The Siren Call of the Shiny

In education we are consistently pulled by the “shiny.”  In addition I believe the public and educational administrators are even more strongly attracted to the siren call of the “shiny,”  and demand that educators do the same – putting even more pressure on educators to develop what feels like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)- an inability to stay focused on any one “shiny” for an extended period of time.

What is the “Shiny”?

So what is the siren call of the “shiny”?  It is jumping on the latest bandwagon/craze/trend/technology/ideology without looking at, understanding, making a conscious decision to do so.  When we as educators or instructional designers let the “shiny” drive our design, the resulting education becomes flat, misaligned, and in need of constant updating.

In a presentation by Ruben Puentedura on the various models in education there is one point where he talks about the “oooo shiny model” that focuses on technology.  But anything that catches our eye  – a specific strategy, a textbook, a classroom set up, etc., could be considered the “shiny” in this context. (You only need to watch/listen for about 30 seconds. I really do like his SAMR model.  I would recommend listening to this entire presentation [both part 1 and part 2] or some of his other shorter presentations like his SPARK PDX 2014 talk.)


Best Practices

I was in the process of reviewing entries for an award for Best Practices, when these thoughts came crashing together.  I was looking at an amazing course, with real life impact, for a group of people I love and appreciate.  I could see how it would benefit not only the intended audience, but the educators and other people in the participant’s lives.  The research, however, was non-existent.

Actually what I should say is that the connection to research was non-existent.  I know there is research supporting many of the aspects of this course, but the author of the submission entry did not make those connections, in fact there was no reference list at all.

So what makes something a “Best Practice”?

Why?  Why did you think it would work?  What evidence do you have to back up your choices?

I believe one of the hallmarks of good teachers is the constant improvement of their instruction.  This does not mean that they respond to the siren call of the “shiny.”  Instead they stop and evaluate the new “shiny.”  They ask critical questions, and do a bit of reading, conversing with colleagues, and lots of thinking.

Some questions they may ask…

  • What is the purpose of this tool?
  • How does it work with my current curriculum?
  • How much of my time will this take?
  • How much time will it take for students?
  • Could this help with the current problem I have (in week 2, that one concept, etc.)
  • Does that purpose fit with the goals of my course/topic/unit?
  • Will this enable me or my students to do more/better/faster? (This is where SAMR comes in!)

So, as you see the new and emerging tools, ask lots of questions.  Stretch to find ways and tools to redefine teaching an learning.



Selecting a Wiki Tool

In selecting any technology it is important to understand first what you want to be able to do.  I will admit there are some cool tools I run across and then wonder how I could implement them in a learning context.  But I have found that having an objective in mind before hand allows me to sort and filter and evaluate the usefulness of the tool.

In designing the summer section of HRD 4407 / 5507 – Technologies in Human Resource Develoment I needed to revise some of the assignments in the course due to the lack of availability of some of the technologies (See The Constant Change of Technology or The Death of SlideRocket).  I’ve written about searching for tech tools for eLearning (see Finding the Best Tools for eLearning) and that is the process I followed as I selected the various tools for this course.

Selecting Appropriate Technology for eLearning

Learner Analysis

The first information I sought was about the students who would be in this course.  This would be a combined undergraduate / graduate course.  Those enrolled as undergraduates would be  at the end of their program while the graduates would just be at the beginning of their degree.  While the name of the course is looking at human resource development, there would still be many students who would not be headed into a career in human resources.  Understanding this variety in the students I took a step back and used a very broad definition of technology in HRD.


One of the biggest limitations in this course was that it is a six week summer course.  The timeline for this course would be quick.  Knowing that I would have a variety of technical skills, we needed to jump into using the technology quickly.  It would also be important to provide tutorials and keep things focused.

Course Objectives

I left this step out of the previous post, but this is what should always guide the selection of technologies in a learning environment.  The course was redesign around the concept of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  This is a overarching concept that would apply to all the students and would get everyone in using technology tools, especially social media in a professional context.

