Thursday, July 24, 2008

Academic Aesthetic 164: DEN NI 08

Academic Aesthetic 164: DEN NI 08

In today's show I interview a bunch of people here at the Discovery Educator Network National Institute for 2008.  (I decided to not put the full name in the title.)  See how many faces you can recognize.

Also, my voice is giving out and I feel sick.  Yay for conferences!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hangin' out at Discovery.

Yes, THAT Discovery.  They're doing an ed-tech conference all this week and I'm along for the ride.

You can be too, if you want.  Most of the content I'm collecting can be found either on my Flickr acount or my Plurk acount.  You don't need to sign up for those to follow along, but they're fun and free if that floats your boat.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Academic Aesthetic 163: Communication

The following was written back in June, but I've been sitting on it until now because I wanted to be able to take a step back and look at my writing first before posting.

One would think that sleeping until noon would be one of life's simple pleasures afforded to teachers during the summer months. While I've nothing against prolonged inspection of the backs of my eyelids, I'm still dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 AM at least three days a week to help my wife get ready for dialysis.

Flickr PhotoI won't go into any great detail on her medical condition here (that's a subject for a different podcast), but it does leave me with several hours of alone time while she goes through the procedure. On days when I drive her to the dialysis center, gas prices are high enough for it to not make sense for me to drive home and back - making my period of solitude also one where I lack any ability to contact the internet. (UPDATE: I've since purchased a BlackBerry Curve, so now my addiction to the internet has reached the next level.)

Now granted, I've been incredibly lax in posting things on this site. I could go through lots of excuses, but the one I think I'll stick with is that it's a lot harder for me to do one of these entries when I'm not online, even though I feel most inspired when I can't get online.

Usually when I'm writing out my scripts I'll have three or four tabs open for reference purposes. Either I'm responding to someone else's blog post, or linking to another site that further explains a concept, or even looking for just the right picture to insert into the entry. I can't do any of these things without the internet at my fingertips.

But here I am in my car, in just such a situation. I can do whatever I want, so long as I only use the software and files in my little magic box. Cloud computing? Ha! That's no good to me here.

Flickr PhotoThis very much reminds me of a job interview I went to a few weeks ago. The position was for teaching technology to students and teachers in a Pre-K through 5th grade school, something that on the surface is really right up my alley. Still, I went in with more questions for them than they had for me.

And everything I encountered made it look like a dream job come true. The school was fairly new, so there weren't any old computers on the verge of breaking down. The computer lab, the ceiling mounted LCD projectors in every class, the three (THREE!) mobile labs that teachers actively fought over, the school-wide wi-fi, everything about it looked awesome.

Everything, until near the end of my visit when I started asking about wikis, blogs, and podcasts.

Oh, they don't do those.

In fact, anything that remotely resembles a blog or wiki is actively blocked. The school administration was very forward thinking, but the district had adopted a "walled garden" approach that would have prevented me from visiting even my own website from school.

Flickr PhotoContrast this with my current employer, which isn't throwing as much cash into tech programs but is actively encouraging teachers to use resources available to them on the internet - including workshops on blogging, podcasting, and wikiing.

"Wikiing?" Is that a word? Nevermind.

Long story short(er), I'm not pursuing the job. I only went to the interview because it sprung up at the last moment, and I felt I needed to dust the cobwebs off of the old portfolio. With the way technology is advancing, and the skills that I see successful people using right now, I feel I could do more to prepare kids for the real world with a lab of salvaged computers running linux and my current employer's filtering policy than all the high tech gadgetry in the world but no way to use it properly.

Because while the tech is cool, it's really not about the tech. It's about communication. It's about collaboration.

And it's about teaching students how to use these things responsibly, because locking kids in their rooms for fear that they'll go to the mall and something scary will happen will not prepare them for when they finally move out and go there themselves. Instead, we should take them there, hold their hands at first, and show them how to react in that environment.

Anything else is a disservice to the generation that will be running our nursing homes when we retire.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Academic Aesthetic 162: Corporate Shill

SoundwavesToday's episode is brought to you by Sound Waves™

<announcer voice> That's right, in today's modern world there are many kind of waves, but only Sound Waves™ are capable of taking this podcast and transferring the information from your speakers to your ears in a format that you, the listener, can comprehend.

Sound Waves™: helping you hear quality audio ... and this show, too.</announcer voice>

...wait a minute, who wrote this ad, anyway?

But seriously, lately I've been thinking a bit about commercialization on educational websites. It's a topic I've visited before, though I think it bears revisiting.

I don't know exactly why I've been thinking about it recently. It might be because of some recent large purchases I've made. It might be because sites like Tips From The Top Floor and are doing pretty well with ads in their podcasts. Perhaps it's because Professor Bob from the History According to Bob podcast is able to sell CDs of things he originally gave away for free on his website, and even the great and powerful David Warlick and Will Richardson sell their books and/or ask for donations to their Starbucks cards on their websites.

Maybe its because sites like,, and are essentially advertising models for their parent companies - though I'll be the first to tell you that they're brilliant ad models because they draw in visitors with high quality content that makes them worth visiting repeatedly.

