Ted Curran.net http://tedcurran.net Tips, Tricks, and Lifehacks for Online Educators Fri, 13 May 2016 17:14:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Always Know Where Your Towel (and File) Is http://tedcurran.net/2016/05/13/always-know-towel-file/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/05/13/always-know-towel-file/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 17:06:37 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7745 So after reading this guy’s rant about how terrible his experience with iTunes is, it reminded me of a big “I told you so” that I want to share. While your apps would like you to think of your music, movies, and documents as being theirs, they’re really yours, and you should always know where […]

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So after reading this guy’s rant about how terrible his experience with iTunes is, it reminded me of a big “I told you so” that I want to share. While your apps would like you to think of your music, movies, and documents as being theirs, they’re really yours, and you should always know where they are stored on your devices. This empowers you to take control of your computing life, and always gives you the option to skip out of an abusive relationship (like the one many people have with iTunes).

Who Owns this Music, Me or iTunes?

I noticed back in maybe 2005, when iTunes was becoming everyone’s default music player due to the popularity of the iPod, that it demanded you use it (and not your desktop file manager) to view your music files. Before then, people would say “my MP3s are all in my ‘Music’ folder”, and they gradually changed to saying “my songs are all IN iTunes“.

Did you catch what happened? Apple got us to become dependent on their tool for not only listening to our music, but accessing it, organizing it, and (of course) buying it.

This adds convenience, sure, but it also gives Apple the power to define for you what you can and can’t do with your files. It may have never occurred to the ranty guy above that he could just open his MP3 files with a different app! iTunes files could not be played in any other music player but iTunes. They could not be used on any other devices but iPods. And iTunes would automatically arrange its files in a hidden folder on your desktop where you probably wouldn’t ever think to look.

Thinking of your documents as being bound by the application you use to work with them is inherently limiting, because if the application doesn’t let you do something, you can’t do it.

As an electronic music producer, I was constantly mining my album collection for samples, but iTunes doesn’t let you do that (except with certain pre-approved partner apps like GarageBand or DJay that can interface with iTunes). I watched as my students would search INSIDE of GarageBand for the button that would let them import a song to remix, instead of realizing that they could find the file in the Finder and drag/drop it into GarageBand (or some other DAW) to use it how they see fit.

Eventually I learned that I needed to manage my own MP3 files myself so I could keep the freedom to remix them the way I want to, and to play them on the devices I choose.

As Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “it’s a tough galaxy. If you want to survive out here, you always gotta know where your towel is”.

Always Know Where Your File Is

I’d say the same thing goes for your files.

Since those early days with iTunes, it’s become the norm for people to think of apps, not files, as the main places they go to interface with their stuff. iOS famously went without a File Manager app for years, and all those iPhone and iPad users got used to thinking of files as being INSIDE of apps. Your documents are IN Google Docs, and you have to GO IN THERE to see them. Your pictures are IN FACEBOOK or Instagram, and you can’t access them outside of the application.

Again, it’s convenient, but it’s also disempowering you, the user, from doing everything you can do with your files.

What happens when the application goes out of business? How do you get your files back?

What if you take a photo in one app and want to share it into another, but your app doesn’t let you do that (for whatever reason). What then?

And what are those reasons? Money, usually. Apps will limit you from doing things with your files because they see a way to charge you money for that functionality. There may be weird contractual obligations between companies that restrict you from taking certain actions, as in the case of ringtones in iTunes:

So why won’t Apple let me make ringtones inside iTunes with tracks I’ve ripped from CDs?

Judging from the fact that the iTMS EULA prohibits the use of downloaded files as ringtones, we’d say it’s more than likely because Apple’s contracts with the various labels represented in the iTMS specifically forbid it. We haven’t seen them, but we’d bet that ringtones — and the licenses for using songs as ringtones — have their own lengthy section in Apple’s contracts, and that Apple isn’t allowed to sell files for use as ringtones without coughing up more dough. Steve has said as much, after all. Otherwise the selection would include more than just the 500,000 songs you can get right now.

We’re still not exactly happy with Apple’s decision to lock out the consumer like this. For example, why can’t we use our own GarageBand compositions as ringtones? We obviously own the rights to music we create. But we can certainly see why the labels would insist on pricing ringtone rights separately, since it’s such big business.

Finally, sometimes the developers of your favorite app simply haven’t added the specific piece of functionality that you need so you can do what you want with your files. Rather than waiting for your app to improve, you can take your files and use them in a different app that does what you want.

I’ve seen lots of people get to a “dead end” where they lose access to their creative work because they were dependent on their apps to work with their files.

To them, I say (in DJ Khaled’s voice) “Congratulations, You Played Yourself”.

