Digitally inept: Why I canceled the Seattle Times

August 19th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewMemo to newspapers aspiring to be “new media:” It’s not just cutting-and-pasting your journalism into a digital format. It’s the entire mobile-plus-digital subscriber experience.

Over at GeekWire, I explain that’s the reason why I finally canceled my Seattle Times subscription. Bad e-mail and online billing experience. Bad Android app experience. And a mystifying vacation stop policy that itself just … stopped. If a paying customer wants to have an equivalent subscriber digital experience with a newspaper as they do by going full-paper (for bills and news access), they aren’t going to get it at the Seattle Times.

So, in frustration, after seven years of paying, I canceled. And it led to a flurry of comments, including a couple directly from the Seattle Times. For one, Editor Kathy Best:

“… I agree completely that our mobile experience needs to be miles better than it is today. That’s why we teamed up with Ratio to produce a app for Windows 8.1-enabled tablets and phones that launched a few weeks ago. Although that’s a small segment of the market, the project allowed us to develop skills that are helping us with the much bigger, much more complicated and much-needed conversion of to a responsive site complete with search capability that will allow readers to quickly and easily surface stories, listings and visual content. No one wants that to happen more quickly than our newsroom. We are producing compelling photos, videos and interactive graphics to complement our enterprise, features and investigative reporting. We want to give readers an immersive reading experience that combines all those elements. And we can’t wait for a responsive design that will seamlessly lead people through the multiple layers of our site on every screen size.”

While I didn’t criticize the digital or print content (I thought it was clear it was acceptable, since I was actually paying to read it for seven years), Best went on to defend the content, accurately pointing out there’s much more on the web than in print. As there should be. But Seattle Times Customer Relations Manager Dayne Turgeon did address one of my other key points:

“Regarding our e-billing solution, you are 100% correct – it is less than customers deserve and expect from us. As a result of our recently having simplified our sign-in process, our prior, better solution for billing was lost. While the sign-in change drove significant customer improvements, we lost some functionality in this one area. We are currently working to provide an e-bill solution that will better serve customers and expect it to be in place within the next few months.”

Other readers pointed to revenue, news content and other issues (none of which I addressed, because hell, it’s my column, and my personal newspaper subscriber perspective here). But they made for a vigorous back-and-forth with 35 comments so far. My favorite non-specific one? “I am Groot!”Newspapersurvey2

An unexpected coda to my column arrived in my e-mail inbox three days after my commentary posted. It was an invitation to take part in a detailed web survey about online versus print news preferences … which, based on the questions, was at the behest of the Seattle Times.

So perhaps I’m not the only one frustrated, and the digital subscriber experience isn’t the only trigger for more needed changes at this major metropolitan news organization.

Read, “Digitally clueless: Why I finally canceled the Seattle Times,” at GeekWire.

Libraries tackle the Internet’s big lie

August 11th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewCall it the myth of the level playing field. Just put something on the web, and billions of [fill in the blank] will have access to it.

Access, yes. But you won’t necessarily have their attention.

Over at GeekWire, I examine one effort to surmount this hurdle. The Seattle Public Library has launched a unique program to encourage more local authors to self-publish eBooks with a new partner, Smashwords. That, by itself, is of interest. But what makes it fascinating is that the library has turned it into a contest, with plans to select three of the self-published works to feature in its library-wide eBook circulation catalog.SeattleWriteslogosmall

The result, once the contest results are announced November 15, will likely be something far more valuable to a writer than access. It will be readers.

And it’s a model for author+library driven publishing and distribution that can be replicated by libraries nationally and, potentially, worldwide. (There’s clearly some interest; my GeekWire column on the topic has been recommended nearly 500 times on Facebook and tweeted more than 250 times so far, often by other libraries and by author’s groups).

Read, “How the Seattle Public Library is helping authors overcome the Internet’s big lie,” at GeekWire.

OER and paid content learn to play nicely

July 28th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterThe digital materials school playground is one of uneasiness, as traditional paid resources and Open Educational Resources (OER) figure out how to play nicely together. But they keep encountering three hazards: platforms, sustainability, even definitions.

