QR Codes

I’ve been messing around with creating QR codes (PDF). We’ve been talking mobile lately at work and brainstorming different strategies we can start using quickly to get people thinking mobile, while providing some useful services to the students & faculty we serve. So, I wanted to see just how difficult it was to create a useful QR code. Turns out, not difficult at all.

A little searching found a number of sites to create QR codes. After trying a few, I stumbled upon the QR Code and 2D Code Generator by Keram Erkan that generates a huge variety of QR codes, including codes that will create links to a variety of websites, send emails, and even automatically hook your mobile device to a wifi network (how useful/popular would that be for students on campus?)

So, here is my first QR code, created in about 30 seconds. I’d appreciate it if you have a mobile device to give it a try and let me know if it works (I’ve tested on my Android powered HTC Magic running Barcode Scanner). This QR should take you to my About page.

About Me QR Code


Playing with an iPad

iFuture - What's Next For Apple

I’m generally not a big gadget guy. I don’t have the desire to have the latest and shiniest, mostly because I am cheap and being on the gadget cutting edge costs more than I am willing to part with. I was late to the game with a smartphone, just got an ebook reader this Christmas, and bought a netbook around the same time the original iPad was released. So, this post might sound very 2010 for many of you.

I got an iPad. No, not an iPad 2, an iPad. Old skool. 5 of them landed in our department last week so we can test out the educational potential of the device. So, of course, I immediately downloaded Angry Birds, a cultural phenomenon I had not had the pleasure of experiencing until last Friday.

That out of the way, I spent some time on the weekend poking around the device. Much has been written and reviewed about the iPad so I won’t go into details here save for a couple of specific things I noticed about the device:

  • The screen orientation is crisp and fast. My Android phone takes a few seconds for the display to orient when I flip the phone. The iPad was instant.
  • The keyboard is more comfortable than I was expecting. I am a hunt and peck typist so it works for me. Others in our unit who are more classically oriented typists said they found the keyboard a bit more difficult.
  • The brushed aluminum finish felt slippery in my hands. I have an out of the box model, and can see where a cover or skin of some kind would make me feel more comfortable handling it and stop the “this thing is going to slip out of my fingers” feeling.
  • Setting up Gmail was painless. However, I couldn’t get it working with our corporate Exchange server, but that could have to do with our exchange server setup and not with the app or device.
  • The web experience is okay. I am not a big fan of Safari as a browser. It does the job, but the lack of ability for me to add-on extensions means that the browser is just that – a browser. I’m used to my browser being a tool and that possibility doesn’t seem to exist in Safari in the iPad. Other than that, the internal sites our unit is responsible actually worked pretty well, although my testing of Moodle consisted primarily of logging in and checking out content & navigation.
  • WiFi seemed iffy. I tried reading in bed one night. My bedroom is at the other end of the house from my wireless router, so the signal is fairly weak. But my laptop, Kindle and Android phone can all get a usable wireless signal while I am in bed. The iPad couldn’t. The signal was too weak for the device.

Okay, onto some more educational applications. I wanted to do was to see if there were any Moodle apps available, and there was – mTouch+ for $2.99, so I made the purchase and installed the app. It didn’t work – at all. I tap the app icon, it flashes briefly on the screen, then closes down. That’s it. I’ve posted in the developers forum, but so far haven’t heard back. I’ve also heard getting a refund on an app is difficult.

I had better luck with the next apps I installed – a 3d interactive Brain and an interactive periodic table. Both of these worked like a charm, and in a couple of minutes my daughter was rotating around a 3d model of the human brain.

Up next was the Kindle app. I have a Kindle and Kindle account, so wanted to give reading on the iPad a shot. The Kindle app installed & synced up nicely with my Kindle account, giving me access to the books I had already purchased on my Kindle. Excellent. The reading experience on the iPad was quite nice, but I did have some glare from my bedside lamp that was a tad annoying. But other than that, the short period of time I spent reading felt comfortable. And once I got t eh hang of the highlighting tool, I was able to highlight and annotate passages in my e-book, which I hope will synch back to my Kindle (haven’t tested that yet).

The WordPress app was installed next, which (at first blush anyway) seems identical to the Android app I have on my HTC. There is no WYSIWYG editor, so you are very limited in terms of formatting a posts, but it does the job. You can also moderate and respond to comments.

But the real highlight app in my first few days of using the iPad is Flipboard. First and foremost, Flipboard is a beautiful RSS reader that pulls content from my Google Reader account and gives me a nicely formatted reading experience. But in addition to being an RSS reader that can pull and compile feeds, Flipboard also connects to both my Facebook and Twitter feeds and aggregates the links being shared by my networks and presents those articles to me in a nice package. It’s like an iPad version of Twitter Times or Paper.li, and I found that the way that Flipboard works, it was very easy for me to scan accross numerous links and articles and pick out the ones that were relevant to me. The visual presentation of Flipboard made it easier to discover relevant information from my network.

So far, my experimenting with an iPad has been pretty high level try a few things for a couple minutes and move on, but I can already see some places where this thing could fit into my life. For example, at work taking notes in a meeting the iPad is much less intrusive than having a laptop sitting open on the table, although trying to access our internal Sharepoint collaborative site was (not surprising) an exercise in frustration.

Any recommendations for education type apps that I should try out?

Photo: iFuture by YiyingLu. Used under Creative Commons license.


How Today's Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media for Work and for Play

Pearson has just released some new research on the social media habits of higher education faculty called Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media for Work and for Play.