“Don’t Ever Play Yourself”

Be the Driver, not the Passenger

This is just a reminder to think of your files as being yours, and remember that you should be the one who controls where and how you use them. Get a file manager app for your Android or iOS device so you can see where your pictures and music are stored, and where you can choose while app to open them with.

Finally, get acquainted with services like Google Takeout and learn how to export from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other services so you can always know where your precious files are.

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Use a URL as a Strong Password? #CrazyTalk http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/15/use-a-url-as-a-strong-password-crazytalk/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/15/use-a-url-as-a-strong-password-crazytalk/#respond Fri, 15 Apr 2016 15:00:00 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7686 I don’t know if this is actually a good idea or not, but hear me out (and please comment below!): Can a URL be used as a strong password? Laziness is the Mother of Invention This morning I was walking the dog, futzing with my phone, and trying to sign up for a new social […]

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I don’t know if this is actually a good idea or not, but hear me out (and please comment below!):

Can a URL be used as a strong password?

Laziness is the Mother of Invention

This morning I was walking the dog, futzing with my phone, and trying to sign up for a new social network. The app asked me for a password, and I didn’t want to use my standard low-security, easy-to-type-on-a-smartphone-with-one-hand password (because low security passwords are a bad idea). I wanted to follow good practices for creating strong passwords and I was in the mood for a lazybones way to do it.

walking the dog

My phone has an awesome custom keyboard called TouchPal that has its own clipboard manager which allows me to pull up a list of the last few things I’ve copied to the clipboard and paste them into new things.

The clipboard manager on TouchPal keyboard

Today, when prompted to come up with a password for a new app, I looked in my clipboard history and found a URL for an image I had recently copied and pasted somewhere else:

https://media.giphy.com/media/yHpvgfOKKBAD6/giphy.gif

I pasted it into the app, it accepted it (apparently it doesn’t limit password characters, which is great), and my password manager stored it so I can always just paste it in when I login.

How Secure is That?

It hit me that this URL fits most criteria for a strong password – it’s got 53 characters (!!!) made up of letters, numbers, and punctuation, which, although it doesn’t have capitals, still makes it a pretty strong password.

It’s not on the most common passwords 2016 list, and it doesn’t contain easy to guess life details like birthdays, pet names, child names, sports teams, anniversaries, or the word “password”. It’s not even a URL that’s near and dear to my heart, like my website or something — just a complete RANDOM, Strangers on a Train – style image URL that happened to be handy at the time.

In fact, according to HowSecureIsMyPassword.net, would take a computer about 112 SESVIGINTILLION YEARS to crack your password!!! That’s by far the highest score I’ve ever seen on that site, and is probably the biggest number I’ve ever heard of anywhere, BTW.

It would take a computer about 112 SESVIGINTILLION YEARS to crack your password

Is that Crazy?

So now, I fully invite you to ridicule me publicly if you think this is a stupid idea, but is there any real science around this? Under what circumstances would it be OK to copy and paste a URL as a strong password? Or maybe use the XKCD method and paste in a random string of words and spaces? What do you think?

via GIPHY

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Java-based Edtech Tools Pose Security Risk http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/12/java-based-edtech-tools-pose-security-risk/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/12/java-based-edtech-tools-pose-security-risk/#respond Tue, 12 Apr 2016 19:47:55 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7671 I was just discussing free screencasting tools with some fellow Instructional Designers, and realizing how many of the most commonly-used apps like Screencast-O-Matic are based on Java technology. Java’s recent plague of security breaches has earned it the title of  the biggest vulnerability for US computers, and yet, I haven’t heard much discussion in edtech […]

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I was just discussing free screencasting tools with some fellow Instructional Designers, and realizing how many of the most commonly-used apps like Screencast-O-Matic are based on Java technology. Java’s recent plague of security breaches has earned it the title of  the biggest vulnerability for US computers, and yet, I haven’t heard much discussion in edtech circles about replacing these. So let’s talk about it!

I don’t meant to create mass hysteria, but it’s definitely something that users of free education technology tools should be aware of – especially if your institution restricts your ability to update software on your machine, you may not be able to install the latest patches in response to Java’s frequent security threats. In other words, – it CAN be patched, but it often ISN’T patched quickly enough to protect users from malware. It’s bad enough that security experts are urging people to find alternatives to Java-based tools and uninstall Java from your system.

Edtech Love’s Not Supposed to Hurt

I realized that several of the most beloved edtech tools require us to have Java installed on our machines, including Open Office for office documents, edtech darling Minecraft, Blackboard Collaborate for webinars, Screencast-O-Matic for screencasting, Big Blue Button webinars, Screenr screencasting, and XMind mind-mapping. Included in this list are tools that many of us have integrated into our personal course design workflows, or even have integrated with our LMSes.

I’m surprised that people continue to use (and SELL!) big-expensive Java-based tools like Bb Collaborate without discussing the risks.

