First Impressions of @MakerCon

September 24, 2015 Leave a comment

This is the first of what will likely be a few posts on my attendance at the 2015 MakerCon event  at the New York Hall of Science.

This is my first time attending a “Maker” event.  I am excited to explore and learn.  To be honest, I am not quite sure what to expect.

I have attended far too many conferences over the years and recall they all shared many common traits from event layout and design to speakers and sessions.  Having only been at this event for a few minutes, all I can say is “this one feels different somehow.”

As is normal for me, I arrived at this event far too early.  In doing so I took the time to notice what still remains to be setup with only an hour to go before the official start of the event.  Unlike other events I have attended, where hours before everything was set and in place, there are just a few last minute folks scurrying about, with what appears to be a lot still to be done.  There is a calm in the air.  I get the feeling that everything will get done in time and nobody appears to be stressing too much.

The crowd here also seems to be different than at other events.  Let’s just say this is quite an “eclectic” group.  I sincerely do not mean that to sound negative in any way.  It is not meant to be critical.  Instead it adds to the build up of the event for me.

The keynote is about to kick off.  I feel I need to buckle in now.

Stay tuned . . .

MakerCon Follow Up

September 24, 2015 Leave a comment

MakerCon was quite an experience.

In my previous post I mentioned how my first impression was that this would be a conference like no other I have attended before.  I was right.

The eclectic people I mention in the previous post, were extremely interesting individuals, with varied backgrounds.  Some are inventors, others entrepreneurs, and some who are just self-described geeks (like me.)

Each of the sessions I attended were quite informative, some even inspiring.  I came away feeling that I need to be a part of this movement.  There will be some way that I can put what I experienced today to use with the students in my schools and the community.

I suspect that after I return for the “Maker Faire” on Saturday, I will have a better direction and even greater to desire to make this happen in my school community.

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Not All Tech Conferences Are a Waste of Time

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Today I attending the Tech Forum New York 2014 hosted by Technology & Learning Magazine.  My attendance at this one-day conference reaffirmed my belief that not all tech conferences are a waste of time, even though there remain many that are.

Today’s conference was held at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, New York, near the Tappen Zee Bridge and the Hudson River.  This location is easily accessible from most locations in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut & Pennsylvania area.  Unlike other conferences that are held in New York City, this conference is accessible by car, with no charge for parking.  Being able to drive your own vehicle makes a big difference in terms of convenience for attendees coming from the suburbs.  Having to commute by mass transit into NYC to attend a conference may just incline some not to attend.

The day started off with Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) providing the keynote address.  This former Principal from the award winning New Milford High School (NMHS) in New Jersey accomplished many things with his address, but there were two things in particular that impacted me.  First, I came away feeling very inadequate.  I became keenly aware of how many exciting and impactful opportunities I am not providing to the students, faculty and administrators in my school district.  Second, and even more importantly, I felt inspired.  Armed with a wealth of resources by provided by Eric, I am committed to doing more in my schools.

The session that followed the keynote presented many useful apps and tools that work nicely with Google Apps for Education, Google Chrome browsers and Chromebooks.  The “Industry Spotlight” which followed was one big sales pitch from event sponsors.  The time could have been better spent offering another useful session.

A luncheon for District Leadership followed the morning breakout session.    During the luncheon, the attendees were encouraged to engage in a meaningful discussion about social media in schools.  Hearing different points of view from various school leaders was very informative.  I always find direct conversations with colleagues to be the most beneficial part of any conference or workshop.

A very interesting “Idea Exchange” followed the luncheon.  This roundtable discussion on “Connected Leadership: How Education Leadership Can Remain Relevant in a World of Tech-driven Collaboration”, was facilitated by Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), the founder of #edchat and Adam Bellow (@adambellow).  This session was a free-flow sharing of ideas by all in attendance.  The discussions primarily focused on collaboration.  The use of Twitter for both personal and professional use, along with the benefits of doing so, were discussed in great length.  One attendee who was a self-described “hold-out” was so influenced by the discussion that she created her own Twitter account by the end of the session.

