Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Blasphemy! I dumped my iPhone

Apparently I have just done something that has horribly offended some people, or rather it offended their perception of me. It was something many people deemed sacred. I switched from an Apple iPhone 5 to a Google (LG) Nexus 4. Gasp!!

The reaction to my Facebook announcement was funny to me for two reasons. One, I didn't know so many people cared or followed what kind of phone I used. I also didn't realize that I have come across to others as a blind Apple Fanboy. Yes, I have owned just about every kind of Apple product (except for the first generation of any device -- that's always a mistake). I have about five Apple devices within earshot of me right now as the matter of fact. However, I have also owned my share of Windows computers and have even been known to go to a computer market, buy a heap of the requisite motherboards, fans, RAM and hard drives to make my own PC from scratch. Yes, I'm geeky, but I know why.

In recent years people may know me as the guy who, along with Mike Pelletier, was able to instigate and direct the shift from Lenovo to Mac at the largest international school in the world. That was a feat that most thought could not be done. I have also highly recommended MacBooks to just about everyone I know. I even got my grandma to switch -- and she was very comfortable defragging her Windows machine. So I guess I realize why people might have that Fanboy impression of me. The news is, however, that I'm an informed Fanboy. When  information or my needs change, then my allegiances are likely to change as well. That has happened with my choice in smartphone.

Let me start this by saying that I am a power user of my phone. I use it constantly and for just about everything -- except making heaps of phone calls. If you are not an intensive user of the full functions of your mobile phone then my reasons won't be as relevant to you. Phone calls, Whatsapping, shooting food porn and a few games can be easily done on the iPhone. It's very easy, convenient and a stable option. It is also very powerful and ticks a lot of boxes for many, many users. It suited my needs for about 5 years. Now, however, it doesn't.

I did a lot of research and read posts of high end tech users and reviewers who had switched. Their logic made sense to me so I decided to give it a go. Here are some of my reasons.

Bigger screen size with similar resolution
4.7" on the Nexus versus 4.0" for the iPhone. This wasn't my first reason for switching, but after having used the bigger screen it makes a huge difference. It is just as crisp, but I find the Nexus brighter. The additional real estate makes me scoff at the puny size of my iPhone. I think the Nexus is the sweet spot for screen sizes. If it's too much bigger then it basically becomes a small tablet or iPad Mini. Those serve a purpose as well, but not the purposes I have for my smartphone that will always be with me.

Integration of applications
Android phones allow you to easily work between applications and develop seamless workflows. I read a lot of blogs that I subscribe to in Google Reader Feedly. I also use Diigo to organize and save my bookmarks and Evernote for additional information. When reading a blog I can tap the Share button and then choose from all of my applications that can help me out. I can send a link to Diigo, the page to Evernote, share on Google+, LinkedIn or even Remember the Milk. In iOS I might be able to do this with some sort of workaround, such as the Open in/Upload/Sync/Download/Open In features of Dropbox or it may not be possible at all.

I think this is a fatal flaw in iOS. Apps are different than computer applications. Apps are more limited in their functionality by design. This, therefore, necessitates that we use more than one application to accomplish a task. If the apps do not easily talk to each other we are immediately limited in what we can do. Apple has made this a challenge, but Google has put sharing at the core of its operating system.

The iPhone is sexy. No doubt about it - but they all look the same. Sure you can change the wallpaper, but you can't rearrange the furniture into anything except rows. And some furniture you can't get rid of at all, ever, no matter how hard you try. Just try to delete the Apple Mail app and see how that goes.

Choice of Apps
By design the Apple branded apps are the defaults and these cannot be changed at the system level. Some apps are now allowing you the option to open a hyperlink in something other than Safari, but that's a choice implemented by the app developers and not part of the system itself. As a Gmail user I don't like the Mail app and would rather use the official Gmail app from Google so I can Archive, Star and apply multiple Labels. There are workarounds for doing this on an iPhone, but it's not designed to work that way.