As many users (like me) make the decision to uninstall Java completely from their personal machines, it poses an issue of equitable access if you continue to deliver instruction using tools that put students at a security risk.

To the best extent possible, you should probably take a good hard look at the tools you have it within your power to change, and reach out to other stakeholders in your organization to see what can be done to protect your institution and students. Hopefully, your IT group has a plan for securing everyone’s computer from Java’s vulnerabilities, but it’s worth discussing with them to see what the best thinking is, and what you need to communicate to students.

Beyond Java-Based EdTech

Java’s days as a de facto part of every major operating system seem to be over. Mainstream operating systems have stopped including Java by default, offering it only as an optional add-on for folks who need it. – digitaltrends

Long term, it appears that we should get used to living in a world where Java is no longer installed on our machines by default, and should start to explore Java-free (decaf?) alternatives to our favorite edtech tools.

Specifically for screencasting, you may want to check out Screencastify, which works as a Chrome browser plugin and runs natively without Java. You may want to dump OpenOffice and explore markdown as a better way of formatting your documents and creating presentations. You may want to ditch the bloated teleconferencing tools your institution purchased for the LMS and explore Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom.us instead?

If you use free code development tools with your students, you may that many popular titles are Java-based, like Eclipse and Aptana Studio. Maybe it’s time to start recommending SublimeText or Atom Editor instead.

These are just the tools I can think of off the top of my head, but I know that, over my years as an edtech tool junkie, I’ve run across lots of tools that require Java to run. Which apps do you depend on, and what are you thinking of switching to? You may want to use AlternativeTo to help you find alternatives to your favorite Java-based edtech tools. Please share in the comments below…

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Some Love for the Mozilla Web Literacy Standards http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/06/love-mozilla-web-literacy-standards/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/04/06/love-mozilla-web-literacy-standards/#respond Wed, 06 Apr 2016 16:51:36 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7669 I wanted to drop in a quick plug for familiarizing ourselves with the Mozilla Web Literacy Standards and 21st Century Skills. Though edtechies have lots of great tools that are focused on education, it’s also good to have a more fundamental understanding of basic web skills. These are skills and abilities that all web citizens — students and […]

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I wanted to drop in a quick plug for familiarizing ourselves with the Mozilla Web Literacy Standards and 21st Century Skills. Though edtechies have lots of great tools that are focused on education, it’s also good to have a more fundamental understanding of basic web skills. These are skills and abilities that all web citizens — students and teachers alike — would do well to cultivate. Since we do all our teaching and learning on the web, we should understand the medium we work in, deeply.

As you think out how to add technology to your course, don’t just think about your narrow lesson objectives, but about the tools that students will get enduring benefits from knowing how to use, long after they’ve left your class. If they never get another chance to use technology in their learning, what would you like them to walk out of your course being able to do?

The Web Literacy Map is made up of three strands. Each strand has a number of competencies, which are further sub-divided into skills:

You’ll find that these three strands represent broad competencies rather than specific tools to master. You could meet one of these standards using a wide variety of tools, but the standards provide a sense of direction for web practices that promote empowerment, openness, inquiry, and effective lifelong learning.

I notice that edtechies tend to gravitate towards various free tools without clear criteria for why or how to use one over another. At worst, we can end up finding shiny new ways to reproduce outdated, ineffective teaching practices. By stepping back and looking at our use of technology in education as a lifelong process of supporting core inquiry tasks, we can make better decisions about which tools and activities to include.

This can also serve as a lifelong learning plan for you, dear connected educator, to help you decide which web tools you’re going to commit your valuable time and energy to mastering. It might help you stop app smashing and choose a few tools that you and your students can spend time developing deep skills in.

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Rapid Prototyping Magic with Alfred Workflows http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/22/rapid-prototyping-magic-alfred-workflows/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/22/rapid-prototyping-magic-alfred-workflows/#respond Tue, 22 Mar 2016 15:48:00 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7392 I attended my second hackathon this weekend, and my teammates were noticing all my keystroke magic tricks that help me quickly prototype professional-looking app mockups with remarkable speed. A teammate asked me what my secrets are, and so I decided to share it as a post. My keystroke magic is all built around AlfredApp, the […]

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I attended my second hackathon this weekend, and my teammates were noticing all my keystroke magic tricks that help me quickly prototype professional-looking app mockups with remarkable speed. A teammate asked me what my secrets are, and so I decided to share it as a post.

My keystroke magic is all built around AlfredApp, the smart app launcher for Mac. The core tool is free, but for $25 you get the PowerPack, allowing you to load workflows that streamline common tasks on your Mac. Workflows are usually community-sourced solutions to common computing tasks, and can add speedy superpowers to your design, development, and productivity habits.

You’ll need to install Alfred and purchase the PowerPack on your Mac to follow these instructions.

