Dec 13
Latte

RX1 ISO 100, F/2

So, I am on day 3 of having a new Sony RX1 full frame camera. I am going to be describing my experiences using this camera over the holidays as I learn the camera’s nuances and enjoy its image quality. I will try and keep each posting fairly short and specific. This first post is specific to initial impressions about the body.

Right out of the box, the RX1 had a very professional feeling heft to it. I knew right away that Sony didn’t cut corners on giving the camera a professional feel. But I quickly also decided that holding this camera is not as easy as my NEX 5N. I can walk around town with a wrist strap on my NEX 5N and the camera dangling from my fingertips. With the RX1, I use a wrist strap as well, but the camera must be consciously grasped at all times. I suspect I would feel much better about walking about and holding the RX1 if I had the RX1′s Thumb Grip, but that smallish piece of metal is priced at $250. For just another $100 I could be buying a new NEX 5N. There is no way in hell I pay $250 for a thumb grip, so I’ll have to be content to work a little harder to hold my RX1 than my NEX 5N.

Before I took any photos, I wanted to set the camera up to meet my needs. On my NEX 5N, there are not many external controls and I often felt constrained having to dig into the menu system. In fact, this is partly why I wanted to upgrade to gain external controls. The RX1 does not disappoint. There are many programmable buttons and I have all of the options I’d want available so that I can access everything I need with 1 button press. I didn’t realize how much I’d appreciate that, but I cannot go back to a camera body . . . and my plan was to keep the 5N for other focal lengths (e.g., fisheye, 50, 55-210) and use the RX1 for my main focal length (35) and most of my shooting. Just playing with the RX1 makes me want to greatly upgrade my other focal lengths, too. I need to figure out quickly if I want to go all in with regard to full frame or whether I just want to upgrade my 5N to the 6 to gain more external controls. Hmmm. But I quickly learned my way around the RX1. I am already using Exposure Compensation more often than I ever considered on my 5N.

Continuing my shooting experiences . . . I was used to flipping up the LCD of my 5N as needed (e.g., shooting a flower down low I could lower my 5N and flip up the LCD to check focus). With the RX1, I am forced to bend way down to see my LCD screen. This is really annoying. I know I can buy an expensive electronic viewfinder, but I gave up viewfinders on my old Nikon D70 and was very content with the LCD that articulated on my NEX 5N. With the RX1, I feel like I am taking a usability step backwards. On the other hand, the resolution of the LCD on the RX1 is incredible. Do you remember the first time you viewed a high definition television after being on standard definition? That’s how I felt when moving from my NEX 5N to the RX1. The screen is simply gorgeous. I feel like I am looking through a window at the subject I am shooting. I played with a Nikon D600 and I thought it made my 5N LCD seem innovative and impressive. Well the RX1 LCD puts the NEX 5N LCD to shame. I just wish Sony would have made the screen adjustable, particularly since the camera does not come with an EVF or VF by default. I am happy to shoot just using the LCD, but the RX1 makes this more difficult than my $350 NEX 5N at times and that’s unfortunate.

Finally, I bought a cheap $7 metal lens hood off of Ebay. I also attached a nice B+W UV clear filter. The filter screws into the lens and recesses a little bit, which is nice. The lens hood screws into the filter just fine as well. I do not notice any vignetting when shooting with this combo. However, if I use the flash then there is some shading on the bottom right portion of my photos so I would have to remove the lens hood when using the flash. I should also note that the lens cap does not fit into the lens hood very well. I can get it so sit in the hood and seem stable, but it doesn’t lock, per se, like it should. I am comfortable with how it does fit. Speaking of the lens hood, it’s really nice. The lens hood is metal and has a nice professional heft to it. Very complimentary to the RX1.

