Category Archives: Technology Trends

“Badges? We Ain’t Got No Badges…”

"Badges?  ...Badges?"

“Badges? …Badges?”

Unlike the bandits in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it looks maybe we do need some badges.

Girl Scout sash.

Girl Scout sash.

Week #5 of the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC focused on innovations in pedagogy and assessment.  As part of our study this week, we learned about the use of badges in education  – and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  I have very fond memories of the badges I earned as a Brownie and a Girl Scout.  There was a well-worn Girl Scout Manual, listing each of the possible badges one might earn (one badge per page) along with a description of what had to be done to earn them.  Each badge entailed arriving at clear evidence of your mastery and many of the them involved a fairly complex project – building, creating, collaborating.  Once awarded, the small, circular, cloth badges were sown onto your sash (thanks, Mom) so that you could wear them with pride. When meeting a fellow girl scout for the first time you could instantly find points of connection – “oh, so you’re a swimmer…”  or ” you play the piano!” I have a distinct memory of the point at which the number of badges I’d earned meant that my mother had to start sewing them onto the back side of the sash. Some girls had to wear two sashes, like Pancho Villa, to display their collection (I never got there).

But what about badges in education? They’ve been used in gaming and online spaces for awhile now but what if we devised a system of digital badges for learning?  As Connie Yowell, Director of Education at MacArthur Foundation, puts it, digital badges are image files with “stuff” in them. A validated indicator of accomplishment. Tokens of trust. If you earn a digital badge, anyone could open it to find out what you did to deserve it. One could examine the metadata associated with the badge as well as the products and artifacts created by the badge-earner. This suggests a way to clearly and systematically communicate one’s abilities and accomplishments with media-rich, tiled portfolios.

In an educational setting badges could be awarded for knowledge as well as skills. Something you earn along the way of getting better at something larger. Since badges are smaller in scope than a certificate, a badging system gives us an opportunity to break assessment down into smaller (more meaningful? formative?) chunks. Perhaps bringing the assessment closer to actual the learning?

In order to make the badges meaningful, a given education community would have to agree on what’s required to earn a badge.  I could imagine some very interesting decisions coming out of such conversations in school districts and colleges.  What badges could be earned?  How would you break down a general chemistry course into a series of badges?  Who decides when the badge has been earned? What is the relationship between badges and credentials, degrees, grades? How does the definition of the badges alter the way we structure the learning? It would have to be a rigorous system, grounded in the values of the institution and reflection of the learning objectives that drives their curriculum.

As one substantial step in the right direction, the folks at Mozilla have developed Open Badging to provide a shared infrastructure (software and open technical standards) for creating and sharing badges across the web. Earned badges could be displayed on your web page, your social media profile, your cell phone, your online portfolio, your email signature line.

So, where to get more information? The MacArthur Foundation has led the way with careful thought and funding so their site on digital badges is worth a visit.  Cathy Davidson has proposed using a badging system to facilitate peer group feedback in this HASTAC post.  Carla Casilli talks about badge pathways in this post on her blog about badge system design (that’s her image in the figure below). UC Davis has devised a badging system for their new undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture and food. Purdue University has devised the Purdue Passport Program, currently in beta – a way to “show what you know”. Educause recently published one of its helpfully succinct “7 Things You Should Know” documents on Badging.

I am warmed by the implied message here that education happens in many different places and forms; that learning happens in a vast range of places  – after school programs, online, in the home, mentoring programs, internships, study abroad programs, and on the job.  Formal and informal. And isn’t it interesting to consider that the process of earning a badge would give the student a language around their learning, a way to meaningfully talk about what they did, thought, and experienced?

Here’s another intriguing thing to consider –  the concept of the badge as a pathway –  a sort of breadcrumb trail to show others how you got there and, presumably, how to follow you. Badges could work to make learning visible in a way that a diploma or your GPA just doesn’t.  What does an “A” in Geography 101 at Bowling Green State University mean anyway? When you think about it, your diploma or your certificate says more about the institution you attended than it does about you.  A badging system would give you an opportunity to tell the story of your education.

Bade pathways. (Image courtesy of Carla Castilli)

Bade pathways. (Image courtesy of Carla Castilli)



Filed under Technology Trends

Correlation: Tats and Twitter?

Where else can you find this kind of humor but at the NABT?

Where else can you find biology jokes like this, I ask ya?

