Tag - etec

Finito!

Today I finished the last requirements for the current course in my master’s program: a 2-part, 4000-word paper.

Phew!

This semester has been a long, tough haul, with a lot of work for school, and a lot of work for work. I’m looking forward to breathing a bit this summer as I don’t have any courses planned.

Of course, there is a ton of work on the house that I’ve been planning to do …

That's bullshit, man (or, observations at the exchange counter)

I’m taking a research methodology course for my master’s program in educational technology.

One of the requirements was to do a ethnographical study of some common setting. I chose the exchange counter at Future Shop, a major Canadian electronics retailer.

Ethnography is challenging!

I decided to go to Future Shop and observe the returns and exchanges counter. Here are my notes – hastily scrawled between visits by suspicious sales staff!

They’re punctuated by my hasty attempt at categorization while in the store … and are pretty raw, pretty much straight from my notebook.

1. Scene
Future Shop in Abbotsford. Big store, jammed with electronics, computers, media, appliances, etc.

Near the front entrance of the store there’s a long counter with several electronic cash registers on it. Service staff face the entrance; clients walk up to them. The cash register screens are visible by service staff only; not clients.

Clients enter a line at a sign. There’s a roped-off section suggesting where the line-up should be. When a cashier is free, people move forward.

Service staff have a fairly informal uniform – black shirt, tan pants, with a security ID tag around the neck. Clients are widely varied in dress from jogging pants to jeans to suits.

2. Bearded man
A bearded Caucasian 40-ish man steps up to the counter. He’s got a boxed product and a variety of papers – receipt, and some bigger sheet of paper. Phones are ringing. The PA system repeatedly pages various people in various departments. He talks to the cashier; there seems to be an impasse. He leaves with his papers and box.

3. Bald man
An 60-ish Caucasian man steps up to the counter. Strained expression on his face. Cashier (20-ish, female, short, dark-haired, Indo-Canadian) checks his receipt, checks his box, asks questions, taps data into her cash register. I hear him say “whatever.”

There’s little eye contact between him and the cashier. He has on hand on his hip, one hand on the counter.

She scans his credit card, seems to be finishing up. She cracks a joke, pointing at some place in the store. I don’t hear her words. He laughs.

She continues tapping on the cash register. She smiles again, saying another joke or anecdote. He smiles. The register spits out more paper for the client’s signature. He signs.

4. Self-assured man
My attention is captured by a self-assured Caucasian man in his early 30’s. Suit, tie, dress shoes. Goatee. Short, slim. Walks up to a 30-ish couple in the line-up with a Guitar Hero 3 box in hand. “That’s the wrong music game,” he says, loudly. “You should get _____” (can’t hear the name.) They smile, nod, answer shortly and quietly.

5. Finished
Meanwhile, the bald man finished, and is walking away.

6. 2 young guys
Two young Indo-Canadian guys in jogging suits and white runners step up to the counter. They say something. Cashier says something … I catch “buy something else.” They leave the counter, walk past me into the main section of the store. One says while passing “that’s bullshit, man.”

7. Self-assured man #2
The self-assured guy steps up to a recently opened position on the exchanges counter. He’s loud – I can hear him half-way across the store, although I can’t make out every word. He makes eye contact, unlike some others, and says confidently “I need to exchange _____ for _____” (couldn’t hear the names of the products).

8. 30-ish couple
Meanwhile, the 30-ish Caucasian couple step up to the other station. He puts the Guitar Hero 3 box on the counter, talks to the cashier. She opens the box, checks the product, and checks his receipt. I hear a few words she says: “what happened?” They seem to want to check if the guitar is still working.

The couple does not make much eye contact with the cashier. The stand slightly turned towards each other, talking very quietly.

The guitar inspection seems over – the cashier taps on her machine and and it produces a 3-foot long receipt. He signs it, and she hands over cash. Must have been an original cash transaction.

9. Self-assured man #3
He’s just finishing up with the cashier. Is still loud and somewhat perfunctory: “Thank you very much and have a good day.” He turns, walks away with his newly exchanged-for product, and walk out the door. The alarm sounds … he slows, half-turns, then continues walking out. No Future Shop employees do anything.

10. 2 young guys #2
The two young guys are back, with some small product in a plastic case. I hear the word “here” as they plunk it on the counter. One faces the cashier as she processes the exchange, the other faces his buddy. Both make little eye contact with the cashier.

The transaction is over quickly. They sign the receipt and walk out. The alarm goes off again – they continue walking out. No-one does anything.

11. Diffident woman
A Caucasian middle-aged woman sidles up to the counter, but stays a couple of feet away. After a minute or two, the cashier looks up, speaks, and the woman walks closer. They start talking.

12. End.
My time is up. I’ve been approached 4 or 5 times by Future Shop staff with slowly increasing levels of interest. Maybe they think I’m secret-shopping them, or work for a competitor. Time to pack up and get out.

