iPad “Test Security” – Class Policies and Layout

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(img: Apple.com)

As use of our iPads expanded last year to include supplemental materials such as calculators, dictionaries and notes, teachers reported concerns about having iPads available in test environments. No matter the device, many teachers are hesitant to have devices accessible during test conditions, primarily due to a student’s ability to access programs or resources such as search engines, external websites or notes. Testing environments vary wildly in terms of their intent and scope, but with a few considerations the iPad can be present in the testing environment with a relatively high degree of security. The following guidelines can help if you want to utilize iPads either to access an online testing environment or as resources during testing through apps such as calculators, dictionaries/glossaries, or notes (when desired).

While the iPad is not meant to be a testing tool, and a course which is built on lecture-and-exam style delivery will be at odds with any 1-to-1 program, there are many scenarios in which a teacher may want to create exam-style conditions while still having access to the iPads. Possible examples:

  • Accommodations for students
  • Use of calculators or simulation tools
  • Dictionaries, thesaurus, glossary, translators
  • Open-book/open-notes exams

Two Class Policies (plus a bonus)

One of the great advantages of the iPad over laptops for this use is the wide viewing angle of the screen in combination with the ability to place the device flat on the table. While it takes some force of will to introduce, I suggest two clear-cut policies when beginning a testing situation with the iPads:

  1. The brightness must be turned all of the way up. Ensure that students can use the four-finger swipe or home button double-tap to get to their Control Center, and turn the screen brightness to its highest setting. This will allow you to clearly see what app or website is active on a student’s screen from a fair distance around the room.
  2. The iPads must be flat on the desk. The iPads have an extremely wide viewing angle, and when they lay flat on the desk, a teacher standing or moving throughout the room should have line-of-sight to most of the screens in the room. This is a major difference from laptop screens which traditionally have a more limited viewing angle and have to be vertical, which blocks teacher line-of-sight.

The combination of these two policies when in “testing conditions” makes it very easy to quickly scan the room and identify which apps or websites are active. One of our teachers has also implemented a policy where students known that he can (unannounced) double-tap the home button on a student’s iPad to access the list of active apps while testing. If he suspects that a student has another app running in the background, this may catch that app. My only hesitation around that policy is that iOS doesn’t, by default, ever shut down an app–apps run silently in the background when you switch to another app or back to the home screen. I could foresee a scenario where a student was studying at the last minute, walked into class and switched to the approved testing apps, but had notes still running in the background. This teacher’s strategy would “catch the notes,” even though they weren’t being used at that time. It’s a valid approach, although it seems like it would require explicit instruction to shut down all apps before the test begins.

Managing by Walking Around

In any 1-to-1 classroom, room arrangement and physical proximity/visibility is vital to a productive working environment. In general, I encourage teachers to consider multiple classroom layout options (when possible) to reflect the nature of that period’s work. For example, having standard classroom arrangements for lecture/presentation, group work and test/writing conditions help to support each use case. These can be as simple as drawing the room on the board and asking students to move the desks/tables at the beginning of class.

For test conditions, I would recommend a room layout which provides easy and quick scanning of as many screens as possible. A horseshoe/”U” shape, often used for class discussions, works very well if the iPads are flat and bright, since the teacher can stand in the center of the shape and see all the screens at the same time. Many other layouts are possible, but consider vantage points and line-of-sight to the highest number of screens at any point in time.

Coaching vs. Guarding

This all may seem draconian from a class management perspective, but this can be part of an ongoing conversation with students about managing distraction and devices in a class environment. If we reflect on our own technology habits, I think most of us would agree that a little visibility helps “keep us honest” and on task. When I’m working some place public or visible, I find that I’m less likely to be distracted and jump to off-task websites or activities. It’s not a forced working condition– I often put myself in a visible location when I know that I need some extra help staying focused to take advantage of the conditions. Talking to students about managing distractions, and being explicit about creating a situation where you can support their focus and help reinforce their good habits, can frame this as a positive learning environment rooted in solid class management principles.