The previous course design incorporated all the student reviews of individual technologies into an ebook.  The current course retains the objective that students will become an “expert” on a specific technology.  However, in order to incorporate another social media tool, this one project was moved to a wiki format.  The content would remain the same, it would be available publicly and would incorporate a useful technology tool that is used in many work environments.

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a freely editable webpage.  It is one of the first tools that moved the internet from a read-only resource created by those who understood servers and HTML, to a creation resource created by anyone with appropriate access.  You can read more about wikis on one of the most well know wikis – wikipedia (

Selecting a Wiki

In consultation with the previous instructor of this course she recommended two wikis – PBWorks and Wikispaces.  I created an account (free education account) on each system.  This allowed me to see the interface and available tools.  After a brief exploration I paused and created a list of what features I wanted in the wiki.

  1. Easy interface
  2. Helpful support resources
  3. Easy to add users
  4. Free
  5. Logical navigation

Both options fit most of the items on the list.  I could have also search for a comparison like this WikiMatrix or sought out a discussion like this Wikispaces vs. PBWorks, but I did not at that time.  In the end, wikispaces had some impressive tools that supported the use of a wiki within the educational setting and the interface was intuitively easier to navigate.

I am looking forward to watching our class wiki evolve.  As with many eLearning projects there is a need for some project management.  In order to meet the needs of a graduate program, moving this project to a wiki also provided the opportunity to guide the graduate students in project management.  I have provided some vague guidelines, but the wiki page template recently posted in the course was co-created with the graduate students and the organizational structure of the wiki as a whole is in development – headed up by the graduate students.

Wiki and PLN?

A wiki is a wonderful tool in a PLN.  It enables professionals around the world to co-create a resource.  One node in my PLN is  Ning is a tool to create communities – it combines blogs, profiles, wikis and social media tools into a space all their own.  And even though this community began in New Zealand, I have found it useful in my PLN.

The Constant Change of Technology or The Death of SlideRocket

Technology is constantly changing.  I do my best to have options and have a plan for when services are no longer available. I try to walk the middle ground on the technology “vs” arguments – focusing on the benefits of each side.

So, I am struggling with my grief over the loss of SlideRocket.

SlideRocket is/was a presentation option which was recently bought by ClearSlide. I assume that the presentation tools will be integrated into ClearSlides sales presentation options, but I am not in sales.  I am in education. And while I tried to sign-up for free trial to see if I could still access the presentation tool – perhaps I just needed to pay, I was informed that a salesperson would be contacting me.  I have yet to hear from Samantha.  I guess they don’t want to waste their time with educational institutions.

I have been searching for a replacement – which I have to find before December 2013. There are many presentation software/cloudware options available, but I have yet to find one that works as well as SlideRocket. In trying to pinpoint what it was that made SlideRocket AMAZING, I can’t narrow it down to one specific thing. I think it is the combination that was brought together so beautifully to create this tool.  So here is a list of the things that I wish I could find in one solution.

Not a Copy of Your Average Presentation Software

Creating a SlideRocket presentation was different. The tools were within easy access and yet had powerful options. There was an ease that came with inserting images, shapes and text. With little effort you had access to impressive design tools.


No, emailing large files back and forth or tracking the most recent version in cloud storage. It was easy to add additional people to collaborate on the presentation.  While same time collaboration was not as slick as GoogleDocs, with a little coordination each person could do their portion of the presentation.


In addition to the ability to collaborate, it was easy to share the presentation via a link. You could also use the permissions to add a password, collect emails and names and manage the ability to download, share, embed or print.

Faculty could add the same presentation link in several classes, but only had to update it in one place.  No need to worry about uploading large files into the learning management system (lms).  No need to worry about extra software.  No need to worry about access across devices – more on that below.

Adding Audio

The ability to upload audio files or to record directly into SlideRocket was one of the major selling points to our faculty. All other options that I have found thus far, have obstacles in terms of large file sizes, high learning curve or additional hurdles for the students.  It was also possible to record one slide at a time, with the ability to time the animations. Many of the other options available require you to record the entire presentation.  So updating the one slide in the middle becomes more time consuming than it needs to be.

