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.


Twitter Decoded: Part 2 (or @rhargismccc isn’t my e-mail address)

In part two in the Twitter Decoded series, I’m going to cover two of the bare-bones basics of Twitter, the 140 character limit and the concept of following.

Keeping it Simple (140 Characters or Less)

Twitter is all about keeping it short, sweet, and to the point.  Tweets are a maximum of 140 characters.  If you suffer from chronic verbosity (like I do), Twitter can prove quite challenging.  Adding to the challenge is the fact that, being the old curmudgeon that I am, I blatantly refuse to employ many of the acronyms and abbreviations that are ruining our language (another topic for another time).  So my tweets (and text messages) all include proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation (including Oxford commas).  But I’m an adventurous type of fellow who’s always game for new challenges…

Who is @gratefuldead and Why Are They Following Me?rhargis_simpsonized

A billion or so people on this oblate spheroid we call home are using Facebook to connect with friends, family, and colleagues around the world.  However, most Facebook users, myself included, tend to limit their Facebook friends to people they actually know in the “real” non-digital world.  Twitter, on the other hand, provides a platform which lends itself to making connections with strangers who share common interests.

As a matter of fact, I probably wouldn’t recognize the majority of my tweeps (a portmanteau of “Twitter peeps”) if they walked in the room.  In fact, for my personal Twitter account, I’ve never used an avatar which featured my actual face, so none of my tweeps would recognize me either.  I’ve always used a Simpsonized version of myself which you see to the left of this paragraph.  (To create your own Simpsons Avatar, visit the Simpsons Movie website.  Look for the link to Create Your Simpsons Avatar)

On Facebook, an individual sends a Friend Request to a person.  If the recipient accepts the request, the two people are “friends” and are able to see each others posts.  On Twitter, it’s a little different.  You can follow pretty much anyone you want (unless they have their tweets protected which is another topic I’ll cover at a later date), but just because you follow someone doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back.  So while you may see Tweets posted by @gratefuldead, unless they’re following you, @gratefuldead won’t see your posts.  Got it???  P.S. Follow Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrienif you’d like to follow someone who won’t follow you back.

So the @ symbol…  What’s up with that?? 

The ampersat (aka the “at symbol”) has been used to signify the domain in an e-mail address (abc@xyz.com) for so long that many people are confused when they see Twitter handles preceded by the ampersat.  Basically, the use of an ampersat on Twitter signifies that your message is being directed to that individual.  So, if you send out a tweet and put @rhargismccc in the tweet, it means you’re mentioning me and Twitter will notify me of the mention.  Bear in mind that when you mention someone in a tweet, you are NOT sending them a private message, so be careful!! You’re still tweeting publicly and anyone else can see what you’re saying…  Heck, the Library of Congress is archiving tweets, so your great-great-great-great-grandchildren will be able to explore the achives and learn important stuff about their ancestors, like how excited you were about the latest episode of “Girls” on HBO, or how much you didn’t like your lunch from McDonald’s, etc.

So I hope this has made a little bit of sense to you.  I’ll be back soon with part three of the Twitter Decoded series…


Twitter Decoded: Part 1 (or a bit of background on the buzz about the birdie)


A couple of months ago, I was asked to facilitate a round-table discussion about the use of smartphones in the classroom and examine ways in which instructors might be able to harness the power of these devices for educational purposes instead of seeing them as a bane to their existence.  For the discussion, I created a WallWisher wall where I posted a few ideas and several tools I’ve found to be helpful.  (Sidebar:  Wallwisher has recently changed its name to Padlet, but that’s another story.)  The discussion was lively and the opinions ranged from “If I see a phone out in class, I take it.” to “I can see how it might work, but I don’t know how to make it work” to “I’ve done something like this!”  We had a great talk, and after the discussion, I shared several great e-mail exchanges with faculty who wanted to know more about the ideas.  Among the topics, tools, and techniques we discussed, the conversation continually found its way back to Twitter.  During the discussion, I realized that many of our faculty had either never used Twitter at all or had never considered ways in which it could be used in the classroom.

My Own Experience on Twitter

I got my first Twitter account in 2009.  Initially, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, but I figured I needed to familiarize myself with the platform in the event that it became the next big thing or something, because it would be unthinkable for a self-respecting geek such as myself to not be hip on the next big thing before it becomes the next big thing.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.  I entered in some of my interests and Twitter suggested some folks for me to follow.  I obliged and before I knew it, I was following a bunch of people who were tweeting about one of my favorite topics… the New York Yankees.  I’m typically pretty shy until I get to know people.  I stay quiet and reserved and don’t always know what to say.  So for a while, I didn’t participate in the conversations.  I’d just watch them roll by and laugh at the jokes, argue (in my head) with the fans of other teams, and generally stand in the corner, being my wallflower self.  Occasionally, I’d throw out a comment, and every once it a while I’d get a response or even (gasp!) a retweet.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain what all these terms mean later.

It took me a few months of Tweeting to find my way around and to feel totally comfortable with the environment. But about a year later, I thought it might be time to use Twitter with my workstuff.  Eventually, I found it difficult to separate the flood of baseball tweets from the technology and education tweets, so I decided to open a second Twitter account (@rhargismccc) specifically for work purposes.

Now I maintain two separate Twitter accounts, and it’s worked out quite nicely for me.  I still don’t post a whole lot or join into a lot of conversations, but I get a lot of great information from other #edtech professionals and have come to appreciate the value of the platform.

So what’s next?

That’s it for this post.  I just wanted to drop a little bit of introductory stuff so you’d get an idea of what I’m doing and where I’m taking this.  In the next episode, I’ll introduce the basics of how to use Twitter.

Til then…