Reflective Journaling in Schoology with Discussion Threads

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Reflection is a crucial element of many modern pedagogical systems. Whether explicitly stated, as by Dewey, or implicitly embedded as part of a process in systems such as Design Thinking and PBL, modern pedagogies place a high importance on the ability for students to self-assess and build metacognition through reflection. I use a variety of reflective activities in my classes, and often they are built-in to a project design cycle. Aside from these more task-oriented reflections, I have students run a reflective journal that is more free-form. I will often ask them prompts which I hope strike a balance between being guided towards critical thinking while being open-ended enough to encourage personal, not formulaic, response. My staple, borrowed from a mentor early in my career, is the every-Friday “What Did You Learn This Week?” (and added to by another, “…and How Did You Learn It?”).

When I started with weekly or daily reflections, I would have students write a couple of sentences on scraps of recycled paper and hand them in. This was relatively quick to set up, although reading those scraps was a) hard to manage and b) somewhat unsatisfying in its closed nature: I could not ask a student to expand an idea or give more context or information. Especially with Friday reflections, I would have to remember to circle back to a student on Monday to ask more, at which point we both may have lost the context or even the original idea.

I’ve developed some guidelines to use online tools for reflection, and now use the discussion threads in Schoology (our LMS) as my basic reflective tool, and am very happy with the system I’ve concocted. Here are my guidelines on the reflective writing setup that I use, and how to build it within Schoology.

Some Guidelines

While different situations may call for differing types of reflection, I default to some basic conditions. Standard reflective activities in my classes are:

  • Private between student and teacher. Reflection is primarily an introspective activity, and students should be able to critically discuss failures and “what went wrong” as well as what went right. Especially early-on as students are learning to reflect critically, this should be visible to the teacher, but not to other students.
  • Able to start conversation/prompt follow-ups. If reflection is a skill to be developed, then giving feedback and asking follow-up questions is an important component of the teacher’s role in reflection.
  • Not graded/assessed. Reflective writing is often free-form and encourages brainstorming. I don’t want these to be assessed activities (although there are cases where I will assess larger, more structured reflection/self-assessment).
  • Chronological/Archived. Students should be able to see past reflections to identify trends and common occurrences, or to remark upon growth.
  • Contextual. Students should be able to connect reflective writing directly to learning activities or resources.

Building the Reflective Journal in Schoology

Using the Discussion tool, we can build individual discussion threads for each student that accomplish these priorities. Since activities in Schoology can be individually assigned to groups or individuals, I can create a discussion thread for each student, which only they will see. I will be able to see all of them, and quickly flip through to look at each student’s work. In addition, since it’s a discussion thread, I can ask follow-up questions, post comments, or even ask students to go back and comment upon past reflections as part of portfolio-building or end-of-unit wrap-ups.

First, I create folder called “Your Reflective Journal” (since students will only end up seeing theirs, I keep it singular).

journalfolder

In the folder, I create discussion threads for each student and title them with the student’s name (e.g. “Journal: Jeff”). When creating the discussion, I choose the Individually Assign option to bring up the “Assign To:” box.

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Turning on the “Individually Assign” icon opens up the “Assign to:” box.

I can assign the discussion directly to that student. Since the discussions are hypertext, students can embed files or links directly into their reflections. Sometimes our prompts are specific enough to expect an attachment or link, and sometimes students will do that in response to a more general prompt.

When it’s time to read through and see what students have posted, it’s fairly easy and quick to scroll through many in sequence. I open up the first journal in my folder, and skim through. I won’t always post comments or questions (although I do try to comment more in the beginning as we’re learning the skills of reflective writing). To move to the next journal in the folder, I use the “Next” button in the upper-right. While many people miss this navigation button, it makes it very easy for me to flip through my class.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

While I haven’t done this in the past, I could go into Course Analytics at the end of a defined period and look at the relative participation levels of each student within their journals by looking at the number of posts. While I don’t assess these outright, using that data could be part of an individual conversation with students who are not participating.

Why Not a Blog?

