Google Spaces

Google just released a new social media service – Google Spaces. I am reluctant to go all in on Google products because I have been burned too many times. I find services interesting, put in my time developing something, and then the service is abandoned. This the Google way and Google users should know this pattern, but there is also the issue of promoting a Google service and then finding you have advocated that others spend their time before it is clear Google is really serious.


So, again, this service looks interesting and worth a look. My first paragraph should offer fair warning. If you would like to check out a simple resource, here is a link for a simple space I have created requesting input on experience with formatting for Kindle publication. You do not have to be interested in the topic to take a look.

My initial interpretation is that Spaces offers a way to generate a conversation around a topic. If my interpretation is accurate there should be some value in this approach. My immediate reaction is that this could be an improvement on the popular Twitter chat which I see as hampered by the limited commenting that Twitter allows.

As I understand the present situation, Spaces is not a Google for Education app. I would guess this will change as the services seem well suited to posting questions, content for discussion. This will likely change.


Here is what I am missing about what Google is thinking. When you create a Space you invite access. These are the options. Why Facebook? Why not use Circles which I thought was a very interesting and useful approach to controlling access? Sending a link has limitations when it comes to controlling access. The link can be easily shared without consent of the personal creating the Space.

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Women in CS

My Spring class has just concluded. One of the final issues we consider is that of equity issues related to technology use. A subcategory of this topic large gender difference in “interest” in computer science (coding).

On a descriptive level, this equity gap is easy to demonstrate. The stats on participating in AP programming courses, attrition from a college CS major, graduate program enrollment, etc. demonstrate the size of the gap. Explanations and remedies (if this is even the appropriate term) are far more difficult.

I thought this post from the Google blog was informative and shared it with the students I work with. The focus is very much on the culture in which programmers work and how this culture is perceived. The approach taken by Carnegie Mellon is highlighted. CMU enrolls 40% females in contrast to the average 14%.

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Writing to learn

Writing to learn is a theme I have long championed. Actually, I have moved to “Authoring to learn” and “Tutoring to learn” as ways to expand the dated notion of writing to learn to include multiple media and the known advantages to the tutor and tutee of explaining and interacting to learn. Technology offers so many opportunities when externalizing what a learner knows and is willing to learn through authoring and tutoring.

Here is a recent Edutopia article describing the learning benefits of “low-stakes writing” as ways to implement writing to learn. Interpret these ideas within my authoring and tutoring to learn and see if the combination offers insights into potential technology-based projects.

Link for low stakes writing prompts (see pdf)

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Evernote and Google Doc

I probably make more use of Google docs and Evernote than any other apps. The announcement that the two could now be integrated seemed like a good thing for me. I must say I am a bit disappointed because the integration allows you to open docs within an Evernote note, but not the other way around. The potential of working from notes and snippets to a written product is appealing, but I use docs and Evernote in the opposite way. I write in docs and collect and organize resources in Evernote. The direction of sharing goes the wrong way for my approach.


The integration adds the Google docs symbol to the menubar for an Evernote note.


The Google drive icon opens a window allowing a Drive file to be accessed.

Perhaps you integrate content in Evernote. If so, this method combining Evernote and Docs may be helpful.


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Using tech during lectures

I just read a story describing a negative classroom outcome attributed to the availability of technology. The outcome did not surprise me. What I want to comment on is the manner in which the study has been reported and my concern that those who do not read and think about a full description may draw the wrong conclusion. The study concerned a performance difference of students who had and did not have access to technology during class. Here is what is important to recognize. These were college students enrolled in a large, lecture class. Having taught such classes for most of my career, I am not surprised by the outcome. Students in such a setting are pretty much free to do what they want and many take the opportunity to see what is happening on Facebook or whatever other social media site they follow.

What concerned me was the first report I read of this study was accompanied by a picture of young students in a classroom. I would propose that the supervision, expectations, class size, and many other differences exist between these two situations. Would I as a large, intro college class lecturer make a comment to a student I knew was checking Facebook rather than listening to me? No way. My expectations were that the student could use the time and he or she wanted as a matter of personal responsibility. In reality, I would likely have given the student credit for coming to class in the first place even if he/she was unwilling to give me their full attention. I doubt many middle school teachers would react in the same way. I also would not expect the middle school teacher to be dealing with several hundred students and be expected to keep their attention for an hour or an hour and a half.

Here is another post citing the MIT study. I hope my comments make some sense and explain why generalizing from this study to other settings is misguided. I sometimes wonder if writers pick up on the general message and with an agenda match one interpretation of the outcome to this agenda. Honestly, even in introductory courses, we try to explain that the key to understanding research is to carefully read the methodology and consider how the circumstances of the study influence the outcome.