Over at EdSurge, I examine each of these issues with experts who have current roles or backgrounds in traditional publishing, OER advocacy and edtech software. The upshot: the two forms of digital instructional content are getting closer to cooperating in schools, but in the near term playtime may be a bit unruly.

This column has its roots in the opening keynote session I led at the 2014 Content in Context conference, an annual industry event hosted by the Association of American Publishers preK-12 Learning Group (formerly the Association of Educational Publishers). 500px-OER_Logo.svgAs with most sessions I moderate, I eschew PowerPoint. It makes for a much livelier session, but also means I have to record — and transcribe — the proceedings if I plan to do anything with the results later. (I recommend the Tascam DR-40 digital audio recorder, by the way: adjustable microphones, rugged and hand-held.)

So is OER a threat or an opportunity for traditional education companies? A few transcribed quotes that didn’t make it into the finished post:

Dan Caton, former president of Pearson Learning Group and McGraw-Hill School Education, and now president of Wittel/Morris Strategic Consulting: “For core curriculum, if the Open Educational Resources community gets its act together, it’s a tremendous threat” to traditional publishers.“It’s surprisingly good content … sometimes.” And in its current state, as “supplemental content, it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design for DreamBox Learning and a former math teacher:  Companies need to ask themselves, “What do you bring to your classroom that teachers can’t get for free on the Internet? … When we piece together either print resources or digital resources, we wrongly think about learning as incrementally just going through a series of activities.”

Tom Woodward, former director of instructional technology with Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, now at Virginia Commonwealth University:  With OER and traditional publisher content, “There’s a large continuum with lots of gray in between.” For companies looking at integrating the two, “There’s lots of opportunity, because this is a very difficult thing to do.”

And one closing note: This post marks my final regular column for EdSurge. Matters of both time and focus require me to step back from my writing sideline somewhat. But there’s an EdSurge archive of my contributions to date.

Read, “The unruly playground: free OER and paid digital materials,” at EdSurge.

Facebook, you are dead to me

July 26th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewIt’s done. After eight years, I’m off Facebook.

It’s not a move I made lightly. It has nothing to do with Facebook’s ongoing privacy challenges, or a recently reported (and admitted) psychological experiment that toyed with what Facebook users see to determine if the display could affect emotions. None of that.

I dropped Facebook, as I explain on GeekWire, because it simply ceased keeping a core promise: that it would let me easily and quickly see what my friends and family were doing in my News Feed, in a straightforward, full, reverse chronological way.

FacebookDeactivate3I actually waited 24 hours after the column appeared before deactivating my Facebook account. The process was simple, and I made sure I took a step that’s a good idea for anyone to take (whether you leave Facebook or not): archiving all my Facebook uploads. You can find how to do that under Settings: General on your Facebook profile; it’s “Download a copy of your Facebook data” on the bottom of the main screen.

Facebook may be making boatloads of money. But if reaction to my column on Twitter and GeekWire is any indication, it’s not because people are ecstatically happy with what Facebook has to offer. It’s because they don’t think they have a choice because of Facebook’s extreme “network effect” reach and lock on that network of family and friends.

Read, “Facebook, you are dead to me … for now,” at GeekWire.

I see dead words: terms tech has left behind

June 14th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewZombies walk among us. And you may encounter one when you open your mouth, if your talk references dated tech.

Over at GeekWire, I take to task some common terminology by examining its linguistic and technological origins. And, of course, I offer helpful alternatives for “cc:,” “dial a number,” “next slide” and two other terms.

However, there was a sixth “outdated” term that I had to dump before the column was submitted, because when I did further research, I discovered I (and others who had suggested it) were, well, wrong.

The original unedited text?

“Ditto” to something. We’ve all typed it or said it in utter shorthanded agreement: “ditto.” As in to duplicate. As in a Ditto (yes, proper noun) master.

Because Dittos were a 20th century technology for making – again, pre- cheap photocopy or computer – copies. They required typing or writing on a special Ditto master, with a dense waxy layer, often purple, on its reverse side. When the protective sheet was removed from the back of the master and the master was attached to a rotating drum, remarkably clear spirit fluid transferred whatever what was imprinted on the master to multiple sheets of paper, until the waxy substance was depleted and you only got faded duplicates.

