Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Imagine that you're sitting at a meeting of some sort. A training or a workshop maybe. It's a large crowd, and the speaker is using a microphone and audio system to project his voice to the back of the room. After talking for several minutes and engaging the audience, the speaker then introduces another person. There is applause for the new person as he walks to the front of the room, and then the previous speaker hands the microphone to the new speaker.
This new speaker does one of two things. He either takes the microphone and looks at it for a few seconds like it's some strange object he's never seen before (think of the ape creature with the bone at the beginning of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) and then hands the microphone right back to the first speaker, or the second speaker outright refuses to even touch the microphone. The people in the first few rows might hear the new speaker mumble something like, "I hate those things." Then the new speaker draws in a deep breath, stands up straight, and shouts--absolutely SHOUTS--as loudly as he can, "CAN EVERYBODY HEAR ME IN THE BACK?"
It's to that second speaker that I want to address this blog post today. And here's what I want to say:
Use the BLEEPing microphone, moron!
If you just used the microphone, you wouldn't have had to begin your speech with that question! You'd KNOW the people in the back could hear you. Also, you wouldn't have to shout so loudly that the people in the front have to recoil in pain. Also, you wouldn't strain your voice. Also, you wouldn't have to do what you inevitably end up doing, which is take the microphone anyway about halfway through your speech when the people in the back complain that they still can't hear you! Also, you wouldn't look like an idiot!
Friend, the microphone and connected audio system are there to assist you. They help you project your voice. Go ahead and make use of them. It's what they're there for.
What is your problem? Is it that you hate the sound of your own voice? Get over it. Everyone else here wants to hear your voice. Think about them.
If that's not it, then what is it? Is it some macho thing? Do you think your voice is strong enough that you don't need a mike? Guess what? It doesn't matter how big your voice is--once the audience has gotten used to hearing everyone else coming through the audio system, your voice is going to sound tiny. People are going to have to strain to hear you. And when people are working hard to HEAR, it makes it harder for them to LISTEN.
So please, stop shouting at us, and use the mother BLEEPing microphone!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
With all that in mind, here's the review:
1. A Good Internet Browser: As my younger daughter pointed out to me when she did her research on Greece, the Kindle Fire has a perfectly adequate Internet browser. While not the speed demon that was promised when the Fire was announced, it's on par with most other tablet devices in regards to speed, and the screen is large enough for reading most web pages. RESULT: CHECK!
2. A Browser Capable of Running Most Instructional Software. The Kindle Fire has a Flash-based browser that is capable of running most of the instructional software used in my district, including Fast ForWord, the online version of Accelerated Reader, and even Compass Odyssey (though it's a little slow with this program and probably not the ideal way to access the program). RESULT: CHECK!
3. A Microsoft Office Compatible Suite. As mentioned above, I'm assuming the purchase of a Microsoft Office app from the Amazon app store. There are a couple of good ones, and they both integrate nicely with Google Apps and Dropbox. RESULT: CHECK!
4. An Easy Way to Transfer Documents. The Kindle Fire falls a bit short here. There is no full sized USB port as on the Lenovo Thinkpad, and there's no Bluetooth. There IS a mini-USB port on the Fire, but the Fire doesn't come with a USB cable (just an AC recharger that fits in the mini port). Someone COULD purchase a USB to mini-USB cable, but considering that it's not that hard to just attach a document to an email and send the email, I'm willing to bet most people won't do that. With all that in mind, then, I'd score this: RESULT: HALF A CHECK!
5. A Digital Camera. There isn't one. RESULT: FAIL!
6. Sufficient Processing Power to Allow for Video: There's plenty of processing power for video. There's no YouTube app (no doubt a result of Amazon's intentional shunning in its app store of Google applications), but a user can navigate to YouTube via the built in web browser and access the videos there without problem. RESULT: CHECK!
7. A Robust e-reader program: I'm going to give this a "CHECK!" but I'm almost inclined to give it a half check. The reason: As slick as the Kindle application is that's built into the Fire, there's no ability to have the Fire read aloud to the user. This would have been a very helpful feature for students with language difficulties. I'm not sure why that was left out as the Fire certainly has the computing power for such an application. I'm hoping that the feature becomes available on the Fire in a future update or as for sale app in the app store. Still, all of the other features of the Kindle, including the ability to "dog ear" pages, look up the dictionary definitions of words, add notes and highlight, push me to give the Fire credit for this one. So let's to with RESULT: CHECK! (with reservations)
8. The Ability to Connect an External Keyboard: Without a full sized USB port nor a Bluetooth port, there's currently no way to do this. Someone may come up with some kind of keyboard with a mini-USB connector that's compatible, but for now the score is RESULT: FAIL!