Other discussions included establishing and/or maintaining a blog for sharing ideas and resources with others.  I was inspired enough by the discussion to revisit this blog after many months of abandonment, and to write this post.  The key take away concept for me is that sharing and collaboration can offer great benefits to all.

I concluded the conference by attending a very informative session on “Rethinking Learning Spaces” including very cool furniture, fixtures and tech accessories from companies like Steelcase.

Being out of the district for a full day in order to attend a conference is never done without careful consideration.  Upon reflection of this conference, I am satisfied that the day out of the district was time well spent and was very beneficial.

Open Letter to Tim Cook at Apple: Please Stop Making New Products

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Mr. Cook,

Thank you for continuing to provide innovative products.  Having said that I now implore you to stop.  More specifically, stop providing so many new products with such frequency.

As a technologist working in public K-12 schools it is very difficult to manage, plan and budget with the rapid release of new and improved products and services.  For example, it is now November 2013.  Schools need to plan now for any purchases through June 30 2015.  Yes 2015.  The budget for the next school year is prepared now.  It is then presented for public review and scrutiny.  This is followed by revisions and multiple public presentations of the revised proposed budget.  Finally, the budget goes before the voters for approval.

School districts do not have the flexibility to change direction from planned purchases in order to take advantage of new technologies which may become available throughout the school year.

Apple or any other tech companies cannot really be expected to slow down the rate of product development.  In all reality,  There is a simple solution which may be helpful for educators.

Apple should develop an Educational Advisory Board.  This group can provide Apple with insight regarding the technology needs in schools.  Further, the group may be able to help Apple understand the financial realities schools face when developing a technology budget.

While schools do consume technology, schools should not be treated as typical consumers.  The needs of the students and faculty of a school are very different from those of a home consumer or a corporate entity. Educators serving on this board will be able to clearly articulate what these differences are.  Instead of schools being forced to make consumer solutions work, Apple needs to develop solutions specifically for the education sector.

Through this Educational Advisory Board, Apple will have the ability to provide schools with a road map of what products are forthcoming to provide schools with an opportunity to properly budget.  Educators can provide Apple with an insight to the unique technology needs of schools and the best way for new technologies to to aide in instruction.

Schools want new technologies.  What is needed is a better way for new technologies to be acquired and integrated.


What Parents Want From Technology In The Classroom

July 22, 2013 3 comments

In this article, originally posted on the Edudemic site, are the results of a study where parents were asked to identify there expectations for the use of technology in the classroom as instructional tools, are presented in easy to read infographic.

From the Edudemic

Here’s an interesting perspective to take on technology in the classroom. A new mobile learning report titled ‘Living and Learning With Mobile Devices‘ talks about a detailed study where parents were asked questions about technology’s role in the classroom, the technology being used at home, and how it’s migrating into education. In other words, the parents are the ones buying a lot of the BYOD we’re seeing in schools right now and it’s important to get their feedback.

So what are parents saying about mobile learning and all the education technology in early childhood / K-12 learning? Basically that technology needs to properly integrated, properly handled, and properly used. In other words, it needs to all be done in a relatively controlled environment where teachers leverage a blended learning environment in order to help guide students with their mobile learning.

mobile learning infographic

The World According to Google

July 22, 2013 3 comments

From the New Zealand Herald

It is Monday morning, and 150 “Nooglers” are gathered in a large room on Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.

Jennifer, a woman in her early thirties wearing a pair of hi-tech “Google Glass” spectacles, bounces around the stage welcoming the new starters. She is a compelling mix of preppy California girl and science fiction-obsessed geek that is de rigueur in Silicon Valley.

“I’m a little bit nerd. I love Star Trek. But I also love reading,” she says. “This summer, in fact, I’m reading all of Shakespeare’s works in chronological order.”

Her presentation is interspersed with science fiction jokes and slides of the Starship Enterprise as she tells the assembled audience they are now part of a company with the ability to turn “super-cool” sci-fi ideas into reality.