Students (and all users) can have a blog within Schoology as part of their user account, and blogging is a common platform for reflective writing. As I listed in my priorities, though, I want these activities to be primarily private at this point. Our school settings are such that a student’s user blog can be read by other internal users, and that’s consistent with how I envision the Schoology blog feature being used: to write (perhaps reflectively) for an audience. Blogging is part of our Digital Media course, and students will delve into Social Media as a publishing tool through other activities and structures. As I view the reflection as primarily for one’s self, though, I think that this model (private, embedded within the course) is more appropriate.

How About You?

How do you facilitate reflective journaling or writing in your courses? Do you use a different tool or structure? Would you change something about this model to make it fit your students and course? Please comment or question below!

Getting to Know Students and their Tech Interests

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(img: Raspberry Pi + Lego computer, Flickr: pikesley)

In “The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee,” Robert Taylor viewed the computer as serving three potential roles for students: 1) a tutor, delivering instruction to students, 2) a tool, which students would use to achieve learning, and 3) a tutee, which students would instruct through programming and design activities and thus themselves implicitly “shift the focus of education in the classroom from end product to process, from acquiring facts to manipulating and understanding them.” My observation is that most of our current ed tech field focuses exclusively on the first of these roles– viewing computing as a tutor (online/blended instruction, adaptive testing, flipped class, Khan Academy, etc).

Part of the underlying philosophy of a 1:1 program is a desire to expand the use of the computer as a tool, since each student then has a computer as part of their school toolkit. This is especially true in a program such as ours where students own and administer the device, since the students can now customize and develop the tool to best fit their own needs, uses and interests (Do I remember right that in Star Wars, you had to build your own lightsaber before you could become a Jedi?). Our work embedding computer science into math and science classes, as well as our robotics and physical computing projects through our maker space, are explorations into the tutee role of computers, and using the programming as an oblique strategy towards non-computing curricular goals.

In my own Digital Media class this year, I am challenging myself to create as many tool and tutee opportunities for students as possible, so that they may understand and master a concept that I consider to be crucial to modern responsible technology usage: computers are not meant to be accepted “as is” and used off-the-shelf. Modern technology usage must involve the skills and confidence to modify and customize a piece of technology to fit each person individually. While it is quite dated now, I highly recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning… Was the Command Line,” available as a free download from the author’s website for more on this concept.

Over at A Recursive Process, Dan Anderson shared an activity called “My Favorite” with his math students. The concept is to pick a favorite math topic from anything, and share it with the class. I love this idea, and am modifying it for my first day of class.

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New Schoology Features – (Almost) Adaptive Assessment for Your Curriculum?

Schoology's new Mastery panel (help.schoology.com)

Adaptive testing is one of the largest buzz-worthy trends in Ed Tech right now– the ISTE conference was absolutely awash in companies selling adaptive testing engines, aligned with Common Core and complete with packaged curriculum materials. It’s easy to see the appeal of adaptive testing: students are assessed on a complete package of learning objectives, and any areas of struggle or difficulty are identified and targeted. Students work at a level which is appropriate for them in rigor and complexity, and can move ahead or given additional reinforcement if necessary. Unfortunately, adaptive testing systems are incredibly complex, which makes them very hard to modify to reflect each individual teacher’s course and curriculum.

Schoology has released a handful of new features to Enterprise customers over the summer which, when used together, form a very powerful formative assessment environment. By using these tools, it’s possible to build quizzes which offer students opportunities to practice skills and content as needed, and report data back to teachers in a very granular and performance-oriented manner. For classes or schools which use standards- or learning objectives-based grading and reporting, the backwards design process of writing curriculum and assessment to match those objectives fits perfectly into this new package. The combination of Learning Objectives, Question Banks with Random Questions and the Mastery reporting panel allows teachers to generate randomized practice opportunities targeted to individual or multiple performance goals, and analyze each for diagnostic data on each student’s performance. Each of these tools requires some setup to accomplish this, so let’s dive in.

