You are currently browsing articles tagged Communication.

When the first iPad debuted on the scene, a math teacher asked me if there was any way that students could easily sketch math problems within an email message or chat.  Of course, there are some ways – but they require a few steps to get there.

But in December, Google unveiled Scribbles for Gmail, allowing users to add drawings to their electronic messages.  I instantly thought of how Google has provided an easy interface for things that can be sketched more easily than typed – like math and science problems.

Here’s how it works:

In the compose view, users click on the scribble button to open the drawing window:



The drawing is limited to the touchscreen sensitivity of the device, but is quite easy to use.  Images are inserted as .png attachments.

At the moment, this feature is only available in Gmail for the mobile web browser and the Gmail app for iOS.

Scribbles is a compelling reason for school districts to allow student access of Gmail or even setup Google Apps for Education.  But I am excited to think about the future of Scribbles in other products; imagine a sketch tool built-in to Moodle, Edmodo or other similar educational products.

Build it, and watch the math and science teachers flock to it.

Tags: , , ,

If you follow a lot of tech blogs, you’ll notice how a lot of writers talk about how they are frustrated with e-mail. You might wonder why they are so upset about something that has revolutionized how we communicate in the 21st century.

Clive Thompson from Wired Magazine blames the asymmetric nature of e-mail, in that it is “incredibly easy to send but often devilishly burdensome to receive.”

For example, in one minute I can send an email to a thousand coworkers asking them to review a document. Let’s say each recipient spends five seconds disgustedly discarding it. Boom: In just one minute, I’ve wasted 5,000 seconds — 1 hour, 23 minutes — of my organization’s time. Equally insidious is the growing plague of semi-meaningful emails — friend requests, one-word replies from your boss. Email apps weren’t designed to recognize such idiocies, which is why our inboxes become unruly messes, with important messages pushed offscreen and out of mind.

So as you are getting ready for the upcoming school year, make sure you use your e-mail account appropriately.  It’s so easy to send out a mass message to your school and district, but think aboutthe ramifications – will it be a semi-meaningful message, or will it waste others’ time?

Tags: , ,

While listening to NPR the other day, my ears perked up to a story from On the Media called “The Pleasure Principle.” In it, Ethan Zuckerman (blogger and internet theorist) described a condition called homophily, and its potential danger while using the internet.

In short, homophily describes how we tend to flock together, seeking out ‘birds of a feather’. Perhaps Aaron Retica (NY Times) describes it best as “…our inexorable tendency to link up with one another in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs”.

Online, this tendency can be amplified. Ironically, with a wealth of diverse voices available to challenge our own ideas, we tend to use the internet to reinforce what we already believe – like an electronic pat on the back.

Thus, Zuckerman warns that homophily threatens to make us stupid. If we only seek out things with which we agree, then are we really using the internet as a tool to expand our own humanity?

This has obvious implications for anyone who has built up a social network like Twitter. I’ll be the first to admit that most of the tweets I harvest are from professionals involved in science or education (or both). And I can also see how easily homophily can infect my RSS reader too, as I direct it to intentionally pull out only RSS feeds that I want to read.

As I get the majority of my news from Google Reader, I have to wonder if my feeds are too homogenized and narrow-minded. I also have to wonder if my Twitter friends allow me to accept my own perspectives on life without confrontation or question. Are these tools just amplifying my own stupidity?

Of course, I am painting a fairly grim picture. Of course there are many benefits in developing social networks with kindred spirits; if anything, the internet is quite a useful tool in fostering this type of kinship. The danger lies in blocking out things that we need to see – diverse ideas, differing opinions and news from around the world.

Zuckerman suggests visiting sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbledUpon – sites that collect interesting stories and allow us to discover the world in its serendipity. I’d also suggest broadening your news feeds to include international news originating from different countries. Broaden your social network to include people from different professions and cultures. Allow yourself to be challenged by different opinions when people comment on your posts.

Why might we be concerned about homophily as educators? Think about it this way – you may seek out online diversity to become a better person, and in doing so, become a better teacher that is open minded, compassionate and has an abundant collection of fresh ideas. While you may not actually unearth a ready-to-go lesson plan, you may actually be able to share something about life that cannot be assessed on a standardized test.

Tags: , , ,

To illuminate how Powerpoint presentations can be abused, Peter Norvig (research director at Google) has recreated Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a Powerpoint Presentation. [Link]

My favorite part is the introduction (we’ve all been here/seen this):

Good morning. Just a second while I get this connection to work. Do I press this button here? Function-F7? No, that’s not right. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to reboot. Hold on a minute. Um, my name is Abe Lincoln and I’m your president. While we’re waiting, I want to thank Judge David Wills, chairman of the committee supervising the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. It’s great to be here, Dave, and you and the committee are doing a great job. Gee, sometimes this new technology does have glitches, but we couldn’t live without it, could we? Oh – is it ready? OK, here we go.

To distill something as profound as the Gettysburg Address into a Powerpoint presentation is utterly ludicrous.Thus, Norvig makes a poignant example of how effective oral communication can get lost in the bells and whistles of technology.

Powerpoint (and other technologies) should be tools that support our teaching – not replace it. That’s something that we as educators need to teach to our kids, and to ourselves. I regularly make a point to preview my Powerpoint slides and remove as much of the text as I possibly can. I try to remember that I am the teacher – the presentation isn’t.

Tags: ,

Wired Magazine’s How To Wiki Blog recently posted an article on how to Write a Perfect EMAIL. As educators are flexing their fingers for work after resting this summer, this is a perfect article to kick off the school year.

