A 2.0 Sort’a Day — Part 1: Leapfish

Leapfish Search page [Click to enlarge]

I was flattered a few weeks ago, when Lena Shaw, a marketing specialist with Leapfish, contacted me about the recently launched (nov 2008)  search site.  She started talking about this new searching engine, hyping it like I was some sort of TechCrunch or something, and although it gave me a momentarily gratifying sense of importance, I politely indicated less than enthusiastic interest when she asked if I would like to talk with the CEO.  “I’m sorry, but I am leaving on a business trip and won’t be back for a few months.”

I looked at the site and was somewhat impressed with its layout and features, but frankly never went back — so I had very little recollection of it when Ms. Shaw called again a few days ago, asking if I would like to participate in a teleconference with the CEO on January 15.  Again, I couldn’t bring myself to honestly express my cooling interest, so I asked her to send me the details in an e-mail, and to copy it to Brenda.

So, it was because Brenda got a copy of the e-mail that I was reminded, took another look, and, again, was somewhat impressed.  I wrote back to Lena, telling her that I was interested in being a part of the teleconference, but reminded her that my topic of writing usually revolved around technology, as it applies to education and literacy.  If she had other tech bloggers and media folks more relevant to their goals, to please feel free to bump me from their list.  I’m holding her response to the end of this post.

I dialed in and listened to the companies Director of Marketing and then the CEO, Behnam Behrouzi, who seems to carry a great deal of experience in the world of technology startups.

About Leapfish?  The most interesting task that this search tool seeks to accomplish is that of easing our access to what has become an increasingly fragmented information landscape.  You have at your disposal, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Flickr, YouTube, CNN,  Stock Market, AP, and on and on.  Great information, but too many channels.

Leapfish gives you access to much of it from one basic interface.  I typed Daniel Pink (See Part II) and got a relevancy based listing of 740,000 web references, as delivered by Google.  Clicking the Yahoo link at the top of Leapfish delivered 23,655 hits, and MSN offered a mere 115,000,000 (correct number of zeros).

On the same page, in the right panel, I get the latest news with something from News-Leader.com and New York Magazine.  Beneath that were three videos (Daniel Pink: A Whole New Mind; Daniel Pink: Abundance, Asia, and Automation; and Daniel Pink: Exercise Creativity at Your Job).  That’s followed by images and then shopping, where I can buy the book or a Sanrio Hello Kitty Dear Daniel Pink Dress S Set Plush from ebay (:-/)

Another interesting feature is the ability to hoover your mouse over an image or video and have a higher resolution version of the image pop up and the video start to play.  In playing around with it this morning, the Pink videos do not play, but the video and image thumbnails do enlarge to about double the size.  However, the popups do not seem to be large enough to add any real value to the information.

The point of the teleconference was to debut a brand new feature that “..pushes Search to 2.0.”  It’s click free search, which is interesting to watch.  Basically, as I type each letter, Leapfish starts searching.  The table below indicates the ongoing results of typing in Daniel Pink.

Type Hits Starting with..
D 6,000,000,000
Democratic Party
Da 2,000,000,000
Dan 95,000,000
DAN Divers Alert Network
Dani 43,000,000
Natural Products for bath, body, and home | DANI
Danie – meaning of Danie name
Daniel 327,000,000
Daniel NYC
Daniel P
Daniel P. Siewiorek
Daniel Pi
Amazon.com: Lists by Daniel Pi
Daniel Pin
Daniel Pin – Australia | Facebook
Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink

Is this 2.0? Well, you can call it what ever you like, and there are certainly a lot of qualities than can be attached to 2.0.  To me, the characteristics to pop to mind most readily are conversation and self-personalization.  Leapfish could be said to provide a conversation between me and an enormous base of content. and having results come back as I continue to type is pretty cool — though I’m not sure how much that adds to the experience or to the task at hand.

The CEO also shared plans to include personalized widgets and the ability to create and share dashboards — but there really isn’t anything new in that, is there?

