Amazon Kindle for education

Recently I had the good fortune to attend the IMS Learning Impact Conference at Long Beach CA. While I was there I ran out of reading material and tried to find a bookstore. Well, things have changed since the last time I was there (what with the demise of some major bookstore chains) and I was unable to find a good bookstore. In the end I found myself at a Best Buy store looking at e-readers. Amazon had this special on the Kindle with special offers. At a great price, it looked very good and a great solution to my lack of access to some decent books – so I bought one.
I must say that after about an hour’s use I knew I had made a rash decision. ‘special offers’ turned out to be a discounted Kindle with ads to subsidize the price. There were ads across the bottom of the screen, ads in place of the screensaver and annoying as they were, I knew it was going to get a whole lot worse when I got home as they were American ads and well, I don’t live in the USA.
Fortunately for me Best Buy has a great returns policy so I returned the device and upgraded it to the 3G version (wish Australian retailers had the same attitude towards customer service).
What a transformation! No more ads and free worldwide access to 3G networks. Think about that for a moment and the potential it offers for education. No more paper text books to weigh kids backpacks down and no traffic costs for downloading content. Now if only education could get it’s act together and negotiate something like that.
I have never really given much thought to e-readers and have had an iPad instead however they are completely different experiences. The Kindle leaves the iPad in it’s wake when it comes to reading texts. Sure the iPad can do a whole lot more but for the simple use case of delivering text books to students and readability there is no comparison. I have several apps on my iPad for reading but none of them come close.
The only downside I have experienced so far is the woeful keyboard (although you don’t use it much). Lining all the keys up vertically as well as horizontally just doesn’t work. Touch typists will find it a nightmare. The keys themselves are concave which has the unfortunate characteristic of always catching a light reflection making it very difficult to see the letter on the key (which is hard to see anyway given the lack of contrast to the Kindle surface) which you tend to rely on given the awkward alignment of the keys. For me the keyboard is a usability disaster.
Overall though these things would be fantastic in a classroom in place of paper textbooks (especially the 3G version if you could get access to curriculum texts). They are at a price point well below iPads and while they do a lot less, they really deliver on the functionalty they were designed for. 

Ps and after all that I found a good bookstore near Best Buy.


photography apps on the iPhone

Haven’t been compelled to blog for quite a while now but have been following with interest the exposure (excuse the pun since this post is ostensibly about photography apps) that Apple has had recently with regards to privacy and recording location information has caused me to think a bit about what I’m putting up on the Web with some of the photos I take with my iPhone.  There’s no doubt that some of the great apps that are available on the iPhone have kindled or rekindled all sorts of interest in photography.  Lets face it the camera (and its notional flash) are pretty ordinary when compared to digital cameras and many other
camera phones but the fun and creativity you can have using some of the apps available make it a very compelling camera option.  Problem is of course, all the metadata that is embedded in your images.  Location information, in the wrong hands can be put to very bad use.  On the other hand, used in a positive sense with users well aware and informed of their privacy implications, can be put to great use and benefit for the user.   So anyway, here’s a quick snapshot of what photography apps I have been using on my iPhone.  First of there is Tiltshift.  Probably only used this once or twice – the novelty soon wears off.  Anyway, Tiltshift gives you that miniature/toy effect in your photos where objects look small and toy-like.

‘Camera Genius’ is probably what sparked this post.  It lets you do some great and creative editing however is aggressive in its privacy invasion.  I used to really like this app but given all the shite about privacy at the moment, decided to turn location settings off most of the apps on my iPhone.  Well, the geniuses (@#$heads) that wrote this app insist on having location information on or they won’t let you edit your photos.  Privacy levels should be decided by the users not the software developers.  This app has gone from being one of my favourites to number 1 on my sh#$list!

Not to worry because right next to it is Camera+, loaded with great editing features and all sorts of cool effects, and more thoughtfully written with regards to privacy.

Dash of Color lets you switch you photos to black and white and selectively add colour back into areas of you photos, and vice versa.  Can create some great looking photos but the iPad version is a whole lot more easy to use (the bigger screen makes all the difference).

Duplicam is an interesting app that lets you integrate your iphones/ipod touches to your iPad.  Haven’t really found any great uses for it yet.