FontAwesome Icons in your Prototyping App

Font Awesome Workflow for Android

Nothing makes a design look realistic like using the same kind of high quality app icons we’re all accustomed to seeing in real professional apps. FontAwesome icons are a complete set of professional icon fonts that are used all over the web and in smartphone apps to communicate standard app features. I have a trick that lets me insert these icons into my design mockups as fast as I can think.

First, you’ll need to download the FontAwesome font from GitHub and install it on your Mac in the .otf font format.

Second, download the FontAwesome Alfred Workflow in .alfredworkflow format, double click it to install.

Once it’s installed, you can invoke Alfred using its default keystroke, and type fa to start browsing between all of the available FontAwesome icons. You can keep typing the name of the individual icon (CheatSheet) to narrow the search possibilities.

Once you’ve found the icon you want, hold down the Control key and press Enter. This will paste a character reference into your prototyping app (I use Apple Keynote and Sketch App). From there, just change the font of the character reference to FontAwesome and your icon will appear. Then you can change the color and size like any other font.

It feels like a lot of steps to get it set up, but once you do it a few times you’ll get very fast at finding the icons you need.

 

FlatUIColors in Alfred

 

When I was rapid prototyping the app at the hackathon, we realized we needed a limited set of complementary colors that we could quickly add to the project and be sure they’d look good together.

I’ve been a fan of FlatUIColors.com for some time as a quick way to get a nice palette of vibrant, complementary colors that work well together.

The FlatUIColors for Alfred workflow takes this simple, powerful tool and adds it to your Alfred Quickbar.

Just type flat and you’ll instantly be presented with the FlatUIColors palette, and selecting one will automatically paste the CSS hex color code into your frontmost app.

I use an app called HexColor for Mac to catch those hex codes and translate them into the Mac’s native color picker. Then I can just drag and drop the color to an element. (It’s also very handy for picking up colors and getting back hex codes to include in your CSS code.)

When you’re racing against the clock in a hackathon, it’s so nice to have a simple choice of colors that you know will look good together. This is the fastest way I know to do that.

DuckDuckGo !Bang Searches from Alfred

duckduckgo bang image searches

DuckDuckGo is an amazing search tool that (among other things) lets you search hundreds of other sites anonymously by using quick keystrokes called !Bang Commands.

I made DuckDuckGo my default web search in Alfred, so I can invoke any !Bang command right as I start typing, allowing me to search any website without actually having to navigate there first. I know, first world problems,right? But this saves valuable seconds as you’re getting images to use in your app mockup.

I start my search query with !gi  and then type what I want an image of. This tells DuckDuckGo to search Google Images search and return my search results in Google Images. BANG! Then I type !unsplash and get results from the UnSplash open-licensed image library. I can quickly search a variety of image sites like !flickr or !bi(Bing Images) all from the Alfred Quickbar BANG BANG BANG!

There are hundreds of useful bang commands that, even if you only memorize the 5-10 sites you search the most (Wikipedia, eBay, Amazon, Google, GitHub, Lifehacker, etc.) you will find that your search results are that much closer at hand when you’re quickly prototyping a design. When in doubt, try writing out the whole site name like !wikipedia, or assume that the most popular sites have the most obvious shortcuts !w for Wikipedia, !a for Amazon, !gh for GitHub, etc.

 

What Tricks Do You Use?

 

So those are some of the ways I have learned to quickly mockup app designs from idea to prototype. There are way more creative ways to use Alfred to streamline your development workflows, but these are the ones I use most when I’m prototyping against the clock. What tricks do you use? Please share in the comments….

 

https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/10/hidden-productivity-secrets-with-alfred/

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Good MF’ing Online Learning http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/21/good-mfing-online-learning/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/21/good-mfing-online-learning/#respond Tue, 22 Mar 2016 02:06:17 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7646   Every so often, I go visit this website for inspiration: MotherFuckingWebsite.com It starts with the text This is a motherfucking website. And it’s fucking perfect. Seriously, what the fuck else do you want? It goes on to remind us that websites do not need to have all the eye candy and interactivity that we’re […]

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WARNING

Warning: Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife. This article uses the F-word

 

Every so often, I go visit this website for inspiration:
MotherFuckingWebsite.com

It starts with the text

This is a motherfucking website.
And it’s fucking perfect.
Seriously, what the fuck else do you want?

It goes on to remind us that websites do not need to have all the eye candy and interactivity that we’re accustomed to seeing on sites nowadays.

It’s meant to remind web designers that the main purpose of a website is to convey information, and simple HTML pages do that just as well as fancy web applications with lots of social media buttons, comment sections, thumbs up/thumbs down buttons, and other niceties.

It then talks specifically about all the technical features that designers thoughtlessly add to any website they make, increasing complexity, causing conflicts, slowing down performance, and diminishing the end user’s experience.

