Get a iPhone 5s Or Switch to Android?

ios-android-war-iphoneindia

My iPhone 4s is coming off contract soon and before I replace it with the iPhone 5s / iOS 7, I thought I should do some research on Android-based smartphones (no interest in Windows mobile, sorry Steve).

My good friend Mike Gwaltney had great idea to end the guesswork – try an Android for awhile before I get caught up in next week’s iPhone launch frenzy. So two days ago, I took his advice and bought a Nexus 7 at Best Buy (two week return policy).

What follows is my initial experience with the Android OS. Keep in mind that I’m a Android newbie and I’m not certain how much of the Nexus 7 experience will carry over to an Android smartphone. Nor am I interested in the Nexus 7 hardware – my real goal is a new smartphone not an Android tablet. The superb audio and video Netflix stream on the Nexus 7, doesn’t tell me much about the Android smartphone experience. Android or not, the Nexus 7 goes back to Best Buy next week. (I enjoy creating multi-touch iBooks – can’t view them on a Nexus 7)

I was already using many Google services – Chrome, Gmail, G Drive – all that content was on the Nexus as soon as I logged into Google. But I’ve never used Google for contacts and calendar – they’re hosted on iCloud and synched between my Mac, iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air. My first goal was to get those over to the Nexus 7. I found a very easy (and free) solution for for moving contacts to Google – the (free) Bump app. I loaded Bump on my iPhone and Nexus 7 and did the bump. Selected all contacts and over they went. Looks like Bump can also move photos and audio files. (Though there must be better ways to do that.)

Moving to Google Calendar was much more challenging. I looked online at discussion groups and searched “Help” at Google and none of the solutions seemed to work. Eventually I found the SmoothSync app ($2.86 at Google Play). It moved my calendar to the Nexus 7, but strangely my appointments don’t show up in the desktop versions of Google Calendar. Haven’t fixed that yet, but my iCloud and Nexus 7 calendar are syncing with new updates in both directions.

I downloaded a bunch of my key apps to the Nexus 7 – Dropbox, Evernote, 1Password, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. For the most part they look and behave like their iOS counterparts. LinkedIn somehow manages to have an equally confusing notification system on both platforms. The only app the varied greatly between platforms was 1Password. The Android version does not support selecting specific sections of text for copying to clipboard in the secure notes or attachments – very challenging if you have any important data stored that way,

Finally I tried my hand at customizing the home screen. I’d been impressed with all cool themes, wallpapers and widgets that I had seen online. So many to choose from, though some customizations didn’t function very well. When I tapped on the cool non-skeuomorphic icon for my calendar, I didn’t see my appointments, I was offered more settings for customizing the calendar icon widget. After wasting a few hours trying to trick out my home screen I ended up creating something that in retrospect looks a lot like my iPhone home screen.

So I’m 48 hours into Android. If I had to make a decision right now, I’d stick with the iPhone. So far I haven’t found any big advantages with Android. And getting my wife and I moved over from iOS and still maintaining synch with our Mac desktops seems like far too much work. But I’ll give it a few more days.

Update Sept 20, 2013
Returned my Nexus 7 to Best Buy a few days ago.
Here’s me waiting in line to get the new iPhone 5s 64GB (Black  - No bling for me).
Note: I’m the only Mac FanBoy reading an actual book.

mac fan boy line

Image credit Flickr: George Thomas/ios-android-war-iphoneindia

Digital History Workshop – Tech Meets Critical Thinking

I recently spent a few days working with the middle and upper school history department at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano CA. Shout-out to James Harris (chair) and the department for being great hosts and invigorating to work with.

Photo – teachers are challenged to design Yes-No Decision Diagrams and experience the difference between creating a sequence and merely memorizing one.

yes-noOur goal was a practical hands-on workshop that fused technology, critical thinking, and strategies for students to be the “historian in the classroom.” SMES has implemented iPads at the middle school, and they’ll will be following 9th graders to the upper school next year. We were focused on ways to use iPads for content creation, feedback and reflection. Throughout the workshop, teachers used their iPads to respond to activities via LearningCatalytics (LC) and had guided practice in producing and delivering LC questions. iPads plus student response via LC is a killer app for student engagement.