Instagram lets you take pictures, add effects and post to the Web.  Just another social networking app for iPhones really.  Unfortunately most of my contacts are on other social networks.  Haven’t used this for a long while so not sure what’s going on with it now.

Hipstamatic – the coolest app on the iPhone.  I think this is the one that really captured people’s attention.  Introduced ‘Lomo’ to the masses.  Acts like an old film camera (complete with painfully slow processing so you have to wait to see your photos).  Has a cult following and deservedly so.  I don’t like the waits and the slow interface so have stopped using the app which is a shame because it is great other than that.  Not sure if the attempt to capture the feel of old school has gone to far – after all in the days of film they had to wait days to see their photos so why introduce this stupid artificial delay?

Format126 also captures the feel of old-style photography.  A bit limited in what it does but all that it does is cool.

PS Express – another great little app that has some interesting editing and effects.

100 Cameras.  Has a huge range of effects and combinations but not that many that really standout.  Maybe its a case of offering too much that’s too similar. I don’t really use this anymore at all.

TwitPict – a nice little app for uploading to Twitter.

The other main photo app that I use, but isn’t on the screenshot but is an essential, is of course, Flickr.  My iPad has a range of photography apps but that’s the subject of another post (maybe).

screenshots for iPhone

screenshot of home screen for iPhone


Had to get a few screenshots of an iPhone app that we are developing today but no developers were around to access the dev environment for me.  Found a really great little undocumented? feature of the iPhone to do the job.  Seems all you have to do is hold the Home button then the sleep button at the same time and the iPhone will take a snapshot of the current screen for you.

You will hear the camera sound and the screen will flash a bit then the screenshot is added to the camera roll.

Then its just a matter of emailing the photo to yourself or whatever other way you have of moving pics from the camera roll to somewhere off the iPhone and you’re away.

Common Cartridge in action – some teachers perspectives

A great video here providing some perspectives from teachers on the use of Common Cartridge and the application of it in Moodle.  The video was taken at a summer school for the ASPECT project in Europe.

There are some really savvy teachers and others in the support of education in this project.  They really understand what interoperability can achieve and how to adapt content and their teaching/learning environments to meet their needs.  I would love to see examples of their work – I am sure they would stand out as stellar examples of leading practice.

An Identity crisis – of sorts

So now that I am blogging as an individual rather than part of my work I have had to rethink my identity on the Web.  Blogging has been part of my professional identity for almost four years.  As I move into a different role with a new look organisation, the likelihood that I will be blogging ‘professionally’ as ‘me’ is pretty remote.  However, as an individual I still have things I’d like to say about the use of technology in educational settings. 

What has become obvious is that I need to separate my ‘professional self’ from my ‘personal self’ – something that as I dig into it is becoming pretty difficult.  Many of the people that do know me or connect with me in some way on the Web know me through my role in the company where I have worked for some years.  Additionally, as an early adopter of many social networking services, most of the people in those networks that I have connected with have been professional or work relationships rather than personal ones.  Many of my personal friends and family joined these networks much later.

Very early on I was interested in trialling different social networks and obviously the best way you can do that is by connecting with others – most of whom at the time were early adopters and largely known to me through work. Once my personal friends came along I needed to decide whether to have a personal identity and a professional identity or just combine them into one.  Since our personal and professional lives are so intermingled it made sense just to have the one identity. 

That was then.  Now however I am faced with quite a different set of circumstances.  Disentangling the mess that is my Web identity is turning out to be very difficult.  Moving my work blog to a new environment, not associated with work sounds easy enough.  An RSS export migrated all the posts but was not able to migrate the comments and categories.  Additionally, my old blog used to have good ‘Google juice’ but now all that’s gone and I am starting from scratch.  Anyone who subscribed to the old blog probably won’t know that I have moved.

Now since I really am separating the personal from the professional me, a really tricky challenge is of course Twitter.  My Twitter friends include professional and personal relationships, professional ones that have become personal and others that I just don’t even know how to categorise.  Should I create a personal Twitter identity and a professional one? How do I split my friends up?  Having the freedom to blog independently has also given me the desire to tweet more independently than I have before.  Luckily for me Twitter seems to have solved my dilemna by continually failling when I try to change my username.