In the past few months Google has launched Google Glass, which allows users to photograph whatever they can see, or pull up information in their peripheral vision. Then there is Project Loon, which will use giant balloons to connect a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa to broadband.


Outside, self-driving cars navigate the campus. In the next-door buildings engineers are hard at work improving Google’s voice-activated search and translation tools, so that soon even people who cannot read or write will be able to request information in any language and find exactly what they are looking for.

Over the next few days the new starters – or “Nooglers” (for “new Googlers”) – will be drilled in the company’s mission to “organise the world’s information”, its history, and how, as “part of the Google family”, they must keep everything they are working on a secret.

“You can’t even tell your mom,” says Jennifer. At the end of the course they will attend a staff meeting hosted by Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The glasses and the broadband balloons are examples of what Page, now chief executive, calls “moonshot” ideas, adding glamour and the promise of new growth opportunities to what is, at its heart, a hyper-efficient advertising business.

Google’s slick web search engine helped to pull in US$50.2 billion ($64.4 billion) in revenue last year, more than US$40 billion of which came from display advertising. Its profit stood at US$10.7 billion.

Its shares may have slipped from their May peak of US$920.60, but at US$887.88 they have still climbed more than 50 per cent in the past 12 months, making the entire company worth US$295 billion. More than one technology analyst has bet their reputation on Google stock topping US$1000 within the next year.

But as Google’s near neighbours, Facebook and Apple, can attest, investors grow nervous at the hint of a slowdown or absence of a new growth story, never mind that the main machine is going full throttle.

Last year Google investors took fright at a 20 per cent dip in profit and a decline in the revenue it receives each time a user clicks on one of its ads. The balloon project might be inspirational, but it is also there to do the basic job of stimulating demand and keeping the foot on Google’s gas.

Shareholders are also concerned about the company’s outgoings – not least the cost of its enormous appetite for Nooglers. Google had nearly 39,000 staff at the end of the last quarter, a figure which is steadily growing.

Much has been written about the free food and the zany decor of Google’s HQ – the slide in reception, the treadmill desks, the sleep pods and the colourful bikes on which employees get around campus. Less well documented are the free dry-cleaning services, the complimentary buses to work, the on-site doctors, dentists and hairdressers.

The pay is also considerable. According to the jobs website Glassdoor, the average Googler – the company’s favourite term for its staff – receives US$110,000 a year, before share awards or bonuses. Even Google interns reportedly receive the equivalent of US$69,000 a year. And if an employee dies, his or her partner can collect half their salary for the following decade.

Just like on a university campus, staff are invited to join groups that reflect their interests. There are the “Gayglers” for gay employees, and “Jewglers” for Jewish staff.

Google and its staff are almost relentlessly upbeat, which can make some people uneasy. As the first British journalist to be allowed into the Noogler session, I couldn’t help but recall Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

The company, as Jennifer tells the Nooglers, goes to some lengths to hire “the smartest people on the planet”.

Google’s prowess in search technology depends entirely on the quality of its engineers, many hired from Stanford University where Page and Brin met. The company’s entire campus is designed to make them want to stay.

“It’s the revenge of the nerds,” says one analyst who has followed Google since it started. “These were not the guys who were popular at high school. They don’t have a girlfriend waiting for them at home. They don’t have a life outside work. This is it. But life is so easy for them, they feel they have the last laugh.”

That stereotype may be a little extreme. There are certainly enough charismatic characters to balance the geeks. JOB CANDIDATES sit through four interviews with executives they may never work with, who are looking for four things. The individual’s skills are the least significant. The most important, says Lazlo Bock, Google’s senior vice-president of “people operations”, are the candidates’ cognitive ability; evidence of “at least a tiny, tiny bit of humility”; and their “Googliness”.

Humility is not a trait many people would associate with this company but Googliness is a word used often at the Mountain View campus. Some employees say they found it cringeworthy at first, but have now adopted it to describe a certain mindset. It means “comfort with ambiguity”, says Bock.