So, that’s my impressions of the RX1 body (click here to buy one on Amazon). A parting shot of my dog . . .
ziggy

Aug 08

I’ve apparently forgotten about my blog for the past year. I am not even sure personal blogs even for a professional audience are even warranted any more. Many folks in my field have shifted to spending much more time on Twitter. Twitter is not for me. I appreciate nuance too much to be limited to 140 characters per post. I don’t even particularly enjoy sifting through retweet after retweet or link after link being posted. Twitter serves a purpose for some and I can see that some people really feel connected and part of a professional learning network . . . and that’s great for them. I see more promise with Google+ (largely because of how well it’s working for photographers — my hobby). Google+ expands on Twitter and allows nuance. I find it hard to justify a blog that might be seen by 10 people versus the same message being posted to Google+ where the potential for a much wider audience exists. So, I’ll probably keep this blog going. I mean, 1 post a year shouldn’t be too hard to maintain, eh?

Jul 20

First, I think everyone should read through Dr. Yong Zhao’s series called, “Ditch Testing.” A local superintendent, David Britten, today has a blog entry about the ACT and it’s college predictive value that is also worth checking out as it also adds fuel to the faulty standardized testing emphasis fire.

Standardized test scores have become the panacea to all perceived ills in public education. The emphasis on standardized test scores fails to recognize that we do not have standardized schools. We do not have standardized classrooms with standardized resources. We do not have standardized students. We do not have standardized parents, nor do we have standardized homes. So trying to compare teachers and schools largely based on standardized test scores is erroneous before it even becomes practice. A great teacher could transfer into a classroom of extreme poverty and, at best, likely look average and, at worst, look like a bad teacher . . . even if this teacher is doing his/her best work. Yet, that’s essentially where we are with the new tenure reform signed into law in Michigan. Test scores are far too valued. And this is not a hypothetical situation as this letter from Andrew Lindsay, a great teacher, explains. We’re turning even more to standardized test scores without the evidence that this is even a valid path to take.

A *good* principal can tell you who the best teachers and worst teachers are in a building far better than looking at average standardized test scores in a classroom. Many of the teachers in a school probably know who the best and worst teachers are as well. Unfortunately, we don’t have great principals or other administrators across the board to rely on any more than we have great teachers across the board. What we have are politicians who love a cheap and easy solution to hang their hats on . . . that’s test scores. Test scores are perceived as something that can be used to compare district to district, school to school, or even teacher to teacher. It’s relatively cheap and relatively easy to give a test. However, standardized tests are a solution to a problem that isn’t even as pervasive as we’re led to believe. Are there problems in public education? Sure. However, there are strong arguments that American schools are among the best schools in the world even though the media and politicians want you to believe otherwise. This flew under the radar when the latest PISA scores were announced, but everyone would do well to read about how poverty in the USA affects test scores and how controlling for the poverty variable demonstrates that American schools are the strongest in the world and perhaps not in need of *major* reform. Our schools are pretty great even if there is room for improvement. But politicians campaign on pretending that they’re placing an emphasis on education because they have standardized tests that teachers need to consider in their teaching. Under NCLB, test scores provided the ammunition to actually do more damage to the poorest schools for many years as lower test scores resulted in lower funding to the poorest schools, which we’ve know about for a long time now.

Politicians all feel like experts on education because they were all educated, presumably ;~). And, this long emphasis on standardized test scores demonstrates that politicians feel the need to steer how schools operate. Politicians haven’t lately made our schools better with their contributions. And, many of us realized a long time ago that their meddling has done damage to public schools in this country by going for easy solutions (i.e., a standardized test). The fact of the matter is that there aren’t easy solutions to improving schools.

