Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some Thoughts Before Ringing in the Next Decade

Here we are just minutes from closing the first decade of the 21st century!  I am a big fan of the Terminator movies.  Have been since the last century!  Since the kids came along, getting to the theater has been near impossible.  So I missed the most recent installment "Terminator: Salvation", until tonight.
Every year for Christmas I buy the house some exciting new entertainment for the family.  A few years ago it was a DVD Burner with a VCR deck, then came the Wii, last year was a bit tough economically; but, I was still able to squeeze in a Flip camera.  Two days before Christmas this year, I saw an add for an Insignia Blu-Ray player that had Wi-Fi at an incredible price and snatched the last one off the shelf.  OK, that's a long way to go to get to the fact that I just watched "Terminator Salvation" on Blu-Ray, but there it is.
Now what on earth does the Terminator series have to do with education and technology (the driving force of this blog)?  Glad you asked.  I was actually highly disappointed in the movie.  Oh sure, there were plenty of explosions and cool looking futuristic weapons.  But the plot was very dark, almost non-existent and depressing.  But here's it's saving grace.  When we look at movies like this (Minority Report is another good example), we begin to realize that Michael Wesch, the self-proclaimed Digital Ethnography, was astutely correct in his now famous YouTube video "The Machine is Us/ing Us" (which incidentally could not have occurred until the 21st century since YouTube did not exist until 2005!)
Every time I see this video I have a different idea of what it's really about.  However in this final version I think I finally get that what Michael is getting at (and correct me if I'm wrong Professor Wesch - I would love to hear from you):  We as human beings, have become humans doing and as such have developed and continued to improve upon ways to ways to communicate and share information.  And over the course of the past 20 years or so, the internet has become a tool for the masses.  It is no longer for the geek in his basement with an analog modem connecting to the "internet" to play their favorite MUD (that's geek speek for multi-user dungeon role-playing game).  And in fact, what we have developed is a user friendly environment that encourages social collaboration without having to have the technical skills to develop the sites needed for the sharing of information.  In fact what we have been doing for the past decade is adding more and more information to the cloud and developing vast databases of valuable information.  This will eventually lead us to what Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the realfather of the internet as we know it today) refers too as the Semantic Web - that's web 3.0 to you and me.  The linking of data that will make it even easier to analyze and collaborate on a global scale.
OK, so that's a lot of rambling and a ton of information to digest in getting to a very small yet indelible point: the machine is indeed using us, but I don't think Skynet and it's Terminators are going to be coming for us anytime soon, because we still have free will.  We are able to create amazing new technologies that enable the betterment of our lives.  And when you consider the fact that even though countries around the world have the ability to wipe each other completely off the map, the simple fact remains that deep down beneath it all we have an inherint need to survive, to live and to thrive as a global community.
I'm sure in the next few days I will post a decade in review and a look to the future, but until then may the new year bring you peace, harmony and good fortune!  Happy 2010 everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Something doesn't taste quite right at Delicious

