Monthly Archives: December 2010

ooh, i get it… publishing really *is* in trouble

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my wife works in publishing (children’s book publishing, to be more specific), so i’m always hearing about the death of publishing. while that would be a huge blow to our household income, from my more tech-focused side of things i’ve seen this as a necessary evil. we’re all carrying around gadgets that let us read books almost as good as good ol’ paper, and it’s so much easier to buy new reading material online than it is to schlep to a store and wait in line and dig up the cash and…

did i mention a huge part of my household income is tied up in the publishing industry…

this is terrible! 

i used to wonder why amazon.com seems to offer every product under the sun — they’ve certainly come a long way since they were just a bookstore. it turns out that it’s because books themselves aren’t profitable. publishers sell their books to stores at 50% of list price, and anything over that price is profit for the seller. because of the low(er) overhead involved in selling online, amazon can charge very little over list and make up for that lower price with sheer volume. makes perfect sense. 

the problem with online stores — amazon, itunes, whatever — is that it’s a pretty targeted experience. you go the online store to purchase a specific item. if you’re lucky, you’ll see a recommended or similar product as you checkout that you want to add to your cart, but in my experience that doesn’t happen that often. just this evening, i was looking for a secret santa present and realized that neither amazon or barnes and nobles could help me out. how do you browse?

here’s what amazon.com showed me when i first visited it tonight — where are the books?!

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 the situation wasn’t much better at barnes and noble, though at least there were some books on the front page.

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how do you find a random book (or, fine, a CD or DVD or encyclopedia set) in these online stores? they’re not really made for browsing. you get in and get out, without ever leaving your seat. 

but that’s a bad thing. i won’t argue that paper is stil the better reading experience (even though it is) or that brick and mortar stores are the better shopping experience (they’re not), but the combination certainly has a more immersive experience around it. walk into any bookstore and there’s no doubt that you’re there to look at books… and maybe have a cappuccino while you’re at it. but you start looking at other books while browsing for whatever you’re looking for, probably finding one or two other books you didn’t even know you needed to have (even though you did).

i could never walk into kramerbooks without carrying a mountain of books out of there, and i like to think i was never more well-read. i know i can click around the web, tumble from article to post to rant, but it’s just not the same. so this holiday season, help your local multi-national publishing corporation… and my family… by wandering into your neighborhood bookstore — even if you just end up buying a gift card for an ebook purchase. it might be the last holiday season you can do it.

i can see clouds

today we took the first steps in replacing our rack of servers with a much smaller — and much more virtualized — footprint. 

before:

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after:

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you’ll notice that our “before” rack has a lot of apple xserves, but i’m happy to say that we started our planning before the xserve was discontinued. what really made us look in this direction was the changing ways we were using our school computers and our network.

there has been a steady shift to using services that we don’t host. google apps was just the first piece to fall into place for us, but earlier in the year, i had thoughts of ditching our entire mac os- and windows-served network home directory setup in favor of a generic computer login, dropbox for files, and evernote for student organization. (bill stites has made me believe even more that this is a fantastic way to go.) i think that we’re even ready and able to ditch adobe products for aviary, at least for our students and faculty — the fact that it integrates with the google apps suite make it even sweeter. we’ve moved to hosting all our various homegrown websites on a cross of google sites and rackspace cloud sites. we don’t need our infrastructure as much as we used to, and we have to be ready to scale back.

the cloud is definitely where it’s at for us, increasingly more so every day. we’re adopting new tools all the time, and we don’t want the environment that we’ve grown very comfortable with to be the reason we don’t move ahead. we’re not a 1:1 school, but our policies allow any student to bring in a laptop or other device and use it at their teachers’ discretion. because of this, web-based tools make a lot of sense, and we have even less of a reason to provide as many computers or services in-house. we’ve got to be ready for the day (maybe tomorrow?) when our students bring in laptops and tablets and phones with their own internet access because the day everybody does that, our infrastructure will cease to matter.

not that we won’t be able to deliver all the same things that we do now with our new setup. we’re taking the mountain of services and virtualizing it all — the fact that apple won’t let us virtualize on vmware just makes it easier to consider other platforms to serve files across our network. we’re looking at expanding our windows use, making use of more linux, and even using novell’s open enterprise server to natively look like either windows or mac os x server, depending on who’s asking. 

we’re simplifying, making better use of our resources and staffing, and even offering more than ever. we just don’t need to host it all and can instead look to collaborate even more in that big cloud, which is a more realistic 21st century skill (i can’t believe i just used that) to model than a closed i-own-it-all attitude.

best teacher present ever

i don’t get as many teacher presents as some others do, but this is, hands down, the coolest present a student has ever given me. (good thing it has no trucks or wheels, as me and skateboarding have never actually gotten along.)

i’m sure this violates *some* gift-giving policy, but what was i going to do? it was too cool to refuse, and i doubt someone else would find it as personally-awesome.