I created a resource website that gives all the details of the project – but here’s some highlights.

  1. How to select and craft historic documents into DBQs. Key takeaway – use documents that students can interpret with minimal background knowledge, or your just giving them another reading assignment with illustrations.
  2. Summarizing and comparison strategies that work. Key takeaway – are you really asking students to present what they think is important, or are you merely asking them to “guess what I’m thinking?”
  3. How to craft the iPad DBQ. Easy: Haiku Deck. Harder (but worth it) iBooks Author.
  4. Effectively curating information and sharing it with your team – How to use Evernote in the classroom.
  5. How to integrate statistical analysis into the history / social science classroom – nGram Viewer and GapMinder.

By the end of the workshop teachers had created a variety of DBQs using Haiku Deck and iBooks Author. Lots of ideas for using HistoryPin, Evernote, nGram Viewer and GapMinder. While it wasn’t a definitive tech training, I think they left with critical lens to reflect on their practice and enough knowledge about the programs to see their feasibility for use in their classrooms. Not to mention “high-fives” when they got to show off the first iBooks they created.

Photo – teacher demonstrates her newly created iBook on US Imperialism.
ibook-test

Here’s a few comments from the participants:

  • All of the examples and learning experiences you chose for us were right on the mark. They were relevant and forced us to reflect on our practices and the students’ experience when in our rooms. I have a lot to think about and a lot to change! Now if only it was the summer!
  • Liked the interaction and really appreciated the hands on aspects of the training. I appreciate that you focused on higher- ordered thinking because I think that sometimes I hear some folks talking about iPads as if they (in and of themselves) are going to foster higher levels of thinking. In my experience, you still have to work really hard to make sure the kids are engaging in meaningful ways!
  • Loved learning about learning catalytics. I will definitely start using this with the next unit, especially to focus on building reading comprehension skills with my sixth graders. The haiku deck will work to introduce units in a visual way and to have students demonstrate understanding. The main thing I focused on yesterday though was the need to be more deliberate in providing rigorous higher level thinking activities for students. I think I do a good job of this, but I want to do an audit on the curriculum to see where exactly I am providing these opportunities for students.
  • I am really enjoying so many aspects of this. It would be great for more SMES teachers to be involved. It’s practical and philosophical. The tone is upbeat and helpful and the flexibility of meeting us where we are at is terrific. There are certainly a few things I’ll do differently.
  • I really liked all of the concrete ideas of apps and teaching strategies I can use in my classroom. I feel energized to go back and change all of my units, which does feel quite overwhelming though! I feel like I am doing so much wrong, but then again, I am grateful that I have ideas for where I need to go.
  • I especially liked discovering Learning Catalytics and Evernote. I could see both being very applicable to the classroom. Learning Catalytics is the tool I have been needing in order to keep middle schoolers engaged. I have been looking for ways to help them become more active learners, and this will be an excellent tool for that purpose.
  • Really great day- I so appreciate your conversation about analysis! I am now thinking about new ways to increase rigor and I actually think it will make my class more enjoyable. This line stuck with me, “When do we stop modeling for students… and have the courage to be less helpful!?” I feel like I am always answering student questions with, “I don’t know… can YOU?” or, “I really hope you figure that out!” I know it makes my students uncomfortable, but I THINK it makes them uncomfortable in a way that helps them learn to be problem solvers. Thank you for sharing strategies with my colleagues to empower us to be more courageous in the way we deliver instruction to help foster more divergent thinkers

As James Harris, the department chair, later wrote me in an email - 

At dinner on Sunday, as we discussed the school, the department, and the needs of both, you mentioned the danger of “shiny objects” – educational technology pursued solely for the sake of it. I’ve always considered myself wary of ed. tech reps and their products. So often, in my opinion, the costs of hurriedly implementing their products – “critical thinking” activities over true analysis, etc. – often far exceed the limited gains they may bring. That is why I was so pleased with our time together and with the message you brought to our faculty. When you said that you were “all about what is simplest and most effective” to aid student learning, be that “a paper and pencil” or programs such as Learning Catalytics, I knew we were in great shape.

