Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Amazon: Edtech’s passive lurker arises

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

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

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

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

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

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?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

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.

Digital badges need mass to matter

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

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

Friday, March 7th, 2014

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

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

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., 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

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

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.

The weakest link in data safety is, well, you

Friday, January 31st, 2014

GeekWire logoPersonal data discussions make me cranky. Too often, people conflate elements that make up what we think of as “data privacy” or “data security” when in reality, it is the sum of several interlocking pieces with different parties responsible for each.

Over at GeekWire, I’ve unpacked the whole area of personal data safeguards into three elements: security (largely a technology issue), privacy (largely a policy issue), and practice (largely an all-too-human implementation issue). And as you work your way from the first to the last, the individual has an increasing amount of influence — and responsibility.


Startup PassQi’s approach to security (

It’s a helpful way to think of it, even if it’s been simplified for a column. And, as one reader commented, let’s not forget one uber-critical aspect of security too:

Just try achieving physical security when you’re targeted. Without physical security you don’t have security.

To which I add:

In most of the cases when individuals are thinking about data safeguards, they’re thinking about personal data that is stored with others, over which they don’t have any control (or perhaps even any concept) of the physical storage … That said, wandering away from laptops on a public work space without a cable lock, or smart phones on gym exercise equipment, is just a bad idea not just for the data, but for the value of the device itself.

Read, “The weakest link in data privacy is, well, you,” over at GeekWire.


Business cards reflect our tech

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

GeekWire logo

Q132Sometimes, business cards reflect more than contact information. A group of them, over time, can illustrate how communications technology has changed our lives by what we choose to put on the card — and what we choose to eliminate.

Over at GeekWire, I unearth seven of my cards spanning roughly four decades. (Yes, I started in my early teens. No, I don’t have a portrait in my attic.) The evolution becomes pretty apparent when you look at all the cards together, moving from adding area codes to Twitter handles. And even a few things dropping off.

It’s also kind of fun to see some old technology industry logos again, such as those from Egghead Discount Software (and Mark Brill’s great Professor illustration) and the Apple Programmers and Developers Association (and its stylized 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks).

By no means are these seven cards the only business cards that I’ve kept. My career began in broadcasting, moved to tech and then to consulting and analysis in tech and edtech. Plus, in addition to full-time roles, I’ve had cards for interim executive and part-time gigs.


So take those seven for Santa Barbara Life, KING, APDA, Egghead, McGraw-Hill Home Interactive, iCopyright and Intrinsic Strategy, and interject cardboard for (in rough chronological order): Syntactics Publications, Catalano Communications, KIST, KUHL, KIDO, WNFL, KTNT, KMPS, A.P.P.L.E. Co-op (various), Catalano Consulting (various), Apex, Q13, RavenFire, PC Data, Boxer Learning, Stokes Auction Group, Pearson and Professional Examination Service.


I expect a few of each are still floating out there, somewhere.

Catch up on communications tech history and read, “2″ x 3.5″ evolution: Business cards reflect our tech,” at GeekWire.

Four tech terms to forget in 2014

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

GeekWire logo“People judge you by the words you use.” That phrase isn’t just part of a once near-ubiquitous ad campaign, it also applies to tech industry terminology. And based on what’s happened to some once-meaningful phrases, many in media and marketing would be judged morons.


Over at GeekWire, I opine that if you use any of these four tech terms in 2014, your utterance may be judged meaningless due to how each was mangled by the end of 2013: “open,” “MOOC,” “cloud” and “high-definition.”

But thanks to reader comments both on the GeekWire site and Facebook, there were many more observations (and a few nominees that didn’t make my final list but might have). Such as:

Analytics, Curated, Engagement, Reach — reasons for all — ubiquitous application of these terms to virtually every product, service, or platform currently being sold. Add to this the term “Social Media” which jumped the shark back in 2011 or so.

Not a tech term, but “awesome” has been rendered utterly meaningless, thanks to techies.


Anyone remember hi-fidelity?

I’m a maker, and in 2014 I’m looking to disrupt the cloud. Who’s with me??

Read, “Four tech terms to forget in ’14,” over at GeekWire.

