Category Archives: Tech

What? I’m not normal?

I have been debating about writing this blog post for a while. Yesterday I shared this story with @snbeach while chatting at the PLP Booth. Today, I was sitting in an ISTE workshop listening to @web20classroom (Steven W. Anderson) talk about ISTE standards and school administrators and I heard it again. With this synchronicity,  I am taking these situations as signs to write and publish the post.

The ‘it‘ I referred to was the phrase “you guys are not normal” — and now for some context.

Several weeks ago I attended a Saturday breakfast gathering with a few of our high school teacher technology leaders. Surprisingly, we talked about, well, you know, technology and a passion for transforming teaching to improve how students learn. This particular morning, the discussion focused around Google Docs, publishing, benefits of developing online texts and resources for students — 24/7 access, one stop ‘shopping’, one stop editing, no old handouts floating around, no lost papers ….. well, you get the picture. Why wouldn’t you do this? Needless to say this was a passionate discussion that stayed with me.

Later that same day I was driving in the car with my wife and she asked the magic question: So what did you talk about at breakfast?  I happily recounted the story, trying to maintain the same passion level as the morning discussion. She listened intently, and then at the close of my story commented that “you guys are not normal”. WHAT?????   OK, maybe I (and likely others) are not normal. I will ‘wear the T-Shirt’ but asked that the comment be justified – you know, a few bullets under the title to qualify the comment.

Here are the bullets:

  • you (meaning us not normal types) are self sufficient
  • you don’t panic if something related to technology use does not work properly, even in front of a class or audience
  • you know how to problem solve
  • if you can’t figure it out as fast as you think you should, you have a network of people to help you
  • it is your passion, not everyone wants to invest like this

I thought these were good points — and really, the same context of the ISTE workshop comment.  In reflection, this conversation made me think of a few important things related to moving the educational change agenda along.

  • everyone can learn how to use technology better
  • everyone can become a self sufficient user of technology
  • personal learning networks (PLNs) ARE important
  • we need to be mindful of the best entry point for using technology, and starting the learning curve of independence.
  • the learning is on a continuum
  • supporting people means thinking about gradual release of responsibility
  • empowering people is important

Now, if these ‘everyones’ and ‘we’s’ are teachers and tech support/coaches/trainers, then I think these points are all worthy of consideration as we continue to move the agenda forward. Food for thought for sure.

What does this mean for your PD planning? How will you be more thoughtful about supporting people in their use of technology? How will you help them become more independent?

Please share your comments and stories.

Related Resources
Doug —- Off the Rectord


Google Chromebook: first impressions

Last week I felt a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas. I knew our shipment of Google Chromebooks was on the way, and very soon I would finally get a chance to try one out myself.  “Chrome Day” has now  happened, I have have spent a couple of sessions with a Chromebook.

Out of the box, the Chromebook was dead easy to setup up – no written instructions needed. Simply power up the device, answer a handful of setup questions, connect to wifi and presto. I logged into my Google account and everything was there: bookmarks, docs etc. – easy.  I must admit I was impressed with the ease of this process. I think I was online in less than 5 minutes.

The screen is clear and easy to read. (12″ diameter or roughly 7″ x 10″). Processor speed seems decent, and the battery life is solid so far.

Now that I have tried this ‘unmanaged’ approach, I need to investigate setup this up through the managed interface for comparison. It will be interesting to use a device where literally EVERYTHING is online. My testing will be with an eye to classroom applications and ease of use. Certainly from an IT perspective, the devices offers the browser interface for access to web content and web 2.0 tools for writing, communicating and collaboration with minimal maintenance.  I look forward to learning more about file management in this web only environment.

I will share my learnings and observations in a future post.

Related Resources

Google Chromebook


BYOD: What’s in a device?

I have had two great opportunities to talk about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to support student learning — at the Brock U.Teaching with Technology Showcase (Brock U Faculty of Education) and at the Educon 2.4 event.