It’s good to remember that, at its most basic, learning on the web is as simple as being able to access learning content. See, you’re learning stuff right now!

Simplicity in EdTech

Most Instructional Designers do not consider themselves to be web designers – rather, they’re educators who build learning experiences on the web.

As such, most IDs prefer to use authoring packages and learning management systems – AKA crutches – over basic web tools to create content. As a result, eLearning content is frequently trapped in proprietary authoring formats, doesn’t work on mobile devices, and over-emphasizes visual beauty over accessibility. Online instructors flit from one free eye-candy web app to the next in search of a simple workflow where they can make attractive eye-candy assets to get students excited about learning. Just as often as not, this leads us to unnecessarily complexify our online materials.

Please let this motherfucking website serve as an inspiration to you that you don’t need a learning management system to build a site. You can write a simple page in markdown, throw it in your dropbox, share the URL, and connect with your people that way.

Alternately, you can export that markdown as HTML, paste it into a page in your LMS, and have a nice, clearly organized page. What more do you want?

Or… you can get a free blog, slap some free theme on it, and post your ideas online that way. People will think you’re fancy.

You don’t need to create a flash-based Captivate presentation so your students can flip through a PowerPoint presentation deck on the web. Why not make a HTML5-based presentation with markdown and post it??

Remember that this motherfucking website is the simplest way you can communicate with others on the web, and it’s pretty fucking great. It’s mobile-friendly, responsive, adaptive, broadband optimized, 508 compliant, accessible, and gluten free. Next time you’re designing a learning experience for the web, try building UP from this instead of DOWN from your cinematic fever dreams? You might surprise yourself how successful it can be.

[Feeling advanced? Check out this Better Motherfucking Website. It uses CSS!]

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Murphy’s Mantras for LMS Evaluation http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/08/murphys-mantras-for-lms-evaluation/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/08/murphys-mantras-for-lms-evaluation/#respond Wed, 09 Mar 2016 01:37:28 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7375 Comment on What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems by Michael Feldstein. This post does a great job of summarizing the absurd challenges surrounding the LMS procurement process. It explains (without casting blame) why so many LMSes have such a similar set of features (at least when viewed as a bulleted list), […]

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Comment on What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems by Michael Feldstein.

This post does a great job of summarizing the absurd challenges surrounding the LMS procurement process. It explains (without casting blame) why so many LMSes have such a similar set of features (at least when viewed as a bulleted list), and why institutions tend to be unhappy with the results.

I found myself nodding along, recognizing many of the unproductive circular conversations that happen during the LMS procurement process. By the end, it was pretty clear that this is a hard process, but I didn’t see a clear recommendation for how newbies can improve upon the pitfalls of the process (short of reading e-Literate front to back like I did, or hiring experienced consultants who know what they’re talking about!)

As I went through our first LMS eval process, I was struck by how complex an LMS is, and how imprecise our language is for talking about it. Even extremely highly-educated professionals would look at the hundreds of tiny features that make up an LMS and stay stuck at the most basic level of comparison — Blackboard GOOD, Canvas BAD. Even with detailed prompting to compare specific features between systems (“do you prefer the text editor tool in Blackboard over Canvas?”), it just felt like too much work for people who were doing this alongside their other duties.

I think if I were going to add something to this article, I would end with a set of mantras that people should constantly remind themselves of during the LMS procurement process. The first two come from Michael Feldstein’s  “Why all LMS’s are pretty Bad/Good” and helped me through my first LMS eval process.

Murphy’s* Mantras for LMS Evaluation

  • Most LMSes are pretty bad.
  • Most LMSes are pretty good.
  •  Most LMSes have all of the same core set of features, albeit arranged differently.
  • Most faculty do not use most of those features.
  • They probably won’t without significant training and/or incentives to do so.
  • Don’t believe vendors statements about LMS features. Test & compare them yourself.
  • And finally, don’t forget that people will complain no matter what you do. Understand your school’s strategic vision for student learning outcomes and err on the side of an LMS with the features that support the learning tasks that promote that vision.
  • A tip of the hat to Murphy’s Law, the bittersweet rule stating that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

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Researching the Blockchain in EdTech http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/04/researching-the-blockchain-in-edtech/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/03/04/researching-the-blockchain-in-edtech/#respond Fri, 04 Mar 2016 17:58:31 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7363 The Blockchain in Education: Research Questions Audrey Watters recently posted a great set of research questions for thinking through the ways blockchain technology might potentially interact with edtech. I have been keenly watching blockchain technology for a few years now, especially interested in how it could be used to certify student learning, similar to the […]

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The Blockchain in Education: Research Questions

Audrey Watters recently posted a great set of research questions for thinking through the ways blockchain technology might potentially interact with edtech.

