August 6th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Normally, when I write about customer service and marketing, it’s about how tech companies handle one or both. But a strong case can be made that digital savvy is required from all companies providing customer service these days. And sometimes, they fail. Spectacularly.
Over on GeekWire, I describe two experiences in one day with two different credit card issuers, Bank of America and Capital One. One showed decent knowledge of digital (in this case, email) savvy. One clearly had no clue and went so far as to suggest it was the customer’s, not the financial institution’s, problem. (Hint: they issue the card at right, of which I used to have two.)
Read, “Banks behaving badly: dealing with a divisive digital divide” at GeekWire.
July 15th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Everyone seems to do a blog-and-Twitter analysis (or autopsy) of each ed tech conference as it happens. It’s so prevalent that I’ve suspended doing regular, detailed conference notes of the kind I’ve done for years.
But sometimes, trends aren’t immediately obvious until you think about what you saw.
That was the case with the huge 2012 International Society for Technology in Education conference in San Diego last month. After getting back, I dug through my notes (of the paper, Evernote and audio-on-smartphone variety) and three small yet interesting potential trends stuck out in mobile/tablet tech and digital books. And the folks at Getting Smart were kind enough to take that kind of analysis even two weeks after ISTE wrapped.
Read my guest post, “3 Trends You May Have Missed at ISTE” at Getting Smart.
July 4th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
David Brin has lived at the intersection of science and science fiction for a long time as a best-selling writer, inventor and scientist. So when I found out he was coming to Seattle to both launch his latest novel, Existence, and speak at Westercon (the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference which, in 2012, is being held in Seattle), it seemed natural to interview him.
The result is over at GeekWire. And befitting the news site’s name, I draw parallels between geek and science fiction culture. And then pepper David with ten questions about the current status of science fiction in society, as a form of literature and about what it and its practitioners do that no one else can.
David is, as always, thoughtful and provocative. And very interesting.
Read, “10 questions: ‘Existence’ author David Brin on science fiction, science and geeks” over at GeekWire.
July 3rd, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Call it an unintended consequence of the digital education era: all sorts of student data is being created, but is frequently stuck in the software where it was generated.
A gutsy foundation-funded, multi-state, data-geeky initiative, the Shared Learning Infrastructure hopes to pull together these sources of student data, put it in the cloud, and use it to make better personalized learning decisions. It’s a big effort by the coordinating Shared Learning Collaborative and complex, with many moving parts. And I dig into it over at the NPR education blog MindShift.
If you’re into buzzwords, it’s a project that could enable Big Data and learning analytics. SLI is so complicated, that gathering information for an essay took place through several meetings over several months. And my attempt to make it simple without, I hope, making it stupid resulted in a piece that is twice as long as most columns I write.
The result is a look at what the Shared Learning Infrastructure is– now that it’s just entered its alpha, or pilot, phase (only a handful of days behind schedule) — and what it could mean for educators, students and the education industry, in terms of both potential benefits and challenges.
Read “How will student data be used?” at MindShift.
June 9th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
I’ll never forget an interview I heard with some of the original designers of the Supersonic Transport (SST) jet on the occasion of its final flight in late 2003. “We thought the future of air travel would be like a jet,” one said. “It turned out to be more like a bus.”
It was toward surviving that increasingly Greyhound-like experience that I contribute, at GeekWire, my geek guide to air travel. These ten tips (not numbered, thankfully) include websites, services and gadgets that can make anyone travel a bit smarter with the help of technology.
And every single tip has been honed by my many hundreds-of-thousands (and probably at least a couple of million, if you include award tickets) of actual air miles traveled.
Enjoy. (Unless you’re one of those who wear Bose headphones to the airplane lavatory.) Read “The Geek’s Guide to Air Travel” at GeekWire.
June 1st, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Over at the NPR/KQED education site MindShift, my latest analysis tackles peanut butter. Well, maybe the consistency of peanut butter — as it applies to instructional materials in schools and colleges.
Because a major shift we’re seeing is that the materials used to teach students are moving from a creamy, uniform consistency like that found in paper textbooks and many early monolithic digital texts, to a more chunky consistency as instructors assemble their own lessons and courses from digital pieces.
