Final Project – Zen Facelift for One of Our Digital Citizenship Bootcamp Presentations

This course reinforced for me the importance of visual literacy for our students as well as the importance of making visually appealing presentations. I thought for this final project I would transform a previously text-based presentation that was collectively designed by our faculty for the student One to One digital citizenship bootcamp in our high school. The presentation is used for a short meeting with HS kids where they are intended to learn about protecting themselves on the web. It’s got good content, which is a great place to start, but I thought it could use a facelift to really pack the punch we are looking for. Here’s the original version. The new version is after the break…

The new version confirmed several things I knew about creating “zen” presentations. It takes time, lots of time. The text and embedded videos in the first presentation took time to think about and create, but that is really just phase one of a “zen” presentation. Phase two is making it visually appealing. That can take as much or more time than the actual “writing” of the presentation. In this case it certainly did take more time.

What’s missing here is the real live presenter. It’s a funny thing about hosting a “presentation zen” presentation online. They don’t always make the best presentations for viewing later online. The best presentations really have to be that magical combination of the presenter and the media. If it helps please imagine a fun, charismatic presenter that makes you feel the material in your soul!

I also suggest you view this Google Presentation’s notes. It will help tremendously you to understand what the teachers will see and communicate when they present this. You can view the notes by clicking the little settings wheel, then choosing “Open Speaker Notes” or you can just view it in the editor to see the notes as well. I hope you like the “zen-ness” an are inspired to make your own amazing presentations!

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The new Twitter profile page

Image Credit: davidwbeaty on Twitter

Image Credit: davidwbeaty on Twitter

 

Have you seen the new Twitter profile layout? It looks to me like the people at Twitter have stepped things up in the visual department. They’ve moved up from the older, more text-based profiles to a “big broad image” style profile page. This is yet one more example of how we seem images competing where it was formerly only text. I mean, this is Twitter, a simple 140 character microblog, yet they have moved up to a big bold image layout! Twitter is not alone in this trend. In fact the whole web is going visual. Some estimates even show as high as 90% of web traffic as being video. Obviously video takes up more bandwidth than static images, but if we group images in with video, really most of the web is some form of media. This is why, again, it is so important that our students are visual literacy experts!

 

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Finding the best tools – Infographic edition

image source: David Beaty

image source: David Beaty

I was in charge of making a poster for our AES Minicourse trip last year. The first thing I did was to visit the minicourse office. The trip coordinator had told us that there were images in her office that we could use for making our posters. “Drop by” she said. And I did, bringing my USB flash drive with me. As it turned out, she had images, actual photos printed on paper and some blank posterboard and glue sticks. Yes, glue sticks. “No self-respecting tech person is going to make their poster with actual posterboard and glue stick” I thought to myself.

So I decided to make an infographic. A few tweets and Google searches later turned up a pretty substantial list of websites and tools, so I set to work. Jeff Utecht, in his video on making visually appealing presentations mentions that these more visually appealing presentations take more time than the old style boring presentations and I can confirm that. By the time I was done downloading, registering and testing the various infographic tools I was great to run back to that posterboard and gluestick. I even at one point tried the “build it from scratch in Photoshop” technique. But I stuck with it (no gluestick pun intended) and in the end I was pretty happy with the result.

I tried to keep it simple, incorporate humor and yet make it interesting enough to catch a high schooler’s attention among the many other posters. These posters, some 22 or more in all, are all hung up together in the high school breeezeway so there is significant competition among them. Yes, the idea is just to inform students about the trip, but there is no doubt they are meant to entertain as well.

In the end I used easel.ly. It was cheap, the tools worked well and the design options were what I was looking for. Save yourself the trouble and go straight there if you are looking to create an infographic.

Have a look at the result above and let me know what you think.

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Dying for Better Presentations

It was a large ballroom. Men were in suits, women in business blazers. Big wine glasses filled with sparkling water. Smaller wine glasses filled with actual wine. Starched white table cloths. Fresh cut flowers on the table. It was a fantastic professional environment. The perfect setting to entertain, capture attention, bring the crowd to life. Except were were all dying. You guessed it: it was “Death by PowerPoint”. (I guess the flowers had a dual use)

And here’s the murder weapon. The actual presentation we sat through:

Names have been removed to protect the innocent. And please note this was a few years back and we have all gotten better now haven’t we? Honestly I hope so.