I have been keenly watching blockchain technology for a few years now, especially interested in how it could be used to certify student learning, similar to the badgechain project.  I’m planning on participating in the IDEO Bits&Blocks Hackathon in a couple weeks and thought it would be a good exercise to think through some of these excellent questions.

 


 

 

>1. What happens to student privacy if educational records/transactions are available via a public ledger? Will a student have a say over who has access to their records?
>2. What happens if a students wants to correct that educational record or remove transactions, say, because she wants or needs a “fresh start”? The blockchain is uneditable, correct?

When the Past is No Longer Past

The blockchain would in fact contain a record of all previous transactions, even those that have been repeated, corrected, or are otherwise no longer accurate. So it might not be possible to delete an embarrassing grade from the past, but it should be possible to update that grade if the student and the issuing institution agree to do that. The idea would not be to obliterate old, inaccurate, or embarrassing information, but to put it in its proper perspective — as something that happened in the past and that we’re working on fixing.

Modern forms of version control are a great example of this technology in action. It’s clear to see on GitHub or Google Docs which version of a document is the up-to-date version, however it is still possible to search back through the version history to see older drafts, providing greater context. This paper trail is useful when there’s confusion about the accuracy of the current version.

 

The fact that our past records will persist along with us and will not be completely delete-able is intuitively scary — we have all needed a clean start at one point, and we fear being held captive by our past missteps. However, it’s worth mentioning that we have a choice about how we will use old, outdated, and embarrassing information. To quote myself from Big Data Requires Big Compassion,

I believe this radical expansion of what can be known about us needs to be accompanied by a radical expansion in the compassionate use of data. Traditionally humans have passed snap judgments on one another based on very little information, and now we are awash in a sea of data! There is a persistent habit of people to change their opinion of someone else after learning a troubling fact about them– that they’re less honest, competent, caring, or admirable than you originally thought. Big data technology makes it more likely that others will find unflattering information about us, and it matters a lot what they do with that information. Certainly anyone looking for some dirt on me could find a questionable joke or photo I posted online as evidence of my wickedness. I can only hope they would take a holistic view until they found evidence of my goodness as well.

I don’t think the answer to fixing past missteps is the ability to completely obscure them, but the ability to show more recent progress in making them right.

 

3. Are organizations using a version of the Bitcoin blockchain? Or are they rolling their own? Are there going to be a bunch of separate edu-related blockchains? Will people gravitate to, say, IBM’s blockchain-as-a-service?

The Blockchain as Database

This video by Joseph Lubin talks specifically about some different ways to deploy blockchains, and he does mention enterprises having their own internal blockchains that can interface with external blockchains (according to the business objectives it’s meant to address). His company does consulting to help clients set up blockchain networks and applications to accomplish business objectives. So that’s a thing.

He describes Bitcoin competitor Ethereum as a “The first world computer”, and goes on to talk about it as if it’s one big system that anyone can securely interact with where the blockchain serves as the database of the system, and where different applications interact with that database according to their intended purpose.

In fact, changing the word “blockchain” in your question with the word “database” illuminates a very familiar picture of our modern tech scene:

Are organizations using a version of the Bitcoin database? Or are they rolling their own? Are there going to be a bunch of separate edu-related databases? Will people gravitate to, say, IBM’s -as-a-service?

Certainly, the applications of blockchain tech in the future will be as varied as database uses are today. Will some institutions use a standard, interoperable database system to make it easier to share data with others, while others use proprietary, purpose-built databases for highly customized use cases? Yep, they do both now, and it makes sense that they’ll continue to do so when the data is stored in the blockchain.

 

7. When it comes to issues of “trust” and, say, academic certification, who is not trusted here? Is it the problem that folks believe students/employees lie about their credentials? Or is the problem that credential-issuing entities aren’t trustworthy? I mean, why/how would we “trust” the entity issuing blockchained credentials? (What is actually the source of “trust” in our current credentialing system? Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily accreditation.) How would the trustworthiness of blockchained credential-issuing institutions be measured or verified? If it’s by the number of transactions (eg. badges issued), doesn’t that encourage diploma milling?

“Trust”

Let’s tease apart a few different definitions of the word “trust” here.
We have #1: “Do we trust that the institution issued the badge?” and we have #2: “Do we trust the institution to be qualified to issue a badge?”

The blockchain should be able to say accurately that “Ted passed ‘Intro to JavaScript’ at FreeCodeCamp.” But can it tell us whetherFreeCodeCamp can be trusted to issue badges in the first place? Can it tell us whether that badge really means that I’m ready to go to work programming professionally?

The transaction of issuing a certification will be verifiable via the blockchain. However, the reputation of the issuing institution will be determined largely the way it is now — by evaluating the quality of the graduates produced by that program. Sure, accreditation is one broad signal of institutional quality, but within that, quality of graduates says a lot.

