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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast
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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast


Have You Been TWIT-ted?

Those of you that paused for more than 3 minutes on the now extinct TechTV will also remember the fascinating breadth of technology coverage that the hosts brought us.

Everything from hardware to software, gaming to mission critical apps, computer devices to consumer toys... they brought us the best and discussed the worse. The hosts were very balanced and platform (operating system) agnostic- brutally honest and also given to providing quality solutions to problems. Special guests were brought into the studio and we were given a window into not only the technology, but the unique history of invention, personalities, and corporate politics.

What was really special about the show was the comfortable balance that the hosts struck between providing a resource for the common man and woman and getting really geeky and technical.

Also part of the charm of the show was the banter and interplay of personalities. While each of the hosts were quite knowledgeable, it was clear no one was an expert on everything. So each topic was tossed between the hosts and the guest experts, with fun little barbs and teasing that gave it family-like feel.

But alas, all good things come to an end... and Comcast bought out TechTV in May (2005) and fired the staff, then launched a gaming channel: G4TV

Much of digerati was pretty disgusted with this - from the East Coast (New York Times) to the West Coast (Wired Magazine) the complaints were numerous and loud.

The New York Times' Circuits columnist David Pogue, a frequent visitor to TechTV's The Screen Savers, wrote two columns about the merger -- one lamenting the loss of TechTV as a tech-oriented resource for users of all ages and experience levels, and a follow-up quoting from some of the hundreds of messages he's received through e-mail and at his forum.

(more from the Wired article quote above here)

One of the elders of the show was a Leo Laporte.

This summer, Leo took his schtick to the world of podcasts. Similar to TechTV in format, Leo has assembled some very well connected, widely experienced regulars that include
John C. Dvorak and a variety of special guests such as the co-founder of Apple Computer Steve Woziniak, security expert Steve Gibson, and Opera Founder, Jon van Tetzner. Their new endeavor is called this Week in Tech (or TWIT) and it is really an entertaining, enlightening, hour long broadcast. One thing that sets it apart from most other podcasts is the lively discussion between four or five twits all during each episode. Sometimes the format is akin to an interview especially when there is a special guest, but most of the time it is a four or five way discussion that only occasionally turns into a four or five way circus Winking

So just how good is TWIT?

It is really quite excellent- consistently in the top 5 Podcasts on iTunes.... The world's most listened to podcast and winner of the 2005 People's Choice Podcast Award.

Ok, I will have to admit, I don't often find time to listen to podcasts... quite honestly, I prefer to listen to music on my iPods. And music is something that I am more comfortable sharing with people around me when I am in the car or sitting in my livingroom... a podcast is usually more directed towards individual interests and tastes. But this is a podcast worth setting some time aside for.


Nothing is better
than seeing the lights go on!

My last few lessons with my Computer Applications class have been so fun.

When you see those faces light up or hear the excited gasps or "COOL!" from the students it gladdens the heart of a teacher. There are few things in life are more gratifying than sharing the power of good software and effective skills with students and peers. In my mind's eye, it is like watching a rose blossom bloom in hyperspeed. I find myself wanting to pause indefinitely to enjoy the fragrance of that rose.

What were they learning? How to create a webpage with a table of over 100 different background colors last week. How to use Fireworks to create original graphics this week. Technology is a tool that can empower creative energies within. It is like freeing the captive spirit... opening the mundane jail of the soul detained.

How Does Your Technology Get Integrated?

(or who is driving this train?!)

About this time last year, the Director of the Science, Math, Technology Education Department at Florida Institute of Technology asked me to come help him review some of the course offerings in our university’s Educational Technology Master’s Program. The need for trained educational technologists is one of my favorite topics... and one of my gravest concerns for the future of technology in education.

Here are some of the key questions-
  • Does the education environment have significantly different needs than corporate/business world?
  • Is it the role of Information Technology (or Management Information Systems) employees to establish how, when, where and what technologies will be used?
  • How do we elevate (or in some educational communities establish!) the role of the Educational Technologist so that he/she is the one consulted as the administrators make technology decisions?
  • Do I have to stop teaching to become an effective Network Administrator/Technology Coordinator?