Google’s SearchWiki features for personalizing your searchs [click to enlarge]

More to the point of personalizing my search experience, is Google’s recent feature addition, SearchWiki.  It gives Google members the ability to delete hits from a search and to rearrange them, so that the next time you search for that term, you will get a more desired arrangment of results.  This is a bit more 2.0, though I must confess that I’ve never actually used this feature.

An even more personalization of my research comes from a Firefox addon called WebMynd.  When I search with Google, this addon places a panel to the right of the screen offering links to relevant YouTube videos and Amazon products.  I can also add to the panel,

  • Wikipedia
  • Flickr
  • Twitter Tweets
  • Backtype comments
  • Factiva Coverage
  • TechCrunch
  • Hacker News
  • CNN
  • Google Books
  • Delicious links

..and more.

WebMynd results panel [Click to Enlarge]

Of particular interest to me is that WebMynd also remembers the web sites that I have visited, and returns a seperate Google search from only those sites.  So, as I entered a quote that I wanted to site yesterday, the original page showed up on my list of visited sites immediately, saving me from scanning through pages of straight Google hits.  This is search personalization.  I love this feature.

Back to Lena Shaw.  The most memorable part of this entire exchange was when I wrote to Ms. Shaw to remind her that my audience was mostly educators.  She wrote back and said, “Perfect!  Without education, where would innovation be?”

It was a great line and it explicitly expressed a value of education.  The fact of the matter is, innovation is happening inspite of education, and I am becoming afraid that we are going to continue to damage our children and our future with industrial models of assembly-line, quality-control leadership.  Read this from FairTest.

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21st Century School Continued

Tuesday’s post generated some excellent ideas about 21st century schools — or School 2.0.  But I wonder if there might be a distinction between asking, “What does School 2.0 look like?” and, “What do we see when we look at a School 2.0?”

There may not really be a difference between the two questions, but I’m thinking about two types of answers.  One lists the facilities we look at, the books and desks, Kindles and wireless access, web sites, and blogs.  The other answer is much more organic.  The facilities are the tools.  I would want visitors of the school to see through the tools to what their children are learning and how they are learning it. 

I would want them to see a library — and part of that library would be books.  But some of those books would have been authored by students and former students of the school.  I would want them to see samples of student work.  However, it wouldn’t look like a student showcase.  It might look like a virtual museum or an art gallery.   It would be student produced glossy published scientific manuals and data-rich reports on geo-social behavior.  It might be archived videos of student performances and presentations, and critiques of works provided by other students.

Teacher as “Strategy Guide”

What the community sees, when they look at the instructional staff, is not teachers, but learning consultants, who sometimes teach, but just as often are simply setting goals, facilitating collaborations, and helping students ask the right questions.

A while back John Beck, one of the authors of Got Game, while being interviewed for a podcast, talked about how many of the games at that time ran on multiple levels, and at the end of each level there was a big monster that you had to defeat in order to get to the next level.  This monster was called the level boss. 

He suggested that a boss (or teacher) who acts like a boss may not appear so much to be a leader to a video game generation of workers (or learners).  He or she may, instead, look more like a barrier.  He suggested that the boss (or teacher) might get further by acting like a strategy guide, the book that video gamers buy that publishes strategies and cheats for navigating the game.

Might we think of curriculum as strategy, or even cheats?

Please continue to comment on Tuesday’s post.

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What Does a 21st Century School Look Like?

Folks probably think I’m a travel Nube when I take pictures out the plane window.  It is, after all,  Meteor Crater.

This post rambles a bit before I get to the point.

I’m home for a few days, and, as I’m sure is plain from my early morning Tweets, I am in need of a weekend.  With an unusually large buffer between last night’s arrival in Raleigh (midnight) and my next flight out, I’m hoping to relax a bit.  But before I start, I want to get a few things out.

I’ve been a part of some very good events over the past week  in California, Virginia, and yesterday in Arkansas.  On Saturday, I worked at another of those events where an active school district brings the conference experience to the teachers — unable to send all teachers to conferences.