Stop the edtech hype and hysteria

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

EdSurgelogoThere are some things I hate about edtech. A few of my least favorite things are arguments that blindly present technology in education either as a cure-all or utter evil, or players who manipulatively claim their talking points are about edtech when they really are a stalking horse for another agenda.

“Hate” is a strong word. But “an intensely frustrating and distracting misappropriation of time and effort when valid arguments can be made without hype or hysteria” takes too long to type. It’s a topic I began thinking about last April, even banging out my initial concerns on Evernote with a smartphone while on a train in France. On vacation. To the irritation, not of those in edtech, but of my spousal unit.

Over at EdSurge, I’ve refined my thoughts and clustered them into three types of frustrating approaches under the umbrellas of Cheerleaders, Paranoids and Dogmatists. I framed it as an EdSurge 2014 Outlook piece, in the category of what I hope (not expect) will happen next year.

Sadly, I think of the emergence of these three groups in education technology as an unintended consequence of edtech finally going mainstream in public awareness and K-12 classrooms in 2013. It’s a kind of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for essay; if edtech were still at the margins, odds are these types of arguments wouldn’t be as prominent nor getting the kind of press that they do.


Speaking of unintended consequences, a few of the  tweets and comments about the EdSurge piece are especially illuminating, if only to illustrate how heavily polarized discourse about edtech and its implementation have become. And they may have unwittingly supported a point or two of mine.

Read, “Stop the Hype and Hysteria,” over at EdSurge.

“Dogfooding” 2013 tech products

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

GeekWire logoJust in time for the holidays, I ate my own dog food.

Over at GeekWire, I detail tech products that I — as a reviewer of many tech products — thought well enough of to buy for my own use. And the three I list (along with pros, cons and what I’d do differently if I had to buy them again today) are products I literally use daily.

FitbitZipblackOkay, so I won’t maintain the suspense: Sonos, Fitbit Zip and the Google Nexus 5. But you’ll have to click over to read why.

These three join two other products I’ve purchased and about which I’ve written for GeekWire, Google Chromecast and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. But the Chromecast or HDX don’t get used nearly as often as the other three: Chromecast, primarily when I want to stream video or audio wirelessly and directly from my laptop to my TV (said smart television already has built-in WiFi and apps), and the HDX, mostly when I’m traveling.

Read, “Favorite tech things: 3 products this reviewer actually chose to buy,” over at GeekWire. And you can hear me discuss my choices with GeekWire’s John Cook and Todd Bishop in the weekly podcast, too.

Getting Amazon’s best customer service

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

GeekWire logoWhat does it take to get really good customer service from

Not the usual efficient service for resolving straightforward problems, like a missing delivery or wrong product. Amazon, from my experience and all reports, generally handles those well. No, I mean customer service for what should have been a simple situation that got increasingly complicated by Amazon’s own actions.

Screenshot_2013-11-27-12-41-11Over at GeekWire, I tackle the latter. My “fix” for the issue was unorthodox, but I expect will become more commonplace. Until that is, as one reader’s comment on the column noted, it becomes really popular:

Just like when companies first started paying attention to Twitter, customer service via that channel was very high, now try to get a company to care or even respond to a Twitter post and only a few do and not at the level previously seen. Soon enough, once the novelty wears off, Amazon will start eyeing the higher salaries for the [BLANK] folks and lower quality service will ensue.

Fill in the blank by reading, “The secret to getting Amazon’s best customer service,” at GeekWire.

Kindle Fire HDX: the road warrior’s frenemy

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

GeekWire logoConsidering a Kindle Fire HDX for business uses? It’ll be your best frenemy.

Over at GeekWire, I review Amazon’s latest entry in the tablet wars. And it’s safe to say the latest Kindle Fire is far more of what people expect of a “tablet” than its predecessors — including business people.

Fire OS 3.1's new VPN settings

Even when I’m writing, I’m a road warrior, logging more than 100,000 actual air miles (what frequent flyers charmingly refer to as “butt-in-seat” miles) in a typical year. So ideally, if I have a tablet, it’s not just an entertainment device, it allows me to do some actual work without having to resort to pulling out a full-fledged laptop and fight for armrest real estate.