I only say the spirit fluid was remarkable because it had certain properties I suspected that, if inhaled, would explain the behavior of those teachers I recall who hung around the machine much of the school day. And it was legal. only problem with this entire section? “Ditto” and the typographical mark which sports the same name date back to 1625 in English usage. It was not a term based on 20th century technology, but on centuries-older language and typography.

Of course, I only discovered this pesky reality after I’d drafted the column and was doing a final fact-check.

Facts: those double-edged swords that either provide the foundation, or the undoing, of a columnist’s work. Despite their annoying nature in this case, I still prefer relying on them.

Read, “I see dead words: Terminology that technology has left behind” over at GeekWire.

It was 20 years ago (almost) today …

June 9th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

I recently realized I have passed a milestone: It has been 20 years since my first regular tech column.

PapersBack then, it was for Eastsideweek, one-time sister paper to Seattle Weekly (and my editor was the irrepressibly intelligent Knute “Skip” Berger). Turns out even then I was writing on a personal computer, likely my Apple II — and I still have the text file on my current laptop.

Since that four-year-long weekly adventure, I’ve been a regular contributor or columnist, in roughly sequential order, to Seattle Weekly, Puget Sound Business Journal, KCPQ-TV Seattle, TechFlash, MindShift, GeekWire and EdSurge (the last two are my current regular columnist digs). My writing for GeekWire probably is the most direct successor to the approach and tone I set two decades ago, to GeekWire’s benefit or otherwise.

So here it is: the very first Byte Me column from May 11, 1994. Yes. The Internet has improved since then. Except for the “hot burner” part.

Byte Me
or, Dispatches from the Digital Frontier

The Internet as Goat Trail Read the rest of this entry »

The “believability barrier” to tech adoption

June 8th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterCustomers aware of product? Check. Product works as advertised? Check. Customers believe the product works as advertised? Uh oh.

The believability barrier is where edtech (and other tech) products can get stuck.

Over at EdSurge, I look at this ongoing challenge for any new technology through the lens of two technologies that have been turned into education products or services: online proctoring in higher ed, which has recently surmounted the barrier, and automated essay scoring in K-12, which is still scaling it.

By English: Cpl. Patrick Fleischman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""><img width="512" alt="USMC-090507-M-3035F-562" src="//

(Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Even if/when a technology product or service hurdles the barrier, it doesn’t mean that tech is appropriate for every use in every situation. Actually, often what makes it possible to make it around that third obstacle is creators and users of a new tech figure out where it will work the best, neither over-promising nor over-criticizing what it can or cannot do.

Automated essay scoring, for example, appears to be settling into a position that requires a human touch, both so machine and human scorer backstop each other, and so humans provide deep feedback when the technology is used to encourage student writing practice. (The human part delights me, of course, as a one-time fiction and current column writer.)

Read, “The believability barrier: automated essay scoring,” at EdSurge.

Lies my Fitbit tells me

May 27th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewThose little tickles in the back of your mind that tell you a relationship may not be quite what you expected? I can no longer ignore them. They’re the lies my Fitbit tells me.

Over at GeekWire, I analyze my “relationship” with my Fitbit Zip (after I lost 25 pounds using the MyFitnessPal app), and find it lacking based on battery life, accuracy and, well, expectations.

In the lively comments, I’m taken to task about one flaw I cited:FitbitZip

“You’re getting too popular?” – Honestly? What sort of hipster crap is this? If a product works, it works, you’re not some special snowflake that deserves a unique fitness monitoring device. If you really want to feel unique, go back to doing it by hand.

To which I responded:

The problem is that Fitbit Zip’s actual battery life is half of what’s claimed, that questionable accuracy of fitness trackers is well-documented (even with regular step walking), and the popularity of many fitness trackers may be unearned based on realistic (or unrealistic) buyer expectations, and that’s why they’re “too popular.” Hipster suspicions aside.