There’s something important to note about this experience: the speaker was actually very good. He had a good style of presenting and was funny when he needed to be. He actually did a fair job of using the following elements:

simplicity
unexpectedness
concreteness
credibility
emotions
stories

But the slide design was terrible. Honestly, scroll back up there and click through those slides again, all 54 of them. Do it. They are over-filled with text. The text does not flow or even match at times. There are bulleted lists, numbered lists, bulleted lists with boxes as bullets (nothing screams the 90s more than those box-style bullets) They are Franken-slides made from years of research.

As tempting as it is to re-make that slide show I cannot bring myself to do it, and I make plenty of presentations for other events so I thought I would add one of those here. It’s not perfect but is certainly a big step from the “Death by PowerPoint” you see above. This was a presentation that I collaborated on with some of our tech coordinators here at our school. We each did a part of the presentation. My slides are nothing but images. There are other slides that are images with a few bits of text. Other than the fact that is obviously mis-matched in its design (due to the fact that it was created by three people) I feel it’s a pretty good example of what a presentation can be. (may I suggest you use the settings icon to view the speaker notes, or you can hit the “s” key while moving through the presentation)

So you have an example of a good speaker with terrible slides and good slides with an average presenter (me). What’s the lesson here? You have to be able to design an eye-catching presentation. It really has to look great, right? But the real power is in the “performance” itself. I’ve seen crappy slides and a great presenter and it “worked”. People liked it, they learned, they walked away feeling good about the experience. But even the best slides in the world will fall flat if the speaker is not skilled. Look back at the list of elements of a great presentation above. Many of them are not directly about slides, though they can be applied in that way. They are mostly about the experience. So by all means please work on those slides. Focus on design. Kill the PowerPoint stereotype. But don’t leave the human presentation and style behind, it’s the real key to bring your presentation to life.

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Vine is the new Kudzo

(the above is a Vine from Tide that was used during the 2014 Superbowl as a competitor to traditional advertising)

If you have ever been to the southern United States you know what Kudzu is. Originally from Asia, the creeping choking weed has now made its mark on the US. Personally I feel like I am “home” when I see the huge sprawling vines covering the edges of the interstate each summer. It’s everywhere across the US, spreading like wild fire. Love it or hate it, kudzu is here to stay.

There’s another “plant” that seems to be spreading like kudzu: Vine. It’s the “new” (new-ish? middle aged? old?) short video sharing platform from Twitter. The concept is simple, you can record and share a short set of video frames that make a unique-looking video. 6 seconds, that’s all you get. Everyone wants in on the game. Instagram/Facebook, Whatsapp. They all have some kind of quick video option. So why is Vine on top right now? Why is the most emulated quick video? Why are advertisers jumping on this new form of media? Is it because it is different and trendy for now? Honestly I think only time will tell if it will really stay on top. Instagram has more users, but Vine still has the “shiny new cool thing” factor!

In its present state Vine looks a lot like YouTube. The popular videos are mostly people doing stupid things, saying ridiculous things, etc. Sure, there are the classy editor’s pics and the artsy “short film” genre Vines, but for some reason the highest view counts always go to the ridiculous clips. I’m not sure if that is more a statement on the tool as it is on our culture really. But Vine has a lot of potential. You can see that advertisers are already picking up on this new style of video. Lowes did a “Fix in Six” campaign last year which was the first of its kind. They challenged customers to create a 6-second Vine video of a way to fix something in their home. Look out for more and more of these kinds of ads that use cheaper, potentially “free” advertising methods.

I also see Vine’s influence on the rest of the web. It reminds me of the old days when animated gifs were new and popular. It’s funny, but the Vine movement for that reason makes me feel like I am taking a step back in time. So if animated GIFs faded away long ago, why are they making a comeback with Vine? Because it’s new and fun and trending, for this year. But will it stand the test of time, like the original vine, the old American kudzu?

I’d be interested in your opinion. Give a shout out via the comments below!