First, a little history lesson.  The Social Bookmarking giant Delicious has been around in some form or another since 2003.  Originally, Joshua Schachter of memepool fame created a personal linkblog called Muxway.  This site quickly grew into what became del.icio.us in 2003.  By 2005 Schacter was working on the project full time and by the end of that year had sold out to Yahoo for an undisclosed sum (although according to Business 2.0 that sum was upwards of $30 million with Schacter netting about half that).  OK, all well and good.  Bravo for Joshua!
For some years, Delicious continued to function in much the same manner that it had since it's inception.  You were able to share your bookmarks with the world and have anytime/anywhere acesss to your favorite links.  No fear of a hard drive crash wiping out years of research, no worries about being able to find a link away from the office and best of all you could now easily share relevant information with colleagues.  With Yahoo being the backbone of the new Delicious things continued to get better as features became more robust.  I have been a Delicious user for some time and particularly in the last few years.  In fact, whenever I see someone using browser bookmarks I have fully encouraged them to use Delicious.  That is, until the last few months.
What has changed you asked.  Well as with most things in the Web 2.0 universe, eventually even free has a price.  Much to my amazement, a few months ago I was helping someone sign up for a Delicious account when Yahoo reared it's somewhat ugly head and asked for your username and password.  Say what?!  Since when did you need a Yahoo account to sign up for Delicious?  Well, it had to happen eventually.  Now when I suggest Delicious as an alternative to static bookmarking, I have to use the caveat that you must also sign up for a Yahoo account.  And while a Yahoo account is free (and I have a few myself) this deters a number of people from signing up to use the social bookmarking service and that's a shame.
If you already had a delcious account, fear not dear reader you are grandfathered in and all your old links are still there. Just sign in the way you always have in the past.
So why am I blogging about this?  Who cares? You ask. The cynic in me is questioning Yahoo's motives for this move.  How long will it be before our precious research and links are held hostage by a change in the Yahoo TOS (Terms of Service).  Will there be a fee?  Will we eventually have to have a Yahoo account to get our information.  Will they pull a "Facebook" and make all our private information public?  Who knows?  But you should care!
So what is a social bookmarker to do? Well, I would start looking for another resource to backup my Delicious information (Diigo, Blogmarks.net or Faves).  Better yet why not upload to all your Social bookmarking locations at once using something like SocialMarker? That way all your links have been cross-referenced and saved across cyberspace.
While Yahoo has left a bad taste in my mouth, I don't plan to stop using or encouraging the use of Delicious, however I will have a backup plan if Delicious decides to try and start using me!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Been a While

Wow, it has been a while since my last post!  I do try to avoid cluttering this blog with needless ramblings.  At any rate, I've just returned from IETC (The Illinois Education and Technology conference) where I was a first time presenter and boy am I exhausted.  I  love educational/technology conferences and getting to learn and share new things with my colleagues, but tend to get about 4 hours of sleep over the course of three days.

Incidentally,  if you'd like to see what I presented on, you can. Here and here.

While I may be physically wiped out, my emotional state is fully charged and my soul is re-enrgized.  I had been a nervous wreck in the weeks leading to the conference.  Were my presentations ready? Were they informative enough? Would I stumble through my presentations and leave session attendees feeling empty?  Truly the stuff of nightmares.  But as usual, I overcomplicate things and over-prepare to avoid failure and everything worked out in the end.  Funny how we can add undue stress to our lives isn't it?  I'm already thinking about FETC (Florida Education Technology Conference) in January, ICE in February and IETC 2010.  The ideas are churning away in the brain.

Meanwhile, I will be blogging and reflecting over the next few days and with the long holiday weekend rapidly approaching plan to re-launch the webtopia.tv project I began over the summer.  I'm even considering authoring a book over the next year on the power technology can have in the classroom. Stay turned!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When You Know Social Networking Has Made It's Mark!

Earlier this week, Twitter experience a major Denial of Service (DoS) attack. This basically shut the service down completely and many of the third-party clients also experienced difficulties. As of this morning, I was still having difficulty accessing the website. Why did this happen? According to the New York Times:

"Attackers, who are reportedly trying to silence a political blogger from the republic of Georgia, continue to send data requests to Twitter at many times the level the site typically handles, according to NTT America, Twitter’s network provider. NTT has been able to identify and filter out the attack traffic so legitimate users can get through, said Kazuhiro Gomi, NTT America’s chief technology officer."

You can read the full article here.

So, unlike China who has recently blocked access to social networking sites, apparently Russia does not have the ability to do this and must resort to hacking tactics to prevent it's people from communicating via social networking tools.

You know a Social Networking tool has become powerful and viable once entire countries are trying to keep it's people from using the service! It would seem the "Cold War" is now officially over and the digital war is upon us. The battlefields have yet to be clearly drawn, but one government after another is quickly realizing the power of the internet as a social communication and collaboration medium.

Another aspect of how powerful Social Networking has become is how co-dependent we have already become on it's use. When, I was unable to get into Twitter this morning, I literally began to feel my anxiety and bloodpressure rise. I wasn't sure if it was my network, or the DoS still causing problems. The frustration of not being able to connect with my peers on Twitter, was not only dishearting but made me feel completely disconnected!