I’ve got to be more careful with that “too popular” line in the future. Really, it’s “too popular based on expectations” or “too popular for perhaps the wrong reasons.”

Oh. And I’m not breaking up with my Fitbit. I think a little honesty is good in a relationship.

Read, “Lies my Fitbit tells me,” over at GeekWire.

Do edtech products need Open Badges?

May 23rd, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdNET logoMozilla’s Open Badges provide portable proof of competence for students earning them and can live on outside of the issuing edtech product or platform. So should education companies adopt them?

Over at EdNET Insight News Alerts, I briefly define what Open Badges are, and offer my take on the pros and cons for education startups and established firms.

In brief: Open Badges are part of an open technical standard, free for anyone to use, to create digital badges that represent some kind of underlying knowledge, skill or accomplishment. There’s embedded information (metadata) in each Open Badge image that makes it easy to verify and hard to counterfeit. OpenBadges_Insignia_EarnOur_Banner

So, if an organization is already thinking of adding some kind of badging system to its product or platform to mark learner participation or mastery, or to provide motivation to progress, why not?

As a side note, the EdNET Insight post actually is a follow up to my EdNET 2013 conference presentation on Open Badges in September 2013. Open Badges have gained a fair amount more traction since then, and while certainly not ubiquitous, uptake is going in the right direction.

I’m not done with Open Badges, either. I’ve just completed a (cough) 35+ page detailed Insight Report for EdNET Insight that goes into some depth, with examples, on Open Badges for a non-techie education business audience. Plans are for it to be published in early July as part of the EdNET Insight market research service.

But in the meantime, whet your appetite with, “We don’t need no … Wait. Maybe we do,” over at EdNET Insight News Alerts.

That elusive edtech “bubble”

May 23rd, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterThere’s a bubble in education technology. No there isn’t. Yes there is. Well, maybe sorta kinda … depending on how you define “bubble.”

MrBubbleYup. Clearly (if you can use that word), that’s where we are in the debate over an edtech bubble. Bubble chatter was one of the areas of interest at the Software and Information Industry Association’s annual Education Industry Summit in San Francisco.

Over at EdSurge, I recap the top developments (bubbles, data and awards) at what used to be called the “Ed Tech Industry Summit.” It was an industry event at which hype took a back seat to struggling with, and discussing, issues surrounding technology in education.

Plus, of course, an event at which the industry honored what it considers the best in edtech products and services, some of the most promising startups, and a handful of high-profile awards for individual contributions to edtech.

Read, “SIIA Education Industry Summit: data, bubbles and kudos” over at EdSurge.

Microsoft’s newest education strategy

May 23rd, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewMicrosoft and education have an inconsistent and varied history. But Microsoft has waded into the education pool anew with its “Office Mix” add-in for PowerPoint.

Over at GeekWire, I took an advance look at the new — and free — tool. Essentially, it adds a ribbon to PowerPoint (the Office 2013 or Office 365 version is required) that allows educators to integrate tests, exercises, video, narration, and animation (for simulations, for example) within a PowerPoint file, then distribute the link to students so they can interact with the lesson on the web.

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Couldn’t this also be used by NON-educators?”

Indeed. It’s free, and freely available. But in my interview with a Microsoft exec, he made it clear that education and instructors were the “North Star” for Office Mix as a key, and primary, audience.

Office Mix also marked Microsoft’s partnerships with two education content non-profits, CK-12 Foundation and Khan Academy. From a brief on EdSurge:

James Tynan of Khan Academy told EdSurge columnist Frank Catalano it’s not every Khan video or interactive exercise, but Mixers will have direct access to “pretty much all of the videos we have created” and a “significant chunk” of the exercises, numbering respectively in the thousands and hundreds.

Read, “Microsoft wades into education again with ‘Office Mix’ tool for PowerPoint,” at GeekWire. And check out the additional detail at Edsurge.

A field guide to industry edu conferences

May 18th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterThose industry-focused education conferences. EdNET. SIIA. CiC. GSV. SXSWedu. If you’re an entrepreneur or a teacher, how do you navigate them? (Let alone unpack the acronyms.)