"kudzu" by Flickr user Kitten Wants

“kudzu” by Flickr user Kitten Wants

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The www.aes.ac.in overhaul

The web moves fast, very fast. Websites that were fresh a few years ago now look like they are from the ’90s. (in case you were not sure, in web years that is around the time the pyramids where built) I have a theory that a website lasts about as long as an iPhone. Sure you can make that old iPhone 3GS keep running, but it has started to feel pretty old hasn’t it? What? Your iPhone does not handle LTE? Time for an upgrade! I admit there is a delicate balance between a complete overhaul and a redesign. Google cannot completely redesign their search page every year or two or they will lose the consistency they need to maintain their customer base. But for schools things are different. I think a “new look” every 5 years or so (okay so that is a little longer than the lifespan of an iPhone) is a necessity and here at AES our website is overdue for an upgrade.

The Plan

Even though my first instinct is to start working on the look of the website, I know we need to first tackle its purpose. It seems like the current website was “designed by committee”. Sure there are lots of advantages to that. The workload is shared. People all feel heard and get their needs met. But in the end sometimes the “designed by committee” concept fails to pack the punch that a simpler, targeted website can provide. Our new website will not meet the same set of needs in the same ways. The current website was designed to be an all-in-one portal but our new goal is to simplify things. The first step for us was to identify the audience. We have decided at this point that this is primarily prospective families and faculty. This will be somewhat of a shift for us since the old/current website seeks to be everything for everyone. The new site will be simple in design and in it’s purpose. Yes, we will have to deal with a lot of that old content in some way and that will be a part of this overhaul.

Simple design is King

I truly want the new website to make everyone sees it say, “Wow”! Part of this, for me is to make the website simple with good hierarchy in mind. I am fascinated by the research out there on eye tracking and design. Specifically I am interested to see that people’s eyes are drawn not only to images, which is what I would have assumed, but also to text. Even the subtle differences in text styles, spacing etc. make a difference. I have to say, honestly I am struggling with the work of designing of our new website. In particular I am deciding whether to hire an outside designer or “go it alone” and handle the design internally. Many of the professional designs I see are not that appealing. They look like the same old designs just recycled, recolored, and reordered. I don’t mind using my previous school as an example. The new design is fantastic, but the basics are the same. New photos, a little shifting of links, etc. but the design is not radically different. I want radical and I am not sure the average professional web designer will be willing to take the risk to design what I want.

My plan is to fill the home screen with a nice bold image, with some “thrilling” elements as well. Some of my favorite inspiration comes from Apple’s “30 years” site and a BRCK. I love the simple design, with nearly zero clicking required for the primary content. You just scroll and things are revealed. You’ve heard that all the content on a website should be no more than two clicks away. My goal is zero clicks, just a scroll or hover for the primary content.

An evolution of the AES website

To get an idea of where you are headed, it’s always nice to take a look at where you have come from. I thought it might be nice to see what the AES website has looked like over the years. Below you’ll see snapshots of four different AES websites since 2000. I’ve have to say the design has been changed for the better over the years. Personally I cannot wait to see where we end up in this evolution!

www.aes.ac.in Year 2000

www.aes.ac.in circa 2000

www.aes.ac.in circa 2004

www.aes.ac.in circa 2004

www.aes.ac.in Year 2006

www.aes.ac.in circa 2006

www.aes.ac.in Year 2012

www.aes.ac.in circa 2012

So the process has just begun, but I think things will move along nicely once we get the basic purpose and design agreed upon. Our current timeline has the content and design issues solved before the end of May, then gives us a semester (until Dec. 2014) to get the actual site designed and built. Keep your eyes out for www.aes.ac.in in Jan 2015. Let’s hope you take a look and say, “Wow”!

 

 

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Crowdsourcing, Dengue and Design Thinking

[image credit: Flickr user DocJ96]

Part 1: The Need

In 2010 our family moved to India. We had lived in another developing country previously (Kenya) and so it did not seem like much of a stretch. After 6 years in Qatar we were ready for a little more of a “challenge” so to speak. In the months before our arrival in Delhi, my wife and I noticed a lot of discussions amongst the returning faculty and the newbies about dengue fever. I now know this is common every year. Someone asks on the forum, “Dear returning teachers, do I need to bring mosquito nets?” and the discussion turns to dengue within a few replies. I’ll admit it was a bit of a shock to find that this was a serious disease that many people contract. The fact that many people are out of work for weeks and that some people die made it even scarier. I had not affected my family personally until later that year.

