Thursday, January 21, 2010

Digital Textbooks – useful? If used correctly (Higher Ed)

So until recently, I was a big advocate of keeping textbooks in print format. My justification was sort of clear-cut and I couldn’t understand why some people disagreed. See, to publish a textbook that costs $100, perhaps after the cost of the print and the the whole retail level, the book might cost $80 or so. Now, $200 for a digital reader + 80 for the book? Digital formats = higher piracy rate, Back to $90 we go. Now, $10 per book saved. I spent 5 years as an undergrad, and didn’t purchase 20 textbooks. Average was 2 per semester, and I sold them back. Digital copies can’t be sold back. Perhaps a rental of them at half price might do.

Now that was fine and dandy until somebody sparked some imagination for me on Twitter the other day. @akamrt made the suggestion of collaborative textbooks. Now this was a “WOW” to me. I never thought of the idea, even after giving the topic much though. Now, I invite some insight on this. What is thought of the idea of having graduate assistants write textbook outlines and fill them in as class progresses. Very low cost, make it uploadable to Google Docs, perhaps and fully collaborative. This type of software, used throughout all four years of college, and there you go - $200-400 for all of your textbooks.

The idea of cognition arises, however with this. For higher-level classes, I would remember studying with three or four textbooks, not even necessarily from that class open, notes from three or four years of classes, and a mess of other things on my desk… for one exam. I don’t know that I can see doing this quite yet with digital textbooks. The notebooks are one thing, but the textbooks are iffy still. I’m all for helping the environment too!

Another factor that I want to bring up is subjects. I want you to think really hard about what subjects can this possibly not work almost at all for. Think hard… Think about laying out a bunch of pictures out. What subject is that? No? Art. Art history. Even for an introduction to art history, I would sit there with cutouts of about 30 different paintings I needed to remember. Color screens on a Kindle isn’t something we have, and not something I could see having cheaply.

So, working for some subjects, yes? But the end of textbooks as we know them? Far from it.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Education, and what I think it should be

We teach traditional subjects, proper grammar, and ancient mathematics. We need to stay conservative with topics that should be liberal (such as sex education). Our history teachers sometimes don’t explore changes in historical facts. Our arts teachers sometimes refuse to teach aesthetics they don’t agree with.

Now, let me state my philosophy on “truth”. Those truths that we learn are facts created by conformity to the norm. What that means is that we make our truths. “They’re”, “there,” and “their” are different because we make them different. Now, if the entire world misspelled the sentence, “Their going to the mall” rather than “they’re going to the mall,” is it wrong to spell it the first way? That is, if the entire world makes the same mistake?

OK, where I’m going with this is here – Today’s world is structured by the internet. Our students know Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Deviantart, Flickr, Skype, AIM, Youtube, etc. There are people that will say that students spend too much time on these things and need to read Catcher in the Rye more or something to that extent. While I do agree, understanding the meaning behind the story is more important than saying that you’ve read the book. You don’t NEED to read these materials. However, I know just as many middle-aged people that spend their free time on Facebook and Youtube as us younger generations, and don’t deny it.

What do you mean? Are you insinuating that what I learned in the 70s in school is obsolete and we need to resort to teaching Facebook and things to our students?

That’s EXACTLY what I’m saying. Cursive writing? I was in school and spent two years, first and second grade, practicing cursive writing, at an age that I didn’t know what words really meant. I had no business writing or reading back then. I wanted to use my imagination and do art and music, but curricula only limited the amount of time that I could do that.

What is happening to students, reading old literature without comprehending it? (Quite frankly, it’s because they don’t care). They’re putting themselves in situations with the wrong people on Facebook.

Now, I’m not saying that we should replace Science with Facebook. What I’m saying is that while there should be time spent on these classical subjects, there should be equal time spent on real-world scenarios. I’m sorry, but FBLA and the “Careers” course that I took in high school are NOTHING like what the world is. Such a thought is pure mindwash. Why not have a course called, “Safe internet practices” or “How to not ruin your life.”