Ease of access to information
From a locked iPhone screen, how many clicks, swipes and flicks does it take you to find out what is on your to do list - or to see when your next appointment is? I'm loving that you can add Android gadgets right to the lock screen. Many apps have a gadget version that can even be put on the app screens. You can mix gadgets and apps on the same page. Genius and convenient.

I like to learn new things
I am a learner and love to explore new things. Being in the ed tech world I think it's embarrassing that I had no knowledge of Android. Of course I can't know everything and I probably won't learn how to program in Android, but I love the challenge of experiencing different things. Android has made some vast improvements and now is quickly closing the gap that iOS had due to its head start.

I like when people are passionate. But passion without understanding can be bad. Why are you passionate about something? That's what is important.

Do I think everyone should switch? NO!! Am I an Apple hater or anti-iPhone? NO!! However, I do think you should understand what it is you like about your phone. To do this you have to know a bit about what other phones can do. Don't be a blind follower. Know why your phone suits YOU.

So that's why I switched. Sorry to disappoint many of you, but it's not blasphemous to switch. I hope you now understand where I'm coming from. As I continue using the Nexus 4 I'm sure I'll come across things I don't like, but I'm really loving what it can do so far.

PS. I'm writing this blog post on a Chromebook. That must mean I REALLY don't like MacBooks as well as iPhones now!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gettin' Googley at GTA

It has already been nearly two weeks since we finished up at Google Teacher Academy at the GooglePlex in Mountain View, California. I was honored to have been selected as one of the 60 or so innovative Googley educators from around the world. The applicant pool was very talented and those selected came with impressive experience, lots of creativity, energy and passion. We all had to make a one minute video as part of the application process to illustrate why we would each make a great Google Certified Teacher (GCT).

Before attending GTA I talked to many GCTs about their experience. They all raved about it and the most common advice was 'get ready and hold on'. They warned that it is information overload packed into just two short (but LONG) days collaborating with some of the most creative educators you will ever been in the same room with. They were so right. It was like drinking from a firehose. There was no possible way to take it all in, but I tried!

Team Edison
I was on the fantastic #TeamEdison which included Kyle Brumbaugh as our Lead Learner, Liz Castillo (HI), Aaron Johnson (CT), Sue Bedard (FL), Erin Schiller (MN), Scott Smith (CA), and Kate Petty (CA).

One of the most impressive stats of our GTA cohort is that we have a direct impact on 47,000 students and 43,000 teachers in the work that we do. There were classroom teachers, ed tech specialists, librarians, consultants, and program coordinators. We are all leaders at our schools and many are regular conference presenters, webcast/podcast hosts and guests and workshop leaders. The reach of this group is impressive. It is now part of our directive to take what we know and love about Google and share it with our audience.

I have been trying to digest my experience down into something that can be easily communicated -- and that's hard to do, but here goes:

My learning is enriched by the connections I make.
Simply being in the room with such talented people immediately helped me to lift my game. Side conversations and quick comments were stimulating. Watching the Twitter stream fly by added even more to the conversation.

Google tools should be central to the contemporary classroom.
We talk about creativity, collaboration, communication, and other tritely branded 21st century skills. What I firmly believe is that the Google family of tools and products help us to build these skills within our students.

I still have a lot to learn.
Although I have a lot of experience in tech integration my mind was expanded and seeds were planted in how and what I can bring back to my school. GTA exposed us to some tools we had not used that much before and I am excited to a chance to implement these with teachers and students.

Heather Dowd & me at the GooglePlex
Google tool with most potential educational impact...
Far and away the tool I got most excited about in education was Google+. I think it offers several features that make it attractive and powerful:

  • It connects people
  • Provides an online space that students are familiar with
  • Hangouts bring communication and collaboration to a new level
  • The new Communities feature provided protected spaces in which groups can communicate, share and collaborate.
We are considering how to roll this out to our high school students over the next semester. I'm excited by the possibilities.

Attending GTA was one of the most rewarding professional learning experiences. It was the right combination of fantastic minds, great location, powerful tools, and positive energy. I really look forward to working more with Googley things and continuing to help our students and teachers learn and grow.