My son had been sick for a few days, not extremely sick really, but still, he was sick. Then he added a rash to his list of symptoms. We had heard and seen what it was like to get dengue. Dengue is sometimes called the “breakbone fever” as your whole body is sore and your core temp is elevated. There’s also a rash that comes near the end of the illness. So we had him tested and sure enough he was positive for dengue. The good news is that dengue is often milder in young children so my son was not bed ridden or sick for many weeks. The worst part of the illness for me was that he had to have his blood drawn daily to make sure his platelet count was okay. When your platelets drop you are in greater danger and they can drop quickly so you have to draw blood from your arm fairly often. I think I failed to mention that my son was 4 years old at the time. If you have ever drawn blood from a 4 year old or you have ever had to assist in blood being drawn from a 4 year old you know how traumatizing that experience can be! In the end he did recover. His platelet count went back up and his happy smile returned. The rash was gone. We could stop the daily blood draw, which made all of us happy!

It was during this time that I, like most parents, started doing loads of research on dengue. Specifically I wanted to know how the disease was spreading around Delhi. Scouring the web, I could not find any websites with this kind of information. Printed newspapers are popular in India so I investigated those but the information was spotty there too. They reported an impossibly low number of cases in Delhi, nowhere near what the actual numbers must have been. And there was certainly no map included so that you could see where the cases were being reported in Delhi.

Then it hit me. I needed Ushahidi.

Part 2: The Idea

[image credit: Ushahidi.com]

[image credit: Ushahidi.com]

Ushahidi [oo-shah-hee-dee], which means “testimony” in Swahili, is an online platform for crowdsourcing, with a focus on mapping. It’s a both a website and the platform behind the website Crowdmap.com. Ushahidi came to life in 2008 in the East African nation of Kenya. It was an election year and having lived in Kenya I can confirm that election time means tensions are high. People tend to get very involved and things can turn violent across political parties and tribal lines. That year was no different except that a group of people, led by Erik Hersman, designed a way to help with this issue. The result of some quick thinking was the website Ushahidi.com. It gave the masses a way to report the good and the bad that was happening during the elections and added the benefit of geographically mapping the data (based on the user’s reported location) The Ushahidi team also incorporated an SMS shortcode system so that users without Internet access could still report incidents. Over 45,000 people contributed during this initial Ushahidi “crowdsourced crisis information” effort. The Ushahidi team has since opened up this platform to allow anyone to use it for crowdsourcing information. To date it has been used for things like the Mumbai bombings, Arab Spring, and the Tsunami of 2011 in Japan so I figured why not try it out with Indian dengue?

[image credit: crowdmap.com]

[image credit: crowdmap.com]

Recognizing that people may have trouble remembering the word “Ushahidi” the group has moved the public website to “Crowdmap.com“. Getting a basic site up and running was simple, but there are a some other bells and whistles that take some serious work. The SMS shortcode option for example means you need to work with a telcom company or shortcode service provider to get a shortcode system approved. Twitter integration requires a developer account on Twitter and you need to create API tokens and get them loaded into your dashboard at Crowdmap.com.

Over the course of this project I have configured the Twitter connection, generating the needed tokens and making the Crowdmap.com connection using the Twitter developer account and the API. This means that Twitter and Crowdmap now trust each other and are on speaking terms so to speak. Crowdmap can now follow a hashtag and use the information from any tweet that uses that hashtag as a report/data point.

I have also done the research on the shortcode feature and have managed to get some quotes and figure out how that system works. Basically a shortcode allows a user to send a SMS to a number (typically shorter than a regular phone number, thus the name “shortcode”) that contains the required information. More complex shortcode systems work more like 2-way SMS where users can submit a report, then the system replies with a menu of choices and the user replies with additional information such as the age of the infected person, their nearest street name etc. I have not followed through on the shortcode part only because it would cost money and I am not ready to fork out a couple of hundred dollars on this project quite yet. The shortcode service prices start at USD 50/month for a shared shortcode (other clients have the same numerical shortcode and your data is filtered by a keyword you select such as “indiadengue”) to several hundred dollars a month for a dedicated shortcode. In either case any SMS sent to the shortcode system gets routed to your online shortcode portal, then in turn that data gets routed to Crowdmap in the form of a report/data point. If anyone is serious about using Crowdmap in a developing country such as India I feel the shortcode MUST be implemented because so few people have reliable Internet connections.

