Friday, April 25, 2008

Links and Resources: April 25, 2008

Some light reading for your weekend:
  • Arkansas school has 11-year old IT department. Let me rephrase that, an Arkansas school's IT department is an 11-year old. Jon Penn took over the IT role when the last admin disappeared suddenly and the job went to the school's librarian, Jon's mom. I first read about this at Engadget, but I like the Network World article better because of the 8 minute podcast interview. And before you use this to highlight your student's shortcomings (as compared to an 11-year old), ask yourself whether Jon would be allowed this non-traditional learning opportunity at your school or district. Yeah, I didn't think so.
  • Workforce readiness crisis. This article from November of 2006 highlights the findings of a study called The Workforce Readiness Report Card. The key take-away is the 21st century skill set that business thinks are important, and lacking, for students to bring to the workforce. What I find interesting is that the business skill set for the future looks an awful lot like a well-rounded education.
I get a email digest of tech career news from the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) every couple of weeks. I think you can get it, even if you aren't an ACM member, by going here. The following links came from the most recent ACM CareerNews Alert.
Where can I sign up to become a Gen Y?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You can't beat free

Last night at the Everett school district technology advisory board meeting we were discussing the development of some new programming classes. I reminded everyone of a site for high school computer science instructors that I had posted some time ago. Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) is an organization that supports K-12 teachers in the computing disciplines. It is an offshoot of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) which is one of the best known and most respected academic and scientific computing societies. CSTA has a variety of resources, model curriculum and teacher development programs (check their fact sheet for more details).

In addition to CSTA, their is a growing movement of open courseware, much like open source software. You might want to start at the Open Courseware Consortium. Here is what they have to say about the topic:
An OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The mission of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware.
Click their USE link and you will see a listing of schools from around the global that have published course content free for your use in your programs. The best known of these is MIT's OpenCourseWare site. Yes, there are materials, notes and exams for over 1,800 MIT courses available at the site.

But wait....there's more! If you order in the next 10 minutes you'll get access to the MIT OpenCourseWare Highlights for High School, which focuses on that content most useful for high schools students and teachers.

Hopefully all these resources will make the job of building new or expanding existing coursework a little easier for you.

Tags: , , ,

Monday, April 21, 2008

College Bound Scholarship due June 1

June 1st is the deadline for 8th graders to sign-up for Washington State's College Bound scholarship program. If you aren't working with 7th and 8th graders yourself, I am hoping you will pass this on to those in your district who are. The details are at the HEC board site, but here's the overview:

This four-year scholarship covers the cost of college tuition, fees and books for low-income students who sign a pledge in 7th or 8th grade promising to graduate from high school and to demonstrate good citizenship. This program provides hope and incentive for students and families who otherwise might not consider college as an option because of its cost.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: how is this not a good thing? Oh, I'm sure there is some fine print, but it really addresses the need to keep kids engaged and to give them a different vision for their future. If we want more college graduates and more high-skilled non-college workers, then they are going to have to come from the ranks of those now falling through the cracks.

I want to thank Kelly at Rep. Liz Loomis' (D-44th) for this information. I posted an entry on my No Sno U blog Saturday that was appreciative of Rep. Loomis' work to support high-school graduation and non-college bound training like apprenticeships. As in the past, I heard right back from her or her office (who says good manners are a thing of the past) asking that I share this with the Advisory Bored readers.

Okay people, let's see if we can't get the word out on this one.

Tags: , , ,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Links and Resources: April 11, 2008

  • Web Work in the Era of Free attempts to address how the web worker remains viable in an environment where more and more stuff is "free".
  • Okay, this is a fun one. DIY kit lets houseplants Twitter when they need water describes how a group modified a plant water meter to send a tweet when it needs water.
  • Zotero is a Firefox browser extension to help you research and cite references on the web. I don't use it, but there seems to be a lot of folks who really like it for academic work. Sounds like a good tool for the college-bound student.
  • The post A Path to Becoming a Literate Educator is a Dave Warlick's 12 steps to becoming literate in the tools of 21st century learning.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

If you build it, they might not come

Did you read this great comment from my good friend Paul at Last Great Road Trip (I think the comment actually referenced the content in this post, but hey, it's the thought that counts). If you are teaching web design and/or marketing - it better be "and" - you need to pay attention to Paul's comments. Heck, if you are a fellow advisory board member you should be paying attention.