The impressive stat that pops out in the executive summary is the statement that “over 90% of all faculty are using social media in courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside the classroom”. Wow. 90%. That’s an awful lot of tweeting, status updates, blog posts and user videos being created and consumed in academia.

As part of the research, Pearson decided to do a social media contest among respondents, where they asked respondents who said they were using social media in teaching to submit a video via YouTube. The winning video is from Krista Jackman from the University of New Hampshire who explains how she uses Twitter in her class.

While there is a lot of interesting stuff about using social media in the classroom (no surprise that the ability to consume video on YouTube is seen by most faculty as the killer pedagogical app of the educational social media world) , the piece I am interested in in the context of my thesis is the professional development piece. According to the study, 78% of faculty have reported using at least one social media site for professional development (which was something I was beginning to witness at my previous institution just before I left). YouTube  (57%) was the most common,  followed by Facebook (45%), Blogs (38%), LinkedIn (33%), wikis (28%), Twitter (13%), Flickr (11%), SlideShare (7%) and MySpace (6%).

If we dig deeper into that YouTube number, I suspect that the high percentage reflects a consumption, and not a participatory, model of YouTube use among faculty. The study did not ask the faculty to discriminate between posting or visiting only with the professional development use section of the study. However, they do ask faculty to make that distinction with regard to their personal (not classroom or professional development) use of social media sites. When asked to differentiate between visiting a site and posting to a site, only 8% of faculty reported having posted something on YouTube. The study didn’t say whether the term “posted” referred to posting a video, or posting a comment to a video.

I want to write more about this (like where are the more grassroots social media sites that are not mentioned in with the 800 pound gorillas? Where are the Ning’s, the SCoPE’s and the Skype for the Classroom’s?), but I am tired and am using this blog post as a way to procrastinate writing what I really should be writing right now. So I’ll leave it to you to dig in a see if you agree that there seems to be a lot of social media consumption and much less participating happening by faculty on social media sites, which is probably in line with the participation rate of the general population.


Exactly what is it that students are addicted to?

Reading the results of the Going 24 Hours Without Media research has left me wondering exactly what it is students are craving for with their use of technology and media. Is it the technology they crave,  or is it what the technology enables?

The study asked close to 1,000 students from around the world to abstain from using all media for 24 hours, after which time they were asked to “report their successes and admit to any failures”. What the study discovered was that students found it difficult – sometimes even impossible – to unplug for 24 hours, and they often used the metaphor of addiction to describe how they felt when they were not plugged in.

Needless to say, mainstream media has been picking up this study and presenting it with headlines like students are addicted to their gadgets or that tech addiction symptoms are rife among students.

Now, I’m not going to dispute the fact that many of us love our gadgets and tech, but I do wonder if some of this media coverage misses a deeper point. The point that maybe it isn’t the tech or the gadgets or the media we are “addicted” to. Maybe what we are “addicted” to is something that is deeply human; the sense of connectedness to other human beings that these devices enable. Maybe what we are “addicted” to is nothing technical at all, but rather what the technology enables – the ability to fulfill one of our basic human desires and needs; that as social animals we need to be connected to each other.

Isolate any human being from other human beings and we will go mad. We can’t do it. So is it any wonder that when we feel disconnected, we feel isolated, lonely and depressed? Being connected to one another is essential for our survival, so should we be surprised that when we disconnect – not from the devices in our life, but from the people in our lives – that we feel disoriented and confused, upset and agitated? Being disconnected goes against our very nature as social animals.

I don’t want to be dismissive of this study – far from it. This is an important study that illustrates just how deeply this stuff is permeating into our lives. And I do not want to paint over the important point it makes about just how mediated our lives have become. We do need to think – and think deeply – about how the ability to be connected to each other 24/7 is changing us. Instead what I want to challenge is the notion that this is an issue of being addicted to technology, gadgets, or media, but instead cuts to something much deeper, something that hints at the very essence of what it means to be human.

It is not a matter of simply being “addicted” to my smartphone, or Facebook or Twitter. It’s much more complicated than that. I find the “addiction to technology” argument a distraction from what is really going on, which is that the ways and levels with which we communicate with each other have become much more complex, nuanced, interconnected, and vitally important to our well being. And we are responding in a most human way to this kind of ubiquitous connectedness – by feeling panicked, frightened and depressed when something that is so vital to us is threatened and taken away.

To me, the results of this study tell me far more about how critically important the human need to feel connected to each other is, rather than how important it is for us to feel connected to our devices.


Unleash the power of networked learning

Excerpt from article by Martha Stone Wiske, Harvard Graduate School of Education in Harvard Business Review

Amplify’d from blogs.hbr.org
Unleashing the Power of Networked Learning

What’s different is that the top-down, center-out approach to traditional education is dramatically diminished. Learner-generated, informal interactions, short messages, and nonverbal media are the norm in these networked learning situations. No longer are we worried about “warming up” the online environment — it’s plenty hot! No longer are we pondering the advantages of deliberate, reflective, collaborative knowledge construction in a formal threaded discussion forum. We are tapping into a cacophony of rapid fire exchange that is more like scrappy conversation bursts at a party than orderly discourse of academic knowledge building.

How do we conceive and harness the power of networked learning in this context? Well, that’s the new question this year. Clearly networked learning can be powerful: just ask Hosni Mubarak. The current generation of students in high school, college, and graduate school are figuring this out. Their teachers need to ask themselves, “How do we work with our learners to foster the critical thinking, complex communication, and collaborative construction of warranted knowledge that we believe it is our responsibility to do?” What is clear is that we won’t be in charge the way we used to be or thought we were.

Read more at blogs.hbr.org