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but i’m just a tech director. who’s going to listen to me? #NEIT #NYCIST

the reality is that everyone in your school should. you’re good enough, smart enough, and, doggone it, people like you. you’re also working with your entire school to make sure that everything it does — academics, pastoral, administrative, EVERYTHING — is as cutting-edge as it could be while still pedagogically sound and easy to use.

but i get the sense that i’m not alone in thinking that sometimes i’m in an echo chamber at my school. a recent posting to the NYCIST mailing list confirmed that others feel the same. the discussion essentially boiled down to coming up with new titles and ways to remove “technology” from current titles, as that would lend more gravitas to what we’re doing. i think this is a terrible idea — if your role is to work with technology, then you should be highlighting your expertise. a good teacher should, in addition to always striving to be a lifelong learner, also look to be as tech-fluent as possible, for the sake of modernity but, more importantly, for the sake of good pedagogy. the discussion really started to take on a vibe of “no one’s listening to me because i might not be high enough of the food chain.” alex ragone, someone who i always listen to when he has something to say, summed up my thoughts on it quicker than i could get them out:

How about, Assistant Head of School… Division Director…  Curriculum Coordinator… or Academic Dean.

 

My 2 cents here:  Until we have senior administration who really understands the need for a great technology program and has a clear vision for where it needs to go, we’re just kidding ourselves creating new job titles.  Although some new job titles will come through those innovative administrators. 

 

The schools where I’ve seen the most change have administrators who get technology, diversity, global education, differentiated instruction, (insert your favorite cause)…  They set the stage direction of the school and then hire great teachers, technologists, etc. 

 

So my recommendation is to start talking to your senior administration about their vision and have them start talking to your faculty, students and parents about it.  It’s amazing how quickly that conversation can change the direction of a school.  

(thanks, alex, for letting me quote your email.)

 

i’ll admit that i’ve been in a bit of a rut lately and have been feeling some of the same frustrations as my colleagues, but i’ve always felt that i needed to make change from the position that i’m in. i’m a technologist, and i like to think i’m a good one, and i think that my role gives me a platform to talk about what’s most meaningful to me and, frankly, what i’m most qualified to speak to. what people choose to do with that information and guidance, the links to articles i send, the contributions i make at our meetings is up to them — but hopefully i’ve built myself enough of a platform where i’ll be heard and listened to. would it be nice to have the title of assistant head, curriculum director, etc.? of course it would. but until that happens, i should be able to hold my own in any serious discussion about my school.

 

i found it very interesting that jonathan martin‘s closing keynote at the NEIT 2010 conference was about next-generation assessment. i was thinking it, but i think someone actually asked what it had to do with them. next-generation? check, we’re all used to throwing that term around. but assessment? jonathan’s reply was that we should be taking back this information to the rest of our senior leadership team and working from there. but that assumes that we all have equal footing on our leadership teams. it was a great discussion, but i’m not sure everyone knew what to do with that info. 

 

we need to start talking things up the chains at our schools. that’s where the discussion needs to start for many of us. we can work on our titles later, but we should be taking strong stands with the ones we have now. until your administration sees that whatever you’re working on regarding cyberbullying, social media, etc., is part of a much bigger educational conversation, there’s more of an impact to be made speaking from your strengths. 

particle scan: passed

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This morning, I was selected for a TSA bag scan. Knowing that I didn’t have anything to hide, Henry and I walked over to the table and the agent proceeded to wipe down my bag. I mean, they REALLY wiped my bag down. As we waited for the scanner to process the wipedown, every manner of law enforcement — came over to talk to Henry about going to school, the milk he was drinking, and just making small talk with the small person.

Once we passed the test, Henry scooted under the turnstyle — even though I had a MetroCard for him ready to use and we were in full view of all the aforementioned law enforcement officers — and off we went. No one seemed to mind. 

unpacking #edcampnyc, lifelong learning, and staying relevant

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(photo by SpecialKRB)

EdCampNYC was a great day of learning, unlearning, and relearning, as over 150 educators came together to participate in an unconference dedicated to K-12 education. The peek at our session board above shows the full slate on December 4, 2010 — at any given session time, there were 10 sessions going on, and with four workshop sessions that meant a total of 40 amazing sessions led by educators really pushing the limits of what is possible in all of our classrooms and engaging in discussion that still provides a lot of food for thought. There’s such power in that: a free conference with so many offerings that you were bound to find something of interest to you. When was the last time you were at a conference with that much to offer?