I don’t pretend to have answers for improving public education in the USA. If the solution was easy then we’d be doing it . . . which is why we are doing what is easy in our perceived solutions. Easy is what politicians do. We could try and improve poverty and that would surely improve test scores if we wanted to stick with the test score model, which we already know to be flawed. My suggestion would be to reform administrator preparation programs to better ensure we have good principals and school leaders emerging from these programs. Many good administrator currently exist, but many more could be added to schools and districts and higher education preparation programs would be a great place to start this reform. I believe starting with good school leaders provides the foundation for schools and districts to hire and keep higher quality teachers. Good leaders will better recognize teachers who need corrective feedback and good leaders can help teachers make improvements . . . or, good leaders can dismiss teachers before they get tenure if these teachers aren’t responding to corrective feedback. Tenure reform wasn’t necessary because good administrators could always do what I’ve just described. And, the emphasis on standardized test scores certainly wasn’t the answer to this reform. We should have focused on improving the people who hire and keep poor teachers rather than starting with teacher tenure reform and leaving poor leaders in place (and let me again emphasize that many good school leaders currently exist). Once again, politicians are looking for an easy path and once again that easy out is relying on standardized testing. Standardized test scores have just gained even more power in our public schools. {sigh} When are we going to have politicians who look for good solutions instead of easy solutions when it comes to public education?

Jun 19
Dusty Computer Lab by jayhawksean
Dusty Computer Lab, a photo by jayhawksean on Flickr.

This is a photo of a computer lab I took in South Africa. This is a poor school that largely serves kids who live in the local township. The school lost its computer teacher and the principal didn’t think the teachers could teach in the computer lab without a computer teacher (because they weren’t trained) so the the lab just gathers dust. It was quite unfortunate that these kids are already facing such few resources in life and this is just another strike against them.

Via Flickr:
South Africa Elementary School

May 23

About a decade ago, I decided to no longer use Blackboard. My thinking is that I should be using tools that my students (current and future teachers) can also use. Most k-12 schools do not have Blackboard. Why should I model a tool that ends when students are not taking classes at my university? I shouldn’t. So I began a quest to find the replacement, preferably an open source solution. Through the years I have used static HTML pages to PostNuke (died in 2008). I settled into using Drupal for a number of years and I really liked it. I still really like it; however, it was not a tool that was easy to replicate for the typical teacher even though it is free. I decided I really need to be using Moodle and I switched full time to Moodle about 2 or 3 years ago. I like Moodle well enough. I wouldn’t say that I am an expert at Moodle, but I know it well enough to set up my own Moodle servers and to train teachers to use it and do some fairly detailed problem solving. But I don’t tap into many of the features so that’s where my limitations are with Moodle.

Well, this past semester I started shifting away from Moodle. I still use it, but I now use it mostly as a placeholder. It’s a place for my students to go and login to find the weekly parameters that I post. I also post links to assignment rubrics and other external links in Moodle. But when my students want to see what the requirements are for week 1 then they click on a link to the Week 1 Parameters and it opens a new window displaying a Google Doc. If students want to read an assignment rubric then they are also clicking a link to a Google Doc. I can create my materials in Google Docs as easily as working in any typical word processor (or office app for that matter). When I am ready to share the file I click on the sharing settings and make the file available to anyone who has the link. I also make sure I do not click to give the person permission to edit (at least not for my weekly materials).

Google Docs Sharing Settings:

Google Docs Permissions

My Class Moodle Site:

Moodle GUI

I can post the link in Moodle so that students merely need to click on “Week 3 Parameters” and get a new window open showing a Google Doc with all of the requirements for week 3 provided. Each item has a description of what students do to complete that item. Additionally, the item might have a link to click and get more detailed instructions (e.g., a link to another Google Doc). I can add images or screen shots easily. I can link to a podcast easily . . . all from this single Google Doc that becomes the roadmap for the weekly session. Students do not want to click in one place to find discussion parameters and another place to find the lecture materials and another place to see assignments; rather, students want to see it all in 1 place. Why not provide that to your students?

I am not ready to give up on Moodle, but I am pretty comfortable with using Google Docs as the nuts and bolts of my online classes. I still have the grades being stored in Moodle and I still want to support Moodle as a product. I just think Google Docs is super easy to use and requires very little effort to get up and running. While it’s not open source, it is freely available, for now, so that helps accomplish my goal of modeling free or cheap resources for my students.

