of your course experience and an excellent teaching tool. But what about the schools across the country that are not located in cultural centers?

For this again digital media can be a useful resource. For example, New U.K. company Digital Theater will make productions from high-profile British troupes including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Almeida, Royal Court Theater, English Touring Theater and the Young Vic available as Internet downloads, and the Met Opera presents live HD broadcasts of its operas throughout the season. These HD recordings and distribution could potentially be replicated with all sorts of dance, music, theater, and broadway performances. These will be useful not just for nationwide broadcasts, but also for individual class and student learning. For example, a school could use its screening room to show an early literature class Classic Stage Company's upcoming production of Age of Iron. Of course its not the same as being there, but I've heard from multiple sources that the Met Opera broadcasts are pretty close, and are very special considering the Met Opera is not available near them. Theater and music classes around the country will obviously want to take advantage of these resources, but it will also be a useful teaching tool for many non-arts classes, giving students the option of being able to experience (sometimes live!) and learn from some of the best performers in the world creating great art.