The discussions covered considerable territory – benefits, challenges and implications for both pre-service and existing teacher training. In my organization, BYOD is certainly a strategy intended to augment access and not replace Board owned equipment. From an IT perspective, building the right infrastructure with sufficient capacity is a critical path forward to support student learning.

There is certainly a wide range of devices that could support learning. I have been pondering the desired functionality needed in any device to support student learning. Here is my initial take on a function list.

Notes/read:  take notes, read common file formats such as pdf and ebook files,

Web enabled: browse web (consume info, research), bookmark, interact with online databases, RSS

Share/Collaborate: write/publish a blog, support wiki use, google docs etc

Digital StoryTelling: capture audio, video, combine with text

Communicate: email, support for standard Social Media tools (FB/Twitter/G+) etc.

Other: good battery life, strong wifi signal

I need your feedback. How thorough is my list? What is missing? Should anything come off the list? What should be added?

Please leave a comment with your ideas, or share an idea with me on Twitter.


WRDSB BackPack

WRDSB has recently introduced the ‘BackPack’ option for secondary school students. This web site provides a mechanism for students to access their Board computer file storage from home.  The login process is active directory compliant.

Login Screen

User Interface

The user interface is simple to use, providing icons for file the typical management functions: uploads, downloads, rename, add folder etc.

The solution is based on java based open source code.  Future plans will add functionality for all students. Many thanks to the WRDSB ITS staff who worked on this project to support student learning.


Tech ‘saves’ B-Day

Last night I met my daughter Stephanie at the Tim Hortons at Clapison’s Corners. We were connecting so I could give her a birthday present, at little late because the item of choice is challenging to locate right now in our area – an iPhone. I arrived first and patiently waited for her to arrive.

Fast forward >>> Stephanie arrives after a slow drive, we selected a table, ordered tea, opened the iPhone box, and began the setup process. After the first couple of basic steps we were prompted to join a wifi network or plug into a computer for iTunes access. Well, there we were, no wifi at Timmy’s and no laptop. Hmmmmm.

For a moment, I thought we were stuck, but then it struck me. Connect the new phone to the internet via the personal hotspot on my iPhone. Bingo – we made the internet connection, completed the registration process, activated the phone and connected to the 3G network. This allowed us to finish up most of the initial configuration of settings.


In some ways, the idea of a personal hotspot seems so simple, and yet, it is truly amazing. So, for this day, technology ‘saved the day’ and let the magic moment happen. We celebrated by exchanging text messages from one side of the table to the other!


People Power to Make a Difference

I received an email from on Nov. 16th with the title:  Half-a-million Canadians changed the Internet

I thought it was worth sharing the following excerpt from the letter as a great example people pulling together to champion a cause, in this case in a technology/internet cause.

“A year ago the CRTC decided that big telecom giants could force their small competitors to adopt metered billing. This would have killed Big Telecom’s independent competitors, and it would have meant a more expensive and controlled Internet for all Canadians. It was this outrageous move that led to launch the now half-a-million strong Stop The Meter petition that forced the CRTC to reconsider their plan.

Yesterday (Nov. 15th 2011) , finally, the CRTC pulled back from its mandatory metered billing decision. This decision won’t stop all big telecom metering, but it could provide a much needed unlimited, independent option for many Canadians. It is truly rare for people to outmaneuver Big Telecom lobbyists, but together, we did it. Thank you for playing a crucial part in safeguarding the affordable Internet.

We changed the foundation of Internet billing in Canada—that’s a game changer—but we’re concerned that uncompetitive pricing may be buried in the pages of the policy that the CRTC released yesterday. We’ll study the details of this decision closely in the coming days and, with your help, take whatever action is necessary to push for fair pricing.”

