Archive for May 2014

Write On! Touchscreen Tablet PC’s and Music

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(Microsoft Surface Pro 2, microsoft.com)
Cross-Posted May 23, 2014 at Choralnet
This week Microsoft announced the third generation of their Surface Tablet PC, and the attention it garnered shows that the market is starting to mature for these hybrid devices, which combine the processing power of a laptop with the touchscreen interface of a tablet or smartphone. To some degree, these devices (called Hybrids, Tablet PC’s, or Touchscreen Laptops) are hard for consumers to wrap our brains around: is it a tablet (albeit a more expensive and heavier one)? Is it a computer? Why would I need this when I already have x’? These devices can offer some interesting possibilities in the music technology field, but I suggest that properly understanding what these devices are meant to do will help us understand where they can best be utilized.

The Players

While Samsung and others have made Android-powered tablets that tout their increased power and productivity over devices such as the iPad, the Tablet PC’s run on the new Windows 8 platform. Windows 8 attempts to merge both a touchscreen interface and apps with the familiar Windows desktop that we’re used to from the history of that operating system. While Windows 8 got some decidedly heated feedback, the subsequent update to 8.1 has been much better received (8.1 is a free update to 8). Complicating things a bit, and driving some of the misunderstanding about the power of the Tablet PC’s, has been the release of a stripped-down version of Windows 8 (called RT) designed for mobile devices such as phones and lighter tablets. RT is the version which is meant to compete with the Android- and iOS-powered tablets, but it is limited in terms of what it can run. Developers have been much slower to embrace Windows RT and move their apps already developed for iPads and Android tablets into a third operating system. This has led to a collective impression that the Windows Tablet PC’s “don’t have many apps to run.”
If you can discard mobile-purposed Windows RT devices for the moment, devices running the full version of Windows 8 suffer from no such limitations on the programs available– since it’s a full-version of Windows, it runs everything that your Windows laptop or desktop runs on these devices as well. Rather than thinking of devices like the Surface Pro, or the Lenovo Helix or Yoga as tablets, think of them as laptops that you can write directly on. And therein lies the potential for the music field– the combination of touch interface and the computing power of a full operating system.

Audio Recording

One of the most recurring statements that I hear about working with audio recording on the iPad is that it’s much easier to do the fine controls of music editing with the touchscreen devices than with a mouse and keyboard. Being able to physically manipulate the software sliders as you would a board, drawing envelopes and filters, or manipulating the playback head for fine editing and splicing are all controls which lend themselves well to the fine finger control available in the touchscreen (or with a stylus) rather than the large and more clumsy mouse control. On a Tablet PC, we gain the ability to use this style of interface, but can apply it to fully-powered Windows software. Again, while mobile-oriented RT devices have to wait for programs to be designed specifially for that space, chances are that all of the software currently running on your Windows device will translate to the Windows 8 hybrids– your full Cubase setup, for example.
The processing power and storage capacity of these machines is significantly higher than a mobile tablet as well, and that combined with built-in USB ports means that you can use them in combination with external audio interfaces to a much greater degree than is possible with mobile tablets. While still being smaller and lighter than your traditional laptop, and thus easier to deploy in a field recording setup, it can be the computer hub for your recording needs.

Notation and Composition

As with the recording, the ability to use your full Windows programs in combination with the touchscreen interface is an intriguing combination for composition. Whatever your preference of notation program, running it one a hybrid device will allow you to “ink” and edit your manuscripts by hand using the stylus. In comparison to iOS or Android, I find the Windows 8 stylus capacity to be much smoother and higher-quality. Writing on an iPad, for example, always feels like the pen tip is a bit too thick for my tastes, and my script usually ends up being a bit “fat” and sloppy because of it. Writing on my Surface Pro 2, by comparison, feels very realistic. This review of the upcoming Surface 3 from WIRED describes writing within one row of graph paper. That level of detail makes writing within a notation program very smooth and satisfying. With a little practice, I was able to use the keyboard number pad to switch note values while writing with the stylus in the other hand for a pretty efficient workflow. And of course, with the USB interface, things like keyboard input and external sound synthesis devices are still available as well.

