Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google Announces Open Source Contest for High School Students

You're going to have to excuse me for gushing, but Google continues to win my loyalty because of their just plain willingness to work on good things. There hasn't been this much commitment to a "way" of being since two other guys built a company out of a Bay Area garage.

Yesterday Google announce their "Highly Open Participation Contest," a follow-on to their amazing "Summer of Code" program for college students--but this time for high school or "pre-university" students. From their announcement on the Google Code blog they described their "new effort to get pre-university students involved in all aspects of open source development, from fixing bugs to writing documentation and doing user experience research:"
While we're very excited about many aspects of the contest, the best part is that everyone can participate. Contestants must meet the eligibility requirements, but anyone interested in helping out can simply suggest a task to be included in the contest. Our contestants have a chance to win t-shirts, cash prizes, and a visit the Googleplex for a day of technical talks, delicious food and a photo with our very own Stan T. Rex.

Want to learn more? Check out the contest FAQs and tell your favorite pre-college students to pick a task or two to complete. You can always visit our discussion group to get help or share your thoughts.
I've been talking about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in K12 schools for a few years now, and it has been disappointing to me that so few of the individuals or companies committed to FOSS or benefiting from it seemed to be interested in helping promote its use for educational purposes in K-12 schools. I'll frequently ask my audiences of educational technologists why Apache, MySQL, PHP, and/or Python--all current building blocks of the Web, and which can be obtained for free and run on older computers--aren't being taught in schools. You'd be amazed at the answers, from the understandable "they don't have a marketing or support budget" to the fascinating "if we knew how to use them we'd be working for a Silicon Valley company" (not sure that's very representative, but it has been said). Given the choice to either teach "Free" programs that don't require high-end hardware (and that are likely to lead to actual employment if wanted), or to teach expensive, proprietary programs that require faster computers (and that don't often build employable skills), I'm always surprised at how little FOSS is taught in schools.

It's also interesting to note that many of the Free and Open Source programmers I've talked with in my EdTechLive audio interview series got started programming in their early teens. I don't think that's unusual, and I think we often forget how significantly engaged a young person can be. So, some major kudos to Google for starting this program. Now, the next step will be to see if we can get the students to come and present at next year's K12 Open Minds conference!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Classroom 2.0 and the 2007 Edublog Awards

The 2007 Edublog Award finalists have been announced, and the list (with descriptions) can be found here. As we might have hoped, Classroom 2.0 is one of the finalists in the category of "best educational use of a social networking service." :) The list of all the nominees is well worth reviewing.

The final awards are tabulated from the voting which anyone can do by clicking through the individual categories. The link for voting for social networking is here. Because the winner is tabulated from the votes, I almost feel sheepish encouraging voting for CR 2.0, since the other sites are most worthy, but don't have nearly the membership that we do.

On the other hand, CR 2.0 exists to help introduce the tools of Web 2.0 and social networking to educators, and winning would be a good way to continue the exposure to the tremendous resource of all those who contribute here. So, I say, vote!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Kindled" a Headache, That's What...

Just the inability to keep all of the thoughts in my head as I read about Amazon's new Kindle book reader is giving me a headache.... Yes, I think Kindle might just kindle a revolution.

I get all the positives, including the brilliant wireless thing. And I understand the shortcomings. I don't really care about any of that, or the current state of the product. It's that I have this gut feeling (like when I first started using an iPhone) of the incredible potential of this device to be part of the dramatic transformation of our experience with the written word. An experience that I think it going to change in some incredible ways.

Imagine making notes on a passage in an electronic book, and having those notes available to others--including the author, who can respond and make real-time updates to the material. Imagine being able to join in an engaged dialog with community of concurrent readers in a forum, while you are actually reading a book. Imagine being able to drill down through hyperlinks to resources and references in real time, and being able to add your own and to see those of other readers.

I know that none of this is actually a part of the Kindle, but I can see it coming. I can see our experience of reading turning from a relatively passive act into an active collaborative experience. I'm not quite sure how we'll get there from here, but I believe the end result will be so dramatic that it will inevitably draw us to it. Like it's part of our human destiny.

