Thanks, but I already have a tablet

Recently, I got an email from my local T-Mobile representative advertising that the HTC Flyer, which… wait for it… you can write on.  You can edit documents!  You can record audio with notes!  You can manage your calendar!  You can write. on. the. screen.  Oh. my. God.


I’ve been doing all this and more since 2005 on my Lenovo Tablet PC.  Forgive me, world, but I’m frustrated with the idea that writing on the screen is something new.  I’m frustrated by the idea that we’re actually having to decide between touch, pen, and built-in physical keyboard.  I have all 3 in one machine.  Will that machine fit in my purse?  No, but I like a small purse and I already have a smart phone.

I work in education.  I’ve taught with technology for 12 years and started my school’s one-to-one tablet PC initiative in 2005.  I got the 55th tablet IBM/Lenovo made.  When I selected the Tablet PC for my school, we didn’t lose any functionality.   The Tablet PC took the laptop and added the ability to capture electronic ink without a separate graphic device.   We didn’t lose anything, but we gained a world of technological capability.  With our most recent round of Lenovo Tablet PC’s we gained touch screen capability – a triple threat of the tech world.

The current crop of tablet devices all seem represent some loss.  iPad – no integrated pen, and no keyboard, and no easy projection capability.   HTC tablet – pen is separate, no built-in keyboard.  I don’t like clutter and I like to have all the option to do anything I need to do wherever I am.  So, I don’t need a third device with limited capability.  Maybe I’m unusual (heck, there’s no maybe about it), but I’m happy with one computer and my smartphone.

To be clear, I’m not hating on the iPad, Samsung Galaxy, HTC Flyer or on people who love them.  I’m just saying that I’m not going to drop an all-inclusive technology that I know works for me in favor of something with more limited capacity. I’m intrigued by the idea of a smaller, lighter, G4 device that integrates all of these things and Windows 8.

Folks, it’s not that new.  After all, I’ve been able to write on my screen since ’05.

Legacy of Being the Shy Child

I was shy. Painfully shy.  Though my mother tells me that when I was little I would pretend to be lost in the grocery store so that I could talk to people and ask them to help me find my mommy, I have no recollection of being anything but shy.

I couldn’t order my own happy meal.

If asked to speak up, I whispered.

I avoided being called on in class.

“Getting to know you” games were a personal hell.

Even through college, I didn’t participate in class often.  If I worked up the nerve to speak, but answered the question wrong or had my idea rejected, I would never speak in that class again.  In one class, I would whisper my questions to a friend and she would ask them; until one day she raised her hand and loudly announced that I had a question for the teacher. Any question that I had was lost in an overwhelming desire to sink into the floor and disappear from the 23 pairs of eyes that turned around to see what that question I was going to ask.

In small groups of friends and co-workers, I was fine – soft-spoken but funny and thoughtful. But raise the number of people to more than 3 and my palms would sweat.  I would get tongue-tied and nauseated.  It was awful. Awkward. Limiting. Horrid.

Then I became a teacher.  Then the technology director.  Then I started a one-to-one tablet PC program.  I talked in front of my students.  I trained groups of faculty.  I spoke to groups of over 500 with grace and a wicked sense of humor.  I volunteered to be the opening convocation speaker.   It was a true transformation.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I still live with the legacy of being a shy child.   I want to feel like I have something really valuable to say before I say it.  I don’t speak up often in meetings unless I know that I have a real contribution to make.  But the biggest legacy of spending two-thirds of my life in the shadow of shyness is that social media is hard.  Really hard.

I’m on Facebook, but I’m more likely to “like” than post a status.  I’m on twitter, but I’m not sure if what I have to say is valuable.  I have a blog, but am averaging less than a post/month.

At first, I thought that this was just because I lead a crazy-busy life, but now, I think it’s the legacy of being the shy child.  Parents at my school tell me that they always look forward to my segment of the opening assembly. Co-workers tell me that they love when it is my turn to speak because I’m concise and hilarious.  What I can’t figure out yet is how to recreate the transformation from shy student to comfortable public speaker into the realm of social media.  Suggestions anyone?  I’ll be over here sitting in the back of the twitter feed trying to hide behind the tall kid…

Inbox Zero – a week later

I love Inbox Zero.  Elation is the only work that I think I can use that comes close to describing the feeling of seeing my inbox totally empty.   Two weekends ago, I posted “my own personal failblog” from a fog of feeling overwhelmed and tired.  Last weekend, I took the bull by the horns and spend two days ruthlessly clearing my inbox.  I started Saturday morning around 7:30 and Sunday afternoon around 4:30, I hit inbox zero.   Disclaimer – I slept, ate, did laundry, and located a roll of masking tape my husband needed.

So, a week later, it’s Sunday again.  Guess what!  The inbox is still empty.  It has been empty each night for a week.  It can be done.   And, in case you are wondering, I received 396 emails this week.

So, how did I manage that?   Back to David Allen’s Getting Things Done and a few simple rules.

  1. Do it now.  Different people use different numbers for how long a “do it now” task is – usually 1-3 mintues.  I don’t really put a number on it, just “a few.”
  2. Stop procrastinating.  I had gotten particularly bad at putting off tasks for all manner of reasons.  I didn’t have enough time on had to do it right.  I was stuggling with how to handle that email response.   I needed to write but was having a low-creativity day.  I needed information I didn’t have.  I was waiting for someone to be back from vacation.   Now – do it, delegate it or schedule it.
  3. No “To Do’s” in the inbox.  If it is in the inbox, you have to think about it every time you open the inbox.  If it is a to do, either do it or get it into the tasks list and scheduled do be done.

