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However, there was a sixth “outdated” term that I had to dump before the column was submitted, because when I did further research, I discovered I (and others who had suggested it) were, well,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

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APerthGazette_1833_06_01_1_ditto.jpgThe 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="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg"><img width="512" alt="USMC-090507-M-3035F-562" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/90/USMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg/512px-USMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg

(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.

TMobilelocksmall

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.

NYEdtech

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurism_(art)Of 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.

Assessmints2crop

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 (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], 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.

Hmmm.

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.

Digital badges need mass to matter

March 9th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

EdSurgelogoTwitterRepresenting credentials — whether it’s in education or the workplace — as digital “open” badges is slowly gaining traction. But what the heck is an open badge? And why does it matter?

Over at EdSurge in my inaugural post as a regular columnist (after having been a frequent contributor for almost two years, though consulting remains my day job), I dissect the nascent Open Badge Infrastructure movement, spurred by the Mozilla Foundation and propelled by recent announcements from Pearson, ETS, edX, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) and my one-time employer, Professional Examination Service.

BuzzMathAlgebraBottom line: If badges are going to be a digital currency (with more stability than Bitcoin) to represent accomplishments, skills or knowledge, they need to seem worthwhile to all parties in a credential transaction, not just those who issue and earn them.

You wouldn’t think this would be a controversial position, but it exposes a tension in the open digital badge community between those who want rapid uptake on the technical standard and have anyone issue badges for any reason just to get them out there, and those who want to ensure the badges aren’t trivialized by an overwhelming number of badges for just showing up that could confuse the value for everyone. It’s a tricky balance, and the tension is understandable.

In this case, “open” is a double-edged sword.

At least the latest developments in open badges support a 2014 prediction I provided to Politico’s Morning Education newsletter in December of last year:

The Mozilla Foundation’s efforts to turn digital Open Badges into an accepted, student-centric marker of accomplishments will move from experiment to nascent trend, as more major edtech products and platforms include support of the open standard. Key to the Open Badge Infrastructure’s momentum will be its adoption by at least one of the major, traditional educational “publishers” and by at  least a handful of highly respected educational institutions to counter the threat of a potential flood of “junk” badges that may proliferate like gold stars in a kindergarten.

Yup. That happened.

Read, “Digital Badges Need Mass to Matter,” at EdSurge.

A digital business trip, without paper

March 7th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewCall it The Geek’s Guide to Paperless Business Travel. And, uh, snowstorm recovery.

Over at GeekWire, I chronicle my attempt to take an entire business trip without touching paper. At all. And — spoiler alert — I almost completely succeeded. I didn’t even touch paper money. A heavy 11.5 inches of Manhattan snow that extended my trip unexpectedly didn’t break my stride.

NJTransitappI also learned, in the comments, that one app I’d given up on a year ago to help with digital travel has very much improved since then. So I’ve reinstalled TripIt and now do appreciate it (though I wish its corporate parent, Concur, would create a version of its flagship receipt-capturing app and expense management service that would work for sole proprietors, not just companies, and integrate with invoicing software like Quicken Home & Business — any digital approach should always be less work than the paper process it replaces).

Also in the comments, this exchange, in the interests of full disclosure:

[Reader] I hope there was an exclusion granted for personal hygiene?

[Me] Um, yes, one particular aspect. I did have to purchase additional underwear, but it was because I was stuck in NYC an extra two days. No other reason.

So walk through what became a week (almost completely) without paper with me. Read, “Challenge accepted: My attempt to take an entire business trip without touching paper,” at GeekWire.

Coding is not a foreign language

February 23rd, 2014 by Frank Catalano

GeekWirenewCoding for kids is cool and useful, but the movement promoting it threatens to go sideways when programming is equated with learning a foreign (human) language.

Yet that’s what has happened in several state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives — with one going so far as to propose formally classifying computer programming languages as “critical foreign languages.”

Over at GeekWire, I humbly submit that this is a Really Bad Idea and shows an ignorance of either computer languages, world languages, or both. (For one, human languages are also a long-standing life skill … and don’t change as often.)

CodeDayfulllogoSince the column appeared and was re-posted on EdSurge, it’s led to some spirited (and thoughtful) debate in the reader comments on GeekWire and also on the education technology site.

Others have weighed in. Code.org, which pushes an important learn-to-code agenda, similarly flatly states, “Computer coding is not a foreign language.” Meanwhile, on Twitter a researcher pointed to a small-scale study that suggests that “young computer programmers have ‘bilingual brains,‘” an interesting implication of the cognitive benefits of coding.

Bottom line: understanding computer programming is important, both as a window into computer science and how our technological world works. But well-meaning efforts at the policy level should have it counting toward math and science graduation requirements (as it does in Washington and at least nine other states) and not toward world human languages, especially if it means sacrificing a student’s foreign language exposure.

Read the full argument, “Learn to code? No: Learn a real language,” over at GeekWire.

Startup marketing dos and don’ts

February 8th, 2014 by Frank Catalano

There’s a fine line in technology startups between learning from what others have done and being constrained by it.

It’s a line I try to walk in mentoring entrepreneurs in various venues (from Startup Weekend event roles to sitting on the Advisory Board for the inaugural SXSW V2V). Recently, I’ve taken part in two free webinars from the Education Division of the Software and Information Industry Association aimed at helping edtech startups navigate the odd and weird waters of the education marketplace.

And they are now posted for anyone to view.

The kickoff Ed Market 101 webinar, “Is Your Product Ready for the School Market?” covered some of the basics of making sure a startup was prepared to enter the market, and common obstacles easily overlooked by entrepreneurs more used to the somewhat more rational consumer or enterprise markets. (You can view the recording, or just download just the slides here.)

A subsequent Ed Market 101 webinar, “How to Spend Marketing Dollars (If You Have Any)” covered one of my favorite topics: long-fuse effective awareness and important sales support tactics in education technology, and the awful and persistent money pits. (That recording, too, is up for viewing, and the slides for downloading.)

I took part in only these two SIIA Ed Market 101 webinars, but it’s worth it for any startup to check out the entire series archive. Even established pros may find them useful refreshers on the current state of the art and science.