Googleholics Anonymous (or A Hard Habit to Break)

As I mentioned in my earlier post Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order (or “Wait, I was using that!”), I’ve come to the realization that over the past few years I’ve become addicted to the wide range of Google services.  My addiction didn’t happen overnight.  First, I used Google for search, and that was great.  Then, I decided to set up a Gmail account.  “Well,” I figured, “since I use Gmail and I DO use Google for all my searches, why don’t I use iGoogle as my start page?”  Then along came Google Reader and I was in love.  I’d used several standalone RSS readers for a while, but because I was increasingly mobile, I needed a single point from which I could access everything.  Then came the Android smartphone. Then came Google Earth and Google Maps.  Oh, and how can I neglect to mention Google Chrome?  Oh, and Picasa!  And Google Groups!  And Google Scholar!  and… and… and…

But I could switch to a different service for any of these things at any time.  I wasn’t hooked!  Not me!  Not at all!!  It’s just that Google has made it so easy, so comfortable, so convenient for me, why would I want to go anywhere else?  Then, when they announced the shutdown of Google Reader, it became evident that I really did have a problem, and as I devised Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order, it was crystal clear that something had to be done about my Google addiction…

Now, I’m doing something about the problem.  My first move was to switch to a new RSS reader and after doing some research (and being finally convinced by Alan Buckingham at ghacks.net) I’ve decided to go with The Old Reader for the time being.  It’s basically a newfangled old-fashioned Google Reader with a minor twist.  Plus, I like the general attitude of the site, which helps a lot.  I’d played around with NetVibes and Feedly but I wasn’t totally satisfied with the navigation and interface and The Old Reader definitely meets my needs (for now).

Next, I’m going to ditch Google Chrome and go back to Firefox as my primary browser for Mac, PC, and Android and use Puffin on the iPad (go ahead and pay for the darn thing.  It’s worth it!)  I had officially jumped ship from Firefox to Chrome in October of 2012, but if I’m going to break my Google addiction, I’ve got to leave Chrome behind.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few web searches lately, and now it looks like I’ll need to make that transition too…  (That’s gonna be a hard one to do)

As I look at this, I realize that it’s going to take some time and some serious effort to complete this dramatic shift from the way I’ve been doing things, but it’s something that I need to do.  Does that mean I won’t use Google at all?  No.  It simply means that I won’t be relying on Google to provide the answers to all my problems and will employ many different sources to craft unique solutions to fit my own needs… and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?  Isn’t that flexibility one of the things that make me love the web so much?

Google made me lazy.  I’m taking back control of my Internet.

~R

Updates again? (or The Times They Are Still A-Changin’)

This was written in response to a question I got about why I am so vigilant about keeping the latest versions of everything at my disposal. For some folks, it seems logical. But other folks maintain an attitude of “what I’ve got is working, so why should I update it.” I can understand that point of view, but for what I do, I don’t have that luxury. Here’s why….

Every few weeks, it seems like Facebook or Twitter or Google or Instagram or (insert favorite web-based service here) unveils a new interface update or some new functionality. Every few weeks, two of my desktop web browsers install brand new versions of themselves onto my machines.

These updates can cause headaches for some users, but overall, these adjustments are merely minor inconveniences to which users will adjust in relatively short order. So why do software companies do that? Why don’t they just release a new version every year or two with all the major updates rolled into one fantastic new thingie?

The fact is that annual major releases are becoming a thing of the past, and the web is a much better place because of it. Back in the dark ages, when Internet speeds for most users were limited to 56.6kb/s, the idea of hundreds of thousands of users downloading and installing software updates was absurd. The servers would crash! The Internet would implode. Productivity would screech to a halt! And the fact is, these things are probably true. Distributing software via the Internet was a slow process way back then, and most companies chose to produce and distribute physical media instead of making updates available online.

Welcome to the new world, and it’s this new world that is causing such problems for dinosaurs like Microsoft. Yes, I just called Microsoft a dinosaur. Microsoft releases updates to Internet Explorer once every year or so, and each time the new version is released, we coding geeks know that our lives will be turned upside down trying to make sure our materials are compatible with Redmond’s latest output. But over the past few years, Internet Explorer has seen its share of users steadily declining while more flexible browsers like Google Chrome have seen an explosion of users. Why? Simple. Chrome meets users’ needs while the needs are still fresh. Internet Explorer does not.

We live in a fast-paced society, and what was the latest big thing yesterday is old hat today. Whether or not I agree with that philosophy is of no consequence. The facts are that our systems and processes must be flexible if they are to keep up. The tools we use are no longer one-size fits all, and the businesses that recognize this and adjust their practices accordingly are the businesses that will survive. The dinosaurs were replaced by faster, smarter, more adaptable forms of life. Businesses are no different.