Ten years attendance at the same annual conference gives one helpful perspective for measuring trends.  Last week I had just such an opportunity to measure the impact of social media on a conference community. The National Association of Biology Teachers conference (NABT) is an annual conference of high school and college biology teachers. It’s a smallish meeting – roughly 800 people – who gather to participate in posters, sessions, and workshops. “Teaching and Learning” is the mission and a fierce dedication to their students is the common bond. It’s a wonderful group and I always enjoy being in their company.

Although networking is a strongly stated goal of the assemblage, I’ve been struck by the lack of social media use amongst this community. There is a robust online community of AP Biology teachers (facilitated by the College Board) who regularly share updates, questions, and suggestions – but that’s just one small segment using just one (relatively blunt) tool. In past years, there have been attempts to inject a little social media sauce to the proceedings but they were tepid and never quite took.  A few hardy Twitterers, one or two ardent bloggers capturing the essence, but in past years it sounded like crickets out there to my lonely twittering posts.

This year, however, was different. A vibrantly hard working Twitter crowd seemed to emerge out of nowhere, documenting the scene and tweeting the sessions.  Hashtags abounded.  Blog posts were thoughtful. Someone started an open Google Doc for posting notes from the session.  An NABT tagboard surfaced to showcase the Twitter productivity.

NABT13 Tagboard

Not only did the Twitter stream bring me in contact with many new teachers, it was an extremely useful way to make sure I was covering the right sessions.  You know how that goes at these conferences – so many good sessions occupy the same time slots – how best to decide which is the best fit for you?  What I quickly learned to do was pick from the program description then, once there, monitor the twitter stream to hear what was happening in the other sessions.  If the reports showed a session with a better fit for my needs, I would politely shift locations. If there were multiple best-fit sessions at the same time, I could always go to the Google doc page to pick up the notes from a fellow traveler.  It was a handy ways to graze and make sure to capture the bounty.

So what made the difference this year?  How did we move from the social media desert to this rich harvest of interaction and sharing?  I definitely noticed a greater number of younger members in attendance….hmmm.  I hate to make the ageist mistake. Was it my imagination or were there more attendees sporting tattoos (thank, Ilona – @mikoartscience – for pointing this out. Even from a distance you are remarkably perceptive!)?  Is there a correlation between Twitter-use and Tattoo-display? Mostly, I suspect it was a classic Malcom-Gladwell-esque tipping point: enough experienced Twitter users to lead by example and provide sufficient value so that less experienced others found it worth the effort.


Filed under Technology Trends

Thoughts on the New Apple iOS 7

My home screen with the new iOS7

My home screen with the new iOS7

The new Apple iOS 7, the operating system for iPhone and iPad, has been on my devices now for about a week.  Time for some reflection.  Let’s shake this down in a short list of pluses and minuses, followed by a few suggestions.


Download. Starting from the get-go, the whole iOS download process was easy breezy with no hiccups (also liked that Apple didn’t force the update on you, you could do it when you were ready).  Here’s a helpful how-to on preparing for and downloading the new iOS (not the useful display of compatible devices). Remember though, once you’ve upgraded, you can’t go back.

Automatic updates.  Thank goodness!   All of your apps now update automatically and, another plus, by default your phone will wait until you’re on wireless to do this work to avoid chewing up your cellular data.

Switching or Closing Apps. When you double tap the home button, you get miniatures of all your open apps (which you can horizontally flick through). Flicking up on any one of them, closes the app. I really appreciate this feature as a way to easily switch between applications.  Say, for instance, you’re composing an email, and you want to include a link. You can now easily switch to your browser, grab the link, and come back to email. Much less monkey-pooping around.

Fat Folders. No limit to the number of apps you can put in a folder (used to be a limit of 16). Yay.

Search.  Easy to get to quickly.  Just swipe down in the middle, on any screen, and there it is. Much better.

Control Center

Control Center

Control Center. If you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, you get your control center which allows you to change all kinds of things (one stop shopping).  Wireless and blue tooth settings, airplane mode, orientation lock, contrast, volume, playback controls – all in one convenient panel.  In the Control Panel you can also get to those apps that you might need in a hurry:  your camera, calculator, timer or flashlight.  As much as I like this new Control Center, I sure wish I could customize it.  And it’s a little tricky to get to (takes some practice) – try swiping up from off the screen (like next to the home button)

iTunes Radio.  I’ve been playing around with it and, so far, I like it.  You can set up a radio station based on artist, genre or song and, like Pandora, hear new music that you’re likely to enjoy.  To teach it what you like, tap the star icon while a song is playing and tell it so. You can purchase music from directly inside iTunes radio from the iTunes store.  There are ads, but Pandora has ads too.

