Category: miscellaneous


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 . . .

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?

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

Research tends to be mixed on a 1-to-1 program improving student performance. More and more research is starting to suggest that students in these programs can improve in their school work (Peckham, 2008) with adequate preparations. Unfortunately, other research points to a slight decrease in standardized test scores initially or no change overall. Beyond grades and standardized tests there are programs who have justified a switch as a way to help students become more competitive in post secondary education and/or in employment. Typically this competitiveness comes in the form of students being more literate in 21st Century Skills.

The challenge for using 21st Century Literacies as a justification is that these skills tend to be difficult to fully define and measure. These are not skills that get assessed on most standardized tests. These are not skills that tend to show up in the curricula that most teaches are expected to implement. So, a school system wanting to use 21st Century Skills and Literacy to justify a new 1-to-1 program should first define what they mean when they use the phrase, “21st Century Learning.” The school should also be able to measure the 21st Century Skills they identify. Finally, the school should be able to help teachers integrate these 21st Century Skills into the school’s curricula. And, a 1-to-1 computing program is ideally how 21st Century Skills can get implemented.

This blog entry was originally posted to the SITE Mobile Learning Special Interest Group in August of 2010. I am just adding it to my blog in case the original site disappears.

i joined Facebook many years ago before it was open to anyone outside of higher education. some of my students had requested i join and i did . . . and for the first few years on Facebook i checked in maybe once a year, if that. once Facebook opened up to the masses, i suddenly started seeing old high school and college buddies appearing (to the tune of hundreds). for that matter, even my mother joined Facebook. and that’s when i started checking into Facebook more often. One of the things I really liked about Facebook was the fact that i could be the public Sean (e.g., the educator Sean) on my wall and i could control how i was seen by various groups of friends. i tried to keep my wall fairly humorous with somewhat clever status updates or even mundane (e.g., a cooking update), but i stayed away from posting anything that could be perceived as being controversial. this is the public me that a student might see around campus or at the library or the grocery store. all educators have their public side. but all educators have their private lives as well. heck, we even have public lives that are largely private when we travel to see old friends in other states, etc.

last month, Facebook changed their privacy settings to force everyone to be more open. so now, if i respond to a friend’s status update with something goofy that the private Sean would say, but the public Sean wouldn’t say then instantly a notification will appear on my wall as “recent activity.” i can no longer keep this hidden automatically. to be fair, Facebook allows me to delete this from my wall once it appears, but i don’t know whether this information is still appearing in my students live feeds, etc. — and the fact of the matter is that even in the seconds before i delete my recent activity then someone could see my comments and i shouldn’t have to run back to my wall after everything i post around Facebook. prior to these privacy changes, i could respond to a friend’s photo or status update with an inside joke and i had privacy settings to ensure that none of my students would see those comments . . . unless they were also friends with my former college buddies, for example. this was highly unlikely given that all of my old buddies live in other states. so, while nothing was entirely private even before, i was comfortable with the level of perceived privacy that i could be the highly sarcastic Sean and not have to walk on egg shells with my comments. i should note, nothing i write would get me fired or in trouble; rather, my little interactions with old buddies would probably just help people realize more quickly that i am a big goof. i’d rather not make it easy for people to figure that out. ;~)

i get that the founder of Facebook has this vision of everyone being open with their lives. good for him. clearly, the guy has never been a teacher . . . and i doubt he’s ever even lived in the real world.

i serve on my university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for human subjects research. i have been charged with developing policy and procedures for how principal investigators should ensure data from human subjects is protected. this is my thinking thus far and any feedback is welcome:

  • Electronic files containing participant data must be password protected even if the computer requires a login to access the computer.
  • Online databases containing project data should be secure. One strategy to better secure online data is to have the database encrypted. The PI is responsible for providing the IRB with details on the following:
    1. The online service provider agreement for service with regard to the storage of the data;
    2. How long data will remain in online databases;
    3. Any circumstances in which the database company can use, share, or archive the de-identified data. Note: not all study data will be de-identified.
  • PIs using online-based data collection tools (e.g., SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang) must provide the IRB with a link to the data collection or storage tool’s privacy policies. This policy should also explain who owns data stored on the company’s web servers.
  • If data collection occurs via email, the research participant should be notified that many employers monitor email systems they maintain.
  • If data being collected is personally identifiable and sensitive, the PI should consider using a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol during data collection. An SSL is often used for online purchases and banking. Many popular online data collection sites will offer SSL as an option.
  • Principal Investigators should warn study participants, when appropriate, that the participant is responsible for the security of the computer that the participant is using.

i think this is relevant on my blog because all teachers should be concerned about online data security when using online tools, services, or websites that pertain to their students’ data. the United States even has a law to protect student data often referred to as the Buckley Amendment.

i’ve been “Waving” for about a month or so now. i gave invites to my colleagues and 2 of us actually use Wave for a research project we’re doing together that involves evaluating 1-to-1 laptop programs in our area (see my presentation at the SITE Conference in late March/early April on this topic). we share files and interview questions and responses and all sorts of data. we develop thoughts together and we even try and go beyond the very basics of Wave. it’s nice to have everything in 1 place as i have trouble with filing things well on my computer. that being said, the 1 thing that i really didn’t like about Wave is that i don’t have enough other people using Wave to make it something that i remember to check. you have to physically log into Wave to see new messages (so, it’s behind email in this regard). and it’s pretty crummy to get an email telling me to check Wave as that sort of defeats the purpose. well, i use Firefox as my main browser and just came across an extension that solves my biggest issue with Wave (and i have many other issues). it’s the Google Wave add-on for Firefox. now, if Google can just increase the speed of the service and give me a lot more invites then i could consider using it more full time.

T.H.E Journal has a recent article (or the 3 page version here) that notes the top 10 Web 2.0 tools for young learners based on a presentation by Gail Lovely at a recent conference. not surprisingly, i recognized less than 1/2 of the list. color me unimpressed with this list. as a person who spends hours a week in an elementary school, i don’t think some of the stuff on this list is very practical and certainly isn’t worthy of being “top 10” over stuff like Google Docs, which isn’t even on the list. Lovely lists some apps (and 1 that isn’t even a web 2.0 app), but she also mentions some generic tools (e.g., #2 on her list is blogs, and #1 is wikis). i think i’ll release a better list next week to put this one to shame. stay tuned . . .

i have been a strong proponent of having schools switch to open source over using Macs or PCs. the money saved on operating systems for each computer in a building would be significant and then add the software like Open Office versus MS Office. switch the whole district and our tax dollars can start going towards other academic pursuits. i started writing a letter to the editor of our local newspaper about this very topic today when i realized that i’ve only fiddled with Ubuntu from time to time, but i’ve never really made it my working operating system. i thought i should be able to speak from experience. so tomorrow i am switching to Ubuntu and using it for a whole month on my Macbook (via Parallels). i am already exploring some extra apps to add to Ubuntu to make my experience more enjoyable. once i use it for a month then i’ll feel much more confident in making the recommendation to area schools . . . even though i know of schools that have done it successfully already.

i can’t expect anyone to be reading this, but if you come across it and have experimented with wikis, i’d like some advice on the best wiki to use when writing a textbook. i am fiddling with dokuwiki, but i am not sure it’s best. i read it was good for writing technical manuals, which isn’t the same thing as an ed tech textbook, but at least it’s something. i am probably going to fiddle with some other options this week and even look at some non wiki options (e.g., Drupal book module). hmmm.