As an EdCampNYC organizer, I didn’t really have much of a chance to participate in any sessions, as there was a lot of herding, double-checking, and general helpfulness that needed to be done, but it was so great to be a part of the very obvious energy of the day. A Saturday in a very cold December brought together people from across the country and even someone as far as Canada — not too bad for an organizing team that never met as a whole group until the morning of the event. It was very humbling, rewarding, and inspiring to be a part of the team that put this on. Yay, us!

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(photo by astoeckel) 

What I’m struck by is the amount of continuous and readily-available professional development that is available. And this isn’t just about using Twitter to form a Personal Learning Network (not that that isn’t valuable — I’d be professionally lost without mine) — I’m talking about real, face-to-face, anything goes information sharing. The EdCamp movement is just one of several conferences where everyone could be the expert and everyone has something to share. Most of my unconference experience is with the (paid and much more organized) NEIT conference, but there is also ntcamp, BarCamp, other conferences such as TSETC, Educon, TEDx events, and who knows what else coming down the road. We all have so much to learn and share with each other, and we all should be part of a larger discussion around our daily practice. Even the experts have something to learn, or at least should be taking the time to educate others so that we all go a little farther and push the limits of what is possible.

Good teachers should encourage their students to be lifelong learners, and this was the perfect opportunity to take part in a very powerful learning opportunity. However, I wasn’t the only organizer lamenting the fact that not everyone from their school who signed up to attend wasn’t there, and we “sold out” of our 300 tickets but still only had about half those tickets represented in the day. It was a missed opportunity for those that didn’t or couldn’t make it, a real chance to learn something new or help someone else work through an idea.

I recently heard about someone coming back from a very traditionally-run conference saying that their school was way beyond others in meeting 21st century needs. This bugged me because it sounded like someone resting on their laurels. Even the best of us surely recognize that there is always work to do, always someone to teach (whether a student, colleague, or a Twitter follower), always something to learn. We should be talking the talk AND walking the walk all the time.

There is always more to do. For me, TEDxNYED is next on the list, but we all have our things to do and parts to play. We have to keep moving, keep thinking, keep doing. We’ll all be better for it.

ok go, second takes, and balance

The band OK Go has become a huge favorite of my two sons — mostly because their video for White Knuckles (or, as Will calls it, “the doggies”) is so captivating. But I’m absolutely in love with both their videos for “This Too Shall Pass.” Shot in their typical one-camera single-take style, the two versions seem almost diametrically opposed to each other. The first video I ever saw for it (though I guess it was actually the second one released) has the band setting up and participating in a Rube Goldberg machine extravaganza — electric, complicated, and detailed. The second video (actually the first released) has them “unplugged” of sorts — actually part of an intricate marching band routine.

 

I’ve been struggling lately with the notion of needing to unplug and disconnect every so often — both personally and because we’re talking about whole child education at school and I’ve been defending the increased use of technology as a part of a well-rounded and balanced education. I like how these two versions of the same song both have their intricacies but each have a much different feel.

I’m trying to find a way to talk about technology using these two videos. You should be able to have it all — a totally connected, collaborative, and complicated world with moments of unplugged quiet. Neither is better or worse than the other, but both are absolutely necessary to maintaining some sense of balance. 

my #ignite session from #neit2010

one of the highlights of every school year for me is the annual NEIT conference. the years i’ve had to miss it, i’ve felt as though i’ve missed out on a great source of camaraderie, inspiration, and good old-fashioned learning. (or maybe that’s new-fashioned.) 

in addition to the unconference-style format that lets everyone in attendance propose sessions and participate in a choose-your-own-adventure-like grid of workshops, i got the chance to take part in the first NEIT Ignite sessions. it was a great thrill getting up and doing something new in front of a crowd of people i both respect and admire greatly. it was the most nervous i’d been in a long time, but i drew inspiration from my fellow ignite presenters — Al Doyle presented Game Design 2010, Christopher York on The Spence iPad Project, Laura Hollis gave a presentation called iStruggle, and Reshan Richards on iPad Apps. i was closing out the set, and each of the amazing talks before mine made me simultaneously more nervous and more emboldened to do, well, this: 

it was great fun, and i’d do it again in a heartbeat. the ignite structure — 20 slides, 5 minutes, with an auto-advancing slidedeck — is such a great way to refocus presenters on their message and accompanying visuals, and i definitely want to see how my students might be able to adapt the presentations they give to this exciting format.