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Helping Students Prioritize through Calendar Naming Conventions

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Last year was our first school-wide use of Schoology as an LMS. While our first year was overall a great success for adopting the new LMS platform and upgrading from Moodle, we identified a few areas that we wanted to rethink for this coming year. One of the biggest conversations we had throughout the year was about calendaring of class events and assignments. Schoology lets students see a calendar view of all of their courses, which students reported was very helpful for them. Unfortunately, the tool isn’t very granular, and it presents all types of assignments and activities as equal on the calendar. We wanted a way to differentiate calendar entries so that students could look at a daily view and be able to prioritize based on the different types of activities that they’d see.

It’s unfortunate that we have to do this manually– the ability to create an assignment within certain categories, and have those categories reflected on the calendar, would make this whole issue disappear. Even better would be a tagging system which would allow teachers and students alike to tag activities and build context around them ( planning for “Homework,” “Reading,” “Needs Extra Time” and “Individual” for example, would be very different than “Project,” “Brainstorm/Planning,” “Skype”, “Tim”). Modern task management systems are rich in context tools such as tagging or smart search.

This speaks directly to one of my large concerns about measuring the health of our LMS and digital tools– balancing and optimizing our information streams so that students can learn to manage digital communication without becoming overwhelmed and ignoring the information that teachers and the school are providing. Seeing a list of activities dated for the next day, for example, could be useful for a student who is skilled at prioritizing and triaging their workload. For a student still developing executive function skills, it could be too devoid of context to be useful. Furthermore, in-class activities may be tagged with a date, which would make them appear on a calendar as “due” the next day, when they have yet to be assigned (and aren’t meant to be done from home). To help us make our calendaring information more useful, Christina Serkowski headed up a faculty focus group at the end of last year and built out some recommendations. Based on those, we’ve come up with what we hope is coding system for teachers to use when entering activities onto the calendar.

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The Egalitarian Projector: Wired and Wireless Projection in BYOD Classrooms

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

Over the summer we upgraded many of our projectors, which gave us the opportunity to refresh our classroom A/V model. In a BYOD school, projection can be a logistical nightmare: students bringing myriad devices with different display adapter requirements puts a burden on the IT department to have adapters available for each class. As anyone who has spent a class period on student presentations knows, valuable time is lost with students shuffling through the front of the room and exchanging adapters even if the correct ones are all present.

Logistics aside, the wired projector also presents a subtle-but-constant “sage on stage” control dynamic: whether student or teacher, whoever is presenting and plugged in to the projector controls what is being displayed. Freeform discussion, question-and-answer, or targeted inquiry are always unbalanced since only one person has the ability to display information.

In order to both create a more flexible learning environment as well as eliminate the dreaded dongle bundles, we have equipped all of our classrooms this year with both wired and wireless projection capabilities that meet our BYOD requirements.

Wired

The picture below represents our average classroom dongle bundle– HDMI, Mini Display Port and Apple 30-pin. Since our Middle School iPad program began shortly before the release of the Lightning-based iPad models, this bundle covers most of the laptops and iPads that we see on campus. It does not cover, though, Lightning-based iPads, nor many phones or tablets with mini-HDMI. Also notice that audio has to be through a separate cable. Not every student presentation requires audio, of course, but any kind of video or multimedia sharing will require plugging in two cables.

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

Standard Dongle Bundle: HDMI, Mini Display Port, 30-Pin

We do have a handful of Lightning adapters and mini-HDMI adapters on hand in IT, but have not deployed them into every classroom. Since we want teachers and students to have confidence in their ability to fully use every space on campus, this isn’t ideal.

Wireless

The addition to our classroom deployment this year is the use of Apple TV in combination with AirParrot. iOS and Mavericks-based MacBooks made after mid-2011 will broadcast audio and video to Apple TV’s natively. AirParrot is a client to do the same with Windows and pre-2011 MacBooks. I’ve written about AirParrot before, and last spring it didn’t totally work with Windows 8. After conversations with both Squirrels (the company behind AirParrot– I haven’t gotten to talking to actual squirrels yet) and friends “in the know” at Microsoft, it seems like the problem was a very complex display driver setup within Windows 8. Subsequent updates to 8.1 have made AirParrot much more workable for that OS as well to the point where we’re comfortable deploying it to the school this year.

