Mining Facebook

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The team behind Wolfram Alpha, the computational search engine that performs complex and comparative searches (and provides some of Siri’s responses) has just released a detailed report on the structure of over a million people’s Facebook profiles. Examples of the visualized data include clusters of friend networks – based on their inter-connectedness and physical location, how the distribution of someone’s friend’s ages change with that person’s age, as well as the how the fraction of one’s friends’ relationship statuses differ based on age. This NY Times article gives a concise overview of the report, but what can be extremely interesting is when you take a look at your profile through the lens of Wolfram Alpha and see your own social networks deconstructed.

Notice how two of my networks of friends closely intersect and yet are still discrete.

My friend networks – Notice how two of my networks of friends closely intersect and yet are still discrete.

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Boarding School Getting in the Way of Reading to your Child?

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screenshot_06There’s an App for that, too.  As the NYT recently featured, Kindoma lets you and your kid read e-books together on your iPads – complete with video and audio of each other as well as being able to point to specific words or pictures.  Clearly this was designed for the distant parent or grandparent, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be used with your distant child.  However, if you were instead the distant teacher, and wanted to read to a whole class of students – who might also be separated from each other – I’d take a look at Nearpod and, together with Skype, interact with the class.

What is your student’s engagement index?

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Have you ever wondered whether your students were actually reading the material you’ve assigned them?  Have you ever asked to see the notes they’ve taken to gauge whether the text is even worthwhile?  The New York Times just published an article about a new eBook system for textbooks that lets  teachers track their students’ “engagement index.”  This CourseSmart index reflects how long and how frequently the text has been looked at as well as the number of notes that have been taken – although not the quality of the notes nor even the quality of the text.

Summer Teacher IT Professional Development

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For those teachers who are looking gear up their IT Skills over the summer, the Teacher Training Center is offering a variety of interesting courses.  One that will be taking place in London is called Teaching and Learning with Technology and it will be taking place 2-6 July, 2013.  Another course, geared more for IT Coordinators and Directors is Technology Leadership which will be held in Miami, Florida the 3-9 July, 2013.  If you are looking for some other sort of training, the full list of courses they offer can be found here.  The parent group of the TTC is the Principals’ Training Center and has programs for Principals, Teachers, Counselors and Business Managers and are definitely worth looking at if you’re interested in gearing up your skills.

Solid State Drives and Huge Storage

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A few months ago Apple started shipping a new type of hard drive in their desktop Macs that promises the blistering speed of a Solid State Drive (SSD) with the large capacity of a normal, rotating hard drive (HDD).  Essentially what they have done is to glue an SSD together with an HDD into what they call a Fusion Drive using a management system called CoreStorage (which now also lets you encrypt your whole HDD).  The user only sees the usual single HDD in the upper right of their desktop, but the system is constantly monitoring which files and applications are being used, and then moves them to the SSD for very fast access.  However, for those very large movies, iPhoto and iTunes Libraries, the system keeps them on the much slower HDD thereby giving the user a large and very fast drive. The reviews are starting to come in and for the average user, Fusion Drives seem like a good merging of the technologies.  Currently the only machines that come with the Fusion Drive option are the new iMacs and Mac Minis, but it is possible to build your own fusion drive in an older desktop, and if you’re willing to pull out the DVD drive, you can even do this with a laptop.  However, you might still need your DVD drive on occasion, so turn it into an external DVD drive.

Edit: I’ve just completed the first step of this with my laptop, the chassis above and a 240GB 6Gbps SSD.  I transferred the existing HDD to the new chassis and put the SSD into the original HDD bay.  I am having to manage the data on my own, but I now have a very fast boot drive and the large VM’s and libraries are stored on the much slower, but bigger HDD.  As an added benefit, I recently learned that TimeMachine is able to back up to multiple locations on a rotating schedule so I now have my external backup and a new internal backup of the SSD.

 

Engage your class with Nearpod

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Do you like encouraging your students to work out problems, draw diagrams, or answer questions in class?  How about assessing what your students know in the middle of a lesson to see how well they understood what you were trying to convey.  I was recently invited to participate in the Apple Education Leadership Summit and was trained on a number of apps designed specifically to extend upon existing educational workflows.  One app that I was impressed with was Nearpod – which allows a teacher with an iPad to present images, slides, videos, (etc.) from their device to a classroom of iOS devices (or website) and also wirelessly to an Apple TV. This is interesting in and of itself, but what is unique is that the communication is bidirectional and students can take quizzes, complete surveys, respond to questions with text, or even draw pictures – which are then collected by the teacher’s iPad – and then can be shared back to the class.  The results are then tabulated on the Nearpod website where they can either be viewed or exported into a spreadsheet, and then into your grade-book (or program).
There are a few places where I’d like the system to be expanded, including having a virtual “pointer” to highlight specific parts of an image or slide, and a “presentation mode” where the tabulated quiz results are not displayed on the Apple TV, but otherwise this app seems very well thought through.

Evaluating Digital Resarch Sites

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When marking student papers have you ever wondered why some digital sources are more frequently cited than others?  Do your students know what constitutes an authoritative source or how to tell the difference between good and bad sources?
The Pew Research Center recently mined the data within the TurnItIn databases and determined that students are very likely (50%) to be drawing from sources that range from Social Networking, through Shopping, all the way to Cheating sites.
To help students (and teachers) develop the necessary research skills, TurnItIn has produced a rubric on how to evaluate online sources based on criteria such as “Authoritativeness, Educational Value, Intent, Originality and Quality” to generate a numerical score.  This score can then be used by the students themselves to evaluate the quality of their own research sources – or by the teacher to help guide their students toward more appropriate sites.

3D Printing and Acceptable Use Policies

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I recently returned home from attending the BETT Show in London where hundreds of vendors were showcasing their latest innovations in educational technology.  One technology that has intrigued me over the past few years is 3D printing – and many schools are starting to incorporate these printers into their Design Technology courses.  One company was handing out working drive-chains to visitors that were printed in a single run – and you can see from the picture that the links are quite high precision.  However, with this high precision comes the ability to manufacture weapons – and although the materials aren’t robust enough yet to handle the expanding gasses of a fired bullet, schools will need to develop AUPs and to set internal policies for how they will address students’ natural curiosity.
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Leap into controlling your computer with a gesture

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In the education sphere, the debate continues between whether an Interactive Whiteboard (Smart, Promethean, etc.) is better, or worse, than a teacher with a mobile tablet whose display is projected on a screen.  Another technology that has the potential for being a game changer is being developed by Leap Motion.  What it is is a small device about the size of a USB hub that sits in front of your monitor and maps the space above it.  When you stick your hands or a pencil into that space, their presence and gestures are translated into movements on the screen.  If you have ever seen the movie “Minority Report” where Cruise manipulates the images around him by waving his arms, you have some idea of the technology.

Developers just started receiving the early beta units this past week and it is clear that the technology is still very young.  However, I feel like this reviewer does, that if the technology could be polished and miniaturized – similar to the way the iSight camera transitioned from a clip-on camera to a just a dot on your screen – then the days of mice, trackpads and fingerprint smudges on your screen might be numbered – not to mention Interactive Whiteboards.

P2P Users Buy More Music

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http://9to5mac.com/2013/01/21/google-commissioned-survey-p2p-users-buy-30-percent-more-music/Google recently commissioned a study by Columbia University on the music-buying patterns of people who share music via peer-2-peer services.  Interestingly, they noticed that those who do share files buy 30% more music than those who don’t use P2P.  This sounds like good news for a company that both sells music and is heavily involved with keeping the Internet as open and accessible as possible.