In following up with the department over the past 48 hours I can say confidently that your time here was a success on a variety of levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, you gently challenged us all to reflect on our own teaching practices and reconsider our definitions of “analysis”, “student learning”, and “rigor”. It is quite easy to fall into a pattern after several years of teaching with a certain model and our discussions this week on how best to challenge our students forced us all to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, your modeling of programs such as Learning Catalytics and Haiku Deck opened my eyes to one of the simplest, most reasonable fusions of traditional / technological pedagogy I have seen to date. Our faculty left so excited about the possibilities ahead of them yet reassured as to the value of their previous best practices.

Learning: from Face-to-Face to Networked Individualism

This afternoon, I picked up the thread of a LinkedIn discussion “Should we let students opt out of face-to-face education?” Excellent observations by over 100 contributors that got me thinking about what’s next for schools?

That led me back to a post I’d saved on my Evernote by George Siemens who wrote

In education, we have decades of reform rhetoric behind us. I have never heard someone say “the system is working”. There appears to be universal acknowledgement that the system is broken.
Classrooms were a wonderful technological invention. They enabled learning to scale so that education was not only the domain of society’s elites. Classrooms made it (economically) possible to educate all citizens. And it is a model that worked quite well.

(Un)fortunately things change. Technological advancement, coupled with rapid growth of information, global connectedness, and new opportunities for people to self-organized without a mediating organization, reveals the fatal flaw of classrooms: slow-developing knowledge can be captured and rendered as curriculum, then be taught, and then be assessed. Things breakdown when knowledge growth is explosive. Rapidly developing knowledge and context requires equally adaptive knowledge institutions. Today’s educational institutions serve a context that no longer exists and its (the institution’s) legacy is restricting innovation.

Digital networks antagonize planned information structures. Planned information structures like textbooks and courses simply can’t adapt quickly enough to incorporate network-speed information development. Instead of being the hub of the learning experiences, books, courses, and classrooms become something more like a node in part of a much broader (often global) network. The shift to networks is transformative in how a society organizes itself (see Wellman’s Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism)

So I followed that link to Barry Wellman who wrote

Members of traditional little-box societies deal principally with fellow members of the few groups to which they belong: at home, in the neighborhood, at work, or in voluntary organizations. …These groups often have boundaries for inclusion and structured, hierarchical, organization: supervisors and employees, parents and children, pastors and churchgoers, organizational executives and members. In such a society, each interaction is in its place: one group at a time.

…Work, community and domesticity have moved from hierarchically arranged, densely knit, bounded groups (“little boxes”) to social networks. … In networked societies, boundaries are more permeable, interactions are with diverse others, linkages switch between multiple networks, and hierarchies are both flatter and more complexly structured. …Rather than fitting into the same group as those around them, each person has her own personal network.

…This is a time for individuals and their networks, and not for groups. The proliferation of computer-supported social networks fosters changes in “network capital”: how people contact, interact, and obtain resources from each other. The broadly -embracing collectivity, nurturing and controlling, has become a fragmented, variegated and personalized social network. Autonomy, opportunity, and uncertainty are the rule.
Complex social networks have always existed, but recent technological developments have afforded their emergence as a dominant form of social organization. Just as computer networks link machines, social networks link people. … The technological development of computer-communications networks and the societal flourish of social networks are now affording the rise of “networked individualism” in a positive feedback loop.

“Should we let students opt out of face-to-face education?” I didn’t see any F2F learning in my brief intellectual journey. It seemed to be a good example of Wellman’s “networked individualism.” Just in time and self-directed – beginning with my LinkedIn network and extending beyond – each hyperlink both a destination and new point of departure. The results  - this reflective post which might serve as a catalyst for the readers further exploration of the theme. (I’ll complete this “”positive feedback” loop by adding this post to the LinkedIn discussion.

Why would we shackle our students to a face-to-face education?

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Image credit flickr/Marc_Smith  Note: The image shows the connections among the Twitter users who follow the user account @jowyang when queried on December 14, 2011, scaled by numbers of followers (with outliers thresholded). Connections created when users follow one another.

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