Sunil Chandra, who, as vice-president of “people technology” and operations, heads Google’s recruitment machine, defines it as people who are 100 per cent themselves at work. “They are people who are really inquisitive and want to do what’s right by others. You’ll find that they’re unbelievably down to earth,” he says.

Whatever it is, Page must be personally convinced that new recruits have it. He signs off on every single hire – upwards of 200 staff, week in, week out.

There is an argument to say that this focus on hiring people in a certain image can distance Google from public feeling, particularly over issues such as its tax bill in Britain or the privacy of its users.

But Chandra argues that the obsession with how staff “fit in” has been key to preserving its innovative start-up culture, even as it has developed into a multibillion-dollar machine.

Managing this evolution has been difficult. Page has made it a priority to slash the number of projects on which Google spends time and money. It has shut down – or “sunsetted” – at least a dozen operations in the past three years.

“We want more wood behind fewer arrows,” says Bock, borrowing his boss’ favoured metaphor. “Instead of launching 1000 arrows at our enemies, we launch one or two big ones.

“You used to very much have a system where anyone could work on anything on the technical side. You got a lot of creativity and innovation, but what you also got was a lot of pet projects which didn’t have a big impact on the world. Or, quite frankly, you got things where we were trying to do something and someone else was doing a better job.”

One of these was Knol, a crowd-sourced encyclopedia launched in 2007, six years after Wikipedia, a similar and superior service. Knol was shut down just over a year ago.

In recent weeks reports have emerged of a Google smartwatch and a Google videogame console. It also has plans to expand its Streetview project to include hiking and biking trails, as part of its ambition to create a detailed 3D map of the entire world. But all these are accessories to search, which remains its core.

Google already has an iron grip on the search market, but the way it views things, there is still huge change ahead.

“Google search is not done. It is far from done, in fact. I’d say it’s maybe 20 per cent, 25 per cent done,” says Jon Wiley, head of user experience for the search operation.

Users have become used to modifying their search criteria so they extract the best results from Google, he says. The company wants them to be able to ask questions using normal speech, to have discussions with Google’s technology and to use it to find answers to subjective issues.

If you asked an interior designer what colour to paint your bedroom, they would not shoot back “red” or “green”, Wiley explains. The first thing they would do is ask questions back, about the size of the room, its aspect, what colours the person happened to like.

“When we look at that class of problem, we say here is an opportunity for innovation for the types of problems we could try to solve. What kind of artificial intelligence could we create that could help people actually have a dialogue about what colour to paint their bedroom?”

Wiley also hints at how the new technology will help Google harness enormous new markets in the developing world. Voice-activated search, coupled with sub-Saharan broadband, could transform education and economic growth in those regions.

“People can ask a question, get a response, and ask again, and go back and forth and have a dialogue of information, in their native language,” he says. “I look at that as a goal, to be able to have that kind of experience.”

But Google is not relying on organic growth. Its appetite for acquisition has steadily increased over the past few years.

In 2011 Google paid US$12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility, to get its hands on valuable patents. Last month it signed a US$1.3 billion deal for Waze, a traffic-mapping tool set to transform Google’s maps service, widening its lead over Apple’s rival product.

Against this backdrop, Google’s “Googliness” can cause problems. The company has had to tread a fine line as it has expanded overseas, coming up against cultures which take a dim view of the amount of data it collects about users.

Users in Europe, in particular, have been riled by projects such as Streetview, Google’s mission to photograph and map every street in the world by driving down it with a camera, or Google Glass, which enables people to discreetly take photographs without James Bond-style hidden cameras.

Last month Google was one of nine technology giants accused of routinely handing information over to the US Government as part of the Prism surveillance project. Google claims it has done no such thing, and asked the authorities to be allowed to publish statistics about the number of information requests it has pushed back on.