My work demands (quite rightly) a level of professionalsim and personal values that is not always shared by people I know outside work.  Some of my friends work in completely different areas, have quite different social and cultural backgrounds and think quite differently to my colleagues at work.  This is a good thing – imagine a world without diversity.  How boring that would be.  However, that can make me a source of well, amusement at best to some of my friends who share the some of the same social networks as my work colleagues – they see me as a hopeless geek if I talk technology as that’s not important to them at all and they never talk work in their social networking rants.  Equally, if I respond in the same vein as my personal friends, I may be appearing on some professional friends ‘feeds’ blurting out something out of context for them.

So, this change in roles at work has forced upon me a rethink of my digital identity.  It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Blogging from the dark side

So here’s my first real post from tech-ed collision’s new home.  The company I work for has merged with another and I have a new role.  At the moment it doesn’t seem appropriate for me to be blogging using my old work blog while my role is changing but there are still so many things happening in the world of technology and education that I’d like to comment on.

A long time ago I had some great correspondence from a colleague in NSW (whose views I regard very highly) who chooses to blog about his profession but on a personal blog – Thanks Tim, I am looking forward to the same sense of liberation. 

I was able to copy all my old posts over to Posterous but not the comments and categories.  Its a great pity the comments didn’t come across as they are the most valued parts of my blog.  Thanks to everyone who commented on my posts, I have learned a great deal and will most certainly be trying to get an export of them somehow. Its a bit weird starting from scratch again and I hope anyone who has found any of my thoughts interesting can find me here – to think that some of the people whose views and work I have the utmost respect for have time to have a read of my ramblings means a lot to me.

As for the categories, while they didn’t come across it has been really interesting to go through all my old posts and tag them.  Most likely they will have different tags now and that’s ok because hopefully I am a better tagger.  What has been great though is to look at my progress as a blogger and lifelong learner.  I would encourage anyone to take a walk back through time and have a look at all their old blog posts or other contributions to the Web and sharing of our knowledge, ideas, thoughts etc.  Its really quite illuminating.



my first posterous post

ok, I have set up an account at posterous , imported a blog there and now I am going to try the autopost service.  If this works, this blog post should appear on my work blog, my personal blog, and there should also be a tweet sent to twitter.  I am not overly confident in the twitter part working as there was an oauth error when I set it up but posterous seems to think all is ok.

Once I imported my blog I wanted to import another blog and some other stuff to my posterous presence but I couldn't find a way of doing that – pity.

I am also wondering what may happen when I post to the blog that I imported – does posterous continue to check for new posts at that blog?

Time will tell whether any of this works.

attempting to understand connectivism

So as part of my commitment to lifelong learning I have enrolled myself in George Siemen’s and Stephen Downes’ online course ‘Connectivism and Connected Knowledge CCK09’ along with (I think) almost 800 others.  Most of my recent participation in courses has leaned towards more practical courses (eg playing a musical instrument etc) so it is with some apprehension that I delve into what for me is seems to be a very theoretical and intimidating realm.
As I read through an article introducing connectivism from Stephen Downes blog ‘Half an Hour‘, I came across the following statement:

In connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not ‘constructed’ through some sort of intentional action. And ‘meaning’ is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems.

Well….. now I’m a bit stuck.  Here am I, I think, trying to construct some sort of meaning from this introduction and all the interesting posts in the course’s forum on what people think connectivism is yet I it would seem that I am doing the wrong thing.  Is there an element of passiveness in connectivism?

It’s been years since I did philosophy at uni and I fear that I have forgot much more than I have retained when it comes to making sense of quite complex ideas in an academic manner.

Changing the topic completely what has really impressed me with the course is that although there is an online presence using Moodle, participants are encouraged to use their own learning spaces.  Very encouraging, there should be more of it – educators wanting to engage with learners in their own spaces, not the system ones.  I was just part of a conversation with some education department IT people where someone mentioned that they were adopting a user-centric approach to design rather than a system-centric approach so they are now asking users what they require then building it.  I’d love them to extend this to asking them what they use and then incorporating it.  It’d be great to extend this a bit further but one step at a time I guess.   Anyway I include this rant as I think somehow it relates to connectivism and to be quite frank, I don’t have a great deal else to to say as I am right at the beginning of even hoping to understand it.

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