Here’s a basic walk-through of the website I made on the Crowdmap platform. I talk you through the elements of the site and cover a bit of the Twitter integration too. Fullscreen is strongly suggested!

YouTube Preview Image

Imagine if the use of this tool became widespread across India. Imagine if the thousands of people that were stricken with dengue each year could all easily contribute their demographic information to a central data warehouse. This information could be used by local governments to know where to spray for mosquitoes, where to check for mosquito breeding grounds and large still bodies of water. I firmly believe it would make a significant impact on dengue and reduce the number of people that die each year because of this disease. Dengue must have a huge impact on the workforce as well. Imagine how we could cut down on the number of people that cannot report to work due to the illness. Eliminating dengue could also improve tourism. One less disease in India to worry about for travelers! The case could be made that it would even improve the economy in India due to international business and trade. A healthy country means more outside investors are willing to build in India. The list could go on and on, but I think the benefits of eliminating dengue are gigunda.

Part 3: Marketing

Now for the tough part, the marketing of the India Dengue Crowdmap. This was where the greatest learning has taken place for me on this project. The tool, the connection to the Twitter API, even the shortcode integration. They are all challenging but pretty straightforward, technical hurdles. It’s the marketing that presents the real challenge. Yes, you can tweet something out, but you don’t want to tweet too much, for fear of the dreaded “unfollow” that results from the mis-use of your Twitter network. No one wants to be seen as a salesperson, even for a non-profit project like this one. It’s true you could create a new account and tweet from there, but they you are starting over on your user base. Then there is email. I have emailed people directly asking if they want to be involved and asking if they knew how I could get in touch with the appropriate people in their area. One person did reply only to say they were too busy right now to work on the project. (I will send a followup email later) I could also just get out there and cold call people (or cold email). In New Delhi I think you may need to go with more traditional means of marketing like newspaper ads and mall promotions. I learned quickly that there is a load of work to be done in order to get something like this to gain momentum. It would take literally months to get a base large enough to make a project like this really come to life.

In order to make that happen I think you also need to be passionate and be willing to dedicate time to a project like this. I am passionate, but like many people I am not sure if I can dedicate months to this project in order for it to get off the ground.

Also what is needed here is some good market research. Again, it takes commitment and time. I realized as I worked on this project that it is so useful to have someone on the ground who knows the country, city, or community. My knowledge of India is limited. I don’t even speak Hindi and I have only a rudimentary knowledge of Indian culture. If this project were to advance, I would need a local partner who knew how to get things done in India. A perfect example of this would be contacting a local hospital to connect with them about advertising the site at their facility. Without knowledge of Hindi I know it would be tough for me to speak with anyone and communicate my message effectively. Even lack of knowledge of local customs may stand in the way of my progress.

It may be useful for me to talk with medical professionals for whom dengue is a part of their daily work. They could certainly offer insight into what types of information we should collect and display on indiadengue.crowdmap.com. They may even put their energy behind the project in terms of utilizing their connections and influence around India.

Overall I have learned that as much as I would like this Crowdmap site to just grow organically it appears that it will not. It would take some good old fashioned hard work and a lot of time to get it running well.

Part 4: The design thinking process and my big ideas

I’ve just recently had the chance to work with John Nash from the University of Kentucky on design thinking and I cannot resist tying that experience into this project. Admittedly I did not use the design process to create this “prototype”, but I think I could learn quite a bit by applying it. Essentially I moved straight to the prototype, but according to the design thinking (and Nash) the process is not too strict. Essentially that means I can continue to take this prototype and rework it, look at various points of view, deepen my understanding of the real needs, etc.

