A Change is in the Air?

Image by CA RO @ Creative Commons

Technology, love it or hate it, it makes us (educators) continually re-evaluate and challenge our pedagogy. How can we be more effective? Where can we be more efficient? Is it possible to teach this differently? Yes, it is challenging. No, it’s not going to be getting a lot easier any time soon. And yes, the “lean backs” stand ready with quips or a criticisms with each misstep. But, if we can focus on the “learning” and stay positive, there is hope for the techno savvy. Youtube, once blocked in schools across America is now finding its way back in the classroom. Blogs continue to garner press and support as a writing tool. Google hosts 66 of the top 100 schools in Google Apps Education. Learning needs teachers and students alike to possess the skills necessary to identify, filter, assess, and tag data, as it is doubling in size nearly every two years.

Apple discontinued the MacBook some time ago. Possibly you missed the announcement. Not to worry, there were no parties, speeches or fan fair. Apple sold millions of them. Lots of schools bought them. Yet, did anyone really love them? Sure, we defended it against the forces of WinTel, but deep down we longed for something a bit more hip. MacBook Pros, with their sleek silver cases, were the envy of those toting white MacBooks. And the black MacBook, well that was the epitome of one-ups man ship. 100 USD more just for black! Silver was cool, but black was bad@ss.

OK, with the MacBook white out of the picture, then MacBook Pros all around, right? Sure it’s two hundred bucks more, but you get a faster processor, more RAM, a half a terabyte hard drive, drop a half a pound in weight, a little longer battery and that sleek silver case. Sure, no one likes additional cost, but you are getting some real value for money and a fantastic laptop to boot. It’s a safe and easy decision to justify.

Remember when laptops came out? They had smaller hard drives, small poorly lit screens, weak processors, and were expensive. People remarked they needed all capacity and features of their desktop. They went onto to defend the sanctity of their office as a place where “work” gets done. Of course it was, your phone was there, how else could we communicate? Now, laptop sales out number desktop sales.

In the think different be a risk taker world we live, I propose the MacBook Air. Before you say, “no way, the hard drive’s too small, I need my stuff,” stop to think, are you focused on learning or focused on creating a vast, loosely organized, click and save, digital library. How much of your stuff do you access every day, every week, or every month? Do you really need all of those files at your fingers tips? Those videos you can’t live with out, those 10 megapixel photos you are never going to print, and those bloated word processing & presentation documents with the copies of your existing videos and photos, all take up hard drive space. For the learning focused, many clouds stand ready to help you. Flickr lets you store photos and short videos. Dropbox provides you with file storage. Google Apps offers word processing & presentation functionality. And these are just a few options to explore. Your files are still within reach, just not immediate reach.

Taking up a MacBook Air is a commitment to learning. You will always need to be auditing your digital life. It will force you to think about the data you are identifying, filtering, assessing, and tagging. This puts you, the life long learner, in a position where he/she can focus on learning and to continually re-evaluate and challenge pedagogy. If it only came in black!

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Data Zen – notes in a digital age

I like to write things on paper. It feels strangely nostalgic. A faint air of rebellion takes me as if making an affront on the paperless society. Then, a barrage of SMS arrive, one of a dozen open chats windows chime, three emails signal their arrival in my inbox, and the phone on my desk rings. OK, I lied about the phone. In this hybrid world of paper and digital, new forms of information continually assault us with little regard for how to track it.

Taking notes will always remain a vital skill. It is part of the learning process. Do not be lulled by those offering presentation slides or annotated hand outs. First and foremost, note taking focuses us on the task at hand. Pay attention now, multitask less later. Just because you can, does not mean you should. Two, it helps us identify important data. Be it a theory, a question, or a deep thought to reflect upon later, note it! We are all too busy and insights can easily be lost. Three, taking notes gives us something portable that we can fall back on later. Yes, nearly everything is searchable online these days, but with information doubling every couple of years, you need notes to stay engaged.

Although pencil and paper are not my go to note taking tool these days, I do take copious notes. Be it through email, digital pictures, virtual post its, actual note taking software like Evernote, Google Docs, creating help desk tickets for me to track, or digital scribbles on my iPad, I record the most import pieces of data to recall and reference. If anything, I have too many notes. I can never find them all to review in time. I find myself at times making notes on how to keep track of notes.

Last week, a colleague was talking about students having too many different types of information to study. The ensuing discussion revolved around the idea of building a content management system to help students track all their data. More on that in future posts. My question, who is building your content management system to help you through this data rich world?

Old School Note
Evernote