Feb 16

Twitter has rapidly become THE social breaking news service. We know that Twitter can break news just about instantly. Bam! It can easily beat the mainstream media. Unfortunately, Twitter can also break news incorrectly. Bam! Someone tweets that Rep. Giffords is dead and it takes hours to get the twittervse corrected. No big deal because another story comes along and it consumes the discussion for its moment. Moment after moment being tweeted and retweeted. Twitter never stops flowing. That’s partly what makes it great, I suppose. I could watch the Grammys without turning on my television and instantly learn who each of the winners were as they were announced. Sure, I also had to filter out some guesses and commentary about outfits and various emotional reactions, but the gist of the process gave me the results.

The International Society for Technology in Education recently asked readers whether a PLN can replace traditional professional development. I think most of the educational technology community seems to believe that a PLN can most certainly replace traditional PD. And, teachers are increasingly using Twitter for professional enlightenment and support. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development had an article a year ago explaining why teachers should try Twitter with part of the justification noted that, “Twitter becomes a constant source of new ideas to explore.” This is true. Very true.

An article on Nature.com recently discusses how social media was used by “peers” to scrutinize a newly released article (this article from Science) that traditional media was trumpeting as potentially having a great impact on society (e.g., NPR and the WSJ). There are many issues to address here, but I am going to skip ahead and note that the traditional blind peer review model is not broke, but it could certainly use some reforming. I am not sure having tens, hundreds, or thousands of people “reviewing” an article is productive given that the message will almost never be consistent and will almost always be contrasting and mixed. A social review with a proper filter is clearly needed. Researchers and others are still trying to figure out how this new voice can be integrated into more traditional paradigms. I suspect we will figure out a way to bring the Twitterverse into the fold. We need to. And, I need to move on to the actual point I wanted to make.

Right now, I think the scholarly review process is light years ahead of traditional media in trustworthiness. I don’t mean to imply that the scholarly review process is perfect, it’s clearly not; rather, I am just noting that the process is much better than other forms of publication. Traditional media, for all of its flaws, is still more reliable than Twitter and blogs where there is no editorial review of what is posted or not. Maybe an individual here or there on Twitter or on her/his blog has gained trust and a good reputation. Fine. But the vast majority of blogs and Twitter accounts are not scrutinized properly, if at all. I can write something on this blog and state it as fact (e.g., “Multiple Intelligences is the most important educational research around and is the key to improving schools”) and not receive a single comment telling me that I am wrong (in fact, I am completely wrong). Principal X can do a Google search and find my blog and see that someone with a Ph.D. has just explained that Multiple Intelligence is important and decide to buy M.I. curricular materials and schedule professional developments on the topic. This is currently a fatal flaw with social media under the status quo. To be fair, schools have jumped on unsubstantiated bandwagons over and over again throughout history (e.g., Brain Gym right now). This is where administrators need to be worth their weight in gold, but I digress.

So, can a PLN replace traditional professional development? Sure. If the traditional PD is not based on instructionally validated practices and research then it’s just like Twitter. I don’t recommend this. But if traditional PD is implemented well, I don’t think Twitter currently stands a chance for the masses of educators. Please note, I am not suggesting that selected individuals can’t benefit from Twitter; they can — perhaps you can. Perhaps you have a great filter for the constant flow of information? The people a teacher follows are shaping the messages being received, so the Twitter experience is going to be different for me versus the next educator. My caution is just that *most* social media currently has no standardized mechanism in place to check the reliability and validity of information being posted; that’s left to each individual teacher. And I hate to see educators jumping on the new bandwagon(s) du jour . . . or, should I say, the bandwagon of the instant?

Jan 27

This blog entry is largely for myself so that I can quickly reference the presentations I’ll be doing later this semester and when and where they are. But if you happen to be going to one of these conferences then I hope you stop by and say hello.

