Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Brush With Technology In The Classrom At Scale

The 2017/2018 Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) school year has come to a close, and with it the DTAC group is wrapping up for the year. I will not be pursing a role on the committee this next cycle (thought I encourage you to do so to get a sense of what’s happening). Instead I will be putting my resources into district board member lobbying and campaigns. I am lobbying for district policies that ban cell-phones (personal communication devices) in middle-schools on down, and campaigning for prospective board members that have an understanding of the impact screens are having on our childrens’ growing minds.

DTAC is a well organized and executed committee and I applaud our district CIO, Andrew Moore, and his team for actively engaging the community; thank you. Unfortunately, his team has been given an impossible task. BVSD is attempting to modernize itself with hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money, much of which is being spent to support its “1:Web” initiative. Our CIO has been tasked with bringing our schools “online” and figuring out how technology gets purchased and deployed in the classroom. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cart being put in front of some really big, strong, fast moving horses. The Board has NOT provided reasonable guidance or direction at the policy level, and the CIO’s office is left trying to interpret direction and meaning, field extremely difficult questions from parents and students, and manage the deluge of technology vendors who have shown up at the bond money trough to feast and sell expensive products to a district that lacks a cohesive, safe, technical strategy to rollout.

There are a few massive challenges we, as a society, need to come to terms with before public dollars should be spent trying to rollout “technology” in classrooms.

Personal Connected Devices

In a nutshell, these are today’s “cell phones” (iOS/Android devices with SIM cards in them). Cell phones are destroying in-person social interactions at our schools, and ruining classroom participation dynamics. Teachers have become cell phone baby-sitters dealing with an incredible new level of distraction in the classroom, instead of being... teachers. To further complicate things, our kiddos use their cell phones as WiFi hotspots and connect their school-provided chromebooks to them to circumvent the expensive IP network filtering we deploy on school networks to protect our children from bad online content. To stop the hemorrhaging of effective social interactions, friendship bonding, social learning, and _teaching_ in the classroom, I recommend a zero tollerance ban of personal connected devices in our middle and elementary schools, and that school provided chromebooks be locked down to only connect to whitelisted WiFi networks. Yup, you heard me. Ask a teacher about their experience with cell phones in their classroom, and go read the book “Glow Kids” or watch the movie “Screenagers.”


The current wave/generation of staff/educators do not know what “digital curriculum” looks like. A few of them do, but the vast majority do not. They do not know what “digital citizenship” looks or feels like, nor do they have a cohesive understanding of how, and when, to do certain things digitally. It’s been a disturbing several years as a parent watching my kiddos manifest science projects in a slide deck. Machines have a place in education, but we haven’t figured it out yet, and we’re losing generations of children to broken programming/curriculum. I recommend significant research into what new-age teaching and curriculum should look like, and then training/developing teachers to effectively apply it.

Addiction Services

When a child shows up at school grappling with a drug addiction, we lend them a hand. Unfortunately, we do no such thing for the droves of kids addicted to their screens. School counselors are often addicted themselves, so, we’re lost on an entirely new level. The world has not figured out how to handle/manage personal connected devices/screens, and we’re educating generations of kiddos in this environment. I recommend effective funding/staffing for counseling services to help our children navigate the new addiction.

In general, I believe we need to slow down the introduction of technology in our classrooms, and roll it out only when we understand it better. I’m bummed my kiddos are going through school amidst such a massive experiment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Connectivity Fallacy & $(window).load(function())

While the Network as a whole is borderline miraculous, the reality of its connection quality is far from it. Connectivity sucks, even in private-industry led first-world connection environments. Fiber backhauls are generally pretty good, but "last-mile" services suck. The issue is usually around latency, but bandwidth throughput is also generally inconsistent and poor (and about to get a lot worse if/when Net Neutrality dies). I'm pointing the finger at cell/mobile carriers mostly, but also at cable providers. Satellite carriers don't count because the technology just plain sucks (latencies between ground/low-earth-orbit sats are too high to be generally useful); it's cute, but it sucks.

We all stare at our screens waiting for content to load. Whether that's an image upload in an iMessage exchange, an Instagram image load, mail coming in, or web pages loading, we spend way to much time looking at blank screens or spinning graphics indicating "progress." I'd like client app providers fire OS-level notification events that indicate network operations are complete. This way, I could open a web page, then put my phone back in my pocket while it loads, then pull it out once it's done loading and the notification fires.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Day In Pictures: Greenland Trip

Greenland adventure with incredible photographers and fellow adventurers. I finally learned to play with Tonal Curves in Lightroom for color correction, and was able to untangle my thoughts around the relationship between focus depth-of-field and focal length (thanks Chris!).