The GTAMTV 2012 crew

Saturday, October 6, 2012

PD for the PD folks #GTAMTV

I have hit the Submit button and now all I can do is wait...

It doesn't take much to see that I'm more than a bit of a Google fanboy. My school uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), I have my own personal domain set up within Google Apps, most of my day is spent in the Googlesphere working, training and supporting others.

As an educational technology coordinator most of my time is spent training others...which I love! The professional challenge for me comes when I am trying to develop and grow my own knowledge and skills. Many of the traditional workshops and conferences don't always have offerings for those of us who provide workshops and training to other professionals -- plus it's me and my colleagues who usually present at these events. How do we, the professional developers, coaches and facilitators continue to grow? I'm foreshadowing here to a couple of posts I have swirling in my head about the future of PD in education -- more on that later.

I first learned about the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) a few years ago and have been interested in applying for it. Now, I finally have submitted an application to the upcoming GTA being held in Mountain View CA(#gtamtv) in early December 2012. The application deadline has passed and now we wait. Only 50 will be accepted and hopefully I'm one of them. GTAs bring together like-minded professionals to learn and explore the educational tools that Google provides. They are two day events that are action packed from what I can tell from afar.

So what could I possibly learn in two days of training? I'm not sure. However the part I would look forward to most is connecting with other Googley education folk. While following the recent Twitter stream for the GTA-New York (#gtany) I learned heaps. As the deadline for #gtamtv approached the Twitter Machine was abuzz with application videos being shared. By just watching those I have already grown and look forward to the opportunity to connect with more applicants at #gtamtv if I'm accepted.

Now, back to waiting...

Here's my application video.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I'm not texting. I'm tweeting!

"I saw you texting during the keynote speech." A couple of teachers whispered this to me as if I had been naughty. I just smiled.

We had just listened to a fantastic opening session by Dr. Austin Buffum, an expert in the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process. Of course, to many people it did look like I was busily sending text messages to one of my friends. Of course, that is exactly not what I was doing. I was tweeting!

There is an important difference between texting and tweeting. Texting is a private message between two people. A tweet, on the other hand, is a public message that is broadcast out to whomever follows you and has an interest in what you are saying. You have 140 characters to get across a short, sweet point that is tweetworthy.

Many people do not yet see the point of tweeting. "Why would I care what someone eats, or if Ashton Kutcher is having coffee." I agree! For me, however, it is the most valuable professional development tool in my bag of tricks. Who you follow, what you contribute and the conversations that you have are the secrets to the effective use of Twitter.

The list of people I follow is mostly comprised of other educational technology coordinators, coaches, administrators and techy teachers. We all share something in common...the desire to share and a passion for good teaching. Most of us tweet out photos, quips, links, experiences, struggles and celebrations. These tweeps are my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and we all grow from what we share, even though most of us have never met.

So what was I doing during Dr. Buffum's opening address? I was having a rich conversation with other members of the audience who were also tweeting, such as Heather DowdTim StuartAnthony SelleyShaun KirkwoodJohn Gaskell and Jemma Hooykaas. We shared the bits that resonated with us and recorded the experience as it happened. This is the way I take notes now during many conferences. Several more SAS faculty in the room were following along with what we were saying, lurking and learning. We used the #sasedu hashtag to tag our school-related tweets and #atplc when referring to PLCs.

Not only were people in the room learning from each other, there were thousands of other Twitter users reading what we were sharing. Kerri-Lee Beasley, a Digital Literacy Coach at UWC was following along. She tweeted:

The power of Twitter comes from the connections we make. It takes time to build up a good list of people to follow and you have to contribute to the conversation to get people to follow you. Once the ball starts rolling, however, it can be one of the most professionally rewarding things you can do.

If you really want to see what I was doing with my nose in my phone and my thumbs frantically tapping away? Check out my Storify round-up of the Twitter action from Day 1: http://storify.com/jayatwood/plc-institute-sas. The next time you see someone on their phone during a workshop ask them, "Were you tweeting?!"

PLC Institute Storify

Here are the tweetworthy bits from Day 1 of our Professional Learning Community Institute at SAS.