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education 2011 (2 sessions with a colleague)

Challenges and experiences of school districts in lower West Michigan that are implementing 1:1 computing initiatives

ID: 31649
Type: Full Paper Topic: Research & Evaluation
Room: 11
Thu, Mar. 10 4:00 PM-5:00 PM

Authors:
Andrew Topper, GVSU College of Education, USA
Sean Lancaster, GVSU College of Education, USA

Abstract: This paper explores the implementation of various 1:1 laptop computer initiatives throughout lower West Michigan to determine if patterns exist. These initiatives are funded in times of limited K-12 resources and constitute a serious investment in technology for the schools and districts adopting them. The goals of this study are to understand how and why 1:1 laptop initiatives are being implemented across lower West Michigan, how these initiatives are funded and supported, and expectations or assumptions of stakeholders that are driving adoption of this type of technology. The results suggest that these districts, and those like them, will face many challenges – some financial, some technical, and some procedural – as they work to integrate technology into their classrooms. Common themes or challenges identified from this work include leadership and vision, funding, teacher professional development, evaluation, and measures of non-traditional student achievement.

Evaluating A Ubiquitous Computing Initiative

ID: 31784
Type: Roundtable Topic: Research & Evaluation
Room: 15
Fri, Mar. 11 11:30 AM-12:30 PM

Authors:
Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, USA
Andrew Topper, Grand Valley State University, USA

Abstract: Ubiquitous computing in the form of laptop and other mobile learning initiatives are becoming more common in schools. This study, currently in progress, explores the implementation of a one-to-one laptop computer initiative in a Midwestern USA public school district. Data from teachers, students, and classroom observations reveals a significantly increased use of technology in teaching and learning along with an increase of lessons that also address educational technology standards and 21st century skills.

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Council For Exceptional Children (2 sessions with my wife)

Session: COMPUTERIZED VOCABULARY INSTRUCTION: LEARNING NEW WORDS AND WORD PARTS CAN BE FUN!

Abstract: This session describes and demonstrates a series of computerized programs designed to provide systematic vocabulary instruction in a fun and engaging way to students with high-incidence disabilities and low achievement. Participants will have an opportunity to interact with the program and discuss results of field tests, which included over 400 students. (14823)

Date/Time: April 26, 2011 / 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Room Number: Chesapeake G
Format: Multiple Presentation
Topic Area: Instructional Design and Strategies
Leaders: Paula Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI
Presenters: Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University

Session: STRATEGIC TUTORING: INNOVATIVE DEVELOPMENT LEADS TO STUDENT INDEPENDENCE

Abstract: Strategic Tutoring is a research-validated instructional tutoring approach in which tutors teach students a learning strategy while assisting them with assignments, thus leading to greater student independence. This session will describe an innovative approach for providing professional development in the model. (14874)

Date/Time: April 27, 2011 / 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM
Room Number: Poster 20
Format: Poster Session
Topic Area: Instructional Design and Strategies
Leaders: Paula Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI
Presenters: Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University

Jan 22

This entry was a demonstration for someone on Twitter who posted a question. Just FYI.

Here is an example of a Google Presentation that I published and then Google provided me with the code to paste right into this Blog entry:

I had control over the size as well. I chose small. I didn’t need to add it to the HTML of the blog entry; rather, I hit paste right in the text area. Ta da!

Jan 04

Prediction lists and top 10 or 21 things lists tend to be popular for bloggers and get retweeted on Twitter, particularly around the start of a new year. What I find lacking in many of these lists is that the justification for this claim or that one tends to be brief; very surface level stuff. I would much rather delve into a single topic in more detail, which cannot be done on Twitter and is therefore relegated to blogs. So, in that vein I am providing a “list” of 1 prediction for the coming years with regard to technology in education — at least a prediction I haven’t seen made elsewhere.

1. Many schools will try “online instruction” and realize mediocre results.

“Online Learning,” “Hybrid Online,” “Blended Learning,” “Virtual Classrooms” are all hot phrases in education these days. A Dept. of Education report in 2009 really provided the springboard and validation to the concept of online teaching and learning. The Dept. of Ed. report concluded, in part, that students who did all or part of their learning online performed better than students who did the same course traditionally (face-to-face). What more does a school need than a research report released by the Dept. of Education?