From the business perspective, the web is about driving traffic your way and there is no guarantee that people will show up just because you have a blog or web site. We focus our educational resources on the mechanics of web design (and we completely forget the marketing aspect of the site) but that isn't the really critical component. Have you setup a blog at - it takes like 3 minutes, max. Hey, my dog's got her own blog, so how difficult can it be.

Now I don't want to dis' web design or e-commerce education, and I certainly don't want to downplay the important role that informatics and information architecture play in developing a highly usable site. I do, however, want to echo Paul's point that there is a lot of noise on the internet and it takes real work to get people you don't know to stop and look at your site. We need to teach that in school too.

Paul's lesson plan is simple. Have students create a web site (he suggests on any topic and then use the free Google Analytics to monitor how certain activities help to build traffic. The next steps are meant to build links from supporting sites to the primary site, which in turns builds rank among the various search and linking tools (Google, Technorati, etc). The specific tools he lists are not important, he even suggests non-web 2.0 tools like the good ole' fashioned press release. The point of the exercise is that students are: thinking strategically and tactically about the role of the web site, using linkages to build site traffic and analyzing the results from Google Analytics to determine if their actions lead to the desirable outcome. If fact there is a profession emerging around this called search engine optimization or SEO. A little web design, a little marketing, a little math and you got yourself a new profession.

To drive my point home, let me give you three examples to look at:
  • The MedicCast is produced by paramedic Jamie Davis. Here is is collection of useful content aimed at a particular audience. He assembles content from other sources as well as creating original content and bundles it up in a blog, a podcast and a live show. Notice the blogroll in the left-hand column and the "share and enjoy" icons at the end of each post. Both encourage linking, which build credibility. Does all this work payoff? Try Googling podcast and medic to see who gets first page ranking.
  • Think of The Wood Whisperer as Norm 2.0. Marc Spagnuolo has a woodworking business and is a contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine, along with the videocast and blog. He has less of the shared linking than on the MedicCast, but notice the various other social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) that he uses.
  • Last, but certainly not least, than man who started this whole rant: The Last Great Road Trip. Who knew Paul's mid-life crisis was going to be so interesting (oh, he's going get me for that comment). Again you see a aggregated and original content that keeps the reader interested and coming back. He uses the linking to improve traffic flow. Less obvious from the site is his use of old media, like the press releases, articles in specialty magazines or interviews on radio to drive additional links.
A lot of us, young and old, create content for the web - a blog, uploading pictures to Flickr or My Space page - but these are for an audience we already know. The challenge for a business or professional site is to drive traffic from people who don't know us, or Kevin Bacon. This is marketing challenge not a technology challenge. And it's not guesswork. Your students have tools available to them for free in which they can demonstrate the effectiveness of any given marketing campaign.

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I'll get by with a little help from my friends

A couple of weeks ago I started making some changes to the Advisory Bored to help me know about my visitors and to help visitors get updates. I thought I would take a moment to share them with you:

  1. I'm now using Google Analytics to track activity on the site. If you judge readership based soley upon comments then you get a limited view of the actual readership . With Google Analytics I can get an accurate picture of how many people are visiting the site, what pages they are reading and for how long. I don't know "who" you are, but I do know what browser you are using and where you are browsing from. For instance, the number of visits from Ellensburg jumped following my post of the Central Washington University BAS-ITAM program. Go (CWU mascot name here)!
  2. I've started using a free service called Feedburner to manage the RSS feeds. It also makes it easier to submit the feed to a number of widely used feed readers. As you know, an RSS feed allows you to read the content without visiting the site. That's great for the reader, but the author has no idea how many people are subscribed. Feedburner allows me to track that, which gives a much more accurate picture of who is reading my posts.
  3. Along with the RSS tracking, Feedburner will turn an RSS feed into an email. So if you don't use RSS, but would like a notification when new content is available, sign-up in the "updates via email" section of the blog, right under my profile in the right-hand column.
  4. I'm also using the blog tracking site Technorati so that others can find Advisory Bored. In addition to tracking the sites, Technorati allows for tagging, so users can quickly search for other content using the same tags (I now include Technorati tags at the bottom of each post). Technorati also ranks blogs based upon the amount a site is referenced from other sites and through the use of favorites. You can help me out if you have a web site or blog by simply adding a link to the Advisory Bored. Also, you can tell Technorati that this site is a favorite by clicking the small green Technorati icon under the email alerts box (#3) in the right-hand column.
Again, thank you for stopping by and reading the blog. Please share this with other instructors and staff that you think would find it interesting. If there is anything you would like me to discuss, please leave a comment to this post and I'll see what I can do.