Camera.  Some terrific improvements here.  From the camera screen you can easily swipe to change from video to photo, to square (that’s new!) to pano (as in panorama) which is so much easier to do when you are holding up your phone, trying to take a picture. There are also filters available for you, right there on the screen (the little overlapping circles in the upper righthand corner which give you 9 tiny live-filter options) as well as the HDR option.  HDR = high dynamic range (odd that Apple doesn’t explain that…).  It takes three pictures in succession with varying exposures and combines them to get the best possible photo.  Be aware though that HDR photos take up a lot of space, so use sparingly.  Nice aside – just figured out that you can use the volume control buttons on the side of your phone as a shutter button (is that a new feature?). Here’s a handy how to on using your phone’s camera.

The Level.  Ok, I used to have an app for this, but now it’s just there.  You go to the compass, swipe to the left, and there’s the level! Handy-like.

AirDrop.  You can drop digital items (links, documents, photos, whatever) on your Mac or on other nearby iPhone folks (iPhone 5 or later, iPad 4th generation).  AirDrop uses bluetooth to create a peer-to-peer wifi network between devices.  That wifi connection makes this sort of transfer very fast. Here’s the way it works: you have to be on the item you want to share (it’s not a file management sort of thing, it’s designed to share the thing you’re looking at right now), you must be near to the person you’re sharing with (not sitting on their lap, but nearby) and they must have their compatible device turned on. But it does work.  Here’s a helpful how-to on using AirDrop.

Text Message Time Stamp.  Ok, this is handy.  If you swipe any of the texted speech bubbles to the left, you can see when it was sent.

Safari Improvements.  I had buried the old Safari app in a folder and put Chrome in the task bar as my preferred browser, but I’m rethinking that decision now that Safari’s been improved. First off, you can type your search item right into the URL bar now (just like you can do with Chrome) and you can easily dismiss open tabs by just swiping to the left when you’re in the spiffy 3D-looking pages view.  Also check out the “@” symbol under Safari book marks and you’ll find your Twitter timeline.


Hard to See. The look of the new iOS takes some getting used to.  It’s very white, flat, and the fonts are quite thin.  I’m guessing that people with vision problems might have difficulty and I certainly have had to strain to see, particularly in outdoor lighting.  But see below, in my suggestions, for a few things that can help take the strain off.

Podcasts.  Yikes, where did my podcasts go?  I used to be able to manage and listen to them right out of iTunes, but no longer.  Took me some sniffing around to figure out what to do.  You have two options – either download the (free) podcast app through which you can manage your podcasts or you can change your podcasts to “audiobooks” (using Get Info) in your iTunes library. Update from Terry Austin:  PocketCasts app works well.

Notification Center.  Swiping up from the bottom gives you the Control Center (see Pluses above) and swiping down from the top gives you Notification Center.  You get a today (calendar) view, which is nice and then an “All” category, that accumulates everything. This one feels less useful to me, mostly because it’s stuff that I would prefer to organize myself.  You can customize  it (sort of) in your settings (Notification Center), but not as much control here as I’d like to have.

iCloud.  Still not working for me.  Not clear how it all works, too little space and you have to pony up to buy more space.  This could be better.  I know it could.

Camera.  Yup I know I had this one under Pluses (above) but there is a minus – the camera doesn’t focus quickly enough.  You will end up taking  lots of blurry photos if you press your shutter with old camera-function expectations.

Apple Maps.  Still not as good as Google maps, not even close.  And now I’m finding that my you-are-here blue dot isn’t even as responsive as it was in iOS 6.  Wah.

Siri.  Supposed to be improved.  I dunno, I couldn’t pick up on any huge improvements and I still find that Siri misses (often comically) more than it hits. You get to Siri by holding the home button for 3-5 minutes and then speak to her.  I do like the new little sound wave at the bottom that lets you know she’s “listening”.  Oh, and one cool thing is that you can change Siri to a male voice now.