Over at EdSurge, I’ve produced a sort of field guide to five of the most prominent in the U.S., all of which I’ve attended, some for many years.

The guide is from the standpoint of a startup entrepreneur or an educator who may little familiarity with the conferences aimed at companies and organizations that serve the eduSXSWedulogocation/edtech market. The calculus will be different for, say, an established company evaluating the five.

The guide doesn’t include the very many conferences aimed at teachers and other educators directly (like ISTE), though admittedly, it’s a continuum, as some conferences like SXSWedu straddle both sides.

So remember the lens as you read: for entrepreneurs and educators, and listing from broadest focus/newest events to the narrowest focus/most established events.

Now click over for, “An opinionated field guide to industry education conferences,” at EdSurge.

Edtech entrepreneur wannabe? It’s crowded

May 17th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewYes, I’ve been in education technology for two decades. Yes, it occasionally exasperates as much as it delights. And yes, all of that was front-and-center at last month’s ASU+GSV Education Innovation Summit.

Over at GeekWire, I provide my take on the conference held in the Phoenix area. And offer three observations for would-be education entrepreneurs which might be summed up as:GSVslide

  • prepare for the bubble,
  • all “education” markets are not alike, and
  • learn at least a little bit of the decades of edtech history so you can ground yourself in customer expectations.

Not that anyone will actually listen.

Read, “An open letter to wannabe edtech entrepreneurs: Welcome to the crowd, ” over at GeekWire.


Three steps for activating student data

April 27th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterWe fear what we don’t understand. And nowhere is that more evident in education than in the debate over storing, connecting and actively using student data.

Over at EdSurge, I round up the latest developments and issues, and call for the education industry and education administrators to move beyond mere transparency to describe the tangible for digital data in three baby steps. Define the product. Lay down the limits. Stop hiding.

The idea for this column came about in a talk I gave on the topic to the Acer Education Advisory Council’s annual summit the same April week. In the presentation and discussion, it became apparent that there was a disconnect even within school districts about digital data: curriculum directors tended to be the ones to specify which digital instructional tools would be used in the classroom, but if there was a breach or other problem with the digital data these tools generated, it was the technology directors who were often on the hook.

Basic RGBAt the very least, there needed to be a stronger connection between technology directors advising curriculum directors on best practices for educational data. And that connection may be more tenuous, in some cases, than anyone would care to see right now.

Factor in the education technology industry, and it becomes a not-so-simple three-part problem (or four-part, once you add in government regulations and laws). But one that needs to move from a “we’ll deal with it when we have to” to a “we’ll get ahead of it now before it’s more of a problem” issue.

And it’s worth noting as a coda: Less than two days after my column was published, one of the cautionary tales cited — the non-profit student data warehouse inBloom — announced it was shutting down. In part, it seems, due to some of the very same issues that remain unresolved.

Read, “Student Data: Moving Past Transparent to Tangible,” at EdSurge.

Phished, caught and embarassed

April 20th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewNSA. Target. Heartbleed. All are potential breaches of our personal data that are beyond our control.

Then there’s individual stupidity. My stupidity, with my smartphone, and my personal data.

Over at GeekWire, I detail how I got reeled in by an automated survey smartphone phishing scam, one of the latest tricks in a never-ending game of bait-and-catch that evolves as rapidly as technology. And to think I got stung by this, even I avoided even the notorious “Windows tech support” phone scam earlier.


Learn from my public disclosure, details and dismay. Don’t fall for it. (For the record, T-Mobile was spectacularly helpful and polite in assisting me in securing my account with a verbal password and listening to me self-berate over my lapse.)

Read, “Phished! Lessons learned from my smartphone stumble,” at GeekWire.

Edtech startups, now with teachers inside!

April 19th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterIt’s become clear that if an education technology startup wants to have an impact on classrooms today, it must have teachers directly or indirectly involved in the company. But does that hold true for those looking at longer time horizons?

Over at EdSurge, I examine teachers in startup roles through the microcosm of five companies presenting at the NY Edtech Startup Showcase in March.