It's simply amazing how quickly the tools of the 21st century have become ingrained into our everyday lives.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The World Continues to Shrink

Yesterday afternoon, I began a new endeavor called Webtopia. Webtopia is a weekly series on UStream that investigates and demonstrates live new and exciting Web 2.0 applications. You can find it every Sunday at 1:00 PM on: http://ustream.tv/channel/webtopia If you happen to miss a session, you can visit the site at any time and view old episodes.

Now why you ask, would I start such a show? Well the answer is simple. As the world of technology expands and new sites crop up (sometimes hundreds a day), it gets harder to find the sites that make a difference. On Webtopia, I add some clarity to the sometimes dark cloud of the web for folks who are afraid to jump right into the deep end! I guide you through the process of signing up, setting up your profile and getting into the nuts and bolts of how to use the sites with specific examples of how they can be used in an educational setting.

OK, so now that you have the background. Let me share an amazing story!

Just before I went live I tweeted that I would be reviewing two websites on the first episode: Start.io and Mapvivo.com (incidentally you can follow me @JMGUBBINS on Twitter). Within hours after the episode aired, I received an e-mail from Peter Vidani who works for Tumblr (one of my favorite applications on the web - though I haven't used it much lately) and is a co-founder of Start.io! First off, let me say that I was thrilled to have a developer of the site I had reviewed interested in my project. Second, he was kind enough to point out that some of the difficulties I was having may have been do to Internet Explorer. And I couldn't agree more. Whilst IE is not my browser of choice, it is what most of my users are comfortable with, so it is what it is.
Part of being an educator is learning to roll with some difficulties. As I often preach, "Technology is a mindset, not a skillset!" So, I went to bed last night thinking "that was cool" and feeling like I was swiming in the deep end of the tech pool!
Well, I almost drowned this morning when I opened my g-mail and found a message from Tom Sieroń one of the co-founders of Mapvivo! After coming up for air, I re-read the e-mail and wqas pleased that he was happy with my review. Again, I had a bit of difficulty. This time with my my registration and came to find out that Tom noticed I forgot part of my own e-mail address (I'm such a nerd). Anyway, he expressed his appreciation for my review, insight on educational applications and was kind enough to share that they are currently working on edu.mapvivo.com! Wow! If this doesn't make a ed tech geeks day nothing does!

So lessons learned from Episode 1 of Webtopia?
  1. It may be time to buy a better method for screencasting. Currently I use a combination of ManyCam and SuperWebcam. It seems to be ok, but the actual how comes out extremely pixelated. Could also be my upstream connection...but I need to make the show better if it's going to be a success (so far I have had 23 viewers of the first episode!)
  2. I think the show will need to be just a little less "off the cuff". While it's fine to make small blunders when you are sharing with a small audience, once developers are paying attention you don't want to be making foolish mistakes. Had I signed up for an account the night before the Mapvivo portion may have gone a little smoother. Kinda like the cooking shows where they already have a finished product to pull out of the oven 10 seconds after they are set to 450 degrees
  3. Finally, the world is shrinking. One tweet about a new show and the developers of the sites being reviewed are all over it. Again demonstrating the power of social networking and collaboration. And while webtopia is not yet viral, I am well on my way!
On a personal level, I would like to state my appreciation once again to Peter Vidani and Tom Sieroń for making this Ed Tech Geek feel like a slightly bigger fish in an ever increasing (yet somehow shrinking) pond!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beyond the Pale

Yesterday was a very busy adrenaline filled day for this ed tech geek: Meetings, Challenges and Approvals. So much so that I began reflecting on the roads I have traveled thus far on this weary journey called life.

The friends I had in high school and college who are starting to return to me through Social Networks like Facebook. Just a few years ago I was struggling to embrace Social Networking as an educational tool. Until I started to realize that it was a valuable collaboration and communication resource.

In college I was an elementary education and psychology major; but used too much technology in my lesson plans, according to the powers that were. So student teaching never happened for me and now I am committed to the 21st Century philosophies on education and technology.

Most recently, I faced the challenge of unemployment and had to decide whether to say in the education sector or go make some real money in the "real world". Until I came to realize that Ed Tech is the real world. It's the future.