A couple of implementation notes on AirParrot: since we want wireless projection to be available for students as well as teachers, we have purchased licenses for our students to use and will invite them to download AirParrot and request a license from IT if they want to put it on their school-use laptop. This is a cost to the school, but we purchase class-required apps for student-owned iPads in the Middle School, as well as student licenses for e-mail, and this seems consistent with that philosophy.

Second, Windows 8.1 is still not entirely seamless in its display configuration. In order to serve the display needs of both Tablet and Desktop modes, the Desktop mode has a built-in magnification setting which makes the text and icons more usable (instead of being ridiculously tiny as they would be naturally with the default resolution). This setting is the key instigator in display issues with AirParrot, and some devices may need it to be turned off in order to display correctly. This can result in the text and icons being uncomfortably small on the tablet display itself, which requires adjusting the display resolution. To complicate things further, the magnification setting requires logging out to change– it can’t be applied on the fly. This means it’s much more important to get one setting which can be “set it and forget it” rather than adjusting as you go. It seems as though different hardware models have different “sweet spot” combinations of magnification and resolution which will allow the display to be sufficient both a) in Desktop mode on the tablet and b) through AirParrot. The settings I ended up with on my Surface 2, for example, did not translate to the Surface 3 (the 3 looks great through the AirParrot, though!). We’ll continue to monitor this as the year develops.

Projecting a Socratic Seminar

Knowing that this is a slightly awkward first step towards truly seamless wireless projecting, I’m excited to see the ability for students to use the projector as a tool for discussion and small group work as well as lecture/presentation. When students can share information and resources with a group/class in real time rather than simply as prepared delivery, and when the projector becomes one more “open access” collaboration tool, the classroom is a more flexible and balanced learning environment.

ISTE Macro: Genius Bars, Student SWAT Teams and Student-Led Tech

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(img: Flickr/BerkeleyLab)

One of the great advantages of being at a large-scale conference like ISTE is seeing which ideas have begun to generate critical mass of action. This is one trend that I observed across multiple poster sessions, discussions and presentations.

A recurring theme of our device program is the desire to teach students the “intentional and mindful” use of technology– using the right tools at the right time for the right task. This goal cuts across multiple disciplines and silos of information: technology usage and operation concepts, digital citizenship, information literacy, study skills and time management, and school policies are all wrapped up in the idea of intentional and mindful use. As with many issues of technology, a central question is where the responsibility for this body of knowledge lies. While device programs push technology in schools from isolated computer labs to integrated classroom use, there is still a need to support teachers and students with expertise and resources, especially when 1:1 and BYOD programs shift the use of technology from programmatic and sequential to “just-in-time.”

While we want to avoid the Digital Native oversimplification of “The students know this stuff already,” they have experience using devices and software across disciplines and scenarios that can directly benefit other students. In addition, there is incredible instruction and learning that can happen through students examining technology usage in a rigorous manner and becoming “coaches” for technology use. Many schools have grown rigorous and robust student-led technology programs to support teachers and students throughout the campus on a range of technology concepts. These are some of the programs that I saw at ISTE this year (and a couple of others that I’ve since stumbled across).

In addition, Jennifer Carey has written a post about a DIY Genius Bar presentation that she attended at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in February, and Burlington High School shared their program via the ISED mailing list this year.

While these programs differ in scope slightly (mainly in the amount of tech “service” they provide, e.g. hardware repair), they all offer some common threads: in addition to reactive service, they produce proactive media for their school and community about the tools and systems that the school offers. Many include digital citizenship education as part of that outreach. Some are during the day, while some operate during “non-instructional” time: lunch, open periods and before/after school. All work in collaboration with on-campus professional IT or Ed Tech staff, and they all publish their work online.

These programs channel the expertise, interest and leadership of students to the entire school community through the use of digital media. Students involved in these programs get experience in media production and communication, as well as experience with a higher level of technology usage than normal classroom applications might provide through repair/service experience, in-depth software usage, and coaching.