So, I’ve managed a week with these rules helping me to keep an empty inbox.  Its a really nice feeling.  I’ve actually gotten to the end of my emails and my tasks a couple of times this week and found myself looking forward on my list to see if there’s anything I can do in advance.   I’m pretty sure that wasn’t possible two weeks ago.  Let’s see how long I can keep this thing going.


My Own Personal FailBlog

I’m a fan of failblog and the rest of the cheezburger network.  Sometimes funny pictures of cats really can make your day better.  However, I’m not referring to this failblog, but to this post as being my confession of failing at my blog.

If you read the previous post, you may notice that I last posted on 6/10/10, just four days short of a FULL YEAR AGO.   Really?   I haven’t had anything to say for a FULL YEAR?   For any of you who know me, you know that this is not remotely possible.   Not at all.

What happened a year ago?  I went on a few trips and I got a promotion that added a new department to my area of responsibility.  And I fell off the blog wagon.  About three months after that, I fell off the balance wagon.  I stopped working out consistently.  I stopped being careful about what I ate.  I stopped cooking.  I stopped spreading housework through the week and ended up doing it on weekends.  I stopped stopping at a reasonable time at night, checking email and working into the evening and night.  I stopped staying connected to my personal learning network on Twitter.   You can’t write a “tech life balance” blog if you’re really lacking in tech life balance, now can you? (Note: this post came from a previous blog entitled “tech life balance.)

So, here’s my failblog confession.   I failed to blog and I failed at the purpose of the blog.  I forgive me.

In the words of Thomas Edison,  “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”   Maybe I haven’t found 10,000 ways that don’t work, but I have found a number of things that don’t make me feel like I’m as happy and balanced as I want to be.

Now, I’ve come back to this blog and to taking time to consider the questions that I designed this blog.

I just hope I can stay on the wagon this time.

Responding to Alan November

This week at Lenovo’s ThinkTank 2010, I had an opportunity to hear from Alan November.  I have long admired Alan’s forward-thinking examinations of learning in an environment where technology is increasingly available and essential.  I’ve spent a couple of days thinking about some of the things that Alan said in our session and want to share these thoughts.

One thing that Alan suggested is that one should listen to Eric Mazur and I’m doing that now. The reason that this came up is the idea that no amount of good teaching can overcome the preexisting misconceptions that students have before.  To overcome these preexisting misconceptions you must first be aware of them.  Then, you must address them directly so that the students can “unlearn” that wrong information.  Last, you can now teach new ideas.

I’m lucky in that, as I return to teaching only AP Computer Science, my students don’t have a lot of misconceptions about the material because very few of them have ever programmed before.  The only misconception that they are likely to come with is either that the class will be very hard or that it will be fun and easy.   (The truth of course is that the class is fun and hard).

So, I’m watching “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer: Eric Mazur.”  Eric discovered that his carefully prepared lectures were not actually resulting in his students learning the material he was teaching.  He came to the conclusion that he needed to shift from “teaching” to “helping” his students and to letting them help each other.

Back to Alan November’s talk.  In this talk, Alan said that homework was a stupid idea.  You give a student some problems to do.  The student does the problems.  Let’s say that the student gets 10 problems wrong.  He adopts this concept of how to do these problems and then turns in the problems.  A couple of days may pass before he knows that they are wrong and at this point, he has completely absorbed the incorrect idea of how to do the problem.  Alan proposed that the homework needs to be the classwork and the classwork becomes the homework.  What might this look like?  The students read or watch the lecture for homework.  They interact with each other online or respond in a way that allows the teacher to identify their misconceptions.  The teacher can then use class time to call attention to the misconceptions and by identifying them, begin to “unteach” them.  Class now becomes a time for the students to interact with each other, solve problems, and collaborate.  Using automatic response tools throughout the class, the teacher can identify how the class is doing progressing toward understanding the concept.  The teacher can direct students who solve a problem correctly to assist students who are having difficulty.  The time with the teacher becomes about action and interaction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how this might apply to my AP Computer Science class in the upcoming year.  The class has eight students, which seems small from an outside perspective, but in my particular school this is a huge AP Comp class.  How can I make the classwork into homework and the homework into classwork?

First, I learned awhile back that the more I have students read from the textbook, either before or after the lecture, the more confused the students become.  In the last two years, I have stopped assigning required reading; all reading is supplemental and optional.  So, I don’t want to assign readings from the text to make the classwork into homework.  I’m going to start out by looking at MIT’s Open Course Ware to see what video can be assigned as part of our required summer work.  I had success creating youtube videos for my Honors Chemistry class last year, so if I don’t find material I like, I can create my own.

Second, according to Alan’s experience, when students feel that their classmates are depending on them, they will do more than if they are doing the work only for themselves.  I have had classes work collaboratively to work on wikis to create study guides, but I want to take this further and I have to think about how to do this.

Lastly, my classes have always done a lot of group programming, but I’m always the scribe.  It’s time to put the kids in control of the screen and let them solve the problems collaboratively for themselves.

So, I’m hoping to use the summer assignment for my AP Comp class to test this idea of switching the homework and the classwork.  Then, when I have my students in the classroom, I’m going to try to sit down and shut up a little more often.