And a large factor in this change is the emergence of Open Educational Resources, which are perceived to be “free” and are designed to be mixed, modified and shared. (Though, of course, many educational companies also have digital pieces that offer several of the same benefits.)
Read, “How open education is changing the texture of content,” at MindShift.
May 25th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Over at GeekWire, I tackle an atypical subject: GeekWire itself.
For two weeks over a one month period, I had an inside view of GeekWire in particular, and digital journalism in general. I filled in for each of the co-founders as they went on vacation. I didn’t do the longer enterprise pieces or edit guest posts, but I did write a lot of brief stores (plus two of my longer columns) and covered in the newsroom while the others were in the field.
It was something of a George Plimpton-esque experience (for those who recall Paper Lion and many of Plimpton’s other adventures, years ago).
Plus, it taught me a lot. Not just about digital journalism. About startups and entrepreneurship in general. And about how what one has done in the past can be reconfigured to be applicable in just about any situation, if one can clearly understand and separate the skill strands of one’s career.
I mean, who knew Tetris would be an appropriate metaphor for work at a tech news site?
Read, “Two GeekWire weeks, three entrepreneurial lessons,” over at GeekWire.
May 10th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
It seems everywhere you look in U.S. education, the tablet story is an iPad story, from college to kindergarten. (Yes. Kindergarten. In Maine.)
But perhaps it’s time to look beyond the United States’ borders.
Over at the NPR/KQED education blog MindShift, I analyze the latest trends in the global tablet market for education. And across various ponds, the emphasis seems to be on Android — especially for a growing number of lower-cost, under $200 tablet computing devices aimed at schools and a consumer education market.
Read, “Which device will win the tablet battle?” on MindShift.
April 25th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Okay, I have to admit: this one was a lot more fun than usual. I mean, how often do I get a chance to interview six well-known science fiction writers for a tech analysis?
But that’s exactly what I did for my GeekWire column, following up on Seattle-area asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources’ launch by getting the take of a half-dozen established writers — who, it turns out, were as inspired by the news as the company says it was inspired by science fiction.
Read what Greg Bear, Vonda N. McIntyre, Kay Kenyon, William C. Dietz, Louise Marley and Brenda Cooper have to say in my latest GeekWire column, “Science fiction writers inspired as asteroid miners make fiction fact.”
And please, great SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), forgive me for using the once-abhorred abbreviation “sci-fi” in this blog headline. It was the only way to make it fit — and the term, even though now common, still makes me cringe.
April 17th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
What happens when the traditional technology evaluation and adoption cycle in education is upended? What you get is what’s happening today with the iPad — but it’s only the most visible of effects.
Over at NPR/KQED’s MindShift blog, I examine how consumer, K-12 and higher education technology is rapidly converging. What used to take a decade to make its way from consumers to K-12 classrooms, passing through higher ed, now takes two-to-three years. Or less. And this isn’t just my observation — execs I know at various education companies have noticed it, too, and the impact it has on their product planning.
Part of it might be accelerants recently poured onto edtech such as venture capital, startup incubators and foundation grants. But a major portion is the reality that “digital natives” now include teachers, administrators and policy makers.
The result? A true mashup, maybe the edtech equivalent of Dr. Doolittle’s hybrid Pushmi-Pullyu.
This is my first piece written specifically for MindShift, and I’m hoping to do several more focused on analysis of what’s happening in education with technology. (For those who want even more of an overview, here’s a PDF of my keynote presentation in a similar vein for the Blackboard World Transact 2012 conference in March).
Read, “When Technologies Collide: Consumer, K-12 and Higher Ed” at MindShift.
April 2nd, 2012 by Frank Catalano
There’s been a fair amount of speculation (some informed) about when or whether Google will enter the tablet fray directly. The latest rumors have Google introducing an Android tablet mid-year at a $199 price point — leading to additional speculation that this is supposed to quash the growth of Amazon’s Kindle Fire (also at that price and Android).
I think Google’s potential entry may have the opposite effect: it may legitimize a second pricing tier for tablets in the U.S.