9. Lots of High Quality Educational Apps: This is where the Fire falls WAY short compared to the iPad. As I mentioned in an earlier review, I don't mind that the Amazon app store is "curated" as it keeps some questionable apps out of the library, but I've yet to find any really good educational apps in the Amazon app store. Most are just tiny games with limited use. RESULT: FAIL!
10. Anti-virus software. There is some, and it SEEMS to be pretty good (It's hard to tell if something designed to keep problems out is working or just not being tested, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now). RESULT: CHECK!
11. Easily Managed by Teachers: This is an issue with the Fire. A BIG issue. I hinted at it a little bit in the prior post, when I talked about my daughter downloading an Angry Birds game from the Kindle App store. As far as I can tell, the only way that a Kindle Fire works with full functionality is if it is linked to a user's Amazon account, including being linked to the user's credit card. This means that a student could pretty easily download an app that cost money and cost the user (most likely the school district) money in the process. There might be a way to turn off the one push downloading of apps, but if there is I haven't figured out how to do it. The only thing I can think to do would be to go into the Amazon account to which the Fire is registered and remove One Click purchasing. This would mean, though, that One Click purchasing would be disabled for ALL Kindle devices using that account. If a teacher wanted to download a book to a device, that teacher would have to go back to the website, re-enable One Click purchasing, download the book, and then go back and turn the One Click purchasing off again. That's a headache. RESULT: FAIL! (NOTE: See important update by CLICKING HERE!)
12. Enterprise Deployment: The last couple of sentences in number 11 above point out the issue here. There is no enterprise deployment on the Kindle Fire. It was designed for an individual to use at home. The idea that a teacher might have 30 of these in his/her classroom seems never to have entered the minds of Amazon, much less the idea of a school district with potentially thousands of the devices. As far as I can tell, installation of apps and books would have to happen manually. RESULT: FAIL!
13. Long Battery Life. I've been using my Fire for work and play and have found it to have sufficient battery life. I've spent several of the last few work days in what my school district calls "Central Office Site Visits." The heads of each of the departments at the Board of Education, along with the superintendent and assistant superintendent, have spent the entire day visiting schools and meeting with every teacher at the schools. During those visits I've used the Fire to take notes, check email, and Remote Desktop into servers or my office workstation if needed. I haven't used the Fire every moment of every day, but I used probably as much as a student would use the device during a regular day. By the end of the school day, the Fire still has about 30% of its battery life remaining. That--along with the fact that the Fires could be recharged during lunch period or some other time of the day--makes me feel pretty confident about the battery. RESULT: CHECK!
So of the thirteen criteria I was looking for, the Kindle Fire meets seven and a half of them. Using the rubric I created in the last blog entry, then, the Kindle would score a C. And I'd say that's a fair grade. There are some really nice things about the Kindle Fire, but there are some real deficiencies, too. For me, the biggest problem is the manageability for teachers. As much as I WANT to consider purchasing a classroom set of Kindle Fires for every student in my school district, I can't see how that would work. It just seems that managing the devices would be too big of a pain for both the classroom teacher and the technology department. I MAY consider purchasing a single classroom set for a willing teacher who understands there may be bumps along the way. A pilot of sorts. Doing so would allow my district's technology department to see how big the issues are going to be.
And in the long run, I think the solution for Amazon is pretty clear: They need to hire ME to head up an education division of their Kindle department. We'd be in charge of creating a special, education-version of the Kindle Fire, with special, educational pricing for books and textbooks. There are literally millions of sales Amazon is missing because of a few minor deficiencies in their product, and I know my team (once I had one) could remedy those and put out a product that schools would love!
Amazon, if you need me to send you a resume, let me know!
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Review 3: The Kindle Fire as a Potential 1:1 Solution
As I mentioned in my previous blog entries, this is the use that I was most excited about when I first learned about the Kindle Fire. A high powered computing device for less than $200--that's the Holy Grail of 1 to 1 computing! Would the Kindle Fire be that Holy Grail?
Before I discuss that, I guess I should--as I did with my last review--lay the groundwork for what I think a student tablet ought to do.
Rubric for Scoring Tablets as a Student Instructional DeviceIdeally, in order to be a good solution for a 1:1 student instructional device, at least in my school district, a tablet should have the following attributes:
- A good Internet browser for student research
- A browser capable of running most instructional software, including the Flash-based programs (Compass, Fast ForWord) that my school district utilizes
- A Microsoft Office compatible office suite that can create word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents. The suite doesn't need to have all of the bells and whistles of a Microsoft Office program, but users should be able to do the basics, including font changes, centering, hyperlinking, etc. More advanced items can be taken care of on a traditional PC before finalizing documents.