The new interface is impacted by your choice of wallpaper.  You can choose dynamic wallpaper (that shifts around and looks fuzzy), which gives you a very different “feel” to the interface. If you choose a colored still (say, yellow), all of the interface items will take on a yellow-ish hue (see photos above).  This is nice because it allows the individual iPhone owner to really personalize the look of their phone, but it’s something you have to experiment with.  Tastes being personal, you’ll want to try a few different wallpapers to settle on the ones that work best for you and your vision.  I found the dynamic wallpapers got in my way, occasionally, and while I liked using my old photos as wallpaper in the old iOS, they don’t work as well here.

For those having problems seeing clearly with the new interface, you can make adjustments.  Go to Settings>General>Accessibility and you can make the type bold or larger, reduce the motion (if you don’t like the new parallax effect), invert color, and make hearing adjustments too.

Keep your expectations low.  Functionally, this iOS really is pretty close to its parent. Improvements, for sure, but it’s not a mind-blowing leap ahead.

What have I missed?


Filed under Technology Trends, Tools

Ten Tools Challenge: Explain Everything (Tool #1)

"I accept your challenge!"

“I accept your challenge!”

In January I decided to take Jane Hart’s Ten Tools Challenge, committing myself to learning one new tool per month in 2013, by building/using/creating with it. I’m already a bit behind, but gamely marching on – here is my Tool #1 – Explain Everything.

Explain Everything

Explain Everything

Explain Everything is an iPad app ($2.99 on iTunes) that can be used to create visual explanations.  You can draw, white-board style, or import images, PDFs or movies to be annotated. The application records on-screen drawing, object movement, and your own voice  providing explanations as you work. Educators could use this to create lecture-ettes and students could use it for projects.  You can import PDFs, jpgs, PowerPoint or Keynote files. Once you create your project, you can handily export it from your iPad to YouTube, Drop Box, Evernote or email it.  Staying true to the spirit of the Ten Tools Challenge, I used the tool to learn how to use it and created the following little story about my Monk’s Bench:

So, thoughts about this tool.  It’s very easy to use – I figured it out by trial and error in about 15 minutes.  If you want a more structured learning experience there are manuals on their site and even an iTunes U course. I like the easy importing and exporting features.  The drawing palette is a bit limited, but there’s enough there to give you the basics.  One thing I noticed, if your project consists of multiple static images – proceeding from one to the next – there is a hiccup in the load (at least there was for me) that you have to take account of in your recording.  In other words, pause in your explanation while the project is loading from one image to the next.

This ‘Challenge’ is a great way to formalize what I need to do anyway – get inside these new tools so that I can fully understand their capabilities.


Filed under Technology Trends

Taking Up the Ten Tools Challenge

"I accept your challenge!"

“I accept your challenge!”

Jane Hart has thrown down an intriguing 2013 gauntlet:  commit yourself to learning how to use ten new technology tools in 2013.  What a great way to walk the talk. I often extol the teachers I work with to invest time to learn new tools or adjust their use of frequently used tools.  Afterall, learning how to use a new media tool is the perfect place to be in order to help others do the same.  Beginner’s mind has a way of helping us to find new approaches, fresh perspectives, and empathy.

In her blog post about the challenge, Jane suggests you devise your list of new tools (ok, I’m working on it), go public with your commitment and write a blog post about your plan (check), tackle one tool per month (gotcha), and blog about the experience each month with a final, culminating blog post at the end of the year reflecting on the whole experience (righto).  I love this idea.  Not only does it give some structure to something that I should do anyway, Jane will network the people joining her in the challenge so that we can all learn from each other.  I’m already learning as I read the blog posts of others taking up the challenge…like Joitske Hulsebosch (Lasagna and Chips), David Kelly, Michael Mades, and Tracy Ross.

So, I accept your challenge, Jane.  And thanks for extending it!


Filed under Technology Trends, Tools

Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass at the MFA

Chihuly exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts

Today I visited the new Dale Chihuly exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  It’s a breathtaking exhibit, thoughtfully staged in the basement of the museum’s new wing where the light can be carefully controlled.  For those unfamiliar with Chihuly’s work, he is an artist who works primarily with blown glass.  His breathtaking, large-scale glass sculptures can be found all over the world – in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, in Canada, in just about every state in the U.S., and in the new Palm Hotel in Dubai.  A car accident that left him with vision in only one eye brought him to painting in order to instruct his students and collaborators on glass projects.  Now his drawings, lithographs, and paintings are quite popular as well.