All had teachers involved in some way: as early adopters (pretty typical), as hands-on product consultants and advisers, or — at one extreme — as full-time co-founders. (Of course, for the last case to work, a teacher may need to become a former teacher.)

Now think, in their respective industries, about what the founders of Nest, Tesla, Uber and, uh, Apple’s iTunes had in common. And then extrapolate.

While having current teachers on board helps edtech startups better understand what’s needed in classrooms in the near-term, in some cases it may actually work against efforts to transform (rather than just support) education practice in the long-term. If, that is, the latter is the true objective, versus just making a nice living and helping spur incremental change.

Read, “Teachers Not (Necessarily) Included,” over at EdSurge.

Amazon: Edtech’s passive lurker arises

April 1st, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterIf you want to understand Amazon’s strategy in education with the Kindle, remember what Amazon is good at: delivering paid digital content. And then you might forget about who makes the tablet that displays the content. Instead, focus on the Kindle Reading App.

71MP0iAoVpL._AA160_Over at EdSurge (and in a slightly edited re-post at GeekWire), I pull together the various moves Amazon has made in K-12 education over the past year or so, and tie them up with a bow that is Amazon’s announcement it is distributing hundreds of textbook titles digitally to teachers in Brazil, delivered not necessarily on Kindle tablets, but on the Kindle Reading App on government-issued Android tablets.

This isn’t necessarily Amazon’s only education technology strategy. But it’s one that makes sense, especially in markets where the objective is to deliver digital content more than to sell low-margin tablet hardware.

Read, “Amazon’s Rising Edtech Play” at EdSurge, and “Amazon: Education’s passive lurker gets aggressive” at GeekWire, if for no other reason than to compare and contrast reader comments.

First, we kill all the futurists

March 23rd, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewBorne out of frustration from too many lame conference keynotes: It’s time to kill ‘futurists.’ Not individuals. The title.

Over at GeekWire, I take on the frequently vapid job title of ‘futurist.’ While there may be some who wear this label and have actual supporting credentials, too often it seems to be used by the puffed up who are promoting a self-published book or conference keynote business. They are only futurists because they claim to be.

More interesting are those who are envisioning the future and working to create it, not just talk about it. And, as I note in several column examples, they use different, more meaningful titles. I draw a distinction between the title and the activity.

By Valueyou at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons course, not everyone agrees. And it is a continuum. For example, there is a carve-out for paid, published science-fiction writers who occasionally call themselves ‘futurists’ too (David Brin and Brenda Cooper come to mind). But they have strong scientific or technical backgrounds and do far more than serve up warmed-over popular tech.

Readers of my column also had carve-outs of their own. Two notable comments on the continuum:

“There is an automatic framing of expectations for an audience when the term futurist is used. That’s what makes the term useful. And that also makes it incumbent upon the person claiming that moniker to then deliver something new, challenging confronting about the futures that are possible. To do it well means relevant for the specific audience.”

“There is such a thing as a credentialed futurist. And there are, in fact, graduate schools in the US and around the world that offer graduate degrees in futures studies. (In the US, it’s the University of Houston and the University of Hawaii.) There’s also a small professional organization — the Association of Professional Futurists — that’s attempting to set some benchmarks and standards on what a futurist is and does.”

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that ‘futurist’ used to mean something else entirely. In the early part of the 20th century, there was an art and social movement, begun in Italy, called futurism whose adherents were known as ‘futurists.’ But even though it was very different (and ultimately wound up leading to support of political fascism),  at least the best members of the artistic movement created something new, not an inflated amalgamation of what already existed.

Read, “First, we kill all the ‘futurists‘,” at GeekWire.

‘Innovative’ K-12 tests always around the corner

March 16th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterIn a workplace or higher education world of advanced test questions that approach full simulations, why are so many K-12 school tests so, well, Scantron? Blame time, money and appropriateness.

Over at EdSurge, I examine the reasons why what had been called “innovative test items” (now, over time, being re-phrased to “technology-enhanced items”) are the types of questions we don’t routinely see on tests in K-12 classrooms. Bubble sheets still rule, and it’s not because there aren’t alternatives, even established ones.


