Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I Miss My iPhone, and Why You Should Care

(Cross-posted from

This fall, as part of being a speaker at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, I received an Apple iPhone. Now, of course, as a self-appointed Free and Open Source Software evangelist, I resisted any initial desire to be come attached to the device, and promptly found an online set of instructions to allow me to use the web-browsing functions on local wireless connections without actually signing up for the cellular and data plan.

After a few weeks of using the iPhone in this limited fashion, I then discovered that there was a way to activate the phone and data capabilities on a pay-as-you-go plan, and I signed up in this fashion--justifying the $59/month decision as a little bit of research to learn more about the phone. I would, I assured myself, just do this for one month (two at the most), since the phone minutes on this plan were paltry, and since I had no real use for another cell phone. My immediate reaction, once I had the full capabilities of the phone at hand, were that the iPhone was just another frustratingly proprietary device.

First, I've always hated the iTunes paradigm. I'm a drag-and-drop kind of guy, and anything that involves synching bugs the heck out of me. Just let me take my files and put them where I want them to go. Don't make me learn the idiosyncrasies of your program so that I get so used to them I later depend on that knowledge and consider it a skill--thereby locking me into your upgrade path.

Second, not only was I not able to drag an MP3 file from my computer to the iPhone, but I couldn't even save a media file I was finding online in the iPhone Web browser onto the device. Now, I admit to being a bigger audio junkie than your average guy, loving to listen to any lectures or recordings I can find, but this would frustrate even your most basic user. I'd be searching the Web, find a great audio or video file, and there was no way to store it! I'd have to bookmark the site, then look it up on my regular computer later, download it, and then synch it to the iPhone. How idiotic is that?

Well, not as idiotic as I thought. I'm sure there were some significant decision-making sessions in Big Steve's office about this particular functionality issue, and they likely revolved around a lot of strategy that I'm not really capable of understanding, but the end result was that being unable to directly download these files opened my vision to a whole new level of Web access that I had not even considered. If you have a cellular-enabled Web device, like the iPhone, you don't actually need to download those files. You don't need to download them because as long as you have cell service, you have access to them. And that's amazingly liberating. Anytime I wanted to listen to something, I no longer had to download and transfer, or even just download. All I had to do was to click on the link, and it played. The "paradigm" of managing a body of files to listen to (and I'm skipping the video files because I'm more oriented to audio than video, and because video still has bandwidth constraints) went right out the window.

I now no longer had to think before going to the gym or on a drive with time to spare. Planning my listening before knowing what would interest me was no longer a task I had to take time for. Granted, where cell access was not available (like on an airplane) I might still have to keep some files stored that I could listen to, but my relationship to audio content on the Web changed because of the iPhone. I don't think I fully realized it, though.

Just before Christmas, my brother suggested that Apple might be likely to announce a new iPhone model at the start of the new year. I thought about this, and about the $59/month I was spending, and determined that before the holiday vacation I should sell my iPhone and call an end to my experiment. With the help of Craigslist, I was able to unload the iPhone at a decent price in the space of just a couple of hours, and I went happily on my way. I thought.

Not a day goes by when I don't really miss the direct-play functionality I'd gotten used to. In fact, even though my regular cell phone has the ability to access the web in a modified way, I also realized how much I missed having a full Internet browser at my fingertips--Wikipedia was my constant companion (I can hear my children groaning as I pulled up yet more information than they want to know about something that they really didn't care that much about in the first place).

But my experiment with the iPhone and the resulting sense of loss have so kept me focused on it and other Internet devices, that I've come to a conclusion about student computing that I don't think is widely-held: the small, hand-held size, always-on Internet device presents a much more powerful model for ubiquitous student computing than any laptop model, even including the new smaller devices like the XO or the Eee PC.