Thinking of an adoption path, I'll tell you what I'd be willing to buy right away that might get us there quicker: a similar device with Google Reader on it. I'm not sure how I feel about spending $400 to then have to pay for each book I download, but I'd come darn close to spending that much to have handy, small, long-battery-life, wireless access to my aggregated feeds (which are free!) and would be great to be able to read no matter where I was. (Speaking of which, why isn't there a standardized way way to see and respond to comments so that this functionality could be added to our aggregators?) Add a few bells and whistles--including Kindle's SD slot to bring over audio content for listening--and I've got a brand new learning device I'd keep with me all the time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Great Customer Experience with Eye-Fi Card

Eye-Fi announced their SD wireless card recently, and I just knew I was going to have to buy one.  My love affair with the iPhone is to some degree related to the easy ability to take a quality photo and directly send it to Flickr.  The Eye-Fi promised even more--used with your regular digital camera, this 2GB SD card will automatically send your photos to the online photo sharing service of your choice through any accessible wi-fi connection.

So, it's actually even better than that.  You know it's a good sign when you open up a package and there is a candy inside.  No kidding.

And the customer experience starts out with some really snazzy packaging that is even hard to describe.  The box work like a pop-up book, and when you pull on the tab to reveal the very nice glossy, folded instruction book, a drawer with the SD card and it's USB adapter pop out the other side.  Not only are the instructions easy and clear, but the whole look and feel is very, very professional.  For some reason, with a new product and a new product concept, I expected a little of the "still in manufacturing stages" feel.  This packaging rivals something Apple would do.

Set up is a piece of cake.  Mac or Windows users just plug the USB adapter with the SD card into your computer, and a small software program is downloaded that takes you through selecting your local wireless connection(s) and selecting the online storage system you want to automatically upload your photos to.  (You pre-determine the privacy and other settings for the online service.)  Since my home wireless network is MAC-address protected, I knew Eye-Fi wouldn't be able to make the connection right off the bat--which it couldn't, but then immediately produced a pop-up message giving me the MAC address for me to enter into my wireless router configuration. 

They've clearly thought a lot about the user interface and interaction, which becomes clear when you turn off the camera before a photo can be fully transfered.  If you got to your history screen at this point, it shows you the percentage of the photo that did make it, and let's you know that the next time your camera is turned on and in range, the upload will finish.  And that small program you load for configuration does some other magic:  you can also define a directory on your computers local drive where the photos will be stored as well as, or in place of, being stored online.  I had to think about this before I could figure out how it was done, since there is not necessarily a wireless connection between the Eye-Fi and the computer you use.  What happens is that the SD card sends the photo to an intermediary server at Eye-Fi, which then transfers it to your online service.  At the same time, the Eye-Fi program on your computer petitions that server for any new photos on some regular basis, and then downloads them to the directory you have established. 

So, in practical terms, here is what happens.  You take a picture with your digital camera, and as soon as you are in range of an identified wi-fi connection, your photo appears in your online service and on the PC of your choice.  Amazing.  Aside from saving all that time manually transferring photos, I can see this being a fantastic way to create a running update for others at a conference or while on vacation.

Great Computer Program for Immigrant Families

This is Larry Ferlazzo. He and I met yesterday to talk about the fascinating, and effective, program he has overseen at Luther Burbank High School where they have provided computers and Internet access to almost 50 immigrant families. It just so turned out that the Sacramento Bee has profiled his program this morning: (requires free registration).

Larry's program is amazing, and largely centers of an agreement by the family members to use the computer for a certain number of hours to access some of the 8,000 sites he has organized for the learning of English. The results, he says, are measurable and significant, and because of this he expects the program to continue to get recognition and grow. (Larry is the grand prize winner of the 2007 International Reading Association Presidential Award for Reading and Technology. See

Since Larry's program is solely web-based, he and I brainstormed the opportunity to duplicate the results without some of the same expenses that his district has to incur because of their contracting procedures. We guessed that comparable success could be achieved for about 1/4 the cost by using refurbished computers and Linux/Firefox--and at the same time building a small jobs and recycling program. Talk about a win-win-win for a city. Now, this is a project I could really get excited about.

Way to go, Larry!

Friday, November 09, 2007

EdubloggerCon 2008: The Collaborative Conferences

Last year's EduBloggerCon in Atlanta, the all-day meet-up of educational bloggers, was a really fun event. EduBloggerCon and the NECC "Bloggers Cafe" were watershed events in some ways--the physical gathering of educational bloggers and the real-time conference collaborating and communication helped to raise expectations about ed tech conference participation. Whether they led, mirrored, or followed (maybe a little of each) the dynamic changes in networked learning that are taking place in the world of Web 2.0 for educators, they definitely generated an excitement about gathering and learning together.

So it is great fun to announce that we'll be having EduBloggerCon meetings in both Palm Springs (California) and San Antonio (Texas) in 2008, with the great and appreciated support of CUE and NECC. CUE, in fact, is sponsoring a whole series of Web 2.0-style additions to their conference (including a cool social network) which I'll be posting about shortly--and EduBlogger Con "West" will be Wednesday, March 4th, 2008, in the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, California. NECC is also graciously hosting again, and the mothership EduBloggerCon 2008 will be Saturday, June 28, 2008 in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. Both events will, of course, be free, and maybe we'll even get a sponsor who'd be willing to swing for lunch (anyone?).