We need to adopt the real world into schools and stop holding things away from it because they’re politically incorrect. Guess what, the world is very politically incorrect.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tools of a 21st Century Educator

Twitter, @Socratech sort of triggered an idea for me. What computer skills does a 21st century educator need? What can we do to ensure that pedagogy is still effective? Technology is important, but it’s not everything, right?

Let’s start off-topic. I get into a debate with some zealous colleagues in my major (Instructional Technology) that tech doesn’t necessarily need to be included in ALL aspects of education. Tweeting / texting homework assignments, vodcasting additional lecture material on Youtube or TeacherTube, podcasting on iTunes, and collaborating on Google are all fine and dandy, but is it excessive? Are these the skills that an educator needs today? No, of course not, as that would be the qualifications for any 14-year old. I have a 5-year old cousin who knows how to use the internet a lot more proficiently than I did when I was 15. Show’s something about the generation.

So what tools does an EdTech Teacher need nowadays?

Let’s start with something simple. Operating systems. From the perspective of a computer programmer, this is not simple but from the perspective of a user, this is the simplest thing in the computer. Operating system fluency is absolutely mandatory to be effective on a computer. Knowing your shortcuts, your hotkeys, and understanding the logic behind the tasks you do with your computer are vital. It will allow you to fix mistakes, improvise when there’s a tech problem, and be able to get things done faster than a good majority of your students. In Windows, some very effective tips that I can provide:

1. alt+tab – quickly change between windows. You can hold ALT and press tab to scroll through different windows as well if you have more than two open at once. In Vista and Win7, you can take advantage of Winkey+tab (Winkey is usually on the left and less frequently left and right, between the ctrl and alt keys – has the Windows logo on it. If you’re running Windows on a Mac, it’s the Apple Key, bottom left) for a 3D version of Alt+tab. Alt+tab also works in Vista and Win7.

2. Winkey+D allows you to quickly minimize everything to a bare desktop.

3. Learning to use your right click menu and understanding what each function does will save you a LOT of time.

4. Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V is Copy and paste. Woo! Ctrl+X is usually Cut
Cut is essentially move. You cut something from somewhere and paste it somewhere else. Copy is just that, you make a copy of it.

5. Home and End bring you back and forth between the beginning and end of a line.

6. Ctrl+home / Ctrl+end will bring you back and forth between the beginning and end of a document.

Now, after the computer literacy end of it, you will become more proficient in your programs overall. Find GOOD software, not just that software which is made for what you do. A lot of teachers use Inspiration to make concept maps. Webspiration is free (for now – still in Beta) and you can collaborate on it, and Visio in MS Office is more “adult” than Inspiration. There’s just one example of something you may use. Also, use software that is considered “industry standard”. If you have a graphic design class or department and can’t afford Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign, kill the department or get the appropriate software. Gimp and Publisher are not graphic design. Not even close.

Last, this might be obvious, know your pedagogy. What makes students understand what you teach? How can you apply tech to it? Better question, How can you apply tech to it without making the tech take the assignment over? That’s the key.

1. Know your OS
2. Know your software
3. Know your pedagogy
4. How can you mix the three together without eliminating the important part?
“If a teacher can be replaced by a computer, that teacher should be.”
- Dr. Beth Rajan-Sockman, East Stroudsburg University

Further Reading - Check out
Socratech's blogpost on TPACK

Friday, January 8, 2010

My problem with Apple

A lot of people that know me know my distaste for Mac and all things Apple. I’m going to describe a few things, and justify myself. Now, I know, and we all know that my experiences are a lot less likely to happen to everybody else (Since I have so many), so here goes.

1. Security

We all talk about Mac’s not needing antivirus and all that jazz. Perfectly fine for a Mac, however Apple products on my Windows machine have caused some issues.

Quicktime conflicts with two antivirus programs that I’ve had across two reinstalls of XP and Vista 64 (Kaspersky and NOD32). Both of them consider QT to be a virus on my computer.

My firewall through Kaspersky found an intrusion through iTunes.

iTunes would randomly make my system hang. Two completely separate builds, so it’s not the hardware.