I don't doubt the ability of the XO to dramatically engage students in programming, or the small-form-factor of the Eee PC to allow portability, but I have a hard time seeing either in the backpack or schoolbag of every student. But I could see an iPhone there. In fact, a good percentage of these students are probably already carrying a cell phone, and the step from cell phone to Internet device is about the most natural progression that I can imagine. And frankly, as much as I care for the programming and the programs, more and more of what I see making a real difference in students' lives is the communication--which doesn't require agreeing on or "selling" the more complex aspects of what we are considering in the base functionality of student computing devices.

Even without the full adoption of web-based course management programs like Blackboard and Moodle, there are super-easy ways to allow student-student and student-teacher communication (hey, email, or even IM!), and to make accessible online calendars, assignment, and research links and information. I've got to believe that the always-online Internet device would be a low-maintenance, high-leverage slam-dunk success if offered to every student right now. It's not going to solve the same issues that providing a full computer would also face (appropriate use, filtering, etc.), but I believe would find immediate acceptance and creative usage without the maintenance and training issues of educational laptops.


There are, of course, two hurdles to my vision of the future. The first is the actual cellular connection required for an always-connected device. It's harder to imagine the success of these devices if they only work while at school, or even if they work at home but require a wireless connection there. This one stumps me, as I continue to come to the conclusion that it would require a national network for student access--and that seems to introduce the very complexity I was hoping to avoid. The second hurdle is one that I think is only short-term. The Internet device would be significantly more useful it it actually could be docked to a regular keyboard, mouse, and monitor while the student was in class or the library, allowing him or her to keep and manage all history, passwords, and shortcuts--a personalize Web manager of sorts. At the rate that we are seeing technological advances, I don't think it will be but a year or two (if that long) before our Internet devices will have the capability of displaying a full-screen browser window in such a fashion.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Social Networking in Education

(Cross-posted from The Infinite Thinking Machine)

There's an interesting change afoot, and it relates to the use of social networking in education.

MySpace and Facebook are just two examples of social networking sites, but unfortunately, their early prominence has created a stigma around social networking that the technology itself doesn't deserve. The understandable concerns created by these early and popular networks have overshadowed some amazing changes that are taking place in educational environments when the tools of social networking are being used with students and teachers.

“Social Networks” are really just collections of Web 2.0 technologies combined in a way that help to build online communities. In December, Classroom 2.0, the social network I started for educators interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies, won the 2007 EduBlog Award for “best use of a social network for educational purposes” and now has nearly 5,000 members. The twist here, of course, is that Classroom 2.0 is a network for teachers (yes, adults, those sometimes called "digital immigrants!) who are interested in the use of Web 2.0 in the classroom and who are using the site for personal professional development. The ability to have productive, engaging dialog with others in a community is a natural fit for all ages in education.

Because I do consulting work for the social networking company Ning (as part of which I run their site), I thought it would be interesting to try to find out the different ways in social networks are being used in education. So I started a single-purpose wiki for educators to link to and describe their social networking sites. I'm including a snapshot of the list as it is today, but it keeps growing and as it does so provides an interesting insight into the variety of ways that social networks are being put to productive educational uses. You'll have to forgive the length, but it helps to make the point. Personally, I think as the tools of online social networking and course management inevitably merge, we'll find more and more compelling educational uses for them.

Today's snapshot of "Social Networking in Education:"