Why do I say “in the U.S.?” Because globally, the $199 price point has already been broken, mostly by education efforts such as those in India, and may be further propelled by huge government-driven tablet adoptions for schools in Thailand, Australia and South Korea. We’re iPad-obsessed and, perhaps as a result, behind due to the cost of devices.
I delve into this further in my latest column at GeekWire. Coincidentally, it was written when I was immersed in the nerd news flow of that tech site, diving into a newsroom environment to help out for the first time in a decade, and writing 20 stories in a roughly 20-hour week of afternoons. Plus this column.
Read “Will a $199 Google tablet hurt or help the Kindle Fire?” over at GeekWire.
February 24th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Occasionally I move from Practical Nerd to personal nerd in my columns for GeekWire. And “7 steps to raise a geek child” is my most personal yet.
Yet it’s also practical, in that “geek” has gone from being a negative epithet to a kind of laudatory epaulet in a generation. The seven steps are all about balance and, I suppose, would work equally well for giving a jock child a more complete upbringing. Though I clearly didn’t have that direct athletic experience while growing up, my son — who suggested an alternate heading for tip number three, “Mindmeld with your child. (Or use the Force, if you must.)” — easily could have.
Decide for yourself by reading “7 steps to raise a geek child” at GeekWire.
February 2nd, 2012 by Frank Catalano
A few years back, I had the honor of being asked to serve a two-year term on Alaska Airlines’ MVP Gold Advisory Board. It’s a group of twelve very frequent fliers who sign NDAs and get to see how the, uh, fuselage is made, and come to realize the airline industry is anything but glamorous. But it is cool, and there is much tech in play.
So when I was asked if I would mind giving up a whole day to see a really cool advance in airline cabin interiors, I said yes. And I focused on the technology — and psychology — being applied.
The result is chronicled in my latest column for GeekWire.
There’s a lot I didn’t elaborate upon (the champagne toast, the remarkable view on a clear day at somewhere around 10,000 feet from Everett to Seattle Tacoma International Airport via the Olympic mountains). But for what I didn’t write about, I posted a public photo album with captions.
Read “Inside Alaska Airlines’ new Boeing Sky Interior” at GeekWire.
January 16th, 2012 by Frank Catalano
Remember how the web was going to increase transparency in pricing for everything? Well, now those who have been made transparent are learning how to fight back.
Over at GeekWire, I compare two car buying experiences: one from 2000, one from last month. In the intervening dozen years, it’s clear some dealerships have found the weak points in the process for car purchases that originate on the web and are exploiting them.
Read “How car dealers embrace, and erode, the web” at GeekWire.
December 12th, 2011 by Frank Catalano
If Microsoft has a leadership strategy for K-12, now would be a a great time for it to educate us.
Over at GeekWire, I wonder what Microsoft’s role in K-12 education (and likely higher education) is: to lead, or simply to support what others are doing? This thinking came to a head when I was asked to speak at a general session of SIIA’s Ed Tech Business Forum in New York City late last month with Microsoft’s U.S. Education CTO, Cameron Evans.
Evans is a good, thoughtful presenter of parts of a vision for technology in education. But that vision isn’t obviously Microsoft’s strategy, or necessarily reflects what it considers its role. And at a time when there’s a lot of digital reform apparently converging on schools, having Microsoft’s strategic leadership perspective might help everyone. After all, the Gates Foundation clearly has one.
For more musings (and a few suggestions I have for Redmond), read “Microsoft and education: lead or cheerlead?” at GeekWire.
November 28th, 2011 by Frank Catalano
The Kindle Fire is this holiday season’s bright shiny object. But while the gadget blogs egg on a Fire-iPad death match, less noticed is what recent price cuts for the most basic, E Ink-reliant Kindle — and Barnes and Noble’s Nook — have done to mass market paperbacks.
They are about to deliver the finishing move.
Over at GeekWire, I look at the impending death of the mass market paperback book occuring in the shadows of the brightly lit tablet wars in my column, “When eBooks attack, mass paperbacks die.”
It has a bit of a personal impact, too, as my book collection is full of autographed mass market paperbacks from writers I admire, from a time when paperback was frequently the only first edition to which a genre fiction author could aspire.
And astute GeekWire readers will note my column has retired the “Practical Nerd” title. Though it’s safe to say the practical, nerdy approach remains.