There was a simpler time when school networks were phonenet (telephone cables) strung between a handful of computers, so that they could share a common printer. There was a time when teachers decided what hardware and software they were going to use. Not all that long ago, a help desk was near the front of the classroom, right beside the teacher’s desk.

But then that which we all longed for came to fruition - real networks that extended our databits out beyond our school’s campus. Not just access to the bulletin board systems and text driven email systems that the pioneers cut their teeth on, but a much bigger system of connect servers and clients - the INTERNET! And in the early nineties (hard to believe that it less than 15 years ago!), the World Wide Web.

Unfortunately, for many schools and school systems, that which some forward thinking educators longed for and saw great potential in also became a curse to our independence and self determination... when schools became networked, the principals and superintendents (who may or may not be very tech savvy) began looking for recommendations from those guys that were managing the mainframes and the dumb terminals.

At many schools and school districts around the nation, suddenly the MIS and IT folks moved from a support and data archiving position to becoming the technology authorities. The question to consider: - is ALL technology expertise the same?

If the educators weren’t proactive, politically astute, and visionary when it came to technology, they quickly lost their choice. Where no one with an education background came forward to learn networks, servers and new applications, the superintendents and principals took the counsel of those who had little experience in facilitating learning: those trained in a business model for technology.

What a tragic situation... is there still hope to regain control of educational technology? This takes us back to the meeting with the director of the education department...

I believe we have reached a stage in the evolution of professional educators - the modern teacher - that warrants a careful examination of a new literacy: technology literacy. What part does education play in providing a new generation of successful technology users- and who will take leadership in defining what technology literacy means? And who will decide what and how technology will be used in the educational profession?

Will teachers ask for an individual well versed in pedagogy to assist them in integrating technology as an “learning tool”? Will administrators recognize the importance of a technology integrator that knows something about Bloom’s Taxonomy and constructivist theory? Or will our education community rely on the guy who just got out of trade school and passed his MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator)?

Or as I asked this director of the education department- will you provide an advancement path for the teacher who is seeking a graduate degree with practical coursework that better prepares them to produce a technologically literate population? Are we encouraging quality educators with an aptitude for technology integration to take leadership positions? And maybe an even more important question for those of us in PreK-12 Education: Will we be able to make the Educational Technologist an influential member of our profession?

SIGGRAPH Chapter Meeting

I just returned this evening from the Orlando Chapter meeting of SIGGRAPH -
Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics -
a global network of diverse communities, which is comprised of artists, scientists, developers and educators devoted to the advancement of the art and science of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

I had really enjoyed the last couple of meetings of SIGRAPH, a good friend is the chairman of the chapter, and he is also a Computer Science Lead at Kennedy Space Center. He manages the dozens of high speed, high resolution cameras that capture shuttle launches from every angle and helps analyze visual data at the Cape.

So he has a special treat for visiting Graphics Professionals that keynote at our meetings. They all get a behind the scenes tour of the Space Center. And we get a special treat of hearing from some pretty big names in the motion picture industry. And the some of the meetings are held at a very nice location at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's center.

Last year we heard from John Knoll, one of the original developers of Photoshop and currently at Lucas Films as a special effects director. He began his presentation with a video of an Apollo launch that was nothing short of phenomenal. Lots of detail, spectacular camera angles, nothing short of amazing...

Suddenly, I realized, according to the time frame of this historical event, this was all wrong. High definition video was not being shot... as the lunar landing module began it's descent to the moon's surface- THERE WERE NO CAMERAS shooting from all these strange angles!!!

Yep, the boy who was the son of an early space engineer, born beneath the shadow of rockets, had been duped! Gasp

Turns out that all of the footage was CGI (computer generated images). With a chapter straight out of the book When Geeks Play, Knoll explained that he was often frustrated with the lack of adherence to the laws of physics when creating films for Industrial Light and Magic. So his spare-time hobby was to use all accessible the historical telemetry, images, video, and other anecdotal information to create a high definition 3d rendered model of the remarkable event. From the mangrove trees surrounding the Merritt Island Wildlife refuge to the view of earth from space to the rocky terrain on the lunar landscape, it was all accurate to the available information and true to the history of the mission. Pretty amazing...