The opening keynote was delivered by Steve Edwards, and provided a very good general look at education today and the youngsters we are charged with educating.  That was followed by some breakouts and then a mid-day general session which I presented.  Now struggling to carry two laptops with me now (MacBook and netbook), I’d loaded up everything into an older computer bag, somehow missing my Mac video dongle.  We finally exported my Keynote slide deck over to the tech guy’s Dell, and, of course, there were multiple problems with the element builds.  In addition, none of the QuickTime videos would play with their slides, so I had to run them separately.  It all worked out, and I played along with the difficulties, but that presentation was very hard work.

Yong Zhao speaking about education

The day closed with Yong Zhao, whom I have only nearly been able to see before.  His message was well delivered, carrying special credence, given that he was born in China and he plays that distinction brilliantly.  His message was simple — “High stakes testing is bad for our children and for our future.”

What I thouht was especially important and bold was his claim that the achievement gaps between the U.S. and other countries (USSR 1958, Japan & Korea 1983, Singapore 1995, China & India 2007) is not the problem that challenges us today.  We have a need, a political need in my opinion, to compare ourselves educationally with other parts of the world.  This requires measurement, and measuring education is something you simply can’t do in the short term.  In the long term, we (U.S.) continue to do pretty well.  As other countries rise economically, the U.S. has not fallen that much, and where we have fallen has been where we have forgotten what we are really good at, in hopes of comparing more favorably with what other countries are good at. (italicized is my opinion)

More the the point of this post, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with some of the staff of South Morrison Elementary School, a “21st century school.”  Some of their teachers put together some amazing poster sessions featuring their students’ work with ThinkQuest projects and PhotoStory. 

The central theme of our BBQ flavored conversation was t he challenge of getting reluctant teachers to buy in to the spirit and practice of a 21st century school.  Since the principal was at the table, I suggested that the use of digital networked content be part of the evaluation expectations for teachers, and that it needed to go much MUCH deeper than just saying, “We want you to do one technology-infused unit this year.”  I suggested that all relics of learning and teaching that are shared, must be digital.

However, the general consensus was that using an expectations approach exclusively, and some of the other suggestions might result in too much of an “us” vs “them.” atmosphere.  I apologize for forgetting names, but a young man, who was a tech teacher (former attorney and part-time actor), suggested that it should all be part of a school-wide conversation, that spirit and practice needed to be generated out of the school’s voice, not just the voices of early adopters.

Such a school-wide conversation needs to start with a question, and what rose out of our discussion was, “What does a 21st century school look like.”  Part of that was my customary caution about the 21st century label — that it means something to me, because I spent nearly 50 years waiting for it.

But it’s still a good question.  They have 21st as part of the label of their school, but in what other ways does the school look new and innovative.

So what do you think the 21st century school (School 2.0) should look like to families and community?

Teachers Learning from Their Future…

J.R. Trinidad Speaking to former teachers at Campbell Hall

Yesterday, I did one of my standard manila-canned addresses for the faculty and staff of the Campbell Hall school in North Hollywood, California.  It was their first day back after the holidays, and folks were both stoked with excitement though also a bit drowsy, already accustomed to a couple more hours of sleep in the morning.  It went fine, seemed well received, with a little less push-back than I usually get from independent schools during the Q&A.

I had no idea yet, how special this address would be.

After a catered lunch, for which the plates were entirely too small, we were treated to a talk by J.R. Trinidad, an employ of Google and former student of Campbell Hall.  J.R. had been recruited to the school, years ago, thanks to an endowment fund, and an elementary school teacher who enthusiastically pointed to the boy, when school officials came in looking for students who needed more academic challenge that what the public schools could offer.  J.R.’s family immigrated from the Philippines when he was four, fleeing political unrest there.  It is a testament to the prints that he left on the school, that they were able to put together a video of his years at CH as introduction.  A truly exceptional young man.