But this is an instructional technology blog written by an instructional technology geek, why should that matter here?

The world of education is in the midst of a dramatic shift unlike anything that we have seen since the introduction of the printing press. Our students know this. Veterans of the industry know this. Even relative newcomers (like myself) are hip to this fact. The procedures we set in place today will set the precedent and determine the future of our organizations for years to come. If we fail to recognize the critical importance of this shift and strive to stay at the forefront, our institutions will suffer. Enrollments will drop as students opt for faster, smarter, more adaptable forms of education. Institutions will merge or close, and students who are already at the greatest disadvantage will fall further behind and their shot at the “American Dream” will evaporate.

So please, update your browser.

~R

Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order (or “Wait, I was using that!”)

A few years ago, I got a call from one of our online students who was having difficulty viewing videos embedded in her online course.  I field these types of calls frequently and have a series of steps I follow to troubleshoot the issue.  I asked her what error she was receiving, what browser she was using, what content she was trying to access, etc. While I had her on the phone, I accessed the course to see if I could replicate the issue.  She was right.  The video wouldn’t play.  Heck, the video appeared to be gone altogether!  Worse yet, the same fate seemed to have befallen all the other videos in the course.  Where could they be???

To abbreviate a lengthy tale,  it turns out that the website which was hosting these videos was shutting down (bad).  The instructor didn’t have copies of the videos (worse). The website used proprietary file formats to encode and play the videos and the video files couldn’t be converted to a different file format even if i could download them (worst possible scenario).  Poof!  All of this instructor’s work was lost.  Gone.  Vanished. 

The morals of the story are simple, and this tale (combined with a little event I shall describe later) have led to the development of what shall heretofore be known as The Digital Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Web-Based Resources, or Rodney’s Rules of (Digital) Order.  (Please, don’t take my feeble attempts at humor too seriously, but do be mindful of the rules.  They could save you untold amounts of mental anguish.)

  1. Always have a Plan B.
  2. Always maintain local backups of any files you create for the web.
  3. Never create materials on the web which cannot be downloaded and edited locally. (Yes, sometimes this means you can’t use the coolest toys, but it also means you don’t lose your work when the coolest toy loses funding.)
  4. Never ever ever ever ever rely too heavily on any single web-based service or site.

That’s it.  Most folks are fully aware of these things and on any given day will have no trouble complying with any of these rules.  However, it can be easy and tempting to disregard any one of these rules for the sake of getting things done “just this once” or “as an interim solution.” Do so at your own peril.  You have been warned.

My Name is Rodney – I’m a Googleholic

So what’s this little event which inspired the actual development of “official” rules?   Thank Google. 

The “Don’t Be Evil” Empire has infiltrated every corner of our digital lives with a vast array of spectacular services and products.  On a daily basis, I use the Android operating system, Google Search (duh), Gmail, Google Webmaster Tools,  Google Chrome, Picasa, Google Docs / Google Drive, Google Groups, Google+, iGoogle, and Google Reader.  

I suppose you can already see where this is heading…  

Sometime in the summer of 2012, Google announced the closing of iGoogle on November 1, 2013.  For those of you who don’t know, iGoogle is Google’s version of the start page.  It’s flexible, customizable, and provides a nice home page for all my browsers (at home and in the office).  It’s my one-stop shop for weather, sports scores, news, Gmail, etc.  But I can accept this.  It happens.  I can find another start page and configure it will all my wonderful widget and such and be on my merry way.  I’ve explored a number of options and have narrowed it down to using NetVibes (if I’m feeling all Web 2.0), My Yahoo! (if I’m feeling nostalgic) or hard-coding a my own start page and hosting it on one of my domains (if I’m feeling practical).   Problem solved.

But what about Google Reader?  The news dropped last week that Google Reader will cease to exist on July 1, 2013.  This is a lot bigger than a start page.  I’m an RSS junkie and get the bulk of my news from my RSS feeds.  Sure, I could get with the 21st century and get all my news from Twitter or Facebook, but I need something more than either of those services can provide.  I need a web-based service because I don’t want to have to find software that will work on all the platforms I use and then install it all the machines and devices I use.  NetVibes has a pretty cool RSS reader, and it’s got a familiar feel.  But I’m not so sure.  I’m considering setting up an IFTTT recipe to send my feeds to Pocket, but I’m still not so sure.  

And my blues aren’t the point.

The point is that I’ve fallen into a trap.  I’m now in direct violation of Rule #4 (Never ever ever ever ever rely too heavily on any single web-based service or site) and I need to de-Googlify my life. I have to stop relying on them to provide the quick and easy one-stop fixes to the problems I face, because it’s apparent that my reliance on Google products has become an issue.  So now, instead of looking for a catch-all solution, I need to build a toolbelt of specific services and tools rather than taking the easy route and turning to Google for the solutions.