Another meeting last year gave us a chance to hear from Pixar's Rob Cook, Vice President of Research and Development. Cook's preso was quite interesting as well as it featured the creative process from idea conception to release using Finding Nemo as the example project. As a computer applications and video productions educator, this was a valuable example of developing an involved project.

Quite honestly, the most recent Focus on Technology was not quite as interesting as the previous ones I have attended. The first speaker was Florian Kainz, Computer Graphics Principal Engineer- Industrial Light & Magic who spoke about a wide spectrum graphics file format that he helped develop. This did provoke some consideration of the enormous amount of process that is done with captured images in the movie industry. Having as much raw information as possible to work with after the shoot was the key, but it did seem to go beyond most of the folks cared to know about the subject as he discussed the file format's details for over a forty minutes. The decision to make that file format open source was one of the memorable parts of the presentation.

Following Kainz, Kevin Tureski, Director of Engineering, Maya Alias Systems gave us a history of his company and the software development cycle of it's flagship product Maya (one of the premier 3d modeling programs used by the entertainment industry. Again this was quite interesting, but not quite as applicable to my career as an Educational Technologist.

In summary, I would certainly encourage my readers to look into the local chapter of user groups - they are great sources of inspiration and resources.

Another Fundraiser...

Yea! It is that time of year again - the annual Stone Middle School Technology Fundraiser! I am so excited... Winking NOT!

It takes a tremendous amount of time to plan, set up, manage and close down a school fundraiser... and this all takes away from time I could/should be spending running the technology that I have. But that is the problem with having a vision and a passion for learning - you realize that there is always more that you could be doing and equipping your colleagues to do.

We get a very limited amount of money each year for upgrading or buying new equipment or technology. I have estimated that we would be cycling our teacher computers every 10 years with out fundraisers, grants or special programs. Can you imagine working on a 10 year old computer?!!! And that is for our staff computers- we are even less adequately funded for student-use technology.
So with some angst, I willingly do several things to try and scrape together a little slush fund for upgrading OS's, software packages, and buying RAM and small items like digital cameras and printers. Collecting used cell phones, toner and ink cartridges helps out a lot. But our big push is November of each year...

Each year Stone sells Chick Fil A Calendars for their annual technology fundraiser. I hope that you will consider purchasing at least one and maybe help us sell a few to your friends, relatives or co-workers. They cost only $5 and $3 of that will go to the school if we sell 1000 of them! Each calendar has a coupon each month for free beverages or food at over 1215 Chick Fil A restaurants throughout the eastern US.

The Teachers are the Key!

What a powerful position a teacher has!

It never ceases to intrigue me... the thought I stand amongst a classroom full of independent, unique lucid beings - attempting to alter the biochemistry of their cerebral cortex.

As the leader, facilitator, director and guide in their classroom, I have a tremendous responsibility. I must carefully structure the emotional atmosphere of my classroom to encourage thinking, challenge misconceptions, develop positive social interaction and promote teamwork.

So What Do You Know?

Our first nine weeks has been rather packed as our students have been learning about the Business Applications such as Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Database applications. Although most students today are very comfortable with computers, they actually have a rather spotty understanding of how to use the suitable application or what the relative strengths of one application are over another.

For instance, how many students (or adults for that matter) know how to set up style sheets in a word processor? How many different tabs are there? How do you create a spreadsheet that will calculate averages or do item counts? What data is properly illustrated using a line chart versus a pie chart? What are the four main categories of fonts, how are they different, and where are they appropriately used in a document? What are the key differences between a spreadsheet and a database? When should we use a drop list or create radio buttons?

These are the types of questions that students should be able to answer after the first nine weeks in computer applications. Hopefully they will serve them well beyond this year in Computer Applications.