He had planned to be there during the morning so that he could see my presentation and dove-tail in, but it seems that there was a problem with Google in Japan, and he’d been teleconferencing for most of the last 24 hours, and it was continuing into the morning.  Right after lunch, I came back to the meeting hall to start processing the Knitter chat from my presentation, and he was there, behind the podium, practicing his speech, reading from notes.  I thought, “Oh Know!  This kid has no idea what he’s in for.”

I introduced myself during a lull, and completely forgot my plans to interview him for Connect Learning.  He was obviously too nervous to do anything but pace.  I know the feeling well.  Once folks got back in, and were brought to order by the headmaster, J.R. lit in and had us all absolutely enthralled from the very beginning.

He started with his experience at Campbell Hall, listing some of his firsts:

  • “It was the first time I ever wore a uniform, and as a result of that,  the first time I got mugged.”  Uproar of laughter.
  • “I remember when I wrote my first code — and it was wonderful…”
  • “I remember the first time I witnessed something through somebody else’s eyes.” 

Lots of insightful observations.

Then he started talking about his work at Google, which seemed a lot more like play.  For instance, he starts the day with Mandarin lessons.

J.R. has a special interest in YouTube, sharing a number of stories that were informative to the audience about YouTube culture and also inspiring.  He recently had a meeting, expressing his interest in using his 20% personal interest time working on their interface, and they were so impressed with his vision that they offered him the task.  However, it would take more than 20% of his time, and take him away from his real passion, search.

J.R. shared a lot of statistics about mobile phone use, especially in Asia, including the number of best-selling books in Japan that are written on a cell phone.  He plans to move to Singapore soon, because he is so excited about what’s happen in Asia, and “Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia,” as he said to me.

Eileen Powers, who arranged both of the presentations came up afterward complimenting J.R. on the fact that without having seen my morning presentation, he happened to validate everything that I said.  I was impressed that he also managed to validate the more traditional aspect of education that he received there ten years ago, explaining to me that we need to be finding and focusing on the fundamentals of what and how we learn.  I couldn’t agree more.

I was also impressed by the situation itself.  It is often that a teacher runs into a former student on the street, who turns and says, “Mr. Jones, I don’t think I ever told you how much I appreciated being in your class.”  It is far more rare to enjoy a formal presentation from a talented former student who is successfully participating in a future that was entirely unpredictable when we taught him as a teenager.

It’s something that schools should look at instituting on a yearly basis.

Method vs Approach

Unbelievable.  A computer, plastic cup of ice, AA-issued can of Diet Pepsi, and a digital camera, all resting on an economy-class seatback table.

I’m in the middle of about a half dozen books, all fresh from under the tree on Santa day.  But on my way out the door for my first trip of 2009, I grabbed Presentation Zen, by Garr Rynolds.  I’d not started it yet, PZ feeling more like desert, compared to some of the others I’m working my way through.  I’m also having fun learning to take notes on the Linux side of my Netbook, using Freemind.  It’s a bit odd to have room here, for my computer, a plastic cup of ice, an AA issued can of Diet Pepsi, and my digital camera, all on an economy-class seatback table.

Early in the book, as Reynolds is making connections between Zen and business (and academic) presentations, he suggested an interesting distinction.  He writes that designing presentations is not a method.  It’s an approach.  It is not a “..step-by-step systemic process.”  It is “..a road, a direction, a frame of mind.”

This seems to me like a useful way of thinking about how we use technology and how we teach it.  Anyone, who has delivered technology staff development, has witnessed teachers, desperately writing down notes, step-by-step instructions, so that they will be able to repeat that specific function when they return to their own classrooms.  I’m not making fun.  Repeating steps is sometimes the best way to accomplish a goal.

As I think about how “digital natives” and “settlers” go about working through their tasks with information and communication technologies (ICT), compared to how many immigrants go about it, the method/approach comparison makes a lot of sense. 

Considering the differences between my generation’s use of information technology and the way my children use it, I want to think about my wrist watch.  When I was growing up, all watches looked and acted pretty much the same way.  You set the time by pulling the tiny nob out and twisting it, to twist the hands around to the correct positions.  I still wear an analog-style watch.