- With that in mind, the tablet should have an easy way to transfer documents between the tablet and other devices, such as a PC.
- A digital camera (one less item to need to purchase. Plus, there would be no need to transfer digital photos from camera to device if the camera were built in).
- Sufficient processing power to allow for the viewing of educational videos.
- A robust e-reader program (I foresee a day in the very near future when textbooks are all digitized).
- The ability to connect a keyboard for longer document creation when typing on the virtual keyboard would be too difficult.
- Lots of high quality educational apps.
- A free anti-virus software program (You don't hear a lot about iOS or Android viruses yet, but give the virus developers time. It sure looks like we're all basically abandoning Windows and Apple OS for these platforms, and the virus makers are going to get on board soon, too!).
- Easily managed by classroom teachers so that I'm not always being called to help with the darned things.
- Some level of enterprise deployment so that software can be pushed to the device en masse.
- A battery that lasts an entire school day without needing recharging.
B: 9 or 10 or the above items
C: 7 or 8 of the above items
D: 5 or 6 of the above items
F: Fewer than 4 of the above items.*
I didn't go about checking this list in a systematic way, the way I did when I was trying to determine if the Fire would make a good productivity tool. Instead, I put the device in the hands of my daughters (grades 7 and 9). As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, my girls both have a lot of experience with technology, and I knew they'd be able to give me an honest opinion. So I sat down with my younger daughter first, handed her my Kindle Fire (which both of my kids had been hearing about for weeks--I made them sit and watch the promotional video on the Amazon website!), and asked her to try it out. As she began thumbing through the menus, I told her, "What I'd like for you to do as you look at it is think about this: If your homeroom teacher came into your classroom tomorrow and said that you weren't going to have textbooks anymore, and that your class wasn't going to be allowed to go to the computer lab anymore, but that instead you were going to be given one of these devices to take with you from class to class and even to take home, would you like that? And more importantly, would you be able to do most of the things on this device that you can do on the computer?"
My daughter looked up at me for a few seconds and frowned as if she were considering what I said, before smiling and saying, "Cool! Angry Birds is on here!"
"Yeah, I'm not worried about Angry Birds," I told her. "But open up the web browser." I showed her how. "What are you doing research on in class right now?"
"Greece," she said. "I have a report due in a few days. In fact, can I give this back to you and get on the computer?"
"No," I said. "Try doing your research on here."
I left her alone for a while, and when I came back I heard the tell tale music and the sounds of screams and crashes coming from the device. "Honey!" I said to her. "Why are you playing Angry Birds? I thought you were doing homework."
"I did already. It was easy. I have everything I need. So can I play Angry Birds?"
"No," I said. "I NEED you to help me do my research on this Kindle Fire. Let's look at the e-reader together." So we opened the e-reader and I showed her how easy it was to move from page to page, how she could look up the definition of a word just by pressing on the word and holding it for about a second, how, if the definition wasn't good enough for her, she could press "More" and look it up on the Internet. I showed her how to virtually dog ear, highlight, and make notes in the digital book.She agreed that having a device like this would be far better than hauling books back and forth to class.
About that time my older daughter came down the stairs and said, "Dad, can I get on the computer?"
I got excited! Another guinea pig! "Why?"
"I need to type a paper for class."
"No," I said. "I want you to try typing it on my Kindle Fire."
"It came?" she asked.
"Finally!" I said. "Just a few minutes ago."
"Awesome!" she said as she extended her hand. "Can I see it?"
"Yes, but I want you to try to use the Office program that I downloaded from the App store. See if you can type a paper on it."
"Does it have any games on it?" she asked me. "Is there Angry Birds?"
"Yes," I said. "There's an Angry Birds game."
"Two!" my other daughter said. "I downloaded another one from the app store after I finished my research."
I did a double take. "You did what? Did it cost money?"
"No," she said. "It was free."
I stared at her for a minute before saying, "Okay. You and I are going to have to talk about that in a minute. In the meantime," I said to my other daughter, "try typing your document on this program."
I came back about 10 minutes later and again heard the tell tale music. "Did you write your paper already?" I asked my daughter.
"No," she said. "It was WAY too hard to try to type on this thing. I want a regular keyboard. So I just decided to play Angry Birds instead!"
"Well," I said in frustration, "why didn't you get on the computer and type your paper?"
"Because it's locked. Besides, I really want to finish this level!..."
And THAT's how I analyzed the Kindle Fire as an instructional device: one argument with my children at a time.
And I guess I'm out of time today to actually give the review itself. That'll be the next blog post.
*That's not a perfect grading scale, I know, as some of the 13 items are WAY more important than the others.