Locally, I see one of the largest school districts in the state shifting some core subjects to a blended online learning model. Kids are going to their real teacher 1 day and then going “online” for a few other days away from their main teacher. Many school districts are also turning to technology for “online” credit recovery – e.g., having students sit at a computer and complete commercial modules that are called online learning experiences. This is not meaningful online teaching and learning regardless of what it is being labeled. These experiences actually do work for some kids, but I still cringe when it’s called online learning because this is far from the ideal online learning experience and I don’t think calling this online learning does any favors to folks who are truly teaching online.

These trendy phrases are really misunderstood by the general public. Actually, many educators and administrators also misunderstand these phrases. I suspect that each person has a different vision of what online learning entails just as we all have our own vision of what traditional instruction entails (e.g., lecturing, project-based activities, group work, writing, reading). Unfortunately, the end result for many online credit recovery programs and K-12 online learning experiences ends up being the most convenient or the cheapest option that uses the “online learning” label (and, money does drive many decisions . . . most perhaps, so I don’t discount that). I am merely noting that calling something “online learning” does not ensure that learners are actually experiencing meaningful online learning. And, I am not sure anyone has figured out affordable credit recovery solutions that work really well, so there’s that.

Online teaching and learning require some essential components:

1. Teaching and Learning both take place online. If the instruction is more like a CD-ROM approach to teaching then we’re back to the 90s with regard to technology in education. The 90s was when we were often just happy having kids working on computers regardless of what they were doing or how they were used. The research back in the 90s was also fairly mixed because of the ambiguity in best practices. We have moved beyond that old school approach to technology integration. Unfortunately, many schools are not beyond that stage even though real online instruction is vastly superior to CD-ROM based lessons and truly online experiences must reflect this, which leads to . . .
2. Learners must be engaged. The instruction should allow for learners to be engaged with the content (what many CD-ROM packages did/do), the instructor, and with other learners – neither of these final two interactions occurs with CD-ROM based instruction. Simply buying a commercial curriculum that is hosted online does not equal online teaching and learning.
3. The instructor must have a voice in the instruction; the instructor must allow his/her personality to be apparent. The instructor voice should be visible in the instruction and while engaging the learners.

Blended learning requires that the teacher be available to the student during the online portions of the learning as well as during the traditional portions. Meeting with a teacher 1 or 2 days a week and then sitting in a computer lab with a proctor and no online interaction with the teacher is not a blended learning model; rather, this is a cheap knock-off model that will produce cheap results. Yet this is happening and will continue to happen in some schools, unfortunately.

K-12 online learning and blended online learning don’t have to go through these phases of experimentation for online instruction, but they will. That’s my thinking for the next many years. And, much money will be spent going through this process where schools try and shift more learners to what they call “blended” or “online” learning because it’s in fashion.

I don’t want to leave this blog entry on a down note, so I should point out that some schools are getting online teaching and learning right. These schools have teachers in classrooms teaching and also facilitating the learning that occurs online. Eventually these schools will start to stand out and the model will spread . . . but it’s going to take time. This also takes the realization that online teaching and learning is not a way to save money and it’s certainly not a way to reduce the teacher workload. Such is life in the k-12 world.

Jan 04

When I started blogging, the whole notion of blogging was really undefined. I capitalized most proper nouns, but rarely capitalized the first letter in a sentence. And, I didn’t capitalize correctly for 2 reasons:
1. I liked E. E. Cummings’ writing style without capitalization to add a bit of uniqueness and pizazz to my style.
2. More importantly, I wanted a way to remind folks that blogging is not formal, it’s not academic writing, and it’s not on par with scholarly writing; far from it, actually. Blogging was informal and writing without capital letters immediately brought a level of informality to my posts.

But, times have changed and so have my motivations. Writing without the capital letters gave me absolutely zero pizazz and made me unique among adults, but not when you include 13 year old kids. Hmmm. And, I no longer feel like I need to make a point with my writing style — more accurately, I don’t think my point was ever made because of it. I still don’t think blogging is on par with typical academic writing, but that doesn’t mean I need to continue skipping the capital letters . . . so I won’t.