The wiki pages at for both events will be up shortly, and we'll follow the pattern of letting anyone propose discussions they want to facilitate, and others indicating their interest levels in those discussions. And we'll build in ample time for informal discussions. While we've called this an "unconference" before, I think it's really better identified as a "collaborative conference," and hope that you will consider joining us!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Big News from Ning: Ad-Free Student Networks

I've been working with Ning as an educational consultant for a couple of months now, and run their Ning for Educators network. I really like both their model of "creating your own social network," and their responsiveness to the education community. While the big public news for Ning this week is their participation in and support of Google's Open Social platform (will have to save talking about that for another day), yesterday they made a quiet decision which will greatly benefit the educational community: to provide ad-free student networks to K-12 educators. (Update: see new notes and procedures below.)

Ning has been a great example of the how Web 2.0 applications can be free to use, supported by the ubuiquitous Google ad network. There are several upgrade options, the primary one being the ability to run an ad-free network, or to host your own ads, for $19.95 a month. While this is a reasonable cost, most educators exploring the (great) uses of social networking in education have a hard time jumping through the administrative hoops to get this approved, and up to now have only been able to experiment with Ning by using the ad-supported version.

Yesterday, in a flurry of email exchanges, Ning's Gina Bianchini and Athena Von Oech, Flat Classroom superstars Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, and I worked out the details of a trial program to remove the ad component from any existing or newly-created K-12 student-centered networks. If we can show them ad-free networks are something educators really want (that won't be hard!), they will continue the program and create a more automated, stream-lined process--but in the meantime, here is what you can do: (no longer current, skip to below)
  1. Create your student network, if you don't already have one
  2. Go to
  3. Use the subject line: "Ad Removal Request for grades 7 - 12 Education Network"
  4. Put in your network ID at the beginning of the "Describe your issue" box, then just give a one-sentence description of your network usage. For example, you could put:
    " - a global collaborative project founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Qatar Academy, Qatar) in 2006 to use Web 2.0 tools to facilitate communication, interaction and collaboration between students and teachers from all participating classrooms."
  5. Email me at if your network isn't ad-free within 72 hours (let's just say three *work* days!). [This is an update as of 1/18/08.]
  6. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings
  7. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
Huge thanks to Ning, Vicki, and Julie!

UPDATE 11/1/07 6:00 pm:

Ning has had to modify this program for the time being because of COPPA concerns. For the time being, Ning is not COPPA-compliant so it is intended for people ages 13 and up, and this ad-free trial program will only be for networks geared toward students between the ages of 13 and 18 (grades 7 - 12).

I've pored over COPPA, and am trying to decide the status of private networks, with no ads, where teachers create login accounts for student use, and that don't specifically ask for "personal" data. It would seem they might be in compliance. Any thoughts?

Also to note: while this program is a trial, and Ning may or may not decide to make it a permanent offer, Ning has assured me that any networks which qualify and are converted to ad-free will stay ad free. :)

Update 9/16/08:

Ning has upgraded their online help system, and so the instructions for requesting an ad-free educational network have changed:

  1. Please sign in to the Ning "Help Centre" first: This will also allow you to see the status of your "ticket" or request. You can submit a ticket without signing it (use the "skip" link next to the "sign in" link), but you won't be able to track the progress of your request.
  2. Click the "Contact Us" link at the top of the page.
  3. The "Ask Our Team a Question" form then appears.
  4. In the first field (“I have a question about”) select “a network that I have created.”
  5. A new field with a pull down menu will appear (“I specifically want to know”) and you should choose “General Question.”
  6. A window will appear where you need to choose a specific topic. Please choose “other” at the end of the list.
  7. You may skip the "I'm Feeling" field if you'd like.
  8. In the "Network URL" field please give the network address of the educational network you are asking Ning to make ad-free.
  9. In the message portion of the ticket, please specifically write that you are requesting an add-free network for education.
  10. Click the send button!
  11. Join the Ning in Education community to get help, hints, and tips for using Ning in educational settings.
  12. Consider thanking Ning by placing a "Ning in Education" badge on your frontpage by following the link on the right side of that network that says "Get a Ning in Education Badge!" You can then add the HTML code into a text box on your network.
  13. If your network isn't ad-free within three working days, please check the status of your help request at the same web address under "View Tickets."