If a job applicant comes to me with a badgechained certification in web design from a diploma mill but they still can’t build a website, the value of that certification (in my mind) is diminished. I don’t know of a technical way to issue that kind of feedback on the blockchain, but eventually word gets around that graduates of disgraced diploma mill Saint Regis University are not as qualified as MIT grads.

MIT will be able to issue blockchained certifications that are trusted in both ways. The transaction will be verified, and few would question MIT’s authority as an institution that’s qualified to issue badges certifying technical learning.

FreeCodeCamp might be able to issue a “trusted”, verifiable blockchained certification, but it will need to earn a reputation as a “trusted” program for preparing and certifying learners readiness for work.

The end result is that an employer might accept a badgechain from MIT and reject one from Saint Regis U because she’s looked up that school’s reputation on a 3rd party website she trusts and believes that certification doesn’t meet her standards.

 

##Future Explorations

I skipped some of the questions in Audrey’s list, especially those pertaining to mining of blockchain resources. Her questions about the incentives people will have to take on this energy-intensive, cost-intensive activity are spot on. What incentive would students (or institutions) have to commit server resources to chugging through verifying transactions, if not for some hope of a monetary return? The current paradigm is for a student to pay a few dollars to get a certified transcript sent to employers — would they be willing to take on the expense of running a server to handle what is now a relatively simple task? Of course, free cloud services might offer to do this for students, in exchange for personal data, but it’s exactly this type of data that we’d be least comfortable handing to Google or Facebook to take care of for us.

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Could Gigabit Internet Lead to a More Decentralized Web? http://tedcurran.net/2016/02/10/could-gigabit-internet-lead-to-a-more-decentralized-web/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/02/10/could-gigabit-internet-lead-to-a-more-decentralized-web/#respond Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:07:53 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7259 The hosts of DTNS discuss Patrick’s newfound embarrassment of riches after moving to Finland, where he gets more home broadband bandwidth than he can use. What to do with it all? I have some ideas — Their discussion made me wonder if we have gotten too used to consumerized home broadband — by getting our internet from […]

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The hosts of DTNS discuss Patrick’s newfound embarrassment of riches after moving to Finland, where he gets more home broadband bandwidth than he can use. What to do with it all? I have some ideas —

Their discussion made me wonder if we have gotten too used to consumerized home broadband — by getting our internet from our cable TV providers, has it limited our imagination to just getting faster movies, bigger video games, and more streaming music? What about our contributions to the web? What about our ability to own our own home on the web?

Own Your Own Hosting Again

I remember in the late’90s when most Americans had a small-scale, local DSL or dial-up internet provider, it was much more common to host your own web server from your home internet connection. Before the cloud gained popularity, people hooked up old Xboxes to their LAN connection and ran web servers from their house. Could it be possible that when gigabit Internet becomes widespread we will have less of a need for centralized cloud web hosting and can go back to hosting more of our own files and applications locally at our homes? Could PogoPlug-like devices and OwnCloud-like services become cheap consumer-level alternatives to the big centralized cloud services like Gmail, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube?

A Sharing Economy for Bandwidth

Additionally, if we have so much more bandwidth than we need, could this be the innovation that leads to widespread mesh networks where people can open up a portion of their bandwidth to the public to allow strangers to be able to surf on gigabit wireless gigabit Wi-Fi without connecting to a centralized wireless provider? Users could make the decision to open their networks up for free, or to charge small micropayments for connections, similar to the way FreedomPop and Karma WiFi make money now?

Me? We.

I always like to push the idea of using technology for self-determination, of dismantling large monocultures in favor of decentralized networks of smaller, more empowered “little guys”. I know that with great power comes great responsibility, and that securing a home network is a hassle that many people don’t want to take on, but I wonder if even this can be improved with better home networking gear like the Google OnHub router. I may be revealing my ignorance of the limitations of gigabit internet, and I welcome anyone to correct me or think beyond where I’ve gone in the comments below.

Though I am sadly far from getting my own gigabit fiber connection (even here in high-tech Oakland), I hope that we can go beyond using our increasingly fat pipes for a bigger-faster version of what we already have, and explore how we can use it to shift the balance of power towards empowering our communities.

 

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Against Dead Air in Education(al Multimedia) http://tedcurran.net/2016/01/28/dead-air-educational-multimedia/ http://tedcurran.net/2016/01/28/dead-air-educational-multimedia/#respond Thu, 28 Jan 2016 20:44:06 +0000 http://tedcurran.net/?p=7242 In my first career, I was an AVID video editor and worked in Hollywood editing television shows for Paramount TV, MTV, E Entertainment, Lifetime, and others. A lot of the job of a video editor is to watch raw footage of people talking and doing things, cutting out the boring bits, leaving only the most […]

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In my first career, I was an AVID video editor and worked in Hollywood editing television shows for Paramount TV, MTV, E Entertainment, Lifetime, and others. A lot of the job of a video editor is to watch raw footage of people talking and doing things, cutting out the boring bits, leaving only the most interesting, entertaining, and relevant parts of what they say. Video editors gain an acute appreciation of how much time we waste saying “um” and “uh”, going off on unrelated tangents, and thinking while we talk without saying very much.