If you have other examples of Student Help Desks, SWAT Teams or Genius Bars, please share them in the comments below. I’ll add examples from the comments into the post as they appear.

Don’t Make(r) a New Computer Lab

Our Makerspace is, as with many schools, located in the room which used to house a computer lab. The transition from pull-out lab-based computing to immersive 1:1 environments has left a variety of spaces available to be used in creative ways. Schools looking to offer Maker and tinker-oriented programs (including robotics or other tech-based activities) can make a natural transition of that space by adding maker tech, and it even makes some logistical sense– these are rooms which are often designed to offer easy access to power and network outlets, and may have lockable storage for peripherals or laptops which can be repurposed for tools and supplies. But in the rush to revise the computer lab, have we recreated “The Computer Lab?” At the Independent Schools Educators’ Network dinner at ISTE 2014, I spent some time chatting with Kelsey Vrooman of the Urban School and Bill Selak, now at Hillbrook, about this very question.

I believe that the most important reason for 1:1 computing in schools is context: students using computers in Language Arts creates a context of use for the computer which places it within that discipline. The message of this style of use is clear: you have a variety of tools that you use to discover, experience and demonstrate the discipline of Language Arts– your computing device is one of them. The computer lab model decontextualized technology use by creating an abstract space, time and skill set for computing use, and we have abandoned that model because it no longer fits with our view of technology an integrated, immersive, just-in-time resource.

The goal of adding a Makerspace is either implicitly or explicitly expressive of some of the same desires and goals of 1:1 computing– “soft” skills or ideals such as creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and authentic work, or concrete curricular goals such as STE(A)M or 21st Century Computing/Technology Skills. As we asked with 1:1 computing, we should ask the same ideological questions about the location or environment of a Makerspace: pull-out, or push-in? Standalone, or immersive? Remote, or classroom-based?

Seymour Papert described the computer lab through the lens of systems and schools in “The Children’s Machine” by calling the lab a school’s attempt to control and homogenize a resource that it didn’t know how to adopt. The lab, he argues, is a construct borne of the school system’s need to clearly delineate expectations, input/output and “expertise” (in the form of a responsible teacher). Many of his observations about the “unknown” nature of tinkering-based learning hold just as true for the Makerspace as they do for computing. To be sure, there are logistical concerns which lead to a separate Maker space (just as, in the pre-mobile days, it wasn’t reasonable to put 1:1 device ratios in a classroom using only desktops): a Laser cutter has to be installed with specific air circulation needs, for example, and isn’t going to be rolled into a class on a period-by-period basis. That doesn’t mean, however, that many of the elements of the Makerspace can’t be mobile: materials, tools, (and more importantly:) skill sets and challenges can be pushed in to classes and contextualized just as we are now doing with 1:1.

We have reached a compromise on our campus of the personalization and contextualization of 1:1 computing for most needs, with specialized resource centers of computers for unique needs beyond that which a personal device may cover. Our publications classroom has specialized software and additional computing power for photo and image processing. The same goes for an art classroom. When Middle School students, armed with iPads, embarked on a MinecraftEDU project, we supported them with a collection of classroom laptops to run that software. The challenge in building our Makerspaces is to strike the same balance: what are Maker activities which require a specialized and purpose-built space, and which deserve to be pushed-in and integrated into class contexts?

My Watch Thinks Everyone Should Learn to Code

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(img: The Very Excellent DC Rainmaker)

Outside of my Education vocations and avocations, I am an avid triathlete. Triathetes have a bit of a reputation already as being tech- and data-geeks of the sports world, and being a technologist by day and triathlete by night, I’m probably not helping the curve. My tool of choice up until recently was the Garmin 910xt, a training computer which helped me analyze all of the various metrics of my training and performance. When the Wall Street Journal asked recently why so many “mere mortals” were conquering athletic feats like the Ironman, training computers like the 910xt were a large factor in their narrative.