Flash and HTML5

Another key component for faculty in using SlideRocket was the early availability of either flash or HTML5.  This made the presentations accessible across many devices.


The analytics in SlideRocket turned out to be wonderful for faculty. It was easy to see who was accessing the presentation and when.  In addition you could see the average time spent on each slide.


If enabled, any viewer could add comments to any of the slides.  Great tool for providing detailed feedback on student presentations.


It was easy to add a learning check or allow viewers to provide feedback to the presenter.  While the answers did not sync with the lms they were still useful and easy to access.


The design factors in SlideRocket were easily accessible.  The available templates made you feel like you could create something amazing. And I loved how all the templates were created as models, to help everyone make great presentations. I have seen some of this in other solutions, but not to the extent of SlideRocket.  And I know that many of the design things I could do in SlideRocket I could also do in your basic presentation software, but for some reason it felt easier in SlideRocket.

New Tool Suggestions?

At this point it comes down to prioritizing and deciding what we can do without. I would have to say that the ability to easily add audio and access through the lms are at the top of the list. As I’m looking for solutions, I’m open to your suggestions…

Technology Philosophy Statement

In one of my recent courses I was asked to create a technology philosophy statement.  I have written teaching philosophy statements, but this was the first time I actually thought about my technology philosophy.  Rather than a written document, I created a Prezi.

Finding the Best Tools for eLearning

Not long ago I was working in an office and needed to hire a new employee.  The work was basic office stuff, answering phones, using word and excel for letters and reports.  Going through a temp agency, I was able to “try” people out.  After two people didn’t work out I told the agency that I needed someone who understood Excel.  The next call I got from the agency told me they found someone who declared that “Excel was her best friend.”  Great!  I was ecstatic.  I had some concerns that perhaps she may need some new friends, but she knew Excel so I knew I could teach her the rest.

Excel is a specific type of software.  It does more than most people would ever think about doing with spreadsheets, however there are limits.  Most people learn Excel and then want to do things that are complicated at best for Excel, but are perfectly simple for a database program like Access.  Unfortunately, Access “thinks” differently than Excel and requires a bit (or a huge chunk) of a learning curve.  Finding the technology tool for the job at hand can be daunting, but must be done if technology is to be used well.

I tell you my story of Excel, because it is an easy example of how people gravitate to one program or software type and cling to it as the solution to everything.  It is like they take their beloved Excel and brandish it like the hammer which will solve all technological problems.  “We’ll just put it in a spreadsheet and then we can have these formulas combine these cells and voilà….it will be easy.” (There has got to be a Dilbert comic about this.)

There are limitations to all software.  Taking the time to understand the limitations of the software could save much heartache and time for educators and administrators.  Taking time to understand the problem is key in choosing software.  All too often, people have adopted software without understanding its limitations, expecting it to turn education around.

I have collected a number of links to Technology Tools that could be useful for an educational setting.  I have not tested them all.  I do not know the limitations of ALL of them.  However, given a situation, I can search with the specifications in hand to find a smaller list of possibilities which can then be tested.

Here is what I would do

  1. Understand the context.
    •  Who are the students? (k-3, 8th graders, graduate students) What is the content? (Math, Computers, Philosophy) What do they need to DO? (presentation, pictures, video, screen capture, audio) What is the bare minimum you want from the final product? (in other words what is absolutely essential)
  2. Evaluate the limitations.
    • What are the people (both students and instructors) familiar with?  How difficult is the content of the final product? (You could have more complex technology if the content is on the easier side of things.)  What are the technology limitations? (file size, varying Operating Systems, bandwidth, accessibility, cost)
  3. Evaluate current options.
    • Using the base familiarity are their functions in a current tool that people just need to learn?
  4. Search for alternatives.
    • All too often instructors feel that if they use a tool they need to be the support desk for all possible problems.  This is impossible.  One item that I feel is important in a tool is its own help documentation.  With  decent help documentation many students can figure out what they need.
  5. Be flexible.
    • First and foremost the learning objectives need to be met.  Don’t let the desire to use a new technology detract from the learning. Understand that there will be limitations but by emphasizing the learning objective you can assess a final product regardless of the technology.