. . .
. . .

This was very fun and very challenging.

I really felt a need for a video camera to capture information that could then be analyzed in depth later … I really felt I was missing so much detail that I wanted to capture.

Deconstructionist question

For my current course in my master’s program, I’ve been looking a number of different theoretical perspectives from which educational research can be conducted.

The prof asked us to come up with research questions from each. As I was doing so, I was thinking of web 2.0 technologies like those listed under the Virtual Me header at right … web services that allow anyone to record personal information, history, events, thoughts, experiences. Here’s my question for deconstructionism:

How does recording personal history and artifacts – which necessarily presents a static, freeze-frame version of the self – subvert the concept of identity by representing a dynamic, mutable substance as a stable, unchanging essence?

A good deconstructionist question should be subversive of itself … should deconstruct itself and its own language just as much if not more than whatever concept it purports to analyze.

Coming up with that was fun.

Updates, ETEC, CrowdTrust, Life

In case you’re wondering what’s going on with this blog, I’m currently taking 2 courses for my Master of Educational Technology program at the University of British Columbia.

Plus doing some home reno, plus I have 3 kids, plus my wife seems to feel that somehow I ought to spend some time with her (odd, that), plus I have a full-time job (money: it’s a love/hate relationship).

So some things suffer.In any case, for my ETEC 522 course “Ventures in Learning Technology” we’re reviewing educational technology ventures: start-up businesses. Since one of the profs for the course is behind a social knowledge storage/management start-up called CrowdTrust, we’re putting most of our thoughts and comments into that system. (Here are mine.)

One thing I wanted to share here is a memo I wrote concerning a company’s pitch for VC money.

Hopefully I haven’t been too savage.

Master of Educational Technology

I’ve been slowly taking my MET graduate degree over the past few years. The course I’ll be taking next semester sounds like it’ll be the most interesting one to date: ETEC 522.

ETEC 522 is an online immersion in the global eLearning marketplace with particular emphasis on the environmental dynamics, evolving business models and success characteristics of eLearning enterprises in public and commercial domains. The course will be delivered in a case-study modality from a venture analysis perspective. The primary learning materials will be a “pitch pool” of authentic 12-minute venture finance presentations by the leading executives and leaders of current, real-world eLearning enterprises spanning the diversity of approaches to eLearning business opportunities. Examples representing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial ventures will provide a balance between corporate and institutional enterprise. As the foundation for practical learning, students will undertake the critical due diligence analysis of these ventures individually, in groups, and with professional venture finance guidance.

Learning? This is fun!

Why Apple sold PowerSchool

The rumors had been around for some time: PowerSchool was on the auction block. Now it’s official.

But why? Why did Apple sell PowerSchool? It appears that the division was not profitable enough for Apple, and there were always rumors of issues around the development of new versions of PowerSchool.

But I think there are two key reasons.

One: Not selling more Macs
One is that PowerSchool did not actually help Apple sell more Macs.

When Apple bought the company, PowerSchool had about 10,000 school clients, if memory serves. (I did a research project on student information systems (SIS) for my company about 5-6 years ago.)

The theory was that with PowerSchool as the foot in the door, Apple would be able to sell more Macs to education. And the magic of bundling would also make selling PowerSchool easier in schools that already had a significant Mac prescence.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, unfortunately, there is.

Apple’s penetration in education has at best held even over the past 5-6 years. More likely, it’s trended down. In fact, PowerSchool didn’t help Apple sell more Macs.

In retrospect, it’s not too hard to see why.

First of all, schools make buying decisions on SIS systems maybe every 10 years. It’s like buying Oracle. You don’t switch to DB2 next year just because somebody gives you a 10% off coupon.

Secondly, they are purchases made with two significantly different audiences. The people making buying decisions on SIS systems are principals, districts, and states. On the other hand, classroom teachers often have significant input into instruction computer buying practices.

And third, it’s not a works-better-together scenario. Because it’s web-based, PowerSchool will work for anyone with any modern computers: Windows, Mac, Linux, you name it. Have web browser, will travel. Same thing for most of the other modern SIS systems on the market. That’s as it should be: back-office and front-office applications are de-coupled and independently upgradable.

Two: Educational content on iPods
But the piece of the deal that’s most intriguing to me is the committment on the part of Pearson to bring their educational content to iPod.

There is no bigger company in educational technology than Pearson. They already have the leading SIS software in the market, SASI xp. But that’s not all they do.

Pearson is a quintessential international megacorp, with businesses all over the world. However, they’re biggest in publishing. In educational publishing, they make textbooks, they publish novels for age-targeted audiences, and more – particularly, curriculum-related products. As they so modestly state:

We are the leading pre K-12 curriculum, testing, and software company in the US, reaching every student and teacher in that country with one or more of our products and services. We offer a wide range of solutions that integrate our instructional, assessment, and reporting capabilities. These instructional offerings include basal and supplemental programmes, and technology-delivered adaptive learning solutions.