2. Actually using a Mac

I had about 2 hours of recording work done on Pro Tools on a Mac. I saved, went to the bathroom, and came back. The system went to sleep and I assumed I could just load from where I came from. This wasn’t the case. My file was nowhere to be found. I consider myself tech-savvy enough to be able to save correctly, but no.

I went to learn to use Mac to get Photoshop stuff done, and I found that by comparison to the Windows version, it’s more difficult to do things quickly on a Mac because if you click outside of the area you’re working, everything goes into the dock.

Not knowing if a program closed is annoying. - This wouldn't be as annoying if the 'x' button could be programmed to just close the program. Windows users typically find it very annoying to have to do the "file close" thing.

Not having a maximize button that actually maximizes is also annoying.

The ability to customize a Mac's interface is lacking. You can completely dismantle Explorer and the shell in Windows and Linux respectively. Why not Mac?

3. iPod.

I had an iPod. I traded it in when I realized that my Creative of equal specs had a microphone, voice recorder, and radio, didn’t require me to install iTunes, and was $45 cheaper. I traded it for another Creative.

Now with that in mind, for audio recording, GarageBand is free and better than EVERYTHING on Windows that you pay for, except Pro Tools (But that’s on Mac too). Mac handles this like butter and the recording quality of the default hardware is much better. No external sound cards needed. Final Cut blows away everything on a Windows Machine as well.

Twitter, again!

Yes, I’m here to talk a little about my favorite Social Media site, Twitter. The last few days that I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve come across a plethora of information and just awesome links.

I’m going to suggest to people that you should join Twitter and just toy around with it. The first thing you do shouldn’t be to add your friends. The first thing you should do is to do a search for a topic that interests you and see what comes up. Use the @(Username) tag to reply to somebody and see who replies back. Those who you find to be interesting, you might want to follow. Later on, see which of your friends have it.

Twitter isn’t about social networking, but rather a giant chatroom, as somebody mentioned to me tonight. (@va1d1v1a). I’ve been keeping up a lot with trends in education, (check out @ShellTerrell for more information on edu-blogging), and all of my old RSS feeds, from Wired, CNN, NYT, ClientsFromHell and more.

Good place to start getting in touch with what’s actually out there in the world. There’s quite a bit more to it than you may think.

Follow my “professional” – HAHAHAHA! account - @jscognam or my personal one - @asianjohnpa and have a chat with me!

Textbooks should NOT be digital

OK, I can see the prettiness that a digital textbook could supply, but let’s be realistic, folks.

1. Cost – Let’s use a $100 textbook as an example.

The price to print a textbook, from my assumption and from working in the printing industry could be about $10-20. The cost of the book might now be $80-90 that’s still going towards the writers, the picture and designers, the publisher, etc. So now you’re paying $200+ for the reader and $90 for the textbook. Your $100 textbook now costs $290. OK, so you think that maybe, 10% less per book, after ‘x’ amount of books, you’re saving money?

With digital formats, piracy is much easier. There, the price just went back up.

Textbooks are NOT affected by supply / demand like many other products. It’s a required purchase for education.

2. Inefficiency – Let’s use a 400-level, capstone class for an example.

I don’t know about the study habits of everybody, but as an undergrad, for my capstone classes in my last semester, I might have had 3-5 textbooks on my table as I was studying, to provide me with multiple perspectives and to cover as many details as possible. Now, you’re talking about buying 3 or 4 of these digital readers to do something like this. More money issues, eh?

Backtracking is another issue that comes up. It’s not easy to quickly flip through and backtrack your textbooks when in this format. Go ahead and give it a try. I used a Kindle, very good for a novel, but if I forgot something that happened on the previous page, it was annoying to go back, find it, and then go back to what I was doing. That’s my own preference.

Power and technology problems come up. So you’ve saved your notes, all nice and digitally… low battery, no power, how can you do anything? I think I’ve covered my point enough. Lately this topic has been getting me quite heated.

This is open for debate.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What is Twitter?