So, for a concrete example… You want the students to put together a presentation that can be shared with all the students in the class.  Your students are mainly in your hometown, but you have some students in New York, Texas and China.  You’ve establish the criteria for the content, you would like a visual (like PowerPoint) but you also need the students to record audio to accompany the presentation.

Yes, PowerPoint is able to record and embed audio – but the files are large and there will be some extra saving options to make sure the audio is contained in the file.

On my list of Tech Tools you will find many options for presentations, not all of them will meet the requirements of the project – visuals and audio.  But knowing that you NEED those items can help filter out others fairly quickly.

Again, the instructor DOES NOT need to be the expert on all the possibilities.  The instructor does need to be the expert on the content, assessment criteria and know where support options are available to the students.  If anything, the instructor should understand what kind of final product file or link is needed so that ALL the students can view the presentation.  Who knows, you may have a student in the class that is really comfortable with an amazing tool.  But if you require everyone to do a PowerPoint, that student will never share their expertise.

Mobile Technology “Literacies”…

Well, not really that new, as technology has been with us for a while.  But as technology changes and the younger generations take all these amazing, wonderful, sometimes unbelievable things in at record speeds, the ethics, appropriateness and guidance from the previous generations is absent.  Sometimes it is all so new that we don’t quite understand the impact ourselves.  But it still remains with us, adults to help the younger generation learn the skills – both logical and emotional to create wise paths into the upcoming technology.

An article from Educause –  Mobile Perspectives: On teaching Mobile Literacy brings up some of these critical “literacy” issues.  I loved the following quote:

“The future our students will inherit is one that will be mediated and stitched together by the mobile web, and I think that ethically, we are called on as teachers to teach them how to use these technologies effectively.”

Program or be programmed?

I recently ran across a talk by Douglas Rushkoff given to Google entitled “Don’t Forget About the Humans“.  I then went to explore some of his writings, interview and such.  And while some of the others near me at the time I was listening to the presentation thought some of the ideas were strange.  I think in reality they hit just a little too close to home.

With the need for technology, more and more we give up control to the programmers. Now I have absolutely nothing against programmers – they are creative, ingenious, work hard and do some amazing things with technology.  However, I do have a problem when it is left up to the programmers to also be the teachers.  Or when teachers back away from what they know to be best due to a programming issue.

One of the points Douglas Rushkoff made was the lack of verbal, tonal, emotional and body language cues when we are online.  As he put it “We all have Aspergers.”  We lose all the “bandwidth” of the rich communication that can happen when people are face-to-face.  So what does this mean for teaching?

At the very core of teaching is communication.  When we move a class online something needs to be done to compensate for the loss of the language cues.  I know as a teacher that often a look was enough to change the choice of a student.  So how do you do that online?  I knew a teacher who would put in excess cues to help her students remember the important topics.  She would simply have to ask the student “Remember the day I wore my bunny slippers to school?” and the student would respond “Oh, yes and you put the (insert topic or information) on the overhead in green and red.”

As we move forward into a world that only a few can imagine, it becomes difficult as a teacher.  How can we prepare our students to be successful when we ourselves at times feel like we are drowning in the tech information and possibilities.  As Frank Pileiro describes in his article Web 2.0 – Like Drinking Water from a Fire Hose, the technology should always support the curricular goals. (There is a good comment on this article as well describing how a teacher let the students choose the technology to support the objectives.)

There are movements towards a more user friendly, customizable interface (Why the iPad is Different)  and schools that are using the latest technology and virtual interfaces (Taking School to the Nest Level). But in the end we as consumers, teachers, people need to make sure that we are controlling the technology and not letting the technology control us.

I see a great need for people to work together, across disciplines.  For teams of experts to learn to talk across boundaries and people to translate the jargon so everyone can understand and move forward together.  So that the humans can be the programmers rather than being programmed.

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