The newest Kindle Fire does that. There are a few asterisks, mostly due to Amazon’s piling on the new features and rolling them out incrementally, such as a configurable VPN client in the latest Fire OS 3.1 update. But all in all, it’s a good, relatively inexpensive alternative to an iPad or other Android-derived tablet for the individual business person, if not quite yet for the corporate enterprise. There are some maddening decisions on things like keyboard options when I struggled to find a specific key (which a commenter kindly, I think, helped me out with):

LOL Its easy to find the % Key lol you hit ?123 Then above ABC you see ~|< hit that and book right above the space bar…Dude you need to just stick with your Ipad

Um, easy.

Read, “Kindle Fire HDX: The business person’s frenemy,” over at GeekWire.

Kill the password — before it kills us

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

GeekWire logoInconsistent rules. Multiple screens. Many accounts, apps and sites. And if you practice good personal password hygiene, you add confusing complexity. So it’s time to kill the password (as we know it).

Over at GeekWire, that’s my columnist’s take. And it struck a nerve.

Not just with readers, but with Rhapsody, the subscription music service whose Android app created the angst that fueled this commentator’s fire. It had a nicely tweeted (and unofficial, I presume) response, considering Rhapsody happened to be the canary in my password coal mine.


Other comments illustrated there is definitely enough password pain to go around.

Though I’m not eager for the day of retina/fingerprint/whatever log-ins, there MUST be a better way. Especially for services/sites you only need to use once a month, perhaps to pay a bill …


As a very basic starting point it would be helpful for each login screen to display the password rules for that site. That would give you a chance of remembering what specific password you had to create.


As someone that has just over 250 accounts between work and personal arenas, I would love a shortcut, believe me! Replacing a biometric print for the logins for all 250 would be brilliant in and of itself!

As to my experience that led to the above sharing, plus options being considered as fixes, read “It’s time to kill the password — before it kills us,” at GeekWire.

When tech and time overtake research

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

GeekWire logoDoing psychological research over time is a tricky task. And one long-term study has found it gets even trickier when you factor in the advances of technology, compounded by changes in education.

400px-RotarydialOver at GeekWire, I explore how these challenges have affected the pioneering Seattle Longitudinal Study on mental abilities and aging. The SLS — in which I’ve been a participant for nearly three decades — has slowly seen the relevance of some of its test questions erode as tech has outdated some of the scenarios. Such as calculating the cheapest time to phone someone long distance.

Of course, most of the SLS tests and their questions (or “instruments” and “items,” in “assessment” parlance) are unaffected, as is the overall validity of the research study.

And I’ve even discovered ways to benefit from the study beyond its formal findings.

For example, I think I did better on recalling an unrelated list of 20 words both immediately after seeing them and at various later times during individual testing. My technique?

Since short-term memory is only good at storing up to seven discrete items — think phone number length — I started to create mental images in three word clusters, so “star” “alcohol” “money” became a celebrity adorned with bling holding a bottle of champagne, and repeated as needed. It’s a trick I taught myself a couple of testing cycles ago and I could still remember all 20 words at the end of a multiple-hour testing session.

Keep that tip in mind the next time you forget your shopping list.

And read, “When technology — and time — overtake research,” over at GeekWire.

Of geeks, nerds and definitions

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

GeekWire logoThick black glasses? Check. Long pants too short? Check. Obsessive intelligence? Check. Geek or nerd? Well, that depends.

My GeekWire column attempts to differentiate geeks from nerds (or, in my case, nerds from geeks) and has proven a tad contentious, as at one point I state, “Nerd is to tinker with tech; geek is to admire and acquire.”

However, as I note in the post, geek/nerd is a continuum with a lot of overlap. And a nerd can be a geek, too. And, uh, what about hipsters? From my further explanation in the great reader comments:


…While I think hipsters adopt some of the trappings of geeks and nerds, they lack either the obsessive interest or intelligence of one or the other (except in rare cases, which means they ARE geeks or nerds disguised as hipsters). Geeks can be geeks about anything; it’s just that consumer tech is the current bright shiny object of much geek desire, which is why I think geeks are so often confused with nerds today.