But even with the categorical denial, the episode remains incendiary for staff as well as the public. Google employees demanded answers from Brin and Page at their routine meeting that week. In Britain, anger has also rumbled around the company’s tax contributions. Google paid just over £10 million in corporation tax to the Treasury in the past five years, on revenue of £11.5 billion.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, has argued that the company has a moral duty to shareholders to pay the tax that the laws of each country say it owes, and no one has accused it of breaking any laws.

Many would agree, but the row over Google’s financial contribution has tarnished its reputation. Last year Britons identified Google as the fifth most desirable brand in the world. In the same survey this year it had tumbled out of the top 20. Senior Google staff privately admit the episode has taken a toll on morale.

It remains in Google’s nature to constantly push the envelope. Its modus operandi is to experiment, get products out fast and fix any problems on the fly. “Launch and iterate” is a phrase used often.

Allied to Google’s fearless ambition, and its increasingly strategic approach to investment, is also the fleet-of-foot behaviour that will underpin its future growth. Google might shoot past the US$1000-a-share mark before the year is out.

– Daily Telegraph UK

By Katherine Rushton

Hey Microsoft – Google gets that FREE means FREE

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Schools Are Ready to Move to Cloud Computing

Many schools are at a point where they are ready and willing to make the move to cloud computing.  When it comes to choosing the best cloud-based productivity solution, the answer is not a simple one.

There are two main options: Microsoft or Google.  Microsoft has recently revamped and revamped its Live@Edu solution.  Now rebranded Office 365 for Education, at first glance, it may seem like the obvious choice for schools.  Most schools have been using some version of Microsoft’s popular Office Suite.  The move to the cloud-based version of these products may seem logical.

As is often the case with Microsoft, there is a catch.  Free is never really free.  There are various options, that most schools will want and/or need that will come at a cost to districts.  For schools to truly utilize all of the features that Microsoft has to offer, they will need to maintain multiple servers in-house.  At a demonstration of Office365 recently, the representative identified a need for at least four servers.  Providing, supporting and maintaining multiple in-house servers is exactly what most school districts are trying to avoid by going to a cloud solution.

To be fair, a district could in fact use Office 365 for Education exclusively via the web and would incur no charges and require no in-house servers.  In doing so, schools will be giving up significant  functionality.

Microsoft’s Bait and Switch

Most importantly, is the point that Stuart Ridout makes in his blog post Can You Afford Office356 for Education?, about Microsoft once again pulling a “bait and switch” on schools.  Hey Microsoft – free should mean free!  Schools all over the world are challenged to stretch diminishing  technology budgets while increasing the resources they are providing to students and faculty members.

Google Gets Education

Google Apps for Education is truly a free suite of applications that schools do not have to pay anything for and do not need to host any servers in-house, in order to fully utilize this suite of cloud-based computing productivity tools.  Google gets it.  Free means free.

When comparing Office365 and Google Apps often it is stated that Google’s productivity applications are not nearly as sophisticated  as Microsoft’s products.  This is accurate.  The reality is  that Google Apps provide all of the functionality that most users actually need and/or use.  The next argument made is that Google Docs (in particular) mess up the formatting of Word documents, which does happen.  If the documents are created using Google Docs in the first place, there are no formatting issues.

While Microsoft does offer the ability to collaborate on documents, etc., it is not done directly within the application.  Instead, users need to add Sharepoint into the mix, in order to collaborate.  This solution requires a one collaborator to “check out” a document in order to make changes.  No other users can access (let alone change) the document while it is checked out.

Google on the other hand, offers real-time collaboration within the application.  You can actually see on your screen when other collaborators are working on the same document as you .

Game Changer

The real game changer may be the latest announcements from Google that its new Google Drive Cloud Storage solution and its popular Chrome browser are now both available for IOS devices.  As schools rapidly move to include iPad‘s in the arsenal of tech resources, the ability to effortlessly access documents from various location may really push Google out in front of Microsoft.  Yes, Microsoft files can be accessed on various devices, it is not as seamless as the Google solution.

From its inception, Google Apps for Education has been a feature packed solution.  The functionality continues to expand, with no signs of a price tag for schools.



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