  • 12SCR - the greatest tutor group in GCUS, UK - A social networking area especially for 12SCR Tutor Group at GCUS, UK.
  • Alabama Educator's Network- For teachers living in Alabama (Please join if you live in AL.)
  • - Teaching and Education in Asia: Communities of Hope - Asian Educators discover and discuss common and unique challenges and experiences in Asian teaching contexts.
  • Classroom 2.0 - Web 2.0 in the Classroom
  • College 2.0 - Higher Education, Online Education and Web 2.0
  • Comenius Programme Network A network for teachers accross Europe to seek support, share ideas and experiences to help ensure successful Projects
  • Coming of Age - The Book on Web 2.0 in the Classroom
  • eLatin eGreek eLearn - Helping Classics teachers (Latin and Greek) understand and incorporate technology into the classroom.
  • EduBloggerWorld - International Edubloggers
  • Fielfindr A portal to connect classrooms to the world: Global citizens can share talents and skills with students.
  • Fireside Learning (ning) - "Conversations about learning. Sit by the fireside and share your thoughts."
  • Gifted Education Ning space for parents and teachers started by Ginger Lewman to discuss gifted issues
  • The Global Education Collaborative - Promoting Global Awareness
  • International Collaboration - High school and university students worldwide collaborate and learn about each others' cultures and life styles
  • International Classroom - Social network created for classes around the world. Space where pupils can share, talk about themselves ,show pictures and videos etc,and get to know each other's culture.
  • ILTCE - Illinois Technology Conference for Educators - Learning Without Boundaries 2008
  • ISEnet - Independent School Educators Network for k-12 educators & students
  • Laptop Learning Community - Preparing Students with 21st Century Skills
  • Learning 2.0 - Creating Collaborative Learning
  • LITE - Leading Innovative Technology use in Education - Glenview School District 34
  • MACUL Space - Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning. Educators Pre-K to 20.
  • Michigan Classroom 2.0 Michigan Classroom 2.0 is for Educators interested in integrating technology into the classroom. A collaborative site where"beginners" and pro's can find a comfortable place to start being part of the digital dialog.
  • - Network of NanoScience
  • New Teacher Resources (A Supportive Community for New Middle School Teachers)
  • Next Generation Teachers - Improving Teaching and Learning with New Technologies
  • Online Projects 4 Teachers - Linking Teachers Together
  • PBS Teachers - Using a private Ning network to Connect with our Teacher Advisory Group
  • ProjectsByJen - PreK - 6th Grade Teacher Collaboration
  • PSUCast PowerSchool users network.
  • RBG Worldwide 1 Nation (ning) Afrikan Centered Cultural Development and Education
  • School 2.0 - The Changing of Education
  • Schoolwork Together - Space for teens from Israel and Dutch school to meet and discuss ideas for a common project
  • SIGTE 2008 Book Discussion; Steering committee currently discussing book choices. Using NING as communication tool.
  • Smallsteps - a class based network set up to support 14yr old design students with a design and make project centred around the topic of waste reduction.
  • SPLICE - this is part of a JISC funded project run by CETIS at Bolton University to explore social networking for creative industries students, teachers and practitioners. SPLICE = social practices, learning and interoperability in connected environments.
  • - A network of teachers using technology
  • We Are Teachers IMAGINE Network- Online Knowledge Marketplace
  • WorkForce Educators - Distance Learning and Teaching
  • World Englishes Project- Blended Learning Course about World Englishes in collaboration with Waseda University, Japan.
  • WEBTAS (Web Teaching and Academic Support Learning Community)
  • Web2learning (For Teachers interested in using Web 2.0 technology’ to enhance online teaching and learning activities)


  • Art Snacks- Teaching Art
  • Art Education in the Digital Age - lots of videos of Exhibits/Lectures/Artist from Boston and a Web 2.0 Hybrid Drawing class.
  • Comic Art School Open community with resources for drawing and making comics.
  • Drawing Faces - Course for drawing faces, portraits, cartoon heads and caricatures.
  • Museums and Students - A network for museums and students to interact and learnAg
  • UTA Film and Video Network - for art (film) students and faculty of the University of Texas, Arlington
  • UTA Animation Network - for animation students and faculty of the University of Texas, Arlington

Classroom Networks:

  • Across Generations Homework help, resources, projects from students, resources for students and parents.
  • Big Dog Science - eighth grade science class network for student collaboration on chemistry projects
  • CCM Music - a network to connect students and staff across music courses at City College Manchester, an FE and HE college in the UK. This is a closed network but a video tour is here.
  • The Connected Classroom - Private network connecting 7 grade 4 classes in international and public schools around the world (looking for members in Japan, Australia and China).
  • Creative Media Classroom - Private network for 11th-12th grade students taking Creative Media (an evolution from Creative Writing) as an elective at a college preparatory school.
  • Dio Digital Learning Lab Classroom based interactive network at Diocesan School for Girls in New Zealand (Private)
  • Flat Classroom Project - Planning, communication and collaboration Ning for the Flat Classroom Project
  • The French Connection - Private network connecting 2 grade 6-7 classes in the US and France for communication, language practice.
  • GCHS Theater Arts Online reflection space for GCHS theater arts students (closed)
  • The Global Cooling Collective - Planning World Concerts, Creating World Change, Empowering Global Youths
  • A networks for 7th grade history students in a small K-8
  • Hurricane Maine - Network for my students but hope to open it up for collaboration
  • IntroTV/Video - 9-12th grade TV/Video students use this as a place to upload their work (closed - due to copyright issues)
  • Kerr Honors - 9th grade English Network for Reading Reflection (closed - could open up)
  • Kingswear Network - a private UK primary (ages 5-11) classroom network but main page is public
  • McCorrmick31 - 11th grade English Network for reflection on independent reading projects. (closed - could open up)
  • Mr. Edge's English I Space at
  • newentenglishsixth - private Ning for 6th Form students of English Literature at Newent Community School, UK (closed)
  • Odyssey of the Mind - A closed network for students at Odyssey Charter HS in Nevada. There are three teachers participating with about 30 students currently in the network.
  • Readin' Writin' Techin' - Closed network run by four teachers in Southern NJ as part of a study group looking at ways Web 2.0 technologies can be used to generate interest in reading and enhance writing skills. Network has 14 members (four adults and ten students).
  • Reading Revolution - This network is to promote student interest in reading books. The network is between a class in an inner city school in California and a class in rural Iowa. Students are encouraged to be social and talk about the books they are reading or want to read. Students make and post videos and podcast about their favorite books, authors and their communities.
  • Second Grade - Private network for a 2nd grade class students and parents to share multimedia, to communicate and practice writing in an informal environment.
  • TLGplace - Taking Learning Global, a place for students 15+ and their teachers to share inter-cultural experiences while learning.
  • Truss2YPI - one of several private Gr. 10 class networks, "Learning about grassroots organizations in our community." see YPI
  • WellesleyHigh - High School Faculty/Staff Network (closed)
  • World Village - Private network connecting 3 grade 2 classes in Thailand and the US to learn about different cultures.
  • Xtreme Learning - Private network connecting highly able students in 9 grade 5 classes in international and public schools around the world - focus on reading and literature.
  • Learning Options Social Network - A private social network of students in a very small high school in northwestern Wisconsin, who are taking online classes through a variety of vendors for enrichment or credit recovery.


  • CUE Community - Conference website for and 2008 CUE Conference (with individual forum threads for every session and speaker pages).
  • The Illinois Technology Conference for Educators- A social networking site for conference attendees, vendors and speakers. Educators following the conference from afar as also encouraged to join this ning. Stay tuned for handouts, pictures, and video of our 2008 event!
  • Learning 2.008 Shanghai - Educational Technology Conference held in Shanghai in September for international teachers in the Asia region.
  • MACUL Space - The Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning

Course Material:

English as a Foreign Language:

English as a Second Language:

  • CSWE 3 Werribee - An adult ESL network for my class of new refugees and immigrants to Melbourne, Australia (closed - may open up)

English Education (Pre- and In-Service):


Language Learning:

  • Talkabout Primary MFL- for those teaching (or considering teaching) foreign languages in Primary schools (ages 3-11)


  • Education Leadership - A community for educators to discuss effective leadership, to share best practices, and work toward - lead - a culture of positive change in education.
  • SMS 5 Year Program Collaboration - A collaboration network for all preservice teachers at Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown, WV. Members are in the 5 year teacher education program, host teachers and associated administrators.