And I appreciate the kind effort to deliver me from nerdom. I suspect I’m a nerd-geek hybrid, with learned geek behavior having come as an adult. After all, the beauty of geek and nerd is you don’t have to be just one.

This column was a bit painful to write, not surprisingly, as I had to delve into the morass known as “junior high school” to come up with some personal examples without crossing the line into TMI. (Well. Perhaps I did. In the final line of my ending bio.)

Read, “The geek/nerd divide: This time, it’s personal” at GeekWire.

Of Open Badges and EdNET 2013

Monday, October 14th, 2013

EdNET logoI’ve provided a highly abbreviated (of the Twittersphere variety) capsule summary of the EdNET 2013 analyst session in which I, along with well-known analysts Nelson Heller and Anne Wujcik, shared thoughts about the highs and lows of the past 25 years in education and technology. In it, I also presented a brief primer on digital Open Badges as they are, and might be, used in K-12 schools for credentials and for motivation.

Now you can actually see what we discussed and displayed at this year’s education industry conference in Denver.

Over at MDR’s EdNET site, the slides, video and resources have been posted. For our View from the Catbird Seat session, scroll down to the bottom of the agenda, and click on the session title for the video; the resources and slides are more obviously linked.

OpenBadges_logoMore directly, you can download the Catbird session slides as a PDF here (my “We Don’t Need No … Wait” graphics begin on slide 8). And you can view my part with animations and audio by starting the video at 16:20, since my slides are basically graphics, not bullet text to be read verbatim while viewing the slides, that make more sense with explanatory commentary.

The upshot? If an education company or other organization is going to include some kind of badge-issuing capability for teachers and students in its software, I recommend it consider Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure. Not only is it an open standard, Open Badges are “smarter” than static digital badge images (they embed useful metadata about the issuer and earner). They are also more student-centric, because they live outside of any individual company’s closed software. That way, students can acquire and combine them over time, from different sources.

I also suggest that the bulk of badges provided be assessment-based. While badges issued for participation do serve a motivational purpose, a badge that has an assessment required to earn it enables competency-based education, providing portable proof of what could be very granular competence. And, because the digital Open Badge represents an accomplishment, skill or knowledge, likely will have much more value to both the student earning it and the person viewing it (be they educators, college admissions officers or employers), long-term.

As I note in the session video, an over-reliance on participation-based badges can lead to “Gold Star Syndrome,” with badges “used as motivational tools (but) as proof of nothing. It’s proof you showed up. Ninety percent of life may be just showing up, but it doesn’t make for a very good work credential.”

See more in the video (starting at 16:20, including pros/cons at roughly 22:00 and then Q&A) or slides (starting at 8). And the resources I reference to learn more about using Open Badges as digital credentials? You can download all of them here, at this convenient link. But do make time to watch the entire session: Anne and Nelson have great observations.

When tablets and schools don’t mix

Friday, October 11th, 2013

GeekWire logo

In education, beware the technology Dumbo Drop. For anyone who’s been around edtech for any time at all, that’s so obvious it’s become a cliche. But apparently it’s advice some school districts are ignoring because they seem to have been blinded by the bright shiny face of cool consumer devices.

Over at GeekWire, I explore and explain tablet troubles experienced at several districts so far this school year, including the high-profile, botched billion-dollar iPad adoption in Los Angeles schools (from which, I hope, it may still recover — I still strongly support intelligent use of technology in education, but as much or more attention needs to be paid to the implementation process as to the initial purchase).


We’ve seen this silicon-silver-bullet mentality before, with everything from interactive white boards to early desktop computers (not to mention classroom television sets). But LA, especially, should know better. It went through another expensive tech Dumbo Drop roughly a decade ago with early reading software and computers on which to run it. That software wasn’t used properly or enough, and hardware broke and wasn’t repaired — assuming it made it out of shrink wrap at all.

Today, companies that want a piece of the school tablet business, such as Microsoft, should view what’s happening in these schools as a cautionary tale. Never hurts to know what to advise school districts not to do, or to expect.

Read, “Tech happens: When tablets and schools don’t mix,” over at GeekWire. And be sure to scan the lively and informative comments, including pointers to other good analyses from other angles (I personally liked Audrey Watters’ in the Atlantic).