Sadly, my “training brain” fell off my bike during a race earlier this year and was lost to the tri deities (or a very lucky course official). It got replaced by the Suunto Ambit 2S, a newer multisport (fancy word for triathlon) watch. Disclaimer: My wife works for a sister company of Suunto. We purchased the Ambit as a replacement in order to “keep it in the family.”

Two Paths Diverged

The Garmin has a feature built into its website that allows you to enter a workout plan ahead of time (e.g. certain distances, speeds or times). The watch will then cue you when it’s time, for example, to run, stop or change speeds. The ability to create and enter these kinds of workouts is a huge part of what makes training technology so appealing– based on modern training science, building more complex but specific and targeted workouts is more effective than “go run for an hour.” Side note: If you want to know more about this, you should contact my wife. She has her MS in this and trained people at the Olympics. I read some magazines and am not going to be in the Olympics. Garmin made this very easy.

 

 

 

 All of the hallmarks of a modern web-based application: Drag-and-drop editing, drop-down menus, bright friendly color-coded interface. This is designed to let you do what you want to do as quickly and easily as possible and get you on your way without ever having to see (as a dear former colleague liked to say) “into the belly of the beast.” So when I was setting up my new Suunto, one of the first questions I asked my wife was how to enter interval workouts like this.

 

“You write an app for that,” she replied.

 

Suunto’s entire backend service for their watch is not the slick “nothing-to-see-here” recipe of the Garmin interface. It’s an Integrated Develop Environment. Users develop “apps” for particular workouts, publish them to an App Store (“App Zone”), download and modify other apps– It’s some part App Store, GitHub and gym locker room swirled together.
This is how Suunto envisions creating workouts. ("Sleep Monitor," by PPIIOOTTRR)

This is how Suunto envisions creating workouts. (“Sleep Monitor,” by PPIIOOTTRR)

To really drive this home: that screengrab above is not from any hidden backend– that’s from the main App Zone page for this App. Suunto is upfront and loud-and-proud about showing you that this is a pile of code, and here’s how this App runs.

Once an App is developed, you have the ability to play with the variables in the App Zone before you download it to your device and execute the workout. If someone has the backbone of a workout that you’d like to do, for example, but you want to change the number of repeats or the amount of time, you are presented with a series of slider bars to customize it for your purposes.

(Customizing "High Intensity Intervals," by Movescount)

(“High Intensity Intervals,” by Movescount)

Again, note the Slider bar labels– those aren’t “plain English”– those are the variable names from the code. Does your average user know what “INTDIST” is?

I’ll admit that I got a little “new device whiplash” when I saw this. As with many rough device transitions, this was an issue of planning and time– I wanted to be out the door in 10 minutes on my run. I did not have time to deal with this new paradigm. So I went through the standard stages of Inconvenience (“I don’t have time to deal with something new!”), Anger/Annoyance (“Why can’t this work like my old tech?”), Dismissal (“This new stuff is ridiculous. Who needs these features?”),  and finally arrived at Open-mindedness (“Okay– What can this do and how does it work, and does it match a need or interest for me?”). Thinking a little more clearly, I can see what Suunto’s going for here– their App Zone is filled with thousands of apps that are far beyond the stock “off the shelf” capacity of the Garmin (or even of what the Ambit ships with). Even just the basic interval workouts have more flexibility than the Garmin template builder, and there are definitely times when I was using my Garmin and got frustrated at wanting to be able to get it to do something that it wasn’t an option in their interface. Suunto’s market differentiation here is giving users the keys to the entire hardware package– all the sensors, monitors, transmission protocols and output, and saying “Go nuts, people.”

With technology in general, there is a continuum which pits convenience/usability versus customization/flexibility. The operating system battles, Internet platforms, EdTech platform/program decisions and user tool choice often boil down to the essential question of “Do I trust somebody else to decide how this technology should work for me, or do I want to invest the time and energy in making it my system?” Neal Stephenson argued passionately in “In the Beginning… was the Command Line” (great short summer afternoon read!) that as a society of computer users we are abdicating the power and willingness to bend the tool to our will and instead making ourselves adapt to dumbed-down versions of consumer tech in the name of convenience. Here’s the alternative, if users are willing to accept the learning curve.