November 23rd, 2011 by Frank Catalano
In my work as an industry consultant and analyst in education technology and digital learning, I read. A lot. And there are some invaluable web resources on which I rely so much that I’d like to nominate them for the Edublog Awards — and share them with you.
- EdSurge is a relative newcomer: a smart, sassy (is that even said anymore?), yet serious e-newsletter and site that covers all things transformative edtech with an emphasis on startup and non-profit activity and resources. If you aren’t reading co-founder Betsy Corcoran’s weekly dispatch, you’re not living on the edu-edge. For the Edublog Awards I nominate EdSurge (www.edsurge.com) for best ed tech / resource sharing blog.
- Hack Education is a labor of love and journalism by independent edtech journalist Audrey Watters, who also writes for several sites. Watters follows a journalism tradition I admire — no cows are sacred, and no prisoners are taken. She’s also one of the few edtech journalists who thinks beyond straight reporting. For the Edublog Awards I nominate Hack Education (www.hackeducation.com) for best individual blog.
- MindShift focuses on a critically important part of edtech — the impact of change on parents and the educational community as a whole. Hosted by San Francisco public broadcaster KQED and ably and actively guided by Tina Barseghian, MindShift features a broad array of thoughtful voices on the future of learning. For the Edublog Awards, I nominate MindShift (mindshift.kqed.org) for best group blog.
If you’re so inspired, please feel free to echo these nominations by following the process on the Edublog, er, blog. And even if you aren’t, I hope you’ll enjoy the good work of those I chose to nominate.
November 15th, 2011 by Frank Catalano
Does an acknowledged U.S. tech leader like Seattle have any real advantage in use of tech for public spaces and purposes compared to European cities like Amsterdam?
I didn’t find much evidence of that for my latest GeekWire column. Public transit (bicycles and buses), grocery stores, WiFi hotspots, even parking meters — Amsterdam was either ahead when it came to using tech to enhance the everyday experience, or at least scored no worse than a draw.
- Real-time arrival updates on a Netherlands public bus.
About the only area in which Seattle had an advantage was in tech’s ability to cocoon an individual for social isolation in public spaces.
Admittedly, this informal evaluation was done on vacation. But it’s interesting how different the approach to general tech for public use can be across two cities that appear to have much else in common.
Read the Practical Nerd column, “Seattle vs. Amsterdam, a tale of two cities and their technology,” at GeekWire.
October 25th, 2011 by Frank Catalano
A week ago, Microsoft launched its “playful learning” initiative with great fanfare, promising to tie Kinect and the Xbox 360 to, among other things, Sesame Street. It was, Microsoft claimed, a first in making kids’ educational television interactive.
Well, sort of. It had been done before. Nearly fifteen years ago. By Microsoft.
Over at GeekWire, my latest Practical Nerd column recalls the steps and stumbles of the Microsoft ActiMates interactive “early learning system,” a combo plush toy-wireless transmitter tied to broadcasts of the PBS shows Barney & Friends, Arthur and Teletubbies. Toys were discontinued. Lessons were learned.
Read the Practical Nerd column on GeekWire, “Microsoft toys with itself, again.”
October 8th, 2011 by Frank Catalano
I’m used to thinking like an entrepreneur — I own my own business, I’ve advised or been part of tech startups and even as a teen I published a bi-weekly science-fiction newsletter that was sold through local retailers.
So I was excited to take part as a newbie mentor at Startup Weekend Seattle EDU recently, one of the very first Startup Weekend events to be focused on education technology. Which, of course, is a large part of my day job.
I’ve chronicled my observation-based tips for budding edtech entrepreneurs in a column for GeekWire, “Survival tips for Startup Weekend EDU.”
While the 54-hour marathon — from pitching to building to presenting a startup — is the heart of the Startup Weekend experience, the brain is partly provided by the speakers. And Seattle EDU organizer TeachStreet assembled a stellar bunch: venture capital’s Vinod Khosla, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Maveron’s Jason Stoffer and tech industry luminary and Lotus founder Mitch Kapor. A few pithy quotes that didn’t make it into my GeekWire essay: Read the rest of this entry »