[image credit: Standford D.School]

In the end I learned (and will continue to learn) quite a bit from this project. Yes I had to learn how to use the toolsets. The Twitter API piece was particularly fun to learn and work on over the last few weeks actually. But I think the biggest take-aways for me are about the difficulty of marketing and the human element. The more I got into this project the more I realized that I need to know more about my target audience and really, truly learn how this disease affects India. I also need to know my market and get some help with strategies to help get the site some traffic. Tweeting is not enough. I need local connections and methods to get the Delhites to see the value of the site and even to understand how crowdsourcing works. It’s been a fun ride, and I may try and take Dengue in India to the next level, but I will have to take a serious look at my time and see if I have it in me to continue the work. Meanwhile I will continue to tweet about it and look for ways to get the site publicized. At least if you happen to get dengue yourself, you know where to go: our crowdsourced Dengue in India website!

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It’s not just for the students and teachers: Another perspective on privacy

Target was targeted. [image credit: ask.com]

A colleague of mine recently sent me a link about a Common Sense Media statement about the weak state of data privacy in schools. The main idea behind the statement (summarized here by NPR) is that schools are doing a less than stellar job protecting the privacy of their students’ data. This article piqued my interest since we here at AES have recently dealt with a few hacking/privacy issues. This recent issue has made me look at all of our policies and agreements around privacy and student/family data. As a result I’m starting the process of doing an informal security audit. So far I am finding the deeper I dig, the more areas there are to investigate. I am working through our business office, facilities management office, and of course the main tech office and beyond. There are so many systems here at AES that it will take some time to complete even this informal audit. I’m already feeling like I am going to need an 3rd party to complete a security audit.

The first place I looked is at our school information system, Veracross. Here’s a copy of the privacy agreement (a section of our contract with them)

6. Intellectual Property
B&C shall retain all right, title and interest in and to the B&C Technology and the System, and Client shall retain all right, title and interest in and to the Client Data.
7. Confidential Information
(a) Each party acknowledges that it will have access to certain confidential information of the other par- ty concerning the other party’s business, plans, Clients, resellers, technology, and products, and other information held in confidence by the other party (“Confidential Information”). Confidential Information will include all information in tangible or intangible form that is marked or designated as confidential or that, under the circumstances of its disclosure, should be considered confidential. Confidential Information will also include the Database, Client Data, and the B&C Technology. Each party agrees that it will not use in any way, for its own account or the account of any third party, except as expressly permitted by, or required to achieve the purposes of, this Agreement, nor disclose to any third party (except as required by law or to that party’s attorneys, accountants and other advisers as reasonably necessary), any of the other party’s Confidential Information and will take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality of such information that are at least as stringent as it takes to protect its own Confidential Information. Within 30 days after termination of this Agreement, each party shall return to the other party (or, at that party’s option, destroy) all Confidential Information of the other party then remaining in its possession.
(b) Information will not be deemed Confidential Information hereunder if such information: (i) is known to the receiving party prior to receipt from the disclosing party directly or indirectly from a source other than one having an obligation of confidentiality to the disclosing party; (ii) becomes known (independently of disclosure by the disclosing party) to the receiving party directly or indirectly from a source other than one having an obligation of confidentiality to the disclosing party; (iii) becomes publicly known or otherwise ceases to be secret or confidential, except through a breach of this Agreement by the receiving party; or (iv) is independently developed by the receiving party. The receiving party may dis- close Confidential Information pursuant to the requirements of a governmental agency or by operation of law, provided that it gives the disclosing party reasonable prior written notice sufficient to permit the disclosing party to contest such disclosure.

Do you like the fine print? :-) It basically states that we agree to keep what we know about Veracross’s software and processes private and they agree to keep our data private. The main issue for me is, what happens if they don’t keep our data private? History shows that even major companies cannot keep their data private, right? I think the only thing going for Veracross and AES is that overall there is not a high demand for our data. Credit card information from Target is simply worth more on the black market.

Honestly data security is not something that I thought much about before signing a contract with Veracross. Yes, I did read the contract, but I never once asked them about the real world practices of their company that are in place to protect our students’ data. It’s something that I need to do for all of our systems, but it takes time. Once you start digging into these issues, you feel like you are going to need a personal data security specialist (and a lawyer) to complete the process! We cannot afford to ignore it however. As a school, we are, in the end, responsible for the data we maintain. So I suggest we need to expand the discussion beyond just personal privacy for students and teachers to the privacy of the data housed in our systems at school. This of course hits home to me as the Director of Technology at AES. Now that I have opened this can of worms I will have to deal with it. Looks like I have some work to do!