Professional Development:

  • Digital Citizenship resources for educators.
  • DuBois and Beyond: Private local Network for PD
  • E2T2 Tech Mentor Grant
  • Literacy Coach Network - best practices in literacy coaching
  • OnlineProjects4Teachers - Linking Teachers Together
  • PassionateTeachers A group of those teachers/educators who are passionate about teaching-learning new strategies to make learning a joyful experience.
  • Pixels, Please collaborate and share resources, ideas, lesson plans, etc. amongst educators about how to use Digital Images in the classroom.
  • Professional Development 2.0 - Educators Learn the 2.0 Way
  • Readin' Writin' Techin' - Closed network run by four teachers in Southern NJ as part of a study group looking at ways Web 2.0 technologies can be used to generate interest in reading and enhance writing skills. Network has 14 members (four adults and ten students).
  • Teachers 2.0 - Teaching in the digital age.
  • The Teacher Collaborative - A social network of teachers and educators attempting to integrate technology into current curriculum practices by developing global project ideas and classroom partnerships.
  • teacher/tearner: minds of our own - A private network of independent interdependent teachers learning. The goal for this network in 2008 is to become an even more valuable professional learning network. We are also accepting membership by educators who are interested in using and sharing the use of Web 2.0.
  • Teachers as Writers - This is a place where teachers who are writers or wannabe writers can share their enthusiasm for whatever it is they have put on paper or want to put on paper. It's about encouraging people to write and "carve their niches in the edifice of time."
  • Tech Camp for Educators-With literacy as a focus, technology will be infused across the curriculum as a tool for teaching and learning. This is a hands-on, practical class. This is a face to ce week long tech camp taught by Meg Ormiston.
  • University of Chicago Charter Schools
  • Virginia Independent School Teachers
  • Web 2.0 4 Teachers - This network is for teachers and administrators who have attended my workshops and conference presentations that highlight the use of Web 2.0 tools. It provides a place for them to engage during and after the sessions.
  • Western New York Powerful Learning Practices: A social network where teachers and administrators from various school districts explore and learn Web 2.0 tools.
  • Vidsnacks: Video training for teachers wishing to incorporate video into their lessons.


Second Life:

Spanish as a Foreign Language:

  • Profesores ELE en Holanda - for Teachers of Spanish as a Foreign Language working in the Netherlands (in progress) | Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE) que trabajan en los Países Bajos.

Student Organizations:

  • EARCOS Global Issues Network - Earth’s Hope is the theme of the EARCOS Global Issues Network Conference to be held in Beijing April 4, 5 & 6 at Western Academy of Beijing. The Global Issues Network is based on the ideas in Jean Francois Rischard’s book “Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them.” Rischard identifies 20 urgent global problems and encourages the formation of small groups around the world to help solve them


  • Blended Learning and Instruction - Engaging students and teachers in active learning by using technology and combining online with face-to-face instruction. Members will share various 2.0 tools and ways of integrating technology effectively.
  • Online Instruction - Teachers need ongoing support and information to facilitate online classes. Online Instruction caters to instructors who wish to discuss ways of developing, implementing, and providing learners with the most effective means of online instruction.
  • Teaching 'N Technology - A brand new network designed for teachers and technology specialists to share strategies, ideas, and tools regarding technology integration.
  • Technology Integration - Gathering perspectives and best practices from teachers, administrators, students, parents, Board of Education members, support personnel, vendors and others regarding technology integration in education. Site also available by visiting
  • Video production and multimedia - Video is the language of the 21st century. Learn how to do it here.


Non-Ning Based:


  • - A social network for educators with an interest in Australia
  • YouFig - Custom Collaboration Communities for Academia


  • e-Learning in developing and developed countries - for AcademiaThe challenge facing e-learning in developing countries is an on going process that requires everyone's attention. Global learning and cultural exchange via e-learning can unite and contribute to co-existence and world peace.