The same way nice clothes flatter your body, good chefs bring out the best flavors in their ingredients, and sculptors bring a finished form out of a shapeless stone, a good video editor sorts through the moments of real life, cutting away the “dead air” time and creating a “concentrated awesome” experience for the viewer. The result is snappier, easier to understand, more interesting, more exciting, more effective. It’s like real life, only better.

“Dead Air” is a Sin in Broadcasting

Broadcasting a show with no talking or action, called dead air, is the very worst thing that can happen in radio or television. For some reason though, we have a surprisingly high tolerance for it in education. Whereas a radio DJ or TV producer would surely be fired for airing nothing, an instructor can take a languid, leisurely route to get to the point without much fear of reprisal. The school context has let teachers treat students’ time with less respect than do broadcasters — for them, time means advertising money and dead air means money burning. This has led to media producers innovating on how to pack more valuable content into every moment, and video editors are the main magicians in this process.

We’ve come to expect “dead air” in education

We have been conditioned by our schooling to think of education happening over large blocks of time — 45 minutes, 60, 90 even — while forgetting that this model works against our natural attention span. Data shows that the optimal length of a YouTube video maxes out at around 3-4 minutes, corresponding to the human attention span. My 4:5 rule encourages teachers to pack 4 pieces of information into a 5 minute video, tightly focused on a specific topic.

The 4:5 Rule -- 4 pieces of information in 5 minutes, max

As a classroom teacher, we were trained in the practice of chunking, or breaking down complex tasks into simplified, single-sitting lessons that students could achieve in a few minutes at a time. These chunks would scaffold up into more complex desired learning outcomes, but the practice of chunking them makes them more accessible for diverse learners. Switching between multiple short chunks over the course of a long classroom block (ours were 90 minutes) supports students’ focus and behavior by making the class period feel punchy and brisk. It’s much more work to plan instruction this way, but the benefit to your classroom environment is clearly worth the effort.

As teachers move online, we need to offer educational multimedia experiences that students can consume in short, focused bursts from wherever we are. People turn to YouTube when they need to see a quick, visual answer to a specific question they have. What works in YouTube videos is the same thing that works when your students just want the answer to a focused question in their academic lives.

As you create instructional multimedia, you need to think of each video as the answer to a specific question, not a broad speech about everything you can pack into 90 minutes. You can curate these chunks into larger units that produce the kinds of learning outcomes you want to see for students, but each “session” they engage in should be short, clear, punchy, and focused.

Webinar Hell: Dead Air Persists

Still, here we are, deep into the web revolution, and it’s still regrettably common to post recordings of hour-long webinars, where much of the running time is taken up with making sure everyone’s audio is working, a lengthy introduction from the emcee before the instructor starts talking, ums and ahs, questions from the audience, etc. Institutional lecture capture software publishes university professors’ hourlong lectures straight to the web, with no editing, no curation, no care for creating an efficient experience for students who will consume this content.

 

Edit, People, Edit!

Tim Gunn says "Edit"

“Edit.”
– Tim Gunn

Being an editor is a habit of mind. It’s a cultivated impatience with any “filler” that takes away from what’s valuable in your message. It’s compassion for the consumer of the information, the end user who wants to understand your ideas but has to manage their time effectively to keep their life in balance. It’s a conscious process of asking oneself “what am I really trying to communicate here?” and “am I conveying my message in the most effective way possible?” It’s an act of humility, accepting the reality that our first try at phrasing our thoughts is not always our best, and that some of what we say isn’t worth our students’ time. It’s an exercise in patience, with ourselves (growing as communicators) and our audience (striving to decipher our ideas). It always feel like more work than should be necessary, but is usually received with palpable gratitude by learners who can see the respect and professionalism baked into the finished product.

Editing is often ignored when people think about the creative process — it’s often treated as an optional step that we’ll do when there’s time. (There never is). We creators forgive ourselves too quickly for the imperfections in our own presentations, but our consumers grow quickly tired of paying attention when their attention is not rewarded. When I think of “student-centered teaching” or “user-centered design“, they both challenge us to ignore how tired and overworked we feel and do what it takes to create a first-class experience for our users.

The next time you offer a piece of educational multimedia to your learners, please challenge yourself to cut away every moment that doesn’t advance the main idea. Have the respect for your own message (and those who consume it) to go to extraordinary lengths to make it easy and enjoyable to consume. Your learners will thank you for it.

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