One More Toy?

Some people are the natural gadget-collectors, and the idea of adding another device to the quiver isn’t intimidating at all. For the rest of us, using a Tablet PC involves thinking a bit about what place in the toolbox it best occupies: does it replace an existing device? Does it make something else redundant? Thinking of these devices as tablets with more power, I initially held it up against my iPad and found it unsatisfying. It was once I decided to use my Surface Pro 2 as my full-time work machine that I understood its value– it is truly a laptop with extra capacities. As such, I added some extra work considerations (extra monitors, external keyboard) that make it indistinguishable from my previous desktops or laptops. When coming to something in graphics or audio which is best served by the touchscreen capacity, I can pick up the stylus and work directly on the screen. It’s a great combination of modes, and of course I still have the mobile flexibility. There are times when I use it in a traditional “tablet” capacity as well, although there is a lack of the apps that we’re used to from the iOS and Android space.
In the end, ironically, it did end up largely making my iPad redundant, but because most of the things that I used to do with that device have now either been scaled up to the Tablet PC or down to my smartphone. As more devices appear in the market with this model, including the (much larger) Surface 3 from Microsoft and what now feels like a steady rollout of devices from other manufacturers, a wider range of power and size will be available letting people choose whether they want a true powerhouse machine or something closer to the traditional tablets. Regardless, the combination of the full operating system and the touchscreen interface gives us huge possibilities in speciality or niche computing needs such as music and audio, where a wider range of software, diverse input/output capacity and higher processing power are all necessities.

How About You?

Have you experimented with a hybrid or Tablet PC running the full version of Windows 8/8.1? What are your thoughts or experiences? Do you have questions about these devices? Join in the comments below!

CamStudio = Malware Package

Just a heads-up to people looking for screencasting software options for PC: CamStudio bills itself as an open-source, free alternative to more expensive retail software. It may be that, although it didn’t even work for me when I installed it, but it is also pretty heavily loaded with malware. Read the installation notes closely, click “Advanced” on every dialog box, and make sure you know what you’re doing when you install this. Better yet, avoid it and move on to another option.

In addition to “Optimizer Pro,” which was pretty easy to deal with, I got popped with a nasty little tool called “webget” (description and removal instructions). To be able to get to that removal point first, though, I had to change the service properties for two services (“utilwebget” and “updatewebget”), both of which are by default set to restart whenever they’re stopped. Process:

  1. Change service properties to “Do nothing” when service is stopped.
  2. End the services
  3. Uninstall webget from Programs.

Here’s another report with totally different sets of embedded malware.

Students Share Quiz Study Guides

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Cross-posted May 20 at http://blogs.universityprep.org

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Creating online study resources and sharing them via Schoology

Knowing that a test was coming up soon, two students in 6th grade Integrated Science created an online study guide using Quizlet and shared it with their classmates through the Schoology Updates tool. This was all student-generated: no teacher input or prompting. They also invited their classmates to contribute to the Quizlet deck so that they could all benefit from each others’ work. Collaboration and self-directed learning in action!

The next morning, 6 other students had already used the study guide

The next morning, 6 other students had already used the study guide

The Boss, 57 Channels, Sushi, and Personal Knowledge Management

(wikipedia)

I remember a conversation my parents had when I was a teenager about the television. I don’t remember the setup, but I do remember my mother bemoaning the fact that, in essence, “There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.” Because the TV served so much garbage, she believed, the TV itself was garbage (I’m oversimplifying, but I don’t think mis-characterizing). My father’s indignant response: “We have the History Channel now! Discovery!” In essence, he focused on the needles of specialized, targeted content amongst the haystack of generalized, least-common-denominator entertainment.