Most importantly, I have found that I seem to live outside the status quo. I don't "conform to the norm". I don't accept the norm and I try to live "Beyond the Pale". I believe that no matter how long you have been on the planet it is never too late to change your ways and learn new things. I may act a little "different" sometimes and realize I can seem a little eccentric, but I'm comfortable in my own skin.

I realize there are barriers and aversions to technology that have been built over the course of time and have developed out of antiquated pedagogies (which when they were designed to fit the model of the society in which we lived). And I typically take this as my personal quest in life to help people mitigate and break these barriers. And today I saw the following graphic while looking for a graphic of a fork in the road for a totally different project and it put everything in prospective for me.

We have a choice as educational technologists, educators and digital citizens in the 21st century. We can take the comfortable road of conformity and continue with the status quo until it all breaks down or we can go "beyond the pale" together and break through to a new world of communication, collaboration and learning. Bridging the technology and achievement gaps that have grown as our society continues to expand and diversify. That's the challenge I issue you today (on two hours sleep) will you breakdown or breakthrough?



Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Something New

It's been awhile since my last post, and I typically reserve this site for the philosophy of ed-tech rather than the technical hub-bub, that can easily bore the non-geek. However, take a moment to scroll down to the bottom of the page at 7:40 am Central Time on Wednesday, May 6th 2009 and you will be in for what I hope is a treat. I am presetning at the Alternative Resource Center in Morton Grove, IL tomorrow on the use of social bookmarking. The treat is that if you like, you can attend as well no matter where in the world you are! That's because I have embeded both my UStream.TV feed and my Sliderocket presentation at the bottom of the page. You can easily follow the presentation by clicking on presentation each time you see the green mouse icon appear on the UStream broadcast. This is a rather grand experiment in which that I hope you will be able to participate. If all goes well, this type of remote broadcasting may have far reaching implications. Hope to see you in the morning!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wi-Fi: The New Deal for the 21st Century

After listening to Barack Obama's address last evening, my blood was boiling. Listening to his initiatives to stimulate our economy sounded to me like noting more than rehashed rhetoric from the Roosevelt Era. Working on building roads and infrastructure, creating windfarms, etc. At some point I actually turned to my wife and said "Listen to Don Quixote tilting at windmills" In a Twitterpoll about his speech last night, I gave it a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. And this morning when told I brought down the average, I responded that "I am not yet drinking the 'Yes We Can' Kool-Aid." And then the following happened and changed my whole prespective.

Whilst, finally, listening to a Keynote given by David Warlick that I had saved to my desktop many moons ago I heard him mention that South Korea already has broadband in every home that is faster than most o the US connections. He went on to further state that Macedonia is completely wireless. Not a city, not a town, an entire country! That got me researching and sure enough according to USA Today: "Macedonia may be the world's first all-wireless Internet country, where Internet access is available to virtually anyone with a wireless-enabled computer. "

Now granted from what I gathered the infrastructure is not free to the citizens. To use the system users must purchase a phone-type card that allows access for a set ammount of time. Also, Macedonia is 9,779 sq mi, which is roughly about the size of metro area of Chicago (10,874 sq mi) and has nearly the same population. And there have been plenty of major us cities that have tried to provide such a network and failed: Hartford, CT (due to cost and technical issues) , Philadelphia, PA (Due to Earthlink bailing out of the project) and St. Louis Park, Minnesota (who is currently in a law-suit with Arinc over the failure) to name a few.

But my point is simply this, President Obama, while your head is in the clouds and your attitude is still "Yes We Can," perhaps the solution is right around you - "In the Cloud" as it were (sorry for the analogy...I am a network engineer at heart!) With layoffs at Microsoft, Motorola, and a multitude of other technology hubs across this great country it may be a good idea to create a collective technology braintrust that can seed the cloud and create a true information superhighway to which everyone can hitch a ride! Placing a shovel in the hands of a white collar worker to build a bridge at minimum wage is not likely to do much good. But perhaps, creating a new infrastructure for the 21st century built of clouds would create the benefit all sides. It's an initiative you may wish to consider.
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