A screenshot from Final Cut Pro X

I’m workin’ on it!

I’ve been working on a promotional video for my school’s Open House. I know we’re not alone in the importance we place upon Open House days; there’s simply no better tool for getting students and parents interested in your school. So I decided I wanted to really learn Final Cut Pro X, a deceptively complex movie editing program, to more effectively produce these little pieces.

After about two weeks, I would say i’m adequate at using the program. Not great by any stretch, but good enough to string together clips put to music. And it was a tremendous amount of work to get to that point. I was reminded of being sixteen, poring over guitar tablature or a snippet of The Stranger, trying to understand things that eluded me on virtually every level. I remembered writing my thesis, and tethering my iPad to the Smart Board for the first time. In short, it reminded me that I need to remain a learner, above anything else.

The further i get from my own education, the less effective I am in the classroom. Somewhere in the process of “mastering” FCPX, I started empathizing more emphatically with my students struggling with iMovie and even iPhoto. I took note of the video tutorials that worked and lamented the lack of clear written instructions. At times, I felt helpless just as my students do when I rush through something, or assign something for homework without adequate explanation. It happens from time to time, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make every lesson reach every student. But I can say that the more time I spend acquiring new skills, the more adept I become at helping others do the same.


Twitter, I love you but…

By now, you’ve probably heard about Twitter’s planned changes to their API policy. In order to deliver a more consistent experience (to advertisers, not you), the little start up that could is going to revoke API access from a whole host of third party apps and clients. HootSuite? Going. Echofon? Dying on the vine. Tweetbot (sweet, sweet Tweetbot)? Prognosis negative. You won’t be able to share via Instapaper’s social media features, or even open an image in a separate app if it’s attached to a tweet. Those of us who’ve become attached to Twitter might do best to consider detaching as soon as possible.

There aren’t going to be many legitimate options for heavy Twitter users, at least not immediately. You can use the app Twitter itself provides, but it’s limited in function and absolutely awful to look at. It feels like a Twitter app cooked up by a precocious teenager with serious coding skills, not the face of a dominant social media franchise. So that’s out. Plus there may be bigger implications than we realize in these changes. Which means it might be time to “MySpace” Twitter, so to speak.

Nothing lasts forever, and in the tech world, forever is about seven years. The carcasses of Friendster, MySpace, Google Buzz (and soon Google+), and hundreds of others (anyone remember pets.com?) litter the social media landscape, and while each died for different reasons, the enduring reality is that each of them fell into steep decline or outright disrepair within seven years. Friendster only had two years on top. MySpace had three years and change. Despite its unchallenged hegemony over social networking today, even the mighty Facebook has only been dominant for three years. Twitter is now six years old and has been the king of microblogging since day one. How do you stay on top? Probably not by alienating your most fervent advocates and developers with punitive API revocations.

I signed up for app.net this morning, a Twitter competitor catering to a more tech-savvy crowd. It costs money, but not enough to be prohibitive (50 bucks is a few beers out in Brooklyn these days). You can find me @pf. It might be a Google+-esque ghost town, or become a MySpace-ish zombie lair in a few months, I don’t know. But I do know that Twitter’s new policies sound an awful lot like a death knell for a cutting edge social media network that changed how many of us get our news and communicate with the world at large. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

EDIT: Tapbots, the company behind Tweetbot, has responded, and they seem confident that their app will continue to exist. Wired, TechCrunch, and most other observers disagree.


My EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

Judging by the response via Twitter, email, and of course Edmodo, I feel like my presentation at EdmodoCon 2012 went over pretty well. I talked fast because I had a lot to say, but ultimately I think it was a good representation of where one-to-one deployments and cloud classrooms are going.

With that said, here it is for your perusal. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments or via email, twitter, etc.

EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

Book excerpt: Speedbumps

A lovely road with one obstacleNOTE: I have a book coming out soon! If you buy it, I guarantee I won’t enjoy a penny of the proceeds. It’ll all be spent on building my thirteen month old a spaceship or something.

Here’s a small sample, from the Overview chapter:

My first experience with technologically enhanced unit planning was not quite the raging success I had predicted. Students were placed in groups of six and assigned a character from Hamlet, then each was asked to create Facebook accounts in the voice of his or her character. They were expected to live a Facebook life as their character would have, right up until each student’s alter ego died in the play. For instance, a student posting as Polonius might write a wall post saying, “I’m going to duck behind this curtain for a quick second, to hear what Hamlet is up to” right before his final post, which might read, “Ouch. Anyone in the castle have a first aid kit handy?” During the first week of the project, our classroom was electric. Students were posting far more than the required ten posts per week, and their character interactions were funny and infused with life. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I became the problem.

Postings that didn’t fit into my rigid view of what was appropriate for the project were deleted. Accounts were deleted or wiped clean when a student stepped too egregiously out of bounds (by my standards, of course, which were determined by a committee of one). One student in character as Hamlet posted a sarcastic, insulting screed on a faux Claudius’s wall. While his words were certainly appropriate for Hamlet at the play’s midpoint, it felt somehow too personal or too vivid, like reality was intruding into this corner of the world. I didn’t feel totally in control of the learning environment, so that diatribe served as the last straw: I pulled the plug on my short-lived attempt to integrate social media into the classroom, and things returned to the normal I knew and was comfortable with.

That was nearly three years ago, so I had plenty of time to reflect on what went wrong before launching a similar project at the start of the 2010-11 school year. Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far for feedback. The students let me know where I had gone awry in an anonymous survey I gave at the conclusion of Shakespeare on Facebook v1.0. They wrote of investing themselves in accounts by adding pictures, writing wall posts, and sending emails only to find that hard work edited or entirely deleted. They hammered home the point that they actually enjoyed their in-character interactions before I began over-moderating. No one was really bothered by anything that had been posted except me (and truth me told, I wasn’t bothered by the content so much as the possibility that other students might take offense). That extended to the parents, too. When I notified the parents of our verbose Hamlet that one of his Facebook posts could have caused offense, I could almost feel them shrugging at me through the phone, primarily because no one had actually been offended. I had to learn to let go, at least a little. I had to allow the students a greater say in their education.

Eventually, I felt compelled to try again. This time, before I so much as uttered the word “Facebook,” I had the students collaborate in groups to create several Acceptable Use policies for the character accounts they would soon be creating. I asked them to create a framework of what would and wouldn’t be acceptable in their character interactions, and I empowered them to delineate reasonable boundaries that wouldn’t stifle their creative output, but that would also satisfy the needs of their families and our institution. We then combined each groups’ work into one thorough, coherent policy. Our dean of students approved the students’ work, and before long students and their parents were digitally signing permission forms, propelling a plethora of counterfeit Claudiuses and faux Fortinbras into the social mediasphere.

The first version of the project was not substantially different from the second iteration in concept, content, or execution. The primary difference was my attitude, especially my approach to the input of my students. Once they took the lead, the project took off. Instead of acting as an overseer, I worked to be a facilitator. Instead of explaining why they couldn’t do certain things, I tried to consider the pedagogical value of student suggestions. Some of their ideas were less than pedagogically sound (to put it mildly) and some might’ve been legally actionable, but the best ones were incorporated into our project. When one student suggested we move the wall posting over to Twitter, I realized that they had taken ownership of the work and were now teaching me their best practices. The end result of our second Facebook project ultimately became something a source of pride for everyone, an energetic union of student creativity, teacher design, administrative vision, and institutional flexibility that illuminates many of the wonderful things we can achieve in a tech forward learning environment.