I relive that conversation nearly every day in the context of the Internet’s role in schools and classes, and I believe it’s one of the most important critical understandings of learning in the Internet era. When teachers disregard the Internet as a source of learning, or only allow certain “pre-approved” sources of content, the reasoning almost always comes down to either fear of or experience with students:

  • Using weak sources
  • Wasting too much time trying to find good sources
  • Getting off-topic

I think the underlying assumption is that the Internet is a faster, bigger, louder and more obnoxious version of Bruce’s TV: “A message came back from the great beyond: there’s fifty-seven channels and nothing on.” If we follow this belief to the extreme, we get policy decisions which reflect a view of the Internet as 99% “low-grade” rather than 1% “high-grade” learning potential. Blocking YouTube, social media and limiting the ability for students to email outside of their school/district are prime examples. YouthBeat conducted a survey of their readers and revealed (unsurprisingly) a wide range of opinions about the usefulness of the Internet, but the part most interesting to me was how hard it was for parents to come to terms with the blessing and curse of student access:

With the exception of a few, most parents temper their critiques of the Internet with an acknowledgement of all the ways that the Internet has served their children well– helping them explore their passions, efficiently and effectively complete homework, play stimulating and challenging games, and more. And for many, it’s not a matter of being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but how they can make the most of it for their children…

–Youthbeat.com, “Changing the Conversation about Internet Safety

You know why the Boss couldn’t find anything on his 57 channels? He was flipping channels “round and round till half-past dawn.” Even the History Channel has gone weird in the middle of the night. Skills, context and guidelines matter for successful information management. Thankfully, they’re a whole lot easier with social web tools. Would Bruce have taken the .44 to his TV if he had On Demand and streaming video?

I’ve written before about a couple of the different models of Personal Knowledge Management that are floating around the education world. I believe that while they all phrase things slightly differently, looking at models of networked learning have three common threads:

  1. Input. An active gathering and filtering of information or expertise from diverse sources.
  2. Processing. Creating a personal knowledge construct based on those unique inputs, as processed by the individual learner.
  3. Output. Demonstrating the knowledge construct in order to a) prove understanding, mastery or skills, b) contribute to the further advancement and communal knowledge base, and c) subject ideas to the rigor of communal discourse and public review and ensure that they hold up (or continue to evolve them based on new input)

The metaphor often used to describe Information Management with online networked learning is “drinking from the fire hose”– the idea that there’s a deluge of information and you’re trying to capture some of it while not getting blasted down the street. I’ve started playing with a new metaphor:

Conveyor Belt Sushi (wikimedia.org)

At a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant, there is a constant stream of food moving past you. You observe what is being offered, make some intentional choices about what you want to eat (which sometimes involves trying something new which looks interesting) and build your menu around your preferences as well as the offerings available. Sometimes you can make a special request if you want something that isn’t coming around. All of this is happening within many different contexts: families having evenings out, dates, business travelers networking, and more.

The first time you go to a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant, it’s a little odd. It takes a little orientation to figure out how to do it. Sometimes, you eat too much, or you get frustrated waiting for something particular to come along. Sometimes you don’t know how/where a restaurant serves beverages since they aren’t coming on the belt. Eventually, though, you figure out the context of this different method of serving. Like I said– the metaphor is still under construction. The key message, though, is that if you walked in, sat down and grabbed the first three things that came down the line, you’d get a mixed-bag. You might not enjoy your experience very much. You might decide that these restaurants were a horrible way to eat. You might go hungry because you wouldn’t want to grab the next dish blindly, but you wouldn’t know where to go next.

You need Conveyor Belt Sushi Management Skills–the guidelines which help you operate successfully in that context.

Recently, Harold Jarche put out a challenge to show your PKM workflows. In the next few days, I’ll show my workflows and the tools that I use, but also discuss these three key stages (input, processing, output) and how to apply them to classroom settings. I hope to do so in ways that can be introduced to existing classroom structures without requiring radical curriculum/classroom redesign (although there are certain underlying assumptions about many classroom structures which PKM directly challenges. Some conflict here is unavoidable). Along each stage, I look forward to hearing the tools, processes or resources which are helpful to you in the same vein!

 

“The Students Will Figure It Out”

With both digital citizenship and digital skills– what’s the balance between direct instruction and experiential/discovery learning? A teacher asked me yesterday, “Don’t we want them to learn what makes sense for them?” I would argue that part of our responsibility as educators is to make sure that they’ve tried on enough hats to know which one fits. Otherwise, isn’t it the educational equivalent of the infinite monkey theorem?