This is Not a Drill

This is not a Kickstart project or a fringe startup trying to muscle into an existing marketspace. Suunto is a well-established fitness technology company. They’ve looked at the market, though, and clearly decided that their direction is going to be in favor of customization and flexibility over ease-of-use and user learning curve. While we debate the role that a universal skill of coding has in our students learning, Suunto seems to have already decided that it’s coming and there’s a widespread enough talent and interest base to support a major product line. Honestly, I wish them luck, but… while I’m ideologically on-board with their plan, and I’m probably pretty far to the tech-savvy side of their user base, I gagged a bit at the idea that I had to either a) write an App myself or b) find and modify an existing one, just to go out and do the workout that I had planned for the afternoon.

This is the first major case that I’ve seen of a piece of consumer tech from an established major company banking on the “codeability” of their user base. As such, I think it’s a fascinating test case for the Internet of things and how hackable manufacturers will make their devices, as well as whether a consumer base will adapt to seeing scripting languages appear in everyday life. If this is indicative of a growing trend, or if this training device has legs (ha!), it may signal that the “should every person learn to code” argument has already left the academic sphere and that the consumer technology market will answer the question for us.

Say That to My Face?

(forum.xda-developers.com)

(img: forum.xda-developers.com)

A common concern of Digital Citizenship and online bullying is that many people view the “culture of the Internet” as one riddled with negativity and behavior that’s anti-social (if not outright sociopathic). The trolls and “lowest-common-denominator” debates that run below your favorite news site or online magazine scare away many teachers from using online publishing, forums or discussion boards in class. Why is it that behavior norms are so different online? An interesting structure came through this morning from 99U: “Born Hatin’: Why Some People Dislike Everything.”

Psychologist John Suler proposed what is perhaps the best known analysis of the phenomenon in the Online Disinhibition Effect. It lists six primary factors as to why we may treat others differently online than we do in person:

  1. You don’t know me. Anonymity protects the critics “real life” reputation and shields them from retaliation and owning their actions.
  2. You can’t see me. Face-to-face interactions tend to have more empathy because we can see the person we are engaging with. It’s hard to feel ashamed when you don’t even know who’s affected. You’re just a screen to me, not a person.
  3. See you later. I don’t have to deal with your instant response, or even wait for it! I can dump my thoughts on you and never return.
  4. It’s all in my head. Suler argues that online interactions can distort reality. I can make up whatever attributes about you that I want, justifying my actions.
  5. It’s just a game. The overused response of critics who do sometimes get called out: “It’s just the Internet, man!”
  6. Your rules don’t apply here. This is the internet, where closing out a live chat isn’t rude, despite the fact that leaving in the middle of a conversation would be rude in real life.

Being able to lay these out for students could open up lots of interesting ways to engage with the norms of digital culture– role-playing, for example, or acting out example comment threads could be a great way to confront the gap between online speaker and listener (albeit a bit dangerous– manage this activity carefully). Using imagery or posters to create responses or counter-arguments to these points could form the basis of a school digital citizenship campaign.

These rules aren’t just about being online, though– I see some of these in play on a regular basis in the interactions between bike commuters/cyclists and drivers, for example (which got a great treatment in this Norwegian public safety video). Furthermore, the article presents this theory in context of a larger finding: some people are inherently “likers,” who are more inclined to respond positively to new ideas, while some are inherently “haters” who will find a reason to rate things negatively. “It paints a very clear picture: no matter what you create, a small group of people will hate it, often without reason.” This is another, equally important lesson at the root of all culture and society, digital or face-to-face: You manage your own behavior, and accept that you can’t be responsible for how some people act. The balance is to accept meaningful, productive or informed critique while recognizing and discarding the trolls and haters.

Do Suler’s six factors translate to your observations or experience with online publishing and discussion? Can you see a way in which you might want to use these as a coaching tool with your students? How do you coach giving and receiving online feedback? Join in the comments below!