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Stories for all

The New York Times has an interesting piece on storytelling in Africa and the prediction that stories out of Africa will be the next new thing. This is an interesting read.

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I have always been interested in photography. At some point, I made the switch to digital photography and storing my images online. At first, I used an online account to keep my best images and to share these images with others. I would load every picture I took to a computer, cull out the really poor images, and then upload a few quality images for sharing. Eventually, this approach began to slip and I just stored everything in the cloud assuming I would eventually go back to cull, organize, and share. I am guessing many individuals have taken a similar path. We now all have accumulated thousands of photos most of which have little meaning to ourselves or others.

Maybe it is time to go old school or at least start with a little more thought regarding why we take the photos in the first place. I stopped sharing photos. I stopped printing and mounting photos before that. I have decided to start again.

Bill Atkinson got me thinking about this topic. The Apple legend has really been about technology and imagery his whole life. What he has created is an app, PhotoCard, for sending photo postcards – high quality printed images that are lamented. He describes this as photos you send someone and hope the photos show up on their refrigerator. This is for the best of the best of your images – images that are especially beautiful or especially meaningful. I also like the postcard idea. It is fun to get this kind of mail and a different experience than a photo received as an email attachment.

Atkinson did a special tutorial with Leo Laporte  explaining photocard and it is worth the time to see the product and hear what he has to say about photography.

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What does it cost?

This is a complaint of sorts. How companies go about promoting their products matters to me. My initial exposure to Imagine Easy Scholar has generated personal interest. I know the company does Easy Bib which I find to be a useful resource so I am interested in a related tool for the online research process.The product seems similar to Scrivener which is a professional level product I use and I can see how learners could benefit from a similar product at a reasonable price.

Here is what annoys me. I cannot find the price for the product. I cannot find the price on the company site and I cannot find the price in the reviews of other education bloggers. I know that I can sign up for a free trial, but I want to know what schools will have to pay because I know the cost of things is such an important issue. I do not expect free, but taking the time to promote a product/service without understanding the cost to the user is pointless.


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Interpreting Maps

NPR provided an interesting recent post (and program) on spending for public education.


A topic within the presentation concerned the use of property tax revenue expressed as per pupil expenditure above. I certainly understand why public schools focus on property taxes. Schools need predictable revenue sources and the value of property is slower to react to economic ups and downs. However, it produces some interesting and uneven experiences for learners. In the past few years, I have lived in Grand Forks, ND (working at the university), a suburb of Minneapolis (our retirement home), and on a lake in the north woods of Wisconsin (a home we purchased with inherited money). The map above (check the article for a better view) provides per pupil expenditures for these areas. Grand Forks and MSP are relatively wealthy areas with active business, health care, universities, etc. Our lake place is located in one of the poorest counties in Wisconsin.

What I find interesting from looking at the specific revenue going to schools in the regions I am familiar is the weird funding disparity. Despite the relative poverty of lake country, the revenue for education is the best. This results from a low population density and the inflated property values for lake homes many of which are second properties so any students using these properties attend school elsewhere. Minneapolis and Grand Forks spend less per pupil despite having far better economic circumstances.

I am not anti-tax. My father, a farmer, always told me to be satisfied with making the kind of money that required me to pay the taxes I do. I try to remember that even in retirement.

As a life-long educator, I have always been interested in the way education is funded. Public colleges are not tax supported in the way public K-12 education is tax supported. As a retired professor, it always puzzled me that the % of university costs funded through taxes declined drastically over the years and yet elected politicians can both determine the money institutions receive from taxes and also control tuition increases. I understand this is what is meant by “public institution”, but I don’t think the “public” really understands how it works. State-controlled and state subsidized is a more accurate description than state funded. The level of control is out of balance with the level of funding.

UND was always a regional university and we were lucky to attract as many students as we had from Minnesota. I suppose some locals feel the “tax supported” institution was be exploited by those who did not pay taxes. Well, ND students could attend MN schools via the same agreement. We were lucky that so many MN students came our way. Higher ed also requires a certain scale to provide quality experiences and the untaxed students from elsewhere were necessary to achieve the scale necessary for a true university.

Enough ab0ut funding. I no longer have to worry about such issues, but it obviously irks me that so many are unwilling to take the time to understand how this actually works.

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Son Todd just learned that the VR video project he directed for Target received a People’s Choice Webby award (Webbys). Cindy had to tell him. I assume Webby People’s Choice awards are those projects receiving the most votes from the public and are separate from the Webbys selected by the committee. The project made use of cool technology I described as a Gaggle of GoPros in a previous post. The tech is new and experimental, but the team and the budget it took to generate this product was impressive. Todd has moved on from Target (creatives have this tendency). We have a good time talking tech.

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