Well.

What if you were a company that had a strong historical presence in education with slightly declining market share, but also had an incredibly hot product in the general consumer market that can display text, play audio, and show movies?

You might try to make that incredibly hot product the basis for an educational trojan horse. If so, you’d probably be a well-known fruit-flavored company.

In fact, that’s just what I predicted three weeks ago. After, just for the heck of it, I put one of my company’s courses on my iPod, the lightbulb went on and it became clear to me that the iPod is a perfect vehicle for mobile, personalized course content delivery.

Not so good for interaction, necessarily. And not something that will take the place of discussion, teachers, and all the other needed accoutrements of school. But certainly an excellent way to distributed course text, images, audio, and video.

Education has been looking for e-books for some time now. Maybe the iPod … particularly a next-generation model with a larger screen … is precisely that, but we never realized it until now.

Hmmm. Starts some bells ringing, doesn’t it?

If you were Apple, wouldn’t that be something you wanted? You bet. And how would you get it? You might start by partnering with one of the largest education curriculum and supplemental materials producers out there.

You might start, in other words, with Pearson Education.

How to publish a course on iPod

Friday nights, Friday nights. Friday nights are supposed to be for fun. For long dinners and late movies, and then a little nightcap before going to bed.

Except for geeks.

I’m only a mini-geek, so I only spent about 3 hours fiddling with technology.

But this past week Friday I got my first course up and running on an iPod. And it’s unbelievably simple.

The course consists of a series of text components – which can be basically any text you want – and some audio tracks. You access the course via the Notes menu in your iPod, and when the audio tracks are referenced, you simply click the middle select button on your iPod to play them while you continue reading the note.

How to publish a course on iPod
iPod speaks a subset of HTML – a very small subset, as far as I know. (Oddly enough, the files you transfer to your iPod have to be simple text (.txt) files and not HTML (.html) files.)

The syntax will be very familiar to anyone who has any experience with HTML:

  • Page titles: <title>this is the title</title>
  • Links: <a href=”link.txt”>this text is a link</a>
  • Line breaks: the standard <br>
  • Paragraphs: the standard <p>
  • Song/audio links: <a href=”song=My Unique Song Name”>Link to song</a>

There’s a few more – check Make Magazine for details.

Here’s a critical one, though, if you want to link audio into your course but do not want users to leave the environment of your course. Use the song/audio link mentioned about, but add the following meta tag to the top of your page: <meta name=”NowPlaying” content=”false”>. That will make the song (or audio track with training content) play while the text content remains on the screen … which is what I wanted for my little app.

All-in-all, very simple, and very cool.

My kingdom for an installer
There is one shortfall, however: no installer app or standard installer procedure. Apple needs to build something in for automatic installation.

Right now, the install procedure is as follows:

  1. Drag song/audio tracks to iTunes
  2. Sync
  3. In iTunes preferences, enable Disk Mode
  4. Drag notes bundle into iPods Notes area

That probably involves connecting/disconnecting the iPod twice, not to mention futzing with preferences. Dragging the notes bundle into the iPod notes area is dead easy, but I’ve seen way too many dead easy procedures on a computer give … umm … inexperienced users fits to believe this this is not a problem. And I haven’t even listed the part about re-connecting your iPod and disabling Disk Mode so that you can sync your music again.

Realistically, I think Apple sees the potential of iPods as learning devices with both audio and video content. Hopefully that will impell them to create some sort of mechanism that is drag-n-drop friendly for users – for example, download a zipped course, drop it on iTunes, and based on some metadata, iTunes just knows what to do with it.

Probably, however, Apple will create some kind of solution based on the iTunes Music Store.

And this is how I think they’ll do it.

More, more, more
As far as I can find out, however, there is no way of affecting either the font or size of the text you publish on iPod.

That would be a very nice feature, since (as you can see in the screenshot above) the default iPod Notes text is rather thin and spidery. I’d like to be able to beef it up a bit … make it bold or something like that.

In terms of courses, adding assessment is always a nice feature – even if it’s just self-assessment for the learner.

Currently, the only way you can add assessment to an iPod course is via branching: asking a question with a number of answers, each of which is a link. By following the link of the selected answer, the user both selects an option and (by virtue of what you put at the linked file) finds out if he/she is right or wrong.

Summing up
Adding a course to an iPod is incredibly easy … and will probably get even easier.

It would be nice if Apple would publish some specs on what you can or can’t do with Notes (in terms of tags that are supported). I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that in the medium-term future.

But I can already see that iPod could become a very strong e-learning platform over the next 2-4 years.