One especially fascinating workshop session at the Association of Test Publishers’ Innovations in Testing conference in early March examined six now-common categories of technology-enhanced questions – hot spot, video, short answer, drag and drop, audio and multiple response (which a presenter noted were sometimes incorrectly, and amusingly, called ‘multiple multiple choice’).

One of the two session speakers, Cynthia Parshall of CBT Measurement , said test taker unfamiliarity with new test question types and their potentially complex interfaces was slowly being eroded by consumer technology. “The whole world of Swyping is making drag and drops more intuitive,” Parshall noted.

That said, going beyond simple text-based multiple choice (which assessment professionals call “selected response,” as opposed to “constructed response,” the latter in which the test taker has to build or create a correct answer without choosing from a list of options) has its own challenges. For example, Parshall cited quality assurance when sound is involved: “For one item, the stem (written question introduction) referred to a ‘he,’ and the audio was a female voice.” The learning curve with new kinds of technologies for test questions goes beyond the test taker.

The lack of advanced test question types in K-12, however, is likely to start changing with the introduction of the online-only student assessments from the two Common Core assessment consortia. But the obstacles to widespread adoption in K-12 are pretty steep.

Read, “‘Innovative’ K-12 Tests: Almost Always Just Around the Corner,” at EdSurge.

Is sexism in tech forever?

March 13th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewGenerational blindness: Is sexism in tech forever?” was a very hard column to write, literally months in the making. But it turned into something more thoughtful than had I rushed into ranting about it, as I’d originally planned.

Over at GeekWire, I’ve taken a look at the frustrating issue in the tech industry of continuing sexism, and the fitful progress that’s been made over two decades.

To peel back the pixels a little bit: Last fall, I got increasingly pissed off about continued, clueless “brogrammer” behavior, and parallels ran through my mind about similar issues in the mid-1990s during the start of the dot-com boom. I figured there had to be other parallels for other topics, so I drafted an email to several long-time tech reporters and columnists I knew:

By Wuyouyuan (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Wuyouyuan [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I keep seeing issues come up that I thought were on their way to being settled nearly two decades ago in tech. Troublesome issues, like overt sexism in the industry, using technology not to assist but to replace teachers, and the rise of tech hype or investment bubbles.

So I’m posing a question to a handful of long-time tech observers/ journalists I know well:

What tech industry issue that is hot or divisive now did you think we had solved two decades ago? And WHY didn’t it STAY solved?

The email went out. With one exception (“passwords”), the response was crickets.


Maybe sexism was the right primary focus. And maybe I simply didn’t feel my observations alone were sufficient. I started by reaching out to journalist and education technology rabble-rouser Audrey Watters, who (on the record) described to me how the current climate had affected her:

I had to close comments on my blog because of this. And it wasn’t my coverage of education or even ed-tech that prompted it. It was my post on Codecademy.

I didn’t just get comments that said my criticisms of Codecademy were wrong or unfounded. I was called names. I was threatened. All of this incredibly gendered, incredibly violent.

It was so interesting to me because part of my argument was that Codecademy wasn’t going to be the solution to opening up programming to new groups — those currently excluded from the sector — because the startup failed so miserably at pedagogy. But the comments made it pretty clear that no matter the pedagogy, women aren’t welcome in tech.

SexismTechtweetSo I carefully went through all my LinkedIn contacts, looking for women I knew who had been in tech at least two decades. I put a call out on Twitter and Facebook. As a result, I posed the following four questions to a dozen women who’d been in the industry long enough to see how the XX/XY situation had developed:

1) What have your experiences been, generally? (Examples are optional.)
2) Can you draw any comparisons of how sexism in the tech industry has changed over the past two decades?
3) Are there any areas of the tech industry that seem better or worse than others when it comes to sexism (e.g., startups, geographically, industry vertical, anything else)?
4) Some of us in tech thought this was on its way to being addressed two decades ago. Why wasn’t it? What went wrong?

The result, thanks to their candor and insights, is what ultimately appeared as, “Generational blindness: Is sexism in tech forever?” over at GeekWire. And yes, there was a lot I didn’t publish, too.