I guess I should stop being surprised at the adventurous nature of the people I meet on these trips. They all live such inspiring lives... always on a quest. Always inspirational.

Captain Siggi. Navigator, guide, storyteller... inspiration. Let him take you on a trip of a lifetime. Grateful to have sat at the dinner table with him telling arctic stories and passing down lore.

Teresa. Fantastic chef, and easily the hardest working woman in the arctic.

Haukur. Jack of all trades.

Chris Burkard ( Dedicated man with a plan. I love being around others who carry undying energy around their passion.

Ryan Hill ( Photographer with unwavering patience while helping others. Another great example of the power of apprenticeships.

Mark Solon. Inspirational eye-opener. Here's to another adventure buddy. Learned a ton of parenting stuff from you this trip; thanks.

Cam Solon. Total blast enjoying the trip alongside youth. Send it kid!

Emma Kahn. Grounding. Confident. Clear.
Giulia Spiller. Alive alive alive! Leads with her heart. Thanks for bringing mine to the fore again. Needed that.
Benjamin Ludigs. Dynamic, intelligent risk taker. Putting everything he has into life. Reminds me of a younger version of myself.

Steven Tonkinson. Always ready to roll. Neat breadth in business and philanthropy.

Ann Peters -

Monday, September 11, 2017

Amazon Alexa And Rewiring My Brain

I took Amazon's Whole Foods bait the other day and bought an Echo and a Dot while buying groceries (yup... weird). Here are my first impressions after about a week's worth of use.

I set Alexa up in a new space that doesn't have much ambient noise; no kiddos, no pets (barking). I'm extremely bearish on using voice computer interaction in real-world/day-to-day environments. I don't think it will ultimately work for two reasons: one, background/ambient/adjacent audio noise pervades the bulk of life, and machines can't filter it out (we're not even close on this front). two, unlike all intrusive technology to-date, audio/voice is intrusive and active enough, that socially and culturally, I think the behavioral shifts required for mass adoption are too abrasive. If you and I are hanging out having a conversation, it's one thing for me to pull out a screen and mess with it, passively paying attention to what you're saying, and quite another for me to full-stop pause our interaction with a visual or verbal cue, engage a computer (another entity really), then re-engage with you. It's awful... you can try it today with Siri.

That's another post though. Onto Alexa.

I went with Alexa over Google Home because the number of Alexa integrations dwarfs Google's, and I'm all about integrations. Voice recognition feels as good as Google's though.

Getting things setup was really simple, and I appreciated the delayed software update approach. Of course there's a s/w update (there always is w/ IoT devices), but there's nothing worse than being forced into one immediately upon setting something up for the first time. Nice touch Amazon... I hope all devices move to this delayed-initial-update approach.

The way you add capabilities/integrations to Alexa is done by adding what they call Skills. Just think "extensions" or "integrations."

One of the Skills I added required inputting an API token over voice. That was interesting. Imagine verbally telling a computer "A56D8F2298OG9234SHE." The instructions suggested I used the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, so I went and learned that, and then "input" my token. It took a few tries, but I got it in there. This particular Skill required some other settings configuration, so I went on to say things like "SET UNITS Imperial." Configuring software using voice is just wild.

I added my car manufacturer's Skill, and I can interact with my car via Alexa now. This has been useful actually. Instead of firing up the iOS app for my car, I can just say things like "Alexa, ask to lock my car" and "Alexa, ask to start climate control." etc.

Home automation stuff is fun too. "Alexa, lock the front door." "Alexa, turn on the kettle." "Alexa, turn on the Phonograph." (those first two Skills made possible by Wink, and the latter by Logitech Harmony).

I am weary of pulling out my mobile device to do all of my home automation stuff. In general I'm just sick of screens and remotes, so starting to do things via voice is a welcome reprieve. This brings me to the more interesting part of this post.

My Brain
The degree to which my brain has been wired for visual/reading input, and kinesthetic (keyboard/touch-screen) output is more significant than I realized, and pushing myself to use voice has provided the contrast to really perceive it.

With Voice, there is no multitasking; everything is serial. There are no other open tabs to use as background/reference as you do your task. With Voice, you have to have all the information in your head, before engaging. So much of our online/computerized world today allows us to simply copy/paste (metaphorically speaking) our way through life.

Alexa is causing me to use memory in ways I haven't had to in a long time. It also caused me to learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet so I could better speak to the computer.

Curious to see where this all goes.