The MFA installation is really breathtaking.  Huge structures, artfully curated for maximum reflection and impact.  My favorite was this wooden boat, overflowing with Chihuly glass baubles, set on a glass surface that reflects back their brilliant colors.  Equally interesting was a room full of glass sculptures inspired by Native American blankets and baskets.  Just how he forms glass into that floppy basket shape, I’ll never know.

Active participants.

But I have to say that the most intriguing part of the exhibit for me was watching the visitors, watching the exhibit.  We went on a Saturday, so the place was packed, and people were snapping photos all around me.  Cameras, iPhones, cell phones, video cams – the rooms reeled with the secondary light source of theri flashes, green viewfinder lighting, and the glow of LED screens.  It was really remarkable.  What’s going on here?  Of course, it might simply be because they could (unlike most art installations, in this one, camera flashes would not hurt the art objects and so photography was permitted).  But I think there’s more to it than that.  I have noticed a marked change in our perception of an art experience.  With these amazing technology tools, always within our reach, and the ease of sharing the products we create, we have morphed from “passive audience” to producer participants.  I would wager that those cell-phone-camera images will not just sit on their owner’s cell phones.  Rather, the visitors who took them will be printing, emailing, geo-locating, uploading, mashing, soda-snapping, twitpic-ing them with all of their friends and families.  And in the process of doing that, they are evaluating, comparing, synthesizing, reporting, and connecting.  “Which was your favorite?”  “How does this compare to the piece you saw in Dallas? ” “Get a load of that blue!!” “Could we try to make something like this?”  Who knows, maybe even a few of them are blogging about their experience – right now.


Filed under Technology Trends

New Virtual Worlds On Demand

There has been so much going on with online virtual worlds these days, it seems there’s something new to read about, experience and evaluate everyday.  I can barely keep up with all the new, for-profit worlds that continue to sprout. But word of Kitely definitely caught my eye. Kitely is the new toy, running on the latest version of Open Sim, created by an Israeli start-up that just released their not-quite-ready-for-prime time beta product last week.

You start Kitely from their web site, where anyone with a Facebook account (they’re going for automatic set up based on existing identifies, smart move) can create and enter their own virtual world  – and then invite as many friends as they want by simply sharing a url.  So, I tried it.  On the Kitely site, I pressed the big, blue button that says “Log In With Facebook” and from there, “Create World”.  Kitely downloads a small plug-in that basically launches your Second Life viewer (or Imprudence, or whatever you have set to your default).  On a Mac, the log in was a bit tricky as the password is in the wrong field and must be painstakingly typed in the correct field – oh, and use Chrome or Firefox if you’re on a Mac – but, hey, it’s beta, I’m sure they’ll work this stuff out.

Anyway, once those hassles were dealt with — poof!  There I was.  Standing on my brand spankin’ new virtual world:  Heyden Island.

There I am, on my own, brand new, virtual world

Amazing.  These Kitely virtual worlds are created on the fly.  The whole thing runs on the Amazon cloud so new instances of Open Sim (and thus, new regions) are created as they are needed.  You can either create a new world or upload an OpenSim Archive (or OAR), created elsewhere, and make that your world. Once you’ve created a world and landed there as an avatar, any modifications you make to that avatar are kept as you enter anyone else’s world. That’s because all of the Kitely sims are on the same grid.  Unfortunately, you can not teleport from one region to another and hypergriding is not yet a part of the Kitely product, so you are limited to their grid.

And here I am visiting Liz Dorland on her newly created virtual world.

Right now there is no money changing hands with this product, though the path to monetizing it is pretty clear.  The creators of Kitely say there will be no set up fees and visitors to any one’s world are not charged.  Instead, if you create a world, you use “points” (I got 50 points just for going through the set up process).  So, once the product is out of beta, they will set up a charge-for-use structure. And that seems like an excellent plan for people who just want a virtual world meeting place every now and then, and don’t want to pay the heavy overhead of renting/owning and maintaining land in Second Life or Open Sim.

So – more information?  You can follow Kitely on Twitter, read two very good fulsome write-ups by Marla Korolov on HyperGrid Business here and here, read about it in New World Notes, and follow along with the ToolsJammers as they explore Kitely.

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Filed under Technology Trends, Virtual Worlds