Tags: , ,

Saturday, April 5, 2008

AITP Collegiate Conference wrap-up

The Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) sponsors a collegiate conference every year, hosting students from around the country. Eva provides a summary at The Certify-Able Data Professional blog here. The AITP student chapter at Edmonds CC isn't active, but rumor has it that there is interest in bringing it back and I think its a great idea. As Eva notes

"Professional associations and these kinds of conferences are wonderful collaborations between colleges and businesses. They create a sense of community for students, connect them with each other and with hiring businesses, and inspire professional pride and enthusiasm. "

Tags: ,

Friday, April 4, 2008

Creativity and computer science

If you listened to the NPR piece on computer science education in my Where have all the children gone posting you will know that computer science wants to change its image as a bunch of guys sitting around coding in a dark room. I'm no computer scientist, just a boring old business programmer, but I'm always in awe of the creativity of those that dig deep into the bit stream. Let me share a story.

CAPTCHA is method in computing to determine if the "user" is a person or some automated program. You'll probably recognize a CAPTCHA as the requirement to type in the numbers and letters you see in an image before getting a free email account or posting a blog comment. Since current computer systems can't read those images, if you type in the right answer you must be a person.

Well that's kind of creative, but what's really interesting is what Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is doing. There are numerous projects underway to advance human knowledge by digitizing books from before the age of computers and making them freely available on the web. They do this by scanning the pages and having a computer convert the image of words into text using optical character recognition (OCR). Unfortunately not all words can be interrupted by computers so a human must do that. Hmmm, that sound almost like a CAPTCHA.

Some smart people at CMU decided that they could harness the collective power of some 60 million CAPTCHA's solved every day by creating a free service called reCAPTCHA. It gives a two-word CAPTCHA, one word is known so they can validate you as a person and the second is an unknown word from the digitizing project that needs human interpretation (read more here). Every time you solve their CAPTCHA you are stopping spam and helping to convert a book to digital format.

reCAPTCHA is a creative way for you to donate your time to a good cause, in productive, 3 second increments. Similarly, projects like SETI@Home and Rosetta@Home borrow your computer's unused processing power to help find extra-terrestrial life or understand the structure of proteins, respectively (Rosetta us hosted by the UW). Both use BIONIC, an open-source software product to facilitate volunteer grid computing. People around the world download the BIONIC software and sign-up to help a computing problem. When they leave their machine idle, BIONIC goes out, retrieves some work, processes it and then returns the results to the host. The user has donated their unused computing power at little or no cost to themselves. The project gets vast computing resources for free.

Which brings us back to computer science and creativity. The problems being solved here aren't computer problems. The real problems are a lack of time, resources or money. A student's computer science training gives her the analytical skills to identify the problem and the programming skills to implement a solution. In between is creativity.

Tags: , ,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are you inexperienced?

Microsoft, in addition to the student 2 business (s2b) portal I mentioned recently, are also releasing a free suite of development tools for college and high school students in science, technology, engineering and match (STEM) studies.

In a February 19th press release, Microsoft announce the DreamSpark student program to give away the developer tools to college students in 11 countries now, with intention to expand the program to other countries and to high-school students throughout the year. DreamSpark includes, among other things, Visual Studio, XNA game studio, Expressions designer, SQL Server relational database and Windows Server. Microsoft recommends that students check out the Channel8 site for details and availability.

Channel8 is the student equivalent of Channel9, a site for developers that includes wikis, forums, blogs, videocasts, podcasts, etc. Well worth a few minutes for students to check out the site and the tools. Free is a good price.

Tags: , ,