Or ... perhaps ... it's because of some emails I've seen over the past few months. You may have gotten them too, in fact.
How I feel when I sell things"I represent [insert company name here] and we'd like to pay you to blog about [insert product name here]. We're going to assume that [insert product name here] fits with the general theme of your website because you're a blogger and right now you're probably just happy that someone, anyone, has managed to find your little corner of the internet. We're certain that you'll be satisfied with the meager amount of shiny coins in exchange for linking to us repeatedly in your blog post and thus increasing our ranking on Google, even though it will most likely destroy your integrity and make you lose the small collection of loyal readers you've worked so hard to build over the years."

Well, they went something like that, at least. I might not have remembered the emails word for word, but I think that's an unbiased representation of what they said. You might even think that this posting would discourage future offers of a similar nature, but I don't think those people actually read the blogs they contact so I'm out of luck, there.

I've also gotten at least one offer from someone who wanted to be a "guest blogger" on my site. It was essentially very much like the previous email, except she offered to take the hard job of writing the post that would destroy my reader base off of my hands.

Not all emails from businesses were that bad, however. I've received at least one offer to sponsor my podcast on a repeated basis with a short audio ad placed in each show, which I politely turned down because while the product was educational in nature I hadn't used it myself and therefore felt uncomfortable promoting it.

Monopol-E-CommerceI even went so far as to hand out some books at this year's MICCA conference, but only because after looking through them I felt they were useful resources. The copies they provided for me to keep as "payment" were also given away, but that was because I already knew a lot about the subject mater already.

I've toyed now and again with turning my website into a moneymaker, but this was mostly through the addition of Google Ads - and those tend to mostly work on the kind of people who aren't likely to visit this website. Over the years they've been on and off of the site, but in all that time I still haven't earned enough for them to cut me a single check. To be perfectly honest, even if they did pay me all of my earnings right now it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what I've paid for domain name registration, hosting (my hosting is cheap, but not free), and equipment.

I've also included Amazon affiliate links in posts from time to time, but those have made even less revenue than the Google Ads - mainly because I've only ever done that for products I've owned, and zero minus the price of said products equals a negative number.

I'm not saying this to complain, mind you, but to prove a point that I'm not blogging or podcasting for the money. If I was, then I would have quit a long time ago. I do this because it's fun, and I enjoy it when I can become part of a conversation that is truly global in nature.

And then the bills come in, and I begin to think about how I can supplement my teacher's salary.

So, (and I hate to admit this,) I'm going to try a little revenue building experiment. No, I'm not going to be embedding ads in every podcast. Nor will I be placing flash banners where you get to shoot chickens or pick the next president all over the site either. I'm going to try something a little more low key than that.

On my site I'm creating a new page. That page will have links to things where if you buy them I might get a buck or two sent my way.


I think.

If you don't like seeing ads on education themed sites, then don't go to that page. If you don't mind, and throwing me a bone is something you might consider doing, well then you can go and check it out. My intention is to only become a corporate shill for products I've owned/used and enjoyed myself, so while I may be destroying my integrity here it shouldn't burn quite so bad.

And who knows - maybe I'll end up writing a book and promoting it there, eventually retiring from teaching to run around the world giving lectures and working as a freelance consultant.

... or, maybe I'll just make enough to pay some of my server costs.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Shiny New Toy

Shiny New Toy
... And my last new toy for a while, I'm afraid. Oh well.

As those of you who've been following me on Twitter, Plurk, Pownce, and who knows where else already know, I am now the proud owner of a BlackBerry Curve. To be honest I liked the Palm models better, but apparently unlimited data plans cost less with these little guys so my wallet had something to say about the decision making process.

Note that I didn't mention the iPod or any Windows Mobile device. These were both ruled out for different reasons, one being software issues and another being service issues. I'll let you pick which is which, but I'm moving on for now.

"Curve" is a great name for this model, since there definitely is a learning curve as you start to use it - especially if you've never owned a smart phone before. The qwerty keyboard really makes typing easier, though the small size does force me to type slower than normal. This isn't too bad, since I'm making considerably fewer typos now.

Within a couple minutes of Its activation I had already changed many of the "out of the box" settings, including but not limited to syncing up with my gmail account. Not having to use the web based interface for that is a real boon.

Oh yeah ... about web browsing ... that's a mixed bag. A lot of sites (Flickr, Bloglines, Youtube, and more) have smartphone-friendly versions that work pretty well. I actually prefer the "mobile" version of Plurk to the regular one. Sites that are text-heavy and use images just to break things up visually work pretty well also.

The problem sites are the ones that use a lot of Java, Flash, or focus on large images (like webcomics). The first two won't work at all most times, unless they have a mobile version. As for the large images ... well, you can enlarge them to full size and scroll around, but this involves more than one time consuming step and is awkward at best.

Still, I didn't get this to have it be my primary conduit to the interwebs. It's a backup and a way to make mobile blogging possible without depending on a conference's intermittent (or nonexistent) internet access.

And so far I think it's worth it. After all, I just wrote this whole post while sitting in my car and waiting for my wife. (I bought her one, too.)

More to come as I figure things out.
(Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry, edited later because adding links was darned difficult.)