I’ve got some ideas, and I’ll chronicle my progress here…

(…to be continued…)

Innovations 2013 – Day 1 – Session 2: Building Connections through Social Collaboration

Penny Kuckkhan, Instructional Designer from Nicolet College in Wisconsin delivered an imformative, engaging session on the ongoing process of building connections through social collaboration.

Opening Question: What comes to mind when you hear social collaboration?

Answers varied, but the ideas revolved around the same core concepts. Basically, the web has increased our ability to engage and interact with students and colleagues. But all individuals are at different levels both technically, and on the level of what they’re comfortable with or willing to share online.

Developing Social Collaboration: here’s the part I really liked. Penny broke it down into a 5 stage cyclical process that requires constant attention…
Developing Social Presence
Engaging audience
Sharing Materials created by yourself or others
Creating new, original materials
Continue to Develop Social Presence
A wide variety of tools can be used to accomplish this, and no one tool fits into any single area. Twitter, for example, can be used to develop presence, engage users, and share. YouTube can be used to develop presence, engage audience, share materials, and create new materials.

One critical point to consider.. Before you ask students to create accounts and use tools, you need to establish accounts, explore, and get to know the ins and outs of the tool.

Nicolet has a Technology Tutoring Lab on campus to assist students with technologies used in and for classes. Instructors work with Technology Tutoring Lab so that students get support for their specific needs. Faculty inform Tech Tutors at they will be utilizing a specific tool, and tutors do the research and testing so they can adequately support students using the tools.

All courses have shells in LMS and instructors are required to upload syllabi, use gradebook, and post materials.

Links to resources will be posted later.

Other notes….

What liability does the school have?

For students who don’t/can’t use social media tools, an equivalent assessment must be available.

Universal Records Database (Urdb.com)

Perpetually Fascinated (or Singing the Praises of the Cloud)

Neil Young’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, was released in September 2012 and I only purchased it a few days ago.  It was at the top of my reading list since before its release, but other technology related books muscled their way to the top of my list and pleasure reading slipped down the priority chart.   The book is written in a scattered, conversational tone that runs all over the map of Young’s exceptional journey, covering his early days with the Squires, his experiments with new energy, his life-long love affair with automobiles, his obsession with bringing quality sound to the digital age (and not a moment too soon), his overwhelming love and admiration of his family, and the music… it always comes back to the music.  I’m only about 120 pages into this 500 page chronicle, and I’ve been learning a lot more about a man whose work I’ve admired for decades.

I’m not reading the dead tree version of the book.  I’ve actually abandoned the practice of purchasing dead tree books when an electronic version is available, and the Amazon’s Whispersync technology is one of the big reasons why.  With Whispersync, I can be reading a book on my laptop, or iPad, or desktop, or Android phone, and the Whispersync synchronizes the book throughout the locations so that I can read on my laptop during the evening, pick up my smartphone the next day and read a few pages on my lunch break, picking up right where I left off the night before.  That, my friends, is just plain awesome.

Then there’s Spotify.  Whenever I read books about musicians, I always like to have the music they’re discussing as I read.  The soundtrack completes the experience for me, but if I’m carrying around a hard copy version of a book, I can’t do it very easily.  I just can’t carry my record collection around everywhere I go, waiting for the appropriate point in the book to put on the right song.  And this is where Spotify comes in.  I’ve created a Waging Heavy Peace playlist on Spotify, and as I read the book, each time Neil brings up a recording, I add it to the playlist.  So far, it includes some great Neil Young songs, but also a little bit of Rosemary Clooney, some Bob Dylan, a touch of Beach Boys, and more.  The full experience is thoroughly rewarding, and I’m feeling a much deeper understanding of the artist and the art though this technological extravaganza.  Oh, and yes, I have Spotify Premium so I can listen to my playlists from anywhere, including my mobile devices.  So, if I’m reading a few pages during lunch, I can pull up the playlist on my phone’s Spotify app and read the book through the Kindle app.

Since this IS an edtech blog, I better say something about instructional technology…  So here goes…  Think about it.  How can you use cross-platform apps to create materials that fully immerse your learners in the experience?  Sure, publishers have all sorts of bells and whistles tied to e-books, but most e-books are tied to a single workstation or platform and cannot be accessed from any device at any location.  It’s one thing to create a PowerPoint with audio narration and embedded video clips.  It’s something entirely different to use varied techniques to create an experience which will allow the student to incorporate related resources into their reading and studying….  Can we do it without touching the LavaFloor?  Can we create solutions that are truly device and location agnostic and function equally well for students regardless of their accessibility needs?

Can we record Oh Suzanna and make it sound like a brand new song??