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The Power of the Link

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dieselbug2007/

Thanks to Flickr user dieselbug2007

The year was 1998. It was my first year in Kenya and I was teaching 7th grade science, HS Physical Science, Auto Mechanics and Computer Applications. I was also working on the tech team. We had a dial-up connection to Nairobi that was used exclusively for email. Yes you could access the Internet via a dial up connection as well, but the speed would be extremely slow (9600 bps on a good day) and the typical phone call to Nairobi was disconnected every 5 minutes. Even our mail server connection was constantly getting bumped offline and having to re-dial the main server in Nairobi.

The Internet was not fast where my wife and I had come from in Kentucky, especially compared to today’s speeds that are approaching 100Mbs for residential connections (much faster where fiber exists), but at least it you could keep a persistent connection. Yes moving to Kenya was a tough transition, especially for a techie. I remember teachers driving to a little Internet cafe in Nairobi and downloading copies of websites. I did it myself several times. We’d download a whole site (and as many linked pages as were possible using a web crawler app) and then upload it to a local web server on campus back in Kijabe, Kenya. We’d then talk kids through this sort of surreal experience of the “fake Internet”. Lots of the links on the home page worked but anything beyond a one layer deep was typically broken.

Imagine yourself browsing the web tonight. You do a quick search for “tech conferences in Africa”. An appealing list of upcoming events pop up in the results. You click on the top hit, but it takes you nowhere. Instead you get an error reporting that “This browser supports only one level of hyperlinks”. Frustrated you click <back> and search for “error: this browser supports only one level of hyperlinks” hoping, of course, to find a solution. The third hit looks appealing, “SOLVED!: This browser supports only one level of hyperlinks ERROR”. You click optimistically on that link, but of course that dreaded error comes back! It all sounds like a bad dream because we are so accustomed to the power of the link.

The power of the link. It’s a simple power, but it’s what makes the web so amazing. Without it, you are alone on an island. (Okay maybe stranded on an island with some other  people) It’s a power we are all accustomed to; those of you who are reading this blog at least. Today it’s hard to imagine being able to do my job without all those hyperlinks working! But not only do I have thousands of answers at my fingertips, but I have the power of ideas at my fingertips too. In the beginning it was answers/information we were all excited about finding. Reading the news. Finding a lost instruction manual online. Things like that. But now we are realizing the real power of the link. The power that keeps growing with every click. It’s the sharing of ideas. It’s the limitless learning. Powers like those are powers of connection. And human connections are still fundamental to the way we live. It’s just as true today as it was back in Kenya and before the world wide web. So go on, click something and connect yourself to ideas, to people, to the world.

 

 

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Flappy Bird and hard work

Flappy Bird - Dong Nguyen © 2013 .GEARS Studios

Flappy Bird – Dong Nguyen
© 2013 .GEARS Studios

Surely you’ve seen the new number on app, “Flappy Bird”. It’s rise to number one has taken 6 months, and for good reason: it’s hard. VERY hard. It’s that difficulty that makes it so fascinating to me that it has reached #1 on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. (as of Feb. 3, 2014) It’s rise to #1 proves that people like hard work. It’s satisfying to work really hard, trying over and over again to make it through those menacing pipes. I admit, it is also a little frustrating! The first couple of times I played I thought I was doing something wrong actually, but it is just plain hard. I love that people enjoy the difficulty and have taken the challenge head on. Scores like “20” are something to be proud of. In fact when you get past the first pipe you jump for joy!

It’s just one more piece of evidence that supports the growing body of evidence about how good games can be good for our students. Working really hard to get a decent score in Flappy Bird shows grit, determination and perseverance. Sure, it’s just a goofy bird that does not fly very well, but in the end that little Flappy Bird teaches us to hold on, keep trying and in the end we maybe, just maybe will get through more than one of those pipes. Go on, download it and see if you don’t agree with me.

Flappy Bird on Google Play

Flappy Bird on Apple’s App Store

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