Thanks to all who participated to make a difference to all.


iPad music software

As the calendar roles into August, my thoughts turn to CATC Camp, our Board’s annual summer 3 day, self directed,  computer PD session for staff. This year I will be taking some time to explore music applications with the iPad. Some of the things on my explore list are:

iRig Mic

iRig Guitar Adaptor

iPad music stand mount

Nano Pad

MIDI Interface for iPad/iPhone/iPod


Band in a Box

Music Studio

Pianist Pro

Virtuoso Piano

What am I looking for? — apps and ideas suitable for classroom use, applications that are easily used in the student performance context and applications that can interact with OSAPAC  licensed software (for Ontario publicly funded schools)

As always, I am looking forward to this learning opportunity.


Related Links
SoundTree Music

Traveling with your iPad

Adventure 1

I have traveled from Canada to the USA several times in the last few months. Wanting to be connected via 3G in a cost effective manner, I ordered an AT&T sim card for my iPad with the understanding that I could activate the sim once I was in the USA with a wifi connection.

  • Attempt 1 – I was unable to activate the card due to lack of wifi in the location I was at.
  • Attempt 2 – I was unable to activate the card since the sim account activation process would not validate a Canadian credit card  & address against the USA based template using a local hotel address.
  • Attempt 3 – I was unable to activate the card since the sim account activation process would not validate a plain vanilla no address credit/cash card as the name field cannot be left blank.

Adventure 2 –  excursion to Austria to perform with the KWCO orchestra.

Our hotel was located in downtown Saltzburg Austria conveniently next to a small shopping mall which contained a T-Mobile store.  They had iPad compatible sims for Austria in 1GB or 3GB packages ($15 and $22 respectively) which are active for 30 days. There are options to top up the data if required and/or reuse the chip again on a future trip.

I popped in the sim card, entered the sim card password and the T-mobile network was detected in about 5 seconds. All as it should be – easy, convenient, affordable and hastle free for the end user.

Kudos to T-Mobile. I think the North American TelCo.’s could take a few pointers from the European approach re service levels and customer satisfaction.

Now to research a better travel to USA from Canada solution — starting with T-Mobile.


iPhone live streaming

This past weekend my daughter was carolling as part of the festive activities. The final stop was to do a neighbourhood performance using someone’s porch as the stage. I couldn’t help but think this would be a great chance to trying streaming their performance with my iPhone to a wider audience.

Decision time: Qik or Ustream?  After a bit of testing, I decided on Qik – just seemed a little easier to use, and no annoying pop up ads in the video window.

I was sure I would not hold the phone still enough, so needed to come up with a stabilizer of some sort. I removed the snap cover from my iPod case and twist tied it to a camera tripod…. and presto, a streaming pouch for the iPhone.

iPhone streaming in action.

I choose to optimize the audio since I was recording music and minimize the bandwidth required. the audio quality turned out quite well. The video is a bit grainy, but this lighting was not the best and may have contributed to the lower video quality.

Check out Amber’s Angels recording. Enjoy!

Note: This streaming activity could just as easily been an event in a classroom. Just think of the possibilities.

~ Mark

Adobe Connect – audio update

Further to my earlier blog post regarding my Adobe Connect ‘live teaching’ experience, I wanted to provide an update re my live audio testing sessions. With the help of a test group, we had participants ‘tune in’ from the same building as I was broadcasting, other school sites within our Board network and a couple of off site connections. For all connection types, we were able to improve audio quality.

Before the scheduled session each participant looked after two tasks:

1. check that their flash player was up to date, and complete the update if required and
2. complete this Online Audio Test.

Listeners found the greatest audio clarity when I used the USB Yeti microphone, which I purchased at the Apple store.

We also experimented with web cam settings to determine impact on the audio. With only one camera active, the fast image and slow image settings worked well. The high quality camera setting reduced audio quality (slight choppiness) but not overly disruptive. With multiple cameras active, the slow image setting produced the best overall results.

The test results were validated across the 2 test sessions using different locations and equipment for each session. I feel confident we can proceed with online teaching and our Canada Connections project.

~ Mark