However, the time-pieces of years later, digital watches, all came with three different buttons, and with those three buttons, you could perform fifteen functions, by pressing the buttons in seeming infinite combination.  I wear an analog watch today, because I can’t remember the steps.  My children grew up learning how to reason their way into the solution.  In fact, they don’t wear watches at all.  It’s all in their cell phones which tell time, keep schedules, record addresses, take messages, and, oh yeah, communicate through a 26-character alphabet with fewer than 26 keys.  You operate these devices natively, by approaching it with a certain frame of mind, not by method.  There is absolutely no harm in this.

The harm comes when we try to teach technology by method.  When we try to teach word processing, spreadsheets, and image editing software through scripted lessons — to kids who are at home accessing and interacting with the world from their pockets — there is a disconnect that may well be a big part of why so few of our children are interested in pursuing technology fields.  The harm comes when we try to test our students proficiency with technology through method, when we ask them to solve a problem with a computer and then score them based not on how resourceful they are with the tool, but to what degree their solution matched the one that was taught.

This is one more reason why I am increasingly insisting that we, as educators, need to began to picture ourselves as master learners, and to project that image of ourselves to the community.  If we become enthusiastic learners, then we are modeling the concept and process of life-long learning.  If we walk into our classrooms as master learners, then we might come to better understand that working with information is as much about approach as it is about method.

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Educon Bound

I just learned that my session proposal for Educon 2.1 has now been scheduled, 2:30 to 4:00 on Sunday (Jan 25).  I didn’t even know for sure that I would be able to attend until yesterday, when Brenda worked out my transportation.  I’ll be at the TRLD conference in San Francisco until mid-day on Saturday.  She has me flying across that evening, where I spend the remaining hours in a hotel in downtown Philadelphia.  Then, bright and early to educon on Sunday.  She also arranged a train trip for the next day to Western Virginia for the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Heads of Schools Conference in Hot Springs.

I’m more than a little disappointed at what I’ll miss while I am facilitating my session, not the mention by missing the first two days of the conference.  How could you not be disappointed at missing anything at Educon.  I probably shouldn’t have proposed anything at all, but so rarely do you get a chance to do a purely unconference session.  Still, the rooms will be a buzz with bleed-throughs from the previous days, and it will all be thouroghly blogged.

There are so many ways to see how exceptional this conference will be.  But perhaps the most interesting way is to scan through the list of attendees.  Those who have listed themselves on the wiki will be coming from 18 states, two provinces of Canada, and Victoria, Australia.  He’ll certainly win a prize.

The image to the left is a collage of photos taken at last year’s Educon and uploaded by attendees to Flickr.  You can see other photos and blog entries from last year’s event and the upcoming Educon 2.1 at the conference Hitchhikr page.

Hope to see you at the Science Leadership Academy, 23-25 January.  I’ll be there on the 25th.

Wishing I was There

Photo by Danny Nicholson

It’s odd, for someone who gets to attend as many conferences as I do, to lust after one more, but BETT09 is certainly it for me right now.  Starting January 14, this London Conference is advertising itself as “..the world’s largest educational technology event.”  I do not know what criteria that is based on, not that I have any reason to doubt it.  But knowing something of what’s going on with education in that country, and having attended the NAACE conference last year in Torguay, this could be an immense learning experience for anyone who is interested in 21st century education.

So this is a friendly reminder to any British readers of this blog about BETT and for anyone interested in hitchhiking there, BETT’s Hitchhikr link is:


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Just a Reminder

Click the image to watch video

As I ready myself for a new year with the best intended resolutions, hopes, and wishes, I was reminded of the bigger and far more eloquent mechanisms and rhythms that are performed around us every day — every second.  It puts into perspective my daily thoughts, when I see that the stars and the sun, the warmth and the cold, and the clouds keep on coming, under a momentum that was nudged into motion billions of years ago. 

Click the photo to the right to view this magnificent time lapse video by Ansgar Rudolf and Till Credner.

Happy New Year!

..from 2¢ Worth.

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