So I finally figured out a classification for Twitter.
First, I will say that I love Twitter, and to those people who say that Twitter is just Facebook status updates in 140 characters really don’t know what they’re missing.
Twitter is two things:

1. Twitter is a way that you can use little things called “hashtags” (Those words that have a # before them, so “#hashtag” is a hashtag) to find out what the world is talking about. Trending topics and all. It has nothing to do with telling your friends that you’re going to the bathroom or something else completely irrelevant.

2. Remember RSS? Really Simple Syndication. Remember Newsletters to your e-mail box and going through 2000 Border’s Rewards e-mails before you found your monthly bank statement? No? I might find this difficult to explain then. RSS feeds are a very small, low profile way for you to get headlines, usually right to your browser or desktop. They’re typically just an automatic link to the headline of whatever article you’re subscribing to.

At one point, I had ten RSS feeds, 8 of which were from newspapers, and every ten minutes I’d have another 15-30 things in my email box that I needed to look at. Twitter is where I keep my RSS feeds now. I never looked at all of the feeds that I subscribed to, as throughout the day, I might have 1000 articles to look at. I just typically would look at maybe 10 per day of the 1000. Twitter only keeps the most recent up at the top of my page. I don’t need to see all of the rest. You can now share your RSS feeds with other people via Retweeting.

That’s what it is. Twitter is a really simple way of getting a lot of information and discussing it with the entire world.
Have a great day.


Happy New Year everybody. I’m a bit late on this, but I gave it some thought. I had a small, preliminary version of this on my Facebook as a note. Oh, that site has everything, but it does nothing proficiently at all.
So let me start analyzing this year by starting with October of 2008. I woke up one day in my apartment at 24 Morningside Avenue and realized something. It was 5am, and I was getting ready for work. I worked at Staples as a sales associate. What struck me was here I was, a graduate of college, magna cum laude, recipient of seven scholarships and national honors recognition, working at one of the most dead-end jobs a person can work in. I decided to go to grad school.
At this time, I also met a group of people that had a profound impact on my life. They didn’t know that, and I don’t even much associate with these people, but the impact still remains. Thank you, art night for pulling me out of my slump and depression. Who’d have thought that you’d only put me back into it at some point, but meh, that’s another story.
January, I started classes with Dr. Beth Sockman, Dr. Craig Wilson, and Dr. Gary Braman, as my first ever graduate classes. I realized that this is what I should be doing: Instructional Technology. I was still working at Staples, but not for long.
I made it through and the summer began. Unfortunately, I didn’t do much this summer. Went to a bonfire and had a revelation, went to Chicago with some buddies of mine, and met a really awesome person there, thanks to Dan. Got out of retail, stopped hanging out with the art people that I loved so much at one point, killed my Facebook account, remade my Facebook account, started my Graduate Assistantship, killed Facebook again, worked through this difficult semester, started up Facebook again, had another raunchy holiday season, and here we are, 2010. Wow, interesting how quickly time goes. Never thought I’d say that.
So let’s discuss what’s gone on this last decade.
2000 -
I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Tobyhanna, PA when I was 15.
Quote that describes this experience: “Wow, racism is a real problem”
2001 -
Well, a whole lot of nothing happened until September, and that’s all I remember. I met Samer and Matt this year, and they were the first two people in the Poconos that I could call a friend.
Started up my senior year in a different high school. Obviously, the school was separated on race, but there’s no evidence to that. It’s just obvious. Most of my friends in high school were black, and I no longer felt like an outsider because of them.
Graduated high school, started college, learned to drive, and experienced living on my own for the first time. Some of my friendships got stronger, and I met an amazing group of people in the coffee shop of my new college. The most profound part of this year was that I learned to play piano.
Quite honestly, I don’t remember this year. I was going through phases, and I did some mental training to block a lot of my past out. I was going through some weird times at this point in life.
Moved in with Mike as my roommate, and had the time of my life. 20 was a good age for me.
The best part of this year was going to Italy and France. Then I had Tom as my roommate and that was fantastic. Too bad it ended after a single semester.
I went to Vegas by myself, hung out with some amazing people in the Street Fighter community. I found a part of myself this year.
Finally graduated college, went on a second trip to France, and the birth of the me that stands today came out.
There, the decade… Thank you for everybody who contributed to my experience. I appreciate it.