Here is the annotated list:

  • Be Brief
  • Put your message in context
  • Make your requests clear
  • Include a deadline (if appropriate)

Dale Basler and I recently presented The Basics of Online Communication to NSTA’s National Science Congress. We’d add a few more tips:

  • Use bcc (blind carbon copy) for multiple addressees
  • Trim unnecessary ‘fat’ on forwards
  • Choose function over form (i.e. avoid fancy formatting)
  • Don’t use e-mail for everything (not good for chatting, etc.)

You can see the video and powerpoint of that presentation at Zentation (below):

The Basics of Online Communication
Maintaining successful and effective communication in the digital world.

Tags: ,

In the September 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest, an article entitled Is Your Boss Spying on You? (by Kim Zetter) caught my eye. While this article is applicable to anyone who has internet access at work, it is especially valid for educators.

Not only is my district reading my e-mail and following my website history, my e-mail is public record. Thus, you should be extremely careful about how you discuss students in e-mail messages, and you should never disclose personal information that you wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper. In short, school e-mail should be used for school business only. It is also worthy to note that there are inappropriate times to use e-mail, especially when a phone call or face-to-face conversation could be utilized more effectively and privately. See Basics of Online Communication.

Every year we are reminded by our teachers’ union to be careful about our online activities. There are obvious things to avoid, like accessing pornography, selling e-bay items during class time, creating/forwarding offensive e-mail messages, etc. But there are some gray areas to avoid too. For instance, I worry about surfing the web (even education sites) during class time. Even though this may be valid prep work to enhance my curriculum, I am not actively engaged with my classes when I am online.

Mostly, I see internet use at school as a professional issue. If we as educators want to be viewed as professionals, then we must act like professionals. This definitely means that we should be careful of our internet use in school, but we should also be careful of our online presence outside of school as well. The article addresses the infamous ‘drunken-pirate-wants-to-be-a-teacher’ story:

Stacy Snyder was working toward a bachelor of science in education and a teaching certificate from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Her supervising teacher at the high school where she was doing in-class training says Snyder was inviting students to visit her MySpace page. Among the contents: a photo of Snyder wearing a pirate hat and holding a plastic cup. A caption read “Drunken Pirate.” High school officials called Snyder’s MySpace activity inappropriate and unprofessional. Subsequently, she says, she had to forfeit the teaching certificate and switch to a bachelor of arts degree. She has sued Millersville for what she says is unfair punishment; the university refutes her claims. In any case, her teaching career may be over already.

Whether you agree with the outcome of this case or not, it sends a clear message that people are following and perhaps judging your online presence. While this may not be too concerning for veteran teachers protected by strong unions, it should make any pre-service or probationary teacher wary.

Tags: , ,


If you are an educator like I am, then you have probably attended numerous conferences, presentations and forums that revolve around technology and its place in education.

The majority of these professional development opportunities have provided me with excellent opportunities to learn new ideas, network with other educators, and generally discuss the role of technology in education. But some of these presentations have been downright frustrating to me, as they were unprofessional, outdated, and downright useless to me as an educator.

Let me give you an example. In one such presentation, I heard a speaker (a former IBM employee) who tried to wow the audience about how fast technology is changing. But this technology expert could not figure out how to make his prehistoric laptop work with the projector (ironically, a Mac saved the day).

Of course, I would have cut him some slack, but his presentation wasn’t much better than his equipment. He simply threw out useless statistics and line art graphs (without many references) intended to shock us. It is no use to be scared of the future (and the present) without being given any ideas of how to cope with it.

And I have seen enough of these bogus presentations that I am reminded of PCU (1994) – a clever movie where all the students at Port Chester University (a.k.a. Politically Correct University) rally behind any popular cause just because it is the thing to do. It seems that many speakers are simply jumping on the tech bandwagon – they are like politicians, as they only seem to expose problems instead of offering solutions.

To me, these presentations are just digi-peeves. They are useless distractions that try to define problems with technology, and do not generally offer solutions or ways we can properly utilize it in education.

In the next few weeks, I will share more of my digi-peeves. What are some of yours?


Last week, a study (pdf) and a survey (pdf) got me thinking about education’s role in emerging technology.

The Study:
A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users
from the Pew Internet & American Life Project

Addressing people’s assets, actions, attitudes towards information and communications technology (ICT), this study sorts American adults into three distinct groups (and subgroups) with the following results:

Elite Tech Users (31%)
Middle-of-the-road Tech User (20%)
Few Tech Assets (49%)

The most alarming aspect of the study is that a very large group of Americans (49%) are not accessing or participating in modern digital life (or minimally so). At least in adults, this is stark evidence of a digital divide in America.

The Survey
Smoking, Drugs and Obesity Top Public’s List of Health Problems for Children from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health

As a relatively new health concern, internet safety (26%) beat out school violence (24%), sexually transmitted infections (24%) and abuse and neglect (22%) – taking 7th place as among the top 10 concerns.

From the study:
“Recently, state and federal legislators appear to have responded to public concerns about Internet safety for children, considering new legislation and issuing consumer alerts.” As teachers, we have seen these actions again and again, where valuable websites are routinely blocked.

What Schools Can Do

It seems to me that our schools should be on the front line of both of these concerns to effect positive change. As we are concerned about the future of all American students, then we should supply access and training for proper ICT use.

  1. Fair Access. To address the digital divide so that our emerging workforce is digitally literate, schools need to provide fair and consistent access to new technology. This access needs to be reflected in equivalent hardware, software and availability no matter the location or socioeconomic status of the school.
  1. Teach Safe and Proper Use of ICT. Like any tool, ICT can be a wondrous instrument, but it can also be abused as well. Instead of shielding kids from what could be harmful, we must teach and model to them safe and proper use of ICT.

[Originally seen on TechCrunch: The Growing Digital Divide and TechCrunch: Internet More Dangerous than…]